Detroit area crime fears fuel home security business

Karen Dybis
Special to The Detroit News

Roger Mason Jr. can predict huge jumps in his work schedule. Owner of Pointe Monitoring and Alarm in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mason knows an uptick in neighborhood break-ins means lots of phone calls, alarm installations and concerned customers.

Grosse Pointe Farms homeowner Mark Fudge shows off the video feeds from his Xfinity home security cameras, which he can monitor remotely on his smart phone.

A recent spate of invasions around Harper Woods and the Grosse Pointe communities have Mason and his staff busier than ever. He said his home-security business is up about 25 percent year over year. High-profile crimes, such as one when a Woods homeowner's Yorkshire dog, Oliver, was stolen during an October break-in, got people in the sleepy bedroom communities of the Pointes feeling nervous.

"We're booked a month in advance," said Mason, whose company has more than 15 years of experience installing residential and commercial security systems of all kinds. "I think everyone is just worried. When you hear about (a crime) happening to a person you know or your neighbor, it hits a little closer to home."

Alarm companies across Metro Detroit have seen similar increases in requests for home-security systems. Some attribute the rise to crime-related worries, especially now that people can receive police alerts via text, or monitor area crime reports on social-media sites such as Facebook. Regardless of whether it is real data or just perception, those calls come flooding in, security operators said.

Other spikes in installations happen throughout the calendar, security companies said. For example, their business booms around Metro Detroit after people receive their tax returns. Another boom time comes right after the Super Bowl — people with new, big-screen televisions want to protect their investments. Growth in new-home construction also produces regular business as homeowners install systems within these new communities.

Security business owners agree another reason for the increase is homeowner desires to have a "smart home" or high-tech systems that link a person's smartphone, tablet or other device to their alarm system. This trend toward whole-house automation connects not only security systems but monitoring of other household devices including locks, smoke detectors, thermostats, carbon-monoxide detectors and even basement sump pumps.

"People want to stay connected to their home for any reason, and it can be to save on energy costs or provide that feeling of security," said Randy L. Jones, a regional director of public relations for Comcast. Jones described its Xfinity Home product as "a total home security and automation solution" that gives its customers state-of-the-art technology with "a money-saving bundle" price.

There is more growth to come, predicted IBISWorld analysts, who say that security-alarm service companies will see its five-year period of consolidation and small revenue growth change in the next five years. It predicts low-cost systems will bring more commercial and residential customers on board, allowing the industry to grow at an annualized rate of 2.9 percent to $22.9 billion through 2019.

Rising competition will keep incentives high and customers' monthly costs low, IBISWorld predicts. For example, AT&T entered the industry in 2013 through its Digital Life program, which allows its users to remotely access Internet-connected security cameras as well as door and window locks.

The average security-system customer pays $30-$40 per month for service, plus installation fees. Add-ons such as energy- and water-control features are available through most providers for an additional charge.

There are even more options to come, industry experts say, pointing to relationships like the one between Ford Motor Co. and industry leader ADT, which put its Pulse mobile home-monitoring platform inside Ford's SYNC Applink. This allows Ford drivers to control their home-security systems right from their car.

"People are demanding it," said Comcast's Jones. "We're not a security company. We're a technology company. ... We see this (home-automation trend) as a natural next step for us."

Lt. John Kosanke of the Grosse Pointe Woods Department of Public Safety said the city's crime rates have risen slightly in recent months. But he said the department "has been very proactive and my officers are doing a tremendous job. We can't catch everybody, but criminals are getting caught."

The department recently arrested six people for home invasion and another three for stealing packages off of homeowners' porches. Kosanke said officers were able to get an arrest because the perpetrators did not wear gloves, and the department tracked them down through fingerprints.

"Most criminals are not that smart; they're opportunists," said Kosanke. His best advice to residents is simple: Make small changes to avoid becoming a victim. Turn on lights. Lock doors. Avoid leaving valuables out in your car or home. Install security systems if you wish. And if your home is equipped with a security system, make sure it is in working order.

"Some people have a 'It doesn't happen here' attitude until it occurs to someone they know down the street," Kosanke said. "We know with the downturn in the economy people were cutting back and may have canceled their alarm service. ... But now that things are on an upswing, I'm telling people if you have a system, use it."

Mark Fudge created what he calls the "triple line of defense" after someone broke into the garage by his Grosse Pointe Farms home.

"When it happens, you feel violated," Fudge said. "The first thing I did was I got a dog. I got Xfinity home security with cameras all around the house. Then I got a shotgun."

Fudge, who works in the insurance industry, said he has enough coverage for his possessions, such as the guitar and amplifiers that were stolen. But the thought of someone harming his young family pushed him toward his defense plan. Stories of recent incidents — especially one that occurred only 10 houses down from the nearby police station — reaffirmed his decision.

"The police were amazing; they were here in a minute," Fudge said. "But once you are aware of what it feels like, you make a point of being better prepared."

A number of business robberies and daytime home invasions around Macomb County got Curtis Ritchie's phone ringing.

"With so many working families and snowbirds in the area, having an alarm system brings peace of mind," said Ritchie, manager at A&B Alarm Systems in Shelby Township, which installs and monitor security and fire alarm systems for homes and commercial businesses.

But both Comcast's Jones and Ritchie point out the common homeowner misconception that an alarm system will protect them from crime.

"An alarm won't catch people. It's supposed to scare them away so they don't cause any more damage or to reduce the amount of property they take," Ritchie said. "Most of the time, they're in and out so fast that they're gone before the authorities arrive."

Karen Dybis is a Metro Detroit freelance writer.