Thursday, September 29, 2011

Connecting With Your Community And Traditional Media Using Social Media

For the past couple of days I have been at the Social Media Internet Law Enforcement (SMILE) Conference in Dallas, Texas. It's been a great conference with lots of very talented speakers and attendees. Like I did in my last post about the conference, I wanted to offer a couple of the high points.

One of the speakers I listened to was Mike Parker from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office. Mike spoke to using social media to get his agency's message to not only the citizens they serve, but also to the traditional news media in his community.

This idea of using social media to reach traditional media was a thought that I had also heard from other conference attendees. Not only does an agency's use of social media make it more likely that their story is going to be noticed by traditional media, but the use of social media makes it easier to manage all the competing news media requests.

Anne Longley from the Vancouver Canada Police spoke to how Vancouver Police used social media to help manage a recent hockey riot in their city. They were able to get information out to the public faster by integrating social media into their command post operations.

Mark Payne the Superintendent of the West Midlands Police in the UK hit it out of the park with his presentation. He had so many quotable bits from his presentation and a great bunch of wisdom regarding the use of social media by law enforcement.

The West Midlands Police Force in the UK encourages their officers to use social media. This contrasts with some agencies that are scared of social media.

Here are some of the best bits from Mark's presentation. (My iPad battery died towards the end of his presentation so I was trying to get some of these quotes down on my iPhone. Hopefully, they are as near to verbatim as possible. If they aren't exact, please forgive me.)

"Police leaders have to be brave enough to allow the use of social media by their officers. If you can trust them with a gun, you can trust them with Twitter."

"90/10 Rule - When using social media 90% of the time you'll get things right, the other 10% you just have to accept."

"Don't shut down social media during a crisis. People now expect and rely on social media. It can be used for good."

"You've got to learn to use social media when you don't have bricks flying at your head. Practice with social media before there is a crisis"

As I live tweeted the conference and especially Mark's presentation I was struck by how many folks who stated that not only was Mark's force forward thinking about the use of social media, but many of the other police forces in the UK also were as forward thinking as the West Midlands Police.

I attribute this to the very community oriented policing approach practiced by UK police. I believe that using social media to communicate and connect with the citizens you serve is vitally important and is probably the most promising part of the police use of social media.

Is your agency using social media as part of a community policing partnership with the citizens you serve? If not, why not?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Social Media Removes The Filters

I'm at the SMILE Conference this week. Unless you've been in prison for a long period of time, you have probably recognized how social media is changing how people consume information and communicate. Law enforcement is no different. Social media is changing how law enforcement interacts with the communities they serve.

I sat through a number of really great presentations today. I want to offer a few of the high points from a few of the presentations today.

Lauri Stevens from LAWS Communications had this observation in a session she taught: You can't control the bad things other people might say about you on Twitter or other social media, but if you aren't on social media, you can't use it to communicate all the good things your agency is doing.

Many agencies are concerned about the image their agency has in the public arena. No one likes to see that their agency portrayed negatively. Especially, since many times that information is not correct. But if you aren't using social media, you lose that ability to counteract that negative message with the real message that your agency has. If you are going to jump into the social media arena at your agency, you may have to develop a thick skin. But the truth is, most times that negative message was already out there, you probably just didn't hear it because you weren't listening to social media.

Both Kara Owens of the Minnesota State Patrol and Stephanie Mackenzie-Smith of the York Regional Police in Canada brought up the idea that law enforcement agencies that use social media are able to bypass the filter that is sometimes imposed on an agency by traditional media outlets.

We've all heard the old line from the media that "if it bleeds, it leads". But just because a story isn't lurid and isn't in the headlines, doesn't mean that it doesn't need to be told. There are many things that agencies are doing that citizens will be interested in even if a newsroom editor isn't interested in it.

Using social media gives an agency the ability to be their own editors and emphasize the messages they think are important. Social media has democratized the publication of information. It's about time that law enforcement has embraced this democratization.

Based on the SMILE Conference attendees, I was pleased to see just how many law enforcement agencies around the U.S. and even around the world are embracing social media as a way to better connect with the communities they serve. Social media helps agencies get their message out without filtering.

