Friday, February 27, 2009

Vigilantism -- The Unintended Consequence of Government Inability to Control Law and Order

Wiki defines a vigilante as "a person who violates the law in order to exact what they believe to be justice from criminals, because they think that the criminal will not be caught or will not be sufficiently punished by the legal system." When social control systems fail to function, or become overrun, it is possible that vigilantees will fill the gap. With the environment for crime opportunity rising, at the same time the funding for law enforcement and security decreasing -- the unintended consequence of inaction may be vigilantee action. Think this is far fetched? Why are the gun manufactuer stocks on fire and rising rapidly in value? Why does it symbolically appear that guns are being purchased today nearly as much as gold coins? To protect the gold, perhaps? To protect the gun owner, absolutely. The trouble is that without adequate training in firearm safety and use, a gun in an untrained hand may be more dangerous than no gun, particularly if the gun is taken away from the gun-owner by a more experienced criminal offender. Nonetheless, people are protecting themselves for their own purposes yet to be explained.

In Mexico, vigilantees along the US/Mexican border are putting up their own fight for normalcy, law and order. Under the headline, "As Crime Mounts, Mexicans Turn to Vigilante Justice" Time Magazine reports that with the "conviction rate in the thousands of murders and kidnappings afflicting the nation every year [it] is estimated to be as low as 5%. Women and children are also increasingly among those killed by criminal gangs. And the limits on the legal system's ability to stem the tide of violent crime has produced a growing, shadowy movement for vigilante justice. In recent months, at least three new clandestine groups have promised to hunt down and murder criminals to help restore order. As in the killing of the alleged thief by Flores, such groups have been cheered on in public forums. "My sincerest congratulations to these brave men with their courage and determination," wrote a reader of Mexican newspaper Milenio. "God help them with their noble cause." Read the entire article at:,8599,1880450,00.html

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Global concerns of crime wave from protracted economic crises

We are an interconnected world where shared opportunity also means the risk of shared pain. As the US economy grapples with the continued downward slide into economic depression, the recession already 14 months into duration, it is time to consider how best to mitigate the consequences of prolonged economic contraction on the general population. Economic misery does not make criminals, but it does create the opportunity where people confronted with hard times may make poor choices including crime. Looking to our past we find this salient quote --

Hans von Hentig said this in 1947, “Human beings are not made to resist lightning bolts,” “we must acknowledge similar configurations of our cultural life when extreme want, extreme provocation, or extreme frustration wrings an unlawful act from an otherwise law-abiding individual. Most of our criminals are milieu-made. They are law-abiding while the sun shines, while economic life goes on undisturbed, and their ability of adjustment id not taxed excessively. When social storms are brewing, depressions set in, prices tumble, and the army of unemployed swells, the average law-abiding individual yields to extreme pressure and becomes a law-breaker.”

Whether we speak of the USA, UK, Australia, Japan, or other developed nations, the dramatic contraction in consumer and business spending has now hit the markets for a second round of pain; it was not so long ago that we suffered the first round with the credit contraction following the Lehman Brothers collapse. Now we must consider more grave consequences and move to mitigate these risks.

But is is not just the developed nations that must be concerned, China and other Rest Of World nations are also confronting serious contractions of their economies. China's economy has slowed down more rapidly than many other locations, and with 1.3 billion population the sharp contraction if prolonged may create crime opportunity difficult to thwart.

It is time for governments to consider how best to manage the next phase of this crisis -- the phase where we realize that the stimulus, government financial interventions, and coordinated efforts while important, do not bring immediate relief to individuals. In September 1974, the UN Social Defense Research Institute (Rome) called together economists and criminal justice experts to review data and lessons learned from past sharp economic contractions and crime and they found that a great contributor to crime opportunity was the unprepared states, indeed the under capacity of social control systems to hold down order during surge waves of crime; in time the social control systems respond and meet needs, but at first they are overwhelmed when much havoc can run ruin to many lives and fortunes. It is not too early to prepare.

