It Takes a Thief: Tips from admitted criminals to protect your home

It Takes a Thief: Tips from admitted criminals to protect your home
Stolen Tools Recovered in Scott County (courtesy: KFVS)
Stolen Tools Recovered in Scott County (courtesy: KFVS)
(courtesy: KFVS)
(courtesy: KFVS)

(KFVS) - It takes a thief to break into your home without being caught.

But, two admitted burglars talked to Kathy Sweeney and offered some tips to help you keep your property, and your family safe.

"I've been in houses in broad daylight while people were working next door," Robert Boyer said.

Boyer sits in the Scott County Jail right now, accused in a series of home break-ins.

"I've been in houses all night before," Boyer said.  "I've been in them for 10, 20 minutes. It all just varies where you're at and the situation."

"Me myself, I never took that kind of time," Jason Potts said when Kathy Sweeney asked if he ever staked out a house before breaking in. "I did mine pretty much at random, at whim."

Potts has two burglary convictions on his record.

Sweeney spoke to him in the Pemiscot County jail, where he's being held on a charge not related to burglary.

She asked Potts, "Do you recall how you were able to get inside the house?"

"Yes," said Potts. "I just broke out a little pane of glass and reached in, unlocked the door."

"Right there at the front door?" Sweeney asked.

"Mhm. That simple," Boyer said. "Windows. Doors. Take a crow bar. Put it beside the deadbolt."

It takes a thief to violate your home and steal your property--but it also takes a thief to teach us how to stop them. That's what Potts and Boyer agreed to do, so listen closely.

First off, how do they pick a home to hit?

"Common sense will tell you if they have nice things on the outside," Potts said.

"Just think about what else is going to be inside," Boyer finished the thought.

"A lot of people got them UTVs now," Boyer added. "Just anything worth money. Anything you can do a quick sell on, which is tools, guns, hunting stuff, fishing stuff, boats."

"Say you've got a nice lawn mower and you mow the yard," Potts said. "You're not thinking about the crime going on, especially in a rural area. So, you might just leave that out in the yard and not think about it."

What's going to stop them? Locking your outdoor valuables in a shed or garage.

"Those little round locks, the ones they use at storage units, those are supposed to be uncuttable," said Boyer.

Many thieves aren't going to just settle for what they can take from the outside.

They're taking their chances and going inside.

Best time of day?  Boyer said it's while you're at work.

"Nobody home. Neighbors don't think nothing about it. That was always the best time for me," said Boyer.

Both Potts and Boyer said they used the same method to choose the house they'd hit.

"The way I done it? I just seen the place. Walked up to it and knocked," Boyer said.

"If someone were to answer the door, what would you say?" Kathy asked Potts.

"Just come up with something. You know, I'm looking for someone. Or I'm lost," he answered.

Now what about cars in the driveway?

"That don't mean nothing.  Decoys," said Potts.

How about leaving a few lights on?

"I've been in a couple where it's just decoys," Boyer replied. "And it actually helped out because I didn't have to have a flashlight."

And Boyer warned, don't think you're fooling anyone with a fake security set up.

"They got dummy cameras now, too."

"How do you know the difference between a real camera and a dummy camera," Sweeney asked Boyer.

"You don't. You just take your luck. But I found that on one of the houses I was in. It had a box that said dummy camera. And then I found the dummy camera. You just put double-A batteries in it,  a red light comes on, is all it does. Looked real. I thought it was pretty neat. I actually took it."

"You took the dummy camera," Sweeney asked him.

"Yeah," Boyer said with a laugh.

Both men said once inside, it doesn't take long to find your valuables.

"Ten. Ten minutes at the most," said Boyer.

Beyond the obvious grabs - big screen TV's, tools in the garage or jewelry on a dresser, we tend to hide things in not-so-secret places.

"Attics. Closets," says Boyer.

Sweeney asked him, "Where do people tend to leave their guns?"

"Usually in a closet. Wrapped in a rug or something."

There are a few security measures that do work, according to both men.

