Friday, June 29, 2007
You can watch the week unfold yourself. Keep an eye on the climbing number of disturbances. That's a reflection of the deluge of calls reporting illegal fireworks. the 4th was on Tuesday last year, and starting on the Friday preceding, we dispatched officers to 468 fireworks calls. Lincoln's very restrictive fireworks ordinance essentially means that anything that goes bang is illegal. Here's the specific list of permissible fireworks: sparklers, vesuvius fountains, spray fountains, torches, color firecones, star and comet-type color aerial shells without explosive charge for the purpose of making a noise, and color wheels. That's it. Every firecracker you hear and bottle rocket you see is illegal. And of course, anything prior to the 3rd is out, too.
Illegal fireworks are a problem for us, because half the public seems to be disenchanted with the fact that we can't make it stop, and the other half thinks we're stupid for trying, and ought to let them alone. Some people get incredibly wound up about this. I'll have to explain to a dozen callers-to-the-chief, correspondants-to-the-city-council, or complainers-to-the-mayoral-ombudsman that we really can't just shoot a couple of fifth graders and leave their bodies in the street as a warning to others.
It's not that the law is impossible to enforce, and we'll write a scores of citations for illegal fireworks. You catch the slow, the drunk, and the young. You ask them to knock it off. If they persist, or flunk the attitude test, a citation is in the offing. Nobody talks to their neighbor and just asks them to cool it: they just call the police to have us do it. The violations we encounter are primarily handled with warnings, because the volume is just so huge that the paper work would crush you, even if you were inclined to adopt a take-no-prisoners approach. It isn't ideal, but it's about the best we can do.
The kids are particularly problematic. Clogging up the juvenile system with a few hundred arrests for illegal fireworks that will subsequently be dismissed, and serious marring police-community relations in the process sounds like a great idea.
And no, before you start in on me, we can't arrest the parents for the acts of the child. That's not the way the law is written, and that's not my fault. I don't write the laws or pass the laws, despite what some of the gun nuts constantly claim. You cannot, as much as you might wish, bang on the door, get mom out of her apron, take the dish towel away from dad, and trundle them both off to the slammer because junior is blowing up his sister's Barbie doll in the driveway with Black Cats. It's junior you'll have to cuff and stuff.
Truth be told, the police are pretty ineffective in dealing with violations when a large plurality of the public will not voluntarily obey the law. We're great at dealing with the fringe, but when the fringe is as big as the whole, that's a real problem for us. And on this one, the violators are often straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting: mom and dad, the kids, grandma and grandpa, decorating the bikes for the neighborhood parade while popping off bottle rockets. Real SWAT Team material.
I engaged in a preemptive public relations campaign last year aimed at laying a little guilt on the otherwise law-abiding citizens who are buying illegal fireworks for their kids. That was about as effective as a damp punk. I'm not quite sure what to do, frankly. Lincoln's citizens have got to decide for themselves what they really want. The police are currently being placed in an untenable position.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
It appears the theme is that I am responsible for lax law enforcement, poor records of conviction and sentencing, and an old way of thinking that causes criminals and sex offenders to view Lincoln as a haven. Geez, I've got plenty of shortcomings, but I didn't think I was that big of a boat anchor. Maybe it's the same person using three screen names. Here's a failing that comes across rather obviously in blog posts to Lincoln crime stories day in and day out , though: I seem to be utterly ineffective on making it clear to some people that the police neither plea bargain, set bond, nor determine sentences.
You have to be pretty thick-skinned to do my job, so don't worry much about me. Yesterday's morning's birth of a new grandson made it pretty hard for an anonymous goofball to darken my day!
By the way: that soft on crime stuff is totally bogus. Last year, LPD's 316 officers accounted for 28,523 arrest charges. I'll put that number up against any police department anywhere, anytime. Go ahead, it's mostly available online at agency websites. I challenge anyone to find a municipal police department that produces that many arrests per officer.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
The results show that 20% of the RSOs in Nebraska were convicted in another State. Of 1103 level 3 offenders, there are 228 whose most recent sex crime conviction was elsewhere. The largest single number was 65 from Iowa. Colorado was next, with 24. This may be a reflection of Iowa's tight residency restrictions on sex offenders. Iowa's law could be forcing sex offenders to relocate into adjacent States with fewer restrictions.
