Friday, July 29, 2011

Engaging Your Community To Prevent Tragedy

Central Texas lawmen have had a busy couple of days investigating a possible terror attack threat by an AWOL soldier. CNN had this bit that I thought was interesting:

Carter's office said Killeen gun shop Guns Galore, the same store used by Hasan to purchase weapons allegedly used in his attack, tipped off police concerning a "suspicious male" who purchased gunpowder, shotgun ammunition, and a magazine for a semiautomatic handgun.

Greg Ebert, a retired police officer who works at Guns Galore, said a young man showed up in the store Tuesday afternoon and browsed for about 20 minutes. He selected six one-pound canisters of smokeless gunpowder, Ebert said.

Then, Ebert said, the man asked the store owner questions about the nature of smokeless powder.

"That is a red flag for me," Ebert said. "He should know. Why is he buying that much?"

Ebert said the man also picked up one magazine and shotgun shells, and then left in a cab. After discussing the matter at length with the owner, Ebert called police.

While it appears that lots of great law enforcement work led to making this arrest, the crucial point is that none of this work would have happened had an alert business not made the call. In this case, the store employee was a retired police officer. However, it could have just as easily came from someone with no law enforcement background.

It is vitally important that we ensure our agencies are engaging their communities and encouraging the reporting of suspicious activity whether it is related to a terror attack or just plain old, run of the mill crimes. Often times citizens are hesitant to make the call because they aren't sure of their information's importance or they don't want to be seen as a crank.

What is your agency doing to ensure that citizens are encouraged to report this type of activity? Do your officers know the importance of taking citizens' reports seriously even if it might turn out to be "nothing"? While you might get 100 tips that turn out to be nothing, the one time you get a good tip, it could be the one that saves lives like this one apparently did.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Maybe The Warden's Wife Spent Too Much Time With Inmate

It's been a weird week where crime news is concerned and this one is no exception. Back in 1994 a convicted murdered escaped from an Oklahoma prison and the deputy warden's wife disappeared at the same time. Fast forward eleven years later when the convict and the warden's wife were found living together on a chicken farm in Texas. Now the warden's wife is on trial for helping the convict escape. The trial led to this interesting bit over at NewsOK.com.

Parks told jurors they found several of Dial's paintings stacked against the wall in Parker's garage.

“There was one painting of Bobbi Parker nude. She was standing, looking over her shoulder,” Parks testified. “I motioned for (supervisor) Larry Hahn to come over. … He took it in the house and showed it to Randy Parker.

“I saw Randy Parker looking at this painting. Just almost in tears. Like he just couldn't believe what he was seeing,” Parks told jurors.

While I know it's somewhat traditional, maybe housing the warden and family with the inmates isn't such a good idea.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

One Outstanding Frame Up

I love hearing about unusual crimes. I guess that's because after nearly twenty years in law enforcement, most other crimes seem pretty ordinary. There's a piece over at the New York Times about the lengths a jilted suitor went to frame his ex-girlfriend for a series of armed robberies.

Now, though, they concede that Ms. Sumasar was right — an astonishing turn of events that has transformed her case into one of the most bizarre in the city’s recent history.

They released her from jail last December after seven months, acknowledging that the entire case against her had been concocted by Mr. Ramrattan, officials said.

“We prosecute tens of thousands of cases each year, but in the collective memory, no one has ever seen anything like this before,” said Richard A. Brown, the Queens district attorney.

“Few people have the capacity to pull off a master plot of this magnitude to exact revenge,” Mr. Brown said.

It's worth the read so hit the link to read the entire story.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Fair Trial Followed By A First Class Hanging

Like many of you, I have been watching events unfold since the tragic bombing/shooting attack in Norway that has left 76 people dead. It is a tragedy of epic proportions. There have been a number of pictures of the suspect in the attack grinning while in police custody. NPR had a story that indicated that under Norway's laws, the most prison time the suspect is liable to face is 21 years in prison. No wonder this guy is grinning like the Cheshire cat.

Norway, like a few other European nations, has eliminated life imprisonment. Spain, Portugal and much of the former Yugoslavia have also done away with life sentences, but Norway's maximum of just 21 years incarceration is an outlier even among the more liberal European states.

