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Safe Behind An Electronic Moat

Laurie and Fred Kazlauskas spent almost $2,000 for a fancy home security system that so far has done exactly what they want it to - stay silent.

Like thousands of other homeowners, they’re responding to increasing crime by buying detectors and “smart” sensors coordinated into a centrally controlled system.

When they built their Post Falls home recently, the Kazlauskases opted for a system that 15 years ago seemed like something from the cartoon world of the Jetsons.

Inside their sprawling two-story home alongside a golf course, the Kazlauskases have magnetic sensors that trigger alarms if someone opens any door or window.

An array of indoor motion detectors stands guard along hallways, the garage and kitchen. Any intruder would set off strobe lights and sirens plus cause the house control panel to telephone for help.

With costs for high-tech home gizmos dropping, people are buying smarter, more complex security devices.

But some suggest the equipment offers more mental relief than actual security.

“Many people are buying more safety equipment for their home than they need,” said Sandy Richards, the Spokane Police Department’s crime prevention coordinator.

Compared with some systems, the Kazlauskas’ is fairly easy to operate. They have two control panels, one on each floor, each of which can arm or disarm the sensors inside and outside the house.

They turn them on when they leave for the day, turn them off once they get home.

“This will not be a system that keeps everybody out,” said Fred Kazlauskas. “It’s not like we’re keeping nuclear weapons here. We got it because it’s affordable, and it tells us things, like if someone has been here. We’d know the moment we drive up if something was wrong.”

The key component is the control panel that lets the owner turn the system on or off, indicates which sensor is detecting movement or intrusion and then calls an outside office.

The system at the Kazlauskas home calls a Denver office. A computer pops up the name and address of the homeowner’s system.

It also indicates if the alarm is from a fire sensor, door breaker or motion detector.

The Denver office operator calls the Kazlauskas home and asks if the alarm is real. If no one is home, the operator calls authorities.

Even more complicated home systems have come along, some costing up to $4,500. Their main advantage is improved detection and fewer false alarms.

Some systems use motion sensors that send out several beams across an indoor area. A slight motion or wind disrupting one beam won’t trigger the alarm. Anything interrupting two or more beams sets off an alarm.

Other systems monitor air pressure inside a house. Even a slight change from the preset level activates the alarm.

Newer features include audio sensors that listen for signature sounds - like the cracking of glass. Other options include fake dog barks if someone approaches too near a door or window.

The boom in home security technology clearly is tied to the rise in crime awareness, said Richards. Sales across the country in the past five years have grown 70 percent.

The major change, said Stella McDonald of ADT Security Systems of Spokane, is that many people who’ve never had their homes burglarized are buying the systems.

“Some are being scared into buying systems that are too complex,” Richards said.

The average homeowner can get nearly as much protection by never leaving doors and windows open; avoiding leaving mail uncollected or other signs that spell an empty home, said Richards.

Richards and other police officials don’t dismiss home security systems. They say they need to be purchased with care: “It’s like any investment. You have to do your research and consider what it is you want it to do,” said Richards.

While burglaries in Spokane decreased between 1990 and 1993, they increased in the past year from 2,699 to about 3,000, FBI statistics show.

That trend has to be part of the reason the makers and installers of home security systems are busy, said McDonald of ADT.

“We might have sold a couple of such systems a month a few years ago. We’re selling about 40 a month” (to both homes and businesses), she said.