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Burglary of Single-Family Houses

Guide No. 18 (2002)

by Deborah Lamm Weisel

The Problem of Burglary of Single-Family Houses

This guide addresses the problem of burglary of single-family houses. It begins by describing the problem and reviewing risk factors. It then identifies a series of questions to help you analyze your local problem. Finally, it reviews responses to the problem, and what is known about them from evaluative research and police practice.

Reported U.S. burglaries have dropped dramatically in recent years, declining 32 percent since 1990. This drop is variably attributed to a robust economy, increased use of security devices, and cocaine users' tendency to commit robbery rather than burglary.1 With an estimated 1.4 million residential burglaries in 1999, the total number of reported burglaries is at its lowest since 1966.2 However, many residential burglaries—perhaps up to 50 percent—go unreported.3 Despite the large decline in reported burglaries, burglary remains the second most common serious crime in the United States (just behind larceny-theft), accounting for 18 percent of all serious crime. Burglary accounts for about 13 percent of all recorded crime in the United Kingdom.4

† Burglaries with entry are more likely to be reported than are attempted burglaries. In Britain, about 75 percent of burglaries with entry are reported, compared with 45 percent of attempted burglaries (Budd 1999). Burglaries are also less likely to be reported when there is no loss, or relatively minor loss (Shover 1991). Kershaw et al(2001) [PDF] found that 75 percent of burglaries with loss were reported in Britain, while only 16 percent of burglaries with no loss were reported (Budd 1999).

The burglary clearance rate has remained consistently low, with an average of 14 percent in the United States and 23 percent in Britain. Rural agencies typically clear a slightly higher percentage of burglaries. The clearance rate for burglary is lower than that for any other serious offense. Indeed, most burglary investigations—about 65 percent—do not produce any information or evidence about the crime, making burglaries difficult to solve. Burglary causes substantial financial loss—since most property is never recovered—and serious psychological harm to the victims.5

To many, burglary is an intractable problem—difficult to solve, and one in which the police role primarily entails recording the crime and consoling the victims.6 Although burglaries have declined in recent years, police strategies such as Neighborhood Watch and target-hardening have had limited success in reducing these crimes. However, some quite specific, highly focused burglary prevention efforts show promise.

Related Problems

This guide focuses on burglary of single-family houses— primarily owner-occupied and detached. While there are many similarities between burglaries of these dwellings and those of multifamily homes, attached or semidetached houses, condominiums, and apartments (as well as other rental housing), the crime prevention techniques differ. Single family detached houses are often attractive targets—with greater rewards—and more difficult to secure because they have multiple access points. Indeed, burglars are less likely to be seen entering larger houses that offer greater privacy. In general, greater accessibility to such houses presents opportunities to offenders.7

† Research does not always clearly describe the housing types crime prevention projects cover, or it combines types. While this guide focuses on single-family houses, promising practices for all types of residential burglaries have been examined.

In contrast to residents of other types of housing, private homeowners may use their own initiative to protect their property—and often have both the resources and incentive to do so. Residents of single-family houses do not depend on a landlord, who may have little financial incentive to secure a property. Most police offense reports include a premise code to help police distinguish single-family houses from other types of residences.

Although burglaries of multifamily homes are the most numerous, some studies demonstrate that single-family houses are at higher risk.8 National burglary averages tend to mask the prevalence of burglaries of single-family houses in suburban areas, where such housing is more common. The proportion of burglaries of single-family houses will vary from one jurisdiction to another, based on the jurisdiction's housing types, overall burglary rates, neighborhood homogeneity—especially economic homogeneity, proximity to offenders and other factors.

Other problems related to burglary of single-family houses not addressed directly in this guide include:

Factors Contributing to Burglary of Single-Family Houses

Understanding the factors that contribute to your problem will help you frame your own local analysis questions, determine good effectiveness measures, recognize key intervention points, and select appropriate responses.

Times When Burglaries Occur

Burglary does not typically reflect large seasonal variations, although in the United States, burglary rates are the highest in August, and the lowest in February. Seasonal variations reflect local factors, including the weather and how it affects occupancy, particularly of vacation homes. In warm climates and seasons, residents may leave windows and doors open, providing easy access, while storm windows9 or double-pane glass10 to protect against harsh weather provides a deterrent to burglary. The length of the days, the availability of activities that take families away from home, and the temperature may all have some effect on burglary.

In the United States, most residential burglaries—about 60 percent of reported offenses—occur in the daytime, when houses are unoccupied.11 This proportion reflects a marked change in recent decades: in 1961, about 16 percent of residential burglaries occurred in the daytime; by 1995, the proportion of daytime burglaries had risen to 40 percent.12 This change is generally attributed to the increase in women working outside the home during those decades—leaving houses vacant for much of the day. Thus, burglaries are often disproportionately concentrated on weekdays. The temporal pattern varies in Britain—about 56 percent of burglaries occur when it is dark.13

Exactly when a burglary has occurred is often difficult for victims or police to determine. Usually, victims suggest a time range during which the offense occurred. Some researchers have divided burglary times into four distinct categories: morning (7 a.m. to 11 a.m.), afternoon (12 p.m. to 5 p.m.), evening (5 p.m. to 10 p.m.), and night (10 p.m. to 7 a.m.). This scheme naturally reflects residents' presence at various times, as well as offender patterns. Some research suggests that burglars most often strike on weekdays, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.14—times when even routinely occupied houses may be empty.

