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Creating a Safe House : Security Steps Begin at the Front Door


Do you have a deadbolt lock on your front door? A fisheye lens in the door that lets you look outside before opening it? A motion light that comes on when someone approaches your home? These are among the simple steps that you can take to help keep your home secure and uninviting to a potential burglar.

Far short of turning your home into a windowless fortress, there are many prudent security measures you can take. No one thing alone will provide total security, but a variety of devices and precautions used together can make your home a less tempting target.

Do you always lock up? Even if you're just running out for milk? Consistency in your security measures is part of their strength.

In California, nearly one-third of all burglaries occur when the burglar simply walks through an unlocked door or climbs in an open window. And, most often, the burglar strikes during the day.

It takes only three to five minutes to burglarize a home, and last year in Orange County, a burglary occurred every half an hour.

Cash and jewelry lying around the house are big-ticket items to a crook. Bikes, surfboards and tools are also easy marks for a burglar who has gained access to the garage. Don't leave valuables in sight when you are away; keep seldom-worn, valuable jewelry in a safe deposit box.

"Unfortunately, we live in a society where you do have to keep the doors closed," said Lt. Dan Martini of the Orange County Sheriff's Department. "Short of building a fortress, we are not totally secure, but there are measures to mitigate a crime of opportunity."

Locks, lighting, strategic landscaping and alarms are some methods that work together to deter intruders, but a nosy neighbor can work better still.

An active Neighborhood Watch program is one of the best lines of defense, Martini said.

"Crooks take an opportunity to prey on residential areas that appear unsecure, have little activity and nobody home," he said. "It's difficult for a patrol car to be everywhere all the time, so we rely very heavily on neighbors to be the eyes and the ears of the community and report any suspicious behavior."

The more things you can do to make it look as if you're home even when you're not, the better. Burglars prefer to work where they don't think they will be seen.

Don't leave "signposts" pointing out your home to the burglar who just happens to be checking out your neighborhood.

One type of signpost: the note on the door that indicates you aren't home--or tells a burglar even more inviting information, such as how long it will be before you'll be back.

Do you always turn the lights and drapes a certain way only when you're gone? It doesn't take a thief long to figure that out. Do you have a duplicate house key in a hiding place outside? Every place you've thought of, the burglar probably has too.

Have you attached a name or license tag to your house keys so they can be returned if you lose them? It's better not to. If a dishonest person finds your lost keys, it's much better for you if they don't know where to find the locks they match.

Do you have a dog that is alert to unusual activity? If possible, give it access to your front and back yards. Most burglars will avoid confronting a dog or risk having barking draw attention their way.

When a repair person you do not know comes to your home, do you ask to see identification through the door viewer? If you have any doubt, telephone their office, getting the phone number from the directory. Don't leave service or salespeople alone in your home.

Make a family rule of not allowing strangers inside your home. If someone asks to use your phone in an emergency, tell them to wait outside while you call for help on their behalf.

If you hear or see a prowler in or around your home, call 911 immediately. Likewise, if you return home to find a door or window unexpectedly open, go to a nearby home and phone police. A burglar may still be inside.

In addition to being attentive to preventive measures, take a few pragmatic ones too.

* List emergency telephone numbers on each phone.

* Use an electric engraver to inscribe your driver license number preceded by the letters "CA" on furniture, appliances, TVs or other valued items. Do NOT use your Social Security number.

* Photograph small items; videotape large items. Include your driver license with each.

* Inventory your property. Keep a list and photos in a safe deposit box or where burglar would not find them. Update the inventory yearly.

Creating a Safe House

Trees: Prune so low limbs don't provide second-story access.

Lighting: Light all exterior doorways, yards and windows from dusk to dawn with at least a 60-watt bulb. Use motion-detector lights in any area not covered by another source.

House numbers: Make at least four inches high, on high-contrast background, and illuminate at night. Paint house number on curb, at front of house.

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