Friday, October 29, 2010

DDACTS Gaining Ground In Police Agencies

There's a story over at the Worcester Telegram has a story about the Fitchburg, MA Police Department being the first in the state of Massachusetts to implement the Data Driven Approach to Crime and Traffic Safety or DDACTS model of policing. From the story:

It is more efficient use of man power, he said, with the potential to show quantifiable results.

He said that in hot spot areas, an officer will still perform routine patrols, but during certain times of the day several additional officers will patrol the area, too. Additionally, the State Police will be given copies of the maps, he said.

“They may be there simultaneously or at different times,” he said. “It increases volume in that neighborhood. There could be six cruisers there in four hours making stops and making an impact in that neighborhood.”

I sat through a very good presentation on DDACTS in September at the IACA conference. We've been evaluating the program for a possible strategy for my agency. The DDACTS model makes use of the talents of crime analysts to make sure that we're putting "cops on the dots" and that enforcement resources are being used efficiently.

How is your agency making sure that they are putting the "cops on the dots"?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Just How Prolific Are Your Burglars?

I saw this story over at the Houston Chronicle. I think it should remind us just how prolific some offenders are and just how important it is for us a crime analysts to make it a priority to target them.

Houston Police Department officials say they have arrested two suspects who may be responsible for more than 150 home burglaries committed over the past year in the Montrose area. ...

Police officers in the Central Patrol Division believe the two are responsible for more than half of all home burglaries in Montrose and the surrounding area since September 2009.

Campbell may be responsible for 107 home burglaries and Henry more than 50 home burglaries, HPD officials said.

If we can identify crime series such as these, and put our limited resources towards solving these series, we can have the greatest effect on reducing our overall crime rate.

Are you seeking to identify crime series and target prolific offenders in your community?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

New Tools And Techniques Make Better Crime Analysis

I've been in training this week learning to use some really neat crime analysis software (there's probably a blog post coming about that too). While I have been learning, and away from the regular crime analysis routine, I have been thinking about what makes for a good crime analysis unit. One thing that has come to mind is that as analysts, we all need to make an effort to carve out time in our schedules for professional development.

Our analytical skills, like any other skill can atrophy if they aren't exercised regularly. It's way too easy to get into our normal office routine and never push ourselves to learn a new technique or to spend time scanning the literature of crime analysis and policing to learn something new.

For many of us, our conference budgets have been cut or disappeared entirely due to the economy. The good thing though is that it's easier than ever to do research or learn a new technique via the Internet.

A case in point, there's a good article over at PoliceOne on predictive policing from a recent presentation given at the IACP conference.

In a very real sense, predictive policing is really bout risk assessment — not unlike the type of analysis a lender might do when considering a loan applicant, or the weather service would do when evaluating atmospheric conditions to predict the probability of a storm.

“I think we can draw a lot from the business community, and credit scores are a good example — credit reporting companies are really good at being able to predict who’s a risk and who’s not. They are able to determine who is most likely to pay their bills and who’s not. We’re talking about identifying behaviors and conditions that make it ripe for future crime to occur, and that’s where weather comes in. We know that when a cold front and a warm front meet over a flat plain on a hot summer day that we might get thunderstorms. That doesn’t mean we will get thunderstorms — it only means that the conditions are more ripe in that location than in other locations,” Mallard said.

Using tools such as a site like PoliceOne, a Google search or a crime analysis email list, there is a ton of good information out there, and nearly all of it is free. If you will carve out an hour or two a week, you can learn a lot.

In fact, here's a challenge for you. Go to your calendar and make an appointment with Professional Development for an hour one day this coming week. Then, let the phone go to voicemail, log out of your email client and pull the office door to. Then spend that hour learning something related to crime analysis. You'll be a better analyst for your effort.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sex Offender Registration Laws Have An Impact On Police Manpower

This weekend saw an interesting story over at the Dallas Morning News regarding Dallas Police turning away sex offenders who were trying to register in order to comply with Texas law regarding sex offender registration. According to the story:
The decision to limit the number of registrants was implemented during the State Fair, Williams said, when two of four officers were temporarily reassigned to work the fairgrounds. Hours had been reduced earlier this summer as part of overall budget cuts, and Williams said that with four staffers again working to register the offenders, the department should be able to keep up.
I was a bit surprised to see this in the story though:
The office is open on a first-come, first-served basis three days a week, 2 ½ hours a day.
So Dallas PD has 3,100 sex offenders they are charged with registering and their department has only one location for the entire city and it's only open 7.5 hours a week?

