MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - To help you protect your home, the WMC Action News 5 Investigators worked with prison inmates who were convicted of burglarizing Mid-South homes to find out what they looked for when it came to choosing a house to target.
Several weeks ago, WMC5 Investigator Sasha Jones sent questionnaires to 100 Tennessee inmates serving time for burglary. The questionnaires included questions like, "How did you choose your targets? Which security measures scared you off? Did pets inside the home deter you?"
Anonymous responses poured in over the course of five weeks. The majority of inmates said they typically entered a home or apartment through an unlocked door or window, or by breaking windows.
Once inside, thieves searched drawers for jewelry, cash and guns. One of the inmates surveyed said he searched "normal places that people keep things. I don't tear the house up looking."
Only half of the inmates said home protection or security signs posted outside deterred them from breaking into the houses they chose.
Another inmate simply said he would just "take the security system, too."
Read the questionnaire responses below:
Memphis Police Colonel Marcus Worthy admits calculated and time-conscious burglars are hard to catch in the act.
"He may have already been in there. By the time we get the call, he is already gone," Col. Worthy said.
Two of the most eye-opening responses came from inmates who said, "I would buy a tool off 'the computer' to shut down the alarm system," and, "The ones that put the alarm system in are selling the software to people like me."
Those responses provide even more reason to consider buying alarm systems that you install yourself, which include integrated security cameras and cellular backup signals.
"If you have an alarm system, have a cellular backup on it because the cellular system will still get out," Worthy said.
When the inmates were asked how much surveillance did on the homes before breaking in, almost all of them admitted to scoping out their targets.
One inmate said he would wait and watch until the homeowner would leave or the car was gone. Another said he took note of "how many people live in the home, how many of them drive a car, what time they leave for work, or [what time] the kids go to school." He would also do surveillance on the neighbor's house, too.
If you've ever had a stranger knock on your door, you might find this next discovery most interesting.
Most of the inmates who responded to the questionnaire said they always knocked on the front door first. If someone answered the door, they have a prepared response similar to "I'm looking for this address. Can you help me find...?"
Yard work was a recurring theme. Inmates warned that overgrown yards were sometimes signals that homes did not have security systems or the owners were on vacation. Overgrown bushes also offer cover for thieves, which is something Colonel Worthy demonstrated.
Steel security bars on windows may stop a burglar, but several of the inmates surveyed said they have the tools to cut through them. Cutting through steel bars, however, does require more time, which could deter some burglars.
As for guard dogs, some inmates -- but not all -- said they did think twice before breaking in if they knew a dog was inside.
The best home protection, according to burglars we surveyed, are nosy neighbors, outdoor lights that stay on 24/7, and keeping high-priced possessions out of sight, which includes the boxes and shopping bags you toss in the trash.
"Think like a burglar and think, 'How would I break into my own home?'" Col. Worthy suggested.
When it comes to what time of day burglars prefer to break in, those surveyed said they typically commit their crimes during daytime hours-- typically mid-morning or mid-afternoon. When asked if security cameras deterred them, a few said, 'No.' They just covered their face if they saw a camera, but if a camera was pointed toward the get-away car, one inmate said he would think twice.