Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Manhattan project

Last Wednesday was the third one of the month, and that means it was our regularly scheduled ACUDAT meeting to review crime trends and progress towards our goals. The June meeting was attended by visitors from the Riley County (Kansas) Police Department. Chief Brad Schoen and his command staff came up for the afternoon.

Capt. Tim Hegarty, who heads their patrol division, had arranged the visit after he was here a couple of months ago. The Riley County Police Department is unique in our part of the country, as an integrated police agency that covers the entire county. The largest cities are Ogden and Manhattan--home of Kansas State University. Way back in 1974 the Ogden Police Department, Manhattan Police Department, and Riley County Sheriff's Office were merged into a single police agency. That must have been quite the project, given the politics that swirl around such matters.

A non-political project--an effort to improve information and analysis--brought Riley County to Lincoln Wednesday. RCPD is in the process of acquiring the same geographic crime analysis software we use, CrimeView. They were interested in seeing how we use this in our department, and particularly how analysis of patterns, trends, and crimes is used to guide our strategies. We host visits like this a few times each year, and it's a great opportunity to share ideas.

Monday, June 29, 2009

You’ve won the lottery!

So far this year, LPD has investigated at least 67 Internet frauds. There may be a few more buried in our records with a different location code—I just didn’t have time to check there. Here’s a recap of a few of the successful cons that have relieved Lincoln residents of their cash this year. The demographics on the victims will be a little different than you might imagine.


85 year-old women was contacted by a man claiming to be in Ghana. He needed her help in collecting $23.5 million dollars on deposit here in the States. In return for her wiring him $3,655, she would receive one third of his fortune.


A 37 year-old man lost $3,505 after after responding to a job offer he found on craigslist. The person offering the job mailed him a bogus check, with instructions to cash the check then wire the bulk of the cash to a non-existent “travel agent” in the Philippines, who would be making arrangements.


A 20 year-old man was separated from $2,850 that he wired to the seller of a car on eBay. The car never arrived. The seller does not exist. The eBay listing was spoofed.


An 18 and 19 year-old couple found some concert tickets on craigslist, and contacted the seller by phone. The seller said she was in Laurel, NE, and would mail the tickets if the victim would wire her the $250. No tickies. Turns out the phone number the victim called (no longer in service) is in Santa Rosa, CA.


A 25 year-old man saw a good price on a 2006 Ford Expedition posted on craigslist and offered by a seller named Sarah in Quebec. “Send a moneygram for $4,800 to my eBay agent, David Wright.” No Expedition, no eBay agent, no Sarah, no David Wright, no more $4,800.


An 80 year-old women received a phone call from a male who called her “grandma.” He explained that while job hunting in Atlanta, he had been involved in a traffic crash, and needed to borrow $5,400 to pay his medical and vehicle expenses. She wired that amount to him in Atlanta, with the expectation that he would repay her after he received his insurance settlement. It wasn’t her grandson.


A 26 year-old man sent a $2,200 moneygram to Damian (was that a clue?) in San Diego for a motorcycle advertised on ebay. You know the rest.


The 36 year-old victim advertised her Blackberry on craigslist. She received an offer to buy from “Terry” who wanted her to ship the Blackberry to his daughter in Nigeria, and he would pay for the device and shipping through PayPal. She subsequently received an email from PayPal confirming a $160 transfer to her account, so she shipped the Blackberry off. The PayPal email was a fake.


A 24 year-old victim purchased a spyware program from a website for $49.95. The program turned out to be malware that has seriously fouled her computer. The company doesn’t exist, and the IP address resolves to the Netherlands.


The 19 year-old victim responded to a craigslist ad for a 2001 Honda motorcycle. The seller was in the United Kingdom, but said the motorcycle was at a business in Denver. The seller had the buyer wire $2,850 to a third party in London. Obviously, no Honda.


