Carol O’Brien: Avoid becoming a victim of thieves


Open doors and open windows are open invitations to criminals.

There is an ongoing “discussion” in my home over whether to lock the car doors or to leave them unlocked. It goes like this:

Husband: “Carol, don’t forget to lock the car.”

Me: “Why would I lock it? If someone wants something, they’ll just break the window.”

The right answer — as much as I hate to admit it — is that my husband is right. You should indeed lock your car every time you park, something I learned at a recent block watch meeting. As Officer Robert Hatcher of the Delaware Police Department explained, it makes a lot of noise to break into a car, and noise brings attention – something no criminal wants.

On a related note, best practice tells us to never leave valuables in our vehicles — ever. That means getting into the habit of checking our front and back seats. Even if you’re tired, make that extra trip to your car to retrieve what you left in there. Even if you have to drag yourself out of bed, it’s a much better option than discovering a missing purse, tablet, laptop computer or briefcase. A valuable item left in your car — locked or unlocked — is a tempting invitation for a determined criminal.

Vehicle doors aren’t the only doors to consider. Officer Hatcher was in our neighborhood because, unfortunately, we had a rash of home break-ins. These invasions happened during the day and, in some instances, the homeowner had left for just a few minutes. The perpetrators chose homes with unlocked doors for an easy and quick entry and exit. Unlocked doors also mean there is no noticeable damage to entry points that might otherwise be observed by an alert neighbor and called in to authorities.

That brings up another safety point – calling law enforcement. If while you’re working in the yard (or anytime really), you see someone who doesn’t belong — for example, a car with folks you don’t recognize, someone walking through back yards, someone hanging around and not visiting, things like that — take a moment to assess the situation. Observe. Jot the license plate down. Get a general description of the person(s). Trust yourself and know it’s OK to feel like something could be amiss. Gut feelings, women’s intuition or whatever you want to call it generally do not steer us wrong, and no law enforcement officer will be upset to get a call that turns out to be nothing. The old adage applies – Better safe than sorry!

Delaware is a safe place, a wonderful place to call home, but no place is immune from criminal activity, be it vehicle break-ins, home burglaries or anything else. My neighbors, many of whom had never locked their doors (except at night), experienced a strong dose of reality. Now they lock their doors even if they’re just running a quick errand.

The temptation is there though to leave things open and airy. As the weather gets nicer and we spend more time outside, it’s almost second nature to leave our doors and windows unlocked (or open) while we’re in the garden or mowing the lawn. Again, open doors and windows are open invitations to thieves. It’s better to be proactive about security instead of waiting until something happens to become vigilant.

So take a moment to walk around your house and determine if someone could slip in and out while you’re pruning flowers in your front, back or side yard. Talk to your neighbors. Let each other know if you see mysterious vehicles or unknown people. Get off the couch and double-check your vehicle for valuables. It’s a lot easier, and less time-consuming than filing a police report and hoping the stolen item is recovered.

And lastly, don’t be afraid to call law enforcement. Think about how you would feel if something bad happened and you had the power to call it in but chose not to.

Carol O’Brien

Contributing columnist

Carol O’Brien is the Delaware County prosecutor.

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