Has your agency embraced social media?

Its A Tough Job But Someone Has To Go To Conferences

I'm at the Social Media Internet Law Enforcement Conference in Dallas for the next few days. I'm looking forward to hearing from lots of talented people about the use of social media such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook and the like to help law enforcement agencies connect with the communities they serve.

I plan on live blogging much of the conference both here at The Crime Analyst's Blog and on Twitter. I should get back to my regular posting schedule after the conference.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Life Outside Prison Walls Can Be Scary

I've always heard stories about ex-cons who commit crimes in order to get sent back to prison and the life they are most comfortable with. With the exception of a couple of homeless people who I knew who would commit a minor crime on a cold winter night in order to spend one night in a warm jail cell, I kind of dismissed the whole I'm trying to get back into prison thing as legend. However, the Austin American Statesman had a story out of San Antonio that proves that these types of incidents to exist.

Randall Church had spent decades in the Texas prison system. Apparently, life on the outside was just too much so he torched a vacant house and then later asked someone to call police so he could confess.
"Everything had gone fast-forward without me," Church, 46, said. 
He pleaded guilty to arson in the July blaze, which came 96 days after his release for the 1983 killing. 
Church said he felt out of place after getting out of prison. "I didn't know how to use computers or cell phones or the Internet," he said.
I guess for some, "three hots and a cot" beat out Facebook and iPhones. For a more in depth story about Church, there's a longer one at MySanAntonio.com here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

They Just Might Have An Idea Why Crime's Down In NYC

On Friday I posted a piece titled Crime's Down But Who Knows Why? about the lack of consensus in reasons for the recent drop in crime noted after the FBI released the full 2010 Uniform Crime Reports. After I wrote that post, there was an interesting piece over at The Crime Report that covers some explanations for the dramatic drop in crime in New York City. In that piece, they had this explanation:
Zimring identified two factors which he believed made the most difference in New York crime rates. 
One was NYPD’s strategy of concentrating huge numbers of cops in high-crime neighborhoods, known as “hot spots.” The other was the successful effort by authorities to close down public (street-corner) drug markets in the city.
... Another factor Zimring looked at was the potential impact of the national “war on drugs.”  
Drug-related homicides dropped steeply in New York. Nevertheless, the number of deaths from drug overdoses remained stable―suggesting that while police strategies had little impact on actual drug use, their concentration on violence associated with drugs produced significant results.  
The NYPD waged a “war on drug violence (rather than) a war on drugs,” said Zimring. “This aspect of New York City policing has received zero attention.”
Both of these ideas had been speculated on in the past as the reason that crime has been on the decline nationwide.

A few days ago I had a conversation with my Chief where we were discussing different policing strategies such as CompStat, problem oriented policing, DDACTS, hot spot policing and the like. Regardless of what you call them, or how you characterize the differences in these strategies, they all have at their basis using the data your agency collects about crime to focus your operations in a data driven approach. For New York City, they analyzed their collected crime data to determine crime hot spots and then focused resources on those hot spots.

At the heart of this data driven approach is a robust crime analysis function. One that is capable of mining vast quantities of data, conducting a thorough analysis and then communicating the results of that analysis in a legible and actionable manner to the agency decision makers. It is my belief that more and more agencies using crime analysts in a data driven approach to policing is responsible for the downturn in crime here in the U.S.

What are you doing at your agency to ensure that the data is driving your crime reduction efforts?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Crime's Down, But Who Knows Why?

The FBI released the complete 2010 Uniform Crime Reports data this week. The results aren't anything that we haven't already heard from the preliminary report or the results of the National Crime Victim's Survey, that is, crime in the U.S. is down. There were a couple of news stories from earlier this week that have some things I think are worth commenting on. The first one from the Houston Chronicle has this bit:

"We don't have a good answer for why this is so, but we've had a lot of people who wanted to take credit in a number of ways and none of those have had much evidence behind them and ignore the long-term downturn,'' said professor Frank Williams, a criminologist at the University of Houston-Downtown. "The issue is really complex. There would be so many variables and factors involved that it really is hard to distinguish one from another."