A 30 year old man was informed via email that if he would only wire the sender $300, the victim would in turn receive $50,000 for his trouble. Walmart’s fee for the $300 wire was an added $22.92.


A 27 year-old victim won the eBay auction of a 2004 GMC Envoy that was supposedly in Rock Rapids, Iowa. Curiously, she was required to wire $3,000 to London in order to consummate the transaction. No vehicle exists, and the seller has mysteriously disappeared from eBay and from the email address he employed.


A 27 year-old Lincoln woman won the Nigerian Lottery! She was notified of her good fortune via email on her Blackberry. All she needed to do to claim her prize was to send four separate wires from two separate Moneygram locations to Mr. Sunday Olasunkanmi in Sagamu, Nigeria. The total take was $2,635.

Let’s review:

  1. You haven’t won any lotteries for which you bought no tickets. If you actually did win a lottery, they wouldn’t be contacting you by email, and you wouldn’t be required to send money to claim your prize.
  2. You never pay for anything in advance, upon the expectation that it will actually be delivered, unless you can independently confirm its existence and deliverability--except a college education, in which case you have no other choice.
  3. No legitimate buyer sends you a check for more than the purchase price and asks you to wire the excess to them, much less to a third party in another country.
  4. Anyone can cut and paste the logo from PayPal or eBay and make that email you receive look legitimate, if you don’t have your…detector activated.

Fortunately, in several of the 67 cases, victims sensed something wasn’t right, and didn’t fall for the scam. There were some close calls, though. Caveat emptor.

Friday, June 26, 2009

And so it begins…

From the inbox, earlier this week:

“The 4th of July is nearly two weeks away and it is starting in my neighborhood already. Fireworks. Illegal fireworks. We don't want to tie up the phone lines to the police department every time we hear an m-80, a cherry bomb or bottle rockets going off but we also don't believe we should have to be subject to the harassment of the law breakers for simply reminding them that fireworks are illegal in our city. What do we do?

I have tremendous respect for our police officers and I know they are very busy but there is a complete lack of respect for our officers when people openly light fireworks they know are illegal. In fact there is a police officer who lives on the block to our South where fireworks routinely go off. I'm not trying to get the officer in trouble. I am merely showing the complete disregard some of our citizens have for adherence to this particular ordinance.

There is apparently a belief that even if caught there is no significant consequence to breaking this law. I hope that something can be done this year to change that perception.”

My reply:

“Illegal fireworks are an unbearable problem for us, because such a large percentage of the otherwise-law-abiding public chooses to ignore the law by either setting off illegal fireworks or allowing their children to do so. We have tried various approaches in recent years with scant success. You can read about our issues, attempts, and results on my personal blog. These three posts from 2007 and 2008 deal with the issue:

Let the games begin
Will it work?
Did it work?

We haven't given up, it's just impossible for us to effectively reverse this
trend without a lot more help than we are receiving from people who ought to know better--like your neighbors.”

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Research needs

One of the sessions I attended after I presented my paper at the National Institute of Justice annual conference last week was titled The View from the Street: Police Leaders’ Perspectives on Research and Policy Issues Facing Law Enforcement. It was well attended, by researchers and academicians. Several police chiefs served on this panel and shared their thoughts: John Batiste from the Washington State Patrol, Ron Serpas from the Nashville PD, Nola Joyce the Chief Administrative Officer from the Philadelphia PD, Russell Laine from the Alquonquin (IL) PD, Mark Marshall from the Smithfield (VA) PD, Kathy Perez from the Bowie (MD) PD.

Here’s the topics that were on the minds of my colleagues: terrorism, active shooters, the impact of the economy on crime, emerging threats from heavily-armed criminals, hate crimes, leadership, personnel management, ethics, police training & education, technology, intelligence sharing. Our professional association, the International Association of Chief’s of Police, has adopted a National Law Enforcement Research Agenda to represent the interests and needs of police chiefs concerning research.

