Friday, August 31, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 43 - Remove Excuses For Crime

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

In this post in my series on the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers we're up to Step 43 - Remove Excuses For Crime. In the first paragraph in this chapter the authors make this statement:

This fifth category of situational techniques recognizes that offenders make moral judgments about their behavior and that they often rationalize their conduct to "neutralize" what would otherwise be incapacitating feelings of guilt or shame. 
The ideas behind this idea are not new. The authors use this example for one of the five points.
When Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso suggested in the 19th century that people should be locked up for urinating in the streets, his pupil Enrico Ferri suggested a more practical way to solve the problem: build public toilets.
This makes a heck of a lot of sense. Many problems for law enforcement concern nuisance issues and are not the result of predatory criminal behavior. In my sleepy little burg, we'll get many more vocal complaints from citizens over issues such as barking dogs and loud parties than we ever will over a murder. These minor issues can be often solved or lessened by removing the excuses that people have when committing these problem behaviors.

The authors list five general ways you can help remove excuses to commit crimes. They are:
  • Set rules
  • Post instructions
  • Alert conscience
  • Assist compliance
  • Control drugs and alcohol
In the book, the authors provide a few examples for each of the five points. Hit the link to the original article to read them.

Next time, we'll cover Step 44 - Find The Owner Of The Problem.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Austin Police To Implement High Point Strategy In East Austin

Austin, Texas is a great city. But, even a great city has areas that aren't so great. East Austin has long had problems with drugs, prostitution and associated crimes. The Austin American Statesman had a piece last week that looked at Austin Police implementing a problem oriented policing strategy to combat these crimes. 
Each police department calls the initiative by a different name. But the steps are the same: Officers use statistics to pinpoint the high-crime drug market areas and work to identify the biggest players within the trade. The most violent and dangerous drug dealers are prosecuted and given harsh penalties, while police work with the community to reach out to family and friends of low-level offenders.

These perpetrators at the bottom rungs are asked to come in for a "call-in," or an intervention, where authorities, neighborhood leaders and families come forward to explain the harm their crimes cause and offer support in changing their ways. But law enforcement officials send the message they will come down hard on violators who break the law again.

"There are a lot of carrots to be handed out, but there is also going to be a stick," Acevedo said. "Life is about choices, and this is about giving people the opportunity to make choices to turn their lives around and improve the quality of life for the people in that area."
I am interested to see how this effort works in Austin and will be following it. Hopefully, they'll publish their results as this develops.

There is a pretty good description of the High Point strategy in this document from the US DOJ. You can also find some great information about combating open air drug dealing in this POP Guide from the Problem Oriented Policing Center.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 42- Reduce Provocations

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

In this post in our journey through Crime Analysis for Problem Solvers, we're up to Step 42- Reduce provocations. A few chapters back, in Step 38, we saw that there were 25 techniques of situational crime prevention that were divided up into these five categories:

  1. Increasing the effort of crime
  2. Increasing the risks
  3. Reducing the rewards
  4. Reducing provocations
  5. Removing excuses
Sometimes crimes and disorder occur because of provocation. If you walked into a biker bar and shouted something rude about bikers' mothers to the assembled multitude you probably shouldn't be surprised if you get thumped by some hairy tattoo'd guy wearing a leather vest and motorcycle boots. Not all provocations are quite as obvious as this, but you get the point. 

The authors suggest a number of broad ways to reduce provocation. They are:
  • Reduce frustration and stress
  • Avoid disputes
  • Reduce arousal and temptation
  • Neutralize peer pressure
  • Discourage imitation
Examine your crime problem for a provocative trigger. If you can reduce or mitigate this provocation, your problem might be reduced. 

Next time, we'll look at Step 43 - Remove excuses for crime.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Even If Audits Are Rare, Departments Need Accuracy On Crime Stats

A week or so ago the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had a story on how infrequent the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports program audited departments' crime numbers.The story was a follow up on one that they did that looked into crime stats discrepancies at the Milwaukee Police Department. 
In each of the past five years, FBI auditors have reviewed crime statistics at less than 1% of the roughly 17,000 departments that report data, a Journal Sentinel examination of FBI records has found. In all, they've audited as many as 652 police agencies during that time, or less than 4% of the total.
I can't exactly say that I am surprised that the FBI's audits are infrequent.