† Some police reports may record only the earliest possible time of occurrence, the midpoint of a time range, the time of the report, or the shift during which the offense occurred. These varied recordings will influence analysis of burglaries' distribution across time (Waller and Okihiro 1978).

In many cases, determining the times when burglaries occur helps in developing crime prevention strategies and in identifying potential suspects. For example, burglaries by juveniles during school hours may suggest truancy problems. After-school burglaries may be related to the availability of alternative activities.

Target Selection

Burglars select targets based on a number of key factors, including the following:

† These characteristics are also classified more generally as opportunity, risk, and rewards.

These elements interact. Visibility and accessibility are more important than vulnerability or security, which a burglar typically cannot assess from afar unless the resident has left the house visibly open.

Familiarity with the target, and convenience of the location. Offenders tend to commit crimes relatively close to where they live,15 although older, more professional burglars tend to be more mobile and travel farther.16 Burglars often target houses on routes from home to work, or on other routine travel routes. This tendency makes the following houses more vulnerable to burglary:

Occupancy. Most burglars do not target occupied houses, taking great care to avoid them. Some studies suggest burglars routinely ring doorbells to confirm residents' absence. How long residents are away from home is a strong predictor of the risk of burglary,26 which explains why single-parent, oneperson and younger-occupant homes are more vulnerable. The following houses are at higher risk:

Visibility or surveillability. The extent to which neighbors or passersby can see a house reflects its visibility or
surveillability. A burglar's risk of being seen entering or leaving a property influences target selection, making the
following houses more vulnerable to burglary:

Accessibility. Accessibility determines how easily a burglar can enter a house. Thus, the following houses are at greater risk of burglary:

Vulnerability or security. How vulnerable or secure a house is determines how likely a burglar is to target it. The following houses are particularly at risk.

Potential rewards. In selecting targets, burglars consider the size and condition of a house and the type of cars in the driveway as indicators of the type and value of the house's contents.44 Thus, the following houses are vulnerable to burglary:

Goods Stolen

Burglars are most likely to steal cash and goods they can easily carry and sell, including jewelry, weapons, televisions, stereo equipment, and computers.47 They need transportation to move larger items, such as electronic equipment, while they often make off with cash and jewelry on foot.48

Few burglars keep the goods they steal. A study in Britain showed that burglars typically disposed of stolen property within 24 hours, usually after stashing it in a semipublic location. They thus minimized their risk by moving goods
only short distances.49 They appeared to have few concerns about being arrested for selling stolen property, reporting they safely sold goods to strangers and pawnbrokers.50

Burglars tend to dispose of stolen goods through local pawnshops, taxi drivers and small-store owners.51 Few burglars use professional fences.52 Pawnshops—often outlets for stolen goods—have come under increasing scrutiny and regulation in many communities. Some burglars sell stolen goods on the street, occasionally trading them for drugs. Burglars commonly sell stolen goods in bars and gas stations;53 in bars, they usually sell the goods to staff, rather than customers.54 In many cases, burglars get little return for the goods.

Entry Methods

In about two-thirds of reported U.S. burglaries (including commercial ones), the offenders force entry. Unsecured windows and doors (including sliding glass doors) are common entry points. Burglars typically use simple tools such as screwdrivers or crowbars to pry open weak locks, windows and doors,55 or they may simply break a window or kick in a door.

In about one-third of burglaries, the offenders do not force entry; they enter through unlocked or open windows and doors, especially basement windows and exterior and interior garage doors.56 There is no consensus about the most common entry point—it depends on the house's architecture and siting on its lot.

Burglars

National arrest data indicate that most burglars are male—87 percent of those arrested in 1999.57 Sixty-three percent were under 25. Whites accounted for 69 percent of burglary arrests, and blacks accounted for 29 percent.

A lot of research has been conducted with burglars in the last decade, much of it to examine their decision-making, especially about target selection. Much of the research comes from interviews with offenders. Their willingness or ability to recall burglaries may influence the accuracy of the findings. Also, since police clear so few burglaries, there are likely major differences between successful burglars and those who get arrested. Successful burglars may be older or may differ in other important ways from those who get caught.

Burglars can be quite prolific: one study found that offenders commonly committed at least two burglaries per week.58 Some studies suggest there is great variability in the number of burglaries offenders commit.59

Burglars do not typically limit their offending to burglary; they participate in a wide range of property, violent and drugrelated crime.60 Some burglars, however, appear to specialize in the crime for short periods.61 Burglars tend to be recidivists: once arrested and convicted, they have the highest rate of further arrests and convictions of all property offenders.62

Some research suggests that most burglaries involve more than one offender.63 But there is considerable variability in cooffending. In one jurisdiction, 36 percent of burglars acted alone, while in another, 75 percent did. One study revealed that in about 45 percent of residential burglaries, offenders had a partner.64 Young offenders are probably more likely to have one.

Most research categorizes burglars—as novice, middle-range and professional, for example. Novices, the most common type, tend to be younger, make minimal gains from burglaries, burglarize nearby dwellings, and can be easily deterred by dogs, alarms or locks. Professionals tend to be older, carry out bigger burglary jobs, willing to take on security devices, and are more mobile, scouting good targets farther from home.

† Research suggests that the greater the financial loss due to a burglary, the less likely the police are to clear it (Poyner and Webb 1991 [PDF]), indicating that more skillful offenders commit the bigger burglaries.

Middle-range burglars fall somewhere between the two, and more often work alone than do the others. A key feature distinguishing the types of burglars is their outlet for stolen goods. Professionals tend to have well-established outlets, while novices must seek out markets for goods.

