Friday, January 29, 2010

Too Little, Too Late?

Here's what we have in central Texas crime stories this morning.
Too Little, Too Late?
Thirty years after gunning down an Austin Police officer, a Texas death row inmate apologizes to the officer's family in a letter.
"I am infinitely sorry that I killed Ralph Ablanedo ," wrote Powell, who shot Ablanedo 10 times with an AK-47, according to court records. "I stole from you and the world the precious and irreplaceable life of a good man."

Powell, whose execution date could be set within days, said he has no excuse for what happened May 18, 1978, in the 900 block of Live Oak Street near Travis High School in South Austin, but wrote that his actions happened "in a few frightened seconds."
Powell's attack involved a full auto AK47 and an ensuing shootout also involved a live hand grenade. He's one of the longest serving death row inmates in Texas. One of  Officer Ablanedo's sons, David Mills had this response to the letter. 
David Mills said Wednesday that "it was a good gesture to at least acknowledge to the family that he admits guilt, that he is apologetic. I guess I hope that maybe it was something that would bring him some closure as well."

But to Mills, the letter doesn't change the facts of his father's death or his opinion that Powell's death sentence should be carried out.
If the letter was an attempt at clemency by hoping to curry favor with the officer's family, it sounds like they were unconvinced.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Why Crime Is Down

Here's this morning's central Texas crime stories.
Why Crime Is Down
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund blog has a piece from Chuck Wexler, the head of the Police Executive Research Forum.In his post, Wexler discusses why crime rates are down across the nation. In his piece Chuck writes:
We have seen a sea change in how the police define their mission. There was a time when the conventional thinking was that no matter what the police did, it made no difference, and police were not held accountable for increases in crime.
Chuck argues that the main reason for the drop in crime rates is that communities are holding police accountable and this has forced police to focus on preventing crime problems as opposed to solving them after the fact. When you think about it, this approach makes much more sense then the backwards approach of trying to solve the crime after it occurs. Trying to solve the crime post occurrence is a terribly inefficient way to do things.

Chuck's article dovetails nicely with a recent post by Kristen Ziman over at The Crime Map. Kristen compares the leadership approach that the visionary computer company Apple with how most police departments work. From Kristen's piece:
Questioning the status quo, if done respectfully and appropriately, forces us to seek new solutions to the common problems we face in our profession. Eliciting input from all levels of the organization is the newest trend cited in law enforcement management books. Community oriented policing emphasizes partnerships, and the concept is being shifted to the organization as well as the community. The bureaucratic police department is a thing of the past and the power once associated with the top level command is being relinquished to line level personnel. The shift in power creates a dichotomy of sorts because those who hold command positions ultimately find that giving away power leaves them with more of it. The result is increased morale and a higher level of job satisfaction from all members of the organization.
No matter your position, whether you are a lowly civilian police employee or the head of your agency, are you looking for new ways of tackling crime problems in your jurisdiction? Are you learning about what has worked for other agencies and trying to figure out how that can be applied to your crime problems? The mark of a professional is that you are constantly trying to improve your trade-craft.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Best Laid Schemes Of Crooks

Lot's of central Texas crime stories this morning.

The Best Laid Schemes Of Crooks
The capital murder trial of an accused Killeen murderer reveled a number of detail about the crime. The Killeen Daily Herald published a story that had this bit of testimony from one of the co-conspirators.
Neal told the jury that she frequented the game room and knew that businesses like it get robbed and nothing is reported because they are illegal. She planned the attack with her friends, and Sowell went to a pawnshop and bought bullets.

"They were just supposed to scare them," Neal said. "It wasn't supposed to be no real stuff." Neal was granted immunity for her confession. Johnson is in jail awaiting trial on capital murder charges.
The robbery plan went awry when one of the gambling parlor employees got into a struggle with the robber. During the struggle the robber fired a gun which struck the employee and also killed his mother.

This brings up an interesting issue regarding people engaged in illegal activity and their likelihood of reporting victimization.  If there is a significant number of these incidents occurring, is there a corresponding spillover when these emboldened offenders victimize law abiding citizens?

Should law enforcement agencies pay more attention to these illegal gambling parlors in order to prevent more serious crimes? Or, should government move to legitimize and regulate these parlors in order to cut down on violent crimes attracted by this relatively minor illegal activity?


