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Police list top three ‘bad habits’ that make people targets for crime

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(WEEK) -- You've likely seen Facebook statuses reporting a strange man following someone in a store or parking lot.

But, is it fact or fiction?

Police say those sorts of social media posts have caused plenty of public panic; particularly the "creepy white vans" that circulate in warning messages and get thousands of shares online.

Truth is - while police say they take these reports very seriously, sometimes they're more myth than menace.

"Every once in awhile you'll get something going around on social media that's not true." said Amy Dotson, a Peoria Police officer and Spokesperson for the department.

On the other side of the river, East Peoria Police Chief Steve Roegge echoed Dotson, adding "That's the biggest challenge for law enforcement. Social media creates hysteria."

In fact Chief Roegge said while his department has received multiple reports about a suspicious person in a public place, those usually end up being the result of a single report getting shared over and over again.

Take the white van and the East Peoria Kroger for example. The city received so many misleading tips that they learned gained traction; they put out an entire press release, clarifying that the van belonged to the grocery store, assuring people there was no public threat, and reminding them to file an official report, instead of filing a Facebook status.

And when all is said and done, both Dotson and Roegge pointed out, people are much more likely to fall victim to simpler crimes.


"They'll leave their items in the car. They'll also leave garage door openers that will then allow people to get into the closed garage." Roegge listed.

He said while East Peoria doesn't have much violent crime, the bulk of their reports are crimes of opportunity; including the ever popular purse, phone, keys, wallet and other valuables left in plain sight for thieves.

"Imagine the jackpot they get when they find cash in a console. Maybe an unsecured firearm that's lawfully owned under a seat. A laptop. Spare change…" Dotson listed as well.

She added the common mistake so many are guilty of, is believing their items are safe because "It'll be okay for just a second. Or just a couple minutes. I'll be right back - it won't happen to me."

But police also say criminals aren't looking to call attention to themselves by smashing in your windows. In fact, it's quite the opposite.

Which means instead of breaking into your car, you likely let them right in.

If this sounds familiar, you're not alone. Officers say an open vehicle is also at the top of the list for making yourself more of a mark for criminals who may be casing the area; especially ones watching you walk away from your vehicle without sounding the alarm.

The other split second decision law enforcement says that invites criminals and danger, is leaving your car running with the keys in it.

"Safety isn't always convenient" Roegge said matter-of-factly. He offered a hypothetical question. Is the few seconds you saved by not turning your car off and running into your home or to a store, worth the possibility of coming back to it stolen, then having to wait on police, to then file a police report, to then hope your insurance will over it, and so on?

But perhaps more common that the previous examples, reigning supreme on all lists, is being distracted!

Roegge and Dotson say not being aware of your surroundings may sound like the common sense explanation for being susceptible to crime, but common sense doesn't always prevail.

"When you're walking to your car, your hands need to be free, of clutter, of objects." Dotson outlined.

And if you phone is in your hand, she says it can be handy to have 911 on the screen already typed, just in case they need it.

The multiple bags draped from your arm, earphones in or fingers speeding away while replying to a text, are a green light, police say, for criminals preying on your lack of focus and attention to safety.

Police also say they can't stress enough, See Something, Say Something, Do Something!

They can't help you, gather information or make an arrest if you don't make them aware of any concerns - whether it is a suspicious person, theft or any other crime.

Lauren Melendez

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