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Alarm Company’s Carelessness Costs Customer Her Life

The customer of a prominent security company was murdered along with her boyfriend by a stalker while they slept in an upstairs bedroom. An investigation found the provider recklessly breached its responsibilities by failing to design, install and test a system that was supposed to be customized for early detection of an intruder. Details of what went awry are examined.

The alarm system included a cellular radio backup transmitter. However, the installer never completed the connection of the unit to the control panel or enable the telephone line fault monitor that was built into the control panel.Incorrect Glass-Break Sensor Line-of-Sight Proves Lethal

Having disabled the telephone lines, the killer next maneuvered to the back of the residence to gain entry into the home. Wielding a crowbar, he smashed the basement sliding glass door.

Prior to the installation of the alarm system, court documents show the salesman conducted a walkthrough of the home with Jane’s boyfriend. The men discussed placing an audio glass-break detector by the sliding glass doors in the basement, given it was the most logical place for an intruder to break in. Hence, the salesman designed the security system to include glass-break protection on the basement doors.

“That was the right choice,” Zwirn says.

However, on the day the system was installed, a technician deviated from the
system design  and instead placed the lone glass-break sensor to cover a set of three bay windows in the basement. “If it had been properly placed it could have covered both sets of openings — the sliding glass doors and the bay windows,” Zwirn says.

The key issue with the placement of the glass-break detector: improper line-of-sight. “It was placed so tight to the bay windows it could not sense the sound of breaking glass from the sliding glass doors,” Zwirn says. “When you are installing a perimeter system you have to take into consideration that all the perimeter has to be covered — not just selected parts — especially the largest opening in the house.”

The ill-advised sensor placement essentially resulted in providing no glass breakage detection whatsoever for the sliding glass doors. Court documents show the technician told the salesman he installed the glass-break detector in a different location from the original design; however, neither Jane nor her boyfriend was informed of the change to the installation plan.

Furthermore, no alarm company representative followed up to advise Jane to add additional glass-break detection in the basement to protect the sliding doors nor was she ever notified that the sliding glass doors had been left vulnerable.

With the sliding glass door smashed asunder, the killer entered the home undetected. “When he broke the glass with the crowbar, he never opened the door so the contact was meaningless,” Zwirn explains.

Flawed Motion Detector Programming Dooms System

A final line of detection the alarm system could have offered — motion sensors — proved as faulty and recklessly designed and installed as the phone-line monitoring and glass-break device. Compounding the system malfunctions, Jane never received adequate training to use her system successfully.

Zwirn’s investigation determined the alarm system was armed in the stay-instant mode on the night of the double murder. Consequently, the basement motion detector was bypassed when the killer overtly moved past it.

The two motion detectors in the home (one in the basement and one on the first floor) were improperly connected together in series; they both were stay shunted by design when the system was armed. The stay shunt, or bypass, and the affected detection devices were not visually disclosed to Jane on any of the system’s keypads when she armed the system, Zwirn determined.

Instead, the motion detector in the basement should have been connected to a separate zone of the security system and the system should have been programmed to be armed in the night-stay mode.Above, the control panel circuit board and housing. The alarm company failed to properly test and inspect its work, the system, and each of the installed devices in accordance with the equipment manufacturers’ testing procedures, industry standards, as well as its own best practices.

“You have to provide an attribute for the motion detector that will allow it to arm it in a night-stay mode, but leave that motion on,” Zwirn says. “The problem there was two motions in the house, which they wired together on the same zone; their own policy said they are not allowed to do that.” 

In the night-stay mode, only the upstairs motion detector would have been bypassed when the home was occupied. If the system had been programmed for night-stay mode, and activated in that mode, the killer would have triggered the alarm system after he stepped into the basement and moved past the motion detector.

Jane had an all or nothing scenario. She could not arm the system to night-stay because both motion detectors were on the same zone. According to Zwirn’s investigation, the alarm company also failed to inform Jane the system could be programmed in a night-stay mode.

Again, it would have allowed her the ability to fully arm the perimeter system and enable the basement motion detector at the same time, utilizing both the perimeter detection devices and the basement motion detector. This protection mode would have provided Jane the ability to shunt the upstairs motion detector, thereby allowing her and her family to move around freely on the first and second floors with both the complete perimeter and basement motion detector fully armed.

“They needed to separate those motions. And they were home runs, they were separately wired back to the panel,” Zwirn explains. “They needed to separate that wire and program it in such a way that once she armed it the upstairs motion was shunted because it was full perimeter.”

Alarm Company Failed in Its Consultative Duties

By now the killer has moved undetected up two flights of stairs and he’s heading for the master bedroom. It is there he finds Jane, her boyfriend and her oldest child, a 12-year-old daughter, fast asleep in bed.

Gunfire rings out.

Jane and her boyfriend are shot multiple times, killing them both, while the daughter is able to flee the room uninjured. The boyfriend, a trained marksman, never had time to brandish a loaded handgun that he kept near the bed.

About the Author

Contact:

Although Bosch’s name is quite familiar to those in the security industry, his previous experience has been in daily newspaper journalism. Prior to joining SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION in 2006, he spent 15 years with the Los Angeles Times, where he performed a wide assortment of editorial responsibilities, including feature and metro department assignments as well as content producing for latimes.com. Bosch is a graduate of California State University, Fresno with a degree in Mass Communication & Journalism. In 2007, he successfully completed the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association’s National Training School coursework to become a Certified Level I Alarm Technician.

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