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Leave home safe before leaving

December 21, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

TRI STATE -- Don't leave home for your holiday trip just yet.

If you haven't done so already, it's time to strategize against possible burglars, security experts suggest.

Experts recommend homeowners take extra precautions to keep their homes safe during the holidays because of a troublesome mix that often arises during the season.

Burglars are typically more active now and homeowners might not be paying attention to the problem because they are caught up in festivities, said Maryland State Police Trooper 1st Class Charles Faith, who is stationed at the Hagerstown barrack.

Faith offers the following tips to help homeowners avoid being victims of burglaries during the holidays:

o Make sure all locked doors and windows have a tight fit when closed and do not have "wiggle room," which could allow a thief to force them open.

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o Always leave your home secure because a burglar watching your house is capable of taking what he wants in a few carefully planned minutes.

o Never leave an emergency key outside your house.

o Take inventory of possessions by filming them on a video camera and storing the video at another location.

o Don't allow shrubs to grow to a point that they give burglars a hiding place around a house.

Police and security experts also recommend that homeowners put lamps on timers and install motion detector lights outside.

"A TV on a timer is a great idea," said Lt. Mark Holtzman of the Hagerstown Police Department.

Putting a radio talk show on a timer is another idea, experts say.

Holtzman said homeowners should have their mail and newspaper delivery stopped if they are away for an extended period.

Arrange for neighbors to park in your driveway and ask them to keep items picked up around your house. Those items could include phone books that are dropped off or bags that are hung on doorknobs to collect items, such as food for food drives, Holtzman said.

"If that thing stays on your door too long, it's a dead giveaway," Holtzman said.

Holtzman said his department has not seen a spike in burglaries but there have been reports of thefts from cars.

Holtzman suggested that people keep valuable gadgets, such as GPS systems, off dashboards, where they tempt thieves.

West Virginia State Police in Martinsburg, W.Va., have had problems with GPS thefts from cars, said Sgt. T.C. Kearns.

"They're nice little pieces of equipment to steal and take to the pawnshop," Kearns said.

Kearns also suggested that people not keep garage door openers in the cars left at home.

Holtzman said people often forget about locking outdoor storage sheds, which can be a treasure for tools that can be stolen and traded for cash at pawnshops.

Thwarting burglars can almost seem like a science.

Waynesboro, Pa., Police Chief Mark King said people should be careful to whom they tell their vacation plans because the wrong person might hear them.

It might once have been traditional to turn a porch light on when you leave, said King. The trouble is, some burglars probably know why it's on, he said.

King also suggested that homeowners rely on deadbolts rather than regular door locks, many of which can be jimmied open with a credit card and screwdriver.

"(Thieves) look for whatever is open or will give them access," said Washington Township, Pa., Police Chief Barry Keller.

Staff writer Jennifer Fitch contributed to this story.

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