Monday, September 17, 2007

Herding cats

Nebraska played top-ranked USC in Lincoln Saturday, and the City was electric. I was the second shift duty commander. I signed up to work a couple months ago, and had no idea at the time that it was the night of the USC game. Capt. Anthony Butler had the night off, and I was filling in for him. As duty commander, you have four basic responsibilities:
  • Conduct lineup (the roll-call briefing at the beginning of each shift)
  • Review incoming reports and assign any needed followup work
  • Answer 10,000 questions from the news media
  • Manage all police field operations
Due to shift overlaps and varying schedules, the second shift CO has lineups to conduct at 1435, 1605, 1805, and 1905 hours. Basically, Capt. Butler told me that when a group of officers is sitting down in the assembly room, it's probably time for me to do something. After the 1435 lineup, Officer Pat Knopik invited me to come down a little later to his assigned intersection, 10th and Q Street, for a little traffic direction. This intersection is ground zero for game-day traffic. I'm not sure how serious Pat's invitation was, or whether he actually thought I might take him up on it.

Kickoff was at 1900, so I had a couple hours to soak in the ambiance of downtown Lincoln on a football Saturday after the 1505 lineup. There was a mass of humanity, and it was an early crowd, well in the cups with the extended pre-game festivities. Things were jammed up a good hour before the officers assigned to direct traffic were to be at their corners. So, I donned my traffic vest, and for about 45 minutes tried my luck at 10th and Q until the first assigned officer, Eric Messersmith arrived. We worked furiously for about another half hour, and then the rest of the officers, Pat Knopik and Jeff Hahne, arrived. That was a welcome relief, Eric and I had our hands full until the full crew took their assignments.

It's been twenty years since I directed traffic at a home football game. After 13 seasons, I swore I would never go near Memorial Stadium while in possession of an Acme Thunderer. I normally had 10th and P Streets during those seasons, which was pretty much the same gig. Here's what's changed, though. Everyone--and I do mean everyone--has a cell phone stuck in their ear, motorists and pedestrians alike. I couldn't believe the wanderings of the telephonically distracted. If you've ever been behind some lane-straddling motorist meandering down the road yapping on the phone and oblivious to the block-long back up they're creating, you know how frustrating that can be. Try standing out in the middle of a five lane intersection with about 85,000 of them. Herding cats, indeed.

Unfortunately, at 1800 I had to beat feet for HQ and another lineup. I got back out in time to take over 10th and O Street from Chad Staley and John Pitts, to make sure JP got to the stadium in time for the opening ceremonies, for a change.

I have to admit it was fun, in a strange sort of way. Thanks, Pat.


jenn said...

It is good for the higher in command to get out there in the trenches (so to speak). I'm sure it is easy to forget when you get "up there" just what the officers on the street have to go through. It gives a new perspective, (I hope), to the officers that have been away for a while. I know you guys are busy, but maybe it would be a good idea to have EVERYONE have to direct traffic at least once a year.

Anonymous said...

Isn't there a law in these parts which requires both hands to be unencumbered while driving (with exceptions made for specially-modified vehicles for amputees and so forth)?

If so, then I'd like to see it aggressively enforced, and I say that as someone that wears a cell phone nearly every waking moment - I just don't have it in my hand once the shift lever comes out of "park".

I don't even look at the caller ID unless I'm stopped at a red light. I just ask myself if I really need to make or take that call right now, instead of pulling over to do it, and the answer is always - no.

Anonymous said...

Nothing gains more respect than having the "head honcho" jump in the trenches. My hat's off to you.

Did any of the husker faithful recognize you as the "big kahoona?"
Or did you wear the mirrored glasses from back in the old days?

Anonymous said...

How about coming out on a Saturday night third shift when we are below minimum and answer some calls too?

Tom Casady said...

No such law, although there is good old "negligent driving." As a practical matter, though, if you waved someone over and issued a traffic ticket in that congestion, you'd be making a pretty significant tactical error.

What amazed me even more than the drivers were the absent-minded pedestrians with cell phones meandering all over the place like a two-bit drunk.

Wait--maybe it wasn't just the cell phone!

Anonymous said...

That's true, you see many pedestrians with a phone stuck to their ear, even when crossing the street. I doubt they realize that trotting along in Condition White like that also makes them especially appealing to pickpockets, muggers, and other such vermin. It's as foolhardy as leaving your garage door open or not locking your door.

Too bad about the both-hands law thing. People really should pay attention when they are operating heavy machinery.

Anonymous said...

I would love to see a response to anonymous 12:54pm.

