Thursday, April 10, 2008

Establishing a baseline

We are in the opening stages of the Stronger Safer Neighborhoods Initiative--Mayor Chris Beutler's focus on protecting fragile neighborhoods from reaching a crime tipping point. The Administrative Assistant to the Mayor hired to coordinate the City's activities in this effort, Jon Carlson, is working here at the police department, as a member of the Southwest Team. The area we will be focusing on is 42 square blocks in Lincoln's core, between A and G Streets, 9th and 17th Streets.

One of the first things we need to get in order is the establishment of some baseline data that we can use as the benchmark for progress. Tracking our progress is critical for determining whether these efforts are having an impact, and alerting us if adjustments are needed. Police data can be an important source of such information, and readers of The Chief's Corner will realize that we have some excellent capabilities to collect, analyze, and disseminate information about police incidents.

Figuring out what to measure, however, requires some thought. An obvious approach might be to measure police dispatches. If, however, the initiative results in more police presence and greater outreach to citizens in the area of focus, the net effect could be to increase, rather than decrease, police incidents.

In order to avoid a reporting phenomenon that is misleading, we intend to collect baseline data of three separate types: overall police incident reports, dispatches to disturbances, and a subset of crime reports composed of the following offenses: burglaries, narcotics cases, larcenies from auto, and assaults. These four "indicator crimes" occur in large enough numbers that changes can be detected over time, and they are crimes for which levels of reporting have not been influenced by recent changes in reporting practices. We will be looking at these indicators on a quarterly basis, comparing the trend to the previous quarter, and to the same period in the prior year. Here's the baseline for this subset of incidents:

Police incidents can provide some of the data to track neighborhood conditions, but we will also need to locate and track other kinds of data, particularly those related to housing, the physical environment, and residents' perceptions of safety and well being. In coming weeks, we will be working to cultivate sources of information for this purpose. We will be turning to other partners, such as NeighborWorks, Free to Grow, and the Everett and Near South Neighborhood Associations to help collect these data.


Anonymous said...

In your 42 block area study, How are you going to show that these problems are resolved and not just shoved out of the area to a new area of Lincoln? You have to cure the cancer, Not just push it to a healthy part of the body. I'm really curious to what is going to be done to prevent Lincoln from having a shooting gallery like Omaha has. I remember years ago when Omaha only had 10 or so Homicides. What went wrong? Are we looking at that? I know the Omaha thing is touchy with you but I think maybe there is some learning that can be done so that we don't have this gang problem.

Anonymous said...

I guess I don't see how having someone to coordinate these efforts is more valuable than hiring more officers. I know it was the mayor's wish and not necessarily yours. I also find it strange that a mayoral aide has an office in the police department. It seems like having more "worker bees" instead of more management would be a better use of funds and productivity.

Tom Casady said...

Anonymous 8:17-

You've put your finger on a key: we haven't accomplished much if we just push the same disorder and crime elsewhere. (We have, however, accomplished something if we do that--but it's a long-winded explanation of the positive impact of displacement that I must save for another time.)

If we can make structural change, though, we can do more than just push problems around the map. There are some good examples of such things in my blog: like the problem-oriented policing approach, the focus on landlords, and strategies to put more pressure on people with arrest warrants, and more surveillance on high-risk ex-offenders. These are strategies that don't just move the problem--they reduce it.

We need more of those, and not just police strategies. Areas such as drug treatment for the indigent, vigorous enforcement of building codes, and graffiti abatement all have great promise for improvement.

Most importantly, in my mind, is that we need to demonstrate that the strategic use of limited resources actually works.

We have a gallon of City of Lincoln paint, provided by the owner. Let's not waste it by spreading it on the house so thin that it will be completely unnoticeable. Rather, let's spruce up the faded mailbox. Maybe that will inspire the landlord to give us enough paint to do a decent job on the doghouse, then the garage, and maybe even the house.

Anonymous said...

I think that this is a very good idear. Recent crime in Omaha has me worried. I hope it does not come to Lincoln. The landlordes need to help to with this. I am hoping that this helps our city.
Hillbilly Mike

Anonymous said...

Would it be accurate to say that if the murder rate rises or falls (as a steady trend, not as a local extrema or annual spike), that the reporting rate for those four "indicator crimes" will tend to fall or rise as the murder rate does the opposite?

Short form: Does a higher murder rate coincide with a lower all-crime reporting rate?

Tom Casady said...

Anonymous 2:05-

That's an interesting question. I suspect that a higher murder rate corresponds with a lower reporting rate for the most minor crimes. When a community has a serious violent crime problem, I suspect that citizens are less likely to report their lawn sprinkler stolen, and that the police are less likely to take an official report. That's just a guess, though. Great subject for a grad student working on a CJ thesis.