It’s 9:00 pm on Christmas Eve and you’re at a neighbor’s house drinking eggnog and exchanging gifts. Meanwhile, a man jimmies open your bedroom window, climbs inside, and then steals your jewelry, a TV, and your signed copy of Police Procedure and Investigation, a very valuable book. This crime is a burglary, not a robbery.
A burglary is normally defined as the breaking and entering (usually during the nighttime) a building for the purpose of committing a crime, such as larceny. A robbery is the taking of property by violence, force, or intimidation, such as being held up at gun point.
Okay, now that that’s put of the way let’s discuss investigating a burglary. First, many burglaries, or B&E’s (breaking and enterings), are committed by low level criminals who are looking for something they can sell quickly for twenty dollars – TV, DVD player, video game console, etc. – in order to purchase a hit or two of crack cocaine, or other drug (each hit, or crack rock costs $20).
Three crack rocks – $20 each.
These crooks are normally addicts who target friends and family members. They do so because the property is familiar to them, and because there’s a chance that family and friends won’t prosecute.
Crooks who commit B&E’s are often still on the property when homeowners return, therefore, burglaries are often “in-progress” calls. Also, many B&E calls are reported by neighbors who witness the bad guy climbing in or out of a neighbor’s window. This means that officers have a greater chance of encountering the thief during the act of committing the crime, a dangerous scenario for everyone involved.
All burglary calls should be treated as if the crime has just taken place, because the crook may still be in the area. Officers should use caution, and not fall into the tunnel-vision trap by focusing only on reaching the crime scene. After all, they could pass by the thief on the way.
Evidence collection at burglary scenes is important, of course. But the evidence has often been compromised before officers set foot on the scene. Victims feel violated and sometimes feel the urge to clean and straighten up the area. They do so hoping to eliminate the “dirty” feeling that often accompanies the knowledge that a stranger has pawed through your personal property. This cleaning can, and does, destroy vital evidence.
The most important evidence is normally found at the point of entry. This is where the thief may have left fingerprints (on the glass or doorknob), tool marks, footwear impressions, and/or blood (he may have cut himself while climbing through broken glass). The crook may also have left behind other trace evidence, such as fibers from his clothing, or hairs.
Sometimes, a burglary suspect leaves a clear trail. I’ve worked cases where the crooks dropped pieces of evidence all the way to their home a few doors away. I also worked a case where the dumb bad guy dropped his wallet inside the home he’d just burgled.
The two most important B&E facts to remember are:
1) Always activate your security system.
2) Keep your signed copy of Police Procedure and Investigation in a locked safe (when you’re not reading it, of course). Hiding this priceless item reduces the temptation to break in.