Friday, September 28, 2007

When the doors swing open

Wednesday, Deena Winter, the local government reporter at the Lincoln Journal Star emailed me. She was on an assignment to seek out people who need to have a thick skin, due to the jobs, for an article being written about Nebraska Football Coach Bill Callahan. I responded to her on Thursday, when I got back to my desk. Her article is running on Saturday, but my long-winded reply is just too lengthy for her use. She offered to link to it online, and I offered to post it on my blog so she could do just that. So, here's the full text of my email, in this interesting collaboration between reporter and police chief:

"In a community like Lincoln, there are a handful of people, who, due to the nature of their job, are constantly in the public eye and deal with newsworthy events on almost a daily basis. Because of this, they are subjected to high levels of scrutiny and critique virtually every week. This would include the mayor, governor, superintendent of schools, chief of police, and the head football coach.

Their actual or perceived missteps, or those of their enterprise, are much more likely to come to the attention of the public than, say, the performance of a CEO at a private business, a general contractor, a physician, or a law firm. When you're actions are in the bright lights, there are plenty of people who will avail themselves of the luxury of second-guessing, devising strategies through hind-sight, or simply taking potshots while failing to understand the complexity and uncertainty of the work.

I was hardly prepared for it. Life is a little rosier when you're a level or two down, and the buck passes you. But when it lands right on your lap, it's quite different. I suspect there are a lot of assistant head coaches and assistant chiefs who learn that the same way I did: suddenly.

Today, more than ever, the criticism can be particularly vitriolic. The anonymity and ease of such things as blogs, radio call-ins, and online comments has changed the tenor and tone quite a bit in the past few years. As much as people in these positions may tell you that they 'don't pay any attention to it,' or 'don't even read it,' I suspect that like me, they do--at least a little bit. It sometimes hurts, often is unfair or ill-informed, and the cumulative effect can be mighty disheartening. Here's what you do to avoid these impacts:

You take the criticism for what it's worth. Sometimes it's nothing more than an ignorant insult and just needs to be ignored as best you can. Sometimes there is a kernel of truth that can be incorporated into your decision-making in the future. Sometimes the critic is spot-on, and you make your apology and try to do better.

In some circumstances, you try to talk with the critic. If the opportunity presents itself, you'd be surprised how often their attitude changes when you talk to them personally and let them know why you did what you did, what your motive was, what things you had to consider. I think people are pretty tolerant of things they don't necessarily agree with when they realize you're trying hard to do the right thing and the best you can.

I don't think it's so much a matter of having thick skin as having a positive and forward-looking focus. You don't dwell upon the criticism. I may fire up quickly, but I cool off fast, too. It's done and forgotten with remarkable speed, and I am on to other issues, problems and concerns--of which there is an unending supply. When you keep your focus on positive things, both small and large, you avoid wallowing in self-doubt or self-pity.

I suspect Bill Callahan probably had this modeled for him pretty well by his dad, who was a career Chicago Police Officer, and certainly must have dealt with his share of unhappy campers on a daily basis for over 30 years. I get the sense that he and I probably have a common outlook on this, and how to handle the criticism that comes with the territory.

When I see the good police work done by our officers every day, I am proud. I feel like in some small way what I do supports that, contributes to that, and helps make it possible for our employees to achieve a cleared case, a good arrest, a nice special project, a reduction in crime, a saved life, and so forth. When I see things that don't go so well, I want to figure out how we can improve, and not be consumed by the replay tape.

I would hope that Coach Callahan pauses every now and then as the doors swing open and thinks: 'There are 85,000 people here to watch a bunch of college kids play a game.' That thought could offset a lot of anonymous trash talk on a sports blog."

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, 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.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Unbelievable headline

There's no place like home, and I'm happy to be back in Lincoln this morning. My presentation at the Problem-Oriented Policing Conference concerning strategies to reduce high-risk drinking by college-aged young people included a section on the off-campus party scene. We've had a methodical approach to this that has yielded some significant results.

