Friday, December 31, 2010

Goodbye 2010, Hello 2011

This will be the last post of the year here at The Crime Analyst's Blog. Looking back, it's been a pretty good year. I'm truly humbled by just how successful the blog has been. Just for grins, here are the relevant Google Analytics stats from this year at the time this post was written.

Posts: 267

Visits: 11,943

Page Views: 17,717

Most popular page (other than the main page): So You Want To Be A Crime Analyst with 703 visits.

Countries of origin of visitors: 107

I am also looking forward to what 2011 has to offer. But I have a couple of questions to ask; What are you going to do in 2011 to make your Department a better, more effective law enforcement agency? What are you going to do to improve yourself as a crime analyst and/or to improve the profession of crime analysis? For a bit of inspiration, I'll leave you with an inspiring TED talk from Barry Schwartz.




Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Another Hero

The Dallas Morning News has several good articles relating to this week's murder of a rookie Arlington, Texas police officer who had responded to a domestic violence call. In the first, we learned that Officer Jillian Smith died while trying to protect an 11 year old girl at the home.
Authorities say the quick action of slain Officer Jillian Smith, a new graduate of the police academy who finished her field training only two weeks ago, prevented Nettles from killing Kimberly Deshay Carter's 11-year-old daughter, too.
"She knew what she was sworn to do, and she protected that 11-year-old at the cost of her life. There's no greater duty that we have as peace officers than to perform that act. She's a hero," said Randle Meadows, president of the Arlington Police Association.
In another piece they look at the hazards faced by police when responding to these types of incidents. One thing I'm sure is going to be debated is if sending only one officer to this type of call was appropriate. In the case of Officer Smith, she was dispatched alone to this call as it was reported that the suspect in the domestic had already left the scene.
Experts say it is not unusual for police agencies to dispatch only one officer when it is believed that the abuser is no longer there, as was the case in Arlington on Tuesday night.
"But the problem is, you never know on any call," said Harvey Hedden, executive director of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association. "Any call for service has a potential for danger."
 In the last story, they examine Officer Smith's dream of becoming a police officer, one that was cut way too short.
"Since sixth grade, Jillian has purposefully made choices and decisions in her life that would allow her to accomplish her goal of becoming a police officer," Bowman said.
Smith graduated from the Arlington Police Academy in August and had completed her field training just two weeks ago. 
"She sometimes tried to hide how much all this meant to her," said Officer Christin Matys, another academy classmate.
I was recently at a crime analysis conference in Arlington and got the chance to meet a number of Arlington Police Department employees. I was impressed by their professionalism and by their friendly attitudes. I am sure that they are all devastated by this tragedy. Even more so because Officer Smith was the second APD officer to be killed on the job this year.

I'm glad there are police officers like Jillian Smith who are willing to try and make the world a better place.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

These Stats Aren't Good, Law Officer Deaths Up In 2010

2010 is shaping up to be a banner year, and not in a good way. Law enforcement officer deaths are on track to increase about 37% this year as compared to 2009 according to numbers released by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
Following a two year decline, law enforcement fatalities in 2010 spiked to 160. This was an increase of nearly 40 percent compared to last year, when 117 officers were killed in the line of duty.

Preliminary data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund show that for the 13th year in a row, traffic fatalities were the leading cause of officer fatalities, with 73 officers killed in the line of duty—an increase of 43 percent from 2009.
Unfortunately, this year Texas leads the nation in the number of peace officers fatally injured in the line of duty. For more stats related to this, read the NLEOMF Research Bulletin here.

Let's hope that 2011 is a better year for these stats.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Murder Statistics: What Goes Up, Must Come Down

There were a number of stories out today looking at murder statistics. First, there was an article over at The Crime Report where they looked at the often contradictory trends in homicides in various big cities in the United States. I thought this bit was interesting:
For example, Phoenix and Cleveland each reported steep declines in homicide during 2010, but they took different routes to the same destination. As Dec. 31 drew near, Phoenix was on pace to finish the year with fewer than 100 murders, down about 25 percent from 2009. Police there cited more cops on the street as a key factor.

