Thursday, May 31, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 7 - Be guided by SARA, but not led astray

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 next step in Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers is Step 7 - Be guided by SARA, but not led astray. Problem Oriented Policing (POP) requires that police study the problem they are trying to solve in depth.
This is a form of action research, a well-established social science method in which researchers work alongside practitioners, helping to formulate and refine interventions until success is achieved. Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
Problem Oriented Policing uses the acronym SARA to help guide the process. SARA stands for Scanning, Analysis, Response and Assessment. In most cases it is important to follow the acronym from one stage to the next in order to properly use the model and get the most out of the POP methodology.

It is also important to point out that you might have to shift back and forth among the stages. Your response to a problem may require more analysis to fine tune the response as more information is gained. The authors point out:
An assessment of the short-term response could add to the analysis and contribute to the formulation of a new response, which is then assessed. This might lead back to scanning as new information forces a revision of the problem definition or the discovery of new problems. The important point is that analysis and evaluation are meaningfully incorporated into the sequence of events and one does not simply jump from scanning to response and declare victory. Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
Many times dealing with problems forces outside the Department (and even those inside the Department) tend to pressure us to jump from identifying a problem to implementing a solution immediately. We need to avoid the pressure and stick to the SARA model to ensure the greatest likelihood of actually solving the problem.

Next, we'll cover the step Use The Problem Analysis Triangle.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

To Cut Crime, Plant A Tree But Trim Your Shrubs

The Atlantic Cities had a really interesting piece that looked at the relationship between urban greenery such as trees and shrubs and crime.
Troy and his colleagues ran all types of models to analyze the relationship between crime and canopy. Even after controlling for factors known to influence crime statistics — income, race, population density, and the like — they found the aforementioned link between more trees and less crime. While they doubt the connection is "purely causal," the strength of their figures suggest "some genuine relationship between trees and crime."
Maybe Johnny Appleseed was onto something after all.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 6 - Be Very Crime Specific

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 our journey through Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers we've seen that successfully implementing Problem Oriented Policing requires carefully adhering to the principals of POP. The next step is to Be Very Crime Specific.

It's important to understand that crimes that may have similar sounding offense titles, may have very differing dynamics behind the crimes and hence require a different solution to solve the problems. In the city where I work, we had a problem with burglaries for a number of years. The biggest problem was with daytime residential burglaries committed by somewhat unsophisticated criminals. Their modus operandi (M.O.) was to drive around till they found a residence that appeared to be unoccupied, force open a door, and then grab small, portable, high value items and flee the scene rapidly.

The solution to target this type of burglar would not apply to the home invasion burglar who strikes an occupied dwelling with the intention of robbing the occupants by force. They are both violations of the same statute in the Texas Penal Code, but the M.O. is completely different. Because of these types of differences, the solution to one would likely work on the other.

Additionally, focusing on a specific type of offense allows you to determine if the number of crimes of that type is worth the expenditure of resources it would take to implement a successful solution.
There are few rules for determining precisely the level of specificity needed for a successful POP project. Tightening the focus too much could result in too few crimes being addressed to justify the expenditure of resources, though this depends on the nature and seriousness of the crimes. If only a few hubcaps are being stolen, then this problem would not merit a full-blown POP project. On the other hand, a POP project to reduce corner store robberies could be worth undertaking, even if only a few such robberies occur each year, because these can escalate into worse crimes such as murder, and because they increase public fear. Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
Depending on your analysis, you may be able to address to related crimes with the same or similar solutions.
Finally, as you learn more about a problem in the analysis stage, you might decide that it is so similar to a related problem that it is worth addressing the two together. For instance, when working on a problem of assaults on taxi drivers, you might discover that many of these are related to robbery attempts and that it would be more economical to focus your project on both robberies and assaults. In this way you may identify a package of measures that would reduce the two problems together. Source:Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

Here in the United States today is Memorial Day. While the holiday has morphed into a day that marks the beginning of summer, the holiday is actually to commemorate those members of the armed forces that lost their lives in service to the nation.

I am proud of my service in the US Navy. I was fortunate to serve on active duty during peacetime, though I was a drilling reservist during the First Gulf War. But even peacetime service can be hazardous. There were several shipmates I served with who lost their lives due to accident or illness. Memorial Day is even more poignant for today's service members due to the casualties in the recent war in Iraq and those in the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

While many of us will spend the day grilling hamburgers with family and friends, we should never lose sight of the real reason for the holiday. Take time today to honor the memory of those who gave their lives so that we could enjoy the freedom that they bought with their blood.

