In my first post on crime, I urged you to accept the reality of the criminal threat and to mentally choose not to allow yourself to be easily victimized. Hopefully you’re reading this second post because you’ve sworn off the denial, distraction, and passivity that characterizes most people and decided to do whatever you reasonably can to protect yourself, your family, and your home. If this mindset of yours is authentic and deeply felt, you’re more than halfway to your goal.
Your next step is to form a self-protection plan. Helping you do that is the purpose of this second post. “Self-protection” is too large of a subject for one article, so I’ve narrowed it down to something you can reasonably take on in the near future: fortifying your home and yourself against crime. I’m going to focus on three types of crimes, because your plans to defend against all three are closely related.
- Burglary when your house is unoccupied.
- Burglary when you are home.
- Home invasion robbery.
Legal definitions vary from state to state, but in Pennsylvania burglary is defined as unauthorized entry into your home or other building (with or without the use of force) with the intent to commit a theft or a felony. Burglary is considered a property crime because the usual intent is to steal valuables that are not in the physical possession of another person. By contrast, robbery is stealing valuables from a person using or threatening to use force. Robbery is a violent crime against a person for the purpose of theft.
Burglary in an Unoccupied House
Most burglaries are intentionally committed when the criminal believes the house to be empty. Burglars want to avoid being confronted by a home’s occupants because they’re afraid of getting hurt by the homeowner or captured by the police. Most burglars are unarmed when they break in (except for a tool they might have used to force entry) because they have no intention of having to hurt someone to complete their crime and safely escape. This crime presents the least amount of physical danger to you, but it is by far the most common of the three. Whatever plan you come up with has to address this issue comprehensively. Fortunately, most of your plans to prevent burglary will be useful in your plans to deal with the next two crimes which are far less frequent, but far more dangerous to your physical safety.
Check out this typical burglary story caught on video. The teenage burglars crawled in through a “pet door” on an exterior door, ignored the friendly pets (2 dogs, a cat, and a noisy bird), and ransacked the house. (“So easy a caveman could do it!”) Atypically, the owner, who had been previously burglarized, had set up a security camera in her house, which she monitored live via the Internet while she was at work. She saw the intruders, called police, and the two boys were arrested.
It would have been a good idea to get rid of the pet door. Anyone want to bet these were the same two who burglarized her place the first time?
Burglarly When Someone is Home (or Comes Home)
Try as they may to ensure that the houses they break in to are unoccupied, burglars sometimes break in to houses when someone is home or comes home during the crime. Even burglars who break in when they assume you are home (asleep) have every intention of getting in, stealing some valuables, and getting out undetected and unhurt. As you might imagine, this is a much more dangerous crime for anyone who is home at the time of the break in. Usually, the burglar will run away the moment he realizes someone is home, arrives home, or wakes up from their sleep.
This is the best result for you, but you can’t count on it. Things can turn violent a number of different ways, and once they do there’s no telling how badly it will end. In the moment he realizes someone is home, the burglar may decide to use violence to succeed in taking valuables (even if he has never been violent before). Or he may decide to commit a different crime in addition to stealing valuables (rape, murder, kidnapping). Or he may feel trapped and use force simply to escape the house. Check out the story of this couple who came home to find a burglar in their house. It could’ve turned out much worse, as the residents were not prepared to try to stop the burglar. Prepare in advance before you try anything like this!
Home Invasion Robbery (Violent)
Home invasion robbery is a very violent and dangerous crime and is thankfully rare. Home invasion robberies are almost always committed by two or more criminals who are armed and quite willing to use any level of violence necessary to get what they want. Home invasion robbers intentionally plan to attack while you are home and to use violence to get you to give them what they want, even if it’s in a safe or a different location. Many home invasions involve murder or attempted murder, so as not to leave any witnesses.
Criminals who commit these crimes are generally very experienced in crime and violence, and are tired of making off with small amounts of money and valuables in simple burglaries and convenience store stick-ups. Home invaders are looking for a big score which they have reason to believe you can deliver to them, and are willing to take the risks and use the violence necessary to succeed. Check out this NY Times piece about the brutal Petit family home invasion. As you read this account, note how easy it was for the criminals to gain access to the house, how unprepared the family was, how little crime this community normally experiences, how brutal the crime ended up being, and how true this saying is: When seconds mean the difference between life and death, the police are just minutes away.
Develop a Comprehensive Plan
Start with the easiest, most common threats to deal with and work your way up the threat scale as far as you can afford and believe is realistic in your situation. Develop a comprehensive plan and upgrade your defenses as conditions/events indicate.
The entry level threat is the common burglary described above. Burglars want something worth stealing, an empty house, low visibility while they’re making their entry, and easy access to the interior of your house. Your job is to deny them these things and frustrate them at every turn. (In a sense, your house has to be set up to defend itself while you’re away!) This is first and foremost a mind-game. You want to change the criminal’s mind about breaking in to your place. You want him to conclude there are plenty of other places that would be easier and more profitable for him to burglarize.
