Any family can fall victim to home invasion or burglary-not by criminals who rob us of our possessions, but by our routines that allow them into our lives in order to rob us of our souls. Rational choice theory focuses on how to deter burglary. By examining the Rational Choice theory and Routine Activity theory we can see why criminals offend after weighing the rewards against the punishments.
The Petit family found this out the hard way when two burglars invaded their home because they were not happy with the bounty that they received from the last two homes they invaded. Unfortunately for them this invasion resulted in the death of a mother and her two daughters. Burglary occurs every 15 seconds in the United States and this tragedy could and can happen to anyone.
Introduction How and why do people make decisions to commit burglaries? What runs through the heads of criminals that ultimately makes them choose to be deviant? By looking at Rational Choice Theory and Routine Activity Theory we can analyze the who, what, when, where and how of these crimes. After discovering this information we can determine ways to prevent or deter further victimization from burglars. American families move to cul-de-sacs envisioning a safe and happy environment for their children. We assume that in this environment we are all safe from the traffic and harm at the end of the circle.
This neighborhood is surrounded by houses that are occupied by other happy families, whose children join your children in play. Families move here to feel safe and secure and believe that in these neighborhoods everyone will look out for each other and that since the houses are so intertwined that no one would possible think about breaking into any homes in this area. While these neighborhoods may provide protection from vehicular traffic the sad reality is that even these neighborhoods have fallen victim to theft. Any family can fall victim to home invasion or burglary-not by criminals who rob us of our possessions, but by our routines that allow them into our lives in order to rob us of our souls.
Rational choice theory focuses on how to deter burglary. By examining the Rational Choice theory and Routine Activity theory we can see why criminals offend after weighing the rewards against the punishments. It is important to look at the definition of Burglary and Home Invasion. Burglary is the “breaking and entering of the dwelling of another at night with intent to commit a felony therein. It is an offense against possession and habitation” (Farlex). Of course they are varying degrees of the offense depending on the circumstances. “A burglary in the third degree is committed by a person knowingly entering or remaining unlawfully in a building with intent to commit a crime therein.
When the same offense is committed with deadly weapons, or when it results in physical injury to a person, it is burglary in the first degree” (Farlex). Home Invasion has a very similar definition without the statement of “at night.” Both crimes are punishable by imprisonment up to 20 years and fines up to $5000 depending on the degree of the crime (USLegal). So when a criminal makes the decision to burglarize a home they must weigh the rewards of what they are going to receive against these possible costs. The criminal opportunity for burglary became more prevalent when both adults in the household were working.
Somewhere around the 1960’s more women began to work which means that both heads of the household were now out of the home during the day. There were now homes “unattended, absent a guardian, during the workday [and this] is one of three factors that lead to the increased probability of criminal activity” (Clarke). The other two factors are a motivated offender and a suitable target. So while everyone is at work they are leaving their homes vulnerable to criminals who may be people who you may know.
“The typical house burglar is a male who lives within a couple of miles of your home” (Home). Most burglars weigh the positives with the negatives when making a choice to commit their crime. Many of them choose to commit their burglary (or home invasion) during the day because it is safer and there are less chances of being caught. About 57% of these crimes are committed between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. while about 42% are committed at night (home). Many burglaries are committed by repeat offenders.
In the Connecticut Nightmare, a string of burglaries led to the final home invasion and the death of a mother and her two daughters. Many people believe that they are safe where they live; in fact this home invasion occurred in a town that was listed as one of the “100 Best Places to Live.” The Petit’s, whom were the victims, lived in a “family-oriented community” with an “excellent academic reputation” (Swartz-Turfle). The day before Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes invaded the home of the Petit’s they committed a string of burglaries in the same neighborhood.
These two were known criminals who had been in and out of prison for the past several years. “Komisarjevsky was 22 years old in 2002 when he was sentenced to nine years in prison, with six years special parole for several counts of burglary and larceny for a string of house break-ins. He was granted parole in April 2007” (Sullo). It was shortly after Komisarjevsky’s tether came off that he began to burglarize again.
