It happens all too often in Great Falls. A resident steps into their backyard to do some work. They leave the garage door open and a short while later, a "solicitor" knocks on the front door. When no one responds, the "solicitor" peers around back to confirm that the homeowner is hunched over in the garden. He then enters the house, quickly and quietly relieving the homeowner of their valuables, and then exits undetected.
"A good burglar can be in and out of your house in three minutes," said Officer Erica Slaight, a Fairfax County Police Crime Prevention Officer with the Reston District Station. "I don't care if all you're doing is going to your backyard to work on your garden — lock your doors."
Slaight, along with Great Falls (Police Service Area 500) supervisor Lt. Brian Hall, attended the Dec. 12 Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA) general membership meeting as Fairfax County Police representatives from the Reston District Station. Slaight, who has covered the Great Falls Police Service Area for the Reston District Station for several years, presented community members with crime facts and statistics, and also went over several crime prevention tips.
Slaight and Hall were invited to the meeting by the recently formed Great Falls Citizens Association Crime Watch Task Group. Chaired by GFCA member John Lesinksi, the group was created in response to growing citizen concern about local crime. Lesinksi and local resident Sharon Rainey, president and founder of the "Neighbors" community e-mail network, worked together to circulate a community "Safety and Security" survey that asked residents if they had been a victim of a crime in Great Falls in the last 18 months, and about their personal experiences with local police.
The Crime Watch Task Group took note of the citizen concerns that came up the most frequently, and then invited officers from the Reston District Station to address those issues at the Great Falls Citizens Association December meeting. Lesinksi said he thought it was important to tackle the issue in December because the holiday season is a notoriously high crime season. In addition, Lesinksi said he was hopeful that last week's meeting marked the beginning of an ongoing mutually beneficial relationship between local police and the community.
"The one thing we know for certain is that there needs to be constant and continuous communication between ourselves and the police department," said Lesinksi at the meeting.
IN THE SURVEY, many citizens said they did not understand why Great Falls is serviced by the Reston District station, rather than having its own police substation. Numerous residents also expressed concern about lengthy police response times, and about what they feel to be a general lack of police presence in the Great Falls area. Lesinski said that the three major issues gleaned from the survey were concerns about property crimes, lack of police presence and speeding and dangerous driving.
In response to the sentiment that Great Falls is somehow slighted in terms of police representation, Slaight urged residents not to fixate on the "Reston District Station" name.
"The Reston District is split into four Police Service Areas (PSA's), and PSA 500 is all of Great Falls and a small portion of what is considered McLean," said Slaight.
Each Police Service Area is split into two patrol areas, and according to Slaight, each patrol area is typically serviced by one patrol officer "provided we have the staffing."
"So Great Falls is 20 square miles for one person to patrol, and each day there are three shifts with only 1 to 3 hours of overlap, so you can see why we're spread a little thin," said Slaight.
However, she emphasized that there are always police available, even if they must come from another station.
"We will pull, and if Reston is too busy, we will pull from McLean – it all depends on who is closer," said Slaight.
She added that Great Falls residents may experience longer police response times because there is simply no avoiding the fact that it is a community that can only be accessed by a few two-lane roads.
"I have to use Walker Road, Riverbend Road and Georgetown Pike … and during rush hour they become clogged, so I can only go so fast," said Slaight. "You guys are full of hills and some nasty turns."
DESPITE these obstacles, Slaight noted that there are numerous things that residents can do to help deter criminals. Slaight and other officers from the Reston District Station have been working with the Neighbors International Foundation to facilitate communication between residents and police. When incidents do occur, information is immediately put out on the e-mail network, making residents aware and watchful. This in turn often produces crucial community leads for police.
"We can't help you if you don't tell us what's going on," said Slaight.
In a recent incident, a resident called police to let them know about a suspicious white van in the neighborhood. When police stopped the van, they discovered that the driver had stolen several grills from nearby residences.
"But we would never have known about this if somebody hadn't picked up the phone and called us," said Slaight.
On Friday night, Dec. 8, three homes off of Walker Road were burglarized by professional thieves. Slaight said that one home was accessed through an open garage door, while the other two had been accessed by forced entry. Slaight said these burglaries serve as a reminder of the importance of keeping all entryways locked. In addition, Slaight said that residents should never leave garage door openers in vehicles that are parked outside, as a burglar can simply break into the car and gain access to the whole house with the click of a button. Slaight said that residents should also let their neighbors know if they are going to be out of town, and recommends either stopping mail and newspaper delivery, or having a neighbor pick them up everyday.
"You want to create the illusion that somebody is home," said Slaight.
Lt. Hall said that if could get residents to remember one thing, it would be the "Four D's" of police work – "Deter, Detect, Delay and Defeat."
"Those are the words that I live my life by, but for you, your job is to deter," said Hall.
Several incidents occurred in the weekend following the Crime Watch Task Group meeting. Several residents who live off of Jeffery Road had their cars broken into sometime between 11 p.m. on Dec. 14, and 7 a.m. on Dec. 15. The windows of the vehicles were smashed, and valuables including a purse and cash, were taken. According to the victims, none of the valuables were in site.
Sharon Rainey posted information about the incident on the Neighbors e-mail network and reminded residents to follow police advice and never leave anything of value in a car — even if it is locked.
"The thieves are out in full force," wrote Rainey. "We can't prevent theft, but we can help discourage it."