You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Thu, Feb 2, 2012 : 6:58 a.m.

When you find the door open at home, wait for the police

By Rich Kinsey

You just had a nice dinner or movie with your spouse or significant other. While pulling in the driveway you notice something funny about the front door of your home. Even though you know you left it closed and locked — you always lock your door if you heed the warning in the last line of these columns — the door is open. That is odd. Hmmm… time to wake up Mr. or Ms. Citizen!

Back off, watch the front door and call the police…9-1-1…NOW! Do not go inside! Yes, even you with the Concealed Pistol License and the gun on your belt. Back off, disengage, call the police and keep an eye out for anyone coming out of your home.

Stay on the line with the police dispatcher, describe what you see, and try to stay out of sight. Is there a strange vehicle near your home? Do you see anyone around?

Now that you have called the police, wait for them. I guarantee it will seem like forever, but resist the temptation to go peek inside. Stay out and stay on the telephone. The police are coming as fast as they can.


Ginasanders |

Once the police arrive, they may ask you a few questions but they will search your home. For your own safety and the officer's safety, stay outside once the officers, deputies or troopers go in to search. The reason for this is that they are trained to do building searches, and they are in uniform. Most of you are neither.

The only "surprise" the officers are expecting is a criminal. You do not want to be mistaken for the criminal if you surprise the officer.

Building searches by their very nature are inherently dangerous undertakings. One of the things I tell recruits in the police academy is that if they are not feeling nervous on a building search, they are doing it wrong or they lack imagination. Lots of things can go wrong in a hurry.

When officers conduct a building search, their firearms will be drawn, and there will usually be a flashlight in the officer's weak hand. The barrel of their guns will be pointing where the officers are looking. That's another reason you want to stay outside while officers are searching. As a rule of thumb in life you should always avoid being on the wrong end of an officer’s firearm.

The officers will tell communications they are conducting a building search. That radio channel will be freed of any radio traffic except for the officers searching. This is one aspect of what we call "noise discipline." Do not yell into the house unless you see someone coming out; this is another aspect of noise discipline.

Veteran officers will take a minute when they enter a building to listen to the ambient sounds. There are noises in every home or business. The officer is listening for what sounds belong and what sounds a potential intruder might be making. For instance in warehouses where there are trucks parked, air brakes bleeding air can sometimes mimic footsteps. Burglars make noise, looting houses, working on safes, opening drawers and doors or trying to hide.

Contrary to what's pictured in television police searches, I am a firm believer in turning on lights while searching. Why search with a flashlight while a potential threat is in the dark where you flashlight is not shining? Light switches are usually about 42 inches off the ground near the door of the room to be searched.

The scariest places for officers, in buildings, are stairs. Most of stairs announce, with squeaks, where an officer is, and there is little cover on stairs. The worst are open stairs in basements. There are techniques for "clearing" basements, before using the stairs, but at some point officers will have to go downstairs. The sharper officers will spend as little time as possible on those stairs.

The other places that thinking officers do not like to search, but must, are under beds. It is very hard to search under a bed, especially one attached to a headboard. If a bed is not attached, it is easiest for one officer to lift the bed while the other officer covers.

Beds that cannot be lifted force officers to get down on hands and knees and expose their noggin as they flashlight and look under the bed. Officers sometimes find interesting things hidden under beds. Not to worry, we are professionals and are only looking for intruders or obvious contraband.

After the search you will be asked in to see if anything is missing. Hopefully it was just the wind that blew your door open, but do not take the chance. Always call the police if you find your previously closed door open when you come home, especially if it appears forced open.

Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbors.

Rich Kinsey is a retired Ann Arbor police detective sergeant who now blogs about crime and safety for He also serves as the Crime Stoppers coordinator for Washtenaw County.



Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 7:21 p.m.

