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Travelers urged to safeguard home

Law enforcement officials say simple precautions can keep criminals away

POSTED: November 27, 2013 7:31 p.m.

Holidays are a time of giving, but they can be a time of taking for opportunistic criminals, law enforcement officials say.

Sgt. Mark Mitchell, spokesman for the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, urged residents to implement home safety measures when out of town.

“It’s very subtle things in a lot of areas. For example, do they have their mail and newspaper deliveries stopped when they’re out of town?” Mitchell said. “One thing a burglar will look for is that abandoned look — they may see mail sticking out of a mailbox.”

And there are simple, available solutions, he said.

“That’s a very simple and easy remedy — while you are away, the U.S. Postal Service will stop mail,” he said.

Just make a call to the postal service or other delivery services — like the newspaper — and service can be suspended for the requested period, Mitchell said.

“If you don’t want to go to that length, arrange with a trusted neighbor to pick that up,” Mitchell suggested, the key word being “trusted,” he added.

Cpl. Joe Britte, with the Gainesville Police Department, said residents can request that an officer on patrol check their home while they’re on vacation through a call to dispatch or through the city website.

“We forward that information to patrol supervisors, and the patrol units on duty will patrol that area,” he said.

He gave other suggestions.

“Leaving lights on in strategic areas of the home; advising a trusted neighbor that you’re out of town; asking would you mind collecting the mail for me; having them check on the house, keep an eye out — and that comes in line with the neighborhood watch concept — making sure all doors and windows are locked; and the alarm is activated,” Britte said.

Mitchell said to be wary of seemingly innocuous neighborhood guests, perhaps doing door-to-door sales, who may have a hidden agenda. Someone who says they’re selling magazine subscriptions, for example, could be making an assessment of a house.

“They may look inside, see a Christmas tree with lots of presents,” he said.

Some tactics may not even require stepping on the front stoop.

“If someone has a malicious intent, they can ride through the neighborhood and be there legally for various reasons, and may notice lights are always off,” he said.

Mitchell said homeowners can take precautions.

“Timers on lights — so they randomly go on and off — are a good idea. If you have little window on the door, they make curtains for those,” he said.

Any precautions, big or small, could pay off, he said.

“There’s a lot a things a person can do to make their home more secure, and it doesn’t really cost anything. And there’s some things that do cost, but a lot of it is common sense,” Mitchell said.

Another suggestion Britte had was to arrange in-town friends or family members to check travelers’ home if a security company alerted them an alarm went off.

“Advising a family member, ‘Hey, look, if my alarm goes off, I’m going to list you as a contact,’ and they can check on the home,” Britte said.

Mitchell warned that people accidentally make themselves a more vulnerable target as holiday shopping kicks off in ways that don’t require peeking inside a window.

“Don’t put empty boxes outside,” Mitchell said. “That’s another technique that some people with malicious intent will use — ‘OK, we now know this person has a new TV,’ for example.”

In general, Mitchell stresses, the more awareness people have, the better.

He also noted the sheriff’s office offers routine safety checks of a house or business, in person, if requested.

“Any time anybody has any questions — and maybe they don’t want an outright home security visit — they can call the (public information officer’s) office, if they don’t have time to meet an officer,” he added.


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