Of all the issues discussed by the panel, police human resources and technology seemed to dominate. Everyone is concerned about the development, implementation, coordination and integration of technology, particularly information technology. Everyone is also concerned about human capital, the recruitment, selection, training, and career cycles of police officers. There are a lot of smart people serving as police chiefs in cities large and small, they are very interested in using quality research to engage in evidence-based policing. This panel was representative of the diversity in U.S. policing, and the commonality of the issues we face.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Two more guns in Arizona

The Phoenix Police Department has recovered two more guns stolen in the 2007 burglary of Scheel’s All Sports in Lincoln. A Springfield Armory .45 caliber pistol and a Glock 10mm pistol were seized during the service of a search warrant for drugs in Glendale. This brings the total number of guns recovered to 46, while the number still out there moves to 33.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Reporter’s questions

Last Friday, I spoke with a group of journalism students from the University of Nebraska. This class always comes down to headquarters to learn a little bit about covering the police beat. I could tell that the students were a little intrigued that I publish a personal blog, and I got a couple follow-up questions via email on Sunday. They are a little hard for me to answer, because they are actually directed more towards you, the readers of the Chief’s Corner:

“What do you think or hope having a blog does for the residents of Lincoln who read it and/or know that you have one?

How do you think it impacts how they see the police department or just you? What kind of impression do you think it gives?”

Monday, June 22, 2009

Slow roll?

I received the following email Saturday night:

“I work at Ameritas at 5900 O and we happened to hear a collision at Cotner
and O St (approx 11 am on Friday). We were not witnesses, but saw the
accident from our building immediately after the collision.

I immediately notified our switchboard operator to contact 911 (she was
the second citizen to report the accident).

I was concerned and disappointed that it took more than 10 minutes before
the first police response and there was NO fire or ambulance response. Of
course, it was some distance from where we were so I don't know if there
were injuries, but it did appear that at least one person was pinned in
their vehicle.

I do not know the policy for response, but since the intersection is a
busy one, considering the time of day and the fact there were multiple
cars involved, I'm curious as to why this did not get more (and faster)
attention by fire/police. And, the fact that two fire stations (Cotner
and A and Cotner and VIne are so close).”

I hate to let people down. I checked the dispatch record, and to me it looks like our response time was within acceptable norms. So here is the response I sent:

“Fire apparatus and ambulances are dispatched to traffic crashes only when injury is involved. In this crash, fortunately, no one was injured. Usually there are several first-hand reports from the scene (it’s common to get cell phone calls from the people actually involved), but when there is doubt, it has been my experience that the 911 Center always errs on the side of caution, by dispatching a full medical response. I assume that the information was clearly reported from the scene that no one was injured, and that is why the Fire Department was not dispatched.

As to the police response, the officer who was assigned arrived in 13 minutes. I do not know where she responded from, but I note that about half the patrol force was engaged in other incidents at the time of this crash. She works on the Southeast Team, which encompasses the entire City to the south and east of 27th and O Streets. We do not respond to traffic crashes with lights and sirens, in order to avoid creating a greater risk by our emergency response than the risk that exists at the crash scene.

I think a 13 minute response time to a non-injury traffic crash is pretty good in any city of a quarter million. Keep in mind that your police force is the smallest per capita in the State. To give you some perspective, if we were the same size per capita as Omaha, Lincoln would have 440 officers rather than our 317. If we were the same size per capita as Grand Island, we would have 423 officers--105 more than the 317 Lincoln police officers authorized in our budget. Among all the cities in Nebraska and the surrounding states, we rank as the 180th smallest of 194—right in between Thornton, CO and Marion, IA.

Thanks for the feedback. We will try to do the best we can with the resources the citizens of Lincoln provide. I am sorry we failed to live up to your expectations.”

