Yesterday’s local “newspaper” used most of the front page to list the 25 New Jersey towns with the most burglaries, an overall number that’s been dropping. Whatever the community-wide data reveal, having your own home burglarized is 100%. So, how to prevent it? Can you? Geoff Manaugh, author of the new book, A Burglar’s Guide to the City (promoted as “you’ll never see the city the same way again”), presents a frustratingly balanced article on this topic in the May issue of Metropolis.
Criminologists and beat cops agree that certain home features may affect the likelihood it will be burglarized, yet it seems there’s always an “on the other hand. . . .” Decreasing the likelihood of a break-in involves a series of trade-offs that we mostly don’t think about much.
Something we probably ignored when selecting our house (and can’t fix, anyway), is its position on the street. Manaugh says a house on a corner is more likely to be broken into. Conversely, a house on a cul-de-sac or in a neighborhood with curving streets and dead ends is less attractive to would-be thieves. Ease of escape is the issue here. On the other hand, such neighborhoods tend to have fewer police patrols.
If your house is set back from the street or ringed with tall shrubbery, it may be harder to notice. On the other hand, it gives a burglar “the same privacy it gives you.” Clear visibility into and out of your home discourages thieves. For the same reason, a rainy night is burglars’ most-favored time for a break-in; people aren’t out on the streets, and it’s hard for the neighbors to notice that ladder up to your second-floor (unalarmed) window. You know, the ladder you told the painters or the arborists or the . . . , “Sure, just leave it out there for the night. You’ll be back tomorrow.”
Pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods are safer, unless the pedestrians are there because a house is close to a subway station or train depot. Neighborhoods near schools receive more patrols and a closer watch from parents. Those near woodlands provide an opportunity for escape.
A burglar sees your house as a set of entry and exit points–back doors, side windows, porch roofs, and sliders. Are they protected? Is your alarm system a preventive, or does it suggest you have something worth stealing? A friend lives on a block where every house has been broken into except hers. The other difference between her and her neighbors? She has a dog.
Finally, Manaugh asks one simple question applying to all of us: “Do you really know where all your extra sets of house keys have gone?”