Need ideas to ward off potential burglars.
November 17, 2019 5:09 PM   Subscribe

For the second time in a year our relatively isolated rural property in what I thought was a very safe area has been broken into. The police haven't been able to help, and all the surveillance/deterrents that I have put into place have also not worked. The thought of a further burglary or possible physical encounter with my young family is starting to take a toll on my mental health. Looking for some ideas to get some greater peace of mind and/or make our home a less attractive target.

Some relevant background...

Our house is located up a very long, steep, and windy driveway on a large piece of land in a relatively isolated part of town. You have to go through a motorized gate that it at the street level. I installed a camera there as soon as we moved in and there are also cameras around the house.

We were first burglarized in July. It happened around 3 in the morning while we were at home. We had a furniture delivery in the morning so expect it was related to that. The people came in a car and literally pried the gate motors off and then drove in all the way to the house. Cameras got everything, but the car lights blew out the potential image of the plate (turns out you actually need specialised cameras to actually capture license plate details...). The people were also wearing hoods and gloves, so the police couldn't really do anything.

This whole thing really shook me and my family as they took our garage door opener and the keys to some larger power tools and I was convinced they would come back. It was a pretty brazen burglary. As someone who suffers normally from insomnia, this didn't help at all, but after a few months I sort of just forgot it and assumed it was a crime of opportunity. I installed motion-activated light at the street level to clearly highlight the camera but that's about all I could do.

Now this week, just four months later, it's happened again. The actual result was much less dramatic. This time it was two people on foot, jumping over the gate and then removing the key safe that I had further up the property (to open the gate in case of a power outage). They definitely saw the camera, as there was an attempt to take the pole down, but overall it was a quick thing (3-4 minutes on this occasion vs the 20-30 minute affair before) and they ran off after a few minutes and never went up to the house. Again, everything was on camera, but they were fully hooded, so once again, the police couldn't really do anything.

I'm pretty sure these were different people because they were on foot (clearly no car on surveillance audio), but I really don't know for sure. Either way, I'm pretty on edge now, as if they open they key safe they'll just be able to come right in any time. I have two young kids and the thought of some potential confrontation is also really scary. Considering how off the beaten path we are, I also have to assume this was targeted in some way as it's not an area that people really walk down or has much passing traffic. We've only been here for a few years, moving is not an option, and it's an extremely safe area in general (hence moving here in the first instance)

Anyway, I'm pretty much at a loss in terms of what to do from here. Apart from the ongoing sense of violation, I feel really nervous about having anyone up to the house so have all my deliveries come to the office. It's turning me into a pretty fearful and paranoid person which is not who I am but I'm really stumped as to what to do from here to try and make our home less of a target, or something I can tell myself to at least try to calm down.

A few other things to note:

1) Any sort of monitored service is not really an option. We're really in a rural area so anyone actually getting there would be pointless as it would take so long, and and there is no way to get power down to the front gate as it's so far from the house. The gate and camera are both solar powered with the camera using 4G to send notifications.

2) Any sort of audible alert like a siren would not work because of power situation, but also we get lots of false alarms from wind etc.

3) We have a small dog (who would not really do anything to help in such a situation but considering everyone always says - get a dog, just making sure this is known!).

4) We also have smart lights in the house as well.

Is there anything else I can do? It's killing me! TIA!
posted by sxtrumpeto to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, get a big, NOISY dog. If the dog attacks the intruders, they'll just shoot it. Noise is a better deterrent.
posted by tmdonahue at 5:14 PM on November 17, 2019 [14 favorites]

Seconding the large dog. He doesn't even have to be mean - just loud and bellowing. After my second attempted burglary I obtained a golden retriever/ Great Pyrenees mix. He is an absolute sweetie but bellows like a fog horn at folks he doesn't recognize. The bellow and his size work as a good deterrent, in my opinion.
posted by Gyre,Gimble,Wabe, Esq. at 5:27 PM on November 17, 2019 [7 favorites]

The standard advice is to get deadbolts, reinforced strike plates, and exterior lighting. In your case though, you seem very security minded so you have likely implemented these already, and the burglars seem unusually determined so standard safeguards may be insufficient.

