While factors such as your home’s proximity to laneways and bicycle paths and the amount of vehicle and pedestrian traffic in your area can increase the risk of burglary, the biggest contributor is a lack of security, which encourages opportunistic would-be burglars to see your house as a soft target.

HBF Insurance operations manager Garry Wilson said that at the very least, every home should have decent locks on all doors and windows.

“It is really common sense to make sure you install the minimum of security that you need, ” he said.

Despite this, 2005 ABS figures suggest that fewer than half of West Australians have deadlocks on all their external doors, with only 51 per cent having locks or security shutters on all their windows.

Those seeking something more high-tech might consider a biometric system, whereby doors can be unlocked using recognition of physical characteristics.

“Biometric locks offer convenience and extra safety, because keys and pin numbers can be passed around, ” said Jim See, director of Biometric Technologies.

The locks could store up to 100 different fingerprints, though basic models capable of storing 15 prints were available from about $550.

And if you think fingerprint locks sound rather futuristic, Mr See said they were in fact now widely available, with palm and eye scanners seen as possibilities for the future of home security.

Neil Woolley, RAC Security sales manager, also recommended fitting security screens to doors and windows.

While the cost could be off-putting, with window screens costing from about $250 each, they were a vital component of a well-protected home.

“Costs vary wildly but we recommend not to compromise your security by reducing the cost, ” Mr Woolley said.

It was also important to ensure screens could be opened in case of an emergency, such as fire.

Another option for windows was to add a layer of protective film, which guarded against glass being smashed by would-be intruders.

Alarms and security cameras

According to Mitre 10’s Wayne Dradwidge, part of the usefulness of an alarm system is the visual deterrent it provides. “At the very basic level there are imitation security cameras you can install yourself, which do a good job of deterring intruders, available for about $20, ” he said. “You can augment this with security signs, stickers and/or a garden sign to once again send the message that your property is protected.”

Although they were considerably more expensive, ADT Security Australia managing director Mark Norton said monitored alarms were the most effective deterrent.

“A new trend which is growing in popularity is interactive monitoring, which gives consumers the ability to manage their home security systems via the internet, mobile, touch screen or iPhone, ” he said.

Some alarm systems could also be used to achieve semi-home automation, operating appliances such as air-conditioning and lights — an especially useful feature for giving your home a “lived-in” look while you are on holiday.

Costs can vary considerably.

Chubb Australia general manager Deborah Garnier said security cameras were an especially exciting area at the moment.

“Video verification technology means that we can get a better understanding from a monitoring point of view and so, as owners, you know what to expect — whether there has been an intruder or a false alarm, ” she said.

The cost of installing security cameras was about the same, whether they would be retrofitted to an existing alarm system or installed as part of a new one — about $1500 for a two-camera system either way.


Designing for deterrence

When formulating a security plan for your home, it is important not to neglect the exterior.

WA Office of Crime Prevention project manager Troy Daniels said strategic landscaping and planting could increase home security and supported natural surveillance.

“Natural surveillance, essentially, people’s ability to see around and about themselves, increases the likelihood that offenders will be seen by the householders or neighbours and reduces the likelihood that the location will be targeted as it will be perceived as being more risky, ” he said.

According to Sally Close, from Bunnings, potential hiding places for burglars could be eliminated by keeping plants well trimmed and installing outdoor sensor lights.

“Side gates and sheds should always be padlocked and fences should be strong and upright with no gaps, ” she said.

Nowhere to hide

Mr Daniels said another key was to limit opportunities for intruders to hide around a property.

“This means open space and garden beds with low vegetation or shrubbery no higher than 70cm, ” he said. “Tree branches should not fall less than 2.4m from the ground and trees should not be allowed to provide a natural ladder on to roofs or an upper storey.”

MP Landscape Designs director and landscaper Monica Palmer said it was important to eliminate dark corners.

“By using low-voltage garden lighting you can brighten up potential hiding spots, ” she said. “Also keep a clearing between the boundary of the property and the house, whether it be lawn or decking, and install sensor lighting to turn on when movement occurs in these areas.”

Plants as prevention

Ms Palmer said ideal plants for deterring would-be intruders and screening unwanted views from the street included Magnolia Little Gem, Cottonwood (Hibiscus tiliaceus Rubra), Laurustinus (Viburnum tinus), lilly pillies, and James Stirling (Pittosporum James Stirling).

