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There’s a prowler on my home security camera. Do I get a dog or a gun?

An image from Courtland Milloy's security camera shows someone outside his home in the wee hours. (Courtland Milloy/TWP)

When reviewing overnight footage from my outdoor home security cameras, I usually see raccoons and opossums scurrying back and forth. But on a recent day, at 2:27 a.m., the cameras caught some unnerving images — a human form, almost ghostly, stepping from the shadows onto a walkway alongside my house.

The prowler was dressed in sneakers, pants, a jacket and a baseball cap turned backward. He wore no mask and appeared to be in his late teens or early 20s. As a motion-detecting light illuminated his face, he walked undeterred to where my car was parked. He stopped, looked around, then circled back to the walkway. At 2:28 a.m., he disappeared back into the shadows.

The minute-long videos have stuck with me since they were recorded July 13, and many questions linger. What if he comes back? What if he is armed? Should I get a dog, as one law enforcement officer suggested? Or a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun, as recommends in its review of the “Five Best Guns for Home Defense”?

I recalled the words of 83-year-old Joseph Parker Jr. of Mitchellville, who shot a burglar at his home in 2018: “I didn’t want a murder on my hands,” he told ABC7. “I didn’t want to kill anybody. But I didn’t want to be killed.”

Like Parker, I live in Prince George’s County. Most violent crime is down significantly this year, according to police, homicides by as much as 30 percent compared to this time last year.

Homicides are down in Prince George's, but some other crimes are on the rise

But carjackings are up, and thefts from vehicles are epidemic. Whenever criminals are bold enough to come onto your property to break into your car — whether parked in your driveway, your carport or your garage — it’s not hard to imagine them eventually doing the same to your house.

“Group going around Tantallon, walking around checking cars,” a Fort Washington resident wrote last week on Nextdoor, a community bulletin board that is monitored by county police. “Ski masks on in broad daylight and hot weather.”

Another resident asked: “What on earth can we do about these blatant criminals?”

One replied: “We are on our own, I look out for mine and my neighbors. [It’s] all you can do.”

The same night the prowler showed up at my house, a car was stolen from in front of a neighbor’s home. And here I was annoyed because raccoons were getting into my garbage cans and making a mess.

Still, I wondered what had made that youngster take such a risk. I could imagine going outdoors to chat with him — man to man. Was there something he’d rather be doing than prowling? And I’d show him where he could get the help he needed.

Yeah, right. Wishful thinking, I know. But the point is, as Parker made clear, while nobody wants to be killed, most people don’t want to kill anybody, either.

Prince George’s police are already a month into their “summer crime initiative” aimed at stemming any rise in crime that might result from children being out of school. Violence “hot spots” along the county’s border with the District, among other places, have been targeted with beefed-up patrols and other enhanced law enforcement efforts through August.

But for areas where property crime is the more serious problem, other kinds of preventive strategies are being implemented, such as police-sponsored neighborhood walks; athletic activities for young people; and training sessions with seniors to help them avoid scammers, car thieves, burglars, purse snatchers and pickpockets, among others.

“We want to engage our seniors, provide training and exercises [to teach them] what to do in case of a crisis, no matter what the crisis may be,” Prince George’s County Police Chief Malik Aziz said at a news conference kicking off the summer initiative. “Normally, we will press a community very hard, and put a lot of police in the community in order to drive crime down. So, what we did is blossom our thinking in a more holistic approach to work with other partners and provide our resources to the communities we’re servicing.”

But when you’ve got klatches of car thieves in masks roaming on foot in daylight — not to mention the maskless night prowler in my neck of the woods — a more robust police presence might be preferred over, say, a neighborhood walk.

Aisha Braveboy, the county state’s attorney, is partnering with police in the summer crime prevention effort. At a recent rally in Oxon Hill, she said that fighting crime is about more than prosecuting people; it’s also about helping them get their lives back on track.

“We are focusing on protecting our communities by getting people out of our communities who mean us harm,” Braveboy told The Washington Post. “Now there are people who have committed offenses in the past, they’ve been held accountable, they may commit another offense. But that’s because they don’t have the resources. This is what’s going to make the difference.”

I hope she and Chief Aziz can help those people get the resources that make a difference. Soon. There just aren’t that many effective crime-fighting options for law-abiding citizens during a thievery pandemic. A yard dog can become a barking nuisance. Guns in the wrong hands are dangerous. The county police are shorthanded — often minutes away when seconds count, as the saying goes.

One could always hope that parents would teach their children not to steal.

For now, I can only turn up the volume on my security-cam alerts, enduring the false alarms triggered by wildlife but ensuring that I’ll be awake should the prowler return.