There is also a similar bit in this story from The Christian Science Monitor.

In this light, the continued decline in violent crime is forcing some criminologists to reexamine the what might be the causes of crime. “It will be years before we get the answer, if we do, to what’s going on right now,” says William Pridemore, a criminal justice professor at Indiana University in Bloomington. “Criminologists have been pretty stumped.”

We don't really know why crime is down. In spite of this fact, we have to keep doing the things that make us more effective in our mission to suppress crime and make our communities safer. We have to let the data drive our policing efforts and use our limited resources where they will be the most effective.

I don't ever think we'll get to the point that we will work ourselves out of a job in law enforcement. Even though crime is down, we have to continue our efforts to improve our craft. We cannot break faith with the communities who depend on us to protect and serve them. Because if we are not careful, we can lose our grasp and see crime rates rise back to those of the bad old days.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Berkley To Hire Student Intern For Crime Analysis

Last week I wrote about how crime analysis could even make a small college town police force more effective. In this story from The Daily Californian we see how Berkley, California Police and the University of California Police Department are going to benefit by hiring a UC Berkley student intern to help with crime analysis for their departments.

The Berkeley City Council is expected to accept a $36,000 grant from the Chancellor’s Community Partnership Fund, allowing BPD and UCPD to hire at least one paid student intern and purchase equipment for the two-year program, according to UCPD Lt. Adan Tejada.

The program will bring both departments’ data together to assess crime patterns in the areas where they share jurisdiction. The intern, who will work a maximum of 20 hours a week and earn a majority of the $36,000 grant over two years, will focus on tracking trends for “nuanced” crimes in the area, Tejada said.

“Things like laptop and bike thefts and some large-value crimes, we don’t get to explore some of those nuances without dedicated staff on it,” he said. “We don’t get a chance to do some of that nitty-gritty analysis without someone trained to do it and with the time to analyze it.”

The intern will also geocode certain locations on campus to more specifically identify where crimes occur. With specific codes, the departments will be able to track certain high-crime locations to the exact hall or area on campus.

This is really an innovative idea that I believe will benefit both Berkley PD and UCPD. For many smaller agencies, there just isn't the funding to provide for their own full time crime analysis unit. However, just because your jurisdiction is small doesn't mean there is a benefit to a crime analyst for your agency. A cost sharing arrangement such as this one will pay dividends for both agencies.

Lots of the ground work for inter-agency cooperative efforts has been done by joint agency crime task forces. These arrangements have shown agencies how they can pool their resources to combat crime problems. Using similar arrangements to pool resources and provide analytical services to smaller agencies can just as easily benefit the contributing agencies.

If your agency has participated in such an arrangement, then you are probably familiar with how to craft a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that spells out how separate agencies can pool their resources and work cooperatively. What's to stop you from using such an arrangement to share a crime analyst or create a multi-jurisdictional crime analysis unit?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

If Crime's Down, Then Why Don't I Feel Better About It?

Last week we saw the release of the results of the 2010 National Crime Victim's Survey. While the Uniform Crime Reports compiles statistics of crimes reported to police, the Crime Victim's Survey studies victimization by surveying people to determine the level of crime victimization that may or may not have been reported to police.

NPR had a short piece on the release of the numbers. The result is that violent crime is down here in the US. This is consistent with the numbers that we've seen from the UCR numbers which also report crime is on the decline. What I thought interesting in the NPR story was this bit:

While total violent crime was down, people's perception is just the opposite. They believe crime keeps going up.

Why is it that after decades of crime reductions the public is more fearful than ever?

While it's probably easy to blame politicians and the media for hyping the fear of crime to their own ends, some of the blame may also lie in the fact that we in law enforcement have done a pretty poor job of addressing people's fears.

Last year the US Department of Justice's Office of Community Policing Services put out a book Reducing Fear of Crime: Strategies for Police. In the intro to the book there is this statement I think is important.

