Safety and Crime Prevention

There are a variety of actions you can take every day to ensure the safety of yourself and the ones you love. The information below offers a number of suggestions to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of crime and the appropriate precautions to ensure physical safety. 

Personal Safety in Your Vehicle

Crime Trackers Massachusetts offers the following personal safety tips to help protect you when you are in your vehicle.

  • Always have your keys out and ready before leaving a building to approach your vehicle. Searching through a purse or briefcase after you’ve reached your car provides criminals an excellent opportunity to sneak up on you.
  • Be especially alert when leaving stores or shopping malls for your vehicle. This is a time when criminals know you are carrying cash, checkbooks, credit cards, or other valuables.
  • Look around and inside your vehicle before you get in. If you are concerned for any reason, simply walk past your car and call for help.
  • Lock your door immediately upon entering the vehicle. Make this your first action—even before you put the key in the ignition. And lock your door every time you get into your car—even if you are going for only a short ride.
  • Check your surroundings before getting out of your car. If something or someone strikes you as out of place or threatening, drive away. If it’s dark, go to a well-lighted, heavily traveled area.
  • Use a two-piece key ring with your car keys separate from your other important keys. Give parking valets or mechanics your car keys only. Supplying the entire set of keys creates an opportunity for duplicates to be made.
  • Avoid stairwells in parking garages. Try walking down the auto ramp instead. As long as you watch for cars, the ramp can be much safer.
  • Avoid talking on your cellular phone while you drive. Concentrate on your driving, not your conversation. If you have to make a call, pull over to the side of the road.
  • If you’re making a call using your cell phone, never discuss important information such as travel plans or credit card numbers. For less than $100, anyone can buy scanning equipment and listen in on your cellular phone conversations.
  • Report any suspicious activity or person immediately to Police.

Carjacking

Your car is replaceable, but you’re not. Carjacking is a crime of violence that can be particularly scary. Knowing how to respond in a situation may mean the difference between serious injury or death and walking away unscathed.

The crime of “carjacking” — which is stealing a car by force — captures headlines across the country.  Statistically speaking, however, your chances of being a victim of carjacking are very slim, and taking preventive measures can reduce that risk even more.

Who Does it Happen To?

  • Carjacking is a crime of opportunity — a criminal searching for the most vulnerable potential victim. Sometimes it is the first step in another crime.
  • Carjacking is not just a problem for large cities — it happens in suburbs, rural areas, and small towns.
  • Even though carjacking can take place at any time, a large share of those cases appears to occur during the late night hours.
  • Carjackers are looking for an opportunity. They don’t discriminate, so the victim’s sex, race, or age is usually not a factor.

Where Do Carjackers Find Their Victims?

Carjacking can take place anywhere, although some locations are more common:

  • ATMs (automated teller machines)
  • Self-serve gas stations and car washes
  • Garages and parking lots of shopping malls, grocery stores and mass transit
  • Intersections that are controlled by stop lights or signs
  • Highway exit and entry ramps, or anyplace else where drivers slow down or stop
  • Residential driveways and streets as people get into and out of vehicles

What to Do if It Happens to You

  • If the carjacker threatens you with a gun or other weapon, GIVE UP YOUR CAR! Don’t argue. Your life is definitely worth more than a car!
  • Get away from the area as quickly as possible.
  • Try to remember what the carjacker looked like — sex, race, age, hair and eye color, special features, clothes.
  • REPORT THE CRIME IMMEDIATELY TO THE POLICE BY CALLING 9-1-1.

Reducing Your Risk of Becoming a Victim

When you are on the road:

  • ALWAYS keep your doors locked and windows rolled up (if it’s hot and you don’t have air conditioning, roll them up at least part-way) no matter how short the distance you’re traveling or how safe the neighborhood.
  • Drive in the center lane to make it harder for potential carjackers to approach the car.
  • AVOID driving alone. Travel with someone whenever possible, especially at night.
  • When you are coming to a stop, leave enough room to maneuver around other cars, especially if you sense trouble and need to get away.
  • Always drive with the doors locked. If a thief can’t get in your vehicle, you stand a better chance of leaving with it.
  • DON’T stop to assist a stranger whose car has broken down. You can help instead by driving to the nearest phone (or using your cell phone) to call police for help.

