Prof Zimm’s Home Invasion Summary

In his book Home Invasions, based on his research, Professor Zinn sought to establish the type of crime intelligence that could be obtained by the police from convicted and incarcerated perpetrators of residential robbery,  with a view to intelligence guided policing and more effective utilisation of police resources in combating and reducing crime, than ordinary visible policing tactics.

2. Methodology

The research was based on in-depth interviews with 30 perpetrators who were convicted and incarcerated for the crime of “aggravated robbery.”

It is important to understand from the onset that the statistics that emerged from the research are not necessarily generalizable to all perpetrators or all instances of residential robbery due to the small sample group.

While the research is therefore not necessarily generalizable, it does provide useful insights into how THESE criminals plan and carry out attacks and what can be done by their intended victims to enhance protective or preventative measures so as to avoid becoming a victim.

3. The Profile of Residential Robbery Perpetrators

• Of the interviewed group, the majority were South African citizens who were unemployed and poorly educated, aged between 19 and 26 years old and from dysfunctional families;

• On average they would form a group when attacking a household;

• All were experienced criminals and had committed a number of other crimes before deciding to target households for robbery. On average each perpetrator admitted to having committed 103 crimes (including crimes other than robberies) over a seven year period before being arrested for the first time.

• Given the nature of the crime, a distinctive characteristic of house robbers is the willingness to use lethal violence against victims. Most people who fit the same general profile (e.g. young, unemployed, from dysfunctional families), do not commit violent crime.

4. Motivation for Involvement in Residential Robberies

• 97% of the perpetrators in the study stated that the primary motivating factor for becoming involved in this type of crime was “economic gain”;

• 65% of what was stolen was spent on “cars, clothes, drugs, and alcohol.”

• 35% of what was stolen was spent on “survival” (i.e. food and rent);

• The perceived wealth of the victims was the main motive. Race played no part in decisions of the perpetrators to target specific households;

• A contributory factor was the existence of role-models in their communities who were criminals and were wealthy because of criminal activities.

• 80% of the perpetrators in the study stated that their families, friends and acquaintances in their communities knew that they were involved in crime to make a living.

• Residential robbery was chosen as a particular crime because it resulted in more money more quickly than other types of crime and chances of being caught were seen as very low.

• All the perpetrators started with non-violent property crimes (i.e. theft) before progressing to violent crimes (i.e. robberies).

We are only helping them to become better criminals by not presenting a form of community resistance to these criminals

5. Choosing a Target

• 77% of the perpetrators stated that they chose targets for which they had some “inside information‟. For example, they would be able to get information about a particular house from domestic workers, gardeners or other service providers including security guards (or from the relatives or acquaintances of these people).

• Generally, perpetrators would prefer to choose targets in neighbourhoods that had many entrance and exit points with easy access to main roads and where street security was low or non-existent.

• However, only 25% of the perpetrators in the research stated that they deliberately chose a house because it had low security. Rather, targets were chosen because they had reasonable information or suspicion that there would be much of value to steal once they had gained access to the property.

• The perpetrators in this study stated that they would tend to focus on what they termed as the “middle class.”

6. Planning and Executing a Residential Robbery

• All perpetrators stated that they would spend some time prior to the attack doing surveillance on the targeted residence. In some cases this could be as little as 30 minutes prior to the attack and in other cases up to two weeks. The purpose of the surveillance is to orientate the perpetrators to the layout and types of neighbourhood and household security measures the habits and patterns of the residents.

• A majority of the perpetrators (57%) stated that they preferred to carry out residential robberies between 19h00 and 24h00 in the evening. This was when most people are at home, have disabled alarm systems and opened doors and windows. Also it is a time when there is noise from televisions and radios which will provide the perpetrators with some level of cover to allow them to take the victims by surprise.

• 14% of the perpetrators also attacked houses between 03h00 and 07h00 in the morning as it was quiet, the neighbours would be asleep or not paying particular attention and they would not be disturbed by visitors to the house.

• 7% stated that they also attacked houses between 10h00 and 12h00 in the mid-to late mornings. This was when domestic workers would be in the house, doors would be open, alarms would also be turned off and there would be the relative cover of noise.