Agreed: this is providing much needed public education for those who lack training (and experience in some cases). Thanks for this. Adding to what baker437 says about the NRA Personal Protection in the Home course: There are times when you are already IN your own residence and that must be planned for too. The NRA course includes instructions for what to do when (for example) you are awakened by the sounds of a home invasion. These include pre-planning which covers being "trapped" in a bedroom or other room when there are intruders already inside. I'll leave it to Rich Kinsey to (hopefully) cover those point in one of his future installments. RE: California's "lack" of a concealed pistol law. California does have a law covering concealed pistols and it's similar to what Michigan had prior to June 2002 - but specifically different in this way: One may carry a pistol ONLY in the open and unloaded in public!! (Take time to get over your laughing fit here.) They do have a CPL provision: but like Michigan's previous version, it's very unlikely any but a few individuals will get one of those. Also, CAL has NO reciprocity provisions so tourists from Michigan and other states cannot carry concealed in California w/o risking arrest and jail time. "Odd" because over 30 other states (near 40 in fact) have both "Shall Issue" CPL licenses available to (background checked) citizens AND HAVE "reciprocity" with Michigan licensees. FYI: Illinois is the only state (out of 50) that flat-out forbids its citizens from carrying a concealed pistol. They will arrest those "traveling through" Illinois with licensed pistols concealed. So beware - of both of these states.


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 12:48 p.m.

When seconds matter, the police are only minutes away. I love the comment about the police are trained to clear buildings. Maybe the SWAT guys are, but the regular donuit eaters rarely even train with their sidearms. If a bad guy is in my house, he has more to fear from me than he does the cops.

Tex Treeder

Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 12:32 a.m.

I have a large, friendly (to me and my family) dog and a small noisy dog. Question: What's the consensus on "Beware of the Dog" signs?


Thu, Feb 2, 2012 : 5:11 p.m.

Great article Rich! On the other side of the coin, if someone knocks on your door, or several, (even with a child) If you don't know them 911 now. Yes, I am thinking of the elderly in the Detroit area. Suspects are having field day. I have set my own alarm system the past and it works for me.


Fri, Feb 3, 2012 : 12:46 a.m.

I agree with ThaKillaBee that calling the police every time someone you don't know is at the door seems a bit much.


Thu, Feb 2, 2012 : 5:57 p.m.

If you're advocating calling the police anytime someone you don't know knocks on your door.... take a deep breath! Not everyone is out to get you. Yes, be cautious, don't open the door--but peeking out of the window and saying "no thank you," or "go away" should be the first thing you try. If they persist or are threatening, by all means call the police, but let's use some common sense first and try not to be so scared all the time.


Thu, Feb 2, 2012 : 4:32 p.m.

Nice article. However, the reason I am writing is....and I can't find anywhere else to say it...Who decided to change the format for the paper online? Yuck! Again, good article though.


Thu, Feb 2, 2012 : 4:20 p.m.

Thanks Officer Kinsey! I always enjoy reading your articles. This is good advice, especially for someone like me whose common sense would get beaten out by curiosity. Best to let the trained professionals go through!


Thu, Feb 2, 2012 : 4:16 p.m.

Also waiting for the cops will give them a fresh seen for they can write a report on. Also a hidden camera with motion detecting devise can get a video of the action as they came in and went threw your stuff. they are not real expensive either.


Thu, Feb 2, 2012 : 4 p.m.

I guess that means that Mr. Kinsey is against the "Open Door Policy"?


Thu, Feb 2, 2012 : 3:16 p.m.

A great article with lots of good advice. We have a built in burglar alarm, it's called three dogs. However when I walk all three and I get home with them, they go in first and if someone who doesn't belong is there they are in for a big surprise.

Linda Peck

Thu, Feb 2, 2012 : 1:12 p.m.

Great advice! Thanks!

Jim Osborn

Thu, Feb 2, 2012 : 12:53 p.m.

When I was a UCLA college student and house-sitting, I returned from summer school and saw the door was open at 2 PM. I went in. I was quickly up against the wall, with the "wrong" end of two guns pointed at me, by two policemen who had been called by the postman (yes, he was a man). Luckily, one of the cops recognized me from a few days ago from my job as a city lifeguard and they lowered their guns and asked a few more questions and ID'd me further. Next time, I'll call 911. What if it were not the police and in California, there is no concealed carry law.


Thu, Feb 2, 2012 : 12:43 p.m.

"Back off, watch the front door and call the police…9-1-1…NOW! DO NOT GO INSIDE! Yes, even you with the Concealed Pistol License and the gun on your belt. Back off, disengage, call the police and keep an eye out for anyone coming out of your home." Excellent advice! This is the same thing that the student and instructor books from the NRA stress for the Concealed Pistol License classes (NRA Personal Protection in the Home). I agree 100%. House search are dangerous and should always be avoided. Thanks for another great article.