Monday, December 31, 2012

Neighborhood Social Networks Are Crime Fighting Networks

Many police agencies are using social media to help connect with the communities they serve. had a great piece recently that looked at how police departments have taken this approach a step further by using localized or neighborhood social networks to fight crime.

The piece explains how a neighborhood in Oakland, CA used the neighborhood social network Nextdoor to share information about a pair of suspicious door to door salesman who were actually using their sales calls to plan and burglarize homes. Neighbors sharing this information with police led to their ultimate arrest.

Tools like Nextdoor and Nixle, a text and e-mail alert system used by police, are not just altering the landscape of social networking. They’re also changing the ways cities across the U.S. ensure safety — helping residents look out for one another, helping cops make highly targeted disclosures and inquiries, and turning the tables on criminals who have long availed themselves of sophisticated communications systems and carefully plotted strategies. The change is being driven less by cutting-edge technology than by new demands for police transparency, by budget cuts, and by calls for greater efficiency and efficacy on the part of law enforcement.

Police agencies have long used programs like organizing Neighborhood Watch programs to get citizens involved in making their community safer. One part about this that especially intrigues me about localized social networks is the fact that using this can help citizens who can't or won't attend traditional Neighborhood Watch meetings to participate. I don't know about you, but after working all day, attending another meeting is usually low on my list of priorities.

What is your agency doing to help engage citizens in making their neighborhoods safer?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Bill Bratton To Help Embattled Oakland Police

This ought to be good for Oakland. There was a story worth reading in the Oakland Tribune that said that former NYPD and LAPD Chief Bill Bratton has agreed to consult with Oakland officials to help turn around their troubled police department. 
Bratton has gained a reputation for turning around troubled departments by aggressively pursuing quality of life crimes and meticulously tracking crime data. 
He pioneered the CompStat crime tracking system that Oakland recently adopted. Bratton also has defended allowing police officers to "stop and frisk" suspects they believe were involved in a crime -- a tactic that has not been embraced in Oakland.
The story indicates that Bratton's job will be to review the city's crime tracking and to offer recommendations on how to build community trust in the department. I'm surprised that so many police departments need someone to tell them that community trust is critical to having an effective department. Without the support of the citizens you serve, no department will be effective at making the community safer.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Grokking Your System

A couple of years ago, I was asked to submit a post to a new crime analysis related blog. That blog is now defunct but I think there is still some value to be gained from the post so I am reposting it here.
  grok - To understand. Connotes intimate and exhaustive knowledge. When you claim to ‘grok’ some knowledge or technique, you are asserting that you have not merely learned it in a detached instrumental way but that it has become part of you, part of your identity. - The Jargon File, version 4.1.0, retrieved 3/14/2010
I was having a phone conversation the other day with a crime analyst from another agency. During our conversation, we were discussing the topic of hiring crime analysts and qualifications for analysts. During this conversation I told him that I have become convinced that what makes a crime analyst most valuable to their agency is their knowledge of their agency's system. To put it another way, a crime analyst must "grok their system".

The word "grok" originally was coined by a science fiction writer Robert Heinlein in one of his books. It later became part of the vernacular of geeks in the early days of computer science. It's a good word to use here in this context because it's probably the only word that really describes the level of knowledge that crime analysts should aspire to.
Defining The System?

While we're at it, let's dissect this assertion. What constitutes an agency's system? Your first thoughts are likely your department's computerized records management system or RMS. In fact, some agencies hire analysts with a computer science background. Today's law enforcement is heavily computerized.

Dispatchers use Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) systems to record calls for service and Mobile Data Terminals (MDT) to dispatch officers to calls. When officers complete offense reports, they are entered into an RMS, when they book people into jail, information is recorded into another database. In fact, nearly everything we do is entered into one database or another. Being able to extract information from all this stored data is important. But these databases are just a small part of your agency's "system".

Your agency’s procedures are also a part of the system, this includes both written policies and procedures and the unwritten practices. In fact, for many agencies the unwritten practices may be just as important if not more important. Knowing where to find a certain type of information may heavily depend on identifying the places that data is likely to be captured.

On a similar vein, knowing the personalities within your agency and how they fit into the system is also important. In practical terms, knowing who to call to find a piece of information is just as good as having that piece of information. The same thing applies to other law enforcement agencies and other departments within your own governmental body.

Why This Is Important 

It’s not just your book knowledge that makes a crime analyst valuable to their agency. While job descriptions for crime analysts often list things like knowledge of SQL, skills with a particular brand of GIS or the ability to administer a certain RMS they don’t list skills with agency’s system holistically. The reason for this is that this skill is a lot harder to quantify.

But because how much you grok your system is hard to measure, doesn’t mean that it can be ignored. A crime analyst is probably one of the few people in your agency that gets to see the whole picture. The Patrol guys are focused on Patrol functions, the detectives are focused on their casebook, and the administration is focused on providing resources. Crime analysts are or should be measuring and analyzing nearly every part of your department’s workflow. This clear view of the big picture often makes them the “go to guy” or gal in their agency.

As a crime analyst you should make sure that you completely understand your agency’s workflow from the moment someone calls 911 till the criminal case is disposed of in the courts. Anything less is not truly grokking your system.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Crime Analyst's GTD

A couple of years ago, I was asked to submit a post for a fledgling crime analysis blog. That blog is now defunct but I still think there is some value in the post, so I am reposting it here.

As a crime analyst, we are often the 'Go To Guy' (or gal) at our agencies. If your analytical shop is anything like mine, I have more things to do than I have time to do them and can barely keep up with the flood. Because of the huge volume of tasks that come our way, from projects from the Chief, requests from officers and detectives, inquiries by other agencies, professional development, etc. it often seems impossible to manage it all. But, analysts are normally analytical by nature and we devise any number of systems to keep up with all this.

Over the years, people have devised a number of systems to deal with their tasks. When computers became commonplace in the office, a whole new category of productivity software wasn't far behind. Unfortunately, many of them aren't much more advanced than a handwritten 'To Do list' on a piece of notebook paper. But, the solution is not always a fancy piece of software. In fact, a systematic approach to the problem is probably required to keep up with the huge volume of stuff we are being bombarded with daily.

Enter GTD

A couple of years ago I began searching for a better way to approach task management. I was reading a tech blog that referred to David Allen and his book Getting Things Done or GTD. I went out and purchased a copy of the book and read it. I was so excited by it, I immediately read it again, this time with a pencil in hand and filled my copy with underlines and notes throughout the relevant parts.

It’s not possible in this post to adequately cover Allen’s approach to workflow, focus or planning. However, Wikipedia has a pretty good synopsis of GTD which I would encourage you to read. Hopefully, this will whet your appetite and cause you to read Allen's book yourself.

