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When Stealing is not really Stealing

April 6, 2007 Crime 23 Comments

By now you’ve heard that 15 of St. Louis’ finest were involved in using World Series tickets last fall — tickets that were evidence in cases against persons arrested for scalping them.  It seems that of the 15 it was 8 that were directly involved.  None, however, will be fired.

Mayor Slay, a member of the police board, affirmed Chief Mokwa’s recommendation:

These eight officers should be suspended from duty for a while – and when they return from their suspensions, they should be reduced in rank to the department’s lowest level: that of probationary officers. At that rank, there are no second chances for a police officer: one problem, and they are out, without an appeal.

This punishment gives eight officers one final chance to prove that they deserve their community’s trust – and a thousand opportunities a day, as they do their jobs on the streets, to make amends for their serious mistake. 

To others I spoken with, including city employees, these officers tampered with and stole evidence but are being treated differently.  Sure, they put the used tickets into evidence after the games but I don’t think that counts.  Granted, had they not used the tickets they would have been wasted which is different than taking say a person’s watch out of evidence.   Would city employees or even private citizens in private companies be given such a break?  Doubtful.

Two police organizations are taking opposite views.  One pressured Mokwa not to fire the officers involved while another says if all involved were black they would have been fired — that this is preferential treatment for white officers. I hope the difference is not race but it may well be.

So I pose the question to you: did these officers “steal” evidence and therefore should be fired and face criminal charges from Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce?  Or was this simple “poor judgement” on their part, no crime committed?


Currently there are "23 comments" on this Article:

  1. Greg says:

    Seriously? How does every issue involving people become a black/white thing? We have far too many people running around this city wasting their time and effort to enhance the color of our skin. We’re all St. Louisians, regardless of skin color.

    As for the punishment… two weeks with no pay, and a drop in rank that according to news outlets will cost an average of $20,000 per man. That’s not a slap on the wrist, that’s a life altering number and there is no guarantee that these men will move back up in rank after the year.

    Most importantly in my eyes, they didn’t fire the men. We’re far too trigger happy in today’s ultra sensitive society. I commend Chief Mokwa for not just dismissing these 8 men. He sent a hard message down and these men now have the chance atone for their crime/lapse in judgment.

    Every person in this world has screwed up on a job, maybe not in a legal sense, and if your boss chose to punish you but keep you as an employee, you learned a life lesson in humility. You most likely had to start from square one and re-earn your credibility that you destroyed. It’s one of the hardest things to do, but one of the best lessons that can ever be learned. These men now have that chance and hopefully they will become better men and police officers!

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Good points but what do I tell a civil servant that in a similar circumstance would be fired from his/her job?]

  2. blue code says:

    Sorry, I have some real doubts about the goings on in this case. The only reason any of this was found out was due to the new scanning system for tickets.

    The cops probably had no idea they’d be caught, so they did it.

    How many other abuses have cops gotten away with? We have no way of knowing.

    I’m glad the cops weren’t fired, but I don’t think this is an isolated case.

    Will we ever learn the names of these officers? No. Why not?

    If these were average citizens, the names would come out.

    I don’t think this has anything to do with a black/white thing.

  3. Jim Zavist says:

    I’m stuck in the middle. Did they steal or just “borrow” and return? But, then again, are you ever just sort-of pregnant? Where we are now is splitting hairs. And, as my wife put it, their wives are going to punish them more than judicial or civil service system ever will . . .

  4. blue code says:

    The wives are just as much a part of the Blue Code. I’m sure the officers’ threats to residen were intended to garner sympathy from the general public.

  5. Clay says:

    If you (or your family, friends, etc.) get benefit for something typically paid for that is stealing. If evidence leaves the hands of the officers — regardless whether it is returned — that is tampering. Seems simple. The punishment is severe but I think they should have been dismissed. Yes, we all make mistakes but sometimes you have to pay the piper. Black or white? Who cares? They are criminals. On the other side of the coin, who would have turned one of those tickets down?

