Property Crime and Burglary Investigators at Work

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting Program, 8.97 million property crimes were reported in the U.S. in 2012. Property crimes in 2012 resulted in losses that exceeded $15.5 billion. The FBI classifies the following as property crime (and their 2012 totals):

  • Larceny: 6.15 million incidences
  • Arson: 51,500 incidences
  • Burglary: 2.1 million incidences
  • Motor vehicle theft: 721, 000 incidences

Burglary is defined by the FBI as the “unlawful entry of a structure of commit a felony or theft.” The FBI also identifies three sub-classifications for burglary, which include:

  • Forcible entry
  • Unlawful entry with no force
  • Attempted forcible entry

FBI statistics in 2011 showed that burglary accounted for 24 percent of all property crimes, with 60 percent of burglaries involving forcible entry, 33 percent involving unlawful entry, and 6.3 percent involving forcible entry attempts. During the same year, burglary offenses resulted in a loss of $4.7 billion in property, with the average dollar loss per burglary totaling $2,185.

The Organization of Property Crimes Investigative Divisions

Police departments investigate property crimes through Property Crimes or Crimes Against Property Divisions or Units. In general, crimes investigated in a Property Crimes Division include:

  • Residential and commercial burglaries
  • Motor vehicle thefts
  • Arson
  • Grand theft
  • All felony-related theft matters, such as theft by possession, vehicle theft, felony malicious injury to property (vandalism), theft by deception, and computer fraud

Some police departments limit property crimes to burglary and motor vehicle theft, with arson units and motor vehicle theft units being handled within their own units.

Further, some police departments organize their burglary investigations unit outside of the property crimes unit, which is, instead, used to investigate crimes involving only auto theft, fraud, and pawn shop details.

Finally, some police departments organize not only burglary and auto theft in its property crimes unit, but also identity theft, financial elder abuse, check fraud, and embezzlement.

Property Crimes Investigations: Structure and Operations

Due to the sheer number of property crimes that take place every year, detectives within a property crimes division must be able to prioritize cases for assignment. In general, the process of prioritizing property crimes investigations involve examining the cases to determine if there is a viable suspect or information that may lead to a viable suspect being identified. Cases falling into either of these categories are then typically assigned to a property crimes investigator.

The investigative process for criminal investigators within a property crimes division begins when they receive the initial investigative information from the police officer within the police department’s patrol bureau who made the initial report of the crime. The process of investigating property crimes, such as burglaries, can be very time-consuming. Property crimes division detectives in a burglary investigation, for example, must complete a number of duties, which include:

  • Evaluating the case for any viable leads, fingerprints, eyewitnesses, DNA evidence, etc.
  • Conducting an extensive follow-up investigation
  • Interview with the victim and any witnesses
  • Maintaining strong liaisons with other state, local and federal law enforcement agencies to widen the scope of the investigation and identify trends

Although the major focus of a property crimes/burglary unit is to recover stolen property and seek out evidence as to ensure the prosecution of offenders, investigators also employ a number of strategies to deter or prevent these types of crimes from reoccurring in the future. Their work also often has an educational component, with detectives in this area of criminal investigations working to educate the public about ways to protect themselves and their property. They may also alert the public to trends in property crime or recent burglary or motor vehicle theft sprees.

Property Crime and Burglary Investigations Training

Although property crimes investigators must have a general knowledge of the process of property crimes investigation and often work together as a cohesive unit, many police departments assign each investigator within the unit with a specialized area of investigation, such as such as pawn/salvage, arson, residential and commercial burglaries, surveillance operations, vandalism, etc., and require them to receive advanced training in this area.

In addition to being trained in such general areas as interviewing techniques, surveillance, writing and searching warrants, and the investigation of property crimes, specialized training requirements in property crimes investigations are commonplace.

For example, detectives assigned to burglaries may be required to complete training in topics such as:

  • Burglary statistics and analysis
  • Burglary victimization
  • Current burglary techniques
  • Responding to burglary complaints
  • Perimeter area searches
  • Entering and searching premises
  • Understanding the burglar’s mentality
  • Burglar tactics and police reaction
  • Neighborhood canvassing
  • Investigative procedures
  • Undercover, fence, and sting operations
  • Property recovery techniques
  • Burglary prevention

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