Exactly one year ago, the carjacking murder of Pam Basu -- dragged to death through her Howard County community -- shocked people in presumably safe neighborhoods out of complacency. If Mrs. Basu could be attacked in her own driveway in an upscale, presumably safe area, then everyone was vulnerable.
In case time had begun to dim the lesson of the Basu tragedy and make suburban residents feel comfortable again, a recent series of violent crimes through the Baltimore-Washington corridor, in Severna Park, Roland Park, Potomac, Pikesville, Bowie and Bethesda, emphasizes once more that people need to be prepared and cautious -- no matter where they live.
At a meeting of the Greater Severna Park Council this week, residents seemed scared to death and were eager to know what they can do to protect themselves from crimes that have been plaguing homes and businesses. Since early last month, they've been terrorized by a cat burglar in the Round Bay community, who breaks in at night while people are asleep; by armed robberies of a bank and three restaurants by thieves disguised behind presidential masks, and by dozens of "smash-and-grab" burglaries of local businesses.
What can residents and businesses do to protect themselves? The following tips, offered by Capt. Thomas Shanahan of the Anne Arundel Police Department to Severna Park residents the other night, apply to residents everywhere:
* If you hear someone in your house, don't keep quiet and hope the intruder will leave. Turn on the lights or alarm system and dial 911 -- anything to create noise and attract attention. The idea is to scare off the burglar. Stay on the phone talking until police arrive. And don't chase the criminal; it's too dangerous.
* Leave lights on all night or buy motion-activated spotlights. Ask police for a free home security survey.
* Use common sense. Be alert to anything unusual in your community, like a strange van driving up and down. Don't leave expensive items on your front lawn.
Finally, resist the temptation to grow complacent once a crime wave passes, as it almost always does. Nothing makes us more vulnerable than a false sense of security.