As has been discussed and illustrated above, the process of investigating burglary is a process of linking items of information about offences and items of information about offenders. Given the vast numbers of offences and offenders that are dealt with by officers, it is easy for crucial linkages to remain buried or to be overlooked. But when information that connects certain individuals and certain events is gathered, recorded, and communicated quickly, the chances are increased that these connections will come to light. It is equally important that officers are proactive in seeking to retrieve relevant data from all available sources, and not only those that are most obvious such as the main crimes or intelligence databases. Rapid dissemination and retrieval of information ensures that officers have access to the specific facts or intelligence they need over the course of an investigation, as and when they need them. Conversely, due to the multitude of demands on the time and attention of officers, valuable opportunities for detection may be lost if certain items of information become available only after the relevant avenue of enquiry has been explored.
Hence early attendance at burglary scenes is important so that details of the offences can be gathered, recorded and entered on to the relevant databases with minimum delay. In reality, the availability of officers generally determines the speed with which the initial visit is carried out: in Chiltern Vale, for example, officers said in interview that because of staff shortages burglaries were sometimes attended two or three days after the event. Nevertheless, in this area it was expected that the details taken during the initial visit would be entered on the offences database within 24 hours of the report being taken27. In Oxford, efforts had been
27 Ericson and Haggerty (1997), conducting research on Canadian police organisations, found that in some areas laptops were used by officers ‘in the field’. These enabled the officers to transmit crime reports electronically as soon as they had completed them at crime scenes – thereby ensuring that the information was almost immediately made available to their colleagues. However, some problems were encountered in the implementation of this system: for example, some of the officers were not computer literate, and some found the computers difficult to carry and use, especially on foot patrol. In one police area studied by Ericson and Haggerty, a ‘voice-entry occurrence report system’ was being introduced: that is, patrol officers were being issued with mobile telephones to call in their crime reports to trained clerks. It was hoped that this would improve the quality of reports taken, and it could be expected also to speed up the dissemination of information. At the time of the field-work undertaken for this study, the introduction of a similar system for crime reporting was being considered in Thames Valley Police.
made to speed up the process by which initial crime reports made their way to the desks of the relevant members of the burglary team, with the result that the officers generally received the reports within one or two days of the initial visit to the scene.
Access to information about offences is not solely a matter of burglary reports being entered on to the crimes database, and the efficient allocation of cases to investigating officers. In Oxford and the other fieldwork sites, officers did not simply wait to receive the completed burglary pack for information about recent offences. If they needed to find out about any very recent burglaries which had not yet been recorded by a uniformed officer – for example, if a suspect arrested for another offence had property in his possession that was believed to be stolen but could not be traced to a reported burglary – they would access the command and control database to search the logs of calls from the public. (This reiterates the importance of competent handling and recording of calls to the police, mentioned in Chapter 4.) These were the circumstances under which Edward P- came to be charged with burglary, as described below in Box 6.2.
In addition to the case of Edward P-, several other case studies examined for this project provided examples of officers acting on very recent information in pressing charges for burglary against suspects arrested for other offences. Sam P-, for example (Box 2.1), was being questioned about one offence when property that had been found at his home address was traced to another burglary that had been committed two days before. And when Paul S- (Box 3.2) was arrested for breaching his bail conditions, he was found to have property on his person that, it was quickly established, had come from a burglary carried out earlier that day.
The case of Chris W. (Box 6.3) provides a different kind of example of how officers’ rapid retrieval of information about offences can play a crucial part in an investigation. Here, details obtained from the Police National Computer relating to a stolen vehicle helped to link the target of an ongoing surveillance operation to a recent burglary.