Is This Really A Problem In Killeen?
I was rooting around in the City of Killeen's ordinances and found this gem:
Whosoever in this city shall ride or cause to be ridden along any street or alley, or upon the public square any wild or unbroken horse, mare, gelding, or mule, knowing it at the same time to be wild and unbroken shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. (Ord. No. 91-32, § 1, 5-28-91)
You have to wonder what kind of foolishness prompted them to include this ban and why it's still on the books.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Insult Upon Injury

Here's what's news in central Texas crime stories today.
Insult Upon Injury
This story from the El Paso Times illustrates a quirk in the law that means that at times persons victimized by a juvenile offender may end up having to pay for their attacker's attorney.
Four months ago, Teresa Fuller endured a severe beating at the hands of her 15-year-old son after he refused to do his chores.

She said she received multiple concussions and has a scattered memory of the last three months of 2009.

Not only does she have to live with the lingering physical affects of the beating, she has to pay her son's legal bills, prompting her to wonder why the state's court system doesn't do enough to help victims of parental abuse.

"As a victim, I don't feel like I should have to pay," Fuller said.
The law requiring a parent to be responsible for their child really didn't take into account this scenario. In fact, all of the recent advances in protecting a victim of domestic violence such as protective orders, can't be used in this situation.

I ran into similar situations when I was a juvenile detective. I'd have to explain to the outraged parent of a child who stole their car, that if they pursued criminal charges against their own child, they'd get victimized twice when they had to pay for their child's defense attorney. Most times when I'd explain this to the parent, they'd drop the charges. This of course, reinforced to the child that as a juvenile offender, the juvenile justice system was pretty much a joke.

You can bet those parents were counting the days till their errant child turned 17 and could be charged as an adult.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Step 24 - Know When To Use High-Definition Maps

In this post in our journey through Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers we're going to cover Step 24 - Know When To Use High-Definition Maps. As computers become more powerful and mapping software becomes more ubiquitous, we're seeing an explosion of crime mapping. However, crime mapping does have some limitations.

Most Department's crime mapping is done based on address data found in their Records Management Systems. One common problem is due to the way that crimes locations are recorded. For instance, there is a large indoor shopping mall in the jurisdiction where I work. This mall, also has a number of outbuildings around it's perimeter. In spite of this very large area, with numerous buildings, they all have the same physical address. When the crime is entered into the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system with the same address regardless of where it occurred on the complex. In fact, incidents happening on one side of the property are about one half mile away from incidents happening on the other end.

If you have problematic crimes occurring at a similar large facility in your city, you may need to use high-definition maps to adequately study the problem. The authors of Crime Analysis For Problem
Solvers
put it this way:
Mapping might therefore suggest that a particular building or facility has a crime problem, but this may only be because it is so large. When account is taken of the many people working in the building or using the facility, it could prove to be relatively safe. For example, George Rengert showed that a parking garage in central Philadelphia identified as an auto crime hot spot actually had a lower rate of auto crime than the surrounding streets, once account was taken of the large number of cars that could be parked in the facility.
A solution to this problem is to use high definition maps to precisely locate these incidents on a map of the facility. The authors give an example of a college campus where an effort to precisely identify crime locations led to this interesting finding.
Crimes recorded by the campus police were then plotted exactly where they occurred, allowing them to be related to environmental features such as poor lighting or a blind corner allowing the attacker to lie in wait.
For most Departments and most crime problems, this kind of high-definition mapping is likely to be a bit of overkill. But it should be another technique to put in your crime analyst's toolbox should the occasion for it's use arise.

Next time, we'll cover Step 25 - Pay Attention To Daily And Weekly Rhythms.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Determining What Killed You

There were a couple of noteworthy central Texas crime stories this morning.

Determining What Killed You

Hopefully this will be the last post about the Matt Baker trial. However, the coverage of this trial has had some great stuff in there. The Waco Tribune interviewed some of the jurors about their thoughts on the trial. There was a quote from one of the jurors that I thought deserved some discussion.

Maske said one revelation from trial testimony that sat badly with him and others on the panel was the investigation into Kari’s death by the Hewitt Police Department and the subsequent suicide ruling by Justice of the Peace Billy Martin, who did not visit the scene and made that determination over the telephone.

“Hopefully, because of the way this one was handled, if something like that happens again, some lessons have been learned,” he said.

What this juror is talking about is the process used to determine the cause of death. In Texas when someone dies, a death certificate is generated. The death certificate is the legal document recording the person’s identity, the date, time and cause of death, just like a birth certificate records a person’s birth.

If a person dies under the care of a licensed physician, the attending physician can sign off on the cause of death. This happens usually if the patient has been under the care of the physician for some time and the person is at the end stage of some chronic disease process. This makes sense, after all the physician is a trained scientist and is familiar enough with the patient to make a reasoned judgment about what caused their patient’s death.

