Tuesday, November 30, 2010

New Blog In Town: The UK Crime Analysis Blog

In law enforcement the field of crime analysis is often lumped in with the criminal intelligence analysis function. In fact at my shop the two functions are together in the same office. In this blog, I have kept a lot of the emphasis on crime analysis because, even though my job title includes Intelligence, the majority of what I do is actually crime analysis.

One thing I have noticed, is that while there is a huge volume of literature out there for crime analysis, there isn't as much out there for criminal intelligence analysis. This is kind of surprising since there is such a renewed emphasis on intelligence in law enforcement circles in this post 9/11 era.

There is a new blog out by Rory Dunne over in the UK where he has been discussing some aspects of criminal intelligence analysis. Rory's a gracious guy and a good writer. I look forward to seeing lots of good stuff from Rory in The UK Crime Analysis Blog in the future.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Step 56 - Use Simple Tables

The last section of Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers consists of seven steps that all center around communicating effectively. We've already went through two of them, Step 54 - Tell a clear story and Step 55 - Make clear maps. In this post we're going to look at Step 56 - Use simple tables.

Back in Step 54, I touched on the role that analysts have in helping their agency make sound decisions. In order for your agency to arrive at sound decisions they must have the knowledge necessary to arrive at a conclusion. I also posited that there is a path that data takes in becoming knowledge. To reiterate,

  1. Data becomes information when it is analyzed.
  2. Information becomes knowledge when it is communicated effectively.

Number 1 usually occurs in the offices of a crime analysis unit. Number 2 can occur in any number of venues, from a crime bulletin, a written report or in an effective PowerPoint presentation. Regardless of the venue, it is possible for the medium to get in the way of the message and hinder the transfer of information.

Most police departments are heavily dependent on computer software and crime analysis units are no exception. Most software packages nowadays have a huge number of bells and whistles for formatting and presenting data. However, just because your software gives you a hundred different ways to format a table, doesn't mean you should use as many of them as you can. In fact, the most important factor in designing a table has more to do with how the information is laid out as opposed to how it is formatted. That being said, keep in mind that simple formatting is usually better, don't let the formatting get in the way of your information.

The authors have a few principles for what makes a good table:

A problem often has multiple causes. Though tables can be constructed to show large numbers of causes, a single table communicates poorly when you examine more than two causes. The basic principles of table construction remain the same:
  • All the causes go in the same direction (usually columns).
  • Summation goes in the direction of the cause (down columns).
  • Comparison of causes goes in the opposite direction (across rows, if causes are in columns).

The authors present several examples of tables and walk through what elements make for a good table. I encourage you to hit the link and read the chapter for yourself to see what they believe to be a simple but effective table.

Next time, we'll cover Step 57 - Use simple figures.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

What Are You Thankful For?

It's the Thanksgiving Holiday here in the US. Like most of us, I am overwhelmed with things to be thankful for this holiday. I have a wonderful family, a nice home and a good job with a great police department. I'll also get to engage in the usual turkey gluttony with my family here in a just a few hours.

While at work yesterday, I helped a couple of our department employees move a large cache of food and drinks into the police headquarters. These will be used to provide a meal for all the on-duty police department employees today, employees who won't be able to engage in all the usual Thanksgiving revelry that you and I will likely enjoy.

While I scanned some news articles this morning, there were a couple of stories about the death of a local police officer, Pat Sirois who worked for the Fort Hood Department of the Army Police, and was also a Nolanville Police Reserve Officer. Officer Sirois was on vacation when he stopped to help a motorist on a highway in Oklahoma when another vehicle struck the disabled vehicle and killed Officer Sirois. The story over at the Killeen Daily Herald had this quote:

"Pat is the type of person that would do anything for anybody, that was his character," said Hollie Witten, Nolanville Police Department's administrative assistant. "If he saw an accident, he would stop. If he saw someone needing help, he would stop."

