How to face a “break and enter”

Des Ryan, a retired police officer, a CRA board director and our volunteer Safety and Security lead.

We know what to do in the event we find our home (or business) broken into, but what do we do in the moment? That moment when we arrive and find that the door has been kicked in, or a window has been smashed? Of course, you’re going to call the police, but what do you actually do before that?

Breathe. Yes, take a deep breath. Maybe two. And then step away. Go back to the sidewalk or the elevator or wherever it was you came from. And then call the police. 9-1- 1. This is the real deal.

The call-taker will ask you a lot of questions, some of which you will be able to answer, some of which you won’t. Don’t worry about that. Answer what you can and don’t feel foolish for not knowing everything about everything. For example, you can’t possibly know what was stolen at this time. It is also unlikely that you will know if the intruder is still in the house or office.

And this is the important part: Unless you are absolutely sure that no one is in your home or office, do not go in. Yes, you may have left this morning at 10 a.m. and it is now midnight, but the intruder may have just arrived at your home. The intruder(s) likely have little to no interest in confronting anyone. One might even say that the type of individual who engages in B&Es prefers to work unsupervised. Should you arrive while the break-in is in progress, your risk of getting injured is fairly high because the intruder(s) have been startled and, let’s face it—very few of us behave well when we’ve been caught out.

Instead, wait outside or at a neighbour’s or a nearby shop until police arrive. Let the officers ensure your home or office is safe to enter. Whatever has been stolen or damaged is already gone. There is no point involving yourself in a confrontation with someone who may have nothing to lose.

Warning: In Toronto in our present time, it may take an hour or longer for officers to respond. If, after an hour or so, no one has arrived, call again. The call-taker will be able to tell you why there is a delay and how much longer it will likely be before anyone is available to respond. At some point, it is reasonable to assume your home or business is safe to enter: that’s a decision for you to make but do not make that initial call to the police from inside what is now the crime scene.

When the police arrive, you will be asked many questions, most of which will be straightforward. Please provide as much information as you can. Is there any reason someone may have entered the space without your knowledge? Tell the police. A former partner may still have a key and have come by to retrieve a forgotten item. As well, landlords who are owed rent have been known to “reclaim” a space.

You will be given a number to call to provide a detailed list of your property that will then be added to the initial report. If nothing was taken, this is still a Break & Enter.

Be sure to get the General Occurrence Number from the attending officers before they leave. You will need this number to update the occurrence and for any insurance claim(s) you may make.

The officers may advise that a Scene of Crime Officer (SOCO) will attend to take prints. Or not.

Remember: this is not TV. Not all surfaces are suitable to be printed. And not all prints correspond to anything on file, which is to say: the person(s) who broke into your place may never have been printed by police before (everyone starts somewhere), so their prints are not stored anywhere to be matched with the prints the SOCO may be able to lift from your coffee table or bathroom mirror.

It may be an hour or longer after the initial officers have left before the SOCO arrives. The
original officers will likely be able to tell you the area where the SOCO will be focusing their attention, such that, in the event of a lengthy delay, you can cordon off that area and carry on until whatever requires printing and/or photographing is done.

Finally, know that there is something off-putting about having one’s personal space invaded. You may find yourself being a bit hyper-vigilant for the week or so after the B&E,  double/triple/quadruple-checking that you have locked the door and/or maybe finding yourself a bit on edge. All of that is more than reasonable.

If, after a few days, however, you find yourself unable to sleep or obsessing about your home security (or your friends/family find you obsessing), don’t hesitate to seek professional counselling. At the end of the day, as common as Break & Enters may be for the rest of the world, it is likely uncommon for you. Get the support you need, whether it’s from a family member, a friend, a colleague, or a professional.

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