If the source of a neighborhood’s fear is poor street lighting, a community newsletter is not going to fix it. If the cause of fear is aggressive panhandlers in a shopping district, then showing homeowners how to put better locks on their doors will not work.

Often our crime prevention strategies don't include fear reduction. Yet, this fear of crime, even if it's unfounded, is just as problematic as a real crime problem would be. We have to work hard at making the public feel safe in their community whether their fears are justified or not.

What is your agency doing to dispel incorrect notions about the risk of crime?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Proving The Worth Of Your Police

Last week the news outlet The Atlantic Cities had a great article on a hotspot policing study conducted by Sacramento Police. In the study Sacramento Police focused on spending time in a list of crime hotspot locations and the officers were given instructions to be "highly visible" and make contact with citizens in and around these locations. The results were promising. Crime and calls for service in these hotspots went down.

But the point in this article is not just that Sacramento PD drove crime down in these hotspots but that this data driven approach to providing police services is the way to provide policing more efficiently. In Sacramento this was driven by lean budget times that caused them to lose the funding for 167 police positions.
“Data- and location-based policing is now essential,” Ratcliffe says. “And police are going to have to be much clearer about proving their worth.” 
Politicians, voters and police need to confront hard truths about what police do well, Ratcliffe says, and they need to outsource or slash the excesses. 
“We think about police in terms of crime but really they’ve become a social service,” he says. “Either police will continue to do all the things they’ve evolved to do—such as overseeing sex offender and gun registries, for example, while also criminalizing drug use—and they’re going to do them badly or they can concentrate on a few key tasks they can do very well, such as preventing and responding to violent crime.”
Even in areas that haven't suffered from slashed budgets, it's important for police agencies to be as efficient as possible in providing police services to their community. The days of driving around in a patrol car aimlessly while waiting for a call are over. Police departments have to strategically direct their efforts towards those things that will have the greatest effect on accomplishing their mission. It's also important that departments become adept at quantifying and communicating the value that the community gets for their hard earned tax dollars.

What are you doing to help your agency focus it's efforts to be as efficient as possible? How are you helping your community to know what they get for their money?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Convicted Serial Rapist's Wife Consoled By His Victims

Here in central Texas last week we saw the first trial of a serial rapist dubbed "The Laundry Room Rapist" for his attacks on nine women in Killeen and Copperas Cove apartment complex laundry rooms. The rapist, Bradric Fransaw was convicted and given a life sentence for one of the rapes. The story over at the Killeen Daily Herald had this bit I thought was interesting:
In the middle of his trial Wednesday, Fransaw made a surprise guilty plea after the testimony of three women who identified him as their attacker and the showing of a lengthy video confession in which he showed little remorse. 
Fransaw's attorney, Al Amer, said Fransaw decided to change his plea during a conversation inside the Bell County Jail Tuesday night. 
"He decided to take responsibility for his actions and not put anyone through any more grief," Amer said. 
Fransaw prohibited Amer from calling any character witnesses or arguing any of the state's points during closing arguments. The attorney said it was the first time a client told him not to argue on his or her behalf. 
Much of Fransaw's family, who had been present for earlier hearings, were not present for the verdict. His wife began the trial sitting on the defendant's side of the court room. At its conclusion, she found herself on the prosecution's side, being consoled by Fransaw's alleged victims.
This is a reminder that often times the offender's family are also victimized by the consequences of his actions. What a powerful demonstration of the resilience and humanity of his victims.

It's also a reminder of what's at stake when we seek justice for the victim's in the crimes we work. They deserve our best efforts and nothing less.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Is This The Future Of Police Aviation?

