Wednesday, August 31, 2011

If Your Environment Contributes To A Crime Problem, Change Your Environment

USA Today had a great piece looking at fan violence at sporting events in the United States. There have been a couple of recent high profile incidents take place at sporting events and this is enough to get professional sports franchises worried about the public’s perception of stadium violence. From the story:
Of 69,732 fans at this month's Oakland Raiders-San Francisco 49ers NFL game, 70 were ejected from Candlestick Park, 12 were arrested, two were shot in the parking lot — and one was savagely beaten in a restroom.

Images of the violence, proliferating through social and news media, struck a foul chord with fans and with stadium operators, many setting security policies without uniform guidance.

"The viciousness, the escalation of the violence is what is so striking," said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based SportsCorp, a sports business consulting firm. "It's escalated, perhaps, as a reflection of society."
One thing I think is interesting is that none of the folks quoted in the article stated that this problem was a police issue; every one indicated that the solution to the problem was largely the responsibility of the sports franchises. I think the biggest reason for this is that the problem is largely environmental. In other words, it’s not the lack of police presence that sets the stage for fan violence but other factors such as rampant inebriation and crowd behavior.

Of course this brings up a good point; the solution to a crime problem does not always involve law enforcement. There are some crime problems, such as stadium violence, that can be better controlled by changing the environmental factors that make these problems more likely to occur. As I have said here before, you can’t always arrest your way out of a crime problem.

Does your agency face a thorny crime problem? Have you looked at the likely factors that contribute to the problem? Which factor is easiest to change and will give you the greatest long term impact?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

You’d Be Surprised How Much Shoplifters Can Steal

There is a bit over at the Dallas Morning News Crime Blog about Denton, TX Police busting an organized shoplifting ring. What makes this unusual is the fact that police recovered about $300,000 worth of stolen property from the residences. From the story:
"Let's say I'm a fence. I hire you to go out, steal the stuff that I requested and then come back to me and sell the stuff to me," Grelle said.

He said the fences would then go to a local flea market and sell the items, which were taken from Dollar Generals and Tom Thumbs, among other stores.
In addition to the economic loss to the store due to shoplifting, there are also costs to police agencies in responding to shoplifters. I recently did a study at my agency of the average time it takes an officer to complete a shoplifting call and found that the average time spent on the call was one hour. It doesn’t take too many shoplifting calls to tie up a significant amount of a police officer’s workday. This time spent on a relatively minor call takes away time that the officer can spend on other crime reduction activities.

The Center For Problem Oriented Policing has a POP Guide that covers shoplifting and offers some responses that could help your agency to get a handle on these types of crimes in your jurisdiction.

In the sleepy little burg where I work, we are trying to streamline the process of handling shoplifting calls so our officers spend less time stuck in the Super Big Box store’s Loss Prevention Office and more time out catching other bad guys.

What has your agency done to reduce the numbers of shoplifters plaguing your community’s businesses?

Monday, August 29, 2011

No Psychics Needed, We Don't Use Dowsing Rods Either

There was an interesting story over at Miller-McCune this weekend looking at how often police departments use psychics to help with criminal investigations. From the story:

Psychic detectives often show up in stories about missing children, unsolved murders and cold-case crimes. Many people believe that police departments and detectives hire psychics for assistance, but one study found that two-thirds of the 50 largest U.S. police departments have never consulted a psychic to help them out in an unsolved crime. What’s a bit scary is that 35 percent did, although many times it is at the request of a family member, and their work typically interfered with the search.

I hope that this answers that burning question about the prevalence of psychics in police investigations. We finally managed to get rid of dog scent lineups too.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Bars Avoid Problems By Removing Problem Patrons Beforehand

Now this is an innovative solution to a vexing but all too common problem. There's a story over at USA Today about an initiative by nightclubs in Colorado to use ID card scanners and a database of problem patrons to head off problems before they begin.

When entering a venue using one of the systems, a customer, regardless of age, presents his or her ID to a member of the door staff, who runs it through a scanner that checks for validity and whether the person is of legal drinking age, says Nathan Perry, a bar manager at Southside Johnny's in Colorado Springs.

