Use Home Burglary Statistics to Prioritize Your Improvements

Why should we care about home burglary statistics?

I’ve been considering putting this article together for a while.  But, I was afraid of how well received it would be.  As an engineer and an analytical thinker, I enjoy looking at statistics and trying to draw useful conclusions from them, but I’m not sure how many of you feel the same way.  So, I’ll try to add enough flare to keep the attention of the right-brained readership as well.

The topic today is the thoughts and actions of the average burglar.  We’re going to take a look at how and why burglaries are committed so that we can prioritize our preparation.  All of us are resource constrained, whether with limited budgets or limited time.  So, that’s our motivation for assessing our risk of burglary, being honest about the weaknesses in our preparation and planning, and prioritizing steps we can take to improve the security of our homes.

Assessing your risk of burglary

Sociologists and criminologists have done all sorts of work to analyze reported crime data and publish information that helps us understand our risk of being a victim of crime.  We’ve pulled together the most interesting home burglary statistics so that you can understand whether your situation puts you more or less at risk of a burglary.

From there, you can decide which types of prevention measures would be appropriate for your home.

Average Annual Burglary Rate by Household Income Level

Household Income Burglary rate per 1000
Less than $7,500 50.2
$7,500 to $14,999 41.1
$15,000 to $24,999 33.8
$35,000 to $49,999 32.9
$50,000 to $74,999 25.6
$75,000 or more 22.5
* Source: DoJ Victimization During Household Burglary, Sept. 2010

Average Annual Burglary Rate by Home Ownership

Average Annual Burglary Rate by Type of Housing

Type of housing Burglary rate per 1000
House or apartment 30.6
Hotel, motel, or rooming house 39.6
Mobile home 43.5
Student quarters 5.6
Other units 6.5
* Source: DoJ Victimization During Household Burglary, Sept. 2010

Interested in a detailed risk assessment?

Use our burglary risk calculator to factor in where you live and the deterrents you have in place to give you an idea of your likelihood of being burglarized in a given year. You can even make changes and see how to reduce your risk.

Motivating Factors

While it doesn’t shed light on how you can secure your home, understanding the motivation for burglaries can help you understand the mindset of a criminal.  According to “Understanding Decisions of Burglarize from the Offender’s Perspective” by Blevins, Huhns, and Lee of UNC Charlotte, the two primary reasons that surveyed burglars committed crimes was to secure drugs and money.

Of burglars surveyed

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Thrills, foolishness, and revenge were the remaining factors and all ranked below 5%.  Also of interest, men were substantially less motivated by drugs than women, and instead prioritized money as a reason to commit crimes, presumably to support themselves or loved ones.

According to the Department of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey (covering the period of 2003-2007), of the 27.6% of burglaries that occurred when a household member was home, only 26% resulted in a violent crime (7.2% of all burglaries).

Home invasion: usually a crime committed by unlawful entry while a resident is at home, but some states define it as an offender forcibly entering a home with the intent of robbing or violently harming those inside

So clearly, violence is not a primary motivator in home invasions and is relatively rare, even though the consequences are substantial and persistent.

The Perfect Target, High Value and Low Risk

Given the motivation, it’s important to understand that most burglars are looking for an easy score.  They want to minimize the chance of being caught.  Generally, they do that by avoiding homes that are occupied, avoiding confrontations, and trying to get in and out quickly with valuables that are easily converted to cash without drawing suspicion.

The upside to that is there are many deterrents that can convince would-be burglars that they should not target your home.  We’ve covered the effectiveness of deterrents in a previous article in more details, but we’ll go over the abbreviated version here.  The best deterrents were judged to be factors that a burglar would consider when selecting a target.

[skill_bar heading=”Cameras/surveillance” percent=”57%” style=”background-color: #5fb341″][skill_bar heading=”Alarm” percent=”54%” style=”background-color: #5fb341″][skill_bar heading=”People inside” percent=”53%” style=”background-color: #5fb341″][skill_bar heading=”Dog inside” percent=”51%” style=”background-color: #5fb341″][skill_bar heading=”Car in driveway” percent=”51%” style=”background-color: #5fb341″]

So, cameras and alarm systems are very effective, as is making your home look occupied by people or a mean dog!

Burglary Prevention – How Effective are Alarms?

The study put together at UNC Charlotte surveyed incarcerated burglars to determine the impact of alarms (among other things) on a decision to burglarize a home. Here are some quick hits relating to alarm effectiveness from the study:

  • Does an alarm affect target (home) selection? – YES
  • How often do you continue a burglary after determining an alarm is present? NEVER – 50%, Sometimes – 37%, Always – 13%

Granted, these are thieves who were caught, so you can make your own judgements on how sophisticated or inept they may be and how that will change the results of the survey.