Friday, June 19, 2009

NIJ conference

The National Institute of Justice is the research arm of the United States Department of Justice. I was at their annual conference earlier this week, at their expense, to participate as a panelist during a presentation focusing on the consequences of sex offender residency restriction laws. This is a topic that has appeared in the Chief’s Corner on several previous occasions. This is another example of the use of GIS to inform public policy.

The conference is attended mainly by academicians, with a few practitioners like me interspersed here and there. My specific role on the panel was to serve as a discussant—sort of a friendly critic, as my colleague and former Charlotte police chief Darrel Stephens put it. Earlier this year, I authored a paper for an academic journal, Crime and Justice Policy Review. The focus of my paper was how research in this field could more effectively influence public policy, and this was the same theme as my panel presentation.

In a nutshell, the research shows that residency restrictions don’t impact reoffending and that these laws have the side effect of destabilizing offenders; making it more difficult for them to find employment, obtain housing, preserve family relationships, and participate in aftercare or treatment. With a restriction that seriously reduces housing availability, there is a greater likelihood multiple offenders will live together or in very close proximity to one another, will lie about their place of residence, or will just drop off the radar altogether by not reporting their address changes as required by law. These unintended consequences, in my opinion, actually increase the risk of reoffending, rather than decreasing it.

My critique is centered on the fact that we have not done a good job in translating the research into practice. Despite this knowledge, city councils and state legislatures have scrambled to enact increasingly strict laws that prohibit sex offenders from living near schools, child care centers, parks, even bus stops.

This is not the case, however, in Lincoln or in Nebraska, where reason ruled in the City Council and the Legislature. Rather than the 2000 ft. restrictions common around the country, Lincoln (and later Nebraska) adopted a restriction of 500 ft. from schools. I believe this is the least restrictive law of the 30+ States that have adopted such statutes. The comparative impact is displayed in a very short PowerPoint—five slides:

Since they aren’t narrated, I will explain:

Slide one: The City of Lincoln

Slide two: A buffer of 2000 ft. from schools

Slide three: A buffer is added of 2000 ft. from parks. The blue areas would all be off limits if Lincoln had adopted the same law as Iowa. The areas that remain all have a story: many of these are Lincoln’s most exclusive residential areas. Others are places such as industrial tracts, Holmes Lake, and the Lincoln Municipal Airport.

Slide four: Zoomed-in view of one of those donut holes. How long does it take you to identify the type of place this is?

Slide five: The results of the law actually passed, a 500 ft. excluded zone around schools for high-risk (level 3) registered sex offenders whose victims were under the age of 19. As you can see, there is a lot of land available for sex offenders to lawfully reside—which I believe strikes a good balance by preventing some of those unitended consequences, such as more offenders disapparing and failing to report their address changes.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

How GIS has changed

It has now been more than 12 years since we first stuck our police toe in the GIS water. When LPD started using ArcView 3.1, it took a chunk of money and a lot of time to do geographic crime analysis. The hardware and software were expensive, the training curve steep, and months were required to get productive. The process of gathering, cleaning, and geocoding police data was tedious and time consuming.

All this has changed. In 1997, making a map of the burglaries in Lincoln would be an all-morning task for a skilled analyst using the best department PC with a few grand worth of software. Today, anyone with an Internet connection can do it in a few clicks. The general public can even do it, at any one of several public websites. For the simple stuff, GIS is self-service. Analysts today (at least in Lincoln) can spend their time on more comprehensive and sophisticated work as a result.

I sometimes wonder where this is all going. Many years ago, I predicted that GIS would become a ubiquitous computer desktop staple. I was sort of right, in that most everyone uses GIS these days, but what actually emerged were web mapping services and hundreds of sites that leverage these to incorporate mapping in all sorts of web sites.

The next big thing I see is the increased use and sophistication of remote sensing: gathering information about what’s happening at places without actually being there. The changes are coming rapidly.

