How to navigate police bureaucracy; Or, I’ve been burgled, what should I do?

Unfortunately, I got home on Thursday to find the back door open and my flat burgled. People and cats were unharmed and safe but I can’t say the same for my laptop (at least it was backed up).

It turns out if you are burgled you need to navigate police systems in the right way if you want to get the forensics team to visit the next day. Their current systems have some pretty big cracks for people to fall through. (I’m speaking about the metropolitan police in London).

This blog post is written with David Greaber’s book, The Utopia of Rules in mind. The book is about how we are so mired in bureaucracy we don’t even notice it anymore, and here I am, writing a whole blog post to help other people navigate yet more bureaucracy.

So I called 999 when I came home to find the back door open and my stuff rummaged through (I suppose 101 would also work, but they often have long queues and it really felt immediate and scary).

So I’m quite annoyed that after calling 999 at quarter to 10 in the evening, I didn’t get onto the forensic teams list till 2pm the next day, and then only because I chased the case.

It turns out 999 does not log the call in any meaningful sense. Instead the call gets put on a list and sent to the telephone team. These guys write it up and assign a crime number. It doesn’t land on the forensic team’s list or get sent to the local police until this happens.

The telephone team work from  7am to 11pm, albeit with reduced numbers of staff at the earlier and later ends. 999 cannot put you through, but 101 can.

So after you register your crime at 999 and get your call number, you need to go straight to 101, wait in the queue, then ask to be put through to the telephone team, so your crime can be registered with immediate effect and land on the forensic teams desk immediately. (However, if you don’t expect any action, like time my car back window was smashed in and my friend’s rucksack stolen out of the boot, and you just want to register it as a good citizen and/or to claim insurance, then don’t worry, that will eventually work out).

I called 999 at 9:44pm. They gave me a call reference, told me forensics would be out the next day and I’d get a call from someone in a day or two with the crime number. That was it, no further info. The next morning I called 101 at 8:24 am (no queue!) and they told me that I could send my laptop info to (or phone on 020 7230 3400, 9-5), which I did. CMS e-mailed me back at 9:07am to say I needed a crime-ref number, but no info on how to get one, I replied saying the call number reference was in the subject line and that I didn’t have a crime number yet. At 1:40pm I called 101 again to chase forensics (it’s horrible being at home but not being able to tidy up or touch the things that might have fingerprints) and to register my laptop serial number. Now 101 finally put me through to the telephone team who told me that they get 400 phone calls a day from 999 to register and my one was in the pile and they were working their way down. By phoning up I got my crime registered, got a crime number and the request was finally, at around 2pm, sent through to forensics (and the local police). One more call to 101 to chase that and they were, to be fair, there quite soon after (a bit before 4pm). A team of two people covers two London boroughs with about 10-15 cases per day. Which I think is actually quite a reasonably low number of burglaries for the population. So the annoying thing is that I called 999 well before 11pm and if I’d known I could have gone through to the telephone team via 101 immediately. Or better yet: why didn’t 999 just put me straight through! Apparently, they can’t, but why not? Or why not tell me to call 101 to be put through?

So if you have a crime that you don’t expect any help with and are only reporting so the police have good statistics, you’re fine. If your case is time sensitive, if you need forensics to do fingerprints, chase it via 101 . No crime number means it’s not in any systems yet.

24 hours after I got the crime registered and my laptop serial number put on the relevant databases, CMS e-mailed me back to say they had looked up my call reference from 999 everywhere and couldn’t find it at all. I’m a bit confused if CMS is the same or different from the telephone team. says if the perpetrator is found and convicted, the court can order them to pay you compensation to cover loss and damage. But, for some reason, you need to tell the police in advance. So do put your claim in when the police take a statement (and then keep receipts).

So there you go, I hope that bureaucracy wrangling is useful for someone.

This is what my keyboard looked like. Let me know if you spot it anywhere.

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