Freedom isn't free.

Friday, May 25, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 5 - Be True To POP

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. 
Have you ever noticed that some people tend to experiment with different techniques of doing things? "A little bit of this, a little bit of that" might work if you are making a pot of stew but it isn't always the best approach for police work. This is why the next step in Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers is to Be True To POP.
Some police managers attracted to problem-oriented policing also apply other strategies, such as community policing, "broken windows" policing, intelligence-led policing, and CompStat. Depending on how these other strategies are implemented, they may or may not be compatible with POP. Even when implemented in a compatible manner, they are not the same as POP. For these reasons it is critical to understand how POP differs from these other strategies. Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
Step 5 has a really good explanation of how these differing policing strategies differ from Problem Oriented Policing. It also identifies ways in which they are compatible in spite of their differences. At the end of the section there is a link which will pop open a chart that should help you understand the differences in these policing approaches. The overall lesson from Step 5 is not to dilute POP by a careless 'throw everything at a problem and hope something sticks' approach. The most important element of POP is careful analysis and research of your particular problem. Mixing differing policing strategies is often times neither careful nor analytical.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

On Hot Spots, Predictive Policing And Good Police Work

I've been trying to post links to news stories that I find that deal with predictive policing. Earlier this week I found this piece over at the Monterey County Weekly that looked at looked at Salinas, California Police plans to implement a predictive policing program. 
“Every good cop knows where their hot spots are, but what Predictive Policing does is focuses that to a very manageable area,” Deputy Chief Kelly McMillin says. “That’s important in Salinas, where we have so few officers on the street anymore, to look really closely where those officers are spending the minutes they have to be out patrolling.”

Predictive policing is generating a lot of interest both in and out of law enforcement. Earlier this week the International Association of Crime Analysts Vice President Susan Smith and John Hollywood from the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center gave a presentation at the IACP Law Enforcement Information Management Conference titled "Predictive Policing: What It Is, What It Isn’t, and Where It Can Be Useful".

I am sure that we're going to see more and more about predictive policing technology as it becomes more widespread and more accessible to law enforcement agencies.

Would you like to implement this type of crime analysis technology at your agency?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 4 - Become A POP Expert

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. 

As we continue on with our walk through Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers the next step is to become knowledgeable in the theory of Problem Oriented Policing or POP. You should Become A POP Expert. There is an interesting bit in this section. One that I hope will be taken to heart in your organization.
We have also seen that random patrolling, which the public expects, is not an efficient way to apprehend criminals. This means that much police work that is carried out to meet public expectations is of limited value in controlling crime. Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
As Departments are forced to do more with less, I hope that there will be less resistance towards doing away with what won't work. No one wants to be spinning their wheels in dealing with repetitive crime problems. POP offers a way out of that rut. Problem Oriented Policing originated with Herman Goldstein. From the book:
His idea was simple. It is that policing should fundamentally be about changing the conditions that give rise to recurring crime problems and should not simply be about responding to incidents as they occur or trying to forestall them through preventive patrols. Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
Goldstein believed that police should work through problems in four steps sometimes known by the acronym SARA. SARA stands for Scanning, Analysis, Response and Assessment. Later on in Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers they will explore SARA in depth. For us as crime analysts, we should be ready to use SARA and POP to make our organizations more effective in their mission.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Just How Effective Are Sting Operations?

There was a piece last week over at the Dallas area news outlet WFAA that looked at a program announced by Dallas Police to use "bait houses" to combat burglaries of vacant homes.
"Once these appliances move, the tracker goes off," Shead said.

It's called a bait house, similar to a bait car. When burglars break in, the video cameras turn on and police can monitor the thieves live.

“We will have GPS tracking placed on the inside of appliances, such as refrigerators, microwaves and dishwashers in the house," Shead said.

Police will send officers immediately out to catch up with the suspects.

