Monday, January 21, 2008

Most frequent arrest

Every year in our annual report, we include a short list of some of the most common arrest charges by Lincoln police officers. I haven't got all the 2007 numbers yet, but here's the 2006 list:

Assault 2,057
Minor in possession of alcohol 2,038
Consuming alcohol in public 1,852
Disturbing the peace 1,472
Possession of marijuana 1,379
Trespassing 1,089
Theft 1,088

The top spot, however, is missing--it's not really assault. I started thinking about this Friday, and Clair Lindquist, the builder and manager of our information systems, had the number in my hands within minutes: the leading cause of arrest is the existence of an outstanding arrest warrant. There were 2,492 warrant arrest last year, considerably more than the next closest contender. Moreover, whereas the great majority of the 27,000 or so misdemeanor arrests are handled with a citation and release, all of the people arrested on warrants actually end up in jail.

There are lots of arrest warrants. Those issued on underlying charges of State Statute violations (felonies and a few misdeanors like marijuans possesion) go to the county sheriff. Those issues on underlying charges of City Ordinance violations (most of the misdemeanor and traffic violations) come to the police department. Between the two agencies, we've got over 10,000 on file. Many are for people who are long gone from Lincoln, and unlikely to be seen again, but there are thousands of people moping around Lincoln every day who are wanted on warrants. We've posted them all online for years, and get leads and calls regularly. Be careful who you offend when a warrant is out for your arrest.

While the felons are aggressively pursued by the sheriff's fugitive task force, there just aren't enough resources to ferret out the misdemeants with zeal. Because of the small size of the police force, our small warrants unit was phased out four chiefs ago in the late 1970's. As a result most of these misdemeanor warrant arrests occur when the defendent gets contacted for something else: pulled over for a traffic violation, picked up for a new shoplifting offense, involved in a traffic crash, and so forth. The officer checks the name, discovers the outstanding arrest warrant, and it's off to the slammer.

There are many ways to get an arrest warrant, but the most common ones, probably accounting for more than 90% of the total, are to miss a court date or fail to pay a fine. When someone is booked into jail on an arrest warrant, they are often able to bond out. A new court date is set, they post a few bucks as surety (either $50 or $100 in most cases), and it's off to the boats.

There will be more to this story later.

15 comments:

Fun with warrants said...

If someone with a warrant really makes you mad, rat them out on a Friday and they might have to stay in jail until Monday.

Anonymous said...

The other day, I saw an incident summary where one had his mom's car stolen by a punk "friend", allegedly because he had a warrant out and needed to run away. Let's see if I can find it...yep, here it is:

A8-004038 AUTO THEFT 20080114 1426 SON BELIEVED FRIEND TK HIS MOM'S CAR(KEYS LEFT IN VEH)DUE TO WARRANTS 1996 GRN CHEVY LUMINA 4-DR

With "friends" like that...here's the thing: I could be wrong, but I'd bet that whatever the warrant was for, it probably wasn't as serious as felony auto theft! No idea what became of this case, because the fishwrap doesn't care about such follow-up details.

Anonymous said...

"Fun with warrants" said his comment with a sense of sarcasim, or maybe he didn't. In truth, especially on a long holiday weekend, you will see cops (in general) look to book suspects, especially the ones who piss them off, into jail more often on fridays. This is a way to get the suspects back. Right or wrong, its the was it is.

Chief, I'm sure if you wanted to make it a priority, you could find the resources to make a fugitive task force. Omaha PD, who has a similiar officer per capita ratio does. It just depends on how you want to use the resources available. I personally would much rather see a "telephone response unit" set up with injured officers and civilians take belated misdemeanor reportable calls. Then use the availbale officers go out and actually arrest suspects who could pose a danger to the people of this city. How many jobs are there at LPD being performed by sworn officer, sergeants, and capatains, when a less payed, weel qualified civilian could do the same job.

Another area where sworn officers could be freed to arresst bad guys, would be to have follow-up that has no chance of being cleared, not be assigned. Even you would have to agree that many follow-ups are assigned for purley decorative reasons. When in reality the only thing it accomplishes is taking up manpower time. For example, it was not that long ago I seen follow-up assigned on a hit and run accident. The only description of the run vehicle was that it was an 80s model white cadillac. Follow-up was assigned with the instruction to retrieve a list of all 80s white cadillacs in the city, and eliminate each vehicle by seeing if it had damage. A list of over a hundred cars were retrieved and one by one the list grew shorter. After no less then 24 hours of total work, the list was finished with no arrest to be made. This was a waste of time for a $1000 accident. This time could have been used more productively to say the least. Maybe even used to catch a few bad guys. Many more examples could be given.

It will be interesting to see if you post this argument as I do see a trend where you seem only to post or leave posted comments to fit your side.

