Friday, April 30, 2010

Who's Job Is It Anyway?

Who's Job Is It Anyway?
The recent Arizona immigration law debate is also causing a debate in Arizona law enforcement. Time Magazine has a good piece on the issues facing Arizona law enforcement now that this law has been signed.
There's been no shortage of show-me-some-ID jokes around Arizona this week, but the association of police chiefs from around the state does have serious objections to SB1070, the controversial new state law that requires police to ask for papers from anyone they suspect is in the country illegally. The law's main champions certainly include some law enforcement figures, like Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the bill's state senate sponsor, Russell Pearce, a former cop whose son (also a policeman) was once shot by an illegal immigrant. But the official opposition of the Chiefs of Police Association — on the grounds that the law amounts to an unfunded mandate, that it could hurt community relationships, and that it distracts attention and resources from more serious criminality — shows that in Arizona, cops are just as divided about the law as everyone else.
Of course, being in law enforcement in Texas, this issue has been closely watched here as well. Both sides of the debate have valid points. I think the Achilles heel of this law is likely to be this from Chief John Harris of the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police:
"If we then arrest [illegals] on state charges, who will pay?"
The answer to this is likely, if local law enforcement arrests an illegal alien on state charges, the costs of the arrest, prosecution and incarceration will be born by the state of Arizona. I guess that the state of Arizona has a big pile of money to spend on this problem.

Of course, the simple answer would be for the feds to step up enforcement of federal immigration laws. This is the reason there is a problem in the first place. An increase in federal enforcement efforts in Texas and California are believed to have pushed alien smuggling and drug smuggling into Arizona.

While I don't have any easy answers to this problem, it ought to be interesting to watch this play out.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Let Me Check The Shoebox

Let Me Check The Shoebox
Chief Tom Casady has a great post over at his blog The Chief's Corner on the limitations of criminal history searches. His post is geared towards businesses and private citizens who purchase criminal history reports from commercial entities to vet their employees or volunteers.
When someone uses this term “criminal history” they have in mind a list of all the criminal arrests of a person, and the disposition of those cases. It’s just not that simple, though. Not all arrests are part of the public record: if the case is more than a year old, and was dismissed, it won’t show up. Cases are dismissed for all sorts of reasons other than lack lack of evidence: plea agreements and pre-trial diversion being prime examples. Second, if the arrest was a juvenile, and the case was handled in juvenile court, it won’t show up on a criminal history report. Third, if the arrest was not accompanied by a ten-print fingerprint card, it won’t appear on State and national criminal history checks—because these are both fingerprint-based.
While law enforcement has a little better tool in NCIC to check criminal history records, a lot of the same caveats also apply to the criminal records system we use as well. In spite of the fact that NCIC is over 40 years old, there are still gaping holes in computerized criminal history records.

Tom has a great guide on his Department's website regarding criminal history records. You can view it here. Here in Texas, the Texas Department of Public Safety is the agency charged with compiling and maintaining criminal history records. They also have a guide to navigating the criminal history record system here.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

You Say Tomato, I Say...To-MAH-To

You Say Tomato, I Say...To-MAH-To
Gregory Saville has a post over at his blog SafeGrowth about what constitutes a crime theory and what doesn't. He says:
The main purpose of theory, at least in the empirical sciences, is to provide a plausible and testable explanation of why something happens, in this case crime. Events surrounding that explanation - where and when crime occurs - are merely descriptive symbols of the main event not the actual theory that explains "why" the event happens in the first place.
From this point of view, CPTED and Design Out Crime have very few actual theories - only descriptive symbols.

Gregory goes on to posit that much of what we consider crime theories such as the "broken window theory" are not really theories at all but instead are descriptive symbols. Now I suppose that this might seem like splitting hairs and in essence it is to a certain degree. He goes on to state:
Whatever those realities, we must not confuse descriptive symbols that plot when and where with actual theories explaining why crime happens. Descriptive symbols may help us target crime and temporarily reduce it with 1st Generation CPTED and Design Out Crime. But they won't help us prevent it in the long run. Nor will they replace proper and robust theories that help us build safer places - including entertainment meccas like Vegas - in the years to come.
Maybe the bigger issue is not what we call it, but how much stock we place in this theory/descriptive symbol for it's efficacy. We should try to use due diligence in evaluating the effectiveness of our efforts to deal with crime problems regardless of what we want to call it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

“PowerPoint makes us stupid”

“PowerPoint makes us stupid”
There's a great story over at the New York Times looking at what I hope is a good trend, a rejection of PowerPoint as the end all of briefings. According to the story,this slide was shown in a briefing to military commanders in Afghanistan.

