Inside Texoma: Home Burglaries

It's a scary statistic just this week: home burglaries in Texas are on the rise, increasing nine percent in just the last year.

Being the victim of a home burglary can forever change your world; you feel violated in the place you are supposed to feel the safest.

What can you do? You can make your home a fortress.

Today we're taking you inside a Texoma home to show you ways to better protect yourself from criminals. From the outside to the inside it's a home transformation, but we start with one victim's story who hopes her experience never ends up being yours.

Last November, Barbara Kraning's world changed forever--that's when she came home from being out with her daughter to find her home had been broken into.

The  door was kicked in, and wood from her door was holding open her screen door.

Kraning said, "I wasn't sure if they were still here or not so I called 911."

After backing away from the home, Kraning waited for deputies to arrive. Jewelry, game systems--these are just a few things this criminals nabbed.

Her sense of security was gone.

"It makes you feel weird and aggravated," Kraning said. But if she has anything to say about it, her home won't be so accessible again.

"Make sure you keep your doors locked when you go out," Kraning said. "Don't leave them unlocked, that's the best thing."

Since then she has taken lots of steps to secure her home, from a metal door to a storm door that locks. She even has a motion sensor light installed by her door. Kraning said the days of leaving your door unlocked have passed, which is also a big change for her son, who comes to visit.

"I would leave it unlocked for him to come in, but now if he was planning on coming out he better give me a call because he isn't going to get in," Kraning said.

To better protect your home, Wichita Falls Police are offering home security checks to show you what a criminal may find as an easy access. Some things you may know while others may come as a complete shock.
Wichita Falls Police Officer Brian Bohn with the Crime Prevention Unit spends his days helping Wichitans secure their property, from the inside out.

We went along as he checked out a Wichita Falls home to gather tips you can also put to use, no matter where you live.

When it comes to creating a security barrier, Bohn said start with your landscaping.

"You want to keep your hedges and your bushes trimmed down window level," Bohn said, "and you want to keep them trimmed up that way if there is somebody standing behind your bushes you can see them and they don't have to hide. Your trees--we tell people trim your trees up six feet. That way people can't hide behind your trees and can't hide in your trees, and you can see them if they're there."

Another key is the lighting on your house. Lights will illuminate the area so criminals can't find a place hide.

Bohn said, "Most burglars don't want to go near an area that's well lit up. If they do that they take a chance on being seen, being spotted. And somebody being able to give a description to officers responding,  hey there is somebody who looks like they are trying to break into this house. That's why they like dark places and we tell people make sure the exterior of your house is lit up."

A good way to do that is with dusk to dawn lights. They come on when it starts getting dark and stay on until the sun comes up.

Bohn said they are  fairly inexpensive, between $20 to $30, and can be installed yourself or if you prefer, with a simple call to an electrician.

Another way to protect your home from the outside in--motion sensor lights.

Bohn said, "It's got the little sensor," that will detect movement. "And it can be set where you do just motion, or where it will come on same as the others it will come on as it gets dark and they will go off as it gets light in the morning," Bohn said. "Motion sensor vs. dusk to dawn--if you have a really dark area...just needed it lit up. It doesn't need to be lit up that way, you have already got a little light on. If someone comes up and tries to get in it will just automatically illuminate this area here. You don't want it on all the time." And the sensitivity can always be adjusted.

Bohn said, "Most times if a cat or a dog walks by it will get em. I have seen them if a leaf blows into the range of the sensor it will set them off and they will come on."

But one of the most crucial lights on your home should be your porch light.

"You want to get a light that's bright enough if someone is knocking on the door you want to illuminate the area, so you can see who is on your porch at night. Who's knocking on your door with the home invasions that are becoming more common across the U.S." Bohn said. "You know we have had some recently in Wichita Falls. We tell people, 'don't answer your door without looking out your peep hole, without asking who it is.' If you don't know the person, ask to see some identification. Turn your porch light on. That way, you can see the person, get that person identified. If you don't know them, ask to see some I. D. If you don't want them there, tell them to go away."

From the front porch to the front door, it's where one of the cheapest and easiest transformations should take place.

Bohn said since doors are so easy to kick in, just like Kraning's was, it's crucial that all of your exterior doors are solid metal or solid wood.

"On those,e you want a dead bolt that has a throw of a minimum of one inch," Bohn said. "It's got to come out for a minimum of one inch." You can either have a single key which is keyed on the outside and levered on the inside or it can be a double key--key and a key. Now you can come into a problem if you have double key and this door is locked and there is a fire in the house and you need to get out. That's preference. We just single key as long as you have a lever you can operate and get out of the house in case something happens. Now that your bolt should go into your strike plate. These screws that go into these strike plates most of the time when installed these are little bitty one inch screws and all they do is go into this pine frame, this little one-inch pine frame. So when somebody comes to kick in your door, this frame is going to be the first thing to give way. So what we tell people to do is take those out and go in with 3 inch screws that actually go into the studs of the wall. Cause that way if someone is kicking in your door this frame is not going to give way. They are actually having to kick in this whole wall. This is what actually goes into your wall here. Same thing as with the screws, if you got just this much maybe a half inch of a dead bolt you don't get the added protection they can kick that in pretty easy. But you throw that piece of steel out there one inch, it goes into the wall just like your screws."

