A secure home equals peace of mind.

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By Paul Parcellin, Staff Writer

Crime rates have been on the decline for a number of years, but that doesn't mean that you can throw caution to the wind. Depending on which neighborhood you call home, crime, including burglary, may still be a concern. Here are some tips to help discourage burglars from entering your home.

Choose your neighborhood wisely. Before you commit to moving into a new neighborhood you'll want to ensure that you are not relocating to an area where there are a lot of housebreaks. Because of fair housing rules realtors are unable to make substantive comments about neighborhood safety. However, MSN provides some tips on locating a safe neighborhood. It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the immediate area where you plan to move as well as its surrounding neighborhoods.

Get the Statistics

Look at the numbers before you move in.

Seek out crime statistics to give you a picture of a neighborhood's safety before you buy a home there. You may have the perfect home picked out, but if it's in an area that has a higher than normal crime rate, particularly with housebreaks, then it may be time to start looking at other locations. You can get crime and safety information about your neighborhood at EveryBlock.com, CrimeReports.com and NeighborhoodScout.com.

Look online, check with police, municipal government or local newspapers. Depending on whether or not your police department shares crime statistics with the public, you can get a fairly detailed summary of the level of risks you may face if you choose to locate to that neighborhood. If local police do not share that information you might find that the mayor's office will. You can begin your search online. Some newspapers, such as The Los Angeles Times, publish local crime statistics online.

Speak with your potential neighbors and ask them questions about neighborhood safety, how effectively the area is policed and what sorts of problems, if any, residents have had with break-ins or crime in the streets. Chances are they will be able to give you insights that will be helpful in making up your mind about whether or not this is the right neighborhood for you.

Take a Walk

Walk through the neighborhood and the property that you are considering renting or buying and look for signs of break-ins, such as broken door jambs and doors. Also note whether your perspective place as well as your neighbors' homes have security equipment such as burglar alarms and bars on windows. This could indicate that the neighborhood has a crime problem.

If you are renting you should note that second floor apartments are usually safer than ground floor units, simply because it may be more difficult for thieves to take stolen items out of the building from the upper level. It's also less likely that a burglar would be able to enter your abode through a window higher than ground level. Generally, thieves will take whatever is easiest, and if you make it more difficult for them they will likely move on to an easier target.

Overall, thieves often prefer to break in through the door, and they will likely use a pry bar or a hard kick to pop it open. Surprisingly enough, a lot of doors can be opened just that easily. One defense against this kind of intrusion is to install kick-proof metal door jams. This will make your door a more solid obstacle that a thief may decide to abandon in favor of another less secure dwelling.

Use What You've Got

Upgraded locks can improve security.

One of the most basic crime deterrents that you can employ is to simply use the locks that are already installed. It may seem too obvious to mention, but a many homes are entered illegally through unlocked doors. Some feel that they live in a safe neighborhood so there's no need to lock doors, but unfortunately that is not the case. A report issued by Safeguard the World says that 30% of all burglaries take place in homes with unlocked windows or doors.

It's one thing to have locks on your doors and windows but it's another to make sure that they are being used. Make it a routine to check locks nightly to make sure that everything is locked up tight. The best locks will do no good if they aren't secured. Make it a ritual each night to check locks to ensure that no windows or doors are offering thieves an entryway to your home.

If your doors and windows are securely locked, you're on your way to preventing intruders from entering your home. But remember that you should never open the door for uninvited strangers. Burglars and home invaders will use ploys to get you to let them into your home, and the best way to protect yourself is to keep your doors closed and locked.

Beware of Contractors

If you hire workers to do repairs on your home, and it's a good idea to stay around when people are working on your house. That will allow you to keep an eye on what the workers are doing. Be sure to check that nothing is missing after they leave, and make sure that no one left a window or door unlocked so that they can gain re-entry at a later time. There are further safety measures you can take when hiring contractors.

Many will leave a door key under the mat or inside a fake rock, but there are the places a thief will look first when trying to gain access to your home. Don't leave door keys outside, no matter how cleverly you may think you've hidden them. Once a thief has the key to your door most other safety measures you've taken will be useless.

You may be able to get some help from the local police in better securing your home if they are willing to do a safety inspection on your home. With their experience dealing with housebreaks they may be able to spot vulnerabilities in your home security that thieves could prey on.

Neighborhood Watch

It's a good safety measure for neighbors to band together and keep an eye out for each other. So, it's probably a good idea to join a neighborhood watch program in your community, if one already exists. If your neighborhood does not have one you might think about starting one. Neighborhood watch programs help increase security and they offer you a chance to get to know others in your community.

One tried and true method of home protection is having a dog, and preferably one that makes a lot of noise when strangers approach. If you don't want to get a dog you can put up a "beware of dog" sign in your yard, and that can be as effective. If potential housebreakers think that you might have a dog they will likely try another home instead of yours.
Make your house number easily visible to police and firefighters. If police and emergency workers can't see the number of your house they will have a more difficult time responding if you need their help.

If you plan to be away from home for an extended period, you may want to consider measures to avoid tipping off burglars that you are away. You can disguise the fact that you're not home by having the post office hold your mail delivery and by using electric timers to turn lights and appliances on and off. If possible, leave your car or a relative's car in front of your home. That will make it less obvious that no one is home.

Secure Doors

Burglars often use a pry bar to break in.

Usually, burglars will use doors rather than windows whenever possible, so it may be a good idea to upgrade your locks and reinforce your doors' strike plates - the metal plate in the door jamb into which the bolt slides - to ensure that burglars can't easily break down your door or pry it open. And while you're at it, you might consider getting a heavy duty door that will resist a good deal of force.

As a safeguard against intrusion through your windows you can keep them from opening more than 6 inches. Use sheet metal screws in the window track to prevent windows from opening all the way and allowing burglars to enter. You might also try applying glass laminate films, which can toughen glass making it harder to break. It may not stop a burglar from entering your home but it will ensure that no one can get in that way without making a big racket.

Keeping your home's exterior well lit is a good safety measure as well as a crime deterrent. You might consider replacing porch and other outdoor lights with motion detector lights, which are effective and energy efficient, too.

Fencing Can Protect

Guarding your home and property is a bit easier if you put up a fence. A fenced off yard can prevent intruders from entering your property easily. It can also prevent passersby from looking in your windows and seeing what valuables you might have. You might also trim trees and shrubs to eliminate hiding spots on your property that burglars and muggers can take advantage of.

Burglar alarms are a good crime deterrent and getting one that can emit a long, loud burst of sound may be enough to scare away potential home breakers. Avoid putting out a lawn sign or widow decal stating your home alarm brand. That may make it easier for the thief to disarm your security system.