Burglary By The Numbers : How Is Your Home?
What do movies Home Alone, Panic Room, and John Wick all have in common? Despite the varying genres and content nature, they let you ask one question. Is your home safe?
When you put yourself in the shoes of each protagonist, it even demonstrates a varying spectrum of crime and their consequences.
The classic 1993 comedy Home Alone portrays a slapstick portrayal of botched burglary by a child adeptly applying Castle Doctrine in his own terms.
The 2002 suspense Panic Room demonstrates a grittier portrayal of a burglary gone wrong which later progressed to a violent survival scenario. Lastly, the 2014 cult action depicts the titular character John Wick unleashing hell after a home invasion that killed his dog and left him badly beaten.
These movies merely represent the romanticized version of an uglier and less sympathetic truth about the burglary and home invasion. The facts are even more disturbing. Let the numbers speak about the facts more accurately.
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History And Legal Backgrounds
1. US Constitution: Bill Of Rights
In order to understand burglary and home invasion, it is crucial for one to acknowledge the relevant jurisprudence defined and interpreted by the enforcers of the law. There are three Amendments (Articles) that justify the fundamental ideas of ‘residential security’ under the Bill of Rights of the 1791 US Constitution.
The 3rd Amendment states that no soldier in time of peace shall be quartered in the owner’s house without his/her consent. The 4th Amendment underlines the right of the people to be secure in their homes, persons, papers, and effects. The 5th Amendment enforces the protection of the person’s rights to life, liberty, and property.
All these articles define the person’s safety and welfare to be inviolable, especially in their own private property. In fact, every person has a sacred duty not only to keep their homes protected but also to ensure their safety inside their house. Unless invited, other people have no right to enter your home (whether to take your things or inflict harm on you and your cohabitants).
2. From Cicero To English Common Law
Curiously, the three articles of the Bill of Rights concerning the sanctity of persons and their personal properties have evolved from ancient sources. In fact, the earliest legal concept behind home security in Ancient Rome assumes a more self-help form than state-help (see Personal Security section). The Roman politician and lawyer, Cicero (106 to 43 BC) once said:
“What is more sacred, what is more strongly guarded by every holy feeling, than a man’s own home?”
These words will soon echo in the courtrooms of 17th Century England as the same basis for the inviolable right to feel safe in their homes and persons – albeit assuming a more state-help form. The English politician and lawyer, Sir Edward Coke, authored the Institutes of the Lawes of England in 1628 and it has become the basis for the English Common Law known today. In the earlier stages of the book, he wrote and quoted:
“For a man’s house is his castle, and each man’s home is his safest refuge.”
Sounds familiar? Several more versions of the phrase emerged within the next century or so. It did not always come as a complete surprise that the English legal precept was exported and mildly revised – shifting the archetype from a ‘subject of the English Crown’ to a ‘citizen of a free world.’ The ambitious endeavors and struggles of the American pioneers in the 19th Century westward expansion have empowered the civilian in modern times (for better or worse).
Throughout history, this thriving legal guideline of the Castle Doctrine that forms the basis of the ‘Stand-your-Ground’ law prevalent in most US states (see Personal Security section). Throughout history, it has been effectively demonstrated that there was no rightful justification for strangers to invade another law-abiding person’s home and violate the inhabitants thereof.
But did it ever stop lawbreakers from infringing other people’s rights? Hardly!
Burglary Statistics Breakdown
As one of the foremost national law enforcement agencies in the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) managed to calculate the disturbing prevalence of burglary in their comprehensive yearly reports. In fact, they estimate that burglary occurs approximately every 20.8 seconds nationwide. In other words, there are 72 out of the several hundred million homes in the country being burglarized every 24 hours. One of them could be yours!
While the statistical odds may seem unnerving, the realistic assessment may tell you that such offense is hardly a serious epidemic. It is important to consider that your location can play a significant role in reducing these odds. Each of the 50 states is dissimilar, and the same can be said about the prevalence of residential burglary. Based on the map demonstrated in the infographics earlier, only 12 out of 50 states in America are seriously plagued by this crime.
Among the territories marked red in the US map, New Mexico warrants a special warning sign for the prospective homeowners who wish to move into this state. The FBI’s 2016 annual report estimated that there are up to 840.3 burglaries for every 100,000 people in New Mexico. But that’s not even the worst part.
Within the same year, the police were only able to make approximately 918 arrests. Since a misdemeanor burglary usually gets no more than a one-year sentence, there could be more than one offense credited to a single felon – especially considering that ‘repeat offenders’ have been dominating the criminal justice system since 2006. In other words, there are certainly far less than several hundred burglars caught in New Mexico in one year.
Interestingly, the FBI’s 2017 semi-annual report has demonstrated the consistent decline of burglary rates within the last two decades. Each passing year, the advancements in anti-theft technology (see Home Security section) is proof enough that burglary happens to be one of the dumbest choices for a criminal career – if being a criminal alone couldn’t be any stupider. The yearly projection seems to imply that, unlike the ambitious and romanticized bank robbery, home burglary is a comparatively poor and ugly enterprise characterized by a sense of desperation on the part of the criminal – an act more likely motivated by drug abuse or unrelated psychological illness.
America is consistently making it very difficult for burglars to profit every year. Considering how the incidences keep on dropping, there will come a time when even residents of New Mexico are relatively safe from these social parasites.
The Loss of Wealth
Burglary is often stereotyped as a low-key offense. However, this crime somehow contributes to the economic hardships of the American people. Stealing things from other people’s homes is comparatively more prevalent than breaking into offices, stores, warehouses, storage spaces and other non-residential properties. It is still a misdeed that must be taken seriously.
