Thursday, February 28, 2013

Does A Foreclosure Increase The Risk Of Neighborhood Crime?

One thing many people expected to happen during the recent economic crisis was that crime would increase. For the most part, that hasn't happened. Even given the dire state of the economy, crime continued to decline in most parts of the country.

However, there was a story over at The New York Observer that points to one consequence of the economy that seems to be effective crime at least on a local level. The piece looked at a study that found a correlation between home foreclosures in a neighborhood and an increase in crimes in the immediate vicinity.

But the correlation between foreclosures and crime in New York, even given the city’s active street life, its declining crime rates and its far-from-abandoned neighborhoods, is noteworthy. For each property receiving a foreclosure notice, the immediate neighborhood saw a 0.7 percent increase in total crime, a 1.5 percent increase in violent crime and a 0.8 percent increase in public order crime, according to the report. However, significant increases in crime only occurred on blocks where there had been three or more foreclosures. Neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of foreclosures and existing crime rates saw the biggest upticks.

Via The New York Observer

This might be a good reason for police departments to track foreclosures in their communities. Knowing what neighborhoods have foreclosed homes should help agencies get ahead of crimes that may pop up due to these distressed properties.

Has your agency experienced crime problems related to distressed, foreclosed or abandoned properties? What strategies has your agency had success with in mitigating these types of problems?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Rioters Aren't As Irrational As You Might Think

This is interesting but in a weird kind of way: There was a piece over at The Atlantic Cities that reported on a study of how rioters act that found similarities between rioters and shoppers. 
Rioters in search of retail to loot make rational decisions just like shoppers do about where to find the good stuff and how far they’re willing to travel to get there. And this means that the spatial layout of a city may be just as important as its social dynamics in explaining the rise and spread of riots. 
Via The Atlantic Cities
Given this finding, it might be prudent for police agencies that face the threat of riots to locate those areas that rioters might target and plan accordingly.

I'm just glad I don't have to face rampaging shoppers.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Why Not Use Technology To Connect With Those You Serve?

The Dallas Morning News had a piece  yesterday on Arlington, TX Police using a web based chat to allow citizens to talk to a police officer for things that don't require an officer to respond to the scene.

I think this is a really interesting idea. I'm glad to see more agencies experiment with technology such as this or social media to connect with the community they serve. Just like there are moves to allow 911 operators to communicate with text messages instead of just voice calls, we are probably going to see more agencies take advantage of technology to communicate with the people they serve.

And if it is more efficient to let a citizen speak with an officer on a web based chat, as opposed to sending him across town in a squad car, then why not?

What technologies do you see police using in the future to connect with the community?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Which Came First Poverty, Substance Abuse or Violence?

We've all heard the old question: Which came first the chicken or the egg? In a question that is very similar which came first; poverty or substance abuse? And, which has a greater effect on violence in a community?

The University of Michigan Health System had a press piece on a study they conducted looking at violence and the geographic relationship with drug offenses and alcohol. The conclusion reached by the study may answer that chicken and egg question. 

Results from the study indicate that types and densities of alcohol outlets were directly related to violent crimes despite the fact that alcohol outlets are typically viewed as locations in which other population or environmental factors, such as poverty or prostitution, relate to the violence.

The study also shows that drug possession, rather than drug distribution, has a positive relationship with violent crimes.  Features of adjacent areas, and activities occurring there, were also found to be significantly related to violent crime in any given “target” area.


It may be that the availability of substance abuse treatment and prevention may have a role in reducing community violence. There also may be a lesson for community planners. By reducing or being more selective about the number and types of alcohol establishments you may be able reduce the likelihood that a violent crime hotspot appears in a community.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Do Criminals Take The Train To New Hunting Grounds?

There was a great article at The Atlantic Cities that looked at the common refrain that new transportation infrastructure such as bus stops and commuter train stations will increase crime in the areas served by them. This argument often comes up in the debates that surround public planning for this type of infrastructure. However, according to the piece, this argument often falls short of reality. 
“People are convinced that if you put a subway station out in the suburbs, out in Dunwoody, that criminals are going to commute from downtown out there,” he says. “Apparently they’re going to steal their TVs, get back on MARTA and go back in. But criminals just do not travel – that’s the hardest perception to get people to break.”

