How do we feel safe again after our home was broken into?
March 16, 2013 5:14 AM   Subscribe

Our house was broken into yesterday in broad daylight while we were at work. How can we feel safe again?

Yesterday we came home to discover that the window in our front door had been smashed and a thief had let himself into the house. The robber made off with two laptops, a watch, a spare set of keys, and a portable hard drive (that thankfully was just housing some videos). We were lucky that he or she left many other things, including other identification and financial papers.

We spent the last night trying to do all we thought we were supposed to do. We called the police and filed a report, tried to contact our insurance provider (though haven't spoken to a human yet), changed all of our passwords that we could find, and talked to our landlord about getting the windows fixed and the lock changed.

We were lucky it wasn't far worse, but it was very hard to sleep last night and I am not sure how we're ever going to leave the house again. Even with the window fixed and the lock changed, that wouldn't have really helped us in this case anyway--the thief still got in in broad daylight. And now the thief knows the contents of our house. The fact that he or she took the keys freaks me out--even if we change the locks, it suggests to me that there is a risk that there's a return visit planned.

It's not like we can stop going to work during the day. How do we feel safe again? How are we going to be able to leave the house and be calm about it?
posted by synecdoche to Grab Bag (31 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
There are many kinds of deterrent alarms you can buy. Thieves don't like loud noises. Maybe you can get some kind of alarm that senses the window breaking. And you can put stickers outside that say you have an alarm system (even if you don't - but certainly this returning thief may suspect that it's real because of having previously stolen things from you). Alternatively you could get a barky dog.
posted by Dansaman at 5:31 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

This happened to me twice in a short span, once even while I was at home. It took some time, but after a while you start to feel normal again. I got some of those little alarms at the hardware store, changed some locks so they were more secure; small things like that. I also stayed in another place for a few days. I'm not sure if that helped, but you could try it if you have the money or a friend that would let you crash at their place.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 5:32 AM on March 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'll add that this is not a rational feeling, of course, and so you can't rationally convince yourself not to feel strange in your own house. You could make it the most secure place in the world, and you'd still probably feel strange. You need to give it some time. Talk about it with other people.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 5:35 AM on March 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm sorry this happened to you. When my flat was broken into it took me a while to recover from it emotionally, it takes some time but you do eventually go back to normal.

When this happened to me I changed the locks and got an extra lock fitted on the door (it now has a double lock) and also installed one of those motion-sensitive lights that comes on when people approach the house. (My burglary took place at night when I was out.)

What helped me was talking with all my friends about it, unburdening myself as it were; I was surprised how many people volunteered their own stories of being burgled and it made me feel a lot less alone. I also talked with my neighbours, and it turned out that there had been a spree of burglaries in the area at that time. Though the culprits were never caught, it made me feel better to know there were others in the same boat and that we would be looking out for each other in future.
posted by Ziggy500 at 5:42 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's hard - our house was broken into and was ransacked while trying to find stuff to steal. Our kids were young at the time, and were afraid and it felt horrible. Like you needed to be around all the time to protect your family and stuff. You'll get over it but IMO I found it really helpful to get some burglar prevention stuff in the meantime - like sensors for the windows and doors - we got ours at Radio Shack. We also put some pins in our windows so they couldn't be opened all the way unless the pin was taken out from the inside.

It took some time but you will get over it.
posted by lasamana at 5:49 AM on March 16, 2013

This can be a long process, getting over this. I know a couple who were robbed similarly and it was truly disruptive to their lives for quite some time. (And they had different reactions to the robbery, and then that took a major toll on their relationship.) It's absolutely normal not to feel right or safe.

Your landlord should react speedily. Certainly these locks should be changed ASAP. That's a start.

It might be really helpful to sit down and brainstorm ideas about safety for your household. Talk about it, and get it out. There may be actions you can take that you haven't come up with yet that'll give you a sense of agency and security. The rest of the process will take time.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 5:55 AM on March 16, 2013

I had this happen to me as well. Agreed that it will take time to stop feeling that sense of worry that it will happen again, no matter what else you do.

In my case, I had been considering a dog before it happened and I adopted a rather intimidating dog a few weeks later. Knowing that his bark scared the bejesus out of macho men was a comfort.