More than anything I am thankful for public servants like Pat Sirois who are willing to put themselves in dangerous situations to help others, even complete strangers. There is a verse in the Bible that says:

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. - John 15:13 ESV

It's one thing to risk your life for a friend, but what kind of love is it that would cause someone to risk their life for a stranger? Each and every day, police officers, sheriff's deputies, state troopers and other lawmen kiss their spouses and kids and walk out the doors of their homes into a world that is often dangerous and ugly. All too often, a lawman will lose his life on the job and give us a very visible demonstration of that kind of love for their fellow man.

I am very thankful that there are men and women out there that are that dedicated to serving others. The world is a much better place because of them.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

UCR Crime Stat Weirdness

Here's an odd one, there's a story over at the Baltimore Sun's Crime Blog about a death from a shooting incident in 1982 making it to Baltimore's 2010 Uniform Crime Report (UCR) statistics.
So when we look back on the year and say that this many people were killed, let's remember that at least one -- and there's several every year -- are from violence that occurred nearly three decades ago. The number is misleading if you want to judge violence this year.
His shooter already has been convicted and served 15 years in prison. And Street's death has to be counted some place, and constantly adjusting numbers from years past doesn't make much sense. The name goes on the homicide board when it's ruled a homicide.
We had a similarly weird event occur at my sleepy little 'burg when a sexual assault case was Unfounded which led us to report a -1 sexual assaults for one of our monthly UCR submissions. How the heck to you have negative number of crimes reported?

There is plenty of other crime stats weirdness in the UCR program and not surprisingly since the UCR program started in 1930. There was an attempt to update UCR with the National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS) in the 1980's. The problem is that most agencies had a significant infrastructure invested in calculating stats with UCR's rules so there was little incentive to move to NIBRS. It also didn't help that NIBRS would make your agencies crime stats look worse since instead of counting the highest offense in a crime, you would also have to count the lesser included offenses as well. Try selling that to a bunch of police chiefs.

Happy Anniversary!
Also worth noting today is two blogs of note are celebrating their one year anniversary. The first is the cold case blog Defrosting Cold Cases and the other is the Texas criminal law blog Liberty and Justice for Y'All. Congrats to Vidocq and B.W. for their contributions to the criminal justice discussions.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ranking Cities' Crime, Hate Crime Numbers And The "Pathetic" State of Communication Between Cops & Researchers

There were a number of crime statistics related stories in the news the past few days. The first, is about the annual "most dangerous cities" kerfuffle that inevitably comes when CQ Press issues their $70 City Crime Rankings publication. An NPR story looks at questions about whether this is ranking is valid.
But you do have to question the report, which is getting headlines all over, when they rank New York City as less dangerous than both Portland, OR and Santa Monica, CA. 
The US conference of Mayors agrees calling the rankings, "A premeditated statistical mugging of America‘s cities."
Headline grabbing reports such as this cause law enforcement administrators quite a number of headaches. Your chances of becoming a crime victim are actually very small in nearly all US cities but you wouldn't know it from all the lurid headlines. It is important that law enforcement agencies work to reduce the public's fear of crime in their communities.

The FBI also released an analysis of hate crimes reported in the US in 2009. According to the story over at NPR, reported hate crimes were down -15.15%. What I thought was a bit odd was this bit:
Of the 1,376 hate crimes "motivated by religious bias," 70 percent were anti-Jewish and 9 percent were anti-Islamic. In 2008, according to the FBI, about 66 percent of hate crimes involving religious bias were anti-Jewish and 8 percent were anti-Islamic.
I would have expected anti-Islamic hate crimes to be higher than that. I do know that historically Jewish groups have been very vocal about reporting hate crimes directed at them. I suspect that Islamic groups may not be as vigorous about reporting these incidents.

