Columbia police offer tips for avoiding home burglaries

Tuesday, December 20, 2011 | 8:14 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Chris Mangano wants his gun back. It was a 7.7 mm Arisaka sniper rifle that used to belong to his grandfather, a World War II veteran.

But the gun has been gone since a burglary at Mangano's home during the Thanksgiving holiday. The thief also took his television, some cash, clothes and the coin collection he prepared for his son as a Christmas gift.

“I have lived all over the states, and I travel a lot," Mangano said. "This was my first time being burglarized.”

Mangano, who left Columbia after attending MU but has now lived in the city for the past year, thinks burglaries during the holidays are a serious problem in Columbia. He told the Columbia City Council during the public comment portion of its regular meeting Monday night that he wants to create a dialogue about how to solve it.

There were 25 residential burglaries from Nov. 19 to 27 in the city, according to Columbia Police Department crime statistics. That compares with 24 such burglaries during last year's Thanksgiving break. However, during the Christmas season from Dec. 18, 2010, to Jan. 3, 2011, there were 35 home burglaries reported. As Christmas approaches again, residents who plan to go away on vacation should pay attention to property safety issues.

City Manager Mike Matthes addressed Mangano's comments toward the end of the council meeting.

"Believe it or not — it's hard to say this — crime rates are dropping, (although) for victims, it doesn't feel like that," Matthes said. "... We should mention that the best prevention steps we can take is when we remind folks on holidays of things they can do to keep their home safe."

The Police Department provides several tips on how to prevent burglary on its website. There are common suggestions, such as locking doors and windows securely, turning on lights, leaving radios and televisions on, and pulling up shades and blinds to pretend someone is home.

One important tip that people can use to reduce the risk of burglary is to avoid leaving clues that they are are on a trip. People shouldn't leave messages on telephone answering machines telling others they are out. Based on the popularity of social networking websites, people also might want to think twice before publicly updating their holiday plans on Facebook.

“We notice such problems in other cities and from national news," Police Department spokeswoman Sgt. Jill Schlude said. "It is becoming a problem. Since Columbia is a small community, it is not hard to figure out where people live.”

When people leave town for the holidays, they might “check in” at another city on Facebook or other social networking websites. This gives thieves great chances to spot potential targets.

Schlude’s advice: “Caution about who are your friends on Facebook.”

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