Preventing good old-fashioned crime
November 20, 2014 9:51 AM   Subscribe

We live in a semi-urban, rust-belt neighborhood that has too many garage burglaries and home invasions between 2am and 5am. Our police department responds to calls but does not have the staff to frequently patrol our area. We have neighborhood communication channels to report incidents after they happen and to encourage neighbors to keep things locked up. What are some effective (and cost-effective) ways to get more people to make their homes and streets undesirable targets, and to make more burglars feel that they might be caught in the act or afterwards without having vigilantes patrol?
posted by michaelh to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Motion-detecting floodlights.
Beware of dog signs.
posted by entropone at 9:54 AM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

In my area, the last couple of home robberies (which have been daytime while people have been at work) have all been caught on private surveillance cameras and led to the quick arrest of those responsible.

Seems like getting your neighbors to install cameras, and making that fact very public (even if the cameras are hidden), is a good way to deter the thieves.
posted by straw at 9:55 AM on November 20, 2014

Put up a statue of Buddha

(It worked in Oakland)
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:06 AM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

You say you "have neighborhood communication channels" - I'm not entirely sure what you mean by that, but my neighborhood has a listserv, subscription is optional but about 2/3rd of the residents subscribe, and people tend to be very quick about reporting anything "odd". Someone set up an "instant notification" system awhile back, but it never really caught on.

Anyhow - if you don't already have a listserv, it's worth setting one up.
posted by doctor tough love at 10:14 AM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Agree with "beware of dog" signs and also motion-detecting floodlights. Maybe some of those ADT alarm signs in the front yard.
Also, leaving some inside lights on during that time - less likely to be burglarized if it looks like there are people awake.
posted by KogeLiz at 10:37 AM on November 20, 2014

If it looks like it's worth stealing, keep it out of sight. Laptops, bikes, tools, snowblowers, wallets, that sort of thing. A lot of these crimes, especially on alleys, occur when the thief see something worth taking. Keep it hidden. And make sure you keep your garage closed and locked at all times.
posted by Slinga at 10:43 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Speaking as a rust-belt city resident who's had businesses & cars broken into and so had after-the-fact discussions with police, the cops seem to recommend:

1) Lights (inside & outside)
2) Alarms (or at least alarm signs)
3) Dogs (or at least dog signs)
4) Don't let people see that you've got valuable stuff easily accessible - like using heavier curtains, or rearranging your living room so someone wandering by can't see that everyone in the house is using an iPad, or making sure bikes & lawn mowers & whatever are inside a closed garage when they're not actively being used, or don't leave briefcases or camera bags in cars even if the car is in a garage, etc. etc. etc.

Which is all about the "undesirable target" part of crime prevention - the thieves mostly aren't really going to be concerned about being caught afterwards, since, bluntly, it's highly unlikely plus they've probably been through it before. So cameras might help convict them if they ever get caught, but the cops I've spoken to don't seem to think they're much of a deterrent.

OTOH, though, burglars are smart enough to want to minimize even that vague chance of being caught as much as possible, so they'll go for the easiest targets, which means houses and garages where they can work in the dark and won't be attacked by dogs and won't have a chance of neighbors or the cops being alerted by alarms. Adding one or more of the above list basically increases the chance that the criminals will move on to an easier target.
posted by soundguy99 at 10:49 AM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Install cameras and make them visible. Cameras work best as theft deterrents. If enough people want to get cameras you might be able to get a bulk deal from a local company.
posted by radioamy at 10:50 AM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

This previous ask might interest you.

In a nutshell, the advice I repeat kind of a lot in Asks like this one is "eyes on the street." If you start taking walks in the neighborhood and running errands on foot, that may encourage other people to do the same. I have firsthand seen that reduce crime in a neighborhood I lived in.
posted by Michele in California at 10:57 AM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

In Pittsburgh, the city is responding with video cameras mounted on existing street poles. These are radio-linked to nearby units stored in adjacent houses (space volunteered by the owners), and then downloaded to a city server somehow.

Then a sign is put up: Neighborhood under video surveillance. It seems to be working.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:04 PM on November 20, 2014

Michele in California: In a nutshell, the advice in Asks like this one is "eyes on the street." If you start taking walks in the neighborhood and running errands on foot, that may encourage other people to do the same. I have firsthand seen that reduce crime in a neighborhood I lived in.
Along those lines, I make a point to talk to anyone I don't recognize on my street. Just the realization that someone will remember them being there is a deterrent.

