Editor’s Note: Staff writer Steve Dunkelberger is attending the seven-week University Place Public Safety and Criminal Justice Community Academy class and will highlight the issues facing law enforcement officers and communities along the way. The Fife Police Department meets with homeowner associations and groups to talk about crime prevention and is looking at broadening those presentations by creating a citizen academy next year for members of the general public. Tacoma Police offer a Community Academy every fall.
Crime is usually random. Criminals often know their victims, or at least see them as easy targets by their not being aware of their surroundings.
University Place Public Safety Manager Jennifer Hales says the top crime-prevention tip residents can follow has nothing to do with security systems or personal defense training. It has to do with simply trusting your instincts. If something seems weird, something likely is weird. Call the police.
To highlight the concept of “trusting your gut,” she showed Youtube clips of Gavin de Becker, the author of “The Gift of Fear,” talking about how intuition works and how denying that intuition could be harmful. The crime consultant and author said one of the biggest mistakes people make is dismissing their intuition as nerves or paranoia only to become a victim, saying, “Know that you think about it…. Your mind will never waste your time.”
When it comes to personal safety, the usual tips of staying in well lighted and populated areas are important, but people should also simply be watchful of where people are and to avoid places where someone could hide. But people should also avoid being distracted by phone calls or texts, earphones or other actions.
“You are safer when you let it be known that you are an observer,” Hales said.
Washington tops the nation in property crimes, and Pierce County ranks high within the state with 7,000 burglaries in 2015. It is on track to at least match that rate this year. One of the causes is that burglars are rarely caught or spend much time behind bars. Only 6 percent of burglars ever get arrested and only a quarter of those convicted spend more than two months in jail because county budgets can’t afford the jail staffing for criminals who commit non-violent offenses, Hales said. That’s because property taxes increases to fund jails and other county services are capped by a statewide initiative at 1 percent per year. That leaves empty beds in jails with burglars being released early to control costs.
A North Carolina study of convicted burglars concluded that more than 80 percent of burglars were arrested on other crimes within five years of their first conviction and four out of five of them burglarized homes and cars to feed their drug habits.
Tips to avoid having a home burglarized include having doors and windows visible from the street by keeping bushes and trees trimmed and having areas well lighted. People should also lock doors and windows, have – and use – alarm systems, keep mail and deliveries from piling up at front doors when residents are away on vacation. But, much like personal crimes, property crimes often can be avoided by simply being aware. People should know who lives around them and what cars they drive and what hours they generally work so people can notice a strange car on the street or unusual activity at odd hours.
Burglars generally have about three minutes in homes armed with alarm systems. They first generally go to the master bedroom to get jewelry boxes on vanities or in the top drawers of cabinets then they rifle through the main closet for portable safes that they would open later. Burglars then hit the bathroom medicine cabinet for prescription drugs before heading to the living room for cameras, computers and game systems.
One way to safeguard against such quick, in-and-out burglaries is for residents to “think like a burglar” and walk around the house to look for access points. A better option is to have a trusted friend or neighbor “burglarize” the house by finding a way to get in and spending a few minutes looking for expensive items like electronics and jewelry.
“That is a great conversation to have,” Hales said.
A few technological crime-fighting tools residents can use are smart phone apps like Code Red, which provides real-time emergency, community, missing person and severe weather alerts to users within the specific area. The alerts are initiated by public safety officials who use the Code RED community notification system and it works much like a hyper-local AMBER alert. University Place, for example, issued alerts to 2,700 cell phones in a matter of minutes following the Wal-Mart shooting in 2009. Services such as NextDoor.com allow neighbors to connect about issues, recommendations or concerns along their streets as do neighborhood-specific Facebook groups.
Oct. 17: Patrol Procedures & Use of Force
Oct. 24: Nine Flashpoints in American Policing with Sheriff Paul Pastor
Oct. 31: Legalized marijuana and its impact on public safety
Nov. 7: SS911 Communications Officer / K-9 Demo
Nov. 14: Personal gun ownership in America
Anyone can attend individual courses if they are unable to attend the full academy, which meets from 1-4 p.m. on Mondays at the University Place Police Headquarters, 3609 Marketplace West, Suite 201. Other courses include: Basic Defensive Firearms from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Oct. 25; Advanced Defensive Firearms from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Oct. 26; and Emergency Preparedness from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Nov. 1. Contact Jennifer Hales (253) 798-3141 to reserve a spot in the classes or with questions.
Safe Streets will hold a Neighborhood Safety Patrol Training from 10 a.m. to noon on Nov. 5 at Camp Curran Boy Scout Camp, 13220 50th Ave. E., for community members interested in making a change in their community by joining the Safe Streets Neighborhood Patrol Program. The program is comprised of residents who walk and drive the streets of their neighborhood looking for suspicious activities and situations that can attract crime and gangs. More information is available at safest.org.