Wired.com had a bit this week that looked at an experimental aviation program being tested by the Tomball, Texas Police Department. The program is testing a small two person autogyro as a cheaper alternative to the more commonly used police helicopter.
Conceptually, a gyroplane (or autogyro) is an old idea. Get the motor spinning and use a rear-mounted propeller to gain speed. As you travel forward an angled, unpowered overhead rotor utilizes the air pushed into the blades to create lift. 
“The use of this type of aircraft isn’t novel. The novelty lies in the bringing of best practices from Europe to the United States” says the chief, Robert S. Hauck. This city outside Houston is using a grant from the Department of Justice Law Enforcement Aviation Technology Program to test the vehicle.
As someone who has hung outside the doors of more than one police helicopter while taking aerial photos of a crime scene I found regular aircraft unnerving enough. I think I'd be really unnerved in one of these.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Even Hair Weaves Are CRAVED By Thieves

The Atlanta Journal Constitution had a story this week that looked at the trend of thieves stealing hair weaves from beauty supply stores.
In metro Atlanta, a series of smash and grabs that began this spring at local beauty supply stores has resulted in at least $100,000 of hair being stolen. Similar thefts have occurred in Chicago, Houston, San Diego and other cities nationwide where the take has ranged from $10,000 to $150,000 worth of hair per heist. 
While the thieves have resorted to brutish methods — ramming trucks into storefronts and even killing a Michigan store owner — their math skills are more sophisticated.
At first glance, this seems a bit unusual. However, if you think about it it makes sense. Last year, I posted from the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. One of the posts introduced the acronym CRAVED to describe certain categories of items that were often targeted by thieves. This is the meaning of the CRAVED acronym:
  • Concealable. Things that can be hidden in pockets or bags are more vulnerable to shoplifters and other sneak thieves. Things that are difficult to identify or can easily be concealed after being stolen are also more at risk. In some cases, thefts may even be concealed from the owners of goods, as when lumber or bricks left lying around on building sites are stolen.
  • Removable. The fact that cars and bikes are mobile helps explain why they are so often stolen. Nor is it surprising that laptop computers are often stolen since these are not only desirable but also easy to carry. What is easy to carry depends on the kind of theft. Both burglars and shoplifters steal cigarettes, liquor, medicines, and beauty aids from supermarkets, but burglars take them in much larger quantities.
  • Available. Desirable objects that are widely available and easy to find are at higher risk. This explains why householders try to hide jewelry and cash from burglars. It also helps explain why cars become more at risk of theft as they get older. They become increasingly likely to be owned by people living in poor neighborhoods with less off-street parking and more offenders living nearby. Finally, theft waves can result from the availability of an attractive new product, such as the cell phone, which quickly establishes its own illegal market.
  • Valuable. Thieves will generally choose the more expensive goods, particularly when they are stealing to sell. But value is not simply defined in terms of resale value. Thus, when stealing for their own use, juvenile shoplifters may select goods that confer status among their peers. Similarly, joyriders are more interested in a car's performance than its financial value.
  • Enjoyable. Hot products tend to be enjoyable things to own or consume, such as liquor, tobacco, and DVDs. Thus, residential burglars are more likely to take DVD players and televisions than equally valuable electronic goods, such as microwave ovens. This may reflect the pleasure-loving lifestyle of many thieves (and their customers).
  • Disposable. Only recently has systematic research begun on the relationship between hot products and theft markets, but it is clear that thieves will tend to select things that are easy to sell. This helps explain why batteries and disposable razors are among the most frequently stolen items from American drug stores.
Because hair weaves meet the definition of CRAVED, we're probably going to see more and more of them listed in theft and burglary reports. That being said, it's important to know what items are CRAVED by thieves in your area in order try to tailor your crime reduction efforts accordingly. 

What items are currently CRAVED by thieves in your area? 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Even College Towns Benefit From Data Driven Policing

The Kansas State Collegian has an article about how the Riley County, KS Police Department is using a data driven approach to reducing crime around the Kansas State University campus. From the piece:
As a part of this data-driven strategy, the RCPD has been collaborating with K-State in certain areas of crime analysis. 
L. Susan Williams, associate professor of sociology, and Don Kurtz, assistant professor of sociology, as well as a team of graduate and undergraduate students, have been working with officers on six years' worth of burglary statistics over the last year and a half. 
Team members help collect and analyze the data, then communicate with the RCPD on their findings. 
"The project also includes other components, and it is continuing to grow and change as RCPD develops additional initiatives, and as we are able to provide them with analyses on what is working best," Williams said. 
One surprising and encouraging aspect of the project that Williams has seen in the data is that "the new strategies work so quickly. Burglaries went down overall, even as population is increasing. That's very encouraging," Williams said.
There are a couple of things I think that are worth noting about this story. The first is, that no matter what kind of community a police agency patrols, they can always become more efficient by using their crime data to focus their operations. Whether you are a large police agency that is responsible for policing a metropolitan area or a small college town police force more accustomed to policing rowdy frat parties, your agency will benefit by using a data driven approach to providing police services.

The other is how more and more agencies are partnering with local colleges to help analyze their crime data. Colleges are often eager to get their students working on real life problems with real life data sets. This kind of partnership has benefits for everyone involved. In addition to augmenting the analytical capabilities of your agency, you are also exposing crime analysis to a group of folks who just might be the next generation of crime analysts.

What are you doing to make sure that the data is driving your agency's operations? Is there a local college in your area that might be interested in working on your community's crime problem?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Government And The Social Media Bandwagon

There has been a lot of press lately about how government agencies such as law enforcement are using social media to connect with their community. There was a great piece over at the tech website ZDNet.com about how agencies are using social media during natural disasters.

There are numerous issues yet to be addressed (as identified in Disaster Relief Report) but one thing that has become crystal clear is that the use of social media is a critical part of improving citizen engagement before, during, and after a crisis. For example, government agencies (at all levels) have started to recognize the importance of communicating to the public through social media; many states now have Twitter and/or Facebook profiles in addition to the thousands of sites set up by local government.

I've been trying to ramp up my agency's use of social media in order to better connect with our community and get our message out. This new paradigm of social media in government has even spawned conferences to help agencies learn how to use them effectively.

One of the conferences, the Social Media the Internet and Law Enforcement (SMILE) Conference is coming up here in Texas later this month. I am already registered and looking forward to attending and learning more about this topic.

If done right, social media can be a very cost effective way to connect with your community and to foster a two way dialog with the citizens you serve. While social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter are free, it does take a little effort to learn the tools and best practices in order to ensure your social media program is a positive asset to your agency.

I plan on live blogging much of the conference here and on my Twitter feed. If you can't make the conference, follow me to watch the coverage. If you are going to be in Dallas for the SMILE Conference, let me know so we can meet up.

What are you doing to promote your agency's message on social media? If your agency isn't on social media, why not?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Saint Albert Police View Public Crime Maps As Crime Preventing

The Saint Albert Gazette had a story this weekend where they covered a new web based crime map for the public in Saint Albert, Alberta. Quite a number of law enforcement agencies are publishing publicly accessible crime maps nowadays. What I thought was interesting in this story is this bit:

Dosko said he hopes residents will use the tool to be able to learn more about what is happening near them.

“It is more than just about the numbers. It is a tool that is going to help prevent crime in our community.”

The idea of a public crime map as part of a crime prevention strategy is one that I think has real merit. It's unfortunate that sometimes city governments are afraid to publish such maps as they fear people will get the wrong idea about their community such as, there is crime "all over the entire city", or that a certain neighborhood is "worse" that others.

The problem with that kind of thinking is that keeping the public ignorant about what is going on in their neighborhoods is not the way to motivate them towards helping with crime prevention efforts. If you are going to have an effective crime prevention effort, you have to partner with the community you serve. A partnership involves two way communication and is hampered when the truth about crime in the community is obfuscated.

Sure, if your community has never seen a map of crime in the community before, they might be a bit shocked to learn what is really going on. However, we have to recognize that the truth is important even if it makes us a bit uncomfortable. It is so important because only then can we become effective partners in reducing crime.

What are you doing at your agency to inform your community about the crime problems they face?

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Story Of The Green River Killer Told As A Graphic Novel

This is unusual: Wired.com has a piece on a book written by the son of one of the cops who worked on the Green River serial killer case. Now, books about notorious serial killers aren't unusual, but the fact that this book is a graphic novel makes it really different.