Nothing unfriendly is needed, although I am more talkative with teens than older folk, since burglaries skew that direction.

Bonus: I meet new neighbors fast!
posted by IAmBroom at 12:07 PM on November 20, 2014

Response by poster: Sorry, I didn't ask this question well. I am happy with how well our own house is protected, although we don't have cameras and they sound like a good idea (and a fun DIY project.) I like the list that MeFites have generated in previous questions.

My question is more about how to get more of our neighborhood to do these things so everyone is more protected - to develop some herd immunity from thieves, if you will. I'd like to do more than just encourage thieves to go two houses or one street over. I'd like thieves to go one neighborhood over, or better yet, be large enough of a secure and vigilant area that some people are deterred from thievery entirely. As far as I'm looking for security ideas to implement it's more about which ones would be most readily adopted, which would benefit from multiple neighbors doing it on a street, etc., and how to best drive that adoption.

For example, is it a good idea to walk around and point out to people that their garage is unlit and has tools in it? Is there a kind of signage campaign that has an effect? Is there a good way to develop a buddy or chain system so people help each other, like coordinating camera angles? Putting things in public places (like the Buddha, though I can't think of a spot) or putting effort into petitioning the city for solutions like the Pittsburgh cameras?

So far, the mutual support in our neighborhood communication networks (NextDoor and a Facebook group) mostly consists of "Someone broke in around 3:30 last night. Be careful!!!" and it does not seem to be working very well.
posted by michaelh at 12:11 PM on November 20, 2014

Walking your neighborhood tends to be contagious. I had no goal of getting others to walk more. So, my suggestion was intended to reply to "how can I easily get the neighbors involved in making the place more secure?" You can do so by setting the example of walking the neighborhood. It may well catch on and that will reduce crime.

Beyond that, I don't have any knowledge of how to get other folks to work together on this. But the longer I and my sons walked, the more other people walked. When I first moved into the apartment complex that the police were staking out and all that, people drove their trash to the dumpsters and drove to the mailbox at the entry of the apartment complex. No one walked anywhere at all. With us walking to stores just down the street and the like and walking our own trash down regularly, over time, walking became a thing and then we stopped feeling creeped out at 2am, worried about who might be in the trees or bushes just past our building at 1am.

Anyway, I have told that story before and I linked to it in my previous reply. That's the sneakiest, cheapest, most effective means I know to get a whole neighborhood in on keeping the general area secure.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 12:19 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Our city, through the local police department, sponsors block leaders and provides block leader training to stay in touch with each resident on the larger block. Can you contact the police to see if they do the same?

Our community coordinator with the police department gives us handouts galore to give to everyone who comes -- such as tips for keeping your garage from being burgled, how to contact the city for assistance, etc. They have found that blocks that hold annual meetings (or block parties) get more connected and crime rates drop drastically. We host National Night Out for our blocks - very successful.

The official "blessing" from the police makes all the neighbors feel more connected and more comfortable telling each other when suspicious things happen.
posted by apennington at 12:21 PM on November 20, 2014

The very easiest thing to do, and the one a lot of people ignore: lock your doors. Lock your house doors & windows, lock your garage doors, lock your car doors.

I process the weekly police reports for a chain of local newspapers, and it's absolutely amazing how many crimes are totally the product of opportunity. I mean, c'mon, people leave their wallets & computers in their unlocked cars parked out on the street overnight and are surprised to find stuff missing, or are shocked --- shocked, I tell you! --- because a burglar came in through an unlocked door. So it may sound obvious and silly, but that's the biggest crime group: people who don't lock up.
posted by easily confused at 12:26 PM on November 20, 2014