President Obama, we need a crime control plan, and the plan needs to be as big and bold as the problems we face now, and will face in the future. It is a myth that the Great Depression saw falling crime rates requiring inaction on the part of government. On the contrary, crime was deliberately tackled by President Roosevelt through specific measures to: (1) strengthen criminal justice institutions to meet new crime needs; (2) target and incapacitate serious habitual offenders; (3) eliminate laws not obeyed by the people (exercising civil disobedience) to concentrate focus of attention on laws designed to reduce most harm; (4) take the money out of crime (and tax undesirable commerce it if possible); (5) reduce demand for crime, and more specifically provide long-term intensive employment for the most likely offenders -- unemployed young males; at one point in the Great Depression, over 25% of the young male unemployed population was working in camps in the nations state and national parks. This and many other lessons we should be reviewing now for the relevancy, and more.

Mexican crime cartels push into Arizona

What was feared is now reality; the Mexican crime cartels are pushing north across the border and are now causing havoc in Arizona. Is it any wonder why President Obama's choice of Janet Napolitano for Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the former Arizona Governor?

With the headline, the New York Times published the "Wave of Drug Violence Is Creeping Into Arizona From Mexico, Officials Say", By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD; Published: February 23, 2009

"PHOENIX — The raging drug war among cartels in Mexico and their push to expand operations in the United States has led to a wave of kidnappings, shootings and home invasions in Arizona, state and federal officials said at a legislative hearing on Monday. The drug trade has long brought violence to the state, which serves as a hub as illicit drugs, like cocaine and marijuana, and illegal immigrants are smuggled to the rest of the nation. Over all, in this city and surrounding Maricopa County, homicides and violent crime decreased last year. But the authorities are sounding an alarm over what they consider changing tactics in border-related crime that bear the marks of the violence in Mexico. A home invasion here last year was carried out by attackers wielding military-style rifles and dressed in uniforms similar to a Phoenix police tactical unit. The discovery of grenades and other military-style weaponry bound for Mexico is becoming more routine, as is hostage-taking and kidnapping for ransom, law enforcement officials said. The Phoenix police regularly receive reports involving a border-related kidnapping or hostage-taking in a home. The Maricopa County attorney’s office said such cases rose to 241 last year from 48 in 2004, though investigators are not sure of the true number because they believe many crimes go unreported. The violence in Mexico — where more than 6,000 people were killed in the last year in drug-related violence, double the number of the previous year — is “reaching into Arizona, and that is what is really alarming local and state law enforcement,” said Cmdr. Dan Allen of the State Department of Public Safety. “We are finding home invasion and attacks involving people impersonating law enforcement officers,” Commander Allen told the State Senate Judiciary Committee, whose chairman, Jonathan Paton of the Tucson area, called the hearing. “They are very forceful and aggressive. They are heavily armed, and they threaten, assail, bind and sometimes kill victims.” Read the article in its entirety at:

Another article on the topic was posted recently at USA Today;

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Police budgets cut, just as crime rate prepared to ramp up

Sharp economic crises are followed by crime waves typically within one year. US history shows that since 1954, a crime wave has followed each  sharp economic recession. 

The magnitude of the projected crime wave associated with our current economic crises is dependent on many factors including the depth of the contraction, the breadth of industries hit, reduction in GDP, and the amount of unemployment created.  Add to this misery cocktail that state and municipal governments are cutting back law enforcement just as the demand for services is projected to increase -- and "Houston, we have a problem." 

Just when you thought that things could not get worse, our nations police chiefs report that they are facing budget cuts, so reports the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF).

From their press release, Chuck Wexler, Executive Director, Police Executive Research Forum wrote, "Nearly two out of three police agencies responding to a new survey said they are currently making plans for cutting their budgets, according to the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a Washington, D.C.-based independent research organization made up of local and state police officials. And 44 percent of the police departments report increases in certain types of crime which they believe can be attributed to the economic crisis."

The PERF Study found that 233 police agencies responded reflecting many large police departments, and "63 percent said they are preparing plans for an overall cut in their total funding for the next fiscal year. In a large majority of cases, the police officials indicated that they are not merely making contingency plans or thinking about cuts as an academic exercise; of those who said they are planning cuts, 88 percent said they have already been told to expect cuts by their mayor, city council, or other governing authority."

