Jun 15, 2019 | Updated: 11:54 AM EDT

Using the Virtual Environment to Study Crime

May 20, 2019 11:09 AM EDT

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Using the Virtual Environment to Study Crime
(Photo : University of Portsmouth)

According to a new study, the expertise of experienced burglars puts them streets ahead of householders, and even well ahead of other criminals. The outcomes of this study have the potential of leading to a step-change in how we fight this crime.

Leading a group of international researchers from the Netherlands, Dr. Claire Nee of the University of Portsmouth has pioneered the use of virtual environments to study crime.

The study used 160 people including experienced burglars, other criminals and those with no criminal experience to re-enact burglary and scout a virtual neighborhood, choose a house to burgle and burgle it.

The results showed a remarkable degree of knowledge and skill by experienced burglars in choosing which home to target, how to navigate inside, and what to take, revealing unprecedented insight into crime prevention.

Dr. Nee said that the two best ways to protect the home from burglary are to try and make it appear as if someone is at home, and try to not have hiding places for burglars in the garden or, if it happens, to install security lighting.

Explaining further, Dr. Nee said that this was the first study in the world to observe burglars as they scoped the neighborhood, and they covered significantly more ground in the same time as the other groups, appraising the rear of the properties and the ends of the terraces. Having entered their chosen property at the back, they quickly navigated upstairs to high-value areas focusing on portable, expensive items like jewelry, laptops, tablets, and wallets.

Moreover, according to the study, they were also much more efficient than other criminals and non-criminals who were far less discriminate in what they stole and spent more time in lower value areas on the ground floor.

Also, the results of the research revealed apparent differences in the way burglars navigate the process information in the neighborhood, compared to other criminals and non-criminals which they will use to advise homeowners, the police and insurance companies in helping people protect themselves from crime.

The lead researcher believed that using virtual reality to observe offenders undertaking residential burglary is reaping the rewards, giving researchers precise crime prevention information.

Law-abiding individuals are notoriously poor at understanding burglary risk and the opportunities they leave for crime inside and outside their homes. The researchers hope research like this helps them get inside the expert burglar's head, giving them much more chance of protecting their properties.

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