Friday, February 26, 2010

Interrupting The Market for Stolen Property

Here's this morning's central Texas crime stories.
Interrupting The Market for Stolen Property
The Killeen Daily Herald had a minor story on the arrest of a Killeen woman after property stolen from a home was pawned at a local pawn shop.
Killeen police found Helmandollar's name on pawn records for jewelry stolen from a home in December.

According to an arrest affidavit, pawn records showed the stolen jewelry had been pawned by Helmandollar as early as the same day as the home burglary occurred.

According to court and jail records, Helmandollar lives a block away from the victim's home.

The story is not particularly remarkable for what happened but it does bring up an interesting topic, that is reducing outlets for stolen property as a method of reducing crime.

Crime such as theft can be driven by a number of factors. One is that the thief wants a particular item for his or her own use. A thief spots a shiny new TV and rather than work hard, get a paycheck and buy it, they decide to steal it. Once the thief acquires the TV,  they might take it home and put it in their living room and watch the game on it.

However, many of the most prolific thieves, aren't stealing items for their personal use but instead they are taking them with the design of converting them to cash or some other object of value such as narcotics. For them the theft is an intermediate step towards converting this stolen property to cash.

Pawn shops or other second hand stores used to be one common avenue for a thief to convert stolen property to cash. However, under Texas law pawn shops are required to keep detailed information on persons pawning property to cut down on just this sort of nonsense as we saw above. With the advent of more stores that regularly buy and sell second hand property such as DVD's, video games, etc. law enforcement agencies in many jurisdiction are pushing for governmental bodies to make the same requirements for these stores as are required for pawn brokers. In fact, the city were I work has an ordinance that requires this type of record keeping.

The idea is to make it more difficult for thieves to convert stolen items to cash. Whether they know it or not, thieves often make decisions based on cost/benefit ratios. If we raise the cost or effort required to convert stolen property high enough with respect to the desired benefit, it will not make economic sense for the thief to continue this line of work.

Of course, the reporting requirements of pawn shops caused thieves to seek new outlets such as second hand stores to dispose of their goods. If second hand stores are removed from the equation, then thieves will have to once again adapt their business model. In my jurisdiction we have seen some of this as it's now not uncommon for thieves to dispose of stolen property through informal exchanges such as offering items for sale from the trunk of a car, or at flea markets where regulations don't upset their cost/benefit ratio.

What ways do thieves in your jurisdiction dispose of their stolen good? What can your agency do to change the cost/benefit ratio in these illegal markets?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Good Information A Big Part Of Effective Crime Fighting

Here's this morning's central Texas crime story roundup.
Good Information A Big Part Of Effective Crime Fighting
The New York Time has a story examining NYPD's Real Time Crime Center and the role that crime analyst's play in NYPD's fight against crime.
The center was created by the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, as part of an effort to centralize the department’s information. The databases pull from 911 calls, arrests, complaints filed by victims, reports on accidents and moving violations. Detectives at the center mine these databases for nuggets of information that they send to officers on the street.
NYPD's YouTube channel has this video that explains the mission of their Real Time Crime Center.



Of course a big part of getting good information out of law enforcement databases in getting good information into them. The old adage from the early days of computing, GIGO, applies: Garbage In, Garbage Out. NYPD deals with this by instructing officers to be good collectors of the data.
Inspector Kenneth G. Mekeel, commanding officer of the crime center, said cadets were “taught in the academy to take down as much as they can.”
Here's the rub, getting your folks to collect as much information as possible, in every possible instance. Cops like every other human on the planet are inherently lazy when there is little perceived benefit to them. As crime analysts we have to demonstrate to them the utility of collecting this information, not just tell them to do it.

Around my department it's not unusual for a patrol officer to question the need to get good witness statements at the time they take the report. After all they say, "that's the detective's job". But let that patrol officer become a detective and spend days playing phone tag with a witness trying to get them to come in for a statement and all of a sudden, that light goes on in their head and they understand the why of it now that they have experienced it. An impersonal pronouncement from above didn't sink in, but a real life demonstration taught them in ways no memo ever could.

As a crime analyst, how can you demonstrate the importance of good data collection to your folks?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Youth Prison As Mental Health Care Provider

There weren't many central Texas crime stories making the web this morning. Most of the local media was concentrating on the rare snowfall around here. Either that or all the criminals who usually are the catalyst for these kinds of stories were too busy playing in the snow. However, this is what we have.

Youth Prison As Mental Health Care Provider
Most cops will tell you that a significant number of the people they deal with have mental health issues. The sad fact is, that if you aren't actively swinging a hatchet at your therapist, you probably aren't going to end up committed to a mental hospital. There just aren't enough beds in the mental health system to accommodate all the people who really need it.

Unfortunately, many of these mentally ill folks end up in the criminal justice system. At least in the adult criminal justice system there is some mental healthcare available for mentally ill inmates.

The problem is even worse here in Texas with regards to juvenile offenders with mental health issues. In fact, the rules at the Texas Youth Commission require mentally ill juvenile offenders to be discharged from TYC. The purpose of the rule was that the offender be remanded to a facility better equipped to handle their mental health issues. However, there are few beds for mentally ill juveniles available.

