Thursday, January 31, 2013

Is Prison Cost Effective For Criminals?

On Monday I posted a story about the lack of cost effectiveness in the prison system as far as reducing crime. Yesterday there was a piece over at NPR that dovetails with that earlier piece. The NPR story looks at how criminals become better criminals in prison. 
"Spending time in prison leads to increased criminal earnings," Hutcherson says. "On average, a person can make roughly $11,000 more [illegally] from spending time in prison versus a person who does not spend time in prison." 
As to the process by which this happens, he says, "You come in [to prison]. You're 16, 17, 18 years old. You're looking around and you're thinking, 'Listen, I can learn from these seasoned veterans.' And that's exactly what you do. ... Basically, you are spending a lot of time around other criminals, seasoned veterans who know the lay of the land, and they can teach you the mechanisms — ways to get away with crime."
Via NPR
If prison isn't cost effective in reducing crime and time spent in prison makes criminals better criminals shouldn't we rethink what we're doing?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Is Partial Match DNA Analysis Worthwhile?

I'm a crime analyst and not a crime scene investigator but even so, I thought this was an interesting read. The New York Times had a piece that looked at partial match DNA technology to search for suspects in offenses where DNA based evidence had been discovered.
In the case of the Queens robbery in 2010, detectives could not request a family search be performed; they were merely informed that a DNA sample partially matched a profile in the database. Detectives chose to pursue the potential lead, developing a family tree from the DNA sample; that led them to secretly securing a genetic sample from the father of a convict. But after tests ruled him out, they concluded the robber in Queens had no blood connection to the family under scrutiny, said Phil T. Pulaski, the chief of detectives, at a public hearing.
Via The New York Times 
At first glance this seems kind of Orwellian  But, if the evidence can also be used to exclude suspects then maybe it's not so bad after all. What do you think?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Charts From The 1800's Census Compiled Into A Handsome Atlas

As a crime analyst, I spend a lot of time creating charts and graphs. With tools like Microsoft Excel, it's pretty easy to create a legible chart with just a few clicks of the mouse. I'm always impressed with charts and graphs that folks made in the days before computers, those they made with pen and paper.

The Atlantic Cities had an interesting piece about a website that highlights some really great Census charts from the 1800's. The site by Jonathan Soma is called A Handsome Atlas.
Soma unearthed the Atlases by chance. While researching the spread of Chinatowns in New York City, he discovered a trove of maps and charts in a musty backroom of the Library of Congress web site. "Originally I was hoping to do some data visualizations with really old census stuff," he says. "But then I stumbled upon all of these amazing ones that had already been done."
Via The Atlantic Cities 
The site has some great visualizations of 1800's era data. Imagine how much effort went into creating these graphs.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Future Of Policing Isn't In Handcuffs

There was a great article in the New York Times this past weekend that looked at the efficacy of spending criminal justice dollars on police versus spending it on incarceration.

As the American prison population has doubled in the past two decades, the city has been a remarkable exception to the trend: the number of its residents in prison has shrunk. Its incarceration rate, once high by national standards, has plunged well below the United States average and has hit another new low, as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced recently. And crime in the city has fallen by more than 75 percent, almost twice as much as in the rest of the country.

Whatever has made New York the safest big city in America, that feat has certainly not been accomplished by locking up more criminals.

Via The New York Times

In a nutshell, the article points to the data driven policing technique known as Hot Spot Policing as the main reason that led New York City becoming a much safer place without filling New York prisons with criminals. By mining crime data to determine what geographic areas have a disproportionate share of crime and then detailing police officers to spend time in those areas you can drive crime down in a community.

The whole piece is worth the read. What does your agency do to reduce crime hot spots in your community?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Before They Blamed Video Games, They Blamed Pinball

I'm often surprised how our moral panics of years past sound quaint or even downright crazy years later. The Atlantic Cities had an interesting story on the 1940's crusade against pinball machines that resulted in a New York City ban against the machines that lasted well into the 1970's.
Bygone New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia thought otherwise. As he saw it, circa January 1942, "pinball machine pushers were 'slimy crews of tinhorns, well dressed and living in luxury on penny thievery' and the game was part of a broader 'craze' for gambling," June writes. "He ordered the city's police to make Prohibition-style pinball raids and seizures its 'top priority,' and was photographed with a sledgehammer, triumphantly smashing the seized machines."

Via The Atlantic Cities
 I wonder if our current hand wringing over video games will sound just as ridiculous in a decade or so?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Which American Cities Have Third World Rates Of Violence?

