The Most Wonderful Time (for Crime!)
Don"t be the next victim
Billings Police Crime Prevention Officer Tom Keightley will never forget a call he received during the holidays a few years back. A mother had been keeping all her children’s Christmas presents in the back of her SUV. On Christmas Eve, a thief broke into her vehicle. The gifts were gone. It was heartbreaking, Keightley says, and unfortunately not all that uncommon.
In the joyful yet hectic whirlwind of the holiday season, people forget to take precautions. According to the Billings Police Department, criminals use the holiday season to take advantage of unaware shoppers and homeowners. While thefts from homes and vehicles tend to be a constant problem, the Billings Police Department witnesses a slight rise in crime during the fall months (as much as a 12% increase over average). How can you prevent becoming a part of the statistic? Officer Keightley stresses that all it takes is a little vigilance and a lot of common sense.
PROTECT YOUR WHEELS
Thefts from cars top the list of police calls during November and December. Keightley says for starters, always, always lock your car, keep belongings out of sight, and remove purchases from your car as soon as possible.
“It should look like a rental vehicle – nothing in it,” Keightley says. “People will break into a vehicle for something as simple as a Walmart sack. It doesn’t take much.” Electronics, cell phones and tablets are thieves" top targets. Recent purchases are often returned to the store where they were purchased. Other items are sold or traded for drugs.
“Another huge problem is unsecured handguns in vehicles,” Keightley says. “It’s putting guns directly into the hands of criminals and there’s very little we can do about it.”
Whether you"re home or away, another precaution that’s worth taking is to put your car in the spotlight, literally. Park where there is adequate lighting and in a place where your vehicle can be observed by others.
“Criminals look for vehicles in out-of-the-way places, and in the winter, the short day and early nightfall work against us,” Keightley says.
IF YOU"RE A VICTIM, REPORT IT
Anyone who has been a victim of a crime shouldn"t keep that fact a secret, Keightley says. Without reporting it, you have no chance whatsoever of having your items recovered, and though rare, it’s possible to get your valuables back. Letting police know also helps with information that could help an ongoing investigation. Police may step up patrols in the area and could then alert residents of the risk.
“It might only be one item that was stolen from your car, but maybe that would have been the thing that helped us find the person who stole from five other cars as well,” Keightley says.
SAFEGUARD YOUR HOME
Just as thefts increase during the holiday months, so do burglaries. Again, common sense is the best form of prevention. Lock all doors and windows when you are away, and Keightley says to be sure the perimeter of the home and property is well lit.
If you plan to be away from home for a few days, use timers to control indoor lights. If possible, says Thad Lensing, Director of Sales at Kenco Security and Technology, have someone check on your home. Don’t let newspapers and mail pile up when you’re gone – they are a dead giveaway – and have someone on standby to shovel your walk ways so it looks like someone is home.
“Unfortunately, people usually wait until something bad happens before they call us, but if you can be proactive in your approach you can avoid being a statistic,” Lensing adds.
Security systems offer an added layer of protection. The signs on the property and stickers on the windows are a deterrent, and if a break-in occurs you and the police are alerted immediately. Camera systems can also catch the burglars in the act and help build a criminal case if the thieves are caught, Lensing says.
Don"t have a security system? Being vigilant about taking precautions is just as important.
“We recommend that you walk your property and look for spaces where someone could spend a lot of time without being noticed,” Lensing says.
Window wells should be covered, and shrubbery around the foundation should be cleared away so your home and its entrances – both doors and windows – can be seen from the street. Be a good neighbor. Get to know who is living around you and make it a point to watch out for each other, Lensing says.
“If you see something suspicious report it. What’s the worst that can happen?” Lensing adds. “We have to keep an eye out for each other.”
IS YOUR GARAGE AN OPEN DOOR
If you park your car outside, do you often leave the garage door opener inside and in plain sight? If so, with one smash of your car window, burglars have a key to your home. It goes without saying that keys should never be left inside your locked car. Again, after smashing your window, thieves could load up your belongings and drive off with everything they can fit inside. If you keep your keys on a hook by the door, Lensing also says to rethink best online casino that plan. Hide them, instead, in a safe place inside your home.
You might think that night time is the right time for crime, but believe it or not, many break-ins happen in broad daylight. Why invite a burglar by leaving your drapes and blinds open? Lensing advises keeping blinds closed since many burglars spend time watching a place before they break in. Open windows not only invite them in, but advertise what you own.
AFTER THE HOLIDAYS
When the holidays arrive and the boxes pile up, Lensing says try not to haul your gift packaging out to the curb early for garbage day. While many of us think garbage is innocent enough, burglars pay attention. If they see an empty TV, camera or tablet box next to your garbage pail, they have a better idea of what you"ve got inside your home, Lensing says.
The holidays are supposed to be a joyful time. Let"s keep it that way by adding a little common sense and vigilance to our holiday "to do" list. Making just a few changes in your routine and being aware of the risks could be the difference between heartbreak and a safe, happy holiday season.
SAFEGUARD YOUR LIFE
Simple things to make sure you don"t fall victim
IN YOUR HOME
Make sure all doors, windows and gates stay locked.
Forget the fake rocks or flower pots, keys shouldn"t be hidden around the home"s front door. Instead, leave an extra set of keys with a trusted neighbor or inside a combination lock key safe.
Keep entrances well lit to deter burglars.
Keep alarm system disarm codes an absolute secret.
Trim landscaping back from windows and doors. You don"t want to create hiding places for criminals.
Never leave your garage door opener in your car, it"s as good as a key to your home. If you want to have easy access, purchase an opener that attaches to your key ring.
Don"t leave car keys out in open view. If a burglar gains access, all they need is your keys to land themselves with a new getaway car.
Stop your mail and newspaper when you travel. Piled up papers are a dead giveaway that you"re away from home.
Have the snow shoveled from your walks and driveway when you’re gone.
Get to know your neighbors. It"s never a bad idea to have an extra set of eyes keeping watch over your home.
Taking a vacation? Make sure not to broadcast that fact on social media. You don"t need to tell the world that you"re away from home.
IN YOUR CAR
Always lock the doors on your vehicle
Keep possessions out of sight. Criminals shouldn"t have an invitation to break in to your vehicle
Park in a well-lit area with plenty of visibility
Never leave mail in your vehicle. If your vehicle is stolen, thieves now know where you live and chances are have access with your garage door opener.
Make a copy of your vehicle registration and insurance certificates, blacking out the address on those copies. You"ll need a copy to show police if you are ever in a traffic incident.
Never hide a key in one of those magnetic key boxes, because if you can find it, so can a burglar.