Wednesday, December 30, 2009

And another thing...

Okay, I'll get this off my chest and then I'll be better. Read my final comment on yesterday's post, first.

I just read the newspaper, where a citizen rips LPD for waking her at 2:30 AM on December 25th to tell her to move the car parked on a snow emergency route. Wasn't really any need for us to do that, other than to give her and her husband the opportunity to avoid a hefty $50 ticket and an even heftier tow fee.

They had no choice other than to leave her daughter's car on the street, and take her home. How rude of us to now suggest that they get it off the street or it would be towed!

I looked up the address on the County Assessor's website. It's not far from my home, and the photo looks a lot like my place. There is a double garage, and a double wide driveway. You could park SIX vehicles off the street. It appears to have been purchased in 2003, and the author of the letter acknowledges knowing that it is a bus route, despite pleading that the bus isn't running today.

I think it was a good idea for this couple to fire up the SUV and take their daughter home in the blizzard, but is it really too much to expect that they would think to move her car off the snow emergency route and into the driveway, and should they really fault the police for giving them the opportunity to take care of it pronto rather than face a tow? Do they think that the plow operator and the police officer, working outdoors on Christmas morning are having a Merry Time annoying people for no good reason?

In fairness, maybe her husband was out of town, and she was alone. Maybe he has the SUV, or it's in the shop, maybe there wasn't another adult in the household who could stay with the little kids while she handled the car. I don't know. But the officer's offer was just that: if you can move it, we won't need to tow it. Lots and lots of people have been afforded that opportunity during the snow emergency, because it's easier for us, and cheaper for them.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Can’t figure it out

We have been writing hundreds of parking tickets for snow emergency violations and 24 hour parking, and towing cars left and right. I guess we just don’t have enough of these big snow events for some people to sit up and pay attention to the parking bans. The residential ban violations are particularly troublesome. These require vehicles to be parked only on the side of the street with either even or odd addresses, based on which is specified on a particular day.

In some areas of Lincoln, a snow emergency parking ban violation can prevent the plow from even getting down the center of the street, because there just isn’t enough space. Even if the plow can pass, the offending vehicle is plowed in, and the owner has a big dig on his hands to get it out. When he eventually does, he shall find a fat parking ticket, but the rest of the neighborhood will have to put up with the burial mound all winter long.

Last week I had a meeting with Mayor Beutler, who was concerned by the apparent lack of compliance with the residential parking ban following our first big snow two weeks ago. I told him that there just didn’t seem to be enough fear of enforcement, even though we had issued over 1,100 tickets. I also explained that there are more people than you might realize who do not read the paper, listen to news radio, or watch the nightly newscasts on television. Moreover, in a city of a quarter million, you will always have a few thousand people who at any given time are drunk, high, or just so disorganized that they can’t figure out what day of the week it is, much less comprehend concepts like even and odd, north and east. This Incident Report (lightly edited to protect the identity) is pretty indicative of the problem:

Two big December snowstorms have been a test of our parking enforcement energy, and I think we rose to the challenge. It was a commendable effort by our officers. I don’t have the exact numbers from the Christmas storm yet, but there were stacks of tickets issued, and nearly 80 vehicles towed by the skinny staff that worked over the holiday weekend. With the real parking pros back on duty beginning today (that’s the Public Service Officers), the numbers are sure to take a steep climb. When we have our next major snowfall, I hope the vigorous enforcement causes the inattentive and unmotivated to move their cars from the banned locations, because it’s easier on everyone.

And before anyone starts chewing this bone, let us refresh: the City retains an $8 fee on parking tickets to offset a portion of the cost of enforcement (it certainly doesn't pay the entire cost), the remainder--the fine--all goes to the public school district, a provision in Nebraska's Constitution. Life would be much easier, and the cost to the City much less, if no tickets were necessary whatsoever. Anyone who thinks this is fun and profitable has rocks in their head.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Honored to help

A couple Fridays ago, I attended the annual Christmas party of a local philanthropic organization, the Sowers Club. Every year, the Sowers Club donates toys to Santa Cop. This year, they trimmed the Christmas tree in the ballroom with cash. At the end of the night’s festivities, the Sower’s plucked the tree, and presented me with a hefty wad. After nervously guarding the haul over the weekend, I handed Officer Cass Briggs (who coordinates Santa Cop) an envelope containing $2,300 to beef up the shopping fund!

A second opportunity arose on Christmas day. I had not seen the letter Officer Steve Standley received from a woman recovering from her drug problems until Christmas Eve. That morning, a fortunate accident occurred. I received a nice email from a citizen complimenting Officer Chassidy Jackson. As luck would have it, I got it on my smartphone right at the moment I was standing next to her in the lineup room at headquarters. Her Sergeant, Ed Sheridan, was there, too, so I just read it out loud, as I forwarded a copy to him for Chassidy’s personnel file.

Afterwards, Sgt. Sheridan and I were getting a little mushy about the good things we get to do as police officers, when he asked me if I had seen the letter Steve Standley received. He had a copy, and shared it with me. I thought the letter was particularly heart felt and moving, as this woman described how she was working to overcome her drug problems and get her life back on track. What better on Christmas then to support someone’s efforts in search of redemption?

She told Steve in her letter that she was going to school and working two jobs. That means that money must be a little tight, so after the last second shift lineup on Christmas, I drove over to her home, and dropped off an envelope full of cash and a stack of gift cards for a local grocery store. The cash was a gift from the employees of a small business here in Lincoln, that forgoes a company Christmas party, and instead asks me to serve as their elf. The gift cards came from a women’s group at my church that requested my services as their bag man.

It was the middle of a Nebraska blizzard, but I had a big 4WD police patrol unit to make the delivery. I called her from down the street, thinking it might be a little disconcerting to hear an unannounced knock at the door under the circumstances. I could sense just a little confusion in her voice as I introduced myself and explained my purpose. A few minutes later I trudged through the knee deep snow and navigated a 4-foot drift near her front door. Hugs, thanks, and tears ensued, and I had to remind her, as I sprung to my sleigh, that I was just the heavily armed delivery man.

I felt honored to help all these donors make these splendid gifts.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Thank you, John

There is some sad news for the LPD family. Retired Capt. John Hewitt passed away on Christmas Eve. I met John when I was 15 years old, 41 years ago. I worked at Pete's IGA, across the street from his house, and when Tess and John had more than a couple bags, I helped them carry their groceries home. John was the night desk sergeant at the time.

One day about five years later I was moaning about the high price of a college education, when he suggested I join the police department. He took me out one night on a ride along, and he told me about a government-funded tuition program. I was a University of Nebraska senior at the time, but It was such a good deal, I decided to continue with graduate school. By the time I was done with that I had a family and a mortgage, and I was having a lot of fun as a young police sergeant.

I have John Hewitt to thank for setting me on this rewarding career path. He was an admirable guy in all respects, a good friend, and a loving husband and father. He was very proud of his sons, and I know he will be sorely missed.

John had a massive heart attack several years ago, and quite miraculously survived against all odds. He got a new lease on life, and he made the most of it. We were fortunate to enjoy his company for those extra years.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Christmas story

After dinner today, I’ll be heading downtown to relieve the day shift duty commander, Assistant Chief Jim Peschong. I will be covering the swing shift, and hopefully will find time to attend to my elf and bag man duties. I shall report about that on Monday, I suspect. In the meantime, here’s a pretty good story for Christmas morning.

I tell every new recruit class that this will eventually happen to them. They’ll be in line at the check stand, and someone will come up to them: “Remember me? You arrested me." Before you cringe, read this letter that Officer Steve Standley, a veteran of 35 years, received shortly before Christmas from a woman he had arrested for a drug offense.

I just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas. I also wanted to thank you for showing me such compassion when I was at my lowest point in my life. And I wanted you to know I listened to your advice: “Remember, the sun will come up tomorrow and it will be a new day to start.” And indeed it was. I have returned to school. I have been in College since May. I’m now on the dean’s list. I have changed my life in so many ways, I’m working two jobs, and receiving counseling for issues I had kept inside for too long. My husband said it was nice to see me smile again. You have made a difference in my life and my family’s life. I wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and may God bless you.

P.S. I know you might not recall who I am, but I am the one you arrested on February 13, the day that changed my life.

I am sure there was no need for the postscript. Steve doesn’t forget such things, and although I am absolutely certain he’s had these experiences on many past occasions, he would remember his encounter with this young woman.

