It's A Gray Area: Ways to protect your home

Recently I saw a flier published by the Newport Beach Police Department titled "When a Stranger Knocks" that discusses ways to protect your home. The flier also offered a free individualized home inspection with NBPD's crime prevention unit.

I was intrigued, so I called and spoke to Crime Prevention Specialist Andi Querry about the program, and she gave me some suggestions that even should be used if you live in a gated community.

The first focus of attention is your house's landscaping, especially near the front door. Large bushes and plants, as well as trees with low-hanging branches, can conceal potential burglars from your view and should be removed or trimmed. In addition, $200 will purchase a security camera system that is low tech and easy to install that will greatly expand your vision. Porch lights with at least 60-watt bulbs should also be placed on timers so that they provide illumination throughout the night. And movement detector lights are also helpful, but should only be installed in side areas of the house, where there is not much expected movement from cars, animals or large leaves being moved by the wind.

Starting at the front door, dead bolts are a must. Many doors come with deadbolts but have only small screws holding the strike plate to the door frames. These should be changed to 2- to 3-inch screws, because otherwise the doors can easily be forced open. In addition, if your front door is within 40 inches of a window, the inside of the deadbolt should only be able to be opened with a key, not with a thumb knob. But keep the key hidden from the view of someone standing outside and also keep the key on a large chain so you will not forget and put it in your pocket. Otherwise in a fire or other emergency you could actually lock yourself inside of your own house!

Another important safety device is having a 180-degree view peep hole in all doors that lead outside. These are important so that you can see anyone who is knocking before answering your door, and also for you to scan the area around your door before you do such things as taking out the trash. Of course, you should also be quite careful of people who identify themselves are utility service or repair workers unless you requested the visit. Many times burglars masquerade as those workers to gain access to people's houses, and then do bad things.

Residents should also install hardware protectors on all windows, which are available at most hardware stores. One of the best ways to protect wooden, double-hung windows that open up and down is simply to drill a small hole through the frames of the upper and lower windows, and then insert a long screw or nail into the hole. This will provide protection even if the window lock is breached.

Similarly on outside doors with outfacing hinges, drill a small hole in the top, middle and bottom of the doorframe on the side of the hinges and hammer a strong nail into the door that will fit into the holes when the door is closed. Then those nails will keep the door in place if anyone removes the pins from the hinges while the door is closed.

In addition to their normal locks, all sliding doors and windows should be secured with a wooden dowel that extends the full length of the particular door or window. Using dowels that are cut three or four inches shorter to allow for ventilation allows burglars to use wires or other tools to pop them out and then open the window. But if you really need the ventilation, in addition to the shorter dowel, put a bell on the window that will ring or something like a vase that can fall should someone outside disturb the window. Not only will the noise call your attention to the possible entry, it could very well scare away the potential intruder. But even if you think the intruder has fled, be sure to call the police.

It is also a good idea to install timers on lamps or other light fixtures inside your house so that some lights are on at night.

If you have a pedestrian entrance door on your garage door, be sure it is of solid construction, and that it stays locked. In addition, it is a good idea when you go on vacation either to unplug your garage door opener, or to put a padlock onto its track until you get home. And if you don't have a deadbolt lock on the door entering your house from the garage, you should install one – and use it!

Finally, if you have a burglar alarm system, use it as well. Many times people find these systems can be a nuisance and continually experience false alarms. But the answer is to adjust the alarm systems to fit your lifestyle instead of disabling them.

There are many more tips as well, such as never using companies to feed your pets while you are on vacation that advertise who they are on their vehicles. That simply allows burglars to follow those vehicles to a group of empty homes. And always make arrangements with someone you trust to pick up your mail, newspapers, packages and dry cleaning.

If you have more questions about security in your home, and live in Newport Beach, call Querry at (949) 644-3699. If you live elsewhere, call your local police department. What do you have to lose?

James P. Gray is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of "Wearing the Robe: the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today's Courts" (Square One Publishers, 2009), and can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or through his website at http://www.JudgeJimGray.com.

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