There’s no better way to figure out what motivates a burglar than to go directly to the source: Just ask the burglar.
A groundbreaking new study by a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte examines hundreds of convicted offenders to gain an unprecedented look inside the mind of a burglar, providing remarkable insight into an intruder’s motivation and methods.
The survey, entitled "Understanding Decisions to Burglarize from the Offender’s Perspective,” was conducted by Dr. Joseph B. Kuhns of the university’s Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology. Funding was provided by the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation (AIREF), which is the tax-exempt foundation that serves as the research arm for the electronic security industry with support from the Electronic Security Association (ESA).
University researchers dug deeply into the decision-making processes and methods of 422 incarcerated male and female burglars selected at random from three states: North Carolina, Kentucky, and Ohio. The 64-page study reveals the burglars’ motivations, target-selection strategies, techniques, gender differences, and effectiveness of deterrence factors such as burglar alarms and video surveillance.
"This study adds to our understanding of burglars, their motivations and their techniques," Kuhns said. "It also helps us gain insights into the impact of demographic differences, such as gender. By asking the burglars themselves what motivates and what deters them, we believe this research can help people better understand how to protect themselves against these crimes."
According to the study, a majority of burglars considered the presence of deterrents such as alarms, outdoor cameras and other surveillance equipment when choosing a potential residential or commercial target. Approximately 83 percent of the offenders said they would attempt to determine if an alarm was present before attempting a burglary, and 60 percent said they would seek an alternative target. This was particularly true among the subset of burglars who were more likely to spend time deliberately and carefully planning a burglary.
Among those who discovered the presence of an alarm while attempting a burglary, half reported they would discontinue the attempt, while another 31 percent said they would sometimes retreat. Only 13 percent said they would always continue the attempt even after an alarm had been discovered.
Other findings included:
- The presence of video surveillance was also an effective deterrent. Nearly 60 percent of the burglars said they would consider the presence of cameras or other video equipment when selecting a target, and more than 40 percent said that would be a factor in prompting them to choose another target
- Nearly 90 percent of the respondents indicated their top reason for committing burglaries was related to the need to acquire drugs (51 percent) or money (37 percent), which was often used to support drug habits.About half reported engaging in residential burglary, while 31 percent committed commercial burglaries.
- Most burglars reported entering open windows or doors or forcing windows or doors open. Only about one in eight burglars reported picking locks or using a key that they had previously acquired to gain entry.
A considerable portion of the research dealt with differences between male and female burglars. For example, men tend to plan their burglaries more deliberately, and are more likely to gather intelligence about a potential target ahead of time. Women appear to be more impulsive overall, engaging in "spur-of-the-moment” burglaries.
Women also indicated a preference to burglarize homes and residences during the afternoon, while men tend to focus on businesses in the late evenings. And drug use was the most frequently reported reason given by women (70 percent) as a motive for burglary, while men cited money as their main motivation.
One thing didn’t change across gender, however: The impact of alarms and surveillance equipment on target selection did not vary, although female burglars were more often dissuaded from attempting a burglary if they noticed signs suggesting that a particular location was protected by alarms.
In addition to Kuhns at UNC Charlotte, other researchers are Dr. Kristie R. Blevins, Eastern Kentucky University; and Dr. Seungmug "Zech” Lee, Western Illinois University.
AIREF, which funded the study, has financed research and education for consumers, industry professionals and public safety officials since being founded in 1977. For more information and to read the study in its entirety, go to www.AIREF.org.