  6. Jim Zavist says:

    To use a bad analogy, this was sort of like dumpster diving. The world series was a big deal. The officers had a perishable item. If they weren’t used, there would be empty seats / seats “going to waste”. The evidence is still here, so the scalpers can still be prosecuted. The chain of custody may have been broken (if and when the tickets were out of direct police custody), but the tickets themselves are still here.

    Was what they did wrong? Ethically, yes! They used their police powers to obtain a service for free, something we would be breaking the law if we, as civilians did it. But, using the same logic, they shouldn’t accept free or discounted meals or use confiscated vehicles for undercover surveilance. They should also feed the parking meters and not park in no parking zones.

    The fundamental problem with the whole issue is criminalizing ticket “scalping”. Why should the city try to stop a free-market transaction between two consenting adults?! There were obviously significant police resources dedicated to this victimless crime. I’d much rather see these resources being dedicated to reducing some of the violent crime St. Louis is too well-known for . . .

  7. Linda says:

    I think it’s way more than bad judgement. I think, I suspect, every officer knows you’re not supposed to tamper with the evidence–whether or not it’s returned, or never physically left the evidence room.

  8. newsteve says:

    Give me a break – these guys stole the tickets – perhaps at least TWICE in some cases (there are several who claim that when these tickets were taken from them by the police in the first place they were not even trying to sell them – so they stole them from the owner and then stole them from the city). This is not a case of tampering with evidence either – missouri statute prohibits a person from altering, diestroying, suppressing or concealing any record, document or thing with the pur[pose of impairing it verity, legality or availability in an official proceeding or investigation. Probably no intent in this situation. Regradless – like any other citizen, if there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed the city should have sought to charge them – let a grand jury – and then a jury of peers decide if they committed a crime. The issue of their jobs is a different story. I do not know what the civil service code or city employee policy says – but I assume if you are a police officer and you are convicted of a crime – you lose your job. In this situation, even if you got a sympathetic jury, they still improperly removed evidence from the possession of the city and used the evidence for their benefit. So what the city still has the evidence. What if the evidence was confiscated money – they used it, waited until payday and then returned the same amount – is that really any different. Personally, if its true, I think they should lose their jobs. Police officers should be held to a different standard then the average citizen, so I don’t think this is akin to the average joe in a job who does something wrong. This is a completely different story.

    Granted, had they not used the tickets they would have been wasted which is different than taking say a person’s watch out of evidence

  9. Nick says:

    As a guy mildly associated with the ticket industry, I don’t think they should have taken the tickets in the first place. I don’t suspect that is a popular opinion, and since that’s not really the issue at hand, let’s ignore that part. These officers screwed up and they shouldn’t be treated any different than if a citizen did the same thing. I have no sympathy for these guys. Did they sell the tickets to their buddies who went to the game? That’s like selling some of the drugs they found at a drug bust. It’s wrong and they’re profiting from it. If they didn’t sell the tickets and rather just gave them away, then someone who did nothing other than befriend a police officer got tickets to World Series games, and that’s not right. I’m glad the tickets didn’t go to waste, and I certainly think there should be some system setup to redistribute confiscated tickets at the original price, maybe with the proceeds going to the city or a charity of the teams choosing, but these guys got off light as far as I’m concerned.

  10. Craig says:

    Zavist, the fundamental issue is most certainly not whether the ticket scalping law is a good one or not. If these guys had been caught using or giving away a stolen bike, we would not say that the fundamental issue was the law on stealing. The same comparison could be made to drug laws.

  11. If you steal evidence, then well, you are disrupting the criminal justice system. What if this was drugs? A few officers took a kilo of cocaine, out of a huge bust, and sold the cocaine. I am sure they would be fired for that. To me the officers should be fired as they are undermining the criminal justice system. Evidence, no matter how significant, must not be tampered with. Evidence determines if the defendant is guilty or innocent.

