SPECIAL ASSIGNMENT: How to Avoid Crimes on the Rise

By: Chris Woodard Email
By: Chris Woodard Email

Posted Tuesday, November 18, 2008 --- 10:00 p.m.

Debate ranges about what the reasons are but the numbers don't lie. Certain crimes are increasing in Madison.

In this Special Assignment: The crimes most likely to happen to you and what you need to do to protect yourself.

Whether it's surveillance video of violent holdups or mug shots of robbery suspects, the images have been flooding the news, police asking for your help in solving crimes.

Now it's time to help yourself.

Madison Police Lieutenant and head of the burglary task force Mark Brown says, "You make yourself a victim, you're going to be a victim."

According to police statistics, robbery and burglary are the crimes most likely to happen to the average Madisonian.

So far this year there have been 2,239 police calls for burglary. That's up 208 burglaries from this time last year and two thirds of them are on private homes.

Brown says, "A lot of it is economy driven. A lot of it is opportunity driven."

The opportunity is something anyone can change. As head of the burglary task force Brown has seen it all.

"The first thing they're looking for obviously is an empty house. I mean burglars are opportunistic they don't want to be confronted basically."

Brown says windows without shades are a magnet. If a burglar can see no one is inside it makes an easy target. He says a lot of times someone will even knock on doors to see if anyone is home.

Brown says, "The next thing they're going to look at is look for anything that's laying out, laptops, phones, jewelry, stuff like that, easy targets."

Any of those reg flags can be enough to make your house a target and send a burglar around back.

Brown says, "Whether or not you have an open space like this or a wooded space it really doesn't make too much difference."

What makes a difference are open and unlocked garages, windows and doors. Brown says a lot of times criminals don't even check doors because they just assume it's more likely windows will be open.

He says, "I would guarantee you that if we walked through this neighborhood right here I could probably find about a quarter of these houses with windows that are not locked. They'll cut the screen, try to lift it up. If it doesn't go up they'll move on to the next one."

Things like windows where you can see front to back and a burglar can see if anyone is coming home can also make your place a more likely target.

Brown says, "They're good. They're good at what they do. They wear gloves. They cut. They go in, get what they have to get and get out."

Burglars have an added advantage this time of year when the cover of darkness falls around 4 o'clock, when many people are still at work.

Brown says, "It's very simple. It's very simple to do. It's little to no fuss or muss. I mean all it takes is a box cutter and a screw driver basically."

It's equally as simple to keep yourself safe.

Brown says, "The simplest thing, I mean all it is is basically lock them."

Lock your doors. Lock and shut your windows and close your blinds.

Of equal concern to police are robberies, crimes that have gotten a lot of attention around this city where so many people walk or bike to get around. It's a common site on campus.

Lieutenant Eric Hollen with the UW-Madison Police Department says, "We have seen an increase in the surrounding area."

Armed Robberies and strong armed robberies have happened 15 more times in Madison this year than they had at this time last year.

Hollen says, "At any time of day you really have to look at what the situation is."

A member of the University Police Department for 17 years, Lieutenant Hollen often gets questions from students and concerned parents about how to stay safe.

Hollen says, "Be aware of your surroundings. You have to say that and I agree with it but then do something about it."

Hollen says the best defense is avoiding the situation completely by controlling your environment. Avoid isolation, make sure you have good escape routes and make sure you have good access to communication.

Hollen says, "You have to trust that instinct. If you're seeing something that is making you uncomfortable, why not act on it?"

He says things like pepper spray or a self defense class can help but they shouldn't make you let your guard down.

Hollen says, "If people choose to use that as a component of their personal safety plan it has to be just that, a component, not their whole plan."

In fact, he says cell phones can often do more harm than good.

Hollen says, "If you watch people when they're walking and talking on cell phones or even driving and talking on cell phones their attention is divided and they're often times not really looking around or paying attention to what's going on around them."

He says knowing what's going on around you is the best defense but if you do find yourself confronted...

Hollen says, "Yelling, screaming, running, those are all things that can get attention to you and get you to a place where you can be more safe."

Staying safe, by looking out for yourself. Whether at home or on the move take the time to look out for number one.

Police say burglary numbers usually go down as we head into the winter season because windows and doors are more likely to be closed and locked but with all of last years snow fall burglaries actually went up.

Lieutenant Brown says he thinks it was because of the high snow banks providing so much cover around houses for burglars to hide while they tried to get inside.

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