Friday, October 17, 2014

Great opportunity

The Lincoln Police Department is recruiting for a Crime Analysis Manager.  Since the Director's Desk is read by many analysts around the country, I am taking advantage of my blog to publicize the opening. Applications are open through November 14, on the City of Lincoln's website. Click here for the details.

Our Crime Analysis Manager, Drew Dasher, is relocating with his wife and family to Texas. He's done a great job for the past four years, and I am certain he would be happy to tell any prospects about the City, Department, and Unit.

As readers of the Director's Desk know, the Lincoln Police Department is in the front row when it comes to information resources, crime analysis, and problem-oriented policing. At all levels, our personnel make great use of our information resources, and are comfortable with information technology. Crime analysis is deeply embedded in our organization. Follow the links in the label cloud to “Crime Prevention,” "POP," or "Crime Analysis," for many examples of the type of work we do, and how crime analysis contributes to our success. 

Our five-person Crime Analysis and Intelligence Unit is an integral part of most everything we do. The unit is widely respected and appreciated by our rank-and-file officers, supervisors, and the management staff. You will work with a director, chief, and management staff who understand and appreciate the value of crime analysis and the contribution it makes to our success.

The Crime Analysis Manager will join the police department's other unit managers. Currently, our Communications Center, Records Unit, Information Technology Unit, Property & Evidence Unit, Police Garage, Accounting Unit, Victim/Witness Unit, and Forensic Unit are headed by civilian managers who participate fully on the department's management team on the same footing their sworn counterparts in operational units.

The salary range for this position reflects the relatively low cost of living in Nebraska  If you are on either coast, you will want to consider in particular the cost of housing in Lincoln. Take a look at home prices advertised by one of our local real estate brokers, or assessed values on the Lancaster County Assessor's website to get a sense of what your housing dollar buys in Lincoln. Transportation costs are also low. Lincoln is a bike-friendly city. My 15 minute drive from the southern edge of the City to downtown is 32 minutes in fair weather when I commute by bike, almost entirely on the paved trails network.

Lincoln is widely-regarded as a great place to raise kids. The City is unusually safe, and maintains its small-town feel despite its population of 270,000. Lincoln has great sports venues, a lively arts scene, a top-notch parks system, and the public schools are first rate. Lincoln lands on lots of "best places" lists every year.

If you are a crime analyst who is tired of a long commute to a job where you are treated like a second class citizen because you don't wear a badge, we offer an alternative.  If you are expected to fetch statistics and make PowerPoints for the brass, it's not like that here. If you are looking for a chance to grow professionally, we have a challenge. If you simply want to discuss this opportunity, Drew Dasher or I would love to talk you.

Drew Dasher

 Tom Casady

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

HunchLab 2.0

A few weeks ago, we began piloting HunchLab 2.0 in Lincoln. HunchLab is a crime forecasting product from Azavea. HunchLab seeks to forecast crime by analyzing historical crime data and other information related to crime, such as weather, population density, and land use. HunchLab uses these data to predict the most likely areas for crime today, in eight hour blocks.

The output from HunchLab consists of a map of Lincoln containing a few dozen color-coded cells about the size of two square blocks. These are areas where the risk of crime is forecast to be heightened during the prediction period. These cells are approximately two blocks square. The colors represent the particular crime type for which the elevated crime risk is predicted.

HunchLab predictions are based on the analysis of Lincoln's crime data for the past five years. Where crime has occurred in the past provides a good clue as to where it will occur in the future. This is particularly true for recent crime, so crimes occurring in the immediate past are given more weight. Historical data also reveals patterns in time: crime has large peaks and valleys across the calendar and the clock.

Population density is an excellent predictor of many crime types, as is income. Densely packed low-income neighborhoods suffer more crime than sparsely populated suburban neighborhoods. Land use and zoning impacts crime. Retail businesses, such as convenience stores, restaurants, hotels and motels, grocery stores, and so forth draw people together so the chance of offenders and victims encountering one another is increased. In addition, certain kinds of businesses are related to a significantly elevated risk of crime at or around the business, such as bars and liquor outlets.

Essentially, when you gather all these kinds of data together, you can make informed predictions about where crime is most likely to occur. All of the factors that go into the prediction are based on research about the causes and correlates of crime. In fact, the commercial product emerged from research conducted at Temple and Rutgers. HunchLab goes a step further, and tests the predictions: how well did the cells identified by HunchLab’s algorithm perform in predicting where the crime actually occurred in subsequent time periods? One of the distinguishing features of HunchLab is the ongoing testing of the model, and machine learning that adjusts the predictions on the fly.

HunchLab is far better at predicting crime locations than random distribution. Although Hunchlab is predicting crime at places where most seasoned Lincoln Police Officers would recognize higher risk from their experience, there are other places that aren’t so obvious. It is also worth noting that not all Lincoln police officers are equally "seasoned."

