It can happen at any time in any neighborhood. Home break-ins, they're on the rise in West Michigan. The bad news? Your family could be a target.
For victims, a home break-in not only means a loss of valuables but peace of mind.
"You don't feel safe in your own home. It's like a paranoid constant," said Jamie Farber, a mother of two children who lives on a quiet street in Alger Heights.
Their home has been hit twice. Burglars broke in through the windows and stole electronics and jewelry, including Jamie's wedding ring.
"There were people working in teams coming to the door and then when nobody would answer they would break in going through the back door," she said.
It's a crime of opportunity, and the Kent County Sheriff's Department says it is on the rise. Calls have gone up 50 percent from this time last year.
"I can tell you from January to March this year, we've had 142 calls for home invasions of different degrees. In that same period last year, we've had half of that," explained Kent County Undersheriff Jon Hess.
He says there are a number of factors that may contribute to the spike, including fewer patrols on streets, weather, and the economy.
"It's a crime that is always up and down and I think we get so busy we forget some of the basic things we need to do to protect our home," said Hess.
As part of a FOX 17 special series called "The Secrets of a Burglar", we enlisted the help of an ex-con who's no stranger to busting into homes. He gives us an inside look into a criminal mind to show us how to protect our home and our family.
Bob Portenier has a has a proverbial "Ph.D" in crime. After spending years breaking into homes, he still has a lot of the instincts. Porternier made a living in the 1970's breaking into homes and stealing big-ticket items.
"If I had to guess around 125 to 150 residences. We took artwork, we took jewelry, we took stamp collections, coin collections, we took guns," he said.
He spent 8 years in prison in two states after getting busted as professional thief. Now, the 64-year-old has cleaned up his act and has found a second career as a crime prevention consultant. He teaches people how to avoid becoming a target of a burglar.
"Sometimes I think people almost are asking to be victims because of what they do," said Portenier
He shows homeowners the burglar secrets and what not to do. A key element is timing.
"Most break-ins occur between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. and that's because in most cases husband and wife are at work."
Bob drove around several West Michigan neighborhoods looking for houses that were easy targets to demonstrate what criminals look for.
"Most break-ins aren't break-ins they are walk-ins," he said. "Generally 80 percent of the time the entry is made through a front door," he said.
He quickly spots a door that has a dead bolt lock, but says it doesn't matter.
"The glass panel on the side could be broken and the door could easily be unlocked," points out Portenier.
He says homeowners make it so easy, they often forget to lock all of their doors.
"I just think if you are at home you shouldn't have any door open that gives you access to the inside."
That includes the garage door. Many times, families will leave the door open when they are working in the backyard or running an errand.
If left open, it's a virtual invitation for a burglar to choose your home.
Criminals also look for homes that are hidden by shrubbery or away from other homes.
"This one would be an easy home to break-into because the home next to it is vacant," he points out.
"Get to know your neighbors, join a neighborhood watch program in your area," he said.
Another easy giveaway, the location of your valuables. Find a new place for your valuables other than the night stand or under a mattress. Time is important to a burglar to keep searching, so keep them in places other people don't.
He says security systems are very important, but many times people don't use them properly. Porteneir says the security system with the sign in the yard is a big deterrent for burglars, but he says criminals can spot if it is being used properly.
"What I understand is their alarm system isn't activated because someone is home and if I remember right their was a door open, people have a tendency not to use their security system the way it was designed," said Porteneir.
He says you can't prevent all crimes, but you can take steps to limit the access for the bad guys.
"You don't need to be paranoid you need to educate yourself in what criminals look for you just need to educate yourself into what criminals look for," he said.
- Don't put your name on your mailbox. Criminals will use it to research your home, find your number and your schedule.
- Install good locks especially in the back patio and sliding doors which are common entry points for burglars.
- Use timers with your lights so your home appears occupied. Remember, most burglars don't want you to be home.
- Don't advertise your absence. Park your car in the driveway, stop mail delivery, and again contact your neighbors to keep an eye on your phone.