Friday, December 31, 2010

Goodbye 2010, Hello 2011

This will be the last post of the year here at The Crime Analyst's Blog. Looking back, it's been a pretty good year. I'm truly humbled by just how successful the blog has been. Just for grins, here are the relevant Google Analytics stats from this year at the time this post was written.

Posts: 267

Visits: 11,943

Page Views: 17,717

Most popular page (other than the main page): So You Want To Be A Crime Analyst with 703 visits.

Countries of origin of visitors: 107

I am also looking forward to what 2011 has to offer. But I have a couple of questions to ask; What are you going to do in 2011 to make your Department a better, more effective law enforcement agency? What are you going to do to improve yourself as a crime analyst and/or to improve the profession of crime analysis? For a bit of inspiration, I'll leave you with an inspiring TED talk from Barry Schwartz.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Another Hero

The Dallas Morning News has several good articles relating to this week's murder of a rookie Arlington, Texas police officer who had responded to a domestic violence call. In the first, we learned that Officer Jillian Smith died while trying to protect an 11 year old girl at the home.
Authorities say the quick action of slain Officer Jillian Smith, a new graduate of the police academy who finished her field training only two weeks ago, prevented Nettles from killing Kimberly Deshay Carter's 11-year-old daughter, too.
"She knew what she was sworn to do, and she protected that 11-year-old at the cost of her life. There's no greater duty that we have as peace officers than to perform that act. She's a hero," said Randle Meadows, president of the Arlington Police Association.
In another piece they look at the hazards faced by police when responding to these types of incidents. One thing I'm sure is going to be debated is if sending only one officer to this type of call was appropriate. In the case of Officer Smith, she was dispatched alone to this call as it was reported that the suspect in the domestic had already left the scene.
Experts say it is not unusual for police agencies to dispatch only one officer when it is believed that the abuser is no longer there, as was the case in Arlington on Tuesday night.
"But the problem is, you never know on any call," said Harvey Hedden, executive director of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association. "Any call for service has a potential for danger."
 In the last story, they examine Officer Smith's dream of becoming a police officer, one that was cut way too short.
"Since sixth grade, Jillian has purposefully made choices and decisions in her life that would allow her to accomplish her goal of becoming a police officer," Bowman said.
Smith graduated from the Arlington Police Academy in August and had completed her field training just two weeks ago. 
"She sometimes tried to hide how much all this meant to her," said Officer Christin Matys, another academy classmate.
I was recently at a crime analysis conference in Arlington and got the chance to meet a number of Arlington Police Department employees. I was impressed by their professionalism and by their friendly attitudes. I am sure that they are all devastated by this tragedy. Even more so because Officer Smith was the second APD officer to be killed on the job this year.

I'm glad there are police officers like Jillian Smith who are willing to try and make the world a better place.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

These Stats Aren't Good, Law Officer Deaths Up In 2010

2010 is shaping up to be a banner year, and not in a good way. Law enforcement officer deaths are on track to increase about 37% this year as compared to 2009 according to numbers released by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
Following a two year decline, law enforcement fatalities in 2010 spiked to 160. This was an increase of nearly 40 percent compared to last year, when 117 officers were killed in the line of duty.

Preliminary data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund show that for the 13th year in a row, traffic fatalities were the leading cause of officer fatalities, with 73 officers killed in the line of duty—an increase of 43 percent from 2009.
Unfortunately, this year Texas leads the nation in the number of peace officers fatally injured in the line of duty. For more stats related to this, read the NLEOMF Research Bulletin here.

Let's hope that 2011 is a better year for these stats.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Murder Statistics: What Goes Up, Must Come Down

There were a number of stories out today looking at murder statistics. First, there was an article over at The Crime Report where they looked at the often contradictory trends in homicides in various big cities in the United States. I thought this bit was interesting:
For example, Phoenix and Cleveland each reported steep declines in homicide during 2010, but they took different routes to the same destination. As Dec. 31 drew near, Phoenix was on pace to finish the year with fewer than 100 murders, down about 25 percent from 2009. Police there cited more cops on the street as a key factor.

Cleveland, meanwhile, was headed toward a murder total of about 70, a decrease of 40 percent from 2009. There, the decline occurred despite a shrunken police force—about 400 fewer officers than in 2000—although the city still has more than the national average of about two officers per 1,000 residents.

It raises the question of whether police really have an impact on murder, a generation after conventional reactive crime strategies proved futile against crack cocaine-driven violence.

As Northeastern University’s James Alan Fox noted, “Most homicides occur outside of the view of police.”

The article goes on to explore the aberrations that sometimes plague homicide stats and trends and is worth the read.

Then there was this one from the Los Angeles Times where they report that even in spite of the poor economy in California, Los Angeles' homicide numbers have dropped considerably. In fact, Los Angeles is on track to have the lowest number of killings since 1967. This is in spite of the fact that in 1967 the population of Los Angeles was 30% smaller.
The change, experts say, is not easily explained and is probably the result of several factors working together, including effective crime-fighting strategies, strict sentencing laws that have greatly increased the number of people in prison, demographic shifts and sociological influences.

A significant factor, said Columbia University Law School Professor Jeffrey Fagan, is the absence of a drug epidemic in recent years. The three distinct periods in U.S. history when homicides have spiked, he said, coincide with the emergence of heroin, powder cocaine and crack cocaine, each of which gave rise to "a chaotic, violent street drug culture."

Lastly, we have an article over at the Killeen Daily Herald looking at Killeen's homicide numbers for this year. Unfortunately, compared to last year, the numbers could give rise to a bit of pessimism.
After a near banner year, the amount of murders in Killeen rose sharply in 2010.

The amount of murders rose from five in 2009 to 10 in 2010. The total is the second highest in 10 years. The city had 12 murders in 2008.

In fact looking back at the homicide numbers from years past in the sleepy little burg where I work, it's often hard to predict just where the numbers are going in the long term. Maybe the best explanation was referred to in the first piece over at The Crime Report where they called it Newton’s Law of Criminology and explained that "What goes up, must come down and vice versa."

Monday, December 27, 2010

How About Just Getting Reasonable On Crime?

Here in Texas the "get tough on crime" approach has had some unintended consequences. One of those is that there is a huge backlog of DWI cases in the courts. In order to alleviate the backlog, some prosecutors have been plea bargaining the cases to other lesser offenses. Now there is a move afoot to change Texas DWI laws for first time offenders. The Austin American Statesman had a piece on this move that will hopefully bring a more reasonable approach to DWI prosecution.

"Generally we do not support deferred adjudication bills, but we are going to support this one," said Bill Lewis, public policy liaison for the Irving-based nonprofit group MADD. "Right now, we are hearing that many cases are not getting prosecuted for DWI but for a bogus charge. We hope the practice of reducing charges will be reduced if this bill does indeed pass."

The proposal, filed by Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless, marks a shift away from a long-standing notion in Texas that all drunken drivers should face fines and jail time. Deferred adjudication for such offenses was abolished in the state in the mid-1980s when opponents, including MADD, argued that prosecuting offices and judges were accepting the form of probation for repeat offenders.

Supporters say the plan could ease court backlogs by routing cases out of courtrooms, give prosecutors a new negotiating tool and remove the threat of jail that makes some first-timers refuse guilty pleas in DWI cases.

It's a good story and worth the read. I also think the approach has some real merit. It will be interesting to watch this work it's way through the Texas legislature.

If nothing else, the poor economy is going to force governments to rethink the costs associated with the "lock 'em up and throw away the key" approach to crime problems. Heck, earlier this week we even saw conservative religious broadcaster Pat Robertson question harsh sentences for marihuana possession as fiscally wasteful.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Ban Police Escorts For Funeral Processions

It's about time someone said this: the Hidalgo County District Attorney Rene Guerra was quoted in the McAllen, TX area newspaper The Monitor as saying that law enforcement escorts for funerals should be banned after a constable's deputy was involved in a fatal crash in Hidalgo County.

