Press Releases

State Announces Creation of New Identity-Crimes Unit

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security; August 28, 2012:

NASHVILLE—Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons announced today the formation of a new investigative unit to combat the increase in identity theft and related crimes in Tennessee. The newly formed Identity Crimes Unit is comprised of employees from three divisions of the department: Tennessee Highway Patrol, Office of Homeland Security, and Driver Services Division.

Additionally, the Identity Crimes Unit is receiving support from federal partners. The United States Secret Service Nashville and Memphis field offices; Homeland Security Investigations, under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; and the Federal Bureau of Investigation Memphis division, are supporting the Identity Crimes Unit in investigations with possible federal violations.

The new unit is the direct outgrowth of the department’s top-to-bottom review requested last year by Governor Bill Haslam.

“As part of the top-to-bottom review, we focused on the needs of our citizens and the law enforcement community, as well as ways we could maximize the effective use of the resources we have,” Gibbons said.

According to the Consumer Sentinel Network, a date base used by law enforcement to collect consumer complaints, in 2011 there were 4,275 complaints of identity theft filed in Tennessee, compared to 4,175 filed in 2010. Nationwide, in 2011 there were 279,156 complaints of identity theft filed, compared to 258,854 filed in 2010.

“Identity crimes are a growing part of our crime problem, and many local law enforcement agencies struggle with investigating these cases. In addition, the Highway Patrol has specific authority under state law to investigate identity theft, there are obvious homeland security concerns with such crimes, and many identity crimes relate to driver licenses. So, we see it as a great opportunity for all three divisions of the department—our state troopers, homeland security agents, and driver license examiners—to work together as a team,” Gibbons noted.

The Identity Crimes Unit provides support to local law enforcement upon request, but will consider several factors to determine the level of involvement. Some of these factors include fraudulent use of a driver license; a nexus to homeland security issues; cooperation of victims; violation of Tennessee’s felony theft law; the number, financial amount, and frequency of transactions; and referral from a federal agency. Investigators and staff assigned to the Identity Crimes Unit have been training for months to increase skills in the area of identity crimes and collect best practices for this type of investigating from other states.

The unit has created a resource kit for identity theft victims and has linked it to Investigators will also participate in programs and events to encourage identity theft awareness, distribute educational materials to safeguard against identity crimes, and encourage the public to take proactive steps to reduce the debilitating impacts of identity crimes.

Liberty and Justice News

Legislature Considering Bills Relating to Pregnancy

A House subcommittee this week delayed voting on an abortion bill but passed two other measures relating to pregnant women.

Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, is sponsoring a measure, House Bill 3301, that would require facilities that perform abortions to post signs reminding patients that’s it illegal to force or coerce a woman into an abortion.

Currently, coercing or forcing a woman to have an abortion is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail.

Under the legislation, the woman seeking an abortion must also sign a written consent form before going forward with the procedure. Lynn’s bill would also require that additional information be given to minors.

The proposed legislation would also allow women to sue for damages if there were no signs posted, or if the provisions concerning minors weren’t met, which alarmed Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah.

“It’s arguable you could be creating an action just because the sign is not posted even though the minor read the language and signed the informed consent,” he said. “It gives me a little bit of concern.”

Other legislators questioned whether the bill would apply to emergency rooms and certain other medical facilities.

Beth Barry, with the Tennessee Hospital Association, said the legislation could put hospitals in a difficult position during emergency situations.

“We could be in an emergent situation with a comatose minor but be forced to choose between ignoring the informed consent portion of the bill and treating the minor to save the life,” she said.

At Dennis’ request, the subcommittee put off a vote on the bill until next Wednesday to address those issues.

Meanwhile, the subcommittee advanced a bill strengthening penalties for those convicted of perpetrating violent acts against pregnant women, and another to allow women to obtain birth certificates for stillborns.

Rep. Joshua Evans, R-Greenbriar, is sponsoring House Bill 3495, which allows a fetus to be legally classified as a victim if a pregnant woman is assaulted or killed.

“It changes simply the language for the assault and homicide statute from the age of viability for a pregnant female to just her being pregnant as 26 other states do,” he said.

The legislation could be affected by a pending opinion about the matter that’s been requested from the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office.

The companion bill in the Senate is currently assigned to the Judiciary Committee and has yet to see action taken on it.

The bill allowing women to get stillborn baby birth certificates, House Bill 3286, passed after the subcommittee heard from two mothers.

One, Beth Barnett, of Cordova, told the panel she lost a baby approximately 28-30 weeks into her pregnancy.

“To us, he was our child,” she told the panel. “(My children) have to have something to relate to understand what happened to their brother. I didn’t know what to tell them. There was nothing there that told me he was ever recognized as anything but a bad procedure that happened in the hospital.”

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Glen Casada, R-Oak Grove. The companion bill in the Senate is awaiting a floor vote.