This paper begins by reviewing research on the cognitive processing used by residential burglars when choosing targets. We then attempt to make links between this processing and the notion of expertise in the broader cognitive literature, to the extent that, in comparison with novices, processing appears removed from explicit deliberation, tasks are carried out speedily and methodically, and recognition of relevant stimuli or cues is extremely fast, if not instantaneous. We then present new data from interviews with 50 experienced burglars. We cover the initial decision to burgle and selection of the target followed by, for the first time in the UK, a detailed discussion of search strategies within the property. Forty-five out of 50 burglars had a predictable search pattern and 37 spontaneously described their searches using terms signifying automaticity—an underlying feature of expertise. We discuss the implications of these findings in terms of primary and secondary crime prevention.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)935-949
Number of pages15
JournalThe British Journal of Criminology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2006


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