A Burglar’s Guide to the City

A Burglar’s Guide to the City
© 2016 Geoff Manaugh
304 pages

There’s really no resisting a title like that, is there?  Mind, it’s not accurate;  this isn’t a guide to how burglars read architecture, a catalog of vulnerabilities that homeowners and businesses can use to check their own weak spots.  The core message of the book, expressed repeatedly with great effusion, is that burglars see and use buildings differently from other people.  Manaugh goes into slight details, but his background as an art historian shows: he’s more interested in the idea of burglars interpreting architecture than the details. Consequently, readers are given a great deal of entertainment as he delves into various cases, and even tries to learn skills himself (including lockpicking, from a cop),  but not much in the way of practical security information.

Burglary as defined requires architecture;   breaking and entering isn’t possible with something to break into.   But burglars are connected to architecture at a deeper level, writes Manaugh; they are like the characters of The Matrix, who can read the lines of flowing green code and interpret vulnerabilties. They  are plugged into the Matrix of physical form and can manipulate it  at will — and they do, using buildings in unexpected ways.  They will shimmy up rain gutters to access ledges, shove themselves through ventilation ducts,  take sliding doors off rails, or even carve through drywall to out-flank security alarms.  Some architectural manipulation can be quite elaborate, using the urban form itself.  Consider a case from Los Angeles in the 1980s: a group of  burglars with possible Public Works connections used that city’s massive storm drainage system to tunnel into a bank and empty its vaults.   Few burglaries are so thought out, however; most are hasty and opportunistic. Even then, they can use buildings in ways they weren’t intended: a massive oak door might be breached simply by breaking the glass windows framing it, then reaching in and opening the door.  Roofs hold back water; no one expects them to provide an entry for an thief.

A Burglar’s Guide to the City abounds in interesting cases and general information. I had no idea that Los Angeles operates full time air patrols, for instance: I assumed police helicopters are so expensive by the hour that they’re dispatched only in extreme situations, the kind that call for SWAT teams.  Easily the most interesting case for me was the story of Roofman, who used his study of McDonalds’ basic building plan and operational policies to invade  and rob several dozen franchises. After being imprisoned, he escaped and took refuge in a Toys R Us, where he built a hiding place and carved into the empty building next door.   From there, surrounded by toys, he used stolen baby monitors from Toys R Us itself to observe employees and plan a  full heist. Fortunately for them, the random dropping-by of a sheriff’s deputy foiled the Candy from a Baby stickup.

In short, this book was more fun than informative, but worth the time.

If you are interested in understanding your home from a security standpoint, I would suggest an ebook I read last year called “Kick Ass” Home Security, written by a retired police sergeant.  It’s purely functional reading, like an instructional manual, but I found it helpful.  The essential lesson I remember, beyond any technical information, is that most burglaries are crimes of opportunity — the less inviting you make your home to casual intrusion, the less likely you are to be burgled.

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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11 Responses to A Burglar’s Guide to the City

  1. Mudpuddle says:

    quite a switch from saints… i remember reading of a burglar type who got trapped by the waist, hanging upside down in a donut shop from the ceiling; a little surprise for the early rising baker…

  2. R.T. says:

    Architects should be reading this one. However, we've always been building things to keep out the invaders, haven't we. Otherwise, why have doors with locks and castles with moats and walls at borders.

  3. Mudpuddle says:

    the two subliminal urges of humanity: getting out and getting in…

  4. CyberKitten says:

    I've been toying with this one for a while…. As you said it's a hard title to resist. Still resisting so far… [lol]

  5. Ha! Did the baker practice his swing with a baseball bat?

  6. And why are there invaders?

  7. This sounds interesting. I love reading books about architecture but I've never thought about it from the standpoint of a burglar.

  8. Stephen says:

    The lure of the forbidden, I think — the thrill of being where we're not supposed to be.

  9. Stephen says:

    I wouldn't think it's a real competitor to your TBR piles!

  10. CyberKitten says:

    Plus 'invading' or burglary is a great way to get stuff for free – if you don't get caught.

  11. CyberKitten says:

    Unfortunately (or not) by TBR piles are breeding….. [grin]

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