Monday, March 25, 2013

Drop In Car Thefts In Boston Due To Preventative Measures

I thought this piece was interesting. There was a story over at that looks at the decline in motor vehicle theft rates in the Boston area. The drop in vehicle thefts has been surprising and largely due to better anti-theft technology in cars.

Today, the proliferation of antitheft technology in new models has “driven out the casual thief” responsible for most stolen cars, Hazelbaker said.


The thing to take away from the success in reducing motor vehicle theft is that the way to solve some crime problems is not the old, reactive “git tough on crime” approach of tougher laws, longer sentences or more arrests. Instead motor vehicle thefts were reduced by better preventative technology changing the cost/benefit ratio for the thief out of his favor.

My first pickup truck was a 1971 Chevrolet. They were incredibly easy to steal by reaching under the dash, unplugging the wiring harness off the back of the ignition switch and plugging the harness into a switch you got at the auto parts store. Two minutes of your time and a $20 switch got you a pickup truck.

In whose favor was the cost/benefit ratio back then?

This Week’s Crime Analyst Resource

We’re going to look at the Problem Oriented Policing Center’s POP Guides over the next several months. These guidebooks can help you solve particular crime problems at your agency.

One of the best things about the guidebooks is that they force you to look at a crime problem with a focused, analytical approach. Another benefit is that these POP Guides will sometimes give you a suggested solution to a crime problem that you might not have thought about.

This week we’re highlighting the Problem Specific Guide #1, Assaults In And Around Bars.

A vibrant nightlife can be both a boon or a bane to a community. A well managed nightclub can draw visitors to a community while a poorly managed one can become a crime generator and a serious drain on limited police resources.

One common crime problem associated with bars is assaults. Reducing assaults in and around bars can lead to a safer environment around them and reduce the amount of time police spend responding to these incidents.

This POP Guide can help you to understand the problem in your community and develop a strategy that works to solve it.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Changes Here At The Blog

I've been writing The Crime Analyst's Blog since 2009. As of today, I'm up to 1362 posts. For the most part I have been posting five days a week that entire time.

Recently, the workflow I use to try and find interesting news stories to post suffered a little hiccup when Google announced that they would be shuttering the Google Reader RSS feed reader. This hiccup, coupled with a desire to make a change finally gave me the kick in the pants I needed to do something I have been thinking about for months, that is to reduce the number of posts from five per week to once a week.

By having more time during the week to research and then write the post, I hope to be able to provide more informative content. I hope that you'll bear with me and continue to visit, read and comment on my blog in spite of the change.

I do plan on sending out links to interesting law enforcement stories throughout the week on Twitter. If you're on Twitter you can follow me @scott_dickson

This Week's Crime Analyst Resource

This is a new section for me. In it I want to highlight some resources that I think are beneficial for crime analysts. In the next few months I want to look at the Problem Oriented Policing Center's POP Guides.

The POP Guides come in three flavors. Problem Specific guides that apply problem oriented policing principles in solving specific crime problems such Assaults In And Around Bars or Street Prostitution. Response Guides which summarize research about what does and doesn't work in general police responses to crime problems. The last type is Problem Solving Tool Guides which help you to understand how analytical techniques can help you understand crime problems.

These POP Guides can be viewed on the Problem Oriented Policing Center website, downloaded for free in various formats, as a PDF or an Ebook or you can even order a bound paper copy.

In next week's post I'll start walking us through the various POP Guides. I hope you'll continue to visit.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Can Technology Lower Your Crime Numbers?

There was a story over at the Arizona news outlet where they quote Tempe, Arizona police as crediting technology as one of the reasons they've reduced crime in Tempe.

Technology removes much of the time-intensive paperwork that can hinder crime-trend identification and investigative work, and enables officers to be more proficient and efficient in investigating and solving crimes, police said. The technology also has allowed officers and crime analysts to share information quickly among officers, other agencies and the public.

The result, they say, has been a decrease in crime.


Not only is it important that a modern police agency has good technology, it's also even more important that an agency has people with the skills to leverage the technology they do have. This is where a crime analyst can help your agency.

A properly trained crime analyst has the skills to analyze the data contained in an agency's records management system, turn that data into information, and then communicate that information so that it becomes the knowledge an agency needs to make their community safer.

How does your agency leverage the technology it has to make the community you serve a safer place?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Crime, Like Life, Is Cyclical

There was a recent news story over at the Memphis news outlet WREG that had an interesting quote from Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong.
“It’s March and we do recognize that summer is around the corner and historically in summer months crime does go up,”

It’s really not unusual for crime or police calls for service to pick up based on weather cycles. If the weather is hospitable, people are not only more likely to be out and about, but they are also more likely to become victims or to commit a crime. In addition to the weather affecting police workload, times of the day will also affect police calls. When more people are awake, there will be more calls.

