Tag Archives: Crime

Beta testers needed for gang data website

A university team I know is putting together a website which displays publicly available street gang data.  They’re going to need some beta testers however to give the system a once over and provide some feedback as to its usability.  They’re looking at the testing taking place from (approximately) the 19th of November to the 23rd.

It shouldn’t be a heavy lift and you don’t need to have any knowledge or gangs and you can spend as much (or as little) time poking around the data as you’d like.

If there are any interested parties out there, please contact me at TwShiloh (at) gmail (dot) com.

COIN and law enforcement (again)

A couple of weeks ago Sven wrote a piece about how experience in our ‘small wars’ could enable Western governments to exert an unreasonable amount of control over their domestic population.

Many techniques, laws and tools of the so-called “Global war on terror” could be mis-used for the suppression of domestic opposition.

Specifically, he mentions the dangers of migrating COIN to the domestic sphere.  I think his argument is off but that he hits upon another truth.  I strongly believe (and have written here numerous times) that the central tenets of COIN are completely compatible with some areas of domestic law enforcement.  In fact, I’ll  go even further and say that ideas such as Intelligence Led Policing are civilian manifestations of COIN.

The things Sven talks about as being particularly dangerous are ones I would agree are not compatible with an open, free society (overbearing surveillance, data collection and storage of citizens without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, use of the military) but I don’t think any of those are inherent in COIN doctrine.  This is where I think he accidentally (?) stumbles upon a hidden truth.  Many who advocate the use of such tactics do so under the guise of COIN either because they don’t completely understand the doctrine or are using it as a useful gimmick to get these sorts of measures accepted.

This misunderstanding of what’s going on in the military sphere isn’t that unusual within the law enforcement community where one needn’t look very hard to find military terms and concepts misused, either unintentionally or in order to overlay a veneer of credibility on a dodgy idea.

For example, right now, in a mid-sized city in the Northeast U.S., a law enforcement agency recently instituted a ‘surge’ (yes, that is the exact term the operation was given) in the hopes to bring down sky high violent crime rates.  Rather than being part of a larger effort to address root causes, ‘teh surge’ is a characterture of what critics said of the Iraq surge.  It’s only component is swarming areas with police officers on a temporary bases.  And metrics of success?  Heh…how about comparing crime during the ‘surge’ (when all the cops are out) with a period when they weren’t there?  Can you guess the results?  Shockingly, criminals don’t like to commit crimes in front of law enforcement officers!  Crime levels are down.  We must have success! (Don’t ask inconvenient questions about what’s going to happen after the ‘surge’ ends.)

(This video was supposed to be a joke.  Unfortunately, it too frequently looks like documentary footage.)

Now, there’s no plan to take advantage of a reduction in violence by building/strengthening local institutions or even measuring the effects of the operation over time.  In short, it’s a total waste of time and money BUT they get to call it a ‘surge’ and indulge their childish dreams that they’re kicking insurgent ass.

I bring this up because I’m coincidentally working on a presentation about COIN and came across a list of its principles.  I’d recommend reading these (replacing the term ‘criminal networks’ for ‘insurgents’) and try to argue what we wouldn’t want these to guide our actions in areas that suffer from endemic crime and the government lacks legitimacy:

  • Emphasize intelligence.
  • Focus on population, its needs and security.
  • Establish and expand secure areas.
  • Isolate insurgents from the population.
  • Conduct effective, pervasive and continuous information operations.
  • Provide amnesty and rehabilitation for those willing to support the new government.
  • Place host-nation police in the lead with military support as soon as the security situation permits.

You can do all of those things without violating people’s civil rights or having the government becoming an overbearing ogre.  What a civilianized version of COIN should allow you to do is coordinate operations among a wide range of agencies (law enforcement, policy, social services, private sector, community, etc) to address endemic crime issues on a long term basis rather than the ineffective, uncoordinated, ‘fire and forget’ methods that are what normally pass for crime control.

This doesn’t sound good…

The Swedish sniper story gets weirder and weirder.  Now, ‘former’ (ahem) gang members have decided that they’ll hunt down the sniper.

According to the local Sydsvenskan newspaper, the former leader of one of the town’s largest criminal networks is among a group of “old friends who have stuck together” and who are now actively looking for the gunman which has left Malmö’s immigrant community gripped with fear.

“He had better hope that we don’t find him first,” a man who referred to himself as “Leo” told the newspaper during an interview in his apartment in the city’s Rosengård neighbourhood.

The man believes he and his friends have better knowledge of the area where the shootings have taken place and will likely find the gunman before the police.

