Tag Archives: Crime

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.

Bizarre Swedish Crime Story Friday

You can’t make this stuff up…

Black Cobra gang steals selection of small cakes

If you’re going to go in the confectionery theft business you better have a pretty tough name or the other gangs will totally make fun of you.  It should be noted that the Black Cobras are supposed to be Danish (Damn you Denmark!  They’re the bullies of Scandinavia.)  They had a reputation for trafficking in narcotics and extortion but have apparently decided to muscle their way into the lucrative snack food market.

Criminals with connections to the Black Cobra network are suspected by police of pilfering 120 boxes of almond tarts, punch rolls, apple crowns and brownies from a delivery truck in southern Sweden on Thursday.

Ah…but the police are on the job.  Bottom line, don’t get between cops and their donuts…even in Sweden.

“We have conducted raids at a number of addresses and have confiscated cakes,” police spokesperson Charley Nilsson told local newspaper Helsingborgs Dagblad.

Social networks, Saddam and crime

Last week Slate ran a 5 part series about the hunt for Saddam Hussein with a focus on how social network analysis eventually led to his capture.  It’s an interesting story and worth you time but it got me thinking about the role of intelligence in both the military and civilian spheres over the past few years.

Back in 2003 when I first got to Afghanistan the Army had difficulty getting its head around the environment it found itself in.  It knew what kind of war it wanted to fight but fate wasn’t shaping up to be accommodating.

In fact, one of the first missions I was tasked with upon arriving at Bagram Air Field was identifying the potential avenues of approach from enemy attacks.  I was stunned at the request since, based upon how the request was framed, the underlying assumption was that Bagram was vulnerable to an attack by a large, mechanized force (a la the 40th Army).  It was a long, hard road to get people to understand that the threat would not come from a motorized rifle division but rather from a few guys on foot with some rifles, an RPG and maybe a homemade bomb.  And for those guys the term ‘no go’ terrain didn’t apply in too many places.

And, of course, when you’re oriented to fighting a conventional, set piece battle you tend not to be too worried about the connections and personalities of local leaders, influential members of the community and others.  As a result, there was really no appreciation for or systematic examination of the social environment in which we operated.

It seemed clear at the time that the military could learn some really important lessons from law enforcement at the time.  The ideas of community policing and the way the regular beat cop develops an understanding for his/her area of operations could have provided us with a great deal of information about the various people we were interacting with on a daily basis and who clearly were much more savvy than we were about understanding who actually had influence and wielded power.

As the article points out, the military isn’t ‘there’ yet in terms of fully incorporating social network analysis into its intelligence work, let alone its operational planning, but I suspect the tide has turned and it’s now law enforcement who can learn things from experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.  As you get beyond crimes of impulse and opportunity you start seeing networks becoming involved in all sorts of criminal activity which is often either overlooked, ignored or when the subject of investigation, rarely dealt with decisively precisely because analyses aren’t done to make sure the networks are seriously disrupted.  In that regard, law enforcement is similar to the military circa 2003:

…the American military perpetually refights “the last war we liked.” In that model, the enemy is always organized in a hierarchy…

Similarly, law enforcement likes to fight criminal networks that resemble it.  Nice, neat hierarchies with clear rankings and divisions of labor and responsibility.  Even when they don’t exist you’ll see agencies try to cram networks into those sorts of organizations.  Just look at about any press conference after an arrest of street gang members.  You’ll see an organizational chart in the background that could have been lifted from the board room of a corporation with various ‘generals’, ‘captains’, etc. in neat boxes.  Reality tends not to be so neat, however.

Peter over at he Ministry of State Failure has his own commentary on these articles which is worth your attention as well.  I think he hits on the difference between 2003 (when law enforcement could be the teacher) and today (when law enforcement could be the student) in terms of using social network analysis:

…using scientific (and not merely intuitive) network analysis, calculating “betweenness” of nodes for example, not just doing what even ordinary policemen do all the time when connecting the dots (when they also, at least instinctively, apply the concept of networks), was important to: 1) avoid casualties in unproductive raids; 2) speeden things up.

Law enforcement relies very much on the instinctive use of network analysis.  It seems to reject (with a mystifying degree of intensity) the idea of a systematic approach to this sort of thing as irrelevant and too academic.

I do disagree with Peter on one point however:

The use of network theory, gaining knowledge about networks that can help destroy them, still fits a military-centred approach to world politics “bloody” well. Hunting down network members in often lethal raids may seemingly substitute for persuasion, and more carefully devised, long-term-oriented policies.

That’s just not right.  In fact, I’d argue that network theory may enhance persuasion efforts and longer term policies.  If I want to influence an outcome (organizational, political or military) a good network analysis may tell me that my efforts shouldn’t necessarily focus on the person at the top of the pay scale or organizational chart but rather on someone with the right connections.

The fall of Rome with spoiled brats

I’m finally getting around to reading this months Atlantic monthly (you’d think for the amount of time I shill for them they’d throw me some swag or something) and hit upon ‘How a New Jobless Era will Transform America‘ by Don Peck.  It’s grim.  Basically, unemployment (and underemployment) is over 17% and we’re going to need amazing levels of growth over an extended period of time if we want to get at the ‘benchmark’ rate of around 5%.  But that’s not what caused me to write about the article.

Check out this quote:

“…the innovative potential of the U.S. economy looks limited today.”

