Tag Archives: Crime

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.

Profiling again

Sjponeil linked to this website whose focus is on aggression in the workplace and their comments on profiling.  I can’t verify the system used for rating violent behavior but his underlying assumptions seem spot on:

Until we isolate aggressive behavior and judge it on its merits, will we be unable to identify, measure and thereby manage emerging aggressive behavior.

The use of profiles is not effective either for identifying students who may pose a risk for targeted violence at school or – once a student has been identified – for assessing the risk that a particular student may pose for school-based targeted violence.” It continues; “An inquiry should focus instead on a student’s behaviors and communications to determine if the student appears to be planning or preparing for an attack.”

There’s no reason to assume that the same isn’t true for terrorists either.  We should be looking at behaviors rather than biological characteristics.

After all that’s what cops do when you hear about them breaking up or stopping a crime just before it was to occur.  When most criminals get ready to commit their crime (an armed robbery, say) good police can detect that something is amiss from the suspects behavior.  They move in ways different from people going about their (law abiding) business, they show stress and anxiety in their behavior, they may constantly reach in their waist band where a weapon might be hidden.  None of those things rely on the race, religion or age of the suspect.  In fact, a demographic based profiling system can act as an obstacle to behavior profiling.

Now, Byrnes claims that the system I understand to be considered cutting edge in terms of behavioral profiling “requires far too much sophistication for most to use effectively”.  I can’t speak to that being unfamiliar with the science of it and I’m not sure what he means practically when he says the solution is to “utilize a continuum of intent-driven Cognitive Aggression, i.e., learning and applying the precursors to an act of violence with objective, culturally neutral, distinct body language, behavioral and communication indicators of emerging aggression.” but I know it’s got to be better than demanding that we strip search every Muslim male between the ages of 18-28.

Don’t tell that to James “I do NOT need working neural networks to be a senator” Inhofe.  Courtesy of Spencer:

I’m, for one — I know it’s not politically correct to say it — I believe in racial and ethnic profiling. I think if you’re looking at people getting on an airplane and you have X amount of resources to get into it, you get at the targets, and not my wife. And I just think it’s something that should be looked into. The statement that’s made, it’s probably 90 percent true with some exceptions like the Murrah federal office building in my state, Oklahoma. Those people, they were not Muslims, they were not Middle Easterners. But when you hear that not all Middle Easterners or Muslims between the age of 20 and 35 are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims or Middle Easterners between the age of 20 and 35, that’s by and large true. And I think that sometime we’re going to have to — at least, I’m going to have to have a better answer than I give the people back home, when people board planes or get into environments such as the environment we’re dealing with with this report.

By and large true…Oh yeah.  I can imagine that excuse working when a non 20-35 year old Middle Easterner/Muslim (isn’t that the same thing?) male blows up a plane.  I’m sure Republicans would cut the President some slack (or, truth be told, the Democrats if the power structures were reversed) if he said something like:  “Well, we are stopping terrorists…by and large.”

Yes…let’s focus on demographics.  After all, we all know that real human beings (those of us who were raised in the Western world that is) would never commit terrorism.

“Described by one American official as ‘blond-haired, blue eyed-types,’ these individuals fit a profile of Americans whom al-Qaida has sought to recruit over the past several years,” the report states.

Please indulge me – COIN and failed cities redux

I’m intending on taking a break from this subject because I’m afraid I’m just repeating myself, so this’ll be my last word on the matter for a bit unless something that really alters the landscape comes around (or, my fickle nature being what it is, I find myself unable to resist the latest shiny object dangled in front of me).

As I was reading General McChrystal’s Assessment of Afghanistan several items struck me as being equally relevant to any serious attempt to regain control of lawless areas.  I put them under the heading of ‘failed cities’ here since they’re the most stereotypical examples here in the states but I imagine there are rural areas that may fit the bill and certainly other countries may have their own lawless areas.

One final caveat before I go on, which I may have mentioned before but it’s worth repeating.

