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.