Police use science to catch teen thief

Burglary mock up pic - burglar thief breaking into house stealing silhouette fashion model
Burglary mock up pic - burglar thief breaking into house stealing silhouette fashion model
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A prolific teenage burglar was caught red-handed exactly where science had predicted he would be – thanks to a new police technique being pioneered in Sheffield.

South Yorkshire Police is among the first forces in the UK to use a new method known as optimal foraging.

It puts officers in ‘the right place at the right time’ by applying the theory burglars will target a whole neighbourhood, rather than just one home, over the course of several weeks.

After a spate of 12 break-ins around the Norton, Heeley and Gleadless areas of Sheffield, police applied optimal foraging to predict where the culprit might strike next.

And, when they set out on patrol to look for him, the 17-year-old was caught in the act on Hemsworth Road in Norton – about to break into his 13th home.

Inspector Ian Stubbs, in charge of Woodseats and Gleadless Valley Safer Neighbourhood Teams, said: “This offender was caught by staff on operation who found him just where we predicted he would be.

“Optimal foraging effectively tells us where the next offence is likely to occur.

“It helps to ensure we put staff in the right place at the right time.”

Sheffield Youth Court heard the teenager, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was tracked down three weeks ago, on April 15.

Joanne Lewis Crooks, prosecuting, told the court: “He was wearing gloves and had armed himself with a hammer, which he used to try to smash the window of a property. When that failed he picked up a brick and threw it through. After he was arrested he said he had intended to steal things from inside the house to sell.”

Patterns identified through optimal foraging linked the youth to 12 previous burglaries in Norton, Heeley and Gleadless, committed between November last year and April this year.

Laptops, electrical equipment, jewellery, cash and clothing had been stolen.

After his arrest the youth admitted them all, and pleaded guilty to 12 burglaries and one attempted burglary.

He was sentenced to a 12-month Youth Rehabilitation Order, a three-month curfew, and 160 hours of unpaid work.

Insp Stubbs said burglars were ‘opportunists’ looking for ‘easy pickings’ and urged people to make sure premises were secure, mobiles were not left on tables in cafes or handbags left open.

He added: “Burglary has been such a big concern for us for such a long time, so it is great to get this success.”

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