Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"Intelligence Led Prosecution" Leads To Smarter Prosecutions

Now this is an interesting use of a crime analyst: There's a story over at the South Carolina news outlet IslandPacket.com that has this innovative use of a crime analyst's skills; helping prosecutors dig deeper into a defendant's background.
Hightower's training gives him access to SLED resources worth millions of dollars. He uses them to "dig a little deeper" and pass the information to prosecutors, so they can argue for higher bonds or for no bond at all.  
And what Hightower finds out can also be used at trial to make the case for harsher sentences, Stone said.  
"What I needed was an objective way to determine who is the worst of the worst and, on a real-time basis, at 7 in the morning," Stone said. "These are not the people you want out -- these are hardened criminals."  
Hightower is the first SLED-trained crime analyst hired by a state solicitor's office, according to SLED spokeswoman Kathryn Richardson.

This is the first time I have heard of a crime analyst being employed directly by a prosecutor's office. Many analysts working for individual law enforcement agencies help their agency and prosecutors when working on cases that their agency has investigated. For example I regularly provide maps and other analytical products when are our cases are getting ready to go to trial.

I can see the value in having an analyst that helps prosecutors prioritize cases they have for prosecution. Just like crime analysts help cops with smarter rather than harder, a crime analyst working at a prosecutor's office can help them to be more efficient with the limited resources they have as well.

What other innovative ways have you seen crime analysts employed?

WhatRe
ad mTore e: http://www.islandpacket.com/2012/01/28/1944911/crime-analyst-helps-solicitors.html#storylink=cpy

Monday, January 30, 2012

Should A Murder Victim's Past Matter?

There was an AP news story over at Yahoo News this weekend that brings up the question posed in this post; Should a murder victim's past matter? The news story covers a recent change in policy by New Orleans Police who are now releasing all the details of a murder victim's past with regards to their criminal history.

New Orleans police say revealing a victim's rap sheet lets the public know that much of the violence is happening between people with similar criminal backgrounds. Families of the slain victim's say the practice is insensitive, and others outraged with the policy say it has racial overtones and sends a message that the victims got what was coming to them.

"I don't understand why they want to do it," said Kathryn White, whose 25-year-old son was gunned down in what she said was a case of mistaken identity. White said her son was arrested just once for a small amount of marijuana.

"You are already in so much pain and then you have to see people saying bad things about your dead child. What good does that do anyone," she said.

This is really a conundrum for police. Regardless of a victim's past, nothing they might have done makes it acceptable for them to die. However, certain lifestyle choices may make it more likely that one is going to become a victim of violent crime. For example, if you are not a prostitute, you are probably less likely to become the victim of a serial killer. Likewise, if you are not a drug dealer, you are probably less likely to be the victim of a drug ripoff robbery with all the violence associated with that.

Police are often stuck trying to reassure a nervous public of their safety after a lurid news story about violent crime hits the press. The news story is probably not going to tell the whole story about these crimes. When was the last time you saw a news story about a murder where the victim's mother tearfully told a reporter that her son was a drug dealer who ripped off his supplier before he was killed?

It is not possible for police to protect you from crime if you are willingly going to engage in questionable behavior. That doesn't make your death any more acceptable. However, it does explain why these awful crimes happen sometimes.

That being said, I think police agencies need to think long and hard about releasing information about a victim's past. Just because a murder victim got busted for weed years ago doesn't mean that he was doing anything wrong when he got killed. Releasing irrelevant information about a victim's past is only likely to hurt the victim's family and set the community where they lived against you.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Veterans In Crisis Pose Unique Challenges For Cops

USA Today had an interesting piece that hits close to home for my agency. The story is about a DOJ funded training program to help law enforcement agencies deal the unique challenges that military veterans with mental health problems pose for police. 
Developers of the pilot program, to be launched at 15 U.S. sites this year, said there is an "urgent need" to de-escalate crises in which even SWAT teams may be facing tactical disadvantages against mentally ill suspects who also happen to be trained in modern warfare. 
"We just can't use the blazing-guns approach anymore when dealing with disturbed individuals who are highly trained in all kinds of tactical operations, including guerrilla warfare," said Dennis Cusick, executive director of the Upper Midwest Community Policing Institute. "That goes beyond the experience of SWAT teams."
The agency where I work is adjacent to Fort Hood, Texas which is one of the largest military installations in the world. It also houses quite a number of soldiers who have been deployed, often multiple times to combat. Unfortunately, we also occasionally deal with veterans in crisis. We've been very fortunate that we have not had  more problems than we've had. We're also fortunate that we have a very good working relationship with the military commands at Fort Hood. This often gives us more options than an agency that has little or no military relationships or is very far away from a military installation.

