"Last night my apartment was broken into and my car was stolen. I am sad to say that I think it was my 13-year-old son and some of his friends. My son has recently been directed to reside with his father. He is not happy with this decision and keeps running away. He is has been taken into custody a few times recently and in court he agrees to go to his fathers then runs. I was away working for a couple of days and came home to a broken kitchen window and remains of a party in the living area. My car keys and house keys have been taken. I woke up later last night someone was in the apartment when they realised I was there, they left quickly, and then I realised my car was no longer parked outside. I have reported it to the police...do you have any advice?"
Unfortunately, this is a very common experience for parents who have sent their child to live elsewhere, whether at another parent’s house, a relative, or placement in a facility. It’s not uncommon for the child to return home, especially when he knows the parent is away, to help himself to the comforts of his former abode.
Your home should be a safe haven where you are protected from the outside world – even when it’s your own son [who is not supposed to be on the property without your permission]. I know it feels like a shame to have to talk about protecting yourself from your son, but you do what you have to do. I’m going to provide you with some crucial tips below, and it will probably seem ridiculous that one should have to go to these lengths.
In any event, here are 8 things you can do to make your home a safer and more burglar resistant place to live:
1. Doors: Proper doors are an important part of burglar proofing a home. The most common door used in homes is the hinge door. All exterior hinge doors should be solid wood core construction or be metal clad. Never install a door meant for inside use on the outside of a home. These doors are usually hollow inside, or made of inferior materials and are not a proper deterrent to a break in.
Doors made of wood panels, or those with glass panes may be aesthetically appealing, but they are not as safe as solid doors because the panels or glass panes are easily broken.
If the hinges on your door are exposed, and they probably are, non-removable hinge pins should be used to prevent removal of the door. Drill two holes opposite each other in the center of both leaves of the hinge, then insert a headless screw or nail into the leaf on the door frame side. Allow the screw or nail to protrude 1/2". The screw will engage the other hinge leaf when the door is closed.
Sliding Glass doors can be a safety hazard because they are easy to lift off the tracks and remove. To make such a door safer, use track screws, installed in the upper track of the door. The frame or the door should just clear the heads of the screws making it impossible to lift the door up. This leaves the criminal only one option, breaking the glass, which takes time and makes noise and will usually deter the average burglar.
2. The importance of proper locks: No matter what type of door is used, it will not be an effective deterrent to break-ins without a sturdy lock.
The lock on a door knob is simply a privacy device, not an effective lock. Sheriff’s Offices recommend a double-locking dead bolt on the door, one that uses a key on both sides. When someone is at home, the key should be kept either in the lock on the inside, or hanging somewhere nearby to ensure a quick escape in case of fire. Make sure the key does not hang near enough to a window or a pane of glass for a burglar to reach inside and get it.
The only time a double locking dead bolt is not recommended is if there is someone in the house incapable of unlocking it quickly in an emergency, such as a small child or handicapped person.
There are several other features a good dead bolt should have. Look for a one inch throw with a one eighth inch roller pin inside to prevent burglars from cutting through it. The lock should have a free turning cylinder guard around the key hole and one-quarter inch heat treated retaining bolts through the door to hold the lock on.
A 180 degree see-all viewer, commonly known as a peephole, is another safety device to include in a solid door. It will give a full view of anyone coming to the door, even if the person is standing to the side out of the normal line of sight.
3. Outside the home: It is very easy to let a home become overgrown with trees, vines and other plants. This may be a nice way to protect privacy. Unfortunately, this can also increase a home’s risk of burglary.
Allowing bushes and trees to grow on the borders of the property, or in front of windows will not only hide private activities from view, it will hide a burglar’s activities from view as well. Thieves can crouch behind these bushes and easily remove a window pane, gaining access to the inside of the home.
In addition, it makes it very difficult for sheriff’s deputies to check a home’s security while they are on routine patrol. Police officers are constantly driving through neighborhoods day and night and checking for anything unusual, such as signs of a break-in or strangers in the area. Allowing a home to become overgrown will not only provide a hiding place for thieves, but will create an obstruction to these deputies trying to check safety and security.
To make sure bushes and trees are properly trimmed, go out into the street during the day and look at the home as a burglar would. Are all the windows on the front and sides of the home visible? Would a burglar be able to hide from someone driving by the house? If you feel safe with the answer, your yard is properly trimmed.
4. Lighting: Another way to make it difficult for someone to break in your home, and easy for a patrolling officer to check on it, is to install adequate lighting in the yard as well as inside your home. A brightly lit yard at night is an undesirable yard for a stranger to enter if he is planning to break in. A well lit home interior will also discourage a burglar by making him or her think someone is at home.
A home owner can either install outside lighting, or call the local electric company for assistance. The City Electric System will install a street light on private property for a small fee of approximately $7 per month. The electric companies also provide free maintenance for such lights.
There are many types of yard lights to choose from. Traditional lights are mounted on the outside of a home, or on a pole in the yard. They are manually turned on and off, usually in the morning and the evening. These lights work well, except when a homeowner goes on vacation. Then, they must either be left on or left off either way, it makes it easy for a burglar to tell you aren’t home.
This is where timers for lights come in. It is relatively easy and inexpensive to buy timers for yard lights that will turn them on and off when you aren’t at home. The Sheriff’s Office highly recommends you have timers on your yard lights.
