In the metropolitan area of London alone there were 92,225 household break-ins in one year. Of these, a little less than half were ‘walk-ins’ representing an increase on the previous year. The remainder were forced entries which, surprisingly, showed a slight drop from the previous year. According to New Scotland Yard this does not mean that burglars are getting less bold, only that householders are increasingly careless and making the burglar’s job literally as simple as walking through a door. This is a worldwide phenomenon that the man in the street shakes his head over and thinks he can do little to avert. In the case of domestic burglaries this is simply not true. No matter where you live there are several precautions you can take to safeguard your property. These are often inexpensive and largely a matter of sheer common sense. Just remember that it can happen to you, and if you neglect to take every possible precaution then it is unfair to complain about the inefficiency of your local police. Burglary prevention is mainly in your hands.

Burglary is big business

A professional thief can burgle a flat in sixty seconds. He knows where you are likely to hide money, keys, chequebooks and so on. An ‘amateur’ will take longer and will probably make more mess. Organized gangs of burglars can strip a fair-sized house of all its furniture, including large items such as television sets and hi-fl equipment in a matter of an hour or less, and make away with the goods in a truck which is ready and waiting. Your. property then passes on to crooked dealers and-only too often completely out of your life. It is no use imagining that you can catch a burglar by creeping bravely around in the dark clutching a poker. The personal risks are too great, and, besides, most domestic burglaries take place in broad daylight mainly in the afternoons in fact. Too often an open window, or a kitchen door left ajar while you ‘pop out’ for a few minutes is an open invitation to crime. But a few minutes are all that’s needed to cause a great deal of personal distress. However rich you are you can never afford to lose what the thief will take. And no matter how poor you think you are, there will always be something he will consider worth taking.

Safe as houses

Before going to bed, the average householder goes through the ritual of locking his doors. This is usually the only precaution taken and, up to a limit, it is all well and good. But there are other things to consider. 28 % of thieves enter property from the front of the house, from the side, 62% from the rear of the premises and 3 % from the roof. Can the thief approach your house from the roof tops of adjoining property? Are your skylights and dormer windows fitted with adequate locks? Are all your windows fitted with locks (not just flimsy catches)? Do you ever leave a window open-no matter how small-for your cat’s convenience? Remember, it may be convenient for a ‘cat’-burglar, too. Very little is ‘impossible’ for a thief to get through if the opening is there. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred only a small section of glass is broken, the thief inserts his hand and releases the catch, thus simply opening the window for entry. Dramatic window smashing is rare. Key’ operated window locks are the answer, because the thief would have to smash the glass, causing some danger to himself and making a tell-tale noise. Remember the greatest risks for a burglar are noise and delay. These locks are effective deterrents always supposing, of course, that you don’t leave the key in the lock !

Fighting forced entry

Modern doors tend to be very flimsy, and it is no use whatsoever fitting an expensive, good quality lock to a feather-light door. The chances are that you will find yourself coming home to a smashed door and your lock lying intact on the floor! Hollow core doors which are packed with material no more sturdy than bits of egg-box will always give way under brute force, if the burglar is really determined. Panel doors should be between 45mm and 51mm thick. Even if you fit a good lock (such as a British Standard lock) to a door thinner than this then you may have weakened it and the lock could be torn off whole more easily. There are basically two types of lock-a mortise lock which, in the U.K., should at least comply with British Standard requirements, and a rim fitting lock which is fitted to the surface or rim of the door.

A mortise deadlock is the most likely to be burglar-proof. Manufactured to the strictest t specifications under British Standard rules, this type of lock has to be good. It must withstand attacks from skillfully wielded jemmies, be resistant to side pressures of 3,000 pounds and end pressures of 2,000 pounds and be able to thwart at least five minute’s attack from a steel saw. Each lock carrying the ‘kite’ mark will have undergone rigorous tests-and passed them. All you need to do is fit them correctly and even here you are helped because all these mortise deadlocks come with detailed instructions on how to fit them. Every outside door should be fitted with one. Remember though, that the strength of the lock depends on the strength of the door. While there is no need to armour plate your door, you could strengthen it by fitting strips of sheet steel or iron round its edges especially where the lock is going to go. It makes sense to lock internal doors in houses which have been split up into flats, but police often advise householders of the average ‘semi’ not to lock internal doors, only the main outer ones. The reasoning behind this is simply-if a thief goes to the trouble of breaking into your house in the first place he is not going to be frustrated by flimsier internal doors. He will simply smash them in, causing further unnecessary havoc. Unfortunately some insurance firms disagree with this viewpoint, so find out what your own insurance company feels about this.

All external doors should also be provided with bolts, preferably both at the top and bottom-the old fashioned padlocks are no longer considered effective against such skillful odds. A door-chain not only keeps a thief from the door but a potential attacker, too. Casual ‘callers’-especially on old people or people living alone-can turn out to be vicious thugs capable of inflicting grievous bodily harm, sometimes in order to make off with just loose change or a radio. Most dwellings in New York-a city notorious for its soaring crime rate and violence-have peepholes or ‘doorviewers’ fitted in their front doors. They are an excellent idea anywhere- you can lift a flap and see the caller, satisfying yourself that he is a bona fide repair man or whatever before attempting to let him in. And do not be afraid to ask anyone- even someone claiming to be a policeman- to prove his identity before allowing him in your home. You may have everything to lose through undue timidity on your part. These precautions may sound alarmist and frightening, but face facts, crimes are both alarming and frightening.

Man’s best friend?

It is surprising how many householders still rely on dogs to guard their homes. But the chances are that if your dog wags his tail at a visitor you let in through your front door, will also wag his tail at the unwelcome visitor who climbs through the window. Pets are not guard dogs and even ‘trained’ house dogs cannot be expected to act like police dogs. And, like people, they are liable to be silenced-sometimes only too effectively. Dogs are also unpredictable, so it would be foolish to rely on them alone.

Alarming burglars

A burglar alarm on full show,or a CCTV system, say, on the outside of a building, will nearly always deter the ‘amateur or casual thief. But if yours is the only alarm in the area it may well advertise the fact that you have something worth stealing. It could act as the go ahead or challenge to the professional burglar. Whether or not to put your alarm on display or hide it away will depend on how many other similar devices are in evidence in your neighbourhood, and as always, on your common sense. There are many types of burglar alarm system on the market, varying widely in price and efficiency. It is a business which, unfortunately, is easy game for the confidence tricksters. Some people are so keen on security that they are incredibly gullible. So check that the firm where you buy your alarm is reputable.

In Britain your local Crime Prevention Officer will know of the best firms. Burglar alarms can work in three stages: they detect through various devices such as pressure mats: they control or ‘decide’ whether to give a signal or not and then they finally give a signal. They range from the simple bell type most people are familiar with, to highly sophisticated ultra-sonic devices which can be expensive and may not be really practical for general domestic use. Most types miss out the middle or ‘decision’ stage because of the mechanical complexity involved. The main types of alarm are bell systems, which rely on neighbours or public spirited passers-by to report the alarm, the telephone system which will ring the emergency 999 automatically, one which will ring through to the security department of the firm which installed or sold it this is most common in the U.S.A.) and, in Britain, alarms which ring through directly to the local police station (this does not apply to the Metropolitan area). An alarm system may be purchased outright but with a maintenance agreement (this is essential or your alarm may go ‘on holiday’ without telling you), or you can buy part and rent part, or you can rent all of the equipment and, in Britain, claim a tax rebate on it.

Technology v thieves

One of the newest burglar detecting devices is based on a principle whereby a passive infra-red mechanism is triggered off by body temperature. This could be placed in a door or window frame. The problem is-when is an intruder not an intruder and merely the master of the house? The most up-to-date devices include a shunt key and lock which will by-pass the system when bona fide occupants insert their own shunt key. Another alarm which is both effective and unobtrusive is called the ‘inertia switch’. It is basically very simple, being a ball-bearing balanced on three special spikes and wired up to the signal.

You can set this in a window frame and paint over it. Any massive vibration or unduly heavy knock on the window will dislodge the ball from the spikes and set off the alarm. It is nicely controlled so that hear”y winds will not affect it, and they come with shunt-out locks, too. One of the oldest methods of protecting property-the man-trap is now illegal. Bluffing, however, is not, and a sign reading ‘Danger High Voltage’, which could act as a deterrent.

An ounce of prevention
It is a good idea to make a comprehensive list of the serial numbers (and any distinguishing marks) of your valued possessions, such as television sets, cameras, bicycles and so on. People are continually taking the most absurd risks and then wonder why their property disappears. Everyone knows that they should stop their newspapers and milk being delivered when they go away doorsteps cluttered with congealing milk and newspapers are as good as a ‘Vacant’ notice. Everyone can see how stupid it is to leave notes on the front door telling expected friends what they will be back. Everyone knows what risks they are taking popping out for a few minutes leaving the door ajar, and how insane it is to leave even small amounts of cash on a table by a window.