In preparation for the presentation, I gathered some data last week about the number of complaints received from the public concerning party disturbances. We have a specific incident code for these calls: 12311 DISTRUBANCE-WILD PARTY. Here's a slide with the results from my PowerPoint:

A reduction of 35 complaints per month is nothing to scoff at. I would estimate that the average party complaint requires just over two officers for the response. These calls often result in citations, reports, court appearances, and a fair number of complaints to Internal Affairs or the Citizen Police Advisory Board. Cutting 35 of those per month not only relieves some of the heartburn for residents in these neighborhoods, it saves police officers a significant amount of work, too. Although these data are not specific to college-aged young people, many of our party complaints come from neighborhoods where there are lots of rentals and a large proportion of tenants in the 20-25 age bracket.

There are a number of indicators that our strategies have helped, including survey research data from the University of Nebraska's Omnibus Survey, police complaint and incident data, data on the number of arrests and citations for such offenses as maintaining a disorderly house or minor in possession of alcohol. Here, however, is the anecdotal evidence that there has been a shift, however slight, in attitudes about the propriety of inviting a couple hundred friends over to share a few kegs in your tiny two-bedroom one-toilet rental on New Hampshire Street: an unbelievable headline. I doubt our colleagues in Madison have seen anything like that in the Wisconsin State Journal.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Madison wrap-up

Well, while I'm rubbing shoulders with colleagues in Madison at the Problem-Oriented Policing conference, all manner of mayhem breaks out in Lincoln. Overnight yesterday we had a downtown stabbing that left the victim in critical condition, and an early morning domestic-related homicide. This creates a huge amount of work for the street officers and sergeants, investigators, duty commanders, public information officer, and even the Records Unit. They all performed superbly, though, and by mid morning, Assistant Chief Peschong emailed me to report that both cases were cleared, with suspects located and in custody.

My two presentations at the POP Conference went quite well. The attendance was good, participation and discussion great, and I think the topic (strategies to reduce high-risk drinking and wild parties) was well received by officers from across the country who deal with the same issues in their own community. Two other conference presentations dealt with similar issues, from Anaheim, CA to Lancashire, UK. The moderator of my presentation was Dr. Deborah Lamm Weisel, from North Carolina State University. She's a pretty significant reputation in our field, so her compliments were particularly encouraging. She was especially impressed by our analysis and assessment: the extent to which we gathered data from survey research, police reports, detox admissions, arrest records, and our geographic information system to both inform our strategies and monitor our impact.

Yesterday, an early morning informal discussion with Herman Goldstein, the "father" of problem-oriented policing was a highlight, as was an evening discussion for chiefs and executive officers facilitated by Michael Scott, the POP Center's director. These were provocative discussions, and we all reflected on the need to do a better job studying the literature of our own profession. There is a widespread feeling that we don't do enough in our field to ensure that our officers and managers are familiar with the growing knowledge from research about "what works" in policing.

Madison continues to impress me as Lincoln with a Lake. Actually, two lakes. I will say this, though, Lincoln's a little cleaner (thank you DLA), and downtown Madison seems to have a much larger population than downtown Lincoln. Madison has the more eclectic street people though. . I snapped this photo directly across the street from the State Capitol. Note that this guy has a 17" laptop, with his A/C adapter plugged into the City light post on the left. I debated about posting this photo, for fear of appearing insensitive to the homeless, but I just thought there was some sort of obscure social commentary here. I don't know what, though, so it must really be obscure. I showed this photo to a Madison police captain. She said, "That is so Madison."

Monday, September 24, 2007

First impressions of Madison

This morning, I am in Madison, WI courtesy of the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, which paid my way to the 2007 POP Conference in exchange for two presentations. This is my first trip to Madison, a city that in many respects resembles Lincoln on paper: State Capital, home of the University, population pretty close. Madison is actually a little smaller than Lincoln--around 221,000 compared to our 242,000, but Dane County is quite a bit more populous than Lancaster, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison's 41,466 students is nearly 20,000 more than UNL.

The downtown area is on an isthmus between Lake Monona and Lake Mendota. The conference is in the lake front Monona Terrace Conference Center, where we watched a wedding taking place on the roof-top last night. Tonja and I thought we were the only people to be married on a Sunday. The romantic setter demanded a nice dinner, but there was not a restaurant in sight along the water front. I was surprised that the downtown area doesn't seem to have a collection of lake-front eateries. It seems to be an ideal location for an outdoor patio, and the weather was perfect. Maybe we just haven't found them.