Rosey said...

Standing in a shoulder to shoulder parking lot - err tailgate before the game - I can also attest to the fact the the first words uttered by EVERY caller was "Where you at?"

Remember the days when we'd agree to meet at 3:00 somewhere and we actually met without the need for any additional phone calls or coordination?

The only thing better than a "where you at?" call - is the "I'm almost there" call or (as my wife loves to do) the call to check the answering machine messages when you're 5 min from home call.

Tom Casady said...

Okay then, sure. I normally work three nights of late shift every year, as the duty commander--filling in for an absent captain. I spend about half the night on the street. I'm not shy about showing up and helping out. I also make many reports during the year, so next time I work nights, I'd be perfectly comfortable taking calls.

Unless, that is, the call is a truck-bus accident. The accident report forms for commercial vehicles make the Federal 1040 with Schedule C, D, and E look easy. I'll do your taxes, you work my accident.

anonymous 12:54pm said...

Not even close....

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 12:54---I agree. The Duty CO doesn't quite compare to a street officer taking calls. Especially when you're below minimum and haven't been able to get a day off for a month.

Tom Casady said...

Okay, 3:17, I agree, it's not the same. Never said it was. But what is it you want from me, other than busting my chops? Job swap for a few days? I'm good with that. How about October 10, 11, and 12. You do my job, I'll work third shift SW (or whatever).

-JS- said...

Just my 2 cents worth:

I realize there is a prevailing despair lingering due to the staffing crisis HOWEVER, I am growing tired of the jabs at the chief, duty CO's, unit commanders, etc. who are not out taking calls on a regular basis.

Why do we want them out there doing the jobs we were hired to do anyways? They have different duties needing their attention. Working calls for service third shift is not their job, its ours.

The chief doesn't ask why I haven't filled in at the budget hearings, citizens police advisory board hearings, city council meetings, etc. so why the jabs at him?

No one likes the staffing and budget at the current levels, including the chief (I would guess). Time to quit the griping, acknowledge the chief's work--which is in addition to his own--and band together to get a job done.

Everyone needs to try and excel at their own piece of the pie and quit taking pot shots at others.

Anonymous said...

Some people here must think they make you a Command Staff Officer right after the Police Academy. Don't they that know promotions are made from the bottom up. Every Captain and Chief has more then paid thier dues as a Patrol Officer probably working in an era that was much more labor unfriendly then today. I'll bet my next cup of Mill coffee that Chief Casady has directed more traffic, booked more drunks, wrote more reports,worked as many accidents and possibly even spent as much Officer time in Internal Affairs as Anonymous 3:17. And I bet he did it without near as much whining!

anonymous 12:54pm said...

If you can arrange it so I can swap with a Council person then I'll do it. A one for one swap with the Chief would just keep the level where it is and I'm sure he already knows how it feels to be short handed. Besides, I'd just take those three days off on vacation.

I actually commend the Chief for getting out and directing traffic instead of calling in an on-duty to do it and take a car off of the street. Quite a coincidence though that there happened to be a LJS photographer there, but maybe that's just my conspiracy theory mind at work.

C said...

Thank you JS, morale is your responsibility, not the Chiefs, you need to love what you do, not what he does, you need to feel pride every morning that you put on that uniform and accept the responsibilities that go with it. If you aren't happy when the alarm clock goes off then find something that does make you happy because a lot of us love this job and consider ourselves lucky to have the opporitunity to do what we do.
We work with some amazing people and no one on the command staff made it to where they are today without going through exactly what we are going through and im sure there was plenty they didn't like about staffing, equipment, calls for service, etc.
Enough of the bashing, take a look at yourself and decide why you do this job, if your pros don't outweigh your cons than move on because nothing that the Chief does is ever going to change that.

Anonymous said...

Oh Tommy Boy you sure are proud of yourself this time. Out there in your boy scout uniform swingin' your arms around like your intelligent. Some citzens may have thought you were until you made those ridiculous comments on the news last night. If there was a prize for stupid comments you'd win every time. Tommy you really need to get over this obsession you have with the bars. Cities have bars, even small cities, like Lincoln. If retail could make it downtown, it would be there. It doesn't matter how many bars there are or where there located if people are going to use them they'll go where they are. Besides I would think it would make your job a little easier to have them all located close together. Tommy you really need to quit this public speaking, it's just not good for your image.

Anonymous said...

"Out there in your boy scout uniform swingin' your arms around like your[sic] intelligent."

He's probably intelligent enough to know the difference between "your" and "you're", and to use them accordingly, unlike some folks.