We have helped out with the development of HunchLab 2.0 by providing data and feedback, and we are one of a handful of agencies piloting the application. For a more detailed description of HunchLab under the hood, the underpinning in criminological theory, and the research upon which it is based, go here.

Predictive analytics are getting a lot of attention in policing these days, but the same techniques can be applied to fire and EMS work. I blogged about this a few years ago, when the concept was still pretty new. Here in Lincoln, it is possible to predict fairly accurately both where we'll be sending fire engines and medic units, and when those responses will be occurring. We are using this knowledge more than ever to make informed decisions about our operations at Lincoln Fire & Rescue.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Collective efficacy

Marvin Krout, the director of Lincoln's Planning Department, sent the police chief and me a link to a great story from the San Francisco Chronicle, about a guy named Dan who epoxied a two-foot tall statute of Buddha to a street median in his Oakland, CA neighborhood. Dan's not Buddhist, but he spotted the statue at the local Ace Hardware, and got a wild hair.

One thing led to another, and before long, a small shrine had been erected. Offerings began appearing, a few worshipers began worshiping in the morning, tourists began visiting, Anglo, black, and Vietnamese residents were meeting each other, and crime--which had plagued the neighborhood--went down like a rock.

What this story represents is the emergence in this neighborhood of collective efficacy: social cohesion among neighbors who are willing to work together for the common good. In my forty years of public safety service, I have seen over and over how collective efficacy is the key ingredient that separates a vibrant, safe neighborhood from one that is, well, sketchy.

Collective efficacy is independent of socio-economic status. I have seen some of the poorest areas of Lincoln where the willingness of people to work together to make things better was strong. Likewise, I've seen plenty of neighborhoods where income is high and housing is good, but the residents do not even know one another--much less work collaboratively to make things better.

You can create collective efficacy where little exists. You do so in big ways and small, by meeting your neighbors, by hosting a gathering on National Night Out or the Fourth of July, getting a few folks together to cover up graffiti,organizing a neighborhood watch group, recruiting others for a Saturday clean-up at the neigbhorhood park, painting the street, sitting on the front steps rather than the back patio, planting a flower in a cracked curb, and by gluing a Buddha to a barren median strip!

It's not rocket science, and it makes a huge difference to neighborhood wellbeing, and as in Dan's Oakland neighborhood, a positive impact on crime.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

While we were sleeping

Sunday morning before dawn, a pastor noticed an unfamiliar car with Wyoming plates in his church's parking lot. Thinking this odd, he called LPD. Two officers responded, and contacted a young man laying in the back seat with a suspicious story. He claimed he had come to Nebraska to visit a friend from Omaha who was supposedly in Lincoln on Saturday night. He had visited her for only one hour, and was now just napping in his car before beginning his trip back home.

In response to a question, he said that he was on probation for burglary, but that his probation officer was aware of his out of state travel. He consented to a search of the vehicle, which turned up nothing suspicious, but his explanation for his presence in Lincoln didn't make much sense. He left the lot at the officers' request. As he was leaving, one of the officers found him with a Google news search, named in a 2012 article about the arrest of a group of men for a series of over 40 burglaries in his home state.

Although he had not violated any laws that they knew of, one of the officers decided it wouldn't hurt to drive in the same direction that he claimed to be heading for a while. Our visitor meandered a bit, eventually continuing west on I-80. In the meantime, In the meantime, the second officer checked the surrounding neighborhoods for anything amiss, watchful for any lost travelers who might be afoot in the vicinity.

The car was registered to the driver's mom, who was contacted later and was not aware that her son had visited our fair city. Neither were the police back home, who offered to pass the information on to his probation officer, in the event that his trip was in violation of his probation order.

Such is the nature of police work that occurred in the wee hours on Sunday, while we were sleeping.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Public safety bloggers

There are a lot of sites out their that aggregate links to blogging police chiefs, public safety directors, fire chiefs, cops and firefighters. There is a new one, however, that I like. It's from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, of which I am a lifetime member for the past several years. They award you lifetime membership after you've paid dues for 20 years--theorizing, I suspect, that you're not going to burden the budget for much longer anyway.

IACPnet has a nice feed of a few prolific police/public safety bloggers. I'm enjoying seeing what my peers like Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forte, Madison Police Chief Michael Koval, Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay, and Auburn Hills Public Safety Director Doreen Olko are thinking about. So might you.

Back in 2007, when I launched the Chief's Corner (now the Director's Desk), you could count police chief bloggers on one hand, and have a few digits left over. My inspiration at the time was Manny Diaz, Mayor of Miami. So here we are, in the eighth year, 1,290 posts and  nearly 15,000 reader comments down the road, still going strong after a burst of wee-hour productivity last week.

