Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Breaking and entering: the basics

You’re at home by yourself on a Monday evening in your bedroom watching TV. Except for the television set, the house is dark. Suddenly you hear a crashing sound. Someone has broken a window to your house.  Panicked, you dial 9-1-1 on your cell phone as you dive for cover in the closet, or bathroom, or even under the bed.

What do you do next? What should happen next?

In-progress burglaries or robberies are dangerous and scary crimes.  In general, a burglary is defined as the act of breaking into a structure to commit a theft whereas a robbery is defined as the felonious taking of property by the means of force, or threat or an implied threat. Individual states actually define the specifics of the crimes in their criminal codes.

You can be a victim of a robbery or burglary anywhere. The primary difference between the two? If someone uses their body or a weapon (or threatens to do so) to take anything from you, that is a robbery but if your home, car, or business is broken in to and property is taken, then that is usually considered a burglary. There are exceptions to both types of crimes. Never dwell on what type of crime it is before calling for help, make that phone call and let the proper law enforcement authorities figure it out.

In the burglary examples, you can hear the fear in the victim’s voices. Again, these are released recordings of 9-1-1 calls for educational purposes.

When  making (or receiving) an in-progress burglary, the first order of business is to determine the location of occurrence. Victims are scared, but no law enforcement officer can do any good until they know where to respond. State your address clearly. Dispatchers, repeat the address back. Spell the street name with phonetics. Don’t forget to ask about apartment numbers and verify the city or response district. Get a call-back number and a name. 

ALWAYS tell the caller you are SENDING help while you are on the phone. If you work for a single dispatch center, tell the caller if you have to put them on hold to get help going. This is important, not only for the victim’s peace of mind – they hear that you are helping, but stating the fact over the phone can be crucial later on. Make certain help actually DOES get dispatched.

I used to tell the Reporting Party (RP) to stay on the phone with me on all in progress calls until a lawyer told me by doing so I was putting callers at risk. I changed my wording from that point on. I asked the caller, if they felt safe, to stay on the phone with me until help arrived. Meanwhile, I continued to ask questions and update the event for responding units.

Helpful questions include:
·         Single or multi story (if multi story, which floor?)
·         Front or back unit
·         Apartment or mobile home
·         Where is caller hiding
·         Any dogs in the house
·         Does caller have a weapon (if yes, what?)
·         Did caller see a person (s)
·         Did suspect have any weapons (actually seen)
·         When was suspect last seen
·         What part of structure was suspect last seen in
·         Any other family members in structure
·         Anyone expected home
·         Any cars in driveway

Continue to reassure caller help is on the way. I let callers know when officers were pulling up or searching the house. If the RP couldn’t speak, I’d ask yes/no questions. I even had a couple of callers pretend they were speaking to family members during residential robberies, giving out information as I asked yes/no questions.

Children can be excellent RPs. Don’t discount them out due to their age. In addition to the above questions, you may want to ask where a responsible adult or babysitter is, along with a contact number. 

Always make certain an officer makes contact with the caller, or victim, of the crime. Depending on the Agency's policies & procedures, Public Safety Dispatchers may set up block covers or call for mutual aid (in smaller departments, extra help may be required to handle the event). If the RP/victim leaves the crime scene, pass on their current location to the field unit assigned to the incident.

Public Safety Telecommunicators, or Dispatchers, are First Responders. Information gathered during the initial phone call can make a difference between saving a life and catching the suspects or not.

Stay safe out there!

This is a call from a business. A series of burglaries had been going on in the area, so an employee was sleeping in the store overnight when a burglar broke in.

7 year-old child calling in an in-progress burglary with armed suspects confronting the parents.

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