Home Security – Access Opportunities
Home Security – Access Opportunities
The majority of burglaries and thefts from domestic properties are opportunistic. The burglar may get out of bed in the morning and decide to commit a crime, but that doesn’t mean that he will have a target in mind. He will go to a favoured area where he thinks he can steal items of value and walk or drive around the streets looking for an easy opportunity to get into a house or garden. His planning tends to be done on the spur of the moment: having found a likely target, he weighs up the chances of being seen and caught against the possible rewards. Easy access is often the trigger that tips the balance in favour of taking the risk.
The majority of domestic break-ins tend to take place at the side or rear of a house, or in blocks of flats with corridor access (as opposed to those with well overlooked balcony access). A burglar will normally only attempt to enter the front of a property if there is a feature that makes it easy for him. This could be a deeply recessed front door, an open ground-floor window, a lack of lighting or, perhaps, a high hedge that shields the property from the street. There are five main types of access opportunity for the burglar – this section will show you what to do about them.
1. Side access
A path or drive at the side of a detached or semi-detached property can be quite vulnerable. In some cases, this will have a gate that opens on to the back garden. In this situation, however, the burglar can often climb over or force the gate with little likelihood of being seen from the street or neighbouring house.
SOLUTION 1 – ADD A NEW GATE
One solution to the problem is to place an additional gate or gates across the path or drive at the front of the house so that any attempt to climb or force a way in will be visible from the street. The new gate should be at least 1.8m (6 ft) high and be designed to resist forcing and climbing. It should also allow the side of the house to be observed, just in case a determined individual manages to get in and attempts to break open a side window. A single gate should be locked into its frame using a BS3621, kite marked mortice sash lock, which will allow the gate to be unlocked from both sides. A double gate should be secured with a hasp, staple and padlock, the second opening gate also having a sturdy bolt that shoots into the ground. It is sensible to fit rubber stops to prevent the gates from slamming into adjacent walls, and to have some means of securing them in the open position so that vehicles and bulky items can pass through safely, especially on a windy day. If the gates open directly on to the street, they must open inwards. If possible, fit a light above the gate to deter anyone from attempting to climb over it after dark.
You will requirefor a gate that is over 2m (6 ft 6 in) high, or if it is placed immediately next to the public footpath or street and is over 1m (3 ft 3 in) high. It is always best to check with the local to make sure you won’t be contravening any rules. Obviously, if the pathway or drive is shared with a neighbour, you will need their agreement first because you will both have to take responsibility for closing and locking the gate.
SOLUTION 2 – IMPROVE AN EXISTING GATE
If you can’t reach agreement with a neighbour or put up a second gate for some other reason, you will have to make the best use of the existing side gate. Ideally, this should be at least 1.8m (6 ft) high, and be designed to deter climbing and resist forcing In this case, you need the gate to be solid to prevent an inquisitive intruder from seeing what there is to steal from your back garden or use to break into your home. A side gate can be locked in the same way as a front gate, but normally you need only use a hasp, staple and padlock, or a padbolt, which is secured with a padlock.
2. Access from open land and railway lines
Some properties are particularly vulnerable to burglary and garden theft because their gardens back on to open countryside or land that is accessible to the public. The latter includes public parks and gardens, railway lines and canal tow paths. Railway lines are a particular problem, as they often run through deep cuttings that can’t be observed from nearby houses. As a rule, the closer your property lies to a railway access point, such as a level crossing or station, the more vulnerable it is to intrusion. From a security point of view, a canal tow path can be likened to a back alleyway, but while an alleyway can often be gated and secured, a canal tow path cannot.
IMPROVE YOUR FENCING
The only option you have is to improve the strength, height and climbing resistance of your back-garden fence. If you have experienced problems and want to improve the security of your boundary still further – by planting defensive shrubs on the land beyond the fence, for example, you must gain permission from the landowner first. Local authorities have a legal responsibility to do all that they reasonably can to prevent crime. Thus, you could approach the council’s parks department and ask them to consider a defensive planting programme for the vulnerable perimeters of a public park to prevent adjacent homes from being burgled.
3. Access around blocks of flats
It is not possible to consider every access problem associated with the grounds of blocks of flats, because they are all so very different in layout and specific features. Most anti-social behaviour that occurs around a block of flats tends to result from a lack of effective access control into the grounds and its buildings, the absence of secure private gardens for the ground-floor flats, a proliferation of under-used footpaths and often simply poor design.
To get an idea of the potential problems and their solutions, consider the following real example of some blocks of flats in London.
On the south side of the site were three blocks of flats, each of four storeys, with six flats on each floor. A 4m (13ft) wide path separated each block. The blocks were set back from the road by 4m (13 ft). Access to each block was through a centrally located, recessed entrance door approached by a set of steps from the footway. The boundary between the front gardens of the flats and the footway was marked by a privet hedge.
The site was bordered by a road and footway to the south, a public footpath to the north, and wooden fences to the east and west. An overgrown hedge ran alongside the public footpath within the plot. A communal back garden occupied an area that was twice the area of the flats.
The residents of these blocks experienced a variety of problems, including burglary of the ground-floor flats through their back windows, theft of potted plants from the communal garden, trespass, littering and damage to the garden by young people late at night. Things came to a head when the residents found that drug users had been preparing and taking drugs in the shelter of their street doorways. The police were regularly called to the flats to deal with the problems, and it became clear to the landlord that improvements had to be made.
Working together, the residents, landlord and police crime prevention department came up with a number of measures to prevent or, at the very least, reduce the problems. The unrestricted access to the grounds had to be removed, which was achieved by erecting gates and railings across the paths that ran between the blocks. The entrance door problem was solved by moving the doors forward to eliminate the recess. The residents were keen to retain the large communal garden, so dividing it into plots was not supported. However, some lighting was installed in the garden to illuminate the areas directly outside the ground-floor windows, while the overgrown hedge running alongside the public footpath was removed so that the pedestrians who used it could get a clear view of the flats.
The privet hedge to the front of the flats was trimmed to a height of 1m (3 ft 3 in), the landlord promising that it would be maintained at this height. The measures introduced were affordable, but more importantly they made a difference to the residents’ lives. In effect, they had turned the misused communal garden into a private space, and had increased the potential for observation by removing barriers to vision and increasing light.
If you are experiencing problems of anti-social behaviour around your block of flats, discuss your options with your landlord or managing agent and the local police crime prevention department. Most solutions will require some improvement to the boundaries, to prevent the wrong people from getting in, and to the lighting so that a determined intruder will be spotted more easily.