Thursday, December 31, 2009

His Hands Aren’t Clean Now

It’s the last day of 2009. There is only about half a day left for criminals to have their deeds counted towards your department’s 2009 Uniform Crime Report stats. These are the central Texas misdeeds that made the news.

 

Looking Towards the New Year

I started The Crime Analyst’s Blog in 2009. Up until then, I had been producing an internal Open Source Intelligence bulletin at my department. There were a lot of stories out there about the work our officers were doing in the community, and many of them were quite positive. I also knew that a lot of these stories were going unnoticed by our officers who may not have the time to scan all the local news outlets to find them.

Because these stories were in the local media, I eventually decided to turn the internal bulletin into a public blog. I don’t use my access to “official” police reports or information when posting to the blog. Also, as an editorial policy, I don’t publish negative information such as “bad cop” stories even if those stories are covered in the local media. The way I see it, those stories will get quite enough coverage without me adding my two cents.

I’ve been fortunate that my department has been very supportive of my efforts. I get quite a number of positive comments from our officers and command staff. In fact, I get more comments on the blog than I ever do about any of the internal crime bulletins I produce.

The blog has also been good for me to develop as a crime analyst. I was recently asked to contribute to a commercial law enforcement blog, The Crime Map, and have begun writing regular articles for them. The process of thinking about crime and crime analysis, researching and then writing articles about it forces you to expand your professional knowledge and skill set. Writing under a deadline will also really sharpen your focus!

It is my hope that 2010 is a great year both for my department, local law enforcement and The Crime Analyst’s Blog. I hope to continue to learn and improve the blog. What do you want to accomplish in 2010?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Friendship Doesn't Usually Involve Knife Wounds

There were a couple of west Bell County crime stories making the web this morning.
We also have this piece about the Census Bureau's predictions that Texas is the fastest growing state in the nation. From the Killeen Daily Herald story:
The Killeen area has also seen a large amount of recent growth. The region sits just outside the Texas Triangle, which extends from Dallas to Houston to San Antonio. That region is believed to contain the most growth in the state.
In July, Baylor University announced research from a study that found Killeen to be the ninth fastest growing city in the nation with a population of more than 100,000. It grew almost 4 percent between July 1, 2007, and July 1, 2008.
"Our (growth) hasn't slowed down any at all," said John Crutchfield, president of the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce. "Fort Hood plays a big role in that, because of the diversity they bring to the community. Most folks who leave Fort Hood … tend to be better educated and higher skilled than the average Texan."
This type of growth has both good and bad implications for central Texas law enforcement agencies. Good in that the increase in population brings increased tax revenue. The bad, is that it also brings an increase in workload and it will be sometime before the increased revenue hits Department's budgets. For now we will have to figure out how to do more with less in the hopes that it will get better eventually.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Busy, Busy, Busy

Over the past week or so, there really haven't been many local crime stories making the Internet. I am proud to report that this is no longer the case as we have quite a few stories to post.


Other Crime News of Note

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund released a preliminary 2009 report of law enforcement officer (LEO) deaths. The report was a mixed bag. The good news was that line of duty LEO deaths were down in 2009 as compared with previous years. The bad news is that there was an increase in firearms deaths for that same period. This preliminary report lists 124 LEO's as losing their lives in line of duty incidents. (I think this number will be revised to include this death of a WA state officer who died last night after the report was released.)

Here are a couple of things to think about from the report.

  • Texas led the nation in LEO deaths in 2009.
  • Of felonious deaths, most occurred during domestic dispute calls. Over twice as many deaths were responding to domestics as any other type of incident.
  • The average length of service for LEO's killed on the job in 2009 was 10.5 years.
  • Traffic related deaths were still higher than felonious deaths but just barely, with most of them occurring in vehicle crashes.
Now, to climb up on my soapbox. In most cases you as an LEO get to determine what your chances of successfully surviving your shift are. The choices you make regarding your tactics, your training and your equipment will greatly improve your odds of surviving and going home to the loving arms of your family. Do you wear your vest? Every time you go on shift? If you work plain clothes, do you even know where your vest is and do you take it with you when you go on the road?

When was the last time you went to the range? Was it just because your department's policy mandated you go? Did you just put some holes in paper or did you practice shooting using cover, shooting on the move, clearing stoppages or weak hand shooting? Do you actually practice with your shotgun or patrol rifle?

Given that the average length of service for these officers killed was 10.5 years, we can assume most of these weren't rookies. Have you gotten complacent over the years? Have you lost that tactical edge? When was the last time you went to a defensive tactics class or combat firearms course?

Considering that you're more likely to be killed in a traffic accident, shouldn't your department place an emphasis on driver training? We teach our rookies a pursuit driving class but has your department ever given refresher driver training to the old salts? If that's not possible, how about a defensive driving class like citizens take to get out of a traffic ticket.

