Safe and Secure Apartment Living

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by Derrick Krane

Burglary is the intrusion into an unoccupied or believed to be unoccupied commercial or residential property with intent to steal items within.  Home invasion is the intrusion into an occupied or believed to be occupied residential property with the intent to steal items within, and/or assault, murder, rape, kidnap or hold hostage the residents.

Both can occur during ordinary days and nights in an urban area with police several minutes away with a 911 call, in a rural area with unreliable phone service and police 30 minutes away, or during periods of civil unrest or a natural disaster with no 911 service and police otherwise occupied.

Your home is supposed to be a place where you feel secure; where you can relax and let your guard down.  In order to feel this way, you need to have a home that has redundant security measures in place.  If you live in an apartment, you will have fewer options than if you own a house for making your living space secure. You can still greatly improve your home security by taking some appropriate measures that will not involve radically altering the property.

Before you move in…

  • How is the crime rate in the area? Look at the crime statistics not just in the city, but the area of the city you are locating to. Crime stats show the overall crime in a city, but crime tends to concentrate in specific urban areas, in what is called crime distribution.
  • How well has the property been maintained? How much care has the landlord put into the apartment? If the property has been neglected, door frames may be rotted, which will make the best locks and solid doors of limited value.
  • Are you moving in with someone? If so, are you in a healthy relationship? If there has been abuse or domestic violence while dating, it is doubtful it will get better if you move in together. If you are moving in with a roommate, how well do you know them? Are they into anything they shouldn’t be, such as selling drugs? Personal safety and security starts with who you invite into your life.

Once you have selected your place…

…do a security survey of your apartment. How would you get in if you were a burglar? Some details to consider:

  • Are all of the doors illuminated at night, or would you be able to break in through a dark back or side door?
  • Are the doors made of a solid hardwood, or are they hollow, or pine? If the door is solid, is there a peephole? How close are the deadbolts in a door to a window in the door? Could someone elbow out a window and reach in and turn the deadbolt? Is there even a deadbolt, or only an in-knob lock?
  • Select an apartment on the ground floor, close to an exit. This will make it easier if you have to GTFO.
  • How close are the neighbors? What kind of neighbors are they? The type who would call the police if they saw someone breaking in, or would the neighbors be the ones breaking in?

11 Steps to a More Secure Apartment

1. Securing doors

A solid door, in a sturdy frame, secured with a deadbolt is the best option. Have the landlord change the locks when you move in. With the landlord’s permission, a barrel-bolt lock can also be installed on the door. This will give you a little more security when you are home, and there will be no need for another key for you or the landlord. Use the longest screw possible, not the short little ones included with the lock. The strike plate should also be secured with the longest screws possible.

A noisemaker on the door is another layer of security. Attach bells to your doorknob so any movement of the door will make a jingle.

2. Securing windows

Start by keeping the shades pulled down at night. Don’t let the bad guys see you or what you have.

If the windows have sash locks on them, always keep the windows locked when you are not at home. Ask the landlord if you can install a second sash lock.

Place items on the upper and lower window sills of the first floor that will make a lot of noise if they fall as someone tries to get in. Decorative glass bottles, or jars filled with rocks or shells are an option. Not all burglars are concerned with noise discipline, but those that are can be deterred in this way. It will be very difficult to enter through a window without making noise.

Plant blackberry bushes outside your window, and put a table of cacti inside. Make it unpleasant as possible for a burglar.

3. Cameras

Game trail cameras are used by hunters to determine the amount of wildlife traffic in the area they intend to hunt. They are motion activated to take still images or video. They are inexpensive, water resistant, rugged, easy to setup, and many models have night vision. They are a cost effective surveillance system.

There are no wires or wireless to set up. All you have to do take them out of the package insert the SD card and batteries, and they are ready to go. The cameras can be set up to cover the inside or exterior of your place. To stay on the right side of the law, check local ordinances regarding video surveillance, as well as with your landlord if you are going to place cameras outside.

4. Lighting

Burglars want to work in the dark, so deprive them of this option by illuminating your doors at night. LED bulbs are bright, and low cost to purchase and operate.

5. Get to know the Neighbors

Introduce yourself to your neighbors, learn their names, make some small talk, and see what kind of people you have living the same building as you. Work to get along with your neighbors and avoid any drama. See if people have a sense of community; if they look out for each other, and if they are alert to strangers loitering or observing the building.  See if there are suspicious individuals living in your building or frequently visiting. (More about spotting predators in another article).

6. Mail pick-up

Have a trusted neighbor or friend pick up your mail, or have it stopped at the post office while you are away. A pile of mail is a sign to burglars that says come here and break in.

7. Keep your valuables and schedule off of social media

This is the modern version of letting your mail pile up. Don’t go on social media and show off your new jewelry or high-end electronics, followed by posting when you will be at work or how long you will be out of town. Anybody can be watching.

8. Get training and stay sober, fit, and alert

Don’t be the helpless victim of a home invasion. Get training so you know what you are doing, and know the self-defense and use of force laws in your jurisdiction. Part of being a good neighbor is avoiding over-penetration of adjoining walls. You will need to learn the advantages and limitations of various options for home defense.

If you should have to use a firearm to defend yourself, choose a gun and ammo which will likely incapacitate an intruder, but not likely punch through to your neighbor’s apartment.  Hosing down an intruder with pepper spray is another option, but pepper spray in an enclosed area will result in contamination of your apartment, and it will probably waft through the entire building.

What good are skills and knowledge if you are too drunk or high to use them? Avoid heavy use of alcohol or any illegal drugs, or misuse of prescription drugs, as this will weaken you and make you a target as your life becomes unmanageable.  Many burglars target people buying or selling drugs. If you are involved in the drug trade in any capacity, it is inevitable that your life will be touched by theft or violence.

The same goes for sitting and eating and letting yourself go. Develop and maintain a high level of fitness. You will be a less attractive target.

Develop the proper mindset. Be alert, aware of your neighbors and what is going on in your community, but not paranoid.

9. Protecting and Hiding valuables

Get a safe for emergency cash or precious metals.

Get renters insurance. You can add on items such as electronics, cameras, guns, or jewelry against theft or damage, even when these items are removed from you property.

Off-premise redundancy will provide further insurance against total losses if all the above fails and you are burglarized. Redundant thumb drives or external hard drives, hard copies of critical documents and records, and some emergency cash should be stored off site in a safety deposit box, your car, a locked office cabinet drawer, or gym locker.

Find discreet hiding places in your apartment for valuables, or bury a watertight container off premises, and/or on premises if you have a backyard.

10. Make a safe room

In the event of a home invasion, a safe room is a secure room within your secure apartment where you can retreat to and hold out until help arrives. Ideally, the walls should be thick and made of concrete and the door should be the sturdiest in the house, set into a solid frame, with a deadbolt. A phone and firearm secured in a gun safe are also components of the safe room. This may not be possible in an apartment setting, so you will have to get creative and improvise.  Does your apartment building have a laundry room or cellar?  This may have to do if you can get out of your apartment, but not the building.

11. Be ready to GTFO if the situation calls for it

In addition to or in lieu of a safe room, be prepared to evacuate, or Get The Family Out. (I am providing the more polite version of this acronym here). Note all of the exits, and make certain they are clear of obstructions. If you couldn’t score a first floor apartment, are their fire escapes? Or will you need an emergency ladder to egress?

Conclusion

Assess your situation objectively, keep perspective, and don’t get paranoid about home security. The purpose of securing your home should be to reduce anxiety, not increase it. If things are that bad, it’s time to move and/or consider some serious lifestyle changes. .