Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Whose Really To Blame For Crime Ridden Apartments?

The UPI website had this interesting crime story on a study of crime at apartment complexes in Ohio. University of Cincinnati doctoral student Kathleen Gallagher looked at the correlation between apartment complexes with high crime and disorder and the prevalence of tenants on Section 8 or public assistance.
"Several owners had high numbers of properties with Section 8 tenants and with crime, but we found that these owners also had high crime properties without Section 8 tenants," Gallagher said in a statement. 
"This suggested that the property owners themselves might have created or allowed environments where offenders felt comfortable committing crime." 
In other words, problem landlords seemed to be the root of the problem, not whether residents were using Section 8 housing vouchers or not, Gallagher said.
What I found most interesting is that it wasn't the tenants that were the root of the problem but the management of these complexes. There are a lot of similarities between crime and disorder problems at apartment complexes and similar problems at budget motels.

In fact, Gallagher's findings are similar to findings on studies of disorder at budget motels that was published in the Problem Oriented Policing Center's POP Guide Disorder At Budget Motels that had this bit:
Motels attract crime, in that people inclined to commit it are drawn to them because their conditions and reputations are favorable for doing so. Poorly managed motels also enable crime by attracting offenders to a location with weak oversight.
There is also a similar conclusion in the POP Guide Drug Dealing in Privately Owned Apartment Complexes.

If we remember the Crime Triangle we know that for crime to occur we have to have a motivated offender come together with a suitable victim in time and place.

Applying the Crime Triangle to look at crime and disorder at these apartment complexes or at budget motels we will probably find that many of these problematic locations have different offenders and different victims coming together in these locations. The one constant is the location. When management of the location is inadequate in extending control over the place these locations will make it easier for offenders and victims to come together and for a crime to occur.

If we are going to be effective at tackling crime and disorder problems at apartment complexes that have a disproportionate amount of police calls, we're going to have to convince landlords to change the environment in their complexes.

What has your agency done to motivate the owners of troubled apartments to work with you in solving crime and disorder problems at these locations?

Thanks to Julie Wartell on the IACA mailing list for the heads up on the Ohio study story.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

There's More Than One Way To Reduce Inner City Crime

Slate Magazine had an interesting article last week that looked at John Jay College professor David M. Kennedy's book Don't Shoot. The piece is a good read and had this interesting bit:
Don’t Shoot is Kennedy’s journey into the bizarre and often counterintuitive world of criminal justice policy. Kennedy, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, is best known for helping to bring about the so-called “Boston Miracle.” In1990, youth homicide in Boston had reached historic heights and trust between cops and minority residents was at a nadir. Kennedy’s team mined the data to find that a small, hard-core group of offenders were committing the vast majority of Boston’s violent crime. They brought this “moneyball” approach to police and community leaders, and soon they were reaching out to the perpetrators in open town hall meetings. They adopted a carrot-and-stick approach: one more homicide and the police will make nightly arrests, confiscate drugs, call in the Fed, and do whatever else it might take to bring down profits and make life miserable. No killings and you’ll get services, housing subsidies, and help finding jobs.
This is an interesting approach, one that is much more nuanced than the typical "get tough" approach to crime that we hear from politicians here in Texas. While the idea of negotiating with criminals isn't very palatable, engaging the entire community in dealing with crime problems would probably make that part a bit easier to take. If we are really going to be effective in dealing with nagging crime problems we have to get everyone involved.

The piece from Slate is worth the read. Hit the link to read it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Predictive Policing Roundup

There were a number of stories in the news this weekend that talked about predictive policing. Here is a roundup of some of the more interesting ones:

The first piece over at NPR has this bit:

UCLA anthropologist Jeff Brantingham says he's not surprised. Human behavior, especially when in search of resources, follows very predictable patterns. For his doctoral work, Brantingham studied foraging strategies of ancient hunter-gatherers in Mongolia.

"It's surprising how similar the problems are," he said. "How it is that ancient hunter-gatherers found gazelles on the Mongolian steppes is very similar to how it is that offenders find a car to steal."

I'd have never guessed how similar thieves are to ancient Mongol hunter-gatherers. NPR also has a companion audio piece of an interview with former LAPD Chief Bill Bratton where he talks about how predictive policing fits into the future of policing.

