Protecting Your Home Studio
A little inside information, courtesy of the local police, could help prevent you losing your treasured equipment to thieves.
Paul White talks to Community Relations officer Bob Maynard about the practical precautions we can all take to ensure our treasured equipment remains ours.
Many of our readers have hundreds or even thousands of pounds worth of music and recording equipment in their houses, with no special security arrangements. Happily, most of them never experience any problems, but even so, a disturbing number are burgled every year. Short of turning our home studios into miniature replicas of Fort Knox, what can we actually do to minimise the risk to our possessions? Bob Maynard is a Community Relations officer with the West Mercia Constabulary and was kind enough to pass on his experience in the area of crime prevention.
"The first step is for people to look at the perimeter of their house to find the weak spots. Once you've decided on your main entry and exit point, you need to look at the type of door you have and the locks that are fitted to it. There's no point in fitting a good lock to a door if there's a hardboard panel at the bottom that someone can just kick in. You should consider fitting either a five-lever mortise lock which has over 1000 key combinations, or an automatic night deadlock, which is similar to a Yale type of lock. However, when you turn the key it turns the bolt into a solid shaft, which prevents people from opening it by slipping in bank cards and suchlike.
"When you've secured your doors, you should take a look at the windows, and in a case like this where you have expensive items, you'd be advised to fit window locks on all openable windows. If you can get your head and shoulders through a window, then it needs to have locks fitted."
Are single-glazed windows a serious deterrent, even when locked? Don't burglars simply break them?
"The watchwords when it comes to security are: Delay, Deny and Deter. The majority of crime is committed by opportunists, and if you've got window locks, the thief has to make a decision as to whether or not to risk making a hole in the window glass that he can get his body through. An opportunist might then decide to go elsewhere where there are no window locks. The biggest deterrent is the risk of being seen, and if you've got to smash a big hole in a pane of glass, you're going to make a lot of noise and, hopefully, people will look to see what is going on. If you hear one smash of glass, you might assume someone has dropped a milk bottle, but if you hear the constant sound of glass being broken, I would hope that most people would be nosy enough to look out and see what's actually happening.
"The easiest way to assess your own security is to think what you'd do if you were locked out of your house — how easily could you get in, creating the minimum of damage? That's exactly how a thief will look at your house. In the main, they'll come in through the back of the property or, failing that, the sides. The front of the house would be their last choice — but that's not to say they don't come in through the front door, because they do."
That being the case, do automatic security lights, whether internal or external, have any real deterrent value?
"With automatic internal lights, you are leading the opportunist to believe that the house might be occupied. Then the thief has to decide whether to knock on the door to find out whether the lights are automatic, or whether to try somewhere else. The other thing we advise people to do when they're out is to leave a radio on, tuned to a station such as Radio 4 where there's a lot of talking. This, again, can give the impression that the premises are occupied.
"Even if you don't have automatic lights, you can still leave a light on. It has been argued that leaving a light on during the day is a giveaway that nobody is home, but normally the light won't be bright enough to be visible in daylight. When it gets darker, the light will become visible at around the time when someone might have turned it on anyway. The whole idea is to create the illusion that someone might be in the property.
"With outside security lights, such as the infra-red type, the thief might walk up the path and be lit up. He then has to decide whether to risk being seen or not. Some people say that you're providing the thief with light to do his work, but you're also significantly increasing his chances of being seen. If a thief sees an infra-red security light, he may decide to give up and go elsewhere. Sometimes infra-red lights are wired to a bell or buzzer to alert people inside the house and the potential thief has no way of knowing whether yours is wired up like this or not."
Because of the valuable nature of musical instruments and recording equipment, it is quite possible that our readers could attract the interest of the more determined thief. In this case, do double-glazed windows and doors offer any real advantage over conventional types?
"Double glazing is normally made from toughened glass, or in some cases, laminated glass. The thief now has to break through two panes of glass, which is in itself a deterrent factor. For people considering having double-glazing fitted, when they have it installed they should ask for security locks to be fitted in the window handles. The type that uses Allen key locks is quite effective, but you're less likely to secure the windows when you nip out to the shops! The push-to-lock variety are far better, where you literally push a button to lock the window and you need a key to unlock it. And don't leave the key on the window ledge or on a hook just around the corner!"
