Last week, we asked our Patch Pros how residents can alleviate some of the worry about what’s happening at home while they’re away on vacation.
Here are some of their tips:
Officer Randy Peterson, community relations/crime prevention officer for the Urbandale Police Department, said anything that to make a possible burglar think someone is there, such as leaving lights and the television on, is always a deterrent. Also make sure you stop your mail and newspaper delivery.
“Burglaries, as with other crimes, are based on opportunity,” said Officer Jorey Bailey, crime prevention officer for the Iowa City Police Department. “We have calls daily on subjects walking down streets checking doors. The burglar will pick the house that offers the least chance of getting caught with the highest pay-out. Increase the chances that a burglar will be witnessed (Natural Surveillance), and you decrease their opportunity to victimize you.”
Police officers on our panel reminded homeowners of the 3-foot to 5-foot rule when trimming landscaping to open up natural surveillance. In other words, trim bushes down to three feet and tree canopies up to five feet. Also, consider adding horny vegetation under windows to discourage entry.
Bailey said that the more time burglars need to enter a home, the greater the chance the intruder wil be witnessed. “Many strike plates (where the deadbolt enters the door frame) are only secured with ¾-inch to 1-inch screws, making the door easier to be kicked. Removing the smaller screws and installing 2-inch or greater screws, increases the door strength significantly and makes the burglar work a lot longer to enter.”
Officer Brad Baker, community resource officer for the Ames Police Department, advised vacationers to be careful about what they’re posting on social media sites.
“To reduce the risk of someone targeting your residence while you are gone I would first have you focus your attention on securing your social media profiles from any unwanted attention,” he commented. “Make sure you limit who can view your photos and profile to reduce the risk of someone seeing where you are, or better yet, where you are not.
“There are many applications attached to smart phones that automatically post your location on social media sites,” he continued. “I would use caution when using these programs. It’s just like leaving a note on the front door saying you’re not home.”
Apartment dwellers face some special challenges, “but is not that different from living down the block in a house,” Baker said. “My recommendations would start off the same as if I was speaking to a homeowner. Start by getting to know your neighbors. Chances are you see them on a daily basis like you mentioned. There is a good chance you’ll meet someone in the building that you can trust to check the front door and windows once a day while you’re gone.”
Also, he said, make sure you tell the property management you’ll be away.
“The last piece of the puzzle is developing strong neighborhood relationships,” added West Des Moines Police Sgt. Ken O’Brien. “If you see something suspicious don't hesitate to call police to investigate. Oftentimes when we get called to a residential burglary we do a neighborhood canvass and found out after the fact that a neighbor saw something or someone suspicious and failed to call the police because that just weren't sure if they should call.”
O’Brien advised neighbors who see suspicious activity to try to get a good description of the suspects and their vehicles and share that with the dispatcher. “Do not approach the suspicious situation on your own,” he said. “Let the police do that. Be a good witness for us.”
Some area police departments offer “vacation house check” services, including Iowa City, Waukee, Urbandale, Johnston, Clive and Windsor Heights. Check with your local police department to see if such a service is available before leaving on vacation.
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