COVINGTON — If your mother ever reminded you, "Liars never prosper," the Covington Police Department is reiterating the warning by saying those who lie to them concerning a crime will go to jail.
There were some 400 incidents of false reports of crimes at the CPD over the past 10 years, which include 74 incidents just last year.
"We've seen an increase in it, especially in the last couple of years. You've got some insurance fraud going on. You've got people who do away with their rent money and have no reason to go home and tell their wife what happened to their rent money. You've got a wife or girlfriend who does something with some money they're not supposed to, whether it be drug-related or staying out all night partying, and now they can't account for the money ... so, they'll come in here and file a report with us in order to have an excuse as to where the money went," said Capt. Craig Treadwell of the Criminal Investigation Division.
"They're actually falsely reporting a crime, and I guess people think we don't investigate crimes," he continued. "We actually go out and spend time on it .... and we're able to disprove that a crime even happened."
For instance, he said if someone comes in and says they were robbed in the parking lot of a local grocery store, detectives go out and pull surveillance video of the parking lot, document the times involved and are able to ascertain whether the person or their vehicle was in the parking lot and whether or not the activity alleged even occurred.
Treadwell said when detectives prove that no crime happened, the person making the allegations will be charged.
"Don't come down here and lie to the police because we're going to find you out," cautioned Lt. Wendell Wagstaff. "We're going to charge you. We're not going to let you walk out of here. We're going to take you to jail. They think they can come down here and get a copy of a report and show it to their insurance company or their wife and say, ‘This is what happened.' They don't realize it's going to a detective and he's going to call you down here and talk to you about it."
Treadwell said a growing trend is falsely reporting theft of prescription drugs.
"They are either selling or abusing their prescription medication and in order to get another prescription, they'll come down and file a report," he said, adding that a case like that happened recently.
"A young girl calls in and says she was robbed and a guy took her purse. The responding officer was on the ball enough to say, ‘Ma'am, would you mind opening up the trunk of your car for me.' She opened it up and there was her purse. She had her child with her and everything, but she was a person who was addicted to drugs and needed a police report to take back to the doctor to say her prescription of Percoset or whatever was stolen in a robbery and she needed another prescription."
Although false report of a crime is a misdemeanor, punishment can be to serve up to 12 months in jail and pay a fine of to $1,000, plus restitution for time wasted by detectives and administrators.
"That's just to cover up some other wrongdoing and it will be on your record from now on," Treadwell said.
But the charges could increase if the person continues lying and a full-fledged criminal investigation ensues or a person is arrested based on the false allegations.
"If you tell us a lie during an investigation and we can prove it, that's when you get into a felony," Treadwell said, adding that at that point a charge of giving a false statement to a political subdivision would apply.
"A lot of employers now, the first thing they do is pull a criminal history report. Do you want that on your record if you're trying to find a job? If you lied to the police, you're probably going to lie to your employers. It has a wide range of ramifications," Wagstaff cautioned.
CPD Detective Mike Tinsley deals with crimes against persons and he said falsely reporting crime is a growing problem that not only wastes police time and puts officers' lives in danger, but it only makes matters worse for the person making the false claim.
"Honesty is the best policy. You're going to get yourself in a lot more trouble if you call the police when you've done something stupid. Just fess up. Say what you did. Take it at home with your wife, mom, dad, whoever, instead of getting us involved and possibly going to prison," Tinsley warned.
A recent incident involved a young man who said he was robbed while walking down the street. He described the "perpetrators" and patrol officers were anxious to look for suspects matching the description and did bring one man in for questioning. It was determined the "victim" wasn't telling the truth and he wound up admitting he made the whole thing up.
"But this puts these patrol officers' lives in grave danger because if we see a guy who fits the description, we're going to arrest him. What if he's just robbed a bank or is running because he's killed somebody? He's going to fight. It just puts us in danger going after people when all the time it's made up," Tinsley said.
Treadwell said if a false robbery or burglary is reported, residents in the area become worried and concerned about crime. They may arm themselves, alarm others, take costly security measures, all based on false information.
He spoke of a recent incident in which a young woman reported she had been the victim of an armed robbery in an area shopping center.
"We purposely went to every business in that area telling them we'd just had a robbery, giving the guy's description, asking them to call us if they see anybody," he said. "A half hour later, we realize she's not telling the truth. So, now we're going back around to the same businesses and telling them, OK, it was a false alarm, false report of a crime. That's time out of their day and time for us."
And, Wagstaff pointed out some business owners might opt to close their doors for the day, thus losing business because of something that never happened in the first place.
Treadwell and his staff emphasized that they are not trying to discourage people from make legitimate crime reports.
"In no way, shape, form or fashion are we trying to discourage anyone who has been a victim of a crime from reporting it. You have crimes of incest or child molestation or rape that already go unreported. Those are not the people we are even referring to," Treadwell said. "But because of those who do falsely report crimes, we're wasting time and can't spend quality time investigating a true crime. We don't have an abundance of people. We're doing more with less just like everybody."
But, if you're making up a crime for reasons that benefit yourself, Treadwell says think twice.
"Go someplace else because we're going to find you out," he warned.