Burglary Investigations

By Daryl W. Clemens

Burglary defined

Burglary is sometimes also known as Home Invasion, or Breaking and Entering. The unlawful entry into the premises of another with intent to commit a felony (usually larceny) therein.


Burglaries represent one of the more common crimes to which patrol officers respond. Someone has returned home from an evening out and found the doors open and their property missing. The police are called, and an investigation is begun.

Often there are no witnesses to these crimes which makes the collection of evidence from the scene even more crucial. It is possible to find a great variety of evidence at burglary scenes, this article will attempt to introduce some of the more common types.

Approaching the scene

Unless the crime is known with certainty to be old, officers should respond as if it has just occurred. Often it is the arrival of the owner/residents which has caused the burglar to flee from the scene. Officers should be aware that the suspect(s) may still be in the area and be alert for suspicious persons as they make their way to the scene.

Securing the scene

Generally it is not necessary to go to great lengths to secure a burglary scene. Ask the victim to avoid handling anything, and try to keep them in an undisturbed portion of the scene. Traffic through the building should be minimized. In some cases the victims may have already been through the entire premises and begun to clean up before the police arrive. This makes the location of evidence more difficult.


The victim is an important part of any investigation. Have the victim walk you through the scene and point out the locations of items which have been disturbed.

Looking for Evidence

A rule of thumb for any crime scene is that the best evidence is usually found at the point of greatest activity. At burglary scenes this is often the place where the suspect gained entry into the building. (The Point of Entry). One of the first things which needs to be determined then is: How and Where was entry gained? The most common methods are breaking a window or kicking in a door. If some other method of entry is used, make special note of it. Be sure to check all the doors and windows for signs of forced entry often a burglar may try several doors or windows before finding one they can open. Where did the suspect(s) go inside the scene? In basic terms where are the items which are missing or disturbed? Look along the routes from the Point of Entry to the locations of the items.

Types of Evidence:


Fingerprints are one of the best forms of evidence at any scene, and burglaries offer many opportunities for locating prints. The normal method of fingerprint processing at burglary scenes is with fingerprint powder. Powder has been used in crime investigation since the early 1900’s. It’s cheap and effective. The only materials required are a soft brush, light and dark colored powders and a roll of clear tape. Once developed the fingerprints can be photographed and/or lifted with tape.

When looking for items to process for latent prints, the rule of thumb is that the more like glass the surface is, the better. Hard, smooth, clean surfaces offer the best chance for locating latent fingerprints. The less smooth the surface is the less likely it is to yield identifiable prints, with cloth being more or less impossible to recover prints from. Dusting wet or greasy surfaces will just result in you ruining your brush. Wet items can be air dried and processed later, while greasy surfaces will require a completely different processing technique.

There are several new materials available which aid in the recovery of prints from textured surfaces. They don’t improve the chances that prints will be left on the surfaces, but they allow you to recover any prints you do find. Look in a current crime scene supply catalog for details.

One of the best things about fingerprints at crime scenes is AFIS, the computerized fingerprint database. Crime scene prints of sufficient quality can be searched in the computer, and can develop suspects in otherwise cold cases.

Footwear impressions

Footwear impressions can often be found near points of entry, either below windows, or on doors which have been kicked. With broken windows, it can also be valuable to check the glass on the floor inside the window for impressions.

Footwear impressions on glass or doors can be recovered using fingerprint powders and lifting tape. Footwear imprints can also be photographed. Use a scale in the photographs so they can be reprinted actual size. Footwear impressions in dirt or snow can be cast. Dental stone is the current casting material of choice. It is usually mixed with water in a large “Ziplock” bag and poured into the impression. Casting can be rather time consuming, and specific instructions are outside the scope of this article.