According to the DPD, the goal is not only to catch suspects, but find out where the stolen goods are being fenced. They want to know who is buying the stolen property.
Police often turn to sting operations like these when they are up against a particularly intractable problem. But the effectiveness of using stings or "bait" operations isn't always consistent. The Center For Problem Oriented Policing has a guidebook on Burglary at Single-Family House Construction Sites. In the guidebook they have this caveat about "bait" operations:
General surveillance and bait operations are very expensive and have limited effectiveness in apprehending offenders. However, if used tactically with established patterns or confidential informants, they may be successful and cost effective.
 Of course it may be a bit early to judge the Dallas PD operation but the WFAA story had this bit:
The department has one bait house up and running. It's been in operation for two months, but no arrests have been made yet.
So why do police turn to sting operations like "bait" houses if there effectiveness is spotty?

Often times the public pressure on an agency to "do something" about a crime problem is overwhelming. It takes a lot less time to throw together a bait operation than it does to spend months or years working with neighborhoods to encourage people to become better guardians of their own stuff by target hardening or to develop an effective neighborhood watch program. Even if your bait operation catches no one, you can still claim to have done something. Then on the off chance that you actually catch someone, the surveillance video looks pretty sexy on TV at your press conference.

A couple of years ago I was at the IACA / Problem Oriented Policing Conference in Arlington, TX and sat through a presentation by a southern California law enforcement agency that tackled a particularly pernicious stolen motorcycle problem.This agency like many others, turned at first to using bait vehicles to catch thieves. What they found was that by putting out bait vehicles to be stolen by thieves, they were catching only the amateur, opportunistic thieves and not the hard core motorcycle thieves that were plaguing their community. Their problem was they made it too easy for the amateur crooks to take the bait.

When they began to study the problem further they began to sharpen their focus and conduct their operations "tactically with established patterns or confidential informants" then they began to catch the real crooks they were after and not just some poor sap who happened upon a motorcycle with the keys in it.

Have you conducted sting or bait operations at your agency? Were they effective at controlling the crime problem you were trying to combat?

Monday, May 21, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 3 - Know What Is Effective

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. 

There's a biblical quote that says "There is nothing new under the sun." This also applies to police work. Many times, the solutions to our local problems have been figured out by someone, somewhere else who has previously dealt with the same or a similar problem. The third step in Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers is to Know What Is Effective (and not) in Policing. If someone else, somewhere else found a solution to a similar problem, why not apply that knowledge in dealing with your problem? Conversely, if someone else tried and failed in their attempt to address a problem, why would you want to go down that same road to failure?
The lessons during a third of a century of research are now clear. Effective police work requires both focused attention and diverse approaches. The least effective policing uses neither element. The explanation for this is also clear. If diverse approaches are used without focus, it is difficult to apply the appropriate approach to the places and people who most require it. If police are focused on hot spots, but only enforce the law, they limit their effectiveness. A fully effective police agency must take advantage of the details of crime situations to reduce crime opportunities. Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
The authors include a very nifty chart explaining the general effectiveness of various policing approaches in the book. Click through the link to view it. Studies of some of the traditional approaches to crime control, show these methods aren't terribly effective. If this is the case then why do we still do them?
Crime analysts have important roles in applying both elements -
focusing with precision using their analytical methods, and helping to craft appropriate police tactics that fit the details of problems they have uncovered. Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
Do you know what practices work?

Friday, May 18, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 2 - Be The Local Crime Expert

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 next step in the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers is Be The Local Crime Expert. If most other police agencies are like mine, there are very few people who get to see the whole picture of crime in your jurisdiction. Day Shift Patrol officers don't get to see what's happening on the Midnight Watch, Property Crimes Detectives don't often investigate Persons crimes and so on. Many times, the only place where all the reports are funneled through is in the Crime Analysis unit. As an analyst you are one of the few in your department with the big picture.
"In short, nobody can see the whole crime picture. But if you became the local crime expert it would help make your department more informed, efficient, and capable of using its resources to reduce crime. It would provide more opportunity to warn citizens, to detect offenders, and to initiate prevention efforts. In short, you could help a lot of people by gathering the right information."
The authors talk about a number of ways you can become "The Local Crime Expert". Many of these ways are sound advice such as:
  • Talk with Officers & Dispatchers, even the midnight crew
  • Ride with Officers on Patrol when you can
  • Visit crime scenes occasionally
  • Communicate with your peers in other agencies
In my opinion the most effective way is to review those offense reports coming in. I try and make it a habit to review the arrests and reports from the previous day every morning. The suggestions above are all good, but some of them can be very time consuming and time is something few analysts have an excess of. There are always more demands on us than we can possibly fulfill. Block off time in your day to skim the reports from the previous day. You'll be surprised what you can discover that way.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

So Are Surveillance Cameras In The Public Square Good Or Bad?

