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How Residential Burglars Choose Targets: An Ethnographic Analysis

NCJ Number
Security Journal Volume: 2 Issue: 4 Dated: (1991) Pages: 195-199
Date Published
5 pages
Thirty active burglars in a West Texas urban area were interviewed and observed during staged activity analysis-- simulations of their past crimes--to determine the content of environmental cues they used to make target selection decisions.
The staged activity analysis consisted of extensive interviews and "ride alongs" during which time informants reconstructed and simulated burglaries they had committed and evaluated dwellings burglarized by other study informants. In general, informants did not plan their burglaries; over 75 percent of reconstructed burglaries were crimes of opportunity. Burglars interviewed in prison or those recalling crimes from the past tended to engage in rational reconstruction, reinterpreting past behavior in a manner consistent with what should have been rather than what actually occurred. Burglars appeared to rely on environmental cues at or near the target site to evaluate risk. Gain cues pertained to the quality and quantity of property inside the target, while risk cues involved surveillability, occupancy, and accessibility. Clearly, burglars seemed to be more opportunistic than previously believed and chose targets based on their perceived vulnerability at a particular time. Burglary prevention programs should emphasize modifying situational cues, since dogs, good locks, and alarm systems that give a residence the illusion of occupancy deter most burglars. 12 references

Date Published: January 1, 1991