Letter Re: Lessons from a Brief, Opportunistic Burglary

Dear Jim,
I want to forward a story from my local electronics surplus dealer concerning his son and wife who live in a new upper-middle class subdivision just outside of Portland, Oregon.

Last Friday, William (not his real name) went off to work as normal. Kids went off to school. Wife was home. She left the house at 11:15 for a quick errand. She got back about noon. Only 45 minutes.

On her return, she noticed the front door unlocked. She did the correct thing and did not enter the house. She called the local police from inside her car parked across the street. They cleared the house and noted that it looked like a quick search had occurred. Drawers were piled by desk, freezer contents were thawing on the floor. As soon as the safe was found by the bad guys, the hasty search stopped to concentrate on it. [JWR Adds: Perhaps it is worthwhile to leave a small “bait” vault that is bolted down in the master bedroom closet, while your main gun vault is hidden behind a false wall.]

Unfortunately, it was only a “fire safe”–mostly plastic, bolted to the floor) which can be popped open with a pry bar. Bad guys opened it quickly, took $16,000 in paper money, jewelry, etc. and were gone in a few minutes. In contrast, a $1,000 gun safe or a small floor safe set in concrete would have frustrated average thieves for at least an hour, if not completely.

The cash will not be covered by insurance (excluded in the policy), and the house policy will only cover about $4,000 of the documented jewelry. No one expects recovery or conviction, nor any significant investigation since “only property” was lost.

Details that I didn’t have were about household help (carpet cleaner, maid, yard service, plumber, etc.) who might have tipped off an unsavory buddy about the number of people in the house, entries/gates/dogs/alarm systems, vehicle details, coming and going timing and regularity, observed portable wealth, etc.

Lesson: A small “fire safe” for papers should be secured in a “real” safe or vault that household help do not have access to or knowledge of. Expect casing of better neighborhoods that are nearly empty during the work-week. Short shopping trips are plenty of time for Breaking & Entering, but the bad guys know that the clock is ticking from their first knock on the front door. Delay (a well-concealed stout safe) is a homeowner’s best asset, followed by professional armed response. A well-concealed video camera feeding to a hidden recorder would greatly encourage the local police to pursue prosecution, or help your investigator. [JWR Adds: Concealed web cams feeding motion-capture images to an off-site server are now quite affordable.] Concealed carry for the lady of the house may have made her feel more self-assured during her retreat back to the car.

Best wishes for your family. Sincerely, – Karl K. in Oregon