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Carol Ann Gregg/ Allied State police Trooper Ronald Kesten speaks to Mercer area residents at a crime prevention program Saturday at Mercer East End Fire Hall.

A couple dozen Mercer area residents came together in response to a number of home break-ins in the area to learn how to protect themselves and their neighborhoods.

Beverly Newton, a resident of East Lackawannock Township, decided to take a proactive approach and planned the public meeting, held Saturday at Mercer East End Fire Department’s hall.

Trooper Ronald Kesten, a community service officer with the Pennsylvania State Police from the Butler Barracks, discussed the measures people can take to make themselves, their families and their property safe.

“When I go out on my shift, safety is utmost on my mind. My main goal is to get home safely at the end of the shift,” Kesten said.

He pointed out the many tools that he has to keep him safe Ð pepper spray, baton, pistol and handcuffs Ð but said his ability to make good decisions is his most important tool.

“Handcuffs are not only for bad people but for good people who make bad decisions,” Kesten said.

Kesten encouraged the attendees to make good decisions regarding the safety of the family and homes.

“Lock your doors every time you leave your home Ð even if you are out in the yard,” he said. When people feel they live in a safe area they leave their doors unlocked. Kesten said residents can no longer leave their doors unlocked.

“A locked door is a deterrent. If you are home, it gives you time to leave by another door,” he said. “The locked door gives you reaction time.

“Lock your car,” he added.

He went on to explain that when there have been incidents in which items are taken from cars in a neighborhood, the cars that were left unlocked are the ones targeted. Those cars that were locked were not robbed.

“Women who live alone should never put their first name on their mail box. It is signal that there is a woman living alone there,” he said. “Don’t leave toys in the yard Ð that is a sure sign that children live there.”

He added that it’s best for women living alone to use a male friend to record their answering machine message, or use the automated voice that comes with many machines.

“Listen to your gut,” Kesten said. “If things don’t seem right, they probably aren’t. If you hear a noise at the neighbor’s, don’t ignore it. Be the best witness you can be Ð from a distance. Call 911 or the local police.”

Most importantly, “Look after each other,” he said. Police depend on citizens to notify them if something is wrong.

He also talked about how to be safe in a parking lot.

“Get your keys in your hand before you leave the store. Have your keys and your cell phone in your hands,” he said. “Walk with your head up; don’t be digging in your purse as you walk to your car. Looking up conveys a look of confidence. If someone approaches you that causes you concern, start a conversation on your cell phone: ‘I’m over here, do you see?’ You are indicating to someone who could consider doing you harm, that someone is watching.” he said. “When you are using eye contact, you can be a good witness.”

Attendees asked Kesten about having and using weapons for protection.

“If you have a gun, be prepared to use it,” he said. “Can you really shoot someone? Do you have the time to use the weapon or could it be used against you? Retreat if you can. It is always the better option.”

Further, he advised against women leaving their purses in their shopping carts. If the purse is stolen, the thief has their keys and home address.

One of the best security tools for a home is a dog, he added. Kesten further recommended installing outside lights, and encouraged everyone to put reflective house numbers at the end of their driveways so emergency personnel can find the house when needed.

If an incident does occur, one of the best things you can do is to be willing to show up as a witness; and if you aren’t a witness, show up anyway to support your neighbors, Kesten said.

While he can’t organize a Neighborhood Crime Watch for a neighborhood, Kesten encouraged the local citizens to get together to make their neighborhoods safer.

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