This PowerPoint slide elicited this response from General Stanley McChrystal:
“When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war,” General McChrystal dryly remarked, one of his advisers recalled, as the room erupted in laughter.
Criticism of PowerPoint is nothing new. In fact, I previously posted about PowerPoint often reducing complex problems to bullet points and the tendency for that reduction to miscommunicate to the audience. This idea seems to be gaining traction in the military, one of the strongest bastions of PowerPoint. The title for today's post comes from a quote in the story by Marine Gen. James N. Mattis. A similar sentiment is this:
“It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” General McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”
 In addition to the constraints that PowerPoint foists upon users, another problem is the time spent creating whiz bang presentations as opposed to actually communicating information.
Commanders say that behind all the PowerPoint jokes are serious concerns that the program stifles discussion, critical thinking and thoughtful decision-making. Not least, it ties up junior officers — referred to as PowerPoint Rangers — in the daily preparation of slides, be it for a Joint Staff meeting in Washington or for a platoon leader’s pre-mission combat briefing in a remote pocket of Afghanistan.
The article has links to some absolutely outstanding criticisms of the PowerPoint medium including this and this. I would encourage you to hit the link to the NY Times article and read the whole thing.

Like the military, law enforcement has also been bitten by the PowerPoint bug. I'm not necessarily advocating throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but I think we need to be very cautious how we user PowerPoint to ensure that we are communicating what we intend to communicate. I also think we should consider long and hard the disadvantages posed by the medium before using it.

As crime analysts we need to hone our briefing skills so we can communicate very complex problems in a way that gives our audience the information they need to make critical decisions.

Are you a PowerPoint Ranger? In what ways are you working to improve your communications skills?

Monday, April 26, 2010

This Ain't Mayberry

This Ain't Mayberry
Killeen Police are preparing to move into the new $27 million headquarters on the city's south side. As these preparations have been progressing there has been a growing chorus for Killeen Police not to abandon the downtown area. Killeen Police have had their headquarters downtown for years. Killeen city officials have been working to try and determine what's going to become of the downtown facility and to what extent it will be used by KPD.

The Killeen Daily Herald has a story that typifies some of the concerns about KPD's move to the new headquarters.
For him, the headquarters' move means a potential intensified fear in both himself and his customers. Though he said he takes precautions when leaving employees at the office, the distance of the new headquarters could slow down response time if the council approves anything less than a full precinct. 
"The moving of the police station to outside of the downtown area is a large mistake," he said. "There needs to be some type of patrolling on a consistent basis."
Most of the stories covering the debate over KPD's downtown station are based on the mistaken assumption that police officers respond to calls from the station house. While this may be true for firemen, it isn't true for police. In fact, it's a pretty rare occurrence for an officer to be dispatched from the station. That's because, a patrol officer is supposed to be "patrolling" the streets looking for crime and disorder when he's not actively on a call. If he's at the station it's usually because he's booking a prisoner or entering evidence, both of which would put him out of service for answering a call.

While Andy and Barney spent a lot of time in the Mayberry Police station on the Andy Griffith show, this just isn't the way it's done in real life. The police presence folks downtown are clamoring for isn't going to come from the geographic location of the police station, but instead from having enough officers on patrol to make a meaningful impact on the public's safety concerns downtown.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Truck Stops, Lot Lizards and Serial Killers

Truck Stops, Lot Lizards and Serial Killers
The Texas prosecutor who blogs over at D.A. Confidential has a good post on his attendance at an FBI conference targeting highway serial killers. Every time I get a bulletin on unidentified found human remains I am amazed that so many people die without being identified. Literally, there are hundreds of bodies found that are unidentified initially and many of these are murder victims whose killers are never caught.

Many of these bodies are folks that live a nomadic, fringe existence such as prostitutes, drug addicts and transients. Their lifestyles put them at risk for victimization. Their lifestyles also remove them from friends and relatives, the people who police rely on to provide information about the victim in more run of the mill homicides. 
Anyway, FBI programs like ViCAP, which is am amazing tool that cross-references every scrap of info you can imagine about the victims, the killings, and the suspects. I have no doubt that it will work wonders in years to come. Read about it here, if you want to know more.
FBI's ViCAP program is helping agencies to connect the dots on these found bodies. It's hard enough for a local law enforcement agency to communicate with a neighboring agency about crimes, much less for a local agency to communicate with an agency across the country. A missing persons report from a small town on one side the country may actually connect to a body found halfway across the country. Without a tool like ViCAP it's hard to make the connection. Here's an example from the FBI's ViCAP page:
ViCAP assisted in another case that linked unsolved crimes separated by 3000 miles. In November, 1987, a Norwegian National was last seen in New York City. Foreign law enforcement personnel submitted the case to ViCAP. The assigned analyst saw that later in the same month in 1987, a body was found in California, a case that was never solved. However through ViCAP's assistance, investigators compared dental records and discovered that the body found in California was that of the man last seen in New York.
Does your agency use ViCAP? Have you entered your agencies problematic missing persons cases into ViCAP?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Keep Up With Your Reading

My new post over at The Crime Map is up.
Part of what makes a profession a profession—and not just a job—is that a professional is, or should always be, trying to grow in their job knowledge and skills. For me, part of this growth process involves lots and lots of reading. The web has exploded the availability of professional reading for crime analysts.
A while back I posted on using Google Alerts to search the web for news stories that interest you. Tools like Google Alerts, RSS feeds and email lists can generate tons of articles that you need to read. For me, I find that my workflow is best if I segregate activities like professional reading to certain times of the workday. But it seems like new stuff to read comes at me all throughout the workday. How best to generate a reading list for later in an easy, non-intrusive manner?
I found a cool new tool a couple of months ago that has really helped me to manage my reading list. This tool is Instapaper.
 To read the whole post, hit the link.

