COMING HOME at one o'clock in the morning after working the "garbage" shift, you discover the door to your apartment is open. The place seems strangely empty. Where your television and stereo had once taken root, empty spaces now stare balefully back at you. Goodbye trusty typewriter! Fare thee well, faithful camera! Kidnapped by some stranger. You've been burglarized.
Thousands of burglaries occured in the Washington area last year. Arlington County recorded nearly 1,000 of them, making residential burglaries the county's "biggest major crime," said Brian Shelton of the Arlington police departmen's crime prevention section. The Metropolitan Area Council of Governments reports burglaries (including commercial break-ins) numbered more than 11,000 in the District of Columbia; more than 2,000 in Alexandria; nearly 6,000 in Montgomery County and more than 10,000 in Prince George's. That's a lot of goodbyes.
When it comes to securing the fort against such intrusions, apartment dwellers are in a special dilemma. Landlords are required to provide only the bare minimum for the security of their tenants. Providing a dead-bolt lock on the door and lights in the parking lot and hallways is about the extent of their responsibilities. Yet renters who don't feel safe need the landlord's permission to make alterations. What about locks on the windows? Or alarm systems? Or bars over ground-level openings? Such changes are not mentioned in the average lease. Most rental agreements venture no further than a few picture hangers on the wall. There's not much security in a Cezanne print.
Area officials who deal daily with tenant complaints sympathize. "You have a right to install additional security measures," says Nancy Johnson of the Arlington Landlord-Tenant Affairs Commission. But you need written permission first. Here's what area police say are the bare necessities to help keep prowlers away.
All doors should be equipped with a dead-bolt lock ($13-$23), the kind that requires turning a key or a knob to open from inside. Spring-bolt locks are picked faster than you can say "credit card" (which is what burgiars use to slip the holt. There are two types of dead-bolt locks: One has a bolt that moves horizontally, the other vertically. George Heinrich of the Monigomery County police suggests a horizontal bot with a one inch "throw," the length of bolt that enters the door frame.
Doors with glass, police say, should be equipped with a double-cylinder lock also dead-bolt, $17-$28) that requires use of a key from both the inside and the outside. Burglars cannot reach through the glass and simply turn the knob. Doors and door frames should be solid with all metal firmly fastened. And door hinges must be one the inside.
Locks for windows and sliding glass doors are a good idea. Double hung windows-the kind with two sections that move up and down-are easily breached, even when the latch is closed. One device ($3-$5) replaces the latch and is locked with a key. Another is a simple pin (called "fail safe," $3 for a set of six) or nail that fits into a hole drilled completely through the upper part of the top window and into the lower part of the top window frame. The pin, inserted, keeps the bottom window from being raised. With holes drilled in different spots, the windows can be completely shut or left partially opened for ventilation.
"Sliding glass doors present a particularly difficult problem," Heinrich says. "The locking devices on them are not very effictive." Which means some sliding glass doors are a regular laugh. Some can be lifted right out of their tracks.
Heinrich and others suggest the "charlie bar," ($7) a piece of dowling that is trimmed to the size of the door opening and holds the door shut when it is closed. Another of Heinrich's tips is to insert screws into the upper track so they protrude enough to prevent the doors being lifted out, yet allow them to move freely.
When locks do not suffice, there are window bars, unattractive as they are, which must be cut to fit each window ($10-$50 depending on size and installation). Some are fixed permanently shut with headless screws; others open on hinges. More attractive are wooden shutters that can be painted to match. But they must bolt from the inside and be made unremovable (by either defacing the head of the screw or using unremovable bolts) from without. Less conspicuous is special coated reinforced plastic ($5 and more per square foot) that, when screwed over the inside of openings, also provides extra insulation. (Consult your landlord and local fire codes on all these items.)
Electric alarm systems have made a hit lately. They do not fit into every budget ($50-$350 and up), and apartment dwellers usually must choose from among the wireless variety. ("Apartments are a special problem," says Hamid Kaber of Capitol Hill Alarms. "Where do you put the alarm bell?")
