Thursday, August 16, 2007

Linger longer in Lincoln

Earlier this summer, things were looking grim for the police department’s budget. It has been a tough couple of years for the City due to flat sales tax revenue. It appeared that among our cuts we would be losing $101,450 in police overtime. In preparation for the belt-tightening, we had anticipated further reductions in special events—one of the few kinds of overtime that is amenable to our massaging.

Overtime for court appearances, late calls that hold officers beyond the end of their shift, and emergencies such as SWAT Team call-outs, major crimes, or fatal traffic collisions is unavoidable. That’s why we have it, and that’s what we need to spend it for. But for special events, a portion of the overtime incurred is not for safety—rather it’s for convenience. This is particularly true for the Big Dog on the police department’s extensive special events calendar—University of Nebraska home football games.

Seven or eight times annually, we were spending around $12,000 in overtime to bring in additional officers to direct traffic at dozens of locations, many of which were staffed not to ensure safety, but to get fans to and from the game more expeditiously. Nebraska football is a huge economic engine for the City, and we want everyone to have a great experience. But frankly, in the list of priorities, you’ve got to rank the ability to tarry a little longer at your tailgate knowing the police will get you through the traffic snarls rather low in comparison to getting a crime scene technician to the scene of a serious stabbing.

We made some significant cuts last year that worked quite well and saved $25,000. We were prepared to cut the football detail again this year from about 36 officers to around 20 by staffing fewer traffic direction locations. We had prioritized the locations where we felt traffic gridlock would seriously interfere with vehicle movements, and where there would be the greatest conflict between pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

At the 11th hour, however, the City Council restored funding for our overtime budget, which will be about the same in fiscal year 2007-2008 as it is this year. This will let us put more players on our asphalt-and-concrete field. Although the City Council's action has provided a greater cushion, it could still be a bit tight. Our salary base, upon which overtime is calculated, is increasing due to union-negotiated pay raises of 3.25%. We’ll still need to watch costs closely, and even though we’ll be staffing a few more positions for football then previously anticipated, we will be trying to hold the line and reduce somewhat from last season.

This could be tricky. Years back, when every game started at 1:30 PM, you had the detail honed to a fine edge, and you knew exactly what to expect. This has all changed. There have been huge additions to the stadium, major roadway modifications, new parking lots, facilities, and garages. Now, the starting time fluctuates according to the TV schedule. You don’t even know when kickoff will be until midweek. It’s something of a scheduling nightmare as a result, and the fluctuating kickoff times also cause unpredictable crowd dynamics: this one arrives earlier than expected; the next one presents us with a late-arriving crush.

With change comes risk. I’m assembling all the sports clichés to defend our honor if the traffic at the first game or two turn out to be worse than we expect: “It looked good in practice, but we just didn’t execute”, “We’ve got to work some kinks out and avoid mistakes”, “They threw a new look at us that we hadn’t seen on tape”, “We learned a lot about our character, and we’ll bounce back next week”, etc. etc..

We’ll need a little patience and understanding on this, folks. We’re trying to ensure orderly traffic flow and get everyone to and from the game safely without huge delays. It’s not a perfect science. Linger longer in Lincoln after the game, enjoy downtown for a while, listen to the post game on the radio before heading for the street, and we’ll get this all accomplished with some nice savings for the taxpayers, fewer worn-out police officers who’ve got to be back for the late shift at 2300, and maybe even some happy restaurateurs at some of the nice dinner spots in Lincoln’s Haymarket.


Anonymous said...

How about no cops directing traffic, then forward all of the complaint calls to the mayor and city council member's home phone numbers (there would be about 78,000 of them). Tell the mayor and council that there isn't enough money OR cops on the street. Bet we'd have a budget amendment next council meeting for more OT and about 100 more cops on the street.

Tom Casady said...

You are wrong. You'd simply have a new police chief who would not make that same stupid mistake.

Creating a crisis to make a point is an idiotic idea. Rather than building support, it is absolutely guaranteed to do the reverse: create distrust among the elected officials and animosity in the general public.

You tell the truth without exaggeration and do the best job with the resources you have, and most people will notice, acknowledge and appreciate that. You resort to game-playing and retribution, and you will destroy any respect that previously existed.

Anyone who can't see that the police department just earned a resounding vote of appreciation and praise for the job we're doing with the restoration of all of our cash budget cuts (and then some) during the tightest budget year the City has ever seen is politically tone deaf.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, I see that Palm Springs is looking for a new Police Chief! $130K and a good comp package. Winter uniforms not needed.

Seriously, you're right, it would be a betrayal of public trust to do that kind of political stunt, having a "Simulated Detroit Week".

Half-seriously, I wonder if there is some way to form a special citizen education squad to pound some sense into people that leave their garage doors up all day and night, leave doors unlocked, and leae their cars unlocked? What in the world is wrong with those people?

We might all wish we lived in a perfect world, where no one had to lock anything up, and where we all had good luck all the time.