State Street, which runs the half mile from the Capitol to the campus, is a pedestrian-only stretch of bars, restaurants, and shops. The businesses are similar to those spread along 11th-14th, O to R, but with the Haymarket added in. The result is a wider mix of ages and activities--at least on Sunday night. I'm curious what it looks like on Saturday at around 2:00 AM.

The State Capitol building is in the traditional style similar to the United States Capitol. It benefits from a perch on a hill commanding the isthmus. But compared to Nebraska's unique tower, it's architecture is rather typical. At the Southwest corner, though, I found the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial. It is a crying shame that Nebraska's Law Enforcement Officers Memorial is not in the shadow of the Nebraska State Capitol, on Centennial Mall.

Some rocket surgeon who commented on my blog last week (it's comment number 3) suggested that our downtown officers spend their time scraping gum from the sidewalks. Madison has a serious gum problem of it's own. Must have something to do with college students.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A sea of red (and yellow)

After last weekend's football game, Nebraska v. USC, I was somewhat flooded with complaints about the failure of our police officers to stop all the public urination. One of the complaints was forwarded to me by City Council member John Spatz from a constituent who was particularly upset that there were no police around in his neighborhood:
"Parties started at 8 am and didn't even break for the game at 7 pm, and continued unabated until the wee hours...the situation as "anarchy".... as for urination in public: I stopped counting at 30 and that was just at one party...."
This particular citizen wanted more police in his neighborhood to patrol around preventing this kind of problem. It's a neighborhood close to the stadium, where everyone with an empty lot or a back yard off the alley seems to rent $10 parking spaces. Trouble is, they don't rent out their toilets. As I explained to Councilman Spatz, when a few thousand people descend on a neighborhood, drink, eat, and make merry, nature will inevitably take its course, and if there aren't banks of porta potties there will be trees, walls, and bushes, whether the police are around or not.

We have our hands very full on game days. Along with directing traffic to get 85,000 into and out of the Stadium, we handled 474 incidents on Saturday, Sept. 15, including 31 thefts, 2 rapes, 8 missing persons, 7 child abuses, 3 death investigations, 29 assaults, 31 traffic accidents, 104 disturbances, and so forth. It's not very realistic to expect that the police will be available very much to drive around streets and lots issuing citations for public urination. We give it a good try, though, and there are hundreds of citations issued annually for this.

Jean Chalupsky, in a letter to the editor in Monday's Omaha World Herald, described a similar scene:
"As I approached Memorial Stadium at 5:30 p.m. with my aging parents, Iviewed at least 12 males urinating on the sidewalk in open view. Even more were carrying open beer cans."
I called Ms. Calupsky on the phone and we had a nice chat. I wanted to pinpoint the area, and it was right where I suspected, near the pedestrian exit to a large private parking lot where the tailgating was particularly spirited, so to speak. Her take on the situation was different than most. She wasn't concerned so much about the lack police to take enforcement action (she realized we were quite busy), rather, she thought the problem was largely the lack of facilities when the need was so obvious and could be predicted so far in advance.

Not every problem is a police problem, and not every problem responds well to police presence or enforcement. Ms. Chalupsky is quite correct. In this case, the problem is not the lack of police officers or tickets, it's the lack of toilets. We can help, though. We need to make sure that the large lots (often just a field during the other 358 days of the year) are taking care of business, so to speak. That's what we'll be trying to do as the season continues--contact whoever owns or leases those lots and make they understand the nuances of Lincoln's municipal ordinance 9.20.030, Maintaining a Disorderly House, which, despite the name, applies to any premise--not just a house.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A fine tour of duty

Sgt. Geoff Marti is hanging up his tactical vest, retiring from his role as a member of the Lincoln Police Department SWAT Team. He has served on the Team for 19 years, and for the past 11 years, he has been the Team Leader--essentially the person who makes the tactical decisions when the Team is deployed.

Officers who serve on the SWAT Team all have other full time assignments (Geoff is our Internal Affairs investigator right now), but when we need their special skills, the Team members drop what they're doing and respond to the most critical incidents we have--and the most dangerous. After 19 years of call outs, Sgt. Marti deserves a full night's sleep and relief from the ever present beeper.