Here at the sleepy little burg where I work, our crime stats are first submitted to the Texas Department of Public Safety. This UCR submission occurs monthly. While I don't ever recall an instance where my agency has been formally audited by Texas DPS, we have had our Texas DPS UCR rep contact us on months where we've submitted weird crime numbers. (To set the record straight, it was just one of those months that we had an unusual number of a category of crimes reported. Our DPS rep noticed this was outside our norm and contacted us for an explanation of the anomaly.)

Is it possible for an agency to fudge their crime numbers, submit them and get away with it? Yes, it's possible. Of course the agency that does this is not helping themselves. While they might save themselves a little pain at first for poor crime numbers, they do so at the risk of their credibility as well as blinding themselves to what is actually going on in their community. A short term benefit that will create huge problems for the agency in the long run.

I've written a number of posts before on why accurate crime stats are important to a police agency. In this post, I've explained it this way:
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.
Accurate crime statistics matter. Even if you aren't likely to get audited, record them correctly. Make sure your people are properly trained to capture and categorize the data correctly. Make sure your records management system counts the numbers correctly and submit accurate numbers to UCR. The citizens you serve (and also pays your salary) deserve accurate numbers.

Monday, August 27, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 41 - Reduce The Rewards of Crime

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.

For a number of months I have been walking chapter by chapter through the book Crime Analysis for Problem Solvers. A few chapters back, in Step 38 we saw that there were 25 techniques of situational crime prevention that were divided up into these five categories:

  1. Increasing the effort of crime
  2. Increasing the risks
  3. Reducing the rewards
  4. Reducing provocations
  5. Removing excuses
We looked at the first two in Steps 39 & 40. Now we’re going to cover the third when we look at Step 41 - Reduce the rewards of crime. In the past I have mentioned the idea of looking at the motivation to commit crimes through the lens of a cost / benefit ratio. Where increasing the effort and risks of crime speak to the cost, reducing the rewards of a crime speak to reducing the rewards of a crime.

These reduced rewards aren’t strictly monetary based. In fact the authors explain the rewards of crime this way:
These benefits may not simply be material, as in theft, because there are many other rewards of crime, including sexual release, intoxication, excitement, revenge, respect from peers, and so forth. 
If you are going to reduce the rewards of crime, you should think about the potential rewards that motivate a criminal in a particular type of crime. This will give you an idea of ways you can reduce the benefit thereby changing the cost / benefit ratio for your offender.

The authors list five ways to reduce the rewards of crime for the criminal. They are:
  1. Conceal targets
  2. Remove targets
  3. Identify property
  4. Disrupt markets
  5. Deny benefits
They list a number of suggestions for each of these ways. I encourage you hit the link to read the article for them. As an aside, I found this bit interesting in the category for Disrupt markets. The author states:
Police "sting" operations - such as bogus used goods stores - should be avoided because research has found that they may stimulate theft in the area around the sting.
How many times has the response to a crime problem in your jurisdiction been to “set up a sting operation”? I think it’s important to be extremely cautious about sting operations for this reason. If your sting operation is crafted in such a way as to reduce the cost to the offender(s) then you are weighting the cost / benefit ratio in their favor. You may actually induce someone to commit a crime they ordinarily would not have if the cost / benefit was not artificially swung the wrong direction.

Next time, we’ll cover Step 42- Reduce provocations.

Friday, August 24, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 40 - Increase The Risks of Crime

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.

I've been blogging through chapters of the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers for some time here on The Crime Analyst's Blog. In this post we are up to Step 40 - Increase The Risks of Crime.

The authors have a great bit in the very first sentence of this chapter. They say:

According to interviews with offenders, they worry more about the risks of being apprehended than about the consequences if they are caught.
They go onto explain that this may be because offenders can't avoid punishment if caught, but they can avoid getting caught in the first place. Of course, the cynic in me also thinks that the old cop mantra of "you can beat the rap, but you can't beat the ride" may be the real reason with the initial arrest being much more punishment than would ever be meted out through the courts.

However, while the crook tries hard to avoid getting caught, anything we can do to increase the chances that they will get caught increases the risk to the offender. In increasing the risks of crime, we may be able to discourage the commission of many crimes.

The authors suggest five ways to increase the risks of crime.
  • Extend guardianship
  • Assist natural surveillance
  • Reduce anonymity
  • Use place managers
  • Strengthen formal surveillance
The authors include quite a number of suggestions for each of these categories. You can read the entire chapter with these suggestions here.