This bit from The Atlantic is interesting: It seems that Portland, Oregon Police want to install video surveillance cameras in several high crime neighborhoods in an effort to deter crime. The part I found interesting comes from those who are opposing this plan.
"We hope that, one, they are a deterrent, but two, we can deploy our resources more efficiently," Simpson says. "I think most of the point is to make it obvious that you're being filmed. And if that's a deterrent for people, great. It certainly won't be a deterrent for everybody."

But others argue that the cameras aren't needed and they won't do any good.

"Our general position is it's a waste of resources," ACLU of Oregon Executive Director David Fidanque told The Oregonian. "Video surveillance does not prevent crime, and it's not necessarily helpful in solving unsolved crimes."

Dan Handelman agrees. He's a representative of Portland Copwatch, a citizen-run organization promoting police accountability, and he worries that the footage collected by the cameras and their ability to be tilted and zoomed gives too much data to the police.
What's ironic is that both the ACLU and Copwatch have long advocated the rights of citizens to videotape the police in order to deter or document police abuses. In fact, if you go to the Copwatch website, they have images of video cameras on their flyers. The ACLU has information on their website like this herehere and here about the public's right to videotape the police.

So which is it? Are surveillance cameras ineffective or are they "an independent record of what took place in a particular incident, free from accusations of bias, lying or faulty memory."

Do you have surveillance cameras in public areas in your jurisdiction? Have you found them to be an effective deterrent for certain types of criminal activity?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 1 - Rethink Your Job

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 first step in the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers is to Rethink Your Job. While Crime Analyst's have come a long way in being seen as credible assets to a law enforcement organization, it's still pretty easy to get thought of as just some "admin pencil pusher". Many times, the responsibility for that view is our own. It's pretty easy to get so bogged down in the routine grind of cranking out periodic statistical reports and meeting deadlines that we fall into a rut. To get out of that rut and head off in a new direction we need to rethink what our job is. The authors put it this way:
"Control over information is crucial, and the ability to analyze it is all-important. The person who learns how to do so becomes an essential member of the team. But we are not talking here about power or status. We are referring instead to a challenge facing all police forces: how to solve enduring and repetitive crime problems. Think of yourself as a member of a team helping to solve these problems, with a particular
role in that team."
I don't know about others, but I enjoy discovering new things. Whether it's detecting a new crime series or a new way I can help an officer or detective solve a crime. There's a certain excitement that comes with it. It's sure beats futzing around with a spreadsheet.
"In short, you should begin to see yourself as more than just a technician, skilled in manipulating and presenting data. You should become more like a researcher - albeit with a highly practical focus - one who is bringing the very best that science can offer to make policing more effective."
Are you ready to change the way you look at your job?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Social Media's Impact Felt In Criminal Justice System

People's fascination with social media has led to folks posting nearly every aspect of their lives to their Facebook page or Twitter. There was an interesting story over at about a Massachusetts Appeals Court decision regarding instructions given to jurors including admonitions about social media. 
“Jurors must separate and insulate their jury service from their digital lives,’’ the court said in a ruling involving a Plymouth Superior Court case in which several jurors made comments on Facebook during a trial. Those posts in turn elicited responding posts from friends.

“Instructions not to talk or chat about the case should expressly extend to electronic communications and social media,’’ the court added in its little-noticed ruling two weeks ago.
What seems common sense to those who work in the criminal justice system is not not obvious to citizens who will make up the jury pool or who may be witnesses in criminal trials. I'm sure that we'll see more of this pop up in jury instructions across the country.

One trend I'm also seeing in the sleepy little burg where I work, is the number of victims who are locating their stolen property on Craigslist or other similar sites. There was this humorous piece over at Time Magazine about a Washington, DC man who found his stolen bicycle on Craigslist and then stole it back from thief. While we haven't had folks steal their stolen property back, we've fielded a number of calls from citizens who've found their stolen property online. We're always more than happy to meet with the seller to discuss the origins of the items they're selling.

How is social media and sites like Craigslist affecting your agency? Do you have personnel savvy enough to work cases that involve social media or sites like Craigslist?

