Monday, April 30, 2012

Green Bay Police Embrace District Policing

The Green Bay Press Gazette had a story on Green Bay, Wisconsin Police moving to a district policing concept to better engage their community in policing efforts.

The district-policing approach is designed to allow officers to routinely patrol the same neighborhoods to better identify trends and nuisances.

Officers also meet regularly with the department's crime analyst so they can predict issues and be proactive when it comes to crime trends.

Before district policing, "we called upon the crime analyst when we saw a problem erupting," Runge said. "Now what we're asking the crime analyst to do for us is to make projections for the future based on historical data."

One thing I've noticed is that so many programs for more effective policing have at their heart, old fashioned community policing concepts. Continuity in the areas officers patrol and work is an important part of a community policing effort. This allows officers to better understand the neighborhoods where they work and the crime problems in them. That same continuity also lets the citizens in those neighborhoods an opportunity to develop a working relationship with the officers working in them.

Does your agency work to keep officers working the same parts of town?

Friday, April 27, 2012

If You Have Warrants, Taunting The Police On Twitter Is Not A Good Idea

We might as well end the week with a funny one. It seems that a Texas woman couldn't resist taunting the police on Twitter about her outstanding warrants according to this story over at USA Today.
"I still gotta warrant in pearland..those pigs will NEVER catch me!!!…NEVER!!!" she tweeted. 
Is anyone besides Mason-Kelly surprised to learn that police monitor Twitter? 
As Lt. Onesimo Lopez of the Pearland Police Department told ABC, officers frequently search for keywords such as "Pearland" to "keep abreast of what's going on in town." 
"This tweet came up. The officer saw it, took a picture and printed it out and gave it to warrant officers," Lopez said.
I'm glad to see that the fine officers at Pearland PD disabused her of this notion.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

There Is A Lot Of Money In Bath Salts

Like most of the United States, the sleepy little burg where I work has seen an influx of synthetic drugs marketed as "bath salts" or the marijuana like potpourri also known as "Spice". We've also seen a number of cases of bizarre mental health episodes that are likely caused by people ingesting these substances.

Many times these substances are being sold in convenience stores and bodegas and not by street dealers who deal in cocaine, marijuana and other illegal drugs. In the past year or two we've seen new laws enacted to combat these substances. Now that laws are in place, we're seeing law enforcement starting to crack down on people selling these drugs.

The Pennsylvania news outlet WPH TV had a story about a federal law enforcement operation named Operation Rubber Ducky which cracked down on persons trafficking these substances.

United States Attorney Peter J. Smith announced that the indictment was returned by the grand jury on April 4, 2012 but was kept under seal to allow law enforcement agencies to arrest those indicted, to execute eight search warrants simultaneously in multiple locations and to coordinate the seizure of over $6 million dollars of suspected drug-related funds in banks in Maryland and Texas.

$6 million dollars is some pretty serious profit for something you put in your bathtub and is a lot more like something you'd expect from a cocaine kingpin. Federal involvement in prosecuting these people is a good sign that folks are starting to get serious about the dangers posed by these substances.

Does your jurisdiction have laws prohibiting these substances? If so, is your agency beginning to enforce them?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

How Does Your State Rate On The "Peace Index"?

I have to admit that I like interesting charts and graphs. The website Vision Of Humanity had a very interesting chart and accompanying report on what they call the U.S. Peace Index. They rated states according to their peacefullness by aggregating a number of statistics.
The USPI measures peacefulness according to five indicators: the number of homicides, number of violent crimes, the incarceration rate, number of police employees and the availability of small arms.
Here's a video about their findings.

Visit their website for more info including a pretty nifty map where you can explore this index over time.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Odds For Missing Kids Are Better Than Ever

I've been following the recent developments in the 30+ year old disappearance of then 6 year old Etan Patz pretty closely this week. On the heels of this, USA Today had a story highlighting how advances in response to missing children have improved the odds that children who go missing will be found. 
"Technology has fundamentally changed how we search for missing kids," said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

When the center opened in 1984, days could pass before a child's photo was disseminated, Allen said. Now, details about a child or potential abductor can be circulated almost instantaneously through e-mail, text messages, social media and other electronic means.

