Crowdsource Crime Analysis (Updated again)

Here in Saint Paul, the police are evidently somewhat baffled by a recent wave of church burglaries, and the mass of information they’ve provided, such as it is, gives the world a chance to sharpen its information-analysis skills on some, well, real-world data. Crowdsource crime analysis? Why not; have you seen the City budget lately? I admit, this probably isn’t what Chief Harrington meant when he said some months ago that in order to make the city a safer place, the police need the public to do their part, but why let that stop the fun? (It will be fun, I promise!)

The most useful pile of data is contained in this Google Map page, and I’d love to see what inferences people can make from it. To start with…

The crimes initially seem really random, but it seems like, chronologically, they increase in frequency during a few periods, while following something of a pattern. For instance, the first couple listed happened (or at least were reported) on January 4th, 5th, and 12th, 2008 (a Friday and two Saturdays); the next bunch happened or were reported on on February 1st (two alarms), 10th, 18th, and 28th – a Friday, a Sunday, a Monday, and a Thursday. The most recent bunch happened January 6th (alarm), 7th (burglary report), 11th (alarm), 13th (alarm), 17th (alarm, burglary report), 20th (burglary report), and 31st (alarm); and February 8th (burglary report), 9th (burglary report), 10th (alarm), and 16th (alarm). Those were, respectively, a Tuesday, Wednesday, Sunday, Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday, and Saturday; and a Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Monday again.

The weekends I can understand, but why Tuesdays? Is that significant?

I also noticed that of all of the city’s houses of worship, only a single synagogue has been targeted, albeit twice, and then unsuccessfully; also, of the thirty-some locations struck, only three seem to be Hispanic or Latino churches, and only one is obviously a Hmong church. I can’t find a complete listing of every church in Saint Paul, but I’m nearly positive that “minority” churches are significantly under-represented in the list of targets. Why that is, I don’t know…

I also find it very interesting that the only two churches to be burglarized more than once are on Saint Paul’s East Side – Progressive Baptist Church had alarms go off on October 26th, 2008 (a Sunday), and had burglary reports taken on February 18th, (a Monday), March 20th (a Thursday), and July 17th (a Thursday) 2008, and January 17th, 2009 (a Monday); Saint Pascal Baylon had a burglary report made on 29 March 2008 (a Saturday), and February 9th 2009 (a Monday). Kind of makes me wonder if the person or persons responsible live on the East Side – like maybe in or around the Battle Creek neighborhood – and usually make an effort to roam well away from home, but got sloppy a few times.

That’s all I got – now it’s your turn. Wow me – your fellow readers – and, hell, the SPPD – with your analytical insights. Leave a comment here, or email me your insights. C’mon, you know you want to…

(Update 24 Feb: I know there’s not a huge amount to go on here, as far as data goes. After a day spent playing email- and phone-tag with some people, I should have – and be able to post – most of the potentially pertinent data by the end of the week. So, stay tuned…)

(Update 26 Feb: You asked for ’em, you got ’em – More details here.)

Published in: Geekiness, General, Security | on February 23rd, 2009| 13 Comments »

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  1. On 2/24/2009 at 12:46 pm Adrian Said:

    Are you able to query the google map so as to show temporal clustering? Like, show only burgs in the latest cluster, or something like that. I don’t use google maps very much but I can’t figure out how to do that with the map provided there.

  2. On 2/24/2009 at 2:00 pm slapout9 Said:

    You don’t have much information at all,so here are a few questions?
    1-what time of day was it??
    2-what did they steal??
    3-who was the reporting person or persons?
    4-what was their point of entry into the buildings?
    5-what was the schedule of activites at the chuches for the whole week?

    Find these out and I will offer my opinion. Slap

  3. On 2/24/2009 at 4:26 pm Nemo Said:

    Yeah, there’s not a huge amount to go on, but I’m working on getting some more at the moment… patience. 🙂

  4. On 2/24/2009 at 6:17 pm Nemo Said:

    Slap: From the article, and talking to a few people today, as far as I can tell, all the burglaries and alarm activations occurred at night or “overnight” – somewhere in the 1800-0600 or perhaps 2000-0800 timeframes; the only things stolen are loose cash and what are euphemistically referred to as “portable electronics” – televisions, DVD players, audio/PA equipment, that kind of stuff… none of which has shown up in pawn shops, at least in the area. No ecclesiastic hardware has been taken, and nothing’s been defaced of damaged, except the points of entry – usually doors or windows are pried open, but as I understand it the point(s) of entry in a number of the incidents are unknown.

