For most people, the holiday season means spending time with family, exchanging gifts and celebrating the year’s accomplishments, but others see it as an opportunity for theft.
It’s no secret that police departments around the country traditionally see an increase in property crime during November and December. This is because there is more property available to be stolen by opportunistic thieves, said Clovis Police Service Officer Ty Wood.
“You have more property – exterior decorations, packages – that can be stolen. It’s tempting to the criminals. They are looking to make illegitimate money,” Wood said.
Wood said many of the property crimes reported during November and December are car burglaries.
This year’s number of car burglaries is especially high statewide, as the Los Angeles Times reported Dec. 2, saying the number of California car burglaries is at “crisis levels.”
Property crimes reported in Clovis nearly doubled from October to November. Clovis police received 47 reports of property crimes that were reported in the two-week span between Nov. 17 and Dec. 2. That’s up from the 40 property crimes that were reported in the entire month of October.
But while the number of property crimes always go up around the holidays, the average rate of property crimes committed during the holiday season have actually remained relatively unchanged within the last few years in Clovis. Wood said there were 181 property crimes reported November 2019. That is more than the 179 property crimes that were reported in November 2018, but less than the 224 that were reported in November 2017.
This may be because as technology improves, citizens and police have better ways to protect against theft. Wood said neighborhood security-focused apps like Nextdoor and Neighbors help community members communicate with the police to better protect their neighborhoods. There are also new home security products such as doorbell cameras that help keep would-be thieves at bay.
Individuals also have more options when it comes to choosing more secure ways to protect your holiday deliveries, as local businesses offer services that protect against theft.
Marty Hinshaw, owner of A1 Lock & Key, said most homes fall short when it comes to security. He said homes have locks that can easily be picked using what’s called a bump key, which can bypass a lock in less than three minutes.
“People think, ‘Oh I’ll buy a burglar alarm and that’ll keep them out.’ But a burglar alarm isn’t going to do anything. If you live in Clovis, it could take the police up to five hours to get to your house, and by then the burglar will be long gone,” Hinshaw said.
Hinshaw emphasized that it’s better to be proactive rather than reactive.
“Quit looking at what is the cheapest way and think about what it’s really going to take to keep burglars out. A good stainless steel lock that is actually going to work will cost you more, but think about how much that lock costs versus how much you value what’s inside your home. So while a good lock might cost you $180, what you have in your house is priceless,” he said.
Danette Lewis of ABC Pack & Print said customers have come to her business with complaints of mail and packages being stolen from their doorsteps. She said her business offers services to prevent such crimes from happening.
“If you have a private mailbox with us you can have your packages, including your special Christmas packages, delivered here as opposed to having FedEx or UPS drop it off on your doorstep,” Lewis said. “That way your packages don’t get stolen by the porch pirates.”
Wood said one of the best ways to prevent burglars from stealing items from your front yard is to be cautious of your surroundings and aware of who is in your neighborhood, as property crime perpetrators tend to spend time scoping out the neighborhoods they plan to burgle.
“We need our residents to call us when they see someone is in their neighborhood that they don’t recognize that is maybe acting suspicious,” Wood said. “Maybe they are walking down the street, checking door handles, and looking in car windows.”
Wood said holiday shoppers should never leave their purchased items in plain view in their car window, warning that many car burglaries take place in mall parking lots just seconds after the victim enters a store.
“Criminals sit in parking lots, in cars, watching customers load up their items and then leave. Then they’ll go in seconds before the victim has even reached the inside of the store, take less than five seconds to smash their window and their property is gone. If you are going to do that you should lock it in you trunk if possible,” he said.
Residents should be especially suspicious of individuals who follow delivery vehicles.
“Be aware of vehicles that are idling or vehicles that are following delivery vehicles like UPS or FedEx,” he said. “Sometimes there will be people on bicycles following those delivery drivers.”
The easiest and most cost-effective way to prevent your home from burglary, Wood said, is to establish what police call the 9 p.m. routine. This means setting a 9 p.m. alarm to lock your doors, lock your vehicles and make sure your exterior lights are on.
“The easiest, least expensive thing – well it’s obvious, but I don’t see a lot of it any more – is use exterior lighting. Even if it’s a motion sensor, keep those driveways and porch lights on at night, because criminals like to hide in the dark.”