That's vital, because "time is the enemy" when a child vanishes, he says. Investigators need to move quickly to prevent an abducted child from being taken out of town, hurt or even killed.

"In 1990, our recovery rate for the cases that we intake here at the center was 62%" — and now it's 97%, he said. "The primary reason for that change is technology."
That's a pretty impressive recovery rate. Part of why this happened is likely due to a holistic approach to the problem.

Lawmakers passed well crafted laws requiring law enforcement to respond in a timely manner and to report these abductions as well as providing funding for clearinghouses such as the National Center for Missing And Exploited Children along with other measures. Law enforcement has responded by providing better training and guidelines on how to investigate and respond to these incidents. Trade organizations for advertising, telecommunications and other industries responded by providing their resources to publicize these incidents.

The key to solving any difficult crime problem is engaging as many stakeholders as possible in developing and implementing a solution.

Monday, April 23, 2012

More Than Just Neighborhood Watch, How About A Neighborhood Crime Analyst?

I've long believed that the key to being successful in reducing crime in the community you serve is the engagement of the citizens you serve in your efforts. It takes more than just a suitably motivated offender for a crime to occur. It also takes a place and a potential victim. This is the reason the Crime Triangle is used to help understand why crime occurs.

Police have historically focused their attentions on dealing with the likely offenders through detecting, arresting and incarcerating criminals. But the Crime Triangle theory demonstrates that it doesn't really matter which side of the triangle you dismantle to stop a crime from occurring. If you can convince potential victims to protect themselves from criminals by what is often called "increasing guardianship" then you will prevent a crime from occurring just as you would by locking up an offender.

Police have often encouraged members of the communities they serve to participate in crime prevention programs or neighborhood watch programs. When properly utilized, these programs can make communities safer.

The Austin American Statesman had a piece this weekend about a man in Austin who has taken this type of engagement to a new level by becoming a neighborhood crime analyst in his community and provide crime stats and other data via his online website.
"My core value is: Working together, let's make Austin the safest city in the nation," said Darby, 61. He said the mission is audacious but he hopes his website encourages community policing.
Darby said his database is a modest version of Compstat, a widely copied program pioneered by the New York Police Department in the 1990s that uses crime-mapping software to pinpoint problem areas and manage law enforcement strategies.
In the community where I work, we offer this kind of data through our online crime mapping service RAIDS Online. Interested members of our community can see an up to date map of where crimes were reported, run their own crime stats and even sign up for alerts. An informed citizen is much more likely to get involved in reducing crime by increasing guardianship over themselves and their neighborhood.

What is your agency doing to encourage citizens to become involved in dismantling the crime triangle?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Trying To Find Etan, The First Boy On The Milk Carton

This is interesting: The New York Times had a piece on developments in the 1979 disappearance of 6 year old Etan Patz who vanished while walking to school in New York City. Etan became the first of many missing children who were publicized by being put on milk cartons.
The building now being searched, 127B Prince Street, at the corner of Wooster Street, is less than a block from where Etan lived, at 113 Prince, and is along the route he was to have traveled in May 1979, when he was allowed to walk to the school bus stop by himself for the first time. Somewhere between his home and the bus stop, on West Broadway, he disappeared.
Even though it's been 33 years, these parents deserve to have closure just like any other parent of a missing child. Let's hope that NYPD and the FBI will help them find it.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Peek Inside Ogden Police's Real Time Crime Center

This is an interesting video from the folks over at ESRI:
Ogden Police Department gives an overview of their Real Time Crime Center which highlights the use of Esri's ArcGIS, Microsoft's SharePoint, and Fusion Core Solution technology to reduce crime in their community.