It is little wonder that gun sales have skyrocketed and shares of Smith and Wesson are on a tear this past week; or that there is an emerging trend of people moving away from the cities to the less populated areas at this time? With officer population ratios of approximately 5:1000, it is little wonder that people feel they will be on their own to preserve their own security. Recessions create more crime opportunity through higher numbers of likely offenders. 

Beyond creating awareness and sadly fear, we need to frame solutions to get us out of our current condition and create a softer landing for us all.  This and more is contained in a new book written by Severin Sorensen, CPP, titled, Economic Misery and Crime Waves: the future history of the second great depression and the crime wave that followed, and what to do about it (in publication, 4/09 release); the book will be available at, major bookstores, and this website. 

For more information follow my blog at Let’s hope that I am wrong, and that this is just a deep recession and the consequence of the folly of a generation does not severely impact our children and our children’s children. Respectfully, Severin Sorensen, CPP President & CEO Gaithersburg, MD

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Source of Illustration: Judy Trieble.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Crime wave coming -- preparing for it now may create a softer landing

As an economist who has spent most of his career life working on criminal justice and security matters, I frequently look at political-economic events and extrapolate what their likely ends may be in terms of crime; and admittedly, recently my conclusions are dark and off-putting -- not good dinner conversation. I would rather deal with realities of a potential 'hard landing' scenario and pray for the soft landing, than hope that minimial preparations for a soft landing are suffiencient for what actually becomes a hard landing. These planning considerations remind me of a characterization of economists I think appropriate for our times --An economist is a surgeon with an excellent scalpel and a rough-edged lancet, who operates beautifully on the dead and tortures the living. -- Nicholas Chamfort (1741 - 1794).

For many reasons politicians and political leaders frequently choose to ignore the changing color of the leaves that tell them that the season as changed, and fall is coming; for some their supposed ignorance is rather an informed desire not to cause panic, as sometimes focusing on the problem can be the genesis to create it. Leaders dance a verbal tight rope, desiring to confirm their awareness of the problem and preparations to counteract the problems. Chief Bratton rightly said in December 2008, "The irony is that as we go into this economic downturn, we're expanding… which is exactly what you need to do when the economy turns bad." LAPD has made preparations for the crime opportunity environment that precedes crime waves by increasing law enforcement officer headcount and deployment in new substations. At a time when city governments and police chiefs around the country are reducing headcount due to budget shortfalls, LA's top cop has countered this trend and made a successful argument to city leaders that funding police operations is the key to safeguarding public order, supporting real estate prices, jobs for commercial enterprise, as crime and public fear of crime erode property values in crime plagued areas. Chief Bratton has confidence that his plan will work and that at least for Los Angeles, his preparations will mean that Los Angeles will not experience a crime wave during the recession, though he made no mention of others. Crime repelled in one area, may just be displaced to another jurisdication that is less prepared; rarely is displacement of crime 1 to 1, but displacement at some level, even 50% is generally agreed to occur for motivated offenders.

As an economist thinking about crime in our present environment, criminal justice research shows that since the 1950s crime waves follow significantly sharp economic downturns with a time lag of approximately one year. There was a huge crime wave during the Great Depression, but that crime wave started earlier in the 1920s in concert with Prohibition; the economic misery of the Great Depression exacerbated the crime conditions.

Considering our current situation, while the top of the market was shown to be November 2007, and economists will market December 2007 as the start of the recession, the dramatic economic cliff-dive occurred on 9/15/08 with the Lehman Brothers collapse, and this latest downturn has created the backdraft of rapdily contracting credit, curtailed consumer and business spending, and preservation of capital with one consequence being rapidly rising unemployment.

If conditions of economic misery (unemployment, inflation expections, housing equity losses, and reduced household purchasing power) are not mullified (or made better) through stimulus or other government fiat pronouncement positively impacting the near term outlook, look for public reports of a crime wave this fall. This observation and others are contained in a new book that I have writtten (in technical editing presently to be published this spring) titled, Economic Misery and Crime Waves: the future history of the 2nd Great Depression and the crime wave that followed, and what to do about it.