The system also photographs the customer and the ID , and provides information about the customer's history at the venue, Perry says. Then a computer database shares that newly collected information with other area bars.

"If somebody causes a problem then we just add them to the list," he says. "We can add 'started a fight,' or 'caused a problem.'"

Here in Texas nightclubs have a vested interest in keeping the number of problems at their nightclubs to a minimum. Nightclubs that are constant sources of trouble can have sanctions levied against them by the state alcohol licensing agency and could face the loss of their liquor license.

One of the things I like most about this is that it's the bars themselves taking the initiative to change their environment and reduce the likelihood that problems will develop. Most times, it's a whole lot easier to prevent problems before they start than it is to fix them afterwards.

What are you doing to encourage people and businesses to prevent problems before they start?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

There's A New Blog On The Block

I'm always encouraged to hear when crime analysts or cops are starting new blogs about their work. I think that blogging and other forms of social media are a very powerful tool for educating folks about the things we do in law enforcement. Tom Casady who up until recently was the Chief of Police at Lincoln, Nebraska is a very prolific blogger. Now, he's moved up to become Lincoln's Public Safety Director. The good thing is, he's still blogging.

Recently, Tom introduced a new law enforcement blog written by Lincoln PD's Crime Analysis and Intelligence Unit Manager Drew Dasher. Drew has started blogging about Lincoln's efforts at Location Based Policing.

Tom discusses Lincoln's location based policing application P3i in this video from one of the posts at Drew's blog.

Crime analysts are doing some really great work in harnessing technology to help their officers work more efficiently at making their communities safer. It's great that Drew and Tom give us a little peak into what they're doing in Lincoln.

If you're a cop or crime analyst, what are you doing to educate others about the good things you're doing to solve crime problems? Are you using social media? If you're an agency administrator, does your agency's social media policy encourage this kind of positive engagement with the community?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Can We Specialize Ourselves To Death?

The Miami Herald had a story this week about Miami Police Chief Miguel Esposito moving officers out of uniformed patrol positions to fill positions in specialized units. From the story:

Over the past two years, Police Chief Miguel Exposito has transferred between 130 and 140 patrol officers to specialized units that target more-sophisticated criminals — robbers, drug dealers and gang members among them. The chief says the move has made Miami safer, as hardened criminals have been sent to prison and more than 1,000 guns have been confiscated.

Keeping more officers in patrol units would “put presence in the street and save money, but it’s not going to get the job done,” the chief told city commissioners last month. “All we have are officers writing reports all day, and there’s nothing being done to get the criminals off the street.’’

Still, there are down sides to beefing up the tactical units at the expense of patrol.

City Manager Johnny Martinez points to a less-visible police presence, which residents frequently complain about. And because supervisors must shuffle patrol officers to fill 24-hour shifts, the department is projected to spend $6.2 million in overtime this year — more than twice as much as the $2.5 million that had been budgeted.

Of course anytime you create new specialized units, the officers to fill those units have to come from somewhere. If you aren't hiring new officers to fill those vacancies you may end up "robbing Peter to pay Paul". In today's fiscally precarious times, the old way of handling staffing shortages, throwing overtime money at the problem, is going to be a lot harder to stomach.

When a particularly vexing crime problem appears, we need to be cautious about creating new investigative units just to solve those problems. Of course, often times the motivation to create a shiny new specialized unit comes from outside the department. Anxious city administrators pressure a department to "do something" about a crime problem and the department fearing the appearance of inaction announces the creation of a new unit.

Departments facing a particular crime problem would do well to analyze the problem in detail before committing to a solution like creating a specialized unit. Because once you create a shiny new investigative unit, they are danged hard to get rid of.

This is where your crime analysis unit can help. A crime analyst can help your agency with identifying the nature of the problem, developing possible solutions and the resources needed to carry them out. They will also assess the response to the problem and help your agency adjust your response to make it effective.

