Beware of the burglars

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As your beloved gifts of electronics, jewelry and other expensive items sit under the Christmas tree as we approach the New Year, be aware that your home may now be a target for burglars.

Burglary has been called “the Silent Crime” as the burglar uses stealth to enter homes and businesses when the owners are asleep or away from the property. Burglary is generally defined as the breaking and entering with intent to commit a felony.

As many businesses are closed due to COVID-19 governmental edicts, I suspect burglars will be hitting more homes this year.

I’ve gone out on ride-alongs with patrol officers and detectives, and I’ve accompanied them as they investigated burglaries of businesses, houses and apartments. I recall one time when I entered an apartment in South Philadelphia with a 3rd District officer. The burglar kicked in the back door of the first-floor apartment when the tenant was not at home. The sound of the door being smashed in was heard by another tenant, but rather than calling 911, the tenant called the owner of the property. He also didn’t call 911, and he jumped in his car and drove to the property. He finally called 911 when he discovered the front door to the apartment was ajar. 

When the responding officer arrived at the apartment with me in tow, we saw that the burglar had tossed furniture, clothes and other belongings about wildly as he searched frantically for cash. After he discovered some cash, he walked out the front door. Thankfully, the tenant was not at home and was not harmed, but the sight of the apartment in disarray was devastating to the burglary victim.

I recall another time that I accompanied a responding officer to the scene of a burglary. It was during the Christmas season and the victim told the officer that the burglar had stolen many of the wrapped presents that had been under the tree. Most of the wrapped gifts were toys and games for the victim’s young children. That was a heart-breaking crime scene.    

There are professional burglars, thieves and opportunists.

Detectives and security specialists I’ve spoken to over the years say that most burglaries can be prevented. To avoid being burglarized, simply install an alarm system with cameras, place a sign in plain sight that states the property has an alarm system, and install good locks on the doors and windows. The cops see that many of the victims of burglary often have apparent security weaknesses that the burglars probably saw as well. The victims’ homes had no exterior lights, no alarm system, no signs and poor locks on the doors and windows. 

Burglary detectives say there are three types of burglars. There are professional burglars, thieves and opportunists. The professionals target mansions, major businesses and other high-end targets. Prior to committing the burglary, the professional performs surveillance or “cases” the target. Although the targets generally have state-of-the-art alarm systems in place, the professionals use their knowledge and specialized tools to thwart the systems. The professionals also use a network of “fences” where they sell the jewelry, stamps, silver, artwork and other stolen items. These fences are usually associated with organized crime.

The thieves will commit armed robbery, burglary, rob cars and commit any type of crime. They use less-sophisticated tools than the professionals and they target businesses and homes that have less protection than high-end establishments. They will target homes known to contain valuables such as cash, guns, jewelry and electronic equipment. 

The opportunist, often a drug addict or a teenager, is a criminal who goes out looking for a business or home that he thinks he can break into easily and get away quickly. There is little planning prior to the crime.

One Philadelphia detective I know recommended that homeowners install an all-in-one fire and burglary alarm system. The system should be connected to a service that responds to alarms. If an alarm is activated, the security service will call within a minute. If the owner does not answer the phone, the service will call the police. If the owner does answer, the service will ask the owner to identify himself and state the password given to the service.

“I would also recommend having a dog in addition to an alarm system,” the detective told me. 

“Burglars don’t like dogs.”

The detective said that burglars are usually not violent, but some are desperate due to drug habits and they might become violent if they encounter the homeowner. 

So if you want to avoid being burglarized, be sure to install a good alarm system, place a security sign in plain view, install exterior lights and good locks on your windows and doors – and get a dog. 

Paul Davis’ Crime Beat column appears here each week. He is a Philadelphia writer who has written extensively about organized crime, cybercrime, street crime, white-collar crime, crime fiction, crime prevention, espionage and terrorism. 

  • Paul Davis

    Having worked as a crime reporter and columnist in Philadelphia for many years, Paul Davis has covered organized crime, cybercrime, street crime, white collar crime, crime prevention, espionage and terrorism. He can be reached at

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