University City

Research study reveals burglars’ motives

When Joseph Kuhns sent out questionnaires to hundreds of men and women inquiring about their skill sets, work turnoffs and the qualities they looked for in an ideal job, he wasn’t recruiting for a Fortune 500 company.

Kuhns, a UNC Charlotte researcher with the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, was peering into the minds of thieves.

What he found lurking inside may help to prevent residential and commercial burglaries down the road.

“Understanding Decisions to Burglarize, from the Offender’s Perspective” – the study Kuhns co-authored with professors from Eastern Kentucky University and Western Illinois University – is a look into the motivations of burglars.

Funded by the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation, the study set out to discover why burglars choose certain homes and businesses over others, how they break in, and what they do with their “burglary income.”

The research team surveyed 422 convicted burglars incarcerated in Kentucky, Ohio and North Carolina prisons. Many were seasoned thieves; several had been arrested more than 100 times and charged with burglary. Many admitted first stealing when they were as young as age 6.

But even though it may have started out in childhood as the thrill of the quick swipe in the candy aisle, the adult thief’s motivations are often centered on finding money to satisfy an addiction.

Of those surveyed, 65 percent said they would use the goods or money they stole during a burglary to buy drugs – usually crack, powder cocaine or heroin. And 73 percent reported they had drugs in their system while committing the burglary.

“Drug use by far was the most frequently recorded motivation for females who are engaging in burglary,” said Kuhns. “Males reported the top reason is money, although they indicated that the top use for that money was to purchase drugs.”

Although their motives may be the same, the study showed some differences in the way male and female burglars operate their crimes.

“Females tended to focus on residences in the afternoon, whereas males tended to break into businesses late in the evening,” said Kuhns. “Females were more likely to engage in spur-of-the-moment crimes, whereas males were more meticulous about how they went about selecting targets and entering homes, and so forth.”

Both genders often walked away from a crime after encountering the same obstacles.

“The ones that rose to the top as the most effective deterrents included alarms and alarms signs, noises or indications that people were in the home, a dog inside, having cars in the driveway or seeing neighbors nearby,” said Kuhns.

Most of those surveyed say they entered through an open window or unlocked door. Only one in eight attempted to pick locks or had a key to gain entry.

In University City, residential and commercial burglaries have averaged around 44 and 11 each month, respectively, for the last three years. Like most areas, burglaries are often down in the summer when people’s schedules are less predictable, but rise during other seasons, usually in residential areas during daytime workweek hours.

Alert neighbors, said Lt. Dave Johnson, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, University City Division, are usually the number one reason a burglar gets caught.

“Most of the burglary arrests we make are because of a neighbor who noticed a car or person that they didn’t recognize, and cared enough to watch them and call 911,” said Johnson. “When that happens, we can, most often, get there in time to make the apprehension.”

To see the complete study, visit