Below is a screen shot from my monitor. In the top frame, I have ArcMap opened, with the City’s aerial photos displayed. At the bottom, there are three windows. From left to right they are: oblique aerial photos (“bird’s eye”) from Microsoft’s Virutal Earth—a very different perspective; the view from the City of Lincoln Public Works Department traffic camera at 27th and Pine Lake Rd. (live and interactive on my monitor, though this is just a snapshot); the street level view, using Google Maps StreetView. If I had more space on the screen, I would have included the panoramic view, from roundus.com.

None of this existed two years ago. It’s remarkable, but it’s only the beginning.

click image to enlarge

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

GIS geek this week

Guilty. I confess that I am a minor-league geek when it comes to geography, particularly geographic information systems—the computerized merger of databases and maps. Minor league, because I have no professional background or formal education in either of these disciplines. I got interested in GIS in the early 1990’s when I perceived that it could be a beneficial way of analyzing and understanding crime and disorder.

Appearances to the contrary, I am not at all infatuated with crime mapping. I think GIS can be a good tool, but the database is much more valuable than the pretty picture. If I had to pick, I’d take a table I can query over a map any day. Nonetheless, we human beings are pretty visual, and GIS can provide a view of data that makes relationships pop out that would otherwise be concealed in green-striped paper. As crime mapping has matured, I think police analysts have become far more interested in the analytical capabilities of GIS, rather than the map itself.

The weapon of choice at LPD is ArcGIS. Four employees use the high-end version, supported by a great crime analysis extension, CrimeView. For everyone else in the department, we deploy a splendid CrimeView intranet application that provides a great deal of capability in an easy-to-use interface. Finally, for the general public, we maintain CrimeView Community and participate in crimemapping.com.

What to we use GIS for? Essentially, it supports four functions. First, it provides us with excellent electronic maps on our PCs—even in our patrol cars. When you’re planning a special event, preparing for the execution of a search warrant, and involved in certain kinds of field operations it can be very valuable simply to have a map with basic geographic layers. With great aerial photos, these maps can really help us get oriented.

Second, GIS supports tactical analysis. We use GIS to help identify crime and disorder problems and target our resources towards these more effectively. Third, GIS supports strategic analysis. by helping to identify and understand broader problems that require more comprehensive and longer term approaches. Finally, we use GIS for investigative purposes, including crime scene investigation, surveillance, figuring out the identity of potential suspects, connecting crimes with common M.O.s, and more.

The links in this post will give you some good examples of these uses we make of geographic information systems. I’ll blog a little more about GIS as the week unfolds.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Eleventh of 10

On my way to work I often listen to Lincoln’s KLIN or KFOR radio. I normally flip back and forth, to catch the news. The morning drive-time hosts on KLIN are Jack Mitchell and John Bishop. Unlike Bob & Tom, I can listen to them without spewing my coffee or being forced to pull over to regain my composure.

Friday morning, Jack Mitchell noted that City Council chairman Doug Emery had recently remarked about Lincoln’s lack of a municipal sports/concert arena. He had apparently said something like, “Name me another city of a quarter million without an arena.” Mitchell decided to do a little research of his own, and proceeded to explain his methodology for finding 10 cities like Lincoln. He initially looked at cities of about Lincoln’s size, using data from the Census Bureau’s population estimates. He decided, though, that almost all of the cities in Lincoln’s population bracket are part of much larger metropolitan areas. Plano, for example, is in Dallas/Ft. Worth; St. Petersburg in Tampa bay; Scottsdale in Phoenix; and so forth.

As an alternative, he created his own array, using not just city population, but also metropolitan area population as criteria. He wanted to exclude much larger metro areas, but he also wanted to avoid comparing similarly-sized metro areas that didn’t contain a significant major city. As an example, he pointed out that Green Bay is in a similarly-sized metro area to Lincoln, but the City itself barely cracks 100,000.

