Monday, October 31, 2011

No Crime Is Unimportant To The Victim

The New York Times had a story this weekend about the family of a murder victim and what they went through in dealing with this crime. There was a quote from the victim's son in the story that I thought was worth exploring.

“There are hundreds of cases a year that go unsolved,” he said. “It’s a small homicide case. It’s not high-profile. But to me, it’s the biggest thing in the world.”

Deep down inside the most jaded cop, if they were honest they would likely say that they got into law enforcement because they wanted to help people, or as I used to half jokingly tell people, "to crush crime and evil and to make the world safe for women and babies".

Something that we would do well to remember in all our work is that no matter how ordinary a crime might seem to us, it's an extraordinary event to the victim and their family. They deserve our compassion and they deserve our best work.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Fear, Reality and Crime Statistics

There was a piece over at the Indiana news outlet WLFI.com about crime numbers in Lafayette, Indiana. What I found interesting about this was the difference between the public's perception of crime in the community and what an analysis of crime statistics by Lafayette Police's crime analyst revealed.
A police action shooting that killed a man after he stabbed an officer in his face left a woman saying, "How horrible Lafayette is turning out!" Some others NewsChannel 18 spoke with around town had similar concerns about the crime rate. 
"It's a little bit more crime than when I used to come here and visit my grandma when I was a kid," said Allen Ferguson, who now delivers pizza around West Lafayette. 
But Lafayette Police Crime Analyst Steve Hawthorne said those concerns are unfounded. 
"I would certainly disagree with them," Hawthorne said. "We've certainly been seeing the crime decrease over the years, steadily for the past five years or so. Now we do see some inconsistency by month, but that's typical."
There are probably a number of reasons why the public's perception of crime doesn't square with reality. The media probably plays a role in this, after all their job is to get people to buy their papers or to watch their news broadcast. Lurid crime stories tend to draw readers/viewers so there is a natural tendency for people to focus on these events.

The media is also more ubiquitous than ever before with smartphone apps, websites, Twitter, Facebook etc. People now spend more time immersed in news stories from all over the globe within minutes of an event occurring. This constant barrage of crime stories reinforces the mistaken perception that crime is "everywhere" and getting worse.

We also have a tendency to want to believe the worst. If there is a murder in your community, how many times do you find yourself thinking "What's this world coming to?" But according to the 2010 Uniform Crime Reports the reality of murder is this:
An estimated 14,748 persons were murdered nationwide in 2010. This was a 4.2 percent decrease from the 2009 estimate, a 14.8 percent decrease from the 2006 figure, and an 8.0 percent decrease from the 2001 estimate.
According to Centers For Disease Control statistics, In 2009 there were 16,591 deaths due to assault/homicides. However, the leading cause of death was heart disease with 598,607 deaths. Homicide isn't even in the top ten leading causes of death (it's #15). In fact, you're more likely to die of Parkinson's disease, high blood pressure, liver disease, suicide, the flu, diabetes, accidents, cancer, etc. than for you to have murder listed on your death certificate.

So next time you see a crime story that gets your anxiety level up, take a deep breath and remember the reality is probably not as bad as we perceive it to be.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hell Hath No Fury

It's not too uncommon for someone to accuse a former flame of a crime in order to get back at them or otherwise make their life miserable. However, it's not often that they go to the lengths this woman is accused of going. The Los Angeles Times has a great piece on what one man went through after he was accused of abducting, torturing and sexually assaulting the mother of his child.

She said Gonzalez ambushed her in the garage, dragged her to an upstairs bedroom, hogtied her with her clothes, singed her with matches and assaulted her vaginally and anally with a wooden coat hanger. Then, she said, he forced a plastic bag over her head and held it tight, and she feigned unconsciousness until he left.

The really terrifying part was that none of it was true.

The detective tried to imagine West hating her son's father enough to injure herself in such a methodical way. Tying the cord around her own neck, cutting off clumps of her hair, battering her own face, burning her own skin … and the other things. His mind strained at the effort.

He'd seen people give themselves a scratch or bruise, to impersonate victims, but nothing like this. "My God," he said, "to this extent?"

The whole piece by Christopher Goffard of the LA Times is worth the read. Hit the link to read it. I'm just glad that this kind of thing is a rarity. There's enough real violent crimes for the police to investigate.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

More Cops Dying, But Why?

