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Old 21.01.2008, 12:17
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Twilight Break-ins - how to avoid

Okay, I was asked on another thread to put together some thoughts on how to avoid (or at least reduce the likelyhood of) being burgled. Unfortunately a number of members of this forum have been burgled recently. I work in Security responding to burglary alarms so I unfortunately see a lot of break-ins. So here are a couple of personal observations. The list is incomplete (and always will be, I guess). If anyone has anything to add, fire away. It's a serious and unpleasant topic, unfortunately, so I'll avoid the humorous comments. But only in this thread...

- Burglars exploit your laziness. If you leave a window (even and upstairs one) open, they'll be in like a shot. This happens soooooo often it beggars belief. if you leave a spare doorkey hidden outside, they'll find it. The doormat is a bad place to hide a key. So is the flowerpot near the door. Far too obvious. Quite apart from the fact that you are making the burglars' "job" easier by doing so, the insurance company is likely to dock payout when you claim after the burglary based on this kind of not particularly clever behaviour. Use all of the security equipment you have in place. EVERY time you leave the house. Okay, if you're going shopping down the road it's different. Lock up everything, leave some lights on and TURN ON THE BURGLAR ALARM, if you have one. If you're going away for a few days, close the shutters, lock all the windows, have a neighbour empty you letterbox (or better, ask the post office to hold you mail back until you get home. Closing up everything will broadcast the fact that you're away, true. But it'll make breaking in a bit more difficult and a lot noisier.

- If you have a garden out back which is nicely hidden by shrubbery, then consider installing floodlights triggered by movement sensors. Not very expensive and really p*sses the burglars off because they can't sneak around unseen. Here it's called "Schockbeleuchtung" (shock lighting). Not very expensive and pretty effective.

- Consider getting a burglar alarm. Nowadays there are systems which won't cost a packet, which aren't too expensive to have installed and which are pretty clever. If there's a power-cut, the alarm will stay functional for 48 hours or longer but send a "help - no power" message, so we'll stop by and check. So burglars can't kill the alarm by short-circuiting the garden lighting or something. Also, they will kick off an ear-splitting siren (believe me on this, I know) and submit a telephone message calling for intervention. This is usually a private security company who will be there as soon as it takes to drive there (without flashing blue lights). Sometimes (according to the customers' wishes) the police will also be called automatically. More often not, because false alarms get expensive if the police turn up every time. New systems even have radio contact from the motion sensors to the central control unit, so there's practically no cable installation to be done. This makes these systems interesting for a rented flat as well. If the phone's out, the systems can call for help using GSM (mobile phone). And if someone tries to sabotage the system, all hell breaks loose. The cost of an alarm like that may be offset by the reduction in insurance premium following the installation of the alarm and the bit you have to pay following a burglary loss. Maybe.

- Be careful with cleaning staff. Make sure you trust everybody you allow unsupervised access to your home. If your cleaning staff comes in while you're away on holiday, make sure that they undestand that they are not to hand the alarm system codes and keys off to their brother's colleague's cousin's acquaintance who offered to come in and clean when your cleaning staff is off on holiday of their own. This has happened a couple of times, usually with small cleaning companies cleaning office buildings. Suddenly people turn up who are NOT authorised to enter the premises but who "got the key from XYZ who usually works here - she sprained her ankle and asked me to help out. I'm her cousin." Yeah. The problem is not so much that the cleaning staff will steal things (let's be fair on them - they work hard for their money) but that you lose control over who has the alarm system codes and so on.

- If you belong to the "leave the lights on" crowd, then at least get a handful of timers. Weekly ones ideally. Then plug lights and the TV into these timer and set them to turn things on and off IRREGULARLY. Burglars watch out for patterns. So if the bedroom light goes on at exactly 19:02 two nights in a row, it's a timer and no-one's home. Break the patterns and make it difficult for the burglars to see into the house. Best is to ask a trusted neighbour to close the blinds and draw the curtains in the evenings and open the blinds in the morning. Then it looks like someone's home.

- If you do have the misfortune to actually encounter a burglar (happened to me twice), don't play the hero. The burglar is there to steal stuff, not to hurt you, so he (or she - equal rights...) won't have any interest in doing you any harm. If he does hurt you and gets caught, he's going to be looking at a great deal longer sentence than if he breaks in, steals stuff and then runs. They know that. Don't stand between them and their way out of there. Put your hands where they can see that you aren't armed. Back away, let them run off. Try to remember what they looked like for the police later, but don't try to stop them escaping unless you are absolutely certain you can do so and are prepared to run the risk of getting stabbed or shot. I'm not.

- Again, lock up things that are lockable. Close shutters, make life difficult for a burglar. Then they'll most likely move on to someone else who is more "cooperative" down the road.

Nothing really new here, I know, but that's the whole point. Most of burglary prevention is common sense and actually being aware of the fact the "it could happen to me if I don't pay attention".

Cheers, Danis

P.S. feel free to PM me for any specific questions.
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