Stopping Crime Before It Starts

It’s that time of year when Catawba County families gear up for weekend getaways and extended stays at the beach. However, before leaving for vacation, don’t forget to properly secure your home.

Claremont Police Chief Gerald Tolbert said that when it comes to break-ins, there are two types of criminals that homeowners should be aware of.

Amateurs are opportunists and take advantage of things like unlocked doors, poorly secured windows and visible cash or expensive merchandise that is easily taken away, Tolbert said.

Professional burglars, however, are more experienced in watching patterns of the homeowner and figuring out the best time to break in to maximize their profit, he said.

No matter what the skill level of a criminal, Catawba Valley Community College law enforcement education and professional development director Ken Phillips wants citizens to know that they’re keeping an eye out to see when a house will be empty.

“Actually, what most look for is they like to know that no one is at home,” said Phillips. “With that being said, when you go out of town, you want to give the appearance that someone is at home or that the house is secured.”

Before heading out of town, law enforcement officials say homeowners should make sure that all their doors, garage doors and windows are securely locked. Cash and other valuables should be hidden in the home away from windows and doors. If possible, homeowners should block the view into the home with blinds or curtains.

Interior and exterior lighting is an easy and efficient way to protect a home against unwanted trespassers, said law enforcement officials.

Conover Police Chief Steve Brewer suggests homeowners leave one or two small lights on inside the home on a timer, which are set to come on at different times. This will give the appearance that the house isn’t vacant.

Brewer also suggests making sure someone is responsible for collecting mail from mailboxes and newspapers from driveways to prevent pile-ups that are giveaways that a residence is unattended. In addition to alerting criminals that someone is out of town, mail left in the mailbox can also contain checks, important documents or valuable information that could lead to identity theft.

The United States Postal Service allows homeowners to stop their mail service for three to 30 days. Homeowners can stop by their local post office up to 14 days prior to their departure to request this hold mail service. Likewise, most newspapers will also hold delivery if requested.

While social networking websites, like Facebook and Twitter, can keep vacationers connected to friends and family while away from home, they can also work against their safety and well-being. Because criminals often find social networking sites to be an easy tool to find out where someone is and what they’re doing, Phillips suggests that homeowners avoid posting their expected dates of departure.

“Do not put on Facebook that you’re going on vacation,” Phillips said. “Leaving information like that off the Internet is the key thing.”

Phillips suggests getting a house-sitter before leaving for vacation. Homeowners could also make sure that a few trusted neighbors or family members are aware that they’ll be out town to keep watch on a house.

In addition to friends and family checking on a home, homeowners should be sure to alert their local police station before leaving on a trip.

“If you’re going to be out of town here in Claremont,” Tolbert said, “we have a program where we’ll go by your house and check the doors and windows while you’re gone and check around (the house) to make sure it’s OK while you’re gone.”

Claremont isn’t the only police station that offers homeowners the comfort of knowing their home will be checked on. While each station and program is different, every police department, along with the Catawba County Sheriff’s Office, has a security program that sends police officers on routine checks, upon request, by a residence.

To make sure a specific address is being checked on, homeowners should call or stop by their local police station or sheriff’s office to fill out a short form and speak with an official on duty.

Catawba Valley Community College is currently organizing crime prevention classes for the general public. Interested citizens should call Phillips at 327-7000 ext. 4448 for details.