How do you prevent a burglary? Convicted thieves tell all

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SALT LAKE CITY — How do you stop a burglar from breaking into your home? If you want the real answer, you've gotta go straight to the source.

In Salt Lake City alone, there were more than 1,600 burglaries in the past year. It's one of the most prevalent crimes in the city, with an average of 4 1/2 break-ins every day.

So, how are thieves getting away with it?

Instead of going to the police to find out, the KSL Investigators recruited 12 convicted burglars to share their secrets.

We also interviewed John Mace, an inmate at the Utah State Prison who's facing up to 15 years behind bars. The 31-year-old has quite a rap sheet for crimes, like attempted robbery, theft, shoplifting, assault, drugs and, of course, burglary.

Question 1

"How did you typically break into a home or apartment?"

"You'd be surprised how many people leave a door unlocked or a window open," Mace said.

That's also the No. 1 answer from the rest of the burglars we spoke to. Over 80 percent of the time, they said an unlocked door or window is how they got in.

Question 2

"Did you typically knock on the front door before breaking into a home or apartment?"

"Always. Always," said Mace. "I would say, 'Hey, do you know where this address is on this street?' And they'd point me in the right direction, and I'd just walk off like that's where I was headed."

Mace is not alone. Eighty-three percent of the burglars interviewed said they always knock before breaking and entering. If someone answers, they have an excuse for that. The most popular ones are:

  • "May I use your phone?"
  • "Can you give me directions?"
  • "Is so-and-so here? Sorry, I must have the wrong house."

Question 3

"What time of day did you prefer to break in?

Burglars also get to work early, just like the rest of us. The most popular time to break in is mid-morning.

"You're able to get into a home a lot easier during the day when people ain't expecting you to be there," Mace said.

Question 4

"Where did you look for hidden valuables?"

Once inside, most burglars seem to go to the exact same place: the master bedroom.

"I would go straight for that jewelry box and look under the mattress," Mace said. "You'd be surprised what's just laying about in these master bedrooms."

Question 5

"Did home protection or security signs posted outside the home deter you?"

"Not at all," Mace answered. "I would say 50 percent of those, if not more, are fake."

That answer goes for 67 percent of the other burglars as well. They said they would still break in, despite a security sign posted outside.

Question 6

"Did lights on, radio or TV on, or a car in the driveway deter you?"

  • Lights on in the home: 75 percent of burglars would still break in
  • Radio or TV on inside: 64 percent of burglars would still break in
  • Car in the driveway: 82 percent would still break in

Question 7

"If there was a security camera visible, would it keep you from breaking in?"

"You try to keep your head down, keep your hat low, put a hood on, whatever," Mace said. "Just try to disguise yourself as much as possible."

Mace said a visible security camera would not stop him, but it would stop about 50 percent of the other burglars interviewed.

Question 8

"If a home alarm system went off, what would you do?"

Forty-five percent of the burglars we talked to said they would leave immediately. But the other 55 percent, including Mace, said they would only leave before police arrived.

"There's the response time," Mace said. "I know that I've got a minimum, I would say, two to three minutes to get in there and try to come up with 20 or 30 bucks to go get my fix and get out and be on my way. And that was very easy to do."

Question 9

"Did pets in the home, like a dog, make you think twice?"

"Always, always," Mace answered, "especially bigger dogs. You can tell by that growl or that bark if they're a big dog, and you don't know if they're friendly or not. I love animals. I love dogs. But they don't always love me."

Half of the convicted burglars we surveyed agreed they wouldn't break into a home with a dog inside. Some said even if it's a small dog, they would be afraid any type of barking would draw attention from the neighbors.

Question 10

"Did you ever check mailboxes or social media to determine if someone was going to be out of town?"

  • 75 percent of burglars said they do not check mailboxes before breaking in
  • 83 percent of burglars said they do not check social media (Facebook, Instagram, etc.) before breaking in
Mace said drugs were the motivating factor behind his crimes, but said his criminal days are now behind him.

"I like to stand tall and proud and say that I'm an upstanding citizen of this state," Mace said. "I'd like to get back to it once I commit this sentence."

More tips from the 'experts'

If you'd like to keep other burglars at bay, here is some of their best advice:

  • Lock everything and get surveillance.
  • Keep dogs inside the home, choose only the best security, and secure valuables in a well-hidden safe.
  • Actually arm your security system and lock all doors and windows.
  • Do not display big ticket items by throwing your TV box, iPad/tablet/laptop package in the trash.
  • Homes that are in a cul-de-sac are tempting because the back of the home may be blind to neighbors or traffic. Secure back doors and windows more than the rest of the house.
  • Put a safe in your basement and bolt it to the ground.

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Mike Headrick


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