Put safety at the top of your holiday list

By: K. Michelle Moran | Metro | Published December 18, 2023

Shutterstock image


METRO DETROIT — It’s easy to forget about safety when dealing with the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.

But experts say this is a bad time to let your guard down, whether in regard to fire or crime at home.


Take a bite out of holiday crime
According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, larcenies and robberies rise by roughly 20% each December. A 2020 report on the website Alarms.org showed that Michigan had the highest holiday crime rate among Midwestern states and ranked 31st nationwide in terms of having the most crime during this time; Florida had the highest holiday crime rate.

“It starts with keeping your doors and windows locked,” said A.J. Tononi, a sales representative for Guardian Alarm, a national provider based in Southfield. “Having a relationship with your neighbors helps.”

He said outdoor lighting deters crooks, particularly at night, and motion-activated lights are also great.

“The biggest and best recommendation is (to have) a home security system and cameras,” Tononi said.

Public safety professionals concur.

“Statistics prove alarms deter crime,” Grosse Pointe Shores Public Safety Director Kenneth Werenski said. “Activate your alarm. Make sure your cameras are working.”

Werenski said leaving a light on when you’re gone also helps, as it leaves the impression that someone is home.

While crime doesn’t spike in Grosse Pointe Shores over the holidays, that’s due to the nature of the city, which is small and has no commercial businesses.

“My experience is, crime goes up between Nov. 1 and Jan. 1,” Werenski said of regional trends. “People are desperate this time of year. They need to keep warm. They need to feed their addictions.”

Grosse Pointe Woods Public Safety Director John Kosanke said package theft and scams are up at this time of year. Don’t answer calls from unknown callers and independently verify calls that seem to come from legitimate sources, like a utility company or the Internal Revenue Service, as scammers use spoofing to make it appear that a call is coming from a real agency when it isn’t.

“With the holidays, it brings about opportunities for criminals,” Kosanke said. “We have the porch pirates this time of year. People are taking a lot of packages.”

Having packages sent to a secured post office box or a person’s workplace are a couple of ways to protect these items from being stolen.

Werenski said identity theft “is huge this time of year,” so people should routinely monitor their credit reports, credit card transactions and bank accounts for unauthorized activity. With so many shopping online these days, Kosanke warned residents to not click on pop-up ads when browsing the internet, as their devices could get infected with malware or the companies might not be legitimate.

Kosanke and Werenski both remind people to be aware of their surroundings, including when unloading gifts and food from their vehicles.

“Crime doesn’t take that long,” Kosanke said. “Crime can take seconds.”

Regular safety precautions like keeping vehicles locked, not leaving the fobs inside and taking valuables like purses and briefcases inside or putting them out of sight in the trunk are also especially vital around the holidays, as criminals know people might be more prone to neglect these steps because they’re frazzled.

“All the thieves are looking for is an opportunity, and you’ve got to not give them that,” Kosanke said.

Neighbors can also help by calling police immediately if they spot unusual activity.

“You know the habits of your neighbors,” Werenski said. “If you see something, call us. We all work together.”


Prevent holiday fires from happening
Candles — which seem to be more popular during the holidays — were responsible for 7,900 residential fires that resulted in more than 720 injuries, dozens of deaths and almost $270 million in property damage between 2013 and 2017 alone, according to the National Fire Protection Agency.

“You want to make sure you’re not leaving them unsupervised,” Kosanke said.

Experts recommend using flameless alternatives, but if only the real thing will do, exercise caution with pets and children, keep them away from flammable material like curtains, place them on a flat and stable surface, and use a candle snuffer to extinguish them.

Werenski said all families should have a fire safety plan in place that includes escape routes and a meeting spot outside. Anyone with a wood-burning fireplace should have it professionally cleaned as well, he said.

Replace worn or broken holiday lights, don’t use outdoor lights inside, follow the manufacturer’s directions and only use lights labeled by a qualified testing laboratory, Kosanke said.

Kosanke said people should turn off holiday lights before they go to bed or when they’re going to be gone, keep real Christmas trees adequately watered and keep the tree at least 3 feet away from heat sources. He said people should also make sure the tree isn’t blocking any exits.

“Christmas is a great time of year,” Kosanke said. “Unfortunately, we do see tragedies this time of year that could have been avoided.”