Your first goal is to make the burglar conclude breaking in to your place is not worth the payoff. If you drive a $60,000 car, wear a $5,000 wedding ring or watch, and live in a $500,000 house, you’re already at a disadvantage, because you can’t hide these things. Any obvious signs of wealth (even living in certain zip codes!) attract burglars, because they figure you have stuff laying around the house they can steal even if they don’t plan to steal the watch on your wrist. However, do whatever you can to conceal the cash and valuables you have in your house. If you have precious metals and cash at home, you should keep that a closely guarded secret (i.e., only you and one other person should know about it, if possible). Guns should not be displayed, no matter how tastefully. Valuables should not be visible to someone who comes to your door, looks in your window, or stands and talks to you in your entryway. Valuables and safes should not be visible to teenagers and other visitors to your house, contractors doing work in your house, or to your landlord if you rent. Most burglars are males between the ages of 14-25 who have been in your place with your permission at an earlier date (or know someone who has and has talked about it).
Your next objective is to do your best to make your house appear occupied even when it’s not. And remember that burglars don’t necessarily just look at your house once from across the street to decide whether it’s unoccupied. They listen for sounds (voices, TV). They observe patterns (garage door open or closed, mail or newspaper not brought in, snow not shoveled). They knock on the door or dial your phone number, and if you answer, they come up with a reason for calling/knocking and move on to someone else’s place, or try yours again another time. They check your social networking site to see if you’re on vacation. They check the newspaper to discover who’s going to be at a wedding. Some of the guidance often offered includes: lights on timers, leave a TV on, have a neighbor pick up your mail while you're away, etc.
If you can’t convince the burglar casing your house that it’s occupied, you want to make it appear too risky and difficult to get in undetected. You want to set up the exterior of your house to convince the potential burglar that there’s no way he can approach your house and work on gaining entry without being in plain view to neighbors, passersby, and police on patrol. That means proper lighting (e.g., motion-activated lights on all sides of the house out of reach from the ground) and proper landscaping (i.e., Is there any vegetation he could hide behind while gaining entry through a door or window?) A sign or signs advertising your alarm system and real or decoy security cameras are in this category, whether or not you have an actual alarm/camera system. The signs and cameras indicate two things to the burglar: 1) you’ve thought of burglary already and taken steps to prevent it, and 2) the alarm signs and cameras indicate “someone” is “watching” him even if you and your neighbors aren’t.
If the burglar decides you have valuables worth stealing, you aren’t home, and he won’t be noticed, your next line of defense is to make getting in to your house too loud, time-consuming, and difficult. Sadly, most burglars gain entry through 1) an unlocked door (e.g., the Petit home invasion) or 2) an unlocked window. This is quick, silent, and easy. Don’t make it so easy, people! The next most common point of entry is a locked door, which is much less secure than most people realize on a door that has not be properly fortified. Go to this site and watch how easy and quick it is to kick in the average door (I’m not selling this company’s products, just showing you how easy it is to kick in a locked door). In truly high-crime areas, your doors and windows should be guarded by steel security doors and bars, since normal doors and windows are simply too easy to defeat, even by amateurs.
Despite your best efforts, you have to plan for the possibility that a burglar will overcome all your efforts at prevention and succeed in breaking into your home/apartment while you are away. Now what? Well, don’t give up, because here’s where the fun starts! Now your burglary alarm system should be tripped, starting a countdown in the burglar’s mind about how long he has before the police and nosy neighbors start arriving. (I advocate real, monitored alarms, not just alarm signs). Most burglars stay in the target house for less than five minutes anyway, but a noisy alarm siren and the EVENTUAL arrival of the police is important to make sure he doesn’t overstay his welcome.
The monitored alarm helps ensure that the burglar won’t have the time to find your well-hidden valuables or crack open your safe, no matter what else he finds laying around in plain view in those few minutes. You should have a list kept in a safe place (like your safe) that itemizes all of your valuables, including serial numbers and photos. You can engrave what the police call “owner-applied numbers” on items that don’t have serial numbers, or in addition to them. Your home phone number is a good number to use. All of this helps with insurance reimbursement and in getting your stuff back if the police do make an apprehension. Oftentimes, a search warrant is served on a suspected burglar’s residence or car and many items are found which are suspected to be stolen. However, most of the time the items cannot be returned or additional charges placed on the suspect because there is no way to identify the owner of most stolen merchandise. You can get yours back by giving the police serial numbers, owner-applied numbers, and photos of valuables stolen when you initially report a crime.
I have barely scratched the surface of this subject, and there is much additional research that you must do to plan out your home’s defenses. Here are some sites to help you. These sites include checklists which you can use to perform a self-assessment and plan your upgrades.
