Items filtered by date: February 2022

As reported by Prof. Battistelli in 20131 , "from the 80s of the twentieth century a significant change in the concept of safety has taken place. The traditional concept of public safety has turned into the more specific notion of urban security. However, the question arises as to whether the new definition can be considered a replacement for the previous one: it certainly constitutes a radical extension. In itself, in fact, urban security includes the 'necessary' characteristics of public safety but, at the same time, it includes more specific characteristics". 

The paradigm of urban security promises to pursue the development of the opportunities and the rights of most of the people that are part of it (in some cases even non-native). Urban security includes not only the protection of a society from threats, but also the satisfaction of its most advanced needs, extending the realisation of this objective to both private and public agencies (Battistelli 2013). Private agencies, consequently, seek to settle themselves into a new area of society with the aim of privately performing protection and security functions while maintaining a very strong link with public authorities (e.g., law enforcement, ministries).

In this regard, Italy has always maintained a prudential attitude towards the sharing of any data on crime, making it the exclusive prerogative of the Public Security Authorities. Centro Elaborazione Dati Interforze (CED)2 is part of this framework. Instituted by Article 8 of Law /1/4/1981, no. 121 for the purpose of coordinating the collection, classification, analysis, and evaluation of information on the protection of law and order, public security and the prevention and repression of crime (Art. 1, para 1, Legislative Decree 18/5/2018, no. 51), it was subsequently incorporated in 2001 within the new Sistema Di Indagine (SDI)3 platform. The latter is, to all intents and purposes, the largest public database (on crime, offences, and urban decay) in Italy to date.

The SDI platform is constantly enriched with a great deal of data relating to unlawful episodes, potential offenders, subjects, persons, property and much more. In other words, 'quantitative' information is integrated (e.g. geographical distribution of criminal events, episodes of urban decay and offences) with 'qualitative' information4.  

Within this enormous database (SDI) also the geo-localized5 data on episodes of crime, generated by the tabularization of the complaints received by the competent authorities, are naturally conveyed. This geo-referenced collection has a specific objective: to put the Police Forces in the condition of being able to carry out urban risk analyses finalized to the understanding of the principal critical areas on which to activate mitigating/contrasting/preventive actions. Such geo-localized data, if rendered devoid of any sensitive information, could have an undoubted value also for Associations, Third Sector Organisations, Foundations, private citizens, and companies, as part of the social fabric.

This is in line with the United Nations (2018)6 report on the urbanization processes that the world, especially the western world, will face by 2050. In fact, it is expected that 68% of the world's population will live in urban-metropolitan contexts, increasing the vertical and horizontal growth of our cities. Such densification will be accompanied by an unequally rapid increase in the number of the Police Forces involved in the control of the above-mentioned urban spaces. This gap will inevitably imply an increasing assumption of responsibility by all the stakeholders (public and private) of our society, who will become an integral part of the process in the field of 'participatory urban security'. In other words, each of us will be called upon to contribute so that cities can maintain adequate levels of safety, inclusion, and balance.

It is within this framework that one of the greatest challenges of the future will be played out, and in order not to lose it, it will be essential to focus on a radical change in the area of 'open data' on crime and urban decay. In fact, if this change doesn’t happen, how could public/private stakeholders identify streets or urban micro-areas where there may be 'pockets' of crime on which it is essential to intervene with operations of contrast, mitigation, and risk prevention? It would not be possible, or at least it would be extremely complex.

The idea of a synergy between the police, citizens, businesses, and any other stakeholder (part of the social structure) can concretely lead to tangible and measurable benefits. In these countries, in fact, the concept of 'open data' in the field of security (and not only) was legitimised years ago, making our country, unfortunately, still rather behind the standards across the border. For example, although updated in 2017, the Open Data Barometer7 relegated Italy to a less than optimal position in terms of open data in Europe (see Figure 1).

Fig. 1 - Data accessibility in Italy by category (year 2017) - comparison with UK

Comparing Italy to the UK for example, two countries that could be defined - on some level - at the extremes of the same spectrum, it emerges that in the field of crime data-transparency Italy presents an overall score (on a scale ranging from 0 to 100) of 40.00 against the UK's 90.00, here are some more specific numbers (see fig. 2):

  • Open data on crime and decay: UK (90.00) VS Italy (40.00)
  • Mapped data, WEB GIS: UK (100.00) VS Italy (50.00)

Fig. 2 - Comparison of open data between the UK and Italy (year 2017) - topic 'Crime Statistics'

In addition, there is a government platform called 'Open Data - Police UK8', through which any citizen/entity in the world can freely download all geo-localised crime data up to date (see figure 3).

