Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Step 36 – Put Yourself In The Offenders Shoes

It’s been a while since I have posted about Crime Analysis for Problem Solvers. We’ll get back to that with Step 36 – Put Yourself In The Offender’s Shoes.

Often times the easiest way to reduce crime is not always the traditional method of putting bad guys in jail. Sometimes, some out of the box thinking can reduce the opportunity for criminals to ply their trade. The best way to understand your crime problem may be to think of your crime problem as a sequence of events. The authors describe it this way:

Crime can be thought of as a process, with several steps from initiation to completion, rather than a circumscribed act occurring at a specific point in time. At each step the offender must make decisions, might need to work with others, and might need to employ specific knowledge and tools. This is essentially the idea underlying Cornish's "script" approach discussed in Step 35. It may not always be possible to develop detailed scripts, but the analysis should give a clear picture of how the crime was accomplished.

If your crime problem involves a fairly common sequence of events, look for ways to interrupt that sequence. The authors referred to a series of pickpocket crimes near a bus stop. By understanding the sequence of events from the criminal’s point of view, the analyst involved was able to suggest environmental changes that would interrupt the sequence of events and prevent the crimes from occurring.

Next time, we’ll cover Step 37 – Know That To Err Is Human.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

If You Have A Warrant For Murder, Don't Go Visit At The Jail

If You Have A Warrant For Murder, Don't Go Visit At The Jail
In what turned out to be a hugely ironic twist to a recent murder in Killeen, a suspect in the murder managed to get himself arrested while trying to visit an inmate at the jail. reported this bit:
On Sunday afternoon, Killeen police say 19-year-old Adrian Maxwell Lee went to the Bell County Jail to visit a friend. When sheriff's deputies got a hold of his identification card to put his name into their system, they immediately noticed his outstanding warrant for murder. That's when they made the arrest.
"We're glad he did that I guess, but most people if they have a warrant and they don't want to be seen, they don't go to the jail," said Carroll Smith, Spokesperson for Killeen Police Department. "But he did and it was in our favor. If anybody else wants to do that for us too, that'd be fine."
You can't make this stuff up. At least he saved the deputies a trip. 

Monday, June 28, 2010

Where's Deanna Merryfield?

Where's Deanna Merryfield?
Victor O'Brien over at the Killeen Daily Herald has a good story on the Killeen Police Department's efforts to solve a twenty year old missing person's case. On July 22, 1990 thirteen year old Deanna Merryfield snuck over to her uncle's home and spoke to her sister. She then left and was never seen or heard from by her family again. 

"She disappeared July 22, 1990, leaving behind a troubled family life and a mystery Killeen police need help to solve.
Despite time and odds against them, two of Deanna's sisters press on to find answers and closure to an unresolved agony in their lives. Meanwhile, a steady stream of leads is drying up in the renewed investigation led by Killeen police Lt. Reese Davis.
"I don't feel like she's dead. I don't feel like she's gone. … I just think I'd know if she was dead," Deanna's twin, Rebecca Welling, said in May."

Do you anything about Deanna Merryfield? If so Killeen Police would like to talk to you. 

Friday, June 25, 2010

Why Do They Do It?

Why Do They Do It?
A Waco area woman was sentenced to a year in jail and ordered to pay restitution for a scam that was widely reported in the media. It seems that this woman felt her marriage was failing and faked breast cancer in the hopes of saving her marriage. The real trouble came as she accepted money to pay for her "cancer treatments" which she tried to use for breast enhancement surgery. From the article at the Waco Tribune:
Lathern’s ruse unraveled last October, leading to worldwide headlines about her case, a divorce from her unsuspecting husband in April, the loss of her job and, ultimately, her freedom.
...Lathern’s emotional state deteriorated throughout her brief court appearance. She was crying by the time deputies led her to jail, and she could be heard sobbing loudly in the holding cell behind 54th State District Court.
I never cease to wonder how folks can be so short sighted and think that their criminal enterprises are worth it in the long run. In addition to the consequences listed above, she also faces a lifetime of status as a convicted felon. This status means among other things that she can't posses a firearm, can no longer vote and will have a heck of a time finding a job as this is one of the things an employer can hold against you when you apply for a job.

