What are burglars looking out for?

Think your home is secure? With Britain suffering the highest burglary rates in Europe, burglars say “you’re making life easy”.

Thieves boast that they can get in no matter what security measures are in place. Inventive ones are prepared to remove doors and poison dogs to get in.

A new in-depth study amongst a group of convicted British burglars, on behalf of Halifax Home Insurance and conducted by leading criminologist Professor Martin Gill, helps to illustrate why Britain has become Europe’s burglary capital.

The report, entitled The Modus Operandi of a Thief, is the culmination of a number of one-to-one interviews with British burglars and a tour of three notorious burglary hotspots in Nottingham, Bedford and the West Midlands.

Burglars were at pains to point out where and how security shy Britons are leaving their homes wide open to burglars.

Commenting on the findings of the report, Professor Martin Gill, said: “It’s little wonder that Britain has the highest burglary rates, given the startling ease with which thieves told us they can get into our homes.”

What the burglars say:

• Burglars report that burglar alarms are often left inactivated or ignored.

This information was confirmed in a separate poll by Halifax where 34% of householders with an alarm fitted to their home said they rarely activated it.

A further 33% also said that they assume sounding burglar alarms in their neighbourhood to be false.

• Burglars report that doors and windows are often left unsecured, or even wide open, allowing them to literally let themselves in.

This was also backed up by 64% of householders who confessed to occasionally leaving doors unlocked whilst away from the home, and a further 37% whilst inside the home – even though statistics show that 22% of burglaries are carried out with the thief aware that the home was occupied.

One offender often gained entry to homes by putting their hands in a letterbox and pulling the keys out.

• Burglars said that if they were really determined to break into your home then next to nothing will stop them from making an attempt.

They are both inventive and skilled and will find their way around most obstacles. Some thieves have learnt how to dismantle alarms, remove patio doors and force open sash windows.

Even the security lighting can be used to help thieves see inside an unlit home. Others will pose as a bogus caller to gain entry, wear disguises to avoid CCTV camera detection and even poison meat to silence noisy animals.

• The majority of burglars in the study were highly confident that they can commit their crimes without any consequences. And even then they regarded prison more as a school for honing their burglary skills, rather than as a deterrent.

Sizing up your home: Top things thieves look out for

• Burglars generally prefer empty properties, often looking for visual clues such as an empty drive.

• Evidence of occupancy is generally a bad sign so any lights, televisions and radios left on are usually off-putting for burglars.

• Ironically a common tactic employed by homeowners to make the house look occupied, leaving the curtains closed, actually encourages burglars who believe it indicates the occupants are on holiday.

• If the property is going to be vacant for an extended period, ask a trusted neighbour to open and close curtains, collect milk from the door step, turn lights on and off, and remove unopened post that is visible etc. so that the property continues to look occupied.

• Burglars are attracted by the sight of valuables, including car keys. They spot these by simply looking through windows and doors. Householders need to be careful about the type of goods that are on display. Blinds can help to obscure vision.

• Empty packaging left outside in view of passers-by (e.g. plasma TV boxes) suggests that there is something expensive in the property worth stealing.

Assessing the risk

An activated alarm linked to a formal response will deter some thieves.

Window and door locks make access more difficult especially for the opportunist.

In high crime areas some burglars advised fitting bars and grilles to vulnerable windows to stop anyone climbing through.

Security lights that are positioned high out of reach where they cannot be easily repositioned are seen as a nuisance by some burglars.

Trees and hedges are used as cover for burglars since it decreases the chances they could be seen by a passer-by. Fences, high walls and gates surrounding the property make escape more difficult.

Many burglars said that they don’t like dogs because they bark and draw attention and can also bite. A simple sign warning of dogs was enough to deter some. Shockingly some burglars use poisoned meat to silence animals.

Getting in

The majority of offenders preferred opportunist burglaries because it ‘made their lives easier.’

In the majority of cases these opportunities were said to present themselves in the form of an open window or an unlocked door – most burglars opting for the back door first.

For an opportunist burglary some criminals will burgle garages and sheds first in order to access tools to help them gain entry to the house.

If an opportunity did not present itself then the second most common type of burglary in the study was breaking and entering, or forced entry.

A variety of techniques were used for this such as using a crow bar, spade or shovel, wrapping a brick in a jumper and smashing a window or simply kicking a door down.

The most common tool used to aid entry was a screwdriver, often used as a lever to remove windows, doors and hinges. Other tools included crowbars and bolt cutters. There were some complex methods of entry.

Some offenders even dismantle alarms and patio doors, which clearly involves a high level of skill and dexterity. Burglars are not above impersonating someone else to access a property.

One burglar would gain the confidence of the owner by posing as a car washer to gain entrance to a home. Once inside they would distract the homeowner to enable them to steal items of value.

Avoiding security

Burglar alarms are often not set at night, and often even during the day when the house was left unoccupied. Even when an alarm is set burglars feel they have some time before the police will arrive – noting that the public were often accustomed to alarms going off and so don’t take a lot of notice.

Even when security products and initiatives are more sophisticated, so too are the methods and techniques employed by offenders.

In some cases security measures work to a burglar’s advantage, a case in point is security lights. In the opinion of burglars these can significantly improve their vision when accessing a property, providing a handy light to work by. Others reposition motion sensors to prevent them from illuminating when they pass.

The effectiveness of CCTV is often mitigated by wearing disguises typically hats, largely baseball caps.

In addition to wearing protective gloves to ensure no DNA/prints were left at the scene – carrier bags are sometimes worn over shoes to ensure no footprints are left behind.

Accessing and escaping from a property

Generally, burglars like to access property from the rear as it offers a safe environment. Having adequate fences and locked gates can make this a less inviting opportunity.

Alleyways are seen as a useful resource in both accessing properties from the back and providing a quick escape. Increasingly these alleyways are fitted with wrought iron gates.

Those that were closed and locked did serve as a deterrent to some burglars.

Categories: crime prevention