NIJ Reports Explore Today’s Criminal Justice Issues

Our system of criminal justice faces many challenges, including persistent violent crime in urban areas, cybercrime and the addiction epidemic. And unlike many TV dramas, where crimes are solved and trials neatly concluded in the span of a mere 60 minutes, the process of handing down justice to the guilty and obtaining justice for victims is increasingly complex in today’s world.

“Our nation’s criminal justice system must deal with a constant barrage of threats, some old, some new and every one of them a test of our public safety professionals’ skills and expertise,” said Katharine T. Sullivan, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs. “In today’s environment, when more demands than ever are being placed on police officers and prosecutors, they are under greater pressure to improve and innovate in their critical work.”

Publications released recently by the Office of Justice Programs’ National Institute of Justice aim to determine the top issues facing law enforcement and prosecutors nationwide, and to encourage evidence-based solutions. NIJ convened two separate workshops of experts in each field in 2018 to reach conclusions on the most pressing matters, as well as on priorities for innovation.

Based on the findings of each working group, known as the Chiefs’ Panel and Prosecutors’ Panel, the reports serve to inform the work of professionals in each field, policymakers, researchers, and data scientists, and increase awareness of the general public. Although the law enforcement community and prosecutors each have specific functions within criminal justice, they are partners in reducing crime. Not surprisingly, the reports show that the two professions share some similar areas of need.

Both working groups placed staff-related issues as their highest priority, which, for law enforcement, is supported by tragic statistics. At least 228 officers took their own lives in 2019, according to Blue H.E.L.P., a nonprofit organization that tracks law enforcement suicides. Not only is that higher than the number of line-of-duty deaths, it reflects a steady rise in officer suicides over the last four years. As a panelist noted, giving insight into the stress faced by police officers, “All we need to do is be perfect at all times in a constantly changing world.”

“The value of research in assisting police officers and prosecutors in the challenges they face cannot be overstated,” said NIJ Director David Muhlhausen. “If we can identify the most formidable obstacles—the most serious and persistent problems they encounter every day—we can design our research agenda to meet those needs and ensure that scientific findings are a potent tool in developing policy and improving community safety.”

The report “Fostering Innovation in Response to Top Challenges in Law Enforcement” looks closely at the challenges around officer wellness, homing in on the need for early identification of and intervention for mental health issues and the importance of discerning sources of stress. The report also includes the need to determine the skills, abilities and experiences most useful in hiring police officers. Similarly, the report “Prosecutor Priorities, Challenges and Solutions” includes the leading challenge of staff recruitment and retention.

“State and local prosecutors across the country continue to contend with very high caseloads and comparatively lower salaries than practicing attorneys in other settings,” states the report.

Both groups see the pressing need to effectively use today’s burgeoning technology. Social media and body cameras, for example, are increasing sources for evidence. The challenge, especially when faced by staffing and funding limits, is to use this information in a timely and effective manner. The groups share concern for improved community relations, which is valuable in preventing and solving crimes. They also cite the need for effective technology to deal with cybercrime. These are just some of the issues detailed in the reports.

“Addressing these challenges,” states the Chiefs’ Panel’s report, “will take concerted and collective effort across the criminal justice community. … Stakeholders must be willing to consider substantial and systemic improvements to public safety and criminal justice.”

Officer wellness, prosecutor retention, effective technology, positive community relations and other issues raised in the reports all contribute to greater public safety. These measures are critical because they assist officers and prosecutors in more effectively reducing crime and getting the guilty off the streets.

The Chiefs’ and Prosecutors’ Panels, and their resulting reports, were funded by OJP’s National Institute of Justice and produced in partnership with the RAND Corporation, RTI International, Police Executive Research Forum and the University of Denver.