Though readership isn't quite what it used to be, Twitter has pretty much taken over the field, and writer's block has become my nemesis, I continue to enjoy blogging as a way of getting my unfiltered ideas and opinions in front a few thousand loyal followers every month.

As I always say, sometimes I even bore myself.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The last increment

All week long I've laid out my belief that racial disparity in traffic stops and in the outcome of those stops is being driven primarily by racial disparity in income, and to a lesser extent by police deployment practices--not, by and large, racial prejudice by the police. While my own analysis of the data convinces me of this, I also believe that racial bias accounts for some of the disparity--albeit only a fraction.

I believe this because I have seen it on occasion in Lincoln. I think in Lincoln, at least, it is almost always the result of an unintended or even subconscious bias, but it is real nonetheless. I've described some of my observations on this previously.

The last increment is what I'm most interested in learning about and impacting as public safety director. We will not tolerate racist police officers in Lincoln. We go to great length to weed out anyone with racist attitudes during the selection process--including a polygraph exam that explores this. We also have done mandatory training on cultural sensitivity, cultural awareness, and racial profiling for years. If racist police officers were the cause of disparity in traffic stops, you'd think it would be going down over the years, but it isn't.

Much of what I've seen, however, has not been the acting out of racist tendencies, but rather the failure to think about how well-intentioned activities can have a racially disparate impact that is unjustified and unfair. I want our police department and our officers to understand how practices they may engage in can have a disparate impact that is unjustified, and what they can do to avoid this unfairness.

An example: perhaps an officer has gleaned from her experience that there is a greater likelihood that drivers of an older sedan will be suspended, or have a warrant, than drivers of a late-model minivans or SUVs. As a result, she focuses much of her attention on the former, and not so much on the later, because she believes this strategy is will result in more higher-value arrests, rather than just traffic tickets. If there is racial disparity in the drivers of these two broad vehicle categories, her practice will result in racial disparity in her stops and arrests, as well. It's vehicle profiling, not racial profiling, but the result is the same: disparity, and disparity without much justification. Avoiding this is easy: spread your effort around, and don't fixate on older sedans. Plenty of SUV and minivan drivers are texting while driving, speeding, and pushing the envelope on red lights, too.

As our ability to target resources to areas most affected by crime and disorder improves, we must also be cautious to make sure our efforts are viewed as legitimate by the citizens who live in those areas. We should avoid policing tactics that can damage our relationships while returning little in terms of actually reducing crime and disorder. Strategies that emphasize collaboration, early intervention, problem-solving and prevention should continue to be a focus.

I also want individual police officers to understand what they can do to minimize the perception of racial profiling among minority citizens during traffic stops. Perception is everything, and there is no denying that the perception by African American citizens that the police engage in racial profiling is  quite high. You will not convince people otherwise with data: you will only convince them with your actions.

Those actions are not complex. It is really quite simple, and it is what I teach: Introduce yourself. Tell motorists why you stopped them. Be polite. Explain  things calmly and thoroughly. Answer any questions. Be fair. Leave the motorist with your name and employee number on a ticket, a warning, or a business card. And above all, make sure your stops are always supported by probable cause or reasonable suspicion.

Links to the series:


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Other disparities

So far this week, I've only dealt with disparity in the race of traffic stops. There is also disparity in the outcomes of those stops. Under the law, a police officer must collect data on what happens as the result of a traffic stop: custodial arrest, citation, warning citation, or none of these. If more than one applies, you pick the highest outcome.

Lincoln's data shows that black and African-American motorists are much more likely to be taken into custody rather than merely issued a citation, compared to white motorists. The ACLU concludes that this, too, is evidence of racial profiling by Lincoln police. I disagree. The primary cause for this disparity lies in the racial disparity in arrest warrants. Arrest warrants are issued by the court, in circumstances such as when a defendant has failed to appear, neglected to pay a fine, or fallen behind on child support payments. Warrants require the officer to make a custodial arrest. It is not optional.

An arrest pursuant to a court-issued warrant is the most common arrest made by a Lincoln police officer. Last Thursday morning, in preparation for the Crime Commission's Racial Profiling Advisory Committee meeting, I looked at the racial makeup of the defendants of the 3,432 that were held by the Lincoln Police Department at the time:

WHITE:                       1834     53.4%
BLACK:                         917    26.7%
HISPANIC:                    536    15.6%
ASIAN:                            37       1  %
NATIVE AMERICAN:    108      3.1%

Police officers conducting traffic enforcement routinely run a computer checks on drivers. An arrest warrant turns a warning ticket for into a trip to jail. If Lincoln's population is 5.3% black or black in combination with some other race, then the disparity of arrest warrants is a factor of five. This explains the disparity in custodial arrests from traffic stops. Custodial arrest is the outcome in only 1.3% of the traffic stops overall, so it's still rather uncommon.

