On the look out

Anatomy of a burglar: it crosses all lines

Posted: Thursday, September 28, 2006

Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of stories examining burglary trends in the central Kenai Peninsula. Friday’s story looks at the legal consequences burglars face if they’re caught.

Many people’s idea of a burglar is somewhere between a black-maskedhoodlum carrying a gunnysack with a dollar sign on it and a safe-cracking Thomas Crown-type character who has all the latest technology for subverting even the best security systems.

These two fictional filchers are far from what real burglars are like, according to Mitch Langseth, an investigator with the Kenai Police Department.

“In my experience, there is no profile for a burglar. You can’t typify their age, gender or socioeconomic status. The only thing they all seem to have in common is a lack of social values,” he said.

That being said, Langseth did say there are a few traits burglars may share. For instance, an overwhelming number of burglaries are committed by men, rather than women.

Upon arrest, it also is determined that a lot of burglars have prior criminal records for things such as petty theft, assault or alcohol-related charges.

“That’s not uncommon,” Langseth said.

By far, though, the biggest commonality among burglars is substance abuse problems.

“Drugs play into it a lot. I would guess that half of the burglaries we see are drug-related,” he said. “People are addicted to a substance, and that addiction is so powerful it affects their judgment and they do whatever it takes to feed that habit.”

Beyond these similarities, though, Langseth said, “There are a lot of different people with a lot of different reasons for committing burglaries.”

This makes it challenging for law enforcement to catch burglars. To make things easier, Langseth uses a broad classification system for burglars with three classes: the opportunist, loose associations and organized ring.

“The opportunist is generally someone working alone. They don’t have a well thought-out plan. They’re just looking for an easy opportunity,” he said.

Langseth said one example of this type of burglar would be a person who breaks in to steal a piece of disputed property back from a neighbor or someone they know, rather than going to court over the item.

In loose association burglaries, Langseth said these criminals also do not think out their plans thoroughly, but they do put more mental effort into it than the opportunist. They may use tools to aid them in their crimes and use cell phones to work together.

“Generally, these are people who aren’t actively plotting burglaries, but may be a group of friends hanging out together. One guy will decide to do a burglary, a friend may come along or commit a burglary themselves after seeing the success of their friend,” he said.

Before long, this small group could be breaking into cars and houses to steal items on a semi-regular basis.

“Not all five guys in the group may be stealing property at the same time, though,” he said.

Two guys may steal one night, while two or three others steal a few nights later, and then they all trade their pilfered possessions amongst themselves, Langseth said.

While not exclusively young adults, he said these loose associations are often teens or people in their early 20s.

“A lot of them are bored kids looking for a rush and steal property for the excitement, or for a feather in their hat. Sometimes the act of stealing is more important than the property,” he said.

The other general classification for burglars is organized rings.

“These are the rarest we see,” Langseth said. “These are people that put in a lot of planning, are very selective in their locations and they are usually looking for items of specific value.”

He said these classifications aren’t set in stone.

“There’s exceptions to every rule, but also burglars learn like everyone else, and the longer they’re at it, the more they learn. So someone may start out as an opportunist, then get involved in a loose association and then get more organized. They’re not necessarily stuck in one category,” he said.

Rather than trying to pigeonhole family members, friends, associates and total strangers as potential burglars, Langseth recommends people focus their efforts on preventing burglaries and leave catching criminals to law enforcement officers.

As to Langseth’s advice to burglars themselves: “It’s the law of averages, you do it long enough and eventually statistics will catch up and you’ll get caught.”

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