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Property crimes take up a huge portion of a patrol officer’s day. First, there’s the initial response, making sure the suspect isn’t still on the scene (or arresting the dummy if he is).

Then comes the report, questioning the witnesses, and sometimes having to stand there while people belittle the officer with snide remarks, often made quite loudly and rudely, even before they’ve had the time to remove the ink pen from their shirt pocket to begin note-taking. Starting with the standard—“I pay your salary.”

Next comes a crowd favorite that seemly plays on an endless loop.

  1. “Where were you while my house was being robbed?” 

Houses aren’t robbed, by the way. Only people can be robbed. So please do make note of the following.

  • A burglary is normally defined as the breaking and entering into a building, (usually during the nighttime) for the purpose of committing a crime, such as larceny. A robbery is the taking of property from one person by another, by violence, force, and/or intimidation, such as being held up at gunpoint.

ROBBERIES REQUIRE A FACE-TO-FACE TAKING OF PROPERTY FROM ONE PERSON BY ANOTHER, BY FORCE, THREAT, OR INTIMIDATION.

And on it goes. On and on. Those lovely little comments that are often shouted while you’re trying to help the victims property crimes, and others.

2. “If you’d spend more time on the street instead eating doughnuts all day then this wouldn’t have happened.”

3. “Aren’t you going to take fingerprints? They take them on CSI shows. I seen ’em do it.”

Okay, first, the doughnut thing is really, really old and tired, folks. Most present day officers eat well, exercise, and enjoy fruit or other healthy snacks. Many departments conduct regular health assessments and require physical fitness testing. So it’s probably a good idea to move on to something more modern or risk having your material appear dated.

Next, where is it that officers should “take fingerprints? Home, back to the office, on a date? Fingerprints are lifted, processed, developed, etc., and then those pieces of evidence are “taken” back to the department where they’re then sent to the experts for comparison.

4. “Why don’t you do your job instead of sitting in your car waiting for speeders. Can’t you find real criminals?”

FYI – Speeders are indeed law-breakers since driving above the posted speed limit is illegal. Many departments assign a group of officers to work traffic details, such as speed limit enforcement(running radar). This means that other officers are assigned to duties such as responding to criminal complaint cases.

5. “I’ll have your badge for this.”

6. “I play golf with the chief, you know. And he’s going to hear about this.”

7. “Find some DNA.”

8. “There ain’t no Mickey Mouse crap like this on CSI. No, sir. Not on COPS, neither”

And that, my friends, is what police officers all across country experience every day, day-in and day-out. But wait, it gets better.

Next comes the actual evidence collection. Now, keep in mind that this is a residence where people come and go all the time. And they touch things. In fact, they touch EVERYTHING. So what does that mean? Yep, there are fingerprints on nearly every single item in the house.

Contrary to the top-notch experts on fictional TV shows, officers cannot tell which of those prints belong to a bad guy merely by looking at them. No one can. In fact, chances are, the burglar’s (not robber’s) prints are not on file anyway.

Please keep in mind that in order to locate a suspect using fingerprints found at a crime scene, a copy of the suspect’s fingerprints must be stored within a database used by police, such as a department’s database or the national database maintained by the FBI.

Officers know deep down in their hearts that in spite of taking the time, sometime for several hours, to process, develop, and collect a bunch loops and whorls taped to evidence cards, well, they’ll soon learn that the fingerprints they’ve spent the better part of a morning or afternoon to collect are probably of absolutely no value whatsoever. But they do it anyway … time and time again. Over and over and over. Why? Because residents demand it. Sometimes, though, you do get lucky and get a match.

So, if fingerprints aren’t the number one way to catch a burglar, what is? Well, there’s no one answer to the question. Actually, solving a property crime, such as B&E, involves a lot of steps. And the sum of those steps equals “good police work.”

Solving Property Crimes

So what are some of the things officers should do to solve property crimes?