The last bit, isn't really about statistics but I found it interesting nevertheless, there's a short piece over at The Crime Report where they cover some comments made at the recent American Society of Criminology conference. This quote was pretty good:
How good is the communication of academic research on criminal justice to practitioners like police chiefs, judges, and prison wardens, as well as to policymakers like state legislators? That was the topic of a roundtable discussion last week in San Francisco at the American Society of Criminology’s annual convention. “It’s pathetic,” said Laurie Robinson, Assistant Attorney General for Justice Programs. One of many examples offered: Many states ran “boot camps” for offenders despite research saying they did little good without significant follow-up. Robinson’s agency vows to start an online “What Works Clearinghouse” to advise the field of leading research results.
We do really need to do better in determining what works and what doesn't.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Step 55 - Make Clear Maps

This post, Step 55 - Make Clear Maps, in our walk through Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers is closely related to the last post, Step 54 - Tell A Clear Story. In fact, given the prevalence of GIS technology and crime maps in most police departments, I'm not sure that you could tell a clear story without making a map. It seems like I am constantly being asked to produce maps for my department. I really think this is a good thing. Maps, help to tell your story and provide context for the information you provide.

To do this, your maps need to help clarify the story you are telling and not "muddy the waters". The authors offer this advice about making maps:
Maps have an important role in telling compelling stories about problems. But they need to be clear to accomplish this. That is, maps must contain as much relevant information as possible and no irrelevant information.
At one time, making maps with a GIS was something that was probably left to someone with special GIS or cartographic skills. However, nowadays with simple to use free tools such as Google Earth or ArcGIS Explorer, it doesn't require the training to make maps that it once did. The downside is that the formal GIS training often included education on proper cartographic principles that made for clear, easy to read maps.

The authors have eight tips for making good maps:
  1. Know what information your audience will find useful (and what information is confusing).
  2. Keep maps simple. Eliminate all features that do not contribute to understanding the problem.
  3. Avoid graphics that draw more attention to themselves than the data.
  4. Include details that help the viewer understand the problem, even if that means adding this information by hand.
  5. Include a scale and, if needed, a compass orientation (usually North is to the top).
  6. Use meaningful gradations to show intensity of hot spots. For example show colors becoming increasingly hot (yellow to red) as the problem worsens.
  7. Apply the correct dimension of crime concentration: dots for places (and sometimes victims); lines for concentrations along streets and highways; and areas for neighborhoods.
  8. Make use of tables and figures along with maps.
It may also help to look at maps others have created to see what makes for a good map. ESRI, the company that makes ArcGIS software has a great series, the ESRI Map Book that has some of the best maps from various industries showcased in it's pages. You can view the Map Book online for free at the link.

Next time, we'll cover Step 56 - Use Simple Tables.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Middle Ground Between Safety And Intrusiveness

There were a couple of stories this week that got me to thinking about public opinion. The first is the growing backlash over red light enforcement cameras that recently culminated in Houston voters enacting an ordinance to ban the cameras in their city. There is talk that the backlash here in Texas is enough to spur the Texas legislature to again take up the issue and possibly ban the camera systems statewide in the upcoming legislative session.

The other story, is the growing backlash over TSA airport security measures that include overly intrusive scanners that can see under your clothing or "enhanced" pat down techniques that some people believe are akin to sexual molestation.

The reason I bring these up is that I think there comes a point where our best efforts at improving safety and security may not be worth the damage they do to the goodwill that exists between government and the public we serve. As a crime analyst, I can dream up any number of solutions that if implemented would make our communities safer. The problem is, the crime problems solved would pale in comparison to the outcry the solution would cause.

For example, we probably would not have to worry much about a terrorist smuggling a weapon on board an airplane if we were all forced to fly naked. However, I am not sure that any of us would want to spend a few hours crammed into an airplane seat next to someone's Aunt Martha when you find out that they really do make thong underwear in sizes that big.

As a crime analyst, do you take into account the negative consequences of your proposed solution to a crime problem? This may not be just the negative perceptions by the public, but also includes the negative perceptions of your officers as they implement your solution. When does the cost in negative opinion outweigh the benefits of your solution to a crime problem?

