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Early in the morning of January 18th, some local troublemakers tried to break into my house.
As best as I can tell, there were three of them – one African-American, and two Hispanics. I was first alerted to their presence by our dog, an 85 pound American Bulldog, and our alarm system that sounded when they opened the sliding glass door that led from my deck into my kitchen. This appears to have been their second attempt at entering, as our front door did show some marks of forced entry.
They didn’t make off with anything, but they did manage to evade capture. Here’s what I learned from the process.
#1 – Security Systems
A home security system is a must, but it won’t do much for you in a case like mine, when the criminals didn’t manage to get away with anything of value.
We have a smart home system set up with Samsung’s Smartthings, and we have window and door monitors throughout our lower level that will sound in case anyone opens doors unexpectedly. These sensors trigger two different sirens, one on the top floor of our home, and another in the family room, near what I considered to be the likeliest break-in point. This system has proven to be slightly annoying, as the door locks require you to arm and disarm the system every time you open or close a door, but worthwhile in this situation.
We also have timed and motion-sensitive lights on our front door and near the patio. There are also security cameras watching the front and rear doors on both the inside and outside of our home, thus allowing me to identify the burglars somewhat.
When I showed the footage to the local police who reported on the incident, the pictures were clear enough to identify some facial features, but not enough that they felt it would be worth their time, energy and effort to run them through a facial recognition database. The use of technologies like this, while common on TV programs, is something that cannot be utilized for common neighborhood crimes, and is reserved for instances of high-value theft, repeated incidents and for murder or other violent crimes. If I were to meet them on the street, I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable identifying the individual participants.
All in all, I felt like the security system was one of the most valuable preps that I made in investing in my home, but ultimately, the cameras (the most expensive part of what I put together by a mile) returned the least value. This is something I’d seriously consider skipping if I needed to build a new system from scratch.
#2 – The Dog
Our American Bulldog Golem is a sweetheart who wouldn’t hurt a soul. He’s well-trained to be around all kinds of people, and had these burglars gotten into our home, I’m not entirely sure that he would have attacked. He heard the noises they were making, though, and was waiting at the window to see what they were doing while they attempted to open our front door, and as soon as they made their way around the house to the kitchen, he was in full defense mode.
He scared the bejeezus out of these lowlifes with a single bark. So much so that it was his bark that caused the one operating the tools on the door they were using to pick the lock to jump, and his jump jimmied the door enough to cause the sensor to go off.
Practically speaking, many preppers believe in the power of smaller, more yippy dogs like terriers or spaniels – they make more noise, are generally less trusting of strangers, and can fight with surprising quickness – but I believe in the power of a larger, scarier breed.
It is Golem’s size that scared these home invaders, and ultimately what drove them away. He didn’t need to be a physical weapon because he’s such a good psychological one.
These were not the brightest young men – their feeble attempts at forcing my front door were proof enough of this – but even those slightly more intelligent invaders would have brought treats that would have distracted him. Had the alarm system not gone off, however, Golem’s bark woke me up and got my attention, and I was already reporting to the location of the noise when it happened because it was unusual. His training and his love of our family were major assets in dealing with this crime.
#3 – Weapons
My guns are locked up in a gun cabinet in my basement, where they are out of sight of my wife (who doesn’t like them), and out of reach for my teenage daughter (who isn’t responsible enough for them). Unfortunately, if someone is breaking into my house, they’re sitting there doing absolutely nothing whatsoever. I should be armed before heading towards this conflict – an obvious idea that did not occur to me as I grabbed my flashlight (the dinky kind that would do nothing for me in a fight), and wandered down the hallway to investigate.
Before this incident, I did not have the ammunition I needed to justify keeping a handgun in easy reach of the bedroom door, but I certainly do now.
For those without access to guns, I think that it’s important to keep some kind of weapon near at hand for every member of your family. Find something that works for each of them, and require that it be kept in their room, behind their door or in their nightstand. My wife and daughter both chose retractable heavy clubs after looking into options following these events, but a simple pocket knife, tactical flashlight or pen, pepper spray or even a long stick or spear would be useful in a crisis.
#4 – Authority
How much time do you need to buy yourself? Knowing this is an important part of home security, because it’s a lot longer than you might think.