One trend I have been worried about is the number of veterans that have been discharged with behavioral issues that have decided to stay in our area. In years past, if a solider misbehaved and got discharged because of this, he we back home to his home of record. However, with the economy being what it is, we are seeing more ex-soldiers who have been "chaptered out" of the Army staying in the area because there are no jobs  back in Podunkville where they came from.

Anecdotally, I'm seeing more of these folks being arrested and entering the criminal justice system. Some of them are starting to become repeat customers because their mental health issues make them more likely to offend. This is doubly problematic because the poor economy has caused Texas to cut back on mental health care funding. Jails and prisons make poor substitutes for mental health care and our veterans, troubled or otherwise deserve better.

Has your agency had issues dealing with troubled veterans? Would better training help your agency deal with these vets?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Does the 5th Amendment Cover Computer Encryption?

This will be interesting to watch: A judge in Colorado has issued a court order for a defendant to decrypt her laptop hard drive so police can search for evidence which would likely be used against her. The tech website CNET.com has this bit:

Much of the discussion has been about what analogy comes closest. Prosecutors tend to view PGP passphrases as akin to someone possessing a key to a safe filled with incriminating documents. That person can, in general, be legally compelled to hand over the key. Other examples include the U.S. Supreme Court saying that defendants can be forced to provide fingerprints, blood samples, or voice recordings.

On the other hand are civil libertarians citing other Supreme Court cases that conclude Americans can't be forced to give "compelled testimonial communications" and extending the legal shield of the Fifth Amendment to encryption passphrases. Courts already have ruled that that such protection extends to the contents of a defendant's minds, the argument goes, so why shouldn't a passphrase be shielded as well?

I have a feeling this fight is going to last a while in the courts. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if it makes it to the US Supreme Court.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Never Underestimate The Creativity Of A Crook

USA Today had a story yesterday about this inventive criminal:
Police in Lynn, Mass., arrested a woman at a convenience store who allegedly used a stolen welfare benefits card to purchase $64 worth of soda, then immediately fed the full cans into an automated redemption machine to collect the nickel deposit on each can, The Daily Item reports.
Apparently 18 twelve packs of full soda cans were too much for the machine which was damaged in this episode.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why Public Crime Mapping Is Important

There are times that I really enjoy my job. Today was one of those times. At the agency where I work, we had a press event to roll out a public crime mapping application. This application called RAIDS Online from Bair Analytics takes crime data from our records management application and pushes it out via a Google Maps mashup to the public.



This means that anyone going to the site can view crime data reported to my department using a web browser and a computer connected to the Internet. They can query specific types of crimes, specific date ranges and even do some basic analytics like density maps and temporal analysis.

In addition to just being some neat technology, this application is important for the community where I work. For many years, crime data has been stored and used by police agencies, but is often not available outside those agencies. By locking this information up and not allowing the public access, we reduce our ability to partner with our communities to reduce crime.

A publicly available crime mapping application like this allows the community to understand the crime problems in their community better. Unless you are really active in your neighborhood, you might not always know if one of your neighbors two blocks away was burglarized. If you aren't aware of this, you might not think to report the teenager with a backpack walking through the neighborhood during the time he should be in school.

Armed with the knowledge of what is happening in your community, you are more likely to make the connection between crime and that suspicious teenager. Then, you will be more likely to pick up the phone and call police.

A few years ago, the public was informed of a burglary problem in the city where I work. There were a number of news stories about this problem that heightened the public's awareness of the problem. When this problem was fresh on their minds we started getting lots of calls from citizens reporting suspicious activity in their neighborhoods. Before long we were catching burglars in the act right and left because of the calls of these concerned citizens. Had the public not been aware of the problem, they likely would not have made the connection and called police.

