Trying to pin Chief Deputy Haines and Sheriff Morgan down is like the proverbial problem of nailing jello to the wall. You interpret their billboard signs to read that it is about vehicle thefts and they come back and state on the Escambia Citizens Watch Facebook page that it is really about car burglaries. Go to the FDLE website and burglaries are aggregated at a level that is useless. All burglaries are lumped together, from homes, cars, businesses, and other. When you finally get to the disaggregated Uniform Crime Report (UCR) data it is not car burglaries but "Largency from Motor Vehicles" that is apparently the relevant reportable index crime. And, when I asked for the analytical products that drove the decision to spend money on the billboards, I received the disaggregated FDLE UCR data.
So, let us examine the UCR data reported by the Escambia County Sheriff's Office to Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) for "Larceny from Motor Vehicles." This appears to be the only relevant crime data germane to the problem.
For calendar year 2012, the number of larcenies from a motor vehicle declined -7.7% between calendar year 2011 (2,119) and 2012 (1,956).
For calendar year 2013, the number of larcenies from a motor vehicle increased +20.4%, going from 1,956 larcenies to 2,355 larcenies in 2013.
For calendar year 2014, the number of larcenies from a motor vehicle decreased -28%, falling from 2,355 in 2013 to 1,654 in 2014.
For calendar year 2015, the number of larcenies from a motor vehicle increased +15.1%, rising from 1,654 in 2014 to 1,904 in 2015.
Let us make a number of observations. After larcenies from a motor vehicle rose +20.4% in 2013, Sheriff Morgan did not authorize spending $130,000 for billboards. We know of no special programs, policies, or procedures that were instituted to reduce these motor vehicle larcenies. The following year, larcenies from motor vehicles declined -28% without Sheriff Morgan apparently instituting anything special that the public would have noticed. Certainly, had the ECSO done something different in 2014, it would almost certainly had duplicated those programs, policies, and techniques in 2016. To the contrary, Chief Deputy Haines stated on Facebook that they started the overall billboard campaign in August 2015--several months before they knew what the actual level of "larcenies from a motor vehicle" would be. In 2015, larcenies from a motor vehicle rose +15.1%, significantly less than in calendar year 2013 (20% less) when the same crime category rose +20%, yet this year--faced with a tough reelection campaign against highly qualified challengers--Sheriff Morgan authorized spending $130,000 in a billboard publicity campaign using a police publicity campaign considered by the Department of Justice to be the least effective method of changing the behavior of car owners. In short, Sheriff Morgan has seemingly used the plausible cover a 15% rise in
larcenies from a motor vehicle to spend $130,000 to promote his image on
billboards around the county from March 2016 to just ten days before
the election in August.
Escambia County taxpayers need to know that the $130,000 initially comes from the General Fund account. Sheriff Morgan needs to submit the documentation for the billboards to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) to be reimbursed from the Law Enforcement Trust Fund. Should the BOCC find that the money is not consistent with the purpose of the LETF, they could decline to reimburse the Sheriff. The same is true for all other expenditures that the Sheriff requests reimbursement for from the LETF. I am not suggesting that the BOCC will not reimburse the Sheriff. I am only stating that initially the Sheriff spends funds from his own General Fund account. Only later does the money come from the Law Enforcement Trust Fund.
As the issue now stands, Sheriff Morgan is spending in excess of $130,000 from his General Fund account to apparently boost his re-election campaign. Whether or not the expenditure was justified is up to the BOCC and the voters to decide. But, the evidence suggests that this expenditure was driven first and foremost by political considerations and only secondarily by crime data considerations. Instead, it appears that Sheriff Morgan is using the rise in larcenies from a motor vehicle as cover for an underhanded re-election publicity campaign. After larcenies from motor vehicles rose +20% in 2013, Sheriff Morgan did not resort to a publicity campaign. Why not then and why now?