Home and Vehicle Safety

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While Palo Alto remains a very safe city, property crimes historically are always the most common.  Property crimes include residential burglaries and auto burglaries, where a suspect will break into your unoccupied home or parked car to steal your belongings.

To learn more about how to protect yourself from these types of crimes, expand the accordions below.

Solicitors / Strangers at Your Front Door

What To Do When a Stranger Comes to Your Front Door

Solicitors (or other strangers) coming to your front door can be an uncomfortable experience.  While more often than not they are not criminals and are merely trying to sell you something (though for-profit solicitation in Palo Alto requires a permit from the Police Department, which we very rarely issue - see below for more), they occasionally are residential burglars using the solicitation as a ruse simply to find out if your home is occupied or unoccupied.  Burglars do not desire confrontations or witnesses, so they are only interested in breaking into homes that are not occupied.  If they knock at the door or ring the doorbell and no one answers, that is a good sign that no one is home, and they may then try to break into your home.

The best way to prevent this from happening is to acknowledge you are home by talking to them through the front door without opening it.  This lets them know that the home is occupied.  You should never open your door to a person you are not expecting; service representatives, after all, should have appointments and not simply show up at your door with no prior warning.

Ask the person through the door what they need.  If they are trying to sell you something, tell them you are not interested.  If they continue to be persistent, even after you tell them to leave, let them know you'll be calling the police and then call our 24-hour dispatch center at (650) 329-2413.  If possible, provide a description of the person and direction of travel to help our officers locate them.

Legitimate Solicitors Must Have a Permit from the Police Department

Legitimate door-to-door for-profit solicitors must be in possession of a permit issued by the Palo Alto Police Department (see sample permit below), and they are required to show it to you upon demand (through a window or peephole; remember, we do not recommend opening your door to strangers).  Our Department issues very few such permits.  Should a solicitor come to your door and not be able to produce a permit upon demand, then call our 24-hour dispatch center at (650) 329-2413.  If possible, provide a description of the person and direction of travel to help our officers locate them.  Officers will verify if they have a valid permit or not; for-profit solicitation without a permit can result in a misdemeanor citation for violating the Palo Alto Municipal Code.

Rectangular permit with City of Palo Alto seal and a red-stamped permit number

Tips for Keeping Your Home Secure

Here are some tips that can help keep your home more secure, which may prevent you from becoming a victim of residential burglary.  Residential burglary is a crime of opportunity; the more you can to fortify your home and prevent it from looking like an easy target to a burglar, you can reduce that opportunity.

General Tips

  • Always lock your doors, whether you are home or not.

  • Be alert to what is going on in your neighborhood.  If you see suspicious activity, promptly call our 24-hour dispatch center at (650) 329-2413 or 9-1-1 if it is an emergency.

  • Engrave valuable property with your phone number in case it is stolen.

  • Have good-quality photographs of valuable jewelry, art, and collectibles.

  • Keep a list of serial numbers for electronic items.

 

Security Recommendations

  • Doors: solid wood or metal; hinges on the inside; single-cylinder deadbolt with a minimum of 1" bolt; strike plate should be security-quality.

  • Windows: all windows have a working locking mechanism.

  • Gates: use steel padlock and hasp; keep gates locked at all times.

  • Lights: all doors should be well-lit, including backyards; consider motion-activated lighting on perimeter of home.

  • Landscaping: trim back from doors and windows for ease of visibility.

  • Alarms: consider installing a home alarm system.  For a more affordable option, put alarm system signs in your yard and alarm system stickers on your windows.  Burglars won't know if you actually have an alarm or not.  If you choose to install an alarm at your home or business, you will need to register that alarm with the Police Department and obtain an alarm permit to operate it.  For more information, visit the Alarm Permits page.

  • Security Cameras: consider installing security cameras at your home.  There are many affordable options these days, and installation can be as simple as screwing a battery-powered camera into a wall and connecting it to your home WiFi.  No matter what option you choose, ensure that you are able to download and share video footage easily in the event you want to provide it to law enforcement.

 

Doors and Locks

  • Change the locks when moving into a new residence.

  • Always lock your doors, whether you are home or not.

  • Install a wide-angle (180-degree) viewer installed in your front door.

  • Never hide a spare key outside.  Instead, keep it with a trusted neighbor.

  • If you come home to discover your home burglarized, do not enter and call 9-1-1 immediately.

 

Windows

  • Close and lock windows when not in use, and anytime you leave your home.

  • Close blinds and curtains after dark.

  • Secure sliding patio doors and ground-floor windows with a piece of wood (dowel) in the track.

  • Auxiliary locking devices can be used for added security.

  • Shrubs and vines should not conceal windows.

 

Exterior Appearance of Your Home:
Crime Prevention through Environmental Design

  • Route visitors by means of fences, walkways, and shrubs.

  • Plant thorny bushes around windows to make illegal more difficult; do not block fire escapes.

  • Trim shrubs and trees that could conceal a criminal.

  • Cut back large tree limbs that may allow burglars to climb into upstairs windows.

  • Use landscaping to provide maximum visibility to and from the house.

Vehicle Security Tips

Auto Burglary Prevention

  • When at home, if you have a garage, park your car in it.  Continue to lock your vehicle, even if it is in the garage.

  • Always lock your car doors.

  • Never leave valuables in your unattended car, even in the trunk.

  • Park in well-lit and busy areas.

  • Periodically, check your license plates to ensure they haven't been stolen or switched.

  • Consider purchasing an alarm or anti-theft device.

  • Stay alert and be observant when you are in public.  If you witness suspicious behavior, promptly call our 24-hour dispatch center at (650) 329-2413 or 9-1-1 if it is an emergency.