Monday, May 14, 2012

60 Steps Revisited

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 repost this series on here on the blog. 

The Center For Problem Oriented Policing, a DOJ funded think tank published an excellent book "Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers In 60 Small Steps". This publication is an expansion of one previously published by the Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science in the UK. You can download the book for free at the link. To give you a little taste of what's in the book I want to cover the 60 Steps in posts here at The Crime Analyst's Blog. Even if you aren't a full time crime analyst at your agency I think we can all benefit by what's covered in 60 Steps.
Problem-oriented policing is an approach to policing in which discrete pieces of police business (each consisting of a cluster of similar incidents, whether crime or acts of disorder, that the police are expected to handle) are subject to microscopic examination (drawing on the especially honed skills of crime analysts and the accumulated experience of operating field personnel) in hopes that what is freshly learned about each problem will lead to discovering a new and more effective strategy for dealing with it. 
While law enforcement is as fond of buzz words as many other enterprises, I don't think we need to get too hung up on what "Problem Oriented Policing" is. In looking at the definition above, Problem Oriented Policing is just good police work. Someone wrote it down and gave it a name and it's really kind of irrelevant for us whether it's called Community Oriented Policing, Problem Oriented Police, Intelligence Led Policing or the latest buzzword du jour.

In the introduction to the 60 Steps, the authors write of the role of crime analysts in Problem Oriented Policing.
Indeed, the latest writings on problem-oriented policing see crime analysts as central to this new way of policing communities. These writers argue that many of the weaknesses of current practice result from the insufficient involvement of well-trained crime analysts at each stage of the problem-solving process.
As a crime analyst, or as a police officer who wants to be a little more analytical in their approach to policing their communities, you are important to this process. In the coming days I'll work my way through the 60 Steps here. Hopefully, we'll all gain by this.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Are You An IACA Member?

I have a question to ask you; are you in law enforcement? If so, are you a member of the International Association of Crime Analysts? There are plenty of good reasons to become a member of IACA.

The International Association of Crime Analysts was formed in 1990 to help crime analysts around the world improve their skills and make valuable contacts, to help law enforcement agencies make the best use of crime analysis, and to advocate for standards of performance and technique within the profession itself. We accomplish these goals through training, networking, and publications.

The IACA membership rolls have crime analysts, police officers, intelligence analysts, criminologists, and students interested in the field. IACA membership comes with a number of benefits such as training, conferences and certification. One resource I use daily is the IACA member mailing list.

The IACA mailing list is a valuable resource for those in the field. There are daily conversations with analysts from around the world sharing their expertise in crime analysis and problem solving. The times I've posted a question to the list, I've gotten numerous replies from analysts with valuable advice or tips within an hour or so of my post.

Dues for IACA are only $25 per year with discounts for members from developing countries or members of other regional crime analyst associations. Visit the IACA membership FAQ for more details.

What's stopping you from becoming an IACA member?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Community's Trust In The Police Has To Be Earned

Earlier this week, I posted about the reasons Sanford, Florida city officials hired Richard Myers to be the Interim Chief of Police of the Sanford Police Department. Sanford PD if you recall was roundly criticized for their handling of the shooting of an unarmed black teen by a white neighborhood watch volunteer. Officials in Sanford hope that Chief Myers strong community policing background and professional qualifications can help restore public confidence in Sanford Police.

There was a great quote from Chief Myers in an interview published in the Orlando Sentinel yesterday.

Q: How do you win over or build trust in a community like Sanford, where there is such a distrust of the police department because of history?

A: It sounds trite, but you really have to win them one heart at a time. Trust has to be earned — you can't buy it. Take the time to listen, to demonstrate that you care, to be honest and forthright about what you can and cannot do, and not to give false hope. ... In the short time I'm here, I'm hopeful that I personally, and we collectively as a police department, will be able to explore some of those disconnected and mistrusted relationships and find out what has been the historical basis for them. But at some point you have to ask people to be willing to let go of history and look forward.

I couldn't agree more.

What is your agency doing to earn the trust of the community you serve?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Happless Crook Tries To Rob Wilmer, TX Police Station

Normally I save the unusual crime stories for Friday. However, this one demonstrates such monumental chutzpah on the part of the crook that I couldn't pass it up. The Dallas Morning News Crime Blog had this piece on what has to be one of the weirdest crimes I've seen in a while. 
Apparently not for Keithan Kennard Manuel, who faces charges he attempted to rob the Wilmer Police Department Headquarters over the weekend, according to police documents.

