HouseA family’s home should be a safe haven where the inhabitants are protected from the outside world. Unfortunately, in today’s world of drugs and drug related burglaries, this is not always the case.

Here are a few things a homeowner or a renter can do to make his or her home a safer and more burglar resistant place to live.

Doors

Proper doors are an important part of burglar proofing a home. The most common door used in homes is the hinge door. All exterior hinge doors should be solid wood core construction or be metal clad. Never install a door meant for inside use on the outside of a home. These doors are usually hollow inside, or made of inferior materials and are not a proper deterrent to a break in.
Doors made of wood panels, or those with glass panes may be aesthetically appealing, but they are not as safe as solid doors because the panels or glass panes are easily broken.

If the hinges on your door are exposed, and they probably are (this is a hurricane rule in Monroe County), non-removable hinge pins should be used to prevent removal of the door. Drill two holes opposite each other in the center of both leaves of the hinge, then insert a headless screw or nail into the leaf on the door frame side. Allow the screw or nail to protrude 1/2". The screw will engage the other hinge leaf when the door is closed.

Sliding Glass doors can be a safety hazard because they are easy to lift off the tracks and remove. To make such a door safer, use track screws, installed in the upper track of the door. The frame or the door should just clear the heads of the screws making it impossible to lift the door up. This leaves the criminal only one option, breaking the glass, which takes time and makes noise and will usually deter the average burglar.

Jalousie doors are poor security, and should be covered with heavy gauge expanded metal mesh, bolted to the door with carriage bolts.

With double doors, the inactive door can be adequately secured by installing cane bolts 1/2" diameter x 12" long on the top and bottom of the door.

LocksThe importance of proper locks

No matter what type of door is used, it will not be an effective deterrent to break-ins without a sturdy lock.

The lock on a door knob is simply a privacy device, not an effective lock. The Sheriff’s Office recommends a double-locking dead bolt on the door, one that uses a key on both sides. When someone is at home, the key should be kept either in the lock on the inside, or hanging somewhere nearby to ensure a quick escape in case of fire. Make sure the key does not hang near enough to a window or a pane of glass for a burglar to reach inside and get it.

The only time a double locking dead bolt is not recommended is if there is someone in the house incapable of unlocking it quickly in an emergency, such as a small child or handicapped person.

There are several other features a good dead bolt should have. Look for a one inch throw with a one eighth inch roller pin inside to prevent burglars from cutting through it. The lock should have a free turning cylinder guard around the key hole and one-quarter inch heat treated retaining bolts through the door to hold the lock on.

A 180 degree see-all viewer, commonly known as a peephole, is another safety device to include in a solid door. It will give a full view of anyone coming to the door, even if the person is standing to the side out of the normal line of sight.

Windows

Many homes in Monroe County were built in the days when crime was virtually non-existent in the keys. In those days, it was important simply to have a comfortable place to stay cool during the steamy tropical days and nights.

In many homes, staying cool meant installing jalousie windows. These windows take full advantage of the breeze constantly blowing on our beautiful islands. Unfortunately, jalousie windows also create a great opportunity for burglars. It is very easy for someone to remove several of the glass panes, and gain quick entrance to a home. Even if there is an inside screen, it is simple work to slit it with a knife, or remove it to get in.

If a home has jalousie windows, the owner should consider replacing them with a different type of window with non-removable panes of glass. There are several different varieties which are much safer than jalousies, and relatively easy to install.

A burglar typically does not like to make noise which may attract attention. If he has to break the glass in a window to gain entrance to a home, he will probably move on to another home that is easier to break in to. It may initially cost money to replace the windows, but in the long run, it will save both personal belongings and provide peace of mind.

Outside the home

Living in the lush tropical climate of the keys, it is very easy to let a home become overgrown with beautiful palms, vines and other local plants and trees. This may be a nice way to protect privacy. Unfortunately, this can also increase a home’s risk of burglary.

Allowing bushes and trees to grow on the borders of the property, or in front of windows will not only hide private activities from view, it will hide a burglar’s activities from view as well. Thieves can crouch behind these bushes and easily remove a window pane, gaining access to the inside of the home.