A tip of the hat to Tom Casady for linking to the piece on his excellent blog, The Director's Desk. Tom is the Public Safety Director for Lincoln, Nebraska and the former Chief of Police of Lincoln.

What solutions has your agency come up with to get crime information into the hands of your officers?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Training Isn't Just Nice To Have, It's A Must

The Corpus Christi Caller had this story about Corpus Christi Police using seized drug money to pay for training for the crime analysts.
"We're going to be looking at crime on a much bigger level," Shannon said. "There's a real science behind it all."
He and three crime analysts recently attended a one-week training course learning the intricacies of the business software system Crystal Reports.
A Crystal Solutions instructor was flown from Utah to lead the session, which cost the city about $10,000, mostly paid for with seized drug money.
Regardless of the tools your agency chooses to use for crime analysis, I can't stress the importance of becoming proficient in using them. Most times, that means obtaining training. Part of what makes crime analysis a profession is that we keep developing our skill sets and improving ourselves as analysts.

Of course, we don't always have the money in our budgets to pay $10,000 to fly an instructor it. But there are other ways to obtain training. The International Association of Crime Analysts offers training from conferences to budget friendly webinars. Local colleges and school districts often offer continuing education courses in software such as Microsoft Excel or PowerPoint. I recently purchased a couple of computer software books from O'Reilly Media to improve my skill set with a piece of software.

It doesn't really matter what you do as long as you are seeking out training opportunities and growing professionally. What are you doing to improve your analytical abilities and increase your value to your agency?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

You Can Buy Anything Online, Even Narcotics

The Associated Press had this piece over at Yahoo News that I thought was interesting: The US Drug Enforcement Administration recently made a number of arrests of an online drug operation that facilitated thousands of online drug transactions worldwide.
An indictment unsealed in federal court in Los Angeles claims eight men ran "The Farmer's Market," which allowed suppliers of drugs — including LSD, Ecstasy and ketamine — to anonymously sell their wares online. They hooked up buyers in 34 countries and accepted various forms of payment, including cash, Western Union and PayPal transactions, the indictment claims.
Given that a significant part of prostitution is moving online to sites like it's not surprising that narcotics is going that way too. We're even seeing bottom of the barrel streetwalkers turning to online sites to advertise their services in the sleepy little burg where I work.

Given than more and more crimes are being facilitated through online services has your agency began to develop the expertise to investigate and collect evidence from these online crimes?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Spokane Police Targeting Repeat Offenders

The Washington news outlet had a piece last week on an effort by Spokane Police to target repeat offenders. The story mentioned a burglary ring where the offenders had multiple felony and misdemeanor convictions yet were still out committing new crimes.

Repeat offenders, or 'career criminals' as they're sometimes called are a big problem in Spokane. Police say a few people commit the majority of the crimes here, and that's why they formed the 'Repeat Offender' program.

Under the program, a person must have at least 3 felony convictions - although crime analysts say most repeat offenders have 7-10 or more. The other criteria is recent activity, including contact with officers or witnesses linking them to recent crimes.

Every month, the targeted crime unit, detectives and prosecutors meet to try and get higher bonds and longer sentences for the people they see over and over again - including the burglary ring suspects.

We've all heard of the 80/20 rule. In law enforcement it usually goes something like "80% of your crime is committed by 20% of your offenders". While the numbers aren't always exactly 80/20, the idea that a minority of criminals are responsible for a majority of the crime does seem to hold true.

I've written about the 80/20 rule before. I think it's worth keeping this in mind because if you can focus your limited law enforcement resources on this minority of offenders, you'll likely have a much greater crime reduction than you would otherwise.