While I think COIN has some interesting things to say about how we might become more effective at addressing organized criminal activity in areas where government control is weak to non-existent I am most definitely NOT advocating a further militarization of our law enforcement agencies, tactics or judicial system.  I think we’ve gone quite far enough in that direction and rather, it’s the underlying principles (a population-centric focus), non-military practices (establishing rule of law, confidence building, quality of life improvements) and long term focus that I think has been woefully unexamined or applied.

So, that being said here are some passages I think could equally apply to many ‘failed cities’.  Which leads me to another caveat:

I am not making any claims about the equivalency of an insurgency and criminal activity in terms of intent or severity of activity.  Make no mistake about it, the Taliban and other insurgent groups in Afghanistan are much more brutal than any criminal group we currently face in the U.S. (on a comparable scale) and are politically motivated which very few of our criminal groups are.  That being said, my argument is that while their intent may differ the net result on the community is similar:  erosion of the rule of law, a climate of fear and intimidation, and decay of social/cultural/economic life.

“The relative level of civilian resources must be balanced with security forces, lest gains in security outpace civilian capacity for governance and economic improvements.  In particular, ensuring alignment of resources for immediate and rapid expansion into newly secured areas will require integrated civil-military planning teams that establish mechanisms for rapid response.”

Very few initiatives involving lawless areas involve a robust civilian component.  There are numerous financial, institutional and political reasons for that but one worth noting is that an attempt at what we consider to be ‘nation building’ here at home would be highly unpopular among suburban tax payers who already consider cities to be a big money pit from which their tax dollars provide no tangible benefits.  While we hear nary a peep from people about the massive waste and fraud spent in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan be rest assured, attempts to spend money to in inner cities will be met with screams of protest and warnings about ‘redistribution of wealth’.  Those people would have a point, however.  Most money spent wasn’t tied to measurable goals and so very often could be lost in a whirlpool of corruption, mismanagement or lack of sufficient coordination.  So…

ISAF’s tendency to measure the enemy prodominately by kinetic events masks the true extent of insurgent activity and prevents an accurate assessment of the insurgents’ intentions, progress, and level of control of the population.

That goes double when we’re talking about crime here in the states.  We count crime statistics.  Usually, law enforcement is prompted to act in significant ways only when there is a media grabbing event (a child shot in a drive by, a particularly violent attack, etc.).  Where are the assessments that a neighborhood is poised for an outburst of violence?  Where is the analysis looking at other factors to measure risk to a community?  Where are the proactive initiatives to prevent that sort of activity?  It’s just not there in any sort of systematic way.  You just have to hope that the right people are hearing the right things, transmitting them to a receptive leadership and getting the right response.  I call that the George Michael strategy.

HQ ISAF must understand and adapt to the immediacy of the contemporary information environment through the employment of new/social media…

Apart from a public affairs office, the COPS TV show and (if you’re lucky) a some sort of rudimentary sports outreach how does the government and its security forces get its message out there?  I understand government institutions (particularly law enforcement) are conservative in their culture but they really can’t afford to be if we expect significant changes in the crime environment.  Initiative and experimentation must not only be allowed but be encouraged.  We need to invest in information operations and shouldn’t shy away from trying new things.

ISAF does not sufficiently appreciate the dynamics in local communities, nor how the insurgency, corruption, incompetent officials, power-brokers, and criminality all combine to affect the Afghan population.  A focus by ISAF intelligence on kinetic targeting and a failure to bring together what is known about the political and social realm have hindered ISAF’s comprehension of the critical aspects of Afghan society.

Again, that’s even more true domestically where strategic intelligence is generally regarded as namby-pamby academic stuff with no real value.  Instead, everyone want to jump in with both feet to get the bad guy.  Madcap hilarity then ensues as either its discovered that we only succeeded in getting the stupid bad guy who hadn’t figured out how to keep a low profile or we get the right guy but business is so good that two new bad guys immediately jump up to take the old guy’s place.

