This article was first printed in DAWN Magazine on 3rd August 2014
Break-ins happen and they happen everywhere. No area is immune though some suffer more than others. The main reason for break-ins is simple: homes are easy to penetrate. The whys though are dependent on a number of factors: whether the house is isolated, or if the owner has been careless.
The key to burglar-proofing (we’re not talking about armed hold ups here) your house is to make it unattractive to any intending burglar. The common thief or burglar will scout the target and seek tell-tales signs for the occupants’ absence, or the ease with which they could get in and out unnoticed.
So how does one go about doing?
Simple; you start with the outside and move to the inside. Examine how you get in to your home? How many unsecured windows are there? Are you able to see everything inside the home from outside? Is the door locked? Ask yourself these questions and examine the physical measures that exist and the practices you adopt and then reinforce them.
Be aware of simple security measures and stop thieves in their tracks
The front gate
The gate must not have a handle that conveniently permits the thief to step on to it and over. The construction of the gate in particular from the outside must be smooth so as to not permit footholds. The top of the gate must be beyond the reach of a person standing on tiptoe and have spikes.
The front door and locks
The front door must be made of solid wood. If you have a small door frame avoid the use of doors that open up in half. Install dual locking system at the minimum. Single locks are easy to pick and draws the attention of a burglar on the lookout for the next target.
There must be no glass window in the main door.
Door hinges must be on the inside and if they’re not, then refit the door. If that can’t be easily done, then replace the exposed hinges with non-removable pins.
Install a viewfinder with a cover at a height that all members of the household can easily use it.
Another common practice is to fix a metal door in front of the wooden door.
Seal any window that may be near a main outer door.
If the front door keys are lost immediately change the lock. When making duplicate keys for doors use a locksmith in a different area to your home
Don’t bring the locksmith home
Always have the keys made in your presence (if you leave them, you can’t be sure you have been given all the keys made)
Do not give door keys to domestic staff.
Alarm systems and CCTV
There are two types of alarms and CCTV available:
Alarms are installed at home with no response force in case of an incident. CCTV is monitored either at home or through remote connections. A word of caution is in order: remote connectivity needs a working internet connection at all times.
Security companies are able to install both alarms and CCTV that are monitored by them 24/7 and will send a response force in case of an alarm being generated.
In case of a standalone system, you can have a locally generated alarm that goes off and the neighbours can hear. The neighbours should be asked to call you if the alarm goes off.
If you can’t install a system, you can always be deceptive. Put up sticker or plate that reads “This property is secure by CCTV and alarm systems” and install dummy cameras.
Remember, you want to deter the burglar from even considering breaking in and any sign of a camera may make them think twice.
Name plate or house number
Don’t put your name on the front door/gate as just your house number is sufficient. The courier company, the mail man, the utility services provider, etc. only need to know the house number to deliver your goods/services. Putting your name on the front door can lead to you being targeted for other reasons as well.
Should you keep the lights on or not? Some say yes and some say no. The middle path is the best.
Install motion sensor lights for the perimeter and yard of a house or at the front door of your apartment. The light switch for the outside must be available inside the home as well (in case you are at home when a burglar shows up).
If you are to be away for an extended period, install a timer-based light that switches on when it’s dark and switches off when its daylight. This would indicate someone is present even if they aren’t.
Install grills on windows that are easily accessible from the outside.
Grills should be riveted and not bolted or then placed inside the concrete. Bolted grills can easily be undone with a screwdriver.
If you are averse to putting grills then consider installing double glazed windows especially on ground floor and on levels where windows are easily accessible. Breaking them takes effort.
Shield the inside from prying eyes
Use curtains and blinds and keep them drawn closed so as to prevent a potential burglar from scoping out what’s inside.
If valuables (TV, Stereo system) are visible through the window, then move them to a different spot in the room, so that they are not visible if the curtains are drawn open.
Cupboards should never be visible from the outside. If you can’t move them around then when using them at least ensure the windows are covered.
Don’t leave the cartons for new home appliances or gadgets outside your front door for the garbage collector. Immediately put them away or drop it off in the garbage bin of the area.
If you have guard dogs, then limit the number of people who handle them. Domestic help, if tasked to look after them, must be folk you trust. Feed the dogs at fixed intervals, and ensure only two people do so. If the dog is used to eating from others, it may eat things given by burglars. Put up a sign on the front gate that alerts people to the presence of dogs.
Mail & mailboxes
Your mail box should be on the inside with a slit on the gate or door for mail to be dropped in it. If the mailbox slot is on the front door then cage it. Unprotected mail slots make it easy for the burglar to manipulate the door locks. Mail must be taken out daily from the box, as this indicates the house is occupied. If you are travelling then ask the neighbor to collect the mail if the box is fixed outside.
Leaving the house unattended
Whatever the reason you leave the house unattended, don’t announce it on the internet. Burglars are getting tech savvy and do prowl the internet for their next victim. They’re looking for those check-ins that you’ve made at the airport, in another city, etc.
Cancel your newspaper subscription if you are away or ensure someone collects them for you daily. Just like mail in the box, newspapers left uncollected telegraph your absence.
Access to outsiders (workmen, courier, utility services)
Wherever possible, do not permit folk to unnecessarily access your home. If the electricity meter needs reading, then stand with the utility chap who comes over, but do ensure that he proves his identity before you let him in.
If the parcel delivered is too heavy for you to lift, and then have it placed inside the front door but no further inside. If the workman has to carry out his job inside, then ensure he is supervised.
Whatever makes you comfortable is what you must do. If it means having someone 24/7 at your home, then so be it. However only having someone present at home without reinforcing the locks, windows and doors is as good as giving a stranger the front door key.