The Houston Chronicle has a piece about TYC rule changes that come on the heals of an incident where a released mentally ill juvenile offender stabbed his teacher to death. 
The teen had spent two years in juvenile custody for aggravated assault but was discharged in July because of schizophrenia and other issues, said his attorney, Jim Huggler. The youth is undergoing treatment to determine his fitness to face legal proceedings, Huggler said.
The Associated Press found that the commission had released more than 200 offenders because of mental health issues over a five-year period and that more than one-fifth went on to commit new crimes, some of them violent. Among those released was a San Antonio teen who later was convicted of murdering a roofer during a robbery spree.
While the criminal justice system is often going to deal with the mentally ill, it seems a shame to make the criminal justice system the treatment facility of last resort. And in the case of dangerous juvenile offenders, it's even worse to kick them out of TYC and into the public with little or no treatment available.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lot's Of Good Stuff In Those Affidavits

Lots of central Texas crime stories making the web this morning.
Lot's Of Good Stuff In Those Affidavits
Earlier this week we saw that two suspects in a series of east Texas church fires were arraigned on charges relating to the fires. This morning the Dallas Morning News has a good story on this including the affidavits used for the arrest warrants.
On Feb. 11, the arrest warrant affidavit states, federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents went to Bourque's home in Lindale after receiving a telephone tip that he might be involved in the fire. As the agents began to question Bourque, his grandmother backed a car out of the family garage. That gave agents a glimpse of a pair of muddy Skecher shoes inside the garage that matched some of the shoe prints left at several fire scenes.
The story is a good read and I encourage you to hit the link.

For those of you not familiar with the criminal justice system, this is how arrest affidavits fit into the system. In order to obtain an arrest or a search warrant, a sworn peace officer has to have probable cause that an offense was committed. The officer will then complete an affidavit outlining his/her probable cause. This affidavit will then be signed and sworn to in front of a magistrate who will then sign a warrant authorizing the arrest or search of that person or place.

Very often, the affidavits contain lots of detailed information about the crime. Crime reporters, authors and others often seek these out to learn more about an offense. In most cases, these affidavits are public record and anyone can get access to them. It's only in a few situations that they can be sealed. This usually occurs if the release of information contained in the affidavit could jeopardize a sensitive investigation. 

Monday, February 22, 2010

Alleged Church Arsonists Busted

Here's what we got in central Texas crime stories.
Alleged Church Arsonists Busted
A number of media outlets and the Texas Department of Public Safety are reporting that two arrests were made in a recent string of church arsons  in east Texas. From the DPS release:
“Clearly this effort shows that Texas law enforcement has mastered the art and science of working together, sharing information, and dedicating the necessary resources to bring cases such as these to a successful resolution, and these officers are to be commended,” McCraw said.
The Task Force set up a tip line and offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to arrests. According to the release and several news stories, a tip called in to the Task Force made the case.

CNN is reporting that ATF spokesman have stated the arson fire that destroyed most of First Baptist Church in Temple is not related to this series. Since nearly all of them are in far east Texas an isolated fire nearly 200 miles away would be kind of unusual.

Has your agency laid the groundwork for a cooperative working relationship with other agencies in your area? The time to do that would be before you end up with a high profile series of crimes occurring in your area.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Should We Surrender To Fear?

There were a couple of things of note for central Texas crime stories this morning.


Should We Surrender To Fear?
Like many others, I spent part of yesterday morning transfixed by news coverage of the plane crash in Austin. The consensus is that a disgruntled software engineer, Joe Stack, who was angry over a dispute with the Internal Revenue Service set fire to his home, went to a general aviation airport where he kept a small plane and later flew the airplane into an Austin office building which housed offices used by the IRS.

It also appears that the night before he wrote a rambling screed and posted it to an Internet website that apparently was used for his business. In it he railed about his tax problems, the government, and the Catholic Church.

Neighbors interviewed said that while they interacted with his wife and daughter who seemed friendly, they didn't see much of him. There are also stories that he played in a band in Austin. Members of the band interviewed by the media said:

Michael Cerza, who played drums in the Billy Eli Band with Stack, said, “my impression of Joe was a kind, quiet, not at all brooding … person.”
“I didn’t sense anything boiling under the surface. There was no indication in his actions or his words that he would harm anyone.”
Back when I was a sworn officer, I had worked with some of the folks from the IRS's Criminal Investigations Division Austin office and have even been to their offices in the building that was struck yesterday. They were all really decent, hardworking cops. My heart goes out to them and their co-workers there in Austin.

Earlier in the morning I had a conversation with a colleague from another agency regarding the threats posed by "whack jobs".  While we tend to think that our greatest threat is from conventional terrorists such as Al Qaeda, we are probably at a much greater risk from threats closer to home. Almost every police officer can recount at least one angry "crank" in their jurisdiction. Even more prevalent are those angry cranks who like Joe Stack seem to have normal lives but under the surface are filled with murderous rage.

For all the money and effort we have poured into "Homeland Security" since 9/11 we have not mitigated all the risks posed by determined people with a grudge, nor is it possible to mitigate all the risks. But the reason that events such as this are so newsworthy is because they are so unusual.