A more detailed look at the 253 level three offenders living in Lincoln showed that 29 originated from other states, and 55% originated from somewhere other than Lancaster County. Lincoln appears to be a net importer of RSOs, reflecting the presence of State institutions in the Capital City, such as the State Penitentiary and the Lincoln Regional Center.
Monday, June 25, 2007
Last week, I spent a significant chunk of time responding to worries that citizens expressed including signs placed in the public right-of-way between the sidewalk and the curb, and loud automotive stereos. What amazes me isn't that these things get under someone's skin, rather it's the expectation that the police should make these annoyances go away. I'm a little peeved by those lincolndating.org and "lose 30 pounds in 30 days!" signs myself, but when you struggle to put enough officers on the street to handle the big stuff, it's just a little disconcerting to realize you are letting people down by not picking off those who illegally post garage sale signs with sufficient enthusiasm.
So, here's my response to a nice couple who are being "physically assaulted" by the sounds of stereos at night--so severely that they are thinking about leaving Lincoln--and the police won't do anything about it:
"I want you to know that we do indeed enforce the Lincoln Municipal Ordinance which prohibits car stereos from being audible from a distance of more than 50 feet. This year, we will issue close to 400 citations for this offense. At times, we are bitterly criticized for our enforcement of this law.
Unfortunately, I don't think all the tickets in the world can offset the cultural phenomenon, but we will keep trying. This certainly isn't a problem limited to Lincoln--it is nationwide. It seems to me that every young adult aspires to put a more powerful amplifier and larger speakers in their car--not to mention a number of local businesses who depend on this for their livelihood. Until the culture changes, the police will inevitably be largely ineffective in completely stemming the tide of noise.
If you can depend on the vast majority of people to voluntarily obey the law, the police can generally do a good job of ensuring that the outliers are reeled in. However, if a large number of otherwise law-abiding citizens disregard the law, we have a significant problem. I think these loud stereos (often purchased, directly or indirectly, by parents) are almost in the same category as illegal fireworks—behaviors that are tacitly condoned by far too many adults who ought to know better.
Since your message specifically mentioned car stereos on Friday and Saturday nights, I hope you will keep in mind that this is only one of dozens of problems we must deal with during this time, which is our peak demand period. The dispatch center is frequently holding incidents during this time period, because there are not enough officers to cover all the police calls. Lincoln has one of the smallest police departments per capita in the region and the smallest in the State. There are lots of competing priorities out there, and I am afraid that there is no way that we can meet everyone's expectations at all times, despite our efforts.
At some point, we all have to realize that the police cannot be everywhere for everyone at every time--or we have to be willing to dig much, much deeper into our taxpayer pockets. In the meantime, we'll try to keep up at least a little pressure on the late-night rock and rumble crowd!"
I'm not looking forward to the Fourth of July.
Friday, June 22, 2007
The police beat is a staple of news reporting. If you stop and think about it, a huge amount of the content on the nightly news deals with crime, disorder, traffic collisions, and the police. Any new journalist will inevitably spend some time covering the cop shop, and for some, it will be a focus of their career. The police, likewise, rely on the media for many things: accurate reporting that avoids rumors, timely notification to the public of safety and crime prevention information, stories that generate tips and leads. Cultivating positive relationships with the press can help protect the police from ill-informed or malicious criticism, can help sustain support and respect for the police, and can build a better appreciation in the community for the challenges police departments confront.
Our Public Information Officer, Officer Kacky Finnell and I, generally try to give the students some practical information about how to interact effectively with local police agencies so they can get their job done without annoyance. Personal relationships are important, and simply introducing yourself to the key contacts in advance of any need is always a good idea. Understanding the jurisdiction and organization of the local agencies is important, as is a good knowledge of the basics of criminal justice: what's a preliminary hearing, who sets bond, where does one find public records like criminal histories, search warrant affidavits, arrest affidavits and the like.