"I think it's just a reflection of the Norwegian ethos and the Norwegian self image," said Mike Newton, a professor at Vanderbilt University Law School. Norway, he said, "doesn't culturally tend to focus on crime and criminality and certainly not criminality of this magnitude."

Newton said the events of last week are likely to shake things up.

"What this may do is overcome some of the cultural resistance that might have been in place of people who said simply, 'We don't need to worry about that,'" he said. "Well, clearly it's been demonstrated that the Norwegians do need to worry about it."

I am not one who thinks that prison should be overly punitive. However, at some point you have to wonder if justice is served when you can kill 76 innocent victims in cold blood, and only get 21 years in prison.

It will be interesting to watch and see if this causes those normally staid Norwegians to change their laws. If I was Norwegian, I know what I'd vote for.

Monday, July 25, 2011

From Miracle Drug To Scourge

CNN has an interesting story on the history of cocaine. While we rightfully view it as a scourge that has wrecked so many lives, it wasn't always viewed that way.
But back then, drugs weren't trapped behind pharmacy walls. Cocaine was sold in drinks, ointments, even margarine. The most popular product was Vin Mariani, a Bordeaux wine developed by a French chemist, with 6 milligrams of cocaine in every ounce -- nearly 200 milligrams in a typical bottle. 
In Atlanta, a Civil War veteran named John Syth Pemberton created a copycat wine. Pemberton, who had become a morphine addict after suffering war wounds, was interested in cocaine as a treatment for morphine addiction. 
He was also a shrewd businessman. When Fulton County, his Atlanta home, banned the sale of alcohol, he concocted a sweet, nonalcoholic version: Coca-Cola.
Funny how attitudes change over time. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Sometimes The Obvious Suspect Isn't

This story over at NPR is scary: An El Paso charter school teacher who lives across the border in Juarez, Mexico got caught crossing the border into the US with several hundred pounds of marijuana. It was her car, only she and her child were in the car. It seemed like a slam dunk drug trafficking case. She was arrested and hauled off to a Mexican jail to face years in prison for drug trafficking.

The problem was, she wasn't a "mule" and the dope wasn't hers.
A few miles away across the Rio Grande, the FBI determined that Chavez and Gomez were using lookouts to monitor the SENTRI Express Lane at the border. The lookouts identified "targets" — people with regular commutes who primarily drove Ford vehicles. According to the FBI affidavit, the smugglers would follow their targets and get the vehicle identification number off the car's dashboard. Then a corrupt locksmith with access to Ford's vehicle database would make a duplicate key. 
Keys in hand, the gang would put drugs in a car at night in Mexico and then pick up their shipment from the parked vehicle the next morning in Texas, authorities say.
One thing that we should learn from this is that sometimes the obvious conclusion isn't always the correct conclusion. What are you doing to ensure that your initial conclusion was the correct one?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Shaping Up To Be A Tough Year For Line Of Duty Deaths

USA Today has a story on a report from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund where they warn that the line of duty death statistics for the first six months of this year are not looking good.

Johnson says a midyear report by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which closely tracks law enforcement fatalities, finds that overall officer deaths are up 14% in 2011, while deadly shootings have increased by 33%.

If fatal shootings continue at the current rate, gunfire-related deaths would represent the primary cause of officer fatalities this year. For the past 13 years, traffic accidents have accounted for the largest number of officer deaths.

Let's hope this trend changes and quickly.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Santa Cruz Police Piloting A Predictive Policing Program

I guess this is going to be the week to talk about predictive policing. There is an article over at the Santa Cruz Sentinel that talks about Santa Cruz, CA Police and their predictive policing program. There was an interesting bit in there that talk about how they use this predictive policing model in their city.

When officers on a shift are not responding to calls for service, they are asked to check on those areas for potential crimes of auto or home burglaries, said police spokesman and crime analyst Zach Friend.

Officers might normally check those problem areas by intuition, but police said the new system adds some statistical backup.

"Many of the locations we suspected would have a high probability, but this adds a verified math component to it. This enhances the officer's intuition," said Deputy Chief Steve Clark said. "We can more efficiently target these locations."

Santa Cruz police typically discuss the predicted hot spots with officers during roll call meetings before each shift, Friend said. Officers receive a map and list of hours and places with corresponding probabilities of crime.

