Monday, December 30, 2013

A New Year and a new beginning at The Crime Analyst’s Blog

It often said that the New Year is the time for new beginnings. In that spirit, I am going to try a new beginning. Over the next 52 weeks, my posts here at The Crime Analyst’s Blog will cover short ‘How To’ articles on skills and tips needed by crime analysts and persons working in a crime analyst’s role. I am planning on these tips to cover very basic entry level skills.

My reasoning for this is there are many small agencies that don’t have a trained crime analyst. But just because they don’t have a crime analyst doesn’t mean their agency wouldn’t benefit from some basic crime analysis skills. It’s my hope to be able to post these basic ‘How To’ articles here on The Crime Analyst’s Blog once a week or so. I hope you’ll follow along and let me know what you think.  

I’ve been blogging here at The Crime Analyst’s Blog since 2009. During the years that I have been blogging here, the majority of my posts have consisted of a link to a law enforcement news item, maybe a snippet from the story and some comments about it. During this time, social media has also become much more commonly used. I’ve become very active on both Twitter and Google+ during this time. Social media is the perfect outlet for that style of blogging. I will continue to post links and comments on law enforcement news items to my social media outlets. For that you can follow me 



I don’t know about you, but I am looking forward to 2014. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Is 'collaborative policing' the next police buzzword?

The Wall Street Journal had a piece last week that looked at Bill Bratton's return to NYPD as their chief. The NYPD has touted historically low crime rates in recent years but their reputation has taken a real hit with the controversy over their "stop & frisk" program as well as allegations that their Intelligence Unit has been spying on mosques and Muslim businesses post 9/11.

In the story, Bratton speaks about what this 'collaborative policing' is.
The goal, according to Mr. Bratton's working document on collaborative policing, is to have officers and residents of the areas they serve identifying problems together and addressing people who bring crime into the neighborhoods. The aim is to bring "more sharing of information, better leads" and more trust between police and people, said Lis Smith, the de Blasio transition spokeswoman.
Via The Wall Street Journal 

Sounds a lot like community policing to me.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

So what's the problem with red light cameras anyway?

There was a story earlier this week over at the excellent tech website Ars Technica that looked at the very contentious issue of automated photo red light cameras. The story is a pretty balanced one that looks at the benefits and pitfalls of such systems.
After having rapidly risen to cities large and small across America, citizens and members of local government are starting to ask themselves the same questions that Mayor Marsh is asking: are these cameras actually making our communities safer? And is it a good idea to use speeders’ fines to pay for a system designed to catch them? Plus, are all laws even meant to be perfectly enforced?
Via Ars Technica

I am always leery when you introduce any sort of financial incentive into enforcement efforts. It's just way too easy to jettison fairness in enforcement efforts in order to chase the dollar. Automated red light cameras are a lot like asset forfeiture in that respect.

It's also important to note that the best law enforcement occurs as a cooperative effort between the police and the public they serve. The visceral objection to red light cameras may stem from the idea that these devices are akin to playing dirty pool. No one likes getting a traffic ticket but it's really offensive when you feel that the ticket was not given fairly and honestly.

Of course the best way to improve traffic safety is better traffic engineering practices that improve traffic safety without resorting to the dreaded traffic ticket. This is also much less likely to result in an angry tirade from citizens would who have gotten one of those tickets.

Street design a large part of traffic safety

While murder may get more news, traffic deaths outnumber them. The Atlantic Cities had an interesting piece looking at how good urban street design can improve traffic safety.
Last month, the New York City Department of Transportation released a brief-but-handy guide that uses before-and-after design renderings to illustrate five basic rules for street safety. The report calls its comparisons "the largest examination of the safety effects of innovative roadway engineering conducted in a major American city, or perhaps any city globally." That's a tall claim, but there's no question that the five lessons embedded in these images merit notice from urban communities near and far.
Via The Atlantic Cities

Friday, December 13, 2013

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Can answering the question "Where's a safe place to stab someone?" reduce violence in the UK?

Street Doctors works on the rationale that giving at-risk kids information and survival skills can stop violence as much as prison terms for carrying weapons. The U.K.'s tabloid press likes to run wild with tales of feral Britain, but the truth is that many young people carrying knives are in fact terrified of becoming victims themselves. They also unaware of just how dangerous a stab wound can be.
Via The Atlantic Cities

This is a pretty unusual approach. I wonder if it will work?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Does the "trial penalty" actually thwart justice?

Plea offers have been around since the 1800s and are a well-established and necessary part of criminal practice. But the new mandatory minimums and sentencing enhancements have given federal prosecutors new power to coerce pleas and avoid trials. A prosecutor can now give a minor drug dealer this choice: “Plead guilty to a reduced charge, or go to trial and risk sentencing that will put you in jail for decades.” It’s not hard to understand why so many defendants—whether innocent, guilty, or not quite as guilty as charged—are taking the first option.
Via The Atlantic

Is a right that is so prohibitively punitive to exercise an actual right?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

So just what is driving a rash of Houston armored car robberies?