Gary Leon Ridgway was at large around Seattle for two decades and murdered at least 48 women before being identified by a DNA sample in 2001; the graphic novel picks up after his arrest, when Ridgway partnered with the elder Jensen, a detective on the case, to find as-yet unrecovered victims.

While Jeff Jensen tells the tale, artist Jonathan Case keeps things suspenseful, downplaying the too-easy-to-go-there moments of gore and violence in favor of panels that highlight more honestly what really made the whole investigation so creepy: The very ethos that cops live by — the police procedural — can itself become suspect and perverted when a bad guy gets to tag along for the action.

Now I don't usually read crime stories whether true crime or fiction. For me, it's too much like "taking work home" so I usually read something else. However, I can see the appeal of crime stories for many people. In this case, the graphic novel format makes for an interesting take on the true crime genre. If a true crime book in graphic novel format interests you, you can get a preview or order the book here.

For me, since I don't draw I'll have to stick to a regular novel format for the fictional police procedural book that I've been working on for the past couple of years.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Cyber Stalker Preyed On Victims With Nude Pics

I always enjoy reading about unusual crimes and this one is no different. There's a piece over at the tech website Ars Technica about an unusual cyber stalker who preyed on teen girls. The stalker would hack the victim's computer, search for nude pictures of the victim and threaten to post them publicly if the victim refused his demands. From the piece:

"Mijangos acknowledged he threatened to expose these pictures, and reckoned the threats might look like extortion, but stated that he did so to discourage anyone from contacting the authorities. Mijangos also acknowledged he asked for additional sexual videos but only to determine whether they would actually do it.”

It didn't take long to punch a hole in these claims. The FBI recovered four laptops, a BlackBerry, and a host of USB drives from Mijangos's home; a “filter team” scoured the devices for anything that fit the parameters of the search warrant. After vetting, such material was turned over to the FBI agents working the case, who learned that Mijangos had actually gone after 129 different computers for a total of 230 victims. Forty-four of the victims were juveniles.

After posting this bit, I couldn't help but look at the tally light on my laptop's webcam to make sure it wasn't on. Creepy.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Traffic Cameras Catching More That Just Red Light Scofflaws

On Friday I posted about a project where Philadelphia Police were compiling a list of privately owned surveillance cameras in the hope that if a crime was committed in the area, they would have a place to look for video related to the crime. Yesterday over at USA Today, there was this story about the use of traffic enforcement cameras to solve other types of crimes.
Police in Red Bank, Tenn., caught four suspects in a violent home invasion by reviewing images from a red-light camera near the victims' home. Four suspects tied up two victims and then ransacked the house, police say; one robber allegedly smashed his boot into a victim's face. 
"We went and pulled video from the traffic camera," says Sgt. Dan Knight of the Red Bank Police criminal investigations division. "I was able to see the (suspects' vehicle) go there prior to the home invasion and when they left."
 In spite of the controversy over the use of automated traffic enforcement cameras, we would be remiss if we didn't look for any and all available evidence when a serious crime has been committed. This includes these automated red light enforcement cameras.

Do you have automated traffic enforcement cameras in your jurisdiction? Do you know how to access the information captured by these systems when investigating a serious crime?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Austin Police Tackling City's Burglary Problem

There was an interesting bit over at the Austin American Statesman this weekend looking at Austin PD's Burglary detectives. Earlier this year, APD got criticized for their low burglary clearance rate. This criticism led APD to change how they responded to and investigated burglaries.

Now, burglary detectives are assigned to a section of the city and are notified immediately when one is reported in their area. There is always at least one burglary detective on call.

Detectives said they are now able to follow up with burglary victims. Before, police said they would only follow up when the burglar was caught or when property was found.

Detectives in the unit say the crime trends keep them on their toes because it's ever-changing; burglars change hot spots nearly every day and sell victims' property almost as quickly as it is stolen.

"Everyone here is thinking outside the box, and each detective really cares about returning someone's property," Robledo said. "There has been nothing but positive results coming from this unit."

