Criticism for a Police Agency Giving Prizes for the Most Arrests

WSVN — A 7News exclusive investigation uncovered a memo showing deputies in a Broward Sheriff’s Office district would get prizes ranging from mugs to ball caps. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero sat down with Sheriff Scott Israel to sort this out. It’s tonight’s Carmel on the Case.

The City of Oakland Park is policed by the Broward Sheriff’s Office. 7News has learned deputies there were rewarded for making the most arrests.

Carmel Cafiero: “And how do we know that? We obtained a copy of a memo that went out to the entire district in February. It lists and commends those making the most arrests in January.”

The memo was written by BSO Lt. Brad Ostroff, second in command for the district. It lists 10 deputies who made between 7 and 21 arrests each.

In part the memo reads, “Please accept command’s appreciation for a job well done. Also, you can stop by and see me or Lt. P for your district ball cap or any other trinket we have that you might desire.”

I’m told those trinkets include umbrellas, mugs and key chains.

Howard Finkelstein: “Even though the trinkets may not be expensive trinkets, the fact that a police officer is getting a reward for an arrest is wrong.”

I showed the memo to Howard Finkelstein, Broward’s public defender.

Howard Finkelstein: “This is outrageous. When you arrest someone, it’s not a game. It’s not funny. It’s not a joke.”

In checking reports for some of the deputies who made the most arrests, there were several for drinking beer in public. They were counted the same as serious criminal arrests. Finkelstein says that makes the homeless and the poor easy targets.

Howard Finkelstein: “You now have police that are in search of low hanging fruit. It doesn’t even matter if what they are doing is serious, or even if anybody in the community cares about it.”

At BSO headquarters, officials were not aware of the prize practice until contacted by 7News.

Carmel Cafiero: “Were you aware that this competition was going on?”

Sheriff Scott Israel: “No.”

Sheriff Scott Israel: “It was a positive way of doing things, ah, that I don’t condone, and we won’t be doing any longer.”

Sheriff Scott Israel says it wasn’t a monthly competition, but rather a random effort by a lieutenant to reward deputies.

Carmel Cafiero: “Do you have a problem with that?”

Sheriff Scott Israel: “A little bit, I do. Uh, there’s a perception out there. We don’t have contests, and that’s not what we’re all about.”

The sheriff says the arrests were reviewed and are all legitimate. And although some appear to involve homeless people busted for minor offenses, he insists deputies were not encouraged to make arrests to win prizes.

Scott Israel: “I’m a sheriff who cares very much about all of our communities, including our minority communities, and I agree with the premise that we don’t go after low hanging fruit. We go after violent criminals.”

The sheriff and the public defender may have different views on the idea of prizes for arrests, but one thing is clear: It won’t be happening in Oakland Park anymore. Carmel Cafiero, 7News.

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