The Crime Map blog is run by the folks at They also have a companion blog The Neighborhood Crime Map. is a way for law enforcement to publicize their crime data on an interactive map. They even have a neat iPhone application.

The technology that makes the interactive crime maps at is becoming more and more accessible and cost effective. What a great way to let the public know what's happening in your jurisdiction.

More Than One Way To Approach A Problem

More Than One Way To Approach A Problem
There is an interesting article over at the RAIDS Online blog about Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. The article lists three key principles of CPTED.
  1. Natural Surveillance - Areas where people and their activities can be easily observed are covered by natural surveillance. Environments need to be created where there’s plenty of opportunity for people engaged in their normal, everyday behavior to observe the space around them.
  2. Natural Access Control - Most burglars will try to find a way into an area where they won’t be easily seen.  Limiting access and increasing natural surveillance makes this much harder.  By selectively placing fencing, lighting and landscaping, natural access control occurs.
  3. Natural Territorial Reinforcement - An environment designed to clearly distinguish private space does two things. First, it creates a sense of ownership.  Second, it creates an environment where “strangers” or “intruders” stand out.
The article's a good read. The RAIDS Blog is new blog by the folks at BAIR Software who also created the RAIDS Online analysis and information sharing site. We're seeing more applications like RAIDS that is allowing law enforcement agencies to share crime data with the public they serve.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Not Like TV Cop Shows? Say It Ain't So

Not Like TV Cop Shows? Say It Ain't So
I found this gem on the web. The Lincoln, Nebraska Journal Star has a great article where they examine just how far off TV cops shows are in showing the real world of crime scene investigations.
"When you see it on TV, they're at the crime scene one minute and putting something through the computer the next minute," said Erin Sims, manager of the Lincoln Police Department's Forensics Unit. "It's not realistic at all."

In reality, investigators can expect to wait months after they submit forensic samples to the Nebraska State Patrol Crime Lab.

"We usually tell investigators it's a six- to nine-month turnaround time," said Cammi Strong, forensic lab manager.
"'CSI' always finds their evidence and gets their person, and that's not always how it works," said state crime lab director Pam Zilly.

"(People) get the concept from 'CSI' that there's a whole team of people devoted to this case from the moment it hits the door," she said. "In actuality, there's only so much time, and so many cases at the same time - there's not all that focus on one case."

We're still trying to find one of those CSI machines where you pick up a cigarette butt from the crime scene, stick it in the machine and it prints out a picture of the suspect along with a signed confession. If you know where we can get one, please let me know.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Finding A Home For the Homeless

Finding A Home For the Homeless
The Killeen City Council is discussing ways to address the homeless problem according to a story at the Killeen Daily Herald. This issue has come before the Killeen City Council in the past.
His comments yielded a promise from City Manager Connie Green that the community development department and the city's grant writer would examine Killeen's opportunities for homeless funding.

Councilman Larry Cole said discussions have been ongoing for about two years. Ideas range from converting the former fire station's Avenue D building into a shelter to allowing a coalition of churches to purchase old duplex buildings that would eventually house those without homes of their own.

The Home and Hope Shelter, Killeen's only homeless shelter, closed in 2008 for repairs. Though volunteers have completed some cosmetic work on the shelter's nine buildings, its doors have not yet reopened.
For a city the size of Killeen, it seems a bit unusual that there is no homeless shelter whatsoever. The lack of appropriate homeless services in Killeen could create a situation where police are forced to fill the gap. Unfortunately, the police are ill equipped to deal with the societal problems behind homelessness.

The Center for Problem Oriented Policing has a guide on dealing with homeless encampments. In the the introduction, they state:
On the other hand, problems associated with transients and their encampments can often lead business owners and residents to demand the police use traditional, and perhaps somewhat punitive, law enforcement methods to solve them.
In most instances, the only solution the police have is to either move the homeless out of sight, or to arrest them. Neither of these traditional police responses adequately address the problem. They are in essence, treating the symptoms without curing the underlying disease.

The guide has a great listing of the advantages and disadvantages of different methods of dealing with the homeless. The whole guide is a good read. Every law enforcement agency is forced to deal with this issue at some point.

How does your agency deal with the homeless? What strategies have you found to be effective?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Rollin' On 22's, But To What End?

