Friday morning I had a speaking engagement on the University of Nebraska’s east campus. My audience was not your typical college class. Rather, it was a group of about 30 seasoned citizens taking a six week course entitled “Crime and Punishment,” one of many offerings of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
Talk about sharp as a tack, this was one incredibly engaged group of thinkers. I noticed an esteemed professor emeritus of Journalism, and a recently-retired Lincoln bank executive among the attendees. They were ready to discuss, and shot lots of challenging questions. I’d love to see the mix between this class and Dr. Boohar’s students.
My topic was “Crime in Lincoln,” as discussion of crime statistics and trends. I had also been asked to talk about the use of technology in crime fighting. The technology part focused on our use of GIS to locate, respond to, and impact problems with POP projects—crimes that years ago might simply have resulted in responding to each report individually, then moving on to the next call. I used the Southeast Team’s impact on residential burglaries through open garage doors as my example. I also explained how technology is changing criminal investigations in some interesting ways. Most people would think of the CSI stuff, but my focus was on how we are now following the digital trail that suspects leave as they go about their daily lives.
On the discussion of crime statistics and trends, I exposed this group to the counter-intuitive fact that crime has been falling significantly in Lincoln since 1991. I used this graph (updated with 2008), and noted the various potential causes of crime decreases. As with every group I talk too on this topic, there is a certain surprise evident when the audience learns that crime is actually down. I explained to this group that the actual number of Part 1 offenses in Lincoln was less in 2008 than in 1986—despite the fact that our population has grown by around 70,000. We’ve effectively grafted the Cities of Grand Island and Kearney onto Lincoln during that time.
Why then, does it seem that crime is up? My next PowerPoint slide faded in this image, to answer that question:
There was a collective nod of understanding, and I really didn’t need to explain. This audience remembers very well when the Star Spangled Banner played after Johnny Carson. If you are 35 years old, you’ve never seen the test pattern. I noted that on my first day as chief, there were two reporters at our morning briefing, and that yesterday there were seven. There was only one TV station in Lincoln, no stations with a talk-radio format, no Internet, no sex offender registry, and so forth.