Retail burglaries are a problem for many communities. A British survey found that stores lose as much to burglars as they do to shoplifters. These losses impact the viability of businesses and, consequently, of the communities around them. Although much research has been conducted on burglary in general, little of it has specifically focused on retail burglaries—break-ins at stores to steal cash or goods.† However, the research that has been done points to a number of effective responses to the problem. This guide reviews what is known about retail burglaries, suggests ways to analyze them in your jurisdiction, and provides guidance as to appropriate responses.
† This guide also covers smash-andgrabs and so-called "ram raids." Smash-and-grabbers rely on the element of surprise to break display windows or showcases and escape before the alarm sounds. Ram raiders use stolen vehicles to smash their way into buildings, usually after hours. They grab what they want and make a quick escape, often in another vehicle.
The businesses covered in the guide include shops in downtown areas, in strip malls , in covered malls (or “shopping precincts,” as they are known in the United Kingdom), and in retail parks. They also include standalone superstores, neighborhood stores and rural stores, as well as restaurants, beauty parlors and off-track betting establishments. Not covered are wholesale warehouses or retail outlets in industrial parks.
The problem of retail burglaries needs to be distinguished from those of (1) other retail thefts and (2) other commercial burglaries. These problems, which should be addressed separately, include:
Compared with residential burglaries, commercial burglaries—especially retail burglaries—have been the subject of few studies. In part, this is due to the much larger number of residential burglaries, but it is also generally believed that commercial burglaries have less serious consequences for victims and for the community at large. However, growing recognition of the important part small businesses play in urban regeneration has heightened concern about crimes that might reduce their viability.1 In turn, this has led to more research on crimes against businesses (including retailers), particularly in the United Kingdom, Holland and Australia. As a result, we now know more about retail burglaries, though our knowledge is still patchy. The following are the best established facts:
† There seem to be no comparable data for the United States, though the commercial burglary rate (calculated for the number of premises at risk) in one large northeastern city in 1968-69 was found to be nearly 10 times higher than the residential burglary rate (Conklin and Bittner 1973).
† For example, the commercial victimization survey conducted by the British government in 1995 found that only 2 percent of breakins were ram raids (Mirlees-Black and Ross 1995).[Full Text]
Understanding the factors that contribute to your problem will help you frame your own local analysis questions, determine good measures of effectiveness, recognize key intervention points, and select appropriate responses.
Not all stores face the same burglary risks. Some are in areas with low crime rates, and some are not. Some are open for longer hours, perhaps around the clock. Some sell goods that are less attractive to thieves due to their low value or bulk. Some are located where they receive constant surveillance from passing traffic or pedestrians. Research tends to confirm these factors' effects on burglary risks, though there are several reasons why we can draw few definitive conclusions:
For all these reasons, we cannot yet make firm statements about all the risk factors in retail burglaries. However, by piecing together research findings in the United States and abroad, we can be fairly sure that the risks vary with the following store factors: location, premises, size, goods sold, length of time in business, and security precautions.
Studies of crimes against small U.S. businesses have found that retail burglary rates are highest in deprived inner-city neighborhoods, and lowest in small towns and rural locations. This probably reflects variations in the number of offenders living close to the stores.11
People's presence in and near stores protects them from burglary, and this factor varies with the nature of the premises. For example, several studies have suggested that stand-alone superstores located away from the downtown area are particularly at risk, because the sites are deserted at night. Supermarkets open around the clock are protected from burglary by the staff's constant presence, and mall stores seem to be at reduced risk because they tend to be protected by security guards after hours.† Shops in busy downtown areas also appear to have lower burglary risks, again due to the constant surveillance passersby provide.12
† Stores with attractive goods can have higher burglary rates even if they close late (Mirlees-Black and Ross 1995).[Full Text]
National victimization surveys conducted in Australia and the United Kingdom have found that smaller shops have lower burglary rates than larger ones.13 This may be due partly to location (downtown shops tend to be smaller than those in retail parks or malls), and partly to the smaller number of goods to steal.
Research has clearly established that shoplifters exhibit strong preferences in the goods they steal, and that stores carrying these goods are particularly at risk (see the Shoplifting guide in this series). In the United States, shoplifters favor tobacco products (particularly cigarettes), health and beauty products, recorded music and videos, and clothing (designer, in particular). The more-limited research on retail burglaries shows similar preferences,14 with some predictable variations resulting from differences in shoplifting and burglary methods. For example, burglars are more likely to target electronic goods, such as videocassette recorders and televisions, than are shoplifters, who would have difficulty taking such goods out of a store without being seen. A comparison of supermarket goods stolen by shoplifters and burglars found that both groups targeted cigarettes, liquor, and health and beauty aids, but as would be expected, the burglars stole these in much larger quantities than did the shoplifters. The burglars also robbed store ATM machines.15
Newer businesses have higher victimization rates than older businesses.16 This might indicate that stores become more experienced in preventing crime the longer they are in business—or that store survival depends on resisting crime.