“It will be much easier for us to catch him than for the police,” he told the newspaper.

I find this interesting since I can’t recall (although I haven’t really sought out this sort of information) any similar instances where criminal groups (hey! that’s former criminals to you!) have publicly announced that they were going to

The bikerless biker gang (now with fewer bikes!)

Outlaw motorcycle gangs in Europe are a pretty interesting lot and Der Spiegel doesn’t disappoint in a story about a potential conflict between the Hells Angels and a newly formed chapter of the Mongols MC (man, they have a nice website.  I’m not sure is outlaw motorcycle clubs should have facebook pages though.  Seems kind of weird.)  in the city of Bremen.

There are a couple of added twists to the story, however.  First the Mongols are made up of Kurds who are part of a community that immigrated to Germany in the 1980s.  Second (and most strangely for a motorcycle gang), these guys apparently didn’t have motorcycles…

According to investigators, the new bikers have neither motorbikes nor the requisite motorcycle license. Whenever they cruise through Bremen’s downtown area, they drive powerful cars. Mustafa B. was the only member of the clan who had actually gotten his license, two weeks before his untimely death.

So now German authorities are concerned about two potential scenarios:

  1. The Mongols and Hells Angels (the dominant motorcycle gang in Bremen) start to battle it out over control of illegal markets and turf
  2. The Mongols and Hells Angels cooperate to form a criminal partnership

Neither one of those is desirable to German authorities.

Kvick Tänkare

Even though it was a long, long time ago, I still remember the day I was sworn into the Army and shipped out to my basic training.  Lots of trepidation and anxiety that I can only imagine is only a fraction of what Russian conscripts go through when they’re called up.  With rampant hazing of new soldiers I’m pretty sure I’d do whatever I could do get out of military duty there.

Still…at least they get jugglers.

Have you seen this ad by the Citizens Against Government Waste (uh, apparently except when the government wastes on them)?  It takes us into a dystopian future of the Chinese dominated world.  We peer into a Chinese university campus where the professor explains how great powers fall.  And there, surrounded by pictures of Mao (indicating the Communist Party is still doing pretty good in 2030) we hear what caused the mighty U.S.A. to fall:

  1. government stimulus spending
  2. big changes in its health care systems
  3. public intervention in major industries

The message is clear.  We need to be more like those danged Chinese who are cleaning our clock by being so darned economically adaptive (and let’s face it, their willingness to imprison and execute those who question if their country isn’t the bestest, greatest country every bestowed upon mankind is pretty great too).  We could continue to be masters of the world if only we followed their lead and, for example, embraced their free market principles of:

  1. government stimulus spending
  2. big changes in its health care systems
  3. public intervention in major industries

While the commercial is slick and well done it’s misunderstanding of history is staggering.  Rome fell because it turned its back on its principles?  It lasted (depending on how you count it) for about 800 years and probably ‘abandoned its principles’ 500 years before it fell.

The Swedish city of Malmö has a sniper who’s been targeting immigrants lately.  The Swedish press is referencing an earlier shooter from the 1990s known as the ‘Laser Man‘.  It also appears that even though they haven’t identified any suspects authorities are assuming this is a lone gunman.

Perhaps they should review the Beltway Sniper case to see how relying too much on unexamined assumptions can hinder investigations.


CNAS talks gang gibberish

I was really excited to hear that CNAS was gong to take a look at gangs, drug cartels and instability throughout the Western Hemisphere.  I took a look at the document last night and was thoroughly disappointed.  If your central thesis is “the United States is under attack, domestically and afield, by a networked
criminal insurgency that must be defeated” you better be able to substantiate that claim.

Instead, there are a lot of assertions without support, uncritical acceptance of opinion as fact and arguments hung upon structures of unexamined assumptions.  I can’t speak to the parts of the document that deal with events south of the border but their description of events in the United States and characterizations of the criminal environment here must draw their entire work into question.

So, where to begin?  Let’s start with the assertion that the U.S. is facing an ‘insurgency’ and is under attack.  If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you’ll know that I often argue that there are a lot of lessons to be learned by the military regarding COIN from experiences here in America, particularly areas where the rule of law has broken down and criminal networks have moved in to supplement  an apathetic government (usually in economically devastated, socially excluded urban areas).  Likewise, I remain convinced that there are lessons from the military experience in COIN that could have a positive benefit to law enforcement operations here in the U.S.

That is very different from saying that I think there’s an insurgency here.  The authors even seem to realize they overstretched when they used that term by almost immediately walking it back in this way….

