Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Wanna Be Ninja Robs Restaurant

This one’s a bit weird, a Killeen fast food joint was robbed by a man armed with a samurai sword. According to the story over at KWTX.com:

Police say the robber came into the Arby's Restaurant on W. Rancier Drive just after 9:00p.m. holding a samurai sword.

He demanded cash, and at some point he poked someone with the sword. That person was not seriously injured.

We’ve had a number of assaults in my sleepy little burg committed by people armed with swords, but this is the first sword point armed robbery I think I’ve ever seen.

If this guy watched the movie Seven Samurai he got it wrong, the samurai are supposed to be the good guys, not the bandits.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Step 45 – Choose Responses Likely To Be Implemented

For several months, I have been posting about chapters in the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. This book is published by the Department of Justice funded Center For Problem Oriented Policing. The book is divided up into 60 chapters or “steps” that in the authors’ words:

… prepares you for this new role by providing you with a basic knowledge of problem-oriented policing and the related fields of environmental criminology and situational crime prevention.

In this post we’ve made it to Step 45 – Choose Responses Likely To Be Implemented. One of the reasons for a book like this is because problem oriented policing can be complicated. If your problem was easy, it probably wouldn’t be a problem now would it?

You’ve gone to all the trouble to study and evaluate your problem, you may even have a proposed solution, but if the solution isn’t likely to be implemented have you really solved your problem? You have to come up with a solution that is likely to be implemented.

The authors’ list five main obstacles to implementation of any solution.

  1. Unanticipated technical difficulties.
  2. Inadequate supervision of implementation.
  3. Failure to coordinate action among different agencies.
  4. Competing priorities.
  5. Unanticipated costs.

These obstacles are discussed with an example from a problem oriented policing project to reduce school vandalism. Hit the link to read the original chapter. There are some good insights that may help you to avoid pitfalls in your own problem’s solution.

Next time, we’ll cover Step 46 – Conduct A Process Evaluation.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Cops & Death Notifications

Often times people think that a police officer's job is just locking up bad guys. The blog Joe The Cop has a great post that gives a bit of insight into one of the more unpleasant parts of a police officer's job, making death notifications. 
Yesterday I told a woman that her husband was dead. 
She had reported her husband missing the day before, and police from several agencies had been searching for him. In the dry language of the police report the husband had been described as "suffering from depression". 
There's no way to adequately describe in a police report the pain, confusion and fear that people experience--the people left behind to worry, and the people who go missing. Sometimes you just know that there will not be a good ending, in spite of all your efforts. Her husband's body was found, apparently the victim of suicide, and it fell on us to make the death notification.
The whole post is worth the read. For those of you who aren't in law enforcement, most of the time the job of death notifications falls on police officers. Most departments don't have enough victim's assistance folks or chaplains available to perform these notifications. It's a very uncomfortable part of the job to have to deliver this news. Joe The Cop does a great job of letting you peek at this unpleasant part of the job.

Back in the day when I was a sworn officer, I had to make a number of those notifications. That's one part of being a cop that I don't really miss.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Crime Analysis In The News

There were a couple of good stories this week about the effectiveness of crime analysis in reducing crimes. The first one over at the Memphis Commercial Appeal, highlights the effectiveness of their department's Blue CRUSH program.
The department's Blue CRUSH (Crime Reduction Utilizing Statistical History) initiative uses a daily analysis of computer data to define the city's crime "hot spots" so supervisors know exactly where to put their manpower, Police Director Larry Godwin said.
Memphis's program has led to a significant decrease in reported crimes as compared to the period before it's implementation.

There's also another article over at the Los Angeles Times discussing their innovative use of crime analysis to perform what LAPD is calling "predictive policing".
Predictive policing is rooted in the notion that it is possible, through sophisticated computer analysis of information about previous crimes, to predict where and when crimes will occur. At universities and technology companies in the U.S. and abroad, scientists are working to develop computer programs that, in the most optimistic scenarios, could enable police to anticipate, and possibly prevent, many types of crime.
LAPD teamed up with a UCLA math professor to work out the mathematical models that can lead police officers to predict which areas are at an increased risk for a crime based on what has recently occurred.