What is your agency doing to target repeat offenders in your community?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Crime News Headline Of The Week

The best crime story headline I've seen all week comes from this story over at USA Today:

"Roman centurions battle cops outside Rome's Colosseum"

I bet that headline hasn't been used for about 2,000 years.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Police Undercover Operation Goes Awry When Crook Tries To Burgle Police Vehicle

There was a story over at the Internet news outlet Branford Patch that demonstrated that things don't always go as planned during undercover operations. 
Branford Police knew exactly what they were doing when they recently parked a “target car” in the parking lot of the USS Chowder Pot III and left a GPS system in plain view in the front of the vehicle. What they didn’t expect was the perpetrator to approach their unmarked police SUV and look to loot goods from it instead.

Police Captain Geoffrey Morgan said a suspect approached the unmarked police SUV and flashed his flashlight in the vehicle looking at an empty iPad dock in the front compartment. The “target car” waiting for the suspect was never approached.

As soon as the waiting police officer noticed the door handle of the SUV shake, he leapt from his surveillance area in the back of the vehicle and went after the male perpetrator who had fled, police reported.
The undercover operation was planned based on information from a Branford, CT Police crime analyst who analyzed previous crime data to come up with a prediction of where the their crook was likely to strike. What they couldn't predict was that the crook would miss the bait car and try to burglarize a police vehicle during the operation. At least they identified their errant crook and plan on charging him.

I guess this is a good lesson to always allow for the unexpected.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Reducing Cell Phone Theft By Eliminating The Market For Stolen Devices

The New York Times had a report on an effort by the Federal Communications Commission, police agencies and the cell phone industry to create a central database of stolen cell phones to prevent the devices from being activated. This would in essence make stolen devices worthless on the black market. 
“It’s just too easy for a thief to steal a phone and sell it on the black market,” Mr. Genachowski said. “This program will make it a lot harder to do that. And the police departments we are working with tell us that it will significantly deter this kind of theft.”

Over the last year, roughly one out of three robberies nationwide have involved the theft of a cellphone, according to an F.C.C. summary of the new plan. The thefts have grown most rapidly in urban areas; cellphones are stolen in more than 40 percent of all robberies in New York City and 38 percent of robberies in the District of Columbia, according to the groups.

“Our goal is to make a stolen cellphone as worthless as an empty wallet,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who plans to introduce legislation to criminalize tampering with a phone’s unique identifier.
I think this is a great idea. By reducing the value that stolen smartphones have, the motivation to steal them goes down as the cost/benefit ratio swings out of the crook's favor. In fact, for those of you old enough to remember when cell phones were introduced, the cell phone industry touted this type of thing all those years ago.

The excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers includes a chapter on this type of thing in chapter 41 Reduce The Rewards of Theft. Anything you can do to increase the effort it takes for a thief to commit their crime or to reduce the benefit they receive is a good thing.

What other ways can you alter the crime cost/benefit ratio out of the crook's favor?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

When Disaster Hits How Will Your Agency Communicate With Your Community?

The tech media outlet Mashable had a story yesterday about how social media use is gaining ground in response to disasters. 
From government agencies and other organizations, to citizens and social platforms themselves, people across the spectrum of social media are leveraging its use to respond to emergencies. According to a 2011 report of the Congressional Research Service, there are two broad categories in the way that we can conceptualize this use of social media: 1) to “somewhat passively” disseminate information and receive user feedback; and 2) to use social media more systematically as an emergency management tool. 
I had a conversation recently with a Public Affairs Officer at a local law enforcement agency. She commented on how easy it was to send out a press release using social media as opposed to updating a more traditional website at her agency. This ease of use makes social media an attractive medium for communicating with your community whether it's in response to a disaster or for more routine needs.

Does your agency use social media for communicating with the community you serve? The IACP's Center for Social Media has some great resources to help you get started or to improve your social media outreach.

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Cop's Death Affects An Entire Agency For Years To Come

This weekend was a sad one for police officers in Central Texas. Austin Police Officer Jaime Padron was shot to death in the line of duty after responding to a call of an intoxicated man at an Austin Wal-Mart.

