Wednesday, September 22, 2010

False police reports cost public plenty

Never mind what the falsely accused go through. It's all about the cost, that is important.

JAMES CITY — Filing a false report with police may seem merely a waste of time, but there’s a financial cost, an emotional cost and a social cost.

Police Lt. Eric Peterson explained that man-hours lost on a false report divert attention from real cases.

“We want to devote all our resources and energy to helping the victim and giving them closure,” Peterson said in an interview. “It takes a lot of time and resources away from the true victims out there. That’s the frustrating thing about false reports.”

Christina Goins, 23, was charged last week with filing a false report over her claim that she was sexually assaulted by an intruder in her home.

Last November, Goins reported that she was grabbed from behind while cleaning her kitchen. She claimed the intruder entered her home through a sliding patio door.

Stephanie Williams-Ortery of the James City Police said Goins told police her attacker hit her on the back of the head, knocking her unconscious. Goins provided a detailed description of the suspect, including a ski mask and dark gloves.

A State Police canine unit was brought in to track the suspect. Goins even underwent a sexual assault exam. No suspect was ever identified, and eventually her story fell apart. She recanted her story during an interview with police after they raised inconsistencies in her version.

Williams-Ortery said Goins claimed she made up the attack to get her husband’s attention.

“That [exam] costs several hundred dollars, and the doctor’s time,” Peterson complained. “There’s the cost of bringing in the State Police dog and the fuel to bring them up here. Officers scanning and searching for evidence in the woods. That’s a lot of time and money.”

Peterson cautioned, “We don’t want people not to report a crime because of cost. We want to use those costs for real victims.”

False reporting can make the community apathetic toward victims for crying wolf, “and in turn make victims reluctant in coming forward,” Peterson said. “That’s the thing we don’t want to happen.”

Through the years, James City has dealt with a handful of false reports on sex crimes. In 2002 a 12-year-old girl falsely claimed she was raped at a neighborhood park in First Colony. A year later, a 19-year-old woman wrongly accused an acquaintance of holding her hostage for 15 hours and raping her multiple times.

Her story unraveled after photos of her and her attacker were discovered. Police later surmised that she may have made up the story to explain to her husband why she had chlamydia.

The 12-year-old recanted after police pressed her for more information. Like Goins, the girl claimed she was seeking attention.

In recent years there have been a total of 21 arrests on the charge of filing false police reports. 13 people were charged in 2009 and eight in 2008.

The false reports included a variety of bogus claims, from robbery and burglary to arson and assault in 2008. In 2009 there were two false rape claims as well as several false assault and vehicle theft reports.

“It covers the whole spectrum,” Peterson said of the types of false reports people make.

Filing a false police report is a Class 1 misdemeanor that carries up to a year in jail and $2,500 fine.

“We try to find every suspect and exhaust every means we can,” Peterson said. “That’s why it hurts when we find out it’s not true. We take this seriously.”