Some years ago I spent a little while with a seasoned burglar. Let’s call him Mick. He was just 23 but for seven of the last nine years he’d been steadily breaking into houses. Much of the other two he’d spent in prison.
Now he was doing time in a rust-belt caravan park: on the dole; at weekends looking after the little boy who was born while he was in jail; and trying – he swore – to go straight. But he agreed to tell me a little about the tricks of his trade.
Some mornings in that other life, he said, he used to lie in bed and dream of houses like this: Pretty white cottage with a nice veranda. A laneway out the back, an extension in timber and lots of glass. The sort of place into which people had put work, pride and money.
And then he’d go out and burgle it.
Think like a thief
He took me to that same house in Port Melbourne, and we peeped over the back fence. It was much as he’d first seen it: a “yuppie dream”, he said. Plate glass from floor to cathedral ceiling, so you could look straight in and see everything they owned. Like a smorgasbord.
The real laugh was the idiots hadn’t even locked the doors. (Lesson Number 1.) He and a mate were in and out in five minutes. Got a TV, stereo, mobile phone, some jewellery and a couple of hundred in cash from a bedroom.
Mick worked South Melbourne and Port Melbourne, where he’d grown up, and was always on the lookout. He’d check on what kind of windows they had, what sort of locks and whether they had dogs or alarms. Nice big letterbox where the mail sat all day. Rear access was always handy and he loved big walls in the front where he could walk in, shut the gate and enjoy some privacy. Away from prying eyes.
So here are some tips, straight from a bloke who knows the tricks: Don’t leave your curtains wide open, advertising your possessions. Leave a radio or TV on, because a dead silent house tells a crook that no one’s home. Don’t leave your letterbox full of junk mail or newspapers in your driveway.
And you shouldn’t have to be told this, but lock your doors and windows, even when you’re home. So many don’t.
Be a good neighbour
Know your neighbours and let them know your routine and get to know theirs. (Jeez, he said, join Neighbourhood Watch.) Fix your back fence and perhaps add a trellis to make it too high and wobbly to easily climb. Invest in sensor lights and perhaps an alarm system. Low-budget, invest in a dog.
“The main objective, the main thing I’d be looking for, was cash, quick-earn cash.” And don’t kid yourself you can hide money. “Under mattresses, under the bed and in boxes, taped to the bottoms of drawers, stashed in the freezer? That’s old news,” he said.
Invest in security and common-sense precautions and common-sense crooks will move on, he reckons. There’s thousands of other places that are too easy.
“It’s mainly kids but there are burglars out there who do it for a job, day-in, day-out. Every day they clock on. They’re professionals, they’ve got a lot of contacts and soon as they’ve got their gear, it’s gone.
“There’s a few people out there making a good living off it. They own their houses out of burgling other people’s.”