Anonymous said...

I will preface this comment with the fact that I know the department is understaffed and could always use a bigger budget. Having said that, is the thought of forming a LPD fugitive task force anywhere on the horizon or in the departments achievable 'wish list'? It has been said that a few of the criminals are responsible for a large amount of the crime in Lincoln. I would suggest that many of those same individuals are also frequently included on that warrant list. If we were able to devote more time and focus to finding those individuals when they have warrants, wouldn't we more than likely have an impact on some of the offenses they are likely to be engaged in down the road? I also know that these individuals are very transient in nature and rarely let the grass grow under their feet. This means that to be effective, officers would have to devote time to research the offender, find out where they work, where their family or significant other lives, etc. Most street officers do not have the opportunity to devote that much attention to one person. A task force would probably be able to be more effective than the current situation of mere chance encounters with the wanted individuals. Of course there are many people with warrants who are simply not very responsible with their money or schedule and find themselves on the wanted list. These are typically a little easier to find and I would think that a task force could clear many of those warrants with very little effort. It is my belief that having a few officers assigned to a fugitive task force should be a higher priority than a few of the assignments we currently have officers filling at the department.

Atticus

Anonymous said...

Chief,
This is a bit off topic but:
Is there a database that a private citizen can check to see if a firearm has been reported as stolen?

Fifteen years or so ago I got a good deal on a S&W Model 29 from a classified ad. I was pretty sure the seller was legit but just for my own peace of mind after I had taken posession and paid for the pistol I called either your office or the Sheriff's office and asked if they could run the numbers for me. The party on the phone said they couldn't do that unless I surrendered the gun to an officer and had them call it in. Is that still policy?

Gun Nut

Tom Casady said...

Anonymous 1:38

ARE YOU KIDDING ME? If you really believe "Omaha PD, who has a similar officer per capita ratio does" you are sadly, sorely mistaken.

Omaha's ratio is 1.86 police officers per 1,000 residents. Lincoln's ratio is 1.31 per 1,000. If we had the same ratio of Omaha (and Omaha is below the average!), we'd need to add exactly 130 more police officers to our sworn force of 317. Give me 130 more officers, and we'd do a lot of things we can't do right now.

As for civilians, you'd be hard-pressed to find a police department with fewer police officers of any rank in support positions that do not require arrest authority. That bridge was crossed decades ago. Units like Records, Service Desk, ID, Property, we're all staffed with sworn personnel to some extent--a practice that disappeared in the 1970's for the most part. There are a handful--quite literally--of positions today that could still be civilianized, but we can't get any civilian support staff, either, and the work still has to be done. In fact, the support staff of the police department has been cut during the past several budget processes.

I will, however, agree that we sometimes go a bit overboard on followup assignment. When I am working as the Duty Commander, I always ask myself whether this is really the way I want this officer to spend his or her time before I issue a followup.

I think it is probably true that in some cases, follow up is assigned when it is really not a wise use of our limited resources.
I trust our officers have the common sense to give cases with little potential the priority they merit--and bring such matters to the attention of their sergeant when they believe the effort to be expended is not worth the chance for results. It is the sergeanta who decides whether the work completed is sufficient given the gravity of the case. That's what a chain of command is for. If you were hesitant to do so, provide me the case number, because I'm not.

Tom Casady said...

Atticus:

See above. No money. If we suddenly were in the clover, though, a Warrants Unit would be way down on my list of priorities.

We need for officers on the street, more investigators in the Narcotics Unit, more investigators in the Criminal Investigations Team, more officers in the Traffic Unit, more support staff in Records, the Forensics Unit, Technical Resources, Property & Evidence, Service Desk, and Public Service Officers. Get all those flush, and we'll see about warrants.

If we got to that point, I'd want to throw in with the Sheriff's Office and Marshals Service on the task force approach, though. Keep in mind the the warrants LPD holds are all for Municipal Ordinance Violations. The Sheriff gets the State Statute violation warrants, even though the underlying charges for most of those are from LPD arrests. It would be better to spend our time going after felons and high-grade misdemeanants.

I strongly agree that putting a little pressure on those with warrants has some beneficial side effects, but we just don't have anywhere close to the resources to do that with a specialized unit, IMHO.

Tom Casady said...

Anonymous 9:26

Yes, there is a national database for stolen guns, the National Crime Information Center (NCIS) maintains a stolen gun file that we check all the time when we recover guns.

It's not available to the general public, though, so you'll need to email me the serial number to that Model 29, or give me a call at the office.

Anonymous said...

Are YOU kidding me? With Omaha's current staffing (due to retirements), the current per capita ratio is 1.4 officers per 1000 citizens. Omaha estimates it will take 10 years to get back up to their authorized strength of 800. While this is still more than Lincoln, it's still in the area of being similar. AND Omaha still has a fugitive task force.

