ACLU, Arapahoe County Sheriff debate mysterious "Gypsy scams" warning
Within the past month, with the explanation that "spring and summer are very active times for Gypsy-related criminal activities," a letter has circulated under the auspices of the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office warning area residents against "Gypsy Scams." When the warning reached attorneys at the Colorado ACLU, the civil rights organization responded swiftly, condemning the message as racial profiling and requesting records on just how many scams "Gypsies" have reportedly undertaken in the area. But what was the origin of the letter? Not his office, Sheriff Grayson Robinson says.
Although his office maintains crime prevention tips on its website, including a similar notice against "Gypsy and Traveler Scams," Robinson says this recent warning includes revisions that are not consistent with the Arapahoe Sheriff's Office's standards of conduct or even general written format. The most egregious example is that of a list of physical indicators used to describe Gypsies -- should you notice one about to prey upon you:
Spring and summer are very active times for Gypsy-related criminal activities. Three major crimes committed by Gypsies are:
• Home repair fraud
• Ruse Entry Burglary
Gypsies (individuals of Gypsy culture who have elected to live a criminal lifestyle) who commit these types of crimes are usually career criminals, and specialize in this kind of criminal activity. Note that it is the "style," and not the "con" that identifies the crime as Gypsies. Traditionally, these types of Gypsy crimes are generally non-violent. The appearance of a Gypsy can be generally described as medium to dark complexioned Caucasian, who are often mistaken as Hispanic. Dark hair and eyes are common characteristics.... You should note that Gypsies are experts at false identification and will use a variation of family names and birth dates.
This section, in particular, raised an immediate red flag for attorneys at the ACLU, who describe the letter's contents as racial profiling. While the legal council for the Sheriff's Office responds to the ACLU's records request, Robinson has launched an investigation into the mystery letter through the department's Internal Affairs Bureau.
The Colorado ACLU has asked Robinson to retract the letter and apologize for it, but he insists it did not come from the Sheriff's Office. He declined to comment on the eventual punishment for the party found to be responsible for the letter.
"The document appears to have been sent out to the Arapahoe Bar Association from our District Attorney's Office, but how it got there even, we don't know," Robinson says. "My purpose is to find out who authored the document, how it go to the DA and why it was sent from there to the Arapahoe County Bar Association," through which the Colorado ACLU first got hold of a copy. "It was not authorized for release by my office."
Robinson confirms that what are known as Gypsy scams, traveler scams, driveway scams, roofing scams and a handful of other names are a regular occurrence in Arapahoe County, particularly in fair-weather months, and he says they tend to pick up after a natural disaster. According to the Arapahoe County description online, they occur when homeowners are distracted in some way, allowing a stranger to walk into a home and steal from its residents, and the most obvious preventative measure is to make sure property stays locked.
Colorado ACLU Sarah Rich
But they could use a better name. "Putting the word 'Gypsy' in front of a scam alert doesn't do anything to provide additional information to the public or the police about potential criminal activity," says Colorado ACLU attorney Sarah Rich, who wrote the response to the Sheriff's Office. "They can just say 'scam.'"
Rich points out that the second version of the letter still reached at least some section of the public and could have increased area bias. "We don't have control over who posts (these notices) and when Arapahoe County sends them out, but Arapahoe County should have control over that," she says.
Read the ACLU's bulletin in full on its website.
Here's the original notice and the Colorado ACLU's response:
ACLU Anti-Gypsy Scams Letter
More from our News archive: "Dr. Stephen Stein, alleged needle re-user, under investigation for prescription fraud."