Fig. 3 - Government platform 'Open Data - Police UK'

Continuing the comparison on an European level, Italy, compared to Germany, presents an overall score of 40.00 vs. 80.00, below some more specific numbers (see fig. 4):

  • Open data on crime and degradation: Germany (80.00) VS Italy (40.00)
  • Mapped data, WEB GIS: Germany (100.00) VS Italy (50.00)

Fig. 4 - Open data comparison between Germany and Italy (year 2017)


Again, Italy, compared to France, has an overall score of 40.00 versus 95.00, here are some more specific numbers (see fig. 5):

  • Open data on Offences and Degradation: France (95.00) VS Italy (40.00)
  • Mapped data, WEB GIS: France (70.00) VS Italy (50.00)

Fig. 5 - Open data comparison between France and Italy (year 2017)

In light of the above, a question arises: what kind of consequences can this difference generate directly, or indirectly?

The lack of accessible geo-localised data on urban crime means that many intervention policies (both private and public) are not yet data-driven on this issue but rely only and exclusively on qualitative variables (equally important but insufficient if not integrated with numerical-quantitative ones).

On the other hand, how could a Public Administration, a Foundation, an Association or even a group of aware and pro-active citizens plan an urban requalification intervention if the (geo-localised) data on episodes of crime and degradation are not accessible? Everything becomes extremely more complex and potentially ineffective, hence the need to overturn the paradigm of participatory urban security.

This change does not presuppose, obviously, an access to the entire data bank of the SDI, insofar as it is inapplicable, dangerous and, above all, ethically unjust (given the high presence of sensitive data and material). It is rather intended to mean the possibility for private citizens, companies, public administrations and all the organisations of the Third sector, to access only the geo-localized data (deprived of any sensitive information) on criminality and urban decay. Below is an example of 'information fields' that - although not affecting sensitive/personal data - could make a given crime/degradation event usable in urban risk analysis:

  • Event category (e.g., robbery, theft, violent crime, counterfeiting, drug dealing, etc.)
  • Sub-category of event (e.g., Commercial Robbery, Residential Theft, etc.)
  • Date of event (e.g., 01/01/2021)
  • Time of the event (e.g., between 8:00 and 12:00)
  • Address (e.g., Via Rossi 1, 00000, Rome)
  • Latitude and Longitude (fundamental for the geo-localization of the event)

Of course, along with a hypothetical greater sharing of data on crime and urban decay by the Public Safety Authorities, it is necessary to encourage an increasingly substantial activism on the part of citizens. The latter, in fact, are called upon to contribute with information and data which, unfortunately, are often not available to Law Enforcement Agencies.

In this regard, back in 20049, Dr Maurizio Fiasco - through an interesting article published on the State Police website - quoted "The average number of reported cases is 34% and is partly influenced by the fact that attempted crimes don’t get reported (only one in four is followed by a report to the authorities). While it may seem obvious that citizens report almost all car thefts (94%), the high percentage of robberies that remain unreported is cause for reflection: 50.4% of those committed and 68.9% of those attempted. Why such a low tendency? The hypotheses are based on the balance between the costs and benefits of contacting the police and the seriousness of the consequences of the crime. It is also influenced by whether contact between the perpetrator and the victim has taken place or not. A burglary committed while the victim is absent from home has different emotional repercussions from a robbery during which the offended party has run into the aggressor. In other words, in case of events affecting one individual, such as assaults and robberies, the most frequent motivation for reporting is to inform the police (43.2% if they met the offender and 35% if they didn’t) or to prevent the perpetrator from repeating the crime (50.3% if they met the offender and 17.3% if they didn’t). On the other hand, these motivations were scarcely reported for pickpocketing and theft of personal belongings.

