Sharon Hasa and her family have the unenviable distinction of being statistics in the annals of the home burglaries that have vexed Naperville residents and police since the beginning of August.
Hasa and one of her two sons were not in their Farmington neighborhood house shortly before 3 p.m. Monday. She said her husband was home and “had left for just 20 minutes” to pick up their other son from school when it happened.
“Everything has been locked up tight since the week before, because we have been so paranoid” in the wake of the well-publicized burglary spree, Hasa said Wednesday night with a nervous laugh. “But they did get in to my house.”
Nothing was stolen during what proved to be an in-and-out break-in.
“My husband had left the TV on” while he went to get their son, “and it appears that when ( the burglars) heard the TV, they left” empty-handed, Hasa said.
“It’s terrifying, really. To think that somebody was watching my house, was watching my husband’s movements.”
Hasa was one of an estimated 300 residents of Naperville’s south and southeast sides who attended a 90-minute informational meeting Wednesday night at Madison Junior High School concerning the burglaries. Naperville police were represented by Chief Robert Marshall, Investigations Division Cmdr. Brian Cunningham and Crime Prevention Specialist Julie Smith.
Somewhat incredibly, the crime of burglary is actually down, by just over 24 percent, in Naperville. Marshall confirmed there were 181 break-ins between January and August 2012, while there have been only 137 during that same eight-month period this year.
Marshall told audience members 29 burglaries have occurred over the past six weeks at homes that have been both vacant and occupied, and where doors and windows have been securely locked or left wide open.
The crimes have been committed in broad daylight and during the late-night and early-morning hours, sometimes while the owners were asleep in their own beds. Marshall said in 60 percent of the cases, burglars got inside through open garage, service and patio doors.
Police over the past three weeks have fielded 628 telephone calls of suspicious activity throughout the city, and have stopped 882 suspicious vehicles and their occupants, Marshall said.
“Community response has been just simply outstanding” where reporting potential criminal activity has been concerned, he said.
Investigators believe there are three or four groups of burglars “working separately” from one another, mostly in the 20-square-mile southern end of town but also on the north-northwest side, Marshall said.
“We’ve committed an enormous amount of resources” to the investigative effort, Marshall said. Officers have been “redeployed” from the department’s youth, violent crime and special operations divisions to help solve the crimes, and traffic unit officers have been reassigned “to patrol the areas where the burglaries are occurring,” he said.
Police have identified suspects and are “actively working on leads,” Marshall said. He would not elaborate.
Audience members applauded Cunningham as he went to the podium to speak, leaving him somewhat flustered. He later said, “Please don’t applaud, because the job’s not done.”
One attendee voiced fear for the safety of children who might be spending time alone at home while the parents are still at work. That resident cited the recent murder of a high school girl who surprised a burglar inside her family’s house in Indian Head Park.
Marshall discussed the defensive steps, drastic and otherwise, homeowners are allowed to take when confronting or being confronted by intruders. Cunningham added, “I teach my kids, don’t answer the door for anybody.”
While little is foolproof, there are everyday, common-sense steps residents can take to protect themselves, their families and their property.
Smith and Cunningham advised homeowners to keep windows shut and doors locked, install and maintain outdoor security lighting, consider investing in video cameras or a guard dog and contact neighbors and police should they observe any unusual, potentially sinister activity.
The burglars appear to be most active between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays, and Smith said some might be masquerading as landscapers, delivery men and other working professionals. They then find open or unlocked doors and call in members of their “crew” to loot the homes.
“Every single one (of the burglaries) in your area” has involved open or unlocked doors, Cunningham said. “If you see a neighbor’s door open, call them.”
Advice was also offered by audience member Ted Billman, himself the victim of a home burglary 15 years ago.
“Make sure you take pictures” of rooms and valuables, “so you have some identification” and documentation in the event property is stolen, Billman said.
The burglar who was eventually arrested in Billman’s case had made off with possessions that included a unique, expensive wristwatch that was never recovered. Billman said when he presented a photo of the watch in court, the judge slapped the burglar with a significant fine in addition to other penalties.
Hasa following the meeting conceded she was “a little baffled” by some of the presentation.
“Any information is good information, but it’s just the lack of definite details,” Hasa said. “It could be landscapers, it could be professionals, it could be a neighborhood kid.”
She and her family are taking even more precautions following their experience.
“I do have a chair” that bars easy passage through the garage service door, and “that is why they could not get in” that way on Monday, Hasa said.
Hasa is also in the process of rearranging some furniture in front of the French doors in the family room.
She added she and her husband “are going to add more security soon.”