However, if you aren’t under the care of a physician, or your physician is not certain of what caused your death, your cause of death may be determined by the Justice of The Peace. The Justice of The Peace or JP is a minor court official in Texas. The problem is, the JP is not a scientist, in fact he’s not even usually a trained lawyer. He’s an elected official.

Now, this isn’t to knock JP’s. Most of them I have dealt with over the years are great people who serve their community well and usually do it for a very nominal salary. My problem is with the process.

Here’s the JP’s trial testimony as covered by the Waco Tribune in their live blog of the trial:

3:37 p.m. — The state calls its eighth witness, Justice of the Peace Billy Martin. Prosecutor Crawford Long is questioning him. Martin says he’s been a JP for 12 years. Martin says, as a justice of the peace, he sets bonds at the jail, holds truancy court and does inquests into deaths. He’s also a wedding officiant and signs warrants for officers. He also holds driver’s license hearings. In response to Long’s questioning, Martin says that part of his job is to determine whether an autopsy should be ordered on a body. Martin says he received a call from a Hewitt officer on April 8, 2006. Martin says that he was told the death “appeared to be a suicide.” He said, “After all the information was relayed to me, I declined an autopsy on the case. The investigators were on the scene. I was not. I was at my home. I asked if there were any bullet holes, stab wounds, and they said there was not.” Martin says the officers told them about the open bottle of pills and the suicide note. Martin says he asked the officer whether it was his opinion it was a suicide. “I said, ‘Ok, that’s good enough for me.’”

Now in Kari Baker’s case, it wasn’t a suicide, but an elaborately staged murder scene.

An autopsy is a post mortem examination of a deceased person by a licensed physician usually a specialist trained in pathology. It usually includes an examination of the body, the internal organs and brain, lab tests on blood and other bodily fluids and occasionally x-rays. They are usually very thorough investigations conducted by trained scientists, that determine what caused a person’s death.

Now to be fair, the JP in Kari Baker’s case relied on what he was told by the police officers on scene. But in relying on their information, the process began to veer away from being an impartial determination of the cause of death. In fact, had it not been for the dogged determination of Kari’s parents, Matt Baker would have gotten away with a murder most foul.

In light of this trial, I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one central Texas JP is more likely to order an autopsy before declaring a cause of death and signing his name to a death certificate.

Friday, January 22, 2010

If Your Defense Attorney Thinks You're Scummy, You Got Problems

Lot's of interesting central Texas crimes stories made the web this morning.
If Your Defense Attorney Thinks You're Scummy, You Got Problems
This week has seen a very interesting, high profile murder trial all over the news. On trial was a former Waco area Pastor Matt Baker who was on trial for killing his wife so he could make time with his mistress. Even though the case was based on largely circumstantial evidence, Baker was found guilty and sentenced to 65 years.

The Waco Tribune had a piece on the reaction to the sentence that contained this great quote from one of Baker's defense attorneys. The judge had issued a gag order on all parties because of the sensational nature of this trial. Now that the trial is over the gag order is too and the parties in this case can speak their mind.
“We discovered (the affair) about six weeks ago, and we finally figured out that Matt was being untruthful with me, and I asked the judge to let me and Harold get out, but the judge didn’t want to delay the trial,” Gray said. “He was being untruthful, mostly, about Vanessa Bulls. But once you get untruthful about one part, you naturally begin to question all the other parts, too.

“He fooled me about the affair, but I really think there was probably some reasonable doubt there,” Gray said. “There was an awful lot of circumstantial evidence that they proved. But the credibility of Vanessa Bulls was pretty low, and to get to the drugs and the pillow and the suffocation, you have to believe her.

“While my opinion of Matt is pretty low right now, I do believe that there was technical reasonable doubt.”
If your defense attorney thinks you're such a scumbag that he wants out of your trial, you have got real problems. 

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thinking About Traffic Officer Safety

There's a number of things making the news in central Texas crime stories this morning.
Thinking About Traffic Officer Safety
Killeen Police ran a special enforcement detail targeting drivers who fail to slow down or move over for stopped emergency vehicles.  A few years ago the state legislature passed a law requiring drivers approaching an emergency vehicle stopped on the side of the road with it's emergency lights activated to either exit the lane adjacent to the emergency vehicle or to slow to at least 20 Mph below the posted speed limit.

The Killeen Daily Herald ran a story on this detail. From the story:
"I've nearly been struck more times than I can remember," Petty said. "It's senseless because it can very well easily be avoided by slowing a vehicle down or changing lanes."

