PROPERTY CRIMES GET INCREASED FOCUS Spokane Police Assigning Detectives to Work on More Than Fraud Cases

By Hill, Kip | The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), April 2, 2017 | Go to article overview

PROPERTY CRIMES GET INCREASED FOCUS Spokane Police Assigning Detectives to Work on More Than Fraud Cases


Hill, Kip, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)


In the past five years, the Spokane Police Department has moved away from assigning detectives exclusively to fraud cases as agency leaders instead bolster efforts to prevent burglaries and car thefts, along with violent crimes.

"We definitely are listening to the fact that people want property crimes, as well as violent crimes, reduced, and when they do occur, investigate them," said Capt. Brad Arleth, head of investigations for the department. "Our mission is to reduce property crimes as well as keep violent crime on a down trend, so we do focus our resources on those two categories."

In 2012, the department employed a dedicated unit of a single sergeant and four detectives specifically tasked with investigating fraud allegations. Those ranks fell to just two detectives the following year, and now the detectives have been divided among the city's three precincts and the targeted crimes unit, which is tasked with investigating and arresting the city's most prolific criminals.

"Those detectives go out and get these guys who are repeat offenders, chronic offenders, who are doing the same thing over again," said Spokane police Chief Craig Meidl. "They will work some cases, but the intent for them is not to be going door-to-door, it's to try and get ahead of these guys and arrest them before they go out in the community again."

The gradual shift to assigning fraud cases at the precinct level, rather than employ a targeted unit to combating cases of fraud, occurred in the department after several high-profile scam artists, including payday loan shop operator Doris Nelson and real estate fraudster Greg Jeffreys, received federal indictments. Forbes magazine famously declared Spokane the "scam capital of America" in 2009, detailing a history of white-collar crime including Ponzi schemes, bogus business ventures and diploma mills.

Those cases were handled by teams of federal investigators, who eventually brought charges in U.S. District Court because victims were from across the country. Some fraud schemes require federal investigators, rather than local agencies, to work them, including cases where perpretators file fraudulent tax returns.

"Identity theft usually becomes a tax crime," said Ryan Thompson, an IRS special agent based in Tacoma. "A lot of times, it's us."

But both Thompson and Ayn Dietrich-Williams, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Seattle, said their agencies accept fraud cases referred by local law enforcement agencies. Dietrich-Williams said the FBI has to prioritize cases, however, just like local law enforcement.

"If, in one week, 20 different fraud cases came in, and we have limited resources, we'll focus on the ones that look like there's really a high risk," Dietrich-Williams said. "We're just triaging the best we can. …

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