Also, talking to the neighbors so everyone on the block knew what happened helped because there was strength in numbers - more people watching each other's backs.
posted by prettymightyflighty at 6:13 AM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

An alarm system can help. I use a self-installed system -- there are a number of them available these days -- that connects to the alarm service via a cell network. While I own my own home, this is a feasible system to install in a rented space; for a ~1900 square foot home, I think I spent about $1200 for a "fancy" setup (glass break sensors, door/window sensors, motion detectors, CO and heat/smoke detectors throughout, etc.); you could reasonably protect yourself for about half of that, and then about $40/month in monitoring. I used FrontPoint, but there are certainly other vendors who do similar things.

Secondly, you can add physical barriers to entry: deadbolts on the doors, anti-theft bars for your windows, improved lighting outside, and thorny plants under/near the windows. None of this will stop a dedicated thief, but it all serves to lower the general appeal of your home in comparison to other properties nearby; the goal here is to encourage the would-be thief to go somewhere else.

Thirdly, talk to your neighbors, and consider a neighborhood watch program.

Finally, you can consider a dog (assuming you want and like dogs, and will treat/care for him or her properly in addition to seeing the security benefits), and depending upon your comfort, politics, and views on security, a firearm (properly stored in a locked, immobile safe, and only after you're properly trained in its use.) These are more radical suggestions, and take considerably more investment then sensors or plants, obviously.
posted by ellF at 6:29 AM on March 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Along the lines of what Dansaman suggested, how about some little stickers to put on the windows and doors that say something like "If you can read this you are under surveillance"?

And some actual surveillance cameras if you feel like going to the trouble. Fancy ones these days seem to have lots of features based on face recognition; I wonder if a security system could be set up to take an action whenever it sees a face that isn't yours or your partner's.
posted by XMLicious at 6:30 AM on March 16, 2013

Get a dog. or two, one little yapping "alarm dog" and one big enough to give a thief pause.
posted by Max Power at 6:39 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd like to nth the suggestion to talk to your neighbors. People are often know/see more than you'd expect.

Anecdote: When our apartment was broken into, I talked to our neighbors and it turned out that one neighbor had had the same thing happen and knew who did it. It turned out to be a guy who had been employed by my landlord who had broken into more than three apartments. I was able to let the police know this and while we couldn't prove it was he who had broken in, they were able to arrest him on trespassing charges twice in a week which served the purpose of getting him out of the building. (not to mention the neighbors who got really pissed off and went after him with a baseball bat; not my choice of method.)
posted by sciencegeek at 6:40 AM on March 16, 2013

While I think a firearm often goes a long way towards aiding peace of mind, I'd add that you can also often achieve the same effect without purchase, by buying and displaying an NRA sticker on your front door or front window. Thus potential intruders will believe you to be armed, whether or not you are, and often choose a less intimidating residence.

Definitely talk to your neighbors, see if anyone saw anything.
posted by corb at 8:02 AM on March 16, 2013

I would avoid putting up an NRA sticker or otherwise making it known that you have a gun. Thieves love free guns.
posted by MonsieurBon at 8:11 AM on March 16, 2013 [12 favorites]

Are there lots of NRA members in Canada?

Personally, I'd think about window bars (most places I lived in in London had them, and they'd be impenetrable sans keys). When it happened to us (in Aus), we wore the loss (a couple of laptops and related accessories) and got on with our lives. It's just stuff (backup your data).

I don't see how having a gun would preserve said stuff if no-one's home.
posted by pompomtom at 8:18 AM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I should add: your nerves will calm. I don't think there's anything but time that will sort that out. After we were robbed, we took to using laptop locks while we were out.
posted by pompomtom at 8:30 AM on March 16, 2013

The old trope of "they stole my vcr and stereo" is no longer valid, most consumer items are so cheap that they are hardly worth stealing. A burglar can only hope for antiques (silver), guns, cash, laptops and your identity. They already have your laptops, so they probably won't come back. Unless they think you have gone out and bought brand new laptops to replace the stolen ones. If you do, don't put the empty boxes in your trash.
posted by 445supermag at 8:48 AM on March 16, 2013

How do we feel safe again?