Cleveland, meanwhile, was headed toward a murder total of about 70, a decrease of 40 percent from 2009. There, the decline occurred despite a shrunken police force—about 400 fewer officers than in 2000—although the city still has more than the national average of about two officers per 1,000 residents.

It raises the question of whether police really have an impact on murder, a generation after conventional reactive crime strategies proved futile against crack cocaine-driven violence.

As Northeastern University’s James Alan Fox noted, “Most homicides occur outside of the view of police.”

The article goes on to explore the aberrations that sometimes plague homicide stats and trends and is worth the read.

Then there was this one from the Los Angeles Times where they report that even in spite of the poor economy in California, Los Angeles' homicide numbers have dropped considerably. In fact, Los Angeles is on track to have the lowest number of killings since 1967. This is in spite of the fact that in 1967 the population of Los Angeles was 30% smaller.
The change, experts say, is not easily explained and is probably the result of several factors working together, including effective crime-fighting strategies, strict sentencing laws that have greatly increased the number of people in prison, demographic shifts and sociological influences.

A significant factor, said Columbia University Law School Professor Jeffrey Fagan, is the absence of a drug epidemic in recent years. The three distinct periods in U.S. history when homicides have spiked, he said, coincide with the emergence of heroin, powder cocaine and crack cocaine, each of which gave rise to "a chaotic, violent street drug culture."

Lastly, we have an article over at the Killeen Daily Herald looking at Killeen's homicide numbers for this year. Unfortunately, compared to last year, the numbers could give rise to a bit of pessimism.
After a near banner year, the amount of murders in Killeen rose sharply in 2010.

The amount of murders rose from five in 2009 to 10 in 2010. The total is the second highest in 10 years. The city had 12 murders in 2008.

In fact looking back at the homicide numbers from years past in the sleepy little burg where I work, it's often hard to predict just where the numbers are going in the long term. Maybe the best explanation was referred to in the first piece over at The Crime Report where they called it Newton’s Law of Criminology and explained that "What goes up, must come down and vice versa."

Monday, December 27, 2010

How About Just Getting Reasonable On Crime?

Here in Texas the "get tough on crime" approach has had some unintended consequences. One of those is that there is a huge backlog of DWI cases in the courts. In order to alleviate the backlog, some prosecutors have been plea bargaining the cases to other lesser offenses. Now there is a move afoot to change Texas DWI laws for first time offenders. The Austin American Statesman had a piece on this move that will hopefully bring a more reasonable approach to DWI prosecution.

"Generally we do not support deferred adjudication bills, but we are going to support this one," said Bill Lewis, public policy liaison for the Irving-based nonprofit group MADD. "Right now, we are hearing that many cases are not getting prosecuted for DWI but for a bogus charge. We hope the practice of reducing charges will be reduced if this bill does indeed pass."

The proposal, filed by Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless, marks a shift away from a long-standing notion in Texas that all drunken drivers should face fines and jail time. Deferred adjudication for such offenses was abolished in the state in the mid-1980s when opponents, including MADD, argued that prosecuting offices and judges were accepting the form of probation for repeat offenders.

Supporters say the plan could ease court backlogs by routing cases out of courtrooms, give prosecutors a new negotiating tool and remove the threat of jail that makes some first-timers refuse guilty pleas in DWI cases.


It's a good story and worth the read. I also think the approach has some real merit. It will be interesting to watch this work it's way through the Texas legislature.

If nothing else, the poor economy is going to force governments to rethink the costs associated with the "lock 'em up and throw away the key" approach to crime problems. Heck, earlier this week we even saw conservative religious broadcaster Pat Robertson question harsh sentences for marihuana possession as fiscally wasteful.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Ban Police Escorts For Funeral Processions

It's about time someone said this: the Hidalgo County District Attorney Rene Guerra was quoted in the McAllen, TX area newspaper The Monitor as saying that law enforcement escorts for funerals should be banned after a constable's deputy was involved in a fatal crash in Hidalgo County.

