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.