Generational gangs revisited

So, a couple of days ago I wrote a post reviewing an article about gangs that really annoyed me.  That post has been gnawing away at me ever since.  I think I let my frustration get the better of me which is unfortunate because I think it takes away from my central argument that:

1)  Sullivan fundamentally misunderstands the gang problem (its causes,scope and relation to society)
2)  His attempt to pigeon-hole gangs into his generations theory makes understanding gangs more complicated rather than less and provides no insight into developing anti-gang strategies or predicting gang activity
3)  His arguments are repetitive and lazy

When I first started this blog I made a decision to limit re-writes, edits and deletions to the bare minimum and because of that I’m going to keep that post up as a lesson (to me) that I can and should make better arguments in the future.

I think I made a much better case in my earlier critique of another Sullivan article that addresses many of the same issues.  So if you’d like a review with a little less heat I’d recommend that.

Time to teach the pony another trick

Peter over at the Strategist had a post up about an article by John P. Sullivan.  I’ve written about Sullivan before and I really don’t know what it is about this guy but he really gets under my skin.  Perhaps it’s because I’m jealous he keeps getting quoted and  published even though he has nothing original to say (I suspect a social network analysis of Mr. Sullivan would be much more informative about how he manages to be quoted as an expert rather than an examination of his writings).  Never mind what he does say is total gibberish, it’s not even interesting gibberish.

I didn’t want to read it.  Lord knows, I didn’t really need to read it since once you’ve read one of Sullivan’s articles you’ve read them all (almost literally since he tends to cite himself as a source to prove his arguments) but I just can’t let it go.  So, here’s my take on…Global Cities – Global Gangs (yeah…don’t get too excited about that title).

…a rise in newer, networked ‘third generation gangs’ in increasingly ‘global’ cities means that the street gang is becoming an aspect of foreign policy warranting attention and combined domestic and international cooperation.

Whoa…newer, networked gangs?  Sounds scary.  Well, wait a minute.  I guess they really aren’t that new since Sullivan has been attempting to peddle his theory for over ten years now.  What exactly is a ‘third generation gang’? Well, accoring to Sullivan:

Third generation gangs have evolved political aims, operate or seek to operate at the global end of the spectrum, and employ their sophistication to acquire power, money, and engage in mercenary or political activities. To date, these gangs have been primarily mercenary in orientation; yet, in some cases they seek political and social objectives. Examples of third generation gangs can be seen in Chicago, San Diego, Los Angeles, Brazil, South Africa, and throughout Central America.

Of course this definition is so vague it’s worthless unless you just want to cherry pick examples and make it looks like it fits your theory.  What does ‘global end of the spectrum’ mean?  Is a member of the bloods who works with a Dominican to transport cocaine from Mexico qualify?  I don’t know and you won’t either because Sullivan can’t be bothered with little things like details.

The most obvious third generation examples are MS-13 and M-18, which conduct business internationally across many parts of the Americas. MS-13 is estimated to have 8,000-10,000 members and M-18 30,000 members, although telling hardcore maras from affiliates and associates is problematic.

This whole paragraph is bullshit.  First off, MS-13 exists in the U.S. and Central America, however those gangs manifest themselves in very different ways and there isn’t much other than wild speculation to indicate that the gang is organized in any sense of the term.  Most gangs in the U.S. are really best thought of as a franchise business.  Members think there are benefits to attaching themselves to a ‘big name’ gang but generally resist control or being crammed into any strict hierarchy because they’re profit seeking criminals.

As an aside, I think one of the real beauties of the American system is that even those who refuse to work outside of it’s boundaries don’t want to destroy it, they just want a quicker path to the top.  I suspect that’s why we see the disenfranchised and ‘have-nots’ join criminal gangs and not so much politically motivated groups.

No one, and I mean NO ONE, can give you membership estimates of gangs that are anything other than wild guesses.  Even if you could get an accurate number, however, it’s value would be highly questionable since gang membership is a very slippery thing.  Most gang members in the U.S. only stay in for 2 years or so before dropping out (growing up and family life tend to calm most young men down – read Clockwork Orange).  Too often, throwing out a number like ’8,000 members’! gives the impression that you’ve got an army at your command ready to hop to at a moments notice.  The truth is that the vast majority of gang members (at least in the U.S.) don’t work that way.  You’ve a relatively small percentage of sociopathic crazies and the rest are fairly rational actors who are at various levels of loyalty to their gang.  I sure wouldn’t count of them to stand by me in a fight.

