By Liz Collin

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Law enforcement agencies consider this time of year a Christmas for criminals, from home and car break-in’s to swiping deliveries from your front door.

If you have plans to be gone for any period of time officers say you have a much better chance of being a target.

WCCO found some tips to protect your property and the free service that will keep an eye out for you.

Deputies tend to see things differently than your typical driver. We took a ride with Sgt. Joel Legut of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office to see what some suburban neighbors can do to make their property safer.

“There are three different newspapers sitting out in the driveway and the yard,” Sgt. Legut pointed to.

“It might tell a burglar scoping out the area that this person might not be home for a long period of time,” he said.

But, if there was ever a time to think like a criminal, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office says it’s this time of year.

“Off to this side there’s a garage door that’s open and unattended,” Sgt. Legut said. “If there’s a burglar casing the area, they could easily just poke their head in, see what’s in there, come back at a later date and time when no one is home. But the other part is they could just go in there and take whatever they want out of the garage it takes just a matter of seconds to do that.”

It’s why Sheriff Dan Starry wants to remind residents to request a vacation home check before you

“Tis the season so everyone is gone,” Sheriff Starry said. “We get people that will call in when they’re gone three days up to months.”

It’s a free service offering random drop-in’s by deputies at all hours of the day.

“We’re going to be looking for any tire tracks,” Sgt. Legut said.

Keeping tabs on whatever vehicles you might leave behind.

“If there are windows we’ll look through the windows to see if the cars that are supposed to be in there are still in there,” Sgt. Legut said.

Deputies also check doors and windows for any signs of entry.

“We have stumbled upon houses when we do vacation checks that have been broken into or attempted to be broken into,” Sgt. Legut said.

Sgt. Legut believes many homeowners think they’re covered if they have a camera or full security system.

“Some of them are very tech savvy that they can defeat these alarm systems without the alarms ever going off,” he said.

Changing who your security system calls if there is a break-in Legut says is something else to keep in mind if you’re leaving town. Depending on your setting it could slow the time it takes for a squad to arrive.

“Are they going to call the homeowner first or the sheriff’s office first?” Legut asked.

The advice doesn’t end outside. Putting a few lamps on timers when you’re away can also keep intruders out.

“That will give a sense that someone is home especially if you have your shades drawn,” Legut said.

“You really need to have a person a human being come into the house to check up on the house to make sure it’s still in good order,” he added.

WCCO checked and found most Sheriff’s Offices in the metro offer the vacation home check service. You can also check with your local police department for the free check. Officers will often perform a survey on your property before you leave town as another layer of protection.

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Ask your local agency if they could do a Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) survey. This is when a trained Deputy/Officer comes out to the house and goes over simple things to make your residence less of a target for a burglary:

  • Shrubs around the house and the height (recommend no higher than 3 feet, so it’s harder for someone to hide behind)
  • Lights around the exterior (have lights illuminate the side of the residence instead of out in the yard. If it’s pointed out toward the yard, there is a dark spot under the light up against the house someone could hide under and not be seen by someone approaching the house.)
  • Type of locks on exterior doors
  • Type of doors used
  • Mulch versus rock. Etc.
  • Have your mail stopped:
    • Reach out to your local post office and have mail held during your time away from the residence so mail is not piling up in the mailbox
    • Or have a family member/neighbor you trust gather your mail every day
  • If you are out of town in the winter months, have a plan to have your driveway snowplowed:
    • If it is not plowed a day or two afterward this is a giveaway sign
    • Tire tracks up and down the driveway are a key sign after it snows if anyone is home or not
  • Have lights on timers inside your residence
  • Have different timers throughout your house go on and off. This gives an impression someone it home.
  • Have a family member/neighbor you trust check in on your house periodically as you are away.
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