Police beat: Old versus new in crime prevention

After returning to the office from a month of holidays in June, I was promptly faced with a message from the Buzz’s editor reminding me of the July deadline for my next article.  I quickly shed my post vacation lethargy and began to think of an interesting topic for July’s article. As is usually the case, my next topic came to me as opposed to me finding it.

I received an e-mail from a resident involved in the Neighbourhood Watch program who lived in a high rise apartment building. The resident was inquiring if the police felt that key entry systems to parking garages were more secure than newer keyless entry systems. The resident advised that newer residents in his building were trying to convince the apartment board of directors to have a new keyless system installed to control access to their garage and to have the key entry system replaced.

This is not the first time that this issue has come to my attention as I have witnessed several debates on this topic between new and old residents in apartment buildings at various community safety meetings or Neighbourhood Watch meetings.

I realized fairly quickly that neither new nor old residents trusted that the other’s system would work and that was due to the disparity in the values around the use of technology held by both groups.

The older residents felt that their system was “tried tested and true” and that no changes were required, while the newer residents felt that a keyless (key pad, electronic fob key, garage door opener or swipe access card) was more efficient and more user friendly. Older residents shared experiences where there was a increase in garage break ins and thefts after the key entry systems were replaced by electronic door openers activated by a fob key or swipe cards.

Eventually some apartment complexes went back to the key entry as the other proved to be an easy target for thieves who were able to defeat the electronic system by learning the code through various means. This debate led me to want to explore further whether technological advances make for a safer environment for people and their possessions, or do they simply give the illusion of increased safety and can become part of the problem?

The reality for older persons is that they have the benefit of having more life experience and if you take the time to listen to their stories, you will find that there many a good lesson to be had.

Older persons will tell you of a time when they could walk the streets at any time and feel safe and that they knew most of the people on their street. They will tell you of a time when you could leave your home unlocked and not worry that a thief would come and rob you blind.

If you talk to them today, they will tell you that we have allowed technology to grossly impact our lives and they will be quick to point out that what we have is an illusion of a higher quality of life and a safer one, but not necessarily the reality of one. Not to sound overly nostalgic, as not everything from the past is better than today, but if presented with the choice between a fancy alarm system or a present and caring neighbour, who will promptly call police should a suspicious person be loitering around my house when I am absent, I will take the caring neighbour every time.

Truth be told, I do not even have an alarm system in my own personal home because I do not want to add to the burden of having my patrol colleagues respond to false alarm calls from my house, as they have enough on their plates as it is.

I have chosen to invest in proper locks and ensure that the entry points to my house are properly secured in a way that prevents thieves from being able to gain access. Many thieves are not deterred by alarm systems, as they know that there is a delay between activation and police arrival.

Most thieves plan to spend no more than five minutes in your house anyway, for fear of being detected by the homeowner, or a neighbour. Don’t get me wrong, I think technology can be very useful and it has created great tools for our use, but my concern is that we often throw common sense out of the window because we assume that technology is the be all, end all solution. It isn’t. There is no replacement for common sense and unless the use of technology is guided by an underlying principal based in common sense, then we usually end up where we started, except now we have another problem.

So as far as the debate on whether, or not, electronic garage door openers are better than key entry systems in multi-unit apartment buildings with underground parking, I will let you be the judge, but don’t look too far, the solution may very well be in your own backyard.