Unfortunately, compliance with the law isn't just a burden for offenders but is also a burden for police departments across the state. Sex offender registration was one of those statutes from the legislature that didn't come with any funds to implement. Most departments have had to hire people or assign registration as another duty to existing personnel in order to be able to comply.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Step 51 - Be Alert To Unexpected Benefits

In this post in our journey through Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers we are up to Step 51 - Be Alert To Unexpected Benefits.

The authors have this to say about this step:

You can drastically underestimate the effects of your intervention if you do not take account of diffusion of benefits (Step 13). You may conclude that the intervention is not worth the effort or that it failed to suppress the problem. This is particularly true when diffusion contaminates your control group.

I have to say that this step is a bit more difficult for me to comment on. I do encourage you to read this one for yourself. There's just not much I can add to a very thorough chapter on measuring the effects of your problem solving effort. I guess the only thing I can say is it's important for us to be very careful in our approach to measuring our effectiveness.

Next time we'll cover Step 52 - Expect Premature Falls In Crime.

Friday, October 22, 2010

You Think Your Beat Is Tough

This isn't about central Texas or even American law enforcement but I thought it interesting nonetheless. A 20 year old former police department secretary was recently sworn in as police chief in a Mexican border town caught in the middle of a brutal cartel war zone. From the story at the Austin American Statesman:

The tiny but energetic Valles Garcia, whose only police experience was a stint as a department secretary, said she wants her 13 officers to practice a special brand of community policing. She plans to hire more women — she currently has three — and assign each to a neighborhood to talk with families, promote civic values and detect potential crimes before they happen.

"My people are out there going door to door, looking for criminals, and (in homes) where there are none, trying to teach values to the families," she said in her first official appearance Wednesday.

I know that often on this side of the border we have often looked at Mexican cops with a certain amount of skepticism, and sometimes rightfully so. Nevertheless, their communities are reeling from an obscene level of violence and their cops literally don't know if they will live to see the end of their shift each day they go to work.

You have to admire someone who will step up to do a job where no one else will.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Apparently, I'm Not The Only One Who Thinks This Smells

I've recently posted about a website that purports to rank cities by most dangerous and make predictions about the likelihood that citizens there would become future victims of crime. Apparently I am not the only one looking at this site with skepticism. The Crime Report, a website from The John Jay Center On Media, Crime and Justice and the Criminal Justice Journalists association has posted about this "most dangerous" ranking.

Neighborhood Scout isn’t the only self-appointed expert in crime rankings. Another company, for instance, annually uses repackaged data from the FBI’s annual crime report, Crime in the United States, to come up with “Most Dangerous City rankings.”

Such rankings are “bad science,” says Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and current president of the American Society of Criminology.

Rosenfeld, an expert on crime statistics, says the methodology for establishing rankings should be transparent and the fact that companies won’t explain how they arrive at their conclusions should alert anyone who is tempted to take them seriously. Rosenfeld added that Neighborhood Scout researchers should have asked cities for real neighborhood crime data to test whether their predictive models were accurate — but said there is no evidence they did so. If they had, “I think they’d be in much less trouble with police departments.”

He added: “I would never base a decision to move anywhere, leave anywhere or do business anywhere on a model the construction of which I didn’t understand.”

The Crime Report piece goes on to look at some serious problems with this type of "ranking".

Of course the sad part is how many media outlets take reports published by Neighborhood Scout and their ilk and write stories off them assuming that they are accurate. How many communities have had to try an disprove these untrue allegations?