Getting Out of Your Vehicle

  • Park in well-lighted areas, near sidewalks or walkways. AVOID parking near dumpsters, large vans or trucks, woods, or anything else that limits your visibility.
  • NEVER leave valuables out in plain view, even if the car is locked. ALWAYS put them in the trunk or out of sight.
  • Try to park in a garage with an attendant. Leave only the ignition key, with no identification.
  • Even if you’re rushed, LOOK AROUND before you get out and STAY ALERT to the surroundings.
  • Always trust your instincts. If the situation doesn’t “feel right,” get away.

Gas Station Safety

Crime Trackers Massachusetts would like to raise the public’s awareness about a common crime tactic perpetrated by thieves. These thieves target unsuspecting vehicle owners when they are pumping gas or paying the tab in the station. Purses and other valuables, which are often visible or easily accessible from the passenger side of a vehicle, are the main targets. To simplify things for the thief, the vehicle is often left unlocked. The thefts normally take place when the victim is most distracted – when he or she is pumping gas or going into the station to pay for a purchase. A suspect vehicle will drive up next to the victim’s vehicle, quickly open the unlocked door, and grab any easily-accessible items. Then they will just as quickly drive off. It happens in a matter of seconds.

These sorts of thefts can be prevented when the appropriate precautions are taken. Below are some helpful tips on how to avoid becoming a victim:

  • Pick stations that are well-lit and have video-surveillance cameras at the pump.
  • Make a list of favorite gas stations along your regular travel routes. Stations near police departments and state police barracks are good choices.
  • Always remove your keys and lock the car doors while you are pumping gas. If you sense danger and you have a panic button on your car keys, keep your hands on the panic button until help arrives.
  • Keep valuables out of sight in your vehicle and lock the doors, even if you are going inside for just a moment.
  • Pick your pump with care. It might be worthwhile to wait for the pump nearest to the attendant or building.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings.
  • Don’t be distracted by your cell phone.

Safety for Runners, Walkers and Bicyclists

Runners, walkers, bicyclists. Lots of people are out there these days working to stay fit and get in shape. It’s healthy, good for you and an inexpensive way to maintain a regular exercise regimen. While you’re working out, you want to stay safe. Here we offer you a few tips on doing just that!

Before You Leave

  • Plan your outing. Always tell a family member or friend where you are going and when you will return. Let them know what your favorite exercise routes are.
  • Know where telephones are located along the course, or carry a cellular phone with you.
  • Wear an identification tag or carry a driver’s license. If you don’t have a place to carry your ID, write your name, phone number and blood type on the inside of your athletic shoe. Include any important medical information.
  • Don’t wear jewelry or carry cash.
  • Wear reflective material so motorists can see you more easily.

On the Road

  • Stay alert at all times. The more aware you are, the less vulnerable you are.
  • Run, walk, or bike with a partner or a dog.
  • Don’t wear headsets. If you wear them you won’t hear an approaching car or attacker.
  • Listen to your surroundings.
  • Exercise in familiar areas. Know which businesses or stores are open.
  • Vary your route. That way, a potential attacker won’t get to know your routine.
  • Avoid unpopulated areas, deserted streets, and overgrown trails. Especially avoid poorly lit areas at night.
  • Run clear of parked cars or bushes. Run against traffic so you can observe approaching automobiles.
  • Trust your intuition about a person or an area. It you are unsure about an area, or feel unsafe, leave immediately.
  • Ignore verbal harassment. Use discretion in acknowledging strangers. Look directly at others and be observant, but keep your distance and keep moving.
  • Be careful if anyone in a car asks you for directions; if you answer, keep at least a full arm’s length from the car.
  •  If you think you are being followed, change direction and head for open stores, theaters or a lighted house.
  • Have your door key ready before you reach your home.
  • Call police immediately if something happens to you or someone else, or you notice anyone out of the ordinary. It’s also a good idea to check with police about any criminal activity in the area you plan to run/walk/bike.

Stay Alert!

Sometimes runners and walkers get lulled into a “zone” where they are so focused on their exercise they lose track of what’s going on around them. This state can make runners and walkers more vulnerable to attacks. Walk and run with confidence and purpose. If you get bored running without music, practice identifying characteristics of strangers and memorizing license tags to keep you from “zoning out.”

