They called themselves A, B and C, and they said they were pros.
Together, they accounted for 150 to 160 burglaries in the Washington area, said Fairfax Deputy Sheriff Bill Bolden. By the time the three men had finished their 90-minute presentation at Hayfield High School last week, few in the audience of 250 were questioning their credentials.
"Sometimes you can look in the windows and just see the dollar signs," said C, who explaianed that leaving windows or curtains open was a sure way to let burglars window-shop through a neighborhood looking for valuables.
C was well qualified to make that statement. He, like the other two guests on the program, is a convicted burglar awaiting sentencing. The burglars, on furlough from the Fairfax County Jail, were the stars of a special panel set up by a police citizens advisory committee in cooperation with the Franconia Police Station.
Concern about the county's latest burglary statistics prompted William Urick, chairman of the Franconia District Citizens Advisory Committee, to put the program together with the help of police officials. From January to April, 2,446 burglaries -- 759 more than in the same period last year -- have been reported countywide, said Fairfax Police spokesman Warren Carmichael.
Most of audience consisted of older residents who listened attentively and clutched note pads as the three men expertly, and sometimes humorously, spun tales of criminal intrigue and gave tips on how to deter burglars.
Like much of the program, the tips were basic: Get stronger locks; secure windows; have your mail and newspapers collected while on vacation; leave the lights on; trim the shrubbery and play the radio or television, especially when there is no one at home. All three men agreed that sophisticated alarm systems were the strongest deterrents to burglars.
The guest panelists did offer some surprises. Two of them said their homes were burglarized while they were in jail.
The other tips were to be wary of servicemen who make repairs at home, and to take special precautions when leaving home on winter evenings between 5 and 9.
"Forty percent of the time [service] people can give their friends information, or unbolt windows themselves and send somebody else back to make the pickup," A told the audience. For that reason, he said, many burglars dress in dark blue service uniforms and prey upon homes in the daytime.
From 5 until 9 p.m. in the winter months is considered prime time, one of the burglary panelists, B, said, because "it gets dark at 5 in the winter and no one sits at home with all the lights out then."
Such pointers were well received.
"This is excellent, far better than listening to canned lectures. I just wish there was more time for questions," said Army Col. Brian Branagan, who emerged from the session with two legal-sized pages of notes. "They really got me," Branagan said of the burglars' description of how they obtained tips from and actually collaborated with some repairmen.
Another member of the audience, Ruby Dawson, shared many of Branagan's feelings. "If anybody knew anything about [burglary], it would sure have to be them."
Neither Dawson's nor Branagan's home has been burglarized, but Leonard High, also of Franconia, said that about three years ago he and his family walked in on a burglar.
"Maybe we'll get some control over the regulation of gold and silver now," High said, referring to a panelist's remark that gold and silver items, rather than televisions and stereos, are what burglars now seek.
There might have been some satisfied residents, but Deputy Sheriff Bolden made it clear that he is not fond of using convicted burglars to give talks about burglary.
"Inmates use this to snow the system," Bolden said. "They haven't even been sentenced [for their offenses]. There's a lot of attention that goes with it."
Bolden also said the use of the burglars, two of whom were black and one of whom was a muscular, 30-year-old white man, promotes a stereotype about both burglary and the persons who commit it. The panelists at Hayfield "falsely stereotype burglars as greasers and blacks," he said. "What about the salesmen we open up our doors to? They could be casing your house."
Bolden said the session was good for increasing community awareness and educating the public about the limitations of the police, but he added that he would not conduct another one with real burglars. "I think that the [police] officers could better relate what goes on," he said. "It's unfortunate, but that's the attitude of the public. Everybody wants to see what a real criminal looks like."