Bohn said it may not prevent thieves from getting in, but  if you're there, it will buy you time to hide and get to a safe room or a phone to call police.

"It is a cheap fix. You can get these screws, I think, you can get a two pack, I think they are like 98 cents for two of them," Bohn said.

An inexpensive security upgrade to your home that could deter a criminal from breaking in.

"Number one when you are kicking in a door, you are making noise. A lot of times you can go up to these houses that have the little one-inch screws and one kick you're in. But when you are doing three-inch screws you are going to have to kick multiple times for it to come in. An you are making noise every time you do that. So the more security you have the less likely they are to get into your house," Bohn said.

He said most criminals are looking for an easy target, so the key is 'hardening your home.'

"Harden your home that's what we tell people. Harden your home. Make them go onto somewhere where it's easier to get into, instead of your home," Bohn said.     

Bohn said glass doors are hard to secure because of the obvious, but keeping them locked is a plus.

"They are there to look pretty that's what they are there for," Bohn said. "They are not really there for security. That's why you have metal doors with dead bolt locks."

Another protection and added blanket of security is an alarm system.

"Most doors and even this one here, it has a contact on it when you open it, which is right here. There is a contact that is drilled down through and the contact is right here on top. So when you close this door see if you are the only one in the house and someone comes along and opens this door you here a beep," Bohn said.

They also have contacts for windows alerting you when one is pushed open. Another plus with an alarm system is a panic button.

"If something is wrong you can hit the panic button," Bohn said. "It will go to the alarm company dispatch. And they will get ahold of the police department. Motion sensors throughout the home. There is one over here on the wall that will cover the living room. And you can get them pointing different directions."

the more motion sensors you have, the more information your system will send to police.

"Most of the rooms will have motion detectors in them, in case somebody breaks a window or enters the house," Bohn said. "these will tell what room the intruders are in. And then the alarm company will dispatch that to the police to let them know hey we have alarm at this residence and motion in dining living area.  it's however elaborate that the homeowner wants to go with their system. You can spend as little or as much as you want."

with a free installation, Bohn said, you can expect to pay as little as $30 a month.

"But, yeah, when it comes to your family's safety, what do you want? That's what you have to ask yourself. How much is too much when it comes to my family's safety?" Bohn asked.

Above all, Bohn said the alarm is an added security feature and reminds residents to start with the little changes.

If you can secure your property, we might put them out of a job. Another important step is securing your inside windows.

Bohn said, "Window locks. Generally, you will either have one in the center or one on both the left and right side of the windows," but Bohn said it shouldn't stop there.

You also need secondary locks on your windows.
      Contacts wired in  from an alarm will count as another or you can find a cheaper route through thumb locks.

"The thumb locks here, it's just a lock that will clamp onto the window track, and wherever you put it is where the window stops. If you want to get some fresh air, you can put it where the window will just raise a couple inches but not enough where somebody can reach their arm into the windows and unlock it," Bohn said. "And all it does--a thumb lock will just clamp onto your window and you just screw them down."

The good news is, thumb locks are only about a $1 a piece, but remember you need one on every first-story window, and if you need to remove them for any reason, it just takes a second to screw them off.

And, believe it or not, your garage door also needs to be secure.

Bohn said, "Garage doors are the same as any exterior door, because that's what it is. It's just a door going to the outside. It's gotta be metal or it's gotta be wood. Your garage doors most people and not everybody will have a garage door opener. It does count as a lock cause once your door is down it's locked--you can't push it up. The one thing we will tell people to do--these little ropes that come down and have the nice little "T" handles. What this does when you pull on it, it releases the door, but what we are finding now are burglars are using that coat hanger to come in over the door, grab the rope and jerk that. So we tell them to take that "T" handle off the rope. That way, if they do get a coat hanger with a hook on it, it just slides down. It won't catch the "T" here and pull the door off."

And since the criminals are doing it by feel, that goes for any garage door, not just the ones with a window.

"We have a lot of people even at night they will leave their garage door open all through the night. People have tools in their garage, cars, bikes--they have valuables. If you don't want your stuff, put it to the curb put 'free take me' on it, but if you want to keep your stuff, I encourage you--please, close your garage doors, keep them locked."

In fact, Bohn said burglars are driving the neighborhoods looking for an easy opportunity.
"If your car is in your garage you need to treat it like it was in a parking lot. You need to lock it. You need to have your belongings out of it. Don't leave your mail in it don't leave your garage door opener in it .cause once they've got that they've got access to it. So take out your mail and garage opener and lock it, even if it is in the garage," Bohn said. "Another thing we tell people to do--a lot of burglars know people hide the key to their house outside on their porches, by porch light, under the mat, under the plant. Don't leave the key for your house outside. Leave it with a neighbor a trusted neighbor that you have. That way if something happens and you need to get in your house they have the key it's not hidden outside for people to find."

