I attended a conference on Friday about reducing crime in the London borough I work in. I was initially told it was just a meeting but later found out that it was infact a day long conference. You can imagine the groans as I dragged myself there on Friday morning, prepared to be bored out of my mind, so I was shocked when it turned out to be a really interesting day! There were speakers from the police, probation service, housing, neighbourhood watch, victim support, the magistrates court and even PC Tony Stamp from The Bill turned up! (I got to sit next to him!)
The police gave the normal facts and figures I would expect from them, burglary is down 7% on last year in the area etc, probation spoke about what happens when offenders are released from prison or receive community orders, the magistrates court officials spoke about how they sentence burglars and PC Tony Stamp, or Graham Cole should I say, gave an impressive speech about his involvement with the police in various initiatives and his interest in the area – he is a local boy apparently! What to me was the most interesting part of the day was a video that an ex copper I know produced by interviewing a prolific burglar who is supervised at probation by one of my colleagues in the prolific and priority offenders team.
The video started with the man explaining why he got into burglary, he was helping his sister in law and her children when they found themselves homeless and with no money. It started out that he was stealing to get them food on the table etc, not knowing that there are charities etc available that could have assisted with this – well how would have a young man from a working family who had previously had no contact with the world of benefits and grants know what was available if the information wasn’t freely available? Then it was to fuel a lifestyle and instead of stealing for things that were needed it became stealing for things they wanted. He eventually got caught and ended up in prison, when he came out homeless and depressed he was offered drugs by a friend and took them, becoming hooked in an instant. This led him to steal to get money for his habit and the rest as they say is history. This man continued in his life of crime, committing over 300 burglaries during his “career” as a burglar and spending numerous stints in prison, always coming out homeless and always reverting back to a life of crime and drugs. What changed this pattern was being assigned my colleague as his probation officer, he was helped into housing and has stayed away from crime since then.
What he said in the video about how he chose properties to steal from was particularly interesting. When he wasn’t on drugs he was very careful about the properties he chose to burgle, he travelled miles away from his home or the area he was in at the time, to avoid being recognised, selected properties in remote areas because even if they did have a burglar alarm, no one would hear it and was careful not to draw attention to himself in any way. While some people are happy with walking out of a property with a tv under their arm, he chose smaller items that he could just put in his pockets and walk out with without too much trouble. In choosing a property he would look for one that wasn’t overlooked by lots of other properties, a house overlooked by flats for example, because this meant there was the possibility of more people having the opportunity of seeing him in the act. Burglar alarms didn’t bother him either because by the time he had taken a run at a door and kicked it off it’s hinges and down the hallway he was in and out in a matter of minutes. When entering a property he would secure an alternative exit, either an unlocked window or a back door with the keys nearby and was never caught by police even when they entered the property from the front when he was legging it out the back. He would also often knock on the door first to check that no one was in, if no one answered he would consider it safe to enter. As he got deeper into the drugs he got more careless, “working” closer to home and not being as cautious as he once was.
He made the following suggestion that would stop burglaries from occurring in the future:
1) Don’t leave any doors or windows unlocked when you are not at home. Even small windows, all a burglar needs to do is put their arm through and open the main window.
2) Don’t leave anything outside your home to “advertise” what’s inside, such as the box from your new tv etc
3) Get a dog – most burglars will refuse to enter a house with one inside
4) Don’t leave anything insight of windows – if they can see it they will have it
5) Don’t leave your keys near your door, a thief will often use a hook on a stick through your letterbox to get your keys and drive off with your car while you’re asleep or at work
6) Invest in “Smart Water” which is an ink type substance that can be put on your property and when stolen will show up on both the victim and your property, this product is linked to your address so anything stolen is traceable to you. You get a sticker to put in your window and this offender stated that he would never steal from a property that had one of these signs in the window. For more info on Smart Water click here.
7) Speak to your neighbours and be a “nosey neighbour”. When you go away arrange for a neighbour to collect your post if it can be easily seen. Also make sure you talk to your neighbours, if someone is hanging around their property, ask if you can help, a burglar wont hang around for long if they are approached.
8) Lobby your local police for regular police patrols, this offender stated that as soon as there were regular police patrols in the area he lived in, he knew he couldn’t offend there because he was a known face and would be instantly picked up under suspicion of a burglary if one was committed in the area and he had been seen out that day.
Remember burglars are opportunists, don’t give them the opportunity to burgle you!