FAIRFIELD — Les Johnsen had just finished his jog and was taking a shower when the doorbell rang. He looked out an upstairs window of his Fairfield home to see who it was, but no one was there.
“So I continued to dress and then heard a crash downstairs,” Johnsen said.
Johnsen armed himself and started to walk down the stairs, only to see a female stranger in the front room “standing there and looking at the TV.” The woman, Johnsen later learned, had gone to the back of the house after ringing the doorbell and come in through an unlocked kitchen window.
He held her at gunpoint and called the police, but the women managed to slip out the front door and started walking down the street. Johnsen followed her, keeping in contact with the dispatcher.
Police quickly swooped in from both ends of the street and took the woman into custody.
“We have an alarm system, but I didn’t set it because I was at home,” Johnsen said.
The sense of violation the Johnsens felt prompted them to improve their alarm system and “we now routinely check to make sure all windows are locked,” said wife June Johnsen.
The crime also prompted Les Johnsen to stop jogging.
The Johnsens were one of 735 burglaries that were committed in Fairfield last year, a number that has steadily increased since 2011, according to Fairfield Police Department statistics. Neighboring cities have shown similar rises in this common property crime.
One good way to keep burglars out of your house to make it look like you are home, Fairfield Police Department Crime Prevention Officer Jeff Conner said.
Conner finds its ironic that at neighborhood watch meetings, a majority of people raise their hands when he asks how many people don’t answer the door when a solicitor comes by their house. Sometimes that solicitor is really a burglar, checking to see if anyone is home.
“When people remain silent in their homes, a half-hour later, they have someone come in through a back window or look in through a window and that causes a lot more problems,” Conner said.
Vacaville Crime Prevention Officer Gretchen Ash further said that all solicitors selling goods or services in that town must have a permit issued by the police.
“Be wary of anyone who knocks on your door asking for a nonexistent person,” Ash said. “Call the police immediately. They could be casing the area.”
Making eye contact and simply saying hello to anyone coming into your neighborhood helps, since potential burglars done like being noticed, Ash said. Calling on any suspicious activity gives police officers probable cause to stop that person, Ash said.
“You have to make sure your home looks occupied,” Conner said. “You can just answer through the door that you are busy or that they can leave their card and you will get back to them.”
Most burglars don’t want any kind of obstacle in their way, whether it’s an alarm, a light, a dog or anything else that may complicate what could be quick in-and-out crime.
Conner recommends that homeowners look over their house like a burglar would, looking for those dark spots without any light, trees with low canopies that conceal a house from the street or those overgrown bushes that give a criminal cover while breaking in.
“Lighting. I can’t talk enough about lighting, especially sensor lighting,” Conner said. “If an area is dark and suddenly a light comes on, that can do a lot (to dissuade a possible burglar). If I see a light go on, I poke my head out and see what it is.”
Ensure that newspapers are collected and bring in trash toters – every little bit helps. A video surveillance system doesn’t hurt, either.
The majority of crimes are crimes of opportunity, Conner said.
“You want to slow them down as much as possible. Look at your locks. Do you have an alarm system set?” Conner said. “There is a lot of technology out there, such as cameras that can detect motion and they can even email you on your smartphone when they are set off.”
“Lock your doors and windows when you are not at home,” Ash said. “Many times, a back door or window is simply left open and the burglar walks right in.”
Ash further recommends never hiding a key outside the house, since “the bad guys know all the hiding spots.” She recommends leaving one with a trusted neighbor instead.
“The key is not to rely on just one thing,” Conner said. “If so, you are setting yourself up to fail. Do things in conjunction with other precautions.”
Another important ingredient is to find out if your neighborhood has a neighborhood watch program. If it does, get involved with it, Conner said. Fairfield has more than 80 active neighborhood watch groups that meet at least once a year and that the Police Department supports.
“Who better than you neighbor to help you watch your home?” Conner said.
The neighborhood watches, in turn work, with police to keep their neighborhoods safe, he said.
Conner recommends that homeowners write down and keep on file the serial numbers on any valuables that might be taken such as televisions, computers and iPads – just in case they become victims.
“It is a better chance for them to be recovered,” Conner said.
Burglaries, like most crimes, are cyclical. Property crimes such as burglaries have risen recently. Conner said one of the contributing factors is the recent release of prisoners from state prison, “and it is affecting all of the cities in this state.”
“It is up to the local police to handle that and we have not gotten the funding we need to deal with that,” Conner said.
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.