It is said that no matter how secure something is, it is rarely, if ever, impregnable. From the Wild West-style baddies that tunnel under a bank to burglars that furtively creep in when a door is ajar, there is almost an infinite variety of ways for criminals to get in unwanted places.
If we’re looking at a single person attempting to gain access to a residential dwelling, however, their options are significantly more limited. Here, we’re taking a closer glimpse at how intruders enter houses and flats by force (with some common-sense recommendations on how to prevent this from happening to you).
Profiling the average intruder
With a few key exceptions, the average burglar is likely to be someone who is fairly desperate: in short, they might be desperate to fund their drug addiction, get a loan shark off their back, or fund a criminal lifestyle. This profile — though perhaps overly simplistic — remains tremendously useful, because it means that your typical burglar is an opportunist, and is also ill-equipped to deal with any proper security measures. Due to their circumstances, they will be forced to use improvised tools and a desperate (and therefore sloppy) approach may leave excellent forensic evidence, which of course, is useful to us.
Entry and egress: taking the easy way out and in
To ensure that we take adequate precautions against this activity, it’s quite helpful to take a very close look at how criminals force themselves into private residences.
1. By the back door: europrofile locks technique, bump keys and more
An increasingly common modus operandi (MO) for domestic burglary is the europrofile lock technique. The use of this has drastically risen in Britain over the last five years, principally due to the manufacturers of new housing using cheap locks in their doors. The suspect takes a set of mole grips and places them over the lock barrel. With a turn, a bump and a snap, the bolt in the door lock shatters, rendering it inoperative. The door, handle and lock appear undamaged on a cursory inspection. The suspect then can gain access. This is a fantastic reason to make sure your home security is adequate: an experienced thief can get in this way, leaving minimal mess, in less than thirty seconds.
A more uncommon, but still utilised method is a bump key. A bump key is a special key that has been filed down to allow it to penetrate most of the pins in any particular lock, if it is whacked in to place. These have to be specially made, and won’t work on highly-secure locks. Nonetheless, it affords a thief a means of rapid access. Watching them in action is very worrying indeed.
Forced entry is next on the list. Operational police officers have told us they’ve seen examples of thieves kicking through a thin external wall down between a shed mounted to the exterior of a building to gain access. But more common is attacking the front door itself, usually with a jemmy or crowbar. This technique literally uses physical force to prise the door open, but leaves a lot of mess, is noisy and attracts unwanted attention. Tell-tale marks that a jemmy has been used includes bent locks, a splintered or warped door-frame, and lots of debris.
The final, and crudest method for getting in the door, is brute force. It is surprisingly easy to kick a wooden door with a flimsy lock down, but again — it’s messy and noisy. Less so is a modern UPVC door, most of which have a steel core. In this case it is easier for a thief to kick a panel through in the bottom or top half of the door, and crawl through, rather than attacking the lock or frame directly. The most uncommon technique here would be the use of a battering ram. Operational officers report that this MO is extremity rare.
2. Shattering the pane: crawling through windows
Windows too can be attacked in a variety of ways. The most common MO here, after the sneak in, is to use some sort of tool to prise them open. Here, we’re looking at a crowbar or jemmy again. Thieves also use screwdrivers, to remove the beading from the frame, and literally pull the window out of its mounting. Sometimes, although more rarely, a glass cutting tool can also be used. These methods are fairly quiet and discreet as they cause minimal damage and aren’t immediately obvious on a casual inspection.
More brute force methods include the obvious brick through the window. The advantage for the thief here is that he doesn’t have to carry anything to the crime scene; a rock from the victim’s own patio is commonly used. The disadvantage is of course the noise made. It’s useful for forensic investigators, as using smashed windows as a point of entry usually means there is lots of nice jagged glass lying around that the thief might cut themselves on. If they do, they’ve incidentally left some fairly irrefutable trace evidence, in the form of their DNA at the crime scene. The destroyed window may even retain a few fingerprints, or tear a few fibres from the suspect’s clothes.
3. Tin cans on the roof or something more sinister
The final category here in our forced entry section encompasses every other way a thief could force access to your dwelling. Don’t worry about locking or shutting your first floor windows? Well you should, because thieves can and often do drag your wheelie bin to the side of your kitchen, climb onto your flat roof, and gain access that way.
Other ways burglars enter using less obvious methods include the removal of roof tiles, attacking masonry from a secluded spot with a hammer, chisel or industrial tools, or even digging elaborate tunnels! Determined thieves have even been known to dismantle chimneys to gain access to attic spaces or the body of houses.
As we said earlier, the possibilities for a determined thief are almost infinite. Although uncommon for residential houses, commercial premises are often ram raided, which involves driving a vehicle through a wall or shutter to gain access to a building. Again, it has even been known for minor explosives or welding equipment to be used to gain access.
Walling it up: the take-away lessons
Unless a house has been specifically targeted for some high value jewellery or your fancy vehicles, it’s most likely, when looking at household burglary, that it’s been carried out by an opportunist. They won’t have been careful, and are likely to have been rushed, so there’s some fantastic potential to lift trace evidence and catch a suspect.
The second thing is to make sure every lock in your house has been upgraded. Make sure you’re safe in your own home and keep windows and doors secured at all times. Remember: the single most common MO for domestic burglary remains the sneak in, where no force at all is used.
Your Turn: Think we’ve missed out a few more significant methods of gaining entry? Know a few home security tips you’re happy to share with others? Do us a favour and leave them in the comments. We might even be able to add them to future articles.