Understanding and preventing house burglary in South Africa
July 28, 2015
A study by Professor Zinn* makes interesting and useful reading in terms of the way South African criminals set about planning and executing a domestic burglary.
Prof. Zinn interviewed 30 convicted and incarcerated criminals with a series of 116 structured and open ended questions in the hope that the information could be used by both the police and home owners in the prevention of crime.
It’s suggested that these findings are viewed as insights into criminal behavior but that the individual homeowner then applies the findings to their own special circumstances.
Profile of a House Robber and what Motivates them
Almost all are male aged between 19 and 26 operating in groups of 4.
They are experienced criminals and have worked their way up to house breaking.
70% are from so called broken homes or dysfunctional families.
All are willing to use violence.
The main motivation is economic gain with 65% being spent on cars, clothes, drugs and alcohol.
Victims are targeted because of their apparent wealth.
Race plays no part in the targeting.
Often a local ‘role model’ i.e. a known criminal whose lifestyle is improved by crime can be an influence.
Housebreaking is chosen over other types of crime because there’s more money, more quickly and little chance of getting caught.
Choosing a Target
63% of the perpetrators prefer to travel between 10 and 30 minutes by vehicle from the home base, but will travel further if the potential rewards are high.
Alarmingly 77% stated they chose targets based on inside information. There also appears to be a sub-set of criminal who specialise in obtaining and selling information extracted from domestic workers, service providers and so on.
Targets with multiple entry and exit points are preferred as well as easy access to main roads.
75% of perpetrators said they targeted homes based on good information or at least the suspicion of a high value steal, rather than targeting based on low security.
Sometimes people with expensive jewellery or clothes would be followed home.
Planning and Execution
All the perpetrators said they would spend sometime doing surveillance. This was usually as little as 30 minutes immediately before the attack.
57% preferred to attack between 7pm and 12pm when residents were at home, with alarms disabled and noise from TVs and radios to give a level of cover and a good chance of a surprise attack.
The most common way in, is to “break in” by forcing locks, doors, disabling electric fences and so on. Author’s** note: this implies that an alert resident will hear or sense the attack commence.
Before the attack perpetrators try to identify the number and locations of all the residents to assist with a surprise attack. This is done through peering through windows, usually under the cover of darkness.
Once inside the attack is likely to last anywhere between 30 minutes and 4 hours.
All the perpetrators are prepared to use violence or at least the threat of violence.
97% carry guns and pistols are preferred due their concealability and sound the weapon makes when the weapon is cocked. As an aside, the author can attest to the effect the sound of a cocked slide on a 9mm has on ones attention.
Torture is used to extract information. Usually women and children are tortured to force the male or adult to reveal the location of valuables.
Boiling water, melted plastic or burning with irons and so on was mentioned most.
How to prevent a robbery or at least minimise the risk
Community crime prevention syndicates have an affect, as do neighbourhood watches, random patrols and guards with radios.
Listed below and in order of effectiveness are the main deterrents:
Small dogs, in the house that may raise the alarm.
Razor wire and electric fences. Though you should beware a fence that keeps tripping as it may be the burglars trying to get you to turn it off. Author’s note: Rubber mats, like car mats are an easy way of disabling electric fences. Also digging under fences and walls or removing sections of pre cast concrete walls provide reasonably quick and quiet access.
Alarms and security sensors especially in the garage as this is often the first point of attack to get tools for the main break in.
An armed response service.
An open view into the garden.
Layers of security rather than one single system.
Strong doors and good locks.
Active [ie not disarmed while you watch TV] door alarms.
Drawn curtains, which prevent pre break in surveillance.
A secure room [this would be established in the information gathering phase] for escape.
A note in this regard is that panic buttons should be placed where you are most likely to be at the time of a break in i.e. under a chair or table in the living room or in a bathroom. Often homeowners are locked in the bathroom after the initial break in.
Also, a secure perimeter makes close surveillance more difficult, reducing the element of surprise and increasing the defensive options for the residents.
Reducing you Personal Risk
If a breakthrough of the outer perimeter defense is achieved, the first phase of the attack is the most dangerous when adrenalin is high and sudden acts of violence are more likely.
To minimise the risk it was suggested, residents should:
Not move when seeing a stranger with a gun.
Then make no sudden movements or noise, which could be construed as an act of defence.
Keep hands visible, but not above your head as this could signal an attempt to raise an alarm.
Demonstrate a willingness to cooperate.
In conclusion, and following the study of 1000 police dockets, Professor Zinn was able to report that:
Only 2% of robberies ended in murder.
4% in rape.
9% in attempted murder.
13% in some form of injury.
* At the timing of conducting this study Professor Zinn was a senior lecturer in Forensic and Crime investigation at the University of South Africa
** About the author: Steve Pearce is the Managing Director of LockLatch Retail and LockLatch International.
While living in Johannesburg, the Pearce family experienced multiple attempted break ins, always while home and always at night. In addition, Steve was hijacked in the driveway and attributes calmness [on both sides] to a successful outcome.