Ask A Cop: Spotting a Burglar

Have a question for the Sheriff's Office? Let us know.

Is there anything you have ever wanted to know from the police department? Well, this is your chance to ask. 

Patch has always strived to bring its readers all types of information and keep them updated on what is happening in their communities. It is with that in mind that we bring you our newest column, “Ask A Cop.” We will be teaming up with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office and other local law enforcement agencies from around the county to answer your questions.

Whether you have a question about certain laws and how they might affect you, your family or friends or how to stay safe in certain situations, we want you to ask them. Every week we will run one question and answer. To submit a question, email Shannon.burkey@patch.com.


“I saw someone with a flashlight looking into a neighbor's car. He saw me and then took off. It looked like if he hadn't seen me, he was going to break into the car. What should I have done? Should I have stopped him? Yelled? Called the police?”


This is a great question because sooner or later everyone sees or hears something at or near their home that causes concern for their safety or their property, or for their neighbors. We generally recommend that you avoid confrontation with suspects whenever possible. If someone is prowling around your neighborhood, call 911 as soon as possible so police arrive in the area quicker, which increases the likelihood of catching suspects. Although it’s probably dark out, the more information you can provide the better–number of suspects, type and color of clothing, age brackets. These kinds of broad descriptions allow the police to eliminate others as they enter the area and focus on possible suspects. You may also consider turning on outside lights. This will allow you to see the suspects better and let them know you saw them, which should encourage them to stop what they are doing and leave–which is what you really want. Deputies and police receive these types of calls frequently, and we often find the suspects in or near the area and arrest them when our response times are good. 

We think this is the best response because it is the safest response. If you go out and confront someone, it may lead to violence and you may get hurt. If you bring a weapon to the situation it increases the chances someone will get hurt, and the suspect could have a weapon too. If that were the case, the whole situation has escalated from a prowling or property crime to a dangerous one with an uncertain outcome. It is not a matter of who was right and who was wrong–we all know the suspect should not have been there in the first place–it’s a matter of your safety. Imagine how your family would feel if you went outside to take care of the situation and you wind up in the emergency room with injuries! At minimum you will have to recover from your injuries, possibly miss work and pay medical bills–not to mention the fear and concern experienced by you and your family. We don’t think it is worth it and we want to respond to these kinds of calls so you don’t assume these risks. Stay safe!  

-Deputy April Skalland, Sheriff’s Office  

Shannon Burkey June 19, 2012 at 10:03 PM
Thanks for the question Mary. That really is a great point. I will give it to the Sheriff's Office and see if it is something they can answer. I'm sure many other people have wondered the same thing.
Mary Smith June 19, 2012 at 10:14 PM
Oh that would be great! Thanks, Shannon!
Cathy P. June 20, 2012 at 02:53 PM
@Mary - FYI, you can make an emergency call with a hand held cell phone while driving, the operative word is emergency. If you get stopped you will have to prove you were calling in an emergency. When you call 911 from a cell phone, the call often lands in a regional center. A call-taker in a far-away city or county may answer your call. To get help to you, there are two pieces of information the call-taker needs to know immediately: 1. Tell the call-taker which city you're calling from. 2.Tell the call-taker what type of emergency you have. Giving the call-taker your cell phone number is also helpful in case you get disconnected and they can call you back. Different emergency services use different dispatch centers. With the right information, the call-taker will transfer you to the right center. Here's a FCC Fact Sheet link if you're interested http://transition.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/wireless911srvc.pdf
Mary Smith June 20, 2012 at 06:39 PM
Thank you, itsmecissy, for all the good information. I am familiar with most of what you said. But I still would like to know why the technology is not there to call 911 through my bluetooth. If an emergency were to come up where I would have to keep a close watch on another car (for example an Amber Alert or drunk driver) I would not want to be fumbling to get into my pocket or purse to retrieve my cell phone while I'm driving. It just bugs me that we have so much technology available to us, and yet we can't call 911 from a bluetooth! I would like someone to tell me WHY this can't be done!
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