A home break-in can leave a homeowner with feelings of violation, fear, anger and loss. Unfortunately, many residents make some critical mistakes in the moments and days after they discover that their house has been burglarized.
Home burglaries can cause emotional distress and trauma for months – even years – following the break-in. But understanding what to do after discovering a home break-in can help maximize the victim's chances of recovering their stolen belongings, while also increasing the likelihood that the burglar will get caught by the police.
Immediately Dial 911 and Exit the Home
If a homeowner returns home to find that their home has been burglarized, immediately exit the home and dial 911. If pets are within reach (i.e. they've come to greet you at the door - don't go searching for them), take the pets with you to prevent the animals from stepping on broken glass or disturbing evidence until the police arrive.
Wait outside the home until the police arrive, preferably inside a locked car or at a neighbor's home. This will reduce the chances of a potentially deadly confrontation between the homeowner and a surprised burglar.
Don't Search the Home Yourself After a Burglary
There is always a chance that the burglar is still inside the home – a situation that should be handled by the police. Do not search the home or perform a walk through before the police have arrived to investigate the home break-in.
Don't Touch Anything Inside the Home Before Police Arrive
On the way out, do not touch anything. Remember, the home is a crime scene. Touching and handling items inside the home can lead to loss of evidence, like smudging a suspect's fingerprint or shoe print. Forensic evidence is almost always left behind during a home break-in; preserving the integrity of the crime scene will maximize the chances of an effective and successful home break-in police investigation.
Create a Detailed List of Stolen Property With Values of the Stolen Items
If there's any chance of recovering the items that are stolen during a home break-in, police will need a detailed list of all the items that are stolen. Perform a thorough-walk through of the home and write down a list of each and every stolen item. Add to the list if it's realized that additional items have been stolen.
Search for photographs of the electronics, jewelry, and other valuables that were stolen from the home. Ideally, all jewelry and valuables should be photographed in advance, with all serial numbers recorded and stored in a safety deposit box (or other secure location outside the home.) For items that have not been captured in a photograph, write up an accurate, detailed description of the stolen item. Include information on the replacement value.
This list will need to be provided to the police department and to the homeowner's insurance company.
Consider the Suspects and Recent Suspicious Activity
Many home burglaries are random. But there are cases where an acquaintance is responsible for a break-in. Ask questions like: "Who knew I was out of the house or on vacation?" Also try to recall any recent visitors to the home (i.e. salespeople, repairmen, etc), or any suspicious activity that's occurred in the neighborhood in recent weeks (i.e. suspicious cars sitting outside the home).
Peruse Local Pawn Shops for Your Stolen Belongings
Police will almost always check local pawn shops for stolen property in the days immediately following a home break-in, but there is usually no follow-up during the weeks or months after the break. Visit local pawn shops weekly for several months following the home break-in. Many home burglary cases have been solved this way, and in cases where the burglary suspect is not arrested, at least the stolen property can be returned.
Take Proactive Measures to Prevent Becoming a Home Burglary Victim
Turn on the home security system, lock the home's doors and windows, and take other proactive measures to avoid becoming a victim. Many homeowners get complacent and there's nothing worse than having a burglar walk into the home via an unlocked front door. Don't be an easy target.
A home burglary can be emotionally traumatic. Check out Handling Emotional Trauma After a Home Break-In for tips on how to recover from those feelings of victimization and violation following a burglary.