MOUNDRIDGE — As people take to the outdoors during the spring and summer, there is a corresponding increase in home and vehicle burglaries.
Moundridge Police Detective Scott Zimmerman gave a presentation at Pine Village to tell people how to protect themselves and their property.
He first noted some statistics about burglaries — that they are often committed by individuals who live within a 10-mile radius and that the average dollar amount of items taken is around $2,200.
"If someone burglarizes your home, that's pretty traumatic," Zimmerman said. "You can't put a dollar amount on your mom's pearls or dad's wedding ring."
Most burglaries take place between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., and burglars watch neighborhoods to note patterns of when people leave and return to their houses.
"Most criminals can burglarize a home in less than 10 minutes," Zimmerman said.
The first step to preventing burglaries is locking anything that has a lock — cars, doors, windows and gates. Around 30 percent of burglars gain access to a house through an unlocked door.
"An open window is an open invitation for someone to come in and get your stuff," Zimmerman said.
Shut and lock windows in empty rooms, garage doors and side doors leading in from the garage.
Putting landscape lighting out a few feet away from your house makes people walking up cast a shadow on the house that is easy for neighbors to see.
"It makes it harder to conduct illegal activity in the front of your home if it's well-lit," Zimmerman said.
Cars parked in the driveway or in a closed garage are less likely to be broken into, but they still need to be locked.
"I don't think I can impress enough that you need to start locking your car," Zimmerman said. "Even if you lock your car, I wouldn't leave your purse in there."
Laptop computers, work materials or medicine bottles in cars are also tempting to thieves, as are unlocked truck toolboxes.
Do not leave ladders outside for thieves to take and use to reach the windows on the second floor of a home, Zimmerman said.
Electronics or television sets in patio or pool areas should be stored indoors when not in use. Cut up the packaging for high-dollar items to hide it inside the trash bins.
Zimmerman emphasized knowing your neighbors and sharing burglary prevention tips with them can reduce the risk of your neighborhood being targeted.
Be aware of which vehicles are usually parked at a neighbor's house, so you will be able to tell when one looks out of place.
If you are up in the middle of the night and see a car driving by slowly, contact the police.
"If it looks out of the ordinary, call us," Zimmerman said. "The only people that are out at two or three o'clock in the morning are cops, paper carriers, people going to work or people up to no good."
You can also listen to any neighborhood dogs and notice when their barks change to a warning tone.
"If you don't have a dog, get one," Zimmerman said. "They're the greatest, cheapest alarm system ever. I've never heard a cat bark to warn me about a burglar."
Be smart about where you keep valuable items at home. Do not keep car keys, wallets or purses by the front door, but hide them in a drawer or cabinet.
Photograph your items, noting any serial numbers, and give copies to your insurance agent and another family member. Have a safe for important documents, valuables and guns.
"I suggest to a lot of people that they keep them in a safe in a spare bedroom," Zimmerman said. "Burglars usually go to the master bedroom first."
Even large safes can be stolen, so it is important to bolt them to the floor.
If you come home and find a burglary has happened, don't go in. Call the police so they can clear the house and secure any evidence.
"We find people will try to see how bad the burglary is before they call us and they touch stuff before we get in there," Zimmerman said.
Research home monitoring systems before purchasing one.
"If you can afford video cameras, that's one of the greatest tools you can have," Zimmerman said.
Burglars often check to see if anyone is home by ringing the doorbell. There are camera-equipped doorbells that link to your cell phone available for home security use.
"If you're all the way across town, you can actually see who is standing at your door and talk to them through your phone, so they don't know if you're home or not. All they know is you can see them and they can hear you," Zimmerman said.
Nearly a third of all burglaries occur when someone is at home.
"If you don't know who is at your door, don't answer it," Zimmerman said. "If you talk to them, talk through a closed door."
That practice is especially important for children and the elderly, who can easily be physically overpowered.
Have a burglary plan in place so your family knows what to do if a burglar enters your home.
"A lot of families have plans for a fire or tornado, but how many families have plans for a burglar breaking into their home," Zimmerman asked. "If you don't have a plan and your children don't know what's going on, you can create a whole other safety situation that makes the burglary even worse."
If a burglar is in your home, lock yourself in a room, call 911 and don't hang up until they let you know it is safe to do so. It is also important to let the 911 operator know if you have a gun so they can tell the officers who are responding.
"When I show up and you come out the front door with a gun, I don't know if you're a good guy or a bad guy," Zimmerman said.
You can create a safe room out of a closet by putting an exterior door on it and being able to lock it from the inside.
Another good idea is to have a password you can give to trusted friends and 911 dispatchers.
"Anyone can walk up and say they're the police," Zimmerman said. "This makes sure everyone is who they say they are."