Larceny: Police Procedures for Crime Novelists

Definitions to know

Larceny is the taking of property with the intent of permanent possession.

Burglary is breaking into a building with the intention to commit a crime inside.

Robbery is the taking of a person’s property while in their presence.

So, someone who breaks into a store and steals an item in front of the proprietor and takes off can be charged with all three!

Larceny is the most common crime police detectives investigate. It includes stealing money for personal use, safecracking, heists, and more.

Your story may have a small crime or a big crime or start small and end big as the risk and reward pushes your characters further into a life of crime.

For larceny cases, the detective asks a lot of questions, and the answers will lead them to more questions and more witnesses and suspects—which gives you a plethora of opportunities to lead your readers in the wrong direction!


Steps in the investigative process

So, what happens when a theft is reported?

A desk sergeant or a patrol officer will get the complaint and report it to a detective.

The detective will get all the information they can from the desk sergeant or officer and formulate an investigative plan. Then the exciting investigation really begins.

While there are many steps to an investigative process, the main ones are:

  • At the Scene
  • Questioning
  • Evaluating Evidence and Establishing Motive
  • Questioning Suspects
  • Searches of Suspect’s Premises
  • Use of Evidence

At the scene, the forensics unit will take pictures, dust for fingerprints, and bag any items of interest.

The detective will question the victim to ascertain:

  • What was taken, where it was when it was taken, and how it was taken
  • Details of the items stolen
  • Names and addresses of people who can confirm the victim’s ownership, the location of the items stolen, and any documentation like sales receipts that proves the victim’s ownership
  • Names of people who had access to the items and any possible witnesses

Police officers will also gather witness statements at this time under the direction of the detective.

Detectives then question the people to verify the information they gathered at the scene.

This questioning starts with witnesses and those who had access to the items.

They may ask:

  • Where were you at the time of the crime?
  • Did you see any suspicious activity, and if so, what was it?
  • Did you see any vehicles around the scene at the time of the crime?

The forensic team processes the evidence and reports their findings to the detective.

Fingerprints and DNA on door handles, cash registers, glass cases … anything they touched in the building.

The detectives use the forensics team’s findings and their own interviews to narrow down the suspect list.

They will assess who:

  • Had a motive
  • Had easy access to the items
  • Was around the place before and after the crime was committed
  • Has gambling debts or excessive spending habits
  • Is on record with a similar modus operandi

After the detectives have a short list of suspects, they question them.

As you can tell, detective work is asking a lot of questions and using their expertise to funnel the information and decide it is relevant or irrelevant.

Some questions they ask suspects.

  • Where were you when the larceny happened?
  • Who can verify your statement and how can they contact that person or persons?
  • When did you have access to the items or the building?
  • Do you know the victim?
  • Do you know who committed the crime?

Just because they are a suspect, doesn’t mean they did it. But they may know who did, or they could be a reluctant witness. These provide opportunities for great red herrings!

To search a suspect’s premises, they must have only one suspect to apply for a warrant.

Getting a judge to approve a warrant may take some time. Just because they apply for a warrant doesn’t mean they will get one. The judge will decide if they have enough evidence. Typically, the process takes a few hours to a few days from the request.

What you have your detective do in the meantime is up to you.

Most of the time, these delays in the process are filled with the detective’s personal issues and evaluating any new information they receive.

They can take only the items listed on the warrant.

If the warrant states the detective is looking for TVs and computers and they find cases of cell phones, they can’t seize the cell phones without explicit permission. 

The most common evidence is fingerprints left at the scene or on the stolen items if they find them.

This, along with witness statements or video evidence, establishes the suspect was at the scene.

If the stolen items are found in the suspect’s possession, detectives still need to prove they knowingly and illegally kept possession of the stolen property or tried to sell the property.

If they don’t find the stolen items, the detective will try to prove the suspect sold the items by looking into their finances and checking with nearby pawn shops.


Spice it up

Detective work can seem a bit boring, but you can make it exciting!

  • Chasing down a suspect on foot or in a car.
  • Having a witness or suspect resist questioning or arrest.
  • Making the search and seizure of property a great action scene.

And, of course, dropping red herrings into any of these situations will make your twist all the more surprising!

If you are interested in learning more, I suggest you begin with Police Procedural: A Writer’s Guide to the Police and How They Work by Russell Bintliff. Another resource is your local police department. You may be surprised at how willing they are to talk to authors about the process!

I hope you enjoyed this post.

Happy Writing and Revising!

Meet the Guest Blogger: Kristin Noland

Kristin is a developmental and line editor who works with women authors of speculative and crime fiction. She guides authors through the writing and editing process to strengthen their storytelling skills, so their readers are entertained and immersed in their stories from cover to cover. With her extensive experience and her caring and encouraging editing style, she can help you publish a captivating novel!

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With a passion for words, collecting quotes, and reading books, I love all things writing related. I will admit to having a love-hate relationship with writing as I am constantly critical, but I feel a grand sense of accomplishment spending hours editing my own writing.

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