Sometimes what we do as police officers has impacts that we do not see, but rest assured they occur nonetheless, and probably with much greater frequency than we ever realize. Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Design on a dime

Okay, maybe I’ve been watching a little too much HGTV, but such is life. For about a year, we have been mulling over an update to our patrol cars’ graphics. Over the decades, we have had many different designs. The last time the scheme was seriously refreshed was in 1996, when we abandoned the two-tone paint job in favor of a decal set that has changed very slightly in the past 14 years.

Our first attempt at a new look was internal. Some of our own personnel put some thoughts on paper, and we had a couple of cars made-up with the results. You can do that nowadays, because the decals are computer-designed and robotically cut, so you don’t have to buy a boatload. The results--while good--were, well, not entirely inspirational.

Picking up on an idea that we jumped on for redesigning our recruitment materials, we turned to the University of Nebraska for help. Assistant Chief Jim Peschong contacted Professor Ron Bartels, who teaches GRPH 421, Advanced Graphic Design. His class took us on as a semester project, and presented their portfolios earlier this month.

Wow!

The students pretty much blew us away with their concepts and execution, and you can’t beat the price . We are presently conducting an internal poll, and intend to pull together a couple more patrol cars with elements from the most popular concepts, so we can see them in the flesh. My snapshots aren’t the best, but here’s a few slides of the posters that adorn our lineup room (there are a lot more).


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Not listening

I keep telling them, but they are not listening.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Alarm ordinance enacted

Last week, the Lincoln City Council enacted a new ordinance on false alarms--a piece of legislation that had been in the pipeline for well over a year. Modelled on Omaha's ordinance, the new law creates a system of fees for excess false alarms, replacing the current criminal citation that a business or homeowner receives when they have more than 4 false alarms in a 12 month period.

The new ordinance has a delayed effective date of July 1, 2010. We will be working in the next few months to set in place the infrastructure that will be necessary to effectively enforce this new law. Several changes will take place: alarms must be registered (both business and residential), so that system will have to be established; we will have to come up with a mechanism for handling billing and accounts receivable, since the fees will go to the City; and we will need to tweak our system for tracking false alarms, since the new ordinance replaces a rolling 12 month period with a fixed two-year registration period.

Although false alarms are comparatively low and have been falling steadily in Lincoln (3,279 in 2008, and they will be even lower this year), I predict that the enactment of this ordinance, will cause another drop. My hope is that false alarms can be reduced without negatively impacting our ability to catch burglars in the act.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Big retail weekend

Must have been a big weekend in the retail businesses. Compare last weekend's list of shoplifted goods with the quantity from this past weekend's 17 cases:

ORBIT MIST MANGO SURF GUM 1.49
REESE'S SNACK BAR CANDY 1.19
REESE'S FAST BREAK CANDY 1.49
DURACELL AA BATTERIES 5.33
M&M ICE CREAM COOKIE SANDWICH 1.69
SILVER ALTUS MP4 PLAYER 29.99
SILVER BOULLION INTERNATIONAL BRACELET 11.99
SILVER CURB BRACELET 11.99
BLACK/RE QUIKSILVER HOODED COAT 59.99
PINK TANK TOP 38.00
BLACK TANK TOP 58.00
ADDIDAS SHORTS 24.00
WHI LIQUID PAPER 22ML BOTTLE 2.29
RED 4 STAR MEMO PAD 6.99
MULIT 4 STAR WILLOW TREE ORNAMENT 12.00
WHI 4 STAR SNOWFLAKE NECKLACE 14.99
MULTI 4 STAR 2 STAR ORNAMENTS 7.98
CLEAN LIQUID MAKEUP 4.50
NAIL POLISH REMOVER 4.50
AUGEN NETBOOK PC 159.00
PHILLIPS 18 GAUGE SPEAKER WIRE 14.99
WHT IPOD CHARGING KIT 24.99
JACKASS, THE NOTEBOOK, 7 POUNDS MOVIES 44.97
IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA MOVIES (3) 92.97
BLU ALMOST FAMOUS BLUE JEANS. 29.99
UNK BIC VELOCITY PENCIL 3.15
SCU BASIC HDWRP 4.85
PM MEGA PENCIL PACK 2.89
SIL JARU HANDCUFFS 7.15
BIC VELOCITY PENCIL 3.15
BIC MATCH PENCIL 3.55
PM CPNT MECHANICAL PENCIL 4.59
DURACELL 2 PACKAGES AA BATTERY'S 7.90
ENERGIZER 3 PACKAGES AA BATTERY'S 11.97
DURACE 1 PACKAGE 8 PACK BATTERY'S 5.75
BEST CHOICE 3 LIGHTERS 4.02
SMIRNOFF VODKA 100 PROOF, BLUE LABEL 17.99
GRAY/BLA ECKO T-SHIRT WITH DESIGN 28.00

Friday, December 18, 2009

Late night shopping

Here's a little Christmas cheer from the overnight reports, lightly edited to protect the identities (click to enlarge).


Kudos to the good citizen who intervened.

Not everyone crashed

I received an email this week from an out-of-town dad . He was upset that his 20 year old daughter received a traffic ticket for following too close, after she rear-ended a car stopped in the left turn lane at an intersection, waiting to make a turn.

“She started to slide due to the icy street, not something [she] did wrong….I do not know or understand how the Officer can issue a summons if the street was icy…the accident was weather related…Could someone explain to me and my daughter how this is following to close?”

With a foot of snow dumped last week, there has certainly been an uptick in traffic crashes. Since school was closed for three days last week, things were not completely chaotic, but traffic picked up with the work week, and Monday (when this crash occurred) was indeed the peak day so far this winter, with 94 traffic crashes. Our year-round average is 24. Still, 94 would be nowhere near the peak day of the year (so far!), February 13th, when we investigated 148 crashes.

I understand that he supports his daughter, and feels bad that she both had a collision and received a ticket. I wonder what he would want to happen if he had been rear-ended by someone else. What I he also considers is this: several tens of thousands of people driving in the same conditions in Lincoln on Monday did not crash. They anticipated the road conditions, allowed more time, gave greater following distance, slowed more gradually, avoided the usual distractions, and all the other things folks do in order to be extra careful. Here’s my reply to dad:

“The law requires motorists to have their car under control at all times, and to maintain a safe following distance. This requires that motorists consider the roadway and weather conditions, and adjust their speed, following distance and vehicular movements accordingly. Anticipating the potential impact of snow, ice, water, wind, and other environmental factors on the operation of the vehicle is a crucial skill for any driver, and the very fact that your daughter rear-ended a car in front of her would indicate to me that she failed to adequately consider or anticipate the prevailing conditions. Tens of thousands of motorists navigated Lincoln's streets without collisions. When there is significant damage and evidence of a violation of the law, officers issue citations at accident scenes. Your daughter, however, is free to plead not guilty, and it would be the City's burden at trial to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she violated the law.”

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Day of reflection

December 16th is a tough one for the family of a fine Lincoln police officer who was killed in the line of duty. There have been three Lincoln police officers mudered in our history. Three others have died in the line of duty in motor vehicle crashes. Read the reflections of Greg Soukup on the death of his dad, Lt. Frank H. Soukup 43 years ago yesterday. God bless this family, and those of all our officers who have made the ultimate sacrafice.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

That way on purpose

This is a widely-published flowchart illustrating the criminal justice system, from the commission of a crime, through all the steps of investigation, arrest, prosecution, trial, sentencing, and corrections. It was originally published in 1967 by the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice, but has been updated since then. This flowchart has been reprinted in scores of criminal justice textbooks over the past 40 years. You can download your own copy, suitable for framing, from the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

The flowchart resembles the instructions for assembling my granddaughter's doll house, the components of which are spread out right now on my ping pong table. How do they make those tiny shingles? The instructions seem to have been translated from Sanskrit into Middle French, before eventually landing in English. It would be easier to build a TV from a box of parts, and I've got one more week to make this look like a house!

The complexity of the justice system, however, frustrates me even more. From time to time here in the Chief's Corner I have whined about its inefficiency. It seems at times that it is just broken: bad actors get sweet plea deals, repeat offenders get light sentences, chronic criminals do not face increasingly severe penalties, well-known career criminals receive early release, and so forth.

I had a bit of a revelation yesterday during my second City Stat meeting with Mayor Beutler, when one of the citizens on the advisory panel considering our performance on the goal Livable Neighborhoods asked me a question. She was inquiring about the apparent failure of law enforcement and codes enforcement to abate nuisances in certain chronic cases when it suddenly struck me: we are hitching our trailer to the wrong truck if we are depending on arrest, prosecution, and criminal court sentences to solve such social ills. The process is slow, cumbersome, and uncoordinated. It is a barge, not a speedboat.

My sudden thought was this: it is that way on purpose. The Anglo-American justice system was never designed to be efficient. In fact, just the reverse: it is intentionally inefficient. We have a non-system where police, prosecutors, and courts are all separate entities without common management setting goals. It's not a crew that pulls in synchronous rhythm. We cherish principles such as "innocent until proven guilty," and "proof beyond a reasonable doubt." We have intentionally limited the power of police, prosecutors and courts in our statutes, laws, and Constitution.

That's as American as apple pie. This country was founded in the frustration of its citizens with despotic government. We abhor tyranny and anything that smacks of it. We are willing to let several criminals go free rather than to wrongly convict one. We have sought to limit and control the awesome power exercised by police, prosecutors, and courts in order to prevent its abuse and to protect principals that are dear to us.

In short, we have decided, as Americans, to control the power of government by creating and maintaining a justice system that is a Rube Goldberg contraption, rather than a well-oiled machine. Frustrated though I may be from time to time, I will try to remind myself that there the goal of the criminal justice system is to produce justice and to protect the public, without subverting the tenets of freedom. Sometimes that will inevitably conflict with what might seem to me to be sensible, efficient, and productive.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Please call

I took Friday off last week to help my mother-in-law, and didn’t spend much time in my inbox over the weekend. I get a lot of email—a whole lot—so a weekend of only occasional checks and subject lines leaves me with a sizeable backlog and a lot of catch-up.

A couple of messages (and others I have received in the past) have raised this concern. Folks, sending me an email is NO WAY to notify the police that you are the victim of telephone harassment, your teenage daughter is being stalked, or you are being tailgated by an angry driver having a road rage tantrum. And Crimestoppers is for providing tips on crimes, not for advising the police department that you are following a drunk driver, that the neighbors are playing music so loud the floors are shaking, or that someone dressed in dark clothing seems to be prowling the parking lot.

For about 90 years, the preferred method of calling the police has been to call the police—you know, press the digits on a telephone, then speak. It’s 911 in an emergency, and 441-6000 if you need us but it isn’t an emergency. We have a well-oiled communication process designed to get the information from you and to an officer in the field. If you send the police chief a personal email, post a comment on his blog, send an email to our generic account, or post a Crimestoppers tip about something that actually needs an immediate police response, all you are doing is slowing us down—sometimes by days.

We like to hear from you online, and email is a great way to discuss things with us, but it’s not the way to engage a prompt police response. Call us. We always answer.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Still not immune

At least Officer Jason Wesch wasn’t injured in this crash, but it would sure be nice if drunk drivers would stop running into our patrol cars. If you just can’t help yourself, please select an unoccupied police vehicle, rather than one of our new Chargers.

Holiday shopping

Here’s a list of the goods stolen by shoplifters over the weekend:

BLK FLIRT MAKEUP 12.00
SIL CANDIES HEART KEY CHAIN 14.00
MISC SO HEAD BANDS 8.00
SILV PLUMB WORK LIQUID CONNECTOR 3.66
SILV PLUMB WORKS WATER SAVER SHOWER HEAD 3.47
BOTTLE OF BRANDY (CHRISTIAN BROTHERS) 10.49
SKYY BOTTLE OF VODKA 20.79
RED BULL CAN OF 'ENERGY' DRINK 1.99
CRUZAN BOTTLE OF COCONUT RUM 11.99
ABSOLUT BOTTLE OF VODKA 19.99
CAPT. MORGAN BOTTLE OF 'ORIGINAL' SPICED RUM 15.99
SILVER METAL EARRINGS 7.99
1.75 ML BOTTLE JOSE CUERVO MIXER 17.99
QUATTRO MEN'S RAZOR'S 10.99
WHI EXACT EYELASH MASCARA 5.99
VENTURER LCD 15 IN TV 131.37
BLUERAY DVD BLADE RUNNER 32.99
BLUERAY DVD HANCOCK 29.99
BLUERAY DVD STARTREK 19.99
UNKNOWN AMOUNT OF MEAT
1.75 ML BOTTLE OF CAPTAIN MORGAN RUM 29.99

So far in 2009 (as of 12-13) there have been 1,680 shoplifting cases reported to LPD. Here is the number during the same time period (January 1 through December 13) for each year in this decade:

2008: 1,580
2007: 1,613
2006: 1,395
2005: 1,493
2004: 1,489
2003: 1,495
2002: 1,541
2001: 1,620
2000: 1,465

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cabin fever

Despite the weather, we were surprisingly busy yesterday, with 306 total dispatches: assaults, burglaries, thefts, child abuse, child porn, medical emergencies, child abuse, traffic crashes, you name it—even an indecent exposure. Nebraskan’s are hardy! Quite a few people called us to tell us they were stuck. “Yes, you most certainly are.” And there’s nothing like a foot of snow and a 40 MPH wind to bring these out:

1918: MALE BLOWING SNOW IN THE STREET

1806: BLK PU W/ WRIGHT CONST ON SIDE IN DRIVEWAY...PLOWED SNOW INTO INTERSECTION

1602: SAYS SHE FEELS LIKE HURTING SOMEONE...WILL WAIT OUT BACK SO SHE DOESNT

1550: PRIVATE CONTRACTOR PUSHING SNOW INTO 21 ST

1438:CALLER SAYS HIS ADULT NEIGHBOR IS SHOUTING PROFANITY AT HIM WHILE HE SHOVELS SNOW

1423: LINCOLN CONCRETE PUSHING SNOW INTO STREET WITH TWO RED PU(S)

1422: JL EXCAVATING USING A BOB CAT TO PUT SNOW IN STREET

1404: PARTY BLOWING SNOW INTO THE STREET ALSO ICE CHUNKS HITTING PASSING CARS CHIPPED COMP'S WINDSHIELD

1338: PEOPLE PUSHING SNOW FROM PRIVATE LOT INTO PUBLIC ALLEY

1331: NEIGHBORS USING 4WHEELERS TO PUSH SNOW INTO THE STREET

1303: NEIGHBOR IS BLOWING HIS SNOW DIRECTLY ONTO COMPS HOUSE - ONGOING PROB - ASKED HIM TO STOP AND HE STARTS ALL OVER AGAIN

1243: ATV WITH SNOW BLADE PUSHING SNOW OUT OF HIS DRIVEWAY ACROSS THE STREET AND ONTO THE STREET AND THE SIDEWALK SPACE OCCURRING AT THIS TIME

1223: MAN BLOWING SNOW INTO THE STREET...PLOW DRIVER TOLD HIM TO STOP ....THE MAN FLIPPED HIM OFF AND TOLD HIM TO DO HIS JOB

1014: NEIGHBOR FROM 1224 MULDER PUSHED HIS SNOW ACROSS THE STREET AND BLOCKED COMPS DRIVEWAY CONT PROBLEM AND COMP WANTS CONTACT

0959: KABREDLOS PUSHING SNOW ACROSS THE STREET COMP MAD BECAUSE THEY ARE PUSHING IT UP ONTO THE CURB IN FRONT OF HER HOUSE

0434: SNOWBLOWING HAS STARTED UP AGAIN

0417: IN THIS STRIP MALL, PEOPLE PUSHING SNOW OUT INTO THE STREET FROM THE PARKING LOT

0353: NISSAN PU BATTERY DEAD AND COMP IS VERY COLD ON NORTH PARK ROAD SOUNDS VERY C19 SAID HE GOT OFF WORK AT MIDNIGHT

0322: EX ROOM MATE STRANDED THERE -- IS C19 AND DESTROYING THINGS /// COMPL CALLING BACK SAYS SHE HAS LOCKED HERSELF IN THE BEDROOM

0300: RED JEEP CHEROKEE OUT OF STATE PLATES WAS FALLING DOWN DRUNK AND GOT IN VEH AND THEN GOT STUCK SOMEONE IS TRYING TO PULL HIM OUT NOW

0236: THIS NEIGH OUT ALREADY SNOWBLOWING HIS RESIDENCE

0223: SOMEONE PUSHING SNOW ONTO THE STREETS

0221: PARTYGOERS RUNNING OUTSIDE NAKED IN THE SNOW (FROM GROUND FLOOR APT)

0207: MAINT PUSHING SNOW OUT ONTO THE STREET FROM THE BUSINESS

0148: GF GOT STUCK AND NOW IS FLIPPING OUT AND YELLING AT COMP THEN SAID JUST GET SOMEONE OUT HERE AND TAKE HER AWAY AND HUNG UP

0116: PULLED HIS CAR IN FRONT OF COMP AND BLOCKED HER IN NOW SHE IS STUCK

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

City Stat launched

As the latest part of his efforts to radically retool the City's budget into a performance-based process, Mayor Chirs Beutler launched City Stat this week. Modelled after the police department's ACUDAT meetings, and with a nod to Baltimore's CitiStat, Lincoln's version is an effort to monitor the City's progress towards achieving it's budget outcomes. For each of the City's eight goals, a City Stat meeting is planned, where the involved departments present an update on each of the performance indicators.

Not surprisingly, the City's top priority (Safety & Security) was the lead-off meeting, meaning the the police department was in the hot seat. With a series of just a handful of PowerPoint slides, I reported on how we are doing on violent crime, property crime, clearance rate, and injury traffic crashes. I used the same graphs that are posted on our public web site's Dashboard, adding a single sentence to summarize how it's going in the current year, through the end of November. Here's what the review of our performance indicators shows:

Violent Crime: We are well within our goal of no more than 555 offenses per 100,000 population, and the violent crime rate is down 8% again so far this year.

Property Crime: Our bellwether offense, the burglary rate, is up 5% this year. Despite this, large decreases last year mean that we are comfortably under the target maximum of 842 offenses per 100,000 population.

Clearance Rate: Through the end of November, our clearance rate is 30%, well over our goal of maintaining a 24% or better rate. It's the highest clearance rate on record.

Injury Traffic Crashes: Our injury crash rate is well under the cap of 850 per 100,000 and is down an additional 2% so far in 2009.

Next up is priority two: Livable Neighborhoods. The police department has a role in that one, too, so we'll be presenting some more progress data at the next meeting on response times and perceptions of neighborhood safety.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Football season wrap-up

Nebraska’s regular season ended Saturday, but for the police department, the Kansas State game on November 21 was the end of our football season—the final home game of 2009. Sgt. Shannon Karl handles the details, and she provided me with the end-of-season wrap-up on the costs. The total cost for overtime was $35,033, an average of $5,005 per game in the season of seven home games.

Over the past several years, we have worked hard to drive those costs down. The City’s budget is tight, and we have tried to reduce these expenses without creating chaos. It has worked. Here’s the run down on the overtime cost per game for the past eight seasons:

2002 = $11,592

2003 = $10,816

2004 = $10,452

2005 = $10,600

2006 = $8,700

2007 = $5,402

2008 = $5,419

2009 = $5,005

The actual dollar amount per game has decreased by 57% during this time period. Base salary during this time period has increased slightly over 22%. Adjusting for the increase in the base, the 2009 cost amounts to a reduction of 65% in overtime expenses per game.

I think we must acknowledge how the new roadways developed as part of the Antelope Valley project have helped move a ton of traffic quite efficiently, but good planning and supervision of the detail has been critical to achieving these results. Sgt. Karl, Sgt. Arp, Capt. Davidsaver, Capt. Citta, and Capt. Kawamoto have managed LPD’s football detail at various times in the past decade, and I appreciate their work and that of all the officers with traffic assignments. I think they’ve done a great job.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Your lid is open!

Cheri Marti manages the group of civilian paraprofessional employees who staff the police service desk around the clock. I sought her help a couple of days ago in locating a teletype message sent from another police department to LPD back in October. She was able to quickly retrieve the message in the log file. Then it struck me: there’s no such thing as a teletype, and hasn’t been for a quarter century or so.

A teletype was an electromechanical device, the “teletypewriter” that fell roughly in between Morse Code and the Internet. It allowed an operator on one end to make key strokes (or feed in a punched tape), causing the characters to be typed on a printer located in another place by sending those electric pulses through a pair of copper wires—a telephone line. If there was a circuit-switched network, an operator in one location could send a message simultaneously to many distant terminals. For several decades, this is how critical information was transmitted among law enforcement agencies—and how the daily news ended up in your local paper from the Associated Press wire.

While the teletype was a machine, if you tore off one of the messages spewing out of the machine, you referred to that printed message as a teletype, too. Here we are, decades after the teletype machine has become obsolete, still referring to the printed output of telecommunications messages delivered by the International Justice and Public Safety Network as…teletypes.

We have other examples of this phenomenon at the police Department. Around the station and on the radio, you will still hear many officers referring to “dispatch cards” even though the record of a police dispatch hasn’t been a card for a couple decades. Lots of telephone terms persist that from a different age and technology. Why to people talk about dialing a phone, or hanging up, and why do you still call the hotel switchboard, when there is no dial, nothing to hang, and no switchboard?

Cheri brought up one of these that had me giggling, when she mentioned the little pantomime we all do when we want someone to roll down their car window. When’s the last time you actually cranked a window down?

One of the things about my blog that makes me smile is the thought that a hundred years from now, someone will discover this archive about policing in Lincoln at the turn of the century, just like we discovered these. I wonder: in the year 2109, will people still be making little circles with their left hand, when they are trying to get you to pop the canopy in order to let you know that you’ve left the lid open on the flux capacitor?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Let us review

This article was in the daily clips I receive from the Police Executive Research Forum.

I expressed this concern a couple years ago here in the Chief's Corner. I think it is a good time for everyone to think about the importance of maintaining their situational awareness.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Long road ahead

I would probably be one of the few local law officers who has ever had the experience of standing over a colleague killed in the line of duty, one early morning over 20 years ago, after dispatcher Linda Thurber called me out of bed. I will never forget running down the long, dark hallway to apartment number 9, where my fellow deputy lay on the floor just outside the door, a group of volunteer firefighters trying to save his life. One of the firefighters looked up at me and shook his head, a lump rose in my throat, and a blur of days began.

I cannot begin to imagine what the families of the four Lakewood, Washington police officers who were assassinated over the weekend are experiencing. I do, however, understand a little bit about what their coworkers are going through, and what their agency is experiencing. My heart goes out to them. Lakewood’s 128 employees are doubtless in shock. They are busying themselves now with work, but soon they will lay their brothers and sister to rest, and the true magnitude of the tragedy will sink in.

It will be many, many years before this wound begins to heal, and I hope that the support of their community will envelope them as this process begins. I hope the citizens of Lakewood cry with them. I hope that they will support the department financially through this tough economic cycle. I hope that they thank their police officers at every available opportunity. I hope more of them will volunteer with the department, attend their graduation ceremonies, send cards on police memorial day, deliver homemade cookies to the police station, and generally wrap their police department with the community’s care. I suspect that is precisely what is occurring now, and I hope it lasts a long, long time, because the road ahead for the Lakewood Police Department is a long one.

Thankfully, these events are rare. When they occur, though, we should all be reminded that the women and men who serve as our police officers confront the evil that lurks in humanity on behalf of all of us. They protect us, sometimes at great peril, from the worst mankind can dish up, and from our own folly, as well. May God bless them all, and may the Lakewood Police Department experience the power of love.

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Holiday project

Last night at the late shift lineup, the Lincoln Police Department kicked off our traditional holiday drunk driving enforcement project. For at least the past 15 years, December has been the month where we put special attention on DWI—with great effect. It’s a good month to focus on, because the booze flows freely at lots of holiday events. We’re engaged in this life-saving work to do just that: save lives.

Last year’s 2,253 drunk driving arrests by LPD officers broke the record for a single year, shattering the mark that had stood for 34 years. This year, through the first ten months, we are running 5.2% ahead of 2008. It is almost a certainty that the bar will be set even higher by the end of 2009. There have been some particularly noteworthy drunk driving cases so far this year, and a couple hundred more can be reasonably anticipated.

A lot of hard work will take place by our night shift officers, not only during December, but throughout the year as these cases proceed through court, which inevitably requires their attendance in the middle of their “night.” I lift my cap to them in advance, for the job well done that I will be congratulating them for after the dawn of the new year.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Black Friday shoplifting

We've all been told that the Friday after Thanksgiving is the peak shopping day of the holiday season. I wondered whether it might be the peak shoplifting day, as well. Alas, not even close. Interestingly, the peak day for 2009 was January 2nd, with 11. Black Friday's 6 reported shoplifting cases would be sixth numerically, but there are a lot of dates tied with 10, 9, 8, and 7.

Shoplifters on Black Friday ripped of bracelets from the Buckle, rum from Russ's Market, jeans from Sears, a Marie Osmond wallet from Four Star, a sweater from Von Maur, and a portable 7" TV from Kohl's.

Kohl's, by the way, must have opened awfully early on Friday. The shoplifting case was the first of the day, reported at 4:44 AM. The early bird gets the worm.

Friday, November 27, 2009

While the Packers were winning

In keeping with this holiday tradition, a few one-liners from Thanksgiving day's dispatches:

REALLY DRUNK MAN IN GOLD DODGE 4DR IN FRONT OF LIQUOR STORE
INFANT LEFT UN ATTENDED RED PONTIAC GRAND PRIX
BYFRND IS OUTSIDE WANTS TO BEAT HER UP AGAIN
COMP SAYS THAT PEOPLE ARE TYRING TO DRUG HER AND DO THINGS TO HER
44 YOM SAYS THAT HE JUST WOKE UP AND THAT HIS FEET ARE FROZEN
V PUNCHED & HIT BY UNK PR CAUSNG LACERATIONS/ABRASIONS/V WENT TO HOSP
KWN RESIDENT OF HOME PUNCHED VICTIM APPROX 20 TIMES
V WAS PUNCHED BY KWN PRTY WHEN ARGUMENT BECAME PHYSICAL
V PUSHED AND HIT BY KWN PRTY DURING PHYSICAL CONFRONTATION
MOTHER'S BF KICKED PUNCHED BIT AND SCRATCHED VICTIM
V SCRATCHED WHEN TRYING TO SEPARATE MOTHER'S BF & BROTHER IN FIGHT
V'S EXBF IS OUT OF PRISON & KEEPS CALLING HER UPSETTING V
V'S SON GOT ANGRY AND WAS YELLING AT OTHER FAMILY MEMBERS
DAUGHTER'S EX-HUSBAND MADE THREATS OVER THE PHONE
V'S GF WAS ANGRY & DROVE HER VEH INTO BACK OF HIS VEH TO CAUSE DAMAGE
V'S BF BROKE HER CELL PHONE DURING ARGUMENT

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

LA take away

I have one more post about my side trip to Los Angeles late last week for an NIJ-sponsored meeting on predictive policing. One of the reasons the concepts of predictive policing are being widely adopted, even if the phrase itself does work its way into the lexicon, deals with the realities of municipal budgets. Virtually every city is dealing with a budget crises to one degree or another, and the consensus of opinion is that it is not just a short term issue: it is the new normal.

One of my fellow panelists in LA, San Francisco Chief George Gascon, described the conundrum. He pointed out that police and fire services are consuming an increasing percentage of the total municpal budget, while parks, pools, libraries, and other municipal services have been decimated. Strictly from a budgetary standpoint, we are becoming a police state. It is unsustainable in California. To a lesser extent, this is also true in Lincoln, where, despite our small size, the police department and fire department are becoming a larger wedge in the budget pie every year as the rest of municipal government shrinks. Chief Gascon opined that the use of analysis to better target resources is an imperative to keep the cost of policing at a level citizens are willing to support.

The good news here in Lincoln is that we are already doing an effective job of smart policing. We serve this City at a very low cost per capita, without sacrificing quality. Many police departments could learn a lot from our use of information, problem-oriented policing, prioritization, and prevention strategies as methods to maintain high productivity without breaking the municipal bank.

Last Thursday, the attendees at the predictive policing meeting toured LAPD’s new headquarters building, and their $107 million real-time crime center. The facilities are impressive, and the efforts underway to use analytics and information to improve police services are apparent. I came away, however, with a very positive feeling that even though we may not have the impressive video wall that LAPD’s RACR boasts, we take a back seat to no one in our ability to get actionable information into the hands of our personnel, and to work creatively to provide police services in an efficient and effective way. We should always, though, be on the lookout for ways to improve even further, and open to considering new ways of doing business.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Predictive policing

Predictive policing is a phrase that is beginning to gather more and more usage in our field. It will be in the news even more, because it is being touted as the next big thing. I was among a group of practitioners and researchers invited to Los Angeles late last week by the National Institute of Justice for a conference on predictive policing. I served on a three-chief panel with Jim Bueermann from Redlands, CA, and George Gascon, from San Francisco to discuss what chief's expect to emerge from predictive policing.

In a nutshell, predictive policing is the practice of using data and analysis to predict future police problems and implement strategies to either prevent or ameliorate those problems. It borrows from the principals of problem-oriented policing, information-led policing, hot spot policing, community policing, situational crime prevention, evidence-based policing, and intelligence-led policing. Can you tell that we have a penchant for catch phrases in policing?

What distinguishes predictive policing from other paradigms is the emphasis on using analysis to anticipate problems--rather than responding to problems after they have occurred. At the simplest level, this might mean using crime analysis to determine the likely patterns of drive-by shootings, then deploying police officers to the areas and at the times these are most likely to occur in order to preempt the crime. At a more complex level, it might mean watching the trends in the spot copper price, and implementing strategies (such as legislation and scrap business monitoring) to reduce the marketability of stolen copper in advance of an anticipated spike in thefts.

None of this is exactly new, but predictive policing is gaining some steam because of the huge influx of data into police work, and our increasing ability to use these data to not only find existing trends and patterns, but to anticipate new ones. We know, for example, well in advance what the proliferation of a hot product like portable GPS devices will mean. When a new nightclub is planned, we can anticipate the impact on crime and police problems. You could build a pretty effective mathematical model to anticipate what happens when 500,000 square feet of retail space is developed, or when 600 two bedroom apartment units are built, because we have lots and lots of data about what goes on in similar situations.

Business has been using these analytics and models for a long time to make decisions: it's not just chance that there's a new Walgreen's on the corner, and Starbucks didn't just throw a dart at the map when deciding where to locate that new store. In policing, we are just starting to use our data to anticipate police problems. We are babes in the woods compared to the private sector.

Whether the predictive policing moniker persists and becomes part of the fabric of policing remains to be seen. There are all sorts of labels out there, some are a flash in the pan, some with great staying power. You might see articles, books, grant solicitations, and conferences galore on predictive policing. Conversely, the term might fade from use rather quickly. Regardless of whether the label gets sticky or not, these concepts are here to stay. Police departments will continue to improve in their ability to analyze data and formulate strategies based on these analyses.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Quite a night

A few weeks ago, reporter Deena Winter asked me if she could spend a shift with one of our downtown officers. Officer Chris Vigil got the assignment, and the result was this article in yesterday’s Sunday Lincoln Journal Star.

It’s good for citizens to get a glimpse into the world their police officers encounter on game days—or for that matter on about any Thursday, Friday, or Saturday. It helps build support for the police, and creates a little greater understanding about the challenges we encounter. While most LPD officers are Husker fans just like other Nebraskans, the experience of game days is not quite the same for a police officer in downtown Lincoln as it is for the fans.

Police experience taxed my loyalty to my alma mater. Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, I worked every home game for 13 consecutive seasons. When I finally had the seniority to do so, I swore that I would never darken the door at Memorial Stadium voluntarily. For about a decade, I kept that pledge. When I finally returned, I learned that the experience as a spectator with a ticket can actually be rather pleasant. I must admit, though, that I don’t feel entirely disappointed when I must enjoy the game in the man cave at home.

I salute the officers who endure the long, trying, and tiresome day of a Nebraska home football game. They put up with all manner of abuse and deal with some of the worst behavior imaginable by otherwise “law-abiding” citizens. It takes a thick skin, a cool head, and more patience than you can imagine.

Go big red.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Big drop

In yesterday's post, I suggested making a table of thefts from vehicles from 2002 through 2008. If anyone did so, you noticed a dramatic drop--a trend I've blogged about before. This is one of the offenses that is most likely to victimize your average Lincoln resident, and it is nothing to snarf about: the dollar loss, damage, and inconvenience is huge. So a reduction of this magnitude represents a very nice result for the citizens of Lincoln. Here's what that would look like on a chart:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Teachable moment

Rita, a teacher at one of our local public high schools, emailed me earlier this week. Monday’s post Roll your own statistics caught her eye. She told me that she was a regular reader of my blog, and had gathered some of our data to create a project for the students in the computer applications class she teaches. She wondered whether I would be interested in seeing the assignment.

Are you kidding? Of course, I was interested. She sent the assignment along in her next email, and jokingly offered to grade my work if I completed the assignment. Now, how in the world could I pass that up? I skipped lunch, and did the assignment.

The students (and me) were given two years’ data by month on thefts from vehicles—one of our most common and significant crimes. The job was to format an Excel spreadsheet, and create a graph comparing the trends in 2008 and 2009. In order to complete the project, students would have to apply some basic Excel skills: create a new workbook, enter data, merge cells, insert rows, format cells, copy cells, calculate formulae, and design and format a line graph. It made a nice project for students with basic Excel skills moving towards the intermediate level.

The best part, though, was the “thought question” at the end of the assignment sheet: “What are some of the most effective strategies that can be used to avoid being the victim of this crime?” I gave Rita my lengthy list, but what I really liked was the idea of high school students—frequent victims of this crime—thinking about the things they can do to protect their car and their stuff. That’s a teachable moment, and I hope she is able to amuse the students in her class with the story of the police chief completing the same assignment they worked through.

P.S. Just for fun, make yourself a table of thefts from vehicles from 2002 to 2008, and look at the annual totals. That’s an eye-opener.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Nice new design

Yesterday's post about City and County merger had me off to do a little research. I needed to get the correct year that Manhattan, Ogden, and Riley County Kansas merged their law enforcement agencies. I went to their web site, where I knew there was a history page. The Riley County Police Department has visited Lincoln a few times in recent months. I noticed that their web site has recently been redesigned. Look familiar? In the interest of full disclosure, we took some inspiration from the Sacramento Police. Nice job!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Can't blame them for asking

During the Q & A after my speech at last week's Chamber of Commerce luncheon, I was asked a question that has repeatedly been posed to me for the past 20 years or so: "Would it be feasible to merge the police department with the sheriff's office?" The answer, of course, is "Yes." You could merge the police department and the library system if you wanted to. Whether it would be a brilliant idea is another matter. As the only person around who has served as both Lincoln's police chief and the Lancaster County sheriff, it's probably not unusual that people would ask me.

The merger question is usually posed by business groups, because their members are often conscious of what stuff costs, and thinking about what efficiencies might be achieved in government. More broadly, people sometimes ask if it wouldn't be possible to simply merge City and County government. Personally, I think this is always something that elected officials should examine and think about. There are potential advantages and disadvantages, but in a time of falling government resources, it is particularly important to consider all options. We already have a few merged City-County agencies: the Personnel, Information Services, Planning, and Health, for example.

Most people are not aware that the police department and sheriff's office have already merged several of our functions. Over the past 30 years some of the high cost support services of the police department and sheriff's office were combined: computer systems, evidence, physical facilities, communications. These are major cost centers, and have saved a boat load of cash. Whether these two agencies should be completely merged is the question.

LPD and LSO have decidedly different missions: services to courts, extradition, and civil process are major functions at the sheriff's office that have no corollary at the police department. On the positive side, I think there are some dollars to be saved by merger--primarily in the form of fewer management positions that would be necessary if the two agencies became one. On the negative side, I am concerned that the services to residents of Lancaster County's small towns, villages, and rural areas might deteriorate: the bright lights of the City would almost inevitably drag the officers towards the incidents that are filling dispatcher's queue screens. When I was sheriff, keeping the patrol deputies on their districts and outside of the City of Lincoln was a challenge: merge the agencies, and the workload of the big city will draw on the resources that would otherwise be in Hallam, Kramer, Davey; on Highway 77, 33, 43, 34, 2, and so forth.

Fully-merged countywide police agencies are not entirely uncommon, but they are normally found in large metro areas where a single city is essentially consuming an entire county: Las Vegas Metro Police was a merger between the Las Vegas Police and the Clark County Sheriff. Indianapolis and Marian County became Indianapolis Metropolitan Police, Charlotte and Mecklenberg County became the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police. In the midwest, Manhattan, Ogden, and Riley County Kansas became the Riley County Police clear back in 1974.

Is it feasible? Yes. Is it a good idea? That's more a political decision than an operational one. I can't blame anyone for asking.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Roll your own statistics

You can get your own crime statistics easily on our web site, by specifying the time period and the offenses you are interested in. I believe that Clair Lindquist, our IT whiz, built this about six or seven years ago.It's a nice little utility, that probably is helpful to a lot of students, in particular. Internally, you can get a little more detail with a more robust version of the same application that breaks down the data by police command areas (we call them Teams.)

I noticed a few months ago that the Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice (AKA the Crime Commission) has deployed a similar applications on their public web site. It's really quite powerful. You can custom produce tables of offense data, arrest statistics, and crime rates. By clicking agencies while holding down the Ctrl key, you can select several agencies for comparison. This allows you to perform some interesting analysis.



There are several other databases and statistical reports available from the Crime Commission's statistics page. It is an excellent statewide resource.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Uplifting experience

I made a quick trip to Atchison, KS yesterday, home of Benedictine College. I spoke with Dr. Kevin Bryant's Criminology 463 class: Policing and Social Control. Several of the students and Dr. Bryant took me to lunch on campus, and then it was off to the classroom, where around 35 students were gathering. They have been peppering me with emailed questions (at my request) for the past couple of weeks, so I engaged in speed-talking to try to address each of those, so we could leave time for some more open-ended Q&A. After class, several students without schedule conflicts stayed around for a Diet Coke and informal discussion.

For me, it was a uplifting experience. These were very engaged students. I talked to two in particular who seem to be quite interested in policing generally, and Lincoln specifically. If we fit into someone's later career plans after college, that would certainly justify the day out of the office. I also received a follow-up email from a student last night that made me feel great. Sometimes you say something to someone at the right time, and apparently I had inadvertently done so.

Atchison proved to be a little further than I thought, but I'm glad I made the trek. I accepted the invitation because one of the students asked. I thought the voice sounded familiar when he called me, and then he confirmed that he is the son of a deputy sheriff I hired many years ago, who is now in Federal service. I had a hard time accepting that his son could be old enough to be in college. He's a 6'3" 292 offensive lineman on Benedictine's football team, and a spitting image of his dad--who must be awfully proud. Thanks, Steve. Go Ravens!

I took the back way home, Kansas Highway 7, hugging the Missouri River north to White Cloud where you leave the river and Kansas behind. It was a nice fall afternoon in the heart of the harvest, windows down, music up.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tuesday and Wednesday

Tuesday at 10:00 AM, the Glendale, CA police department’s command staff, Glendale Information Technology Department, and the City Manager’s Office joined me for a web conference. It was a follow-up to a previous get together I had conducted with a smaller group at Glendale. Apparently, they wanted a bigger group to see what we are doing to get actionable information into the hands of our police employees.

We have our regular weekly staff meeting at the Lincoln Police Department on Tuesday mornings at 8:10 AM, so I invited my management staff to stick around if they wished, for the Glendale web conference. Most were able to do so, and we had the unusual situation of two police management staffs in two similar conference rooms separated by 1,700 miles engaged in a joint meeting for two hours. It seemed to have everyone engaged and interested, so I think it was productive on both ends.

Wednesday was a National holiday, but that didn’t stop the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce from having their monthly “Face the Chamber” luncheon. I was the grillee. At my last appearance, I caused a bit of a dust up. The government reporter from the Lincoln Journal Star emailed me earlier in the week, asking what I intended to talk about. She was probably wondering whether I intended to stick my foot in my mouth again this year, so she could decide if it would be worth covering. I told her that I wouldn’t really know what I would be talking about until I started speaking, but that it would probably be something about crime statistics and trends, blah, blah, blah.

Then I had a better idea: I talked about a topic I’ve covered here on several occasions: why it’s getting tougher and tougher to get away with many kinds of crime. I even took along a prop in a grocery sack to pull out while talking about one aspect of this phenomenon. I walked one member of the audience through his day thus far, pointing out all the breadcrumbs he had dropped before noon. You just can’t fly to Argentina anymore to visit your mistress and claim you were hiking on the Appalachian Trail.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

National security

Happy Veterans Day to all current and former members of the armed forces. Thank you for your service.

Did you catch this national news story late last week? A good article about this ran in the Lincoln Journal Star last Friday, but I can’t find the link at the moment. Basically, a group of retired military brass have formed a group called Mission: Readiness that is very similar to a coalition of law enforcement leaders I belong to called Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. The generals have the same goal of convincing Americans of the value in supporting early childhood education, quality child care, and support for parenting.

Mission: Readiness released this report last week, revealing that 75% of young people between the ages of 17 and 24 are ineligible for military service due to a variety of issues. The top three reasons are inadequate education, criminal records and physical fitness issues such as obesity and asthma. One in four are high school dropouts. One in ten have acquired a disqualifying criminal conviction—or several. It is a national disgrace.

The retired generals, admirals, and civilian military leaders have concluded that the best way to ensure an adequate supply of qualified recruits is to support early childhood education. Several thousand of my fellow police chiefs, sheriffs, and chief prosecutors also believe that early childhood education is one of the best ways to fight crime.

