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Your analysis of your local problem should give you a better understanding of the factors contributing to it. Once you have analyzed your local problem and established a baseline for measuring effectiveness, you should consider possible responses to address the problem.
The following response strategies provide a foundation of ideas for addressing your particular problem. These strategies are drawn from a variety of research studies and police reports. Several of these strategies may apply to your community's problem. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem. Do not limit yourself to considering what police can do: give careful consideration to who else in your community shares responsibility for the problem and can help police better respond to it.
Burglary prevention efforts typically involve a variety of responses; it has been difficult to assess individual response effectiveness. However, the following section describes specific responses that might be combined to form an effective burglary prevention strategy. Despite the importance of multiple interventions, you should avoid trying a little bit of everything; instead, you should use complementary tactics.
A range of burglary prevention responses involve target-hardening, increasing the risk—or presumed risk—of detection for offenders, and reducing the rewards. While police have historically recommended many of these responses, they are increasingly used in tandem with one another and with other strategies. Most research suggests it is the combination of responses that is effective.1. Installing burglar alarms. Burglar alarms have become quite prevalent. An estimated 17.5 percent of U.S. households have them.77 In Britain, 24 percent of households had alarms in 1998—a doubling in proportion since 1992.78 At an average installation cost of $1,200 in the United States, along with monthly monitoring charges of about $25, alarms are concentrated among more affluent households.79
Burglar alarms have a high rate of false alerts—perhaps as much as 95 percent. Despite that rate, alarms are often recommended for crime prevention. The National Crime Prevention Institute recommends installing alarms, and some insurance companies offer urban policyholders discounts for doing so. (For more detailed information on alarms, see Guide No. 5 in this series, False Burglar Alarms.)
Most studies of burglars indicate that many will avoid residences with alarms, but alarm effectiveness has not been well evaluated.† As alarms become more prevalent, their effectiveness may change. If most residences in an area have alarms, burglars may tend to avoid the area. Even if a burglar tackles an alarm, its presence may cause him or her to be hasty; burglars steal less property from houses with alarms.80
† The electronic industry cites a study of three suburban locales. Residences with alarms faced a 1.4 percent risk of burglary, while residences without alarms faced a 2.3 percent risk (Hakim and Buck 1991). Due to research limitations, these findings should not be presumed to hold true for all jurisdictions.
Portable burglar alarms have been effectively used for crime prevention. Police agencies have issued them temporarily to detect offenders. In one burglary prevention project, a small pool of portable alarms were allocated on a rotating basis, according to risk.812. Installing closed-circuit television (CCTV). CCTV has been widely used in commercial buildings, public settings and apartment complexes. It may also be used for single-family houses, although such applications will be cost-prohibitive for many, and have not been evaluated. CCTV may deter burglaries, or offenders might confess when confronted with incontrovertible evidence. Temporary CCTV installations may be an option, particularly when used after repeat burglaries or with an alarm.† CCTV can also be used to verify alarms.
† See Painter and Tilley (1999) for a description of CCTV in a variety of settings.3. Hardening targets. Increasing vulnerable houses' security can reduce victimization.82 Home security surveys or target-hardening assessments may prevent burglaries, but these are often requested by residents at the lowest risk for burglary. Even then, residents are unlikely to fully comply with all crime prevention advice. Those whose houses have been burglarized or who live near a burglary victim are most likely to follow such advice.83
Security assessments typically include target-hardening advice related to locks, windows and doors. Importantly, such advice—provided immediately after a burglary—also helps the victim secure the break-in point, to deter a repeat offense.
Target-hardening makes getting into houses more difficult for burglars, and includes installing the following: sturdy doors with dead bolts; window locks, rather than latches; double-pane, storm or divided light windows, or laminated glass that is forced-entry resistant; pin locks on windows and sliding glass doors; and sliding glass door channel locks or slide bolts. Generally, moderate lock security should suffice, as there is no evidence that more elaborate lock security reduces burglary.84 Door security may be influenced as much by the door's sturdiness as by its lock. Regardless, residents should use, rather than simply install, security devices.
