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Police share their insights on burglary and protecting homes

The room was packed when the Metropolitan Police Department held its monthly 1st Tuesday event Feb. 4, sharing tips with residents on how to protect their homes and property.

Most car thefts, said Detective Aaron Lee, are crimes of opportunity, often spurred by drug use. When he questioned a recently caught automobile thief on why the man chose the cars he targeted, the answer was simple: They were unlocked.

Homes were just as vulnerable. Even sliding on the safety chain is not enough, attendees were told.

“When we catch somebody, we pick their brains. … I asked, ‘How’d you get into this house?’ ” Lee said. “And the guy said, ‘By flipping the chain off the door.’ That’s all it took, sticking his finger in.”

Lee said valuable items are not necessarily secure when locked in a home safe.

“One of the things that drives me crazy is when I talk to some victims, they say, ‘Well, I had it in the safe, I thought it’d be OK there,’ ” Lee said. “The first question I ask them, ‘How did your safe get into the house?’ They’ll say, ‘I carried it in.’ And I’ll say, ‘So, how’d they get it out?’ They carried it out. Here’s a shocker for you: You’ve got to bolt it down.”

He showed photos of safes that had been busted open, contents missing except for a few coins.

Thieves will sometimes case neighborhoods before striking. They look for homes that scream, “No one’s home.” When going away, attendees were told, leave lights on timers. Turn a radio on. Ask a neighbor to remove fliers from the doorstep.

Burglars are more apt to enter a home if they think they have it all to themselves. But when driven by a hunger for drugs, they aren’t always cautious.

So, what should one do if awakened by someone creeping around his home? Lee pulled out his favorite weapon homeowners should buy, sure to deter any would-be burglar in the middle of the night. It wasn’t a gun. It was a flashlight — a bright one.

“Shine this in their eyes and they (freeze),” he said. “Why? Because they hate being detected.”

It’s a misconception that burglars come around only at night. In fact, most home burglaries occur during the day. That’s when adults are at work, the kids are in school and their houses are empty.

“How many of you had a home alarm when you bought your place?” asked Kathy Perkins, department crime prevention specialist. “How many of you still use use it?”

She urged people to turn it on at night or when they wouldn’t be there. There was a similar caution for locking the door leading to the garage.

“I understand, it’s a hassle, with bringing in the groceries, getting the kids out of the car,” she said. “But lock it when it’s (not an imposition) for you.”

An open garage door is an unlocked house and another invitation for burglars.

Extra locks were also cited as a good idea, preferably hardy ones. Perkins suggested that homeowners cross the street to view their houses as if they were a burglar. Is your front yard dark? Does shrubbery prevent people from getting next to your windows? Is there motion-detection lighting? Are your side gates easy to unlock?

“Ask yourself, is what you value most the most protected?” Perkins said. “Let’s say it’s an heirloom, a photo album, it’s something you can’t duplicate. If your TV gets taken, you can replace it. But one (victim) said, ‘They took my grandfather’s photo, and I’ll never get it back again.’ “

Perkins told of a moving truck that pulled up to a house one day, men jumping out and all the items that were carried out and packed up before it drove off. A youngster, home from school, noticed and assumed the family was moving out. Later that day, the owner came home to find an empty house. The neighbors had no clue they had witnessed a brazen, full-scale burglary. It was a perfect example of why the Neighborhood Watch program was effective, she said.

For the northwest area, there were 2,518 residential crimes in 2013 — 57 percent were home burglary cases, 28 percent were vehicle burglaries and 13 were vehicle thefts. Only 8.94 percent of those crimes occurred in areas with Neighborhood Watch programs. People who are proactive, who know one another, are better identifiers of suspicious activity and suffer less crime, Perkins said.

“It doesn’t matter where you live … all of them are potential burglary targets. … Neighborhood Watch (communities) consistently suffer lower — significantly lower — incidents of crime than unprotected neighbors,” Perkins said.

If a home is broken into and items such as electronics are stolen, police will ask for a list of serial numbers.

1st Tuesday is an open house-style event that takes place at area commands around the valley and allows the public to learn about safety issues and meet local officers. The next event is set for 7-8 p.m. March 4. For more information, visit tinyurl.com/metro1sttuesday.

Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at jhogan@viewnews.com or 702-387-2949.

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