By going to work and coming home to find your house the way you left it, then repeating that day after day after day, until eventually you just do feel safe again. Which will probably be nearly as illusory a feeling as the one you had three days ago, because really, if somebody wants to break into a house badly enough, he/she is going to.

In other words, the feeling will return when this experience fades a bit, emotionally, and is overwritten with "safe" experiences. It's just a feeling. It will operate like other feelings do.

What you can actually do is examine your home's security. There are some good ideas in this thread. Quality locks on the doors is a start, along with entryway lighting for nighttime. I'm not sure I see any value to an NRA sticker; but the NRA does have a class titled "Personal Protection in the Home" that may be offered by a gun club near you, and (depending on the instructor) a fair amount of that class can be spent talking about home-security tactics that have nothing to do with firearms—trimming bushes, exterior lighting, etc. If you're not a gun person, think of this like seeking marriage advice from a priest although you're not religious: You don't have to buy into the primary product they're selling, but their job often gives them a lot of experience with the subject you are interested in, and you might hear something useful.

I'm sorry this happened to you. The last thing I'd say that might help you feel a little better is to suggest you look up some crime statistics, especially in your locale. This is not your own special circumstance. Many people have been victims of break-ins, and have to deal with the emotional aftermath, and manage to. I don't say that to minimize, just to point out that you aren't alone. Good luck.
posted by cribcage at 9:09 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

In the short term, I would buy a small portable alarm like this. It's not the exact model I was thinking of, just an example - you could google camping alarm motion detector for more options. You could set it up either outside or just inside your door both during the day when you are gone and at night when you are asleep. I have seen a similar one used, and the alarm is deafening and would deter most thieves. They are not too expensive, just run off batteries, and you can take it with you if you ever move.

If you are not a gun person, pepper spray might be a good option if it is legal in your area. Keep it by your bed, along with your cell phone.
posted by tr0ubley at 9:14 AM on March 16, 2013

We just recently got a video camera that can be used as a monitor/surveillance camera. The price was reasonable, and it was pretty easy to set up and use - we have apps on our phones, iPads and laptops that we can access it on and we can move it around using the app, and it has night vision.

You can also set it up so that it only turns on when it detects motion, and so that it can be accessed via password on the internet. Anyway if you didn't want to pay for an alarm system, you could set that up and it might help with the peace of mind, although it doesn't prevent another break in.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:20 AM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've been burglarized, middle of the day, the cops told me to get a dog.

My cat was not into that option.

I switched Alarm companies because my old alarm set up was old fashioned and stupid. My new Alarm has 4 genius features.

1. I get texts whenever someone enters the house and punches in a code

2. I can arm and disarm the alarm with my iPhone

3. there is a 2 way radio in the panel. If someone breaks in, the Alarm company respond within 8 seconds through the panel requesting a code or asking if you need help AND they simultaneously call the phone numbers on your list. If nobody answers through the panel they call the police while they are talking to someone on your call list.

If someone breaks in while you are in the house, you can hit the panic button or yell for help which is faster than trying to call 911.

4. They added a web enabled wi-fi camera.

$50 a month. Expensive, but I sleep better. The company is Vivint. Your mileage may vary.
posted by bobdow at 9:33 AM on March 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Thanks, MetaFilter, for the commiseration and suggestions. Fortunately we are moving in a couple of months which I think will help put this behind us, and my father-in-law has suggested that an alarm system would make a good housewarming gift. In the meantime I bought a small door alarm that will hopefully deter any would-be intruders, even if it can't prevent anything completely, as well as a timer with a random function that we will hook up to a radio.
posted by synecdoche at 10:36 AM on March 16, 2013

If the landlord had the window in the door replaced with glass, ask if they would (or would be willing to let you) install a sheet of Lexan instead or add a sheet behind the window.
posted by jamaro at 10:44 AM on March 16, 2013

After my house was broken into (thanks cat door!), it took a few weeks for the jitters to wear off. Give yourself time, it is a totally appropriate way to feel after a stranger has invaded your space in that way.

