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Stopping home invasions: Police provide tips on keeping intruders out

WEST DEER: After a home invasion in New Kensington on Monday evening, Wednesday’s forum on preventing the increasingly common crimes was a timely event.

Several dozen people, a majority of them senior citizens, attended the home invasion prevention program Wednesday evening at Deer Lakes Senior High School.

On hand were law enforcement officials from West Deer police, the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI, as well as representatives from the Alle-Kiski Health Foundation and Allegheny Power.

All offered tips on lowering the risk of a home invasion, as well as what to do when victimized.

The prevailing advice was to be aware of what’s happening in the neighborhood, don’t open the door to strangers and never hesitate to call police.

“When you see something that normally isn’t there, don’t wait to tell your neighbor the next day,” advised West Deer Police Chief Jon Lape. “Don’t call the police five days later.

“Don’t be ashamed to call the police.”

Stacy Haines, representing the county sheriff’s office, agreed.

“We would rather be there ahead of time in a preventative way than come back later and interview you as a victim,” she said.

Haines provided the crowd with a checklist of suggestions.

Many dealt with what to do when a stranger comes to the door. Above all, she said to always look before opening the door and make the person verify his identification.

She encouraged the audience to call the visitor’s company to verify why they’re there.

“Even if it takes 10 to 15 minutes, they’ll stand there if they’re legitimate,” she said. “If they leave, then you know to hang up and call police.”

Several people asked what to do if they call a utility company and get entangled in an automated answering service.

Lape said to hang up and call police, who often have more direct phone numbers for utility companies. Meanwhile, an officer can be dispatched to the house to check the situation.

Another suggestion was to keep home exteriors well lit, yards uncluttered and landscaping well pruned.

“Thieves want to take the easy way,” Haines said. “Don’t make it easy. Don’t give them a place to hide.”

Lape said if requested, township police will help residents identify security risks in and around their homes.

Haines also suggested having a planned “safe” room and escape route ready in an emergency.

Remaining as calm and observant as possible during a break-in also can help police identify and prosecute suspects.

Many attendees questioned whether they should use a weapon if threatened, and several said they had a gun ready if an intruder entered their home.

Lape warned residents to be cautious in using force, as they could be charged if they can’t prove the intruder physically threatened them.

“It’s your judgment call,” Haines said. “You have to go with your gut instinct.”

She said if possible, it’s better to escape and get help than confront an intruder.

Police also said although senior citizens are frequent targets of home invasions, they aren’t alone.

Monday evening a man entered a Third Avenue home in New Kensington and bound the 18-year-old resident with duct tape while he ransacked the house.

“More younger people should have been here,” said Sara Massalsky of West Deer after Wednesday’s program. “They’re more careless. They feel nothing can happen to them.”

“I’m shocked more people didn’t come, especially after the incident earlier this week,” said Lower Burrell resident Cindy Kost. “It’s a very timely program.”

Massalsky said the tips were helpful, and she was happy to hear police advise her to call them if she can’t get through to a utility company.

“It’s happened before where I couldn’t get a person at the electric company,” Massalsky said. “I would bypass them totally and just call the police.”

Additional Information:

How to protect yourself

Police provided these suggestions for minimizing your risk of home invasions:

  • Keep your front and garage doors closed and locked, even when you’re home.

  • Never open the door without first looking outside and asking a visitor to identify himself. Verify the identification of utility workers and delivery people by looking for company vehicles, asking to see name tags and, if necessary, calling the company.

  • Keep a telephone handy in your home. If possible, carry a cordless or cellular phone when answering the door.

  • Install dead bolts and peep holes on your doors.

  • Eliminate places for a thief to hide around your house. Keep your yard well illuminated at night, and avoid growing trees and bushes large enough to block the sightline to your doors and windows.

  • Pay attention to unusual or frequent visitors and vehicles in your neighborhood. If you question someone’s actions, also call the police.


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