It is 5am in the suburbs. Suddenly there is a fearsome thumping on your front door. You rush to open it, thinking there must be some sort of emergency.
There certainly is: Three or four teenagers burst inside, wielding weapons, screaming “Where’s your car keys?” For five terrifying minutes they rampage through your home, snatching up your valuables, before driving off in your new car.
Welcome to the new and growing trend in theft and burglary – home invasion.
A growing problem
The rate of home invasions has soared over the last year. Crime Statistics Agency data for 2016 has shown an overall 10 per cent increase in home burglaries – but aggravated burglaries have almost doubled.
In 2016, there were 31,373 non-aggravated burglaries in Victoria, an increase of 8 per cent over 2015. But aggravated burglaries – or home invasions – leapt from about 2500 to 3554, an increase of 40 per cent.
At a time when violent crime is steadily declining, that’s an alarming trend, says RACV Home Services and Security Manager Aaron Flavell. The RACV has worked closely with Victoria Police to get insights into home invasions and find ways for our members to avoid being victims.
Home invasions happen all over Melbourne and are not restricted to one area, despite reports of a number of incidents in the south-east. These “aggravated” incidents are very different to simple burglaries and much more dangerous to home occupiers who are present when they occur.
Home invasion is often perpetrated by groups of youths who can be as young as 15. Their motivation is often thrill-seeking as much as material gain.
'A sort of game'
“Much of this becomes a sort of game for these people, who often meet on social media,” says Mr Flavell. “So they ‘gang up’ and go do these things. It’s almost like there’s a ‘gangification’ element involved and a hero factor. It’s thrill-seeking and status.”
The rise in home invasion is largely driven by the difficulty of stealing modern cars fitted with immobilisers. The only way to get them is to break into a house and take – or demand – them. At the same time, perpetrators grab easily available cash, electronic goods or jewellery.
Their behaviour is volatile and unpredictable and they may use violence for the fun of it. They are not afraid and are undeterred by the presence of people.
So what should we do? The first thing, says Mr Flavell, is to keep the threat in perspective. You are extremely unlikely to be a victim, but there are steps you can take.
Don't be a target
The first is to reduce the risk of being targeted: “Don’t create hiding spots in your front yard, light the place up. What the crims hate is that visibility, they’re always looking for the dark and shady.
“Always park your car in the garage if you have one. Use perimeter hardening, as the police call it. You effectively make your place harder to get into with security doors, shutters, good locks and so on.
“Invest in an alarm or CCTV – or get a big dog; there are studies that show a big dog, barking away, is just as effective as an alarm system.”
And if someone does get in? “Comply,” says Mr Flavell. “Give them what they want. Don’t engage with them. And whatever you do try to keep some space, such as keeping a table between you and them. And call for help as soon as it’s safe to do so.”
He adds: “We have 1.7 million homes in Victoria and three-and-a-half thousand aggravated burglaries. If you put that into perspective it’s a rare phenomenon.
“But it’s a growing one.”