What We Did Wrong: Burglary Victims Tell All

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When you read about numerous cases of home burglary, common themes emerge. First, everyone should take home security seriously. Even if you don't own many valuables, you could lose something with great sentimental value, or find yourself facing an intruder in your own home.

Another important theme is that if your items are stolen, chances are you won't get them back. The national clearance rate for burglaries is only about 15%.

Here are a few real-life burglary stories that highlight the importance of taking a comprehensive approach to home security, including physical security devices, monitored home security and increased neighborhood awareness.

Irreplaceable Music Memorabilia Stolen

In May 2012, Bakersfield resident Chris Goodsell lost more than two dozen guitars and amplifiers after a burglar broke into the "mother-in-law" suite behind his home. One item, in particular—a bass made in Bakersfield in 1966 and signed by Dee Dee—was an especially tough loss for Goodsell.

Determined burglars will sometimes remove doors altogether to get what they want.

Goodsell told local NBC affiliate KGET that he thought he had taken adequate precautions. "This is always dead-bolted and locked. Somehow they pried this security door open. The door that was behind it and dead-bolted and locked, they smashed in half. When I saw it, it was split down the middle." Antiques belonging to his mother were stolen, too.

Kern County, where Bakersfield is located, has seen a 33% spike in home burglaries in 2012, and deadbolts sometimes aren't enough to deter someone, particularly if very valuable items are behind the door.

Sometimes "Proper Precautions" Don't Help

In late April 2011, Darius Gemmel of Tucson returned home to find his place ransacked and items missing, including his MacBook Pro. Gemmel had done what insurance companies advise people to do by recording the serial numbers from valuable possessions. He found his computer at a local pawn shop, but was unable to get it back. Police identified the woman who stole the MacBook, but even after charging her, they had to navigate a thicket of laws surrounding the pawn shop industry.

Even if you're able to trace stolen items to a pawn shop, your chances of getting them back are slim.

Gemmel is pretty much out of luck unless there is a conviction in the case. The pawn shop has property interest in the stolen goods and can get restitution from the thief. If there is no criminal conviction, Gemmel will have to file a case in civil court and get a judge to rule that he can have his computer back. He's not sure what he could have done differently, telling Tucson Weekly, "The police are stonewalling me because I raised such a stink about how they handled my case. They have done absolutely nothing to take any action against anyone."

A Home Security "Arms Race" in Modesto

Josh Gregoire, an architect in Modesto, California, was the victim of four burglaries in two years. After the first, he installed security screens on his doors. After the second, he installed an alarm system. After the fourth, he installed surveillance cameras. It's been about two years since the last burglary, but burglaries in Modesto have shown an increase of 23% compared to last year, according to The Modesto Bee, and Gregoire's neighborhood is heavily targeted by burglars.

In some burglary-prone areas, home security becomes a game of one-upmanship between homeowners and criminals.

The city uses a verified response policy with burglaries due to high numbers of false alarms. Before sending officers, the policy requires that a break-in be independently confirmed by a third party or a video or audio surveillance system. Gregoire has done about all he can do, including adopting a dog, and returning home on his lunch break to check on the house. During one of those lunch breaks, a man jumped his backyard fence, but fled upon seeing Gregoire. The only option left to him is moving elsewhere.

These stories highlight the importance of taking home security seriously and being absolutely consistent with everyday precautions such as locking up and arming your home security system. Preventing false alarms is also very important, due to a drain on law enforcement resources.

Reducing your risk of home burglary requires a comprehensive approach to home security, including using strong locks, installing monitored security systems, and in some cases, installing surveillance equipment. Homes without security systems are twice as likely to be burglarized as homes with them,  so if you happen to live in a burglary "hot spot," investing in a monitored home security system is something you should strongly consider.

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