Keeping thieves out of your home can be as simple as keeping porch lights on all night or as elaborate as installing ceiling-to-floor passive infrared heat detectors throughout the house.
Whatever the method, crime prevention experts, security systems salesmen and even a couple of ex-burglars agree, that with a little effort, you could prevent your home from being burglarized.
"The average burglar is not a professional," said Officer Tara Ball of the Howard County Police Crime Prevention Unit. "They make crimes out of opportunity. The highest number of entries is through unlocked doors and windows. The day you don't lock them is when they come in."
Ball recommends dead-bolt locks on all exterior doors; a charlie bar -- a flip-down bar that holds the door in place and makes it immobile -- on sliding patio doors; and an additional back-up lock, such as a dead-bolt drilled into the framework.
The cheapest way toinstall the locks, she said, is to drill a hole through the first set of doors and 3/4 of the way into the second set where both doors meet, but she recommends extra caution when drilling into glass.
For double-hung windows, homeowners should drill a hole through the first set and 3/4 of the way into the second. Locks can be added to sliding windows.
In his book, "Secrets Of A Superthief," Jack MacLeanprefers steel over wooden doors, a peephole offering a 180-degree view, and storm shutters on all windows.
Ball and MacLean both recommend outside lighting -- continuous burning or motion-sensored, wherethe light does not go on until someone walks in its path.
MacLeanalso urges homeowners to keep expensive cars in the garage and keep the garage locked.
"Once a burglar has gained entry . . . he is now well-concealed and can stay as long as he wants. More than likely the home owner's tools are right there ready for the burglar's use."
Electronic garage door openers are another "security enhancement," said Ball.
Homeowners also should trim back shrubs and trees that are blocking doors and windows, providing cover for would-be burglars.
Ball said it is essential to give the impression there is "activity" within the home. She urged the use of dim lighting even after bedtime. "It's not necessary to have brights," she said.
Malcolm X, a one-time burglar, recommended the use of lights to thwart potentialintruders in his book, "The Autobiography of Malcolm X":
"One of the ideal things is to leave a bathroom light on all night. The bathroom is one place where somebody could be, for any length of time, at any time of the night, and he would be likely to hear the slightest strange sound.
"The burglar, knowing this, won't try to enter. It'salso the cheapest protection. The kilowatts are a lot cheaper than your valuables."
But the home is more at risk when no one is there,said Harold Koudelka, sales manager of Austronic Burglar Alarms in Columbia, and a former Maryland state trooper.
"Most thefts occur during the day, when the home is empty. Most couples work and that leaves the whole neighborhood vulnerable."
Burglars stake out their victims several ways, he said. To see if people are home, they may make a series of phone calls, then hang up; come to the front door and pretend to ask for directions; or just sit and watch a neighborhood.
"They have a feel that house is ripe to go after," Koudelka said.
Ball recommends the use of electric timers for lamps when people are out of the house for any length of time, which also ensures that "people won't come into a darkened home."
For homeowners on extendedtrips, it's important that "things don't look the same all the time," Koudelka said.
"Every other day, have a neighbor open one curtain and another day, another, move a flag on the flagpole up or down, or move a bike sitting in the yard to another area, just so everythinglooks different from day to day," he said.
Homeowners who want more complex security measures can purchase a home security system costing anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to $15,000, depending on the size of the home and what the homeowner would like the system to do. Most average between $800 to $1,400.
A security system is a "security advantage," Ball said, and suggests homeowners get three estimates and check each company's reputation.
County residents alsocan call the county patrol division at 313-2208 and ask a police officer to check if the home's service is adequate.
Security systems offer protection against intruders who try to enter the house by breaking a window, or prying open windows and doors. Magnetic contacts, or switches for anything that opens, will set off an alarm.
"You don't want to use a contact sensitive to touch because it leaves open too many false alarms," Koudelka explained.
Foil strips taped to windows will register for breaking glass. But most companies prefer glass guards since "tapes may eventually break," said Tom Eckes, owner of the 10-year-old TNT Security Alarm Systems company in Ellicott City.