Give summertime thieves the boot

t Local law enforcement weigh in on how to protect your home while away.

POULSBO — The list is a lengthy one of proactive safeguards homeowners can take before heading on vacation during the warm summer months. From forming relationships with neighbors to keeping trip plans quiet, local law enforcement have much advice to give. While there are no guarantees, there are plenty of pre-getaway steps to take to ward off would-be burglars.

“There’s a lot that people can do themselves to help protect themselves if they’re going to be gone for a while,” said Poulsbo Police Detective David Gesell. “It’s about minimizing your risk, doing what you can, and still being realistic about it.”

At the top of his safety list: neighbors.

More specifically, knowing them.

Gesell said having a strong relationship with nearby residents can be a powerful security system in itself. No one has a keener eye for strange activity in a neighborhood than those who live in it, he said. And while summer months see more people jetting out of town, even those staying put should be aware of their surroundings. With nicer weather comes a general rise in crime.

“If something makes you think twice about it or gives you that thought that, ‘that just doesn’t look right,’ it’s probably not,” he said.

Neighborhood Watch programs are one option, but simply being proactive to meet those living around you will do just fine, he added.

When leaving on vacation, those neighbors can serve as more than just sentinels.

“The big giveaway (that a house is empty) is when the newspapers start piling up on someone’s door,” he said. Simple as it sounds, having a trusted neighbor pick up newspapers, mail, and make regular sweeps through the home can keep someone from going from vacationer to victim.

A few more of his easy-to-do suggestions:

• Set various lights on timers to turn on and off at differing times

• Keep yard trees and shrubbery trimmed back so house entryways are visible

• Place motion lights out of reach so bulbs can’t be unscrewed

• Enforce locked windows with sticks in the sills

For those really wanting to go to the mattresses, Gesell said there are plenty of smaller details that, with a little time and money, can add to the security of a home left alone. Planting bushes in front of windows to make access difficult, placing alarm system placards in a yard (whether or not the system actually is in place) and installing fake security cameras or camera domes can all help lower chances of being burglarized. Another tidbit of advice: Home address placards with a family’s last name can make it easy for a criminal to access a phone number and call to find out if anyone is home.

“It’s up to whatever level of comfort and security they’re willing to do,” Gesell said. “The more you do for yourself, the lower the risk is.”

Kitsap County Sheriff’s Deputy Scott Wilson said mum should be the word when preparing to leave town. The fewer people with knowledge of the plans, the safer a house will be. He also suggests parking cars in garages, making sure garage-to-house entryways are locked and not leaving garbage and recycling bins at the end of a driveway.

“You want to make the criminal move on to another target,” he said. “You do this by making it so difficult for them to either get into a residence or car, or you make them think that the place is occupied.”

He said despite the recent burglary ring bust, which exposed a group using local daily newspaper delivery information to determine which homes were empty, having mail held is still a good idea. And like Gesell, he said if at all possible, having a trusted person check on a home is a great way not only to stave off stealers, but to minimize the risk of flooding or other similar home disasters. Turning off water sources and unneeded appliances is also a smart move, he said.

Both Wilson and Gesell said their departments offer home check programs, which send citizen volunteers to give a vacationer’s property the once-over.

For more information on home checks, call the Poulsbo Police Department at (360) 779-3113 or the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office at (360) 337-7101.

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