I wonder if our tendency toward instant gratification in nearly all things contributes to this kind of stupidity.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

New Attention On Misconduct By Female Corrections Staff

New Attention On Misconduct By Female Corrections Staff
A 2007 DOJ survey found that female staff in state and federal prisons accounted for 58 percent of the 38,600 alleged cases of sexual misconduct reported (anonymously) by inmates in state and federal prisons—representing 2.9 percent of the inmate population. In a 2010 DOJ survey of youth in detention, 10.3 percent reported sexual contact with staff. More than nine times out of ten, they said female staffers committed the violations.
The article mentions a recent central Texas incident involving a female Travis County Sheriff’s corrections officer who developed a relationship with an accused murderer while he was incarcerated and awaiting trial. During the murderer’s trial the jailer testified she provided him with a cell phone so they could talk but she got cold feet when he asked her to provide him with a pistol so he could murder another corrections officer and escape.

It’s been hard enough for women to be accepted in traditional male fields such as corrections or law enforcement. These types of incidents mean that we have to work that much harder to provide proper supervision and policies to cut down on potential misconduct by staff of either sex.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Saving Money By Reducing False Alarm Response

Saving Money By Reducing False Alarm Response
Scott Henson over at Grits For Breakfast has a great post about a suggestion for Austin Police to adopt a verified response policy for burglar alarms as a way to cut budget costs. Here's Scott's suggestion to APD brass:
If you're talking about cutting officers or eliminating overtime, here's a suggestion to put more officers on the street essentially for free: Implement verified response for burglar alarms. About 98-99% of residential burglar alarm callas are false alarms and nearly all the rest of the time the suspect is long gone when officers arrive. Implementing verified response would be like expanding the police force by 10% or more, allowing officers to focus on more important tasks. The reason this suggestion is free to the city, incidentally, is that it essentially eliminates a special-interest subsidy to the private alarm industry that's unjustified based on any cost-benefit analysis. It also would create jobs because the alarm companies must hire staff to verify alarms.
We've looked at false alarm rates over here at my sleepy little burg and came to similar conclusion with over 99% of our alarms calls being false. Also, alarms calls are one of our top Calls for Service category as well. The amount of time and money wasted on responding to alarm calls is staggering. The problem with implementing such a policy is likely going to be political will. Do city officials have the fortitude to make a logical but likely somewhat unpopular decision?

Some of these alarm companies sales tactics also rub me the wrong way. Here, there are several alarm salesman who will file open records act requests for locations of burglaries so they can then go scare all the victim's neighbors into "protecting themselves" by buying the service this alarm company is hawking. I had one come to my house some months ago with that same song and dance.  When I queried him about details of my neighbors suposed burglary he couldn't provide any but assured me that his alarm service was the best way to "protect my family from crime". Really?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Reality of Police Interactions With The Mentally Ill

The Reality of Police Interactions With The Mentally Ill
The Crime Report has a piece decrying arrests of the mentally ill. The author, Eric Roskes cites an example of a mentally ill woman who was arrested after creating a disturbance on the subway. 
I was the forensic evaluator who had to evaluate her as to her trial readiness. In so doing, I called the arresting officer, and I asked him why he did not take her to the emergency room, which would have been a quicker way to engage her in treatment. He said, “she wasn’t doing anything dangerous – they would not have admitted her.”
What is wrong with our system that a person can be perceived by a police officer as being dangerous enough to require arrest and detention in jail, but not dangerous enough to be admitted to a hospital for treatment?
Maybe it's just me, but it seems like this is criticizing the officer for his actions, even though he was likely put in a no win situation by "the system". At least around here, if you are mentally ill and aren't actively swinging an hatchet at someone, or trying to harm yourself you aren't very likely to get admitted for psychiatric treatment. There just aren't enough beds to accommodate every mentally ill person out there.

So if you were an officer in this situation, what are you to do? Here you have a person who's mentally ill and creating a disturbance. They aren't overly dangerous like swinging a hatchet at people but they aren't are creating a real problem with their behavior and are refusing to stop. A non-mentally ill person who was creating such a disturbance and refused to stop would get arrested and rightfully so. Why is it so wrong to arrest the mentally ill person for the same behavior? Is the public just supposed to put up with this behavior because the offender is crazy?

The solution to Roskes' dilemma is likely to provide more funding for diversion programs that take mentally ill offenders and direct them to treatment rather than long term incarceration. It doesn't mean that this person may not get arrested for their offense. There initial arrest is the mechanism that may force the person to get treatment and/or curb their problematic behavior. It's pretty obvious without the arrest, this person wasn't going to seek treatment on their own. Don't blame the officer for having to deal with a problem not of his own making.

How does your agency deal with nuisance offenses by mentally ill offenders?