The Mercury News has a piece on Santa Cruz Police and their predictive policing program being named by Time Magazine as one of the year's top inventions. In the story is this bit:

The program can also help ease the pain of departments dealing with shrinking staffing due to budget cuts, a matter of increasing importance given the nation's economic troubles.

"Technological programs like this can help equalize the gap there," said Friend.

The Santa Cruz Sentinel also mentioned Santa Cruz PD's predictive policing program in this story that looked a some crime numbers from Santa Cruz.

I think the next few years are going to be very interesting where predictive policing technology is concerned. Now if I can just apply some of this ancient Mongolian hunter-gathering mojo to some of the crooks in my jurisdiction.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving From The Crime Analyst's Blog

Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude. 
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
While you're enjoying your time with family and friends this Thanksgiving, don't forget to say a prayer of thanks for all those in law enforcement who'll be working today. While they would probably rather be watching football, eating and drinking with their loved ones, they will dutifully be on the job to keep your community safe.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Does The Public Really Have A Right To Listen To Police Radios?

USA Today had a story this week that indicated that more law enforcement agencies are encrypting their police radio transmissions to thwart eavesdroppers with malicious intent. What I thought was interesting in the article was this bit:
The transition to encryption has put police departments at odds with the news media, who say their newsgathering is impeded when they can't use scanners to monitor developing crimes and disasters. Journalists and scanner hobbyists argue that police departments already have the capability to communicate securely and should be able to adjust to the times without reverting to full encryption. 
Should the police make decisions about their practices based on whether it makes it easier for the media to do their jobs (and ultimately make a buck), or if it will give hobbyists something to do? It seems to me that the primary role of the police is to suppress crime and make their communities a safer place to live. It's arguable whether making things easier for a reporter to get the scoop on crime stories has much of an effect on this role.

As a twenty year law enforcement veteran I have seen quite a number of instances where the bad guys have been listening in on our radios. Fortunately where I work these incidents don't happen every day. So realistically, it's not a huge threat, but it is a threat nonetheless. The part I have trouble with is that our tactical decisions should be based on what's best for us and our community, not what is easiest for a news reporter.

When we start basing tactical decisions on what makes for good TV we end up with this kind of nonsense.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Less Cops Equals Less Arrests

An Associated Press story over at has an analysis that isn't really too surprising, the consequences of police layoffs in New Jersey have led to a reduction in arrests for minor offenses.
An Associated Press analysis of municipal court data shows that when police are laid off, department priorities shift: Arrests and summonses of all kinds drop, with enforcement for minor crimes and traffic violations suffering the most as police focus their remaining resources on more serious offenses. 
The strategy may make sense, but experts say it leaves a troubling gap in law enforcement. 
"People are committing crimes and they're not suffering the consequences for it," said Camden County Prosecutor Warren Faulk. "I think it has emboldened those who are committing the crimes. They do not get arrested, and consequently, they continue committing these crimes."
Of course this doesn't bode well for the future if this continues. There is a belief that pursuing criminal cases for relatively minor quality of life issues can lead to declines in other types of crimes. This theory is sometimes referred to as the "broken windows theory". Additionally, arrests for minor offenses are a tool to take serious criminals off the streets. This keeps them from committing more serious crimes.

Either way, there are real consequences to the drastic cuts we saw take place in New Jersey and other cash strapped municipalities. While we can strive to be as efficient as possible and stretch our budget dollars, there does come a point where a reduction in budget monies will lead to a reduction in police services.

For the public, they have to decide what level of police services they are willing to pay for.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Shoppers Aren't The Only Bargain Hunters During The Holidays

The Merced Sun Star had a piece last week on the increase in certain types of crime in the Merced, California area during the holidays.

Sheriff's Cmdr. B.J. Jones said the spike in crime is also in large part due to a lack of awareness by holiday shoppers. "It is absolutely a known fact that during the holidays, a lot more burglaries occur based on the shopping season," he said. "All the thieves know to go to the malls and the shopping centers and they look in cars and people don't secure their items in there -- they don't hide them."

Criminals will also take advantage of expensive gifts left under Christmas trees, Jones added. "Thieves definitely take advantage of the holidays to victimize people," he said.

At the agency where I work, we are already gearing up for the holidays with our annual program of high visibility patrols in and around our major shopping and retail areas. A conversation that came up during a recent planning meeting was that not only was it important to prevent crimes in and around these areas, but it is also just as important to reduce the public's fear of crime in these areas during this time of year.