Next time, we'll look at Step 41 - Reduce The Rewards of Crime.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

For These Two Shoplifters, Crime Did Pay

USA Today had this story of a mother and son shoplifting team that managed to steal about $2 million dollars of goods taken from Toy's R Us stores in 27 states. 
Authorities alleged that the pair would shoplift using the "box stuffing" method that involves emptying the box of a cheaper item in the store and filling it with more expensive goods.

They would then pay the box's lower sticker price at checkout. 
Anyone who thinks organized retail theft is a minor crime is mistaken.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 39 – Increase The Effort of Crime

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 my last post on Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers, we touched on the twenty five techniques of situational crime prevention. These twenty five techniques are broken down into five main categories. In this post, we’re going to cover the first category found in Step 39 – Increase The Effort of Crime.

To a certain degree, crime can be viewed using a principle of economics, the cost / benefit ratio. As it’s applied to crime, cost / benefit is not always about money. In fact, quite a number of crimes don’t really have a true economic motive. However, if we replace money in cost / benefit with some other advantage it seems to work out quite nicely.

For example, a graffiti tagger does not usually derive an monetary benefit from his crime. However, he does obtain a tangible benefit by committing this vandalism, the improved street cred amongst his tagger peers by seeing his tags spread far and wide.

If we can increase the cost to the criminal and/or reduce the gained benefit, we may be able to reduce crime. This chapter speaks to ways to increase the cost to the criminal by making it harder for them to commit the crime.

The five main ways to increase the effort of crime are:
  1. Harden targets
  2. Control access to facilities
  3. Screen exits
  4. Deflect offenders
  5. Control tools and weapons
The authors of Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers have a number of examples for each of these five areas. Hit the link to the original article to explore them further.

Next time, we’ll cover Step 40 – Increase The Risks of Crime.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What's The Real Cost Of Murder?

Recently there was a great story over at Delaware Online that looked at the total cost to a community of homicides. The dollar figures are really quite astounding.
Taxpayers got the bill for the police investigation, plus the work of paramedics and hospital staff who tried to save Bing’s life and the work of a medical examiner after he died. They paid both for prosecutors and defense attorneys in two murder trials. They’ll be paying for the incarceration of three killers for decades to come. Taxpayers may also foot the bill for social services for Bing’s family.
Estimates run anywhere from $5 million to $17 million dollars per murder according to the piece. It's quite an interesting piece and worth a read.

Monday, August 20, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 38 - Embrace Your Key Role At Response

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

In this post in our walk through Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers we’re going to look at Step 38 – Embrace Your Key Role At Response.

Often when a crime problem appears, the first solution offered is to beef up enforcement efforts. In fact, I bet you could get on the Internet and within a couple of minutes find a crime story where a Chief of Police somewhere in the U.S. is promising to flood the streets with officers to battle a crime problem and win back a neighborhood.

Unfortunately, beefed up enforcement efforts are a very short term fix for nearly any problem and they don’t always work. Extra patrols, sting operations and other efforts will only last as long as there is money in the budget for this kind of response and in today’s economy, that’s probably not very long at all. Instead, as a problem solving crime analyst you should always seek more permanent solutions. The authors put it this way:
The bottom line is that you must acquire knowledge of a broad range of solutions, and be prepared to fight for good ideas, if your careful analytic work is to bear fruit.
The next five chapters are going to cover 25 techniques of situational crime prevention which are grouped in five main categories:
  1. Increasing the effort of crime
  2. Increasing the risks
  3. Reducing the rewards
  4. Reducing provocations
  5. Removing excuses
Next time, we’ll cover Step 39 – Increase The Effort of Crime.

Friday, August 17, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 37 - Know That To Err Is Human

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

In this post in my journey through Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers, we're covering Step 37 - Know That To Err Is Human.

I must admit that this was one of the harder chapters to write about, mainly because it is a technical discussion of how to measure prediction errors. In fact I don't think I have a whole to add by commenting on this chapter other than this one bit:

In some circumstances it is possible to use a pilot test to accurately estimate the errors by making the predictions, not acting on them, and carefully observing what happens. This might be difficult to do with offenders, who prefer to keep their misdeeds hidden, but it could work with potential victims or crime places. For example, a response to a problem might involve predicting which places are most likely to be crime sites and then intervening at those locations. Prior to implementing this response, a pilot study could be conducted in which the predictions are made, but no action is taken. If the error rates are unacceptably high, then it might not be worth implementing the response.
It might be worth honing your analytical chops by making predictions about future criminal activity without any intervention. Hopefully you can work out any bugs in your analysis prior to committing resources to the problem.

