Friday, May 29, 2009

Arrest rates

A regular reader, Mr. Wilson, just pointed out a few minutes ago that the charts in my previous post are incongruent, in that the crime graph on the right is expressed as a rate per population, whereas the arrest graph on the left is not a rate—just the raw numbers. He is quite correct, and I had that same thought right after I posted it this morning. I knew that a graph for arrest rate would be slightly flatter. At any rate, here’s a couple of different rate graphs, Mr. Wilson. Nice catch!


Could these be related?

Following up on yesterday’s post, have a look at these two graphs of the past fifteen years. Do you suppose these trends could be related?

Slide2 Slide1

click image for larger version

The Part 1 Crime graph depicts the number of offenses per 1,000 population. Part 1 crimes are Murder and non-negligent homicide, forcible rape, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, auto theft, and larceny-theft.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Questionable solution

An interesting editorial by the Lincoln Journal Star on Sunday caught my eye, “Look at the cost of petty prosecution." The editors lament the cost of prosecuting misdemeanor crimes:

“John Wesley Hall, president of the trial lawyers’ organization, told the National Law Journal, ‘It’s a huge waste of money when you think of the huge fundamental costs that go along with misdemeanor prosecutions — the prosecution’s time, the judge’s time and jail incarceration time — these are mostly hidden costs.’ The group’s report recommends revising misdemeanor crimes into infractions that carry penalties such as fines or community service.”

The editorial notes that in some jurisdictions local prosecutors have stopped charging misdemeanors due to budget cuts.

If misdemeanors aren’t prosecuted, what shall become of the drunk drivers, sex offenders who invite teenage runaways to crash at their pad, thieves who break into cars to steal purses, those who shoplift cigarettes, commit third degree domestic assault, abuse their children, smash rear view mirrors for sport, continue to drive after their license is suspended, stalk their ex-girlfriends, use fake police badges to impress women at the bar, window peek, expose their genitals in department stores, climb the fence to defecate in the public pool for a few laughs, dump their old roofing material in Wilderness Park, change their oil by draining it into the gutter, etc., etc., etc..

Fines and community service are the answer, suggests the Journal Star. I’m not as optimistic about that as the editors. While removing the possiblity of a jail sentence from misdemeanors means that defendants would not receive the services of public defenders, I think it would be wise to consider the implications of dropping the possiblity of jail, and punishing such offenses exclusively with fines and community service.

What do you suppose the chances are of this guy ever paying his fines really is? And what will we do about the thousands upon thousands of misdemeanor defendant’s who don’t show up to their court appearance, ignore their ticket, and default on the time payment plan for their fine? If jail’s off the table, it’s more-or-less the honor system for misdemeanants. And do you really want this fellow doing community service, even if he could organize himself enough to show up at the appointed place and time?

About 15 years ago, New York City’s police chief (now the L.A. chief) Bill Bratton, made a startling discovery: if you pay attention to the small stuff, you can reduce the more serious stuff. At LPD, this revelation was meant with a collective “Duh.” Hard to believe something so basic sells books. As previously noted in the Chief’s Corner, we make a large number of misdemeanor arrests here in Lincoln. The editorial quotes Lancaster County Public Defender Dennis Keefe:

“Keefe noted last year that the city misdemeanor docket was ‘out of control,’ logging a 56 percent increase in the number of misdemeanors in the past five years.”

Around 99% of the City misdemeanor docket would be composed of arrests by the Lincoln Police Department. Somehow, I thought that was our job. I most definitely think it has contributed to our low rate of serious violent crime, and to our general quality of life.

I don’t completely disagree with the conclusion reached by Mr. Keefe and the editors. I’m all in favor of reducing costs with things like tightly supervised house arrest and electronic monitoring, and I’ve been pleased with the work of Lancaster County Community Corrections, which oversees these programs that have significantly the reduced jail population in Lincoln, and saved a bunch of money. I'm also in favor of diverting first time offenders, or offering them probation for most of those first misdemeanor convictions--sometimes even for a second or third.

But the editorial fails to acknowledge the fact that probation and fines are already the typical sentence for City ordinance misdemeanors. Jail is rarely in the mix unless the judicial admonitions, probation, and fines have not worked in previous cases. I’m just not sure more fines or community services is really much of a solution for many of our regular customers or for the kinds of offenders that are being sentenced to jail for municipal ordinance vioaltions.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Can't make this stuff up IV

This one hit the news wires and has become quite a phenomenon.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Run it like a business

How often I've heard that refrain from critics of government. I am usually silently thinking of those stories about CEOs with multi-million dollar compensation packages. I digress: if you're going to run it like a business, you make decisions on how to spend your revenue in a way that produces more of your core product: profit. In our case, the core product is safety and security. How do we spend our revenue to maximize that? It's not quite as easy in policing as it is in some private businesses, because the production function--the link between our inputs and the desired outcome--is not quite as direct. Nonetheless it's a great way of evaluating what you do, and it's a practice we try to engage in as we prepare our lean budget.