CNN has a story covering remarks by Eric Holder at this week's International Association of Chiefs of Police conference. In the story there was this:
"Law enforcement fatalities are nearly 20 percent higher than this time last year. And gunfire deaths have increased by nearly 30 percent," Holder said. 
"Today, line-of-duty officer deaths are approaching the highest rates we've seen in almost two decades," Holder told the police chiefs. "This is a devastating and unacceptable trend, and each of these deaths is a tragic reminder of the threats that law enforcement officers face each day."
There is also more information contained in a story posted yesterday at the FBI's website. The story highlights some of the data contained in the Law Enforcement Officers Killed or Assaulted (LEOKA) report for 2010 which was released yesterday.

"Hey, let's be careful out there."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What Level of Service Will You Pay For?

There were a couple of sources commenting on a new Department of Justice report looking at the affect the economic downturn is having on police. A USA Today article had this bit:
"The effects of the economic downturn on law enforcement agencies may be felt for the next five to 10 years, or worse, permanently,'' the report concluded, adding that the days when local governments allocated up to 50% of their budgets for public safety are "no longer a fiscal possibility.''
The article also stated that 12,000 police officers will have lost their jobs by the end of the year and another 30,000 positions will remain unfilled by law enforcement agencies across the country.

This information comes from a DOJ report that is due to be released at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference today. The DOJ report titled The Impact of the Economic Downturn on American Police Agencies can be obtained here.

A couple of interesting bits from the report are how the economy has affected the services police provide or no longer provide as the case may be.
  • Eight percent of departments surveyed are no longer responding to all motor vehicle thefts.
  • Nine percent of departments are no longer responding to all burglar alarms.
  • Fourteen percent of departments are no longer responding to all non-injury motor vehicle accidents.
I would imagine that these numbers are only going to rise. I know that we've had discussions about changes in the services we provide here in the sleepy little burg where I work. We've been pretty fortunate that we have not had to make significant changes yet, but I have a feeling that we will have to make some hard decisions in the future. 

That being said, it's important that law enforcement agencies work to be as efficient as possible if they are going to survive. It's also important that we are able to determine what level of service our communities are willing to pay for. 

Are you ready to discuss what level of service your community is willing to pay for? Have you identified services that could likely be curtailed with the least effect on public safety?


Monday, October 24, 2011

Prevention Is Always Cheaper Than Incarceration

USA Today recently had an article looking at the impact that life prison sentences was having on states' corrections budgets. Inside the article was this great quote from one of Texas' own state legislators.

"The challenge for us is to distinguish between the offenders we are afraid of — those who deserve to be locked up for life — and those who we are just mad at and who can be handled outside of prison," Texas state Sen. John Whitmire said.

Whitmire, a Houston Democrat, helped lead an effort to divert hundreds of offenders to less expensive treatment programs outside of prison. He said the cost of basic housing for an inmate serving life — calculated at $30,000 per year — can easily top $1 million over the inmate's lifetime.

Of course, there is also something to be said about trying to divert or discourage people from entering the criminal justice system altogether. That would ultimately be the cheapest option. Yet in an era when nearly every politician regardless of party affiliation wants to be seen as tough on crime, often at the expense of social programs, it's hard for the value of some programs to get through the rhetoric.

For example, providing accessible and effective drug and alcohol treatment programs can help keep people with substance abuse issues out of the criminal justice system. Yet, these types of programs are often the first to be cut when times get tight.

Let's just hope that our cost cutting doesn't prove to be awfully expensive in the long run.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Compassionate Parole Denied For "Onion Field" Cop Killer

Back when I was a young criminal justice student, I read all of Joseph Wambaugh's books and absolutely loved them. One of the best was Wambaugh's book The Onion Field which was one of Wambaugh's few non-fiction books. The book chronicles an incident in 1963 where two Los Angeles Police officers were kidnapped by two criminals, driven to an onion field where one of the officers, Ian Campbell was executed and the other, Karl Hettinger managed to escape the same fate as his partner.

