Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Did Crime Analysis Contribute To A Dropping Crime Rate?

James Q. Wilson had a great piece in the Wall Street Journal this past weekend looking at the possible reasons for the drop in crime here in the US. This drop occurred even with country's the poor economic conditions and has many experts trying to figure out why. There have been quite a number of articles from quite a number folks trying to explain this apparent contradiction.

The reason I thought Wilson's article was so good was that it attributed much of the success to more efficient policing practices, ones that have at their heart crime analysis. From the piece:

Policing has become more disciplined over the last two decades; these days, it tends to be driven by the desire to reduce crime, rather than simply to maximize arrests, and that shift has reduced crime rates. One of the most important innovations is what has been called hot-spot policing. The great majority of crimes tend to occur in the same places. Put active police resources in those areas instead of telling officers to drive around waiting for 911 calls, and you can bring down crime. The hot-spot idea helped to increase the effectiveness of the New York Police Department's Compstat program, which uses computerized maps to pinpoint where crime is taking place and enables police chiefs to hold precinct captains responsible for targeting those areas.

Researchers continue to test and refine hot-spot policing. After analyzing data from over 7,000 police arrivals at various locations in Minneapolis, the criminologists Lawrence Sherman and David Weisburd showed that for every minute an officer spent at a spot, the length of time without a crime there after the officer departed went up—until the officer had been gone for more than 15 minutes. After that, the crime rate went up. The police can make the best use of their time by staying at a hot spot for a while, moving on, and returning after 15 minutes.

Some cities now use a computer-based system for mapping traffic accidents and crime rates. They have noticed that the two measures tend to coincide: Where there are more accidents, there is more crime. In Shawnee, Kan., the police spent a lot more time in the 4% of the city where one-third of the crime occurred: Burglaries fell there by 60% (even though in the city as a whole they fell by only 8%), and traffic accidents went down by 17%.

The methods Wilson is championing are things such as hot spot policing, CompStat, DDACTS, problem oriented policing, intelligence led policing and the like. All of these make police more efficient at reducing crime.

Any of these approaches are better than the old reactive policing model of having a police officer drive round aimlessly until he gets dispatched to a call. Some of them, may be a better fit for your agency than others. For instance, if you work for a very small agency, one with less than 10 officers, a full blown NYPD style CompStat might be a bit of overkill. But hot spot policing and problem oriented policing would likely work for any agency. DDACTS is just a variation on hot spot policing by adding traffic accidents into the mix along with crime data.

Hot spot policing is also a very simple methodology. In the words of former NYPD head Bill Bratton, you basically "put cops on the dots". Where the dots are (crimes on a map) is where you want your cops to spend most of their time. Even a department with limited resources can accomplish this. While it might help to have computer software to do crime mapping, a department with limited resources could use old fashioned pin maps or maybe even Google Earth to map their crime locations and then put their officers where the dots are.

Is your agency using hot spot policing or other methodologies to focus their operations? If you aren't why not?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day here in the US. The holiday, formerly known as Decoration Day, is a day that we honor the war dead, those who gave their lives while serving our country.

In 1868, only three short years after the Civil War ended, Maj. Gen. John A. Logan established Decoration Day as a day to visit the graves of those who died during that conflict. In his order to decorate the graves with flowers, he said:

“We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. ... Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

Like many of those in law enforcement, I also served in the military. As I grow older I look back on my memories of those I served with, with fondness. I was fortunate to serve in the US Navy during peacetime. Yet, even then, there were a few that I served with who lost their lives while serving. The military can be a dangerous business, even in peacetime.

For those serving during times of conflict, the memories of those who now lie in repose under headstones inscribed in testament to their service are all the more bittersweet. For those who soldier on, and those families who are left behind, the consequences of that sacrifice are life altering. While those who gave their lives may not have realized it at the time, their sacrifice shows the truth of the Biblical illumination:

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

Those whose sacrifice demonstrates this truth deserve our remembrance especially on this day. We owe them so much.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Networking With Other Crime Analysts

Yesterday I got to get out of the office by traveling to the Dallas - Fort Worth metroplex to speak to the Metroplex Crime & Intelligence Analysts' Association at one of their monthly meetings. I have to admit that when they asked, I got a little puffed up that such a great bunch of analysts would want to hear me talk about The Crime Analyst's Blog. A few of them I already knew from the International Association of Crime Analysts.

I got to talk about a few things that I am passionate about such as Problem Oriented Policing, the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers In 60 Small Steps as well as why I think crime analysts should write.

More importantly, I got to put a few faces to names, and add a few more contacts to my address book. The reason I say "more importantly" is that in law enforcement, like many other professions, networking and building relationships with your peers is invaluable. When you are working on a particularly difficult crime problem or you are working on a problem that crosses jurisdictional lines, it's nice to already have the name of someone to call for help, advice or support.

Nearly every time I get to talk shop with an analyst from another agency, I take away new ideas on solutions to crime problems, new techniques to try or even just the realization that I'm not the only person around working on a similar problem.

