Huntington Residents Find Keys (and Locks) to Safety : Crime: Efforts of a program called A Safer America emphasize that deterrence isn't merely a bolt out of the blue. Prevention requires preparation and vigilance.


Residents of Huntington Beach, named the safest city in the United States earlier this year, latched together Saturday to make it even safer.

An estimated 150 residents fanned throughout Surf City over the weekend, installing deadbolt locks and handing out flyers from A Safer America, a national crime prevention program.

Huntington Beach, with a population of about 200,000, is the first city in California to be selected for A Safer America, which provided 100 kits containing home locks and 55,000 door flyers.

"We were named the safest city in America and we want to stay that way," said Huntington Beach community service officer Suzie Wadja, who led the drive to earn the city the program. "Our goal is to saturate 95% of our city with the material and to raise awareness."

After a Kansas-based report using 1993 FBI statistics ranked Huntington Beach No. 1 in safety in January, Wadja said residents have been working hard to maintain their title.

Teen-age volunteers spent Saturday combing streets to hang door tags with tips on home security. Senior citizens, real estate agents and neighborhood watch members excitedly stopped by the city's Chamber of Commerce to pick up stacks and boxes of the door tags.

"This is a wonderful idea," said Natalie Bartlett, 82, who gathered materials for several mobile home parks. "I've lived here 30 years and I love it. It's a smaller town than when I used to live [in Long Beach]. It's much safer."

About 40 lock kits were raffled off to volunteers and passed out to needy families. Nine low-income homes also were selected to have locks installed on their doors and windows on Saturday.

Beverly Olander, one recipient who lives in a gated senior community, watched as volunteers placed the pin-locks in her sliding door and living room windows.

"Even though this neighborhood is fenced in, we're still very concerned about our safety," said Olander, 63. "We have robberies. People sometimes think because there's a gate around us they can walk away from their homes without locking their doors."

Olander said she was delighted when she was given the locks. But more importantly, she added, the program educates neighbors on crime prevention.

"By raising an awareness on how to watch out for crime, we are taking responsibility for our own homes," she said.

Car and residential burglaries are the biggest crime problems in Huntington Beach, police said. In about half the home burglaries, thieves simply enter through open garages or unlocked doors and windows, Huntington Beach Police Lt. Dan Johnson said.

"We're not asking people to put up bars around their homes today," Johnson said. "We just want them to take simple steps to protect themselves. They are just common-sense ideas."

Here are some of the suggestions from the A Safer America material:

* Prune any shrubbery that hides doors or windows. Remove tree limbs that a thief could climb on to reach second-floor windows. Thorny shrubs, bushes or vines can deter intruders from entering ground floor windows.

* Door and window locks should be replaced every five years.

* Make sure all porches, entrance areas and yards are lit well.

* Several interior lights should be placed on timers. This makes your home appear "lived-in" and ensures you will never come home to a dark house.

* Valuables kept in the house should be engraved with a Social Security number whenever possible.

A Safer America, based in Newport Beach, was launched two years ago in Spokane, Wash., and then in Charlotte, N.C. David Parcell, the program's director, said Huntington Beach was selected over other local cities this year because it was logical to help foster safety in a sound community.

"We targeted the troubled neighborhoods in Spokane and Charlotte," Parcell said. "After those two cities, we realized this isn't information just for poor people or crime-ridden areas. This is for anyone is subject to burglaries."

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