The Austin American Statesman had an interesting article on what Austin cops will likely face in the coming days and years in dealing with the death of their colleague.

Unofficially, individual officers — trained to gather and analyze crime scene details — will pass around every aspect of what occurred in the events leading up to Padron's sudden and brief struggle with suspect Brandon M. Daniel.

"There's a tremendous need to find out what happened," said Laurence Miller, a Florida psychologist who works with police departments and is the author of the book "Practical Police Psychology." "You can expect a lot of micro-dissection."

One reason is, police simply want to compile information out of professional curiosity, Miller said.

But another is a sort of defense mechanism that permits officers to continue performing their work without paralyzing fear. "There's a tremendous identification factor," he said. "If I understand what happened, maybe next time I can do something about it."

I have worked in law enforcement in Central Texas for over twenty one years both as a sworn officer and as a civilian crime analyst. I know and have worked with a number of Austin Police officers over the years as I work only about 60 miles north of Austin. I found the response on social media by officers I know in the area to be visceral.

Anytime a line of duty death occurs, especially if it's geographically close to you, you identify with the cop that got killed. You wonder how many times you have cheated death on a call. You realize that it could have happened to you. I still do even though I gave up my badge years ago when I became a crime analyst and am no longer on the streets.

The 100 Club of Central Texas is accepting donations to assist the family of Officer Padron. If you are so inclined, you can visit their website.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Getting Analysis Into The Hands Of The Cop On The Beat

The industry publication Government Technology had a piece earlier this week that looked at an effort by Rialto, CA Police to provide their officers with the software tools to analyze crime data themselves without having to rely on the skills of the department's crime analyst.
The Rialto PD’s program incorporates arrest data, incident reports taken by officers and calls for service by citizens. Rialto’s version of CrimeView Dashboard has been tweaked so that officers can view crime data by beat, while others can view a daily recap of activity of date and shift. Users can also look generally at crime trends on a city level.

Jennifer Krutak, crime analyst supervisor with the Rialto Police Department, said the program, at a minimum, will be used during the department’s daily briefings at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. As officers assemble, a whiteboard will be used to display the analytics, which can then be used to plan out priorities for that particular shift. The system refreshes an hour before each briefing, so information will be presented in almost real time.
More and more we're seeing agencies using tools like this that allows for officers to conduct their own crime analysis without having to wait for an analytical product to be distributed by their agency's crime analysis unit. At the sleepy little 'burg where I work, we provide access to similar tools to detectives, officers and their supervisors.

If your crime analysis unit is like mine, you are not lacking things to do. Giving your officers the tools and training to conduct some of their own analysis can take some of the load off your unit while still getting this important information to your officers in the field.

What are you doing at your agency to make analysis available to those who need it?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

On Data Mining And Finding The Forest Among All The Trees

This isn't directly law enforcement related but is worth noting: The Atlantic had a great article that looked at some of the basic concepts behind data mining. 
For the most part, data mining tells us about very large and complex data sets, the kinds of information that would be readily apparent about small and simple things. For example, it can tell us that "one of these things is not like the other" a la Sesame Street or it can show us categories and then sort things into pre-determined categories. But what's simple with 5 datapoints is not so simple with 5 billion datapoints.

And these days, there's always more data. We gather far more of it then we can digest. Nearly every transaction or interaction leaves a data signature that someone somewhere is capturing and storing. This is, of course, true on the internet; but, ubiquitous computing and digitization has made it increasingly true about our lives away from our computers (do we still have those?). The sheer scale of this data has far exceeded human sense-making capabilities. At these scales patterns are often too subtle and relationships too complex or multi-dimensional to observe by simply looking at the data. Data mining is a means of automating part this process to detect interpretable patterns; it helps us see the forest without getting lost in the trees.
As we are seeing more and more data mining occurring in law enforcement especially in the adoption of predictive policing, it's important that crime analysts become very familiar with what data mining is and what it isn't. The article is worth the read, especially for someone like me who's not a statistician by training.