Cold Case Resolutions: More than One Clue

A latent thumbprint from the crime scene (inset) was matched to this IAFIS record. Federal Bureau of Investigation


​​I bring you this column out of my pure fascination with cold cases, forensics, police work, and all things mysterious. As an active duty Police Officer, I hold an interest in all cases especially those that bring justice to light in the end. The purpose of this column is to tell the story of how technology and forensics can play a key role in solving a case even if it has been cold for decades, giving hope to those who may be in the middle of a tough case that has lead to sleepless nights. I have been there, and have experienced the constant thought process of how a case could be solved, questioning what is missing and going over the evidence numerous times. I hope you find these cases as intriguing and motivating as I do.

Cold Case Resolutions #3: More than One Clue

October 17, 1978. Carroll Bonnet, an employee of Clarkson Hospital, in Omaha Nebraska, failed to show up for work two days in a row. Knowing Bonnet lived alone, a friend of contacted the manager of Bonnet’s apartment complex and asked him to check on his friend. After not receiving a response at the door, the manager peeked through the mail slot and observed Bonnet lying face down on the floor. Concerned for Bonnet’s health, the manager called for an ambulance. The Omaha Fire Department arrived at the scene and gained entry to the apartment. Upon entry they observed Carroll Bonnet, naked, face down, with a stab wound to his torso, deceased.

The Omaha Police Department arrived and secured the scene for investigators. The normally tidy apartment was in shambles, showing clear signs of a struggle. The telephone cord had been severed, seemingly in an effort to prevent Bonnet from calling for help. Newspapers were strewn about on the floor and coffee table, and three towels sat next to the victim. A note taunting police was found near the body. It read “I am leaving this crime with only one clue. Find it yourself Pig!!! Die Pig. -Helter”. Investigators collected, the note, the towels, cigarette butts, beer cans, the newspapers, as well as fingerprints and palm prints from various locations around the apartment. However, with all the evidence collected, there was still no certainty about the “one clue” mentioned in the note. It was also discovered Bonnet’s car was stolen. The car was found days later in Cicero, Illinois. Fingerprints were collected from the vehicle, with some belonging to Bonnet, and others unidentified. After processing the prints and finding no match, the case went cold.

In March of 2009, the Omaha Police Department Cold Case Unit re-evaluated the fingerprints from the Bonnet murder using the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, or IAFIS, to once again look for a match. IAFIS was launched by the FBI in 1999 and is designed to house and compare fingerprint data on a national level. Many states have their own AFIS, which are connected to the FBI’s integrated system. This allows vital information to be shared between state, local, and federal agencies, greatly improving the odds of identifying offenders. As any law enforcement officer knows, a great deal of the suspects they deal with are both transient, and repeat offenders. For example, with the IAFIS system, the car thief from several states away, just released from prison and on the move, can be quickly identified when he gets up to his old tricks in your jurisdiction. This system makes paramount the collection of fingerprints, not only to solve your cases, but solve past and future crimes as well.

The decades old unidentified fingerprints were matched in IAFIS to a man named Jerry Watson and the formerly cold case was assigned to Detective Douglas Herout to follow-up on the new lead. Detective Herout had several of the collected items tested for DNA, something which wasn’t an option for investigators in 1978. Detective Herout discovered Jerry Watson was serving prison time in Illinois for burglary charges. It was also uncovered Watson grew up in Cicero, lived a only a few blocks from where the stolen vehicle was found, and in the latter part of 1978, he visited a relative in Omaha. This places Watson in the proximity and time frame of the murder, however more would be needed for a conviction. Detective Herout traveled to Illinois to interview Watson in prison. Mr. Watson confessed to being in Omaha in 1978, however he denied committing the murder. Upon concluding the interview, Detective Herout obtained finger and palm prints from Watson, as well as DNA samples. Laboratory technicians were able to obtain full and partial DNA profiles from several pieces of evidence from the 1978 crime scene, and matched them to Watson. In addition to the fingerprints already matched in IAFIS, another palm print taken from the scene was matched to the palm prints taken by Detective Herout. With a mountain of evidence on their side, detectives were preparing to charge Watson for the murder, but the question remained; what was the “one clue”?

