Secure Your Smallholding
Former rural police constable, Richard Chalmers advises on a more commonsense approach in looking at how you can make your smallholding and home more secure.
How would you react to being the victim of crime? You would feel anything from mild annoyance to utter devastation. Having worked hard to achieve a lifestyle you love, you are unlikely to forgive those who trespass against it. Yet you may be inadvertently making your property an easy target by ignoring common-sense principles of security.
Smallholders, farmers and landowners are waking up to the fact that the urban blight of crime is fast seeping out of the towns and cities to infect the countryside. The clarion call to action is often sounded only when something goes missing. Only then do victims begin to appreciate that anything of value needs protection.
Thankfully there are sensible and inexpensive ways that you can improve your security and keep the criminal at bay. The first thing you need to do is to know your enemy. Think of the two common types of criminal as the fox and the magpie. Both will steal if given the chance, but the fox is the professional and the magpie the opportunist.
The fox normally has a buyer in mind, or even an order, before he commits his crime. He’ll normally arrive with the necessary tools, and will probably have established that you have what he wants some days beforehand. His timing will be impeccable, and if disturbed he will have a plausible reason for being there. The best protection against the fox is vigilance and common sense.
The magpie is responsible for the majority of crimes against smallholders. He is the opportunist, driven out of the towns by the growing number of CCTV systems to seek safety in the countryside. He is motivated by the need for quick and easy money, often to support his drugs habit. A drug abuser needs money to support his habit and he is not too fussy about where that money comes from or how he gets it. His only thought is to avoid capture. In prison the only thing on the menu is the nightmare of cold turkey.
He will often be found skulking around a property, soon able to establish whether there is anyone home. All too often people make it obvious that a house is unoccupied. A newspaper poking out of the letter box, a well-used driveway empty of cars with the driveway gates open, lightless windows staring blankly out into the darkness of night.
A high percentage of crimes against smallholdings happen under the shield of darkness, but even the fox knows better than to stick around once caught in the glare of security lights. If you’re away from the house time switches are your best defence. Set lights to come on automatically, yet randomly, when you are out of the house for any time. Passive infrared sensors attached to external lights not only help security, but they also help you find your own way around in the dark.
Consider your boundary defences. The more obstacles you put in the way of the criminal, the more likely he is to go away and find an easier target. But remember that your garden can help both your security and the criminal. If windows and doors are hidden from the road by hedges, bushes and trees, then a burglar will be too. Trim down your hedges and trim up your trees to take away the cover. Let passers by, including the occasional police patrol, see if anything is amiss. Consider thorny bushes beneath windows. A burglar will think twice about trying to get through a window if his legs are going to be shredded in the process.
For the rural criminal a vehicle is a necessary part of the toolkit. Our fox will have been in the area some days before a crime. Make a habit of noting down the number plates of any unfamiliar vehicles and you might secure a valuable clue for the police. Rural police patrols tend to pay special attention to any vans that they find in the lanes. You should, too.
You could really help the magpie by giving him your own car. The easiest way to do this is to leave the keys on the kitchen table or hanging up on those little hooks by the back door. They’ll attract him as surely as any bright, shiny object. The number of vehicles that get stolen during burglaries is remarkably high thanks to this kindness on the part of the householder. By the time the stolen car is reported stolen it will be miles away, or already “torched” and destroyed, along with any evidence.
And it’s not just the car keys that will attract the magpie. House keys, too, are often the victim’s undoing. Common sense tells you that it’s important to make it as difficult as possible for a burglar to get into a house. What fewer people appreciate is that it’s just as important to make it as difficult as possible to get out again.
In a staggering 20 percent of burglaries the burglar enters a property through an unlocked door or window. Once inside the burglar often has no trouble at all getting back out. Having struggled to squeeze through a small window he can simply walk out through a door that has a key in the lock, “in case there’s a fire.” Or he might have found the keys lying around inside the house, or used the simple latch lock that had been lazily pulled to behind the busy householder.
If he has to squeeze out through the small window he squeezed in through he will have difficulty taking anything other than the smallest of items. Your television, stereo, and video will be safe. If you had the foresight to install a small, fireproof safe then your bank books, bank cards, personal papers, jewellery and other high value small items will also be safe.
So think about where you leave the spare keys, not just to your car, but to your house, outbuildings and machinery. Even the most expensive lock is useless if the thief has access to the key.
The Home Office advises you to fit five- lever mortice locks kitemarked to at least BS3621 on both front and back doors. Ideally bolts will also be fitted to the top and bottom of the doors with good, strong screws and fastenings. An automatic deadlock that can be locked from the outside should be added to front doors. Your ground floor windows and your doors are the weakest points of your security. Make them that much stronger by fitting laminated glass and key-operated window locks.
Dogs and alarms also have a great deterrent effect, though circumstances and type can be important. The bark of a dog or the clamour of an alarm activation are sure to drive away all but the most determined burglar if there is someone around who might hear it. But if your property is out of the sight and hearing of your nearest neighbour, unless the alarm system is one of the more expensive monitored types then it won’t be as effective as you might hope. Your dog might not be quite as ferocious with a steak or biscuit in front of its nose, either. Plenty of pedigree ‘guard dogs’ get stolen during burglaries.
The police do recover a lot of stolen property. Unfortunately, they are often unable to prove that is is stolen and are often unable to return recovered property to its rightful owner. For this reason the police advise everyone to mark their property. Marking property has three benefits. It makes it more difficult for the criminal to find a buyer. It allows the police to trace the owner, and it makes it more likely that a prosecution will follow an arrest, as a successful prosecution needs both a victim and an offender.
Mark property in both an obvious and not so obvious manner. Even if the criminal manages to remove the obvious marks, he may well miss the hidden ones. Large items such as trailers can have a postcode or other mark welded onto them. Metal items can have permanent marks scribed or punched into them. Property can be engraved or have electronic tags fitted, while small items can be marked with ultraviolet pens or paint. Keep a detailed inventory of your property, including records of serial numbers, part numbers and model numbers, and a photograph of each valuable item and the chances of getting your property back increases dramatically.
If you find yourself the victim of a crime, no matter how trivial it might seem, report the matter to the police. The police may not manage to solve every crime, but they can do nothing to combat crime if they do not know it is happening. What seems trivial to you might just be the final vital piece of an ongoing jigsaw puzzle.
You can help yourself, the police and your community by remaining vigilant. Look out for your neighbour’s property as well as your own. A good way to do this is to join an existing Rural, Farm or Country Watch scheme, or start one of your own. By maintaining vigilance you can also have a positive impact on other quality of life issues such as fly-tipping, abandoned cars and general trespass.
But all is not doom and gloom. As they say on Crimewatch, it is the fear of crime that is greater than the actual threat. The British Crime Survey clearly shows that people living in rural areas are far less likely to become the victims of crime than their urban neighbours. Take sensible precautions and the only foxes and magpies you need to worry about are the ones that were enjoying the countryside long before people came along.
First appeared in Country Smallholding