What is your agency doing to harness the information contained in the data your agency collects?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Dallas Police Look To Technology To Cool Crime Hot Spots

The Dallas Morning News had a long piece on an initiative by Dallas Police to bundle technology in an effort to drive crime down in the city's crime hot spots.
Police officials estimate the cost to be $300,000 per hot spot. Collectively, those areas account for about 40 percent of the city’s crime and about 6 percent of the geography.

The chief said he is not requesting additional funds during Wednesday’s presentation, but he will be asking the City Council to approve specific deals with vendors in the coming weeks and months. He hopes to begin outfitting some of the top 10 crime hot spots soon.

“I’m pushing for as early before the summer as possible,” Brown said.

Under the plan, each bundle would include 10 cameras, two auto theft bait cars, two burglary bait cars, two license plate readers and an unspecified number of covert cameras. It is unclear how many bait houses and businesses would be set up; those would depend on partnerships with developers and store owners.
While there are quite a number of agencies that use these technologies, I find it interesting that Dallas PD is bundling them together as part of a coordinated strategy to reduce crime in hot spots.  It will be interesting to see how this effort plays out.

What types of crime fighting technology has your agency found that works well bundled together?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Police and Pharmacy Industry Work Together To Reduce Drug Store Robbery

The Department of Justice's COPS Office newsletter Community Policing Dispatch had an interesting story this week about a partnership between the pharmacy industry and police to combat the rise in pharmacies being robbed for prescription medications.
Companies who produce some of the most sought after and most addictive drugs are also joining forces with law enforcement, as well as pharmacies, to provide education and training on how to prevent and deal with a pharmacy robbery. One such advent is RxPATROL system (Rx Pattern Analysis Tracking Robberies & Other Losses) developed by Purdue Pharma (makers of OxyContin/oxycodone). This system is an easy way for everyone involved, from law enforcement to pharmacy technicians, to access information about pharmacy robberies in their area. RxPATROL goes further than that though, providing in-depth reports on pharmacy crime and prevention, tools, the ability to track trends in criminal activity, and even providing law enforcement with closed circuit video and photographs of suspects after a robbery. One unique feature is that it allows law enforcement to network and build relationships in order to solve robberies where the suspect may have crossed into another jurisdiction.
Development of a multi-jurisdictional information hub such as RxPatrol is a great idea for those tasked with solving such crimes. Given that many of these crimes occur across jurisdictions it would be hard to tie connected crimes together without an effort like this.

This isn't the first time I've seen an affected industry step in to assist in solving these kinds of crimes. A similar effort has been undertaken to solve bank robberies with the website BanditTracker which provides information about bank robbers here in Texas as well as other states by Bandit Tracker affiliated sites. Often times industry has the resources to create these databases that individual police agencies just don't have.

What other types of crimes could be fought with these types of police/industry partnerships?

Monday, April 2, 2012

In Lean Budget Times, Crime Analysts Are A Wise Investment

The was a story this weekend in the Spokane, WA area news outlet The Spokesman Review that looked at an announcement from Spokane Police about changes they were making to focus on property crimes in their city. According to the piece, these changes came after concern from the community after SPD laid off property crimes detectives and a reduction in the number of property crimes that were being investigated by police.

The story had a number of changes that SPD was making but one I think is worth noting in the story is this one:

The hiring of a crime analyst to better coordinate with patrol officers and investigators and increase efficiency.

The article also stated that Spokane PD is implementing a "data-driven method for fighting property crime" to focus their enforcement efforts.

A crime analyst can help a police agency use their limited resources more effectively by helping to the agency to understand crime problems facing their community and to develop the most effective strategy to deal with them.

For some agencies, hiring a crime analyst outright may not be an option due to budget issues. However, it may be possible to develop a crime analysis function in-house by training someone in an existing position or to job share an analyst with other agencies.

Investing in a crime analysis function is money well spent.