Yet other gangs elsewhere in the world combine political aims and criminal action.  These include the Latin Kings active in the US, Caribbean, and Spain; Tamil gangs in Toronto linked with Sri Lanka’s LTTE, gangs (like the Premier Capitol Command-PCC and Red Command) and vigilante militias in Brazil’s favelas, as well as Cape-area gangs in South Africa like ‘Hard Livings’ and their bitter foes, the vigilante group Pagad (People against gangsterism and drugs).

There is no way on Earth that the Latin Kings can be compared to the LTTE.  None.  Full stop.  Whoever checked this article should have thrown it out at this point.  A gang trying to bribe a local councilman in order to get the authorities off their back so they can peddle their drugs is not the same thing as a decades long counterinsurgency campaign.  While the Latin Kings have very lofty rhetoric (and, incidentally, a completely incomprehensible ideology which appears to have been written by someone who had enough time on his hands to read various religious and philosophical texts but unfortunately lacked the ability to comprehend most of what he read) but it was, is and always will be a group of profit seeking criminals.  In my experience, gangs spend a great deal of time and effort to emphasize what a tight knit organization they are and how all the members need to be prepared to sacrifice for the group.  That’s usually an indication that the group leaks like a sieve and they’re all planning on how to stab each other in the back.

Just because one gang is represented in multiple places does NOT mean they are connected.  Just because a gang has connectivity over distance does NOT mean that’s a systemic characteristic of the gang.  Usually it means there’s a personal relationship involved and the connectivity does not survive beyond it.

“some networked street gangs are increasingly the locus of political authority and popular resistance against corrupt local governments that no longer provide social benefits. They attract local allegiance while expanding their own profits and power”

This is not new and does not require some sort of ’3rd generation gang’ framework.  It’s common sense.  Human societies hate a vacuum as much as nature does.  When government retreats from an area, something will move in to take its place, usually that something is able to muster the brute force to impose it’s will.  Gangs can (and do) do that.

Networked gangs and criminal insurgents are in many ways an updated version of an old phenomenon.

So why in the world did you just say that they were a new threat?  He really should have left that whole paragraph out because it just makes him sound irrelevant.  If we already have a way to talk about these gangs, why do we need a new lexicon?  What is the utility of this generational model?  I mean other than creating a false sense of progression?

It operates on a multinational level, running a number of organized-crime style businesses and front organizations as opposed to simple opportunistic crime. It is heavily plugged into what is now a global illicit economy. In some areas where government is weak, it can offer alternative, parallel forms of sovereignty.

Sounds a lot like the mafia (who street gangs in the U.S. idolize and try to emulate at every opportunity).  So, the mafia are 3rd generation gangs?  But they’ve been around for decades as have other, similar criminal groups.  It sounds to me like this is taking old gangs, festooning them with fancy words like ‘networked’ and presenting a scary picture of them all decked out in iPhones and viola!  I’ve got myself a gig at a think-tank!

In Brazil, the leader of the PCC was also found in his jail cell with copies of books by activists and philosophers such as Malcolm X and Karl Marx

So what?  Plain fluff designed to make you think you’re being told something but you’re not.  Hey, I read Marx in college, does that mean I’m going to try to lead the proletarian revolution?  A weak argument at best.

Other than that there’s a lot of blah, blah about Mexico and Brazil.  Hey, guess what, they’re called failing states for a reason.

But I’ll end on a positive note and that is I agree whole-heartedly with his conclusion:

Most importantly, a new way of thinking about gangs is needed in order to stem the threat. Gangs should not be viewed primarily as social deviants who need to be crushed nor underestimated as purely commercial and petty youths squabbling over turf. Gangs need to be recognized as emergent social actors that combine the popular appeal of social bandits with the globalized reach that only organized crime once possessed. Solutions should not be rooted in brute force crackdowns nor conducted on a purely domestic basis.   Rather, security should form a foundation for a viable community; blending competent application of the rule of law with solutions that build resilient community structures that enable legitimate opportunity for social, economic, and political activity.

