Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

UnderstandingYour Local Problem

The information above is only a generalized description of burglary at single-family house construction sites. You must combine these basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem if you hope to design an effective remedial strategy.

Stakeholders

In addition to criminal justice agencies, the following entities have an interest in thwarting burglaries at single-family house construction sites and ought to be considered in connection with your information-gathering and problem-solving efforts:

  • house builders, including both general contractors and subcontractors
  • house buyers
  • mortgage lending companies
  • insurance companies
  • neighboring homeowners
  • building inspectors.

Analytical Methods

The following methods will likely be helpful in analyzing the problem of burglaries at single-family house construction sites.

Reading Police Reports

Police reports will provide a first look at your local problem. However, it can sometimes be difficult to identify burglaries that occur at construction sites,[24] because reports of interest might be classified as “theft,” “vandalism,” or “criminal damage to property,” depending upon local statutory requirements and reporting protocols. Moreover, your records system may make it difficult to separate offenses occurring at single-family house construction sites from those occurring elsewhere. If standard reports do not capture the information you need, ask investigating officers to collect additional information when they make their initial police reports; for example, you might ask them to note whether there were any neighboring residences or what stage of construction the house had reached when it was burgled.

Observing Sites

Visiting and observing single-family house construction sites can help you understand the construction practices and environmental features that contribute to the burglary problem.

Crime Pattern Analysis and Mapping

Because construction site burglary is typically concentrated geographically, crime mapping can be a particularly useful analytical tool. Construction site burglary patterns that detail the method of the crime, time of day, day of week, type of property stolen, and any other important characteristics can inform patrol officers, builders, inspectors, neighborhood watches, and homeowners of recent activity in a particular area and encourage them to be on the alert for suspicious behavior.

Interviewing Detectives and Officers

Detectives and patrol officers often have undocumented knowledge about the crimes they have investigated. This information can often be elicited through personal interviews. For example, you might ask officers what they know about burglary operations they have observed or what measures they think might help in preventing burglaries.

Interviewing Builders

Interviewing builders and contractors can be crucial, because many opportunities for construction site burglaries arise through site management and mismanagement. Understanding individual and industry reporting procedures, site supervisor responsibilities, crime prevention initiatives, the relationship between builders and subcontractors, and industry-wide views on crime and victimization will factor directly into understanding your local problem. In addition, such interviews will allow you to gather firsthand information on the efficacy of particular anticrime initiatives, such as the use of security guards and fencing, the initiation of reward programs, the utilization of burglary alarms and locking containers, and the delayed installation of appliances.[25] Interviews should not be done haphazardly; rather, key questions should be developed beforehand to facilitate the information-gathering process. The questions listed in the following section can provide direction for these interviews.

Interviewing Local Building Inspectors

Local building inspectors and other government personnel may be able to provide information about municipal policies and regulations that directly affect burglary opportunities. They may also have insights into industry practices that are effective in preventing burglary.

Asking the Right Questions

There follow some critical questions you should ask when analyzing your local burglary problem. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.

Incidents

  • How many burglaries at single-family house construction sites are reported?
  • What proportion of these burglaries is reported to police? Does a sizable proportion of burglaries go unreported? If so, why?
  • What is the clearance rate for these burglaries?
  • What methods are used to commit these burglaries? Forced entry? Unforced entry? Burglars posing as construction workers? Employee theft?
  • How much property is typically stolen? Quantity? Dollar values?
  • What other costs are incurred because of these burglaries? Repair costs? Lost business? Increased insurance premiums?
  • How difficult are the burglaries to commit?†

    † The Port St. Lucie (Florida) Police Department developed a scale to rate the difficulty of each burglary. The scale took into account the amount of skill, the type of transportation, and the time necessary to complete the crime, as well as the accessibility of the stolen property within the site. For additional details, see Boba (2005).

  • Are there patterns that link offenders, builders, subcontractors, or types of property across cases?
  • Are new houses or renovated houses more likely to be targeted?

Premises

  • How exposed are the burgled houses? How close are they to major thoroughfares, parks, or other public spaces?
  • What is the nature of the surrounding neighborhood?
  • What type of fencing exists?
  • What types of security do the sites have? What types of security are in use?
  • What types of houses under construction are burglarized? One-story or two-story? Large or small?
  • Are the houses in major subdivisions under construction or in individual lots spread throughout the community?
  • At what stage of building is the property at the time of the burglary?
  • Was the house securable at the time of the burglary? Was it actually secured?

