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Mock Occupancy Indicators •

Description and Function: Burglars avoid contact with residents and work
hard to determine whether a property is occupied before attempting to enter it.

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While residents cannot be home at all times, the use of mock occupancy
indicators may fool some offenders into believing that a home is occupied. Mock
occupancy indicators are designed to deter burglary by increasing an offender’s
perception of risk. Common mock occupancy indicators include leaving lights on
or TVs and radios playing; using timers to turn lights/TVs/radios on and off at
appropriate times; leaving a car parked outside a house or in the garage; and
closing curtains. When away for longer periods of time, mock occupancy can be
enhanced by having someone periodically mow the front lawn (if applicable),
remove mail, advertising and newspapers from the front doorstep or mailbox, or
simply stop the delivery of these items. Weisel (2002, 29) notes that the
audible presence of dogs will deter offenders nearly as much as the presence of
human occupants. Much research confirms this belief, including Wright and
Decker’s (1994, 208-209) ethnography of 105 American burglars. No ICVS data is
available on the use of mock occupancy indicators in Denmark. However, in 1999,
19% of Danish respondents reported having a “watch dog” compared to 23% overall
among the 17 ICVS nations surveyed (Kesteren, 2000, 216-217).

 

• Effectiveness: While this author knows of no direct evidence to
support the effectiveness of mock occupancy indicators, there is plentiful
evidence that burglars avoid occupied homes. For example, the BCS data
discussed in Section 2 (Figure 2.5) suggest that, all else being equal, homes
unoccupied 12 to 32 nights per year have 30% greater odds of burglary than those
never unoccupied overnight. 31 When homes unoccupied 32 nights or more are
compared to those never unoccupied, the predicted odds of burglary for the
former are 43% higher than for the latter. Offender ethnographies paint the
same picture. Almost 90% of the 105 active American burglars interviewed by
Wright and Decker (1994, 110) said they “always avoided breaking into a
residence when they knew or suspected that someone was at home” (emphasis in
original). They avoided occupied homes not only because of the increased risk
of being assaulted or killed by angry, potentially armed residents, but also
because of the increased legal penalties they would face themselves if
apprehended after having been forced to assault or kill a resident in
self-defense (Wright and Decker, 1994, 112). The “vast majority” of Wright and
Decker’s burglars reported knocking on doors, ringing doorbells, or telephoning
residences to check for occupancy even if they were reasonably certain that no
one was home (Wright and Decker, 1994, 110-116, especially 113). While all of
this suggests the extent to which burglars avoid occupied homes, it says
nothing about the actual effectiveness of mock occupancy indicators. Burglars
are, of course, well aware of the use of mock indicators, and may be quite
adept at distinguishing mock occupancy from real occupancy. Furthermore, they
can ring doorbells to confirm their impressions. Nonetheless, the use of such
techniques may reduce the obvious signs of prolonged non-occupancy, and thereby
reduce the probability of a home being noticed by an opportunistic burglar.

 

 

 

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