Friday, April 10, 2009

The usual suspects

One of the things that makes the Lincoln Police Department successful is the quality of our information systems. We put a huge amount of information at the fingertips of our employees in ways that are especially easy to use. Not so at many police departments. Some information that we take for granted at LPD is not available at all; or it’s closely held by specialized units; or it’s not easily accessible; or it’s disjointed in separate systems for gang intelligence, narcotics case files, evidence, arrests, missing persons, etc. etc. etc.. One of the key differences in our core records management system is that it is available to everyone on the department all the time. It’s both physically available in every office, at every substation, in every report room, etc., but also practically available: no special skills needed—if you can read the screen, you are in business.

We host a lot of visits (both in person and via the web) from other police agencies, and these visitors are always impressed and intrigued by our information systems. Whenever I really want to demonstrate its power, I use one of two tools: information by address, or past offenders. Information by address is a query whereby the user inputs a street address to bring back a list of records associated with that address, such as names or cases. When you put in an address and hit the “names” button, you immediately retrieve a table of every name collected in any police report (we’re talking millions) over the past 29 years where someone claimed this address as their residence. They are presented in reverse chronological order, with the most recent at the top, and you can drill into each for the details on the case or on the person and all we know about him or her. It’s incredible to think what you’ve just done in a matter of two or three seconds .

The other one I like to demo is past offenders. Input a few parameters, (gender, race, age range, height/weight range, and offense type) and you will retrieve a table of everyone arrested for that crime within the past 29 years who meets the criteria, complete with mugshot, if the arrest happened in the digital photo era. Each row contains the link to drill into the offenders details, all the way down to the case files, his associates, what he’s pawned, his traffic tickets, and so forth. It is incredibly rich, complete, and simple to use when you need to know who the usual suspects are for an armed robbery by a white female around 25 years old between 5’5'” and 5’8”. It is an eye-popper for out-of-town officers. Even if they have something like this available, it often requires some kind of hoop-jumping like a trip to the intelligence unit (hope their not at a conference, or it’s not 2:00 AM), and the search only goes back to the time they installed their “new” system a year or three ago.

Yesterday an acquaintance—also a data hound—sent me the link to Tampa Bay Mugshots, a somewhat similar concept on a public website at the St. Petersburg Times, created (at least in part--I don't know who else is involved) by a former University of Nebraska Daily Nebraskan reporter Matt Waite, who graduated from UNL in around 1996. He was just getting into data analysis back then, with an impressive story analyzing neighborhood crime statistics we provided him. Now he is on the cutting edge of “computer-aided reporting.” This is a remarkable application of web and database technology that pretty much duplicates what we offer—albeit for 60 days, not 29 years. I was particularly impressed by the roll-over/drill-down bar graphs.

Click on the mugs to drill into the offenders a couple notches. The three Tampa Bay area Sheriff's Offices use the same concept we do for integrating their mugshots from their digital imaging system, the data from their Records Management System, and bringing it all back together for display as an .html page in a browser.


Anonymous said...

Fits in very well with the new socialist govt. Another fine product of Hogans Heros.

Anonymous said...

So if you ran "dorf" for a partial last name, and "j" for a partial first, male, what would you find in the way of prior arrests for the recent munitions "collector"? Was he "working" alone, or with another hardware shoplifter?

Like a bear going back to the same trash can again and again, he just couldn't stop going back to a meal site.

Anonymous said...

Having been in the professional world for a while, such data mining is an every day part of my job. I'm shocked to learn that it's such an impressive deal with LPD. If we can do this at the bank, why can't we do this for every PD nationwide? What's the point of closely guarding such valuable info? The more you know the more valuable you are? Crazy.

Tom Casady said...


You'd probably be shocked at how messed up information systems in criminal justice agencies really are, compared to a well-run private sector financial institution. In the private sector, if enhancing your IT capabilities is likely to improve the bottom line, the investment is made. In the public sector, agencies struggle to get a Windows 98 PC replaced.

One of the first targets of the budget knives is that money in your budget request to acquire such things as a digital evidence system, upgrade the GIS server, move the software licenses to the current release and so forth.