In the same way, it's my hope that making this information available to the community empowers our citizens to act in partnership with us. What is your agency doing to inform your community of crime problems in your community?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Why Do Reporters Sometimes Have Such Trouble With Crime Stats?

As a crime analyst I have a professional interest in news articles about crime stats even when they aren't about the city where I work. When the article is about the city where I work, I have a vested interest in them as I often have provided the stats that the article refers to.

Yesterday afternoon, I was checking articles from the local media outlets when I found one from Philip Jankowski over at the Killeen Daily Herald. The piece titled: "Killeen homicides rise in 2011" looked at homicides that occurred in Killeen in 2011. I have worked for the Police Department in Killeen for nearly 21 years so this was going to be article that covered a topic that I was very familiar with. In the story there was a statement I found very troubling:

"Aside from the Luby's massacre in 1991 when 26 people were killed at once, the last time Killeen had 15 homicides was in 1979.

Since the city had about one-third of its current population more than 30 years ago, the homicide rate nearly tripled in 2011. There were 12 reported homicides in 2010."

Source: http://www.kdhnews.com/news/story.aspx?s=63745 as retrieved 1/22/2012 at 5:06 PM CDT.

The part that troubled me was that the statement that homicide rate in Killeen had "nearly tripled in 2011" as compared to 1979 was flat out wrong. Not just a little bit off, but completely and totally wrong. In this case, I provided the numbers that were ostensibly used to write that part of the article. Let's look a little deeper at these numbers.

In 1979 the Killeen Police Department reported 15 murders to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) Program. In 2011, the department also reported 15 murders to UCR.

Obviously, the population of Killeen has changed from 1979 to 2011. In order to directly compare these numbers we need to calculate the murder rate.

Rate is the number of times an event occurs in a given population. In the case of crime rates, they are normally calculated as the number of crimes reported per 100,000 population. This allows us to determine if a crime occurs more or less often in given population even if the original population figure is different from the later.

You can think of crime rate this way, if you were to line up 100,000 residents of a city, the rate would tell you how many of them had been victim of a particular crime in a given year.

To calculate rate the formula looks like this:

(Number of Crimes / Population) x 100,000 = Crime Rate Per 100,000 population

In 2010, the population of Killeen was reported to be 127,921. In 1980, the population was reported to be 46,292. We'll have to use these population figures to calculate the rates because they are the closest available numbers to the years we are interested in. (As a side note, sometime around May of 2012 the Census Bureau will release a 2011 population estimate for Killeen. When those numbers become available I'll recalculate our crime rates.)

To calculate the murder rate for 1979 the formula would look like this:

(15/46,292) x 100,000 = 32.4 murders per 100,000 population

To calculate the murder rate for 2011 the formula would look like this:

(15/127,921) x 100,000 = 11.72 murders per 100,000 population

Clearly we see that the murder rate in 1979 is nearly three times higher than the murder rate in 2011. (If you're interested it works out to be a 63.82% decrease in 2011 as compared to 1979.) This is the exact opposite of what Jankowski reported in his story.

Now when a reporter gets crime statistics wrong in a story, there are a few possibilities about what might have happened. One, the reporter may not have understood what he or she was trying to report. Another possibility is that he or she might have been careless about his or her reporting. The other is that the facts are being deliberately being misrepresented.

In this case, the story indicates that the murder rate is much higher in 2011 as compared to 1979. However, the truth is that a citizen of Killeen was around three times more likely to be murdered in 1979 than he or she would be in 2011.

This is a huge problem. The public's perception of crime is influenced by what they see reported in the media. This perception often has significant consequences. If a city gets a reputation as having a high crime rate, how many new businesses are likely to relocate there? How, many people are going to look at that community as a place they want to live and work (and buy newspapers)?

This is one of the reasons I am passionate about accurately reporting crime statistics. When accurately counted and properly used, these statistics can tell you a lot about your community and the effectiveness of your crime fighting efforts. As I am often fond of saying: "In order to know how to get where you are going, you have to know where you have been." And you can quote me on that.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Why Do Vehicle Thefts Sometimes Increase?

