Residents living on parks and golf courses should be vigilant to prevent their homes from being targeted by thieves, Lakewood Police Chief Mike Roth said.
A community meeting Tuesday night brought 150 residents out to hear details of Lakewood home break-ins in March. Roth said he thought two of the three incidents are tied to “South American Theft Groups” operating across the U.S.
A 2018 FBI alert warned those in the jewelry industry of South America-based groups targeting their businesses.
A spokeswoman from the FBI’s Chicago Field Office referred calls on the subject to local police. National and local news outlets across the country have reported on local police and state agencies tracking home break-ins by what are called “SATG” or “crime tourists.”
“We are doing a lot, with a lot of intelligence” gathering by the department to apprehend suspects here, Roth said. However, the type of criminals thought to be involved with the burglaries “are not what we are used to in Crystal Lake or Woodstock. These are bandits that are highly organized.”
The burglars usually are unarmed, drive rental cars with California or Florida license plates, use burner phones to communicate, and target empty homes, entering through broken windows, Roth said.
“Their targets are upscale homes and a number of them back up to golf courses or wooded areas” they can enter from and escape to, he added.
An attempted burglary Jan. 30 on Turnberry Trail was not thought to be tied to the same group, Roth said. In that case, the suspects pulled into the driveway and a resident was home at the time.
These are bandits that are highly organized.— Lakewood Chief of Police Mike Roth
“Verbal contact was made and they fled the area,” Roth said.
The other burglaries were reported days apart, but Roth said he thinks both occurred March 6.
In an incident on Longmoor Drive, suspects broke in through a first-floor rear window. An alarm app activated on the homeowner’s cellphone at 6:36 p.m., McHenry County dispatch received the alarm at 6:42 p.m., and police officers arrived a minute later, Roth said.
The burglars already had cleared out, but officers found the shattered window. A K-9 unit from the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office traced a scent to Scots Lane, where the trail ended.
Another break-in, on Nicklaus Lane, was reported March 11 when the homeowner returned from vacation, Roth said. Again, burglars broke in through a rear first-floor window. In that case, the homeowner’s thermostat app indicated the home’s furnace had run constantly since March 6. Roth thinks that is when the break-in happened.
Jewelry was targeted in both burglaries and a small safe was taken from one of the homes, Roth said.
He tied the March incidents to a South American group that has been working across the U.S. and burglarizing high-end homes. Roth said he recently attended a St. Charles roundtable discussion for police on the topic.
Put on by Det. Russ Haywood, Lakewood was the only McHenry County agency to report this type of burglary, Roth said. Similar burglaries have been reported in Cook, DuPage, Kane and Lake counties.
“The reality is, they drive around and have a [reconnaissance] kind of thing. They know a lot about the homes they are targeting,” Roth said.
Officers have stepped up patrols, but residents need to do their part, too, Roth said.
Residents Patrick and Dee Slowey said they attended to learn what had happened and what police are doing to prevent future burglaries.
Camera doorbells and exterior lighting are good starts “to be more vigilant,” Patrick Slowey said.
Their home has not been burglarized, but residents need to be aware “that any community can get hit,” Dee Slowey said.
Motion-detecting exterior lights, interior lights on timers, audible alarm systems and cameras help make a home a harder target, Roth said.
“In winter months, if you are away, ... be sure to have the driveway cleared of snow,” Roth said. When residents see something that seems out of place, they should call police first, he added.
Lakewood Village President David Stavropoulos said he saw a neighbor’s text thread recently about a person seen in a backyard. He didn’t hear about it until 1:30 a.m. – two or three hours after the incident. Police were not called, Stavropoulos said.
“Call or text. ... but after you call the police,” Stavropoulos said.