Alternatively, some researchers categorize offenders as either being opportunistic or engaging in detailed planning65—a distinction useful for developing effective responses.

Research on burglars reveals the following characteristics:

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

Victims

Offenders

Incidents

Locations/Times

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:

Responses to the Problem of Burglary at Single-Family House Construction Sites

Your analysis of your local problem should give you a better understanding of the factors contributing to it. Once you have analyzed your local problem and established a baseline for measuring effectiveness, you should consider possible responses to address the problem.

The following response strategies provide a foundation of ideas for addressing your particular problem. These strategies are drawn from a variety of research studies and police reports. Several of these strategies may apply to your community's problem. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem. Do not limit yourself to considering what police can do: give careful consideration to who else in your community shares responsibility for the problem and can help police better respond to it.

Burglary prevention efforts typically involve a variety of responses; it has been difficult to assess individual response effectiveness. However, the following section describes specific responses that might be combined to form an effective burglary prevention strategy. Despite the importance of multiple interventions, you should avoid trying a little bit of everything; instead, you should use complementary tactics.

Situational Crime Prevention Responses

A range of burglary prevention responses involve target-hardening, increasing the risk—or presumed risk—of detection for offenders, and reducing the rewards. While police have historically recommended many of these responses, they are increasingly used in tandem with one another and with other strategies. Most research suggests it is the combination of responses that is effective.

  1. Installing burglar alarms. Burglar alarms have become quite prevalent. An estimated 17.5 percent of U.S. households have them.77 In Britain, 24 percent of households had alarms in 1998—a doubling in proportion since 1992.78 At an average installation cost of $1,200 in the United States, along with monthly monitoring charges of about $25, alarms are concentrated among more affluent households.79

    Burglar alarms have a high rate of false alerts—perhaps as much as 95 percent. Despite that rate, alarms are often recommended for crime prevention. The National Crime Prevention Institute recommends installing alarms, and some insurance companies offer urban policyholders discounts for doing so. (For more detailed information on alarms, see Guide No. 5 in this series, False Burglar Alarms.)

    Most studies of burglars indicate that many will avoid residences with alarms, but alarm effectiveness has not been well evaluated. As alarms become more prevalent, their effectiveness may change. If most residences in an area have alarms, burglars may tend to avoid the area. Even if a burglar tackles an alarm, its presence may cause him or her to be hasty; burglars steal less property from houses with alarms.80

    † The electronic industry cites a study of three suburban locales. Residences with alarms faced a 1.4 percent risk of burglary, while residences without alarms faced a 2.3 percent risk (Hakim and Buck 1991). Due to research limitations, these findings should not be presumed to hold true for all jurisdictions.

    Portable burglar alarms have been effectively used for crime prevention. Police agencies have issued them temporarily to detect offenders. In one burglary prevention project, a small pool of portable alarms were allocated on a rotating basis, according to risk.81

  2. Installing closed-circuit television (CCTV). CCTV has been widely used in commercial buildings, public settings and apartment complexes. It may also be used for single-family houses, although such applications will be cost-prohibitive for many, and have not been evaluated. CCTV may deter burglaries, or offenders might confess when confronted with incontrovertible evidence. Temporary CCTV installations may be an option, particularly when used after repeat burglaries or with an alarm. CCTV can also be used to verify alarms.

    † See Painter and Tilley (1999) for a description of CCTV in a variety of settings.

  3. Hardening targets. Increasing vulnerable houses' security can reduce victimization.82 Home security surveys or targethardening assessments may prevent burglaries, but these are often requested by residents at the lowest risk for burglary. Even then, residents are unlikely to fully comply with all crime prevention advice. Those whose houses have been burglarized or who live near a burglary victim are most likely to follow such advice.83

    Security assessments typically include target-hardening advice related to locks, windows and doors. Importantly, such advice—provided immediately after a burglary—also helps the victim secure the break-in point, to deter a repeat offense.

    Target-hardening makes getting into houses more difficult for burglars, and includes installing the following: sturdy doors with dead bolts; window locks, rather than latches; doublepane, storm or divided light windows, or laminated glass that is forced-entry resistant; pin locks on windows and sliding glass doors; and sliding glass door channel locks or slide bolts. Generally, moderate lock security should suffice, as there is no evidence that more elaborate lock security reduces burglary.84

    Door security may be influenced as much by the door's sturdiness as by its lock. Regardless, residents should use, rather than simply install, security devices.

    Some residents install bars and grills on windows and doors, but the aesthetic costs deter many residents from doing so. Installing them may violate building codes and pose a safety threat by blocking fire exits.

    If target-hardening is too expensive, corporate sponsors may be solicited to fund it. New construction may also incorporate target-hardening (see response 9).

    † In seven cities in Britain, an insurance company funded targethardening measures for low-income areas; burglaries declined as a result (Mawby 2001). In Huddersfield, England, burglary victims were given a discount voucher to buy security equipment (Chenery, Holt and Pease 1997).

    Target-hardening can be enhanced through victim education, as well as public awareness campaigns that encourage likely victims to take precautions, and that increase offenders' perceptions of risk. Such efforts may be carried out through the media, through the police (e.g., going door-to-door), or through Neighborhood Watch or other community groups.

  4. Marking property. Property-marking efforts have had mixed results. It is difficult to get citizens to have their property marked. This response appears to be most effective when combined with extensive efforts to enlist participation,†† and with extensive media warnings to burglars that disposing of marked property will be more difficult, or that its value will be reduced.85 As part of this response, police must ensure that recovered property is carefully evaluated to detect marking. Property can be marked with bar codes, engraving, dyes and etching liquids, labels, and electronic tags. In some initiatives, citizens post window decals to warn potential burglars that their property is marked.

