When $4,520 worth of power tools disappeared from four trucks at a business in Pompano Beach, Fla., the owner reported a burglary. The Broward Sheriff’s Office categorized the incident as “lost property” until one month later when a man confessed to stealing the tools, reports the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. The unhappy victim had no knowledge, until he was called by the newspaper, that the case was first called “lost property,” then reclassified without any criminal charges or the return of the property.
Facing a prosecutor’s investigation into whether deputies improperly cleared cases and downgraded crimes, Sheriff Ken Jenne will require tighter scrutiny when detectives clear multiple crimes with a suspect’s confession, as they did in the power tool case. The new policy does not address another issue prosecutors are exploring: how incidents that clearly seem to be crimes can be classified as if they were not.
The sheriff’s request for an investigation comes months after prosecutors started looking into allegations that sheriff’s deputies were improperly downgrading and clearing cases. It follows newspaper reports that raised questions about the Sheriff’s Office clearance rates on property crimes and about inmates who claim detectives persuaded them to confess to as many as 150 crimes in exchange for promises that they would only be charged for the cases for which they were initially arrested.
Criminologist John Cochran of the University of South Florida in Tampa said the practice of “unfounding crimes” — taking crimes and converting them into non-crimes so the numbers look better — has been found in studies of many law enforcement agencies. “Then if you have someone who becomes a suspect … the non-crime becomes a crime and it becomes the best type of crime — a solved one,” Cochran said.