For some, it’s common knowledge. For others, it may be one of the best kept secrets of law enforcement.
It is a free public service offered by most Middle Georgia law enforcement agencies in which residents may sign up for patrol officers to check their homes while those residents are out of town.
Although most agencies have offered house watch or security check programs for years, some residents may not be aware of them because of the influx of people in and out of communities over the years, police said. Also, some agencies may not advertise the programs enough — taking it for granted or assuming that everyone already knows.
The Warner Robins Police Department posts the information about its house watch program on its Web site.
“If they’re taking a short trip out of town, it’s beneficial to have an extra pair of eyes on the residence,” said Tabitha Pugh, public information officer for Warner Robins police.
The Bibb County Sheriff’s Office gets the word out through its Neighborhood Watch programs, Bibb County sheriff’s Lt. Sean DeFoe said.
“If you go on vacation, that feeling of comfort of knowing your home is watched over ... it’s priceless,” said DeFoe, who uses the service himself.
The neighborhood as a whole also benefits from someone participating in the program, law enforcement officers said.
“It puts a police presence in the whole area while you’re out of town,” Twiggs County sheriff’s Chief Deputy Billy Boney said. For example, Boney noted, “Say a burglar is scoping out your home, he’s going to think twice.”
To sign up, most agencies have residents call or come in and fill out a form. Some go through 911 centers.
Similar information is requested: how long out of town, emergency contacts, pets at home, names of people expected on your property while away such as pet sitters, a lawn maintenance worker or family member checking the home, vehicles that should be parked on the property and whether any exterior or interior lights should be on while the homeowner is away.
Emergency contacts are important, noted Macon police public information officer Jami Gaudet, in case police discover a problem.
Perry police Capt. Bill Phelps suggested leaving a key with an emergency contact in case there is a problem.
Some agencies have time limits, such as Warner Robins police. A homeowner must be gone a minimum of three days but no more than two weeks in order to participate in the program, according to Pugh and the agency’s Web site.
The frequency of checks is most often dependent on manpower and call volumes, police said.
Several agencies strive to get by daily, with some stopping by in the day and in the evening. Checks are random.
“If you set a pattern, you are defeating the purpose,” noted Peach County Sheriff Terry Deese.
Some agencies go the extra mile, such as Warner Robins police, who may walk around the back of the home when there’s access to the backyard and as time and manpower permits, Pugh said.
Forsyth Police Chief Keith Corley noted that checks are made on both the day and night shifts.
“We get out, walk around and check the doors to make sure they’re locked,” he said.
On a case-by-case basis, the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office may extend the courtesy, for example, to a single mom who’s just moved into a new neighborhood and may not feel secure yet, DeFoe said.
The sheriff’s office, and other agencies, also will send an officer to check out a suspicious person or vehicle in the area at the request of a resident at any time, DeFoe said.
Most agencies offer house checks because it benefits residents and because it promotes good community relations between the public and law enforcement, police said.
“It’s good public relations for the sheriff’s office for the public to know we’re out there looking over their property,” Boney said.
Houston County sheriff’s Capt. Robert West noted, “It’s to help protect their property.”
Fort Valley police Capt. Lawrence Spurgeon added, “It’s a smart move.”
For more information about such programs, contact your individual law enforcement agency.
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.