The crime wave will not impact all geographies or markets equally. Further some enterprises will thrive during this period including security professionals, there are many ways to combat crime and reduce crime opportunity, and this will bring more opportunities in late 2009/2010 for security companies to profit from involvement in addressing this emerging issue. Look for consulting and security assessment demand to increase first, along with expansion of remotely monitored services and security systems integrations related at protecting assets. The man guarding market should see some short-term increase in demand for industries and crime targets of greatest vulnerability. Further, as the public clamors to protect capital by holding physical gold, look for increased demand and services to protect this asset.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Data scams have kicked into high gear as markets tumble

In the 1920s-1930s, criminals out manuvered law enforcement organizations through better technology and operations; the faster car, automatic weapon, swifter communcations, public corruption, and conventional law enforcement organizations were defeated. Today is no different. We are heading into a new era of crime opportunity occassisoned by economic misery and individuals seeking to retain their livelihoods, and also a result of structural imbalance of control organizations (law enforcement) being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of crime, that crime opportunity increases. Consider the following headline.

"Data scams have kicked into high gear as markets tumble," By Byron Acohido and Jon Swartz, USA TODAY, 1/30/2009. The article leads with the following..."
Cybercriminals have launched a massive new wave of Internet-based schemes to steal personal data and carry out financial scams in an effort to take advantage of the fear and confusion created by tumbling financial markets, security specialists say. The schemes — often involving online promotions touting fake computer virus protection, get-rich scams and funny or lurid videos — already were rising last fall when financial markets took a dive. With consumers around the world panicking, the number of scams on the Web soared. The number of malicious programs circulating on the Internet tripled to more than 31,000 a day in mid-September, coinciding with the sudden collapse of the U.S. financial sector, according to Panda Security, an Internet security firm. It wasn't a coincidence, says Ryan Sherstobitoff, chief corporate evangelist at Panda. "The criminal economy is closely interrelated with our own economy," he says. "Criminal organizations closely watch market performance and adapt as needed to ensure maximum profit."" Read the ful article at:

Any effective crime control strategy must accomdate the many technology changes that have arisen that have on their own unleveled the playing field of cat and mouse, cop and criminal.

UN drug czar says financial crises benefits crime

Antonia Maria Costa, Exec Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (, said the global financial crisis is making it easier for organized crime groups to launder profits from narcotics, human trafficking and other illegal activities. Costa told the Associated Press that crime groups were using the financial crisis "as a golden opportunity" to launder funds through bank deposits and the buying of shares. He declined to single out any institutions but said it was "certainly happening across the board." "The money is available and the need for that money is there," he said. "I think the whole system is infected." Costa said he was basing his claims on contacts with prosecutors in various countries, as well as consultations with banking representatives and years of experience tracking organized crime

Read the original article mention at:
UN drug czar: Financial crisis benefits crime
By VERONIKA OLEKSYN Associated Press Writer

Monday, February 9, 2009

Mexican crime problems may leak to US

It should be little wonder why Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano was selected as the new Homeland Security Secretary. The US Mexican border is the sandbox of greatest interest to US security and we must not let violence, corruption, and crime in Mexico leak into the US. The flaggrant lawlessness, loss of rule of law, kidnappings, murder, extortion, drug running, public corruption -- weaken the fabric of society.

However, the Mexican crime problems are already leaking into the US, so writes Martha Gore in a recent post. Under the headline, "Mexico US cross border crime wave" Gore wrote on 2/08/09, "In 2008, more than 5,300 people were killed along the Southwest border which has been home to drug smugglers for twenty to thirty years. In spite of huge enforcement actions on both sides, the Mexican trade is more active and brazen as their tactics become more sophisticated. New tunnels are continually being excavated and ramps help to get the marijuana across the border. The four largest drug cartels, the Federation, the Tijuana Cartel, the Juarez Cartell and the Gulf Cartel are working with prison and street gangs in the United States. According to a Congressional report one year ago, increased drug traffic activity was detected in Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, Steatle and Yakima, Wash."