It is my hope that 2010 will be a better year for LEO line of duty deaths. I'll climb off my soapbox now. In the immortal words of Sgt. Phil Esterhaus: "Let's be careful out there."

Monday, December 28, 2009

Robbery Might Be A Dangerous Occupation

There's one central Texas crime story of note this morning, and a follow up on a previous story.

The Christmas day attempted terror attack on the Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit is liable to spark more security theater. It's also interesting to note how the system broke down. At first Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said "the system worked", but after getting zinged about that comment, is now saying the system failed. I think the bigger issue is not Napolitano's verbal gaffe, but the lack of action when this guy was brought to the attention of the authorities. 
Abdulmutallab had been placed in a U.S. database of people suspected of terrorist ties in November, but there was not enough information about his activity that would place him on a watch list that could have kept him from flying.
However, British officials placed Abdulmutallab's name on a U.K. watch list after he was refused a student visa in May.
... 
Officials said he came to the attention of U.S. intelligence last month when his father, Alhaji Umar Mutallab, a prominent Nigerian banker, reported to the American Embassy in Nigeria about his son's increasingly extremist religious views. In a statement released Monday morning, Abdulmutallab's family in Nigeria said that after his "disappearance and stoppage of communications while schooling abroad," his father reached out to Nigerian security agencies two months ago. The statement says the father then approached foreign security agencies for "their assistance to find and return him home."
To quote Yogi Berra, this is like "deja vu all over again". Didn't we hear a similar story about the accused Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hassan? Authorities knew of his suspicious communications with a radical Muslim cleric, yet no further action was taken.

My big concern is that the political motivation to 'do something now' will outweigh the importance of designing effective procedures. I've heard rumors that the TSA is implementing rules to keep passengers in their seats during the last hour of the flight. Like the terrorists won't try to blow up an airplane during the earlier parts of the flight.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

The Christmas spirit wasn’t everywhere evidently as this central Texas crime story will attest.

The bigger news is about the Christmas day attempted terrorist bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight as it made it’s approach to land.

Citing interviews with the passengers and crew of Flight 253, an affidavit in the case says the suspect "went to the bathroom for approximately 20 minutes.

"Upon returning to his seat, Abdulmutallab stated that his stomach was upset, and he pulled a blanket over himself. Passengers then heard popping noises similar to firecrackers, smelled an odor, and some observed Abdulmutallab's pants leg and the wall of the airplane on fire."

Passengers and crew then subdued Abdulmutallab and used blankets and fire extinguishers to put out the flames. Passengers reported that Abdulmutallab was calm and lucid throughout. One flight attendant asked him what he had had in his pocket, and he replied 'explosive device.'"

USA Today also has a companion piece about passengers intervening during in flight criminal acts.

There is also at least one story out there that claims that the would be terrorist’s father went to US authorities and warned them about his son prior to the attack.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Cheer

I bet the central Texas crooks in these two stories will get coal in their stockings this morning.

I hope this is a quiet day for all those cops, dispatchers, and jailers out there working to keep us safe this Christmas. Be careful, be safe and have a Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Don't Burn the Goat

Lately, there has been a dearth of local crime stories. It looks like that won't be the case this morning though. Here's what's making the 'net this morning.
Just to get you in the holiday spirit we have this story from Sweden. City officials in the Swedish city of Gavle erect a large straw goat as an annual Christmas decoration and have done so since 1966. Vandals appear to have other ideas about the Christmas goat.
Gavle city spokeswoman Anna Ostman said someone set fire to the 43-foot-high (13-meter-high) creature around 3 a.m. local time. Only a charred wooden skeleton of the traditional Swedish Christmas symbol remained on Wednesday morning.
"It feels very sad," Ostman said. "We had really hoped that he would survive Christmas and New Year's.
Vandals have burned down the goat 24 times since it was first set up in Gavle in 1966 to mark the holiday season. It has also been smashed several times, run over by a car and had its legs cut off. 
In 2006 and 2007 city officials doused it in fireproofing chemicals. Ostman said they stopped doing that because it discolored the goat, making it "look like a brown terrier instead of a yellow straw goat."
The goat is a centuries-old Scandinavian yule symbol that preceded Santa Claus as the bringer of gifts to Swedish homes. Many Swedes place a small straw goat underneath their Christmas trees, or hang miniature versions on the branches.
This brings up an interesting point regarding repeat victimization. The Routine Activity Theory of environmental criminology uses the analogy of The Crime Triangle to help explain why certain crime events happen the way they do. John Eck and William Spellman took this theory a step further by describing chronic criminal problems as Ravenous Wolves, Sitting Ducks or Dens of Iniquity. According to this theory our oft burned Swedish Christmas goat would be a "Sitting Duck" problem.
Duck problems occur when victims continually interact with potential offenders … but the victims do not increase their precautionary measures and their guardians are either absent or ineffective.
If you're still interested in the 'sitting duck' Galve goat, you can read more about him or watch the webcam here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

These Weren't Script Kiddies

Here's what was newsworthy in central Texas crime stories this morning.

