Thursday, July 24, 2014

Worth a read

There is a great four-chapter series this week in USA Today's online edition about the impact of mental health cases on police departments and the criminal justice system. This has been a recurring topic on my blog over the years. Highly recommended reading to get a national perspective on a tragic problem.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Good bang for the buck

Shortly before our budget hearing with the city council last Friday, the Mayor was briefed by the Finance Department about their discovery of a $275, 000 swing in the City's available annual revenue (it's actually $48,000 in the first year, and $275,000 thereafter). The Mayor's Chief of Staff contacted me, and said the Mayor wanted to use this for public safety. The Mayor wanted my advice on what the best application of these funds would be.

I suggested that we use this to get cracking on the fire station optimization plan, and specifically on jump-starting one of the four stations: a joint police/fire facility in southeast Lincoln. I think this kills two birds with one stone. It provides a fire and EMS footprint into the rapidly-growing area where we are well-beyond four minutes drive time from the closest fire station. It also provides a police facility for officers who are assigned to the southern tier of the city and currently deploy at shift change from downtown police headquarters.

A couple of years ago, I described the fire station optimization plan in detail in a three part series. I followed that series up with a description of my vision for a joint facility. Given Lincoln's geographic growth, a police station in southeast Lincoln is inevitable, and I think we now have an opportunity to set the wheels in motion. This would be a good thing, and would provide a good bang for the buck.

Our experience with the Northeast Team police station at 49th and Huntington Ave. has demonstrated some of the benefits that arise from decentralizing deployment. Less time is spent commuting to and from downtown, saving both personnel hours and fuel. One of the potential locations for the proposed joint facility is 2.6 miles closer to the center point of the Southeast Team area than headquarters, from which officers presently deploy. That's 5.2 miles and 12 minutes per officer daily, minimum. In reality, there are additional trips to and from downtown that will also be avoided, such as supply runs, evidence, and interview room access.

Moreover, the City's comprehensive plan shows significant growth south and east, which will enlarge the area considerably, and push the center-of-mass for the Southeast Team even further away from downtown. Based on that future growth area, we would eventually be saving 9.6 miles and 21:20 per officer each day.

When you do the math, here's what such a move would deliver every year, just on the police side: a savings of 1,825 officer-hours, and 62,050 miles. With our current fleet average of 13.5 MPG, that amounts 4,596 of unleaded. Looking at the future service area from the comprehensive plan, this grows to 3,244 officer-hours, 87,600 miles, and 6,489 gallons of fuel annually.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Still holds true after 112 years

Long-time readers of my blog have heard me whine from time-to-time about the size of the Lincoln Police Department: smallest per capita in Nebraska, one of the very smallest in our region and nation, getting smaller with each passing year.  Looks like this is nothing new:

Capt. Joy Citta came across a great online archive of 19th and early 20th century newspapers at the Library of Congress website, and passed the link onto me. The May 24, 1902 edition of The Courier has a nice front-page story about the Lincoln Police Department. You can access the full story here.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Different views, but same goal

There is a bit of a kerfuffle in the press this week between labor and management at Lincoln Fire & Rescue. To be clear, I'm management, so you'll be getting the management perspective here. If you want the labor perspective, it's posted here on the union's website. The issue surrounds the use of an "alternate response vehicle" (ARV) to respond to medical emergencies. I've blogged about this before, and think it's an approach worth trying, and in my view trying this  response profile carries minimal risk. Without rebutting the particulars of the union's claim here, I'd like to explain my viewpoint.

Like many cities in the United States, our fire apparatus are aging, and we are having difficulty replacing these rigs. This is the result of two factors. First, they are incredibly expensive. An engine costs $350,000 at the low end, and a half million is rather common. A ladder truck is well north of $750,000. Second, municipal governments all over the U.S. are clawing their way out of the deepest financial crisis since the Great Depression. The City of Lincoln has already lost 10% of its civilian workforce, and recently we got hit with the news that we have a growing shortfall in the police/fire pension fund which needs to be addressed by a huge annual infusion of cash. There are a lot of needs out there competing for the City's tax revenue, and not a whole lot of enthusiasm for tax increases among our citizens these days.