Your solution to a crime problem may actually create more problems than it solves. As a crime analyst, we will always need to find that often elusive solution that solves our crime problem without creating a bigger problem in the court of public opinion.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hasan Recommended to Death Penalty Courts Martial

Like you didn't see this one coming: the Killeen Daily Herald is reporting that the convening authority for the recent Article 32 hearing for accused Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan is recommending that Hasan face the death penalty for killing 13 people in last years Fort Hood shooting rampage.
Pohl oversaw the Article 32 hearing, held to determine if charges move forward in military court. The hearing began last month, and more than two dozen soldiers wounded in the Nov. 5, 2009, shooting testified, some through live video links from Iraq and Afghanistan. After a three-week break, the hearing resumed Monday and then ended after the defense chose not to present any evidence.
Witnesses have said a gunman wearing an Army combat uniform shouted "Allahu Akbar!" — Arabic for "God is great!" — and opened fire in a crowded medical building where deploying soldiers get vaccines and other tests. The gunman fired rapidly, pausing only to reload, even shooting at some people as they hid under desks and fled the building, witnesses said.
Yesterday, I was sitting only a couple of hundred feet away from the proposed memorial site for the victims of this shooting while presenting at our local GIS Day event.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

It's GIS Day!

Today is GIS Day and instead of my normal workday at the office I am presenting to several thousand school kids from Bell County and the surrounding area. GIS Day helps to show kids and adults the important role that geography plays in all aspects of life.

This GIS Day event is going to be one of the largest ever according to this story over at the Killeen Daily Herald.
"This is the largest single-day GIS event in the world, and we decided that since it has been so popular with students we should share it with the public too," said Colen Wilson, the city's GIS manager.
My presentation focuses on how police use GIS to learn more about crimes and to deploy our resources to combat them. I've enjoyed presenting at GIS Day for several years though by the end of the day I'm usually so hoarse I can't talk.

How do you educate the public about the role of a crime analyst in your community?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Killeen Police Use High Tech To Map Crime Scenes

Sometimes when I tell people I am a crime analyst, they reply back with "like on CSI?". I then get to explain to them that crime analysts deal with statistics and trends while crime scene investigators deal with physical evidence. By posting this article from this weekend's Killeen Daily Herald I might confuse those folks a bit but I didn't want to pass it up.

The article looks at Killeen Police use of high tech to map crime scenes with a 3D laser scanner. From the story:

By reading the distances from points of walls, objects and, in some cases, weapons, KPD's scanner has created 3-D snap shots of the 2009's Fort Hood mass shooting and the February instance in which a man flew a small plane into an IRS building in Austin.

The successes of KPD's Leica Geosystems ScanStation 2 led the department to make an upgrade in August. Using money from the department's seizure fund, KPD upgraded to a ScanStation C-10, a $160,000 scanner four times faster and vastly more precise and detailed than the previous version.

KPD was the first law enforcement agency in Texas to acquire a 3-D scanner in 2008. The high-tech equipment pushed the department from the centuries-old technique of documenting crime scenes with plum bobs and measuring tape to something more akin to forensic equipment often seen on prime-time crime dramas, according to Detective Keith Drozd, the KPD's technology forensics expert.

The technology has changed a lot in the 20 years I have been in law enforcement. It will be interesting to see what's being used by Department's in the next 20 years or so.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Step 54 - Tell A Clear Story

In this post in our walk through the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers we're up to one of the most important chapters, Step 54 - Tell A Clear Story.

When I tell people what I do for a living, sometimes people ask just what it is that a crime analyst does. My usual stock answer is to tell people that I provide police departments with the information they need to make good decisions. The very first line of this chapter starts with the exact same thought:
The purpose of your work is to help people make better decisions.
It's this crucial part of the crime analyst's job that has led me to cover topics in this blog such as information design guru Edward Tufte's thoughts on PowerPoint as a communication medium (he doesn't like it). You can conduct a really top flight analysis of a crime problem but if you can't effectively communicate your findings to the decision maker's in your agency, all your efforts are for naught.

There is path that data takes to become knowledge.
  1. Data becomes information when it is analyzed.
  2. Information becomes knowledge when it's communicated effectively.
We've all sat through presentations where, in spite of the presenter's long winded attempts at communicating, we learned nearly nothing (except not to let that guy make another presentation). This guy may have #1 nailed. But if he blows it on #2, then he might as well have not even started.

The authors suggest using both the SARA process (Step 7) and CHEERS test (Step 13) as a framework for communicating your story to your audience. They integrate them into a great sample "four story outline" for you to base your presentation on.

