Home Security vs. Home Invasion

The violent crime of home invasion robbery can be truly horrific. Consider these true accounts:

• A seventy-five-year-old retiree was working alone in his garage when someone sneaked up behind him and hit him with a tire iron. The man’s wife, napping on the sofa, was beaten with a cell phone. The assailants ransacked the house.

• A fifty-nine-year-old man answered his door and found two armed men wearing masks. They forced their way in and demanded money. The offenders left the victim beaten and tied up.

• Four armed assailants crashed a party and forced partygoers to lie on the floor while they stole their money and jewelry. Some of the victims were pistol-whipped. The criminals got in through an unlocked door.

• Two suspects knocked on a resident’s door, and when the victim answered it, they drew guns and demanded money. They forced the victim to the floor, and fled after ransacking the house.

Home invasion robbery has its roots in the “Cocaine Cow boy” drug culture of south Florida in the 1970s and 1980s. It was a “criminal’s crime”: Drug dealers viciously forced their way into each other’s homes because of the vast amounts of cash and drugs they possessed. Most of the home invasions I investigated were this type, with criminals as the victims. In fact, it was so much a drug dealer’s crime that non-drug-dealer victims were viewed suspiciously as possibly being drug dealers. That view is still sometimes held today.

This type of robbery isn’t unknown to small businesses such as liquor stores, convenience stores, and gas stations. But as these targets began to beef up security with cameras, alarms, and armed guards, the crime once again evolved. Its perpetrators had to find other victims, so they moved on to residences that included not only drug dealers, but also the elderly, women, and anyone else who presented an easy opportunity. Like I said, crime isn’t prevented—it gets deflected somewhere else.

I want to make a distinction here between robbery and bur glary. Some police officers don’t understand the difference, let alone the general public, and the terms are often interchanged.

Burglary is a crime of opportunity. Its perpetrators generally work alone, don’t want to be seen, and rely on stealth to accomplish that. Robbery is an in-your-face crime—a robber uses threats and violence to make victims fearful. Therefore, you can’t possibly rob a house. You would have to point a gun at it and say menacingly, “House! Give me your money!” Likewise, you can’t burgle a person. You rob people, and burglarize buildings.

Home invasion robbery takes the term robbery to its most extreme. The intention from the start is violent confrontation with people in the residence in order to steal money and property. But the crime scenario doesn’t always start violently. Home Invaders often approach a house in a manner unlikely to get them noticed by residents or neighbors. Often they pretend to be delivery people, utility company workers, even police officers. They may enter through an open garage door, or follow a victim home from shopping. In this case, they may even pull the “helpful stranger” routine discussed in section 2. Home invaders rarely concern themselves with security systems, because most people don’t have their systems turned on when they’re at home. Once again, this makes a good case for the panic button, which will set off the alarm even if the system isn’t armed. and a good case for the hostage code, should a home invader force you to turn off your alarm system.

After gaining entry and taking control, home invaders make their victims give them all their valuables. They’re usually armed and frequently tie up their victims, so they have plenty of time to thoroughly ransack the house and escape the scene.

At the heart of preventing home invasion is being alert to people who come to your home. Remember, invaders often pose as people you’re likely to not look at too closely. The following quiz poses some situations in which home invaders might try to trick you. Answers and discussion follow. All questions assume that you have some means of seeing someone standing at your front door. (If you don’t, you need to go back to the beginning of this section, to #9 of the Top Ten Tips for Added Security.)

Quiz: What Would You Do Now?

1. Someone is pounding on your door and screaming that he’s being chased and needs help. What would you do now?

2. Someone knocks at your door and says, “My car broke down and I need help,” or “I ran out of gas and I need help.” What would you do now?

3. There’s a knock at your door and someone says, “1 just hit your car.” What would you do now?

4. Someone at your door says he has a flower delivery for you. What would you do now?

5. There’s a knock at the door and the person says he’s with the electric company (or other public utility); there’s a problem that he needs to come inside the house to correct. In fact, your power may have gone out and the person at the door says he’s come to fix it. What would you do now?


1. Even if you’re in a position to physically help the person, dial 911 before opening the door. Then, before opening the door, tell the person that you’ve called 911 and police are on the way. If this is a ruse, the would-be home invader will probably run away fast.

2. Don’t open the door or let the person in. Offer to call a tow truck or the AAA (American Auto Association) road service. Ask if there’s someone else the person would like you to call for him. Don’t hesitate to call police if you’re suspicious and feel you—or he—may be in danger.

3. If your car’s in the garage or there’s no way someone could have hit it, call police immediately. If you believe it may be true, call police before you go outside. When you call, say that there are suspicious people at your front door. Don’t say someone hit your parked car—police won’t respond as quickly to a noninjury fender-bender as they will to a suspicious-persons call where the person is standing at your door. Ask the person to wait until police arrive.

In an actual case, two men knocked on a woman’s door and said they had hit her parked car. She opened the door and found herself facing guns. The assailants rushed inside, stole her cash and jewelry, and handcuffed the woman’s wrists and ankles. Before leaving, they covered her head with a pillowcase, poured cooking oil over her, and threatened to set her on fire. Had she called police first, help would have been on the way.

4. If you’re not expecting a flower delivery, use your instincts. Call a friend or neighbor to stay on the Line while you accept the delivery. Ask for identification before opening the door if you feel threatened, or ask the person to leave the flowers outside, then pick them up when you’re sure he has left. I’ve never known anyone who had to sign for a legitimate flower delivery.

Another true story: A man delivering flowers convinced a woman to open her door. He turned out to be an armed home invader, who handcuffed both the woman and her husband, then stole their cash and jewelry.

