What to do about unprofessional detective work
November 22, 2019 11:43 PM   Subscribe

We were robbed a few weeks ago. Several conversations with the detective working our case have left me and my spouse feeling blamed. What are our best options?

The detective assigned to our case has not personally accused us of wrongdoing, but we feel like the detective has some blinders on and is focusing on the wrong details. For example:

- Whoever broke in took prescription medication and some jewelry, but didn't take two laptops that were out in the open. Based on what wasn't taken, the detective categorized this incident as suspicious and has made us feel accused.

- Pulling me aside when my spouse was out of the room, the detective asked if everything was OK in our marriage. The detective has now asked me about our marriage several times.

- When I informed the detective about another break-in in our neighborhood about a month prior to ours in which belongings from that home ended up in our yard, the detective took down that information, but we don't have much confidence that the detective will connect the dots.

We live in an area that isn't the safest. In the Nextdoor community for our neighborhood, there are frequent reports of cars being broken into and rummaged through overnight and suspicious people lurking around. The fact that our home was broken into is personally upsetting but not exactly a surprise to us. The motive doesn't seem to be a mystery to us.

We plan to talk to an attorney, but I'm wondering if anyone has had a similarly disappointing experience and what you did about it. Did you file a complaint? Did you request a different detective? What are we in for if we go that route?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm writing to commiserate because I've had equally disappointing experiences. I have had some dealings with detectives both local and otherwise. And although some must be good, in my case one was terrible and the other was worse. The terrible one looked at me with suspicion and wouldn't have moved on the case without my pushing, but the end result was so lazy it was laughable. The other one wouldn't let me finish a sentence, and declared the case closed so quickly it was unconscionable. I was told by various lawyers that law enforcement is known to be corrupt and lazy in the state in question, which also underfunds all public services. You could try reaching out to public oversight for the various detectives. You could also explore going to the media. To say the least, it's disappointing when public servants don't serve.
posted by Puppetry for Privacy at 1:31 AM on November 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

I've been burgled twice, in 2006 and 2010. A criminal lawyer I dated at the time told me that there are two types of burglars: professional, and non-professional AKA crackhead. Professional burglars tend to case a place before they burgle it, and to target something worth stealing. They have other criminal contacts they can use to unload traceable things such as electronics with serial numbers, high-end jewelry with registered stones, or fine art. Crackheads just break into places at random and look for things they can grab and sell easily, and if they can get $10 for something to buy drugs, it's worth it to them. Both my burglaries were crackhead-type jobs, because a professional burglar wouldn't bother with my place. In the first burglary, the thief took most of my jewelry and about 30 CDs. In the second burglary, the thief took my jewelry box with all of my jewelry inside. My jewelry wasn't high-end in either case. They would have been able to easily sell/pawn the stolen items with no questions asked.

Your burglary definitely sounds like a crackhead hit. The thieves can take the medication themselves, or maybe sell it to friends, and sell the jewelry. The laptops they would have needed a fence for.

I don't know what to tell you regarding the process to complain about this detective, but I definitely would speak to that lawyer and otherwise explore my options for complaining/reporting him. It does not sound as though he knows how to do his job.
posted by orange swan at 3:08 AM on November 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

Before you do anything consider what you’re trying to achieve: Get the burglar found and punished? Get your stuff back? Get the detective reprimanded? All of the above? Feel safe again?

In the grand scheme of things while it sucks to have your home violated this is one of the less bad crimes you could suffer. It’s upsetting but not life changing. You’re unhurt, you were not swindled out of your life savings.

Realistically, it’s unlikely you’ll get your stuff back and it’s unlikely the burglar will get caught and punished. This may be completely unrelated to the other burglary, there may well be nothing to connect. By all means complain about the guy’s lack of professionalism but that won’t get anybody more interested in solving the case when they’ve had x new ones come in since then.

Personally, I’d save the money for a consultation with a lawyer and use it to strengthen home security if that makes sense - I am not saying you were in any way negligent or to blame but there are always things you can do to a property to make it more or less appealing to the sort of opportunist likely to have done this.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:47 AM on November 23, 2019 [6 favorites]

When my tool trailer (containing $5k worth of tools) was stolen last month, it took two weeks to get a detective to call me back, and that was only because I escalated to his sergeant when I found some of my tools for sale online. The detective’s response was to tell me how hard it would be get a warrant, and he suggested I attempt to contact the seller myself. So I found out the thief’s name and address. The detective suggested I attempt to recover my tools myself while we waited for a warrant, so I convinced the thief to take me around to all the places he’d sold/pawned my tools and got some of them back. Two weeks later, the detective emailed me saying “I just noticed this case was still open, so if there’s nothing else we’ll just close it.” I once again escalated to his sergeant, who told me, “we’re in the prosecuting crimes business, not the asset recovery business. Since you negotiated with the thief, it’s now a civil matter, so sue him if you want.” TL;DR:ACAB
posted by bradf at 5:37 AM on November 23, 2019 [38 favorites]

