Understanding the Psychology of Burglary

By Aby Nicole League

Security involves two basic steps: anticipation of risks and installing preventive measures. With the rising incidences of burglary, many establishments have installed a surveillance camera system as preventive measure. But with a security alarm system as our battle gear, we also need a battle plan to attack the enemy. As in any battle, knowing whom you’re dealing with – their motives and strategies – leads to a better plan of attack. This directs us to probe deeply into the minds of burglars … Why do they do it? And how do they do it?

To understand the psychology of burglary, independent studies were conducted for University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNC-Charlotte), Research Digest and Second Moment. Expert psychologists conducted the tests on so-called “experts” – those who perform burglaries “automatically” and “instinctively” that they no longer need to concentrate deliberately on what they’re doing. Their findings shed light on how we should design our burglar alarm system to better protect ourselves from such crimes.

The Motive

Based on the UNC-Charlotte study, the top reason for committing crimes is drugs. Burglaries are often committed to support drug habits, contrary to our common misconception that these crimes are committed out of poverty.

Selecting the Target

Photo via Flickr

Photo via Flickr

Still according to the UNC-Charlotte study, the primary target for burglary is households, and secondary, commercial establishments. When selecting a target home, burglars consider:

  • proximity of other people (visibility)
  • proximity to major routes (traffic)
  • people in the house (occupancy)
  • presence of police officers
  • presence of escape routes
  • signs of increased security – including home alarm systems, dogs and other surveillance equipment

Deterrence Factors

Photo via Alarm System Store

Photo via Alarm System Store


So what can deter a burglar from attacking your home? The three studies unanimously agree that home security systems are the single most effective deterrent for burglary. Based on the UNC-Charlotte study, burglars generally retreat and/or seek an alternative target if they find alarm system equipment on-site. This is particularly true for those who carefully plan their burglary.

Interestingly, the Second Moment study reveals that deadbolts do not have a significant effect in reducing the chances of burglary.

The Master Plan

Photo via Flickr

Photo via Flickr

Most burglars gain entry through open windows and doors, or by forcing windows or doors open. Only a few (one in eight) pick locks or use a key that they had previously acquired. These UNC-Charlotte findings lead us to finding possible burglar entry points as strategic locations for our surveillance cameras.

The Research Digest study further reveals a search pattern for burglars – beginning from the master bedroom and finishing with the kitchen. So when keeping your money, jewelry and other valuables, try putting them in a place where it is least expected. As one respondent in the study said, “People leave things in the same basic locations could have done it with my eyes shut.”

Deliberate or By Impulse?

The UNC-Charlotte study further shows gender differences in motivations. Compared to women, men have the greater tendency to plan their burglaries ahead of time. They gather as much information as possible on their potential targets. The Research Digest study adds that there is evidence of expertise in the way the burglars check for relative wealth, occupancy, access and security when selecting a house to target.

In contrast to men, the woman burglar is no different from a woman shopper. They do it on impulse!

The Timing

The UNC-Charlotte findings also show a gender difference in the timing of the burglaries. Women generally prefer to conduct the operations during the afternoon, while men’s preference is in the late evenings.

Since most burglars do it to sustain their drug habits, it poses us a more serious threat and a heightened need for security.

The Second Moment study further validates that visibility; traffic and occupancy are significant factors in burglars’ selection of target. So if you are thinking of moving into a secluded country home, and worse, adjacent to a wooden area, think again! Corner homes and homes close to arterial roads and major routes should also consider increasing their security measures since these provide an easy escape for burglars. On the other hand, households with a greater number of children have a lower chance of burglary, according to the study. So parents should be more tolerant with their children’s noise, it just might scare the burglars away!

Since the study reveals a search pattern for burglars, using covert spy and covert safes to store your jewelries and other valuables would come in handy.

Since there’s a variety on the timing of the burglaries, our need for a 24-hour burglary prevention system is vital. The availability of motion-detecting cameras that can be hooked to our mobile allows us to keep an eye on our home while we’re at work or on vacation.

In summary, the houses most prone to burglary are the detached homes, those located close to a highway entrance/exit, and those without security precautions. When it comes to precautionary measures, the combination of managerial precautions and alarm systems reduces the probability of burglary significantly. Luckily there is a wide variety of choices for alarm equipment now available, ranging from wireless sensors, hardwired sensors, sirens, strobe lights, driveway/entry alerts, keypads and communicators. Modern technology even allows us to receive “alerts” via internet and cellular phone. When it comes to surveillance, cameras and recorders serve as eyes and ears that guard our homes 24/7.

Keeping entry points locked, installing alarms and cameras, and keeping watch of suspicious persons around our home is still the best battle plan. Since expert burglars appear to be highly habit driven, we too must make security a habit in our homes. Remember, it is not only the material possessions that are at risk, but more importantly, our lives and our sense of security.


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