Archive | Law Enforcement

Articles on Race and Policing

A selection of articles I have written since 2015 about police killings and race in the Albany Times-Union, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Medium, The New York Times, Real Clear Policy, The Washington Post, and USA Today.

Albany Times Union

Cops & Community Bond Is Key

This past month saw several deadly encounters between police and unarmed civilians, including the highly controversial death in Minneapolis of Jamar Clark and the shooting by police in Opa-Locka, Fla., of Cornelius Brown. While there are, throughout the country, many points of serious disagreement between citizen protesters and police supporters, the death of Brown, as with the death of Donald “Dontay” Ivy in April in Albany, highlights one area on which agreement should be easy.

Fort Worth Star Telegram

Debtor’s Jails In Texas

The Texas judicial system has come under national scrutiny again, and the headlines aren’t good for our state’s image.
A Buzzfeed report’s headline blared last month, “Their Crime: Being Poor. Their Sentence: Jail.” As a Texas police officer, I’ve seen these sorts of stories play out firsthand. The real tragedy is that things don’t have to go that way if judges, prosecutors and, yes, police become more attuned to the financial circumstances of the people who get caught up in the legal system.


Take A 4 a.m. Rideout With Me

It’s 3:40 a.m. and you’re driving in the right lane, southbound on Broadway. You’re on patrol alone, and that makes sense — you work at one of the more than 93% of police agencies in America that employ fewer than 100 officers. About half employ fewer than 10. So backup is at least a couple of minutes away.

Crucial Criticism? Or Hit Job? The New York Times on Driving While Black

Today’s New York Times article, The Disproportionate Risks of Driving While Black, is either a highly important, 5700-word indictment of a corrupt and racist police department, or it is an irresponsible and scurrilous accusation against an entire department, plastered on the front page of the nation’s most widely circulated newspaper. The problem is, since the authors don’t share or summarize in any meaningful way the core data on which their report is based, or provide their methodology, we can’t know for sure until an independent analysis is performed. That, at a minimum, is poor journalism.

New York Times:

Bad Guys Win If Police Reject Protests

Thursday night in Dallas, a calm and peaceful protest was shattered by a brutal precision attack against officers at the scene. Just moments before, some of those same officers had been amiably chatting with young families and others in the diverse group of demonstrators.

Real Clear Policy

A Proactive Approach To Policing & Mental Health

Last year, 46 percent of the 153 unarmed civilians killed by police in the United States suffered from serious mental illness or acute narcotic intoxication or both. For comparison’s sake, consider that in 2009, 17 percent of those arrested on felony charges were female. Still, as a nation, we seem to think of both mental health and drug addiction as issues at the margins of our society.

Unarmed And Killed By Police: A Closer Look

Calls for a national police use-of-force database have reached the executive branch, with Attorney General Loretta Lynch endorsing the idea publicly last week. As practitioners in the world of law-enforcement technology and data, we at StreetCred Software applaud the idea. The wrongful death of a citizen at the hands of a police officer is among the gravest of crimes.

I’ve Seen The Opioid Epidemic As a Cop. Living It As a Patient Has Been Even Worse

A year ago, I woke in the night with pain so severe I was crying before I was fully aware what was going on. A 50-year-old cop sobbed like a child in the dark. It was a ruptured disc and related nerve damage. Within a couple of months, it became so severe that I could no longer walk or stand. An MRI later, my surgeon soothingly told me it would all be okay. He would take care of me; the pain would end. After surgery, I never saw that surgeon again. A nurse practitioner handed me a prescription for painkillers — 180 tablets, 90 each of oxycodone and hydrocodone.

Washington Post

The Low Hanging Fruit Of Police Reform

A little more than a year ago, my colleagues and I started the StreetCred Police Killings In Context data project. There were already several projects tracking police shootings, including Fatal Encounters, and new projects at The Washington Post and the Guardian. But we felt that they left out crucial context. Why did the police become involved in these incidents in the first place? Was their use of force something that most people would consider reasonable, such as the police response after Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez opened fire on military personnel at a Chattanooga, Tenn., recruiting station? Or was it unreasonable, as with the shameful killing of Walter Scott?

Forget New Gun Laws: Here’s What Could Really Keep People From Shooting Each Other

In Dallas this week, President Obama spoke movingly of the five officers killed after a protest. The president spoke beautifully of these officers’ acts of service, charity and good will, and he honored how bravely they placed themselves between a gunman and the people who had come to defend their constitutional rights. Then, while discussing the increased burdens placed upon officers by our society, the president said that in some neighborhoods it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than a book. That line was uttered in the context of the burdens facing police, but many of the officers watching were taken aback: Although we had lost five brothers, Texas law enforcement had never blamed the gun.