“I was afraid that what happened yesterday would happen,” he said.

Escorting funeral processions has become increasingly dangerous because there are many careless drivers who disregard the escorts, Guerra said. Processions also require a lot of man power and it’s unclear where the acquired funds should go, he added.

This comes on the heels of a recent fatal crash that killed a Harker Heights Police Officer Andrew Rameas who was working off-duty escorting a funeral in Killeen earlier this week. Another Bell County area police officer, Officer David Camden of the Temple Police Department was killed in 2007 while escorting a funeral procession.

What's funny is that most police departments have severely restricted the times an officer can respond "Code", that is using lights and siren. In fact, most in progress crimes do not qualify for a code response unless someone's life is in imminent danger. If you aren't actively being stabbed, shot or beaten with a club the police are not going to be responding with lights and siren. It's just too dangerous.

Want to see how dangerous emergency driving is? Just go to the Officer Down Memorial Page website and look through all the listings. Many of these listings of officer fatalities come from incidents involving accidents during emergency responses.

However, when it comes to a funeral procession, all that goes right out the window and officers will have to use lights and siren, bust intersections, etc. just to ensure that everyone gets from the funeral home to the cemetery at the same time. I hate to sound callous but the dead guy in the back of the hearse is not going to care that all the procession arrived at the same time.

If most crimes don't rise to the level of a code response, why would something as non-life threatening as a funeral procession rise to this level? Let's hope this obsolete and dangerous practice will go away before any other officers or civilians lose their lives in a traffic accident during a funeral procession.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

All This For Basketball Shoes

I'm taking a bit of a break this week from any serious crime blogging. However, I do have this interesting bit. Apparently there is a new Nike Air Jordan athletic shoe out this week and the demand for it is causing police in a number of Texas cities, no end of headaches. The Austin American Statesman had this bit:
Ten Round Rock police officers, four Williamson County deputy sheriffs and a Georgetown police officer responded to the scene, Poteet said. Several people were detained, but they were released and no one was arrested or injured, Poteet said.

“It speaks more of certain people’s tendencies to be unreasonable and to have no courtesy and no manners,” Poteet said.
Similar issues were reported in Killeen, Houston and the Dallas area with Mesquite Police having to pepper spray the crowd to restore order.

So much for "peace on earth, goodwill toward man".

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Crime Numbers Down, People Numbers Up

Two of the bigger stats related events that affect crime analysis happened in the past week, one was this one over at CNN where they reported that some of the nation's crime numbers were down for the first part of 2010.

Overall violent crime fell 6.2% from the same period last year, according to the report, and the new numbers include a 7.1% decrease in homicide.
Robberies during the period were down 10.7%, motor vehicle thefts and arson declined 9.7%, rapes were down 6.2%, aggravated assaults were down 3.9%, and burglaries dropped 1.4%.

The FBI report does not give reasons for the drop in crime, but criminologists have recently indicated an aging population, along with ramped-up law enforcement, have contributed to the decline in recent years. The trend has surprised experts who have historically seen crime increase during difficult economic periods.

The other interesting bit is some of the preliminary 2010 Census numbers are out. According to the release over at the U.S. Census Bureau's website, Texas gained a whopping 4 million people in the past 10 years.

The most populous state was California (37,253,956); the least populous, Wyoming (563,626). The state that gained the most numerically since the 2000 Census was Texas (up 4,293,741 to 25,145,561) and the state that gained the most as a percentage of its 2000 Census count was Nevada (up 35.1% to 2,700,551).

Regionally, the South and the West picked up the bulk of the population increase, 14,318,924 and 8,747,621, respectively. But the Northeast and the Midwest also grew: 1,722,862 and 2,534,225.

The individual numbers for cities aren't out just yet but should be out in the coming months. Once the individual numbers come out, the analysis starts to determine where we stand with both crime numbers and with population figures. We use the numbers in my shop to look at things like crime rates, officers per population stats, etc.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Defrosting Cold Cases

I'm taking a bit of a break for the holidays this week. However, this is interesting. The website Defrosting Cold Cases profiles cold case homicides to try an generate new information about these crimes. This past week Vidocq from that site profiled this 1975 unsolved homicide from Canada.
Sharron (16) disappeared on March 29, 1975 after leaving from her home around 715pm. She was going to meet some friends (including a boyfriend) at Marina’s Pizzeria.

The restaurant is about five minutes by foot from her home. She never arrived. Sharron was found dead on April 1st, 1975.

I think it's commendable that people would volunteer their time to publicize these cases. To read more, hit the link.

Additionally, the FBI Violent Criminal Apprehension Program or ViCAP provides law enforcement agencies with a searchable database of violent crimes. Previously, law enforcement agencies had to submit their cases to the FBI for entry into ViCAP. Now, agencies can sign up to get access to ViCAP directly and enter their own cases into the system. We just signed up and got access at my agency recently and are going to start entering our cold cases into the system.

On a similar note, the US Department of Justice operates the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System or NAMUS website with information on missing persons and unidentified persons.

Both ViCAP and NAMUS are good resources to use in dealing with these kinds of cases.

Friday, December 17, 2010

False Rape Allegations Tie Up Police Manpower

This is a weird one, CBS News has a report on a New York City TV meteorologist being arrested after admitting that she made a false rape allegation previously to NYPD. From the story:
Police say Jones told them on Nov. 24 that a man tried to rape her a month earlier as she ran in Central Park. She said the same man harassed her outside her apartment Nov. 21 at 7:50 a.m.

Police went into action, speaking to possible witnesses and canvassing the area for a man matching the description she gave of her alleged attacker. When they went back to her to discuss the case, Jones admitted the fabrication, police said.

Jones, 37, had said her assailant was a Hispanic man in his 30s or 40s, who grabbed her from behind, dragged her into a wooded area and attempted to rape her, the New York Post reported. She told police that the would-be rapist was scared off by two passers-by who came to her aid.

Jones said she concocted the story in a plea for sympathy to counter some unknown setback that she was experiencing in her personal life, according to the Post.

The sad thing of it is that false allegations like this tie up the limited resources police have in investigating sex crimes. Sex crimes are often hard to prove, even with DNA technology. Over my time in law enforcement, I've seen a few "victims" later admit to making a false allegation. While they often have "issues" and are in need of counseling, they are robbing real victims of their shot at justice. I guess the most unusual thing about this is the fact that the person making this false allegation was such a high profile personality.

On a semi-related note, there is an interesting article over at Time magazine looking at the prevalence of sex crimes in Sweden and the abysmal rate of solving them that authorities in that country have.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A High Tech Answer To Vehicle Burglaries

This is pretty interesting. There is a story over at the Dallas Morning News about Dallas PD's efforts to put a dent in vehicle burglaries in that city. Dallas PD is using decoy vehicles equipped with video surveillance equipment and tracking devices to nab prolific vehicle burglars.

They quote DPD's Deputy Chief Aziz:
"The general premise is that every thief commits 75 to 100 offenses before police can put them in jail," he said. ...

"That means if we take that person off the street, then we should have a reduction in the overall number of offenses."

Authorities are hiding tracking devices in every kind of object conceivable – from Christmas presents to golf clubs. Those items are then placed in the decoy cars.

I think the key to this type of operation is to make sure that you're getting the prolific crooks and not making the decoy so attractive that you're encouraging someone who may not ordinarily commit a crime to do so. The last thing you would want to do is to create more crime numbers in your city by making it way too easy.

I sat through a presentation at this year's combined IACA / POP Center conference where this was touched on by a California agency that was working sport bike thefts. At first they made the decoy theft too easy and ended up catching opportunists and not the serious bad guys. They had to work a little harder to make sure that their decoys were attracting the prolific sport bike thieves.

The POP Center has two problem oriented policing guides covering thefts from vehicles in parking lots and in residential neighborhoods that may give you some more ideas on how to combat this problem.

