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2013 Guide to Preventing Break-Ins

By: Pete Onni contributor

A straightforward guide on reducing the changes of burglary.

Identity Theft Thumbprint

Most burglars are looking for poorly secured properties to steal goods that can quickly be converted to cash.

One of the most devastating experiences anyone can be confronted with is the invasion of the privacy of one's home by an uninvited stranger. All of the sudden, the safety and security of the home have been destroyed. Residential break-ins, maybe better known as burglaries, are taking place in every community in the United States. However, some locations seem to be more vulnerable than others.

Recent FBI statistics show that there are approximately 2,200,000 burglaries annually in the United States. Over 70% of them are residential burglaries. As an example of the wide differences in the burglary rates, North Carolina experienced 1,201 burglaries per 100,000 residents, while New Hampshire had 326 burglaries per 100,000 residents. Further, 85% of the perpetrators are under 25 years of age and male. Most residential burglaries (60%) take place between 6am and 6pm. That is when homes are usually unoccupied as the residents are at work. Seasonal changes also have an impact. During warm weather, windows are often left open, which makes the home a more attractive target. The majority of burglars cannot really be classified as professionals. They are frequently drug addicts or unemployed individuals looking for a quick source of cash, or items that can easily be sold.

What is usually taken from the burglarized home?

The top of the list includes cash, jewelry, guns and electronics. The preferred items are the ones that are easily carried away in a backpack. Larger items, such as personal computers, TVs, etc, are normally left alone. The average monetary loss in a residential burglary is a little over $2,000.

The Typical Burglar

Although it is difficult to profile the typical burglar, especially as less than 14 percent of residential burglaries are solved, my personal experience as a police patrol officer and investigator has given me some clues over the years.

  • They are usually younger males, but not teenagers.
  • Don’t expect them to carry a bag full of sophisticated burglary tools. The most common break-in devices are a screwdriver or a rock through a window.
  • I have worked in both city environments and rural areas, in the city the perpetrators were usually on foot, working alone, and checked a neighborhood for inviting targets before committing the burglary. In some instances an accomplice functioned as a look-out.
  • The looks of a person does not indicate if he is a prospective burglar. Rather it is the behavior.
  • In rural areas the burglars often had transportation, either their own, or provided by a friend.

What bothered me was the fact that neighbors sometimes had observed a suspicious person in the area, but did not take any action. In one case the burglar even asked a neighbor what time the occupants of the house would usually be home as he had a delivery for them. The next day he burglarized the house in the early afternoon as he was told that the victims always arrived home after dark. The neighbor never notified the victims of this incident until my investigation. I was involved with a very successful neighborhood watch in our city. We met on a regular basis with the members of the neighborhood watch, exchanged information and received valuable intelligence. This enabled us to both decrease the number of break-ins and other property crimes in the area, and also helped in solving some crimes. Victims of residential burglaries usually expressed anxiety, fear and inability to sleep after their homes had been burglarized.

Both Federal and Local Law enforcement Agencies Recommend the Following


  • Avoid becoming a target by making your home look like it is occupied even when you are away. In the daytime, leave the radio on, at nighttime, leave an interior light or two on. Lock ALL doors and windows before leaving the house, even if it is only for a short time. A good burglar can get what he wants in a few minutes.
  • If you are going to be away for a few days, connect some lamps to automatic timers to turn them on in the evening and off during the day.
  • If you have a garage, always keep the garage door closed and locked.
  • Don't allow daily deliveries of mail or newspapers to build up if you are away for a few days. Arrange with the Post Office to hold your mail, or arrange for a friend or neighbor to collect them daily.
  • The most common door locks are of the push-button type. These are extremely easy for a burglar to open, especially if your exterior doors have glass panes. The best option, although even that is not 100% secure, is to install deadbolt locks on all exterior doors. You may even consider installing a locking bar on any door leading to the backyard.
  • Sliding glass doors are commonly used to connect to patios, etc. These are very difficult to secure. There are, however, special locking devices available at any good hardware stores.
  • Ensure that all windows can be secured. Especially basement windows as they provide easy access to a burglar. A cost effective way is described further down.
  • If at all possible, get a dog. It doesn’t have to be a huge guard dog. Even a small dog inside the house will scare away a prospective burglar with its barking.


  • Do not leave any valuable outdoor items, such as gas grills or lawnmowers in the yard when you are not home. Keep them in a securely locked garage or storage shed.
  • Cover any basement windows to prevent a prospective burglar from seeing what is inside. Especially if the basement contains valuable items such as power tools.

During my days a patrolling police office, I noticed a lot of people advertising that they are away from home by leaving a note on the front door. Never do that. Only inform trusted neighbors or friends and ask them to keep an eye on your house.


  • A good lock is a worthy investment. However, no lock, regardless of its quality, can be 100% effective. Key-in dead bolt locks provide basic security. Ask a locksmith for advice on the best options for you.
  • If you lose your keys, or if they are stolen, replace all affected locks immediately.
  • When moving into a new home, change all locks as you do not know who may have possession of the original keys.


  • Install good exterior lighting. Motion-sensitive lights that are activated through motion detector sensors are excellent choices.
  • If your budget allows, you may consider CCTV cameras as they serve as a great deterrent in addition to providing evidence of any attempted break-ins.
  • Police officers on patrol visually checks neighborhoods for any suspicious activity. Ensure that bushes etc. do not interfere or provide hiding places for thieves.
  • The door hinges on outside doors should be on the inside to avoid removal.


  • The cheapest and very effective way to secure wood frame windows is by pinning. You do this by drilling a 3/16” hole on a slight downward angle through the inside window frame and halfway into the outside frame. Then place a nail in the hole to secure the window.


  • Installing an alarm system is one of the most effective ways to protect your home. It protects and deters even while you are on vacation. There are many choices of alarm systems on the market.
  • Shop around for the best security system that fits your budget. The top-of-the-line alarm systems usually have an auto dialer that calls the police when the alarm is activated.


  • Do not go inside - the burglar may still be there.
  • Use your cell phone or a neighbor's phone to call police.
  • Do not touch anything until the police have searched your premises for evidence.
  • Write down the license plate numbers and descriptions of any suspicious vehicles.
  • The same goes for the descriptions of any suspicious persons. Ask your neighbors if they have noticed anything unusual.


  • It has always been a quite common practice to leave keys under doormats, in flowerpots, or other hiding places. Believe me; burglars are very familiar with this practice.
  • It is important to make an inventory of your valuable items. Take photos or videos of valuable objects. Note date of purchase and original value, any serial numbers. Keep a copy of this in a safe place away from home. This is also a good practice in case of fires or other disasters.
  • If you notice anything suspicious in your neighborhood, call the police immediately. Encourage your neighbors to do the same.
  • If possible, engrave your valuables with your driver's license number. This makes it harder for the burglar to dispose of them and easier for police to recover.
  • If your neighborhood doesn’t have one, form a Neighborhood Watch Group. Your local police or sheriff’s department can help you work with your neighbors to improve security and reduce risk of burglary.
  • Warning signs or decals, such as “Beware of Dog”, “Alarm System Installed’, “Neighborhood Watch Member”, can be placed next to doors and windows to deter a possible burglar.

Pete Onni is a Adjunct Faculty Member at the Institute of Police Technology and Management at the University of North Florida as well as Georgia Public Safety Training Center. He has over 30 years in law enforcement and security consulting, including working as a Training Consultant for the US Department of Interior, Office of Insular Affairs.