This reflection, although outdated, is still deeply relevant considering what was pointed out in the ISTAT (Italian National Statistical Institute)10 year-end report 2020, that "The data concerning the police force survey do not represent a complete picture of crime". This aspect is, in some ways, extremely invalidating as it could prevent the Public Safety Authorities from implementing effective crime fighting and containment measures. However, even though the number of reports is still relatively low today (especially for certain types of crime), it must be said that citizens have been able to build a dense network of platforms, especially digital ones, capable of collecting very significant amounts of data on crime/degradation. In other words, it could be said that blogs/forums/social networks/security websites have become the digital noticeboard where citizens tend to crystallise the results of their HUMINT11 activities.

Therefore, it is evident that citizens are very willing to 'share information for the protection of common/public spaces', but it is also necessary to put them in a position where they can convey the same data to the competent authorities. Training, information, and dissemination activities can be an excellent tool to make citizens increasingly aware of the need to systematise the data/reports they collect in order to share them with the police, as well as to increasingly digitalise the reporting procedures. In this sense, the Mine Crime project that we coordinated aims to harmonise the collection of data reported through multiple digital platforms, systematising them in a single database and transforming them into risk indices to support mitigation activities by companies, law enforcement agencies, public stakeholders, and citizens.

In conclusion, it is only through the overall sharing of data, information, and useful materials on urban security that the public, by integrating with the private sector (an essential component of modern society), will be able to face the great challenges that the 'security of the near future' will inexorably pose to us. We have excellent examples of countries that could serve as models of 'good practices'. There is nothing left to do but start now.


Giacomo Salvanelli - Mine Crime CEO






[4] Criminal proceedings, secret or classified - Art. 144 and 329 - and, therefore, accessible only to Officials of the Judicial Police assigned to the "Services" of the Judicial Police provided for by Art. 56, Code of Criminal Procedure, to the D.I.A., to the Central Direction for the anti-drug services and to the central Offices of the State Police or of the Carabinieri deputized to fight terrorism.

[5] Geolocation: identification of the geographic position of people, events, vehicles or objects that are stationary or moving








Thursday, 17 February 2022 09:25

In the burglar's mind

Throughout time and culture, human beings have always had the urge to take goods that are not their own. Entire civilisations of the past have based their existence and success on this attitude. It is thanks to laws, moral codes, and the judgement of our peers that this instinct is, for most of us today, repressed and does not manifest itself.

This perspective might be annoying, but after all, criminal behaviour is only one of the many ways of acting and behaving in society. Therefore, in order to know, prevent and combat crime, it is necessary to know the social factors, the psychological dynamics, and the interrelationships between individuals, groups and the environment that underlie human behaviour.

In particular, if we deal with home burglaries and their dynamics, we have to consider that the burglars have every interest in keeping us in a condition of irrationality when we think of them and their activities. Dehumanising[1] them, blurring them into an indistinct outline or into the undifferentiated, generic, and not too veiled racist categories of 'foreigner', 'outsider’, 'gipsy', 'junkie' prevents us from focusing on their way of thinking and acting and distances us from actual solutions. It’s true, some individuals belonging to these categories are often perpetrators of predatory crimes - sometimes disorganised and with uncertain outcomes - as they are the individuals who do not belong to these categories, but this is not the point. Instead, we need to re-establish the human dimension of the predatory act. We need to humanize the offender (not for do-goodism, a category unknown to criminological disciplines) but because this is the only way we will be able to understand how to counteract their activities.

Burglars are human beings who act rationally, and we can, therefore, interpret their way of thinking and prevent their actions. Imagining them as an invisible and idealised enemy only puts us at risk of underestimating their rationality, and therefore their expertise.

Burglars try to achieve their goals by investing the minimum amount of resources and taking the fewest possible risks. Their logic is not dissimilar to that of an entrepreneur or consumer: 'get the most for the least'. This does not mean that every burglary is based on a careful consideration of risk and reward, but it does imply that the burglar’s choice of target is not random, but influenced by cost and benefit considerations.

Despite individual preferences (often governed by changing environmental factors), decades of research have shown how recurrent are the modus operandi of burglars with respect to the sequence of the decision chain, the nature of the environmental signals used to search for the optimal target, and the method of search within the property.

The studies carried out so far by specialists (criminologists, sociologists, and psychologists) show us less impulsive burglars, governed by a certain rationality, who uses a heuristic approach (a procedure that makes it possible to predict an outcome, which must then be validated) based on the decisions and actions they have carried out in the past. They depict a typical burglar as someone who typically makes the initial decision to commit a burglary and then embarks on a series of chain decisions until the burglary is accomplished.