The premise behind GTD is that your ability to do the many tasks that come your way is compromised when you are struggling to remember all these tasks and trying ensure that nothing slips through the cracks. By using an efficient systematized approach to recording them, responding to them and ensuring they will get accomplished, you can then take your focus off remembering, and devote your focus to accomplishing them.

The All Important Inbox

Part of what makes GTD effective is the defining an appropriate inbox for all your incoming items. If you get a request asking you to do something, it needs to go into your inbox immediately. Your inbox can take almost any form, a physical inbox, a folder in your email client, etc. The only rule is that it be the one place where all this incoming stuff gets put. This is part of what makes it reliable. It’s also important that it be convenient to drop stuff in so there will be no hesitancy to putting things there. You can have an inbox for each context; let’s say one for email, one for papers and one to jot down those items that don’t come in via email or snail mail. You should however, keep them to the least number you need to capture it all.

Then once a day you go through your inbox, if something can be done in 2 minutes or less, then do it right then. If not, it needs to be properly categorized and recorded in your task list. The reason for Allen’s two minute rule is that if it can be done in less than two minutes, it would likely take that long to properly record it on your task list.

Adapting For My Needs

There are a number of ways to 'do GTD'. I have adapted and somewhat simplified my GTD system in order to have it work best for me. At first, I was a little hesitant to do this. GTD is spoken of with a zealous and near reverential awe in some circles. This caused me to wonder, if I changed it up would it still work? Would it cause a huge explosion? Well, probably not. In fact, what I ended up with has worked so well for me I have continued to use and refine it for a number of years.

First, I stick to the same GTD workflow steps as outlined by Allen. In collection, there are three usual ways for my tasks to come into the system, email, paper or in person. Correspondingly, I have identical categories set up in my email client, a set of desktop hanging files and a spreadsheet file on the computer. If an item comes into my inbox, it gets processed and categorized into one of these categories:

  • Actions 
  • Projects 
  • Upcoming 
  • Waiting 
  • Someday 

The main list is kept in as a spreadsheet on my computer. If an item comes in from any source, it gets jotted down in the spreadsheet. This works well for me because I spend most of my workday at the computer. If for instance it came in via email, after it gets put on the list, the corresponding email is moved to the relevant category folder on my email client. The same with relevant paper documents, they go to the appropriate file folder so they can be found when needed.

The important thing is to devise a “list” that is relevant to how you work best, computer, notepad, index cards, and that it is readily available at all times during your workday. You can only get things off your mind if you have a reliable place to put them. That way you can focus your energies on completing the items on your list rather than trying to keep up with what you need to do and when. And if your shop is anything like mine, you can use all the mental energy you can get to stay on top of all the things that need doing.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Democratization of Crime Analysis

Here at the police department in the sleepy little burg where I work, we've been using a number of crime analysis applications from Bair Analytics. We started with the ATAC Workstation and then later added ATACRAIDS and RAIDSONLINE. I've been very pleased with these tools.

ATACRAIDS is an online crime analysis and mapping application. Crime data from your agency is uploaded to Bair nightly and then it's accessible via the ATACRAIDS web application. Essentially, it's a cloud based crime analysis and mapping application. This means that it can be easily deployed across the entire agency without having to install software on each and every computer. Additionally, since it's web based, you can access it via a tablet or other portable computer.

Back when we purchased it, my Deputy Chief said that it was like "adding a bunch of other analysts" to the department. By that he meant that a quick map or some basic crime analysis could be done by officers or supervisors themselves without having to tie my small crime analysis unit up on these tasks or to wait for us to have the time to get to their analysis. This would also allow us to focus on bigger projects that required our expertise.

Recently, Bair rolled out some changes to ATACRAIDS that really excited me. We've heard a lot of press about predictive policing technology. Essentially, predictive policing uses some the same data mining techniques that large companies use to try and predict where crimes are likely to occur in the future.

The new Prediction Zone feature was rolled out last Monday. I immediately used it to create a BOLO for my agency on a particular crime problem that we had been experiencing and it gave me a forecast zone that I distributed forecasting another one of these crimes within the week. By Wednesday, we had another crime right in the middle of the forecast zone. I don't know about you but I was pretty excited about that. In our very first use of this new Prediction Zone feature we saw that it worked.

The reason I think this is important for my agency is that now instead of having to wait for the crime analysis unit to create a BOLO and distribute it, an enterprising patrol officer or supervisor can run his own analysis to make a prediction of a future crime hotspot. Hopefully, this will enable him to know where he or she should spend their discretionary patrol time to try and interrupt a crime series or pattern without waiting on someone else to conduct the analysis.

Making simple to use crime analysis tools available as widely as possible at your agency democratizes crime analysis. This is very important. If a patrol officer or detective thinks they have to let the crime analysis unit do all crime analysis, and they think their task is not important enough for the crime analysis unit to tackle, they may not seek out analytical help. This could lead them to "flying blind" and not being as effective as they could be.

As crime analysts we should try to get crime analysis tools and knowledge into as many hands as possible at our departments. What are you doing to get analysis and analytical tools into the hands of your officers?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Too Many Passwords to Keep Up With? Use a Password Manager

As a crime analyst, I am often having to log in to various databases or websites as I search for information. This has lead to me ending up with around a hundred or so different accounts or log in's.

What makes it even worse is that in order to comply with many agency's security policies, users are forced to regularly change their passwords. Having a bunch of different username and passwords to keep up with can often lead to some poor security practices.

For some people, the way they deal with having many log in's is to reuse username and passwords. This is a really bad idea. Let me say that again, password reuse is a really bad idea.

If one account gets compromised, then an enterprising hacker will try your credentials on other popular services. Quite often, a hacked username and password on an unimportant account will work on one that is a lot more important to you if you've reused your passwords.

The way around password reuse is to use a password manager to keep up with all your account information. This allows you to safely store all these credentials without compromising security. Good password managers will use some pretty serious encryption technology to keep your password and usernames safe as well as include a feature to generate really secure random passwords.

One of my favorite password managers is KeePass. In addition to some really good encryption technology and a password generator, it also offers auto-type and other features to make logging into accounts a whole lot easier.

Another great feature is that KeePass can be run from a USB drive if you don't want to install the application to your computer, or you need to use it on multiple computers. Best of all, KeePass is free, open source software. You can find out more about KeePass here:

How are you keeping up with multiple passwords safely?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Using Google Alerts for Crime Analysis

Google Alerts Dialog
Last week, I did a post on RSS for Crime Analysts. In the article I touched on using Google Reader to view RSS feeds and mentioned how effective it was when used in conjunction with Google Alerts. This week, I want to expand on using Google Alerts to monitor the Internet, and news stories in particular for keywords. A couple of years ago, I posted this about Google Alerts which dovetails quite nicely with last week’s piece.

