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Investigation: Paper Trail
WESLACO - In May 2013, a Weslaco man got a package he hadn’t expected. It was five pounds of marijuana. He notified police, who then seized the drugs.
CHANNEL 5 NEWS reported the case, as well as a Weslaco drug bust in January 2013 and another in September 2014. However, none of these were reported on the Weslaco Police Department’s crime reports.
People in Weslaco were worried they weren’t getting the truth from police. In February, CHANNEL 5 NEWS started tracking the police department’s paper trail.
Our investigation uncovered several discrepancies. Now, the city’s new police chief and state auditors are taking a closer look.
Uniform Crime Reports
Crime statistics are considered vital information for law enforcement. The Federal Bureau of Investigation started tracking crime statistics in 1930.
In 1976, the Texas Department of Public Safety started collecting voluntary monthly reports from 1,047 jurisdictions, including the Weslaco Police Department. The state sends the statistics to the FBI at the end of each year.
The numbers impact laws and law enforcement funding. The crime statistics are supposed to give the full story.
14 Months Without a Drug Seizure
CHANNEL 5 NEWS requested Weslaco’s crime statistics for the last five years. The police department destroyed the statistics for 2010 and 2011. From 2012 to 2014, 2,400 pages of reports were filed.
In those years, there were 1,120 arrests for drug possession. While those arrests happened every month, drug busts didn’t.
Stephen Mayer is the new Weslaco police chief. CHANNEL 5 NEWS asked if it’s possible to arrest someone for drug possession without seizing any drugs. “You certainly wouldn't think so,” the police chief replied.
According to the information found, Weslaco police didn’t report any drug seizures for 14 months. That's nearly half of the city's three-year reporting period.
It’s also the timeframe when CHANNEL 5 NEWS viewers saw reports about Weslaco officers seizing marijuana.
- January 2013: Weslaco police found marijuana, cocaine and a stash of pills.
- May 2013: Officers seized five pounds of marijuana, when it was mailed to the wrong man.
- September 2014: Police recovered six kilograms of synthetic marijuana from a home.
Weslaco police didn't list any of those seizures on their crime reports.
Mayer said, “According to UCR (Uniform Crime Reports), you could have an arrest for drug possession that wouldn't show up on a UCR report, because the amount of the drugs didn't qualify for their reporting requirement. Now, I'm certainly not saying that's the case…”
However, the state wants to see details even for the smallest of seizures.
“I wish I had a better answer for you,” said the new police chief. “I just don't have it yet.”
Missing Signatures, Inconsistencies
CHANNEL 5 NEWS exposed documents left blank and uncovered reports submitted without the required signatures. We showed Mayer how police sent months of documents in bulk, when they're supposed to be sent by the seventh day of the following month.
On status sheets for October 2013, Weslaco officers reported zero cases of family violence and 30 sexual assaults; however, they turned in 30 family violence reports.
“I certainly agree with you that having 30 family violence report forms for the month of October 2013 and a UCR report that shows no family violence is inconsistent,” said Mayer.
There were inconsistencies on dozens of documents.
- One report lists a 36-year-old victim as the child of a 12-year-old offender.
- Police also reported a 6-year-old boy sexually assaulted a 6-year-old girl, who was listed as the boy’s stepchild.
- Two 12-year-old girls involved in a family violence case were listed as common-law spouses.
Does the government have an accurate depiction of Weslaco if the crime reports are inaccurate? “If the information was inaccurate, the answer is no, they don't,” said the Weslaco police chief. “Red flags were certainly raised with some of the information that you provided.”
Not all reports filed are questionable. CHANNEL 5 NEWS flipped through page after page and saw reports with information that appears to add up.
Depending where the paper trail leads, the Weslaco crime statistics could change.
“I can tell you that if there is any broken process inside the Weslaco Police Department, it's certainly going to be addressed,” said Mayer.
“The citizens of this community have a right to know what their police department is doing.”
Every crime, seizure and arrest should be reported, even if the case gets thrown out. DPS has a checks-and-balances system in place to catch red flags; however, a city's crime reports are based on what officers submit.
State auditors are now looking into Weslaco's paper trail. Their audit is expected to be complete within the next six months.
The police chief is also investigating. This is his second week on the job. Mayer said, “I am looking forward to you coming back in the future and checking up on this organization, see where we're at, see what we found out through our investigation, see how we fixed things.”
CHANNEL 5 NEWS will speak to Mayer again after the state audit is complete.
You can look up the Uniform Crime Reports for your city. The Texas Department of Public Safety posts that information online. Experts warn not to compare one city’s statistics to another, as issues like poverty and gangs can affect the numbers.