“I was afraid that what happened yesterday would happen,” he said.

Escorting funeral processions has become increasingly dangerous because there are many careless drivers who disregard the escorts, Guerra said. Processions also require a lot of man power and it’s unclear where the acquired funds should go, he added.


This comes on the heels of a recent fatal crash that killed a Harker Heights Police Officer Andrew Rameas who was working off-duty escorting a funeral in Killeen earlier this week. Another Bell County area police officer, Officer David Camden of the Temple Police Department was killed in 2007 while escorting a funeral procession.

What's funny is that most police departments have severely restricted the times an officer can respond "Code", that is using lights and siren. In fact, most in progress crimes do not qualify for a code response unless someone's life is in imminent danger. If you aren't actively being stabbed, shot or beaten with a club the police are not going to be responding with lights and siren. It's just too dangerous.

Want to see how dangerous emergency driving is? Just go to the Officer Down Memorial Page website and look through all the listings. Many of these listings of officer fatalities come from incidents involving accidents during emergency responses.

However, when it comes to a funeral procession, all that goes right out the window and officers will have to use lights and siren, bust intersections, etc. just to ensure that everyone gets from the funeral home to the cemetery at the same time. I hate to sound callous but the dead guy in the back of the hearse is not going to care that all the procession arrived at the same time.

If most crimes don't rise to the level of a code response, why would something as non-life threatening as a funeral procession rise to this level? Let's hope this obsolete and dangerous practice will go away before any other officers or civilians lose their lives in a traffic accident during a funeral procession.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

All This For Basketball Shoes

I'm taking a bit of a break this week from any serious crime blogging. However, I do have this interesting bit. Apparently there is a new Nike Air Jordan athletic shoe out this week and the demand for it is causing police in a number of Texas cities, no end of headaches. The Austin American Statesman had this bit:
Ten Round Rock police officers, four Williamson County deputy sheriffs and a Georgetown police officer responded to the scene, Poteet said. Several people were detained, but they were released and no one was arrested or injured, Poteet said.

“It speaks more of certain people’s tendencies to be unreasonable and to have no courtesy and no manners,” Poteet said.
Similar issues were reported in Killeen, Houston and the Dallas area with Mesquite Police having to pepper spray the crowd to restore order.

So much for "peace on earth, goodwill toward man".

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Crime Numbers Down, People Numbers Up

Two of the bigger stats related events that affect crime analysis happened in the past week, one was this one over at CNN where they reported that some of the nation's crime numbers were down for the first part of 2010.

Overall violent crime fell 6.2% from the same period last year, according to the report, and the new numbers include a 7.1% decrease in homicide.
...
Robberies during the period were down 10.7%, motor vehicle thefts and arson declined 9.7%, rapes were down 6.2%, aggravated assaults were down 3.9%, and burglaries dropped 1.4%.

The FBI report does not give reasons for the drop in crime, but criminologists have recently indicated an aging population, along with ramped-up law enforcement, have contributed to the decline in recent years. The trend has surprised experts who have historically seen crime increase during difficult economic periods.


The other interesting bit is some of the preliminary 2010 Census numbers are out. According to the release over at the U.S. Census Bureau's website, Texas gained a whopping 4 million people in the past 10 years.

The most populous state was California (37,253,956); the least populous, Wyoming (563,626). The state that gained the most numerically since the 2000 Census was Texas (up 4,293,741 to 25,145,561) and the state that gained the most as a percentage of its 2000 Census count was Nevada (up 35.1% to 2,700,551).

Regionally, the South and the West picked up the bulk of the population increase, 14,318,924 and 8,747,621, respectively. But the Northeast and the Midwest also grew: 1,722,862 and 2,534,225.