    †† Police in New South Wales, Australia, went door-to-door to persuade citizens to participate, and provided free marking equipment (Laycock 1991).

  5. Increasing occupancy indicators. Most burglars avoid encountering residents, and thus look for indicators of occupancy. Such indicators include interior and exterior lights left on (or intermittently turned on and off via timers), closed curtains, noise (e.g., from a television or stereo), cars in the driveway, and so forth. Dogs, alarms and close neighbors can serve as substitutes for occupancy. There are also mockoccupancy devices, such as timers that suggest someone is home. In addition, residents should avoid leaving clues that they are away (e.g., leaving the garage door open when the garage is empty). Before going on vacation, they should have their mail stopped (or ask a neighbor to pick it up), and ensure that their lawns will be maintained in their absence.
  6. Creating safe havens. Home security can be obtained through physical design, such as in gated communities or limited-access "fortress societies," where security guards are supplemented by alarms and video surveillance.86 Those who have the economic resources can create such safe havens by retrofitting existing communities or developing new ones. Such communities enhance feelings of safety and produce modest crime reduction benefits. Some police feel that these designs slow response time and make patrolling more difficult.87
  7. Improving visibility. Many features that make houses vulnerable to burglary (e.g., isolation) cannot be changed. However, improving houses' visibility increases the likelihood that burglars will be spotted—or deters burglars who perceive greater risk.

    Since burglars seek houses with cover, residents should remove obstructions to visibility. Generally, they should trim trees and shrubs and modify fencing so that such features do not block the view of the house from neighbors or passersby. Well-planned—particularly motion-activated—lighting may enhance such measures' effectiveness.

    Increased lighting may increase natural surveillance in darkness: however, its impact on crime is highly contextspecific. If no one is around to spot a burglar—for example, at an isolated house—increased lighting is unlikely to stop the crime, and may actually make the burglar's job easier. In some areas, enhanced street lighting has reduced residential burglaries:88 depending on the neighborhood, it may reduce fear and encourage greater pedestrian traffic, increasing opportunities for natural surveillance. In some cases, the benefits of increased street lighting have extended to daylight hours, presumably because of increased awareness and community pride.89

  8. Implementing Neighborhood Watch (NW) programs. Police have often launched NW programs in response to residential burglary, but the offenses have not consistently declined. NW varies widely, but primarily involves neighbors' watching one another's houses and reporting suspicious behavior. Many NW programs include marking participants' property and assessing their home security to harden targets (see responses 3, 4 and 13). However, many NW participants fail to mark property or follow target-hardening advice,90 although NW works best when they do so.91 NW has most often been implemented in low-risk areas with more affluent homeowners.92 NW has a greater impact when there are some residents at home during the day.

    NW effectiveness can be enhanced by offering introduction kits to vulnerable new residents; publicizing the program, including posting stickers on windows or doors, and/or signs on residents' properties or in the neighborhood; educating residents through door-to-door campaigns; marking property; conducting security assessments; and keeping residents informed about crime trends. (Police departments are increasingly providing citizens access to crime data and crime maps via Internet websites.

    "Cocoon watches" are a variant of NW. Neighbors living near recently burglarized houses are asked to be particularly alert. This close set of neighbors—usually, about half a dozen—form a virtual cocoon around the house, increasing the likelihood of detecting a burglar who returns to strike again. In Kirkholt, England, with a burglary victim's consent, neighbors were informed about the offense and offered a security upgrade— increasing awareness about the crime and, perhaps, neighborhood vigilance.93

    † This practice has been part of more comprehensive crime prevention initiatives, making an evaluation of effectiveness difficult (Laycock and Tilley 1995).

    Educating residents about crime prevention is an important element of NW. Since many residential burglaries do not involve forced entry, simply securing one's house can prevent crime. In areas where burglars are the neighbors, watchfulness has different implications. Residents may be intimidated by offenders, and concerned about retribution.

    Other means to increase citizen watchfulness, although unevaluated, include the following:
    • Audible warnings: During Operation Bumblebee, London police drove around and issued warnings over a public address system whenever a certain number of burglaries occurred in an area.94
    • Reverse 911 systems: Autodialers have been used to notify residents when burglaries have occurred, offering crime prevention tips and/or seeking information about offenders. In Baltimore County, Md., use of an autodialer resulted in the quick apprehension of offenders.95 The use of autodialers can be enhanced through mapping, to establish burglary patterns and thus set boundaries for residents who are called.
    • Resident hotlines: In limited areas, residents may use hotlines to report a suspicious person ringing doorbells under the pretext of looking for someone.96
    • Publicity: Media campaigns may enhance the benefits of any crime prevention initiative. Such campaigns have rarely been evaluated, but some studies suggest media coverage deters offenders and encourages citizen participation.97
  9. Modifying building codes. Modifying building codes to comply with best crime-prevention practices is a promising means to reduce burglaries.98 In Chula Vista, Calif., police worked with developers to modify new homes, including installing dead bolts on garage service doors, windows with forced-entry resistance, and pin locks on sliding glass doors. In addition, homeowner association rules for new developments require that garage doors be kept shut. These measures resulted in a 50 percent decline in burglaries over two years in a police reporting area.99 In Overland Park, Kan., a municipal ordinance was adopted to secure all exterior doors to reduce forced entry through door kicks, a common entry method in the jurisdiction. 100 The increased costs of crime resistant materials are a primary consideration for builders; however, high-growth communities may reap substantial benefits by modifying building codes.