What strategies is your agency using to combat vehicle burglaries and other types of larcenies?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Statistics Behind Terrorism

This is pretty cool. It seems that a physicist studying terrorist attacks has determined that there is an statistically identifiable pattern to terror attacks around the world. The article over at is fascinating and a good read.

But it is his terrorism research that seems to be getting Clauset the most attention these days. He is one of a handful of U.S. and European scientists searching for universal patterns hidden in human conflicts — patterns that might one day allow them to predict long-term threats. Rather than study historical grievances, violent ideologies and social networks the way most counterterrorism researchers do, Clauset and his colleagues disregard the unique traits of terrorist groups and focus entirely on outcomes — the violence they commit.

Call it the physics of terrorism.

“When you start averaging over the differences, you see there are patterns in the way terrorists’ campaigns progress and the frequency and severity of the attacks,” he says. “This gives you hope that terrorism is understandable from a scientific perspective.” The research is no mere academic exercise. Clauset hopes, for example, that his work will enable predictions of when terrorists might get their hands on a nuclear, biological or chemical weapon — and when they might use it.

The research is not going to result in a model to say that a terror attack is going to occur at a certain place on a certain day, but it will help to estimate the risk of attacks over the long term, one that will help government agencies allocate resources for responding to such events over time.

It will also be interesting to see if the same type of statistical analysis can be applied to criminology. It may not tell us when a specific crime is going to happen but it might be able to say that we'll see a larger overall trend on the horizon. More cops, courts and prisons all cost large amounts of money, one that is best budgeted for over the long term.

If you are a stats geek, or even if you aren't hit the link to read the whole article.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Don't Be Afraid To Innovate

I've always enjoyed the TED Talks. There is usually some interesting stuff on a wide variety of topics. Recently there was a TED Talk from former Indian police officer, Kiran Bedi. The TED site gives this for her bio:
Before she retired in 2007, Kiran Bedi was one of India’s top cops. As the first and highest-ranking female officer in the national police force, she earned a reputation for being tough yet innovative on the job. Her efforts to prevent crime, reform prisons, end drug abuse, and support women’s causes earned her a Roman Magsaysay Award, the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Prize. Bedi also served as a police adviser to the UN Secretary General.

The reason I posted this TED Talk is I loved the fact that Bedi wasn't afraid to be innovative, whether it was just her choice of career field, or what she did when she got into that field. Regardless of what you do in law enforcement, you should not be afraid of being innovative. It is possible to make a difference in your agency, if even in a small way but you may have to "think outside the box" in order to do it.

What are you doing to make a difference at your agency?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Step 58 - Organize Powerful Presentations

We've got three steps to go in our walk through the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers and in this post we are up to Step 58 - Organize powerful presentations.

In this post the authors focus on organizing an effective presentation using PowerPoint. There are a number of ways to give an effective presentation and there are also a number of valid criticisms of PowerPoint. Mostly, it's in how the software is employed as opposed to the medium itself. The reality is, much to the consternation of Edward Tufte, PowerPoint is the standard for giving presentations so it makes sense that the authors gear this chapter to the use of PowerPoint.

The authors start this chapter with this bit:
The main focus of your presentation should be to answer specific questions that will aid decision-making, and it should consist of the following:
  • A set of slides organized around your story.
  • A graphical motif or outline slide to keep your audience focused on the story.

Your presentation should, as we learned in Step 54, tell a clear story. You already know the story, because you have studied the problem, examined a number of possible solutions and and likely come to a conclusion about which one will best handle the problem. Now, you need to guide your audience through the story. A well organized presentation will help keep your audience "focused on the story" and keep them from "getting lost in the details".

There was also this one great little bit of advice from the authors:
Most decision-makers are not as interested as you are in the methods you used to analyze your problem. Therefore, do not spend a great deal of time describing your methods, unless this is the objective of the presentation. Rather, summarize the main elements (see slide 4). You can prepare separate slides about methods, held in reserve, should audience members have questions about your methods.

We've all sat through tedious presentations, whether they are overly technical, overly simplistic or just not well organized. It is important that as a problem solving crime analyst, we have the ability to give an effective presentation. The authors have some graphics and a detailed description of an effective presentation in the chapter, hit the link to read it.

Next time, we'll cover Step 59 - Become an effective presenter.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Suspect Boat In Fatal Crash Found Buried

To finish up the week, I found this interesting: Law enforcement officials working on a 2002 hit and run boating death managed to dig up a boat believed to be the suspect's boat on a property in Burnett County here in central Texas. From the story over at the Austin American Statesman:
According to investigators, at least one person with information about what happened tipped them off late last month, setting in motion a chain of events that led to charges against a Bertram heavy equipment operator late Tuesday.
The case took another dramatic turn Wednesday — when officials uncovered large chunks of a boat buried near the home of Travis Aaron Marburger, 36, who has been charged with manslaughter in the death of one of the three friends.
"It's all kind of slowly settling in," said Daniels, who was 17 at the time and is now a state game warden in North Texas. "It is something I have hoped for and wanted for since that time."
It's unusual enough to make an arrest in an eight year old fatal hit & run, much less one involving a boat. I can't even begin to describe how unusual it is for the suspect to bury the vehicle used in the crime.Great work on this one.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Is The Traditional Police Service Model Obsolete?

There's a short piece over at The Crime Report where they posted this tidbit from speech at the Bureau of Justice Assistance conference. They quote Leonard Matarese of the International City/County Management Association with this:

Despite longstanding research showing that police departments should not attempt to answer every call for service, Matarese said that even some large police departments insist on sending officers to every citizen call, no matter how minor. This wastes manpower that could be better used on vital matters, he said. Matarese predicted that as more cities lurch toward bankruptcy, they will seek cheaper law enforcement services from the private sector and will try to convert more uniformed officers’ duties into civilian positions. He believes that jurisdictions increasingly will try to combine functions of police officers and firefighters. 

I'd be real interested to hear/read Matarese's full comments on this subject. It does bring up an interesting topic though; What services should communities expect from their law enforcement agencies?

Every day I am amazed at the non-law enforcement related services my agency provides. Law enforcement is usually the most accessible government agency. Consequently, we are often the agency of first resort for all kinds of non-law enforcement services. Dealing with the mentally ill, barking dogs, disagreements between neighbors, etc. are all common, and time consuming calls for service at my agency.

Chief Tom Casady over at The Chief's Corner had a post this week where he talked about his agency's strategy to reduce the numbers of manpower wasting false burglar alarm calls his agency responds to.

If you are going to reduce the times you respond to calls like this, you're going to have to find a way to sell this to your community. The good thing is I think most citizens understand the need for leaner, more efficient law enforcement agency's during this economic downturn. Law enforcement agencies should capitalize on this and evaluate their workload and cut out non-essential services.

What is the number one time wasting call for service type at your agency? What ways are you trying to identify these types of calls and reduce their impact on your workload?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Does A Poor Economy Mean Higher Crime Numbers? Apparently Not

There's a good story over at the Las Vegas Sun that talks about the correlation or in this case, the non-correlation between the poor economy and crime stats.

“There’s simply no correlation between crime rates and economic indicators such as unemployment,” says Mark A.R. Kleiman, a professor of public policy at the UCLA School of Public Affairs.

David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, puts it this way: “Crime going up in recessions is one of those things everyone knows is true, but in fact isn’t true.”

There were a number of experts interviewed in the article and they offered a number of reasons for this non-correlation. Hit the link for the whole story.

The story does link crime spikes to things such as drug epidemics, major cultural change and other factors that aren't linked to the recent economic downturn.

How's the economy in your jurisdiction? Have you seen any changes in your crime numbers?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Working for Cheeseburgers, Sex Trafficking Victims Describe Their Ordeal

NPR has a great story on child sex trafficking looking at how children end up working for pimps. Lest you think that child sex trafficking is something that only occurs in other countries, it is estimated that between 100,000 and 300,000 children are trafficked for sex in the US each year.