Oh, and reporters ought to carry writing materials. I usually tell the students about the first time a reporter showed up to interview me and needed to borrow a pen (it's happened several times since then.) This story inevitably causes the instructor, Ms. Quinlan, to laugh. Come to think of it, she laughs awfully easily at quips and stories she's heard repeatedly. I notice that one of her fields of expertise is oral history. Wow, does LPD ever have a great oral history of humor. I probably should blog about that.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Knowing who's in, who's out, and what's up is hard enough for the police, but can be next to impossible for a crime victim or the general public. A few years ago, however, it got a lot easier in 40 States.
VINE (Victim Information and Notification Everyday) is a service that allows the general public to find information about the custody status of an offender. You can also register to receive telephone and email notification when a change in custody status occurs. It's free, easy, and keeps you up-to-date about who's on first.
This is one of several free or cheap, easy, and effective research tools that have popped up in recent years as the Internet has caused some obscure and arcane public records to be suddenly accessible. If I think about it, I'll introduce a few more in my blog now and then.
Since Ricky's off the road for a while, we've been trying to interest the local press in other nominees (we've got plenty), but so far, no one has captured their imagination.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Today is that last day at the Lincoln Police Department for Capt. Bob Wilhelm, who is retiring after 32 years of service. Bob has been commanding the Southwest Police Team for the past several years, and has reached the end of his deferred retirement option. He'll be at work this morning, giving the job exactly the same attention he always has. There has been no let up as his retirement date approached. That's just he kind of guy he is: committed, responsible, and principled.
Bob and I go back to the beginning. He's worn many hats during his career, and accomplished many things. One of his most significant attributes is the compassion he has brought to the department. He has devoted countless hours to serving others in the community who are less fortunate, and in seeding these values among his coworkers.
Bob has been especially active as an advocate for people who have few resources. He was a board member of the Friendship Home for several years, and organized his coworkers to participate in the "Safe Quarters" fund drive. He organized the police department's command staff to serve the poor at The Gathering Place, he helped start and support a grass-roots effort among officers to improve our services to Latino residents. He's coordinated our Food Bank drive, United Way campaign, donation drive for Fresh Start, and a variety of other philanthropic projects.
During the past ten years leading the 46 officers and employees of the Southwest Team, Capt. Wilhelm has cultivated extensive contacts with the residents, businesses, and institutions in his area. He has participated in community affairs in southwest Lincoln extensively, and has involved his entire team in this endeavor. Bob is a committed stakeholder in Southwest Lincoln. He has created and maintained a citizen advisory council, initiated many special projects and efforts to improve the quality of life in his area of responsibility, and worked tirelessly to support the efforts of his staff.
Throughout his career, Capt. Wilhelm has been a man of impeccable ethics. In staff meetings, he is frequently the one who raises the ethical issues, who stands for principal, and who defends the interests of the disenfranchised: people of color, the poor, immigrants, and people suffering from mental illnesses. Capt. Wilhelm, above all, has worked to ensure equitable policing, and the respect for all people regardless of their station in life.
I'm going to miss Bob terribly. I'll miss the daily banter, the wry sense of humor, the irrepressible joy he takes in his work, the inimitable way he has of making me rethink my own actions and motives, the way he makes me laugh.
If you run into a 6'7" tall guy with a full head of black hair, driving a Frosty Treats truck or collecting scrap metal, and he answers to "Skippy", wish him well.
Monday, June 18, 2007
While the number of cases so far in 2007 is higher than normal (29 public school burglaries, and we're not quite halfway through the year), the dollar loss is not out of line in comparison to the rest of the decade.
These burglaries are especially annoying, because as taxpayers, we all bear the cost. I have frequently heard people wondering why Lincoln Public Schools doesn't install alarm systems, or hire more overnight custodians to watch the schools. While the logistics of alarming a large building with many entrances and lots of people who access these after hours could be daunting, I imagine that the answer is primarily in the data: suffering the losses is not good, but it is probably considerably less than the cost to alarm and monitor over 50 buildings properly.
