Monday, December 30, 2013

A New Year and a new beginning at The Crime Analyst’s Blog

It often said that the New Year is the time for new beginnings. In that spirit, I am going to try a new beginning. Over the next 52 weeks, my posts here at The Crime Analyst’s Blog will cover short ‘How To’ articles on skills and tips needed by crime analysts and persons working in a crime analyst’s role. I am planning on these tips to cover very basic entry level skills.

My reasoning for this is there are many small agencies that don’t have a trained crime analyst. But just because they don’t have a crime analyst doesn’t mean their agency wouldn’t benefit from some basic crime analysis skills. It’s my hope to be able to post these basic ‘How To’ articles here on The Crime Analyst’s Blog once a week or so. I hope you’ll follow along and let me know what you think.  

I’ve been blogging here at The Crime Analyst’s Blog since 2009. During the years that I have been blogging here, the majority of my posts have consisted of a link to a law enforcement news item, maybe a snippet from the story and some comments about it. During this time, social media has also become much more commonly used. I’ve become very active on both Twitter and Google+ during this time. Social media is the perfect outlet for that style of blogging. I will continue to post links and comments on law enforcement news items to my social media outlets. For that you can follow me 

I don’t know about you, but I am looking forward to 2014. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Is 'collaborative policing' the next police buzzword?

The Wall Street Journal had a piece last week that looked at Bill Bratton's return to NYPD as their chief. The NYPD has touted historically low crime rates in recent years but their reputation has taken a real hit with the controversy over their "stop & frisk" program as well as allegations that their Intelligence Unit has been spying on mosques and Muslim businesses post 9/11.

In the story, Bratton speaks about what this 'collaborative policing' is.
The goal, according to Mr. Bratton's working document on collaborative policing, is to have officers and residents of the areas they serve identifying problems together and addressing people who bring crime into the neighborhoods. The aim is to bring "more sharing of information, better leads" and more trust between police and people, said Lis Smith, the de Blasio transition spokeswoman.
Via The Wall Street Journal 

Sounds a lot like community policing to me.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

So what's the problem with red light cameras anyway?

There was a story earlier this week over at the excellent tech website Ars Technica that looked at the very contentious issue of automated photo red light cameras. The story is a pretty balanced one that looks at the benefits and pitfalls of such systems.
After having rapidly risen to cities large and small across America, citizens and members of local government are starting to ask themselves the same questions that Mayor Marsh is asking: are these cameras actually making our communities safer? And is it a good idea to use speeders’ fines to pay for a system designed to catch them? Plus, are all laws even meant to be perfectly enforced?
Via Ars Technica

I am always leery when you introduce any sort of financial incentive into enforcement efforts. It's just way too easy to jettison fairness in enforcement efforts in order to chase the dollar. Automated red light cameras are a lot like asset forfeiture in that respect.

It's also important to note that the best law enforcement occurs as a cooperative effort between the police and the public they serve. The visceral objection to red light cameras may stem from the idea that these devices are akin to playing dirty pool. No one likes getting a traffic ticket but it's really offensive when you feel that the ticket was not given fairly and honestly.

Of course the best way to improve traffic safety is better traffic engineering practices that improve traffic safety without resorting to the dreaded traffic ticket. This is also much less likely to result in an angry tirade from citizens would who have gotten one of those tickets.

Street design a large part of traffic safety

While murder may get more news, traffic deaths outnumber them. The Atlantic Cities had an interesting piece looking at how good urban street design can improve traffic safety.
Last month, the New York City Department of Transportation released a brief-but-handy guide that uses before-and-after design renderings to illustrate five basic rules for street safety. The report calls its comparisons "the largest examination of the safety effects of innovative roadway engineering conducted in a major American city, or perhaps any city globally." That's a tall claim, but there's no question that the five lessons embedded in these images merit notice from urban communities near and far.
Via The Atlantic Cities

Friday, December 13, 2013

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Can answering the question "Where's a safe place to stab someone?" reduce violence in the UK?

Street Doctors works on the rationale that giving at-risk kids information and survival skills can stop violence as much as prison terms for carrying weapons. The U.K.'s tabloid press likes to run wild with tales of feral Britain, but the truth is that many young people carrying knives are in fact terrified of becoming victims themselves. They also unaware of just how dangerous a stab wound can be.
Via The Atlantic Cities

This is a pretty unusual approach. I wonder if it will work?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Does the "trial penalty" actually thwart justice?

Plea offers have been around since the 1800s and are a well-established and necessary part of criminal practice. But the new mandatory minimums and sentencing enhancements have given federal prosecutors new power to coerce pleas and avoid trials. A prosecutor can now give a minor drug dealer this choice: “Plead guilty to a reduced charge, or go to trial and risk sentencing that will put you in jail for decades.” It’s not hard to understand why so many defendants—whether innocent, guilty, or not quite as guilty as charged—are taking the first option.
Via The Atlantic

Is a right that is so prohibitively punitive to exercise an actual right?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

So just what is driving a rash of Houston armored car robberies?

Harris County, which includes Houston, has had 11 armored-car robberies since January, roughly a third of the nationwide total this year. The F.B.I. had reports of two holdups of armored vehicles in New York City this year and none in the Boston, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles areas.
Via The New York Times


Monday, December 9, 2013

Could changes in JAG grant performance measures make these grants more effective?

This is a pretty interesting idea:
The annual self-evaluation JAG recipients are required to complete measures performance in a way, says the Brennan Center report, that is "roughly analogous to a hospital counting the number of emergency room admissions, instead of considering the number of lives saved." Agencies are asked how many arrests they made, and prosecutors are asked how many cases they won. Not only is that data rather useless in terms of assessing the effectiveness of a given policy, it also says to the person answering the questions that their numbers should be really big.
Via The Atlantic Cities

Whenever I look a statistical performance measures for the police department where I work, I am always hesitant to include data for arrests and traffic citations. The reason being is that these can be pretty poor ways for an agency to measure how effective they are being at making the community safer.

These are numbers that are pretty easy to jack up. If your agency is being criticized, then you go out and make a bunch of low level arrests for trivial offences or you go out and write a bunch of tickets for people driving just a few miles an hour over the speed limits. You'll have an impressive chart showing an increase in these activities but you haven't demonstrated that crime has been decreased or that there are fewer traffic accidents.

It will be interesting to see what changes the Justice Assistance Grant program makes in measuring how effective these grants are.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Crime predicting security robot? Really?

Officially dubbed the K5 Autonomous Data Machine, the 300-pound, 5-foot-tall mobile robot will be equipped with nighttime video cameras, thermal imaging capabilities, and license plate recognition skills. It will be able to function autonomously for select operations, but more significantly, its software will provide crime prediction that's reminiscent, the company claims, of the "precog" plot point of "Minority Report."

Of course you can't have any policing/security technology nowadays without the predictive policing buzzword being attached to it.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

So just how likely is a property crime to be solved?

There was a rather depressing story over at the Austin, Texas Public Radio station KUT that looked at Austin PD's low clearance rate for burglaries. 
...APD is only able to solve eight percent of its property crime cases. That rate has improved, somewhat. Two years ago, the clearance rate was five percent. The national average is 12 percent.

I'm not posting this to pick on APD. Even in the sleepy little burg where I work we've had our share of lackluster property crime numbers in the past. In fact, if you look at the clearance rates for Uniform Crime Report Property Crimes nationwide you will see that the numbers are almost as depressing.

These are very difficult crimes to solve. In fact, it's likely more cost effective to prevent them before they occur than it is to solve them after the fact. Of course successful prevention is not just the responsibility of the police.

Getting the public to protect themselves is often difficult. Just this week I was reading a report where someone had their car stolen as they left it running in the driveway to warm up. This is Texas and it was 50F degrees that morning. Really? Just how warm does you car need to be before you leave for work.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Did you ever wonder what happens to stolen electronics?