I have seen claims (supposedly sourced from Simon Hakim at Temple University) that you are 3 times less likely to be burglarized if you have an alarm system. Then again, a paper by Hakim, Rengert, and Shachamurove in 2000 using data from Greenwhich, Connecticut concluded that houses labeled as vulnerable homes could decrease their odds of being burglarized by 13.4%. But, the muted impact there could be because it’s an affluent suburb and the burglars targeting the area may be more sophisticated overall.

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Multiple deterrents compound effectiveness

A crime survey from the UK provides data that shows that while 33% of houses with weak security are burglarized, only 5% of homes with multiple security measures were burglarized. That would imply a reduction of 6x as a benefit of having multiple security measure in place at your home.

Common sense confirms what the data says. As a would-be burglar cases a potential target, it makes sense that multiple security measures would add up to tilt the balance toward skipping that particular house and moving on to an easier target.

See what burglary deterrents are most effective and practical for your situation

How a Burglary Comes Together

Now, let’s spend some time reviewing how the typical burglary comes together. It’s important to know when and how a burglary may occur so that you can can prepare for the most likely methods of attack.

Levels of Preparation Before a Burglary

Also from the UNC Charlotte study, we learn that homes are favored over businesses 2 to 1 and most burglaries are committed immediately, that is, they involved less than 24 hours of planning.

In the survey, criminals indicated that they often committed both types of crimes. In crimes of opportunity, a burglar may happen upon a target that is too attractive to pass up, immediately assess the situation, and break in immediately. In that instance even, you may be able to deter a criminal if your home has several security measures in place when that ad hoc risk assessment takes place.

The other broad category is the burglaries that happened after a planning period. Often, the planning period is used to determine the best point of entry into the home and most importantly when the residence is most likely to be unoccupied.

For criminals that plan ahead, methods that make your home look lived in like programmable lights and radios can throw off their ability to pinpoint when you are regularly out of the home. If you can do that, their perceived risk of breaking into an occupied home is much higher. Because of the higher likelihood of being identified and caught, the burglar may choose another target.

Common Times for Burglaries

To analyze when burglaries happen, we’re going to take a look at at crime survey conducted and published in the UK because it reports higher fidelity time windows. Looking at the most recent data, we see that 2/3 of the burglaries happen during the week.

Breaking in to Your Home

The UNC Charlotte burglar survey also gives us valuable insight into the methods that are used by burglars when they break into homes.

Most burglaries last less than 10 minutes.  That way, any alarm system response and police reaction will be too slow to catch the thief in the act, and the thief reduces the chance of being caught in the act.

Cutting Phone Lines

One fifth of criminals cut phone lines and alarm wires that could be accessed outside before entering the home.  Given that, if you have an alarm to call the police using your phone line, it’s important to check whether or not those lines are accessible where they leave the house.  If they are, it’s worth considering an alarm system or add-on that uses a cellular dialing system to call the monitoring center, you, or the police.

Find a security system with a cellular backup

  • To review costs and features for alarm systems that support cellular dialing as a backup to the phone line or internet, see systems, features, and costs in our comparison tool and look for systems with cellular monitoring.

If you already have an alarm system, you may need an additional hardware module installed to support cellular calling. Or if your existing system already supports it, you should be able to just add that to your existing service by contacting your alarm company. Generally, the extra feature costs $7-10 extra per month. You’ll have to determine if the extra resilience is worth the cost based on the routing of your phone lines outside your home.

Tools Used to Break In

Only, thirteen percent of burglars surveyed carried lock picking tools to help them get into homes and access valuables inside the home. That’s likely an indication of the higher level of sophistication and skill required to master a lock picking set.

On the other hand, most burglars carried screwdrivers and crow bars which are simple and quick ways of getting into many doors and windows. To combat against these methods, you can install pins locks and security bars on your sliding windows and doors. For your traditional doors, extra long dead bolts and reinforced door jambs can make it much harder for burglars to bypass your locks. We’ve written extensively about securing your doors using dead bolts and reinforced door jambs previously.

Common Entries Used During Burglaries

Before deciding which areas of your house to prioritize for security improvements, it’s helpful to know which entries are used the most in burglaries. Here, the data from the FBI comes in handy.

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The first takeaway that jumps out at you is that there are A LOT of people that don’t lock their doors and windows. Over 1.2 million burglaries in the study period (50%) were labeled as “Unlawful entry,” i.e. nothing had to be damaged or forced to gain entry to the home. These crimes include coming through unlocked or open doors and windows and using an existing key.  Or, they may know how to open the door with a card or pick the lock.

So lock your doors and windows and make sure you aren’t in that 50%.

Outside of using the locks that you do have, here’s a run down of the methods of entry that are used most often. You can use these to do a security checkup on your home and assess each entry for how effective it would be keeping burglars out. Put yourself in the shoes of a burglar and analyze how you would break into your own home, keeping in mind these statistics.

