Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hot Spot Policing Recommended In Seattle

There's a great piece over at the Seattle Post Intelligencer about a report from the City of Seattle's City Auditor that concluded that 50% of crime and disorder in Seattle occurs on only 4.5% of street segments and recommended that the City adopt an enforcement strategy that focuses on these areas in order to get the most bang for their enforcement buck. 
"These 'powerful few' hot spots are responsible for many of the disorder problems in Seattle," according to the Office of the City Auditor's report.

The report concludes that it would be more efficient and effective for SPD to focus on the 1,500 hot spots responsible for half the city's crime than to attempt to focus on the equivalent 6,108 offenders responsible for the same amount of crime each year.
The story also includes a link to the study itself. (I nabbed a copy and will be pouring over it this week.) It includes a detailed analysis of several other cities' successful hot spot policing programs. One comment from the report that stands out on my initial skimming is that they consider a Problem Oriented Policing approach an important component for each of the successful programs.

How is your agency focusing their efforts to get the greatest return on their law enforcement dollars?

Thanks to Bob in Aberdeen, WA for the heads up!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Reducing Burglary By Confronting Citizens In Their Jammies

Lincoln, Nebraska Police Chief Tom Casady has a great blog where he discusses issues facing his department. He's also a big proponent of taking a problem oriented policing approach to problems in his community. In this post, he discussed the effectiveness of a program to reduce the number of burglaries from residential garages with open doors.

As part of the program his officers will go as far as to wake citizens up in the middle of the night to let them know they have left their garage doors open and ask them to close it which will reduce their change of becoming a victim.
So far this year, Lincoln police officers have talked to citizens in their flannel jammies and fuzzy slippers (the citizens, that is, not the officers—I think) 142 times. It is widely appreciated, and is the cause of the effect evident in that graph. That is a 59% decrease in open garage door burglaries, and it has driven the 27% decline in rate of all residential burglaries over the past three years.
Seems like a simple, yet effective approach to improving guardianship of the property. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Broke City, Hookers And Citizen Engagement

This is an interesting story: Time Magazine has a piece about citizens in Vallejo, CA taking action to discourage prostitution in their city. The city has slashed it's police force due to budgetary woes and an influx if street prostitution has created problems for residents.
Half a dozen members of a local neighborhood group called the Kentucky Street Watch Owls are out on patrol, walking the streets to discourage prostitutes and their customers from plying their trade in the community. Vallejo lately has become a magnet for the sex trade for one simple reason: the city is flat broke. If Vallejo is any indication, things could get pretty crazy in other cash-strapped cities across the country.
I guess if there is a silver lining to the budgetary problems that communities are facing it might be that citizens are realizing they have to take a more active role to improving their communities. While at one time citizens could look to the police to solve all their woes, this approach is less realistic if you've laid off 40% of your police force.

Even if your community isn't facing as drastic a budgetary situation as Vallejo, engaging citizens in efforts to make your community safer is a smart strategy. What is your agency doing to improve community involvement in crime problems?

Monday, March 28, 2011

No Easy Answers To Burglary Problem

The Austin American Statesman had a good story highlighting the problem with residential burglaries in their city. In many cities, just like Austin, burglary is a huge problem. From the story:

Abraham waited hours for an officer to respond, filled out a report and then never heard back from police. His property was never recovered.

"I just didn't feel like I was a priority," Abraham said. "I can understand because we don't live in a violent crime city, but it's not cool to feel like police don't even care."

Each year there are thousands of burglaries reported in Austin — last year there were more than 8,000 — and typically only 5 percent of them will end in arrest, with the victim's items being returned. The national average is 10 percent.

It's also one that the traditional reactionary law enforcement approach of responding to reported crimes, investigating and then arresting an offender is not working at all. If your clearance rate is only 5%, adding a few detectives is not going to have much of an effect either.

The Center for Problem Oriented Policing has a POP Guide covering Burglary of Single-Family Houses. In the guide they list a number of strategies to reduce the number of burglaries in a community.

I've been working on the burglary problem in the sleepy little burg where I work for a number of years now. There are a couple of things that are worth pointing out. One, the burglary problem is not going away anytime soon. It's also probably going to become more of a problem in the short term for many communities. Another, is that a definitive burglary strategy has yet to be found. There are some promising approaches, but we have our work cut out for us to find an effective strategy.