The instrumental need for money is overwhelmingly the main motive for committing a burglary, but many studies have also highlighted the role of an increased sense of physiological arousal that the burglar experiences before, during and after the burglary. Although burglary remains primarily an instrumental crime (as opposed to expressive crimes, such as crimes of passion or sexual assaults), it would be a mistake to underestimate the role played by emotions in the burglar's cognitive processes.

Scholars are unable to determine whether the burglars consider the harm to their victims when choosing their target. In most cases, this concern seems to be absent (depersonalisation of the victim). If some sort of empathy is present, it is likely that the burglars will implement some sort of self-censorship in order to be able to accept the fact that they will commit the predatory act even if it will cause problems to others.

It should be borne in mind that more experienced and better organised perpetrators of property offences often tend to minimise the consequences of their offences, so that in the event of arrest and judicial involvement, they would be able to benefit from a less severe sanction than it would be the case for an aggravated offence.

It is equally probable that in the burglar’s mind techniques of neutralization are set in motion, such as the "minimization of the damage" (D. Matza, 1969)[2], in order to allow the burglar to relieve themselves and to silence their possible feelings of guilt.

The understanding of the functioning of the burglar's mind around and within the scene of the burglary is based on experimental research carried out over the last 30-40 years. These have highlighted the presence of unconscious processes in the burglar's mind, which become automatic over time, through practice and recognition of environmental signals, together with more deliberate and conscious decisions and behaviours. These are processes very similar to the ones of other categories of people and professions.

Indeed, there is no reason to think that burglars should differ from the rest of the human beings in terms of the decision-making experience.

The empirical model postulated by Nee and Ward[3] comprises four stages of the decision-making process occurring in the days, hours or minutes prior to the commission of the burglary:

  1. Automatic, unintentional, pre-conscious assessment of the environment;
  2. Automatic recognition of environmental cues related to the intended crime during target selection;
  3. Activation of complex cognitive patterns, built up through practice, which allow instant and compensatory access to a rich number of examples and a heuristic procedure (which does not follow a clear path, but relies on intuition and the temporary state of circumstances). This in turn leads to:
  4. Quick responses to environmental cues that have worked in the past, in the form of execution of a script based on proven methods, allowing for a relatively automatic commission of the predatory act.

During their daily activities (work or leisure) burglars may have noticed the high market value of a location associated with elements of vulnerability. Their superior situational awareness and selective attention to signals associated with predatory activities will automatically and unconsciously attract their attention.

Burglars go to a specific area that they consider favourable to burglary and based on their experience look for a suitable target that will allow easy gain at low risk. Burglars may also intentionally go to an area where they have already committed other burglaries, knowing that other accessible opportunities will present themselves in that area. In both cases, when they are at the chosen location, they will evaluate the combination of different environmental cues in order to choose the most favourable target.

The idea that burglars scan the environment as part of their routine activity has been known since research on predatory offenders began.

In 1984, researchers Bennet and Wright[4] coined the term 'seeker' to indicate that burglars choose their target using previously learned environmental cues that indicate that the property being attacked has vulnerabilities. That indicates that the burglar, in most cases, does not have an opportunistic or impulsive approach.

Typically, the decision to commit burglary emerges before the choice of target. Different aspects of the observed properties may attract or deter the burglar (the assessment is made automatically and instantaneously as soon as the burglar arrives in a vulnerable environment).

If burglars are discouraged, they will look for an easier and equally profitable target nearby. In the new location, burglars may detect new targets that meet their needs or that could yield better results. This encourages them to undertake new explorations.

Exploring unfamiliar areas is a little riskier and burglars will take care not to appear out of place and will try to feel comfortable with passers-by and residents who may be watching them (especially if a Neighbourhood Watch programme is in operation in that area), passers-by and residents that the burglars will monitor throughout the search for the target.

The more experienced the burglars, the less discouraged they are by the security features of the property. They have higher levels of skill and greater self-efficacy. They feel safer exploring unknown territories further from their home than their less experienced counterparts. As a result of their increasingly rich and interconnected cognitive patterns, they can draw useful inferences even from small amounts of information with which they are partially familiar. This explains the (often excessive) confidence seen in experienced burglars.

Features assessed by burglars include property furnishings and valuables that can be seen both inside and outside the property, as well as vehicles. These considerations, along with those of accessibility (detached property, semi-detached, side or back access, dense vegetation in or around the property, etc.), will allow for a better assessment of the property and increased opportunities for entry and exit. The most common method of access to property by a burglar, however, remains through an open window or door.

There is an abundance of information and signals in the environment that burglars interpret as attractive or deterring when assessing their potential targets. Scholars wondered whether particular signals or classes of signals have more influence than others on the burglar's decision-making process. The answer was no. It appears that the decision-making process of the burglar is complex and dynamic, and it is a process in which different signals in the environment combine and compensate for each other (suggesting dense, interrelated patterns). The meaning of these signals from the environment may also change based on time, or there might be multiple ones at the same time. For example, the presence of many trees and vegetation in a garden may increase the perception of the overall value of the property, but will certainly also reduce its security, allowing the burglar to hide and assess the potential target more accurately on entry points and the presence of the owners without being seen. A back and side access similarly often indicates a larger and richer property, but also increases the opportunity to enter it from different points.

Burglars return to the location where they spotted a vulnerable residence noticed during a routine activity (e.g., during a work or leisure activity) using environmental cues (wealth, accessibility, etc.). They are highly likely to make several visits to better assess the target and decide the best time of day to carry out the heist.

Burglars also steal on commission. Once the goods to be stolen have been identified, other indications (such as the presence of the owners, accessibility, and security systems) are used to decide when to actually commit the burglary. Once the target has been chosen, its characteristics will determine which way the burglar will enter.

In accordance with the mental processes used to assess the target from the outside, during the burglary the burglars will undertake a 'habitual, proven search', a hybrid of what has worked in the past, which has given them higher results at lower risk, i.e., allowing them after the burglary to leave the property unscathed as quickly as possible. It seems reasonable to assume that burglars continue to use superior schematic knowledge to get out of the property and away from the burglary site, on foot or by other means.

Searching then becomes a natural instinct, a routine that allows them to concentrate on what is happening around then and, at the same time, look for objects to steal. Most of the concentration, however, is on the risk of someone finding out.

Internal layouts that are obvious and familiar, or even properties that they have already plundered (or similar to those), and the adoption of the heuristic of 'tracing', will facilitate their research and learning process.

Based on research carried out by the researchers, hundreds of convicted burglars interviewed stated that they would target the master bedroom first, then the other bedrooms and finally the rest of the house if they had the time.

Several studies also report that most burglars prefer a target that is not occupied by residents. The same sources report that burglars only enter occupied properties if no other target is available and provided that the occupants are asleep, but always taking care not to encounter their victims. The presence of residents is one of the strongest deterrents. Residents, if they realise that a burglar is trying to break in, can react and/or call the police. Confronting the owner is an experience that burglars want to avoid like the plague and may force them to retrace their steps.

Studies carried out in 2014 in the UK and the USA by criminologist E. Taylor[5], involving 40 convicted burglars, found that some burglars refrain from choosing their targets if there are children or elderly or disabled people in the home. However, the researchers were unable to demonstrate that some homes are spared because burglars demonstrate empathy [an affective response derived from an understanding of another emotional state or condition] for these specific categories of victims. This is a topic that deserves further investigation.

Burglaries and robberies

Every now and then there are reports of burglars breaking into houses armed to steal. In these cases, it is a robbery. Let us assume, based on what has been said so far, that the advantage the robbers think they will gain from it outweighs the high risk they are taking. In such cases, therefore, it is better not to run into them, because if robbers accept the risk of running into their victim, it is never good news for the victim.

Robbers are often people with no scruples and no empathy for the victim. We cannot exclude that we are in the presence of an antisocial personality disorder[6]. Their lack of empathy fosters their antisocial and criminal behaviour, allowing them to ignore the harm done to their victims by opening the door to socially and humanly unacceptable actions. Robbers usually move around in fast cars. They are commuters who move from county to county or even from country to country. They prefer to target isolated houses in the countryside, suburbs, or hamlets, preferring those close to the road to ensure an easy escape route. They almost always break in at dinnertime to take the whole family hostage, using violence on their victims to force them to reveal where the safe or money is hidden. They often have their faces disguised, wear gloves and leave few traces. In such cases, the best strategy is to reduce the damage by not making the criminals nervous and by putting protection of life before protection of property.