    Looking at the churches invovled, the dates and the days of the week, I don’t see any terribly obvious correlation between church activities or events and their being targeted – for example, I don’t see any real connection between Friday-night fish dinners during Lent, which are conducted as (usually cash) fund-raisers, and a church being targeted. I *think* that churches which are only churches are significantly more likely to be victimized than those which are attached to schools – or, perhaps it’s better to say that churches attached to schools, however small, seem to be targeted less frequently. I’m undecided as to whether that makes sense or not – schools have a lot of after-hours activity, if only janitorial, but they’re also usually chock-full of reasonably small, reasonably valuable items, so…

  5. On 2/24/2009 at 6:33 pm slapout9 Said:

    Good work, if you can not get information to lead you somewhere at least find information to begin ruling things out. You did that. So theft appears to be the primary motive, not hate or racism of any type.

    Unknown points of entry??? that is interesting.

    Cash or electronics, none at pawn shops.
    Have the police checked Flea Markets? or newspaper adds for the items?

    Is there a gang problem in this general area?
    Is the area noted as a Juvenile hangout?

    How many differant travel routes(roads) are there to the target?
    Are any of the roads covered by taffic cameras?
    Are there anyother businesses in the area that may have had security video that may have seen the vehicle or vehicles?

    Were the police able to determine if it is one person or mutliple suspects?
    Any fingerprints left?
    Did they leave anything at all behind?

    Did any of the churches have safes? Were They hit?

    All for now. I am patient,Slap

  6. On 2/24/2009 at 7:22 pm Nemo Said:

    I can’t say for sure, but my impression is that most of these incidents were not investigated particularly thoroughly individually; a non-violent petty theft from a non-dwelling structure is a fairly low-priority crime, unfortunately, so typically a report gets taken, and that’s it – no photos are taken, no prints dusted for, no serious effort made to “canvass the neighborhood” and so on.

    It’s also my impression that flea markets, eBay, Craigslist, and so on aren’t routinely checked unless the item(s) taken is(are) very valuable (felony terrority, $2K USD +), really unique, and/or the original owner has a record of the serial number(s).

    Some people seem to be of the opinion that multiple parties are responsible, operating independently of one another, but I kind of question that – my gut feeling is that if you had two or three people or groups of people hitting churches all over the city, there would be a fair amount of overlap between them – i.e. group B would at some point break into a church that group A had already hit, and so on. I, at least, don’t see any sign of that in the data available to me.

    There is a large gang presence in the area, but it’s been fairly low-key for the last year or two. Your comment about kids got me thinking – nowhere in MN is a popular hangout for kids in January or February, but looking at a map, there’s one hell of a coincidental proximity between the churches that have been burglarized and 24-hour White Castle restaurants… Then again, there’s an even better correlation between church burglaries and McDonald’s restaurants. When I get some more meaningful info on the times of specific incidents, like alarms, that’s probably something that deserves a second look.

  7. On 2/25/2009 at 8:33 am slapout9 Said:

    White castle si exactly the type business/hangout/meet up place I had in mind. They are called Krystals down South but it is the same 24 hour mini-burger place. I would keep this in mind for sure.

    So far I think you are dealing with juveniles or drug addicts looking for quick cash for basic needs. Churches are often very bad at basic security and are considered soft targets by criminals. I would not be surprised that the unkown point of entry turned out to be an unlocked door.

    A shame how the police department treats misdemeanor crimes, it is pretty much done this way down south to. I always hated that, I used to work all the misdemeanor crimes in my district hard when I was on patrol. It has great public relations value and every once in a while I caught somebody.

    Keep me posted on any info you get about exact time of day(alarm reports) with the many hits in a fairly small area somebody should have seen something. Slap

  8. On 2/25/2009 at 2:32 pm Rob Colling Said:

    As a Probation Officer I’ve found that word travels fast in a neighborhood if some one or some group is onto a scam or crime that creates fast cash. It would be worth it for the police to contact the Probation Department and see if any clients have been talking about someone scoring against a soft target.

  9. On 2/26/2009 at 1:02 pm Nemo Said:

    For anyone following this post, I’ve taken receipt of much of the information surrounding these incidents, and made them available here.

  10. On 2/26/2009 at 7:33 pm slapout9 Said:

    I have printed out the data and will be looking at it and post my thoughts at a later date. Good Job on collecting the data, very much agree somebody needs to go talk to the churches, it’s a long walk form where I live so I will not be available to do it. Later Slap.

  11. On 2/27/2009 at 12:28 am Tony Said:

    There isn’t much to go by.Sometimes, I’d just assume that times are just really bad these days.

  12. On 3/2/2009 at 11:11 am Rob Said:

    Tuesdays… Many churches hold a service on Wednesdays. It could be worthwhile to look at what days and times each church holds services or other activities. The thieves probably picked days when nothing was happening at the building.

    It would also be useful to look at what churches in the same areas were NOT burgled.

  13. On 3/12/2009 at 2:29 pm Nemo Said:

    Anyone who happens to have missed it: There are some new developments in this project – most notably, much of the information is now being plotted here, and the discussion and collaboration has moved to this wiki.