Here's a piece on the journey of a stolen laptop from the school it was stolen from to the unsuspecting buyer halfway across the US.
Thousands of laptops and cellphones are taken each year in the District, and police readily admit that they are frustrated by the ease with which stolen treasures can be unloaded for fast cash. Some are recycled, others are sold on the streets or from stores that deal in stolen goods. In most cases, the trail becomes too convoluted to follow, and the electronics become lost on the legitimate market.
Via The Washington Post

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

How frequent are mass killings in the United States? Do you really want to know?

USA Today had a great interactive piece that looked at some of the numbers behind mass killings. These incidents are defined as murders of four or more people in one incident. To answer the question above; one happens about once every two weeks.

There was some really interesting bits in the story including this:
But for all the attention they receive, mass killings still accounted for only a tiny fraction — about 1% — of all the Americans who were murdered over those five years. During those five years, more died from migraines and falling out of chairs than were murdered by mass killers, according to death records kept by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Three times as many people perished from sunstroke.
Via USA Today

All in all your chances of being murdered, whether in a mass killing or just a regular old run of the mill murder are pretty low, much lower than heart disease or cancer.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Oil drilling boomtowns booming with crime too

Amid all of that new money, reports of assault and theft have doubled or even tripled, and the police say they are rushing from call to call, grappling with everything from bar brawls and shoplifting to kidnappings and attempted murders. Traffic stops for drunken or reckless driving have skyrocketed; local jails are spilling over with drug suspects.
Via The New York Times

Skyrocketing growth in a community often outstrips the community's ability to keep up. It's stories like these that make me thankful for the sleepy little burg where I work.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Did media coverage of the "Knockout Game" drive this crime trend?

I'm sure you've seen lurid coverage of a "crime trend" called the "Knockout Game". Supposedly this trend involves young men deliberately assaulting unsuspecting victims by trying to knock them unconscious with one punch.

There was an piece at The Atlantic Wire that had an interesting bit it in.
The New York Times cited Police Commissioner Ray Kelly as saying his team is “trying to determine whether or not this is a real phenomenon.” He adds, “I mean, yes, something like this can happen. But we would like to have people come forward and give us any information they have.” That's actually a pretty reasonable reaction, considering the difficulty in determining criminal trends; especially in the age of 24-hour news coverage, where the copycat effect creates attackers inspired by the ‘trend’ to capitalize on the media’s branding.
 Via The Atlantic Wire

So was this trend largely driven by the lurid coverage of this trend? Is it even a real trend if the only thing driving it is the media's coverage of it?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

So how much trust should we place in UCR Hate Crime statistics?

The FBI released their 2012 Uniform Crime Reports Hate Crime statistics this week.
According to statistics released today by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5,796 criminal incidents involving 6,718 offenses were reported in 2012 as being motivated by a bias toward a particular race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity/national origin, or physical or mental disability.
Via The Federal Bureau of Investigation

While I am pretty comfortable with the crime data reported in the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports numbers for UCR Part 1 crimes which are murders, robberies, burglaries and such. I have a whole lot less confidence in the Hate Crime numbers reported.

It's not that I don't trust police departments to dutifully report the numbers of crimes that meet the "hate crimes" definition nor is it that I don't trust the FBI's UCR program to collect and dutifully compile this numbers and issue a report. My problem is that it's much harder to divine the mind of a criminal to determine why they picked their victim.

Yes, there are rare cases when the criminal will report  to police "I hate those people and that's why I did it." But if several members of one race commit a crime against someone of another race how do we know if it's "motivated by a bias toward" the victim based on their race? Is there a certain number of racial epithets they must utter? What if they say nothing at all?

In a country with 319 million persons and 10,189,900 UCR Part 1 Crimes reported in 2012 I find it really hard to believe that there were only 6,718 "hate crimes". Keep in mind that those 10 million plus UCR Part 1 Crimes don't include all the Part 2 Crimes and all the crimes that aren't part of the Uniform Crime Reports program at all.

Kind if beggars belief doesn't it?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

If you have surveillance cameras, someone's got to monitor them

This is innovative. A Mexican government agency hired deaf people to monitor video surveillance cameras in the city of Oaxaca.
It also improved the city's surveillance system.The video footage is silent, and deaf monitors are both capable of reading lips and less easily distracted than officers who can hear by other things happening in the command center.
Via The Atlantic Cities

Monday, November 25, 2013

Reducing traffic fatalities with Broken Windows Policing

Every 30 hours, White said, a New Yorker is killed in a traffic crash, and every 2 hours someone suffers a life-changing injury. The majority of the victims are pedestrians. "Is this acceptable?" he asked. "Is this the city we want to live in?"
Via The Atlantic Cities

This was from an interesting story that looked at reducing traffic fatalities in New York City by applying the same "Broken Windows Policing" strategy that NYC and other cities used to reduce violent crime. Given NYPD's rather pitiful reputation regarding traffic accidents it seems like this could be a good start.

Friday, November 22, 2013

So why won't cell phone carriers install kill-switch software on their phones?

Earlier this year, cell phone companies met with law enforcement officials who were alarmed at the number of cell phone thefts and robberies. For a number of cities, these thefts were so numerous that crime numbers went up in some cities solely because of these crimes. The cell phone manufacturers agreed to install features that would make the devices useless if they were reported stolen and consequently reduce the demand for illicitly obtained cell phones.

Now we see a number of stories that while cell phone manufacturers are willing to install these kill-switches, cell phone carriers are balking.

This piece from The New York Times Bits Blog offers this potential explanation:
Mr. Gascón said that, based on e-mails he had reviewed between a Samsung executive and a software developer, it appeared that the carriers were unwilling to allow Samsung to load the antitheft software. The emails, he said, suggest that the carriers are concerned that the software would eat into the profit they make from the insurance programs many consumers buy to cover lost or stolen phones.
Via The New York Times

There was also a piece in CNet this week where the New York Attorney General and the San Francisco District Attorney joined forces in ripping the cell phone industry over their reticence to allow manufacturers to install these theft reduction features.
"Since smartphone thefts so often result in violence, we call on manufacturers and carriers alike to make the opt-out kill switch an industrywide standard," the officials said in a joint statement released Tuesday.
Via CNet

The refusal by cell phone carriers to implement these common sense anti-theft features is just plain wrong. Even around the sleepy little burg where I work we have adult thieves robbing school children of their smartphones with threats of violence or even with weapons. And all because these devices can be wiped and resold to unsuspecting resellers or purchasers.

Installing features that would "brick" a phone that was reported stolen would reduce their resale value to nothing and would remove the incentive for thieves to target these devices.

Most folks opinions of their cell phone carriers is right up there with congressmen and used car salesman. For the carriers to balk on this so they can up-sell customers overpriced insurance is the height of douche-baggery.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

LAPD's digital "murder books" hope to organize murder case files

The Los Angeles Times had a great story about an effort to digitize the vast amounts of information in their murder investigation files to make this information easier to access.
The task wasn't feasible before because of a lack of resources, but this first-of-its-kind partnership with the FBI will place sought-after information a click away for detectives, who sometimes spend weeks tracking down a file's location. When the database is complete, investigators will be able to search any aspect of a murder book, including license plate numbers and gang monikers.
Via The Los Angeles Times

Most people don't realize just how volumes a homicide case file or "murder book" really is. One of my homicide cases from back when I was a detective filled four or five large file boxes. Finding a bit of information or even finding case files themselves can often get to be a problem. An effort like LAPD's is a great thing.

I worked on a cold case murder project a while back to come up with a comprehensive list of all our cold cases and tracking down case files was very labor intensive. There were several different computer systems and multiple paper file locations to check and I still had trouble finding some files. I can only imagine how difficult it must be in a huge organization like LAPD's.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Here's something you don't want your city to be first in

Chicago is now the "Murder Capital" of the United States and registered more total homicides than New York City. Here's another interesting tidbit from the story:
According to FBI data, 69.3 percent of all homicides involved a gun.
Via The Washington Post

I sure am glad we don't need to have a conversation about gun violence in this country.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

It's not what you do but who you know that makes you more likely to be murdered

There was a fascinating piece over at NPR last week that looked at research findings that your relationship to a murder victim determines how likely you are to yourself be a murder victim.
"[Victimization] is not simply a function of spatial proximity or of individual risk factors such as age, race, gender or gang affiliation, but also of how people are connected, the structure of the overall network, the types of behaviors occurring in the network and an individual's position in the overall structure,"

What I found especially interesting was that your place in these social circles trumped gang membership, drug dealing, etc. for determining how likely you were to be murdered. In essence, the closer your relationship is to a murder victim, the more likely you yourself are to also become a victim.