Burglary accounts for a total of $3.6 billion America would lose each year. And for every burglar that pulls off a successful stunt, he or she reaps an average of $2,361. It means nearly an entire month’s average salary of could be taken away from hardworking Americans in one fell swoop.
Curiously, a home owner’s motor vehicle accounts for the highest value stolen by burglars. It only goes to show that vehicles are a much easier target to take away than cash and jewelry. Since numbers don’t lie, there are several facts concerning the vulnerability of automobiles and motorcycles from the burglars that stalk your house any time of the day.
- The American Community Survey identified up to 91.3% motorists among US households.
- The American Housing Survey says 80% of the owned houses and condos have a garage.
- The Department of Energy says 25% of the people with 2-car garages don’t park inside.
- 47% of the 1,500 Garage Living poll respondents have a problem parking their cars inside their own garages.
- Metropolitan police departments say that up to 50% of the burglaries are caused by open or unsecure garage doors.
So what are you looking at? You’re looking at a data that says “there are truly a lot of stolen cars in American homes.” Any motorist among the 25.24 million homeowners who don’t have a garage is looking at over 72 possible instances that he/she could lose the car parked near his/her house in one day. The mere fact that having a garage does not deter them is disturbing enough, but that’s not even the worst part yet.
What is even more insulting is the fact that residents who own a garage are just as much to blame for the loss of their vehicle. If you are negligent (or simply someone who does not have a luxury of a free time), you are better off not having a carport in the first place considering that you are significantly increasing your chances of getting burglarized or invaded. The garage needs to be renovated whenever it is no longer opening or closing properly, and a new replacement garage door could cost anywhere between $600 and $1,400.
However, favorable likelihood (for the felon) solely does not make vehicles a high-value target. As of 2017, the average cost of a brand new car is roughly around $36,113 while a used car has a median value of $19,400. A motorcycle can cost anywhere between $10,000 and $25,000. An all-terrain vehicle (ATV) could cost anywhere between $10,000 and $19,000. Even a relatively uneducated thief can comprehend the fact that being able to steal a vehicle from an unfortunate homeowner is a huge bonus. What these thieves lack for intellect and moral fiber, they somehow compensate for ambition.
Fortunately, the ambition of an auto burglar can only take them far enough. As featured in the infographics earlier, the local authorities managed to recover more than half the total value of all the stolen vehicles as per the latest FBI report. To a burglar who wants to play it safe, they are likely to settle with pilfering cash, jewelry and/or electronics. If only a car would easily fit in a backpack, burglars would not bother stealing anything less.
Burglary vs. Home Invasion
Not every crook that attempts to gain illegal entry into another person’s home is considered a burglar. One of the key principles that draw the line of distinction between burglars and home invaders is the motive. The profile of a burglar is generally characterized by his/her main purpose for invading another person’s home; which is, to steal or tamper with things.
Burglars who are not driven by the need to gain monetary benefit would take or rearrange stuff inside the house for the sheer pleasure of it (see Anatomy of the Crime section). The bottom-line definition many lawyers and police officers understand is that in a burglary offense, the perpetrator has a clear intent on committing a felony. It can either be accomplished through theft or harassment.
But what about home invasion? Isn’t a home invader just as crazy as a burglar?
One of the easiest qualifiers for a home invasion involves the use of extreme violence. A perfect example includes the latest case of an attempted homicide at Altamonte Springs (Florida) in May 2018 committed by a 30-year old male adult and his teenage accomplice. Fortunately, the homeowners managed to survive the ordeal without serious injuries. Unfortunately, not every home invasion victim survives unscathed (if they survived at all).
Another terrible case of a home invasion involves a 2017 robbery and homicide by a trio victimizing the elderly couples who lived in Brooklyn (New York). The 100-year old survivor described how the armed criminals hog-tied her and her husband moments before they were beaten badly. The centenarian husband was dead on arrival at the hospital. Curiously, this case is characterized by the intent of burglarizing a house and hurting its inhabitants.
But if a burglar gets spooked and inflicts harm in a desperate attempt to get away, how is this any different from a violent home invasion?
Other than aggressive force, another point of distinction is based on the presence of the victim in the house. A burglary is committed whenever the felon trespasses into the victim’s property with the knowledge that its occupants are not around. A home invasion, on the other hand, is committed based on the knowledge that the victims are in the vicinity. In other words, the criminals clearly look forward to a physical confrontation – defined by the goal of dominating their victims.
Excluding 38% of botched burglaries resulting in physical assault, home invasion by itself is still naturally heinous. 60% of the home invasions involve a victim getting raped, which stands to reason that these deranged villains are likely to target a home occupied by a solitary female resident. It is also important to take note that a residential robbery can be considered a home invasion because it is executed in the presence of its occupants. Only 17% of all the robberies reported by the FBI in 2015 targeted houses.
In 2012, Fox News once reported that roughly 58,000 of American children kidnapped each year are eventually released while 155 of them ended up getting killed or ransomed. Around 16% of these abductions identified children being taken from their very own houses. Such level of impunity simply implies that you need to be vigilant even (especially) in your own home.
Anatomy Of Burglary Crimes
1. Method & Psychology
It is one thing to understand why burglars invade another person’s home. It is another to figure out how they operate in their chosen ill-fated career. While human characteristics have unique and complex variations, there are certain patterns of behavior that burglars possess which puts them in a certain category.
One of the most prevalent classifications is derived from a statistics-based program designed by an academic criminology department in Tampa (Florida). This system of preliminary investigation allows law enforcement agents to narrow down the list of potential suspects. Bryanna Fox, Ph.D. – an assistant professor in the University of South Florida – is in charge of training the police officers to identify these four types of burglars:
- Opportunistic Burglar
This is someone who only breaks into people’s homes if the success is incredibly very high. In other words, these are the types of crooks who look for unlocked (or worse, opened) back doors, windows, or garage entries. It is important to understand that this candid and artless method is usually preferred by inexperienced criminals, often with the highest likelihood of getting arrested. Putting together a general lack of perception/experience and the most commonly detained age demographic, opportunistic beggars fit the profile of a juvenile offender.
