Don't make it easy for thieves, cops urge

If Lavonne Nicolai arrives at your home or business, it's too late. A burglar already has victimized you.

Nicolai is a community service officer for the Modesto Police Department. For the past 11 years, she has answered burglary calls and written reports.

Nicolai wants residents and business owners to make it hard for burglars to steal their property. In most cases, however, victims didn't realize how vulnerable they were. Now, they want justice.

"They are upset," Nicolai said. "They want blood. They want someone's head on a platter."

She said a lot of victims expect Nicolai to show up with a fluorescent light to find a tiny spot of DNA evidence and catch the culprit. After all, that's what they do on popular television crime dramas such as "CSI."

Instead, she arrives with her reliable fingerprinting tool kit. She dusts for fingerprints, writes down every detail of the crime and asks for an inventory of the items stolen. The information is then handed to burglary detectives and crime analysts.

There is something else Nicolai and other community service officers can do for you. They can walk through your home and business or inspect your vehicle for vulnerable spots.

"It will take about 15 minutes after my report is done, that's all," Nicolai said.

Awareness and proactive work is the key to thwarting thieves for Modesto police crime prevention officers Rosie Fabela and Bronda Smith.

"We need to take the precautions to safeguard your house," said Fabela, one of four crime prevention officers who coordinate 684 Neighborhood Watch groups in Modesto with 13,000 members.

Without taking these precautions, Fabela said "you're just asking for it. Don't wait to be a victim."

Precautions such as making sure you have a solid-core front door that can't be kicked in, becoming a visible resident by spending some time in the front yard and getting to know your neighbors.

Neighborhood Watch programs help neighbors share information about crimes in the area and stay vigilant over each other's property when nobody's home. Fabela and her colleagues warn watch groups of crime trends in their neighborhoods.

That can make the difference in police responding to a burglary in progress or a theft that took place hours before.

Each time a home is burglarized, Modesto police send a letter with help on how to team up with neighbors or join an established Neighborhood Watch program.

"This year is the 35th anniversary of Neighborhood Watch and it's the longest-running crime prevention program in the country," Smith said. "The reason it's been around so long is because it works."

Residents also need to be aware of their vehicles.

Burglars like to target store parking lots, particularly around the holidays when shoppers leave gifts in the car, said Sgt. Craig Gundlach, a Modesto police spokesman.

School sporting events, parks and gym parking lots also are popular spots for thieves, because many people leave purses or wallets in their car when they work out.

For Angela Rutter and her boyfriend, Shawn South, it was too late to take any precautions.

Someone smashed a side window on their Jeep Cherokee and stole an iPod, a Pioneer car stereo with a detachable faceplate, a portable global positioning system and a 60-pound customized speaker box.

Except for the speaker box, the stolen items were designed so they can be removed when nobody is in the vehicle. To add insult to injury, their north Modesto apartment complex has a gate that's always left open overnight, the couple said.

They didn't have a car alarm and they left valuable items in sight. Rutter said they never had been burglarized, and didn't think it could happen to them.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or 578-2394.

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