July 16, 2012

Behavior can make you vulnerable to crime

By PENNY CLUTE, Press-Republican

---- — Crime and intruders have been on my mind recently. 

The recent robberies of NBT Bank and Walgreens in Plattsburgh are very unusual here. It is rare that we have crimes of violence by strangers. Most often, crime is committed by people who know their victims and even say they love them. Child sexual abuse and domestic violence are what we typically see. Exceptions are thefts from our cars and homes. 

As I learned from a racoon in our camp last week, being alert and taking simple precautions can greatly reduce the likelihood of being victimized. First, the racoon used the cat door to come in; we closed it, and the next night he quickly saw that we left the kitchen window open, with a loose screen that he easily pushed out. A human with the same intention could just as easily gain access.


Our communities are not dangerous, but they are not crime-free. We feel safe in the North Country. However, sometimes our behavior makes us vulnerable. Drug abuse is everywhere and more common than we like to think. Some drug users steal whatever they can to buy drugs. An unlocked parked car is an easy mark, even if it is in your own driveway. People looking for money or items to sell try one car after another, going through any that are unlocked.

It does not take long for them to be successful, as many people keep valuables in their cars and then leave them unlocked. As judge, I learned about the missing property when someone was arrested for stealing it. A defendant caught going through someone’s car often also had stolen property from other vehicles. It might be change left in the console, a GPS unit or an iPod. I’ve also seen many cases where checkbooks were kept in the glove compartment and were stolen then the checks forged. Some people keep even more valuable items in their vehicles, like a passport or a handgun. When these are stolen, it has a huge impact.


Many people in our area never lock their homes. Because of where we live, we do not think about crime. But, it is here. Once you are victimized, your life really does not go back to normal. It is chilling to learn that someone has gone through your car or house. Your peace of mind and sense of security are taken, along with your property. Most thieves are opportunists, looking for an easy target. One of the best ways to avoid being victimized is to lock your car and your home. Burglars often go from house to house, checking for unlocked doors until they find them. Some studies report that about half of all burglars enter through unlocked doors and windows. 

There are other intruders too.  Every year in the City of Plattsburgh, where it is easy to walk from one place to another, City Court regularly has cases of people so drunk they unintentionally go in the wrong house. They think they are at a friend’s or are looking for a party, but mistake which house it is. The house is unlocked, so they go in and fall asleep on the couch or eat the food in the refrigerator. One family was awakened by the aroma of food cooking. Another found a strange man asleep in their son’s bed, next to the child, in a second-floor bedroom. Such an incident is heart-stopping for the innocent family.


The homeowner or tenant can have the person arrested for, at least, criminal trespass. If property is broken or stolen, there are additional charges. When these defendants come to court, they usually have no memory of the incident and are very embarrassed. For the victim, the arrest does not automatically restore their sense of well-being, however. It takes a long time to recover, even from an unintentional violation of privacy and security. 

Locking doors and windows can prevent many intentional and mistaken intrusions.

Other crime prevention tips for many types of crime can be found on the Internet and from your local police agency.

Penny Clute has been an attorney since 1973. She was the Clinton County district attorney from 1989 through 2001, then Plattsburgh City Court judge until she retired in January 2012.