Cops weigh in on securing homes

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Those taking a carefree vacation around Thanksgiving or Christmas should remember that thieves do not take holidays, and that means travelers could return to find their homes broken into and their possessions stolen.

To help area families avoid such an unpleasant experience, several local law enforcement agencies offer tips on how to keep a home secure while traveling.

St. Clairsville Police Chief Jeff Henry said an appearance of occupancy can deter opportunistic thieves.

“I’d leave the lights on. I’d leave the radio playing all the time, and I let my neighbors know on either side of me or across the street that I’m on vacation,” he said. “They should have somebody shovel the sidewalk to make it look like it is being used if it snows.”

Henry added that the St. Clairsville area has not seen many instances of break-ins during the holidays. Instead, the majority of thefts in and around that city tend to target vehicles that have been left unlocked.

Bellaire Police Chief Dick Flanagan said notifying the right people of your plans is key to protecting your property.

“It’s very simple: You let your immediate family know that you’re going on vacation,” Flanagan said. “If your immediate family is in your immediate area, they can keep an eye on your place.

“The next thing you do is notify your neighbors. … If you’re going to be away for an extended period of time, you’re going to want to put timers on some lights inside your house, so different lights come on at different hours of the night,” he added.

Vacationers can also make local law enforcement agencies aware that they might be away.

“Here at the police department, we do a vacation log. If they come in or they call in, we’ll fill out a vacation log and that way we’ll know they’re on vacation and then who has their phone number, whether the lights are on timers and if there’s a neighbor watching the house or something to that effect,” Henry said.

“If you’re going to be away for an extended period of time, let your local law enforcement know,” Flanagan agreed. “There’s a lot of people (in Bellaire) that go to Florida, who go south for the wintertime. Let your local law enforcement know you’re a snowbird, that you’re going to be out of town for three or four months. … That way we know if you have an alarm service and the alarm goes off and it rings to that alarm company. … They notify us and we know that that place, these people, are on vacation and this might be a legitimate thing. … With alarms, you get false readings with the change of temperature from extreme hot to extreme cold. You’ve got your house expanding and contracting. That sets off alarms. It’s basic, common sense stuff.”

One common mistake travelers make is letting newspapers pile up in front of their house.

“They should stop their newspaper. They should stop their mail,” Henry said.

Temporarily halting newspaper delivery is a simple task. The subscriber simply needs to call the circulation department and ask for a vacation stop. Delivery will then resume on the date designated by the customer.

Also, while it can be tempting to post vacation pictures on social media, this can make travelers’ homes more vulnerable.

“Don’t advertise your vacation on Facebook or any other social sites,” Henry said.

“The best advice I’ve given people is stay off of social media. Limit the people that know that you’re going on vacation so that they don’t put it on social media or tell other people,” Martins Ferry police Officer Rob Duncan said, adding that the Martins Ferry Police Department will make additional patrols in an area if they know a house will be empty. “They usually let us know, like, ‘I have a brother coming in. … He’ll be driving this type of vehicle. If you see that, that’s OK, but anything other than that, it’s suspicious.”

He said it is difficult to tell if homes will be a particular target this holiday.

“It’s really hard to tell from one day to the next. It could be cars, it could be houses. You can never predict something like that” Duncan said. “The biggest concern we have is social media. Everybody’s excited to go on vacation. They want to tell everyone they know, everyone at work, their friends and family. Sooner or later it gets out there.”