Your home is your family’s safe haven. Returning to it and discovering that it’s been ransacked by a burglar is a horrifying experience, but catching the thief in the act is a downright terrifying one.

As hard as it is to do, staying level-headed is essential. Thinking ahead of time about how you’d handle this frightening situation will help you do so. I’ve paired research with my experience as a law enforcement officer, and put together these quick tips on what to do should you return home to find a burglar in the act.

Scene One: Something is Awry

You and your family have just returned home from a Friday night movie. You forgot to set your home security system, and things just don’t “look right” when you pull up in the driveway. You think a burglar is inside your home. Here’s what to do.

Safety First

The burglar maybe snatching your tween’s Wii, but the safety of you and your loved ones is top priority. If you arrive home and notice the front door is open or a window is smashed, do not enter your home. Return to your car immediately and drive down the street or head to a neighbor’s house right away.

Get Law Enforcement On the Way

Call 911 and tell the dispatcher everything you can about the situation. From a safe place, pass along information such as the description of nearby cars, including make, model and license plate number. If you see the burglar fleeing your home, tell the dispatcher which way he is going, and provide as much detail about his physical description as you can. Again, safety is paramount, but giving police details will aid their investigation.

It’s very important to remember that you don’t need to confirm a burglary is occurring, or know for a fact that the bad guy is still inside your home before you call 911. If you think something looks suspicious, it probably is. Get in a safe place and call for help ASAP.

Wait in a Safe Place

A burglary in progress is a high-priority call for any law enforcement agency. Undoubtedly, police will get to your home as quickly as possible. While you’re waiting for help, remain in a safe place and stay observant. If you have a home security system with remote video monitoring, remember that you can watch real-time video of what’s happening inside your home right from your smartphone or other Internet connected device. Knowing where the burglar is inside your home, and what he’s up to can make it safer for police to apprehend him.

Scene Two: Everything Appears Normal

Here’s another scene, and this one is even scarier. You pull up in the driveway after your fun family night outing, and nothing looks suspicious. You enter your home as usual, but discover it turned upside down and hear unusual noises. It’s clear a burglary is in progress. Get your family out immediately and follow the steps outlined above. Don’t look for the burglar, and if you happen to come in contact with him, don’t confront him. While most burglars will flee your home the moment they hear your car pull up, some are violent and will stay put. Others may hide in a closet or attic and try to escape later.

If you can’t get out, but can reach the touchpad on your home security system, press the panic alarm. Doing so will dispatch emergency services immediately.

The best way to avoid either of these frightening situations is to have a home security system and activate it every time you leave the house. Today more than ever, home security is an affordable, trusted way to keep your valuables and your loved ones safe. The window decals and lawn signs your home security company provides you with will warn burglars that you take home security seriously. Plus, a professional home security system can save you money on your homeowners’ insurance policy.

If you’d like to learn more about the features a home security system offers, use the SafeWise security system finder tool to get started. Or, call a SafeWise home security specialist at 1-855-814-3077.

Written by Alexia Chianis

Wanderlust junky and mom of two, Alexia is a former police officer and U.S. Army Captain who draws on her experiences to write about a myriad of safety topics. Learn more

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