I'm hoping that as these programs are evaluated, the methodology behind the predictive method will start being discussed in the trade journals. I'd love to be able to provide an analytical product like this for my officers but I also don't have a huge budget to buy a commercial software package to do this. I'd probably have to do this with the tools I already have.

Even better would be a DOJ funded application given away for free that crunched the numbers and did the analysis. Similar projects have been done in the past such as CrimeStat III for spatial statistics and crime mapping applications.

Have you given any thought to trying a predictive policing model at your agency?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How To Predict A Run On Pop-Tarts and Burglaries

A couple of weeks ago Miller-McCune magazine had an interesting piece about LAPD's development of a predictive policing program. From the story:

In some ways, the notion of predicting where crimes will happen based on where they’ve happened in the past is fairly obvious. If there have been a lot of muggings on one particular street for the last 50 weeks, there will probably be some next week. Cops know that, of course. But the idea is to make those assumptions and guesses more accurate and to turn up patterns that aren’t so readily apparent.

Corporations have long used such predictive analytics to anticipate consumer demand and have found that cross-pollinating data can yield unexpected results. A famous example comes from Wal-Mart’s analysis of what its customers in coastal areas stock up on before hurricanes. The list includes duct tape and bottled water, of course, but also a surprise item: strawberry Pop-Tarts.

Analyzing crime data can similarly yield counterintuitive conclusions, researchers have found. Most people think good lighting makes an area safer, for instance, but studies have found that it actually increases the chances of being victimized, says P. Jeffrey Brantingham, a UCLA anthropology professor. It seems that muggers want to be able to see their potential targets clearly.

There have been a number of stories in the news lately about predictive policing. I have even posted about a few of them before. I do also see the promise in these programs. If my computerized crystal ball prognosticated that a particular neighborhood was ripe for burglaries on a particular week, it would be a whole lot easier to dedicate limited resources to dealing with that problem.

I am also heartened that a focus of some of these experiments is the problem of burglaries. This crime has such a historically low clearance rate (about 10% or less here in Texas) that anything that helps to improve that performance is a good thing.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Crime Analysis 101: The Crime Triangle

Recently I started a series of posts I am calling Crime Analysis 101. This series of posts grew from a suggestion from fellow IACA member Jim Mallard who asked me to hit some crime analysis basics on the blog. I recently covered the SARA model and Problem Oriented Policing. In this post, I want to talk about the Crime Triangle.

If you remember the fire triangle from your high school science class, the illustration is similar. Just as it takes heat, oxygen and fuel to support a fire, there are three elements necessary for a crime to occur. You have to have a likely offender and a suitable victim coming together in a time/place. If you don’t have any one of these three parts: offender, victim, and place, a crime won’t occur. While it seems very basic at first glance, the crime triangle or problem analysis triangle as it’s sometimes called, is a very important component in understanding how a crime occurs.

Even more important than understanding how a crime occurred, the crime triangle is very important to developing a solution to complex crime problems. This is because there is an added component, an outer triangle that helps to further explain how crimes occur. Every Offender has a Handler, a person or entity that exercise control over them. This could be a spouse, a probation officer or a teacher. Every Victim has a Guardian, someone who watches over the victim. This could be the police, a store security guard, a parent or in most cases, the victim themselves. Every Place has a Manager, someone who exercises control over the location such as a store owner, a school principal or the manager of a nightclub.

Now let’s look at how the Crime Triangle works in a real world case from the sleepy little burg where I work. A number of years ago, we began having problems with a nightclub in our city. Patrons at the club were creating a significant crime problem, mainly in the parking area of the club with numerous fights and assaults between the patrons. Before the end of the problem, we’d seen two murders, one accidental shooting death and a significant number of assaults. As the problems began to build, we began some of the traditional responses to such a problem. We added more officers to the area on nights the club was open and even organized sweeps of the parking area to arrest patrons for offenses such as public intoxication, underage drinking and other nuisance offenses.

Even with these traditional police responses, we still had problems with this club. This is because we had different offenders and different victims interacting at the same place. We could go in and arrest people all night long and more offenders would take their place and the disorder would continue. The one commonality was that these different offenders and different victims were all interacting at one place, the parking area of the nightclub. As the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers put it:
“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.”
The problem was the management of the Place was ineffective. We then began to pressure the owners of the club to make changes to exercise more control over their parking area. After repeated unsuccessful attempts to gain cooperation, we were forced to take drastic measures when we brought the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) and the commanders of the local military base into the mix. TABC controls liquor licensing of nightclubs in Texas and can revoke a club’s liquor license if a club becomes a significant nuisance. The local military authorities can place a location in an “off limits” status for military members if a location is a danger to the welfare of military members.