I also found it encouraging that Chicago PD was using this theory to try and intervene with those at risk for becoming the next murder victim. Given Chicago's reputation regarding murders, this is worth trying.

Monday, November 18, 2013

If your citizens are hiring private security to patrol their neighborhoods is this a bad sign?

There was a story at NPR last week that kind of left me scratching my head. The piece looked at a number of Oakland, California neighborhoods where citizens have decided to hire security guards to patrol their neighborhoods.
More than 600 households pay $20 a month for unarmed patrols in clearly marked cars to run 12 hours a day, Monday through Saturday. 
Lower Rockridge is just one of several Oakland neighborhoods where residents have either hired private security patrols or are actively debating taking that step. In some neighborhoods, the patrols are armed.

My concern with an effort like this is that if residents are feeling so unsafe in their own neighborhoods that they are willing to pool their resources and pony up money to hire these patrols it's probably a sign that the police department is failing in it's job to make the community safer.

Maybe this should be a wake up call for their police department.

Friday, November 15, 2013

If leaving an abuser means leaving a beloved pet, many women won't leave

A 2007 summary of available research, published in the journal Violence Against Women, found that in the dozen or so shelters in the country that collect data on the issue, between 18 and 48 percent of women said they had delayed leaving their abusers because it meant leaving their pets. In one study conducted in upstate New York, researchers found that among women who had seen their pets abused, 65 percent had put off seeking help. Presumably, many others with pets never leave home at all.
Via The Pacific Standard

This quote brings up a conundrum on how best to assist victims of domestic violence. If you are going to get victims of domestic violence to go to a shelter, you are going to have to be seen as a welcoming place. For many, that means welcoming their cherished pet.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Making some cities sustainable may require destruction and not construction

This piece over at The New York Times isn't directly crime related but it does look at issues some older cities are having with negative growth. The solution to this has been for many of these cities to raze vacant buildings, and in some places like Detroit, this has lead to thousands of vacant buildings being torn down.
Large-scale destruction is well known in Detroit, but it is also underway in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Buffalo and others at a total cost of more than $250 million. Officials are tearing down tens of thousands of vacant buildings, many habitable, as they seek to stimulate economic growth, reduce crime and blight, and increase environmental sustainability.
Via The New York Times

It almost seems antithetical for city planners to consider destruction as a means to build a healthy community for the future. But for these communities, it's likely the only way they have to keep their communities alive. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Texas' prisons may have their issues but here's something worth commending

“While the Texas prison system is often criticized, I believe they should be recognized for keeping the cemetery open to the public and away from the prison,” said Franklin Wilson, an assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at Indiana State University who is writing a book on the history of the cemetery.
Via The Texas Tribune

The story is worth a read.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Rewards for crime tips is both a help and a complication

The Denver Post had an interesting piece that looked at Denver area police's use of a Crime Stoppers program that offers cash rewards for information that solves crime.
The announcement of reward money can capture headlines and draw out witnesses, as it did when Aurora police offered up to $20,000 last month in the chilling kidnapping of an 8-year-old girl, the highest reward in the department's history. 
But everything that follows can be complicated.
Via The Denver Post

We've been pretty successful with the Crime Stoppers program in the sleepy little burg where I work. I'm also always surprised how many people submit tips and refuse the rewards.

Does your agency use programs like Crime Stoppers to solicit tips about crime? Has the program been worthwhile?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veteran's Day

Today is Veteran's Day. Like so many in law enforcement I too am a veteran. I want to salute all those that have served in the military. There is a common thread of self sacrificing service to others in both law enforcement and in the military.

Here's the text of this year's Presidential Veteran's Day Proclamation.


On Veterans Day, America pauses to honor every service member who has ever worn one of our Nation’s uniforms. Each time our country has come under attack, they have risen in her defense. Each time our freedoms have come under assault, they have responded with resolve. Through the generations, their courage and sacrifice have allowed our Republic to flourish. And today, a Nation acknowledges its profound debt of gratitude to the patriots who have kept it whole.

As we pay tribute to our veterans, we are mindful that no ceremony or parade can fully repay that debt. We remember that our obligations endure long after the battle ends, and we make it our mission to give them the respect and care they have earned. When America’s veterans return home, they continue to serve our country in new ways, bringing tremendous skills to their communities and to the workforce— leadership honed while guiding platoons through unbelievable danger, the talent to master cutting- edge technologies, the ability to adapt to unpredictable situations. These men and women should have the chance to power our economic engine, both because their talents demand it and because no one who fights for our country should ever have to fight for a job.

This year, in marking the 60th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice, we resolved that in the United States of America, no war should be forgotten, and no veteran should be overlooked. Let us always remember our wounded, our missing, our fallen, and their families. And as we continue our respon- sible drawdown from the war in Afghanistan, let us welcome our returning heroes with the support and opportunities they deserve.

Under the most demanding of circumstances and in the most dangerous corners of the earth, America’s veterans have served with distinction. With courage, self-sacrifice, and devotion to our Nation and to one another, they represent the American character at its best. On Veterans Day and every day, we celebrate their immeasurable contributions, draw inspiration from their example, and renew our com- mitment to showing them the fullest support of a grateful Nation.

With respect for and in recognition of the contributions our service members have made to the cause of peace and freedom around the world, the Congress has provided (5 U.S.C. 6103(a)) that November 11 of each year shall be set aside as a legal public holiday to honor our Nation’s veterans.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby pro- claim November 11, 2013, as Veterans Day. I encourage all Americans to recognize the valor and sacrifice of our veterans through appropriate public ceremonies and private prayers. I call upon Federal, State, and local officials to display the flag of the United States and to participate in patriotic activities in their communities. I call on all Americans, including civic and fraternal organizations, places of worship, schools, and communities to support this day with commemorative expressions and programs.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand thirteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-eighth.

Friday, November 8, 2013

This isn't your normal crime map

"Where You're Most Likely to Be Arrested or Shot by the Police in San Francisco"

Via The Atlantic Cities

Domestic violence is a problem for LGBT couples too

This piece is worth the read.
Yejin Lee, an associate at the Anti-Violence Program in New York City, said that the assumption of heterosexuality has been a huge stumbling block for gays and lesbians seeking refuge from an abuser. "One problem is the way domestic violence has been framed for the past 30 years," she said. Since the entire movement against domestic abuse started as a battered women's movement, Lee said, we are ingrained to think that victims are all are married, straight women.
Via The Atlantic

What always gets me is the levels of violence in LGBT domestic violence incidents that manage to get reported to police. Some of them are particularly brutal. If I had to guess I would say that it's not because domestic violence is worse in the LGBT community, but that given the historical reticence to report, they rise to more violent levels before actually they do get reported.

Either way, it's sad. Police agencies and organizations that work with domestic violence victims need to ensure that they are welcoming to all victims of domestic violence regardless of sexual orientation.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

If your loved one was murdered, would you want a visit by the Chief of Police?

"I'm Chief Wade Ingram. I'm the police chief. I want to say that I'm sorry about what happened to your son," the chief says.
Via NPR 

There was a story over at NPR that really touched me. The story looked at a practice by Gary, Indiana Police Chief Wade Ingram's practice of meeting with the families of all the city's murder victims. Given Gary's murder rate, this practice has likely kept the Chief quite busy.

In my years in law enforcement, I've seen that unfortunately, murder victims aren't always pillars of the community. Engaging in criminal behavior such as prostitution, drug dealing, gangs or robbery often seem to increase your chances of becoming a murder victim. In spite of this fact, these victims leave families behind.

