Burglary: The Silent Crime

Home and small businesses are common targets for opportunistic burglars and thieves. But there are a few simple things you can do to make your business less appealing to those who would seek to victimize you.

Being burglarized is a terrible experience, I’ve heard many victims say. The victim feels violated. Their home or business has been surreptitiously entered. Their valuables have been stolen and their other belongings have been overturned and disturbed. Victims feel both rage and insecurity. It is a frightening and nauseating experience, I’m told.

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

In his more than 20 years as a patrolman and detective, Mark Tartaglia came in contact with both burglars and their victims. The recently retired detective for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office worked patrol for a good number of years in South Philadelphia prior to being promoted to a detective.

“As a patrolman working the wagon, I was called to the scene of many burglaries,” Tartaglia said.

He spoke of when he was called to the scene of a jewelry store that had been burglarized. His patrol van was the third police vehicle on the scene.

“One of the guys said the burglar was on the roof,” Tartaglia recalled. “A fire truck was called and they got the ladder and they went up on the roof to look around.”

Tartaglia was standing next to his wagon when he spied a man who appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Where did he come from, Tartaglia asked himself? Seeing a necklace hanging from his pocket, Tartaglia placed him against the wagon and arrested him.

“One split second, and I could have let him walk by, but it seemed strange that he popped out of nowhere. He was sneaky, but stupid,” Tartaglia said.

The story illustrates that when something appears strange, you should pay close attention. Trust your instincts and call the police, Tartaglia advised.

There are three types of burglars, Tartaglia explained. He calls the three types the professional burglars, the thieves and the opportunists.

The professionals target mansions, major businesses and other high-end targets. Prior to committing the burglary, the professional burglar 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 professional also use a network of professional “fences” where they sell the jewelry, stamps, silver, art work and other stolen items. These fences are usually associated with organized crime.

The thieves are not specialized criminals like the professionals. They 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 small retail stores and 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 quick. There is little planning prior to the crime.

“Most of the cases I worked involved the thieves and opportunists,” Tartaglia said.

Tartaglia said that many of the burglarized small businesses he encountered were also the homes of the business people as well, with the proprietor living upstairs from the business. He often noticed the same weaknesses that the burglars must have seen. No exterior lights, no alarm system, no signs, no dogs and poor locks on the doors and windows. Garage doors and basement windows were often the point of entry for the burglars.

A business should have an all-in-one fire & burglary alarm system, Tartaglia advises. Your 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 you don’t answer the phone, the service will call the police. If you do answer, they ask you to identify yourself and state the password you gave the service.

“I would definitely recommend a dog in addition to an alarm system,” Tartaglia said. “I understand there are liabilities and it’s an effort to care for a dog, but burglars don’t like dogs.”

Tartaglia went on to say that dogs bark and alert the owners, neighbors and the police, which is a very good deterrent. Burglars want everything quiet and they don’t want any attention placed on them while they are breaking in. (In one of his early comedy films, Woody Allen had a tape recording of a dog barking).

Bigger breeds of dogs, Tartaglia noted, can be specially trained to guard businesses. (And big dogs bite, I might add).

“Twenty years ago, burglars weren’t violent,” Tartaglia recalled. “But today, because of the drugs and how desperate they are, a burglar might assault you if you come into contact with them. Drugs are the only thing they are living for, so they will become violent in their desperation to get the goods and get away.”

Signs are good, Tartaglia said, as this identifies your security measures and often deters the thieves and opportunists. The burglar will generally not target a home or business that has a sign announcing an alarm system, as there are so many other homes and businesses that don’t have alarm systems.

So Tartaglia recommends that you place “alarm system,” “beware of dog” and other signs in highly lit, highly visible places.

“So if you want to stay safe from burglars, install a good alarm system, install signs, exterior lights and good locks on your windows and doors – and get a dog,” Tartaglia said.

“You work hard to maintain your business, so why make it easy for a burglar to take your belongings?”

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