"This is McLean, I don't have to lock my doors." "Nothing ever happens here." "I always leave my door unlocked when I go out for a walk." These are statements that Lt. Dan Courtney, supervisor of the Criminal Investigation section of the Fairfax County Police McLean District station, hears all too often from residents of McLean.
"We have to change our mentality because there's no going back to the '60s and the '70s," said Courtney. "If you leave your wallet in your car, it's not if it will be taken — it's when will it be taken."
On Monday night, Dec. 11, more than 70 residents — some from McLean and some from Great Falls — packed into the community meeting room of the McLean Government Center for a special presentation on local crime issues and recommended safety measures. The presentation was given by Courtney and Officers Patrick Lucas and Tom Black, Fairfax County Police Crime Prevention Officers from the McLean District Station. Courtney first went over local burglary trends seen in 2006, and then detailed how citizens can protect themselves and potentially avoid becoming a victim.
"Awareness is one of the best systems we have," said Courtney. "We don't want to scare people, but we want to educate people. I can't emphasize enough that as this area evolves, it's going to become more urban and we are going to have a metropolis … it's going to be a huge city, and we need to get the security infrastructure in place now."
ONE OF THE MOST common ways that burglars gain access to homes in McLean and Great Falls is through open garage doors. People often leave their garage doors open while they are in their backyard gardening, or when they leave to run a "quick" errand — and since most people do not lock the door that leads from the garage to the interior of the house, an open garage door essentially provides burglars with direct access to the entire home.
"We've got groups that will travel up and down the coast, west and east, and what they are looking for are open garage doors," said Courtney.
Courtney urges residents to lock their house and shut their garage door, even if they are simply doing yard work. In addition, he recommends that residents do not keep garage door openers in vehicles that are parked outside — or at the very least, hide the remote where it cannot be seen by a would-be thief. Courtney also advises residents to be cautious with any service person that is permitted inside their home.
"Stay with them in the house," said Courtney. "If they get offended, too bad — it's your house … these guys are not bashful about ripping you off, so don't be bashful about finding out who they are."
At the presentation, Courtney also discussed the types of locks and alarm systems that can act as deterrents to potential burglars.
"None of us wants to live in a blast bunker, but you can make it more difficult for them to get into your home," said Courtney.
Crime Prevention Officer Patrick Lucas reminded residents to use quality, up-to-date door locks as many are all too easily bypassed by professional thieves.
"Just remember that a lock is a mechanical device that does have a life expectancy and needs to be changed," said Lucas.
Residents and business owners concerned about safety may schedule an appointment to have officers from the McLean District Station Crime Prevention Office come to their home or office for a personalized safety assessment. The officers will make recommendations on lighting, landscaping and general security measures that are specific to the particular building in question. This service is provided free of charge.
LT. COURTNEY explained that the types of criminals most commonly found in McLean are serial burglars, professional theft groups, pickpockets and solicitors and service personnel who are not always what they appear to be. Courtney warned residents to be wary of phony solicitors peddling scams.
"If it's too good to be true, it isn't true — it's bogus," said Courtney.
He added that residents should be careful of purchases made on Internet auction sites such as eBay, as they are commonly used to move stolen and counterfeit property. He cited stolen baby formula as an example of a product that is often sold at suspiciously low prices online.
"If it's significantly cheaper, you should ask yourself why," said Courtney. "The people who stole that baby formula probably didn't look at the expiration date, and that's where it can dangerous. Just remember that these people will go to any degree to make a buck."
He urged residents to be particularly vigilant during the holiday season. At this time of year, pickpockets abound in the Tysons Corner region, and they are often where victims least expect them.
Dunn Loring Woods resident Brian Kennedy said that his wife was recently an unwitting victim of credit card fraud at Tysons Corner.
"My wife put her credit card down and the clerk took it but didn't give it back," said Kennedy. "45 minutes later we get a call from the credit card company asking us if we were at Best Buy trying to purchase a $6,000 plasma T.V."
Crime Prevention Officer Tom Black said that he recommends never letting your credit card out of your sight — even at restaurants.
"If you give your credit card to somebody go with them," said Black. "Sometimes we have cases where waiters are writing down credit card numbers and selling them to people in D.C."
According to Courtney, the bottom line is that residents simply need to be aware of their surroundings, and avoid behaviors that make them attractive targets.
"Use good locks, good security systems, don't leave valuable accessible, get a security survey done and call in suspicious events and persons," said Courtney. "This is regular stuff folks — it's not like Fairfax County is having a crime wave, but we've been successful as a police department because of the support of you citizens."