Crime Prevention & Safety for Homes & Rental Properties : Home Security | Rental Properties | Block Watch
Our homes are very important to us – they're not just wood, nails and cement, but they represent our families, our histories, our accomplishments and who we are.
Below are several ideas to help make your home more safe and secure. Many of these ideas have come from other North American police departments and communities similar to yours.
The best way to deal with problems is to stop them before they start. All communities are safer when citizens act together and crime rates decline or remain low. Neighbourhood safety is a shared responsibility, in which both citizens and police have important roles.
Small steps are often the best way to start building a community, which could involve such simple things as alerting neighbours when suspicious activity seems to be happening.
Here are some suggestions for building your community to enhance the security and quality of your home life:
- get to know one another – residents should become familiar with the routine in their neighbourhoods
- be aware of strangers and look out for each other
- leave keys and emergency phone numbers with a trusted neighbour
- keep up appearances – a well-tended neighbourhood is less attractive to criminals and vandals
- get involved in crime prevention – join Block Watch, a program that brings concerned citizens and police together to reduce crime in neighbourhoods
Suspicious Activity? Call 911
One of the most useful tools for crime prevention is to call 911. Many people believe that the police do not want to be called if something suspicious is happening, but this is not so. When in doubt, call the police. Here are some situations in which you would call 911:
- unusual noises, such as someone screaming for help
- a vehicle that seems to be "casing" the neighbourhood
- furniture being removed from homes when the owners are on vacation or at work
- an abandoned car
- a stranger looking into homes or parked cars
- unusual activities of pets, such as a dog barking that is normally quiet
- a salesperson going door to door who doesn't have proper identification
Installing an electronic home security system is one of the most popular methods of protecting your home. One drawback is that the vast majority of residential entry alarms are false, which is a waste of valuable police resources, as well as reducing the integrity of the system. (See the VPD's False Alarm Reduction Program for more information on false alarms.)
An alarm system is intended to detect a burglary, but it will not necessarily prevent one. A system is only as good as its user and should be installed along with good physical security reinforcement, like deadbolt locks, adequate lighting, secure basement windows and strong exterior doors.
There are two types of alarms: monitored and unmonitored. An unmonitored alarm may mean you rely on your neighbours to call the police, which may or may not happen. As for a monitored alarm, it is possible for thieves to cut the phone lines before they enter, which disables the alarm. Speak to an alarm company representative about obtaining a system, which does not use the telephone wires to send its signal to the alarm company or consider installing a telephone line shield, which protects the phone line. All monitored alarm systems are serviced by an intermediate private company prior to any notification of police.
There are numerous alarm companies with various features from which to choose, but when you are looking for an alarm company you should consider the following:
- ask for recommendations from friends that have alarm systems or from your insurance agent
- how long has the company been in business?
- how many service facilities do they have?
- do they possess adequate liability insurance?
- are their employees bonded?
- obtain detailed quotes and system information from at least three alarm companies prior to making your decision
- you can also check with the Canadian Alarm and Security Association, or the Better Business Bureau
Apartment Building Security
- refer unknown or suspicious people trying to get into the building to the manager, superintendent or security
- do not allow strangers to enter the building as you are leaving or entering
- cooperate with all other tenants in keeping the main outer doors locked at all times
- do not buzz anyone into the building that you were not expecting or do not know
- use only your first initial (not your full first name) on the lobby directory, doorbell, mailbox and phone directory
- do not leave notes on your apartment door or on the lobby directory
- change locks if keys are lost or if you move
- if you see a stranger carrying items out of a neighbours apartment, call 911
- look to see who's in the elevator before entering
- if there is someone in the elevator that makes you uncomfortable, wait for the next one
- when you are in the elevator, stand beside the control panel
- if a suspicious person enters the elevator, exit before the doors close
Away? Create the Illusion of Occupancy
If you are going on vacation or are going to be away from your home or apartment for several days, create the illusion that someone is occuppying your residence.
