Law Enforcement News

Vol. XXIX, Nos. 611, 612 A publication of John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY December 15/31, 2003

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In this issue:
DNA sometimes makes for bad-fitting genes.

Alarming developments.

Wheel-y big news.

Drunk as a skunk.

Another fine meth.

Stirring the pot.

Violence is all in the family.

Sex meets violence.

When good cops go bad.

Looking for warm bodies.

Wolves in cops’ clothing.

Crime’s ups & downs.

A few good anti-crime ideas.

Research looks for answers.

Facing up to profiling.

Order in the court.

Banking on ill-gotten gains.

Taking advantage of high-tech advances.

Changes at the top.

That’s just too weird.

Justice by the numbers.

2003, the year in review:
Banking on ill-gotten gains

     ¶ Brian Wells, a 46-year-old pizza deliveryman from Erie, Pa., tells police in the moments before he is killed in an explosion that he was accosted by someone who placed a collar with a bomb attached around his neck and forced him to hold up a bank. In his car, investigators found a multi-page note with instructions for carrying out the heist. The bomb was a sophisticated device said to resemble those used by Colombian terrorists in extortion plots. Police are also looking for a possible connection with a fellow worker, Robert Pinetti, who died of a drug overdose several days later.

     ¶ Bank robberies in New York City surge by 142 percent between January and October, compared with the same period in 2002. There were 239 heists between January and July — a 233-percent increase over the same period a year earlier. During one day in May, three banks were robbed by note-passing thieves.

     ¶ Bank robbers come in all ages, sizes and genders, including a 12-year-old boy wearing telltale socks with the cartoon character SpongeBob Squarepants, who robbed a Citibank branch in New York City’s East Village in cahoots with his mother and her friend, both of them tellers…. Also in New York, a woman approximately 4-feet-11 and heavyset passes a note to a teller during lunch and walks off with the cash…. A woman dubbed the “soccer-mom robber” because she fit the image of the typical suburban housewife is arrested in Westchester County, N.Y., and charged with holding up six banks…. Police seize cash they believe had been taken in a heist involving a 91-year-old Texas man.

     ¶ Federal investigators say two con men, brothers with links to an Albanian-Yugoslavian criminal gang, stole at least $3.5 million between 2001 and 2002 using fake A.T.M. cards they created with personal account information skimmed from automated teller machines. The money was withdrawn from 500 machines around New York City.

     ¶ Instead of writing the word “grenade” in his note, a spelling-challenged bank robber in New York City writes “grenabe,” managing to confuse the teller and give employees enough time to call 911.

2003, the year in review:
Police benefit from high-tech advances

     ¶ The Iowa Supreme Court lets stand a lower court’s ruling admitting “brain fingerprinting” as evidence. The technique, developed by a neuroscientist and specialist in cognitive psychophysiology, reads patterns of brain activity to determine whether a suspect is storing knowledge of a crime. Brain fingerprinting was used in a case involving a man convicted in 1978 of shooting a former Council Bluffs police captain. His conviction was ultimately overturned on constitutional grounds.

     ¶ Federal lawmakers criticize the FBI effort to upgrade the bureau’s computer equipment as a disaster. The project, known as the Trilogy initiative, will cost 30 percent more than its estimated $458-million price tag and is already behind schedule, according to a report by the Justice Department Inspector General.

     ¶ CrimeWeb.Net, a system developed by a Mesquite, Tex., police captain, uses an algorithm based on ZIP codes that allows users to send email alerts to any part of the country based on a specific ZIP code, between two ZIP codes or within a 100-mile radius from the participating jurisdiction.

     ¶ At least 135 Florida law-enforcement agencies sign up for the Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange, dubbed the Matrix. The network is capable of uncovering links and patterns among people and events within seconds. The Matrix also links databases in Alabama, Connecticut, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Utah.

     ¶ A real-time video system that allows police to watch a live feed from inside the local high school is set up in the Wisconsin towns of Glendale and Brown Deer.

     ¶ Cyber-crime training goes mobile in Illinois with a wireless computer lab donated to the College of DuPage Suburban Law Enforcement Academy. Three officers from the Bartlett Police Department are the first to attend the two-day course on identity theft and cyber stalking.

     ¶ Dukes County, Mass., which covers the six towns on Martha’s Vineyard, is the first jurisdiction in New England to establish 311 non-emergency telephone service…. After paying a $2 surcharge for enhanced 911 for the past nine years, residents of Macoupin County, Mo., finally get the service…. The Arizona cities of Mesa and Phoenix are expecting to get a long-promised 800-megahertz radio network in the next year…. A Crime Watch Alert program that notifies residents by e-mail about convicted sex offenders is implemented by the St. Tammany Parish, La., Sheriff’s Department…The District of Columbia gets 311 service…. An e-mail alert program is launched by the San Jose Police Department…. North Dakota’s first national wireless 911 system is activated in Stark and Drumm counties.

     ¶ An automated fingerprint system is implemented by the Austin Police Department…. A computer glitch sends out an Amber Alert in West Virginia that referred to a civil emergency rather than a missing child…The South Windsor, Conn., Police Department participates in the Lost Child Alert Technology Resource program, a system compatible with Amber Alert…. A rogue frequency believed to be caused by the weather disrupts police radio transmissions in Middletown, Conn.

     ¶ Police cruisers in Cedar Falls, Iowa, are outfitted with wireless computers…. Video cameras are installed in Arkansas State Police cruisers…. Handwritten reports and blotter entries will be replaced by the Spectrum Justice System computer program in the upstate New York counties of Jefferson, Lewis and Oswego…. Two hand-held laser devices that can be used to measure speed are purchased by the Broken Arrow, Okla., Police Department…. The Fargo Police Department gets a Geographic Information System that converts data from the city’s crime database into crime maps…. Digital cameras will be distributed to 27 North Carolina law enforcement agencies to help investigate domestic violence cases…. The Portland, Ore., Police Bureau participates in a pilot program testing the viability of a device that captures fingerprint images and transfers them wirelessly to a database to search for matches.