Like the would-be burglars who attacked the home of Andy and Tracey Ferrie in Leicestershire, a burglar came into my neighbour's home recently, while most normal people slept. Unlike the Ferrie family, my neighbour didn't have a shotgun. Instead, she bravely summoned up a scream which woke the household and caused the burglar to flee. Her children were traumatised by the experience.
I'm a very lucky man. I live with my family in a nice house in a leafy suburb. We have terrific families living next to us, who hand vegetables over the garden fence, find the time for a cup of tea, and often help out with the children. We also look out for each other. We have to, as our neighbourhood is frequently targeted by burglars.
By day, they prowl the streets targeting vulnerable houses. These opportunist thieves will attack a property in an instant. They climb through the open window or force the french doors, ransack the place, and make off with cash, jewellery, computers and Xboxes. Other burglars are a bit more strategic. Often they're looking for high value cars parked on driveways, and will sometimes leave a colour coded mark on a fence, gatepost, or wall, to inform their cohorts. In the dead of night they return, creep into your house and make off with your keys and your Audi.
Everybody round here has a burglary tale to tell, be it victim, friend of victim, or as someone who has had their sleep disturbed by the police, who with their dogs and helicopters all try to catch these detestable thieves. I caught a few burglars in my time as a cop. Very few arrests were more satisfying for a uniformed officer than that rare capture of a burglar in the act. Most of the ones I caught had fled from the scene and were found hiding under cars, in gardens, and on one unforgettable occasion we nicked a man who became known as "the man from Atlantis", because he hid from us for over an hour in a fishpond, which was covered by a sheet of corrugated iron. It was January and he nearly froze to death.
So what's the right course of action when you come across a thief in your own home? It's a question I don't want to have to answer, so I've done all I can to prevent a burglar targeting our home in the first place. Follows these steps, and the chances are you will never have to deal with that question either.
Step No 1: replace your front door with one that doesn't have a letter box. Burglars look through letter boxes, and put devices through them, including extendable fishing rods, with which they steal your keys as they hang in the hallway. It's a no brainer, ditch the letter box.
Step No 2: fit a burglar alarm. The cost of these need not be prohibitive and they are a valuable deterrent. When you go to bed at night you can activate the zones that you don't sleep in, meaning the ground floor of your home can be alarmed while you sleep soundly upstairs. The same principle can apply whether you live in a flat or a mansion.
Step No 3: fit CCTV to your home. Modern systems can be relatively inexpensive and look a whole lot better than the ugly earlier versions. The monitor can go in a garage, a loft or a cupboard and few burglars will want to be captured onscreen. Should your home be targeted, the police can be provided with valuable evidence.
Step No 4 (optional): get a dog. I don't have one, but I know what a brilliant deterrent a loyal and loud dog can be.
And now for the obvious: close your windows and doors at night and when you go out. Fit security locks if need be. Follow these steps and the chances are you will never have to face the dilemma of what to do when a burglar breaks in. Sacrifice a holiday to pay for your security. We all have a responsibility to protect ourselves, our families and our possessions. Don't let the thieves win, and don't come crying to me if you ignore my advice and become a victim.
Given all the frightening headlines about exotic mortgage products and under-water home loans, it's easy to forget about the old-fashioned threats to property. But in 2007 alone, there were nearly 2.2 million burglaries in the United States, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates. While that's down slightly from 2006 levels, the figures represent a 1 percent increase from five years earlier. Even worse, more than two thirds of all burglaries in 2007 involved residential properties. But if they approach home theft from the offender's point of view, homeowners can reduce the chances that their home will be targeted, says Steve Houseworth, a program director for Theft Talk, a nonprofit counseling service. In a recent interview with U.S. News, Houseworth outlined eight simple and inexpensive steps that owners can take to make their properties less vulnerable to intruders.
1. Sign up: While home security systems are great tools for preventing burglaries, they can be quite expensive. For a more affordable alternative, Houseworth recommends a little trickery: putting a home security sign in your yard without actually obtaining the service. It's an approach Houseworth uses himself—"I'm too cheap," he says. The sign convinces would-be burglars that your home is in fact protected by a security system, which makes them less inclined to target your property. "Just think from a burglar's point of view: 'Am I going to break into the building or the home that has a security system?' " Houseworth says. " 'Or am I going to go next door to the one that doesn't?' "
2. Beware of the garage: Garages are a common entry point for burglars, Houseworth says. Open garage doors serve to advertise your belongings to passersby, which increases the likelihood of theft. So, homeowners should make sure their garage door remains closed anytime they aren't present. "Take away the attractive appeal to what someone might want to steal," Houseworth says.
3. Be a neighbor: Neighbors can play a key role in preventing home thefts. Homeowners on friendly terms with their neighbors are less likely to be victimized by other members of their community. At the same time, closely knit neighbors are more likely to call the police if they see someone suspicious poking around your property. "If they like you and they care about you and they are concerned about their community, then if they see something unusual going on then they will check it out or call the police," Houseworth says. So don't be a hermit: Get out and interact with your neighbors.
4. Keep valuables outside the bedroom: A burglar on the hunt for valuables in a home will make the master bedroom their first stop—since that's where the cash and jewelry are most commonly stored. So if you do keep such valuables on your property, find another room to store them. "I don't keep anything in my bedroom," Houseworth says. "And I don't have much—deliberately—of great value of the small items [that] are the ones burglars like to steal [stored in my home]."
5. No land escaping: Burglars prefer to target homes that have hiding spots and escape routes in the yards, and abundant bushes and trees make for great cover, Houseworth says. As a result, yards with less shrubbery and more open spaces aren't particularly appealing targets. "If the home is open and relatively exposed, a burglar will think, 'I'm going to go in, and if something goes wrong, how am I going to get out of here?' " Houseworth says.
6. Install motion sensors: Light is a great deterrent for nighttime break-ins. Houseworth recommends homeowners install motion sensors on outdoor lights that turn on automatically if someone triggers them. "I have mine hard-wired in, but they have some that are actually screwed in," he says.
7. Radio running: Noise helps prevent burglaries as well. Houseworth leaves his radio on all day so that would-be burglars think that someone is at home. "Your home is more likely to be burglarized during the day because they think that nobody is home," he says.
8. Free police inventory: Homeowners should be sure to remember the basics of home-theft prevention: keeping windows and doors locked at all times. For homeowners looking to go a step further, Houseworth suggests contacting the local police department and having an officer stop by the house for a safety checkup. "I don't know of any police department that if you call them and ask them to do an inventory of your home to help harden it, they won't come out free and give you advice on how to improve your home," Houseworth says.
Tags: crime, housing, real estate, police