Understanding Decisions to Burglarize

Sep 7 / Dan Keller

In December 2012, the University of North Carolina in Charlotte Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology published an important criminology report entitled “Understanding the Decision to Burglarize from the Offender’s Perspective”.  The key findings from the 422 convicted burglars interviewed are summarized below.

In December 2012, the University of North Carolina in Charlotte Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology published an important criminology report entitled “Understanding the Decision to Burglarize from the Offender’s Perspective”.

In this study, upon which the report findings were based, they researched the decision-making processes and methods of 422 convicted burglars selected at random from state prison systems in North Carolina, Kentucky, and Ohio. The study was funded by The Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation.

Among the research of convicted and incarcerated burglars was the following:
  • What motivates burglars to engage in burglary? (Offender motivation)
  • What factors were considered by burglars during target selection? (Target selective consideration)
  • What techniques do burglars use when engaging in burglary? (Burglar’s techniques)
  • Are there gender differences in burglary motivations?
  • Target selection and technique?

The study was designed to specifically access the deterrent effect, if any, of intrusion detection systems (burglar alarms) on offenders’ decision to burglarize. Many of the sample of 422 convicted burglars were seasoned offenders – a mean of 12.9 criminal arrests.

The most frequent reasons for committing burglaries were related to the need to acquire drugs (51%) or money (37%), which was often used to support drug habits.

When asked how income accumulated from burglaries would be spent:
  • Drug use was the most frequent answer (64%)
  • Followed by living expenses (49%)
  • Partying (35%)
  • Clothing (31%)
  • Gifts (17%)
  • Gambling (5%)

12% of convicted burglars indicated they typically planned the burglary in advance.

41% said it was often a ‘spur of the moment’ decision.

37% reported it varied between the two.

Occupancy of the target was indicated as the greatest concern or deterrent for burglars. They feared potential injury to themselves, being apprehended, or risking more punishment if they harmed residents.

Approximately 60% of the convicted burglars indicated the presence of a burglar alarm would cause them to seek an alternative target, particularly those who spent time planning the burglary.

The vast majority of burglars do not attempt to disable burglar alarms – only about 8% do. Only 10% said they would attempt a burglary if an alarm was present.

What techniques did the burglars use to commit burglary?
  • Most reported entering open windows or doors or forcing windows or doors open
  • Only 1 in 8 report picking locks or using a key
  • 20% reported cutting telephone or alarm wires in advance of entry
  • Screwdrivers were the most common tool used by burglars followed by crowbars and hammers.

In terms of disposal of items stolen during a burglary, most burglars reported selling items to strangers, pawn shops, or friends, or trading the items for something else.

The study showed the following gender differences of convicted burglars:
  • Male burglars plan burglaries more often than female burglars
  • Females prefer to burglarize residences in the afternoon while males tend to focus on commercial businesses during late evenings.
  • 70% of females were looking primarily for jewelry while males’ top reasons were drugs and money.
  • More females reported engaging in burglaries with spouses or significant others while more males reported doing so with friends.
  • More females than males were likely to look for prescription drugs while engaging in a robbery

Many burglars offend in close proximity to their personal residence, often due to lack of transportation, lack of money for gas or poor quality of their personal vehicles.

Burglars tend to feel more comfortable in familiar environments or where they can blend into the demographics of the neighborhood.

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