There's a story over at The Los Angeles Times where they note that the lone remaining cop killer who is now 78 and dying of cancer was denied release on a compassionate parole.
But during an hourlong hearing in the state capital, no one spoke on Powell's behalf. 
In fact, authorities asserted, he prefers to die in prison. Members of the victim's family and the law enforcement community told commissioners that was just fine with them. 
"The only way Gregory Powell should leave prison is in a body bag," said Pat Corral, a niece of Ian Campbell, the slain officer. 
Scott Rate, a director of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said Powell's life sentence "is not a sentence of 'imprisonment until a terminal illness develops.' It should be expected that he spend his last waking moments deprived of freedom."
 It's awful hard to extend compassion to someone who showed no compassion to Officer Ian Campbell or Officer Karl Hettinger.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Murder Victims Should Never Be Forgotten

Matthew McGough over at Miller-McCune has an outstanding story on the genesis of Los Angeles PD's Cold Case Homicide squad. In nearly every police department in the United States there are unsolved homicides that are years or even decades old. LAPD was no different. In fact, the nearly 10 year old Cold Case squad has nearly 9,000 unsolved homicides to work dating back to the 1960's. That unit was started by now retired LAPD detective David Lambkin.

But Lambkin felt there was no more dignified work than trying to solve murders that society seemed to have forgotten. For victims’ families, he says, “this stuff never goes away. After awhile, they get tired of dealing with the department, and they quit calling. So there’s a huge moral reason to be looking back at them, now that we have these new tools.” The new tools were the revolutionary DNA, ballistics, and fingerprint databases that had come online in the 1990s. Lambkin had avidly followed their evolution. He knew these databases were rapidly improving detectives’ ability to identify people who very likely believed that they’d gotten away with murder.

In countless cases, Lambkin had seen firsthand how technology had made it possible to divine new leads from old crime-scene evidence. Given the number of long-unsolved murders on the LAPD’s rolls, and how much unanalyzed evidence the department was sitting on, Lambkin had no doubt that a cold case unit would be successful. For almost a decade, he’d lobbied for the LAPD to create one.

McGough does a really good job of documenting the huge undertaking that starting the unit was for Detective Lambkin. It is definitely worth reading the whole piece. It's also informative for those who don't realize just how labor intensive solving homicides can be, especially cold case homicides.

When I first was transferred from a detective position to the crime analysis unit in the sleepy little burg where I work, I set out to catalog a definitive list of all the cold case homicides we had. I spent quite a bit of time in our records vault pouring over microfilms and going through our homicide books to come up with a list of cold cases dating back to the early 1970's. Recently our Major Crimes Unit has added more names and case numbers to that list.

I found digging through these old files to be fascinating. I also found it heartbreaking that so many of these victims had the story of the end of their lives relegated to dusty files and microfilms.

What's your agency doing with the cold case homicides gathering dust in your files?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Arrest Not Always The Answer To Every Crime Problem

USA Today had a great piece on how Providence, Rhode Island Police have used the "High Point" strategy to turn a formerly violent housing project into a safe place for people to live. From the story:
Non-violent, low-level dealers are called in to meet with police, prosecutors, community members and social service agencies. They're shown video and other evidence of their dealing. The dealers are told that if they're caught selling drugs again, they'll be prosecuted based on the case police have built against them. "Banking" that case allows police to make a credible prosecution threat, Kennedy said. 
Community members tell the dealers to stop because they're destroying their neighborhoods and families. Social workers promise to help them get straight. 
People who live in those communities say it makes a "night and day" difference in their lives. 
"On a scale of zero to 10, it used to be a zero, and now it's a 10. That's how good it is," said Rolando Matos, who has lived in Chad Brown for seven years. "It's peaceful. You can be outside and not worry about people shooting."
A program like this might not appease the "lock 'em up and throw away the key" crowd but now that the economic realities of using incarceration to solve societal problems has proven to less than palatable, strategies such as Providence's High Point strategy have more of a chance.

Programs like this reinforce the mantra: "You can't always arrest your way out of every crime problem." Besides, no one really cares how a crime problem got solved, just that it got solved. Don't be afraid to apply non-traditional strategies to crime problems in your community.

I was involved in a discussion this morning with several police supervisors on how we could use non-traditional thinking to solve a crime and disorder problem in the sleepy little burg where I work. Fortunately, we had the experience of using a similar strategy to solve a different crime problem a few years ago so we already had a proven strategy to work with.

What crime problems in your community might benefit from a non-traditional approach?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Divorce Attorneys' PI Sets Up Spouses For Arrest

In a nightmarish plot that sounds more like a Hollywood script, a California private investigator working for divorce attorneys set up their clients' spouses for arrest in order to get dirt on them that would benefit the clients. The Los Angeles Times has this story.

