Science Shows Alarm Systems Perform

No doubt you and others in your organization rely heavily on promoting crime deterrence when marketing and selling intrusion alarm systems. Common sense would seem to dictate if alarm system signage is visible, an audible alert sounds upon forced entry and response is summoned that burglars would flee before doing their worst or target premises without such systems. Yet the skeptics and critics have persisted, with little empirical data to back the alarm industry’s assertions. Fortunately, thanks to the important work of the Alarm Industry Research & Educational Foundation (AIREF), that is changing.

In 2008, I sat in on an AIREF Board meeting at the Electronic Security Expo (ESX) in Nashville, Tenn., where I was captivated by the findings of Rutgers University’s study, “The Impact of Home Burglar Systems on Residential Burglaries.” That research found not only a correlation between an increase in residential alarm systems and a decrease in residential burglaries, but also that those systems reduce the likelihood of nearby unprotected homes being hit. While it was a kick to be the first to share that landmark study with the industry, I am even more excited to be able to convey what I was privy to at February’s Electronic Security Association (ESA) Leadership Summit in Orlando, Fla.

In an AIREF Board meeting that included ESA’s Merlin Guilbeau, Interlogix’s Kirk MacDowell, System Sensor’s Charlie Darsch and Security Industry Alarm Coalition’s (SIAC) Stan Martin and Glen Mowrey, researchers revealed the preliminary results of ‘Understanding Decisions to Burglarize from the Offender’s Perspective.” The AIREF-sanctioned study was conducted by criminal justice professors from Eastern Kentucky University, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Western Illinois University.

Whereas the Rutgers study drew conclusions by analyzing existing data and only focused on residences, this new project is based on surveys of more than 400 incarcerated burglars who violated both domestic and commercial properties. By venturing inside the minds of actual perpetrators, this unique study provides fascinating insights. In addition to being immensely pertinent to the alarm industry, it also illuminates significant sociological issues. The objective of the study was to answer the following five questions:

  1. What motivates burglars to engage in burglary?
  2. What factors are considered during target selection?
  3. What deters burglars from specific targets?
  4. What techniques do burglars use during the commission of their crimes?
  5. Are there gender differences in burglary motivation, target selection, and techniques?

For our purposes, questions 2-4 are particularly relevant. The initial report includes several positive and compelling findings. For example, when asked about alarms: 60% said an alarm would cause them to seek an alternative target; 83% would try to determine if an alarm was present before attempting a burglary; and if a burglary was initiated and an alarm was found, half would discontinue the attempt. Wow, there’s your deterrence, naysayers! And alarms and surveillance cameras topped most other types of deterrents, including dogs and steel bars.

That’s just the tip of what looks to be a very refreshing iceberg for security professionals. Imagine the powerful impact these statistics could have on anyone from end users to law enforcement to insurers — even alarm system providers with proof of their meaningful contributions to public safety. And it may be just the ticket to tip the scale in favor of the industry when the false alarm issue heats up. 

The official finalized study results are expected to be shared at June’s ESX Nashville event. In the meantime, I urge you to support AIREF by donating whatever you can to its vital cause. An enjoyable way to do that is by participating in the 10th Annual AIREF Golf Classic on April 9, the day before the ISC West expo opens. For more info, call (203) 762-2444 or visit It’s an ideal way to spend your day before relaxing at SSI’s SAMMY Awards/Hall of Fame gala at 4:30 p.m. I hope to see you there!

Editor-in-Chief Scott Goldfine has spent more than 14 years with SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION. He can be reached at (704) 663-7125.

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About the Author


Scott Goldfine is the marketing director for Elite Interactive Solutions. He is the former editor-in-chief and associate publisher of Security Sales & Integration. He can be reached at [email protected].

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