I've got plenty of problems of my own, so I don't really need to defend the Lincoln Public Schools, but there is a great example of this in the news lately. It is one that I've blogged about before. Last week, Pyrtle Elementary School was burglarized. Twelve laptop computers were stolen. The story in the Lincoln Journal Star unleashed a flurry of criticism in the comments directed at LPS for not either alarming all the schools or (alternatively) staffing overnight janitorial crews to deter burglars:

"They just don't get it. Put custodians in the schools at night. Geesh."
"...the administration still does nothing to tighten security."
"How many times does this have to happen before they start installing alarm systems?"

Last year, there were 18 burglaries at Lincoln Public Schools, with a total loss and damage of $40,539. The numbers are trending down. The average since 2000 is 33 annual burglaries, with loss and damage of $46,329. Pyrtle Elementary was the fifth burglary of 2009 (we are making good progress on that, by the way).

Exactly how many custodians do you suppose you could hire for that amount? What do you think the monthly fee to an alarm company would be for 70+ buildings? Forget the false alarm fines, and don't even bother with the seven-figure costs of installation. Just think about the monthly service charge.

Now, how would a business make this decision? Simple: what is the impact on the bottom dollar. Does the loss justify the expense?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Thanks for the memories

Yesterday we hosted a luncheon at headquarters for our retirees. We had a nice turnout, and I think everyone had a good time. The group includes several people whose service dates back into the 1950's, such as Capt. Lowell Sellmeyer, and Lt. Bill Satterthwaite.

Although it was primarily a social event, I gave a short talk to show them some of the new developments in policing. When you stop to think about it, some of the changes have been pretty dramatic. They creep up on you over time, so you may not realize it. I told them that I had not been to the Records Unit to look at a report a single time this year: all the case files and reports are available at your desk on your computer. I showed them a mugshot of a suspect that every one of us knows, and explained that all those, too, are at your fingertips. I wonder what the detectives in the group were thinking when I created a suspect list just by entering a few parameters.

At the core, though, policing is the same today as when they were all rookies. The critical skill of connecting with people, and the characteristics of compassion, ethics, humor, and dedication still define excellent police officers. Our 2009 retirees, Ofc. Marlan Hohnstein, Sgt. Roger Schmidt, Ofc. Sid Yardley, and Ofc. Mike Engel will be joined by Capt. Dennis Duckworth, who punches the clock for the last time today, about right now. You would be hard pressed to find a group of police officers who have exemplified those characteristics more than these. We wish them all well in their next careers.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

ALPR coming soon

We are in the process of acquiring a couple automated license plate recognition (ALPR) systems. Basically, ALPR systems use cameras and optical character recognition to read license plates by the thousands, and look for matches in a computer database of wanted vehicles. There are a growing number of these systems in use in police departments, and the technology is proven. It will be nice addition to our capabilities, and I expect (like other agencies) we will have some early and ongoing successes in recovering stolen cars, wanted fugitives, and so forth.

Bids were solicited earlier this year, and we are in the process of evaluating the responses. We have meetings set up this week with the vendors, and should be selecting the system we prefer this month. Acquisition, installation, and training will take place over the summer. One of the most important steps—developing the “hot list” database that plates will be checked against—will also be a work in progress. I expect we’ll be fully operational this fall.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Rummaging through the inbox

We’ve got a new spam filter on our enterprise mail here at the police department. It lets users manage their own quarantined mail, and adjust their allowed/disallowed lists. Previously, your blocked email was just gone. It’s been interesting for me to see the huge volume of stuff that gets blocked from my incredibly-clogged-anyway inbox. I’ve also discovered just how many legitimate emails haven’t been getting through. It’s not huge, but it is nice to have the chance to retrieve those that would previously have been lost.

Boy, do I ever get the email. The volume is huge. But the inbox can serve as the source of blog posts when writer’s block strikes, or when time is short. Sometimes, an email message will just hit me as worth sharing, like this one from Friday:

“There is this lady who walks her dog by my house every night and she lets it use my yard and kids toys as a toilet. She never cleans up after her dog and then she puts out her cigarettes out in my grass? and leaves them there as well. Is there something i can do to make her stop or is there a law she’s breaking? If someone could email me back i would appreciate it.”

