Category Archives: Crimiinology

Veterinary Forensics Conference, Day 3

Third and last day of the conference. It’s bittersweet at the end of these events. I’m sad to leave a community of colleagues all passionate about the same things, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a part of it and happy that I leave with a brain full of information and new insights. When I’m faced with professional adversity I will try to keep the memories of the good feelings I had at the conference with me.

The morning of the third day a woman from the US War Dogs Association spoke to us about the organization and their efforts to secure medals of honor and memorials for the fallen canine officers. It was very moving. Following this, a pathologist from the medical examiner’s office presented on animals involved in some of the cases she has worked – VERY graphic pictures but equally interesting – did you know that Miami-Dade County experiences the most horse slaughter in the country?

Dr. Randy Lockwood from the ASPCA gave an extremely heart-wrenching talk regarding Phoenix – a dog who was doused in gasoline and set on fire by two brothers in Baltimore. Dr. Lockwood was called to consult on the case. I was in tears as he described the incident – how there was surveillance video of two boys (they were not yet 18-years-old at the time of the incident) kicking a dog who approached them in an alley, then leading the dog somewhere off camera; a few minutes later the video showed the same boys running out of the alley, followed by a dog running, engulfed in flames. A Baltimore police officer on routine patrol had the decency to stop, put out the fire, and take the dog for emergency medical treatment. She called for other officers to come process the scene but NO ONE responded – not for a week. In that time all evidence had been compromised. The gas can was collected, but it had been sitting in the rain for a week. Dog feces was found in an abandoned house the brothers were known to frequent, but samples were not taken to compare to Phoenix, so no connection between the boys and the dog could be established. No one at the hospital where the dog was treated saved the towel she came in with for accelerant testing. No hair samples were collected. The collar on the dog was saved but it was not preserved in a non-reactive metal container that would keep the gasoline from degrading. Interviews with witnesses were futile, as Baltimore has a well-known “stop snitchin'” attitude and an extreme reluctance to cooperate with police. Phoenix was euthanized due to the severity of her injuries after a valiant fight, and the boys were remanded into adult court.

Phoenix

As many people now know, fire-setting and animal abuse have long been established as two major precursors to even more serious crimes and interpersonal violence.  During trial, the lack of sufficient evidence was the downfall of the case. The defense witnesses cast doubt on everything – the video surveillance, the arson evidence… the jury ended up in a deadlock and the defendants were released. They were retried recently and found not guilty. It took only an hour to decide, after almost 20 hours of deliberation at the first trial. News reports said the second jury was visibly disinterested, often seen laughing or even sleeping. There were issues with evidence and testimony being barred. In short, it went horribly wrong. Interestingly, a bit of poetic justice: both boys have been arrested and thrown in jail on other charges since the first trial, including drug possession, burglary, and attempted murder. But, as Dr. Lockwood said, Phoenix did not die in vain: an anti-animal cruelty task force has been established in Baltimore. Billboards have gone up. Awareness has increased. Some good has come of it. But the sickness in the pit of my stomach even as I write this remains strong. This is why I continue to be interested in increasing the knowledge of proper forensic techniques for those involved in animal cruelty cases.

Finally, Diane Balkin spoke again, this time on search and seizure and proper execution of warrants. She told us of an interesting case in which a weapon was found in a trash can that was located right outside a suspect’s house. The trash can was not included in the warrant and so the weapon could not be seized as evidence because of the concept of curtilage, which describes the area immediately surrounding a house including associated structures where a homeowner has a reasonable expectation of privacy. It could have been seized if the warrant included the trash cans, or if the cans had been moved to the curb for pick up, as this would have made them “abandoned” property. Interesting. I love law and should have been an attorney.

Now, it is back home and back to reality. I am sad my time at the conference is over but glad for all of the new information. It is always a comfortable bubble of support at these conferences, but it bursts fairly harshly when I am home and on my own. But let’s see if I can make something happen here.

Thank you so much to IVFSA for all of your hard work and for inspiring me to continue the fight!

