Breaking In: 2NEWS investigation into securing your home from burglars

TULSA - Every 14 minutes and 19 seconds a burglar breaks into a house in Oklahoma.

Nearly four homes are violated each hour, which means your house may be a prime target.

So, 2NEWS went to work to find the best ways to keep your home and family safe.

"I will continue to be a better shot. I won't miss next time," promised a Broken Arrow woman.

Last month, that woman used her brand new gun to fend off burglars who broke into her home. She was not hurt and the intruders ran off. However, police say we can all learn from what happened

Burglary is a business

"It's about breaking into as many houses as you can, getting as many items as you can, turning it into as much cash as you can," according to Detective J.D. Barnett with the Tulsa Police Burglary Unit.

He warns burglary is a business to many desperate people.

"We've arrested burglars who have been breaking into as many as five to eight houses a day," Barnett said. "And they do it five days a week."  
    
The majority of home burglaries occur in the daytime when the homeowner is away at work. Police say burglars want easy money but work hard to avoid detection.

They begin by driving through neighborhoods, looking for signs that a home is empty and no neighbors are watching. The next step is knocking on the front door to see if anyone will answer.

"My dog started barking and someone was knocking on the front door," said the Broken Arrow burglary victim. "Walked over to my front door and looked out the peep hole and - I didn't know, I never seen this guy before."
    
She did what most of us would do: she kept quiet and did not open the door to a stranger.

"They kicked through the glass storm door and kicked through the front door," she told 2NEWS.  
    
Because burglars look for empty houses, Det. Barnett says it is important to answer the door. Do not open it. Just call out. "If you say, 'Who's there?' They'll say, 'Oh, I'm looking for John' and leave," Barnett added. "If you don't answer the door, it might be a burglar. They kick in the door and then you are in the house with a burglar and that could be dangerous."
    
That is exactly what happened to the Broken Arrow homeowner. However, she was ready with a loaded handgun when two men broke through two of her doors. "The guy who kicked in the door had a gun. So, I jumped up out of my chair and drew my weapon. He didn't have a chance to get any shots off. I shot three times."
    
She missed and the intruders ran off.
    
Authorities say it is important to avoid such a potentially dangerous, even deadly, face-to-face showdown. They suggest developing a security strategy to make your home uninviting to burglars.

Security Assessment

The first step is to assess the exterior of the home, according to Brad Binder, Ph.D., an expert in home security with W.R. Associates, Inc.

  1. Be sure trees and shrubs are trimmed so no one can hide behind them.
  2. All exterior doors, windows and even gates in fences should be well lit.  
  3. Place lights, and even televisions and radios on timers so it appears someone is always home.
  4. Inspect doors and locks.

We also asked Detective Barnett to show Shannon, a 2NEWS viewer, ways to make her home uninviting to burglars. He went from door to door, assessing how easy it would be for an intruder to get in.
 
"What you want is for this lock [garage door] to be as good as your front door lock," Barnett suggested.
    
Strong locks are a solid deterrent. "Locks won't keep out a determined burglar," Barnett said, "but they will slow them down." Metal doors hold up to assault better than wood doors. He praised Shannon and her husband for keeping a lock on their side gate, too. "And that's going to make it more difficult for them to get back here."
    
A vulnerable point for many homes: entry doors with glass panels.

Glass provides for easy access. "One of the bad things is - you have all of this glass next to this turnkey - just turn the latch. A burglar could break in, turn the latch and get in," Det. Barnett warned while pointing to a glass-paned door. He suggested keyed locks on such doors. "Leave the key in when you are home, then put it in across the room, tucked out of sight, when you are gone."
   
Glass panes will not hold up to a blow from a burglar's hammer or handy brick. So, Barnett suggested homeowners consider applying hurricane film to glass doors. The product is commonly used in hurricane-prone areas to bolster glass against high winds. One manufacturer, Concord Window Film, Inc. states on its website, "Once the window has shattered, there is little or no barrier to entry. With the film in place, intruders are faced with the challenge of penetrating a virtual wall of razor sharp broken glass. Although penetration is still possible, it would take them a substantially longer period of time and multiple strikes around the entire perimeter of  the glass to penetrate the film. In most cases, intruders simply move on to a "softer target" where a

single blow allows them quick and easy in/out access." 
    
Security film for glass is available at many major home improvement stores and online. Try searching with the key words: "hurricane film glass" or "security glass film" 
    
Also, never leave a spare key outside. The "under the flower pot" hiding spot is well known to burglars, police say.