In 2008, there were 14,180 murders reported to police in the United States. Also in 2008, the US population was 304,059,724. This means that 0.0046% of Americans were murdered. Looking at data from the Centers for Disease Control, homicide was not even in the top 10 leading causes for death in the US in 2006. Homicide ranked number 15. There were 17,034 murders in the US in 2006 but 631,636 deaths due to heart disease during that same time.

While we should take common sense steps to protect ourselves from murderous angry cranks, we should avoid overreacting to a threat that is in reality pretty small.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

How to Avoid “Chasing The Needle”

My latest post is up over at The Crime Map. In it I discuss how to avoid "Chasing The Needle" with your crime stats. From the post:
Over the years, crime statistics have become more and more important in gauging the effectiveness of a law enforcement agency and by implication, the leadership of that agency. We’ve seen a number of studies that hint that this accountability is a major driving force in the reduction of crime we’ve seen in the past few years here in the U.S. An effect of this new accountability is that it is not uncommon for a police chief to be sacked if the department’s crime numbers are high. This increase in accountability also leads to a tendency to overreact to apparent changes in the crime stats from month to month or even worse, week to week.
To read the rest of the article follow the link over to The Crime Map.

Curbing Problem Behavior With Limited Resources

Lot's of interesting central Texas crime stories this morning.
Curbing Problem Behavior With Limited Resources
Killeen Police conducted a traffic enforcement operation targeting people who cut across parking lots to avoid having to wait for traffic lights. During the operation, KPD officers ticketed 43 drivers for this offense. From the KXXV.com story:
Bryan Buhrkuhl, another Killeen resident, had an inkling it wasn't right to do so but didn't know it was illegal.

"I've done it a couple of times, but I didn't know it was against the law," Buhrkuhl said. When told the ticket could be almost $180, he said, "Are you serious? For just like, cutting through?"
This operation is pretty much a textbook example of one way police target problematic behavior with limited resources. It goes like this:
  1. Police get complaints by the community on a minor but problematic behavior
  2. Police issue press release indicating they will conduct one of these operations at a certain time and place
  3. Police conduct their operation
  4. Police then issue press release with the results of their operation
Traffic citations can deter problem or dangerous behavior. However, they are a manpower intensive operation. It is not possible for most departments to mount a continual enforcement presence for problem behavior and catch every violator.

Since police have only a limited amount of resources to throw at a problem, this approach has the desired effect of educating the public. More people will become aware of the issue and the fact that police could cite them and hopefully they will voluntarily curb their problematic behavior. Then, they can move on to the next problem.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

That's One Way To Lower Your Crime Numbers

This morning's central Texas crime stories held these one's worth reading:

That's One Way To Lower Your Crime Numbers
The Dallas Morning News reported on Dallas PD Chief Kunkle's briefing to the Dallas City Council where he tried to explain why his Department is not following the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) guidelines.
Kunkle told committee members Tuesday that he has overhauled the department's crime reporting system since he became chief in 2004 and that it would be a mistake to undo those changes.
"It'll be a mistake because we will be overreporting crimes in relationship to other cities," he said. 
Kunkle's PowerPoint presentation to the committee about the department's collection of crime statistics made no mention of the FBI guidelines that the department is supposed to follow.  
Instead, the chief's presentation focused on the Texas Penal Code, which the FBI says should have no bearing on how the department classifies crime for reporting numbers to federal authorities.
There are a couple of points to understand in this discussion. One, the UCR offense classification guidelines don't always coincide with Texas Penal Code offense definitions. An example of this is the UCR definition of Rape.
Forcible rape, as defined in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, is the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will. Attempts or assaults to commit rape by force or threat of force are also included; however, statutory rape (without force) and other sex offenses are excluded.
The UCR Handbook goes on to use the Black's Law Dictionary of "carnal knowledge" in it's explanation of rape. However, the Texas Penal Code definition of Sexual Assault includes male victims, statutory rape, etc. In other words, Texas' definition of sexual assault is a lot broader that the UCR definition of rape. In other words, UCR is going to undercount what most people would understand rape to be.

Another problem with UCR is that UCR definitions of some offenses are broader than what prosecutorial practice allows. UCR's definition of Aggravated Assault is:
The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program defines aggravated assault as an unlawful attack by one person upon another for the purpose of inflicting severe or aggravated bodily injury. The UCR Program further specifies that this type of assault is usually accompanied by the use of a weapon or by other means likely to produce death or great bodily harm. Attempted aggravated assault that involves the display of—or threat to use—a gun, knife, or other weapon is included in this crime category because serious personal injury would likely result if the assault were completed. When aggravated assault and larceny-theft occur together, the offense falls under the category of robbery.
This definition is not far off of what the Texas Penal Code defines as Aggravated Assault. So far, so good. However, both definitions of aggravated assault are a lot broader than what most prosecutors are willing to prosecute.

For example, in Texas if you pull a knife (a deadly weapon) on someone and threaten them with it, or event cut them with it, you have technically committed an Aggravated Assault. UCR even agrees with you on this. However, most prosecutors require serious bodily injury in order to prosecute someone for Aggravated Assault. A minor cut, or no bodily injury will generally mean that this would be prosecuted as a misdemeanor assault and not a second degree felony. Simple assaults are not counted as a UCR Part 1 crime. So in this case, UCR over counts what most people would assume an aggravated assault to be.

