Executive summary

The Ministry of Justice, in partnership with the New Zealand Police, has conducted research over three years (2002-2004) on Police practice in reducing burglary. This report is one of a series of studies examining aspects of burglary initiatives undertaken in four Police Areas-Lower Hutt, Manurewa, Rotorua and Sydenham. It focuses on the experiences of burglary offenders and their awareness of Police initiatives in each of the selected Police Areas.

Methodology

The offender interviews took place in the same four Police Areas as the wider study. Interviews were completed with 28 offenders-five females and 23 males.

The sample for this study was initially identified from two sources-the database of the local Police and, later, the Case Management System database of the Ministry of Justice. All informants were convicted of burgling a home in one of the four Police Areas between 1 January 2002 and 30 June 2003.

Interviews were semi-structured. The focus was on offenders' knowledge of Police and community initiatives relating to burglary, their experiences with the Police when their offence was investigated and their history and practice of committing burglaries.

The most obvious limitation of the study is its small sample size. The information cannot be and is not intended to be statistically reliable. It is qualitative in nature and is intended to describe people's experiences in more depth than is practical in a survey. It complements information gathered through other sources. In addition, the group was largely self-selected-i.e. all informants agreed to be interviewed. Their views are not necessarily representative of those held by burglary offenders as a whole.

History of offending

Offending typically began on a small scale at an early age.  

  • A quarter of informants began committing burglaries before the age of 13; only three were over 17 when they started.
  • Most informants were first convicted of burglary in their teens.
  • Twenty-four of the 28 informants had been convicted of a range of offences before their most recent conviction for burglary.
  • Most informants claimed to have only one previous conviction; seven acknowledged two or more convictions, and four said that their current burglary conviction was their first conviction.
  • All informants were teenagers when they were first convicted of an offence.

Most respondents gave more than one reason for commencing or continuing to commit burglaries. Money and drugs were the main motivators. Other motivators mentioned were:

  • being under the influence of drugs and alcohol, or using them heavily around the time of offending
  • feeling excitement at committing burglaries
  • succumbing to peer pressure
  • having a domestic dispute (with the burglary being part of the dispute).

When informants were asked what would stop them committing burglaries, some responded in relation to their personal situation, while others made more general observations. Most thought that several changes would need to happen to stop people committing burglaries. Changes they mentioned included:

  • better employment options for burglars
  • more money
  • support from family or friends
  • prison sentences
  • effective options to manage alcohol and drug issues
  • different policing techniques.

Some informants claimed that they had definitely stopped committing burglaries, for a range of reasons. Others intimated they were reducing their offending or expressed ambivalence towards committing burglaries in the future. Three informants associated committing burglaries with being a particular age.

Modus operandi of informants

The frequency with which offenders committed burglaries varied from several a day to having committed only the burglary they were charged with.

The informants who discussed when they committed burglaries did so at varying times of day. Informants were evenly divided as to whether they planned burglaries or seized opportunities. They were often reluctant to give details of their actual burglary techniques. No strong patterns of behaviour emerged.

Three informants said they needed to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol to commit burglaries.

Over half would return to the same house or the same area. The main motivation for returning to the same house seemed to be familiarity, along with confidence that the stolen items would have been replaced.

When informants were selecting a house to burgle, alarms, other security systems and dogs were the main deterrents. Potential offenders were also influenced by:

  • the presence or absence of people either in the house or nearby
  • whether potential victims belonged to particular groups-Māori, older people or poor people
  • whether a potential burglary site was a business rather than a private home, as it was less personal
  • possible conflict with local gangs over where they committed burglaries.

Some offenders would not be deterred by increased security measures, such as an alarm or invisible marking of property. Others said alarms reduce burglaries, even though it may be possible to disarm or ignore them.

When deciding what to take during a burglary, most informants focused on items that could easily be sold for 'fast' cash.

By far the most common method of getting rid of stolen goods was to sell them to contacts of some kind. Only seven informants had sold goods to a second-hand dealer-perhaps evidence that offenders avoided using second-hand dealers as an outlet for stolen goods. Informants were reluctant to go into details.

Police and community initiatives

Informants' views about the effectiveness of the Police and Police initiatives were strongly influenced by their own experience, their confidence in their ability to outwit the Police and their awareness of the increasing availability of sophisticated technology.

Interviewers asked the informants who were aware of particular initiatives how effective they thought they were. Opinions were divided. The strongest support was for increased Police patrols.

It is not surprising that informants were most familiar with the Police and community initiatives of which they had direct experience, or that were most likely to incriminate them. These included fingerprinting, bail checks and DNA sampling, as well as Neighbourhood Support and programmes to address their criminogenic needs. Offenders were particularly positive about the value of programmes and services. Most informants were confident they could 'get around' Police initiatives. The general perception was that offenders would still seek to meet their need for cash or drugs regardless of what steps the Police took.

What happened when informants were arrested

Most arrests were the result of Police investigations either for the current burglary or for some other offence. Very few resulted from information provided by the public or by other offenders.

The Police had asked informants:  

  • why they had committed the burglaries
  • about other burglaries committed in the area
  • where the stolen goods had gone.

Five informants claimed that Police treated them violently when they arrested or questioned them.

Sentencing

Almost all the informants in this study had been sentenced to imprisonment or periodic detention/community work. Over two-thirds thought this sentence was fair and had made a difference to their behaviour because it gave them time to reflect, they saw prison as a deterrent, or they had benefited from programmes or treatment during their sentences. This relatively positive view might be an effect of the sampling, in that all informants were willing participants and therefore more ready to reflect on their offending.

Most were realistic about the sentences they had received and took some responsibility for their own behaviour. They expressed a range of opinions on the purpose of sentences and the ability of a sentence to change offending behaviour.