Rollin' On 22's, But To What End?
The Houston Chronicle has an interesting piece on crimes involving custom automobile rims. Houston has had a couple of high profile murders recently that were attributed to criminals trying to steal these rims.
“I don't care if my kids are 30; they ain't gonna have these on their car,” said music producer Anthony Scott, a record company owner who produced the Block Boyz's YouTube project modestly titled Official Riding Swangas Video.
In another breath, however, he does not deny the appeal. “You hate all the violence that is done because of them, but inside you still want 'em, you know?”
If Houston's rappers are quick to praise the rims, they are just as eager to cite the risk, if one bothers to listen. Then again, the acknowledged, danger may add to the appeal, lessening the intrusion of imitators and wannabes. If you roll on swangers, you roll ready. Self-defense is a required add-on to the purchase price of $2,000 or more.
“The police will never admit it, but if they want to catch young black men with guns, they'll stop a car with elbows and Vogues because they know the young men will have guns,” Quanell X said.
It's mostly a Texas thing, the pursuit of the poke, but the story of rim-inspired violence has been written and rewritten in most major cities around the country. Up north, “spinners” had their appeal, admired for their continuing movement when the car stops. In greater Miami, the rimjackers have killed for Vogues atop “Trus,” a different sort of wire wheel. In southern California, it's Dayton wire wheels, slang translation “danas,” made famous by Snoop Dogg. Elbows might get you laughed at in Los Angeles. It takes danas to get you shot.
To many rimjackers, the wheels are nothing more than a fungible commodity, a high-demand item that can be quickly turned into cash. To others, they are the prize in and of themselves, representing a quick ticket to acceptance.
“You have individuals who don't have other options to get respect and get achievement in our society,” said Luis Salinas, a University of Houston sociologist and criminologist. “Instead, they focus on one little item, and they do what they have to do to get it. They may not have a good home or anything else, but they can have a set of killer rims.”
It's a long article and worth the read. It brings up quite a number of issues notwithstanding the morality of consumer culture. Every few years, law enforcement sees a hot item that becomes all the rage among thieves.

I am probably going to be dating myself, but when I was younger it was automobile T-Tops. In fact, if you had a car with T-Tops you may have even experienced a T-Top theft because it seemed like every time you turned around someone else had been hit. It took a few years but the automotive industry managed to come up with a way to make them more difficult to steal and easier to identify if they were stolen.

In the case of custom rims, the same thing needs to happen. I've posted before about thinking about crime in an economic sense with using the principal of cost/benefit to understand crime. Right now, the desirability of custom rims raises the benefit in relation to the perceived cost to the thief. Because the cost/benefit ratio is skewed towards the crook, we'll continue to see these items listed in police reports. We in law enforcement need to come up with ideas to drive the cost/benefit ratio in our favor.

What are the hot items among crooks in your jurisdiction? What are you doing to swing the cost/benefit ratio in your direction on these items?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Same Incident, Different Responses

Same Incident, Different Responses
The effects of the November Fort Hood shooting are still rippling through the community. We have a couple of stories in the news today that are associated with this event.

First up, the Killeen Daily Herald has a story about the board of Central Texas College discussing changes to the campus concealed weapons policy.
Last month, Isdale asked that members review the college's weapons policy in the wake of the Nov. 5 shooting at Fort Hood. The CTC main campus is adjacent to the Army post.

"After Nov. 5 … people with concealed handgun licenses should be considered eligible to do what they're licensed to do," Isdale said last month.

According to the Texas Penal Code, licensed concealed handgun carriers are prohibited from bringing their firearms onto college campuses, unless an institution adopts its own policy allowing it.
The Austin American Statesman has a story about the Pentagon inquiry into the incident. While the story touched on a number of factors regarding the shooting, it also touched upon the post concealed weapons policy.
In one change, the Pentagon will adopt a broad policy on how privately owned guns can be carried or stored at military bases. Hasan had little or no access to military firearms in his job as a psychologist, but he was able to buy two handguns and bring them onto the post, authorities said.

In December, Fort Hood leaders announced stricter gun registration policies for the post, requiring soldiers and civilians who intend to bring a firearm onto Fort Hood to register with the Directorate of Emergency Services. Before the change, only those firearms being stored on Fort Hood were required to be registered.
I find it kind of interesting that the very same incident sparked two different responses. The college wants to talk about allowing more firearms onto campus while the Army wants to restrict weapons being brought onto post. This seems kind of schizophrenic.