“Dynamism in the U.S. has actually been in decline for a decade; with the housing bubble fueling easy (but unsustainable) growth for much of that time, we just didn’t notice…”

At the risk of appearing melodramatic, for some reason I immediately thought about the late Roman empire.  While I don’t think this the the end (or even the beginning of the end) I began thinking about how aware we might be to historically significant trends and events that might be going on around us.  Did Romans see the spread of the Laitfundium and the tying of people to hereditary occupations would lead to weaken the empire over the long term and eventually give rise to feudalism?  Heck, provided you weren’t in the way of the migratory nations would you even know the empire was ‘falling’ (a long, inevitable decline rather than just a temporary rough spot)?

“We haven’t seen anything like this before:  a really deep recession combined with a really extended period, maybe as much as eight years, all told, of highly elevated unemployment…We’re about to see a big national experiment on stress.”

So how might something like this affect the population and then what would the long term consequences be (if any) on the culture (political/social/economic) and international system?

That leads into my second point which is a bit more whimsical.  Peck makes it quite clear that it’s ‘folly’ to try to characterize entire generations with labels and stereotypes.

But, once that formality is out of the way, he takes a couple pages to generalize and slap around Gen Yers.  Normally, I’d really call him out on that but since I enjoy talking trash about them as well (Us generation  Xers are the only decent generation – everyone else is either too old or too dopey).

Well, all I’ve got to say is we’re in big trouble if Peck is right about these knuckleheads.

“…a combination of entitlement and highly structured childhood has resulted in a lack of independence and entrepreneurialism in many 20-somethings.  They’re used to checklists…and ‘don’t excel at leadership or independent problem solving.”

Peck then goes on to spread the gloom.  These economic conditions could also strike a blow to the institution of marriage as the poor put it off (too expensive and risky) but don’t postpone having children (which are seen as a ‘low cost way to achieve meaning and bolster identity’).  This leads one of Peck’s sources to say:

We could be headed in a direction where, among elites, marriage and family are conventional, but for substantial portions of society, life is more matriarchal.

One of the emerging stories of this recession has been that crime hasn’t risen as many people expected.  Some say this proves that ‘liberal’ theories about why people commit crime is flawed (lack of alternatives, economic shortcomings, etc.).  The argument in the article is that the impact of a distressed economy on the social fabric takes time to manifest (insert your trying to turn a battleship on a dime metaphor here) and will take a long time to recover from as well.

So…predictions of immediate spikes in crime were unfounded and treated society as much more nimble than it is.  For us, the worst may be in the pipeline.

Finally, misery won’t be a positive social bonding experience either:

…both inside and outside the U.S., lengthy periods of economic stagnation or decline have almost always left society more mean-spirited and less inclusive, and have usually stopped or revered the advance of rights and freedoms.

The article does have some problems.  It’s filled with so many ‘could’, ‘might’, ‘may’ phrases that it sounds like a a weather report (‘We can expect either rain or sun today so bring your umbrella and sun screen!’).   The article relies on various experts in the field (although the article doesn’t provide a lot of clues how reliable/credible these people are) and anecdotal evidence so it’s difficult to tell how much of this article is steak and how much is sizzle.

Data Everywhere

The Guardian has a great feature called their ‘Data Blog

Everyday we work with datasets from around the world. We have had to check this data and make sure it’s the best we can get, from the most credible sources. But then it lives for the moment of the paper’s publication and afterward disappears into a hard drive, rarely to emerge again before updating a year later.So, together with its companion site, the Data Store – a directory of all the stats we post – we are opening up that data for everyone. Whenever we come across something interesting or relevant or useful, we’ll post it up here and let you know what we’re planning to do with it.

So, for a number of their stories they’ll post the underlying data that goes with it.  They’ve got a storehouse of data to dig into and play around with.

One of their latest entries is about burglaries in the U.K. and dispelling the myth that hard economic times will automatically lead to higher crime rates.  In fact rates have gone down in many places but the why isn’t quite clear.  Some would argue this proves that our policy of mass incarceration works but I’m not so sure of that.  I’ve also seen theories that more unemployed people mean more people hanging out at home during peak burglary hours.

But that’s not really the point of this post.  They’ve put up the data from the Home Office for you to look at.

A few points I’d like to make:

  1. I think the fact that no one has stolen a ‘wheely bin /dustbin’ since at least 2003 is grounds for removing it from the list of items to track.  How’d it get on the list in the first place?  Was there a rash of wheely bin thieves?
  2. Comparable crime data in the U.S. is in something called the Uniform Crime Reports.  Every state is required to compare certain crime data and send it up to the federal authorities.  Every state decides how they’re going to release their data.  Pennsylvania does a decent (not perfect but pretty darn good) job with allowing the public to create their own queries and explore the data as they want.  New Jersey, on the other hand, is total shit, putting their data in .pdf reports and forces people who want to use the data to do a LOT of manual work.  As an aside, I’ve heard it theorized that one way to look at this is to assume that this isn’t a problem of technical issues or technophobia about using the internets on the part of some governments but rather, an intentional strategy to create obstacles to  transparency.  I have no evidence to back that up and think that may be giving too much credit to the people who make such decisions but I remain open to being convinced.

I don’t know if there’s a comparable site which provides data in a similar way in the U.S. (data.gov is great but ‘only’ covers the executive branch of the federal government) but you can tool around the America section of the DataBlog.  It’s not as robust or (apparently) frequently updated as the UK part but it’s better than nothing.