Home Invaders vs Burglars

The Psychology of Home Invaders vs. Burglarshome invaders

We have a study of the psychology of home invaders and burglars today. It is good to understand the differences.


Two potential threats to the security of your home are burglars and home invaders. Both types of criminals operate on the basis of different motives, behaviors, and personality features, and will require different countermeasures to deal with. Economic Order crime is a very general criminology term for theft. Theft can be further categorized as confrontational, or non-confrontational. Confrontational theft involves the offender directly confronting the victim- examples   include mugging, purse snatching, armed robbery of a bank or store, or home invasion. Non confrontational theft includes shoplifting, pilfering, scams and cons, embezzlement, and burglary. Their is not direct confrontation of the victim, at least not intentionally (Bartol and Bartol, 2007). A detailed discussion of home security and defense– preventative and reactive measures is beyond the scope of this article. Here I wanted to provide a look at the two types of offenders, to provide a foundation of information for further discussion.

 The Burglar

Burglars, by definition, enter a home or business they believe to be unoccupied, with the exception of one type of burglar. Generally speaking, based on their method of offense, burglars are Non confrontational – they do not expect to encounter the residence of the home, or owner of the business- their response if discovered is uncertain, They may fight if surprised, or may flee.


Macyoung and Macyoung (2008a) describe a typology of burglars based on their MO (Modus Operandi) or method of operation, which in turns reflects many aspects of their personality, and motives.

  • Opportunistic- No planning, no premeditation, spontaneous, impulsive, they will grab items off a porch or lawn, or walk in an open door and grab some items and run.
  • Smash and grab- No noise discipline, no skill required, little if any planning- they kick in a door, elbow out a window, grab whatever they can, and run
  • Prowler- More disciplined, careful, alert, organized, they enter a home by force, damaging property, or with minimal force, or through an open window or unlocked door, and ransack a home, wrecking it in the process looking for valuables,
  • Cat burglar- Organized, meticulous, fit, skilled, stealth entry, different from the other types, as they will enter an occupied residence at night, and burgle without waking the occupants,
  • Locust – a team of burglars who will strip everything of value from a residence
  • Sniper often professionals looking for one specific target item

(Macyoung and Macyoung, 2008a).


Burglars vary in terms of their skill level, and professionalism. Amateurs tend to be opportunists, or smash and grabbers, less frequently prowlers. Amateurs tend to be young, using drugs or alcohol pre-, co-, and post- offense, impulsive reckless, disorganized, sloppy and careless. They tend to keep what they steal, or sell it to acquaintances. The motive for many burglars is to acquire money for drugs, or items that can be sold or traded for drugs. Cat burglars, locusts, snipers, and oftentimes prowlers are pros. They are careful, meticulous, sober, physically fit, experienced, a little older, organized, and tend to steal higher end items and move them to fences, who are brokers in stolen merchandise.

 The Home Invader

Home invaders are a very different breed, They enter an occupied residence, or one they believe is occupied, using forced entry, violence, shock, and intimidation, They restrain family members, may torture them or hold them hostage, ransack the house, may rape, and may kill. They tend to violent and brutal , and a home invasion is a very traumatizing experience for the victims.


While the more professional burglars pride themselves on their stealth and skill and experience a thrill and sense of professional pride at their burglaries, Home invaders are confrontational –that is the point- the attack on the home and it’s occupants is part of the rush . They are not just seeking material things, but sometimes vengeance for a real or imagined offense, and very often, a reputation on the street. Burglars tend to operate alone, while home invaders tend to operate in groups. They may have a gang affiliation, or be less tightly connected, a group of offenders who has decided to join t together for a specific criminal enterprise- short term independent contractors if you will. I am not being facetious- for many offenders, crime is their main source of income, and the more organized and professional ones will be running a business- often a lucrative one.


The home invaders know the occupants, and have targeted them on that basis. About 60-70% of reported crimes are perpetrated by family, friends, or acquaintances. (Bartol and Bartol, 2007. The occupants may be involved with criminal activity themselves, and the invaders are seeking cash, guns or drugs, or may be looking for information on pending court cases with as co-defendant, or seeking vengeance over a drug deal gone bad, or someone acting as an informant (“snitches get stitches or wind up in ditches”) An obvious preventative measure is do not get involved in a criminal enterprise.


In what criminologists refer to as the Propinquity Hypothesis, some home invasions are also carried out by certain ethnic groups against others in the same group- e.g., recent Asian immigrants may be targeted by Asian gangs, as they know that it is against cultural norms to report such matters to the police (Valentine, 1995). Recent immigrants from certain Asian countries may be accustomed to corrupt, bribery driven police forces, and thus have a sense of futility about reporting crimes. They may also view being a crime victim private, family matter, rather than a law enforcement matter (Personal Communication, Harris. S. 2012)



An understanding of the different motives and behaviors of these two offender types is critical to countering them effectively.


Bartol, C.R., and Bartol, A.M. (2007). Criminal Behavior: A Psychosocial Approach.(8th Edition). Prentice Hall: NY

Heinonen, J.A., and Eck, J.E. (2014). Home Invasion Robbery Guide No. 70 Retrieved May 11, 2014, from http://www.popcenter.org/problems/home_invasion_robbery/print/

Macyoung, M, and Macyoung, D.G. (2008 a). Types of Burglars. No Nonsense Self Defense.   Retrieved May 12, 2014, from http://www.nononsenseselfdefense.com/burglary.html


Macyoung, M, and Macyoung, D.G. (2008b). Home Defense. No Nonsense Self Defense. Retrieved May 11, 2014, from http://www.nononsenseselfdefense.com/homedefense.html


Valentine, B. (1995). Gang Intelligence Manual. Paladin Press: Boulder, CO.

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