Professor Part of Study to Determine What Motivates Burglars

Blevins photo

The best way to find out what motivates a burglar is to simply ask.

That theory sparked a study by a team of researchers, including Eastern Kentucky University professor Dr. Kristie Blevins, who conducted surveys with hundreds of convicted offenders in three states to glean insight into intruders’ motivations and methods.

“Understanding Decisions to Burglarize from the Offender’s Perspective” was funded by the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation, a tax-exempt foundation that serves as the research arm of the electronic life safety, security and systems industry. With support from the Electronic Security Association, the largest trade association for the electronic life safety and security industry, AIREF has financed research and education for consumers, industry professionals and public safety officials since being founded in 1977.

Blevins’ original research began when she was a member of the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. After she joined the EKU faculty in 2011, an internal grant from the EKU School of Justice Studies allowed the associate professor of criminal justice and police studies to visit several correctional facilities in Kentucky to collect data from male and female inmates housed in all security levels (excluding death row) who wereserving prison time for burglary.

“We knew we wanted to study burglars in multiple states because there might have been some differences in responses based on location,” she explained. “We collected the same information from imprisoned burglars in multiple facilities in North Carolina, Ohio and Kentucky. Overall, the responses were amazingly similar among individuals in these three states.”

Researchers dug deeply into the decision-making processes and methods of 422 incarcerated male and female burglars selected at random. The study reveals the burglars’ motivations, target-selection strategies, techniques, gender differences, and effectiveness of deterrence factors such as burglar alarms and video surveillance.

Findings included:

  • When selecting a target, most burglars said they considered the close proximity of other people – including traffic, people in the house or business, and police officers – as well as the lack of escape routes and signs of increased security, including alarm signs, alarms, dogs inside, and outdoor cameras or other surveillance equipment.
  • Approximately 83 percent said they would try to determine if an alarm was present before attempting a burglary, and 60 percent said they would seek an alternative target if there was an alarm on-site. This was particularly true among the subset of burglars who were more likely to spend time deliberately and carefully planning a burglary.
  • Among those who discovered the presence of an alarm while attempting a burglary, half reported they would discontinue the attempt, while another 31 percent said they would sometimes retreat. Only 13 percent said they would always continue with the burglary attempt.
  • Respondents indicated their top reasons 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. Only one burglar indicated interest in stealing firearms, which is a common misperception.
  • About half reported burglarizing homes primarily, while 31 percent typically committed commercial burglaries.
  • Most burglars reported entering open windows or doors or forcing windows or doors open. About one in eight burglars reported picking locks or using a key that they had previously acquired to gain entry.
  • About 12 percent indicated that they typically planned the burglary in advance, 41 percent suggested it was most often a “spur of the moment” event, and the other 37 percent reported that it varied.

A considerable portion of the research dealt with differences between male and female burglars. For example, men tended to plan their burglaries more deliberately and were more likely to gather intelligence about a potential target ahead of time. Women appeared to be more impulsive overall, engaging in “spur-of-the-moment” burglaries.

Women also indicated a preference for burglarizing homes and residences during the afternoon, while men tended to focus on businesses in the late evenings. Drug use was the most frequently reported motive given by women, at 70 percent, while men cited money as their main motivation.

In one consistent finding across males and females, alarms and surveillance equipment had similar impact on target selection. However, female burglars were more often dissuaded from attempting a burglary if they noticed signs suggesting that a particular location was protected by alarms.

Blevins, who earned a doctoral degree in criminal justice from the University of Cincinnati, is a member of the American Society of Criminology, the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, and the Southern Criminal Justice Association. Her work has been published in outlets such as the Journal of Offender Rehabilitation and International Journal of Police Science and Management. She is also the co-author several book chapters and co-edited “Taking Stock: The Status of Criminological Theory” and “Transformative Justice: Critical and Peacemaking Themes Influenced by Richard Quinney.”

In addition to Blevins, other study researchers were Dr. Joseph B. Kuhns at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and Dr. Seungmug “Zech” Lee, Western Illinois University.

The full report can be seen at www.airef.org/research/BurglarSurveyStudyFinalReport.pdf.

Published on May 30, 2013