- http://ferfal.blogspot.com/ This is Fernando Aguirre’s blog. “Ferfal,” as he is known, wrote Surviving The Economic Collapse about his experiences surviving the economic collapse in Argentina. You’ll find a great deal of wisdom gained through the school of hard knocks there, especially his 40+ posts regarding “home security.”
- http://dsc.discovery.com/fansites/ittakesathief/ittakesathief.html The Discovery Channel has an interesting series and website called “It Takes A Thief,” in which average families agree to have two reformed burglars break into their homes and steal their belongings as a learning experience. (All damages are repaired, belongings returned, and the family receives a new alarm system and other security upgrades.) The episodes are highly motivating, as they show how easy burglary is and how upsetting and expensive it is to residents.
I would be remiss not to emphasize how important it is for you to fortify yourself, not just your home. You (your mind, your disciplines, your skills) are the keys to keeping your home safe from burglary. Whatever you do and whatever upgrades you add to your residence, be disciplined and use whatever you’ve got diligently. I once responded to a report of a burglary at the Philadelphia home of a celebrity whose name you may know. This wealthy, well-known woman keeps a second home in Philadelphia and was the victim of a burglary there while she was out of state at her primary residence. The burglar broke a pane of glass in the garage door, and then reached in and pulled the cord that activated the garage door opener. Once inside, he closed the garage door, and, in complete privacy, easily forced open the door from the garage to the residence. No burglar alarm was installed which would’ve called the police at that point.
The burglar spent a lot of time searching for valuables, including cutting open couch cushions. The burglar tried to move the safe he found locked and secure in the bedroom, but it was too heavy to move more than 3 inches. Then he found over $100,000 in jewelry and watches in a shoebox in the same bedroom with the safe, and left a happy man. To top it all off, there was no insurance to cover the loss! If you have locks, lock ‘em. If you have an alarm, activate it. If you have a safe, put your valuables in it. Don’t make it so easy on them, people! And whatever you do, stay alert and aware. If someone followed you home from the jewelry store or bank, would you notice? If someone was watching you and your house off and on for a week, would you notice? And if you noticed, would you take effective action? Would the burglar watching you get the distinct impression that you were watching him?
Now, on to burglary while you are home. For this crime, you need all of the preparations you made for burglary while you are not home, plus some. Because of the increased risk of danger to you and your family from the burglar, some things you may have already done become more important and some new things come into focus.
First, it is critical for your safety that you get some kind of warning that an intrusion into your home has begun. The need to configure your perimeter, doors, and windows to slow the burglar down and force him to make noise is crucial. You need that warning and that time to respond, no matter what your response is going to be. It doesn’t do any good to have a “safe room” or a home defense firearm or a plan to run out the door screaming for help if the burglar gets in and gets to you before you can execute your plan.
Fortified doors and windows along with a properly-activated alarm system are the bare essentials to give you enough time to respond. Arrange your passive defenses to give you enough time to activate your plan, and be realistic. If you have a safe room or a firearm, test how long it would take you to get everybody into the safe room or actually deploy your gun in the worst case scenario (eg. when everyone is asleep). The longer it takes you to implement your plan, the more time you need from the moment you realize you’re getting burglarized until the moment you and the burglar are face to face. Most people are much too optimistic about how long it would take them to respond. (If you have to run to the bedroom closet to get your gun, unlock it, load it and run to the burglar’s entry point, your house has to be unusually slow and difficult to enter to give you that much time.) If you are unable or unwilling to use force to defend yourself in this situation, then your house must be that much stronger. You can’t afford to allow the burglar inside while you’re there because you’ll be completely at his mercy if his intentions include violence.
All TV commercials by companies selling burglary alarms contain wildly optimistic estimates of police response times. Even in Philadelphia, which is densely populated and where police are generally close by (even if they are already busy with other calls), response to burglary alarms runs into the four to five minute range at best, and to two or more hours at worst. Calls to 9-1-1 by residents stating that someone has broken in and is still in the house are almost always reached in less than three minutes. Suburban and rural response times are generally much, much longer, unless you’re very lucky and a Deputy or Trooper just happens to be close by when the call comes out. Don’t count on it! However, even three minutes is an eternity if you’re in your house with a burglar, and I urgently advise you to have a better plan than hiding and hoping until the police arrive. The advantage of having a firearm close at hand, and the skill to use it, is that you can deal with the worst case scenarios much better and without regard to what the police do.
There is also the issue of how our worsening economic problems are inevitably going to slow down police response times due to fewer police on the street. Watch this TV news report of two women and a child who waited 35 minutes for police to arrive while watching a burglar persistently trying and ultimately breaking in to their home. One of the women had to fight the man off with a vacuum cleaner (!!) just as the police arrived. It could’ve been much worse. What would you have done? What if the burglar intended to kill or hurt the occupants and he got in three minutes earlier?
