Thursday, April 12, 2007

And the Oscar goes to...

I am constantly amazed at the good police work I see while reading the overnight police reports early in the morning. But good police work comes in many flavors. This is one you wouldn't ordinarily think of: Best Documentary Short Subject.

Officer Conan Schafer works on the bike patrol downtown. Like many LPD officers, he's just a very interesting person, who busts most of the stereotypes people have about police officers. He came to police work a little later than most, with a world of experiences in his prior pursuits. He is a deep thinker and has a lot of interests, at least one of which we share: photography.

I stopped in my tracks the other day in our assembly room, passing through on my way somewhere else. There was a video playing on one of the monitors, and Conan was watching it with a couple other employees. It was a Conan Schafer production, and it blew me away. While going about his usual job, he had collected a series of video clips using his own digital video camera.

These were clips of interviews with some of the denizens of his beat: homeless, alcoholic, mentally ill, and addicted transients who hang out downtown--the people he frequently arrests or carts off to the detox center. At home on his own time, he had done some pretty classy editing, plugged in some appropriate music and some titles, and the result was an outstanding short documentary. Conan simply asked short questions, and the film is basically the subjects talking about their activities and lives. It is incredibly powerful. If he could figure out the releases and the royalties on the music, he'd be renting a tuxedo.

Here's why it's such good police work: we need this. People in Lincoln need to understand the scope of this problem, how homelessness, addiction, and chronic mental illness have devolved upon the police, and how arrests and citations simply do not solve the problem. We can and should use our arrest authority to enforce the law when the behavior is illegal, but that is just a temporary fix for this sub population that lives on the fringe, and for whom a two-day trip to the slammer is just part of life.

Conan's film doesn't point to any simple solutions, it's just a testimony to a pernicious set of problems that this and other communities must confront. I have no easy solutions, but expecting the police can somehow make "those people" disappear if they would just clamp down and arrest them more often is unrealistic. The more people who see this work, the more people will understand these realities, and start brainstorming about what more we can do as a community. Maybe some better ideas will emerge other than just more aggressive policing.


Chris said...

I've been reading personal websites since the mid 90's, long before the term "blog" was coined. It seems every week someone in the public eye somewhere decides to waste another pice of the world's bandwidth to add their 2¢ to some targeted political topic, and a blog is born.

This feels different.

After a week of reading I've come to the conclusion that this blog is not being used for political motive, for ranting, raving, profit or punditry. There is no question in my mind that this blog is being used solely to improve the public perception of the Lincoln Police Department.

But here's the thing - It's working.

I have thoroughly enjoyed all of your posts, and appreciate the insight you are offering to the community. As a rational adult, I know that Police Officers are human beings, just like everyone else. To have concrete examples shared here takes that rational thought and makes it an emotional one. Emotion wins in real life. Emotion wins at traffic accidents, at polling places, at point of sale. Emotion connects people. Last week when you were on the TV news I wouldn't look up from my laptop. Next week, I will, because I now have a "connection" to Chief Cassady. He's no longer just a figure of authoroty. He's a part of my online social network. As a person over the age of - say - 30 years old, you may scoff at this tenuous "connection". But make no doubt about it, it is fact. You name the place, and emotion wins.

I don't know if you started this blog as a personal decision, if some PR consultant advised you to, or if you are doing it to be "subversive" in the current local governmental climate. I don't care. You need to know that you are doing an excellent job so far, and all indications are that you "get it." You are writing content that feels honest, real, and emotional. And it is interesting to boot. This is the stuff that great blogs are made of, and I sincerely hope it will continue. (Statistics show that it won't, unfortunately.)

As a complete aside, if you are really bought into this grassroots campaign to make the Police Department more approachable to younger citizens, you might try throwing something like this into the mix:

Again, thank you for the honest and frank discussions you have started here. As a citizen of Lincoln, I look at its Police in a different way now. You'll have many accomplishments as Chief, but never forget to count this dialog amongst them.

foxspit said...

Well said Chris. I agree, this blog is much more than I expected it to be and its depth and emotional connection compel me to return to the site.

Chief Casady, I hope you can talk Officer Schafer to share his work on your blog. I would love to see it.

Karin Dalziel said...

I just wanted to add my support as well. This blog is great, it is noticed, and I am so glad you're doing it. Ditto to everything Chris said.

T. Pointer said...

I lived in Lincoln for over 30 years (now I live in Philly-city of brotherly love and more than 5 shootings/day...uggghhh)and miss much about the city not the least of which is its LOW crime rate.

I am so impressed with Chief Casady's article for several reasons. First, I know Conan and admire him greatly and feel he deserves recognition for being a great police officer and most importantly, a fantastic human being. Second, I applaud Chief Casady for taking the time out of an undoubtedly busy day to write some heartfelt comments about Conan. And finally I wish to recognize Conan and Chief Casady for reminding us that acknowledgement is the first step toward finding a solution to a problem.

I wish that we could all catch a glimpse of Conan's fine work so that we may be moved beyond awe to action.


Anonymous said...

how about we close the mission instead of expanding it. If we build it they will come.

Portia Belmont said...

I've never published a video, but I don't think it's that hard to pay the royalties on the use of the music. I'll bet if someone picked up the phone and spoke with a producer at NET or even one of the commercial stations in town, they'd be able to tell Conan how to go about it. I'll bet there's even grant money available to help pay for production and distribution costs. If he wants he could always put it on YouTube, but with a little research he might be able to get it aired on public TV.

ptg said...

I wish more PDs had someone to run this kind of interface with the public. This isn't just a "police blotter blog" as I expected, but something better.

Good work, Chief.

Anonymous said...

Hears some great acting. See it at

EOT said...

Where can I see this?

Sound REALLY interesting!!