Dense urban neighborhoods are actually safer than remote rural areas. You say moving is not an option, but also your post makes clear that this situation is taking a toll on your and your family's mental health. Are you sure that the disadvantages of moving to a smaller lot in a denser neighborhood outweigh what you're currently going through? My apologies if this question is unhelpful.
posted by splitpeasoup at 5:29 PM on November 17, 2019 [10 favorites]

Don't write off the second as necessarily unconnected to the first. There is an established pattern of thieves waiting a few weeks/months for you to restock, then coming back for a second helping.

Without knowing the details of what you have done, good advice up-thread. I'd add more/better/hidden cameras, and a facility to alert you by phone when cameras/sensors are activated, allowing you to call police as soon as a break-in can be established as happening.
posted by GeeEmm at 5:35 PM on November 17, 2019 [12 favorites]

I agree that I would not dismiss the idea of the second burglary being related to the first. Given that, I would attempt to really advocate with the police that they do as much investigative work as possible with the various materials you’ve captured, and perhaps looking again at the furniture moving company. I’m not an expert in burglary by any means, but both of these attempts seem unusually coordinated and organized for a crime of opportunity.
posted by sallybrown at 5:39 PM on November 17, 2019 [8 favorites]

You've re-keyed the gate? Get a lockbox with a combination for any keys you store. Label keys by color; you'll remember the blue key is the back door, they won't know.
Put a camera in an obscure location, low enough and aimed to get the rear plate of a car on your road.
Better locks. Put dowels in widow sashes to keep 1st floor windows from being raised enough for entry.
Walk around the outside and try to think how you would break in. Fix any entry points.
Even strings of bells on doors gives you an alert and those bells are in stores right now.
A dog with a bit more bark and heft is a good plan. Many such dogs are very good with kids.

Consider a system with an alarm if home or garage doors or windows are opened when the system is armed. They have battery backups. There's a lot of home security stuff; browse.

The fact that they wore hoods both times makes me think it's the same robbers. Go talk to the police some more, they may have a good idea who it is. Did they come in the house? I don't blame you for being upset, being robbed while you're at home is awful.
posted by theora55 at 6:14 PM on November 17, 2019 [14 favorites]

Another vote for a big, loud, dog. Doesn't have to be mean, just loud enough to make your neighbor's place a more attractive target.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:24 PM on November 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm in a similar situation, I've had the burglary, and also the returning burglars.
I have bought a monitored service. I understand why you say it isn't realistic that they will arrive on time, but at least at my house there's the point that it takes time to get out through the driveway, and even someone out on the public roads at night would rise suspicion. Regardless of how it works, it seems it deters robbers.
Also, I have found a big, sweet and very protective dog. The second time the robbers came, they were clearly deterred by the dog.
Finally something counter-intuitive: I've opened my gate and encourage my neighbors to walk on my land, specially if I'm out. For many of them, it is a nice evening stroll, or a shortcut to the next neighbor. In real life, it might amount to one passer-by a day, at most. But the important thing is that burglars can't know when that person will pass by. When I was burgled, I had a locked gate, and basically, the thieves could spend all the time they wanted at my house (I was out that day). My neighbors know that my dog is completely harmless, so they take a look at the windows and doors when they walk through.
posted by mumimor at 7:35 PM on November 17, 2019 [6 favorites]

YMMV on this, but what many people who live in isolated rural areas on large properties with few neighbors do is get a gun. At the least, maybe a second amendment sticker on the gate?
posted by amaire at 7:55 PM on November 17, 2019 [5 favorites]

Best answer: How connected is your neighbourhood? - I've lived somewhere very remote here and joined the rural fire because it made sense, but it also brought everyone's eyes to bear on thieves with warnings sent out when anything odd was seen.

Geese were a traditional solution and they are very territorial, aggressive and noisy. I'm not kidding.