Method of entry in completed burglaries of unoccupied homes Percentage of total (%)
Door 73.4
–Damaged or removed 43.5
–Screen damaged or removed 1.7
–Handle/lock damaged or unlocked 25.6
–Other damage 2.6
Window 48.8
–Pane damaged or removed 30.0
–Screen damaged or removed 8.8
–Lock damaged or unlocked 7.6
–Other damage 2.4
Other entry 1.4
* Source: DoJ Victimization During Household Burglary, Sept. 2010

If the numbers look a little odd, it’s because multiples routes of entry may have been attempted per burglary. As you can see, the door is a very common target and is usually compromised by damaging it or the frame. The next most common method of bypassing a door is to remove or tamper with the lock and handle.

Want to know the best ways to secure your doors?

For windows, the most common method of attack, by far, is to break the window pane itself. To prevent that, you could contract out or learn how to add security film to your windows. While it won’t out-last a sustained attack, beating a fortified glass window into submission makes a lot of noise and can slow a burglar down enough so that he moves on to another target. Or, you can get glass break sensors for your alarm system.

Secure your windows against burglars

The Use of Weapons in Burglaries

Another critical statistic from the DoJ Crime Survey, 61% of offenders were unarmed when violence occurred during a burglary and only 12% involved an offender with a firearm.

Self Defense Weapons Give You the Upper Hand
Get a gun or other self defense weapon (and a safe to store it in) and tilt the odds in your favor for 61% of home invasions that turn violent, potentially avoiding a violent situation simply by displaying the capability for overwhelming force.

Types of weapons used in violent burglaries

Type of weapon Percentage of total (%)
No weapon 60.5
Firearm 12.4
Sharp weapon 10.6
Other weapon 7.2
Don’t know 9.3

Prioritized Items to Steal

Once they’re in your house, burglars are going to favor valuables that are easy to carry and easy to convert into cash or other goods without putting themselves at risk of being caught with stolen goods that can be linked back to a particular crime. According to the UNC Charlotte survey, the burglars said that they would steal the following:

Item % of Burglars that would steal
Cash 90
Jewelry 78
Illegal drugs 66
Electronics 64
Prescription drugs 51

After completing a burglary, the common ways to convert stolen goods to cash is:

Sell to strangers 44
Pawn shops or second-hand dealers 40
Friends 32

The important thing to remember here is that you can make your valuables less attractive to a thief that does get into your home by etching your name or some other identifying information onto the object. The extra risk of being connected to a burglary via a stolen item could make the thief reconsider taking it in the first place.

After the burglary, 65% of the surveyed criminals tried to get rid of stolen items immediately, presumably before the items were reported as stolen and cops were looking for them in earnest.  The rest would store them in secluded areas and try to move the items at a later date.

If you’ve marked and recorded serial numbers of your valuables as we suggest here, then you can let all of the local second-hand stores and pawn shops know that you had some items stolen, what they were, where the distinguishing markings were, and give them a list of any model and serial numbers.  While the police may also talk to shop owners, you can likely get to them faster and put a face to the crime for the pawnshop owners and employees.

What’s the Difference Between Robbery and Burglary?

Imagine returning home from a vacation only to find out that your door has been opened and most of your valuables are gone. When you call the police, would you report the incident as robbery or burglary?

People often use robbery and burglary interchangeably but in criminal justice, the terms could mean different crimes with different definitions and implications. But one thing is for sure – you don’t want to experience either of these!  It is very important to know what’s the difference between these crimes so you will know how to protect yourself and your loved ones.

What is Burglary?

The technical definition of burglary may vary from one state to another. In general, the crime often involves unlawful entering of private property with the intent of stealing any valuables or committing a crime while inside. A person illegally entering a house, office, garage or even a garden shed to steal something is already committing burglary.

To commit a burglary, the criminal doesn’t have to forcibly enter the house using fear or violence and the victim doesn’t have to be present. So it means that if you’re away from home, an individual can enter your house and steal something to commit the crime.

The potential penalties of burglary can vary from different states. Often times, the seriousness of the crime is evaluated according to the following factors:

  • type of crime the individual has committed while inside the property
  • type of property involved (business office, private home, etc.)
  • whether the property was occupied during the crime
  • whether the guilty individual carries a weapon during the incident 

What is Robbery?

While burglary doesn’t need to use force or fear against an individual to commit the crime, robbery is often the opposite. The crime involves using force or intimidation to take something from the victim without permission.

In order for a criminal to be convicted of robbery, a threat or  violence must be used to take away the property or valuables from the victim. For example, if a man armed with a gun demands a 7-eleven store cashier to hand over all the money, the man is committing robbery.

Just like burglary, the laws and implications of robbery can vary from one state to another. Often times robbery involves theft and could result in more fines and prison time. A robbery that involves weapons is classified as a more serious crime and could result in higher fines and years of imprisonment.

Knowing the Difference – How Could It Help You

Although burglary and robbery may sound synonymous to many people, it is important to understand the differences between these two terms. For one, you want to accurately describe the crime to the authorities in case you’ve encountered a criminal or a break-in. Second, being able to report clearly an incident will educate you on the laws and penalties that apply to the crime, and how you can protect yourself from these criminals.

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