Robberies are up 40% over 2019 in Minneapolis. As of three weeks ago, Minneapolis, New York, and Chicago all had more murders in 2020 than they had in all of 2019. 40% of the Minneapolis police force has retired, transferred, or quit the force.
These numbers aren’t anomalies – many other cities are facing similar upticks in crime. While the causes of this are numerous and discussion of them can be politically charged, it is wise for us to acknowledge that crime is on the rise, and with a contentious election on the horizon and no end in sight for the economic downturn and pandemic, it’s unlikely that the recent spike in crime will disappear as suddenly as it came.
Thankfully, there are things we can do to reduce our chances of being a victim of crime in our home. We talked about layering security and the four major areas (deter, detect, delay, defeat) to look out for while increasing the security of your home in our last piece (Layers of Security Part One). This week, we’re going to discuss some practical steps you can take to do so. We’ll look at two different situations, one for a house, and one for an apartment. Obviously, there are lots of things you can do to be safer in your living situation, and these are just a few places for you to start thinking about.
1. Install an alarm system.
Houses that have an alarm system are significantly less likely to get broken into. A good alarm system acts to both detect and deter threats, as well as starting the clock on defeating the threat by calling the authorities, making this a fantastic bargain for our effort.
DIY build-it-yourself kits make this an option for a lot of people now, not just those rich enough to be able to pay a big-name security company to install and monitor their system. Two companies, Simplisafe and Abode, have done an excellent job producing systems that you can order online and set-up yourself. You can customize the system to meet your needs and even start basic and upgrade with more sensors over time (I went this route when I bought my house – gradually transforming it from “pretty safe” to “basically Fort Knox” over the course of 18 months).
Pro-tip: every alarm system can be bypassed. Thankfully, vulnerabilities in one system are often not there in a competitor’s system. You want to have stickers/signs showing you have a security system to help deter threats, but you also don’t want to play your hand and give information that could potentially be used to bypass your system. The solution- get one system and buy signs online from another security company (like ADT) to put up around your property.
Extra points if you get a doorbell camera. This will help you keep an eye on one of the most used ways of breaking into houses (the front door) and help detect and deter package thieves. Because no one likes porch pirates.
2. Get a dog.
We discussed this last time as well, but a dog is another great way to reduce your chances of getting broken into. Another bargain for us, because it deters, detects, and (depending on the breed) helps defeat a threat, dogs are also shown to reduce your risk of having your house broken into.
3. Park your car in your garage and close the garage door.
ALWAYS LOCK THE DOOR THAT CONNECTS YOUR GARAGE TO YOUR HOUSE.
Garages are one of the primary ways that a criminal will gain entry to your house. The easiest way for them to do so is to simply open your car door (or break your car window) and press your garage door opener. Now they have access to all the toys in your garage and, if you haven’t locked the door leading to your house, your whole house too. Don’t let them do this- delay their access by either parking your car in your garage or (if this isn’t possible), removing your garage door opener when you get out of your car to go into your house. View your garage door opener as your keys – don’t leave it where bad guys can have easy access to it.
Garage doors can be pretty easily bypassed with a coat hanger (I taught my brother-in-law how to do this one time, and he used the trick to break into his own house when he locked himself out… and then called me to tell me how easy it was), so again, always lock that door that leads into your house.
4. Reinforce your front door (and, ideally, the door that goes to the garage as well).
Most criminals break into houses via the front door, either because it’s unlocked (one would hope that if you’ve read this far, you are at least locking your front door… because if you aren’t stop reading and do that now) or by breaking it in.
Most doors look sturdy but have several key weaknesses. First, many have a decorative window next to them so you can watch your Amazon packages get delivered. If a would-be assailant breaks this window, he can simply reach in and unlock the deadbolt, so consider replacing your deadbolt with a lock that has keyed access on both sides, if your local laws allow this.
The next biggest weakness is the kickplates your deadbolt bolt and latch from the doorknob. These kickplates are usually secured by very short, weak screws and, despite their name, cannot withstand a well-placed kick. The simplest solution is to buy a $25 security bar from your local hardware store to add a layer of support for your door and make it more difficult to force open.
A more secure, but also more expensive solution, is a product like a Door Devil, which reinforces the weak points on the doorframe and door jam, making it virtually impossible to break down without a battering ram (and if the bad guy is using a battering ram, we’ve really slowed him down quite a bit).
5. Replace exterior lights with motion activated lights to detect movement.
6. Break down large boxes for expensive items (computers, TV’s, ammunition, etc) before putting them in the recycling to deter unwanted attention.
Again, all bad guys are running a risk vs. reward assessment before they pick a target. Don’t let that 72” TV box make them think that the rewards are worth it.
7. Have a nightly routine before going to bed.
More often than not, the biggest flaw in the system is the person in charge of it. I’m no exception, I’ve forgotten to close my garage door and left valuables in my car because life is crazy and I got distracted. I now have a nightly routine where I walk around the house for 30 seconds and verify everything is ready for bed. Doors shut and locked? Security system armed? Perimeter lights on? Home defense weapons staged and ready to party (if this is part of your home defense plan)?