The story quotes Chief Ingram with this:
"It's not a strategy. It's just something that I humanly do," he says. "Even though I'm the police chief, I am part of the community and what I see is, I see a family ... that's in grief. They have questions."
What a humane gesture. The critics be damned.

iPads in schools come with a downside; they're attractive to thieves

More and more schools are embracing technology like laptops and iPads in the classroom. These devices are helping to introduce children to the technology that they will need to succeed in our connected world. But these devices come with a downside. They are frequently targeted by thieves.
"Teachers and administrators are so excited about the tech that it's very easy to overlook the security implications until it's too late," said Ken Trump, a school safety expert in Cleveland who has consulted with campuses in every state. "It's not just an issue of protecting the devices in the school itself. It's also an issue, even more importantly, of protecting the children coming to and from school."

The piece is a good read. It's important that schools understand the vulnerabilities in having these CRAVED items on campus as well as in their students' backpacks. Schools should work with their local law enforcement agencies to protect the students carrying these devices home as well as the devices themselves. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Washington D.C.'s gunfire detection system paints a scary picture of gunplay in the city

The gunfire logged by ShotSpotter overshadows the number of officially reported felony gun crimes by more than 2 to 1. More than one-half of the incidents detected by the network have involved multiple rounds of gunfire. In 2009 alone, ShotSpotter captured more than 9,000 incidents of gunfire. That number has fallen by 40 percent in recent years as gun homicides have declined sharply.
Via The Washington Post 

The story is an interesting read. I'm not sure which is more surprising, that there are so many shooting incidents or that so many go unreported by citizens.

Every police department has their chronic complainers

"When It Comes to New York City Nuisances, He’s a One-Man Task Force"
via The New York Times

If you ask the officers or dispatchers at your local police department, they can probably list them by name and the nature of their complaints.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How many of these crime myths do you believe?

The Urban Institute's Metro Trends Blog has this piece on: The truth behind 10 popular crime myths

How many of them did you believe? 

What's a normal number of mass killings?

USA Today had a piece recently that looked at the unusual fact that there were four mass killings in the US in the span of four days. These killings took the lives of nineteen people.

"Murders don't distribute themselves evenly over a 12-month period," Levin said. "Just because we see four occurring in proximity to each other doesn't mean we are suffering through an epidemic of mass murders but that's what people will think."

Via USA Today

I'm not sure that there is ever a "normal" number of mass killings since they are such extraordinary events.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Should police ticket drivers for using Google Glass or wearable computers?

You knew this was coming.

Can you talk dirty to children in Texas? It appears that you can

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals struck down a section of a 2005 law that banned adults from sexually explicit online communication with children. That means soliciting a person under the age of 17 for sex remains illegal, but talking dirty with a child is protected by the U.S. Constitution.
Via The Houston Chronicle

Sometimes law is just weird.

Friday, November 1, 2013

FBI's LEOKA report details police line of duty deaths

The FBI's 2012 Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) report was released last week. In 2012, 95 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty in the United States.

You can view the report here. on Boston PD's Bomb Squad at the Boston Marathon bombing

This is a phenomenal read.

There isn't much more I could say about it.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

If sex offenders are no more likely to offend on Halloween, why the collective freakout?

Jill Levenson, an associate professor at Lynn University, said that the greatest risk to trick-or-treaters is getting hit by a car. Researchers at the Florida school determined that there was no change in sexual assaults during Halloween, or even in the weeks that followed, in comparison to the rest of the year.

“The laws restricting sex offenders make parents and communities feel safer, but there’s no proof that they reduce the risk of sexual abuse,” Levenson said. “Law enforcement should be directing their efforts towards crimes that are more commonly seen on Halloween, like vandalism.”
Via The Dallas Morning News

Sometimes law enforcement efforts are to combat the public's perception of a problem and not an actual problem.

What did noise to complaints to the police look like in the Roaring 20's?

There was a interesting piece in The Atlantic Cities that looked at noise complaints in New York City from the 1920's and 1930's.
Here's one typical grievance from 1931, filed under "Late-Night Piano-Playing Neighbor," from a gentleman named Warren who stayed near 240 East 31st Street: "Warren wrote to Commissioner Wynne to thank him for sending an officer to see his 'annoying musical neighbor,' who now ceased his musicking, 'with an emphasised cord,' promptly at eleven o'clock each night."
Via The Atlantic Cities 

If you've worked in law enforcement very long, you've seen that some of the most vocal complaints from citizens is not usually about major crimes. In the sleepy little burg where I work we almost never get complaints forwarded from City Hall about murders, robberies or other assorted misdeeds. People most often and most loudly complain about quality of life issues.

I'm glad to see that some things never change.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Troubling numbers: Active shooter incidents on the rise

The US Attorney General Eric Holder made an troubling comment in a speech to the International Association of Chief's of Police last week. The speech was given a day or so after a tragic school shooting in Nevada.
"Between 2000 and 2008, the United States experienced an average of approximately five active shooter incidents every year. Alarmingly, since 2009, this annual average has tripled. We’ve seen at least 12 active shooter situations so far in 2013. Even more troubling, these incidents seem to be getting more and more deadly. 
Over the last four years, America has witnessed an increase of nearly 150 percent in the number of people shot and killed in connection with active shooter incidents."
Via The Atlantic Wire 


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Cargo thefts becoming a big problem for trucking industry

There was a great piece last week in the San Francisco Chronicle's that examined the problem of cargo thefts.
The most common crime is still the "straight theft" of trailers left unattended in parking lots or at truck stops. But CargoNet says the new trucking scams are growing at a rapid 6 percent each quarter. Of the average three to five truckloads stolen each day in the United States, at least one involves what are known in the industry as fraudulent or fictitious pickups.

These sophisticated cargo thieves are often times stealing loads worth $100K or more with one truck. I don't get to see these types of thefts where I work. We don't have any truck stops or major freight terminals in the sleepy little burg where I work. So this piece was worth a read.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Have we seen the end of the decline in violent crime?

The 2012 National Crime Victimization Survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 26 of every 1,000 people experienced violent crime, a 15% increase in how many people reported being victims of rape, robbery or assault. Property crime — burglary, theft and car theft — rose 12%. 
"We've plateaued. At this point, I don't think we're going to see any more decreases in crime," said criminologist James Alan Fox of Northeastern University in Boston. "The challenge will be making sure crime rates don't go back up."
Via USA Today

There are two main sources of crime statistics. One is the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) program. UCR collects statistics of crimes that have been reported to police.

The National Crime Victimization Survey questions people about their victimization regardless of whether or not the crime has been reported to police.

Both these sources taken together are important as while the numbers from UCR may be more accurate as every police agency in the US is required to report them, there are quite a number of crimes that go unreported.

I'm not surprised that the decline would eventually end. I didn't think the numbers would drop forever. However, I was hoping we'd see them drop for at least a few more years.

Friday, October 25, 2013

It may not be glamorous but crime tips lines are important

There was an interesting piece over at The New York Times that looked at the role NYPD's anonymous tips line plays in solving crimes. The piece looks at how the tips line was crucial to solving the 20+ year old "Baby Hope" case.
At a time when police officers and prosecutors can often tap an array of forensic evidence — DNA, phone records and surveillance footage — the anonymous tip seems like a throwback to an earlier era of crime solving, a relic from the days when a New Yorker could still find a working pay phone and place a call for 10 cents. (The expression “drop a dime” became slang for informing on someone to the police.)
Via The New York Times
At the agency where I work, we have a Crime Stoppers program that allows people to submit tips anonymously. They can call, text or submit tips online anonymously. If these tips lead to an arrest, persons can receive a cash reward. Many times, people don't want the reward. We've had really good success with our program.

In the bit I quoted above they alluded to how archaic a tips line seems compared to high tech evidence such as DNA or video. But the reality is, most crimes are solved the old fashioned way with gumshoe police work. DNA can help you get a conviction but it often does little good without a name to go with it.