Going in the Evening or Early Morning

You didn’t get a chance to exercise during daylight hours, and you still want to get in that “daily routine” before calling it a night, or before the sun rises. When exercising while it’s dark, the best advice is to get off the streets and go for the security of a well-lighted outdoor track or consider running on an indoor track or tread mill. If these options don’t work for you, consider the following tips before you head out:

  • Make sure people can see you. Think about where you are going and how well lighted it may or may not be.
  • Going out at dusk or at night is dangerous without some type of reflective device on your clothing. Many athletic shoes have reflective qualities built in, but also consider a vest complete with reflective tape.
  • Watch the road: wet or icy spots are considerably harder to see in the dark.
  • Keep alert! Dawn and dusk offer convenient shadows for muggers and other crooks.

When You’re Away from Home

Many people who exercise like the idea of maintaining their regimen when they are traveling. But remember, just because you are away from home doesn’t mean you can let your guard down when you exercise.

  • Check with the hotel staff or concierge to find safe routes for exercise. If there is not an acceptable place to exercise outdoors, see if the hotel can arrange access to a health club or gym.
  •  Become familiar with your exercise course before you start. Get a map and study it.
  • Remember the street address of the hotel. Carry a card with your hotel address along with your personal ID.
  • Leave your room key with the front desk.
  • Follow your usual safety rules.

Burglary Prevention

Have you ever been locked out of your home? Were you able to get in anyway? Now think about it…if you could break into your own home, it’s just as easy for someone else to break in, too. One out of 10 homes will be burglarized this year, and many intruders will spend no more than 60 seconds trying to break into a home. The best prediction of a future burglary is a past burglary. Therefore, it is important to take preventative measures now. Strong locks—and good neighbors who look out for one another—can be effective deterrents to burglars. Here are a few tips that can help you keep you—and your property—safe and secure.

Check Your Locks

  • Make sure every external door has a strong, well-installed dead bolt lock. Key-in-the-knob locks alone are not enough.
  • Sliding glass doors offer easy access if they are not properly secured. You can secure them by putting a broomstick or dowel in the inside track to jam the door or by installing commercially available locks. To prevent the door from being lifted off of the track, drill a hole through the sliding door frame and the fixed frame. Then insert a pin in the hole.
  • Lock double-hung windows with key locks or “pin” your windows by drilling a small hole at a 45 degree angle between the inner and outer frames, then insert a nail that can be removed. You should secure basement windows with grilles or grates (but make sure that they can be opened from the inside in case of fire).
  • Never hide keys around the outside of your home. Instead, give an extra key to a neighbor you trust.
  • When you move into a new house or apartment, re-key the locks.

Check Your Doors

While we all like to feel that once we close and lock our doors, we’re safe and secure, the truth of the matter is that a lock on a flimsy door is about as effective as locking your car door but leaving the window down with your wallet on the front seat.

  • All outside doors should be metal or solid wood.
  • Install a peephole or wide-angle viewer in all entry doors so that you can see who is outside without opening the door. Door chains break easily and don’t keep out intruders.
  • If your doors don’t fit tightly in their frames, install weather stripping around them.

Check the Outside

Take a look at your home from the outside, and keep in mind the following tips to help make your home as safe as it can be:

  • Burglars hate bright lights. Install outside lights and keep them on at night. Motion-detector lights can be particularly effective.
  • Keep your yard clean. Prune shrubbery so it doesn’t hide windows or doors. Cut back tree limbs that a burglar could use to climb to an upper-level window.
  • If you travel, create the illusion that you are at home by getting timers that will turn lights (and perhaps a television or radio) on and off in different parts of your home throughout the day and evening hours. Lights burning 24 hours a day signal an empty house.
  • Leave shades, blinds, and curtains in normal positions. And make sure you don’t let your mail and/or newspapers pile up. Call the post office and newspaper to stop delivery or have a neighbor pick them up.
  • Make a list of your valuables, such as VCRs, stereos, computers, and jewelry. Take pictures of the items, list their serial numbers and description. This will help police if your home is burglarized.
  • Ask your District police station for a free home security survey.
  • When getting work done on your vehicle, leave only the vehicle key for the service personnel. The same goes for car park attendants and valets.
  • If you are having work done on your vehicle, give the service station your business address – not your home address.

Burglars Can Do More Than Just Steal

While most burglars prefer to strike when no one is home, intruders can commit other crimes such as rape, robbery, and assault if they are surprised by someone entering the home, or if they pick a home that is occupied.