- Disorganized Burglar
This is someone who operates with a general disregard for planning. Unlike the opportunistic burglar, this type of criminal rarely realizes the consequences of getting caught. Their chaotic search for valuable items would almost always result in the confusion of several items in the targeted room. If they manage to evade police response in the wake of their invasion, they often leave incriminating evidence such as traces of blood after recklessly smashing the window or footprints on the muddy backyard. Driven by an intense and almost uncontrollable urge to pilfer easy-to-pawn valuables (cash, jewelry, and small gadgets), a disorganized burglar realistically fits the profile of a drug addict who is looking for a way to expediently fund his or her vice.
- Organized Burglar
This is someone who employs a very systematic approach to invading people’s homes and stealing their valuables. Unlike the previously mentioned archetypes, this kind of criminal considers a variety of factors that could lead to failure. These burglars know their way around the house because their day jobs (e.g. plumbing or HVAC maintenance) allow them prior access to their target’s interiors. They also use tools (e.g. lock picks, crowbars, or drills) to minimize damage when breaking into a victim’s house – leaving as little incriminating evidence as possible. The organized burglar fits the profile of a skillful and experienced adult.
- Interpersonal Burglar
This is a unique profile considering that their crimes are not oriented towards earning a monetary advantage. In fact, they are the types of burglars who break into other people’s houses to either destroy or disarrange things in order to harass or intimidate the victim. The interpersonal burglar can be of any age, gender or economic class but the one consistent factor in their identity is their relationship with the victim. Unlike the other previously mentioned crooks, this villain would either be a mentally unstable neighbor, a hostile relative, or an abusive ex-spouse/lover.
This method has led a tangible improvement that helped prevent an average of 600 burglaries per year, saving the police department a median cost of $4.2 million in terms of yearly operational expense and sparing the hardworking American people up to $1.5 million in terms of total yearly loss. Dr. Fox trained candidates from local police agencies in New York, Minnesota, and Florida and her method has helped several precincts attain up to 32.9% increase in terms of crime-solving rate.
2. Execution & Timeline
Each type of burglar may vary in terms of their approach, but there are constant calculable factors an investigator and a vigilant resident has to examine in order to reduce the odds of getting burglarized. In order to find out how you are able to deal with the potential burglar, a very suitable initial analysis entails dealing with the following questions:
- Who does a burglar choose a target?
- How does a burglar break into my house?
- Where would the burglar most likely enter?
- When would the burglar or intruder strike?
- How much time does a burglar or intruder need?
The Victim’s House
Before worrying about specific countermeasures that can foil burglary and home invasion attempts, it is important to know whether or not your home attracts ‘unwanted visitors’ in the first place. While burglars may think and act differently, there is a consistent and prevalent pattern when it comes to choosing their targets. Here are some of the qualities of a residential property that most of the violent home invaders, organized burglars, and opportunistic burglars would be looking for:
- Sophisticated architecture (e.g. skylight roof)
- Isolation from neighbors (e.g. suburbs or rural areas)
- Poor yard visibility (e.g. untrimmed shrubs and trees)
- Homes owned by frequent absentees (e.g. vacationers)
- Homes without alarm security systems
- Poorly lit neighborhood (for night time burglary)
- Homes with untidy (stacked) or open backyards
- Homes inhabited by students
- Homes inhabited by single women/mothers
- Homes inhabited by the elderly
Break-in Method & Entry Points
When it comes to the how criminals are able to access the victim’s home interiors, the latest FBI report consists of up to 57.9% successful forced entry. It is logical to assume that, with the exception of opportunistic burglars, each type of burglar persona would prefer this procedure. The organized burglar would use a drill to bust the front door’s lock while a disorganized burglar would shatter one of the windows. Despite its popularity, there’s a 6.6% odds for forced entries to fail.
In contrast to forced entry, only the disorganized burglar would not bother to patiently enter the house via passive and craftier means.
Currently, the FBI estimates a 35.5% likelihood of non-forced unlawful entry among burglars. An organized burglar would be punching the stolen secret password for automated lock systems while an opportunistic burglar would simply slip into unlocked points of entry.
The most popular entry point in any home is the front door, yielding a 34% statistical likelihood. It is also important to take note that this highest reflection may also include upper floor apartment units that have no other interior access than the front door. Around 23% would choose to break into first-floor windows, a favorite point of entry for disorganized burglars armed with a projectile (e.g. brick). 22% of the burglars invade via the backdoor, which could account for a large percentage of opportunistic types considering that residents are more likely to forget locking it.
Day or Night Schedule
Apart from knowing how and where burglars and home invaders would strike, it is equally important to anticipate which part of the day gives them the best odds for success. The FBI concludes the likeliest occurrence of burglaries at daytime, comprising up to 35.9% of all confirmed reports. Only 20.6% of the reported burglaries occur at night. Here are some of the good reasons why burglars would prefer to invade houses between 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM:
- Adults are at work and children are at school.
- Broad daylight makes it easier to scope out security systems in place.
- There are more cops patrolling the streets at night.
Considering the complex motivations and psychological deviancy associated with home invasion, there is no federal consensus universally defining this offense. In other words, the FBI and other national agencies (except the Department of Justice) could not present a comprehensive data. However, it is crucial for one to go back to the motive. Home invaders expect physical confrontation, and these are the advantages presented to them for attacking a victim at night:
- There is poor visibility outdoors (and even indoors).
