Terrace police share tips for foiling crime

MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — Listen to your Spidey sense.

That’s when the little hairs on the back of your neck rise when you sense there is trouble.

“One hundred percent of the time, trust those feelings,” said Sgt. Pat Lowe of the Mountlake Terrace Police Department.

That was one of several lessons and tips offered during the Mountlake Terrace Police Department seminar last week that covered home defense and firearm safety. About 30 people attended the three-hour event held at the Mountlake Terrace Library. The topics covered included protecting a home from burglars, self-protection and firearms safety.

Never worry about whether or not to call the police for help, Lowe said. Callers can tell the 911 dispatcher it’s not an emergency and dispatchers will connect callers to a non-emergency dispatcher.

Topics such as these are usually covered in the police department’s annual Citizen’s Academy program. However, low enrollment meant pushing off the program until the fall. In the meantime, police saw the value in teaching certain topics now so members of the community can make informed decisions.

“We thought it was important to address the issue of burglaries and firearm safety,” Police Chief Greg Wilson said.

Within the past six months, there were four reported incidents involving children injured or killed by firearms in the state.

Meanwhile, in 2011, more than $323 million worth of items were stolen in Washington state. Of that, $89 million was recovered.

That same year, more than $25 million worth of money was stolen and more than $507,000 was recovered; more than $33 million worth of jewelry was stolen and more than $1.9 million was recovered; and more than $7.4 million of clothing was stolen and more than $760,000 was recovered.

“This is a pretty big deal,” Lowe said. “That means $234 million of your stuff is in the hands of criminals.”

The seminar was taught by Lowe, a certified firearms instructor with the Mountlake Terrace Police Department.

“You have a right to defend yourself and your property,” Lowe said.

There isn’t one solution for how people should handle protecting themselves if their home is broken into while they’re home, Lowe said.

If someone feels comfortable fighting back, that’s their choice, or they can opt to call for help.

“You fight until you’ve won and that can mean hitting or separating yourself from the situation,” he said. “A ‘win’ is you not being injured nor your family.”

The weight is heavier when people own firearms.

Most guns bought to protect homes are used against the homeowner, or they’re stolen or used in suicide, Lowe said.

“Something to consider before purchasing is: Can you shoot to kill?” he said. “You need to decide if you can make that decision.”

Even after making that decision, Lowe advised thinking in terms of “shoot to stop them” rather than to injure or kill.

He pointed out burglars will most often try to enter through the front door — 34 percent, a first-floor window — 23 percent, or the back door — 22 percent.

If you opt to open your door for strangers, be prepared with a plan in case the stranger pushes his or her way inside, Lowe said.

Further, burglars will look for homes with children’s toys and playground equipment in the yard as it indicates there is a woman living there, which can mean jewelry inside the home.

Most burglars won’t risk breaking in during lunchtime in case people are home. However, there are burglars who are likely on drugs and don’t care if the house is empty.

“It does happen here (in Mountlake Terrace),” Lowe said. “I don’t mean to scare you, but I want to make you aware these people are out there.”

One common trend is relatives or significant others breaking into people’s homes.

“It’s a harsh reality,” Lowe said. “Some kids are bad no matter how much love you give them.”

He recommends varying your routine because someone planning to break into your home is likely watching you for several days to learn your routine.

A new trend is people breaking into cars at movie theaters to steal vehicle registration documents and garage door openers. The person has a home address and access to get inside with reassurance the homeowner will be gone for at least as long as the movie lasts.

Another trend is burglars who comb through obituaries to find out when people likely will not be home.

Homeowners can deter burglars by installing outdoor lights, alarm systems and being mindful that burglars take advantage of landscaping and fences to lurk around homes. Installing lights is one of the least expensive things homeowners can do to deter burglars, Lowe said.

Also, place shrubs right up against the home to prevent burglars from hiding behind or stepping over them.

Homeowners should consider packing a “personal defense bag” filled with a cellphone that can at least dial 911, duct tape, a knife, a small flashlight, a first aid kit and, for some, a gun with ammunition.

2011 state crime statistics

More than 258,000 crimes were reported, a 3.4 percent decrease from 2010.

More than 19,500 violent crimes were reported, a 5 percent decrease.

More than 239,400 property crimes were reported, a 3.3 percent decrease.

57 percent of burglaries in 2011 were by forcible entry.

More than 1,000 law enforcement officers were assaulted in the line of duty, a 2.9 percent increase.

There are more than 14,300 full-time law enforcement employees, a 1.5 percent decrease.

Source: Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs

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