Criminal Law

Burglary—Breaking or Entering

  • Forcible Entry
  • Unlawful Entry—No Force
  • Attempted Forcible Entry

Definition: The unlawful entry of a structure to commit a felony or a theft.

The UCR Program classifies offenses locally known as burglary (any degree), unlawful entry with intent to commit a larceny or felony, breaking and entering with intent to commit a larceny, house-breaking, safecracking, and all attempts at these offenses as burglary.

The UCR Program's definition of a structure includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Apartment
  • Barn
  • Cabin
  • Church
  • Condominium
  • Dwelling house
  • Factory
  • Garage
  • House trailer or houseboat (used as permanent dwelling)
  • Mill
  • Office
  • Other building
  • Outbuilding
  • Public building
  • Railroad car
  • Room
  • School
  • Stable
  • Storage facility
  • Vessel (ship)
  • Warehouse

Additionally, any house trailer or other mobile unit that is permanently fixed as an office, residence, or storehouse is considered a structure. Tents, tent trailers, motor homes, house trailers, or other mobile units that are being used for recreational purposes are not considered structures. The UCR Program does not consider a telephone booth a structure.

Hotel Rule

Burglaries of hotels, motels, lodging houses, or other places where lodging of transients is the main purpose can present reporting problems to law enforcement. If a number of units under a single manager are burglarized and the offenses are most likely to be reported to the police by the manager rather than the individual tenants, the burglary must be reported as a single offense. Examples are burglaries of a number of rental hotel rooms, rooms in flop houses, rooms in youth hostels, and units in a motel. If the individual living areas in a building are rented or leased to the occupants for a period of time that would preclude the tenancy from being classified as transient, then the burglaries would most likely be reported separately by the occupants. Such burglaries must be reported as separate offenses. Examples of this latter type of multiple burglary would be the burglaries of a number of apartments in an apartment house, of the offices of a number of commercial firms in a business building, of the offices of separate professionals within one building, or of a number of rooms in a college dormitory.

Thefts from automobiles, whether locked or not; shoplifting from commercial establishments; and thefts from telephone booths, coin boxes, or coin-operated machines are all classified as larceny-theft offenses. If the area entered was one of open access, thefts from the area would not involve an unlawful trespass and would be classified as larceny-theft. A forcible entry or unlawful entry in which no theft or felony occurs but acts of vandalism, malicious mischief, etc. are committed is not classified as a burglary provided investigation clearly established that the unlawful entry was for a purpose other than to commit a felony or theft. (For information about vandalism as a Part II offense, see page 141.) Of course, if the offender unlawfully entered the structure, a multiple offense exists and the agency must classify the offense as a burglary.

Larceny-theft is an element of burglary and, therefore, must not be reported as a separate offense if associated with the unlawful entry of a structure. If a forcible or unlawful entry of a building is made to steal a motor vehicle, the reporting agency must count the offense and the value of the vehicle under burglary, not motor vehicle theft.

When a question arises as to whether a type of structure comes within the scope of the burglary definition, the law enforcement officer must look to the nature of the crime and be guided by the examples set forth. If a question remains, the agency should contact its state UCR Program. Direct contributors should contact the national Uniform Crime Reporting Program, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1000 Custer Hollow Road, Clarksburg, WV 26306; telephone (888) UCR-NIBR/(888) 827-6427.

NOTE: It is important to remember that offenses must be classified according to UCR definitions and not according to state or local codes. Some states might, for instance, categorize a shoplifting or a theft from an automobile as burglary. These offenses are not classified as burglaries in UCR and must be reported to the national Program as larceny-thefts.

Burglary—Forcible Entry

Law enforcement must classify as Burglary—Forcible Entry (5a) all offenses where force of any kind is used to unlawfully enter a structure for the purpose of committing a theft or felony. This definition applies when a thief gains entry by using tools; breaking windows; forcing windows, doors, transoms, or ventilators; cutting screens, walls, or roofs; and where known, using master keys, picks, unauthorized keys, celluloid, a mechanical contrivance of any kind (e.g., a passkey or skeleton key), or other devices that leave no outward mark but are used to force a lock. Agencies must also include in this category burglary by concealment inside a building followed by exiting the structure.

The following scenarios illustrate incidents known to law enforcement that reporting agencies must classify as Burglary—Forcible Entry (5a):

  1. A liquor store was broken into on a holiday when the store was closed. The next day, the manager found alcoholic beverages and money were missing and called the police.
  2. A burglar used a key to enter four units in a condominium complex and stole numerous articles from each residence. The resident in each condominium called the police. The police made no arrest.
  3. A man hid in a theater. After it closed, he stole money from the cash register and left the premises during the night. The police made no arrest.

Burglary—Unlawful Entry—No Force

The entry of a structure in a Burglary—Unlawful Entry—No Force (5b) situation is achieved by use of an unlocked door or window. The element of trespass to the structure is essential in this category, which includes thefts from open garages, open warehouses, open or unlocked dwellings, and open or unlocked common basement areas in apartment houses where entry is achieved by other than the tenant who has lawful access.

The following scenarios illustrate incidents known to law enforcement that reporting agencies must classify as Burglary—Unlawful Entry—No Force (5b):

  1. While a housewife was in the backyard hanging clothes, a 14-year-old boy entered her house through the unlocked front door and took her purse. When the woman realized her purse was missing, she called the police. The police subsequently located the boy and charged him with juvenile delinquency.
  2. A woman posing as a maintenance employee entered an unlocked office and stole a wallet from a cabinet.
  3. During the night, someone stole a $24,000 car out of an unlocked, but closed, private garage. Two days later, police found the car abandoned in a nearby town. No suspect was identified.

In certain circumstances of burglary, an agency may be required to identify, classify, and report both Forcible Entry (5a) and Unlawful Entry—No Force (5b) within the same incident. Therefore, the agency will occasionally report offenses in two or more categories.

The following scenario illustrates an incident known to law enforcement that reporting agencies must classify in two subcategories of burglary:

  1. After closing hours, a thief entered an unlocked door of a warehouse. The warehouse contained a number of offices of individual shipping companies. The subject broke into eight of the company offices, rifled the office desks, and stole some items from each office.

Explanation: The reporting agency must classify this incident as eight offenses of Burglary— Forcible Entry (5a) and one offense of Burglary—Unlawful Entry—No Force (5b).

Burglary—Attempted Forcible Entry

This category includes those situations where a forcible entry burglary is attempted but not completed. Once the thief is inside a locked structure, the offense becomes a Burglary—Forcible Entry (5a). Agencies must classify attempts to enter an unlocked structure as well as actual trespass to an unlocked structure as Burglary—Unlawful Entry—No Force (5b). Only situations in which a thief has attempted to break into a locked structure are classified as Burglary—Attempted Forcible Entry (5c).

The following scenario illustrates an incident known to law enforcement that reporting agencies must classify as Burglary—Attempted Forcible Entry (5c):

  1. Police investigation verified an attempted break-in at the local bank. There were no suspects in the incident.