Murky reporting obscures some cruise ship crimes

Port Canaveral police unable to produce proper statistics

Published On: May 10 2013 11:33:06 PM EDT   Updated On: May 22 2013 09:47:19 PM EDT
Cruise Crime warning
PORT CANAVERAL, Fla. -

Surveillance video appears to show a cruise ship passenger rifling through a lost purse that is returned missing $260 -- but the suspect is never interviewed by police.

Another passenger entrusts her luggage to a cruise line porter, but it disappears -- and police never ask her to identify the employee to whom she gave the bag and its contents, worth $3,500.

And the police department victims contacted to investigate those crimes was incapable of getting its software to work to even report those crimes and others to the state for inclusion in the FBI's crime reports.

Those are just some examples of the murkiness that surrounds the reporting, investigation and prosecution of cruise ship crimes in Central Florida.

"I think they are really good at covering things up and they are really good at dismissing problems," said Danielle Gauer, a former cruise ship dancer who claims her allegation of sexual assault by a coworker was mishandled by authorities. She has since graduated law school and is an advocate for victims of cruise crime and other abuses.

Federal law was changed in 2010 so that even serious crimes investigated by the FBI are not revealed publicly until the investigations are closed -- and the FBI has refused to comment on, among other things, how many complaints it has left open for years.

So while there is no evidence to show crime on cruise ships is any more prevalent than on ground, that is partly because the sketchy reporting, spotty investigation and selective prosecution of such crimes makes such a statistical analysis impossible.

The industry's trade group, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), said its members "must immediately report all felonies, allegations of serious crime or suspicious deaths involving Americans, or missing U.S. nationals, directly to the FBI on voyages" to or from U.S. ports.

Those records, though, are not public and even the existence of such complaints is concealed from the public until investigations are closed.

Ship log books in which the CLIA says other complaints are documented are also not public.

And the industry itself seems confused about what powers its employees have to detain suspects on ships.

Disney Cruise Line told Local 6 "only law enforcement officials may detain an individual suspected of an alleged crime."

But the CLIA told Local 6 "security personnel on board cruise ships have the right to detain a suspect."

The discrepancy arose when Local 6 asked Disney Cruise LineĀ  why it did not detain a suspected thief so he could be interviewed by Port Canaveral police when the Disney Dream returned to port.

The suspect, a passenger from Wisconsin, was seen on surveillance video going through a lost purse then returning it with $260 missing.

After removing his hand from the purse and appearing to handle what he retrieved, "you can see him shoving his hand in his pocket," said the victim, passenger Rebecca Staten.

The Horn Lake, MS, mother said she was assured Disney employees would detain the suspect when their ship returned to port last October.

But Disney allowed him to leave the ship before Port Canaveral police could interview him. The police said they were notified by Disney security of the suspect's arrival on the ship "only after the suspect had left the port."

"To the police it was just nothing, but it ruined our trip," said Staten's husband, Hugh. "It's like the police weren't even concerned."

Port Canaveral police refused an on-camera interview, but wrote in a statement to Local 6, "Had the suspect been detained and interviewed, it is possible this case may have had a different conclusion."

The FBI does not even investigate thefts under $10,000, a line Gauer said thieving crew members are careful not to cross.

"That worst that can happen, they take a watch, an expensive watch, and they get fired," she said.

Joy Davis, of Longwood, said she got a taste of Port Canaveral police indifference after her luggage and contents worth $3,500 disappeared after she entrusted it to a porter working under contract for the Royal Caribbean line at Port Canaveral.

She was never asked to review video or identify the person who took her luggage.

"At some point it was told to me, check Ebay, check pawn shops" if she wanted to find her belongings, she said.

Information about federal investigations of cruise ship crimes is often impossible for the public to obtain.

For instance, two juveniles who admitted participating in a gang rape of a 15-year-old girl have not been prosecuted, and neither the FBI nor the U.S. Attorney's Office will say why. The adult involved was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Nor will the feds comment about why a passenger suspected of exposing himself to several teenage girls was allowed to go free without charges. Video of the man was recorded, but Port Canaveral police have failed to provide it to Local 6 in response to a public records request.