  • If something looks questionable – a slit screen, a broken window or an open door – don’t go in. Call the police from a neighbor’s house, a cell phone, or a public phone.
  • At night, if you think you hear someone breaking in, leave safely if you can, then call the police. If you can’t leave, lock yourself in a room with a phone and call the police. If an intruder is in your room, pretend you are asleep.
  • One other important note – never leave a message on your answering machine that indicates that you may not be at home, or that you live alone. Instead, say “We’re not available right now.”

What If I Live in an Apartment?

While apartment living is a little different from living in a single family home, there are still some additional things that you can do to make sure that you, your loved ones, and your property remain safe and secure. Similar to Neighborhood Watch, members of an Apartment Watch learn how to make their homes more secure, watch out for one another and members of the community, and report crime and suspicious activity to the police. Some things you can do:

  • Never let anyone you don’t know into your building or past security doors.
  • Organize citizen patrols to walk around the apartment complex and alert police to crime and suspicious activities. Don’t forget to patrol parking lots, stairways, laundry rooms, and playgrounds.
  • Publish a newsletter that gives local crime news, recognizes Apartment Watch captains, and highlights community activities.
  • Have a reception in the lobby of your building or a cookout on common property so neighbors can get to know one another.
  • Start a Safe Haven Program for children – places where they can go in emergency or scary situations.
  • Check the complex on a regular basis for problems such as burned-out light bulbs, dark corridors, uncollected trash, or broken locks on mailboxes and doors. Report any such problems to the building manager. Keep pressure on management to make sure it provides adequate security.
  • Organize meetings to brainstorm how you can help each other, such as starting an escort service for the elderly.

Safety for Children – Family Rules

Establishing a system of “family rules” about personal safety is a good way to teach children the difference between safe and unsafe situations. Many families already have rules about bedtime, TV watching, chores, and the like. By adopting rules about personal safety, parents can teach good habits through reinforcement and repetition without generating excessive fear. The following suggestions for personal safety rules can be incorporated into a family routine.

Inside Rules

  • Children should know their complete home address, telephone number including area code, and parents’ first and last names.
  • If children are old enough to answer the telephone, they should be taught how to dial 911. Practice with the receiver button taped down.
  • Children should be taught not to reveal any personal information about themselves or their family (their name, address, school) over the phone or to a stranger without a parent’s permission.
  • If children are home alone and answer the telephone, teach them to say that the parent cannot come to the phone right now and take a message, or ask the person to call again later.
  • Have a “code” worked out with your children if you don’t want them to answer any telephone calls but yours when they are home alone.
  • Teach your children not to open the door until they know the identity of the person knocking. Then teach them to whom they are allowed to open the door to. Just because they know the person at the door does not mean they should open the door to them.
  • Children should be taught how to lock and unlock the doors in the home.

Outside Rules

  • Establish a system of accountability. Learn the full names, addresses, and telephone numbers of your children’s friends and parents. Verify the information with the parents of your child’s friend. Learn the “rules” of the friends’ houses. Who will be there when your child is there? The parents? Other children? Other neighbors? Will the children be alone?
  • Know your children’s routes to and from school, the playground, best friends’ houses. Insist that the children stick to that route, NO SHORTCUTS! If you have to look for the children, you will know where to begin.
  • Children need to be taught never to go anywhere with anyone, on foot or in a vehicle, without parent permission. This includes getting permission a second time if plans change and calling home for permission to go to a different friend’s houses or play location.
  • Teach children not to play in isolated areas of parks and playgrounds. The “buddy” system should be used to enter public restrooms.
  • Teach your children what to do if they are walking to school or to a friend’s house and they are being bothered or followed. Walk these common routes with your children and point out safe locations. A safe location can be a school, library, police station, store, or neighbor’s house, anywhere that they can find a responsible adult or lots of people.
  • Knocking on the door of a stranger is a last resort. If the child has no other choice because someone is bothering or following them, teach them to select a house with lights on at night or a house with children’s toys visible. Teach the child to ask the person who answers the door to phone the police because they are being followed or bothered BUT teach them NOT to go inside a stranger’s house.
  • If there is no safe place for your child to receive help, teach your child to run away as fast as possible, screaming and yelling for help to attract as much attention as possible.
  • Teach your child not to approach a car that stops and asks for help or directions. Most responsible adults would not ask a small child for directions anyway. If the car follows them or anyone gets out of the car and approaches them, teach them to run to a safe place screaming and yelling as fast as they can.

