Serial Burglary Case Study
Serial Burglary: Solved!
Every time it was the same. The back door was found standing open, mutilated by the sheer force of the pry bars. Inside the Quick Service Restaurant was a chaotic mess. The burglars had methodically trashed the place in their efforts to force open the safe and destroy evidence that could lead to getting caught. Their method of operation was the same. In four months, the burglars struck 19 times to one brand in a 4 county area with several sites hit more than once.
With so many incidents occurring so fast, the company’s security, operations and facilities management were exasperated. The stolen cash and deposits from the safe were devastating to profitability, but the added expenses of repairing the damage made it much worse. Over $350,000 was lost from the theft of cash, expenses to repair the building and equipment, cleaning up the mess and destruction, and fortifying the facilities in efforts to stop the burglaries.
Other fast food chains were also victimized at the same time, likely by the same burglars. Here’s what the burglars did -- what is called their “signature”:
• Phone lines to the alarm systems were cut at the telephone junction box out at the street to disable alarm systems.
• Back doors were pried open with heavy crow bars.
• Metal boxes housing recording devices were forced open.
• Security video recordings were stolen.
• Alarm panels were opened and the wiring ripped out.
• Safes were damaged -- pried open by using wedges and hammering on safe door handles.
• Cash and deposits were stolen from the safes.
• Contents of fire extinguishers were emptied in office areas to hamper the gathering of evidence.
• Thousands of dollars in damage was inflicted on the facilities and equipment in each incident.
Some police departments were investigating the burglary in their jurisdiction as a single event, unaware of the serial pattern of the crimes. In some instances, there was no active investigation of the burglaries. In other cases, burglary detectives within the same police department were not aware that other investigators were investigating similar crimes at similar locations. Many other independent and major chain locations were also burglarized with the same signature.
Better communications was initiated between company security representatives and police jurisdictions and among the various law enforcement agencies. Included in improved communications was the formation of a task force to review all burglaries with the same methods of operation within the affected counties. Representatives from other victimized quick serve restaurants were invited to participate in the task force. Police agencies stepped up their investigations and patrols. Internal records within the company were reviewed by security representatives.
A business case on physical security enhancement and improvement was presented to company officials. The proposal outlined the times, dates, thefts and damages of the burglaries. The methods of operations were presented with how protective security measures were defeated and what fortifications were needed. The proposal also listed the time frames needed for installations. The major goal for the proposal was to obtain funding to strengthen the facilities and security equipment to stop the burglaries. A secondary objective was to assist police investigations in the identification, apprehension and prosecution of the criminals. The proposal was accepted and work began on the upgrades to the buildings and security equipment.
Alarms, recording devices, and back doors were all strengthened to withstand the burglary attacks. Procedures for securing and depositing funds were changed. The methods of attacks were carefully analyzed to apply appropriate countermeasures to protect the targeted safe.
Building concentric circles of protection around the targets of attack had a payoff within a few days. Enhancements to the alarm systems alerted police when the alarm lines were cut. Responding to an alarm, the police thwarted the burglary. Attempts had been made to pry open the back door. A few days later, entry was gained by the burglars, but physical security features added to the safe defied the attempted forced entry. In the third week after the plans were implemented, a citizen reported an audible alarm at one of the restaurants. The police observed several individuals running from behind the restaurant and gave chase. One of the individuals was found hiding under brush in the neighborhood. A vehicle was found several blocks away with a number of burglary tools in the back seat. The car was registered to a convicted burglar living within the four county area of the burglaries. Fingerprints were lifted from the burglary tools left at the scene. The individual confessed to the crimes and named the others in the burglary ring. All were convicted of over 30 burglaries of fast food restaurants and restitution of all thefts and damages was ordered by the court.
Keys to Success:
There were several keys to the success in stopping the burglaries and subsequent thefts and damage. A broad view was needed to analyze the situation and to coordinate the layers of response necessary to protect the businesses. The comprehensive plan included coordination of efforts between the company security representatives and law enforcement agencies, securing financial support, hardening the target by fortifying each method of attack and sharing intelligence information. Police patrols educated with the practices and methods of the burglars, and quick response to the alarms, led to the apprehension and prosecution of all members of the burglary ring.
This comprehensive model for communication, cooperation and integration of investigation of serial crimes has been used by the company and police agencies across the country to solve other series of burglaries and robberies. The apprehension of criminals have made restaurants across the country more profitable and safer places to work by the simple yet complicated process of fortifying identified points of weakness.