Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Warrant focus areas

There's been a bit of a spirited discussion going on in the coments posted on the Chief's Corner this week centering around specialized Warrants Units, and the relative priority of such an operation. One thing everyone has agreed on, though, is that it seems to make sense that putting pressure on people with outstanding arrest warrants is a good thing.

Not all of these defendants are just forgetful speeders who missed a court date. Many are petty criminals who are committing misdemeanors with abandon. The 25 year old woman I discussed yesterday is a good example. Moreover, there is some overlap between the warrants we hold--Municipal Ordinance misdemeanors which tend to be fairly minor--and much more serious criminals. The burglars, drug dealers, robbers, and professional thieves are missing their court dates on dog-at-large, maintaining a disorderly house, and driving while suspended, too. They are represented in our warrant files, but they have other, more serious criminal patterns as well.

So, if we can't beat on ten or twelve thousand doors, what can we do? In late 2005, I asked our five Team captains (who command our major geographic areas) to give me a small area of their Team where the social problems and crime is most intense, and to make a special effort to assure that people with newly-issued warrants get a little police attention within those neighborhoods. They each did so, we named them warrant focus areas, and I created a threshold alert that runs on Mondays and emails its results automatically at 6:15 a.m.. It produces a map showing the last known address of everyone in that neighborhood with a fresh arrest warrant issued in the preceding seven days. Here's the map that went to Capt. Mike Woolman and Det. Sgt. Tim Kennett of the Southwest Team on Monday:

There were eleven freshly-minted arrest warrants in this area of about 3/4 of a square mile. By limiting both the area and the time, it's a workable number. Nobody's going to bust a gut knocking on a few doors a time or two during the week. The map isn't particularly important, but the .pdf report listing the details is, and the names are hyperlinks from the report into our records management system, to facilitate very quick research and a mug shot.

The addresses on warrants are notoriously outdated, which is why the report is only new warrants. Even those are usually outdated, but much more likely than the entire pool to be either good addresses or recent ones. I think that if the police come around to your former residence looking for you, talk to your ex-boyfriend, or your previous roommate, or even the neighbor you used to share a bowl with, that it gets back to the target quickly. I took a handful of warrants with me when I spent shifts with Officer Tim Abele and Officer Cass Briggs, and we knocked on a few doors. We didn't find a single one of the people we were looking for, but I have no doubt the word got back to a few of them.

If we manage to find and arrest a defendant, he or she is off the street for a few hours or maybe even a day or two during which the normal business is suspended. If we don't find the defendant, but he or she gets wind of the fact that the police are actively looking, he or she may lay low for a while. For a professional shoplifter, she might just cool it for the day. For the suspended driver, he might minimize his driving for a few days and stick to side streets. For the drunk driver, she might decide not to hit the bars this weekend, and just get plastered alone at home. Some of these defendants may actually try to take care of the warrant before the police come around again, and some of them will even remember next time.

If my theory is right, and the chronics lay low for varying periods of time, depending on their level of intellectual organization, this can't help put have a positive effect, small though it may be. If we can concentrate this effect on the areas that need it most, and if we can combine it with other activities that have positive impacts, we can help those areas avoid the tipping point. I really wish there would have been some way to build in an evaluation component to this strategy, but we had neither the money nor technical expertise to do so at the time, and you can't always wait for the results of the clinical trials before you start attacking the infection.


Anonymous said...

It's difficult for me to understand the lifestyle of being in constant trouble with the law. Some people just can't stay out of trouble. I find it easy to be a law abiding citizen but I guess that's how I was raised - with respect for rules and law enforcement for starters. Too bad the chronics don't realize they'll get a lot farther in life by walking the line. And the hard working tax payers wouldn't have to foot the bill for their irresponsibility.

Anonymous said...

Are you still getting a few people with warrants applying for LPD academy slots now and then? That's got to be very convenient, to have them show up down there for a supposed job interview.

Tom Casady said...

Can't remember one in the recent past, but that's happened a few times since I've been around.

Here's something I also learned many years ago: when demonstrating police database to youth group on HQ tour, never run the name of the den leader, teacher, or parent as an example.

Anonymous said...

Just an additional comment from the posts about this subject and the possibility of a fugitive task force type position. I could also envision this unit as being a 'jack of all trades' type position. No doubt they could spend the vast majority of their time hunting down people wanted on warrants. But I would think a unit like this could assist team officers with special details. If a particular apartment complex is being hit with larcenies/burglaries, this unit could conduct surveillance, maintain a presence, or come up with whatever strategy that might alleviate the problem. If we have a particular individual or group of individuals who are preying on the city, this unit could be charged with focusing on them and their activities. This could be an extra tool used to impact the problem children that often take up a lot of time for the department as a whole. I suppose the possibilities are as wide open as our imaginations. I believe a unit like this could take some of the pressure off of team officers who are trying to come up with these types of details and still keep the street adequately staffed and handling the daily CFS. I know, I know... lack of money and shortage of officers. But we can dream can't we.


Anonymous said...

"Look kids, your teacher has a DUI conviction!"

What are the chances of LPD using the address database that Federal, State, County and City social service agencies have. The one they update with new info when they do a periodic bank account search by SSN for hidden banked assets held by need-based public assistance payment recipients? The vast majority of these folks are clean as a whistle, but you'd probably catch a few. HHS does all the work, you just run the list against your warrant database.

PrairieDog said...

How does your data base compare to a larger metro areas database? I ask because I have heard negative stories surrounding compstat in metro areas. I also understand the size of this question. What would you say to a nay sayer who is against your system?

Tom Casady said...


I've seen lots and lots of police records management systems. On occasion, I will see places like Alexandria, Gainesville, Glendale, or Chicago that have one particular module, application, or idea that I really like.

I've marvelled at physical facilities such as the incredible Overland Park Police Command and Control Center, and the Arizona Fusion Center glittering with monitors and electronic walls. But I have never, ever seen a department whose records management system puts so much information over such a long span of time at the fingertips of its employees in such an easy interface as LPD.

I think some of the things I'm able to do from my recliner at home at 5:00 a.m. while drinking coffee would cause most police chiefs to shake their head in wonder. In fact, I know that's the case--I've seen it many times.

Many of our officers gain a better understanding of this when they've worked on an inter-agency case with another metropolitan department. We tend to take for granted that you can get all the investigative reports, find 28 years worth of contacts and past arrests, and look up the intelligence reports, known associates, vehicle registrations, firearms permits, mug shots, other names connected with the same address, a comprehensive list of everyone under 5'4" between the ages of 21 and 36 ever arrested for rape, and a whole lot more--all at 3:00 a.m. on Sunday in a substation and without any specialized training to speak of.

There is some very nice work going on out there in agencies that utilize information in some very clever ways to improve their effectiveness. But nobody that I've seen yet puts it all together quite as effectively as Lincoln.

Anonymous said...

I'm not really sure why there are so many people out there who are constantly breaking the law, getting caught, and being released to continue their errant ways. If we need more jail space, I for one, and I think most other law-respecting citizens would rather spend a few tax dollars for that purpose than many of the other things our money is wasted on now.

My question on this topic is, what can a citizen do to help out the police and/or put pressure on the legal/judicial system to get these people off the streets? I would be willing to donate some time to helping if I knew what I could do. I'm sure there are others who would, too.