The individual numbers for cities aren't out just yet but should be out in the coming months. Once the individual numbers come out, the analysis starts to determine where we stand with both crime numbers and with population figures. We use the numbers in my shop to look at things like crime rates, officers per population stats, etc.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Defrosting Cold Cases

I'm taking a bit of a break for the holidays this week. However, this is interesting. The website Defrosting Cold Cases profiles cold case homicides to try an generate new information about these crimes. This past week Vidocq from that site profiled this 1975 unsolved homicide from Canada.
Sharron (16) disappeared on March 29, 1975 after leaving from her home around 715pm. She was going to meet some friends (including a boyfriend) at Marina’s Pizzeria.

The restaurant is about five minutes by foot from her home. She never arrived. Sharron was found dead on April 1st, 1975.

I think it's commendable that people would volunteer their time to publicize these cases. To read more, hit the link.

Additionally, the FBI Violent Criminal Apprehension Program or ViCAP provides law enforcement agencies with a searchable database of violent crimes. Previously, law enforcement agencies had to submit their cases to the FBI for entry into ViCAP. Now, agencies can sign up to get access to ViCAP directly and enter their own cases into the system. We just signed up and got access at my agency recently and are going to start entering our cold cases into the system.

On a similar note, the US Department of Justice operates the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System or NAMUS website with information on missing persons and unidentified persons.

Both ViCAP and NAMUS are good resources to use in dealing with these kinds of cases.

Friday, December 17, 2010

False Rape Allegations Tie Up Police Manpower

This is a weird one, CBS News has a report on a New York City TV meteorologist being arrested after admitting that she made a false rape allegation previously to NYPD. From the story:
Police say Jones told them on Nov. 24 that a man tried to rape her a month earlier as she ran in Central Park. She said the same man harassed her outside her apartment Nov. 21 at 7:50 a.m.

Police went into action, speaking to possible witnesses and canvassing the area for a man matching the description she gave of her alleged attacker. When they went back to her to discuss the case, Jones admitted the fabrication, police said.

Jones, 37, had said her assailant was a Hispanic man in his 30s or 40s, who grabbed her from behind, dragged her into a wooded area and attempted to rape her, the New York Post reported. She told police that the would-be rapist was scared off by two passers-by who came to her aid.

Jones said she concocted the story in a plea for sympathy to counter some unknown setback that she was experiencing in her personal life, according to the Post.

The sad thing of it is that false allegations like this tie up the limited resources police have in investigating sex crimes. Sex crimes are often hard to prove, even with DNA technology. Over my time in law enforcement, I've seen a few "victims" later admit to making a false allegation. While they often have "issues" and are in need of counseling, they are robbing real victims of their shot at justice. I guess the most unusual thing about this is the fact that the person making this false allegation was such a high profile personality.

On a semi-related note, there is an interesting article over at Time magazine looking at the prevalence of sex crimes in Sweden and the abysmal rate of solving them that authorities in that country have.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A High Tech Answer To Vehicle Burglaries

This is pretty interesting. There is a story over at the Dallas Morning News about Dallas PD's efforts to put a dent in vehicle burglaries in that city. Dallas PD is using decoy vehicles equipped with video surveillance equipment and tracking devices to nab prolific vehicle burglars.



They quote DPD's Deputy Chief Aziz:
"The general premise is that every thief commits 75 to 100 offenses before police can put them in jail," he said. ...

"That means if we take that person off the street, then we should have a reduction in the overall number of offenses."

Authorities are hiding tracking devices in every kind of object conceivable – from Christmas presents to golf clubs. Those items are then placed in the decoy cars.

I think the key to this type of operation is to make sure that you're getting the prolific crooks and not making the decoy so attractive that you're encouraging someone who may not ordinarily commit a crime to do so. The last thing you would want to do is to create more crime numbers in your city by making it way too easy.