Stores at greatest risk of burglary tend to take the most precautions, and while these precautions may reduce the risk of burglary, they do not entirely eliminate it. It is also the case that stores often increase their security after being burgled. These facts could help explain why some studies have found little statistical relationship between stores' level of security precautions and their rate of burglary.17 However, evaluations of recent crime prevention projects in Britain (the Safer Cities project and the Small Business and Crime Initiative) have concluded that improved security at recently burgled stores can reduce repeat burglaries and, as a result, overall burglary rates in targeted areas.18 In addition, some studies have produced evidence of the effectiveness of specific measures, such as installing burglar alarms and hiring security guards. While often falling short of proof, this evidence is reviewed below in the "Responses to the Problem of Retail Burglary" section.
The information provided above is only a generalized description of retail burglaries. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem if you are to develop an effective response. In most cases, your burglary problem is likely to involve a group of stores, such as those in a downtown area or in a particular mall. In other cases, your problem might be related to stores of the same general type (say, pharmacies or building supply stores).† If the problem involves a single store (unless it is a very large store), you might more appropriately deal with it by offering routine crime prevention advice rather than undertaking a full-scale problem-oriented policing project. Your analysis is likely to focus on differential burglary risks among the stores in your group, and the reasons for those differences. Your analysis should address the risks of repeat victimization, as some particularly effective responses are focused on repeat victims. Bear in mind that registers of businesses may use corporate names, which may be different from "doing business as" names. The registers are also frequently outof-date, and you might need to make your own list.
† Each of these variations in retail burglaries deserves its own guide, but the information provided here should be sufficiently broad to provide assistance in all cases.
In general, you should seek to establish what kinds of offenders are involved, what kinds of stores they target, how they gain access to the stores, how they deal with security measures, and, finally, how they dispose of stolen goods. Knowledge of these factors will help you design an effective response to the problem.
Police crime reports or calls-for-service data do not generally distinguish the different kinds of nonresidential burglaries. Retail burglaries are lumped together with burglaries of educational institutions, medical centers, offices, and construction sites. Consequently, gathering information about your local problem can be labor intensive. It requires a careful review of police records and the identification of retail burglary incidents. Fortunately, the large majority of retail burglaries are reported to police, but it can still be difficult to identify repeat burglaries because locations may not be systematically recorded. For example, the store name might be included in some crime reports, and only the street address in others.
In addition, many important details about the type of business, points of entry and nature of losses may not be included. Thus, you should try to gather systematic information about these details using other data sources. Because gathering and analyzing data can be time consuming and involve technical problems, you should seek help from your local university, especially one with a criminal justice department. Data collection methods that can provide useful information include the following:
The following are some critical questions you should try to answer in analyzing your particular retail burglary problem. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.
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.)
The following "outcome" measures can be useful in assessing whether your responses have impacted the retail burglary problem:
In addition, the following "process" measures might provide some indication of the degree to which selected responses are being properly implemented:
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 responses discussed below provide a foundation of ideas for addressing your problem. These responses are drawn from a variety of research studies and police reports. Several of them may apply to your particular 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: you should give careful consideration to who else in your community shares responsibility for the problem and can help police better respond to it. Building a partnership with these various stakeholders can be essential to success. For example, if you decide to target career burglars, you may need the help of parole and probation officers or local prosecutors in securing appropriate prison sentences. If you believe that street lighting must be improved, you will need help from the city and the local utility company. Above all, you will need to persuade individual retailers to take the security measures you will surely find are needed. Local business associations might help you in securing retailers' commitment. Be aware that chain stores may need to get the head office's approval for any new security measures. Chains are likely to have their own security departments, and security staff will need to be convinced that changes in company practice are needed to meet local conditions. On the other hand, the security departments might help you formulate your response, or put you in touch with local loss prevention specialists.
Several other important considerations should guide your choice of responses:
† For a discussion, see Curtin et al. (2001).
The responses discussed below are organized under three main headings according to the groups with the main role to play in implementing them: the police, retailers and city/local government. It will be clear that research evidence about the effectiveness of most responses is patchy and sometimes inconsistent. If direct evidence of a particular response's effectiveness is lacking, the response assessment is guided by accepted crime prevention principles.
† For a recent review and discussion, see Novak et al. (1999).
†† For a comprehensive assessment of repeat offender programs, see Spelman (1990).
†† Experience with these high-tech devices is limited to date, but it appears that they can pose numerous practical problems. For example, store owners/employees often forget to activate the devices when they leave at night, or forget they are activated when they return (Taylor 1999). As with conventional intruder alarms, portable burglar alarms also pose the problem of false alarms (see the False Burglar Alarms guide in this series).
As mentioned, the research evidence regarding these measures' value is unclear and inconsistent. Burglars say they find these measures of little hindrance, and from a police point of view, they may provide little benefit if they merely displace burglary to other stores. Planning authorities may resist some of these measures, particularly shutters and security lighting, because they can make an area less attractive.27
That said, there is some limited evidence from recent studies that target hardening can be effective in preventing burglary of particular premises and, if perceived to be widespread, can also protect an entire area.28 Which measures to use with which stores depends on a variety of cost, convenience and aesthetic considerations; the advice of a professional security consultant might be required.