Crimes related to the holidays aren't the only type of seasonal crimes. Some types go up in the summer, others at other times of year. Some are unique to communities that have regular big events such as Mardi Gras. The good thing is that since these events regularly occur, we can plan ahead for them.

What kinds of seasonal crimes spike in your community? What are you doing to help combat these crimes?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thief Barbecues Neighbor's Goat, Gets Charged With Felony

From the "Only in Texas" file comes this story over at the Austin American Statesman:

Aguirre told the detectives he stole the goat and took it to a home where it was butchered, the affidavit said. Aguirre told them the goat was barbecued and served to people in the Apache Shores neighborhood near Lake Travis, the affidavit said.

He told detectives he took that goat because it was “very gentle, like a dog,” the affidavit said.

That is gonna turn out to be some very expensive cabrito.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

More On Predictive Policing

Computerworld had a story this week on efforts at developing predictive policing technology by both Los Angeles Police and Santa Cruz Police. The article is worth the read and had some good info in it, including this bit:
The theory is that predictive analytics might work better on property crimes because the targets are stationary and the nature of the targets doesn't change that much over time, he says, unlike crimes where the victims are mobile and change their behaviors. 
Criminologists find it's easier to predict these types of crimes because there are patterns regarding where and when they occur. For example, burglaries tend to be clustered in terms of time and location and the individuals committing these crimes tend to have predictable patterns--usually they commit them somewhere near their homes or near familiar locations. 
Additionally, property crimes are not displaceable crimes, which means if police departments target these crimes in particular areas, the criminals won't simply move two miles to another location.
I've covered predictive policing in a number of previous posts. Like many crime analysts, I am waiting for the methodology to trickle out to the masses as it's something I'd like to be able to implement at my agency. Of course, I'd also like to be able to do it on the cheap, because like nearly every other law enforcement agency in the country, I don't have the budget to be able to purchase an expensive commercial data mining software package.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Lodi Police Officer Turns Journalist To Get The Message Out

The Lodi News-Sentinel has a column called Behind The Badge that is written by Lt. Chris Piombo of the Lodi, California Police Department. In this piece, Piombo analyzes local vehicle burglary trends in order to get the word out to the community he serves.
There were 38 auto burglaries in the city of Lodi between Oct. 8 and Nov. 8. That's about one burglary per day in a city of over 60,000 residents. Pretty good. And that's the second-lowest monthly total for the past year. Pretty good times two. 
Here are some shared factors I found among those 38 burglaries. Think about them as you decide where to park your car. 
As expected, the vast majority of the burglaries occurred at night. Suspects mostly broke into cars parked on the street or in the driveway. Thirteen of the thefts occurred during the daylight hours. Sixteen break-ins occurred in shopping center, restaurant, or bank parking lots. Parking lots open to the public, with customers walking around pushing shopping carts. We often wonder how the thieves do it. Are they specters who materialize in our dimension for a nanosecond, bust your window, swipe your purse, then slither back into that parallel universe where Spock wears a moustache?
The piece offers a good analysis of the vehicle burglary problem in Lodi along with information on how the public can avoid becoming a victim of this crime. Both Lodi Police and the Lodi News-Sentinel are doing a great job in informing the community of crime problems in the community with this column.

Many police agencies are harnessing tools such as social media in order to better communicate with the citizens they serve. Becoming a regular news columnist with the local paper is another way to connect with the community, albeit a pretty unique one.

How is your agency communicating with the community you serve?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Would You Trade Cops For Security Guards?