Killeen police ticketed 23 drivers during the three-hour detail on U.S. 190 Wednesday. Another nine drivers escaped because the three officers were writing tickets for other drivers.
According to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund's 2009 Officer Fatality Report, 12 officers died in 2009 after being struck outside their vehicle. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Why Crime Stats Matter

I've got another post of mine up over at The Crime Map blog. In it I discuss why crime statistics are important. Here's an excerpt:
Around the beginning of the New Year, many law enforcement agencies take stock of the things that occurred in the previous year. Oft times in January, police chiefs around the country will ask their crime analysts for a preliminary work up of the crime statistics so they can get an advance look at the numbers. Then around mid-year, the FBI will begin to issue preliminary crime statistics and eventually the Uniform Crime Report will be released. The issuance of the Uniform Crime Report will start a flurry of stories in the news about crime statistics, and an equally frantic run on antacids by the heads of law enforcement agencies.
 You can read the rest of Why Crime Stats Matter over at The Crime Map blog.

Live Blogging Trials

This morning's central Texas crime stories include these worth noting.
Live Blogging Trials
Both local and national news outlets have been captivated by the Matt Baker murder trial this week. The story is quite a compelling one with all the elements that make for good drama. There's a tragic murder victim, the pretty young mistress, and a charismatic preacher with a dark secret. What makes this story even more interesting is that the local media has been live blogging and Twittering the trial and the trial testimony.

I'll admit I was checking my Twitter and a live blog of the trial testimony a whole lot when the mistress was on the stand yesterday for what seemed to be pretty damning testimony from her. But this brings up an interesting question as to what kinds of media activity should be allowed during a trial.

Some jurisdictions allow TV cameras in the court, a la the OJ Trial. Some don't allow cameras of any type, which was the primary reason behind the existence of court room sketch artists. Some courts allow electronic devices in the court, some don't. There are reasons for and against these restrictions.

When the OJ trial was going on, there were critics who believed that the cameras in the court room were a distraction and court watchers noticed that trial participants seemed to be playing to the cameras. There is also a belief that cameras would make some reluctant witnesses even more reluctant to testify.

On the other end of the spectrum, I've testified in courts where any reading and writing materials, electronic devices, etc. are confiscated by burly, armed court officers upon even entering the court building. In these draconian courts, even thinking about a camera in the court would probably be enough to be held in contempt.

The courts need to tread a fine line between what is distracting to the process and the transparency that comes from an open and public trial system. While the live blogged testimony yesterday wasn't pretty, it was important. Our justice process should never operate in secret.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Serial Rapist Story Gains Traction

Here's what's making the web in central Texas crime stories this morning.
Serial Rapist Story Gains Traction

The serial rapist who has been targeting elderly women in Texas is now getting national attention in an AP news story out this weekend. This story covers attacks that have occurred in Yokum and one in Luling.



Over the past year or so, we've seen a number of similar attacks in east Bell, Falls, Leon and Lavaca counties. The Texas Rangers issued a press last month with a profile of the rapist.They also issued another one in January seeking information on a stolen clock that may provide a clue to the investigation.

Someone out there has information about this rapist. You can report information anonymously at the Killeen CrimeStopper's website. CrimeStoppers pays cold hard cash for clues.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Red Light Camera Backlash

There were a few central Texas crimes stories of note this weekend. With today’s Martin Luther King Jr. holiday I wouldn’t be surprised if the newsrooms are a bit short staffed this morning.

Red Light Camera Backlash

USA Today has a couple of stories this morning about public backlash over red light camera enforcement systems. In one of them, a simple yellow light timing change drastically reduced the number of citations issued.

At $75 a pop, 6,906 citations were issued that year, mostly for illegal right-on-red turns; 624 citations were issued in February alone.

Then the Georgia Legislature, responding to widespread constituent concerns that red-light cameras were little more than a way to generate revenue for governments, ordered that yellow lights be lengthened by one second at all intersections with traffic cameras. Longer yellow lights would give motorists more time to stop for a red light.

When the law took effect Dec. 31, 2008, citations quickly plummeted. In February 2009, 125 citations were issued from Dalton's cameras.

While both sides argue over the efficacy of red light cameras, the more problematic aspect of the debate is the growing public discontent with these systems.

Of course, the public’s distrust of these systems isn’t helped when we see stories like the one about one of Duncanville’s cameras alone generating $1 million dollars worth of civil fines.

