Neighbors on Watch—residents are stepping up to protect their neighborhoods

November 2014 View more

iStock_000004163405XLarge_800pxAfter a string of burglaries in a south Naperville neighborhood last fall, Naperville’s Deputy Police Chief Brian Cunningham was called to attend a community meeting with homeowners to discuss the recent crimes.

“I expected maybe 20 people to be at the meeting,” Cunningham said. “I was wrong. At least 300 people showed up.”

The well-publicized rash of burglaries that hit Naperville last year shook the community. In 2013, Naperville saw approximately 35 burglaries in August and September. The focus came when the community saw a sharp increase the last two weeks of August with 14 burglaries reported. The time of the incidents ranged from early morning to late at night, according to documents obtained from the Naperville Police Department. A majority of these burglaries took place on Naperville’s south and southeast sides.

“Typically what happens is the professionals will hit a particular area during the day,” Cunningham said. “During the day there are all kinds of people driving around—delivery people, landscapers and others. [Burglars] can blend in without being noticed.”
However, what’s unusual about 2013, Cunningham said, is there wasn’t a significant increase in overall burglaries for the year. Rather, it was the jump in a short amount of time that caught the attention of media and the community.

The string of both day and nighttime burglaries prompted the Naperville Police Department to enlist the help of the community. What followed was an outpouring of neighborly support with a flood of tips and calls and a watchful eye from the community.

Neighbors on watch

Increased police presence and surveillance of the affected areas resulted in a handful of arrests in the burglary cases, Cunningham said. But the uptick in involvement on the part of the community was largely to thank as well.

“We reached out to the community to help and they did a lot,” Cunningham said. “Residents would call to report any outsiders —even about construction workers —and we would go out and verify they were out there legitimately.”

A Facebook group started last September dubbed “Neighborhood Watch of SE Naperville IL” posted updates to the community from Naperville Police and shared safety tips and meeting information related to the burglaries. The page encouraged targeted surveillance by neighbors between the hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the time frame reported to have the highest number of daytime burglaries by Naperville Police.

It’s that type of vigilance that helps prevent crime. Cunningham said Naperville Police greatly appreciate and take seriously crime tips passed along from residents and local community groups. Community Radio Watch and Naperville Crime Stoppers are two major volunteer based organizations that provide aid and tips to Naperville Police on a regular basis.

“We can’t be everywhere, and these groups of volunteers give up their own time to help protect the community,” Cunningham said. “Sometimes they’ll even go into specific areas and drive around. They are pretty important to us.”

Volunteers stopping crime

Mary Browning, board member of Naperville Crime Stoppers, said the all-volunteer, nonprofit organization received an influx of tips last year and passed along the information to police. The group, which was established in 1982, works closely with Naperville Police and doles out reward money raised through fundraisers and donations.

But whether or not the spotlight’s on community involvement, Crime Stoppers are always sending tips to police. From April to June of this year, Browning said Crime Stoppers’ tips to Naperville Police resulted in three significant arrests. Since 1996, Crime Stoppers has recovered more than $7.5 million worth of cash, property and drugs for Naperville Police.

Crime Stoppers’ mission is to give witnesses, or those who know information about a crime, a safe, anonymous way to share information. If the tip results in an arrest, or seizure of drugs, the reward can be up to $1,000.

“We give people who might have witnessed something or seen something, another avenue of getting that information to the correct authorities without having to get personally involved,” Browning said. “For those who might be hesitant—maybe they don’t want to go to court or are afraid of retaliation—Crime Stoppers takes all those worries out of the equation. We are trying to give people another way of doing the right thing.”

This fall, Crime Stoppers worked with the City of Naperville to have an informational flier placed inside the nearly 40,000 households receiving new recycling carts.

“The flier that went to these thousands of Naperville residences offers tips on keeping your home secure from burglaries,” Browning said. “We’re offering really good pointers on how they can make their home a tougher target.”

Crime Stoppers doesn’t investigate any of the tips—only passes them along to police.

“We work closely, naturally, with Naperville Police,” Browning said. “I can’t say much about the tips we’ve received, but I can tell you we’ve helped solve many high profile cases in Naperville.”

Protecting the community

Involvement from the community is something Cunningham hopes sticks with Naperville residents. It’s all about paying extra attention to who lives in the neighborhoods and who shouldn’t be there, regardless if the media spotlight is on Naperville crime or not.

“One of the big points we try to stress is: get to know your neighbors,” Cunningham said. “That way, you’ll more easily notice when someone looks suspicious. When our [undercover] officers can drive through neighborhoods, getting out of their car, and no one calls, we know people aren’t paying attention.”

Overall, Cunningham said, the community has been active recently in reporting suspicious activity in neighborhoods and burglaries are down about 35 percent to-date in 2014.

“Preventing crime really does take awareness on the part of the community,” Cunningham said.

For more information on joining Naperville Crime Stoppers visit, To submit an anonymous tip to Crime Stoppers, call 630.420.6006. To join Naperville Community Radio Watch, call the Naperville Police Department at 630.305.5477, email, or attend a monthly meeting held the first Thursday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the Training Room at the Naperville Police Department, 1350 Aurora Ave.