In this case, we ended up removing the Place side of the crime triangle for this crime problem by seeing their liquor license revoked and their customers disappear causing the club to close and this crime problem to disappear.

Do you have a tough problem crime in your jurisdiction? Have you examined it through the lens of the crime triangle? Which side would be the easiest to remove to solve this problem?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Cheerleader Lawsuit? You Just Can't Make This Up

Since it's Friday and we can all use a dose of levity after a long, busy work week. I found this amusing bit over at the criminal law blog Liberty And Justice For Y'all. It seems that a Texas high school cheerleader squabble ended up in the Federal court system and wound it's way to the 5th Circuit.

I've been in law enforcement for over twenty years and have seen the inside of way too many courtrooms over that career. One thing I always enjoyed was when the participants in a court's proceedings managed to draw the ire of the judge hearing the case. Then is nothing like seeing a judge lose it and give the offending party a dressing down.

So it's with that in mind that I can only imagine that the folks involved in this lawsuit managed to thoroughly tick off the judges that they wrote of their displeasure in this opinion in the case.

Samantha Sanches appeals summary judgment on her claims of sex discrimination and retaliation under 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a) (“title IX”) and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Reduced to its essentials, this is nothing more than a dispute, fueled by a disgruntled cheerleader mom, over whether her daughter should have made the squad. It is a petty squabble, masquerading as a civil rights matter, that has no place in federal court or any other court. We find no error and affirm.

Then near the end, they quote from a brief filed by the "aggrieved" party's attorney where they, in the words of the 5th Circuit "launched an unjustified attack on Magistrate Judge Stickney". They did this is an very unfortunately written legal brief that was included verbatim in the opinion and then throughly mocked in this footnote:

Usually we do not comment on technical and grammatical errors, because anyone can make such an occasional mistake, but here the miscues are so egregious and obvious that an average fourth grader would have avoided most of them. For example, the word “principals” should have been “principles.” The word “vacatur” is misspelled. The subject and verb are not in agreement in one of the sentences, which has a singular subject (“incompetence”) and a plural verb (“are”). Magistrate Judge Stickney is referred to as “it” instead of “he” and is called a “magistrate” instead of a “magistrate judge.” And finally, the sentence containing the word “incompetence” makes no sense as a matter of standard English prose, so it is not reasonably possible to understand the thought, if any, that is being conveyed. It is ironic that the term “incompetence” is used here, because the only thing that is incompetent is the passage itself.

Ouch!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Twelve Year Old Rape Kit Leads To Rapist

Houston PD isn't the only agency that has had a huge backlog of rape kits languishing in their evidence vault. But there is a story over at the Houston Chronicle that demonstrates why it's important to get things moving at crime labs across the country.

After calling police, the teen underwent a sexual assault examination. That rape kit evidence was placed in the Houston Police Department property room — and that's where it sat, untested for 12 years.

Last month, after a Houston Police Department investigator re-examined the case and requested the evidence be tested, the identity of the alleged rapist was uncovered: Roland Ali Westbrooks, 36, convicted and sentenced in 1997 for raping another Houston woman.

Westbrooks, serving a 28-year sentence in a Texas prison after pleading guilty to the 1997 rape charge, was charged Monday with aggravated sexual assault of the 16-year-old, according to court records.

This is the first such case to come to light since the Houston Chronicle reported last month that almost 4,000 sexual assault kits — some dating to the 1990s — sit in an HPD property room freezer awaiting testing.

There is a real need for reform in the system of crime labs across the country. The high cost of running crime labs along with several crime lab scandals have led some departments to do away with crime labs and send their evidence for testing elsewhere. This and an increase in the use of DNA evidence has led to the backlog of cases for testing.

These kinds of issues do a real disservice to the victims of these awful crimes. We can do better than this. However, it's going to take funding in state and local governments' budgets to start chipping away at these backlogs.