Both stories are good reads and worth the time. I think the LAPD predictive policing study will be real interesting to watch over time. Anything to help cops work smarter and not just harder. What are you doing to help your officers work smarter and not just harder?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Where is Ben Lund?

In 2005, Ben Lund went missing in the Killeen area. Now his parents are hoping that new billboards in Killeen will generate information about what might have happened to Ben according to a news story from KYTX.

Craig says, "We're just hoping to raise awareness of our son's missing situation and hoping that someone will come forward with some information."

"I pray that he's alive," says Beth, "I cant say that he's dead because we don't have a body. There are no remains, and as long as there are no remains, he's out there."

The Lund's are offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to Benjamin.

Do you know what happened to Ben Lund? If you have any information, you can call Killeen Police at 254-501-8800.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Great TED Talk For Chart Geeks

Most crime analysts spend an extraordinary amount of time creating charts and graphs to help people understand the data that comes from analysis. Here’s a great video from David McCandless over at TED Talks that speaks about data visualization.

Another great site for chart geeks is over here at Chart Porn. (Don’t worry, it’s SFW). They scour the web for the best examples of charts and infographics.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Busy Weekend In Central Texas

There were lots of crime stories from central Texas over the weekend. Here are some of the highlights.

Not only was it a busy weekend in central Texas, but it’s been a busy few years in the Houston area. The Houston Chronicle has an interesting story about the number of unsolved homicides in the Houston metro area from 2004-2009.

But while murder clearance rates in some cities lag behind the national average, nearly 70 percent of the slayings in Houston get solved. In fact Houston, considering its size, is on par or better than most cities of its size.

But how much is enough? A 70 percent success rate still leaves 30 percent without answers. And the numbers provide little comfort to the families of victims across the region where 850 deaths have yet to result in arrests.

The nice thing about stories like this is that while we’ve been busy here in central Texas lately, other places have been busier.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Step 44 – Find The Owner Of The Problem

We’re up to Step 44 – Find the owner of the problem in our walk through the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. The opening paragraph of this chapter says:

Many problems arise through the failure of some institution - business, government agency, or other organization - to conduct its affairs in ways that prevent crime rather than cause it. In short, many problems occur because one or more institutions are unable or unwilling to undertake a preventive strategy, or because these institutions have intentionally established a circumstance that stimulates crimes or disorder. This creates risky facilities (Step 28) and other concentrations of crime.

For many problems the police face, a large number of them could have been prevented from becoming problematic if the owner of the problem dealt with it early on.

For example, in my sleepy little burg, we occasionally have disorder problems crop up around nightclubs. Most of the time, the management of these problem clubs are so slipshod they allow minor disorder problems to fester into huge problems.

When problems develop the authors suggest you look into the answers to these three questions:

  • Who owns the problem?
  • Why has the owner allowed the problem to develop?
  • What is required to get the owner to undertake prevention?

This is a really great chapter because it’s highly practical. I strongly encourage you to hit the link and read the whole thing.

In the case of our nightclub problems, if we cannot gain the cooperation of the club management voluntarily, we’ll resort to pursuing punitive actions against the club owners/management to force them to improve their operations and remove the environmental conditions that allows these problems to develop.

Next time, we’ll cover Step 45 – Choose responses likely to be implemented

Thursday, August 19, 2010

So Much For "The Good Stuff" At This Bar

This is a crime you don't see too often. Seems like a local bar owner got caught refilling bottles of premium hooch with cheap rotgut. According to the story at the Killeen Daily Herald:
Bullock later admitted to officers he was aware top shelf liquor bottles were being refilled with low grade alcohol at the business. He told officers the Patron bottles had been refilled with Taaka Vodka, the report states.
Bullock also told officers he had dumped out the four refilled tequila bottles to hide the refilling. As a result, officers were unable to collect samples in order to determine permit violations, the officer stated.
 The sad part is the extra money he made is going to be offset by the bill for his legal troubles. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hot Products Are Also Hot For Thieves

There’s an interesting piece over at Geek.com about a FedEx delivery driver who was set up and robbed by some of his fellow co-workers. It seems that the driver had a number of boxes of Apple Computer products loaded on his truck.