Wired magazine's Threat Level blog had a great story on a multi-million dollar heist committed by Russian hackers assisted by American crooks. The hackers got into 7-11's public website and used that to get to the servers that control ATM machines in their stores. From there, the hackers managed to grab ATM card info which was then used to loot the ATM system. 
When they raided Ryabinin’s home, agents found his computer logged into a carding forum. They also found a magstripe writer and $800,000 in cash — including $690,000 in garbage bags, shopping bags and boxes stashed in the bedroom closet. Another $99,000 in cash turned up in one of the safe-deposit boxes rented by Ryabinin and his wife, Olena. Biltse was also found with $800,000 in cash.
 While this is not the type of crime that is likely going to be reported to your local police department, it's a great read. However, if a local banker walked into your department to report his ATM system got hacked, would you know who to call for help?

At one time computer hackers were mainly "script kiddies" wanting to deface someone's web page. Now that there is real money to be made, organized criminal gangs are using their skills to steal sack fulls of cash.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Paint It Black, Put Velcro On It And Call It "Tactical"

I guess that for the most part, all the Bell County crooks are all warm and fuzzy over Christmas and have decided not to do much that is newsworthy this weekend. We did have one central Texas crime story worth noting though.

Across the nation, however, the wisdom of relatively small law enforcement agencies fielding tactical teams increasingly is being questioned. Some experts suggest that smaller departments don't have a sufficient pool from which to select ideal candidates, and may not have sufficient funds for training and equipment. Routine duties such as patrol and investigations may suffer in small departments where serving on a tactical team is a part-time duty.
Experts also warn that small teams, with perhaps six or 12 members, simply don't have the numbers to carry out high-risk operations such as hostage rescues or even barricaded-person incidents. Lacking sufficient numbers, they say, both the officers and citizens may be exposed to excessive risk.
Back when I was a police officer (in a city of about 100,000 population) and on our tactical team, it was kind of interesting to see smaller agencies with their SWAT teams. Picture a out of shape fat guy with a machine gun and you get the picture. It takes a ton of time and money to field even a halfway acceptable team.

What I find interesting in the DMN article is that several of the agencies mentioned exist in areas with overlapping jurisdictions such as the school district police departments and constable's offices. Part of the problem lies with Texas mentality to give a police agency to any and everyone that wants one such as the state Dental Board or the Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.

There's also an interesting story from San Jose, CA about a program to have their officers wear head mounted cameras to record all their interactions with the public.
San Jose police, under fire for interactions with the public that have turned violent, on Friday launched a pilot project equipping officers with head-mounted cameras to record contacts with civilians.
Officers will activate the cameras, about the size of a Bluetooth device and attached by a headband above the ear, every time they respond or make contact with a person. At the end of the officer's shift, the recording will be downloaded to a central server.
While I like the idea of recording our interactions with the public, I'd hate to be the poor beat cop spending a whole shift with this thing stuck to his head.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Where To Put Them

Just to prove that the holiday season is not always jolly, here’s what is making the web this morning in Bell County crime news.

In other crime related news, the prison population in the United States has dropped to it’s lowest levels since the 1970’s.

The inmate population has risen steadily since the early 1970s as states adopted get-tough policies that sent more people to prison and kept them there longer. But tight budgets now have states rethinking these policies and the costs that come with them.

"It's a reversal of a trend that's been going on for more than a generation," said David Greenberg, a sociology professor at New York University. "In some ways, it's overdue."

It’s really kind of sad that the United States has a greater percentage of it’s citizens in prison than even totalitarian regimes like China. It’s also pretty obvious that Texas’ “lock everyone up” mentality is not working. The same legislators who campaign on being “tough on crime” are also the same ones that won’t raise taxes to pay for it. You can’t increase your prison population without increasing your prison budget.

The big question is, how do we ensure public safety and discourage crime without breaking the bank? I am pretty sure no one wants to go back to the bad old days of the high crime levels we had in the 1970’s. This is going to take some outside the box thinking like drug courts, effective diversion programs, etc. to make it work.

Step 22 – Examine Your Data Distributions

In the last post in my series covering the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers we looked at the necessity to collect our own data. Now that we have the data we need to start our analysis by Step 22 - Examine Your Data Distributions.

I have a confession to make, I never did well in math in school. In fact, if you were to ask my high school math teachers what kind of job I would have as an adult, they definitely would not have guessed one that involves any sort of mathematical competency. Yet, as a crime analyst I spend a lot of time crunching numbers. I like to tell people, I have a calculator with a lot of buttons and I have to use them all.