I wonder how many more crimes will be solved by eliminating the testing backlog?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Casey Anthony Charges That Could Have Stuck

Attorney Scott Henson over at the blog Grits For Breakfast had an interesting post about a discussion of the Casey Anthony murder trial at a forum for prosecuting attorneys.

But the truth is there are plenty of things Anthony could have been charged with already under Texas state law if the crime had occurred here. Instead, in the Anthony case prosecutors thought it more important to grab headlines and "send a message" by charging things they couldn't prove in court instead of settling for convictions for crimes a jury might accept. Let's assume for a moment, along with the rest of the country, that Casey Anthony really is guilty of something. Sans concrete evidence of capital murder, the question is guilty of what?

Hit the link to read Scott's entire post. Scott has a quote in there from Martin Peterson that I think explains in a nutshell why the Florida case failed when it overreached.

All in all, an interesting exercise.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Can't Find Your "Victim"? Make The Community The Victim

Kansas City, Missouri Police Chief James Corwin is another police chief that is a pretty prolific blogger. It seems that more and more Departments are taking to social media such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter to get their message out.

Over at Chief Corwin's Blog on Friday, Chief Corwin posted about an unusual solution to a problem that is plaguing quite a number of communities since the mortgage/foreclosure crisis hit the US, that of absentee owners creating problems for criminal prosecutions. From Chief Corwin's post:

But a new ordinance could finally force criminals who prey on vacant properties to face jail time. The ordinance is under legal review right now but could come before the City Council soon. It would prohibit anyone from entering, damaging, or stealing from a vacant property.

“In essence, the City would be the victim,” Officer Cooley said.

Officer Cooley started pushing for the ordinance after riding along with Cleveland, Ohio, police during a vacant properties conference in October 2010. Cleveland officers said the problem had gotten so out of hand that thieves were causing explosions by stealing natural gas lines from vacant houses. The new ordinance allowed Cleveland to list the city as the victim of these crimes when no property owner could be contacted. Assistant Kansas City Prosecutor Beth Murano said no one has challenged Cleveland’s law.

We're pretty fortunate over at the sleepy little burg where I work that we haven't had a huge problem with absentee owners. However, this is an innovative solution to the problem they were facing in KCMO. It's also one where it took some outside of the box thinking to solve this problem.

Too often people look at a complex problem, then at the existing rulebook and shrug their shoulders thinking that nothing can be done. That may be the case if you play by the existing rules. However, if the problem is vexing enough, why not think about changing the rulebook?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Problem Solving Deputy Tackles Homeless Problem

There’s a great story over at TampaBay.com that demonstrates the success a problem solving approach can have towards reducing the community problems that the police often deal with. Hillsborough, FL Deputy Steven Donaldson has been successful in getting homeless people off the streets in his community with his unusual strategy. From the story:
"I'm not trying to be philanthropic," he explains. "I'm solving a problem."

For 15 years as a patrol deputy, he dealt with homeless calls: disturbances, trespassing, public consumption of alcohol. Every arrest required paperwork and a trip to the jail.

But within days, the offender would often be back on the street, doing the same thing — a classic "revolving door," Donaldson says.

"I don't have a particular affection for homeless people," he says. "I have a particular grievance toward wasting my time."

Now, he knows most of the homeless people in the Town 'N Country area by name. He visits them regularly and asks them what they need to get off the street.

He mediates quarrels, pushes them to apply for jobs and fills out Social Security applications for the disabled.
Deputy Donaldson's unique problem solving approach has led to getting 52 homeless people off the streets of his community. The one thing it does require is some "outside of the box" thinking and a Department that is willing to be creative to solve these problems.

What problems does your agency face that could use a creative, problem solving approach?


Friday, July 8, 2011

Crime Analysis 101: Problem Oriented Policing

On Wednesday I posted about the SARA Model. Today I'd like to touch on the related Problem Oriented Policing (POP) approach to combatting crime.

In a traditional, reactive policing model, police patrol randomly until summoned to the scene of a crime, then they investigate and hopefully, lock up an offender. The problem with this approach is that it does not often address the environmental and social conditions that may make the occurrence of a crime more likely. You may lock up that one offender and other offenders may take his place if those conditions aren't changed. You can't always arrest your way out of a crime problem.

