Homeowners can beat anxiety, be prepared

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 6, 2008

NATCHEZ — Natchez has good reason to be on edge.

Five house burglaries and eight vehicle break-ins are serious business, local law enforcement personnel said.

And since perpetrators have walked into most of the homes while the owners were sleeping, the potential for tragedy is there.

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“Home invasion of an occupied dwelling is a very serious thing,” Police Chief Mike Mullins said. “We are working the investigation hard day and night.”

Mullins won’t reveal details that may jeopardize the case, but the past burglaries do outline some warning signs for those fearing they may be next.

All five house burglaries in approximately a month’s time have been between the hours of 1 and 4 a.m.

Four houses hit were downtown, on and around Orleans Street. The fifth was on Jeff Davis Boulevard.

Two of the homes had unlocked doors.

One door was pried open.

Another house was entered via breaking a window to gain entry to the door.

And in the most recent burglary, the keys to the house were stolen from an unlocked car in the driveway.

Standing in Jello

After the first set of burglaries, word spread quickly.

More occurred and nerves were raw.

Then, last week, the unthinkable happened when a man — nervous because of a break-in down the street — shot and killed his wife, thinking she was a burglar.

The fears are real and very normal, local psychologist Patricia Pintard said.

Home invasion is one of the most devastating things that can happen to a family, she said.

“It leaves such a sense of being ravaged,” she said. “You never turn the lock with the same sense of security.”

Home has an assumed level of safety and security, Pintard said, once that assumption is fractured the damage is serious. The effects of such violations in a town the size of Natchez are only magnified.

“Everyone knows everyone,” she said. “And when these types of things happen it puts everyone in an uneasy state.

“It’s like standing in a bowl of Jello.”

Taking control

Though it’s best to leave the police work to the experts, residents can do many things to better secure their property, Mullins said.

All doors should be locked, Mullins said, vehicles and houses.

Exterior lighting can deter criminals, and keeping valuables out of sight gives them no temptation.

Charles Woods, owner of Charles Woods Security in Natchez and a longtime law enforcement officer, said there are a few more easy steps a homeowner can take to ensure their home is secure.

“First thing, make sure trees or bushes are trimmed back from the house,” he said. “If there’s anything someone can hide behind, remove it. Also, you’ve got to have adequate lighting, including motion-detecting lights, around the property.”

Woods recommended having a full one-inch dead bolt on all exterior doors. He also said windows in or near doors are unsafe.

“If you have windows near a door, make sure you use a dead bolt that locks with a key from the inside and remove the key,” he said. “You don’t want someone breaking the window and reaching in and unlocking the door.”

Woods also suggested that homeowners have an alarm system and use it properly.

“An alarm can really help, but only if you use it,” he said. “Too many people turn it off when they’re home because they feel like they don’t need it.”

Woods said the same goes for using dogs as a security measure.

“Dogs can help, but only if you respond to the dog being upset or barking,” he said. “If you’re used to the dog barking at your neighbor all the time, it’s easy to ignore it when it might not be your neighbor.”

For business owners, Woods said the simplest thing to do to secure the property is to install burglar bars on the windows and doors.

“If a burglar sees that, nine times out of 10 they will try to find an easier target,” he said. “Businesses should also make sure they are having their alarm system monitored. Even if the phone lines to the business are cut in a break-in, the monitoring company will know the alarm system is down and dispatch the police.”

And if you suspect someone is in your home or business, call 911 immediately, Mullins said.

He does not advise that anyone try to intervene in a home invasion, but said everyone has the right by law to protect themselves.

Making good mental notes if a crime is in progress can greatly help police Mullins said.

“Physical description, license plate numbers can all help us,” he said.

But once a home has been invaded, especially while a resident is home, the damage is already done.

Pintard said she is confident it’s only a matter of time before she starts to see patients suffering from anxiety related to the break-ins.

“It unnerves people,” she said.