By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Burglaries tend to increase during the holiday season, according to police, as burglars know that people leave their homes for parties, family get-togethers, and sometimes leave the island to see families and friends.
The Hawaii Police Department has released a set of tips to improve your chances of having a safe and happy holiday season and to reduce the odds that the yuletide treasures under your tree don’t become some burglar’s booty.
“The most important thing, in my opinion, is to know your neighborhood, know your neighbors, and when something’s out of the ordinary, to call police,” said acting Puna Patrol Capt. Reed Mahuna on Tuesday.
Spikes in the numbers of burglaries were reported in both East and West Hawaii this year, and police broke up a drug and burglary ring in September in Kona they say operated on both sides of the isle but hit Kona very hard.
“Actually, since then — at least in my district, in Puna — we’ve seen a decrease in the amount of burglaries reported,” Mahuna said.
Also contributing to the decrease was the 10-year prison sentence handed out in August to Jesse Robert Murray, a 38-year-old Pahoa man prosecutors described as a professional burglar. Murray, who was also convicted of methamphetamine possession, targeted homes whose occupants left cars at the residence when they weren’t at home, load the victims’ vehicles with their valuables and steal the cars as well. Adept at disabling home alarm devices, Murray was busted after he couldn’t find the hard-drive memory device to a camera he dismantled.
“People that become burglars out of necessity, who need money for whatever habit they have, can become professional burglars,” Mahuna said. “We see a lot of burglars that are skilled. They take the time to case their targets.”
Police, of course, advise all residents to lock doors and windows anytime you leave your home, including those in the rear of the house that aren’t visible from the street. And in this day of instant information, it’s important to not announce your comings and goings and to avoid posting your location on social networking sites such as Facebook, or uploading services such as Instagram, as those can be used by criminals to determine if you are home.
Many put up their holiday lights displays, but it’s also important for home security to keep your home well lit, police say, and to not leave a house key hidden somewhere outside your home. While many residents cherish the privacy from prying eyes that trees and bushes can provide, they also provide cover for burglars to operate, as well, and police advise that they should be trimmed regularly.
“I think that’s certainly something that everybody has to take into consideration,” Mahuna said. “The more privacy you have, it can have a negative impact on security — even the placement of your house, a long driveway. That’s something that’s specific to every neighborhood; everybody has to make their own decision regarding that.”
Mahuna also warns to look out for strangers who knock on doors under any guise, as they may be burglars casing the home.
“A lot of times, they’ll say they’re looking for someone, (or) their car ran out of gas — you name it,” he said. “When somebody comes to the door, you should be very, very careful — and report people who actually come to your home if they act suspicious immediately.”
Police also advise residents to ask neighbors to report suspicious persons and vehicles seen near or at your home and to take down descriptions of suspicious vehicles cruising your neighborhood, the vehicles’ occupants, and if possible, the license numbers, and to report that information to police.
“Usually, if it’s reported to us in real time — in other words, we have a suspicious vehicle in that area then — we’ll go out and look for that vehicle,” Mahuna said. “We’ll see if we can make contact with that vehicle that’s deemed suspicious. If not, we’ll hold on to that information and hopefully, we can tie the information in the report into similar instances of suspicious vehicles or actual burglaries.”
And if you come home and see evidence that someone has been in your home or may still be there, leave the area and call police immediately, he said.
“Be aware of who your neighbors are,” Mahuna said. “I think that’s the best way of defending against crimes, having a tight neighborhood where everybody knows where whose cars belong and what cars are normally in the area. And if your gut tells you something is wrong, call police.”
The Community Policing Section also provides free home safety inspections for residents who request them. For an inspection or information, call 961-2350 in East Hawaii or 326-4646, ext. 259, in West Hawaii.
If you suspect a burglary is in progress or if you encounter any suspicious person on your property, call 911. To report suspicious persons in your neighborhood, call the police non-emergency line at 935-3311. Those who prefer anonymity may call Crime Stoppers at 961-8300.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.