This is where the UCR guidelines dictate that rather that classifying offenses according to local laws or prosecutorial practice you are supposed to follow their guidelines. This puts everyone on the same sheet of music.

Maybe some of the problem is due to UCR's age. The original UCR program was established in the 1930's. An attempt was made to update the program by creating the National Incident-Based Reporting System or NIBRS in the 1980's. However, NIBRS is unwieldy and the majority of law enforcement agencies have chosen to remain on UCR when reporting their crime stats.

What Chief Kunkle doesn't appear to realize is that when you get caught playing "fast and loose" with the numbers your credibility suffers. While I agree that UCR has it's problems, choosing to play by the rules is important not just to maintain your credibility with the citizens, but is the only way to ensure that you can accurately measure the effectiveness of your crime fighting efforts.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Should Victims Bear Some Of The Blame?

There were a couple of central Texas crime stories worthy of note this morning.
Should Victims Bear Some Of The Blame?
The BBC has a story on a recent survey in the UK that found that more women than men were likely to think that women rape victims may bear some of the blame for their victimization.
The study found that women were less forgiving of the victim than men.

Of the women who believed some victims should take responsibility, 71% thought a person should accept responsibility when getting into bed with someone, compared with 57% of men.
This points to dilemma of placing the blame where it really belongs, on the attacker and the fact that often times a victim's poor choices lead to them being more likely to become a victim. The sad fact is that in many crimes, the victim's choices make them more vulnerable to those who would take advantage of them.

The really difficult part is how to address this? How to educate those potential victims so they don't make poor choices while showing compassion to them if they do make the choices that led to their victimization.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Step 26 - Take Account of Long Term Change

This post in Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers is going to cover Step 26 - Take Account of Long Term Change. Law enforcement practice has come a long way. Agencies now regularly use sophisticated analysis tools to uncover trends and identify problems. Charts and graphs that were once only regularly found in the corporate world are now making regular appearances at police department staff meetings. It's also not uncommon to see crime analyst job postings that require college or even graduate level education in statistics. All this is because departments are applying business intelligence techniques to their workflow.

Time series analysis is measuring the number of crimes or other events over time. This step in Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers discusses three important ideas in time series analysis. They are:
  • Overall trend
  • Temporal cycles
  • Random fluctuations
All three of these concepts are important to understand when graphing crimes or events over time. If your graph of events over time exhibits change, you should attempt to identify the reason for these changes in order to better understand what is occurring. 

Overall Trend
This is the one your Chief will likely lose sleep over. Did your crimes increase or decrease this year? Overall trend, the authors state: "shows whether the problem is getting worse, better, or staying the same over a long period."

Temporal Cycles
Temporal cycles are those changes that occur regularly due to the rhythms found in normal life. A daily cycle might be the increase in traffic accident calls each workday around the morning and evening commutes. A weekly one may be an increase in DWI arrests on weekends. At my agency we have a yearly decrease in calls for service around January and February when the weather is the coldest.

Random Fluctuations
These are the hardest to explain. They may be caused by a one or two day increase in crimes committed by a lone offender or just minor changes in the "noise floor" of crimes. The authors describe the cause as "a large number of minor influences". 

The authors state the importance of understanding and using time series analysis comes from using it as a gauge of the effectiveness of your response to problematic crime.
Time series analysis is a powerful tool for evaluating the effectiveness of a response. The basic principle is to obtain a good idea of a problem's natural trends, cycles, and variation before the response is implemented, using the techniques just discussed. This tells you what you can expect from the problem in the future, if you did nothing about the problem. This provides a basis for examining time frames after the response. Changes in the trend, cycles, or even the random fluctuation suggest the response had an impact. The longer the time frames before and after, the greater the confidence you can have in your conclusions.
Next time we'll look at Step 27 - Know How To Use Rates and Denominators.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Guns and Arguments Don’t Mix

Here’s the local crime stories making the news today.
Guns and Arguments Don’t Mix
Killeen Police investigated a murder on Thursday morning. The Killeen Daily Herald published a story that contains this bit from the arrest affidavit:
In the arrest affidavit, Kevin Clavon Wright tells Killeen police that he "racked a round" in a .40-caliber handgun to scare his girlfriend, Deverelle Johnson. The gun "went off" and hit Johnson in the left side of her head. She was pronounced dead less than an hour later.

The shooting occurred early Thursday during an argument over why Johnson returned home late, the affidavit stated.
I’m not exactly sure why an argument such as this really needed a firearm introduced into the mix. However, this kind of foolishness is all too prevalent in homicides in the US.

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports program stated there were 14,180 murders reported in the United States in 2008, the most recent year full statistics are available.

Also from the 2008 UCR, firearms were the most commonly used weapon, with 9,484 homicides attributed to them or 66.8% of murders.

There were 3,078 females murdered in 2008 or 21.7% of victims. Concerning the relationship between the victim and offenders,
Among female victims for whom relationships with their offenders were known, 34.7 percent were murdered by their husbands or boyfriend.
The FBI also indicates that in 2008 42% of victims were murdered during arguments when the circumstances behind the homicide was known to law enforcement.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Do Background Checks Work?

