There’s only a small chance you’ll be burgled – here’s how to reduce it

Being burgled can be scary and unsettling – but the good news is you’re a lot less likely to be burgled today than 25 years ago.

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The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) examines long-term crimes trends and has found the number of domestic burglaries rose sharply through the 1980s and early 1990s, but has been on a downward trajectory since.

CSWE figures show there were about 689,000 burglaries in the UK in 2017. If you travelled back in time to 1995, you’d be four times more likely to be burgled than today.

Since then police forces have introduced various initiatives to catch burglars, help people make their homes more secure and, when burglaries do occur, reunite people with their stolen possessions.

Forensic marking

Forensic marking is a property marking tactic that, in conjunction with more traditional crime prevention measures, has proved an effective burglary deterrent.

Forensic marking solutions contain unique elements of DNA, UV or Microdot that allow for stolen property to be identified back to its original owner. For example, Yorkshire Police use a “dot peen” marking machine to mark people’s possessions, the MetPolice uses SmartWater, and Surrey Police SelectaDNA.

These technologies can be used to visibly or invisibly tag all of your valuable items, from watches and jewellery to laptops and mobile phones and, once applied, is almost impossible to remove.

Homes can display stickers stating that property is security marked. This makes possessions less attractive to steal, as it creates a bigger risk for thieves if they are caught in possession. According to the Met Police, displaying a SmartWater sticker can reduce your chances of being burgled by 85% while SmartWater has a 100% conviction rate when used in a prosecution.

Inside advice from convicted burglars

West Midlands Police recently set up a virtual reality crime-fighting challenge aimed at educating residents about home security tips to beat burglars.

The force hired reformed burglar Michael Fraser – who’s appeared on BBC’s Beat the Burglar series – to set up an immersive experience which saw users play the role of detective. Once at the virtual property players explore and uncover clues about how the thief broke in and what they could have done better to keep him out.

Fraser says: “Burglars are opportunistic thieves, they’re looking for a weakness in your home security and they will take advantage. Anything you can do to secure your property and make it less attractive to the burglars is a real good thing.”

Burglar alarms, window locks, and signs about forensic marking, Neighbourhood Watch membership and smart home security systems are all good deterrents.

Secured by Design products

When installing extra security devices, consider using only products that are approved to the standards set by the police’s Secured by Design.

Many new-build homes are built with these already fitted but there are many extra devices and additions that can be retro-fitted to make your home more secure. These include window and door locks, secure letterboxes and strengthening for hinges and mounts.

Even planting prickly shrubbery and keeping garden gates closed can act as a deterrent. But keep those bushes cut to a height that means neighbours could still see a burglar trying to pry open your windows. External lights that turn on when they sense movement are a good idea too.

And when you are away, ask a trusted neighbour to pop in and move any post from your doormat – a sure sign to a burglar that you are not at home.

You could also combine these with a burglar alarm. The best are NACOSS Gold monitored alarms. Some insurers offer discounts if you have one installed.

Crime prevention advice

Police forces across the country tend to be proactive when it comes to giving out home security advice. Most of it is quite simple – burglars want an easy way into your property, not a challenge.

Detective Superintendent Neil Matthews of the Metropolitan Police says: “One of the most important things you can do is to fully close and lock windows and doors when you go out. Many burglars are opportunists, so don’t allow them an opportunity to enter your property.”

When you’re at home, keep external doors locked to prevent “walk-in” burglaries. Hot weather might be the perfect time to open your windows – but this can be a way in for burglars too.

Distraction burglary

Not all burglars break into your home, some try to trick or con their way in. During a “distraction burglary”, a burglar will try to mislead you or distract your attention to get into your home and steal your money or valuables.

Matthews says: “Don’t allow anyone you don’t know into your home and thoroughly check credentials of those claiming to be genuine officials. If in doubt close and lock your door. Inform the police if you believe someone isn’t genuine and is trying access your home.”

Letterbox fishing

Police are also keen to warn people about “letterbox fishing”. This is when a burglar sticks a pole through your letterbox to lift house or car keys, handbags or wallets placed near the door. To be on the safe side, store keys and valuables well away from your front door.

Several local police forces have also issued warnings about posting on social media when you’re on holiday, alerting would-be burglars to your empty home. So save the selfies till you come home.  

National Security Inspectorate

The National Security Inspectorate (NSI) checks and certifies the top-of-the-range burglar alarm fitting companies and its NACOSS Gold is the highest quality standard. The NSI also produces a handy summary of security measures PDF you can take to prevent burglary.

What to do if you’re burgled

If you’re burgled, the first thing you should do is call the police: If the burglary is still in progress call 999, but if the burglars have gone call the non-emergency number 101.

Police officers should attend your address as soon as possible. Don’t touch anything until the police have told you it’s OK to do so – they need to see everything just as you found it.

Officers will assess the scene for forensic opportunities, advise you about securing any damaged doors or windows, and take details of anything stolen. In some cases, a scenes of crime officer will visit the scene to carry out a forensic examination.

The police will give you a crime reference number which you’ll need to both track progress of the investigation, and claim on your insurance.

When the police give you the go ahead, you can start tidying up. Make a list of what’s missing or damaged and call your insurance company.

Support for victims

If you are unfortunate enough to be burgled, you may be left feeling vulnerable, angry and violated by what has happened. But try not to panic. These feelings don’t last forever and help is at hand. Charity Victim Support has specially trained staff to help people recover from the effects of crime and traumatic events.

Alex Mayes from Victim Support says: “Burglary not only robs victims of their physical possessions – it can also rob people of their sense of security at home, a place where everyone should feel most safe.

“Victim Support can provide emotional support but also practical help such as changing locks, installing additional security measures and providing advice on insurance claims. We provide support whether or not the incident has been reported to the police.”

Anyone seeking help and information can contact Victim Support on 0808 16 89 111 or visit www.victimsupport.org.uk

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