In what ways is your agency working to combat burglary?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Don't Be Mean To Willie Nelson

The Big Bend Sentinel has some pretty humorous coverage of singer Willie Nelson's latest pot possession case. In spite of the fact that Texas has a 'tuff on crime' reputation, that attitude doesn't apply to native son Willie. The story has some pretty funny bits from the Hudspeth County Attorney, including this one.

“I’m gonna let him plead, pay a small fine and he’s gotta sing “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” with his guitar right there in the courtroom,” County Attorney Kit Bramblett said this week. “You bet your ass I ain’t gonna be mean to Willie Nelson.”

I'm always amazed every time I see a news story indicating that some lawman somewhere found the devil weed on Willie's tour bus. I mean pot on Willie's bus isn't really news is it?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Crime Triangle And Reducing After School Violence

This is an interesting solution to a community crime problem: Some Chicago neighborhoods have a huge problem with gang violence when kids are released from school for the day. Things came to a head with the videotaped gang beating death of a high school honors student in 2009. The City of Chicago has gone to the lengths of hiring military vets to stand along routes near the schools and observe and report problems brewing as part of their Safe Passage program. From the story over at NPR:

Chicago Public Schools is spending nearly $5 million this year on contracts with community groups and other nonprofits to provide people to stand guard along the routes students take to and from school in the city's most dangerous neighborhoods.

About an hour before dismissal time, a group from the organization Leave No Veteran Behind gathers in an unused Hyde Park Academy classroom. Group leaders go over the locations the dozen or so teams of two will be dispatched to. They run down any information they get from school staff or police about what they need to be watching out for — from certain gang tensions to suspicious vehicles — and they're handed two-way radios so they can quickly communicate trouble if they see it.

Retired or out of work veterans, along with a few parents, are paid about $10 an hour to stand watch on corners and side streets, looking for signs of trouble for a few hours before and after school.

Even in spite of the heavy police presence at the school the solution to this problem didn't involve the usual "get tough on crime" approach of arresting offenders in the hope that this would make the problem go away. In fact, given the nature of the problem, it's not likely that it would even be possible to arrest enough gang members to quell the violence.

When looking at a problem like this using the crime triangle, we see that Chicago's solution involved improving the guardianship over victims and improving management over places. All great techniques in a Problem Oriented Policing strategy.

How are you using the crime triangle and applying Problem Oriented Policing to crime problems in your community?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Non-Random Nature of Murder

Chris Beam over at Slate.com has an interesting piece that looks at how unusual "random" murders are.

Which shouldn't come as a surprise. Random homicide is extremely rare. So rare that police probably suspected Norwood's story from the start—although, as the police chief said, they had to assume at first she was telling the truth. Only 15 percent of homicides reported every year are committed by someone who doesn't know the victim, according to the Bureau of Justice statistics. And even then, the two people usually have mutual friends and acquaintances, says Richard Rosenfeld, a criminology professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis: "That explains why they're in the same place at the same time." And yet, we often assume randomness, and treat the discovery that a murder isn't random as news.

While any loss of life is supremely sad, often times lifestyle choices play a big part in the chances that you will be victimized. Of course this is probably not the message the public gets from the media or politicians. In spite of statistics that show that violent crime has been dropping across the US, people continue to be inordinately fearful of victimization.

According to the Centers For Disease Control, the leading cause of death in 2007 was heart disease with 616,067 deaths. UCR stats for murder for the same year show that 16,929 persons were murdered in the US. In fact, murder isn't even in the top 10. So lighten up.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Yo Quiero SWAT Team?

You just can't make this stuff up sometimes: A customer at a San Antonio Taco Bell got so upset at a recent price increase that he turned an altercation over tacos into a wild police chase and three hour stand off with San Antonio PD's SWAT team. From the San Antonio Express-News:

The fast food customer was so disgruntled by the price hike he shot an air gun at the manager, displayed an assault rifle and pistol while in the restaurant's parking lot, fled as police were called, and pointed one of his weapons at three officers who pulled him over. Fleeing when they opened fire, he barricaded himself in his hotel room — all over $3.50 plus additional tax.