A number of Google's tools have found their way into my daily work product. One of the neatest in my Google bag of tricks is the use of Google Alerts.

Google Alerts allows you to monitor the web continuously for certain search terms. When Google crawls the web and finds new entries that meet those search terms you'll get an email notification. I use Google Alerts to continuously monitor Internet news stories for news articles about the town in which I work. Like most crime analysts, I also wear the Department's criminal intelligence analyst hat too. There is quite a bit of good information out there floating around on the Internet in news stories, blogs and websites.

The email notification can either be sent immediately or in digest form. Digest, means that all the relevant articles are aggregated into one email and sent together in one email. For me this digest format works the best. The email will have the article title, a snippet of the story, the source of the story and a link to the original article. If you use an RSS Feed Reader like Google Reader, you can have them sent as an RSS feed too.

While this is a good way to keep up on the local news coverage about police stories in my city, the real value comes when someone from our city goes and does something newsworthy somewhere else. A recent example proved it's worth when I opened my email to find a news story from a small town newspaper website in Indiana. The story recounted that police there had arrested a citizen of our city after the officer there made a highway interdiction traffic stop and discovered that our citizen had been smuggling a large quantity of narcotics through their city. When I checked our records, I discovered that we had also arrested him for narcotics charges and even had a pending case on him.

I then rang up the Indiana agency and asked them about our errant drug smuggler and even was able to provide copies of our cases to the agency for use in an upcoming court hearing. While speaking to their officer I learned that they had not called our agency and they were quite surprised to find out that we already knew about their two day old arrest. In addition to helping their agency understand more about the criminal they were dealing with, it allowed us to have a more complete picture of his activities as well.

In order to use Google Alerts, you need to have a free Google account. Once you have created a Google account and signed in, navigate your browser to the Google Alerts website.

The search terms I find works best is "police anytown anystate" substituting your city and state for "anytown" and "anystate". Select your preferences for frequency, delivery method, etc. You may also wish to create similar alerts for neighboring towns if your town is like mine and has adjacent communities.

Google has quite a comprehensive help file all the features of Google Alerts. It's worth a read if you want to get serious about using Google Alerts to stay on top of things.

Don't forget, while I am posting only once a week now here on the blog, I am also posting short pieces on my Google+ page and sending links to everything out on my Twitter feed. Circle me, follow me or just visit those pages to see those posts.

Monday, November 19, 2012

RSS For Crime Analysts

As a crime analyst I do quite a bit of reading. Much of it, is on various law enforcement, crime analysis or news websites. In order to keep up with all the new articles being posted I’ve become heavily dependant on using Really Simple Syndication or RSS to keep up with this deluge.

RSS is a web syndication format that allows a website to publish a feed of articles as they are published to the website. Software such as web browsers, email programs or dedicated RSS feed readers will periodically poll the RSS feed to determine if new posts have been published and will notify the user that an article has been published.

The RSS feed contains information about the post and even a summary or text from the post. By using an RSS feed reader, a user can use one application to check hundreds of website for new articles and then open or read only those stories that interest you without having to hop from website to website.

Using an RSS feed reader makes it possible for me to keep up with the items posted many websites without tying up a significant amount of time. I can also flag posts or articles that I want to read so I can go back to them later when it’s more convenient.

For instance, I think it’s important to keep up with news articles dealing with crime that are posted on all the local and regional media outlets. Crime stories that are posted about crimes in neighboring jurisdictions may become relevant to dealing with crime in my jurisdiction.

If criminals are committing a new type of crime in another part of Texas, it may not be long before the criminals in my city try their hand at it too. By monitoring crime stories posted around the state, I get a better handle on what is going on in my part of the state.

There are a number of RSS Feed readers out there. If you use Windows, Microsoft Outlook, it will handle RSS feeds as well as Internet Explorer. On the Mac side, up until OSX 10.7, both Safari and Mail had RSS capabilities. The latest versions of Mail and Safari no longer support RSS. However, there are a number of great RSS reader applications on OSX. I use NewsRack on my MacBook Pro because it syncs with my Google Reader account.

Which brings up my favorite RSS feed reader application, the web based Google Reader. Since it’s web based, I can keep up with my RSS feeds no matter what platform I am on. I can review them on my Windows desktop at work, on my MacBook Pro at home or on my iOS devices. I can also share articles to Twitter, Google+ or other social media outlets without leaving Google Reader.

The real power in using Google Reader comes when you pair it with Google Alerts to monitor the internet for stories based on keyword searches. I’ll cover Google Alerts in another post.

Here’s a couple of law enforcement related RSS feeds worth subscribing to get you started:

In addition to these, you’ll want to subscribe to RSS feeds from as many of your local news media websites as you can, along with all the major news outlets in your home state along with the big national news outlets such as CNN or the New York Times.

Do you use RSS to keep up with news as part of your workflow?

Don't forget, while I am posting less frequently here on the blog, I am also posting short pieces on my Google+ page and sending links to everything out on my Twitter feed. Circle me, follow me or just visit those pages to see those posts.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Changes to The Crime Analyst's Blog

Today is my 1300th blog post here at The Crime Analyst’s Blog. I started the blog in April of 2009 and have been posting five days a week and sometimes more often for that entire time. I’ve decided to make a few changes on the blog, and hopefully they will be for the better.

The most noticeable change is going to be that I am going to reduce the number of posts here on the blog from five days a week to once a week. I am doing this as it will allow me more time to write quality posts that will hopefully be more informative and interesting. I will schedule these posts to go live on Monday mornings.

In addition to the weekly longish form post here, I will also be sharing short posts, links, and other info relevant to crime analysis in the form of Google+ posts on my Google+ profile. As usual, links to all of them will be sent out via my Twitter feed as they are posted all throughout the week.

You don’t have to be on Google+ or Twitter in order to view the Google+ posts or tweets but if you are on those services, circle or follow me and join in on the conversation. You can also view my Twitter feed on the widget in the sidebar of the blog. Links to my profile pages on both those services are here:

I feel very honored to have you all as readers. I hope that these changes are for the better and that you will continue to grace me with your visits to the blog, emails, comments and criticisms. The past three and a half years have been a blast.

Friday, November 9, 2012

What Should The Feds Do About Pot?

This week saw not only politicians elected but several states added new laws to the books. One of the more interesting developments was that Colorado became the first state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. In addition to Colorado, the state of Washington also legalized the recreational use of pot and Massachusetts became the 18th state to legalize medical marijuana.

Of course it remains to be seen how the Federal government will respond as marijuana is still illegal under federal law. The Denver Post quoted Colorado Governor John Hickenloper with this:
"My sense is that it is unlikely the federal government is going to allow states one by one to unilaterally decriminalize marijuana," the governor said, adding, though, "You can't argue with the will of the voters."
It's going to be interesting to see how this plays out. It's pretty obvious that many folks don't think marijuana is as bad as it was once portrayed. I'm also not sure the feds are going to roll over and play dead on this issue anytime soon.

