Stopping Home Invasions at the Door

By Matthew Harwood

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal alerted readers to the increasing threat of home invasion robberies against the very rich. While the story recommended many solutions to reduce the likelihood of a home invasion, the most practical solutions were nowhere to be found, an ASIS member tells Security Management.

“One of the things that kind of concerned me with the article,” says Officer Michael D Betten, CPP, of the Overland Park Police Department in Kansas City, Missouri, “was the lack of the mention of any physical security measures designed to keep somebody out.” The article, he says, gave too much importance to solutions that detect the presence of an intruder without mentioning measures to prevent an intruder from entering a home.

Three attack scenarios are most common in a home invasion. An intruder can forcibly enter the home, can use deception—such as disguising himself as a maintenance man—or can rush a homeowner as he or she is entering or leaving the home. Unlike burglars, who try to avoid contact with occupants by breaking into their homes when they are absent, an intruder actually seeks to confront the home’s occupant. He believes he can steal more by questioning and intimidating them or because he wants to physically assault them.

Betten and the Overland Park Police Department became interested in home invasions after four women were sexually assaulted during a string of invasions in 1996. While the predator was eventually caught and convicted, the police department decided to test its recommendations for preventing a home invasion.

“We realized at that point in time that the vast majority of the stuff we were recommending didn’t work or had never been tested,” says Betten.

They discovered that it’s wiser to start with physical security measures first, before moving on to more sophisticated, and more expensive, electronic solutions. He says homeowners should consider two physical measures: reinforced doors and security glazing.

Home invaders may attempt to kick in a door to gain access because doors that are not reinforced give way easily under repeated assaults. Betten suggests a product called the JambBrace (you can see a demonstration here).


There are more sophisticated reinforced door technologies that integrate a door contact and a shock sensor with an alarm system. A reinforced door equipped with an alarm, says Betten, presents the intruder with a dilemma: “Should I continue my attack or abandon it since I’m not in the house yet?”

Home invaders can also enter a home by breaking a window, which is why security glazing is a good option for homeowners. Security glazing consists of two panes of glass with a plastic inner layer that makes it difficult for an intruder to break. Most homeowners, Betten says, need only install security glazing on their most vulnerable windows, usually the first level of their home.

While Betten believes that more technologically sophisticated security solutions can complement physical security measures, there are many problems associated with them. Alarm systems, when triggered, usually respond by using the home’s phone line to alert the company’s central monitoring station. Betten says this can be unsafe because it prevents a homeowner from calling 9-1-1, the best way to get help quickly. (Of course, many homeowners now have a cell phone they could use for that.)

Another problem is that nearly all alerts turn out to be false alarms. The problem has become so widespread that many municipalities charge homeowners for responding to false alarms. Betten says that  many homeowners have chosen to turn their alarm systems off to avoid alerting the police unnecessarily. Betten’s police department charges as much as $250 for each response to a false alarm.

For these reasons, he says, homeowners should start with physical security measures first and then move up to more sophisticated systems. An alarm system can detect a threat, but it’s always better to prevent an intruder from getting in to your home in the first place.


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