It's a homeowner's worst nightmare: An armed attacker entering your home, with you there, and stealing cash and belongings. Crime statistics prove home invasions are rare -- but still, the fear people experience when hearing about such incidents is very real, experts explain.
"Everyone expects to be safe and secure in their own home," said Nassau Police Robbery Squad commander Det. Sgt. John Giambrone.
"It's probably the most horrific thing to have somebody come in and put a gun to your head."
Addison LeMay of Hauppauge lived through a home invasion just last month. He was running on his treadmill, when he looked up to see a man standing in front of him. According to police, that man had just robbed and terrorized LeMay's neighbor. LeMay, a former wrestler, reacted quickly, chasing the man from his home, tackling him, then holding him for police. Despite his bravery, however, LeMay was shaken.
"You never expect that kind of thing to happen," he said, standing alongside his two great Dane dogs.
"It's a big shock."
Fear of home invasion has led Elmont civic leader Pat Nicolosi to keep a shotgun at the ready every night.
"I'm fearful," Nicolosi says, "and others feel the same way." He describes friends who have also bought handguns as well as installing security systems , sensor lights, even cameras to increase their sense of safety at home.
Is this fear justified?
Some homeowners say it seems like home invasions have become commonplace. However, crime statistics don't bear that out. The NYPD and police in Nassau report that home invasions are up slightly this year; but not enough to signal a growing problem. Suffolk county police say home invasion numbers are at about the same level as a year ago.
Yet when we checked media and police reports since August, we could document at least 21 home invasions in the five boroughs, on Long Island, in New Jersey and Westchester - certainly enough to get people's attentions.
"It's still a rare occurrence," says Det. Sgt. Giambrone.
"But when it happens, it spreads like wildfire through a neighborhood and that's a concern."
Giambrone insists few home invasions are random attacks. Most of the victims, he says, are targeted because thieves know they keep cash or jewels from their businesses at home.
Still, the fear persists. Is the media to blame? Do news reports make the problem seem worse than it is?
Hofstra University journalism professor Bob Papper, a former award winning TV producer, says yes.
"We know from research that it does make people more fearful," Papper says.
"But at the same time, if you've got a problem in an area, you can't hide it from the people."
Brooklyn State Assemblyman Joe Lentol believes this enough of a problem that he's sponsoring a bill in Albany that would create a special crime category for home invasions, complete with specific penalties for those crimes.
Right now, many law enforcement agencies don't even keep specific crime statistics for home invasion.
"We say that a man's home is his castle, Lentol says.
"So let's prove it."
Pat Nicolosi says something must be done because, whether fear is justified or not, it's out there.
"They tell us crime is down; but when you've lived here that long, you know crime is not down. We don't feel safe," he said.