Not to start a big debate on gun control or concealed weapons laws, it's puzzling that the same incident sparks two opposite reactions. Either one or the other is more likely to be the correct response. Right now, these responses are polar opposites of each other.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

This Just Doesn't Smell Right

This Just Doesn't Smell Right
The Austin American Statesman has a good piece on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals hearing of arguments in an appeal on a murder conviction. What makes this one unusual, is that the person convicted of murder was alleged to have been convicted largely based on a "dog scent lineup". 
During oral arguments before the Court of Criminal Appeals, prosecutor Bill Burnett was quickly interrupted by Judge Cheryl Johnson, who asked if the dogs' scent lineup — even if accurate — could ensure that Winfrey was with the victim at the time of death. No, the San Jacinto County district attorney answered.
Judge Cathy Cochran then asked why Pikett should have been allowed to testify about his science-based conclusions — that every person has a unique scent, based on bacteria's interaction with lost skin cells, that can last for years — without having any scientific background.
"Don't we need an expert in biology to say how dog scent works?" Cochran asked.
Burnett replied that Pikett's knowledge, based on years of experience and training with dogs, differs from that of experts trained in the scientific method.
Pikett's work with dog scent lineups has come under some much needed scrutiny. In fact, Pikett and his agency was sued by another law officer when Pikett's dogs wrongly picked the officer as the murderer of a woman. The real murder suspect later confessed. Another similar incident happened when Pikett's dogs who Pikett claimed had never erred picked a man as a murderer. DNA evidence later exonerated this man and convicted another in that death.

I bring this up because I have seen a lot of innovations in law enforcement in 19 years. Almost all of them are sold as the latest and greatest crime fighting tool. The few good ones eventually rise to the top while the bad ones are relegated to a storage closet somewhere. When we latch on to these techniques without serious scrutiny and then they turn out to be scientific bunk, we all pay the price for years to come. I would imagine that some enterprising defense attorney is already trying to figure out how he can link Pikett's hokum with accepted K9 techniques such as narcotics detection in order to discredit the legitimate techniques.

What criteria does your agency use to determine that the latest and greatest crime fighting tools actually work?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Options And More Options

Options And More Options
The Killeen Daily Herald covered a Killeen City Council presentation where Killeen Police presented two plans for using their soon to be vacated old downtown headquarters building.
Police Chief Dennis Baldwin presented two proposals for the use of the current police headquarters, a 27,000 square-foot facility much of the department will leave when it opens its new headquarters in southern Killeen next month.

According to the presentation, the option A would staff the building at Avenue C and Second Street with an officer to take reports, police K-9 operations, bike patrol and downtown walking detail operations.

Though execution of the plan would cost the city nothing, Baldwin said it would significantly reduce police services in northern Killeen.

Option B, which calls for a continuation of operations as a north precinct, would cost almost $268,400 from the general fund if approved.

The price is worth retaining a heavy presence in the most established part of the city, Baldwin said.
Killeen Police are readying to leave their downtown headquarters and move to a new $27 million dollar facility on the city's south side. Questions as to the best way to use the old facility have been discussed for some time. There have also been some questions as to how this move would affect the City's effort to revitalize their downtown area.

Of course this brings up a question about just how much a police station really effects crime in it's immediate vicinity? If there is a measurable reduction in crime immediately surrounding a facility, is it because of the staffing of the facility, or the perceptions about the facility?

In many cases, perception can be as powerful as reality. How do we capitalize on these perceptions to positively change the public's anxiety over crime?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I Want My Bullet Back

I Want My Bullet Back
The Waco Tribune has a story where they have a funny quote from country musician Billy Joe Shaver. Shaver was recently acquitted of shooting a man outside a Lorena bar. The trial turned into a real circus with Willie Nelson and Robert Duvall attending the trial. The best part is this bit:
“They asked me, ‘What are you going to do about that boy you shot?’ ” Shaver told a jovial crowd. “I said, ‘I’m getting the damn bullet back.’ That’s true. You all think I’m joking.

“Walking around being famous with my bullet in him. Stealing all my press.”
 So much for the contrite tone he had at the trial when he said how sorry he was.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Step 32 - Conduct Case Control Studies

For a number of months I have been going through the excellent book, Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. I highly recommend this book for crime analysts, police officers, detectives and anyone else who regularly has to deal with solving complex crime problems. While I have been commenting on each chapter in the book, I encourage you to read the entire book as well. The authors are way smarter and more erudite than I am.

In this post I'm going to cover Step 32 - Conduct Case Control Studies. Have you ever wondered why some locations or businesses have crime problems and some do not? For example, in my sleepy burg, we have some bars that are a significant problem and some that have not had a police call for service there in years. Why are these two places different? The way to identify factors that contribute to the difference is by conducting a case - control study. 

The authors define the process steps as:
  • Define your cases precisely.
  • Select a representative sample of these cases.
  • Define a group of controls that could have been troublesome but did not become troublesome even though they were exposed to similar conditions (e.g., in the same neighborhood or city, serve the same types of clients, etc.).
  • Select a representative sample of these controls.
  • Compare the characteristics of the cases to the characteristics of the controls.

    If you look at these steps, they resemble the methodology a scientist might use to probe some great mystery. In fact, conducting a case - control study is in fact scientific research. The authors go on to state:
    Case-control studies are different from most other studies and require special techniques to analyze data. Step 33 describes one technique that is particularly useful.
    In the next post, we'll look at this technique when we cover Step 33 - Measure Association.

