Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Two new chiefs

I'm happy to welcome Jeff Bliemeister and Micheal Despain to the City of Lincoln. Jeff has been appointed chief of police, and Mike will begin serving as our new fire chief later this summer. Both were selected after a nationwide search and extensive screening to narrow an excellent pool of candidates.

Not only is it unusual to have new chiefs in both public safety agencies, but it is also unusual to have two chiefs who come from outside the departments. There haven't been many of those in the past fifty  years. Former fire chief Niles Ford (who is now the chief of the Baltimore Fire Department) comes to mind, as does George Hansen, who served a few years as Lincoln's police chief in the 1970's. LPD has only had 6 chiefs in the past 75 years!

One of the good things about chiefs with experience elsewhere it that they bring a new perspective. Sometimes we all get into our groove, and miss things that are in plain sight to a fresh set of eyes. I'm looking forward to working with both of our chiefs, and wish them well as they embark on this new phase of their careers.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Peak erodes to mound

One morning last summer I was looking at the overnight police activity (as usual), and noticed what appeared to be an unusual day, in that police dispatches had been low during the wee hours of the  morning when I would have expected to see a spike. There's always been a peak around the time bars are closing and people who have been drinking are heading out. It's not much of a peak anymore: it's eroded to a mere mound.

The smoothing of the curve I noticed in August is not an anomaly: there has been a change, and a big one. The following two charts demonstrate the change. These temporal heat charts, organized by day of week in the columns and hour of day in the rows, show the relative volume of police dispatches during the 168 one hour weekly time slots. Colors are assigned by standard deviation breaks. Dark red means a very high peak compared to the mean, deep blue means a very low hour. The top chart is for the year ending March 31, 2016. the bottom one covers calendar year 2007, the year my blog started.


The change evident from these charts is striking. The row totals reveal the significance of the change, particularly if you consider that Lincoln's population (of both people and liquor licenses) has increased significantly in the past nine years. Bar break just isn't quite what it used to be, and that's a good thing.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Problem Resolution Team app

Back in the mid-1990s, the Lincoln Police Department was diving into problem-oriented policing, which at the time was still a fairly new concept: instead of responding over and over again the the same place or problem, try to identify the underlying issues and work to resolve those. Several examples of such work can be found on my blog, by following the POP tag in the label cloud. Another great source for information is The Center for Problem Oriented policing, popcenter.org.

One of the early practitioners of problem-oriented policing in Lincoln was Capt. Jon Briggs, who commanded the Northeast Team at the time. Some of the problems his officers were working on required the assistance of other agencies, such as the Health Department, Aging Services, the Building & Safety Department, Animal Control, and the Law Department. Jon saw a real need to coordinate and collaborate across agency boundaries.

This need became a concept paper, which we presented Mayor Mike Johanns, and Lincoln's Problem Resolution Team was born--with Capt. Briggs as it's chair. In the ensuing 20 years, the PRT has become institutionalized in Lincoln, and several LPD managers have served as the chair. LPD Crime Analyst Char Estes provides the technical support, among her other duties. The team has experienced many successes in resolving chronic issues at problem properties, and today many other cities have similar inter-disciplinary teams of this type.

Longtime readers of this blog know that I am something of a minor league GIS geek. Every now and then I'll dive into a GIS project, which is an opportunity to work on something that requires an entirely different skill set than my normal job duties. This week, I spent several evenings working on a project for the PRT. With a little help from Jeff McReynolds, Lincoln's GIS program manager, I was off to the races in an effort to create a mapping application for tracking current PRT properties.

I used ArcGis Online to build a web mapping application that displays the location of these properties. A click on the icon brings up the details, including the most recent photo from the Lancaster County Assessor's Office, and a link to more detailed information about the property. I think it will be a nice tool for the PRT, and it's certainly a good example of the utility of ArcGIS online if even a GIS hobbyist like me can do it.


Many crime analysts read the Director's Desk, and most of those are involved in GIS work as part of their duties. If you have yet to explore creating web mapping applications, I suggest you do so. This is only one of many we use for a variety of purposes in public safety: CCTV cameras, parcel lookups, street finder, fire hydrant locations, fire pre-plans, P3i, stream gauges, and much more. Web mapping applications are ideal when you need a simple, single purpose application quickly.

A good starting point (other than visiting arcgis.com) would be to look around the GIS community in your own jurisdiction: the county assessor, public works department, parks & recreation, building inspections agency, and so forth. You may find that other municipal GIS technicians are already deploying web mapping applications, and can offer you some assistance in getting started.