It seems a little disrespectful from your angle yes but I think the cop is not being polite more than accusatory. Just think of the loot that got took. Jewelry and prescriptions can easily be sold or traded for drugs. Laptops can be traced. Theres a clue in his behavior. Somehow he thinks or is letting you know someone you know or your husband knows might be the suspect. Maybe a person with slight acquaintance with neighbor. For instance if your neighbor sold or bought something from a friend of yours that might have criminal past. That's how I'd look at it.
posted by The_imp_inimpossible at 5:45 AM on November 23, 2019

Why are you hiring an attorney? What outcome are you looking for here? The chances that whomever broke into your house will be caught are vanishingly small; neither you nor your spouse has been questioned or is at risk of arrest; the detective isn't going to be reprimanded in any way.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:59 AM on November 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

If the prescription medication stolen was a controlled substance, you and your husband are number 1 in the tec's eyes. I went through a similar situation and it nearly caused me to... act out someway somehow. It was the lowest point of my life. Fuck cops.
posted by james33 at 6:45 AM on November 23, 2019

When I was burgled it was obviously the neighbors (they talked about details of the burglary I hadn't told anyone, including the police) and what was stolen matched their profile (the makeup and cosmetics stolen were by somebody who matched my skin tone and knew what was expensive and what was not). The detective did absolutely nothing with this information and the sergeant nothing as well. I suppose they preferred to focus on harassing black men in my neighborhood than looking into a white woman.
posted by schroedinger at 6:45 AM on November 23, 2019

Something similar happened to me and my roommates. The responding officer thought we were up to something and questioned us individually until we had to demand that he leave. We filed a complaint with the police department. Nothing happened, the officer got promoted eventually. Our stuff was at the local pawn shop, who had a photocopy of the ID of the person who pawned it. We ended up buying back the stuff we couldn't replace, because we couldn't trust the months-long process to get it back via legal channels (this was also the recommendation of the police)

Consider renter's insurance for next time. And don't depend on the police for anything.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:57 AM on November 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

My experience, having been burgled twice (in two different cities), is that the detective is there to create supporting documentation for a renters insurance claim. That’s it. Catching a bad guy and recovering stuff doesn’t enter into it.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 7:25 AM on November 23, 2019 [10 favorites]

The cop is trying to suggest that you or your partner or someone you know took the stuff because they have a drug problem, and you're calling it a burglary instead of a domestic issue out of embarrassment or something. Detectives see everyone as criminals and are not very perceptive otherwise. They're also stubborn so won't necessarily do a better job just because you hound them. You're unlikely to get any resolution unless the thief happens to get arrested for something else and they find the pill bottle with your name and bother to remember this other case
posted by dis_integration at 7:27 AM on November 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

A criminal lawyer I dated at the time told me that there are two types of burglars: professional, and non-professional AKA crackhead.

When we were broken into, it was obviously a non-professional, probably fueling a meth addiction. The police "investigation" was limited to filling out the paperwork we needed for the insurance; they didn't do anything beyond that, collect any evidence, take any photos, etc. The officer told us directly that they just count on catching the person sooner or later because they are bad criminals, not by investigating each incident. (And likely he was right -- a few weeks later, they caught a guy in the middle of an identical break-in a few blocks away; almost certainly it was the same guy but no one asked that question.)

All of this to say, awkward, unprofessional, and unimpressive interactions with the police seems pretty standard in these situations. I don't know what a lawyer could or couldn't provide in your case, but at a minimum there is probably value in filing a complaint once you have received the paperwork you need.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:52 AM on November 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

It was a simple burglary and the cop doesn't want to waste their time on it, largely because what was stolen is never going to be recovered anyway. At best, it'll be noted that a crime was committed in your area and that's that. Their obliquely pointing the finger at you may be intended to make you stop bothering them and go away.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:53 AM on November 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Wrt renters insurance, only do this if you have property you literally cannot replace otherwise. If you claim, they will pay off and then cancel your insurance, and the underwriters at the next insurers will give you a punitively higher rate. Making claims counts as a moral hazard.
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:53 AM on November 23, 2019

I sympathize. When my apartment was burglarized about 15 years ago, the responding police officer told me that there's basically no chance in hell that the perp would ever be caught, and I could kiss my stuff goodbye. The cop wanted to leave without writing it up as a formal report. I insisted that he file the report, which he did so reluctantly. I never heard back with any follow up. I'm assuming that no-one even investigated the crime.

Another data point: On the neighborhood Facebook page, I see complaints from people whose cars were broken into (this is a common occurrence here) and who receive very little support from the local police, even when there is video evidence from doorbell cams and other security cameras.
posted by alex1965 at 8:09 AM on November 23, 2019

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