In a previous post, I reported that Uniform Crime Report data for calendar years 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 provided to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement demonstrated that "Larceny from Motor Vehicles" rose and fell significantly without Sheriff Morgan spending any money on anti-crime billboards or instituting any special policies or programs. From 2011 to 2012, "Larceny from Motor Vehicle" fell -7.7%; from 2012 to 2013, such larcenies increased +20.4%; from 2013 to 2014, such larcenies decreased -28%; and, from 2014 to 2015, such larcenies rose +15.1%. This data is indisputable.
But, keep in mind that this data is submitted to the FDLE a couple months after the calendar closes. So, this finished data is not available to the ECSO, and especially not to the public.
Still, many people, this author included, believed that the expenditure of $130,000 on anti-crime billboards was driven by political considerations rather than fighting crime considerations. The question is how to support this hypothesis with evidence.
The only available evidence would be data within the Escambia County Sheriff's Office, that is, incident reports. This data is available to Sheriff Morgan and his faithful sidekick Chief Deputy Haines for any period they desire. They could compare, for example, car burglaries for the month of May for any year to see if there were a seasonal effect.
The Escambia County Sheriff's Office has "Incident Disposition Codes." The purpose of a Deputy responding to a call is coded. The code "19-0" is for "Burglary: Vehicle." There are codes for "Grand Theft" (79-0) and "Theft Petit" (80-0) but there are no sub-codes for vehicles. Thus, 19-0 is the operative incident code. Deputies also code what happened on these calls. The codes of interest are: A: "Arrest made (offense report & arrest report required);" B: "No arrest made (offense report required);" S: "Referred to other Sheriff's Office section/unit;" X: "Followup investigation--warrant affadavit prepared (supplement required);" and Z: "Followup investigation--arrest made (supplement required)."
With these codes Sheriff Morgan and Chief Deputy Haines would have the empirical data to know if "Burglary: Vehicle" (code 19-0) was going up or down on a weekly or monthly basis.
This CJ's Street Report is based upon an analysis of all 19-0 A, B, S, X, and Z coded incidents between May 1, 2015, and April 30, 2016. The data for 19-0B runs 91 pages. The other codes are one- or two-pages long (A here, S here, X here, Z here). While those other codes could be duplicate incidents, I checked, and they are not.
But, before we examine the empirical data, let us first review how Chief Deputy Haines explained the "Lock It, Keep It" billboards to the Sheriff-friendly crowd on the Escambia Citizens Watch Facebook page on May 18, 2016. Chief Deputy Haines was disputing the first CJ's Street Report post (May 18, 2016) challenging the billboard program on the grounds that, according to a Department of Justice best-practices study, billboards were the least effective means of changing the target audience's behavior, in this case, car owners.
Here is Chief Deputy Haines defending the "Lock It, Keep It" billboards: "Last May at a LE seminar, I spoke with several Chief Deputies who had started this lock it or lose it type campaign and were seeing success. It took a few months to get it off the ground but it started in August with the ECSO bringing up the topic to the media every chance we got. We then went on to social media, YouTube and press releases. I can post the web addresses or you can do a search and see this step got going around September. We then printed cards in the shape of a key and air vent car fresheners and went to the neighborhoods most affected to hand them out. We then started with the roadside message boards which caused all the “outrage”. We have put the messages on all our kiosks. We are now at billboards. All these things are still ongoing and there is more in the lock it or lose it campaign to come."
Notice that the impetus comes in May 2015 (the reason I asked for that starting point of the data) from a seminar the Chief Deputy had attended. Keep in mind, that by May 2015, the Chief Deputy knew for fact certain that for calendar year 2014, "Larceny from Motor Vehicle" had fallen -28% without the Escambia County Sheriff's Office doing anything expensive or particularly novel. Notice also that the Chief Deputy did not state that he was alarmed or concerned about any rise in burglaries from motor vehicles in May 2015. No. Instead we have unspecified chief deputies from unspecified counties producing unspecified results with the program.
In fact, if you Google "Lock It, Keep It" you find lots of police departments using the program and no scientific data that the program produces results, that is, excluding a multitude of factors that could also account for drops in crime.
The fact that property crimes, for example, have dropped throughout Florida between 1994 and 2014 suggests that one must be extremely cautious in ascribing drops in crime to police practices. And, the fact that Escambia County's per capita property crime rate steadily rose between 2009 and 2013 and then dropped in 2014, while Florida and other larger counties also experienced drops, suggests we need to be cautious in stating that the ECSO has accomplished something unique. In fact, the data in the chart below shows that on a per capita basis, larger counties (Duvall, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, and Pinellas) had significantly larger drops in per capita property crime rates (20% to 40%) than Escambia County (0%) over the 2009-2014 time period.