Often times it's all too easy to stay focused on just your own office and your projects. After all, we get our little routine down at the office and networking with another agency's crime analysts does take a bit of extra effort. But it is important to make the effort and get some face time with these folks because your efforts will pay off the first time one of these other analysts give you a new idea, a new technique or that bit of information you've been looking for.

What are you doing to network with other crime analysts in your area? Do you meet with them periodically to talk shop or discuss regional problems? If there is no group in your area why not start one?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Hours Of Forced Online Games Is Hard Labor

Most days here at The Crime Analyst's Blog, I try to write serious posts that show how crime analysis benefits law enforcement. Sometimes though, it's hard to find a crime story that lends itself to this. The good thing is that I know there are usually plenty of crime stories that are just plain weird and yet interesting. This is going to be one of those posts.

There's a story over at The Guardian that alleges that prisoners in China's prisons are being forced to play online games in order to build up virtual goods that the guards can then sell for real money.

But it was the forced online gaming that was the most surreal part of his imprisonment. The hard slog may have been virtual, but the punishment for falling behind was real.

"If I couldn't complete my work quota, they would punish me physically. They would make me stand with my hands raised in the air and after I returned to my dormitory they would beat me with plastic pipes. We kept playing until we could barely see things," he said.

It is known as "gold farming", the practice of building up credits and online value through the monotonous repetition of basic tasks in online games such as World of Warcraft. The trade in virtual assets is very real, and outside the control of the games' makers. Millions of gamers around the world are prepared to pay real money for such online credits, which they can use to progress in the online games.

While I enjoy some video games, mainly first person shooters like Call of Duty, having to spend hours playing World of Warcraft seems like cruel and unusual punishment to me.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Crime's Down But Why?

This week's announcement of the release of the FBI's Preliminary UCR Crime Report has got everyone scratching their head now that they've had a chance to digest the numbers. There's a story over at the New York Times that has some good quotes in it:

Criminology experts said they were surprised and impressed by the national numbers, issued on Monday by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and based on data from more than 13,000 law-enforcement agencies. They said the decline nationally in the number of violent crimes, by 5.5 percent, raised the question, at least in some places, of to what extent crime could continue to fall — or at least fall at the same pace as the past two years. Violent crimes fell nearly the same amount in 2009.

“Remarkable,” said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University. “Given the fact that we have had some healthy declines in recent years, I fully expected that the improvement would slow. There is only so much air you can squeeze out of a balloon.”

There was no immediate consensus to explain the drop. But some experts said the figures collided with theories about correlations between crime, unemployment and the number of people in prison.

In addition to the FBI's release, the Texas Department of Public Safety also released some preliminary stats in their Crime In Texas 2010 report.

Violent crime and property crimes both fell compared to the year before. The overall crime rate—the number of crimes per 100,000 population in Texas—decreased 6 percent in 2010. The violent crime rate was down 8.3 percent in 2010 compared to 2009, and the property crime rate decreased by 5.7 percent.

While the overall crime rate has been down several times over the last decade, this is the first time since 2000 that all seven index crime rates decreased during the same year. Murder was down 7.4 percent, rape 9.2 percent, robbery 14.9 percent, aggravated assault 4.9 per- cent, burglary 5.9 percent, larceny/theft 4.9 per- cent and motor vehicle theft 12.3 percent.

The good thing for Texas is that every city with a population of greater than 100,000 showed a decrease in crime except for Frisco, Killeen, and Round Rock. The talley for Texas cities with a population between 50,000 and 100,000 was not so good with 9 cities showing an increase in crime.

Of course, Texas DPS must also be using the same population figures as the FBI did because they are listing 34 cities in Texas has having a population 100,000 or greater. I posted yesterday that the FBI's population numbers didn't jive with the US Census Bureau.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Why Can't UCR Use Census Population Figures Like Everyone Else?

The FBI released the preliminary 2010 UCR Crime numbers yesterday. The Preliminary UCR Report just covers the crime number for those cities with a population 100,000 or greater. After I got the press release in my email yesterday morning, I popped on over to the FBI’s Preliminary UCR Report website to take a peek at the numbers.

One thing I noticed about the numbers was something I notice every year, the population numbers they always cite never jive with the US Census population estimates. Up till now I’ve always attributed it to the FBI and Census using a different methodology for projecting the population estimate between the decennial censuses. However, I figured that since the 2010 Census numbers were available that the FBI’s estimate would be recalculated to be more in line with Census. However, when I looked at the numbers for the sleepy little burg where I work, the FBI understated the numbers by about 5,000.

I put together a spreadsheet of the population figures used both by the preliminary 2010 UCR and the 2010 Census numbers. I was surprised that the numbers ranged from a -8.1% under estimate to an 11.74% over estimate just for the Texas cities listed.

