Editor’s note: The author is a policeman.
Last year, there were more than 2 million burglaries in the US. About one every 15 seconds. If you have ever experienced your house being broken into, it is a sickening event. It leaves victims feeling scared and powerless. It happened to my sister-a-few years ago. She is a single mother with two small kids, and she said she felt traumatized, as if she was no longer safe in her own home. For the next several months, there were times I found myself sleeping on her sofa simply to help her feel safe.
There are several steps you can take to protect your home. Here are a few:
1. ALWAYS lock your doors and windows. Even your second story windows (if you have them) should be locked. If you have the money, install reinforced locks and striker plates.
2. If you can avoid so, do not have windowed exterior doors. You also want solid doors, not hollow. Sliding glass doors should be avoided, as well. If not, then brace them so that it cannot be opened from the outside.
3. Secure your door frames to the walls by installing several 3-inch screws along the frame and doorstop. The screws should reach the wall stud.
4. Use a peephole cover on your door, as there are tools out there such as the reverse peep hole viewer which allow criminals to view into your home!
5. Don’t post travel plans on social media. But just as important, wait until you are home to post pictures of your vacation. Tweeting pictures of you sitting on the beach in the Bahamas is a huge clue you aren’t home!
6. Don’t post pics of high-ticket items online, either. You might be proud of that new 50 inch flat screen and Playstation, but you don’t need to advertise it to criminals.
7. Have your mail/newspaper stopped or picked up while you are gone.
If the disastrous happens and your house is broken into, there are some things you need to keep in mind. First, many burglaries go unsolved not because of the police, but because of the owners themselves. Let me explain.
The vast majority of these types of cases are not solved by fingerprint or DNA evidence. Despite what you see on crime dramas on TV, there is no “magic super computer” that you can put a set of fingerprints into, and at the end of a commercial break the suspect’s name and address pop up. Typically, the samples collected have to be compared against a suspect’s known sample to verify a match. If police have no idea who broke into your house, they cannot randomly compare the samples they took against the millions of samples out there. (Or your suspect’s sample may not even be logged.) A vast majority (80-90 percent) of burglary crimes scenes do not have enough recoverable DNA/fingerprints to successfully test anyway.
In addition, DNA and fingerprint analysis is very expensive and can be quite time-consuming. It costs on average around $1,500 for a single case. (Advanced forensic DNA testing is quite different than the “paternity tests” you see on shows like Maury Povich.)
There is also a huge backlog of cases awaiting analysis of DNA, etc. Six months to a year is standard in my state. I’m sure it is even longer in states with larger populations. And crimes such as murder and rape will always take precedence. So don’t count on the police recovering your items 2 days later because there was a fingerprint on your door. Unfortunately, it is not that simple.
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That being said, there are some steps you can take which will help the police considerably should your house be burglarized.
Take pictures of your expensive items. This includes things such as Jewelry, electronics, firearms, etc. A picture of your gold chain and necklace is much better evidence than just a written description. Also, take pictures of items like 4-wheelers, trailers, chainsaws, lawnmowers, etc. My “rule of thumb”: If it could be pawned, I have a picture of it.
Take a picture of the serial number of these items, too. If you are not sure where to find the serial number, look on the box it came in. The serial number will be on that box — usually on a sticker. I cannot tell you how many times I have taken a burglary report where all the owner could give me was a vague description of his stolen items. An “Xbox and a black Dell laptop with a skull sticker on it” is not very helpful.
Even if I find an Xbox, how do I know it belongs to him? It could have been stolen from someone else.
It might be wise to save these photos to a small thumb drive and secured some place safe. No use in taking these photos if they are stored on the laptop that was just stolen!
A serial number will at least ensure that the items will be logged into the national crime computer, and will be flagged. So if someone attempts to pawn those items at a pawn store, they will be flagged and the pawn shop owner must notify the police. (At least in my state.) If the stolen property is recovered, the police now know who the owner is and will be able to return those items.
Check to make sure your homeowners or renter’s insurance covers burglaries. Most do. Photos of your items and their serial numbers will help validate your insurance claim.
Crime is an unfortunate fact of life. But hopefully these tips will help reduce the chances of it happening to you.
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