The empirical data demonstrates that there was no need to spend $130,000 on billboards that would splash Sheriff Morgan's picture on billboards across Pensacola. In fact, in the five months before Sheriff Morgan committed himself to the billboard contract, the number of 19-0 ("Burglary: Motor Vehicle") had been declining significantly, in some months by 40% to 50%. In fact, if one were to extrapolate from the 19-0 incident reports for January through April 2016, there would be a record low of such reports--360 total.
Here is the data (codes 19-0 A, B, S, X, and Z):
2015: MAY 126; JUN 156; JUL 177; AUG 151; SEP 213; OCT 110; NOV 64; DEC 35.
2016: JAN 24; FEB 26; MAR 24; APR 46; and up to May 19, 18.
Between September 2015 and October 2015, vehicular burglaries declined -48%. Between October 2015 and November 2015, vehicular burglaries fell an additional -41%. And, between November 2015 and December, motor vehicle burglaries fell another -45%. Then, fell again in January (-31%) and held steady in February. From September 2015's 213 code 19-0 incidents to February 2016's 26 code 19-0 is a mind-boggling 88% drop in monthly incidents. Ironically, the billboards are correlated with a rise in car burglaries in April 2016, +92%.
Undoubtedly, the Chief Deputy is going to say, "Look at the data, our efforts resulted in a lowering of car burglaries. Thus, the billboards were necessary."
But, the data show that car burglaries fell significantly in October, November, and December 2015. The billboards could not have had any effect on these dramatic declines--since they did not appear until March 2016. Now, whether the decline in October, November, and December was due to the other advertising of the "Lock It, Keep It" is unclear. A possible explanation would be deputies going into neighborhoods to talk to folks about locking their cars and distributing literature reminding them to lock their cars. But, that is just good community policing. If that were the cause of the decline, then the billboard expenditures are not necessary.
But, those explanations are not satisfying. On September 17, 2015, the Pensacola News Journal reported that the Pensacola Police Department had arrested 37 teenagers over the preceding two weeks who had been involved in car burglaries. While not members of gangs, they saw unlocked cars as targets of opportunity and took valuables out of the cars. On January 22, 2016, the Pensacola News Journal reported that the Escambia County Sheriff's Office had arrested five teenagers, including two with gang ties, that had been burglarizing cars since December 2015.
Thus, the decline in code 19-0 motor vehicle burglaries appears most likely to be the result of the Pensacola Police Department arresting 37 teenagers starting September 1, 2015 and Escambia County Sheriff's Office arresting 5 teenagers in January 2016.
Thus, we are left with these empirical facts: the significant and dramatic declines in 19-0 (A, B, S, X, Z) incidents started five months (October 2015) before the "Lock It, Keep It" billboard campaign began (March 2016); the drop is most likely due to the Pensacola Police Department arresting 37 teenagers involved in car burglaries in September 2015; there may be some small influence from ECSO community policing efforts and possibly social media and kiosk advertising; in January 2016, the ECSO arrested an additional 5 teenagers who had been burglarizing cars since December; and, in the month after the billboard campaign started, car burglaries rose 92%. Perhaps, instead of alerting car owners to lock their cars, the billboards were alerting teenagers to a lucrative source of easy cash. While correlation is not causation, the rise in April is not good news for car owners or the ECSO. But, the perception that the "Lock It, Keep It" billboard campaign is driven by Sheriff Morgan's political calculations rather than anti-crime considerations is borne out by the empirical data. There is virtually no empirical ECSO data to support the need to spend $130,000 on the "Lock It, Keep It" campaign.
I think any reasonable Escambia County voter and county commissioner would conclude that Sheriff Morgan spending $130,000 on billboards throughout Escambia County, starting in March 2016 and ending just ten days before his tough primary race, is really intended to boost his political campaign, and not any particular anti-crime effort. The dramatic drop in car burglaries appears to be more the result of the Pensacola Police Department arresting 37 teenagers in September 2015 than any anti-crime publicity campaign undertaken by the ECSO. This analysis will not convince Sheriff Morgan, Chief Deputy Haines, and their ring of cheerleading supporters on the Escambia Citizens Watch Facebook page. The issue is whether or not reasonable Republican voters will see through Sheriff Morgan's manipulation of crime data for political gain. I believe that a reasonable law enforcement officer would have examined the 19-0 incident report data from October 2015 to February 2016 and concluded that spending $130,000 starting in March 2016 to deter a crime that had significantly declined (-88%) from 213 incidents in September 2015 to 26 incidents in February 2016 to a nuisance level (projected 360 for 2016) was not necessary. But, that's just me, a Democrat who cannot vote in the Republican primary for sheriff.