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Home Security

By far, the most common threat to our home is burglary. According to the FBI, a burglary occurs somewhere in the United States every 15.4 seconds. By definition, the crime of burglary is a non-confrontational crime. However, becoming a burglary victim can leave a family feeling vulnerable and violated. To avoid becoming a burglary victim, it is important to first gain an understanding of who commits them and why.  

The majority of home and apartment burglaries occur during the daytime when most people are away at work or school. The summer months of July and August have the most burglaries with February having the fewest crimes.

Burglaries are committed most often by young males under 25 years of age looking for items that are small, expensive, and can easily be converted to cash. Favorite items are cash, jewelry, guns, watches, laptop computers, VCRs, video players, CDs and other small electronic devices are high on the list. Quick cash is needed for living expenses and drugs. Statistics tell us that 70% of the burglars use some amount force to enter a dwelling but their preference is to gain easy access through an open door or window. Ordinary household tools like screwdrivers, channel-lock pliers, small pry bars, and small hammers are most often used by burglars.
Burglars continue to flourish because police can only clear about 13% of all reported burglaries and rarely catch the thief in the act.

Although home burglaries may seem random in occurrence, they actually involve a selection process. The burglar's selection process is simple. Choose an unoccupied home with the easiest access, the greatest amount of cover, and with the best escape routes. What follows is a list of suggestions to minimize your risk by making your home unattractive to potential burglars.

The first step is to "harden the target" or make your home more difficult to enter. Remember, the burglar will simply bypass your home if it requires too much effort or requires more skill and tools than they possess. Most burglars enter via the front, back, or garage doors. Experienced burglars know that the garage door is usually the weakest point of entry followed by the back door. The garage and back doors also provide the most cover.

Burglars know to look inside your car for keys and other valuables so keep it locked, even when parked inside your garage. Use high quality Grade-1 or Grade-2 locks on exterior doors to resist twisting, prying, and lock-picking attempts. A quality deadbolt lock will have a beveled casing to inhibit the use of channel-lock pliers used to shear off lock cylinder pins. A quality door knob-in-lock set will have a 'dead latch' mechanism to prevent slipping the lock with a shim or credit card.

Use a solid core or metal door for all entrance points
Use a quality, heavy-duty, deadbolt lock with a one-inch throw bolt
Use a quality, heavy-duty, knob-in-lock set with a dead-latch mechanism
Use a heavy-duty, four-screw, strike plate with 3-inch screws to penetrate into a wooden door frame
Use a wide-angle 160į peephole mounted no higher than 58 inches

The most common way used to force entry through a door with a wooden jamb kick it open. The weakest point is almost always the strike plate that holds the latch or lock bolt in place. The average door strike plate is secured with only door frame molding. These lightweight moldings are often tacked on to the door frame and can be torn away with a firm kick. Because of this construction flaw, it makes sense to upgrade to a four-screw, heavy-duty, high security strike plate. They are available in most quality hardware stores and home improvement centers and are definitely worth the extra expense. Install this heavy-duty strike plate using 3-inch wood screws to cut deep into the door frame stud.  Use these longer screws in the knob lock strike plate as well and use at least one long screw in each door hinge. This one step alone will deter or prevent most through-the-door forced entries. You and your family will sleep safer in the future.

Sliding glass doors are vulnerable to being forced open from the outside because of inherently defective latch mechanisms. This can be easily be prevented by inserting a wooden dowel or stick into the track thus preventing or limiting movement. Other blocking devices available are metal fold-down blocking devices called "charley bars" and various track-blockers that can be screwed down.

The blocking devices described above solve half the equation.  Older sliding glass doors can be lifted off their track and defeat the latch mechanism. To prevent lifting, you need to keep the door rollers in good condition and properly adjusted. You can also install anti-lift devices such as a pin that extends through both the sliding and fixed portion of the door. There are also numerous locking and blocking devices available in any good quality hardware store that will prevent a sliding door from being lifted or forced horizontally. Place highly visible decals on the glass door near the latch mechanism that indicates that an alarm system, a dog, or block watch/operation identification is in place. Burglars dislike alarm systems and definitely big barking dogs.

