You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 5:57 a.m.

Fight the spike in home invasions: Lock your doors

By Rich Kinsey

Late summer and early fall are wonderful times to be a thief around Ann Arbor. The summer sublets are careless as they move out. The returning students moving in create plenty of confusion, and everyone is in a festive spirit.

Students glad to be back in school and away from parents, some for the first time, are ready to party before they get bogged down in pesky schoolwork. Parties lead to bigger parties, and big parties mean plenty of unlocked doors and revelers sleeping very soundly after the parties. It can be a target rich environment for a crook.


Muskegon Chronicle file photo

Members of the Ann Arbor Police Department and their brothers and sisters at University of Michigan Police Department know the drill because they have been through it so many times. Trusting students leave doors unlocked, valuables unattended and are unaware of the possible dangers in a college town. Students can be easy targets for those who are criminally inclined.

For the past 10 years or so the city and college police departments in the area work together to try to educate students about crime prevention and safety. Crime prevention and safety can be great life lessons a student can take with them long after leaving college for the “real world.”

Pamphlets are placed in “Welcome Packets.” Flyers are pinned to bulletin boards. Resident advisers in dorms give a short spiel. Warnings are email blasted. Local media outlets are contacted to spread the word.

I once convinced former Ann Arbor Police Chief Dan Oates to fly a banner around The Big House before several games — it was cheaper than you might think and let’s face it we all look up at the banners. My hope was that students scanning the skies for happy hour specials or witty provocative slogans from “adult entertainment” establishments might see the message to lock their doors.

Students, however, do not have a monopoly on leaving doors unlocked. There are many citizens who leave their doors unlocked. Some citizens simply will not lock doors, because they do not think they should have to.

If you think I am overstating this, I am not. Last year when I attended neighborhood meetings, while working for Crime Stoppers, I listened to police officers begging the neighbors attending to lock their doors and report suspicious activity to the police as it was happening. Invariably a citizen would get up and comment that they never locked their door growing up, still do not and felt they should not have to lock their doors.

Well I don’t think I should pay $4 for a gallon of gas. I wish I did not have to take my shoes off at the airport to get on a plane. I want to pay a nickel for a candy bar just like I did as a kid. Tough luck, Rich. We all pay four bucks a gallon or we do not drive. We wear easily slipped off shoes and socks without holes if we want to fly. We should not be eating candy bars anyway, so it is probably good they are not still a nickel—especially Almond Joys or Twix in my case. The fact of the matter is time marches on, the world changes and we must adapt.

I certainly wish we lived in a society that we did not have to lock our doors, watch our valuables and be wary of criminal predators, but we do not. It is really up to all of us to take the responsibility to safeguard our loved ones, ourselves, our neighbors and our valuables. Lock it up, don't leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbors.

Lock your doors and windows where you live. Lock your car, bicycles and anything else of value that can be stolen.

Don’t leave jewelry, cash, purses, briefcases, laptop computers, smartphones or any other valuables unattended. Keep those items with you or ask someone you trust — that is not the stranger at the next table, but a trusted friend or family — to watch your valuables if you cannot.

Be aware of your surroundings and, more importantly, the people around you. It is your right as an American to walk freely anytime and anywhere open to the public. However there are places, times of the day or night and circumstances that make it potentially dangerous for you — even though it is your right — to walk alone or even in small groups.

Use the instincts we were given from back when our ancestors worried about being eaten by saber-toothed tigers. If you are nervous or anxious about being somewhere or being in certain circumstances — trust your instincts! Do something to avoid or remove yourself from dangerous situations.

“Watch out for your neighbors” has a double meaning as some of you have figured out.

First and foremost, look out and protect your neighbors so they do not become victims of criminal predators. If you see something suspicious in your neighborhood call 911 and keep watching and reporting what you see.

It might be what you see is legitimate. More than likely if your instincts warn what you see is out of the ordinary and potentially a threat to a neighbor or their property you are correct. Trust your instincts, call the police at 911 and let the cops investigate to confirm or deny your suspicions.

The secondary meaning of watching your neighbors is to remind you that just because someone lives in close proximity to you does not make them a “good” neighbor or someone worthy of your trust.

Neighbors who become trusted neighbors and even friends are worth their weight in gold. Those neighbors “have your back” as you should theirs, but remember trust is built one day at a time and over a long period.

Be careful who you allow into your circle of trust, but always strive to be the neighbor a neighbor would want to have.

Rich Kinsey is a retired Ann Arbor police detective sergeant who now blogs about crime and safety for



Thu, Nov 1, 2012 : 11:56 a.m.

