Advertisement
  1. Opinion

Before helping out, police the charities | Editorial

Making sure your money helps the needy, not telemarketers.
Tampa Police Department Corporal Ellen Schantz walks down the ceremony center aisle with Chad, a 21-year-old thoroughbred horse, during the 2017 Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony held in front of One Police Center in Tampa, Fla., on May 10, 2017. During the ceremony, Chad performed the role of riderless horse - a horse who wears an empty saddle representing fallen officers. ANDRES LEIVA   |   Times

Tampa Police Department Corporal Ellen Schantz walks down the ceremony center aisle with Chad, a 21-year-old thoroughbred horse, during the 2017 Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony held in front of One Police Center in Tampa, Fla., on May 10, 2017. During the ceremony, Chad performed the role of riderless horse - a horse who wears an empty saddle representing fallen officers. ANDRES LEIVA | Times

Published Jan. 3
Updated Jan. 3

The image of a uniformed police officer resting a hand on the casket of a fallen colleague is all too familiar across America. But as a recent report on a police charity based in Florida shows, tugging the heartstrings while tugging the purse strings is serious business. That is why donors should do their research to ensure charities spend their contributions as intended.

The Center for Public Integrity notes that the Law Enforcement Officers Relief Fund includes a donation link on its home page to “support families of officers killed in the line-of-duty.” That is one of several programs the nonprofit advertises, touting financial assistance to families of officers who are killed or seriously injured in the line of duty, or who are impacted by natural disasters.

But the Center for Public Integrity recently reported that just a sliver of donations given to the relief fund helps those families. According to the center’s analysis of the group’s tax returns, most of the money the nonprofit charity raises ends up with telemarketers paid to solicit donors. The fund is one of several organizations related to the International Union of Police Associations, AFL-CIO, itself a nonprofit based in Florida, according to the center. That organization represents local police unions across the country, and it is one of about 70 affiliates of the national AFL-CIO. The center found that from about 2011 to 2018, the union and the relief fund spent about $106 million, according to tax returns, with about 77 percent of that paying for fundraising services.

The center noted that the International Union of Police Associations had been rated a “D-minus” by the Better Business Bureau for its “failure to respond to 15 complaints.” And the Tampa Bay Times in 2014 put the union on its list of charities that devote only a fraction of their donations to worthy causes.

Government and private citizens alike have a responsibility to better police the nation’s charities. As the Tampa Bay Times showed in first exposing the Ybor City-based U.S. Navy Veterans Association as a sham charity in 2010, the oversight of these operations often falls to individual states, which pursue complaints with varying degrees of vigilance. Florida should shift its oversight of charities from the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to the Attorney General’s Office; it’s not difficult to imagine that a query from the state’s chief law enforcement officer would be much more effective in capturing a charity’s attention.

Still, consumers have a responsibility to protect themselves, and there’s never been an easier time to make informed choices about charitable giving. Florida’s charity checker is a start, and many watchdog groups have online tools to help donors make smarter decisions. Relief efforts in many communities are now highly organized and hyper-local, with sponsors using crowd-funding and other online media resources to steer financial assistance directly to the families of fallen officers, crime victims and people displaced by fire or disaster - all without the middleman. Donors should use the power their money gives them to support worthwhile charities that deliver on their public mission.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

  1. Megan Davila, 25, a Child Protection Investigator in training, along with Jacque Salary, 46, a Child Protection Investigator and mentor for almost seven years, pictured with their case files in the family visitation room at the Child Protection Investigation Division of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. Investigators are the front line of the foster care system, responsible for sometimes life-or-death decisions about whether to remove a child because of issues like domestic violence and drug use in the home.
  2. The Florida Senate is taking one step forward this year on criminal justice reform – requiring racial and ethnic impact statements for legislation we consider, writes State Sen. Jeff Brandes.
  3. Joey Cousin, a transgender student from Broward county and an opponent of the SB 404, known as the "parental consent" bill, speaks at a press conference at the Capitol. The bill requires girls under the age of 18 get a parent's consent before having an abortion was approved Wednesday in its final committee stop.
  4. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman is advocating for a statewide policy of paid family leave for all Floridians.
  5. Pasco County community news
  6. Florida has some of the highest auto insurance rates in the country. [Courtesy of Clearwater Police]
  7. Our democracy is under unprecedented attack from overseas, but the federal government has been unable or unwilling to protect our campaign-finance system.
  8. Cars sit locked in evening rush hour traffic on Dale Mabry near Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. The Hillsborough County Commission will discuss Wednesday whether to prepare a transportation tax for the November ballot now that the fate of the current tax rests with the Florida Supreme Court. [ZACK WITTMAN  |  Times] 
  9. In this Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2004, file photo, Tiffany Carr, executive director of Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, left, speaks at a news conference held by Gov. Jeb Bush, background right, to announce a public awareness campaign designed to prevent disaster-related domestic violence, in Tallahassee, Fla. On Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered an investigation into a nonprofit domestic abuse agency whose CEO, Carr, had received $7.5 million in compensation over a three-year span. (AP Photo/Phil Coale, File)
  10. Paula Dockery of Lakeland served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement