Think like a burglar.
Residential burglary is one of the most widespread, serious crimes in the US. Things that may seem part of your normal everyday life might be an invitation to an opportunistic thief. The best way to protect your home? Think like a burglar!
The most important thing to know about burglars? They desire to minimize confrontation and risk while maximizing a successful crime. Burglars are looking to grab and dash. Their number one priority is to increase their cash flow; their second is to go unnoticed. Keep this in mind as you read this blog, you’ll notice this overarching theme throughout.
Now, let’s delve into the mind of a burglar!
What is burglary?
First, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page – what exactly is burglary? According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, burglary is “the unlawful entry of a structure to commit a felony or theft.” There are three subclassifications for burglary: 1) forcible entry; 2) attempted forcible entry; 3) unlawful entry without force.
- 1,117,696 total estimated burglaries
- $3 billion in total estimated property losses
- Average dollar loss per burglary offense was $2,661
- Arrest rate for burglary was 52.3 per 100,000 inhabitants
What does a typical burglar look like?
Contrary to popular media, burglars are usually not conspicuously dressed in all black, donning a ski mask. Not only are they trying to avoid suspicion, but burglars often decide to commit their crime at the spur of the moment whenever they notice an ideal opportunity. So, more often than not, they are typically wearing their everyday street clothes. However, more crafty thieves may disguise themselves in a work uniform – delivery person, salesperson, home repair technician, etc. A person entering your home wearing a uniform is less likely to cause suspicion than someone clothed in all black. Moreover, burglars can rely on the uniform as an excuse if questioned by a neighbor.
Men are nearly FOUR TIMES more likely to burglarize than women, based on statistics of convicted offenders. And while the age of convicted burglars ranges from 10 to 80, the vast majority are under the age of 40. Many of those arrested were seasoned offenders, involved in repeated burglaries or other serious crimes. Drug and alcohol use were frequently associated with their criminal activities.
Why do burglars steal?
According to 88% of the convicted offenders surveyed, drugs and partying were their top reasons for committing burglaries. Because of this, the top items criminals are looking for are cash and drugs, even prescription ones. They will also look to grab small, high-value items they can sell or pawn quickly, such as electronics, jewelry, and power tools.
Remember, burglars don’t want to be caught! So, they will look for items they can quickly conceal on their person that will give them the highest cost return.
Who do burglars target?
Home occupancy is the number one consideration for choosing a target. Once again, a burglar wants to avoid arrest. Encountering a victim at home increases this risk. The risk of injury also grows, whether inflicted by the victim or self-inflicted while trying to flee. Furthermore, engaging an occupant is a much more severe crime than burglary, bringing a harsher punishment.
Ease of access is another significant factor when choosing a target. The number one way burglars enter a home is through a door, whether unlocked or forced open with little effort. Therefore, burglars are inclined to target single-family homes over apartments because they have more points of ground-level entry.
Burglars also favor dwellings with tall fences, shrubbery, or other coverings that would help conceal them during entry and escape. Again, anything that will help mitigate the risk of being caught is preferable.
Once a burglar successfully burgles a home, research shows that property then has a higher risk of being targeted again, especially within 30-60 days of the initial crime.
When do burglars strike?
Authorities often refer to burglary as a crime of opportunity. More often than not, burglaries occur on the spur of the moment when an offender notices a suitable target or advantageous situation. The majority of burglars do not make extensive plans for their crimes.
Dispelling another common belief, most home invaders do not strike at night. Rather, most commit their crimes during the day: Monday through Friday between the hours of 9am to 3pm. Once again, the burglar’s main priority is to avoid detection. Because most people are home asleep at night, the odds are significantly higher that occupants will be away during the day. Generally, this is when people are at work, at school, or running errands.
What deters burglars?
Burglars tend to shy away from 1) occupied homes; 2) homes that lack escape routes or have highly visible ones; 3) homes with obvious target hardening. Target hardening is the strengthening of a property’s security with the intent to reduce the risk of becoming the target of a crime. Target hardening can include adding security features such as an intrusion detection system, surveillance cameras, or motion-activated lights. It can also refer to property design and maintenance such as reinforcing doors/windows, keeping bushes neatly trimmed, or adding protective landscaping.
Home security systems are one of the most effective deterrents of burglars. Research shows that homes without security systems are nearly THREE TIMES more likely to be burglarized than homes with one. In a survey of convicted burglars, 60% say “that the presence of an alarm would cause them to seek an alternative target altogether.” If a criminal discovered a security system after they had already begun a burglary, about half said they would immediately abandon their efforts.
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How do you best protect your home?
So how can you use this information to your advantage? Well, now that you know more about burglars and their motives, you can put on “burglar goggles” – inspect your home through the eyes of a burglar! What would you look for when choosing your target? What would you avoid? Take a minute to write down a short list. Using your list and our free Home Security Audit Guide, perform an inspection of your home, inside and out. Once you’ve discovered your home’s weaknesses, you can decide what improvements to make that would work best for you and your budget.
The absolute best way to prevent a burglary is to put on your “thief goggles” every time you are about to leave your property. The best security will do nothing for you if you forget to arm your system or leave the back door wide open. Remember, a burglar is looking for just that type of opportunity. Please know that we are not condoning pessimism, fear, or even paranoia. Rather, we’re inviting you to take the offense against home theft.
- FBI Releases 2019 Crime Statistics, FBI’s Unified Crime Reporting Program
- Understanding Decisions to Burglarize from the Offender’s Perspective, Joseph B. Kuhns, The University of North Carolina at Charlotte Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology
- Prevention of Residential Burglary, Portland State University Criminology & Criminal Justice Senior Capstone Project Summer 2010