Noe Valley Voice June 2004

Summer Safety: Keep Your Home Secure While You're Away

By Erin O'Briant

Anyone who's lived in Noe Valley for more than a month or two knows the neighborhood isn't always as peaceful as it seems. The houses are beautiful and the neighbors are friendly, but that doesn't mean your home is safe while you're away. Burglaries, vandalism, and other property crimes are common, especially during the summer and fall, when many residents go on vacation.

To help shrink the size of the neighborhood's police blotter, the Voice decided to ask our local security experts for some advice on avoiding home break-ins.

Rule number one, the experts agree: Lock all your doors and windows.

"Most people think that if their front door is secure, they don't need to think about the others," says Jason Prior, owner of Ames Lock and Security at 3977 24th Street. "The burglar is looking for the weakest link in the chain. They'll go for the easy target, and what you want to do is make them move on to another house."

Prior also suggests trimming trees and shrubbery so that the area around your front door is clearly visible from the street. "Shrubbery provides cover for the burglar trying to get in the door," he says.

Knowing your neighbors is another good defense against crime.

"Let neighbors that you trust know you're leaving so that if they see someone moving furniture out of the house, they will know to call the police," says Pam Matsuda, program coordinator of San Francisco SAFE (Safety Awareness for Everyone), a non-profit organization that works with the Police Department to educate people about crime prevention. "Every year, I hear a tragic story--someone says, 'Oh, I thought my neighbor was just moving.'"

Matsuda adds that vacationers should also alert their alarm company, if they have one, so the company will know to call the police immediately if the alarm goes off while they're on vacation.

Trudee Gardner, manager of Key Kraft at 1585 Church Street, recommends that people who have electronic garage doors turn the power off and lock the door manually on the inside before leaving town. "It's definitely one of the safest things you can do," she says. Another tip: Remember to remove or unlatch the manual lock before you turn the power back on.

Gardner also swears by these tried-and-true methods: Before you go out of town, put your hidden keys back inside the house; put lights on a timer so it looks as if someone is at home; and be sure to stop your mail and newspaper delivery. "You want to make it look like someone hasn't left for two weeks," she explains.

You might also consider re-keying your locks, Prior says, especially if you've lost track of keys lent to former household or construction workers. "If you give someone a key and don't get it back, always re-key the lock," he says.

He also advises against leaving valuables in your car or garage. Prior has recently heard of burglars breaking into apartment lobbies in order to enter garages, which are often kept unlocked and may contain bikes and tools.

By the way, his business offers free security inspections to residents of Noe Valley. "We come at no cost to take a look at everything to make sure the house is secure," Prior says.

San Francisco SAFE will also help out, by showing you how to organize a neighborhood watch group.

A final option, offered by Lieutenant Curtis Lum of Mission Police Station, is to alert your local police to your absence. "Just call or come by the station, and an officer will fill out a form for you," he says. "Then I'll ask the officers to drive by the location when they have time."

Tips to Keep Your Home Safe While You're Out of Town

c Lock all windows and doors securely.

c Use timer lights to make it look as if someone's at home.

c Disconnect the power to your electronic garage opener and lock your garage manually from the inside.

c Call a neighbor you trust and ask them to keep an eye on your house.

c Stop all deliveries, including mail, newspaper, and water.

c Trim your shrubbery so burglars will be visible from the street.

c Call your local police station and tell them you'll be out of town.

c Let your alarm company know to call police immediately if an alarm goes off during your absence.

For more information on home safety, contact S.F. SAFE at or 673-SAFE.