The holidays, they're right around the corner! So it’s time to start planning those holiday vacations and decorations but unfortunately, you and me are not the only ones planning for the holidays…our local bad guys are as well.
Nearly every law enforcement agency warns of increased crime during the holidays, and rightfully so! The FBI reports that nearly 400,000 burglaries occur during November and December alone. Of those 400,000, single family homes are the most frequent victims and 70% of burglars are amateurs, just looking for easy targets.
Of the easy targets, this year there is a new and growing trend is the theft of air conditioner units which the crook end up making $30 to $40 for the scrap metal but costing you thousands in repair and replacement cost. So no longer is it enough to have a deadbolt, your entire home perimeter must be secure.
As a former law enforcement officer and now a security professional, I have frequently encountered victims of burglary. These people are determined to not let this happen again and quickly get on the right track, with the right gear and practices. A message that they gladly share, is to be prepared ahead of time.
Being prepared will at least give you peace of mind that your family, home, and property that you've worked so hard for is safe and sound. Should a burglar hit your home, you'll have the means to help get the bad guy what he truly deserves.
Even with my background, my home is not immune from burglary. Two years ago, during the holiday season, my neighborhood experienced a rash of burglaries, theft, and my house was included. One crook decided he deserved my son's Christmas present (bike) more than my son.
Fortunately, my house was equipped with video cameras and the details obtained from the video allowed for the quick detention of the crook. Since that day, there has not been a single incident in the neighborhood and the thief now has a new, permanent residence far, far away.
In order to improve your home security and to make sure you and your home don't make the next crime report, let's look at what burglars are looking for and how to improve security for the holidays and all year long.
Most burglars are creatures of opportunity, trolling for homes that show opportunities for easy pickings and rewards.
What they love:
- Christmas tree lights
- Gift boxes in the trash
- Notes on the door, "I'll be home at 3"
- Valuables seen through windows such as laptops, televisions, game consoles, etc.
- Social media postings, "Heading out for the holidays!"
- Over-stuffed mailboxes
- Garbage cans left on the street
What they hate:
- Concealment - As far as your valuables are concerned, remember that if it caught your eye at the store, it will catch the crook's eye as well. Conceal rather than advertise — they hate that. Make sure this approach extends to your yard too. Tools, toys, electrical equipment, and supplies should all be tucked away.
- Secrecy - For yourself, it is very true that people you know may be scoping you as a potential target, so only advertise your vacation when you come back — you'll have great pictures and stories to tell then anyhow.
- Stopping Deliveries - For your home, of course you should stop the mail and leave your garbage cans concealed.
- Threat - Additionally, if you have some type of security system you should advertise it. Sure, there are professional burglars that laugh at security signs, but remember most are amateurs. All you need to do to give them pause is to advertise your security system. Be careful not to use the stock, faux signs as they are markers to criminals that you don't have a security system.
- Video Cameras - Home surveillance cameras are also a great advertisement to burglars that your house is not the right house. Criminals don't like to be seen and they don't like evidence.
Easy Access – No Threat
Even rank amateurs can spot homes that make easy-in & easy-out targets.
What they love:
- Windows and doors in disrepair
- Unsecured screen or storm doors
- Unlocked backyard gates
- Poor or no outdoor lighting
- Unlocked sheds and barns
- Un-caged air conditioners
- Concealment such as shrubs and fences
What they hate:
- Delay - The main thing here is to make it difficult to gain entry, remembering that speed is the key ingredient for their success. For example, screen doors are a weak barrier to entry but do provide one more thing that delays access to the property, creates additional noise, and give thieves another second of pause to reconsider.
- Looking out of place - Additionally, burglars prefer to look normal. So they would much rather walk through an unlocked gate than jump over — so make them jump!
- Pain - Windows are obviously likely points of entry for burglars. If you're not open to the idea of installing bars, plant thorny shrubs or bushes beneath the windows. Planting the right thing is effective, inexpensive and will look a lot better than bars. See your local nursery, they'll know exactly what you need.
- Automated Attention - When adding or upgrading outdoor lighting, it's important to consider motion-activated flood lights. When triggered, the thought that someone inside the house possibly turned on the lights is intimidating. Again, this gives them pause to reconsider.
- Possible Activity - The age old trick used to fool a crook of leaving the lights or television on when away is not very effective. A better solution is to use automated timers that will turn on electrical devices at predetermined time. Additionally, some of these devices can be used in conjunction with motion sensors to engage various lights and equipment when motion is detected outside.
- Hidden, Locked & Tied Down - Should the crook make it inside, make valuables tough to find. Even if you have a safe, hide the safe itself and if possible, bolt it to a wall or floor. As for electronics such as laptops and televisions, there are many security devices available to help secure them and at minimum, slow the crook down.
Burglars love it when homeowners stick to the same routine and leave signs as to where they are.
