Burglary is one of the most violating types of crime anyone can experience.
I’ve been a police officer – both in uniform and CID roles – for more than 15 years. What I am about to tell you is taken from not one case, but many incidents down the years.
First of all there is the shock.
It’s more common for someone to get burgled when they’re not at home so often we’re at the scene before the victim. The owner will arrive and step gingerly through their own front door – scared of what they are going to see, frightened and apprehensive about what has been stolen.
Many times they will immediately notice that something precious has gone. Sometimes they’ll be surprised – “they didn’t take the TV? And the laptop is still there?”
They’ll scan the address. A victim may look at it and feel like their home has been ransacked. Furniture might be overturned.
Broken glass is usually found where the point of entry has been identified. A window or a glazed door broken, perhaps with a tool from the garden.
You can see the victim, who has a shocked expression, suddenly piecing together every point of weakness in their home, all the self-blame kicking in. The hedges are too high. If only we had a security light. I wish we’d had a camera.
None of this is fair of course. You try to reassure them. It’s not their fault.
Picking through the house delicately you try to ascertain as much as possible, while leaving it undisturbed for a forensic evaluation. “Can I sit down?” the victim might say – in their own home. For that moment – and probably for an extended period afterwards, it doesn’t feel the same. Not like their own home at all.
The children’s toys have been moved. Perhaps a five pound note that came in a birthday card has been taken. It is the small things like that that are really grievous. “They even took the children’s money”.
Venturing upstairs the victim finds the offender has emptied out the wardrobe, the draws, piles of belongings are topsy-turvy on the bed. The jewellery is gone.
Often one partner has come home and the other partner is still away somewhere at work. They exchange nervous and distressing phone calls. Sometimes you can tell the victim wants to cry, but they don’t want to cry in front of the police. Sometimes the victim is simply too shocked and you have to walk them through it one step at a time. “How will I explain it to the kids?” is a rhetorical question often thrown out into the room.
The house-to-house enquiries are done. The crime report has been completed. Forensics have been and gone. “Are you going to be ok?” – the police officer is friendly and genuinely concerned. “We’ll get area patrols to come by your house during the night.”
“Yes I’m fine” [the victim is not fine] but thinks, “I wonder if they took my spare key? Will they come back?”Then the address is left alone – all the police and forensic people leave – and the victim stays at home. It is very unusual that the victim will get any sleep that night. Maybe not for a few nights.
For weeks and months afterwards that victim will be on edge, worried about being at home alone. Worried about leaving the house empty when they go to work. They start to contemplate exaggerated security measures like a massive number of cameras, expensive alarms, and guard dogs – perhaps now feeling that they would like to take every step to give them peace of mind. Some people contemplate putting the house on the market because they’ll never look at it in the same way.
Perhaps the offender stole the victim’s wallet or purse – they got enough bank details to spend some money on cards. The upheaval then begins of calling credit card providers, the bank need to send out new debit cards, identifying legitimate purchases.
Then there is the thought – the angry thought – of that person out there who did this – “maybe they still have my dad’s watch on them right now” – “I wish I could get my hands on them”. Of course this isn’t the victim’s fault. Although, in the same measure, there are steps we can take to help that victim to not fall victim again.
Before this happens we can really struggle to get people to pay attention to this. After a burglary it’s all the victim can think about. We don’t want people to ignore it, but we don’t want people to be obsessed with it either.
We talk about property marking, we talk about additional door security. We talk about affordable window alarms. We discuss whether lowering the hedge row would help to put a would-be offender off. We talk about CCTV and how much more affordable camera technology has become. We discuss having lights on timers, and not leaving the house in darkness. A security light at the back wouldn’t cost a great deal. Sadly for so many people who are paying attention to this advice – we are locking the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Like every crime, if you are better protected than the houses surrounding you – you are not likely to be the victim. Unless the pay-off promises to be huge, why would the offender work in a clearly illuminated environment, overlooked, negotiating window alarms and CCTV?
This is the real cost of burglary – the traumatic feelings, coping with the aftermath, the sense of insecurity, the anger of having a stranger in your home. If I could reach out to one person through this to persuade them to take the appropriate steps that prevent them from becoming a victim of this type of crime, it has been worth the time it took to write.
You can find out more by visiting or website burglary pages
Sergeant Phil Priestley
Now see burglary from an offender’s viewpoint