After the SWAT operators flushed him out of his room with tear gas, he was arrested and charged with multiple felonies. The weapons turned out to be air powered guns. The store manager explained the lower price the customer was expecting was due to a promotion that had expired.

Sometimes, you just can't save people from themselves.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Does Police Off-Duty Employment Lead To Inequitable Policing?

As an editorial choice here at The Crime Analyst's Blog, I normally don't do "bad cop" stories. My reasons for this is not that I don't think there is something to be learned from these kinds of negative stories, but I feel there usually is plenty of coverage by other media outlets. I'm going to make a rare foray into looking at a story of this ilk because there is an interesting tidbit found in the story that I think is worth looking at from a perspective of crime analysis.

The US Department of Justice released a report last week that looks at corruption in the embattled New Orleans Police Department. One of the more interesting parts was that NOPD's off-duty employment detail system was described as the "aorta" of corruption within the agency. A story on this over at the Times Picayune site NOLA.com had this bit I think is worth looking at:

The report also argues that the detail system contributes to inequitable policing in New Orleans, because better-off neighborhoods can tax themselves to pay for extra policing, while poorer neighborhoods -- which arguably need more police presence -- must rely on the local district for baseline services.

I have heard some interesting stories over the years about the prevalence of off-duty employment among police in the Big Easy. In fact, off-duty employment is quite common throughout law enforcement. Fortunately, most departments do a much better job of regulating the practice to avoid the shenanigans that DOJ found endemic to NOPD's system.

As a crime analyst I wonder if the prevalence of off-duty employment details skews our understanding of crime in our communities? In the sleepy little burg where I work, we have a regular off-duty employment detail our officers work at a local shopping center. How should we determine what the normal background level of crime is at this location?

If you are dealing with a crime problem at one of these locations, it's probably worth isolating incidents reported by off-duty employment detail officers to determine if their presence has skewed the numbers. It's also probably worth seeking out the officers who regularly work these details in problem areas for a better understanding of the dynamics of a problem occurring at one of these locations.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Sometimes These Crooks Just Leave Me Scratching My Head

I guess you could call this WTF Friday. Every now and again, I read a crime story that just leaves me scratching my head. This morning, it's not just one story but two of them. Both of them are coming from the tech website Ars Technica.

In the first, we have the sad case of the convicted pervert who appealed his conviction based on his view that the animated emoticons used by an undercover police officer were an excessive inducement for him to commit a crime he ordinarily would not have considered.

Blushing emoticons, in the state's view, did not excessively incite Jacques to hang out in "romance" chat rooms, contact the girls, masturbate in front of his own webcam, send nude pictures, or invite someone he believed to be 13 to spend the night at his apartment.

"In short," the state concluded, "Jacques' 'emoticons made me do it' theory of exoneration… lacks any support."

The second one is equally as perverse as we see Maricopa County Arizona's Sheriff Joe Arpaio asking Craigslist to ban more Craigslist naughtiness.

Now, Arpaio says the big sexual threat to his county's livestock comes not from drunken attacks on random sheep from but from deliberate encounters arranged on Craigslist.

In a letter this week to Craigslist President Jim Buckmaster, Arpaio wrote that his office had just wrapped up "an undercover investigation that spanned several months during 2010 and 2011,” one that “resulted in the arrest of two individuals for conspiracy to commit bestiality." Others are being investigated.

The two men, an elementary school teacher and a handyman, were found when detectives contacted them on Craigslist. According to a separate press release, “Sheriff's detectives set up meetings through computer communications where the suspects believed they were meeting the owners of dogs to have sex with the animals at a hotel."

I'm a bit surprised you would even have to ask that this be banned. Then again since it's Craigslist, maybe not.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ineffective Police Tactics Or Lack Of Guardianship By Victims?

The blog Grits For Breakfast is one of my favorite blogs. Scott Henson does a great job in covering criminal justice issues in the Texas legislature. He had a post recently where he discussed how enhanced penalties for copper thefts has not had a significant deterrent effect. Unfortunately, while pointing out that enhancing the penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony was not effective, he points the finger in another direction as a reason for the epidemic with this comment:

"Because the problem wasn't that the penalty was too low, but that police are using ineffective tactics."

Now, this idea kind of rubbed me the wrong way. I fully understand that the problem of the theft of copper and other building materials is a huge issue. However, lets look at this from a slightly different albeit hypothetical angle.