    Friday, April 9, 2010

    This Is Getting Fun To Watch

    This Is Getting Fun To Watch
    The Waco trial of singer Billy Joe Shaver is turning into quite a circus. Shaver is on trial for Aggravated Assault after an incident where it is alleged that Shaver shot a man in the parking lot of a Lorena bar. The Waco Tribune has a story this morning about the appearance of Willie Nelson and Robert Duvall at Shaver's trial.
    The normally staid business in the McLennan County Courthouse took on more of a big-top atmosphere Thursday, with Academy Award-winning actor Robert Duvall and legendary country singer-songwriter Willie Nelson showing up to lend support to their friend, Billy Joe Shaver.

    Nelson, a multiple Grammy Award winner, gave interviews and posed for countless photos with courthouse employees and anyone else who asked.

    Duvall, though, was more reserved, declining photo requests and media interviews.
    I'm not sure what it is about Waco lately but they have had quite a number of recent circus like trials such as the one where a pastor was accused of murdering his wife so he could engage in hanky panky with another woman. If nothing else all this has made for some great material for the Waco Tribune folks. I have to admit that they have done a bang up job of covering these trials.

    I'm not sure that it is about Bell County that makes our trials so boring.

    Thursday, April 8, 2010

    Never Underestimate A Determined Crook

    Here's this morning's central Texas crime story roundup.

    Never Underestimate A Determined Crook
    NPR has a story about a trend towards thieves stealing entire ATM machines. Here in the central Texas area we have seen quite a few of these types of thefts over the past few years.

    Thefts of ATMs — the machines themselves — are not common but appear to be happening with more frequency. Four years ago, there were roughly 120 such thefts in the entire country. Two years ago, Texas alone exceeded that number.

    The thefts tend to occur in clusters, with a group of thieves hitting multiple locations within a state or metropolitan area. Oakland saw four such thefts last month, while San Diego County experienced nearly twice that many in recent weeks.

    Sometimes thieves come away with little money, or aren't able to remove an ATM from the bank island or convenience store they'd targeted. But other times, a single robbery can yield tens of thousands of dollars.

    ATMs typically hold cassettes with room for 1,000 bills each. If you're talking twenties, ten cassettes add up to as much as $200,000. Usually they hold less, but all told, physical attacks on ATMs cost the industry $4.5 million annually in the U.S.

    "The amount of money in some of these machines would blow you away," says Gary Akey, operations director with the Security Center in Dallas, a bank surveillance and security company.

    Referring to a pair of robberies last summer in suburban Dallas that together yielded $250,000, Akey says, "That's a pretty good payday for a couple of minutes' work."

    Once word of this type of crime got around in criminal circles it didn't take long for other criminals to start exploiting the weaknesses in ATM security. For the crooks, a cost/benefit analysis was pretty favorable. The chances of getting caught weren't that high, the investment in time and effort was also low and the payoff was high. For the crook, it was favorable enough for many to commit these types of thefts.

    If we go back to the Problem Analysis Triangle that I discussed in this post, we discussed a theory by John Eck and William Spelman that expounds on the Problem Analysis Triangle and classified crime problems as Ravenous Wolves, Sitting Ducks and Dens of Iniquity. Using this approach, we can likely classify the ATM theft problems like this:

    Repeat victimization problems involve victims repeatedly attacked by different offenders. These are sitting DUCK problems. Taxi drivers repeatedly robbed in different locations by different people is an example of a pure duck problem. Duck problems occur when victims continually interact with potential offenders at different places, but the victims do not increase their precautionary measures and their guardians are either absent or ineffective.

    It may help to remember that crime problems are often a mix of wolf, duck or den characteristics. We also should keep in mind that repeat victimization can include a class of victims and not just a specific person or business. In the ATM theft example, the guardians of the ATM machines had inadequate precautionary measures to prevent the thefts.

    If we can encourage the class of victims in this crime problem to increase their precautionary measures, this raises the cost for the thief. If we raise the cost high enough with regards to their perceived benefit, then we should be able to reduce the likelihood that these offenses will take place. 

    Has your agency seen any of these types of offenses? If so, what did your agency do to combat this problem?

    Wednesday, April 7, 2010

    Does Your Agency Use Social Media Effectively?

    Here's this morning's central Texas crime  story roundup.

    Does Your Agency Use Social Media Effectively?

    Officer Leedom drew his pistol as the man began pouring gasoline from a container onto the deck and back patio door of the home. Then, as the officers attempted to talk him down, he tossed a lit cigarette onto the deck, and the back of the house went up in flames. Screams were coming from the occupants inside, and the suspect’s feet, splashed with gas, were aflame.