He's done a great job for us as Team Leader. He's respected and trusted by the Team, and by me. When the 3:00 AM call comes from the late shift Duty Commander seeking my authorization to activate the SWAT Team, I do not hesitate. I know that the Team will do their usual good job in resolving a serious episode. Sgt. Marti has been largely responsible for my confidence, and he passes the torch to another member who has learned the craft of Team Leader by watching his example.

During the past five years alone, SWAT has been activated 39 times. There have been high risk search warrants, Nazi rallies, 15 people threatening suicide, and 16 armed and barricaded suspects during that time. These incidents have quietly come to a successful conclusion without serious injury to anyone, often completely beneath the news media radar. Solid tactics and training, patience, maturity, courage, and sound decision making has saved many lives.

Geoff isn't retiring from the department, he's just leaving the SWAT Team in the good hands of those he has led and trained. He'll still be around doing and supervising good police work in whatever position he holds. We go way back to the beginning of his career. I was his training sergeant, and Geoff was on my dowtown squad when he was a new officer. He is the grandson of Lincoln's most suave and debonair Mayor, Lloyd Marti. His brother Charlie is also a Lincoln police officer, and another brother, Don, is a former Lincoln Police Officer.

The Marti brothers all share a common trait--a slightly off beat sense of humor. If you've read this blog for any time at all, you probably realize that I, too, have a touch of that same trait. One day a few years ago I was showing Geoff my new digital camera. I left it laying on my desk, and later I found that Sgt. Marti had tried it out. I saved the results for the past several years, but it's just part of my twenty-five year collection of gems from Sgt. Marti.

If you checked out that photo of his grandfather, you'll notice the strong resemblance. Surely, Geoff, you realized that photo would someday come back to haunt you.

You've done a great job as Team Leader, and I thank you for your service. The bar has been set high, but you've prepared others for the challenge. Congratulations.

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.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Philanthrophic binge drinking

Just when you think you've seen everything, something comes along to remind you that the human imagination knows no limits. I couldn't possibly make this stuff up.

Yesterday, a colleague at the University of Nebraska forwarded a URL to me of a website advertising a "Crawl for Cancer"--a three hour bar crawl on October 27th in which 10-person teams are served twenty (20) pitchers of beer. At first, I thought it was a joke.

After a few minutes on their site and a little Googling, I realized that this was not a hoax. I got out my favorite online BAC calculator, and plugged the numbers in. Then, I sent the following email to the mysterious contact address at

From: Tom Casady
Sent: Tuesday, September 11, 2007 2:10 PM
To: ''
Subject: Who are you, what are you doing?

It appears you are sponsoring some type of event in our fair City which could potentially result in a violation of the law--serving alcohol to an intoxicated person. According to the promotional material on your website, the plan is for teams of 10 people to visit five bars over the course of three hours, and to consume four pitchers of beer at each venue--a total of 20 pitchers per team.

A typical pitcher of beer is 60 ounces. If 10 people in a team consume 20 pitchers of beer, that would be the equivalent of ten standard 12-ounce beers for each person (not counting any alcohol consumed at the "...after-party with entertainment and yep, more beer.") A 175 pound man consuming this volume over three hours would have a blood alcohol concentration of about .156% at the conclusion. A 125 pound woman would be .240%.

Since it's illegal to provide alcohol to a person who is intoxicated, I am somewhat concerned for the well-being of our local liquor licensees who are participating in this event. I am assembling as many of the owners/managers from the 11 bars listed as can be located for a meeting this afternoon to discuss these data with them.

So, before I start pointing this out to the City Council, the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission, and the local news media, I'd like to give you the opportunity to explain yourself. I'm particularly interested in financial information: how are the funds which are collected allocated, and what percentage does your organization keep? There are no beneficiaries listed on your website for the Lincoln event. The tab for "Benefiting Charities" has a message: "Coming soon."

Our local and State chapters of the American Cancer Society are unfamiliar with your organization, and their director seemed somewhat shocked at the concept of promoting an afternoon of heavy drinking as a fund raiser for cancer. Do you have any specific information about who the beneficiaries are to be from the Lincoln "Crawl for Cancer"? Are there any administrative costs for operating your organization that are paid from the funds collected for team entry fees? Is there any other redeeming information about your organization you would like me to be aware of?

