Archive for the ‘Criminal Investigation’ Category

Elder fraud

March 8, 2019

U.S. authorities announced a year-long “largest-ever” elder fraud crackdown resulting in criminal and civil charges against 260 defendants for defrauding more than 2 million victims out of $750 million, as reported here. The total annual loss to elder Americans is estimated at $3 billion. The investigation was aided by Europol and police in several individual countries, with “alleged fraudsters charged criminally and extradited from Canada, the Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Poland.” An additional 600 U.S.-based “money mules” who helped transfer funds were identified, most receiving warning letters rather than charges because they didn’t realize they were facilitating scams.

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Delaware reviewing hair evidence convictions

March 5, 2019

The FBI determined in 2015 that its crime lab had a very high error rate in microscopic (non-DNA) hair comparison analyses completed prior to 2000, possibly contributing to mistaken convictions. Delaware has now joined several other states conducting independent reviews to identify any past convictions involving questionable hair evidence, as reported here. The announcement notes that use of such evidence “would not necessarily cast doubt on the case’s resolution if additional evidence, such as confessions or DNA analysis, supported the conviction.”

Scooting away from the scene of the crime

January 30, 2019

A bank robber in Austin, Texas made his getaway recently on a rental scooter, as reported here. Apparently he didn’t realize that, having used an app with his credit card to activate the scooter, he was leaving “digital bread crumbs” all the way home. One detective observed “In the past you were looking for fingerprints and then it was DNA, and now you’re looking more and more towards examining people’s digital footprint.” As for rental scooters, they have been used in the commission of crimes in several other cities as well.

Murder clearance rates have actually improved — with one big exception

January 26, 2019

This article analyzes city clearance rates for murders and shootings. One key finding is a drop from 65% to 42% since the 1980s in the clearance rate for black and Hispanic victims killed by guns — aside from this category, murder clearance rates have actually improved. Also, non-firearm homicides, which are more likely to yield DNA and other suspect evidence, are solved at higher rates regardless of victim characteristics. Solve rates for non-fatal shootings vary widely but tend to be well below those for murder, at least in part due to overwhelming caseloads.

Investigating homicides in the UK

January 23, 2019

This article chronicles a week in the life of a detective chief inspector in London who commands one of 18 major investigation teams in the Metropolitan Police. His team has 27 members and is currently responsible for 13 active cases. The team was on-call during the week beginning December 4 and caught one new case involving a victim who died during a burglary. The article focuses on the decisions required of the detective commander, and reveals a level of resourcing in death investigations that probably far exceeds that found in most U.S. agencies.

Rapid DNA in action

January 22, 2019

This article reports early adoption of Rapid DNA technology in Bensalem, Pennsylvania and a few other sites around the country. The equipment requires little training and returns results in 90 minutes. Scientists are generally satisfied with the accuracy of matches from cheek swabs but consider crime scene DNA much more complicated to process and interpret. A current limitation is that most machines only link to local databases, not the FBI’s national CODIS system. Critics worry that the technology will tempt police to collect DNA from anyone they deem suspicious, leading to an ever-larger DNA database susceptible to misuse.

Low clearance rates in Chicago

December 31, 2018

Among its challenges, Chicago PD has a low success rate in solving murders and shootings, as reported here. Its clearance rate for homicides fell from 49% to 35% between 2011 and 2017, compared to the national figure of 60%. Explanations include heavy workload, limited staff, and inadequate supervision. Another factor is lack of witness and victim cooperation, attributed largely to lack of trust in police and fear of retaliation from offenders. The city is adding investigators, detective sergeants, and new technology centers in an effort to improve the situation.

Long-term drop in solving rape cases

December 28, 2018

This article reviews the national clearance rate for rape, which has dropped from 62% in 1964 to 32% in 2017. Some of the decline is probably due to increased reporting by victims and more complete recording by police. Also, the FBI definition was expanded in 2013 and, most recently, #MeToo has caused a surge in reporting, straining investigative staff in many agencies. DNA and other forensic impovements should help solve cases, but many still boil down to he-said/she-said over the question of consent.

Rape kits in New Mexico

December 17, 2018

New Mexico has cleared its state crime lab backlog of 1,400 rape kits, while Albuquerque PD has cleared about half of its nearly 6,000 kit backlog, according to this article. The city’s testing has led to 575 matches so far, including both previously identified and unidentified suspects. To date, only 4 new cases have been referred for prosecution. Police say that once they get a match, they “begin a lengthy review of the evidence in the case and identify witnesses before reaching out to victims about the outcome of the rape kit tests.”

Fingerprints

December 10, 2018

This article recounts a 1910 case in Illinois believed to have been the first use of fingerprints to secure a conviction in a criminal case. A lot of technology has changed since then, but it still comes down to an expert’s conclusion about whether a latent print and the suspect’s print are a match. Despite scientific concerns about validity and error rates associated with expert judgments, fingerprints are still widely used in investigation and adjudication. “A hundred years is kind of an impressive run … fingerprint patterns are very information rich, you can see that there’s a lot of information packed into a small area.”