How should you deal with an intruder in your home? A quick internet search yields all kinds of answers, from the far-fetched (Home Alone-inspired booby traps) to the more aggressive (a firearms-first mentality). We wanted to learn more about best everyday practices for families and those who live alone. To learn more, we spoke to Officer Johnathan Frisk, a 16-year veteran police officer with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) Crime Prevention Unit.
Among other responsibilities, Officer Frisk teaches Active Shooter training, one of the CMPD’s most requested community engagement programs. He also coordinates CMPD’s participation in the National Night Out program, which promotes police-community partnerships. He’s well-accustomed to educating people about how to prepare and respond to crimes and emergency situations.
There’s A Knock At The Door – Now What?
It’s important to understand that home invasions frequently start with something innocuous: a knock at the door. If you’re not expecting anybody, Frisk says, “A lot of people want to ignore it. But in reality, if a criminal wants to steal something, they often knock on the door first.” When they don’t hear an answer, they think the coast is clear. “Bam! All of a sudden they’re coming in, or they’re kicking in the door.”
- Frisk advises that adults respond in a way that suggests that there’s a full house, even if there isn’t. You can have your own go-to line, but anything along the lines of “Hey, would someone check the door?”, or “One second – let me get my husband” would do the trick.
- If you can, draw attention to your home. Set off the home alarm, your car alarm or flip on all the lights. This will deter criminals, as most of them aren’t willing to be seen.
- If you can do so without being seen, try and observe the stranger so you can get a description, perhaps through a second-floor window or a security camera feed.
- If you still can’t identify the visitor, Frisk says, call 911 and tell them about the stranger at your door.
If it seems like an overly dramatic response, Frisk explains why the CMPD doesn’t think so. “Maybe we’re getting several calls about suspicious people. Maybe it’s an area with several house break-ins. Maybe it’s someone who is wanted by the police. That call could be what helps us catch them.”
If the Intruder is in Your Home
The situation escalates if the stranger’s already made it inside. The thought alone is alarming, but you can prepare yourself simply by running through this scenario in your head. The mind prepares the body, as Frisk points out.
- Your first course of action should be to get out of the house immediately. If there’s a front door, back door or window, get as far away as possible. Once you’re in a safe place, call 911. In serious situations, you might need to consider escaping even if it means you’re likely to hurt yourself. One injury is nothing compared to your life.
- If escape is out of the question, barricading yourself might be an option. Keep in mind that many interior doors aren’t especially sturdy, so the best places to hide are areas of the home with heavy, locking doors where you won’t be detected.
- Whether you’re barricaded or not, try to arm yourself with a de facto personal weapon. “A baseball bat, a frying pan, a knife, it doesn’t have to be a firearm,” says Frisk. In case you encounter the intruder, do the best you can to fight back. Plan to strike weak points like the face, neck and eyes.
- Once you’ve exhausted all possibilities of flight or hiding, call 911. No matter what, a response from 911 is going to take some time. You need to protect yourself as much as possible before calling 911.
If you can, try to observe details about the intruder so you can provide a description to the authorities later on. Details like clothing, gender, age, race, which direction they came from or departed toward, car description and license plate number are all potentially helpful.
How to Teach Kids to Respond to Strangers & Intruders
When there’s a knock at the door, some kids have an excited inclination to run over and see who it is. Teach them to curb this urge so they don’t accidentally let in a stranger. Kids should never unlock or open the door for anyone, especially if they are home alone or unsupervised. Turning the lights on, sounding alarms and not letting themselves be seen are good steps they can take instead.
Frisk recommends not only teaching kids how to react to a stranger at the door, but testing them on it. “Test your kids. Drill it in their head. Have someone come and ring the doorbell to see if they do what you tell them. Keep up the training until they pass the test.”
Everyday Home Safety Advice From an Expert
Officer Frisk shares a few more actionable, thought-provoking insights on home invasion preparedness.
- Remember that criminals don’t want to be seen, and they don’t want to attract any attention. Light up your house, yard and driveway. Always keep your doors and windows locked, so they can’t slip in without effort.
- Security cameras by themselves are good, but in the case of a home invasion, they’re only good for the police department. Once a break-in is underway, the footage might help the police catch the perpetrator, but the cameras weren’t enough to stop the crime in the first place.
- Many people say that gun ownership is the best protection “but a gun isn’t any good if you don’t know how to use it.” Even if you can proficiently handle a firearm, you still need to mentally prepare for how you will handle a break-in. You’ll need to prevent the intruder from taking the firearm, for example.
- Remember that the property in your house can be replaced, but life can’t. Do not put yourself in harm’s way to protect objects, however valuable they are.
Apply this information into your home security and family safety plans. For example, use smart lights or motion detector lights to keep your property well lit. Choose a 24/7 monitored home security system so that an alarm will sound if the home is breached, and more importantly, a trained professional will call 911 if you are unable to do so. If you do have a security system, test the siren and/or check the panic alarm so that you can count on it during an emergency.