Since there are so many regular cycles, police agencies can use this to plan ahead. For instance, at the sleepy little burg where I work, we regularly plan for in-service training during the times that we historically have a lower volume of calls.

Have you identified the regular cycles that affect calls in your community? Are you using these cycles in planning at your agency?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

In A City With A Murder Problem Why Are Small Complaints At The Top?

Chicago Police have been struggling to contain a crime problem in many parts of their city. Understandably, Chicago PD has been under a lot of pressure to get a handle on the problem and make the community a safer place. The Chicago Tribune is reporting that CPD's Superintendent Garry McCarthy is bringing a crime fighting strategy to Chicago that he hopes will help. 
"Fixing the little things prevents the bigger things," McCarthy said during a news conference at the Harrison district station. He has long been an advocate of the "broken windows" approach — the idea that eradicating public drunkenness and other signposts of community decay is crucial to making neighborhoods safer.

The superintendent said an ordinance would be proposed to the City Council to allow police to arrest those who fail to pay tickets for public urination, public consumption of alcohol and gambling, "the three top complaints" from residents.

Via The Chicago Tribune
What I find interesting but probably not all what unusual is that McCarthy indicates that the "three top complaints" from residents are "public urination, public consumption of alcohol and gambling". I know that to many outside law enforcement, the idea that these are the top complaints while they are setting records for the numbers of murders seems a bit crazy. But it's been my experience that often times the largest and most vocal complaints are about quality of life issues and not major crimes.

Yet while these quality of life issues seem minor, they are a big deal to those experiencing them. If your agency is responsive to these issues, then you will begin to build the public trust in your department and that trust will then help you to tackle some of the larger crime problems in the community. Fixing these quality of life issues can also improve the public perception of safety in a community.

The Problem Oriented Policing Center has a great set of POP Guides that outline strategies to deal with many types of crime problems, including quality of life issues like Chronic Public Inebriation and Abandoned Buildings or Lots. Their POP Guides are a great resource and may help you to develop a strategy to deal with a crime problem.

How does your agency handle quality of life issues? Do you think that "broken windows policing" can help CPD turn things around in Chicago?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Are Smaller More Manageable Districts The Key To Improving Oakland's Crime Problem?

There are probably few people who aren't aware of just how much the city of Oakland, California is struggling with crime. Things have gotten so bad between Oakland PD and the community that the department is being overseen by a federal judge.

There were a couple of stories worth looking at regarding some recent developments in this story. The first, from the San Jose Mercury News quotes former NYPD and LAPD Chief Bill Bratton, who was hired as a consultant for Oakland PD, as saying the crime fight in Oakland is "winnable". The story also quotes Bratton as saying he was recommending Oakland PD embrace crime mapping and a more data driven approach to identifying crime problems.

Then, there was another story at The San Francisco Chronicle that quotes former Houston Police Chief Robert Wasserman, who is also consulting with Oakland PD, that the key to solving the problem involves improving community trust in their police.

Lastly, there was a story over at The New York Times that outlined part of the overall strategy for Oakland PD that included this bit:

But equally important will be the captain’s focus on community policing. In a smaller area, the theory goes, the captain will be able to reach out to more community leaders in a city with a long, troubled history between its police and residents, especially in black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

“The police cannot do it by themselves,” said Capt. Steven Tull, the commander of one of the first two districts scheduled to be created on March 16, speaking at a station in a high-crime area of East Oakland. “The community must really be engaged because sometimes the community might have solutions, they might have ideas and we need to respect that.”

Via The New York Times

A police department partnering with the community to solve crime problems is so central to having an effective crime fighting strategy that I am always surprised when departments let this relationship fall apart. However, I am not surprised that when police/community relations do fall apart that eventually the situation spirals out of control if not corrected.

What is your agency doing to build a working relationship with the public you serve?

Monday, March 11, 2013

So Are Immigrants Good or Bad For The Local Crime Rate?

I think if you were to ask most people what effect immigrants have on crime in a community you might hear pthe argument that "those people" will cause crime in a community to increase. But is this really the case? There was a story last week at NPR that might change peoples' assumptions about this.

"When a lot of immigrants come to communities, crime tends to drop," says Philip Kasinitz, who teaches sociology at the City University of New York Graduate Center. "And, of course, it's quite the opposite of what many people think."

Police statistics show that Sunset Park is much safer than it was 20 years ago. Homicides are down more than 90 percent. Crime rates have dropped all over New York City since 1990 — but especially in neighborhoods that have high immigration.


One very important aspect of policing a community with a significant immigrant population is for the police to build bridges with members of those communities. In the sleepy little burg where I work, not only does our department meet regularly with the NAACP, but we also meet with organizations representing the Latin American community, the Korean community, and a group representing people from the Pacific islands.