Long term solutions are always a tough sell, but when your military and law enforcement leaders are united in an issue like this, it should cause citizens and decision-makers to sit up and take notice. It’s a matter of national security.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Check that plate

We are right on the verge of launching our Automated License Plate Reader system in two police vehicles. In preparation, we have been fine tuning a process for creating and loading a database for the ALPR system to check against. We obtained a dump of six months data on wanted vehicles from NCIC—the National Crime Information Center. I was quite surprised by the number of stolen license plates contained in this national file, so out of curiosity I ran a query of my own this morning on stolen plates this year in Lincoln.

So far in 2009, we have had 225 stolen license plate cases reported to the Lincoln Police Department. In a bit over half the cases (134) both the front and rear plates were stolen. In the remainder, only one plate was taken. There are probably a few cases where a plate simply fell off, but not very many. Our officers encounter stolen plates on a fairly regular basis, but once those ALPR units are in service, that number will certainly increase.

I’m hoping someone locates this plate, stolen from a visitor over the weekend. I suspect, however, that it is adorning a wall somewhere, rather than a bumper, a criminal souvenir of this Saturday night fracas.


Monday, November 9, 2009

Close call

It was a busy weekend for the Lincoln Police Department, with 1,281 dispatched incidents on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. A Nebraska home football game and perfect weather will do that.

The biggest event from the week was shortly before game time on Saturday, when one of our officers was sent to a disturbance in the northeast Lincoln apartment parking lot. He arrived to find two stolen cars pulled up alongside one another, heading in opposite directions. In the ensuing attempt by the drivers to get away, one fleeing vehicle struck a parked car then the driver's side of the officers cruiser. The officer had dismounted, and fired at the oncoming stolen car. The driver, wanted on misdemeanor warrant and felony warrants, was struck in the left arm. Despite being shot, he fled from the scene in the stolen car but was arrested a short time later at an address a couple miles away.

Without getting too far into the details of the case, here is what happens when a Lincoln police officer is involved in an incident where he or she discharges a firearm in a use of force situation. The Criminal Investigations Team conducts an investigation of the incident. Their job is to document the facts for any potential criminal charges. Their investigation revolves around interviews with the principals and witnesses, collection of physical evidence, and careful documentation of the scene. In this case, the driver was arrested for a variety of felonies. Further investigation is also underway to identify the driver of the second stolen car.

In addition to the investigation by the Criminal Investigations Team, the LPD Internal Affairs Unit also conducts a separate and distinct investigation. The purpose of this second investigation is to determine if the use of force by the officer complies with the department's policies. Internal Affair's job is to assess the facts and circumstances of the case against the standards established in General Order 1510-Use of Force, and report their findings to me.

In a case where an officer has shot a person, the officer will be placed on administrative leave for the next few days, which (in conjunction with his or her days off) will ordinarily provide Internal Affairs with about a week in which to conduct this review. While a longer period of time might be needed, I can never recall this being the case--perhaps because these are very rare events in Lincoln. After I receive information from Internal Affairs, I will make a decision on the officer's duty status.

Fortunately, the officer was uninjured from this harrowing event. I spoke with him last night, and despite being sleep deprived, he seems to be dealing with these events as well as can be expected. The suspect will recover from his wound, and will eventually be jailed when he is ready to be released from the hospital. This was a close call for all involved, but the positive result is that a felony and misdemeanor warrant apprehension occurred, and a stolen vehicle was recovered.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Interesting events

I’ve had a couple of evening engagements this week that have been interesting. The first was Tuesday night at Pius X High School, where I spoke for about 45 minutes to a group of around 100 parents. I gave them some of my usual advice about some of the risks that teens face, and what parents can do to minimize those.

One of the interesting things about this visit to me was to briefly reflect with the audience on how things have changed. I think most people think that drugs, sex, alcohol are all much worse today. My perspective is different: I think it’s actually a little bit better—at least in this age group. Why do I think that? Two sources: data, and anecdote. The data comes from sources like the UNL Omnibus survey, and from the Lincoln/Lancaster County Youth Behavior Risk Survey. The anecdotes comes from many years of reviewing job applicants’ background investigations and polygraphs exams. I think you really get a feel for the bad things that basically good people have done.

Don’t get me wrong, the world is still a prickly place for teenageers, I just happen to believe that it is ever-so-slightly less scary today than a decade or two ago. One of the glaring exceptions to that is the whole range of new risks posed by young people (not to mention adults) leaving all sorts of indelible markings about their indiscretions in the bits and bytes that will never go away.

The second was Wednesday night, when I was a guest at Dr. John Bender’s class, Journalism 414: Government Controls of Information. It’s a once-a-week class, and a small one, so I had plenty of time to dialog with the students. They are reading a couple of books for the class that are on my list: David Simon’s Homicide: Life on the Killing Streets, and John Grisham’s lone non-fiction work: The Innocent Man.

I did my duty by passing on the obligatory information about the kinds of public records that police agencies keep, some of the things you can potentially learn from this information or do with it as a reporter, and where to go looking for it. But I most enjoyed chatting with them about these two books, and recommending another Grisham novel, Playing for Pizza. An airline flight attendant recommended it to me while I was dallying in a terminal bookstore on my way to Seattle last year. Hardly your average Grisham page-turner, I enjoyed it tremendously, and it made me hungry.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

No one is immune

Over the weekend (Friday night from 5:00 PM until Monday morning at 5:00 AM) we arrested 40 drunk drivers. That’s a big number, and I suspect it is a single-weekend record, or close to it. Our Friday night-Saturday morning checkpoint was responsible for three of the total, and produced lots of evidence of partiers using designated drivers. Looks like plenty of people missed the message, though.

Halloween has become a popular drinking holiday, and since it fell on a Saturday, the Stars the the Moon had aligned for a big night. We had extra personnel focusing on DWI—of all violent crimes the one that is most preventable by law enforcement. Hats off to all the officers who snagged a drunk driver. You are preventing property damage, injury, and even death by doing so.

Unfortunately, not all drunk drivers were caught before the had victimized others. Drunk drivers were involved in three weekend traffic crashes. No one is immune from the risk posed by drunks behind the wheel. At about 1:40 AM on Saturday morning, a Honda Civic blew through the stop light at S. 13th and Washington Streets and plowed into a Lincoln police patrol car. Officer Jennifer Witzel was treated at the hospital and released, but will be a sore puppy as a result. The damage to the police car was over $5,000, and the Honda was totaled. The driver, 22 years of age, tested over twice the legal limit. Too bad we didn’t get her before she got us.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Professional opportunity

Lots of crime analysts read the Chief's Corner, so I'm going to take the liberty of using this post to advertise a job that has just opened here at the Lincoln Police Department:

The City of Lincoln, Nebraska is opening applications for a Crime Analysis Manager to supervise our five-person unit that is responsible for both crime analysis and intelligence, in our police department of 423 employees serving a population of 252,000. This is a department deeply committed to leveraging information technology and analysis for several decades, rich in data, with a tech-savvy management staff and workforce that understands the importance of good analysis and problem solving. We are ready to move to a new level of excellence, and we are seeking a Crime Analysis Unit Manager who can help us do so. I would be happy to talk confidentially and candidly about the opportunities and challenges with anyone who is curious about the job, about Lincoln, or about the police department.

Job posting and application:

http://www.lincoln.ne.gov/asp/apptrack/joblist.asp


Tom Casady
Chief of Police
Lincoln Police Department
575 S. 10th Street
Lincoln, NE 68508
402.441.7237
mailto:tcasady@lincoln.ne.gov

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The story speaks for itself

I am a life-long contributor to the United Way, something I started at the Lincoln Police Department more than 35 years ago. I think my first contribution was something like fifty cents per pay period. The habit stuck through the decades and pay raises, and as I have gained perspective and maturity, I have been happy to support my favorite local charities through the United Way.

The Management Services Unit and the Accounting Unit coordinate our department’s annual campaign, which is underway right now. They go to the meetings, distribute and collect the pledge forms, and come up with an annual strategy to encourage employees to donate through the painless mechanism of automatic payroll withholding.

Every year for the past 20 or so, there has been a video shown during the campaign —a professional production from the United Way of Lincoln and Lancaster County. I saw this year’s video last week in lineup, and again yesterday morning in our management staff meeting. It put a lump in my throat both times. It is a story gracefully told by Trudy Meyer, about the ways United Way agencies have served her family. I’ve seen a lot of these videos over the years, but I thought the United Way had hit the ball completely out of the park with this one. I assumed it had been produced by a top-quality production company. I was right, but I was also surprised to learn exactly who that company was.