Use a secondary blocking device on all sliding glass doors
Keep the latch mechanism in good condition and properly adjusted
Keep sliding door rollers in good condition and properly adjusted
Use anti-lift devices such as through-the-door pins or upper track screws
Use highly visible alarm decals, beware of dog decals or block watch decal

Windows are left unlocked and open at a much higher rate than doors. An open window, visible from the street or alley, may be the sole reason for your home to be selected by a burglar. Ground floor windows are more susceptible to break-ins for obvious reasons. Upper floor windows become attractive if they can be accessed from a stairway, tree, fence, or by climbing on balconies. Windows have latches, not lock and therefore should have secondary blocking devices to prevent sliding them open from the outside. Inexpensive wooden dowels and sticks work well for horizontal sliding windows and through-the-frame pins work well for vertical sliding windows. For ventilation, block the window open no more than six inches and make sure you can't reach in from the outside and remove the blocking device or reach through and unlock the door. In sleeping rooms, these window blocking devices should be capable of being removed easily from the inside to comply with fire codes. Like sliding glass doors, anti-lift devices are necessary for ground level and accessible aluminum windows that slide horizontally. The least expensive and easiest method is to install screws half-way into the upper track of the movable glass panel to prevent it from being lifted out in the closed position. As a deterrent, place highly visible decals on the glass door near the latch mechanism that indicates that an alarm system, a dog, or block watch/operation identification system is in place.

Secure all accessible windows with secondary blocking devices
Block accessible windows open no more than 6 inches for ventilation
Make sure someone cannot reach through an open window and unlock the door
Make sure someone cannot reach inside the window and remove the blocking device
Use anti-lift devices to prevent window from being lifted out
Use crime prevention or alarm decals on ground accessible windows

Good neighbors should look out for each other. Get to know your neighbors on each side of your home and the three directly across the street. Invite them into your home, communicate often, and establish trust. Good neighbors will watch out for your home or apartment when you are away, if you ask them. They can report suspicious activity to the police or to you while you are away. Between them, good neighbors can see to it that normal services continue in your absence by allowing vendors to mow your lawn or remove snow. Good neighbors can pick up your mail, newspapers, handbills, and can inspect the outside or inside of your home periodically to see that all is well. Good neighbors will occasionally park in your driveway to give the appearance of occupancy while you are on vacation. Allowing a neighbor to have a key solves the problem of hiding a key outside the door. Experienced burglars know to look for hidden keys in planter boxes, under doormats, and above the ledge. Requiring a service vendor to see your neighbor to retrieve and return your house key will send the message that someone is watching. This neighborhood watch technique sets up what is called 'territoriality' which means that your neighbors will take ownership and responsibility for what occurs in your mini-neighborhood. This concept works in both single family homes communities and on apartment properties. This practice helps deter burglaries and other crimes in a big way. Of course for this to work, you must reciprocate and offer the same services.

Get to know all your adjacent neighbors
Invite them into your home and establish trust
Agree to watch out for each other's home
Do small tasks for each other to improve territoriality
While on vacation, pick up newspapers, and flyers
Offer to park your car in their driveway
Return the favor and communicate often

Interior lighting is necessary to show signs of life and activity inside a residence. A darken home night after night sends the message to burglars that you are away on a trip. Light timers are inexpensive and can be found everywhere. They should be used on a daily basis, not just when your away. In this way you set up a routine that your neighbors can observe and will allow them to become suspicious when your normally lighted home becomes dark. Typically, you want to use light-timers near the front and back windows with the curtains drawn. The pattern of them clicking on and off simulates actual occupancy. It is also comforting not to have to enter a dark residence. The same light timers can be used to turn on radios or television sets to further enhance the illusion of occupancy.

Exterior lighting is also very important. It becomes critical if you must park in a common area parking lot or underground garage and need to walk to your front door. The purpose of good lighting is to allow you to see if a threat or suspicious person is lurking in your path. If you can see a potential threat in advance then you at least have the choice and chance to avoid it. Exterior lighting needs to bright enough for you to see 100 feet and it helps if you can identify colors. Good lighting is definitely a deterrent to criminals because they don't want to be seen or identified. 

Another important area to be well-lighted is the perimeter of your home or apartment especially at the entryway. Exterior lighting on the front of a property should always be on a timer to establish a routine and appearance of occupancy at all times. Common area lighting on apartment properties should also be on a timer or photo-cell to turn on at dusk and turn off at dawn. Garage or porch lights left on all day on a single family home is a dead giveaway that you are out of town. Exterior lighting at the rear of a home or apartment are usually on a switch because of the proximity to the sleeping rooms. The resident can choose to leave these lights on or off. Security lights with infra-red motion sensors are relatively inexpensive and can easily replace an exterior porch light or side door light on single family homes. The heat-motion sensor can be adjusted to detect body heat and can be programmed to reset after one minute. These security lights are highly recommended for single family homes.

