COLUMNS

Crimes startle North Peorians

DeWayne Bartels

In Chadwick Estates, the streets are quiet and the lawns manicured.

It is the kind of idyllic neighborhood most would like to live in, except, perhaps, for the property taxes.

Lately, people there and in adjoining neighborhoods have seen something new move in — fear of crime. Burglars are the reason residents there and some adjoining subdivisions are on edge.

E-mails that set people even more on edge began arriving in inboxes in mid-May.

On May 14, an e-mail titled “More Break-ins” hit the net sent by Chadwick Estates Neighborhood Association president Mike Wisdom.

“Neighbors, I got a call this morning from a friend in Sommer Place Subdivision who said that a home in their neighborhood was broken into yesterday between 10 and 11 a.m. In addition, during the night, a garage at another home was broken into and a car was ransacked.”

The suspects, in the eyes of the neighbors, were a group of young men selling cleaning solvents door-to-door driving a van or SUV and a separate car.

It was the same scenario as an earlier burglary in Chadwick Estates.

“In Sommer Place, I am told the burglars broke a window in the back of the house to gain entry, but parked in the driveway,” Wisdom wrote.

“A lot of merchandise was stolen, including TV’s, computers, Wii and iPods. They ransacked the house, as was the case with the break-in at Chadwick Estates. Obviously, these criminals are still in the area, and still working. They seem to be very experienced at what they do, and extremely brazen. They do not seem to be too concerned about getting caught.”

Wisdom suggested his neighbors take precautions and arm their security systems.

 “Tell your children not to open the door to strangers. If someone comes to your door soliciting, think very hard about answering. You may want to let them know someone is home, but not open the door. If they are legitimate solicitors, they’re probably selling something you can easily buy at a store. If they are burglars posing as solicitors, they may want you to open the door so they can see if you have a security system arming device in your door jam, monitoring devices in the house, alarms on your windows, possible means of access, valuable items to take, etc.,” Wisdom wrote.

“If you see any solicitors in the subdivision that for whatever reason look suspicious or questionable (especially any selling cleaning solvents or driving a white van or black Pontiac Grand Am), don’t hesitate — call the police and ask them to send a squad car to investigate. They may be legitimate or they may have had something to do with the recent break-ins. Given what has been happening, we should rather be safe than sorry ... Until these criminals are caught, we all remain at risk. Let’s all work together to keep our neighborhood safe and, hopefully, catch these criminals.”

Someone responded with, “The door-to-door salesmen were in Copperfield  Subdivision about two weeks ago ... With the weather warming up, you just don’t know what weirdos will be around!!!!”

It is a scenario being seen across the nation. CNN reported Feb. 24 that people nationwide are becoming more suspicious of people walking through their neighborhoods.

Jerry Borbon, a neighborhood Watch member in Miami, told CNN, “We’ve never had so many problems before. Nowadays, you have so many people just walking around pretending, leaving fliers, doing marketing surveys or some such baloney. But what they really are doing is looking for opportunities, watching to see who is or isn’t in their homes.”

He sounds a bit paranoid, but as they say, being paranoid doesn’t mean someone isn’t out to get you. Wisdom said, last week, there is a sense of fear in the area.

“We always felt isolated from crime. People are calming down now. The police are investigating,” Wisdom said.

“I guess I’d have to say I feel comfortable here. We have an alarm system. It used to be I didn’t set it during the day. I do now. I think none of us will be as trusting as before. Crime is going to happen.”

The sense of fear is widespread and has caught the attention of the police and city council.

Wisdom and the board of the Chadwick Estates Neighborhood Association, in the last few weeks, had a meeting with Peoria Police captain Mike Scally, at-large councilman George Jacob and new 5th District councilman Dan Irving.

Jacob said the residents should not feel they are alone in the fight against crime.

“When this issue arose, members of city staff — Pat Landes and Ross Black of planning and growth management, and Captain Scally got very involved, and very quickly.”

Scally said there has been one home invasion — burglars entered the home while the residents slept — and five burglaries in Chadwick Estates and Sommer Place in the past three months.

“The thing that grabbed people’s attention is that three of them occurred in one night,” Scally said.

“When you live in an area of low crime, a little bit of crime is alarming.”

Jacob seconded that sentiment. He said crime in Peoria’s far-flung neighborhoods is “surprising.”

Scally said he understands the residents suspecting the door-to-door salesmen, but he said they were registered with the city, and left a week before the burglaries. Despite that, Scally said, they are being looked at. Scally said he told the residents what he tells everyone in this circumstance.

“If you see something that makes you uncomfortable, calls us,” Scally said. “We’d rather go and check something out 1,000 times and have it be nothing, rather than not get a call and it be something.”

Scally said, in his view, something good has come out of this.

“It got neighbors talking and watching out for each other, “he said. “A good thing can come out of a crime.”

Jacob said he agreed.

“Mike is right on target with that. If you isolate yourself in your home because of crimes like this, you become a silent victim,” Jacob said.

“If you become active, at that point you are part of a bigger approach.”