Can you reduce the chance that you will be a victim of theft or property crime? Or is it just a random event that could happen to anyone? Back in the day, the prevailing theory was as if there was a giant random crime victim selection spinning wheel (like on the game shows). It would spin and the tab would tick against the little pins: ttttttttttttttttttt—tttttttttttt—ttttttt—ttttt—tttt—ttt—tt—t—ti—tic—tick—tick.—tick..—tick…—tick…..—tick……—tick………—tick………… and stop on a person, or place, and that was when the next burglary, or car theft, or whatever would happen. If they went to your house, it was just your turn….nothing you could do about it. That’s what I thought, and what I would often tell people who had their property stolen.
Meanwhile, in greater London, England, there was a guy who worked with the Metropolitan Police Department, an inspector was going about his business. His assignment required that he spend a lot of time working burglary and property theft cases from homes. He had repeated the spinning wheel of fate reason too, but he realized there was more to in that that. He started to figure out that in many cases, when a house was broken into, about three months later, it was broken into again, and quite often, a couple months after that, yet another break-in. This, when other houses that were nearby had never had a break-in.
He did a bunch of research, looked at stats and crime reports, did a lot of sight surveys of houses that had been broken into, and those that weren’t. He also interviewed a bunch of victims, and a bunch of criminals in jail who had done a ton of break-ins – asking them why they selected a particular place, and not another. After all this work, he developed a theory based on some common attributes and similar reactions of people to being victimized. Some of the stuff he discovered:
Forget the random spinning wheel. Bad guys typically go in and “case” a neighborhood. Let’s say they check out a street that has fifteen houses on it. Based on what they see, they essentially rank them based on their vulnerability to entry and theft. This one has a big dog, that one has pokey bushes under the windows, the one over there has extra secure door locks, another has “Gladys Kravitz” living there (the busy-body neighbor who lived next to the Stephens’ house in the TV show “Bewitched” – who was always peeking out here curtains watching who was doing what). That level of attention pretty much removes those houses on either side of where she lives.
The residents of one house leave every morning at 7:30, and come home at 5:00 – leaving their house empty all day. The house over there looks like they have an alarm system – they have the stickers on the windows, but are they faded and belong to a company that has been out of business for a year? That house has motion lighting on all the potentially dark corners, clear and open views – from a bad guy’s perspective, nothing to hide behind when those motion lights kick on really sucks (some with specific backgrounds might call those “open fields of fire”), and you can see several surveillance cameras strategically positioned. They also have locks on the gates to their back yard – not a typical thing to see, and something that will require climbing the fence to get access, and will slow down any quick exit that might be necessary if things go wrong.
What kind of cars do they have in the driveway? A couple of five or ten-year-old sedans in good condition, or a new $60,000 pick-up (with the diesel engine, big tires, a lift kit, and custom paint) for the guy, a top of the line Lexus SUV for the wife, and a $250,000 motorhome that doesn’t get used very often. Did he notice the older retired guy who lives in the house over there and walks his tiny dog twice a day? Is the guy who lives in that house working two jobs so he can make his house payment. What signs do they see that gives them an insight into what they can’t see? Basically, they are looking for the kind of stuff you hear in those crime prevention seminars, the “McGruff the Crime Dog” kind of tips.
It used to be middle of the day burglaries – maybe a kid in the neighborhood, who kicks in the door, heads to the bedroom, grabs the jewelry and the gun in the top drawer of the dresser, and they are out of the house in three minutes. But, things have changed. Home safes instead of hiding stuff in the drawer; credit and debit cards instead of cash; better hiding places; more awareness, etc.
Now, the stakes have changed in many cases. Some bad guys have taken it a step higher into the more serious invasions of occupied houses – one guy (or gal) knocks on the door, when someone unlocks the door – two, three, or four guys, rush in, take control, and have an hour to get those inside to tell them where the good stuff is, get the PIN codes on the cards, and get a whole lot more stuff than with the old fashioned quick-in-&-out method.
Indications are that these are a different type of bad guy, more serious, and with different motivations. Those who will do a home invasion usually have issues (serious criminal backgrounds, drug issues that have messed up the part in their brains that have common sense, or maybe they just like the thrill and want to hurt people), none of which make them kind, caring, and sensitive people. Doing a home invasion is a very high profile, very high risk, very good chance of real prison time – kind of deal. They are more on the scale of people who will not feel bad about hurting those they encounter inside the house, and as Clint Smith says, some people who probably need to be shot!
The door kickers don’t want that kind of risk or heat. They want some money, some valuables they can sell or trade, and get out. There is a middle ground with some, “I’ll break in, and if confronted I will deal with that,” but they would rather not. Now, they are willing to do stupid things if necessary, you don’t go into a house without seriously considering that, especially where people have guns, and District Attorney’s won’t file charges when a home owner shoots a burglar inside their living room. But shoot a homeowner while doing a felony burglary, and get caught, that’s serious prison time.
They primarily look for signs a house will be easy to enter, and watch out for those signs that breaking in might take longer, or create an additional risk of being caught. Then, they choose their target, and break-in and steal stuff. They also make a call as to whether a mid-day kick the door or an evening entry through the less obvious back door is more to their style.
They make their selection, and start to implement the plan. The young and inexperienced ones, they only want money for their drugs tend to go for the lower risk stuff. Now the interesting part, the continued return to the same location. For the property theft ones – a few months later, the thieves will very often come back to that same street. If the guy who was victimized before hasn’t done something to upgrade his security, or make it more difficult – guess what, his house is still going to be ranked #1 for “break-in-ability” so he gets hit again.