• The most common way to access a property was to break-in‟ by forcing locks on gates or doors, breaking windows or disabling electric fences and climbing over the walls.

• Some of the perpetrators used exceptions to this by attacking houses where there were social functions as they could simply walk through gates or doors that were left open. In some cases the perpetrators would wait for the residents to leave or arrive home and attack them in the driveway before forcing them inside the house.

• Before breaking into the house, the perpetrators stated that they would try and identify the numbers and locations of everyone who was in the house. They would typically do this during the pre-attack surveillance and once they were in the property, by peering through windows preferably under the cover of darkness.

• The purpose of doing this is to surprise all the residents at once so that they do not have time to take defensive action such as raising the alarm or acquiring a weapon.

• Perpetrators in this study would spend anywhere between 30 minutes and four hours inside a house once they had successfully subdued the residents.

7. The Use of Violence in Robberies

• All perpetrators stated that they used violence or the threat of violence when entering a residence to overcome resistance from the victims.

• To assist in this 97% of the perpetrators in this study used firearms when they committed robberies.

• They preferred pistols as these were easy to conceal before and after the robbery. In addition the perpetrators liked pistols because of the sound the weapon made when „cocking‟ it as this could also be used to intimidate victims.

• During the residential robbery, 67% of the perpetrators admitted committing assault, 30% admitted to committing murder, 13% admitted to committing rape and 13% admitted to torturing victims during a residential robbery. (Please note, this does not mean that people are murdered in 30% of residential robberies. Only that 30% of this sample admitted to having committed at least one murder in their lifetime..

• According to these perpetrators, the use of torture was to force the victims to reveal the whereabouts of valuables in the house such as cash, firearms or jewellery.

• The torture most frequently mentioned consists of pouring boiling water or melted plastic on the victims or burning them with household instruments (e.g. an iron).

• The perpetrators in the study stated that they would most likely target women or children for torture during a robbery to force the male or adult to provide the information they required.

8. Preventing or Minimising the Risk of Residential Robberies

The research found that community crime prevention initiatives could make a difference in reducing the risk of a certain area becoming targeted by perpetrators of house robberies. For example regular neighbourhood watch schemes, random community patrol initiatives, or guards stationed at street corners who are linked by radio communication will make a certain community less attractive to criminals.

The research also sought to identify measures that could be taken by people to minimise the risk of their particular residence becoming a target. The perpetrators were asked about the things that would make them hesitate to target a house or that would make it difficult for them to access a house. They generally answered that if the reward was big enough nothing could keep them from attacking a house. Nevertheless, there were factors that would make their lives difficult and could hamper their attack on a house. Out of 119 different answers that were given, the most frequently mentioned preventative measures in order of effectiveness were stated as follows:

• The presence of a number of small dogs inside the house that will bark when they become aware of suspicious activity outside. Teach any dogs not to take food from strangers as perpetrators will not hesitate to poison a dog to neutralise it as a threat.

• Razor wire or electric security fences around the entire perimeter of the house. Beware of an electric fence alarm repeatedly going off as this could be caused by perpetrators deliberately causing a short circuit to the fence in order to get the residents to turn the fence off.

• Pre-warning alarm systems such as security alarm sensors in the garden, along the outside walls, on the roof and in the ceiling. Alarm systems in garages or storerooms will make perpetrators lives difficult as they generally do not carry housebreaking tools with them. Usually break into a garage or tool shed first to get what they need to force the locks or break the windows of a house.

• An armed response service;

• There is an “open view‟ into the house or garden from the street or a neighbouring property. This means that the perpetrator could be seen by a neighbour or a person in the street;

• Security lights that make it difficult to move around the outside of the house at night without being seen, especially sensor lights in front of bedrooms;

• CCTV systems and an intercom system for speaking to people who are outside of the property;

• Layers of security as opposed to a single security system;

• Strong doors and security gates with good quality locks;

• Door alarms that are activated when residents are at home;

• Curtains are drawn at night which prevent perpetrators from identifying the movement and location of the residents in the house;

• The existence of a “secure room” within the house where residents are able to escape to once they are aware of an attack.