  12. john says:

    Unfortunately this story is just the tip of the iceberg. Numerous crimes go unreported in the StL region because police officers (or their friends) benefit. Whether it’s the nonreporting of rapes, double-dealing, evidence tampering, etc., the StL region has a long and sordid history with these problems, especially because of the numerous municipalities and small-town mindset. Just another reason among many on why so many have fled the region. Where does one go to report on crimes committied by law enforcement officials? For more on the problems in the region, SEE: http://www.policeabuse.org/

  13. Maurice says:

    Charlie on KMOX said it best….it was wrong. and the intent was very wrong. it would have been a little less wrong (but still wrong) had they called a group like the boys home and rounded up a group of kids, instead, the cops called their family and friends, who just happened (????) to be available.

    the cops got caught. They didn’t think they would have been. That is a serious problem. What else is happening ‘in the shadows’?

    How is this different from taking $1000 from a drug bust and using it for…anything…and then replacing the money at the next payday?

    Or can I take a $1000 dollars from the evidence room and replace it with monopoly money?

  14. Jim Zavist says:

    Was it wrong? Yes.
    Did they know it was wrong? Probably.
    Did they think they could “get away with it”? Yes.
    Does it pass the “smell” test No.
    Was it illegal? Probably.
    Was this a “crime of opportunity?” Probably.
    Was it stupid, especially in retrospect? Yes.
    Did they lie about what they did? It doesn’t appear that they did, when confronted.
    Should they be held to a “higher standard”? Yes.
    Is there “professional courtesy? Yes.
    Will they be prosecuted? Maybe.
    Should they be prosecuted? Would this be a good use ofthe circuit attorney’s limited resources? I don’t know.
    Is the (proposed) punishment appropriate? I think so.
    It’s hard to fire a union employee. It’s hard to fire a city employee. It’s even harder to fire a unionized city employee. It’s harder still to fire a police officer.
    This is the opposite of a government “whistle-blower” case. Yes, they can be fired. But do we want to risk spending 6 months – 2+ years in arbitration / litigation only to have to rehire with back pay and, potentially, additional punitive damages?
    Do the police regulations explicitly state that “If you do something stupid, you will get fired.” Probably not. Do they say “You may not use the seat the ticket represents before placing the printed document in the evidence locker.” No. (Should they? Yes, and they probably will in the future.)
    This, at its heart, is a personnel issue, especially if the circuit attorney chooses not to prosecute. The police union will vigorously defend their members against termination. They will also likely object to even this level of discipline. The final decision lies with the Board of Police Commissioners, not with the Chief. This is also the same Board that did away with the residency requirement.
    I agree that what they did was wrong. I also think there should be a law against criminal stupidity. But if there were, we wouldn’t ever have enough jail space . . .

  15. Jim Zavist says:

    Bigger picture, why is scalping illegal, and why are city resources dedicated to stamping it out? Does it protect (individual members of) the public? No, not really. We can still buy tickets through ticket brokers, online and classified ads. Does it protect the profits of the professional sports teams and entertainment venues? Ding, ding, ding!

    The Cardinals sell out pretty much every game, so they’re not a good example, so lets look at the Blues. Joe Six Pack is walking up to the Scottrade Center. He can either buy a better ticket from a scalper at a negotiated(higher, lower, same) price as face value or he can buy a less-desirable seat at the ticket window (at face value). The Blues want to sell as many tickets as possible (duh!). They’ve already sold the ticket the scalper has, so it’s in their best interest to force Joe (with the help of city city ordinances and police enforcement) to buy a ticket at their ticket window. Does Joe benefit? No. Do the Blues? Yes.

    The concert industry has finally figured out how to cut down on scalping. They’ve raised many of their ticket prices to the point where supply and demand have balanced out. They pocket the additional revenues, not the middle-man scalpers. Our sports teams would like to be able to do this, as well, but are faced with the cruel fact that their value depends a lot on winning, which isn’t always a sure thing, especially when they’re having a bad season. To use an economic term, their ticket prices are less “elastic”.

    And why is it illegal to charge more than face value for a sports or concert ticket, when it’s not illegal to charge more for a parking space (valet parking!) or a piece of real estate in the city? It is (and should be) illegal to sell counterfeit tickets. But why come down so hard on scalpers, especially at sold-out events? They’re the classic small-time entrepreneur. They’re taking a risk (buy low, sell high – hopefully!) and offering a service that’s in demand. And they’re not taking additional revenues out of the venue’s pockets – it’s already a sell-out. Could it be that the city hasn’t figured out how to tax the additional profits?!