There's a great but tragic quote in the article.
"It's not the best deal to have sex with 15 different guys in one day and only get a cheeseburger at the end of it," says Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Sharmin Bock. Bock compares the girls' situation to being brainwashed by a cult.

The entire article is worth the read. Hit the link to read the entire piece.

Fortunately, instead of treating these kids as juvenile criminals, there is a trend to treat these child prostitutes as victims and help them get out of "the game". The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has a list of some of these programs here.

Does your agency know who to make referrals to for victims of child sex trafficking in your area? Has your agency established policies on how to deal with victims in these cases?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Step 57 - Use Simple Figures

In this post we're up to Step 57 - Use simple figures in our journey through the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. The past several chapters I've posted on deal with communicating effectively. Being able to communicate effectively is so critical to the role of a crime analyst that it is often included in the job descriptions I see from agencies that hire crime analysts.

In my last post we looked at Step 56 - Use simple tables. Closely related to tables are figures such as charts. In fact, in Microsoft Excel, where many analysts generate their charts and graphs, there are a number of default chart options that include tables with the charts or figures. But the same advice we saw given by the authors in the last step, "keep it simple" applies in this step also.

The authors go over a number of example charts and point out what makes them good or bad. I would encourage you to hit the link and read the whole chapter. One of the best parts of this chapter is this list of advice for Designing Effective Figures:

  • Keep them simple. Don't over-package.
  • Do not use superficial effects, like 3-D.
  • Avoid pie charts.
  • Use bar charts for data that comes in categories.
  • Use line graphs for trends over time.
  • Use labels effectively.
  • Choose titles carefully.
  • Make them stand on their own, without help from the text.

Next time, we'll look at Step 58 - Organize powerful presentations.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Bomb Factory Too Dangerous To Clean Up, Will Be Burned Up Instead

This really isn't related to crime analysis, but I thought it was interesting anyway. Seems like a bomb factory found in a San Diego home is so extensive that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared the incident a "state of emergency" so additional funds can be used for the clean up. Even more unusual is this bit from a NPR story on the incident:
There's so much dangerous stuff in the home, apparently, that authorities have decided the only safe way to deal with it all is to burn the place down. Crews are starting to trim trees and brush in the area, presumably to reduce the chances of a fire spreading, reports. The controlled burn is expected to happen next week, sometime from Wednesday to Friday. Parts of Interstate 15 will be shut down while it's done.
"We're going to basically cause this house to become very, very hot very, very quickly and with the walls and things still up, it will literally contain it almost like a chimney and keep everything in close," Nick Vent of San Diego County Hazmat told San Diego's KGTV-TV.
I bet the neighbors are just thrilled with this guy. The story is pretty interesting and has links to more about this incident.

Is your agency ready for an investigation into a home made IED? If not, do you know what other agencies you'd call for assistance?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Anxious Parents And The Fear Of Child Abductions

There's a great story over at the Denver Post about the public's fear of child abduction. A study back in the 1980's debunked the public perception that there was an 'epidemic' of stranger abductions of children. It's a long article and a great read. From the story:
But estimates of stranger abductions circulated at the time glossed over the reality that about 95 percent of missing-child reports were on runaways, while most of the rest involved custody disputes.

The Denver Post's stories by reporters Louis Kilzer and Diana Griego in 1985 debunked the "national paranoia" surrounding missing kids, won a Pulitzer Prize and led to changes in the way organizations approached the issue.

A quarter-century later, authorities have a more clearly defined, technologically equipped and well-organized response to such cases. And yet, some experts say, parental anxiety over child safety has only intensified.

There's also this great quote in the article:
"Everybody is fearful — if anything, it's escalated since then," he says, echoing an article he wrote on the negative effects of parental hypervigilance. "You can show people statistics 'til the cows come home, but they're still frightened. They don't want to let kids out of their sight."

As a parent, I understand the sentiment. As a crime analyst with nearly twenty years in law enforcement, I also know that this type of crime is extremely rare. The challenge is to make sure that the fear of crime is tempered with reality so that the emotions involved don't get in the way of sound public policy.

Most of the advances made of the years since the public first became frenzied on this issue; sex offender registries, the Nation Center for Missing and Exploited Children, changes in laws regarding missing children, have all had a positive effect and made our communities safer.

But as law enforcement agencies, we also need to make sure that the public is not paralyzed by fear. Fear of crime has significant negative consequences for a community. The US DOJ's Community Oriented Policing Services newsletter had this bit from a great article on why it's important to combat the fear of crime.
Research also indicates that concern about crime has bad consequences for the neighborhoods in which we live. Fear leads to withdrawal from public life, and it undermines informal and organized efforts by the community to control crime and delinquency. It is difficult to organize activities in neighborhoods where people fear their own neighbors. Fear undermines the value of residential property and thus the willingness of owners to maintain it properly. When customers – and even employees – fear entering a commercial area, the viability of businesses located there is threatened.

In other words, the fear of crime leads to conditions that can contribute to actual crime. The fear of crime then becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. As law enforcement agencies, we need to be open with the communities we serve about the actual risk of crime. We also need to educate the public about their unfounded fears and channel that nervous energy into making their communities a safer place to live.

What are you doing to help educate the public about the real and the perceived dangers faced in your community?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"Book 'em Danno" Dallas PD Style

There is an interesting story over at the Dallas Morning News about the Dallas Police Department's use of "hook books" to help their officers recognize the prolific criminals operating in their city. From the story:
Police have made at least 700 arrests since January through the program of using color-coded charts to track offenders at the street level.
"In Dallas, we have a huge ocean of arrestees and criminals," said Officer Joe King, who pioneered the concept at the city's southeast patrol station. "What we've done is taken a small piece of that ocean and set it aside and created a small pond so we can place small criminal groups under the microscope to better study and track."
The concept has since spread to include electronic hook books for monitoring robbers and another tracking drug dealers. All seven Dallas patrol stations have adopted hook book programs, and the department's auto theft unit will soon roll out one tracking auto thieves, chop shops and auto theft rings.
This is an interesting concept. I've posted in the past about the 80/20 Rule; the idea being that 80% of crimes are the responsibility of 20% of criminals. If we can identify these prolific offenders and take them off the streets we'll have a greater effect on lowering the crime rate than we would if we don't direct our enforcement efforts at these prolific crooks. DPD's "hook books" seem to do just that, focus enforcement activity on these offenders. There was also this interesting quote from the story:
"When you stop someone ... you know you're not dealing with Joe Citizen," said Lt. Scott Hart, who oversees the program at the city's northeast patrol.
Cops have quite a number of seemingly innocuous contacts with citizens everyday. It isn't always obvious that you're dealing with a known criminal when you make some of those contacts. If you do recognize that the person your dealing with is a known criminal, then you can take additional steps to ensure that no criminal activity is afoot.

The entire article is worth the read. Hit the link for the story.

How does your agency communicate to it's officers who the prolific offenders are?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

New Blog In Town: The UK Crime Analysis Blog

In law enforcement the field of crime analysis is often lumped in with the criminal intelligence analysis function. In fact at my shop the two functions are together in the same office. In this blog, I have kept a lot of the emphasis on crime analysis because, even though my job title includes Intelligence, the majority of what I do is actually crime analysis.

One thing I have noticed, is that while there is a huge volume of literature out there for crime analysis, there isn't as much out there for criminal intelligence analysis. This is kind of surprising since there is such a renewed emphasis on intelligence in law enforcement circles in this post 9/11 era.

There is a new blog out by Rory Dunne over in the UK where he has been discussing some aspects of criminal intelligence analysis. Rory's a gracious guy and a good writer. I look forward to seeing lots of good stuff from Rory in The UK Crime Analysis Blog in the future.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Step 56 - Use Simple Tables

The last section of Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers consists of seven steps that all center around communicating effectively. We've already went through two of them, Step 54 - Tell a clear story and Step 55 - Make clear maps. In this post we're going to look at Step 56 - Use simple tables.