Effectively communicating your story is as critical a skill for a crime analyst as GIS, or knowledge of your agency's Records Management System software. Learn what makes for an effective presentation. Not only will your audience thank you for it, but you will help your department to make better decisions.

Next time, we'll cover Step 55 - Make Clear Maps.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sexting Teens: Make The Punishment Fit The Crime

The Austin American Statesman had a piece this week about a move in the Texas legislature to bring a little bit of common sense into the law regarding juveniles who are "sexting" or sending explicit photos of themselves to their friends.

As it stands right now, a juvenile who takes a racy photo of themselves and sends it to their boyfriend or girlfriend can be charged with a felony offense of Possession of Child Pornography or Promotion of Child Pornography. The big problem with this is that the child would then likely be labeled as a sex offender and required to register as a sex offender for life.

Attorney General Greg Abbott and state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said they are working together to allow the prosecution of minors on Class A misdemeanor charges instead of the third-degree felony charges they face now.

The felony charges can send youths to a state prison and force them to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives.

"Sexting is real. ... It is morally hazardous," said Watson, who said he plans to file a bill making that change for consideration by the Legislature when it convenes in January.

"One study shows 1 in 5 teenagers has sent a sexually suggestive picture by text ... and 1 in 3 has received such an image," Watson said. "Our laws have not kept up with our technology."

Charging a 16 year old with a felony Child Pornography offense and requiring them to register as a sex offender for life for sexting is a bit like swatting a fly with an elephant gun. I'm glad to see the legislature address this though I am not sure that this should even be a Class A misdemeanor.

Is sexting stupid? Yes, but I'm not sure it's worthy of a felony rap.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day. It is only fitting that we take a break from my usual posts about crime and cops to recognize those who have served our country in our nation's armed forces. Many of these veterans have gone on to continue their service to their communities in law enforcement.

In salute of all my fellow veterans, here's the text of this year's Veterans Day Presidential Proclamation.




On Veterans Day, we come together to pay tribute to the men and women who have worn the uniform of the United States Armed Forces. Americans across this land commemorate the patriots who have risked their lives to preserve the liberty of our Nation, the families who support them, and the heroes no longer with us. It is not our weapons or our technology that make us the most advanced military in the world; it is the unparalleled spirit, skill, and devotion of our troops. As we honor our veterans with ceremonies on this day, let our actions strengthen the bond between a Nation and her warriors.

In an unbroken line of valor stretching across more than two centuries, our veterans have charged into harm’s way, sometimes making the ultimate sacrifice, to protect the freedoms that have blessed America. Whether Active Duty, Reserve, or National Guard, they are our Nation’s finest citizens, and they have shown the heights to which Americans can rise when asked and inspired to do so. Our courageous troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the globe have earned their place alongside previous generations of great Americans, serving selflessly, tour after tour, in conflicts spanning nearly a decade.

Long after leaving the uniform behind, many veterans continue to serve our country as public servants and mentors, parents and community leaders. They have added proud chapters to the story of America, not only on the battlefield, but also in communities from coast to coast. They have built and shaped our Nation, and it is our solemn promise to support our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen as they return to their homes and families.

America’s sons and daughters have not watched over her shores or her citizens for public recognition, fanfare, or parades. They have preserved our way of life with unwavering patriotism and quiet courage, and ours is a debt of honor to care for them and their families. These obligations do not end after their time of service, and we must fulfill our sacred trust to care for our veterans after they retire their uniforms.

As a grateful Nation, we are humbled by the sacrifices rendered by our service members and their families out of the deepest sense of service and love of country. On Veterans Day, let us remember our solemn obligations to our veterans, and recommit to upholding the enduring principles that our country lives for, and that our fellow citizens have fought and died for.

With respect for and in recognition of the contributions our service men and women have made to the cause of peace and freedom around the world, the Congress has provided (5 U.S.C. 6103(a)) that November 11 of each year shall be set aside as a legal public holiday to honor our Nation’s veterans.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim November 11, 2010, as Veterans Day. I encourage all Americans to recognize the valor and sacrifice of our veterans through appropriate public ceremonies and private prayers. I call upon Federal, State, and local officials to display the flag of the United States and to participate in patriotic activities in their communities. I call on all Americans, including civic and fraternal organizations, places of worship, schools, and communities to support this day with commemorative expressions and programs.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand ten, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fifth.