This same racial disparity in arrest warrants also exists in suspended drivers, by the way. Suspended driving is a high-grade traffic misdemeanor, and an offense that frequently involves a custodial arrest. Thus, racial disparity in suspended drivers is also contributing to the racial disparity in the outcome of traffic stops.

While the disparity in warrants and suspended drivers helps explain the disparity in custodial arrest, it is also in part a circular argument: warrants and license suspensions occur when charges accumulate. One leads to the other. Something I'm quite interested in is whether we could do anything in our community to reduce the number of arrest warrants that are issued. This would not only reduce the disparity in custodial arrests, but it would save some considerable criminal justice resources.

****Message to Parents of Young Adults Living in Lincoln:****
You might want to bookmark this page, and put a repeating reminder in your calendar app so you remember to check once a month.

Links to the series:


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The correct denominator

For the past few days, I have taken issue with the ACLU's assertion that racial disparity in traffic stops indicates alarmingly high rates of racial profiling in Lincoln. I think their analysis is shallow. I would be the first to agree, however, that we need to better understand this phenomenon. I've reached the limit of my own ability to work with these data, but I am encouraged by what appears to be a renewed interest in this field of study, as evidenced by the Department of Justice initiative announced last week.

I have a second problem with the ACLU's report, and it concerns the denominator. Their numbers are wrong. I'll give them a do-over, because the Crime Commission's data is not right, either. Here's what the ACLU says:

"Black drivers in Lincoln are stopped by the Lincoln Police Department almost three times as often as they should be: the black population of the area is 3.5%, yet black drivers were 9.6% of the stops."

Lincoln's population is not 3.5% black. In the 2010 Census, it was 3.8% black. The ACLU is using the Lancaster County population data, not the City of Lincoln. The Crime Commission's report also uses incorrect data. While they have it right in table B on page 14, and in table C2 on page 17, they have this totally incorrect statement in the executive summary on page  4:

"The Lincoln Police Department stops Blacks almost three times as their local adult population (9.6% to 3.3%)"

The bad grammar comes directly from their report, and I have no idea at all where that 3.3% figure came from. Maybe it's a cut-and-paste error from a previous year's report, but it is wrong. To be clear, in the 2010 census, the one race only black population of Lincoln is 3.8%. That may not sound like much of a difference, but it is. It is the difference between "almost three times" and "more than twice." The fact that the mistake is in the executive summary doesn't help. I suspect some people read no further.

Moreover, that was the percentage of Lincoln residents who identified themselves as one race only. But a large number of residents identify themselves as black and some other race. Beginning n 2000, for the first time you could specify more than one race. The Census Bureau began reporting both one race only data, and two or more races data. In the 2000 census data,  3.1% of Lincoln residents were black, and 3.8% were black or black and one or more other race.  In the 2010 census, this had grown to 3.8% and 5.3%, respectively. Check the data yourself with the Census Bureau's excellent tool, American Fact Finder, but be sure you get the City of Lincoln, not Lincoln County.

Based on the change from the 2000 census to 2010, It appears that more and more people are identifying themselves as multi-racial. If the Crime Commission is going to use the population of black residents as a comparison for traffic stops, they should use the 5.3% figure, or should just report both figures. Here's why: Nebraska's law requires police officers to collect data on the race of all motorists stopped, but prohibits officers from asking the driver. Race is simply the officer's best guess. In a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural world, these guesses are becoming more problematic. What would you select if you stopped Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal breezing down Vine Street 10 over the limit?

Here are a couple of rather prominent multi-racial Americans: Barack Obama and Tiger Woods. I think that if either of them was pulled over in Lincoln for expired tags, the officer would almost certainly select "B" from the drop down, not "W" or "A". Hence, the Crime Commission should use 5.3%, which is a lot closer to 9.6% of the stops than the inaccurate 3.5% quoted by the ACLU or, worse yet, 3.3% in the Crime Commission report's executive summary. The correct denominator is important.

Still, the fact that 5.3% of the population is black or black and some other race, while 9.6% of the stops were of black motorists is of concern to me. I'd like to understand that better, so we can apply the right strategy to the portion of that disparity that may be the result of actions that are unjustified, unfair, or ineffective.

As an aside, the 726 black drivers involved in traffic crashes reported to the police in Lincoln last year would represent 5.4% of the total, which was 12,915. Maybe it's coincidence, but that's mighty close to 5.3%, and tends to confirm my belief, described in Monday's post, that traffic crash driver demographics make the best denominator for examining disparity in traffic stops.

Links to the series: