FARMINGTON – Officers from the local police department presented commonsense advice to improve one’s personal safety Monday evening, in an event hosted by the Healthy Community Coalition.
Detective Marc Bowering and Deputy Chief Shane Cote noted their presentation came in the wake of the Grace Burton homicide, which occurred during an apparent home invasion, but said such events were rare in Farmington. They gave those in attendance some basic home, vehicle and personal safety tips, saying people should “be vigilant, but not obsessive.”
“This is being held because of the perception that we’ve had a lot of home invasions,” Bowering said. “We really haven’t.”
More common are thefts and burglaries, generally occurring when no one is home. Bowering said Farmington’s statistics indicated there were 19 reported burglaries in 2010, slightly up from the 18 in 2009. Theft reports actually decreased by 17 percent, from 248 in 2009 to 213 last year. The majority of property crimes, the officers indicated, were preventable.
One of the easiest and most important steps property owners could take, police said, is to lock their homes and vehicles. Bowering used the recent arrest of John Carleton, 50, of Farmington, as an example. Carleton is charged with criminal trespass after allegedly entering a local woman’s home and asking for gas money on July 18. Bowering said that the man did not have a vehicle.
Locking the door, and first floor windows, might go against what precautions people expect to have to take in Farmington, Bowering said, but most burglars tended to skip locked houses and target unlocked ones. Along a similar vein, Cote said that locked vehicles were far less likely to be targeted by would-be thieves.
“We just don’t have many people busting in windows around here,” Bowering agreed.
Other preventive measures homeowners could take included motion-sensor lights above doors, deadbolt locks, securing ground-level windows (air conditions, Cote noted, could easily be pushed inside to allow access) and cutting back brush and hedge from the home to allow better visibility from the road. Simply getting to know your neighbors, Cote said, could go a long way to improving local security.
Homeowners were advised to avoid informing large numbers of people about vacation plans, through Facebook or other types of social media, and to make arrangements to prevent having large amounts of mail pile up while on vacation.
“It’s like putting up a yard sale sign,” Bowering said. “I’m going now, everything’s free.”
If an individual though their car or home had been broken into, police advised they not disturb the scene before calling 9-1-1, as it could destroy evidence or put them in danger. Especially in the case of a burglary, Bowering said, it was important that the owner call the police immediately, before going into the house if possible. He referred to the April incident on Red School House Road where, allegedly, the homeowner returned to discover two teenagers robbing his house and was subsequently assaulted.
The majority of the suggestions were commonsense, although both officers said they commonly responded to crimes involving electronics left in plain sight in an unlocked vehicle, home keys left in easy-to-reach and easy-to-guess locations (beneath flowerpots, above doorways, behind welcome mats) and car keys left in vehicles.
“I feel very confident you can walk down Main Street or High Street at midnight and be perfectly fine,” Bowering said. “But why take the chance of leaving doors and cars unlocked?”
Cote and Bowering also touched on identity theft and scams, advising people to avoid giving out account information, Social Security numbers or other personal information when requested by an unknown source. Information regarding unsolicited lotteries or contests should be treated with suspicion, and police noted that scams were constantly evolving; a new one involved claims of a loved one in jail or in an accident, with money being required to help them.
“A lot of it is keeping a personal cognizance of what’s around you,” Bowering said.