Situational Crime Prevention Responses


A range of burglary prevention responses involve target-hardening, increasing the risk—or presumed risk—of detection for offenders, and reducing the rewards. While police have historically recommended many of these responses, they are increasingly used in tandem with one another and with other strategies. Most research suggests it is the combination of responses that is effective.
  1. Installing burglar alarms. Burglar alarms have become quite prevalent. An estimated 17.5 percent of U.S. households have them. In Britain, 24 percent of households had alarms in 1998—a doubling in proportion since 1992. At an average installation cost of $1,200 in the United States, along with monthly monitoring charges of about $25, alarms are concentrated among more affluent households.

    Burglar alarms have a high rate of false alerts—perhaps as much as 95 percent. Despite that rate, alarms are often recommended for crime prevention. The National Crime Prevention Institute recommends installing alarms, and some insurance companies offer urban policyholders discounts for doing so. (For more detailed information on alarms, see Guide No. 5 in this series, False Burglar Alarms.)

    Most studies of burglars indicate that many will avoid residences with alarms, but alarm effectiveness has not been well evaluated.  As alarms become more prevalent, their effectiveness may change. If most residences in an area have alarms, burglars may tend to avoid the area. Even if a burglar tackles an alarm, its presence may cause him or her to be hasty; burglars steal less property from houses with alarms.

    The electronic industry cites a study of three suburban locales. Residences with alarms faced a 1.4 percent risk of burglary, while residences without alarms faced a 2.3 percent risk (Hakim and Buck 1991). Due to research limitations, these findings should not be presumed to hold true for all jurisdictions.

  2. Installing closed-circuit television (CCTV). CCTV has been widely used in commercial buildings, public settings and apartment complexes. It may also be used for single-family houses, although such applications will be cost-prohibitive for many, and have not been evaluated. CCTV may deter burglaries, or offenders might confess when confronted with incontrovertible evidence. Temporary CCTV installations may be an option, particularly when used after repeat burglaries or with an alarm. CCTV can also be used to verify alarms.
  3. Hardening targets. Increasing vulnerable houses' security can reduce victimization. Home security surveys or target hardening assessments may prevent burglaries, but these are often requested by residents at the lowest risk for burglary. Even then, residents are unlikely to fully comply with all crime prevention advice. Those whose houses have been burglarized or who live near a burglary victim are most likely to follow such advice.

    Security assessments typically include target-hardening advice related to locks, windows and doors. Importantly, such advice—provided immediately after a burglary—also helps the victim secure the break-in point, to deter a repeat offense.

    Target-hardening makes getting into houses more difficult for burglars, and includes installing the following: sturdy doors with dead bolts; window locks, rather than latches; double-pane, storm or divided light windows, or laminated glass that is forced-entry resistant; pin locks on windows and sliding glass doors; and sliding glass door channel locks or slide bolts. Generally, moderate lock security should suffice, as there is no evidence that more elaborate lock security reduces burglary.

    Door security may be influenced as much by the door's sturdiness as by its lock. Regardless, residents should use, rather than simply install, security devices.

    Some residents install bars and grills on windows and doors, but the aesthetic costs deter many residents from doing so. Installing them may violate building codes and pose a safety threat by blocking fire exits.

    If target-hardening is too expensive, corporate sponsors may be solicited to fund it. New construction may also incorporate target-hardening.

  4. Increasing occupancy indicators. Most burglars avoid encountering residents, and thus look for indicators of occupancy. Such indicators include interior and exterior lights left on (or intermittently turned on and off via timers), closed curtains, noise (e.g., from a television or stereo), cars in the driveway, and so forth. Dogs, alarms and close neighbors can serve as substitutes for occupancy. There are also mock-occupancy devices, such as timers that suggest someone is home. In addition, residents should avoid leaving clues that they are away (e.g., leaving the garage door open when the garage is empty). Before going on vacation, they should have their mail stopped (or ask a neighbor to pick it up), and ensure that their lawns will be maintained in their absence.