    The officers pounced on the suspect and a protracted fight ensued. I spoke with Sgt. Meyerson shortly after things were secured, and he described it as the longest fight he’s ever been in. I know the feeling: a few minutes seems like an eternity when the fight is on, and failure to prevail means you loose your life.
    Chief Casady is a perfect example of departments that have harnessed the tools available on the Internet to further their mission in the community. Other agencies have used tools like Twitter and Facebook to communicate with their communities. Using social media tools in law enforcement is becoming more common, in fact there is even a Social Media In Law Enforcement conference that is going on this week in Washington, DC. 

    Most of these social media tools don't require a significant investment for departments to get into. In fact many of them are free. However, just because the account is free doesn't mean that doing social media well is without cost. An employee's time to develop a media policy, learning to use them and then to use the tools effectively all are a cost to your agency. In fact, if you aren't going to use them well you might be better off not using them at all. If you do use the tools well like Chief Casady, the return on your investment will make it well worth the effort.

    What social media tools does your agency use to further their mission?

    Tuesday, April 6, 2010

    The Crime Analyst's Blog Anniversary

    Well, it's hard to believe it but today is the one year anniversary of The Crime Analyst's Blog. It's been one year and 629 posts.

    The genesis of the blog was an open source bulletin that I had been publishing via email within my department. We'd had a number of really good local news stories about our officers and I was concerned that if they weren't news junkies they might miss them. The desire to make sure that our folks saw the news coverage of their work started the bulletin. After I had been publishing the bulletin for some time, I realized that almost everything I was putting out was based on open source information and none of it was law enforcement sensitive. I then moved the bulletin to the blog format so it could be shared outside the department.

    It took me a bit to find my voice. At first I just posted and commented about local crime stories. Then I threw in the occasional crime analysis related post. I found my voice for the blog after I got noticed by Scott Henson over at his blog Grits For Breakfast. Scott blogs extensively about criminal justice policy and covers the Texas state legislature in his highly regarded and widely read blog. He included me in one of his weekly roundups and we exchanged a few emails where he offered some constructive criticism though he may not have realized he was doing so at the time. 

    I then moved away from the sometimes acerbic comments on local crime stories and towards offering more constructive comments on crime analysis and criminal justice topics in general. It was then that the popularity of the blog took off and the blog started getting noticed outside of my little burg. Eventually, I got an opportunity to also write for The Crime Map. I've also had comments from folks within some professional associations that my blog is getting read more and more widely and is even being read outside the U.S. My Google Analytics stats have been improving steadily too. 

    This is very exciting and very humbling all at the same time. I am by no means an expert in crime analysis. Writing The Crime Analyst's Blog has been a learning process for me. When I take the time to research and then write these articles, it causes me to grow professionally. I am very blessed to have a department that allows me to pursue this blog. I am even more blessed to have you folks reading and occasionally commenting or emailing me about the blog and it's contents. 

    It is my hope that I can continue post articles worthy of your time. Thanks for all your support.

    How To Count Crime

    Here's this morning's central Texas crime stories.

    How To Count Crime
    Dallas PD is currently engaged in a search to replace their retiring Chief of Police. His retirement was announced when he was in the middle of a kerfuffle over how DPD was counting crime stats. Now, this issue has come up in the search for his replacement. The Dallas Morning News has a story where they covered the opinions of the new candidates for Chief.

    Not surprisingly the internal DPD candidates agree with their retiring Chief's policy of deviating from UCR guidelines. Two of the candidates from outside DPD stated that they believe in a strict interpretation of the UCR rules. The odd man out was this candidate:
    Austin’s police chief, Art Acevedo, said his department follows the guidelines, though his view differs from Davis’.

    “We use the UCR guidelines here,” Acevedo said. “With that said, I’m not going to sit there and criticize Kunkle, because I really don’t think the people in Dallas really care about how we stack up against the rest of the country.”

    What’s more important, Acevedo said, is that the city use consistent methods from year to year so trends can be seen.
    It was also kind of interesting to see the internal DPD candidates' answers to the question. Probably the best quote in the story was this one:
    Assistant Chief Daniel Garcia similarly allowed for flexibility. He has asserted, as Kunkle does, that a “guideline” is a very different animal than a “rule.”

    “They’re called guidelines for a reason; they’re not rules,” Garcia said in January. “If the UCR was that adamant about it, they would call them rules.”
    I hate to say it, but this seems like kind of a dodge, it's not a rule but a "guideline"? Who gets to determine just how "flexible" these guidelines are? The whole point of the UCR rules are to put everyone on the same sheet of music. If we deviate from these rules to suit our own agenda, UCR then loses it usefulness as a tool to determine our effectiveness.

    Monday, April 5, 2010

    The Times They Are A Changing

    Here's the central Texas crime stories that made the web over the long weekend.

    The Times They Are A Changing
    The Killeen Daily Herald has a story on the Killeen Police Department's path to accreditation. Law enforcement agencies can seek accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies or CALEA.
    The international organization approved Killeen police policies and procedures as among the industry's best practices. The acknowledgment came at a convention March 26-28 in Dallas.

    CALEA accredited about 90 other agencies at the convention, CALEA program specialist Janice Dixon said Tuesday.

