Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Secret recordings of Serpas revealed after office burglary

Private investigation targeted former police chief's crime statistics By Nate Rau • THE TENNESSEAN • May 25, 2010 Secret files and audio recordings that were part of a private investigation about the way former Police Chief Ronal Serpas kept Nashville crime statistics were reported stolen this month. Jack Byrd, a lawyer for the Teamsters union when it represented the city's police officers, said he had worked with some Metro police officers over four years to collect information. Those materials — including secret recordings of Serpas — were stolen from Byrd's Murfreesboro Pike offices sometime between late afternoon May 12 and early morning May 13 in what several people familiar with the incident have characterized as a "professional" burglary. According to Byrd, the investigation focused on Compstat, the numbers-driven system pioneered by the New York City police department that uses crime data and mapping to help spot patterns quickly and throw resources into troubled areas. Under Serpas, who implemented the Compstat program in Nashville, crime statistics declined for six consecutive years, but some rank-and-file officers and city leaders questioned their accuracy. Byrd said a handful of Metro officers came to him with concerns that crime statistics were being manipulated, which in turn affected the amount of resources a department received. One area that Byrd pointed to involved the reduction in the size of the domestic violence unit after claims of abuse were shown to have declined. 'Jobs ... in jeopardy' The investigation had not been active for about 18 months, but Byrd indicated that officers still have concerns. He acknowledged the stolen materials contained secret recordings of Serpas, among others, but he declined to comment on what his investigation would have shown. "I won't discuss it," Byrd said after being contacted by The Tennessean last week. "Individuals that are involved with supplying me that information, their jobs could be in jeopardy. Without (the officers') clearance, I'm not going to provide that information." Recording another person without his or her knowledge is legal under state law and allowed by Metro police guidelines. Police contacted FBI Serpas, who wassworn in as the superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department on May 11, responded to the incident in an e-mailed statement: "I am not aware of any private investigation, past or present, conducted by Mr. Byrd. I also am not aware of the recorded conversations. … It is my expectation that the MNPD is investigating the reported burglary to the best of its ability." Metro police contacted the FBI on May 13 after the burglary at Byrd's office was reported. Byrd and Metro police spokesman Don Aaron said they did not know if the FBI was officially investigating. A representative from the FBI's Nashville office offered no comment on the case. Janel Lacy, the spokeswoman for Mayor Karl Dean's office, acknowledged that the mayor had been made aware of the burglary by interim Police Chief Steve Anderson. But Lacy said the burglary had nothing to do with an audit of the department's reporting methodology the mayor ordered May 14. Critics raised questions about the accuracy of crime statistics maintained during Serpas' six-year term as police chief even as he left Nashville for New Orleans. But Serpas has stood by the program, telling The Tennessean this month, "What's measured gets managed, and what's managed gets better." Valuables weren't taken Investigators believe Byrd's office was burglarized sometime between 4:35 p.m. May 12 and 7:30 a.m. May 13. The burglar — or burglars — broke into a locked maintenance closet adjacent to the offices of Byrd and fellow attorney Ray Akers. Once inside the closet, the burglars cut about a 1-square-foot hole into the drywall leading directly into the law offices. After rooting around for papers inside other offices, whoever broke in spent most of their time in Byrd's office, where the confidential files and audio recordings were kept, according to what detectives told Byrd. Locked safes containing the files were pried open and left behind. Other valuables, including computers and cash, were left untouched. Aaron said detectives from the South Precinct have sent evidence taken from the scene to be analyzed by a crime lab, but Byrd said detectives told him the suspect apparently used gloves and left little evidence behind. Byrd said he maintained backup copies of the stolen files and some of the stolen audio recordings. "The whole thing is peculiar," said Aaron, who added that Byrd had not disclosed to detectives what was contained in the stolen files and audio recordings. "Whomever did it knew exactly where they wanted to go in that office and what they wanted." The Fraternal Order of Police took control from the Teamsters as the union negotiating body for Metro police officers in 2007. That move came after Metro officer and Teamsters organizer Calvin Hullett faced federal charges for his role in a plot to discredit the FOP. Hullett pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in 2009. Byrd said files related to Hullett, whom he did not represent, were also stolen in the burglary.

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