As an analyst, what are you doing to help your agency tackle the crime problems in your community with existing resources?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It's Not Everyday You Find A Skull In The Street

Recently here in central Texas, Temple Police recovered a human skull from the side of the road. Now it's not everyday that you get a call to recover human remains like this. It turns out the skull belonged to a man who went missing in 2009. From the story over at the Killeen Daily Herald:

Temple police have no evidence at this time suggesting that Sullivan's death was due to foul play, according to a press release.

A passer-by reported to police Aug. 14 that he saw what he believed to be a human skull in the 3100 block of Lowes Drive. Police soon located the skull, which appeared to have been outside for an extended period of time.

Finding the remains triggered a large-scale search of a swatch of undeveloped land adjacent to where police found the skull. Over three days, officials from Temple and several other agencies located unspecified evidence that may be linked to the case, the release states.

Missing persons cases can be quite a challenge for law enforcement agencies. Fortunately, things have gotten better over the years with both state and national law enforcement entities working to assist local law enforcement agencies with missing persons and unidentified decedent cases through missing persons clearinghouses.

Here in Texas we have the Texas Department of Public Safety's Missing Persons Clearinghouse. I've worked with analysts from the Clearinghouse on a few cases and have always been impressed at just how much assistance they can provide on these types of cases. I can't say enough good things about them.

Similarly, at the national level, DOJ's National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) clearinghouse can also help you should your missing persons or unidentified decedent case cross state lines.

Does your agency have a policy on when a missing person's clearinghouse will be contacted regarding these types of cases? Have you contacted your state's clearinghouse to find out how to submit cases to them should you need to?

Monday, August 22, 2011

NBC Profiles Santa Cruz PD's Predictive Policing Program

Last week I posted a bit from a New York Times story about Santa Cruz Police's predictive policing program. On Friday night the NBC Nightly News did this story on it.

It's nice to see Santa Cruz PD's efforts getting this much press. After I posted on it last week I got emails from reporters in the US, Russia and Poland wanting some background on the concept.

I also think the exposure is great for the crime analysis profession. Crime analysis is on the cutting edge of improving law enforcement's crime fighting abilities. Crime analysts help their agencies become more efficient at "putting cops on the dots".

What are you doing to help your agency become better at crime fighting?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Verified Alarm Response: You Can Only Cry "Wolf" For So Long

A couple of days ago the Detroit Free Press had a story about Detroit Police adopting a verified response policy for burglar alarm response. Verified response means that the police will not respond to a burglar alarm unless the homeowner or alarm company verify that there was an actual burglary. From the story:

Noting that 98% of the alarms that police officers respond to are false, Godbee said the department will require a verified response before sending officers to the location of the alarm. The new policy will take effect Monday.

As more and more police departments face limited resources and budget cuts, Godbee said the logical area of reduction appeared to be unproductive calls for service. He said false alarms are an immense drain on the department's staffing and finances.

I did a study one year at the sleepy little burg where I work and over 99.6% of all our burglar alarm calls in a year were false alarms. Additionally, alarms was the largest single category of Calls For Service. I can think of no other Call that is more unproductive than burglar alarms.

Think about it this way, if you had a citizen who called 911 repeatedly to report a crime and out of the thousands of times he called, his reports were false 99.6% of the time. Just how many times do you think he'd have to call before he'd get arrested for abusing the 911 system? Three or four times? Yet, because it's a piece of very fallible technology we're going to keep sending officers to these things over and over again without stopping to think of the resources we are wasting.

The silver lining in our fiscally distressed police budgets is that we are having to take a good hard look at becoming leaner, more efficient operations and kill off those services that waste significant resources. I can only hope that more police departments will adopt such verified response policies.

What types of calls waste resources at your agency? What are you doing to rid your agency of such time wasters so you can focus on making your community safer?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

High Tech Or Low Tech, Crime Analysts Solve Crimes

Yesterday I posted about a very high tech way crime analysts are solving crime problems in their community, that is using predictive policing. Today, we have a story about a lower tech method but one that also works. The Orlando Sentinel has this story of a Daytona Beach Police crime analyst solving crimes like this one:

Jackie Flory was reviewing reports from the arrest of two suspects last week when she ran Matthew Tibbs through a state computer system and realized he fit the description of a man who had robbed several stores.