Next time, I'll cover Step 38 - Embrace Your Key Role At Response

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Urban Institute Lists 10 Popular Myths About Crime

The Urban Institute's Metro Trends blog had this post that listed ten common myths the public holds about crime.
According to a recent Gallup poll, crime ranks as the 33rd most important issue facing America today. Yet, majorities of Americans report being fearful of criminal victimization. One barrier to the crime problem, addressed Monday, is that much of what the public has been told about crime in the popular media is not true.
Hit the link to see what these myths are and what is the truth.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 36 – Put Yourself In The Offenders Shoes

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.

It’s been a while since I have posted about Crime Analysis for Problem Solvers. We’ll get back to that with Step 36 – Put Yourself In The Offender’s Shoes.

Often times the easiest way to reduce crime is not always the traditional method of putting bad guys in jail. Sometimes, some out of the box thinking can reduce the opportunity for criminals to ply their trade. The best way to understand your crime problem may be to think of your crime problem as a sequence of events. The authors describe it this way:
Crime can be thought of as a process, with several steps from initiation to completion, rather than a circumscribed act occurring at a specific point in time. At each step the offender must make decisions, might need to work with others, and might need to employ specific knowledge and tools. This is essentially the idea underlying Cornish's "script" approach discussed in Step 35. It may not always be possible to develop detailed scripts, but the analysis should give a clear picture of how the crime was accomplished.
If your crime problem involves a fairly common sequence of events, look for ways to interrupt that sequence. The authors referred to a series of pickpocket crimes near a bus stop. By understanding the sequence of events from the criminal’s point of view, the analyst involved was able to suggest environmental changes that would interrupt the sequence of events and prevent the crimes from occurring.

Next time, we’ll cover Step 37 – Know That To Err Is Human.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What Are Accurate Crime Stats Worth To You?

The South Carolina news outlet The State had a story about Columbia Police spending nearly a quarter of a million dollars to upgrade their crime records system. There was this great bit on the reasoning behind the expenditure:
Accurate crime data is essential to public safety. It allows police to know where to focus resources. It helps City Council decide what ordinances and programs are needed to improve public safety. And reliable data provides a benchmark that lets the public know whether those efforts have been effective.
 I couldn't agree more. What is your agency doing to ensure that your crime stats are accurate?

Read more here: http://www.thestate.com/2012/08/06/2386281/columbia-police-taking-steps-to.html#.UCQckqP-2kI#storylink=cpy

Monday, August 13, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 35 - Understand The Crime From Beginning To End

Back in 2009, I did a series of posts covering the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. The book is published by the US DOJ's Problem Oriented Policing Center (POP Center). Because of the value I think this book has for crime analysts, and policing in general, I am going to re-post this series on here on the blog.
 
In this post in my trek through the book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers I’m going to cover Step 35 - Understand the Crime From Beginning to End.

Sometimes the most effective way to fight crime is not always the traditional reactive approach where Barney and Andy sit around the police station and wait for a call, then respond to the scene, investigate and then sometime later arrest the offenders. In fact, nearly the whole Problem Oriented Policing strategy is "outside the box" thinking and determining the best method to interrupt the cycle of crime, often times before problematic crimes occur.

In order to further this strategy it is important that problem solvers understand the crime cycle. The author's describe it this way:
This brings us to the reason for analyzing crimes in this careful, step-by-step manner: understanding clearly the sequence of actions required for the successful completion of the crime will reveal to you many more points of intervention. In other words, this will broaden the choice of responses for to you consider in your project.
In fact, way back when we covered Step 5 - Be True To POP, we saw that one of the major rationales for the Problem Oriented Policing approach was that "Prevention is more effective than enforcement." Understanding the crime cycle fully will help you to identify all the possible places you can interrupt the crime cycle.

Friday, August 10, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 34 - Look For Crime Facilitators

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.

 I have been posting about the excellent crime analysis book, Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. In this post we’re up to Step 34 - Look For Crime Facilitators.

