Envision the Houston Police Department in the Future

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Police departments throughout the country are adopting a statistical approach to policing that can help predict when and where crimes are likely to occur. Utilizing public data sets on everything from school schedules to home foreclosures and correlating them with crime stats, analysts can spot surprising patterns that help departments anticipate problems and identify emerging hot spots. Here is a look at 4 cities that are using the latest technology to get a jump on the bad guys.

Memphis

University of Memphis criminologists and local police combined business-analytics software with geotagged data to create a tool they have called Blue Crush. It takes in crime reports and layers in variables like weather, lighting conditions, and proximity to concert venues, along with reporting from PDA-equipped beat cops, to find connections. For example, the system noticed that colleges’ spring-break week reliably spawns a rash of burglaries.

Los Angeles

The LAPD uses ‘reaction-diffusion’ models to predict actual crime patterns and suggest preventive strategies as well as figure out where to deploy extra patrols. According to UCLA anthropologist Jeffrey Brantingham, reaction-diffusion modelling can explain the incidence of opportunistic crimes like burglary and car theft.

Minneapolis

A crime analysis unit identifies locations where gun crimes have been reported – not just robberies and shootings, but also gun thefts and illicit possession. Afterwards, it factors in geographic details on things like bus routes and proximity to parks, liquor stores, and public libraries. (Gang bangers frequent libraries for free internet access). Combining all that data helps the unit predict when certain parks will become trigger points for gun violence.

Arlington

Police in Dallas mapp residential break-ins against building code violations and found that crime skyrockets around building structures in need of major repair. For every ‘unit’ of physical decay – even cosmetic things like broken windows, graffiti, and abandoned cars – there were six burglaries. Police have begun working with other city agencies to clean up areas that the maps flag as “fragile neighborhoods”.

Original story appeared in Wired, “Criminal Intent”, December 2011.

How Texas Firearms Laws Aid Mexican Cartels

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If the Federal law banning sales of assault weapons had not expire in 2004, the blood shed between Mexican cartels over the past several years might not have risen so dramatically. Such assault weapons cannot be bought legally in Mexico. Thus, the cartels rely on gun traffickers to supply them with high power guns such as M-16s and AR-15s that are bought in the States, particularly in Texas.

Since President Calderon began a military offensive aimed at topping cartels, 40,000 lives have been claimed and about 90% of guns submitted for tracing by Mexican authorities that were used in the killings are from the US. These guns aren’t being used as ‘modern sports rifles’ – a name Firearms industry trade groups like to use when labeling rifles such as AK-47s. So how are Texas Firearms laws help contributing to this chaos more so than other states?

In California for instance, there is a low total to strict state firearms laws that severely limit sales of  military style weaponry. In other words, you cannot go into a gun shop and purchase 20 AK-47s at a time like you can in a Houston gun shop. That’s right. You can walk into a gun shop in Texas and purchase 5, 10, 20 .223 caliber AR-15s at a time in cash. Who the hell needs 5 M-16 like guns much less one?

After purchase, Texas gun brokers make a deal with gun traffickers who sell the guns to cartels at 3-4 times the price. Gun advocates insists that the laws are sufficient to control such trafficking – a hell of a statement given that bloodshed, decapitated heads, and innocent killings are now part of the daily life in Mexico.

Original story ‘Drug Gangs Match Police Power’, Houston Chronicle, Sunday, May 29, 2011, A18.

IFI – Prison Reform that Works

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68% of prisoners in the US return to jail within three years…. 48% of prisoners in Texas return to prison in three years.

Only 10% of prisoners who participate in the IFI prison program return to prison in three years.

How is it possible that inmates who participate in the InnerChange Freedom Initiative have such a low rate of return? Why are the majority of these inmates not repeating crimes and not repeating undesirable behavior compared to other prisoners?

The IFI program is located in Richardson, Texas (45 minutes from downtown Houston), just down the road from the Carol Vance Texas prison. The program began in 2000 and although the unit itself is funded by the State, the program is a non-profit mostly relying on help from volunteers.

For an inmate to be allowed to enter the program, they must have 2 years or less on their prison sentence and must not be a sex offender. So about my visit to seeing the IFI first-hand, I was not allowed to take photos inside the unit, and although I cannot imagine this unit looking much different than other prison units, one thing that really stood out was the gardens within the unit that are planted and maintained by the inmates. Some of the gardens I saw would have given your ‘garden of the month’ homeowner a run for his money. Despite the high fences and barb wire, it was refreshing to see plants and flowers blooming within the unit.

Texas IFI Director Tommie Dorsett, led the tour. He has been involved with the IFI since the beginning of when the program was launched eleven years ago. When launched, 25 men entered the program. Now, every year there are about 300 men in the program.

1st stop – the computer lab. Did you know that the average inmate is in jail for 10 years? Many of the inmates are not familiar with using computers, creating resumes, and drafting business plans. Yes, you read that right – Business Plans.