So, I’m not sure how I should feel about this.  I endorse his conclusion but hate his methodology.  I think my problem is that it looks to me like he’s so bonded to his crazy gang generations theory he’s got to fly all sorts of circles to get at a reasonable ending.  Just drop it, man.  Remember the rule.

More visibility of gangs in New Jersey

This past weekend, civic hackers from around the country got together for the Great American Hackathon.  It’s goal was to:

“…develop open source applications to open government. The goal is to solve as many open government problems as we can with as many hackathons across the country as possible.”

A group formed in the Philadelphia area, took the data from the New Jersey State Police 2007 Street Gang Survey, mashed it up with some mapping software and produced the New Jersey Gang Survey Viewer.  The amount of work these guys did in two days is really incredible given the shape of the underlying data.  It was fine for researchers and academics but not suitable at all for the general public.

The website is, hopefully, just a beginning and (if enough good hearted volunteers are found) more data from the survey (and previous surveys) will get incorporated into the project.

Not long ago, I mentioned on another site that the democratization of information and the ability of people to collaborate who (in the pre-internet days) would not even known of each others existence was one of the global issues which makes me feel optimistic.  This was the type of work that I was thinking of when I wrote that.

Check out the work these guys did and then start asking your local and state law enforcement agencies why they don’t make information like this available to the public.

UPDATE:  They’re looking for assistance to continue work on the project.  If you’re interested (or know someone who is), contact Josh Tauberer.

Kvick Tänkare

Item #1:  Asian carp are on the move and it’s getting so bad there are suggestions that we permanently block off the Mississippi River from the Great Lakes.

Item #2:  VERY interesting article on market forces driving Somali pirate activities.  Quote demonstrating why this is so hard to wipe out:

Piracy investor Sahra Ibrahim, a 22-year-old divorcee, was lined up with others waiting for her cut of a ransom pay-out after one of the gangs freed a Spanish tuna fishing vessel.

“I am waiting for my share after I contributed a rocket-propelled grenade for the operation,” she said, adding that she got the weapon from her ex-husband in alimony.

“I am really happy and lucky. I have made $75,000 in only 38 days since I joined the ‘company’.”

Where do we even start with this.  When you’re handing out RPGs as part of your divorce settlement, we’ve got a problem.

When you can parley that RPG into $75,000 in cash in little over a month we’ve got a BIG problem.

Item #3:  Before we get too deep in the ‘If we succeed it’s all because of the generals and if we fail it’s all because of Obama’ meme, check out James Fallows sharp eye in Admiral Mullen’s testimony:

Mullen’s prepared testimony was posted on the Pentagon’s site. It began with a fairly anodyne statement of support for the policy that Barack Obama announced last night, similar to what Mullen said in person this morning: “Let me state right up front that I support fully and without hesitation the President’s decision.”

But in his live performance…Mullen went out of his way to defend the way Obama had made the decision, and implicitly to contrast it with the previous Administration’s approach:

“I have seen my share of internal debates about various national security issues — especially over the course of these last two years. [Eg, including the Iraq "surge."] And I can honestly say that I do not recall an issue so thoroughly or so thoughtfully considered as this one.

“Every military leader in the chain of command, as well as those of the Joint Chiefs, was given voice throughout this process … [all ellipses in original] and every one of us used it.

“And given the stakes in Afghanistan for our own national security – as well as that of our partners around the world – I believe the time we took was well worth it.”

Shorter version:  ‘Go dither yourself, Dick Cheney’

Item #4:  Are we really to believe that it’s entirely a coincidence that Billy Joel wrote a 5:17 song titled ‘Prelude/Angry Young Man‘ in 1976 and by total coincidence in 1977 the band Styx wrote a 5:29 second song titled ‘Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)‘?  Both songs just happen to have lengthy instrumental preludes?  Did someone think that angry young men really needed an anthem to rally around in the late 70s?  Both songs are good but what gives?