Monday, March 21, 2016

Award bestowed

A pretty nice feather was poked into Lincoln's cap today at the weekly City Council meeting, when the chairman of the PulsePoint Foundation board of directors, Matt Stamey, and fellow board member Don Ledoux presented the City with the Foundation's first annual Award of Excellence. Matt and Don flew out from California specifically for this purpose, and it was an honor to have them visit.

Apparently Lincoln has been something of an overachiever with PulsePoint, the phenomenal life-saving application that delivers an alert to your smartphone if you're close to a location in a public place where someone may need CPR. We have an unusually large number of followers for our population, and we were recognized for our effective use of social media, traditional media, and such novel things as message boards and sports events to get the word out about PulsePoint.

As a result, slightly less than six months after the app launched on October 8, 2015 we have over 7,000 PulsePoint users following Lincoln Fire & Rescue, whereas our goal for the first year was 5,000. There have been 43 CPR alerts since the launch, which landed on exactly 200 smartphones. PulsePoint in Lincoln continues to grow, and has not yet plateaued. At the current rate, it's possible we could reach 10,000 in year one.

I asked Kelly Davila from our Emergency Communications Center, to accept the award on behalf of the City. Kelly is the one who worked methodically behind the scenes to coordinate all the moving parts that had to come together to bring PulsePoint to Lincoln.

From left: Dr. Jason Kruger, LF&R Medical Director; Systems Specialist Kelly Davila, 911 Center; Don Ledoux, PulsePoint Foundation Board; Tom Casady, Director of Public Safety; Julie Righter Dove, 911 Center Manager; Matt Stamey, PulsePoint Foundation Chairman; Patrick Borer, Assistant Fire Chief; Tim Linke, Interim Fire Chief

It never hurts when first-time visitors to Lincoln land on a perfect spring day, enjoy an evening stroll around the Haymarket, and a nice meal at a local favorite. Lincoln is a surprising find for many such travelers, and I suspect Don and Matt can appreciate my good fortune for living in such a community, and working with such great colleagues.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Time of offense

I made a chart last night of the day and time of the most recent 5,000 suspended driving cases handled by the Lincoln Police Department:

You can click on the chart for the full size image, which is easier to read. The rows are days of the week, Sunday at the top, Saturday at the bottom. The Column are hours of the day beginning at midnight from left to right. The color reflects the number of cases in each day/time cell from low (light blue) to high (deep red).

This kind of chart is known as a temporal heat chart, or a temporal grid, and I've published several of these on my blog over the years. This one is meant to show when suspended drivers are most often driving, or more specifically, when they are being caught. It's not on the way to school or work. Rather, it appears to be on the way home from bars.

The relationship to alcohol is hard to ignore. You will notice that it shows a similar pattern to this temporal heat chart of violent crime, which I published seven years ago (although the former reverses the column/row arrangement.) It also looks quite similar to this one from four years ago depicting DWI arrests.

All of these--suspended drivers, violent crimes, DWI arrests--are very different then this one, which shows over 30,000 traffic crashes, and reflects the density of traffic during the weekday rush hour.

The concentration of suspended drivers in the wee hours of the morning on drinking days may in part be caused by the nature of police activity. These are the times officers are most likely to be looking for drunk drivers, and in the process finding suspended ones al well. Or, the concentration could be caused by the fact that these are the times suspended drivers are more likely to be on the road, or more likely to be driving poorly and drawing the attention of the police.


Saturday, March 5, 2016

Worth watching

Last week on my blog I mentioned a change in practice at the Lincoln Police Department aimed at reducing the problem of people who continue to drive motor vehicles after their operator's license has been suspended or revoked. The change involves taking advantage more often of a State statute that allows officers to impound cars driven by suspended drivers for up to 30 days.

While this has been used often in the past, there were several impediments to impounding every car, not the least of which is the sheer amount of time necessary to summon a wrecker. But after consulting with a broad committee of both law enforcement and public members, the department committed to redoubling its efforts to impound cars--particularly those driven by people who have a past history of driving while suspended.

I have been reading reports every morning and noting a big spike in vehicles beingimpounded. The night shift officers seem really committed to this, despite the pain of waiting around interminably and completing extra paper work, while knowing that there are many other things going on for which you may be needed.

This morning for the first time, I ran a little data. During the past week (February 26 to March 4), LPD officers arrested 42 suspended drivers. During the same week in 2015, there were 63. During the week prior to the public announcement of the enhanced effort and attendant publicity (February 17 to February 23, there were 58 arrests.