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Problem with Sex Offender Registration

The Problem with Sex Offender Registration
There's a good story over at The Crime Report about states lack of compliance with federal law regarding sex offender registration. In fact, only three of the 50 states are in compliance with the law that created a national sex offender registry.
This much seems clear: the public is using the new national registry. For the first time, individuals can search all 50 state registries simultaneously. The site gets 17,000 visits a day, up from 13,000 daily last year.
But despite the registry's popularity, states have been in near open revolt over the rules that accompanied its creation. National associations that represent state interests, such as the National Governors Association, have called for changes in those regulations or amendments to the law itself.
The federal law was created to solve the problem of the hodge-podge of state sex offender registries. I think everyone knows that there are benefits to sex offender registration laws. That much is not really in debate. The problem comes in the implementation of the registration, and who gets to pay for it all.

Here in Texas, the Texas Department of Public Safety maintains the state's sex offender registry. You can access the registry here.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Police Work Isn't All That Efficient

Police Work Isn't All That Efficient
There is an interesting little tidbit over at The Crime Report this morning. The quoted Bernard Melekian, the director of DOJ's COPS program with this:
Persistently poor economic conditions are likely to “fundamentally change the delivery of police services,” says Bernard Melekian, director of the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing (COPS). Melekian, former police chief in Pasadena, Ca., noted that it is “extraordinarily inefficient” to send out a police car for each service call. He said police might take more reports via the Internet, video conferencing, or Skype calls. Melekian, who spoke yesterday at the annual National Institute of Justice conference near Washington, D.C., said he was not making a formal prediction on behalf of the Justice Department.
As a general rule, there isn't really anything efficient about policing. For example, lets say that you leave your purse/iPod/laptop in your car and a thief comes, sees your valuable goody, then breaks your window and relieves you of this item. You will then in all likelihood call the police to report this. Your local law enforcement agency will then send a highly trained officer, driving a very expensive police cruiser to your location where he will take a report and process the car for any evidence of this crime.

Even if there aren't any leads to follow this up further, it is all very expensive for taxpayers, especially when you consider that it would cost nothing for the citizen to properly secure their purse/iPod/laptop by not leaving it in their car in the first place. In many cases, people become victims because they make poor choices. In fact, in our sleepy little burg we see quite a number of larcenies that occur because people don't properly secure their stuff. If you leave your purse on the front seat of your car while you go into the mall, don't be surprised if it gets stolen.

It would be much more efficient for the officer not to have to respond to the results of these poor choices. The hard part is to convince people to make better choices and prevent crime so their tax dollars aren't spent unnecessarily. Preventing the crime in the first place is even more efficient than reporting crimes via the Internet or telephone.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Officer Shootings On The Rise


Officer Shootings On The Rise
In what’s likely to reverse the recent trend downward of officer deaths, there’s a story over at The Crime Report that states that shootings of law enforcement officers are on the rise.

The number of firearm-related police fatalities this year is already on track to surpass last year’s figure. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, (NLEOMF), a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that organizes National Police Week each May to honor fallen officers, as of June 11, 28 officers have been killed by gunfire this year, compared with 20 over the same period last year. Figures on firearms related assaults on police officers for 2009 will not be available until this October, but there were 2,244 reports of such assaults in 2008.

It’s a good article and well worth the read. This begs the question, as a crime analyst what are you doing to help keep your officers safe?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Outsourcing Police Labs

Outsourcing Police Labs
There's a piece over at the Houston Chronicle this morning about problems with Houston PD's crime lab. I'm not going to pile on about their lab, I think enough's been said about that in other places already. However, there was this very interesting tidbit at the end of the story.
City Council today is slated to discuss giving the police department $2.3 million to allow consultants to continue operating the department’s fingerprint unit through the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. That would bring the total paid to Ron Smith & Associates, based in Mississippi, to $5.2 million.
The consultants largely took over analyzing fingerprints after an audit last year revealed police fingerprint analysts were failing to find viable fingerprints on evidence. Consultants have been working through a backlog of cases and performed the review of more than 4,300 violent crime cases from 2004 to 2009.
Running a competent crime lab is a very expensive and complicated proposition for any agency. I wonder if outsourcing such services is good or bad for law enforcement in general. I think some of the same criticisms of the military's reliance on contractors could rear their head should this become a common trend in police crime labs.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cattle Rustlers? Git A Rope

Cattle Rustlers? Git A Rope
Even in the age of the Internet, there are some crimes that have very old roots. There's a story over at about three Milam county men getting arrested for cattle rustling
White told News 10 the case was developed over several days by Hal Dumas, a special Texas Ranger for the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.
Dumas began investigating after a Milam County rancher reported of cattle missing from a pasture.
Dumas discovered the seven cows were sold at the Milam County Auction Barn in Cameron.
Dumas and Ranger Marvin Wills currently are working a handful of livestock theft cases in other counties in Central Texas.
Texas is home to quite a number of special interest police agencies. Under the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, there are an absolute boatload of specialty police officers defined by statute, including the Special Rangers of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Child Prostitution: This Ain't Taxi Driver