Here is my reply:

“Lincoln has a city ordinance (6.08.155) that requires you to pick up your dog poop. Flicking a cigarette butt is technically littering, as well. I suggest you politely tell her you would appreciate it if she and her dog would both stop littering in your yard. This really doesn't need to involve Animal Control or the Police Department, in my opinion. If you're not comfortable talking to her, print and highlight the sections from the ordinance, and mail it to her with no return address.”


Tom Casady, Chief of Police

Is it really necessary for the police to be involved in every kind, type, and description of boorish behavior? Are we so estranged from one another that we can’t just politely ask, or are we really that afraid of our neighbors? Hopefully, that’s what this correspondent does.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Helpful trend

Late last week, I assembled some data about the trends in party disturbances in Lincoln. We peaked at over 1,800 complaints from the public a few years ago. Aside from the impact of such disturbances on the neighborhoods where they occur, it represents a practical problem for us, too. It is a large workload, a minimum of two officers must be dispatched to each of these complaints, and the alcohol-fueled problems exacerbate matters.

Here’s the data I put together. It shows large increases in enforcement activity (tickets for MIP and for Maintaining a Disorderly House), and a significant decrease in party disturbance complaints from the public.

You might notice, though, that the declining number of party complaints actually starts in 2005. That’s about the time that our five patrol teams started working more assertively with landlords and property managers. This strategy and its results has been a topic of a few past posts on the Chief’s Corner. I am convinced that working with landlords has been an important contributing factor to the decline. If I am correct, we would expect to see not only a decline in complaints, but specifically a reduction in the number of repeat complaints: back to the same address a second, third, or eighth time. Here’s what those data look like (for single houses—I couldn’t do it easily for apartments):

I sent the following email last Friday to the five captains who command our patrol teams:

“Good work! See the attachment. I needed to put these data together today for an award nomination we are going to submit. I suspected that the overall decrease in party disturbance complaints might be related to a decrease in repeats to the same address. I had no idea that it would be this dramatic.

Your increased efforts at holding landlords and property owners feet-to-the-fire, and getting them engaged in resolving some of the chronic addresses certainly appear to be paying off. This would represent a healthy percentage of the 600 annual CFS drop in these disturbance complaints since 2005. It represents a huge workload reduction when you consider that at least two officers had to be dispatched to each--not to even mention the improvement in neighborhood livability. How many Internal Affairs complaints, assaults, rapes, officer injuries, and so forth would emerge from 600 wild party calls? By the way, so for this year, we've dispatched officers to repeat locations on house party disturbances only 8 times. 8 ! ”

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Adopting Marion Marshall

This is National Police Week, proclaimed such by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. Monday was the dedication of the Nebraska Law Enforcement Memorial, a beautiful tribute to the 130 Nebraska law officers who have died in the line of duty. It was a splendid day. Several chiefs, sheriffs, and other officials were called forward to take turns reading the roll of our fallen officers. I was asked to read the names of the five Lincoln police officers killed in the line of duty, and one more: Marion Marshall.

I had never heard of Marion Marshall. I did not know that his name was inscribed on the National Law Enforcement Memorial, and now on the Nebraska Law Enforcement Memorial. The few tantalizing details from the Nebraska Memorial’s biography sent me on a Tuesday quest to find Marion Marshall.

Special Duty Patrolman Marshall’s employment was something of a mystery. I had never seen that job title in all the records of the Lincoln Police Department. Marion Marshall does not appear in any of our rosters. A lunchtime trip to Bennett Martin Public Library solved this mystery of history.

According to the Lincoln Evening Journal accounts, Special Duty Patrolman Marshall was shot in his army uniform. I think they got that part wrong. I don’t think Marion F. Marshall would ever be seen in an “army uniform.” He was a Marine, a veteran of the Great War. After being laid off from his job at the Lincoln Telephone & Telegraph Company in 1931, he had been employed in a quasi-public law enforcement job. He was one of 20 special duty patrolmen sponsored by The Charles A. Farley post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The post organized neighborhood patrols by veterans beginning in 1919. These men patrolled beats in their military uniforms. They were paid by the proceeds of residents who subscribed to the service. His family of five was scraping by on the $80 to $90 a month this work brought in.

Shortly after midnight on September 7, 1932 Special Duty Patrolman Marshall observed a suspicious person on a bicycle in the alley west of S. 16th Street between G and H Streets. He drove around the block to investigate, encountering the subject at the alley exit on 15th Street. During the contact, the subject pulled a gun and shot Marion Marshall. The mortally wounded patrolman managed to crawl to the Governor's Mansion, rang the bell, then collapsed on the top step of the porch. He was found there by Governor Charles Bryan, who had pulled on his clothes and gone to the door. The Governor summoned authorities and Special Duty Patrolman Marshall was taken to the hospital, where he passed away two days later, at the age of 35. He was survived by his wife and three children.

