How I Invited Thieves Into My Home

Today I want to take a quick break from my job-hunting series so I can take advantage of a “teachable moment” related to something that happened to me recently.

Last Thursday, I left for a trip to the mainland to attend my nephew’s wedding. When I arrived home Monday evening, I noticed that a small bookshelf in the living room had been moved slightly away from the wall. At first I thought my cats had been trying to get at something back there and had inadvertently moved the furniture.

But then I discovered my small stereo was missing from the bookshelf. And then I saw that a couple of pictures were gone from my living room walls. A more thorough inspection of the house revealed that other items were missing: some small electronics, a few earrings, a kitchen knife set, a screwdriver, and (unbelievably) a nail clipper. Of all the items stolen, the most valuable was something that held personal meaning and cannot be replaced: an original painting by a local artist and friend, Laurie McKeon.

I feel the loss of that painting keenly, but what also pains me is knowing that this situation was probably avoidable. Had I not made a series of stupid mistakes, this probably wouldn’t have happened. Don’t be fooled by Hawaii’s peaceful surroundings and friendly people: There is a dark side to living in paradise, which includes rampant home and auto theft. Here is how I practically welcomed burglars into my house while I was gone:

  • I deactivated my outdoor motion-sensor lights. At the time, it seemed like a good idea. Every time Alice went outside to shishi (or the wind blew a tree branch, or a gecko scurried up a wall), the lights would flick on. And then off again. And then on again. It was driving me crazy, so I came up with the brilliant idea of putting duct tape over the motion sensors. Looking back now, that wasn’t such a great idea, as it probably provided a nice, dark cover for the thief to enter my home through the backyard.
  • I left a side-entry door slightly ajar. My cats, especially Amy, like being able to go in and out whenever they like. And I like it, too, because it means I don’t have a litter box to clean. But it was really stupid of me to leave the door ajar when I knew I’d be gone for four nights. I guess I figured that because I live in a “good” neighborhood that has its own private security patrol, no one would take advantage of an inconspicuous door being cracked open. I figured wrong. Even though the door was located on the side of the house behind locked gates, this was how the thief got into my house.
  • I left my slatted windows open. I didn’t even realize this was a mistake until the police were taking my report and one of the officers asked if the windows had been left open. I said yes, but pointed out the fact that the window panes are slatted. He said the individual plates of glass could be removed without too much of a problem, and then it would be a simple matter of popping off the screen to get into the house.
  • I practically advertised that I was going on a trip. No, I didn’t announce my travel plans on my Facebook page, or on this blog (although those would have been big mistakes, too). When I was leaving the house to go to the airport, I wheeled my luggage through the front door of my house, down the pathway through the front yard, and around to the car. As I did this, I realized that all the landscape workers next door could see me doing this. Oopsie daisy.

Make your home a difficult target for thieves

I can’t promise that house theft is totally avoidable in Hawaii, but there certainly are things we can do to make things difficult for burglars. Here’s what I plan to do differently to deter house thieves, along with some other ideas you might try:

  • Use outdoor lighting. I still hate the idea of motion-sensor lights going on and off repeatedly during the night, so maybe the solution is to set the lights to a constant “on” during the night. And if that’s not possible, then I’ll probably set the lights to come on only when I’m away from home. My artist friend Laurie swears that wearing a sleep mask has cured her nocturnal light-induced insanity.
  • Don’t leave any doors open or unlocked (duh). I’m looking into getting a proper pet door installed ASAP.
  • Don’t leave any windows open. Hmm, this is a difficult one for me, because I don’t have any air conditioning in my house. There’s no way I’m keeping all my windows closed. What I am willing to do is close any windows that aren’t necessary to cooling the house.
  • Consider getting a home with air conditioning. See above.
  • Consider getting a home alarm system. ‘Nuff said.
  • Don’t publicly announce any planned absences from home. Next time I travel, I’ll bring my luggage through the door that leads directly from my house into the carport, so it won’t be obvious to everyone in the vicinity that I’m leaving my house for an extended period of time. And remember: Avoid posting travel plans on social networking sites or your blog.
  • Postpone mail and newspaper delivery while you’re away from home. You don’t want your mail and newspapers to start piling up, signaling to would-be thieves that you’re not home. The U.S. Postal service lets you schedule delivery “holds” online, and so do many newspapers.
  • Consider getting a house sitter while you’re away from home. This is probably the best solution to ensure your home’s security while you’re traveling, as long as you can find a trustworthy house sitter. Since you live in Hawaii, it might be pretty easy to convince a friend or family member who lives elsewhere to come stay at your home.