Other than in movies, career criminals rarely become heroes. But Walter Shaw could be the exception.
Mr. Shaw is a self-acknowledged jewel thief from the Miami area who has been suspected in hundreds of thefts but was never caught in the act. Now he has turned his anti-social talents in a new direction in the Wood Knapp video release "Stop Thief! How to Protect Your Home From a Break-In" (60 minutes, $9.98). In some small way, perhaps Mr. Shaw is atoning for a life of crime.
Also on the tape is Eddie Egan, the former New York City detective whose exploits formed the basis of "The French Connection." But Mr. Egan's contribution as a host is slight, and his presence seems like window dressing compared with Mr. Shaw's extended discourse on the art of cat burgling.
The tape shows Mr. Shaw driving through well-heeled Miami communities as he points out likely targets. By the time a burglary team sets out on a job (10 to 14 houses in a night, he says), the professional thief has learned the layout as well as any resident. Planned communities are a favorite, he says, because information packets for home buyers summarize everything: house floor plans, access routes, location of police stations, maps and so on.
What's more, such communities often have private security forces, which Mr. Shaw dismisses as "kiddie cops" who lack the experience to ward off the accomplished thief. Their mission is not to thwart crime, he says, but to provide residents with a false sense of security.
After describing the general work habits of burglars, Mr. Shaw goes into the problems of doors, windows and locks and offers useful suggestions on the best types to foil thieves, or at least slow them down. What you learn about jalousie-style windows and sliding glass doors (the burglar's favorite) may leave you sleepless with worry. And forget burglar bars, says Mr. Shaw -- they take just five minutes to defeat.
In a segment on alarm systems, Mr. Shaw shares the camera with a security expert who explains the many different types: body-heat sensors, motion detectors, magnetic contact switches for doors and window, audio discriminators that pick up the sound of glass breaking, and more. Although he doesn't contradict the expert's claims for alarms, Mr. Shaw seems unimpressed by most of this gadgetry and he tells of entering alarmed houses where people have carelessly left doors and windows open.
What do burglars hate? Lots of light, police helicopters and dogs top Mr. Shaw's list. But his ultimate message is that anti-burglary gadgets can do only so much. Homeowners have to be more vigilant and less trusting of the people they deal with during the day: salespeople, and repair and delivery workers. His own gang, he says, included a restaurant owner and a jewelry dealer, and such people are in a position to pick up clues about customers' social plans or business trips.
As for his specialty, jewelry, Mr. Shaw recommends putting it in a bank vault and retrieving it on weekends.