Marion Marshall is caught in limbo. He is a patrolman without a department. The Charles A. Farley post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars ceased to exist years ago. Although he was not a Lincoln police officer, he was similar to what we might now think of as a reserve or auxiliary officer. He was clearly acting in the public benefit when he encountered Tom Hall in the shadow of the spanking-new Nebraska State Capitol, armed with a concealed .32 caliber revolver, on his way to hold up the Capital Hotel in downtown Lincoln.

Today at noon, we will host a ceremony on the steps of Lincoln’s Hall of Justice and Law Enforcement Center to honor the Lincoln police officers who have given their lives in service to their fellow citizens. Ceremonies of this type will be taking place this week throughout the United States, at courthouses, State houses, and police departments. Speeches will be delivered, salutes rendered; taps will be played, the roll will be read.

No one has been reading the name of Special Duty Patrolman Marion Francis Marshall.

Until now.

The women and men of the Lincoln Police Department are adopting Marion Marshall. We will remember him, and we will honor the sacrifice he made on behalf of his City, State, and country. He is now added our roll call of honored dead, and this afternoon I will read his name.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Park thieves caught in act

Thefts from cars parked at trailheads, recreation centers, and City parks is a topic that comes up frequently at our monthly ACUDAT meetings. Just last week, I handed Capt. Mike Woolman a document with some analysis of the thefts of this type in Southwest Lincoln—the area hardest hit by these crimes so far this year. The analysis showed that most of these were happening in the afternoons, and that Sunday was the most popular day.

Sgt. Mike Bassett fleshed out some more details from his own review of the individual cases. He learned, for example, that debit cards stolen in these thefts were often being used immediately, many in the Northwest part of Lincoln, and that on a few occasions multiple charges on the same stolen card were made at the same convenience store within a matter of minutes. It appeared the thief was calling friends and family over to fill up.

The Southwest Team redoubled its efforts. On Sunday afternoon, the Team had a bait car in place at this parking lot at the Jamaica North Trailhead, down at the southern tip of Lincoln’s Wilderness Park:

Sgt. Bassett had the bait car under surveillance in Wilderness Park when a pair of thieves struck. He deployed a set of Stop Sticks to prevent the thieves (who arrived in a van) from exiting. You can see how valuable that was, given the layout of the parking area. There's only one way in, and one way out, unless you are on two wheels, four hoofs, or a pair of feet.

View Larger Map

Two arrests were quickly made. Further investigation led to a third person, and the recovery of a large amount of stolen property from various thefts and burglaries. There will be a lot more investigation as a result, and I expect that we will clear several other crimes and make felony arrests.

This was excellent work. I am hopeful that these arrests slow these crimes down. Experience, however, teaches that there are always new crooks in the wings, and that arrests doesn’t always result in the defendant mending his or her ways. Thus, prevention efforts are still strongly recommended.

Is this really a good idea?

I rarely weigh in on the scores of liquor license applications that come to the Lincoln City Council, other than to provide the background information about the applicant, as required. Every now and then I have something that I feel needs to be said, but generally, I leave it up to the City Council to make their decision without the burden of my opinion. Far be it from me to interfere with free enterprise.

This one, however, caught my eye. A business to be known as Liquor El Paisa has applied for a liquor license, and the matter is on today's City Council agenda. The premise where the license is sought is about a block from the People’s City Mission, many of whose residents struggle with alcoholism and addiction. I know that alcohol and intoxication is a huge problem for the Mission. It pains me that the dollars donated to help the homeless must be spent to hire security personnel. I just can’t imagine that it’s a good idea for a package store to open up in their shadow, despite the fact that there is already another one within a few hundred feet of their front door.

Nothing against this applicant, who I understand is a nice 21 year-old entrepreneur with a clean record, but sometimes I wonder exactly how many liquor licenses we need to ensure adequate access for customers, and a healthy amount of competition in the business.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Swoop and scoop

Here's a good example of something I see quite frequently: our late shift officers using great tactics to respond to a crime-in-progress call, by setting up a perimeter then methodically and patiently searching out the suspect.

When I look back on my own tendencies, I was far to quick to rush to the scene, when I should have been lurking a few blocks away, silent and dark, just watching and waiting. It seems to me that we've just gotten so much better at this in the past few years. This example is from the Southwest Team, but I think the compliment could be broadly applied to all our officers who work in the wee hours.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Clicked me off

Not that I haven’t been hung up on before, but my able assistant JJ warned me about this Monday telephone call in advance. I dutifully returned the message, though. The complainant started by saying “Why don’t your officers obey the law?” in that grating tone I know so well.

