Using databases and exhaustive research, Sun Sentinel reporters spent six months looking into Sunrise’s undercover narcotics unit.
Reporters reviewed 644,000 jail bookings processed by the Broward Sheriff’s Office since 2009. They found that every year, Sunrise arrested more people on cocaine trafficking charges than any other city in the county — including Fort Lauderdale, with three times more sworn officers than Sunrise.
Reporters examined hundreds of Sunrise police reports, court depositions and transcripts, and interviewed lawyers involved in these cases. Those efforts revealed a pattern of “reverse” stings in which Sunrise police posed as suppliers of cocaine to nab drug buyers, drawing them into Sunrise from distant cities and states.
The Sun Sentinel obtained accounting records from the city showing payments to confidential informants dating back to 2008 totaling more than $1 million. Identities of the recipients weren’t provided.
Unable to determine what any one person earned, the newspaper sought handwritten payment logs for each informant kept by the Police Department but the city denied the request, saying release of the records would endanger the informants’ lives and compromise police operations.
The Sun Sentinel retained an attorney in March to compel the city to release the documents, with identifying information removed, under Florida’s public records law. The records were obtained in August, after repeated legal battles over the cost, accuracy and completeness of the documents being provided to the newspaper.
The Police Department declined the Sun Sentinel’s request in August for a sit-down interview and did not respond to most questions posed in writing, but said it would continue to process the newspaper’s requests for public records.
To determine forfeiture income totals, the Sun Sentinel reviewed state and federal forfeiture data. State information for 2011 and 2012 was obtained from annual financial reports filed with the Florida Department of Financial Services. The Sun Sentinel reviewed data from all 27 cities in Broward and Palm Beach counties that reported receiving forfeiture income during the two-year period.
The Sun Sentinel also created a database from 1,294 documents filed with the U.S. Department of Justice showing how much forfeiture money Sunrise and 261 other Florida agencies took in over the past five years and how they spent it. Reporters used computer programming to extract more than 62,000 individual pieces of data from the documents.
Search the database at SunSentinel.com/forfeitures.
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