Safe and sound, while out of town

By: Kristyne E. Demske | C&G Newspapers | Published May 1, 2013

With summer just around the corner, vacation plans are in the works for metro Detroiters looking to make the most of the nice weather.

But when taking off for a week or two, or even a weekend, it’s important to protect your home and belongings from criminals looking to capitalize on your absence.

Some of the best things to do, according to Cmdr. Matt Koehn of the Farmington Hills Police Department, are to cancel or suspend delivery of mail and newspapers and to put indoor lights on timers.

Having mail held by the U.S. Postal Service is as easy as filling out a card or applying online, said Lauri Hunsanger, customer service supervisor for the St. Clair Shores Post Office.

A yellow vacation hold card is available at the Post Office or at, she said, and will enable the Post Office to keep mail for up to 30 days. For those who plan to be gone longer, she said a supervisor can waive that limit in person.

Hunsanger said the service is free.

“The carriers are also alert that (homeowners are) not there and they watch out, too,” she said. “They know everything that’s going on. If (homeowners) let us know, then we know and we pay that extra attention.”

The mail will either be delivered or picked up upon a homeowner’s return. Hunsanger said no notice is needed, either.

“They can bring it in today and we’ll start holding (mail) tomorrow,” she said of the card.

In addition to an alert mail carrier, Koehn said it’s good to have a trusted neighbor keep an eye on your home, as well.

“If anything at all is suspicious, (ask them) to contact the local police department,” he said. “Unless they have alarms, the only way we catch people is if people call.”

Try to keep the house looking normal, Koehn said. If shades or drapes are normally open, keep them that way.

“If you have a neighbor that has more than one car and wants to park a car there in the day or night, that’s always good, too,” he said.

Koehn also recommends keeping shrubbery trimmed away from doors and windows so potential thieves don’t have cover to hide, and he said that, “I’m a firm believer in outside lights.”

Paul Amoroso, assistant manager at Ace Hardware in Macomb Township, said there are plenty of options available for timers or motion and light sensors for indoor and outdoor lights.

“We have timers that … you can have lights go on at different times in different areas of your home. We even have random timers that will turn lights on and off at different times of day,” he said. “You can actually replace your light switch with a light-switch timer … for, like, your front porch light. You change that switch to a wall-mounted timer and it’ll come on. You can set it for when you want it to go on and go off (or) can operate it manually.”

Amoroso said timers that plug into walls can be as little as $10, and the wall-mounted timer switch is $20-$30. A wall-mounted timer is easy to install, he said.

For motion-sensing lights, he said that some outdoor lights come with the option, but for those that don’t, there is a screw-in sensor. A similar sensor will light up outdoor lamps as soon as it gets dark and turn them off at first light in the morning. Just make sure to check that the sensor won’t make the bulb too tall for the fixture, he said.

Koehn recommends having timers set to what the normal daily routine is, like going on at dusk and off around 10 p.m.

And, he said, be sure to use your locks.

“You would be surprised how many people don’t lock their doors and windows,” he said. “Deadbolts are good and then, for like door walls, the bars that you put in place, those are good, too.”

Residents can also give their local police departments a heads-up that they will be out of town. Some communities send patrols to check on homes while residents are away, and others take down contact information so they can inform a resident if there is a problem.