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Basic Crime Prevention Tips to Keep You Safe

The Baltimore County Police Department offers basic crime prevention tips to help keep you safe.

Extend the Life of Your Gifts: Get Them Engraved

Why not set aside some time right after receiving a gift to get it engraved - not with your name or the name of a loved one: get your valuables engraved with your ID number. Easy to use engraving equipment and instructions are available free for Baltimore County residents at County police stations, public library branches, and even through many Citizens on Patrol Chapters.

With the tool, you can engrave a driver's license number or Maryland ID number on your property - and that can pay dividends in the future. If the item is stolen, and later recovered by police, the engraved number will allow investigators to get that property back to you.

The engraved number might even deter a thief from taking your property in the first place, since the ID number makes it harder for criminals to dispose of valuables through underworld channels.

The Next Time You Leave Your Car, Leave it Empty

Criminals love to go window shopping. They walk down neighborhood streets or go through shopping center parking lots looking through the windows of parked cars to see what people have left behind.

All too often, those thieves are given an opportunity: a car owner has left some valuables - maybe gifts for a loved one - in clear view. It takes only seconds for the criminal to break the car window and take off with the merchandise.

Don't give thieves that kind of opportunity. Make sure you leave nothing of value in plain view in your car. Take valuables away with you, or put them in the trunk. If you own a sport utility vehicle, cover your valuables.

Remember, when you leave your car, leave it empty. And the thief will leave empty handed.

The Mail Will Get Through - and Pile Up at Your Door!

Lots of people like to complain about the Post Office these days. It is the butt of jokes on everything from late night TV to early morning coffee klatches. But the fact is, all in all, the United States Postal Service gets the job done. In fact, according to the 1998 New York Times Almanac, the Postal Service delivers about 180 billion pieces of mail annually. Everyday, the letter carrier in your neighborhood delivers the mail to your door: bills, letters, junk mail, magazines and all the rest. Even if you are not there, the mail will be delivered - and continue to pile up - unless you make arrangements to have it stopped, or picked up by someone else.

Making arrangements like that is a very good idea if you are going to be away - even for one night. Would-be burglars sizing up a neighborhood watch for mail boxes that are not emptied. To them it means nobody is home, and that home might be an easy target.

Don't let your home become a target that way. Make sure your mail is taken care of if you are away. If you are going to be away for several days, the Post Office can stop delivery. If you are going to be away only one or two nights, you might want to ask a neighbor, friend or relative to get your mail for you. That way you know your important mail will be safe, and you won't be sending a message to a burglar that your house is vulnerable.

Of course this isn't the only crime prevention step you should take if you are away. Don't forget a timer to turn the lights on and off so the house looks occupied. Taking care of the mail, and arranging for proper lighting both help keep a burglar in the dark.

Car Cigarette Lighters Can Send a Big Message, Be Careful!

In crime prevention, as in many other parts of life, little things can mean a lot. Take, for example, a car's cigarette lighter. It may not look like much to you, but it can send an important signal to thieves.

Some criminals look at the dashboards of cars. If they see the cigarette lighter is missing, they figure there is at least a possibility that it has been taken out to accommodate a battery charger or power adapter for a cell phone. They're willing to take a chance that the cell phone is not far away - maybe stored in the glove box. So, when they don't see a cigarette lighter in a car, some thieves will break the passenger side window, and open the glove box, hoping to find a cell phone inside. If you don't have a cell phone, the criminal will just move on, looking for another opportunity. But he - or she - has left behind a mess of broken and shattered glass for you to clean up, and a colossal headache until you get the car repaired.

Don't give criminals an opportunity. Whether or not you have a cell phone, keep that cigarette lighter just where it belongs when you leave your car. If you do, you're much less likely to encounter a rude surprise when you come back.

Turn On the Lights, a Bright Idea in Crime Fighting

It can cost about $500 to get a new color TV if the old one is stolen; and $2,000 or more to get a new computer or laptop if a burglar takes the one you own now. But it costs only about a dime to keep a light burning all night on your front door - and another dime for the back door. Those dimes could be very well spent if they protect all of your other valuables, and that small expense can be an important investment in crime prevention. It is a simple fact that burglars and thieves don't like bright places. They work in the dark. If one house is brightly lit, and another has no lights, criminals generally head for the dark one.

So, deny a burglar the opportunity to rip you off. Turn on exterior lights around your house through the night. It is a bright idea - in more ways than one.

Put Your Mail in a Mail Box, Not on it

Many people, especially the elderly, have gotten into the habit of putting their outgoing mail on top of their home mail box for the letter carrier to pick up as part of the daily rounds. This practice is convenient for the resident - but it can be even more convenient for would-be thieves and con artists.

