“In the high-end home alarm world, Avante Security is king.” – Toronto Life
Drive down any of the city’s best streets—Dunvegan, Old Forest Hill, Post, Cluny—and the Avante logo is as prevalent as Range Rovers. The signs do more than ward off would-be thieves: for homeowners, they’re a status symbol. The company provides personal security for local and visiting VIPs— Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Jeb Bush and members of the Saudi royal family are recent clients—as well as security guards for the mega-rich travelling abroad. The bulk of its business, however, is in residential security. Since 2010, Avante has doubled its customer base to 2,000 homes and its annual revenue to $12 million. At the company’s North York command centre, three hulking employees sit inside a glassed-in bubble, monitoring computer screens and a wall of 50-inch TVs. From a desk chair, operators can monitor the intimate movements of some of Toronto’s most powerful residents: when they come and go, when they sleep, how they take their eggs. The secrets contained inside this room represent a significant portion of Toronto’s net worth.
Luis D’Agosto is Avante’s senior operative. He’s about as tall as he is wide, with a faint goatee and a shaved, pockmarked head. He’s also incredibly polite, tacking a courteous “sir” onto just about every sentence. D’Agosto trains Avante’s 35 operatives in baton, sharp weapons and handcuffing skills, use of force, and crisis management, though over the past 25 years has mostly spent his days driving around Forest Hill, Rosedale, Lawrence Park and the Bridle Path in a discretely marked car, one of at least 10 perpetually on patrol, looking out for anything abnormal. As a result, he’s in a state of constant vigilance, scanning for potential threats, even when he’s off duty. “It drives my wife nuts at parties,” he says.
I accompanied D’Agosto on a patrol of Forest Hill. After 30 minutes, he slammed on the brakes and reversed up Old Forest Hill Road, hopped out, trudged up the front walk of a brick two storey home and picked up a package sitting on the front step. D’Agosto knocked on the door and handed it to the owner, who recognized him and smiled affectionately. “It doesn’t look good when a package is sitting out like that. A thief might assume there’s no one home,” he explained later. Crime is good for business. Every month, the company sends out a newsletter detailing the latest threats. Avanteinstructs their clients to report break-ins at non-Avante homes in the neighbourhood— all in the name of community safety, of course—and quickly dispatches their sales staff to knock on doors. In November 2014, four houses on the same Rosedale street were burgled; all are now customers. At the low end, the systems cost $600 to install and $30 per month for monitoring. The high end is stratospheric. One system, just installed, features a panic room, a dozen high-resolution security cameras, heat sensors, security shutters and state-of-the-art vibration sensors, all of it carefully disguised to blend in with the interior decor. The price tag: $1.5-million.
Starting in 2010, second-storey break-ins on Russell Hill, Briar Hill, Parkwood, Glencairn, Dunloe, Strathallan Wood and Alexandra Wood filled the Forest Hill gossip mill with rumours of the mysterious cat burglar who broke in through the roof. In York Region, the problem was even more dramatic: hundreds of break-ins, all through the second storey, and all on the ritziest streets: Elgin Mills Road, Elgin Street, Thornbank Road, and more. In December 2012, Avante clients on the Bridle Path returned home to find a massive hole, hacked away with a hatchet, in their master bathroom ceiling—though nothing was missing, probably because Avante was on the scene in three minutes. The year before, a client in the Yonge and York Mills area came home to find the skylight forced open—the thief had descended via a rope to the second storey—and a small collection of jewellery missing. D’Agosto arrived on the scene minutes after an alarm sounded, but the perp had vanished, the getaway rope still swinging.