I'd much rather spend my time trying to fight real crime problems in my community than to tilt at windmills because someone is putting out a sensational sounding report to drive traffic to their site.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Someone Has Seen Something

Killeen Police have released an artist's sketch of a man they believe responsible for the kidnapping and sexual assault of an 11 year old Killeen girl that occurred on Monday. From the article over at the Killeen Daily Herald:

Police said the suspect remains at-large. He is described as a white male about 20 years old, with a skinny build and buzzed haircut. At the time of the abduction, he was driving a small, black coupe.

The abduction occurred in the 1100 block of Duncan Avenue in Killeen about 6:30 a.m. Monday. The girl was sexually assaulted at a different location. She was then released near the site of her abduction less than an hour later, reports indicated.

If you live in the Killeen area, did you see this man or a suspicious vehicle in that area? Killeen Police are asking anyone with information on the suspect or crime to call Crime Stoppers at (254) 526-TIPS (8477) or go to Tips also may be made by texting to CRIMES (274637). Make sure to put the word "KILLEEN" in the text message along with the tip.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Video Nothing To Fear If You're In The Right

There was an article recently in USA Today about the proliferation of citizen videos that show police misbehavior. While the article was good, I thought it was a bit one sided in implying that videos are nearly always are used to bludgeon the police.

The videos are so ubiquitous that analysts and police debate whether they are serving the public interest — or undermining public trust in law enforcement and even putting officers' lives in jeopardy. The videos are subjecting officers' actions in public places to new scrutiny and changing the way accusations against cops play out in court. In some communities, police are fighting back by enforcing laws that limit such recordings. Other departments are seeking new training for officers to prepare for the ever-present surveillance on the street.

Of course the reason the few videos of the police behaving badly are newsworthy is because they are unusual. The one aspect not talked about much is how many videos show the officer's actions were justified and maybe the crooks actions were criminal. Of course these types of videos don't often "go viral" and are probably most often recorded by the police themselves.

Over at my agency the vast majority of video recorded encounters with the police show normal interactions between citizens and the public they serve. The few more contentious encounters usually show the citizens behaving badly whether drunk, obnoxious or both. Even the rare ones that show the officers in a bad light are useful for correcting our mistakes.

In law enforcement we must always remember that we are public servants. It is our solemn duty to serve our communities well. If your actions are right, you have nothing to be afraid of.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Step 50 - Watch For Other Offenders Moving In

In the last two posts in Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers we looked at types of displacement that might occur in response to your problem solving efforts. In this post covering, Step 50 - Watch For Other Offenders Moving In, we are going to look at another wrinkle in your problem solving solution that of what is sometimes called "perpetrator displacement". This occurs when new offenders move in to fill the void caused by the removal of the previous offenders.

There is a great bit by the authors about this phenomena:

Natural replacement of offenders can be slow, particularly if the opportunities are obscure. But if someone discovered the crime opportunities in the past, others will rediscover them in the future. And if the old offenders were removed through imprisonment, some may return to take advantage of the opportunities upon their release.

Unfortunately, criminals can be a very communicative bunch. Crime techniques are readily communicated among potential offenders. An example in my sleepy little burg when I was just a young police officer involved the use of ceramic spark plug insulators being used to break windows in car burglaries.

These offenders discovered that small chunks of the ceramic material commonly used as automobile spark plug insulators when thrown against auto glass would cause the side windows to shatter very easily and almost noiselessly. It wasn't long before every ne'er do well on the street after midnight had at least one spark plug chip in his pocket.

If we locked up one group of prolific offenders there were more ready to take their place because an underlying component of the problem had not been dealt with, that of people leaving expensive and desirable property in their cars.

Any solution to this problem would have to do more than just remove the offenders from the picture.

If you remember my previous post on the Problem Analysis (Crime) Triangle, there are three components to any crime, a likely offender and a suitable target come together in time and place. If you remove one of these, a crime will not occur. But if you remove more than one, such as the offender and the target, a crime won't occur even if you experience an influx of new offenders.

In your solution to a crime problem try to address as many sides of the crime triangle as possible to have the most impact.