As a result, I believe we have to look for the most efficient ways of operating. I'd like to get our fleet of fire apparatus into better shape and get on a regular replacement program, similar to what we've done at the police department, and with our ambulances. This can't happen overnight, but that's the goal we are shooting for. We've got one new engine on order, we hope to order a second later this year if revenue holds up, and in 2016 we have lease payments ending on seven engines acquired in 2006. We'd like to re-channel those payments into more apparatus replacement. If all goes well, this will be a tremendous improvement.

As we work on this process, part of management's desire is to reduce some of the wear-and-tear on the big rigs. Last year, we extinguished 502 actual fires. There are 18 front line fire apparatus staffed around the clock. We responded to 16,720 medical emergencies, and we staff 6 front line medic units.  You can do your own math. Many of those fires are minor, but some present immense threat. You've got to be prepared to handle these critical incidents, despite the low frequency. But you also have to acknowledge the reality of what you actually do on a daily basis. Overall, about 80% of our workload is medical emergencies. I'd like to think that we could have used something smaller for a good share of those medical emergencies, and that doing so might reduce operating costs somewhat, and extend the life of the engines and ladder trucks.

This is nothing new. Departments across the country are doing this, some for a long time. I wouldn't say it's commonplace, but neither is it a novelty. I don't think firefighters like these smaller vehicles as much as engines and trucks, for the most part. I can understand why. I suppose many police officers would like to have the big block V-8s back, too, rather than a six-cylinder Impala or Taurus. Nonetheless, I think you've got to consider alternatives, and that doing so increases the confidence in citizens and elected officials that you are willing try things and open to other ways of doing business. This, in turn, makes them more likely to listen to you when you describe your needs.

Last year, our inspection of Truck 8 revealed that it's ladder was out of specifications. The thickness of the aluminum had worn below tolerances. We removed this assembly, loaded it on a semi, and shipped it to the manufacturer in Ocala, Florida for repair. The out-of-spec section was replaced, and composite wear pads were installed to prevent the same problem from reoccurring. The fix cost $60,000, and the shipping was $8,000. Chief of the Logistics Division Kendall Warnock tells me that the primary source of the wear was simple vibration: as the ladder truck was driven, the sections of the ladder moved against one another slightly, wearing away the metal over time: hence, the installation of wear pads as a preventative measure.

This example is one of the reasons those of us in management are interested in reducing the driving of the big apparatus to many medical emergencies. Trucks and engines are expensive to buy, and costly to maintain. We could buy and equip an ARV for less than the cost of that repair to Truck 8's ladder. That ARV ought to last somewhere in the seven to ten year range. My sense is that we might be able to make good use of a few such vehicles, but time will tell. 

We may disagree on the best path, but ultimately labor and management want the same thing: good personnel, good training, good equipment and facilities; adequate to safely perform the job at hand, and in the quantity that our citizens are willing to support with their tax dollars. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Tips for new analysts

Last year, I wrote a series of blog posts with ideas for new crime analysts. On a few occasions since then, I have needed to send links to someone to one or more of these posts. Since they were all on different days, they are a little hard to navigate to as a group. The purpose of this post is just to bring them all together in one spot, so that I can point people to the whole series easily.

Impromptu visit
Weekly slideshow
A place of your own
Better bulletins
Easy maps

I am happy to report, by the way, that my analyst friend in Grand Island is doing excellent work, has implemented most of these ideas, and has some more stuff of her own that we are envious of and trying to copy ourselves.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Map app for iap

An Incident Action Plan (IAP) is a component of the Incident Command System (ICS), which in turn is a component of the National Incident Management System (NIMS). How's that for an alphabet soup? Trust me, that's a tiny glimpse into the world of acronyms surrounding NIMS. Essentially, an IAP is a written plan describing the objectives and tactics to be employed during a specific operational period of an incident.

This is the way public safety incidents of note are managed these days. This week, one of those incidents is Lincoln's municipal fireworks display, and it's associated sideshows, the Uncle Sam Jam. This is a big event, attracting upwards of 100,000 people during the course of the day. LF&R Battalion Chief Eric Jones and LPD sergeant Valerie Kinghorn have been doing the heavy lifting planning the public safety operations: schedules, assignments, equipment, contingencies, logistics, etc.--and the IAP.

