Is your home safe

Approaches to home security fall into two main categories: those that provide peace of mind and those that reduce the risk of burglary.

The first step is hands-on and completely free.

The message every homeowner needs to hear when it comes to home security, according to law enforcement, is keep bushes and trees trimmed. Don Edwards, an officer in the Springfield, Ill. Police Department’s Crime Prevention Unit, says overgrown trees and bushes create one of the most common home-security problems.

Overgrowth can prevent streetlights from illuminating your home, obstruct a clear view of the property by patrolling police cars, provide cover for intruders and block neighbors’ line of sight. It also can cover a house number, which will slow service from emergency vehicles should the need arise.

Easy fix: Trim the trees and bushes so the property is entirely visible from the street and no windows, porches or doors are concealed.

Step two is to shed light on dark areas. A motion-detector light on the back door, driveway leading to the garage, back and upstairs windows, and any other dark spots increases a homeowner’s visibility of the property. It also signals to an intruder, Edwards says, “The neighbors can see me, I’d better go.”

Step three is to inspect a residence for accessibility, particularly the second floor. Edwards describes one home he visited where, because of the proximity of the pool deck to the porch roof, an intruder could easily climb up and enter the home through a second-floor bedroom window.

Sturdy doors and locks are important security features, Edwards says, because most burglaries are by forced entry. A high-quality metal lock and strike plate, a 1-inch deadbolt, 3-inch screws and even re-keying the lock are important features of a secure door. The door itself should be solid, with no glass or hollow core.

Edwards recommends that all homeowners participate in Neighborhood Watch, a no-cost program where neighbors take time to get to know each other and agree to watch each other’s property for suspicious activity. He calls Neighborhood Watch “the eyes and ears for the police department.”

As for an electronic security system, Scott Parker of Central Illinois Security says the first consideration is what you’re looking for — peace of mind when in the home, or added security when away.

A basic system includes sensors on the perimeter doors and any doors to an attached garage, interior motion detectors and 24-hour monitoring. When an alarm is sounded, if the homeowner can’t be reached for an “all clear,” the police are notified.

Home security systems can be armed whether the resident is at home or away, and can include battery backup during power failures, audible or silent alarms, a fire alarm and can even accommodate pets.

False alarms are a problem, though. If a door is left ajar, for example, and the homeowner arms the system and drives away, the alarm will go off. The best protection, Parker says, is to use reliable equipment, have it professionally installed and set, and do routine maintenance to ensure it is in good working order.

Want that peace of mind feeling without the monthly monitoring price tag? Radio Shack offers a do-it-yourself home security kit, the Plug’n Power Wireless Home Security System. The basic kit includes a motion detector, two window and door alarms, the main control panel and a key-chain remote operating control.

Bottom line: “Use common sense,” Edwards says. “Look for things which would make your house easy to break into. You can have a home-security survey, a security camera, dogs and a moat with alligators, and if someone wants to get in, someone’s going to get in.”

But if you make your home less attractive to a would-be burglar, he will probably move on.