Next time we'll cover Step 51 - Be Alert To Unexpected Benefits.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Federal Goverment Required To Use Plain Language

"It's as if  millions of  voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced."
A bill signed into law this week requires federal goverment agencies to use "plain language" in their documents and publications. The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires:

(3) PLAIN WRITING- The term ‘plain writing’ means writing that is clear, concise, well-organized, and follows other best practices appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience.
Now if we can just get them to ban PowerPoint presentations.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

No More Delays, Fort Hood Shooter Hearing Underway

The big news of the week involves the Article 32 Hearing of accused Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hassan getting underway with some darn dramatic testimony. The Killeen Daily Herald has been doing a bang up job covering this.
Wednesday's hearing began on schedule and quickly moved to testimony after Col. James L. Pohl, the presiding Article 32 investigating officer, ruled against a defense motion to delay the hearing a third time. It resolved lingering questions about whether the proceeding would have to wait until Nov. 8.
I can see why Hassan's attorney has been trying to delay this hearing, the court of public opinion is going to turn even more against his client after all this. I'm not sure there is a good reason to delay the innevitable though.

You can also follow the hearing live via Herald reporter Amanda Stairrett's Twitter feed.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Where To Draw The Line?

There is an interesting piece over at the New York Times about a decorated Army sergeant who is running into problems in joining the NYPD. The problems stem from a youthful conviction for a weapons offense that he later received a governor's pardon for.
He is a decorated soldier. He has been fully supported in his quest by his commanding officers, by his parole board, by the Queens district attorney and by the judge who sentenced him but restored his civil rights two years ago. Above all, he received a pardon last December from Gov. David A. Paterson, who called himself proud to help the sergeant in his pursuit of a law enforcement career.

"We need not let our mistakes define us," the governor said.

Sergeant Hernandez’s lawyer, James D. Harmon Jr., a veteran of the Vietnam War, said of his client, "People have put their faith in him, and he has delivered every time."

Still, the Police Department has dug in its heels. Effectively ignoring the governor’s pardon, it is sticking to a literal reading of the city’s Administrative Code, which says that only people "who have never been convicted of a felony" may join the force. A department spokesman emphasized the word "never." In an interview with NY1, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said last week that he had to "think about the precedent this sets" for others with criminal records who may want to be hired.
This is an interesting conundrum, where to draw the line on previous criminal convictions. In some cases past criminal behavior is an indicator of future behavior. Many of us in law enforcement remember the failed experiment in Washington D.C.'s police force when they did away with background checks altogether. God forbid we go there again.

But we also have to ask ourselves that given the proliferation of laws criminalizing as a felony, relatively minor behavior do we really want to draw such a hard line. Heck, here in Texas there are over 2,000 felony offenses on the books including 11 felonies involving oysters.

Could someone who committed a youthful indiscretion involving an oyster felony redeem themselves and later become a good cop?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Child Abuser Gets To Serve Time "At His Convenience"

Sometimes a criminal justice news story defies explanation. The Killeen Daily Herald had one of those recently when it chronicled a story about a sentence for injury to a child recently handed down in a Bell County court.
Assistant Bell County District Attorney Murff Bledsoe accepted the jury's sentence when it was handed down. Now, Bledsoe is irked with the terms for Kriska's probation, later set by 264th District Judge Martha Trudo.

Instead of ordering him confined in the Bell County Jail for 180 consecutive days, Trudo decided to impose a 90-day sentence to be served at Kriska's convenience in non-consecutive sequences during the course of his probation.
The mother of the victim is not at all happy with this. The Herald quotes her saying:
"He is basically walking free after almost killing my baby," she said. "It's not fair at all. He needs to at least be kicked out of the Army for committing such a horrible crime."
So let me get this straight, this military policeman is convicted of physically abusing a child so severely the child gets airlifted to a hospital with head injuries, and he gets probation and gets to serve the few days he has to spend in jail "at his convenience" and not all at once?

I bet that will show 'em we're "tough on child abuse" here in Bell County.

Monday, October 11, 2010

"Proprietary Calculations" Scare Me

In the words of Yogi Bera, "it's like deja vu all over again" as yet another group of cities are deemed to have the "most dangerous neighborhoods" by a commercial website. This time it's Galveston, TX tourist destination, known as "the Strand". A story over at the Houston Chronicle looks at this designation and touches on some of the problems with making such a designation.
Residents and officials argued the website's findings are questionable, with Schiller saying he has a proprietary calculation for predicting, based on FBI crime statistics, the likelihood that a person will be the victim of a violent crime in a particular neighborhood.