Here are some more photos of my time in South Beach – enjoy!

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An Iconic Species at Risk, Part I

(Photo courtesy of detlaphiltdic.blogspot.com)

Did you know that there are fewer than 3500 tigers remaining in the world? In 1900 there were 100,000 tigers across Asia. Many factors have contributed to their decimation, like increasing human/animal conflict and habitat loss, but most recently poaching is the main reason for their frighteningly scarce numbers. Can you imagine a world without them? Or without some of the other amazing creatures that share their home in Asia, like elephants? I would suggest you try to wrap your mind around that possibility, because it is a very real one. But there are efforts underway to stop the loss of tigers and other species, some that involve forensic science at its best.

A fantastic video about tiger poaching can be watched here: Hunt for the Tiger Slayers

If you don’t want to watch it (although I strongly suggest you do; it’s relatively short and very informative) I’ve summarized it below.

In 2010, researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) found themselves face to face with tiger poachers while they were setting up camera traps in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in Thailand. The poachers fled, but left behind them horrible destruction in the form of a tigress and her cubs, poisoned.   According to WCS, tigers are “poached for their skin, bone, teeth, and claws, and the slaughter of even one or two breeding females could have a terrible impact on the population; the poaching gangs can be so ruthless that they often kill elephants for their tusks, and then poison and leave behind the carcass for tigers to feed on”. Two very lucrative birds with one stone.

In this case, a composite sketch was developed by the Thai police. Anti-poaching efforts were increased in the form of 40 new rangers trained to combat the illegal wildlife trade. That summer there were several armed conflicts between the rangers and the poachers, eventually leading to the capture of the same poachers believed responsible for the deaths of the tigress and her cubs. Evidence in the form of photos found on the poachers’ confiscated cell phones shows them proudly displaying the tigers they had killed.

One of the cell phone images that convicted the poachers (photo courtesy of here-we-roar.org)

The poachers argued that the tigers in the photos were from unprotected areas, and thus could not be used to prosecute them. But when one of their cell phone pictures was compared to a photo of a tiger captured by WCS’s camera traps that had later been found dead, a match was confirmed.

“Tiger stripes are like fingerprints, and researchers used them to confirm a positive ID; charged with the deaths of four tigers, the two poachers face a lengthy time away, but unfortunately the demand remains,” (WCS, 2011).

While doing research for this post I also came across a great article on this issue; you can read it here:  http://missinterpreting.com/2011/10/17/smooth-criminals-the-sophisticated-tiger-trade/

In the article the writer lists several disheartening facts put forth by Mark Carwardine – a BBC Presenter, Zoologist, Conservationist, Wildlife Photographer and Writer:

  • Two tiger subspecies, the Bali and Javan tiger, are already extinct with a third subspecies – the Caspian tiger – yet to be confirmed. It has been claimed that the South China tiger may become extinct within the next decade.
  • The tiger population is dwindling because of hunting by poachers, being killed for clashing with human dwellers and forest workers and by having their habitats destroyed. 93% of the tiger’s habitat has disappeared in the last century.
  • Four tigers are killed every week and China is responsible for the most tiger poaching activity. Their trust in the medicinal effects of tiger teeth, skin and bones is based on ancient beliefs which are not backed up by scientific evidence. The Chinese also cash in on the billions of blood money yielded by the tiger trade to sell tiger body parts as food, clothes or souvenirs.
  • Tiger conservation is extremely complex because of the intricacies of the tiger trade and the lack of effective support from politicians and police forces. (Monica Sarkar, 2011)

If these facts don’t upset you, if the video above doesn’t bring tears to your eyes, if the thought of such iconic creatures as tigers disappearing forever doesn’t motivate you to some sort of action, then you are lucky. These issues keep me up at night. They keep me from blissful ignorance and a good night’s sleep. They make my head spin with thoughts on how to stop the destruction. I suggest you watch the video again (I’m even posting the link here so that you don’t have to scroll up: Hunt for the Tiger Slayers ) and let it sink in.

