Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Another way of looking at it

One of the reasons I started writing this blog in the first place was to build a little more understanding in the community of the issues the police deal with and the difficulties we face. Chief among those is the challenge of providing quality police services with an unusually small force. The comparative size of the Lincoln Police Department is a topic that weaves through many of my posts on The Chief's Corner, as is the topic of citizen expectations.

One way of comparing departments is to look at the number of police officers in relation to the population. By downloading data on crime and police employment in the FBI's annual compilation, Crime in the United States, you can create many views of the spreadsheets. I can massage the raw data by building formulae, creating pivot tables and charts, performing various column sorts, and applying filters.

The metric I normally use for comparisons is the number of police officers per 1,000 population. While this is a commonly-used comparative statistic, many others could be calculated. One that I also produce is a column that simply divides the number of FBI Part I Crimes by the number of police officers. By using filters on the population and State columns, I can then quickly produce comparisons to nearby cities, cities within certain size ranges, or both. Here's what it looks like for all the cities in Nebraska and its surrounding states with populations of 200,000 or better (click to enlarge):

The FBI Part I Crimes are Murder and non-negligent homicide, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, auto theft, and larceny theft. The first four are the violent crimes, the others are the property crimes. The weakness of crimes per officer as a measure of comparison is this: crime isn't all we do, by a long shot. In terms of volume, it's not even the most common thing we do. Those Part I Crimes only constitute about 10% of the incidents we handle. You could even make an argument that some of our other responsibilities are at least as important to public safety.


Anonymous said...

Since I assume tax dollars are the main problem in trying to fund a larger police force, is there a way to compare Police Dept. budget to total city government budget in a comparison of cities? How about Police Dept. budget as a fraction of total property taxes, or a similar vein?

Tom Casady said...

Yes, anonymous 6:50, if is possible. It's more difficult, though, because unlike the crime and police employment data in the FBI's Crime in America, there is no similar compendium of budget data.

Lincoln's municipal government consumes only 14% of the local property tax bill. The public schools are by far the big dog on the block. Of the municipal agencies, the police department is the biggest user of tax dollars. There is a nice bar chart on page 3 of this budget summary that contains those data.

Lincoln's city government in general is exceptionally lean: the cost per citizen is very, very small compared to other cities. I participate in a discussion group of other chiefs that share more detailed data very year than the FBI collects. Gerry Tallman, an analyst at the Overland Park Police Department, assembles the data for all of us every year. The budget comparisons are in this document, on pages 13, 16, and 18.

Prairie Dog said...

Chief, I would like to take liberty with your blog. As a reader I would compare your comments on how the department is performing as a 4 out of 5 star rating. The crime rate is low considering the very low numbers of officers on the payroll.

Lincoln has missed a great opportunity to earn that citizen loyalty of a 5 out of 5 star rating. Here is a good size population with a low crime rate. With the Mayor's approval of more officers think how those new cops would enable his "no slums campaign." Think of the extra details that could be provided to target crime areas and those on the brink of falling towards one.

But if the Mayor is truely passionate about this campaign then I ask where is the money. Extra officers would provide relief to over burdened investigations. Extra officers would allow to create a culture of valued trust with neighborhoods again as they once were many years ago when cops worked a smaller beat.

Look to those great examples already in place. Having a bike patrol in the downtown area. It is a subset of the center team. What are the local businesses saying about those offiers who are more focused on a smaller area. Look to see how crimes have decreased on those shifts and specific area.

I know you are a cheerleader in this area and would want nothing more than to better that envionment for your troops. But the bigger point here is that there is a Mayor in place that is overlooking a GREAT opportunity to put into motion a town that does not settle for a 4 star rating. It appears that he wants a better neighborhood but does not want to take on the responsibility or payroll for giving it patient officers who can listen and work with the public on a greater frequency and more personal level.

Just as the public school system seeks more teachers with smaller classrooms. So too shoudl law enforcement puch for more officers with smaller beats.

Anonymous said...

How many murders did Lincoln have in 2007, and how many traffic fatalities within the same time period (both death types only inside the city limits)?

Another thing, out of the 2007 Lincoln in-town traffic fatalities, how many were not wearing a seat belt? This one bugs me to no end, because it's such a simple thing that greatly reduces your risk of serious injury or death in a wreck.

Tom Casady said...