Child Prostitution: This Ain't Taxi Driver
The John Jay Center's blog The Crime Report has a great piece on teens being forced into prostitution in the United States. The article is worth the read. 
By some estimates, there may be as many as 100,000 minors involved in the sex trade in the United States. The issue of under-age prostitution in the U.S. broke wide open last month when authorities say a young girl met football legend Lawrence Taylor in a New York motel room. Taylor, whose case will soon be presented to the grand jury, allegedly paid the 16-year-old runaway $300 for sex.
The girl’s alleged pimp, a man named Rasheed Davis, has also been indicted on charges of sex trafficking. But Davis may have nothing to worry about. The fact is that the men who pimp and pay for sex with underage girls in America typically do so with little fear of being prosecuted.
According to advocates and law enforcement authorities, witness intimidation and a lack of resources are persistent challenges. 
It seems that the momentum to do something about underage prostitution/pimping is finally starting is finally starting to build. There have been more laws passed to combat this problem and there is starting to be more media coverage of this issue.

Even around our sleepy little burg we've seen a few cases where minors were being pimped out. They are difficult cases to prosecute and you are still left with trying to do what's best for the child. Most of these kids come from very troubled backgrounds. Without proper social services for them they are likely to become very troubled adults.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Step 35 - Understand The Crime From Beginning To End

Step 35 - Understand The Crime From Beginning To End
In this post in my trek through the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers I’m going to cover Step 35 - Understand the Crime From Beginning to End.

Sometimes the most effective way to fight crime is not always the traditional reactive approach where Barney and Andy sit around the police station and wait for a call, then respond to the scene, investigate and then sometime later arrest the offenders. In fact, nearly the whole Problem Oriented Policing strategy is "outside the box" thinking and determining the best method to interrupt the cycle of crime, often times before problematic crimes occur.

In order to further this strategy it is important that problem solvers understand the crime cycle. The author's describe it this way:
This brings us to the reason for analyzing crimes in this careful, step-by-step manner: understanding clearly the sequence of actions required for the successful completion of the crime will reveal to you many more points of intervention. In other words, this will broaden the choice of responses for to you consider in your project.
In fact, way back when we covered Step 5 - Be True To POP, we saw that one of the major rationales for the Problem Oriented Policing approach was that "Prevention is more effective than enforcement." Understanding the crime cycle fully will help you to identify all the possible places you can interrupt the crime cycle.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Crime Analysis And Doing More With Less

Crime Analysis And Doing More With Less
Chief Tom Casady has a great post about how lean municipal budgets during this economic slowdown is likely to affect police departments. Cities' budgets are leaner than ever, but city governments are not keen on cutting budgets for public safety. This causes public safety to take up the lion's share of a municipal budget. 

He argues that this trend can't continue forever lest cities end up providing nothing but public safety services. Eventually, cities in fiscal crisis are going to have to start cutting public safety budgets in order to stay afloat. This, will cause police agencies to have to become more efficient. Tom speaks to some ways agencies can do more with less. 
The better use of information resources, crime analysis, problem-oriented policing, and predictive policing will be part of these subtle changes. Police departments can’t afford to waste their valuable resources, and will be much more interested in wringing a greater bang for the buck by using information, data, and research evidence to guide their activities. Evaluation of results will be an accepted part of reviewing police strategies, which will increasingly focus on the outcomes, rather than the outputs. This is already incorporated into Lincoln’s way of policing, and more cities will start to look like us in this regard.

Crime analysis is a very cost effective way to ensure that your agency is being the best steward of the budget monies that your taxpaying citizens cough up.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Pot Dealers Not Going Away

Pot Dealers Not Going Away
NPR has an interesting story this morning about the affect that medical marihuana dispensaries are having on the illegal marihuana market. Right now there are a couple of US states that allow legal medical marihuana dispensaries. 
But some people are still buying illegally. And they have their reasons: They're comfortable with a dealer, or they don't like the idea of putting their name on a government registry, even one that's supposed to be confidential. And then there are those like a young man who flew in from the East Coast for the Disco Biscuits show and spent the afternoon price-shopping marijuana.
"We found that if you go to a dispensary, it's more expensive," he says. "You go through a buddy, least expensive. Speaks for itself."

Even with the trend of quasi-legalization through medical marihuana dispensaries, it does not look like your corner street pot dealers are going away anytime soon. Even if marihuana is made completely legal, there will still be an illicit drug trade for those drugs not likely to be legalized such as cocaine, heroin, etc. 

