Protect your home while you travel

By: Mary Beth Almond | C&G Newspapers | Published March 19, 2019

METRO DETROIT — Michigan is home to many who take advantage of spring break, enjoy vacations over the summer, or even escape the entire winter season in favor of a warmer climate.

While they’re away, their homes are left largely unattended, making them vulnerable to break-ins and other crime. Luckily, law enforcement officials say there are a number of things people can do to protect their homes.

First Lt. Michael Shaw, public information officer for the Michigan State Police, said keeping quiet on social media is a great place to start.

“Make sure you don’t announce on Facebook where you’re going, because people do look at that, and then they’re very happy to come break into your house and steal your stuff while you’re on vacation,” he said.

Inside the home, law enforcement officials recommend locking all doors and windows, keeping valuables out of sight, and using a programmable light switch timer to turn lights on and off automatically.

“Bad guys are opportunists, just like anybody else. If there is one house on the street that’s all lit up, and their neighbor doesn’t have any lights on at all, the bad guy is going to pick the dark house over the house with lights,” Shaw said. “If everybody’s house is lit up on the block, then maybe they will take their crime activities somewhere else.”

People heading out of town can protect their homes by putting their mail and newspaper delivery on hold or asking a neighbor to collect it, hiring a lawn service or asking a friend to cut their grass or remove their snow, making sure the exterior of their home is well-lit, and installing a home surveillance system.

“Any cameras on the outside of your house — including those Nest cameras — are very helpful to us. If something does happen to your house, we are able to go back there and develop a suspect from those videos. And sometimes we solve crimes by the videos of your neighbor. Those have become very useful to law enforcement,” Shaw said.

“Those doorbell cameras are a great tool,” Capt. Michael Johnson, of the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office’s Rochester Hills substation, added. “We’ve ended up making some catches using those.”

Residents who wish to have law enforcement patrol their property while they’re away can contact their local department to see if it offers a house-watch program.  

“They let us know when they’re going, and when they will be returning, and a patrol officer will run by the home while they’re on patrol on their shifts, just to make sure everything is OK and nothing appears out of the ordinary,” Shaw explained. “Hopefully, the extra visibility of the patrol car in the area will keep the bad guys away.”

Many residents take advantage of the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office’s house-check program, according to Johnson.

“Our (substation) list is really long right now, because there are a lot of snowbirds,” he said. “We patrol all the time and we are very active. There’s a lot of footprints in the snow around these houses, because we keep an eye on them.”

The Macomb County Sheriff’s Office also offers a house-check program for those headed out on vacations. For more information on vacation watch programs, contact your local police department.