5. Ask immediately for identification. It’s a rare occasion when a utility person shows up at your door if you haven’t called for a specific reason. Even if your power has gone out, they have no way of knowing. Home invaders some times cut your power, then come to the door posing as utility workers. If you can’t see their ID without opening your door, ask for the name of a supervisor you can call to check on the person. Don’t call a phone number he gives you—call directory assistance and get the number if you don’t have it handy. If you can’t verify the person’s identity, call police to report a suspicious person at your door.

There have been many true cases of home invaders falsely impersonating utility employees. Often they target elderly victims. Utility companies are aware of this and don’t mind your calling to verify employee ID.

After reading these situations, you may wonder if you have to be suspicious of everyone who comes to your door. Frankly, yes, you do, but think of it more as being alert and aware with out being fearful. If you have some suspicions but don’t feel you need to call the police, you can always call a friend or neighbor and ask him to stay on the phone with you while you answer the door. You might even ask a neighbor to come to his front door and watch as you answer yours. You probably don’t get that many deliveries, so don’t worry about bothering your neighbors all the time. and you’re only going to call if you think something’s suspicious anyway. Whatever the case, don’t discount intuitive feelings you may have. Don’t let other feelings drive you to ignore your gut-level instincts.

A Plan In Case of Home Invasion

Now ask yourself: What would I do if someone burst into my home? Understand that you can become trapped in any room in your house. You must have a plan for what you would do in any circumstance. Go through the following process in every room in your house. I can’t emphasize enough how much thinking things through and having a plan can keep you from panicking when a real emergency strikes. In each room, ask yourself:

1. What would I do if someone burst through my front door? The back door? Any window? A window in this room?

2. What direction could I run to avoid becoming trapped? What route might I take through my home to get out?

3. How would I summon help? Can neighbors hear me if I scream and make noise out the window of this room? Is there a phone easily available in this room?

4. What if someone breaks into my home iii the middle of the night and I’m sleeping?

The idea here is to escape harm without escalating violence. Your first answer may be as simple as: “I don’t have to do any thing—my alarm is on and he’s fled and police have been called.” Or, “1 hit the panic button, the alarm went off, he ran, and police have been called.” Ideally, this is what you want to happen. Still, you should determine an escape route through the house. You might think about a route where you can throw obstacles in a pursuer’s path, such as slamming doors behind you, or toppling chairs as you head out a door and to a neighbor’s. As you think about it, you’ll realize that you have many options. They may not all be good ones, but at least you have options you hadn’t thought about before.

Here’s another situation: If you’re awakened at night by someone breaking into your home, having a plan can make it less likely that you’ll panic. In this case, take the phone off the hook and dial 911 at first opportunity. Remember that you don’t have to talk—while it’s better to talk and give information, the system knows where you’re calling from immediately. No response from you wilt, send the police to your address.

I’ll now introduce you to the concept of a safe room. If you have a safe room in your home, it can serve you in several circumstances.

Safe Room

The primary purpose of a safe room is to provide a place to escape from intruders and other dangers. A bathroom often makes a good safe room, but other options include interior closets, laundry rooms, or even a small, den. The idea is to make this room a bit more fortified than anywhere else in the house, to help keep you safe while you summon help. Safe rooms are very common in some foreign countries and in many wealthy neighborhoods such as Beverly Hills.

How do you turn a room into a safe room? A basic safe room can be modified for other uses, which I’ll discuss in later sections.

To get started on a basic room:

1. Find a room that’s easy to get to in a hurry from almost anyplace in the home.

2. Install a sturdy, solid-core door for this room if it doesn’t already have one.

3. Install a heavy-duty lock, such as a deadbolt, that you can easily lock from the inside. Follow all advice regarding deadbolt locks earlier in this section. Note: If you have children, don’t just install a sliding bolt. You must have a lock you can open using a key on the outside in case the kids lock themselves in.

4. Have some means of communicating that you’re in danger. You might install a phone in this room, but realize that your phone lines might get cut, so another form of communication is necessary. I advise keeping a remote panic but ton for your alarm system in this room. It’s a good idea to keep your cell phone’s battery charger in this room so that you’ll leave the phone here whenever you don’t have it on you. If this room has a window, you might consider an air horn to get attention, or simply screaming out the window.

If danger strikes, consider getting to your safe room as one of your escape routes. When planning escape routes, as outlined in the earlier quiz, remember that you always want to take the quickest and best route to safety. Going to your safe room may not always be the quickest or easiest route. Be sure you have alternate routes, just in case.

What else can you do to protect yourself from home invaders?

Here are some more security tips:

1. Install a wide-angle peephole to get a fuller view of the outside area. I recommend one that’s much larger than a standard peephole. The viewer is larger than a half dollar, and you can practically see from the across the room who’s at your door and what’s behind them.

fig-93-babahap.jpg Wide-angle peepholes afford a much better view than traditional models.

2. Don’t open your door to unexpected visitors you don’t know, and never let strangers into your home to use the phone. Always offer to make the call for them.

3. Don’t give any personal information to telemarketers, door- to-door surveys, or phone surveys.

4. Keep a method of summoning help close at hand, such as a remote panic alarm, portable phone, cell phone, or some thing to make a lot of noise. My mother lived alone in a retirement community, and I gave her a handheld air horn that was extremely loud. Someone suspicious came to her back door once and when she hit that horn, he fled. She wasn’t afraid to use it.

5. Ladies: Beware of casual acquaintances who visit unannounced. Many rapists know their victims and plan the time of the attack.

6. Don’t let your children open the door. Teach them to first yell, “I’ll get my parents!” when someone knocks, then find you and let you know there’s someone at the door.

7. If you lose your garage door opener, change the security code immediately and get a new opener. If you can’t change the code right away, unplug the opener until you can. Often, circuit breakers for the home are located in the garage; just flip the appropriate breaker.

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