Does your agency have a crime tips line? Has it been successful?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Oil patch boomtowns create a police service calls boom as well

There was an interesting piece at The Atlantic Cities last week that looked at the problems that the boomtowns associated with domestic oil exploration are causing for law enforcement in once small towns.
The issues officers shared with Archbold ranged from a dramatic increase in alcohol-related violence ("Ninety percent of the problems we deal with involve alcohol," one officer said), to an inability to balance emergency calls with proactive community policing ("I used to know people. I used to know their vehicles. I no longer know people or their vehicles," said another officer.) Here are some of the biggest problems police shared with Archbold. 
Via The Atlantic Cities

These agencies are having the opposite problem that rust belt cities like Detroit have.  Cops in rust belt cities are struggling because the population (and tax base) has moved away leaving no money for resources. In the towns around the Bakken oil fields, the increased work has outstripped their resources.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Could this NY killer survive a year in the wilderness?

This is an odd one.
Last year about this time, Eugene Palmer, a 73-year-old retired truck driver with a love of the craggy backwoods, shot and killed his tempestuous daughter-in-law, Tammy Palmer, the police said, and vanished into the vast wilderness of Harriman State Park.
Via The New York Times

The suspect, hasn't been seen since.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Rare whiskey theft: A crime almost worth committing

The Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort noticed this week that it was missing some of its 20-year-old Pappy Van Winkle, one of the rarest and most sought after bourbons in the world. 
"It's highly coveted," said Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton, the man leading the investigation. "It's the best of the best."


I bet there are quite a few Kentucky cops volunteering to work this case.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Why I killed The Crime Analyst's Blog Google+ Page

In August I moved The Crime Analyst's Blog from Blogger over to a Google+ Page. I blogged over there for August and September. I have been using Blogger for the blog since I started it in 2009. I wanted a change and decided to experiment with using Google+ as a blogging platform.

Part of the reason I decided to use a Google+ Page for this instead of my Google+ profile was that while there are scheduling tools out there that will let you schedule posts for Google+, they only work with Pages and not profiles.

This lead to me having a somewhat fragmented presence on Google+. I would have to post in two places as well as deal with separate groups of followers. This got a bit tedious after a bit so I decided to consolidate my Google+ presence by killing The Crime Analyst's Blog Page and pointing everything over to my personal Google+ profile.

I also decided to move my long form blogging back over to Blogger and then use Google+ to tie that with shorter form link sharing and commenting.

This gets me down to these outlets:

The Crime Analyst's Blog for my professional blogging for my personal blog

Twitter and Google+ to tie them all together and for shorter posts.

Clear as mud right?

While I am at it, let me share a couple of things I've learned in the two months I blogged exclusively on Google+.

One, Google+ has some real potential. In the two months I blogged on Google+ exclusively, my followers jumped from about 500 to about 6,500. I was talking with my teen daughter about it recently and she said that means I'm "Internet famous".

But seriously, that's a heck of a lot of followers in a short period of time. Yes, it helps to put in a lot of effort and some good content but still, 6,000 additional followers in two months?!

If Google is serious about promoting Pages for business, they have to make it easier to switch between a personal profile and a Page in their iOS app. Right now to switch you have to log out, then log back in. Really, Google? You can't do better than this?

While they are at it, how about introducing a way to schedule posts on personal profiles or at least open up an API so Buffer or some other developer can do it? Tools like Buffer or Hootsuite are important for people who manage professional social media outlets.

I also think the ability to format posts could be improved. Right now you can bold, underline or strikeout text in a Google+ post. But you can't do things that you can do on other blogging platforms such as block quotes, headlines, etc. Google+ adding support for a full range of HTML formatting using Markdown would be epic!

I want to thank you for your patience with all the blog changes in the past couple of months. I think I'm about done for now, I promise.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Gangs on social media?

"Some gang members are using online tools to plan crimes, recruit members or challenge and threaten rivals, said Bruce Ferrell, the president of the Nebraska-based Midwest Gang Investigators Association. Many of those kinds of back-and-forth "dissing" between rival gang members come in the form of rap lyrics that are recorded and posted online, he said."
Via Governing

Are you surprised?

Forget the file, the new jailbreak tool is forged court documents

Florida prison releases two murderers after they received forged court papers. 


Do mandatory minimum sentences work?

This piece over at The Atlantic Cities was an interesting read.

Could Stiffer Penalties for Illegally Carrying a Gun Reduce Violence in Chicago?

Given the situation, I'm not so sure the answer is Yes. 

In spite of NYPD's vaunted surveillance apparatus, they can't find Banksy

And did we mention Mayor Bloomberg is in on the hunt? "You running up to somebody’s property or public property and defacing it is not my definition of art," he said yesterday. But his police force's inability to track down a world-famous artist installing new street art literally every day of the month is starting to make his heavy, invasive policing strategies look goofily ineffectual.
Via The Atlantic Wire


And you thought your commute was bad

"Much of the carnage comes from developing nations, where road fatalities are set to become the fifth-leading cause of death above scourges like malaria, AIDS, and tuberculosis. Vehicle accidents remain the leading way that people aged 15 to 29 continue to die worldwide."
Via The Atlantic Cities

This makes me feel much better about my morning commute.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Just how common is theft from elderly persons' trust funds?

There was an outstanding story over at USA Today that looked at nursing home staff who have embezzled trust fund monies from elderly residents.
These trust funds, which most long-term care providers are required to maintain for residents who request that the facility handle their money, are supposed to work like conventional bank accounts, with accrued interest, regular statements and reliable oversight. But USA TODAY found more than 1,500 recent cases in which nursing homes have been cited by state and federal regulators for mishandling the funds.
Via USA Today

The story is worth the read as they cover a number of scenarios on how the thefts were perpetrated and how these thefts were uncovered.

It also highlights the fact that these types of thefts likely require forensic accounting skills to investigate. If a case like this was reported to your agency, do you detectives have the skills to conduct an investigation like this, or do you know where to get the assistance you need?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Some police cameras are actually a good thing

A story over at The Atlantic Cities looked at recent guidelines from the American Civil Liberties Union regarding police body worn video cameras.
The privacy concerns on both sides are complicated enough that the American Civil Liberties Union—which ardently supports police accountability measures—recently released recommendations for wearable police cameras to "ensure they protect the public without becoming yet another system for routine surveillance of the public."
Via The Atlantic Cities

The story and it's discussion of the ACLU guidelines is worth a look. For the most part, they are pretty good even if they lean more towards the protection of citizens and less about protecting cops or the capturing of evidence.

Even with concerns about government surveillance body worn police video cameras are a good thing, both for the public and for cops. The story asked "When should cops be required to wear cameras?" The answer is: all the time.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

So just how much police surveillance is too much?

There were a couple of thought provoking articles on government surveillance. The first from The New York Times looks at how the growth of surveillance by police is sparking a growing apprehension among privacy activists.
For law enforcement, data mining is a big step toward more complete intelligence gathering. The police have traditionally made arrests based on small bits of data — witness testimony, logs of license plate readers, footage from a surveillance camera perched above a bank machine. The new capacity to collect and sift through all that information gives the authorities a much broader view of the people they are investigating.
Via The New York Times

The second article is an opinion piece over at Wired magazine by tech guru Richard Stallman that asks the question How much surveillance can democracy withstand?

In the opening paragraph Stallman states:
The current level of general surveillance in society is incompatible with human rights. To recover our freedom and restore democracy, we must reduce surveillance to the point where it is possible for whistleblowers of all kinds to talk with journalists without being spotted. To do this reliably, we must reduce the surveillance capacity of the systems we use.
Via Wired

So just how much surveillance is too much?

Yes, there are some law enforcement benefits to some surveillance technology. But surveillance technologies are not a panacea. Throwing up video cameras won't make crime go away.

If you want proof of this, let's look at the crime of bank robbery. Banks were probably the first industry to widely embrace video surveillance technology. However, if you visit the innovative website you can see that this technology hasn't exactly made bank robbers extinct.