Lets say that Joe Citizen owns a jewelry store in a nice trendy downtown area. Because Joe wants to get the jump on a big sale that he's holding the first thing in the morning, he puts a display with lots of very expensive jewelry out on the sidewalk the night before. Then, he closes the door, turns out the lights and leaves for the night with all this expensive property left unattended on the sidewalk.

Now the next morning, when Joe comes back and all his jewelry is gone he calls the police to complain about the theft, then accuses the police of 'using ineffective tactics' in fighting crime. Would we really even consider police tactics as the reason for the theft? What is the difference between putting hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of property out unattended if the property is building materials as opposed to jewelry?

Here in Texas there are on average around 2 law enforcement officers per 1,000 citizens. Is it even humanly possible for two police officers to totally protect 1,000 persons from becoming victims of a thief? At some point, the victims have to take responsibility for the security of their property.

The Problem Oriented Policing (POP) Center has a couple of good problem solving guides that deal with both thefts from construction sites and scrap metal thefts. In fact here's one effective tactic for combatting thefts at constructions sites:

Coordinating deliveries of materials and appliances so that they are delivered and installed close to the time that the items will be secured or the house will be occupied can reduce their exposure to theft. Materials left unattended or unsecured for long periods of time can entice both opportunistic burglars and construction workers. Builders should install expensive high risk items as close to the end of construction as possible; in some cases it may even be possible to install the items after the house is occupied. A project in Charlotte, North Carolina focused on delaying the installation of plug-in appliances until immediately prior to or just after occupancy.

Both POP guides are worth the read if you are combatting these types of thefts in your jurisdiction. It's also very important to note that an effective strategy also includes a change in "tactics" by the victims not just the police. It is always cheaper and easier to prevent a crime than it is to solve one. I guess if you're going to blame police tactics in combatting these types of thefts it would be that police have not convinced the victims to change their behavior (tactics) and secure their property.

In what ways has your agency been effective in convincing potential victims to secure their property?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Texas Prisons Still Struggling With Cell Phones And Now Facebook

From the here we go again department: A smuggled cell phone apparently was used to help facilitate a Texas prison inmate's recent escape. According to the story over at the Austin American Statesman:

Prison officials have struggled unsuccessfully for more than two years to curb phone smuggling in Texas' 112 state prisons after a death row offender called a state senator on a smuggled phone. Then, Texas officials decided against such a test because phone jamming violates federal law.

But Livingston said Tuesday's rapid-fire revelations about how Puckett escaped from the Stiles Unit on March 9 — and an angry backlash from legislative leaders to the latest prison security breach — called for something new.

Lawmakers were fuming not only about the smuggled phone, but about the apparent fact that Puckett had two Facebook pages that investigators think he may have maintained from inside the maximum-security prison.

Authorities were also investigating information that Puckett met his escape helper on a social networking site that he also probably accessed using the smuggled cell phone.

What's even more problematic is that this wasn't even this inmate's first successful escape or the first time he's been caught with a cell phone in prison. You'd think that those two strikes against him would subject him to extra scrutiny. None of this can be good for TDCJ since those same pissed off legislators are currently working on TDCJ's budget.

There's another story over at the Houston Chronicle that details the donnybrook that took place when US Marshall's and Nebraska authorities arrested Puckett.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Texas Budget Woes Might Mean The End Of Campus Police

This might actually be a good thing: There is a story over at MySanAntonio.com where they indicate that the Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City Independent School District administration is going to recommend to their school board that they dissolve their campus police department. From the story:

In addition to asking each department to plan for between 5 percent and 10 percent cuts, the administration will recommend eliminating police department positions, Villarreal said. The recommendation will be made at a March 22 board meeting.

The positions include four police officers, two truancy officers, a dispatcher and the chief of police. The district may save about $300,000 by dissolving the department, according to Peggy Jaskinia, the district's chief financial officer.

Campus police departments and other specialty law enforcement agencies have gotten their share of criticism over the years. The new reality of a very lean budget cycle is an opportunity to fix some of the fragmentation in law enforcement that these specialty law enforcement agencies bring.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Have We Ended Crime In America?

I normally try not to post overtly political stuff here at The Crime Analyst's Blog. I think both sides of the aisle both here in the US and in Texas have some valid stuff to offer. However, I thought this quote from Senator John Kerry was pretty good.

