Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Making Schools A Safer Place

This is what we've got in central Texas crime stories this morning.

Making Schools A Safer Place
The Killeen Daily Herald has a story about a Harker Heights Police responding to an incident where a student stole a handgun from his parents and was feared to be heading to school with the weapon.
The Harker Heights police learned that the boy returned home from school, stole a gun and then disappeared when they received a call around 8 a.m., a department news release stated Tuesday.

They notified police with the Killeen Independent School District, who placed extra officers at entrances in case the boy returned to school.

"We were just afraid he was going back to the school," Harker Heights Lt. Loretta Fox said Tuesday. "Nobody knew where he was; that was the problem."
Incidents like this are pretty dramatic. Fortunately, they are on the decline according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Their publication Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2009 contains this bit:
Between 1993 and 2007, the percentage of students who reported carrying a weapon on school property declined from 12 to 6 percent; generally, however, the decline was gradual as no differences were detected survey year to survey year.
Schools have done a good job in improving their security practices over the years. Changes to physical security such as restricting access to campuses as well as increasing student awareness and reporting of potentially violent incidents have likely improved the security climate for schools.

Law enforcement agencies and schools need to develop good working relationships to prevent these rare events from turning tragic. Years ago it wasn't uncommon for a school not to report potentially dangerous situations or even criminal incidents to local law enforcement. Now, most districts will report these types of incidents to law enforcement rather that just trying to handle it themselves. This type of partnership is a good thing, both for the community and for the students.

What actions has your agency taken to partner with your local school district? Has the local school district been receptive to them?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

There's Nothing New Under The Sun

There was quite a lot of central Texas crime stories making the web this morning.

There's Nothing New Under The Sun
The recent arrests of a Michigan militia group may be a bellwether of a resurgence of armed militia groups that we last saw during the 1990's. According to a federal indictment, the Michigan arrests of a group calling themselves "the Hutaree" allege that the group was plotting to ambush local law enforcement officers and then conduct further armed attacks on responding officers. Time magazine looks at the group and examines the growing phenomena of these types of groups.
On Monday, federal authorities charged nine alleged Hutaree members with seditious conspiracy and attempted use of weapons of mass destruction. The government believes the group — which apparently espouses an extreme form of fundamentalist Christianity — may have been plotting to kill law-enforcement officers to help spark a broader armed conflict. According to court documents, the Hutaree deemed police "foot soldiers" of the federal government — which in turn was part of the new world order, a perpetual bogeyman of militia groups.

Earlier this year the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that tracks hate groups in the US published an article in their magazine Intelligence Report where they state:
The anger seething across the American political landscape — over racial changes in the population, soaring public debt and the terrible economy, the bailouts of bankers and other elites, and an array of initiatives by the relatively liberal Obama Administration that are seen as "socialist" or even "fascist" — goes beyond the radical right. ... 
“We are in the midst of one of the most significant right-wing populist rebellions in United States history,” Chip Berlet, a veteran analyst of the American radical right, wrote earlier this year. "We see around us a series of overlapping social and political movements populated by people [who are] angry, resentful, and full of anxiety. They are raging against the machinery of the federal bureaucracy and liberal government programs and policies including health care, reform of immigration and labor laws, abortion, and gay marriage."
Back during the 1990's much of the vitriol against law enforcement was directed towards federal law enforcement such as BATF or the FBI. The  recent arrests of the Hutaree may indicate a shift in the dynamics of such groups where local law officers are also considered part of the enemy "New World Order". In any case, it appears that the perceived societal upheaval may be making the US a more dangerous place for law officers, regardless of their agency.

Lest you think any of this is really that new, here's a link to an article on the 1927 Bath School disaster where a disgruntled tax protester killed 45 people by blowing up several buildings including a public school filled with school children.The Solomonic admonition that "there is nothing new under the sun" really is true.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Crime Analysis Shouldn't Just Be For Crime

It was kind of a quiet weekend where central Texas crime stories are concerned.

Crime Analysis Shouldn't Just Be For Crime
While it's not central Texas related, there's a story over at the Houston Chronicle where they analyzed fatality accidents in the Houston area. From the story:
Our most common driver mistakes involve speeding, distracted driving, changing lanes and driving drunk or high — especially while navigating massive highway intersections like U.S. 59 and the 610 Loop or Interstate 45 just south of downtown, where more than a quarter of a million people travel daily.

The worst hours for fatal crashes? Roughly between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m.

Throughout the nine-county area, there were 132 deadly accidents involving hit-and-run drivers.

Most fatal crashes happen within Harris County limits, which is much of the area inside Beltway 8. They lessen somewhat in the suburbs.

The greatest concentrations for fatal accidents cluster around major Houston highway interchanges, where speeds and directions suddenly change and drivers must make split-second decisions.
I thought this was a bang up job on the analysis. This also got me to thinking about how many crime analysis units conduct similar analysis for their fatality accidents. While highway engineers look at such information in designing highways, does your agency conduct similar analysis for targeting traffic enforcement operations? If not, why not?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Step 30 - Consider Repeat Offending

Last time we looked at repeat victimization, in this post on our journey through Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers we're going to look at Step 30 - Consider Repeat Offending. Back in Step 18 we covered the 80 - 20 rule, the old adage that 80% of crimes are committed by 20% of offenders. Now, we know that the numbers aren't often literally 80 - 20, but it is true that a minority of offenders commit a majority of the number of offenses.

The authors discuss a couple of explanations as to why this is true from the point of view of the offender. While this is well and good I'm not sure that most police departments can do anything to prevent weak social attachments in impulsive individuals. However, in order to craft appropriate prevention strategies, we should consider repeat offender's objectives and motivations.

The authors state that there are three ways that successful offending can lead to more offending. They are:

  • Offenders, like others, learn from doing. A successful crime teaches important lessons. This can lead to the offender attacking the same target again (see box). But offenders, like everyone else, can generalize. So they learn that they may be successful if they attack similar targets (see Step 29).
  • Offenders learn from each other. Information can spread through individuals working in small groups, group breakup and new group formation. This underscores the need to understand offender networks. Police can use networks to spread information that enhances offenders' perceptions of risks or of the undesirability of the target or place. Part of the effort to reduce juvenile homicides in Boston, Massachusetts for example, involved highly targeted messages to gang members.
  • Successful offending can erode prevention, thus making subsequent offending easier. A small break in a fence, for example, will become larger with use. If the influx of offenders and offensive behaviors is faster than the responses of guardians and place managers, then a small problem will become worse.

