Neighbourhood Watch program offering home owners who have been burgled rebates to improve security

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It was the man’s heavy puffer jacket “in the middle of summer”, and odd behaviour outside a neighbour’s house that initially made Stephanie Munk suspicious.

“I was working from home and saw a dark shadow go past the window, down near the road,” she said.

“He went to come up my driveway and saw that the gate was shut so he we went to a neighbour’s driveway [three doors down] where there was no gate.

“He seemed to be having a look around at what he could access.”

Ms Munk confronted the man, who fled — or so she thought.

Still outside, and on the phone to police, she said the would-be thief had “looped around” and used an unlocked side gate to access her property.

“I saw he’d dumped the puffer jacket in my yard and I freaked because he could have been anywhere — garden, garage, [inside] my house,” she said. 

“I wasn’t robbed [but] my neighbour was.

“I did feel very secure [before] but after that, I was jumping at noises.

“I was scared that this person was going to come back. It really changed the way I felt and viewed my surroundings.”

ACT Policing connected Ms Munk to SupportLink, which provides home security assessments and referral services for victims of crime.

That’s how she heard about the Neighbourhood Watch Target Hardening pilot program, which offers a rebate of $550 on measures like gates, CCTV and alarm systems, sensor lights, and security screens, to home owners in Canberra who have been burgled in the past two years.

A woman in a green blouse looks out her front window at the street.

Ms Munk said the incident made her rethink her home security.(ABC News: Emmy Groves)

“It showed me some strong points that I had, like [security] screens … but also showed me what I could do to improve that,” she said. 

The federally-funded scheme was launched in November last year and is available in Canberra, Toowoomba and Highfields in Queensland, as well as three suburbs in Perth, WA, with a capacity for 500 participants.

But so far, fewer than 100 people have participated in the scheme, and applications close on February 29, 2024.

Maria Bennett, the CEO of Neighbourhood Watch Australasia, said it was about “making your home a harder target so when it’s being assessed by a potential offender, it’s too hard — they move on”.

‘Peace of mind’

Australian Bureau of Statistics data estimates 3.5 per cent of Australian households either experienced a break-in or attempted break-in in 2020-21, with around 2,000 reported to ACT Policing each year since 2020.

Research has found burglaries have significant implications, besides financial.

Police and justice resources are required to investigate, apprehend, prosecute, and incarcerate offenders, and victims can experience serious psychological effects, including distress and feelings of insecurity.

A man wearing a beaning standing in the shadows.

ABS data estimates 3.5 per cent of households experienced a burglary, or attempted burglary in 2020-21.(Flickr: *sax)

Ms Bennett said although the rebate was “not a lot”, it went “some way to offsetting the cost of installing target-hardening measures and giving people peace of mind”. 

The latter is arguably more important for people like Ms Munk, given the offender in her case was never found.

The latest Productivity Commission figures reveal ACT police are slower to charge offenders in property crime cases, than elsewhere in Australia.

In 2022, just 4 per cent of break-and-enter investigations were finalised within 30 days.

How do you deter burglars?

Around one in four victim-households are burgled again in the same year, according to the Australian Institute of Criminology, and ACT Policing has confirmed one-off offences in the territory are rare.

“Offenders who are familiar with the home and familiar with what the [resident] owns often return for a second bite of the cherry,” ACT Detective Inspector Elizabeth Swain said.

Criminologist and researcher, Associate Professor Natalie Gately from Edith Cowan University, added “some people, who are quite savvy, will know what they’ve taken and know there will be insurance to cover that and so, within a few weeks, there’ll be all the new stuff to steal, as well”.

Professor Gately said most would-be offenders would be deterred by the measures suggested by the Target Hardening scheme.

A woman with brown hair smiles.

Associate Professor Natalie Gately said most burglars can be classified as “opportunists” or “searchers”.(Supplied: Edith Cowan University)

“We classify burglars in three categories,” she said.

“Opportunists are those people, who just walk past a house, see an opportunity and will burgle. Searchers plan to go out and burgle but haven’t actually picked a property yet.”

The third type, planners, “are much less common but much more professional”.

“The majority of [burglars] are not experienced. The majority are either opportunists or searchers,” Professor Gately said.

“They will go to the next house; they will find somewhere that’s more suitable if they think they’re going to be caught by CCTV, by security cameras, or by alerting people to their presence.”

Her research, of young offenders and adults, found they consider access: open windows, open doors, windows that are easy to smash, and cover: are there tall or overgrown plants that they can hide behind? Can they be seen from the street, or by neighbours?, as key in assessing a property.

And, she said many were wise to the “old tricks” like, a “key rock”, or realistic-looking security cameras, leaving a radio or light on while you were away.

“For some, particularly young people, they will target homes that they think are empty and one of their most common strategies is to knock on the front door,” Professor Gately said. 

A rectangualr CCTV camera attached to a red post looking down

CCTV cameras are one option homeowners can consider to make their properties more secure.(ABC News: Andy Hyde)

‘Be prepared’

Ms Munk put her rebate towards CCTV and said the whole process made her “aware of just how naive” she was.

“I’ve learned a lot and changed a lot of things,” she said.

“A lock on my side gate, for example.

“I had a great big rock near the gate, which made it easy to stand on to jump over. When the [security assessor] was here and [identifying] those things, I was thinking, ‘of course! This is obvious’.

“Little noises still…grab my attention. But I don’t have that fear or hyper-awareness of my surroundings anymore.”

Ms Munk is urging anyone eligible for the fund to sign up and increase their home security measures.

“It’s better to be prepared; better to pre-empt this,” Ms Munk said.

“Do something now, if you can.”

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