She also noticed that he owned a car that matched the description of the getaway car in an Ormond Beach heist, an arrest affidavit said.

On Monday, police charged Tibbs with robbery in a July 28 holdup at the Publix at 1500 Beville Road in Daytona Beach.

He is also the primary suspect in other robberies in Ormond Beach and South Daytona, according to the arrest report. In each robbery, the suspect wore a different hat.

One of the keys to a successful crime analysis program is developing your crime analysts to become "the local crime experts". In fact the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers has a chapter devoted to this concept which I have previously written about here.

Crime analysts need to have time set aside in their day to review cases that come in to your department. There is nothing like this 'eyes on' approach to detecting crime series. For all the great things crime analysis software can do, nothing beats the intuition of a seasoned analyst.

Does your analyst have the time to spend reviewing cases at your agency? What are you doing to help them become "the local crime expert" in your community?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

It's Easier To Put Cops On The Dots If You Know Where The Dots Will Occur

One of the earliest mantras of CompStat was attributed to Bill Bratton the former head of NYPD and LAPD and that was that the goal of policing was to "put cops on the dots" referring to the dots on a crime map that represented reported crimes. But the problem with this is that the dots represented where crimes had occurred in the past and did not necessarily mean that another crime would occur there in the future.

However, a new experimental predictive policing program at the Santa Cruz, California Police Department might be a game changer for "putting cops on the dots". Erica Goode over at The New York Times has a piece looking at Santa Cruz PD's efforts. From the story:

But Santa Cruz’s method is more sophisticated than most. Based on models for predicting aftershocks from earthquakes, it generates projections about which areas and windows of time are at highest risk for future crimes by analyzing and detecting patterns in years of past crime data. The projections are recalibrated daily, as new crimes occur and updated data is fed into the program.

On the day the women were arrested, for example, the program identified the approximately one-square-block area where the parking garage is situated as one of the highest-risk locations for car burglaries.

I've written before about Santa Cruz PD's predictive policing program. I think that this really holds a lot of promise for law enforcement agencies, especially in light of the budget woes that many agencies face. If agencies can predict where crimes are likely to occur in the future, then they can focus their scare resources on those areas where a future crime is likely to occur and not waste those resources in areas where crime isn't likely to occur. This in turn should make police more efficient at crime suppression.

Yours truly was even quoted in the article when I said: “it’s cheaper to prevent a crime than to solve a crime, and that’s where I think the promise lies.” If we can predict the places that a crime is likely to occur and be there to interrupt that crime, then predictive policing could pay huge dividends.

What are you doing to help your agency be more effective with the resources you have?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Who Cares About Response Time When There Is A Hooker On Your Corner

Time Magazine had an article about former LAPD Chief Bill Bratton heading across the pond to help the government in the United Kingdom sort out the aftermath of the recent rioting that spread across the UK. Buried in the story about Bratton becoming a nascent bobby was a bit that I thought was really good.

Bratton says that when he was a young sergeant in Boston tasked with managing community relations, he was struck by how the police at outreach meetings all talked about response time and statistics, while citizens were more concerned about the prostitute on the corner, the broken window at the municipal building or the number of homeless haunting their stoops. "They wanted you to do something about the things they saw every day — their quality of life," Bratton recalls. "You have to present a face of both confidence and caring. That the public comes to know the chief of police, in my case, as someone they trust, somebody they have confidence in, not just day to day but when there is a crisis. And to do that, you can't just do it on TV or in newspapers. You've got to get out there and press the flesh."

Regardless of what you think about Bratton whether at his stint at police departments in Boston, New York City and Los Angeles, he really captured the essence of community policing and in what it takes for a community to have confidence in their police department.

I can't think of the last time that a citizen called or emailed the department complaining about our average response time or about the service rate for municipal court warrants. However, I couldn't count the number of times I've heard complaints about a relatively small, quality of life problem on their block such as loud car stereos, loose dogs or even the occasional hooker.