I liked his thought process. This is exactly the kind of comparison I would be teasing out of the census data and the FBI Uniform Crime Report data myself. In fact, I did just that, and 20 minutes later, emailed this spreadsheet to Jack & John, using the ten cities he had selected for his arena comparison:

Friday, June 12, 2009

Web redesign

If you haven't noticed already, the Lincoln Police Department's public website has undergone a radical makeover. Officer Katie Flood has been hard at work porting all our pages over to the new template she designed. I think it looks great. She's also the graphic artist and publisher of our Annual Report, another gem.

RedesignHer update of the public web site made my blogger template look embarrassingly dated, so I spent a little time Tuesday night fiddling with the Chief's Corner. It's not as sophisticated as Officer Flood's work, but I got close enough to avoid clashing terribly with the public site.

While all this has been underway, Capt. Doug Srb has been working to launch new software, TipSoft, for handling Crimestoppers tips. The results have been great. The ability to accept anonymous online tips and text message tips in addition to phone calls has caused the numbers to jump up to a new plateau. For the first time in my career, I can now see Crimestoppers tips immediately as they arrive. The delay in entering these data has been completely eliminated.

We also took a critical look at the Crimestoppers page on our public website. We want to get more of the high-quality photos and videos from crimes out on the public site more quickly. We've got plenty of examples of cases cleared when someone saw a photo or video, and a quarter million sets of eyes are better than our 317. What better vehicle to do so than blogger? As a result, we've created the Lincoln Crimestoppers blog.

We still have a few tweaks to make on all of these recent changes, but overall it has been a productive week of online redesign at LPD

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Neighborhood affairs

My secretary, JJ, was on the phone when I walked by her office on the way to Tuesday’s staff meeting. I only heard a short snippet of the conversation: “Why do you think he’s throwing it over the fence, sir?”

When she came into the meeting a few minutes later, I could tell it was an exhausting conversation, but I only had one question: what was the “it?” I knew it had to be a ball, tree limb, leaves, dog poop, or grass clippings. It was the dog feces. The caller wanted to make an appointment with the police chief to explain the details of his neighbors bad behavior.

Here are some short excerpts from Incident Reports detailing the precipitating grievance of some neighborhood disputes our officers have responded to lately. This is just a small sample, though:


…about the neighbors to the west always coming over into their back yard to retrieve their basketball that ends up in their yard.


…has been running their lawn mower into her drainage spout and knocking it loose from the stakes that hold it down.


…says there is new doggy poo in his backyard and he believes that they are letting their dog poop in his backyard.


…reported that her neighbor called her a [#@$%&$#! &$] when she asked him to move his vehicle forward so she could park her vehicle in front of her residence.


…reports that she gave her neighbor in the building an office chair, in exchange for his recliner. She stated that the chair she received broke while she had it and wanted her chair back

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Cross-country complaint

The caller on Monday was obviously disgruntled. She had been speaking to a staff member in our Accounting Unit, who was serving as telephone backup on my personal office line. Apparently directory assistance, asked for the phone number of the Lincoln Police Department, had given the caller the number for the chief’s office (a common aggravation), rather than the general police non-emergency number.

When I sensed that Rhonda was a little frustrated, I took the call. The miffed caller was in North Carolina. She had been following a semi tractor-trailer that was driving poorly. She had gathered the name of the trucking firm from the tractor door, and called the company. It was a leased rig, and the Ohio leasing firm representative was not the least bit interested in her first-hand report of bad driving. She was inquiring in a sarcastic tone whether I would be more responsive.

The Nebraska link was the words “Cornhusker Ultra-Lite” on the trailer. “Is there any other Cornhusker?,” she snippily asked. I explained to her that the trailer may have been manufactured in Lincoln, but that the driver and/or lessee would have nothing to do with my fair City. What she was doing was akin to calling the police chief in Stuttgart to complain about the driver of a Volkswagen.

