Once a thief, always a thief: Reality show tests home security

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Friday, April 1, 2005

NEW YORK - Usually homeowners of the Tri-State area here aren’t in a van nestled next to a monitor watching as their house gets broken into. But this is the scene in a new reality television show now airing on the Discovery Channel called, “It Takes a Thief.”

The 40-episode series began airing in early February and Scarsdale Security Systems of Scarsdale, N.Y. teamed up with the program to provide alarm installations. A field representative for ADI who is an acquaintance of the security consultant, Frank Santamorena, invited Scarsdale Security Systems to join the program. The consultant wanted a company in the metro New York area - and Scarsdale Security Systems fit the bill.

Scarsdale Security Systems uses Honeywell equipment for alarm installations in show participant's homes. A two-person crew from the company is on site when an alarm system is required.

“The alarm systems are predominantly wireless because of time constraints,” said Chris Swallen, who handles engineered system sales at the company and oversees the installations on the show. “Each installation takes six to eight hours.”

So far, the company has installed nine to 10 systems of the 16-episode shoot for the 40-episode program, Swallen added.

“Usually, 10 minutes of the hour long show will have the installation segment,” he said. “There are certain times when the crew follows us, typically at the point when we are mounting things like keypads.”

Swallen and his crew demonstrates how the alarm system operates after the installation is completed. The homeowners also receive a year of free monitoring through the company’s central station.

The television show begins as the burglar finds an entrance into the house. Once inside, a camera crew follows as the burglar darts from room to room tossing objects to the floor and snatching valuable items. Then the burglar returns to the crime scene to tell the homeowners how to prevent a bona fide break-in.

The show takes two days to film, one day for homeowner interviews and the break in, and one for the complimentary security makeover. The security consultant uses retrofit security elements such as locks, fencing, and landscaping, like thorny shrubs, to add protection to the property.

The concept morphed from a U.K.-based reality show of a similiar nature called “To Catch a Thief.” The show provides homeowners and viewers a glimpse of what could be a real situation and how to potentially prevent it.

“People say, ‘I’m fine, I lock my doors most of the time’,” Swallen said. “When they actually witness it, it helps them to rethink and evaluate that there are a number of things they don’t do.”

Some members of the security industry view the program as a teaching tool for homeowners.

“If it draws attention to the vulnerability and educates the consumer of the advantages of securing the home, that’s good for the industry,” said Merlin Guilbeau, executive director of the National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association.

But after a burglary, the security makeover is a pleasant surprise.

“The owners are very appreciative of the work that we have done and the trades people have done,” Swallen said.