“I WAS ROBBED!” scream-typed the woman who posted her comment in bold, capital letters. “So were we,” typed another in response. “There was a lookout stationed down the street when all of this took place. I’m positive she was watching for police. I know so because she was talking on her phone the entire time her partners in crime were ROBBING me!”
At first I was truly concerned that an act so horrible could be inflicted upon two innocent women. I mean, wow, some guy, or woman, pointed a gun or knife at those two charming ladies and robbed them of their possessions. What a scar that’ll leave on their emotions. Then I read more. Some mail. A box. A cell phone charger. Ah…someone broke into their cars, which were parked on the street, and they stole letters and packages from their mailboxes and from the front porch. The crimes took place during the night/early morning hours while they were in bed and sound asleep.
I could only shake my head from side-to-side as I read these sadly uninformed comments. Sure, I thought, the commenters are justifiably upset and traumatized because some scumbag/buttwipe took their things and broke out a car window to get them. And, the thieves were bold enough to stroll up to the front stoop to grab packages. But a robbery? No. Not even close.
Then came today’s morning news—CNN, of all places. A source that should know better, you’d think. Yes, a somewhat trusted news outlet could very well be the very place the “robbery” victim above received her very wrong information.
This, from a CNN news story about former rapper Vanilla Ice (Robert Matthew Van Winkle) who’s accused of breaking into a home and stealing thousands of dollars worth of items).
CNN – The Lantana Police Department said the robbery occurred sometime between December and February in a $1 million home that was going through foreclosure. Items stolen include a pool heater and furniture.
Van Winkle is working next door, renovating another home.
Did you notice the use of the term “robbery” in CNN’s story? Well, this is another prime example of news media that does not do their homework before printing or airing a story. This was NOT a robbery. Vanilla Ice did NOT rob anyone. He may have committed a crime—grand larceny and burglary, but N.O.T. robbery!
Many people confuse the terms robbery and burglary. I often see the misuse of those two terms everywhere, including in books written by some of my favorite authors. I also hear the terms interchanged on TV and radio news, like the CNN story above. They are not the same, folks.
Robbery occurs when a crook uses physical force, threat, or intimidation to steal someone’s property. If the robber uses a weapon the crime is armed robbery, or aggravated robbery, depending on local law. There is always a victim present during a robbery.
For example, you are walking down the street and a guy brandishes a handgun and demands your money. That’s robbery.
Burglary is an unlawful entry into any building with the intent to commit a crime, such as the case of Vanilla Ice and the two women mentioned at the top of this page. Normally, there is no one inside the building when a burglary occurs. No physical breaking and entering is required to commit a burglary. A simple trespass through an open door or window, and the theft of an item or items, is all that’s necessary to meet the requirements to be charged with burglary.
For example, you are out for the night and someone breaks into and enters your home (B&E) and steals your television. That’s a burglary and theft. Even if you are at home asleep in your bed when the same crime occurs, it’s a burglary because you weren’t actually threatened by anyone.
So please, writers, don’t make this mistake in your tales. And someone please pass along this link to the folks at CNN. They need all the help they can get.
* Those of you attending the 2015 Writers’ Police Academy will have the opportunity to hear expert Lt. David Swords address this very topic.