Via The Atlantic Cities
What I thought was most interesting in the piece was the idea that transportation planners need to plan for the fear of crime in selling their proposals to the community. In reality, that is very good advice for nearly any city project be it a train station or a youth center.

Often times perception is just as powerful if not more powerful than reality. If the public perceives that a project will increase crime that fear needs to be addressed.

What does your agency do to reduce the fear of crime that sometimes comes with new projects?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

How Long Is Too Long To Wait For Crime Stats?

The Times of Trenton had an editorial piece that commended the New Jersey State Police for plans to post crime statistics from New Jersey police agencies that will be updated on a weekly basis.
Until now, state officials have compiled that information in a yearly Uniform Crime Report. That annual accounting is thick with information but, because of the lag time, some of the data is nearly two years old before it becomes publicly available. 
“For the first time, we are able to give the public a sense of the current crime picture in their area,” State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes says. “Even as preliminary data, this will be a great new tool for the public.”
The FBI's Uniform Crime Reports program is the main repository for crime stats data. However, it takes some time before crime data submitted by local police agencies is available to the public at the UCR website. In fact, if you look right now the latest UCR data covers January-June of 2012. It will probably be this summer before the FBI releases the preliminary 2012 UCR data and then it will only be for cities with a population of 100,000 or greater. It will be late summer or fall before the 2012 Uniform Crime Report in it's entirety will be available.

Back when the UCR program was implemented in the 1930's the crime stats from individual agencies had to be mailed in to the state agency responsible and then the states data was compiled and was mailed to the FBI. The FBI would then compile them all together and typeset a report with all the data and send the whole thing off to the printer. Then once they came back from the printer they would then mail the reports out to police agencies and whoever else wanted them. You can see how it might take some time to accomplish all this.

However, it seems that with technology such as the Internet that 6 to 9 months is an awful long time to get crime statistics emailed in, compiled into a report and then posted on a website.

I'm glad to see the State of New Jersey trying to get ahead of the game and provide this data to the public quickly. In the words of The Times of Trenton:
"As the information age continues to accelerate, this online summary represents another step toward keeping pace with that velocity as well as the goal of transparency."
Now let's see if other states follow suit.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Yet Another Theory On Why Crime Is Down

The drop in crime numbers has had many crime experts offering different theories as to why crime dropped. Better policing, concealed weapons, and even reduced lead exposure have all been cited. Now, in this article at, we have one more potential reason to add to the list.
"There are more private security guards than there are police in this country," Cook said. "I believe that private action, though it has been largely ignored, deserves part of the credit."
Just thought you'd want to know.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Geospatial Prediction Technology Making Inroads In Policing

The Washington Post had a piece yesterday that looked at how predictive technology used by the military to analyze improvised explosive device sites is being used by police to predict where crimes are more likely to occur. The technology was used to narrow down the list of potential targets during the investigation of a shooting spree in Virginia. 
They had analyzed hundreds of factors such as the gunman’s sight lines, access points and escape routes. His escape route was particularly important; he stayed close to highways. 
With the data, they produced a list of hundreds of likely target areas, along with the probability that the shooter would visit each one. It helped them figure out where to focus resources and what to protect.
Via The Washington Post 
The piece touched on a fact that I think is one of the greatest benefits to the technology. That is, that while the technology may not tell you exactly where a serial criminal will strike next, it will help you narrow down the potentials. This is important as most police agencies have a limited amount of resources to throw at a problem. If a crime analyst can narrow down the list of possibilities, it makes it much easier for command staff to deploy these resources wisely.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Shouldn't We Be Able To Ticket Rather Than Arrest For Minor Offenses?

Not sure how I missed this, but last week there was a piece at the Fort Worth Star Telegram that looked at  bills proposed by Texas legislators lowering the punishment severity of several common, but minor offenses here in Texas. One bill looks at lowering the penalty for possession of user quantities of marijuana from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class C. Another does the same for certain prostitution related offenses.