The nation's economic woes have hit quite a number of city governments. We've seen a bunch of drastic measures that cities have taken in order to cut expenses and stay afloat. Employee layoffs, reduced services and program cuts have all been tried by various cities. USA Today had a story yesterday that detailed plans by the city of Foley, Minnesota to replace their police force with private security guards.
Since it disbanded its police department in 2003, Foley has contracted with the Benton County Sheriff's Office to have three deputies patrol the city, providing coverage for about 17 hours a day. This year, the city paid $24,694 a month for the contract. 
After cuts in state aid and uncertainty about future funding, the Foley City Council started looking at options to save money on policing. The city decided to contract with General Security Services Corp. to provide 24-hour coverage starting in January for about $16,000 a month.
Apparently not everyone thinks this is a real good idea. The story also had this bit about the plan:
In an Oct. 25 letter, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson warned that the city is opening itself up to "financial exposure." She cited the potential for lawsuits for false imprisonment as one example. 
Swanson wrote that private security employees may carry a firearm but can use it only in self-defense. Private guards do not have the authority to make arrests other than citizens' arrests, cannot pursue fleeing suspects, make DWI arrests or even traffic stops. There's also the issue of whether self-incriminating statements or evidence taken from a suspect by a security officer could be used in court, she wrote.
Of course this brings up the subject of who is going to investigate and/or prosecute crimes that are discovered by these rent-a-cops. If there is a murder in Foley can the Sheriff's Office really refuse to investigate it? All the security guards can do in that situation is call for real cops. It seems that the Sheriff's Office is going to be forced to handle it even without the contribution they were getting when the city was paying for Deputies to provide policing services. It looks like the city is going to get off on the cheap and the Sheriff's office is going to end up having to deal with it anyway.

I sure hope that we don't see more of this kind of thing.

Monday, November 14, 2011

For Detroit, Being Number 1 Is A Community Tragedy

Homicide is one of those crimes whose statistics don't seem to make sense. Sometimes you can have a banner year for all other crime stats and the homicide numbers end up going the other direction. There was a story this weekend over at the Detroit Free Press this weekend that looks at the tragedy these statistics often represent for Detroit.

"You have a window that's real small to be able to get as much as you can," Jimenez said. "You do your best work on a case in the first 48 hours because it just happened. Your witnesses are fresher. Your witnesses haven't talked to other people." In the past decade, Detroit's yearly homicide closure rate has ranged from 35% to 45%, but climbed to 54% in 2010, Godbee said. The national average is 65%. For cities with populations of 500,000 to 1 million, the closure rate was 57% in 2010. In 2010, the city recorded 308 homicides, according to the department -- a 15% decline from 2009 and the fewest since 1967, a year of rioting and accelerated flight from the city.

But the number of killings has spiked this year. The department recorded 301 homicides through Nov. 6, a 19% increase for the same period year over year.

"When you slow down the bodies coming in the front door, it gives your investigators more time to actually work on cases," Godbee said. "But when you got two, three, four bodies coming in a night and you have to stop your workload to go triage those cases and start your investigation on those, that has an effect on the ability for the homicide investigator to really dig into their cases."

The entire article is a good read. You can read it here. Looking at the crushing workload they have there in Detroit this year, it makes me glad I work in the sleepy little burg where I do. We may have a bump in the numbers on occasion, but nothing like they have had.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Austin's Serial Tire Slasher Sent To Prison

Since the mid 1990's residents of the Hyde Park area of Austin have been victimized by a serial tire slasher. Over his rather prolific career, Tommy Joe Kelley has allegedly been responsible for damaging hundreds of tires in the neighborhood. The Austin American Statesman has a story on Kelley's recent trial where he was found guilty and sentenced to the maximum of 10 years in prison. The story included this bit of testimony from convicted slasher.

Kelley, who represented himself during the trial, called the evidence against him circumstantial and said he had been unfairly targeted by police and neighborhood residents because of a 2006 American-Statesman article noting an arrest for criminal mischief.

"Ever since that point, I've been under real tight scrutiny," said Kelley, also known as Tommy Joe Adams.

During his rambling testimony, which was uninterrupted by questioning, Kelley told jurors about what he described as numerous assaults on him that went unpunished and improper arrests by police.

At one point, he said: "I don't walk around carrying a (expletive) knife. I can't. I get stopped so much. I tell you, I get stopped so much I quit buying weed."

Wow, to be so scrutinized that you can't even buy marihuana. What an injustice.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Law Enforcement Should Be A Partnership Not An Occupation

Ruben Navarrette over at CNN had a thought provoking opinion piece yesterday titled: Are Police Becoming Militarized? While I don't entirely agree with the whole piece, I think the piece does make a valid point about the role of police in society.
"There's a sense among new recruits that police work is about soldiering," my friend lamented. "And we don't discourage it. In fact, we encourage it -- when (in reality) about 90% of what we do is community relations." 
He's right. Law enforcement isn't about kicking down doors. It's about building and maintaining relationships. 
Police officers have the power to either make their job simpler or more difficult. If they treat people well and build relations, people will cooperate. They'll have leads, witnesses and informants. But if they see the people they're supposed to "protect and serve" the way an occupying army sees the native population, they're going to encounter resistance, suspicion, defiance and other things that make their job harder. That's a recipe for chaos.
As a former SWAT officer, I understand the need for police agencies to be adequately equipped to handle a variety of situations. That sometimes means very dangerous looking assault rifles, body armor and the occasional armored vehicle. But the employment of resources like this should be rare.