While I am not advocating the recreational use of marijuana, the enforcement of marijuana laws do eat up quite a lot of law enforcement resources. In my mind, I'd rather use those resources for violent crimes or those that victimize others. When you have law enforcement agencies laying off cops, I'd rather see the remaining ones dealing with more important issues than some aging hippie smoking a joint in his own home.

How long do you think it will take before more states follow Colorado and Washington's lead?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Austin Police Work To Mitigate Panhandling Downtown

I live and work just north of Austin, Texas so I get down there pretty often. It's a really unique place with a vibe that's best characterized by the unofficial slogan "Keep Austin Weird". The downtown 6th Street entertainment district is a world class tourist draw. Unfortunately, Austin is also having to deal with problems of aggressive panhandling and other public nuisance crimes. There were a couple of news stories this week that looked at what Austin Police are doing to try and solve these problems.

The first was a piece at the Austin Chronicle that had this bit about APD's Public Order Initiative:
The POI was not created to clean the streets in the run up to the Formula One race next weekend, Carter reiterated, but rather as a broken windows-style initiative, where police show zero tolerance for the kind of street-level crimes that can, unchecked, lead to a larger breakdown of public order and safety. Since the POI launch Sept. 20, police have made 48 felony arrests and have cited more than 1,900 for misdemeanor infractions.
Another story over at radio station KUT's website expands on the scope of the problem.
"The transient issue is not just downtown," McGovern says. "This is a city-wide issue, you can see them at every major on ramp and off ramp of every highway, major intersections. It is acute downtown because of all the social services that are concentrated in downtown. And those social services are overwhelmed which causes a lot of the transients to overflow onto the streets."
The Problem Oriented Policing Center has one of their great POP Guides that looks at Panhandling from a problem oriented policing perspective.  Nearly every city at some point will have to confront complaints about the homeless and aggressive panhandling. Even in the sleepy little burg where I work we regularly get complaints about this type of behavior in our downtown area.

Has your agency had to deal with an aggressive panhandling problem? What worked for your agency?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What's A Crime Really Worth?

There was an interesting opinion piece over at Wired Magazine that looked at the economics of crime and punishment. The piece discusses a court ruling giving California two years to solve their overcrowding and asks the question; Are the massive costs of incarceration worth it?
Assigning a price to an assault or a burglary might sound preposterous. We like to pretend that justice exists on a philosophical and moral plane separate from dollars and cents. Yet money is integral to the criminal justice system. Think of the way fines are imposed and damage awards assessed for injuries and wrongful death. New research suggests that we can, and should, measure the dollar value of capital-V values—things like freedom and the fear of crime—and trade them against one another in a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis.
The new economic realities are changing a number of our assumptions about crime and criminal justice. Cash strapped police departments are now having to fine tune their operations to get the greatest effect with the least amount of resources. Inefficient ways of tackling crime problems are being phased out as departments are forced to do more with less.

What do you think a crime is really worth?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Budget Motel Owner Fighting Forfeiture Over Criminal Activity

There was a story this weekend over at the San Francisco Chronicle that looked at efforts by the owner of a Boston area budget motel to fight a forfeiture action on his motel by law enforcement in that community.
The U.S. government has moved to take the Motel Caswell, a $57-per-night budget motel, under a law that allows for the forfeiture of properties connected to crimes. The government says the motel should be shut down because of drug dealing by some of its guests.
In many communities, poorly managed budget motels are hotbeds of criminal activity. Even in the sleepy little burg where I work we have motels that are notorious for the amount of crime being committed in and around them. These types of crime generators can really be a blight on a community.

Forfeiture actions are usually the end of very long efforts to moderate the negative effects these businesses have on a community. The Problem Oriented Policing Center has a great POP Guide that covers Problem Oriented Policing strategies to mitigate these problem businesses. You can read it online or download a copy  here.

Does your community struggle with crime in and around a budget motel? What has your agency found successful in combating these problems? 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Is The Future Of Predictive Policing Behavioral Data?

There was a recent article over at the website Government Technology that looked at the future for predictive policing. In the piece, several prominent International Association of Crime Analysts members were quoted on their opinions on where predictive policing was headed.

Analysts currently identify crime trends using statistical data on arrests and 911 calls. Based on that information, police commanders deploy officers to areas they believe will be hot spots for illegal activities. But while predictive in nature, the effort is largely reactionary based on past events.

In the future, behavioral data and clues from virtual interactions may help cops stop bad guys before they’ve even drawn up a plan. Think Minority Report — the 2002 film where a police unit was able to arrest murderers before they committed a crime — on a more realistic scale.

It's a long piece but if your interested in where predictive policing technology might be going, you might want to give it a look.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Crime May Be Down, But Not In These Cash Strapped Cities

Earlier this week, the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports program released their annual Crime In The United States report that showed that both violent and non-violent crime decreased in 2011. This is a good thing. However, in some cash strapped US cities the news isn't quite so good. CNN had a piece this week that looked at how some of these cities are struggling with violent crimes as their limited budgets have caused cutbacks in their police departments. 
"We're now having that frank public conversation about what do we want from government and how much do we want to pay for it," said Brookings Institution fellow Tracy Gordon. 
Law enforcement typically makes up large portions of most municipal budgets and is often considered a prime target for cutbacks. 
"Every department is facing the same kind of issues of downsizing," said Newark Police Director Samuel DeMaio. "Everybody has significantly less amount of police officers and you know there has to be a point where that comes to an end."
It's probably a given that slashing police budgets in these urban cities is having a negative effect on crime reduction in these communities. I hope that we can see things turn around before things get so bad that the gains we've made nationally are wiped out by pockets of off the charts crime.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy Publishes Research One Page Summaries

One thing I think is really important for crime analysts is to keep up with your professional reading on crime and crime analysis. I'm always looking for new sources of good information relating to our profession. I recently was pointed to George Mason University's Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy. On the CEBCP website they have a section for one page summaries of research conducted by the center.

There are lots of great summaries of CEBCP on the site dealing with research on Crime and Place, Policing and Law Enforcement and other topics. You can view the Research One Page Summaries here.

