Home, sweet fortress: Shootings create business opportunity

July 11, 1994|By New York Times News Service

SAN ANTONIO -- There were 1,262 drive-by shootings in this city last year, in which at least 19 people died. Scott Shaheen says he sees much shame in that statistic. But he sees something else as well: a business opportunity.

At a cost of anywhere from $3,000 to $7,000 and up, Shaheen, a general contractor, can make a house bullet-resistant, he says.

He will fortify the front doors, walls and ceilings with a bullet-blocking, fiberglass-based material that is a half-inch thick, throw in special panels to cover the windows and offer tips for avoiding the line of fire.

The protective panels are not visible from outside. The window panels are visible, but they are supposed to be closed at night to protect against attacks.

"It's totally ridiculous that anybody should ever have to do this," Mr. Shaheen said. "But there's a bigger demand than we ever imagined. A lot of people out there are scared for their lives."

Several of the deaths from drive-by shootings last year occurred after bullets penetrated house walls.

Mr. Shaheen has transformed only one house so far, partly as a model for reporters and a few others to view, although he said he had heard from potential customers from "all walks of life, all income areas, all parts of town," since the venture was featured on local television several weeks ago.

While many companies offer bullet-resistant material for commercial customers, like banks and warehouses, several law-enforcement officials around the nation said Mr. Shaheen's company, Bullet Resistant Systems Ltd., was the first they knew of to offer protection to homeowners.

Many of them have mixed feelings about it, worrying that the technology could be used by criminals as well as by law-abiding homeowners.

The San Antonio Police Department has neither encouraged nor discouraged the retrofitting of homes to make them bullet-resistant.

But Sylvester Daughtry, the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said that, while the new concept "may have some public safety value," he was concerned that the technology could be used to fortify crack houses, for example, allowing criminals to ambush police officers with little concern about return fire.

But Mr. Shaheen said, "There are ways to defeat the system." The police could get past it, he added.

The house where Mr. Shaheen's system has been installed is in a middle-class neighborhood of small, single-family, ranch-style homes in northwest San Antonio.

The homeowner, who agreed to a tour on the condition that he not be identified, said that teen-age gang members lived across the street in a house that had been fired at several times in recent months. At least six

holes that appear to have been made by bullets are visible at that house.

While the modified house has not sustained any damage, the homeowner said, his attempt to talk over the problem with the teen-agers had left him stunned and afraid.

"I never expected in all my life to be scared of some kid," he said. "But you look into those kids' eyes, there's no soul there."

So the man paid Mr. Shaheen $3,200 to build a sliding panel across a large front window, fortify the front door and, most important to him, erect two bullet-resistant panels in the back of the garage, which leads directly into his teen-age son's bedroom.

In a "simulated drive-by" by the company, shown on local television here, three men armed with 9-millimeter and .357 Magnum handguns and a shotgun jumped from the back of a pickup truck and fired more than 72 rounds at a mock house that had been protected against bullets. They also shot at regular wallboard.

The bullet-resistant house front was pockmarked with bullet holes, but none penetrated; they either bounced off or became embedded in the material. All the bullets shot at the regular wallboard passed through.

But Mr. Shaheen cautioned: "These walls will not stop everything. They will not stop your AK-47, a full-metal jacket, armor-piercing round."

That would be much more expensive. "To stop an AK-47 would take a considerable amount of money," said Charles Zeglin, TC detective in the gang information section of the Los Angeles Police Department.

"Our SWAT teams wear vests that will stop an AK-47, and those cost well over $1,500. I can't imagine what it would cost to cover a house."

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