The burglary numbers show that burglars love to burgle in December, when people are either away for the holidays and/or hoarding expensive, stealable gifts in their homes—but we all know burglaries can happen at any given moment. In an attempt to help you protect your abode from these Christmas-killing scoundrels any time of year, I decided to ask some retired and imprisoned burglars what precautions they might suggest someone take to defend their precious goods from people like them.
It went horribly!
Several outright refused to speak with me; one informed me that I “have no idea” about “that life”; another was surprisingly helpful, until his “attorney advised him against doing this.” Which, honestly, I can respect.
Fortunately, the Allen, Texas police department recorded a lengthy video interview in 2015 with an incarcerated career home burglar named Michael Durden, and several retired burglars have also given anonymous advice about defending your home from burglaries on various internet forums.
So, I studied the video, scanned the forums and put together the most useful tips that these burglars gave to prevent others from being burgled. But wait! These people are, like, criminals, man. Can we really trust their advice? Maybe it’s a trap! Since another, more professional opinion was clearly important, I reached out to home security expert and Crime School podcast creator Chris McGoey for his thoughts on these defensive tactics. Get ready to stop some crime!
Own A Shit Home
Durden and numerous other online burglars claimed that higher-status homes — ones that looked upscale, had nice fences and sported manicured front lawns — were their main targets, whereas crap homes were undesirable. “I look for settled homes, because people who are of a socioeconomic status able to afford a particular type of home usually have disposable income,” Durden explained during the interview. “From my perspective, they have jewelry or ready cash that’s available to be taken. Middle-class homes get hit less by burglaries just because of that.”
McGoey counters this notion, however, saying, “The crime rates for burglary are always higher in low-income neighborhoods.” Plus, letting your home go to shit is a ridiculous means of keeping burglars away. That said, if you have anything extraordinary flashy in front of your home, like a fountain made of gold or a brand new Tesla Cybertruck, consider being a little more prudent with your wealth to encourage potential intruders to go elsewhere.
Have a Wireless Alarm System
Emphasis on wireless, because as Durden explained, burglars can easily cut the wires on less advanced systems. Fortunately, most modern home security systems are wireless, but you can expect to pay $15 to $35 a month for them. Durden also emphasized the importance of displaying stickers and signs related to your alarm system on both the front and back of your home, since he said burglars can usually tell when someone used a free trial, then quit paying. Moreover, he mentioned that investing in extras — like cameras and alarms that go off when glass is broken — can be even more of a deterrent. Still, he frowned upon high-up cameras, where burglars can simply duck down or wear a hat to avoid being caught.
McGoey, meanwhile, says the idea that burglars can reasonably shut off wired alarm systems is bullshit. “That’s a lot of nonsense,” he emphasizes. “Whoever’s giving you these tips doesn’t know what the hell they’re talking about.” What the heck, Durden, I trusted you!
Nonetheless, alarm systems and alarm signs are likely to work: According to a study that involved interviews from 400 incarcerated men and women convicted of burglary, as many as 60 percent admitted to being deterred by alarm systems, so Durden is right on the money with this one, though he might have stretched the truth a bit (who’d have thought???).
Get the Mail and Empty the Trash
Homes that appear to be vacant are easy targets for burglars, according to Durden, and forgetting simple chores is a sign that you could be on vacation. “People need to empty their mailboxes,” Durden emphasized. “People need to have their neighbors pick their older newspapers up from the lawn.”
Interestingly enough, while many people leave their front porch light on in an attempt to dissuade burglars from entering, McGoey explains that this often does the opposite. “You’re too cheap to buy a light timer,” he says. “It sends a signal that you’re gone if you have the porch light on 24 hours a day.”
Own Big, Angry Dogs
But only really, really mean ones. “Sometimes, there would be a dog, and sometimes I would go up the window and put my hand out just to see what the dog would do,” said Durden, who then added that small dogs were essentially worthless. If the dog is obviously aggressive, though, he mentioned that the thought of wrestling with it would often make him turn around.
