Study: Majority of convicted burglars say alarms are a deterrent

May 13, 2013
New research provides insights into target selection factors, deterrents among burglars

A recent study funded by the Alarm Industry Research and Education Foundation (AIREF) found that the presence of an alarm system was a strong deterrent when it came to the selection of potential targets by burglars.

The report, "Understanding Decisions to Burglarize from the Offender’s Perspective," examined the responses of 422 convicted male and female burglars across three states – North Carolina, Kentucky and Ohio.

According to the study, about 60 percent of burglars said that the presence of an alarm would cause them to seek an alternate target and more than 80 percent indicated that they would attempt to determine if an alarm was present before carrying out the crime.  In fact, only one in 10 respondents said they would always attempt a burglary if an alarm was present, but more than 40 percent said that they would discontinue a burglary in progress if they discovered an alarm was present. The vast majority of burglars (80 percent) also indicated that they would never attempt to disable an alarm and only eight percent said that they would always attempt to disable one

In addition, about 63 percent of respondents said that they considered whether security personnel or police would respond if an alarm was triggered. About half of the burglars surveyed said they were aware that alarm calls sometimes needed to be verified prior to a response and about half of that group indicated that they took that into consideration during their target selection process.

There were also variations between men and women when it came to factors that would deter them from a target. More males in the study were deterred from a location by a lack of hiding spots, steel bars on windows or doors, proximity of the target to other homes or businesses, availability of escape routes, and distance to the nearest road.

Other findings from the study included:

  • Nearly 60 percent of the burglars said they would consider the presence of cameras or other surveillance equipment when selecting a target, and more than 40 percent said that would be a factor in prompting them to choose another target.
  • About half of the respondents reported engaging in residential burglary, while 31 percent said they preferred commercial targets.
  • Nearly 90 percent of the respondents indicated their top reason for committing burglaries was related to the need to acquire drugs (51 percent) or money (37 percent), which was often used to support drug habits.
  • Slightly less than a third of the offenders reported that they collected information about a potential target prior to initiating a burglary attempt, suggesting that most burglars are impulsive to some degree. About 12 percent indicated that they typically planned the burglary, 41 percent suggested it was most often a "spur of the moment" event/offense, and the other 37 percent reported that it varied.

"This study broadens our understanding of burglars, their motivations and their techniques," Dr. Joseph B. Kuhns of the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte said in a statement.  Kuhns conducted the study with fellow researchers at Eastern Kentucky University and Western Illinois University. "It also helps us to understand gender differences in offending motivations and techniques. By asking the burglars what motivates and what deters them, we believe this research can help people better understand how to protect themselves against these crimes and help law enforcement more effectively respond."

Click here to download a PDF (1.79 MB) version of the full study.