I don’t bring this up to argue either for or against the deployment of these cameras. I do bring it up because of my belief in the concept that we are here as public servants and that governments work best when they work with the consent of the governed. It seems that where these red light cameras are concerned, the governed are ready to revoke their consent.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Step 23 - Diagnose Your Hot Spot

I know that it's been a while since I posted in my series covering Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. Now that the holidays are over and we're all back in the office regularly, it's time to look at Step 23 - Diagnose Your Hot Spot. With the increase in mapping capabilities in law enforcement software packages, there is an increase in these programs offering "Hot Spot" tools to designate a geographic location as a "hot spot" based on crime data. But what is a "hot spot" and why are they important?

The authors of Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers define three different types of Hot Spots.
  • Hot dots are locations with high crime levels. These show crime concentrated at facilities or at addresses of repeat victims (see Steps 28 and 29). Multiple crime events at places are represented by dots.
  • Hot lines are street segments where crime is concentrated. These might occur, for example, if vehicles parked along particular streets suffer high rates of break-ins. Multiple crimes along street segments are shown with lines.
  • Hot areas are neighborhoods where crime is concentrated. Hot areas arise for a variety or reasons. Area characteristics may give rise to crime. Or a hot area may contain many separate and discrete problems. On maps, hot areas are shown as shaded areas, contour lines, or gradients depicting crime levels.
Geospatial analysis to identify Hot Spots will help you in identifying problematic areas. In my workflow, after I pull Calls and Offense data from our records management system and into our GIS, I'll then run these crime layers through CrimeStat, a spatial statistics analysis tool, to create additional Hot Spot layers for my crime maps.

Running a Hot Spot tool to identify Hot Spots on a map should not be the end of your analysis. Just knowing that there is a problem in a particular geographic location is not enough. This is alluded to in this chapter by the authors who conclude the chapter with this:
Hot spot analysis can be a valuable tool early in the problem-solving process, but having discovered hot spots, you need to ask why some spots are hot and others are not. Stopping analysis after the discovery of hot spots can result in superficial analysis and the implementation of ineffective responses. If there is no geographical component to the problem, hot spot mapping has little utility and you must use other analytical approaches.
Hot Spot analysis identifies geographic areas that need further analysis to identify specific problems and develop solutions to those problems. However, it's not the end of your analysis but instead it's just a beginning.

Next time, we'll cover Step 24 - Know When To Use High-Definition Maps.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Cops And Social Media

Lot's of central Texas crime stories this morning. Here's the important ones:
Cops And Social Media
Christa Miller over at Cops 2.0 has a post on cops and social media. Given the rise in popularity in blogs, Facebook, Twitter etc. we've seen a corresponding rise in cops making blunders by making inappropriate posts on them.
“What were they thinking?” is usually the response to an inappropriate social network posting. Short answer: they weren’t. Why? Because they weren’t thinking the same way an administrator thinks. Why? Because they’re not administrators? That’s a start. But it goes much deeper than that.

They weren’t thinking because they were more focused on the moment: taking a picture that would get them “points,” or venting their frustrations about a fact of a cop’s life.
I know that within some local departments, we've had a few incidents where an officer's social media use has led to disciplinary action. I've even seen one or two officers in the area let go because of the content they posted for all the world to see. Unfortunately, many department's responses to an officer's social media train wreck is a draconian "Thou shalt not" policy which really misses the point.

Christa argues against such draconian policies.
I prefer to think in terms of “outstanding” professionals. PoliceOne.com makes reference to “5 percenters,” those officers who are exceptional performers in any situation whether tactical or mundane, who respond the right way because they’ve trained themselves to do so.
Put a 5 percenter online—or show 10-, 15-, or 20-percenters how to act online the same way they should wearing the badge in the real world—and you turn a potential liability into a very powerful tool. Officers who are allowed to tell their stories responsibly and respectfully accomplish a number of things:
  • They show community members what it is they’re doing behind the restricted-access areas of the police station.
  • They inform and educate about misunderstood or important topics to the community.
  • They reinforce the perception that they’re part of a professional team, both the agency and their own unit.

The question for both administrators and cops is, how does your online activities represent your agency? What do you want people to think about you and your agency when they read your latest blog post? Do they come away thinking about how good your agency is? Or, do think think your name tag should read "Officer Barney Fife" and that you have to keep your one bullet in your pocket and not in your gun?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Crooks Aren't Always Bright

Things are hopping in central Texas crime apparently. Here's what's making the 'Net.
Crooks Aren't Always Bright
Just to show that criminals aren't always 'the sharpest knives in the drawer' we have this story. It seems that three men were arrested for kidnapping and torturing a man over a business dispute, the only problem was that they kidnapped the wrong guy.