If you have been in law enforcement for any time, I am sure that you can think of examples for each of these three. The important thing to take from this is that if you concentrate your efforts on targeting these prolific offenders, you'll get the most bang for the buck when it comes to impacting your crime problem. Your analysis should take into account the Crime Triangle to determine the best strategy to use. The authors do have an interesting caution though. They state:
Conversely, creating crime opportunities to catch offenders can make things worse. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a number of U.S. police departments experimented with "sting" operations in which they created fake markets for stolen goods, documented who sold such goods to them, and then arrested many thieves. A number of these operations were evaluated. There is no evidence that these operations reduced crime. There is some evidence that they may have increased crime by providing lucrative and convenient ways to sell stolen goods. Throughout this manual we have noted the strong influence facilitating environments can have on promoting criminal behavior. So one should be very cautious about creating artificial crime opportunities to round up unknown prolific offenders.
Now that's an interesting assertion. How many times at your agency has the response to a specific crime problem been met with a suggestion to set up a "sting operation"? While some sting operations may not have the dynamic the authors mentioned above, we should conduct our analysis and develop strategies that actually target our prolific offenders and not just create an environment that an opportunist may take advantage of.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Think This Kid's Gonna Get Grounded?

Here's what we've got this Friday morning in central Texas crime stories.

Think This Kid's Gonna Get Grounded?
In celebration of it being Friday, I'll take a break from the serious law enforcement topics to discuss this story I found over at CNN. Several teens in East Bridgewater, Massachusetts are under arrest for a house party that resulted in $45,000 worth of damage to the home.
He said a couple left for Paris, France, in late February, and left their 18-year-old son with neighbors and a key to the house to keep an eye on it.

The son, who was unnamed, arrived at his house with some friends around 5 p.m. on February 20 and discovered a teenager, whom Jenkins identified only as a juvenile, playing basketball there.

The juvenile encouraged the son to have a party, Jenkins said, prompting the son to invite an unknown number of people over. Four cars full of people also arrived after they were invited by the juvenile, the detective said. But the party's size burgeoned to 50 to 100 people after the juvenile logged onto Facebook and advertised the party, the detective said.

Some of the teenagers "trashed" the house, kicking down bathroom doors, ruining antique furniture and urinating on mattresses, Jenkins said. The family's truck, which was in the driveway, was ruined, Jenkins said. A laptop was also stolen, he said.
Does anyone want to take any bets as to how long the homeowner is going to ground his son for having this house party? Maybe the threshold for determining the line between corporal punishment and abuse should have a "house party damage" clause.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Cops Don't Get Paid Enough For This

There were quite a number of central Texas crime stories of note.

Cops Don't Get Paid Enough For This
Something else for the "Cops Don't Get Paid Enough" file. The El Paso Times is reporting that El Paso area law officers are being warned that they may be targeted by prison gang members.
"The Barrio Azteca gang may issue a 'green light' authorizing the attempted murder of LEOs (law enforcement officers) in the El Paso area," stated a copy of the alert obtained by the El Paso Times.
This comes on the heels of a number of incidents in Hemet, California where police officers assigned to gang investigations have been targeted by "booby traps". Most recently, four city vehicles were set alight while parked in city parking lots.
"We are assuming, because of the timing, that this is related to the other three attacks on our gang task force," said Lt. Duane Wisehart, standing near the crime scene off busy Florida Avenue, two blocks from the police station. "We are looking mostly at gangs as suspects because our task force is being targeted."
Prior to the vehicle arsons, someone had re-routed the gas lines in the gang task force offices to fill the offices with flammable gas,  a homemade zip gun booby trap was attached to a gate and sent a bullet whizzing past an officer's head when he opened the gate and a destructive device was attached to an officer's unmarked car.

Now it's not unusual for law enforcement officers to be threatened because of their job. Back when I was a police officer I had an incidents or two where an dissatisfied customer threatened to "do a drive by" on my home or send his or her friends over to assault me. But just because it's not unusual doesn't mean that we should take such incidents lightly. It also seems that such threats are occurring more frequently and are taking on a more sinister tone.

Are your officers documenting these threats when they occur even when they seem unlikely? Does you agency have a policy or practice to file the appropriate criminal charges when these incidents occur? Has your agency met with your prosecutors to make sure that such cases are vigorously prosecuted and don't fall into a "prosecutorial discretion" blackhole?

To quote the immortal words of Sgt. Phil Esterhaus "Let's be careful out there."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

And The Kitchen Sink Too

There were quite a few central Texas crime stories on the web this morning.

And The Kitchen Sink Too
This story over at isn't in itself crime related but it does lead to a hot crime topic, that of precious metals thefts. The story states that since the price of scrap metals is rising, that folks might have valuable junk in their garages.
"The prices are finally going up and that's worldwide, so that helps us out,” said Stanley Secrest, owner of Centex Scrap and Metal in Killeen.
Of course, the downside to this, is the increased prices for scrap metals over the years has led to an increase in metals thefts. Here in my sleepy little burg, we've seen thieves rip out copper wiring in homes under construction, cutting out catalytic converters from parked vehicles and had air conditioning units stolen from the side of buildings. All these items are stolen for the valuable metals inside. 

According to that paragon of research resources, Wikipedia says in their entry on metal theft:
Scrap metal has drastically increased in price over recent years. In 2001, it sold for $77 a ton, increasing to $300/ton by 2004. In 2008, it hit nearly $500/ton.
That's a 549.35% increase in the price of scrap metal. That is enough to create a lucrative market for these metals.

This has become such a problem that many larger police departments have created specialty metal theft investigative units. Texas changed their secondhand dealer laws to require entities that purchase scrap metals to keep detailed records of purchases of scrap and report some of this information to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). Texas DPS has a nifty online application where you can query the amounts being sold in a particular area and even transaction summaries for persons selling metals.

It's been my experience with scrap metal thefts in this area that these thieves tend to be pretty mobile and commit crimes in multiple jurisdictions in a crime series. It's important for agencies to develop working relationships with other agencies in their area and share information on these thefts if they are going to effectively combat these offenders. The old 80/20 rule is also likely applicable with a majority of the crimes being committed by a minority of offenders.

What is your agency doing to develop working relationships with other agencies in your area? What has your agency found effective in combating metal thefts?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Are Youth Curfews Effective?

Here's our central Texas crime story roundup.

Are Youth Curfews Effective?
There's a brief story over at the Killeen Daily Herald this morning regarding the Harker Heights city council having a public hearing about their youth curfew ordinance. The story summarizes the ordinance.
Children younger than 17 violate the curfew if they "intentionally or knowingly walk, run, stand, drive, or ride about in or upon any public place" from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 12:01 a.m. to 6 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays, the ordinance states.