I sat through a presentation at this year's combined IACA / POP Center conference where this was touched on by a California agency that was working sport bike thefts. At first they made the decoy theft too easy and ended up catching opportunists and not the serious bad guys. They had to work a little harder to make sure that their decoys were attracting the prolific sport bike thieves.

The POP Center has two problem oriented policing guides covering thefts from vehicles in parking lots and in residential neighborhoods that may give you some more ideas on how to combat this problem.

What strategies is your agency using to combat vehicle burglaries and other types of larcenies?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Statistics Behind Terrorism

This is pretty cool. It seems that a physicist studying terrorist attacks has determined that there is an statistically identifiable pattern to terror attacks around the world. The article over at Miller-McCune.com is fascinating and a good read.

But it is his terrorism research that seems to be getting Clauset the most attention these days. He is one of a handful of U.S. and European scientists searching for universal patterns hidden in human conflicts — patterns that might one day allow them to predict long-term threats. Rather than study historical grievances, violent ideologies and social networks the way most counterterrorism researchers do, Clauset and his colleagues disregard the unique traits of terrorist groups and focus entirely on outcomes — the violence they commit.

Call it the physics of terrorism.

“When you start averaging over the differences, you see there are patterns in the way terrorists’ campaigns progress and the frequency and severity of the attacks,” he says. “This gives you hope that terrorism is understandable from a scientific perspective.” The research is no mere academic exercise. Clauset hopes, for example, that his work will enable predictions of when terrorists might get their hands on a nuclear, biological or chemical weapon — and when they might use it.

The research is not going to result in a model to say that a terror attack is going to occur at a certain place on a certain day, but it will help to estimate the risk of attacks over the long term, one that will help government agencies allocate resources for responding to such events over time.

It will also be interesting to see if the same type of statistical analysis can be applied to criminology. It may not tell us when a specific crime is going to happen but it might be able to say that we'll see a larger overall trend on the horizon. More cops, courts and prisons all cost large amounts of money, one that is best budgeted for over the long term.

If you are a stats geek, or even if you aren't hit the link to read the whole article.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Don't Be Afraid To Innovate

I've always enjoyed the TED Talks. There is usually some interesting stuff on a wide variety of topics. Recently there was a TED Talk from former Indian police officer, Kiran Bedi. The TED site gives this for her bio:
Before she retired in 2007, Kiran Bedi was one of India’s top cops. As the first and highest-ranking female officer in the national police force, she earned a reputation for being tough yet innovative on the job. Her efforts to prevent crime, reform prisons, end drug abuse, and support women’s causes earned her a Roman Magsaysay Award, the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Prize. Bedi also served as a police adviser to the UN Secretary General.


The reason I posted this TED Talk is I loved the fact that Bedi wasn't afraid to be innovative, whether it was just her choice of career field, or what she did when she got into that field. Regardless of what you do in law enforcement, you should not be afraid of being innovative. It is possible to make a difference in your agency, if even in a small way but you may have to "think outside the box" in order to do it.

What are you doing to make a difference at your agency?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Step 58 - Organize Powerful Presentations

We've got three steps to go in our walk through the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers and in this post we are up to Step 58 - Organize powerful presentations.

In this post the authors focus on organizing an effective presentation using PowerPoint. There are a number of ways to give an effective presentation and there are also a number of valid criticisms of PowerPoint. Mostly, it's in how the software is employed as opposed to the medium itself. The reality is, much to the consternation of Edward Tufte, PowerPoint is the standard for giving presentations so it makes sense that the authors gear this chapter to the use of PowerPoint.

The authors start this chapter with this bit:
The main focus of your presentation should be to answer specific questions that will aid decision-making, and it should consist of the following:
  • A set of slides organized around your story.
  • A graphical motif or outline slide to keep your audience focused on the story.