Back in Step 54, I touched on the role that analysts have in helping their agency make sound decisions. In order for your agency to arrive at sound decisions they must have the knowledge necessary to arrive at a conclusion. I also posited that there is a path that data takes in becoming knowledge. To reiterate,

  1. Data becomes information when it is analyzed.
  2. Information becomes knowledge when it is communicated effectively.

Number 1 usually occurs in the offices of a crime analysis unit. Number 2 can occur in any number of venues, from a crime bulletin, a written report or in an effective PowerPoint presentation. Regardless of the venue, it is possible for the medium to get in the way of the message and hinder the transfer of information.

Most police departments are heavily dependent on computer software and crime analysis units are no exception. Most software packages nowadays have a huge number of bells and whistles for formatting and presenting data. However, just because your software gives you a hundred different ways to format a table, doesn't mean you should use as many of them as you can. In fact, the most important factor in designing a table has more to do with how the information is laid out as opposed to how it is formatted. That being said, keep in mind that simple formatting is usually better, don't let the formatting get in the way of your information.

The authors have a few principles for what makes a good table:

A problem often has multiple causes. Though tables can be constructed to show large numbers of causes, a single table communicates poorly when you examine more than two causes. The basic principles of table construction remain the same:
  • All the causes go in the same direction (usually columns).
  • Summation goes in the direction of the cause (down columns).
  • Comparison of causes goes in the opposite direction (across rows, if causes are in columns).

The authors present several examples of tables and walk through what elements make for a good table. I encourage you to hit the link and read the chapter for yourself to see what they believe to be a simple but effective table.

Next time, we'll cover Step 57 - Use simple figures.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

What Are You Thankful For?

It's the Thanksgiving Holiday here in the US. Like most of us, I am overwhelmed with things to be thankful for this holiday. I have a wonderful family, a nice home and a good job with a great police department. I'll also get to engage in the usual turkey gluttony with my family here in a just a few hours.

While at work yesterday, I helped a couple of our department employees move a large cache of food and drinks into the police headquarters. These will be used to provide a meal for all the on-duty police department employees today, employees who won't be able to engage in all the usual Thanksgiving revelry that you and I will likely enjoy.

While I scanned some news articles this morning, there were a couple of stories about the death of a local police officer, Pat Sirois who worked for the Fort Hood Department of the Army Police, and was also a Nolanville Police Reserve Officer. Officer Sirois was on vacation when he stopped to help a motorist on a highway in Oklahoma when another vehicle struck the disabled vehicle and killed Officer Sirois. The story over at the Killeen Daily Herald had this quote:

"Pat is the type of person that would do anything for anybody, that was his character," said Hollie Witten, Nolanville Police Department's administrative assistant. "If he saw an accident, he would stop. If he saw someone needing help, he would stop."

More than anything I am thankful for public servants like Pat Sirois who are willing to put themselves in dangerous situations to help others, even complete strangers. There is a verse in the Bible that says:

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. - John 15:13 ESV

It's one thing to risk your life for a friend, but what kind of love is it that would cause someone to risk their life for a stranger? Each and every day, police officers, sheriff's deputies, state troopers and other lawmen kiss their spouses and kids and walk out the doors of their homes into a world that is often dangerous and ugly. All too often, a lawman will lose his life on the job and give us a very visible demonstration of that kind of love for their fellow man.

I am very thankful that there are men and women out there that are that dedicated to serving others. The world is a much better place because of them.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

UCR Crime Stat Weirdness

Here's an odd one, there's a story over at the Baltimore Sun's Crime Blog about a death from a shooting incident in 1982 making it to Baltimore's 2010 Uniform Crime Report (UCR) statistics.
So when we look back on the year and say that this many people were killed, let's remember that at least one -- and there's several every year -- are from violence that occurred nearly three decades ago. The number is misleading if you want to judge violence this year.
His shooter already has been convicted and served 15 years in prison. And Street's death has to be counted some place, and constantly adjusting numbers from years past doesn't make much sense. The name goes on the homicide board when it's ruled a homicide.
We had a similarly weird event occur at my sleepy little 'burg when a sexual assault case was Unfounded which led us to report a -1 sexual assaults for one of our monthly UCR submissions. How the heck to you have negative number of crimes reported?

There is plenty of other crime stats weirdness in the UCR program and not surprisingly since the UCR program started in 1930. There was an attempt to update UCR with the National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS) in the 1980's. The problem is that most agencies had a significant infrastructure invested in calculating stats with UCR's rules so there was little incentive to move to NIBRS. It also didn't help that NIBRS would make your agencies crime stats look worse since instead of counting the highest offense in a crime, you would also have to count the lesser included offenses as well. Try selling that to a bunch of police chiefs.

Happy Anniversary!
Also worth noting today is two blogs of note are celebrating their one year anniversary. The first is the cold case blog Defrosting Cold Cases and the other is the Texas criminal law blog Liberty and Justice for Y'All. Congrats to Vidocq and B.W. for their contributions to the criminal justice discussions.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ranking Cities' Crime, Hate Crime Numbers And The "Pathetic" State of Communication Between Cops & Researchers

There were a number of crime statistics related stories in the news the past few days. The first, is about the annual "most dangerous cities" kerfuffle that inevitably comes when CQ Press issues their $70 City Crime Rankings publication. An NPR story looks at questions about whether this is ranking is valid.
But you do have to question the report, which is getting headlines all over, when they rank New York City as less dangerous than both Portland, OR and Santa Monica, CA. 
The US conference of Mayors agrees calling the rankings, "A premeditated statistical mugging of America‘s cities."
Headline grabbing reports such as this cause law enforcement administrators quite a number of headaches. Your chances of becoming a crime victim are actually very small in nearly all US cities but you wouldn't know it from all the lurid headlines. It is important that law enforcement agencies work to reduce the public's fear of crime in their communities.

The FBI also released an analysis of hate crimes reported in the US in 2009. According to the story over at NPR, reported hate crimes were down -15.15%. What I thought was a bit odd was this bit:
Of the 1,376 hate crimes "motivated by religious bias," 70 percent were anti-Jewish and 9 percent were anti-Islamic. In 2008, according to the FBI, about 66 percent of hate crimes involving religious bias were anti-Jewish and 8 percent were anti-Islamic.
I would have expected anti-Islamic hate crimes to be higher than that. I do know that historically Jewish groups have been very vocal about reporting hate crimes directed at them. I suspect that Islamic groups may not be as vigorous about reporting these incidents.

The last bit, isn't really about statistics but I found it interesting nevertheless, there's a short piece over at The Crime Report where they cover some comments made at the recent American Society of Criminology conference. This quote was pretty good:
How good is the communication of academic research on criminal justice to practitioners like police chiefs, judges, and prison wardens, as well as to policymakers like state legislators? That was the topic of a roundtable discussion last week in San Francisco at the American Society of Criminology’s annual convention. “It’s pathetic,” said Laurie Robinson, Assistant Attorney General for Justice Programs. One of many examples offered: Many states ran “boot camps” for offenders despite research saying they did little good without significant follow-up. Robinson’s agency vows to start an online “What Works Clearinghouse” to advise the field of leading research results.
We do really need to do better in determining what works and what doesn't.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Step 55 - Make Clear Maps

This post, Step 55 - Make Clear Maps, in our walk through Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers is closely related to the last post, Step 54 - Tell A Clear Story. In fact, given the prevalence of GIS technology and crime maps in most police departments, I'm not sure that you could tell a clear story without making a map. It seems like I am constantly being asked to produce maps for my department. I really think this is a good thing. Maps, help to tell your story and provide context for the information you provide.