- The element of surprise multiplies aggressive force.
- Sleeping victims are completely off-guard.
- Woken victims are partially clumsy (sleep-drunkenness).
- Low circadian cycle compromises flight or fight response.
Crime Timeline Analysis
When it really comes down to it, striking at daytime or at night is aimed towards attaining one acceptable outcome – to evade capture. An organized burglar would consider a target that has 8 out of all the 10 favorable features mentioned earlier. This way, he/she can have plenty of opportunities to pilfer as many items as he/she can without a greater risk of getting one’s cover blown. However, the odds of encountering an extremely unguarded house are very rare and all burglars (even the most organized ones) operate under a very limited timeframe.
The average time it takes a burglar to bypass any of the known entry points is roughly 60 seconds.
A skillful handyman could drill through a door lock in a minute without causing additional damage to the door. It takes even lesser time for a desperate and disorganized thief to break a first-floor window with a sledgehammer.
As soon as the burglar or home invader enters the house, it will only take him or her around 7 to 10 seconds to reach the intended room. Organized burglars often use the nearest entry point to their targeted valuable items in order to immediately arrive at the intended spot, even though most of them are more likely to make an exit via the front door.
The longest part of the burglar’s operation is the stealing itself. Most valuables are carefully hidden and burglars will have to take more than a minute to locate where the jewels are stashed. Some highly organized burglars would even go to the trouble of unlocking metal safes with sophisticated equipment. When choosing valuable items that merely sit on plain sight, burglars would go after luxury electronic gadgets (e.g. $500-worth gaming CPU) and appliances (e.g. $9,000-worth juicer) that they can easily squirrel away into their getaway car. The average time it takes for a burglar to complete his/her task is around 8 to 12 minutes.
For unique circumstances that involved violent assault, the critical moments happen during the first 15 minutes of the physical confrontation between the victim and the felon. One can even aptly consider this short and gruesome 15-minute calendar as the ‘survival scenario timeline.’ Within these moments the victim may either be killed, still being subdued and beaten badly, incapacitated for abduction, or has already overcome the intruder via lethal or non-lethal means. Either way, it will be one of the shortest most traumatic events in any person’s life (unless he/she is a war veteran who has been through unimaginable horrors).
Beyond 15 minutes of inaction, it is already too late to expect a completely positive resolution on the part of the victim. The sad reality is that it takes an average of at least 30 minutes for the police to arrive at the scene of the crime. Around 17 minutes before they arrive, a burglar has already gotten away with the goods. This is exactly the reason why there are only a minimal 13.6% cases cleared for arrest. The delayed arrival of the police limits their course of action with reviewing the precious pieces of evidence in the house in order to establish the burglar’s profile.
Make a Burglar-proof Perimeter
Most of the home security experts would tell you that ‘in order to prevent burglary, you must think like a burglar.’ Unfortunately, it would take a great deal of practical imagination to come up with clever ideas considering that the portrayal of burglars in mainstream media is far removed from the reality. If your theoretical profile references are the burglars from the Home Alone movie series, you are definitely giving yourself too much credit. Picture a very organized and crafty burglary team reminiscent of Ocean’s Eleven (2001) or The Italian Job (2003) and you’re in for one tough fight.
But in case ‘thinking like a burglar’ doesn’t seem tangible, you ought to try ‘thinking like an army barracks commander.’ Have you ever heard of any news reports about a heavily-guarded garrison being hoodwinked by a bunch of professional crooks? Yes, exactly. Turn your outdoor home perimeter as an impenetrable restricted zone and burglars would hardly hesitate about completely staying away from your home.
Even if you have a considerable amount of money, building a moat and going medieval with your anti-burglary defense is just over the top and unrealistic. You’re preventing a burglary, not a stampede of a zombie horde. There are a number of practical (and reasonably priced) ways to redesign your exterior perimeter. Here are among the six things you must have outside your house:
Fences are an excellent first line of defense for suburban homes against burglars and home invaders. Among the most durable type is the steel fence because it is able to resist applied force. Consider these following tips for steel-hedging your outdoor perimeter:
- The fence must be at least 9 feet high.
- The fence must encircle the entire residential structure.
- The fence bars must be tightly spaced and completely inaccessible by hand.
- The gate must be secured with bolt-cutter-proof chain and padlock.
- The fence must have coiled razor wires, spear tops, or anti-climb spikes.
Putting up a fence that almost resembles a prison compound can effectively instill fear into the hearts of opportunistic and disorganized burglars – it is pure intimidation with a heavy dose of irony. As for the total cost, take note of the following itemized average prices:
- Steel fence = $7 to $10 per linear foot
- 50 feet coiled razor wire = around $20
- Bolt-cutter-proof chain = $10 to $22 per foot
- Padlock, nuts, and washers = up to $100
Not every homeowner lives in a house and lot, and thus they don’t often have a say in terms of how the management barricades the compound or the apartment building. However, anyone can still deter burglars with alarm signs. If you don’t have a fence that screams ‘I maim home invaders,’ you can put up huge signboards that warn would-be burglars that they are being watched.
Consider a yard sign that specifically mentions “24-hour surveillance.” Aside from blatantly informing the public that you have a high-tech security system that does not sleep, you could add another sign that says “beware of dogs.” Buying a metal signboard can cost you anywhere between $12 and $20 each.
The 5th Century B.C. Chinese strategist known as Sun Tzu once quoted that “all wars are based on deception.” Unless an organized burglar has managed to scope the interior layout during his/her shift as a commissioned service provider (e.g. plumber), warning signboards present the nagging problem of a potentially life-threatening uncertainty. Whether or not you have cameras, sirens, and dogs is something burglars will have to risk finding out.
