HOUSTON (KTRK) --Thousands of homes in our area are broken into each year, ransacked and burglarized. Now, more and more homeowners are installing surveillance cameras to help police catch the crooks. But do those cameras work? And is there anything else you can do to keep burglars out? Officers showed Eyewitness News what works and what doesn't.
Carla Ratliff is one of those people who always felt safe at home, until New Year's Eve.
"He came around this way and eased the gate open," Ratliff said, lifting the latch on her backyard gate. "The go-kart was right here."
While she sat in her living room that evening around midnight, a man was riffling through her backyard. She sat about 15 feet from him, clueless, while he worked.
"I just thank God we had that video," she said.
Ratliff pulls up black and white video of the man her husband uploaded to YouTube. He's seen sneaking up her driveway, stealing her grandson's go-kart and a 12-foot ladder.
Two months later, police caught the man. His name is Michale Klotz. He was charged with burglarizing Ratliff's home and linked to several other thefts in the area.
"I believe without the video, they didn't have a clue. We didn't have a clue!" she said.
Ratliff is right. Investigators told Eyewitness News that without a clear picture of the man's face, they may not have been able to track him down.
The Missouri City woman paid about $200 for her cameras and surveillance system. But spending hundreds of dollars on security isn't feasible for all families. There's another way, and it's free.
Meet Officer Harris Johnson with Sugar Land police:
"I'm the prevention guy. I want to stop them before they get in."
Johnson makes house calls. He'll walk you through your own house, pointing out flaws and showing you what you can correct to improve security. We discovered a lot of police departments have similar programs, you just have to call and ask.
The biggest take-away from walking through a home with Johnson? Most people have standard kick-plates on their doors that are not very strong. That allows a burglar to easily kick in a door. A kick-plate is the metal plate on a door frame bordering the deadbolt when the door is closed. Replacing the standard kick-plate with a more heavy duty plate is about a $10 fix. You can find the stronger plates at most hardware stores.
What about fortifying windows and doors with glass? Johnson says try lining them with security laminate.
"They (burglars) will be able to break the glass, but it won't give in," Johnson said. "If we can push the bad guys away before they even get in, that's the best approach."
Since most burglars break-in through the backyard, try this cheap trick: put a couple of dog bowls outside near your back door to scare off strangers.
"Even if you don't have a dog, at least make it look like you have a dog!" Johnson said.
But if you're willing to spend, nothing beats cameras, Johnson said.
Ratliff says she added two more since Klotz was caught on video snooping around her backyard. She insisted, she's not overdoing it, she's protecting her family.