Home invasion robbery is different from burglary because the robbers want you to be home and they’re not scared off by you or any weapons you might have. They plan to use threats, pain, and, if necessary, torture to get you to open your safe, go to the bank and empty your account, or give up whatever it is they think you have. And God help you if they have the wrong address and think you’re a drug dealer with a stash of cash and drugs. That mistake is made by home invaders more than you might think, and it always ends badly for the residents, because no amount of torture can make you tell robbers where your drugs and drug money are if you’re not a drug dealer! Home invasion robbers depend on the element of surprise, speed of action, and the willingness to use extreme violence to overcome anything they think you might do in self-defense.
The key in home invasion robberies is to deny the robbers entry into your home. Once they’re in, it’s very unlikely anybody will come to your rescue, because from the outside there won’t be anything suspicious to see or hear. The skill and intelligence of the robbers is important, but even an amateur home invader with below-normal intelligence who is willing to use extreme violence will overcome most victims. Most people simply aren’t prepared enough for this kind of crime, even if committed by dummies. But since I expect our economic problems and diminishing law enforcement resources to worsen, I also expect this sort of crime to become more common. So, in addition to recommending that you take everything above very seriously, I offer the following suggestions, particularly to those of you who have enough wealth to make a you a potential target for home invasion.
- First, you must not allow yourself to be pounced upon by home invaders who are waiting for you to come home or to leave your home. Could someone follow you home, pull in behind you, pull a gun, and demand entry into your house? Could robbers be waiting in hiding near your door and then pounce when you arrive/leave? Eliminate any hiding places on your property. Establish a perimeter fence or wall. Arm yourself and get the training necessary to adequately defend yourself. Decide in advance, if you are outside confronted by home invaders and your loved ones are inside, that you will die before letting them inside. Warn them any way you can, and don’t let the robbers in.
- Second, you must establish a way to “interview” people who knock on your door, without letting them in or making yourself vulnerable to a “push in” once you open the door. The simplest method is to install a two-way intercom system and arrange it so you can see the people outside while you talk to them. The second way is to install a heavy duty steel bar security door outside of your house’s door, through which you can talk with and see anyone who comes to your door. The security door can be mounted just on the outside of your house door (like a flimsy screen door but much stronger). Or you can enclose your porch or entry way with security bars and a security door. This way you can talk to strangers pleasantly without fear of them rushing you and getting inside. Once the home invaders are inside, you’re way behind the curve.
- Third, firearms and the attendant skills are absolutely mandatory if you expect to be able to cope with a home invasion. This has been optional up to this point, but not with home invaders. The same is true of a top-of-the-line alarm system that includes the capability to send a silent alarm to the police without the home invaders knowing about it. These panic alarms can be sent from the control pad by the entry door and from portable transmitters carried on your body. Ferfal deals with home invasion at great length in his book and blog. Since most Americans aren’t yet much concerned about this issue, I’ll direct you to him if you are one of the few who is concerned and wealthy enough to be a target. Of course, if our economic problems and moral decay continue in the direction we’ve been going, it will take less and less wealth to attract the attention of the more and more criminals willing to engage in this kind of crime.
If you have questions that have not been answered here, ask them in the following comments section or send me a private message.
This What Should I Do? blog series is intended to surface knowledge and perspective useful to preparing for a future defined by Peak Oil. The content is written by PeakProsperity.com readers and is based in their own experiences in putting into practice many of the ideas exchanged on this site. If there are topics you'd like to see featured here, or if you have interest in contributing a post in a relevant area of your expertise, please indicate so in our What Should I Do? series feedback forum.
If you have not yet seen the other articles in this series, you can find them here:
- A Case Study in Creating Community (SagerXX)
- Peak Certainty, Food Resilience, and Aquaponics (Farmer Brown)
- Creating Healthy Snacks from Your Garden (EndGamePlayer)
- The Essential Gardening and Food Resilience Library (Old Hippie)
- Installing A Solar Energy System (rhare)
- The Keys to Transitioning Healthcare: Empowerment, Education, & Prevention (suziegruber)
- A Quiet Revolution in Bicycles: Recapturing a Role as Utilitarian People-Movers – Part 1 (Cycle9)
- A Quiet Revolution in Bicycles: Recapturing a Role as Utilitarian People-Movers – Part 2 (Cycle9)
- Practical Survival Skills 101 – Fire Starting (Aaron Moyer)
- Raising Your Own Chickens (Woodman)
- Dealing With a Reluctant Partner (Becca Martenson)
- Making the Urban-to-Rural Transition (joemanc)
- Prepping on a Shoestring (Amanda)
- Practical Survival Skills 101 – Water (Aaron Moyer)
- Small-Scale Beekeeping (apismellifera)
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