If you have been in law enforcement for any length of time, you'll recognize that certain environmental conditions facilitate crime. For instance, a concert or festival with a free flow of alcohol, is likely to generate a rash of fights and altercations. The authors of  Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers classify crime facilitators into three types:

  • Physical facilitators are things that augment offenders' capabilities or help to overcome prevention measures. Trucks extend offenders' capacity to move stolen goods, telephones allow people to make obscene phone calls, and firearms help overcome resistance to robberies. Some physical facilitators are tools, but others are part of the physical environment. Felson and colleagues describe how the old layout of the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York facilitated a variety of crimes. Types of crimes had specific ecological niches created by the variety of design features in the old station.
  • Social facilitators stimulate crime or disorder by enhancing rewards from crime, legitimating excuses to offend, or by encouraging offending. Groups of young men, for example, can provide the social atmosphere that encourages rowdy behavior at sporting events. Gangs and organized criminal networks facilitate criminal activity by their members.
  • Chemical facilitators increase offenders' abilities to ignore risks or moral prohibitions. Some offenders, for example, drink heavily or use drugs before a crime in order to decrease their nervousness.
Identifying facilitators is important because these facilitators can either create favorable conditions for crime to occur, or to make your crime reduction efforts less effective. In our example about a festival with a free flow of alcohol, the alcohol is a chemical facilitator. If you can take steps to encourage more responsible consumption among the participants, you can likely reduce the number of crimes that occur due to alcohol soaked participants.

There is a really nifty chart in Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers that offers suggestions as to the types of strategies that are most effective with the various types of facilitators. I encourage you to hit the link and read the whole chapter.

Next time, we'll cover Step 35 - Understand The Crime From Beginning To End.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Public Crime Mapping And Police Transparency

Last week there was a story in the Oak Ridge, TN news outlet OakRidger.com that covered Oak Ridge Police rolling out a crime mapping application to their community. Oak Ridge PD is using RAIDS Online to display crime information to citizens. In the piece ORPD's Chief Jim Akagi was quoted:
The chief said the program is another way “to inform the public, to let them make informed decisions and show the people we are transparent.” He said the mapping might also show the public that “criminal activity is not that bad in Oak Ridge.”
We use RAIDS Online here in the sleepy little burg where I work. I've previously written about Why Public Crime Mapping Is Important for law enforcement. It's very important for law enforcement agencies to be transparent about the crimes that occur in their community if they are going to enlist the public's help in making their communities safer.

Recently Bair Analytics made improvements to RAIDS Online by moving their underlying mapping technology to one provided by mapping industry leader ESRI. This added a number of new data layers that can be added to maps to help people better understand the crime in their community.

What is your agency doing to communicate crime information to the public you serve?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 33 - Measure Association

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

This post in our walk through Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers is going to cover Step 33 - Measure Association. This post is important to being able to put the previous post, Step 32 - Conduct Case Control Studies into practice.

One consequence of providing detailed crime stats to your department is that occasionally you will get that person who will look at the numbers of two different statistics and will then declare that an increase in one thing caused a decrease in something else. At my shop, I had an officer declare that an increase in the number of citations written caused a decrease in the number of accidents. At first glance that might seem logical, but unfortunately, it's not that easy.


The way to test that assumption is to use a statistical technique to calculate the coefficient of correlation between two statistical variables. 
There are many ways to calculate association. Often a correlation coefficient is used. Correlation coefficients range from -1 to 1. A negative correlation means an increase in one characteristic is associated with a decline in the other (and a decline is one associated with an increase in the other). A positive correlation means that an increase in one characteristic is associated with an increase in the other (and a decline in one is associated with a decline in the other). Big coefficients mean strong associations (positive or negative). If a correlation coefficient is near zero, there is an absence of association - a change in one characteristic is unrelated to a change in the other. Any spreadsheet or statistical analysis program can perform the calculations.
In the example I mentioned regarding traffic citations and accidents, after calculating the coefficient of correlation, his assertion was proven to be false.

But often, we're trying to determine the association of something that doesn't lend itself to the statistical technique of coefficient of correlation. In fact, the Case Control Studies we learned about in Step 32 do not lend themselves to using coefficient of correlation. The authors suggest using odds ratio to measure these associations.
Odds ratios can be any number greater than zero. When an odds ratio is equal to one, there is no association between the characteristic and the outcome. That is, the risk of the outcome is the same whether or not the characteristic is present. If the odds ratio is between 0 and 1, risk is higher when the characteristic is absent than when it is present (a negative association). An odds ratio of .1 indicates the risk of the outcome when the characteristic is present is a tenth of that when the characteristic is absent. If an odds ratio is greater than 1, the risk is higher when the characteristic is present than when it is absent (a positive association). An odds ratio of 3 means that the risk of the outcome is three times as large when the characteristic is present than when it is absent.
I would encourage you to read the entire chapter Step 33 - Measure Association to learn how to calculate odds ratio. This is a great technique for determining cause and effect and not relying on anecdotal evidence.