Three "bumbling idiots" who kidnapped a New Jersey man and drove him 1,200 miles to Missouri had apparently mistaken their captive for another man with the same name, authorities said yesterday.

The thugs, arrested after their alleged victim was spotted trying to escape, are also suspected in another case of mistaken identity -- a November home invasion in which they shot a man whom they also incorrectly thought was their guy, Vernon County, Mo., Sheriff Ron Peckman told The Post.

"Makes for a good movie," Peckman told The Post.

He said the three men -- whom he called "bumbling idiots" -- had abducted Jeff Muller, of Newton, NJ, while hunting another Jeff Muller over "possibly something to do with a business dealing."

It's bad enough to get arrested but to get arrested for committing the wrong crime? Maybe jail will be the safest place for them.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Dilemma Posed By Bond

These central Texas crime stories were making the 'Net this morning.
The Dilemma Posed By Bond
For the second time in about a week, local police have arrested a murder suspect who's out on bond while awaiting trial. Both defendants are alleged to have been incapable of curbing their anti-social behavior while awaiting trials from previously alleged anti-social behavior.

In the first incident, Harker Heights police arrested one man, for being a convicted felon in possession of a weapon. He had his previously had his bond on a murder charge reduced from $1 million, to $5,000. In the second incident, Killeen Police arrested another man for using a stolen debit card to purchase expensive custom rims for his car. This man also had his bond on a previous murder charge reduced from $1 million to $30,000 apparently because the prosecutors needed more time to test evidence in the murder case and they were running up upon limitations based on a defendants right to a speedy trial.

The Texas Constitution allows a criminal defendant a right to bail except in a capital case. While both of these cases were murders, they aren't considered capital cases. In the eyes of the law we must remember that while they have been arrested for murder, they have not yet been convicted of them.

The dilemma is posed by how to protect the public from ostensibly dangerous people while we wait for the excruciatingly slow justice process to run it's course, and all the while still protecting the rights of the accused. I am sure that both of these defendants' attorneys rolled their eyes and suffered from that sinking feeling when they heard their clients weren't doing their part in maintaining the appearance of being well behaved. I also don't doubt that their attorneys had at some point cautioned them about the importance of maintaining at least the appearance of propriety during this time.

However, it would appear that neither defendant did their part. So the question now is, how to protect the public? For most, it seems pretty darned egregious that an accused murderer is out running round with a gun or another accused murderer is out purchasing fancy rims with a stolen debit card. It's these kind of incidents that come back to haunt politicians, and we must remember that most prosecutors are elected politicians.

Let's hope that maybe these recent transgressions will be weighed in establishing the conditions of the next bond release for these guys.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Thoughts About Situational Awareness

There were only a few local crime stories this morning. I'm sure the rest of the results of this weekend's hate and discontent will be posted to the web now that the weekend's over and the newsrooms around the area get back to being staffed the their full weekday compliment of reporters.
Thoughts About Situational Awareness
The other story, ties in to a recent unfortunate trend so I'll put it here. The Killeen Daily Herald had a story about the disparity in legal status between Texas peace officers and those who work for the Department of Defense as police officers on Fort Hood. From the story:
They and other Department of Defense civilian police are not eligible for the same concealed carry privileges, pensions and off-post authority afforded other federal law enforcement officers.
Until recently, people working as police officers on Fort Hood weren't even licensed by TCLEOSE as Texas peace officers. After some changes in Fort Hood's police department, they began to hire officers licensed by TCLEOSE, and attend the same TCLEOSE classes that other peace officers in the area do. It only makes sense that they be afforded the same concealed carry privileges that other Texas peace officers get.

As we've seen a tragic trend occurring of more police officers being targeted by criminals, this issue becomes even more important. Over the weekend, an  Anchorage, Alaska officer was ambushed in his patrol car by an attacker. The officer had finished a call and went back to his patrol car to work on a report when he was attacked while sitting in his car.
The neighbors reported hearing from three to seven shots, then looked out to see a lone police car with an officer sitting in it.

Police Lt. Dave Parker said the shooter apparently drove up beside the police patrol car and opened fire.

The wounded officer was taken to a hospital with several bullet wounds, Parker said. “The initial surgical report was good and we’re hopeful he’ll make a full recovery,” he said.

The officer was hit five times but is expected to survive. This attack comes on the heels of a similar attack in Seattle where an officer was ambushed in his patrol car by a drive by shooter, and the killings of four police officers in another Washington state city, when they were ambushed in a coffee shop where there were getting ready to go on shift.

