When an $85,000 ring with a four-and-a-half-carat diamond disappeared in February from a Windward Bay unit, Longboat Key Police Detective Capt. Kristina Roberts tracked it down using a grading system insurers use to assign a mathematical identification to pricey stones.
When she needed to find the suspect — who had recently been fired after 17 years as the condo’s maintenance supervisor — she went to a source who’s typically a gold mine of information: the suspect’s ex-girlfriend.
“The best source of information in the world,” Roberts said, “is a woman scorned.”
In the Windward Bay case, Roberts also had information from sources just as valuable as ex-girlfriends:
“Condo residents,” she said. “They don’t miss anything.”
Roberts, 54, celebrated her retirement at a July 7 ceremony at the police station, surrounded by past and current colleagues. Sgt. Robert Bourque has assumed the role of detective.
Roberts’ career with the Longboat Key Police Department spanned more than 31 years, including 12 years as an administrative captain and detective.
Her colleagues describe her as quiet and praise the keen investigative skills she uses to gather information, whether she is interviewing a suspect, sweeping a crime scene for clues or combing through hundreds of pages of documents to build a complex fraud case.
Roberts’ talent for investigating economic crimes is unique, according to Police Chief Pete Cumming.
“We probably have more of that crime out here than other kinds of crimes,” Cumming said. “What I don’t need out here is a great homicide detective. White collar crime leaves a paper trail. You have to put it together and start connecting the dots and crunching the numbers. It’s a specialty that not everyone can do.”
Roberts began her career as a dispatcher in 1981 with the Loveland Police Department in Ohio. She moved to the Sarasota area to be closer to her parents one year later and joined the Longboat Key department as a dispatcher in January 1983.
After a few years, she asked the late Longboat Key Police Chief Wayne McCammon to sponsor her to attend the police academy.
“Sponsor you?” he said. “Hell, I’ll give you a job.”
She completed the academy and became a police officer in 1987 — the second female police officer in town history.
She says she honed her investigative skills by working with “great guys” — and being curious and downright nosy by nature. As an officer, she always looked for something extra at crime scenes, like a fingerprint or footprint. She got promoted to road sergeant, then road lieutenant before becoming captain/detective in 2002.
In her 31 years on the Key, Roberts has heard a common myth:
“People over and over say nothing ever happens on Longboat Key,” she said. “It’s just not true.”
A few cases in point:
She has investigated countless burglaries and larcenies. One investigation she was part of led to the arrests of a boat theft ring. Police realized the thieves preferred weeknights and rainy weather and were arriving from South Florida. Police honed in on vehicles with Miami-Dade tags to make arrests and secure convictions.
Roberts investigated the 2000 murder of Longbeach Village resident James Brown — the last murder to occur on the Key. Brown’s body wasn’t found until a week after the murder. The case highlights the important role residents play as a source of information.
“It was a lady who would walk her dog who could tell something was off,” Roberts said. “She saw the papers piling up and took a half walk up his driveway. People who are in the same routine day after day notice these things.”
In late 2009, a routine audit at Sand Cay Beach Resort revealed that a check for just less than $13,000 had been written by then Manager Judy Paul. After a board member reported the incident to police, Roberts began an investigation that required delving into more than three years’ worth of bank records.
Her findings revealed that more than $216,000 had been stolen over three years. Last year, a jury found Paul guilty of charges; she has since appealed the verdict.
Not all of Roberts’ investigations were crime-related.
An elderly man in the early stages of dementia planned to walk across the street from his Longboat Harbour condo to a friend’s home for dinner. He never arrived and was reported missing.
By considering how fast neighbors would typically see him walk, when he disappeared and the typical walking patterns of people with dementia, police found him nearly seven miles to the south in Quick Point Park, where he had spent the night.
Police Officer John Thomas described another role Roberts played that wasn’t always visible: For at least 10 years, she has been responsible for screening and investigating applicants. She followed up with new officers by asking them questions about their reports and took pride in informing them about the residents they served.
“She was always responsible for making sure they measured up to the department’s standards,” Thomas said. “In a lot of ways, she built this police department.”
In retirement, Roberts plans to spend more time with her daughter, Victoria, 14, who will be a freshman this fall.
“Thirty years here went by fast, it really did,” Roberts said. “Every day was different. Every day was a challenge.”
At the July 7 ceremony, Longboat Key Police Chief Pete Cumming swore Sgt. Jeff Morningstar, above, into his new role as sergeant.
Cumming said Morningstar is a nine-year veteran of the Longboat Key department.
“I’ve come to know him as a very dedicated and professional member of this department,” Cumming said.
Longboat Key Police Detective Capt. Kristina Roberts remembered her first day as a police officer in a 2003 Longboat Observer story about the town’s female police officers:
It was Labor Day weekend in 1987, and Roberts was routinely checking cars at Publix when she spotted a car parked in the fire lane.
“A real big construction worker came out to the car. He was polite and gave me his papers. As I was checking it out, I noticed him packing up his stuff in the car. I asked him what he was doing. He said, ‘After you check me out, I’m going to jail.’”
“He was right,” Roberts said. “He had 17 license suspensions.”
“As I was putting him in the cruiser, he turned and said, ‘After I get this cleared up, can I ask you out?’”
Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected]