Thursday, November 20, 2008


This is part four of a series. Read Monday's post, if you haven't already.

Dens are problem places. These are the addresses that police officers are quite familiar with on their own beats: places with repeated calls for service and problems. Some dens have achieved their status because they are the location of lots and lots of human activity that inevitably involve the police and mostly minor crime. For example, so far this year, the list of the top five places where the most crimes have occurred (142 to 406) includes three high schools and two shopping centers.

Other dens are true dens of iniquity: places where bad actors congregate and bad actions occur with regularity. Retired LPD officers will instantly recognize addresses like 1416 P Street, 913 O Street, and 2272 Y Street--problem spots during the 1970's and 1980's. Today's officers have their own list of familiar-sounding addresses. I found, for example, one single-family residence in Lincoln this year that has already generated 13 police crime reports. There is also a home with 12, four with 9, and two with 8. That's a lot of stuff for a few single-family homes.

The Lincoln Police Department is quite good at is in identifying dens. I can give you the track record of a specific address all the way back to 1980 in a matter of moments, and find the owner and a photo of the premise in a few clicks thereafter. Our information by address is rich and deep. A den may be an exact address, or it may be an area where problems are concentrated. We use some specific techniques for pinpointing locations with emerging problems, such as Threshold Alerts. Our GIS capability is well-developed.

A key to dealing with dens is to look beyond the individual calls for service and incidents. This is the essence of most good problem-oriented policing projects: gathering the information, assessing the underlying problems, addressing those with a targeted strategy, and assessing the results.

Dealing with problems at places is not solely the job of the police. Place managers such as business owners, apartment managers, retail managers, and property owners have the most important role. We want to help them do it well because it is in our best interest. As an example, we provide some great resources to rental property owners and managers, so that they may be alerted to a den existing in their own units. Owners and managers can instantly obtain up-to-the-minute information concerning the basic details of all police dispatches to their property. We also provide liquor license holders with information about drunk driving arrests where the defendant claims to have been drinking in that particular establishment. We emphasize the value to our officers of establishing relationships with retail businesses on their beat, and we are heavily-involved in one of the most important places in any community: schools.

Here are a few examples of place-based interventions LPD has initiated that I've blogged about here in the Chief's Corner in the past:

Working with landlords to reduce problems at rental property.
Keeping close tabs on the residences of high-risk sex offenders.
Dealing with problematic practices at bars.
Recruiting good tenants into fragile neighborhoods.

Despite the fact that we do a particularly good job of locating and working on dens, there are a few ways I think we could improve. We could, for example, intervene more effectively on businesses with repeated false alarms. If the small fines don't seem to have the desired impact, maybe a personal visit by the police captain who commands the area would. I also think that in some case we could intervene earlier with place managers--even thought this is an area in which we generally excel. Sometimes we wait a little longer than we should. By the time we've actually spoken to or written the owner/manager, the problem has been in existence for quite a while.

Some people opine that place-centered police intervention merely moves the problems elsewhere. In my book, though, the displacement argument is unconvincing. The net effect of displacing crime is usually positive:even if there is some displacement, it's not one-to-one. And there can be some unexpected diffusion of benefits when crime prevention efforts focused on one offense type or one area actually exert a positive influence on crimes and areas other than those directly targeted. It's a contested issue, but I believe the greater weight of research evidence backs me on this one.

The Series:

Theory and practice
Evidence-based policing


Anonymous said...

Is there a rule of thumb regarding how many official contacts you allow with the weak-management-type landlord of a disorderly house rental property, before you start citing them for 9.20.030? Most landlords have never even seen the inside of a jail (except on TV), and I'd imagine that the possibility of winding up there for up to six months would light a fire under most of them.

Anonymous said...

If you feel like taking a minute, did A8-115702 and A8-115706 precipitate A8-115672 and A8-115711, or were those unrelated?

Tom Casady said...

Not a specific number. Generally when we realize that a rental is generating an unusual amount of preventable police activity, we notify the landlord and document the notification. We tell landlords that we expect to see something proactive on their part to help abate the problem: warning letters, personal visits, eviction notices, or the like. If we continue to have significant problems, and the landlord has taken no action to enforce the lease, evict the tenant, or abate the problem, he or she is likely to be cited. This is rarely the case, however. Contact with the landlord is an especially effective means of getting the ball rolling.

2:49- The two sets of cases are not related.

Anonymous said...

Thanks again! I bet that at least few of your Officers have a bell go "ding!" in their head when they see this: The man also had a tattoo of a scorpion on his neck, because it's great when career criminals voluntarily get visible, memorable tattoos.

That makes me think: If you gave out free, high-quality, professional neck, hand, and face tattoos in jail, how many inmates would actually take the freebie? You let them choose from many cool and unique designs. Whenever an inmate chooses a design and gets inked, the design they picked is then removed from the catalog - and attached to their RAP.

ARRRRG!!!! said...

Oh man, covert 'branding' of convicts. I love the idea anon 5:28.

I can't decide between this one and this one.

Anonymous said...

Hate to say this ---but my whole neighborhood has "suspicious behavior". We have dumpster divers,metal thieves, people getting jacked for the chump change in thier pockets,we have people checking car doors in my apartment complex parking area at wee hours in the morning. And you ask how I would know all this, well that's easy-I have 2 ladies that live in the back apartments armed with binnolars, that watch all traffic coming and going out of the alley all night long.We have crack dealers that run a car hop service every night of the week.Since I have moved into this neighborhood, I have had the chance to watch Lincoln's Finest at work. Yes they patrol the core, yes they make some arrest,yes they run surveillance,-it's not hard to see these things go on every day outside my picture window.