Counting Crime is a Herald series looking at where and when offending is happening in the community - and who the victims are. Each day we will look at a different category of crime and examine the numbers, meet the people affected the most and reveal the times, days and places you are more likely to fall victim. Today we look at burglaries and how to avoid your home being hit by thieves.
Charlotte Brebner was away from her Auckland home for less than two hours - but that was plenty of time for burglars to break in in broad daylight and help themselves to her family's posessions.
One day in September left her home in an Orakei cul-de-sac just after 9am to do errands and make deliveries for her business.
She was away for about 30 minutes.
At 1.30pm she popped out again, this time for an hour.
Each time she returned home, she did not find anything amiss.
That evening her teenage daughter called out from her bedroom and asked if Brebner had borrowed or moved $800 she had in a wallet that she had been saving.
Brebner replied no, and then it occurred to her that maybe the house had been broken into?
She started to check the property and went downstairs to find the bathroom window "smashed to pieces".
"They'd clearly used a crowbar or very heavy instrument," she said.
"I then realised a camera, watch and jewellery were missing and at that stage I called the police."
Brebner shared her story as part of the Herald series Counting Crime, based on police victimisation statistics.
Counting Crime: check out your neighbourhood at Herald Insights here.
Brebner said the thieves had come in through the bathroom and must have realised that there was an alarm on in the house when they opened the door.
"The alarm would have sounded the minute they walked out, so they've obviously crawled on their bellies down the hall into bedrooms.
"Either that, or they had some kind of thermal cover to stop the alarm... when the police came they said the burglars had been prepared."
It's suspected Brebner's home was targteted by professional thieves. No fingerprints were found, suggesting they wore gloves, and they put the smashed security stays back in place to hold the window frame and delay anyone noticing.
"They'd clearly been watching, waiting for me to leave," Brebner said.
She'd noticed a white van with tinted windows parked in the street the day of the break-in and had thought to herself it was a bit out of place, but did not think to take down the registration or report it at the time.
She still isn't sure if the van is connected, but it plays on her mind - as does the fact strangers have been in her home, uninvited and rifling through her things.
"They came fully armed, the window was twisted and torn, they had tools, they weren't opportunists," she said.
"My feeling afterward was one of fury and it couldn't be minimised.
"At first I wasn't scared but then I began to feel much more vulnerable... you feel powerless in your own home and that is extraordinary.
"You feel taken advantage of... unable to protect yourself and your property."
No one has been arrested for the burglary and Brebner said though her home was well fortified beforehand with surrounding fences and alarms, she is now even more vigilent with security.
"But there are people out there with the means, ability and knowledge of breaking into houses and they will do it," she said.
"That's the shocking element - even if you do everything you can to protect your home, if they want to get in, they will.
"They can be very clever."
There are a number of ways to protect your property - both while you're at home and away.
• Always lock up. Burglars often enter through unlocked doors and windows or they take advantage of weak locks
• Install good quality locks and use them. Check that you will be able to escape easily in a fire or other emergency
• Lock the front door if you're in the back garden
• Lock your house if you are having a rest or doing something that needs a lot of concentration, such as studying or sewing
• Lock away tools and ladders because burglars could use them to break in
• Lock garden sheds and your garage if you can
• Sensor lights are an excellent security device because they light up automatically if somebody moves nearby
• Keep trees and shrubs trimmed so they don't provide hiding places for burglars.
• Keep windows secure
• Guard your keys. Don't have personal details on your keys (such as your name, phone number or address)
• Don't leave house keys with your car keys when your car is being serviced
• Don't invite burglars in - never leave notes on a door stating that you are out
• When you go away, make sure your home looks 'lived in'
Before you go away
• Tell your neighbour when and where you're going cancel mail, paper etc give your neighbour a contact phone number put a lamp on a timer curtains open, blinds up turn telephone ringer sound down lock all doors, close all windows.
• Ask your neighbour to clear your letterbox, close your curtains at night, use your clothesline occasionally, watch your home, use your driveway occasionally, report any suspicious behaviour.
Identify and mark your valuables
When claiming insurance you must be able to prove you owned any stolen items claimed for.
Burglars are unlikely to steal items that are permanently marked because they're hard to sell.
• Keep receipts, warranties, valuations and a list of serial numbers in a safe place.
• Take photographs or videos of jewellery, art works and other precious things.
• Portable items of high value are the most likely things to be stolen.
• Engrave valuable items with your driver licence number, car registration number or phone number.
If you have engraved your valuable property or recorded the serial numbers of items, Neighbourhood Support can provide you with a warning sticker to put on a window.
The sticker will discourage most criminals from taking your property because they know there is a greater risk of getting caught or traced if they handle and attempt to sell identifiable goods.
Read more stories from the series here:
• Counting Crime: NZ's CBDs our most dangerous places
• Counting Crime: 'His life has been erased'
• Counting Crime: Our country's violence fueled by liquor
• Smash and grab victim: 'just don't leave stuff in your car'
• Car stolen by brazen thieves as couple slept 5m away
• An in-depth look at offending and victims in New Zealand
• Thefts from cars - when, why, how and who
• Retailers in harm's way
• Retail thefts cost country $1.2b
• Small business owner more vigilant