In this case, we’re talking about fingerprints, which forensic officers can pull off most solid surfaces to help solve crimes.
Whoever got into your house and swiped your school ring, your wife’s bracelets and the gold cross your mom gave you at your confirmation probably didn’t hold on to your precious stuff for more than a day.
Burglars don’t get emotionally attached to the loot they harvest. They’re known for quickly getting into homes, finding valuables and vanishing. Almost as rapidly, they turn what they have lifted into cash at pawnshops, in bars, at flea markets and on the street.
And they’ve been doing more of all of that lately, said Capt. Frank Bachmayer, commander of the city’s largest police district, the 15th.
Burglaries are likely to spike in August, the captain said. Homeowners and renters forget to shut and lock their windows when they’re out, he said, adding that vacationing peaks in August and burglars take advantage of the fact that people will be away from home for a week.
The captain ran down local burglary stats for a small gathering at the Ethan Allen School on May 16.
Sixty-five percent of the burglaries in the 15th Police District occur during the day when residents are at work. Prime time for the crime is 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m.
Seventy-one percent of the district’s burglaries were accomplished by forced entries, the captain said. Burglars use screwdrivers or crowbars to break in. However, 21 percent of the hundreds of burglaries committed so far this year in the 15th district involved unlocked doors or windows. That means that about one-fifth of the people who were victimized made it easy for burglars to get into their homes.
And something to consider is that your window air conditioner is little more than a speed bump to a crook. He’ll just push it in or pull it out to get into your house through that window. Similarly, a window screen offers no barrier. It easily can be pushed through or slashed with a box cutter.
Burglary is a citywide problem. In April, according to the police department’s online crime map, there were 848 burglaries in the city. Sixty-nine of them occurred in the 15th Police District.
Burglars look for things that can be turned into cash easily: jewelry, weapons, televisions, stereos and computers. They turn your stuff into their fluff quickly, too.
The captain said, “They get rid of it within twenty-four hours.”
Bachmayer and Jennifer Coco, the district’s crime prevention officer, offered some easy-to-follow advice about keeping burglars out and some warnings about what to do if they get in anyway.
Much of their advice seems sensible, easy and obvious, but, keeping in mind that 21 percent of this year’s burglaries did not involve forced entry, it’s just as obvious that some people have to be reminded to lock their doors and windows.
Homes that are occupied, or appear to be, are not as tempting to burglars as homes at which there are letters accumulating, unkempt lawns or newspapers piling up in driveways.
Vacant properties that are up for sale provide any crook with a pipe cutter the opportunity for a nice score even if the houses are empty of any belongings. Copper has value, so thieves will cut out copper pipes and sell them in scrap yards.
And burglars know which homes are unoccupied because they live close to the homes and apartments that they hit. They might not know you, but they know if you work days. If you have occasion to be home on a workday, go outside of your house and look up and down your block. Count all the empty parking spaces or empty driveways.
If there’s a car in the driveway, a burglar might pass by your home. Still, he might check by simply knocking on your door. He might walk around to the back of your house to see if anyone is around. That’s why, the captain said, it’s important for neighbors to report any people they see wandering around properties or knocking on doors.
Anyone who does call the police about a suspicious person should try to give as much descriptive information as possible: height, clothing, race, sex and age.
“Age is very important to us,” the captain said.
Some of these guys try to be clever, too, Bachmayer said.
One came up to a resident and told her that her neighbor was in a bad accident and sent him to retrieve something from his property. He asked the neighbor for the key that he was told that the neighbor had.
That ruse is based on a common practice of neighbors giving trusted neighbors keys so they can get into their homes in case they lose their own keys or are somehow locked out. The burglar takes a chance you have your neighbor’s key and that the yarn about the bad accident will be distracting enough that you, in your desire to be helpful, might do something stupid.
Sometimes, people just let strangers in their homes.
A common con that is reported year in and year out involves men pretending to be utility workers. They tell residents — usually elderly folks — that they have to get in to check water or gas connections. The homeowner will stay with that person as he goes into a basement, but an accomplice then enters the house and starts swiping things.
Even cautious people will get hit, and those people will have some work to do if they want to recoup at least some of their losses.
If you come home to find your home burglarized, call the police and, after the police are gone, file a loss claim with your insurance carrier.
Your insurance company will want a copy of the police report, said Jeanne Salvatore, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute, a trade association. The investigating officer should give you a report number, Coco said.
You also want to give your insurance carrier a complete list of what was taken along with estimated values. It’s a good idea, Salvatore said, to make an inventory of everything in your house in case your home is burglarized. That information will help you file your claim. If you have serial numbers of any of your possessions, provide those, too, Bachmayer said.
Salvatore stressed that you should inventory everything down to your neckties.
And, while you’re thinking about thinking ahead, think about looking at your homeowner’s policy, Salvatore said.
If, for example, you have a lot of jewelry, you might find that there’s a limit on how much coverage you have. If you have jewelry worth about 10 grand, you might want to increase a $1,000 coverage limit.
If the burglar damages your property, take photos of the damage, Salvatore said.
It might be a good idea to have photos of what your property looked like ahead of the damage.
Elderly burglary victims can get assistance securing their properties from the Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly, Coco said. The phone number for the Center City-based organization is 215-545-5728.
Bachmayer stressed that victims should not clean up after burglars. The officers who investigate burglaries don’t care if your house or apartment looks messy. Leave it alone so police can look for evidence — especially fingerprints.
Police will look at just about any smooth surface for fingerprints, said Lt. Ray Evers of the department’s public affairs unit. Clear fingerprints can be found in 15 to 20 percent of the cases, Evers said.
But despite what you might have seen on TV, prints can’t be pulled from wooden surfaces, Bachmayer said. ••
Reporter John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Are you secure?
Look over your home and consider your habits.
• Lock your doors at night and every time you leave your home — even for a few minutes.
• Install solid hardwood or metal-clad doors with peepholes at heights everyone can use.
• Glass panels on or near doors should be reinforced so they can’t be shattered.
• Doors should have working key locks and sturdy deadbolts.
• Keep spare keys with a trusted neighbor, not under a doormat, in a planter, on a ledge or in the mailbox.
• Sliding glass doors should have strong, working key locks that should be secured every night and each time you leave the house.
• Windows should have key locks or should be securely pinned.
• Shrubs and bushes should be kept trimmed so that they can’t be used as hiding places.
• Every door should have a bright light to illuminate visitors.
• Make sure your house number is clearly displayed.
• Use at least two timers to turn lights on and off when you’re away from home.
• A motion detector or alarm system should be installed.
• Mail and newspaper deliveries should be suspended while you’re on vacation.
• Make sure arrangements have been made for your yard to be tended while you’re away. ••