Experienced and inexperienced burglars

“Experienced burglars”, whose modes of operation are all similar, tend to steal fewer but more valuable items. Less experienced burglars, on the other hand, grab whatever seems valuable to them. In an experiment conducted in the UK in 2006 by psychologists Nee and Meenaghan[7], involving 50 prisoners convicted of burglary, the researchers found that more experienced burglars had a greater ability to recognise high-value goods. For example, they avoided electronic gadgets that depreciated quickly and focused on smaller items such as jewellery, drugs, electronic gadgets that did not depreciate quickly and cash. In the same simulation, burglars spent significantly more time in areas of the house where they could find higher value items. Goods such as silver, porcelains, antiques and works of art (with a higher commercial value) are stolen much more rarely because it is too risky to get rid of them, indicating that the burglar uses a clear strategy to avoid being identified after committing the burglary.

Selection and resale of stolen goods

The size of the stolen goods is related to the ability of the burglars to transport them. Isolated houses (perhaps without neighbours who may be aware of their presence) and the possibility of approaching by car, together with an easy escape route, will allow the burglars to transport larger items. In other cases, they will aim for small, easily transportable items.

Scholars know almost nothing about the cognitive and emotional processes that take place in the hours or days following the burglary, apart from the way in which the burglar disposes of the stolen goods. It would therefore be useful to gain a better understanding of what goes on in the burglar's mind, not only during the time of the burglary itself (planning, preparation, execution), but also afterwards, when the stolen goods are disposed of.

Let us empirically assume that after the burglary the priority in the burglar's mind is to convert the stolen goods into cash as quickly as possible (it is therefore not surprising that burglars pay special attention to who they sell the stolen goods to). We also assume that few of them keep stolen goods (perhaps weapons are an exception) so as not to be linked to the burglary in case of a search. It would be interesting to better understand when and why the burglars use the stolen goods for himself or when they decide to put them on the informal and clandestine market. From this choice it could be inferred whether the offender is more or less occasional or more or less organised. It should also be borne in mind that, in the latter case, there may be the possibility of finding the same goods again through other channels, which will lead to the commission of other forms of crime, such as laundering or self-laundering.

Most burglars do not make much effort to obtain better prices from fences, accepting offers that meet their immediate needs. Experienced burglars, on the other hand, tend to bargain for more acceptable prices from fences and are much more careful in choosing to whom they sell their stolen goods. They rarely sell to friends or family members.

A study by J. Clare (2011)[8] suggests that for many burglars the ways to avoid being caught after a burglary may be much less developed and sophisticated when compared to the superior skill demonstrated during the execution of the burglary itself.

We should capitalise in terms of prevention on the fact that we know that burglars entering a home expects an environment with which they are 'familiar'. An environment in which their routine and expert behaviour works well without having to think too much about it.

While the burglary is in progress, sudden and unexpected events may lead the burglar to give up due to cognitive overload and the resulting anxiety. This seems to be a potential deterrent that is not yet sufficiently exploited in predatory crime prevention techniques.

Presenting the burglars with unexpected environmental layouts[9] or sudden noises and voices could deter them and destabilise the overconfidence they have in themself based on their accumulated skills.

Leonardo Campanale - EUNWA President



[1] It is a radical form of devaluation that consists in the denial of the other's humanity. On this subject, see Deumanizzazione,  Chiara Volpato, 2011 Laterza.

[2] Matza D., Becoming deviant, New York, 1969.

[3] Ward, T. & Nee, C. (2009). Surfaces and depths: evaluating the theoretical assumptions of cognitive skills programmes. Psychology, Crime and Law (special edition on Offender Cognition and Emotion), 15, 165-182.

[4] Bennett, T. &. Wright. R. (1984). Burglars on burglary: prevention and the offender. Aldershot: Gower.

[5] Emmeline Taylor (2014). Honour among burglars? How morality and rationality influence the decision-making processes of convicted domestic burglars. Sage Journals. Volume: 14 issue: 4, page(s): 487-502.

[6] Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition [DSM-5]

[7] Nee, C., & Meenaghan, A. (2006). Expert decision-making in burglars. British Journal of Criminology, 46(5), 935-949. doi: 10.1093/bjc/az1013

[8] Clare, J. (2011). Examination of systematic variations in burglars' domain-specific perceptual and procedural skills. Psychology, Crime & Law, 17(3), 199-214. doi: 10.1080/10683160903025810

[9] For example, darkening the room by setting off alarms, which are already widely used, filling the house with smoke.