There are a number of exceptions to the rule, such as being accompanied by a parent, responding to an emergency, engaging in lawful employment activities and more, the ordinance states.
In the city where I work we also have a youth curfew ordinance and go through the same public hearing song and dance every so often. On the surface, youth curfews seem like an overly intrusive "nanny state" solution to poor parenting. After all, I am sure that most of our parents impressed upon us the old adage that "nothing good happens after midnight".

These curfews have been around for a while. Most of them were implemented in the 1990's. Since then, a number of studies have shown them to be reasonably effective in reducing youth crime. A paper published by Patrick Kline at the University of Michigan states in the abstract:
The evidence suggests that curfews are effective at reducing both violent and property crimes committed by juveniles below the statutory curfew age. Curfews do not appear to be effective at influencing the criminal behavior of youth just above the curfew age, suggesting that the choice of statutory curfew age is important in crafting policy.
Similar conclusions have been made by the US Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice policy.  However, in spite of their efficacy, these ordinances are only as good as our efforts to enforce them.

Anecdotally, these ordinances likely keep the good kids from getting into trouble as they are the ones who's behavior is likely to be modified by it. The other kids aren't as likely to be influenced by an ordinance. It's for the other kids that the ordinance becomes a tool to generate probable cause to stop conduct a field interview.

Does your city have a youth curfew ordinance? Is it an effective tool for fighting youth crime and youth victimization by your agency?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Are Absconded Fugitives Really "Out of Sight, Out of Mind"?

We had a few notable central Texas crime stories this weekend.

Are Absconded Fugitives Really "Out of Sight, Out of Mind"?
There is also this piece over at The Crime Report that takes a look at proposed federal legislation to improve the abilities for law enforcement to capture fugitives who have fled to other states. The story has a number of examples of a fugitive who is not arrested and then goes on to commit another crime.
Critics complain that some states have taken an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude toward fugitives, refusing to pick them up when they’re too far away. The states counter that their strapped budgets are to blame. Specter suggests, however, that money could be saved when states team up with the U.S. Marshals Service to transport captured suspects across state lines.

The rest of the proposed five-year program would help jurisdictions log warrants into a national database, the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), which is administered by the FBI. Inexplicably, about half of the nation’s 2.7 million outstanding warrants are missing from the database. The money would be used to upgrade computer systems and hire more people to enter the warrants. Jurisdictions will be required to make regular public reports when suspects are released before trials, and report on how many fail to appear at their court dates.
While it's entirely anecdotal, it sure does seem that we are seeing a lot more NCIC/TCIC warrant hits that have notations about not extraditing if they are located outside a certain distance limitation.

Most police departments have warrants that they cannot serve because the person named in the warrant has fled. Locating and arresting this absconded fugitives can be an expensive and time consuming process. The US Marshall's service can be a valuable resource if the warrant is for a serious felony offense. But even their resources are limited. While this bill may not fix the problem, maybe it will start a dialog that will lead to a better solution.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Step 29 - Be Ready For Repeat Victimization

In this post in our continuing walk through the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers we're going to look at Step 29 - Be Ready For Repeat Victimization. Have you ever heard the old saw "Lightning never strikes in the same place twice"? Well, at least where crime is concerned this is not true. Any cop can probably chime in with a certain business or a particular house that they always seem to be responding to over and over again.

The authors list two different kind of repeat victimizations:

  1. Boost accounts explain repetitions in terms of positive experiences at the initial offense. A burglar, for example, learns a great deal about a home during a break-in. This knowledge may encourage him to come back for another break-in. A burglar may also tell others about goods he left behind, leading to subsequent break-ins by other burglars.
  2. Flag accounts explain repetitions in terms of the unusual attractiveness or vulnerability of particular targets that result in their victimization by a variety of offenders. Some occupations have much higher victimization rates than others (taxi drivers, for example) and people who spend time in risky facilities (such as convenience store clerks) are also more prone to repeated victimization. Finally, the ownership of hot products, such as cars attractive to joyriders (Step 31), will also increase the probability of repeat victimization.

Related to repeat victims is the phenomenon of "near" repeat victims. This refers to victims that have similar geographic or other characteristics as the original victim. For instance, a neighboring apartment may be burglarized after the initial burglary. 

When repeat victimization occurs, we can use this to focus our efforts on these high risk victims. Way back when we looked at Step 8 - Use The Problem Analysis Triangle, we learned that some repeat victimizations lend themselves to effective strategies to reduce victimization. 

Next time, we'll look at a related chapter Step 30 - Consider Repeat Offending

Friday, March 19, 2010

More On The Under-Reporting Of Rape

Here's the roundup of central Texas crime stories.

More On The Under-Reporting Of Rape
On the heels of Wednesday's post where I examined the implications of the under-reporting of rape, we have this related story from It seems that a juvenile court judge has ordered at least four teenage sexual assault victims to undergo polygraph testing. The really weird part is this was ordered after she had already adjudicated the juvenile offenders the equivalent of guilty.
"The situation made no sense to us," the mother of a 16-year-old victim said in a message relayed through Cleveland Rape Crisis Center Director of Advocacy Ashley Hawke.

"I believe even more damage was done by the judge letting the perpetrator know she was ordering the victim to take the polygraph. He apparently took this to mean the judge did not believe her and he used this to tell their peers that the judge did not believe her and was ordering her take a lie detector test," the mother wrote.

"It felt like the blame was back on her and she was being victimized, by not only him [again], but by the system as well."
About all I can say to this is "what the #&$%?" This goes so against the grain of current practice regarding the treatment of sexual assault victims by the justice system. Apparently the prosecutors and rape crisis folks in the area had similar thoughts about the judge's order. From the story:
"It is clear that the court is attempting to re-investigate the case after the child was found delinquent," Ellis wrote. "The legislature enacted the rape shield statute to protect victims from undue harassment, a tendency in sexual assault cases to try the victims rather than the defendant."

Megan O'Bryan, president and CEO of the Rape Crisis Center, said the center -- which is assisting three of the victims -- does not condone the polygraph tests for sexual assault survivors.

"It violates federal law mandated through the 2005 Violence Against Women Act," O'Bryan said in an e-mail this week. "The practice puts us at risk for losing critical VAWA funding and philosophically is not victim-centered, especially for those reporting rape.

