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Sheriff's Corner: Protecting homes and valuables

In past articles, we have discussed crime prevention and tips and ideas to help safeguard your homes and valuables. We especially talk about these topics in the fall of the year as many folks are preparing to leave their properties for the winter...

In past articles, we have discussed crime prevention and tips and ideas to help safeguard your homes and valuables. We especially talk about these topics in the fall of the year as many folks are preparing to leave their properties for the winter. While this is timely information in the fall, we have been asked to cover the topic again. We hope that some of our seasonal readers can gain from the information, as well.

We are often asked about how citizens can assist with crime prevention and what they can do about rural crime, especially property type crimes. In the fall and winter months of the year, we often see some of these crime statistics go up in occurrence. This happens for many reasons, but mainly because many areas of our county are rural and less populated, especially during these months and there are not as many eyes and ears watching things. Remote and isolated areas are always susceptible to crime, sometimes more often than urban or populated areas. At times, these areas have relatively unprotected, high valued equipment, furnishings or recreational vehicles. These areas, as well as urban or more populated areas, have specific needs for crime prevention measures and by taking a few simple procedures and being aware of your surroundings, you can help. Our communities are built on the strength of our citizens. Every day we encounter situations calling upon us to be the eyes and ears of law enforcement. These partnerships are very beneficial to law enforcement and we are able to solve crimes, catch criminals and get convictions based on the information we gain from reports and tips made to us by citizens.

Most burglars and thieves always look for something worth stealing and outbuildings are a popular target. Easy access areas combined with low visibility are usually high targets. Homes or businesses that are unoccupied are also usually targeted. Residential burglaries often occur during the day because homes tend to be vacant at that time.

How to prevent break-ins: The oldest and simplest, but often overlooked tip, is to fool burglars by making your property look occupied all the time. The use of automatic timers on lights when you are away from your home or property is becoming popular. Place radios on automatic timers and raise the volume so they can be heard outside. Never leave notes on your door that can tip off burglars, about when you expect to return or directions for delivery or service personnel. If you are going to be away from home for more than a day, have your telephone calls forwarded. Burglars sometimes check to see if someone is home by making a telephone call.

Other tips:

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• Think like a burglar. "Case" your home the way a burglar would and look for easy ways to enter your home.

• Be sure valuables, such as guns, electronic devices and artwork are not visible from the street. • Be sure to lock up ladders and tools which could be used to break into your home. Don't leave these items laying around.

• While on vacation, have someone pick up your newspapers and mail, so that they do not accumulate and alert burglars of your absence.

• Display your house number or address sign conspicuously and have it well illuminated. This will help police and emergency personnel find your home quickly.

• Install double key locks in doors which contain glass. This will keep a burglar from being able to open the door simply by breaking the glass and reaching through. (Note: so that everyone in the house can get out in the event of a fire, be sure to keep the key in designated place). Placing additional locks on all windows and patio doors is also a good deterrent.

Sometimes, all your efforts won't stop a determined burglar. It's wise to take some precautions that will help you get your property back should a criminal successfully break into your home:

• Make a list of your belongings (be sure to keep receipts, especially for expensive items like stereos and computers). Be sure to update this list periodically.

• Keep copies of your inventory list and receipts in a safe deposit box or with a friend. (This is also important in the event of a house fire.)

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• Photographing and/or videotaping your possessions is a convenient way to keep a record of what you own.

• Engrave your valuables with an identification or mark to deter burglary and to prove ownership should the article be stolen and recovered by the police.

• Be sure you have the right coverage. You may need to purchase additional coverage to protect special items like expensive jewelry or rare antiques.

• If you don't own your home, seriously consider buying a renter's policy. Your landlord will generally not be responsible for your possessions. Rental coverage is available at competitive rates and these policies also offer important protection against liability and losses due to fire or storm damage.

In the unfortunate event that you are the victim of a property crime, the Sheriff's Office will take a detailed theft report from you. We will ask description, model and serial numbers and any physical characteristics of the property that is missing. While it may seem like the serial and model number off your trolling motor or air compressor is not important, it is interesting the number of times that a crime can be solved by seeing these items in a vehicle on a traffic stop or at a local pawn or thrift shop. Having a clear identifiable serial number from you on your theft report allows us to match the items up and ultimately return the items. In most cases, we can then pursue criminal charges on the person that had them in their possession.

A quick and easy way to make a list of your property is to take a rainy day and go through your property and possessions with a digital camera taking a photo of the actual property, as well as a close up of the serial and model number. You can save these photos in a digital file on your computer or DVD and have them accessible if you become the victim of a property crime. Going through one room or building at a time and taking photos is an easy way to do an inventory and helps give us the information we need to complete an accurate and thorough theft report. We take numerous theft reports where the victim doesn't have any information to give us about their property. Having detailed property information is very helpful and we often get property back from search warrants, traffic stops and through other means of investigations.

We ask that you report any suspicious activities in your neighborhood, even if something just doesn't look right or is out of place. We would much rather respond and find it to be okay than to find a crime occurring. If you need assistance with your home security evaluation or inventorying items, please contact the Sheriff's Office We would be happy to assist you in performing a home security assessment or an inventory of your items.

If you have specific questions that you would like answered in this column or in person, please feel free to contact me anytime using one of the following methods: by email at tom.burch@co.cass.mn.us ; by phone at 218-547-1424 or 800-450-2677; by mail or in person at Cass County Sheriff's Office, 303 Minnesota Ave. W, P.O. Box No. 1119, Walker, MN, 56484.

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