Inside the Mind of a Burglar:  UNC Study Shares Valuable Info for Home, Work

   09.25.20

Inside the Mind of a Burglar:  UNC Study Shares Valuable Info for Home, Work

2012 Study by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte is making fresh rounds on some gun influencers’ social media. Though its publication date is a bit old, the findings are still mostly applicable. Interviews with burglary convicts were done when security cameras, alarms, and stickers indicating the presence of these measures, were common, as they are today.

The study sought input from 422 convicted burglars from Kentucky, Ohio, and North Carolina. They completed a self-administered questionnaire that comprised the data for the study. Its purpose? To find out if burglar alarms are effective as a deterrent, and if so, how. But for the average person, the respondents’ answers to the study’s research questions are intriguing and useful. Those questions are:

  • What motivates offenders to commit burglary?
  • What factors are considered by burglars during target selection?
  • What deters burglars from burglarizing specific targets?
  • What techniques do burglars use when engaging in burglary?
  • Are their gender differences in burglary motivations, target selection, and techniques?

Here are the conclusions, condensed for brevity.

Motivation: In short, drugs. Most people in the study were users of numerous drugs, both as a habit and during commission of their crimes. A very large majority, 88%, said their burglaries were done in an attempt to obtain drugs, money to purchase drugs, or goods to sell and use the proceeds to obtain drugs.

Target Selection: Burglars are an impulsive lot. Spur-of-the-moment-only decisions to burgle were reported by 41% of convicts. Among the rest, 37% said they planned sometimes. Planning is a seemingly haphazard process, with most forethought occurring the same day as the crime.

Businesses were burgled less often than residences. Distances traveled to commit the crimes varied widely. Some burgled within two blocks of home. Others drove across state lines. Most were somewhere in between.

Best Deterrents: The presence of people around or inside the building was reported as a prime deterrent. Burglars said they took note of purposeful deterrents like alarms, big dogs, cameras, and signs touting the structure’s security system. These factors seem to play a big deterrent role, with 60% of burglars saying they took note of such features prior to committing larceny/theft. Not surprising is that those who reported pre-planning also said they are more likely to choose a location without these features.

Building/property structure also played a part with pre-burglary planning. Buildings with only one logical escape route are often passed over as being too risky.

Preferred Techniques:  The path of least resistance – open windows and doors – is the most frequent choice of building access. After that, crudely forced entry through doors or windows is preferred. The most common forced entry tool was a screwdriver, followed by a hammer and/or crowbar. Just one in eight resorted to picking locks or using a stolen key.

The rapid sale of stolen goods was the norm among the respondents. They sold their favorite targeted items including jewelry, illegal drugs, electronics, and prescription drugs, ASAP after their crimes, unless they’d acted to obtain cash or their own drugs of choice. When an immediate sale wasn’t in the works, most stored stolen goods in a friend’s home. Others had dedicated storage sites in the form of abandoned buildings.

Gender Differences: Women, at the rate of 70%, reported being motivated primarily by drugs, especially being interested in prescription medicines. They also were more likely to strike households during the day, while men were more likely to seek commercial locations after business hours. Neither group was disproportionally deterred by cameras and other obvious signs of surveillance, though women were slightly less likely to act on places with them.

Women acted on apparent impulse more often, taking goods and money without pre-planning. Men were more likely to be planners. Especially where alarms are concerned, some men devoted time to planning and  disarming alarms, while women avoided alarm-outfitted locations. Women often acted as secondary accomplices to a burglar friend, often citing a belief that they’d seem the less-guilty member of a criminal team. Stealing to get things for children was cited by some women, while no males gave this as a reason.

There are many more useful details in the report. These are general highlights. With astute profiling of their own property and community risk factors, a property owner or manager can use this report to plan their own burglary protections.

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