When you hear the word "security" what comes to mind? An armed guard, standing vigilant watch over a VIP? Heavy steel bars blocking entry to a door or window? Or the gleaming, massive vault at your bank?
When it comes to security for your home, you probably think of the locks on your doors, or maybe your alarm system if you have one. But the fact is your home security perimeter starts hundreds of feet outside your front door.
The vast majority of residential burglaries are crimes of opportunity. The average home-breaker is looking for low-risk targets that offer a fast payoff with a minimum of work. The image of professional burglars meticulously researching and planning the next big heist is mostly Hollywood fiction. The rare individuals with that type of skill typically seek out high-value targets like jewelry stores, financial institutions, and the like.
The crook that most of us have to worry about is far less adept, and much more common. Unfortunately, chances are pretty good that a would-be thief is living right around the corner from you or drove through your neighborhood within the last few days.
These opportunists are always looking for an easy mark. They can instantly size up a potential target and instinctively evaluate the ratio of risk to reward. If your home looks like a safe bet, they'll add it to their hit list and come back to visit you, sooner or later. According to the FBI, it happened to 1.56 million homes in 2008 (up 5.7% from 2007), and it can happen to you as well.
That's the bad news. The good news is that you can take action to dramatically reduce the chance that you and your family will be victimized. Here are five simple steps to improve your odds:
1. Get to know your neighbors
If you don't already have good relations with your neighbors, particularly the ones living next to you and across the street, make an effort to get to know them. A friendly neighbor who notices a strange vehicle parked in your driveway at an odd time can alert you or the authorities to a burglary in progress. A full-blown Neighborhood Watch program is great, but isn't the only way that you and your neighbors can help keep each other safe.
2. Keep your yard clear and clean
Overgrown foliage, inoperable vehicles, abandoned outbuildings, and other outdoor obstacles offer cover for would-be burglars. Privacy fences around backyards also offer thieves a safe haven for making entry to your home. If you have a fence, maintain it in good repair without any large gaps, and keep the gates locked from the inside. Also make sure that any shrubs and trees near your windows are well trimmed.
3. Use motion-activated lighting
Although only 28% of residential burglaries in 2008 occurred at night, you should protect your home with motion-activated outdoor lighting to chase off anyone who doesn't belong in your yard after dark.
4. Secure all exterior doors
All outside doors to your home and garage should be of solid core wood, fiberglass, or steel construction, and should be equipped with deadbolts. If you don't have the keys for all the locks, you won't use them - if not, have them re-keyed by a locksmith or replaced; this service is very affordable. Make sure that the strike plates are attached with 3" wood screws that penetrate into the structure framing. All hinge pins should be located on the inside of the doorway; if not, consult a professional locksmith for assistance. Finally, if the door frame is wood, make sure it is solid and structurally sound - if it is split or shows signs of rotting, have it repaired.
5. Make home security a family activity
If you're reading this, chances are that you've already been thinking about your family's security and making some changes. But even the most careful security preparations can be inadvertently thwarted by someone leaving a door or window unlocked, losing or sharing a key, or otherwise making your home a more attractive target. Make sure that your family is on board with the security plan and everyone is an active participant in keeping each other safe.