But the FBI does not collect neighborhood-specific calculations for crime, leaving agency and local officials confused as to how Schiller tallied crimes in a roughly 70-square-block area. And Galveston population figures cited by appear to match those of 1980, which are far off from estimates for 2010.

Schiller did not respond to repeated requests for comment but told law enforcement agencies that his calculations were based on 2008 data and were the result of a proprietary formula.
At least the media is starting to catch on and is beginning to question just how these communities are designated "most dangerous".  I went to the website cited in the article and looked at their explanation of how they arrived at this conclusion. Just like the people quoted in the Chron's story I have some serious doubts about their methodology.

I've been in law enforcement for quite some time and their explanation of how they gathered their data for analysis left me scratching my head. As the folks at the Chron pointed out, law enforcement agencies don't report their UCR crime statistics by neighborhood or even tie it to Census tracts. So just how did they reference these reported crimes to a specific location? I guess this is part of the "proprietary calculation". They also claim to have gathered crime data from all 17,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. At my agency such a request would have come to my office and I've never heard of such a request by these folks here.

Of course it's easy to hide what could be bunk analysis behind a "proprietary calculation" mantra. The sad part is that these types of "most dangerous" lists do little more than serve the financial interests of the people making them while scaring the public with a boogey man that never existed. I wonder if this "proprietary calculation" methodology would withstand scrutiny from real experts in the field of crime analysis and criminology?

Over the past few years law enforcement is starting to try an deal with the public's fear of crime. Often times, the unfounded fear of crime causes law enforcement agencies to expend resources that would be better served dealing with real problems. A session at this years combined IACA / POP Center conference included one titled "Policing To Reduce The Fear of Crime". The COPS program even has a publication dealing with this phenomena.

What are you doing at your agency to reduce unfounded fear of crime in your community?

Friday, October 8, 2010

You Can Buy Anything On Craigslist

In spite of all the news stories about how law enforcement agencies are monitoring sites such as Craigslist for illegal activities, I guess this guy didn't get the message. The Killeen Daily Herald has a story about a Bell County Grand Jury indictment of a local man who was using the online classified ad site to sell marijuana.
Nolanville police became aware that someone was advertising marijuana for sale to people living in the 254 area code after a resident alerted them to an advertisement they had spotted on Craigslist.

The advertisement included an e-mail address and telephone number for the seller, an arrest report states.

"It's just like he was advertising a used car," Assistant District Attorney Murff Bledsoe said.

The officer e-mailed the seller and began to negotiate the purchase of 1 pound of marijuana. Once they reached a price, the officer set up a purchase at the intersection of Farm-to-Market 439 Spur and Ryans Circle, Bledsoe said.
I guess he wasn't paying attention when I posted about Craigslist hookers or he figured there would be a lot of unemployed Craigslist hookers looking for solace with cannabis.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Murder Is Expensive

The UPI and a few other outlets are covering a recent study by a professor at Iowa State University on the societal cost of crime. It turns out that the average total estimated cost of murder is $17.25 million dollars.

The thing I find most important from the study is this bit:

The ISU researchers also calculated costs of rape ($448,532), armed robbery ($335,733), aggravated assault ($145,379) and burglary ($41,288).

While research attaching cost estimates to heinous crimes may appear may appear a bit cold in nature, DeLisi says it's actually conducted with prevention in mind.

"This area of research has really been run with prevention researchers," he said. "That's because what they find is that even if a prevention program is very expensive -- and most of them are actually shockingly inexpensive -- they're still more cost effective than allowing these careers to unfold."

If crime is so dang expensive, how come the crime prevention budget at your local police department is so small? I hate to say it but it seems that crime prevention programs are treated like a bastard step child at many departments.