"The practice could be intimidating for rape survivors who already have difficulty in coming forward, and sends a message that their story is not believed," she said.
It has taken years for criminal justice practice to evolve to the point that victims are treated as victims and not just a piece of evidence. This kind of non-sense is an attempt at stepping backwards in that evolution. The fortunate thing is that this kind of thing makes such a splash because it's so unusual.

However, I wouldn't be surprised if the hue and cry over this episode leads to changes in the juvenile justice policy in Cuyahoga County.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Grokking Your System

My new post over at The Crime Map is up this morning.
Grok: To understand. Connotes intimate and exhaustive knowledge. When you claim to ‘grok’ some knowledge or technique, you are asserting that you have not merely learned it in a detached instrumental way but that it has become part of you, part of your identity.
The Jargon File, version 4.1.0, retrieved 3/14/2010

I was having a phone conversation the other day with a crime analyst from another agency. During our conversation, we were discussing the topic of hiring crime analysts and qualifications for analysts. During this conversation I told him that I have become convinced that what makes a crime analyst most valuable to their agency is their knowledge of their agency’s system. To put it another way, a crime analyst must “grok their system.”

Read the whole post over at The Crime Map.

Reflecting Your Community

There were a number of interesting central Texas crime stories this morning.

Reflecting Your Community
The Houston Chronicle has a story regarding efforts to improve the diversity within the Houston Police Department. Law enforcement across Texas has made great strides towards more ethnic diversity. The lack of ethnic diversity has been a sore point between law enforcement and their communities for years.
Professor Larry Hoover, director of the Police Research Center at Sam Houston State University, noted that few police departments in the country have been able to exactly match their staffing with the ethnic profiles of the cities they serve. But it is worth the effort to try, he said.

“First of all, a police force that's culturally diverse is better able to understand and communicate with a culturally diverse community,“ Hoover said. “Secondly, diversity in the police department is essential to maintain the trust of minority communities.”
The state mandate to collect racial profiling information has made this issue more visible to the community. When these issues are made more visible, then community pressure comes to bear and moves law enforcement to better serve them. This is a good thing. After all, we are public servants who exist to serve the communities where we work.

I don't doubt that law enforcement agencies will make significant progress in this area. There are some that believe that this year's census count will show that Texas has become a majority minority state, in other words, that minorities will make up the majority of the population in Texas. As the population moves towards more diversity, the applicant pool will eventually follow that move.

As a crime analyst, do you include employee demographics in your analysis of racial profiling? Do you make this analysis available to your community?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Under-reporting Of Rape

Here's what we got for central Texas crime stories:
The Under-reporting Of Rape
There were a couple of recent stories in the national press regarding sexual assaults. This one from CNN reports an uptick in sexual assaults reported in the military.
Some 3,230 reports of sexual assaults across all of the services were made during fiscal year 2009, which ended on September 30, 2009. That was up from the fiscal year 2008 number of 2,923 sexual assaults reported.

"Research in the civilian community shows that sexual assault is widely underreported, and we believe that is the same in the military," said Kaye Whitley, director of the Defense Department's sexual abuse prevention and response office.

"As a result, increasing reporting has been one of our key goals for the department," she said.
Another story over at Time Magazine earlier this month specifically focused on the under-reporting aspect of sexual assaults in the military. That story offered some very sobering statistics.
The problem is even worse than that. The Pentagon estimates that 80% to 90% of sexual assaults go unreported, and it's no wonder. Anonymity is all but impossible; a Government Accountability Office report concluded that most victims stay silent because of "the belief that nothing would be done; fear of ostracism, harassment, or ridicule; and concern that peers would gossip." More than half feared they would be labeled troublemakers.
...only 8% of cases that are investigated end in prosecution, compared with 40% for civilians arrested for sex crimes. Astonishingly, about 80% of those convicted are honorably discharged nonetheless.
I don't bring these two stories up to take a poke at the military. For the most part, the military is a microcosm of American life. Some societal problems may be a little more prevalent in the military as the military population tends to be younger and that demographic tends to be more likely to engage in problematic behavior.

Under-reporting of sexual assaults is a significant problem in the civilian world as well. It is believed that 60% of sexual assaults are not reported. This is a huge problem. Every time a victim decides not to report this, an rapist evades justice and perhaps emboldened by this they go on to victimize another person.

Of lesser, but nonetheless also important, the under-reporting of sexual assaults cause us to base our analysis of sexual assaults on a deficient data set. For analytical techniques such as predictive analysis, the larger and more complete your data set is, the more accurate you analysis will be. This level of under reporting likely has a significant impact on the accuracy of our analysis.

Have you identified any barriers to reporting sexual assaults at your agency? In what ways is your agency working to reduce under-reporting in your community?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Because It's Important Dang It

There was one notable central Texas crime story this morning.

Because It's Important Dang It
The Census Bureau is gearing up for the decennial counting of the nation. In fact, most census forms should be appearing in folks' mailboxes over the next few days. The Killeen Daily Herald has a story about Bell County officials hopes for the census.
"It gives local government the opportunity to meet the needs of the public … and plan for the needs of the future if you have accurate numbers," said Richard Cortese, Bell County Precinct 1 commissioner. "Whether it's for court systems, legal representation, or fair distribution of federal funding."

The 2000 Census put Bell County's population at 237,974 and officials expect the headcount to increase to more than 285,000 this spring. Cortese said Monday that an increased population count could bring more money to law enforcement, public education and public transportation.

With the 2010 Census, Bell County officials also expect to see a switch to a majority minority population. These changes will be reflected in the county's redistricting, the process by which boundaries are redrawn to maintain equal representation in government.
The average citizen likely doesn't realize how important the census is to local governance.  In addition to the reasons above, there are more specific reasons the census benefits law enforcement.
  • Accurate census numbers are important to calculate accurate crime rates. Crime rates are used by agencies to determine who effective their policing programs are. The more accurate your measurements are, the better it is to gauge your effectiveness.
  • Accurate census numbers help determine how some grants to law enforcement are distributed. If your population numbers are under counted, your agency will be eligible to receive less grant funding then they would otherwise be eligible for.
  • In addition to just counting population, the census also divides areas up geographically into census tracts. These tracts can be a useful tool when mapping crime, but their usefulness is dependent on how accurate the counts are in each tract. 
  • A number of laws regarding governmental operation are dependent upon the population of the city. For example, Texas law regarding the discharging of firearms in the city is different if the city is over 100,000 in population. Another example is the size of a city's extra territorial jurisdiction. 
  • Agencies use population numbers to help determine how many police officers are needed to serve the community. If your city is under counted, your agency may not put enough cops on the street.
When you get your census form in the mail, take a few minutes and fill it out. There is a lot riding on it. I'll get off my soapbox now.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Does "Chartjunk" Fill Your Presentations?