Manuel, 18, walked into the city's police department offices in the 200 block of East Belt Line Road near Interstate 45 about 8 p.m. on Saturday with his hands covered by a white towel.

He walked up to the dispatch window and pointed a covered hand at a telecommunications operator, the documents said.

"Give me all of your money," Manuel told the startled operator.
 Needless to say, this robbery didn't end well for this guy.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Professionalism And The Path To Regaining Community Trust

I normally shy away from “bad cop” stories here on the blog. The reason is that there are plenty of other sites out there that are ready to bludgeon an officer or police department when either the officer or the department screws up. In this post I am not going to depart from that policy.

There is likely few people who have not heard of the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Florida. In the fallout of this high profile shooting, the police agency responsible for investigating the original shooting incident was roundly criticized for it’s handling of the incident. So much so, that their Chief of Police finally resigned. I’m not going to delve into any criticism of the department or their Chief but this USA Today story about the announcement of an interim Chief of Police has a couple of things I think are worth noting.

One is that Sanford mayor indicated that the new Chief’s community policing background was a major reason for their selection. Another reason, and one that I thought was interesting was this bit:
Myers has extensive credentialing experience. The Sanford police department has only state accreditation and none nationally. Myers is a commissioner/secretary at the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, and will help the department adopt best practices and achieve national accreditation, Bonaparte said.
One important aspect of community policing is establishing a relationship with the community as a partnership to solve crime problems. This same relationship building should help to repair some of the fractures that developed when this incident happened.

Accreditation by Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) is an arduous process. If Chief Myers intends on bringing Sanford up to CALEA standards this process could show the community that their department has the highest professional standards. A community needs to have confidence that their police department is professional and transparent.

If your agency is a true partner with your community, and you are professional and transparent, they will continue to support you even when one of those unfortunate "bad cop" stories hits all too close to home.

Monday, May 7, 2012

From CompStat To CityStat To A Stat For Everything

There was an interesting piece at The New York Times Opinionator blog this week. The piece looked at how the concept of CompStat, using statistics to track effectiveness and holding people accountable for effectiveness has migrated from police departments to other city departments.

What is only starting to catch on, though, is the idea that CompStat isn’t just for policing. In Baltimore, which pioneered the application of CompStat to other government business, mayors for the last decade have used a CompStat-style system to run the whole city. CitiStat has greatly improved how the city does the meat-and-potatoes of government: picking up trash, filling potholes. But it goes much further. “We now Stat homelessness, we Stat domestic violence,” Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Baltimore’s mayor, said in an interview. “We’re finding more ways to use it — monitoring day-to-day progress, monitoring the pace at which we improve and push it along. We’re doing a citywide analysis of how to use CitiStat to drill down into problems that have been in existence for years.” Baltimore has been trying for years to put in a new computerized system for emergency dispatch of ambulances and firefighters. “We’re creating a Stat process — pull all the people into the same room with independent analysts and figure out how to get rid of roadblocks,” she said.

The entire piece is worth the read. I'd encourage you to take the time to read it. I think that the idea of applying Stat principles to other government operations is profoundly important. The citizens we serve deserve to know that their tax dollars are being used wisely and efficiently.

A hat tip to John Markovic over at the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services who posted a link to the story on the IACA mailing list.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Accurate Crime Statistics Matter

The Visalia Times-Delta had a recent story about Tulare, California Police Department's efforts to ensure their crime statistics are accurate.

"You have to know you produce valid data," she said. "That information must be reliable. It has to be accurate."

Faulty information can send law enforcement agencies the wrong direction when dealing with a crime wave or be late in reallocating resources to handle hard-to-spot trends.

One illustration I frequently use when I speak to the public about crime analysis and the importance of accuracy is comparing crime statistics to dead reckoning navigation. Back in the days before modern navigation devices, sailing ships used this method of navigation to get where they were going.

The way it worked was ships would start from a known position, then carefully chart their direction, speed and time traveled to determine where they were at all times so they could get to where they were headed.

In applying this analogy to crime analysis, in order to know where you are going, you have to know as accurately as possible where you have been. If you are going to know if your crime reduction efforts are effective, you need to maintain accurate crime statistics at all times.