Use interior light timers to establish a pattern of occupancy
Exterior lighting should allow 100 foot visibility
Use good lighting along the pathway and at your door
Use light timers or photo-cells to turn on/off lights automatically
Use infra-red motion sensor lights on the rear of single family homes

Alarm systems definitely have a place in a home security plan and are effective, if used properly. The reason why alarms systems deter burglaries is because they increase the potential and fear of being caught and arrested by the police. The deterrent value comes from the alarm company lawn sign and from the alarm decals on the windows. Home and apartment burglars will usually bypass a property with visible alarm signs and will go to another property without such a sign. Some people, with alarm systems, feel that these signs and decals are unsightly and will not display them. The risk here is that an uninformed burglar might break a window or door and grab a few quick items before the police can respond. Also, don't write your alarm passcode on or near the alarm keypad.

Alarm systems need to be properly installed and maintained. Alarms systems can monitor for fire as well as burglary for the same price. All systems should have an audible horn or bell to be effective in case someone does break in. However, these audible alarms should be programmed to reset automatically after one or two minutes. The criminal got the message and will be long gone but your neighbors will have to listen to the alarm bell, sometimes for hours, until it is shut off. If you use a central station to monitor your alarm, make sure your response call list is up to date. Home alarms, like car alarms, are generally ignored except for a brief glance. However, if you have established and nurtured your neighborhood watch buddy system, you will experience a genuine concern by your neighbor. It is not unusual to have a neighbor wait for the police, allow them inside for an inspection, and secure the residence. A good neighbor can also call the glass company or locksmith to repair any damage, if pre-authorized by you. 

The biggest difficulty getting to this level of concern is taking the first step. You can take it by calling your local crime prevention unit at the police department. Most police departments in large cities have neighborhood watch coordinators to help you set this up. You should invite your adjacent neighbors over to your home for coffee and begin the information exchange. You'll be amazed how the process runs on automatic from there.

Alarm systems are effective deterrents with visible sign
Alarm systems to be properly installed, programmed, and maintained
Alarm systems need to have an audible horn or bell to be effective
Make sure your alarm response call list is up to date
Instruct your neighbor how to respond to an alarm bell

Since the prices of good home safes are falling, having a safe in your home is a wise investment. Home safes are designed to keep the smash and grab burglar, nosey kids, dishonest babysitter or housekeeper from gaining access to important documents and personal property. Home safes need to be anchored into the floor or permanent shelving.

Use the safe everyday so it becomes routine
Protect the safe code and change it occasionally
Install it away from the master bedroom or closet

This is a program supported by most police agencies. They recommend that you engrave your drivers license on televisions, stereos, computers, and small electronic appliances. They suggest this so they can identify and locate you if your stolen items are recovered. I suggest that you go way beyond this step.
I recommend that you photograph your valuables and make a list of the make, model, and serial numbers. You should keep this list in a safety deposit box or with a relative for safe keeping. Keep receipts of the larger items in case you need to prove the value of the items for insurance purposes. Beyond that, I recommend that you photocopy important documents and the contents of your wallet. You will be thankful that you took these steps in case your home is ever destroyed by fire or flood, is ransacked, or if your wallet is lost or stolen.

Identify your valuables by engraving your drivers license number
Photograph and record the serial numbers of all valuables
Photocopy the contents of your wallet and other documents
Store the copies in a safe deposit box or with a relative

Apartment Security Through Criminal Eyes
For the property thief, the decision to commit a crime on an apartment property is a risk versus reward exercise. The risk of committing this crime is the chance of getting caught, losing the property, and possibly their freedom. The reward is the perceived benefit obtained upon successful completion of the crime. A good apartment security plan will address this concept by using crime prevention measures that will increase the perpetratorís perception of being caught (risk), while diminishing their perceived value of their target (reward).

Property criminals view an apartment community differently than a prospect looking for a new place to live. For property thieves, itís more like going shopping and looking at the various items available to steal. They have a choice where and when they will commit a crime. If the thieves donít like the merchandise or the shopping experience at your property, they will go elsewhere. For them, the available targets equate to money. The things they steal can be converted to money or can be used so they donít have to spend their money. Property crimes are usually one of stealth, where the criminal does not want a confrontation or be identified. However, sometimes the property criminal will become violent if the opportunity presents itself or if surprised, cornered, or captured.
Those arrested for property crimes and usually male and between 18-21 years old. The studies show that most property criminals live nearby their target areas and are familiar with the neighborhood. It is an important comfort factor for them to know the terrain and all the potential escape routes. They will usually work the property on foot, unless they need a vehicle to transport the stolen merchandise. Sometimes the property criminal will have lived in the target apartment community or have a friend who is a current resident.