It only takes me a few moments, but it’s dramatically improved my readiness level.
There are many more ways to increase your layers of security, but these seven changes are a great place to get started. But what if you live in an apartment?
Real talk – apartments are harder to secure than a house. You have fewer options for layering your ability to detect, deter, and delay potential burglars. Having fewer layers of security makes apartments more frequent targets – if you rent an apartment, you are statistically at a much higher risk of having your home broken into.
That said, just because you’re playing the security game at a harder difficulty setting does not mean you have automatically lost- it just means you have to step-up your level of play. As one Force Recon Marine asked me one time
“Are you telling me you are lacking resources or that you’re not resourceful?”
1. Find a way to secure your door.
Since your door is the first the spot at which you have control over your security in an apartment, it is going to be your most important layer of delay and detection. You likely can’t replace the lock your landlord has on the door, but also don’t trust it. These locks are keyed for a master key, and the master key is easily compromised (when I lived in an apartment, someone stole a master key and the landlord didn’t realize it until two weeks later… after apartments were getting broken into).
Generally, your easiest and best option to delay unwanted entry is going to be that $30 security bar that sits under your door knob and props the door closed.
This simple solution can be found at most hardware stores and is remarkably hard to defeat (it can be done, you slide a wire coat hanger or piece of metal under the door to dislodge the bar, but this takes time). Whenever you are in the apartment, this security bar should be securing the door behind you. Otherwise, there’s just that cheap lock with a known master key between you and the potential threats. Make putting the bar under the door handle part of your routine for entering your apartment.
If you can get away with it, installing a door devil door reinforcement is best too… but your landlord may not like it, so be smart about it.
2. Use prime lockers or fedex/ups pick-up for packages whenever possible.
Package theft is a common crime of opportunity in apartments. Don’t give potential porch pirates the opportunity by sending the package to a secure location. This also serves the purpose of deterring potential burglars from targeting your apartment. Think about it – if you were a thief and saw a large TV sized package waiting for apartment 203, which unit are you going to look to break into later?
3. Maintain building entrance security as much as possible.
Most apartment buildings have a locked main door. Unfortunately, this is usually of questionable value due to residents propping it open or letting people through. Don’t be that person. If someone else has propped the door open, close it. Don’t let non-residents in behind you, even if that means closing the door on someone. The safety of the other residents depends on you. It’s a very common tactic for thieves to “tailgate” into a locked building behind someone who kindly holds the door open for them.
Don’t believe me? Read – Social Engineering: The Science of Human Hacking by Christopher Hadnagy.
If other residents insist on propping the door open repeatedly, consider reporting the problem to the landlord. The people doing the propping are putting the entire building at elevated risk, which leads into the next point.
4. Have good relationships with your neighbors.
As much as possible, build rapport with the apartment neighbors around you. You are in this together from a security perspective, and the more eyes that are watching out for each other’s packages, ensuring the perimeter door is secure, and that any suspicious behavior is addressed, the better from a detection and deterrence perspective.
This isn’t always possible (sometimes you call the cops on your neighbors’ guests for repeatedly attempting to break into your unit and your neighbors hold a grudge for some reason… odd) but make every effort to build bridges. Everyone will be safer in the long run.
On the flip side- watch out for them. Be aware when in the public spaces of the building. They’re counting on you to keep those entrances secure and aid the detection of would-be threats just like you are relying on them for the same.
5. Keep valuables in a secure or unappealing location.
Since you can’t use the door bar trick when you aren’t home, you need to find a way to secure your valuables. Delay theft and buy valuable time by keeping valuables in a quality safe that is bolted to the floor. If this isn’t possible, then hide your valuables. And hide them in locations that aren’t obvious. Thieves generally start in the living room or bedroom, because the latter place is where the jewelry, money, and firearms are. If you could ever watch thieves toss a target room, one of the first things they do is pull drawers out of the dresser and chuck the contents out to quickly sort out things worth taking, so you need to be thinking past “I hid my jewelry in my underwear drawer.”
If you are going to be gone for a day or two, consider hiding things in unappealing locations, like the dirty laundry hamper or in a hollowed-out book (most thieves aren’t book lovers).
6. Be aggressive if you need to defeat an intruder.
We talked last time about how time gives you options. In an apartment, you have less time and therefore, fewer options if someone is targeting your personal safety during a break-in. Your plan for how to defend yourself and defeat an intruder is going to look differently depending upon your ethical values, physical fitness, level of training, local laws, and weapons at your disposal, but be realistic and aggressive when thinking through your options. Have a plan to launch an immediate counterattack – you probably won’t have time to pull the unloaded gun out from under your bed, load the magazines, and call 911 if someone breaks in your door, so what is your plan? How do you stage your defensive tools? Who in the home calls for help? What is going to be your first signal that there’s a problem? Make these decisions now, not when you hear a key in the lock and realize that it isn’t someone who lives in the apartment with you. Have a plan that you can execute without having to think it through. Practice it a few times and make sure your family/roommates are on the same page about what the game plan is.