So why the two-to-three-month thing? Well, in that time several things have happened. The victim has resumed his former habits, and isn’t paranoid and extra careful as he was in the month following the theft. Also, by that time the insurance company has send the payment, so there is new stuff to steal. The computer is a newer model, the TV is bigger, and a lot of the stuff that was taken has been replaced with better stuff. Add in that the weak security remains, the thief already knows the layout inside the house, where the most likely hiding places are, and it’s a no-brainer who is going to get broken into again.
Some additional research in London showed that in many cases, a particular house was being broken into three, four, five, and even six or more times – because nothing was changed, it literally became easier for the thief each additional time they returned. The inspector got some buy-in of a couple insurance companies, including some money for funding some prevention efforts. His efforts got the nick-name of the “Olympic Program” because they established three levels of addressing the problem.
BRONZE: Your house just got broken into. The responding officer would not only take the report, but they would give the homeowner some handouts and flyers to let them know what kind of things they could do to reduce the chance they would get burgled again. They would also have flyers to hand out to the neighbors and maybe do a crime prevention presentation for the neighborhood to get everyone to pay more attention.
SILVER: If a couple months later you got hit again, a specially trained cop would show up the day or so after the report was taken. They would do a walk through inside and outside with the homeowner, and point out specific things that could do to deter break-ins. They would even give them some coupons or gift certificates for the British version of Home Depot. Sometimes they would have a handyman show up and install better locks or similar things to help reduce the vulnerability of that house.
GOLD: Quite often, after the second break-in, the police would increase patrols in the area, knowing that chances are this guy would be back a couple of months later. If your house had yet to get security upgrades, they might have the handyman show up and do some things to prevent that third theft. They would also look at the stats and data and maybe have some undercover cops stake-out the most likely targets. Most of the time all these steps would prevent another break-in, and very often result in arresting a guy creeping around the neighborhood or actually doing a break-in. If all their work was successful, the overall security on that street had improved, and if the thief wasn’t in jail, at least he decided that he now needed to go a few blocks away to find another “easy” place to break into.
I was at a “Community Oriented Policing” training seminar in San Diego where this guy did a presentation. Because his program actually worked, he had been promoted, and being somewhat close to retirement, spend the next few years expanding the program, writing articles for police publications, and I believe he even wrote a book. He also got to travel around the world doing presentations like the one I went to, talking to law enforcement, security and insurance people.
He added some additional elements based on his previous assignments and time working street crime, and had condensed his ten years or so of study into four basic rules, or what he called The Four Key Deterrence Strategies, which, in no particular order, are:
Increase Likelihood of Identification or Capture:
Bad guys make decisions on a risk-reward scale. If they get identified, or get caught, they will be spending time in jail, or “out of work” and they don’t want that. Video surveillance, lots of people, loud noises that attract attention, real alarm systems that get attention or a fast response – not the stickers on the window that mean someone will drive by in 30-45 minutes. Places where there are lots of cops nearby, big dogs, etc. – all of these can mean instead of a pocket full of cash, some liquor and a night with their girlfriend, they get to spend time in jail, and they want to avoid that.
Increase the Difficulty or Effort Required:
If they wanted to actually work for a living, they would have a real job. Example: two football players walking down the street with $500, or, a little old lady with $20. Who are they going to rob? The little old lady because the two football players might just kick their ass. Sure they only get $20, but it’s an EASY $20. If the two football players had $5,000 – maybe that extra reward might be worth the risk? Do they want to get a dog biting them and needing to get some stitches? Probably not. The harder you make it for them, the more likely they’ll go somewhere else.
Decrease Possible Reward or Value:
Again the risk/reward scale. If they know that they will have to spend 45 minutes working to break into a crappy house, and only get $30 worth of crappy stuff, they are going to be less likely to make the effort. If they know there will be a big payout, they will spend the time and effort. So limit who knows what kind of expensive or easily sold stuff you have. Flashing cash, a fancy watch, and expensive car, etc, and bad guys will think that extra effort to go after you might be worth it.
Remove Excuses, Alibis, Justifications or Explanations:
Basically, signage, fencing, verbal warnings, obstacles, etc. If they are in a place where there is a sign that says “Authorized Persons Only” they are going to have to explain why they are there, how they got there, or what they are doing there… “Oh, I’m just looking for my cat…” isn’t going to fly, and they will now be noticed, and remembered (see #1 above). If the gates to your back yard are locked, they are going to have to climb over the fence – and they had better have a really great reason to do that, which they won’t of course.
Two guys are out camping in the woods, and suddenly, a bear comes running out of the brush, headed right toward them The first guy starts putting on his running shoes. The second guy says: “you can’t outrun the bear” The first guy says “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I only need to outrun YOU!
Summary: You don’t have to have a castle with alligators in the moat and machine guns on the towers, you don’t need anything expensive or fancy – all you need to do is make sure you are yours do not look like good victims. Some might consider it cold-hearted, but it is the reality: Better someone else is selected to be a victim than it being you or yours. You want the guy casing your neighborhood, looking at your car, or sizing you or yours up as you walk across the parking lot – to say to themselves, nope, not this one, I’m going down the street, to the next car, or wait another ten-minutes for someone else to come by, someone that will be easier, some place with less change of getting caught, or a car with more and better stuff in it.
Stay Safe Out There!