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HOME SECURITY : Putting Out the Unwelcome Mat for Those Would-Be Burglars


Before you leave for that fantastic vacation in the Tropics . . . or even on a quick business trip, consider the home you're leaving behind.

As crime rates continue to increase, more residents are realizing that protecting their homes is not something they can continue to ignore. Fortunately, there are several preventive measures that can help ensure your home's safety.

One of the best defenses is to simply get to know your neighbors, according to Nancy Harrigan, crime prevention specialist with the Brea Police Department. Harrigan's responsibilities include helping residents of both Brea and Yorba Linda develop Neighborhood Watch groups. Between the two cities, Harrigan has worked with hundreds of residential groups that are committed to keeping their neighborhoods safe.

"In many instances, people have lived in their homes for years without getting to know their neighbors," she said. "More people are at work all day or leading busier lives. They just don't get out to meet their neighbors. I'm always looking for those people who are home during the day. Maybe they're retirees, mothers with small children, or people who work afternoon or evening shifts. These people are incredibly valuable to a neighborhood and should be cherished.

"The image of a typical burglar breaking into a home while the family is asleep isn't too accurate," she said. "Of course, some do fit that description, but the overwhelming majority are looking for places where nobody's home. They want to get in and out quickly. And most burglaries occur from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. For this reason, if you have people home in your neighborhood during those times, they can report on any suspicious activity."

The only way neighbors will know if something is suspicious is if they know each other. At Neighborhood Watch meetings, neighbors not only meet, but learn a little about one another--their schedules, family members, where they live.

"We try to get people to call the police if they see a stranger acting suspiciously," said Harrigan. "We aren't going to run down some innocent person, but we will stop by to check. Perhaps the 16-year-old in your neighbor's yard is helping with the yard work . . . or maybe he's trying to break in.

"We receive more calls from neighborhoods where a Neighborhood Watch is in place. Because of all the attention, these places ultimately become less desirable for would-be thieves."

When reporting suspicious activity, provide as many details as possible: sex, race, clothing, unusual features, a car license number, model or color. Also state where the person is and in what direction he or she is moving. If the suspect is leaving, point out the apparent route.

Besides the Neighborhood Watch programs, there are other security measures that homeowners can take to protect their property.

Most homes in Orange County cost more than a few hundred thousand dollars and contain valuable property inside, yet many people spend only a few hundred dollars on security hardware.

To help protect your home, deadbolt locks should be installed on all outside entrances, in addition to the lock sets already in place. A deadbolt should have at least a 1-inch bolt (the projection from the door into the door jamb), a tapered and rotating cylinder guard (to prohibit twisting of the lock with a wrench or pliers), and a five-pin tumbler (to increased the difficulty of picking the lock).

"So often we see people with beautiful homes and a $5 lock on the front door," Harrigan said.

Exterior doors should also be solid--at least 1 3/4-inches thick--making them harder to kick in or break down. Even the type of door hinges can mean the difference between safe and sorry. Hinges of poor quality can easily be removed, allowing the thief to open the door from the end opposite the lock. While a burglar may not be able to completely open the door, it can be opened far enough to squeeze through.

Those who own homes with French doors may also want to add a flush bolt. A flush bolt can be installed at the top and bottom of a door that is not in use. These bolts provide additional security when used in combination with a deadbolt lock. A double-cylinder deadbolt is also recommended. However, make sure the key is near the door and within reach of all family members in case of an emergency that necessitates an immediate exit.

"If people move into a new housing development, they should change the locks," Harrigan said. "Developers tend to use the same locks on many of their units so you have no idea who can open your door. Fortunately, it isn't terribly expensive to re-key locks."

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