Another option in yard lighting is installing motion detector lights. Motion lights are yard lights that come on when their sensors detect body heat or motion nearby. This can be useful for several reasons: if you come home at night after dark, the lights will automatically come on when you approach; and, if a burglar enters what appears to be a dark yard, the lights will suddenly come on, scaring him or her away.
If you are an energy conscious person, most hardware stores market solar lights for the yard. Most of these lights will store enough energy during the day from the sun to stay lit for up to eight hours during the night.
In any case, lighting your yard is a must for a safe and secure home. Once you get lights installed, turn them on at night and go out to the street. If you can see most areas of your lawn, particularly around the home’s windows, you have a well lighted yard.
5. House numbers: Many people don’t realize how important it is to put visible house numbers on their homes. Posted addresses are not only used by the United States Post Office to deliver the mail, they are also crucial for law enforcement, fire department or ambulance personnel trying to locate a house in an emergency.
It is common to hear people give their official address as, for example, the second from the last house on a certain street. While this may sound quaint, it can make it extremely difficult for someone trying to locate the house in a hurry. If possible, obtain a numerical address for your house by going to the local branch of the United States Post Office and asking the postmaster to provide one.
To make it easy for the sheriff’s office, or other emergency personnel to respond in an emergency, put house numbers in a prominent and visible place. Having house numbers on a mailbox is important, but the mailbox is not always in a good spot for quick viewing.
When purchasing the numbers, make sure they are four to six inches high, and a contrasting color to the background color of the building.
Remember, post office personnel are not the only ones who need to find a house. For safety and security, make sure an ambulance, fire truck, or sheriff’s deputy can respond to the correct location quickly in an emergency.
6. Dogs as a deterrent: There are many things that can make a home structurally more secure against burglars. Alarm systems, secure windows, and top quality dead bolt locks are just a few relatively easy security devices that can be installed for added safety.
One of the most effective deterrents, however, really doesn’t have anything to do with the actual structure of a home. A dog will often scare away even the boldest of thieves. Not many burglars will risk being bitten by a dog and, best of all, a dog will let a home-owner know when strangers approach the house.
There are just a few precautions an owner must take if a dog becomes a part of home security. Make sure the dog is kept safely inside the yard. This can be accomplished by either a fence, or by chaining the dog.
In addition, post your property with a Beware of dog sign to let delivery people and meter readers know of the potential danger of entering the yard.
Dogs are not only a great way to keep a family secure, but they can be a wonderful addition to the family as well. And remember, a local animal shelter has many nice pets just waiting for a good home.
7. Burglar alarm systems: A well-installed, properly utilized electronic security system can result in peace of mind for a family while also making a home highly burglar resistant. It will not, however, make a home burglar proof.
Before buying a system check on the reputation of the manufacturer. It's a good idea to ask for a list of current or recent customers and contact them for their opinion of the company's product.
Find out if the system causes a substantial number of false alarms and make sure it has battery back-up power so it works during power outages. Criminals in general, and burglars in particular, often double their efforts during outages because they are less likely to get caught.
If possible, find out the education and experience of the company's installers. Ask if the company offers assistance in getting reduced insurance premiums, and if there is a warranty and maintenance contract for the system. A reputable company should provide both. Contact at least two or three companies and compare their systems and prices before deciding to purchase one.
8. Don't be an easy target: All the security information and equipment in the world will do no good if a homeowner does not follow several important safety rules:
- Don't hide a key around your house. A burglar knows where to look, and may find the key no matter where it is hidden. As an alternative, consider giving an extra key to a trusted neighbor.
- Don't put any personal identification on key rings. This way, if keys are lost or stolen, they cannot be traced to a residence. As an added precaution, if keys are lost or stolen, change the cylinders in the locks immediately.
- Don't leave windows open when you are not at home, even if you are only leaving for a short while. An open window is an open invitation to a burglar to come in and help himself.
- Don't leave valuables in the open. This is needless temptation to anyone casing the house for a burglary. It is easy to put valuables away in a drawer or cabinet.
- Don't leave the doors unlocked or open, even if leaving for just a little while. Again, this is just asking to be burglarized.
- Make sure all tools, and ladders are put away. Everything should be stored in a locked garage or tool shed. Tools can be worth a considerable amount of money and can be easily taken if not locked up.
- Tools can also be used to facilitate entry by a burglar. A simple screwdriver or hammer can be used to pry open or break a window or a door. A ladder close at hand makes it easy for a burglar to climb to a second story window, on to a balcony or even the roof where it may be easier to break in.
- At night, leave yard lights on. A light makes it difficult for someone to break in through doors or windows without being seen by neighbors or deputies patrolling the neighborhood.
What happens if, despite all your prevention efforts, you still become a victim of a burglary, or other property related crime?
First, try not to panic. Get to the nearest phone, and immediately call the Sheriff's Office emergency 911 line. It is important for you to remain calm so you can effectively communicate with both Sheriff's dispatchers and with Sheriff's deputies when they arrive.
If you come home to find your home has been vandalized or burglarized, do not go inside or disturb anything on the premises. If you went inside before realizing a crime had been committed, leave immediately and try to remember anything you may have touched or moved inside, and inform deputies of it when they arrive.
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