Friday, September 28, 2007

Careful with that alarm

Earlier this week, we hosted a training session for A Child is Missing, a non-profit organization that essentially provides automated calling services to police departments at no cost--outbound phone calls with automated alerts to certain geographic areas, such as zip codes or area codes. The basic application is for certain high-risk missing children and adults, but the organization can also send alerts to calls lists that are custom-created by a police department, such as emergency call-out lists. This same functionality has been available on the market for several years, but the key difference is that this service is offered without cost to police agencies.

Outbound automated phone calls do not take the place of the Amber Alert system, designed to get information out very quickly to the general public in the event of an apparent child kidnapping when there is a description sufficient to suggest that the public can help.

We're reasonably interested in the more targeted direct phone capabilities of achildismissing.org, and those who attended the training session were impressed. An article in the Lincoln Journal Star spurred both some comments on their site, and some direct emails to me, suggesting that this kind of notification be expanded from just missing persons to include serious crimes that have just occurred.

I don't think these well-meaning comments advocating breaking into TV programming every time a crime occurs or a child is reported missing in Lincoln have any idea how often this happens. As I told one correspondent, we've investigated 1,800 missing persons on the nose so far this year, 1,354 of whom were children. That's just our little police department, and that's not to mention the 133 robberies, 785 assaults, and so forth. If everyone of those missing children resulted in an alert of some sort, it would be the equivalent of the tornado siren sounding every time a cloud rolled through the sky. People would simply ignore it in short order, not the mention the fact that the media outlets are just not going to break into broadcasts a couple thousand times a year.

Right now, when we have a particularly high risk case--a very young child missing, an adult with dementia who has walked away from a care facility, suspicious circumstances suggesting foul play, we get that information to the local media quickly, and they are very good about including this in their news casts. Automated direct calling might further help spreading the word in such cases. This is a powerful capability, but it needs to be used judiciously, in those cases where foul play or grave imminent harm appears to be involved, and when immediate direct notification to phone subscribers in a targeted area would be most likely to yield results.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Speaking of "free" goods and services, I saw that LPD recently received a nice corporate donation to upgrade the SWAT team's body armor. I also noticed that in many LE agencies, some or all of their K-9 dog purchases are funded by donations. This is kind of getting off-topic, so you may or may not want to post it in this thread, but...

What do you think of the idea of listing some gear that LPD would like to have, but for which the funds just aren't there? A Bell Jet Ranger or a whole new fleet of Crown Vics might be reaching a bit, but if people know exactly what any donations would buy, you might get more of them.

I have a hunch that a good part of the community ("Mr. Gum" and their ilk not included) thinks the LPD budget should be higher, and would like to do something directly, be it big or small, to try and make a little bit of that happen.

Tom Casady said...

I think that's an excellent idea. The City used to publish a "gift catalog" with just such a list by department, but I haven't seen it in the past few years.

We get quite a few donations--Target Foundation donated a nice HD video camera the same week Windstream donated the body armor, for example. But a nice concise "wish list" might stimulate more of those.

Not so sure about that Bell Jet Ranger, though. The maintenance and operating costs are pretty steep. I think for the million dollar annual cost, I'd prefer a dozen officers or so be donated ;-)

Anonymous said...

Just curious if the companies that donate resources to LPD expect any special treatment in return?

Isn't this kind of a slippery slope? Is it any different than officers accepting free or discounted meals?

Tom Casady said...

The key difference is that a donation from Gallup, WalMart, Target, Windstream, or BNSF does not inure to the benefit of a particular officer. We have a rather iron-clad prohibition on those.

I don't think these donors have anything to gain. This might be different if the proposed donation came from a regulated business, like a alcohol wholesaler, for example, or even a convenience store.

Yes, it's very important to think such issues through, and to be careful not to accept donations which might create a real or apparent conflict of interest for the department. These are offered regularly, and turned down or returned is that is the case.

Anonymous said...

Are RSO people excluded from the phone list....now thats an onion.

Anonymous said...

I'd guess that what Mr. Gum really values as a genuinely "needy cause" wouldn't be "starving children" at all, but rather a keg deposit, a stack of pickle cards, or maybe a lap dance.

I was thinking more of things like Jenn's K-9 vest suggestion. They have four dogs, I think, but I've no idea if they have even a single K-9 vest.

Perhaps some night vision gear, so that the LPD graveyard shift could better keep a watchful eye or Mr. Gum's likely nocturnal restroom hovering in local parks.

In any case, the wish list would be very interesting.

Anonymous said...

How about donating 12 cops per team per shift?

And Rod needs a spell checker.

lpdpio said...

Jenn and anon,
Check out this link to LPD's Canines and click on 'more k-9 photos' and the 'trading cards'. You can see the help that the unit has received from both private and business donations. This is a great pic of the handlers and their partners in their ballistic vests.

Anonymous said...

I think my IP address has been banned from The Chief's Corner but I'll try once again. If Anonymous 2:13 thinks it is a good idea for the officers not to park on O St. then it probably IS a good idea to park there. There are many sound tactical and strategic reasons for having the cruisers parked on O St. at bar closing. There is also a psychological advantage to having the cruisers be the first thing people see when they walk out of a bar. It leads people to believe that there are more cops in the area than there really is and lets them know a trip to jail or Detox is halfway across the street if they commit a crime. As for the cars creating a "circus atmosphere", it's already a circus nearly every night.

jenn said...

was there a comment removed from here? My previous statement for 9/28 does not fit now.
How would I harass you?!!? I just think if you have a comment post it with your name. Why remain anonymous? If it worth posting, it is worth signing your name.

Tom Casady said...

Sorry, Jenn. I was doing a little clean up work on a poster who I've blocked due to profanity and personal insults, and the responses got a little out of sync.