on processStudent entries

People vs. Property and the Ambiguity of Data


This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.


People vs. Property and the Ambiguity of Data

Megan Roques

When coding my first few cases with tPP, I thought “how could people think this is hard?” The cases were straightforward and simple, the offense was either charged with a clear charge or the motive was very clearly explained and outlined. More often than not, the reality is that these cases tend to be complicated because humans themselves are complicated. Not all offenders have a clear motive of why they did XYZ or if they have a clear motive they don’t have a clear plan of how to demonstrate their motive.

This was the complication I experienced when coding and learning about the David Theiring case. David Theiring is a caucasian man from Madison, Indiana who detonated two bombs: one outside a police station and one outside a judge’s house. Although one may think that these actions were in opposition of the government or a particular candidate, Theiring did not state why he did it. Coding some of the variables such as “tactic” and “completion of crime” were straightforward and simple. However, a few variables were difficult because of the lack of information and the amount of ambiguity in this case. The variable that I find the most time reflecting on was “People vs property.” 

Although no one was harmed in both detonations, was his intent to harm people or to destroy property to make a statement? If he did it to hurt people, was his discontent stemming from a decision the judge made and the police department enforced or were these targets picked randomly? It is easy to get caught up in this web of trying to understand why Theiring did this.

Additionally, it is easy to read the case file and just pick “Property” since there was only property damage. Another way to try to rush through the process is to just assume that he was intending to harm people and property because property was damaged and maybe he thought the people would be inside. However, I believe that there is beauty to the difficult process that is understanding the human mind. When coding cases, it is important to code with purpose, meaning that when two people code the same case there are no discrepancies. 

One of the most valuable things I find when I am coding a case is a surplus of information. Helen Gibson writes of the acquisition and preparation of data for investigations. She explains, “without data there is nothing to build upon, to combine, to analyze or draw conclusions from (Gibson, 69). “The ambiguity of data and information from the offender was the reason that this case was so hard to code.

Again, this is not a flaw from the judicial system in obtaining the data but just a fault of human error. Humans refuse to overshare personal details of their lives or opinions unless they feel like their opinion will be validated. Furthermore, in a criminal setting most individuals are more likely to refrain from sharing information about the reasoning behind their crime in fear of being judged. 

Additionally, the ambiguity of data in a crime is not deemed important to the judge giving out the sentence. For example, if a person pleads guilty for the felony charges he is in question for (such as David Theiring), then the judge has little interest in their actions and hands out the sentence. However, for people (like us) studying the criminal process, the motive plays a big role in the research process. I believe that there should be more information gathered from crimes which may stem from ideological roots such as this case.

Gibson mentions sources of where to find data from defendants such as social media, electoral rolls, webpages, government databases, etc… (74). Some may believe that using individual’s electronic footprint when analyzing their crime is a violation of privacy. Others may believe that the question “People vs. property” is insignificant and not enough of reason to dive into Theiring’s personal life. However, in order to gain a little more understanding in the nature of these crimes, we need to understand the people who are being charged with the crimes.

References

Gibson, Helen. “Acquisition and Preparation of Data for OSINT Investigations.” In Open Source Intelligence Investigation: From Strategy to Implementation, 69-93. Advanced Sciences and Technologies for Security Applications. Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2017.

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