  • Responding officers should always document the scene as they found it, not after everyone has walked through and fumbled with each item they pass.
  • Question all witnesses.
  • Check for points of entry and exit. Are there toolmarks? Are those tools still on the scene?
  • Is there broken glass? Blood on the glass (DNA?).
  • Footprints outside? (or, in the carpet or on the tile flooring)
  • Lights on or off? (suspect may have touched the switches)
  • Glasses on the kitchen counter? (suspects sometimes help themselves to food and drink)
  • Check the wall behind the toilet for fingerprints. Sometimes male criminals use the restroom at the scene and while doing so they place a hand on the hall.
  • Likewise, the underside of a toilet seat is another likely spot to find prints. Unless, of course, the burglar is totally uncouth and doesn’t lift the seat.
  • Look for the “evidence trail.” Offenders sometimes drop things during their exit. It’s not unusual to follow a trail of dropped evidence and then find the suspect sitting at the other end (not like a trail of breadcrumbs, but close).
  • Were there serial numbers on the missing items, and were they recorded?

ALWAYS recored the serial numbers of your valuable items. This is handy for insurance claims. Even when using a moving company to relate, it’s a must to record serial numbers in the event they, and they do, lose items.

  • Who would benefit from this crime? A real thief (drug addict, perhaps), or someone who desperately needs to collect some insurance money?
  • Have similar crimes occurred? If so, where and how close to this scene? Talk to other officers. Compare notes.
  • Talk to informants and street people. They know a lot and they often enjoy spilling the beans, especially if telling what they know earns them a few dollars.
  • Check all pawn shops and drug dealers who’re known to take property in exchange for “goods.” Sometimes they’ll hand over stolen property to get the cops off their backs. After all, it’s bad for business to have police officers hanging around their turf.

In some areas, pawn shops are required to submit a daily list (to the police) of each item purchased.

  • When officers finally do make an arrest, and they usually do, they should always ask the offender about other crimes in the area. Sometimes, officers solve several cases by merely asking a simple question or two.

And then there’s the number one tactic … common sense. Using it goes a long way toward solving a case. It’s also a great tool to use when writing cops.

So, if you’re writing a scene where your cop protagonist does something that doesn’t exactly seem right, or, if your common sense tells you it’s wrong, then I’d suggest doing this …


MurderCon registration is still open. Please do yourself and your readers a huge favor by attending this fantastic and rare opportunity. There’s never been anything like and there may never be again.

 

https://www.writerspoliceacademy.com

It’s 9:00 p.m., the evening after Christmas and you’re at a neighbor’s house drinking leftover eggnog and discussing the cool gifts you’d received from friends and family. 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 into a building, (usually during the nighttime) for the purpose of committing a crime, such as larceny. A robbery, by the way, is the taking of property by violence, force, and/or intimidation, such as being held up at gunpoint.

If a guy steals a car from someone’s driveway while the owner is in bed asleep, the crime committed is larceny, not robbery. If someone breaks a car window to steal a backpack left on the rear seat while the driver dashed inside the Piggly Wiggly to pick up a pig’s head for the New Year’s day family dinner, that, too, is a larceny, not robbery. Of course, damaging the car is also crime, but it’s still not a robbery because the thief didn’t take the backpack directly from a person.

Whole pig’s head for sale in the meat department at a southern Piggly Wiggly. Price – $14.65

Robberies require a face-to-face taking of property from one person by another, by force, threat, or intimidation

Okay, now that that huge difference between a robbery and a burglary are finally laid to rest (one more time), let’s discuss investigating a burglary.

First, many burglaries, or B&E’s (breaking and enterings), are committed by low level criminals who are seeking items they can sell quickly for twenty dollars each—TV, DVD player, video game console, etc.— in order to purchase a hit/rock or two of crack cocaine, or other drug (each crack rock typically sells for$20).

Crack cocaine is often broken into and sold as $20 pieces that are approximately the size of an aspirin.

These crooks are often 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.

Crack addicts often spend $1,000 – $3,000 per week to feed their addiction.

Some addicts shoplift meats from grocery store. A $15 pig’s head sells for $5 – $10 on the street.

Crooks who commit B&E’s are often still on the property when homeowners return, therefore, burglaries are sometimes “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, or is still in-progress, 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 potential or actual evidence is often compromised/contaminated before officers set the first foot on the scene. Victims feel violated and sometimes experience the urge to clean and straighten up the area. They do so hoping to eliminate the “dirty” sensation that often accompanies the knowledge that a stranger has pawed through your personal property and intimate belongings. This cleaning can, and does, destroy vital evidence.

