There has been much talk over the last few years about applying predictive analytics to policing. That is using computer software to look at the type of crimes that are committed in a given area, the time and location, to determine whether and when another crime is likely to occur there. That is where resources should be targeted. In reality, it is not anything different from what police departments have been doing for years only without the expensive software. If you ask any cop on the street they can tell you what kind of crime occurs in what neighborhoods and when. They also adapt their patrol procedures accordingly. This only makes sense, as police officers are the people out there speaking with citizens who are the victims of these crimes.
One of the things we monitor is crime trends. For example, if you ask officers what type of crime predominately effects senior citizens in Grand Rapids they will tell you it is fraud in the form of scams. There are three platforms that are used to commit these crimes: telephone, computer and mail.
Computer scams typically take the form of “Hi, I am from Microsoft Support and I see that you have a virus in your computer. Allow me to remotely access your computer and I will fix it for you.” Of course, once into your computer the thief has access to every file, including financial information.
Mail fraud takes the form of, “Congratulations. You have won the lottery; just send us money for the tax.” Another version is, “Here is an unsolicited check made out to you. Please deposit it in your checking account and then send me a check for a lesser amount. You can keep the difference.” Of course, once your check is cashed you learn that check you deposited is bogus.
The most common scam uses the telephone. This can run the gambit from someone claiming to be from the IRS to the local utilities company ready to shut off your electricity for unpaid bills to law enforcement claiming that a loved one is in jail and needs bail money. Often these scammers want you to purchase cash cards and provide them with the card numbers. Once you have done that your money is gone.
Officers will tell you that the latest fraud to hit Grand Rapids is one in which a person learns that someone has filed for unemployment benefits using their personal information. Apparently, this private information has been hacked at some time and scammers purchase it, using it to commit this fraud. When the victim calls the State of Minnesota to report this fraud they are told to also file a report with the local police department. We are not really sure why as this is not something that we can investigate just as we cannot investigate most other scams that originate outside of our community. Most scams originate outside of the United States.
Police officers share crime trend information with officers in other regions and across the state. As an example, for some time officers in the metro area have investigated crimes in which catalytic converters are stolen from vehicles overnight. A battery operated reciprocating saw is used to cut the converter away from the exhaust pipe. It is not unusual to have several stolen from a car dealer’s parking lot in a single night. Catalytic converters sell for between $500 and $2,000. We have had two of these thefts reported in Grand Rapids over the past week, not from car dealerships. We have not seen much of this in the recent past and hope this is not the start of a crime trend. If it is, officers will adjust their patrol techniques to put a stop to it.
Officers will also tell you that these trends vary by time of year. In the past two weeks, three motor vehicles were stolen in Grand Rapids. Although only about half the time will owners will owners admit that they left their keys in the vehicles, it is nearly always the case. The belief that modern cars can be easily hotwired is a myth. We know that the number of vehicle thefts increase during the winter months. There is a correlation between keys left in running vehicles and the number of stolen vehicles. During the past week, officers responded to ten requests from citizens to unlock their running vehicles with keys locked inside.
Officers will also tell you that the warm spring weather there will be thefts of items from unlocked vehicles. We will ask the media to remind people to remove valuables from their cars. It is amazing what people will leave in their unlocked vehicles. We have taken reports of money, jewelry, purses, wallets, laptop computers and even guns being stolen. Officers will change their patrol tactics to concentrate on residential streets where cars are parked.
I do wonder sometimes if this fancy expensive computer software has a logarithm to predict what every street cop innately knows. Call volume increases during nights with full moons. The number of domestic disputes are directly proportional to the nighttime summer temperature. If you talk about a type of call, it will be the next call coming out over the police radio and everything bad occurs in a series of three.