One of the victim's recounted meeting a woman on an online dating site who then later met him for drinks. After a flirty encounter with the victim and another woman they suggested the victim follow them to a house with a hot tub. Once he began following them, he was pulled over and arrested for DWI.

The women who'd ogled him worked for Butler's detective agency. Sharon, who told Dutcher she was a divorcee employed by an investment firm, actually was a former Las Vegas showgirl.

A man who once worked for Butler had blown the whistle. He told authorities Butler arranged for men to be arrested for drunk driving at the behest of their ex-wives and their divorce lawyers — and that entrapment was only one of many alleged misdeeds.

Butler, 49, a former police officer, was arrested in February. In addition to setting up at least five DUIs, he sold drugs for law enforcement officers and helped them open and operate a brothel, collecting and delivering the profits, according to prosecutors and a statement Butler gave them after his arrest.

It'll be interesting to see how this all plays out. The story is also a good read. Hit the link to read it. It also highlights the danger for law enforcement agencies to have too close a relationship with private investigation firms or any other business that is more motivated by profit than justice.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Foreclosures More Than Just An Economic Problem It's Also A Crime Problem

The New York Times had an interesting piece that points to home foreclosures being more than just an economic problem, they are also becoming a crime problem. From the story:

“They’re becoming a magnet for criminal activity,” said Deputy Inspector Miltiadis Marmara, the commanding officer of the 113th Precinct in South Jamaica. “They hang out in these abandoned homes that may be foreclosed, or the owners walked away.” He added, “Every day we respond to something to that effect.”

What's funny is that even in the sleepy little burg where I work, we are seeing more and more squatters taking over properties that are empty, have been foreclosed on, or have been abandoned by their owners. In our case, most of them are apartment complexes where the owners are out of state investors. Either they are walking away from their properties or they are so financially distressed that they are paying little to no attention as to what's actually occurring at these properties.

Once the 'neer do wells' figure out that the owners aren't paying attention and many units are empty they move in and use these apartments for ilicit activity. Once this begins to occur, it doesn't take long for the few paying tenants to flee to safer environs if they have the means to do so. These distressed properties then become crime generators that will begin to create real problems for the surrounding neighborhoods.

To help mitigate these problems we've been working with owners to help them control people on the properties by using Texas Criminal Trespass statutes. In extreme cases we've been partnering with our Code Enforcement folks to cite and/or condemn these properties to try to get the property owners to exercise control over their property.

Given the long term outlook on the foreclosure crisis, this problem is not likely to go away anytime soon. If you aren't having problems in your community with abandoned/foreclosed properties yet, you might want to have a plan of action in place ahead of time so you will be ready if these kinds of problems pop up in your community.

What has your agency done to keep problems down at abandoned or foreclosed properties?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Not Prosecuting Domestic Abusers A Really Bad Way To Protest Budget Cuts

There's been quite the kerfuffle brewing in Topeka, Kansas over a decision by the District Attorney's office to stop prosecuting misdemeanor domestic violence cases because of a $3.5 million dollar cut to the DA's office budget. This caused a "tit for tat" reaction by the City of Topeka who dropped their ordinance against domestic violence in order to force the DA's office to start prosecuting them again. A story by The Christian Science Monitor has this bit.

Mr. Taylor's actions in Kansas were “a high-profile way” to show the county the downside of digging too deeply with the budget knife, says Jeffrey Jackson, a professor of law at Washburn University in Topeka.

“What people don’t realize is district attorneys and prosecutors have a lot of discretion about what cases they will prosecute and what cases they bring and what cases they settle. This is the most blatant way to make the argument that, if they don’t have the budget, they have to pick and choose more,” Professor Jackson says.

While I understand that budget cuts have been hard on quite a number of agencies, it seems to me like they are playing with fire up there. There are quite a number of other offenses I could see not prosecuting before I'd start turning loose domestic battery suspects. All it's going to take is for a released domestic violence suspect to go back and kill his spouse for this to backfire badly.

It would be real interesting to see what other misdemeanor cases got prosecuted while these domestic violence suspects got a free ride. I also hope these kinds of shenanigans don't spread to other cash strapped agencies.

Has your agency prioritized the types of services you must provide and the types that you can provide if resources allow?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Public Confidence In The Police Is Pretty Good

American Public Media's philosophy and religion blog "On Being" is not one I usually use as a source on The Crime Analyst's Blog though I do read it. However, they had this bit that I thought was worth commenting on. They quoted a Gallup poll on confidence in institutions. Top of the list was the military. What I found encouraging was where the police ended up.

