As winter beckons, households not only turn back their clocks and prepare for the cold and darkness but also brace themselves for an unfortunate seasonal tradition — the surge in burglaries.
The turning back of the clocks last weekend marks the official start of colder seasons, but it is also the onset of the annual burglary season, a trend that continues to plague communities year after year.
"The months of November to February are systematically the months during which we observe the most burglaries," Pascal Neyman, Chief of the Nivelles-Genappe police zone, told La Dernière Heure. The relationship between shorter days and longer nights becomes evident as thefts from homes see a notable increase.
The statistics paint a stark picture: November and December alone account for 22% of the total annual burglaries. Last year, that equated to just over 8,700 cases out of nearly 40,000 across the entire of 2022.
Early evening, often considered a prime time for burglars, witnesses a surge in criminal activities. Burglars seem to prefer the twilight hours, typically around 17:00 to 18:00, over the dead of night. Thieves choose these hours as it's not too dark, allowing them to operate discreetly, nor too light to draw attention.
The preference of thieves to commit their crimes during this season can on the one hand be explained by the early onset of the night, but also by the fact that citizens, as the holiday season approaches, tend to be away from their homes. Shopping, visiting Christmas markets and holiday travel make them easy targets.
Winter burglaries aren't exclusive to rural areas; large urban centres also experience an upsurge in incidents following the shift to wintertime. Marleen Coppens, the Commissioner of the Prevention Department in the Montgomery police zone in Brussels, told La Dernière Heure that while some burglaries happen in the dead of night, the majority occur when homes are unoccupied.
The current period, between 16:00 and 20:30, is particularly risky. With nights falling earlier, thieves can more easily scope their targets by observing factors like lighting, mail accumulation, and the absence of activity.
Spotting empty homes
Despite the fact that more people are away on holiday for longer periods of time in the summer, this element of lighting is key as it makes it easier to spot vacant properties.
In summer, it's typical not to see lights on in houses before 21:00, but during the dark winter months, the absence of light becomes a telltale sign for burglars that a home has been left empty.
Coppens emphasised the role of technology in safeguarding homes against theft. While not everyone can afford a security system, there are alternatives to simulate occupancy, such as leaving lights, radios, or televisions on, setting random lighting patterns with smart bulbs, or installing motion-activated lighting.
Authorities also advise people to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity, even minor concerns.