FOR many of us, our home is our castle – it’s where we make memories, where we raise our families and where we spend the majority of our time. But above all, it’s our sanctuary and place we should feel most safe.

When someone breaks into our home, or makes an attempt to break in, it can shatter that sense of safety, leaving us feeling vulnerable, scared and helpless. It’s heart-breaking to see, but many burglary victims may never feel truly safe in their homes again.

This is why I am making this plea to you, as a neighbourhood inspector – as the days get shorter and the nights get darker, please make sure you do everything you can to protect your home from burglars.

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My officers are working hard to catch these cowardly criminals who break into people’s homes to steal their property, and we have made arrests and charged a number of suspects over recent weeks.

However, we need you to do your bit to protect yourselves from becoming a victim of crime. This becomes especially important as the days get shorter and the nights draw in.

Most break-ins are committed by opportunistic thieves who will search a neighbourhood for homes that look empty or dark, or those with open windows and unlocked doors. But by taking a few simple steps you can make a huge difference in protecting your home from being burgled.

The first and possibly easiest thing to protect yourselves from would-be thieves is to make sure to lock all your doors before you leave the house or go to bed. It may sound straightforward but I am amazed at the number of people who forget to take the most simple of steps to protect their home, their families and their beloved possessions.

The same goes for any garages or sheds – these are often overlooked and not checked during the winter months as the garden chores take a backseat when the weather gets cold. However, I’d urge you to be extra vigilant and check your shed’s security regularly to ensure your valuables are safe.

In Darlington, we have received funding from Safer Homes for a number of shed alarms, which are available to anyone who believes their shed to be at risk. If you’d like one, please contact Sergeant Mark Ralphs on 101.

Keys to cars and houses should be kept out of view of any potential burglar – do not leave them on stairs, tables, hooks or in the back of doors where they can potentially be reached.

It’s also advisable to fit security lighting around the perimeter of your property and to use alarm systems if you have them fitted.

IF you own bicycles, please do not leave them left on cycle racks on cars overnight – this may sound obvious, but we have recently had a number of thefts of bikes from situations like this.

Make sure they are locked away in a secure shed or garage and, if possible, secured to the floor or walls to make them almost impossible to steal.

Vehicles should also be locked and valuables removed when leaving them unattended. Sadly, we are still experiencing a number of vehicles being broken into and various items stolen, from sat navs and dashcams, to laptops, handbags and sunglasses, to name a few. Again, please make sure you ensure your vehicles are locked and secure, and remove all valuable items when leaving the car alone.

By taking these simple and straightforward steps, you can help to secure your property against would-be thieves this winter.

l If you would like any security advice, please contact Darlington Neighbourhood Police Team on 101 and ask for a security survey. As always, please remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to us on 101.