Ed's note: This is a bit long but there is some good information contained in the words. As you read (if you stay with it) I think you may agree. I have reinserted this because I continue to go to the Sheriffs Office weekly and the same darn crimes are perpetually committed.
CRIME PREVENTION E. L. Thomas
I am a volunteer with the Manatee County Sheriffs Office. As a volunteer I am assigned to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and I spend my time working on cases of non-violent crimes searching for information, attempting to locate stolen items and link the crime to a suspect. This is a very interesting way to spend a day and is extremely rewarding on one hand and very frustrating on the other.
To begin with, I needed something to do to fill some of my retirement and while visiting the county fair a couple of years ago the Manatee County Sheriffs Office had a booth promoting crime prevention and also volunteer services. I picked up a brochure with the intent to satisfy my curiosity but nothing more. As it turned out I applied and then began a three months screening process that included a detailed application, psychological testing, intelligence testing, back ground checks, lie detector testing, drug screening, an interview with the department psychologist, several interviews within the organization and waiting. My impressions of this thoroughness is very high and speaks to the professionalism of this organization.
That said, I refer back to the 'rewarding' and the 'frustrating' comment made in my opening.
First the rewards:
I get to work with some very interesting, dedicated, and professional people. No Barney Fife's at MCSO. Everyone I have met and have worked with are well mannered and intelligent professionals who are dedicated to serving the public. Having spent forty years in business at various levels including executive I have some experience behind me to be able to say this. They are a well-managed team. This is not meant to be an advertisement for the MCSO nor are my remarks going to get me a pay raise. I come free!
In my service I have access to a wide variety of systems making my job as a volunteer investigator quite interesting. Most important is the database housing all of the reports registered with the department. This contains a myriad of data about the particular crime, the victims, property stolen, damages, and etc. Also, this system has access to perpetrators, past and linked incidences, and everything else reported to the department both current and past. Augmenting this elaborate system is another application available to all law enforcement agencies that provides a current record of all pawns in the state. This application lists the detail of the pawn, the person making the pawn and linkages to other pawns. This is a very powerful utility when looking for stolen items.
There are many other applications, some I am not cleared to enter and for good reason, after all I am not a badge carrying law enforcement officer with the intensive training they must complete to be an LEO. However, any application I cannot access there are people in the department who can. All I need to do is provide them with information deeming it necessary for then to go deeper than I.
Like I said this investigating stuff is very rewarding and equally interesting.
Now for the frustrating part:
On a normal day I will pick up a couple dozen incident reports (car burglaries, home burglaries, thefts on the street and in places of business, etc.) and search for a cube with an empty chair. I then take the reports and review them and note such items as; if fingerprints were taken-referring to the forensic database to see if they have value or have been identified back to an individual, has the victim reported the serial numbers or unique identification information of the stolen items, has a suspect been listed, and etc. Then I usually begin my work by searching the pawn shop data base for the items, or if a bank card or cell phone is a part of the theft and if so have they been used and if so does the place of business where it was used have video, or does the phone company have a call record of usage, and etc., etc., etc. I research as much of this as possible before I call and interview the victim.
By now you might ask, 'what is so frustrating about this?"
Let me tell you. I could take my two-dozen reports and separate them into about four or five piles of identical crimes and this is frustrating because it is becoming so mundane. But this is OK because I can handle mundane and besides I get to talk to a lot of nice and interesting people who are, like me, frustrated, but frustrated for a different reason and that reason is they are the VICTIM. Believe me, it is frustrating to talk to someone who has had something dear and valuable stolen and chances are they are not going to get it back.
But! This is still not the frustration I am speaking of. What has me grinding my teeth, (my dentist tells me the damage to them over the past year has accelerated and I may have to go to caps soon) is most of these crimes are preventable!
Now for the real reason I am writing this. The following will be like a series of sample crimes and how YOU can keep this from happening to you. Each crime I detail has happened and has ended up in my pile many times over. There will be no particular order to the following. Also, please understand I am no expert! There are professionally trained crime prevention officers at Manatee County Sheriff's Office available to the public simply by calling the listed number and asking for 'Crime Prevention'.
