Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Pot more common

Last Friday, I was reading police reports early in the morning, around 5:00 AM. I noticed that there seemed to be a large number of tickets issued since midnight for possession of marijuana--seven. This made me wonder whether police officers in Lincoln are encountering pot more often. Aside from the legalization of wacky tobaccy in Washington and Colorado, it seems to me that the stigma of weed as a Bad Thing has pretty much faded.

Nebraska, by the way, has had one of the nation's most liberal laws on pot for decade: it is an infraction to possess less than an ounce in the Cornhusker State, carrying a fine of $100. In terms of the penalty, that's far less than a ticket for minor in possession of alcohol, and on par with your average speeding ticket.

I ran the numbers for 2014, year to date (January 1 through April 15). Then I did the same time period in previous years. There are Incident Reports classified as drug cases, that include the word "marijuana." The results seem to bear out my theory.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Volume and proportion

A question posted on the International Association of Crime Analysis forum last week caught my eye. It was by a detective at a municipal police department in Texas, who was trying to figure out how to create a map which would depict the relative number of thefts, burglaries, and robberies in each of his city's three police districts.

Since he wanted to do this using ArcGIS (something I'm pretty comfortable with), I replied to the list with my suggested method. I suspect crime analysts who lurk on the IACA list are somewhat shocked when a person in executive management responds with a solution to a technical GIS issue. I'm probably older than most of their fathers, too, but from time to time I like to remind myself that I can still do things like create pivot tables, hammer out a little html code, and wrangle a GIS project to make it do what I want it to do.

At any rate, this is similar to what he was trying to accomplish. It is a map of robberies in Lincoln from 2009 through 2013, depicted as five pies, one for each of the Lincoln Police Department's command areas. The differing size of the pies reflects the relative number of robberies within each Team, while two slices of each pie are business robberies and non-business robberies.

It's a simple graphic that at a glance conveys information about both volume and proportion. As you can see, the Southwest Team has a much larger volume of robberies, and the non-business slice is way bigger than most of the other teams. Basically, street robberies are the issue in the Southwest and Center Teams, while business robberies (though still fewer than non-business) are more prevalent in the Northwest, Northeast, and Southeast teams.

Click image to enlarge
For analysts wishing to create this effect with ArcGIS, take your polygon layer (in my case, the five police teams) and add fields for the pie slices and their values (in this example, business robberies and non-business robberies). Under "Properties" change the symbology to "Charts" and select a pie chart. A stacked bar chart would also work well with these data. There are other settings for various options, but you'll get the drift.

Friday, April 11, 2014

What I would have written

I apologize to my loyal readers for neglecting the blog this week. Truth is I've been sick since last Saturday, in bed a couple of days, and needed to extra zzzzzs. All better now, though. Here's what I would have written about this week, had I not been such a slug:

A pair of two-alarm fires stretched Lincoln Fire & Rescue, and required a lot of resources at the same time. Both were successfully extinguished without any injuries. Listened to the whole thing on my radio while wrapped up in my blankie looking pitiful. Nice work by everyone involved.

Would have expected the Molotov cocktail vandal (alleged) to be more like 17, rather than 27. You might recall that these were tossed during a red flag warning, when the wind was howling out of the south. We are lucky he didn't set Nebraska and both of the Dakotas on fire.

And really, really?

Friday, April 4, 2014

More eyeballs

My Monday night effort to use crowdsourcing to identify the make and model of the vehicle involved in tossing four Molotov cocktails last week paid off. Several readers definitively pinpointed this as a first generation Neon (1995-1999)--including an FBI agent in another state who reads the Director's Desk.

Wednesday morning around 7:00 AM, a Crimestoppers tip was received from a person who had spotted a vehicle parked on the street in the vicinity of S. 50th and South Streets, with a pretty poor attempt at a car cover. The source mentioned two of the specific descriptors contained in my Monday night post, and knew that these matched the arson vehicle. Looks like he or she is a reader of my blog.

Dagnabbit, every time I think about calling it off and recapturing a few hours of my personal life, something like this happens that makes me rethink the value of blogging. In any event, the car has been seized, the suspect has been identified, and his surrender for arrest is presently being negotiated. These offenses will be cleared, and social media provided the key information.

It is the golden age of criminal investigations, suspects are leaving trails of evidence our predecessors could hardly imagine. No way a camera would have captured such images during the first 35 years of my career. We are still trying to figure out the best thing to do with these relatively new information streams. In some circumstances, keeping the cards close to the vest is the best police strategy. In most, however, engaging thousands of more eyeballs in the search is vastly preferable.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Let's crowdsource this one

This vehicle was involved in a series of four Molotov cocktail "bombings" (fortunately with limited damage), three-out-of-four of which were in my neighborhood. One witness thought the vehicle was a Plymouth Neon. Although I see the resemblance, I'm not so certain. Note the two black strips on the roofline. I can't seen to find this detail on any Neons I've spotted, or in online photos of Neons.

So, readers, let's crowdsource this one, and see if anyone has more luck than I did tonight in narrowing down the make and model. Aside from the roof detail, here's a few other clues: headlight shape, tail light shape, size and location of the stop light in the rear deck, location of front side marker lights, a and c-pillar shapes, lack of a passenger side outside rearview mirror. The driver's side outside rearview mirror housing looks like it's black, and the door handles are not body color--two factors that would indicate to me that this is a basic economy model.

I put this out on Twitter, too. We shall see if anyone comes up with the probable make and model.

