This is the blog for Robert Vincent, Chief of Police for the Gulfport (Florida) Police Department. Please feel free to leave comments, but keep in mind that anything appearing on this page may be subject to retention and disclosure in accordance with Florida public records law.

Please keep your posts clean and respectful. Comments are subject to review, and I do not permit lewdness, obscenity, or personal attacks.

Monday, September 23, 2013

I've Been Robbed, Sort Of.

I ran into a man the other day who told me he’d been robbed. Now, since we’ve been averaging only about one robbery per month lately, I usually keep on top of them. I wasn’t familiar with this particular robbery, so I pressed for details. Turns out, the man was not robbed; he was the victim of a burglary. Well, sort of—the weed eater was taken from his truck.

Very confusing, I know. Unfortunately, we’re at the whim of much larger bureaucracies when it comes to reporting and classifying criminal activity in Gulfport. The state legislature has one set of definitions—the ones we use to actually charge and prosecute people; the federal government has its own, and they’re entirely different. Let me give you a couple of examples to help explain.

When somebody points a gun at you and steals your wallet, that’s a robbery no matter how you look at it. Both state and federal definitions call it the same thing; taking property by use of violence is a robbery. If the criminal instead snatches your purse off your arm and runs away, no violence involved, now things get confusing. That’s a robbery under Florida law, but most likely not under the federal rules.

The kid who jimmies your back door and breaks into your house to steal the TV commits a burglary under both definitions. Forcing entry into a residence to commit theft is always a burglary, but there are plenty of cases where sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.

Under Florida law, burglary does not require forced entry. And it applies to vehicles just the same. Under federal law, there is no such thing as burglary to a vehicle. So when somebody opens your unlocked car and takes the change out of the cup holder, that’s a burglary in Florida, but it’s just a theft according to the feds.

To make matters even more confusing, the state legislature added something called “curtilage” to their burglary statute. This means that if you steal a bicycle from under a covered porch, for example, it’s a burglary. The FBI, of course, does not agree; to them it’s just theft.

To keep the public informed, we participate in the Pinellas Crime Viewer program, which is a very cool, interactive map that is free and open to the public (gis.pinellascounty.org/crimeviewer). Our offense data is uploaded daily to this website, and the stats are based on crimes as they are defined under state, not federal law. This is the source that local news outlets use to report crime, so this is what most people see on a regular basis.

What makes things look strange, however, is that we also have to produce reports twice per year for the FBI. These reports are intended to be uniform throughout the nation so that researchers can make reasonably-accurate comparisons. Of course, these reports are based on federal crime definitions. This explains why you might read the local paper every week and see eight to ten burglaries, yet our annual report shows less than 200.

Via the accreditation process, GPD reporting procedures are subject to a thorough review by outside experts once every three years. The FBI, State Attorney’s Office, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement also have oversight authority over this process. Each of those entities can at any time and without notice review our records to ensure we are following the rules. Furthermore, all records that are not legally exempt are also subject to public review. Any person can review our reports and publicly challenge the findings.

So when the data looks a bit strange and doesn’t seem to jive, I promise you there is no nefarious intent, just bureaucracy at its finest.