Nonetheless, from the standpoint of the police, we love catching burglars, so we like anything that improves those odds!
Friday, June 15, 2007
Dr. Narumalani's course caught Kyle's interest, and Sunil steered him to me for an internship. Thus, Kyle is working (for free!) three mornings a week, gaining some experience with GIS, building his resume, and checking out a potential career field--crime analysis. He's one of many interns we use at LPD. I have been the host of several personally, and in the past decade, several of these have been interns interested in geography, GIS, and crime mapping. One of my interns, Becky Colwell, wrote a paper about one of her projects at LPD that won an international competition in 2004, and earned her several trips to present her paper at such places as San Diego and Boston. She is now a GIS professional at the County of Will, Illinois.
Kyle's first project involves sex offenders. We will focus on the level 3 (high risk) offenders. There are 240 of those in Lincoln as of this morning, and 1105 in the State. He's working on collecting data and then mapping the geographic range of registered sex offenders. First, he'll be producing a map of the United States that shows from which states the sex offenders living here originate.
Next, he'll be doing the same thing with Nebraska counties. Obviously, the great majority of Nebraska sex offenders will be people convicted in Nebraska, and the great majority of Lincoln offenders will be those convicted in Lancaster County. I think it will be interesting, though, to see where the others came from.
Kyle will also be analyzing the frequency with which Lincoln sex offenders relocate. This should be an eye-opener. If there is still time left in the summer, the Narcotics Unit has some GIS projects that he'll be tackling as well. These are all GIS projects that are interesting, but that we just don't have the time to take on. That's where the internship comes in. We try to make sure our interns do useful work that helps our department, but we also want to make sure they get good experience that helps them achieve their educational and career goals.
By the time Kyle's done, he will have some good experience using GIS software to analyze data he's researched, a great work experience to list on his resume, and some very cool material to put in his portfolio. If he chooses to go to graduate school sometime in the future, this little project would be a good start on a more in-depth research project or thesis.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
I had placed an item on the agenda several weeks ago concerning public place video cameras for public safety. The place where we met, the Overland Park Police Department's Command and Control Center, was a perfect example of what I wanted to discuss. It is a pretty incredible facility, where scores of traffic cameras, private cameras (such as banks, malls, community centers) and a few public place City cameras can be monitored. Camera surveillance played a critical role in Overland Park's investigation last week of the abduction and murder of Kelsey Smith. Chief John Douglass gave us all a briefing on that case, and there were several other chiefs who had been involved in remarkably similar cases during their careers. Mine would be the 1992 abduction and murder of Candice Harms--certainly one of the most gut wrenching events of my years in police work.
Another major topic of discussion, which Chief Douglass had placed on the agenda, was officer integrity issues. To a person, all of the chiefs present had the same concerns, and held the same position on the critical importance of integrity in our work forces. We were all familiar with the case law, with the risks that breaches of integrity pose to crime victims and successful prosecutions. We all had difficult and similar situations to deal with in the recent past. I came away from the discussion feeling much better that I am firmly in the mainstream.
When your job requires difficult decisions, you often second guess yourself and question your own actions. Discussing these matters with your peers can be invaluable. While its very useful and valuable to have these discussions with your own staff, the buck really stops at the chiefs desk, and in some ways, you have to be in that position to fully appreciate the responsibility resting on your shoulders alone. Talking about these issues with a group of fellow chiefs in similar cities is a good reality check.
Thursday, June 7, 2007
The Northwestern University Center for Public Safety paid my way to come up and facilitate two half-day training sessions for chiefs of police and executive managers on budget and finance in their Senior Managers' Leadership Program. This was the last of ten sessions strategically spread through the year. Somebody told me that there are around 200 police departments in the Chicago metro area, and I had a total of about 100 people in attendance at either the morning or afternoon session.
Note to self: think twice about teaching budgeting to police audience in the time slot after lunch.
I explained to the attendees that it's a little bizarre for me to be in a position where somebody thinks I'm expert enough on police finance and budgeting to present training to others. I was so math-phobic in college that the absolute last undergraduate course I took was the simplest one in the catalog that would meet the 3 hour math credit requirement for my degree: Algebra 100. Reading that course description still causes my head to hurt.