    † Overland Park building codes and crime prevention ordinances can be found at www.opkansas.org. Security measures are also written into Simi Valley, Calif., building codes; the police department inspects new houses for compliance. The measures resulted in a 52 percent decline in burglaries from 1974 to 1995 (Hoffman 1998).

    Building codes vary from one jurisdiction to another, and builders may use low-quality security hardware and building materials. Forced-entry provisions in building codes can be used to improve window and door security—at relatively low cost, generally.101 The Peel Regional Police in Canada found that modifying building codes (at the provincial level) was a difficult task, but such modifications may be practical in other settings.

  10. Modifying community design. To address the burglary risk in growing areas, some jurisdictions have adopted community design principles. Two studies have shown that a U.K. effort known as Secured by Design has reduced burglary. The Secured by Design strategy involves limiting traffic access by building developments on cul-de-sacs, creating greater oversight around a single road entry into neighborhoods, maximizing the opportunity for natural surveillance through strategic window and door placement, orienting dwellings to maximize oversight of areas, limiting access to dwellings through site layout, and outfitting houses with good locks and building products.102 Such designs also remove or minimize the risk typically associated with corner houses.
  11. Reducing traffic access. In Florida, modifying streets and closing roads resulted in a decline in burglaries.103 Such changes should take into account both vehicle and pedestrian movement—road redesigns will do little to deter burglars who live in the immediate area. Eliminating pedestrian paths, under some conditions, has reduced residential crime.104
  12. Reducing house access. Home security may be enhanced by limiting access to houses—for example, by installing gates in alleys that provide rear access, and installing fences or planting tall hedges to limit access where visibility cannot be improved. Although fences may limit visibility on some properties, thus hiding a burglar, full-height fences secured with locked gates can make property access much more difficult, and hinder a burglar in carrying away stolen goods. Some plants—such as thick shrubs, or those with thorny foliage—deter perimeter access to properties and to parts of houses where visibility cannot be improved. Pyracantha and yucca are examples of such plants; appropriate plant selection varies based on climate and available light and water.105 In England, extensive efforts have been undertaken to secure private alleys, as many burglars gain access to homes through rear entries.106 Although gaining consent to install gates in alleys has been challenging, and, at the time of this writing, no evaluations were available, installing gates is felt to be very promising in reducing burglary. Some access-control measures can also be incorporated into community design (see response 10).

Victim-Oriented Responses

  1. Protecting repeat victims. Because repeat victims account for a large proportion of residential burglaries—and because subsequent offenses occur so quickly after the first—burglary prevention strategies targeting this group have tremendous potential for reducing crime. A range of burglary prevention efforts in Britain have been effective in reducing revictimization,107 but most of these efforts have focused on
    public housing, rather than the detached singlefamily houses addressed in this guide. It is reasonable to believe, however, that crime prevention strategies targeting repeat victims would have similar positive effects in the United States.

    Households with prior victimization are easily identified via police offense reports. Residents—once victimized—are highly motivated to comply with crime prevention advice. Programs targeting repeat victims have employed a range of prevention measures, 108 such as:

    † Poor-quality offense data—premise miscodes, incident coding errors, missing information, and the like— may impede identification of repeat offenses. A major data "cleaning" is necessary to make data reliable. See Curtin et al. (2001) for common problems with offense data.

    • repairing and securing break-in points,
    • hardening the targets,
    • establishing cocoon watches,
    • installing mock-occupancy devices,
    • increasing police patrols,
    • installing audible or dummy alarms,
    • installing temporary silent alarms (lent by the police to victims for up to two months),
    • increasing outdoor lighting, and
    • posting window or door stickers advertising participation in property marking.
    To be most effective, these measures—or others—must be taken quickly, within 24 hours if possible, before another burglary occurs.

Offender-Oriented Responses

  1. Targeting repeat offenders. Police often know who repeat offenders are. Surveillance of stolen-property outlets, such as pawnshops, can identify them. Some police have conducted observations and curfew checks of offenders under court supervision.109 Truancy reduction initiatives may be a component of this strategy. Given the high rates of recidivism, burglars are likely to reoffend. In one study—of primarily semidetached dwellings—arresting repeat offenders (and hardening targets) resulted in a 60 percent decline in burglaries.110 Targeting repeat offenders has produced more indictments and convictions, and longer sentences.111
  2. Disrupting stolen-property outlets. Pawnshops have historically been outlets for stolen property, but their popularity has declined in recent years due to the use of hot sheets circulated by police; mandatory photographing of pawners; requirements that pawners provide identification, and that pawnshops record the information; and factory— stamped identification—or owner-marked identification—on products such as televisions and other electronic equipment.

    In cases of recurring thefts of specific property (such as laptops), more extensive property marking (such as Smart Water or genetic fingerprinting) or tracking equipment may be used to monitor theft and stolen property's end destination.112 Recurring thefts may also point to repeat burglars.

    † Smart Water is a concealed dispenser of indelible dye that can be used with a silent alarm. It may be best used to target repeat offenders or high-risk locations.

