With the rash of home burglaries and thefts-from-auto being reported on our neighborhood listservs, this was a perfect week for our community to receive public safety training. On Monday evening, Samantha Nolan, the Citywide Neighborhood Watch Trainer for the Metropolitan Police Department shared Crime Prevention Tips at the Fourth District Headquarters for Ward 4 community members. The presentation was engaging and packed with information. Ms. Nolan implored the attendees to share what we learned with our neighbors, co-workers and friends, so I am happy to present this information to you.
Ms. Nolan grounded her presentation in one simple fact: 80% of the crime we face in the city is preventable. It is preventable with simple behavior changes. We encourage crime with our behavior, and by learning those patterns, we can change our behaviors and decrease our likelihood of becoming a crime victim.
Whenever there are spikes in criminal activity, there are always calls to increase patrols. The police cannot patrol every block at all times. If we take the responsibility to learn and implement the following Crime Prevention strategies, it would free police resources to tackle the remaining 20% of crime, which is generally more serious and less predictable.
Ms. Nolan has a very conversational teaching style that was easy to follow. She also uses original photography in each slide of her presentation and that really helps to bring the material to life. Most of the information is common sense, but because we never take the time to “think like a criminal”, we leave ourselves open to security vulnerabilities.
The Crime Prevention Tips were roughly divided into three main categories. I am presenting the Home section today and I will add the Car and Life Around Town sections when my schedule permits.
Crime Prevention Tips in Your Home
Burglaries are not random. She told us that there are certain houses in our city that attract burglars. One of the greatest risks you can have at your home is high foliage. While it provides you with privacy, it also gives burglars the ability to get in and out of your house without being seen. Cut back the heavy shrubbery near your home to reduce this risk.
Another big problem in DC are homes with front or rear enclosures. Often, that outside door is left unlocked or poorly secured. Well, that porch makes a perfect hiding spot for a burglar. Please lock all doors and keep windows locked.
If you have an alarm system, use it. While the alarm won’t prevent the crime, it will limit the amount of time the burglar will spend in your house and lowers the amount of loss. And don’t forget to add a detection device to your skylights!
Avoid “Red Flags” which tell burglars that you are not at home. Red flags include:
- Tall grass
- Stacks of newspapers on the lawn
- A shuttered house
- Flyers left on door
- Un-shoveled snow
- Lights on during the day
If you’re going on vacation in the summer, cut the grass before you leave. When traveling for more than a week, have someone cut the grass for you.
If you can, install a timer on your outside lights. Here is one Digital Timer Switch that is available at Home Depot for less than $20. Don’t advertise to the world that you are on vacation. Light places discourage crime and dark places encourage crime.
We invite burglars into our homes in other ways as well. Some people leave their front doors open and only lock their outer screen doors. Most doors of that type are not secure and are easily breached.
Many, many homes in Washington, DC are being renovated, often by contractors with multiple crews. Those crews are not always diligent about security. Ms. Nolan gave us a harrowing example of a home that had over $26,000 worth of freshly delivered, high-end appliances stolen from it while the renovation crew went to lunch! How sad would you be if your brand new Sub-Zero refrigerator walked away? If you’re having work done on your house, write into the contract that the contractor is responsible for securing the property during construction.
The police have seen a lot of cases lately where the burglar cuts a screen and enters through an open window. If you prefer to leave a first-floor window open, open it from the top instead of the bottom. Also, secure the window with a locking pin or clip that limits how much space the window can open.
While most people are good about securing their first-floor windows, upper floors are often left defenseless. Never leave visible ladders around your yard; that is an invitation for someone to climb into your house. If you must leave a ladder outdoors, chain it to something that cannot be moved.
Even if you have a garage, don’t leave your key in your car. Thieves have been known to rob a house and drive off in the owner’s car. Talk about having a bad day! Also, be sure to lock your garage doors.
Don’t leave your garage remote in your car while it is parked on the street. Thieves will easily break your window to take it and gain access to your home or garage. Keep that remote with you.