An insurgency is actually an attempt to weaken or
disrupt the functions of government,

Using that definition, I expect upcoming CNAS titles to include “Che and Jon Stewart:  A profile of two insurgents”, or perhaps “Why citizens protesting local zoning laws are the new VeitCong”.  That definition can include such a wide range of activities (both intentional and accidental) to be almost meaningless.

To demonstrate that the gang threat in the United States is growing, the authors use the fact that the FBI has an MS-13 task force.  Uh…that’s been around for awhile and it might be worthwhile to look into the question of whether the FBI’s focus on MS-13 was due to any attempted assessment of the group’s threat or if it was a knee jerk response to a couple of grisly murders in the Washington D.C. area that caused a bunch of high level civil servants and politicians to begin demanding the FBI do something.  I’m not saying MS-13 made up of a bunch of dangerous dudes but the fact that the FBI created a task force is indicative of nothing other than the fact that the FBI can create task forces.

But don’t worry about MS-13 because the Bloods and Crips “are far more organizationally and operationally sophisticated than international rivals like MS-13 and others.”

If the Bloods and Crips are the ‘gold standard’ for organizational and operational sophistication I think we can all relax.  These groups, by and large, are disparate, engage in endless infighting and most have a great deal of difficulty in coordinating activity.  The only thing that really keeps them together is the potential for huge profits from narcotics sales (thanks Uncle Sam!).  They exist because of our current prohibition system.  While the authors assert that criminal networks supplement their income with other crimes (like kidnapping) they are unable to prove (or really even make a decent case) that these organizations would be able to survive in anything like their current state without their narcotics income.  The fact of the matter is that these other crimes are generally ancillary ones that occur because of the narcotics trade and aren’t independent of it.

I was starting to smell something fishy as I was going through this report and then I found it….my nemesis.  So readers are treated to this bullshit about generational gangs again in a desperate attempt to fit the ideas of Lind and generations of warfare into the criminal world.  Argh!  Nothing like giving a crap theory legitimization without having it being given any scrutiny.

And, of course, we have to push all the fear buttons so the author’s make sure to say that this insurgency is linked to crime and terrorism (!) in new, dangerous ways!  Oh, god…where’s my duct tape?  Where’s the freakin’ duct tape?!  So, without any real evidence the authors try to assert that there are these mysterious transnational criminal networks that control all the evil in the hemisphere from the mass production of narcotics all the way down to bullying your kid in the school yard.  It’s all being planned, organized and controlled.

Now, let me be very, very clear.  I’m not saying that transnational criminal networks don’t exist.  Or that criminal groups don’t threaten the general public and some communities.  I just argue that 1) this isn’t as new as is being asserted and 2) there simply isn’t enough information to support wide eyed claims of broad, highly coordinated threats.  The plural of anecdote isn’t data.

I couldn’t even finish the document.  Don’t waste your time.

Panic at the border

I don’t know what they put in the water over at BoingBoing today but they seem to be in full panic mode.

Here’s this article which tries to convince us that Mexican cartels are about to launch an armed invasion of America and crush our puny nation (ok, I exaggerate but not by much).  The article tries to make the case that events in Mexico should be considered an insurgency which is moving North.  I think that may be overstating the political intent of the cartels a bit.  I was particularly drawn to a link to this article which quotes a local sheriff as saying:

“We are outgunned, we are out manned and we don’t have the resources here locally to fight this,” said Babeu, referring to heavily-armed cartel movements three counties deep in Arizona.

The author then goes on to provide her analysis of the situation:

I’ve written at length about the debate over border violence “spillover” – the confusion over what it really entails, and whether or not it’s actually happening. The naysayers point to crime statistics, which in several major border cities show that the incidence of major crimes has gone down. El Paso is even considered the 2nd or 3rd safest city in the whole country. However, I don’t believe you can use crime statistics alone to determine whether or not border violence spillover is occurring; there is just way too much anecdotal evidence to the contrary.

I’m seeing red right now.  Let me explain why.

This author claims to be an intelligence analyst with eight years experience.  And so, this consultant and lecturer on intelligence issues, what methodology does she use to come to her conclusions?

Certainly not ‘facts’ like crime statistics.  Oh no.  Those pesky things might not prove what you want them to.  No need to identify other metrics either since they might end up biting you if they don’t go the way you want.  Better to do a Chertoff and just reference you ‘gut instinct’.  It’ll say whatever you want it to and will never be wrong.

So, let’s dig a bit deeper.  Sylvia is proud of the fact that she’s appeared (twice!) on the Bill Handel show.  Who’s Bill Handel?  He’s the sort of well balanced radio personality who:

…commented on a show about health care that the U.S. government should “euthanize old people” “sell Glendale to get rid of the Armenians.” and “get rid of the Irish and the Italians too”

Hmmm…yeah, just the sort of place for a well reasoned and thoughtful discourse, I’m sure.