Sunday, 06 February 2022 16:31

Why our home can be a target?

One of the many questions we ask ourselves when our house is burgled is 'Why did the burglars choose my house? The truth is that there is no single answer. There are many factors that can contribute to the burglar's choice. Let's look at some of them.

Occasional and organised burglaries

Let's start by dividing home burglaries into two main categories: occasional burglaries and organised burglaries.

We are aware that such a clear-cut division of the type of burglary may not always correspond to the reality of the facts, since in some cases an occasional burglary may later turn into organised burglary, or an organised one may include, during its execution, the opportunity to steal something else if the occasion arises. There are no 'only' organised or 'only' occasional burglars, as the two modes of execution may overlap in the same offender.

However, in general, these two modalities, that have different effects on our property and that are prevented by slightly different strategies, belong to two different categories of offenders, operating in different ways.

Let us begin by describing the two methods and their similarities and differences.

In a casual burglary, in most cases, the burglar does not know our habits, neighbourhood, and wealth, or know very little about them. They move around the area they have chosen in search of opportunities, using primitive intelligence techniques. For example, they may leave a stone or a branch in front of a house’s door or garage and come back a couple of days later to check if the object has been removed, to understand if the resident is home or not. The burglar could also simply rely on the fact that a house represents an immediate opportunity (an open window, an object to steal clearly visible from the street, etc.).

On the contrary, in an organised burglary where the place to go stealing is defined priorly, offenders need to know our habits, our home and the neighbourhood context; in fact, they observe them directly with targeted surveys and/or acquire information from other sources (from the Internet, from neighbours, in bars, in their criminal environment). Neighbourhood Watch surveillance activities are used, in fact, to prevent, as far as possible, offenders from patrolling our area to acquire new targets or to gather information on already selected targets. The presence of Neighbourhood Watch signs also serves to discourage offender observation activities.

There is another aspect that differentiates the two types of burglary. Casual burglary is usually more invasive and destructive. After the execution of a casual burglary, we see houses turned upside down. Occasional burglars generally don’t know how much time they have available. They are therefore forced to rummage quickly and everywhere, starting from the most obvious places. Though they often overlook valuable items, if they are well hidden.

In general, the occasional burglar runs more risks than the organised one. The lack of information about the context, the victim's habits, and the presence of passive prevention systems in the house makes it a typical 'hit and run' theft, as the longer the burglary lasts, the more risks the occasional burglar may run.

On the contrary, organised burglars try to manage the risks of their activity with preparatory intelligence work. But even then, unless they have unlimited time at their disposal, they will have to deal with the unexpected, carefully managing the timing of the burglary.

What makes our house attractive to offenders

There are several factors that influence the choice of our home as a possible target for burglars.

For occasional burglaries, there are some elements that definitely favour them, for example the absence of residents. No burglar wants to meet the owner of the house they are robbing. A meeting during the burglary could lead to reactions and acts of violence that could make the burglar's position much more difficult if arrested. An isolated or unattended house is an ideal target for the opportunistic burglar. Holiday homes in the countryside, at the seaside or in the mountains should be particularly well protected with strong and reliable passive prevention systems.

Open or easily forcible doors and windows are a casual burglar's paradise, as the easy availability of the goods, visible from outside the home or when the offender has entered the home.

In order to prevent casual burglaries, it is vital to identify, eliminate or reduce structural and environmental vulnerabilities in our homes and those related to our behaviours.

For organised burglaries, the same factors apply as for occasional burglaries (and the related prevention methods), to which it must be added: the possession by the offender of information about what to steal, knowledge of our habits(absences, presences, routines), our vulnerabilities (weak points of the house and our behaviour), knowledge of our passive prevention systems. These are all information that the offender is able to obtain with accurate and, in some cases, sophisticated intelligence work.

Therefore, if we do not want to be the next victims of a home burglary, we need to reduce, as far as possible, the circulation of information about us, relating to our habits and routines, our whereabouts, our financial status, and our passive prevention systems, both in the real world and in the virtual world.

Leonardo Campanale - EUNWA President

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