We are a very diverse community and having open lines of communications between these immigrant communities and the police helps immeasurably. Does your community have a significant immigrant population? What is your agency doing to build bridges with these communities?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Predictive Policing on CurrentTV

Former crime analyst and IACA member Zach Friend was interviewed on the program Current TV about the predictive policing system PredPol that is being used by his former employer, the Santa Cruz Police Department. 

There's been a lot of attention paid to predictive policing technologies lately and this piece is worth watching.

Has your agency considered implementing a predictive policing strategy? If not, what would it take for your agency to do so?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

More On "Most Dangerous" City Rankings

On Monday I posted this about a Cleveland area TV station taking another media outlet to task over a story that listed Cleveland as one of the nations "Most Dangerous Cities".

Yesterday I found this piece at the St. Louis, Missouri are news outlet KMOX where they quote a University of Missouri criminology professor as saying that the methodology of these kinds of crime rankings is "baseless". The story points to one of the leading sources for this kind of city rankings: CQ Press and then points out one flaw in their methodology.

“Cities that are small parts of their metropolitan area tend to run artificially high because persons from outside the city who are in the city and may become crime victims aren’t counted,” explained Rosenfeld, who also works for the City of St. Louis as “Criminologist in Residence” at the Department of Public Safety.


Every year CQ Press will issue a teaser press release where they rank cities according to "dangerousness" and then offer to sell you the complete report. Usually the press release will generate a few news stories and then cause great consternation for the city leaders who's cities are placed on top of this list.

Of course the problem of ranking cities by the numbers of reported crimes and then pronouncing some of them "Most Dangerous" occurs with such regularity that the FBI devotes an entire page of their website as to why you shouldn't do this.

The FBI's Caution Against Rankings page has some great insight as to why such simplistic rankings are not valid.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Texas Leads The Nation In Pickup Tailgate Thefts

According to a report released by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), the number of tailgate theft insurance claims has increased across the nation by 18% from 2011 to 2012. Texas topped the list at 451 tailgate theft claims reported, with Dallas coming in third in the state with 51 tailgate theft claims reported.

Via The Dallas Morning News

Are you surprised by this?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Cleveland TV Outlet Takes Forbes To Task Over "Most Dangerous" Story

Several times a year, we see media outlets use crime stats to "rank" cities and generate news stories with lurid headlines like "Most Dangerous City in America". This happens in spite of the fact that this practice is overly simplistic and strongly discouraged by the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports program.

Normally, we see city officials complaining about this treatment. I saw this article last week at the Cleveland area news outlet WKYC where they were the ones pointing out the problem with a Forbes story that labeled Cleveland as the 9th "Most Dangerous City in America".

Forbes based it's "Most Dangerous" ranking on an FBI database that collects violent crime statistics from across the county.

The Forbes ranking is based on the number of crimes. It does not take other factors into consideration, such as per capital crime, age of the city, demographics or size.

"It's cautioned all over our website saying, please don't use this as a ranking system," says Special Agent Vicki Anderson with the Cleveland FBI office.


The story goes on to point out that in spite of the perception that downtown Cleveland is unsafe, an analysis of Cleveland area crime stats showed that the majority of crime in Cleveland is not occurring in the downtown area. In fact, less than 4% of these violent crimes happened in the downtown area.

As the WKYC story points out, labeling a city "Most Dangerous" is terribly simplistic and isn't quite fair to the people that live and work in a community. I'm just glad that it's not just city officials that are complaining about this practice.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Reducing The Appearance Of Bias By Adopting A Predictive Policing Strategy

There was a story over at the Seattle Times that looked at Seattle Police implementing a program to use predictive policing software as part of a plan to improve their department over the next 20 months.
A complex algorithm, using data that dates to 2008, predicts where crimes are likely to take place on a certain date and time. Officers will be provided forecasts before their shifts, then use their “proactive time” between 911 calls to patrol those areas, officials said.

“Success will be measured in crime that does not occur,” Acting Lt. Bryan Grenon, a leader in the effort, said of the preventive possibilities.
Via The Seattle Times

What I found interesting is that one reason they were adopting predictive policing is reduce allegations of bias based policing by letting crime data drive enforcement activities. While quite a number of agencies have implemented various predictive policing programs, this may be one of the first that addressed the issue of reducing the appearance of bias based policing by relaying on analysis of crime data.

Bias based policing is a threat to the community trust needed for a police agency to have an effective working relationship with the community they serve. Anything an agency can do to reduce the appearance of bias in policing is a good thing.

If SPD is successful, their predictive policing program would have the dual advantage of making their officers more efficient as well as improving the relationship with the community they serve.