To do this, your maps need to help clarify the story you are telling and not "muddy the waters". The authors offer this advice about making maps:
Maps have an important role in telling compelling stories about problems. But they need to be clear to accomplish this. That is, maps must contain as much relevant information as possible and no irrelevant information.
At one time, making maps with a GIS was something that was probably left to someone with special GIS or cartographic skills. However, nowadays with simple to use free tools such as Google Earth or ArcGIS Explorer, it doesn't require the training to make maps that it once did. The downside is that the formal GIS training often included education on proper cartographic principles that made for clear, easy to read maps.

The authors have eight tips for making good maps:
  1. Know what information your audience will find useful (and what information is confusing).
  2. Keep maps simple. Eliminate all features that do not contribute to understanding the problem.
  3. Avoid graphics that draw more attention to themselves than the data.
  4. Include details that help the viewer understand the problem, even if that means adding this information by hand.
  5. Include a scale and, if needed, a compass orientation (usually North is to the top).
  6. Use meaningful gradations to show intensity of hot spots. For example show colors becoming increasingly hot (yellow to red) as the problem worsens.
  7. Apply the correct dimension of crime concentration: dots for places (and sometimes victims); lines for concentrations along streets and highways; and areas for neighborhoods.
  8. Make use of tables and figures along with maps.
It may also help to look at maps others have created to see what makes for a good map. ESRI, the company that makes ArcGIS software has a great series, the ESRI Map Book that has some of the best maps from various industries showcased in it's pages. You can view the Map Book online for free at the link.

Next time, we'll cover Step 56 - Use Simple Tables.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Middle Ground Between Safety And Intrusiveness

There were a couple of stories this week that got me to thinking about public opinion. The first is the growing backlash over red light enforcement cameras that recently culminated in Houston voters enacting an ordinance to ban the cameras in their city. There is talk that the backlash here in Texas is enough to spur the Texas legislature to again take up the issue and possibly ban the camera systems statewide in the upcoming legislative session.

The other story, is the growing backlash over TSA airport security measures that include overly intrusive scanners that can see under your clothing or "enhanced" pat down techniques that some people believe are akin to sexual molestation.

The reason I bring these up is that I think there comes a point where our best efforts at improving safety and security may not be worth the damage they do to the goodwill that exists between government and the public we serve. As a crime analyst, I can dream up any number of solutions that if implemented would make our communities safer. The problem is, the crime problems solved would pale in comparison to the outcry the solution would cause.

For example, we probably would not have to worry much about a terrorist smuggling a weapon on board an airplane if we were all forced to fly naked. However, I am not sure that any of us would want to spend a few hours crammed into an airplane seat next to someone's Aunt Martha when you find out that they really do make thong underwear in sizes that big.

As a crime analyst, do you take into account the negative consequences of your proposed solution to a crime problem? This may not be just the negative perceptions by the public, but also includes the negative perceptions of your officers as they implement your solution. When does the cost in negative opinion outweigh the benefits of your solution to a crime problem?

Your solution to a crime problem may actually create more problems than it solves. As a crime analyst, we will always need to find that often elusive solution that solves our crime problem without creating a bigger problem in the court of public opinion.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hasan Recommended to Death Penalty Courts Martial

Like you didn't see this one coming: the Killeen Daily Herald is reporting that the convening authority for the recent Article 32 hearing for accused Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan is recommending that Hasan face the death penalty for killing 13 people in last years Fort Hood shooting rampage.
Pohl oversaw the Article 32 hearing, held to determine if charges move forward in military court. The hearing began last month, and more than two dozen soldiers wounded in the Nov. 5, 2009, shooting testified, some through live video links from Iraq and Afghanistan. After a three-week break, the hearing resumed Monday and then ended after the defense chose not to present any evidence.
Witnesses have said a gunman wearing an Army combat uniform shouted "Allahu Akbar!" — Arabic for "God is great!" — and opened fire in a crowded medical building where deploying soldiers get vaccines and other tests. The gunman fired rapidly, pausing only to reload, even shooting at some people as they hid under desks and fled the building, witnesses said.
Yesterday, I was sitting only a couple of hundred feet away from the proposed memorial site for the victims of this shooting while presenting at our local GIS Day event.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

It's GIS Day!

Today is GIS Day and instead of my normal workday at the office I am presenting to several thousand school kids from Bell County and the surrounding area. GIS Day helps to show kids and adults the important role that geography plays in all aspects of life.

This GIS Day event is going to be one of the largest ever according to this story over at the Killeen Daily Herald.
"This is the largest single-day GIS event in the world, and we decided that since it has been so popular with students we should share it with the public too," said Colen Wilson, the city's GIS manager.
My presentation focuses on how police use GIS to learn more about crimes and to deploy our resources to combat them. I've enjoyed presenting at GIS Day for several years though by the end of the day I'm usually so hoarse I can't talk.

How do you educate the public about the role of a crime analyst in your community?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Killeen Police Use High Tech To Map Crime Scenes

Sometimes when I tell people I am a crime analyst, they reply back with "like on CSI?". I then get to explain to them that crime analysts deal with statistics and trends while crime scene investigators deal with physical evidence. By posting this article from this weekend's Killeen Daily Herald I might confuse those folks a bit but I didn't want to pass it up.

The article looks at Killeen Police use of high tech to map crime scenes with a 3D laser scanner. From the story:

By reading the distances from points of walls, objects and, in some cases, weapons, KPD's scanner has created 3-D snap shots of the 2009's Fort Hood mass shooting and the February instance in which a man flew a small plane into an IRS building in Austin.

The successes of KPD's Leica Geosystems ScanStation 2 led the department to make an upgrade in August. Using money from the department's seizure fund, KPD upgraded to a ScanStation C-10, a $160,000 scanner four times faster and vastly more precise and detailed than the previous version.

KPD was the first law enforcement agency in Texas to acquire a 3-D scanner in 2008. The high-tech equipment pushed the department from the centuries-old technique of documenting crime scenes with plum bobs and measuring tape to something more akin to forensic equipment often seen on prime-time crime dramas, according to Detective Keith Drozd, the KPD's technology forensics expert.

The technology has changed a lot in the 20 years I have been in law enforcement. It will be interesting to see what's being used by Department's in the next 20 years or so.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Step 54 - Tell A Clear Story

In this post in our walk through the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers we're up to one of the most important chapters, Step 54 - Tell A Clear Story.

When I tell people what I do for a living, sometimes people ask just what it is that a crime analyst does. My usual stock answer is to tell people that I provide police departments with the information they need to make good decisions. The very first line of this chapter starts with the exact same thought:
The purpose of your work is to help people make better decisions.
It's this crucial part of the crime analyst's job that has led me to cover topics in this blog such as information design guru Edward Tufte's thoughts on PowerPoint as a communication medium (he doesn't like it). You can conduct a really top flight analysis of a crime problem but if you can't effectively communicate your findings to the decision maker's in your agency, all your efforts are for naught.

There is path that data takes to become knowledge.
  1. Data becomes information when it is analyzed.
  2. Information becomes knowledge when it's communicated effectively.
We've all sat through presentations where, in spite of the presenter's long winded attempts at communicating, we learned nearly nothing (except not to let that guy make another presentation). This guy may have #1 nailed. But if he blows it on #2, then he might as well have not even started.

The authors suggest using both the SARA process (Step 7) and CHEERS test (Step 13) as a framework for communicating your story to your audience. They integrate them into a great sample "four story outline" for you to base your presentation on.

Effectively communicating your story is as critical a skill for a crime analyst as GIS, or knowledge of your agency's Records Management System software. Learn what makes for an effective presentation. Not only will your audience thank you for it, but you will help your department to make better decisions.

Next time, we'll cover Step 55 - Make Clear Maps.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sexting Teens: Make The Punishment Fit The Crime

The Austin American Statesman had a piece this week about a move in the Texas legislature to bring a little bit of common sense into the law regarding juveniles who are "sexting" or sending explicit photos of themselves to their friends.

