Take Steps to Prevent Being a Holiday Season Burglary Victim

This time of year, burglaries and thefts are more common. Find out how you can protect yourself from thieves this holiday season.

Santa may not be the only one slipping into your home and business this holiday season, for this is also the high season for burglary against individuals and businesses.

And if you think your home and business is adequately protected from burglars, consider the case of the prisoner who recently escaped from the Philadelphia Police Department’s headquarters.

The man, in police custody over a matter of a stolen car, told the police he had information about a homicide. He was then transferred to an interrogation room in the upper floor of the building. As he was not a murder suspect, he was not handcuffed. Once he was left alone, he crawled up into the duct work and slipped down the shaft, out a door, and into the street.

So if this crook, with 14 prior arrests for theft and burglary, can break out of police headquarters, he and his ilk can certainly break into your home and business.

Last Friday night I went out on patrol with a Philadelphia police officer and I observed the aftermath of a holiday season burglary. Officer Melissa Kromchad, 27, is a seven-year police veteran and a South Philly native. She’s worked in South Philadelphia’s 3rd District since graduating from the Police Academy.

The 3rd district has a good number of small businesses, including the many shops and stalls in the historic Italian Market. The district is fast becoming an international market, with two Asian markets, and a growing number of Mexican stores and restaurants as well.

“We don’t have much crime here,” Kromchad told me as we patrolled the brightly-lit, holiday-decorated neighborhood. “Usually there are just cases of petty retail theft, but this time of year we see more and more burglaries, and we see armed robberies and strong arm robberies too.”

Kromchad said that the 3rd District commanding officer, Captain Joseph McDowell, brings on additional patrols that cover the high-profile crime areas. The added patrol cars help prevent crime during a time when there is a traditional spike in criminal activity.

Kromchad said they see a lot of theft from autos, where people are breaking into parked cars and stealing GPS devices, airbags, CDs and change. She mentioned that the captain had the officers look in parked cars, list on a sheet what items they saw in the vehicles, and then leave the sheet for the car owners. This is a good crime prevention method, I believe, as the car owner can be thankful that it was a cop and not a crook taking note of his belongings in the car.

Kromchad spoke of a recent burglary she responded to in her sector. A deli had its metal cellar gates ripped from the cement sidewalk. The gates, which open to lead into the deli’s cellar from the street, were perhaps ripped up by a tow truck. The burglars then stole a good bit of cash that was stored in bags in the cellar, the cash from the register, cigarettes and other items. The police suspect an inside job, as only those who worked there knew where the money was hidden in the cellar. The investigation is ongoing.

I asked her if she had any recommendation for a small business owner, other than the obvious — don’t leave money in bags in your cellar.

“I would have an alarm system and I would have it registered with the police department,” Kromchad said. “The alarm usually goes right to the owner and notifies 911 at the same time, so we can quickly respond.”

Kromchad also recommended shutters for windows and doors, and suggested that business people screen their employees and new hires with background checks

While we were discussing the deli burglary she received a call to respond to a residential burglary. We entered a three-story apartment building and the woman who lived in the second floor apartment showed us the first floor apartment door, which had been left ajar. Kromchad was told that the resident was not home. Her neighbor called her but she received a voice mail message.

The burglar or burglars left the apartment in disarray. Clothes were pulled from drawers and closets and dumped on the floor, no doubt in a frantic search for cash and jewels. We felt bad for the victim, who did not yet know she had been burglarized.

The apartment did not have an alarm system, but the back door and windows did have good metal bars on them. But despite the added security feature, the thieves simply kicked in the entire door frame. The third floor tenant heard the loud bang, but rather than calling the police, she called the building owner, who lived a good distance away from his building.

Kromchad called for an officer to take fingerprints from the back and front apartment doors, and the building owner – one more small business person victimized this holiday season — showed up with his cousin, who was a carpenter.

Another police officer appeared with a fingerprint kit and began to dust for fingerprints. Unlike the amazing crime lab technicians one sees on TV, this officer merely placed print powder on the doors and lifted what prints he could with latex tape. The tape was then placed on index cards and the detectives would later process any good prints through the police computer system. As the prints appeared to be smeared, as they often are, the hopes of solving this burglary are unfortunately slim.

Kromchad left a note for the tenant to call the detectives with the building owner, and then we left the crime scene. As we got back into Kromchad’s patrol car, she noted that the victim had left her blinds open. Since the apartment was street-level, anyone could look right into her window and see that no one was home.

“You should always close your curtains or blinds when your home or business is unoccupied,” Kromchad advised. “Someone can watch and see who comes in and out, and at what times. We have career burglars who do that.”

Officer Melissa Kromchad, like most of the other law enforcement officers and security professionals I know, say most crimes can be prevented simply by using common sense and by installing basic security measures. The unfortunate crime victims of this holiday season will surely wish they had.

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