A tip of the hat to Julie Wartel at the IACA Email Discussion list for the heads up on this site.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Setups Common in Delivery Driver Robberies

The Baltimore Sun had a piece this week that looked at pizza delivery driver robberies in Baltimore. In this story was this bit worth commenting on:
Baltimore police have since provided data on these robberies, showing that in nearly two-thirds of them, the food order was placed as a ruse and with the intention of committing a robbery. 
Police said there have been 66 food delivery driver robberies this year, and in 42 of them, investigators believe the robbers placed the order. In the other 24 robberies, police believe the driver was ambushed as he made a legitimate order. 
In all, robberies of delivery drivers represent about one-sixth of all commercial robberies reported in Baltimore this year.
In the sleepy little burg where I work we have quite a number of restaurants that do a brisk business with food delivery. We also get a number of delivery drivers who are robbed as they make their delivery. I'd probably not be too far off if I'd say that the majority of our delivery driver robberies were setup robberies like they were in Baltimore.

Because of the nature of these crimes, the key to reducing them probably lies in prevention. This will require these businesses to make some small changes to their procedures to prevent their employees from becoming a victim.

In many of the delivery driver robberies that my agency has investigated, not uncommon for the delivery to be called in and the call back number provided to the business to be fake. It's also common for the delivery was sent to a vacant residence.  If the business would make it a practice to call the call back number back they would discover the suspicious call back number prior to sending their employee out.

They also need to encourage their employees to drive by the delivery location without stopping before stopping to attempt the delivery. This would give them an opportunity to examine the surroundings and abandon the delivery attempt if things just don't look right.

The Charlotte - Mecklenburg Police Department has a great one page prevention tip sheet for these types of robberies. You can snag a copy here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

2011 FBI UCR Numbers Released

Lost in all the news about Hurricane Sandy was that the FBI released the 2011 Crime In The United States statistics yesterday. These crime numbers are from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports program which counts the numbers of crimes reported to police. Some highlights of the numbers were:
The 2011 statistics show that the estimated volumes of violent and property crimes declined 3.8 percent and 0.5 percent, respectively, when compared with the 2010 estimates. The violent crime rate for the year was 386.3 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants (a 4.5 percent decrease from the 2010 rate), and the property crime rate was 2,908.7 offenses per 100,000 persons (a 1.3 percent decrease from the 2010 figure).
These crime stats come on the heals of the release of the National Crime Victim's Survey data that was released a couple of weeks ago. Where UCR counts actual crimes reported to police, the NCVS surveys people to ask about victimization and would include crimes that people did not report to police. The NCVS estimated that violent crime numbers were up, where the FBI UCR data shows that violent crime was down.

Of course the release of the UCR data means that all the media outlets not covering the hurricane on the East Coast can now start ranking their community against other communities. In spite of the FBI warning that this media bloodsport is overly simplistic and not recommended, I'm sure they will do it anyway.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Ups and Downs of Milwaukee's Differential Police Response Program

The website had a very interesting article that looked at Milwaukee Police and their Differential Police Response program. This program was put in place to reduce police response to calls that could be handled other ways.

“When your computer breaks, they don’t send a guy to your house to fix your computer,” says Flynn. “You dial a number and some very nice person in India tells you what to do with your computer.” Instead of dispatching “the armed authority of the state to your living room,” he reasoned, there was no reason that for certain types of calls -- nuisance or noise complaints or stolen property reports -- a police officer couldn’t handle it by picking up the phone and making a call.

As you can imagine, the DPR program has had successes as well as it's critics. The piece is a long one but one that is worth the read.

I've written at length on how the new economic reality has forced many departments to rethink how they respond to calls and what type of calls they will respond to. Yet, even the minor calls are often important to the citizens making them. While we need to avoid responding to some calls, we can't always do so at the risk of alienating the citizens we serve. Finding the middle ground between what we should respond to and what we shouldn't is important.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Fake Survey Nabs Cold Case Murder Suspect

Parka Lewis / wikipedia / CCbySA3.0
I love it when cold case homicides get solved. Time Magazine had an interesting story on an inventive ruse used to get a DNA sample from the suspect in a 36 year old homicide case.
Gary Sanford Raub, who was an initial suspect in the killing of Maine woman Blanche M. Kimball, was fooled into providing a DNA sample to local law enforcement officers when he was asked to participate in a seemingly innocuous chewing gum survey, according to the Seattle Times.
Score one for the good guys.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Chicago Police Ready To Change The Way 911 Calls Are Routed

Wikimedia / Public Domain
Last week the Chicago Sun Times reported on a plan by Chicago Police to change how they respond to 911 calls. Right now, CPD sends officers to nearly 70% of the calls received by their 911 Call Center.
“The effort is to put police officers on crimes — preferably crimes in progress or to prevent crimes — rather than tying them up with administrative duties,” Schenkel told aldermen during City Council budget hearings. “The intention is to shift those administrative duties as much as possible to officers on the phone who can take reports and provide a police report number for the individual calling,”
With the problem economy we've seen a number of agencies that are looking for ways to reduce the number of calls that their officers respond to. Some agencies have shifted calls to telephone report centers staffed by civilians who can take reports on the phone. Other agencies have fielded solutions that allow citizens to file police reports online. Some agencies have even quit responding to calls that aren't criminal or a public safety issue such as funeral escorts.

Whatever the method your agency takes, it's not a bad idea to examine where your limited resources are being utilized and find ways to make them more available for their primary mission, making your community safer.

What has your agency done to reduce unnecessary police calls?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

NOVA Science Now Asks: Can Science Stop Crime?

This is really interesting. The PBS show NOVA Science Now did an episode entitled Can Science Stop Crime? There were a number of segments in this show including a really good one on Texas State University's body farm where scientists study what happens to human bodies after death.

Watch Can Science Stop Crime? on PBS. See more from NOVA scienceNOW.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Geography And Crime: What Should Cops Give The Public?

Wikimedia (Public Domain)
The Atlantic Cities had an interesting story last week that asked the question Is it harmful to release gang maps? The story covered efforts by media organizations to obtain, map and publish maps about gang territories in Chicago.
Criminal justice professor John Hagedorn of the University of Illinois at Chicago counters that the fear that gang maps will incite violence is overstated. For starters, the gangs know their boundaries much better than the police do. Additionally, the territories are regularly changing: the new WBEZ map uses information from the 2011 Gang Book, reflecting 2010 data, and as a result may be woefully outdated.

"Publishing a map in a magazine … or in a newspaper is related to no violence at all," he says.

Gang maps created by media organizations might not be harmful, but that doesn't mean they're helpful either. Earlier this year Chicago magazine created an overlay map of gang territory and homicides, suggesting a direct causal connection between the two. The maps blog Carticulate criticized the magazine for oversimplifying a complex situation.
While I don't believe that gang members are going to look at a gang map published in the newspaper like a dictator planning world conquest, there are other issues that make the release of this kind of data problematic. If you release a map showing gang activity in a certain neighborhood, are you labeling all the people who live there as gang members or at least as suspect? If maps like this cause people to leave or businesses to relocate are you exacerbating the situation?

