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 

Wow.

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 SFGate.com 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.
Via SFGate.com

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."

Via CNN

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

ScottDickson.net 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. 

Oops.

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

Ironic.

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 Bandittracker.com 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
Analysts
Case agents
Chatters
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 http://www.crimeanalystblog.net points back to this blog rather than my Google+ page. There are a few changes coming.

It will all be good.