The authors state:

“After collecting your data you need to know what it is telling you.”

Analysis is the art of learning what the data is telling you. A good way to analyze the data is with statistics. I can hear you all groaning right now. You probably didn’t like statistics when you took it in high school or college. One thing I found is that while I didn’t like math in school because didn’t see the point, now that it can do some very useful stuff and make my life easier, I think it’s pretty neat. What’s even better is that you don’t have to worry about the whole theoretical framework behind how and why statistics work and just concentrate on learning what is useful.

The authors discuss a few basic statistical tools for analyzing data distributions. These tools analyze the average case or the spread of cases. To analyze the average case you can use:

  • Mean
  • Median
  • Mode

To analyze the spread of cases, use:

  • Range
  • Inner Quartile Range
  • Standard Deviation

Another set of tools is used to measure the scale of the distribution. This can be done using:

  • Nominal scales
  • Ordinal scales
  • Ratio scales

I’m not going to try to explain these, but instead will encourage you to hit the link and read them for yourself. Understanding these tools and what they can tell you about your data is really important if you are going to be a problem solving crime analyst. The authors even include a couple of hyperlinks to some websites with additional information about statistics.

Next time we’ll cover Step -23 Diagnose Your Hot Spot.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Shoveling Sand Against The Tide

I’m kind of sporadic about posting on the weekend but I didn’t want these to slip through the cracks. Here’s what’s making the crime news in Bell County this morning.

The Killeen Daily Herald has a story on Nolanville PD’s attempts to hang on during their city’s recent budget crisis. Most of their city’s employees and all but one of their police officers were laid off at one time.

In late October, the Nolanville City Council gave the order to rehire three out of about 12 to 15 employees, most of whom were police officers. Two police officers and one public works assistant came back to work.

McCullough was not sure when the city would hire more officers, but said it won't happen this year.

With the absence of their five fellow officers, the remaining officers have learned to adapt to the restricted numbers by prioritizing cases.

"You find yourself doing a lot stuff that should have been done yesterday," Holsey said.

There’s a lot to admire about cops who work so hard under such adverse conditions. For those of us fortunate enough to work for agencies that don’t have such severe budget problems, we need to realize we really don’t have that much to complain about.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The 12 Days Of Christmas


Courtesy of the Kenosha, WI Police Department.

More Cops On The Street

Here's what's making the web in Bell County crime stories:

Killeen Police graduated 17 new officers from their police academy Thursday including one with a legacy. 
Police will often say that to be a good cop, a person has to have it in the blood. If that's the case, then Brandon Smith has more Killeen Police Department in his blood than anyone else.
Smith, 24, graduated from the Killeen Police Academy Thursday, joining 28-year-veteran detective Joe Smith, his father, at KPD.
Both of newly minted Officer Smith's parents work at KPD.  Congratulations to all the new KPD officers.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Crime Analyst's GTD

I published another post for The Crime Map blog this week covering trying to keep up with all the tasks, projects and other stuff that comes our way. Here's a bit of the article:
As a crime analyst, we are often the “go to guy (or gal)” at our agencies. If your analytical shop is anything like mine, I have more things to do than I have time to do them and can barely keep up with the flood. Because of the huge volume of tasks that come our way, from projects from the Chief, requests from officers and detectives, inquiries by other agencies, professional development, etc., it often seems impossible to manage it all. But analysts are normally analytical by nature, and we devise any number of systems to keep up with all this.
You can read the entire post over at The Crime Map.

Down, But Still Too Many

We have a couple of Bell County crime stories this morning.

Elsewhere, the International Association of Chief's of Police (IACP) president was interviewed by the John Jay Center for Media, Crime and Justice publication The Crime Report. In the piece he talked about his priorities as the president of IACP. 
"My most important issue, the one I hope to accomplish in my year, comes under the umbrella of police officers’ safety. I don’t celebrate when I hear the news that, compared to 170 officers killed last year, only 140 were killed this year. Things are improving. Don’t get me wrong. But 140 killed is a problem that needs to be addressed. It is a leadership problem and a training problem."
It was an interesting piece that touched upon media relations, officer safety and federal funding and is worth the read.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Of Tattoos and Pot

In Bell County crime this morning we have these two stories:

In other news around the web. The movement to legalize marijuana seems to be gaining ground. There is a story in the Wall Street Journal about a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana for adults in California. 
The initiative would legalize marijuana possession for adults 21 and older. It would also allow local governments to tax and regulate the drug's sales. One of the supporter's main arguments is that taxing pot could generate more than $1 billion a year for California, which is projected to face annual $20 billion budget shortfalls until at least June 2015.
The initiative got enough petition signatures to make it to the ballot. It's up in the air as to whether it will pass. However, given the passage of medical marijuana in California a few years ago I'd guess the chances are somewhat better than not that it will pass.