CRIME: MY PURSE WAS STOLEN WHILE I WAS SHOPPING!
I get a lot of these. Ladies-most purses have a 'SHOULDER STRAP' and it is called this because it is intended to go over the shoulder. Otherwise it is a 'HANDBAG', which means it is to be carried in the hand. Please do not place it in the area of the shopping buggy where the kids are supposed to sit. When I am in a store and I see a woman looking over an article of clothing or reading the labeling on a can of soup with their back to their cart and their purse waiting to be snatched I am not at all embarrassed to stop and tell them who I am and what I do and why they should shoulder their bag. Most say 'thank you' but others seem to think I am intruding. I don't care. If I can avoid getting one of these reports next time I go in then it is worth it.
We all agree these bad guys are dumb but we must give them credit for being clever. One of the popular methods of stealing your purse is the bad guys work in teams. One will engage you in conversation and the other will walk by and lift the purse. By the time you have finished commenting on if the blue or red sweater looks better on the person asking, the other person is in their car going through your purse looking for your items of value. And they are: Cash, bank cards, identification, car keys, home keys, prescriptions (paper and bottled), cell-phone, medical cards, social security card, drivers license, several items with your address on it, your calendar book listing when you are going to be away from your home for the next weeks and months, jewelry, makeup, and on and on and on!
Before you can get to the manager of the store and before they can call in a report of this and before the responding officer completes the initial report, the people who have your purse will have the benefit of stopping at a number of stores and using any number of your credit cards (after all they have your photo ID and the clerks really don't check that close). And, maybe they have enough time left over to visit your house (they called from your cell phone because you have it in the directory as 'HOME') before you can get a ride home (remember they got your car keys too). Know what else? It costs several hundred dollars to replace all of the locks and keys to your home and one electronic key for today's cars costs two or three hundred dollars each.
So-in closing this case let it be said that wearing your purse over you shoulder or carrying it at all times may be a bit annoying but compare it to the alternative.
1. If this should happen to you and your bank cards are used at a business establishment have your card provider give you the detail down to date, time and location of the illegal usage so we can try to get a video clip of the person using your card. Most stores have video surveillance for the register areas.
2. Make a list of your cards, the card number, the phone number to report them stolen, and put this somewhere (not in your purse or wallet) so you can call ALL of them to get them cancelled if you become a victim.
3. When you go to your car with a buggy full of purchases the first thing you MUST do is secure your purse, then tend to the child, then unload your purchases.
4. Be careful where you park-especially at night.
5. Do not park with your drivers side on the door side of a van.
6. Look around and if you don't feel safe request an escort.
Other than strong-arm robbery (you have been mugged or property forcibly snatched from you) the crime of someone stealing your purse in a store or parking lot is virtually one hundred percent avoidable. YOU are the key to prevention.
CRIME: BURGLARY TO A CONVEYANCE.
How is this for a technical title? It means your car of truck or boat or trailer or anything that is on wheels (not a stationary house trailer) has been entered and something you used to own is now in the possession of persons unknown.
This is probably the most prevalent form of report I get to work on. There are many items to take into consideration here so I will try my best to get them all while not trying to keep this in any form of order.
First, there is a whole society of people in our area who have an understanding they must leave their vehicle unlocked because they "don't want the windows broken". I suppose this logic means if they lock their vehicle the bad guys are going to bust the windows to get in. True in one form only and that is, if the bad guys (note: the term 'bad guys' is not meant to be gender biased because in this world of unisexual terms this one means either a guy or a gal) are intent on getting into your vehicle and if the doors are locked they will most likely take out the window. But! We must explore this a little further. Having been the victim of two vehicle burglaries over the twenty plus years I have lived in Manatee County I know for a fact both times this happened I left my vehicle unlocked. I was a contributor and accomplish for both crimes! Since I normally check and double check the security of my vehicle and almost never leave them unlocked I have to accept two theories here.
