Profiling house robbers – why a dog beats electric fences
A study by Professor Rudolph Zinn, senior lecturer in Forensic and Crime investigation at the University of South Africa, makes valuable reading in terms of the way South African criminals set about planning and executing a domestic burglary.
Prof Zinn interviewed 30 convicted and incarcerated criminals with a series of 116 structured and open-ended questions in the hope that the information could be used by both the police and homeowners to prevent crime.
It’s suggested that these findings are viewed as insights into criminal behaviour but that the individual homeowner then applies the findings to their own special circumstances.
- Almost all are male aged between 19 and 26 operating in groups of 4
- They are experienced criminals and have worked their way up to house breaking
- 70% are from so-called broken homes or dysfunctional families
- All are willing to use violence
- The main motivation is economic gain with 65% being spent on cars, clothes, drugs and alcohol
- Victims are targeted because of their apparent wealth
- Race plays no part in the targeting
- Often a local “role model” (a known criminal whose lifestyle is improved by crime) can be an influence
- Housebreaking is chosen over other types of crime because there’s more money, it’s quick and there is little chance of getting caught
How they choose a target
- 63% of the perpetrators prefer to travel between 10 and 30 minutes by vehicle from the home base, but will travel further if the potential rewards are high
- Alarmingly, 77% stated they chose targets based on inside information. There also appears to be a sub-set of criminal who specialise in obtaining and selling information extracted from domestic workers, service providers and so on
- Targets with multiple entry and exit points are preferred as well as easy access to main roads
75% of perpetrators said they targeted homes based on good information or at least the suspicion of a high value steal, rather than targeting based on low security
- Sometimes people with expensive jewellery or clothes would be followed home
- All the perpetrators said they would spend some time doing surveillance. This was usually as little as 30 minutes immediately before the attack
- 57% preferred to attack between 7pm and 12am when residents were at home, with alarms disabled and noise from TVs and radios to give a level of cover and a good chance of a surprise attack
- The most common way in is to “break in” by forcing locks, doors, disabling electric fences and so on
- Before the attack perpetrators try to identify the number and locations of all the residents to assist with a surprise attack. This is done through peering through windows, usually under the cover of darkness
- Once inside the attack is likely to last anywhere between 30 minutes and four hours
Violence is real
- All the perpetrators are prepared to use violence or at least the threat of violence
- 97% carry guns and pistols are preferred due their concealability and the sound the weapon makes when the weapon is cocked
- Torture is used to extract information. Usually women and children are tortured to force the male or adult to reveal the location of valuables
- Boiling water, melted plastic or burning with irons and so on was mentioned the most
Community crime prevention syndicates have an effect, as do neighbourhood watches, random patrols and guards with radios.
Listed below and in order of effectiveness are the main deterrents:
Small dogs in the house that may raise the alarm
- Razor wire and electric fences. Though you should beware a fence that keeps tripping may be the burglars trying to get you to turn it off
- Alarms and security sensors, especially in the garage, as this is often the first point of attack to get tools for the main break in
- An armed response service
- An open view into the garden
- Security lights
- Layers of security rather than one single system
- Strong doors and good locks
- Active (not disarmed while you watch TV) door alarms
- Drawn curtains, which prevent pre break in surveillance
- A secure room (this would be established in the information gathering phase) for escape.
A note in this regard is that panic buttons should be placed where you are most likely to be at the time of a break in: under a chair or table in the living room or in a bathroom. Often homeowners are locked in the bathroom after the initial break in.
Also, a secure perimeter makes close surveillance more difficult, reducing the element of surprise and increasing the defensive options for the residents.
How to reduce personal risk
If a breakthrough of the outer perimeter defence is achieved, the first phase of the attack is the most dangerous when adrenalin is high and sudden acts of violence are more likely.
To minimise the risk it was suggested residents should:
Not move when seeing a stranger with a gun
Then make no sudden movements or noise, which could be construed as an act of defence
Keep hands visible, but not above your head as this could signal an attempt to raise an alarm
Demonstrate a willingness to cooperate
In conclusion, and following the study of 1,000 police dockets, Professor Zinn was able to report that:
- 2% of robberies ended in murder
- 4% in rape
- 9% in attempted murder
- 13% in some form of injury
This story was first published on Lock Latch’s site
Who is Steve Pearce?
Steve Pearce is the MD of Lock Latch Retail SA and Lock Latch International.