How tracking Police Data by Race Can Make Unfair Laws Look Like The Cops’ Fault

The Black Lives Matter movement and the recent focus in the media on how police interact with citizens of different races has helped engage Americans in an important conversation about how law enforcement works. Study after study has found that black drivers are more likely to be stopped and arrested than whites. But a closer look at some statistics shows that the problem is not necessarily an issue of racist cops, and that means fixing the criminal justice system isn’t just an issue of addressing racism in uniform.

Just Counting People Killed by Police Won’t Fix Problems: We Need Better Data

With Peter Moskos
In the past two years, deaths at the hands of police officers sparked protests, riots and a national conversation about how law enforcement uses force. That conversation would be a lot more productive, though, if data on police-involved fatalities were more reliable.

USA Today

Texas’ newly signed Sandra Bland Act sets example for rest of the nation

With Colt Remington
On Thursday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the state’s Sandra Bland Act, named after the black woman who was found dead in a Waller County jail cell, into law. The state’s new law requires jailers to immediately determine whether inmates suffer from mental illness and divert those who do to a mental health facility. That’s what should have happened to Bland, and that action could very well have saved her life. Texas’ new law sets an example the rest of the country should follow.

Body cameras can’t solve all our problems

Putting a camera on every law enforcement officer – along with storing and securing millions of hours of video – could be the most expensive law enforcement initiative since installing two-way radios in patrol cars. Before rushing headlong into an age of ubiquitous police cameras, there should be some consensus on a question of equal interest to everyone from Black Lives Matter to Blue Lives Matter: What do we want cameras to accomplish?


Investigating Internet Crimes

Written by experts on the frontlines, Investigating Internet Crimes provides seasoned and new investigators with the background and tools they need to investigate crime occurring in the online world. This invaluable guide provides step-by-step instructions for investigating Internet crimes, including locating, interpreting, understanding, collecting, and documenting online electronic evidence to benefit investigations.

investigating_internet_crimesThis year I served as technical editor for this excellent book by Todd Shipley and Art Bowker. Cybercrime is the fastest growing area of crime as more criminals seek to exploit the speed, convenience and anonymity that the Internet provides to commit a diverse range of criminal activities. Today’s online crime includes attacks against computer data and systems, identity theft, distribution of child pornography, penetration of online financial services, using social networks to commit crimes, and the deployment of viruses, botnets, and email scams such as phishing. Symantec’s 2012 Norton Cybercrime Report stated that the world spent an estimated $110 billion to combat cybercrime, an average of nearly $200 per victim.

Law enforcement agencies and corporate security officers around the world with the responsibility for enforcing, investigating and prosecuting cybercrime are overwhelmed, not only by the sheer number of crimes being committed but by a lack of adequate training material. This book provides that fundamental knowledge, including how to properly collect and document online evidence, trace IP addresses, and work undercover.

  • Provides step-by-step instructions on how to investigate crimes online
  • Covers how new software tools can assist in online investigations
  • Discusses how to track down, interpret, and understand online electronic evidence to benefit investigations
  • Details guidelines for collecting and documenting online evidence that can be presented in court

Headhunters Down Under

kontrollerThe team of plainclothes agents moves in, and takes position. The suspect is in the corner, the gentleman with the pierced face, shaved head, tattoos and a scuffed leather jacket. He is almost 2 meters tall.I’ve seen this kind of thing before, riding shotgun with cops in New York and St Petersburg, but Munich’s kopfgeldjaeger, “head-hunters”, are different. They’re despised and mocked: I met one who’d appeared on a TV talk show as having one of the, “worst jobs in Munich”.

But the MVV Transit Ticket Controllers I met are, for all the world, a bunch of pussycats.

“It’s a game,” says Wolfy, amiable team leader of this 8-person crew which prowls the city’s public transport system in search of scofflaws. “They see us coming, and we see them see us coming.”

It certainly appears that way during the afternoon I spent sniffing out crime with them aboard Munich’s subways and trams. The affability of this group was was something of a let-down. I’d somehow expected (as had my editor, who also had hoped for tales of terror from below) that these folks would would be a right hard bunch.

Maybe they’re friendly because they’re hardly necessary: of almost 300 million riders last year on the Munich underground, only a paltry 3% to 5% actually ride “black”, or without a validated ticket. Those who do risk a fine of DM60 – money the MVV, Munich’s Mass Transit System, says you’d be better off spending on beer.