Edward Dezon of the District's burglary section cautions that once you have locks on everything, be sure you have an easy escape route in case of fire. Fire safety includes a one-key-fits-all-locks approach and a smoke detector.
Burglary, police officials say, is an illness that must be treated before it occurs. "Is your apartment easier to break into than your neighbor's?" asks Mike Bicholson of Alexandria's crime prevention unit. "If it is, you better do something about it."
Nicholson and others speak of "creating the illusion that someome is home." Even persistent creepers will pass you by if they think breaking into your place will cause too much noise and attract attention.
Hang a lot of plants in front of the windows. Put pottery and things that will crash and go "boom" near the sills. Keep a transistor radio going (not a TV or tube radio-they can cause fires). Don't put your full name (use initials) on the mail box or in the telephone directory. Make sure mail doesn't pile up in your mailbox. Buy electric timers ($6-$7) to turn on lights and appliances when you aren't around. Keep a big, firece-looking dog that snarls uninvitingly at people who go "thump, thump." Be creatively sneaky. Confuse.
If you are worried about losing your valuables to a stranger in the night, call your local police station about Operation Identification. Residents can check out an electric engraving unit (no charge at police stations and many area libraries) and mark all their appliances with a number, usually driver's license or Social Security. The owner compiles a complete list who put it in their computer, and keeps one for himself-in a safety deposit box, for instance.
Burglary victims should not have too much hope of recovering stolen items. Police officials readily admit that chances for recovery are slim at best and that the day when investigators can come into a burgled apartment, sniff out a fingerprint, plug it into a computer and find the perpetrator is still far away in TV land somewhere. But with the ID numbers you have a chance at least. And you can't claim stolen property anyway unless you can positively prove it's yours. The records will also enable you to prove insurance claims.
Persons who participate in Operation Identification receive window decals. The decal warns potential burglars to stay away or risk walking out with really hot items. Joseph Gentile, public information officer for D.C. police, recalls cases where whole the apartments displaying the warning left untouched.
Apartments are particulary vulnerable, police say, partly because so many apartment dwellers don't even know their neighbors. Prior to a recent Arlington burglary of a ground-level apartment in a middle-class residential neighborhood, the suspect was seen knocking on all the doors. Nobody said anything.
Area police departments have formed a condortium called PACT (Police and Citizens Together) to involve citizens more in the prevention of burglaries. "People are coming to the conclusion," says Dezon, "that they have to get together. . . that they have to cooperate to make it."
Area residents can call their local police department and have officers sent out to perform a "security survey" of an individual apartment, or to address neighborhood groups and apartment dwellers on how they can organize to prevent burglaries.
Where security checks and changes have been made, a noticeable drop in the number of burglaries has followed. In Arlington, for instance, the chances of a home participating in the program being burglarized are about one in 200, compared to about one in 50 for those that do not.
Police urge neighbors to get together and introduce themselves. Statistics show burglaries occur about twice as often during the day as during the night: In 1977, nighttime burglaries numbered 2,073 in the District, compared to 5,172 committed during the day. Not everbody has to leave their apartment for work every day, police say. Neighbors should find out who stays home. Elect them "block captain." Have them check things over now and gain while everyone else is away.
Most of the hardware mentioned above can be obtained at the larger hardware-lumber outlets. While much burglar-proofing can be do-it-yourself, James Edward Keogh and John Koster wisely suggest in changes, such as making holes for locks, be done by competent craftsmen. You can botch a good door if you don't know what you're doing.
More information is available from the local police departments: 840-2585 for Montgomery County; 336-8800 in Prince George's; 558-2976 in Arlington; 750-6408 in Alexandria; 691-2131 in Fairfax County. D.C. residents should call their local precinct. CAPTION: Picture, "Now tell us about your burglary.", Drawing by Koren; Copyright (c) 1978 The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.