Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

UnderstandingYour Local Problem

The information provided above is only a generalized description of burglary of single-family houses. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing the local problem carefully will help you design a more effective response strategy.

Descriptive information about typical burglars, at-risk houses and vulnerable areas reflects general characteristics of burglary in specific places or across a large number of offenses. However, different burglary patterns appear even within quite small areas.76 Because burglaries are so numerous, calculating averages can mask variations, creating a myth about the typical burglary. Thus, seeking trends within larger datasets is crucial.

Asking the Right Questions

The following are some critical questions you should ask in analyzing your particular problem of burglary in single-family houses, even if the answers are not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.

You may have a variety of hunches about what factors contribute to your local burglary problem—e.g., alleys, drug addicts or poor lighting. You should test these hunches against available data before developing an intervention. Because burglary patterns may vary from one neighborhood to another, or from one type of house to another, you may want to examine the differences between burglarized houses and a sample of non-burglarized houses. Since sampling can be complicated, you may wish to consult a sampling expert.

Premises

  • What types of houses are burglarized? One-story, or twostory? Large, or small? Older, or newly constructed? (Visual surveys of burglarized houses will help you answer these and other questions.)
  • How accessible are the houses? Is there rear access via alleys or pedestrian paths?
  • How visible are the houses? Are entrances visible? Is the lighting adequate? Are the lots open and visible? How big are the lots, and how far are the houses from roads and neighbors? What type of fencing (if any) exists?
  • How exposed are the houses? How close are they to major thoroughfares, parks or other public areas? Where are they located in the neighborhood?
  • What types of security do the houses have? What types of security are in use?
  • What house features contribute to burglaries? Substandard locks, windows or doors?

Victims

  • What are the victims' characteristics? Elderly, and home during the day? Middle-aged, and away at work? Young, with changing schedules? Are they new to the area?
  • What are the relevant victim behaviors? Do they leave valuable property exposed? Do they give service providers access to the house? Do they leave windows or doors unlocked or open? Do they have and use alarms? Do they have dogs? Do they leave clues that they are not at home (e.g., let mail accumulate or leave the garage door open when the car is gone)?

Offenders

  • How many burglars work alone? How many work with others? How or where do those who work with others get together? Why do they offend together? How do they offend together? (Arrested offenders are a good source of information, but remember that they may differ from active burglars in important ways. In addition, they may be reluctant to share information if they are concerned about three-strikes laws.)
  • What are burglars' demographic characteristics, such as age or gender? What is their ethnicity, as this may relate to targeted victims?
  • Where do burglars live, work or hang out?
  • Do burglars know their victims?
  • How active are burglars? Do they account for a few burglaries, or many? Can you identify subtypes of burglars?
  • What, specifically, motivates burglars? Do they need quick cash to party or to maintain a family? Are they addicted to drugs, and if so, to what? Are they recently jobless, or are they long-term offenders?
  • Do burglars show evidence of planning their crimes, or do they take advantage of easy opportunities?
  • How do burglars travel to and from the scene?
  • How do burglars dispose of the goods? Through pawnshops? Through other outlets?

Incidents

  • Do burglars force entry?
  • What are the entry points? Windows? Doors? What tools do burglars use for entry?
  • What side of the house do burglars enter?
  • What house features reduce visibility to the point of enabling a break-in?
  • How long do burglaries take? Do burglars take their time, or are they in and out in a couple of minutes?
  • How much revictimization occurs? (Matching the addresses on offense reports will reveal those that account for a high proportion of burglaries.) What is the typical time period between initial and repeat burglaries?
  • What type of goods do burglars steal, and how valuable are they? How do burglars take the goods from the scene? In a vehicle? On foot?

Locations/Times

  • Where do burglaries occur? Near schools, stores, parks, athletic venues, drug markets, treatment centers, transit centers , or major thoroughfares?
  • What time of day do burglaries occur? (There may be several groups of offenses, including afternoon burglaries committed by juveniles.)
  • What days of the week, weeks of the month, and months of the year do burglaries occur? Does the time of the burglaries vary by day, week or month? (Weekday burglary patterns are likely to vary from weekend patterns; patterns on school days may vary from those on non-school days, which include weekends, school holidays and teacher workdays).
  • Are there seasonal variations in the burglaries? For example, are there more forced entries in the winter?

Measuring Your Effectiveness

Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your efforts have succeeded, and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results. You should take measures of your problem before you implement responses, to determine how serious the problem is, and after you implement them, to determine whether they have been effective. All measures should be taken in both the target area and the surrounding area. (For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see the companion guide to this series, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers.)

When evaluating a response, you should use measures that specifically reflect that response's impact. For example, police might give target-hardening advice to all burglary victims or all residents in a specific area. To determine the impact of the advice, you must assess the rate of compliance with it. If residents fail to close or lock windows and doors, installing locks or alarms will likely have little impact.

In addition, you must determine how many single-family houses are in your area before measuring response
effectiveness. You can obtain such information from city planning agencies or other sources.

The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to burglary in single-family houses:

  • Reductions in the number of burglaries in the targeted areas, including a comparison of those areas' burglary trends with those of the entire jurisdiction, of the areas immediately surrounding the targeted areas, and of comparable areas in the jurisdiction. (If your effort focuses on the entire jurisdiction, then you should compare your jurisdiction with similar ones.)
  • Reductions in the number of completed burglaries. (Attempts, or unsuccessful burglaries, may actually increase.)
  • Increases in the number of forced-entry burglaries.
  • Reductions in the number of victims (addresses) burglarized, based on police reports. (The number of reported burglaries may increase after burglary prevention efforts, due to increased public awareness.)
  • Reductions in the number of repeat burglaries.
  • Changes in the number of burglary arrests. (Note that this measure does not directly reflect changes in the number of burglaries, but may be an indirect measure of the response. Even a single arrest can reduce the number of incidents.)
  • Changes in the number of burglary prosecutions and convictions/increases in the number of burglaries cleared— including exceptional clearances. (This, too, is an indirect measure of the response's impact.)

    † An exceptional clearance is recorded for an offense in which there is sufficient evidence to arrest an offender, but a reason outside police control prevents charging and prosecuting the individual.

  • Increases or reductions in the number of burglaries in nearby areas. (Burglaries may be displaced and thus increase in nearby areas, or burglaries may be reduced in those areas—a spillover effect from the response.)
  • Reductions or increases in other types of crime (including burglaries of other types of housing).
  • Reductions in the value or amount of goods stolen. (You should also check whether the types of goods stolen have changed.)
  • Increases in the amount of stolen goods recovered. (Note that such increases are more likely to reflect a specific focus on stolen property recovery than on burglary reduction efforts.)
  • Improvements in victim satisfaction with police handling of burglaries, as measured by victim surveys. (Such surveys should not be generic; they should include questions closely tied to the response implemented.)
  • Changes in public perceptions of safety, as reflected in citizen surveys. (Such surveys should include specific questions about perceptions of safety. Improved perceptions of safety often lag behind actual decreases in crime. Some crime prevention initiatives reduce perceptions of safety—making citizens more vigilant may make them more fearful.)