Kerry was speaking to the Fraternal Order of Police, the largest police labor union about potential GOP cuts to the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) programs that Kerry has championed over the years. According to this story over at the Boston Globe, Kerry quipped:

"Well, I didn’t know that we had ended crime in America."

COPS office programs and grants have really been beneficial to law enforcement. From grants to allow communities to fund more police officers in their communities, to programs such as the Problem Oriented Policing (POP) Center, COPS programs have made law enforcement more responsive to their communities, and more effective at fighting crime.

If you aren't familiar with all the programs that the COPS office has, take a few minutes and explore their website. I think you'll be surprised at the extent of the assistance they offer local law enforcement agencies. I just hope that in our zeal to balance the budget, we don't end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It'd be a real shame to see these programs go away and lose the ground we've gained over the years.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Day Rawhide Nearly Died

This might be a little off topic, but I thought it was pretty interesting nevertheless. There have been a couple of stories out today about the upcoming release of a new book "Rawhide Down" covering the 1981 assassination attempt of President Ronald Regan. One of the stories over at NPR has some fascinating excerpts from the book such as this one:

"One technician was treating him, and doesn't even look up. Then she looks up and sees all the Secret Service agents and says, 'Oh my god, it's Ronald Reagan.' She freaks out. She goes over, picks up smelling salts from the wall, and smells them to shock herself back into attention."

Another story over at Yahoo News, even has this link to an MP3 audio file of Secret Service radio traffic from that day.

Very interesting stuff indeed.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

One Serial Killer Leads To Another

A former detective I used to work with once told me that "sometimes you can't swing a stick without hitting a crook around here". It seems that old adage applies in this case: According to a story over at CNN, detectives working on the investigation into Cleveland, OH serial killer Anthony Sowell managed to discover the work of another serial killer who also left victims in the same area.

"This is wild stuff," said Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason. "One serial killer leads us to another one."

After the bodies were found at the home of Anthony Sowell in 2009, Cleveland's Cold Case Unit launched a DNA investigation into victims found within a 3-mile radius of the property. The unit matched two cases to felon Joseph Harwell, who is currently serving time on a separate murder charge, Mason said.

Both the victims allegedly tied to Harwell, 27-year-old Mary Thomas and 33-year-old Tondilear Harge, were found raped and fatally strangled, seven years apart from one another. Thomas was three to four months pregnant at the time of the attack, a release by the Cuyahoga County Prosecutors Office says.

I bet that was the last thing detectives were thinking would happen when they started reviewing those cold cases. What are the chances that you'd have two independent serial killers operating in the same area?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Work Smarter, Not Harder With Crime Analysts

The North County Times in the San Diego, CA area has a couple of articles on Oceanside, CA Police's use of crime analysts to in their words "work smarter, not harder". I get quite a number of inquiries related to the blog from folks who wonder what it is that crime analysts do. From one of the stories they have this description of their normal duties:

Modern crime analysts are researchers, investigators and forecasters who dissect crimes as they happen, searching for hints that the crimes might be part of a bigger trend. They tell patrol officers where they're most likely to prevent or interrupt crimes, and they help detectives solve cases.

Police agencies across North County have expanded their crime analysis units in recent years. They credit the units with derailing crime rings and making their entire departments more efficient by forecasting and preventing crime trends.

And as budget constraints have rendered some law enforcement agencies unable to hire more officers, police chiefs said the civilian analysts have allowed departments to use their existing officers more effectively.

Yesterday, I gave a briefing to a couple of community leaders regarding crime in the sleepy little burg where I work. One thing I said to them is that the information we capture in our computerized records system is gold. Just like businesses use business intelligence software to mine their sales records for information to sharpen their business practices, crime analysts should be doing the same to sharpen the practices of their agency.

The second North County Times story quotes crime analyst Noah Fritz with this bit:
"No company would do very well without its own research and development unit," he added. "That's the analogy I would give ---- any police department needs to better understand the day-to-day operations for the business they're in."

What are you doing to sharpen the practices of your agency?

Monday, March 7, 2011

When The Cop Becomes The Professor

The Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office newsletter Community Policing Dispatch has a great interview with Professor Peter Moskos. Moskos was working on his PhD from Harvard and doing academic research when he took up a challenge by the Baltimore Police Commissioner by becoming a Baltimore cop in order to learn more about policing.