My initial response to the crisis was to go at it. I know how to fight and am going to protect my assets. My wife and my daughter both independently called the police and hid in their bedrooms – maybe a better option considering that I was armed with only my flashlight and walking into an unknown conflict.
Ultimately, the police were called in almost immediately at the start of the incident. It took them more than seven minutes to send one officer into our backyard, another to the front door, and two more to patrol the street outside my home.
I live in the exurbs of Chicago, in a generally safe area that is not very population dense. Seven minutes is a long time, and the officers on the scene reported that they thought their response time was pretty average for the day and the time of night that they were reporting.
Asking your local police and fire authorities how long it might take for them to get to your home at various times throughout the day is a question that most officers will gladly answer. They will likely give a wide range, but that is normal considering the circumstances of where patrol officers might be, and what type of call you are reporting – in this instance, the police waited to get four officers on the scene in case the burglars were armed and dangerous.
This knowledge is important information to have, as it’s going to define what our plan is for future break-ins. I’m not going to give them a full seven minutes to wander my home in search of valuables, that’s for sure.
#5 – Home fixtures
We bought our home before we became preppers, and ultimately, we chose many of the features of our home based on price and looks rather than on protection.
The police immediately pointed out that they felt like the intruders were almost certainly amateurs looking to see what they could get away with. When I asked why, I figured that he would say that they didn’t have a treat for my dog, or that they didn’t notice the sign that indicated that I have a security system. Instead, one officer grabbed the handle of our vinyl framed patio door, lifted it out of its track, and carefully placed it to the side.
We had no idea that it would be that easy to dismantle. “It’s a low-quality door that’s fairly common around here,” he said. “I’ve seen dozens of them, and the problem you have with it is that I probably could have done that even if it were locked because I can lift it out of the locking mechanism.”
Wake up call.
We have since called in professional door installers to replace this old door. We made the unconventional decision to put a front door into the space instead of another sliding glass one since it offers more locking mechanisms and less glass to break into. Yes, it looks a little awkward and lets less light into the kitchen, but it is a significant upgrade in safety.
As for the sign that advertises our security system, we received a window decal from one of the alarms we purchased instead of the kind that stick out in the grass. I had placed it in what I considered to be a very conspicuous location – a ground floor window at eye-level near the front door. Neither the police nor the burglars had noticed it. Those lawn signs, according to police, are easy to steal and duplicate, but offer much better advertisement of your preparedness, and are a better burglar deterrent. Ask your friends to see if they can spot your window decal – they might not be able to.
#6 – Know Burglars
The police officers were more than happy to talk with me about burglars when I pressed them for some more tips. Here are some of the more useful tidbits that they gave me:
- The most sought-after item by burglars is not electronics or car keys, since most can be tracked easily. Jewelry is a good target, but only if you’re not home, or if you live in a prosperous area (almost all jewelry in the average American home is worth very little). Guns are what they are looking for – not only are they fun for criminals, but they can be pawned or sold very easily, and they’re hard to track down once stolen. One officer pointed to my bumper sticker advertising the 2nd Amendment and noted that this would attract serious burglars hoping to cash in.
- Burglars are going to try to get in and get out with as little notice as possible. Very few are going to come in the front door like the dinguses who attempted to get into my home. Windows at ground level, patio doors, and even basement window casings offer them easy entry. They are unlikely to break glass since it’s a safety hazard for them when they’re climbing in and out, and it makes a very obvious noise that will alert neighbors.
- Smart burglars strike when they think you’re not home. The fewer people they run into, the better. The officers who responded to our incident noted that since we don’t park in our garage, it’s probably easy for anyone who cases our property to know when someone isn’t home – our cars will not be there. If we were to make a habit of parking one in the garage, there’s always an element of uncertainty – have they left yet, or not? This is yet another small change that anyone can make that might help to deter a would-be burglar.
- Where will burglars go first? The garage and basements (that’s where they think your guns are). They will stay away from bedrooms unless they’re looking for violence or they assume you’re not home.
- Burglars tend to attack homes in pairs or threesomes, not alone. They often do not carry weapons since that increases their punishments severely if they are caught. If a burglar does attack you, or if you attack them, their weapon of choice is likely to be a kitchen knife that you store on the counter in a knife block or one that’s drying near the sink. Keeping knives concealed in drawers is significantly safer.