Thieves have a way of ruining a holiday.

In the past two weeks, Gainesville Police have investigated numerous cases of the burglary of vehicles and homes in the city.

The crimes are not neccesarily holiday-related, but most would agree the thefts, unwelcome any time, are especially frustrating at this time of year.

Vehicle burglaries were reported all over the city this weekend.

“We have had a rash of those over the year, it seems,” said Gainesville Police Chief Carl Dunlap.

He calls the crimes “one of the more common types of theft.”

He said criminals look for certain situations such as vehicles parked in dark or isolated areas — places where their activities will not be noticed.

“They want to get in and get out as quickly as possible,” he noted.

Items left out in plain sight are also a temptation for thieves.

“I’m surprised how many people leave wallets and purses in their cars,” he said.

He still advises residents to lock their cars, but sometimes even that precaution is not enough.

“A lot of times, even if the vehicle is locked, they break the window and get whatever is in there,” he said.

Dunlap said he has noticed changes in the patterns of car burglaries.

“These days they don’t steal that many radios out of cars. They don’t do that anymore because a lot of times people leave other stuff loose in there — CDs, cell phones. It’s just little things like that they can get,” he said.

Of course, car and home burglaries are not limited to the Christmas season.

“There is no season for it or anything like that,” he noted. “It’s a crime of opportunity. Thieves basically know something’s in there, and therefore they target it.”

He suggested the following precautions be taken:

• Keep all doors locked and windows closed while in or out of your vehicle.

• Park your vehicle in an area that is visible to the public and well lit at night.

• Do not leave gifts or other valuables in plain sight in your vehicle; it is a welcome opportunity for thieves.

• When out at the malls and stores shopping, lock your car doors and take valuables with you.

• If you must leave packages in your car, put them in the trunk. Keep the receipts with you. CD players, CD’s and stereo equipment that can be removed should be secured in the trunk as well.

• If your vehicle has a built-in security system, use it.

• When leaving for a holiday or vacation, do not pack your car the night before. It only makes a more attractive target for a thief.

• Park your vehicle in an area that is visible to the public and well-lit at night.

• Consider installing a security system. You may qualify for a discount on your auto insurance.

• Never leave an electronic garage door opener in the car. If a thief has it, it could be used to gain access into your home.

If your car is stolen or burglarized, report it to the police immediately. No matter how quick the errand, never leave your car running, or your keys inside; not even in your own driveway. Always roll up the windows and lock the car, even if it is in front of your home or you are running into the house or store for “just a minute.”

The National Safety Council suggested in the following press release these tips to make your home safer from burglar:

For a systematic approach to home security, work from the outside in. That is, start by considering the exterior features of your home. Then think about what to do with interior items.

1. Think like a burglar: Pretend you’re a burglar who’s scoping out your neighborhood. Look for any feature of your property that offers opportunities to an intruder. For example, a ladder left outdoors offers potential access to second-floor windows. Leaving your garage door open while you do yard work can also tempt criminals.

2. Landscape for security: Design your yard with security in mind. Arrange sight lines so neighbors can see into your yard. A solid fence promotes privacy but makes it easier for criminals to work undetected. Consider a chain link fence instead.

Utilize the 3-foot/6-foot rule, said John Holthusen, a police officer with the Community Crime Prevention program in Minneapolis. Trim tree branches up to 6 feet off the ground and trim your shrubs down to 3 feet. This creates a “window effect” into your yard and minimizes hiding places for burglars.

3. Add outdoor lighting: Make sure all potential entry points to your house are well-lit. These points include doors, windows on the main floor and basement windows.

Regular incandescent lights mounted on a wall or pole work well for many homeowners. Or install high-pressure sodium lights or mercury vapor lights. Both are energy efficient and illuminate a larger area than incandescent bulbs.

Other options include photoelectric lights that provide automatic lighting after dark, and motion detector lights that click on when their sensors detect nearby activity.

4. Install solid doors: Check your exterior doors. Those made of solid metal or wood offer the most security. If you can push a straight pin into the door without much effort, the core is hollow. A skilled burglar could easily kick in this door. Replace it with a solid door. Also, consider replacing any door with a lot of glass on it.

5. Install deadbolt locks: Next, consider door locks. Deadbolt locks offer the greatest protection. They come in two types: A single-cylinder deadbolt operates with a key from the outside and a thumb turn from the inside. Double-cylinder deadbolts operate with keys from both sides.

Deadbolts with double cylinders offer an advantage when there’s glass in or near a door. If burglars break the glass to enter your home, they won’t be able to turn the deadbolt with their hand to open the door.

6. Secure your windows: Window locks offer an inexpensive way to deter burglars. When installed on double-hung windows (those that slide up and down), these locks work only when the window is completely closed. With other types of windows, you can mount locks on the corners or sides. These locks add security when the windows are partially open. However, make sure family members can open the windows easily in case of an emergency.

Window pinning (inserting a pin or nail above a window so it can’t be opened) or track fillers (such as a wooden pole placed into the track of the window) are the least expensive ways to secure double hung windows, said Holthusen.

7. Consider a burglar alarm: “If burglars go to a block and find three houses with alarm systems and three without, I can guarantee you which homes they’ll hit,” said Holthusen.

Alarm systems can benefit homeowners who live in isolated areas or spend long periods away from home. People who keep many valuables at home or live in high-crime areas should also consider burglar alarms.

Even so, alarms are no cure-all. “No alarm system can replace hard security in your windows and doors,” said Holthusen.

8. Burglarproof your possessions

Consider engraving any valuable items with a personally assigned Operation ID number. Operation ID is a nationally sponsored program for identifying stolen property. You can also engrave your social security number or driver’s license number on your property. Store these items away from windows and doors.

When you buy expensive items — such as computers, audio equipment or big-screen televisions — don’t leave their boxes on your curb. Break up the boxes and store them inside until your next garbage collection day.

9. Change your habits: Even locks and alarm systems are wasted when they go unused. Home security means adopting effective habits, as well as adding hardware to your home. For example:

• Lock windows and doors every night.

• Before talking to a stranger who comes to your door, ask for identification.

• Supervise people who repair appliances or read meters in your home.

• When children answer the door, have them say, “My parents are busy,” rather than “My parents aren’t home.”

• When you leave for vacation, make your home look occupied. Install timers on indoor lights. Instead of stopping your mail or paper service, ask a trusted neighbor to pick it up for you. Keep a car parked in the driveway. Arrange for someone to shovel snow or mow your yard.

• Close your blinds or curtains at night or when you’re not home. This minimizes a criminal’s opportunity to “shop around.”

• Never put your home address on your luggage when you’re traveling. This alerts people that your home may be empty. Put a business address instead.

10. Organize! Form a block club with neighbors and agree to keep an eye on each other’s property. Ask people to call 9-1-1 when they see suspicious activity or crimes in progress.

Remember that block clubs are not just for people who own single-family dwellings. People in apartments, town home complexes and condominiums can also become eyes and ears for each other.

To report crimes in the city call the Gainesville Police Department at 668-7777. To report crimes anywhere in the county, call the Cooke County Sheriff’s Office at 665-3471.

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