The Crime Prevention Website


Most burglary and theft is opportunistic in nature.  This means that when the burglar gets out of bed in the morning (or afternoon) and decides to ‘do’ a few houses there will be no particular plan in his mind.  He’ll meet up with his mate and walk or drive around streets where he knows opportunities will be found.  There are a number of things that have to fall into place before he reaches a decision to break into a specific house.  What are his chances of being seen?  Even if he is seen will someone call the police or intervene?  What effort will be required to break in and will he be heard?  Once he’s committed the crime can he get away; does he have a choice of escape routes in case he’s disturbed? 

What he’s doing is weighing up the chances of being caught against the possible rewards and if the balance is in his favour then he’ll commit the crime.  This process is not like a military plan, where every last detail is meticulously considered; our burglar’s decision will often be on the spur of the moment, because he wants to remain unnoticed to potential witnesses as he walks along the street.  This is probably why houses along through-roads get burgled more than houses in fully enclosed cul-de-sacs for the simple reason that in a cul-de-sac the thief’s escape route is the same as the approach route and therefore he doubles his chance of being noticed.

So what is this telling us about where you live; what is it about your house that will attract the attention of the thief?  Studies of burglary distribution conducted by the police crime prevention staff and criminologists over the last few decades have revealed a number of features of housing design that seem to increase the chances of burglary and the key feature that seems to be responsible the most is the ease of access to the target (in this case, the house).   Related to this is the plain and simple fact that the more elevations a house presents to the thief the greater the chance that a burglary will take place.  An example of this concerns several hundreds of terraced houses in West London.  Looking at the distribution of many years of burglary reports (most of which were committed from the back alleyways) revealed that the end of terraced homes were burgled twice as often as mid terraced homes.  This same distribution was found in other areas close by where the housing was of a similar style.  The same study (by me, by the way) also revealed that even the mid terraced homes stood twice the chance of being burgled than a similar home without a back alleyway.  Extrapolated this shows that an end of terraced home with a back alleyway was four times more likely to get broken into than a mid terraced home with no back alley.

Another design of house that features in the statistics for a higher level of burglary is the good old ‘semi detached’, but of the sort where there is open access down the side of the house.  Often, the side access is used as a drive to a garage and some of these drives could be shared with the neighbour with each house having its own gate at the end of the drive towards the back of the house. 

Now you’ve read this it all seems a bit simple and obvious, but actually it wasn’t until the early 1980s that the police started to look at crime in this way.  One of the policemen who did was me and I produced the first ever guide for the public about gating back alleyways to prevent burglary, The Alleygaters Guide to Gating Alleys, and the original guide is available to download from the Library.

Do please read the Essentials below, but click on 'Common access problems that encourage crime' or 'Terraced housing and back alleyways' in the left-hand column for the detail


  • Prevent access along the side of your home
  • Always put access gates towards the front of the dwelling, so climbing can be seen from the street
  • Visually open metal gates are best
  • Maximise the effectiveness of your boundary fences by increasing their height or using thorny shrubs
  • If possible, lock access gates down to basement flats, but allow for emergency escape
  • Always use professionals to install powered gates to ensure that safety devices are used
  • Gate troublesome back alleyways at their entrances using open design steel gates
  • Always produce an operational and design requirement for the gate maker to work with