God bless our Veterans from a grateful nation. Thank you for your willingness to serve.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Life Imitates Art: Robbers Hold Up Video Game Store For "Black Ops" Games

While a bit unusual, this really isn't all that surprising, it seems that a couple of armed robbers initiated their own "black ops" raid on a Maryland Game Stop store. The loot included not only the cash from the business but about 100 copies of the highly anticipated video game "Call of Duty: Black Ops" that was released on Tuesday. From the story over at the Baltimore Sun:
At least two men were involved in the robbery, timing it for when theGameStop in the Festival at Bel Air shopping center on Bel Air South Parkway was about to close on Saturday night, the Harford County Sheriff's Office said Sunday. The men, armed with semi-automatic guns, stole four cases full of "Black Ops" — the newest game in the popular "Call of Duty" series — as well as cash and game systems. Police arrived on the scene around 9:20 p.m.
It was the second armed robbery of a Harford County GameStop store in less than three weeks. The sheriff's office said the men might also be responsible for the other incident, at the GameStop's Aberdeen location on Oct. 21.
Any time a product is as ferociously popular as some video games there will be a demand for them in both legal and illicit marketplaces. I previously covered this phenomena in this post where I joked that we needed to create a "thieves' commodity index" to track the items that often drives criminal behavior.

So what are the hot items in your community's "thieves' commodity index"? What strategies are you employing to reduce crimes related to these items?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

400,000 Untested Rape Kits?

There's an interesting piece over at The Crime Report that examines the huge backlog of untested sexual assault evidence by crime labs all across the United States. From the story:
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) there were an estimated 400,000 untested rape kits in the U.S. as of 2009. Media reports around the country, backed up by statistics from Human Rights Watch, demonstrate that after undergoing the often painful process of having a rape kit administered at a hospital, sexual assault victims are routinely forced to wait years for a crime lab to test these kits for the DNA that could be used to catch their rapist.
As the criminal justice system and juries are becoming more sophisticated, DNA evidence is more and more important in successfully prosecuting sexual assault cases. Many prosecutors can recount cases where the lack of DNA evidence has led to an acquittal.

Now it's time for me to get on my soapbox; we can do better than this. I know that testing rape kits is very expensive. I know that here in Texas there is a dearth of qualified crime labs. But DNA evidence obtained in these kits can and has led to solving quite a number of high profile crimes, even years after the fact. Victim's shouldn't have to endure years of waiting to get their evidence tested.

I think the idea of developing a system to prioritize the testing of the evidence in these kits has some merit. Ultimately though, we need to improve the capacity of our crime labs to handle the increased amount of DNA testing being requested in all types of criminal cases.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Step 53 - Test For Significance

In this post in my journey through Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers we are going to look at Step 53 - Test For Significance. I should warn you though, there is some egghead statistics involved in this post. But before you give up, let's see if we can make it through.

Have you ever noticed that crime sometimes goes up and down for no apparent reason? Given this seeming unpredictability, how do we measure the effectiveness of our solutions? After all, we want to know if crime went down based on our efforts or if there is some other factor at work. A test for significance will give you an idea of whether it was your solution or random chance at work for the variation in the level of crime.

Rather then try to explain it all here, you really need to read it at the original publication. If all this went right over your head (like it did tended to do with mine) the authors have this advice:

The investigation of randomness can become very complex, as there are many different types of significance tests for many different situations. There are some very useful websites, as well as books, which can help you to choose among them, and there are many statistical software programs that can make the required calculations. But if there is a great deal riding on the outcome of a significance test, or a p-value, and you are not well educated in probability theory or statistics, you should seek expert help from a local university or other organizations that use statistics on a regular basis.

Sounds like good advice for the mathematically challenged. Next time, we'll look at Step 54 - Tell A Clear Story.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Tip Leads To Arrests In Robbery Series

Killeen Police had some success in a recent armed robbery series when someone called in a tip to the Crime Stoppers program. According to the story over at the Killeen Daily Herald, the tip led to the arrest of two men who are believed to be responsible for up to four recent convenience store robberies in Killeen, Temple and Copperas Cove.

