Justice

Why Home Invasion Probably Won't Happen To You

There's usually a simple explanation when a sound wakes you up at night: An animal scurrying outside, a roommate stumbling to the bathroom, or the wind shifting branches or trash outside. But it's easy for the mind to go into fight-or-flight mode and assume the worst: Home invasion.

Home invasion is a terrifying prospect, and rightly so. The very term, "invasion," indicates that someone or something is not where it’s supposed to be. But before you set-up "Home Alone"-worthy traps in your home or apartment, know that the likelihood of someone breaking into your home is actually pretty small.

The media sensationalizes home invasions.

Dramatic tragedies that make the news only make us feel like a home invasion is something that happens on a regular basis, like the stalker who broke into Sandra Bullock’s home or the Kennedy compound intruder who was looking for Katy Perry. You might even remember the Petit family home invasion and murders. Sure, celebrities are not surprising targets given their wealth, but it makes you wonder, 'Well if they can't protect themselves given their resources, how could I?'

Perpetual advertisements by home security also insists that you need protection against home invasion. With ads of ski-masked intruders using crowbars to open windows, cameras and home monitoring systems are advertised as the only things that will keep you safe.

As one Broadview Security ad shows, a woman's house party turns into a fear-inducing night as an angry guest returns to punch out the kitchen window, triggering the home security alarm, and prompting a call from a hunky dispatcher.

But statistics on home break-ins are reassuring.

A self-defense system might make you feel safer, but the odds of experiencing a lethal home invasion are actually quite rare, according to Professor Harold Pollack, co-director of the University of Chicago's Crime Lab. In an interview with The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates, Pollack said:

"The fear is also easily out of proportion to the threat. I had the Chicago police run the number on homicides. In 2011, precisely one homicide listed "burglary" as the motive. Nationwide, there are about 100 burglary-homicides every year. When you compare that to more than 18,000 gun suicides, the conclusions seem pretty obvious.”

For an accurate understanding of home invasion data, it’s best to look at burglary numbers collected by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In September 2015, the FBI released the 2014 “Crime in the United States Report," a data-rich collection that reported 1,729,806 burglaries in the U.S. in 2014, down 10.5 percent from 2013. California had the highest rate of reported burglaries at 202,671 and Wyoming had the lowest at 1,689. The median rate of burglaries per state in 2014 was 23,183. Of those total U.S. burglaries, 6.5 percent were attempted forcible entry, 35.2 percent were unlawful entries, and 58.3 percent involved forcible entry.

In a Bureau of Justice Statistics report on burglary data from 2003-2007, it was cited that burglary victims knew the offender 65 percent of the time in violent household burglaries. Additionally, offenders were unarmed in 61 percent of violent burglaries; 12 percent of violent burglars possessed a firearm; and approximately 23 percent of burglaries involving a firearm were committed by a stranger.

This report also outlined the likelihood of falling victim to burglary in more tangible numbers. Think of 1,000 dwellings in your city. Out of those the rate of burglary while an occupant was home was 8 per 1,000 (in 2007); the rate of burglary of unoccupied dwellings was 21 per 1,000. Additionally, most residential break-ins happen during the day, not at night, when no one is likely to be home and to avoid confrontation and getting caught.