Your presentation should, as we learned in Step 54, tell a clear story. You already know the story, because you have studied the problem, examined a number of possible solutions and and likely come to a conclusion about which one will best handle the problem. Now, you need to guide your audience through the story. A well organized presentation will help keep your audience "focused on the story" and keep them from "getting lost in the details".

There was also this one great little bit of advice from the authors:
Most decision-makers are not as interested as you are in the methods you used to analyze your problem. Therefore, do not spend a great deal of time describing your methods, unless this is the objective of the presentation. Rather, summarize the main elements (see slide 4). You can prepare separate slides about methods, held in reserve, should audience members have questions about your methods.

We've all sat through tedious presentations, whether they are overly technical, overly simplistic or just not well organized. It is important that as a problem solving crime analyst, we have the ability to give an effective presentation. The authors have some graphics and a detailed description of an effective presentation in the chapter, hit the link to read it.

Next time, we'll cover Step 59 - Become an effective presenter.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Suspect Boat In Fatal Crash Found Buried

To finish up the week, I found this interesting: Law enforcement officials working on a 2002 hit and run boating death managed to dig up a boat believed to be the suspect's boat on a property in Burnett County here in central Texas. From the story over at the Austin American Statesman:
According to investigators, at least one person with information about what happened tipped them off late last month, setting in motion a chain of events that led to charges against a Bertram heavy equipment operator late Tuesday.
The case took another dramatic turn Wednesday — when officials uncovered large chunks of a boat buried near the home of Travis Aaron Marburger, 36, who has been charged with manslaughter in the death of one of the three friends.
"It's all kind of slowly settling in," said Daniels, who was 17 at the time and is now a state game warden in North Texas. "It is something I have hoped for and wanted for since that time."
It's unusual enough to make an arrest in an eight year old fatal hit & run, much less one involving a boat. I can't even begin to describe how unusual it is for the suspect to bury the vehicle used in the crime.Great work on this one.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Is The Traditional Police Service Model Obsolete?

There's a short piece over at The Crime Report where they posted this tidbit from speech at the Bureau of Justice Assistance conference. They quote Leonard Matarese of the International City/County Management Association with this:

Despite longstanding research showing that police departments should not attempt to answer every call for service, Matarese said that even some large police departments insist on sending officers to every citizen call, no matter how minor. This wastes manpower that could be better used on vital matters, he said. Matarese predicted that as more cities lurch toward bankruptcy, they will seek cheaper law enforcement services from the private sector and will try to convert more uniformed officers’ duties into civilian positions. He believes that jurisdictions increasingly will try to combine functions of police officers and firefighters. 

I'd be real interested to hear/read Matarese's full comments on this subject. It does bring up an interesting topic though; What services should communities expect from their law enforcement agencies?

Every day I am amazed at the non-law enforcement related services my agency provides. Law enforcement is usually the most accessible government agency. Consequently, we are often the agency of first resort for all kinds of non-law enforcement services. Dealing with the mentally ill, barking dogs, disagreements between neighbors, etc. are all common, and time consuming calls for service at my agency.

Chief Tom Casady over at The Chief's Corner had a post this week where he talked about his agency's strategy to reduce the numbers of manpower wasting false burglar alarm calls his agency responds to.

If you are going to reduce the times you respond to calls like this, you're going to have to find a way to sell this to your community. The good thing is I think most citizens understand the need for leaner, more efficient law enforcement agency's during this economic downturn. Law enforcement agencies should capitalize on this and evaluate their workload and cut out non-essential services.

What is the number one time wasting call for service type at your agency? What ways are you trying to identify these types of calls and reduce their impact on your workload?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Does A Poor Economy Mean Higher Crime Numbers? Apparently Not

There's a good story over at the Las Vegas Sun that talks about the correlation or in this case, the non-correlation between the poor economy and crime stats.

“There’s simply no correlation between crime rates and economic indicators such as unemployment,” says Mark A.R. Kleiman, a professor of public policy at the UCLA School of Public Affairs.