His partner in crime, Hayes, had a problem with crack addiction. He was doing well after being released from prison until he ran into a prostitute that he knew who offered him some crack and then he was back to his old habits. “Hayes has offenses dating back to 1980. He was sentenced in 2003 to five years in prison for third-degree burglary, after he broke into a vehicle and stole a purse in New Hartford” (Sullo). After the two were released from prison they met at a halfway house. Komisarjevsky was ready for his next thrill and Hayes needed money so he could get a place to live to meet his parole requirements. This is when they began their string of burglaries.
“The decision to engage in burglary [is] motivated by (1) the desire for money and, (2) the influence of other people. Burglars were also influenced by the risk associated with committing the burglary (location of house, presence of neighbors, occupancy), the reward associated with the burglary, and the ease with which the burglary could be committed. Most of the offenders [are] more sensitive to perceived risks than to the perceived rewards” (Piquero). This definitely fits the reasons why these two repeat offenders committed their acts of crime. They both had the desire for monetary gain. Besides money, “for [Komisarjevsky], it was about power, people are very vulnerable when they are asleep” (Sullo). Unlike many burglars who commit their offenses during the day he got a thrill by knowing that he is able to steal everything that he wants right under their noses. Etiology
Criminals make a choice to either conform or to be deviant. An understanding of the ability to “choose” is the concept of rationality which is explained in Rational Choice Theory. “Offenders make a series of choices about whether to offend, which targets to victimize, how to complete the crime effectively, and how to avoid detection” (Lilly 278). As with the criminals in the Petit case, they choose to burglarize to get money to support their habits and/or lifestyle. Some criminal motivations include temperament, intelligence, family upbringing, and neighborhoods.
Also individuals can commit a non-violent crime when they are offending by themselves but then when they are influenced by another offender the circumstances can be extremely altered. Growing up in a disorganized area can also have a large impact on whether or not someone has the motivation to commit a crime. If a criminal has many motivations for committing their crimes then they will commit more crimes.
This is especially true if these offenders have committed several burglaries over the years. Although motivations are very important when it comes to understanding why criminals choose to commit burglaries, it is not the only factor. “Crime is not simply due to underlying motivations; it also involves a concrete choice that must be made if these motivations are to result in an actual criminal act” (Lilly 276).
In the Petit case, Komisarjevsky saw the Petit mother and her two daughters at a grocery store in a very nice Chrysler Pacifica. At that moment he started to calculate his decision. “He recalls thinking like a crook: when there’s a nice car, there’s good money” (Swartz). From that point he decided to follow them home to see if he was right. The Petit’s drove home, not realizes that a predator lurked not far behind them. They pulled into a neighborhood that Komisarjevsky was very familiar with and he had actually “committed several burglaries there over the years” (Swartz).
This is when he made his “choice.” According to Rational Choice theorists, the decision to offend is an outcome from weighing the potential costs and rewards of their act (Wright 197). When Komisarjevsky realized that the Petit’s lived in a neighborhood he was very familiar with he knew that the benefits of burglarizing this home was much greater than the costs.
Every criminal act involves a criminal making a choice and Komisarjevsky had made his and Hayes would help him get the most from this home invasion. Through Komisarjevsky’s and the Petit’s daily routines they came to the same place and Komisarjevsky found his target. This is explained by Routine Activity Theory which is an extension of the Rational Choice Theory. A crime is committed based on three criteria; “(1) a suitable target, (2) an absence of capable guardians, and (3) a motivated offender” (Burke). We already know that they have found their suitable target.
They are going to burglarize the Petit’s because they assume that there are going to be “substantial valuables and minimal chances for apprehension” (Burke). An offender (who commits their burglaries during the day) will choose their target (person or object) based on how consistent the routine of the person or the owner of the object is. This way they know that they will not have to come in contact with the owners of the house and this drastically reduces the chances of them getting caught.
