ACPO's burglary awareness campaign, running to December, features three themed weeks. From the 26th- 30th November, the focus is on distraction burglary. Police forces will be undertaking positive action to target thieves and sharing crime prevention advice with the public
Distraction burglary is any crime where a falsehood, trick or distraction is used on an occupant of a dwelling to gain, or try to gain, access to the premises to commit burglary.
The most common form is one person distracting a homeowner by pretending to be from the Waterboard or gas or electricity provider while another person enters the house and searches for cash.[i]
Other methods include pretending to be doing repairs or maintenance, impersonating figures of authority such as police officers and social workers and imitating home buyers to gain access to people's homes.
Investigations have shown that distraction burglars are usually members of highly organised crime groups who deliberately travel extensively throughout the UK in order to commit crime.
ACPO lead on burglary Assistant Chief Constable Paul Broadbent said:
"We have chosen to focus on distraction burglaries this week because this crime can have a profoundly negative effect on victim's lives. Research has found that 40 per cent of victims reported a change in their quality of life.[ii]
"We also know that this is an under-reported crime: research suggests that less than 10% of these types of crimes are reported to the police.[iii] Although there is potential for anyone to be a victim, the most typical victim is 77 years old, female and lives alone.[iv] They often feel embarrassed, intimidated and are scared of losing their independence. I want to reassure people that the police will do all that they can to support and protect victims who do come forward.
"Police are working hard to tackle distraction burglary and will continue to do so but we want to use this week to alert people to this crime. If you remember anything about distraction burglary, let it be: if you're not sure, don't open the door. Please pass this message on to anyone that you think could be vulnerable to distraction burglary."
Although a real threat, the police have seen a big reduction in distraction burglary while detecting more offenders. In 2006/07, nearly 13,000 offences were recorded with a detection rate of 11%. In 2011/12, just under 5,000 were recorded with a detection rate of 21%.[v]
Two national operations have been in integral in bringing distraction burglars to justice:
Operation Liberal- The national intelligence unit identifies serial offenders and supports investigations. Forces submit information to be logged, analysed and compared with pre-existing data from around the country. Intelligence is then shared with other forces. The unit also works with partner agencies to deliver crime prevention strategies.
· Operation Bombay- Using information from Operation Liberal, this team of detectives link crimes across force areas identifying further offences and maximising evidence, which can lead to longer custodial sentences.
As part of this week of action, Operation Liberal is launching a training pack for health and social workers on distraction burglary. The project aims to give workers caring for older and vulnerable members of the community the knowledge and skills to offer them advice and information, as well as letting them know how to share any concerns they have with the police.
ACC Paul Broadbent urges, "Take these simple steps to protect yourself and share them with family, friends or neighbours- anyone you think could be at risk. Let's work together to make it harder for criminals to get away with distraction burglary."
· Check the identity of callers by calling the company they claim to be from. Use the telephone numbers listed in your local directory, online or provided independently by your service provider. Do not use any telephone numbers provided by the caller - they may be bogus.
· Telephone a neighbour or friend nearby to come along and check out the caller before you open the door to them.
· The "Waterboard" has not existed for 28 years; turn away anyone purporting to be from it.
· Keep cash in the bank where it is secure.
· Consider storing valuable jewellery in bank deposit box- contact your bank for details.
· Keep doors locked and windows secure at all times.
· Ensure that if you do let somebody in to your home, that you close the door behind them - distraction burglars often work in teams, while you're distracted another person may sneak in through an open door.
· If somebody asks for your help, needs to make a telephone call, needs a drink or wants directions, don't feel pressurised into letting them in. Help through a closed door, refer them to a younger neighbour or call to ask someone to assist.
· Not sure? Don't open the door.