The temperature's rising, and our thoughts are turning to those all too short summer vacations. Where to go, what to do, who to see . . . oh, and what about the house while we're gone?
No one wants to return home to smashed doors or windows with your life thrown around the house, not to mention what might be missing or further damaged.
How do we protect ourselves from the opportunistic thief who finds out that our house is unoccupied when we're away? The simple, straightforward answer is that you can't. An enterprising thief is going to get in . . . somehow. However, that doesn't mean that we must admit defeat and leave things to chance. As homeowners, we can either fool a potential crook into believing that you are at home or make it significantly more difficult, and thereby riskier, for them to target your residence.
Alarm companies often charge hundreds and thousands of dollars for sophisticated systems. While effective, they are by no means foolproof even if you do have window stickers everywhere to advertise your system. Fortunately, there are simpler and cheaper methods, which are equally as effective, to protect your property and yourselves while you're on vacation.
First and foremost, make your house look lived in. The likelihood of a thief breaking into your home when they think that people are there, is severely diminished. Keep the grass cut and watered, cancel newspapers or make sure they are collected by a neighbour along with any accumulated mail and flyers - preferably at staggered times so as not to create a routine that can potentially be watched. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, invest in interior light timers and exterior light sensors. The home will look more like it's occupied if interior lights turn on and off at the same times as when people are at home, and it saves on energy costs when lights are not left on around the clock.
Motion sensors that activate flood lights around dark areas, especially near doors or windows that could be used to gain access to your house, eliminate such an "advantage." Trust me; they will be stunned by the sudden burst of light, as I once was during my policing career while responding to a residential alarm. I have never been so startled in all my life as when I was "suddenly" lit up after turning around a pitch-dark corner!
If you do have an alarm system, you must understand how they work. They DO NOT notify the police automatically. Multiple alarm companies subscribe to single monitoring centres which receive the signal from your residence. Normal protocol is that the alarm company will try to contact either the homeowner via the home phone itself, or another contact number to determine the legitimacy of the signal. The police are notified only if the contact person indicates that there might be a problem. The average amount of time for this to actually transpire is between four to seven minutes. By then, if it is a burglary, the bad guy is long gone!
Long ago, when I was growing up, we watched the TV program Bewitched. Mrs. Kravitz was a nosy neighbour whose character was lamented on the show, but in real life she is a godsend! As part of your break-in prevention plans, try to ensure that the Mrs. Kravitz in your neighbourhood is somehow alerted when something is not right. Hopefully, she will call the police to get a jump on things before a crime is committed, and the chances of catching the culprit are significantly increased.
As a homeowner, I would encourage others to be aware of the principles of Crime Prevention through Environmental Design CPTED, or engage the services of a CPTED professional. They can examine your property and offer tips on how to strengthen your defences, and prevent future occurrences that can otherwise ruin not only your return from, but your entire vacation.
Damien Coakeley is a retired sergeant from the Ottawa Police Service, and the President of Veritas Security Management Consultants. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org