How to Catch a Burglar or a Thief

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The Crime Survey for England and Wales for the year ending December 2019 showed an 8% increase in the overall number of theft offences, compared with the previous year, to 3,751,000 offences. That’s a lot of theft.

On the other hand, there were fewer burglaries. In the year ending March 2017 there were 411,536 offences of burglary and the number has more than halved over the last decade. It is widely accepted that improvements to home security have been an important factor in the reduction in domestic burglaries. Burglars gained entry through a door around 70% of the time and through a window around 30% of the time. The most frequently stolen items are purses, wallets and money. Next most common are jewellery and watches, computer equipment and other electronic goods for example, cameras.

Maybe you’ve already taken steps to protect yourself against theft or burglary but if it happens here’s what you can do to help the police catch the thief.

6 things you can do to stop a burglar or thief

1.  Install CCTV

Some interior CCTV systems can notify you that someone is in your house as well as record their activity. They start recording when motion is detected, allowing you to see what’s happening on your smartphone, as well as control the camera. Make sure you choose a system with all the features you need.

The positioning of your cameras is key to providing useful evidence for the police. If placed in the correct places, you should be able to catch the intruders’ faces (provided they’re not wearing face coverings) as they wander around. Ideally, interior cameras should be at head height and face the inside of the front door, the back door and any vulnerable windows, as we know these are the likely entry points. Ideally a camera would be at an angle to the window to avoid light flooding the image and obscuring faces. Don’t forget passages and hallways too. Cameras here are likely to catch people as they make their way to the stairs, move from room to room and leave.

Exterior cameras should face doors, windows and other entry/exit points to maximise the chances of catching their faces as they approach the house. Try to cover the approach to your home but do not include public areas as filming there means you must comply with the Data Protection Act.

2. House alarms

Burglar alarms should be visible on the outside of your house. If the alarm is installed prominently, it can deter thieves or burglars from trying to break in. Set up door sensors around vulnerable doors and windows so that when the alarm is turned on and any of these sensor contacts is broken, the external siren will sound.

3. Motion detectors

Passive infrared sensor motion detectors that will set off an alarm should be placed in any room that an intruder might want to steal from, such as living rooms and bedrooms. Place the motion detectors as high up as you can to ensure a wide angle that covers the whole room.

4. Neighbourhood Watch schemes

Neighbourhood watch schemes encourage a sense of community where people cooperate to keep an eye out in their area, which discourages anti-social crime. Membership of a scheme has been shown to deter burglars and it can also help if you are burgled as strangers are noticed and members become alert to what’s going on in their area. Having neighbours who are alert to what’s happening in your community may mean that you have eyewitness accounts of a burglary.

5. Mark your belongings

Marking your valuable belongings means they might be recognised and returned to you, and the thieves caught. There are a number of different ways that you can mark your property. The easiest is with a UV pen. They can’t be seen without a UV light, which means the appearance of your belongings will not be spoiled. Another way to mark your items includes engraving or writing your postcode on their surface, which makes it harder for the burglar to sell as well and therefore not worth stealing. Permanent marking like this acts as a deterrent. Things like microdot, chemical and DNA marking are much more advanced methods of property marking, so are more expensive but can be extremely effective.

6. Register your belongings

Register your belongings for free on and if they’re lost or stolen, you have a better chance of recovering them. You can use to report registered items lost or stolen. This information is made available to all the major UK Police services so they can check recovered property and get it back to its owner.

5 things to do if you are burgled or have something stolen

1. Always report the crime to the police. You will get a crime reference number to tell your insurers. Sadly and all too often now, the police may not even come out to see you or even send a scenes of crime officer. Do make sure you tell them if you have caught intruders on CCTV and follow this up in writing. Try to persuade them to investigate.

2. Start to make records of what’s happened and what steps you take following the theft. Log your calls to the police and their response. You might want to complain. You should think about gathering evidence yourself and trying to force the police to take action.

Here’s an example of shaming the police to do something

3. Make a list of all items stolen and any damage caused to your property by the burglar trying to gain access. Take photographs of the damage done and you may already have photos of cherished or valuable items so you can help if the police are trying to identify your items from their recovered property. If you’ve got receipts for anything stolen, include the price you paid in your list. In the case of antiques, include any valuations you have. Provide copies of the receipts and valuations.

4.Get in touch with your insurers to report the crime. Your list of belongings, receipts and valuations, plus damage to your property will be useful for your insurance claim as well.

5. If you need to, ask Victim Support for help. Crimes like these are horrible experiences and can be very upsetting.

Above all don’t be put off. Try to get the police to do their job.

ONRECORD’s evidence gathering tools can help

Gathering evidence is crucial in being able to catch a burglar or thief. ONRECORD is designed to help you with collecting and storing evidence and information to allow you to prove your case.