Where you have a home recording studio where most of the equipment stays in one room, is it worth trying to make that one area especially secure?
"You can do that, but it all depends on what type of property you live in. For example, in a detached house, once a thief has got inside, he can afford to spend a lot of time and make quite a lot of noise breaking into your secure room. Our feeling is that you must first protect the outer shell, and if a thief does get inside, he'll instinctively try to break into any locked room and cupboards on the assumption that this is where any money or valuables will be kept. Once he's in, it can be less damaging to give him the free run of the place. If you have a particularly valuable setup, then it may be worth considering bars on the window, heavy duty doors and so on, but nothing will stop a really determined thief who can work undisturbed."
That leads nicely onto the subject of alarms. We all know about alarms that ring endlessly with nobody taking a scrap of notice — are they still to be considered a serious deterrent?
"If you hear an alarm ringing, don't assume that somebody else has reported it. The police would prefer to receive 100 calls reporting an alarm ringing than none at all!
"There are two main types of alarm — there's what's called 'audible only' which relies entirely on neighbours hearing the alarm and phoning 999, or there's the type that's connected to a central monitoring station run by a security company. The thief won't know which type you have. A good DIY person could fit an audible alarm system for around £250, while the type that is monitored has to be professionally installed and then you have to pay service, phone line and maintenance charges on it, which could amount to over £1000 for the installation plus a regular fee on top of that. If you are going to fit an alarm, get several quotes, as the price can vary considerably, but don't necessarily go for the cheapest one. While not wishing to do the bigger companies out of business, you'll often find a local alarm company will do just as good a job at a lower price because they depend on word of mouth for their reputation. Most police forces have a list of approved alarm installers so you can always ask your local crime prevention officer."
Assuming that the worst comes to the worst and someone does rob your studio, it obviously helps if you have a list of serial numbers, but do ultra-violet marker pens increase the chances of recovery?
"I take the view that ultra-violet pens are a secondary form of marking because the ink is solvent-based, which means that it can also be cleaned off with a suitable solvent. It is better to permanently mark your possessions with your post code — that is, to engrave it either underneath or on the back. The ultra-violet pen can be used to supplement this. But keeping a list of serial numbers is very important, as is the model number and make of the item. Obviously, when we are searching specific premises, we do look at the serial numbers of certain electrical items, and there is a property index which lists missing equipment against which these numbers can easily be checked. If you have any unusual equipment or instruments, then it also helps if you can keep photos of them with something like a ruler in the shot to give a sense of scale."
Assuming that one of our readers has worries over security — how much help and advice can they get from their local police station?
"If they contact their local police station and ask to speak to the crime prevention officer, what we tend to do at the moment is send out a package of literature covering all the key points, and if they have further queries, we can arrange to come out and look at the property. Some forces will actually do a crime prevention survey for you, while others may only have the resources to do this in the case of someone who is a previous victim of burglary. Unfortunately, we don't have the time to visit everyone, so if anyone comes in seeking general advice, we give them a package and then we'll provide further advice where needed.
"People should also consider setting up local neighbourhood watch schemes where a group of people keep an eye on one another's property — because there simply aren't enough police officers to stand on every street corner. It's true that it's part of the job of the police force to help prevent crime, but everyone has a duty to take steps to do it themselves. One in three burglaries take place in premises with open doors or windows, so by simply closing these, crime could be reduced.
"When you are away from the premises on holiday, arrange for neighbours to check on it for you, and if you can put a few lights and a radio on a timer switch, it will help to create the illusion of occupancy. It goes without saying that you should cancel the milk and the newspapers, but also ask a neighbour to remove any free newspapers which get stuck in your letter box. You might even consider getting a 'house sitter' to stay on the premises for you.
"If you have a lot of valuable equipment, then you should really consider putting in an effective alarm system, and if the cost of the equipment is very high, then maybe a system that is monitored 24 hours a day by a security firm would be viable.
"By fitting some of the security devices we've talked about, the risk can be minimised, but it's only fair to say that you can't stop determined thieves, you can only delay them and in doing so, try to deter them."