There was lots of good stuff in local crime stories this morning.
Do Background Checks Work?
The Killeen Daily Herald has a story about a Darnall Army Community Hospital physical therapy employee's arrest for sexually assaulting a patient. The suspect is accused of following a DACH patient home and sexually assaulting her. Even more outrageous than that, is this bit:
Andrade, also known as "Reece," was convicted of three counts of sexual battery of a minor in Florida in 1999. He was working as a physical trainer at the time, Blakely said.

Darnall conducts different degrees of background checks on different levels of employees, Chappelle said. There was no confirmation late Thursday if Andrade passed a background check and the extent of the check.

Investigators have one allegation so far, but more are possible, Blakely said.
Wouldn't you assume that it's not good practice to hire a sex offender for a physical therapy job especially when his previous convictions for sex crimes occurred when he was working a similar job? It would seem that someone dropped the ball here in a big way.

I thought all the sex offender registration laws were supposed to make us all safer and fix all this nonsense? Instead we are stigmatizing 16 year olds who got caught playing doctor with their 13 year old girlfriend.

This comes on the heels of a post I made yesterday about a Tennessee school teacher who was described as a "ticking time bomb" going postal and shooting two school administrators at the elementary school where he worked. His background was apparently also known, yet he was given a job as an elementary school teacher.

Maybe it's time for the federal government to look into standardizing criminal history and sex offender reporting requirements across the states, and ensure there is a mechanism for employers to reliably query this information. Right now employers rely on a system that may or may not reliably flag the real bad guys, while the not so bad guys are so disenfranchised that becoming bad guys might be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Responding To "A Ticking Time Bomb"

In spite of the dearth of central Texas crime stories yesterday, that's not a problem today.
Responding To "A Ticking Time Bomb"
Yesterday we saw reports of a school shooting in Tennessee. An elementary school principal and an assistant principal were shot by a teacher at the school. What makes this unusual is that it seems that most school shootings are committed by students. The fact that this was allegedly committed by a teacher makes it more characteristic of a workplace shooting incident.

The really problematic aspect of this shooting is reports that the alleged shooter had been reported to officials as a "ticking time bomb" prior to the shooting and apparently had a very troubling history. From the USA Today story:
In an email sent on November 16, a source emailed Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre and Elisa Luna, the principal of Inskip Elementary warning them of a "ticking time bomb" teaching fourth grade at the school. ...
The anonymous source told administrators Foster was "very unpredictable and a very dangerous person just waiting to go off."

He went on to provide a list of references who could speak to that unpredictable behavior. One of them was Terry Mullins, CEO of Oak Ridge Tool Engineering.

Wednesday, Mullins said Foster made an attempt on his life several years ago after he was laid off from the Oak Ridge company. ...

Wednesday afternoon, WBIR was able to confirm with the Anderson County Sheriff's office a history of complaints against Foster. He is accused of harassment, known to carry a gun, and had an order of protection taken out against him by his brother.

It would seem from this story that the shooter had a long history of troubling behavior. It also appears that the school district's response to these previous allegations is going to be examined long and hard. If this guy had this background, how the heck did he get a job teaching fourth graders?

Almost every law enforcement agency has had contact with a person or persons in their jurisdiction who fit this category of being a "ticking time bomb". In fact, if they were able to be candid, almost any police officer could name off the top of their head at least one person in their jurisdiction who meets that criteria.

Police agencies have very limited powers to deal with potential crimes. For the most part we are forced to be entirely reactionary. We can't legally run around to employers and tell them that their employee might be a ticking time bomb. However, we do need to make sure that we do properly follow up on allegations such as this when they are made to us. If we don't, we risk the repercussions that come from failing to prevent a tragedy when we might have had the power to.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Shorter Academies and Crime Stats Chicanery

The Internet was a bit thin on local crime stories this morning. However, there was a couple of interesting law enforcement related stories.

Trooper Trainees To Face Shorter Academy
The Texas Department of Public Safety has decided to make some changes to their training program with the hopes of easing their shortage of state Troopers.

“We can provide superior training at less cost, in less time, and it's far easier for us to recruit,“ said McCraw, adding many recruits will not commit to a training course lasting more than 7 months. “We determined we can be much more competitive in recruiting, in college and the military, in an 18-week school and one that's not done just once or twice a year.”

McCraw recently persuaded the DPS governing board to trim the existing 27-week training course to 18 weeks, a move he hopes will help the state police find enough applicants to fill nearly 400 vacancies. He said much of the training that was removed related to gaining an intermediate police officer rating, one which also requires six years of experience.

The Public Safety Commission also approved an eight-week school for certified peace officers who want to join the DPS, McCraw said.
DPS is a good organization. Over the years I've know a number of experienced officers that would have liked to join DPS but didn't relish the idea of spending nearly 7 months living in a barracks in Austin. For officers with families, the idea of spending all that time living apart from your family is a deal breaker, especially when you could make more money working for another agency that didn't require that boot camp nonsense.

Law enforcement is really having to work hard to get qualified applicants. Many folks who would ordinarily become cops are pursuing opportunities in the military or even working as contractors overseas. This has made the law enforcement jobs market very competitive.

What is your agency doing to make itself more attractive to potential law enforcement officers?

