Guidelines for Community Watch Groups
(This material is compiled from discussions with Orange County's Sheriff'sDepartment and includes information on discouraging break-ins, protecting the crime scene, and helping investigators.)
What you can do to discourage break-ins
The best preventative strategy is to know your neighbors, report suspicious activity, and keep it going. After experiencing several break-ins in a few months, one neighborhood met regularly to keep one another informed and discover new clues. Their vigilance paid off with an arrest based on their actions.
Call 911 to report any suspicious activity
There is no punishment or penalty for calling 911 to report this type of activity -- even if it does not actually represent a threat. In most cases, burglars "case" homes in advance, watching to discover when residents leave. In many cases, reports of suspicious activity provide the best leads.
Work with your community
Neighborhoods have done ingenious things to help one another distinguish between friends and strangers. In larger neighborhoods, residents have put colored stickers on their front left bumpers. That way, folks can see who is -- and isn't -- a resident. Other neighborhoods have put together photo books featuring familiar faces and cars. And residents often send e-mails to tell one another about contractors who might be coming to work. In any case, it's worth writing down the license plates of all unfamiliar cars. Toward this end, you can keep a pad and paper in your glove box.
Secure your home and valuables
There are many things that you can do to deter thieves. The basics: lock doors and windows, leave lights on, play a radio or TV loudly, and have a dog, for a good start. In addition, make sure you have locks on your tool sheds and barns. Driveway gates, alarm systems and alarm signs, and video surveillance systems are also good deterrents. If you have an extra car, move it into different spots.
Since most thieves kick through doors, make sure locks and door jams are well built. Screws that come with locks are usually too small. Replace those screws with 3'' wood screws that penetrate into the framing studs, not just facial boards. Such three inch screws can withstand 300 lbs of force each. In the home itself, consider hiding your most precious belongings. Some people hide their expensive jewels behind paintings, their rings in kitchen canisters, and their guns in uncommon but accessible places.
The Sheriff's Office sends out a weekly e-mail detailing a list of recent criminal activities -- from break-ins to counterfeiting schemes. Residents can receive this email by contacting Deputy Sheriff Butch Clark (firstname.lastname@example.org). Send your name, email address, and community. In these releases, the Sheriff's Department sometimes sends pictures of recently arrested people to provide a way for neighbors to identify likely suspects. Find more tips about preventing break-ins at the Sheriff's Department website (http://www.co.orange.nc.us/sheriff/communityService/protect.htm).
If your home is burglarized....
Call 911 immediately
Do not walk through your house and catalog missing objects. Investigators need to fingerprint door knobs, jewelry boxes, and any remaining electronic items. They will look for clues such as footprints, blood splatters (if a window had been broken), and dropped items. Your home is a crime scene, so you want DNA or fingerprints to belong to the culprits--not you.
Robbers in Orange County often sell their wares to pawn shops in Durham. That said, it is not worth your time to visit such stores after a break-in. Pawn shop owners must keep their recently purchased items off the shelves for seven days. They record the items' serial numbers -(not always correctly )-- and submit those numbers to the Durham Police Department. Officers enter the recently-pawned serial numbers into a database system which crosschecks them with the serial numbers of recently-stolen items. Sometimes, police find stolen items and return those objects to the victims at no charge. All serial numbers for stolen items are kept in this database for five years. The serial numbers for stolen guns and cars are kept indefinitely.
Make it easy for emergency service personnel to find your house
Purchase reflective address plates for around $20 at local fire departments. These reflective numbers help police and EMT workers respond promptly to any emergency calls.
What you can do to help investigators
Have serial numbers and other ways to identify your belongings. Although it is possible for investigators to look for an X-Box for sale at a pawn shop, it's very hard to know that a recently-pawned generic game player on sale on Guess Road belongs to you. Write down the serial and model numbers of your cameras, laptops, flat screen TVs, DVD players, and guns. You can also etch --or Sharpie-- your driver's license number onto your items. Criminals are looking to make fast sells; any identifying marks may serve as a deterrent. It also helps to have photographs of your items-- especially jewelry. This will also help with your insurance claims and reimbursement process.
The O.C. Sheriff has recently committed to buy NCIC number plates and offer them to local residents. These number plates are small, permanent placards that may be affixed to objects. They are difficult to remove. Numbers on the stickers match unique numbers kept by local police in a database. These NCIC plates will be available in the future.