In Texas a Class C misdemeanor is the lowest offense category and in punishable only by a fine and not by a jail term. For comparison, a Class B misdemeanor can result in incarceration in jail for a period of up to 180 days along with a fine.

One benefit of this is that officers will be able to issue tickets for these offenses rather than making a custodial arrest. You can imagine that this will reduce the time and expense for police departments in making an arrest. Let's say you run across a hippie in a tie-dyed T-shirt smoking a joint on a park bench. The officer can write him a ticket and send him on his way in 10 minutes rather than being out of service for an hour or more while you arrest him, drive him across town and then book him into jail.

Another cost saving in making this change is enumerated in the article:

Removing jail time from the punishment spectrum relieves the state from providing legal aid to defendants who can't hire an attorney on their own.
Via Forth Worth Star Telegram 
I'm glad to see that the financial realities of our overly tough on crime approach are finally sinking in at the lege. I also wish that we'd open a lot more minor offenses up to being handled by citations. If the offenses are minor and non-violent why shouldn't police have the option to deal with it via citations rather than a custodial arrest?

A hat tip to Scott Henson over at Grits For Breakfast for a link to the story.

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Bar Hopping Problems Can Leave Neighbors Hopping Mad

It's not unusual for people who live in neighborhoods near bars and nightclubs to get upset with the crime and disorder that these establishments sometimes bring to a community. There was a recent story over at the San Antonio news outlet WOAI that was pretty typical. 
Some neighbors living near a busy stretch of Broadway just south of Loop 410 are bar-hopping mad. 
They say police lights flash every weekend along the same two blocks that are home to several bars. 
News 4 ran the crime numbers on that area. In the past six months, police have been called to those two blocks more than 100 times. Forty of those calls were to one bar, Revolution Room. 
In the sleepy little burg where I work, we often field complaints from residents about problems in and around these establishments. Solving these problems often requires a well thought out approach from a number of angles.

The Problem Oriented Policing Center has an excellent POP Guide dealing with one type of problems that come with nightclubs in their guide Assaults in and Around Bars. If you're dealing with community concerns about this type of problem the POP Guide is worth the read.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

New Rape Definition Leads To Higher Rape Stats

Back in 2011 the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) program indicated that they were going to change the archaic definition of Rape that the UCR program had been using to count rapes in the United States. This old definition only counted as rape an offense with this criteria:
Forcible rape, as defined in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, is the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will. Attempts or assaults to commit rape by force or threat of force are also included; however, statutory rape (without force) and other sex offenses are excluded. Source: FBI UCR
This definition was created back in the late 1920's and is pretty archaic by any definition. This definition excluded quite a number of victims of what most people would consider sexual assault. I complained about the old definition and lauded the change in posts here and here.

Recently, there was a piece over at the Mansfield News Journal that looked at the uptick in reported rapes in the Mansfield, Ohio Police crime numbers.
“In 2012, the guidelines changed in how we report rapes,” said city police Chief Dino Sgambellone. “It used to be, they would only get reported if force was used.” 
With a broader scope, the number of rapes reported in Mansfield jumped from four in 2011 to 47 in 2012.
Via Mansfield News Journal 
Of course the important thing for Mansfield residents to understand is that there likely wasn't a huge increase in rapes in their town, just a change in the way that they were counted that led to the huge jump in numbers. I know at the sleepy little burg where I work, I expect our numbers to jump considerably when we get the word from the Texas Department of Public Safety to implement the new reporting criteria.

When these changes are implemented, it will be critically important for police agencies to explain the changes in reporting rules if they are going withstand any criticism the higher numbers cause.

On the whole, the change in definitions is a good thing. Crime stats are important as they help determine the extent of crime problems in a community and the allocation of resources to deal with it. By under-counting the extent of the true rape problem we are not only shortchanging the victims but we have been shortchanging our communities and ourselves.

No matter how you define it, the problem has always been there.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

One Reason Community Trust In Police Is Important

There was a good piece over at KQED that looked at Oakland, California's unsolved homicides. The story listed the main reason Oakland PD's clearance rate for murder was so low was the lack of trust the community had with those who police them.

