“Home invasion” is a terrifying crime that is distinctly different than burglary. Burglary involves unlawfully entering a private property with the intent to commit a crime, usually theft. A home invasion, however, is unlawfully entering a residence while the occupants are inside. Often, the intent is not just to steal property, but to commit violence against the residents. For that reason, it is important to take the proper steps to prevent a home invasion before it happens.
Prevent a Home Invasion and Safeguard Your Family
Although the term “home invasion” was coined a century ago, its classification as a separate crime is much more recent. In fact, many states still don’t have specific laws addressing it. Instead, they focus on the crimes committed once the criminal has gained entry. This is significant because it makes tracking home invasion crime trends extremely difficult.
A sexual assault or a murder committed in conjunction with a home invasion is categorized with other sexual assaults or murders. They are, however, more tragic as crimes committed on your “home turf” are much more preventable.
Some Sobering Statistics
The best way to avoid becoming a victim of a home invasion is to first understand the nature of the problem. To that end, it helps to grasp some key statistical facts. According to a Department of Justice report:
- From 2003-2007, an estimated 3.7 million burglaries occurred each year in the U.S.
- A household member was present in roughly one million burglaries (27%) and became victims of violent crimes in 266,560 burglaries (7%).
- Simple assault (15%) was the most common violent crime when a resident was at home. Robbery (7%) and sexual assault (3%) were the next most common.
- In 65% of the violent burglaries committed, the victims knew the offenders. In 28% of violent burglaries the offenders were strangers.
- Overall, 61% of offenders were unarmed when violence occurred during a burglary while a resident was present. About 12% of households violently burglarized faced an offender armed with a gun.
- Home invaders most often gained entry through an open (27%) or unlocked (28%) door or window.
- In 18% of home invasions, a resident allowed the offender to enter. Similarly, in 12%, a resident opened the door and the invader pushed his way in.
- In almost 4% of home invasions, the offender had a key to the residence.
Based on these statistics, the “average” home invasion is far different than the worst-case scenarios often reported in the news. There’s also a lot we can do to reduce our chances of becoming a victim.
The best defense against burglary or home invasion is making your home a hard target. One of the best ways to do that is with a home security system. According to the National Council for Home Safety and Security, 85% of convicted burglars specifically looked for home security systems. If they saw one, they’d bypass that home and look for an easier target. Crime statistics bear this out. In general, homes without a security system are 300% more likely to experience a burglary than homes with them.
While simple security measures like doorbell cameras have become increasingly popular, don’t overestimate them. Take a hard look at your entire home, look for potential weaknesses, and address them all. A whole-house alarm system backed by thorough exterior camera coverage makes your home an unattractive target. It also provides an early-warning system when you’re home and protects your property even when you’re not.
Harden Your Perimeter
According to the FBI, 90% of home intrusions occur through doors and 6% occur through windows. Even if you lock your doors religiously, most standard door hardware won’t withstand a hard kick. The best way to prevent this type of entry—and another great way of establishing your home as a hard target—is to harden your front door.
First, choose a sturdy, solid-wood door or a steel-sheathed door without any windows in it. Hang it with heavy-duty hinges installed with extra-long screws (like three-inch deck screws), not the short ones that typically come in the package. The long screws will pass through the jamb into the framing behind it.
On the lock side, don’t settle for an ordinary doorknob lock. These are weak and easy to defeat. Instead, install a high-quality, name-brand deadbolt lock with a one-inch bolt throw. If your door is not steel-sheathed, strengthen the area around the lock with a metal door reinforcement. This supports the stile at its weakest point, where it is drilled, to accept the lock hardware.
For a dead-bolt lock to do its job, it must anchor solidly to the door frame. The tiny strike plate included with most locks is not up to this task. Replace it with an extended, high-security strike plate. These are typically about 8-10 inches long and have multiple mounting holes. Again, use extra-long screws that anchor the plate solidly into the framing structure behind the door frame.
One excellent way of bolstering your front-door security is with a security gate. Made of sturdy steel, it can also serve double duty as a screen door, allowing fresh air in without letting your guard down.
Security gates also overcome a common design weakness in many homes—a window located immediately adjacent to the door. This flaw weakens the structure of the door frame and compromises the door’s function as a barrier. A home invader can also easily break the window and reach through to unlock the door.
A security gate that spans both the door and the window eliminates this danger and sends a strong deterrent message. It also enables you to deal with visitors face to face, but with the protection of a strong physical barrier. This helps prevent “push-in” types of home invasion.
Patio Doors and Windows
Sliding patio doors are a potential weak link in a home’s defenses and should receive proper attention. The traditional broomstick-in-the-track method works, but many criminals are wise to it. They have learned to “rock” the sliding door to dislodge this barrier or lift it out of place with a piece of wire.
A better solution is a purpose-designed security bar that wedges between the door and the frame above floor level. This creates a much stronger barrier and cannot be dislodged or overcome as easily as a dowel rod or broomstick.
Ground-level windows or easily accessible second-story windows (like those with a balcony or adjacent roof area) should receive similar attention. Sliding windows should have secure locks that prevent entry from outside.
To supplement these, insert wooden dowels between the closed window and the opposing edge of the frame. I prefer ¾-inch or 1-inch hardwood dowels carefully cut to length to achieve a snug fit. To remove them quickly in an emergency (like using the window as an exit during a fire), drill a hole through one end and install a short loop of parachute cord. This handle provides a solid purchase to pull the dowel free. It also makes every dowel a handy impact weapon if an intruder does gain entry.
Develop Good Habits
All the hardware in the world won’t do you any good if you don’t actually use it. You may have been stunned by the fact that more than half of home invasions start with a criminal walking through an unlocked door. Good. Capitalize on that and lock your doors religiously.
Invest in high-quality locks and supporting hardware and don’t loan your keys to anyone. If you move into a new home, change all the locks to prevent former residents or their friends with keys from targeting you.
If you have an alarm system, learn how to use it properly and then take full advantage of its capabilities. That includes turning it on when you’re home to use as both an early warning system and a deterrent.
If an unknown person visits your doorstep, don’t open the door. Use security gates, intercoms, or windows to talk to him or her while maintaining a safe physical barrier.
Finally, remember that many home invasions—and the terrifying crimes that often result from them—are perpetrated by people known to the residents. Don’t be too trusting of anyone and always draw a hard line when it comes to inappropriate behavior. If a person you know begins acting like a criminal, he or she is a criminal. Be ready to defend yourself accordingly and don’t hold back.