This is what happens when you tailor your analysis to fit what your audience wants to hear.

Look, I’m not saying there isn’t a problem with crime and violence spilling over the border.  Maybe there is.  I’d just like to have some way of identifying it that doesn’t involve a Magic 8-ball.  If crime statistics aren’t any good (and I’d like a hypothesis as to how these cartels are able to engage in a major insurgency and conspire to make it look like crime is going down), than what data should we use?  I’d like some way to make sure this isn’t yet another attempt by a law enforcement agency to tap into the federal grant gravy train.

I also don’t mind someone having an opinion, even one opposed to mine (although why someone would do that is beyond me).  But to claim to be an intelligence analyst and then declare that your analysis won’t be bound by data is simply outrageous.  You, Ms. Longmire, are doing a disservice to the profession.

UPDATE:  After Ms. Longmire’s comments allow me to withdraw my final sentence and recommend checking out the comments in which (specifically her final comment) she gets to a point where I can generally agree.  I still think she was a bit too dismissive of data in her original post and have a few minor quibbles but I’m sure that’s more a difference based on style than substance.

Kvick Tänkare

Some sort of reenactment at the recent Victory Day celebrations in Russia.  Geez, those Russians love to put armor on everything.  These trains would be brilliant in the event of a zombie uprising.

The Swedes have made the world’s largest scale model of the solar system.  It’s big.  REALLY BIG.  Check it out here and here.

Lung Hu’s correct prediction of the Chilian earthquake was apparently a one off.  His predictions for another earthquake in the San Francisco area was a bust.   He still refuses to divulge his methodology which I find maddening.

Mark Twain’s autobiography is about to be published.  He apparently wanted to wait until he’d been dead for a century.  The first of three volumes is coming out this fall and I can’t wait.

International aid is a bit more complicated than one might first think. (H/T YT)

Organisations that want to remain competitive need to know all about integrated marketing strategies, cost-benefit analyses and competitive incentives.

Those that fail to put in an appearance at each new humanitarian disaster miss out on contracts for the implementation of aid projects financed by donor governments and institutions, and are bypassed by competing organisations that do show up.

Start-up costs in distant, crisis-hit countries are sky-high. Aid organisations have to recruit and hire staff, rent and furnish housing and office space, and bring in Land Cruisers, aid supplies, satellite dishes, computers, air-conditioners, office equipment and generators. Once at work in a “humanitarian territory”, NGOs have to ensure they can remain active there for at least as long as it takes to earn back their investments.

Afraid of being banned in Germany, the Hells Angels and Bandidos motorcycle gangs have agreed on a truce.  This should not make anyone in Germany feel comfortable.

We no longer want to be constantly portrayed as criminals,” Bandidos member Micha told SPIEGEL ONLINE. “It has to stop.”

It’s not that they want to stop being criminals.  They just want to stop being portrayed as them.  How to do that?  Well, I’d guess they quit with the stupid public attacks on each other and agree to a clear division of their criminal enterprises.  What would that sort of thing look like?

The truce — agreed to by the vice president of the Bandidos in Europe, Peter M. and Frank H., the president of the Hell’s Angels Charters in Hanover — will be sealed “by a handshake” on Wednesday in a lawyer’s office in Hanover.

Yeah, that sounds about like it…

Gangs in New Jersey

The Asbury Park Press is running a 7 part series on street gangs in Monmouth and Ocean counties.

Only the first three parts are up as of today but I’ve got some initial thoughts on what’s up so far.

First, let me get this out of the way without further comment.  Draw your own conclusions about why I link to it…

If you’re going to expend the time and resources to produce a big project like this you better make some pretty bold statements.  Saying “Meh…It ain’t that bad”, probably won’t cut it.  Unfortunately, when you talk about gangs it’s easy to get into the realm of unsubstantiated statements like the following:

“…gangs the No.1 threat to residents of the Shore and New Jersey, according to law enforcement authorities at all levels.”

I have no idea how they came to that conclusion.  I’m not saying they’re wrong but law enforcement agencies aren’t really known for coming up with rigorous (or even slapdash) criteria and metrics so I’d be surprised if this sort of statement doesn’t have it’s origin firmly in anecdotal evidence, fuzzy definitions and unexamined assumptions.

“They commit, according to the 2009 National Gang Threat Assessment, 80 percent of the crime in communities nationwide.”

A highly dubious number that the threat assessment distanced itself from in its own report.