Prairie dog:

There isn't enough tax revenue to support the City's current services, and nobody is running for office on a platform of increasing property taxes. I think the Mayor's effort to find out what citizens are willing to pay for, or what services they are willing to give up, is the only logical course of action.

Anonymous 3:39

There were 6 murders in 2007, and 11 fatal traffic crashes that killed 12 victims. Of the victims, 3 were on motorcycles. For the victims in automobiles, 2 were wearing seat belts, 3 were not, and for the remainder, seat belt usage was unknown.

Over the past decade, Lincoln has averaged 12.5 traffic fatalities and 6 murders per year.

Anonymous said...

That graph sort of blows the argument out of the water that's been going on with the comments on your post from last week about Omaha. Simple math would tell you that Lincoln police officers investigate more stuff than Omaha.

Would it be safe to assume because the force is so much smaller in relation to the population, rather than a higher crime rate?

Anonymous said...

Of all the homicides in Lincoln in the past ten years how many of them involved disputes over drugs? By this I mean how many were attempts to steal drugs from another druggy or disputes over payments or the quality of drugs?

Gun Nut

Anonymous said...

How many tax dollars were spent to dispatch two dozen people and two dogs to catch an innocent man trying to get a knife sharpened? I'm appalled by the State Patrol's and the LPD's response to the Von Maur situation. Granted, the root of the problem comes from overreacting employees, but consider some prudence next time you spend my hard earned money.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, was our man with a knife, by chance, a clean-shaven manifestation of "The Butcher"? That was the first thing I thought of when they said it was a man with an unconcealed butcher knife that wasn't menacing anyone at all. I figured he might not make it down to that mall often, so maybe he was having a look around and seeing the sights.

By the way, thanks for the murders vs auto accident fatalities numbers.

Tom Casady said...

Gun nut:

I'd have to spend some brainstoming time with that, but at first glance, I see about 9 where the drug connection is pretty clear--that includes a couple of children who died due to the drug addiction/dealing of others. There would doubtless be a few more where the killer's drug-fried brain was a more indirect factor.

Anon 8:50,

Must I point out again that all the clairvoyants have been taken out of my budget?

Anon. 11:08,

Good catch! The Butcher, or course, would have had his knife in his sheath, and his sharpening steel ;-) dangling from his belt.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad law enforcement responded like they did to Von Maur. You just never know. Criminals don't have to look & act like criminals to be dangerous.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:50

If you ever happen to be the victim of a (violent) crime, I hope you are not upset if the police "overrespond". Talk to anyone from the Omaha Von Maur and see if they are concerned about their tax dollars in regard to police response.

Anonymous said...

If criminals don't always look and act like criminals then how do we know who not to stand next to when in Omaha?

Maybe the guy with the knife in Von Maur was an out of work pirate.

Anonymous said...

That's true, an unemployed pirate might have been looking for the iPod strongbox to bring it back to his Captain and curry favor. They don't all wear their eyepatch, and they don't always put the knife in their teeth (that's just for climbin' in the rigging).

However, they're never far from their parrots, and no tropical birds was mentioned in the vague description, so I'm skeptical. Also, a pirate would likely have been attracted to the grog at Old Chicago.

Anonymous said...

He must be a blood thirsty criminal, luckily the police found his to do list...

To DO:
1) Take large knife to Scheels
3)Casually walk back through the store a second time, seemingly unnoticed.
4)Put a dollar in the tip jar at Cold Stone and stare blankly while they sing acapella just for me
5)Steal numerous bra's from Victoria's Secret
6)Get back into my pickup with out of county plates and drive back to a place where people don't over-react.
7)Joke with friends about the day's happenings
8)Decide not to call the police and tell them my identity, since there really was no crime committed at all.
9)Find the dead horse that the media and police dept has been beating since this "incident" occurred....

P.S. When was the last reported mass stabbing at a public place?

Anonymous said...

Well, now that you mention it:

Osaka Mass Stabbing

The lesson from that event is one society likes to ignore these days, that if you "mainstream" known nutjobs, instead of locking them up under supervision, they are a ticking time bomb.

Anonymous said...

Where's the cry to ban all knives?

Anonymous said...

"Where's the cry to ban all knives?"

You mean like this? I assume those docs don't do any serious cooking. Some nannyesque flock of hens on this side of the pond will get just as dumb soon enough - if they haven't already.

Anonymous said...

Great find, anonymous 6:13!

Anonymous said...

Leave it to the British and the liberals and we'll be hunting with pointed sticks and cooking with sporks.