If you have window-unit air-conditioners, secure them with iron bars, either on the outside or the inside of the house. Thieves punch unsecured AC units inside and dive right into the house after them.
Never leave keys around the outside of your home. Criminals know every false rock, under mat and over door hiding place trick in the book. Don’t make it easy for them.
Don’t leave your keys in the door…that is just asking the criminal to break your window and let himself inside. If you have concerns about emergency egress, hang a hook nearby that is unreachable from a window.
Never leave anything of value (laptops, purses, keys, cameras, etc.) where they can be seen from a window. Ms. Nolan drilled this theme into our heads repeatedly:
If they see it and they want it, they are going to take it.
When you come home at the end of the day, don’t plop your briefcase and valuables right near the door…take them upstairs or put them somewhere where they are not visible.
Never leave strollers, bikes, lawn mowers, tools, sporting equipment or any other valuable items sitting unattended around your home. Just because you live in a friendly neighborhood doesn’t mean someone won’t come along and take your Bugaboo stroller..
Install a peep hole and add dead bolt locks to all doors. Never open the door to someone you do not know.
Take pictures of all your values and serial numbers. Keep the pictures on a memory card or in the cloud.
Complete a property inventory and keep it away from your electronics and jewelry. Record the serial numbers. Without a serial number, you will never see your item again. This also limits the ability of thieves to sell your equipment at a pawn shop.
For apartment, condo or dorm dwellers, be especially cautious about allowing unknown people to follow behind you through secure doors. We need to be a little mean and uncivil sometimes to protect ourselves and neighbors. Once a thief gets into your building, there is no limit to the amount of damage that can occur.
The days of unattended home package delivery are slowly coming to an end. Unguarded packages sitting on your porch are too tempting of a target for even the most casual thief. Consider having your packages delivered at work or to a friend or neighbor who is home during the day. If you shop at Amazon, their Amazon Locker delivery service is very convenient. We use the one at the Piney Branch Road Safeway frequently.
Finally, display your address prominently on the front and rear of your house near the door. This could save your life during a medical or police emergency! Use large black text on a reflective white background. Your lovely script lettering or brass-on-dark color font is useless at night.
Crime Prevention Tips for Your Vehicle
Theft from auto is the #1 crime in Washington, DC. As we can see from the reports on the Takoma, Shepherd Park and Brightwood message boards, these crimes are pervasive. As with home crime prevention, there are tips that you can follow to reduce your chance of becoming a victim of this irritating property crime.
Your most import rule should be NEVER leave valuables visible in your car. In fact, don’t leave ANYTHING in your card. Your old gym bag may be worthless, but the thief doesn’t know that until after he has broken your car window.
If you must leave something in your car unattended, place it in the trunk before you reach your destination. Your vehicle should be “showroom” empty each night. Our neighborhoods are currently providing a smorgasbord for thieves and they are feasting every night!
If you are going on a trip, never load your car the night before. It all may be gone in the morning.
Never leave a key fob in the vehicle. This should go without saying.
Thieves sharpen their skill and keep up with technology. Many have a new RFID readers that can copy your key fob code just by pointing a device at your home from the street! They then use this code to open and/or start the car. Protect yourself by keeping your key fob inside of a metal (or shielded) container.
Have your car VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) etched to prevent auto theft. Thieves don’t want to steal cars with etched VIN etched windows because they can’t sell the car or its parts easily. MPD holds free VIN etching events in the community periodically.
Crime Prevention Tips While You are Out and About
Part 3 Coming soon!
The attendees were very grateful to Ms. Nolan for the information that she shared. In addition to these Crime Prevention strategies, she provided materials and procedures to teach us how to become Block Captain in our neighborhoods. Organizing your block into a Neighborhood Watch led by a resourceful Block Captain is a fantastic way to maximize the ring of safety around your community.
If you would like to schedule a Crime Prevention/Neighborhood Watch Training for your community association, feel free to contact Samantha Nolan at nolantutor “at” yahoo.com.