BUCKTOWN — The next time you throw your checkbook, spare keys, receipts and just about anything important into the kitchen "junk drawer," think again.
Burglars like junk drawers, or at least that's what one 47-year-old convicted thief named Tim told residents at a packed local police meeting in Bucktown earlier this week.
"I will sometimes just stick the entire junk drawer into a bag and look through it later," he said.
With time ticking, most burglars will spend anywhere from 20 seconds to seven minutes going through a home, and if they've done their homework like 52-year-old Mr. Thomas, they've scoped out the streets to find the well-manicured lawns and high privacy fences.
"When traveling at night, I like to see a high fence, it's an opportunity for that [fence] to hide me," Mr. Thomas said.
Tim and Mr. Thomas were among four low-level, nonviolent criminals nearing the end of their two-year sentences who participated in a question-and-answer session during the Chicago Police Department's 'Keeping it Real' burglary prevention tour Wednesday.
The men — who received no reduction to their sentences or incentive for being part of the program outside of getting out of jail for a few hours — offered insight to residents on how to best prevent burglaries.
Three of the four men had jobs at the time they were caught burglarizing homes.
Robert, 32, needed money to support his drug habit when he began stealing from cars, while Mr. Thomas said he had had "a really good job" but was feeling financial pressures and sometimes called his teenage son to help him out when he couldn't haul stolen goods away from a home fast enough.
While Chicago Police Officer Maudessie Jointer and a moderator were quick to tell the group that the four men "do not speak for all burglars," all four men agreed a "nosy neighbor" was their biggest deterrent, and in fact was the reason why at least one man said he was caught by police.
Getting to know your neighbors, a tip that costs nothing, proved to be more effective in stopping crime than alarms ["The security company has to call the house first, all I need is 20 seconds sometimes," one burglar said] and dogs ["Not a problem, I just bring food; they love peanut butter."]
An example of nosy neighbor behavior would be standing on your porch after a suspicious person comes to your door and watching as he or she makes the rounds to other homes, rather than shutting your door.
"If you keep watching them, and they see you, you are making it clear to them they are being watched," Jointer said.
Other common-sense tips include letting your neighbors know when you are going away on vacation and holding your mail.
If possible, a 57-year-old burglar named Tony suggested investing in a time-controlled system that will turn lights, televisions and radios on when you are away.
"It makes you think someone is home," Tony said.
Getting caught has resulted in job losses and strained family relations, the men said.
"It has affected me. I had a job and now I don't have a job. My family members, they're doing this time with me," Mr. Thomas said.
"I have disappointed my family. But I would not take it back. I am choosing to and trying to get my life back. I have a 6-year-old son I want to get back to," Robert said.
After the gathering, residents mingled with the men and thanked them for sharing their stories.
"I just feel so sad for these guys, what a waste. They didn't do anything violent, and you could tell they were feeling the stress it has placed on their lives and families," said Kate Green, a Bucktown resident.
The next CAPS meeting for Bucktown Beat 1434 is 6:30 p.m. Oct. 16 at the Bucktown-Wicker Park Library, 1701 N. Milwaukee Ave.