Several years ago, I split one of my classes into two groups. One group, dubbed the "homeowners," was asked to think of clever outdoor places where a house key might be hidden for use if they were locked out. The second group the "burglars" was asked to think of all the places they might look for a hidden key.
Guess what? The "burglars" thought of every single place the "homeowners" mentioned and several more that weren't even on their list.
The moral of the story is quite simple: Don't hide your house key anywhere outside because, sure enough, burglars will find it. "Hiding" the key under a rock near the front door makes it way too easy for burglars all they have to do is turn the key in the lock and enter your home. Instead of hiding your key, give it to a trusted neighbor.
Fortunately, we can take definite steps to protect our homes. We can secure our doors and windows. We can make the outside environment hostile to a would-be thief. And we can enlist the watchfulness of our neighbors and keep an alert eye on each other's homes.
Make burglars pass
According to the National Crime Prevention Council, burglars spend no more than 60 seconds trying to break into a home. David Rueschoff, president of Rueschoff Security Systems, agreed.
"A guy with a crowbar can open your door in a few minutes," he said. "Our theory is that good locks and good lighting are essential."
Lt. Kevin Harmon of the Lawrence Police Department's Community Service Training Division said one of the best ways to prevent a break-in is to "make your home safe enough to make the burglar pass it up."
He recommends installing deadbolt locks with 1-inch throws. Be sure to use long screws in the strike plate on the door frame. These screws need to be long enough to secure the plate into the studs.
Keep a broomstick handle or strong dowel in the track of a sliding glass door or get a commercial door lock for it. To prevent sliding glass doors from being lifted off the track, drill a hole through the slide door frame and the fixed frame and insert a pin in the hole.
Likewise, double-hung windows can be secured with key locks or by pinning the inner and outer frame with a nail inserted into a small hole drilled at a 45-degree angle. Remember to secure basement and garage windows, too.
"Good locks are extremely important," Rueschoff said. But they don't do much good once the door is broken open, he said.
Once entry has been made into the home, burglars can help themselves to your belongings. Worse yet, if you are home or surprise burglars by returning home while they are there, you may be hurt. An alarm system with monitoring services can increase the security of your home.
"An alarm system is a good deterrent," Rueschoff said.
A would-be thief will most likely not even consider breaking into a home with a security system because the system is difficult to disarm. In his 25 years in the business, Rueschoff said he has not seen a burglar breach a security system.
"Burglars are not that sophisticated," he said. "It's not like 'Mission: Impossible.'"
In the unlikely event that a house with a security system is broken into, an alarm sounds and the police are notified. Most of the time that commotion is enough to send the thief running before absconding with your possessions.
Many home security systems also monitor for fire, carbon monoxide, temperature, water leaks and medical emergencies.
Encourage nosy neighbors
A home security and monitoring system is not the only way to protect your home. Harmon suggests using the eyes and ears of all the neighbors to keep each other safe.
"Be cognizant of who's in your neighborhood," Harmon said. "Neighborhood watch groups are super to deter burglars."
Watchful neighbors know the general routine of the neighborhood. They are alert to the type of cars neighbors drive and when people come and go.
"It boils down to the nosy neighbor," he said.
Harmon notes that about half the break-ins occur during daytime hours when people are likely to be at work, so alert neighbors are valuable.
Notify the police if something doesn't seem right, even if it turns out to be a false call. He assured me that police would rather be called on a false suspicion than for people to take chances with safety.
Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital and home and garden writer for the Journal-World.