The news website KXLY.com had a story this week on a recent spike in vehicle thefts. Inside the story was this gem from a Spokane Police analyst as she explained the trend:
“My guess is that certain people got out of jail,” Carly Cortright, strategic analyst, said. She continued, “Vehicle theft is not bonded very high. After we arrest them, they’re able to post bond and then start stealing vehicles again.”
Sometimes it really is as simple as this. Often times one or two prolific criminals can wreak havoc with your crime numbers. The trick is trying to figure out just which inmate being released might be responsible. If they are in jail for the same type of crime, that's easy. But what if they are in jail for something else entirely?

Keeping track of your prolific offenders can pay dividends. Do your detectives identify prolific offenders? If so, are they sharing this information with the rest of your agency? Does your agency have a way to monitor releases so you can get notified when one of these offenders is released? Are your folks regularly completing field interrogation reports (FIR) when they contact these folks on the streets and forwarding those FIR's to your crime analysis or intelligence unit?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Online Database Yields Clues That Point To Serial Killer

I love reading these kinds of stories: There's a piece over at the Columbus, Indiana Republic that details the story of an amateur crime analyst who discovered evidence of a serial killer while pouring over a database of unsolved killings.

New York authorities, asked about Fallon's discovery, are talking for the first time about the extraordinary efforts they made to solve a string of killings of women in the Rochester area that occurred in the shadow of the much-heralded arrest of "Genesee River Killer" Arthur Shawcross. He died in prison in 2008 after confessing to 11 murders.

Fallon detected a second group of strangulations of women, whom police say were mostly prostitutes, killed after Shawcross was apprehended.

"Yes, we did have a second serial killer," said Capt. Lynde Johnston of the Rochester Police Department's homicide division. "I think we all agreed that he had killed seven. Some of us think eight."

Retired FBI supervisory special agent Gregg McCrary, who worked as a profiler in the Shawcross cases, remembers the second series of killings vividly.

"What are the chances of having two of these guys in the same city?" McCrary asked. "The focus was on the Genesee River Killer. But we had an unsettling feeling that something else might be going on."

I this shows that there is some value to publicizing data on cold cases where having as many eyes as possible on the data might yield insights that may have gone unnoticed. It also demonstrates how collecting the data through programs like FBI's ViCAP are worthy endeavors.

If you want to look at the Scripps-Howard Serial Killer database referred to in the Republic story, you can access it here.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Data Driven Approach Helps Reduce Corpus Christi Car Burglaries

There's a story over at the Corpus Christi Caller that talks about the success the Corpus Christi Police Auto Theft Task Force has had by switching to a data driven approach to solving a car burglary problem.

Auto Theft Task Force officers teamed up with crime analysts in the fall to keep tabs on those who break into vehicles the most, after former Police Chief Troy Riggs challenged the department for more data-oriented policing.

"In the past we'd put out a bait vehicle and just wait for the criminals to come to us," said Lt. Kelly Isaacks, who recently was put in charge of the unit. "That's just not very productive."

Now a crime analyst works side by side with auto crimes detectives. They comb pawnshop databases, arrest reports and other documents, looking for those who make a living off ripping off car owners.

Their comments about bait cars are pretty consistent with other agencies' findings in that area. Bait cars are just not very cost effective ways to combat these types of crimes by themselves. It's better to handle nearly any problematic crime with a more holistic, studied approach.

The Problem Oriented Policing Center has a great POP Guide Thefts of and from Cars on Residential Streets and Driveways that covers strategies for reducing these kinds of larcenies.

Has your agency had to deal with a car burglary problem? What approaches did you find worked for you?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Combatting Copper Thefts By Changing Technology

PC World had a short piece that covered a promising solution to copper thefts that have plagued utility providers.
The GroundSmart Copper Clad Steel cable is probably the most radical solution yet devised to copper theft in that it removes almost all of the copper grounding (in the U.K., "earthing") metal of the sort commonly used in networks to return current to earth for safety reasons. 
Unlike conventional cables made from solid copper, the GroundSmart consists of a steel core around which is bonded a copper outer casing, forming an equally effective but far less valuable cable.
This makes a lot of sense. The high prices for copper have driven the market for stolen copper wire. As these cables are replaced, taking most of the copper out of the replacement cables will remove the monetary incentive for thieves to take the cable in the first place.

It's pretty obvious that stronger laws for metal thieves aren't having a huge deterrent effect because the economic benefit for the thief outweighs the cost of doing business. If his benefit is lessened then the cost/benefit ratio will swing back in our favor.

