- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Officer James Spurlock, a crime prevention specialist with the Leesburg (Va.) Police Department, gives impromptu lessons on home insecurity, occasionally letting homeowners back into their locked houses by swiping a credit card or piece of thin cardboard through the door slot.

“‘It’s really that easy?’ they ask. It’s an eye-opener for them. I show people that little lock is held out by a spring, unlike a bolt lock, which has a mechanical mechanism,” Mr. Spurlock says, adding that he sees plenty of cases in which the bolt lock isn’t engaged. At other times, homeowners leave their garage doors open all night.

A home’s front, back and sliding glass doors door can be its most vulnerable points, home security experts say.

“Every once in a while, we’ll come across an incident where [a burglar] forced open a window,” Mr. Spurlock says, adding that windows built over the past 15 years are sturdy enough to dissuade most prowlers.

Mr. Spurlock says a family pet can provide low-tech burglary prevention, but pets have about a 50-50 chance of being an effective deterrent.

“Burglars are nonconfrontational. They want to get in and out as quickly as possible. Even a small dog that barks will get people’s attention,” Mr. Spurlock says.

Jean O’Neil, director of research and evaluation with the District-based National Crime Prevention Council, says roughly 57 percent of completed burglaries are unforced. That means too many people are all but inviting intruders into their homes.

Ms. O’Neil says a good way to assess one’s home is to get locked out on purpose — just put a spare key in your pocket, she warns.

“Say to yourself, ‘Oh … I’m locked out,’” she says. Now, figure out how to get back in using any means possible.

“If you can get in, so can the burglar,” she says. “You know your property better than your burglar, but he has more experience looking around properties.”

Once the homeowner has addressed any security weak spots, she advises making sure every possible entrance has a light near it so potential burglars know they can’t hide in the shadows.

Chris McGoey, who sponsors the security consulting Web site www.crimedoctor.com, says burglars go through a quick selection process when considering their prey.

“They look at the house from the street for cues of occupancy,” says Mr. McGoey, president of Los Angeles-based McGoey Security Consulting.

Most burglaries happen during the day, and burglars are eager to see empty driveways, piled-up newspapers and solicitation fliers bunched up on door steps.

Burglars then consider a home’s surroundings. Are there escape routes nearby? Does the home’s shrubbery offer ample cover?

“They’re always worried about escaping in an emergency. A property with an alley behind it is more attractive,” Mr. McGoey says.

Perhaps the last place a burglar wants to visit is a community where neighbors watch out for one another.

Conventional wisdom suggests that homeowners on vacation halt mail delivery to avoid an overstuffed mailbox that cries out that the owners are away.

Mr. McGoey disagrees.

“If you stop the mail … you’ve changed the routine of your house,” he says.

The better plan is to ask a trustworthy neighbor to collect the mail and then return the favor when the neighbor goes away.

“Get to know your neighbors; trade labor,” he says. “When we go away, we rotate between the neighbors to make sure the porches are cleaned off, and they’ll park in our driveway.

“If you live in a typical block, know at least the three neighbors across the street and the two neighbors to each side,” he says, adding that his family created a directory of area neighbors, their families and their contact information, down to their vehicle types and pets.

“It becomes a little community,” he says.

If the neighborhood cavalry doesn’t ride in to the rescue, homeowners can opt for a tweak to their home security systems.

Gerald Rooks, chairman of the Home Automation Industry Group with the Alexandria-based Security Industry Association, says modern alarm systems do more than just make noise when activated.

They can chime whenever a door opens or if glass is broken and can detect body movement by scanning for heat patterns, says Mr. Rooks, president of X-Ten Pro, a home security firm based in Florida.

“Lighting is very important,” Mr. Rooks says. For as little as $50, homeowners can upgrade their security systems to let them set different lighting patterns to click on in their absence.

“You can create a different appearance each night,” he says, a plan that won’t give burglars the impression the homeowner goes to bed at a specific time each night.

Some alarms can even trigger an artificial dog “barking” to scare away prowlers, though it’s not a method all security officials endorse, he says.

That deterrent may be good enough for the homeowner.

“Everybody has their own level of what makes them feel good,” he says.

The best defense may be a combination of several approaches.

A home system with blaring sirens and flashing lights may be the best bet because many of today’s burglaries go down in less than five minutes. Intruders often steal goods to sell for drugs, and a quick home hit can give them just what they need without having to linger for long.

Mr. Spurlock says the biggest problem homeowners face regarding security matters is complacency.

“Crime doesn’t follow a line on a map or economics. It’ll happen wherever it has the opportunity to happen,” Mr. Spurlock says. “If people live in a relatively crime-free area, they’re lulled into an artificial sense of security.”

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