Next time we'll look at Step 34 - Look For Crime Facilitators.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Internet Based Prostitution A Real Problem

There were a couple of stories out last week that pointed to the problem that Internet based prostitution is becoming in many communities. This one over at the Minneapolis Star Tribune shows the frustration that many city governments have with Internet sites such as Backpage.com whose sites are being used to facilitate prostitution in their communities. 
Minneapolis City Council members passed a resolution Thursday that calls for a popular website to halt running ads that fuel the sex trade at the expense of young people.

The resolution targets Village Voice Media, which operates Backpage.com. Minneapolis police report that all 20 child sex-trafficking cases they have investigated so far this year involve juvenile victims being prostituted on this website. Village Voice Media, which also owns the Twin Cities-based weekly City Pages, says it has cooperated with investigators, but has resisted pressure to shut down its adult section of ads.
An even more interesting and maybe more promising approach to combating this activity is found in this story over at USA Today. The story outlines efforts by three teen girls to sue the company that runs Backpage.com for facilitating the sex trafficking that victimized them in the prostitution trade.
"Is it proper for some outfit, for some entity, to make millions of dollars not only in trafficking women, but even more importantly trafficking children?" asked Seattle attorney Mike Pfau, who with Erik Bauer represents the teens. "No. It is absolutely unacceptable."

The lawsuit alleges that photos of the underage girls in skimpy garb appeared in numerous ads on the site, paid for by their pimps. It accuses the owners of doing nothing to prevent it. The actions described in the complaint date to 2010.
Village Voice Media, the owners of Backpage.com media seems to be hiding behind the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to avoid responsibility for what their website is facilitating. Even in the sleepy little burg where I work, Backpage.com is becoming the place to go to engage in prostitution.

If Village Voice Media continues to dodge responsibility on this one I wouldn't be surprised to eventually see lawmakers move to change the DMCA to remove some of the safe harbor provisions of the law. It's sad to think that Village Voice Media has to be forced to do the right thing where sex trafficking of women and children is concerned.

The Problem Oriented Policing Center has a guidebook of strategies to combat street prostitution. While not specifically covering Internet based prostitution, some of the strategies would likely work on both types of prostitution.

What is your community doing to combat Internet based prostitution? Have you found any strategy that works better than others?

Monday, August 6, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 32 - Conduct Case Control Studies

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.

For a number of months I have been going through the excellent book, Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. I highly recommend this book for crime analysts, police officers, detectives and anyone else who regularly has to deal with solving complex crime problems. While I have been commenting on each chapter in the book, I encourage you to read the entire book as well. The authors are way smarter and more erudite than I am.


In this post I'm going to cover Step 32 - Conduct Case Control Studies. Have you ever wondered why some locations or businesses have crime problems and some do not? For example, in my sleepy burg, we have some bars that are a significant problem and some that have not had a police call for service there in years. Why are these two places different? The way to identify factors that contribute to the difference is by conducting a case - control study. 

The authors define the process steps as:
  • Define your cases precisely.
  • Select a representative sample of these cases.
  • Define a group of controls that could have been troublesome but did not become troublesome even though they were exposed to similar conditions (e.g., in the same neighborhood or city, serve the same types of clients, etc.).
  • Select a representative sample of these controls.
  • Compare the characteristics of the cases to the characteristics of the controls.
If you look at these steps, they resemble the methodology a scientist might use to probe some great mystery. In fact, conducting a case - control study is in fact scientific research. The authors go on to state:
Case-control studies are different from most other studies and require special techniques to analyze data. Step 33 describes one technique that is particularly useful.
In the next post, we'll look at this technique when we cover Step 33 - Measure Association.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Do Lurid Headlines About Crime Statistics Help?

I think this story over at the Winnipeg Free Press merits some comments. In the story they have this bit in the story titled "Homicide Capital of Canada":
Homicide capital of Canada.

Violent crime capital of Canada.

These are the inglorious honours given to Winnipeg following the release of a new report by Statistics Canada.

