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What to Do When Someone Knocks on Your Door in the Middle of the Night

A couple of years ago, when my mother still lived alone and before it became evident that her dementia was worsening, I took my wife and two daughters for an overnight visit. She lived about four hours from where we do and we often planned visits that allowed us to spend two days or more with her.

My mother liked to sleep on the couch in the living room. She had what some might consider an irrational fear of sleeping upstairs in the event that she had to get out of the house quickly or confront a situation in the middle of the night that might go unnoticed if she was sleeping on another floor. My wife and I had gone to bed in a bedroom upstairs, while my kids were sleeping in yet another bedroom on the second floor.

In the middle of the night, I was awoken by the sound of my mom’s small dog barking and I heard my mother say “What’s wrong, you want out?” I listened as she opened her front door and was suddenly surprised by a stranger standing on her stoop. I assume there was a knock which startled the dog and we had all simply slept through it or perhaps the dog had heard someone on the porch and started barking and this stranger had no intention of knocking, to begin with.

I immediately got out of bed and pulled my pants on but before I could get downstairs to see what was happening I heard my mother say “You’re not coming in!” I quickly returned to my bedroom and grabbed my Sig Sauer .357 auto from the dresser and restarted my journey downstairs.

When I got to the foot of the steps I saw a strange male, making several attempts to open the storm door which was fortunately locked. My mother still seemed to be bewildered at the whole situation and was trying to speak with the stranger asking him what he wanted and who he was looking for.

I gently moved my mother out of the way as carefully as I could and explained to the man he had the wrong address, making sure he saw the very large firearm I was holding in my right hand. His eyes immediately widened and he stumbled back off of the porch and disappeared into the darkness. I don’t think he was expecting someone else to be in the house or perhaps he assumed my mother was alone since she had been the one to come to the door.

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I immediately locked the front door and performed a security check of all the doors and windows in the house. I then scolded my mother for answering the door in the middle of the night and returned upstairs to calm my own family, who were upstairs listening to the entire incident.

The fact is, a lot of people are uncertain what to do when someone knocks on their door in the middle of the night and my mother was far from the only one who would have responded in the manner that she did. We are raised from a very young age to be helpful, considerate, and polite, even to strangers. Yet what should we do when we hear an early morning knock?

There is no set answer to this question because there are simply too many variables that could change the correct course of action. I can tell you, after 30 years of law enforcement, that this is not an uncommon tactic for home-invaders to use. There are two types of scenarios where this is concerned.

The first scenario is that one of the attackers knocks on the door. This could be a male or a female pretending to be in distress and needing assistance. Just out of view, on one or both sides of the door are more attackers waiting to push their way into the house as soon as the door is unlocked and opened.

The second scenario is where the same, male or female accomplice knocks on the front door and attempts to hold the attention of the resident while one or more attackers attempt to make a rear door breach and come into the house from a blind spot. Both of these scenarios are effective and both rely on your good intentions and desire to help strangers.

Should you answer the door? Should you pretend not to be home? Should you try to ascertain what the person wants without opening the door? My suggestion is for you to consider the following. This is the same logic I tried to explain to my mother before leaving, in the hopes that she would never repeat her actions.

Given today’s technology and the massive proliferation of cell phones, anybody knocking on your door in the middle of the night cannot possibly need to use your telephone. In the one chance in a million that they do, they should do so at a gas station or a convenience store, if for no other reason out of courtesy to whomever they are waking up.

If you are a female or an elderly person and someone is knocking on your door because they are injured or being assaulted or simply lost, what possible assistance could you render them even if that is truly the case? I would hesitate to suggest that even a young, healthy, well-armed man should be foolish enough to venture outside his locked door where he might be overtaken by a large number of attackers or subjects that are armed themselves.

In this situation, you must keep in mind that you may be the only impediment standing between some really bad people and your sleeping family. One wrong decision here could have consequences for more than just yourself. In my case, my mother had made the decision for me and had already opened the door.

Should you pretend that you are not home? This could actually backfire on you and this might be the green light the people outside are looking for in order to attempt to break into your home anyway. This is probably not a good response either.