As it stands right now, a juvenile who takes a racy photo of themselves and sends it to their boyfriend or girlfriend can be charged with a felony offense of Possession of Child Pornography or Promotion of Child Pornography. The big problem with this is that the child would then likely be labeled as a sex offender and required to register as a sex offender for life.

Attorney General Greg Abbott and state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said they are working together to allow the prosecution of minors on Class A misdemeanor charges instead of the third-degree felony charges they face now.

The felony charges can send youths to a state prison and force them to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives.

"Sexting is real. ... It is morally hazardous," said Watson, who said he plans to file a bill making that change for consideration by the Legislature when it convenes in January.

"One study shows 1 in 5 teenagers has sent a sexually suggestive picture by text ... and 1 in 3 has received such an image," Watson said. "Our laws have not kept up with our technology."

Charging a 16 year old with a felony Child Pornography offense and requiring them to register as a sex offender for life for sexting is a bit like swatting a fly with an elephant gun. I'm glad to see the legislature address this though I am not sure that this should even be a Class A misdemeanor.

Is sexting stupid? Yes, but I'm not sure it's worthy of a felony rap.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day. It is only fitting that we take a break from my usual posts about crime and cops to recognize those who have served our country in our nation's armed forces. Many of these veterans have gone on to continue their service to their communities in law enforcement.

In salute of all my fellow veterans, here's the text of this year's Veterans Day Presidential Proclamation.




On Veterans Day, we come together to pay tribute to the men and women who have worn the uniform of the United States Armed Forces. Americans across this land commemorate the patriots who have risked their lives to preserve the liberty of our Nation, the families who support them, and the heroes no longer with us. It is not our weapons or our technology that make us the most advanced military in the world; it is the unparalleled spirit, skill, and devotion of our troops. As we honor our veterans with ceremonies on this day, let our actions strengthen the bond between a Nation and her warriors.

In an unbroken line of valor stretching across more than two centuries, our veterans have charged into harm’s way, sometimes making the ultimate sacrifice, to protect the freedoms that have blessed America. Whether Active Duty, Reserve, or National Guard, they are our Nation’s finest citizens, and they have shown the heights to which Americans can rise when asked and inspired to do so. Our courageous troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the globe have earned their place alongside previous generations of great Americans, serving selflessly, tour after tour, in conflicts spanning nearly a decade.

Long after leaving the uniform behind, many veterans continue to serve our country as public servants and mentors, parents and community leaders. They have added proud chapters to the story of America, not only on the battlefield, but also in communities from coast to coast. They have built and shaped our Nation, and it is our solemn promise to support our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen as they return to their homes and families.

America’s sons and daughters have not watched over her shores or her citizens for public recognition, fanfare, or parades. They have preserved our way of life with unwavering patriotism and quiet courage, and ours is a debt of honor to care for them and their families. These obligations do not end after their time of service, and we must fulfill our sacred trust to care for our veterans after they retire their uniforms.

As a grateful Nation, we are humbled by the sacrifices rendered by our service members and their families out of the deepest sense of service and love of country. On Veterans Day, let us remember our solemn obligations to our veterans, and recommit to upholding the enduring principles that our country lives for, and that our fellow citizens have fought and died for.

With respect for and in recognition of the contributions our service men and women have made to the cause of peace and freedom around the world, the Congress has provided (5 U.S.C. 6103(a)) that November 11 of each year shall be set aside as a legal public holiday to honor our Nation’s veterans.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim November 11, 2010, as Veterans Day. I encourage all Americans to recognize the valor and sacrifice of our veterans through appropriate public ceremonies and private prayers. I call upon Federal, State, and local officials to display the flag of the United States and to participate in patriotic activities in their communities. I call on all Americans, including civic and fraternal organizations, places of worship, schools, and communities to support this day with commemorative expressions and programs.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand ten, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fifth.


God bless our Veterans from a grateful nation. Thank you for your willingness to serve.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Life Imitates Art: Robbers Hold Up Video Game Store For "Black Ops" Games

While a bit unusual, this really isn't all that surprising, it seems that a couple of armed robbers initiated their own "black ops" raid on a Maryland Game Stop store. The loot included not only the cash from the business but about 100 copies of the highly anticipated video game "Call of Duty: Black Ops" that was released on Tuesday. From the story over at the Baltimore Sun:
At least two men were involved in the robbery, timing it for when theGameStop in the Festival at Bel Air shopping center on Bel Air South Parkway was about to close on Saturday night, the Harford County Sheriff's Office said Sunday. The men, armed with semi-automatic guns, stole four cases full of "Black Ops" — the newest game in the popular "Call of Duty" series — as well as cash and game systems. Police arrived on the scene around 9:20 p.m.
It was the second armed robbery of a Harford County GameStop store in less than three weeks. The sheriff's office said the men might also be responsible for the other incident, at the GameStop's Aberdeen location on Oct. 21.
Any time a product is as ferociously popular as some video games there will be a demand for them in both legal and illicit marketplaces. I previously covered this phenomena in this post where I joked that we needed to create a "thieves' commodity index" to track the items that often drives criminal behavior.

So what are the hot items in your community's "thieves' commodity index"? What strategies are you employing to reduce crimes related to these items?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

400,000 Untested Rape Kits?

There's an interesting piece over at The Crime Report that examines the huge backlog of untested sexual assault evidence by crime labs all across the United States. From the story:
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) there were an estimated 400,000 untested rape kits in the U.S. as of 2009. Media reports around the country, backed up by statistics from Human Rights Watch, demonstrate that after undergoing the often painful process of having a rape kit administered at a hospital, sexual assault victims are routinely forced to wait years for a crime lab to test these kits for the DNA that could be used to catch their rapist.
As the criminal justice system and juries are becoming more sophisticated, DNA evidence is more and more important in successfully prosecuting sexual assault cases. Many prosecutors can recount cases where the lack of DNA evidence has led to an acquittal.

Now it's time for me to get on my soapbox; we can do better than this. I know that testing rape kits is very expensive. I know that here in Texas there is a dearth of qualified crime labs. But DNA evidence obtained in these kits can and has led to solving quite a number of high profile crimes, even years after the fact. Victim's shouldn't have to endure years of waiting to get their evidence tested.

I think the idea of developing a system to prioritize the testing of the evidence in these kits has some merit. Ultimately though, we need to improve the capacity of our crime labs to handle the increased amount of DNA testing being requested in all types of criminal cases.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Step 53 - Test For Significance

In this post in my journey through Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers we are going to look at Step 53 - Test For Significance. I should warn you though, there is some egghead statistics involved in this post. But before you give up, let's see if we can make it through.

Have you ever noticed that crime sometimes goes up and down for no apparent reason? Given this seeming unpredictability, how do we measure the effectiveness of our solutions? After all, we want to know if crime went down based on our efforts or if there is some other factor at work. A test for significance will give you an idea of whether it was your solution or random chance at work for the variation in the level of crime.

Rather then try to explain it all here, you really need to read it at the original publication. If all this went right over your head (like it did tended to do with mine) the authors have this advice:

The investigation of randomness can become very complex, as there are many different types of significance tests for many different situations. There are some very useful websites, as well as books, which can help you to choose among them, and there are many statistical software programs that can make the required calculations. But if there is a great deal riding on the outcome of a significance test, or a p-value, and you are not well educated in probability theory or statistics, you should seek expert help from a local university or other organizations that use statistics on a regular basis.

Sounds like good advice for the mathematically challenged. Next time, we'll look at Step 54 - Tell A Clear Story.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Tip Leads To Arrests In Robbery Series

Killeen Police had some success in a recent armed robbery series when someone called in a tip to the Crime Stoppers program. According to the story over at the Killeen Daily Herald, the tip led to the arrest of two men who are believed to be responsible for up to four recent convenience store robberies in Killeen, Temple and Copperas Cove.