A national survey of police-reported crime data for 2011 found Winnipeg and Manitoba had the highest homicide rates in the country, and Winnipeg had the most violent crime.

Winnipeg had a homicide rate of 5.1 per 100,000 residents -- highest among major Canadian communities and Winnipeg's highest since the data were first collected in 1981.
The funny thing is, I went over to the Statistics Canada website and found a report on crime stats issued by this Canadian government agency the day before this story appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press. I am going to assume that this is the report that they were referring to since there are no direct links to the report in the article.

After looking at the report, it would appear that Winnipeg does have a higher number of reported violent crimes than other communities in Canada. However, I could not find anywhere that Statistics Canada dubs Winnipeg with the moniker "Homicide capital of Canada" or "Violent crime capital of Canada". I can only assume that this is something the newspaper came up with. It's either that or that the Canadian government has some strange contests.

I know that often times these kinds of lurid headlines catch the reader's attention and sell newspapers. But do these types of headlines help the communities that get stuck with these unfortunate monikers? If your community gets labeled with a lurid moniker like this, how do you mitigate the damage caused and work towards making your community safer?

Any ideas?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 31 - Know The Products That Are CRAVED By Thieves

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

We're continuing our journey through the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. In this step, we're going to look at Step 31 - Know The Products That Are CRAVED By Thieves.

In the crime analysis unit at my agency, we get a pretty good idea of what products are popular just by looking at the types of things that are frequently stolen. In fact, we have half jokingly talked about creating an "thieves commodity index" to track the popularity of these items just like the stock market tracks commodities futures. For example, in my jurisdiction we can tell that certain designer's clothing such as Mark Ecko is popular because it's frequently stolen. Conversely, we're not seeing a lot of polyester leisure suits listed in theft reports.


The author's use the acronym CRAVED to describe the dynamics that drive the "thieves commodity index".
  • Concealable. Things that can be hidden in pockets or bags are more vulnerable to shoplifters and other sneak thieves. Things that are difficult to identify or can easily be concealed after being stolen are also more at risk. In some cases, thefts may even be concealed from the owners of goods, as when lumber or bricks left lying around on building sites are stolen.
  • Removable. The fact that cars and bikes are mobile helps explain why they are so often stolen. Nor is it surprising that laptop computers are often stolen since these are not only desirable but also easy to carry. What is easy to carry depends on the kind of theft. Both burglars and shoplifters steal cigarettes, liquor, medicines, and beauty aids from supermarkets, but burglars take them in much larger quantities.
  • Available. Desirable objects that are widely available and easy to find are at higher risk. This explains why householders try to hide jewelry and cash from burglars. It also helps explain why cars become more at risk of theft as they get older. They become increasingly likely to be owned by people living in poor neighborhoods with less off-street parking and more offenders living nearby. Finally, theft waves can result from the availability of an attractive new product, such as the cell phone, which quickly establishes its own illegal market (see box).
  • Valuable. Thieves will generally choose the more expensive goods, particularly when they are stealing to sell. But value is not simply defined in terms of resale value. Thus, when stealing for their own use, juvenile shoplifters may select goods that confer status among their peers. Similarly, joyriders are more interested in a car's performance than its financial value.
  • Enjoyable. Hot products tend to be enjoyable things to own or consume, such as liquor, tobacco, and DVDs. Thus, residential burglars are more likely to take DVD players and televisions than equally valuable electronic goods, such as microwave ovens. This may reflect the pleasure-loving lifestyle of many thieves (and their customers).
  • Disposable. Only recently has systematic research begun on the relationship between hot products and theft markets, but it is clear that thieves will tend to select things that are easy to sell. This helps explain why batteries and disposable razors are among the most frequently stolen items from American drug stores.
Knowing what types of items are taken may help you in focusing your enforcement efforts. Using are example above, we probably don't need to target polyester leisure suit thefts. Just as we learned when we talked about the 80/20 rule, we can get the most benefit from our limited resources when we focus them on the problem solving that will have the greatest effect.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

How Much Should We Spend On Prisons?

NPR had a story last week that looked at remarks US Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer made before the National District Attorneys Association. In it was this quote I thought was interesting:
"A criminal justice system that spends disproportionately on prisons, at the expense of policing, prosecutions, and recidivism-reducing programs, is unlikely to be maximizing public safety."
Prisons cost money, lots of money. I think it's worth having a discussion about our spending on prisons. However, given the proximity to our elections, I don't think that we'll be having that conversation anytime soon.