My recommendation would be to do the following. Keeping the door locked, and listening to the rest of the house to make sure you don’t hear sounds that might indicate someone is trying to breach another door, yell at the visitor “I understand you need assistance, and I am calling the police now!” Then don’t simply sit back down to see if they go away, call the police emergency number and explain that there is a stranger at your front door trying to get you to open it.

If you do hear noises at the rear of the house, this immediately increases your threat level and you must respond accordingly. Even if you are armed or have access to a weapon you need to get everyone who is in the house to a safe room, and behind a locked door. You also need to immediately call the police and this time tell them you think someone is breaking into your home.

If the person is truly in need of assistance, they will appreciate your actions and might even sit down to await the arrival of the police. If this is something else other than that, the person will probably respond to the announcement by suddenly vanishing into the dark. Once the police do arrive, describe the person as best you can, ask them to walk through your house with you so that you can check the doors and windows and then go back to bed.

Your announcement, “I’m calling the police now!” is the last thing someone bent on home invasion wants to hear. Not only will the person on the front step hear it but if you say it loud enough anyone exploring the back entrances will hear it as well. If someone needs any assistance at all, your announcement will come as a great relief to them and they will be happy to wait for the police.

Whether they vanish in the dark or they wait and you feel uneasy waiting for the police to arrive, begin making calls to your neighbors. Wake them up and ask them if someone knocked on their door. Keep them on the line while you explain the entire incident to them and inform them that the police are on their way. Nothing will stir nosy neighbor’s curiosity like the arrival of the police next door. What this will really accomplish, however, is half the block turning the lights on in their own houses and pushing their noses against their windows which would frighten off all but the most psychotic felons.

Whichever actions you choose to follow, it should be something you have not only thought about yourself but you’ve talked over with your family, to include the kids. They won’t be kids forever and maybe one day when they are grown and away from home, your discussion will come back to them and serve them well in the same situation. It is always safer to err on the side of caution even at the risk of appearing unfriendly or frightened.

Once you commit to unlocking and opening your door you have, at the very least even the odds for the person in front of you. If there are more than the one you see, you have tipped the odds unevenly in their favor, even if you are armed.

As a police officer, you learn that one of the riskiest actions you can take is off-duty with no immediate back-up. Despite all of the training and experience police officers still want to keep the odds in their favor. You should do the same, not just for you but for your family as well.

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About Timothy Lewis

7 comments

  1. Excellent article.
    I have a wireless video doorbell that I can answer on my cell and speak with and record whoever is at the door.

    First week I installed it, I hear my door bell ring on my phone while at work. I answe the door, see who is there and tell them to leave the premises immediately. All is on video

    Also, all my windows are hurricane impact resistant and you can beat them all day with a bat and you are not getting in. Ditto,for the doors.

  2. Excellent Advice. I have had a CWP for many years and always have a weapon with me when I hear knocks in the middle of the night at my house which is in a rural setting. Normally, I will not let anyone in the house during the night, but will call for law enforcement. The one time, years ago, that I broke that rule, I wound up driving a young man to his apartment complex at 3 am in the morning after he asked for help following his car “dying” on the street, in a pouring rain. My wife stayed in our bedroom, with our 3 month old son, with a pistol of her own. I answered the door with my pistol in my bathrobe pocket. All went well and I safely returned home, but the next day, when I went to the gun range to shoot, I discovered my 9mm had a broken firing pin and would have done me no good if the encounter had turned out wrong. That day, I learned a lesson that has remained with me since, not only about opening the door at night, but about the old, “1 is none” rule.

  3. thank you for a great article enjoyed it very much,I cannot imagine someone in that situation….Jeanne

  4. Excellent article!
    I’m a friendly, trusting person & very much about helping others. I would rather not, even in daylight, though, want to answer my door like I opted to do a couple weeks ago for a cable guy and again in the evening after dark, for some person who was trying to serve court papers to the last tenent. I was foolishly lucky, plus the 2nd time I actually had a friend over but it could have been bad.
    I just couldn’t hear what was beginning said on the opposite side of the thick door & I felt foolish for not opening it. After all I live in a gated community with security, and a code for automobile entry.
    Good advice…better safe than sorry. I like the wireless video doorbell Navy vet mentioned above…now on my ‘wishlist’!

  5. I live in the UK,and we cannot own guns,I am not in good health, what would you recommend in my situation?

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