New Missouri subdivision offers full camera security feature

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WENTZVILLE, Mo. (AP) - The trampoline outside the model home sits idle without a child in sight - and so does the patio's kid-sized table scattered with storybooks including Bambi and The Poky Little Puppy.
From the vantage point of the home's surveillance camera, one might wonder, Where did the children go? Did the monitor in the kitchen just show a strange car driving down the street?
In a home with

WENTZVILLE, Mo. (AP) - The trampoline outside the model home sits idle without a child in sight - and so does the patio's kid-sized table scattered with storybooks including Bambi and The Poky Little Puppy.

From the vantage point of the home's surveillance camera, one might wonder, Where did the children go? Did the monitor in the kitchen just show a strange car driving down the street?

In a home with ample views of cows grazing in a nearby farm, child abduction scenarios might seem like the wrong sales pitch for a new subdivision in Wentzville - a city where the murder rate last year was zero and violent crime at the hands of a stranger is nearly nonexistent.

But inside the meticulous model home, real estate agent Joanie Graflage can't stop talking about kidnappings, break-ins, peeping Toms, petty theft and any of the other "God forbids" that haunt the hearts of parents.

"It may not all be about child abduction, but someone could break into your home," she says.

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Graflage is selling homes for the Villages of Hampton Grove, a neighborhood that's being marketed as Missouri's first fully camera-secure subdivision. Three surveillance cameras resembling tiny, black shower nozzles come standard on the exterior of every home.

When the $200,000 to $400,000 homes are built, owners will be able to glance at a computer monitor perched above their refrigerators to keep tabs not only on their kids, but also the front door, the driveway or the backyard. And they'll be able to review nearly a month's worth of digital video.

"God forbid if someone tries to take a kid from Lot 17," Graflage says pointing to a map of vacant lots in the 46-home subdivision.

Behind her sits a pile of marketing fliers neatly fanned out on a table. The fliers are illustrated with a masked burglar dressed in black looming above a family with two children playing catch.

"We're going to take information from cameras on Lot 18, Lot 19, Lot 20 and on," she says.

In a cutthroat housing market where weeds are sprouting faster than homes in many unfinished St. Charles County subdivisions, developer Rodney Estes and his brother-in-law, Ken Richards - a home and business surveillance expert - said the cameras are proving to be the closer with fickle buyers. That's especially true when they learn that they can view the footage from work on the Internet, allowing mom to check whether her teen arrived home from school on time.

Joe Zanola, a St. Louis-based marketing consultant for the housing industry, said an entire subdivision wired for personal surveillance is a new idea to him, but one that's likely to connect with middle-class home buyers. He suspects, like granite counter tops, they will one day come standard in most new homes.

Cheryl Thompson was one of the first to buy in Hampton Grove. The mother of three teenagers says the $2,500 systems give her peace of mind.

"The cameras were the selling point because we travel a lot," she said. "We wanted to make sure that we're being watched."

But experts who analyze crime statistics wonder if the subdivision is more safe because of the cameras.

Daniel Gardner, author of the book "The Science of Fear," said the developers have hooked into a masterful marketing strategy: appealing to people's subconscious fear of crime over reason.

"When it comes to something like the safety of your children and home invasion, I mean that strikes us in the gut," he said.

Gardner argues that gut instincts, instead of facts and statistics, often lead people to make poor decisions. In Hampton Grove, he said, people are likely basing one of the biggest purchases of their lives on $2,500 worth of electronic equipment that at best "will push the crime down the street."

Buyers would be much wiser to focus on the infrequency of child abduction - not only in Wentzville, but nationwide, Gardner said.

Of the nation's more than 262,000 child disappearances in a year, only about 115 of them are stereotypical stranger kidnappings, according to federal statistics. Most are the result of custody disputes and altercations regarding families, teens and their peers. Statistically, children are dozens of times more likely to drown in a swimming pool than be abducted by stranger, Gardner said.

But Cynthia Gipson, grandmother of six, said, "One time is all it takes to be missing," as she and her husband picked out a lot in the subdivision during a Sunday open house. "The camera thing is huge to us," she said. "I watch these shows where these predators get the kids."

The Wentzville Police Department has no position on the cameras, nor their effectiveness as a deterrent or a crime-solver. Spokesman Capt. Kevin Pyatt said the department rarely gets decent crime tips off cameras in homes, but he has fielded complaints from people who believe they are routinely being watched by their neighbor's surveillance cameras.

The developers say people would rather live in the subdivision that has the cameras than the one next to it that does not.

Later, when a mom and her five young daughters walk single-file through the kitchen, Graflage tips her head down and whispers, "They're going to need a security system because of all those beautiful girls."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. Active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.





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