"Is having a dog a deterrent," Sweeney asked Potts.

"You know, a dog chained up, maybe not so much. But maybe a dog in the house, a large dog especially, a loud bark, you wouldn't want to go in there and get eat up."

You don't want to mess with dogs," Boyer adds.

What about a security system?

"Security systems attract cops and are pretty loud.  You don't want to mess with those either."

Both Boyer and Potts say, they stole on a whim, needing quick cash to fuel their drug addictions.

So, making it more difficult for someone like them to see your home as a target is key.

"Just like they teach you as a kid.  Put your stuff up," said Boyer.

"Just be very aware of their surroundings and about the nature of people that are out there today. Try not to invite a burglar into your home," said Potts.

Jason Potts told Kathy Sweney that an addiction to meth and cocaine had him resort to stealing to fund his drug use. Now, he wants to make a positive change.

"Well, not only redeem myself, but to help out in the future - trying to change from where I used to be to where I am now."

Boyer, too, said addictions drove him to steal.

"I hate every bit of what I did. Really do," he said.

Boyer said the death of his father caused him to spiral out of control.  And that really hit home when he realized who he victimized.

"I had a Mound City police officer come talk to me about a storage shed I hit in Mounds, Illinois. Come to find out everything I took out of there belonged to a woman who her mother had passed. That sucks," Boyer said.

When Potts was younger, someone broke into his home and stole his property. That made him even more ashamed of his own actions.

"And obviously, I didn't care about the people's home that I was breaking into unfortunately," he admits. "Now, you know, I do. And I hate that they had suffered the loss. But, I can't change what had happened in the past. If I can assure in the future for it not to happen, that's why I'm here today."

Both men said thieves often target the homes of people they know, since they may already know what's inside.

But, that's not the only way criminals know what's in your house or when you're not home.

Pemiscot County Deputy Chris Callen said we often give that information away through social media.

"Most people like to put on there 'I'm leaving town' or 'can't wait to go on vacation in three days,'" Callen said.  "And then you start posting pictures that you're in Florida or California.  And that's one thing they're going to look at through social media is 'hey, they're gone.'"

And you may be surprised to learn what most thieves want to steal right now.

According to police and the two inmates Sweeney interviewed, tools are a main target.

There were dozens of tools inside the evidence locker at the Scott County Sheriff's Office when Sweeney conducted the interviews.

"Are these the kind of items a thief would find typically outside your home," she asked Scott County Captain Ryan Dennis as they stood inside the evidence locker at the Sheriff's Office.

"Outside in a shed, something like that, that would be unlocked," Dennis said.

"And how valuable would something like this be," she asked pointing to a closed tool case. "What is this, for instance?"

"This is a Dewalt drill," Dennis said. "You know, basically they are a couple hundred bucks or more. And you know, we have no idea how to track anything with no markings. If you could put your initials, something, on there that would be hard for them to scrape off. Even if you had it somewhere, you could tell us where you had it. And if they did scrape it off, we could see that it had been tampered with and go from there. That would give us an idea that it would be yours."

And how easy is it to sell something like a tool or a piece of equipment that you steal from someone else's shed or outside their property?

"Tools are probably the easiest to sell because it's harder to track because like I said they don't have serial numbers there that they use. They don't mark the stuff. And it's harder for us to prove who the owner is," said Dennis.

Kathy said she learned a lot doing this story that she's already shared with her family:

  • An unexpected knock on the door by a stranger looking for directions may not be as innocent as it appears.
  • Expensive items should not be left outside or in an unlocked shed, even if you feel safe living out in the country or feel like you know your neighbors.
  • Leaving the lights on, the television on, or cars in the driveway when you’re not home will not necessarily leave the impression that someone is home.
  • My two big, loud house dogs are not only family pets - they are a solid deterrent to thieves.
  • It’s not enough to invest in dummy cameras or fake yard signs. And, many thieves are not staking out your home or tracking your movements.
  • They are looking for a quick buck and the easiest way to make it by targeting homes they believe are easy marks.

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