One thing to do is to make sure all your extra checks are accounted for. At my office, after a break in, the clever burglar stole just one or two checks for check fraud. We didn't notice anything missing until we were alerted about the fraud.

We have an alarm in our new space and it is great. We pay $300 a year for a system that can be used while we're home sleeping (stay function) or away. The setup we have will alert the fire department in case of fire also, which I like.

Our security company also helped us figure out the weak points in our house that we could beef up to avoid someone trying to break in and suggested a good locksmith that could come and do the work.
posted by dottiechang at 11:25 AM on March 16, 2013

Dottiechang, cat doors are tiny, how did they use it to get in?

And as for guns, if you're not home they don't help, and if you are, you have to be willing to kill someone. Which is why they wouldn't make me personally feel safer.
posted by emjaybee at 1:50 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

This happened to us years ago. The worst part is that they let our dogs out of the house and a neighbor found them roaming the neighborhood (which triggered her response that something was wrong and called me at work). The computer that had my almost competed dissertation was stolen, among other things.

It was traumatic, and we didn't sleep for several nights. It gets better with time. They eventually caught the fools a year later, and I don't know if they even helped us feel safe. We did invest in a home alarm system after it happened, and that helped. But honestly, even with the alarm, it took almost a year before I felt truly safe and relaxed in my own home.

It really does just take time, and you can help it go faster by following a lot of the advice above.
posted by archimago at 2:39 PM on March 16, 2013

Yeah, this happened to me once, and I was in the house, either asleep or in the shower. I felt icky for weeks, and the fact that my laptop was stolen made me feel even ickier since I kind of see my computers as extensions of my brain. I was a poor college kid at the time, so getting an alarm system wasn't something I had space in my budget for. I just had a few weeks where I felt really unsafe and awful in the house. I moved a lot of my stuff upstairs to my room and hid a lot of things that had been sitting out, and I cried a lot and had terrible dreams. Pretty run of the mill.

A few months later the opportunity to switch rooms in the house came up and I took it. I felt a lot better because the new room's door had a lock. Even though I basically never used the lock it was nice to know I could.
posted by town of cats at 3:32 PM on March 16, 2013

Cat burglar! Just kidding. The flexible burglar was able to reach up through the cat door and unlock the door. It was installed in a way that made is easy for anyone moderately flexible to unlock the door.
posted by dottiechang at 5:25 PM on March 16, 2013

My only addition to the sensible discussion above: a daylight burglar really doesn't want to hurt you (or even see you), he just wants your stuff. I found this helpful after two daylight breakins. A daytime thief is actually much less creepy than a night-time one.
posted by HaveYouTriedRebooting at 5:26 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

You can get an alarm. If you can't afford a real alarm system, they do make cheap ones that you pinch and pry into doors or windows and when they get unpinched, they let out a really loud sound. They sell them on Amazon. edit: I see you've done that already. Yay!
posted by AppleTurnover at 7:52 PM on March 16, 2013

I was the victim of a similary daytime burglary a few years ago. The burglar(s) took a lot of stuff ($3-4k of electronics mostly), but also left plenty of valuables behind, so I was terrified they were going to come back for more. A friend said, "Why would they come back to the scene of their own crime?" and that really helped me relax. Pay no mind to friends who try to tell you all the stuff you should have done in the past to secure your own place. You're the victim, so don't blame yourself.

Do everything you can to secure the apartment (as others have suggested, asking your landlord to install bars on the accessible windows and change the locks seems like a good idea to me) and you'll feel better once more time has passed. It's normal to feel pretty shaken up about it, but you'll feel secure again once the wound has healed.

Also, you should be very glad you have renter's insurance, because I didn't, and that sucked.
posted by wolfnote at 9:37 AM on March 18, 2013

A friend said, "Why would they come back to the scene of their own crime?"

Because you have just got a load of new stuff to replace what was stolen. This is quite common, especially where portable expensive insurable goods are taken.

My brother was warned by the cops about this when his place was done over, and sure enough three weeks (or so) later his nice new security screen door was heavily jemmied, but because of the warning he went for a heavy duty door/installation, and it held.
posted by GeeEmm at 7:39 PM on March 18, 2013

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