"The main thing a burglar wants," says Anthony S. Murray, a crime prevention officer for the District of Columbia police, "is to get in as quickly as possible."
"If it takes him more than 60 seconds," says Murray, who is one of about 20 District officers who offer free security evaluations of both private homes and businesses, "he'll go someplace else."
The idea, then, is to "make it harder for him to get in."
As simple as it sounds, one of the most important things you can do is make sure your doors and windows are locked. "Probably 80 percent" of burglaries, says Murray, occur when a window or door has been left unlocked.
In a 45-minute inspection of a recently burgled Washington home, Murray advised taking these additional steps to increase security:
Trim bushes and other growth from in front of windows.
Install timing switches that can turn on lights, TV and radio while you are away. "Lighting is the cheapest form of security."
Install backyard lighting.
Strengthen doors that have thin decorative panels by screwing thin sheets of steel behind the panels.
Secure windows. One possibility for particularly vulnerable windows are metal bars, but he personally does not like them. "They give you the feeling you're living in a cage."
A less-expensive alternative are see-through sheets of Lexan "protect-a-glaze" plastic that can be screwed over the window opening on the inside. They can also be installed over glass doors.
For less-accessible double-hung windows, he advises inserting pins or nails.
This involves drilling a hole through the lower sash and into the upper sash. Such window pins can come with locks.
Buy "high-security" door locks. This is especially true for doors hidden from the neighbor's view. If the door has substantial amounts of glass, it should be locked inside and outside with a key.
Install door-hinge security studs. Do so particularly if the hinges are on the outside, to prevent a burglar from loosening them to get in.
Install a 190-degree door peephole.
Under its "Operation Identification" program, D.C. police also will engrave your Social Security number on your personal property.
Murray says he tries to make his advice "cost-effective" -- the best security for the least amount of money. Other area jurisdictions offer similar home-security evaluations.
So far as he knows, said Murray when asked, D.C. Police Chief Burtell Jefferson -- whose home was broken into recently -- had not had such a check.