  • Call up your police department and talk to them about starting a Neighborhood Watch program.
  • Take a CERT or NERT class, and then start talking to your neighbors about disaster preparedness.
  • Wrong season for this, but put a table out front of your house and eat dinner out there, saying "hi" to neighbors who walk by.
  • Greet neighbors, by name, every time you see them. Like go out of your way to make sure you can say "Hi" when they're scuttling from car to house. This will feel weird and intrusive at first, but soon you'll find that they're hailing you.
  • Introduce yourself to strangers in the neighborhood. (I was once downright pissy and rude to the state inspector who was sniffing around the back of a home daycare in our neighborhood. Told her where the entrance was, that she should walk up and knock, and stood there while she did.)
  • Some Saturday morning, drag the coffee pot out to the front sidewalk, and invite passers-by to have a cup.
There's encouraging people to protect their own property, and that's fine, but... I don't have any data, I just have my feelings about why I think my neighborhood is more awesome now than it was the 6+ years ago when I moved in, but I think the larger issue is solved by knowing your neighbors, knowing who's a part of the neighborhood, engaging the folks that aren't.

People are up and about at a lot of different times. In my neighborhood there are some folks off to truck driving or mail sorting jobs at 4:00AM. There are folks getting home after midnight. There are retirees puttering in their yards during the day. All of these people see stuff, but unless they have an incentive to be nosy, they brush it off as allowing neighbors their privacy.

If we don't know our neighbors, we don't know that, hey, that dude doesn't live there, or that I shouldn't hear that neighbor's garage door open at 3AM (or maybe that I should).

And it's amazing: When I've lived in rural areas: We knew everybody. We watched out for each other. When I've lived in more urban areas... less so. Which is why when we moved into this neighborhood (~4k ft^2 lots, about 8 houses/acre) we've made a very concerted effort to engage everyone we see, ask nosy questions ("Where do you live? Oh, cool, how long have you lived there?", and then engage about details and get pushy if the answers don't make sense).

Neighbors should feel like they're part of a community. Magazine sales scammers, "non-profit" canvassers, people casing the area to see which garages are targets should feel scrutinized.

In our area there were a few garage thefts. One morning cops stopped a suspicious van on a nearby street, and a neighbor who was up well before dawn overheard them telling the cops "Oh, yeah, we live..." and neighbor yelled across the street "Uh... no they don't!". If not for the alert neighbor, the perpetrators might have come up with a convincing story, and carried on.

And we create alert neighbors by building community.
posted by straw at 1:41 PM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

For example, is it a good idea to walk around and point out to people that their garage is unlit and has tools in it? Is there a kind of signage campaign that has an effect? Is there a good way to develop a buddy or chain system so people help each other, like coordinating camera angles?

Are you neighbors generally friendly? Do you think they'd be amenable to some sort of neighborhood meeting? You could have your district police officer come in and talk about physical security and specifics on the types of incidents that have happened in the area (details rather than what is being communicated now - OMG someone broke in!). You could also ask them about their specific concerns, where they feel their homes are vulnerable, etc. to get them involved instead of just being lectured at. (I'd be kind of weirded out if someone came up to me and said "Hey, I saw all your expensive tools laying around.")
posted by Beti at 1:44 PM on November 20, 2014

I and most of my neighbors have no problem with alerting someone that, say, their garage door is open at night. People aren't inclined to think you're being nosey if your motivation is their welfare (and the welfare of their tools).

And I'll say it again: set up a listserv for your neighborhood. You can do it for free with a Yahoogroup. You can make a listserv pretty darned private. And email has the most minimal threshold to participation of anything I've seen. I've been running a listserv for my neighborhood for over 20 years - it's reunited countless pets with owners, it's kept everyone aware of crime incidents, and on a couple of notable occasions, it's saved people from being assaulted or worse.

My neighborhood HOA has set up a BBS system, but it is largely ignored - email is just so much easier.
posted by doctor tough love at 7:17 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

It just takes talking with your neighbors. Maybe don't start the conversation with "hey I noticed your garage is unlit" but rather "do you have any suggestions for keeping our neighborhood safer?" and then segue into "well we just installed motion-detector lights". It will depend on the financial burdens of the individual families, and it may take some on-going conversations.

Anecdata that you may find helpful: earlier this year we installed cameras which are visible when you get close to the house, but not so from the street. At the same we installed super visible signs stating that the property is under surveillance; we've noticed we get way fewer random "solicitors" knocking on our door (this was after someone attempted a knock-knock robbery on our property). Signs are cheap and easy to install for those of your neighbors who can't afford more right now.
posted by vignettist at 7:26 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

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