In the Petit case this does not matter because Komisarjevsky does not care if they are home, he just needed to make sure that everyone would be asleep. The second criteria are capable guardians, who can be anyone who is able to deter crime; neighbors, parents, and police officers. Since they had already committed several burglaries in this neighborhood they are confident that the police do not patrol this neighborhood and that the neighbors have not noticed them before so it is unlikely that they will notice them this time. Therefore by their past experiences they are not concerned with committing another burglary in this neighborhood. They have also done their homework by following the Petit’s to see how many people live in the home so that they will not be surprised once they are inside.
The third criteria is that the individuals must be a motivated offender. Anyone who is able and willing to commit a crime is a motivated offender. There are many reason that Komisarjevsky and Hayes are motivated to commit this burglary. For Hayes, he was not satisfied with the amount of goods and money that they stole in the prior days. He was being greedy because he needed to make sure that he had enough money to support his crack addiction and have money in order to afford his own place to live. Komisarjevsky was motivated for the sheer excitement of the act. He explained that “robbing a house is better that any drug [he’s] ever tried” (Swartz). He is also motivated because he believes that there is a great chance that his reward will be “good money.”
The main reason that this burglary and many other burglaries are committed is due to people’s daily routines which affect the likelihood that they may or may not be victimized. “Routine Activity theory states that criminal offenses are related to the nature of everyday patterns of social interaction” (Sutton). Once there is a motivated offender, who has identified his suitable target and has made the “rational choice” that they are going to commit this burglary because the rewards are definitely going to outweigh their punishments, then this crime is going to occur. As more suitable targets are identified there is a greater chance that criminal activity will increase.
Prediction and Prevention By analyzing the who, what, when, where, and how of an individual committing burglary we can predict why these types of crimes are committed and what we can do to prevent them from occurring in the future. Komisarjevsky made a good point when he stated that “where there is a nice car, there’s good money.” We set ourselves up to be robbed of our possessions and our souls. If we choose to show that we have money it could possibly set us up to be a target, especially if we don’t protect ourselves. Rational Choice theory can help us better understand what motivates someone to commit a crime. As we have seen burglaries are usually committed for monetary gain.
If we look at why crimes are committed we can predict where the crimes may occur. In neighborhoods, such as the Petit’s, where there are homes with high values there is likely many valuables inside these homes. In their neighborhood the “median family income was $113, 587, with a median home price around $400,000” (Swartz). Komisarjevsky and Hayes had already committed burglaries in this neighborhood so they knew that there were no crime prevention methods in this neighborhood. The Petit’s did not have an alarm or a dog so there was nothing to alarm the Petit’s that anything was wrong. If communities are working on situational crime prevention, this also helps to predict where crimes of burglary may occur due to the neighborhoods that do and do not have preventions in place.
In neighborhoods that have neighborhood watch, with houses with alarms, and dogs, criminals are much less likely to commit burglaries in these areas because the risk of being caught is substantially higher. By examining what motivates a criminal to be deviant, we can develop a plan to prevent the likelihood of a similar crime occurring. Crime opportunities can be fought or blocked through situational crime prevention measures. “We can develop strategies to increase the effort needed to commit a crime [and] reduce the rewards of the crime” (Lilly 273).
To increase the effort needed to commit the crime all we would have to do is something as simple as installing an alarm or putting in security (motion sensor) lights. Deviant behavior can also be prevented if we can keep the offender out of the situation that caused them to believe that they needed to commit the burglary in the first place. As with Komisarjevsky and Hayes, this is all they knew and they believed that they had no other option. They had been in prison for so many years that they did not know how to live on the outside.
Komisarjevsky had been incarcerated since he was 22 years old. He didn’t know how to get a good job and I don’t believe that he had any intention to learn how to do that. Job creation could change an offender’s routine and take them off of the streets. The problem with this is that so many of the offenders have been incarcerated for so long that they don’t have the skills to hold a job. Also, who would want to hire a criminal, especially one who has been incarcerated for years for theft? Many others believe that putting harsher penalties in place could deter the burglars from committing further break-ins (Wright 207). This is very controversial and has been disproven many times. Although burglaries make choices to commit their crimes many of them believe that there is no chance that they can be caught.
