There’s a reason why home invasions are the premise of so many Hollywood horror films. Waking up in the dead of night only to realize that a stranger has broken into your home is a nightmare situation that no one wants to experience, but unfortunately, it may be more likely than you think.
There were 2.04 million reported victims of household burglaries in 2016, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey’s revised 2016 report on criminal victimization. It’s a decrease from the year prior, which saw 2.18 individuals victimized in the same manner, but the threat of a home invasion continues to be a concern for most adults. It’s a dangerous situation to be in, one that can escalate suddenly. It’s important to know what to do in the event that you find yourself faced with an intruder.
A home invasion doesn’t have to turn into a violent situation. Here’s what you can do to stay safe.
Do not seek out or initiate a confrontation with an intruder.
As a civilian, your priority should not be to fight or catch any intruder that you may find in your home. Instead, your focus needs to be on keeping yourself and your loved ones safe. In many cases, it’s likely that a burglar did not enter your home with the intention of assaulting or otherwise hurting the people inside.
“The common burglar is not looking for anyone to be home, as they are looking to steal property,” Charles McCrary Jr., a retired lieutenant who spent more than 30 years with the Creve Coeur, Missouri police department, told Oxygen.com.
“The burglar was just as surprised to see you as you are to see them,” he continued. “Most burglars think the home is unoccupied. Upon seeing someone in the home they will generally run away. If this occurs, do not chase after the burglar. Be a good witness and call the police. Do not touch anything as the police may want to process your residence for evidence.”
If you spot an intruder running away from your home, while it may be tempting to play the hero and catch them yourself, experts strongly discourage doing so.
“Let them leave if they are trying to leave,” personal safety expert and CEO of SABRE Security Equipment Corporation David Nance said. “Your safety and that of your loved ones is most important.”
Even if it doesn’t appear that an intruder has a weapon, willfully entering into a physical confrontation with a stranger is always risky and could easily become deadly. As Nance explained, “Avoid [it] at all costs unless they are trying to kidnap a loved one. They could have a weapon or could be a skilled fighter. Why jeopardize your safety?”
Get as far away from the intruder as possible.
While it may be instinctual to investigate the source of a mysterious noise in your home, if you suspect an intruder has already gotten into your house, your priority should be getting as far away from the threat as possible.
“Put as much distance between yourself and the intruder or threat that you can — always try to get out first,” Nance advised.
Call for help.
If an intruder makes it into your home, your priority should be notifying the police, who are far more equipped to handle such dangerous situations. After you have put distance between yourself and the intruder — ideally as quickly as possible — contact the authorities, even if you aren’t yet entirely sure of the situation. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
“Try to keep your phone available and call 911,” McCrary said. “The 911 operator will keep you on the line as they are dispatching the police to help you.” But what should you do in the event that a confrontation becomes unavoidable?
Defend yourself if necessary, and make sure beforehand that you have the tools to do so.
Unfortunately, while it’s more likely for an intruder to enter a home with the intention of stealing property rather than harming others, it’s always a possibility that someone has forced their way into your home with the intent to harm you or your loved ones.
Experts suggest having easy-to-use methods of self-defense — such as pepper spray or gel, a baseball bat, or (if you’re comfortable and trained) a firearm — readily available at your home in the event that you need to defend yourself against someone who intends to do you harm.
“I’m a big advocate of defending yourself at a distance — home defense pepper gel is an excellent option,” Nance said. “The pepper gel does not atomize like traditional pepper sprays and only affects what it directly contacts.”
Have a plan and follow it.
The best time to think about what you would do in the event of a dangerous situation is before that situation has actually occurred. In the heat of the moment, panic and fear could cloud your judgment, which could potentially land you in a dangerous situation.
“When it comes to personal safety, I’m a big believer in visualizing what you would do when in the face of danger,” Nance said. “Have a plan, and this will help you should you ever find yourself in a dangerous situation. Remember, distance is your friend — put as much of it between you and the threat as you can.”
Once you have a plan in place, practice it with your family often. Nance recommends your plan should be leaving your house if there is a clear path to the exit, and then calling the police once you are safe. If that isn’t an option, finding a safe place to hide in your home should be your next priority.
As with many crimes, prevention is key. There are numerous things you can do to make your home less of a target for potential home invasions.
Stay on your guard when strangers come to your door, and be extremely cautious when deciding who to let inside.
It’s common for home invaders to gain entry to their victim’s homes by disguising themselves as someone who has a justifiable reason for being there, like a repairman or a deliveryman. They may even knock on your door and pretend to be in distress. Even if someone seems like they need help, you never have to open your door if you feel unsafe. If someone asks to be let into your house because they need help or medical attention, respond by telling them — through the closed, locked door — that you are calling the police for help, but do not let them into your home, Pennsylvania State Police recommend.
Before you open your door for anyone, even if you think you know who it is, always look through the peep hole to verify their identity. Pennsylvania State Police recommend speaking to any strangers through your locked door, and don’t be afraid to demand to see proper identification — and then finding the number of their alleged place of business and calling to verify their identity yourself.
Don’t make it obvious when you’re home alone.
It’s never a good idea to give strangers the impression that you are home alone, even if you are. Always make sure that your house is well-lit, as “lighting is a deterrent to most any criminal,” McCrary said.
If someone you don’t know knocks at your door, give the impression that there are other people at home with you by yelling out “I’ll get it!” once you are near the door, Pennsylvania State Police suggest. Another common tactic that the police recommend is leaving a dog bowl on your porch or even putting up a “beware of dog” sign to deter possible intruders.
Make sure your home is as secure as possible.
Always make sure that the doors and windows in your home are closed and locked. The San Jose Police Department recommends installing deadbolt locks on all doors that lead outside, as they are more difficult for burglars to get past. Similarly, the department recommends having the locks changed whenever you move into a new place, and on any occasion where your keys are lost. Keep your doors locked at all times, and check that all locks are secure before you go to bed at night.
One of the best ways to ensure the safety of your home is to have an alarm system that suits your family’s needs installed. Finding the right system for you requires time and research, but the Pennsylvania State Police recommend that your final choice has a “panic” button that will enable you to signal for help quickly and easily.
[Photo: Getty Images]