While looking through the items taken from the scene, Detective Herout noticed blue ink scribbled on one of the newspapers found near the body. The scribble was obscuring something written in cursive. Upon further examination, it became apparent the cursive writing was the signature “Jerry W.”. Now armed with what the murderer thought was the only clue the “Pigs” could find, the charges were imminent. On November 15, 2010 Jerry Watson was charged with use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony, and first degree murder. He was convicted by a jury on August 25 2011, and exactly 33 years after the murder, on October 17, 2011, Watson was sentenced to life in prison.

Watson would go on to appeal the conviction all the way to the Nebraska Supreme Court, arguing due to the three decade delay in prosecution, some key witnesses were unavailable, thus he was not able to confront these accusers as part of his defense. The Nebraska Supreme Court however, upheld the conviction, citing there was indeed sufficient evidence for a jury to convict Watson, thanks in no small part to IAFIS.

By Officer Brendan Rodela for Officer.com

Brendan Rodela has been a patrolman for the Ruidoso (NM) Police Department for over four years. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice as well as certification in Instructor Development. Officer Rodela is also part of the department’s drone deployment team.  

Data Sharing Benefits Law Enforcement Investigations

In a large suburb in Maricopa County, Arizona, officers rushed to a multi-victim shooting where the victims were left dying in the front yard and sidewalk of a quiet, upscale community. Detectives were unable to find third party witnesses, video footage from residential security systems, or investigative leads. The crime scene, although bloody, was surprisingly clean from other evidence. Detectives had little to go on besides bullets retrieved from the victim’s body, a handful of spent shell casings left at the scene, and a few recorded dying declarations from one unidentified victim who recently moved to Arizona from out-of-state.

When detectives have little evidence to go on, they often resort back to “old school” low-tech investigative techniques like contacting informants, speaking with neighbors and scavenging data management programs in hopes of finding a needle-in-the-haystack.

There are over 18,000 police agencies in America, and most of them do a poor job communicating and sharing information. However, over the last decade, police departments realize they cannot solve many crimes using data collected only by their agency. As a result, many police departments are improving the way they collect, manage and share information with other agencies, including the use of records management systems (RMS), data collection systems and federal partnerships.

In this shooting case, detectives used various techniques and discovered this case was linked to nearly a dozen different violent crimes, including aggravated assaults, robberies and homicides. More importantly, they were able to connect this case to a string of other violent cases throughout the Southwestern United States and as far east as Kansas.

Criminals are not restricted by agency or state jurisdictions, officers should not be either. This article will explore how agencies can use technology software, as well as federal partnerships, to solve and prosecute inter-jurisdictional violent crimes.

RECORDS MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS (RMS)

After tracking down few confidential reliable informants (CRIs) who had unsubstantiated information, detectives scoured their department’s RMS for any data that they could find to substantiate the CRI information in hopes of finding a potential suspect(s). Detectives found:

A civil traffic stop interview where an officer documented the driver and all passengers.
A call for service where an officer documented the driver and vehicle information.

Detectives were able to find a potential suspect, the rear passenger of contact #1. They also linked the suspect with the driver of contact #1. The driver of contact #1 was also the driver in contact #2, and the vehicle in contact #2 was the same vehicle seen by the CRI leaving the area of the shooting. Bingo. They now had reliable leads.

The key to any successful investigation is accurate, timely data collection and entry into the department’s RMS. Street officers collected and entered the information above the same day of the incident, which allowed detectives to find the information they needed when they needed it. Agencies should encourage officers to enter all officer contacts, including traffic stops and minor violations, into their agency’s RMS.

DATA COLLECTION SYSTEMS

Data collection systems are systems designed to compile information from individual agencies RMS, from across the country, into one easy to navigate, easy to use platform. These systems are also capable of gathering information from other programs like NIBIN, eTrace and ShotSpotter.

The purpose of data collection systems is to make finding inter-jurisdictional information quicker and easier.

