MILLTOWN, NJ - With recent local burglaries like those in the Merrill Avenue area as well as other high-profile ones around New Jersey and nearby New York making headlines, residents may be thinking about ways to keep their homes safe.

Lieutenant Chris Johnson of the Milltown Police Department is currently investigating a daytime burglary that occurred in the area of Harkins Road and Washington Avenue on January 14. The suspect or suspects gained entry into the home by forcing open a door in the back of the house. On December 11 a break in happened on South Wilson Avenue. In that incident, access to the home was obtained by breaking a window in the rear of the house.

While Lt. Johnson was not able to comment on any ongoing investigations in Milltown, he did offer some suggestions to residents on ways to protect themselves from home robberies.

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The first and most important tip Johnson spoke about was installing an alarm system.

“Get an alarm system and use it,” Johnson said during a telephone interview. “There are many types of alarm systems on the market that suit a variety of budgets.”

Johnson also stressed that residences with an alarm system should utilize them even when at home. Many homeowners with systems only turn them on when they are out of the house or away on vacation. Johnson explained that when an alarm is activated the police are notified immediately and can have officers on the premises within minutes. He also noted that Milltown has never had “a successful robbery” in a home with an active alarm system.

Another simple safeguard is to turn on exterior lights in the evening. Many homeowners have them, but shut them off upon heading up to sleep. Johnson emphasized the importance of leaving them on all night to ward off potential intruders since they are more likely to target a dark home than a well-illuminated one.

“Trim bushes and shrubs in front of your home,” Johnson said when asked for another home protection tip. “They give people a place to hide when police cars drive by.”

Johnson’s final tip involved keeping your home from appearing as if it is vacant. Residents should never let mail or newspapers pile up in the mailbox or in the front of the home. That along with leaflets on the driveway and porch can be used by potential burglars as signs that people are away.

“Stop your mail and newspapers if you are going away for any length of time,” Johnson said. “Or have someone you trust pick them up for you.”

Johnson also explained the Do Not Drop List that many communities have including Milltown. This list applies to solicitors that place leaflets and other unsolicited advertisements on driveways and porches. Since homeowners don’t have any control over when these distributions happen, it’s important to stop them before they occur because if they happen when you’re on vacation it may tip off the wrong person that the home is empty.

The Do Not Drop List works like the Don't Call List. If your home is on the list, leaflets and other paper advertisements can't be left on your property.

Unfortunately, when a house is robbed, thieves go straight for the upstairs dressers that often contain jewelry. Since time is of the essence, they take everything instead of picking through for the valuable pieces.

Johnson recommended not only locking up expensive heirlooms and jewelry in a safe, but also taking photographs of them in case they are taken.

Photographs of these items can be extremely useful to investigators when they are canvassing pawn shops in search of the stolen property.

Johnson also spoke about hidden safes, which blend into the home and are not obvious to the naked eye. According to the Chicago Crime Commission, intruders spend about eight minutes inside a victim’s home. Making money and valuables difficult to find offers some level of protection as well.

Hidden safes include ones that can be installed inside an air vent, a wall socket and even a head of lettuce.

With these simple tips in hand, residents can put some or all into practice to make their home feel a little safer as well as offer peace of mind.