Here’s what had her steamed: on Saturday, she went to a local senior assisted living center. There was a car parked in a handicapped stall, with no handicapped parking permit displayed. She did what any right-thinking citizen would do: parked her own car to block the offender in and prevent an escape, then called the police.

An officer from our Southeast Team responded, and found that the offending vehicle had a handicapped permit laying upon the console. She did what any police officer of sound judgment would do: she declined to cite the vehicle. Why in the world would we issue a $100 ticket to someone who simply forgot to hang the tag from the mirror after parking at the assisted living center?

Whoa, did that send the complainant into a fit. The way she was talking to me after she had two days to cool off, I can only imagine what she would have been like at the scene of the crime! When both the officer’s sergeant and the chief of police independently told her quite politely that we thought this was a perfectly acceptable exercise of the officer’s discretion, she really blew a gasket.

The conversation was truncated before I reached the next punctuation mark. Come to think of it, she really didn’t hang up on me. “Hanging up” is sort of like “dialing the phone.” There is no dial and there is no hook. Let’s just say she clicked me off mid-sentence.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Impact of decision

The rules regarding searches of motor vehicles underwent a huge change on April 21st. Just exactly what happens as the result of last month's United States Supreme Court's decision in Arizona v. Gant remains to be seen. Out of curiosity, I looked at all the drug and weapons arrests in the week prior to the decision. There were 64. Of those, 31 had "street" as the location code. Of those, 27 involved a motor vehicle. Of those, 3 arrests were searches incident to arrest that would have been prohibited by Arizona v. Gant. Most of the searches were based on either probable cause or consent.

I was surprised by that, as it seems to me that a large percentage of these arrests emerge from searches incident to arrest. If this slice of Incident Reports is any indication, though, those searches are usually based on something more than the mere fact that an occupant of the car had been arrested. We'll have to watch this over a period of time and see what happens, but at first blush it would appear to me that the impact of the Court's decision may not be as great as I had originally thought.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Keep it simple

A crime analyst from another state got in touch with me yesterday. I'm not sure she would want to be identified, so I'll keep it anonymous for the time being. She is in the envious position of starting up a new crime analysis unit from scratch, and has been engaged in getting a lot of good training—a real luxury for most new analysts. She and her manager jumped into a webconference with me earlier this year, and she was now seeking my advice on the next step:

“In your experience, what would you consider to be the 3 or 4 most important things I could/should be doing (or products I should be producing)? I really want to make a difference here and do this job to the best of my ability.”

After replying, It struck me that my response might be valuable to other analysts who struggle with the same fundamental question, so here it is:

“Of course I remember talking to you. Glad you are moving forward. Your number one job is to provide timely, actionable information to officers and supervisors about important things they would not have known about otherwise. Make sure it's:




...and not already obvious. An email from the crime analysis unit that tells everyone what they already know isn't especially helpful. All these things are relative. The theft of iPods from lockers at schools may not be a critical issue of public safety, but every one of those larceny/thefts counts as ONE part 1 crime--the same as a murder--so they may be important (particularly taken as a whole). It may not be entirely within the ability of the police department to prevent, but on the other hand I can think of a half-dozen action steps that we might engage in to prevent or interrupt such offenses. I may not realize just how common this crime is, or that I'm not the only officer who's investigated these, or that they are almost all in the girls locker room, or that the schools that don't allow students to bring these are immune from these crimes, or that the dollar loss actually exceeds the net from armed robberies this year, or that several of the victims have been members of athletic teams and have occurred during practice ...and so forth.

The best way to establish your credibility is to focus as much of your time as possible on providing such information, and not letting your day be entirely consumed with producing meaningless bar charts or reports for the brass, that have no utility for the women and men who have to do something to impact crime and disorder in your city. You're getting the Cadillac training, but I'm going to urge you to go slow and keep it simple. If you want to really cause eyes to glaze over, create a map of a crime series with a convex hull, ordered labels, and a set of standard deviation ellipses with a prognostication about the most likely date range of the next offense in the series.

Ask officers, sergeants, and detectives: "Is this worthwhile? What else would you find useful, or what would be useful instead of this?" With management-types (chiefs included) don't just point out the crime trend or pattern, suggest ways that it might be changed: "Do you think there is any chance that we could talk the other principals into prohibiting iPods at school?" Become an expert at this by reading everything you can at about the crime trends and patterns that are problems in your city.

I am attaching a document with three pretty easy ideas. This is low-hanging fruit, if it hasn't already been picked. I hope this helps.”