Common-Sense Home Safety

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By Burt Helm
The good news on home security is that household burglaries are affecting a smaller percentage of the U.S. population than a decade ago. The number of households per 1,000 victimized by burglaries has plummeted 49% since 1993, to 29.6% in 2004, according to Justice Dept. statistics.
But the number has stabilized and even risen some in recent years. And even the rosiest statistics come as little consolation to


By Burt Helm

The good news on home security is that household burglaries are affecting a smaller percentage of the U.S. population than a decade ago. The number of households per 1,000 victimized by burglaries has plummeted 49% since 1993, to 29.6% in 2004, according to Justice Dept. statistics.

But the number has stabilized and even risen some in recent years. And even the rosiest statistics come as little consolation to those whose homes have been targeted. As part of a series on high-tech homes, we’ve pulled together a slide show of some pretty nifty items homeowners can use to keep their loved ones and valuables safe. Most are pretty pricey [link to slide show here].

There are a lot of less expensive but no less effective ways to protect your home, too. Here are a few of them, from a handful of experts in the field:

LOCK WINDOWS AND DOORS. It sounds like a no-brainer, but more than half of all burglaries happen with no sign of forced entry -- meaning a robber was able to just waltz in, according to Justice Dept. statitics. Make sure your dead bolt is a heavy-duty model and bolted to the door frame with three-inch screws, says Chris McGoey, a security consultant and creator of safety Web site crimedoctor.com. Also, fit windows with latches and keep them closed when you are away at work, according to McGoey. “[Burglars] are really looking for places with easy entry and a good escape route,” says McGoey, and a few small steps can impede that.

ELIMINATE HIDING PLACES. Keep all the entry points to your house well lit, say Matt Johnston and Jon Douglas Rainey, the reformed ex-cons who host the Discovery Channel’s “It Takes a Thief.” Trim shrubs and trees so they don’t provide cover for an intruder, the show’s Web site says. And while you’re at it, lop off tree limbs that could be used to gain entry to an upper-floor window or balcony and lock up other items, such as ladders, that could be used to break in.

MUM’S THE WORD. The National Institutes of Health’s MedlinePlus Web site isn’t just for health advice. It also suggests several ways to guard against home burglary, such as avoiding unnecessary display or talk about valuables.

DON’T LOOK LIKE A SUCKER. “When burglars are looking at a neighborhood, they simply want to hit the easiest target on the block,” says McGoey. So anything that will give robbers a reason to skip your house and move on to the next one will help. Put up a home-security decal or “Beware of Dog” sign, and investigate getting home security that sounds off an alarm. A subscription to a monitoring service isn’t always necessary -- often just the sound of an alarm will scare off a thief.

GET TO KNOW YOUR NEIGHBORS. Make sure they know when you’re planning to be away and how they can reach you in case of an emergency, say the hosts of “It Takes a Thief.” Adds McGoey, it’s safer to leave an extra key with someone next door than to put one under the mat or some other hiding place outside. And when cleaning or repair people visit the house, either give them their own key if you know and trust them, or have them ask a neighbor to be let in, he says.

APPEAR TO BE HOME, EVEN WHEN YOU’RE NOT. Make sure to hire someone to mow your lawn when you’re away, and either get someone to pick up your mail or have it stopped for the duration of a trip. Also, buy timers for specific lights in the house, or for your television -- “anything to simulate occupancy,” says McGoey.

These are just a few simple measures, but for the average American, they will go a long way toward preventing burglary. Click here for the slide show

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