Security Matters: How to protect your home and keep burglars at bay
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In little more than three weeks last month, 212 homes in Hertfordshire were broken into – 59 more than there were in the same period the year before.
In the St Albans, London Colney and Harpenden areas alone, 25 burglaries were reported, a rise from 19 in 2016, a trend that followed a disturbingly similar pattern throughout the entire county.
In most cases the methods were the same and so were the targets. The thieves were attracted by the lack of an alarm on the wall, a side alley to take them to the back of the house where they, sometimes effortlessly, forced their way in looking for three things – jewellery, cash and IT equipment.
In most cases the owners will probably never see any of their belongings again, the burglars may never be caught and, despite the total ransacking, they had been in and out within a few frantically destructive minutes.
This was the case for one family who had fleetingly left their home near Roundwood in Harpenden shortly before Christmas to return to find the contents of every cupboard and drawer strewn across every room.
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“It wasn’t even fully dark, yet they’d brazenly slipped down the side, stuck a gemmy into the plastic frame and quietly cracked the glass just enough to get a hand in and turn the key,” said the husband.
“They then literally opened every door and drawer, took a pillowcase and threw into it anything small and valuable. They took a watch with a designer name on it but left another that didn’t. Other stuff we reported missing, we later had to report found because, in their haste, they’d scattered all sorts everywhere and we only found it after the Scenes of Crime officer had gone the next day and we could tidy up.
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“The insurance company were very good, partly because we had receipts for most things. Laptops, cameras, you name it. And photographs in some cases. But they couldn’t replace the weeks of work I had stored on the laptop or the pictures of the kids on the camera they took.”
Theirs followed a typical smash-and-grab trend where the raiders ignore large, heavy items and concentrate on small, anonymous, easily-sold ones such as laptops, ipads, cameras and cash; all of which can be traded in a pub car park for petty cash, irrespective of its worth.
Officers have been trying to reinforce the home security message through their Operation Guardian initiative, a campaign aimed at trying to enlist homeowners’ help in reducing the number of burglaries and identifying and preventing known burglars from operating in Hertfordshire.
Insp Paul Lawrence from the Crime Reduction Unit agreed that the average house break-in was a fleeting affair. He said: “Offenders want to get in and out as quickly as possible without being seen so if you hide your valuables, take photos and register them on Immobilise, they are less likely to be stolen and more likely to be returned, if they are stolen.
“Unfortunately, some addresses across the county seem to have been specifically targeted for their high-value Asian jewellery. Whilst burglary is a crime we all need to be aware of, in homes where large amounts of expensive gold is kept, there are extra steps we recommend taking to ensure your jewellery is safe.”
Sadly, such steps, drawn up using information provided by criminals involved in that line of crime, ultimately come down to one thing: removing them all together – and placing them in a safety deposit box at the bank.
Security expert Paul Rosenthal points out that a survey recently conducted by Yale Security revealed that home security ranked as low as 43rd on a list of 50 things we think about when moving house, behind decisions on where to put furniture and what improvements to make.
Home Office figures suggest that you are almost twice as likely to be burgled in the first 12 months of being in a new home.
“We always suggest thinking like a burglar,” said Mr Rosenthal, Sales Director at Amthal Fire & Security of Hatfield Road, St Albans. “It may not be the most obvious approach to a new home, but by getting in the mindset of a potential intruder, vulnerabilities can be easily exposed; and most can be rectified quickly and inexpensively.”
He points out that modern security systems include, not only off-site monitoring, but many sophisticated advances such as alarms connected to the owners’ mobile phone so they can set, unset, or with the addition of cameras, see exactly what is going on in their home at any given time - and send the evidence to police.
He adds: “We’re not even talking about complex security systems; even going right back to the basics of who has keys to a new home should be considered.
“If moving into a new property, it’s worth sparing a thought about how many keys the previous owner would have shared with neighbours, friends and family. So replacing the locks is the first place to start.”
Experts generally agree that burglars tend to operate in ways we wouldn’t necessarily expect. Surprising as it may seem, a large number, for example, take place between 10am and 3pm, are committed by people living locally with an open window or door as the entry point. In fact, 40 per cent enter via the front door.
But apart from the feeling of invasion and the obvious loss, often overlooked is the sheer disruption that 10 minutes of anarchy can result in.
The disruption following the Harpenden burglary was a case in point. The husband added: “We had a community officer, then a detective here into the night, followed by a guy in the drive with a workmate and saw sent to board up the door, then an officer in a forensics van. She alone took two hours and left just about everything she touched covered in black, greasy fingerprint solution.
“Then the door people had to come back to fit the glass, make further visits to sort out other damage here and there and I had to hire a laptop to work on until the insurance was settled. And that was all before we had security firms out surveying and fitting everything they could to make sure we never go through this again.
“It may have been 10 minutes for them, but we felt like a crime scene for weeks.”