As a crime analyst I will tell you that boring statistical measures of performance such as response time are important…but really only internally as we try to be as efficient as possible in our mission. If we serve the public by taking care of some of these quality of life issues, they will be a lot more forgiving of us when our response time isn't quite what it should be.

What are you doing to identify and correct quality of life issues in the community you serve?

Monday, August 15, 2011

It's Hot In Texas, Even More So If Your AC Is Stolen

The Houston Chronicle had a story this weekend on the rise in air conditioning unit thefts in Texas. Even though we're in the middle of a record heat wave, these units are not being stolen to keep crooks cool but instead are part of the white hot scrap metal market.

In the sleepy little burg where I work, we're seeing thieves do thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars in damage in order to steal metal that they are going to get less than $100 for. The problem has become so widespread that the Texas legislature recently enacted new laws to combat this crime. One thing I thought interesting in the story was this bit:

The thefts in Houston have continued even though people selling metal to scrap yards must present identification. A new Texas law set to go into effect Sept. 1 will require all scrap yards in the state to do the same.

"The key will be law enforcement," McGinty said. "When I was in Austin, I told lawmakers, 'You can pass any law you want but if you don't have boots on the ground, it won't matter.'"

It will be interesting to see how this law will play out. In other crimes that were particularly problematic, such as methamphetamine labs, well crafted legislation can have an impact. This was really evident in states that added laws to require a doctor's prescription for pseudoephedrine based medications. These medications are normally an over the counter medication but are also used as a key ingredient in meth production. States that made prescriptions necessary to purchase pseudoephedrine saw a significant decrease in illicit meth labs.

Of course, it remains to be seen if Texas' first attempt at regulating the legal activities of the scrap metal trade in order to discourage the illegal activities the trade seems to encourage will work. In fact, it may take several attempts to come up with a workable solution to copper theft.

The Problem Oriented Policing Center has a POP Guide to tackling metal thefts. I always find the POP Guides useful to get me thinking outside the box on crime problems.

What has your agency found to be an effective strategy to combat metal thefts?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Belton Police Make Arrest In Cold Case Homicide

I love stories where police solve cold case homicides and this one over at the Killeen Daily Herald is no different. According to the story Belton, TX Police, on of our local law enforcement agencies recently made an arrest in a 22 year old homicide.

Samuel Edward Baker, 44, was taken into police custody Thursday and charged with the September 1989 murder of 74-year-old Shellie Latham.

Belton Police Department Sgt. Larry Berg said DNA evidence led police to believe Baker was responsible for the murder. He would not elaborate further.

Authorities arrested Baker in Buda, where he worked as a truck driver. Baker's last known address was in Temple, Berg said.

Great job BPD! I look forward to seeing this one go to trial.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Identical Twins Create Eyewitness Testimony Problems

This is an odd one. There's a story over at the New York Times about a murder investigation in Arizona that has been complicated by the fact that the shooter is one of a pair of identical twins, both of whom were present at the scene.

“Every investigation, as simple as it may look at face value, has certain levels of complexity,” said Detective Seth Tyler of the Chandler Police Department. “When you respond to a scene like this, where you have a few hundred people who may have witnessed the crime, and people are saying different things, that complicates it. Then, to top it all off, you have twins who were both there.”

It reminds me of a pair of identical twin crooks we had in the sleepy little burg where I work. Usually one of them would always claim to be the other when one of them had outstanding warrants. Their little game worked pretty well until one of the brothers tattooed his name on his arm. From then on when they were stopped we'd have them roll up their sleeves and check their tats.

