A different kind of prints

An of­ficer with the Crime Scene Unit, ex­am­ines a bottle and dusts for prints. JENNY SWI­GODA / TIMES PHOTO

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 jloftus@bsmphilly.com

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. ••

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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