Open door policy and Operation Liberal

South Yorkshire Police are involved in a new initiative designed to reduce doorstep crime.

Nearly a third (32%) of over-50s know their neighbours well and regularly socialise with them. Saga research shows that although the over-50s are much more cautious of the ‘knock and walk in’ culture in homes of yester-year, 7% still leave their doors unlocked to visitors, while a third choose to keep them locked at all times.

It appears the over-75s receive the most unexpected visits from salesmen, and one in six lets them in without ID.

So what better time than now for Operation Liberal – a campaign to raise awareness about bogus door-steppers!

Burglars who trick their way into houses and target the elderly and vulnerable are the targets of a national police campaign that starts on Friday 5 March 2010.

“Not Sure?… Don’t Open The Door” is the message at the heart of Operation Liberal’s public awareness campaign against distraction burglars.  The campaign, sponsored by the Energy Retail Association (ERA), aims to make people aware of the tactics used by distraction burglars and how they can prevent themselves from becoming potential victims.

A distraction burglary is defined as where one or more offenders trick or distract an occupant in order to gain entry to the premises before committing burglary. Deputy Chief Constable Peter Goodman, who is Association of Chief Police Officer’s Lead for Operation Liberal said:  “This type of crime is despicable; victims of distraction burglary can suffer terribly both emotionally and physically. When you consider the average age of a victim is 81-years-old, you can understand why many suffer a decline in health afterwards and why it can seriously affect their trust and faith in people afterwards.

“In 2009 between 1 Jan and 31 Dec there were 8,057 distraction burglary offences reported to police across England and Wales, which shows a 13% reduction compared with 9223 reported offences during 2008.This campaign aims to reduce the number of potential victims further still, ensuring the public are equipped with crime prevention advice. ”

All police forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland co-ordinate the investigation of distraction burglaries through Operation Liberal, which is a national unit that analyses intelligence and maintains a database of crimes, offenders, vehicles, forensic information and images. This collaborative approach solves more crimes and leads to heavier sentences for criminals.  Operation Liberal works with many partner agencies including the Home Office, Water UK, Trading Standards, Crimestoppers and the Energy Retail Association who represent Great Britain’s major electricity and gas suppliers.

As part of this new awareness campaign, 2,500 posters will be distributed across South Yorkshire warning elderly and vulnerable people to be aware of distraction burglars so that they can be ready to protect themselves if they are targeted.  Featuring four elderly models and depicting commonly used methods of distraction burglary, the posters will be placed at hearts of communities such as Post Offices, doctors’ surgeries, places of worship, community centres, bingo halls, charity shops, newsagents and hospitals.

SmartWater property marking kits are being distributed to residents across the county to help people get their property back should it be stolen, and in distributing these kits, officers are also able to give crime reduction advice to residents and advise them on how to spot a distraction burglar.

Chief Inspector Craig Robinson, South Yorkshire Police’s lead on distraction burglary said: “As well as the crime prevention and awareness campaign, South Yorkshire Police are also cracking down on the criminals in various local initiatives across the county. Covert operations have already been targeting distraction burglars, leading to a number of arrests so far, and linking the offenders to numbers of crimes each.

“We’ve also linked in with the Regional Roads Policing Team to tackle those offenders who travel across county borders. This national Operation Liberal gives us the opportunity to make a big impact on a crime which we know deeply affects victims in an emotional as well as financial way, and we want to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Crime prevention tips:

  • If you’re not sure who is at your door, don’t open it. Check the identity of the caller by calling the company they are purporting to be from i.e. Police, Council or Gas, Electricity, Water companies. Use the telephone numbers listed in your local directory or provided independently by your service provider. Do not use any telephone numbers provided by the caller, as they may be bogus.
  • Many utility service providers like gas, electricity and water, provide password schemes for customers, sign up to these. When unannounced callers claiming to be from these utility providers call at your door they should know the password if they are genuine.
  • ‘Water Boards’ no longer exist, it is an obsolete phrase used only by bogus callers.
  • Don’t keep large quantities of cash at home, put it in the bank where it is safe.
  • Keep doors locked and windows secure at all times.
  • Ensure that if you do let somebody in to your home, that you close the door behind them – distraction burglars often work in teams, where one will distract you whilst others sneak in through the insecure door.
  • If somebody asks for your help (i.e. needs to make a telephone call, lost a ball in your garden, needs a drink or pen and paper) refer them to a younger neighbour or assist them through a closed door or call a friend or neighbour to come and help.
  • If you suspect a bogus caller is at your door call the police immediately.

Energy Retail Association:

By calling the Home Heat Helpline free on 0800 33 66 99, elderly residents can ask about joining their energy supplier’s Priority Service Register, and sign up to the Password Scheme which will help households identify legitimate visitors from their energy supplier.

The Energy Retail Association works closely with government, charities and other organisations to ensure a co-ordinated approach to dealing with industry and consumer issues including tackling fuel poverty and protecting vulnerable customers, energy efficiency and ensuring good sales practice through the Energy Sure Code.

The Energy Retail Association (ERA), formed in 2003, represents the major electricity and gas suppliers in the domestic market in Great Britain. All the main energy suppliers operating in the residential market in Great Britain are members of the association – British Gas, EDF Energy, E.ON, Npower, Scottish Power, and Scottish and Southern Energy.

The Energy Sure Code of Practice is the industry’s way of helping consumer confidence at the doorstep. All the major energy suppliers in Britain have signed up to the Code, which exceeds the standards of consumer protection currently required by law and aims to promote consumer confidence.

The Home Heat Helpline is a free number – 0800 33 66 99 – providing vulnerable customers with a direct link to specialist teams at their energy supplier, who can deliver one or more of the following services:

  • The Priority Service Register which provides extra services for people who are elderly or disabled including bills in large text or Braille, security passwords and an annual gas safety check
  • Grants for free home insulation
  • Flexible payment options for customers in fuel debt
  • Benefits entitlement checks
  • The disconnection safety net is also in place to ensure that no vulnerable customer will be cut off even if they are unable to pay their bill.

The Home Heat Helpline is managed by the Energy Retail Association and paid for by contributions from Britain’s major energy suppliers.

For furter information about the Energy Retail Association visit www.energy-retail.org.uk

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