Safe home for the holidays

While many will be travelling away from the Cayman Islands this holiday season, there are many others who will be staying at home.

Here’s the bad news, you have just as much chance of your home being broken into as those who are going away for a week or two.

Unless you take the proper precautions, that is.

Royal Cayman Islands Police Chief Inspector Angelique Howell says people who will spend hours preparing their homes prior to vacation won’t do anything ahead of the holiday season if they’re sticking around.

“We always see an increase in property crimes, burglaries and theft during the festive season,” Howell says. “But people will leave their windows open, they leave their doors open, they’ve gone to bed or they’ve gone out onto the beach. That safety awareness that they should have, they really don’t have it.”

On 10 December, RCIPS officers were at local grocery stores handing out pamphlets advising residents about theft prevention and personal safety tips they can take around the holidays.

The first thing you have to know, Inspector Howell says, is what the thieves are looking for. These days, the crooks are after the newest, latest technology…and of course, money and jewels are good too. TVs and stereos are passé.

“Laptops, blackberries, money, jewellery…in the past couple of months we’ve had quite a lot of jewellery being stolen,” she says. “Laptops are the prize commodity, cell phones…items that can easily be sold.”

It’s the simple things that will often keep burglars away. Lock the doors and windows obviously, but you should also move things like step ladders or furniture which can make it easier for suspects to access upstairs windows or attics.

Also, keeping your property maintained is a surprisingly good way to avoid being targeted.

“Overgrown hedging is an invitation,” Howell says. “People can hide in the hedging…and the neighbours can’t see. Trim them down so people can see; don’t have a massive fence. Make sure your property is well lit.”

Sensor lights that come on after dark can also help with this, Howell says residents should consider having a few of them around the property.

However, the most important lights for burglary prevention can often be the ones inside the home – particularly for those who are leaving for an extended vacation.

“Make it seem like there’s some life in the house,” Howell says. “If somebody keeps watching that house 24-7, that is opportunity to say nobody’s there. It is best to have somebody just making regular checks there.”

At the very least, Howell advises asking a friendly neighbour to check the property every couple of days and perhaps pick up any stray fliers or newspapers that might be lying about.

Your neighbour’s property can also be an invitation for thieves if it is ill-kept. Overgrown hedges next door can also block a clear view of your property. Howell says abandoned or derelict properties should be reported to the Department of Environment or the Planning Department.

“It’s not only about leaving the lights on, it’s about the surrounding areas of your property,” she says. “If somebody has a property next to you and it is overgrown…it raises the potential for your property to be victimised.”

One of the best home protection devices you can have is man’s best friend. Chief Inspector Howell says burglars may or may not be scared of a dog, but one barking will certainly alert your family to an intruder’s presence giving the suspect less incentive to come inside.

Also, Howell advises that care must be taken, particularly at night when you are at home. She says residents shouldn’t just open the door to anyone.

“If you’re at home and somebody knocks on your door, see who it is first,” she says “You’ve got to teach your children to be smart about that as well.”

Alarm systems can be effective, she says. However, police do not recommend one system over another. Silent alarms can be more effective in catching burglars in the act, but the loud alarms will usually scare suspects away if they are tripped.

“If you’re getting an alarm system, just be sure it has some value to you,” she says.

“It’s not only about leaving the lights on, it’s about the surrounding areas of your property.”

Angelique Howell, RCIPS chief inspector

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