Crime suppression is much more effective when then citizens being protected are partners in the effort. There is a line in the Declaration of Independence that says:
Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
The public is much more likely to give their consent if they feel like government, in this case the police, are public servants working on their behalf to make their community safer. This means that they have a say in determining our priorities and our methods. It doesn't mean they entirely dictate these priorities and methods, but, it does mean that we need to have a dialog with them about it. That's what a partnership is.

What are you doing to partner with the community you serve?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Dying Art Of Lush Workers

I always enjoy reading about unusual crimes and unusual criminals. There was a piece last week over at the New York Times that looked at the dying art of "lush workers". Lush Workers are a special type of pickpocket thieves that use a razor blade to literally cut the pockets open of their drunken victims.
“It’s like a lost art,” the lieutenant said. “It’s all old-school guys who cut the pocket. They die off.” And they do not seem to be replacing themselves, he said. “It’s like the TV repairman.” 
Lush workers date back at least to the beginning of the last century, their ilk cited in newspaper crime stories like one in The New York Times in 1922, describing “one who picks the pockets of the intoxicated. He is the old ‘drunk roller’ under a new name.” While the term technically applies to anyone who steals from a drunken person, most police officers reserve it for a special kind of thief who uses straight-edge razors found in any hardware store.
Given the dearth of subways in the sleepy little burg where I work, we don't see many lush workers or even pickpockets for that matter. That's probably a good thing too.

I also want to give a tip of the hat to security expert Bruce Schneier for the heads up on the NY Times story.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

From Copper To Grease, Thieves Will Take It

NPR had a story yesterday on the rise in thieves targeting used cooking oil collected by restaurants. Given the increased demand for used cooking oil to be recycled into bio-fuels, this isn't too surprising.
Restaurants and grease recyclers have been forced to move barrels inside, lock them up, or install surveillance cameras, according to Tom Cook, president of the National Renderers Association in Alexandria, Va. "It's become the new copper," a commodity that also attracts thieves, Cook tells The Salt.

Yellow grease, the proper name for cooking oil that's had the food and trash filtered out of it, is selling for about 40 cents a pound, almost five times what it was a decade ago. That means a gallon of yellow grease today sells for more than $3 a gallon — on par with a gallon of milk.
When looking at any crime problem, it often helps to look at it using The Crime Triangle. In repeat theft cases like this, the common denominator is often the place/victim. The first step in dealing with this crime problem is probably to get the victims to exercise better guardianship over their property. This could go a long way towards changing the cost/benefit ratio for the grease thief to one that isn't in his favor.

Any outreach effort focusing on restaurants should also probably include obtaining reliable after hours contact information for the business. That way if an enterprising Patrol Officer catches someone making off with barrels of grease behind the business at 3AM, they can get the victim to respond so a criminal case can be made against the thief.

Has your jurisdiction had success in dealing with grease thieves? What strategy was the easiest and most effective to implement?

Monday, November 7, 2011

What If The City Can't Pay The Light Bill?

The Austin American Statesman had a piece this weekend about the plight faced by Highland Park, Michigan who after huge budget problems not only turned off their street lights, but ripped the poles out as well in order to save money on the light bill.
Highland Park's decision is one of the nation's most extreme austerity measures, even among the scores of communities that can no longer afford to provide basic services. But unlike many other cutbacks that can easily be reversed, this one appears to be permanent. 
The city is $58 million in debt and has many more people than jobs, plus dozens of burned-out or vacant houses and buildings. With fewer than 12,000 residents, its population has dwindled to half the level from 20 years ago. 
Faced with a $4 million electric bill that required $60,000 monthly payments, Mayor Hubert Yopp asked the City Council to consider reducing lighting. Council members reluctantly approved the plan, even in an election year.
The economic crisis has been pretty severe for many rust belt communities. With drastic measures such as this, it will be interesting to see just how these municipal governments survive.

