NEAR NORTH SIDE — Think your guard dog or a security alarm will sway a burglar bent on looting your home or car? Think again.
Four convicted burglars provided some insight into the mind of a thief Thursday night for "Keeping it Real," the Near North Police District's burglary prevention seminar at the Newberry Library.
The distinguished former thieves went through the numbers of crime, from the uses of certain "burglar tools" to what they look for in a home to what factors would change a burglar's mind after they've picked out a home to rob.
"There is no one thing that will stop you from being the victim of a burglary," said Officer Maudessie Jointer of the CAPS Project Office. "That one thing does not exist."
But according to the panel's expert burglars, who spent time behind bars but are now giving back to the community as part of the Safer Foundation, there are surefire ways for communities and individuals to lessen their odds of becoming victims.
No. 1 on that list: Communities with "nosy neighbors" — AKA neighborhoods with tight-knit, visible residents — will deter even the most savvy thief from targeting a home.
"That's what any burglar does not want, they don't want to see a neighborhood that's cohesive," Jointer told the crowd of about 20 residents Thursday night.
Three out of the four men were eventually busted by nosy neighbors, they said. But that was only after they had committed dozens of successful burglaries.
Many people, according to the men, make mistakes that regularly leave them vulnerable. Among them: Holding doors open for people pretending to use front door key codes, attempting to hide valuables in obvious places (such as documents taped beneath dresser drawers, for example), erecting privacy fences, keeping a junk mail drawer in the kitchen and depending on dogs.
"I'm scared of dogs, but I'll tell you straight up, if you have one of those cute dogs I'm gonna take him too," said a former burglar named Mark, who also admitted to searching Bibles — another common "hiding spot" — for cash.
Among the four men, the average time for a home burglary was five minutes. All four described a lengthy surveillance process ranging from a day to a couple weeks that involved disguises as ComEd and UPS workers to a skullcap and hoodie.
Burglar tools included instruments as simple as a long screwdriver for opening locks.
But when it comes down to safety, all four urged residents to meet their neighbors, repeating first-hand experience showing that nosy neighbors are the key deterrent to crime — a communal security system all the more welcome during the holidays.