It was a hectic day, but fun. First, they put me up at a very interesting historic lodging, the Margarita European Inn (let the Margarita jokes begin), because the nearby Hilton Garden Inn was filled for NU graduation.
Second, it was the first time in a long time I've been doing training for police chiefs and managers. The two or three yearly sessions I've been invited to conduct at various seminars or conferences for the past decade or so have almost all been on crime mapping or crime analysis, and it's very rare to have a chief or deputy chief in the audience. As with most jobs, there are some unique things to being a police chief that only other chiefs can fully understand and appreciate, so it's informative to chat on the breaks and before and after the session.
Finally, it was an opportunity to do two things I always look forward to in Chicago, due to fond childhood memories: ride the L, have a genuine Chicago hot dog. Wrigley Field looks great from the L, but the Cubbies were in Milwaukee :-( .
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
CSI fans take note: the forensic evidence was vital. It was a complex crime scene, demanding days of processing, and exceptional care in the preservation and collection of evidence. There were diagrams and measurements, footprints and fingerprints, blood spatters and ballistics, bullet trajectories and two bodies. But the case took ten years to solve, rather than one hour.
Jeffery E. Hoover was convicted yesterday by a Federal District Court jury in the 1997 murders of Harold Fowler and Duane Johnson. It has been a remarkable case. Over the course of a decade, over 700 investigative reports were submitted on this case by Lincoln police officers--well over 10,000 pages. The case was never mothballed, and was actively investigated and reported upon during each of those long ten years.
Even when new leads surfaced earlier in this decade, an incredible amount of intensive, imaginative, and exceptional police work was necessary to build a case that could be successfully prosecuted. These cases are exceptionally uncommon. Murders are rarely solved after a lapse of several years. We have a number of these cases under our belt though, a testament to the never-give-up attitude of our Criminal Investigations Team.
I could not possibly be prouder of the officers who contributed to this case over the years. Det. Sgt. Jim Breen merits special praise for his lead. Det. Sgt. Ken Koziol, Det. Sgt. Larry Barksdale, Officer (now FBI Special Agent) Jeff Howard also devoted huge efforts to this case, along with lots of other detectives and officers who played supporting roles.
What really fills me with pride is the dedication these officers had towards doing the right thing for two victims who were not exactly model citizens. It's easier to work hard for a victim you can identify with: to whose parents, wife, and children you feel a sense of obligation. It's easier to expend your best effort on a crime that captures the headlines day after day. This was not the case with Harold Fowler and Duane Johnson. They were killed in a botched drug deal. They both had their problems. There was no public outcry when they were murdered. The case was in the news for a very short time. It didn't matter.
Over the years, I have consistently seen our detectives and investigators expend exactly the same effort, regardless of the victims' station in life, race or ethnicity, and even their criminal past. These are cases that were out of the public eye within a couple of days. In many police departments, these cases would have been quickly relegated to the back of the file cabinet. These victims had few advocates or none at all. In some cases, these victims had been tossed aside by society. But they had new advocates in the women and men of LPD who worked tirelessly--sometimes over many years--to ensure that justice was done. Here are some of the more notable of such cases during my service as chief:
- Joshua Reyman, killed on 10-11-1991
- Tammy Martin, killed on 9-7-1993
- Michael Schmader, murdered on 12-23-1994
- Alfredo Estrada, killed on 4-16-1996
- Brandon Pickenpaugh, murdered on 2-18-1999
- Cheryl Walters, killed on 12-19-2000
- Cesar Cedillo, murdered on 7-6-2003
- Richard Hamilton, killed on 4-4-2005
Add to that list Harold Fowler and Duane K. Johnson, murdered on 6-14-1997. Congratulations to everyone who played a part in a complex, difficult, and remarkable case. And for everyone involved in the cases noted above, thank you all for your immense commitment to justice.