First, the bad guys don't really like making noise so they don't normally bust the windows because this makes noise. Here is the proof in the form of an analogy to this theory; the cat, owned by the neighbor, who scratches in my flower beds does so because cats are sneaky and silent and thus can get away with it. I believe (and I understand this because there are times when I get several incident reports of victims all in the same vicinity, sharing property lines, who have been broken into at the same times) the bad guys attack a neighborhood and silently sneak from house to house checking cars to see if the cars are locked and if not locked they go through them and steal anything that can be turned into a bag of weed or whatever.
Secondly, I haven't had any windows broken because there is nothing sitting inside my vehicles in plain sight that would warrant busting a window, causing a commotion, and possibly getting caught in the act. So the answer to keeping the doors locked and getting the windows busted is that your chances of getting a busted window is directly related to what the bad guys see inside your vehicle.
Now, there is another society of people in Manatee County (and I am sure other places-most places) who gives a status to their vehicle no vehicle is worthy of (except a Brinks truck) and this status is-they consider their vehicle a safe deposit box. This is really not a favorable decision to make. I can't believe the number of people who leave their wallets, purses, cell phones, laptops, briefcases, and etc. etc. in their cars. And, to make this worse, many of them leave these items in plain sight so when the bad guys are going from property to property checking for unlocked vehicles they are also shining a light into the vehicle to see if there is reason to bust the window. This-my friend-is when the window does get treated.
Now some of the victims are clever. They cover their valuables with a towel, a sweater, a jacket, newspaper, or whatever, to fool these bad guys. But alas, the bad guys are clever also. When they shine their maglite in your window and see one of the camouflaging items listed above with a lump under it they see this as a neon sign advertising, 'Very valuable stuff under this disguise. Pop goes the window!
Then, there is the victim who leaves stuff in plain sight like navigational instruments (GPS devices and MP3 players are the most popular stolen items I have to look for). There are so many of these in the Pawn Shops and unless you have recorded the serial number you simply are not going to get it back. Audio equipment is also a sure bag of grass or a couple of rocks. These devices come with a mounting bracket and removing the unit from the dash or removing the face plate of your expensive radio is as simple as taking the keys out of the ignition and into the house with you.
OK-now that I have pointed out some things very pointedly, here are some simple rules to follow:
Fact: The reason we have so many vehicle burglaries is the bad guys are opportunists and we provide them with the opportunity.
CRIME: BURGLARY TO A RESIDENCE.
There are not many crimes that leaves a victim feeling more violated than some bad guy breaking into or entering your private residence and going through your personal effects and stealing items dear and valuable to you.
Here again, there are simply too many of these happening that when the responding officer completes their initial investigation there is a notation stating, no visible signs of forced entry. Or in my words-the door was not locked or a window was open.
That said, there are also many of these burglaries where the bad guys smash windows, kick in doors, and otherwise maliciously force their way inside. These are less preventable than other types of crime but there are so many things an individual can do to lower the percentage of becoming a victim. I am going to list a bunch but there are also many other ways pertinent to individual needs.
Lets get started:
Alarm Systems: A home alarm system is an excellent method of protection. However, not everyone can afford one of these so many have to use the alternatives.
Outdoor Lighting: Earlier I mentioned how the neighbors cat gets away with scratching in my flower beds-sneaky and silent and slinking around in the dark. Light up your residence. Many stores in the area sell a wide arrangement of lighting for this purpose. If you dont like the idea of leaving lights on all of the time consider the lights with the motion detectors that turn on when someone/something approaches your residence. I have motion sensitive lights surrounding my home. Anyone (even the neighbors flowerbed scratching cat) approaching my residence from the front, sides or back will find themselves bathed in artificial light on approach). The timers are set for two minutes and this does not cause a sizable drain on the electric bill but it sure keeps that darn cat (and other critters) from scratching in my flowerbeds. To dampen this somewhat you must keep in mind most burglaries happen during the day time.
