Burglary is one of the most common types of crime and unprotected homes are at significantly greater risk than those with even the simplest protective security measures. One way to keep your home safe and secure is by looking at it through the eyes of a criminal.
A burglar is considering three things when assessing a target: potential reward, chance of success and chance of escape. There is a theoretical debate over whether burglaries are mostly pre-planned or opportunistic, but the reality is that they are both—a professional burglar may target an affluent home after surveillance and an opportunistic criminal may capitalize on finding an open window. For the homeowner the theory doesn’t matter; both result in burglary. A good protective security strategy takes stock of this and adopts tactical countermeasures for both via the principle of “defense in depth.”
Defense in depth is a layered approach to physical security and is used by the military and law enforcement to maximize the effectiveness of individual security measures. The aim is to slow or stop unwanted incursions toward the asset which is being protected (in this case, your home) and this principle starts at the perimeter.
Generally speaking, if you live in apartment which is above the ground floor you have a natural defensive perimeter and limited points of access. This does not provide immunity from burglary, but it does mean that perimeter considerations are largely taken care of by gravity. However, if you live in a house, then reviewing your perimeter for protective qualities is essential.
A fence, even a low fence, clearly defines your property and limits any opportunity for a potential burglar to gain unquestioned access. There are few excuses which won’t raise suspicion if caught snooping. But it is worth considering fence types with a tactical eye—a high, solid fence will form an obstacle to entry, but once inside it will also provide a burglar with cover from view. The opposite is true with low, picket-type fencing. The pros and cons of each should be assessed according to the layout of your property, family needs, and alongside your broader, defense in depth strategy.
If you live in a property with gardens, consider the space between the fence line and building line and try to keep this area clear of obstructions, such as tall hedges. Open space denies cover for a covert approach and creating clear fields of observation across your property is extremely important, particularly at night. Night-time hours not only provide a general low-light environment, but also create deep shadows which are darker than ambient conditions. This provides natural cover for a criminal approach and all cover should be disrupted as much as possible. Security lights are an effective solution to this problem and many systems include a Passive Infrared (PIR) sensor which activates the lights when motion is detected. Whether you have security lighting or not, take time to assess your property under low-light conditions and interrupt any route which provides unbroken cover between your perimeter and your property.
It may sound obvious, but remember to secure and cross-check windows and doors before leaving your home, and create a security regime which supports this habit amongst family members. An open window can be observed from distance and even the most unskilled burglar will notice this weak point because they actively look for them. It is also worth considering standards of repair and quality of fittings—the best lock in the world will be rendered useless if the door it secures is in poor condition, and such weaknesses will be spotted by burglars. With these basic considerations taken care of, next consider some more advanced measures.
Intruder alarms are literally designed to prevent burglary and do an excellent job of making potential burglars move on to weaker targets. But these systems can be expensive to install and operate, so if you are securing your home on a budget consider a decoy alarm. Decoy, or ‘dummy’ intruder alarms come in many forms, but in essence they simulate an alarm system using an empty box fitted in a prominent position. Many decoy systems now come complete with flashing LED lights to simulate the ‘alarm’ in an active state and offer much of the deterrent value of a genuine system at a fraction of the cost.
As with intruder alarms, overt security cameras primarily act as a deterrent—remember the third element which the burglar is considering: chance of escape. Whilst not presenting any physical barrier to a property, a security camera will capture a break-in, and even an opportunistic burglar understands the link between the availability of evidence and ultimately getting caught. A further parallel with intruder alarms is that realistic decoy cameras are readily available online and offer many of the benefits of a genuine system.
Internal Protective Measures
With your perimeter and structure secured, it’s now time to consider your internal security. This is all about habit forming and confidence building within a family-centered security regime. Aside from the obvious security precautions such as securing and checking entry points and keeping valuables and spare keys out of sight, it is important to encourage the whole family to become security-minded and empowered toward early action.
Firstly, nobody has the right to be on your property without permission and a verbal challenge is often all it takes to uncover a transgressor’s true intentions. This can be issued from the security of your property, and if a potential threat is detected a call to law enforcement should follow.
Secondly, all family members should be briefed to never let a stranger into your home without a valid form of identification or a pre-arranged appointment. If there is uncertainty about the identification presented, call the organization the stranger is allegedly representing and check them out.
Thirdly, consider your property’s vulnerabilities when unoccupied. A common criminal tactic is the ‘test call’—a simple trick where a potential burglar approaches a property posing as a salesman or to ask for directions when they are actually checking if anybody is home. To counter this, have family members leave a television or radio on when they go out to create the illusion that the property is occupied, or invest in a virtual video doorbell to speak to the caller directly. If you are leaving your property unoccupied overnight, a timer to activate the house lights at pre-designated times is a very worthwhile investment.
With your near, middle and far ground covered, let’s now consider the most effective all-round protection for your home—dogs.
For all but the most determined burglar, the mere presence of a dog within a property will instantly place it into the ‘too difficult’ category. There is a very good reason that dogs are used by the military, police and private security companies for protective security all around the world – they make adversaries think twice.
A dog can detect noises at four times the distance of a human and their sense of smell is thousands of times greater, so even small dogs present a complication for potential burglars. In addition, a medium-sized dog in a defensive state introduces a very real physical problem for an intruder, and larger breeds can present a lethal threat. German Shepherds, for example, are extremely powerful and ferocious in their protection of family and home. Their protective instincts are hard-wired, and it is quite common for these dogs to position themselves close to vulnerable family members, such as children, during the night and guard them as they sleep. These innate traits of intelligence, fidelity and fearlessness have made German Shepherds the mainstay of K9 units for generations.
Most police officers will tell you that a dog is by far the best defense against burglars, and many reformed burglars report that they would avoid a property with a large dog like the plague. A dog will also enhance all layers of your protective security, but even if you don’t own a dog you can still exploit their deterrent effect by installing warning signs at obvious points around your property.