In addition, it makes it very difficult for sheriff’s deputies to check a home’s security while they are on routine patrol. Deputies are constantly driving through Monroe County neighborhoods day and night and checking for anything unusual, such as signs of a break-in or strangers in the area. Allowing a home to become overgrown will not only provide a hiding place for thieves, but will create an obstruction to these deputies trying to check safety and security.

To make sure bushes and trees are properly trimmed, go out into the street during the day and look at the home as a burglar would. Are all the windows on the front and sides of the home visible? Would a burglar be able to hide from someone driving by the house? If you feel safe with the answer, your yard is properly trimmed.

Lighting

Another way to make it difficult for someone to break in your home, and easy for a patrolling officer to check on it, is to install adequate lighting in the yard as well as inside your home. A brightly lit yard at night is an undesirable yard for a stranger to enter if he is planning to break in. A well lit home interior will also discourage a burglar by making him or her think someone is at home.

A home owner can either install outside lighting, or call the local electric company for assistance. Both City Electric System, and the Florida Keys Electric Co-op will install a street light on private property for a small fee of approximately $7 per month. The electric companies also provide free maintenance for such lights.

There are many types of yard lights to choose from. Traditional lights are mounted on the outside of a home, or on a pole in the yard. They are manually turned on and off, usually in the morning and the evening. These lights work well, except when a homeowner goes on vacation. Then, they must either be left on or left offeither way, it makes it easy for a burglar to tell you aren’t home.

This is where timers for lights come in. It is relatively easy and inexpensive to buy timers for yard lights that will turn them on and off when you aren’t at home. The Sheriff’s Office highly recommends you have timers on your yard lights.

Another option in yard lighting is installing motion detector lights. Motion lights are yard lights that come on when their sensors detect body heat or motion nearby. This can be useful for several reasons: if you come home at night after dark, the lights will automatically come on when you approach; and, if a burglar enters what appears to be a dark yard, the lights will suddenly come on, scaring him or her away.

If you are an energy conscious person, most hardware stores market solar lights for the yard. Most of these lights will store enough energy during the day from the sun to stay lit for up to eight hours during the night.

In any case, lighting your yard is a must for a safe and secure home. Once you get lights installed, turn them on at night and go out to the street. If you can see most areas of your lawn, particularly around the home’s windows, you have a well lighted yard.

House numbers

Many people don’t realize how important it is to put visible house numbers on their homes. Posted addresses are not only used by the United States Post Office to deliver the mail, they are also crucial for law enforcement, fire department or ambulance personnel trying to locate a house in an emergency.

In the Florida keys, it is common to hear people give their official address as the second from the last house on a certain street. While this may sound quaint, it can make it extremely difficult for someone trying to locate the house in a hurry. If possible, obtain a numerical address for your house by going to the local branch of the United States Post Office and asking the postmaster to provide one.

To make it easy for the sheriff’s office, or other emergency personnel to respond in an emergency, put house numbers in a prominent and visible place. Having house numbers on a mailbox is important, but the mailbox is not always in a good spot for quick viewing.

When purchasing the numbers, make sure they are four to six inches high, and a contrasting color to the background color of the building.

Remember, post office personnel are not the only ones who need to find a house. For safety and security, make sure an ambulance, fire truck, or sheriff’s deputy can respond to the correct location quickly in an emergency.

Dogs as a deterrent

There are many things that can make a home structurally more secure against burglars. Alarm systems, secure windows, and top quality dead bolt locks are just a few relatively easy security devices that can be installed for added safety.

One of the most effective deterrents, however, really doesn’t have anything to do with the actual structure of a home. A dog will often scare away even the boldest of thieves. Not many burglars will risk being bitten by a dog and, best of all, a dog will let a home-owner know when strangers approach the house.

There are just a few precautions an owner must take if a dog becomes a part of home security. Make sure the dog is kept safely inside the yard. This can be accomplished by either a fence, or by chaining the dog. If the dog goes outside the yard, remember Monroe County does have a law requiring the dog to be under someone’s control at all times.

In addition, post your property with a Beware of dog sign to let delivery people and meter readers know of the potential danger of entering the yard.

Dogs are not only a great way to keep a family secure, but they can be a wonderful addition to the family as well. And remember, a local animal shelter has many nice pets just waiting for a good home.