Sliders: Our home has that great open feeling only sliding doors can provide We have lined up across the back of my residence three sets of doubles giving the sun (and bad guys) lots of opportunity to enter my home. The sunshine is welcome. Sliders, by nature, are about as secure as having automatic doors installed. Before I fixed them I could grab them and lift them out of the track faster than I could get the key in the slot and open them normally. There are a lot of methods available to fix this problem. I used the simple method of drilling a one-eighth inch hole through the flange and into the frame and threading a sheet metal screw into the hole. Cost about a nickel per door for two of them. The third, I scuffed the wallpaper on the side and this meant the paper had to come off the entire area (kitchen and dining area). Then I had to paint, fell off the ladder and broke the ladder and the table so a new ladder and table and chairs were in order. Then the outlet covers were replaced with stainless covers and now the knobs and handles on the cabinets didnt match so new ones of these were also required. And now the appliances didnt match the knobs and handles so a new set of appliances showed up. Then new lighting was necessary to view the improvements. All in all about a five grand expenditure for a nickel fix. Regardless of the method, do something to make your sliders secure so they offer protection. Check with the guys at the hardware or home improvement stores and see if slide locks, jam bars, locking pins, or my simple screw method is what you might be happy with. But-do something!
Broken locks, latches, etc.: It seems a high number of the home burglary cases I get the bad guys enter through a portal that has a broken locking mechanism and unfortunately this device has been broken for long enough for a would be thief to take notice. Fixem! Your stuff is too valuable to let someone come in with a low level of effort and steal your property. At least present a challenge to them. The same goes for windows-a piece of plywood or cardboard does not prevent the bad guys--it invites them.
Upgrade your locks to hardened locks and locks that discourage Bump Lock entries. (Want to find out more about bump lock picking? Go to the internet-this may scare you into doing some preventative stuff to your locks.) The main thing here is to make it very hard for a bad guy and by doing so they will leave your place and seek an easier target like the house down the street. An analogy to this is when I was taking SCUBA lessons the dive master instructed us, "If you see a shark while you are down you don't have to out swim the shark-just your dive partner".
Get to know your neighbors: When you cant be home there is always a set of eyes available to help watch over your residence. Everyone has neighbors and most of them are tolerable. Set it up with your neighbors (the ones you can tolerate) to keep an eye on your place and do the same for them. This is almost as good as being home or having a house sitter.
Landscaping: I am the biggest violator in the world on this because I have a hedge that covers one side and the back of my lot. This is not just a stand of pretty bushes but a solid eight foot high hedge. But, I feel I have enough other forms of protection to take the risk of maintaining the hedge. Otherwise, it is not wise to have bushes and plants covering windows or other places of ingress to a residence where a bad guy can hide while making entry.
While away: When you leave for vacation or a visit that will have you out of your residence for an extended period put timers on strategic inside lights so it will look like you are home and doing normal things in the evenings.
Video surveillance: This is really neat-there are (and have been) products on the market where you can hook up several surveillance cameras inside and outside of your residence and then feed the outputs to a computer. From here you will have video record storage of anyone attempting or succeeding in gaining entry to your home. Also, with motion detectors linked to this type of system, your computer can send an email to your cell phone and from the right kind of 'smart' phone you can link to your computer and monitor the camera outputs.
You can take that old computer box out of the closet, the one you don't want to get rid of because it cost ten times what one today costs, and use it for a 'server'. Upgrade it with a hefty hard drive, a wireless card, put an external antennae on your web router and talk the neighbor into letting you put the box in their house so it is off site and a would be bad guy won't find it and destroy your records of their mug shot. There is a whole world of opportunities you can do in this arena and by recruiting a few contributing neighbors you can form an alliance helping each other.
Answering machine messages: Be careful of the wording on your telephone answering machine. Also, be careful in answering people who will call with what sounds like a solicitation call. The one I really enjoy are the folks who call wanting to know if you have an alarm system active for your residence. I tell them I have two, one I pay by the month for and the other I simply keep loaded.
Answering the door: Don't come to my house after dark and ring the bell expecting to have me open the door to greet you. I won't do it! Even during the daytime, if I suspect the visitor is a solicitor, or maybe even a bad guy, I won't answer the ring. People who come to visit have a telephone and should call first. So, if I don't recognize them they don't get acknowledged.