    You can’t protect someone from paying “too much”. Anyone can walk away before money changes hands, but people do and will make stupid choices. And, yes, you can define a reasonable scalper-free perimeter around the venue (one block? 500′?) to minimize congestion at the entrances and direct competition at the ticket windows. But to say that scalping itself needs to be illegal seems to be a bit extreme, especially in these days of the internet . . .

  16. ATorch says:

    “Bigger picture, why is scalping illegal, and why are city resources dedicated to stamping it out? Does it protect (individual members of) the public? No, not really. We can still buy tickets through ticket brokers, online and classified ads.”
    Jim makes some good points, the whole time this story has been up-front it has made me think about the seriousness of the situation (or lack there of). I believe the scalping law, or lack of enforcement of that law, does tie into the gravity of the crime. And as mention before, they could still prosecute the scalpers.
    So why is it legal for the Cardinals to scalp their own tickets (Prime seat club) and not the common man? Why is it legal for a BROKER to scalp tickets and not a common fan? The broker issue makes me the most upset. Last year, every game EXCEPT during the World Series the cops turned a blind eye to scalping by the common fan. I sat on a corner once selling a ticket I could not use and actually had a conversation with a policeman. The cop then talked to 3 other REGULAR scalpers that are down there every game. The law is not enforced except when there is pressure to enforce it, like during a World Series. The law should either be over-turned or enforced against all parties including the Cardinals Prime Seat club. I think the $20,000 to 25,000 yearly reduction in pay against the cops is punishment enough for such an idiotic law.

  17. DB says:

    Poor judgement. Move on.

  18. joe b says:

    The only certain thing is the cops severe crackdown on any ticket scalpers in the future.

    Jaywalking, loitering and spitting on the street will certainly be added to any charges.

  19. Craig says:

    The problem with “scalping” in the usual sense of the word is that the person buying the “ticket” does not know if it is authentic or not. Brokers and the Prime Seat Club are regulated — that is, if they do sell phony goods then the government knows who to go after for punishment. This gives an incentive to brokers to only sell the real deal. The result is the protection of consumers.

    If anyone is allowed to sell their “tickets” then the consumer is left very much unprotected when he ventures into the realm of looking for a ticket outside of the ballclub or venue.

  20. Jim Zavist says:

    Counterfeiting is illegal. If you’re willing (or are stupid enough) to buy a ticket on the street, why is it the government’s job to “protect” you? And since most people now have cell phone cameras, how hard is it to snap a quick picture of your “connection”? If they’re not cool with it, and why, just walk away!

    The to-kill-a-fly-with-a-sldegehammer solution would be to require, by law, every venue in the city to tear, punch, or physically deface any ticket they accept. That would bring up back smack dab into the middle of the last century!

    Without bar codes, printing your tickets off the internet wouldn’t be possible. We’d be back to standing in line and waiting for snail mail. The flip side is that you can print multiple copies of any ticket, but only the first one scanned is actually valid. Are the others counterfeit? What’s to prevent someone from selling multiple copies (other than honesty)? Until one is used they’re all essentially equal and valuable.

    Bottom line, government can’t protect you from your own stupidity, and shouldn’t try.

  21. Anonymous says:

    It was wrong, it was illegal and Mokwa was ready to fire the officers until the union reminded him that some of the department’s highest ranking officers are not exactly “pure as a driven snow”.

  22. Erin says:

    So when the cops pull me over for something like expired tags, can I use the “poor judgement” excuse? I doubt it.

    Something the paper never touched on is whether or not those tickets were taken from scaplers with the expressed intent of giving them to family members. This is before the game, and these officers happen to take some tickets, place a fast phone call and get their friends in their seats by the first inning? Again, I doubt it.

  23. amys says:

    aren’t these the people WE pay to protect us from crime and those who break the law? If they are the people commiting the crimes and breaking the law, they should be fired. We should expect the utmost integrity from them: their entire jobs should be based upon it. Who’s to say the next time they feel above/outside the rules, you aren’t the victim of their personal gain/agenda?

    Would any of us keep these people in our personal employee?


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