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
Instead, I stumbled upon Google Analytics--a piece of free code that produces some incredibly detailed data about website activity. The installation was a little tedious, but once it was up and running, I found the information quite intriguing. So, here's the answer to my question:
13,200 people in 46 days. Lately, it's been about 75% returning visitors, and 25% new visitors. Weekdays have settled in right around 330 daily visits. There have been 30,779 pageviews, and an average time on site of 03:14--although that's skewed by a healthy number of very short visits. It looks like those who actually stay on the site at all generally linger for about 05:00 on average. The topic matters, and Gary got his gun permit generated the most visits, followed by Sure sign of spring.
Domain names reflect what I expected, the blog is most read by City employees, probably police employees. Aside from the commercial ISPs, like Road Runner, Cox, Windstream, AOL and so forth, the big sources include Lincoln Public Schools, the University of Nebraska, and the State of Nebraska. I am surprised, however, by the diversity--with large numbers of repeat hits from some far-flung City, County, and private domain names in some interesting geographic locations.
Nebraska accounts for 10,603 of those visits, followed by Colorado, California, Texas, and Georgia. I think this is probably a reflection of a small number of repeat visitors in those States. There is a fair following in the UK--where I have a few friends in policing.
The posted comments are few, but the off-line emails and personal comments have been numerous, and these tell me more about the specific types of people. Google Analytics can't tell me anything beyond the City and network domain. From the comments, I can tell you that the blog is being read by:
- Lincoln police employees and their families
- City employees, including other department directors
- Many professional crime analysts at agencies in the U.S. and Western Europe
- Employees at other U.S. police departments
- Students at faculty at several colleges and Universities
- Students, teachers, and administrators at Lincoln Public Schools
- Ordinary citizens
- A small but loyal core of brutal critics; some internal, some external.
A typical comment came to be from an employee who spotted me in the hallway last week. He looked right and left to make sure no one was watching, leaned in and whispered something like, "Hey Chief, I like your blog. People are talking about it. I think it's a good thing." He did not, of course, want to be seen or heard giving the chief a quasi-compliment. In police departments, that's just not politically correct, I guess.
I'll have to be more serious, I suppose, since people are apparently paying more attention than I ever expected!
Monday, June 4, 2007
The rising price of gasoline is a big concern for everyone, but it's positively gigantic when you put 2.5 million miles on the odometer every year, like the Lincoln Police Department. The problem is not just the price, it's also the volatility. It's hard to budget accurately when the price swings as widely as it has in recent months.
Back in the fall of 2005, we implemented a fuel reduction plan aimed at reducing our consumption. It called for many steps from training to closer monitoring of special events, but the main effort was to reduce idling at incident scenes, and to reduce overall mileage by such means as pairing some officers up during the late night shifts and encouraging more alternative patrol strategies.
Probably more than anything, though, we just focused everyone's attention on it. We review our fuel usage regularly, and just like overtime expenses, we make sure each unit manager gets timely data so they know how the status of their own Team or unit. Our garage manager, Pat Wenzl, does a great job of tracking all manner of fleet statistics, but his monthly fuel report has been a big help to us in keeping track of how we're doing.
It worked. The department reduced its fiscal year 2005-2006 fuel usage by 5.5% (13,146 gallons). The drop has continued during the current fiscal year, which began on September 1. Pat Wenzl sent us the detailed spreadsheet for the first nine months (September through May) on Friday, June 1. I noticed it took less than a day to get the up-to-date stats. Pat is exceptionally efficient. So far during 2006-2007 fuel usage is down by an additional 9.3% (14,049 gallons) with three months to go.
Interestingly, fuel mileage has moved in the expected direction, too: from a fleet average of 11.6 miles per gallons in fiscal year 2004-2005, to a fleet average this year of 12.7 miles per gallon. That 1.1 MPG may not sound like much, but that's a 9.5% improvement in the course of two years--and represents a huge amount of gas.
The new Northeast Team Station has certainly helped: the Northeast Team's monthly miles driven has dropped by 8,142 miles per month compared to last fiscal year. A whole lot of gas was being burned up by the daily commute from Headquarters to the Northeast Team area by the 42 employees who now report to work in the center of the area where their workload is, and avoid about 12 miles of round trip driving in the process.