Thursday, May 17, 2007

Prevention wins every time

ACUDAT is an acronym we use for our version of COMPSTAT. It stands for Analyzing Crime Using Data About Trends. ACUDAT is a monthly meeting I host on the third Wednesdays at 7:00 PM in the LPD assembly room at headquarters. Any officer of any rank and any civilian employee is welcome to attend. It's optional, and open to all. Generally about 20 to 30 people are there.

The purpose of the meeting is to review our current crime trends, patterns, cases, and suspects. We are trying, once a month, to step back from the volume and from the daily drum beat of activity to take a look at a bigger picture: the entire city, the broader pattern, how we're doing, and the connections that might get lost otherwise in the sheer volume of what we do.

As of last night, I have held ACUDAT meetings for exactly 10 years. I'm not sure about everyone else, but for me it has been a valuable experience, that has led to lots and lots of learning and many fresh observations that would not have been made otherwise.

One of the outcomes of ACUDAT is action. This might be additional follow up on a case that we suddenly realize is related to other cases, or further work on a new suspect that has been identified. But as we've continued this process, our outcomes have increasingly involved creating or energizing preventative interventions. An excellent example follows, and one that constitutes absolutely outstanding police work by Capt. Kim Koluch's late shift officers on Lincoln's Southeast Police Team.

A common crime trend we examine is residential burglary. We've discovered that a large percentage of these burglaries occur through garages--many are through garage doors left open at night. Golf clubs, bicycles, and tools are common targets, as is beer in spare refrigerator, and the contents of cars parked inside. Last night, as we examined residential burglaries in the past two weeks, I noted that 8 were through open garage doors. That seemed low. Residential burglary is down about 7% so far this year, but the open garage door burglaries still seemed low. So I checked. Open garage burglaries are especially down this year: from 80 at this point in 2006, to 54 so far in 2007. That's a one-third reduction.

Here's why: The Southeast Team is most heavily hit. They are home to affluent neighborhoods with two and three car garages, expensive stuff, and spare fridges. The late shift Southeast Team officers have been working on a problem-oriented policing project in which they are using their uncommitted time to search subdivisions, find garage doors standing open, and wakie up the owners to let them know. It's a great project. When you hear our PIO talking about this on the 6:00 news, you've forgotten about it by the end of the newscast. If you read about it in the paper, the half-life of that knowledge is about 30 minutes. But when Officer Paul Aksamit is talking to you on the front stoop at 3:00 AM, it will cause you to double check the garage door before bedtime for the remainder of your life, and you will pass the habit on to the next six generations.

The Southeast Team had knocked on 101 doors as of midnight yesterday. The door-knocks, as the chart shows, are mostly in the very wee hours of the morning.

The map shows the locations where officers have made contact on open doors this year, and you can clearly see that the Southeast officers are really charging along on this. That area along the southern fringe corresponds quite well with the area normally hammered the hardest with garage burglaries.

I've had exactly zero complaints (not that I really care--if somebody doesn't realize how this is protecting them, I'd be happy to explain). The number of open garage burglaries in Southeast has fallen by more than half compared to the same time period in 2006. Congratulations on great police work to Paul Aksamit, Tony Ortiz, John Hudec, Tim Abele, Eric Runge, Chad Hein, Alan Grell, Jesse Hilger, Keith White, and their Sergeant, John Walsh, who has knocked on 16 doors himself!

There are few professional joys greater for police officers than catching an offender in the act. But it is far, far more effective to implement strategies like this that prevent crime than to engage in the endless chase of crook-catching efforts, inevitably leading to the occasional arrest of a chronic repeat offender who receives a plea bargain, house arrest, and intensive supervision probation, only to be caught driving suspended at 4:00 AM prowling residential neighborhoods a few weeks later.


Jenn said...

I am just curious as to what the Chief says about low morale. Being in the Marines I know this is important to make sure it is high.

Tom Casady said...

Jenn, people have been saying "morale has never been lower" since the day I started working here in 1974.

Usually, when someone says that, what they really mean is "My morale has never been lower."
Police work is stressful and there are tons of pressures involved. We've just had a major political campaign where every single candidate has been talking about the sorry state of the City's financial affairs, deficits, personnel cuts, and so forth. That tends to drag people down.

Police officers deal with so much negativity in the day, that it tends to effect their perceptions and overall attitudes towards everything surrounding them--in both their professional and personal lives--their morale. Mine got so low personally that I left the department for seven years.