This website is chock full of surveillance images of people robbing banks. Some in disguise, but also a surprising number wearing no disguises at all. Why is this? Why would a bank robber not be deterred by the presence of surveillance technology?

This example can likely be extrapolated to understand the potential effectiveness of other surveillance technologies. Some of them may help deter a criminal who isn't highly motivated. Some of them may help catch some criminals who are motivated but aren't sophisticated enough to evade the technology. But none of them will be totally effective despite what the proponents of these technologies will try to tell you.

This brings us back to my original question: How much surveillance is enough?

The answer probably lies in the idea that the least amount possible, backed up by some good old fashioned gumshoe police work.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Are police sting operations really an efficient way to stop crime?

The tech journal Ars Technica had an interesting story from Nate Anderson about police sex predator stings. You know, the ones where police troll the interwebs and chat up people looking to have sex with minors. I'm not commenting on this because I want to seem sympathetic to pervy dudes who want to have sex with minors. However, there was a bit in the story that I think is worth looking at.
Why does it take 30 people to arrest solo strangers knocking on the front door? It's a labor-intensive operation, involving drumming up suspects, performing "open source intelligence," installing hidden cameras, filling out police paperwork, cuffing suspects, dealing with suspects' vehicles, and executing search warrants on suspects' homes after arrest. Each operation requires: 
House commander
House supervisor
Chat supervisor
Case agents
Vehicle team
Investigative support team
Arrest team
Surveillance team
Prisoner transport/takedown team
Audio-visual and IT support
Forensic support
A "house scribe" to handle documentation
Via Ars Technica

That seems like a heck of a lot of police resources to make a single bust. It seems to me that there has to be an easier, less resource intensive way to police to discourage this kind of activity.

The Problem Oriented Policing Center has excellent publication in their Response Guide series that looks at police sting operations that is worth reading. The guide looks at both the positive and negatives of police sting operations.

Does your agency conduct sting operations? If so, for what types of crimes?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Changes, changes, changes...

You might notice that the domain points back to this blog rather than my Google+ page. There are a few changes coming.

It will all be good.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Crime Analyst's Blog has moved

You can now find The Crime Analyst's Blog on Google+.

You don't have to be on Google+ to view the posts. However, if you are it will make things much easier if you want to comment on posts.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Crime Analyst’s Blog is moving!

For the past five years I’ve used Google’s Blogger service to host The Crime Analyst’s Blog. Five years is a long time where the Internet is concerned. One significant change that has taken place during this time is the rise of social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Google+. I’m an avid user of Twitter to promote posts here on the blog and to supplement the blog.

Google has made a number of improvements to its Google+ social media service. One major improvement is adding the ability to have a stand alone Google+ Page along with your personal Google+ profile. In fact, much of the functionality of a blog is available on a Google+ Page.

Most of my posts here on the blog consist of a link to a news article and a few comments about the article and how it applies to crime analysis. This style of blogging is perfect for Google+. For this reason, I am going to be moving The Crime Analyst’s Blog to it’s own Google+ Page.

I will leave the Blogger version up with all the previous posts but any new posts will take place on Google+. I’ll even been pointing the domain to resolve to the Google+ Page over the next week or so.

You don’t have to have a Google+ account to read a post on a Google+ Page but if you do, it is real easy to join the conversation by commenting or sharing. I’ll also continue to send links to these Google+ posts via Twitter.

This move will make it much easier for me to continue posting on crime analysis and related topics.

Friday, July 26, 2013

So Just How Effective Are Neighborhood Watch Programs?

While it looks like the programs can be effective in some neighborhoods, the upshot is that there doesn't seem to be agreement on just why or how much. Via The Pacific Standard

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Should cruise ships be required to report crime stats?

Only a tiny portion of alleged crimes on cruise ships is ever publicly disclosed, according to a report by the Senate Commerce Committee.

Of 959 crimes reported to the FBI since 2011, only 31 were disclosed on a web site maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Maybe they need to be mandated by law to report all crimes like the Clery Act required of colleges. 

Are We Militarizing Police At The Expense Of Community Policing?

"Many longtime and retired law-enforcement officers have told me of their worry that the trend toward militarization is too far gone. Those who think there is still a chance at reform tend to embrace the idea of community policing, an approach that depends more on civil society than on brute force." Via The Wall Street Journal
The over reliance on this type of law enforcement erodes the primary mission of law enforcement; to partner with the community to reduce crime and make the community safer.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

When Downtown Gentrifies They Get A Whole New Set Of Problems

The Atlantic Cities had a story last week that looked at efforts to revitalize Greensboro, North Carolina. These efforts have created a whole new set of problems as groups of youths began to frequent the area. Recently some disorder problems developed and the city responded by invoking a youth curfew ordinance. 
"Everyone agrees that street fighting among thoughtless teens can't be tolerated. The question is, what’s the best strategy for keeping the peace? Is it to, in effect, tell young black people that they are automatically suspect? Or is it to continue to build a place where more people of all ages and races can come together?" Via The Atlantic Cities
The Center for Problem Oriented Policing has one of their excellent POP Guides that looks at different responses to The Problem of Disorderly Youth in Public Places. If you are dealing with the same kind of problem that Greensboro is, this guide would be worth reading.

Monday, July 22, 2013

"Bleak Future" For Police? I Call Bullsh*t

There was a piece over at the website FastCompany with the provocative title "What Detroit’s Incredible Crime Problems Show Us About The Bleak Future Of Police". The story looks at the problems that have faced the bankrupt city of Detroit.

Detroit's staggering fiscal problems have led to layoffs and an exodus of police officers. The story touches on how Detroiters have tried to fill the public safety void with volunteer patrols and if a neighborhood can afford it, private security.

But to argue that this is the "bleak future" for police in general is complete balderdash. Very few other cities have fiscal problems on Detroit's scale and those that do arguably have less managerial dysfunction than Detroit.

I've seen very few cities trying to replace police officers with volunteer patrols or private security guards. There are cities that organize folks into Neighborhood Watch programs but these are outreach and crime prevention programs for police departments rather than a replacement.

If you saw the scary looking headline and wondered if this is where law enforcement was heading, don't. We're not being outsourced.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

"Lot Lizards" Film Looks At Truck Stop Prostitution

Mother Jones magazine recently published a piece where they interviewed documentary filmmaker Alexander Perlman on his documentary "Lot Lizards" that provides a candid look at truck stop prostitution. The film's title comes from trucker slang for these prostitutes.

You can find more information about the film here.

Hopefully this film will help publicize the problem of truck stop related prostitution. Earlier this year, Mother Jones detailed an innovative program by Dallas, TX Police to help truck stop prostitutes leave business by helping them with counseling and rehab.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Officer Down: Officer Robert (Bobby) Hornsby

Here's the Killeen Police Department press release for fallen Officer Robert (Bobby) Hornsby.

If you are interested in helping, you can dontate to:

KPD Law Enforcement Assistance Fund
c/o Killeen Police Department
3304 Community Blvd.
Killeen, TX 76542
Attn: Ofc. Robert Hornsby Fund
or Ofc. Juan Obregon Fund

Why Don’t We Use More DNA Evidence For Property Crimes?

This story caught my eye last week. There was a piece over at the Urban Institute's Metro Trends Blog that argues that changes to how DNA evidence is used could increase it's effectiveness.

We’d nab more bad guys if we tested DNA from burglaries rather than murders, making the threat from DNA collection and retention much more real— and thus we would deter more future offending.

Via Metro Trends Blog

The piece makes a pretty good argument for using DNA evidence to combat burglaries and is worth reading.