Little did I know—until yesterday—that it was produced by my own staff. Capt. Joy Citta and Sgt. Don Scheinost heard Trudy speak at the City’s kickoff luncheon for the Untied Way campaign. Inspired, they prevailed upon her to retell the story in front of Jared Minary’s camera. He is our audio visual technician, and a creative guy, as you can see from some of his videos on our Crimestoppers blog. But in this case, the beauty of his work is in its simplicity. Less is more. Trudy’s story is captured in its full depth and texture in her own voice.

Joy, Don, Michele, Jared, thank you. And Trudy, may God bless you for turning tragedy into hope. Thank you for helping everyone understand what it all means. I hope that as a result of your courage, more people are moved to take the simple step of signing up as a United Way donor.

This is an eloquent story that speaks for itself.


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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Prominent grandfathers

Last Thursday, I had a speaking engagement at Eastmont Towers, a senior living center here in Lincoln. I arrived to find a much bigger crowd than I had expected—probably a little over a hundred. In the front row were Edith and BIll Cascini, long-time friends. Edith was the librarian at Northeast High School during my youth. Mrs. Cascini has a dry wit and a wry sense of humor. As a high school debater, I lived in the library during every free minute, and she had a big influence on me. We were chatting as the audience gathered, and the Cascinis told me that I would have a tough act to follow. The previous program featured an entertainer from Omaha who arrived in costume and song, and put on a great show.

When the program started, I mentioned the tough-act-to-follow remark, and told the audience that I could sing, too. So I serenaded them with a verse of Saloon—one of several goofy songs my Dad loved to rock his grandbabies to sleep with (and a habit he passed on to me). I don’t think they were expecting that from the chief of police—either the song, or the singing. Everyone survived, though.

I had a great time talking about how things have changed since I first met Mrs. Cascini in about 1968. Phones had dials and were found in booths, televisions had tubes and needed to warm up, and so forth. I gave them a short glossary of terms that did not exist in 1968: crack baby, meth head, registered sex offender, child care center. I talked about the new challenges for police officers that have resulted from massive cultural changes over a single generation. To set the stage for this discussion, we talked about how the physical environment has changed. I borrowed a gig from the morning talk show hosts on KLIN radio, John Bishop and Jack Mitchell, by taking the audience on an imaginary 1968 group walk down O Street from 9th Street east to our present location at about 63rd. Everyone had a great time reminiscing about all the places they used to go.

After the program, several people stayed around to chat, but one resident waited patiently until the smoke had cleared entirely, then introduced herself. Mary Hunt explained that her step grandfather was Pete Johnstone. Moreover, her great grandfather was James Malone. Peter Johnstone was the Lincoln police chief from 1919 to 1930, a dynamic period when the police force became motorized. He was chief when the infamous Lincoln National Bank robbery of 1930 went down at 12th & O Street. He “resigned” shortly thereafter. James Malone was the chief during three separate periods prior to that, and led the controversial Last Posse. He also figured prominently in the Sheedy homicide as a detective. Mary is not web-enabled, so I have mailed some photos and stories of her grandfathers that I am sure she will enjoy.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Night and day

Saturday, September 26, 2009: Nebraska v. Louisiana-Lafeyette, home game, 8:00 PM kickoff. Nebraska won. The Lincoln Police Department handled 509 police dispatches.

Saturday, October 24, 2009: Nebraska v. Iowa State, home game, 11:30 AM kickoff. Nebraska lost. The Lincoln Police Department handled 389 police dispatches, 120 fewer (- 24%) than on September 26.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Runza was a big hit

Wednesday was our regular monthly ACUDAT meeting, and we had another site visit from the Riley County (Kansas) Police. Four employees made the trek to attend the meeting and spend most of the day. They were particularly interested in our crime analysis operation, our information systems, and the wildly-revised and updated way we are handling Crimestoppers these days. It’s the third visit this year from the Riley County Police, so they are apparently seeing some things that are interesting and valuable.

The team arrived in LPD at 0815, so they must have been on the road pretty early from Manhattan. I reasoned that a lunch break would be good, since the ACUDAT meeting was starting at 1300 hours, and I needed to be there a little early to help set up. So at 1130, I jammed everyone into my Avenger for a trip to a sandwich joint. We needed something quick, so the West O Street Runza was my choice. Much to my surprise, most of the group were familiar with the Runza, and ecstatic at the culinary delights that awaited. Apparently Lt. Mark French has Nebraska connections, and Officer Brian Swearingen has frequented the lone Runza in the State of Kansas—down the road in Lawrence.

I’m one of the few people still around who dined on many occasions at the original Runza restaurant. I guess when you’ve grown up with it, you sort of take the best fast-food place extant for granted. For my out-of-state readers, it’s hard to explain what a Runza is, and you don’t really want to know anyway. But if you’re ever driving through fly-over country on I-80, and see that sign, exit immediately and enjoy the quintessential Nebraska sandwich. Don’t be ordering any I-talian Runza, or any mushroom-and-cheese Runza. Go for the original.

If you time it right on a east-to-west trip, you could have a pork tenderloin for lunch in Iowa, then hit the Runza in North Platte for supper.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Family Reunion

If you want to have your heart warmed up a bit, check back on my post Family Found from a couple months ago, and read the thread of comments. Marion Marshall’s family members have been passing around the two URLs and enjoying reading about him. So far, two daughters, two great-grandchildren, and the foster sister of one of the daughters have found their way to the Chief’s Corner to read about Marion Marshall.

There is a neat comment by his 87 year-old daughter, who is apparently pretty computer-friendly! Youngest daughter Joyce Marion sent me a very nice letter off-blog, with her first-hand account of the experiences of these children orphaned at the height of the Great Depression. The two girls know some basics about the trials and tribulations of their brother, Charles Clyde (Buddy) Marshall following the death of their parents and the break up of the siblings. Great-grandson Virgil Ballard tells the story in his comment, and his description is confirmed by the girls and by some other records we have found and shared with the family.

We have still had no luck in locating Buddy, though. I think it would be wonderful if we could either help find Buddy, or (if he has passed) his resting place, but I suspect we will need some help from people with more time and expertise.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New view

If you haven't noticed yet, Lincoln is now entirely lit up in Google Maps Streetview. Until last week, the coverage in Lincoln was strictly partial, but it looks like every nook and cranny has been driven now. Moreover, the photos for those areas that were previously available around town appear to me to have been overwritten with these newer shots. Judging from the deck-building project's progression in my back yard, I think my neighborhood must have been driven in late June or July.

In combination with Bing Maps bird's eye view and the Lancaster County Assessor's public website, a police officer planning follow-up, a special event, or something like the service of a search warrant can now get the lay of the land, the views from the street, and a nice photo of the house. Heck, you can do it with my smartphone, for that matter. Google Maps Mobile and Streetview work particularly well.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Crime to watch

Capt. Jim Thoms recently noted that there has been a slight uptick in thefts of metals such as copper and aluminum. I ran a query and discovered that as of today we have had 39 cases with a total dollar loss of just over $14,000. That’s a far cry from our peak year of 2006, when there were 169 cases and the loss was nearly $170,000. Here’s the monthly trend in the number of cases thus far in 2009:

I’ve blogged before about some of the strategies we implemented that may have impacted this trend. The reduction in new construction coupled with the declining market price of copper and aluminum, though, are probably the leading causes for the drop off from 2006 through 2008. This may be changing, though. While our 2009 thefts are in such small numbers that trying to define a trend is somewhat unrealistic, it is nonetheless interesting to compare the price line on copper and aluminum to the offenses:


Monday, October 19, 2009

Battle of the Badges

Let the battle begin. It’s the big one: The Packers v. the Chiefs, the Yankees v. Red Sox, Nebraska v. Oklahoma, the Thrilla in Manila.

This week our annual blood drive for the Community Blood Bank of Lincoln kicks into high gear: Battle of the Badges. The concept is pretty simple, the Lincoln Police Department and Lincoln Fire & Rescue square off to see who can achieve the highest amount of blood donated. This is the 11th annual Battle of the Badges, and the series is knotted at 5-5.

The police and firefighters will be leading the charge, but we can only donate so much. So we’re both drumming up citizen support for our cause. If you donate blood at the Community Blood Bank this month, you’ll have the opportunity to check the box for the LPD or for LFR. The team with the most juice receives the travelling trophy and the acclaim of the entire City.

You can donate at any of the blood bank locations, or at the mobile units, which will be at these special events during October. It’s easy, it’s quick, they will lavish you with all manner of snacks, and you will be supporting a great cause by lending us your arm. Make an appointment, avoid the rush!

What’s the use of having a popular blog if you can’t exploit it for a good cause every now and then? Be the type that gives! (…for the police team, of course.)