"Most violent crimes are solved when citizens come forward and tell the police what they know," Krisberg says. "And that’s why the relationship between the police and the community is so critical. The community has to trust the police; they have to feel like they and the police are on the same side."

Via KQED News Fix Blog

I am a strong believer in community policing. We can never lose sight of the fact that we work for the citizens we serve. Working to build community trust continually will pay dividends when you turn to the community for help in solving a crime or in dealing with a crime problem.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Great Things Can Be Done With Public Data

There was a good article over at The Atlantic Cities that looked at what people have done with a large amount of crime data released by the Philadelphia Police Department. 
Not surprisingly, in the short time since the city released this trove, a number of developers have already repackaged it. Nearly every week, says Mark Headd, Philadelphia’s chief data officer, the city has stumbled across some new application of the material created by local residents. “It’s really interesting when you put valuable data out there, data that resonates with people – and this clearly does, and we make it really, really easy to use," Headd says. "It’s amazing what pops up."

Via The Atlantic Cities
Amazing indeed.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Study Pokes Holes In Broken Windows Policing

Criminologists and other scientists that study crime have been offering a lot of differing reasons why crime is down. I've seen quite a number of articles that looked specifically at the decline of crime in New York City and offered varying explanations on why crime dropped. The Atlantic Cities had a piece on a recent study published in Justice Quarterly that casts doubt on a number of theories behind the decline. 
That conclusion, based on a paper recently published in the journal Justice Quarterly, is a pretty jarring one. It challenges widely held narratives of how New York won its war on crime. But it also raises awkward questions about the efficacy of certain police tactics everywhere, particularly "broken windows." ("It’s a curiosity," Greenberg adds, "that this name got attached to what the New York Police Department was doing, because the police never went after broken windows"). 
Via The Atlantic Cities
It's unfortunate that the paper itself is behind a paywall. Regardless, I think that academics are going to be arguing over this one for quite some time to come.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Where Would Willie Sutton Say The Money Is Now?

There was an interesting article over at the Wall Street Journal that looked at the decline of bank robbery here in the United States.
Bank holdups have been nearly cut in half over the past decade—to 5.1 robberies per 100 U.S. banks in 2011. Though the nationwide crime rate is dropping, the decline in bank robberies far exceeds the decline in other crimes, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation data. Preliminary 2012 figures released last week show the lowest tally in decades: 3,870 bank robberies, down from more than 5,000 a year earlier. 
Bank-security experts and former FBI agents attribute the decline to stepped-up security and tougher sentencing for bank robbers. Many also say that more recently, sophisticated criminals are recognizing bank robbery as a high-risk, low-reward crime and are migrating online. 
Via The Wall Street Journal
Crime analysts use the term displacement to refer to the idea that crime will sometimes move when enforcement activity is directed towards these crimes. Most often, this term applies to spatial displacement. If crime occurs in one area and enforcement efforts are stepped up, crime will sometimes move to another area.  In a way you could argue that criminals turning from bank robbery to other types of financial crimes is a type of displacement. Regardless of what you want to call this trend, a reduction in bank robbery is a good thing.

Armed robberies are inherently dangerous to the public, to law enforcement and to the crook. The important lesson here is that some of the credit for this trend lies in relatively low cost measures such as better bank security and improved cash handling procedures. A 70% decrease in robberies due to the use of “bandit barriers” by Southern California banks is nothing to sneeze at.

If Willie Sutton was around today, he might have to brush up on his computer skills. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Is Homelessness A Transportation Issue?

There was a great story this week over at The Atlantic Cities that looked at homelessness and how the homeless often congregate around transportation infrastructure such as highway rest stops, bridges, etc. Of course, this brings up thorny issues regarding who and how to deal with the homeless.
This means that public agencies better equipped to run trains or pave highways must often act as the first responders to homelessness. It’s a sad commentary on how we handle these populations – in a society that doesn't treat access to shelter as a right – that the task falls to the front-line employees of transportation agencies untrained to do anything like this.
Via The Atlantic Cities 

This also demonstrates the need for training public employees who you wouldn't ordinarily think deal with the homeless, on how best to handle these kinds of issues.