It will be interesting to see how drug enforcement policy gets rejiggered as attempts to legalize marihuana gain ground. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Is Justice Delayed Justice Denied?

Is Justice Delayed Justice Denied?
There's a pretty good story over at the Austin American Statesman on the impending execution of cop-killer David Lee Powell 32 years after Powell gunned down Austin Police Officer Ralph Ablanedo. The whole sordid mess has ties to Killeen.
Powell — carrying an automatic rifle with 38 rounds in the clip, a .45-caliber handgun, a hand grenade and $5,000 in methamphetamine — was on his way to Killeen for a drug deal. Girlfriend Sheila Meinert was driving his red Mustang, which was missing its rear license tag.
Ablanedo — a five-year officer who loved fishing, married his high school sweetheart and had two boys, ages 5 and 1½ — was patrolling South-Central Austin. He pulled the Mustang over on Live Oak Street and ticketed Meinert. Computer trouble prevented dispatchers from checking on Powell, so the officer let them go.
But before the Mustang had traveled half a block, the computer sprang to life and revealed that Powell was wanted for theft and writing bad checks to dozens of Austin merchants. Ablanedo again signaled Meinert to pull over as the dispatcher alerted officer Bruce Mills to provide routine backup.
Mills heard a scream over the police radio — it sounded like Ablanedo, but he wasn't sure — and arrived a short time later to find his friend bleeding on the street.
Unfortunately, the story is slanted towards the killer with a lot more lines devoted to trying to convince people what a great guy he is now and a whole lot less devoted to what affect this crime had on Officer Ablanedo's family and friends. There is a good quote from former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle though:
"There was never any doubt about the applicability of the law and the appropriateness of the sentence. It was an ambush totally out of nowhere," Earle said. "His soul is between him and his own personal higher power. His actions are between him and the law."
You can find Powell's official TDCJ offender information sheet here.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Community Policing and Citizen's Police Academies

Community Policing and Citizen's Police Academies
There's an interesting interview with the head of DOJ's COPS program Bernard Melekian where he talks about the COPS program and his priorities for the program. In the interview he had this to say about Citizen's Police Academies (CPA): 
One of the things that I think works better than any so-called quote-unquote “strategies” that I want to find a way for COPS to get involved with is the development of citizen police academies. They are enormously effective.
Something that happens in equal measure is that those police academies put a human face on the community to the officers that are involved. I think that if you can maximize the number of police officers who are involved with putting on a citizens police academy, you will change relationships forever.
At my agency, we love our Citizen's Police Academy. In fact, one benefit is that we end up with quite a number of citizens who then volunteer their time at the police department. I have a couple of CPA alumni who volunteer to do data entry in my crime analysis unit. This is quite a welcome help.

Does your agency have a CPA program? If so, do you recruit volunteers from your CPA graduates?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Busy, Busy, Busy

Busy, Busy, Busy
I've been a bit sporadic about posts this week. I've been moving into a new office and things are still a bit upside down. I'm all moved in finally and hope to get back to regular posts next week.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Electronic Roll Call


Electronic Roll Call
Here’s an interesting tidbit from Chief Tom Casady over at Lincoln, NE PD. They are using the web conferencing service GoToMeeting to conduct their roll call briefings.

We use around  here to conduct our shift assemblies (what we call lineup) at the various times during the day when officers are coming on duty.  Web conferencing is ideal for getting everyone on the same page (well, the same screen) about current events.  Gotomeeting, though, has some other nice benefits for us, and last week was a good example.

As usual, Chief Casady and his folks are not afraid to use technology to improve their workflow. Technologies such as web conferencing can make an agency much more efficient provided they are deployed in a well thought out manner.

What new ways of doing things are you using at your agency?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Comparing Apples To Oranges

Comparing Apples To Oranges
Last week's release by the FBI of the preliminary UCR Crime Stats triggered articles about this, both here on the blog and in the media. This weekend we saw one from the Killeen Daily Herald about Killeen Police's crime stats. 
Killeen police Chief Dennis Baldwin said it's more important to see how a city compares to itself in recent years than how it compares to other cities.

"Some cities' demographics are different. ... You can't really compare cities to cities; that's not really apples to apples," Baldwin said.
What Chief Baldwin said is something that I've been harping on for some time. You got to be really cautious about comparing your city to another city when it comes to crime stats. It is a kind of interesting exercise, but it's usefulness is somewhat suspect. Every city is unique and some like Killeen have significant demographic differences that make crime rate comparisons really problematic.