Last week FedEx driver Francisco Matute was held at gunpoint by four masked assailants as the contents of his van was stolen. He was carrying several boxes of Apple hardware, but we don’t know the exact contents of them. …

It looks like the contents of the van was known before Matute set off for the day, and the robbery hastily concocted by the loaders and two friends.

There have been a few other thefts and robberies involving Apple Computer products including one where a customer who just purchased an iPad had the end of his finger ripped off by a snatch and grab thief.

Whenever a product attains a near cult-like desirability, they become just as attractive to thieves as they do to legitimate consumers. Businesses dealing with these hot products should evaluate their security procedures when they find themselves dealing with these products.

What items are hot in your community? Does the demand for these items in the legitimate market have a corresponding demand in the illegitimate market?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Networking Solves Crimes

USA Today has a story about how networking between police played into efforts to capture a serial killer who is alleged to have killed several people and wounded a number of others in a series of random stabbing attacks in Michigan, Ohio and Virginia.

Steven Egger, a University of Houston-Clear Lake criminology professor who has studied serial killers, said a lack of communication among police departments is a nationwide problem that routinely delays the realization that a serial offender is operating in an area.

Communication makes a huge difference in solving crimes, especially crimes that are of a random nature. This is why it’s critically important to break down communication barriers within your agency and to develop ways to network with other agencies.

What are you doing to improve communications both in your agency and with others in your area? 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Convenience Store Robberies

The Waco Tribune had a story this weekend about the murder of a Bellmead convenience store owner during what is believed to have been a robbery attempt. The Tribune interviewed a resident who lives near the store. She had this to say about the victim Najmal Haq:

“All the kids loved him. He was really good to them. Sometimes one or another would be a little short of money when they brought stuff to the cash register, and he would just settle for what they had.

“I can’t imagine anybody who deserved something like this less than he did,” she said. “Whoever did it really needs to get the death penalty.”

Convenience stores are frequent targets of robberies. In fact, it’s not uncommon for some cops in my area to refer to them as “stop & robs”, a take off on the Stop & Go chain of convenience stores.

The prevalence of robberies at convenience stores also makes being employed at one a hazardous occupation. In fact, according to the Center For Problem Oriented Policing, convenience store employees are second only to taxi cab drivers in having the highest rates of workplace homicide.

The Center For Problem Oriented Policing also has a good publication, The Problem of Robbery of Convenience Stores, that explores convenience store robberies in depth. The guide explores a number of factors that contribute to the problem of convenience store robberies such as:

  • Hours of operation
  • Interior store layout
  • Exterior store environment
  • Location
  • Convenience store type
  • Ownership
  • Number of employees
  • Cash-control procedures
  • Incident response policies

The guide also has a number of suggestions for combating these robberies. I would encourage you to hit the link and read the entire guide.

What kind of responses has your agency implemented to deal with these robberies?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Step 43 - Remove Excuses For Crime

In this post in my series on the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers we're up to Step 43 - Remove Excuses For Crime. In the first paragraph in this chapter the authors make this statement:
This fifth category of situational techniques recognizes that offenders make moral judgments about their behavior and that they often rationalize their conduct to "neutralize" what would otherwise be incapacitating feelings of guilt or shame. 
The ideas behind this idea are not new. The authors use this example for one of the five points.
When Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso suggested in the 19th century that people should be locked up for urinating in the streets, his pupil Enrico Ferri suggested a more practical way to solve the problem: build public toilets.
This makes a heck of a lot of sense. Many problems for law enforcement concern nuisance issues and are not the result of predatory criminal behavior. In my sleepy little burg, we'll get many more vocal complaints from citizens over issues such as barking dogs and loud parties than we ever will over a murder. These minor issues can be often solved or lessened by removing the excuses that people have when committing these problem behaviors.

