Thwarting Home Invasions, Part 1

Home InvasionHome invasions are among the most terrifying and often the most violent of crimes. Combining the worst aspects of burglary and armed robbery, many home invasions escalate into kidnappings, aggravated assaults, sexual assaults and even murders. In this two-part series, we explore steps homeowners and renters alike can take to reduce the potential of a home-invasion occurring and reduce the potential for violence even in the event a home invasion does occur. In Part 1, we examine means to prevent criminals’ entry into the home – the first, critical defense against home invasions.  

Defining “Home Invasion”

Home invasions occur when one or more criminals break in while someone is at home.  Home invasions often occur accidentally – when would-be burglars don’t realize a home is occupied before breaking in. However, a number of motivations may lead to a rise in deliberate home invasions – where criminals knowingly break into an occupied home:

  • to reduce the chance a home security system will be armed (which they often are not when residents are at home)
  • to use the threat of violence against family members to coerce access to secured valuables and bank card PIN numbers
  • to kidnap family members for ransom
  • to commit acts of violence or sexual assault.

Whether a home invasion is deliberate or occurs by accident, the defining risk of home invasion is the potential for violence against occupants. Department of Justice and FBI studies show that merely being present during a home invasion creates at least a 33% chance of becoming a victim of a violent crime.

The intent of thwarting a home invasion is not to protect property, but to protect the life and safety of those occupants in the home.

Common Home Invasion Scenarios

There is no single, most common method of home invasions. However, some of the more common techniques criminals use to gain entry to a home they know to be occupied home include:

  • Breaching a door or window through brute force, disassembly or defeating locks.
  • Laying in wait for a resident to enter the home and then attacking while a door is being opened or an alarm disarmed, or following the resident in before a door can be re-locked or alarm re-armed.
  • Assaulting a resident immediately outside the home and coercing entry to the home through threat of violence.
  • Posing as a police officer, utility worker, neighbor or motorist in need, convincing a resident to open a door, and rushing into the home once the door is opened.

In the case of accidental home invasions, burglars enter a home they believe to be unoccupied through burglars’ usual means – brute force entry, through unlocked doors or windows, etc.

Preventing Entry Into the Home

The first, most-critical step to preventing home invasions is to prevent criminals from entering a home while it is occupied. Doing so entails many of the same preventative and deterrent actions to secure a home from burglaries:

  • Ensuring all entry doors are made from strong materials (solid hardwood, metal, etc.)
  • Armoring or reinforcing entry doorjambs
  • Installing high-quality, durable deadbolts and entry locks
  • Securing ground-level or accessible upper-level windows with impact resistant storm windows, window bars or window pins
  • Eliminating or locking “doggie doors” and reinforcing them to prevent brute-force entry
  • Installing and using a home security system
  • Lighting the exterior of the home
  • Trimming back hedges to reduce places to hide
  • Installing a video surveillance system

No Victims’ partner, Safe Atlanta For Everyone (SAFE) offers a great summary of inexpensive opportunities to secure a home – Neighborhood Safety Tipsheet #1 – Secure Your Home.

However, many counter-burglary measures are not effective when the home is occupied – alarms are less frequently armed, entry doors less likely to be locked and windows more likely to be kept open in warm weather.

As such, additional steps are necessary to prevent or complicate entry to an occupied home:

Home Security

  • Entry doors should be equipped with a self-locking device in addition to manual locking devices such as deadbolts. While this may increase the risk of an occupant accidentally being locked out, it reduces the chance of a door being left unsecured or “follow in” entries by criminals.
  • Entry doors should have additional reinforcement while the home is occupied. When residents are home and especially at night, the main entry doors should be reinforced by opening-prevention devices such as door wedges, door bars or katybars to complicate or prevent brute-force entries.
  • Install a door viewer or other visibility device to allow inspection of visitors before opening the door.  Wide-angle door viewers are especially recommended as they also allow inspection of area immediately around the door, not just in front of it.
  • Home security systems should be armed to sound instantly if a door or window is breached. Most home security systems arm with a brief delay (15-60 seconds) during which a code can be used to disarm the system. When the home is occupied, the system should be set to sound instantly upon an entry door or accessible window being opened. Most security systems will offer an “instant” arming mode.
  • Windows that are kept open for ventilation while the home is occupied should be pinned into a partiallyopened position insufficient to allow a person entry.  A second set of holes drilled for window pins, permanently installed window bars or certain types of window locks all can allow windows to be kept slightly open in a manner that precludes entry.
  • Entry doors that are kept open for ventilation while the home is occupied should be behind security-rated storm doors or door bars.  Some security-rated storm doors offer reinforced screens or grids that permit airflow but prevent entry.

It can be very helpful to have another individual (a security professional or just a friend or non-resident family member) walk around the perimeter of a house to identify potential points of entry and then make any necessary improvements or changes.

Personal Security

  • Residents should maintain a high level of awareness before and while entering or exiting a home. As this is a favorite moment for criminals to strike, residents should be highly aware of their surroundings, out-of-place objects or people, strange vehicles parked nearby and malfunctioning lighting. 
  • Where home security systems are disarmed using a remote control or keychain fob, avoid disarming the system before entering the home and securing the entry door. This behavior also serves to complicate follow-in entries and increase the potential of an alarm sounding before a criminal has fully entered the home.
  • Do not open the door to any unknown person, despite how they might identify themselves. In the case of someone claiming to be a neighbor or passing motorist in distress, offer to call for assistance while they wait outside. In the case of someone identifying themselves as a utility worker or police officer (unless you have called them yourself), call the utility company or 911 to verify someone has been dispatched to your location.
  • Keep legally-carried defensive firearms, preferred personal protection devices, personal alarms, or panic remotes for home or automobile security systems readily available when entering or exiting a home. This behavior will provide additional options to react to an assaulting criminal attempting to gain entry to the home.

As with improving personal security while on the street, it can be helpful to consider potential risks or threats in the immediate vicinity of home and have a plan ready to implement should the worst happen.

The Bottom Line

A home invasion cannot occur if criminals cannot gain entry to the home. A minimal investment of time and money beyond what might be required to deter burglary can go a long way to securing your home and protecting your family from home invasions.

In Part 2, we will explore ways to reduce the threat of violence in the event criminals are successful in gaining entry to the home.


One Response

  1. […] Given that home invasions are on the rise in Southeast Atlanta, these articles are must-reads. Read Part 1 and then Part […]

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