The Atlantic Cities had a great piece that compared gun violence in American cities with the rates of gun violence in various nations around the world. Included in the story was this sobering bit:
If it were a country, New Orleans (with a rate 62.1 gun murders per 100,000 people) would rank second in the world.
Via The Atlantic Cities
There is also a really great map of the data. Hit the link to see the piece.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Texas Business Says Prisons Aren't Efficient At Solving Crime Problems

The Editorial Board over at the Austin American Statesman had a piece this past weekend that covered comments that the president of the Texas Association of Business made regarding the efficacy of incarceration in solving crime problems. 
While the daily cost of probation is $2.92 per person, only $1.40 of which comes from taxpayers’ dollars, it takes $50.79 per day for taxpayers to hold a single inmate in prison. That comes to a total of $18,000 per inmate, per year, with Texas currently housing over 150,000 prisoners,” the business association noted in its legislative platform. 
After analyzing the return on that $50.79 daily investment in incarceration, Hammond and his association pronounced the prison approach unproductive. “It doesn’t work,” Hammond said.
Via Austin American Statesman 
It's not like the Texas Association of Business is a bunch of bleeding heart liberals either. The realities of the new fiscal austerity is forcing government to think about how to most effectively use taxpayer dollars. If prison isn't a cost effective deterrent to crime, then let's figure out what is cost effective and do more of it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Real Story of LAPD's Gangster Squad



Back before Hollywood told the story of LAPD's Gangster Squad, the Los Angeles Times did a series on the real LAPD Gangster Squad. They titled the series L.A. Noir: Tales from the Gangster Squad
Years later, he told a grand jury: "My primary duties were to keep down these gangster killings and try to keep some of these rough guys under control." But he hadn't given his fellow LAPD cops any hint of why they'd been summoned that night. Now he laid it out.
If you're like me and love police history, you'll enjoy reading it.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Difference Between Crime Statistics And Hyperbole

I thought this story from The San Francisco Chronicle's SFGate.com was worth commenting on. The story shows the danger in making your hyperbole sound like crime statistics when you are a police official. 
In the latest head-scratching example, Police Chief Howard Jordan suggested that two warring groups were responsible for "90 percent of the violence in Oakland" in the past six or eight months. He added that "we're talking about murders, robberies and shootings." 
Of course, those numbers defied belief - especially for the many Oakland residents who had no interaction with those two groups yet were seeing the spike in crime in their neighborhoods.
Via SFGate.com 
When they dug deeper into the 90% claim, the real crime statistics didn't back up the Chief's comments. What in all likelihood happened was that their Chief was using hyperbole to speak to the level of crimes attributed to these groups. It's one thing to use a statistical reference in an informal exaggeration but when you are speaking as the Chief of Police or a crime analyst, don't be surprised if someone checks the numbers and makes you out to be less than truthful.

It's probably a good idea to avoid using statistical sounding hyperbole when talking about crime if you don't want to look foolish. All it takes is one fact checker to torpedo your credibility.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Maybe A Life In Russian Organized Crime Isn't All It's Cracked Up To Be

USA Today has an interesting story of the assassination of a newly elected Russian crime boss who was killed by a sniper in broad daylight after eating lunch in Moscow.
Usoyan, an ethnic Kurd, came from a caste of professional criminals who sport elaborate tattoos, follow unwritten prison laws codified in Stalinist-era Gulags and have been romanticized in countless popular songs, the Associated Press reported. 
Komsomolskaya Pravda said Usoyan, who was involved in illegal gambling, arms and drug trafficking, and the theft of natural resources, was elected the new "godfather" of the Russian underworld following the assassination last October of crime boss Vyacheslav Ivankov, nicknamed "Yaponchik."
Via USA Today
 I guess being named a Russian organized crime boss makes it awfully hard to get life insurance.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Bankrupt Cities Struggle With Crime

For many cities, the impact of the fiscal crisis hits home when city services are cut. For some cities, cuts to their police departments have had drastic effects on the community. There was a story over at the New York Times that looked at just how bad things are getting for San Bernadino, California. 
After violent crime had dropped steadily for years, the homicide rate shot up more than 50 percent in 2012 as a shrinking police force struggled to keep order in a city long troubled by street gangs that have migrated from Los Angeles, 60 miles to the west. 
“Lock your doors and load your guns,” the city attorney, James F. Penman, said he routinely told worried residents asking how they can protect themselves. 
This is one of the prices that cities often pay for falling into bankruptcy: the police force is cut, crime skyrockets and residents are left trying to ensure their own safety.
Via The New York Times 
The importance of sound fiscal management for cities can't be overemphasized.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

UCR To Track Human Trafficking Numbers

The FBI released their preliminary Uniform Crime Report numbers for the first half of 2012 (January - June). There were a couple of interesting bits in the press release. One is that all three property crime categories showed an uptick, that is burglary, larceny and auto theft. The other interesting bit in the press release was this:
On the heels of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month this January, our UCR program will begin collecting human trafficking data this year in two categories—commercial sex acts and involuntary servitude. The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 requires the data collection, and with input from our law enforcement partners, the UCR program began developing specific definitions and data collection guidelines for these offenses. Stay tuned for more details on implementation.
Via Federal Bureau of Investigation 
In order to know the scope of a problem, you have to come up with an accurate assessment of the problem. Collecting crime stats on human trafficking is just the beginning.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Why The Disparity In Urban Gun Violence?