While these events are in the news, there is a reasonable likelihood that some other copycat nut job will decide to emulate these attacks. How's your situational awareness when you're out there on the streets? Don't forget the crucial difference between cover and concealment.
  • Cover will stop a bullet
  • Concealment won't stop a bullet
The only part of your patrol car that is reliable cover is the engine block. If you don't have the engine block between you and the person shooting at you, you're vulnerable.

There are so many gadgets and gizmos in today's police cars that demand our attention, it's real easy to get distracted by all of this and let your situational awareness go down to nearly nothing. That may not have kept this officer from getting shot but then again, any advantage that helps you to make it home again at the end of your shift is a good thing.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Smarter Policing

Here’s a couple of central Texas crime stories making the ‘Net this morn.

Why Is Crime Down?
Now that some preliminary crime numbers are coming out, criminologists are working to explain why crime is down. There was a great fear that the country’s piss-poor economy would spark an increase in crime but this seems to be a fallacy. There’s an editorial over at the Minneapolis Star Tribune that has this interesting bit.

“Our view is that smarter, more proactive police tactics have contributed most to crime's decline. Reforms begun in New York in the 1980s are now routine nationwide. Officers stop known criminals for minor offenses, and guns are often confiscated. Computerized maps predict crime hot spots, and officers are dispatched to flood those zones. Gunfire detectors and cameras help patrol high-crime areas. Closer police-community partnerships have been forged in many cities. Police administrators are held accountable for lower crime numbers.”

Almost all these tactics involve the work of crime analysts. While Department’s budgets are stretching existing resources thin, it makes good sense to put your money where there’s the most bang for the buck. Crime analysts are crucial to the strategy of smarter crime fighting.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Doing The Right Thing

There's lot's of things going on in central Texas lately and not all of them are good. Here's what's making the news.
Do The Right Thing
Over my 19 years in law enforcement, I've had the satisfaction of helping to put quite a few bad guys in jail. The process wasn't always enjoyable, but there was a certain satisfaction in seeing people who harm others, get justice. I also consider myself fortunate to have been able to work to exonerate a few persons accused of a crime who clearly weren't guilty. In one case in particular, I think I worked harder to clear the kid, than I had seen done in similar cases to arrest a bad guy. That made me feel really good.

We recently saw some wrangling over whether Texas Governor Rick Perry could pardon a prisoner who died in prison after DNA evidence implicated another person for the crime. The Texas Attorney General's Office issued a ruling clearing the way for Gov. Perry to exonerate Tim Cole posthumously.
The Texas Constitution does not expressly address or limit the Governor's authority to grant a posthumous pardon. While a prior attorney general opinion concluded he could not grant a posthumous pardon due to the recipient's inability to accept it, modern United States Supreme Court decisions reject the common-law acceptance requirement that formed the basis of that opinion and the underlying Texas authorities. Given this shift in Supreme Court precedent and the Legislature's apparent recognition of this shift, we believe a Texas court would likely conclude that the Governor may grant a posthumous pardon under current Texas law, so long as all other constitutional requirements are met.
 Tim Cole was accused, tried and convicted for the rape of a college student. The Innocence Project of Texas sums up Cole's case this way this way:
Cole was a student at Texas Tech University when he was convicted of rape in 1985 and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He died of a massive asthma attack in 1999. The Innocence Project of Texas began investing Cole’s case after the actual perpetrator wrote to them confessing to the crime. A DNA test proved Cole was not the rapist but a Lubbock court denied the family’s request for a hearing. The Innocence Project of Texas took the case to district judge Charlie Baird’s court in Austin last February where Cole was officially exonerated.
As law enforcement, we need to always keep in mind the system is fallible and champion doing the right thing over all else.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Few Drive By's in the Retirement Community

Here's what is making the 'Net in central Texas crime stories.
Why Crime Is Dropping
The Wall Street Journal had a piece about Los Angeles' dropping crime rate. The story also spoke to some national crime trends and had this interesting quote:
Experts believe the fall in violent crime is tied to the aging U.S. population.

"The graying of America is a significant factor," said James Alan Fox, Lipman Professor of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University in Boston. "The largest and fastest growing segment of the population is people over 50. People over 50 also happen to be the age group that is the least likely to commit crimes. As the group grows, crime rates do decline."

Prof. Fox said a common assumption that crime goes up during a recession is wrong. Historic data show there is little connection between economic conditions and crime, particularly violent crime.