Here’s the complete list of the percentage of Americans who say they have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in them:

78% - Military
64% - Small business
56% - Police
48% - Church or organized religion
39% - Medical system
37% - U.S. Supreme Court
35% - Presidency
34% - Public schools
28% - Criminal justice system
28% - Newspapers
27% - Television news
23% - Banks
21% - Organized labor
19% - Big business
19% - Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs)
12% - Congress

Another thing I though interesting was that while confidence in the police ranked pretty high, confidence in the criminal justice system was not so favorable. It's also probably no surprise where Congress ended up.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Policing Insular Communities

There have been a number of stories out this past weekend about a weird case of Amish on Amish violence. People don't ordinarily associate the normally placid Amish with crime, they are more likely to be depicted in a Christian romance novel than in a police procedural. But in spite of their normally law abiding reputation, they are occasionally the victims or even the suspects in crimes.

A local Ohio news website TribToday.com has a pretty good rundown of the attacks and subsequent investigations.

In Carroll County on Tuesday, a group of Amish men knocked on a door of an Amish man's home, pulled him out by his beard and tried to cut off his beard, reports state. The attackers referred to themselves as part of the Bergholz Clan, according to the Carroll County Sheriff's Office.

In Holmes County on Tuesday, a group of Amish men burst into a home and cut the hair off men and women inside and cut the beards off the men. Holmes County Sheriff Timothy Zimmerly said the victims included a 13-year-old girl and a 74-year-old man.

While most law enforcement agencies may not have the Amish living in their community, they may have other equally insular sub-cultures living in their communities. For example in the sleepy little burg where I work we have an large number of Korean immigrants. It's not unusual to see signs written in Hangul in nearly any part of town.

Insular communities can pose challenges for law enforcement. In these communities, it's often difficult to get them to report when they are victims of crime or to cooperate with the subsequent investigations. Finding adequate translation services also can pose a problem.

It is very important to identify and reach out to these groups before they become victims of crimes if you are going to adequately serve them. Often times, even modest efforts at outreach can pay huge dividends later.

What insular communities reside in your jurisdiction? What are you doing to encourage a dialog between them and your agency?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cops Really Do Fight What You Fear

Yesterday the New York Times had a pretty dramatic story on a fight between an NYPD sergeant and a crook he was trying to arrest.

The man finally pulled the gun from his pants. He had one hand on it, and Sergeant Miller had one hand on it.

“I could feel a really sharp burning pain in my finger, kind of like my nail was being bent back,” said the sergeant said.

Two uniformed officers arrived and raced over. At last Sergeant Miller twisted the revolver away.

“At that point I was completely winded, gassed,” he said. “I had a little bit of shock. And it sunk in then what happened. I realized that my ring finger around the nail bed had been wedged between the hammer and the cylinder of the gun and basically getting crushed in there.”

“During the course of the fight at one point I felt the gun right up against my belly.”

The whole story is a good read. Hit the link to read it. Of course this brings up the fact that even though life and death struggles like this are rare, they are also in the back of every officer's mind when he or she is out on the street.

If you get stopped by an officer, understand that his or her requests for you to stand in one spot, or to keep your hands out of your pockets aren't based in rudeness but are instead attempts by the officer to reduce perceived danger that they face even during mundane contacts like a traffic stop.

No officer wants to end up on one of these websites.

Monday, October 10, 2011

COPS Grant Awards Announced And It Looks Like It's Slim Pickings

The US Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) recently announced the awards of the 2011 COPS Hiring Program grants.

The U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) today announced more than $243 million in grants awarded nationwide to 238 law enforcement agencies and municipalities for the hiring of new officers and deputies.

The awards were made through the COPS Hiring Program, a competitive grant program that provides funding directly to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies to hire police officers dedicated to addressing specific crime and disorder challenges confronting communities. The grants provide 100 percent funding for the entry-level salaries and benefits of newly-hired, or rehired, full-time officer positions over a three-year period.

For the 2011 COPS Hiring Program, 2,712 applications were received requesting more than $2 billion and 8,999 positions. Funding decisions were based on an agency’s commitment to community policing, crime rates, changes in law enforcement budgets, and other local fiscal data (poverty, unemployment, foreclosure rates, etc.).

With 238 agencies being awarded grants out of the 2,712 that applied, that works out to only 8.7% of applicants receiving funds.