Personally I believe that law enforcement agencies need to be as transparent as possible with crime data. The benefits of informing the public what is going on in their community is necessary if you are going to partner with your community in reducing crime. Sometimes that may mean that some neighborhoods get slighted when a big blob of dots indicating crime activity shows up on a map. Most times the residents already know that their are problems in their neighborhood. However, we need to ensure that we're using the maps as a catalyst to change the conditions in those neighborhoods for the better.

Does your agency release crime maps to the community you serve? If so, what kind of data do you release?

Monday, October 22, 2012

An Increase In Crime Isn't The Most Troubling Aspect Of The National Crime Victimization Survey

by Chordboard / Wikimedia / CC by SA 3.0
Last week saw the release of the US DOJ Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey. The results of the survey are somewhat troubling. In the BJS press release they included these findings:
Between 2010 and 2011, the rate of violent victimization increased 17 percent, from 19.3 to 22.5 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older. The increase in total violence was due to a 22 percent increase in the number of aggravated and simple assaults. There was no statistically significant change in the number of rapes or sexual assaults and robberies.

While the percentage change in violent crime from 2010 to 2011 is relatively large, the actual difference between the rates for those years (3.3 victimizations per 1,000) is below the average annual change in violent crime (4.3 victimizations per 1,000) over the past two decades. The low rates make the percentage change large, but crime still remains at historically low levels. Since 1993, the rate of violent victimization declined 72 percent.
The Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) is a different way of counting and estimating crime. Where the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) program counts crimes reported to law enforcement, the NCVS relies on surveying a representative sample of the public and asking them about crime victimization.

While most news stories about the NVCS reported on the troubling increase in violent crimes reported compared to last year, I think one of the real important parts of the survey is looking at how many crimes are actually reported to police. The NCVS had this bit that is worth noting:
In 2011, 49 percent of violent victimizations and 37 percent of property victimization were reported to police. From 2010 to 2011, there was no statistically significant change in the percentage of violent victimizations reported to the police. The percentage of property victimizations reported to the police declined from 39 percent in 2010 to 37 percent in 2011.
Did you see that? Less than half of all violent crimes are reported to police and just a little over one third of non-violent crimes are reported to police. I find this lack of reporting to be very problematic. If crimes are not being reported to police, it is very hard for the police to do anything about them.

As law enforcement agencies, we need to ensure that we are encouraging people to report crimes and to ensure that we make this process as convenient for them as possible. It's only when we have the most accurate information about crime in our communities that we can adequately address it.

What is your agency doing to encourage people to report crimes?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Ever Wonder When The Police Blotter Got It's Start?

Open Clip Art Library / CC0 1.0

Just in case you ever wondered about how "Police Blotter" reporting started, Texas Monthly had this bit in a piece on the Lufkin Daily News and their blotter
The modern American police blotter was born in 1833, when George W. Wisner, a pioneering New York crime reporter, began regaling readers of the Sun with pithy one-liners from the city’s 4 a.m. hearings. Almost 180 years later, Wisner’s droll sensibility lives on, nearly unchanged, in the blotter of the Lufkin Daily News, a wry account of the strange, sad, and surprising misdemeanors and felonies that afflict the city of 35,000 deep in the Piney Woods of East Texas.
Police work is a lot like crime reporting. There is the occasional lurid headlining story but most of it is boring, repetitious and often times weird.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 60 - Contribute To The Store Of Knowledge

Back in 2009, I did a series of posts covering the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. The book is published by the US DOJ's Problem Oriented Policing Center (POP Center). Because of the value I think this book has for crime analysts, and policing in general, I am going to re-post this series on here on the blog.

This is the final post in our collective walk through the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. In this post, we're going to look at Step 60 - Contribute to the store of knowledge.

With the advent of the Internet the store of knowledge for crime analysis is much more accessible than it's ever been. Now, it's possible for a police officer in a small one or two man department to access the same publications that were once only available to academics or crime analysts from large departments that could afford to send them to professional conferences. This is a great thing.

However, for this store of knowledge to remain relevant, it's important that it continue to grow and evolve as policing does. As we develop new solutions to crime problems, we need to ensure that these are communicated not only to our agency, but to others so that they can learn from our experience or expand on what we have done.

The authors discuss a number of ways we can to this, through websites, conferences or via networks of crime analysts and professional newsletters or journals. They also include a pretty good outline that will help to effectively communicate your findings and increase this store of knowledge. The basic outline goes like this:

  1. Dissatisfaction with the old situation - why the standard understanding or practice is insufficient in particular circumstances.
  2. Search for alternatives - how a new understanding or practice was discovered.
  3. Evidence supporting alternatives - comparison of old and new approaches.
  4. Conclusions and implications - summary of what people should consider, given this new information.
Another added benefit of putting this down into words is that we tend to learn more when we put it down into words. In fact, my covering the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers here on the blog started because I wanted to learn the material contained in the book better than I would have by just reading it.

What are you doing to contribute to the store of knowledge?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

When Things Are Bad, Would You Pay For More Cops?

Photo by: Zuzu / Wikimedia / CCbySA3.0
We've all watched as Detroit and other Rust Belt communities struggle with economic woes. These economic problems have hit police departments hard as agencies lay off or reduce the number of cops on the beat. There was a piece over at The Detroit News that looked at a poll of Detroit residents about public safety.
The survey found that 41 percent of residents identified a lack of police on patrols as the biggest safety problem, followed by abandoned houses, 23 percent, and gangs, 10 percent.

A strong majority — 60 percent — said they would pay more in taxes for more police and firefighters. The city's police force has fallen to 2,100 officers from 2,700 in 2005.
Prior to this survey being released the Detroit City Council blocked a move to raise taxes in order to pay for more police. It will be interesting to see if their city government gives in and reverses course. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 59 - Become An Effective Presenter

Back in 2009, I did a series of posts covering the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. The book is published by the US DOJ's Problem Oriented Policing Center (POP Center). Because of the value I think this book has for crime analysts, and policing in general, I am going to re-post this series on here on the blog.

We've almost completed our journey through the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. In this post, we're going to look at Step 59 - Become an effective presenter. Just like nearly everything else in life, giving an effective presentation is something that is learned. You can just get up and "wing it" and expect to be effective.

Giving an effective presentation is really important. We can do great analysis and come up with a novel and potentially effective problem solving solution, but if all this is lost in a poorly executed presentation what good is it?

The authors have some tips on effective presentation techniques. They include things like:

  • Thoroughly prepare.
  • Understand the venue where you will give your presentation. Learn what tools are available and how to use them. Modern presentation equipment can be complex and failure-prone.
  • At minimum, make sure your audience does not have to work to overcome your style to understand your presentation.
  • PowerPoint and other similar presentation software allow the audience to receive the information simultaneously in two modes: visually and aurally. However, there are dangers and limitations to using presentation software. Know what they are and how to avoid it.
  • Assume things will go wrong! Have a backup plan for when they do.
The entire chapter has a laundry list of things like these and more that will help you to make an effective presentation. I encourage you to read the chapter for yourself. In fact, it might even make a great checklist to go over prior to giving your presentation.