Police had originally thought a lone suspect committed armed robberies of four 7-Elevens in Copperas Cove, Killeen and Temple late Monday night and early Tuesday morning, reports indicated.

Through an anonymous Crime Stoppers tip, police discovered there were two suspects.

The tip named the suspects, and both Henderson and Siperko were arrested in their respective homes without incident.

The Crime Stoppers program has been around for some time. They pay cash for tips that solve crimes. Killeen has had a pretty successful program. According to statistics on the Killeen Crime Stoppers website:

February 2010: Crime Stoppers has helped Bell County area Police Departments solve 2,592 cases, arrest 2,202 criminals and recover stolen property valued at $4,196,455. Officers have confiscated drugs with a street value of $8,943,645. Crime Stoppers has paid $181,400 in rewards for tips received that solved cases.

While it's better to prevent a crime than solve it, we'll always have at least a few crimes to solve. A program such as Crime Stoppers can help generate leads for your detectives to follow up on.

How does your agency facilitate and encourage the submission of crime tips?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Liquor Stores Will Bring Changes To Central Texas

The recent election didn't just elect new politicians to office, but also heralded changes to two central Texas cities. These changes are going to allow liquor stores in Killeen and expand on the areas liquor stores can operate in Harker Heights.

I bring this up, because in the story over at the Killeen Daily Herald we can see a bit of how the city planning process works to try and create a favorable environment for these stores to operate that don't have the negative consequences of creating one that increases risks for crime.

In my previous post about armed robbery of convenience stores, we touched on a few environmental factors that increase the risk of armed robbery at these businesses.

The Herald's story quotes Ray Shanaa, Killeen's director of the Planning and Zoning Department as saying:

"We want to allow (liquor stores) to do business, of course, and we want to make sure it is done in such a manner that is required by the state and that is compatible with adjacent land uses," Shanaa said.
"The reason is, the city didn't want them to pop up everywhere and it wanted to make sure that (liquor stores) would be in a building where there is other activity going on, which would in essence make the place look friendlier," Shanaa said about Harker Heights' ordinance for liquor stores which he helped create prior to working for the city of Killeen.

We've probably all seen communities that didn't use their zoning laws to try and create "friendly" environments for these types of businesses to operate. A small, seedy looking liquor store on every corner often seems to create an problematic environment. So much so that liquor store robbery seemed to become a common plot device in movies and at least one country western song.

It's important for your city to stay engaged in the process before these laws go into effect and head any potential problems off early. It's much easier and cheaper to prevent a crime, than to solve it after it occurs.

How does your community use zoning laws to reduce crime friendly environments?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Convenience Store Robberies Often A Problem

Several central Texas police agencies are dealing with a rash of armed robberies at convenience stores this week. In the first story over at the Killeen Daily Herald we see that Killeen Police are investigating a bandit who hit three stores in their city.

Killeen police are investigating three robberies that might have been committed by the same person.

All three robberies took place Oct. 25. In each case, a person entered the store wearing a dark-colored hooded sweatshirt, dark-colored pants and a bandana to cover his face.

"We do not know if this is the same suspect, just that things are similar, and they happened on the same day," Killeen Police Department spokeswoman Carroll Smith said. "There is a possibility, but they haven't been linked yet.

In the next story over at KWTX.com, Temple, Copperas Cove and Killeen Police are looking for a bandit who hit stores in their respective cities.

Temple police responded at around 2 a.m. Tuesday to the 7-Eleven store at 1216 W. Ave. H where the clerk told officers the man entered the store, displayed a gun and demanded money.

Earlier at about 12:30 a.m. in Copperas Cove at a 7-11 store at 2124 East Highway 190 was robbed and then about 15 minutes later the robber struck at a store at 2012 West Ave. B.

The spree started in Killeen between 11 and 11:30 p.m. Monday when clerks at a store at 1408 East Rancier reported a masked man with a handgun entered that store and demanded cash.