So simple, so simple. Lock your @#$! up. Isnt that why they include them. Kinda like every car comes with turn signals, USE EM AND YOU WONT BE A VICTIM! The way things are looking we are due for an influx in the lazy folk (camp take notice, ypsi resdidents) taking from the ones who fight the daily grind to afford possesions. Come on seriously you look pretty stupid in your house making a police report and telling the cop " well my door, window was unlocked......)


Sat, Sep 22, 2012 : 11:19 a.m.

Great idea to lock doors and windows. Another commenter mentioned though, that locked doors and windows are really only superficial and used to keep generally honest people honest. The best way to handle this spate of B&Es is to keep the perps behind bars in the first place. Washtenaw County has a revolving door justice system, which allows the hard-core guys back on the street within hours after arrest. My guess is that if you could keep the top 15% of repeat B&E offenders in jail 80% of Ann Arbor's home invasion problem would go away -- whether or not the doors and windows were locked. I think Ann Arborites would rather talk about locking doors and windows than address the real problem. Washtenaw County in general and Ann Arbor in particular are weak on crime and the criminals know it. My opinion.


Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 10:10 p.m.

I've been trying to get my cats trained as attack cats, but they lack any motivation. My parents leave their house unlocked during the day when they are home. I keep trying to tell them to stop. Luckily they live in a safe neighborhood, but robberies still happen. I leave lights on at night. And I don't have a set bedtime schedule. Might help if thieves still think you are up. Also don't leave computers or anything important sitting out on a table or desk. If they can see it though the window it is more motivation for them to break in. Hide things.


Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 10:01 p.m.

I see you saw the second half of my post... Unfortunately, the way insurance companies handle claims drives people to divert police resources for property damage only accidents. I forgot to add that police also often provide traffic control, but depending on the situation, Fire & EMS can typically set themselves up to shunt some traffic by parking defensively, placing cones, and flares. For bad crashes, an escalated police response can be and is often requested by the first arriving Fire unit.


Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 10:06 p.m.

Sorry, I meant that to be a reply to Billy Bob Schwartz's first post. What will it take to get a police task force to address expedit responses and investigations of the increasing break ins and home invasions? A deterring message needs to be sent out that Ann Arbor isn't an easy target. The AAPD deserve to have those resources made available to protect our community, especially with the increases in crime driven by the economic climate.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 9:34 p.m.

When shopping, we put stuff in the trunk (in our case, in the back of the van with a black cloth over it) just before we drive away. It's a bad idea to put stuff there and then go off to another store on foot. People see what you put in there, and a thief with any experience can get into there in a blink of an eye and be gone. We always lock our house and our car. Let the jerks work for it if they want it. Of course, most thieves look for the easy house or car. I just prefer if that isn't ours.


Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 3:42 p.m.

In addition to locking your doors consider up-armoring them as well. Make sure the doors are metal or metal clad. Consider reinforcing the jamb and the lockset. At the very least replace all the screws in the hinges and especially the lock/jamb interface with 3" long ones. This last tips is VERY inexpensive and can be done by anyone with a screwdriver. Make it so they break something they care about before they break down your door.


Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 9:06 p.m.

I'm just going to dig a moat around my house, and hide in the basement.


Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 3:56 p.m.

...and then hear click-click BOOM! ;)


Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 3:41 p.m.

Continued from above: From my past experience as firefighter, I can tell you a majority of police calls to crashes are for reporting purposes, arresting purposes, and crash analysis in the case of fatalities. Police response usually lags fire and EMS unless there is a combative or drunk patient or it is known to be "unsecured" meaning there is the threat of violence or weapons, but those are already high priority police calls. I never seen a police officer here give medical care unless they were also experienced as EMS, Fire, or medical staff, but in their defense, they are not equipped to do so either - Fire and EMS are. Aside from the symantics regarding response priorities, this clearly demonstrates the understaffing issues of our police department. Despite the efforts of AAPD to step up response to home invasions and break ins, especially in targeted areas like ours, here is a clear example of a lack of manpower. This is NOT a rant against the police department. This is an outcry at those who think our police and fire departments are overstaffed. There are obviously organizational considerations that could be considered to help improve staff to response ratios as well, like utilizing reserve or on call staff, but regardless initiatives to improve staffing need to be there. (I was asked to post this here.)


Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 11:09 p.m.

Thanks for sharing your story, JK. I think my family and our neighbors have become much more aware of who is walking on our street, or knocking on our doors, since the increase in home invasions in A2. I also agree that our police department is understaffed, and the criminals know it. Recently, I was home with the kids, and I saw some guy walking, with a backpack, near my back property line early in the morning, looking at the back of homes. I got my camera, and took his picture...a very clear picture. A couple hours later, I noticed this same guy at the off-ramp of I-94 @ A2 Saline Road, begging for $$'s with a sign. I called A2PD, told them where the guy was, and that he was walking around several back yards, looking at the homes, and bonus - I had a pic of the guy. They also had other priorities that day, so he wasn't there when they went to go pick him up and question him as to why he was walking around where he had no business. A2PD did stop by my home to get a picture of the guy, and to keep an eye out for him over the next few days.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 9:28 p.m.