    A range of strategies can be used to disrupt markets for stolen goods, especially hot products, primarily by reducing the number of markets available. Such strategies include targeting fences and publicizing arrests for selling stolen goods.113

  3. Providing substance abuse treatment. Because substance abusers may resort to burglary to finance their habits, providing targeted treatment may result in a decline in offenses. In Merseyside, England, providing methadone treatment reduced burglaries.114 The relationship between drug use and property offenses is well established. Early studies of police crackdowns on drugs—especially heroin—showed dramatic declines in burglary.115 (Other drugs have been more closely associated with violent crime.) Studies of substance abuse treatment—both voluntary and involuntary—demonstrate declines in criminal activity, declines that remain after completion of treatment.116
  4. Improving initial police response and follow-up investigations. Efforts in Britain suggest that measures to increase arrests of offenders result in substantial crime prevention. Most measures are part of comprehensive strategies, making their specific impacts impossible to evaluate. They might include the following:

    † In recent years, the U.K.'s Home Office has produced a wealth of information about police best practices regarding burglary reduction. See, for example, Tilley et al. (1999), Bridgeman and Taylor=Brown (1996), and Chenery, Holt and Pease (1997). Much of the literature is available at www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/crimreducpubs1.html.

    • Improving patrol response to burglaries. In one study, in-progress calls accounted for 10 percent of all reported residential burglaries; in 90 percent of those cases, the police did not apprehend an offender at or near the scene. Of the offenders apprehended after an in-progress call, 43 percent were caught at the scene, and 34 percent were caught based on information witnesses provided. In this study, faster and two-unit responses to in-progress calls resulted in the arrests of more offenders.117 (Most burglaries, of course, are not reported in progress and police make most arrests based on the responding officer's initial actions. Cases should be screened to exclude those with low solvability.118)
    • Analyzing crime patterns. Crime analysis is used to identify series, spatial and temporal patterns, type of property being stolen, and modus operandi patterns. Mapping is becoming particularly useful for detecting burglary patterns and examining local burglary problems.†† Since burglary is often neighborhood-specific, maps should reflect neighborhood boundaries and major topographical elements that effectively separate residential areas.

      †† See, for example, Brown et al. (1998) and Reno (1998).

    • Improving physical-evidence collection. Widespread access to the Automated Fingerprint Identification System in the United States has provided new potential for matching latent prints—and increases the need for evidence collection. Although many crime scenes provide no physical evidence, those that do can lead to increased arrests of offenders, or provide supporting evidence.119
    • Building intelligence databases about suspects. Using confidential informants can be a cost-effective way to get information about chronic offenders. Anyone arrested may be a potential informant; other informants may be recruited.
    • Conducting surveillance. Surveillance is very expensive, but may be used strategically. For example, police in Edmonton, Alberta, mapped the geographic occurrence of 240 daytime burglaries over seven weeks, and predicted areas likely to be targeted. Using surveillance, they soon apprehended two offenders during a break-in, and subsequently linked them to more than 123 of the burglaries.120 Police should assess investigative practices for their utility and cost-effectiveness. However, crime prevention initiatives including a range of these practices have resulted in reductions in burglary.

Responses With Limited Effectiveness

  1. Increasing criminal sanctions. Given the low burglaryreporting rates (about 50 percent of offenses are reported), low clearance rates (about one in eight reported offenses are cleared), and low conviction rates (about two-thirds of offenses result in a conviction), the chance of a burglar's getting caught and sentenced is about 5 percent. One study suggested that, despite increased penalties, burglars are not less likely to offend. Increased penalties deter offenders only if combined with greater perceived risks or fewer anticipated rewards.121

    Convicted burglars, especially habitual offenders, already face stiff penalties. Once convicted, about 80 percent of burglars are incarcerated; the average prison sentence is five years. Of all property offenders, burglars receive the longest prison sentences.122

  2. Providing generic crime prevention advice. Most people are never victims of burglary, and generic crime prevention advice is usually adopted by those who need it the least. Providing such advice—including conducting home security surveys requested by residents—absorbs much police time that would be better focused on houses at higher risk. Studies in Britain have demonstrated that target-hardening of dwellings not previously victimized—those determined to be at risk—is simply not effective.123

Summary of Responses

The table below summarizes the responses to burglary of single-family houses, the mechanism by which they are intended to work, the conditions under which they ought to work best, and some factors you should consider before implementing a particular response. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem.