The next step we cover will be our last in this series. We'll cover Step 60 - Contribute to the store of knowledge.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Minnesota Burglars Targeted Homes Of The Dead

Photo: Timothy Valentine/Wikimedia Commons/CCbySA2.0
We've all heard the crime prevention advice about not advertising that you'll be on vacation by doing things like having your mail stopped, have a neighbor pick up your newspapers and the like and put your lights on a timer. That's all great advice but it probably wouldn't work with these two Minnesota burglars. According to the story over at The Pioneer Press TwinCities.Com these two enterprising burglars were using obituaries to target homes for break ins.
Contreras told police they've employed the same method on other occasions -- looking up obituaries and then using phone books or public property records to locate addresses. Contreras' girlfriend said he uses Google to see pictures of the outside of homes "to determine whether or not is it a suitable target," according to the criminal complaints.
I'm not sure how you go about making your house look lived in when you are no longer living.

Friday, October 12, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 58 - Organize Powerful Presentations

Back in 2009, I did a series of posts covering the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. The book is published by the US DOJ's Problem Oriented Policing Center (POP Center). Because of the value I think this book has for crime analysts, and policing in general, I am going to re-post this series on here on the blog.

We've got three steps to go in our walk through the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers and in this post we are up to Step 58 - Organize powerful presentations.

In this post the authors focus on organizing an effective presentation using PowerPoint. There are a number of ways to give an effective presentation and there are also a number of valid criticisms of PowerPoint. Mostly, it's in how the software is employed as opposed to the medium itself. The reality is, much to the consternation of Edward Tufte, PowerPoint is the standard for giving presentations so it makes sense that the authors gear this chapter to the use of PowerPoint.

The authors start this chapter with this bit:

The main focus of your presentation should be to answer specific questions that will aid decision-making, and it should consist of the following:
  • A set of slides organized around your story.
  • A graphical motif or outline slide to keep your audience focused on the story.
Your presentation should, as we learned in Step 54, tell a clear story. You already know the story, because you have studied the problem, examined a number of possible solutions and and likely come to a conclusion about which one will best handle the problem. Now, you need to guide your audience through the story. A well organized presentation will help keep your audience "focused on the story" and keep them from "getting lost in the details".

There was also this one great little bit of advice from the authors:
Most decision-makers are not as interested as you are in the methods you used to analyze your problem. Therefore, do not spend a great deal of time describing your methods, unless this is the objective of the presentation. Rather, summarize the main elements (see slide 4). You can prepare separate slides about methods, held in reserve, should audience members have questions about your methods.
We've all sat through tedious presentations, whether they are overly technical, overly simplistic or just not well organized. It is important that as a problem solving crime analyst, we have the ability to give an effective presentation. The authors have some graphics and a detailed description of an effective presentation in the chapter, hit the link to read it.

Next time, we'll cover Step 59 - Become an effective presenter.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Seattle PD Tweet the Mundane and Exciting Parts of Policing

The New York Times had a great piece looking at the efforts of Seattle Police to send information about their police calls out over the social media service Twitter. There are a number of agencies that tweet major crime and incident data but this is likely the first effort that each of SPD's reporting beat areas has their own automated Twitter feed. 
“More and more people want to know what’s going on on their piece of the rock,” said the chief of police, John Diaz. “They want to specifically know what’s going on in the areas around their home, around their work, where their children might be going to school. This is just a different way we could put out as much information as possible as quickly as possible.”
Personally, I think efforts like this are great. Letting the public know what's going on in their community is the best way to get them involved in making their neighborhoods safer places to live and work. Traditional media can't always cover minor incidents in such a granular way.

More and more police departments are using social media to connect and communicate with the citizens they serve. The International Association of Chiefs of Police recently released the results of a survey of social media use by police agencies. A majority of the law enforcement agencies surveyed reported they were using social media to solve crime or to improve community relations.

How does your agency use social media? If not, why not?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 57 - Use Simple Figures

Back in 2009, I did a series of posts covering the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. The book is published by the US DOJ's Problem Oriented Policing Center (POP Center). Because of the value I think this book has for crime analysts, and policing in general, I am going to re-post this series on here on the blog.

In this post we're up to Step 57 - Use simple figures in our journey through the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. The past several chapters I've posted on deal with communicating effectively. Being able to communicate effectively is so critical to the role of a crime analyst that it is often included in the job descriptions I see from agencies that hire crime analysts.

In my last post we looked at Step 56 - Use simple tables. Closely related to tables are figures such as charts. In fact, in Microsoft Excel, where many analysts generate their charts and graphs, there are a number of default chart options that include tables with the charts or figures. But the same advice we saw given by the authors in the last step, "keep it simple" applies in this step also.

The authors go over a number of example charts and point out what makes them good or bad. I would encourage you to hit the link and read the whole chapter. One of the best parts of this chapter is this list of advice for Designing Effective Figures:

  • Keep them simple. Don't over-package.
  • Do not use superficial effects, like 3-D.
  • Avoid pie charts.
  • Use bar charts for data that comes in categories.
  • Use line graphs for trends over time.
  • Use labels effectively.
  • Choose titles carefully.
  • Make them stand on their own, without help from the text.
Next time, we'll look at Step 58 - Organize powerful presentations.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Study Adds More Fuel To The Red Light Camera Debate


Traffic enforcement is one part of law enforcement that raises the public's ire. While the public doesn't mind cops cracking down on murderers or burglars, cracking down on traffic offenses can get the public hoping mad. Part of this is because most people aren't going to commit a murder or break into a building. However, nearly everyone has committed a traffic violation at some point.

When law enforcement introduced automated traffic enforcement such as speed cameras or red light cameras there were even more howls of protest. It's one thing to get caught fair a square by a real cop, but it was something else entirely to get a red light camera ticket. Here's in Texas there were calls  on the legislature to outlaw the cameras and some communities even voluntarily removed the cameras because of the backlash.

As the public and policy makers debate these cameras there have been conflicting studies about the efficacy of these enforcement tools. This may not be the last word in the debate over the cameras but there was a piece over at The Atlantic Cities that looked at a recent study relating to them that was interesting.
In nearly 2,800 light cycles, about a quarter of all last cars to enter the intersection went through on green, and 63 percent on yellow. The remaining 12 percent crossed on red — but when the cameras were still on, that rate was only 3 percent. (At intersections that never had cameras, the last-driver-through crossed on red 14 to 15 percent of the time.)

