|Posted on June 13, 2016 at 1:45 PM|
Crime and Risk Cover-Ups
Andrew P. Sutor
In order to successfully prosecute your premises security case and secure adequate compensation and justice for your injured client you must show the actual foreseeability of risk facing your plaintiff. This is necessary to determine the reasonableness of security provided by your defendants who had a legal and moral duty to protect their lawful business customers and guests from harm.
Unfortunately, getting to the truth of foreseeable risk is easier said than done. Just about every actor and party related to the civil matter before you has a vested interest in minimizing the actual risk involved in your incident. What results from this practice can best be described as a classic “cover-up.” It usually involves willful ignorance on the part of defendants and frequently contains spoliation of evidence as well.
Since government records are potential sources of data on crime and risk, please consider the reality that all levels of government and political entities desire to look good. Mayors, politicians and police chiefs like to show data supporting lower crime as their personal accomplishments. Thus, police department personnel are under pressure to downplay the actual occurrence of such crime and incidents. Minimizing and under-reporting crime is sadly commonplace. On the other hand, experience has shown that up-grading of crime is almost unheard of because of this desire to “look good” factor.
The most accurately reported crime of all is homicide because there is a body to contend with and explain. However, even some of these serious and fatal crimes slip by as missing persons, drug overdoses (sometimes with a little help), suicides, suspicious sudden deaths, or accidental deaths.
One would think that homicide, the most serious of all index offenses would not be subjected to under-reporting- not so!
As classic but extreme examples, if you check out New York city’s official UCR homicide stats for 2001 you will find nary a blip accounting for the thousands murdered there on the Twin Towers attack of 9/11. Likewise, if you review the homicide numbers for Shanksville, PA and Arlington County, VA you will not find any accounts of the hundreds murdered in those venues on that same dreadful day. Lest you think this is a one-off situation, please note that the same lack of accurate crime reporting on this most serious of all crimes can also be found for the dozens of murders in Fort Hood, Killeen, TX massacre in 2009 and Newtown, CT Sandy Hook school shootings in 2012*. It would be more truthful to report the actual homicide numbers, perhaps with an asterisk to account for anomalies. (*The Newtown homicides did actually show up on the CT state UCR stats but you have to know where to look for them.)
One thing is certain; what happened to those victims was, in fact, pure unadulterated murder and these obvious homicide events should have been properly recorded as such. It is too early to determine if authorities are going to “fudge the numbers” on the San Bernardino, CA murders of 2015 and Orlando, FL massacre of June 12, 2016, but time will tell. (Note: This latest atrocity occurred while this article was being written.)
The FBI’s Uniformed Crime Index reports include crimes against the person, listed as homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault and crimes against property, listed as burglary, larceny, auto theft, and arson.
As you go down the scale of seriousness of crime the opportunity for crime reporting agencies to “take advantage of the gray area” and downplay and minimize crime becomes even more pervasive. For example, was a domestic aggravated assault appropriately reported and recorded as a felony or simply downgraded to: “family disturbance – adjusted?” Far too often it is the latter.
My own research and published writings concerning victimization studies confirm the fact that about only 20% of index crimes were accurately reported in a major U.S. city. (Sutor, Andrew. Police Operations. West Publishing Co., St. Paul Minnesota. Unit 6, Crime Reporting and Clearance. P. 55)
Downplaying crime and risk data is even more pervasive in the private sector. Obviously, the defendants want to hide foreseeable risk because it would be bad for business if the public was aware of the actual level of risk. If guests and customers knew the real risk involved, they may not patronize the facility in the first place. Defendants, corporate “spin-meisters”, local chambers of commerce, industry trade organizations, and the defendants’ own legal “enablers” all have a common interest in minimizing foreseeable risk usually for their own specific monetary reasons.
Furthermore, providing reasonable and professional security is expensive and oftentimes security is looked upon as an expense to be cut, cut, and cut again. Reasonable security protection is frequently sacrificed to enhance profit margins. Some defendants who once had reasonable security cut corners so much that it raises the novel civil count of “abatement of security” that this expert has seen this charge utilized successfully in several of his negligent security cases.
An experienced and knowledgeable security expert on crime and risk will be able to provide you with the accurate foreseeable risk data that you need to support your premises security case by using a scientific approach involving multiple public and private data sources.
Practitioners would be well advised to heed the sage advice of John Elliott Leighton, Esq., the premier attorney on “Litigating Premises Security Cases” (Thompson West, 2006). Leighton points out the necessity of an expert in inadequate security cases and recommends, “Pay careful attention to the items sought by the expert and work with the experts in formulating document requests and interrogatories for the lawsuit.”
Getting accurate crime and risk data is the key to successful prosecution of your negligent security case. The bottom line here is that listening to your experienced security expert, especially one who knows “where the bodies are buried” and how to gain important risk evidence is definitely the way to go.
Andrew P. Sutor is a Principal at Sutor & Associates, LLC, which provides professional security consultation and expert witness services for law firms and attorneys pursuing premises liability and negligent security cases. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 609.822.2626
Categories: Premises Security Cases