• Panic buttons should be placed where residents are most likely to need them. Apart from doorways, these devices should be kept in places where residents will be able to access them in places where they are likely to be held during the robbery. For instance in the lounge under chairs or tables, under beds in bedrooms, in bathrooms as people are often locked in bathrooms and bedrooms during a robbery.

• Always check of signs of a forced entry when entering or leaving your home;

• Keep a copy of the ID Book of any employees who have access to or work at the house including names and contact details of their relatives.

In analysing the responses, the researcher found that out of all the measures that would hinder a house robber, 68% of them refer to securing the outer-perimeter of house and garden while 32% refer to internal security systems. This is because once the perpetrators have managed to get close to the house, the advantage they have in terms of the element of surprise leaves the residents with fewer defensive options. However, if the residents are alerted to a person jumping over their wall, they will have time to lock doors and raise the alarm.

9. Minimising Personal Risk during a Robbery

If the perpetrators manage to evade external security measures and are able to get access to the house, the behaviour of the residents then becomes very important if they are to survive the incident without harm. Most serious injuries and fatalities in residential robberies occur during the initial phase and are often linked to the attempts of the victims to resist the attackers. All perpetrators in the study stated that they would rather shoot a person than expose themselves to risk of injury during a house robbery.

As the first phase of the attack is the most dangerous from the point of view of the perpetrator, it is during this time that they are most adrenalised and are prone to acting on the spur of the moment.

Key Actions by the Victim

According to the perpetrators in the study, the victims of a robbery should do the following if they are confronted in their home to minimise the changes of being shot or seriously assaulted:

• They should not move when you seeing a stranger holding a gun.

• Any sudden movement or noise could lead to the perpetrator thinking that the resident is trying to take defensive action and it could result in a violent response including being shot at.

• Remain calm and do not make a noise;

• Keep your hands visible, but do not raise them above your head as this may be mistaken by the perpetrator as an attempt to signal help;

• Demonstrate willingness to cooperate by either pleading for your life, or asking not to be hurt and saying that they can take what they want.

Key lessons for the Police

 It is very difficult for the police to prevent residential robberies through regular policing tactics.

More organised perpetrators will assess the policing of a particular area as part of their surveillance to establish the risk that they face if they commit a robbery there.

They may also have a sense of the reaction time of the police in a particular locality through their own or others previous experience of committing a serious crime that was reported to the police.

Nevertheless, 68% of the perpetrators in the study stated that frequent and random police patrols would be a deterrent to them from targeting houses in a particular area. This supports the tactic of increasing visible policing patrols and roadblocks during hot-spot areas and times to reduce the incidents of residential robberies in particular geographical areas. However, this will not necessarily drive down the overall rate of residential robberies as the perpetrators will adjust their tactics to evade the police. In this way, visible policing is more likely to displace the crime of residential robbery to different areas and times as opposed to preventing it.

The best way for the police to prevent residential robberies is to identify arrest and support the prosecution of the perpetrators to increase their risks of going to prison. If increasing numbers of perpetrators are locked up, fewer perpetrators will be around to commit these crimes and fewer people will be willing to take on the risks of becoming involved in this type of crime as a way of making a living. This will result in the numbers of robberies decreasing which will in turn build community trust in the police, which again will increase the ability of the police to tackle other crimes.

For the police to ensure that perpetrators are sent to prison, the necessary resources will have to be made available for the police to:

• Identify and arrest perpetrators; and

• Support the successful prosecution of perpetrators.

This requires prioritising and strengthening the quality and capacity of police crime intelligence and the detectives tasked with investigating residential robberies.

The study focused particularly on the type of crime intelligence that the incarcerated could provide the police to assist them in tacking residential robberies. It found that there is a good “window period” for obtaining significant intelligence from convicted robbers.

At this time they are willing to provide detailed intelligence on other perpetrators and syndicates for relatively small improvements in their personal situation. According to the research, this includes for instance that their cooperation with the police is considered favourably when they come up for parole.

They would also be willing to provide information for improvements in privileges such as more credit at the prison canteen, better prison duties etc. This would not be too onerous to achieve when compared to the valuable information that could be provided to the police about the networks who are involved in committing and supporting aggravated robbery.

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