The authors list five general ways you can help remove excuses to commit crimes. They are:
  • Set rules
  • Post instructions
  • Alert conscience
  • Assist compliance
  • Control drugs and alcohol
In the book, the authors provide a few examples for each of the five points. Hit the link to the original article to read them.

Next time, we'll cover Step 44 - Find The Owner Of The Problem.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Burglary Victim Solves Her Crime on Craigslist

The Killeen Daily Herald has an unusual story of a burglary victim who managed to track down her thief by setting the crook up on Craigslist.
(Parker) continually checked the website craigslist.org to see if any of the electronics taken from her home would pop up in the for sale section.
At roughly 6 a.m. the next morning she spotted them. She saw an ad selling a PlayStation 3 along with an assortment of games matching those stolen from her home.
"I was like oh my god, oh my god that's our stuff," she said.
Residential burglaries are a serious problem across the United States. According to the Center for Problem Oriented Policing, residential burglaries have one of the lowest clearance rates for any serious crime.
The burglary clearance rate has remained consistently low, with an average of 14 percent in the United States and 23 percent in Britain. Rural agencies typically clear a slightly higher percentage of burglaries. The clearance rate for burglary is lower than that for any other serious offense. Indeed, most burglary investigations—about 65 percent—do not produce any information or evidence about the crime, making burglaries difficult to solve. Burglary causes substantial financial loss—since most property is never recovered—and serious psychological harm to the victims.
The POP Center has a great guide for law enforcement agencies dealing with a residential burglary problem. You can get the guide here.What is your agency doing to combat residential burglaries?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Does DDACTS Make Sense?

I just recently got my issue of Geography & Public Safety. Nearly the entire issue is devoted to a relatively new enforcement theory called Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety (DDACTS). The idea is behind DDACTS is explained by the National Institute of Justice this way:
DDACTS integrates location-based crime and traffic data to establish effective and efficient methods for deploying law enforcement and other resources. Using geomapping to identify areas that have high incidences of crime and crashes, DDACTS uses traffic enforcement strategies that play a dual role in fighting crime and reducing crashes and traffic violations.
When I first heard of this theory, I had some problems with the idea of a correlation with crime and traffic crashes. Ronald E. Wilson has a piece in the latest Geography & Public Safety where he offers a few thoughts on why this correlation might be real. If you're a skeptic like me, Wilson's piece has eased some of my concerns about the correlation.

Even so, an increase in high visibility police traffic enforcement in high crime areas will likely result in a decrease in crimes in these areas. This is just old fashioned good police work. Such enforcement actions send a message to the neighborhood that there are capable guardians present and remove that piece of the crime triangle.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"Brevity Is The Soul Of Wit"

While Shakespeare's Polonius may have given this advice in Hamlet, it seems that often times this maxim is lost when it comes to many police department's CompStat meetings. At least this is the opinion of Chief Tom Casady over at Lincoln, Nebraska PD. Chief Casady has a post over at his blog where he makes some observations about CompStat meetings in general.
After visiting with dozens of other departments, in my view the typical Compstat meeting is too long; is static (rather than interactive); is too general, dealing too much in statistics rather than getting down into the specifics of individual problems; focuses too much on trying to hold district commanders accountable; has a “gotcha” feel rather than an information sharing one; is too scripted; contains far too many PowerPoint slides; is not sufficiently current; and is targeted too much at administrators, rather than operational personnel.
His post got me to thinking about how police department's "do" meetings, whether CompStat or otherwise. When was the last time you actually looked forward to sitting in a meeting at your agency? Is your distaste for meetings because the objectives of a meeting could be accomplished in a more efficient way?

A number of month's ago I read Stephen King's book; On Writing. One thing I took away from his book was the idea of hacking out any unnecessary word in a sentence to reduce it to only the functional parts. This is something I consciously think about every time I write. I think we should also apply the same principal to our meetings and to our presentations. What part of your meeting or presentation needs to be cut out in order to leave only the functional parts? What are you going to do to streamline your next meeting?

