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What to do after a housebreaking

Despite the precautions we take, a determined intruder might still find a weakness in the system and exploit it. So what do you do if you find your home has been broken into?

From a policing perspective, housebreaking is a priority crime. This crime is tackled at various levels, firstly by prevention by having visible patrols in your area, secondly by responding to suspicious movements on or around properties, thirdly by responding when a housebreaking has taken place in the hopes of catching someone in the act, and finally through investigation after the fact.

When a home has been broken into, the first thing that needs to be established is which crime has been committed. In South Africa, the legal definition of housebreaking relies on the following events taking place:

• Entry to the property must be forced and there must be visible evidence of this. 

• Goods must have been removed from the property and these must be specified in writing. 

• No permission must have been given for the entry or removal.

If these three elements aren’t present, then the incident will not be classified as a housebreaking.

If your case has been registered as a housebreaking, the following information will help you understand the process and procedures:

Once you have reported the incident to the police, you will be given a case number (for example 101/08/2007 Milnerton). Your case will be assigned for immediate review by the on-duty detective. He may want to come and inspect the scene of the housebreaking and will call you on the phone number you have supplied. He will arrange for a fingerprints officer to visit you as quickly as possible, but this may take up to 48 hours. It is important that you don’t touch anything that could have been handled by the suspect(s) before the fingerprint officer has been to inspect the scene. If in doubt, ask the detective on duty what you can and cannot touch while waiting. 

Your case will be assigned to an investigating officer after the initial on-scene investigation. If there are any leads he will follow them up, so descriptions of suspicious persons seen around the property at the time of the housebreaking are vital – it’s always a good idea to ask neighbours if they saw or heard anything out of the ordinary. Your stolen property will then be listed so that when regular checks are conducted on pawnbrokers and raids on drug houses take place, stolen property can be identified. 

Your property can only be identified if you have made it identifiable. There is nothing more frustrating to a policeman than catching a suspect with property he thinks has been stolen and not being able to trace the real owner. Serial numbers need to be on electronic equipment, either engraved or marked with an ultraviolet pen. Mark your items like sound systems, laptops and televisions. Keep a record of the IMEI numbers of cellphones in your home. Take photos of your valuable jewellery. After a housebreaking, this information is most likely to lead to the arrest of the criminals.

Fingerprints that are lifted from the scene of the crime are checked against suspects if there are any. In the absence of a suspect to match prints against, the prints are loaded to portable fingerprint terminals (known as Morpho Touch units). These units are routinely used when a suspect is detained and on random stop and search operations.

If the person who broke into your home is caught for another offence, having the fingerprints from your home on the Morpho Touch means that fingerprints can be compared, and the person can then be linked to your housebreaking case and detained as a suspect. 

Once a suspect is arrested, the detective will take a statement from him, investigate all aspects of the crime and forward the case to the State Prosecutor. The State Prosecutor will weigh up the evidence and chances of a successful conviction and will decide whether or not to continue with a prosecution of the suspect or call on the detective to get additional information


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