There was at least one interesting crime story in central Texas this weekend.

Does "Chartjunk" Fill Your Presentations?
A story from last week brings up an interesting topic. A number of news outlets last week reported on Yale Professor Edward Tufte's appointment to a government panel that will oversee economic stimulus spending. Now normally a story about the economic stimulus wouldn't make it to The Crime Analyst's Blog. However, I am a big fan of Tufte. Tufte came to my attention back in 2003 when he wrote in Wired Magazine and said that "PowerPoint is evil".
In a business setting, a PowerPoint slide typically shows 40 words, which is about eight seconds' worth of silent reading material. With so little information per slide, many, many slides are needed. Audiences consequently endure a relentless sequentiality, one damn slide after another. When information is stacked in time, it is difficult to understand context and evaluate relationships. Visual reasoning usually works more effectively when relevant information is shown side by side. Often, the more intense the detail, the greater the clarity and understanding. This is especially so for statistical data, where the fundamental analytical act is to make comparisons.
I was also fortunate to attend one of his seminars in Austin where he spoke about how to present complex information effectively. In addition to a wonderful lecture from someone who knows his stuff, you also get four of his beautiful books with your registration. I highly recommend both the seminar and the books.

We are seeing PowerPoint more and more in law enforcement. From CompStat meetings, to pre-operational tactical briefings this tool has made inroads in policing. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing if used sparingly and effectively, as Tufte points out, PowerPoint tends to dumb down your presentation.

In fact, Tufte offers a harsh critique of NASA's use of PowerPoint which he believes led to poor decision making by NASA during the space shuttle Challenger disaster.
Tufte observed that a key slide title offered a reassuring assessment of the condition of the ship, while subsequent bullet points undermined the lead message. ...
The slide title had been "eviscerated" by the lower-level bullets, yet the overall message of the presentation was one of reassurance. Two weeks after lift-off, the Columbia incinerated during re-entry. But presentations such as this, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board later concluded, allowed NASA management to create documents that highlighted what they already believed, while leaving conflicting evidence at the bottom of a pile of bullet points.

As a crime analyst I would bet that you use PowerPoint quite often. But it's incumbent upon us to make sure that the medium doesn't dictate the message. If our presentation tool or technique does not allow us to accurately communicate the message, then we should scrap the tool and find a better one.

Does the medium dictate the message in your presentations? What are you doing to ensure that your presentations are effective?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Does This Blog Theme Make Me Look Fat?

Well, since I am not going to be headed to SXSWi this year, and won't get to hang out with all the cool kids, I decided to make some changes to The Crime Analyst's Blog theme. I had been thinking that the old theme was getting a bit long in the tooth. On Thursday, Google announced a new theme designer for Blogger, the blog platform I use for this blog.

Probably my only complaint about using Blogger as a blog platform is that the stock themes were getting a bit dated. I use Wordpress on my other blog and their stock themes were a whole lot more web 2.0 looking. With the new theme designer, Blogger has gotten a whole lot more competitive.

The best reason to use Blogger is it's tight integration with all of Google's other products. Of course, some folks are hesitant to give Google all their data, but for me I'm not too worried about that.

If you have any comments or criticisms about the new look, fire away.

What Are The Odds?

Here's this morning's central Texas crime story roundup.
What Are The Odds?
This story isn't exactly crime related but I think there is a good point to be gleaned from it. Robert Wright over at the New York Times has this piece where he talks about the chances of dying because of a stuck Toyota accelerator. He also compares this to the chances of dying in an ordinary traffic accident.
My back-of-the-envelope calculations (explained in a footnote below) suggest that if you drive one of the Toyotas recalled for acceleration problems and don’t bother to comply with the recall, your chances of being involved in a fatal accident over the next two years because of the unfixed problem are a bit worse than one in a million — 2.8 in a million, to be more exact. Meanwhile, your chances of being killed in a car accident during the next two years just by virtue of being an American are one in 5,244.
The reason I bring this up is to examine how our perceptions of crime may not be based on the actual risk. Here in my local jurisdiction, we have been working with city leaders on a plan to "revitalize" our downtown area. Like many American cities, our downtown is no longer the hub for business that it was in the 1950's.

One thing that often comes up is the public's perception that the downtown area has a higher risk for crime than other parts of town. When I pull the actual stats for this area of town, the numbers are minuscule. In fact, if I were to run the numbers for other areas of town where the major shopping centers are located, downtown's crime numbers would pale in comparison. Yet, people don't have such a perception about these areas.

The hard part though is to educate people of their actual risk. People's perceptions often have a stronger influence on them then reality does. We in law enforcement fall prey to this as well. Anecdotal evidence will often drive our practices. For example, a number of years ago when I was a plain clothes narcotics detective, my unit was detailed to work the area around a shopping center to combat robberies that were occurring in the parking lot. 

Before the operation got started I pulled all the robbery cases for the year and as I examined the cases, I discovered that 96% of the robberies were occurring elsewhere. Only 4% of robberies were occurring near this shopping center. However, the person making the decision had been involved in the past investigation of a purse snatch at the shopping center and had "heard" there was a problem at this particular shopping center. Rather than let the data drive the decision making, he let the anecdote make the decision. How many robbers do you think were caught near the shopping center during this detail?

The lesson in all this is that crime analysts we should be ready to challenge these perceptions and make sure that we are providing the best analysis possible. If the data confirms the perception, fine. But if the data and the perception are at odds, then it is our job to try and change those perceptions to fit reality.

What operations at your agency are driven by anecdote? What are you doing to challenge or confirm perceptions at your agency?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Some Things Should Not Be Open Records

I was out of pocket yesterday so you'll get a double helping of central Texas crime stories this morning.
Some Things Should Not Be Open Records
A controversy has been brewing lately over a pornographic magazine's open records request for grisly crime scene photos of a nude and decapitated murder victim. Atlanta's WSB Radio has a story regarding the court fight over this.
Judge Dan Coursey barred the Georgia Bureau of Investigation from releasing the photos to the adult magazine.

"This is certainly a matter that would cause irreparable harm" Coursey said of the release of the Emerson's nude and dismembered body to the public.

He issued a temporary restraining order on their release until he can hold another hearing on the matter. 
The magazine and its publisher, Larry Flint, want to publish the pictures of Emerson brutally murdered by vagabond hiker and alleged serial killer Gary Hilton in 2008. Her parents sued the magazine and the GBI to block publication of the images.
I am a firm believer in the use of Open Records Laws to promote good government. However, there should be some limits. The good thing to come out of this would be court tested limits on what is and what is not appropriate to release.

