Last month I wrote about my own experiences with home invasion and how the whole deal played out (spoiler alert: Good Guy 1 – Bad Guy 0), but I wanted to write some more on the topic with a focus on home security and the reality of intruder deterrents.
There’s no one-stop solution to protecting your home. From a preparedness mindset, you need to look at threats objectively, and realize that instead of trying to eliminate each and every single one, it’s easier to simply redirect or neutralize the vast majority of threats.
Sure, you could depend on shooting robbers as your one-stop plan, but wouldn’t it be easier if you structured your home security in a way that would make invading your home as unwelcoming as possible for would-be burglars? Having a last ditch plan is good, but thinking about the events that will lead to this last ditch plan and adding plenty of deterrents between is better.
Attack Vectors & How You’re Chosen as a Target
Your neighbourhood in terms of volatility and appearance of security impact the chances of your home getting hit. Some people think living in the ‘burbs will magically eliminate crime, but criminals are all about opportunity: if they think you are an easy mark then they will go for you. Period. If you live in a busy neighbourhood with heavy foot traffic, but have low physical security on your home, then a smash and grab is more likely. If you live in an area with low foot traffic, then the likelihood is that criminals will case the joint and seek to establish your patterns with the general goal of finding a weak point, and then finally, you guess it – they will break in and rob you blind.
My Aunt-in-Law had her home robbed thrice over the past decade or two. She’s lived in a nice, but not rich neighbourhood, with solid doors & locks all her life, but she stuck to a pattern, making her home an easy target. She left the house every day at roughly the same time, came back home at roughly the same time, and so the robbers planned an attack based on knowledge of that information (which we can assume they got from casing the place). She didn’t think about the potential risks based on the appearance of her neighbourhood, and after each robbery, simply added a better to her front door or a security system that was sometimes on and sometimes off. This area is affluent and safe, ergo I am safe is a false fallacy. So is: I consulted with a company who said this is a better lock for my door and so I’ll be fine. Criminals like affluent areas because they have the best chance for high-value rewards (think TVs and jewellery) and a traditionally “safe” area means that people don’t expect crime, and so often have their guard down with regards to deterring it.
The worst mistakes she’s realized she’s made with home security over the years: leaving boxes for new, large purchases (wide-screen TVs, for instance, back when they were crazy expensive) to be picked up on the curb. She didn’t think too much about the potential for trouble, until after her house was broken into of course. People think that getting robbed is just a question of probability; it’s not. The reality is that criminals very rarely target people randomly. She got hit so many times because she displayed the characteristics of an easy mark. That’s the long and short of it.
We have a stereotypical idea of what criminals look like: sketchy men in balaclavas doing suspicious things near the gate to your garden, but the reality is that criminals look just like us and if they are planning an attack, they will roll up on your home conspicuously, pretending they belong there, with zero attempts at hiding who they are. They will break in with a smile on their face. People don’t confront others, especially in “safe areas,” if they think there is a chance the person is there legally.
People hate feeling stupid and if they see someone new in overalls wrestling with a door they will most likely think they are a relative or friend they haven’t yet met – that the individual is here for a valid, lawful reason. Think about this, if your neighbours saw a group of men in a maintenance van drive unto your driveway, unload tools and other “work related props” – would they confront them? We like to think yes, but the stats tell a different story. Criminals don’t act like criminals. They are frequently brazen and over-confident because they know that this way of portraying themselves is the best way for them to get away with crime.
Buffing Up Your Home Security
Elise and I bought our first house in an okay/quiet neighbourhood of Toronto. Not the nicest as far as socioeconomic demographics go; just average. Your typical family home in a family neighbourhood, our home was a detached home that was perfectly average in build and appearance. We took a look around when we first bought it and after checking out the neighbourhood, opted to forgo extreme precautions, but instead replaced all the doors (literally, the doors) with steel reinforced fiberglass ones. The goal for us was to create an environment where the perpetrator would have to spend considerable time and make a considerable noise to compromise our physical security. This is the same way we’d go were we moving into another detached home today.
Deterrents are about creating an environment where any direct attack will be slowed down or will draw a lot more attention than normal, which would make the risk for any intruder quite high. Your goal is to get those who might break in to take one look at your house and think, “There’s easier elsewhere.”
For example: we had a garage with a back door leading straight to the garden. This was the most likely breach point, so we replaced the door (a wood paneled piece of crap – not joking, it was a door meant for a home’s interior), with a steel reinforced one. After hanging the door on the frame, we placed a single door pull on the side of the door facing inside, along with a heavy duty barrel bolt lock – no handles or lock on the outside.