Also, if you install a surveillance camera at your front entrance you can (most systems) channel this to your television and by flipping a channel you can observe who it is pushing your button.
Record keeping: This is a MUST! Take your digital camera and go through the house and snap a picture of EVERYTHING you own. Take a notebook with you and write down the MAKE, MODEL, and SERIAL NUMBER of every electronic, audio, video, appliance, weapon, keepsake, and etc. you own (Don't forget the garage). Enter this into a spread sheet or scan it into your computer. Once completed, download this to one of those cheap flash drives (4gb will be sufficient and you can pick them up on most corners) and put this flash drive in a safe place. Mine is in my safe deposit box at the bank. (This is also a neat place to store a backup list of those bank cards you carry in your wallet in case you stored the original in your wallet or purse and then it gets stolen or lost.) Making these kinds of records will be valuable if you do become a victim of a bad guy or if a storm causes damage to your residence and you need records to file insurance claims.
Oh Yeah! Don't forget to take a picture of a mirror so you also have a record of your digital camera. One other thing, take pictures of your valuable jewelry, you know, the ring that was your grandmothers, and then your mothers, and now it is yours and has generations of love and emotions associated with it.
Last but not least in this category is jewelry. An inscription on a piece of jewelry is as powerful as a serial number on a television. Any inscriptions on jewelry must be entered onto the pawn ticket and into the pawn shop data base. Thus, if you have grandma's wedding ring get it inscribed if it is not already. AND record this by taking pictures of it.
E911: Believe it or not I spoke with a victim on one incident where a bad guy broke a glass pane out of their front door to attempt to gain entry-while she was home. She started out just fine-that is she went to the phone. But-she called her husband at work instead of calling 911. The husband called 911 for her and then drove like a maniac to get home to save her. This is not the recommended method.
The way E911 works when called from a land line telephone is when the connection is made to the PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point) there has already been a data base look up to the MSAG (Master Street Address Guide) providing the 911 operator with the address where the call is coming in from. So if the caller cannot talk the operator will automatically dispatch a unit to the address. If the caller can talk they can then express the emergency. Use E911 for your safety! NOTE: Calling 911 from a cell phone will provide the ANI (Automatic Number Identification) and typically the tower location serving the call request. There is no magic linking this call to an address, yet! Stay on the line and give the operator the pertinent information. NOTE 2: If your telephone service is VoIP or internet telephone there are many problems linking you to a PSAP. First you have to register your VoIP phone with the PSAP and depending on your VoIP telephone service provider the ability to be forwarded to the proper PSAP is questionable. If this is your choice for telephone service the onus is mainly on you to make sure you are properly aligned to your local 911 system. Trying to get this worked out after an emergency is usually inefficient.
CRIME: SIMPLE PROPERTY THEFT:
This is kind of like a residential or commercial burglary but typically does not include breaking and entering. Let's say you are mowing your lawn and taking a swipe across the back yard and you left your garage door up. In the time it takes to make that cut across the back and circle around to the front a bad guy has had plenty of time to enter your garage and swipe your golf clubs, pole saw and camping porta-potty. All excellent items to unload at the pawn shop of their convenience.
Other popular items are bicycles left out in the yard, lawnmowers, and a great favorite is lifting tools from the trailers of the people who work their whoopie cakes off trying to make a living doing yard maintenance.
The schools are a fruitful place for some who wants a laptop or a cell phone or an IPOD. Every kid has one or more of these items and most of them don't understand the value of the items because they are normally provided to them free.
Commercial businesses think because they have a fence surrounding their lot they are immune. Bad logic! The bad guys are also fair athletes.
OTHER PERTINENT STUFF:
I said early on there are basically four or five different categories of the crimes I assist with. I have pretty much covered them above and the remainder not yet mentioned are thefts from, and in, commercial establishments, malicious vandalism, and etc. I will not go into these because the point I am trying to make here is how to keep your person, your vehicle and your home as safe as you possibly can. Most commercial establishments and public buildings have security arrangements making dealing with the crimes committed in these places a different beast.