Bad Guy Rules

  • Teach children that bad guys might act nice and even offer gifts of toys or money. Make sure that they know NOT to accept gifts from strangers.
  • Teach children that bad guys lie and that they should not believe them. Especially if the stranger tells them things like, “Your mom told me to pick you up after school,” or “Can you help me find my lost puppy?”
  • Bad guys even use threats like, “I’ll hurt your mother if you don’t come with me right now.”
  • Teach children that bad guys are people who ask them to violate family rules, including someone telling your child that they don’t need permission to get a ride home, or that it is okay to come into a house without mom’s permission, or, “Let’s keep this a secret.”

Understanding and Avoiding Gangs

Joining a gang or crew can give you a sense of belonging and acceptance, but often being associated with one can lead to dangerous consequences. Here are some ways to explore alternatives to gang membership and how to safely “leave” a gang if you’re already involved. Some of these steps can take time, but with dedication and the support of your family, you can change your life.

What is a Gang or Crew?

A Gang is a group of individuals that band together for a common cause and are involved in criminal activity. Many gangs are highly organized and operate across state lines. A crew is a more loosely-knit group, often based  on a neighborhood. These are usually individuals who grew up in or who have family roots in that neighborhood. Regardless of Gang or Crew affiliation, both groups are often associated with a variety of crimes, including narcotics trafficking, gun violations, assaults, and even homicides. Female gangs or crews are growing in Massachusetts as well. Gang violence is “a community problem.” Think about it!

Who Joins Gangs/Crews and Why?

  • Young people who feel they are not respected by their peers, families or communities turn to gangs for the identity and respect that families normally provide. Youth who see themselves as “weak” or “powerless” may join gangs to become “stronger” and “protected.”  Often these individuals suffer from a lack of support from their family and therefore seek support within the gangs.
  • Young people who crave excitement because gang members and the media often glamorize the gang life style.
  • Young people who cannot resist peer pressure may join because their friends are in gangs. They may feel pressured to join to be part of the “in” crowd.
  • Young people who are fearful often feel that being a gang member will keep them safe. If they are challenged by others, their gang/crew will help them retaliate because in the gang culture, no challenge goes unanswered. Perversely, this idea of “safety” leads to increased violence.
  • Youth who do not understand the consequences do not fully understand the risks of being in a gang. Risks include arrest, physical assault and in some cases, death.
  • Young people are often recruited by older gang members to commit their criminal acts, because the adults feel that laws are more lenient on juveniles. This, however, is a misconception.

What Can Parents Do?

  • Talk to your children openly and honestly. Tell them you do not approve of gangs. Explain what might happen if they join a gang. Tell them that they could be physically harmed or pressured into committing criminal acts that could result in their arrest. Tell them that they could lose their lives.
  • Make sure your children are involved in healthy, supervised activities, especially after school.
  • Find out where your children go in their free time. Get to know your children’s friends and their parents.
  • Get involved with your children’s education and their schools. Encourage them to study and stay in school.
  • Set limits for you children and enforce them. Tell your children they are special and you are concerned about their safety.
  • Get information about the gangs and crews in your neighborhood. Find out what gang members wear and what gang signs and symbols (such as tattoos, colors, hair and dress styles, etc.) mean. Ask about gang graffiti on walls and other places.
  • If you see your children wearing gang-style clothing or using gang symbols, tell them you do not approve. If you suspect your child is getting involved with a gang, take action fast. A list of places to call is on the back of this brochure.
  • Make sure your children know you will help them with their problems and not judge them unfairly. Encourage them to talk to you. If they won’t talk to you, ask them to talk to a relative, an older friend, their school counselor, a youth leader, your clergyman or any adult they trust.

What Can Students Do?  

Be proactive.

  • Tell your parents, a school counselor, or a police officer immediately if you are approached by a gang member attempting to recruit you.
  • Let gang members know you respect them but you are not interested in joining a gang.
  • Avoid areas where gang members hang out.
  • Attend school regularly and work hard. Think about the future — what kind of job would you like? What do you have to do to get that job? If you do not like your school, talk to your family or counselor about transferring.
  • Find others who want to stay out of gangs. Develop friendships with peers you trust.

Ask for help. Find a mentor.

  • Find at least one adult that you feel comfortable talking to. This might be a family member, a teacher, a counselor, or a police officer. Use this person as a mentor. Talk to him or her about problems that concern you. Listen to what he or she says and be open to new ideas.
  • Talk to your parents, a school counselor, or any other mentor with whom you feel comfortable. There are many community agencies that are able and equipped to assist with situations like this (see the back panel for some examples).

