Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Setups Common in Delivery Driver Robberies

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

2011 FBI UCR Numbers Released

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

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

Monday, October 29, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 26, 2012

Fake Survey Nabs Cold Case Murder Suspect

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

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Chicago Police Ready To Change The Way 911 Calls Are Routed

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

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

What has your agency done to reduce unnecessary police calls?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

NOVA Science Now Asks: Can Science Stop Crime?

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

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

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Geography And Crime: What Should Cops Give The Public?

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 22, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 19, 2012

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

Open Clip Art Library / CC0 1.0

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

Thursday, October 18, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 59 - Become An Effective Presenter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 15, 2012

Minnesota Burglars Targeted Homes Of The Dead

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

Friday, October 12, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 58 - Organize Powerful Presentations

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

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

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

The authors start this chapter with this bit:

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

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

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

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Seattle PD Tweet the Mundane and Exciting Parts of Policing

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 57 - Use Simple Figures

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Study Adds More Fuel To The Red Light Camera Debate


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

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

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

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

Monday, October 8, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 56 - Use Simple Tables

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 5, 2012

Crime Analysis: Where Science And Policing Intersect

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

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

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

Thursday, October 4, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 55 - Make Clear Maps

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Hit Products Often Come With A Price

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

Between January 1 and September 23 of this year, a total of 11,447 cases of stolen iDevices were reported to the New York City police, a rise of 3,280 over 2011, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said in a report sent to CNET.
In crime analysis, when a product becomes the frequent target of thieves, they are often referred to by the acronym CRAVED. This stands for:
  • Concealable. Things that can be hidden in pockets or bags are more vulnerable to shoplifters and other sneak thieves. Things that are difficult to identify or can easily be concealed after being stolen are also more at risk. In some cases, thefts may even be concealed from the owners of goods, as when lumber or bricks left lying around on building sites are stolen.
  • Removable. The fact that cars and bikes are mobile helps explain why they are so often stolen. Nor is it surprising that laptop computers are often stolen since these are not only desirable but also easy to carry. What is easy to carry depends on the kind of theft. Both burglars and shoplifters steal cigarettes, liquor, medicines, and beauty aids from supermarkets, but burglars take them in much larger quantities.
  • Available. Desirable objects that are widely available and easy to find are at higher risk. This explains why householders try to hide jewelry and cash from burglars. It also helps explain why cars become more at risk of theft as they get older. They become increasingly likely to be owned by people living in poor neighborhoods with less off-street parking and more offenders living nearby. Finally, theft waves can result from the availability of an attractive new product, such as the cell phone, which quickly establishes its own illegal market (see box).
  • Valuable. Thieves will generally choose the more expensive goods, particularly when they are stealing to sell. But value is not simply defined in terms of resale value. Thus, when stealing for their own use, juvenile shoplifters may select goods that confer status among their peers. Similarly, joyriders are more interested in a car's performance than its financial value.
  • Enjoyable. Hot products tend to be enjoyable things to own or consume, such as liquor, tobacco, and DVDs. Thus, residential burglars are more likely to take DVD players and televisions than equally valuable electronic goods, such as microwave ovens. This may reflect the pleasure-loving lifestyle of many thieves (and their customers).
  • Disposable. Only recently has systematic research begun on the relationship between hot products and theft markets, but it is clear that thieves will tend to select things that are easy to sell. This helps explain why batteries and disposable razors are among the most frequently stolen items from American drug stores.
If you know the items that are CRAVED in your jurisdiction or what the next hot gadget will be, you can focus your efforts on preventing or reducing the crimes that target these items.  NYPD is focusing some of their resources on helping people to avoid becoming a victim of thieves targeting these devices such as with this video.

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

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 54 - Tell A Clear Story

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 the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers we're up to one of the most important chapters, Step 54 - Tell A Clear Story.

When I tell people what I do for a living, sometimes people ask just what it is that a crime analyst does. My usual stock answer is to tell people that I provide police departments with the information they need to make good decisions. The very first line of this chapter starts with the exact same thought:

The purpose of your work is to help people make better decisions.
It's this crucial part of the crime analyst's job that has led me to cover topics in this blog such as information design guru Edward Tufte's thoughts on PowerPoint as a communication medium (he doesn't like it). You can conduct a really top flight analysis of a crime problem but if you can't effectively communicate your findings to the decision maker's in your agency, all your efforts are for naught.

There is path that data takes to become knowledge.
  1. Data becomes information when it is analyzed.
  2. Information becomes knowledge when it's communicated effectively.
We've all sat through presentations where, in spite of the presenter's long winded attempts at communicating, we learned nearly nothing (except not to let that guy make another presentation). This guy may have #1 nailed. But if he blows it on #2, then he might as well have not even started.

The authors suggest using both the SARA process (Step 7) and CHEERS test (Step 13) as a framework for communicating your story to your audience. They integrate them into a great sample "four story outline" for you to base your presentation on.

Effectively communicating your story is as critical a skill for a crime analyst as GIS, or knowledge of your agency's Records Management System software. Learn what makes for an effective presentation. Not only will your audience thank you for it, but you will help your department to make better decisions.

Next time, we'll cover Step 55 - Make Clear Maps.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Bill Bratton on Successful Policing

Recently Former NYPD/LAPD Chief Bill Bratton spoke at a conference that looked at the crime problems facing Detroit. In the story over at The Detroit News there was this gem of a quote from him.

"Successful policing means dealing with major crimes, and little things that, if they aren't fixed, become big things," Bratton said.

I'm no expert on Detroit, but I bet that they let a bunch of little things become big things. This doesn't mean that their problems are insurmountable, but just that it's going to take some real effort to get a handle on it.

Bratton was also quoted as saying that for Detroit to turn their crime problems around there would have to be more trust between the police and the citizens they serve. Bratton has worked in cities where the police were once more likely to be seen as occupying armies than as partners in making a community safer.

In what ways is your department patterning with the community to make sure that the little things don't become big crime problems?