What they love:
- When homeowners come home and leave at the same time
- When doors such as garage doors, are open only when someone is home
What they hate:
- Varying schedules - Day one of police academy, we were taught to never keep the same routine — change our times, areas of patrol and routes. The goal was to keep the crooks guessing when and where we would be. With the goal of preventing crime against you, you should also have varying schedules at home. If you're a 9-to-5'er like most of us, it's hard to change that schedule. However, keep in mind that burglars often live nearby and know your car, and so a variance of minutes can make a difference. On days when you can set your own schedule, change it up in order to keep them guessing.
- Unclear Habits - Beside the schedule, burglars look for habits of when doors are closed and open. For instance, a garage door routinely open when your home, is a strong indicator that you're not home when its closed. A better routine is to keep that door closed all the times. This example extends to numerous things around the house — the key is to keep your house looking the same whether you are home or not.
Lack of Attention
While visiting neighborhoods, if burglars get the sense that either no one is watching or no one cares, they put it on the hot list.
What they love:
- Driving slowing through the neighborhood with no one turning a head
- Taking a stroll with no one every waiving or saying "hi"
- Parking on a street and no one ever slowing to check them out
What they hate:
- A Stare - A steady stare is a powerful tool. Crooks hate it when residents are checking them out and as a result will quickly cross that area off their target list.
- Neighbors that communicate - Letting your close and trusted neighbors know when you're out is important. When they see suspicious activity, them simply turning on their yard lights, glancing at your house, saying hello, etc, can be enough to send the crook elsewhere.
- Neighbors that prepare - Of course, burglars especially hate it when you've made it easy for your neighbors to help. Supplying them with a list of your and local police department phone numbers will make reporting activity effortless and fast.
Slow reaction time
Granted, crooks want to get in and out as fast as possible. On the other hand, when they know extra time is available, they'll certainly make use of it.
What they love:
- More time to loot
- More time to get away
- More time to change their appearance
- More time to sell the goods
- Another chance to do it again
What they hate:
- Clearly Addressed Homes - Homes that have their house number clearly visible both day and night make it easy and fast for police to respond. Time is precious and having responded to many calls before, it's frustrating not being able to find the right house quickly due to small or no house numbers at all. Remember, police officers are consuming lots of information rapidly so try and make it easy for them to find you.
- Alarm System - A good alarm system with a siren should announce to your neighbors that something is wrong and attention is needed. Additionally, the system should have a phone or cellular connection to automatically alert authorities. Importantly, the system should be of the highest quality to ensure there are no false alarms. Otherwise, after a few false alarms both your neighbors and police will be less inclined to help.
According to the FBI, 85% of burglaries go unsolved and I can personally attest to this having responded to many myself. Witnessing the devastation of the homeowners and finding little or no evidence, it was very frustrating not being able to help.
Routinely, the homeowners would ask "what can you do?" The response was sad but true, "I can and will submit a report." There is little solace in a police report!
Burglars love it when:
- No description of them is available
- Homeowner doesn't quickly know what was stolen
- Homeowner doesn't have accurate descriptions of stolen property
- Security Cameras - The sight of security cameras will send most burglars the other way. They know, easy access to accurate descriptions of them could spell disaster. In law enforcement, the times when we we're grinning ear to ear were when we did have a proper description, or in other words, "something to go on." I can recall times where good descriptions, incident times, direction of travel, etc, led to the apprehension of the criminal sometimes in less than 15 minutes. Today's cameras can deliver the critical details of the crime. Additionally, today's camera systems are accessible remotely via laptops and smart phones. So no matter where you are — work, vacation, traveling — you can check on your house, and if need be, share the evidence with law enforcement.
- Covert Cameras - It's true that covert cameras won't stop a burglar — they can't see them! However, because they can't see them, burglars won't know to avoid them, spray paint them, or cut the power cable. So, along with using traditional cameras, a couple of covert cameras placed at likely points of approach will help ensure a positive ID.
- Organization - Beyond keeping up the appearances, keeping a house organized will make it easy for you to discern what's been disturbed, what's missing and what's not. In instances where you're away, this is critical so that a relative or trusted neighbor can easily inspect the house in your absence.
- Recorded Serial Numbers, Marking and Photographs - Should the worst happen but fortunately the suspect is detained, arming police with serial numbers of the stolen property will ease confessions, return of property, and convictions. Additionally, recorded serial numbers broadcast via national databases quickly will increase the potential for law enforcement to recover the property. As a backup for serial numbers, a great idea is to also apply unique markings to property. Proven aids include engraved names, initials written with permanent markers, and purpose-built security labels. Take photographs of both the interior and exterior of the house. This may prove helpful to determine what's missing and what's not. As for individual items, taking photographs will certainly be appreciated by your insurance company and will help expedite the claim.
We hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday season.