Some residents install bars and grills on windows and doors, but the aesthetic costs deter many residents from doing so. Installing them may violate building codes and pose a safety threat by blocking fire exits.
If target-hardening is too expensive, corporate sponsors may be solicited to fund it.† New construction may also incorporate target-hardening (see response 9).
† In seven cities in Britain, an insurance company funded target-hardening measures for low-income areas; burglaries declined as a result (Mawby 2001). In Huddersfield, England, burglary victims were given a discount voucher to buy security equipment (Chenery, Holt and Pease 1997).
Target-hardening can be enhanced through victim education, as well as public awareness campaigns that encourage likely victims to take precautions, and that increase offenders' perceptions of risk. Such efforts may be carried out through the media, through the police (e.g., going door-to-door), or through Neighborhood Watch or other community groups.4. Marking property. Property-marking efforts have had mixed results. It is difficult to get citizens to have their property marked. This response appears to be most effective when combined with extensive efforts to enlist participation,‡ and with extensive media warnings to burglars that disposing of marked property will be more difficult, or that its value will be reduced.85 As part of this response, police must ensure that recovered property is carefully evaluated to detect marking. Property can be marked with bar codes, engraving, dyes and etching liquids, labels, and electronic tags. In some initiatives, citizens post window decals to warn potential burglars that their property is marked.
‡ Police in New South Wales, Australia, went door-to-door to persuade citizens to participate, and provided free marking equipment (Laycock 1991).5. Increasing occupancy indicators. Most burglars avoid encountering residents, and thus look for indicators of occupancy. Such indicators include interior and exterior lights left on (or intermittently turned on and off via timers), closed curtains, noise (e.g., from a television or stereo), cars in the driveway, and so forth. Dogs, alarms and close neighbors can serve as substitutes for occupancy. There are also mock-occupancy devices, such as timers that suggest someone is home. In addition, residents should avoid leaving clues that they are away (e.g., leaving the garage door open when the garage is empty). Before going on vacation, they should have their mail stopped (or ask a neighbor to pick it up), and ensure that their lawns will be maintained in their absence.
Since burglars seek houses with cover, residents should remove obstructions to visibility. Generally, they should trim trees and shrubs and modify fencing so that such features do not block the view of the house from neighbors or passersby. Well-planned—particularly motion-activated—lighting may enhance such measures' effectiveness.
Increased lighting may increase natural surveillance in darkness: however, its impact on crime is highly context-specific. If no one is around to spot a burglar—for example, at an isolated house—increased lighting is unlikely to stop the crime, and may actually make the burglar's job easier. In some areas, enhanced street lighting has reduced residential burglaries:88 depending on the neighborhood, it may reduce fear and encourage greater pedestrian traffic, increasing opportunities for natural surveillance. In some cases, the benefits of increased street lighting have extended to daylight hours, presumably because of increased awareness and community pride.898. Implementing Neighborhood Watch (NW) programs. Police have often launched NW programs in response to residential burglary, but the offenses have not consistently declined. NW varies widely, but primarily involves neighbors' watching one another's houses and reporting suspicious behavior. Many NW programs include marking participants' property and assessing their home security to harden targets (see responses 3, 4 and 13). However, many NW participants fail to mark property or follow target-hardening advice,90 although NW works best when they do so.91 NW has most often been implemented in low-risk areas with more affluent homeowners.92 NW has a greater impact when there are some residents at home during the day.
NW effectiveness can be enhanced by offering introduction kits to vulnerable new residents; publicizing the program, including posting stickers on windows or doors, and/or signs on residents' properties or in the neighborhood; educating residents through door-to-door campaigns; marking property; conducting security assessments; and keeping residents informed about crime trends. (Police departments are increasingly providing citizens access to crime data and crime maps via Internet websites.
