July 17, 2018
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  • A basement doorway with a single-pane glass window is an easy entry point for would-be burglars, according to Corporal James Shiloh of Anne Arundel County Police.
    Dylan Roche
    A basement doorway with a single-pane glass window is an easy entry point for would-be burglars, according to Corporal James Shiloh of Anne Arundel County Police.

How Would You Break In?

Dylan Roche
View Bio
August 10, 2017

AACPD’s Home Security Survey Gives Citizens Insight On How To Target Harden Their Homes Against Burglary

No city or town, not even Severna Park, is invulnerable to crime.

“While the Severna Park area does not suffer burglaries as much as communities closer to Glen Burnie, Baltimore and Annapolis, there is no perception that Severna Park is burglary-free,” explained Doug Nichols, chairman of the police-community relations committee for the Greater Severna Park Council.

“I can tell you that by listening to police reports at community meetings and reading local newspaper reports of criminal activities, that burglaries are increasing,” he added. “Not all burglaries are reported either due to low dollar value loss or embarrassment that the victim does not want to share following a preventable burglary.”

One of the primary concerns Nichols hears from area residents is that police cannot be everywhere at all times, but there are precautions that citizens can take to protect themselves and their property.

According to Corporal Jim Shiloh of the Anne Arundel County Police Department, the practice of these precautions is called target hardening. “We want to target harden our homes and really push anyone who wants to do a burglary to our neighbor,” he said. “It sounds harsh, but really, the ultimate goal is … everyone target hardens their home and we push the burglars out of our community. That’s really what we’re looking to do.”

To help citizens harden their homes against burglary, AACPD offers a home security survey, a program that has been available for at least 10 years. Shiloh or another office will walk a homeowner or tenant through a list of important points to assess how safe that house or apartment is against break-ins, theft, invasion or other crime.

To get a better understanding of how to target harden a home, the Voice joined Shiloh for a home security survey of a single-family home in a residential neighborhood secluded off the main roads in Severna Park. In the month leading up to the survey, Severna Park had seen three burglaries and nearly 20 counts of theft, according to SpotCrime (www.spotcrime.com), an online resource that reports data from police agencies and other validated sources, and which Shiloh descried as “pretty accurate and up to date.”

Two of the three burglaries and more than three-quarters of the thefts had happened at properties on or near a main road, such as Ritchie Highway or Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard. In a secluded neighborhood, such as the one Shiloh assessed on Thursday, July 28, a burglary is more likely to be a crime of opportunity. “What you’d find back here — and it sounds bad, and it’s not the true tale for everything — but a lot of times, you’re going to have a construction crew back here, and someone might say, ‘Oh, that looks kind of nice, looks like they’re on vacation,’” Shiloh gave as an example.

The first thing Shiloh looked at was landscaping, particularly the bushes and other high foliage. “We want to keep things low to the ground so there are no hiding places for people,” he said. People can still make their yards look attractive by planting flowers and low plants while avoiding anything that somebody could hide behind while trying to open up a window.

Shiloh also recommended that lights be installed outside to illuminate the yard at night. Lights can be put on motion sensors, and solar-powered lights are an option for people trying to save electricity.

When he looked at the each of the house’s doors and windows, Shiloh did so with a critical eye, considering how he would break into the house if he were a burglar. “I don’t hear a whole lot about people picking locks nowadays,” he said. “They’re going to break in somehow, or if the doors are left unlocked, they’re going to walk in.”

The front door’s deadbolt lock was held in the frame with screws that were only a quarter-inch long. “That’s all that’s holding this door closed,” Shiloh said. “It would take absolutely nothing to push this door in.” He said locks should be installed with screws that are at least 3 inches; otherwise, the door can be knocked in by throwing enough weight against it.

Although the door would have been easy enough to bust open, the house’s casement windows, in which the pane is hinged on the side and swings open by means of a crank handle, would have been difficult to pry. This is in contrast to more common double-hung windows with a throw latch, which pop right out.

When he saw the back door was all glass, Shiloh recommended a security glazing to reinforce the glass and make it more difficult to break. “The security glazing makes it so that if they want to take one of these rocks here in the garden and throw it through the door, … the glass might shatter, but it won’t fall apart,” he said. “You want to do anything you can do to make it more difficult for them.”

The basement door, however, was the easiest target and, according to Shiloh, where he would break in if he were going to do it. Blocked from view at the bottom of a stairwell, the door had no deadbolt lock and a single-pane glass window. “Down here, you’re out of sight and sound isn’t going to travel too far,” Shiloh said. “I could put a towel up against this single-pane glass and just break it, push everything in, and I’m inside.”

In addition to safeguarding their homes, people should take care that their car doors are locked. “With the heroin epidemic, there are crews of people who come into a neighborhood, and they’ll drop them off to check in cars to see whether they’re open,” Shiloh said. “They’re not looking for stuff that’s going to be hard to pawn. They’re looking for cash or excess change in the ashtray, anything like that. … If it’s valuable, lock it in the trunk or take it with you.”

Residents who want to have a home security survey and learn how to make their home safer can contact Shiloh directly at jshiloh@aacounty.org or his side partner, Corporal Megan Ott, at mott@aacounty.org. Surveys can also be coordinated by phone at 410-222-2446.

The most important message — one that’s shared by Anne Arundel County Police and the Greater Severna Park Council alike — is that if you see something, you should say something. “Our residents are realizing that they are the first line of defense for their personal and property security,” Nichols emphasized. “It remains our responsibility to report to the county police suspicious activities whenever we notice something is not right. That could be unknown people loitering near our properties or schools, or individuals lurking around neighbor homes or stopping at our vehicles parked in our streets or driveways.”

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