Midnight Burglar…At My House: Did The Officers Handle The Call Properly?
A few years ago our Christmas vacation took an unexpected twist. It was unusual to say the least. First, we left fairly warm temperatures and sunny skies in coastal Georgia so we could spend some time at our house in North Carolina (near Mayberry, of course). Well, who would’ve expected that we’d be slammed with a pretty powerful winter storm, the same storm system that crippled much of the east coast. And who would’ve figured I’d have unexpected guests show up a little after midnight on our first night there.
The snow was coming down quite heavily and, unfortunately, placed a tremendous burden on the branches of several newly-planted evergreens in the backyard. The weight of the wet snow caused a few of the young trees to bend until their tops rested on the already white ground. And me, not wanting to lose either of those precious Deodar (Himalayan) Cedars, suited up and braved the cold and blowing snow to lend them a hand with survival.
Sounds brave, right? But what I actually did was simply slip on a jacket, boots, and gloves, and venture out into the moonless night to shake the snow from their branches (not so heroic after all, huh?).
Since I was already outside I also decided to clear a “restroom”spot for the family poodle. Then, with my chores complete I headed back inside to work on the rewrites of my book. I’m a late-night writer, which may account for the many errors seen on this blog.
Anyway, I settled into a comfortable chair with my laptop and was well into fixing a scene per my really sharp editor when my doorbell began to ring, quite relentlessly. Remember, this was well after midnight during a heavy snowstorm when the roads were nearly impassible (our N.C. house is well into the depths of the county in a lakeside community). Of course, since I’m writing a thriller, I began to think the worse.
Okay, it was late and I was really tired…
But, having lived the life of a trained observer and teacher of police officer safety and survival, I reverted back to my many years of training and did what any hyper-alert police officer would’ve done…I peeked outside through the blinds to see who, or what, was ringing my bell so late at night.
I was surprised to see not one, but two snow-covered police vehicles idling in my driveway. I was also a little stunned to see that the officers had lit up my house and yard with their spotlights and takedown lights. AND they had taken tactical positions around the house. The only thing missing was the bullhorn.
My first thought…hide the eggnog and rum cake. Second thought…put on something other than sleepwear. Third thought…Well, there was no third thought. I simply opened the door and stepped outside, in shorts, t-shirt, and barefoot. It was around 25 degrees, so I slipped my hands into my pockets for a little warmth.
One of the officers, the one in charge, decided to approach me, cautiously. It was at this point when I realized they were awfully serious about something. A second officer—backup—walked up with his hand resting on his sidearm. I noticed the thumb break on his holster had been unsnapped.
His other hand gripped a can of pepperspray.
Very nice, polite officers. Both of them. And they were all about the business at hand. But, you tell me how you think they handled this situation. Were their methods and questions appropriate? Were they safety-conscious? Anything wrong? Everything right? Here’s the basic conversation (questioning).
Officer #1 (speaking to me) – “Evening, sir. Wonder if you could tell me what you’re doing here?”
Me – “I live here.”
#1 – “But this house is vacant.”
Me – “No, I live here, but have a home in another state as well. We’re back and forth between the two.”
#1 – “How long have you lived in this house?”
Me – “Two years, or so.”
#1 – “How long have you been here on this trip?”
Me – “Since last week.”
#1 – “Who owns the house?”
Me – “I do.”
At this point Officer #2 abruptly chimes in. “You’re not black.”
I smiled. “No, I’m not.”
#2 – “You been outside tonight?” (Remember, I’d been out tending to the trees and to the doggy restroom, therefore, the yard was loaded with footprints in the snow).
Me – “I have.” (I explained).
#2 – “A neighbor called and said a black guy wearing a hoodie was walking around your house peeping in the windows. You seen anyone?”
Me – “No.” Tip…providing more information than what you’re asked can sometimes be the beginning of an all new black and white striped wardrobe.
#2 to #1 – She must have seen him (a nod toward me) outside and thought it was someone else.”
#1 uses his portable to call dispatch – “I’m talking to the owner. This is his house but he lives out of state and is in town here for a while. Everything’s 10-4.”
#1 to me – “Sorry we bothered you but we have to check these things out. Have a good night.”
Me to #1 and #2 – “Thanks for coming out. Makes me feel good knowing that you respond to these type of calls, especially since we’re not around all the time. (I didn’t bother to tell him about our alarm system and the neighbors who watch and check the place like Pinkerton guards).
#1 and #2 in unison – “No problem.”
Me again – “Wouldn’t you like to see some ID?”
#1 “No, we trust you. Have a good night, now.”
And with head-nods and waves they turned their backs to me and walked to their patrol vehicles leaving me standing on the front porch, shivering, as they drove away. They also left me with a few questions bouncing around inside my head. Anyone have an idea what those questions could be?
It seems to me the poor LEOs can’t win. Remember the guy in NY or Boston last year who go upset because the police detained, cuffed, and checked him out and then released him when he didn’t have his key to get in the house when he came home from a trip? A neighbor called in that someone was breaking into the house. The homeowner filed against the police. The guy and cop ended up with beer with the President and VP.
Still, your situation is great for scene writting with all the did, don’t, and should haves. Love it.
What about having a look at the ID in case someone had actually broken in? That way they’d at least have something to go on. The officers didn’t know me, so how could they say they trusted me? And how did they know that a partner in crime wasn’t inside the house? After all, the caller reported seeing a black guy and I’m obviously white.
Next, neither officer asked me to take my hands out of my pockets. Not good for safety until they’d established that I was indeed the homeowner.
These points are in addition to everyone’s comments.
Still, the officers were extremely polite and professional and I really appreciate them coming out to check the suspicious activity, especially on such a nasty weather night.
Many thanks, we have now taken her home. She is 92 and has gone on record as telling us that she went away for Crhistams.
As a member of the public i.e. you my other burning question would be which neighbour called it in. I am of course totally unsure of your set up there and it might be self evident which neighbour.
Happy holidays all.
They should have been the one asking for ID. Especially a vacation home. How do they know you are a burglar aware of your where abouts and taking residence ?
First question I would have been thinking is – “Why the hell didn’t I put on shoes and a jacket, or at least invite them to step in.”
Secondly, – the officers assumed you were the “prowler” in question, but did they go back and check the house before ringing the bell?
We were taught to never assume anything.
Perhaps they would have gone back around with you (after you had dressed) and checked to see that the only footprints were those you’d left.
Ideally, they should have taken you up on your offer to see ID, but I guess you just have one of those angelic “I’m a good guy” faces. 🙂
Thanks for the comments. I’ll chime in with my thoughts in a bit. Oh, Joyce, there was nothing else going on in the area. The officers were responding to a call of a “suspicious black guy wearing a hoodie” prowling around a vacant house, peeking in the windows.
Paul – Best wishes to your mother-in-law.
I agree with Paul that they definitely should have asked to see some ID and take a look around.
I also thought that maybe something else was going on in the area–that they were looking for a suspect from another incident because of the way they had your house lit up and the procedure they used. It seemed like overkill to me.
Well, first off, having volunteered I.D. it might have been the right thing to have at least taken a look and taking that one step further seeing something that then had your name and that of the address that you were at.
2. It was obviously an assumption that the person seen was you. A quick look around might have been the best ida. If there are footprints in the snow and someone was looking in the windows they would lead to and from the house which would show one way or the other.
Just for starters. Got to run, mother in law in Hospital;.