FBI Slayings Show Risk Surveillance Cameras Pose to Law Enforcement

FBI agents console each other as they arrive at the Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office in Dania, Fla., after two FBI agents were killed and three wounded while trying to serve a search warrant in Broward County on Tuesday Feb. 2, 2021. (Susan Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)​

 

The child pornography suspect who gunned down two South Florida FBI agents this week somehow knew exactly when they were approaching his apartment.

Authorities are investigating whether he may have used his doorbell’s security camera to time his ambush, firing a high-powered rifle through the door as their team neared to search his home and computer.

That’s a danger police nationwide are facing: As outdoor surveillance cameras now protect about half of U.S. homes from criminals, the criminals are using them to get a jump on officers about to raid theirs. Some doorbell cameras even have motion sensors that alert owners when anyone comes within 100 feet (30 meters).

The cameras, combined with the military-style weaponry many criminals possess, leave law enforcement offers particularly vulnerable. In such situations, the house’s doors and walls offer no protection, noted Ed Davis, Boston’s police commissioner from 2006 to 2013.

“You take a military assault rifle and you add to that a surveillance system that allows (the suspect) to identify where officers are as they approach the house — you are a sitting duck,” Davis said.

The FBI says David Huber, a 55-year-old computer technician with no criminal record, gunned down agents Laura Schwartzenberger and Daniel Alfin and wounded three others. He then killed himself. The agency hasn’t said whether Huber’s camera had a motion detector, but that could explain why he was awaiting the agents Tuesday before dawn — an hour officers often pick for raids because the suspect is likely asleep.

“A child exploitation suspect, he is going to be on his toes all day long — he doesn’t want to get caught because he is going away for a long time,” said New York City Detective Robert Garland.

In the 1980s and ’90s, a home with outdoor surveillance cameras was often a sign the resident was a drug dealer or otherwise a criminal, according to Davis and retired SWAT officer David Thomas, now a criminal justice professor at Florida Gulf Coast University. A good system could cost thousands.

“They were the only ones who could afford it,” said Thomas, who worked for the Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Gainesville, Florida, police departments.

Davis said such cameras were so often an indication of criminality, some judges considered their presence when approving officers’ warrant requests.

The cameras were also large and hard to hide — officers could spot them during pre-raid surveillance and approached accordingly.

But today, a technically savvy person can install security cameras for a few hundred dollars and a good doorbell camera can be purchased for less than $200. Many cameras are small and easy to hide.

Thomas said police tactics often trail new technology and will need to be adjusted to deal with doorbell cameras and other home surveillance systems. He said departments may start having more warrants served by heavily armed tactical units and use diversions, such as breaking a side window before going to the door, to distract the suspect.

Departments might also ask judges to issue more “no-knock” warrants, which allow officers to break down the door immediately and without warning. That would fly in the face of growing calls in some cities to do away with such warrants after they have resulted in the deaths of innocent people.

It was while exercising a no-knock warrant that Louisville, Kentucky, police killed Breonna Taylor in her apartment 11 months ago, sparking nationwide protests.

“The issue is very complex, but the reality is there has to be something” for officers to protect themselves, Thomas said.

Davis said there are some countermeasures officers can take against surveillance cameras but they carry the risk of tipping off suspects, particularly when they believe a raid is imminent. Some police departments have devices that can jam the Bluetooth or other radio-wave systems some cameras use to send images to their monitor. And they can cut the home’s power, although many camera systems have battery backups.

Serving warrants has always been one of law enforcement’s most dangerous jobs, even before sophisticated home security cameras were commonplace. On the Grand Rapids SWAT team, Thomas was the door kicker — the officer who is directly in the line of fire if the suspect is waiting in ambush. He said the door is a particularly dangerous spot.

“You never know what is waiting on the other side,” he said.

Davis said the FBI will do a comprehensive report on the shooting. When other agencies receive it, they will pore over it so they can protect their own officers from gunmen with security cameras.

“It has to be reviewed — there are lessons to be learned from this terrible tragedy,” Davis said.

By Terry Spencer | Associated Press | Police1.com

FBI Releases 2019 NIBRS Crime Data

Today, the FBI released detailed data on nearly 7.7 million criminal offenses reported vi​​a the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) in 2019. The Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program’s latest report, NIBRS, 2019, presents data about victims, known offenders, and relationships for offenses reported in 23 categories with 52 offenses. It also presents arrest data for those crimes, as well as 10 additional categories for which only arrest data is collected.