For apartment communities, recognizing and addressing the lower levels of criminal motivation is the first key to successful deterrence. A good crime prevention program works best on moderately and poorly motivated criminals. There are four key points to remember: (1) A criminalís motivation to commit a theft is at itís lowest level during the first visit to the property; (2) Criminal motivation increases with familiarity of the property; (3) Success, in committing crimes on a property, will increase the level of motivation to continue to commit more crimes; (4) It is three times more difficult to deter a criminal who has been successfully committing crimes on your property.

The best places to address lower levels of criminal motivation is at the entrances to the property, the perimeter of the buildings, and most importantly, in the leasing office. The property thief will view the lack of suitable escape routes as a trap and will simply choose another property to victimize. Good perimeter fencing and a reduced number of entrances after hours will often create that perception. Believe it or not, thieves read the signs that say, "Security Patrol" or "Neighborhood Watch" or "Crime Free Multi-Housing Program", even if we donít. Property thieves want to blend into a community, and they get uncomfortable when residents look suspiciously at them.

Survival Tips
Imagine this scenario.  After a long week at work, you are finally able to relax at home with your spouse and two teen-age daughters. Youíre in your living room watching TV with your spouse. Your daughters are in their own rooms doingÖwhatever. Because both of you have worked hard for many years, you are now able to live more comfortably in what you thought to be a safe community.

At 9:00PM you hear a knock on the door and your spouse gets up to answer the door. After the door is unlocked you hear a sudden outburst as two strange young men burst through the door and into your living room. As the door crashes open, you see your spouse is being punched and beaten to the floor. Before you have time react you are overcome by physical force and threats of harm to you and your family. The two men are brandishing guns and are shouting obscene threats and commands simultaneously as they push you onto the couch. One of the men quickly searches the house for other occupants while the other stands guard over you.

Your mind is racing. Will we be killed? Will these attackers beat us or molest our daughters? The level of terror and anxiety is enormous and will cause victims to sometimes act irrationally. Some will freeze and become incapacitated from fright. Others will instinctively resist and try to fight back. Others will run away if possible. Psychologists have labeled this phenomenon as the ďfight or flight syndrome.Ē The first thirty seconds are the most critical to your familyís survival.

What Would You Do?
Most people have never pondered this question for themselves or with their families. How will I react under similar circumstances? How will my family react independent of me? How will we react together? How you naturally react depends on many factors: your sex, age, physical condition, culture, personality, how you process information, how you react under extreme pressure, special training, skills, and past experience in responding to aggression. Most people donít know for sure how they will respond to a personal crisis until it occurs. Many are surprised afterwards by their behavior as having been heroic, calm, cowardly or stupid.

Would you try to overpower the invaders? Would you go for your gun? Would you try to activate an alarm? Would you try to escape and call for help? Would you comply with their demands and hope they donít hurt you? Would you allow them to tie you up? Would you allow them to take a family member away from the home? Would you risk death to save your family from harm?

The response possibilities are endless but most fall into three general response possibilities. You can resist the assault; comply with all commands; or you can try to stay calm, wait, and resist or comply as the scenario evolves. One thing is clear, there is no one single correct response to a life-threatening home invasion scenario. The choice is personal, based on your own assessment of your physical and mental capabilities and your belief as to the level of eminent danger.

Sometimes fighting and screaming works especially if there are neighbors who will intervene or call the police. It makes no sense to risk fighting if you are physically incapable of doing so effectively. Total compliance sometimes works. The invaders might leave you unharmed and just leave. However, compliance may increase the duration of the invasion and therefore increases the potential for molestation. You need to thoughtfully search your mind and soul for how you might act under the circumstances and plan accordingly.

What Works
Having a family and neighborhood plan is essential. If you develop a home security plan and talk about it with your family and neighbors the chances of acting appropriately and getting help are greatly improved.

Prevention works best. Harden your home or apartment with strong doors and locks and three-inch screws in the lock strike plate and door hinges. Use a wide-angle peephole and instruct everyone in your family not to open the door to strangers. Chain latches do not work as a barrier, so use your peephole before opening the door. Be suspicious of someone claiming to be making a delivery that you did not order or use other ruses to get you to open the door. Fortification of rear doors, sliding glass doors, and garage doors are also important. This gives you the necessary time to phone 911, sound audible alarms, or arm yourself.

Audible alarm systems can prevent home invasion...if they are set. Alarm systems can be designed so that perimeter door and window sensors are be set while the home is occupied. The alarm can be set to instantly go off upon unauthorized entry. Be prepared to give a prearranged duress password to the alarm company if they call. Most alarm panels have an emergency panic button that will function much like a 911 call and will instruct your alarm monitoring company to call the police. Alarm company lawn and window signs help advertise that your house is wired and capable of getting a response from the police. These alarm signs and decals offer good deterrence value and may cause the robber to look elsewhere.