Moskos experience as a Baltimore cop gives him a really unique perspective on policing, one that isn't expected in the halls of academia. I thought this quote from the interview was great.

The risk with budget cuts is the focus will remain on quantifiable statistics of police productivity and I think nothing could be more harmful for the police. The police need to judge their effectiveness in crime levels and not in arrests, not in citations, not in response time. Sometimes those are related, but not necessarily. If crime goes up and a police commissioner says response time is down, that should be an irrelevant statistic. Perhaps it might even be part of the problem; it’s showing that too many police are busy responding after the fact. With limited resources, it is a matter of reeducating the public, who have been sold for decades about the idea of 911: you pick up the phone and the cops are going to appear. So police have to be able to present an alternative and sell the public on this, because there will be opponents. There will always be some story where occasionally 911 does save a life, but it’s rare and we should not have half the police department dedicated to this. This idea that police are going to appear instantaneously is crazy; it doesn’t work that way….In some ways, a boring day for a cop is the ideal day because it meant you did your job. If you judge your work day in responding to shootings and picking up the pieces after the fact, that should hardly be seen as an institutional success of police departments.

The interview is worth the read. Moskos' blog is also one worthy of bookmarking or putting in your RSS reader.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Immigration Enforcement By Local Police A Hot Topic

There were a couple of stories out this morning on the hot button topic of local law enforcement agencies enforcing federal immigration laws. One, over at the Houston Chronicle outlines legislation proposed in the Texas legislature that would enable Texas law enforcement to set up checkpoints to check for motorists driver's license and insurance. From the story:

The checkpoint provision is part of a bill that supporters say would crack down on drug cartels and human smuggling rings operating in Texas. It would require that every person booked into prison in Texas have their citizenship checked, increase criminal penalties for gang and cartel members and increase fines for drug crimes.

Another story over at the New York Times cites a recent report from the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) that indicates the reticence of local law enforcement chiefs to get involved in enforcing immigration laws.

Dozens of police department commanders who participated in the report recommended that local officers should be explicitly prohibited from arresting people solely because of their immigration status, and should have orders to protect victims and witnesses regardless of that status.

The report, issued on Thursday by the Police Executive Research Forum, cites worries among police chiefs that if they are pulled into immigration enforcement, a job that was limited until recently to federal agents, their ties to immigrant communities will be eroded, with the result that crimes would not be reported and witnesses would be afraid to cooperate in investigations.

Regardless of which side of the immigration debate you are on, this topic is going to come up more often. Local law enforcement agencies are going to drug into the debate whether they want to or not.

I was talking with an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officer the other day about how he does his job. Based on my conversation with him, immigration law is a complicated area even for someone who does it every day. This is going to be an even more difficult area for local cops who will likely only deal with it occasionally.

It might be time to develop a working relationship with your local ICE office.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Pickpockets As A Dying Breed

Slate Magazine has a really good article on the decline of pickpocketing as a criminal trade. While it wasn't ever a huge problem in the sleepy little burg where I work, pickpocketing was quite a problem in large urban cities like New York or Chicago. I can remember quite a number of times that I was given safety briefings about pickpockets operating in some of the large cities where we made port calls during my Navy days.

Experts offer a few explanations for the gradual disappearance of pickpockets in the United States. Crime nationwide—from pickpocketing to homicide—has been dropping since the mid-1990s. People carry less cash today, and thanks to enhanced security features, it's harder for thieves to use stolen credit or debit cards than it was in the past. And perhaps most important, the centuries-old apprenticeship system underpinning organized pickpocketing has been disrupted. Pickpocketing has always perpetuated itself by having older hooks—nicknamed "Fagins," after the crime boss in Oliver Twist—teach younger ones the art, and then absorbing them into canons. But due to ratcheted-up law enforcement measures, including heftier sentences (in some states, a pick, defined as theft from the body of another person and charged as a felony regardless of the amount taken) and better surveillance of hot spots and known pickpockets, that system has been dismantled.

