by Jeffrey Young

Aug. 24, 2020

Law enforcement doesn't solve many burglaries, but there are still reasons to file a report. This is part of a HuffPost series looking at alternatives to policing. You can read the other pieces here.

I discovered my house has been burgled. Should I call the police?

If you want to have any hope of the perpetrator being caught and your property being returned, you should probably call the police. Reporting the burglary to law enforcement is also pretty much the only way you can get your homeowners or renters insurance company to reimburse you for stolen belongings.

“Your first step should probably be to call law enforcement because you certainly want it investigated and you certainly want to get your property back,” said Beth Rossman, a board member and past president of the Alexandria, Virginia-based National Organization for Victim Assistance.

“Law enforcement can be your ally in this as far as coming to your aid and getting physical evidence,” she said. Rossman is a former police officer and prosecutors’ investigator who also chairs the Florida Crisis Response Team and has managed victim assistance programs for Florida law enforcement agencies. “Your insurance company is going to request a list of what was stolen and a police report, so you almost have to have that first.”

Rossman also emphasized that if you have any reason to suspect that the burglars are still inside your home, don’t go inside and don’t try to be a hero. “Your safety, physically and emotionally, has to be first,” she said.

OK, but will the cops actually catch the crooks and get my stuff back?

Probably not. There were 1.4 million burglaries in the U.S. in 2017, according to FBI statistics. But just 14% of reported burglaries were “cleared,” meaning a suspect was arrested and turned over for prosecution, or the case was otherwise closed because the suspect died, the victim refused to cooperate with law enforcement or there were other narrow circumstances.

Of the $13.5 billion in stolen property reported that year for burglaries and robberies, only 29% was recovered. That figure is heavily weighted, however, because 59% of the property was automobiles; the recovery rates for household items like jewelry and electronics are in the single digits.

Wow, that is not a reassuring number.

It might explain why fewer than half of crimes committed are actually reported to law enforcement.

Burglars have certain advantages over law enforcement, Rossman said. Unlike many violent crimes where the perpetrator and the victim are known to each other, burglars are more likely to be strangers, making it difficult to connect the two. There is also rarely much physical evidence found at the scene.

People who steal from others’ homes typically have access to criminal networks to sell the stolen goods, making it hard to track down the property. And most household items are generic: A black Samsung TV is a black Samsung TV, and most people don’t keep records of their serial numbers or other identifying information. Items that are more unique, like heirloom jewelry, are often broken down and sold in pieces.

What should you expect from the police when you report the burglary?

The response from law enforcement will vary from department to department, depending on their procedures and resources, Rossman explained. Some agencies may send a uniformed officer to take a report, while others may dispatch detectives and crime-scene investigators.

When the police search for evidence, they’ll be looking for things like fingerprints or DNA that might lead them to the burglars. Officers will also need a list of the stolen items and information about your home, such as who has access to it, she said.

When you call in the crime, you should expect the police to provide you with a report number you can submit to your insurance company and use as a reference to check up on the case.

What other resources are available to help people who’ve been burglarized?

Being a crime victim can be traumatic, triggering feelings of violation and fear that can last long after the incident, even in cases of property crime where the victim was never in physical danger, Rossman said.

Local and state governments, in some cases through police departments themselves, often have victim support agencies, as do some community organizations, which can provide referrals to counseling and other services. They can also help gather information for the police and your insurance company, and act as a go-between for you and law enforcement during the investigation.

Where To Go For Additional Resources And Information

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