Burglary vs. Robbery vs. Theft vs. Home Invasion
Picture a suspicious character sneaking into a house to take valuables. Depending on the situation, the crime could be a burglary, robbery, theft, home invasion, or even a combination of those. The common denominator is that what’s done is a crime that leaves the victim feeling violated, plus a myriad of other emotions. There are some significant differences among these terms, though, so let’s define burglary vs. robbery and expand from there. After all, knowledge is power, particularly if you need to discuss a crime with law enforcement or attorneys.
Burglary vs. Robbery and Other Crimes, Defined
In common conversations, people often use the terms robbery and burglary interchangeably. But comparing burglary versus robbery versus theft reveals they are very different crimes. Each carries its own legal definition and its own criminal charges.
What does burglary mean? At its most basic, burglary involves entering a home or another structure illegally intending to commit a crime (such as theft). That’s true even if that person doesn’t actually take something. It’s a crime against a place, not a person or thing.
If a masked man breaks the pane of glass next to the front door to unlock it or enters an open window planning to pilfer the family’s silverware, these are acts of burglary. And it’s still burglary if he gets caught or makes a getaway before nabbing anything. The intended crime doesn’t have to be theft, either. If our masked man intended to hurt someone in the home or spray paint the walls, that’s burglary, too.
(What if the intruder is just intruding and doesn’t mean to commit any further crimes? That’s trespassing.)
The FBI reports that each year, there are over 1 million burglaries in the United States. And the police solve less than 15% of reported burglary cases each year, according to the Pew Research Center.
The FBI classifies burglary into three categories.
- Forcible entry: This is what most people picture when they think of burglary. It involves “breaking in” in the traditional sense, e.g. picking a lock, breaking something, or forcing a door open.
- Unlawful entry: If the intruder doesn’t use force, it’s called unlawful entry. This might be a “crime of opportunity” if the criminal uses an open window or unlocked door.
- Attempted forcible entry: This crime, which isn’t a category of burglary in every state, refers to a person being at a property with something that they could use to break in, such as a lock pick.
The common denominator is that someone enters a place intending to commit a crime. That remains true whether it’s a house, apartment, barn, office, shed, or even a vehicle.
In contrast, robbery involves taking or attempting to take property from a person directly through the use of threats or violence. It’s a crime against a person. As such, it’s a violent crime, not a property crime. That means a robbery can occur even if the robber takes nothing.
A robbery can take place anywhere, including in public spaces and businesses. Breaking in isn’t a requirement.
Robbery has five elements:
- Intent: A robber acts purposefully, not accidentally, with the intent of obtaining property.
- Property: Robbers are after something of value, though that could really be anything.
- Ownership: Robbery is an attempt to take possession of something from the rightful owner.
- Taking: Property can actually change hands or the criminal might fail to obtain it. Either way, it’s still robbery.
- Force: Whether it’s implied, threatened, or used, robbers use force or violence to create fear and coerce their victims.
What is the difference between burglary and robbery? A lot, actually. The difference between robbery and burglary lies in how, where, and what happens. Burglary is a crime against a property. It’s about unlawful entry into the property, even if the burglar walks out with nothing. In contrast, robbery is a crime against a person. It can occur anywhere and is still robbery even if the suspect leaves with nothing. The threat of violence or force makes it criminal.
The FBI classifies robbery as a violent crime, while it classifies burglary and theft as property crimes. Property crimes occur 5.5 times more often than violent crimes.
The FBI considers theft and larceny to be the same thing for reporting purposes. Hence, the agency often refers to it as larceny-theft.
Commonly speaking, theft is simply taking property that isn’t yours, whether that’s a material item like a wallet or anything else that has value, like services or ideas. As with many crimes, theft has levels of severity. On the lower end, theft might be a misdemeanor because the item or items taken were of a lower value. On the higher end, grand theft refers to stealing something valuable. How that’s defined varies from location to location.
So comparing burglary vs. theft, what’s the difference? Burglary is the act of breaking in, while theft is the act of stealing. Theft often happens with robbery or burglary, but it can happen all on its own, too. As such, each is treated as a separate crime with its own criminal charge and punishment.
Comparing burglary vs. home invasion is misleading because home invasion is a specific subtype of burglary. When a criminal unlawfully enters a residence while the occupants are inside with the intent to commit a crime, that’s a home invasion. The planned crime in question could be robbery, assault, or any number of things, but nearly always involves violence.
Home invasion is typically the most dangerous type of break-in, as there is an immediate threat of violent confrontation between the offender and the victim. This situation is the basis of “castle doctrine” laws that protect the property owner’s right to defend their home, even with force.
Some U.S. states delineate home invasion as its own crime. In other states, the incident will be charged according to the components involved (e.g. burglary, armed robbery, and assault).
A Shortcut to Define Burglary vs. Robbery vs. Theft Quickly
Keeping these three crimes straight can be confusing, especially since they often occur together. Here’s a quick and easy way to remember which is which.
- Burglary is a crime against a place (an invaded structure)
- Robbery is a crime against a person (a threatened victim)
- Theft is a crime against a thing (a stolen valuable)
Paying the Price for Burglary vs. Robbery vs. Theft
Because state statutes cover the crimes of robbery, burglary, theft, and home invasion, their legal consequences vary. However, penalties tend to increase if there’s a higher potential for violence. Generally, robbery and home invasion are more severe crimes than burglary and theft, though this depends on many factors.
In most states, a person can be charged with robbery if there’s a victim present at the scene and intimidation or force is used to steal something. The penalty for burglary is usually higher if the building where it was committed was occupied at the time (i.e. home invasion). With theft, it depends on the value of the item stolen. The courts would not treat stealing candy the same as stealing a car, for example.
As mentioned, it’s also variable whether the incident is a misdemeanor or a felony, as well as whether it will be tried in civil or criminal court. If any of these crimes affect you, it’s smart to speak with law enforcement and legal counsel to get a better understanding of your unique circumstances.
How Do I Make Myself Less Of A Target for Robberies, Burglaries, and Theft?
As with many things, being proactive and safety-conscious can go a long way to protect yourself from robbery and burglary. Most burglaries (66%) affect residential properties, according to the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice. Consider these proactive steps to avoid becoming a statistic:
- Ensure you have a strong front door/frame. Consider this: 34% of burglars use the front door when breaking into a home, according to the Bureau of Justice. What is your front door setup? Does it have a single lock or a deadbolt? How strong is the door frame? (Chances are, it could benefit from reinforcement.) Does your front door style include window panes along the sides? Learn how to secure your door from being kicked in and put these tips to use.
- Ensure you have a strong back door/frame. Given that 22% of break-ins happen through the back door, apply the same measures to the back door as you do to the front. Take measures to amp up your backyard security, like installing motion-activated floodlights.
- Make your windows burglar-proof. Windows are the third most common entry point. If you don’t know how to burglar-proof your windows, there are several easy methods, such as security bars and window film.
Burglary vs. robbery vs. theft vs. other crimes… the distinction is important, but prevention is even more important. And easier than you might think.
The Power of a Security System
Homes without a security system are 300% more likely to be broken into and burglarized. Nearly half of homeowners don’t have a security system. And 83% of would-be burglars check for a security system before they attempt a break-in, according to the FBI. In other words, the easiest way to prevent burglaries and robberies at your home is to invest in a home security system.
Deep Sentinel’s home security cameras use real-time video surveillance with AI that differentiates between normal activity and potentially criminal activity. In addition, live security guards monitor your property and can communicate with the perpetrator if there’s a criminal act in progress, like an attempted break-in. These guards also report burglaries, thefts, and other crimes directly to the police. That peace of mind is priceless.