- If you are going on vacation, leave your home in the care of someone you trust and let them know where you can be reached in case of emergency.
- Arrange to have your mail and newspapers picked up, your grass cut, the leaves raked or the snow removed as necessary.
- Have a neighbour check both inside and outside the house every few days.
- Use timers on interior lights when you are going to be away or just out for the evening. These can be set to turn the lights and radio or television on and off intermittently to give the appearance that someone is home. Don't worry about driving up the cost of your electricity bill – it only costs about $0.75 per month.
- Have a neighbour park their car in your driveway or your designated parking stall. If you have a garage, keep the door closed and locked so no one can see if your car is gone.
- Turn the ringer on your telephone off or set your answering machine or voicemail to pick up on the second ring and do not leave specific information about your absence.
- Install security lights around the perimeter of your house. They are relatively inexpensive and are a great deterrent, especially if they are set with motion detectors. If you already have non-motion lights, battery operated add-on motion sensors exist that simply screw into the existing light socket and mount near the fixture.
- Never leave a note or a voicemail message indicating you are not at home.
- Leave shades, blinds and curtains in normal positions.
- Do not share your vacation plans in social media, like Facebook and Twitter.
Police officers and employees in security-related fields refer to securing your residence as 'target hardening.' Considering that in almost half of all residential burglaries thieves simply breezed in through unlocked doors and windows, we need to address target hardening.
Look at your yard and neighbourhood areas from a burglar's point of view. Trim trees and bushes that could hide them. Pay particular attention to trees growing near your house. Could a burglar climb a tree to get onto the roof and enter through an unlocked upper story window?
Also, make sure that emergency personnel can easily see your address from the street, even at night.
Outside doors and frames should be made of solid wood or steel, which are harder to force open than hollow-core doors. Frames in outside doors should fit snugly (within 1/4 inch) against the door, and any glass around an outside door should be at least 40 inches from the lock or be unbreakable. To keep the door from being lifted off its track, limit clearance by installing screws or a plate that protrude down from the top track.
For added security you can also consider a floor mounted door stop. This is much more effective than a door chain, which is easily compromised with a good push.
Garage doors can also be secured using a lock on the inside of the door.
Hinges should be attached securely by screws that go through the door frame into the supporting stud, and are not exposed on the outside. Replace outside hinges with non-removable hinges that are available commercially.
To observe visitors, a wide angle viewer should be used instead of a chain lock, as they do not require you to open the door. Change your locks if keys are lost or when you move into a new residence.
Garages are a favourite target because they often have other valuables, such as power tools and bicycles in them.
- Secure garages windows with bars or plexiglass.
- The door between your house and attached garage should swing inward, be solid core and have a deadbolt lock.
- Keep your garage locked, even when you are at home.
- If the overhead garage door is roller and track operated, install a lock in the track to block the roller and disconnect your automatic garage door opener before you go on vacation.
- Secure your other garage doors with deadbolts.
- Install lights near your garage to keep the area lit. Also, leave your headlights on until you park in the garage.
- Consider having a remote control garage door opener installed, to allow you to stay in your car until you're inside and the door is secured, and be sure the overhead door closes completely after you drive into or out of your garage.
Door security locks with key holes in the knob are unreliable, as they can easily be forced. Deadbolts should be used instead on all exterior doors, as the bolt can not be slipped with a card or tool, but can only be disengaged with a key. The minimum length of the throw should be 1 in. or 2.5 cm, and the surrounding collar of the deadbolt should be made of good quality material or have a freely rotating slip ring so that it can not be crushed or twisted. A strike plate, which is the flat metal plate on the door frame that receives the locks throw or bolt, should be 6-8 in. or preferably longer and installed with long screws that pass through the door frame and into the wall stud. Deadbolts provide good to excellent security depending on the quality.
Another type of bolt that can be used is the bolt rim lock, which has two vertically moving deadbolts that lock into a frame mounted striker above and below the door. These locks are suitable for wooden frames or where there are windows on the sides of the door preventing proper installation of a deadbolt. These locks provide good to excellent security, depending on the quality, and are more resistant to crowbars.
