News round-up, week ending 14 May 2006

Here’s a skip through the other news items that caught my eye over the last ten days or so.

POLICING: The LAPD Chief William J. Bratton has launched the LAPD blog.  Bratton explains, in his welcoming message, that the blog is:

[...] an interactive tool that we use to deliver real-time, unfiltered information.  [...] By using this Blog, the LAPD hopes to maintain an open dialogue with the communites we serve and those who have an interest in the men and women of this organization.

MURDERS BY CHILDREN: Via iqte.st blog, a report in Pretoria News (12 May) highlighting the work of Rhodes University investigative psychology lecturer Mike Earl-Taylor, an expert researcher in murders committed by children, who argues that “children who kill are not born violent, but are created by their family lives and social circumstances”.

He argues that “somewhere along the line” most children who kill are themselves subject to violence and are likely to become habitual criminals if not given adequate psychological therapy.

“I would almost guarantee that if you interviewed all the prisoners in any prison’s maximum security area, you would not find one who came from a structured, loving and supportive family background. Boys who have been abused are particularly likely to act out their trauma through violence, while girls turn it inward and may practice self-mutilation, or develop eating or sleep disorders.”

The article goes on to discuss Earl-Taylor’s claim that “children become socialised into violent behaviour in four stages”.

INVESTIGATIONS / FORENSIC SCIENCE: Houston Chronicle (12 May) reports on allegations that “Houston crime lab analysts skewed reports to fit police theories ignoring results that conflicted with police expectations because of a lack of confidence in their own skills or a conscious effort to secure convictions”, according to an independent report by Michael Bromwich, a former U.S. Justice Department official hired to investigate the troubled crime lab.

FEMALE GANGS: In Boston, Police Commissioner Kathleen M. O’Toole has ordered a focus on violent female groups, according to the Boston Herald (12 May).

Police Commissioner Kathleen M. O’Toole said the rise in violent crimes committed by teenage girls who associate or travel in loosely organized groups has prompted her to ask for more female cops in the Youth Violence Strike Force. “We tend to go focus our attention on male gangs. That focus is changing,” O’Toole said [...]  The move to address the problem comes as teen girls were involved in at least four incidents of armed violence this weekend, according to BPD incident reports.

AGGRESSION (1): Handling a gun stirs a hormonal reaction in men that primes them for aggression, reports the New York Times (9 May), picking up on new research by Tim Kasser, Francis McAndrew and Jennifer Klinesmith.  The study is due to appear in Psychological Science.

AGGRESSION (2): An entertaining explanation and critique of the heat hypothesis in the ever-interesting Damn Interesting Blog (11 May):

In the U.S., violent crime rates are consistently higher in the South than in any other part of the country. It’s just a fact. When one tries to figure out why this might be occurring, a few thoughts come to mind. Perhaps the South has a more violent culture and enjoy their guns more. Maybe the South has better reason to be vigilant. Or they could just still be bitter after the US Civil War.

There is one school of thought that does not buy any of these explanations. Instead, it points towards a much simpler idea – the South is warmer than the rest of the country. Could it be that hot weather can lead people to anger easily, become violent quickly, and more readily kill each other? Supporters of the heat hypothesis think so. The heat hypothesis is a simple yet powerful idea: the more uncomfortably hot the temperature, the more likely people become aggressive.

CYBERCRIME: Fortune Magazine (12 May) is amazed to find that “the people who want to rip you off are very polite with each other when they’re buying and selling credit card numbers”.  David Kirkpatrick writes:

[...C]ommerce, at sites like eBay, is based largely on trust. But until recently I didn’t realize that these same principles govern online dealmaking among criminals.

My naiveté was alleviated with an eye-popping tour of underground Web sites [...] frequented by people who steal and trade credit card numbers and then use them to steal money. This infrastructure for online crime is far more multi-layered and sophisticated than I ever imagined.

Says Marc Gaffan, a marketer at RSA: “There’s an organized industry out there with defined roles and specialties. There are means of communications, rules of engagement, and even ethics. It’s a whole value chain of facilitating fraud, and only the last steps of the chain are actually dedicated to translating activity into money.”

SEXUAL ASSAULT: A University of Illinois at Chicago press release (11 May) highlights research that indicates that over 60% of sexual assaults are drug facilitated.

An estimated 100,000 sexual assaults are committed in the United States each year, and the FBI says that number could be three times higher if all cases were reported, said Adam Negrusz, associate professor of forensic sciences in the UIC College of Pharmacy. [...] Adam Negrusz and colleagues report their findings in “Estimate of the Incidence of Drug-Facilitated Sexual Assault in the U.S.”

The study was funded by the National Institute of Justice, and can be accessed here (pdf).

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