More On Dallas Police Crime Stats Mess
There's more on Dallas PD's crime stats reporting problems. The City of Dallas has now asked the City Auditor to look into reporting practices. One of Dallas's City Council members, Ann Margolin, had this to say:
"I just want to be clear that when we see statistics, that we can count on them," she said. "And even more so, that we can compare them year to year and month to month and that that all has meaning."
Reports of crime stat chicanery surfaced after Dallas's crime rate dropped significantly. The Dallas Morning News article goes on to say:

And while the FBI strongly discourages comparing one place with another based on the raw statistics, many people do.

Last year, Dallas shed its distinction as having the highest crime rate of U.S. cities with more than 1 million people. San Antonio gained that distinction, and Dallas fell to No. 2. The Dallas City Council wants to be out of the top eight by 2013.
Of course, the apparent fudging of the numbers now makes you wonder if Dallas did actually have the crime drop they said they did. I guess that's one way to get your crime rate down.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Serial Arsonist At Work In Church Fires?

There's a bunch of local crime stories making the web this morning.
Serial Arsonist At Work In Church Fires?
Texas churches seem to be targeted by a serial arsonist. At least seven or eight churches, mainly in east Texas have burned at the hands of an arsonist since the beginning of the year. USA Today posted a story about this series of fires. I did some googling and came up with this list of suspicious church fires:



While most of these fires have been in east Texas, one of them happened in Temple on January 19. Just for a lark I ran the numbers on this list of events and it seems that the most common day of week for these fires are Tuesdays.



Of course, this is based on when the fires were discovered and may not have been when they were set. I have no inside information into this series but based this on what I could find by googling news stories. I also did some other temporal analysis on this series just out of curiosity but I am not going to put that out here in this forum.

However, that being said it's not unheard of for arsonists to target churches. It's even more common for other types of criminals to target churches. The buildings are only occupied for a small amount of time and it has been my experience that their security procedures are oft times lacking.

As a law enforcement agency, are you making efforts to reach out to local churches with crime prevention information? Does your department keep updated contact information handy for church officials? Do your officers regularly check these facilities during the overnight hours? While this arson series is mainly confined to east Texas it's probably not a bad idea for central Texas officers to keep an eye on churches in their towns.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Step 25 - Pay Attention To Daily And Weekly Rhythms

We're up to Step 25 - Pay Attention To Daily And Weekly Rhythms in our walk through Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. There is an old adage that "everything in life is cyclical". This is true not only in the change of seasons, but also in crime problems. Many crime problems revolve around the cyclical patterns of the lives of both offenders and their victims.

In the jurisdiction where I work, we often see the frequency of certain types of incidents increase in cyclical patterns. For instance, disturbances involving juveniles will increase immediately after the end of the school day when unsupervised children begin their journey home. Large public disturbances or fights in the parking lots of night clubs usually occur around closing time for the bars. Traffic accidents are more common during the morning and afternoon commutes.

The cyclical nature of these types of events make them relatively easy to predict and deploy solutions to combat them. In the example above involving errant school children, my agency increased staffing by detailing extra officers in the neighborhood near the school during the time these teens were making their way home. These officers were then able to respond to these incidents and take action rather then responding from other areas of town.

The authors state that there are three forms of temporal clustering.

  1. Diffused - Events relatively evenly spread over the entire day
  2. Focused - Events clustered around rush hours
  3. Acute - Events tightly packed within small periods

The authors state:
Focused and acute patterns immediately suggest temporal cycles that should be investigated.
Conducting temporal analysis of problems will often reveal such patterns. Most spreadsheet applications can create some very nifty charts that will help you to easily identify temporal patterns. The authors suggest performing an analysis of both time of day and day of week together rather than separately. The reason for this is that it is not unusual that if the frequency of events is calculated separately and then the results are combined you will end up with a misleading analysis. A surface or contour chart is a neat way to graph two variables together and determine the day/time that has the most events clustered around it.

Next time we'll look at Step 26 - Take Account of Long Term Change.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

With Increased Accountability Comes Increased Pressure

This weekend had a couple of interesting central Texas crime stories.

With Increased Accountability Comes Increased Pressure
There have been quite a number of stories in the news lately that point to the causes in the decline of crime nationwide. A majority of these stories mention holding police agencies accountable as one of the reasons for that drop in crime.

The most well known of these law enforcement strategies is the CompStat program that started in New York city in the mid 1990’s. The program as implemented at NYPD was infamous for the CompStat meetings where commanders would be unmercifully grilled about crime problems in there areas.

Now there’s this story from the New York Times that asserts that the pressure to perform proved too much for some NYPD commanders who took to fudging their numbers in order to appear better than they actually were. 

“Those people in the CompStat era felt enormous pressure to downgrade index crime, which determines the crime rate, and at the same time they felt less pressure to maintain the integrity of the crime statistics,” said John A. Eterno, one of the researchers and a retired New York City police captain.

This story comes on the heels of several news stories out of Dallas about their problems with crime stats. I covered some of those stories at this post.

Last month I posted this over at The Crime Map on Why Crime Stats Matter. In that post I have a great quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes. He once said:

“In order to understand what is, we must know what has been, and what it tends to become.”