Many times we think of homicide in the United States as something that is more prevalent in large urban cities. But there are large cities that are safe and those that have population groups have a greater chance of being killed than a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan. There was a piece over at The Atlantic Cities that looked at gun violence, both homicides and suicides, and had some very interesting statistics. The piece also draws this conclusion for the disparity:

...the cities where gun murder is lower are mainly highly educated knowledge-based economies which have experienced considerable urban revitalization as well as substantial immigration that together have "helped to stabilize and bring back disadvantaged neighborhoods and damp down violent crime."

On the flip side, the inner cities where homicide rates remain higher have seen "far less re-urbanization, have had far lower rates of immigration, and in many cases continue to suffer from the classic 'hole in the donut' syndrome."

Via The Atlantic Cities

Maybe this is the real conversation we need to be having about gun violence.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Criminals Often Have Very Interesting Stories

Criminals are sometimes, very interesting personalities. High profile, prolific crooks are usually the most interesting. There was a great piece over at the Dallas Observer that profiled a serial bank robber known as the "Handsome Guy Bandit" who was active in the Dallas area in 2011. Anna Merlan included this bit in her story on him:
"He was getting cocky," Wetherington says. During one robbery, he even asked the teller to pass along a message. 
"I know you know who I am," he told her. "Tell the FBI I said 'Hi.'"
With a 35 year federal sentence and pending state Attempted Capital Murder charges, he probably won't be able to see any movie made about his criminal career anytime soon.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

In Case You Were Keeping Track Here's Another Reason Crime Went Down

There are so many competing explanations about why crime is down that I can't keep up with them all. So here's an explanation from LAPD's Chief Charlie Beck on why he thinks crime went down in Los Angeles as reported by KPCC, the fact that LAPD has more police officers now than they did in the past.
"Cities in California that have stopped hiring or are cutting back on their police force have seen crime spikes," Villagairosa said. L.A. — once the national murder capital — has some of the lowest violent crime rates in the country, compared to other population hubs (and the lowest among cities over 2 million), he said.
Asked whether keeping the status quo would guarantee a continued relatively low crime rate, Beck replied, "absent other influences," that's a likely outcome. "If you apply more resources to crime, you reduce it."
You can add this to all the other explanations such as concealed handguns, longer prison terms, more effective policing, the decline of crack cocaine and leaded gasoline.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

So How Does LAPD Implement Predictive Policing?

I've posted quite a bit about predictive policing. You can use the category cloud in the sidebar to see all of them. There was a story yesterday at NBC Los Angeles that looked at the Los Angeles Police Department's implementation of predictive policing. What I like about this story is it gives a few hints at just how LAPD uses predictive policing to direct it's operations such as this tidbit:
Typically, when officers go to a forecasted crime location, they are expected to spend 20 minutes, a significant amount of time for an area so small. It is time to walk a foot beat and talk to persons they encounter at businesses, homes or on the street.
This was one of the few stories out there that gives some specifics. Even if you didn't have a predictive policing program, regularly getting out of your patrol car and spending 20 minutes walking around a crime hotspot would likely pay dividends. The predictive policing program would just help you to sharpen your focus.

So where do you think the promise of predictive policing technology lies?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Laundry Detergent Thieves Target "Liquid Gold"

Every now and then, crooks hit on a particular modus operandi that, for what ever reason, just works. Once word gets around among the criminal underground there will be a rash of similar thefts that drive property crimes detectives nuts.

