Police Helicopter Pilot

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"10-9 Was That A Hot Prowl Burglary Or A Hot Owl Burglary?"

I don't know about the rest of the country but in California a "Hot Prowl" burglary is police lingo for a burglary that is occurring while the homeowner is present inside the home.  This type of burglary is not that uncommon.  It typically happens in the day time when a burglar thinks the residents are away for the day.  Perhaps he knocked on the front door, didn't get an immediate response from inside the home, so he feels safe to break and enter and begin fulfilling his thieving ambitions.  There are times however when the homeowner is fully cognizant of the fact that someone is breaking in, and they have retreated upstairs or to a back bedroom and locked themselves in, while dialing 911.  That is how your typical hot prowl burglary unfolds.

So there we were last week, 20 minutes before "end of shift" when the radio crackled and we were requested for a "hot prowl" in Bonita, a somewhat upscale community in the South Bay.  Now hot prowl burglaries do occur at night also, but they are more rare, and they are a different breed.  A night time residential burglar should have an expectation that the homeowner is actually home.  Some night time burglars are driven by perverse sexual fantasies, while others seek the thrill and danger of breaking into a home and committing their criminal acts under the noses of the sleeping residents.

While it is foolish and even dangerous to make assumptions, it is also human nature and "cop nature" to rapidly process and to some extent make judgements on all the pieces of information flowing in about a certain call.  Tiny bits of information combined with years of patrol experience and sometimes a little intuition can often give the street cop a good idea if a call is ultimately going to be valid, or bogus.  Either way, you respond to the call as if it is 100% valid until you know absolutely otherwise.

Day or night, a hot prowl burglary is an emergency.  We wasted no time strapping ourselves into the helicopter and getting a south departure from runway 17/35.  It was coming up on 2:00 am when we arrived on scene.  The two story home was now completely surrounded by deputies, at least one Sheriff's K9, and now a Sheriff's helicopter orbiting 700' overhead.  Dispatch was still on land-line with the caller, who advised that they were still hearing noises coming from inside their house, downstairs. 

This is where cop intuition dangerously starts to suggest that this call might not be valid.  What are the chances that all of the patrol deputies, the K9 handler, and the helicopter could get on scene and set up while the hot prowl burglar is still inside the house.  No, in a real burglary the suspect would have been fleeing over the back fence just prior to the first deputy arriving on scene.   That's just the way these things tend to go down. 

The patrol deputies continue to do an excellent job of gathering intel from the caller as they have all along, via dispatch.  Who else is supposed to be in the house?  Do they have any children?  Were they expecting anyone else?  Etc.  All of the responses indicated that no one else should be there.  There is one daughter who is at a friends house.  Deputies obtain a description of the daughter's car and confirm that it is not in the driveway.  

A deputy advises that he can see "movement" in the downstairs portion of the house, through a window.  Silence.

Then, Deputy:  "Ask the caller if they own a bird of any kind."  Dispatch:  "Negative, the R/P is saying they do not own any type of bird."  Silence.

At last, Deputy:  "Ok, advise the R/P that they have a very large barn owl inside their house."

Exactly how the owl gained entry is unknown to this writer.

Hot owl burglary?  I guess that depends on the criminal intent of the owl.