There’s really no “black riding” culture here as exists other cities like Amsterdam, where rider’s groups defy the law en masse. In Munich, most cough up. So relaxed was the control team I rode with that they told me I could say anything I wanted to about their methods, patrol tactics and procedures.

The Basics
Your chances of getting caught, and the patrol schedule, change like the wind. But one static figure is that there are 22 teams of eight agents on staff at the MVV.

They’re not cops – indeed their powers of arrest are identical to yours as a citizen. But they have the power to inspect your ticket, and issue fines. They can hold you until police arrive if you’re recalcitrant or they don’t believe you’ll pay (thoughfully, though, if you live in Germany, a bill will arrive at your house).

The Day
I met the team at the Hauptbahnhof, the central railway station, under which their headquarters is located behind one of those mammoth steel doors you pass daily and never notice. As we boarded the U4 Wolfi and I chatted about statistics and the risks.

“Most people are polite,” he said. “It’s not really a dangerous job. And people know who we are – you see five or eight people standing clustered on the platform talking, and carrying no bags, you figure they’re us – and you’re right.”

Sometimes teams lurk at the top of the stairs to the subway, doing “border checks” to nab passengers alighting from the U-Bahn.

One thing these folks have done is heard it all. There’s little you can say to them that’s not been tried before, probably tried in the last hour. For the record, the most commonly used excuse is, “The machine was out of order,” followed closely by “I lost my ticket”, both of which go over about as effectively as the old yarn involving your homework and your dog.

These are, however, reasonable folks. “We understand that this is a difficult system for foreigners to grasp,” says Gaby, a 20-year veteran and another huggably amiable – when she’s not asking for your ticket – agent. “If people don’t understand and we believe they tried to, we’ll give them a break.”

But mess with them and you’re in for it. “If we don’t believe you,” says Wolfi, “we’ll fine you, and if we think you won’t pay we’ll hold you for the police. A mistake is a mistake, but ‘paying’ is international.”

And don’t try the old “I-don’t-speak-German” dodge – all teams have an English speaker and many a French speaker, and all are armed with Wolfi’s custom-made chart which gives you the bad news in languages from Czech to Spanish, and Italian to Serbo-Croat.

We board another train, and the doors close. Instantly all scatter, whipping out their ID cards like Kojak at a raid, their presence going over like, well, Kojak at a raid.

The skinhead I discussed earlier bristled, and I thought we were in for some action.

“You got me,” he says, smiling.

Willi, the rookie of the group with just a year on the job (and the subject of that episode of the Sabrina show) tickets the perp, who politely hands over all documents requested and signs on the dotted line.

When it was over, the skinhead says something which convinces me the rest of my day is to be rather dull. He says, “Thank you.”

Desperate for some action, I tried one last question: “Do people ever run?”

“Sometimes,” said Wolfi.

Ah ha! “So, do you give chase?” I asked, breathlessly.


Announcing Police-Led

Hi, everyone,

This is to announce the formation and “soft launch” of a new, non-commercial blog and podcast called Police-Led Intelligence. There’s only a handful of postings up now, but it’s growing. It covers issues of cyber intelligence, intelligence and law enforcement technology.

We hope to make the topics beefy and pragmatic enough to give analysts a source of ideas and discussion fodder, and interesting enough to draw the attention of command staff and even some cops – we’re involving cops and ex-cops/current researchers and analysts from day one.

It’s at:

I’m an IACA member (speaking at the conference in Vancouver), an analyst and rookie, just-sworn officer in the Dallas Fort Worth area; my partner in the blog is Dave, a 15-year veteran sergeant and detective in the same region. We’re trying to blend our two worlds through topics of mutual interest (the About page on the site tells the story).

The site is advertiser-free. We do exchange links, but not money, with other similarly themed sites. Guests are not permitted to sell anything on the podcast, and must disclose when they have commercial interest in a method or product (it hasn’t happened yet, and we’ve recorded eight).