While locking up for the night, be sure all vehicles kept outdoors are locked, too. Leaving the family vehicle unlocked offers a burglar the perfect way to steal the garage door opener often left clipped to the visor. With a garage door opener in hand, a criminal can easily gain access to a home with an attached garage.

Don't tempt a thief

According to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the number of home burglaries increased 4.4 percent from 2002 through 2011.

Too often, agents say, Oklahomans make it easy for burglars to get in. Studies show one out of four times intruders get in through unlocked doors and windows. Authorities say we also make it easy for a "snatch and grab" crime by walking into the house and not locking the door right away.

In fact, it is not uncommon for a burglar to take advantage of the common habit of placing keys and purses or wallets near the back door. In one case, the brazen burglar watched a midtown Tulsa woman walk into her home with bags of groceries. He waited a few minutes, then quietly opened the back door, grabbed the victim's purse and took off before she even realized what had happened.
 
Property that is easily pawned or sold on the street is most tempting to burglars. So, experts recommend putting away all lawn equipment, bicycles, BBQ's, etc.

What burglars want

In 2011, burglars stole $54,270,707 in property from Oklahoma homes, according to the OSBI Uniform Crime Report. The average time spent in the home? Only seven to ten minutes.

Here are some of the most popular items stolen:

  1. Cash (Even penny jars & piggy banks.)
  2. Jewelry
  3. Firearms
  4. Large Electronics (Flat screen televisions, computers)
  5. Small electronics (Laptop computers, iPads, Cell phones, etc.
  6. Digital cameras & video cameras
  7. Power tools
  8. Lawn equipment
  9. Clothing & furs

Put valuables away

Because burglars want to limit their time inside a home, and therefore lower their chances of getting caught, it is important to not make it easy for criminals to snatch property and run. Leaving cameras on countertops, an iPad next to the bed, shopping bags stacked within view of windows or a glass door, all make it tempting - and easy - for a burglar to breeze through the home in minutes.
    
Do not hide valuables in common places. Burglars tend to head straight for the master bedroom. Experts say they know from experience they will find jewelry boxes in the master bedroom closet, guns in drawers or under mattresses, and electronics on dressers. Valuable jewelry and family heirlooms are best kept in a safety deposit box or safe.

Burglars also are known to check for cash, credit cards and jewelry in the following places:

  1. Drawers: inside and underneath
  2. Freezer
  3. Pantry: cereal & storage boxes   
  4. Bathroom: toilet tank

"There's kind of a continuum. At one end is security, the other end is convenience," Barnett said. "It's not as convenient to always lock the exterior door. It's not as convenient to look your car doors, but it's far more secure." Storing valuables at the bank or in other secure sites is not convenient, but it is safe. Hiding in plain sight is another strategy to consider. There is an entire industry devoted to hiding places for the home. Try an internet search with the following key words: "hiding places valuables," "burglar hiding places," "secret stash places."

Security systems

Security systems offer another strategy to deter a burglary.
    
Shannon and her husband invested in an expensive, high tech alarm system. With two children to protect, she keeps her house locked and always sets her alarm. "It's on all of our windows, it's on all of our doors," Shannon told 2NEWS. "So, I know when it's enabled at night, or during the day when we are not at home, it definitely gives me peace of mind knowing my home is safe and my family is safe as well."
    
It is important to post security system signs in front of the home and on windows and doors, security experts advise. They serve as a visual deterrent to the person casing a house. Without signs, a burglar may break in and still ransack the home even while the alarm is blaring. Most know it will take time for neighbors to notice or the alarm company to notify authorities.
    
Video cameras are an increasingly popular addition to home security systems. Once again, signs warning of video surveillance may fend off a burglar. Cameras may also capture the intruder in action, documenting the crime. In a recent East Tulsa burglary, police took the homeowner's pictures to nearby schools in an attempt to identify the young man who came through

the front door. Such video documentation proves invaluable during court proceedings, detectives say. 
    
Dogs can also be a deterrent, security experts say. Not necessarily because dogs may bite, but because they bark. Noise attracts attention, which is the last thing burglars want.
    
Finally, neighbors may offer a solid security backup, too. Alert neighbors call police when they spot cars and people who are out of place. Neighborhoods with formal "Alert Neighbors" programs report marked improvements in safety and decreases in crime. Where Shannon's family lives, knowing her neighbors means peace of mind. "All of our neighbors always keep an eye out for each other," she said. "So, that always makes me feel better when I go off to work for the day."     
    
In truth, authorities need help to cut down on home burglaries and capture the culprits. Currently, police and sheriff's deputies make arrests in fewer than 7.7 percent of residential burglaries in Oklahoma each year.

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