Here in Texas, certain information contained in police reports such as juvenile offenders and rape victims are not subject to Open Records laws. It is only appropriate that some information be held back. The Texas Attorney General's Office has a FAQ on their website with more info on the law in Texas.

Does your Department have a policy over what information is subject to Open Records requests? What is your Department willing to fight over to protect the interest of the victim and their families?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Who Gets Called When Relationships Go Bad

It's been a busy few days for central Texas crime stories. Here's what's worth reading this morning.
Who Gets Called When Relationships Go Bad
Killeen Police's Tactical Response Unit had their hands full yesterday when what probably started as a domestic dispute turned into a hostage situation. What made the response to the situation even more troublesome was a near monsoon like thunderstorm that unleashed a downpour during the standoff. The situation did not end well even though the woman was released unharmed, the man apparently shot himself during the standoff. The Killeen Daily Herald story included this bit:
A man armed with a handgun held a woman hostage inside, Smith said. The woman was released unharmed around 5 p.m. after an hour of negotiations.

The man barricaded himself inside for two more hours, negotiating with police. After hearing the shots, police rushed into the apartment.
This story and many others like it demonstrate the volatile nature of domestic disturbances. They can and sometimes do turn deadly both for the citizens involved, and for responding officers. In fact, the Officer Down Memorial Page profiled a Michigan officer who was killed responding to a domestic dispute this earlier this morning.

I did an interesting analysis recently looking at the top incident report classifications for 2009 from my agency. I was a bit surprised to find that Assault reports were number one for 2009. Most of these assaults were between parties that knew each other and it is probably safe to say that they were likely domestic related.

Some of this volume may be attributed to the fact that Texas law requires agencies to document allegations of domestic violence assault, but even including that, the drain on police resources in responding to domestic violence incidents is considerable. Our department even has a specialty unit of detectives that handle domestic violence cases.

The harder part is determining what your agency can do to reduce the number of domestic violence incidents. Mandatory arrest policies, protective orders and social service referrals are all part of the mix now, and while they are good, the numbers of domestic violence incidents are still way too high.

What is your agency doing to reduce the numbers of domestic violence incidents in your jurisdiction?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Step 28 - Identify Risky Facilities

In this post examining Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers we're up to Step 28 - Identify Risky Facilities. In law enforcement, there is an analogy known as the 80-20 rule. The rule states that 80% of crimes are likely committed by 20% of offenders. While the ratio is not really set in stone at 80% or 20%, the idea is that most of the crimes reported are committed by a small number of offenders. In fact, Step 18 in Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers covers this phenomenon is a section titled Learn If The 80-20 Rule Applies.

When applied to locations, it's not unusual that a majority of crimes occur and a minority of facilities. An number of examples of this was given by the authors. One of them was this:
A national survey found that 6.5 percent of convenience stores experience 65 percent of all robberies.
If we can identify these risky facilities we can then attempt to identify the factors that make these places such a nuisance and a drain on our resources. The authors list eight reasons why facilities are "risky". They are:

  1. Random variation
  2. Reporting practices
  3. Many targets
  4. Hot products
  5. Location
  6. Repeat victimization
  7. Crime attractors
  8. Poor management

The authors include definitions for those eight reasons. I encourage you to hit the link and read them. The definitions tie many of these reasons to other steps in Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers that we have either already covered, or will cover before we get to the end of this series. In fact we're going to look at one of the reason in my next post when we cover Step 29 - Be Ready For Repeat Victimization.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Transparency And Law Enforcement Part 2

This morning’s central Texas crime stories include these interesting ones.

Transparency And Law Enforcement Part 2

Yesterday I posted about transparency and law enforcement. In that post I listed the reasons that some law enforcement agencies are hesitant to be transparent with respect to their crime data. Due to the response I got from that post, I thought I would follow it up with some suggested ways that law enforcement agencies can be more transparent with their crime data.

Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) systems and computerized Records Management Systems (RMS) make it very easy to publicize large amounts of crime data to the public. However, before you start dumping these records out to the web, there are a few things you should do.

First off, agencies should develop a written policy that outlines what data is releasable under their state’s Open Records laws. While most records created by government agencies are subject to Open Records laws, there are exceptions. In Texas, information regarding sexual assault victims is not. Laws meant to combat identify theft have also necessitated that agencies redact social security numbers, etc. from public records.

Next, seek community input about how much data is appropriate. For example, at my agency we publish publically accessible web based crime maps of reported UCR Part 1 crimes. However, we do not release exact house numbers with these records. Additionally, we geocode this crime data to the block and not to the exact address.

We do include the date, time, type of offense and case number though. While the house numbers are releasable, we are trying to strike a balance between the victim’s privacy and the public’s right to now. If your house was broken into, would you really want your home address on the Internet?

Now, you need to determine what kind of records you want to make available to the public and in what form. The two most common are crime maps and case reports.

Probably, the most useful data for the public are web based maps showing what types of crimes are happening and where. This is the information that will most likely help you to form a partnership with the community.

While I might live down the street from someone whose car was broken into, what are the chances that I will know about this? There are a lot of houses in my neighborhood and I regularly only talk to the neighbors closest to me. I may not even know the guy down the street. If I am unaware that something like this happened, what are the chances that I will be vigilant where this type of crime is concerned?

Some departments publish their initial police reports online. While this could be useful, it is also very manpower intensive from the standpoint of having to have someone vet each report to ensure that no information is released that would compromise on-going investigations. The bigger problem is from the standpoint of the victim’s privacy. If you were a victim of family violence, would you really want all the gory details published on the web?

A compromise might be a listing of offenses reported to the police. For agencies that don’t have the resources to do online crime mapping, this would also serve the need to let the public know what is happening in their neighborhoods.

At my agency, we are fortunate that have an enterprise grade ESRI GIS with all the wonderful tools. This includes the ability to publish all sorts of GIS data to a web based mapping application. However, this requires a significant monetary investment and a dedicated staff of persons to pull it off.

For agencies with less resources  a service such as might be a good solution to getting your data mapped and on the web. In addition to a public facing crime maps of your agencies data, they also offer internal law enforcement tools and even an iPhone app.

As a matter of disclosure, I am a regular contributor to a publication called The Crime Map which is sponsored by However, I don’t receive compensation from them. In fact, I would not promote their service if I didn’t really like it. My reputation is too important to be seen as a corporate shill.