Ivy League Gardens director and landscape designer Janine Mendelow suggested plants with thorns, spikes, spines, sharp leaves or serrated edges on leaves. “These could include bougainvillea, stiff-leafed yuccas, date palms, cycads, agaves, roses, holly and tall cactuses with spikes, ” she said.

Gardens from Eden managing director Colin Barlow recommended planting the boundary or fence line with plants with spines, thorns or sharply pointed leaves that could cause an intruder considerable pain or injury. “Intruders are most likely to take the easy option and will bypass your property if there is an easier, less painful proposition nearby, ” he said.

Mr Barlow said Berberis thunbergii Atropurpurea was an attractive, deciduous shrub with sharp thorns along the stems and branches that could be trimmed to form a neat hedge.

“Phoenix palms such as the dwarf date palm Phoenix roebelenii, the date palm Phoenix dactylifera and the Phoenix canariensis have vicious spines at the leaf bases that can penetrate deeply into the skin and body and are impossible to get out if they break off without a trip to the hospital, ” he said.

“Yucca elephantipes is another good impenetrable barrier with sharp leaf tips that could cause considerable pain.”

Mr Daniels also recommended planting low hedges or other dense vegetation immediately in front of walls or windows to prevent access.

Security aids

Ms Mendelow said it was wise to enhance the effectiveness of strategic planting by installing other security aids in your garden.

“You can install a water feature near your entrance that is linked to your security lights and as the sensor picks up anyone nearby, not only do the lights come on but the water feature is activated, ” she said.

“The noise of the water can alert home owners to an intruder’s presence.”

She said another good idea was to lay stone paths around the house.

“Gravel and stone paths can help deter intruders as it is difficult to be quiet when walking on them, ” she said.

Packing up tools after gardening would also help increase security. “Don’t leave cutters, saws, electrical tools, ladders etc. lying about.”

Garden maintenance

Keep plants trimmed and tidy to improve natural surveillance from the house and to enhance security, advised Mr Barlow.

“Try to mow the lawn and trim your plants regularly, as an unkempt garden will appeal to burglars who may assume that you are away on holiday, ” he said.

“If plants grow tall and straggly, they are easier to walk under or through compared to dense, impenetrable hedges. When plants become too overgrown they can also create hiding places for intruders.”

How safe is your home?

  • Can all windows and doors be locked securely?
  • Do I have an alarm system?
  • Do I have exterior lighting with movement sensors?
  • Is a deadlock installed on the main door and in good working order?
  • Is the property enclosed by a high fence, hedge or other barrier?
  • Are shrubs and plants trimmed to eliminate hiding places?
  • Do I have security screens fitted to windows?
  • Is the shed padlocked?

Source: Bunnings


Landscaper Monica Palmer said a good idea was to cover walls with a climbing rose. “Just be careful when it comes to choosing one — if you want it to be used as a boundary deterrent many, like Zephirine drouhin and Pierre de Ronsard, have almost thornless stems, ” she said.

“Iceberg in climbing form is a good choice because it is a vigorous climber and Gold Bunny is another good choice.”

It will happen to you

According to the University of Western Australia’s Crime Research Centre, burglary rates in WA decreased by one-third between 1993 and 2005. Despite this, home burglary is still a very real concern in both metropolitan and rural areas.

“One Australian home is burgled every one to two minutes so there is no excuse for complacency when it comes to securing your home, ” said ADT Security’s managing director Mark Norton, referring to Australian Bureau of Statistics data from 2005.

Home security tips from Neighbourhood Watch State director Bernie Durkin, from the Office of Crime Prevention:
  • “We advocate a commonsense approach – thieves are opportunistic, ” Mr Durkin says. “Make it as difficult as possible to get into the house.”
  • This includes not leaving unsecured windows open and remembering to use any security you have, such as key locks.
  • Since the advent of compulsory immobilisers in cars, the prevalence of burglars breaking into homes to steal car keys has increased. “Gone are the days of hanging your house keys in a rack – put your keys and wallet away, ” Mr Durkin says.
  • “Don’t leave anything on display, such as a handbag by the kitchen window, because they can then just do a smash and grab, ” he says. Blinds and curtains should also be closed to conceal valuables.
  • If you are going away, take sensible precautions. “If the house is vacant, don’t make it look vacant – install sensor lights, ” Mr Durkin says. “Advise the local council when you go away and tell your neighbours and give them a contact number.”
  • “Keep an eye out for your neighbours — know their phone numbers and be aware of their schedule. If you see something off, ring them up.”


© The West Australian

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