Our back door was a literal slab of pain with zero handles, leverage points, or locks to pick. Yes, this meant we couldn’t go into our own home using this door, but we knew that there was no practical reason why we would have to, so why leave it accessible from the outside? 1.5 inches of thick hardened bolt locks from the inside that went 6 inches deep into the wall at multiple points meant that the only way in from that side was to literally ram the door down which would be a noisy task, and frankly, not easy – especially as I reinforced the frame too.
This solution was dirt cheap, didn’t look bad at all, and offered me peace of mind that a high security lock could never.
When looking at your home, you should wander around and think: “Where would the criminal go?” He/she will need access, limited witnesses, and the ability to get in without making too much noise. Once you figure out all your weak spots, then you should work on eliminating them one by one – weakest first to most difficult. I see a lot of people put heavy duty locks on their back doors, having this weird notion that criminals will pick their way in – pro tip: they won’t. They will just drill through the cylinder or break their way in using sheer force. If they can’t be seen, what’s to stop them?
How about windows you ask? You can pick up some clear “shatter resistant” sticky sheets that go over the glass. Note, this will not stop criminals from getting in, but what it will do is buy you and/or the neighbours – whoever’s around at the time – a significant amount of time to catch on to the home intrusion – which raises the likelihood of the criminal getting caught in the act. It’s all about managing time, guys. Your home should be accessible to you and unfriendly to forced entry. Not impossible to force entry into – just as much a pain in the ass as possible.
If all you have in terms of securing your home is a solid front door, then guess what, intruders won’t try using the front door. They’ll find an easier way in.
It’s better to have slightly above average security throughout rather than extreme security on just one entrance and some pretty obvious weak points. Think like a crook to defeat the crooks.
Some Thoughts About My Current Situation
Since moving back to the UK, we bought a unit in an apartment block. It’s a popular area of town and we picked a flat in a building that we knew would be generally safe. We live on the top floor (criminals will go for the easy pickings – unlikely they’ll make it all the way upstairs).
We’ve added a second door to get into our home – before we even moved in. Sure we lost a smidgen of space, and turned a corridor into a foot locker, basically, but trust me – I sleep easy at night knowing that it’s going to take a lot of time if anyone wants to get in. We made sure to add a secure lock to this door, something like this, with a pick and drill resistant cylinder, and I retrofitted a closed loop CCTV system using one of my old Android phones that will ping me on any motion detected. We don’t leave the house for very long, so the chances of someone getting through our door without being noticed by us is slim to none already – but the CCTV helps me to be easier about leaving the house for longer stretches if I need to.
As a side note, no lock is impossible to breach- as a last ditch, a criminal can always use destructive force to get through but with that said a good lock is a lock that is bump proof and will afford you significant lock picking resistance- you just need to buy time.
When we look at our homes, we should think pragmatically on the attack vectors at play. We should limit options for criminals so that any intruders have to follow a set path, then we reinforce that path.
Our building has 24/7 security which risks interception and thus identification. The outside doors are heavy duty with commercial security locks. Intruders have to get all the way into the top floor, which requires 6 flights of stairs (good look carrying your loot down Mr. Criminal), and if he/she chooses to use the elevator – interception becomes far more likely and thus will be avoided. If an intruder does get to the top floor, to break into our flat he/she will have to get through 2 doors with 2 different kind of locks (security pins + mortise) and the doors are heavy duty: 2 inches thick with reinforced frames.
At this point, if I get hit it’s due to a personal vendetta because no sane criminal will spend that much time and effort getting to my modest belongings. It just wouldn’t make sense, and at that point, the perp would find a nice tomahawk to the face as a welcome home present.
Yes, last ditch plans should be made, but they should be last ditch, and there should be plenty of security measures between.
Wrapping It Up
When securing your home, you have to think about how much of a hassle it will be for attacks of opportunity, and then reinforce the weak points. This is applicable whether you live in an apartment or a detached house, and it’s something that should be stressed. It’s not about having a high end security system, but about having a platform that deters any further prodding by criminally minded individuals.
At the end of the day, criminals are lazy. They go for the easiest target, and whilst you will sometimes face a wildcard threat like my inane experience with the deranged robber who tried to break in (in broad daylight!), the reality is that if you eliminate the easy access, you eliminate 99% of the risk.
Why hit your house when your neighbour is the easier target?