The COPS Hiring Program grants have been criticized by some as encouraging law enforcement agencies to hire cops they can't afford because the grant only pays for salaries for a three year period, after which the local agency will have to pick up the tab. But this criticism is a bit simplistic.

At the agency where I work, we've seen a 47% increase in population in the 10 years between the 2000 and 2010 Census. The Central Texas area is consistently ranked as one of the 10 fastest growing areas on the United States. This huge increase in population also means that there is a huge increase in demands for police services.

However, it takes a few years for the population increase to mean that there is a corresponding increase in tax revenue to pay for those services. While the population increase is felt immediately, the tax money to pay for the increase in services is not usually seen until the next budget cycle or two. A COPS Hiring Grant can help an agency like ours put boots on the ground quicker in order to keep up with the demand for police services.

Yes, an agency that hires officers using a COPS Hiring Program grant without making adequate plans to pick up the cost after three years is misguided. But not every agency does that and we certainly don't where I work.

I have a feeling that with the economic and political situation being what they are, we'll likely see even less than 8.7% of applicants getting grants in the years to come. As one Chief of Police recently told me, "it looks like we're on our own from here on out."

Friday, October 7, 2011

We May Be Burglars, But Kiddie Porn Is Just Wrong

You know you're a scumbag when even the people who break into your place, turn you in to the police. CNN had this interesting story:

Last month, a juvenile and a 19-year-old illegally accessed the property of Kraig Stockard, 54, of Delhi, California, according to a statement from Deputy Tom MacKenzie of the Merced County Sheriff's Department. They broke into Stockard's barn and stole approximately 50 CDs they believed were blank.

Stockard filed a police report on the incident on September 12, according to MacKenzie.

But the young people who stole the CDs were in for a surprise. When they began putting the discs into their computer, they discovered that some of them contained pornographic images of children, the statement said.

Despite having obtained the CDs under decidedly shady circumstances, the pair decided to report Stockard to the police.

Hit the link to read the whole piece. Of course, it will be interesting to see what happens to the burglars. In this case, they may have made up for their misdeed.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Crime Is Down, Is It The Obama Effect?

I've written a number of posts looking at the reasons that crime is declining here in the U.S. even with the poor economy. For most people, they would assume that when the economy tanked, crime would rise. However, for whatever reason this has not proved to be the case. The economy is still tanked, yet crime continues to decline.

Quite a number of criminologists have speculated as to the reasons why crime is down, the theories range from an aging population, increased incarceration, better law enforcement techniques, abortions, the waning crack cocaine epidemic and even a decrease in exposure to lead in paint and gasoline. Yet in spite of all these attempts to explain what on the surface appears to be an irrational contradiction none of them have been proven to be the definitive explanation.

An article over at Slate.com adds this reason to the mix:

“I think there’s little question the election had the effect of improving the general outlook of blacks and especially their economic outlook,” Rosenfeld told me. “Normally, blacks tend to be more pessimistic about economic prospects, even in good economic times.”

Ohio State University’s Randolph Roth, author of the magisterial 2009 volume American Homicide, is so convinced Obama’s election has fundamentally improved black people’s outlooks, in spite of what may be their actual circumstances, he published an essay last year explaining the crime drop with the title “It’s No Mystery.” “The inauguration of the first black president and the passing of the Bush administration re-legitimized the government in the eyes of many Americans during the first few months of 2009,” he writes. “African Americans and other racial minorities, who live disproportionately in America’s cities, were more deeply affected than anyone else, and it is likely that their greater trust in the political process and their positive feelings about the new president led to lower rates of urban violence.”

I'm not going to vouch for the accuracy of this theory that the election of President Obama had the effect of lowering crime during the economic downturn. I definitely am not going to delve into politics here on the blog. However, the article itself is a good read even if the jury is still out on the reason crime is still heading downward.

To be honest, it's probably going to be years before there is any consensus as to the reason that crime continued to decline during this recession. Until then, the speculation and the theories are liable to continue.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Justice Is Not About Winning

The Austin American Statesman had a piece yesterday about a man convicted of murdering his wife, who served 25 years in prison before DNA testing revealed his innocence. He was set free in a Williamson County courtroom Tuesday. In the story was this bit I thought was worth noting:

Morton’s lawyers first asked to test the bandanna in 2006. Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley opposed the testing, and District Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield agreed to deny the tests.