You say in your blog that outstanding warrants are in the area of 10,000. You then respond to a comment made by 5:24 that even if you had the money a warrant squad would be on the bottom of your list, and even list the traffic unit as being a higher priority. How does catching speeders list higher on your list than catching suspects who have warrants? It's no secret that people with warrants commit a large number of crimes, and by arresting them would seem to reduce at least the potential for furure ciminal activity. It's no suprise you list technical support ahead of fugitives. After all you are "Chief Radio Shack".

Tom Casady said...

9:01

Well, I would assume that Omaha has been hiring some large classes in anticipation of this turnover spike, but maybe they don't operate like that, and maybe they really are down to 1.4 officers per 1,000. If so, they'd have to be 200 officers below their authorized strength. I can find the number of sworn officers in their budget(787), and the number of actual sworn officers (765) at the end of the third quarter of 2007, but I have no idea how many are actually employed today. I thought I read somewhere that they had about 100 retirements in 2007. Give me the number of officers as of today, and I'll do the math using actual number rather than budgeted officers for both agencies.

Let's assume, though, Omaha is operating at 100 officers below their authorized strength of 787. If that is the case, their ratio of officers to citizens is 1.65 per 1,000. LPD is at 1.31 per 1,000. So we'd need to add 80 officers to be at the same level per capita as the depleted Omaha Police Department. Even if they really are down 200 officers (which I highly doubt), we'd still need 22 officers to reach that level of 1.4/1,000.

I never said that a Warrants Unit was my lowest priority. I could make a long list of things that would be nice to have, but would be a much lower priority. It's just that a specialized warrants unit is a lower priority than more officers on the street (and yes, that includes the Traffic Unit), more investigators, and adequately staffed support units--including the technical staff that keeps our mobile data, Records Management System, PCs, network, radio system, and so forth operating.

Yes, I do consider that more important right now than a specialized unit to chase misdemeanor arrest warrants for municipal ordinance violations. We managed to make 2,492 arrests for those warrants last year without specialists. You can do the math yourself on how that compares with Omaha. I've done it, and it's not much different when you calculate the warrant arrest per officer ratio: 8.13 for Omaha, 7.86 for Lincoln. That's using authorized strength, and I realize that both agencies have operated below authorized during 2007. I also had to extrapolate Omaha's warrant arrests for the fourth quarter, because only the first three were available.

Anonymous said...

Would I be wrong, Chief, to suggest that a significant percentage of those individuals arrested for these various crimes already have warrants for previous infractions? I'd be curious to know what percentage of them do. If it is as high as I suspect, wouldn't it be beneficial to create this "fugitive task force" being talked about? Wouldn't that in itself reduce the need for additional staff in many of the other areas you mentioned? If, for example, one quarter of those you arrest already have warrants for previous crimes, you could proportionately reduce the number of arrests by rounding these people up and putting them in jail. I know it is a complicated situation, and that it is not necessarily the fault of the police department that these people are on the loose after commiting their crimes, but I would think that once they have skipped bail or failed to appear, it would be a priority to put them in jail where they belong.

More cops please!!!! said...

I would think that with more officers on the street, even in the traffic unit, there would be as many or more arrests on warrants than a specialized warrant unit would clear since there would be more contacts in the field than there are now, thus more contacts with people that have warrants. Mainly because a lot of the people with warrants move around a lot and live at a different address than what is on the warrant.

Tom Casady said...

Anon. 7:08-

Yes, it probably is as high as you expect. Problem is, rounding them up doesn't get them off the street for long. Read today's post, and you'll get the drift.

Nonetheless, I think there's a lot of benefit on keeping the heat on them. Is it enough to justify pulling 4 officers off the street, or out of Criminal Investigations? Not in my estimation. If you gave me back four officers assigned to middle schools would a warrants unit be my first pick? No, four more officers on beats would win by a landslide. It's not a perfect science, but that's my take on it.

I'd definately like to put more focus on warrants, and make the wanted feel less comfortable, but not at the cost of pulling limited officers for a specialized unit--at least not right now.

Anonymous said...

One of my buddy's recently got into some trouble at a bar and the short story is he was arrested on assault charges which are ridiculous we were there and watched as a random guy came up to him punched him in the face and began repeatedly beating him. He stood up to defend himself and in the crossfire the wasted dude fell and banged his head on the kerb. The cops show up and don't want to hear us and arrest him.
It all got cleared up in the end but had that have gone to court and my friend had to have paid court bonds could he have claimed them back or even sued the police force for wrongful arrest? Also where would be the best place for getting bonded?

Collin said...

Hey This has never happened to me before, but what if I received a case number card on my windshield. Does this mean I did something bad because I sure hope I didn't.