If you do manage to cut out some of the fluff, your co-workers will thank you for it, and you'll likely get a lot more accomplished.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Step 42- Reduce Provocations

In this post in our journey through Crime Analysis for Problem Solvers, we're up to Step 42- Reduce provocations. A few chapters back, in Step 38, we saw that there were 25 techniques of situational crime prevention that were divided up into these five categories:
  1. Increasing the effort of crime
  2. Increasing the risks
  3. Reducing the rewards
  4. Reducing provocations
  5. Removing excuses
Sometimes crimes and disorder occur because of provocation. If you walked into a biker bar and shouted something rude about bikers' mothers to the assembled multitude you probably shouldn't be surprised if you get thumped by some hairy tattoo'd guy wearing a leather vest and motorcycle boots. Not all provocations are quite as obvious as this, but you get the point. 

The authors suggest a number of broad ways to reduce provocation. They are:
  • Reduce frustration and stress
  • Avoid disputes
  • Reduce arousal and temptation
  • Neutralize peer pressure
  • Discourage imitation
Examine your crime problem for a provocative trigger. If you can reduce or mitigate this provocation, your problem might be reduced. 

Next time, we'll look at Step 43 - Remove excuses for crime.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Texas Legislature Online

I've been away from the Internet all this week. However, I wanted to leave a few posts about Internet websites I find useful for crime analysis and law enforcement.

In this post I want to look at the Texas Legislature Online website. Anyone who has ever been in Texas long is probably aware that every legislative session there are hundreds of bills that are offered for consideration in becoming law. Usually, quite a number of them will affect law enforcement. The Texas Legislature Online website will help you track bills as they wind their way through the legislative process. 

By following the progress of these bills, you can often get a jump on the consequences of these bills becoming laws that your agencies are required to enforce. You can also research Texas laws and statutes online and at no cost. 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

US Census Bureau

I'm away from the Internet this week but I thought I post about some websites I find useful for crime analysts and law enforcement.

In this post, I'm going to look at the US Census Bureau's site, Census.gov. Crime analysts often spend a lot of time looking at statistics and demographics about their community when researching crime problems. The US Census Bureau has more than just population statistics. They also have demographic statistics and geographic information such as maps and GIS data.

A piece of trivia regarding my use of Census data is that the most obscure data I use from Census is determining the estimated racial demographics of vehicle availability. Every year when I analyze our racial profiling data I compare this to the racial break down of traffic stops and arrests to ensure we are transparent with regards to any allegations that we base enforcement actions on race.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

FBI's Uniform Crime Reports

I am away from the Internet this week so I thought I post about some of the law enforcement websites I frequently use or find very useful.

In this post, I'm going to look at the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports site. The FBI's UCR program collects crime statistics from nearly every law enforcement agency in the United States. Since police executives' careers sometimes live or die based on their crime stats, it's often helpful to look at what's happening in other jurisdictions to help identify problems that may be appearing in your agency.

The sooner you can identify a crime problem the sooner you can work on identifying possible solutions.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Community Oriented Policing Services

Since I'm away from the Internet this week, I thought I'd mention a couple of good Internet resources for crime analysis and law enforcement.

Today's post is about the US Department of Justice's Community Oriented Policing Services. The COPS folks have a number of publications available both electronically and hard copy. There is also information on applying for COPS grants to help fund law enforcement programs.

One handy tool is the ability to sign up for email updates. I use it to keep track of all the new law enforcement publications being put out by the various DOJ related sites.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Center For Problem Oriented Policing

I'm away from the Internet this week so I thought I post some of the websites I frequently visit for information relevant to crime analysis and law enforcement.

One of the best websites is the Center for Problem Oriented Policing. They have a huge number of publications regarding crime analysis and problem oriented policing. Nearly all of these publications are free.

It's especially useful when researching a particular crime problem. If you have a problem in your jurisdiction, you can query the site for publications or case studies to see what other agencies have done to successfully combat a similar crime problem.