The problem with fudging your stats is that you lose that objective measure of the effectiveness of your crime fighting efforts. While the NYPD commander’s who “gun decked” their stats saved their own butts in the short term, they hosed everyone who came after them. More importantly, they hurt themselves as they lost the ability to know what was working and what wasn’t.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Picture's Worth A Thousand BOLOs

Here's what we have for this morning's central Texas crime stories:

A Picture's Worth A Thousand BOLOs
KXXV.com has a piece on recent local bank robberies and how surveillance video plays into solving these crimes. The story quotes Waco FBI Agent Norm Townsend as saying:
"I know we've been busy with bank robberies both here and in Bell County," said Waco-based FBI agent Norm Townsend.  "Getting good video is paramount in solving these crimes, but it doesn't always work right away." ... "If the person's not from this area, and the media coverage is only in this area, then the right person may not be seeing it," Townsend said. ... "Most of them are caught," He said.  "They may be serial in nature and rob a few times, but they do get caught eventually."
In the article they mention a recent uptick in bank robberies in the central Texas area. I posted about this a couple of days ago when I looked at the website BanditTracker.com.

This brings up the importance of video surveillance in solving crimes such as robberies. Bank robberies make the news because they are dramatic and somewhat unusual. Many more robberies occur at local businesses such as gas stations and convenience stores. Robberies at convenience stores are so common that I have heard people to refer to the stores as "Stop & Robs", a take off on the name of convenience store chain "Stop & Go". The prevalence of these C-store robberies have led some jurisdictions to enact ordinances requiring the operators of these businesses to have working video systems capable of capturing a recognizable video image.

Here in central Texas, the City of Bryan enacted one of these ordinances in 2006. You can read Bryan PD's press release on it here, or view the current ordinance here. Other attempts at reducing the number of C-store robberies have included a proposed law in New Mexico requiring C-stores to have have video surveillance systems and other procedures in place to deter these types of crimes.

It's a shame that Cities and States have to force the hand of business owners to install video systems. However, in my 19 years in law enforcement I've seen plenty of businesses with broken systems, poorly installed or maintained systems or even fake video cameras. It's very frustrating to find out that you would have had a great picture of your crook if only the business wasn't so cheap or poorly run.

That being said, your detectives should be alert for opportunities to work with these local businesses and provide them with best practices information on video surveillance. This could include advice on camera placement, resolution, digital video recorder options/settings, etc.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

More On Why Crime's Down

There were lots of central Texas crime stories on the web this morning.
More On Why Crime's Down
The Crime Report published the second in their two part look at why crime is dropping. The article quotes some respected criminologists in their assertion that the "lock 'em all up" policy slant that has been popular in the past is probably not responsible for the recent decline in violent crime. They point to the fact that the decline in violent crimes was not matched by increased rates of incarceration. There also appears to be some debate on whether aggressive police tactics are responsible as well.

There is a tendency when these types of crime drops occur to want to identify one or a few causes of this drop so that cause can be trumpeted loudly. But the causes of the drop in crime are likely to be more complicated than that. From the article:
Nineteen years of crime declines, some dramatic, some small, is a long time. It could be that a number of factors are the cause: cultural, police crime reduction strategies, changes in crime patterns, the gentrification of low income areas — all coming together collectively and separately in cities across the nation. The breadth of the decline suggests that we [investigate] equally broad causes,” says Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri. That could include the absence of significant drug market expansion, and decline of criminal opportunities during the recession. The more likely people are to stay at home, the more likely this will deter residential burglaries, Rosenfeld observes. He adds that “drops in personal income weaken the incentives for street criminals to supply underground markets.”
 In spite of all the head scratching by academic criminologists, I am encouraged that police practice has been changing from the old reactive approach to a more intelligence led, proactive approach. Now isn't the time to relax. It only takes a little inattention to a small crime problem to let it fester into a big one.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Fighting Bank Robbery Via The Web

Here's what's making the web in central Texas crime stories:
Fighting Bank Robbery Via The Web
Based on stories in the news, it seems like bank robberies are on the rise in central Texas. In an interesting use of technology the website BanditTracker.com is doing it's part to help catch the bad guys. The site gives law enforcement an easy way to get surveillance photos of bank robbery suspects out to the public.

With the advent of better surveillance technology, it's become far easier for law enforcement to get photos in a timely manner. The problem then is how to get these photos out to the public. Typically law enforcement will issue a press release to the local media with the photos. However, media editorial decisions will affect if the photos actually end up printed in the paper or shown on the 6 o'clock news.

Law enforcement can also post the photos on their web sites if they have one. A problem with this is that the majority of law enforcement agencies don't have a very sophisticated web presence. They also usually don't have the web traffic to ensure that the photos are getting out to the largest audience possible. Another problem is that bank robbers have been known to travel some distance to commit their crimes. If you put information out locally, it may not be seen in another part of the state where the suspect may reside or frequent.

BanditTracker.com has some pretty neat features. You can sign up to receive email alerts with information about a robbery that has recently occurred. You can also use the Google Maps mashup to see a virtual pin map of robbery locations or download a KML file for use within Google Earth. Both maps allow you to click a pin and see more information about the bank robbery. You can also or subscribe to an RSS feed or to their Twitter feed.