"Cocoon watches" are a variant of NW. Neighbors living near recently burglarized houses are asked to be particularly alert. This close set of neighbors—usually, about half a dozen—form a virtual cocoon around the house,† increasing the likelihood of detecting a burglar who returns to strike again. In Kirkholt, England, with a burglary victim's consent, neighbors were informed about the offense and offered a security upgrade—increasing awareness about the crime and, perhaps, neighborhood vigilance.93
† This practice has been part of more comprehensive crime prevention initiatives, making an evaluation of effectiveness difficult (Laycock and Tilley 1995).Educating residents about crime prevention is an important element of NW. Since many residential burglaries do not involve forced entry, simply securing one's house can prevent crime. In areas where burglars are the neighbors, watchfulness has different implications. Residents may be intimidated by offenders, and concerned about retribution.
† Overland Park building codes and crime prevention ordinances can be found at www.opkansas.org. Security measures are also written into Simi Valley, California, building codes; the police department inspects new houses for compliance. The measures resulted in a 52 percent decline in burglaries from 1974 to 1995 (Hoffman 1998).
Building codes vary from one jurisdiction to another, and builders may use low-quality security hardware and building materials. Forced-entry provisions in building codes can be used to improve window and door security—at relatively low cost, generally.101 The Peel Regional Police in Canada found that modifying building codes (at the provincial level) was a difficult task, but such modifications may be practical in other settings.10. Modifying community design. To address the burglary risk in growing areas, some jurisdictions have adopted community design principles. Two studies have shown that a U.K. effort known as Secured by Design has reduced burglary. The Secured by Design strategy involves limiting traffic access by building developments on cul-de-sacs, creating greater oversight around a single road entry into neighborhoods, maximizing the opportunity for natural surveillance through strategic window and door placement, orienting dwellings to maximize oversight of areas, limiting access to dwellings through site layout, and outfitting houses with good locks and building products.102 Such designs also remove or minimize the risk typically associated with corner houses.
To be most effective, these measures—or others—must be taken quickly, within 24 hours if possible, before another burglary occurs.
† Poor-quality offense data—premise miscodes, incident coding errors, missing information, and the like—may impede identification of repeat offenses. A major data "cleaning" is necessary to make data reliable. See Curtin et al. (2001) for common problems with offense data.
In cases of recurring thefts of specific property (such as laptops), more extensive property marking (such as Smart Water† or genetic fingerprinting) or tracking equipment may be used to monitor theft and stolen property's end destination.112 Recurring thefts may also point to repeat burglars.
† Smart Water is a concealed dispenser of indelible dye that can be used with a silent alarm. It may be best used to target repeat offenders or high-risk locations.
A range of strategies can be used to disrupt markets for stolen goods, especially hot products, primarily by reducing the number of markets available. Such strategies include targeting fences and publicizing arrests for selling stolen goods.11316. Providing substance abuse treatment. Because substance abusers may resort to burglary to finance their habits, providing targeted treatment may result in a decline in offenses. In Merseyside, England, providing methadone treatment reduced burglaries.114 The relationship between drug use and property offenses is well established. Early studies of police crackdowns on drugs—especially heroin—showed dramatic declines in burglary.115 (Other drugs have been more closely associated with violent crime.) Studies of substance abuse treatment—both voluntary and involuntary— demonstrate declines in criminal activity, declines that remain after completion of treatment.116
† In recent years, the U.K.'s Home Office has produced a wealth of information about police best practices regarding burglary reduction. See, for example, Tilley et al. (1999), Bridgeman and Taylor=Brown (1996), and Chenery, Holt and Pease (1997). Much of the literature is available at www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/crimreducpubs1.html.
‡ See, for example, Brown et al. (1998) and Reno (1998).
Convicted burglars, especially habitual offenders, already face stiff penalties. Once convicted, about 80 percent of burglars are incarcerated; the average prison sentence is five years. Of all property offenders, burglars receive the longest prison sentences.12219. Providing generic crime prevention advice. Most people are never victims of burglary, and generic crime prevention advice is usually adopted by those who need it the least. Providing such advice—including conducting home security surveys requested by residents—absorbs much police time that would be better focused on houses at higher risk. Studies in Britain have demonstrated that target-hardening of dwellings not previously victimized—those determined to be at risk—is simply not effective.123
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