Police had originally thought a lone suspect committed armed robberies of four 7-Elevens in Copperas Cove, Killeen and Temple late Monday night and early Tuesday morning, reports indicated.

Through an anonymous Crime Stoppers tip, police discovered there were two suspects.

The tip named the suspects, and both Henderson and Siperko were arrested in their respective homes without incident.

The Crime Stoppers program has been around for some time. They pay cash for tips that solve crimes. Killeen has had a pretty successful program. According to statistics on the Killeen Crime Stoppers website:

February 2010: Crime Stoppers has helped Bell County area Police Departments solve 2,592 cases, arrest 2,202 criminals and recover stolen property valued at $4,196,455. Officers have confiscated drugs with a street value of $8,943,645. Crime Stoppers has paid $181,400 in rewards for tips received that solved cases.

While it's better to prevent a crime than solve it, we'll always have at least a few crimes to solve. A program such as Crime Stoppers can help generate leads for your detectives to follow up on.

How does your agency facilitate and encourage the submission of crime tips?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Liquor Stores Will Bring Changes To Central Texas

The recent election didn't just elect new politicians to office, but also heralded changes to two central Texas cities. These changes are going to allow liquor stores in Killeen and expand on the areas liquor stores can operate in Harker Heights.

I bring this up, because in the story over at the Killeen Daily Herald we can see a bit of how the city planning process works to try and create a favorable environment for these stores to operate that don't have the negative consequences of creating one that increases risks for crime.

In my previous post about armed robbery of convenience stores, we touched on a few environmental factors that increase the risk of armed robbery at these businesses.

The Herald's story quotes Ray Shanaa, Killeen's director of the Planning and Zoning Department as saying:

"We want to allow (liquor stores) to do business, of course, and we want to make sure it is done in such a manner that is required by the state and that is compatible with adjacent land uses," Shanaa said.
"The reason is, the city didn't want them to pop up everywhere and it wanted to make sure that (liquor stores) would be in a building where there is other activity going on, which would in essence make the place look friendlier," Shanaa said about Harker Heights' ordinance for liquor stores which he helped create prior to working for the city of Killeen.

We've probably all seen communities that didn't use their zoning laws to try and create "friendly" environments for these types of businesses to operate. A small, seedy looking liquor store on every corner often seems to create an problematic environment. So much so that liquor store robbery seemed to become a common plot device in movies and at least one country western song.

It's important for your city to stay engaged in the process before these laws go into effect and head any potential problems off early. It's much easier and cheaper to prevent a crime, than to solve it after it occurs.

How does your community use zoning laws to reduce crime friendly environments?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Convenience Store Robberies Often A Problem

Several central Texas police agencies are dealing with a rash of armed robberies at convenience stores this week. In the first story over at the Killeen Daily Herald we see that Killeen Police are investigating a bandit who hit three stores in their city.

Killeen police are investigating three robberies that might have been committed by the same person.

All three robberies took place Oct. 25. In each case, a person entered the store wearing a dark-colored hooded sweatshirt, dark-colored pants and a bandana to cover his face.

"We do not know if this is the same suspect, just that things are similar, and they happened on the same day," Killeen Police Department spokeswoman Carroll Smith said. "There is a possibility, but they haven't been linked yet.

In the next story over at, Temple, Copperas Cove and Killeen Police are looking for a bandit who hit stores in their respective cities.

Temple police responded at around 2 a.m. Tuesday to the 7-Eleven store at 1216 W. Ave. H where the clerk told officers the man entered the store, displayed a gun and demanded money.

Earlier at about 12:30 a.m. in Copperas Cove at a 7-11 store at 2124 East Highway 190 was robbed and then about 15 minutes later the robber struck at a store at 2012 West Ave. B.

The spree started in Killeen between 11 and 11:30 p.m. Monday when clerks at a store at 1408 East Rancier reported a masked man with a handgun entered that store and demanded cash.

While stories of these robberies are often dramatic as they come with video images of a masked gunman, they also sometimes deadly for the clerks working in these stores. The most outrageous part is that convenience stores can often lower the likelihood that they will be robbed by a few simple environmental or procedural changes.

There is a good guide covering police response to robbery of convenience stores over at the Problem Oriented Policing Center that covers some of factors that affect the likelihood that a store may be robbed. They include:

  • Operation hours
  • Interior store layout
  • Exterior store environment
  • Location
  • Convenience store type
  • Ownership
  • Staff number
  • Cash-control procedures
  • Incident response policies

It's often not enough for police to use the traditional reactive policing model of a quick police response to the robbery alarm with a thorough follow up investigation to solve problems such as this. It may require a more proactive approach in convincing store management to make changes to their stores and procedures to lower their risk of victimization.

What approaches has your agency found effective for crime problems such as this? How would you convince store management to implement changes?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sounds Like A Problem Oriented Policing Project In The Making

This sounds like a problem oriented policing project in the making. There's an article over at the Houston Chronicle about the problem Houston area lawmen are having in dealing with massage parlors that are little more than fronts for prostitution. From the article:
On 14 visits to this non­descript establishment over the past two years, vice officers have arrested 23 women for agreeing to sex dates. Yet the Richmond Avenue enterprise is open for business - one of at least 550 massage parlors that have operated illegally in the city of Houston, according to court documents, data and public reports.

A Houston Chronicle analysis found 292 establishments have been cited by police for compliance violations, including operating without a state license, hiring unlicensed workers, operating during prohibited hours or engaging in vice crimes.

Another 260 advertise their services but don't appear in state licensing records.

"There are so many that open and close so fast, change names and change ownerships," said Sgt. Mark Kilty of the Houston Police Department Vice Division. "We definitely can't keep track of all of them."
If you remember the Crime Triangle we discussed in this post, there was a complimentary theory in the original piece over at Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers where they discussed Wolf, Duck and Den problems. The problem Houston is having with the massage parlors probably best fits this description as a Den of Iniquity:
Repeat location problems involve different offenders and different targets interacting at the same place. These are DEN of iniquity problems. A drinking establishment that has many fights, but always among different people, is an example of a pure den problem. Den problems occur when new potential offenders and new potential targets encounter each other in a place where management is ineffective. The setting continues to facilitate the problem events.
In this case, the management may not just be the parlor operators but could also include the strip mall owners or even regulatory authorities.  It would appear that not only is management ineffective, but management is promoting or at least turning a blind eye to the problem. Using the Crime Triangle theory, the solution might lie in pressuring the manager to get them to comply.
A caveat is in order though, it's hardly fair to call reading a newspaper article about a crime problem a proper analysis. I also am sure that wiser folks than I have been working on this problem for some time. However, I thought it would make an interesting example to look at using problem oriented policing techniques.
If you had such a problem in your jurisdiction, what would you do to tackle it?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Step 52 - Expect Premature Falls In Crime

When you are in the middle of a crime problem, you probably don't care why your crime problem diminishes. But, in order to most accurately determine what is effective you need to analyze for what is discussed in this step, Step 52 - Expect Premature Falls In Crime. The authors of Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers state:
Offenders often believe that prevention measures have been brought into force before they actually have been started. This leads to what has been called the "anticipatory benefits" of prevention. Though these anticipatory effects can occur by accident, the police can make deliberate efforts to create or intensify them. To do so successfully, police must have useful insight into how offenders perceive the situation and have methods for deceiving offenders as to the true nature of the intervention.
Here's the main reasons that the authors believe anticipatory benefits occur:
  1. Preparation-anticipation
  2. Publicity/disinformation
  3. Preparation-disruption
  4. Creeping implementation
  5. Preparation-training
  6. Motivation
Read the original article for a full discussion of these reasons. One thing I do think is interesting is deliberately enhancing the effect of some of these reasons in order to reduce your crime problem. Nothing like a little publicity to make the crooks think you are watching them more closely than you might actually be.

Next time, we'll look at Step 53 - Test For Significance.