Many things influence suspended driving arrests: weather, the amount of time officers have available for traffic enforcement, and so forth. I am not yet willing yet to declare this before-and-after test  as proof positive that the new strategy is exerting a deterrent effect, but it is certainly worth watching over a longer term to see if the curve bends.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Violence reduction network

The Violence Reduction Network (VRN) is a program of the United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance which aims to provide training and technical assistance to some of the cities with the highest rates of violence in the United States. To date, ten cities have received this help, and for 2016 three additional cities have been added: St. Louis, New Orleans, and Milwaukee.

I was in Washington DC today, attending the spring VRN summit at the request of the Feds, to provide some support to New Orleans and Milwaukee on a topic near-and-dear to us in Lincoln: crime analysis. Just click the link to that tag in the label cloud on my blog, and you'll see that we do a lot of work in Lincoln guided by data and analysis. We've developed somewhat of a reputation, hence the invitation--even though I'm not so sure our experience with such things as party disturbances and garage burglaries translates entirely to such things as car jackings and muggings.

Rather than making a presentation, though, my colleague Dr. Noah Fritz from Tempe AZ and I tried to facilitate discussion. These two cities have a pretty clear idea of their problems, issues, and challenges. They don't need us to figure that out, but sometimes an outside facilitator can help in lubricating a productive and frank assessment of where we are, where we want to be, and what we need to do to get there.

I hope that was the case. It takes a certain amount of courage for the VRN cities to step forward and ask for federal assistance, and I applaud them for their efforts. I made good contacts with New Orleans and Milwaukee, and hope I can be of further help in their efforts to leverage data and analysis to guide police tactics and strategies to effectively deal with violence in their communities.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Great career draws to close

Today is the last day for our police chief, Jim Peschong, who retires after a 41 year career with the City. Jim and I have worked together during that entire time, and the memories are many. Early in our careers, Jim distinguished himself as a real go-getter in criminal investigations. Even as a patrol officer, he had a knack for criminal work that everyone recognized.

It was no surprise when he became a detective. Our paths diverged for a while, as Jim focused on the criminal side of the police department and I went off for a seven year stint at the Sheriff's Office. We came back together, though, in 1994 when I was appointed police chief, and Jim was the captain commanding the Northwest/Center Police Team--the largest and busiest command in the City. A few years later, when a retirement opened an assistant chief slot, Jim was my choice. When I left to take my assignment as director of public safety, the Mayor and I agreed that Jim was the logical choice for chief.

One of the reasons I selected Jim as my assistant chief was that I felt we had complimentary skill sets. The things he was best at were not my strong suit, and vice versa. I don't know if he felt the same about that, but I do know that we worked very effectively together for the past 22 years, enjoyed one another's company, and accomplished many good things. I'm going to miss him a lot.

Every year when it came time to complete Jim's annual performance evaluation, my comments started off with the same thing, the characteristic that I most admired and appreciated: his ethics. I never saw Jim make any decision or take any action that was motivated by anything other than a desire to do the right thing. While there are those who have disagreed with them (as with any chief) from time to time, no one can claim that he was trying to polish his own badge.

Jim Peschong leaves a legacy at LPD. He has passed along his skill in criminal investigation to many others who learned from him. He was an innovator in the mid 1990's as a team captain in initiating greater public involvement in decisions that had previously been made by the police internally, with little input or attention to our citizens. He has helped to cement the value of citizen engagement as a part of our DNA. Soon, we will be moving to a marvelous new firearms range, a project that Jim shepherded through many daunting snares and obstacles.

There are many others, too numerous to mention. Two that I think are vastly under appreciated, and for which Jim sometimes was subjected to a lot of criticism, are relatively recent. Jim worked hard to make sure that Lincoln police officers are scrupulous in their use of seat belts, and to bend the curve on dangerous driving. These efforts were overdue, no thanks to his predecessor. Despite a lot of howling in the process, these are critical to the safety of our police officers. This issue that Jim took on is protecting our officers today, and will continue to protect them in the future. Every Lincoln police officer should thank him--and so should their family members.

One winter about 15 years ago, Lincoln had some early snow in December that had made a mess of the parking areas at the police garage. Mounds of refrozen snow had turned the entire area into ridges of icy ruts and knee-high drifts between all the parked patrol cars. On Christmas Eve that year, Assistant Chief Jim Peschong and Sgt. Dan Schmidt, off duty, brought their own equipment down to the garage: pickups, trailers, skid loader, and spent the day jockeying parked cars so they could use their power equipment to scrape the snow and ice down to the gravel and asphalt. They did this for one reason only: to make the rest of the winter a little more bearable for their coworkers.

That's the kind of person Jim is. I wish him well in his next adventure.