FOX 8 investigates alleged downgrading of incident by NOPD

Published: May. 17, 2012 at 2:58 AM CDT|Updated: May. 30, 2012 at 10:59 PM CDT
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The NOPD says, with the exception of murders and burglaries, reported crimes increased in every major category.

The numbers reflect crime in the city for the first three months of 2012.  But some wonder if all of the numbers are accurate.

One woman's case raises questions about alleged downgrading of crimes.

Sheryln Alcazar called the NOPD the morning of April 19 to report her iPhone valued at $600 and $300 in cash had been stolen from her purse.

"I called in, told them need someone to write a report," says Alcazar.  "I told them I need an item number to see if I can recover this, because this has been stolen from me."

Alcazar says she knew who was behind it: an acquaintance she had drinks with at a neighborhood bar.

She says she was driving him home in his car, stopped at her house to let her dogs out, and when she came back outside, he was gone.

Alcazar says, "I looked and he had placed my purse on top of the garbage cans that were there. My purse was there, but the money and the phone were not there."

At the time, Alcazar considered it a theft, which in police code is a signal 67. According to the report, that's what officers, who showed up four hours later, were sent to investigate.

But when the responding officer explains the incident to a ranking officer over the radio, the classification changed.

According to the tape obtained by FOX 8, after hearing about the missing money and phone, the ranking officer asks, "Was she inebriated at the time of the discovery or at the time she left her purse in the car?

The responding officer says, "She had some drinks, but said that she was not drunk." He also put on the police report that Alcazar was sober.

The ranking officer then instructs the field officer to write up the incident as a 21-L, not a theft. A 21-L is a miscellaneous incident, relating to something lost or stolen.

Alcazar calls it infuriating.  And it's significant.

A signal 67 would have been factored into the Uniform Crime Report statistics, which were just released by NOPD Tuesday and show theft up 11 percent for the first quarter of 2012.

A 21-L never gets factored in to that official report.

Tulane criminologist Peter Scharf says crimes usually get downgraded when the heat is on.

"So when there's political uncertainty and heat, there's a temptation to make the numbers conform to the political interests of the organization and that's true for every organization," says Scharf. "And that's where you have to be very vigilant in a case like this. But the truth is, this looks problematically weird."

Alcazar says no one from the NOPD ever followed up with her until late Wednesday afternoon, two hours after FOX 8 received the police report and the audiotape that we requested almost two weeks ago.

"A detective stopped by today, but didn't reach me. I guess they got wind of it and found out what y'all were doing. Maybe they were thinking they were going to cover their derriere and come talk to me," says Alcazar.

An NOPD spokesperson says they do have a "random victim call back" system in place to make sure every report is accurate. Remi Braden says, in 99 percent of the cases, the answer is yes.

Alcazar says she wishes someone from the department would have followed up on her case sooner.

She says, "This is how they always seem to be. They handle things by not handling things."

Ironically, Alcazar recovered her phone and her money, without the help of police. But as of the time of our interview, the NOPD wasn't aware of that.

The incident was reclassified from a theft to a miscellaneous incident almost immediately after it was reported, with no investigation and no follow-up.