OK-let's say you have covered yourself by doing everything listed, and more, but you still become a victim of this type of crime. You call and make a report, a deputy responds and makes out an incident report listing all of the pertinent information, i.e.: name, address, statements, list of stolen items, pictures, fingerprint cards, interviews with your neighbors, and any other information of value to aid the investigation. What you receive is a brochure listing victims rights and information on how to contact the MCSO in the event you come up with additional details or need information back.
The deputy files the report and it is then reviewed by one of the cadre in the Criminal Investigation Department and they refer it to a detective or an investigator depending on the contents of the report. As I said before I pick up a wad of these reports and seek a cube with an empty chair and begin the process of gathering information to pass back to the Sergeants in CID (please don't think I am a one person operation. I show up at my leisure and there are regulars who do this function all the time).
I mentioned searching the pawn shops for stolen items. I need to add some literary eloquence to the functions of a pawn shop. A lot of people think in terms of stolen goods when they think of a pawn shop. In fairness this is absolutely not the case. True, a lot of stolen stuff ends up at a pawn shop. But, the function of a pawn shop is an honorable one in as much as they serve a purpose for people who need their services and to the people who shop at them, and to themselves.
The business of a pawn is to LOAN a person money. Think of it like a credit card company letting you use their money for a period of time. Only, the pawn shops don't charge as much in interest as these highly respected banks. Thus, when a person pawns an item, and assuming this is a legitimate deal, the item becomes the collateral much like signing a mortgage or chattel.
I have talked to many victims who said they 'went down to the pawn shop to look for their stuff'. They wasted their time. When the pawn shop takes in the item this is now a private deal between the shop and the customer. The terms of the loan take effect and let's say the loan is for thirty days. The item is placed in the back room, out of view, for this period of time giving the customer an opportunity to gather the funds to come back and retire the loan and recover their property. If after the term period the customer has not repaid the loan the item now becomes the property of the pawn shop and then it is placed in public view for sale. With this in mind, searching the pawn shops for your stuff the day after the theft is usually a waste of time unless you find something you need at a bargain price.
Now for the part that helps makes my volunteer job easy, when a pawn is made the pawn shop must enter into a common data base; the item, make, model, serial number, other descriptions, the information about the person making the loan (drivers license number, date of birth, height, weight, race, and a lot of other stuff including a video or picture of the person making the pawn). This information is immediately on line for law enforcement. I simply go in and search.
Also, it is just not items the search is available for, there is also a section to search for jewelry, search by name, by serial number, by just about anything you can think of. This is a very robust system and is just one of many the MCSO has to work with.
There have been many occasions where I have had to call a pawn shop to ask for assistance in identifying an item and on every opportunity I have had excellent cooperation with the persons at the shops. Nuff said about pawn shops.
Since this is the twenty-first century we have the internet. So do the bad guys. They know there is risk selling their ill-begotten goods at the pawn shop and their clientele is limited selling off the street corner. They have discovered EBAY and craigslist. If you are a victim you can do yourself more good looking into these applications for your stuff then going around to the pawn shops. This is an area the Sheriffs Department normally will not search because of the volume and the intricacies of doing so. I know I don't look for items in these areas. I simply don't have the time owing to the number of cases the bad guys seem to generate with our help (we leave stuff in plain sight, we don't lock our doors, we don't light our areas, etc. etc.)
This is it! you have had the course. Actually, we can make it very difficult for the bad guys if we try a little harder. One thing for sure-the law enforcement agencies can use the help.
A writer should never leave a story on a negative note-unless there is an absolute need to do so. I now have that need!
Let's say we do our job splendidly (I am including the hard working regulars in this because they are the real hero's) and gather enough information to identify a suspect and this in turn wins a conviction. We get congratulations all around and the bad guy goes to jail. We have succeeded!
But, if you really think about it the bad guys are still stealing from us. They call it: 'THREE HOTS, A COT, AND A COLOR TV'. This is a luxury a lot of hard working and honest people do not have today!
Care to comment? See my e-mail link below and to the left? Click on it.