Tom Casady
Chief of Police
Lincoln Police Department
575 S. 10th Street
Lincoln, NE 68508

Yesterday afternoon, my staff spoke with Samantha Green (the contact person on the website) to make sure she received this email, and I also left a message requesting a return call on the voicemail of the local contact person, Jennifer. I have not had a response from either.

The meeting with the bar representatives hastily called on Tuesday afternoon went well. I just shared the basic math of time, quantity and body weight with them. Some of the bar managers explained that the promoter buys the kegs and keeps the team entry fee to distribute to whatever charities the local sponsor chooses. This arrangement would also violate a couple of the rules and regulations of the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission concerning multiple drink sales and resale of alcohol without a license. The Commission's director, Hobart Rupe, was there to emphasize that, and we had a brief discussion about how they could support charitable work without such risks.

In my conversation with the staff at the American Cancer Society, I learned that the ACS nutritional guidelines suggest no more than two alcoholic beverages daily for men, and one for women.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Where were you?

I was in Ms. Luna’s fifth grade class at Rountree Elementary School in Springfield, MO on November 22, 1963. Everyone my age remembers where they were on that day.

On Tuesady morning, September 11, 2001, I was in the main conference room at LPD Headquarters. Our weekly staff meeting had just begun. Just as the meeting began, someone came in and told us that the World Trade Center had been struck by an aircraft. We turned on the television just about the time the second tower was struck.

Since the command staff was already assembled, we quickly brainstormed about what we ought to be doing, and started making some assignments of officers to key public facilities, such as the Federal Building, State Office Building, State Capital, City-County Building, and Airport. We didn’t have any detailed instructions, other than to be visible and to keep your eyes open for the unusual. More than anything, I suppose, we just wanted to make sure that citizens were reassured somewhat by the visibility of the police at these public places.

I imagine that 45 years from now, those in their mid-fifties will all remember exactly where they were on September 11, 2001.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Game one in the book

Sgt. Shannon Karl, has a tough assignment during her rookie year as a newly-promoted sergeant: she's responsible for supervising the traffic detail for Nebraska home football games. It's a big job, requiring a huge amount of planning, scheduling, and problem-solving, capped by an exhausting shift. This year, we asked her to put together a plan that would further reduce the cost, but to do so without any significant disruption in traffic. That's a tall order.

I jokingly told Sgt. Karl that I had a whole playbook full of sports cliches to pull out if things didn't go so well. I was optimistic that we could make some cuts without backing traffic up to the Kansas border, but frankly, I thought the reduction in the number of officers directing traffic could cause post-game delays to be greater than normal. So, a couple weeks ago I asked the public to linger longer in Lincoln.

The season is obviously still young, but the home opener, Nebraska v. Nevada, came off splendidly. The dire predictions of doom failed to materialize. Although it was hotter than blazes for the officers on the asphalt, the traffic direction went quite well. We had everyone cleared out and traffic back to it's normal flow within one hour after the end of the game. That's our informal target. If you've been to other Big 12 stadiums, you know that there are very few places where 84,000 people can leave the stadium, and be back home with their shoes off within 60 minutes--even quicker if you've parked strategically.

The USC game this weekend will be an entirely new detail, because the changing kickoff times require reworking the schedule virtually ever game. The same people who worked Nevada will not all be available for USC--many will be on duty for their regular shift, and you can't bring them in early or hold them over late, because the game is pretty much in the middle of the police department's second shift.

Here's an interesting summary of the cost of police overtime for traffic direction over the course of the past few seasons:

Cost of police overtime per football game, 2002 $11,592
Cost of police overtime per football game, 2003 $10,816
Cost of police overtime per football game, 2004 $10,452
Cost of police overtime per football game, 2005 $10,600
Cost of police overtime per football game, 2006 $7,085
Cost of police overtime Nebraska v. Nevada, 2007 $5,406

Good work, Shannon, and a good job by everyone involved in the detail. Achieving the same results at less than half the cost merits a standing ovation!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

From across the river

Sgt. Chuck Gorman and Sgt. Keith Jones of the Council Bluffs, Iowa Police Department paid us an afternoon visit yesterday. They were here to learn a little bit about how we handle our roll call assembly at the beginning of shifts (we call it lineup). It's a 5-10 minute meeting where the shift commander briefs officers on news and developments before they hit the street.