Hopefully, we'll see more innovative solutions like this to help solve crimes.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I Bet We See More Of This

This morning's central Texas crime stories included these stories of note:
 I Bet We See More Of This
There was a news story posted last week in MySA News about a program by San Antonio Police to move away from one man patrol cars and pair officers up into two man cars. The move by San Antonio Police Chief William McManus is hoped to save over $1 million from the SAPD budget by lowering the number of cars in operation.
Before the program, officers in those three substations arrived separately to calls requiring backup. Now, Benavides said, dispatchers send a two-man unit to calls like shootings, robberies in progress and family-violence incidents.

“This should increase officer safety and cut down on response times,” he said. “During this first phase, the program will be continuously evaluated to ensure that we have optimal results.”

Neither Benavides nor Mike Helle, president of the San Antonio Police Officers Association, had heard officers complain about the new program.
While traditional law enforcement practice in large cities on both coasts, NYPD and LAPD in particular, are famous for riding two man cars, law enforcement in the midwest has almost always had patrol officers working in one man cars.It will be interesting to see how this program works out for SAPD. There are inherent advantages and disadvantages in both approaches.

Two Man Cars
The main advantage usually cited is officer safety. Since many "hot" calls require a two officer response anyway you might as well send them together. Other advantages are lower fleet operating costs, less time spent on a call if there are two officers there to investigate, process the scene, etc.

The disadvantages usually involve the lower number of marked units on patrol leads to decreased public visibility of patrol activities and more "interpersonal issues" between partners.

One Man Cars
A big advantage for one man cars is the fact that many police activities don't require two officers. If you have two report calls, two independently operating officers can take care of those calls at the same time.

The biggest disadvantage for me is the officer safety issue. How many officers have been killed while responding alone to routine "one man calls"? Another lesser disadvantage is the higher fleet costs but in today's economic climate I'm sure that fleet operating costs are likely to rate higher on a Chief's list of priorities than in years past.

Entrenched Cop Culture
It is likely that the biggest issue is going to be changing the established cop culture in the departments where these changes are taking place. When I lived in Los Angeles, the LAPD was considering going from two man cars to one man cars as a way to increase police patrol visibility. A quote I remember from one of their officers was that the change was "an optical illusion to make the public think there was more cops than actually existed".

From looking at some of the comments posted on the MySA news story, it would seem like there is a certain cultural backlash from the officers affected by this change. Cops often deal with a very chaotic society that they have very little control over. Because of this they tend to want as little change as possible in their working environment. A minor change is usually received with howls of protest by the rank and file.

Innovation in law enforcement has been a key factor in lowering crime rates across the nation. While Chiefs need to be willing to try new approaches they need to remember that their innovations will be a success or failure in large part due to the job they have done of selling this change to the rank and file.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Chief Who Sort Of Cried Wolf

There was at least one noteworthy central Texas crime story this weekend.
The Chief Who Sort Of Cried Wolf
There are a lot of news stories and blog posts about crime stats right now. Departments generally have an idea of how their previous year's UCR numbers are looking by mid-January. Dallas PD finds themselves in the unusual position of being able to release crime stats showing a decrease in crime, but having few people believe them.

Part of the problem is that Dallas PD got caught playing fast and loose with UCR guidelines in a way that dropped their crime stats. A piece over at the Dallas Morning News Crime Blog quotes their Chief as saying the FBI's UCR rules are optional.
"You look up guidelines on the Internet, and the definition I generally find by guidelines are a general suggested way of doing things that do not have sanctions or consequences if you don't follow them," he said. "As opposed to rules and regulations, which are much more specific, with penalties or sanctions."

"For a couple of reasons," the chief said, "I wouldn't follow those guidelines like they were in the Bible."
But this isn't true. The Crime Blog went to the FBI to see what they said and got this response:
"In order to participate in the Uniform Crime Reporting Program, agencies must follow reporting guidelines," FBI spokesman Billy Estok said in an e-mail.
And the bigger problem is that now the credibility of Dallas PD's crime stats are seriously in question. Even if they did have great numbers to report, no one will no believe them. The sad part, is that Dallas likely did have some good things to report. The Crime Report put a post out this morning that's part one of a two part series on the drop in crime nationwide. In it they say:
“It really is quite a phenomenon,” says Carnegie Mellon University criminology professor Alfred Blumstein, one of America’s leading experts on crime trends. “There are seven larger cities [where homicides] have dropped by more than 20 percent, and seven cities where robberies [a reliable bellwether of violent crime] are down more than 15 percent.”
Law enforcement has made great strides in the past years. On conclusion seen in a number of articles about the reason for the nation's crime drop is also echoed in the post from The Crime Report. 
“When you talk about the factors reducing crime it’s a whole range of things,” prominent Los Angeles civil rights lawyer Connie Rice told me. “But the police have the most direct relationship with crime rates and hence the greatest power to influence them, if the police departments have their core competencies organized and focused on crime.”
...
“When a department is focused on reducing crime,” she continued, “they have to understand the reality of crime in their city — mapping, hot spots, deployment plans and focusing on the top 10 percent most violent. Then they have to dedicate their resources to fighting crime by staffing-up the patrol force. They also have to truly engage with their communities, not just in meetings and not just in listening to them, but in the ways that truly matter to the community. ‘Change the outlook on the community from a target to a partner’ – that was Bratton’s mindset.”
Is your Department working on improving their core competencies? Are you partnering with your community? Are your stats and procedures transparent to the citizens you serve? Are you accepting accountability or hiding from it?