While we've seen some tighter budgets in the sleepy little burg where I work, we haven't had to deal with anything like this. I also hope we never do.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Popular Products Also Popular With Thieves

Apple Computer products such as the iPhone and iPad are wildly popular with consumers. I also have to admit, they are also popular in the Department where I work. One downside to this kid of cult like popularity is the fact that this kind of popularity also means the devices are popular with thieves. Yesterday there was a trio of stories, including two from central Texas regarding thieves targeting the devices, or their owners for crimes.

The first from the tech website Cult of Mac is one where scam artists were targeting people in parking lots offering to sell iPads to passersby. After being show a real iPad in the box, the thieves would substitute an iPad box with a dummy iPad when the purchase was being consummated.

The second story over at the Austin American Statesman detailed an man who arranged to purchase or sell iPhones on Craiglist and then robbing the seller or purchaser at gunpoint when they showed up in a sketchy area to complete the deal.

The last one, also at the Austin American Statesman details a group of thieves in the sleepy little burg where I work, who managed to steal 38 iPads from a Wal-Mart display case and get them out the door.

A while back I covered a chapter in the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers where they used the acronym CRAVED to describe some items popular with thieves. The acronym stands for:

  • 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.

It pays to keep up with items that are CRAVED by thieves in your community. Identifying these items can help you focus your efforts and preventing, interrupting or reducing crimes that involve them.

What items are CRAVED by thieves in your jurisdiction?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Every Now And Then The Police Need A Helping Hand

Sometimes the police need a bit of help in catching the bad guys. In this instance, fate lent a hand to Hurst, Texas Police as they tried to catch two car thieves during a high speed pursuit. From the story over at the Fort Worth Star Telegram:

A Jefferson man in a stolen car led Hurst police on a brief chase Tuesday afternoon before he and a passenger took a wrong turn and abandoned the car in the wrong place: the Hurst Police Department parking lot.


One suspect made it about a hundred yards and the second got about 60 before Hurst police came pouring out of the police station and municipal court to apprehend the duo.

At least the drive to the jail didn't take long.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Should a $50 Theft Really Be A Felony?

The nation's poor economy continues to cause people to rethink criminal justice policy. This is probably a good thing. What was once unthinkable, such as questioning the wisdom of harsh prison sentences for minor drug offenses, is now being discussed in many circles. Even staunch law and order conservatives are wondering if the cost of incarceration is worth the huge sums of money it takes to clothe, house and feed prisoners convicted of minor offenses.

There's a story over at USA Today that indicates some states that are reconsidering the felony classification of certain property crimes in order to save money by prosecuting these crimes as misdemeanors.

State officials and criminal justice analysts said budget crises have forced state lawmakers, sometimes at political risk, to enact less punitive measures for criminal offenders. "Clearly one of the motivating factors is cost," said Alison Shames, associate director of the Center on Sentencing and Corrections for the Vera Institute of Justice, an advocacy group. "States are looking at the numbers of people in prison for property crimes and asking themselves a simple question: Does everybody really need to be there?"

Of course, the unspoken secret is that many of these "felony" offenses aren't really being punished as felony offenses. In the sleepy little burg where I work it's not unusual to see probation being handled out for second and third offenses of Burglary Of A Habitation which here in Texas is a second degree felony. For reference, Murder is a first degree felony.

I guess if you call it a second degree felony but the offender never makes it to the state prison then the lawmakers can call themselves tough on crime without actually having to write the check to pay for it. The offender gets a felony on his record and the county gets to pick up the cost of prosecuting said felon and housing him in the county lockup until he gets sentenced to probation.

And here in Texas we love to classify offenses as felonies even if we don't punish them like they're felonies. By some counts we're already up to over 2,000 felony offenses on the books. Maybe one day we'll rethink how we classify offenses and actually have a little truth in sentencing. Severe where it needs to be, but reasonable where it should be.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How To Explain Predictive Policing

There have been quite a number of news stories about predictive policing. I've written about so many recently, that I had to give my posts about them their own category tag. But the potential for predictive policing has been hard to explain.

This past weekend there was a story over at the Orlando Sentinel looking at Palm Beach County's experiment with predictive policing. In the piece there was this bit:

"If you're driving a car, [current data analysis] is a rear-view mirror," Palm Beach County Sheriff's Maj. Karl Durr said. "Predictive policing is looking forward in the front windshield.

"Law enforcement is constantly looking in rear-view mirror," he said, "and now we're looking forward."

That's probably the most concise analogy for the potential that predictive policing holds for law enforcement that I have seen so far.