Burglar alarm systems

A well-installed, properly utilized electronic security system can result in peace of mind for a family while also making a home highly burglar resistant. It will not, however, make a home burglar proof.

Before buying a system check on the reputation of the manufacturer. It's a good idea to ask for a list of current or recent customers and contact them for their opinion of the company's product.

Find out if the system causes a substantial number of false alarms and make sure it has battery back-up power so it works during power outages. Criminals in general, and burglars in particular, often double their efforts during outages because they are less likely to get caught.

If possible, find out the education and experience of the company's installers. Ask if the company offers assistance in getting reduced insurance premiums, and if there is a warranty and maintenance contract for the system. A reputable company should provide both. Contact at least two or three companies and compare their systems and prices before deciding to purchase one.

Don't be an easy target

All the security information and equipment in the world will do no good if a homeowner does not follow several important safety rules:

What to do if you are victimized by a burglar or vandal

What happens if, despite all your prevention efforts, you still become a victim of a burglary, or other property related crime? First, try not to panic. Get to the nearest phone, and immediately call the Sheriff's Office emergency 911 line. It is important for you to remain calm so you can effectively communicate with both Sheriff's dispatchers and with Sheriff's deputies when they arrive.

Burglary and Vandalism

If you come home to find your home has been vandalized or burglarized, do not go inside or disturb anything on the premises. If you went inside before realizing a crime had been committed, leave immediately and try to remember anything you may have touched or moved inside, and inform deputies of it when they arrive.

What to do if confronted by a burglar

What if you come home to find a burglar inside the house?

The basic rule when confronting a burglar is: cooperate. A burglar frequently lives in fear--of the police, of others, and of himself. Despite the tough-guy role he plays, he's tense, desperate, dangerous and often high on illicit drugs.

Don't confront him and don't try to stop him. Assume he is armed and potentially violent. A crowbar, a knife, a screwdriver--typical burglar tools can be just as deadly as a gun if the burglar feels trapped or endangered. Don't excite him, threaten him or argue with him. Cooperate in any way you can.
Stay calm and memorize what he or she looks like. When the burglar leaves the house, try to see his or her direction of travel. Then, call 911 immediately.

Some people might say this is the coward's way out. Remember, a burglar is often armed, young and strong, and may be desperate or on drugs. By following the above strategy, the victim stands a good chance of getting out of the situation unscathed. If a victim resists, he or she stands a good chance of being killed or seriously maimed in the course of trying to save some of his or her property.

Fire Safety

It is important for an inpidual or a family to have an up-to-date workable fire escape plan. Fire experts warn if a home catches fire, there is only two-to-five minutes to get out alive. Perhaps less if the residence is a mobile home.

How to plan for escape from a house fire:

Fire Equipment for the Home

There are several pieces of fire safety equipment every home should have, and every person living in that home should be versed in the use of the equipment.

Fire Extinguisher

Every home should have an easily accessible fire extinguisher. It does not need to be a large one--a small one should suffice. The extinguisher should be used on small fires that have not reached life threatening proportions, such as grease fires on the stove or accidental trash fires inside or outside the house.

In order to maintain the safety and effectiveness of the extinguisher, it should be periodically serviced and inspected by your local fire department.

Smoke Detector

Another very important--indeed vital--piece of fire prevention equipment is the smoke alarm. Smoke alarms can be very inexpensive, and they will save your life by warning you of smoke in the house--and as the saying goes, where there is smoke, there is fire.

In order for the alarms to be effective, they must be placed in all areas of the house, such as hallways near the bedrooms, in the kitchen area, and in the living room or family room. They must be periodically tested and batteries should be replaced about every six months. Most alarms are equipped with a button or a light which lets you know if your alarm is working.

Other Precautions

If you live in a multi-story home, make sure the upstairs bedrooms are equipped with a way out--such as fire escape ladders for windows in the rooms.

Once your fire prevention equipment is up to date, take a look around your home for fire hazards.

  1. Is there anything hanging too close to your stove, which might be flammable?
  2. Do you keep flammable liquids around the house, such as paint, paint remover, or gasoline?
  3. Are your matches or lighters stored out of children's reach?

Use common sense, and don't invite a fire--it could be extremely hazardous to your health.