That didn’t seem to gruntle her. I asked if she had thought about calling the local authorities in North Carolina, perhaps the county sheriff or the State police. After giving me her personal opinion that the Raleigh Police Department was the only agency in the state you could count on to do anything, I thanked her for being a public-minded North Carolinian, and we parted ways.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The hard life

Last Friday, Dr. Donna Akers, and associate professor in the Department of History at the University of Nebraska came by my office to visit about research she is undertaking. Dr. Akers is interested in human trafficking. We discussed the potential for using Lincoln data as part of her research.

Hard though it may be for most Lincoln residents to believe, we indeed have some cases involving human trafficking in our city. These are situations where women are being coerced into prostitution, or where runaway girls are being forced to participate in “survival sex.” The crimes that come to police attention are rare, but not unknown.

While Dr. Akers was here, I was showing her how we might gather some information. I clicked on a couple of prostitution arrests, and showed her the police contact history on these two subjects. After she left, I did a little research of my own. I selected ten women arrested within the past decade for prostitution who are now between the ages of 20 and 35 and who have resided in Lincoln for at least ten years.

These women have lived the hard life. The ten subjects have a combined record of 105 runaway reports, 44 child abuse/neglect cases, and 35 sexual assaults prior to their 19th birthday. Those are only the reported incidents that came to the attention of the Lincoln Police Department.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Makes you wonder

From the dispatch log yesterday at 1427 hours, Antelope Park 3101 A Street:


Friday, June 5, 2009

Spring has sprung




I could twitter if I really wanted too.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Daily news briefing

This is a topic I’ve broached before, but not in quite this detail. Every weekday morning at 0845, the police department hosts a news media briefing at headquarters. The reporters gather in a room specially designed for this function near the lobby. It’s equipped with an LCD projector, a computer, a podium, flags, and a white board. If you’re a Lincoln resident, you’ve seen it in the background of lots of interviews with police-types over the past ten years.

Our public information officer, Officer Katie Flood (who wears several other hats) provides the reporters with printouts of public record information about each police incident report and citation/arrest within the previous 24 hours. She briefs the media about the most significant overnight crimes, and depending on what mayhem has occurred, an interview on tape may follow. The Sheriff or his representative stops in and does the same, and the whole affair is normally over within 20 or 30 minutes.

On my first day as chief in 1994, Margaret Reist from the Lincoln Journal and Bruce Weible from the Lincoln Star composed the media corps. It was a sum total of two. Today, we are likely to have seven or eight: the Lincoln Journal Star, KFOR radio, KLIN radio, the Omaha World Herald, KOLN/KGIN TV, KLKN TV, and KETV TV. During the school year, we’ll also have the Daily Nebraskan, and once or twice a week we also get a visit from KPTM TV and KMTV TV.

The daily briefing, however, is hardly the only contact we have with the news media. They will continue to call through the day with additional questions, or as new events unfold. In the evening, the Journal Star’s evening police beat reporter will stop down at headquarters for a face-to-face with the second shift duty commander, and there will be calls from TV stations through the evening until the 10:00 PM newscasts. It starts up again around 4:30 AM, as the radio stations, TV stations, and the Journal Star check in to gather their stories for drive time.

This has changed dramatically. The news media is so much more pervasive and competitive today, and the beat never stops. Even the newspapers now must be fed constantly throughout the day, as their online editions change throughout the day.

I know that LPD was conducting this daily briefing when I started my career, but it’s even older than I realized—at least one hundred years. Last week, the grand daughter of Chief F. J. Rickard stopped at HQ, and gave us some copies of his news clipping file. The newspaper reports confirm that essentially the same morning briefing was occurring at police headquarters in 1909, and in one article (dated June 2, 1909), it is referred to as a “time honored” routine.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

(Sigh) II

Used that title up previously, too. The names have been changed to protect the identity of those involved. Click images to enlarge.