When that happy train leaves for that perfect world, be sure and call me. However, while we're all still in this world here, please lock up your stuff!

Anonymous said...

Chief your leadership and ability really shine through in these difficult budget times. There should be no doubt as to why the mayor and council trust your judgement.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible to just make a plan/schedule and tailor them precisely for each game time (11AM, 1230PM, 1PM, 230PM, 6PM and 7PM) and then you don't have to constantly try to find a way that will fit for each time frame? Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

So there are a couple less cops. Yours are only there for presence anyway. Traffic will congest no matter the number of cops which are in the street. Maybe they should put on their bright vests so it is easier to spot them. Or just look for the cluster of green. Do they ever break out of their groups during the game?

Anonymous said...

Chief, why is it that the UNL football program doesn't fund the overtime for these officers? It seems pretty clear to me that there are no budget shortfalls in that department...

Or, why not pad the price of each ticket to help pay for the cost of controlling the mob that these games create? Memorial Stadium holds about 81,000 people so all it would take is a PUNY 15 cents per ticket to get you your $12,000 in overtime pay.

Tom Casady said...

Well, I think UNL can legitimately look at it and say that the traffic on City streets is our problem, not theirs. There is no denying and Husker football has a hugely positive economic impact on the City of Lincoln, and I don't think anyone wants to cook the goose that's laying the golden egg.

The University, by the way, pays the cost of traffic direction at basketball games--where the pproblem isn't the traffic on the City streets, but rather getting the traffic to the City Streets.

Omaha's had the same issues--only much greater--with the Qwest Center and the impact it has had on the need for police traffic control.

Anonymous said...

Chief Casady I have been a reader of your blog for the last few months and have come to believe that you should make a run at the Mayor of Lincoln. Has this ever interested you or have you given any thought to politics? Many of your ideas have been implicated and I am sure you have more that don't belong on the blog. You have my vote

Tom Casady said...

Pardon me, when I pick myself up off the floor and stop laughing, I'll reply.

Whew, that's better. Not on your life. Self-awareness is a marvelous thing. Two words come to mind: tact and diplomacy. Mayors have it, I could use it.

That's a nice compliment, but I really enjoy my job as police chief, and I at least feel like it's something I am uniquely qualified for. I'm sure there are plenty of people who disagree, as the comments on this blog often remind me.

I've had the opportunity to make an impact on the community and the department, that has been very rewarding for me, and when I'm too old to do this job, I hope to start a second rewarding career in an entirely different field!

Anonymous said...

I believe not having tact can get many things accomplished as well. Thats has been the problem with Lincoln mayors or at least the two previous. They had to many hands in to many pockets and used tact way to much. Sometimes you need to be blunt with people and they will get over it sooner.

Anonymous said...

How about no cops period. Most people don't need some goon in a uniform standing in the middle of the street pointing their finger. We could certainly use a real police chief. Not some whinning blow hard that's so full of himself he can't seem to focus on real crimes.

Anonymous said...

But if we had "no cops period", how could we have a "real police chief"? To quote my old robot, Nomad, "Error! Error!"

In any case, serious civilian criticism of department policy is best done in person, by mail, or over the phone.

-JS- said...

Anonymous 5:38pm:

With comments like yours, it seems obvious--at least to me--that you are EXACTLY the type of person that needs "some goon in a uniform standing in the middle of the street pointing their finger" to get you from point A to point B.

You are the reason we have cops downtown.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous 8:37, when you read try and keep it in context, genious. Finger pointing might be a good job for you and your robot. This is serious criticism and this is also called mail. Is this only to be used for stroking Tommy boy? As for JS, how is it we need cops downtown for people like me? Because I criticized? Why pay these guys to stand around pointing fingers, when we've got a street sign every five feet to tell us what our next move needs to be. How about the sighns that tell us how much time we have to cross the street. We really needed those. How did we ever get by this long without them? Once again, money well spent. The money spent on those damn things, could have bought a few more goons to point.

Anonymous said...

I'm no "genious[sic]", but I think the suggestion regarding the submittal of civilian criticism of the department, in long form, was basically this:

Vague, generalized, and anonymous criticism is usully dismissed and ignored. It accomplishes nothing, other than blowing off steam.

In order to have any hope of affectng current policy, it is wise to get specifc and detailed with a greivance, or a list of greivances. Example:

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

I you want to stay anonymous, that's fine (there are occasionally good reasons for that), but there's nothing like a well-written, snail-mailed list of grevances if you want someone to pay attention.

Tom Casady said...

12:10 PM:

Nice excerpt from an excellent read. Wonder how many will recognize it.

Anonymous 10:51 has written several posts on my blog filled with vile invective and laced with profanity.

He's posted several similar comments to various Lincoln Journal Star articles, although there he tones down the language. You might say his prose is somewhat distinctive.

I've got thick enough skin, but I don't intend to let his profanity through, and the insults I might or might not allow. My blog!