Category Archives: Violent Crime

The Link Between Depression and Violent Crime

Just this week we wrote that even though arrests are down, our jail cells are still filing up. The problem is that many of these repeat offenders aren’t getting the mental health help they need. Instead, they are simply thrown in jail and left to their own devices once they’ve served their sentence. The legal system is not addressing the problem.

Today, we’ve learned of a new study that links mental health issues to increases in violent crime. According to a study by researchers at Oxford University, individuals diagnosed with depression are about three times more likely than the general population to commit a violent offense.

Researchers came to that conclusion after examining a group of roughly 47,000 depressed people and almost 900,000 non-diagnosed individuals over the course of three years. They found that clinically depressed individuals had a higher risk of self harm and harm to others.

While depressed individuals may be three times as likely to commit a violent offense than the average person, researchers emphasized that the vast majority of clinically depressed individuals have not been convicted of a crime, nor will they.

“One important finding was that the vast majority of depressed persons were not convicted of violent crimes, and that the rates … are below those for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and considerably lower than for alcohol or drug abuse,” said Seena Fazel, who led the study at Oxford University’s psychiatry department.

According to the study, crimes more often committed by depressed individuals than the general population include:

  • Robbery
  • Sexual offenses
  • Assault

Depression affects more than 350 million people worldwide, yet we’re still hesitant to talk openly about the disease. Far too often we punish violent offenders for the crime instead of pairing punishment with mental health evaluations and treatments. Without treatment, recidivism is likely.

Fazel said many people want to ensure depressed individuals don’t self harm or commit suicide, but little attention is given to their likelihood of lashing out at others. He hopes to conduct future studies on why depressed individuals are more likely to commit a violent offense.

“Is it about not being able to think through things, not being able to make judgments about risk? Is it irritability? Impulsiveness?” he said. “If we can get more of a handle on that, it could really help treat these people.”

Related source: Fox News

Police Shootings Could Be Added To MN Emergency Alerts

When a child goes missing in Minnesota, the state’s Amber Alert system broadcasts the alert to Minnesotans across the state. A similar alert could soon be in place when police officers are killed or seriously wounded.

A Minnesota House Panel is pushing for advanced legislation that would add officer-involved shootings to the statewide alert system. The new system, sponsored by Rep. Tony Cornish, would be called the Blue Alert. Cornish served as a law enforcement officer prior to chairing the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Committee. He argued that the Blue Alert system would keep civilians safe and would help track down suspects.

“Many times after the assault has taken place, or the death, these people escape in a vehicle,” Cornish said. “So this system would really be helpful in apprehension, a quicker apprehension before these people get out into the general public and do more damage.”

The bill comes on the heels of the of the high-profile killing of officer Scott Patrick by suspect Brian Fitch. Fitch drove away after shooting and killing Patrick during a routine traffic stop. Thankfully, anonymous tipsters alerted police to Fitch’s whereabouts later in the day, and police were able to take him into custody, but not before the two sides again exchanged gunfire.

How Blue Alert Would Work

Under the new proposal, the Blue Alert would be very similar to the current Amber Alert system. The Blue Alert would be transmitted through the Minnesota Crime Alert Network and the Emergency Alert system. Both public and commercial broadcasters would take part in sharing the alert.

Rep. Dan Schoen, an active police officer and supporter of the bill, said the Blue Alert proposal would expedite the spread of information, which is vital in instances where a suspect is a serious threat to public safety.

“We want people looking out their windows,” Schoen said. “We want people looking at each other when they’re going down the interstate, and we need the public to be a part of that.”

The House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Committee unanimously supported the proposal. The bill now moves to the House Transportation Committee.

Related source: MPR News

Preliminary Hearing Scheduled in Slender Man Stabbing

Two Wisconsin teens accused of stabbing a classmate to appease a fictional horror character will find out this week if they’ll be tried on attempted homicide charges.

The “Slender Man” case has garnered national attention for its absurdity and for the ages of those involved. Prosecutors allege that the two Waukesha girls planned to kill another girl in hopes of gaining favor with a fictional character known as Slender Man.

For those of you not up to date on your internet-born fantastical horror entities, Slender Man “came to life” as part of an online contest where users used their photoshop skills to create images that appeared to capture supernatural events on film. Eric Knudson edited a few photos to show a a tall, faceless stranger in the background, and he accompanied the images with text that made it look like the creature was associated with the disappearance of children. The fictional character eventually went viral, and people from all over the web created fan-fiction stories to help the legend of Slender Man grow.

The problem, though, is that the two 12-year-olds at the center of the case had a difficult time separating reality from fantasy. Prosecutors allege they lured another 12-year-girl into a park and stabbed her 19 times. Amazingly, the after the pair left the 12-year-old to die, she was able to crawl to a sidewalk and flag down a passing bicyclist. The biker called 911, and paramedics were able to save the girl’s life. She was released form the hospital a little over one week after the attack.

As you might guess, questions about the girls’ mental state arose. After hearing from mental health experts, a judge ruled that both girls were competent enough to stand trial. Now that competence has been established, a judge will rule if there’s enough evidence to move forward with a trial.

Based on the preliminary evidence, it seems likely that the court will move forward with a trial. Prosecutors are pursuing first-degree attempted homicide charges against the girls, which carries a maximum sentence of 60 years in prison.

The Importance of Pre-Trial

As we mentioned, it seems likely that the case will head to trial, but the pre-trial proceedings are actually a pivotal part of a defense attorney’s strategy. Criminal defense attorneys use this time to determine how the prosecution plans to attack their defendant’s credibility.

Avery Appelman, a criminal defense attorney in Minneapolis, said pre-trial hearings allow lawyers to get in the mind of their opposition.

“If you have a sense of how the other side is going to attack your defendant, you can begin to plan a better defensive strategy,” said Appelman. “Additionally, if a prosecution’s witness says something during pre-trial that you can use to strengthen your case, you can ensure you have a line of questions ready for cross examination.”

We’ll keep tabs on the Slender Man case as it moves forward.

Both Sides Clash Over Minnesota Sex Offender Reform

After months of investigation and data collection, a trial to determine the legality of Minnesota’s current sex offender reform program has finally begun.

Attorneys for both sides issued opening statements Monday in a trial that is expected to last several weeks. Dan Gustafson, the attorney representing more than 700 sex offenders in the civil commitment program, issued a strong challenge of the current system, asking Judge Donovan Frank to rule the program unconstitutional. Gusatson noted that only one individual has ever completed the program, which showcases that the current rehabilitation system is failing.

Conversely,  Deputy Minnesota Attorney General Nathan Brennaman argued that the program did not infringe the rights of the offenders. He believes the program is constitutional, and he noted that an unconstitutional ruling could jeopardize the safety of Minnesotans by placing many former offenders back on the streets.

Whatever is decided, it’s clear that some changes are needed. Imagine if you had a graduating class of 700 individuals, and even though you went to class and received good grades, only the valedictorian was allowed to graduate. Certainly nobody would argue that the school program was working. On a smaller scale, a similar ideology can be applied to the sex offender program. Individuals who serve their time, receive clearing from mental health experts, show remorse, have made positive strides in their life, are unlikely to re-offend and who are monitored after their release are certainly deserving of a second chance. They shouldn’t be forced to wallow in a purgatory-like state for years and years.

Although he may not rule it unconstitutional, it seems likely that Judge Frank will order that the program undergo a few changes. As he wrote in a 75-page report, Frank said the current structure has “grave deficiencies” and needs sweeping changes. We’ll keep tabs on the case as it continues over the next few weeks.

Related source: Pioneer Press

Warm Spell May Be To Blame In Campus Crime Uptick

The University of Minnesota has seen a rash of violent crimes over the past week, and campus officials believe the warm winter weather may be contributing to spike in crime.

University police issued three crime alerts last weekend for incidents that took place Friday, Saturday and Sunday. All three victims were robbed by a group of thieves.

University of Minnesota Police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner said criminals venture outdoors when the weather warms up.

“Typically, it is very cold this time of the year,” he said. “It was a bit warmer last weekend, so that could have had an impact on the suspects going out and looking to create crime.”

Three Separate Thefts

The first instance that prompted a campus crime alert occurred Friday. According to the police report, an unidentified individual was robbed on campus near Williamson Hall. Three suspects were arrested in connection with the robbery, but as of posting the police did not have even evidence to charge them with a crime.

The second incident occurred Saturday at 6:30 a.m. near the intersection of 15th and Como. Logan Brion, a University of Minnesota-Morris student, was robbed while in town visiting a friend. According to Brion, he was walking down the street when he noticed three men were following him. Brion decided to run, but the suspects caught up to him and began to punch and kick him. The criminals demanded his wallet and became enraged when Brion told them he didn’t have it with him.

“One of them threatened to shoot me with a gun and said he was going to kill me if I didn’t comply with them,” Brion said. “I didn’t provoke them or anything, they could’ve gotten everything they wanted without violence.”

The suspects made off with Brion’s iPhone, winter coat and drawstring bag.

Although Brion noted that he was able to track the iPhone to a housing project near the Cedar-Riverside area, the suspects still remain at large.

“There is nothing like this in Morris,” Brion said.

The final incident that spurred a crime alert happened Sunday morning in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood. Rory Traut was walking near Van Cleve Park when four masked men approached him and demanded his personal items. Three of the men took his iPhone, phone charger and wallet while a fourth held a gun to Traut’s neck.

“I’m from a small town — it makes me a little more nervous about going to Dinkytown or Minneapolis,” Traut said.

The items were later recovered by police, but fingerprint testing proved inconclusive. The police are classifying the case as an ongoing incident.

Related source: MN Daily

Minnesota Delves into Officer Involved Fatal Shootings

An analysis by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension revealed that state police officers have shot and killed at least 60 individuals since 2008.

Not surprisingly, the vast majority of those killed by police officers were male, but considering recent events in Ferguson and New York, you may be surprised at the ethnic and demographic breakdown. According to the statistics:

  • 95 percent of those killed were male.
  • 61 percent were white.
  • 26 percent were African American.
  • The median age for whites killed by police since 2008 is 36. For African Americans, the median age is only 24.

Additional information from the report delves in to the circumstances surrounding the shooting and the aftermath:

  • Drugs, alcohol or mental illness were mentioned in nearly 1/3 of the reports.
  • In more than 70 percent of the deaths, police shot a person holding a gun or knife.
  • In 30 percent of the cases, the officers reported being shot at.
  • More than a quarter of the shootings began when police received a call about a domestic disturbance.
  • None of the 87 officers who discharged their firearm in a fatal encounter have faced criminal charges.

The BCA said they sought to uncover even more data, but some stations denied their request, citing privacy laws. David Klinger, a professor of criminology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said there’s no reason why the public shouldn’t have access to all the fatal shooting data.

“There’s really no logical reason for us not to have that [data],” Klinger said. “We have data on all sorts of other things. Why don’t we have that on what arguably is the most important thing that the government does in terms of inserting them in the lives of citizens — i.e. trying to put a bullet in their body? There’s not much that is more serious than that.”

St. Paul Sees Troubling Numbers

St. Paul had a rather high number of African Americans die at the hands of a police officer over the past six years. According to the report, more than half of the 11 people shot and killed by St. Paul police were African American. The St. Paul department has been involved in more fatal shootings than any other department since 2008.

Jeff Martin, president of the St. Paul branch of the NAACP, said the high number of fatal shootings is very concerning.

“These are the most serious matters that the community is concerned about,” Martin said. “Even the bad actors among us have constitutional rights, and they shouldn’t be shot at without an opportunity to be taken into custody peacefully.”

A study by the American Civil Liberties Union uncovered that African Americans in Minneapolis were 11 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession compared to whites, even though usage rates are similar.

“In the numbers the ACLU put out, you see in terms of low-level drug arrests you get a lot more African-American males searched for marijuana and then ticketed for marijuana possession than whites,” said Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the Minnesota Chapter of the ACLU.

Samuelson believes race certainly plays a factor in some confrontations, but he noted that it doesn’t explain why some interactions turn deadly.

Related source: MPR News

Five Facts About Police Body Cameras

Police body cameras are popping up across Minnesota and the United States, but not a lot is known about the technology. Today, we share five facts about police body cameras.

1. Becoming the norm – As we mentioned above, an increasing amount of police precincts are adopting the body cameras. Michael White, a professor at Arizona State University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, estimated that 25 percent of police departments are using the technology or are planning on instituting the cameras in the near future. White believes that figure will jump to 33 percent or even as high as 50 percent within the next year.

2. The cameras are costly – Your Canon Rebel may have only cost $80, but police body cameras have a much larger price tag. Research conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum found that agencies spent between $120 and $2,000 for each camera. For example, the Mesa Police Department just spent $67,000 on 50 new cameras. There are also additional fees for video storage and expert analysis.

3.  No long term studies - Because of their relatively recent inception, there really aren’t any long term studies on the effectiveness of the body cameras. A short term study in California found that allegations of police misconduct and false claims dropped in the months after the department adopted the cameras, but not much is known about their long term effectiveness.  Researchers also want to determine how effective the video evidence is in the court of law, in terms of guilty verdicts.

4. Some disagreement over recording procedures – Since the cameras don’t constantly record, there has been some debate over when they should be turned on. Some departments want their officers to turn on their cameras during every encounter, while some officers think they should only be recording when a citation or arrest is likely. The American Civil Liberties Union believes all encounters should be recorded in order to avoid any possible tampering.

5. Minnesota ahead of the curve - While some departments are discussing the cameras, many Minnesota precincts are early adopters. Departments in Burnsville, Duluth, Gilbert, Farmington and Minneapolis have all begun outfitting their officers with cameras. Assuming the cameras are successful in reducing false claims and instances of police brutality, it seems likely that more Minnesota cities will join the movement.

Related source: AZ Central


Screech Charged With Felony Stabbing in Wisconsin

Dustin Diamond, best remembered for his role as “Screech” on the TV show Saved By the Bell, has been charged with a felony count of reckless endangerment after allegedly stabbing a man during a bar fight in Wisconsin.

According to the police report, Diamond and his fiancee Amanda Schutz were bar hopping in Port Washington, Wisconsin, when they were confronted by “a group of intoxicated people being rude and insulting.” The words soon turned to punches, and Schutz was bloodied by the woman in the party. Shortly thereafter, Diamond exchanged blows with two men in the group.

Concerned bar patrons helped break up the fight, but after the melee one of the males noticed a half-inch puncture wound in his right armpit. Officers noted that the cut was bleeding significantly, but it was not considered life threatening. Diamond and his fiancee had left the scene before the authorities arrived, but police caught up to the couple’s SUV and found a pocket knife with a 3.75 inch blade in the vehicle. Authorities said there was visible blood on the tip of the knife.

Diamond should have hired an attorney at this point, but he made things worse by providing authorities with conflicting accounts of what occurred during the scuffle. At first he told police that he accidentally stabbed the man, but then he recanted, saying he couldn’t remember if he stabbed him or not. He also told police he carried the knife for protection, and he brandished the knife to protect his fiancee.

Despite his argument that he only brandished the knife in self defense, Diamond was charged with a felony count of second-degree reckless endangering safety,  disorderly conduct and carrying a concealed weapon. If convicted, the felony charge carries a potential sentence of 10 years in prison.

Diamond’s bail was set at $10,000, and he is set to make his initial appearance in Ozaukee County Court today.

Avery Appelman comments

Hopefully the bar has video evidence of what transpired that night, because a felony charge is no laughing matter. It’s easy to see how someone could overreact if they saw their fiancee being bloodied by someone they didn’t know. Diamond certainly escalated the situation when he stabbed the other man, but if the other three were the aggressors, Diamond could get off scot-free.

Video evidence likely won’t have audio, but it would be much more substantial than any he-said, she-said testimony from patrons who were likely drinking alcohol.

We’ll keep a close eye on Screech as he fights this charge.

Related source: Rolling Stone

Montana Case Echoes Little Falls Killings

A Montana man will face a similar sentence to that of Byron David Smith, the man convicted of killing two unarmed teenagers who had broken into his home in Little Falls, Minnesota, back in 2012.

Just like Smith, Markus Kaarma’s “castle doctrine” defense – that a homeowner can use deadly force to protect his dwelling so long as the force is deemed reasonable – failed because the jury decided he went beyond what could be considered “reasonable.”

Case in Question

According to court documents, fed up by what he felt was a lack of action by police, Kaarma decided to take matters into his own hands. Kaarma testified that teenagers had been stealing from unlocked vehicles and open garages in his neighborhood, including once from his home.

Kaarma decided to bait the thieves into stealing from his home, so he left a purse on the floor of his garage and left the door halfway open. He knew it was only a matter of time before the teens returned to the area, and he even told his hairstylist, ‘I’ve been up three nights with a shotgun waiting to kill some kids. I’m not kidding, you’re seriously going to see this on the news.”

Sure enough, a few days later on April 27 Kaarma was alerted to movement in his garage via motion capture sensors. Kaarma opened the garage door and immediately fired four shotgun blasts at the intruder. Diren Dede, an unarmed 17-year-old intruder was hit by two of the shotgun blasts, including a fatal strike to the head.

Because he baited the intruder and went above what the jury decided was a reasonable use of force, Kaarma was found guilty of deliberate homicide, whereas Smith was found guilty of two counts of premeditated murder.

Kaarma is due back in court February 11 for sentencing. He faces a minimum penalty of 10 years in prison.

“What the jury’s saying here is, you have a right to defend yourself, but this isn’t reasonable,” said University of Montana law professor Andrew King-Ries said. “Lots of people have guns here, and lots of people feel very strongly that comes with a responsibility to handle your weapon appropriately.”

Related source: Star-Tribune

Crime Spikes During Home NFL Games

There will be no more home football games for the Vikings or Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium this year, and that could lead to lower crime rates, according to a new study.

Researchers tracked the crime rates in eight cities home to an NFL franchise to determine how home games affect crime rates. Analysts tracked crime rates for Baltimore, Detroit, Miami, New Orleans, Newark, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Washington for a two-year period. After comparing the data, researchers found:

  • On days that cities hosted a home game there was a 3 percent increase in total crime.
  • Larceny rates jumped 4 percent on game days, while car thefts rose 7 percent.
  • Noon games are most closely connected to higher crime rates than afternoon or evening kickoffs, as there was a 4 percent increase in total crime and economic crime during midday starts.

“NFL home games are correlated with a higher incidence of crime compared to non-game days or days when the team is playing an away game in another city,” the researchers wrote.

Researchers say the results aren’t surprising, as it’s easier for criminals to strike in large crowds where opportunities are more plentiful. They noted that the increase in car thefts has a lot to do with a large gathering of cars in one area, most of which are left unattended for a few hours. This gives a thief plenty of time to find the ideal opening to strike.

“If stadium, restaurant, bar, and other parking lots are full of cars, it will be easier for thieves to find suitable cars to steal,” the researchers wrote.

Although there is a greater police presence around the stadium on game day than on any other day, oftentimes they are overwhelmed with other tasks, like crowd control or alcohol-related instances. This can provide the perfect cover for thieves.

“A large gathering of people on game day increases the number of potential targets and may also reduce the likelihood of criminal apprehension, as criminals can blend more easily into larger crowds,” the authors wrote.

Researchers concluded that the uptick in crime is costly. They estimated that a 3 percent increase in crime amounts to $85,000 per game day, or about $700,000 per city, per year.

Avery Appelman Comments

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an uptick in certain crimes during NFL games. Not long ago we published another study that claimed domestic violence and assaults increased during football games, especially if the team that lost was expected to win.

I’m not surprised crime rates spike during home football games because we seem to get a few more calls on Sunday night and Monday morning the day after a Vikings game than we do on an average Monday.

The study didn’t look into DUI arrests, but I’d be interested in seeing how DUI rates on football Sundays compare to Sundays without football. I think there would certainly be a spike in the hours after a home game or a particularly important win.

Related source: Herald Net