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How to discourage burglars.

Are you packing up and going on vacation? Before you shut the door and leave your troubles behind, make sure that your home doesn't look abandoned and available for a burglary. "Keeping up an illusion of occupancy is perhaps the most significant preventative measure," explains Paul Cromwell, director of the University of Miami sociology department's criminal justice program. See-through curtains with a television beaming its light behind them give the impression that someone is home. Other steps to take include:

Increasing the burglar's risk. Alarms and dogs are two of the most important deterrents because they make the job harder once a burglar sets his sights on your home. Dogs are attention getters. "If you can only have one, take the dog. The dog works all the time; you don't have to remember to turn him on." Don't leave the dog in the yard when you're away, however. A burglar can lure a dog out of a fenced yard and then lock the gate behind him.

Increasing the difficulty. Besides the lived-in look, you can help protect your home by "target hardening." Dogs and alarms make it harder for the burglar, but so does fear. It pays to advertise. "Protection can come from a sign that says you're protected. Most burglars won't test a sign in your yard that says |Westinghouse Security.' If you have a security system, remember to use it. Doors and windows weren't locked in more than 50% of houses entered." Moreover, "Avoid at all possible cost having sliding glass patio doors. I can take one off its track in a few seconds."

Reducing the rewards. Don't leave visible signs of affluence around, such as boat, recreational vehicles, or a satellite dish. The burglar may get the idea that you have expensive audio/video equipment inside the house. Don't keep valuable jewelry in the house or publicize that you are a collector.

Burglars don't necessarily plan ahead, Cromwell points out. "If you compare what they say they do to what they really do, you'll find a 180 [degrees] difference. Eighty percent don't plan ahead. They drive by an inviting situation and will perform the crime."

Most burglaries are committed during the day when people are at work or shopping. Installing a privacy fence may not help much. You'd have to build a wooden fence eight feet high to keep the thieves out. "You can't screen yourself off from burglars completely, because then you lose your quality of life. When you install bars on every window, you've locked yourself in a prison."
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Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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