In the first podcasts, up now, we talk with:

  • Andy Ellis, chief security architect at Akamai Technologies (which handles about 20% of the Internet’s traffic each day) about ways the private sector works to share intelligence and threat information with law enforcement and other private organizations, and the challenges of deciding what to share;
  • Eric Olson, vice president of commercial intelligence firm Cyveillance to discuss ways in which analysts can seek at low cost to reduce the volume of data they consider for analysis by considering new ways to sort out the data they can NOT look at;

And (we hope) to interest cops and non-technical staff:

  • Rik Ferguson, director of security research for anti-virus firm Trend Micro, who gives us a Cyber Crime 101 primer: how do criminals make money with malicious software, how does malicious software work, and what does it target? And if someone were to launch a cyber attack against a police officer or agency, how would a criminal go about it – step by step.
  • Already recorded and rolling out in the coming weeks are more podcast episodes including:

  • Ex-cop Michael Vallez and ex-Microsoft and US DOE researcher Aaron Turner on mobile security for police agencies and the top five mobile apps every cop should have;
  • Ex-cop and current security researcher Alex Cox on gathering digital forensics at companies which have been the targets of a computer breach;
  • White hat social engineer Mike Murray on phishing, spear-phishing and other con-games, and how to defend against and investigate them;
  • Former US Marine intelligence analyst, co-author of “Cybercrime and Espionage: An Analysis of Subversive Multi-Vector Threats” and current HP-TippingPoint executive Will Gragido on intelligence and information management strategy; and
  • Dave and me talking about why people think that cops hate technology when what they really mean is that cops hate technology that looks to solve problems they didn92t know they had, as opposed to processes which drive them crazy.

    We’re seeking contributors and people to interview for the podcast. We pay what it costs you to read and listen: nothing!

    Let us know what you think!

    Nick Selby

  • Response to Errata Posting

    Recently, Rob Graham wrote a blog post, Errata Security: White-hats are on the side of law, but not order, in which he called my belief that some white hat hackers would support law enforcement a “misapprehension”. Here’s my reply:


    You’re generally right about the attitude of law enforcement, and it is highly short-sighted on their part that they act like this. Another absurdity is that smoking marijuana – and I mean, having smoked literally a joint in the past five years – is enough to disqualify one from getting a job as an officer. I know more than one good police candidate who has been disqualified from agencies because of that, or because they took an unprescribed prescription tablet in the past few years.

    It is ultra-moronic and self-defeating.

    Interestingly, this is changing. in my post to the Daily Dave asking for volunteers for the LE training, I stated:

    “Your background must be clean and stand up to a law enforcement check. This typically means that you’re precluded from performing this work if you’ve been convicted of a felony or any drug charge, and misdemeanors in the past five years, but specifics vary. Basically, understand that if your arrest record is clear and especially if you have experience in law enforcement at the local, state, tribal or federal level, you’re good to go, and if not, well, not.”

    Note the words “typically” and “basically”. In fact, the agency and division that is seeking the help is in this case much more open-minded. They have looked at volunteers with criminal records recently with open arms.

    As to your statement that “we white hats oppose law enforcement”, the response to that post was sufficient to challenge it. I’m not saying that no white hats feel as you do, I’m saying you’re not speaking for all white hats. Not all white hats dig the fuzz. Not all cops are closed-minded assholes. I don’t think that there’s enough of a majority here to make this anything other than you don’t want to work with cops because some cops have been closed-minded with you.

    Which I respect. I personally have gone the other way: the closed-minded cops act the way they do because they don’t understand computer crime, and they are scared. No one likes to not understand something. In the case of cops, it challenges their feelings of self-worth. So the less talented, less intelligent, more cynical flavor – which you and I agree are the minority – have a kneejerk reaction and close themselves off.

    I’m not going to let them do that to me because it is too important. I am going to continue to be ridiculed and mocked and dismissed by people like your FBI guys. I am going to continue to offer my help and put myself literally in harm’s way because I believe that our society needs cops to transition to defense against cyber, not just physical-world crime.

    And let me say this: not all cops are passive when officers break the law. Not any of the ones I know. Even in my short career in law enforcement, I have personally not been in the slightest bit passive.

    Your piece is an important part of getting cops to realize that they must take help from subject matter experts, no matter how uncomfortable the subject in which they’re expert may make them.

    A Pornographer Plumbs the Depths of What is ‘Reasonable’

    A decision in the US Court of Appeals, Ninth District in the case of United States V Borowy1, addresses the issue of the expectation of privacy in communications. I’m so not a lawyer, but as a security consultant I am someone with a vested interest in understanding privacy, so I find some of the language the court used to be very interesting. And when I consulted a good friend, a lawyer (who IS a lawyer), he said, “If it comes from the Ninth Circuit, it’s solid.”