In addition to searching the interior rooms of a burgled home, important evidence is also 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, and DNA.

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 just a few doors away. I also investigated a case where the dumb bad guy dropped his wallet inside the home he’d just burgled.

Important B&E facts to remember are:

1) Always activate your security system.

2) Lock your doors and windows.

3. Lock all car doors.

4) Place 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 unbearable temptation to break in.

Think you have your police procedure correct? No mistakes? Well, here are 17 Facts About Police, Evidence, and Equipment. Let’s test the knowledge of your protagonists, starting with …

1. Revolvers do not eject spent brass with each pull of the trigger. Semi- and fully-automatic firearms, however, do eject spent brass.

Revolvers v. Pistols

2. Handcuffs are equipped with two locks. The first is the automatic lock that connects when the pawl hooks to the ratchet. This allows the officer to apply cuffs to the wrists of combative suspects without having to fumble around while trying to locate a lock, insert a key, etc., while the bad guy is throwing punches to the officer’s nose and jaw.

The second lock (double-lock), a button inset, is found on the underside of the body of the cuff near where the end of the ratchet exits the cuff body.

3. Speed Loaders https://www.leelofland.com/dump-pouches-v-speed-loaders/

4. Vehicles rarely, if ever, explode when hit by gunfire.

5. DNA evidence is NOT used to convict defendants in every criminal case.

DNA Facts:

Identical twins have identical DNA.

Humans are genetically 99.9% identical. Only 0.1% of our genetic makeup is different.

It takes about eight hours for one cell to copy its own DNA.

Red blood cells do not contain DNA.

DNA is used to determine pedigree in livestock.

DNA is used to authenticate wine and caviar.

Detergent and Alcohol will not destroy DNA.

DNA can be transferred from article of clothing to another, even in a washing machine. This is called secondary and tertiary transfer.

DNA testing is not 100% accurate.

6. The FBI does not take over cases from local police. They do not have that authority. Besides, they have their own cases to work, which do not include local murder cases. Those cases are worked by local police.

7. Kevlar vests worn by patrol officers (or similar types) are not designed to stop punctures from knives and other sharp objects. There are, however, other types of vests designed for those purposes, such as the vests worn by corrections officers working in jails and prisons.

8. Cops are not required to advise a suspect of Miranda (you have the right to … etc.) the moment they arrest someone. Instead, Miranda is advised only when suspects are in custody AND prior to questioning. No questioning = no advisement of Miranda. Some departments may have policies that require Miranda advisement at the time of arrest but it not required by law.

9. Police officers are not required by law (in every state) to wear seat belts while operating a police car. In fact, some state laws also allow certain delivery drivers to skip buckling up (USPS letter carriers, for example).

10. Not all deputy sheriffs are sworn police officers. For example, most deputies who work in the jails are not police officers.

11. Some California sheriffs also serve as county coroner. However, they are not medical doctors. They employ pathologists who perform autopsies.

12. Small town police departments investigate murder cases that occur within their jurisdictions. Not the FBI or Jessica Fletcher. If they need additional resources they reach out to the local sheriff’s office or state police. Again, this is not the job of the FBI. Sure, if they’re needed they’ll assist.

All police officers are trained to investigate crime, and small town officers investigate homicides all the time.

13. Robbery and burglary are not synonymous.

Many people confuse the terms robbery and burglary. I 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. They are not the same, not even close.

Robbery occurs when a crook uses physical force, threat, or intimidation to steal someone’s property. If the robber uses a weapon the crime becomes 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. 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 your home and steals your television. That’s a burglary. 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.

14. Narcotics dogs are NOT fed drugs of any type during their training. Never. Not ever. NO. No. And NO!

15. Shotguns and rifles are not not synonymous.

Rifle v. Shotgun

16. Police officers are NEVER trained to “shoot to kill.” Instead, they’re taught to stop the threat. When the threat no longer exists the shooting stops, if it ever starts. Often, the threat ceases before shots are fired.

17. Cops are not trained to aim for arms, legs, and/or to shoot a knife or gun from a suspect’s hand.

Instead, officers are taught to shoot center mass of their target. It is extremely difficult to hit small, moving targets while under duress. Again, officers DO NOT shoot hands, legs, elbows, or weapons (well, not on purpose).

Shoot to Wound? No Way!

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