About three weeks ago, Kim was baby-sitting at a home on Plant Street when she had an unwanted guest.
At 11 a.m., a stranger rang the doorbell. Scared, Kim said she did not alert him to the fact that she was not home.
The man found an unlocked window in the backyard. He tried to enter the house but ended up leaving before he stole anything. He most likely saw the resident’s dog and took it as a sign that someone was home.
That violated his protocol—of burglarizing unoccupied homes.
Kim told that story at a Westville-West Hills Community Management Team (CMT) meeting Wednesday night at Mauro-Sheridan Interdistrict Magnet School. Sgt. Renee Forte (pictured), Westville’s top cop, used the incident as an opportunity to explain to the 30 or so attendees what has become a common criminal technique in the neighborhood: Ringing a doorbell, waiting to see if anyone is home and then attempting to enter the house through an unlocked home or window.
Kim got lucky, she said; evidence suggests that the burglar may be inactive due to greater neighborhood awareness.
But that’s no reason to be complacent, Forte said. A similar incident also occurred in the same mid-May period around 10 a.m. on Yale Avenue, a man fitting a similar description rang the doorbell to check if anyone was home, then opened a window.
The woman chased him away after alerting a neighbor to come to her aid, but not before the burglar had stolen a pair of keys.
The suspect, who has also been reportedly sighted on Alton Avenue and Curtis Drive, is described as a black male with dark skin around 30 years of age. Forte said he generally rides a silver bike that “seems to be too small for him and is on the expensive side.”
Part of what made Kim’s incident so troubling for her, was the time it took for her to make face-to-face contact with an officer. She said it took nearly half an hour for the officer to arrive at her home.
However, according to Forte, that is inaccurate. “He was on the scene immediately,” she said. Forte estimated that it took an officer seven minutes to arrive.
A “miscommunication” did take place, Forte said, most likely because the officer was “rerouted” when “initially, he stopped a person he thought could be the suspect.” The officer called Kim to see if she had any more information on the suspect and that prevented her from going outside.
“Is anything being done to increase [police] visibility” in the neighborhood? CMT Vice Chair Kate Bradley asked at the Wednesday night’s meeting.
Forte said she is currently doing the best with what she has. Part of the issue is that Westville is viewed as a low-crime neighborhood compared to others, she said.
“Many days I only have 2 [officers on duty]. I have three at the moment, but they have different [assignments] ...from Woodbridge to about Jewel ” Street.
Upper Westville Alder Darryl Brackeen, Jr. (pictured chatting with traffic czar Doug Hausladen, Beaver Hills/Amity/West Hills Alder Richard Furlow and neighbor Deserie Brown) used the incident to urge neighbors that “we need to report” criminal activity if Westville wants to get more cop coverage.
Forte said officer retirement is another issue. Come June 30, she said, many will leave the force in time to avoid a cut in future pension benefits.
More officers are being recruited, but it will take time for them to hit the streets.
“We want you to be choosy,” quipped Bradley.
“We have a very good union for a very good reason, but it’s very hard to get rid of someone once you have them,” Forte said.
How You Can Help
Forte’s advice? Most of these incidents have happened during the day, “when people are normally at work.” So, Westville neighbors should, especially during the day, “be extra vigilant,” she said.
Forte cited a June 9 incident on Westwood Road as an example of how civilians can unwittingly inhibit a police investigation.
Two masked men attempted a purse-snatch from a woman in a car nearby, managing only to steal her keys. They dropped the keys in flight, leaving behind a cell phone as well, according to onlookers.
Unfortunately for Forte, by the time she arrived at the scene, she said, someone picked up the cell phone. This deprived police of a way to learn more about the suspect’s identity.
She also gave specific instructions, should anyone in the neighborhood find a potential burglar ringing the doorbell: safety first.
“If you are home and this is happening, kind of yell out to the individual as opposed to going downstairs and opening the door,” she said. “I’d rather the resident be safe and not have the individual enter than worry about catching him after.”