They have committed so many offenses that they believe that they are invincible. “Most burglars did not even think about being caught” and they do “not fear apprehension” (Piquero). Komisarjevsky had just spent the last 8 years incarcerated and he was right back doing what he knew best. He had no fear of being caught, burglary was his drug and he was not about to give it up. I do not believe that he would have stopped committing burglaries even if the punishment for his crime, if caught, was the death penalty. This was his lifestyle and how he made money.
In Connecticut, where Komisarjevsky committed his crimes, the state has the death penalty. Although burglary does not usually result in the death penalty, what crimes you commit while committing a burglary can give you the death penalty. In this case Komisarjevsky took his crimes to the next level. He must have had some adrenaline rush because he began his offense that night with the beating of Mr. Petit. When they committed their crimes they were well aware of the punishments in their state for attempted murder and murder yet this did not stop Komisarjevsky or Hayes from committing murder.
Another strategy for fighting crime opportunities is to stop the “already motivated offender from committing a specific break-in” (Wright 206). In this strategy all we need is to protect ourselves well enough that the chances of the criminal being caught in the act is greater than the reward that they may receive from their act. Through situational crime prevention we can see how “emphasizing the importance of personal security rewards available makes it harder [for offenders] to commit a crime” (Lain). For example, all you have to do is install alarms and cameras, put up security signs in yards, and have neighborhood watch.
It can also be something as simple as trimming back the bushes at your home or not putting up a ten foot security fence that no one can see through. If your home is very visible from the streets this will help prevent the chances of you being victimized. The biggest crime prevention that has deterred most offenders is a member of your family, the family dog. Homes that have dogs are much less likely to be victimized because dogs are threatening and because they alert people in and out of the home that something is wrong.
The biggest prediction and prevention method for burglary is through situational crime prevention. If we can educate our community about how to protect themselves and to look out for others, this can deter much of the crime that occurs. Recommended Criminal Justice Responses
The final question is how do you process these offenders? What process is going to prevent recidivism? We will only be able to reduce the incidence of burglary by understanding what factors offenders take into consideration when committing a crime. In “interviews with convicted burglars the certainty of apprehension rather than the severity of punishment is the major deterrent” to prevent them from offending (Sutton). If a burglar knows that there is a great chance that they are going to be apprehended then the costs definitely outweigh the rewards therefore they are unlikely to consider that burglary.
If a burglar believes that they have a great chance of being caught they would reconsider if the reward is going to outweigh that chance of them being apprehended. Many believe that the likelihood that a criminal would be incarcerated for a lengthy imprisonment for their crime would be a strong factor that the criminal would have to weigh against the rewards before committing their crime.
Every criminal has the chance of getting caught, but in order for this to have any effect on the offender; they must believe that there is a great chance of this happening. In Komisarjevsky and Hayes case the problem was that they did not believe that they were ever going to be caught. Komisarjevsky was just released from prison after almost an eight year sentence and was still on parole. Hayes was also just released from prison and was also on parole.
Both offenders knew that if they were caught again then they were very likely to spend many, many more years in prison. Unfortunately for them, they believed that the rewards outweighed the probability that they were going to get caught so they followed through with their act. For them and many other offenders, the threat of incarceration in not a deterrent for their crimes and way of life.
Although incarceration may not deter crimes once someone commits a burglary we should incarcerate to incapacitate. Prison reduces the opportunity that a criminal has to be deviant to the general public. If an offender is not in the community then there is no possible way for them to recidivate. This is true while people are in prison but if they do not have a life sentence then we need to be more concerned with rehabilitating them so that they do not recidivate once released from prison. If we were to lock them up and throw away the key then this would be an easy solution but they have to be released at some point. If an offender is a first time offender then we need to make every effort to rehabilitate them.
Prisons should be segregated so that first time offenders of non-violent crimes are in a separate prison so that they are not hardened and have the opportunity for treatment programs that could help them realize that there are other options out there to make money besides taking it. If there are offenders who just don’t get it and continue to recidivate then there should be a law of “three strikes and you’re out.” If criminals are “rational” and choose to engage in deviant or criminal behavior then they deserve to be punished. We need to punish people for what they have done. Komisarjevsky and Hayes were repeat offenders. If they would have served their full sentences or if they would have been on house arrest for a longer period of time then these string of burglaries ending with the murder of the three Petit’s would have never happened.