On a similar note,  NPR was reporting on a study that indicated that while cigarette smoking was down for teens, marijuana use was up among them. In their story they quote the study authors as saying:
"Not only is use rising, but a key belief about the degree of risk associated with marijuana use has been in decline among young people even longer, and the degree to which teens disapprove of use of the drug has recently begun to decline. Changes in these beliefs and attitudes are often very influential in driving changes in use."
Even if we don't live in California, we'll likely be affected here in Texas when folks attitudes towards marijuana use change and use increases. Our agencies will likely wrestle with prioritizing marijuana enforcement given society's changing attitudes.

Even if our agencies don't make enforcement of marijuana prohibitions a priority, we could see an increase in DWI cases involving people stoned on marijuana. Is your agency ready to test DWI suspects for marijuana instead of alcohol? Are your officers trained to enforce DWI laws involving marijuana?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Beating An Infant Is Violence

Here's the crime stories making the news in Bell County this morning. There were a couple about the serial rapist plaguing Bell, Leon and Falls county over the past few months.
Here are a few other Bell County crime stories.
The disparity in sentencing between these two cases is interesting. While both men beat a small child causing severe injuries, one got 50 years and the other only 18.

The Killeen Daily Herald recorded some interesting quotes in covering the trial of the Temple child abuser.
Arismendez's father and sister took the witness stand on his behalf, and claimed that although he has prior convictions for burglary and lying about his identity, he is a good son and brother and not a violent man.

Arismendez has an assault charge pending involving the infant's mother.

When police interviewed Arismendez, he first told them his 3-year-old son was responsible for the injuries, and then that someone at the hospital did it.

"I think that the violence to the child was much too severe for any type of probation," prosecuting attorney Mike Waldman said.
I'm not sure the defendant's actions jibe with the assertion that he "is not a violent man". I think beating an infant to the point of breaking nine bones and then trying to blame someone else qualifies one for the "violent man" moniker.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Prosecutorial Discretion

It must have been a quiet weekend, at least as far as local crime stories went. Here's what was noteworthy around the area.
Another notable story was a huge story on the McLennan County District Attorney's office and the number of cases they prosecute compared to the number they either refuse to prosecute or dismiss. The number of prosecutions or lack thereof has become an issue as the race to elect a new DA heats up. From the story:
The McLennan County District Attorney’s Office does not pursue half of all felony cases recommended by law enforcement officials, with prosecutors dropping most of those cases before formal charges are filed.

At first glance, that statistic might appear to bolster the complaints of some local police, who frequently grouse in private about the prosecutors’ handling of cases. The perception that McLennan County District Attorney John Segrest and his staff dismiss too many cases is one reason the Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Association of McLennan County has decided not to support Segrest in next year’s election. The group, along with the Waco Police Association, has endorsed local defense attorney Abel Reyna, who is a candidate for the post.
The story is a great read and I encourage you to look at it. It's in two parts and here are the links to both:
This story does highlight a pet peeve of mine regarding transparency of government. Also from the story:
Such statistics rarely enter the national conversation because getting data from prosecutors is tricky, the experts said. Many don’t keep comprehensive records or refuse to share the data they collect.
Why is it so hard to get this information? If this is really a "government of the people" and believe me, we pay for it, shouldn't we have access to this information? I am not sure that obfuscation leads to good governance. We should be able to hold an elected official accountable for poor performance.

Cindy Culp at the Waco Tribune did a great job on this one.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Can I Be Your Friend? Please Fill Out This Background Questionaire

There really weren't many Bell County crime stories on this web this morning. However, this is interesting:
I wonder if the bigger issue behind this is the conflict between a judges' responsibility to the court and how that relates if he or she also has a private practice? Is it good practice for a judge to also represent clients or perform outside legal work in the jurisdiction where they are a judge?

There were a couple of other good police related stories though. In one, Florida judges and lawyers are barred from being "friends" on Facebook or other social networking sites.
In a recent opinion, the state’s Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee decided it was time to set limits on judicial behavior online. When judges “friend” lawyers who may appear before them, the committee said, it creates the appearance of a conflict of interest, since it “reasonably conveys to others the impression that these lawyer ‘friends’ are in a special position to influence the judge.” Source: NY Times
As social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and others become more popular it becomes more of a processional dilemma who we "friend" on these sites. As a law enforcement professional, can you friend someone who might have brush with the law in their past? What if he or she is a relative? On a related note, Christa Miller at Cops 2.0 explores using LinkedIn in a post "A Starting Point For Professional Officer Development: LinkedIn".