Prof. Fox said the crimes most likely to increase during a recession were such offenses as fraud, check forgeries and insurance schemes.
Of course, the flip side to this aging trend is the shrinking pool of applicants for law enforcement careers. We've seen how hard it is to hire new police officers and this angle is being discussed more and more.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Jury Duty is Fun!

Central Texas' crime holiday is now over and all the hardworking crooks have gone back to work. Here's a round up of what's making the news.

There is also this story over at KWTX.com regarding a local judge's restrictions on trial participants Internet usage.
It’s an example of the challenges judges face in the digital age when it’s no longer enough to instruct jurors to stay away from newspapers, radio and TV.
Now Trudo says she must caution jurors not only to avoid traditional media, but also social media.
“I tell them they are not able to use the Internet, Google, Facebook, Twitter (or) any electronic media to look up anything about the case whatsoever," she said. ...
Trudo is trying to curb the problem in her courtroom by temporarily confiscating cell phones, but she admits digital communication may never be fully controlled.
Nothing like a draconian cell phone confiscation to make people enjoy their jury duty. I just hope that the court will be willing to pay for replacing a juror's $600 smartphone if they manage to lose it.

Don't forget, County and District Court judges are elected here in Texas. If they don't run their courts (in reality, it's actually your court) to your liking you should make it known at the ballot box.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

What The Clock Saw

Well, now that everyone is back in their offices and newsrooms, there were a bunch of central Texas crime stories on the web this morning.

New DNA Technology Could Assist in Sex Assault Investigations
A story over at the Houston Chronicle outlining advances in DNA analysis technology that hold promise for investigating sexual assaults. 
The new male-specific DNA test zeroes in on minute amounts of biological evidence, such as saliva, skin cells or a trace of semen.
The technology, which the office began using in June, has already yielded positive results in 20 sexual assault cases reviewed by the institution's forensic biology laboratory. Harris County Chief Medical Examiner Luis Sanchez calls the new test a “byproduct of cutting-edge science.”
Known as Y-chromosome detection analysis, the test has other benefits as well. It extends the time that evidence may be collected after a sexual assault from the typical 48 hours all the way up to 96 hours — or some experts say, a maximum of 120 hours.
Improvements in DNA technology have made it possible to solve crimes that previously would have never been solved. A good example is this story of a DNA match made implicating a man imprisoned in Idaho for the 1998 rape murder of a 10 year old girl.

Family Of Man Killed In Waco PD Shooting Not Surprised
Then there is this interesting tidbit from a Waco Tribune story about this weekend's fatal shooting of a burglary suspect. The dead burglar's cousin made these comments:
“The last time I saw him was at Thanksgiving, and I pulled him to the side and had a talk with him, and I could tell then that he wasn’t going to make it very long on the outside world after being in prison so long,” Collins said. “His whole attitude was completely different.” ...
Collins said he never knew Harvey to be a violent man but said he figured it was only a matter of time before Harvey wound up in serious trouble. Collins said he and his family are saddened by Harvey’s death.
“The police have got to do their job,” Collins said. “I’m just glad no one else was hurt in the process.”
I may be jaded but I find these comments surprising because so often in these incidents the family tries to put the blame on the police. It seems like at least some members of Harvey's family aren't so quick to blame the police for their errant family members demise. Nobody, especially the police want these types of incidents to happen. We really would like to be like firemen and sit around the station and polish the fenders of our police cars while we wait on a call to come get a cat out of a tree.

However, as long as there are people who victimize others, the police will occasionally be forced to take actions that send people to prison or even to an early grave.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy New Year! Now Get Back To Work

It's the first workday of the New Year for many folks. Here's the crime stories making the news in central Texas this morning:

Scott Henson runs the Grits For Breakfast blog and writes about criminal justice issues facing the state legislature. He had some good posts over this long holiday weekend. The first recommended post is a wrap up of all the noteworthy criminal justice stories from 2009 and there were a bunch of them.

He also had a post commenting on the 2009 annual report on the Texas judiciary that was worth the read. One of the most interesting tidbits from that one was on the rate of huge growth in municipal court fine collection.
In 2009, [municipal] courts collected approximately $734 million—an increase of 1.2 percent from the previous year. The amount collected in 2009 was 287.3 percent higher than that collected 20 years previously in 1990, or 123.1 percent higher when adjusted for inflation.
 Lastly, he commented on the difficulties on finding and hiring law enforcement officers, even in a tough economy. This was visibly demonstrated by the fact that Dallas County Sheriff's tested for openings as deputies but only 16 passed the test and met the physical qualifications to go forward with the rest of the process.