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Burglaries Up Slightly, Auto Thefts Down in City

Crime in the City

August 29, 2002

While there has been a slight increase in burglaries in the past year, the rate has decreased over the past 10 years. And like burglaries, auto theft is also down, except for the theft of motorcycles, which seems to be increasing.

"Having your home burglarized makes you feel incredibly vulnerable,” said a recent victim of a home burglary, who wished to remain anonymous.

“I always thought I was careful about locking doors and windows, but I clearly wasn’t. The man who broke into our home got in through an open window and took some pieces of jewelry, some electronics and some cash. Most of it can be replaced, but my family’s sense of security is going to be harder to get back.”

The highest number of burglaries was reported in 1994, with 1,042. The lowest number was reported in 2000, with 536. The highest number of residential burglaries was reported in 1992 at 609, and the lowest number in 2000, 312.

Between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2002, there have been 115 residential burglaries, an increase of eight offenses over the same period in 2001. Commercial burglaries have decreased from 165 for the first six months of 2001 to 127 for the first six months of this year.

ALMOST EVERY WEEK this newspaper carries a list of auto thefts as part of the weekly police report. Some weeks the auto theft list seems a lot longer than others, yet the number of thefts is down, according to city police records.

This is not terribly comforting to someone who has lost a vehicle. One Alexandria woman parked her car on a city street at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night, earlier this summer, and found it gone the next morning at around 9 a.m. As she was making a report to the police, she learned that Fairfax County authorities had located her vehicle in the county, burned.

“For some reason, the fire marshal thinks I may have burned my van,” she said. “It was paid for, and I use it in my business. The insurance isn’t going to allow me to buy another van without having payments.”

Two months later, she still does not have a vehicle, and the insurance company is still investigating the matter. “I’m paying a friend to use her car,” the victim said. “I hope they decide soon, because I need a car.”

The highest incidence of auto theft was reported in 1995, when 1,183 vehicles were reported stolen. The lowest number of reported auto thefts occurred in 1999, when 702 vehicles were reported stolen. During the first six months of 2002, 330 vehicles have been reported stolen, a decrease of 28 from the 358 reported stolen in the same period one year ago.

AMY BERTSCH, a spokesperson for the Alexandria Police Department, offered some tips that might prevent burglaries and auto thefts.

“In addition to these tips, any resident who wants a police officer to conduct a home security inspection can call and ask for one,” she said. “We provide them to any city resident at no charge.”

Burglary Prevention

*Get to know your neighbors. Watchful neighbors who look out for one another are the best front-line defense against burglary and other crimes.

*If you're having work done on your home or having items moved, let a trusted neighbor or two know.

*Make sure all doors to the outside are metal or solid hardwood, at least 1 3/4-inches thick.

*Make sure all doors to the outside have good, sturdy deadbolt locks with a minimum 1 1/2-inch bolt.

*Deadbolt locks should have keyed entry from both the outside and the inside, especially if your exterior door or doorway has glass panels.

*Use the locks you have. Always lock up your home when you go out — even if it's only for a few minutes.

*Even if you're going to be in your yard or garden for any length of time, lock all your doors.

*Secure sliding glass doors with commercially available bars or locks, or put a wooden dowel or broomstick in the door track.

*Make sure your windows — especially those on the ground floor — have good locks. Even the narrowest windows should be secured.

*Make sure all porches and entrances are well-lighted. Keep your porch light on all night — a burglar's biggest enemy is light.

*Trim back any bushes or trees that hide doors and windows. Keep ladders, tools, toys and recreational equipment inside.

*Extension ladders or tall step ladders should be kept in a garage. Secure the ladder with a chain and good deadbolt lock.

*Don't hide an extra set of house keys under the doormat, in a flowerpot or in any other location.

*Keep written records — including purchase information, serial numbers, photographs or videos — of all furniture, jewelry, electronic products and other valuables. If possible, keep these records in a safe deposit box, fireproof safe or other secure place.

*When new appliances or other valuable items are purchased, either keep the boxes or tear them up before throwing them out. A new stereo or microwave box thrown in the trash is a sure-fire sign for a burglar that your home has something he may want.

Special Apartment and Condo Tips

*Make sure that all entrances, parking areas, hallways, stairways, laundry rooms and other common areas are well-lighted. Report burned-out bulbs or other problems to the building manager.

*Make sure fire stairs are locked from the stairwell side, with an emergency exit at the ground level.

*Laundry rooms and storage areas should always be kept locked, and lock your apartment door even if you're just going to be in the laundry room for a minute.

*Protect the integrity of the outside entry system. Do not "buzz in" people you don't know, especially anyone claiming to be a delivery person or other service worker.

*Never prop the security door open — even for just a minute or two. That's all the time a burglar needs to gain entry to a building.

*When you're away, ask a trusted neighbor to collect your mail and newspapers.

*Depending on the season, arrange for someone to mow your lawn or shovel snow from your sidewalk and driveway.

*Leave information with a trusted neighbor about when you're leaving, when you will return, and how you can be reached in an emergency.

*Put automatic timers on at least two lights and a television to make your home looks and sounds "lived-in."

Bertsch also had tips for preventing auto theft.

*Lock vehicles.

*Lock the trunk or tailgate.

*Close all windows.

*When parking the car, remove cellular phones, sunglasses, laptop computers and other valuable possessions.

*Do not leave gift-wrapped packages or cameras lying on the seat.

*Lock the car even when making a quick stop at the gas station, convenience store or mini-mall.

*Never leave the car running unattended.

*Don't hide spare keys in the vehicle.

*Secure motorcycle with a heavy chain, and lock it to a stationary object.

*Park carefully, and don’t leave an auto in unattended public parking lots for an extended period.

*Never attach a tag with your name and address to your key ring.

*At night, park in well-lit areas with lots of people around.

*Turn wheels sharply toward the curb when parking. This makes it extra difficult for thieves to tow your car.

*Use anti-theft devices when buying a car.

*Consider the purchase and installation of security devices.