Interview with a Burglar
Ever wonder what thieves look for before breaking into a home? Well, we asked one…
Two teen boys speed up to a quiet house on their bikes. They look just like what they are: two young teens from middle-class backgrounds. But they also look nothing like what they are: repeat criminals intent to break into this house.
Charlie London* was one of those boys. Despite his relatively stable upbringing, he’d been shoplifting from local stores for a few years. Now, he was scoping out bigger game. His paper route let him pick likely targets; he and his friend would come back later to rob them. They were successful often enough to keep doing it, again and again, until the police officer showed up on London’s doorstep. Soon after, he found himself heading into the juvenile detention system. The good news—for London most of all—is that he is now a grown-up in every sense of the word: a happily married father to two young kids, and a teacher of adolescents. He turned his life around.
So we asked London to share what would have deterred him back in the day. The following actions may reduce your risk of a home burglary.
*not his real name
Keep the Lights On
“We have our house well lit all the time—24 hours a day,” says London. It won’t slow down a daytime break-in, but if a burglar has to choose between a brightly lit home and a darkened one, guess which one he’s more likely to go for? The Department of Justice classifies outdoor lighting as a security device—it’s that important. If you’d like to keep the electric bill down, motion sensors turn them on only when someone is stirring.
Trim the Hedges
Weed your garden and shovel your walk. If you don’t maintain your yard, it looks like you’re not home—and that’s very inviting. Also tall, overgrown shrubs make it easy for a thief to break in without someone noticing them. “You have to harden your target,” said London. Not only does an overgrown landscape provide cover to an intruder, but it can make it easier for thieves to climb in, so keep your lawn and garden tidy.
Fake a Daily Presence
You might be surprised at who is paying attention. “I was a paperboy back when I was breaking and entering,” explains London, “so I was familiar with all the households and their routines.” He knew when their occupants were home and when they weren’t—and if someone went out of town, he picked up on subtle cues. Foil similar burglars—have someone pick up your mail and packages. You can also leave a radio or TV on inside, giving the impression that someone’s at home—and awake. Or invest in a remote switch on system so you can control your lights or TV throughout the day. Also, when you do leave on vacation, minimize the amount of time your bags are visible on the curb.
Give Thieves a Sign
“If I saw a sticker for a home security system, that would have been enough of a deterrent recalls London. “Once, we broke into a house and an alarm went off. We immediately turned around and just ran.” Stickers for a home security system are one trick; another is a trusty BEWARE OF DOGS posting. “Dogs certainly would have discouraged me from breaking in, even though I knew my way around dogs,” points out London. If you happen to love dogs and can afford a home surveillance system, by all means go for it! But if you’re allergic or cash is tight, fake it with signs. Dummy surveillance cameras enhance the illusion and are not difficult to put up.
Invest In Double-Glazed Windows
There’s a reason you see barred windows in high-crime areas, after all—glass is vulnerable. Anyone can break it. “Once we made sure no one was home and no one was in visual range,” explains London, “our methods were very unsophisticated. We simply cracked a window.” If your windows are uncrackable small-time burglars, like London, are thwarted. Double-glazed windows are an expense, but they also help to insulate your home more effectively and cut down on street noise. Can’t afford it? At least keep your windows locked.
Use Technology to Your Advantage
While many robbery deterrents from London’s day remain unchanged, there’s a lot of new technology out there, ”home security was less sophisticated back then, and in our neighborhood it was also less prevalent,” he says. Today, home monitoring systems can make it far easier to keep your property secure even when you’re out of town. Systems like ADT Pulse and the Iris Smart Kit from Lowe’s allow you to keep an eye on your home remotely through a smartphone or tablet. Discourage intruders by using home automation features that allow you to lock doors remotely or sound an alarm and record video if your front door opens unexpectedly. With all the recent advancement in technology, a home monitoring system is a great way to deter intruders and keep an eye on your home while away.
…But Not Your Disadvantage
It’s all well and good to be wired and connected, but consider who might be connected to your connections. Never advertise your comings and goings on social media—78 percent of burglars in a British poll said they’ve used Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and other social media platforms to target likely properties. More than half said online status updates clued them in to who was home—and who wasn’t. First things first—turn off location services on your phone, which bad guys can (and do) use to figure out where you are. If you’re on a fabulous vacation, wait till you’re home to post the photos to Instagram.
Store Things in Less Obvious Places
Even if you do everything right, a burglar still can make it in, so keep your stuff out of harm’s way. Don’t keep jewelry in the master bedroom—don’t keep prescription drugs in the medicine cabinet. Burglars want to get out quick, so if they don’t find what they’re looking for in the first 10 minutes, they’ll leave rather than search. And for heaven’s sake, don’t leave your house keys near the doorway! According to the British poll, more than half of those surveyed said homeowners practically invited them inside, leaving their keys easily accessible.