How Many Burglaries Were Victim-Facilitated?

How Many Burglaries Were Victim-Facilitated?

Elderly folks often talk fondly about the “good old days” when they left their doors unlocked. That practice wouldn’t be prudent these days.

A residential burglary can be considered to be facilitated if the offender did not need to break into the premises because a homeowner or apart- ment dweller had left a front door, back door, garage door, or window wide open or unlocked. By definition, these burglaries are not “forcible entries”; they are “unlawful entries”—acts of trespass by intruders seeking to steal valuables. A reasonable implication is that the number of successful burglaries could be cut in half if

residents would take greater care to lock up their homes, garages, and other entrances. If they did, burglars would have to work harder and in some cases would be deterred, thwarted, scared off, or caught red-handed.

Details about victim-facilitated burglaries appear in the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) as well as the Uniform Crime Report (UCR).

The NCVS keeps track of three categories of household (not commercial) burglaries: forcible entries (break-ins), attempted forcible entries, and unlawful entries without force. (Attempted, unsuc- cessful no-force invasions are not counted because survey respondents usually would be unaware of these close calls.) Throughout the 1990s and into the early years of the twenty-first century, about 50 percent or more of all completed burglaries reported to NCVS interviewers were unlawful entries without force. But over the decades these facilitated burglaries have dropped sharply, from more than 40 per 1,000 households in the early 1970s down to only 12 per 1,000 in 2008 (the last time the NCVS published such detailed find- ings). More and more people have become crime- conscious about residential security. Apparently, burglars must work harder because fewer people are making it easy for intruders to invade homes and spirit off their possessions.

In recent years, about one-third of all residen- tial and commercial burglaries were unlawful entries in which it was not necessary to use physical force to break down doors or smash locks or win- dows, according to the UCR for 2010 as well as for 2013 (Hardison et al., 2013; and FBI, 2014).

Some kinds of people are more likely to be “guilty” of facilitating a burglary than others, according to the breakdowns about no-force entries presented in recent NCVS annual reports. The age of the head of the household turned out to be an important determinant of whether or not someone would be so thoughtless as to facilitate a burglary. Younger people were much less careful than senior citizens.

The number of people in the household mat- tered a great deal: the more people living under the same roof, the more likely carelessness would take

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its toll. Individuals living alone experienced fewer facilitated burglaries; households with six or more people suffered rates that were much greater. As for the race and ethnicity of the head of the household, black and Hispanic families suffered higher rates of no-force entries. Another key factor was financial: the lower-income families in the survey suffered much higher rates of no-force entries (Hardison et al., 2013). Victims reported 44 percent of all no-force entries to the police, according to the NCVS for 2008 (BJS, 2011). But even the affluent sometimes act thoughtlessly:

Residents of an upscale urban community are jarred when they receive an e-mail from the neighborhood association alerting them that four homes in just five days experienced unlawful entries through open windows or unlocked doors. “This neighborhood is so safe, but not everybody puts on their city smarts and remembers to do the common sense thing and lock their doors,” the e-mail states. Police officers post hundreds of warning fliers and even lock several doors themselves after diamond earrings, bracelets, expen- sive watches, and electronic goods are pilfered during a crime spree by intruders who did not need to use force to enter those premises. (Robbins, 2011)

Leaving a front door, side door, back door, sliding glass door, garage door, or window open makes a trespasser’s tasks easier. Defending against intrusion by installing an alarm system ought to make a would-be burglar’s tasks more difficult. Crime-conscious persons who have already been burglarized once, plus concerned individuals who fear that they might be targeted, have been buying security systems for their residences at a rate of about 1.8 million new systems per year. Security systems cost between $100 and $1200 to install (depending upon their features), and monitoring services charge fees of over $400 a year. About one-fifth of all residences were guarded by alarms early in the twenty-first century (Sampson, 2007).

The problem that arises from the widespread sale and installation of security systems is that a huge number of false alarms occur, which use up limited police resources and therefore waste tax- payers’ money. Police departments across the

country responded to roughly 36 million alarm activations, about 95 percent of which were false alarms, at an annual cost of $1.8 billion in 2002. Nationwide, false burglar alarm calls accounted for 10 to 25 percent of all calls for assistance to police departments in the early 2000s. Each alarm activation that turns out to be false wastes about 20 minutes of police time, usually for two officers. The three main causes of false alarms are user errors, faulty equipment, and improper installation. Bad weather and monitoring-center mistakes by alarm company personnel also contribute to the drain on police time. In most jurisdictions, the financial costs of responding to false alarms that repeatedly emanate from the same residential or commercial premises are not recouped by imposing fines on the crime-conscious but negligent owners. Ironically, although residential burglaries tend to be concentrated in or around poverty-stricken urban neighborhoods, the false alarms tend to come from well-protected, affluent homes in low crime com- munities (Sampson, 2007).

It might be assumed that one reason why the threat of residential burglary has diminished is that more renters and owners have installed security systems—but this explanation would not explain the simultaneous drop in murders, robberies, and vehicle thefts since the start of the 1990s (refer back to the discussion of the big picture in Chapter 3). Some more profound changes in American society must account for the “crime crash.”

Burglary prevention strategies go far beyond installing an alarm or getting a dog and leaving a light on at night. The list of do’s and don’ts has grown much more extensive than that, as the advice from the experts assembled in Box 5.3 shows.

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