Some of the suburban fence experts recommend that a steel fence must be fixed on an impregnable concrete foundation. Unfortunately, this approach costs roughly $5 per square foot to complete. It often does not even include the number of hours it costs to hire a professional for excavating the ditch and attaching the rebar.
Planting thorny shrubs along either side of the fences completely removes the burglar’s foothold for scaling up your 8 feet fence. Another noteworthy advantage of planting thorny shrubs is that it prevents erosion – a pragmatic eco-friendly element in the equation.
Thorny shrubs that wrap the steel bars with its vines are especially useful considering that you may not even require attaching razor wires on top of the fence. The ideal types of plants that can be used as anti-burglary countermeasures include the following:
- Bougainvillea: grows up to 40 feet
- Smilax: grows up to 32 feet
- Firethorn: grows up to 10 feet
- Rose: grows up to 6 feet
- Euphorbia: grows up to 5 feet
It is important to take note that planting these thorny shrubs requires a considerable degree of maintenance on the part of a homeowner. The pace of the plant’s growth is also determined by the quality of the soil and the climate of the region. Nonetheless, these plants mature at full height in less than a year.
Without thorny bushes or spiked fence tops, burglars can breach your outer wall with relative ease. You can expect most of the young (and quasi-organized) burglars to possess useful athletic skills like parkour or paragliding. Some of the very determined reprobates would perform a wide variety of outrageous stunts to steal the diamonds hidden in your bedroom – anything from somersaulting over the elevated scissor lift or landing on the swimming pool after precisely veering the hang-glider over the victim’s house.
The possibility of breaching the first line of defense is something every vigilant resident has to consider. However the burglar would bypass your outer wall, you can always expect a loud (and potentially messy landing). It would be clever to let the terrain blow their cover by instantaneously announcing their arrival. Experts recommend paving the ground close to the walls of your house with rough gravel since cement or packed earth does a poor job in echoing the intruder’s footsteps.
But if nobody is home, how does noisy crunching gravel help prevent burglary? Obviously, gravel is only useful if you have a fierce dog (or a pack of dogs) that will be alerted to the intruder’s presence. Regardless of how much you value this suggested defense add-on, expect to pay around $1,500 of its national average cost.
Motion Sensor & Lights
Warning signboards, impregnable fences, thorny plants, and gravel landscape form a powerful ‘foursquare of outer defenses.’ Unfortunately, not every home is designed to accommodate all of these first layer features. In a compound or apartment building, your exterior defenses are extremely limited by comparison. Whether one requires a higher level of security for a suburban home or a tangible deterrent outside a residential unit’s doorstep, installing motion sensors can definitely spook burglars.
A motion sensor utilizes multiple technologies that detect the presence of strangers outside your door. It is important to understand that motion sensors and lights are just a part of the integrated security system set up by well-known home protection and surveillance companies like ADT Corporation, Protect America, and Strategically Armored & Fortified Environments (SAFE). Apart from the cost of the equipment, you need to pay a periodic (monthly or annual) subscription to continuously avail their services.
Motion sensors function as the main trigger mechanism for the multiple remote cameras with loud alarm sirens and an intercom. In a suburban setup, motion sensors work best in duet with glaring floodlights. Beams that trail the presence of an intruder are somehow reminiscent of police helicopter searchlights. The last thing any sane burglar wants is to be in the actual nerve-racking chase reminiscent of the scenes from the movie US Marshals (1998).
Apart from motion sensors, every perimeter defense needs a keen eye with perfect recollection of all things that happened within the last 24 hours. It is important to anticipate the remote possibility of an intruder getting past your outer defenses (especially if these layers are scarce) and helping themselves with your valuables.
The main reason why some victims are able to reclaim 27.6% of all the stolen wealth nationwide is that there is irrefutable proof of these burglaries taking place. Video footages help piece together fragments of incriminating evidence left by intruders during the investigation.
If there is a piece of cloth and traces of blood left on the fixed shards of the broken window, the recording will reveal how exactly the burglar scraped himself during the entry.
You may get away with cutting back expenses for all other things comprising your perimeter defenses, but acquiring high-quality remote cameras is something you need to prioritize. And when it comes to choosing the best, always take note of these important product features:
- Multiple camera units
- 1080p image quality
- Night vision capability
- 100-decibel alarm siren
- Cloud storage data
- Smartphone-integrated operation
- Two-way communicator (intercom)
When it comes to installing multiple cameras, consider positioning them around angles or areas that are practically concealed or inconspicuous. Some homeowners would place them around treetops while others would fix them inside ventilation shafts. If you’re not sure whether or not you’ve done a good job of covering all bases, consider requesting a survey from the local police.
One of the cleverest locations to put a remote camcorder is exactly at the front door peephole. In fact, you can even convince a burglar that you’re present by remotely broadcasting via the intercom while you’re actually in Palawan (Philippines) enjoying the tropical sunshine. There’s no way these fools could ever tell that you’re halfway around the world watching their total ineptness unfold through your mobile phone screen.
Having an alarm siren linked to your remote surveillance system is really handy, especially if you’re not remotely monitoring your outdoors every moment. While you’re offline, you can be assured that the wails of the triggered distress signal will be loud enough to either rouse almost every next-door neighbor at your apartment floor or set the vexed guard dogs bolting around your property. If the intruder isn’t running yet, he/she better be.
Make a Burglar-proof Interior
Murphy’s Law states that ‘things can go wrong in any given situation if you give them a chance.’ One of these things includes the anti-burglary countermeasures installed around your house. Your indoor security must have to be just as complex (if not more convoluted) than your exterior perimeter defenses. It stands to reason that motion sensors and remote cameras must also be installed inside your home.