As we get towards the end of the year, the inevitable bunch or stories looking back at 2009 or looking ahead to 2010 are starting to make the web. Here's a good one from Ken Wallentine over at PoliceOne.com. In it Ken lists these as the trends to watch in Law Enforcement.
  • Expanded employment opportunities for police intelligence analysts, even in the face of a continuing recession and declining tax revenues
  • Further professional development for intelligence analysts and growth of existing intelligence analyst associations and new degree tracks in intelligence analysis
  • More public surveillance cameras and use of facial recognition software
  • Advances and simplification of DNA collection and more rapid testing methods
  • Court decisions that further guide eyewitness identification methods and a changes to evidentiary rules that create an incentive to record interrogations
  • Improved technology in wearable cameras and significantly greater use of wearable cameras Source: PoliceOne.com
 All in all, I think it's an exciting time to be in law enforcement. A recent Gallup poll on ethics stated that law enforcement officers had the highest jump in the percentage of Americans that view those on the job as "ethical and honest".

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Trust, But At What Price?

This morning's Bell County crime stories include arson, robbery and a child abuse suspect indicted for murder.

Christa Miller over at The Crime Map has a thought provoking article on Can Law Enforcement Coexist with Community Policing? 
Five Washington state law enforcement officers—four at once—have been gunned down in two months because their guard went down for just long enough.
Over my years in law enforcement, I've seen that many of our citizen complaints involve perceived rudeness. Often times, citizens perceive this cautious tactical behavior as rudeness.
An officer who is thinking tactically is thinking about people who can do him harm. There is a fundamental lack of trust. Yet community policing is all about establishing trust. To ask citizens to trust you, you must show them that—at least to some extent—you trust them to be partners in their own safety.
This is going to be a difficult task, to build trust while encouraging sound tactics. Over the years we've seen the numbers of officers killed on the job decline, in large part I believe due to better tactics, training and equipment (anyone remember those trusty .38 revolvers in swivel holsters?). At the same time we've been reaching out with community policing efforts in order to solve problems because our communities demand more efficient and professional policing.

It's important that we educate the community about why we have to use sound tactics even if it means we may not always seem to be 'Officer Friendly'. Citizen Police Academies and similar outreach/education efforts can go a long way to rebuilding this trust. That, and sometimes we have to weigh the benefits of letting our guard down long enough to shake a citizen's hand.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Do I Get A Scale That Weighs Micrograms?

Here are the Bell County crime stories making the web this morning:
This isn't from Bell County but is interesting anyway. Harris County prosecutors are no longer going to prosecute as felonies, persons caught with a crack pipe that has a trace of cocaine residue. Part of the reason this is interesting is that they were originally prosecuting this as a felony drug possession case in the first place.
Starting next year, the Harris County District Attorney's Office no longer will file state jail felony charges against suspects found with only a trace — less than a hundreth of a gram — of illegal drugs, District Attorney Pat Lykos said Tuesday.
Instead, people found with crack pipes with nothing more than residue inside or other drug paraphernalia, would face a ticket for a class C misdemeanor, which carries a maximum fine of $500.
Not surprisingly, the pending change was hailed by defense lawyers, but criticized by police officers.
...
Lykos said there were several reasons to change the policy, including the inability of defense experts to re-test drug residue that is destroyed when it is analyzed. To be tested twice, there has to be more than a hundredth of a gram, she said.
A packet of sugar generally weighs a gram. Half a grain of rice weighs about one-hundredth of gram. Source: Houston Chronicle
It has been my experience here in Bell County that the prosecutors require a "usable quantity" of a controlled substance to be present. In fact the marijuana possession statute specifically uses that language. While the Health and Safety Code statute doesn't specifically cite "usable quantity" but quantifies punishment by weight as "less than one gram", "one to four grams", etc.

Around here the practice is usually to file the Class "C" Drug Paraphernalia charge. While I've got to hand it to Harris County law enforcement agencies for their creative interpretation of the law, I can't imagine how big a prosecution backlog we'd get if this was common practice around here.

You'll note that the Harris County DA still says they have an arrestable offense, it's just being prosecuted as a more appropriate misdemeanor. Prosecutorial discretion is one way to deal with the ridiculous number of felony offenses on the books in Texas. I wonder how Harris County deals with oyster felonies?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Get A Rope

Here's this mornings Bell County crime stories making the web:
And just because we're in Texas we have this story. A Williamson County man was sentenced to 20 years in prison for rustling 1,000 head of cattle.
"The surprising sentence of 20 years in prison should put all thieves on alert, particularly during the upcoming holiday season, that stealing is not tolerated in Williamson County," he said.

Sharp was charged after he never paid the $700,000 he owed after ordering 1,061 head of cattle in 2005 from Jim Schwertner, the owner of Capitol Land & Livestock Co.