A system that is often found in older homes is the rim deadbolt lock. These are the simple sliding locks that are surface mounted on the interior of the door, and are easy to install but are poor security if simple screws are used. This type of lock should be updated with for better security.
Two more modern types of locks are the push button rim-locks and digitally coded deadbolts. A push button rim-lock features a keyless lock, opened by entering the correct combination on the numbered entry pad. This type of lock is popular in commercial applications but can be used in a residential setting as well. Keep in mind that the security code should be changed regularly so the number pad does not wear out from overuse. Digitally coded deadbolt systems with keypad or electronic remote are more expensive, but can be fitted to existing openings. They operate in the same manner as the traditional deadbolt system, but the locking mechanism can be activated without keys using an electronic remote. These systems can be of great benefit to seniors or people with disabilities.
To further add to the already increased security offered by a good quality deadbolt lock, the addition of a steel reinforcement device to both the door and frame greatly increases strength. Such a system is cost effective and simple to install.
Windows are generally a weak link when it comes to residential security. They can be pried open or broken, lifted from their tracks and the panes removed. There are numerous ways to increase the security to windows, all you have to do is conduct a simple survey of the existing windows by asking yourself the following questions:
- What are the weak points?
- What is the access from the ground, porch, roof, tree, fire escape, ledge?
- Is the glass shatter resistant?
- What is the state of repair of the sash and frame?
- Are the locking mechanisms functional and are they engaged?
- Is the surrounding area well lit at night?
Here are some methods of adding security to window sets:
- Any window that is not to be used as a fire exit can simply be secured by nailing or screwing it permanently closed or adding security bars.
- Vertical sliding (double hung) or horizontally sliding windows can be secured with a nail, metal pin or specially designed lock.
- Windows with keyless latches, such as casement and awning windows can be secured by simply replacing the keyless latch with a keyed latch or keyed slide bolt. An alternative to fixing a keyless latch is to simply drill a hole through the latch and inserting a removable pin.
- Sashless or semi-sashed windows can be blocked closed with a piece of wood fit snugly into the bottom track to prevent sliding and a small screw drilled into the top track to prevent it from being lifted.
- Fixed picture windows, vision panels (including small paned) and skylights are not designed to be opened, providing good security. Most thieves have no interest in breaking these windows as they take time and cause too much noise.
- Basement windows can be secured by using grillwork, guards and bar mechanisms, which can be installed with one way screws, pins or padlocks. Ensure that at least one window can be opened for possible escape and that all basement windows in bedroom areas are operable for safety reasons. Another method of adding security to the glazing (glass area) of a window is to apply a shatter resistant film which strengthens the glass area should it be attacked.
- Glass areas can also be covered or even replaced with Lucite (high impact acrylic sheeting) which can survive attack without being broken unless very extreme force is used which will usually take too much time and cause too much noise.
For more information on door, garage, lock and window security, see your local locksmith.
- If you have recently purchased a television, stereo or other household item, do not throw the empty boxes in the alley garbage.
- Never hide keys outside, whether in a bush or in a flower pot. Burglars know where to find “secret” hiding places. Its much better to leave a key with a trusted neighbour.
- When you are in the backyard, lock the front door and vice versa.
- When inside, it is a good idea to keep your doors locked.
- Consider keeping your blinds and / or curtains closed at night because people can see in and you cant see out.
- Always lock up ladders and tools. Don't give a burglar the resources to break into your home.
- Window air conditioning units should be bolted to the wall to prevent them from being easily removed from the outside.
- When moving to a new home, hire a reliable locksmith to re-key all exterior doors. If possible, have the locksmith make the key to fit all locks.
- Keep emergency numbers near your phone for quick access.
- Be cautious about providing any information regarding yourself or your neighbours over the phone or in person.
- If you can't put your irreplaceable items in a safe or a safety deposit box, try to remove them from plain view if you are going out. Put them in a closed cupboard or hide them away.