By Hilary Butschek

Local police will check on empty homes this summer to ease vacationers’ worries.

House-check programs are a free service provided to citizens by police in which officers periodically check homes for suspicious activity while residents are away.

While the Atlanta Police Department does not offer the service, other local departments do, including the ones in Sandy Springs and Dunwoody. And Brookhaven Police Chief Gary Yandura said he plans to start a house-check program in that city once his officers hit the streets this summer.

The use of the house-check programs increases over the summer and especially on holidays, said Larry Jacobs, the crime preventions specialist for the Sandy Springs Police Department.

Sandy Springs police are usually checking on 40 to 50 houses each week in the summer, a number that can double on holidays, Jacobs said. Dunwoody police check anywhere from 30 to 50 homes at any one time during the holiday season, Tim Fecht, the community outreach officer for the Dunwoody Police Department, said.

Although these checkups cannot guarantee total safety, Fecht said the programs, like a lot of police work, are beneficial because they are proactive.

“One of the great things about it is that you’re not only bringing the officers and the volunteers to your house, but also in your neighborhood,” Jacobs said.

Dunwoody police doing house checks have caught potential “weak points” in houses in the past, Fecht said. “It has happened several times where we’ve found a door unlocked and we call the homeowner, and they’ll say ‘Oh, I forgot,’” Fecht said.

Fecht said he cannot remember a house being broken into while on the house-watch program. “It adds another layer of security and comfort,” Fecht said, “and it’s someone you can trust, so if something were to happen, be it natural disaster or criminal, we will be there.”

Residents of Sandy Springs can sign up for the out-of-town house-check program on the police department’s website. Residents fill out a form, providing information such as the dates they will be away, what types of cars are expected to be at the home, alarm system information and emergency contacts. Officers check the houses each day as time permits.

Jacobs said: “911 calls are their first priority, but in between answering 911 calls, we ask that they check out these areas. They look for anything suspicious, like a door kicked in or a smashed window.”

When officers are busy, volunteers who have gone through a police training program check on the houses. Both officers and volunteers contact homeowners if they see anything amiss.

Dunwoody offers a similar service. Residents can sign up through its neighborhood alerts system, known as Interactive Defense.

“We do a perimeter check,” Fecht said. “We walk around and make sure all the doors and windows are secure, and everything looks good.”

Dunwoody police then communicate to the absent homeowner whether or not they discover anything out of the ordinary, Fecht said.

“The officer can leave a note digitally on the web saying everything looks secure, and the homeowner can choose to receive that message as a text or an email,” Fecht said.

Want police officers to check on your home while you’re away? Here’s how to contact them to request the service.

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