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How to get cops to pay attention to your property crime

In 2006 my house was robbed in broad daylight by unknown individuals. They took my Xbox 360, my laptop and some of my wife’s jewelry, in addition to some other less valuable stuff.

I was dumb enough not to be carrying renters insurance [3], so I was out over $1,000 by the time all was said and done.

To be honest, I wasn’t really shocked by the burglary. I was living in Lake Worth, Fla., which even in Florida stands out as a place where bizarre acts of mayhem are the rule rather than the exception. Don’t believe me? This [4] happened there. And this [5]. And also this [6]. Yep, I could do this all day [7]. In fact, in the four or so years I lived in Lake Worth, in addition to that robbery, I also had my car stolen twice and accidentally bumped into a SWAT Team quietly preparing to stage a raid.

But what never failed to shock me was just how blasé and disinterested the (now defunct) Lake Worth Police Department was in doing anything meaningful to try to investigate the crime or recover my stuff in any of these cases.

After filling out a police report on that burglary, I did manage to convince the officer to dust for fingerprints, but that was about the extent of the “investigation.” Asked if there was any hope of recovering my stuff, the officer helpfully advised me to drive around to the pawnshops in the area and look for my stuff. To my knowledge, no progress was ever made on the case, and I never heard anything from the police about it again.

I know it wasn’t exactly the crime of the century, but I was only working part-time at that point and losing a couple thousand dollars’ worth of stuff with no hope of recovery was a real drag. This scene from “The Big Lebowski” pretty much sums the experience:

Why police don’t care about your property crime

My experience wasn’t unusual, says Meg Garvin, executive director of the National Crime Victim Law Institute at Lewis & Clark Law School.

“Every crime should be taken seriously,” Garvin says. “What happens, unfortunately, is law enforcement sometimes makes a resource allocation decision and focuses on what they perceive to be person crimes.”

Basically, police have limited resources, and they want to spend what they do have investigating violent crimes rather than who stole your Blu-Ray player.

The sharp cuts in police budgets since the financial crisis have only made this problem worse, says Mai Fernandez, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime.

“Victims need to know that reduced funding for local police often means that response times for non-violent crime can be longer, and there may be less police resources available to investigate crimes like burglary, theft and vandalism,” Fernandez says.

How to get police to care a little bit more

There aren’t any magic words you can say to police to get them to take your crime seriously, says Gavin, but there are some pragmatic steps you can take both before and after a crime is committed to improve your chances.

1. Be careful to document each and every item stolen or damaged. The seriousness of a property crime is usually measured by the value of the items taken or destroyed, so it’s possible that documenting that one last piece of jewelry or camera could push it into a higher class of crime and get more attention from law enforcement.

And if you don’t get everything down the first time, it’s OK to contact police and report more stolen items, Garvin says.

“While lots of people think property theft doesn’t impact them emotionally or psychologically, it does impact most of us that way, and trauma, whatever type of trauma we have, impacts our ability to capture information and store it really easily in our brains. You might not even realize the first time you look around your house that your DVDs were stolen,” she says. “Don’t be afraid that if you miss something the first time, to supplement your statement.”

2. Make sure you have a current inventory of your stuff and record the serial numbers of any of your electronics and other items that have them. Those serial numbers will make it a lot easier to track down your stolen goods and will give police a greater chance of success in pursuing the case if thieves try to resell the items at a pawn shop or elsewhere.

“We should all know what’s in our house and we should document it,” Garvin says.

3. Follow up with law enforcement. Calling to check in on the progress of the case can sometimes get more attention paid to it, Garvin says.

While some police may not appreciate crime victims calling too often, “expressing interest in the ongoing investigation of your case is always a good thing,” Garvin says. “That sometimes prods folks to pay attention to the case that they perceive the victim to be more invested in than a case where a victim might be silent.”

Police should provide you with a case number at the scene to make that easier, says Fernandez.

“Victims may need a police report filed for insurance purposes, or to explain an absence to their employer: it is important for police to make this process as easy as possible. It is also crucial for the police to make available to victims a case number for follow-up, and a list of support services in their community,” she says.

4. Consider getting a victims’ rights attorney on your side.

“I think that there is a chance to get things taken more seriously when victims of any type of crime have a lawyer who talks to law enforcement and prosecution and talks in the language of law,” Garvin says. “Sometimes when you have a lawyer protecting your rights in a process, it goes better.”

Garvin’s organization specializes in connecting victims with attorneys willing to work pro bono for crime victims, so that might be a good place to start if you feel your case isn’t getting the attention it deserves.

What do you think? Have you ever been the victim of a property crime you felt wasn’t investigated properly — or at all?