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What to Expect After a Burglary

Written by Courtney Ronan on Tuesday, 07 September 1999 7:00 pm

It's every homeowner's worst nightmare: You arrive home to discover you've been burglarized. Your drawers have been ransacked, and your belongings are scattered about the floor. Your most prized possessions are missing, somewhere between your home and the nearest pawn shop. You feel violated in every sense of the term, and your family's sense of security will never be regained. Although it's much, much easier said than done, you do need to make sure that you go through a few necessary safety procedures should this ever happen to you and your family. If you are indeed ever burglarized, it's likely that your sense of shock will interfere with your ability to make clear decisions. So you should make a plan now and make sure all of your fellow family members are aware of it.

If you ever come home to discover the above-described scenario, your first move should be to leave the premises immediately. Although your impulse might be to roam from room to room in an attempt to find out what the burglars took and what they left, there's a good possibility that the burglars are still inside your home. If that's the case, what started as a stroke of bad luck could turn into a tragedy. Leave your home at once, and go to a neighbor's house. Call 911, and leave the searching to the police.

Another reason why you shouldn't remain in your home is that you'll use your own phone to call the police, which could destroy valuable evidence the perpetrators may have left behind. Police recommend that homeowners avoid touching anything upon the discovery of a burglary, which again underlines the importance of leaving the premises immediately. Some particularly overconfident (or perhaps more foolish, depending on how you look at it) burglars may use your phone while they're inside your home, and they may even decide to stick around a while, helping themselves to the food in your kitchen, watching your television set and lounging in your favorite chair. In the meantime, they're leaving their fingerprints on everything they touch -- which could make the difference between an arrest and a repeat offense.

Remain at your neighbor's home until the police arrive. After the police investigate your home, doing a careful walk-through to determine if the burlgars are still on premises, they'll be able to determine the point of entry. You'll be asked to assist in the investigation at this point, filling out a form that details your missing property and its estimated value. Make a duplicate copy of this list to show to your insurance provider when you file your claim. While hindsight is always 20/20, a burglarly is precisely the time when you'll be inspired to start taking photographs of your valuable possessions and placing them in a place that not even the most savvy burglar would find. If those items are stolen, you've got pictures that will assist you and your insurance company, as well as the police.

There's little doubt that after this experience, you'll be inspired to spend some extra money on home security -- an alarm system (or a new code for your alarm system), new locks on the doors, an automatic outdoor lighting system, perhaps. But pay particularly close attention to the burglar's point of entry. It may have been a sliding glass door that needs a dowel, a window in need of repair or a door that doesn't shut without an extra shove. As you've learned painfully, it didn't take much effort for a burglar to enter your home through this spot. Start here, then step up security everywhere in your home. It's going to cost money, but the payoff is your peace of mind and the protection of your family.

Once life returns to normal -- and not long after -- it's time to do a walk-through of your home, both the interior and exterior, and from a critical standpoint. Do you have an air-conditioning unit that sits below a window? It's the perfect opportunity for entry. Install more secure bolts and locks on such windows, and while you're at it, cover them with curtains or replace the clear glass with frosted glass. Cut down branches that give intruders access to windows and other points of entry. Install additional security measures on your second-floor windows. Make sure basement doors accessible to the outside are bolted shut. Install deadbolts on all doors. Purchase exterior spotlights and porchlights with automatic on/off timers on your lights. You may also wish to use these timers inside your home during business trips, vacations or any time you spend the night away from home. In addition, purchase motion sensors for the outside of your home. And keep your property well-maintained. Do not let your shrubs and trees become overgrown; they provide excellent hiding places for intruders. Use nature to help you secure your home, and purchase shrubs with thorns for use under your bedroom window. Sharp branches are an effective deterrent. Even if you don't own an alarm system, see if you can locate some stickers for display in your windows which indicate that your home is protected by a security system. Purchase a "Beware of Dog" sign, too -- the prospect of an angry Rotweiler is enough to scare many burglars away.

And inside your home, check the greeting on your answering machine. Erase any reference to "We're not home." Replace it with a more generic message ("We're unable to get to the phone right now, but we'll return your call shortly."). Because criminals look for patterns of behavior in their victims, you may consider taking your phone off the hook occasionally when you leave the house. Depending on the type of phone service you have, this can cause a caller to hear a perpetual busy signal, giving a prospective intruder the impression that someone is home. Even if you're single, use "we," not "I" in your greeting. Purchase a cellular phone for protection in the event that an potential intruder cuts your phone lines, and keep the phone in your nightstand drawer.

Make sure you vary your daily routine as to avoid establishing a pattern of behavior. While you don't need to spend your life in a perpetual state of fear, the experience of a burglary in your home is an eye-opening experience you'll never forget. When you're beefing up the security in your home, wiser for the hardship you've experienced, just keep in mind that burglars are looking for an easy hit. They don't want to have to work to get to the goods, and if they encounter too many obstacles at your home, they'll go elsewhere -- because there are plenty of easier targets on the block. Just keep stacking up those roadblocks. They're stacking the odds back in your favor for the protection of your home. Best of all, you're taking control of your own family's safety.

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