Is your driveway the only way to your house?
posted by unearthed at 7:58 PM on November 17, 2019 [5 favorites]

Best answer: "I'm pretty on edge now, as if they open they key safe they'll just be able to come right in any time."
Hope you already did some of this...but...rekey your locks, or replace those locks with an electronic keypad/electronic deadbolt so codes can easily be changed.
Do not keep the key safe in the same place, find another more hidden spot for it or a solution that doesn't require a key safe.
Change the codes/frequencies on your garage door openers.
Make sure the garage door cannot be opened from the outside manually.
install a manual lock on your garage door
Use a deadbolt or barricade on the door between the garage and your home.
Put a lock on your circuit breaker box if it is outside your home/garage
Locks on all windows/sliding doors (or a stick in the sash so they can't open)

You could put these cheap and effective barricades inside your exterior doors to buy time if someone does try to break into your home while you or your family are inside. Even if they pick a lock or have a key they will have to slam into the door to try to open it and that noise will alert you.

A loud dog is a good idea, I agree with the other answers.

You can get a security system with an alarm and alerts that go to your phone, even if it is not monitored by a central dispatch system because of how remote your location is. Wyze cameras have a good reputation with person recognition tech and can send alerts to your phone over wifi. I recently installed Simplisafe in one of my properties and would recommend it. It's very easy to use and they have simple tech for many types of threat, from motion detection/person recognition, to the sound of breaking glass, to windows/doors being opened, to fire/CO/flood. As a bonus, it's fun to watch your pet frolic while you're at work on the interior cameras :)

Obtain the full names and photos/descriptions of the people who delivered your furniture, look up who owns the company, find out who else works there. Is it a felon/drug addict in recovery friendly company? Take that information to police and have them run it. delivery guys would have an easy time casing your property just by doing their job. It really sounds like they need to look more into your case.
You can also take the photos of delivery guys to pawn shops in your area to ask if they pawn stuff often, as a thief or addict would. Cops should do this, but depending on how interested they are, they may or may not.

Get to know your neighbors and ask them to visit, visit them, communicate about what's going on in your area, etc. Maybe someone else in your area has had a trespasser or a break in that could help the police figure out who is behind this. I am assuming you already have guns in the house based on where you live, your neighbors likely do as well.
posted by zdravo at 8:02 PM on November 17, 2019 [9 favorites]

The dog doesn't have to be huge or vicious; lots of breeds are watch dogs that'll go crazy barking but with a disposition that minimizes the risk of biting. Newfie (OK, pretty large), Eurasier, Bergamasco Sheepdog are some of the dogs that my family have had that were excellent watchdogs but family friendly.

IMO Don't get a gun just for "protection"; your family is wildly more likely to be injured/killed by your gun then a bad guy (and guns are a target for thieves that can actually increase the risk of targeted crime) especially in an area generally considered safe. Guns are something that need continuous practice and ongoing attention to detail to be safe.

If you aren't already member or there isn't one join/start a rural neighbourhood watch. If there is someone you trade favours with in the neighbourhood you can have your alarm call them as well as you; they can come take a look a lot faster than a rural police department and often a set of headlights is all that is required to scare off someone tampering with your gate.
posted by Mitheral at 8:14 PM on November 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

What did they take the first time?

The second time did they take anything besides the key safe?
posted by Winnie the Proust at 8:37 PM on November 17, 2019

Best answer: If you are in an actual rural area and not in the the Malibu hills or something like that ... that motorized gate is sending all kinds of wrong message. It advertises that you're a rich guy from the city (might have valuable stuff, either has no guns or doesn't know how to use the ones he has), while, as you are finding, doing nothing at all actually to secure your premises. An old steel swing gate with a big-ass chain and padlock is the traditional means of keeping people from running up your drive in the countryside.
posted by MattD at 9:04 PM on November 17, 2019 [23 favorites]

Best answer: I think a lot of commenters are hitting on one thing, which is to talk to your neighbors. Are they being attacked? What security do they use? And so on.

Meanwhile if your local PD is ineffective, do you have a local newspaper or TV station? Someone getting repeatedly hit and cops doing nothing is a story. It puts them under scrutiny. It might make them decide to try harder and also bring in leads.
posted by emjaybee at 10:08 PM on November 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you don't want another dog, there are alarm systems that play loud barking dog sounds -- you could get a system that has motion sensors and a scary dog barking recording.
posted by OrangeDisk at 6:43 AM on November 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

We live in a very marginal urban neighbourhood but we have adopted a succession of soppy, maternal Boxers who are great family dogs, love small children, and bark like fuck whenever the door opens. (If we had a driveway, I'm sure that would be the DANGER, WILL ROBINSON boundary but that's not the case.)
posted by DarlingBri at 7:13 AM on November 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I was going to say exactly what MattD did - with this experience I'll share:

We had a nice place way out in the country that had a gate you could see from the road and I am totally convinced that the reason it eventually got burned to the ground was because of that gate. The place we've got now is a few more miles out, has the most unassuming driveway ever, and absolutely zero security measures. Nobody touches it. The gate told people there was something real good up that drive that was worthwhile to get curious about, so they did.

