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Inside the mind of a burglar

Sunday, 09 December 2012


Burglars are opportunistic, generally choose their targets at random and know the all the tricks householders try to use as deterrents, according to a new study from Edith Cowan University (ECU).

In conjunction with the Australian Institute of Criminology, researchers from ECU’s School of Law and Justice conducted the study with 69 participants who admitted to having committed a burglary and revealed their ‘tricks of the trade’ to the researchers.

The study showed that burglars looked for tell-tale signs that a home was empty including full post boxes, uncollected newspapers and rubbish bins left outside. Leaving lights on late at night was considered a poor attempt at making the house appear occupied.

The study found that burglaries were spontaneous and depended on how easy it is was to gain access to a property. On average it took just 5 to 15 minutes to commit a crime but this could net the burglars up to $5000 worth of cash and goods.

Those questioned commented that attempts to make an empty home look occupied actually advertised the home’s vacancy, with statements such as “leaving the lights and radio on – means no one is home late at night”.

Other common mistakes made by householders included:

  • Leaving windows and doors unlocked;
  • Allowing access down the side of the house;
  • Valuables in full view;
  • Lack of an alarm or failure to switch an alarm on;
  • Carelessly hidden spare keys;
  • Uncollected rubbish bins; and
  • Social media status indicating they were away.

Burglars also looked for houses where a party was being held, as this often meant a lower level of security.

The study’s lead researcher, Dr Natalie Gately from ECU’s School of Law and Justice, urged homeowners to make use of these findings over the festive season.

“These findings reveal that we can take easy steps to help prevent our houses from being broken into, particularly in the festive season when houses have gifts on display,” Dr Gately said.

“Whilst it is exciting to update your status on Facebook, it is also an advertisement that your house may be empty! If you do that it’s important to ensure privacy functions are on.”

“We need to listen to what the burglars are telling us so we can change and improve the ways we protect our homes and belongings.”

“With summer here, many of us hold parties at our houses and may not take notice of people we do not recognise. We need to be alert to unknown intruders and keep the front door locked if everyone is out the back of the house, ensuring that no unwanted guests spoil the party,” Dr Gately said.

According to the burglars, the top deterrent against breaking in was the presence of a dog at a property, with 53 per cent of offenders stating that this would prevent them from committing a crime.

“Getting a dog may not be a practical option for everyone. We should use our common sense in remembering to lock doors and windows, close blinds and use your house alarm,” Dr Gately said.

“These simple yet effective measures are the key to deterring the opportunistic thief.”

“The pilot project was developed as we wanted to identify the behaviours exhibited by burglars, as well as the common mistakes made by homeowners, and also see whether social media played a part in the offences,” Dr Gately said.

The findings of this pilot study will be used to form the basis of a wider study into the motivations of burglars.

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