70% of corporations do not hire felons which impede many released prisoners from finding work. With that said, IFI places a big emphasis on teaching the inmates to think about potential businesses they can create and putting these plans onto paper. Furthermore, several experienced business professionals in the community volunteer their time and provide coaching and instruction on how to create a business plan. To date, 33 participants have started their own businesses such as air condition repair, landscaping, plumbing, painting services, and car mechanic service. Just my first stop on the tour and I was already impressed.

Next stop, recording studio. As soon as I walked in I saw two inmates behind a desk that featured an Apple computer and sound equipment. Yes I was a bit jealous since I don’t even own an Apple laptop. Along the walls of the recording studio were dozens of kids’ books – some in Spanish as well as English. This was not your traditional recording studio. In this room, inmates who are fathers actually read children books and record their voice. The recordings are then mixed with background sound effects and recorded onto a CD that is then mailed to their families. Once the mom or family member pops in the CD, the kids, as you can imagine, are so excited to hear daddy’s voice and are thrilled to listen to the CDs over and over. Two times a year recordings are made – at Christmas and for birthdays. Such a wonderful idea that helps connects the fathers with their kids.

3rd stop – hear a Toastmasters speech. I was totally surprised when I found out that there is a Toastmasters group at IFI! If you are not aware of Toastmasters, it is a club that helps members improve their communication, public speaking and leadership skills. The club meets on a regular basis so that members can practice speaking in front of audiences, listening, and providing each other with feedback and evaluation.

Great, we on the tour were thrilled to be able to hear a speech from one of the inmates. The Toastmaster (who did a great job welcoming everyone and stating the course of the meeting) introduced one of the inmates – Derrill who gave a speech entitled “How your Weakness can become your Greatest Strength”. I have heard a good number of speeches. In fact, I was also in a Toastmaster group years ago and heard several people give talks. Derrill…. Derrill was awesome. He gave a speech so well that he had my complete attention and interest. Full of life, animation, and conviction, Derrill told one of the greatest stories I have ever heard. What a brilliant idea to teach leadership and speaking skills – implement a Toastmasters group in prison.

There are several other programs at the IFI such as Financial Management, courses on work ethic, anger management, Embracing the Father, and Purpose Driven Life. Unfortunately our tour did not permit enough time to visit all the different classes.

As to why do I think the InnerChange Freedom Initiative is so successful, although the wealth of classes and learning opportunities available for the inmates help, I believe the success is attributed to the volunteers and mentors who dedicate their time to helping prepare these inmates for reentry to society, employment, religious and community service, and family and social relationships. It is because of the volunteers that the program is largely successful.

Roy Garcia, who has been volunteering for 2 ½ years, said it best, “I continue to be amazed at the wonderful transformation that occurs in the men that go through the IFI program. When these men come to my office (the Aftercare Office, where I work, where the men visit after they are released from the Carol Vance Unit) and visit me I am amazed at the profound change that has occurred. The man sitting in front of me is not the man of whom I read about in his file. The man who in his early 20’s was a drug user and seller is now a productive member of society. It’s such a privilege and joy for me to be part of this wonderful ministry.”

To learn more and see how you can help, please visit www.ifiprison.org.

Harris County has the greatest number of gang members in TX

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According to the National Gang Threat Assessment, the Houston region is home to far more gang members than anywhere in Texas. An astounding 225 gangs are roaming the city according to intelligence reports and at least 10,000 members that have been confirmed by police.  Because of their large number, they have a propensity to create a large number and wide variety of criminal acts.

Such acts include home invasions, robbery, kidnapping, murder, extortion and drug trafficking. Worse, these gangs have a younger, more violent membership.

What can we do as Houstonians to help stop crime?

Visit www.stophoustongangs.org – This site collects, reports information on all types of gangs. The website allows residents to report anonymous tips and suspicious criminal gang activities in an effort to thwart the threat. The site also has great information about how gangs try to recruit new members, how students can avoid gangs, how to help the police anonymously and more.

Original story by Dane Schiller, Houston Chronicle, October 10, 2010.

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Houston Judge implementing program to help young Addicts

After traveling the country looking at juvenile justice programs and realizing that Houston needs a drug court for juveniles, Judge Mike Schneider has created a new program aiming to give teens a chance to sober up instead of serving time.

Kids who enter the program, after being convicted for their crime, can go home and have intensive treatment and therapy. Every week of treatment includes school, work and three to four individual and group counseling sessions. The teens also meet with Judge Schneider once a week in the courtroom.

The program usually takes between 16 and 18 months of intense scrutiny by state District Judge K. Michael Mayes. Currently there are eight participants but could expand to as many as 20. Violent offenders, sex offenders and gang members are not eligible. Teens who do not complete the program could end up in more intensive treatment or back in detention. What are you thoughts about this program?

Original story by Brian Rogers, Houston Chronicle

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