Robust growth

One of the news stories this week locally has been the release, by the U.S. Census Bureau, of the most recent population estimates for counties in Nebraska. These estimates are made every year between the decennial censuses, but they are always about a year behind. The estimates are as of July 1st of the preceding year--in this case, 2013. This particular release was for county populations; the city estimates will be out in the summer. When you read a little bit about their methodology, you'll understand why these estimates are normally quite accurate. Since the City of Lincoln comprises over 90% of the population of Lancaster County, the county estimate will mirror the city estimate very closely.

Lancaster County has grown by 4.1% between 2010 and 2013, adding an estimated total of 11,629 residents. You can bet that almost all of that growth is in the City of Lincoln, and a few thousand more have been added since the estimate date of July 1, 2013. Put another way, that's about the population of Beatrice, Nebraska. Beatrice has a police force of about 32 employees, a fire department with around 25 employees, four elementary schools, a high school, middle school, and five pizza places.

An annualized growth rate of 1.33% may not sound like a lot, but when it's on a base of over a quarter million, it adds up fast. The July 1, 2013 estimate had the Lancaster County population pegged at 297,036. Since it is nine months old now, it is likely that the county has already cracked 300,000 population, and Lincoln has topped 275,000.

The smallest county in Nebraska, by the way, is Arthur County, whose 458 residents are spread over 718 square miles. I am uncertain about the pizza situation in Arthur.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Cash strapped

An interesting article appears in the current issue of The Atlantic, "How the Decline of Cash Makes America a Safer Country." The article relates the decrease in crime in the United States to the decrease in the use of cash, and cites some interesting research that supports this, leveraging a naturally-occurring experiment: a multiple time-series in the State of Missouri. I may have scooped The Atlantic in a way, as I blogged about this very topic several weeks ago, on February 4.

There are two other factors in the declining U.S. crime rate that rarely get mentioned, but I believe are significant: the growth of remote sensing security systems (i.e., CCTV and alarms), and he proliferation of cellular telephones. Not only is there less cash floating around the steal, but your basic thief is far more likely to trip an alarm or be caught on camera, and every single witness now has a hotline to the 911 center in his or her hand.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

...and we expect perfection

Last week, Police Chief Jim Peschong and I met with two faculty members from the University of Nebraska who are interested in research related to police decision-making. We are often approached by faculty and graduate students about research projects, and at any given time we are likely to be participating in at least one or two of these. I can think of two in process at LPD right now. We like research, particularly when it is the type that might actually inform our professional field. Better understanding of the factors that influence police decisions could do just that, and provide insights into how we can help police officers deliver superlative service to the community, so we were in a receptive mode, and listening.

After discussing a type of decision that might be good research target, we offered to send some data about the issue to the professors, and a sample of an investigative report--with names redacted. I assembled that information and forwarded it. The following morning, I received a response from one of the researchers. I could tell from the tone that he had been impressed after reading the case report I had sent, in which the officer explained what she had observed, what she heard from those she interviewed, what she learned from her own investigation, how she assessed the information, considered alternatives, and the thought process that led to her ultimate decision on the best course of action.

In Lincoln, we call this a Supplementary Report, or an Additional Case Investigation Report, and this one was quite typical for the type of case in question. He questioned whether this was typical, and I forwarded him a few other examples, all of which were selected completely randomly. All of these are evidence of compassionate, professional, deliberative decision-making, which is the norm. He closed his email by telling him how impressed he had been by the information we provided, and I told him this story:

It was the summer of 1975, and I was in my first solo assignment after a little less than a year on the department, as a motorcycle officer. I was dispatched to a disturbance in an upscale neighborhood deep in southeast Lincoln. I encountered a victim who had been beaten by her husband, who was in a simmering rage. As his wife had been trying to escape his wrath, he had grabbed her by the hair right outside the front door, and smashed her head against a concrete step. She broke away and managed to call 911. He was a physician, and could not believe that I had the audacity to arrest him. He was a lot older than me, and quadruple my income and social status, or more. The cuffs fit just fine, though. 
A cruiser officer who had arrived as backup transported him to jail. The victim needed to go to the hospital. She had a split lip, a lump on her temple almost the size of a baseball, and was in extreme emotional distress. Even as a 21 year old, I knew that the source of her distress was complex, though unspoken. She was frantic over the impact my arrest might have on her family, her husband's job, her children--and she was almost certainly in a panic thinking about what he might do to her now. She had wanted to end the beating, but had no time to consider what her 911 call might set in motion, nor to comprehend the resolve of the young man with a badge who first arrived in response. In addition to all this, going to the hospital would now inevitably result in revelation of the abuse within Lincoln's tight medical community. 
Unable to either console her or to convince her to go with me  to the hospital, I sought assistance from a nascent human service agency, which dispatched an advocate within about 30 minutes. The volunteer who arrived was even younger than me. She was completely ineffective, seemingly in shock at actually witnessing the aftermath of genuine domestic violence, unable to communicate. Despite my sense of inadequacy in dealing with a case that epitomized every dynamic of domestic violence, I was left to my own devices, and muddled through.

As I told the professor, things are a little better today. The training of new officers, for one thing, is much better than what I received. The field of victim advocacy and support has also matured, and a similar call today would bring a seasoned, trained advocate. But I remind myself a couple of times every year, around graduation time, that we still give guns to 21 year olds, then send them forth to deal with the most complex interpersonal and societal issues than humankind can dish up, often pretty much alone--and expect them to do so with perfection.