Property crime happens. Burglary, larceny, theft, vandalism. It’s small-scale crime—until it happens to you. Much more often than not, the police aren’t able to help.
We’ll explain why the police can’t follow up on most home break-ins, and then we’ll share nine ways to protect your home and stop property crime from happening in the first place.
1) Serious understaffing. The average squad size for a patrol sector is about half of what its 1980s levels—and Seattle was much smaller in the 1980s. Only about half of the SPD’s 1,200 officers are assigned to the patrol bureau (and that half includes bike squads and other similar types of units, which don’t respond to 911 calls). The same understaffing problem also applies to follow-up detectives. If it’s a misdemeanor theft, SPD simply doesn’t have the staffing power to follow up.
2) Too much report-writing. We heard from an officer who said, “even the briefest contact with a person “in crisis” is required to be documented in a “crisis report,” even when there is no crime, no involuntary commitment, and no meaningful action taken. Additionally, any citizen who demands a report, even about the most inane of non-crimes (“someone made a mean comment on Facebook”) is given one. I have spent many hours I could have been patrolling writing and filing reports about non-crimes. Use of force reporting also takes time. Use of force is rare, but when it happens we’re off the street for hours writing reports. Under policy, if a suspect says “ow” when handcuffed, we must write a use of force report.”
3) King County’s filing standards. In general, King County prosecutors won’t file felony charges when the theft or property damage is under $1,000. Also, if a credit card is stolen, odds are it won’t be worth pursuing. Prosecutors in Seattle won’t file felony charges for possession of stolen property (PSP) when the suspect has credit cards belonging to three or fewer victims.
Most police officers know these filing standards, so don’t want to spend time on cases they know won’t be filed as a felony. Likewise, criminals know the same thing, so they target locations and types of property without fear of felony prosecution. In King County alone, hundreds of burglary and robbery cases aren’t filed for this reason.
4) Difficulty in prosecuting drug addicts. The officer said, “Drug crimes are not technically property crimes, but almost all thefts are committed by hardcore drug addicts. King County prosecutors will not file any drug case based on paraphernalia/residue only, and Seattle has no misdemeanor drug paraphernalia charge, so possession of drug paraphernalia has been effectively legalized in the city. King County will not file drug cases as felonies where the suspect possessed less than three grams of meth, cocaine, or heroin. These are all filed as misdemeanors, even on a second offense (in reality these cases often aren’t filed at all).” Scott Lindsay, a Seattle attorney who spent the last three years as Mayor Ed Murray’s public-safety adviser, said:
The increase in street disorder is largely a function of the fact that heroin, crack and meth possession has been largely legalized in the city over the past several years as the County Prosecutor significantly raised the bar to prosecuting drug possession (arrests and prosecutions have dropped off a cliff as a result)… With drugs and drug addiction comes property crimes and street disorder.
5) Sentencing and bail. Very few people are held on bail for property crimes. Most property criminals facing felony charges are released within 72 hours—and bail for misdemeanor property crimes doesn’t usually happen unless the person has already missed two or three court dates.
6) Seattle is King County’s dumping ground. Neighboring cities (Kent/Shoreline/Bellevue/Renton/ etc) issue “non-extraditable” misdemeanor arrest warrants, which means a transient petty criminal will only be arrested if they return to the city that issued the warrant. Those cities’ police departments won’t pick up these criminals unless SPD drives them back to their cities for them—and, going back to the first point, understaffing usually makes this impossible. The officer also added, “I also know for a fact that neighboring police agencies will take drop people off in Seattle whom they don’t want in their city, on the premise that “Seattle offers more services” for transients and drug addicts.”
So… as a homeowner who faces the consequences of this situation, what do you do? How do you protect your home from property crime? Good defense. As social Darwin-ian as it sounds, the best way to protect yourself is to simply make your house look less appealing to a burglar than the other houses near yours. Specifically:
1) Trim your shrubs. Great landscaping isn’t so great if it gives an intruder places to hide and a way to obscure signs of a break-in. Trim your vegetation so your home’s windows, porches, and doors are visible to neighbors and passersbys.
2) Close the blinds. Use shades, drapes, and blinds to keep your valuables out of view. A burglar is much less likely to break into the unknown than into a house where he/she can window-shop.
3) Mind your empty boxes. Think twice about putting empty boxes out by the curb for pickup. An empty TV, computer, or other similar item’s box tells potential criminals that you have something worth stealing. This is especially problematic around the Holidays. Break down those large boxes and cram them into the recycle bin.
4) Install motion-sensing lights. It’s hard to prowl a well-lit house. In addition to removing dark places where someone can hide, motion sensing lights also startle would-be-thieves and give you the ability to see what’s happening on your property.
5) Set indoor timers. You can connect a timer to an indoor light, radio, or television to create the illusion of activity even if you’re away for the night. Timers cost between $5 to $40, and a basic plug-in timer can turn a light on and off once or twice a day. A more expensive digital outlet switch can turn lights on at any number of set or random times. Your house will never look unoccupied again.
6) Upgrade your doors. Sixty percent of all burglaries take place at ground floor doors and windows. All doors that lead outside should be made of solid wood (or even better, you should have steel-wrapped, wood-core doors). It doesn’t take much effort for someone to kick in a hollow-core door or an old wood-panel door. A new, solid door costs about $100, plus installation.
7) Protect any window near a door. If your door has a window or a window set beside a door, you should install a protective barrier of quarter-inch Plexiglas over any glass. The plexiglass can keep a burglar from breaking the window, and, in turn, keep a burglar from opening the door’s lock from the inside or getting into the house through the busted window.
8) Install deadbolts. Every exterior door should have a deadbolt that goes at least one inch into the frame. The two main types of deadbolts are single and double cylinder locks. A single cylinder deadbolt (about $35) has a keyed opening on one side and a knob that can be turned by hand on the other. A double cylinder deadbolt lock (about $45) is keyed on both sides. Double cylinder locks can be a hassle, but they should be used on all doors with a glass section or one located near a window. A deadbolt is useless if someone can reach through a window and unlock it. Consult local building codes before buying new double cylinder deadbolt locks, though. Some communities don’t allow their use due to safety concerns, as they can prevent a speedy exit from a home in the event of a fire. Also, when installing a deadbolt, make sure that the strike plate is properly secured—you want strong, 3-inch screws going into studs.
9) Lock up! Always, always remember to lock your doors and windows when you leave your house. This is a huge way burglars gain access—simply walking through an unlocked front or back door, or slipping through an unlocked window.