While these techniques are good security practice, nothing is known from research about their effectiveness in preventing retail burglaries. However, cash reduction is a well-proven method of preventing commercial robberies, and removal of coin-fed fuel meters in British homes has been shown to prevent residential burglaries.31
For an example of how one police department used CPTED to reduce burglary along a commercial corridor, click here.
† State or county crime prevention associations may provide grants to fund lighting improvements.
†† For a discussion, see Poyner and Fawcett (1995), and Painter and Tilley (1999).
† Though not, apparently, of most TCM schemes (Beck and Willis 1995).
The table below summarizes the responses to retail burglaries, 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.
|#||Response||How It Works||Works Best If...||Considerations|
|1||Targeting repeat offenders||Incapacitates those offenders responsible for a large portion of burglaries||…police can reliably identify habitual criminals; there is a high proportion of repeat burglaries; courts are willing to award custodial sentences; and crackdowns are consolidated through environmental||Requires the cooperation of prosecutors, courts, probation and parole departments, and city planning departments|
|2||Targeting repeatedly burgled stores||Concentrates prevention where it is most needed; facilitates the arrest of prolific offenders||…a small proportion of stores experience a large proportion of burglaries, and measures can be put in place quickly||Requires cooperation among police divisions (local officers, crime prevention officers, detectives), business owners and city officials|
|3||Disrupting markets for stolen goods||Reduces the incentive for theft by making it difficult for offenders to sell stolen goods||…stolen-goods markets are not widespread||Can be difficult to obtain information about how and where offenders sell or exchange stolen goods; stings are expensive and of doubtful effectiveness; courts often take a lenient view on receiving stolen property charges|
|4||Establishing business/shop watch programs||Increases offenders' risk of police intervention and/or subsequent identification||…concern about retail burglaries is widely shared among stores||Can be difficult to enlist store owners' participation; a more effective alternative is to establish temporary "cocoon" watch programs around recently burgled premises|
|#||Response||How It Works||Works Best If...||Considerations|
|5||Upgrading external security||Stops or slows down offenders||…existing security is low, and natural surveillance is poor||Target-hardening solutions need to be carefully tailored to individual stores, often requiring the advice of professional security consultants|
|6||Installing burglar alarms||Increases offenders' risk of getting caught||…a high proportion of stores are fitted with alarms, and alarms are connected to CCTV systems that allow private security companies to verify that a burglary is taking place before calling the police||Burglars can disable alarms; there are high rates of false alarms, but improved systems are coming on the market|
|7||Safeguarding cash and valuable stock||Reduces the rewards of burglary||…burglars' principal target is cash or stock readily convertible to cash||Little research is available on this strategy's effectiveness|
|8||Locking escape routes||Slows offenders down and increases their risk of getting caught; limits the amount of stock offenders can remove||…stores are located in areas with good natural surveillance, and stolen goods are bulky/heavy||A commonsense approach, but one on which little relevant evaluative research has been done; depends on well-trained and disciplined staff|
|9||Screening and training shop staff||Reduces the risk of "inside jobs"; increases staff's responsibility for store security||…stores are located in high- crime areas, and staff turnover is high||Laws must permit screening of potential employees; employees must have incentives to share in the security function|
|10||Employing security guards after hours||Increases offenders' risk of getting caught||…stores are closely clustered together, and guards are constantly or frequently present||Burglars report being most deterred by security guards; a low-cost alternative for larger stores is to employ a night crew to handle cleanup, restocking and display dressing|
|11||Using crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED||Makes burglary more difficult; increases offenders' risk of getting caught||…retailers are planning major remodeling or the construction of new buildings||Incorporating CPTED principles need not be costly and can bring long term benefits; CPTED surveys can be undertaken for an entire business district, as well as for individual premises|
|City Planning Measures|
|#||Response||How It Works||Works Best If...||Considerations|
|12||Improving street surveillance through lighting and CCTV||Improving street surveillance through lighting and CCTV||…stores are located in downtown areas or business districts||U.S. civil liberty groups often oppose the installation of public CCTV systems; lights and CCTV equipment are sometimes vandalized in high crime areas|
|13||Promoting "living over the shop"||Increases natural surveillance of stores at night and on weekends||…stores are located in downtown areas or business districts||This initiative is usually part of a wider revitalization program; accommodations sometimes do not provide good surveillance of the stores below; this approach appeals most to singles and young people who are often away from home and therefore provide less surveillance|
|14||Promoting business improvement districts (BIDs)||Increases natural surveillance in the area||…BIDs have dedicated patrols by security staff||BIDs depend on widespread support from the business community; BIDs' crime prevention value has not yet been demonstrated|
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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.
Allapatah Produce Market Power Play (Resubmission) [Goldstein Award Finalist], Miami Police Department, 2002
Business Against Crime, West Midlands Police (UK), 2002
North Tryon Street Corridor Commercial Burglaries, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, 2000
Smash and Grab Task Force, Metro-Dade Police Department (Metro-Dade, FL, US), 1995
Stemmons Corridor Service Delivery Project, Dallas Police Department, 1999
Top Ten Percent, Tucson Police Department, 2006
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