Of course the problem with this is that if you take the simple approach to figure crime rates by calculating rate based on the FBI’s population number, these differences can make a big difference in how your rates calculate. One other thing I noticed was that the FBI had 34 Texas cities as having a population of 100,000 or greater. However, comparing this to the 2010 Census numbers, there are only 29 Texas cities with a population like this.

I have never been able to find any note of the source of the population figures that UCR uses. They certainly don’t use the population that we list on the UCR forms we submit because at my agency we always use the US Census estimates. I sure wish that the FBI would get on the same sheet of music as the Census Bureau. After all, they are supposed to be the keeper of the “official” population figures.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Why We're Not Likely To See Mexican Style Narco-terrorism

The intelligence website Stratfor had an interesting piece about the corruption and cartel violence in Mexico. The article looked at the proximity of violence by drug cartels just across the US/Mexican border and why they thought that level of violence was not likely to happen in the US.

(W)e noted that the same dynamics exist on both sides of the border, and the same cartel groups also operate on both sides. However, we also noted the consistent theme of the Mexican cartels being forced to behave differently on the U.S. side. The organizations are no different, but the environment in which they operate is very different. The corruption, poverty, diminished rule of law and lack of territorial control (particularly in the border-adjacent hinterlands) that is endemic to the Mexican system greatly empowers and emboldens the cartels in Mexico. The operating environment inside the United States is quite different, forcing the cartels to behave differently. Mexican cartels and drug trafficking are problems in the United States, but they are problems that can be controlled by U.S. law enforcement. The environment does not permit the cartels to threaten the U.S. government’s ability to govern.

While we have seen a few border state politicians raise the specter of Mexican cartel violence coming to the US, we're probably not going to see the orgy of violence that has become a regular part of life in Mexico. The conditions that allowed the cartels to flourish and grow to the point of near civil war just doesn't exist here in the US.

Probably the biggest reason for this is a near complete corruption of law enforcement and government institutions in Mexico. This culture of "la mordida" or "the little bite" has been part of these Mexican institutions long before the cartels came to power. For instance, when I was a child I spent my summers with my grandparents in south Texas, just across the border from Mexico. It wasn't uncommon then for Americans to cross the border for a day of shopping.

A couple of friends of my grandparents, crossed the border to shop. While these two couples were there, the wives who were blue haired little old ladies at the time, stepped out of a shop to wait in front while their husbands were still inside. A group of local Mexican police officers then arrested the two ladies for prostitution. The husbands were then invited to the local police station to pay their wives' "fine" in order to get them out of this Mexican jail.

For years, Mexico has tolerated this culture of corruption and payoffs as just the way to do business. The problem is that all these years of this has so thoroughly corrupted their institutions that they are not only ineffective, but are probably a big part of the problem.

There's an old adage that sometimes things have to get bad before they can get better. Things are bad in Mexico. But if this violence finally pushes Mexican society to transform their culture to where systemic corruption is no longer tolerated then maybe they can overcome this awful time. It's probably going to take an 'Arab Spring' style popular uprising to begin to reclaim their country. Let's hope they can do it before their country completely collapses.

Excerpts taken from Corruption: Why Texas is Not Mexico and is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Shoplifting Can Be Big Business

There's an interesting story over at the Seattle Times about recent arrests in a multi-million dollar shoplifting ring operating in the Seattle area.

The charges involve two separate groups that prosecutors say purchased a total of about $6 million in stolen food, beauty products and personal hygiene items and then resold them over the course of several years. Many of the items were stolen by drug addicts, who then sold them to members of the two groups for as little as $1 to $2, prosecutors allege.

Some of the items were resold online, at a Seattle market, or shipped to Cambodia, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said at a news conference Thursday morning.

There have been busts of organized shoplifting rings before, but I can't remember one quite this big. In many cases, shoplifting investigations are just not given a lot of scrutiny. In fact, many agencies just issue citations to shoplifters who are caught. I wouldn't be surprised if there are more organized boosting rings such as this though.

One thing I've noticed is how often shoplifters are involved in other criminal activities such as narcotics, identity theft or credit card abuse. It pays to keep track of these thieves because you are liable to see some of the hard core shoplifters again.

Even if your shoplifters aren't quite this organized, your retail stores' loss prevention folks can be a valuable asset in combatting boosters. They can also work with your officers to streamline arrests of shoplifters. Back when I was a beat cop, I used to leave stacks of our PD forms with the loss prevention folks at the big box retail stores after teaching them how to fill them out. That way, whenever I was dispatched up there for a shoplifter, they would have the necessary forms all completed which really made working these cases much easier.

What are you doing to partner with your local retailers to combat shoplifters?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

In These Bank Robberies, Crime Doesn't Pay

In this post, I can't help but point out the great job that one of our local law enforcement agencies did on nabbing a group of bank robbers only a short time after the daylight robbery. From the story over at the Killeen Daily Herald:

Three black males wearing black were reported to have entered the United Central Bank at 404 E. Veterans Memorial Blvd. at 9:10 a.m. demanding money. One man was armed.