Property

  • What type of goods are stolen? Appliances? Tools and small equipment? Building materials? Wiring and other metal that can be sold for scrap?
  • What is the actual value of the property? What is the value of the property on the stolen goods market?
  • How do burglars take the goods from the scene? In a vehicle? On foot?
  • Are tools needed to remove the stolen items?
  • Are the stolen items installed or uninstalled?
  • How do burglars dispose of the goods? Private sales? Barter? Pawn shops? Second-hand building materials shops?
  • How often is property recovered? How it is typically recovered?

Builders

  • Are certain builders more likely to be victimized than others? If so, why? (Calculating a burglary rate that accounts for the number of burglaries and the quantity of houses built by each builder can be helpful in answering this question.)
  • How long have the builders been in business? Are experienced or inexperienced builders more likely to be victimized?
  • Do builders have their own employees or do they use subcontractors?
  • How many construction sites are potential targets?
  • What crime prevention strategies do the builders use?
  • Is there a builder liaison group?
  • Is there meaningful supervision of construction sites?
  • What are delivery and installation practices for appliances and building materials?
  • What are the employee and subcontractor policies for theft and equipment management?
  • Is there evidence of collusion between employees and burglars?
  • Who holds the insurance policy for property loss or damage at the house? The builder or subcontractor? The finance company? The homeowner? Are claims typically filed for theft and damage?
  • Are insurance companies aware of the problem? If so, what measures have they taken to reduce their losses?

Offenders

  • Do burglars know either the builder or the homeowner?
  • Are there many different offenders involved or is a small group of prolific offenders responsible?
  • Do burglars belong to any particular group? Age? Ethnicity? Occupation?
  • Why do the burglars offend? To exchange the stolen property for cash? To acquire and use the stolen property?
  • Do the crimes show evidence of planning or did the burglars take advantage of easy opportunities?
  • Do burglars appear to know the burgled premises? If so, how do they get their information?
  • Where do burglars live, work, or hang out?
  • Where are burglars coming from and how do they get to the burglary locations? On foot? In vehicles?
  • Are burglars drawn to the area by burglary opportunities or for some other reason?
  • How do burglars dispose of stolen goods? Home use? Sale? Exchange?

Locations/Times

  • When do the burglaries occur? During the work day or after hours?
  • How long do burglaries take? How long is property left at risk? What is the time span during which burglaries can occur?
  • On what days of the week do burglaries occur? Weeks of the month? Months of the year?
  • Are there seasonal variations in the burglaries? Are there seasonal variations in construction?
  • Where do burglaries occur? Is the problem concentrated in one area or do they affect the whole jurisdiction?
  • Are individual sites repeatedly victimized?
  • Is the construction site located near other sites that have previously been burglarized?

Measuring Your Effectiveness

Measurement will allow you to determine the degree to which your efforts have succeeded and may also suggest how your responses can be modified to produce the intended results. In order to determine how serious the problem is, you should first measure the extent of the problem before you implement responses; in that way, measuring the problem after responses have been implemented will allow you to determine whether your solutions have been effective. All measures should be implemented in both the target area and the surrounding areas. For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. 1, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers.

When evaluating a response, you should use measures that specifically reflect its impact. In that regard, it is important to remember that when a response is initially implemented the reporting of crime may rise because of an increased awareness of criminal activities and increased cooperation with police.

The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to burglary at single-family house construction sites.

  • Reduced number of burglaries in the target area. Comparing the target area with surrounding areas will allow you to determine whether your response is working or whether local events are part of a larger general trend. Remember, however, that the number of reported burglaries may increase after burglary prevention efforts are initiated due to increased public awareness and more rigorous reporting standards.
  • Reduced number of burglaries for individual builders. If the response is focused on the builders who are suffering the most crime, compare their victimization rates to those of other builders.
  • Reduced number of builders burglarized.
  • Reduced dollar value loss, due either to fewer total burglaries or to the loss of fewer high-value items.
  • Changes in the difficulty of burglaries. An increase in difficulty might indicate that sites are being better secured, thus causing burglars to redouble their criminal efforts. Conversely, a decrease in difficulty might indicate that crimes are being committed by burglars with inside information and easy site access.
  • Decreased financial losses and insurance claims.

The following criteria, although not necessarily indicative of a successful outcome, may indicate that your responses have had the intended effect.

  • Increased proportion of builders following recommended crime prevention practices, such as tightening delivery schedules or locking up tools and materials.
  • Increased number of burglary arrests and burglaries cleared.
  • Increased number of burglary prosecutions and convictions.
  • Increased amount of stolen goods recovered. Note, however, that such increases are more likely to reflect a specific focus on stolen property recovery than on burglary reduction efforts.
  • Greater perception of security among builders, supervisors, police, and homeowners.