Two years ago, we started using large computer monitors to enhance lineups with some computer content--things like photos of unusual stolen property, mug shots of frequent fliers, maps of current crime patterns, beauty shots of wanted vehicles, weather radar, and so forth. It's been a nice addition, and we expanded this content to our three other assembly points using a web conferencing product, Council Bluffs' chief of police, Keith Mehlin (something like a blogger himself) attended a luncheon I spoke at in Omaha a month or so ago on this topic. That's what Sgt. Gorman and Sgt. Jones were here to see, and they attended our 1430 lineup at headquarters.

I could see the light bulb go on for Sgt. Jones and Sgt. Gorman. When you think about it, it's pretty clear that a briefing could be improved quite a bit with a few relevant images, visits to a germane web site, or a short power point. It surprises me more police departments haven't thought of this.

We had a little extra time, and they got the grand tour of HQ, a rather impressive place, particularly when you consider the humble "temporary" police station that decomposed around us from 1979-2000. Everyone from other agencies always remarks how nice (and how clean) our facility is. Come to think of it, we are coming up next week on the second anniversary of the great flood of 2005, that turned our HQ building into a 80,000 sq. ft. mud hole. It has recovered pretty nicely!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

I wonder who drove

Take a look at this article from the North Platte Bulletin. Pay particular attention to the last few paragraphs.

Transportation must have been arranged, because by 3:20 PM Friday afternoon, the subject was arrested here in Lincoln for trespassing. Union Pacific Railroad's employees reported that he had scaled a fence and was prowling around some of their buildings wearing nothing but a t-shirt and boxer shorts. He has no ties to Lincoln whatsoever.

I sent North Platte Police Chief Marty Gutschenritter a short thank note.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Handling panhandlers

Last week, a letter to the editor in the Lincoln Journal Star, Scared out of Downtown, took the City to task somewhat for the problem of panhandlers plying their trade downtown. In the past three years, panhandlers have settled in along 14th Street, roughly between Bennett Martin Public Library and the University of Nebraska Campus. This has been a huge concern for businesses and for the Children's Museum. They frequently talk to customers who have the same experience related by the letter's author.

Back in the primordial mist of my career as a foot patrolman, panhandling like this would have landed you in jail in a heartbeat. But that all changed with a series of Federal court cases that have basically ruled that panhandling is an exercise of one's First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Lincoln, like most cities, had to change it's ordinance to allow panhandling. It can be regulated, but not outlawed. The same court cases essentially describe the kinds of time, place, and manner regulations that are Constitutional. Thus, Lincoln's municipal ordinance outlaws panhandling at night, or within 20 feet of an ATM, or from people in a sidewalk cafe. Aggressive panhandling (profanity, threats, following a person and making repeated pleas after being turned down, etc.) is also prohibited.

But there are plenty of panhandling opportunities downtown, despite the restrictions, and plenty of people who are willing to give panhandlers a few bucks. The loosening of the law has also caused a proliferation of panhandling at other spots, such as the entrances to large shopping complexes. It is incredibly annoying to many business owners and many citizens, but we're not alone in Lincoln. The same problem plagues cities all over the country, and many police departments and city councils are vexed. Google "panhandling" and click the News link and you'll get the picture.

Here in Lincoln, we try to control the illegal and obnoxious behavior, without infringing on the Constitutional rights of the panhandlers. I've talked to several people who just want us to strong arm these panhandlers out of the City, and could care less about the Constitution or any Federal court cases. That's not how we operate, and we all swore an oath otherwise. So we work with the laws we have.

As of Friday, we had cited or arrested individuals downtown for 1,031 offenses related to this problem, including aggressive panhandling, panhandling in prohibited places, trespassing, and consuming alcohol in public. Our downtown officers work diligently on this issue. Arrests, however, do not solve the underlying problems of poverty, addiction, homelessness, and mental illness that underlie most of the panhandling.

The best thing anyone can do to reduce the panhandling problem is to give donations to organizations who help deal with these underlying problems, rather than giving money directly to panhandlers. That only encourages the behavior, and is actually a form of enabling in some cases, as the donation goes immediately to the nearest cheap liquor store. Not everyone feels the same way, though, and there are those who oppose efforts to control panhandling. It's a big world, and there are lots of conflicting opinions.

I guess the good news is that you know you're really a city when you've got a problem with downtown panhandling.