Monday, December 14, 2009

When it comes to crime, vigilance is better than the other thing (getting ripped off)

We reported earlier this month that crime is up significantly in Madison Park this year and that the uptick may not be consistent with the seasonal trend lines of past years. Some believe that the crime surge is the direct result of the economic downturn, which has forced people to take desperate measures. One law enforcement officer, however, speculates that the increase in crime may to some extent simply be related to the timing this year of prisoners being released from jail.

But whatever the underlying cause, it is clear that we have a crime problem in our community that needs to be addressed. I asked two Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers, to give me some tips to help readers of this blog effectively deal with the new higher-crime reality. Here’s the upshot:
Secure your property

In the first nine months of this year there have been 124 burglaries and attempted burglaries on our police beat. Of these, 69 were classified as “unlawful entry” as opposed to “forced entry.” In other words, 56% of all burglaries occurred where people failed to properly secure their property and the perpetrator(s) walked in through an open or unlocked door or entered via an open or unsecured window.

Locking and properly securing entry points is the first step in stopping burglaries, says SPD crime prevention officer Benjamin Kinlow. He points to a recent burglary example from another neighborhood where all the doors and windows of a house were secured on the first floor but there was an open window on the second floor and a ladder lying in the yard. There’s no reason to give burglars an open invitation, Kinlow notes, because they’re likely to take you up on it.


If you can afford to have an electronic security system in your house it can be a crime preventer if set up properly. “Having an alarm system with the alarm sounding inside the house is only a benefit for the alarm company,” according to Kinlow. It has minimal utility as a crime preventer, as we previously reported on this blog. “What I personally recommend to citizens is that they put their alarm high on the outside of the house,” says Kinlow, who believes that “99.99%” of criminals will stop and make a quick exit if they believe neighbors are being notified that a crime may be taking place. Most burglaries occur during daytime, he says, so when an alarm sounds, neighbors can look out and possibly see what’s happening.

Kinlow recommends alarm systems that can be deactivated from outside the house or that shut off automatically after several minutes. He also advises that all doors and windows be wired so that a burglar will have to make a noise when entering, either by triggering the alarm or breaking glass. Burglars prefer to make their moves silently, says Kinlow, so forcing them to make a noise not only provides an alert but also can be an actual deterrence. The goal is not to be an easy mark.
Surveillance cameras

Officer Tim Greeley, who works the police beat that includes Madison Park, says it’s very useful for homeowners to have some kind of crime deterrent on their property. He’s big on security systems, even with an in-the-house alarm. “Do you want the perpetrator to leave the house?” he asks, rhetorically. “Have something that will encourage that.”

Greeley believes that surveillance equipment can also be particularly useful in stopping crime. He notes that some systems are now very affordable and can be installed fairly easily. He commented that he bought one for his own home and has experienced no break-ins. Potential burglars, who are often juveniles, are likely to steer clear of a residence that is posted. So if you do install any kind of security system, Greeley says, make sure the fact is known: “This property is under video surveillance.”

Trompe d l'oeil

That’s French for “fool the eye.” When it comes to protecting your property while you’re away from the premises, you not only want to fool the eyes of potential burglars, but perhaps their ears as well. This means making it appear that the house is occupied even if it’s not. Use timers to turn on and off lights, both inside and outside your house, and do the same with a TV or radio so that the house is not quiet. Make sure that newspapers and mail do not accumulate, and keep the grass mowed.

Get the neighbors involved

Both Greeley and Kinlow stress that having neighbors participate in helping secure your property is important. Keep them informed of when you will be gone and ask for their assistance in watching the premises and reporting suspicious activities. Greely suggests that if you don’t have an extra car of your own to leave behind while you’re away, request that a neighbor parks their car in your driveway or in front of your house so it looks like someone is home.

Kinlow adds that if you’re going to be away from the house for an extended period you can make a “Request to Watch” to the Seattle Police, which will result in additional police patrols by your house while you are gone. The non-emergency number to be used for such requests is 206-625-5011.

Be vigilant

The bottom line, both officers agree, is for property owners not to be complacent about the possibility of becoming crime victims. “It can happen to anyone,” says Greeley. “The important thing” adds Kinlow, “is to make it difficult.” The more you do to protect your property, the harder you make it for the potential burglar, the less likely you are to be victimized. “Recognize that we live in a society and in a city where crime can occur,” says Greeley. “That fact has to be on our radar—or we’re vulnerable.”
[Officer Kinlow, SPD Crime Prevention Coordinator, may be contacted at (206) 684-7724 or by email:]
Photo of break-in courtesy of Tim Samoff, on Flickr.

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