An appeals court, however, ordered the tests to be performed, noting that a the results could go a long way toward corroborating Morton’s key defense —- that an intruder killed his wife by entering and exiting the property through a densely wooded area behind the house.

After the results came back showing the DNA of John Doe, a man with felony convictions and charges in four states, Stubblefield recused himself from the case. He was replaced by District Judge Sid Harle of San Antonio.

After Monday’s hearing, defense lawyer John Raley said that if there is one moral to take from the Morton story, it’s this: “You should never oppose DNA testing. It can only reveal the truth.”

One very interesting tidbit is the "John Doe" suspect listed in court papers is believed to be a serial killer who was linked to another Austin murder as well as other crimes in other areas. It will be very interesting to hear the whole story when they run that part down.

According to the story Michael Morton was 45th Texas inmate to be exonerated due to DNA evidence. What I find troubling is that sometimes it seems like court cases are more about winning than they are about justice. If your prosecution theory is sound, then DNA testing shouldn't really worry the prosecutor. In this case, the prosecution's theory seemed to run counter to the truth.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

IACP Center For Social Media

I spent several days last week at the Social Media Internet Law Enforcement conference in Dallas last week. It was a good conference with lots of really wonderful folks who are using social media to help their agency's communicate with the citizens they serve.

In a similar vein, the International Association of Chief's of Police is also pushing the use of social media through their Center For Social Media website. The IACP Describes their social media initiative this way:

In partnership with the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, the IACP launched its Center for Social Media in October 2010. The goal of the initiative is to build the capacity of law enforcement to use social media to prevent and solve crimes, strengthen police-community relations, and enhance services. IACP’s Center for Social Media serves as a clearinghouse of information and no-cost resources to help law enforcement personnel develop or enhance their agency’s use of social media and integrate Web 2.0 tools into agency operations.

The site has lots of good information for the law enforcement agency looking to get into and use social media effectively. There is even social media training being offered at the IACP Conference in Chicago later this month.

In case you are wondering about how popular social media has become in or out of law enforcement, there's this article over at the New York Times about the rise in popularity of Mashable, a website devoted just to news about social media.

Is your agency using social media to get it's message out? Are you on social media personally?

Monday, October 3, 2011

UCR Rape Definition Is Archaic, Inadequate And Stupid

There was a piece in the New York Times last week that highlighted a huge problem in the FBI's 80+ year old Uniform Crime Reports program. The problem comes in the way that the UCR program defines rape. That is:

Forcible rape, as defined in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, is the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.

This archaic definition ultimately means a male suspect penetrating a female victim's vagina with his penis using the force or threat of force to overcome the victim's lack of consent. It does not include any other combination of victims, sex acts, etc. Consequently, the majority of sexual assault cases reported to a law enforcement agency are never counted as part of UCR crime statistics.

When the FBI's UCR program was created and these definitions created Bonnie & Clyde were on the loose, Jim Crow laws were still on the books, women had only had the right to vote for 10 years and in many states, marital rape was not illegal. Since that time, society's definition of what constitutes a sexual assault has evolved considerably. The New York Times piece speaks to the effect this definition has had.

“The data that are reported to the public come from this definition, and sadly, it portrays a very, very distorted picture,” said Susan B. Carbon, director of the Office on Violence Against Women, part of the Department of Justice. “It’s the message that we’re sending to victims, and if you don’t fit that very narrow definition, you weren’t a victim and your rape didn’t count.”

Steve Anderson, chief of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, said that the F.B.I.’s definition created a double standard for police departments.

“We prosecute by one criteria, but we report by another criteria,” Chief Anderson said. “The only people who have a true picture of what’s going on are the people in the sex-crimes unit.”

Even many police officers don't understand the criteria by which UCR defines rape. I had a veteran detective from my agency contact me and ask where were all the cases she had been investigating went after she looked at our UCR stats. She knew that her unit had investigated significantly more cases than were listed in our agency's UCR report. I could only shrug my shoulders and explain to her the asinine definition of rape in the UCR program.

The New York Times article cites a Police Executive Research Forum survey of police agencies where 80% of them said the UCR definition of rape was inadequate. Thankfully, it appears that momentum is building within the FBI's UCR program to change this definition. The current definition is archaic, ignorant and demeaning to the tens of thousands of victim's whose crimes were not counted last year. It's time to change it.

Now when the change happens it's not going to be fun to see what our sex assault stats really are but if you're going to fix a problem, you have to know just how bad it is first.