These types of offenders who continue to recidivate and go through the system just need to be incarcerated for life. Obviously at this point we are not able to rehabilitate them. All offenders respond to punishment and deterrents differently. When sentencing offenders for burglary crimes, they need to be handled on a case by case basis. For some offenders, they could be placed into an intensive community based treatment program and there is the possibility that they may learn from their crimes and never recidivate ever again. For others, like Komisarjevsky and Hayes, it doesn’t matter what the punishment is. This is what they know how to do and this is how they survive. Many burglars have described their crimes as a very addicting drug that they cannot get away from while others use this crime to gain money in order to support their drug addictions.
Whatever the reason, criminals like Komisarjevsky and Hayes could be incarcerated over and over again and would continue to recidivate. For these types of offenders we need to lock them up and throw away the key because rehabilitation programs would not work for them. So it is hard to say exactly how to treat offenders of burglary and home invasion crimes. It is almost as if the sentencing and the treatment plans need to be based on the criminals past and the knowledge that we have about this person. Each case needs to be treated individually. If incarcerated, we need to have better transitional programs to get them back into the real world.
Once released they need to be on a tether for a great length of time to ensure that they can maintain a job and continue rehabilitation outside of incarceration to better ensure that they will not recidivate. Burglaries or home invasion will always continue to occur. What is important is to remember the fact that “rational choice theory focuses on prevention as a deterrent to crime rather than punishment” (Sutton). To discourage crime, communities need to take a firm stand to prevent deviance in their neighborhoods. This goes back to situational crime prevention. In order to prevent crime we need to look out for ourselves and others. We need to educate people on what they can do to protect themselves from being violated.
Conclusion Imagine waking up one morning to your home in dirarray. The drawers are flung open, stuff is thrown all over the room, and many things are missing or broken. What is going on in your mind? What is missing? Are they still in the house? Is everyone okay? Then you realize, you were lucky; everyone is okay and the only thing missing is $140 in cash. The next day you here about a horrific home invasion that resulted in the beating of one man and the death of the rest of his family, including his wife and two daughters. You listen closely to the news and realize that this home is only a few blocks away from your home. This happened to Robert Bergamo Jr. He said the only thing he could think was “we were within 24 hours of being that family” (Swartz).
What many people don’t think about is that what happened to the Petit family could happen to anyone. They were simply asleep in their home in what they thought was a safe environment, when two intruders broke into their home. Mr. Petit was almost beaten to death and left for dead in his basement while the rest of his family was defenseless. Mrs. Petit was drove to the bank to withdrawal money and then taken back to her home where she was raped and strangled to death. Their two children were tied to the bedposts upstairs where they died of smoke inhalation because Hayes needed to make sure that he got rid of all of the evidence. Now just stop and think; this was originally just a burglary for the purpose of obtaining as much money as possible and ended in this tragedy. I don’t know about you but this scares me to death.
Every night when I go to sleep I think about whether or not my home is safe and secure enough to protect my family. I also think about whether or not my friends and family are educated about burglaries and home invasion. The greatest way that we can protect ourselves is to be prepared. Everyone needs to know what burglars look for when choosing a target and making the choice to commit their crime. So the next time you are looking to buy that new expensive coach purse or that top of the line Mercedes Benz stop and consider who you are going to run into through your daily routines. Remember the statement Komisarjevsky made; “where there’s a nice car, there’s good money” (Swartz). Do you want to become the next target? All it takes is a motivated offender who has found his perfect target and then ultimately makes his “choice.” Everything comes down to choice.
Through Rational Choice theory and Routine Activity theory we explored how a criminal, through his daily routine, chooses to commit a crime. By analyzing these theories we can predict when and where burglaries may occur. More important than being able to predict where a crime may occur is the fact that we should be able to prevent burglaries from occurring in the first place. By involving the communities and educating individuals about situational crime prevention we can take away the attractiveness of the burglary. If there is no reward, there is no reason for the burglary to occur.