The tiger whose stripes matched those of the tiger in the poachers' cell phone pics (courtesy of http://www.wcs.org)

This is what I’m passionate about and what I hope to inspire others to be interested in as well. We can stop this, if we act now.

More on tigers and poaching to come…

 

The Many Faces of Criminology

If you’re like me, and many of you at least share some of my interests since you’re reading this thing, you love to learn. I’m obsessed with learning everything. It’s just a part of my personality. If I go hiking in the mountains and find a flower I’ve never seen before, I want to know what it is. I’ll scour books and the internet until I find it and then I’ll read everything I can about it.

Most of the time this is fun and I enjoy this about myself. Other times it’s frustrating. Why can’t I just take a walk and enjoy my surroundings without having to know EVERYTHING about EVERYTHING, and being annoyed that I know so little?? And just because I read all this information doesn’t mean I retain it. *SIGH*

In any case, I did a random internet search the other day on the topic of criminology, or the study of crime. I respect the fields of criminal justice and criminology, but don’t have a burning desire to study them individually except in terms of forensics. I felt this was a bit unfair, so I wanted to see what I may be missing. Little did I know how broad a topic criminology is. Even though I’ve taken so many courses that involved “criminology” on some level or another I wasn’t aware that there were so many different branches and types. Everyone knows the big ones like white/blue collar crime and organized crime, but there’s also corporate crime, political crime, public order crime, state-corporate crime (get a glimpse of them all on Wikipedia)… pick a word and put “crime” behind it and you’ve got a new -0logy. Then there’s all the various “schools” of criminal theory, and their histories… it’s enough to make my head hurt. But the one that interested me the most was environmental criminology.

When you hear the term “environment”, if you’re like me again, you’re thinking THE environment, earth, Mother Nature, etc. I was excited! But environmental criminology can refer to many things; the whys and hows of crimes that are committed in certain areas, like urban vs. rural, or it can involve crime mapping or “spatial distributions of targets and offenders in a variety of settings and the way in which the location of a crime interacts with other dimensions to produce a criminal event” (NCJRS). The science even has its own Facebook page, which states that it “focuses on criminal patterns within particular built environments and analyzes the impacts of these external variables on people’s cognitive behavior. It forms a part of the Positivist School in that it applies the scientific method to examine the society that causes crime.” Hmmm…. or zzzzzzzzzzzzz…? Interesting, but only to a point. If this is exciting for you, please pardon my yawn.

But turns out there is something referred to as Conservation Criminology, which is getting more attention of late and goes hand in hand with wildlife forensics. Michigan State University is even offering a certificate program in this field, and their page states: “Conservation criminology, the interdisciplinary study of environmental crimes and/or risks, is a newly emerging area of scholarship conducted in collaboration with faculty, students and researchers from MSU and across the globe.  Conservation criminology synergizes the fields of criminology and criminal justice, conservation and natural resource management, decision-analysis and forensic science to examine environmental crimes, harms and/or risks.” That’s more like it! I’m not so much interested in the study of crime for crime’s sake. But I am interested in it when it relates to what I automatically think of as the environment or nature or wildlife. Their page goes on to say: “The program is designed to promote the deconstruction of key environmental risks using multiple scales (e.g., individual, corporate, international) and to use a diverse set of disciplinary theories, methods and tools to explore and explain environmental risks, including regulation, enforcement and broader strategies to achieve compliance (e.g., education, risk communication, etc).” Very cool.

Years ago I worked in the field doing wetland delineations and Phase I site assessments, which involved evaluating parcels of land for environmental concerns, hazards and contaminants. I didn’t realize it then, but I guess I was involved in a type of conservation crime evaluation with those land investigations. Hmmm. Curious how life can come full circle.

It’s crazy how one science can have so many branches, and also how something that on the surface may appear boring, may in fact relate to something you’re deeply interested in if you dig deep enough! I have more research to do…