Constable Ingrid Hannah speaking about home security

Police counter the ‘CSI effect’ to protect homes

Tips to defend against break-ins in East York presented at library meeting

While East York residents need not be fearful that a break-in is likely to happen to their home, a little vigilance goes a long way towards security and prevention, Const. Ingrid Hannah says.

Hannah spoke to residents when Toronto Police Division 54 held a presentation at S. Walter Stewart Library on Oct. 2.

“The first step is clearing up misconceptions,” Hannah said. “I call it the CSI effect. People watch Hollywood shows and think they know how things work.”

Although police dramas may depict some aspects of the job accurately, they aslo glamorize crimes, making them more entertaining than realistic, Hannah said.

“Break-ins in East York are not very sophisticated. Many think that criminals are casing out homes but that isn’t true. These are crimes of opportunity here, they almost always happen between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m., when people are at work, but before lunch.”

Hannah teaches the best thing a homeowner can do is create visible signs of traffic around a home. Criminals won’t approach if it’s clear that people come and go frequently, they’re even less inclined to do so if they think someone is inside.

Const. Hannah’s easy home security tips:

  1. Make your presence known when there’s a knock on your door. If you don’t feel comfortable addressing the person, you can turn up a radio or TV and pretend you didn’t hear the knock.
    • This is how most home invasions begin. The method is simple and effective. “If the homeowner answers the door the criminal will ask to speak to someone and leave when told they have the wrong house. If no one answers then they will proceed to the back or side of a home, to avoid being seen from the street,” Hannah said.
  2. Turn on lights when you return home from work and travel overnight.
    • “Especially during fall and winter, the average person won’t come home and sit in the dark. In the rare cases where break-ins happen at night, the criminals are looking for homes that look dark and unoccupied,” Hannah said.
  3. Over long terms, ensure that mail is removed regularly.
    • “I once had a victim tell me that she kept her mailbox full of flyers so people wouldn’t bring more,” Hannah said. “I told her that’s exactly what burglars look for. It looked like she hadn’t been home in eons.”
  4. Maintain your yard frequently
    • Not only will this also make the home look lived-in, but reducing obstructions between your house and the street eliminates cover that burglars look for. “Keep hedges below three feet, and keep trees trimmed above six feet,” Hannah said. “I’ve done this for the city as well. Call 311 to have them trim city trees that are obstructing lights or windows.”

While most of this advice may sound like common sense, Hannah emphasized that many homeowners don’t watch for these details.

Last winter, Observer reported a string of break-ins in East York cars and homes. In June, Global reported a home invasion spike in nearby division 42, in which criminals used the exact techniques described by Hannah.

She also offered advice that may be counterintuitive. Movies show us criminals breaking into homes in secluded neighbourhoods, but in East York the opposite happens.

“These people are good criminals, but aren’t very smart otherwise. Most of the time their judgement is impaired by drugs,” Hannah said. “Target houses are often on busy streets, the criminals are probably travelling between their home and their dealer when they choose a place.”

Const. Hannah noted that this makes corner-lots more likely candidates to be picked, because traffic passes them on two side. The tips above are even more crucial for corner-lots.

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Escutcheon plates are metal braces that extend further into the body of a door than a doorknob alone would.

Final steps that can be taken to increase security include upgrading your doors. Ensure that strike plates have four inch screws securing them not only to the door frame, but to a stud. Escutcheon plates also strengthen the door around handle and lock.

Of course, the best security will always come from alarm systems but, if that solution is too costly, Hannah recommends simply placing a sign in your yard.

“You can use your imagination and make one yourself,” Hannah said. “Sometimes the sign is even safer than the alarm. I had a woman remove her sign because she didn’t like the look of it. When a burglar did break in the alarm scared him away, but by that point the crime had already happened.”