Monday, July 15, 2013

An Unlikely Partnership Reduces Gang Violence In Los Angeles

Last week there was a great piece in The New York Times that looked at how a unusual partnership between the Los Angeles Police Department and community leaders including former gang members has reduced gang violence in some of the formerly worst LA neighborhoods. 
Causality is slippery, especially when it comes to crime. The L.A.P.D.’s decision to deploy 30 additional officers to Watts’s three largest housing projects has undoubtedly contributed to the area’s improvement. Research has shown that “hot-spot policing” — flooding high-crime areas with police officers — effectively reduces crime without simply displacing it. But the department’s efforts in Watts go beyond “cops on dots.” In recent years, the L.A.P.D. has been conducting an unusual experiment in community policing in Watts. Its centerpiece, the Community Safety Partnership, is the department’s collaboration with a group of residents known as the Watts Gang Task Force. Every Monday morning, community leaders meet with top police commanders to discuss what’s happening in the Watts gang world — who’s feuding with whom, where criminal investigations stand, which are the issues residents are worried about. What makes the initiative unusual is that many of the task force’s participants have close ties to street gangs. Some, like Mendenhall, are former gang leaders. Others are the mothers and grandmothers of notorious gang leaders past and present.

Via The New York Times
It's a long piece but definitely worth the time to read it. The big take away from the story is that it is not possible for traditionally reactive policing methods to tackle persistent crime problems. If they police are viewed as an 'occupying army' and do not have the trust of the community they serve they will fail in their mission.

A community policing mindset is critical to solving these endemic crime problems.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Killeen Police Officer Shot & Killed, Another Wounded In Shootout

One of the officers I work with was killed this morning.  This is going to be a really difficult week for so many people. As I get details about how you can help the officer's family I'll post it. The press release is below.

Monday, July 8, 2013

When You Fudge Your Crime Numbers, You're Hurting Your Department

There was a piece in The New York Times last week that looked at an NYPD audit of how crime stats were counted. The upshot of the piece is that the audit uncovered a number of instances where crimes were misclassified.
While praising the department on the considerable resources devoted to auditing crime statistics, the committee noted that most of those efforts were directed at identifying “human error” — that is, unintentional mistakes in a police officer’s paperwork. But for “an officer who wishes to manipulate crime reporting,” the report said there were “few other procedures in place that control the various avenues of potential manipulation.”
Via The New York Times
As a crime analyst, this kind of nonsense drives me crazy. While you may get a temporary pat on the back for driving crime down in your district, the praise is likely to be short lived. One, there are plenty of folks (journalists for one) out there willing to dig through the crime reports, find where you screwed up and pillory you for it.

The second and more important reasons is, if you fudge your numbers then you do not have an accurate assessment of what is actually going on in your community. You will be unable to identify crime problems, and you will be unable to identify if your crime reduction efforts are actually working. While you are driving around in the dark hoping that your crime reduction efforts are working you could be unaware that a nearly insurmountable crime problem is developing.

Don't fudge your crime numbers. It's stupid and you are only hurting your agency in the long run.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Is Police Trickery A Detriment To Community Trust?

A while back, the US Supreme Court ruled that police drug checkpoints were illegal. However, they did not rule police saying there was a narcotics checkpoint ahead illegal, just actually running the checkpoint. This has led to a creative ruse by some police departments.
Police in the city of 19,000 recently posted large yellow signs along Interstate 271 that warned drivers that there was a drug checkpoint ahead, to be prepared to stop and that there was a drug-sniffing police dog in use.

There was no such checkpoint, just police officers waiting to see if any drivers would react suspiciously after seeing the signs.
Via The Seattle Post Intelligencer
Of course, when someone acts suspiciously when they see the checkpoint signs, police then use that and any traffic offenses committed by persons trying to avoid the checkpoint as probable cause to stop the person and check their vehicle for illegal drugs.

While this tactic isn't illegal since there was no actual checkpoint I have some misgivings about this police tactic. I'm not so sure that such blatant dishonesty is really conducive to building trust with the community you are supposed to be serving.

It's similar to the public vitriol regarding traffic enforcement cameras. While no one likes to get a ticket from a cop who caught you speeding, using unmanned traffic cameras seem like playing dirty pool. That really ticks off the public.

Just because something is legal, doesn't always mean it's right. Given how hard it is to build community trust and just how easy it is to lose it, we should probably err on the side of honesty and integrity. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Implications of Big Data In Policing

The New York Times Bits Blog recently had a piece in a series on Big Data. This piece looked at how the rise of Big Data is affecting policing. 
“Where technology has caught up is to allow police to ask questions about what’s happening in their jurisdictions and to be able to understand temporal patterns, spatial patterns,” said Joel M. Caplan, assistant professor of criminal justice at Rutgers University in New Jersey, who has developed a crime forecasting program with his colleagues and is testing it at a half-dozen police agencies.

Via The New York Times Bits Blog
I recently had a conversation with a journalist who asked me what I thought was the biggest promise predictive policing had for law enforcement. I responded that I thought it was the improved efficiency for police agencies. This efficiency will lead to agencies making better use of the resources they have in making their communities safe. I also believe that agencies must tread carefully with these types of technologies given the public's sensitivity to perceived government surveillance in light of the recent NSA intelligence scandals.

What do you think will be the greatest implication of the rise of predictive policing?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Why Rape Victims Don't Always Act Like We Think They Should

Police work is a weird profession. There are cops who like working murders and those who like working robberies. Each type crime is different with their own unique challenges. There are not a lot of police officers or detectives that would say rape cases are their favorite cases to work.

There are so many issues that come up when investigating sexual assaults. One major issue that puts cops off is the issue of victim credibility. You don't often have to investigate a victim's credibility in a murder. You do end up having to look at a victim's credibility in sexual assault cases. If you don't have this thoroughly nailed down before you seek a prosecution, the defense will certainly bring the issue up at trial.

There was an interesting piece over a Slate magazine that looked at why some victims of sexual assault act in inexplicable ways, ways that may make the victim seem less than credible.

In the past decade, neurobiology has evolved to explain why victims respond in ways that make it seem like they could be lying, even when they’re not. Using imaging technology, scientists can identify which parts of the brain are activated when a person contemplates a traumatic memory such as sexual assault. The brain’s prefrontal cortex—which is key to decision-making and memory—often becomes temporarily impaired. The amygdala, known to encode emotional experiences, begins to dominate, triggering the release of stress hormones and helping to record particular fragments of sensory information. Victims can also experience tonic immobility—a sensation of being frozen in place—or a dissociative state. These types of withdrawal result from extreme fear yet often make it appear as if the victim did not resist the assault.


The whole piece is worth the read. Hit the link to read it.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

An Increase In Citations In Lieu Of Arrest, Leads To An Increase In Warrants For Failure To Appear

Chalk this up to the Law of Unintended Consequences. There was a story in the local Killeen Daily Herald that looked at the consequences of a move to allow Texas officers to write tickets in lieu of making a custodial arrest.

The Legislature in 2007 changed misdemeanor laws, allowing officers to give tickets for such crimes as shoplifting and low-quantity drug possession and have offenders show up later to court.
Such “cite and release” programs were designed to ease crowding at county jails and free officers from spending hours arresting and booking suspects.

But the Austin American-Statesman reported Sunday that a “cite and release” program being run by some law enforcement agencies in Travis County has resulted in more than 40 percent of defendants never returning for their assigned court dates.

Via The Killeen Daily Herald
One thing that the article didn't touch on is does the cost savings by not having officers make a custodial arrest for minor non-violent offenses outweigh the increase in costs caused by defendants failing to appear who then are subject to arrest warrants.

It may be that even with a large number of these offenders skipping out on their court dates, the cost savings are such that the idea may still make sense. The flipside of 40% not showing up for court is that 60% actually did show up. Of that 40% that didn't, I wonder how many got arrested on a Failure To Appear warrant later in the year?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Is Our Fear Of Violent Crime Legitimate?

The Pacific Standard had a great question in a piece titled: Violent Crime Is Dropping: Why Are We So Scared?
One criminologist and professor of sociology, Dr. Mark Warr at the University of Texas, has said that, every time a new report on national crime is released, his phone rings off the hook, with reporters asking him to comment on “rising crime,” even though that’s not what the reports actually show.

Via The Pacific Standard
The piece quotes several criminologists who make a connection between these mistaken perceptions and media coverage of violence.

