Crime Prevention: Protect Yourself and Your Family at Home and Beyond

How to vastly reduce your chances of being a crime victim, or minimize the impact on you if someone does perpetrate a crime against you.
By Ilona Bray, J.D., University of Washington Law School
Updated: Jan 4th, 2019

Concern about the security of your person and possessions probably plays a big role in where you decide to live, what you carry with you or leave in your car, where you go to enjoy yourself and during what hours, and so on. Of course, crime can happen at almost any time, anywhere. Here are some steps you can take to prevent crime and protect yourself and your family, particularly in and around your home.

Protecting Yourself From Crime at Home

Other than choosing to buy property in a safe neighborhood (which not everyone can afford to do), there are many steps you can take to keep yourself and your family safe in your house or apartment. For example:

  • Lock doors and windows. Do so not only while everyone's at school or work, but while you're at home. Use good deadbolt locks on all doors, and consider buying security doors to add a layer of protection (and potentially a bug screen!).
  • Invest in a home security system. Options include one monitored by a central service, which will contact you and refer the call to the police, or simply one that sounds a siren when triggered. (The usual triggers are that a door is opened, a window broken, or a motion sensor set off.) The latter type of system is obviously more "DIY," but the truth is that most professional burglars will be in and out of your house in five minutes anyway, so as to never meet the police. Don't forget to let your homeowners' insurance carrier know you've added the system; it may give you a discount on your premium.
  • Turn on outside lights from dusk until dawn. At least one light in front or your house and one in back is ideal, plus lights to cover any dark areas. Criminals like the cover of darkness. You don't necessarily have to hit the switch yourself: Models are available that are triggered by motion or include sunlight detectors.
  • Trim shrubs, bushes, and trees in front of or near windows. That way, intruders can't use the foliage to hide behind before entering your home.
  • Turn on inside lights when out for the evening. Timers for lamps are easy to use, and inexpensive. A bathroom light is good to leave on, because it's a room that might plausibly be in use at any hour of the day or night. Also, leave a radio or television turned on. A thief who thinks someone is at home is far less likely to break in.
  • Don't leave your garage door opener or car keys in an obvious place within the house. A thief could easily steal these for later use. Also, don't leave anything visible on your car seats if you park outdoors, or any valuables in your car at all, such as laptops, cell phones, or sports equipment.
  • Don't keep jewelry in an obvious jewelry box. It's one of the first things a burglar will grab. Better to buy a small, fireproof safe, or hide things in disguised boxes. But don't put valuables between your mattresses or in your clothing drawers. These are other places burglars head straight for; along with medicine cabinets, in search of prescription drugs that have resale value.
  • Think twice about using tools and websites or posting messages and photos that inform people of where you are. You may be telling a thief you're not at home, and possibly won't be for weeks.
  • Stop newspaper and mail deliveries when going out of town. Ask a trusted neighbor or friend to keep an eye on things and to remove any random flyers on and around your front door. Also, contact your local police department and ask if they have a program where officers drive by your home to make sure it's secure.
  • Consult a local police officer about your home safety. Some will visit your house and make suggestions for how to deal with weak spots in your home's security defenses.

Protecting Yourself While in Your Neighborhood

Here are some ways friends and neighbors can work together for mutual protection:

  • Organize a neighborhood watch group. Your local police or sheriff's department will gladly help you with planning and organizing this, including by providing training on what to look for and what to do in the event you see or suspect criminal activity.
  • Get to know your neighbors! Local online services like Nextdoor are a good start. If you don't know everyone who lives on your street, take steps to fix that, so that you won't think a burglar is a neighbor and vice versa. As a side benefit, getting to know neighbors fosters community, which can help ease the strain in the event of disputes about things like property lines.
  • Keep your eyes open. When outside, be aware of people and activity around you. Above all, don't get lost in the allure of your mobile phone and become an obvious target. If you're retired or work from home, look out your windows from time to time. Do you see a strange car or someone you don't recognize? Respond accordingly.
  • If children live on your street, try to designate one or two "safe houses." These are places to where they can run if, for example, a stranger acts inappropriately with them, perhaps on their way to or from the bus stop or while playing in the yard.

With steps like these, you and your neighbors can make a big statement to would-be criminals that they're not welcome and will be seen and dealt with.

Protecting Yourself While on the Go

The commute to from work each day, the trip to the supermarket, going out for dinner or a sporting event, or any of the hundreds of other things you travel for present opportunities for criminals. Protect yourself in these ways:

  • Travel in a group. Carpool with coworkers or friends and neighbors who work near you. Drive to social events with a friend or two instead of meeting them there. Criminals are less likely to strike groups of people than one walking alone.
  • Park in well-lit areas. Dark parking lots and garages give criminals too much time and space to carry out a mugging or other crime.
  • Consider carrying a non-lethal self-defense weapon, like pepper spray or a taser. Check first whether the laws in your area permit it; non-lethal weapons offer the advantage that they cannot be fatally turned against you, or stolen for future crimes. Also ask local agencies and police departments about free or low-cost self-defense lessons.
  • Be cautious when a stranger approaches your car while stopped at traffic light or stop sign. Don't roll down your window or get out of the car. If the person won't leave you alone, drive away (if you can do so safely), honk your horn repeatedly, call the police if you're able, or drive to the nearest police station.
  • Make sure someone knows your plans. Telling someone where you're going and when you'll be back can lead to swifter action if you're in trouble.
  • Put an ICE (In Case of Emergency) number in your phone's memory. That way, police or first responders will know whom to call if you're badly injured. Also program your local police phone number into your phone (911 responders can't always tell where exactly you're calling from.)

By taking the above steps, you can vastly reduce your chances of being a crime victim, or minimize the impact if you become one.

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