If you are a law enforcement professional, in what ways are you being transparent to the community you serve? If not, why not?

If you are a citizen, how are you going to let your local police department know you want them to be transparent with crime data so you can partner with them to improve your community?

Friday, March 5, 2010

How Transparent Should Law Enforcement Be?

Here's this morning's round up of central Texas crime stories.
How Transparent Should Law Enforcement Be?
There's a story over at the Dallas Morning News regarding online access to Dallas PD's offense reports. Dallas PD allows access via it's website of reported offense data that is subject to the Open Records Act. However, there's an allegation that the department asked the vendor to make it harder for users to find certain offense data via the site.
In early January, a new vendor went live with an updated version of the department's online police reports system. The system allows the user to search for details of a crime by the offense from a drop-down sorting menu, or by other criteria, such as date, location, victim name or police report service number.

But the software was tweaked to remove some serious crimes, such as rape and murder, from the easy-to-use drop-down menu.

"I'm still confused about what exactly happened and who made the decision," Police Chief David Kunkle said Thursday morning.

"My position has always been that as much as you can, we should have online access to any information that we know is going to fall under open records," he said. "I want people to have an interest in making neighborhoods safer."
Open records laws have really changed the way that government and law enforcement in particular do business. I have written in the past that many believe that recent drops in crime are due to law enforcement agencies being held more accountable for their performance. You can read some of these posts, here, here or here. An important component of this accountability is transparency.

But there is a certain resistance to this transparency. Not all the resistance is motivated by nefarious reasons. Don't get me wrong, I am a strong believer in transparency. However, I want to bring this up so people understand why some departments are hesitant to embrace transparency.

One reason departments are hesitant is that some crime issues get blown out of proportion and departments then spend more time trying to do damage control then they spend in solving the original problem. As cops we'd much rather spend time and effort into putting bad guys in jail than we do holding press conferences.

Another reason is that cities are often times trying to promote their cities as attractive places to live and work. Many times, city leaders feel that if they admit there was any crime in the city then they will have failed in their mission to promote the city.

Another reason is that heads of police agencies can and will often lose their jobs over "bad" crime stats. No one wants their job security to hinge on the actions of another. Often times, it takes years to turn a city's crime problem around.

Communities can go a long way to ensuring that their cops embrace transparency. Let me offer a few suggestions to further that end.
  • Resist the urge to storm City Hall with torches and pitchforks in hand when a crime problem comes to light. Express your concern, but also express your support of your department and your willingness to work together and partner with them to solve the problem.
  • Ignore those who would use a crime problem to further a backbiting political agenda. They will cause your department to waste time in a political fight rather than focusing on fighting crime.
  • Help your city leaders to see that it is not realistic to think that a city will have no crime. I would much rather see them promote the city as having an effective police department that is responsive to crime problems. People aren't stupid, they know that any city will occasionally have crime. 
  • When a crime problem comes to light, give your Chief an reasonable opportunity to solve the problem. Don't immediately demand his head.
  • Demand transparency from your department. Push your city leaders to formulate a plan to make all of it's operations more transparent. You could even volunteer to serve on a committee to develop that plan.
Transparency in government is empowering. However, with that power comes a responsibility to use it wisely. 

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Shoplifting Or Organized Retail Crime?

This morning's central Texas crime stories include these ones of interest.
Shoplifting Or Organized Retail Crime?
There's an interesting story over at The Crime Report talking about the rise in Organized Retail Crime (ORC). Some crimes that at first seem like a misdemeanor shoplifting may actually be a part of a larger criminal conspiracy.

As an example, the story details an organized ring that shoplifted baby formula for resale. The conspiracy netted 21 criminals and took in an estimated $2.5 million in one year alone.
ORC may not fit most people’s image of organized crime. And that may be one reason why it hasn’t received the attention it deserves. Such large-scale theft is often hard to detect from the thousands of shoplifting incidents reported around the country each year, but it “is an extremely sophisticated, coordinated crime, ” Frank Muscato, the ORC investigations supervisor at Walgreens, told Congress during a hearing on the subject in 2008. “It is not opportunistic theft where merchandise like food, clothing, sundries or music are stolen for personal use.”
The difficult part for local law enforcement is detecting this type of crime from all the "regular" shoplifting incidents. In fact, it's probably going to be a corporate loss prevention office that identifies these cross-jurisdictional ORC thefts. It pays for local law enforcement to develop a good working relationship with corporate loss prevention agents to detect these types of crimes.

What has your agency done to develop partnerships with the loss prevention folks working for stores in your area?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

New Tools, New Capabilities

Here's the morning's central Texas crime stories.
New Tools,  New Capabilities
In order to find new articles about crime analysis I have a Google Alert search that polls the Internet once a day for any news story published with the words "crime analyst" in them. This morning my search came up with this story from Canada about the Cobourg Police's use of crime maps in fighting crime.
Crime analyst Jan Monteith, a nine-year police service employee, was recently trained to create these maps after a number of police services went together to lower the price of acquiring the computer software to take crime solving into a more high-tech environment.
The story itself is not unusual. Crime analysts have been using maps for some time to help analyze crime. However, the technology used to create computerized crime maps has become much more accessible and now even smaller departments are using it. Cobourg's crime analyst improved her skill set by getting the training to use this technology and has made herself more valuable to her department.

I was recently very fortunate to have my agency purchase some really whiz bang crime analysis software. This software, ATAC from Bair Software is going to improve my agency's ability to analyze crime data and turn it into meaningful information. I've been rooting around in the manuals and begun the task of becoming proficient in it's use. I am looking forward to the formal training from Bair so I can really grok the application.

 I also recently joined the International Association of Crime Analysts and am planning on attending their 2010 Conference in Arlington, TX this fall.

All of this is an effort on my part to improve my craft, to become better at what I do. The Meriam - Webster online dictionary describes a profession as "a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation". If you are going to call yourself a professional, you should seek out that knowledge and grow in your skills.

What are you doing to learn new skills or new ways of doing things?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Can You Really Measure This?

Here's what we got in central Texas crime stories this morning.
Can You Really Measure This? has an article ranking "America's Most Miserable Cities". In it they rank cities on their supposed level of misery. 
This year Cleveland takes the top spot in our third annual ranking of America's Most Miserable Cities. Cleveland secured the position thanks to its high unemployment, high taxes, lousy weather, corruption by public officials and crummy sports teams (Cavaliers of the NBA excepted).
Every year, a number of organizations, media outlets, think tanks, etc. come up with these lists of cities based on some contrived index ranking them against other cities. While these stories always make a big splash and cause quite a bit of consternation for local politicians and often, police chiefs, are they really relevant to the work that we do as crime analysts? Do they really make for improved criminal justice or just cause us to chase our tails?