The upholstered furniture ordinance is part of the Housing Code, normally enforced by the Building & Safety Department. I shouldn’t whine about this, because I truly believe that taking care of minor quality of life issues like this really does help in the long run. It just seems so odd to have police officers doing this. But we’re here 24/7/365—unlike the rest of government. So, I’m over it. The law’s the law. Just to show everyone that I’m taking this seriously, I’ve done some analysis on crimes involving couches during 2008 and 2009 year-to-date:


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Alerts to schools and parks

One of the more interesting bits of technology we have availed ourselves of in recent years has been the Threshold Alert, a feature of CrimeView, our geographic crime analysis software from the Omega Group. I’ve described Threshold Alerts and how we use them in previous posts. This spring, while I was attending the Omega Group’s annual users’ conference, an idea suddenly struck me. The company’s software and services target three industries: fire departments (FireView), police departments (CrimeView) and school districts (School Planner.) All three domains were represented at the conference, and I was rubbing shoulders with some of the school district participants when it hit me.

Here was the thought: why not send a Threshold Alert to school district personnel? When I got back to Lincoln, I emailed the head of security at the Lincoln Public Schools, sent him a sample, and asked him if there might be any interest in receiving this on a regular basis. He was in my office a couple of days later, and since that time I have been sending a daily report to him and to Student Services with the details on each Lincoln Police Incident Report concerning incidents that occurred at public schools on the previous day.

I had a similar thought a couple weeks later. Mayor Beutler had asked me about the police calls at a specific City park. I provided the information about police incidents at that park, and I also looked at a few similar parks for comparison purposes. It struck me that the Parks & Recreation Department Director might be interested in a weekly Threshold Alert, just so he didn’t miss any of these. I created two for him: all police dispatches to parks, and police Incident Reports of incidents occurring at parks. I am running these on a weekly, rather than daily basis, so he gets the snapshot on Mondays.

I think both Lincoln Public Schools and the Parks & Recreation Department were probably already aware of most of the events documented in these reports. Nonetheless, it’s a nice double-check, and with the automated process it really doesn’t require any significant effort to deliver this nice daily or weekly summary to their inbox. It would, of course, be a pretty simple matter for an individual principal, park superintendant, business owner, landlord, or resident to create their own version of this using Crime Alerts—another tool from the Omega Group that is part of the crimemapping.com website—just by selecting the address of interest and the smallest possible buffer, 500 feet. In Lincoln, that would give you the significant crimes within a radius of about a block and a half.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The death of common sense

I filled in as the first shift commander on Saturday. At 1500 hours, Sgt. Michon Morrow relieved me, and I changed into street clothes and headed home. My portable radio was laying on the front seat, and I hadn’t turned it off. I was thinking ahead of a lawn to be mowed and a brew to be consumed when a radio transmission caught my attention.

Officer Mike Schaaf was being detailed to a drug treatment center on a missing person report. The dispatcher gave him the description of the person, then said something to the effect of, “We don’t have a name, the caller said she couldn’t provide that because it is confidential.” Did I hear that right? I called Mike on the radio and took him to a side channel: no, I wasn’t hallucinating. I asked him to shoot me an email later with the details.

Apparently the employee was unwilling to provide the client’s name due to her concern that this would be a violation of the The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act—the dreaded HIPAA. It’s not, by the way, but that’s what she was worried about. Officer Schaaf ultimately convinced her that it would be difficult to investigate a missing person without knowing who the person was, and all was well.

I really don’t mean to criticize the employee, it just seems to me to be a good example of a more widespread phenomenon. Rules, regulations, computer programs, and protocols just can’t replace sound judgment by reasonable people who are willing to make a decision and stand by it. This is not to say that discretion shouldn’t be guided by regulations, or that the computer program’s recommendation isn’t a valuable resource. At the end of the day, though, there has be a person who exercises old-fashioned common sense—something that seems to be in short supply these days.

Ever made the tactical error of flipping out three pennies after the cashier had already pressed the “enter” key?