If you have to have a gate, could it perhaps be moved out of sight of the road? All of the millionaire-types around my place have the most boring nondescript drive entrances ever. Their mailboxes may be a little nicer, but that's it. Same thing for landscaping that you can see from the road. I mean, I'm not putting old tires out there, but I'm also not advertising anything.
posted by Tchad at 7:44 AM on November 18, 2019 [11 favorites]

Best answer: An old steel swing gate with a big-ass chain and padlock is the traditional means of keeping people from running up your drive in the countryside.

Maybe, but in the rural area my family lives in like 30% of the people have motorized gates now and most are more like hundredaires than millionaires. They just aren't very expensive anymore.

Rural areas get lots of petty theft. Get a good dog and get used to it.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:47 AM on November 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

Definitely talk to the company that arranged movers, and follow up aggressively.
posted by theora55 at 8:49 AM on November 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Nthing big loud dog
Also lots of signs spelling out the homeowner will shoot first ask questions later

Gun IF you are confident using it and having it in your home (lots of pro-gun signage either way in fact the nuttier the better)
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 1:42 PM on November 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

I agree with richardheneryyarbo and get a camera "system", 360 dig coverage around house, that you can monitor remotely & large sign proclaiming said cameras.
posted by patnok at 1:06 PM on November 19, 2019

Seconding the geese. One of my professors kept geese, I heard a few tales of people coming on to his property that later wished they hadn't.
posted by rudd135 at 4:29 PM on November 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

I had SimpliSafe at my last house, and I can attest to the fact that the police showed up extremely quickly. I set off the alarm myself, didn't immediately know how to turn it off, and poof, they were there while I was looking for the instructions. Their modular system also has multiple different sensors available, such as movement (pets don't set it off), broken glass sound, and windows or doors being opened. There's also a panic button you can put pretty much wherever, when you punch it it silently calls the cops.

My car was broken into shortly after I moved into that house, and similar you, I suspected it was related to the moving people that had just been there. I was terrified of someone breaking into the house too, especially if my cat got out in the process. Having the alarm system really gave me peace of mind.
posted by nirblegee at 4:45 PM on November 19, 2019

Yeah, big dog. But see about getting the dog trained, and get trained along with the dog. Dogs are a commitment in time and money, not toys to just be turned looses in your yard.

My foster brother had a well-trained Doberman, he loved kids and was very friendly. He was also trained.

One night my brother and his wife returned home from a movie to find Drummer holding a guy prisoner on their patio. He had come in the yard over the back fence, tried to jimmy the living room's sliding doors. Drummer had been lying in his accustomed place under an azalea bush next to the fence. He didn't bark, and stayed put until the guy got in the patio, then he just hemmed him in. When the guy stopped trying to get away, Drummer stopped biting him. My brother said the guy was very happy to have the police come and take him away.

Ask around before you buy a dog. You may not want a Drummer, but you definitely want a dog that's safe for you and your children to handle. On the other hand, the dog won't be much help if he just runs up to burglars for pats on the head.
posted by mule98J at 5:24 PM on November 19, 2019

Ask around before you buy a dog. You may not want a Drummer, but you definitely want a dog that's safe for you and your children to handle.

There's no reason to buy a dog. Adopt a grown dog from a fostering organisation where the dog lives with a foster family and you will know exactly how the dog is with strangers, visitors, children, and other dogs. You can visit the dog in it's foster home and learn so much about it.

All our dogs are adopted and always have been. We've had 5 previous Boxers and currently have a Boxer, a French Bulldog, and this magnificent Dogue De Bordeaux who is an aggressive territory defender and terrifying as fuck to look at but basically just licks puppies and kids and is rock solid tolerant of having her jowls pulled and her tail chewed on.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:21 AM on November 21, 2019

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