Keeping thieves out of your home can be as simple as keeping porch lights on all night or as elaborate as installing ceiling-to-floor passive infrared heat detectors throughout the house.
Whatever the method, crime prevention experts, security systems salesmen and even a couple of ex-burglars agree, that with a little effort, you could prevent your home from being burglarized.
"The average burglar is not a professional," said Officer Tara Ball of the Howard County Police Crime Prevention Unit. "They make crimes out of opportunity. The highest number of entries is through unlocked doors and windows. The day you don't lock them is when they come in."
Ball recommends dead-bolt locks on all exterior doors; a charlie bar -- a flip-down bar that holds the door in place and makes it immobile -- on sliding patio doors; and an additional back-up lock, such as a dead-bolt drilled into the framework.
The cheapest way toinstall the locks, she said, is to drill a hole through the first set of doors and 3/4 of the way into the second set where both doors meet, but she recommends extra caution when drilling into glass.
For double-hung windows, homeowners should drill a hole through the first set and 3/4 of the way into the second. Locks can be added to sliding windows.
In his book, "Secrets Of A Superthief," Jack MacLeanprefers steel over wooden doors, a peephole offering a 180-degree view, and storm shutters on all windows.
Ball and MacLean both recommend outside lighting -- continuous burning or motion-sensored, wherethe light does not go on until someone walks in its path.
MacLeanalso urges homeowners to keep expensive cars in the garage and keep the garage locked.
"Once a burglar has gained entry . . . he is now well-concealed and can stay as long as he wants. More than likely the home owner's tools are right there ready for the burglar's use."
Electronic garage door openers are another "security enhancement," said Ball.
Homeowners also should trim back shrubs and trees that are blocking doors and windows, providing cover for would-be burglars.
Ball said it is essential to give the impression there is "activity" within the home. She urged the use of dim lighting even after bedtime. "It's not necessary to have brights," she said.
Malcolm X, a one-time burglar, recommended the use of lights to thwart potentialintruders in his book, "The Autobiography of Malcolm X":
"One of the ideal things is to leave a bathroom light on all night. The bathroom is one place where somebody could be, for any length of time, at any time of the night, and he would be likely to hear the slightest strange sound.
"The burglar, knowing this, won't try to enter. It'salso the cheapest protection. The kilowatts are a lot cheaper than your valuables."
But the home is more at risk when no one is there,said Harold Koudelka, sales manager of Austronic Burglar Alarms in Columbia, and a former Maryland state trooper.
"Most thefts occur during the day, when the home is empty. Most couples work and that leaves the whole neighborhood vulnerable."
Burglars stake out their victims several ways, he said. To see if people are home, they may make a series of phone calls, then hang up; come to the front door and pretend to ask for directions; or just sit and watch a neighborhood.
"They have a feel that house is ripe to go after," Koudelka said.
Ball recommends the use of electric timers for lamps when people are out of the house for any length of time, which also ensures that "people won't come into a darkened home."
For homeowners on extendedtrips, it's important that "things don't look the same all the time," Koudelka said.
"Every other day, have a neighbor open one curtain and another day, another, move a flag on the flagpole up or down, or move a bike sitting in the yard to another area, just so everythinglooks different from day to day," he said.
Homeowners who want more complex security measures can purchase a home security system costing anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to $15,000, depending on the size of the home and what the homeowner would like the system to do. Most average between $800 to $1,400.
A security system is a "security advantage," Ball said, and suggests homeowners get three estimates and check each company's reputation.
County residents alsocan call the county patrol division at 313-2208 and ask a police officer to check if the home's service is adequate.
Security systems offer protection against intruders who try to enter the house by breaking a window, or prying open windows and doors. Magnetic contacts, or switches for anything that opens, will set off an alarm.
"You don't want to use a contact sensitive to touch because it leaves open too many false alarms," Koudelka explained.
Foil strips taped to windows will register for breaking glass. But most companies prefer glass guards since "tapes may eventually break," said Tom Eckes, owner of the 10-year-old TNT Security Alarm Systems company in Ellicott City.
Glass guards include devices that bond to glass or sonics that "listen" for breaking of glass. Screens also can be connected to alarms and are useful in areas where residents want to keep a window open for ventilation, such as the kitchen.
If an intruder manages to get by the contacts, ultrasonic and microwave motion detectors can be used as back-ups -- so if a door is opened, a sensor will go off.
"The key is, that when someone does get in an opening, to stop them because they're in the house," Koudelka said. "You want to prevent themfrom having free reign of the house."
One of the more hi-tech back-ups is the Passive Infra-Red (PIR) heat detectors that sense rapid changes in temperature.
Seventeen wide-angle beams focus on 50 feet by 50 feet, while four to five beams forming a closer pattern may cover 75- to 100-foot areas. One PIR can cover two or three rooms, depending on how open they are, since beams cannot penetrate doors or walls.
There are some PIR systems that feature motion detectors and can be used outdoors, said Eckes.
For homes with pets, there is "Pet Alley," a system allowing beams to be adjusted three feet off the ground. "Cats are a different problem because they like to jump," said Eckes. "You have be selective with where you put the beams."
He also urges homeowners to put locks on phone boxes, as most burglars cut telephone lines at the side of the home where the wires enter through the wall.
Security systems also provide central monitoring, soif an alarm does go off, police will be dispatched to the home.
"We recommend silent alarms outside with a speaker inside the home because people outside don't respond," Eckes said. "They assume it's a false alarm."
MacLean, who also advises against indoor silent alarms, writes, "The major point here is that you want to scare the burglar. You want all that noise!" But, he said, "a few burglars have told me that they'd set an alarm off until the police wouldn't come, and then just walk into the house."
He also suggests that the alarm company replace the white or green bulb on the keypad indicating the system is off with a red one indicating it's on. "This way they'll both be red. Only you will know whether right or left, top or bottom is the 'on' position. It'll drive a burglar crazy."
Deterrents are highly touted by MacLean, especially the "visual signs" of an alarm system. "The most effective part of the system is the little decal that announces its presence," he writes.
That, coupled with foil taped tothe windows that may not even be wired, will give a burglar second thoughts. "Both these items tell a burglar that an alarm system is working here -- even if you don't have an alarm system."
Similarly, you don't actually need to own a dog, writes MacLean, to give the impression that there is a dog or some monstruous beast protecting the hearth.
"Mind games are 10 times stronger than locks will ever be . . . you've got to display some mental deterrents around your home that could make a burglar fear for his life. (A) dog dish (about two feet in diameter) -- or just a few huge bones left lying by a door -- tell him there's some potential danger inside in a very specific way."
MacLean, of course, favors real dogs, citing Dobermans and pit bulls as the most dreaded. He does maintain though, that small dogs can pack quite a wallop with their barking.
"Although they rarely keptme away, there is something about a living, growling dog that sends a burglar running."
But even the best security measures aren't foolproof.
If, even after precautions are taken, a burglary occurs, police remind homeowners they will have a better chance of recovering their stolen property if valuables have been engraved with license numbers.