The three men fled on foot with an undisclosed amount of money.

Police responded to the bank's alarm and during the investigation, information led them to a home in the 1400 block of Redondo Drive, according to a police spokesperson.

I'd say that to have a bank robbery that happened at 9AM solved by noon is pretty quick work. And speaking of quick work on Killeen bank robberies, two women who tried to rob a Killeen bank last year were sentenced. From the story at KXXV.com:

20-year-old Jalyssa Shalaine Bradly and 24-year-old Amber Denise Waters robbed the 1st National Bank of Texas back in December of 2010.

Waters was sentence to 32 months for bank robbery and 84 months for using a firearm in commission of felony.

Jaylessa Bradley got a lighter 21 months for bank robbery and 84 months for using a commission of a firearm.

If I remember the story right on these two, they were caught within minutes of their heist. 116 and 105 months in federal prison for a robbery were you got to hold the loot for less than an hour seems like a pretty poor trade off to me.

While bank robbery used to be pretty unusual here in central Texas at one time, the proliferation of banks has also led to a proliferation of bank robbers. Take a little time to peruse the Texas Bandit Tracker website and you'll see what I mean.

One thing that is really important to making a good bank robbery case is a good working relationship between local law enforcement agencies and your local FBI field office. You may not have many bank robberies in your neck of the woods, but you should make sure that your agency's folks and the local FBI folks are on a first name basis prior to one of these robberies occurring.

If a bank robbery happens in your local jurisdiction, do you know the FBI agent you'll likely be working with? If not why don't you give him or her a call and offer to buy him a cup of coffee sometime?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

This 'Thank You' Was Especially Heartfelt

The Fort Worth Star Telegram's Crime Time blog had this bit that is worth noting. It seems that three officers were in a DFW area IHOP recently on their meal break when this happened:

“We were just in IHOP having dinner and getting ready to pay when our waitress told us that someone took care of our check,” the message read. “We asked her who so we could thank them and she pointed to a young girl who couldn’t have been more than 15 years old. When we left we stopped to talk to her. She introduced herself as KayLeigh Nava, Hank’s daughter. She thanked us with tears in her eyes for what we do. Just thought everybody should know that.”

KayLeigh Nava's father Hank Nava was a Fort Worth Police officer shot and killed on duty in 2005.

I bet she wasn't the only one with tears in their eyes in that IHOP.

A Holistic Approach To Vehicle Burglaries

This is an interesting story: A regional news outlet for the Redmond, WA area, the Redmond Patch had this piece on how Redmond Police are using a "holistic approach" to combat vehicle burglaries or as they call them "car prowls". From the story:
The force recently created a special undercover investigation team called the Pro-Act Unit, which works to build cases against criminals who repeatedly commit property crimes, including car prowls and car thefts. Since 2005, the department has also supported a full-time specialist who collaborates with other King County agencies to track break-ins and look for trends.

Detectives use a cross-jurisdiction database to look for trends in location, method of break-in and other details, Bove said. The ultimate goal, he said, is to take a more holistic approach to solving these crimes by looking for repeat offenders and establishing connections between property crimes and other types of offenses, especially those that are drug related.

“It’s one of those things where you make (one) arrest, a lot of dominoes start to fall,” he said.
The whole article is a good one and is worth the read. I also think the the idea of taking as they put it, a "holistic" approach to problem crimes is the right way to tackle these problems.

Another point to gather from this article is that certain crimes such as this, also tend to be part of another larger crime. In this case, a thief smashing a car window to get access to the purse left on the seat, was in furtherance of another, probably larger crime, credit card abuse. By combatting the initial crime, vehicle burglary, they would also prevent the secondary and probably larger crime, the credit card abuse.

What crime problems in your jurisdiction would lend itself to a holistic approach?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bars Serving Drunk Driving Death Suspects Just Not Being Punished

You'd think that it wouldn't be so dang hard to go after bars that serve patrons who then drive drunk and kill someone but here in Texas that seems to be the case according to this story over at the Houston Chronicle. From the story:

TABC began tracking businesses that served alcohol to drunken drivers in a formal statewide initiative in 1994. Called "source investigations" because they target the source of the alcohol, the efforts focus solely on cases involving serious injury or death.

In the past three years, the agency conducted about 600 source investigations of restaurants and bars and revoked alcohol licenses in about 3 percent of the cases, according to TABC data. About 10 percent of establishments faced fines or a short-term suspension of a license.

In the absence of multiple violations, Beck said it's difficult for the agency to persuade administrative judges to revoke a permit, which can cost up to $6,500 for the first two years.

"As a general rule, we do what we can to cancel a permit when there's a fatality," she said. "We get into the hearings and they don't want to always put that much responsibility on the business owner who might not have been there at the time."

An established part of problem oriented policing theory is often times to interrupt the crime triangle by focussing on the conditions that allow that crime to occur. In this instance you could argue that a bar that has served multiple DWI suspect patrons is a large part of the problem. Eck and Spellman's routine activity theory calls a place like this a "den of iniquity" and describes it like this:

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.