Unscrupulous individuals can easily walk up to your door, quickly grab your mail and walk off with it. In those envelopes might be the names and addresses of family members, the names of banks and credit card companies with whom you do business, and, of course, your account numbers.

This sort of information can be invaluable for criminals attempting to pull off various scams and frauds. Don't help them out - take your mail to the post office or corner mail box. Or wait for the letter carrier to arrive, and give it to him or her in person. That may seem like an inconvenience, but becoming the victim of a fraud is a much bigger headache.

Accessorize Your Bike With a Photo

The next time you buy a new bike, make a snapshot of that bike one of your very first accessories. Ask a family member or friend to take two photos of the bike, with you standing next to it. Put the first photo in the family album. On the back of the second photo, print the make and model of the bike, plus the serial number. Then put that picture with other important papers - such as family insurance policies. This doesn't apply only to new bikes. Smart bike owners will do the same thing to bikes they already own as well. If that bike - new or old - is ever stolen, the photo will make it easier for police to find it. If the bike is stolen and recovered, the photo, with you in it, will make it easier to prove you actually own it.

Another theft prevention step is to call your local Baltimore County Police precinct. Officers of the Community Outreach Unit will be glad to engrave an ID number on bikes owned by County residents. That number and the bike's description will be entered into a police department computer. If the bike should ever be stolen and recovered, that will help investigators get it back to you.

Lock Your Car and Block a Thief

It may take you only a minute to run into a convenience store for a cup of coffee or a morning paper. But if you leave your keys in the car with the motor running, it takes a thief only seconds to drive off with your car.

A surprising number of people, however, do just that: they leave the keys in the ignition, and let the motor run, while they run into the store. That practice wastes gas, doesn't help the environment, and could result in a stolen car. A 1996 survey by the Regional Auto Theft Team showed that 25 percent of stolen cars were taken when the driver left the keys in the ignition.

Leaving your keys behind like that is an open invitation to criminals, so don't give them that opportunity. When you park your car, take the keys - and let the thief take a hike.

Never Tell Strangers About Your Home Security

Don't give information to anyone asking about your home security. If someone claiming to be a sales person comes to your door or calls your home asking about Your home security - politely turn them away. The individual may be a legitimate sales person from a home security firm hoping to make a sale, or that caller could be a would-be burglar hoping to find unprotected houses.

Don't tell a stranger whether or not you have a security system. If you do have a system, don't reveal anything about it. Simply tell the caller you don't discuss information like that with strangers. And don't be swayed if the caller mentions the name of a neighbor who may have purchased a system. Just knowing a neighbor's name doesn't make a caller legitimate.

If you don't have a home security system, but would like to get one, shop around. Check with your neighbors, carefully look for established, local firms. Don't jump into anything.

The Baltimore County Police Department will be glad to give County residents a free home security survey. Simply call the Outreach Unit of your local precinct, and an officer will make an appointment to meet with you, and assess your home security.

Your Garage Door Opener: A Great Deal Depends On It

Always treat your garage door opener the same way you treat the key to your front door: keep it out of sight and away from strangers, because a smart thief can use the garage door opener to get into your house.

Thieves can break into cars all too easily, and if the garage door opener is out in the open, on the front seat or the dash, they can use it to open the garage. That allows them to rifle the garage, taking power tools, bikes, and other valuables stored there. What's worse: if there is a door into the house from the garage, thieves might then be able to get into your home, and get to the valuables stored inside.

This can be prevented if you simply keep the garage door opener out of sight - even out of your car. Carry it in a briefcase or a purse, away from prying eyes and hands.

While you are thinking about garage security: if you do have a door to the house from the garage, make sure it has a sturdy lock. A high-quality dead-bolt is the best kind. It will slow a thief down, and maybe even discourage that thief completely.

The Key to Crime Prevention is Often - a Key!

Lock Doors and Windows to Stop Burglars
Historians say that people have been using locks and keys for roughly 4,000 years. The first locks, in fact, have been traced back to 2000 BC in the ancient town of Nineveh in the Middle East. Even then people knew they needed to secure their homes and property against intruders and burglars. Unfortunately, some people today still haven't gotten that message.

In a recent survey, police officers in Towson found 65 businesses and local institutions with unlocked doors in a single night. The problem is not limited to that single area. According to Baltimore County police, about one of every five homes burglarized in Baltimore County is entered by a burglar through an unlocked door or window.

These burglaries - along with the financial loss and emotional stress that go along with them - can be prevented. Residents and businesses need only to take a simple step: lock your doors. Lock front and back doors and windows of homes. Lock the doors to sheds and garages.

Don't make a burglar's life easy with your own open door policy.

Revised October 31, 2016         


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