    "It's the best way an agency can be sure they are meeting all of the best practices," Dixon said.
    Of course the flip side to this is the time and cost it takes to get accredited. For some agencies, such as the one mentioned in the article, they felt that the cost was too great. I'm not here to argue whether the cost is worth it for your agency.

    I do think it's important to mention that law enforcement as a profession has changed a lot over the years. A local agency in my area recently buried their former Chief of Police. He started police work in 1965 back in the days of revolvers and swivel holsters. Listening to some of those old timers talk about call boxes and how they worked were quite interesting. But the days of a reactive style of law enforcement where Andy and Barney sit around the Mayberry police station and wait for a call are gone.

    Now, law enforcement agencies need to be proactive to head off policing problems in their communities. The problems we face today are enormous. But the change in law enforcement is a good thing. Law Enforcement Officer Deaths are at the lowest point we have seen since the 1950's. A lot of this is due to the professionalization of law enforcement.

    Processes such as accreditation are or can be a positive tool for change in your agency. What is your agency doing to evolve in a positive way?

    Friday, April 2, 2010

    Step 31 - Know The Products That Are CRAVED By Thieves

    We're continuing our journey through the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. In this step, we're going to look at Step 31 - Know The Products That Are CRAVED By Thieves.

    In the crime analysis unit at my agency, we get a pretty good idea of what products are popular just by looking at the types of things that are frequently stolen. In fact, we have half jokingly talked about creating an "thieves commodity index" to track the popularity of these items just like the stock market tracks commodities futures. For example, in my jurisdiction we can tell that certain designer's clothing such as Mark Ecko is popular because it's frequently stolen. Conversely, we're not seeing a lot of polyester leisure suits listed in theft reports.

    The author's use the acronym CRAVED to describe the dynamics that drive the "thieves commodity index". 

    • Concealable. Things that can be hidden in pockets or bags are more vulnerable to shoplifters and other sneak thieves. Things that are difficult to identify or can easily be concealed after being stolen are also more at risk. In some cases, thefts may even be concealed from the owners of goods, as when lumber or bricks left lying around on building sites are stolen.
    • Removable. The fact that cars and bikes are mobile helps explain why they are so often stolen. Nor is it surprising that laptop computers are often stolen since these are not only desirable but also easy to carry. What is easy to carry depends on the kind of theft. Both burglars and shoplifters steal cigarettes, liquor, medicines, and beauty aids from supermarkets, but burglars take them in much larger quantities.
    • Available. Desirable objects that are widely available and easy to find are at higher risk. This explains why householders try to hide jewelry and cash from burglars. It also helps explain why cars become more at risk of theft as they get older. They become increasingly likely to be owned by people living in poor neighborhoods with less off-street parking and more offenders living nearby. Finally, theft waves can result from the availability of an attractive new product, such as the cell phone, which quickly establishes its own illegal market (see box).
    • Valuable. Thieves will generally choose the more expensive goods, particularly when they are stealing to sell. But value is not simply defined in terms of resale value. Thus, when stealing for their own use, juvenile shoplifters may select goods that confer status among their peers. Similarly, joyriders are more interested in a car's performance than its financial value.
    • Enjoyable. Hot products tend to be enjoyable things to own or consume, such as liquor, tobacco, and DVDs. Thus, residential burglars are more likely to take DVD players and televisions than equally valuable electronic goods, such as microwave ovens. This may reflect the pleasure-loving lifestyle of many thieves (and their customers).
    • Disposable. Only recently has systematic research begun on the relationship between hot products and theft markets, but it is clear that thieves will tend to select things that are easy to sell. This helps explain why batteries and disposable razors are among the most frequently stolen items from American drug stores.

    Knowing what types of items are taken may help you in focusing your enforcement efforts. Using are example above, we probably don't need to target polyester leisure suit thefts. Just as we learned when we talked about the 80/20 rule, we can get the most benefit from our limited resources when we focus them on the problem solving that will have the greatest effect.

    Thursday, April 1, 2010

    New Interrogation Technique

    I wonder if there is a CALEA standard for this?

    Happy April Fools!

    Thanks the blog Liberty And Justice For Y'all for posting it first.

    April Fool’s

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


    April Fool’s
    Today is April 1 or April Fool’s Day. I thought about posting some humorous April Fool’s Day story. However, I’m not always funny enough to pull that off and there were some other blogs that already did it.

    There’s a great quote by Benjamin Franklin that says:

    “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

    Yet, in spite of old Ben’s pithy advice, in law enforcement we seem to ignore this advice on a regular basis and wonder why we aren’t more effective at fighting crime in our communities.

    The reason I bring this up is that I think we all need to regularly analyze our processes and figure out what works and what doesn’t. If we identify a process that isn’t working well, then we should have the courage to change that process and find something that works. If we don’t have the courage to change, then we risk becoming a real April fool.

    What processes in your agency aren’t working? Are you going to change that process?