Unfortunately, the folks making the Texas Alcohol Beverage statutes seem to have an overly soft spot for the industry that they are supposed to be regulating. By making it near impossible to hold the bar accountable, police are forced to use the old ineffective reactive law enforcement model rather than applying a more effective problem oriented policing methodology to this problem. The sad part is, that in this case, it is having deadly consequences.

What is your agency doing to target problem bars and nightclubs?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Recording The Police, 'Get Over It'

Last week, NPR had a pretty good story about the controversy that some police departments have generated by arresting people for violating wiretap laws when they record interactions between the police and the public on smartphones or other video devices. From the story:

Consider what happened to Khaliah Fitchette. Last year, Fitchette, who was 16 at the time, was riding a city bus in Newark, N.J., when two police officers got on to deal with a man who seemed to be drunk. Fitchette decided this would be a good moment to take out her phone and start recording.

"One of the officers told me to turn off my phone, because I was recording them," she said. "I said no. And then she grabbed me and pulled me off the bus to the cop car, which was behind the bus."

The police erased the video from Fitchette's phone. She was handcuffed and spent the next two hours in the back of a squad car before she was released. No charges were filed.

Fitchette is suing the Newark Police Department for violating her civil rights. The New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union helped bring the lawsuit.

"All of us, as we walk around, have to understand that we could be filmed, we could be taped," says Deborah Jacobs, director of the ACLU chapter. "But police officers above all others should be subject to this kind of filming because we have a duty to hold them accountable as powerful public servants."

What's ironic here is that the same proliferation of cheap video technology that allows high quality video to be shot from cell phones, is also being used by the police to record their encounters with the public. For years we've seen dashboard mounted video cameras in patrol cars, and now officers are even fielding body worn video systems to record interactions with the public.

A number of years ago, a campus police officer at a neighboring department was confronted with a TV crew filming a disturbance on campus. He responded by putting his hand over the lens and trying to wrestle the camera away from the TV camera man. I still have the image of that video in my mind as I write this. The image it presented to the public was not a good one. In fact, that clip was used for training by other agencies on how not to respond to the media. While this officer was trying to do what he thought was best, he came across looking like a jack booted thug. In fact, this became a bigger story than the original campus disturbance.

This is the age of transparency in government. The public expects that since they really do pay our salaries, they have a right to know how their government operates. Because of this, the old-school attitude of 'you can't film us' is just not going to cut it anymore. It's time to put that attitude away where they put the Gamewell keys and swivel holsters.

Friday, May 13, 2011

There Is Real Money In Credit/Debit Card Fraud

Every time I hear of some thug knocking over a convenience store and getting $50 and a carton of menthol cigarettes for his trouble, I wonder why they don't find a more lucrative crime to commit like this interesting criminal enterprise detailed over at the Chicago Tribune:
Michaels Stores says the debit card fraud stemming from tampered checkout terminals is far more pervasive than initially thought, encompassing not just Illinois but 19 other states.

The scope of the crime has surprised security experts and exposed the vulnerabilities of debit cards, a method of payment that many shoppers have come to rely on for everyday purchases.

Debit card fraud is worse for consumers than fraud involving credit cards because little stands between thieves and the money in bank accounts. In the case of Michaels' stores, many customers had money stolen directly from their accounts via ATM withdrawals.

The crafts-store chain identified 90 keypads in 80 stores that were compromised in Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Massachusetts, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia and Washington.
Of course it takes a bit more coordination to get into 90+ stores and replace their debit/credit card swipe keypads, harvest the data, create fake cards and start draining accounts but the dollar values stolen must be huge.

You'd think the banking industry would come up with a technology a bit more secure than that of a easily duplicated magnetic stripe and a 4 digit PIN. Of course, about the time they do, it won't be too long before the thieves try to crack that method too. I bet this method of payment would be a lot harder crack though.

A Holistic Approach To Vehicle Burglaries

This was originally Thursday May 12th's post that got lost during Blogger's recent outage.

This is an interesting story: A regional news outlet for the Redmond, WA area, the Redmond Patch had this piece on how Redmond Police are using a "holistic approach" to combat vehicle burglaries or as they call them "car prowls". From the story:
The force recently created a special undercover investigation team called the Pro-Act Unit, which works to build cases against criminals who repeatedly commit property crimes, including car prowls and car thefts. Since 2005, the department has also supported a full-time specialist who collaborates with other King County agencies to track break-ins and look for trends.

Detectives use a cross-jurisdiction database to look for trends in location, method of break-in and other details, Bove said. The ultimate goal, he said, is to take a more holistic approach to solving these crimes by looking for repeat offenders and establishing connections between property crimes and other types of offenses, especially those that are drug related.

“It’s one of those things where you make (one) arrest, a lot of dominoes start to fall,” he said.
The whole article is a good one and is worth the read. I also think the the idea of taking as they put it, a "holistic" approach to problem crimes is the right way to tackle these problems.

