It’s an online crime

A mock police Web site attracts victims with real crimes to report

Within a single week, attracted several disturbing e-mails. A woman wrote to ask for help with a restraining order because a male acquaintance had threatened to kill her and her daughter. Another woman asked for help because her young daughter had been molested by a relative in Sacramento. A teenage boy wanted to report that he suspected one of his friends also was being sexually abused by a family member.

None of these e-mails reached the Sacramento Police Department at its official site: Instead, the messages, with all their intimate details, went to Robert Church, a former Sacramento resident who owns and operates a site intended to “expose police corruption.” He registered the domain name in the mid-1990s while a resident of North Highlands. He told SN&R he intended “to express my discontent with the Sacramento PD and my dissatisfaction with the way they responded to crimes in the neighborhood.”

Church admits he’s had his own run-ins with local law enforcement. In a phone interview from his current home in Florida, he said that he “had an extensive criminal record for minor stuff. I think I’ve been arrested five times for interfering with an officer.” Church also acknowledged an old arrest for simple battery, but insisted that he hadn’t even had a traffic ticket in the last 10 years.

Still, his anger at law enforcement is palpable—and it’s on the Web at an address that is easily mistaken for the one used by the Sacramento Police Department.

“I get regular e-mails from people who mistake it for the Sacramento police site,” Church told SN&R. “The contact form includes a disclaimer that it’s not a law-enforcement site. I respond and tell them that they should contact local law enforcement.” Church’s disclaimer includes a link to its own search engine to help visitors locate the right agency.

In spite of this disclaimer, Church has received a number of reports of criminal activity. And it’s not just civilians, either. A police officer from Colorado mistakenly sent Church a report for the theft of some mail in Sacramento.

Not all the people who send reports include a return e-mail. When they do, Church replies and points them to the Sacramento Police Department. When they don’t, he’d like to forward the information to the proper agency.

“If I had a correct e-mail address,” Church said, “I could just forward the e-mails. I’ve called and tried to e-mail a half dozen times in the past two months. The response has been absolutely nothing.”

Church said he never heard back from a police dispatcher who offered to bring the topic up at her watch meeting. He also said he’d spoken with a man in the Sacramento Police Department’s computer division. “He gave me an e-mail address and told me to forward it to them, but the address was bad and everything got bounced from it,” Church said. He also claimed that an e-mail to the public-information address on the Sacramento Police Department site went unanswered.

Sergeant Matt Young, the public information officer for the Sacramento Police Department, had never heard of Church’s site. But he stressed that Church could simply forward the information. “We are committed to responding to the public as quickly as possible,” Young said. “All [Church] has to do is refer them to” He described the department as “committed to working out some type of resolution.”

Claudia Evans, the records manager for the police department, got one e-mail from Church on May 17. She told SN&R she is working with the crime-analysis division to determine the best e-mail for Church to use.

“My staff manages online crime reporting,” she said, noting that most online crime reports—typically for nonviolent crimes like vehicle burglaries, identity theft or petty theft—are usually processed within a day or two.

After looking at Church’s site, Young said that “it’s foreseeable that on occasion people would be confused.”

Originally, both sites had blue-and-white color schemes with badge logos in the top left-hand corners, but Church denied that he had reproduced the details of the Sacramento Police Department’s site intentionally. He said he’d used a stock theme and included a badge from a security company. “I purposely chose a badge that doesn’t look like law enforcement,” he said.

However, right after speaking with SN&R, Church redesigned the site in maroon and white. The badge has been removed.