Susan Cain locked her car and went for an afternoon walk with her three Labrador retrievers in an off-leash area of the East Branch Forest Preserve near Glendale Heights.
After about a 30-minute visit last week, Cain returned to the parking lot to find her driver’s side window shattered. Shards of glass littered the asphalt.
“I go to this dog park all the time, and I feel grateful for the fact that I wasn’t harmed. My dogs weren’t harmed,” Cain said. “There was a little bit of glass clean up there. But I am $500 out of pocket.”
Nothing was stolen from inside Cain’s car. But other forest preserve visitors have experienced car break-ins recently.
“We have had similar incidents this summer,” DuPage Forest Preserve District Police Chief David Pederson said Monday.
Cain posted about it on Facebook to alert her dog park friends and wrote a letter to forest preserve commissioners.
“I think it’s a problem that citizens should be aware of,” the Wheaton woman said. “I just don’t look at it as a forest preserve problem at all. It’s everywhere.”
That same day, police received a report of another broken car window on the driver’s side at a forest preserve nearby, Pederson said. Nothing appeared to be taken, but police have identified a suspect vehicle and broadcast information about it via the Illinois State Police Emergency Radio Network. While the two incidents may “very likely” be related, police are reminding forest preserve visitors to take precautions.
“Always protect your belongings by trying to conceal anything of value before you actually enter the forest preserve because, unfortunately, these suspects do observe people’s activities,” Pederson said. “Never leave anything in plain sight, and always lock up your vehicle.”
In the last two years, the forest preserve district has installed Flock license plate reading cameras in areas hit by vehicle burglaries. Pederson said cameras have been placed in most of the district’s off-leash dog areas because “they have been a higher target.”
“We are trying to be very proactive, and we’ve seen a deterrence in some of those parking lots,” Pederson said.
Five new automatic license plate readers were installed early this spring.
“We’ll continue to assess if there’s a need to place them at other locations in the future,” Pederson said.
Forest preserve visitors can also sign up to receive email and text alerts. The district periodically shares information with subscribers to help make them aware of vehicle burglaries and remind them of safety tips, Pederson said.
If they see items of value inside a car while on patrol, police leave placards on the windshield explaining how people can avoid vehicle break-ins.
Cain has suggested the district install cameras, post information about criminal activity on preserve bulletin boards, create a citizens action committee and “throw a spotlight on this a bit.”
“It’s not a lot of money,” Cain said of the cost of repairs, “but it’s enough money for you to stop and say we’ve got to do something here.”
Cain commended forest preserve police for their prompt response. By the time she got there, police were already waiting by her car.
“I’m very grateful for the work that the forest preserve district does,” Cain said. “And somebody called 911. It was lovely, and it’s fabulous to see the sense of community that dog owners have, one to another, that somebody would call 911, the minute they saw a problem.”