Another point to gather from this article is that certain crimes such as this, also tend to be part of another larger crime. In this case, a thief smashing a car window to get access to the purse left on the seat, was in furtherance of another, probably larger crime, credit card abuse. By combatting the initial crime, vehicle burglary, they would also prevent the secondary and probably larger crime, the credit card abuse.

What crime problems in your jurisdiction would lend itself to a holistic approach?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Fish Stories A Felony Here In Texas

Thank heavens they have taken care of the scourge caused by misrepresenting your fish. According to the Texas Tribune, the Texas legislature has made lying about the size or weight of your fish during a fishing tournament is now up to a 3rd degree felony.

Fraudulent fishermen better reel it in. The Senate passed a bill today to make cheating in a fishing tournament up to a third-degree felony, sending the measure on to the governor.

HB 1806 expands existing law to all fishing tournaments, from fresh to salt water. It would make it an offense for contestants to give, take, offer or accept a fish not caught as part of the tournament. It would also be an offense to misrepresent a fish.

I'm glad to see that given Texas budget situation, the legislature is taking care of the important things. Thanks to the excellent blog Grits For Breakfast for the heads up.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Boarding A Drug Smuggling Semi Submersible

I've written about drug smuggling semi-submersibles before. This story over at the Seattle Times is a pretty good one covering it from the angle of the US Coast Guard boarding team. From the piece:

The Coast Guard officer given the job of being in charge of boarding the narco sub was Lt. j.g. Lauren Milici, 24. She was packing a SIG .40-caliber service pistol, and her adrenaline was pumping.

Milici and her crew climbed into a smaller, 38-foot boat, and they soon were pulling up alongside the sub. In Spanish and English, they used a megaphone to order whoever was inside to come out. Receiving no response, they banged on the hull of the sub.

"It's always potentially dangerous. Essentially, you're the individual who's standing in somebody's way of picking up a paycheck for a successful delivery," said Milici, one of 20 women on the cutter.

Given the huge profits in smuggling illegal drugs, it's not exactly surprising the lengths that smugglers will go to to in getting their product from the coca fields to their customers. I always find these stories on drug smuggling subs interesting.

Of course if you can smuggle drugs to the US in one of these boats just imagine what else could be smuggled in. I am sure that you could fit a terrorist or two and some really nasty weapons in one of those. I guess the good thing for us is that the profit motive is terrorism is not quite as lucrative as narcotics.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Robbers Often Get Little Reward For Big Risk

There were a couple of stories late last week on the topic of robbery that I thought were worth noting, one was here locally when an armed robber that held up a soldier outside his home was hammered with a 50 year prison sentence. The interesting part is in how friends of the victim placed a call to the cell phone stolen from the victim to lure the suspect into a trap for police. From the article at the Killeen Daily Herald:

The robbery occurred around 4 a.m. Oct. 29 as the victim was leaving for physical training at Fort Hood. Robinson pointed a gun at the victim and stole his phone, wallet and keys.

After hearing about the robbery, the victim's colleague, Sgt. Adolfo Siliezar, immediately placed a phone call to the stolen phone, Waldman said.

Robinson answered the phone and pretended to be the victim. Siliezar knew it was an imposter on the phone, so he decided to see if he could lure the robber out by telling him he wanted to loan him money.

Killeen police were contacted and Officer Givon Emeana began surveilling an area outside a McDonald's restaurant on Rancier Avenue where Siliezar told Robinson he had left a sum of money.

Twice Emeana observed Robinson examine a Redbox movie rental kiosk where Siliezar had claimed to have left money. Emeana told the court it appeared Robinson was "frisking" the machine as he looked for money Siliezar had told him was wedged under the machine.

Police approached Robinson during his second trip to the kiosk. Inside his car, they found a black shirt and bright green bandana that matched clothing provided in the victim's description of the suspect. Robinson also matched the victim's physical description.

Police found the stolen phone by placing a call to it. It was located in a secret compartment in the dashboard of Robinson's gold Cadillac.

There was another interesting story over at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel where they looked at statistics of armed robbery suspects over time. In this story, they note that not only are armed robbery suspects getting younger, but that often there is a new offender "learning the trade" when they are committing these offenses.

"These guys are less experienced than some of the robbers we've had in the past," Milwaukee police crime analyst Nicole DeMotto said in an interview.

Offenders also are younger: When excluding the youngest and oldest who were arrested, the average age of a robber was 22 a year ago, but that number is now 20.

"We're finding that in the groups of arrests, there tends to be a younger person along with them, 'learning the trade,' so to speak. So we don't necessarily have two 13-year-olds out with a gun robbing people. We have a 13-year-old running with a 16-year-old," Milwaukee police Capt. Michael Dubis said. "We've had a significant number of robberies being done by more than one person."

