CITYWIDE Thieves and burglars seem to have no problem stealing and vandalizing holiday lawn displays this year. Not even the baby Jesus is sacred.

So it should come as no surprise that home burglaries are generally on the rise during the holiday season, a time when people leave their homes unattended while on extended vacations.

“During the holiday season there is usually a higher amount of property type crime,” said Sgt. Renaldi Thruston of the Santa Monica Police Department. “Thefts are on the rise because people forget to take basic precautions.”

While there has been a decline in overall home burglaries compared to 2007 (there have been 323 burglaries as of Dec. 1, a decline of 37 from last year), the SMPD is reminding residents to be vigilant, especially during these trying economic times.

The SMPD has many guides on their Web site on how to prevent a home burglary and they urge residents who will be gone this holiday season to take a good look at those tips.

“Most important is securing all your doors and windows,” Thruston said. “Stop your mail. That’s the first sign that no one’s home, when it starts to stack up. It’s going to be obvious that no one is there.”

To give the appearance that a home is occupied Thruston recommends purchasing and installing a light timer, which activates the lights to turn on and off throughout the day. Leaving a TV set on is another way to scare off thieves.

Thruston advises holiday travelers to move valuables out of sight so criminals have a harder time casing a house for potential items to steal.

“The number one cause [of robbery] is people leaving something visible inside of homes or vehicles,” Thruston said.

Thruston also recommends breaking down any boxes that indicate valuables within the house, such as a large flat screen TV box left in front of a house.

To assure residents they aren’t on their own, Thruston said SMPD officers will be out on the prowl for sneaky thieves.

“Our officers are on heightened alert. We have enough officers out in the field,” Thruston said. “They are more diligent when it comes to thefts and burglaries, they are more aware of the potential.”

Having an alarm system is another recommended way to protect homes and the valuables inside when on vacation.

“I would feel better if my family members had an alarm system. I don’t feel good if my alarm system isn’t working,” said Jack Podolski, owner of Mar Vista Security.

For those with a system already in place, Podolski advises periodic check-ups, which can be done by putting the system in test mode and opening a door or window. Also remembering to change the batteries on the panel is an important chore.

“If you haven’t changed your alarm battery in three years, replace it,” Podolski said. “It’s amazing how many people do not check their batteries.”

One of Podolski’s other suggestions is getting a panic button add-on to a home security system, which transmits a silent alarm to the local police.

“The best thing is to have a wireless panic button, it’s an add on, it’s worth it,” Podolski said. “Just to know that you have it, even if you use it once in a blue moon, it’s really worth it.”

It may seem like a lot of work to identify the weak points of a home and how to secure them, which is why the SMPD has a free service available to help asses at-risk homes.

At no cost, a crime prevention coordinator can visit homes and neighborhoods to conduct residential and business security surveys. They come prepared with a checklist that identifies vulnerabilities and they advise on how to secure them.

“Anything regarding crime prevention they are a part of,” Thruston said. “I recommend for anyone who is concerned about safety in their area to call and make arrangements to have a coordinator come out.”

In addition, the coordinators can help residents form neighborhood watches and hold meetings to discuss crime trends and other concerns.

The SMPD has, for the first time, issued a holiday safety brochure outlining many of their tips. It can be found on their Web site (www.santamonicapd.org/crimeprevention) as well as their community relations department at 333 Olympic Dr.

Last year, during the month of December, there were only 28 reported attempted and successful burglaries, an average number. Thruston said that burglars are opportunistic and it is up to the community to keep the numbers down and to make sure burglars don’t have any opportunities this holiday season.

“It’s a team effort, and if people will take the time to secure their residences and vehicles, and educate themselves on how not to be a victim the number can stay relatively low,” Thruston said. “We’re actually down 10 percent [in burglaries from last year], but that could easily change.”

news@smdp.com