What I find interesting about this is the fact that it wasn't just one angle such as arresting the pickpockets that has led to the decline of this criminal trade but also a change in victim's behavior, that of carrying cash, as well as the decline in the networks that transferred the necessary criminal knowledge. While any one of these reasons by themselves might have temporarily disrupted this trade, it took more than one to make the changes last long term.

I think there is value in applying a similar multi-pronged approach to solving other crime problems. I also think it's important to note how long it took for this problem to begin to die out. It didn't just happen overnight. That would be particularly hard to sell to a public that often wants an immediate solution to crime problems that were decades in the making.

In what ways are you working to attack your crime problems from multiple angles? How are you encouraging patience with your efforts in the community you serve?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Austin Area Gun Running Bust Gives Glimpse Into Straw Purchases

The Austin American Statesman has a story on a recent bust that has netted 21 crooks who are part of a central Texas area gun running operation. The operation allegedly funneled illegally purchased assault style weapons to Mexico. From the story:

On Tuesday, a federal grand jury in Austin handed down an indictment charging 21 people — including Lira, his mother and some of the "straw purchasers" — with conspiracy to violate federal firearms laws and other crimes.

The most serious charges in the 47-count indictment — including money laundering — is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Lira; his mother, Aurelia Ochoa Hernandez, 55; and several others were arrested in late January and are being held in federal custody without bail. The others, including a man accused of receiving the guns in Mexico and some who court documents say have been cooperating with authorities, had not been arrested as of late Tuesday.

The indictment lists more than three dozen gun purchases that straw purchasers are accused of making for Lira at Central Texas stores in recent months. The stores include the Gun Store in Cedar Park, Heritage Firearms in Austin and Tactical Advantage Firearms in Round Rock.

The story at the Statesman has some really interesting details as to how the gun running operation worked. I also think it's commendable that a tip off about the operation came from a gun store here in Bell County.

The recent murder of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Jaime Zapata in Mexico was allegedly committed by a cartel hit man using a weapon smuggled into Mexico from a DFW area weapons smuggler.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

New Bill To Reduce Minor Pot Penalty Makes Sense

One of the new bills filed in the Texas legislature is one that would reduce the penalty for possessing small amounts of marihuana from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class C. There are quite a few merits to this idea. Scott Henson over at Grits For Breakfast has this to offer about the idea:

Since as of 2009, 57.9% of all drug arrest in Texas were for pot, most for low-level amounts, making many of those cases Class C misdemeanors would a) significantly reduce intake volume at local jails and b) generate fine revenue instead of cost counties money for jail, court-appointed counsel., etc.. Most Class B pot cases end up on probation, anyway, and with misdemeanor probation funds eliminated in the House and Senate budgets, arguably it's pointless to bother supervising pot smokers when it diverts scarce CSCD resources from supervising misdemeanor DWI offenders, family violence defendants, etc..

Marihuana arrests, even for small amounts often lead to evidence of other crimes. Using a hypothetical, but all too typical scenario I'll explain what I mean: An officer notices a car creeping around late at night in residential neighborhood that has recently suffered a rash of car burglaries. As the officer watches it, the driver commits a traffic violation. The officer then stops the car and as he approaches to ask the driver for his license, he is hit by the odor of freshly burning marihuana wafting from the car. It is obvious that the driver or his passenger have been smoking a blunt in the car.

The officer now has sufficient legal grounds to detain them and investigate further. As he does, he discovers a cache of GPS units and iPods on the floorboard of the car that have been stolen from vehicles in the neighborhood. Since a Class C offense is still an arrestable offense, the officer does not lose the ability to use an arrest or detention for a lower level offense as grounds to "get inside the car" and discover the evidence of the other higher offense.

A Class C offense also allows an officer the flexibility to issue a citation in times that a custodial arrest is not warranted or practical. For the rare times that an arrest is not made in a Class B or higher offense, there are a number of additional steps that the officer needs to complete in order to obtain an arrest warrant. They won't have to complete an arrest warrant affidavit and then make a trip down to the local magistrates office to obtain a warrant, etc. Reducing minor pot possession to a Class C would also save the officer's time in these situations.

I think HB 548 is a bill whose time has come. It doesn't legalize marihuana possession so the "tough on crime types" will still get to register their disapproval of cannabis possession, but the penalty is more fitting of the actual offense and it's much more fiscally sound.

If you want to watch this bill as it progresses through the legislature, you can follow it's progress here.