One thing I noticed about armed robberies in the sleepy little burg where I work is that amount of money and/or good netted by these criminals is usually a pittance. Most late night convenience store chains have cash handling policies that forbid employees from keeping more than a small amount of money in the register at any given time. In fact, in most of them, the robbers will take a carton or two of cigarettes and this will often be of greater value than the cash taken. Given the little money usually netted, it wouldn't surprise me if a greater motivation to commit these types of robberies may be peer pressure or the thrill factor.

What is your agency doing to combat armed robberies?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Book Review: Zero Day by Mark Russinovich

Zero Day Cover

I don’t usually do book reviews here on The Crime Analyst’s Blog. However, when the author’s publicist contacted me about this and sent me some info on the book it piqued my interest. Zero Day is a novel by Mark Russinovich. Part of what interested me in this book was Mark’s background. Mark is a cyber-security expert and is a Technical Fellow at Microsoft among other things. It’s probably be safe to say that he’s a serious computer geek/guru. The other part that interested me was the premise of the book, a terrorist related large scale cyber attack.

A few weeks ago at my workplace the organizations mail server took a dive. I don’t consider my organization to overly dependent on email but the effects of a couple of days without email was quite pronounced. I was surprised how inconvenient things got during this outage. The scenario is Zero Day takes computer outage to new levels. Not to give away too much but the scenario is especially prescient since the recent death of Osama bin Laden and the threats of retaliation by Al Qaeda sympathizers.

The book was an easy, enjoyable read. The chapters were short, something I like since most of my reading is usually done is short bursts. For me, I’d rather stop at the end of chapter rather than in the midst of a long chapter. The story line was engaging, and a lot like other thrillers such as a Tom Clancy book. Right around the middle of the book there was a unexpected plot twist that made the book hard to put down. For entertainment alone, it made the book worth the read.

As a crime analyst, stories like Zero Day get me to thinking about the implications should a scenario like this leave the realm of fiction and make it’s way to the real world. Some crime fiction stories are so outlandish as to have nearly no chance of becoming real. However, the scenario in Zero Day is entirely plausible. Of course that’s part of the reason it’s so thrilling. It’s also the reason that a story like this this keeps analysts awake at night.

More information about Zero Day or Mark Russinovich can be found at the Zero Day book website.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a review copy of the book mentioned above for free in the hope that I would review it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, May 6, 2011

Texas Senate Bill Tackles Rape Kit Testing

This makes a whole lot of sense: The Texas Senate approved a bill to require law enforcement to submit rape kits for DNA testing. From the story over at the Texas Tribune:

SB 1636 by state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, would require a police department to submit a rape kit to a crime lab within at least 30 days of determining that a sexual assault has occurred. DNA analysis would have to be done no later than 90 days after the sexual assault was reported. After testing, the Texas Department of Public Safety would compare the DNA profile to those already in databases maintained by the state and the FBI. To the extent that funding is available, the bill also requires testing of untested rape kits in active cases since 1996.

This bill should get untested rape kits off the shelves of police evidence lockers and into the lab where DNA testing and the CODIS database have a chance of identifying an offender. An Austin American Statesman story on this bill indicates that thousands of untested rape kits dating back 15 years would be required to be sent off to the crime lab under the provisions of this bill.

The victims of these crimes deserve better than to have the evidence collected sitting on a shelf untested. Great job Senator Davis.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Narcotics And The Law Of Supply & Demand

Given the new fiscal reality that our current weak economy is causing, some are beginning to rethink the economic costs of the "War on Drugs". This piece over at NPR looks at an argument that making drugs illegal, increases drug dealer's profit margins. From the story:

The academic argument against drug criminalization goes like this.

When you make a drug illegal, you make it harder and riskier to produce. That makes it more expensive.

But demand for many drugs is what economists call inelastic: No matter what drugs cost, people will still pay. So making drugs more expensive through criminalization just sends more money to drug dealers.

This brings up an interesting argument, would legalizing, or at least decriminalizing drugs reduce the profits in the drug trade and would the benefits of a less profitable drug trade be offset by any increase in societal costs should drug addiction increase?

We've already seen talk that the cost of incarcerating drug offenders is too high. I'm glad to see this conversation taking place more and more. It may just be cheaper and a much better public policy to treat drug addiction as a mental health problem and not as a criminal one.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Police Work Often More That Just Cops & Robbers

Often when people think of police officers and their work, they think of uniformed cops arresting armed robbery suspects, gang members or drug dealers. They don't often picture officers arresting people for this. From the story over at the Houston Chronicle:

Undercover police officers followed a tanker truck's path and a thick odor of grease down a northwest Houston road early Sunday morning.

As they neared the end of the road, officers found what they had suspected: the driver of the truck allegedly emptying what appeared to be an oily hazardous substance from the 6,500-gallon tanker truck into a city drainage ditch.

The tanker truck's driver, 54-year-old Lonnie Earl Perkins, is accused of illegally dumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of hazardous waste into storm drains, ditches and retention ponds in northwest Houston and Harris County for New Energy Fuels, a biodiesel company in Waller County.

