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Home Invasion Prevention

By: Pete Onni contributor

A home invasion differs from a residential burglary in several ways. In both cases the target has been selected by the criminal(s) through surveillance. A burglar targets a home that is unoccupied at the time of the break in. This means that the burglary usually takes place in the daytime when the occupants are at work.

Home Invader breaking in

In the USA from 2003-2007 Assault occured in 15% of home invasions, rape in 3%. All data from The US Justice Department.

A home invasion is perpetrated when the occupants are at home. The reason for this is to enable the perpetrators to access any safe boxes, credit cards and cash. This is done through threats, physical assaults and use of weapons. There are also cases where the burglar is startled to find someone in the home, this becomes an unplanned invasion.

These planned crimes are rarely done by a lone perpetrator. This because the occupants of the home may attempt to fight back and manpower is needed to subdue the victims.

Who are the usual victims? They are not personally known by the perpetrators. However, they may have been selected based on the below criteria:

  • Vulnerable. May be senior citizens or females.
  • Perceived wealth. Type of home, expensive cars, spending habits. The victim may have been spotted buying expensive items at a store and followed home by the perpetrator.
  • Known drug user. In this case the perpetrator will be looking for drugs.
  • In some cases the perpetrator has been inside the home before as a delivery person or to do repair work. This has enabled him to observe valuable items, and classify the home and occupants as attractive targets.

The Invaders and their Methods.

As stated before, home invaders rarely work alone. They usually expect possible altercations, and come prepared for that. They are usually armed and have duct tape or rope with them in order to immobilize their victims. The strategy is to use overwhelming physical violence to create fear in their victims and thereby ensure their cooperation. The first minute of the invasion usually sees the most violence. However, violent acts often continue to take place throughout the invasion. US Department of Justice statistics show that in 28% of burglaries (03-07) someone was home making this a home invasion. In 25% of those home invasions the homeowner became a victim of violent crime.

The typical method used for this crime is to first knock on the front door, or ring the doorbell. Once the victim opens the door, the perpetrator immediately enters, usually accompanied by one or more accomplices. If this type of entry attempt is unsuccessful, the next step is to gain entry by the use of force. Once inside, brutal violence is used to intimidate the occupants and gain control, usually by tying them up.

The invaders may spend hours inside the residence searching for valuables. If children are present, they may threaten them to get the parents to reveal the locations of any valuables. If there are females in the home, there is a serious possibility of rape.

A personal experience with home invasion

Several years ago I was on a training assignment in the Federated States of Micronesia. The training took place in the capital, Kolonia, on the island of Pohnpei. As I was scheduled to stay there for several weeks, the recipient of the training, the National Police, rented me a small apartment for the duration of my stay. My apartment was a one bedroom unit on the second floor of a small apartment building. A comfortable and peaceful setting. A couple of weeks into my stay, I had gone to bed at my usual time, around 10pm. A little after midnight I suddenly woke up. I immediately noticed that the door to my bedroom was ajar, and I could see a dark shadow standing there. I had a police-type flashlight on my nightstand. I grabbed it and shone the light on the intruder. I saw it was a local male in t-shirt and shorts. He immediately turned and ran. I jumped out of bed and chased him. He ran into the kitchen area, crawled through the window and disappeared. The window led to a small balcony. I opened the door to the balcony, and saw that the intruder had jumped down on the ground from the balcony and was running through a neighbor’s yard.

Well, how did this happen to a seasoned public safety professional? My mistake; failure to secure my apartment before going to bed. Yes, I had locked the door leading to the balcony, but I had failed to close the kitchen window. The perpetrator had climbed up to the balcony using protruding parts of the building wall, and then easily crawling through the window. Luckily, firearms are rare on the island, and being a light sleeper. I instinctively woke up when I sensed an unwelcome person in the apartment.

In another incident I was the responding officer. This invasion also took place in an apartment complex in my city in Georgia. The complex had a security guard deployed at nighttime. This didn’t prevent the home invasion from taking place. The victim, a male, was sitting at his computer in the living room doing some work. This was around 10pm.The perpetrator entered quietly through the apartment door, using a key, moved undetected behind the victim and hit him in the head. The victim fell on the floor, unconscious. The perpetrator then searched the apartment and took cash, jewelry and other valuable before fleeing. A friend of the victim happened to come by, saw the apartment door ajar, and entered. He found the victim on the floor, unconscious and bleeding from a head injury. The friend called for the police and an ambulance. The victim survived but stayed in the hospital for a week. How did the perpetrator get the key to the apartment? Well, he got it from his friend, the security guard.

How to Act in the Case of a Home Invasion

The weakest link in the security of a home is the person who doesn’t lock doors or windows. (See myself as an example). Another big mistake is to open the entry door without asking who is outside. Parents should tell their children not to open the door for a stranger.

There are many actions that can be taken when a home invasion happens. First option is resistance, which also places the resident in immediate danger. The second choice is compliance. Do everything the perpetrator tells you to do. The best options may be to stay calm and escape if at all possible. The choice is individual and should be based on the physical capabilities of the victim and the level of perceived danger.

Some important security measures:

  • Install solid (not cheap hollow) core doors, heavy duty locks, and window security devices
  • Lock all doors and windows at all times
  • Install a door peephole and use it before opening the door
  • Use outdoor lights during hours of darkness
  • Never open the door to strangers or solicitors
  • Call the police if the stranger acts suspicious
  • Alert your neighbors to suspicious solicitors
  • Hold a family meeting to discuss home security plans and teach children how to act
  • Install a home perimeter alarm. An alarm with a panic button is the best choice.

Make a Safe Room (or Panic Room)

This is a room where the home occupants can take shelter during a home invasion. Select a small room or large closet with no windows. Install a heavy duty door that opens outwards. Use steel doorjambs to prevent the door from being kicked open. Stock some water in the room.

Once a safe room has been created, here is some advice:

  • Discuss the use of the safe room with the family
  • Do practice sessions with the children in the family
  • Stock the safe room with emergency supplies such as a flashlight
  • Routinely charge your cell phone inside the safe room
  • Secure the room with keyless deadbolt locks
  • If possible try to escape first, to summon the police
  • If in the safe room call the police on the cell phone.
  • Do not exit the safe room until police arrive
  • Always try to remain calm

Statistical Reference: Victimization During Household Burglary from U.S. Department of Justice (PDF)

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.