Bonn · A burglary causes material damage - but also the loss of mementos and the invasion of privacy often leave victims in despair. Detective Superintendent Jan Schumacher gives tips on how to avoid burglaries and what to do if the criminals have already been there.
The evening after the burglars had broken into our flat, I managed to make my husband laugh uproariously when I went to bed. "Why do you have your handbag over your shoulder," he asked. And even though it certainly seems funny to carry your bag with all your valuables to your nightgown, the unfamiliar image summed up quite vividly what was going on inside me: I wanted to protect what I still had by keeping it close to me.
Yet the burglars, well-assorted professionals according to the investigating police officers, had not exactly stumbled upon riches in our flat, especially since they had spurned two relatively new laptops that stood temptingly in the entrance area. Some cash and jewellery, including my grandmother's rarely worn inheritance, a bag to carry off the loot and a glove, which presumably went with them rather by accident, leaving its orphaned twin behind, that was already their haul. But the police have plenty of tips in store to prevent others from suffering a similar fate.
These three preventive approaches make it difficult for burglars:
For Jan Schumacher, a police officer with a degree in architecture, there are three components that make life difficult for burglars, ideally even dissuading them from committing the crime: "These are mechanical protection measures and increasing the risk of detection as the two basics with a deterrent effect. The third is one's own behaviour."
Which mechanical protection measures make sense and who advises on them?
Grills, window and door locks with so-called mushroom heads as a security feature are among the mechanical security measures that Schumacher and his colleagues from the Crime Prevention and Victim Protection Department inform about in their showroom at the Bonn police headquarters by appointment. If necessary, they will also come to your home and inspect it, point out poorly secured cellar windows and doors or other security deficiencies. For the officers, one thing is certain: single-family homes are a little more attractive to burglars, but ground-floor flats in apartment buildings are also among the popular targets.
What exactly is meant by increasing the risk of detection?
Video recordings and the use of light sources are the most common deterrents of this kind. Often a camera is enough to deter potential burglars. But light sources, such as motion detectors or timer-controlled lamps inside the house, also make it difficult for burglars to assess the risk of detection. For Commissioner Schumacher, it is all about creating a "moving picture". Or to put it another way: The burglars should not be lulled into the certainty that no one is at home. One's own attention and that of one's neighbours also has a quasi-security effect. That's why Schumacher appeals: "If someone seems suspicious to you, it's better to call 110 once too often than once too little."
How can I help prevent a burglary with my own behaviour?
Windows and balcony doors at a reachable height should not be left open or tilted, so that burglars do not have an easy job. But it is just as careless to leave a ladder in the garden house to help you step on, Schumacher points out behavioural errors that are not quite so obvious. He advises chaining the ladder and securing it with a lock. He also considers garden furniture that can be easily stacked to get in on the first floor to be among the climbing aids that should be locked up or secured.
Who are the perpetrators and what loot are they after?
Scouts who stand out as suspicious would have already put the police on the trail of professional gangs of burglars who often operate on a supra-regional scale. But meticulous investigative work and the evaluation of evidence at the scene of the crime, including fingerprints and DNA, also lead the police to the clues of the professionals, who are usually only after jewellery and money, in the long and medium term. The perpetrators, who come from the region and break in to finance their addiction, are more indiscriminate in their loot and also take electrical appliances, perfumes and other valuables.
Is special caution required at the moment? Or how are the burglary figures developing?
"The number of burglaries has dropped significantly," stresses police spokesman Michael Beyer, citing on the one hand the Corona pandemic as a bad time for burglars because many more people were to be found at home and thus the opportunity was lacking. This is because burglars are not considered by the police to be "violent" criminals who, at most, make use of their burglary levers, which can also be used as cutting and stabbing weapons. According to Beyer, the most significant reason for the drop in burglary figures on the territory of the Bonn police headquarters since a peak of 2,708 recorded burglaries in 2013 is the success of his colleagues through prevention and meticulous investigative work: "This is how we managed to more than halve the numbers by 2019." In 2019 to 1,224 cases, and in 2020 to 1,213, the numbers continue to decline, he said. It is also important to note that one in two attempted burglaries fail, he said. A calculation that does not include the number of unreported cases. The police's burglary radar, which is available on the internet and shows on a map where burglaries have been successful in the past days and where the perpetrators failed, paints a vivid picture. This is an evaluation of the system for crime evaluation and situation anticipation used throughout NRW, Skala for short, which is now even available as a free app for mobile phones.
Why does Bonn still appear in the headlines as a "burglary metropolis"?
Because, despite falling numbers, the federal city is always among the top in Germany, at least in terms of inhabitants. In 2013, Bonn even received the inglorious title of "burglary capital". Which is still not far from reality: for in statistics from September 2021, Berlin registered 193 burglaries per 100,000 inhabitants, while Cologne was only 183. The state capital Düsseldorf comes in at 214, clearly surpassed by Bonn with 245 residential burglaries per 100,000 inhabitants. Only Krefeld is ahead with 254.
What makes the region attractive for burglars?
There are many well-off people in Bonn and the surrounding area, but also wealthy pensioners and federal civil servants. Many keep jewellery, but also large sums of cash in their homes. Opportunity makes the thief. That's why Schumacher recommends: "It's better to keep your favourite jewellery in a bank vault. Take a photo of it, then they can still enjoy it." It is also better not to keep large sums of cash at home. "Burglars know all the hiding places," warns the expert. No matter how tricky and unusual they may be. Of course, geographical location also plays a role, Beyer admits. Burglars also appreciate good motorway connections and prefer areas that are deserted during the day because many commuters live there.
What should I do if I suspect I have been burgled?
Play it safe and don't put yourself in danger, is the police's most important tip. So if the door is open and you cannot rule out that the perpetrators will be caught in the act, they should not go into the flat. "It is better to draw attention to yourself by making a noise and calling 110." As a rule, however, the perpetrators do not stay in the flat for more than five minutes to minimise the risk of discovery. It is important not to block their escape route and not to destroy the evidence in order to facilitate the investigators' work.
Original text: Sylvia Binner
Translation: Mareike Graepel