Summer's here, school's out, and that long-awaited vacation's looming. Ah--takeoff season.
Tickets? Check. Reservations? Check. Destination? Carefree city.
But in your haste to hit the holiday road, you may be leaving more behind than your favorite pair of sunglasses: The security of your home.
When routines are set aside to make room for travel itineraries, household security often is lost in the logistics, warn residential protection experts.
And sketchy security during the summer is something burglars are keenly aware of, says Michael Bruening of the Burglary Protection Council, a national group based in Chicago, Ill.
"Summer is a time when good people go outdoors. Unfortunately, there are bad people who will seize this opportunity to go in your doors," Bruening says, adding that more homes are burglarized during the summer months in the United States than any other season of the year.
The Orange County Sheriff's Department reported 141 home burglaries last June, 153 in July and 169 in August. That's 463 residents with a summer memory they could have done without.
A typical home burglar rarely knows his victims. He chooses a target based on how easy it is for him to get inside, says the Burglary Prevention Council.
More than a quarter of all residential burglaries occur without forced entry, and more than half are committed during daylight hours, according to FBI statistics. Nonbreak-ins are the only type of burglaries that have increased in the U.S., up about 2.7% in 1996 from the previous year.
"What those statistics tell us is that too often, burglars are entering homes through unlocked doors or windows, and people are not using easily obtainable devices to prevent burglaries," Bruening says.
One of the first questions home security experts ask is: "If you're locked out of your home, can you still get in?" Through an unlocked window? By using an extra key hidden under a flower pot on the front porch?
The thought to ponder: If you can break into your home, so can a burglar, say the experts.
Unlocked doors are the ultimate welcoming gesture. Piled up newspapers, an unkempt yard and prolonged darkness can also attract a burglar's attention, according to the council.
The top deterrents? Double cylinder deadbolts and window locks.
Additional safeguards? Vacation checks and home security inspections provided by many police departments.
"[Inspections] help because we often can tell residents something very simple that they can add to the security of their home," says Kathy Lowe, crime prevention specialist for the Newport Beach Police Department. Inspections are free and can be arranged by calling the police department in your city.
Vacation checks also have proven effective. Some cities provide the service free of charge. Residents complete a form at the police station to begin the service.
Often, police departments enlist the help of senior citizens to periodically check vacationers' homes.
"We are really proud of our volunteers," says Cindy Nagamatsu, manager of the community liaison division of the Garden Grove Police Department. "They provide a great service for our residents."
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How Not to Become a Victim
Although we can't make our home 100% safe, the Burglary Protection Council and law enforcement officials say there are basic steps homeowners can take to reduce their chances of becoming burglary victims this summer.
1. Close and lock all doors and windows, even when leaving the home for brief periods of time. Exterior doors should be constructed of solid hardwood and have deadbolt locks with 1-inch throws and reinforced strike plates with 3-inch screws.
Automatic garage door openers are not reliable for home security.
2. Indoor lights, radios and televisions should be connected to timers that are programmed to turn on and off throughout the day and evening.
3. Install cost-effective, low-voltage outdoor lighting around the perimeter.
4. Lock up all ladders, tools, yard furniture or anything else that could be used to gain access to the home.
5. Keep trees and shrubs surrounding the property trimmed to reduce the number of hiding places.
6. Install window and door alarms, or get a watchdog. Burglars try to avoid noise. For this reason, dog warning stickers and alarm stickers often deter burglars.
7. Take an inventory of valuables. Hide them throughout the house or protect them in a safe-deposit box.
8. Never leave service technicians or repairmen alone in the house. Don't invite strangers in to use the telephone or to have a drink of water. They could be casing homes in your neighborhood or have other unlawful intentions.
9. Never "hide" a spare key in an obvious spot such as a door ledge or under a flowerpot or doormat. Burglars will look in these convenient but common places.
10. Establish a relationship with a neighbor who can contact you or the police in case of emergency or break-in. Arrange for vacation security checks, offered free through the police department.
11. Close drapes and curtains so that no one can peer inside.
12. Never leave a message on your answering machine indicating that you are not at home. Turn the telephone ringer and answering machine volume down so passersby can't overhear unanswered calls.
13. Invite a neighbor to use your garbage cans while you're away.
14. Stop mail and newspaper deliveries. Ask a neighbor to remove advertising fliers left on your property.
15. Leave a car parked in your driveway or have someone periodically park a vehicle there. A car parked close to the garage door can prevent easy access.
For a copy of the 12-page booklet "Safe & Secure," send a self-addressed, stamped, business-sized envelope plus $1 for postage to the Burglary Prevention Council, 221 N. LaSalle St., No. 3500, Chicago, IL 60601-1520.