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Americans are locking their doors and windows like never before. A 1994 study by the Yankelovich polling organization found that 64% of Americans were concerned about personal safety and 82% felt that crime was the most serious problem facing the country. According to the latest United States Department of Justice National Crime Victimization survey, 23% of U.S. households were victimized by a crime of theft or violence.

Your home is one place you ought to be able to run to for safety and comfort. But is it really safe? Department of Justice statistics show that upwards of two million houses are burglarized each year, resulting in losses of some $2.5 billion. About one in every 50 houses are broken into each year with an average loss of $1200 per home.

And these statistics only include reported crimes. Criminal justice experts estimate that about half of all crimes go unreported, especially property crimes.

No home can be made completely safe from a determined burglar or stalker. But the vast majority of criminals are opportunists, and not all that smart. Most will bypass homes and businesses that take even simple precautions in favor of the easiest pickings. With that in mind, here are some of the things you as a home or small business owner can do to reduce your vulnerability to crime.

  • Get high quality locks for doors and windows. Deadbolt locks are the preferred standard. Double cylinder versions are best of all from a security standpoint - although there is a tradeoff in that they can prevent rapid exit in case of fire. Here you must choose whether fire or crime prevents the greater threat.

Sliding glass doors should have keyed locks. Also, windows with keyed locks offer greater security than those with clam shell locks. Sash windows may be fitted with a device to prevent their opening more than six inches. This is especially important for ground floor windows.

  • Take great care in choosing a locksmith. Although the vast majority of locksmiths are honorable professionals, for obvious reasons the field is an inviting one for professional burglars. Make absolutely sure that any locksmith you deal with is licensed and bonded. You may also wish to contact a local chapter of the Associated Locksmiths of America for recommendations.
  • Watch out for windows that are too close to doors. If a window is within two feet or so from a door latch, an intruder can easily gain entry by breaking that glass and reaching in to unlatch the door. If you want to keep an area around a doorway bright for esthetic reasons, consider transoms or skylights instead of windows.
  • Opt for secure lighting and landscaping. Large trees and bushes that offer privacy to the home dwellers also provide convenient hiding places for intruders. Try to eliminate blind spots around your home. You want to be able to see your entire yard looking out of a window or door viewer.

A bad guy's task is made even easier if the area is poorly lit. Make sure your entire property can be illuminated from the outside. In a high crime area you might also want to consider installing a flashing light to draw attention of neighbors or police cars in emergencies.

  • Strengthen doors. Hollow core and panel doors can be easily kicked in. Metal, fiberglass and solid wood are the best choices.
  • Re-key whenever it's prudent. This includes whenever you lose a set of keys, move into a new home or after a burglary. When using valet parking, take your vehicle key off your key chain and give only that key to the attendant.
  • Burglar alarms do work. They are not foolproof, but homes without alarms are about three times more likely to be victimized than those with them. A highly skilled burglar can defeat any security system, but most will avoid homes protected by electronic security systems.
  • Get a large dog-or pretend you have one! Large dogs definitely deter burglars. This, however, involves a lifestyle choice that does not suit many people.
    Anyone, however, can put up a "Beware of Dog" sign. Couple it with an extra large feeding dish and huge chew toys in the yard, and you just might make a burglar look somewhere else to do business.

While some of these security recommendations can be handled by homeowners themselves, most require the services of professional contractors. Be extremely careful about who you deal with. Seek recommendations from trusted friends and neighbors, or from reliable contractors and service firms you have dealt with in the past.

Your home should be a safe haven from society's turmoil. Do everything you can to make it so.




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