There was a great piece at New York Magazine recently that looked at an odd but very interesting crime trend: thieves stealing Tide laundry detergent.
As the cases piled up after his team’s first Tide-theft bust, Thompson sought an answer to the riddle at the center of the crimes: What did thieves want with so much laundry soap? To find out, he and his unit pored over security recordings to identify prolific perpetrators, whom officers then tracked down and detained for questioning. “We never promised to go easy on them, but they were willing to talk about it,” Thompson says. “I guess they were bragging.” It turned out the detergent wasn’t ­being used as an ingredient in some new recipe for getting high, but instead to buy drugs themselves. Tide bottles have become ad hoc street currency, with a 150-ounce bottle going for either $5 cash or $10 worth of weed or crack cocaine. On certain corners, the detergent has earned a new nickname: “Liquid gold.” The Tide people would never sanction that tag line, of course. But this unlikely black market would not have formed if they weren’t so good at pushing their product.
The piece is a great read that goes into the reasons why a crime trend like this takes off. Crimes like these are often better understood by using the acronym CRAVED. You can find out more about CRAVED here.

What are the CRAVED or hot items in your jurisdiction?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Is Close Quarters Going To Be The New Norm In Police Firearms Training?

Long before I was a civilian crime analyst I was a sworn officer. In fact I spent about 14 1/2 years as a sworn officer. During that time I also spent about 7 of those years as a SWAT operator. I spent quite a lot of time on the range honing my skills with handguns, shotguns and submachine guns during that part of my career. Even now I still get out regularly to put some rounds downrange.

This piece over at USA Today caught my attention. It seems that the FBI is changing their firearms training based on a study of 17 years worth of police shooting incidents that found that the majority of shooting incidents take place at distances of 3 yards or less.

"The thing that jumps out at you from the (shooting incident) research is that if we're not preparing agents to get off three to four rounds at a target between 0 and 3 yards, then we're not preparing them for what is likely to happen in the real world," says FBI training instructor Larry "Pogo" Akin, who helps supervise trainees on the live shooting range.

The FBI is quite influential among law enforcement. I'm sure that we'll see this emphasis in Close Quarters Combat training trickle down to local agencies as well. Like anything else, shooting is a perishable skill that you should practice. It's also important to practice like you'll fight. If you're most likely to fight up close, then maybe you need step closer to the target next time you're out on the range.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Hacker Group Slams Small Town Rape Scandal

This is interesting. The hacker group known as Anonymous launched an online campaign to bring attention to a small town scandal involving allegations of rape by members of the high school football team and a coverup to protect the players allegedly involved.

Social media casts spotlight on Ohio rape case - CNN.com: "'The town of Steubenville has been good at keeping this quiet and their star football team protected,' an Anonymous member wearing the group's trademark Guy Fawkes mask says in a video posted to the group's LocalLeaks website.

The organization, he says, will not allow 'a group of young men who turn to rape as a game or sport get the pass because of athletic ability or small-town luck.'"

(Via CNN.)

Anonymous is pretty well known for targeting those they believe are wrong or unjust. The story is worth the read.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

So Where Do Kids Get Their Opinions of Criminal Justice?

I guess it's going to be a week of posts about superheroes. Yesterday, I posted about a costumed neighborhood crime fighter in Michigan. Today we have a USA Today piece about a sociologist who studied how cartoons portray the criminal justice system. In the study the researcher found that cartoons portray criminals as beyond rehabilitation and the police as inept.

Cartoon heroes present crooked view of crime, study says: "'While they are cartoons and are designed to be entertaining, they are nonetheless a source that kids draw on to understand criminal events. For most kids, they may be the only exposure they have to crime and justice issues,' Kort-Butler says. 'As a parent myself (whose kids also watch these cartoons), I think it is important to, first, make sure I am available to answer questions or concerns they may have about criminal events, and, second, encourage them to think beyond what they may have seen on Batman or in the news.'"

(Via USA Today.)

I wonder what superhero story will make the blog tomorrow?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Doesn't Every Community Need a Costumed Neighborhood Crime Fighter?

I don't even know where to begin with this one:
Adam Besso, who also goes by the name Bee Sting, said he was just trying to protect the community the night he was arrested in a Burton mobile home park. But authorities said his actions crossed the line. ...
At the time of his arrest, Besso was dressed in an outfit that included a coat and bullet-proof vest emblazoned with a Bee Sting logo. He said he was performing surveillance at the park following a string of arsons.
Source: Michigan Live
In the piece he said he didn't want to work with those who were "enamored with comic books". I can't imagine why.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Shrinking Police Budgets Affect Perks and Policies

I wonder how widespread this will become?

Take-home police cars may be nearing end of the road: "'Departments, because of fiscal constraints, are being asked to curtail the use of take-home vehicles, or are taking them away from some officers or charging fees and setting limits on off-duty use,' said James Pasco, director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, the USA's largest police labor organization."

(Via USA Today.)

Given the public's sensitivity over government spending, it's important for police departments to demonstrate that programs like take home vehicles contribute to public safety and is good stewardship of precious tax dollars.

I'm also pretty sure that we'll see a lot more of this kind of thing from cash strapped agencies.