The Public Eye

Reports from the Bee's investigative team

June 16, 2011
Hate crimes decreasing in nation

A new federal report shows the number of hate crimes falling from 239,400 in 2003 to 148,400 in 2009. In addition the rate of violent crime victimizations dropped from 0.8 to 0.5 per 1,000 persons over the same period. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics about 87 percent of hate crime victimizations involve a violent crime, the rest involve property.

In nearly 90 percent of hate crime victimizations, victims judged the offender was motivated by racial or ethnic prejudice or both. Overall, motivation for hates crimes breaks down this way:

Race: 58 percent
Ethnicity: 30 percent
Association (with a particular group): 25 percent
Sexual orientation: 15 percent
Perceived characteristics: 13 percent
Religion: 12 percent
Disability: 10 percent.

In 54 percent of such crimes, the offender was not known to the victim. The offender had a weapon in about 20 percent of cases. And the victim suffered an some type of injury in 23 percent of cases.

May 24, 2011
California prisoners: the stats

The U.S. Supreme Court's order to reduce the California prison population by 33,000 prompts the question: just who are the men and and women housed in these facilities?

For comprehensive inmate demographics, we can turn to the most recent California Prisoners & Parolees 2009, the annual "compendium of tables, graphs and charts detailing the inmate and parole populations supervised by the California Department of Corrections." The 132-page report contains dozens of tables broken out by age, gender, race, offense and other factors going back 20 years.

As of Dec. 31, 2009 the institutionalized population looked like this:

Total number: 168,830 (reflecting a state inmate rate of 436.4 per 100,000 population).

Gender: Male, 158,018 (93.6 percent); female 10,812 (6.4 percent).

Mean age: 37 (male and female).

Race/ethnic group: White, 43,226 (25.6 percent); Hispanic, 66,374 (39.3 percent); Black, 48,990 (29.0 percent); other, 10,240 (6.1 percent).

Offense: Crimes against persons, 93,674 (55.5 percent); property crimes, 32,677 (19.4 percent ); drug crimes, 28,736 (17.0 percent); other crimes 13,743, (8.1 percent).

May 17, 2011
Latest U.S. crime victimization stats

The Bureau of Justice Statistics recently released its annual compendium of data on the victims of crime. The 110 tables in Crime Victimization in the United States, 2008 cover virtually all angles of the subject: types of crimes -- violent, property, etc.; demographics of victims -- age, gender race, etc.; circumstances of crimes -- time, place, weapons used, etc.; reporting/non-reporting of crimes, police response time, etc.

It's a lot of numbers. Some bullet points:

* There were 21.3 million crime victimizations in 2008. 23.4 percent were personal crimes (assault, rape, robbery, etc.). 76.6 percent were property crimes (burglary, theft, car theft, etc.).

* Younger people are more likely to be victims of personal crime. The personal crime rate for children 12-15 is 43.6 per 1,000 people. Other age groups: 16-19 (37.4), 20-24 (38.4), 25-34 (23.8), 35-49 (17.4), 50-64 (11.1), 65 or older (3.5).

* African Americans are more likely to be victims of personal crime than other racial/ethnic groups. White only (18.6 per 1,000 people), Black only (26.6), other race only (15.5), Hispanic (17.1).

* Men (21.9) are more likely to be victims of personal crime, compare to women (17.8).

April 1, 2011
Workplace violence is declining

Good news for those of us who toil in cubicles: the number of violent incidents in workplaces has decreased in the past decade.

In a new publication Workplace Violence, 1993-2009, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that nonfatal violent crimes against employees (rape, robbery and assault) fell from 2.1 million in 1993 to 572,000 in 2009. The number of homicides dropped from 1,068 to 591 over that same period.

In terms of occupation, law enforcement personnel, security guards and bartenders suffered the highest rates of nonfatal workplace violence between 2005 and 2009. Preschool, elementary school and college teachers enjoyed the lowest rates.

The majority of offenders in workplace homicides are robbers and other assailants (70.3 percent), followed by work associates (21.4 percent), relatives (4.0 percent) and other personal acquaintances (2.3 percent).

December 23, 2010
The Crime Line: Cops note recent surge in south area burglaries

Sacramento police officials recently sent a note to residents of several south area neighborhoods warning of an increase in home burglaries. To combat them, police have formed a response team.

What the cops didn't say was that while there has been an uptick recently, burglaries in the area are actually down over last year.

In the second week of December, police reported 13 home break-ins in the Pocket/Greenhaven neighborhood - more than twice the number of burglaries from the previous week, department statistics show.

In Meadowview and Valley Hi, the past 90 days have seen 249 burglaries, an increase of 23 percent over the same time period last year.

But those numbers tell only half the story.

Burglaries in the Pocket/ Greenhaven area are down significantly, from 710 in 2009 to 535 this year. There have also been fewer of the crimes in Meadowview and Valley Hi (851 this year compared to 869 last year).

Police offer these tips:

• Lock your doors. Some recent break-ins were at homes left unlocked.

• Make your home appear occupied when you're not there. Leave some lights on.

• Report suspicious people in your neighborhood.

- Ryan Lillis

December 20, 2010
DOJ: estimated 11.7 million were victims of identity theft

An estimated 11.7 million Americans (aged 16 and over) were victims of identity theft, according to a 2008 U.S. Justice Department study whose results were released last week. The survey of 56,500 household residents is the first time the Bureau of Justice Statistics has collected data on these types of property crimes.

BJS estimates that only 23 percent of those victimized suffered some financial loss, but the total cost to society came to $17.3 billion during the two-year period of the study. It also calculates that 6.2 million people were victims of the unauthorized use of credit cards, the most common variety of identity theft.

A demographic breakdown of victims (p. 3) shows that wealthier people (i.e. those living in households making $75,00 and over) are more likely to experience at least one attempted or successful identity theft incident.

December 15, 2010
Teen pot use takes a jump

Illicit marijuana use by teens is increasing according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. That conclusion is based on the 2010 Monitoring the Future survey of eighth, 10th- and 12th-graders.

Eighth graders who reported illicit use of any type of drug in the past years rose from 14.5 percent in 2009 to 16.0 percent in 2010. That bump was largely due to an increase in pot smoking by this age group, whose daily use percentage rose from 1.0 to 1.2. Daily pot use also increased among high school sophmores and seniors, 2.8 to 3.3 percent and 5.2 to 6.1 percent, respectively.

Researchers also found a bump in the use of Ecstacy (MDMA) among youths. Reported use by eighth-graders rose 1.3 to 2.4 percent from 2009 to 2010. Tenth-grade use rose 3.7 to 4.7 percent.

November 23, 2010
Sacramento is the 72nd most dangerous city in the U.S.

ST LOUIS.jpgAlthough the FBI discourages the use of its crime data to compare and rank cities, CQ Press continues to publish its City Crime Rankings every year. The publisher uses violent crime (murder, rape, robbery, assault, etc.) stats per 100,000 population to compile the listing.

Last year, St. Louis crept past Camden, N.J., as the nation's "most dangerous city" of 75,000 or more. They are followed by Detroit and Fint, Michigan. The top California cities are Oakland, Richmond, Compton, Vallejo and Stockton. The "safest" cities in California are Mission Viejo, Irvine, Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks and Murrieta.

Sacramento comes in at number 72 of 400 places.

PHOTO CREDIT: The St. Louis Gateway Arch frames a barge and tow making their way north along the Mississippi River in 2004. AP Photo/James A. Finley.

October 8, 2010
Chief cites crimes stats, but what do they show?

In a recent Washington Post article on the recession's effect on crime, Police Chief Rick Braziel said after years of declining crime rates in Sacramento, "The trend line is starting to go back up." He cited service cuts imposed by government belt-tightening.

But his agency's crime statistics are less clear-cut, showing year-to-year decreases in most major crime categories. Rape, robbery, motor vehicle theft, larceny and burglary are all down through August compared with 2009, the data show.

Property crimes such as auto break-ins that residents are most likely to encounter are down about 3.4 percent.

Aggravated assaults are up about 5 percent. Murders are up 43 percent in Sacramento from last year, rising from 16 to 23 through August. But last year marked a near-historic low for murders in the city.

The increase in murders so far this year is almost identical to the decrease in murders the city saw from 2008 to 2009.

Update: Sacramento Police Department spokesman Norm Leong says that while many types of crime are still down for the year, shorter-term trends are indicating a shift. "What we show is a current loss of ground on violent crime and some increases in property crimes. It is true that we have still decreases in some crime categories but the numbers show we are losing some gains we have made."

-- Phillip Reese

September 22, 2010
California losing millions from illicit cigarette trade

cigs.JPGNational Public Radio last Sunday reported on the big bite the black market in cigarettes is taking out of state excise tax collection. Criminal trade in tobacco is incentivized by the disparity in tax rates across the country. Taxes on a 20-pack carton range from 17 cents in Missouri to a whopping $4.35 in New York. Smugglers make a lot of money buying up large quantities of cigarettes in low-tax states, such as North Carolina or Virginia, and transporting them to a high-tax states, such as New York or Rhode Island.

California's tax rate is relatively small at 87 cents a carton. Even so, tax evasion is active in the state where "$182 million a year is lost in unpaid excise taxes on cigarettes," according to BOE's Anita Gore, quoted in the NPR story. In August, for example, The Bee reported federal indictments in Los Angeles and Sacramento involving 21 people and five businesses who were charged with robbing the California of $35 million in unpaid tobacco taxes.

At the same time authorities battle tax cheats, state government is losing tax revenue just because people are spending less on tobacco. Last year cigarette sales plunged 8.1 percent, the biggest year-over-year drop since 2000. That was good for public health, but bad for state health programs which lost $74 million in funding.

PHOTO CREDIT: Joe Ilagan, owner of Joe's Discount Cigarettes + More shows the Benson and Hedges cigarettes that sell for $6.16 a pack plus tax at his store in South Sacramento. Manny Crisostomo / The Sacramento Bee

September 21, 2010
Drive-by shooting data hard to come by

Drive-by shootings seem to be a regular occurrence in Sacramento -- the last reported one happening in Oak Park on Aug. 31. Surprisingly, there is no national count of such crimes, as defined by the U.S. Dept of Justice as "an incident in which the shooter fires a firearm from a motor vehicle at another person, vehicle, building, or another stationary object".

But one non-profit group has tried to get a statistical handle on the problem. The Violence Policy Center tracked news accounts of drive-by shootings from July 1 through Dec. 31, 2008. The study reports 733 incidents, resulting in 631 injuries and 154 deaths. California led the nation with 148 incidents, 40 dead and 129 injured.

The VPC further analyzed the shootings in terms of victim age, time and location. The researchers found:

* Most of the victims were 18 or older. 145 of the 785 victims were identified as under 18.

* Nearly half of the incidents happened at a residence (314 of the 676 shootings where location was reported).

* 17 percent of the incidents involved shots at another vehcle.

* Most of the crimes happened between the hours of 7 p.m. and 12 am.

* Possible gang-involvement was mentioned in 17 percent of cases.

Hat tip: The California Research Bureau.

August 31, 2010
Call-forwarding scam targeting area residents

By Cathy Locke
clocke@sacbee.com

Sacramento resident Virginia Fremstad is warning of a telephone scam after learning that she may have been an unwitting victim.

Fremstad said she received a phone call Aug. 15 purporting to be from an inmate at Sacramento County's Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center. She was advised to press "1" if she was willing to accept the collect call and set up an account so the inmate could call her. If she didn't wish to accept it, she was told to press "7."

Fremstad said she pressed 7, but then noticed that the call came from a Houston, Texas, area code.

She had friends in Houston and called them. When she described the phone call, her friend said it sounded like a scam that had plagued the Houston area and pressing "7" could allow the caller to run up charges on her telephone account.

Sacramento Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Tim Curran said he hadn't received any reports of the scam. If an inmate calls from jail, the person receiving the call is given the option of accepting or declining the call but is not directed to press a number, Curran said.

An Internet search turned up reports of a prison inmate phone scam resembling the call Fremstad described. Typically, an inmate asks the individual to dial a sequence of numbers that begins • 72 to forward the call. This sets up a call-forwarding scam that turns the victim's phone line over to the inmate.

Anyone receiving such a call is advised to hang up and to notify their phone company if it appears they have been wrongly billed for long-distance calls or collect calls from jail.

August 11, 2010
Drug traffickers used illicit animal fights to recruit dealers

cockfight pic.JPGA key player in a major cocaine and marijuana trafficking organization recently was sentenced to 12 and one-half years in prison following an extraordinary combination of reprehensible crimes. Pedro Mendez Ramos, 41, of Church Point, La., was sentenced in federal court after revelations that his drug operations were built, in part, by his use of illegal cock fights and pit-bull fights to recruit dealers and drivers to move the drugs.

Pit-bull fights are illegal in all states, and cockfights (AP photo by Paul Fraughton) are illegal in nearly all states, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

The Drug Enforcement Administration investigation, dubbed "Operation Fowl Play" and "Rio Gallo," rolled up a network that spanned several southern states. Along with other law enforcement agencies, it seized 118 kilograms of cocaine.

"The organization utilized various methods to conceal their cocaine, to include tractor trailers and trucks with hidden compartments and gamecock cages with false bottoms," according to a DEA statement. "At one point, the Ramos organization had amassed so much cash from the sale of cocaine that Pedro Ramos attempted to purchase Canal Oil Refinery, an oil refinery located in Church Point, La. in order to launder the organization's drug trafficking proceeds."

-Charles Piller

July 27, 2010
Hate crimes declined in state in 2009, AG says

Reported hate crimes in California dropped more than 20 percent last year, the AG's office says.

"While the drop in these crimes is encouraging," Attorney General Jerry Brown said in a statement last week, "hate has certainly not been banished from California. The sheer total of incidents motivated by hate is a reminder of how much harder we need to work to overcome prejudice, bigotry and ignorance."

Hate crimes include those motivated by the victim's race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, or physical or mental disability.

Hate crimes dropped from 1,397 cases in 2008 to 1,100 last year. Hate crimes have declined by half since 2001, dropping from 2,261 cases.

There was a decline in anti-black crime (17.7 percent), anti-Jewish crime (13 percent) and anti-gay crime (22.1 percent) - categories accounting for about 60 percent of the state's hate crimes. Though violent offenses accounted for 63.5 percent of all hate crimes in 2009, last year marked the largest year-over-year decline in violent hate crimes (down 22.8 percent) this decade.

A total of 479 hate crime cases were referred to prosecutors in 2009. Of those, 363 criminal cases were filed, 283 as hate crimes. Of the 257 hate crime cases with dispositions in 2009, there were 223 convictions - 131 hate crime convictions and 92 other convictions.

- Stephen Magagnini

July 6, 2010
Characteristics of identity theft victims

The U.S. Justice Department last week published a statistical profile of identity theft as reported by households in 2007. Though the data is a bit old, we get a sense of the problem: the rate and types of theft as well as the demographics of the affected families. In 2007 about 7.9 million households (6.6 percent of all U.S. households) had at least one member who was a victim of identity theft. According to the DOJ, the number of victimized households increased 23% from 2005 to 2007. Also during that period the number of households which experienced credit card theft increased by 31%.

In general, households headed by individuals over 65 were less likely to be victims. Households earning $75k and above were more likely to be victimized. Hispanic households were less likely than non-Hispanic ones. One-person households were victimized less than ones with two or more people over 12. The average amount lost per household in 2007 was $1,830.

Identity theft can happen to any of us. For a good overview of the crime, how it works, how to prevent it and what to do if you fall victim, see the Federal Trade Commission's Identity Theft Site. The California Attorney General also has a helpful web site with tips and instructions for submitting information to the ID Theft Registry.

June 14, 2010
Follow up-to-the-minute local crime with Twitter

twitter_logo_header.pngLast week's hostage drama reminds us that important crime developments can break at any time. Twitter, the microblogging service, is one convenient way to track the latest local crime and fire news. Top among regional sites is Sacbee_news, the Bee's main account spotlighting important breaking news in the region. There are also Twitter streams from police reporters Chelsea Phua and Kim Minugh, who give you the behind-the-scenes look at ongoing news coverage.

But what Twitter feeds do Bee journalists use to keep up with public safety news? Here's a list of non-Bee accounts compiled by Bill Enfield, crime and courts editor.

SacPolice - Official Twitter page for the Sacramento Police Department maintained by the Police News Media Team.
SacFirePIO - Official site of the Sacramento Fire Department's public information officer Capt. Jim Doucette.
News10_ca - Links to top stories being reported by the KXTV news team.
Fox40 - Breaking news alerts and video updates from the KTXL news team.
CBS13rightnow - Breaking local and national news from the KOVR news team.
Scannerboy02 - Tweets from a freelance videographer who tracks the local police scanner.
TwinRiversPD - Official site of the Twin Rivers Police Department.
CalFirePIO - Official site of the California Fire Department's PIO Daniel Berlant.

-- Pete Basofin

June 2, 2010
The who, what, where, when of school crime

Thumbnail image for schoolcrime.JPGThe National Center for Education Statistics last week released its report on crime that occurs at school. The data-heavy study (derived from the 2003-05 National Crime Victimization Survey) breaks down incidents by such factors as time of day, location in the school, whether police were involved and characteristics of offenders.

Some highlights:

* 4.8 million criminal incidents (including 2.9 million thefts and 1.8 million violent crimes) occurred on school campuses during the period 2003-05.

* Most violent incidents (54 percent) happened inside school buildings. 35 percent happened outside buildings on school grounds. 11 percent on the route to and from schools. Most violent crimes (85 percent) did not involve a weapon. In 73 percent of such incidents, the victim suffered no injury.

* The vast majority of incidents (82 percent) were not reported to police.

* Most thefts and violence occurred between noon and 3 p.m. (36 percent and 41 percent respectively) than at other times of the day.

-- Pete Basofin

June 1, 2010
Copper thieves make the lights go out

Lights are going out on neighborhood streets and baseball fields from Dixon to Davis to Folsom.

Davis officials report that five to six miles of copper wiring have been stolen from electrical boxes for streetlights and lights in the city's network of parks, trails and greenbelts. Now thieves are targeting wiring for sprinkler systems as well.

Grant Olson, senior electrician with Davis' Public Works Department, said the cost of replacing the wiring and repairing the systems is estimated at $50,000, and dark streets and trails are a safety hazard.

Olson said copper wire theft is along the Interstate 80 and Highway 50 corridors. "We believe it's organized," he said.

In Dixon, thieves have targeted lights along a city pathway, a Little League field and a portion of the business district. The damage totals about $11,000.

Folsom officials say such thefts have occurred on almost a weekly basis for the the past year.

Area recyclers have been alerted, but officials say wiring is difficult to trace.

Davis Police Sgt. Paul Doroshov advises residents to call police if they see someone who appears to be working on wiring, even if they think it might be a city electrician or contractor.

-- Cathy Locke



About The Public Eye

Welcome to The Bee's newest blog: Public Eye. In the coming months, you will see us breaking news here as well as following up on investigations we have published with tidbits, news breaks and behind-the-scenes descriptions of our news-gathering process. Know of a wrong we could right? Send our fraud squad your tips at: fraudsquad@sacbee.com.

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