Olson: Sycamore car thieves are worse than coyotes

The buzz in Sycamore is about the thieves who stole three vehicles in the Foxpointe neighborhood earlier this month.

People have stopped me on the street to talk about it. When I’ve been out and about this week and mentioned that I live in the neighborhood, they say, “isn’t that where the cars were stolen?”

Yep. That’s the place.

Foxpointe doesn’t make the news too often, which is fine with us. Before this happened, the perceived public safety threat was that coyotes might eat our cats and dogs, or menace the kids.

Between 2 and 3 a.m. Dec. 5, however, a resident in the 900 block of Constance Drive called the police.

“They woke up to kind of hear and then realize their car was being driven out of their garage and down the street,” Sycamore Police Chief Jim Winters said. “It’s not a good feeling, to see your car being driven away.”

Officers arrived and realized that there had been a series of auto burglaries in the area – and that three had been stolen.

Winters said Friday that all three stolen vehicles since have been recovered almost 80 miles away, in the south suburban communities of Hazel Crest and neighborhing Country Club Hills, which could be where the thieves came from.

“I think when we wrap up this investigation, we’ll have a better idea of who was involved and what their intent was,” Winters said. “It’s not unusual for cars to be dumped in areas the person’s familiar with.”

Just off Foxpointe Drive, before you get to the Culver’s, Constance is a part of the neighborhood with multifamily attached homes, and although the units have garages, there also are regularly vehicles parked in the open there.

Although vehicles were burglarized on other streets including Yorkshire Drive, Bristol Drive and Mary Wood Court that night, all three of the stolen vehicles had been parked on Constance, Winters said, and all had been left unlocked with the keys inside.

“There was one of the cars where personal ID and credit cards were in the vehicle, and the cards were used in the area where the vehicles were recovered, at a grocery store and an attempt at a fast-food restarurant,” Winters said. “Fortunately, the car that was stolen where the people realized it ... they called immediately to cancel their cards so [the thieves] weren’t able to use those cards.”

It’s a good practice to keep a list of the cards you carry and the customer service numbers for each handy, Winters said. That way, if your cards are lost or stolen, it’s easy to have them frozen or canceled.

Auto theft is pretty rare in Sycamore, where there were four vehicles stolen in all of 2018.

It has become less common in general because it’s harder to steal modern vehicles, many of which don’t have a keyed ignition switch.

“The old-school car thief that strips the steering column out and puts the screwdriver in, we don’t see that nowadays because of the technology we have,” Winters said.

Most burglaries or auto thefts are crimes of opportunity. Someone tries to open the car door, and if it’s unlocked, they ransack it. If the keys are in there, they might drive away.

“We’ve only had two burglaries to vehicles that were a forced entry [this year],” Winters said. “The other 90-plus percent of them were all to unlocked vehicles. So even in a safe community like Sycamore, most of those crimes could be avoided if people just locked their doors and removed their valuables from them.”

If you don’t want your car stolen, don’t leave the keys inside. If you don’t want it burglarized, don’t leave it unlocked. Local police harp on this all the time – “lock it or lose it,” they say.

A lot of people read stories such as this and wonder, “who leaves their car unlocked?” or “why would you leave your keys in your car?”

It’s because you feel secure in your neighborhood and you get complacent. Maybe you’ve left your car unlocked in the driveway overnight 100 times before without an incident. I’m not going to say I never have.

It’s not as though vehicles are the only things we get complacent about. If it’s trash day, it’s not uncommon to see the empty boxes on the curb showing you who’s bought new flat-screen TVs or other electronics.

Likewise, a lot of us are perfectly comfortable having packages delivered to our homes during the workday because when we arrive home hours later, they’re waiting for us.

That kind of complacency can make homeowners an easy target for “porch pirates,” Winters said.

It’s particularly true this time of year, when lots of people are buying gifts online and having them shipped to their homes.

“Leaving those packages unattended is something that people really should try to avoid, especially with ground-service deliveries,” Winters said. “I think people are seeing all types of cars that are delivering packages so they might not be suspect if people see packages going on a porch or off a porch.”

If you work in town, track the packages and swing by the house to bring them inside once they’re delivered, or have them delivered to your workplace or somewhere they will be securely received, Winters said.

Another way to protect yourself against porch piracy is with doorbell or front-door camera systems now on the market, which have become more affordable and useful, he said.

“Those are something that deter potential porch pirates and also give us a little bit of intelligence if someone does steal something,” Winters said. “Those home security systems have really evolved to where they’re a pretty good product, and they’re reasonably priced.”

I’m sorry to my neighbors who had their privacy violated or their vehicles stolen. At least no one was hurt and the vehicles have been recovered.

The incident has been a wake-up call for the neighborhood, where maybe we don’t feel so secure as we did a few weeks ago, when all we had to worry about was the coyotes. Winters indicated that the police are investigating the thefts, and a lot of us will be waiting to see just who it was that visited our neighborhood with ill intentions.

• Eric Olson is general manager of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email eolson@shawmedia.com, or follow him on Twitter