Problem oriented policing, examines a crime problem in depth to attempt to determine the conditions that allow a crime problem to occur. Then after a thorough analysis, formulates a response, assesses the effectiveness of that response and makes necessary adjustments to make the response as effective as possible. That sounds a lot like SARA doesn't it?

A Problem Oriented Policing approach will examine a crime problem using the Crime Triangle to attempt to understand the problem. It's this thorough understanding of the problem that leads to formulating an effective response.

Sometimes the most effective response to a crime problem is not the traditional police model of arresting an offender after the crime has occurred. It may involve changing the conditions favorable to criminal activity and preventing the crime from happening in the first place.

Tom Casady was the Chief at the Lincoln, Nebraska Police Department. He's now been promoted to the Director of Public Safety for Lincoln. But a few years ago Tom wrote about his officers using POP to combat a burglary problem in their city.

After examining residential burglaries in their city, they found a significant portion of them were occurring at night at residences with open garage doors. Thieves would enter these open garages and help themselves to lawn mowers, golf clubs and other items.

The reality is that catching the burglars in the act, or even after the fact is a very difficult proposition. What was feasible was for LPD officers to contact the homeowners when they saw open garage doors and ask the homeowners to shut and lock the doors even if it was 3AM when the officers found the open door. The result was that LPD was able to cut their burglaries in half.

A thorough analysis of the crime problem faced by LPD at the time led to a response that targeted one of the environmental variables that made this crime more likely to occur, and one that was easy to change.

Next post in Crime Analysis 101, we'll look at using the Crime Triangle to understand crime problems better.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

These Crime Analysts Are Serious

When you think of crime analysts here in the U.S. you usually think of a a rather bookish civilian employee of a police department. One who's contribution to fighting crime consists of charts, graphs and bulletins. This story from the Malaysian National News Agency shows their crime analysts in a slightly different light.

Shah Alam Police Chief ACP Ahmad Zahedi Ayob said the man, armed with a parang, had earlier attacked three police officers and his house mate on the second floor of the flat at 9.53pm.

While escaping from the man, one of the police officers knocked down the crime analysis, aged 43.

"While on the floor, the parang wielding man tried to attack the crime analyst who had no choice but to fire his HK P30 pistol in defence," he told reporters here Wednesday.

The crime analyst who has a licence to carry fire arms, suffered injuries to his right knee and finger during the attack.

If you didn't know, a parang is a traditional Malaysian machete.

And to think that at work I'm only armed with a very deadly PowerPoint presentation.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Crime Analysis 101: The SARA Model

A couple of months ago, I was having a conversation with another crime analyst and were talking about the blog. During our conversation, he suggested that I include a few articles on the basics of crime analysis for those who might be interested in learning more about the craft. This dovetailed nicely with a recent anecdote from my workplace.

I was talking with a patrol supervisor who's new job included being responsible for suppressing crime problems in a specific geographic area. As we kicked around some ideas regarding crime problems in this area, it became clear to me that this type of assignment included the necessity of him thinking like a crime analyst and not like a patrol supervisor. Something that he wasn't trained for or experienced in.

While he's a bright guy and one of the best supervisors at my department, he and most of the other patrol supervisors have never been trained to think like a crime analyst. Yet as my agency and many others move towards a more data driven and problem oriented policing model we need to ensure that all the folks responsible for overseeing this have a basic understanding of crime analysis.

In this post, I'm going to briefly cover one of the basic elements of crime analysis, the SARA model. SARA is an acronym for:

  • Scanning
  • Analysis
  • Response
  • Assessment

The SARA model outlines the steps we take in a problem oriented policing approach to crime fighting.

First, we must Scan for a problem. Before we can develop a solution, we must first have a problem to solve. To be honest, this is the easy part. You can ask yourself or your officers, what's the biggest crime problem facing your community, your district, or even your beat? If you have multiple problems in your geographic area, you may have to prioritize them to identify the one that is causing the greatest harm, or is consuming the most police resources.

Next, after we identify the problem we are going to tackle, we need to thoroughly Analyze the problem. A proper analysis will involve collecting as much data relevant to the problem and then looking at it from multiple angles. Questions like: How big is the problem? How long has it been going on? Is this problem greater in your jurisdiction than neighboring ones? What are the likely causes of this problem?