Chief Jones did something interesting late last week, creating a mapping application that depicts the geographic components of the IAP. He used FireView Dashboard as the platform for the map. Maps are a common component of incicent planning, but this one is not on paper: it's interactive. You can zoom in and out, pan around, turn various layers on or off, and click here and there for more information. The purple polygon is the operational area, where the events will take place in and around Oak Lake Park. Click on any of these images for a larger view of the screenshot.

There are several subareas within the overall area, and a click on any of those purple notes icons to bring up a description of the area or the point associated with it. You can also turn on the aerial imagery, or activate a sub-window with the oblique view from Pictometry. Links within the application take a user to even more resources. It is a nice job of using GIS tools to help visualize an IAP.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The week ahead

It's going to be a busy one for the public safety personnel. Independence Day is usually the busiest single day of the year, and this year it falls on a Friday, which should raise the bar even further. Here's  a prediction of the week to come from FireView Dashboard. The software takes the past couple of years' data for the same dates, adjusts for the pattern of variation by day-of-week, and predicts the number of incidents for the coming week. The red line is the predicted number of incidents for Lincoln Fire & Rescue, the blue bars are the actual number of incidents dispatched for the past 14 days, and the gray bars are the prediction for the next seven days:

You can see how the workload is expected to ramp up as the week unfolds. Looks like we are expecting to peak at 84 incidents for LF&R on July 4th. On the police side, the prediction is for 378 incidents we would expect to dispatch on July 4. I think that's a little low: last year Lincoln police responded to 401 incidents on the Fourth, and it was on a Thursday. Weather will make a big difference. Here's a map from CrimeView Dashboard of the fireworks disturbance dispatches alone, in the week-long run up to Independence day last year:

Those phones in the Emergency Communications Center will be ringing off the hook, and I'll find some criticism in my inbox from those who think that the police alone can stop tens of thousands of people from violating the law by firing off illegal fireworks, and ignoring the time and date limitations. My past rants on this topic still hold true, for the most part.

Friday, June 27, 2014

This and that

Just a few things I found interesting from the second half of the week. Wednesday afternoon, Assistant Chief Normal Seals of Dallas Fire & Rescue was gracious enough to spend about an hour with us. While teaching in Dallas on Monday, an assistant city attorney in the class, Maureen Milligan, told me about DF&R's Mobile Community Healthcare Program--a type of community paramedicine program that we have been discussing a little in Lincoln for a year of so. Ms. Milligan arranged an introduction, Chief Seals suggested a phone call, so LF&R and DF&R got together on a conference call. Chief Huff, Division Chief Bonin, Battalion Chief Linke and I participated. It was quite informative, and Chief Seals enthusiasm for this was infectious.

Yesterday morning, the inbox had two lengthy complaints sent to the Mayor and copied to me and the police chief about topics that have dogged us for years: fireworks and panhandlers. Chief Jim Peschong and I divided up the responses: he got fireworks, I took panhandling. These are very frustrating issues, without easy solutions. Anyone who thinks we could simply start ticketing everyone for littering who is discharging fireworks in the street at the end of the driveway fails to comprehend how we would be savaged for this after the fact. Past efforts to crack down have been less-than-effective. And anyone who thinks the solution is to bring the Wrath of Khan upon 13 year-old kids with bottle rockets fails to understand the workings of the juvenile justice system.

Panhandling, like it or not, is not only legal, it is protected by the First Amendment. So sayeth the Supremes. The primary reason we seem to have so much of it in Lincoln these days is because people continue to drop money on the panhandlers, rather than better alternative of contributing to the non-profits in Lincoln that serve the homeless, poor mentally ill, and addicted. While we can arrest people for the illegal forms of panhandling, it's not as easy as it sounds (they straighten up when and cops are in view) and this doesn't necessarily solve the problem. I cited an example in my response of a man we have lodged in jail 238 times for such offenses, including six so far this month. An empty or nearly-empty cup would be far more effective than fueling his addiction with cash.

Yesterday afternoon I participated in a webinar concerning the New York City Fire Department's use of GIS technology for planning and managing events in the city surrounding the Super Bowl. It was quite informative, and much of what the largest city in the United States is doing in this regard is quite similar to what we have been doing for some time here in little ol' Lincoln. Seeing their operation made me feel pretty good about how we've leveraged GIS for public safety out here in flyover country.