"Ranchers don't take kindly to folks stealing their cattle, especially in Williamson County," Schwertner said. "We've been in business since 1946, and this has never happened to us before." Source: Austin American Statesman
I wonder how many prosecutors get to brag that they prosecuted the largest cattle rustling case in their county?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Step 21 - Collect Your Own Data

In this post we are going to cover Step 21 - Collect Your Own Data. For a while we've been making our way through the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. The book is published by the Center For Problem Oriented Policing and is a must read for any crime analyst. I've been posting about each step is order to pique your interest in reading the book on your own. The thing that makes a crime analyst a professional and not just a job is the constant need to learn and improve our skillset. A professional crime analyst should never be satisfied that he or she knows all there is to know about their profession. Going through Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers is one good way to add tools to your analyst toolbox.

Before I became a crime analyst, I was a working police officer for about 14 and one half years. There was a change in mindset in going from a police officer to be an analyst as instead of jumping into a city car and going out to investigate, I was stuck behind a desk staring into a computer screen. This chapter will give you permission to get out from behind your desk, at least every now and then.

The reason being, is that in Problem Oriented Policing, not all the data you may need to solve a problem is to be found in your database. Some of it may be in a database, but it may not be one you have immediate access to such as one maintained by another City department or even another agency. In several examples given by the authors, the data likely didn't exist in any database and required the analyst to get out and do the "fieldwork" required to collect it.

The authors list a number of additional benefits to collecting your own data.
  1. Getting into the field can give you an understanding of the problem that you would never get from sitting in front of your computer, however rich the data that you manipulate.
  2. Designing a data-collection instrument can force you to think very hard about the nature of the problem, about the kind of responses that might be effective, and how best to evaluate your efforts.
  3. Involving police officers in data collection (and in the design of the exercise) provides a valuable opportunity to train them in the need for a rigorous, systematic approach in a problem-oriented project.
  4. Undertaking your own data collection gives you the opportunity to hone your research skills and be genuinely creative. Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
Next time, we'll look at Step 22 - Examine Your Data Distributions.

Numbers, Labs and Beheadings

Here are the Bell County crime stories of note that made the web this morning. Both are out of Killeen.
There were also a bunch of other interesting crime stories floating out there this weekend. Here are the one's worth a look.
There was an interesting quote in the Los Zetas story. As the Mexican government becomes more subsumed by the cartels, Texans become more at risk to the taint associated with these enterprises.
"They own used-car lots on both sides of the border, restaurants, discotheques, liquor stores," said Robert GarcĂ­a, a detective with the Laredo Police Department and an expert on the Zetas. "Basically, anything anywhere that moves to and from the border, or anything and anywhere they can launder large amounts of money, the Zetas have a hand in. They even own a dog-racing track."

Aside from money laundering, the Zetas are seeking legitimacy from those they have terrorized over the years, using methods such as beheadings and burning rivals alive. Investigators and civic leaders say the Zetas are trying to position themselves to become movers and shakers, even political players, in communities where they have a major presence.
 If Texans think that this sort of corruption magically stops at the Rio Grande, they are fooling themselves. It might be prudent to revisit the history of Tammany Hall and "Boss" Tweed to see where this is likely headed based on this quote:
"We could see them running for mayor, even governor, in the future," said one civic leader in Nuevo Laredo, who like most people interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
Of course there are those who already see this type of corruption in Texas border cities.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Motel Clerk's Lucky Day

There was only one Bell County related crime story of note making the web this morning.
The other story involves Sgt. Kimberly Munley of of two Fort Hood Department of the Army police who confronted and shot the Fort Hood mass shooting suspect. Sgt. Munley was wounded during this confrontation. In the story she relates that her injuries are likely to cut short or at least change her career path.
"I do want to stay in law enforcement. I'm not going to be able to do what I did before, which is basically work the street," she told a Wilmington, N.C., television station Wednesday.
"It's going to give me another avenue to look in as far as possibly teaching and instructing."
What a shame. I bet she'll be successful in whatever path she chooses.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Today's Bell County Crime News

Here are the Bell County crime stories that are in the media this morning:

In the blogs here are a couple of interesting stories:

Christa Miller has an interesting piece on the use of social media by police officers. In it she examines personal vs. professional transparency.
"I have wondered whether transparency is as valuable as progressive police chiefs, journalists, watchdog groups, and others tell us it is. While I think organizational transparency is absolutely valuable, personal transparency is a little more of a gray area."
As social media use grows we'll have to figure out what level of transparency is appropriate both on a personal and a professional level.

Meredith Spencer over at The Crime Map has a post on The Price of Overcriminalization.
"Essentially overcriminalization is the use of criminal law as the main tool to solve a myriad of social problems, many of which are neither amenable to nor appropriate for the criminal justice system. Overcriminalization is often the result of vague laws with tough policies, casts a wide net, criminalizes trivial behavior, and ensnares otherwise law abiding citizens in the criminal justice system."
This phenomena has been talked about a lot. Being in Texas where the solution to every societal ill involves making something a crime, and usually a felony one at that, makes her article especially interesting. Here in Texas there are 11 felony offenses involving oysters.