So why do we want to believe violent crime is worse than it really is?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

iPhone Update To Reduce Apple Picking Smartphone Thefts

Earlier this week, Apple Computer held their World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC). During these events, Apple usually announces the new products that will be released. This WWDC was no different. One part of the announcement of a new operating system for iPhone and iPad devices included an announcement that will benefit law enforcement.
Now the company that gave the crime its name is taking a step to stop it, with a "kill switch"-style update aimed at making the mobile gadgets less valuable to thieves.

Activation Lock will be part of iOS 7, the latest version of Apple's mobile operating system expected to roll out in the fall. The feature will require an Apple ID and password before the phone's "Find My iPhone" feature can be turned off or any data can be erased.

via CNN
The popularity of these devices also has a negative consequence, that of also making the devices popular with thieves. Crime analysts often refer to these items that are popular with thieves with the acronym CRAVED. I've posted about CRAVED before here.

I'm hoping that this type of technological advancements will help stem the tide of Apple Picking thefts, at least for a little while. I also hope more manufacturers will get on board with these efforts.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Houston Police Unit Provides Alternatives In Dealing With The Mentally Ill

It's no secret to those in law enforcement that we spend a significant amount of time and resources dealing with the mentally ill. There was a great story over at the Journal Sentinel Online that looked at an innovative program by Houston, Texas Police that reduced the amount of time HPD spent dealing with mentally ill "frequent flyers".

HPD created a Chronic Consumer Stabilization Unit that focuses on finding alternative ways to deal with the mentally ill rather than the traditional arrest / hospitalization / release / arrest again cycle.
After intense intervention by the two case managers, the same 30 individuals were reported to have been involuntarily committed by officers 39 times in the following six months — a decrease of 76.4%. They were involved in 65 police offense reports — a 66.5% decrease.

Via Journal Sentinel Online
 It's along article but worth the read. How does your agency handle the mentally ill?

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Best Approaches To Tough Crime Problems Are Comprehensive

One thing I've noticed over my years working in law enforcement is how prostitution offenses have changed over the years. Much of this activity, even in the sleepy little burg where I work has moved to online sites such as Craigslist or Backpage. Even the most desperate street walking "crack whore" is using these sites to ply her trade nowadays. The Internet and all it's good points and bad points have become that ubiquitous.

Wired Magazine had an opinion piece worth reading on combating sex-trafficking. The piece by Danah Boyd, a senior researcher at Microsoft discusses the role technology plays in this type of crime. In it, Danah as this worthy bit:
Lately, there’s been a tide shift. There’s a movement afoot where technologists, social scientists, government agencies, advocates, and NGOs have started coming together to imagine and build technology-based innovations that would disrupt the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Because creating meaningful technical — and social — interventions to combat human trafficking (and other forms of exploitation) requires moving beyond fears and dreams. Beyond dystopian and utopian rhetoric.

Via Wired
When Craigslist became infamous for this type of activity, they were pressured into making changes that forced much of this activity off Craigslist. The problem was that Backpage popped up to fill the slack and most of these sex traffickers were right back in business.

Danah's right. You're not going to solve a difficult crime problem with a simplistic solution like shuttering a website. It's going to take a lot of smart people getting together and devoting time, talent and energy to come up with creative solutions if these problems are going to be solved.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

With Recent UCR Numbers Up, Should You Worry?

The Urban Institute's Metro Trends blog had a piece that looked at the troubling news that the FBI's Uniform Crime Report numbers showed an increase in violent crime in 2012.
By itself, this might not be too troubling. But this follows last year’s announcement from the Bureau of Justice Statistics that national survey data showed an even bigger jump in violence—17 percent.  (It should be noted that violence is very rare, so while it’s a large increase percentage-wise, in real numbers, the increase was from 3.3 violent victimizations per 1,000 to 4.3 per 1,000. Those numbers are very similar to the FBI data, which shows 3.8 violent victimizations per 1,000).

Via Metro Trends
So what do you think, should we be worried that we're headed back to the bad old days?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Whose Crime Numbers Are Right, The FBI's or a Local Agency's?

This piece over at the Denver Post has me a bit befuddled. In the piece they state that the FBI's crime stats show Denver's crime was headed downward while Denver PD's crime numbers show it's going up. This is where it really gets weird with DPD claiming their crime stats are accurate while the FBI's aren't.
Colorado police departments send crime reports to the Colorado Bureau of Investigations, which then submits them to the federal government. Certain errors, such as minor problems with an officer's report, can cause CBI to reject the entire report, Murray said.

A CBI spokeswoman did not return a call Monday night.

"There is no accountability for the data. It's uniform, but it's uniformly wrong . ... Our data is much more accurate because we require that," Murray said.

Via The Denver Post
Let me get this right, Denver PD sends their crime data to the state of Colorado CBI, which then in turn sends it on to the FBI, but somewhere along the way the FBI data became inaccurate? If, as they claim, an officer's report has problems that cause it to be rejected, is their data really that accurate (even if they "require that") if it contained these erroneous reports that will later be rejected by CBI?

What I really find unusual about this story is that DPD is asserting that Denver crime is worse than the FBI makes it out to be. Usually when an agency complains that the FBI's data is wrong it's the other way around, the FBI's data showing their city to be worse off than the local agency says it is.

This whole story is just weird.

Monday, June 3, 2013

2012 FBI Crime Numbers Out For Large Cities

The FBI released the preliminary 2012 Uniform Crime Reports crime numbers for cities of 100,000 or greater today.
The new preliminary Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) statistics for 2012 indicate that when compared to data for 2011, the number of violent crimes reported by law enforcement agencies around the country increased 1.2 percent during 2012, while the number of property crimes decreased 0.8 percent.

If you follow this link to the 2012 Crime In The United States page, you can view the number for your city, provided it has a population of 100,000 or greater. The FBI will release the rest of the 2012 UCR data later this year.

It won't be long now before we start seeing news stories that quote a press release indicating that some city has been declared "the most dangerous" in America. This happens despite the fact that the groups that conduct these "analyses" often employ a pretty sketchy methodology to come up with these lists and that the FBI and others warn against such simplistic analysis.

Such is the bloodsport that is crime statistics. 

Friday, May 31, 2013

How A Commuting Population Could Affect Your Crime Rate

There was a piece over at The Atlantic Cities that brings up an interesting topic, that of "Commuter-adjusted populations". This refers to cities whose populations grow during the workday when people who live outside a city commute in to work inside the city. As an example in the story, they state that the population of Manhattan which is normally about 1.5 million people undergoes a significant transformation during the workday when its population increases drastically.

This latter number – 3,083,102, to be precise, according to American Community Survey data collected between 2006 and 2010 – is in some ways an even more important one than the population figure we typically affix to places. If Manhattan ever needs to evacuate by day during a disaster, the city has to figure out what to do with all 3 million of those people. The city's transportation planners are responsible for every one of them, whether they live in New York or not.

Via The Atlantic Cities

This week I have been working on looking at historical crime data at the agency where I work. I managed to compile 40 years of UCR Part 1 crime numbers for the sleepy little burg where I work. In order to put those numbers into context, I also dug up 40 years worth of population estimates in order to calculate accurate crime rates and put those Part 1 crime numbers into proper context. There's a big difference between a population of 35,000 and one of 134,000.

If you work in a city with a significant "commuter-adjusted population" it's probably worth keeping these major population fluctuations in mind when you are looking at your crime rates.

Does your agency see major cyclical population changes? If so, how do you take this into account when calculating crime rates or allocating police resources?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

To Stop Terrorism, Refuse To Be Terrorized

Security guru Bruce Schneier had a piece on his blog that quoted this interesting commentary:
At present rates, an American’s chance of being killed by a terrorist is about one in 3.5 million per year—compared, for example, to a yearly chance of dying in an automobile crash of one in 8,200. That could change, of course, if terrorists suddenly become vastly more capable of inflicting damage—as much commentary on terrorism has predicted over the past decade. But we’re not hearing much of that anymore.
Via The National Interest

Our fears aren't always based on reality.