Sun Tzu’s The Art of War also stated that “no one benefits from a long drawn-out conflict.” Hostile or not, intruders only need 10 to 15 minutes to accomplish their goal before they crack under pressure (even less for the disorganized and opportunistic burglars). If you fail to turn your property into a fortress that keeps intruders out, turn your interiors into a hostile and unwelcome territory – one that either forces them to retreat or increases their frequency of making costly mistakes (errors that could land them in jail). Here are the other six things you need to have in your house:
With front and rear doors being the most likely origin of the burglar’s intrusion, it is always important to consider their defense capabilities as your top priority. This is especially true for non-suburban homes like the residential units in an apartment or compound. In order to make your doors impervious, here are some of the features you need to keep in mind, some of which are checklists suggested by the Palos Verdes Estates Police Department:
- Your doors must be almost 2 inches thick and made from hardwood, solid core composite wood, or steel. If not, consider replacing them with something made from these materials.
- Your doors must be reinforced with large metal jamb plate attached to wall studs. Take note: the screws holding them together should not be smaller than 3 inches.
- Your doors must have bump-proof deadbolt locks. Consider buying locks that are at least certified Grade 2 by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). The highest ANSI rating is Grade 1 and is capable of withstanding 10 consecutive door strikes.
- Your door must have a motion sensor from the inside. The alarm trigger must be set at the event of getting your door busted open.
- If you own dogs, your pet door must have failsafe anti-intruder features. Consider installing a steel-framed flap through the wall (as far away from any door as possible) that exits through the outer doghouse. The doghouse will be a very inconvenient obstacle that disables burglars from even reaching into the flap.
The earlier point discusses in detail how to install pet doors that allow your dogs to walk in and out of your house without risking intrusion from an unwanted guest. However, not everyone understands the importance of dogs themselves being burglar-proof alternatives. There’s a perfectly good reason why they are called ‘mankind’s best friend.’
In a survey for convicted burglars between the years 2007 to 2011, it was revealed that nearly 95% of the respondents would withdraw when encountering a large hostile dog face-to-face. The fact that military dogs outrank enlisted cadets simply explains how their instincts are fine-tuned to save 10 to 11 human lives (a single squad). If dogs can secure a small detachment against ambush in tropical jungles, they can do a far better job guarding your house.
Judging from the description featured in the survey, your guard dog must be huge, aggressive and is capable of rousing immediate neighbors with its loud barks. As for the type of dog that is more conducive to guarding duties, here are the breeds recommended by the American Kennel Club:
- Appenzeller Sennenhund
- Bull Mastiff
- Catahoula Leopard
- Caucasian Shepherd
- Central Asian Shepherd
- Doberman Pinscher
- Estrela Mountain Dog
- German Shepherd
- Giant Schnauzer
- Rhodesian Ridgeback
- Staffordshire Bull Terrier
But you must understand that, just like people, competently dealing with hostile elements requires training. For the same reason that the police and armed forces undergo a period of physical and psychological habituation, instincts alone do not ensure effective results. Consider visiting animal training centers for this particular investment. The Hudson Valley K9 Academy, for instance, has three levels of personal protection courses that you can avail for 12 weeks at $2,800.
Your windows must also be just as reliable in keeping intruders out as your doors. After all, this is the most favorite part of the house for many disorganized burglars and violent home invaders would use to gain entry. Fortunately, it is the only part of the house that does not require additional security layers for homeowners who live in upper floor apartment units (especially those without verandas). But for those who live in the suburbs, consider the following security checklists:
- Your windows should have solar screens as its outer layer. Not only does it allow you to save electricity bills during the daytime, it also provides a certain level of security. Solar screens are difficult to remove and they also conceal your interiors better than curtains.
- Your windows must be framed with steel bars at its outermost layer. This is especially necessary for keeping burglars from smashing or removing bulky window A/C units from outside the house.
- If your home has that comparatively vulnerable louver windows (which is common in warmer zones like Hawaii, Florida, and southern California), consider these three levels of burglar-proofing them:
- Level 1: Replace glass slats with transparent aluminum ones and permanently fasten them into their fixtures. Normally, these slats are easily removable.
- Level 2: Install steel bars in between the window slats. In case the burglar manages to remove each plank, he/she will have to break through these immovable fixed horizontal rails.
- Level 3: Frame the outermost layer with thicker steel bars/grilles. Even at the remote possibility that the louver planks are removed; the only conceivable way for burglars to steal pocket-sized valuables inside the house is to use remote controlled toys or highly trained small monkeys (e.g. pygmy marmoset).
- Your windows must be plastered with anti-break films from the inside. This is especially useful for houses with skylight ceiling segments or glass doors.
- Your windows should have vibration or glass-break sensors, especially if you’re unable to accommodate the all other checklists previously mentioned. Disorganized burglars will have to deal with blaring sirens after triggering the alarm.
Fake TV Lighting
Just like the Art of War’s emphasis on deception, there are features inside the house that is designed to deceive the burglar as there were outside. An earlier example discusses using warning signboards to ‘create an element of uncertainty.’ An even better strategy for fooling burglars is to create ‘an illusion of occupancy.’
You have to make outsiders believe that you’re inside the house, especially for residents who live in apartment or compound units. Burglars can see through the windows and determine whether or not your unit is occupied by watching the lights. Clever (not to mention desperate) burglars are not always convinced of your faux-presence by simply leaving the lights on. Apart from that, you’ll accrue an increased electricity bill.
FakeTV is a technology that mimics the random colors of an activated television. From outside the window, bystanders will see the same flickering pattern of lights just like any house that turns the TV on. Any burglar waiting for the chance with you turning off the television and calling it a night will think they’re pushing their luck way too far since it looks like you’re up all night binge-watching on Netflix – even if, in fact, you’re in Mumbai (India) for a vacation.
