What Motivates Burglars to Steal?
September 30, 2014
While crime rates are falling, burglaries are a serious issue. According to data published by the Metropolitan Police in London alone, over the 12 months from June 2013-June 2014, there were more than 80,000 burglaries. Why is it that burglaries are so common, and what is it that motivates people to steal?
Poverty vs Habit
Two thirds of criminals who commit burglary do so more than ten times per year, and they do so because they need access to money in the short term. These criminals are motivated by necessity. Burglary is an easy way to solve an immediate problem. However, there is a small percentage of criminals that continue to steal even though their short term cash flow needs have been met. Those offenders are, essentially “addicted to money”.
Some offenders have, or develop, other addictions. According to research conducted by Shover and Honacker in 1992, alcohol abuse is a major motivator for burglaries. Out of 68 offenders surveyed, 14 spent the proceeds of their burglaries on alcohol. Other major motivators included drugs and gifts for members of the opposite sex. Some burglars do report feeling a rush of excitement, but the thrill of the act is not as strong of a motivator as the desire for money.
Planning a Burglary
Most burglaries are not pre-meditated, rather they are opportunistic. The offender may know that they need cash, but they don’t have a plan for obtaining it beyond simply taking something. They will choose a house that is an easy target, rather than scouting out a property and finding a way in.
The opportunistic nature of burglaries is something that most people overlook. Movies such as Home Alone have led to many people believing that burglars are quite single-minded, and that they spend a lot of time scouting out properties. The truth is that the average burglar is quite skittish, and they will not spend a lot of time on a property that is secure, or that could present some risk to their safety or their ability to get away unnoticed.
Most burglars are not particularly skilled at breaking and entering; only one in five burglars bother to pick locks, and more than half of all burglars will leave a property if there is a guard dog present. Once inside, however, the need or desire for cash is strong. According to one burglar survey, 56% of offenders will continue taking items from a property even if they find out, once getting inside, that there are people asleep inside the property. The best way to prevent a criminal from targeting your property is to make it obvious that there is someone in, so they don’t waste the effort on getting inside.
The Criminal Justice System
Most burglars – more than 90%, according to a study conducted by Richard T White, and Scott H Decker, have been arrested for some kind of crime at least once before. Around 42% of burglars have been arrested in association with previous burglaries, but fewer than one third have actually been incarcerated for burglary. A re-offender rate of almost one third is quite high, and suggests that the offenders are returning to their old ways out of perceived necessity.
Poverty is a huge motivator for burglars, and most petty criminals. This is something that is unlikely to change as long as there are easy targets. Opportunistic burglary is an easy choice, and offers both thrills and short term rewards, creating a cycle of crime that is difficult to break.