Be too busy to get involved.

  • Remove yourself from the area. Gradually limit your involvement with other known gang members. The less you are in the area, the better. Find activities to keep you occupied and away from that area.
  • Find a job in another neighborhood. Even if it is a part-time job, it will help in the process of breaking that gang connection. If a young person is busy and constructively engaged, he/she will not need the false self esteem a gang provides.
  • Get involved in school activities or other community organizations. Your school counselors would be an excellent resource to these activities. Remember, “idle hands are the Devil’s playground.” Get involved and stay busy. There is more to life than your neighborhood or your “boys” or “girls.”

Change your environment.

Talk to your parents about moving to another school or neighborhood. In some cases, this may be necessary to remove yourself from the gang permanently by putting distance between you and your old school and neighborhood. Moving to another neighborhood may help resolve the issues.

Signs of Possible Gang Involvement

Below are some indicators of possible gang involvement, but these characteristics should not be used as the basis for assuming someone is associated with a gang or crew:

  • Cutting classes at school
  • Decline in grades
  • Truancy
  • Change in demeanor (becoming disrespectful and not obeying rules at home)
  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  • Staying out later than usual
  • Possession of weapons
  • Sudden change of dress style (more of a specific color)
  • Friends of questionable character
  • Pictures with friends displaying hand signs and or bandanas
  • Inscribing gang graffiti on books, folders, desks, and walls.
  • Tattoos in the name of a gang

Characteristics of Gangs

  • Gang Attire

Gang/crew members usually adopt a certain way of dress, sometimes displaying a specific color or style. In some cases, the clothing may display gang names, member’s nicknames, numbers, street names, etc. Members may also have tattoos that display the gang name, a nickname, or tattoos with hidden messages that only another gang member can read.

  • Monikers

A gang/crew member usually has a nickname or moniker which also may be displayed in the form of a tattoo or graffiti. The name may highlight a street, neighborhood, or cultural term.

  • Gang/crew Name

Gangs/crews usually adopt a “gang name.” This name usually contains a street, neighborhood, or a cultural term. They will usually mark their neighborhoods or the territory they control with graffiti or “tags” depicting the gang name or symbols.

  • Skip Parties

Gangs/crews host secret parties during school hours. Activities at these parties often include alcohol consumption, narcotics use, sex and other illegal and dangerous activities.

Halloween Safety Tips

Halloween is fun for people of all ages, but it’s important that you and your children remain safe. Crime Trackers Massachusetts provides safety tips for individuals wishing to go trick-or-treating in the neighborhood. CTM-sponsored events are also held in each of the five districts.

Costume Safety

Children should:

  • Wear clothing that is bright, reflective and flame-retardant; wear short clothing that prevents tripping.
  • Wear sneakers or comfortable shoes.
  • Use face paint (non-toxic, hypoallergenic) and avoid masks – especially if the eye holes obstruct the child’s vision.
  • See well through facemasks, or use make-up.
  • Don’t wear floppy hats or wigs that slide over the eyes. Also, children should not wear long, baggy, or loose costumes or oversized shoes.
  • Avoid toy weapons – if desired, use costume knives and swords that are flexible, not rigid.
  • Stay away from pets. The pet may not recognize the child and become frightened.

Pedestrian Safety

  • Children should stay within familiar areas and surroundings. Parents should establish a route for children.
  • Children should use flashlights and stay on sidewalks.
  • Children should cross the street at corners / crosswalks and not between parked cars.
  • Motorists should drive slowly and watch carefully for children.

General Safety

  • Many police departments, community groups, business associations and others host Halloween parties. Parents should consider these as a safe alternative to door-to-door “trick-or-treating” for their children.
  • Children should never go into homes – stay on the porch or stoop when asking for treats.
  • Children should avoid homes that don’t have their outside lights turned on.
  • Children should never talk to strangers or get into strangers’ cars.
  • Children should travel in small groups and be accompanied by parents or an authorized adult chaperone.
  • Children should know their home phone number and their parents’ cell phone numbers, when applicable. They should carry coins for emergency telephone calls or know how to make collect calls.
  • Children should have their names and addresses attached to their costumes.
  • Children should bring home treats before eating them so parents can inspect them. When children get home, parents should inspect all candy and other treats before they are eaten. Discard all unwrapped or loosely wrapped candy or fruit.
  • If you have any questions about suspicious looking treats, call the police department.
  • Parents and children should carve pumpkins on a stable, flat surface with good lighting. Small children should never carve pumpkins. Instead, they can help by drawing faces with markers, while a parent does the cutting. Older children carving pumpkins should always be supervised.
  • Adults should only give and accept wrapped or packaged candy.
  • Adults should keep porch lights on and their driveways illuminated.
  • Homeowners should ensure that their walkways are cleared of debris on which children may trip and fall.
  • Parents should cut into fruit, such as apples, to make sure they do not contain foreign objects.
  • If in doubt, throw it out.

