Kansas home designed to help thwart burglars

Laminated glass, reinforced doors, alarm lights included

February 03, 2002|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - No moat, no battlements, no portcullis defend the house in the new Olathe, Kan., subdivision.

But in lots of less-than-obvious ways, the house will be more like a castle than the average new dwelling. Features from a basement "safe room" to high-mounted floodlights are designed to thwart burglars and make the house a modern suburban stronghold.

"We want people to say, `Where's the stuff at?'" said homebuilder Dave Allen, who is putting up the house along with business partner Ron Olberding in the Foxfield Village subdivision. "You can have a house whose primary selling point is the safety features, and not affect aesthetics by doing things like placing bars on the windows."

The builders worked out the safety enhancements with Overland Park (Kan.) Police Officer Mike Betten. When the three-bedroom house is finished, Betten plans to show it to fellow members of the Heart of America Crime Prevention Association, an organization of about 60 area police officers.

Officials with the National Crime Prevention Council in Washington, D.C., said they had never heard of a house built as a safety model.

`A fantastic idea'

"But it's a fantastic idea," council spokesman Todd Post said.

The builders estimate that the extra safety measures add about $1,500 to the cost of the house, which they plan to sell for about $175,000.

This house will have laminated glass in the ground-level windows and in the sliding glass door. Laminated glass looks like normal glass, but a layer of plastic is placed between two panes, creating a challenge for a would-be intruder trying to get inside quickly. To illustrate its strength, Betten shows a videotape of men repeatedly whacking laminated glass with a baseball bat.

"It's very difficult to get through," Betten said, pointing to cracked - but not completely broken - glass in a window.

The house's front and back doors will be reinforced with thick frames, extra hardware and tough locks. And to help residents be sure the garage door is closed, the builders plan to have a red light in the master bedroom that will shine if the door is open.

Motion detection lights will be mounted out of reach so that a burglar cannot unscrew the bulbs. And the telephone box, commonly found on the outside of a house, will be tucked away in the basement.

"When it's outside, a phone line can be cut so a resident can't call 911 and the alarm system becomes disabled," Betten said.

The builders, Allen and Olberding, plan to have a shock-sensor alarm on the house. It would sound if a burglar was jimmying a door, not just when the intruder was inside.

A safe room

The house also has a safe room under the porch. The 7-by-4-foot space can be used as a storm shelter or storage for valuables, or a place in which residents can lock themselves if an intruder gets inside the house.

"The space underneath the porch is generally just wasted space," Olberding said. "Nobody ever builds there."

The model safety house is the fulfillment of a goal Betten has had for five years.

He and Overland Park officials have made burglary prevention a top priority since 1996, the year an intruder sexually assaulted four residents. Police officers, including Betten, tested what was considered top-of-the-line hardware and discovered that even a lightweight person could easily kick open a door.

As a result, homes built in the city are now required to have thicker door frames, deadbolts and secure sliding doors. The features add $200 to $400 in building costs, Betten said.

No other cities in the area have these requirements in their building laws, but Betten hopes the model house will demonstrate to police in other departments that safety features are crucial.

Although national burglary rates are at the lowest they have been in three decades, according to the FBI, only 13.4 percent of burglary cases are solved. The rate of conviction in robberies is about twice as high.

Also, burglars are getting away with more goods. Nationwide, the average residential burglary yields a $1,381 loss.

"Technology has produced smaller things, which makes it easier to steal more stuff more quickly," Betten said.

Betten often gives presentations and points out that many of those convicted of burglaries also have committed violent crimes such as homicide, sexual assault and aggravated battery.

"That's why it's important to make a house safe like this one," Betten said. "We're going to use it as a training aid."

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