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How To Keep Your Home Safe During the Holidays

Key takeaways

  • St. Louis, MO, is the most unsafe city during the holidays, followed by Newark, DE, and Salt Lake City, UT.
  • Nearly 2 in 5 American homeowners have experienced property crime during one or both of the past two holiday seasons.
  • Nearly 50% of Americans who experienced property crime during the last two holiday seasons reported at least $100 in losses and/or damages.
  • Lights always being off, a pile of mail or packages, and an empty driveway are the biggest signs that a home is unoccupied, according to people with a criminal history.
Home decorated for the holidays illuminated at night.

Holiday home security

The holiday season is a time of warmth, family gatherings, and festive celebrations. Yet, amidst the cheer and decorations, it can also bring an uptick in home security concerns. As homes glitter with holiday lights and families travel to visit loved ones, they can become more vulnerable to security breaches. This study sheds light on these heightened risks and uncovers the most effective strategies to safeguard your home.

By analyzing a variety of data sources, including two surveys of American homeowners and people who have committed a crime, this guide will give you the knowledge and tools to ensure a safe and peaceful holiday season. From managing the increased risks of burglaries this time of year to understanding how modern technology can improve home security, we’ll explore the best ways to protect what matters most during these festive times.

Cities with the highest holiday risk

First, we looked to uncover which cities face the highest security risks during the holiday season to raise awareness of potential criminal hot spots. Taking property crime data, Google search trends, and other security factors into account, we ranked the 50 largest U.S. cities along with other highly populated cities per state. Here’s how they fared.

Information about the cities in the United States with the hightest crime around the holidays.

Among the 182 U.S. cities we analyzed, St. Louis, MO; Salt Lake City, UT; and Denver, CO, topped the list of the riskiest cities for crime during the holiday season. Focusing on the specific risk factors contributing to these rankings shows that different cities present unique security challenges.

For example, among the cities with available data, Tacoma, WA, and St. Louis, MO, had the highest number of NIBRS crime reports per 100,000 residents of all the cities on our list. This FBI data reflects the number of property crimes reported by individual police precincts. To measure criminal intent, we looked at online searches related to holiday crime per 100,000 residents. We found that Newark, DE, and Rutland, VT, topped the list with the most nefarious searches. Rutland leaders have noticed a recent rise in crime and are calling for state-supported solutions.

Our analysis also accounted for vacation rental security trends. We found all Airbnbs available to rent in a given city during the holiday season and then calculated the percentage that mentioned a home security system in their listing. According to this data, Rockville, MD, and Laramie, WY, had the highest percentage of unsecured Airbnbs. This lack of surveillance equipment in holiday accommodations could make them more vulnerable to crime. Regardless of the security features included in a listing, Airbnb recommends that guests perform a safety check upon arrival.

We also looked at each city’s number of registered National Neighborhood Watch groups per 100,000 residents. Little Rock, AR, and North Charleston, SC, had the fewest watch groups among the cities we studied. If you want to start a neighborhood watch in your community, the Department of Justice recommends:

  • Organizing as many neighbors as possible
  • Scheduling a meeting with your local law enforcement agency
  • Develop an action plan to address community concerns
  • Hold regular meetings and relevant training skill sessions
  • Implement a phone tree

With car thefts skyrocketing across the U.S., we also pulled vehicle theft data from the National Insurance Crime Bureau to see where they’ve been the most common. Among cities with available data, Riverside, CA, and St. Louis, MO, came out on top as having had the most vehicle thefts per 100,000 residents. Vehicle theft in St. Louis doesn’t seem to be slowing down either: the first four months of 2023 saw a 50% increase in car theft from the year before.

In light of these findings, car owners concerned about vehicle theft can increase protection and peace of mind by installing outdoor cameras and smart car-tracking devices. Motion-detecting cameras can deter thieves, detect lurkers, and alert owners. Their recordings can also provide evidence should an incident occur. As for smart car-tracking devices, they enable owners to see their vehicle’s location in real-time, which can be crucial in aiding law enforcement in recovering a stolen vehicle.

While some cities ranked in the top 10 for multiple safety metrics, a wide variety of locations appear to have these security risks during the holiday season. Look through our table below to find the rankings of all the cities we analyzed.

Homeowner safety

After looking at the most dangerous places, we surveyed American homeowners to understand their holiday crime experiences and home security measures.

Information about the most common crimes around the holidays.

Although festive, the holidays can be a precarious time for homeowners. Nearly 2 in 5 American homeowners had experienced a property crime during the past two holiday seasons.