Winter Holiday Safety Tips

During the holiday season, don’t let the spirit of giving lull you into giving burglars, muggers and pickpockets a better chance to do their dirty work. Crooks love the holidays as much as everyone else, especially because it’s an opportune time for crime.

Homes jam-packed with glittering gifts. Stores, malls and downtown streets teeming with unsuspecting shoppers. People rushing around, stressed out and careless, looking for last-minute gifts, trying to get everything done. It’s enough to make a crook giddy with holiday joy.

Here are some tips on how to celebrate safely this holiday season:

If You Are Traveling

  • Get an automatic timer for your lights.
  • Ask a neighbor to watch your home, shovel snow, and park in the driveway from time to time.
  • Don’t forget to have mail and newspaper delivery stopped. If it piles up, it’s a sure sign you’re gone.

If You Are Out for the Evening

  • Turn on lights and a radio or TV so it looks like someone’s home.
  • Be extra cautious about locking doors and windows when you leave, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
  • Don’t display gifts where they can be seen from outside.

If You Are Shopping

  • Stay alert and be aware of what’s going on around you.
  • Park in a well-lighted space, and be sure to lock the car, close the windows, and hide shopping bags and gifts in the trunk.
  • Avoid carrying large amounts of cash; pay with a check or credit card whenever possible.
  • Deter pickpockets and purse-snatchers. Don’t overburden yourself with packages. Be extra careful with purses and wallets. Carry a purse close to your body, not dangling by the straps. Put a wallet in an inside coat or front pants pocket.
  • Shopping with kids? Teach them to go to a store clerk or security guard if you get separated.

Protect Your Vehicle

  • Loading up on all those gifts is a sign of progress in the holiday shopping. But if those packages are left out in the open after they’re in the car, your car has become a likely target for thieves. Remember the old cliché “Out of sight, out of mind?” The same idea applies to items in your car.
  • Always lock your vehicle and store all items out of sight. Breaking into an empty car isn’t worth a thief’s time. However, anything left in plain view—from your holiday gifts to spare change, sunglasses, CDs, cell phones or briefcases—may tempt a thief.
  • Help prevent your vehicle from being stolen by always locking your car and using anti-theft devices. And although it’s cold, never leave your vehicle running while you run inside your home or a store—even if for only a minute or two.

If a Stranger Comes to the Door

  • Criminals sometimes pose as couriers delivering gifts, so be cautious when accepting a package.
  • I’s not uncommon for people to try to take advantage of others’ generosity during the holidays by going door-to-door for charitable donations when there’s no charity involved. Ask for identification, and find out how the funds will be used. If you aren’t satisfied, don’t give. Help a charitable organization you know and like instead.

After You’ve Opened the Gifts

Burglars know that many households have new, and oftentimes expensive, items in their homes following the December holidays—especially items such as new computers and peripherals, stereo components, televisions, cameras and other electronic equipment. In too many cases, residents make it easy for burglars to figure out which homes to target by putting boxes that identify their new gifts in plain view with their other garbage. Avoid becoming an easy target for post-holiday burglars by not leaving boxes for new electronics and other items in the alley or other garbage pick-up locations for several days at a time. Instead, break down any boxes you are throwing out, put them in garbage bags and place them inside a trash can. (In many cases, especially with computer equipment, you might consider keeping the boxes for safe storage, shipping or moving in the future.) Think about keeping broken-down boxes inside—in a garage, for example—until the evening before your regular garbage pick-up. Some burglars actually look inside garbage cans for evidence of holiday gifts. And, of course, if you see someone suspicious casing your alley or If you see a burglary in progress, call the Police on 911.