I've dealt with this continuously for 20 years, and I suspect it is quite common at every police department, health department, school district, and so on. It may be the nature of our business: its more difficult to quantify the return-on-investment in the public sector, but it definitely does not mean that the is no return-on-investment.

Tom Casady said...


It would show only one person with those parameters, with only one arrest for such an an offense. Yesterday. Good morning, R.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, and good morning! I hadn't been able to find anything else at the county attorney's public DB on that guy, and was slightly amazed that he didn't have a multiple larceny record.

On an unrelated note, I'm sort of chomping at the bit to see the incident summary for the robbery yesterday, but it should pop up later today.

Tom Casady said...


I'm sorry, but I can't post your comment. It's fine, but it's also pretty...colorful. I have to be a little bit careful about content that could be prejudicial to a defendant in a pending criminal case. I wasn't as concerned about this when the Chief's Corner was only being read by a few people, but I'm not as comfortable now that it's being more widely read. Doesn't happen very often, but I had to pull this one.

Liked it, though, and the answer is "no."

Anonymous said...

Understood, and thank you. I certainly wouldn't want to give the defense any ammunition (pun intended).

Anonymous said...

I work for State government, and you are absolutely right about the information technology being low-balled in government agencies. Its very frustrating to have a data intensive job and to be saddled with poor hardware and software that is a daily struggle to deal with. I think we do a good job technology-wise within the limits of what we have, but we are trying to tow a 30 ft. boat uphill with a Kia.

JIM J said...

I am quick to complain. So I woke up today thinking I want to be quick to recognize when things are done well too. This is a dispatcher compliment. She was awsome and either good at what she does or has done it a long time.
I reported a drunk driver at 1701 hrs on April 10
I gave the plate PWC153
and a description of the car and location. The dispatcher read the plate back and I said C Charles as she had a T rather than C
By this time I had slowly pulled up to this drunk at 27th and Vine as he sat at the red light. I had just got off the phone. By the time I was to 25th and Q the information was put out. A short time later an officer was going to detox with a 46. I suspect it was this same person who was endangering all people on the road at that time. Good job!

Anonymous said...


The informational tools that LPD, the county, and the state provide for the public are pretty useful sometimes. A moderately clever person can use a few of them to find some interesting tidbits.

On an unrelated note, and this is strictly hypothetical, but suppose a guy lived in west Lincoln, and had a dozen or so criminal court cases over the past 12 years. A few possession of drug paraphernalia, a couple of assault/strike/BI, DUS, operate a MV to avoid arrest, violation of a PO, etc.

Now, suppose that someone breaks in to his abode and burgles an unusually good haul for a target of that type, which he reports as collectibles, cash, and a couple of firearms. Oh, and a safe, because that's just the thing you always find in a residence of that type.

All right, now, two questions:

1. With the above list of convictions (especially assault/strike/BI), could the guy legally possess any firearms in the city of Lincoln re: ordinance 9.36.100?

2. Would a drug dealer detector be blipping in this situation? How about a Magic 8-Ball, what would it read?

Tom Casady said...


The blipping detector is indeed activated.

It would be quite illegal for said person to possess firearms, due to multiple disqualifying convictions.

Anonymous said...

How much of complete case reports are available to the public? That being asked, how would one go about researching one?

Anonymous said...

Thank you; such an incident, were it to actually occur, would remind me of A9-013168, which happened a few months back, especially in the respect that no other burglaries, much less day-time kick-burglaries, had occurred within 1/4-mile in the last 90 days, yet the PRs mysteriously picked that address and found a safe! The PRs must have been carrying their lucky shamrocks.

Now then, if a victim reported that their wallet was stolen in the aforementioned hypothetical daytime kick-burglary, I'd suspect that it was actually a drug-ripoff robbery with the victim there, not a burglary, because (and maybe it's just me) I always carried my wallet with me when I went to work. Driving, biking, walking, it was always in my pocket, not left at home. The only time my wallet is at home is when I am as well. How about you, Chief, do you normally leave your wallet at home when you go to work?

JIM J said...

This driver has a dog on its lap. Not a good air bag.