Package theft emerged as the most common holiday crime, with 67% of those who experienced a crime having fallen victim.

Theft of holiday decorations, especially lights, wreaths, and inflatable characters, was also notably high; more than 1 in 10 reported this experience. These crimes not only dampen the holiday spirit but can also cause financial loss. Almost half of those who experienced property crime during the last two holiday seasons reported at least $100 in losses and/or damages, adding a financial burden to the already expensive holiday season.

Homeowners’ most common security measures involved a blend of technology and community-based strategies. Not posting travel plans on social media topped the list, highlighting the role of digital footprints in home security. Homeowners also relied on security cameras to keep their homes safe during the holidays. Keeping gifts away from windows and disposing of their product packaging somewhere other than home were other popular measures to ensure strangers couldn’t see what valuables were inside.

We also asked how home security influenced homeowners’ holiday travel plans. A small 5% had decided not to travel this holiday season due to home security concerns. However, 14% who were intending to travel shared that they would do so despite worries about their home’s safety.

These fears extended to others’ homes during the holidays as well. Rental hosts, take note: 42% of respondents said they wouldn’t book a vacation rental that didn’t have security features. Renting out a home for the holidays can be lucrative, but it could be more so with the right security measures.

Crime confessions

To find out the most effective ways to keep your home safe this year, we talked to the experts: 150 people who have committed a crime.

Insight from people with a criminal history about crime during the holidays.

The majority of respondents who had committed a crime—70%—identified the lack of visible security measures as the top quality that makes a home a prime target for crime. Nearly as many (66%) said seeing valuables through the windows would do the same. Others pointed to an absence of security cameras (61%) and alarm systems (59%) as key vulnerabilities, and 58% said a home’s location in a wealthy area increases its appeal to burglars.

More than half of those we surveyed who had committed a crime (51%) considered the absence of a dog as a property crime magnet, which aligns with other research suggesting that dogs of any size can deter burglars. Almost as many noted a home’s seclusion (50%) or poor lighting (49%). These insights suggest that criminals may be deterred by technological security measures as well as the presence of natural surveillance and physical barriers.

We also asked these respondents to identify indicators that a home is unoccupied. Nearly three-quarters said that if the lights are off or there’s a pile of mail or packages, then it’s likely that no one is home. Almost half (55%) said the same of an empty driveway. These clear signs that residents are likely away make a home an easier target.

In order to better advise homeowners, we asked these respondents with criminal records what home features would deter them from committing a property crime. Their answers highlighted the effectiveness of motion sensor lights, loud alarms or sirens, and the presence of large pets. Other protective measures they suggested were reinforced doors, security system signs or stickers, and visibly active security cameras.

Having a safe holiday season

While the holiday season is filled with joy and celebration, it also necessitates a heightened awareness of home security. Based on recent years, various cities across the country may be at high risk this season due to different factors. The importance of holiday season vigilance is further emphasized by the frequency of package theft and the financial losses due to property crimes this time of year.

We also discovered what makes homes vulnerable to break-ins during the holidays through our survey of people with criminal records. They let us know that an absence of visible security measures, like cameras and alarms, may significantly increase your home’s appeal to potential burglars. To deter unwanted intruders, make sure valuables aren’t visible through windows and have ample exterior lighting. Consider installing home security cameras and alarm systems that strangers outside can see, so they’ll think twice before approaching.

Don’t become a victim of holiday-related crime this year. By adopting these simple measures, you can ensure your celebrations are peaceful and secure.

Let’s be neighbors.

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Our study ranked the most dangerous cities in the U.S. during the holidays by analyzing the 50 largest cities nationwide and other highly populated cities from each state for a total of 182 cities. For our safety metrics, we extracted city-level data on 2022 property crimes from the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). However, some of this data was not available (NA) for all cities.

We also used Google Trends search data, measuring keyword searches related to holiday security from November 2022 to January 2023. And we analyzed Airbnb listings available from November 2023 to January 2024 to evaluate the properties’ security features. Further, we manually collected data on the number of registered Neighborhood Watch groups for insights into community-based security measures. Lastly, we looked at the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s 2022 data on vehicle thefts by metro statistical area, although, similar to the NIBRS data, it did not cover all cities.

In creating a score we weighted the Google Search Trends and Airbnb features at 30%, NBIRS and vehicle theft data at 15%, and neighborhood watches at 10%.

We also conducted two surveys: one of 500 American homeowners and another of 150 people who had committed a crime.

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