Highlights of NIBRS, 2019

In 2019, 8,497 law enforcement agencies, whose jurisdictions covered more than 146.5 million U.S. inhabitants, submitted NIBRS data to the UCR Program. These agencies accounted for 51.3% of the 16,551 law enforcement agencies that submitted data to the UCR Program in 2019. The remaining agencies submitted their data to the program via the Summary Reporting System (SRS). NIBRS agencies reported 6,572,870 incidents involving 7,688,645 offenses, 8,116,849 victims, and 6,543,257 known offenders. In addition, these agencies reported 3,931,924 arrestees. (Currently, the FBI does not estimate for agencies that do not submit NIBRS data.)

Of the reported offenses, 59.6% were crimes against property, 24.6% were crimes against persons, and 15.8% were crimes against society. (Due to rounding, some percentage breakdowns may not add to 100%.) Among these categories, the offenses most reported include larceny/theft offenses, assault offenses, and drug/narcotic offenses, respectively.

Victims

Victim types, collected for all offenses reported via NIBRS, include individuals, businesses, institutions, or society as a whole. For 2019, the data regarding the 5,547,758 victims who were individuals reveal the following:

  • Of these victims, 23.6% were between 21 and 30 years old.
  • A little more than half (51%) were female, 48.2% were male, and the gender of 0.8% of victims was unknown.
  • Most victims (68%) were white; 23.3% were Black or African American, 1.9% were Asian, 0.7% were American Indian or Alaska Native, and 0.5% were Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. The race of 5.6% of victims was unknown.

Known Offenders

Law enforcement reported information about 6,543,257 known offenders, meaning some aspect of the suspect—such as age, gender, or race—was known.

  • Of these offenders, 38.4% were between 16 and 30 years of age.
  • By gender, most offenders (61.7%) were male, 25.4% were female, and gender for 12.9% was unknown.
  • By race, more than half (51.9%) of known offenders were white, 29.5% were Black or African American, and 2.2% were of other races. The race was unknown for 16.4% of reported known offenders.

Victim-to-Offender Relationships

Relationship data were captured for 1,888,491 victims of crimes against persons (e.g., murders, sex offenses, assault offenses) and robbery offenses, which are from the crimes against property category.

  • Just over half (50.4%) of the victims knew their offenders (or at least one offender when more than one was present) but did not have a familial relationship to them.
  • Approximately one quarter (24.4%) of the victims were related to their offenders (or at least one offender when more than one was present).
  • Of the remaining 25.1% of victims, the relationships to their offenders were categorized as strangers, mutual combatants (victim was offender), or unknown.

Arrestees

Law enforcement agencies submitted data to the UCR Program through incident reports and arrest reports for 3,931,924 arrestees.

  • Of these arrestees, 31.5% were 21 to 30 years of age.
  • By gender, 71.5% were male; and 28.5% were female.
  • By race, most arrestees (68.1%) were white, 26.4% were Black or African American, and 2.9% were of other races.
  • The race was unknown for 2.6% of arrestees.

Agency-level NIBRS Data

State offense tables present statistics for each agency that reported 12 months of NIBRS data in 2019. In addition, federal offense tables present statistics for each federal agency that reported 12 months of NIBRS data. The interactive NIBRS map on the home page of NIBRS, 2019, also provides agency-level data.

Availability of NIBRS Data

In addition to the annual NIBRS report, the UCR Program’s Crime Data Explorer (CDE) provides NIBRS data, including national- and state-level downloads. Users can also access the CDE to build customized tables and to view SRS data for 2019 and previous years by state.

Note: This edition of NIBRS and the previous annual reports released earlier this year are the final UCR crime data publications to be released in the traditional format on fbi.gov. Beginning January 1, 2021, UCR data will be released exclusively to the FBI’s CDE. The traditional publications for 2019 and previous years will remain on fbi.gov for the foreseeable future.

On January 1, 2021, the FBI will complete its transition to a NIBRS-only crime data collection. The original data collection, the SRS, will be decommissioned effective that day. Although the FBI will continue the long-running index on the CDE, data presentations will include more detailed data captured through NIBRS.