The back door of your home is also crucial to protect, which can bring another challenge if you have a sliding glass door or French doors.

"If you have a sliding patio door we ask that you pin those doors, either put a pin in the top or the bottom to prevent that door from being lifted out of the track," Bohn said. "If you pin from one door to the next, they can't raise it out of the frame. French doors--on these--your stationary doors a lot of times will have locks up here at the top and bottom, which is a foot and header lock. If not, you can push it in, and you have access into the home."

 And when it comes to your back yard, Bohn starts with the outside barrier that most of us have--a fence.

"You've got to look at privacy fences vs. a chain link fence. Privacy fence, yeah, it does give you the privacy but once a burglar or a thief jumps over that fence, it also hides them from your neighbors and where they can't be seen, where if you have a chain link fence, your neighbors could see if someone is in your backyard," Bohn said.

But whatever your preference, a lock is highly advised.

Although most people use a fence as a barrier, Bohn said it's important to not leave valuables in your backyard.  He said, "you pay good money for them so lock them up! Your sheds or your out buildings we encourage people to lock them, That's where most people will keep lawnmowers, weed eaters, blowers, maybe welding tools or projects. If you've got a building to put them in, put a lock on them, so people don't come in and get your stuff," Bohn said.

He also recommends adding extra protection to sheds and out buildings by adding a light or motion detector to alert you of any movement or danger, just like you would to your home.

After walking through Mindy Davoult's home, we wanted to know how she felt about the changes and how a few extra security steps is making her home safer for her and her kids.

Davoult's home is a place her boys and nieces love to come and hang out, whether it's jumping on the trampoline or simply sitting by the pool, but with these precious lives in her care, Davoult wanted her home to also be a safe one. That's why she's been taking extra steps, like changing out the screws and making sure all of her doors are metal.

"They're just simple things, things we don't think a whole lot about, and sometimes just as simple as buying a lock and keeping doors locked and gate and lights outside and so forth," Davoult said, but she was surprised by some of the suggestions and the lack of security her home provided before changes were made.

Davoult said, "It's a big surprise. I mean stuff like that you typically don't think about anyway, especially when you've got a deadbolt and you think your door is pretty secure. Whether you have a metal door or something heavy duty, you don't think about somebody actually kicking the door in and what a difference that would make."

Another surprise: needing to always make sure her gates were locked.

"Don't really typically think about that, especially if you have got kids running in and out. But then again in the evening, if they are out in the backyard playing it's something that definitely provides extra safety, having the gates locked so that not just anybody can walk in," Davoult said.

Davoult was glad to hear how effective her alarm system is and that it adds that second lock to her doors and windows, but perhaps her favorite security part about the alarm is the beep that sounds when a door is opened.

"Especially in the evening you have gone to bed and some sleep straight through just about anything. And having children makes a huge difference. Just having that security, because there are times in my house you may not hear someone walk through the front door prior to the alarm," Davoult said.

She also like the security of knowing the alarm will notify officers if someone breaks in, another safety check when she heads out of town. But Davoult doesn't just rely on equipment.

"Going on vacation, I typically have a close friend that will come by the house," Davoult said. "Come in, put the mail up, newspaper, which, you can have those things held, but you know they usually come by and make sure there is some type of activity in the house. Open the shades, close the shades. Whatever the case may be, to make it look like someone is staying at the house. That's usually what I feel more comfortable with. That way, there is someone checking the house out throughout the day or evening and turning lights on and off."

Tips this mother learned from her own mom and is now passing on to her children.

And although at times it can be frustrating, she has lots of proof her extra efforts of telling them to keep the doors locked is paying off.

"The kiddos have friends in and out of the house too, and I notice--which is kind of a funny thing--the backyard, everyone goes in and out of that back door, whether it be swimming or playing or whatever. We have gotten in such a habit of locking the doors we will lock each other out of the house and next thing you know someone is beating on the door trying to get in. I have done it so many times of locking them out, but they are fully aware of locking and making sure they are shut and even when mowing we are conscientious  of making sure the front is shut and locked and if garage is raised, that we lock the door going into house," Davoult said.

A family effort to keeping this home safe.

If you're heading out of town, you can also call Wichita Falls Police Officers, and they will set you up on a patrol check where  officers will drive by and check on your home to make sure everything is okay while your gone.

If you live inside city limits and would like a security survey to be done on  your home, contact Crime Prevention Unit or Officer Bohn at 720-2181.  It's free and once you pass the security survey, you could get a break on your home owner's insurance.

But like Kraning, you don't have to live in city limits to take advantage of this service. The Wichita County Sheriff's Office has also implemented the program, and Kraning is planning to have them out soon after to take advantage.

Inside Texoma