In a related post, Scott Henson over at Grits For Breakfast posted on the 59 new felony offenses created by the legislature this past year.
"According to the "Offense Severity List" from the Board of Pardons and Parole, as a result of new laws passed by the 81st legislature, Texas now has 2,383 separate felonies on the books - an increase of 59 compared to the 2,324 they counted in 2007."
Given the recent issues with both TDCJ and TYC, what are we going to do with all these felons?

James Gunter at The Crime Map examines how the economy affects crime trends.
"Since the beginnings of criminology, crime trends have been linked to a number of different factors, like unemployment, economic policy, immigration, religious conversion, transportation, environmental factors, and host of other fads and social changes. But if crime has steadily dropped over a 30-year period, you can’t necessarily chalk it up to a two-year intensive crime-prevention program or brief economic fluctuations."
 Maybe we shouldn't be so quick to profess doom and gloom about potential increases in crime rates. We also should examine the root causes of local crime increases carefully and avoid using "it's the economy stupid" as an excuse.

Changes

You may have noticed that I'm making some changes to the way that I'm posting some of the crime stories. Rather than individually post each story I'm aggregating them into one post. I may depart from this and make an individual post if something happens that is particularly noteworthy. I also am going to try and focus a little more on crime analysis and criminal intelligence issues.

If you have any feedback on these changes, please comment.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Bell County Crime News

Here are the local crime stories making the news here in Bell County this morning:
There were also a couple of stories about recent court actions.
The Killeen Daily Herald had an interesting quote in their story about the sentencing hearing of the rapist. The Herald reported that the rapist asked the court for mercy so he could see his kids before they have grandchildren. The prosecutor countered with this:
"You would agree that the person who did this didn't show her any mercy, wouldn't you?" prosecuting attorney Shelly Strimple asked the defendant. "You would agree that the person with her was a sexual deviant? That someone who beat someone this bad and was excited about it should be punished for it for a long time?" Strimple said. "That's a scary person, isn't it?" Source: Killeen Daily Herald
Yup, I think "scary person" is an apt description.

There was also one stray story about Killeen PD's attempt to purchase a new truck to replace the one that tows their mobile command post around.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Controversy Over Arson Investigation Is Good

There has been no shortage of controversy generated by a recent report that blasted the arson investigation that led to the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham. The report stated that the fire was likely not an arson and this gives rise to the fear that Texas executed an innocent man.

Local fire investigators believe that the controversy generated by this will lead to better science and more accurate investigations of arsons. Killeen Fire Marshal James Chism was quoted in an article at the Waco Tribune Herald.
Chism said the controversy over the Willingham case is a good chance for the profession to look at old investigations where questionable techniques may have been used. The industry also needs to seize the opportunity to weed out investigators who cling to outdated beliefs. It would be naive to think none exist, he said.

“Whether it is an old-school mentality or sheer laziness because it’s what they’ve always done, I still have to think those old wives’ tales are still getting play in the state of Texas,” Chism said.

In the end, Chism predicted, public confidence in fire investigations will increase.

“I think we’re going to be able to stand up to the scrutiny,” Chism said. Source: Waco Tribune Herald
There has been quite a number of old time assumptions about crime scene investigation techniques that have been challenged lately. The best thing for law enforcement is to seek the truth wherever this might lead us. It may not be comfortable at first, but in the end it will lead to more confidence in the criminal justice system.

Recent Court Actions

A Copperas Cove man was sentenced to probation and fined for his part in a severe beating of a man in Killeen. The victim ended up in the hospital in critical condition after being beaten. The interesting part of the article is this:
Kaydee Lynch told police that she and a friend met the man at a club in Killeen and brought him home. When they got there, her husband, Christopher Lynch, and a friend attacked and severely beat the victim, including stomping on him. Source: Killeen Daily Herald
Not to pour salt on his wounds but maybe going home with this girl wasn't the best idea.

Judge Carroll also sentenced a Temple woman to probation for drug possession. For more information hit the link to read the article in the Herald.

KPD Seeks Accreditation

Killeen Police will get a top to bottom review of their operations when CALEA inspectors come to inspect the agency next week.
The Killeen police's long-awaited and long-delayed accreditation review will put the department's policies, procedures and actions to the test this week.

An assessment team from the Commission on Accreditation For Law Enforcement Agencies will inspect and examine the policies, procedures, leadership and services of Killeen police from top to bottom beginning Friday.

Accreditation would put Killeen police in line with standards at law enforcement agencies around the world. Source: Killeen Daily Herald
Hit the link for more of the story at the Herald.

CALEA accreditation is a long, arduous process where every aspect of a department's operations, policies and procedures are reviewed to ensure compliance with CALEA's standards. KPD has been working toward this for several years. Let's hope their inspection goes well.