Of course, this isn't the first time we've seen the industry try to replace copper in wiring. Remember aluminum wiring? If it hadn't been for it's tendency to cause electrical fires it might have caught on too. Lets hope this solution works out better.

Monday, January 16, 2012

DNA Doesn't Always Make Cold Cases Easy To Prosecute

If you've followed the blog for any length of time you know I have an interest in cold cases. The New York Times had a great piece last week that looked at the difficulty faced in prosecuting decades old cases even with DNA evidence.

With the advent of DNA science and other technological advancements, it is no longer unusual for juries to see evidence from crimes that happened as long ago as the 1970s. But old cases present unique challenges for prosecutors and defense lawyers: Key witnesses may have moved or died, documents could have disappeared, and evidence collection standards are now much stricter.

“The farther back in time you’re talking about, the more those things fray and disintegrate,” said Rob Owen, a University of Texas School of Law professor who specializes in death penalty cases.

I've been trying to compile an accurate list of unsolved homicides at the department where I work. We had records in paper files and indices, on microfiche and two different computer databases. After chipping away at this project for some time I managed to cobble together a complete list going back 40 years or so. I am sure that things at my agency are not that unusual from any other agency.

When you consider that not only are a police department's records important for a successful prosecution but so are the prosecutor's, medical examiner's, and a myriad of other old records you can see how difficult these old cases could be.

Friday, January 13, 2012

And Who Says Crime Doesn't Pay?

CNN had an interesting story that looked at the economic impact Somali pirates were having on Somalia.

"There is a very clear trickle-down effect," said author Anja Shortland, of Brunel University in the United Kingdom, who based her conclusion on everything from satellite pictures to local cattle prices.

High-resolution satellite imagery shows construction in the inland towns of Garowe and Bosasso, including radio towers, walls and new buildings, she said.

She's not seeing much construction on the coast itself, she said.

"There are no light emissions on the coastal villages. But the settlements inland ... that's probably where the money is going," she said of the estimated hundreds of millions of dollars Somali pirates have claimed in the past several years.

In nearly every type of crime there is an economic impact.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

It's Official, You're Even Less Likely To Die Of Murder


More evidence that crime is on the decline came in the form of a report from the US Centers For Disease Control that revealed that murder has dropped from the top 15 causes of death in the United States for the first time in decades. USA Today had a story that included this bit:
Of the 2.4 million total deaths reported in 2010, there were 16,065 homicides, down from 16,799 a year earlier. 
Included in that number, firearm-related homicides also declined to 11,015 from 11,493 in 2009, according the report which gathers data from death certificates provided by the states.
Out of the top 15 leading causes of death all but two are diseases. The two exceptions are Accidents (unitentional injuries) at number 5 and Intentional Self Harm (Suicide) at number 10.

If you're interested you can grab a copy of the entire CDC report here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Law, Sex Offenders And Unintended Consequences

USA Today recently had a piece about an unintended consequence of sex offender registration laws; the clustering of sex offenders in trailer parks and motels. This is causing legislators to consider more knee-jerk legislation to "fix" the problem.
Experts who study the issue say the new laws may make problems worse by forcing sex offenders into homelessness or isolating them from social services and jobs. 
"The larger the buffer zone and the more densely populated the area is, the more difficult it is for them to find housing," said Jill Levenson, an associate professor of psychology at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., who specializes in sex crime policy. 
A study in Orange County, Fla., found 99% of residential housing is off-limits to sex offenders, she said. 
"It's a real quandary," Levenson said. Clustering laws that bar sex offenders from living together narrow the options even more. "Where do we think these people are going to go?"
While I am sure that many people would just like sex offenders to disappear this is not going to happen and is not realistic. The intent of these laws was to protect citizens from these offenders. However, the very laws intended to protect us make end up making us less safe if sex offenders are placed in a no-win situation with no place to live and are unable to work which may make them more likely to re-offend.

In the community where I work sex offenders are prohibited from residing within a certain distance of playgrounds, day care centers, schools, school bus stops, etc. Like Orange County, Florida this makes a majority of the city off limits or so it would seem at first glance. However, it does not apply to sex offenders who already reside in those areas and it certainly doesn't prohibit them from driving, walking, skateboarding, or bicycling in those areas. If this is the case then the law makes us feel like we've done something without actually making anyone safer.