But believe me, morale has been lower. Lots, lots, lots lower. Like when 3 Lincoln police officers were killed in the line of duty within 18 months. Like when 3 Lincoln police officers were indicted for crimes they did not commit and were ultimately exonerated of. Like when every single day the police department was being vilified on the editorial page. Like when the City Council hired a law firm to investigate the police department. Like when the police department was being blamed for the Starkweather rampage. Like when the annual turnover rate for police officers was over 30%, the workweek was six days, you bought your own uniforms, your sidearm was a WWI surplus revolver that did not work, overtime pay did not exist, and no union protected you from the standard punishment for a fender bender that wasn't even your fault: walking the beat for the next several weeks or months.

By comparison with some of the trials and tribulations of the past (some not so distant) we are in the clover right now. Our turnover rate is normal, except for a long-anticipated spike in retirements occurring this year. No one is being laid off, promotions are coming hot and heavy, and our public image is rather rosy compared to most of the rest of the City.

One of the chief sources of "low morale" is the simple fact that, as the poor-speller pointed out--we are a significantly undersized police department. This puts stress on everyone--it's harder to get time off, there is workload pressure, a single officer off sick has a big impact, and so forth. This has not changed a lot in the 50 years for which I have news articles. LPD has always been undersized.

This is not the fault of the chief, the mayor, or the city council. We just elected a new mayor and two city council members. Every single candidate, regardless of their political stripe, ran on the same promise: "I will not raise your property taxes." They did so because, whether we like it or not, there is a clear mandate from citizens.

Until the citizens of Lincoln speak differently, the resources of the City government, and hence the police department, will continue to be scarce compared to our perceived needs. Our solution is to be efficient, deliver our services with quality, and when and if cuts occur, to reduce the range of services we provide, rather than letting the quality of everything we do suffer by simply doing the same thing, just worse. It's not easy, but that's the reality we confront.

When the dust clears on the City's current budget crisis, reasonable people will see that the police department's efficiency, our credibility in the community, and our record of strong financial self-control have paid off. We will be just fine, and better than most other City agencies.

Jenn said...

Chief, Thank you for your response. I personally think the Police are doing a great job. I appreciate the hard work they do, (I know my husband is an officer with LPD). I think your blog is a good idea. For the people that complain about LPD I just turn them to your blog. They get a good insight there. Thanks again for your hard work.

Anonymous said...

Good job LPD!

I love hearing about initiatives like this. This blog is a great tool - I've been reading from the start and hope that you continue.

As to the Chief's response comment, I think the response comment probably could be fodder for many blog posts. I appreciate it when public officials candidly and constructively acknowledge the local politics and budget constraints that affect their agencies. Many thanks for your reasonable and measured response to the effects the city's budget has on your department.

Who does the chief of police serve at the pleasure of in Lincoln? Is it the mayor or the city council or both? I'm curious as to what executive entity the chief of police ultimately is responsible to and how that may affect future blogging.

Anonymous said...

Chief,I just noticed the blog post times (usually around 4:00 am.) You're computer's time is off or you work too hard.

If the time posts are correct, many thanks for putting in the extra effort to keep the public informed.

Tom Casady said...

Answering a couple questions, the chief of police, like all the city department heads, serves at the mayor's pleasure. The mayor may dismiss a director without cause.

Next, don't worry about my sleep, blogger seems to be on west coast time. Those posts you see at 3:30 or 4:00 AM are actually at 5:30 or 6:00 AM (as if that was better.) Actually, I inherited the sleep pattern from my father--early to bed, early to rise!

Did you get that, Dad?

Anonymous said...

It is good to see the current crew of the Southeast team getting some recognition. However, most of the garage door worked was started last year with flyers and knocking on doors. Of course, this was in addition to increasing the total number of arrests in all areas, removing impaired drivers from the roadways AND checking the businesses and schools on a regular basis.

Anonymous said...

Why dont the other area do the same thing? Is is because they are actually fighting crime or just busy with different calls?

Jerry said...

"I've had exactly zero complaints (not that I really care--if somebody doesn't realize how this is protecting them, I'd be happy to explain)."
Pleased to hear it. A little inconvenience is sometimes necessary if it is for the greater social good and a reduction in crime. Rather than displacement (idiot on that other list) I'll bet there is a great opportunity for a diffusion of benefits outside the Southeast area, when all these people go to work and tell their colleagues and friends.

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