David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, puts it this way: “Crime going up in recessions is one of those things everyone knows is true, but in fact isn’t true.”

There were a number of experts interviewed in the article and they offered a number of reasons for this non-correlation. Hit the link for the whole story.

The story does link crime spikes to things such as drug epidemics, major cultural change and other factors that aren't linked to the recent economic downturn.

How's the economy in your jurisdiction? Have you seen any changes in your crime numbers?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Working for Cheeseburgers, Sex Trafficking Victims Describe Their Ordeal

NPR has a great story on child sex trafficking looking at how children end up working for pimps. Lest you think that child sex trafficking is something that only occurs in other countries, it is estimated that between 100,000 and 300,000 children are trafficked for sex in the US each year.

There's a great but tragic quote in the article.
"It's not the best deal to have sex with 15 different guys in one day and only get a cheeseburger at the end of it," says Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Sharmin Bock. Bock compares the girls' situation to being brainwashed by a cult.

The entire article is worth the read. Hit the link to read the entire piece.

Fortunately, instead of treating these kids as juvenile criminals, there is a trend to treat these child prostitutes as victims and help them get out of "the game". The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has a list of some of these programs here.

Does your agency know who to make referrals to for victims of child sex trafficking in your area? Has your agency established policies on how to deal with victims in these cases?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Step 57 - Use Simple Figures

In this post we're up to Step 57 - Use simple figures in our journey through the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. The past several chapters I've posted on deal with communicating effectively. Being able to communicate effectively is so critical to the role of a crime analyst that it is often included in the job descriptions I see from agencies that hire crime analysts.

In my last post we looked at Step 56 - Use simple tables. Closely related to tables are figures such as charts. In fact, in Microsoft Excel, where many analysts generate their charts and graphs, there are a number of default chart options that include tables with the charts or figures. But the same advice we saw given by the authors in the last step, "keep it simple" applies in this step also.

The authors go over a number of example charts and point out what makes them good or bad. I would encourage you to hit the link and read the whole chapter. One of the best parts of this chapter is this list of advice for Designing Effective Figures:

  • Keep them simple. Don't over-package.
  • Do not use superficial effects, like 3-D.
  • Avoid pie charts.
  • Use bar charts for data that comes in categories.
  • Use line graphs for trends over time.
  • Use labels effectively.
  • Choose titles carefully.
  • Make them stand on their own, without help from the text.


Next time, we'll look at Step 58 - Organize powerful presentations.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Bomb Factory Too Dangerous To Clean Up, Will Be Burned Up Instead

This really isn't related to crime analysis, but I thought it was interesting anyway. Seems like a bomb factory found in a San Diego home is so extensive that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared the incident a "state of emergency" so additional funds can be used for the clean up. Even more unusual is this bit from a NPR story on the incident:
There's so much dangerous stuff in the home, apparently, that authorities have decided the only safe way to deal with it all is to burn the place down. Crews are starting to trim trees and brush in the area, presumably to reduce the chances of a fire spreading, NBCSanDiego.com reports. The controlled burn is expected to happen next week, sometime from Wednesday to Friday. Parts of Interstate 15 will be shut down while it's done.
"We're going to basically cause this house to become very, very hot very, very quickly and with the walls and things still up, it will literally contain it almost like a chimney and keep everything in close," Nick Vent of San Diego County Hazmat told San Diego's KGTV-TV.
I bet the neighbors are just thrilled with this guy. The story is pretty interesting and has links to more about this incident.

Is your agency ready for an investigation into a home made IED? If not, do you know what other agencies you'd call for assistance?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Anxious Parents And The Fear Of Child Abductions

There's a great story over at the Denver Post about the public's fear of child abduction. A study back in the 1980's debunked the public perception that there was an 'epidemic' of stranger abductions of children. It's a long article and a great read. From the story:
But estimates of stranger abductions circulated at the time glossed over the reality that about 95 percent of missing-child reports were on runaways, while most of the rest involved custody disputes.