Automatic dial telephones, that can call 911 in speakerphone mode, can be effective in getting police assistance. If a home invader breaks in you may have just a split second to push the 911 direct- dial button on your telephone. If you dial in speakerphone mode the police dispatcher can listen in on what is going on in the room. Every telephone in your home should be programmed with this feature and all family members should be instructed how to make this emergency call. Your home address will automatically pop up on the police dispatcher screen and an officer should be dispatched even if the phone wire is cut. All 911 hang-up calls are supposed to be investigated by the police because of this type of scenario.

Have an escape plan. If someone in the household can escape and call for help, the home invaders will have lost their advantage of having privacy and time. To some, running away from your family in crisis is distasteful, especially to men or women with children. However, the alternative might mean being handcuffed or tied-up or otherwise incapacitated and left to watch in horror as your family is molested. If you have a plan for escaping, make sure you include were to run and what to say. Sometimes a radical escape measure pays off, in life and death circumstances, like diving through a plate glass window, jumping from a balcony or climbing onto the roof. Although you might sustain minor injuries you must weigh them against your chance of survival with the assailants.  

Home invaders will sometimes threaten harm to children to get adults to comply with their demands. But at the same time, children are often overlooked as potential rescuers and sometimes not as well guarded. If the opportunity presents itself, a trained child can dial 911, activate an alarm panic button, or escape to the neighborís house to summon the police. If they are capable, they should do it.

Keeping a cool head is important, even in dire circumstances. If you can keep your wits about you one can increase their options by waiting for the right moment to act. Always be thinking and re-evaluating the situation as it evolves. At first there may be no chance for escape, but after a while you may see an opening. Fighting may not be wise, however the attackers may let their guard down once you appear to comply. If you decide to strike a blow, do it fast, suddenly, and forceful to the nose, eyes, or throat without concern for the damage you might inflict. While the assailant is momentarily stunned, make your escape. Donít stand there waiting to throw more punches or gather family members. You might ask, won't that cause them to harm me for sure? Maybe, if they catch you. This is an option that must be considered. Sometimes hours into the siege, an opportunity arises where you can hit the automatic dial on the telephone or alarm panic button without being seen. Always be looking for that chance.

What Doesnít Always Work
Screaming and shouting is the easiest and most natural thing that almost everyone can do. Screaming can alert savvy neighbors to call the police or the noise alone may scare off the home invaders. However, home invaders know this and will be prepared to make you stop screaming, by force, if necessary. One of the first threats you will hear is, ďif you scream Iíll kill you.Ē If you canít escape, but are out in public, scream your head off. Scream things like, ďcall 911.Ē Visit with your neighbors so they know that you have a family plan and teach them how to react when you need help.

Handguns and pepper spray can provide a means of self-defense in a life-threatening situation. Homeowners have successfully defended their families in the past from home invaders. However, far more homeowners have lost their weapons to home invaders than have been able to get to them in time to use them. Most handguns or chemical sprays are tucked away somewhere or unloaded or locked up to prevent children from getting their hands on them. During a home invasion, you cannot always count on your ability to get to the weapon before being injured yourself.

Fighting sometimes works, especially if you have some training and are physically fit. But for most, fighting doesn't work because the victim was pre-selected for that reason. In a life-threatening situation there are no rules for fighting. The idea is not to stand toe-to-toe and duke it out. All you need is one incapacitating blow to the nose, eyes, or throat to allow time to get out of there and call for help. Take a self-defense class together with your family so all can learn the proper techniques and can practice the procedures.

Faking illness doesnít always work especially in the home. Most home invaders donít care about your welfare anyway. Faking illness might work in public or while being transported or while fighting off molesters but donít count on it as you only choice. You must decide in advance depending on your acting skills.

What Not to Do
Donít ever try to pull a weapon on an armed perpetrator who has you covered with a handgun unless you feel itís your last chance. Donít ever agree to be transported somewhere else like to an ATM machine or other location unless you feel it's a life or death decision. The second crime scene is almost always more violent than in your home. If you have a choice, never agree to be tied-up, handcuffed or placed in the trunk of a car because it takes away most of your options. Donít ever follow an intruder once they leave your residence. Leave that for the police. Donít fight over property loss, it can be replacedÖyour life cannot.Above article is courtesy of Chris E. McGoey, CPP, CAM The Crime Doctor. For more info please visit his site at http://www.crimedoctor.com 

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