Situational Crime Prevention Responses
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
1 Installing burglar alarms Increases burglars' risk of detection; deters burglars if alarms are overt; increases arrests if alarms are silent or covert …triggered alarms are promptly investigated Expensive; high percentage of false alarms; burglars may disable alarms or work quickly
2 Installing closed- circuit television (CCTV) Deters many burglars; increases burglars' risk of detection and arrest …cameras are well positioned and not easily disabled Expensive, but costs are dropping; can be motion- activated; provides investigative evidence; complements burglar alarms
3 Hardening targets Makes it more difficult for burglars to break in …houses are not well secured Deters opportunistic burglars; residents who need it the most may not be able to afford security measures
4 Marking property Makes it more difficult for burglars to dispose of goods …desirable property can be marked Requires residents' participation and investigative follow up; publicity increases the benefits
5 Increasing occupancy indicators Gives burglars the impression that residents are home …burglars are deterred by occupancy Some burglars use tactics to confirm occupancy
6 Creating safe havens Increases burglars' risk of detection through a combination of security measures …perimeter and entry points can be controlled Expensive; might displace burglaries to lower-income neighborhoods
7 Improving visibility Increases burglars' risk of detection …there is someone around to spot a burglar Inexpensive; does not work if no one is around or if witnesses fail to act
8 Implementing Neighborhood Watch (NW) programs Increases burglars' risk of detection …there are well- established neighbor relations and residents can detect strangers Difficult to ensure participation over time; residents must be at home during vulnerable periods
9 Modifying building codes Makes it more difficult for burglars to break in …residents and developers willingly comply with the codes Not always expensive; the results are not immediate
10 Modifying community design Increases burglars' risk of detection and makes it more difficult for them to break in …design changes can be incorporated into new developments May have a long term impact
11 Reducing traffic access Increases burglars' risk of detection …burglars do not live in the neighborhood May inconvenience residents
12 Reducing house access Makes it more difficult for burglars to break in …visibility cannot be enhanced Can be tailored to individual properties
Victim-Oriented Responses
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
13 Protecting repeat victims Decreases victims' risk of further burglaries, and increases burglars' risk of detection …burglaries are concentrated at a few addresses, and strategies can be implemented quickly Combines prevention and detection; cost effective; targets the people who need help the most
Offender-Oriented Responses
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
14 Targeting repeat offenders Increases burglars' risk of detection …there is a small, identifiable group of chronic offenders May include truancy programs, tracking probationers and others, or high-level surveillance
15 Disrupting stolen-property outlets Makes it more difficult for burglars to dispose of goods …the stolen goods are in high demand Requires continued monitoring of markets for stolen goods
16 Providing substance abuse treatment Helps offenders overcome their addiction, reducing their need to commit burglary to get money for drugs and/or alcohol …effective programs can be developed and provided to chronic offenders Expensive; may be difficult to target the right people
17 Improving initial police response and follow-up investigations Increases burglars' risk of arrest …the current police response is not adequate May require an extensive review of police practices and resources; may be effective if strategic
Responses With Limited Effectiveness
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
18 Increasing criminal sanctions Raises the penalties for burglary, and reduces its rewards …burglars are chronic offenders Can be tailored to individual properties
19 Providing generic crime prevention advice Makes it more difficult for burglars to break in …residents follow the advice Difficult to target those who need it the most

Endnotes

[1] Titus (1999).

[2] Federal Bureau of Investigation (2000).

[3] Shover (1991).

[4] Bridgeman and Taylor-Browne (1996).[Full text]

[5] Nicolson (1994); Waller and Okihiro (1978); Stockdale and Gresham (1995).[Full text]

[6] Skogan and Antunes (1998).

[7] Hope (1999). [Full text]

[8] Winchester and Jackson (1982)[Full text]; Hope (1999) [Full text]; Rengert and Wasilchick (2000).

[9] Wright and Decker (1994).

[10] Chula Vista Police Department (2001). [Full text]

[11] Federal Bureau of Investigation (2000).

[12] Rengert and Wasilchick (2000).

[13] Budd (1999).[Full text]

[14] Cromwell, Olson and Avary (1999); Rengert and Wasilchick (2000).

[15] Shover (1991).

[16] Reppetto (1974); Brantingham and Brantingham (1984); Bennett and Wright (1984).

[17] Tilley et al. (1999). [Full text]

[18] Beavon, Brantingham and Brantingham (1994) [Full text]; Rengert and Wasilchick (2000); White (1990).

[19] Poyner and Webb (1991).

[20] Brantingham and Brantingham (1984); Rengert and Wasilchick (2000).

[21] Pease (1992); Polvi et al. (1990); Farrell (1995).

[22] Polvi et al. (1990).

[23] Anderson, Chenery and Pease (1995)[Full text]; Polvi et al. (1990); Mawby (2001).

[24] Mawby (2001).

[25] Curtin et al. (2001) [Full text]; Rengert and Wasilchick (2000).

[26] Shover (1991); Reppetto (1974); Rengert and Wasilchick (2000); Winchester and Jackson (1982).[Full text]

[27] Mawby (2001).

[28] Bennett and Wright (1984); Bennett (1992); Reppetto (1974); Waller and Okihiro (1978).

[29] Cromwell, Olson and Avary (1999); Bennett (1992).

[30] Bridgeman and Taylor-Browne (1996)[Full text]; Trickett, Osborne and Ellingworth (1995); Miethe and McCorkle (1998).

[31] Cromwell, Olson and Avary (1999).

[32] Nicolson (1994).

[33] Chula Vista Police Department (2001).[Full text]

[34] Waller and Okihiro (1978); Cromwell, Olson and Avary (1999); Bennett (1992); Rengert and Wasilchick (2000).

[35] Brantingham and Brantingham (1984); Rengert and Wasilchick (2000).

[36] Cromwell, Olson and Avary (1991).

[37] Poyner and Webb (1991).

[38] Brantingham and Brantingham (1984).

[39] National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (n.d.).

[40] Waller and Okihiro (1978); Budd (1999).[Full text]

[41] Curtin et al. (2001). [Full text]

[42] Budd (1999).[Full text]

[43] Cromwell, Olson and Avary (1999).

[44] Wright and Decker (1994).

[45] Waller and Okihiro (1978).

[46] Rengert and Wasilchick (2000).

[47] Bridgeman and Taylor-Browne (1996). [Full text]; Fitzgerald, J. and S. Poynton (2011). [Full text]

[48] Poyner and Webb (1991).

[49] Sutton, Schneider and Hetherington (2001). [Full text]

[50] Sutton, Schneider and Hetherington (2001). [Full text]

[51] Sutton, Schneider and Hetherington (2001). [Full text]

[52] Wright and Decker (1994); Shover (1991).

[53] Wright and Decker (1994).

[54] Sutton, Schneider and Hetherington (2001). [Full text]

[55] Wright and Decker (1994); Shover (1991).

[56] Chula Vista Police Department (2001)[Full text]; Scottsdale Police Department (1999).

[57] Federal Bureau of Investigation (2000).

[58] Reppetto (1974).