The Denver Post's stories by reporters Louis Kilzer and Diana Griego in 1985 debunked the "national paranoia" surrounding missing kids, won a Pulitzer Prize and led to changes in the way organizations approached the issue.

A quarter-century later, authorities have a more clearly defined, technologically equipped and well-organized response to such cases. And yet, some experts say, parental anxiety over child safety has only intensified.

There's also this great quote in the article:
"Everybody is fearful — if anything, it's escalated since then," he says, echoing an article he wrote on the negative effects of parental hypervigilance. "You can show people statistics 'til the cows come home, but they're still frightened. They don't want to let kids out of their sight."

As a parent, I understand the sentiment. As a crime analyst with nearly twenty years in law enforcement, I also know that this type of crime is extremely rare. The challenge is to make sure that the fear of crime is tempered with reality so that the emotions involved don't get in the way of sound public policy.

Most of the advances made of the years since the public first became frenzied on this issue; sex offender registries, the Nation Center for Missing and Exploited Children, changes in laws regarding missing children, have all had a positive effect and made our communities safer.

But as law enforcement agencies, we also need to make sure that the public is not paralyzed by fear. Fear of crime has significant negative consequences for a community. The US DOJ's Community Oriented Policing Services newsletter had this bit from a great article on why it's important to combat the fear of crime.
Research also indicates that concern about crime has bad consequences for the neighborhoods in which we live. Fear leads to withdrawal from public life, and it undermines informal and organized efforts by the community to control crime and delinquency. It is difficult to organize activities in neighborhoods where people fear their own neighbors. Fear undermines the value of residential property and thus the willingness of owners to maintain it properly. When customers – and even employees – fear entering a commercial area, the viability of businesses located there is threatened.

In other words, the fear of crime leads to conditions that can contribute to actual crime. The fear of crime then becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. As law enforcement agencies, we need to be open with the communities we serve about the actual risk of crime. We also need to educate the public about their unfounded fears and channel that nervous energy into making their communities a safer place to live.

What are you doing to help educate the public about the real and the perceived dangers faced in your community?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"Book 'em Danno" Dallas PD Style

There is an interesting story over at the Dallas Morning News about the Dallas Police Department's use of "hook books" to help their officers recognize the prolific criminals operating in their city. From the story:
Police have made at least 700 arrests since January through the program of using color-coded charts to track offenders at the street level.
"In Dallas, we have a huge ocean of arrestees and criminals," said Officer Joe King, who pioneered the concept at the city's southeast patrol station. "What we've done is taken a small piece of that ocean and set it aside and created a small pond so we can place small criminal groups under the microscope to better study and track."
The concept has since spread to include electronic hook books for monitoring robbers and another tracking drug dealers. All seven Dallas patrol stations have adopted hook book programs, and the department's auto theft unit will soon roll out one tracking auto thieves, chop shops and auto theft rings.
This is an interesting concept. I've posted in the past about the 80/20 Rule; the idea being that 80% of crimes are the responsibility of 20% of criminals. If we can identify these prolific offenders and take them off the streets we'll have a greater effect on lowering the crime rate than we would if we don't direct our enforcement efforts at these prolific crooks. DPD's "hook books" seem to do just that, focus enforcement activity on these offenders. There was also this interesting quote from the story:
"When you stop someone ... you know you're not dealing with Joe Citizen," said Lt. Scott Hart, who oversees the program at the city's northeast patrol.
Cops have quite a number of seemingly innocuous contacts with citizens everyday. It isn't always obvious that you're dealing with a known criminal when you make some of those contacts. If you do recognize that the person your dealing with is a known criminal, then you can take additional steps to ensure that no criminal activity is afoot.

The entire article is worth the read. Hit the link for the story.

How does your agency communicate to it's officers who the prolific offenders are?