Perkins was arrested and charged with three felony counts of transporting and disposing of hazardous waste and one count of water pollution. Police suspect the biodiesel company may have been dumping hazardous waste in at least eight other locations in the city and county, as well as Waller County.

Cleanup efforts have cost more than $500,000, and at least one of the sites discovered during the investigation had hazardous material dumped in it so many times, the pond must now be drained.

"This is a significant problem this company has caused," said Officer Stephen Dicker of the Houston Police Department Major Offenders Division's Environmental Investigations Unit. "Taxpayers are taking a hit because of it."

The story details a good bit of the detective work that went into making this case. From the looks of it, Houston PD's environmental cops did a bang up job. But the topic also highlights the numerous expectations the public places on cops to solve problems in their communities.

The cops at your local police department are usually the entity of first resort for all kinds of problems from dealing with the mentally ill, to arbitrating disputes between neighbors to, in this case, illegal dumping. This variety of demands requires that departments seemingly to become a "jack of all trades".

More importantly, it does require that a department to "think outside the box" to solving the problems that their community expects them to. We can't just say "that's not our job" when presented with these unusual problems. If we can't mitigate the problem ourselves, we need to know who to call who can.

How does your agency handle non-traditional demands from your community?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Crime Analyst News Roundup

My first thoughts for today's blog post was something related to the demise of Usama bin Laden. However, this topic seems to be a bit overdone so I'll skip it other than to offer a big Bravo Zulu to the Navy SEALs and others involved in Sunday's events. It makes me proud to be a Navy veteran.

I did have some interesting stories of crime analysts in my RSS feed reader yesterday. The first one from MyFox9.com is how Brooklyn Park, MN Police's crime analyst is using crime analysis software to help predict where serial criminals will strike next and when.
Brooklyn Park police are using computer software to pinpoint exactly when and where the criminals could strike next. Police are even giving the technology credit for helping them cut down on crime.
Brooklyn Park Crime Analyst Connie Sjulstad said the technology has been around for a while, but recent updates make it even more reliable. The software measures the probability and gives officers an idea of when criminals will offend again.
Then we have this one from the Tracy Press looking at how Tracy, CA Police's crime analyst Janice Cree is helping her department fight crime.
When detectives and police officers in Tracy hit the streets during an investigation, crime analyst Janice Cree helps them by getting on her computer and gathering data for the investigation.
“She is a tremendous asset that allows us to do more intelligent policing,” Tracy Police Department spokesman Sgt. Tony Sheneman said, allowing police to plot crime trends and identify where and when they happen.
The last one at JCOnline.com looks at how Lafayette, IN Police's new crime analyst is helping their department move to a Problem Oriented Policing / Community Oriented Policing strategy. Their crime analyst Steve Hawthorne describes his job this way:
Primarily, it's tactical, which is looking and identifying crime series and patterns and then trying to address and maybe forecast when and will they will occur next.
The next part is administrative. It seems like everybody wants data -- from patrol officers to shift supervisors to neighborhood watch groups to the city council. I'm here to provide a service to those customers.
The last part is strategical. Part of my analyses would be redistricting police beats, just like they are doing for politicians and redistricting the voting area. You have to do that with police beats because crime shifts from areas of high and low. Another part is looking at what types of shifts are best to deploy your officers most efficiently and effectively
Crime analysts are important because they help to "connect the dots" that make their agencies more efficient at solving crime problems in their communities. In fact, I can't imagine a modern police agency not having some sort of crime analysis function to help them sharpen their focus. If your agency does not have a crime analyst or crime analysis function, the International Association of Crime Analysts can help you with starting a crime analysis unit.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Why Does Texas Lead The Nation In Mailbox Thefts?

This is an odd one: A story in this weekend's Fort Worth Star Telegram indicates that Texas leads the nation in thefts of mail from mailboxes. From the story:
Three hundred thefts from blue boxes were reported nationwide last year. Two hundred were in Texas; 34 were in California. 
Of the 10 pages of a spreadsheet provided to me by the postal inspectors who investigate these crimes, seven pages related to Texas boxes. 
Fort Worth had 45 reported thefts last year. Arlington had 28, Dallas 25, Houston 20, San Antonio 13, Grand Prairie 10 and Austin none. 
Fort Worth had 1 of 7 of all mailbox thefts in the nation.
While this seems a bit odd on the surface, it's probably not too unusual. If a criminal discovers a modus operandi (M.O.) that works for him, eventually that knowledge will be communicated with those in his social circle. Another criminal in his social circle may also begin to use this same M.O. and so forth. Eventually, you might get quite a little crew operating with nearly the same M.O. in a geographic area.

The reason that an M.O. might not spread to other areas is that the specific environmental conditions that make this M.O. successful in one area may not be present in another area. It is also possible that there are other types of crimes in those other areas that are more attractive to those criminals.

If nothing else it is kind of a fun exercise in speculation to wonder why Texas crooks seem so much more partial to thefts of mail from mailboxes.