Preventing crime from occurring is one thing that the analysis phase of a problem oriented policing project should look at. How can this crime problem be interrupted before more people become expensive victims? As a crime analyst are you seeking ways to support and encourage crime prevention efforts at your agency?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Murder Most Foul

There were quite a number of local news stories about murder yesterday. Here's what they were:

  • The US Supreme Court shot down the appeal of a Fort Hood soldier convicted in the murders of several Killeen area cab drivers in the 1980's. Dwight Loving was sentenced to death for these murders by a military courts martial.
  • The murder trial of a Fort Hood solider began this week. The solider stands accused in a 2009 shotgun killing that occurred at a party in Killeen.
  • The Belton lawyer representing accused Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan told a San Antonio news outlet that his main strategy for the trial is to avoid the death penalty for his client. According to the story it seems like the evidence of guilt is overwhelming and he's not going to argue that his client didn't commit the murders he stands accused of. 
In spite of the old media adage that "if it bleeds, it leads" murder is really not all that common in the United States. According to 2009 UCR statistics there were 13,636 murders reported to the police in 2009. Given that the US population was about 315 million in 2009 this means that only 0.004329% of the US population was murdered in 2009.

The Centers for Disease Control has some nifty info about causes of death in the US. hit the link to read it. There is a whole lot more stuff out there to be scared of than murder.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Step 49 - Examine Displacement To Other Targets, Tactics And Crime Types

In my last post in Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers we looked at the problem of displacement. There are a number of ways that crime problems can be displaced. Last time the post covered geographic and temporal displacement.

In this post on Step 49 - Examine Displacement To Other Targets, Tactics And Crime Types, we're going to look at some other types of displacement. These other types of displacement are:

  • Target displacement - involves offenders shifting from newly protected targets to other targets
  • Tactical displacement - occurs when offenders change their tactics or procedures
  • Crime Type displacement - this occurs when offenders switch to another type of crime

The authors, have this caution to offer regarding displacement:
There is no perfect solution to this problem and compromises must be struck. The consequence is that it is often difficult to know if displacement is occurring and difficult to judge the effectiveness of the intervention. Compounding these difficulties is that multiple forms of displacement can occur simultaneously. Indeed, sometimes one form of displacement will necessitate another form as well. Target displacement may require a change in tactics, and if the new targets are not in the same places as the old targets, geographical displacement will occur, too.

They also state that "you cannot find displacement unless you look for it". If you are going to determine the effectiveness of your solution, you have to know whether displacement is occurring.

Next time we'll cover Step 50 - Watch For Other Offenders Moving In.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Arrest Isn't The Solution To Every Policing Problem

If you've followed any of my posts this week, you may recall that I attended the International Association of Crime Analysts / Problem Oriented Policing Center conference in Arlington, TX. As I sat in one of the sessions one of the presenters said that under Problem Oriented Policing (POP) the solution to every crime problem is not a police officer making an arrest. The solution lies in whatever it takes to make the problem go away.

As I got back to my sleepy little burg, I have had the chance to go through some of the accumulated crime stories in the local media. This story over at the Killeen Daily Herald demonstrates this idea that the solution is not always an arrest. It seems that some of the local towing companies have had thieves hitting their impound lots and sawing catalytic converters off the impounded vehicles.

One of the victims interviewed said that she realized the local police didn't have the time or the manpower to solve the problem at her impound lot. Another one of the victims interviewed had this to say:

Teddy Mullins, co-owner of Bill's Towing and B&T Salvage, said his business has been hit for about 25 to 30 catalytic converters over the past several years.

"It's the nature of the business unfortunately," Mullins said. "Any time you leave anything out, people seem to believe it's fair game."

In response to past crimes, Mullins said his company has been cutting converters off first thing when they get a vehicle and locking them up.

In his case, the solution to the theft problem didn't lie with the traditional law enforcement response of making an arrest but in the property owner taking appropriate steps to safeguard their property.

If you remember the problem analysis triangle, crime doesn't occur without an offender and a victim/target coming together in a suitable place. Remove any side of the triangle and the crime won't occur. In this instance the guardian stepped up and removed the target. At least with this crime, the problem was solved.

What are you doing at your jurisdiction to encourage your guardians to take responsibility for their side of the problem analysis triangle?