For quite some time, burglary has taken a back seat to more violent crime problems in many cities. Unfortunately, this "low priority" attitude towards burglary has led to a proliferation of serious, prolific burglars. Just a few burglary crews operating in an area can lead to a big crime problem. And, because burglary is usually considered a "non-violent" offense, the few burglars that do get caught probably won't do any meaningful time.

Like Austin, many cities are realizing they have to become more efficient at both preventing and solving burglaries. The Problem Oriented Policing Center has a POP Guide dealing with burglary at single family residences. The guide has some useful advice on analyzing the burglary problem in your community.

What are you doing to tackle the problem of burglary in your jurisdiction? Have you found a strategy that is particularly effective?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Happy Labor Day!

It's Labor Day here in the US, and the offices are closed in the sleepy little burg where I work. I'm going to enjoy my day off by running, spending time with the family and reading a good book.

While many of us get a day off to enjoy the last vestiges of summer, there will be plenty of cops, dispatchers, jailers and other public safety employees working to keep your community safe. Take a moment during your holiday to remember those hard working folks and offer up a prayer of thanks for their labors.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Canvassing A Neighborhood Now Includes Surveillance Cameras

This is an interesting idea: There is a story over at NPR about a Philadelphia Police project to register privately owned surveillance cameras in the city. The hope is that when a crime is reported, Philly Police will know who has a camera system that might have captured evidence of the crime on video.
Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey says these days, video is key to cracking many cases. 
"[One] of the things that's different from when I was in the detective division years ago is that now when you're canvassing not only are you trying to find people that might have information, you find yourself looking upwards to see whether or not there's a camera that may have captured that event," he says. "You spend an awful lot of time doing that sort of thing. 
Ramsey says with a grid of registered cameras, police will know where to look for footage that may have caught a crime on tape. 
"You save a lot of personnel hours by doing it that way — by knowing where to look," he says.
Even in the sleepy little burg where I work, privately owned surveillance camera systems are being identified as holding crucial evidence of crimes. Even if a camera didn't capture the crime, they can put the suspect in the area, capture information about a suspect vehicle, or even put the suspect and the victim together proximate to the crime occurring.

Is your agency canvassing for surveillance cameras as well as for witnesses when investigating crimes? Would a registry like Philadelphia's help your agency?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

New Law Targets Copper Thefts But Will It Be Enough?

A couple of weeks ago, I posted this about the rise in air conditioner thefts. Yesterday, there was this piece over at the Killeen Daily Herald that also looked at the problem and a new Texas state law that was meant to combat the problem.
Starting Thursday, scrap metal dealers must require official documentation of a fire from customers wanting to sell copper or other wire that appears to have been burned. 
Metal recyclers also must keep records of purchases for three years following each sale, and fax a record of each sale to the Texas Department of Public Safety within seven days.
It will be interesting to see if the new law will deter copper thieves. It's going to take a significant change in the conditions that created this situation in order to reduce the number of thefts. Looking at this crime problem through an economic lens, we need to change the cost/benefit ratio if we are going to be successful.

For the thief, there are a number of things that make up his "cost" of doing business. They are things like:

  • The amount of effort required to physically obtain the materials
  • The effort required to convert the stolen goods to something fungible such as cash or drugs
  • The likelihood of getting caught

Now for the thief his benefits are pretty obvious that is, the items he gets in exchange for the stolen metals be it cash, drugs or something else he desires.

To affect the cost side of the equation, there are several things we can do. We can make him work harder to obtain the materials. In this example securing the air conditioning units with anti-theft cages would be one way. We could also make it harder for him to sell the stolen property by requiring the scrap metal dealers to take more measures to ensure they are not purchasing stolen metals. Lastly, we could increase the risk that he'll get caught by better monitoring of these transactions or increased efforts to investigate and solve these crimes. 

Until the market for scrap metals change, there is probably not many things we can do to effect the benefit side of this equation unless the state was willing to enact price controls on the scrap metals market. The only other thing that might work would be to require the metals dealers to delay payment for a time which might allow time to determine if items are stolen prior to the crook getting payment. 

It will be interesting to see if the new laws are going to change the prevalence of metal thefts. I don't see this problem going away any time soon.