Wednesday, May 15, 2013

What's the Difference Between "Robbery" and "Burglary"?

Update: This story was taken from the LA Times this morning, May 20, 2013.  Notice that the author refers to "robbers" and their plans to "rob" a car.  At the end of the article, the writer notes that both subjects were booked on suspicion of "burglary".  Someone doesn't follow this blog. 

Robbery and burglary are both theft-related crimes, but they should not be confused with each other.  I hear news broadcasters screw this one up all the time, e.g. "Robbers entered the vacant business around 4:30 AM and made off with inventory before police were able to respond to the building's silent alarm system", "Two homes in the Fullerton area were robbed while the occupants were away on vacation", or "Robbers are now using credit card scanners to steal your personal information while you're not even aware it's happening".  These fictitious news stories actually describe burglaries and thefts, but not robberies.

The distinction between "robbery" and other forms of theft is fairly simple and should not be cause for confusion.  Unfortunately, this distinction still eludes many in the news media -- people who have allegedly been trained to speak precisely and to accurately convey facts to the rest of us.

Put simply, robbery involves the taking of property from a person, "accomplished by means of force or fear".  The crime of robbery typically involves beating a victim and making off with the victim's wallet (taking of property accomplished by force), or sticking a gun into someone's face and demanding that a victim hand over his watch and jewelry (taking of property accomplished by fear).

Burglary, on the other hand, is the crime of entering property with the intent to commit theft.  Burglary can involve entering a person's home with the intent to steal that person's stereo (residential burglary), or breaking into a business to steal a safe (commercial burglary).  Note: since the passage of Prop. 47, entering a commercial business during normal business hours with the intent to commit theft is no longer included within the definition of "commercial burglary". 

If you come home from the movies and you find that thieves have broken a window to your garage and stolen your TV, you have been the victim of a burglary.  If thieves enter your house while you are home, tie you to a chair and beat you while they ransack the place, you have been the victim of a robbery.

I hope that answers all the questions you never cared to ask.  From now on, let's pay close attention to the definitions of the words we use, especially if we're in the business of accurately conveying information to the public.  Thanks for reading.