While stories of these robberies are often dramatic as they come with video images of a masked gunman, they also sometimes deadly for the clerks working in these stores. The most outrageous part is that convenience stores can often lower the likelihood that they will be robbed by a few simple environmental or procedural changes.

There is a good guide covering police response to robbery of convenience stores over at the Problem Oriented Policing Center that covers some of factors that affect the likelihood that a store may be robbed. They include:

  • Operation hours
  • Interior store layout
  • Exterior store environment
  • Location
  • Convenience store type
  • Ownership
  • Staff number
  • Cash-control procedures
  • Incident response policies

It's often not enough for police to use the traditional reactive policing model of a quick police response to the robbery alarm with a thorough follow up investigation to solve problems such as this. It may require a more proactive approach in convincing store management to make changes to their stores and procedures to lower their risk of victimization.

What approaches has your agency found effective for crime problems such as this? How would you convince store management to implement changes?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sounds Like A Problem Oriented Policing Project In The Making

This sounds like a problem oriented policing project in the making. There's an article over at the Houston Chronicle about the problem Houston area lawmen are having in dealing with massage parlors that are little more than fronts for prostitution. From the article:
On 14 visits to this non­descript establishment over the past two years, vice officers have arrested 23 women for agreeing to sex dates. Yet the Richmond Avenue enterprise is open for business - one of at least 550 massage parlors that have operated illegally in the city of Houston, according to court documents, data and public reports.

A Houston Chronicle analysis found 292 establishments have been cited by police for compliance violations, including operating without a state license, hiring unlicensed workers, operating during prohibited hours or engaging in vice crimes.

Another 260 advertise their services but don't appear in state licensing records.

"There are so many that open and close so fast, change names and change ownerships," said Sgt. Mark Kilty of the Houston Police Department Vice Division. "We definitely can't keep track of all of them."
If you remember the Crime Triangle we discussed in this post, there was a complimentary theory in the original piece over at Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers where they discussed Wolf, Duck and Den problems. The problem Houston is having with the massage parlors probably best fits this description as a Den of Iniquity:
Repeat location problems involve different offenders and different targets interacting at the same place. These are DEN of iniquity problems. A drinking establishment that has many fights, but always among different people, is an example of a pure den problem. Den problems occur when new potential offenders and new potential targets encounter each other in a place where management is ineffective. The setting continues to facilitate the problem events.
In this case, the management may not just be the parlor operators but could also include the strip mall owners or even regulatory authorities.  It would appear that not only is management ineffective, but management is promoting or at least turning a blind eye to the problem. Using the Crime Triangle theory, the solution might lie in pressuring the manager to get them to comply.
A caveat is in order though, it's hardly fair to call reading a newspaper article about a crime problem a proper analysis. I also am sure that wiser folks than I have been working on this problem for some time. However, I thought it would make an interesting example to look at using problem oriented policing techniques.
If you had such a problem in your jurisdiction, what would you do to tackle it?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Step 52 - Expect Premature Falls In Crime

When you are in the middle of a crime problem, you probably don't care why your crime problem diminishes. But, in order to most accurately determine what is effective you need to analyze for what is discussed in this step, Step 52 - Expect Premature Falls In Crime. The authors of Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers state:
Offenders often believe that prevention measures have been brought into force before they actually have been started. This leads to what has been called the "anticipatory benefits" of prevention. Though these anticipatory effects can occur by accident, the police can make deliberate efforts to create or intensify them. To do so successfully, police must have useful insight into how offenders perceive the situation and have methods for deceiving offenders as to the true nature of the intervention.
Here's the main reasons that the authors believe anticipatory benefits occur:
  1. Preparation-anticipation
  2. Publicity/disinformation
  3. Preparation-disruption
  4. Creeping implementation
  5. Preparation-training
  6. Motivation
Read the original article for a full discussion of these reasons. One thing I do think is interesting is deliberately enhancing the effect of some of these reasons in order to reduce your crime problem. Nothing like a little publicity to make the crooks think you are watching them more closely than you might actually be.

Next time, we'll look at Step 53 - Test For Significance.