Burglars give tips of the trade
Author Morris Mandel once said: “After several thousand years, we have advanced to the point where we bolt our doors and windows and turn on our burglar alarms while the jungle natives sleep in open-door huts.”
Another way of looking at this is that thieves target premises they believe will yield the most valuable items with a minimum of fuss, a view borne out by a series of recent and candid interviews with recidivist burglars.
Despite regular police advice to lock your house when you leave, these interviews show that nearly two-thirds of all burglaries are through unlocked doors and windows.
So if you are not inclined to heed police advice, perhaps consider what the burglars themselves have been telling researchers at Perth police station Watch House.
The Australian Institute of Criminology has released the results of the survey of prisoners in the Watch House who were asked a series of questions about burglaries they had committed.
Specifically, what were the factors that made them decide that a property was vulnerable or worth breaking into?
The survey was by independent university researchers as part of their broader drug use monitoring project.
The results should be a lesson to us all.
Unsurprisingly, more than 90 per cent of those eligible to be interviewed were male and more than 80 per cent were unemployed. Because juveniles were not included, the average age of those who admitted burglary was 28.
Half were Caucasian and half Aboriginal.
According to the survey, nearly 60 per cent of burglaries were unplanned and opportunistic. This strongly suggests that offenders were not prepared or equipped to break into a house and were looking for “vulnerable” premises which could be easily entered and property removed.
Only about 30 per cent of respondents said they had planned the burglary.
The mindset of these more “organised” burglars, however, is instructive and offers us a real chance of protecting or “target-hardening” our property.
According to these offenders, they look for properties that: have no alarm systems; have no dogs; look vacant or unattended; and have no cars in the driveway.
Offenders also reported that their first actions on getting to a property were to check for unlocked doors and windows to facilitate entry with a minimum of fuss.
A staggering 66 per cent of respondents told researchers they got into their last property through an open door or window.
Most said they avoided confrontation with a victim indicating that “home invasion” is much more unlikely.
The offenders were asked what most deterred them from breaking into a property. There were two clear factors that most tried to avoid during a burglary: noise and visibility.
They cited the fact that though they were not necessarily scared of dogs, constant barking was a deterrent and elevated the risk of them being caught. Alarm systems were also mentioned as a significant deterrent for the same reasons.
Respondents also said they were very aware of proximity to neighbours and considered whether they were likely to be spotted while on the property.
Properties that were hidden from the road or had a lot of vegetation at the front were clearly at higher risk and offered better protection for the burglar. Interestingly, many of the respondents to the survey said they were also very aware of attempts to make a house look like it was occupied.
“Give-aways” included leaving the television or radio on at times when it would be unusual for these things to be operating.
In responding to questions about why a particular property was targeted, the offenders explained that living in an affluent area, having an expensive car in the driveway and/or valuable items on display or in view were attractive to them.
Leaving curtains or blinds open so items were easily visible encouraged break-ins.
They also said valuables such as dirt bikes and garden chairs left outside were easy targets. This supports the view that burglars target areas where they perceive a high likelihood of finding valuable or easily removable items.
Finally, the researchers were interested in the type of property stolen from houses.
“Hot items” were identified as the most valuable and easily disposed of goods — laptops, iPads, mobile phones, wallets, purses, jewellery and car keys.
These were the most sought after because they are easy to hide and easy to carry.
Money hidden in the freezer and jewellery in bedroom drawers and in jewellery boxes were listed as easy targets.
Therefore, the harder something is to find, the less likely that it will be taken, especially given the researchers found that the average offender spent less than five minutes inside a property.
Though the AIC survey involved a relatively small sample of offenders, it still gives us an important insight into the minds of burglars and more importantly makes it clear that there are many things within our control that we can do to reduce the chances of a break and enter into our homes.
We need to stop inviting burglars to simply walk into our houses because we are not paying attention to locked doors and windows.
Karl O’Callaghan is the Commissioner of WA Police.
© The West Australian