Some of the sources of information for the stories were gang members.  While their bona fides were apparently confirmed with local authorities, the authors appeared to take their claims at face value.  For example:

“We’re planning for the future,” said a Latin King who long has played a leadership role in the Central Jersey-based branch of the gang that’s highly structured and business-oriented. “Kings are very versatile. Financiers? Sometimes those bigwigs are Latin Kings. We’ve got Kings on Wall Street.”

Yeah…that might be true but it should be noted that the Latin Kings have been singing that same tune for almost 20 years now.  They have demonstrated a better ability to organize than other street gangs and have expressed an interest in expanding into legitimate businesses for some time but don’t go thinking they’re sitting on the board of Goldman Sachs or anything.  That’s a different type of crook.

A member of the Sex Money Murder set of the Bloods known as “P” said he leads with military precision some 5,700 members of his Bloods set who live in Monmouth County.

Just for some context here.  Monmouth County, New Jersey has a population of 642,000.  A Bloods population (remember that’s separate from any other gang members in the county) of 5,700 members would be .88% of the country population.  Think about that for a second.  Approximately 5,700 members of a highly disciplined organization that’s able to do all the things the term ‘military precision’ entails while being able to keep such an organization a secret from authorities.  Are we really to believe that an organization which would outnumber the combined size of all law enforcement agencies in the county would confine itself to the shadows?  That is, after all, about twice the size of a Brigade Combat Team.  So, like one does with ancient historians, best to divide all estimates of the size of forces by 10…

It is a shame they let a quote like that go unchallenged, especially since it’s so out of whack and there is evidence to contradict it.

Gang leaders frequently state that they want skilled members to assist the gang in making the transition from petty street crimes (narcotic sales, extortion, etc.) to more profitable organized criminal activity.  The problem has always been that their recruitment pool has generally come from the same place; socio-economic depressed areas where the skills and chances of social mobility are low.  You’ve got a small pool of people who will complete high school, have the money and/or interest in attending college to choose from.  Further, the work required to get those skills the gang thinks it wants requires an investment in time that it’s not clear gangs are willing to make in a systematic way.

Gang spokespeople also like to talk about developing skills in a way similar to spy agencies developing moles but I haven’t seen any evidence that there’s much appetite for that sort of long term investment on the part of gangs OR patience on the part of members who usually join gangs to do something other than go to school get a job and spend years getting into position to make a big score.

Gangs in schools (primary, secondary and university level) is a subject of much speculation and little fact.  The subject is delicate since it involves children and money and the general response from authorities has been to avoid looking or commenting on it with too much detail.  As a result it’s hard to know what’s really going on in any educational facilities with any degree of confidence.  Universities, in particular, have a reputation for avoiding discussions about crime on their campuses (After all, how would you feel about dropping 35k-50k a year for your kid to go to a school reported presence of organized crime groups?) and gang issues are no different.

In this regard, prisons and schools share some commonalities.  Both have captive populations and authorities of both are unable/unwilling to look to deeply at the extent to which gangs operate in their facilities.  Both are the primary points of recruitment (gangs generally don’t knock on doors or leave fliers announcing a recruitment drive) and yet receive little in the way of attention or resources to counter.

Gangs in New Jersey were increasing in size, scope and territory, the State Commission of Investigation concluded that “highly structured super-gangs” were, in effect, supplanting La Cosa Nostra in many areas of the state.

Here’s where the term ‘gang’ is showing its inadequacy.  When you have a term that can encapsulate both a trio of graffiti artists who occasionally sell marijuana and a highly organized network that engages in sophisticated and/or highly violent activities, the label begins to lose its value.

The stereotype of the typical gang member as being a street thug is being debunked in recent reports issued by the National Gang Intelligence Center, the State Commission of Investigation and the State Police.

I don’t think that’s the case at all.  The vast majority of gang criminality (at least according to this report):

“…tend to be ‘crimes of opportunity’ or ‘impulse crimes’ rather than crimes requiring planning, resources or organization.”

That’s not to say that some gangs aren’t breaking with that stereotype but just that the stereotype is probably still valid in the majority of cases.  In fact, one could argue that once a network has broken the stereotype they should no longer be considered a ‘gang’ and rather should be declared some other type of criminal group.

More later if it’s warranted.

Crazy Swedish Crime Story

Swedish prisoner warned over ‘fart


Guys, I can’t make this stuff up.

An inmate at Malmö prison has been warned over his persistent flatulence, with staff suspecting that the prisoner deployed the malodorous method to voice his discontent towards the system, the Metro newspaper reports.