I'm glad that identical twins are pretty rare, especially ones that are also crooks.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Challenge of Separating The Wheat From The Chaff

There was a story over at the Coast News about crime analysts in the San Diego, California area. The story was a good one in that it gave a coherent description of what crime analysts do for their agencies. Inside the story was this bit I thought was interesting:

One of the challenges of intelligence-led policing is to take that volume of data and use the analysis process to come up with actionable decisions, he said. “We get a burglary pattern developing out in Santee, how do we reallocate deputies or schedules? It’s what I call having police officers at the right place at the right time. There may be a different nighttime pattern than there is a daytime pattern; there may be a different crime type during the weekends than there are during the week. You are constantly reassessing where those resources can best be used. And that’s a key piece of intelligence-led policing – informed, evidence-based decision making and actionable decision making.”

Especially that most law enforcement agencies have huge amounts of data at their fingertips in the form of computerized records management systems, it really is a challenge is to distill this large dataset into something that says "put an officer at this location and at this time and you'll likely prevent a crime or catch a bad guy".

Crime analysis is part science, part intuition and part art form. A crime analyst should strive to be the local crime expert at their agency to help turn this data into something actionable.

How are you turning the large amount of data your agency captures into something your officers can use to solve crime problems in your community?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Solving Problems Requires A Multi-Disciplinary Approach

There's a story over the the Chico Enterprise Reporter on Chico, CA Police and their strategy to solve community problems. This strategy uses a number of city departments to tackle issues in an area once known as "Felony Flats".

Chico officials began the Coordinated Regional Problem Solving Team, commonly called CORE PROS, to bring together city departments to resolve quality-of-life issues, said Police Chief Mike Maloney.

The foundation of that team is the Target unit, a federal grant-funded branch of Chico police dedicated to solving problems that routinely drain police resources. "While we have been slow to speak on the CORE PROS project, conceptually we're already doing it," he said.

Target's four sworn officers share an office with the city's three code enforcement officers, and they all function as a team under the supervision of Sgt. David Britt.

Code enforcement was incorporated into police jurisdiction near the same time Target began operations in February 2010.

"From my perspective, they are now an essential part of the Police Department," Maloney said.

There are a number of problems that lend themselves to using a multidisciplinary approach to problem solving. Often times urban blight and crime go hand in hand. Using code enforcement to work on the issues of blight and at the same time police to tackle the crime that often goes with it can be an effective tool to solve these problems.

Sometimes it's a chicken versus egg question as to which came first, the blight or the crime. But regardless of which came first, unchecked urban blight can become a crime generator as a neighborhood declines. It's rare to see a real crime generator not also have blight issues.

Yesterday I was talking with an analyst from another jurisdiction about a motel that had become a crime generator in the neighborhood where it was located. This other analyst pointed out a number of building code deficiencies at this location. In addition to law enforcement, it's going to also take code enforcement and other regulatory bodies to solve this problem.

Don't be afraid to call in help from these other regulatory agencies to help solve these problems. What crime problems face your community that need a multi-disciplinary approach?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Local Cops To Bring Social Worker To Their Beat

Harker Heights Police, one of the agencies near the sleepy little burg where I work, is asking for a department social worker in their upcoming budget according to this story over at the Killeen Daily Herald.

"The goal and the motivation behind it was to try and find a methodology to provide social services to people in need of a quicker, more effective way," said HHPD Chief Mike Gentry.

During a City Council workshop last week, Gentry said the new position would be part of a Healthy Homes Project and work with domestic violence agencies, such as Aware Central Texas as well as the Central Texas Family Violence Task Force.

"The plan is to implement a very innovative concept — to hire a trained social worker within the police department to link the other sources together and try to break the cycle of (violence)," Gentry said. "We want to close the gap between the people who need the services and people who provide them."

While every good street cop is part social worker, this is one of the first times I have seen a police department actually plan to hire a real live social worker. I think the plan is innovative and could pay off in the long run.

The cost should be reasonable as most social workers get paid a pittance considering the amount of schooling that they must have. My only concern is that social work is a bit "touchy feely" in many people's eyes and may be a bit hard to explain to folks who want their hard earned tax dollars to pay for "locking people up and throwing away the key".

However, if a social worker can intervene and get people plugged in to the right social services, that may reduce the number of repeat police calls to deal with situations of domestic violence, mental health issues, child abuse, and the homeless. That should leave officers with more time to deal with real criminals and less time playing at social worker.

