Criminals offer tips on burglary prevention


A panel of convicted criminals offered burglary prevention tips at a workshop held Wednesday, Aug. 23, at the 17th (Albany Park) Police District station, 4650 N. Pulaski Road.

The 17th District CAPS office held a workshop that featured five convicted criminals who explained their strategies for home break-ins in order to notify the community on how to secure their homes. The workshop was conducted by 3rd (Grand Crossing) District officer Maudessie Jointer.

"We don’t come here to piss you off, but to educate," Jointer said. "We want you to really rethink what a burglary is."

About 30 residents listened to the men speak for about an hour and a half and answered questions posed by police and audience members. Officers experienced with burglaries spoke as well.

Certain general patterns to committing a burglary were explained. The men said that an average break-in should be concluded in 5 to 7 minutes, based on standard response times from police. Many of them said that they preferred to steal from the master bedroom, and most did not have a preferred point of entry as they admitted obstacles such as a strong front door lock could be easily bypassed by seeking out something like a cracked-open window.

"We often did pre-surveillance and sometimes even called police ourselves to see how fast they’d get there," one man said. Another man said that he "do burglary by impulse."

According to Jointer, the men were part of Illinois’ work release program, whereby low level criminals can be released earlier if they work or go to school for at least 30 hours per week. Their participation in such forums, while voluntary, counted towards such hours, and was an opportunity presented only to offenders within the final 2 years of parole on their sentencing.

The forum was one of multiple such forums conducted first about 15 years ago, although similar forums have generally been dispersed throughout different neighborhoods, according to 17th district CAPS beat facilitator Angela Morgan.

However, fears of burglary are warranted in parts of Northwest Side of Chicago, with 152 burglaries having occurred within the past year in Albany Park, according to CPD’s CLEARmap crime tracking system.

"People up here think just because it’s not South Side it’s safe, but criminals can be attracted to the fact that people here are wealthier and tend to be careless with security," Morgan said.

During the forum, speakers admitted that some common methods for home safety could be counterintuitive to effective security. One man said that fences provide hiding spots and shelter from the viewpoints of neighbors, and another man said that number pad locks can be ineffective if codes aren’t changed regularly, as used buttons can become visibly worn out.

"We can monitor movement in the house, especially if you have transparent curtains or no window covering, and lights make it even easier to see real movement isn’t happening," one man said.

"If you add on/off timers to your lights, televisions and such, it could create a better illusion," Jointer said.

Some of the men said that security cameras could be ineffective unless placed high out of arm’s reach, as they can be pushed aside when approached from a side angle. One man said that the best cameras are ‘smart’ doorbell-camera fixtures, which are immobile and linked to the resident’s smartphone.

The men also explained certain giveaways for good burglary spots. One man said that un-ripped trash boxes can be a giveaway for recently purchased valuables, while Another man said that it is easy to search on Facebook to see people announcing they are on vacation or out of town.

Speakers also said how intricate schemes could be utilized in burglaries, particularly regarding documents with personal information or the use of guises to gain willing access to residents’ private property.

"When you get burglarized, do you look through your checkbook for missing pieces?" Jointer said. "It’s an opportunity to forge a great identity with your stuff."

17th District sergeant Michelle Rubino said a recently common scheme is criminals posing as utility company employees. "People who pretend to be from ComEd or ‘energy saving’ companies will often ask to see your utility bill. Real companies have no right to see that going door-to-door."

One man described his own scheme posing as a contractor offering below-market rates for roofing or other home services. When given entry into the house, he would look at shelves and tables for documents and mail containing routing numbers or other info, before charging up-front costs for a service never provided.

"I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve stolen more than a hundred thousand dollars with such schemes," he said. "I even hit the same house four times over more than 5 years (with this strategy)."
The men said that "nosy neighbors" are the strongest deterrent to committing burglaries in a neighborhood.