One burglar on Reddit has a somewhat similar mindset, writing, “If they were hostile, I gave the house up. If they were friendly, I just gave them sleeping pills wrapped in ham.” Damn, dude, leave the puppers alone.
McGoey, too, mentions that dogs can be a good deterrent, but only the biggest of bois, specifically naming Rottweilers. “As a rule of thumb, burglars don’t like dogs,” he says. “They don’t like dogs that make noise, but they especially don’t like dogs that are going to bite them. Now, if you have a wimpy little dog that’s going to roll over on its back and let the burglar pet him, that’s not going to do much good.”
While McGoey says he doesn’t have dogs, what he does have is a “beware of dog” sign on his fence to deter burglars, which is a great — and cheaper! — idea. “To a certain extent, that will work,” he says. “Some burglars will look at that alone and say, ‘Well, I’m not going to go into this place. There’s a dog there.’”
Now, despite some burglars admitting to being afraid of dogs, I should mention that news agencies have looked into and tested whether dogs actually prevent burglaries time and again, and more often than not, at least in their tests, the dogs just chill while the burglars plunder the homes.
Have A Private Home
According to Durden and other burglars, being able to see clearly into your home, often through a windowed front door, allows prowlers to scope out your interior for valuables and the presence of people. “Those doors are beautiful, and I can understand why people like them, but from a criminal perspective, that’s an invitation,” Durden said. McGoey also says that potential burglars often peak through such doors to see whether your alarm system is set or not, since the controls tend to be right inside the front door, which could be troublesome if you forgot to turn on your alarm before you left.
The same holds true for windows. “Keep your windows shuttered when you’re not home,” Durden suggested. Likewise, he said that leaving some lights on inside the home when you go out can lead potential burglars to believe that there might be someone home, encouraging them to move on. But remember, that porch light does jack shit.
Have Nosy Neighbors and A Neighborhood Watch (But Mostly Nosy Neighbors)
Meddlesome neighbors are usually awful, but they can be a huge crime deterrent. “I applaud the efforts of Neighborhood Watch,” Durden said. “There have been so many times that I’ve gone and cased a neighborhood, and stayed away from that neighborhood because it was obvious to me that there were people out walking.”
While the head of my Neighborhood Watch program does little else but hoard trash cans and feed stray cats, according to somewhat recent research, Neighborhood Watch communities experience a 16 percent decrease in crime when compared with control areas.
That said, McGoey — and several other studies — are much more critical of the Neighborhood Watch program. “Neighborhood Watch doesn’t work,” he says. “What works is your individual communication and relationship with your neighbors. Forget Neighborhood Watch. If you know your neighbor next door and your neighbor across the street, and you communicate with them, tell them when you’re leaving and they agree to watch after your home and vice versa, then that works. But just having Neighborhood Watch as a program, that only means that the police came to your neighborhood and held a class that nobody attended.”
Keep Valuables Out of the Bedroom
Durden said that he would spend between five and seven minutes in each house, during which time he would check the master bedroom, looking into drawers and closets, followed by the office, where he said people often kept credit cards and the like. Therefore, Durden suggested locking away banking and credit information, and hiding valuables, like family jewelry, in the garage, the attic or even in the ceiling.
McGoey, however, is skeptical that burglars care much about sensitive information in your office. “Forget the confidential: The burglars don’t give a shit about what’s confidential or not,” he says, adding that the master bedroom information is actually correct. “They’re going to go right through the dresser drawers, the nightstand, under the bed, looking for cash, looking for drugs, jewelry, weapons — that’s all a good score.”
So, there you go. Make friends with your neighbors, pretend you have a dog, turn your Goddamn porch light off — whatever you need to do to make sure Christmas isn’t ruined by a burglar this year. Leave that to your drunk uncle, instead.
Ian Lecklitner is a staff writer at MEL Magazine. He mostly writes about everyone's favorite things: Sex, drugs and food.