After our analysis, we can move to the Response phase of the SARA model. During this phase we need to develop a plan to respond to this crime problem. We may want to see what other jurisdictions have done with similar problems and how effective their response was. We also need to make sure that our response is within the capabilities or resources we have available. It's also important that we develop clear objectives in our strategy. Then, it's time to carry out our plan.

Even though we've implemented our new problem solving strategy, we're not done yet. In this last, but still very important phase, we need to Assess our strategy. We should examine things such as: Did we accomplish our goals? Was the plan implemented as designed? Can we measure our effectiveness? and Where could we improve our strategy?

It's very important that we don't skip steps but follow the SARA model through. Often times in police work, we tend to jump from Scanning (identifying) a problem to Responding. The authors of the most excellent book Crime Analysis For Problems Solvers put it this way:

By dividing the overall project into separate stages, SARA helps to ensure that the necessary steps are undertaken in proper sequence - for example, that solutions are not adopted before an analysis of the problem has been undertaken. This is a useful check on the natural tendency to jump straight to a final response, while skimping on definition of the problem and analysis and forgetting to assess their impact on the problem.

By formalizing our process, we can ensure that we are more likely to be successful in solving crime problems in our communities both now and in the future.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Make Your Data Meaningful

The Champaign, Illinois news outlet The News Gazette has a story about long time Champaign Police crime analyst Gary Spear's retirement. Spear spent 35 years as a crime analyst and has seen a lot of changes over his career. In the story, Spear had a comment I thought was worth noting.

Is there a risk that there's too much data?

"Not in my opinion," he said. "I'm of the opinion that you can't have too much information. The challenge is to decipher that information" and make it meaningful before sending it to the officers, he said.

Spear "helped tie different pieces of information together that would make sense, so officers know who to go after and what areas to patrol with more resources," said Troy Daniels, a deputy police chief in Champaign.

That really is the crux of crime analysis: to take data, analyze it so then becomes information and to communicate it so that it becomes knowledge that your officers can use to make the community safer.

This is also one are that we have to be careful with, ensuring that the information we are providing is meaningful. Before we distribute an analytical product to our officers, we need to ask ourselves; Is this meaningful? Is it easy to understand? Is it actionable? If not, what do we need to change to make it so?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Killeen July 4, 2007 Cold Case Still Haunts

The Killeen Daily Herald is running a piece on a Killeen cold case double homicide from July 4, 2007. From the story:

"It's haunted me since Day One," Ortiz said. "I say me because it's my case. I think about it constantly, every time I pass the store, every time someone mentions Dollar General."

The robbery of the Dollar General left 40-year-old Sheila Reed and 28-year-old Gricelda Ramos dead. Reed was found dead at the scene. Ramos died soon after at a local hospital.

The case is now considered a cold case. Ortiz, the lead detective on the case, is still searching out leads, but one by one, most leads have gone nowhere.

Ortiz said it is a frustrating process. He gets leads that turn out to be phony or not leads at all. He said he is currently working on forensic evidence, but so far nothing solid has come up.

What is known is that sometime between when the Dollar General closed July 3 and when an officer found the bodies at 8:23 a.m. July 4, someone entered the business wearing a mask and wielding a handgun. He robbed the store and killed Reed and Ramos.

While most of us are celebrating the July 4th Holiday today, there are two families for whom this date is not a joyful one. Do you have information on this crime? You can help solve this murder and remain anonymous by providing information to Killeen Crime Stoppers.

Friday, July 1, 2011

That Didn't Take Long

On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal posted a piece about the small town of Alto, Texas laying off their entire police department due to budget woes. I posted about that story here. On Thursday, we find this story from a local media outlet KWTX.com that reports that four people were arrested in an attempt to rob the bank in Alto the same day the Wall Street Journal story came out.

The Cherokee County Sheriff's Office has handled law enforcement in Alto, located 130 miles southeast of Dallas, since the city council furloughed the five-person police department in mid-June.

Sheriff James Campbell says a call came in Wednesday afternoon about masked people trying to enter a bank in Alto.

The bank in the town of 1,300 had closed for the day and the door was locked, but employees saw a person with a gun and called for help.

Authorities say three men and a woman were caught after a chase to nearby Rusk.

The good thing for the bank is that the bank robbers apparently showed up to rob the bank after the bank had closed and locked their doors for the day.

I wonder if the hapless crooks read the Wall Street Journal article?