If the law you pass to fix a problem just makes the problem worse then maybe you need to rethink that one.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

When The Fear Of Crime Meets The Reality Of Crime

The Los Angeles Times had a great article that looked at the practical implications of crime statistics and the fear or crime and how they affect communities. I've seen quite a number of articles in the news that have shown how crime has dropped for the past few years.
The perception of safety is as important as statistics. That's what draws us out from behind locked doors and window bars; gives us license to walk our dogs, take our children to the park and trust our subways on a night out. 
But it's the stats, city officials say, that promote civic pride and pay financial dividends through increased investment and tourism hikes.
Sometime this month, police agencies across the United States will close the books on their 2011 crime stats. In most cases, these agencies will likely see less crime than they have in years past. In a few cases an agency might see an increase either in a specific category or in a few categories.

But while lower Uniform Crime Report numbers may be a win for police administrators, that doesn't automatically translate to a win for the community if they don't feel safe living, working and playing in their neighborhoods.

One thing I have noticed is that it is often little things that improve people's perception of their community and reduce their fear of crime. Things like tackling graffiti, code enforcement issues, aggressive panhandlers or nuisance abatement can play a role in reducing fear.

The US Department of Justice's Community Oriented Policing Services Office has a publication Reducing Fear of Crime: Strategies for Police that has this salient point in it:
People will not become less fearful unless they know that the sources of their fear have been addressed. Fear is based on perception, so police intent on reducing fear have to follow through and make sure that the public sees, hears about, or otherwise recognizes when problems have been fixed, conditions improved, etc.
It's very important that police agencies are adept at communicating with the communities they serve. One way to communicate with an end towards fear reduction is through the use of social media. Social media allows a department to quickly communicate when community problems have been addressed and in a very public way.

If a citizen communicates a concern to a law enforcement agency through social media, and the agency responds positively to that concern, not only does the citizen originally bringing up the concern get the response but every other person on that social media outlet gets to see that the agency is responsive to the community's concerns. This is a very good thing.

What are you doing to reduce the fear of crime in your community? How are you integrating social media in your fear reduction strategy?

Monday, January 9, 2012

iPhones And iPads Are Changing The Way Police Work

There's a marketing piece over at Apple.com about how the Redlands, CA Police Department is using iPads and iPhones to make their officers more efficient in the field. While it is a marketing piece from Apple, it's interesting enough to be worth a look.

Whether on foot, on a bicycle, in a patrol car, or on a Segway in the downtown district, Redlands police officers use iPhone and iPad to access, send, and receive the rich stream of data they need to keep tabs on potential issues. “It allows them to look at satellite maps, access the Internet, send emails, and take photos of victims or potential suspects.” Bueermann says.

“Having all this information at your fingertips and being able to share it instantaneously with other officers in the field is invaluable,” Catren agrees. “We have had many cases where officers have been able to quickly identify perpetrators, or transfer video that's led to the capture of suspects.”

We're seeing quite a number of iPads, iPhones and other similar devices at my agency. Most of them are personally owned devices, but even so they are changing the way officers work. It's not uncommon for officers to email or text suspect pictures to one another, or to view emails and BOLO's in the field.

How is your agency integrating this kind of technology into it's operations? Are your officers encouraged or discouraged from experimenting with these types of devices?

Thanks to the ESRI.com News Room for the heads up.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Even In Death Texas Prison System Charged With Providing For Inmates

The New York Times had a great story yesterday that looked at the Texas prison system's cemetery for inmates who die while incarcerated and are unclaimed by their families.

An inmate crew from the nearby Walls Unit prison cleans the grounds, mows the grass and trims trees four days per week. The inmates dig the graves with a backhoe and shovels, serve as pallbearers and chisel the names on the headstones by hand using metal stencils and black paint. The cemetery was named for an assistant warden at the Walls Unit who helped clean and restore the graveyard in the 1960s, and even today, the warden or one of his deputies attends every burial.

“It’s important, because they’re people still,” said the warden, James Jones. “Of course they committed a crime and they have to do their time, and unfortunately they end up dying while they’re in prison, but they’re still human beings.”

