The Use (and Misuse) of Confidential Informants
Published on September 30, 2012 by Sara Foss

I just read the September New Yorker piece about the rising use of young, untrained confidential informants by law enforcement.

Anyway, this is a piece that's very much worth reading. I hadn't given the issue of confidential informants a moment's thought, and Sarah Stillman's reporting really opened my eyes to a growing problem. Too many CIs appear to be turning up dead, leaving behind grieving families with unanswered questions.


The World's Deadliest City
Published on August 14, 2012 by Sara Foss

At Gawker, Cord Jefferson writes about Chicago, which is on track to have 504 homicide victims by the end of 2012. He wonders why this high rate of violence doesn't get more attention - why mass shootings such as the one in Aurora, Colo., inspire a level of handwringing and discussion that the everyday and extreme violence of Chicago does not.

He writes:

"Maybe if everyone killed annually by guns in Chicago was executed at the same time on Wrigley Field, the world might decide to pay attention. Life, for whatever reason, seems to be valued more when a lot of it is snatched away unfairly all at once. Also possible, and far more chilling, is that maybe people don't think it's so unfair for young black people to get killed in Chicago's ghettoes."

Click here to read the whole thing.

The 11-Year-Old Criminal Mastermind
Published on February 14, 2012 by Sara Foss

Courtesy of the Albany Times Union comes an entertaining-yet-sad story about an 11-year-old kid who has been arrested twice in the past month, first for breaking into a local frame shop and stealing money from the register, and now for stealing a car and driving it ten miles.

Here's an excerpt:

"Sunday's incident was the boy's second felony arrest in 15 days.

The fifth grader, a wiry 5-foot-4, 120-pound child who police say looks older than 11, was arrested on Jan. 28 for allegedly breaking into a frame shop in Center Square and nearby parked cars.

'It's not like he's 16, or 15, or even 14,' Lavin said. 'And he would seem to be going from bad to worse.'

In both cases, police said the boy acted more like a seasoned criminal than a child more than three years away from his first day of high school."

This story prompted me to reflect upon the bad things I did in the fifth grade. Here's what I came up with: Occasionally I snuck onto the school grounds through the alleyway, which wasn't allowed, and I also enjoyed climbing up to the roof of the school. And that's it. I was a pretty good kid in the fifth grade.

The one advantage of becoming a criminal mastermind when you're 11 is that you have plenty of time to turn your life around. As much as I enjoy stories about 11-year-old thieves, I'm hoping Albany's budding young criminal gets his act together.

It's OK To Be Angry If Someone Mugs You, Part II
Published on December 1, 2011 by Sara Foss

This charming story about a mugging victim who offered to give his mugger his coat and bought him dinner has been making the rounds.

People react to being mugged in a variety of ways. For instance, when I was mugged, I became very calm. The friend who was with me became tearful and panicked. You just never know how you'll respond to having a gun pointed at your head until it actually happens, or how you'll feel about it days, weeks, months, or even years later.

Perhaps this is why the headline attached to the charming story - "A Victim Treats His Mugger Right" - irritates me so much. After I was mugged, I decided to call the police and file a report. Is that the wrong way to treat a violent criminal who holds a gun to your head and steals your wallet? No, it is not. Now, if someone feels like being magnanimous and buying their mugger dinner, I won't stop them. To each his own. But other courses of action are perfectly appropriate, and I don't ever think, "Oh, maybe I should have been more like Jesus, and taken that guy to the Waffle House for pancakes and some simple human charity." Of course, the idea of spending any time alone with my mugger would have scared me half to death. Perhaps because he accosted me on a dark street, forced me to lie down on a lawn and held a gun to my head!

On Facebook, people seem charmed by the charming story. And it is charming. But every time I see a positive comment about the story, I wonder if the person making it has ever been mugged. In my opinion, only people who have been mugged have any real sense of what the "right" reaction is, and they know better than anyone that you have very little control over how you react to something like that. Until I was mugged, I had no idea how I would react to something like that. And if I'm ever mugged again, I have no idea whether I would react the same way. I really don't.

Click here for my previous thoughts on this topic, about how it's OK to be angry if someone mugs you.



It's OK To Be Angry If Someone Mugs You
Published on September 26, 2011 by Sara Foss

Blogger Matthew Yglesias flags some interesting comments made by an assault victim in an article in the Washington Post.

The victim, who was attacked and beaten up by ten teenagers, claimed he wasn't angry at his assailants, and that instead he felt sympathy for them. "I don’t want to be angry with them,” [the victim] said. “It just concerns me that their future is being taken away from them, by them, so early. ... I’ve already got the bruises and stuff. I want to put a message out that we hear you. . . . We don’t want you to be out here robbing people and hurting people to displace your anger, or to feel that this is what you need to do to get food on the table, or to get the help and attention that you deserve, or to have a bond by attacking people together.”

Yglesias, who has been mugged himself, thinks this is a dumb reaction. In a brief post, he writes, "When I read this story, I related to it. I myself suffered a random street assault over the summer, and it’s happened to plenty of other people who I know as well. But the flipside of this is that I’ve lived in DC for eight years and the number of times I’ve walked past poor young black dudes who didn’t punch me in the head for no reason clearly outweighs the one time that did happen. When people sort of vaguely gesture toward social problems as the root cause of sociopathic violence, they’re really erasing that vast majority of people who grow up in sometimes troubled situations and don’t respond by assaulting strangers. Erasing the line between people who are doing bad things and those who aren’t doesn’t really help anyone."

I, too, have been mugged, and I'd like to echo this sentiment. And I'd like to go a step further, and say that it's perfectly all right to be furious with the person who mugged you, and fantasize about punching them in the face and making them experience a small measure of the fear and pain that you did. Now, do I think this would be a better world if all crime victims were given the opportunity to physically harm their perpetrators, and took advantage of it? No, I don't, because I believe in due process and the law. But I think it's very human to feel this way, that there's no reason to make excuses for violent criminals and that if someone attacks you, you're well within your rights to be mad about it and hold a grudge.

New Hampshire's Most Wanted
Published on August 14, 2011 by Sara Foss

Being from New Hampshire, I was interested to read this Boston Globe article about the state's most wanted criminal.

Named John William McGrath, the Newport native was sentenced to life in a mental hospital after murdering his family, but vanished 37 years ago, after gaining a reputation as a math whiz, painter and avid writer at New Hampshire Hospital.

Here's an excerpt from the article, which is pretty interesting:

“'He could be in a pauper’s grave in Cleveland, Ohio, or a popular businessman in California, or anywhere in between,’ said Lieutenant Barry Hunter of the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department, who as a state trooper in 1984 embarked on a quest to capture McGrath. 'The fact of the matter is, we don’t have any idea where John is.'

The search for McGrath has stretched from coast to coast, to spots as far flung as Delmar, N.Y., Sacramento, and London, Ky. Hunter has investigated unidentified bodies in morgues, but the hunt continues because something is always off - dental records don’t match; the age, weight, or height is wrong; the hair color a shade off.

Since he walked off the hospital grounds, there has not been a single, solid lead about the location of McGrath, who has remained on the run longer than any other escapee in New Hampshire history. And because his crime and escape happened long before DNA analysis became a standard feature of police work - and because no close kin remain - investigators say they do not have tools that would aid a modern-day investigation."