Inside the mind of a thief

This is a related video for A Burglar’s Guide to the City. It’s an interview between a Plano City police officer and a three-time offender (Michael Durden) about his experience breaking into homes.  According to the interview,  Duren was a ‘thief’ and not a home invader — he avoided running into people, carefully casing homes and limiting his time there to five to seven minutes.  In the video he answers questions about what attracts or deters him from a home,  how he might obtain entry, and how he prioritized targets inside.   I took some notes for those who are curious but not interested enough to watch a 40 minute video.  (I live in high-crime county, so  security issues are never far from my head!)  
 A news story about the interview can be read here.  


  • A well-kept home with a nice fence indicates a target worth robbing.  Durden avoided poorly-kept or ill-maintained homes.
  • Older burglar alarms rely on a wired connection to the telephone system which can be easily cut. Wireless or cellular systems are a stronger deterrent.
  • Simple devices that remotely turn on lights or play sounds on certain triggers (like someone knocking on the door) are a deterrent.
  • Cameras which face down at an angle can be defeated with a cap;  cameras at face level are better for identification, but should be concealed. 
  • Active, nosy neighbors can deter a would-be burglar, as can a car left parked in the driveway.
  • Speaking of neighbors, if  you’re out of town for a few days you should ask one to collect your papers/mail. A full mailbox and a driveway littered with papers are an obvious sign that no one is home. A poorly-kept house in a wealthy neighborhood may also give away the fact that its owners are on vacation.
  • Burglars or package thieves can  case neighborhoods by jogging or walking. 
  • Cul de sacs are generally harder for a burglar to operate in: with no through traffic, he’s more likely to be spotted as a nonresident. 
  • Transparent doors that allow a good view of the home are attractive but incredibly foolish. Would be thieves can case the inside, looking for  potential entrypoints, the presence of people, or the alarm system, simply by approaching the home and knocking. 
  • For the same reason, windows should be closed and shuttered if no one is at home, as they allow for studied surveillance of the interior.  
  • Lights left on when no one is at home might deter a potential thief,  but said lights should not be left on in the rooms near front/back entries, as they make it easier for thieves to look for security vulnerabilities. 
  • Small dogs, even the yappy kind, won’t stop a home invader. Larger dogs probably will. Interestingly, dogs often give away the presence of an owner by looking for them once they become alarmed. 
  • Inside the home, the primary target for Durden was the master bedroom, as he focused on jewelry and cash.  If the home was obviously expensive but little jewelry was out, that indicated the presence of a safe.  Safes are often ‘hidden’ in the closet. A better place would be the attic or garage, hidden among tools. 
  • Care should be taken about personal information, like drivers’ licenses,  checkbooks, etc;  a passing-through thief can use the documents or the information in them to committ identity theft later. 

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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7 Responses to Inside the mind of a thief

  1. Mudpuddle says:

    public service message… tx…

  2. Marian H says:

    Really good tips… you can't be too careful. We live in a low-key suburb, and someone tried to break into our house once. My poor mom was at home and managed to scare him off, but we had to secure our house further after that. Safety over aesthetics!

  3. Mudpuddle says:

    not good, M… we live in the woods and worry just about bears and coyotes… our nearest neighbor has a pet deer that lives in the their house…

  4. Stephen says:

    Just something I stumbled on and thought useful enough to share!

  5. Stephen says:

    My area of the woods was thought too far from town to be very vulnerable — especially given the amount of dogs and guns we country people have — but then two years ago 12 homes were hit on my county road within a single month. They were eventually caught because…a county sheriff lives around here.

  6. Stephen says:

    @Mudpuddle: I've heard those deer can be home invaders, too, especially if you feed them!

  7. Pingback: How To Be Your Own Bodyguard | Reading Freely

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