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As Spokane beefs up efforts to catch car thieves, some — including prolific one who targets Subarus — won’t stop

In the time it takes to tidy your bed, floss your teeth or microwave a bowl of rice, 19-year-old Christian Normand can steal your car. If it’s an early-’90s-to-2000s Subaru, even better.

Since at least the year 2000, Spokane has consistently ranked as one of the worst cities in Washington for people hoping to permanently keep their cars in their driveway. For several years it even ranked in the top 15 cities in the United States in terms of vehicle theft rate.

David Makin

“I think by and large, most of the arguments around Spokane are joyriding, addiction, and you have those chronic offenders,” said David Makin, a professor of criminal justice and criminology at Washington State University. “But I think there’s still a lot of unknowns around there.”

Makin says in-home monitoring, such as modern electric bracelets that look no different than a Disneyland MagicBand, are one of the most effective ways to curb repeat offenses.

Last semester, three students in his Crime Prevention Strategies class recommended electronic monitoring to the Spokane Police Department as part of their research into vehicle theft prevention.

The students wrote that compared to the average cost of incarceration per inmate per year — about $31,286 — the $4,500 to $8,500 it would cost for electronic monitoring would be a cheaper alternative, and would help curb recidivism.

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Inside the Spokane Police Department’s body camera program

The Spokane Police Department spends about $310,000 a year for their body cameras, but officers say they want to keep the program despite high costs.

David MakinDavid Makin, a criminal justice professor at Washington State University, said the yearly cost for Spokane to store their police body camera footage is common.

“It is [common]. I mean you look at Norfolk, Virginia. The Norfolk Police Department, based on my last conversation, they were spending about $300,000 a year,” said Makin, who runs the Complex Social Interaction lab dedicated to analyzing body camera footage.

Makin said that the usage of body cameras should not stop solely at holding officers accountable.

“I’d say probably the hardest question agencies struggle with is, ‘how do you make use of the footage,'” Makin said. “It’s one thing to intake all these volumes of footage. What do you do with it?”

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Does legal weed make police more effective?

Marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington state has “produced some demonstrable and persistent benefit” to police departments’ ability to solve other types of crime, according to researchers in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Washington State University.

“Our models show no negative effects of legalization and, instead, indicate that crime clearance rates for at least some types of crime are increasing faster in states that legalized than in those that did not,” the authors write in a study published in the journal Police Quarterly.

A crime is typically considered “cleared” if authorities have identified and arrested a suspect and referred him to the judicial system for prosecution. The Washington State study examined clearance rates for crimes in Colorado and Washington from 2010 through 2015, using monthly FBI data.

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Forced court appearances make cops more tired, generate more citizen complaints

Results from a new study conducted by researchers at Washington State University and Central Queensland University suggest that complaints against U.S. police officers increase when they work consecutive night shifts. The odds of citizen complaints increase even more when night shift officers are required to make daytime court appearances in-between night shifts when they would otherwise be resting up for their next shift.

Results from the study indicate that citizen complaints were most prevalent on night shifts. The researchers also found that going to court during the day between night shifts further increased the odds of citizen complaints. This supports the idea that sleep restriction and fatigue, which increase when night shift officers must attend court, contribute to the likelihood that they will receive complaints from the public.

Samantha Riedy.
Samantha Riedy

“Our results suggest that consecutive night shifts, particularly when worked with daytime court hours, increase fatigue, limit sleep, and increase the odds of citizen complaints against police officers,” said lead author Samantha Riedy, MS, RPSGT, a doctoral student in the Experimental Psychology Graduate Program and the Sleep and Performance Research Center at Washington State University. “Citizen complaints are an important indicator of citizen dissatisfaction with how they are treated by officers, their perceptions about justice, and their willingness to cooperate with the police and help maintain public order. Our findings indicate that duty schedules and sleep opportunities need to be considered when scheduling officers in court.”

The study included data from 379 officers and 32,712 work shifts from a seminal study led by Bryan Vila, former professor of criminal justice and criminology, that examined whether fatigue was prevalent in policing (Vila et al., 2000).

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The Science Behind Where Police Should Place Their Body Cameras

As law enforcement increasingly uses body-worn cameras, researchers are studying the roles of camera design and perspective.

Approaching police body cameras from a design and ergonomics perspective is just one example of the ways researchers are starting to delve into the bigger questions associated with body cameras, from artificial intelligence analysis to perspective bias.

David Makin

David Makin, a criminologist at Washington State University in Pullman, co-founded the Complex Social Interactions (CSI) Lab. Makin is designing algorithms and software to analyze body-worn camera footage. One of the main issues, he says, is that body cam footage is just that — footage. “So you have thousands or tens of thousands of hours that doesn’t get looked at. It gets looked at when there’s an issue, and that’s it.”

Makin sees potential in that raw video. “If we think of it as data, we can deconstruct it and analyze it,” he said. “Then we can approach it as improving training, and improving risk management. Once you see it as data, there is no limit to how beneficial this can be to law enforcement organizations.”

Makin’s CSI Lab has analyzed thousands of police-community interactions on video and numerous records from law enforcement incidents to identify, code and catalog key variables associated with a range of outcomes, positive to negative. Location, lighting, time of day, number of people present, gender, race, verbal and physical stress, and intensity of the interaction are among the contextual factors assessed.

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