Well said. If you can't adequately staff emergency services, why have a government at all?


Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 3:39 p.m.

On Wed, Sep 19, 2012 at 7:22 PM,   Okay, folks. It's hit a little close to home, so please forgive the roughness. Around 4:30ish this afternoon a suspicious person claiming they were selling replacement windows from "Magic Window" came to the door of our home. My husband answered and closed the door on him when he determined he was acting suspicious. Within a few minutes he saw our neighbor chasing him down the street, and the suspicious person took off running when our neighbor called 911. Our neighbor was tipped off by the fact that he has very obviously brand new windows. 911 said they would send a car but it hasn't been dispatched yet almost two hours later. My husband got on his motorcycle and drove through the neighborhood shortly afterwards and found the same person going through another part of our neighborhood. He called 911 a little after 5. To add to this, our Neighborhood Watch Captain had contact with the same suspicious person around 4ish and confirmed he had no knowledge of windows. She said she would contact the non emergency number as soon as she could, as she is confident she could do a sketch of him. I just called to find out when the car was dispatched and it hasn't been yet, because there have "been a lot of crashes tonight." They are considered priority. But here is a potential predator wandering through our neighborhood, unchecked for almost three hours and a fender bender is greater priority. Wonderful.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 9:26 p.m.

Crashes on the expressway take precedence over most other things. Also, maybe someone is dying at the crash. Pretty important stuff. Glad you folks did what you did and came out all right. Scary and frustrating.


Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 1:11 p.m.

Locks and closed windows keep honest people from temptation. If a thief wants in they will break a window or pry open a door. Great advice Rich. I don't know how many times this has to be repeated before folks realize that there are people out there that will take your stuff and feel no guilt at all about it. Probably laugh at the fact the victim made it so easy.

Woman in Ypsilanti

Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 4:04 p.m.

Um no. Honest people don't need to have locked doors or closed windows. Of course it is good idea to lock one's doors but even if one doesn't, if something gets stolen, it is 100% the fault of the thieves.


Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 11:18 a.m.

Not locking your doors, just like leaving the keys in your car, is irresponsible. You should lock your car if it is parked outside or if it is in your garage and you have small children. Many yeas ago I was mowing my yard while the neighbor's children played in their car. One of them popped the emergency brake, and the car started moving down the driveway. Another child ran behind the car and put his hands up to stop it. Only my frantic screaming as I ran towards them caused him to move out of the way as the car rolled down the driveway and across the street, then up a lawn before coming back down to the street where I yanked the brake. In our neighborhood, every year people get laptops stolen from cars parked outside, often left unlocked. There is no excuse for stupidity.


Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 11:20 p.m.

Sometimes people forget to lock their cars because they've had a long day at work, or their child is crying, or they have to carry in a bunch of groceries. Sometimes people want to leave a window or door open rather than turn on the air conditioning. Sometimes children leave the doors unlocked. To call people such a person "stupid" is nothing but victim-blaming (not to mention mean-spirited and unfair). I don't know how many people in my neighborhood have a door or window unlocked right now because I am not a criminal. And it's the criminals who you should be calling stupid.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 9:21 p.m.

...and no dearth of it.


Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 11:11 a.m.

....."their brothers and sisters at University of Michigan Police Department".... The AA police have relatives working in the UM police department?


Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 10:24 a.m.

How about keeping criminals in prison?


Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 11:16 p.m.

The primary reason that prison populations grew so much in the 80s and 90s was the Drug War. End that, and you open up plenty of slots for actual criminals. It's a simple fact that there is a small but active group of citizens who commit crimes repeatedly no matter the penalty. I'm no fan of "Three Strikes" (particularly since those policies include non-crimes like marijuana cultivation), but what do you think of someone with 10 arrests? 15? 30? 50? If you check OTIS, you can see how many of the clowns featured on the crime pages of this blog have previous convictions. But OTIS, as I've argued before, is only the tip of the iceberg. The system, in my opinion, is simply too lenient with career criminals.


Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 4:37 p.m.

life imprisonment for a B&E? Wouldn't stand up to the Constitution.


Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 10:26 a.m.

That requires tax money, and just like complaining you don't have to lock your doors, people complain they shouldn't have to pay to keep people locked up (or to put another prison I their back yard). You can't have it both ways.