What kind of innovative, out of the box thinking have you used to deal with the problems your department faces? Is there a problem that such an innovative approach might solve?

Friday, August 5, 2011

It's Not About Polygamy, It's About Child Rape

After twenty years in law enforcement I've seen lots of evil, wicked folks. However, this bit from CNN on the trial of Warren Jeffs just about tops it. Jeffs is the leader of a polygamous sect that set up a compound in Texas where it was alleged that young girls were being married to older men sparking a huge raid on the compound by law enforcement.

On Wednesday, Texas prosecutors rested their case after playing a key piece of evidence for jurors: an audiotape they allege documents Jeffs' sexual assault of a 12-year-old girl in the presence of three other "wives."

... On Tuesday, the jury heard audio recordings that prosecutors said showed Jeffs instructing a 14-year-old victim and his other young "wives" on how to sexually please him in order to win God's favor.

Preying on a child's religious beliefs to satisfy your pervy desires is just wrong in so many ways.

I think one of the more interesting moments at this trial was when he threatened the jury and judge with divine judgement for trying him.

To quote Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott "It's time for judgment to be rendered." However, after Jeffs was found guilty yesterday I don't think it's going to be the kind of judgement Jeffs was hoping for.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Fake Collar Bomb Part Of Extortion Plot?

I always enjoy reading about unusual crimes. I don't enjoy hearing that people are being victimized, but I do find something interesting about the ingenuity that some crooks are using when they ply their trade. This story out of Australia is one of those stories.

There was a story yesterday over at the Sydney Morning Herald that reported that the 18 year old daughter of a wealthy Aussie business man was accosted in her home by a masked intruder who locked what appeared to be a bomb to her body as part of what some are speculating to be an extortion plot.

The suspected bomb was attached to the young woman after a masked man burst into her family home about 2pm on Wednesday in Burrawong Avenue where she lives with her parents William and Belinda Pulver, reportedly one of Sydney's wealthiest families.

It sparked a tense, drawn out operation to secure her safety, which ended shortly before midnight when bomb disposal experts safely removed the device.

"It was affixed to her by a chain or something similar, which eventually took us a fair while to remove ... and that added to the trauma that Madeleine experienced and prolonged," Mr Murdoch said.

"There were some instructions left by the offender at the scene last afternoon and those instructions will provide us with further lines for inquiry," Mr Murdoch told ABC Radio.

"Those instructions also limited us somewhat last night in how quickly we could proceed.

"Certainly the instructions were precise, they were such that led us to believe that we were dealing with a very serious and legitimate threat."

The story also mentions that one of the first officers to arrive at the scene was a young female Aussie cop who in spite of the danger of what appeared to be a bomb, took it upon herself to stay with the victim and calm her down rather than evacuate and leave the frightened teen alone.

This story is reminiscent of a fatal bank robbery here in the US where an pizza delivery guy had a bomb locked around his neck and was forced to rob a bank. He was later caught by the police who watched helplessly as the bomb exploded while waiting for the bomb squad.

At least in this instance, there was a much happier ending.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cops Matter To Lower Crime Numbers

There were a couple of interesting pieces in the news yesterday about crime stats. The first is this piece over at The Crime Report where Ted Gest quotes Professor Franklin Zimring as to the reasons for the drop in crime in New York City over the past few decades.
The major factor in the decline has been better policing, he says. 
"Cops matter a heck of a lot more than professors and policy makers have thought", he told the association’s annual forum on criminal justice and public safety, held this year in Jersey City, N.J. 
One particular area of police effectiveness is on drugs. 
Public drug markets have disappeared in New York City, although the city still has some major drug problems, Zimring said. He didn't elaborate on the kinds of policing he finds most effective. 
He added that in the anticrime picture overall, "prisons matter a lot less than we thought", and the economy has not caused crime to increase, as many have theorized.
I am really encouraged that he stressed just how important the cop on the street is in combating crime. In my mind, the most bang for the buck comes through your local law enforcement agency. This isn’t to say that the rest of the criminal justice system isn’t important, but the reality is that they have the greatest deterrent effect on criminal behavior, especially when they are practicing the most effective and efficient law enforcement possible.