    Mr Charles Borowy is a child pornographer who installed the file-sharing program LimeWire on his computer. As a feature, LimeWire made his hard drive available to anyone with LimeWire. On May 3, 2007, and one such person was FBI Special Agent Byron Mitchell, who logged onto LimeWire to monitor trafficking in child pornography. According to the opinion, Agent Mitchell searched LimeWire for the term “Lolitaguy,” a term known to be associated with child pornography. After getting hits on that phrase from Borowy’s computer, using LimeWire’s “View-files-on-this-host” feature, Agent Mitchell saw about 240 files that his FBI software identified as being known child pornography.

    Using that as probable cause, Agent Mitchell, still using LimeWire’s out-of-the-box functions, downloaded copies of files from Borowy’s computer, confirmed that they were child pornography and Borowy was arrested. Later it was discovered that Borowy had more than 600 images and 75 videos of child pornography.

    Did the FBI violate Borowy’s privacy? Do people have a reasonable expectation of privacy on their computer when they connect it to the Internet?

    I say that not only didn’t the FBI violate Borowy’s privacy, but also that Borowy was a) literally and figuratively publishing his files for the world to see and b) an idiot2.

    In a passage of the decision upholding the actions of the FBI and affirming that it acted properly and not in violation of Borowy’s fourth amendment rights, the court says that the earlier decision in US v Ganoe was spot on:

    “Under Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967), government conduct qualifies as a search only if it violates a reasonable expectation of privacy. Whether Agent Mitchell engaged in an unconstitutional search and seizure is largely controlled by United States v. Ganoe, 538 F.3d 1117, 1127 (9th Cir. 2008), cert. denied, 129 S.Ct. 2037 (2009), which held that the defendant92s expectation of privacy in his personal computer could not “survive [his] decision to install and use file-sharing software, thereby opening his computer to anyone else with the same freely available program.”(US Court of Appeals, 2010)

    The last sentence of that passage is absolutely crucial in inferring the attitude of the court towards privacy in the Internet era. It says that the moment I install software that opens my computer to anyone else with the same freely available program, I give up my expectation of privacy. Later the Borowy ruling raises “Cf. California v. Ciraolo, 476 U.S. 207, 213-14 (1986) (finding the use of an aircraft to observe marijuana plants was not a Fourth Amendment search as it only revealed information accessible to any member of the public flying in the airspace).”

    I would say that unencrypted Internet email will, in the next five years, be found to be analagous to the marijuana nursery, and outside the scope of fourth amendment protection or indeed any reasonable expectation of privacy. When users sign up for Gmail or Hotmail they understand (or should) that Google and Microsoft are mining the contents of their messages for a range of things, including what they say (for the purpose of placing ads within the messages, etc) and with whom they communicate (for the purpose of determining networks of people to whom they will eventually target ads, etc) and myriad other reasons. Users expect no privacy from Google or Microsoft, but they somehow cling to the concept that, once they hit, “send”, the message is protectively wrapped on the way to the intended recipient. Without getting into too many technical details, this is to say the least a charmingly naive concept. Email sent in plan text can be monitored, viewed, copied and is stored all along its multitudinous pathways from sender to recipient.

    I’ll make a statement as a published and widely quoted information security person: it is a trivial matter to intercept and read unencrypted email using freely available programs. If I did so, I would expect that a court would find, as did the Ninth Circuit, that someone who sued me for doing so had given up their expectation of privacy when they decided to use software that opened their communications to anyone using freely available tools to intercept it.

    Should this understanding signal a change of attitude? Bruce Schneier seems to think so – last March he wrote on his blog:

    Between the NSA’s massive internet eavesdropping program and Gmail’s content-dependent advertising, does anyone actually expect their e-mail to be private? Between calls for ISPs to retain user data and companies serving content-dependent web ads, does anyone expect their web browsing to be private? Between the various computer-infecting malware, and world governments increasingly demanding to see laptop data at borders, hard drives are barely private. I certainly don’t believe that my SMSes, any of my telephone data, or anything I say on LiveJournal or Facebook – regardless of the privacy settings – is private.

    I would say that with this opinion, the court is further clarifying the judicial attitude towards what is reasonable of a contemporary person to expect in the way of privacy when he lives a life enriched by Internet-based communication between computers. I don’t think that this means that the US system of government as we know it is at risk of collapse – but I do think that it further strengthens the argument that an unencrypted communication across the public Internet is analogous to a conversation on a crowded street corner. And as such, there should be no expectation of privacy.

    [1] (United States. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit. 2010. [Online] United States v Charles A Borowy. [Available: here])

    [2] Within the case, see below, Borowy claims to have tried and failed to make private his hard drive in a number of dumb ways. He tried to claim that because he tried to make it private it should have remained private. The court found that as funny as I did.