Burglary Study: How Victimization Affects Alarm System Owners

An AIREF-backed study investigates the security and safety habits of victims before and after a burglary. There’s good news and bad news…

Burglary Study: How Victimization Affects Alarm System Owners

Among the good news is such incidents prompt many to buy alarm systems. The bad news is half the systems at the time of a burglary were not in use.

The Alarm Industry Research and Education Foundation (AIREF) has released a new study examining the impact of burglary events on victims.

Conducted by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC), “Charlotte Residential Burglary Victimization Survey: Exploring Post-Burglary Adaption From a Victim’s Perspective” is the latest in a series that examines burglary from the viewpoints of those directly involved with the incidents.

Previously the researchers collected information from burglars (see the October 2013 issue of SSI); now they have expanded the scope by gathering information from the victims.

The purpose of this project was to explore security, safety and behavioral changes among residential burglary victims, approximately six months after a residential burglary at their primary residence. Burglary victims were identified with the assistance of the Charlotte (N.C.) Mecklenburg Police Department.

An online survey was designed to explore:

  1. Security precautions taken before the burglary incident (i.e., alarms, surveillance equipment, lighting, etc.)
  2. Police and/or security response
  3. Changes made following the burglary incident (i.e., light timers, alarm installation, other security measures) among a sample of Charlotte-area burglary victims

Data collection efforts resulted in 301 usable responses. The following points highlight the results discussed in the report.

Victim Makeup & Burglary Factors

■ Just more than half of the respondents were female. Almost two-thirds of participants were white, a quarter of them were black, and 12% were other races. The most common age range of the respondents was 26 to 40, followed by 41 to 55.

■ Residential targets of the reported burglaries were primarily single-family homes, apartments or condominiums.

■ Most survey participants did not live alone; they lived with spouses, other family members or roommates. Only 3% of the respondents did not live at the residence at the time of the burglary. More than two-thirds of respondents lived at the burglarized residence five years or less.

■ Burglaries occurred most frequently between noon and 4 p.m. Only one in six burglaries occurred between 10:01 p.m. and 5:59 a.m. (i.e., nighttime).

■ Importantly, no one was present in the residence during 80% of the burglaries.

Reporting & Police Response Time

■ Almost three-quarters of the respondents reported the burglary to police.

■ Alarm companies notified the police in 43% of the events that occurred with an actively-monitored alarm system.

■ Police response time was less than 15 minutes for 30% of respondents, and less than an hour for about half the survey participants.

Alarm Status at Time of Offense

■ The most common security measures reported to be in place at the time of the burglary were 1) leaving indoor lighting on; 2) having a security sign; and 3) owning a dog.

■ 29% of respondents reported having an alarm system at the time of the burglary.

■ Among the alarm owners, more than half said the alarm system was not fully activated, or not activated at all, at the time of the burglary.

■ Two-thirds of alarm owners indicated the system was being actively monitored by the alarm company at the time of the burglary.

■ The primary reason mentioned for not having an alarm at the time of the burglary was that victims were renters at the residence. Further, almost 20% reported cost as a reason for not having an alarm, although 14% said they were thinking about getting an alarm.

Entry, Items Stolen & Case Status

■ Entry occurred primarily by breaking (24.1%) or forcing open (15%) a window or forcing a front (15%) or back door (21.4%) open.

■ The most common items taken during the burglaries were computers, jewelry, smart devices/phones, and televisions; items that were rarely taken included prescription or other drugs and firearms (rifles and pistols were each taken in only 2% of cases).

■ The offender(s) was/were apprehended by the time of the survey (approximately six months later) in 18% of cases.

■ More than half of apprehensions involved only one suspect.

■ Almost a third of respondents knew the suspect.

■ Stolen items were recovered in 17% of cases.

Changes Following the Burglary

■ When asked about security changes/improvements after the burglary, the most common change was installing a new alarm system (35%). The next most common changes were leaving on inside and outside lights. Fewer than one in five respondents said they have made no security improvements since the burglary.

■ The only demographic characteristic related to number and type of security improvements was age, with respondents aged 40 or younger being significantly more likely than older participants to purchase a firearm.

■ Respondents who lived in the same residence that was burglarized were significantly more likely than those who moved to start leaving indoor and outdoor lights on, and to install new outdoor cameras/surveillance equipment.

Victimization Fear Before and After Burglary

■ Levels of fear of being burglarized increased after the burglary for 69% of respondents. The average increase in fear levels was 2.25 points on a 9-point scale, which was statistically significant.

■ Individuals 40 and younger had lower levels of fear before the burglaries as compared to older victims; no other demographic characteristic was related to level of fear before or after the residence was burglarized.

■ Survey participants with moderate to high levels of fear before the burglary were significantly more likely to have left indoor lights on at the time of the offense.

■ Victims with moderate to high fear levels after the burglary were significantly more likely to start parking a car in the driveway or parking lot as a security enhancement.

■ Respondents whose levels of fear increased by 3 or more points on the 9-point scale were significantly more likely to not live in the burglarized residence.

Victims Ramp Up Defenses

The project’s researchers — Joseph Kuhns and Michael Turner (UNCC) and Kristie Blevins (Eastern Kentucky University) — noted two significant findings as they relate to burglary victims pre- and post-victimization.

First, most residents in the study had some form of security measure in place prior to the burglary incident. The most commonly cited security precautions used at the time of the burglary were leaving indoor lights on, having a security sign and owning a dog.

So while residents initiated security measures, several appeared reluctant to employ enhanced security features, particularly those that have ongoing operating costs (i.e., alarm systems), prior to experiencing a burglary incident.

In fact, only 29% of respondents had an alarm system at the time of the initial burglary, and more than half of these alarms were not fully activated at the time of the burglary.

Secondly, the data indicates that most (80%) individuals experiencing a burglary incident mobilized some method(s) to increase or improve the security at their residence.

While it is impossible to determine whether having a fully activated alarm would have prevented a burglary or increased the odds of suspect apprehension, prior evidence suggests that burglars are deterred by alarms.

The most common security enhancement made by the group of burglary victims was to install a new alarm system. And those individuals who did not have alarm systems reported renting their residences and the cost as the primary reasons for not owning one.

Given that prior research also shows burglars tend to avoid homes/businesses with alarm systems, the researchers concluded that having one installed is a prudent measure that should be encouraged among future burglary victims.

Industry, Police Tout Study Value

The results of the study provide a unique perspective of the impact burglary has on the average citizen, says Merlin Guilbeau, executive director of the Electronic Security Association (ESA).

“Making this information available will help educate our partners in public safety and the general public to better understand the valuable services our industry provides.”

Stan Martin, executive director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC) and an SSI Industry Hall of Famer, says law enforcement has much to gain from the study’s findings.

“[The information will provide] a unique peek at the average citizen and the impact of being a burglary victim,” he says. “This type of data has not been available to law enforcement from other sources so it is new information to them as well as the industry.”

The study’s organizers were told by a former police detective that insightful individuals will see far beyond the anecdotal value of this information. They will look at the findings and educate themselves and their employees as to better understanding their customers and potential customers’ needs.

“Understanding the impact of victimization goes a very long way to realizing why people buy alarm systems,” the officer explains, “and how it is less about the property than it is the people.”

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