The other stats story I thought was interesting was this one from the Dallas Morning News Crime Blog where they had a bit about the recidivism rate in Texas versus some other states.
Perhaps more encouraging is that Texas' recidivism rate is lower than the national average. 
The recidivism rate in the Lone Star State hovers around 32 percent. In 2007 Minnesota had the highest recidivism rate with about 61 percent while Oregon had the lowest at just under 23 percent.The national numbers show about four out of every ten inmates returns to prison.
I was really surprised that Texas' was so low. It sometimes seems that we are arresting the same offenders over and over. I does also make you wonder what Minnesota is doing to get a recidivism rate like that.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Looks Like Photo Red Light Cameras Do Work

This isn't likely to stop the debate over photo red light enforcement cameras but it does lend credence to the argument that these cameras do improve public safety. There's a story over at KUT News that has this bit from a recent study:
The traffic-ologists at TTI examined 11,000 crash records from all those red light camera intersections. They found that red light crashes dropped by a quarter, and right-angle or “T-bone” crashes plummeted by 32 percent. 
Their study included a look at Austin, and found that red light cameras reduced collisions here by 34 percent. 
“These findings show clearly that red light cameras offer significant safety benefits,” study author Troy Walden said in a press release.
The big issue with photo red light enforcement cameras is the perception that these cameras are more about revenue generation than about public safety. This is the first study I have seen so far that was conducted by someone without a dog in that fight. Many of the other studies were conducted by entities having a vested financial interest in the use of the cameras such as the city that gets the money or the company that sold/installed the systems.

If you're going to try to defuse some of the criticism of these systems, an unbiased look at their effectiveness is probably a good start.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Federal Sex Offender Law May Create More Problems Than It Solves

CNN had an interesting piece this weekend about the lack of progress by the states in coming into compliance with the federal law the Adam Walsh Child Protection And Safety Act.

"States are very sympathetic to the need to supervise and penalize registered sex offenders. There's no softness on that population," Frederick said. "But any time you're going to be collecting and cataloging information on more people more often, that comes at a high cost. The question is whether it's worth it."

Many states don't want to change their laws; others believe the legislation's cost outweighs its predicted benefits, she said. Texas has put the estimated federal funding cuts at $1.4 million, compared to a cost of $38.7 million.

To see how the law has fared in practice, one need look no farther than Ohio, the first state to adopt the law in its original, most stringent form, in 2007.

Ohio's version of the Adam Walsh Act, SB 10, has resulted in more than 7,000 legal claims, according to the state public defender's office. It also has led to years of litigation, two state Supreme Court rulings and separate registry criteria for sex offenders whose crimes occurred before and after the law's enactment.

The slow unraveling of Ohio's law underscores some of the major criticism of the new federal scheme and the registry in general: that it stigmatizes offenders beyond hope of rehabilitation while giving the public a false sense of security.

Of course part of the problem is that like other pieces of "public safety" legislation sometimes public hysteria and the pressure to "do something" often leads to poorly thought out legislation that actually makes the problem worse. There is another interesting bit found in the story:

"I think we would have a better use of our time if we could determine who the most dangerous ones are," said Sheriff Jeff Grey of Mercer, Ohio. "Sometimes we get tied up registering the ones who are trying to do the right thing and don't have time to look for the ones that are out of compliance, but just because someone's registering and doing everything he's supposed to doesn't mean he's not going to reoffend."

Years ago when I was a police detective investigating child sex abuse crimes, I learned that children are most often victimized by someone in their home, not by strangers. In fact, the social service agencies had a coding system to list the relationship between the victim and offender and the one most often used was "Parent's Paramour" which is just a fancy way of saying "Momma's boyfriend". No sex offender registry is going to protect kids from someone inside the home.

I am not saying that all sex offender registration laws need to be abolished. However, it may be time to revamp them to ensure that they are having the desired effect.