When the summer temperatures soar, it's hard not to keep those windows and doors unlocked and open to take advantage of the cool evening breezes.
But police say this behavior represents a major opportunity for criminals, who roam through neighborhoods looking for easy targets. Last month, for example, an elderly Huntington Beach woman was sexually assaulted by a serial rapist who enters beach-area homes through unlocked doors.
Statistics from the Newport Beach Police Department highlight the problem. Over the last eight months, 40 of the city's 99 residential burglaries occurred through unsecured windows, sliders, doors or garages.
Andrea Querry, a crime prevention specialist for Newport Beach, said that in two additional cases, house keys were left under the doormats and in a third, the suspect entered through a large dog door.
Burglaries and sexual assaults are usually crimes of opportunity, and leaving a window open can become an invitation for trouble, officials said. But if your home is simply too hot with windows shut, safety experts advise residents to install extra locks and leave their windows open no more than 4 inches.
Most police departments have crime-prevention specialists available to answer questions. Some even visit homes to take stock of what is needed to make them safer.
Suzie Wajda, community services specialist for Huntington Beach for 22 years, said she has been receiving calls from all over the county about the Huntington Beach sexual assault, with many people asking for security advice.
Some suggestions from police and the National Town Watch Assn:
* Get window locks that are opened with keys.
* Mount locks on the corners or sides of windows. These locks add security when the windows are partially open. Make sure family members can open the windows easily in case of an emergency.
* Consider window pins (inserting a pin or nail above a window so it can't be opened) or track fillers (such as a wooden pole placed into the track of the window).
* Invest in wrought-iron screen doors.
* Purchase an alarm system.
The last time Seal Beach Police Det. Marcia Gordon left her windows open was during the summer of 1985 when Richard Ramirez, the so-called "Night Stalker" serial killer, took advantage of the hot weather.
Ramirez entered homes across the Southland through unlocked doors and windows, killing his victims.
Gordon was single, alone and living near a freeway, which is where the convicted killer always struck. So she made sure all her doors and windows were locked and has been doing it ever since.
"I remember the reign of terror all the women went through with that, and then you start getting complacent again," Gordon said. "A lot of people probably don't remember, but, boy, single women [who] were living alone do. It was a very spooky time."