The Problem Oriented Policing Center has one of it's great POP Guides that covers dealing with Homeless Encampments. The guide can help you to analyze and evaluate this problem and develop an effective solution.

How has your agency handled homeless encampments? What worked for your agency?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Is Cramming Sex Offenders Into Two Trailers A Real Solution To Re-integration?

On Monday I posted about the effect sex offender residency laws had on recidivism. Yesterday, there was a story over at The New York Times that underscored the unintended consequences these laws have. Long Island's Suffolk County ended up cramming up to 40 sex offenders into two county owned trailers. 
Without stable housing after prison, sex offenders can be hard to monitor and are more likely to lapse again into predation, said Bill O’Leary, a forensic therapist who works with victims and perpetrators of sexual and violent crimes in the New York area. 
“This forces them to be more transient, which gives them more exposure to society,” Mr. O’Leary said, referring to the residency restrictions. “Even those that are the more predatory are forced to be out in society.”
Via The New York Times 
Most of these laws prohibit a sex offender from living within a specified distance from schools, day care centers or school bus stops. But these laws don't prohibit sex offenders from going to those locations, just living near them. Because of this, you have to wonder if these laws were just passed to make us feel better about a difficult societal problem without offering any real solutions.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

This Wave Isn't One You Want Rippling Through Your Community

It's stories like this that make me glad there are some extremely smart people doing a lot of thinking about how to reduce crime and make communities safer. Stanford University had a piece on their website that looked a research being conducted by a Stanford mathematician that looked at how a crime wave spreads in a community and factors that retard the spread. 
Because an anti-crime environment is necessary for waves to be stoppable in the first place, Rodríguez said, the model suggests that it's necessary to "change the perspective of the population." 
"It's not enough to crack down on crime without changing the attitude of the community," she said. "It's not just that the more police presence you have, the better it is." 
 So what is your agency doing to change community attitudes about crime?

Monday, February 4, 2013

If Sex Offender Laws Don't Work, Why Are We Still Doing Them?

Time Magazine had a piece recently that looked at the effectiveness of using sex offender registries to keep offenders away from certain areas of town. The article looked at a study that questioned whether these laws actually made communities safer. The piece had a couple of conclusions that were troubling.

The first was that 65% of offenders moved at least once during the 2.5 year study period, and prior research suggests that not having stable housing increases the risk of offending or failing to register.

Second, many of these offenders resided in marginal and chaotic neighborhoods— which are often the cheapest and least restricted to offenders— and can increase recidivism in several ways. Parents are often unable to supervise children adequately due to long work hours and lack of affordable daycare, making the children more vulnerable. These areas also tend to have more crime and less economic opportunity overall, both of which can affect recidivism.

Via Time Magazine

Sex offender registries and sex offender exclusion laws are well intentioned. But like a lot of well intentioned laws, they don't always have the desired effect. If they aren't working like they were intended, and may even be contributing to recidivism of sex offenders then maybe we need to come up with something better.

Friday, February 1, 2013

This Burglary Ring Had A Flash Of Brilliance

As a general rule, most burglars aren't real clever or even very creative. However, occasionally you run across a crook's modus operandi that demonstrates creativity and "outside the box" thinking. There was a story over at CNN that outlined one of these kinds of moments.
The scheme started when 51-year-old Duane Van Tuinen, an office machine repairman, was contracted by distributors of the Los Angeles Times to repair equipment, officials said.
Once inside the businesses, investigators said, Van Tuinen repeatedly stole lists of Los Angeles Times subscribers who asked their newspaper delivery be put on hold while they went on vacation. 
Van Tuinen passed the lists on to three others who carried out the burglaries, the sheriff's department said.
The crooks went on to steal over $1 million worth of property over a three year period. 

Of course, their brilliance must have run out because the story goes on to allow that the four men associated with this ring are now facing multiple burglary counts for their complicity in this scheme.