Journalism
6:00 am
Fri April 19, 2013

Pursuing Reckless Cops Wins Sun-Sentinel Its First Pulitzer

Sun-Sentinel Investigative Reporter Sally Kestin
Sun-Sentinel Investigative Reporter Sally Kestin
Credit Christine DiMattei

It was a humdinger of a story.

A Miami police officer in a marked squad car is pursued, pulled over and handcuffed by a Florida state trooper after speeding down the turnpike like race car driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

A dash-cam video of that pre-dawn October chase in 2011 went viral and sparked a three-month investigation by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper into how local police officers routinely endangered the general public through reckless driving.

A three-part series by the Sun-Sentinel grew out of the investigation and ultimately led to significant policy changes within South Florida law enforcement as well as disciplinary action against individual police officers.

Here's the dash-cam video from October 2011 that went viral (Courtesy of Sun-Sentinel):

And now, all the hard work behind the Sun-Sentinel's painstaking investigation paid off when the reporter and editor responsible for it snagged one of journalism’s greatest honors.

Investigative reporter Sally Kestin and database editor John Maines learned on Monday that their story, Above The Law: Speeding Cops, had won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

Kestin and Maines told the Investigative Reporters and Editors News that their investigation combined data-gathering with “old fashioned shoe-leather reporting” which included sifting through a mountain of records from Sunpass toll booths while playing Dick Tracy with nifty mobile gadgets:

"To determine how fast the cops were driving, we needed to know the distance between toll booths, and to our surprise, the state did not have precise mileages. We ruled out measuring distances with our car odometers, which can be off for a lot of reasons, and went with the suggestion of traffic engineers – a portable GPS device. 

Garmin and other manufacturers make units for joggers and cyclists that fit into the palm of your hand and are accurate to within a few feet. We went with a Garmin Edge that you can pick up on Amazon for $150." - Sun-Sentinel reporter Sally Kestin & editor John Maines

Kestin has been a reporter for 25 years.  She remembers the days before investigative journalists were armed with modern tools like iPhones, laptops and Google searches.

"You couldn't get documents off the Internet,” Kestin says with a laugh.  “And you were lucky to get somebody to fax you something.  And then that paper wouldn't even hold up.  You'd find it in a file a year later and you couldn't read it."

Sun-Sentinel Editor Howard Saltz says newsrooms have to keep pace with ever-changing technology. But the timeless values behind investigative reporting remain the same.

"Good, hard-hitting journalism that is built on a solid premise and is executed flawlessly.  That didn't go away," said Saltz. "Ethics don't go away.  Honesty and transparency -- those things don't go away.  The typewriter goes away, but I don't miss it!"