Detectives dumped the information they found using their agency’s RMS into a different data collection system that was able to scour nearly a dozen agencies RMS programs. This is what they found:

The vehicle in contact #2 was linked to several armed robberies and one shooting in the Phoenix/Metro area.
(2) possible firearms
The driver of contact #2 was stopped and cited in the suspect car three times within 60 days
Two of the passengers from contact #1 were investigative leads in several arm robberies
The driver, passengers and suspect were linked to a violent gang
Valid phone numbers and addresses of suspects
Personal and next-of-kin information for the unidentified victim

From a simple search, detectives were finally able to see a clearer picture of what happened, why it happened, and who did it. But they still had a lot more work ahead.

FEDERAL PARTNERSHIP

Detectives, using the information collected using the data collection system, quickly realized that this case was connected to several out-of-state cases. These detectives were lucky to have federal agents from the DEA, FBI and ATF already assigned to their agency, which made information sharing and multi-agency collaboration easy. Federal agents, with guidance from state and local detectives, quickly assigned follow-up to non-Arizona field agents. Working together and as a team, detectives and agents were able to:

Definitively link the suspect as the shooter.
Positively ID the vehicle used in the shooting.
Positively ID the firearm used in the shooting.
Definitively link the firearm used in the shooting to several violent crimes in different states.
Classify the shooting as gang-related.

Active federal partnerships proved to be the key in this case, locking the suspect in as the shooter, documenting him as a violent gang member and closing the door on several unsolved violent crimes.

Detectives would not have been able to solve this case without accurate data collection and federal partnerships. Because this agency was diligent in training officers on how to collect and manage data, they were able to quickly find the information they needed to start the investigation. Agencies should focus on data collection for multi-agency use, and encourage officers to network with other local, state and federal agencies to form partnerships.

About the author

Joshua Lee is an active-duty police sergeant for the City of Mesa (Arizona) Police Department. Before promoting, Joshua served five years as a patrol officer and six years as a detective with the Organized Crime Section investigating civil asset forfeiture, white-​​collar financial crime and cryptocurrency crimes.

Joshua is a cryptocurrency, money laundering and dark web consultant for banks, financial institutions and accountants throughout Arizona. He also serves as one of Arizona’s subject matter experts on cryptocurrency crimes and money laundering.

Joshua holds a BA in Justice Studies, an MS in Legal Studies and an MA in Professional Writing. He has earned some of law enforcement’s top certifications, including the ACFE’s Certified Fraud Examiners (CFE) and the IAFC’s Certified Cyber Crimes Investigator (CCCI).

Joshua is also an adjunct professor at a large national university and smaller regional college teaching, law, criminal justice, government and English courses. He instructs police in-service training and teaches at the regional police academy.

DOJ Charges Unprecedented Number of Elder Fraud Defendants Nationwide and Launches Hotline

Attorney General William P. Barr, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, and Chief Postal Inspector Gary R. Barksdale today announced the largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in history.  This year, prosecutors charged more than 400 defendants, far surpassing the 260 defendants charged in cases as part of last year’s sweep.  In each case, offenders allegedly engaged in financial schemes that targeted or largely affected seniors.  In total, the charged elder fraud schemes caused alleged losses of over a billion dollars.

Attorney General Barr made the announcement at an event in Florida entitled “Keeping Seniors Safe,” which outlined his vision for protecting older Americans from financial harm.  The event focused special attention on the threat posed by foreign-based fraud schemes that victimize seniors in large numbers.  During the event, the Attorney General declared “Prevention and Disruption of Transnational Elder Fraud” to be an Agency Priority Goal, making it one of the Department’s four top priorities.

“Americans are fed up with the constant barrage of scams that maliciously target the elderly and other vulnerable citizens,” said Attorney General William P. Barr.  “This year, the Department of Justice prosecuted more than 400 defendants, whose schemes totaled more than a billion dollars.  I want to thank the men and women of the department’s Consumer Protection Branch, which coordinated this effort, and all those in the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and Criminal Division who worked tirelessly to bring these cases.  The department is committed to stopping the full range of criminal activities that exploit America’s seniors.”

“The charges announced today demonstrate the great success of the Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force to identify and stop those who are targeting our senior communities from overseas,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray.  “We’re committed to continuing our efforts to keep our elderly citizens safe, whether they’re being targeted door-to-door, over the phone, or online.”

“Every day, American consumers, particularly older Americans, receive offers that sound just too good to be true,” said Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale.  “Some come through the mail; others by telephone or the Internet.  These offers have one objective – to rob you of your hard-earned money.  Fraud costs Americans millions of dollars each year.  The good news is most frauds can be prevented.  It’s one of the few crimes in which potential victims can just say “No!”  So hold on to your money and report scams to Postal Inspectors.”

This interactive map provides state by state information on the elder fraud cases and education and prevention community outreach efforts highlighted by today’s sweep announcement.  

ELDER FRAUD HOTLINE

Attorney General Barr also announced the launch of a National Elder Fraud Hotline, which will provide services to seniors who may be victims of financial fraud.  The Hotline will be staffed by experienced case managers who can provide personalized support to callers.  Case managers will assist callers with reporting the suspected fraud to relevant agencies and by providing resources and referrals to other appropriate services as needed.  When applicable, case managers will complete a complaint form with the Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) for Internet-facilitated crimes and submit a consumer complaint to the Federal Trade Commission on behalf of the caller.  The Hotline’s toll free number is 833-FRAUD-11 (833-372-8311).

TRANSNATIONAL ELDER FRAUD STRIKE FORCE

The Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force prosecuted more than one quarter of the defendants charged as part of the announced sweep.  Established in June 2019, the Strike Force is composed of the department’s Consumer Protection Branch and six U.S. Attorneys’ Offices (Central District of California, Middle and Southern Districts of Florida, Northern District of Georgia, Eastern District of New York, Southern District of Texas), along with FBI special agents, Postal Inspectors, and numerous other law enforcement personnel.  Prosecutors in Strike Force districts brought cases against more than 140 sweep defendants.  FBI and the Postal Inspection Service served as lead agencies in the Strike Force and committed substantial investigative resources to pursuing elder fraud cases as part of Strike Force efforts.  The Strike Force has held dozens of meetings with industry, victim groups, and law enforcement at the federal, state, and local levels to identify the most harmful schemes victimizing American seniors and to bolster preventive measures against further losses.  

LAW ENFORCEMENT ACTIONS SWEPT FROM COAST TO COAST

U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in every federal district took part in the Elder Fraud Sweep announced today.  Many federal prosecuting offices filed cases against perpetrators and/or facilitators of elder fraud.  Others conducted outreach to law enforcement, community groups, seniors, or private industry.  Other U.S. Attorneys’ Offices demonstrated exceptional devotion to the cause of elder justice by both filing cases and conducting outreach.

For the second year, the Department of Justice and its law enforcement partners also took comprehensive action against the money mule network that facilitates foreign-based elder fraud.  Generally, perpetrators use a “money mule” to transfer fraud proceeds from a victim to ringleaders of fraud schemes who often reside in other countries.  Some of these money mules act unwittingly, and intervention can effectively end their involvement in the fraud.  The FBI and the Postal Inspection Service took action against over 600 alleged money mules nationwide by conducting interviews, issuing warning letters, and bringing civil and criminal cases.  Agents and prosecutors in more than 85 federal district participated in this effort to halt the money flow from victim to fraudster.  These actions against money mules were in addition to the criminal and civil cases announced as part of this year’s elder fraud sweep.

In addition to announcing the sweep cases, Attorney General Barr and others at the Keeping Seniors Safe event also thanked department personnel — especially the Elder Justice Coordinators app​​ointed in each U.S. Attorney’s Office — for conducting dozens of outreach events across the nation to warn seniors of fraud schemes and to engage with industry representatives and state and local authorities on fraud-prevention measures.  These outreach efforts have helped to prevent seniors from falling prey to scams and have frustrated offenders’ efforts to obtain even more money from vulnerable elders.

The charges announced today are allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

FBI Releases 2019 Internet Crime Report

Internet-enabled crimes and scams show no signs of letting up, according to data released by the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) in its 2019 Internet Crime Report. The last calendar year saw both the highest number of complaints and the highest dollar losses reported since the center was established in May 2000.

IC3 received 467,361 complaints in 2019—an average of nearly 1,300 every day—and recorded more than $3.5 billion in losses to individual and business victims. The most frequently reported complaints were phishing and similar ploys, non-payment/non-delivery scams, and extortion. The most financially costly complaints involved business email compromise, romance or confidence fraud, and spoofing, or mimicking the account of a person or vendor known to the victim to gather personal or financial information.

Donna Gregory, the chief of IC3, said that in 2019 the center didn’t see an uptick in new types of fraud but rather saw criminals deploying new tactics and techniques to carry out existing scams.

“Criminals are getting so sophisticated,” Gregory said. “It is getting harder and harder for victims to spot the red flags and tell real from fake.”

While email is still a common entry point, frauds are also beginning on text messages—a crime called smishing—or even fake websites—a tactic called pharming.

“You may get a text message that appears to be your bank asking you to verify information on your account,” said Gregory. “Or you may even search a service online and inadvertently end up on a fraudulent site that gathers your bank or credit card information.”

Individuals need to be extremely skeptical and double check everything, Gregory emphasized. “In the same way your bank and online accounts have started to require two-factor authentication—apply that to your life,” she said. “Verify requests in person or by phone, double check web and email addresses, and don’t follow the links provided in any messages.”

“Criminals are getting so sophisticated. It is getting harder and harder for victims to spot the red flags and tell real from fake.”

Shifts in Business Email Compromise

Business email compromise (BEC), or email account compromise, has been a major concern for years. In 2019, IC3 recorded 23,775 complaints about BEC, which resulted in more than $1.7 billion in losses.

These scams typically involve a criminal spoofing or mimicking a legitimate email address. For example, an individual will receive a message that appears to be from an executive within their company or a business with which an individual has a relationship. The email will request a payment, wire transfer, or gift card purchase that seems legitimate but actually funnels money directly to a criminal.

In the last year, IC3 reported seeing an increase in the number of BEC complaints related to the diversion of payroll funds. “In this type of scheme, a company’s human resources or payroll department receives an email appearing to be from an employee requesting to update their direct deposit information for the current pay period,” the report said. The change instead routes an employee’s paycheck to a criminal.

The Importance of Reporting

“Information reported to the IC3 plays a vital role in the FBI’s ability to understand our cyber adversaries and their motives, which, in turn, helps us to impose risks and consequences on those who break our laws and threaten our national security,” said Matt Gorham, assistant director of the FBI’s Cyber Division. “It is through these efforts we hope to build a safer and more secure cyber landscape.” Gorham encourages everyone to use IC3 and reach out to their local field office to report malicious activity.

Rapid reporting can help law enforcement stop fraudulent transactions before a victim loses the money for good. The FBI’s Recovery Asset Team was created to streamline communication with financial institutions and FBI field offices and is continuing to build on its success. The team successfully recovered more than $300 million for victims in 2019.

Besides stressing vigilance on the part of every connected citizen, the IC3’s Donna Gregory also stressed the importance of victims providing as much information as possible when they come to IC3. Victims should include every piece of information they have—any email addresses, account information they were given, phone numbers scammers called from, and other details. The more information IC3 can gather, the more it helps combat the criminals.

In 2019, the Recovery Asset Team was paired with the Money Mule Team under the IC3’s Recovery and Investigative Development Team. This effort brings together law enforcement and financial institutions to use the data provided in IC3 complaints to gain a better view of the networks and methods of cyber fraudsters and identify the perpetrators.

The new effort allowed IC3 to aggregate more than three years of reports to help build a case against an active group of criminals who were responsible for damaging crimes that ranged from cryptocurrency theft to online extortion. The ensuing investigation by the FBI’s San Francisco Field Office resulted in the arrest of three people.

Read the full 2019 Internet Crime Report. To stay up to date on common online scams and frauds or report a crime, visit ic3.gov.