Mayor Chris Beutler today will present the Mayor's Award of Excellence for December to a team of Police Officers from Lincoln Police Department's (LPD) Technical Investigations Unit (TIU). The award will be presented at the beginning of today's City Council meeting at 3 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, County-City Building, 555 S. 10th St. The monthly award recognizes City employees who consistently provide exemplary service and work that demonstrates personal commitment to the City.
The TIU team - T.J. Carmichael, Donald Fosler, Krissa Knopik, Cynthia Koenig-Warnke, Timothy Mika and David Wiggins - was nominated in the category of productivity by Sergeant Sandra Myers of the TIU for a case involving skimming devices and pin-hole cameras on ATMs.
Last May, two local banks discovered skimming devices that had been attached to outdoor ATMs. Officers from the TIU worked with the banks and other police agencies that had also experienced similar devices on ATMs. Suspects were a traveling group of thieves, and the officers gathered intelligence and developed a plan on how to capture individuals from this group or others if they returned to Lincoln.
In September 2015, a local bank discovered three skimming devices with pin-hole cameras on their ATMs. The skimming devices were similar to those discovered in May. The investigators reviewed the bank's video to identify suspects or their vehicles, and a surveillance detail was set up. The suspects were known to return in the evening to retrieve the skimmers and pin-hole cameras. This surveillance paid off, and five suspects were arrested. Two vehicles associated with the group were also impounded. Officers also seized materials that indicated the group was making or cloning credit cards.
The investigation did not stop there. The next day, the entire team pitched in to serve search warrants on the vehicles, cell phones and a GPS device in one of the rental cars. The suspects were all Romanians who did not speak English. They were in the country illegally and had documents that appeared to be fabricated and forged.
Police agencies from around the country contacted LPD after learning that the suspects were under arrest. Agencies from as far away as Florida and Oregon sent photos of suspects involved in similar cases. The TIU determined that two of its suspects had also been involved in placing skimmers in those two states.
When it became apparent that federal agencies would not be able to assist them because of their policies, the TIU officers began thinking outside the box. Because the ages of the suspects were unknown, they got court orders for each suspect to submit to a full scan of their teeth. A forensic dentist was then able to provide the approximate ages of the suspects.
Text messages from the suspects' cell phones were in a language that even a Romanian instructor could not decipher. The officers found a Romanian man living in Lincoln, and he and his brother volunteered their time to help translate the messages.
Working closely with local prosecutors, the TIU officers were able to proceed with criminal charges on the state level. The case was complicated by issues within the criminal justice system when juveniles are involved.
Myers wrote, "Hopefully their efforts will help fix and alleviate these issues. Regardless, these officers worked tirelessly to put the best possible case forward and to reassure the citizens and financial institutions of Lincoln that we take their sense of security, both physical and financial, very seriously and will work to keep these groups away."
The other categories in which employees can be nominated are customer relations, loss prevention, safety and valor. Consideration also may be given to nominations that demonstrate self-initiated accomplishments or those completed outside of the nominee's job description. All City employees are eligible for the Mayor's Award of Excellence except for elected and appointed officials.
Individuals or teams can be nominated by supervisors, peers, subordinates and the general public. Nomination forms are available at lincoln.ne.gov (keyword: hr) or from department heads, employee bulletin boards or the Human Resources Department, which oversees the awards program. All nominations are considered by the Mayor's Award of Excellence Committee, which includes a representative with each union and a non-union representative appointed by the Mayor. Award winners receive a $50 gift certificate, a day off with pay and a plaque. All monthly winners and nominees are eligible to receive the annual award, which comes with a $250 gift certificate, two days off with pay and a plaque.