You can even complement FakeTV by adding timer-set lights just to intensify your subterfuge. Have your bedroom, kitchen, and living room light scheduled to automatically illuminate and turn off randomly anytime at night. Outsiders stalking through your living room and bedroom window would think that you’ve either turned the lights on because you’ve strained your eyes from binge-watching in the dark or you’re looking for something. Making lights seemingly active creates a better illusion of occupancy.
Installing interior deterrents against burglars is one thing. But what if the thief turns violent or the armed intruder is simply out for blood in the first place? As Murphy’s Law clearly states earlier, one of the things that can really go wrong is the being attacked by a deranged home invader. At the event that an armed and extremely dangerous intruder chases you in your own home, you need to retreat the one place you would call ‘the last line of defense’ – the panic room.
Many would often believe that panic rooms are only intended for the wealthy. Rightly so, the cost of installing one in your home could entail a fortune. It is interesting to mention that the design featured in its namesake 2002 suspense film is more of a very sophisticated. By overall estimate, building a high-end panic room from the ground up would cost as much as $500,000.
Fortunately, your last line of defense does not have to force you to take multiple loans. While panic room designs are mostly implemented during the construction of the house, experts also present conditions that are possible for creating makeshift panic rooms. Between $40,000 and $60,000, you can already set up your own personal bunker against homicidal trespassers.
The most crucial part of designing a makeshift panic room concerns ventilation, which is directly affected by the size of your interior space. According to the guidelines of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you need up to 10 square feet of floor space per person in order to prevent carbon dioxide buildup for 5 hours. Since the police usually arrive 30 minutes after the emergency call, you can survive the ill-conceived siege conducted by a home invader.
But aside from the recommended interior space, what else does the construction of a reliable panic room requires. Check out some of the following basic guidelines underscored by the Los Angeles-based security consultant named Chris E. McGoey:
- Select a windowless interior room – particularly a stock room. You can also use your closet if it has enough breathable space.
- Your panic room must have steel doorposts. Other materials (e.g. wood) are not preferable considering the risk of absorbing kinetic force equal to the weight of the person slamming oneself on your door.
- Your panic room must have bullet-resistant Kevlar door and walls. Never ignore the possibility of an armed intruder using an automatic gun in a desperate attempt to break through your defenses.
- Your panic room must have a keyless ANSI-certified Grade 1 lock. One must appreciate the importance of keyless as a featured detail. The last thing you want is to insert and twist a key with manual precision while on a state of panic. It is best to install a very sensitive fingerprint-authenticated biometrics to be able to open the door the fastest way possible.
- You panic room must have emergency supplies like food, water, and first aid kit. Apart from the fact that you might be wounded during the earlier scuffle with a violent intruder during your retreat, your panic room also serves as your holdout against weather-related catastrophes.
- Your panic room must have a backup generator and dedicated phone line. It is always better to call the police if you’re besieged (see Personal Security section). The surveillance cameras integrated into your mobile phone monitor is run by electricity. An organized intruder might turn to your circuit breaker just to ‘smoke you out of your lair.’
Safes & Vaults
Nothing demonstrates non-violent and legally dependable zero-tolerance policy against burglars better than making it virtually impossible for them to steal your valuables. It stands to reason that installing compartment-sized safes or room-sized vaults serves as your best course of action.
Have you ever wondered why it is called a ‘bank robbery’ and not ‘bank burglary?’ Exactly… Safes are impervious to any conventional burglary methods that the only way for criminals to steal cash is to lock down the bank and hold every person in sight hostage.
Widely used by small banks and pawnshops, safes have already become a standard means of protection among well-off homeowners. Considering your home’s overall structural integrity, it is important to consult with manufacturers regarding the preferable design of your custom-built safe and/or vault to which you would use to store your jewelry, firearms, financial documents and other important effects (e.g. passports). Speaking of valuables, another precious item you could store in your reinforced strongbox or vault is the surveillance data console.
By comparison, vaults prove to be more secure than safes because of its large interior space and excessive durability. In fact, you can even use it as a makeshift panic room granted that its interiors span 10 square feet or more. However, the cost of both the materials and labor required to complete its construction is very steep.
Safes, on the other hand, are neat and space-efficient. If you wish to upgrade the security of your miniature cubicle safe, you must fix it into a thick vertical foundation made of concrete – ideally in the basement. Better yet, you can just simply fix your small safe into a multipurpose storage compartment inside your panic room. Otherwise, desperate burglars would simply smash through the thinner drywall from the adjacent room and grab the safe.
Personal Security Tips
All the things you placed in and out of your house can only guarantee a completely burglar-proof environment when you develop certain beneficial habits or philosophy. Hence, a burglar-proof lifestyle is the final (and most important) piece of the puzzle in keeping intruders off your territory. Here are some of the house rules you can implement for yourself (or for the rest of the occupants):
- Keep your mailbox empty. As mentioned earlier, burglars prefer to target homes that are resided by absentee owners. Don’t give burglars a reason to pick your home as a potential target, especially if your outdoor perimeters are poorly defended and you don’t have enough countermeasures inside your house.
- Lock doors and windows before leaving or sleeping. It would be a shame to have fortified doors with ANSI-rated Grade 1 locks yet unintentionally render them useless/inactive. The fact that 35.5% of the unlawful entries happen because homeowners forget to close their doors and windows properly simply highlights the importance of this practice. Take note: never forget to include the doors and windows in the basement.
- Change locks immediately if the keys are lost. Granted, you could have just misplaced your keys anywhere in your house. But unless you already found it, be prepared to accept the possibility that it was stolen by an unsuspecting stranger in a crowded setting (e.g. train, supermarket, bus, etc) – a very organized burglar who simply follows an elaborate plan.