Harris County, which includes Houston, has had 11 armored-car robberies since January, roughly a third of the nationwide total this year. The F.B.I. had reports of two holdups of armored vehicles in New York City this year and none in the Boston, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles areas.
Via The New York Times

Weird.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Could changes in JAG grant performance measures make these grants more effective?

This is a pretty interesting idea:
The annual self-evaluation JAG recipients are required to complete measures performance in a way, says the Brennan Center report, that is "roughly analogous to a hospital counting the number of emergency room admissions, instead of considering the number of lives saved." Agencies are asked how many arrests they made, and prosecutors are asked how many cases they won. Not only is that data rather useless in terms of assessing the effectiveness of a given policy, it also says to the person answering the questions that their numbers should be really big.
Via The Atlantic Cities

Whenever I look a statistical performance measures for the police department where I work, I am always hesitant to include data for arrests and traffic citations. The reason being is that these can be pretty poor ways for an agency to measure how effective they are being at making the community safer.

These are numbers that are pretty easy to jack up. If your agency is being criticized, then you go out and make a bunch of low level arrests for trivial offences or you go out and write a bunch of tickets for people driving just a few miles an hour over the speed limits. You'll have an impressive chart showing an increase in these activities but you haven't demonstrated that crime has been decreased or that there are fewer traffic accidents.

It will be interesting to see what changes the Justice Assistance Grant program makes in measuring how effective these grants are.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Crime predicting security robot? Really?

Officially dubbed the K5 Autonomous Data Machine, the 300-pound, 5-foot-tall mobile robot will be equipped with nighttime video cameras, thermal imaging capabilities, and license plate recognition skills. It will be able to function autonomously for select operations, but more significantly, its software will provide crime prediction that's reminiscent, the company claims, of the "precog" plot point of "Minority Report."
Via CNET

Of course you can't have any policing/security technology nowadays without the predictive policing buzzword being attached to it.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

So just how likely is a property crime to be solved?

There was a rather depressing story over at the Austin, Texas Public Radio station KUT that looked at Austin PD's low clearance rate for burglaries. 
...APD is only able to solve eight percent of its property crime cases. That rate has improved, somewhat. Two years ago, the clearance rate was five percent. The national average is 12 percent.
Via KUT

I'm not posting this to pick on APD. Even in the sleepy little burg where I work we've had our share of lackluster property crime numbers in the past. In fact, if you look at the clearance rates for Uniform Crime Report Property Crimes nationwide you will see that the numbers are almost as depressing.

These are very difficult crimes to solve. In fact, it's likely more cost effective to prevent them before they occur than it is to solve them after the fact. Of course successful prevention is not just the responsibility of the police.

Getting the public to protect themselves is often difficult. Just this week I was reading a report where someone had their car stolen as they left it running in the driveway to warm up. This is Texas and it was 50F degrees that morning. Really? Just how warm does you car need to be before you leave for work.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Did you ever wonder what happens to stolen electronics?

Here's a piece on the journey of a stolen laptop from the school it was stolen from to the unsuspecting buyer halfway across the US.
Thousands of laptops and cellphones are taken each year in the District, and police readily admit that they are frustrated by the ease with which stolen treasures can be unloaded for fast cash. Some are recycled, others are sold on the streets or from stores that deal in stolen goods. In most cases, the trail becomes too convoluted to follow, and the electronics become lost on the legitimate market.
Via The Washington Post

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

How frequent are mass killings in the United States? Do you really want to know?

USA Today had a great interactive piece that looked at some of the numbers behind mass killings. These incidents are defined as murders of four or more people in one incident. To answer the question above; one happens about once every two weeks.

There was some really interesting bits in the story including this:
But for all the attention they receive, mass killings still accounted for only a tiny fraction — about 1% — of all the Americans who were murdered over those five years. During those five years, more died from migraines and falling out of chairs than were murdered by mass killers, according to death records kept by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Three times as many people perished from sunstroke.
Via USA Today

All in all your chances of being murdered, whether in a mass killing or just a regular old run of the mill murder are pretty low, much lower than heart disease or cancer.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Oil drilling boomtowns booming with crime too

Amid all of that new money, reports of assault and theft have doubled or even tripled, and the police say they are rushing from call to call, grappling with everything from bar brawls and shoplifting to kidnappings and attempted murders. Traffic stops for drunken or reckless driving have skyrocketed; local jails are spilling over with drug suspects.
Via The New York Times

Skyrocketing growth in a community often outstrips the community's ability to keep up. It's stories like these that make me thankful for the sleepy little burg where I work.