What are you doing to encourage a culture of accurate crime statistics within your agency?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Counter-Insurgency In Springfield?

There was a very interesting story recently in The New York Times about Massachusetts State Police adapting a special forces counter-insurgency model to police a community with a significant gang problem.

Before their deployments, Troopers Cutone and Sarrouf might have been similarly distant. But their experience overseas changed their perspective, convincing them that it was futile to fight a war without gaining the trust and support of those most affected by it. So in 2009, when gang violence spiked and community leaders and the city police were eager to develop new tactics, the troopers proposed trying the counterinsurgency strategies they had been trained to use in Iraq.

“It was kind of an ‘aha’ moment,” Trooper Cutone said. “Gang members and drug dealers operate very similarly to insurgents. I don’t mean they’re looking to overthrow the state. But the way that they blend into the passive support of the community and use that to their advantage is very similar.”

On a sheet of butcher paper, Trooper Cutone drafted a plan, listing goals like “Work by, with and through the local population,” and “Detect, degrade, disrupt and dismantle criminal activity” — maxims similar to those drilled into him during counterinsurgency training in the Special Forces.

While "counter-insurgency" sounds ominous on the surface, the tactics they are employing such as getting community leaders involved, building up trust, and working together to solve community problems are the same tactics used in community policing.

Regardless of whether you are dealing with a Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan or an out of control criminal "insurgency" in a Massachusetts community, winning the hearts and minds of the population is the only way you are going to have long term success.

What is your agency doing to win the hearts and minds of the citizens you serve?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Is Reduction In Recidivism Worth The Cost Of Longer Sentences?

The Atlantic had an interesting article yesterday that looked at the effect that longer prison sentences had on recidivism. The study by Harvard doctoral candidate Peter Ganong found that on average each year added to a prison term results in around a 14% drop in recidivism. On the surface, this sounds good but it's a lot more complicated than that.

His work also suggests that the state of Georgia, and the communities within it, are paying dearly to keep people in prison longer all for the relatively minor reduction in parole violations. The per-prisoner annual operating cost of Georgia state prisons is roughly $25,300. Ganong estimates the cost of crimes committed over the next 10 years by the average released prisoner would be, at the most, about $12,000 per prisoner. So, essentially, the state is paying $25,300 to prevent $1,200 worth of crimes per year.

Of course, not all the crimes prevented are minor. There's no exact way of knowing for sure, but it's statistically probable that an increased prison sentence has prevented at least some of the more major crimes people tend to worry about. Which raises the question for public officials: is it worth the high cost of keeping people in prison longer to prevent a lot of minor crimes and maybe a few major ones, too?

The "lock 'em up" strategy of crime reduction is very expensive. With a smaller budget pie the question we need to ask is just how big a piece of pie should we give to this strategy? What might be even more cost effective is preventing the crime from happening in the first place.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

When Times Are Lean, You've Got To Cut Out the Fluff

The Nebraska news outlet the Grand Island Independent had a piece about staffing levels at the Grand Island Police Department. The city brought in an outside consultant to look at the workload of GIPD who came to the conclusion that they were understaffed for the workload they have. In the piece was an item that I think is worth kicking around. From the story:
“Officers here on patrol are busy,” McCabe told the city council. “Just about all day … officers are dedicated to calls for service.”

So it may be time for Grand Island to break away from the “full service” department it has been. McCabe suggested not responding to vehicle accidents resulting only in property damage. There’s really no need to babysit vehicle owners swapping insurance information, he said. Likewise the department uses a lot of time and resources, but gets little enforcement gain, from responding to alarm calls and conducting routine checks.
GIPD isn't the only agency that's had to rethink the services they provide and where they fit into their agency's mission. It's important to stay focused on your agency's mission and devote as many resources as possible to that mission. For many agencies that means that minor traffic accidents, alarm calls, funeral escorts, etc. are out.

No matter how minor, there is a dollar value on every call for service your agency provides. Additionally, you want your officers to have as much discretionary time as possible for your crime fighting efforts to be effective. Every minor accident call and every false alarm call takes away from that discretionary time.

We should always ask ourselves, why do we do this? If the answer is "because we've always done it" or "because the public expects it" and not "because it contributes to making our community safer" it might be time to stop doing it.

Has your agency cut back on the non-essential services you provide?