- Never leave any tools outdoors. An opportunistic burglar not only settles with a relatively slim possibility of unlocked homes. Another way for them to break into their victim’s house is to use the available makeshift instruments in their midst. To an organized burglar, this kind of mistake is a huge bonus.
- Avoid updating real-time status of your trips. Disturbingly, 78% of the burglars today have social media accounts (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc). Anyone of them could be the likable strangers who eventually became a part of your social media circle. If you have to upload your wonderful month-long road trip in Kazakhstan, at least wait until you’re home. Nothing foils your remote surveillance and FakeTV more spectacularly than confirmation of your absence via the internet.
- Also, disable your location services. Unless you are being kidnapped, this digital feature may aid the police in your rescue. But in ordinary circumstances, devious burglars belonging in your social media circle could refer to your mobile phone or automobile navigation systems for verification of your absence. Don’t just be quiet, be invisible.
Home Invasion Defense
In this part of the article, one can pretty much conclude that there’s a very huge difference between dealing with a burglar and fending off a violent home invader. There’s a certain degree of partiality when it comes to the odds of an outwitted burglar resorting to violence. With burglars, they resort to either flight or fight.
Home invaders do not have that partiality of odds or the option of flight or fight. These armed and deranged intruders are on a one-way warpath which could end very badly for the victim. Your very life is at stake and any urgent decision you choose will be heavily-laced with strong doses of stress, uncertainty, and desperation (especially for the untrained).
Judging from where this part of the article is heading, you are about to enter into the relatively unknown and commonly miscomprehended zone of self-defense. But in order to distinguish legitimate self-defense from ‘a completely dumb and irrational course of action,’ you need to know more about America’s well-known ‘Stand-your-Ground’ and ‘Duty to Retreat’ laws.
Self-help vs. State-help
The Castle Doctrine proves as the core jurisprudence for every citizen’s natural right to defend one’s home (or himself/herself at home) from intruders. However, there is no unanimous federal consensus on how exactly this principle of self-preservation is applied.
Needless to say that the US is pretty much divided on how it goes. There is a clear division between states that authorize lethal force against intruders without fleeing (self-help) and states that compel survivors to evacuate their homes after using deadly force for self-preservation (state-help). The main distinction concerns the flight after the deadly fight (if the victim survives).
In these following states, you are perfectly allowed to kill the intruder in your home:
- New Hampshire
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
In these following states, there are certain legal limitations for staying indoors after taking the intruder down in your home:
- New Mexico
In North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin; you are allowed to use legal force and not retreat in public if you are cornered into a vehicle. But in these following states, you are at risk of being convicted for manslaughter if you did not retreat in public after killing the intruder in your house:
- New York
- New Jersey
- Rhode Island
Armed and Defiant
Home invaders are armed and dangerous. It is important for you to level the playing field by equipping yourselves with weapons that can effectively stop them. Take note: American law is pretty much clear and impartial towards the use of lethal force when your life is in danger. However, you also need to draw the line between justified deadly force and excessive deadly force.
Police investigation can easily tell the difference based on the number of bullet wounds from firearms or the extent of physical mutilation using bladed or blunt weapons. In case of the intruder’s death characterized by burns, the local police’s forensic arson division can also determine whether the scorching was deliberate or unavoidable.
You don’t have to fight fair. But remember that you need to stop when the enemy is already down. Speaking of taking the intruder down, what are the ideal weapons for you?
A pistol (handgun) is a perfectly appropriate ranged weapon for you. It is lightweight, very handy and small enough to be concealed. A pistol is even more essential to women due to the relative physical disadvantage of the fairer sex in fighting at close quarters. It is important to remember that you need proper training and ownership license if you prefer a gun for self-defense.
Granted, not everyone can stomach the hideousness of deadly force. In the old days, this moral dilemma could be life-threatening. Fortunately today, you can knock down an intruder without killing him/her because of non-lethal ammunition which can be fired from not only from pistols but even larger firearms like rifles and shotguns. Rubber bullets and cayenne pepper rounds are very favorable for victimized residents living in areas that are subject to the ‘Duty to Retreat’ law.
It is important to understand that firearms are designed to kill or incapacitate an enemy from the distance. But what happens when a home invader manages to get to you at arm’s reach?
A suitable non-lethal tool for dealing with this kind of threat is a pepper spray. From 4 feet to 15 feet of distance, this hand-held weapon can render the attacker temporarily blind and teetering in pain. For something that is potentially lethal at close-range, you can arm yourself with the nondescript but equally cunning self-defense key. Some models are designed as a make-shift knife while others take a form of spikes in between your bunched fingers (key knuckle).
Unarmed and Confident
It is one thing to fight an intruder armed and ready. But in a very likely event that you’re forced to fend for yourself weaponless, you’re left with a 50% odds of survival (and even less when the intruder outmatches you in size). Anyone who has seen the 2002 suspense movie Enough would learn that, in theory, a partially unconscious victim still has a fighting chance over an enemy towering him/her.
Interestingly, that movie features one of the most effective reality-based self-defense systems in the world. Loosely translated as ‘contact combat’ in Hebrew, Krav Maga is a holistic (armed and unarmed) fighting system practiced by the Israeli Defense Force. Its founding father, Imi Lichtenfeld, even quoted that “a baby’s leg is more powerful than Muhammad Ali’s (pro-boxer) testicles.” From this passage, Krav Maga practitioners apply groin kick as their staple attack.
Being one of the fewest authentic organizations that faithfully adapted Imi’s military-grade techniques in a civilian setting, the International Krav Maga Federation (IKMF) trains its practitioners to apply an expedient no-nonsense approach in dealing with a wide variety of dangerous situations – including especially home invasion. Their universal principle is comprehensively demonstrated in their flight and fight self-defense flowchart.