How to Scare Burglars Away Safely: Two-Way Audio Security Cameras
Security camera footage suggests that it doesn’t take much to frighten the average burglar—but a face-to-face confrontation can easily turn fatal
2017 saw 15 property crimes per minute, according to the FBI, with a burglary taking place every 23 seconds. And a report from the US Department of Justice states that burglars tend to strike on weekdays between 10 and 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
It’s no coincidence that these crimes occur while most people are at work. As violent as some encounters become, most intruders don’t want to harm homeowners (or come face-to-face with the people they’re stealing from).
In this article, we highlight success stories where two-way audio security cameras played a key role in scaring burglars away, and explain why law enforcement officials urge people to keep clear of home intruders whenever possible.
Thieves fear being seen or caught, leading to some humorous and serious answers to the question of how to scare burglars away
Most neighborhood burglars are in and out of a home in ten minutes, says Kenneth Binder, a former captain with the sheriff’s office of Santa Clara, California. “Burglars like the path of least resistance and they don’t want to get caught.” They typically look for a home that seems empty, knock on the door, and search for the easiest point of entry (often, an unlocked door or window). “The goal of most burglars is to steal property,” adds Binder, “not to commit a person crime.”
Many believe that they’re alone when they enter a house—which means that it’s not exactly hard to catch them off guard. That’s a big part of the reason why so many people have alarm systems in the first place. In some cases, a loud noise may be enough to make criminals drop everything (stolen goods included) and leave.
A growing body of security camera footage available online supports that point: homeowners have watched on video as a pet pig, a “six-foot-tall mannequin,” and a crime-fighting chihuahua were enough to send would-be thieves running.
More recently, however, homeowners have succeeded in scaring away burglars using two-way audio security cameras. The below footage, shared by police in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, shows an attempted break-in. In it, the intruder repeatedly kicks the front door—until something causes him to run. That something, say police, was the homeowner—who simply “got on the intercom and yelled.”
Two-way audio security cameras may be enough to send some criminals packing empty-handed
But modern cameras—in particular, those that let people view real-time video remotely—play an even more active role in keeping both consumers and first responders out of harm’s way. A video feed can provide police officers with a sense of what’s going on inside when they arrive, which allows them to more quickly and safely make the home safe to re-enter.
And the past several years have also seen a rise in the number of stories where homeowners use specialized cameras with two-way audio to actively scare burglars away. These indoor or doorbell surveillance devices feature two time-tested security tools—the intercom and the camera—in a single unit. By combining these elements with the features of today’s wireless security cameras, consumers gain the ability to engage with (and, if necessary, shout at) visitors remotely.
Stories involving this technology have gained traction on video-sharing sites, local news networks, and even national television news programs:
In 2014, Nightline spoke with several victims of home intrusions, including a New Jersey man who placed several two-way audio security cameras throughout his home. On his smartphone, he watched from a nearby restaurant as a burglar began ransacking his home. Then, he got on his camera’s loudspeaker. “I simply told him ‘Hey, I can see you; just please leave my home.’” The intruder exited immediately, leaving the homeowner with ample evidence and multiple images of the perpetrator’s face.
ABC World News Tonight interviewed a Tampa, Florida homeowner whose cameras spotted two thieves breaking into her home. Her security system’s motion sensors sent an alert to her smartphone and, later, triggered an alarm that sent the intruders on their way. By the time the story was released, police had apprehended one of the three suspects caught on camera. That’s a stark contrast with most of these incidents: only 13.5% of burglary cases in 2017 were closed.
In a story showcasing the rise of doorbell-mounted home security cameras, Good Morning America talked with two homeowners—both victims of attempted theft. In each case, the thieves’ efforts to make a quick buck ended as soon as they heard the homeowner’s voice. Two suspects in one attempt ran immediately, and the third (a would-be “porch pirate”) launched into a series of lies that ended in an apology and the return of the stolen packages.
The danger of in-person confrontation: Law enforcement
officials warn that fear causes some criminals to launch into a violent panic
During more than 1 in 4 burglaries, someone is home. And in roughly a quarter of those instances, the encounters turned violent. That's the takeaway from a report compiled by the Bureau of Justice, which adds a sobering word of caution for those thinking about scaring away burglars face to face. A significant share of burglars—roughly 3 in 10—are armed when they encounter homeowners. In fact, when things do turn violent, the chances of the offender having a firearm or not having a firearm are roughly even.
All of this underscores the importance of choosing a safe way to handle an encounter with a home intruder. In Brookhaven, Mississippi, a 21-year-old woman died of a gunshot wound after surprising four burglars when she entered her own house. She and her boyfriend arrived to find the door kicked in, not knowing that the four thieves had yet to leave the home.
And this story isn’t the only such incident. A similar scenario appears to have played out in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, where three children lost their father after he encountered a burglar in their home:
Police officers around the country warn that there’s no telling what a frightened intruder might do. The National Sheriffs’ Association’s “Neighborhood Watch” manual encourages residents to stay safe by following a simple maxim: don’t trade your safety for your stuff:
Should you confront a burglar, the very first rule is: GET OUT OF HIS WAY!! Never get between a burglar and the exit, and never try to stop him. It may cost you your life… retreat and put other doors between the two of you. It is a good idea to have a deadbolt on an interior door. If you cannot get out, try to signal a neighbor by throwing something through a window; just the noise may frighten a burglar away.
The trick is to let someone know that somebody’s watching (or that somebody’s home) while keeping a safe distance. Oshkosh, Wisconsin’s police department, of course, advises victims to call 911 immediately. But if that’s not an option, escape or hide and “begin making noise by moving things around or yell out for the police… If you do come face to face with a burglar, try to remain calm and speak in a normal voice.”
Careful camera placement and selection help consumers maximize the chances of catching burglars in the act—especially when video surveillance is part of a smart home security system
Keep in mind that video surveillance is only one piece of the security puzzle. Cameras with two-way talk are a great tool to have in your security plan, but the best defense is a full, DIY security system like Frontpoint that professionally monitors a home and will dispatch police in case of a break-in. The great thing about having cameras integrated with these systems is that you can also set them up to record whenever an alarm is set off. This takes a lot of the risk and worry off of your shoulders.
Security experts recommend placing cameras at points of entry and concern. Keep in mind: burglars routinely knock on doors before attempting a break-in. Doorbell cameras with two-way audio not only frighten criminals but offer a clear view of their faces for use by police. Built-in motion sensors in some of these cameras can trigger a recording even if the doorbell button isn’t pressed.
Remember that thieves seek the path of least resistance. Police in Tigard, Oregon note that most take portable property that can be concealed in bags, such as jewelry, prescription medication, laptops, and tablets.
While most home intruders want to take property—not lives—there’s no telling what they’ll do if they’re scared. Alarm systems have long scared off burglars, but the role of cameras in these security systems is evolving. Two-way audio security cameras can extend the long tradition of letting criminals know when the game is up.
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