What a sad way to go.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Young Mom Kills Burglar, Now His Accomplice Charged In Dead Burglar's Death

There was an interesting story over at NPR that looked at a deadly home invasion in Oklahoma. An 18 year old mother was home alone with her baby when two men broke into the home. The young mother ended up killing one of the intruders.

Now there's this legal twist: According to The Oklahoman, "the dead man's [alleged] accomplice in the home invasion is being implicated in his death." Authorities say Dustin Louis Stewart, 29, was with Martin and was also trying to break into the home.

"When you're engaged in a crime such as first-degree burglary and a death results from the events of that crime, you're subject to prosecution for it," Grady County Assistant District Attorney James Walters told the newspaper.

It's ironic how the law of parties works sometimes.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

To What Lengths Should We Go To Identify Unidentified Deceased Persons

There was an interesting AP story over at Yahoo News about the Milwaukee County, WI Medical Examiner's Office that is publishing photos of unidentified deceased persons online in an effort to identify these John (and Jane) Does.
Forensic investigator Michael Simley knows some people will find the photographs unsettling, but he said he decided to post them online for an important reason: the bodies are unidentified. All were found in Wisconsin's most populous area, Milwaukee County, and have been without names for years — decades, in some cases — and Simley said he's desperate to find answers. 
"We're not doing these people justice to let them go unidentified. These are family members, friends, people who are missed," Simley said. "Everyone deserves to be recognized as who they were in life. Being buried as a Jane or John Doe doesn't sit well with me."
The story highlights the fact that not everyone agrees with these photos being posted, even if their intentions are laudable. But there is some value to crowd sourcing this problem. In most cases nearly anything that draws attention to them is a good thing. By the time that it gets to this point, all other avenues have likely been exhausted.

What do you think, should these pictures be posted online if it helps to identify these unidentified deceased persons?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Lethality Assessments Try To Reduce Deadly Domestic Violence Incidents

The Dallas Morning News had a great story on efforts by Dallas Police to intervene in domestic violence cases before these incidents turn deadly.

"You've got to figure out a way to catch that flag - that individual that's escalating to murder," Brown said, cautioning that he didn't want to create a system in which detectives overlooked something just because it didn't show the standard warning signs. "You've got to treat them all as a priority."

Domestic violence cases are often difficult to work as the victims are often reluctant to cooperate with police. Fortunately laws regarding domestic violence have improved over the years to allow prosecution even in cases where the victim will not cooperate.

Here in Bell County we've had a domestic violence task force formed that brings police, prosecutors, social workers and other interested groups together to try and reduce domestic violence and it's effects.

What is your agency doing to reduce domestic violence in your community?

Monday, January 2, 2012

If It's Not Recorded, Did A Crime Happen?

Last week there was this piece over at The New York Times that looked at reports of NYPD officers shirking reports. Reports of officers not taking reports from crime victims isn't new and the article hints at a possible reason.
Crime victims in New York sometimes struggle to persuade the police to write down what happened on an official report. The reasons are varied. Police officers are often busy, and few relish paperwork. But in interviews, more than half a dozen police officers, detectives and commanders also cited departmental pressure to keep crime statistics low.
We've seen allegations of this kind of crime statistical chicanery before, not only at NYPD but also at other police agencies. Yet, shirking reports creates problems for the police department.

One, not taking a report from a crime victim leaves the victim with a terrible impression of the department.  While the crime the victim is trying to report is probably no big deal to the officer, it's a big deal to the victim. By not taking their problem seriously, you have essentially told that victim they are unimportant. Don't be surprised if the victim returns the favor next time your department is trying to drum up community support for a pay raise or for a budget increase to buy new equipment. If the victim has to take their complaints to the mayor or city council, don't you think this makes an impression on these community leaders when they are considering what budget items to cut?

Two, by not taking these reports you are shooting your agency in the foot when it comes to having an accurate picture of crime in the community. These crime reports will often times tell your agency what areas of town are beginning to experience problem crimes. While sometimes not every crime ends up getting reported to the police, your crime analysis unit needs to have as much data as possible to analyze in order to draw accurate conclusions about what is occurring in your community.

What is your agency doing to ensure the accuracy of crime reports in your community?