Take a Holiday Inventory

  • The holidays are a good time to update—or create—your home inventory. Take photos or make videos of items, and list descriptions and serial numbers. If your home is burglarized, having a detailed inventory can help identify stolen items and make insurance claims easier to file.
  • Make sure things like TVs, VCRs, stereo equipment, cameras, camcorders, sports equipment, jewelry, silver, computers, home office equipment and power tools are on the list. Remember to check it twice!

Celebrate Responsibly

The holiday season is a time of celebration and revelry. Drinking and driving is a danger to everyone on the road. Anyone with a BAC of .08 or higher is in violation of DC law and may go to jail. Remember that the risk isn’t worth it—if you choose to drink alcohol at a party, don’t drive. Take a cab, use public transportation or a designated driver, or call SoberRide® (800-200-TAXI), a free cab service in DC and the surrounding area active from the middle of December through January 1. Have fun, but remember to celebrate responsibly.

Holiday Package Theft

  • Track deliveries online and confirm delivery has occurred. You can sign up for email notifications to track your packages from initial shipment to its arrival at your home, or the recipient’s address if you have the gift delivered directly.
  • If you know a family member or neighbor will be home, ask them to pick up the packages as soon as they are delivered. Reward them with fresh baked cookies.
  • Switch delivery location to work where it can be received by someone and not left on the porch.
  • See if the post office or store the product is being shipped from can hold the package for pick up.
  • The post office will allow your package to remain safe and secure for up to 30 days.

Enjoy the Season!

Last but not least, don’t let holiday stress get the best of your holiday spirit. Make time to get together with family, friends, and neighbors. And think about reaching out in the spirit of the season and helping someone who’s less fortunate or lonely.

ATM Safety Tips

Automatic teller machines (ATMs) have revolutionized the personal banking industry, providing unprecedented ease and convenience. But they have also created new opportunities for thieves and robbers. Here are some tips to keep you and your money secure while banking at ATMs.

  • Make sure you have memorized your personal identification number (PIN). Never write it down on your ATM card or keep it with the card. Never tell anyone your code or let them enter your code for you.
  • Do not give out information about your PIN over the telephone—banks will never request such information.
  • Try to use machines you are familiar with, and use terminals located in banks rather than independent terminals.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Look around before conducting a transaction. If you see anyone or anything suspicious, cancel your transaction and go to another ATM.
  • If you must use an ATM after hours, make sure it’s well lighted.
  • Use your body as a shield when making a transaction at the ATM.
  • Never walk away from an ATM with cash still in hand. If you are going to count your money, do so at the ATM. Then take the time to put your money away before leaving.
  • When making an ATM transaction from your car, be aware of your surroundings. Keep your eyes and ears open, and keep car doors locked.
  • Report any lost or stolen cards as soon as you discover they’re missing.
  • Check your receipts against your monthly statements to guard against ATM fraud.
  • Tear up your ATM receipts when you no longer need them.

Con Games and Swindles

Con games—swindles. Most of us think we would be the last people in the world to be tricked into handing over our hard-earned money for deals that, in retrospect, are obviously phony.

But con artists are experts in human psychology and behavior. They know how to win over your confidence with their smooth talk and self-assured manner. Unless you are careful, you may find yourself turning over cash or buying worthless merchandise. You won’t be able to recognize a con by the way he or she looks, but you can be on the lookout for some of their “pitches.”

Here are some good rules to follow all the time—whether or not you suspect a fraud:

  • Don’t believe “something-for-nothing” offers. You get what you pay for.
  • Take your time. Think about the deal before you part with your money.
  • Read all contracts and agreements before signing. Have an attorney examine all major contracts.
  • Compare services, prices, and credit offers before agreeing to a deal. Ask friends what their experiences have been with the firm or service in question, or check with the Better Business Bureau or similar organization.
  • Never turn over large sums of cash to anyone, especially a stranger, no matter how promising the deal looks.
  • Do not hesitate to check the credentials of anyone who comes to your door. Ask to see official identification and inspect it carefully. If you are suspicious, ask the person for the name and telephone number of his or her supervisor, so you can call and check right away. A legitimate business or service representative will not hesitate to comply.
  • Beware of individuals impersonating police officers who seek your assistance in “identifying fraudulent bank tellers” or “cracking a counterfeiting scheme.” They will usually ask you to withdraw large sums of money as part of their “investigation.” These people are not police officers, and all they want is your money.
  • Report all suspicious offers to the police immediately, before the swindler leaves your neighborhood in search of other victims. If you’ve been victimized, don’t be embarrassed about coming forward.