[59] Wright and Decker (1994).

[60] Wright and Decker (1994); Shover (1991); Rengert and Wasilchick (2000); Mawby (2001).

[61] Shover (1991); Wright and Decker (1994); Miethe and McCorkle (1998).

[62] Shover (1991).

[63] Wright and Decker (1994); Shover (1991).

[64] Coupe and Griffiths (1996).[Full text]

[65] Shover (1991); Reppetto (1974); Miethe and McCorkle (1998); Cromwell, Olson and Avary (1999).

[66] Wright and Decker (1994); Reppetto (1974); Rengert and Wasilchick (2000).

[67] Reppetto (1974); Cromwell, Olson and Avary (1991); Rengert and Wasilchick (2000); Wright and Decker (1994).

[68] Bridgeman and Taylor-Browne (1996).[Full text]

[69] Shover and Honeker (1999); Wright and Decker (1994).

[70] Mawby (2001).

[71] Titus (1999).

[72] Rengert and Wasilchick (2000); Cromwell, Olson and Avary (1991); Mawby (2001).

[73] Shover and Honeker (1999); Bennett and Wright (1984); Wright and Decker (1994).

[74] Shover (1991); Budd (1999).[Full text]

[75] Wright and Decker (1994).

[76] Morgan (2001) [Full text]; Bottoms, Mawby and Walker (1987).

[77] National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association. (n.d.).

[78] Budd (1999).[Full text]

[79] National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (n.d.).

[80] Winchester and Jackson (1982). [Full text]

[81] Farrell et al. (1993).[Full text]

[82] Laycock and Tilley (1995).[Full text]

[83] Rountree and Land (1996); Bridgeman and Taylor-Browne (1996)[Full text]; Laycock and Tilley (1995)[Full text]; Budd (1999).[Full text]

[84] Poyner and Webb (1991).

[85] Laycock (1985)[Full text]; Schneider (1986).

[86] Reppetto (1974); Blakely and Snyder (1998).[Full text]

[87] Blakely and Snyder (1998).[Full text]

[88] Poyner and Webb (1993). [Full text]

[89] Painter and Farrington (1999).

[90] Laycock and Tilley (1995).[Full text]

[91] Mawby (2001).

[92] Laycock and Tilley (1995).[Full text]

[93] Forrester et al. (1990).[Full text][Full text]

[94] Stockdale and Gresham (1995).[Full text]

[95] Canter (1998).

[96] Sutton, Schneider and Hetherington (2001).

[97] Laycock (1991); Mawby (2001).

[98] Blanchard (1973).

[99] Chula Vista Police Department (2001).[Full text]

[100] Hoffman (1998).

[101] Peel Regional Police (1995).[Full text]

[102] Topping and Pascoe (2000).

[103] Atlas and LeBlanc (1994).

[104] Poyner and Webb (1991).

[105] Zahm (1998).[Full text]

[106] Johnson and Loxley (2001).

[107] Anderson, Chenery and Pease (1995)[Full text]; Farrell (1995).

[108] Chenery, Holt and Pease (1997).

[109] Bridgeman and Taylor-Browne (1996)[Full text]; Stockdale and Gresham (1995).[Full text]

[110] Farrell, Chenery and Pease (1998).

[111] Reppetto (1984).[Abstract]

[112] Chenery, Holt and Pease (1997).[Full text]

[113] Sutton, Schneider and Hetherington (2001). [Full text]

[114] Bridgeman and Taylor-Browne (1996).[Full text]

[115] Kleiman (1988). [Full text]

[116] Kleiman and Smith (1990).

[117] Coupe and Griffiths (1996). [Full text]

[118] Eck (1992).

[119] Coupe and Griffiths (1996).[Full text]

[120] Warden and Shaw (2000).

[121] Decker, Wright and Logie (1993).

[122] Miethe and McCorkle (1998).

[123] Mawby (2001).

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Related POP Projects

Important!

The quality and focus of these submissions vary considerably. With the exception of those submissions selected as winners or finalists, these documents are unedited and are reproduced in the condition in which they were submitted. They may nevertheless contain useful information or may report innovative projects.

Cactus Park Burglary and Reduction Program and Strategic Warrant Execution and Enforcement Program, Phoenix Police Department (AZ, US), 1998

Community Safety Partnership (Burglary Reduction Project), Cleveland Police Department (Middlesbrough, UK), 2004

Operation Sherbrooke: Tackling Repeat Burglary, Merseyside Police Department (Merseyside, UK), 2008

Repeat Victimisation, Domestic Burglary Project, Cleveland Police Department (Middlesbrough, UK), 2003

Residential Security, Overland Park Police Department (KS, US), 2006

Residential Security Initiative, Overland Park Police Department (KS, US), 2011

Service Area 630: University Heights, San Diego Police Department (CA, US), 1996

Southwest Division Burglary Apprehension Team, Houston Police Department (TX, US), 2008

Stop Break, Queensland Police (QN, AU), 1999

The Burglary Project, Lancashire Constabulary (Lancashire, UK), 2003

The Tower Project [Goldstein Award Finalist], Lancashire Constabulary (Lancashire, UK), 2003

Target Hardening Dwelling in Rural Areas, Essex Police (Essex, UK), 2002

The Chula Vista Residential Burglary Reduction Project [Goldstein Award Finalist], Chula Vista Police Department (CA, US), 2001

The Knowsley Burglary Initiative, Merseyside Police Department (Merseyside, UK), 2002

Top Ten Percent, Tucson Police Department (AZ, US) 2006