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The Home Guru: Thinking About the Unthinkable, The Home Invasion

It's frightening to consider the possibility of a home invasion, but as they occur more frequently in the region, homeowners must have a plan to protect their families from intruders.

How vividly I remember that morning when my wife and I arose at 4:30 a.m. as usual to accommodate a three-hour commute each way for an extended marketing assignment I had in another city. Drowsily my wife said, “I had a dream that there was a man standing by our bed just staring at us.” My wife frequently shared her odd dreams with me, so I thought nothing of it.

But when she went downstairs to prepare breakfast, I heard a scream, and bounding down the steps totally unclothed, I found that our front door to the street was wide open and our back door had been removed from its hinges. Indeed, there was an intruder watching us in our bed as we slept.

As we investigated further, we found that he was with us a long time, roaming from room to room in search of cash. Every single book in our library had been leafed through and every drawer and closet had been opened and rifled through. He even helped himself to snacks from our kitchen cabinets.

Most horrifying to discover, the thief had gone into our young daughter’s room and stole a silver piggy bank with lose change. This knowledge paralyzed me with both terror and rage.

In retrospect and because no harm came to us, it may have been better that we didn’t wake up. Who knows what I would have done, or what the intruder would have done? One thing I know for sure: I was totally unprepared to deal with a home invasion, defined as a break-in when the residents are home.

This is one of those things none of us ever wants to think about, but since that event, I’ve thought about it a great deal, especially as home invasions seem to have followed us to suburban living with more frequency. It’s one thing to read the famous home invasion true story, “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote or to read about the tragic case in Cheshire, Connecticut, where a physician’s wife and two daughters were murdered, but when home invasions come closer to home, like the one in Hastings just last month, it’s time to address the possibility, no matter how remote it might be statistically.

Any home invader is not on the premises to socialize. During the course of the crime, owners are tied up, beaten, sometimes sexually assaulted and sometimes killed. What can we do to protect ourselves?

The question really is, what should we have done in advance to avoid an occurrence, according to Chris E. McGoey, a crime prevention expert with whom I spoke recently. “Once an intruder is in your home, it’s late to wonder what to do,” he said, “but typically there are three basic responses – you can resist the assault, comply with all commands, or try to flee as the scenario evolves. The choice is personal, based on your own assessment of your physical and mental capabilities and your belief as to the level of eminent danger.

“The better approach is to build physical barriers in layers, starting with the perimeter of the house whose four sides should be fortified from the ground up, securing all doors and windows,” he continued, “but most intruders just come through the front door, with the owner letting them in!” There should be a family plan that no one gets in unless there is a phone call first from someone you know.”

Surprisingly, most of us who live in the suburbs don’t have security systems in our homes. But such systems have become more affordable as they become more sophisticated. At one time it was all by electric connections at windows and doors, but now motion detection has entered the mix.

That’s fine if you’re not home, but most people come home and turn off the entire security system. A relatively new option, according to Trevor McEnaney of Knight Security systems, is the “stay” feature which disarms the motion detection while maintaining the alarms on windows and doors. “Also, there is a panic feature on both the panel and on a hand held device, with the alarm going directly to the police station,” he advised.   

I had difficulty asking the question foremost in my mind. What is the risk for a homeowner who finds it necessary to kill an intruder? I asked it of Detective Sean Lewis in my local who specializes in crime prevention.

He responded, “In such a situation, New York State Criminal Procedure Law says that the home owner is not obliged to retreat.” That’s my answer: stand firm and protect yourself and your family with whatever means necessary.

But again, Detective Lewis advised that we employ all preventative measures to avoid that situation, starting with a “Neighborhood Watch’ program, announced on street corners with signage. He suggested that homeowners call their local police stations to inquire about participating in the program.

My own personal tips: keep a can of hornet spray by each door. It features a focused trajectory of over 20 feet. Forget the pepper spray. You’d have to come too close to the intruder for it to be effective.

To know more about security options, Knight Security Systems can be reached at 914-232-0003.

Eventually my wife and I recovered from the trauma of the home invasion we experienced years ago by preparing ourselves and our home appropriately. One resulting lifestyle change: from that night forward, I never again went to bed in the buff.

Bill Primavera is a Licensed Realtor® and an Accredited Commercial Agent affiliated with Coldwell Banker who writes regularly as The Home Guru. Visit his website at: www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com and, if you would like to consult with him about buying or selling a home, contact him directly at 914-522-2076.

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Jeanne Gilholm February 11, 2012 at 01:55 PM
Good article and one to read and heed. The cost of a good security system is a lot less than the cost of repairing the damage and loss of your valuables, not to mention any physical harm to you and your loved ones.
William Primavera February 11, 2012 at 04:52 PM
Exactly. And although our crime rate is very low, who wants to take the chance?
Walden Macnair February 11, 2012 at 07:33 PM
Good article William, As a security professional and former law enforcement officer I think everyone should use this article as a starting point. Thanks for reminding the good guys they sometimes need to watch out for themselves.
Jeanne Gilholm February 11, 2012 at 07:50 PM
Back in 1995, an ex-con, newly out on parole, smashed in our rear sliding door, but couldn't get into our home because of a stick (that the former owner used and left there) we kept in the floor track. We were out at the time and found a mess when we got home. That simple item saved us a lot of heartache. We have a security system as well, put in after that episode.
Yorktown Tattler February 13, 2012 at 12:39 AM
Mr. Primavera, while I usually love all of your articles here, this piece alarmed me. Don't we have enough to worry about? Do you really think the statistics of home invasions in the region show that we need this kind of fear mongering?
Issy February 13, 2012 at 01:07 AM
Security systems make you a prisoner in your own homes, get a dog instead, a lot cheaper and healthier.
William Primavera February 13, 2012 at 01:20 AM
You're correct, Issy, dogs can be a great deterrent to intruders. Unfortunately, a thief who really wants to get in to a home may come prepared to kill a dog, which is what happened to one of my neighbors when I lived in Brooklyn.
William Primavera February 13, 2012 at 01:49 AM
Tattler, true, home invasions are infrequent in our immediate area, thank God, but they do happen, and they've been happening more frequently. Because of the heinous nature of this crime, I think it's wise for everybody to be aware of the safeguards they should be taking.
Issy February 13, 2012 at 02:19 AM
While that is unfortunate, the time it takes to kill a dog, gives a homeowner enough time to escape or give the alarm to the police. It should also be said that any thief not deterred by a dog is unlikely to be deterred by anything short of a bullet in their head.
Jeanne Gilholm February 13, 2012 at 03:33 AM
Dear Y.T., Please be alarmed by the article. You really should be. It does happen here and most other places. Just once is enough to alarm me. With the recent recession, and with so many people in need of money for whatever purpose, we should be on our toes. Stay safe. It's a horrible feeling when some stranger has invaded your home.
JJ February 13, 2012 at 07:30 PM
This is a good article and an attitude like yours is exactly what these "creatures" look for. Keep those rose colored glasses on and you'll be a "victim" for sure. Better to be aware of your surroundings (They call it SITUATIONAL AWARENESS) than to hope that these "creatures" will select the next victim other than you. Good luck Lady.

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