One of my favorites comes from Morgan Quitno Press that puts out a teaser press release with the headline of  "The Morgan Quitno Awards 13th Annual America's Safest (and Most Dangerous Cities)" , but then charges money for the "full report". Their publication's website lists their methodology as:
The methodology for determining America’s Safest City and Metro Area involves a multi-step process. First, 2005 city and metro area crime rates per 100,000 population (the most recent comparable final numbers available, released by the FBI in September 2006) for six basic crime categories — murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and motor vehicle theft — were plugged into a formula that measured how a particular city or metro area compared to the national average for a given crime category. The outcome of this equation was then multiplied by a weight assigned to each of the six crime categories. Each of the six crimes was given equal weight. By weighting each crime equally, cities are compared based purely on their crime rates and how they stack up to the national average for a particular crime category. These weighted numbers then were added together for a city or metro area’s final score. Finally, these scores were ranked from lowest to highest to determine which cities and metropolitan areas were safest and most dangerous.
But in spite of an impressive sounding "methodology" I can't find anything to indicate that this method has any scientific validity whatsoever.

As a crime analyst I spend an extraordinary amount of time crunching numbers and generating statistics to measure various areas of our department's effectiveness. But in the absence of legitimate measures, these index rankings may be what Mark Twain once said were "...lies, damned lies and statistics."

Monday, March 1, 2010

Step 27 - Know How To Use Rates and Denominators

This post in my series examining Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers is going to cover Step 27 - Know How To Use Rates and Denominators. A question I get often from people is "What is the crime rate?" Most often this question comes from citizens who aren't really looking for rate but instead are looking for something else. In fact, the confusion occurs so often I tried to explain it with this post. But in this step, we're going to look at determining rates on a smaller scale to help you identify problem areas.

If you were to look at a crime map of the city where I work you'd likely see a lot of points concentrated in one area of town. In fact, you might even think this area of town had a serious crime problem. However, if you compare that map to a map of population density, the same area of town with the most crime points is also the most densely populated. This makes sense, where you have more people, you are going to have more crimes. In order to identify problem areas, we need to know where the crime does not correspond with the population, specifically where the number of crimes for a given population (crime rate) is greater than other areas.

But to be even more useful, the authors suggest determining rates based on the target of the crime. For example, instead of determining the number of vehicle burglaries per X number of persons, determine the number per vehicles registered for this area. The authors included a great example of this in the book.
Calculating rates can be very helpful in finding risky facilities (Step 28). Karin Schmerler and her colleagues in the Chula Vista, California, Police Department investigated calls from the city's motels. The 10 national chain and 16 local independent motels generated similar numbers of calls, but the national chains contained more rooms.

When they added up all the calls for the local independents and divided this by the rooms in these motels, Schmerler found that the average call rate for the independent motels was 1.8 per room. Doing the same for the national chains yielded a call rate of 0.5. Clearly, the local independents generate many more calls per room.
Calculating the rates of crime per target may require some outside of the box thinking to calculate an appropriate target value. In fact, you may not be able to determine the number of actual targets and instead have to use a proxy for this. It may not be possible for you to determine the number of vehicles in a shopping center parking lot, but you might be able to use the number of parking spaces as a proxy for this. The authors caution that you make sure your proxy is relevant to the target of your crimes.
Should you put more emphasis on high numbers or high rates? If your objective is to reduce the volume of crime, then focusing on numbers may the best choice. But if your objective is to reduce the chances of harm, then focus on rate.
The effort required to calculate rate may not always be worth it, but it is another tool to put in your toolbox for when the need arises.

Next time, Step 28 - Identify Risky Facilities.

Finding The Missing

There were a few good central Texas crime stories this weekend. Here's what we got.
Finding The Missing
There was a good post over at The Crime Report this morning looking at missing persons. Every year, thousands of adult and children go missing in the U.S. Most of these are resolved fairly quickly and probably don't warrant a lot of attention. An errant boyfriend goes on a bender and doesn't come home when expected. A troubled teen runs away from home and spends a few days couch surfing with a friend. The more troubling ones are the people who "just disappear" and may never be seen again.
Advocates and law enforcement authorities contacted by The Crime Report agreed that the issue is a national problem, because of the scant resources and poor coordination available to help families locate the missing. And most experts in the field believe that the country could do better.

While local, state and federal law enforcement professionals are mandated by the 1990 National Child Search Assistance Act to file with the NCIC a missing-person’s report for children, there is no such requirement for adults. Yet sharing full details about missing adults could help solve many open cases, especially if the profiles match with unidentified human remains. About 4,400 human remains are found annually with 1,000 remaining unclaimed after a year, according to a 2007 Office of Justice Programs report, leaving approximately 40,000 human remains still in medical examiner or coroner offices.
For years law enforcement agencies had significant discretion in the filing of missing persons cases. When I first started in law enforcement the "policy" at my agency was not to file a missing persons report unless the missing adult had been gone at least 24 hours. I'd even heard horror stories about other agencies that refused to file cases at all for missing adults and it would take quite a persistent complainant to get a missing juvenile case filed.

Fortunately, both state and federal laws are mandating consistent procedures and allocating resources to help law enforcement work towards resolving these problem cases. The first change was when federal law changed to require police to file missing persons reports for missing juveniles without a waiting period and to enter those children into NCIC. Now a similar move is afoot to do the same with missing adults.

The thing I find mind-boggling is the number of unidentified deceased persons found each year. I would bet that a significant number of those dead persons are mentioned in a missing persons report somewhere. The hard part is making the connection between these missing persons reports and the unidentified persons. For local agencies, it's exceedingly difficult to even find out about all these unidentified persons scattered around the country.

Here in Texas we have an excellent resource available, the Missing Persons Clearinghouse at the Texas Department of Public Safety. I've had a chance to work with them a number of times and have always been impressed with their analysts. They have a ton of resources to help your agency with these type of cases. If you are in a Texas law enforcement agency you need to make contact with them and let them help you with your missing persons cases. Even better is to formulate a policy within your agency that mandates that you contact them on these types of cases.

Nationally, a similar clearinghouse is available via the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) which is part of the US Department of Justice. Both of these clearinghouses can help local agencies make the connection between their cases and those from other agencies.

What is your agency doing to resolve your missing persons cases? In what ways can you improve your department's handling of them?