Monday, May 28, 2007

No simple solution

Last weeks tragic car-pedestrian collision that left a 5 year old Prescott Elementary School student in critical condition brought up an issue I have needed to explain frequently to parents or principals frustrated with the congestion, illegal parking, speeding, and similar problems as the school bell rings. It's not as simple as assigning a police officer to patrol around the school.

Some of the remarks in the local media after the collision were from citizens who thought it was that simple. They were disappointed that the police are not around the school to do more about bad driving and parking. I hear this repeatedly. The parent or principal is usually seeking some more police presence, and is not aware that this same set of issues is troublesome around all the high schools, all the middle schools, and all but a small fraction of the elementary schools in Lincoln.

To illustrate this post, I collected a little data from Friday, May 25, 2007. Since schools generally begin their day sometime between 7:30 a.m. and 9:00 a.m., and dismiss sometime between 2:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., that was the time frame I was interested in exploring. This data which follows represents a typical weekday scenario for us.

First, I was interested in the total number of uniformed officers and sergeants on duty at the moment. These are the women and men who are ready to respond to dispatchers. The number of LPD officers on duty varies throughout the day. We staff shifts according to workload. The demand for police services peaks at times such as the morning and evening rush hours, lunch hour, and especially the time surrounding the bar closing hour. We also use staggered and overlapped shifts so we don't deplete all the officers at shift change times. In comparison to other police departments, a large percentage of our officers are deployed in uniform on the street, rather than in specialized units or plain clothes assignments.

On Friday at 8:00 a.m., there were 33 uniformed street police officers and sergeants on duty in Lincoln. At 3:00 p.m. there were 52. These officers, however, were not sitting around the station waiting for the bell the ring. Rather, they were busy responding to the expressed needs and wants of the citizens of Lincoln.

From 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. on Friday, we dispatched Lincoln police officers to 64 incidents. Between 2:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., officers responded to 93 incidents. This total of 157 incidents that needed police attention during the before and after school hours Friday included assaults, shoplifters, drunks, traffic collisions, alarms, disturbances, fights, child abuse cases, and so forth. Many of these incidents required more than one officer. While some were quick and simple, others were quite complicated and/or time consuming.

There are 54 public schools in Lincoln, and another 17 parochial K-12 schools, for a total of 71. That's not counting dozens of preschools.

Even if there had not been a single mental health crisis demanding police attention, no domestic involving a pregnant women and her boyfriend, no residential fire on Starr Street, no child abuse victim at the St. Elizabeth Hospital emergency room, and so forth--there would still not have been anywhere close to enough police officers to have someone in close proximity to each school in Lincoln.

In fact, there would not have been enough officers to have someone in proximity to any school in Lincoln, unless he or she happened to be near the school (or at the school) in connection with one of those 157 incidents. In reality, during many time periods throughout the week dispatchers are queueing incidents--keeping a computer-aided list of events to which they have nobody to send, and dishing the queued calls out to officers on a priority basis as somebody becomes available.

While we clearly need more police officers in Lincoln, increasing the size of the police force--even dramatically and at a huge cost--will not solve the traffic safety problems around schools. We've got to continue working on a broader range of solutions, because it's a pipe-dream to expect a police officer at every school dedicated to shooing the negligent parents out of the bus zone, snapping the speed of every lead-footed neighborhood resident, and making that minivan parked too close to the crosswalk move along.


Anonymous said...

When my daughter was at Mickle Middle School a couple of years ago, they had teachers stationed at the drop-offs each morning to make sure parents behaved. They were very assertive about making sure kids were dropped off in the correct place. We learned to behave correctly! Hopefully, they are still enforcing things there, because it really helped.

Now I'm at East, where there are idiots who pull over anywhere and drop kids off in the midst of traffic. It's a frustrating situation. When I can, I try to communicate with the offenders, but they never seem to care, or even seem aware they are doing anything wrong.

Unfortunately, East's school officer (Amen) often chooses to park his vehicle in one of the few drop off zones in front of school, removing a precious spot and encouraging parents to swing over any old place instead. I talked with him, and suggested he move a few feet away and use the parking lot, but he wasn't very understanding and insisted he needed to take up a drop-off spot in order to be more visible. It's disappointing when our officers contribute to the parking problem at schools.

foxspit said...

In my experience dropping kids off at Roper Elementary School and Park Middle School, police won't solve the problem there. Police can't thwart stupidity.

Drivers at these two schools are either awful drivers, or just plain arrogant. Or both.

A little common sense, common courtesy, and following the traffic rules, would ease the problem greatly.

I think the police have bigger fish to fry in Lincoln than dealing with a problem of our own creation. I figure that if it gets bad enough, parents will complain and perhaps a little self-enforcement of existing rules will increase compliance. Until then, I repeat my mantra during the morning drop-off and try to keep my blood pressure down.

GMP said...

Maybe if those who are the most upset by the illegal parking, bad driving, etc. could volunteer a few hour a week at a school of their choice, taking down plate numbers and jotting down the offense, then volunteer at the police station to send letters to the offenders with a suggestion that they obey the rules, then some of the offenders might take notice and correct themselves. If more were available to volunteer to help the police, their jobs might be lighter.

Anonymous said...

I wish I could volunteer, but I'm a single parent and work two jobs. The answer does seem to be volunteers though. There needs to be someone there to visibly monitor the situation and take action.

Parent said...

As an East parent, I am glad to see Officer Amen's vehicle each morning when I drop my child off. In this day of school violence, it gives me comfort to see an officer present at my child's school. I also know from conversations with my child about the great presence the officer has at East. He works very well with the students.

There are many potential drop-off points at East High school. I do not mind a cruiser being parked out front. It most likely reminds people to behave themselves. One police cruiser is NOT the cause of problem.

Anonymous said...

Ah.. East Parent ... you bend my words. I didn't say that one police officer was the cause of the problem. I said he contributed to it by taking away a parking spot in an already small drop-off point.

Nor did I mean to imply that I resent his presence. I just thought he could be more considerate. He can still park out front - just in a different spot.

As to how well Amen works with students - I've heard mixed reports. Like most things, the truth is likely somewhere in the middle.

Parent said...

To Anonymous:

I do agree that the truth is somewhere in the middle. I would assume this applies to your truth as well.

Have you considered asking for the administration's thoughts on the parking situation? They may have a reason for asking the officer to be there. I am sure the parking situation is a challenge at any large school.

Just an idea...

Anonymous said...

Ofc. Amen is a wonderful officer and you are exceptionally lucky to have him at East High School. It appears that you have alot of time on your hands to complain about something so trivial. I too am a student at East High and have seen where Ofc. Amen parks at. The lot directly to the North is for hurt individuals or people who are in more need of closer parking. One of which I assume you are not one of. If you feel that this is a dangerous place, maybe you should pick your child up or drop them off at a "safer" site like the student parking lot or at Clocktower. I can't believe I have even wasted my time addressing this trivial aspect of your life so with this I will end my comments.

Jenn W said...

To anonymous May 31 6:28...

I'm sure the bad reports of your "mixed reports" are from the students who are not doing what they are supossed to. To have to put up with punks all day at the school (not every student) then have to go out and put up with punks on the street, Officer Amen should get to park where he wants to! Instead of complaining thank him for making YOUR kid(s) safer.