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Want To Thwart Thieves? 'Harden The Target' With These Tips, Police Say

By Ted Cox | March 29, 2017 5:26am
 Near North Police Cmdr. Paul Bauer talks with a local resident after a public-safety forum earlier this month.
Near North Police Cmdr. Paul Bauer talks with a local resident after a public-safety forum earlier this month.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

LINCOLN PARK — Just because Lincoln Park and Old Town are relatively low-crime neighborhoods, police say there is plenty you can do to prevent thefts, burglaries or other crimes.

At a couple of recent public-safety forums featuring officers from the Town Hall and Near North districts, police offered advice on how to "harden the target," as Cmdr. Paul Bauer put it, whether you're out to protect "your car or your house or yourself."

Sure, some of the advice seems obvious — lock all doors and windows. But there's also a new appreciation for security cameras and nosy neighbors. And, when it comes to descriptions of suspects, it's all about the shoes — and the tattoos.

 Sgt. Mary Hein tells residents to keep their doors and windows locked at a public-safety forum earlier this month with Town Hall Cmdr. Marc Buslik.
Sgt. Mary Hein tells residents to keep their doors and windows locked at a public-safety forum earlier this month with Town Hall Cmdr. Marc Buslik.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

Here's what police are advising city residents to do to combat burglaries and muggings:

• Keep doors and windows locked. "Locking your doors and windows is the best deterrent," said Sgt. Mary Hein of the Town Hall District. And, of course, by all means, don't leave keys in cars. Chicago ain't Mayberry.

• Be a nosy neighbor. "Criminals hate nosy neighbors," Hein said. If you see someone apparently "casing the block," or trying doors up and down the street, or climbing backyard fences, make it obvious that you are noticing the suspect. "We Call Police" window signs aren't a bad idea either.

Join a block club if there is one. Get to know your neighbors and establish a phone tree where people are assigned designated neighbors to call to spread information.

• But don't go crazy over reports on social media. Both Bauer and Town Hall Cmdr. Marc Buslik insisted crime statistics showed most offenses declining almost across the board in both districts. But they granted that, contrary to facts, many people fear that crime is up. "I can't change your perception," Bauer said, "social media being what it is."

Facebook posts and Twitter tweets can shine a spotlight on crimes that might have gone largely unnoticed in decades past, he added. Try to keep a sense of perspective.

• Be aware of your surroundings. Watch for suspicious activity or suspect places. Avoid alleys and other remote areas with little public activity. Trust your instincts. If you'd feel safer crossing the street than confronting someone approaching, make that choice.

• Give robbers what they want. As Near North Det. Chris Dingle put it: "Everything's replaceable except your life."

• Pay attention to key details in making descriptions of suspects. Clothing can be changed in a moment, so pay attention to what doesn't change: scars, moles, tattoos and, yes, shoes.

• Take pictures or video with your smartphone if possible. The Police Department has developed a system in which victims who report a crime and have a photo or video are sent a text message and can reply sending the file back into the department's computer system.

• Make noise if possible. Scream, shout, honk your horn. Again, criminals don't like anything that draws attention.

• Keep external lights on. "Criminals hide under cover of darkness," Near North Officer Joe Incaprera said.

• Trim trees and bushes so there's no place for criminals to hide around your house.

• Install security cameras. Police recommend installing security cameras when possible.

"Quite frankly, most criminals don't want to be caught on tape," Incaprera said.

Police also advise looking into linking security cameras to the Office of Emergency Management and Communications network. As Incaprera stated: "Lights, cameras, action."

Dingle added that you should not be satisfied just to put cameras in; acquaint yourself with how to download and send a segment of video, otherwise in the case of a crime police have to send out technicians to collect it, which can take days.

Bauer also said it was worthwhile to update existing equipment for sharper images, decrying what cops commonly call "Bigfoot videos" too blurry to be of use in an investigation.

• Call 911. If you think someone suspicious is casing the street or climbing back fences from yard to yard, but hasn't yet committed an actual crime, don't fret over whether it's appropriate to call 311 or 911. "When in doubt, call 911," Office of Emergency Management and Communications dispatcher Michael Tracy said.

• Make a list of serial numbers. From bikes to TVs to computers, it's better to have a record of serial numbers police can check against goods recently sold at pawn shops. The same goes for any identifying characteristics of jewelry and other precious items.

The idea overall is that if you "harden the target" with the methods above, you'll be less likely to find yourself handing that list over to police.