Ironically, there is unabated marijuana growing in the US in open fields so large they cannot easily be erradicated, however it is the distribution network, the corruption and organized crime that is being imported. I can recall many years ago (1992) when I was working for the US Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) landing in a helicopter in a field of natural grown marijuana so large in size and scope that it made one wonder how we could ever contain such a naturally growing weed -- it appeared the weed grew as fast as other noxious weeds such as kudzu or bambo. Contrary to Say's Law, supply does not create its own demand. There is ample supply of illegal marijuana growing in US in domestic cultivated and natural grows, but it is the criminal distribution network and marketing that is creating demand and servicing demand. It is the criminal network and opportunity for crime that must be addressed -- the money needs to be taken out of this relationship along with the flagrant illegal markets robbing organized crime of their stranglehold on so many. What was evidenced at peak times of financial calamnity during the Great Depression appears again now. There was a natural time for Prohibition of alcohol to occur in the 1930s as the Great Depression fostered an environment where it was necessary to take the financial incentive out of crime, and to tax and regulate alcohol distribution for public safety; and the time is fast approaching that a marijuana regulated regime will be viewed as a rational and less baneful solution to combat the increasing Mexican drug related homicides, kidnappings, extortion, and public corruption infecting the land.

On to Kidnappings, the UN Drug and Crime Control unit has also been working recently in Mexico to try to innoculate citizens from the flaggrant rash of kidnappings impacting the country. A week-long training course on the UNODC manual to counter kidnapping was recently inaugurated in Mexico City. From the UN crime fighting website, "The increasing involvement of organized crime groups in kidnapping for ransom has raised serious concern to the international community. In the most severely affected countries, several hundred kidnappings are conducted each year by organized crime groups. The Anti-Organized Crime and Law Enforcement Unit has developed a United Nations Counter - Kidnap Manual to include best practices for law enforcement authorities to combat kidnapping."

Kidnapping, extortion, narcotics -- these are all economic crimes, and until the government focus on combatting the economics of these age old crimes, there is little hope that positive change will occur in the near term.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Unemployment worsens, Q1-2009 headed for worst quarterly job losses in decades

"Pink slips stack up as recession drags on"

Pink slips stack up as cost-cutting employers ride out recession; no end to layoffs in sight," reports AP economics reporter, Jeannie Aversa, Friday, 2/06/09.

The chart shown aside, prepared by Reuters news service, shows visually the tempo of escalating job losses.  It is estimated that Q1-09 will be the worst quarter in employment job losses (yet).  Some economists are forecasting over 3 million job losses this year, ironically being the number of jobs the Obama stimulus package hopes to create or hold on to.  But realistically, the stimulus package has more to do with 'holding on' to benefits and suring up states budgets for unemployment benefits, health care, and transitional payments, than it has to do with real 'investment' in infrastructure and jobs that will mean a lasting impact on jobs and economic gains for the economy.  No doubt about it, we need a stimulus package, it is just that the package is more about consumption than investment, and at the end of the year, we will have little outside of debt to show for it.

Aersa writes, "Employers are slashing payrolls and turning to other ways to cut costs -- including trimming workers' hours, freezing wages or cutting pay -- to cope with shrinking appetites from customers in the United States and in other countries, which are struggling with their own economic troubles." 

The economic reporter writes further, "An avalanche of layoffs is slamming the nation from a wide swath of employers.  Caterpillar Inc., Pfizer Inc., Microsoft Corp., Estee Lauder Cos., Time Warner Cable Inc., and Sprint Nextel Corp. are among the companies slicing payrolls. Manufacturers -- especially car makers -- construction companies and retailers have been particularly hard hit by the recession. Talbots Inc., Liz Claiborne Inc., Macy's Inc. and Home Depot Inc. are all cutting jobs. So are Detroit's General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co.  Americans cut back sharply on spending at the end of last year, thrusting the economy into its worst backslide in a quarter-century. The tailspin could well accelerate in the current January-to-March quarter to a rate of 5 percent or more as the recession drags on into a second year and consumers and businesses burrow deeper under all the economy's negative forces.  Vanishing jobs and evaporating wealth from tanking home values, 401(k)s and other investments have forced consumers to retrench. And, in turn, companies are pulling back. It's a vicious cycle where all the economy's problems feed on each other, perpetuating a downward economic spiral. Many economists predict the current quarter -- in terms of lost economic growth -- will be the worst of the recession.  With fallout from the housing, credit and financial crises -- the worst since the 1930s -- ripping through the economy, analysts predict up to 3 million jobs will vanish this year -- even if Congress quickly approves the stimulus measure."