That finding alone wasn't terribly surprising: when punishment for a behavior goes from nearly certain to random at best, you expect the behavior to increase. What intrigued (and unsettled) the researchers was how quickly drivers reverted to red-light running form. In the immediately aftermath of the law's expiration, the risk of someone running a red light at an intersection was three times higher than it had been when cameras were on.
This won't stop the debate or the general public's distaste for automated traffic cameras but it is worth taking into account nonetheless.

Monday, October 8, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 56 - Use Simple Tables

Back in 2009, I did a series of posts covering the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. The book is published by the US DOJ's Problem Oriented Policing Center (POP Center). Because of the value I think this book has for crime analysts, and policing in general, I am going to re-post this series on here on the blog.

The last section of Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers consists of seven steps that all center around communicating effectively. We've already went through two of them, Step 54 - Tell a clear story and Step 55 - Make clear maps. In this post we're going to look at Step 56 - Use simple tables.

Back in Step 54, I touched on the role that analysts have in helping their agency make sound decisions. In order for your agency to arrive at sound decisions they must have the knowledge necessary to arrive at a conclusion. I also posited that there is a path that data takes in becoming knowledge. To reiterate,

  1. Data becomes information when it is analyzed.
  2. Information becomes knowledge when it is communicated effectively.
Number 1 usually occurs in the offices of a crime analysis unit. Number 2 can occur in any number of venues, from a crime bulletin, a written report or in an effective PowerPoint presentation. Regardless of the venue, it is possible for the medium to get in the way of the message and hinder the transfer of information.

Most police departments are heavily dependent on computer software and crime analysis units are no exception. Most software packages nowadays have a huge number of bells and whistles for formatting and presenting data. However, just because your software gives you a hundred different ways to format a table, doesn't mean you should use as many of them as you can. In fact, the most important factor in designing a table has more to do with how the information is laid out as opposed to how it is formatted. That being said, keep in mind that simple formatting is usually better, don't let the formatting get in the way of your information.

The authors have a few principles for what makes a good table:
A problem often has multiple causes. Though tables can be constructed to show large numbers of causes, a single table communicates poorly when you examine more than two causes. The basic principles of table construction remain the same:
  • All the causes go in the same direction (usually columns).
  • Summation goes in the direction of the cause (down columns).
  • Comparison of causes goes in the opposite direction (across rows, if causes are in columns).
The authors present several examples of tables and walk through what elements make for a good table. I encourage you to hit the link and read the chapter for yourself to see what they believe to be a simple but effective table.

Next time, we'll cover Step 57 - Use simple figures.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Crime Analysis: Where Science And Policing Intersect

Last week there was a great quote by International Association of Crime Analysts President Susan Smith in the Palm Springs news outlet in a story about the use of crime analysis by police agencies in the Coachella Valley. Susan had this to say: 
Crime analysis has grown in the last two decades to become central to police departments across the nation, said Susan Smith, incoming president of the Kansas-based International Association of Crime Analysts.

“Researching and policing has become a science,” she added. “We can actually understand why one area is more problematic than another, and we can actually do something to fix it.”
The field of crime analysis has grown significantly in the 20+ years I have been in law enforcement. Police agencies are turning to crime analysts more and more as they seek to become more efficient at making their communities safer. Where once you only found crime analysts in large agencies, now even smaller departments are fielding crime analysis units.

If your agency is seeking to develop a crime analysis program, there are some great resources available through the International Association of Crime Analysts. One place to start would be the IACA Development Center website. Information on creating a mission statement, hiring an analyst, CALEA accreditation etc. can all be found there.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 55 - Make Clear Maps

Back in 2009, I did a series of posts covering the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. The book is published by the US DOJ's Problem Oriented Policing Center (POP Center). Because of the value I think this book has for crime analysts, and policing in general, I am going to re-post this series on here on the blog.

This post, Step 55 - Make Clear Maps, in our walk through Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers is closely related to the last post, Step 54 - Tell A Clear Story. In fact, given the prevalence of GIS technology and crime maps in most police departments, I'm not sure that you could tell a clear story without making a map. It seems like I am constantly being asked to produce maps for my department. I really think this is a good thing. Maps, help to tell your story and provide context for the information you provide.

To do this, your maps need to help clarify the story you are telling and not "muddy the waters". The authors offer this advice about making maps:

Maps have an important role in telling compelling stories about problems. But they need to be clear to accomplish this. That is, maps must contain as much relevant information as possible and no irrelevant information.
At one time, making maps with a GIS was something that was probably left to someone with special GIS or cartographic skills. However, nowadays with simple to use free tools such as Google Earth or ArcGIS Explorer, it doesn't require the training to make maps that it once did. The downside is that the formal GIS training often included education on proper cartographic principles that made for clear, easy to read maps.

The authors have eight tips for making good maps:
  1. Know what information your audience will find useful (and what information is confusing).
  2. Keep maps simple. Eliminate all features that do not contribute to understanding the problem.
  3. Avoid graphics that draw more attention to themselves than the data.
  4. Include details that help the viewer understand the problem, even if that means adding this information by hand.
  5. Include a scale and, if needed, a compass orientation (usually North is to the top).
  6. Use meaningful gradations to show intensity of hot spots. For example show colors becoming increasingly hot (yellow to red) as the problem worsens.
  7. Apply the correct dimension of crime concentration: dots for places (and sometimes victims); lines for concentrations along streets and highways; and areas for neighborhoods.
  8. Make use of tables and figures along with maps.
It may also help to look at maps others have created to see what makes for a good map. ESRI, the company that makes ArcGIS software has a great series, the ESRI Map Book that has some of the best maps from various industries showcased in it's pages. You can view the Map Book online for free at the link.

Next time, we'll cover Step 56 - Use Simple Tables.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Hit Products Often Come With A Price

It seems like at least once a year, Apple Computer comes out with a hot new product that has people lined up outside the local Apple Store. Recently it was for the latest iteration of the iPhone. Of course with this popularity with consumers comes a more nefarious popularity. There was a story over at the tech news site CNET that looked at just how popular iOS devices have become with thieves in New York City.
The latest data from the New York City Police Department shows that iPhone and iPad thefts have soared 40 percent this year so far, compared with the same period last year.

Between January 1 and September 23 of this year, a total of 11,447 cases of stolen iDevices were reported to the New York City police, a rise of 3,280 over 2011, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said in a report sent to CNET.
In crime analysis, when a product becomes the frequent target of thieves, they are often referred to by the acronym CRAVED. This 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 (see box).
  • 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.
If you know the items that are CRAVED in your jurisdiction or what the next hot gadget will be, you can focus your efforts on preventing or reducing the crimes that target these items.  NYPD is focusing some of their resources on helping people to avoid becoming a victim of thieves targeting these devices such as with this video.

What is your agency doing to reduce the number of thefts associated with these CRAVED items?