Summer is coming fast. Especially here in Arizona, where it is expected to top 106 degrees today. With summer comes extended time away from home on vacations, kids playing unsupervised throughout the neighborhood, and a relaxed approach to the day. Let’s keep our Dream Homes from becoming anything less through some added vigilance and perspective regarding home safety and security.
It’s said that locks and deadbolts are installed to keep the “honest” criminals out; if someone really wants to get in, they will. Unsettling, yes; however, there are several simple steps all home owners can take to make a criminal’s life a bit more cumbersome. Criminals do not like to be delayed, seen, or heard. By making it unpleasant for them to be near or in your home, they will move on, or at least be delayed long enough for help to arrive. By taking a few simple precautions you can increase the level of safety and security in your home.
1. Lighting: The greatest asset to any criminal is quiet, concealment, and surprise. One of the simplest ways to disrupt this set of ideal circumstances is through appropriate lighting. Keep the front of your home well lit. Your driveway does not have to look like an airport approach beacon, but keeping it lit most of the night will add to the security of the home. Lighting while away from home is especially important. Install automatic timers on light switches controlling the porch and driveway area lights. These are inexpensive upgrades available at most home improvement stores and installed in your existing wall switch boxes. They are fully programmable freeing you of remembering to turn the outside lights on or off. This is especially useful when away from home. Additionally, side and rear-yard motion sensor flood lights are very effective. This alerts you immediately to movement within your yard, not to mention, it scares off the unsuspecting prowler.
2. Security system: Security systems are an effective means of deterrence, especially when coupled with noticeable signage in the front yard and stickers affixed to each window and door. As a prowler identifies his next target, he will likely pass over homes advertising the presence of a security system. Systems range in price and room coverage areas. For a few hundred dollars, a professional security company can install a quality system. Off-site central monitoring services keep your home under constant watch for alarm activations for a monthly fee.
3. Deadbolts and locks: No matter how thick and heavy the door, it is only as strong as the door jamb it is attached to. Install extra long screws through the strike plate on the door jamb. The strike plate is the rectangular metal piece through which the dead bolt slides into when locked. The extra long screws (3″ minimum) will anchor the strike plate to the wall studs behind the thin door jamb adding some extra strength.
A locked front door does not slow down entry into a home during an emergency. Usually, all that is keeping the door closed and locked is a thin piece of wood approximately one-half of an inch thick. Also, add a padlock to the side yard gates. If a criminal’s only path to the rear yard is over a gate, the noise associated with such a jump will likely send him elsewhere.
4. Keep doors locked during the day while at home. This one may not be as obvious, but a true-story may illustrate the point. As officers attempted to stop a stolen car driven by a known criminal, a dangerous pursuit ensued through rain-slick city streets. After several minutes, the suspect crashed the car and ran into a quiet neighborhood. In his attempt to hide from pursuing officers, he entered a home through an unsecured front door. With astonished officers following close behind, they found the desperate man had taken an elderly couple hostage, threatening to shoot the home owners if the officers do not let him go.
As the officers took careful aim at the deranged man positioned behind the elderly couple, their negotiations quickly proved useless. The officers were forced to take this criminal’s life in order to save the elderly victims, who only seconds prior, were enjoying the quiet solitude of their home.
The chain of events can be that quick, and sudden. When at home, keep the doors locked. If nothing else, it can slow down the intruder allowing you time to call for help.
5. Children answering the door: Do not allow young children to answer the door alone. Always be in sight of the door if your children are going to open it. Taking such precautions will teach your children a basic rule of safety; stay within sight of mom and dad. The most unlikely and innocent situations are usually ideal opportunities for criminals. Yes, children have been “stolen” from inside their homes, i.e. Polly Klaas in Petaluma, CA 1993.
6. Emergency procedure and practice: Hold regular practice emergency drills with your family. Teach children the procedure for calling 911, and practice the steps in detail. Highlight the numbers on the keypad. Have them practice giving their address and home description over the phone, such as single story or two, dark or light color etc. This can be a lifesaving skill whether the emergency is criminal, medical, or a fire. Prior planning and practice will pay-off in a critical situation.
7. Vacation checks: Most local law enforcement agencies offer increased patrols and vacation checks when requested by residents. If you suspect something suspicious in the neighborhood, anonymously ask for a higher patrol presence. Getting to know your beat officer is a great way to keep current on local crime trends and happenings. Simply call the non-emergency number for the local police agency and request a brief visit with the officer at your home. A positive contact such as this always a welcome request.
Also, when away from the house for a few days, ask a trusted neighbor to pick up the newspaper and collect your mail. Nothing broadcasts that you are away more clearly to a would-be burglar than a pile of newspapers in the driveway, or an overflowing mailbox.
As a whole, our communities are safe and secure thanks to the vigilance of our local police departments and watchful neighbors. While you may never fall victim to violent crime, a heightened awareness of the steps and procedures to remain safe will always pay off. Our home is a coveted sanctuary from the busy world around us. Practicing these techniques will help keep it a safe and secure refuge. Preparedness is half the battle.