SEBRING — Burglaries are on the rise this month, and Highlands County has also experienced a string of exes attempting to break into the homes of their former significant others.

How can residents protect their homes from people who want to steal their valuables and their privacy? Highlands News-Sun asked the experts, local law enforcement officers.

“During the holiday season, law enforcement urges the public to be cognizant of their surroundings as burglaries do tend to increase during this time,” Cmdr. Curtis Hart of the Sebring Police Department said.

“If you are out shopping, make sure you do not leave items in plain view within your vehicle,” Hart said. “If you are expecting deliveries, ask a friend, trusted neighbor or family member to keep an eye open for them and possibly pick them up for you if you are away.”

Highlands County Sheriff’s Office recommends the 9 p.m. routine where people lock their homes and vehicles every night before going to bed.

Scott Dressel, public information officer for the Sheriff’s Office, said, “The best way to protect your home from burglaries is to lock up. Most burglaries are the result of an unlocked door or window. Criminals want easy targets.

“Your doors and windows should have sturdy locks,” Dressel said. “Your doors should have deadbolts, and you can also take the extra step of adding something that prevents a window from sliding open even if it is unlocked. This can be as simple as a piece of wood lodged between the window and the frame.”

Lake Placid Police Chief James Fansler said, “My first recommendation is to make sure to purchase a good solid brand deadbolt. I understand money can be tight, but when it comes to protecting your assets and family, home protection is not the time to cut costs.

“ConsumerReports.org has compiled a list of some of the best deadbolts on the market,” Fansler said. “Deadbolts are a sturdier lock than your standard door lock; however, they cannot offer 100 percent protection.

“With deadbolt locks, they are only effective if the person locking the door makes certain the tumblers inside fully rotate,” Fansler said. “In some cases, the person only turns it far enough to remove the key and is left with a false sense of security. The bolt needs to fully rotate and lock in place to be fully effective.”

“I would also suggest that homeowners install good lighting on the exteriors of their property to include motion lights,” Hart said.

Fansler agreed. “Lighting is some of the most important anti-burglary investing you can do for your home. If you have a dark home, or dark areas around your home, anyone can hide and wait for you to leave. If there are none of the above measures in place, they can easily burglarize your home without detection. Invest in good lighting.”

“It’s also imperative that homeowners communicate with their neighbors and look out for each other’s property,” Hart said. “Always report odd or suspicious activity to law enforcement.”

Fansler concurred with Hart. In fact, he contends that nosy neighbors are often the best kind of neighbors and some neighbors are best avoided. “Make friends with good neighbors. Now I didn’t say make good friends with neighbors, I said make friends with good neighbors. There is a difference.

“You want to make sure you are not making friends with the one person who can easily learn your habits and break in while you are gone,” Fansler said. “You want that neighbor who is always looking out for other neighbors. The one who is almost borderline nosy and will be quick to call the police if they don’t recognize the person on your doorstep. You want a neighbor who will not stand for shenanigans by hooligans.

“Second part to this is participating in a Neighborhood Watch program,” Fansler said. “If there is not one already established, get the program started and make your home and neighborhood safer.”

“Homeowners can also look into alarm and live monitoring video systems, which are becoming very popular,” Hart said.

“When shopping for a security alarm company, you really need to do some quick research,” Fansler added. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You want to know if the company monitors their customers’ systems, or is that function farmed out to a secondary monitoring company? That can make a difference in emergency response times. I personally recommend a local hometown company over the national brands.

“Along with the security system, I strongly encourage video security systems,” Fansler said. “Nothing allows a would-be bad guy to know he is being watched like a camera in his face. If you can swing just a little bit more, you can have the system show right on your cellular device, giving you constant ability to keep an eye on your home.

“If you cannot afford a full camera system and alarm, consider an inexpensive item such as the RING,” Fansler said. “This is a camera/doorbell combination that hooks right to your home at the doorbell area. The RING has many features including video of anyone within a predetermined area to be sent directly to your cellular device. Once downloaded, the RING application has a tone that chimes when it captures a picture. Once again, this gives you immediate information on the condition of your home and any criminal who may wish to come in.

“A dog is also an excellent way to make people think twice about breaking into your home,” Dressel said. A dog will often hear a person who is near the house before the homeowner does. This gives extra warning time and acts as a deterrent to burglars.

During the past few months, Highlands County has had several incidents where exes have forced their way into homes and have committed battery on their former significant others. Hart and Fansler provided tips for dealing with estranged relationships.

“We would normally suggest that the parties obtain a restraining order or injunction to assist them keeping the other party away from their homes and businesses,” Hart said. “It doesn’t always work; however, it does give law enforcement a tool to work with in most cases.”

“In regards to the ex entering the home,” Fansler said, “change locks with every change of a significant other. They may have a spare key made some time during the relationship.”

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