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:

Tom Casady
Chief of Police
Lincoln Police Department
575 S. 10th Street
Lincoln, NE 68508

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.


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.)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Update on the guns

Since my last update, two more of the 79 firearms stolen in the 2007 burglary of Scheel’s All Sports in Lincoln have been recovered. On July 20, the United States Border Patrol stopped a vehicle on I-10 near Blythe, CA occupied by two Mexican nationals who were illegally in the United States and had extensive criminal histories. A 10mm Glock was recovered that was part of the Scheel’s haul.

Most recently, on September 9th, the Boulder County, CO Sheriff’s Department responded to a report of gunfire in a rural area, and contacted a pair of men out for a little sport. When they checked the firearms, one was determined to be a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver stolen from Scheel’s.

These two guns bring the total number recovered to 48, with 31 guns still out there.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Seasonal crime

Regular readers of the Chief’s Corner are aware that I fancy myself something of a crime analyst. I take a lot of grief (mostly good natured, I think) for my tendency to collect, assess, and analyze data. The following crime problem landed in my inbox yesterday morning, from a Lincoln citizen victimized by several recent offenses:
“I don't know if this is a serious enough thing to get the police department in on, but 2 of my pumpkins where stolen last night, and I found them smashed on the street not far from my house, this is 3 missing pumpkins off my front porch within 2 weeks….I don't really know what I can do about it…I didn't know if someone had any suggestions on what I could do to have them stop stealing my pumpkins, can I not leave them on my front porch? Thank you for your time.”

My first order of business was to examine the data for any apparent trends or patterns. To do so, I extracted two years of vandalism and theft cases containing the key word “pumpkin.” In 2007 and 2008, pumpkins figured in 126 crimes.: 13 thefts, 112 vandalisms, and one unlawful detonation of fireworks. There was a very strong seasonal pattern to these misdeeds:

It is probably too early to draw any conclusions about the trend in 2009, but further exploration of the 2007-08 data set also revealed a rather prominent geographic pattern. As you can see for the following map, it appears that pumpkins near the southern and eastern portions of Lincoln were at considerably more risk than those in other areas of the city during this two year period.

The analysis also revealed that in many cases, pumpkins were used as projectiles in other types of vandalism. There were 77 mailboxes damaged by pumpkins, and 27 motor vehicles. The total loss and damage was $13,914.

Based on this analysis, I recommend precautions for pumpkin owners during the months of October and November, and especially for those owners whose pumpkins are located in the southeast portions of Lincoln. Such precautions might include removing pumpkins from porches and stoops during the hours of darkness, to temporary storage in a secure area such as a garage or foyer. I realize this is somewhat labor-intensive, but it appears to be the most practical means of preventing the theft or destruction of large orange gourds.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

False report

On September 13th, an armed robbery occurred at the Wells Fargo ATM located at N. 65th St. and Cotner Boulevard. We had good leads on that case from the outset, and it was cleared by two arrests later in the week. Before that occurred though, clear across town, another robbery connected to a Wells Fargo ATM was reported on September 16th. The victim said he had gone to the ATM at S. 70th St. and Pioneers Blvd., where he made a $260 withdrawal. As he turned into his neighborhood nearly a mile away, another vehicle bumped his car from behind. He got out to check the damage. The suspect brandished a pistol and relieved him of his rent money.

While the investigating officers certainly took it seriously, I thought this crime was fishy from the outset. It just sounded too much like an urban legend story to me: too convenient, too contrived. What’s this 35 year-old doing getting cash from an ATM to pay his rent in the middle of the month? He's living with his parents, and they won't accept a check? When, in my entire career, have I heard of a bump-and-rob in Lincoln? (Answer: never.) Of all the places to pull such a crime, why select a residential street with plenty of houses and streetlights? How many stranger robberies occur so early in the evening? My suspicion was that the victim had seen the news about the ATM robbery earlier in the week, and concocted a plausible story to explain his inability to pay the rent.

I told Det. Marty Fehringer the next morning that we should check the victim’s account activity at the bare minimum and see if he in fact made such a withdrawal. I imagine that in the back of his mind he was thinking, “Good idea, Capt. Obvious,” but Marty’s a gentleman, and allowed me my moment as amateur detective. The check of bank records revealed no such transaction occurred, and in a subsequent interview, the victim’s story collapsed. He had left the state for a while, so a few weeks passed before we were able to contact him over the weekend and cite him for false information.

One of the most annoying things about this case is the victim’s choice of his imaginary assailant: a black man armed with a pistol. I’m sick and tired of liars making up phantom suspects for non-existent crimes. There are plenty of genuine crimes to go around, and we have more than enough work to do without chasing after someone’s racist stereotypes.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Record finally falls

No, this has nothing to do with Nebraska's furious comeback against the Missouri Tigers last night (or was it this morning? I can't remember). Rather, the title of this post reflects the fact that the record for the most arrests of a single person by the Lincoln Police Department has fallen this week.

On Sunday, Kevin went into a downtown Lincoln store and allegedly pocketed a pair of sunglasses valued at $20.99. He was cited for shoplifting, marking his 652nd arrest, and pulling into a tie with the previous record-holder, Eddie the departed.

On Tuesday, Kevin was arrested for trespassing after he was found intoxicated in the hallway of an apartment building with a prominent "No Trespassing" sign posted at the entrance. At 46 years of age, there a fair chance he will put the mark considerably further up the pole.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Wrong uniform

The University of Nebraska football team had a bye last Saturday, and an away game tonight. That's a nice breather for the officers who work on the detail. For me, too, in an odd and less significant way. As an example, Nebraska's last home game brought me an unhappy email from a fan on the following Monday:
"I have 3 questions regarding police officer conduct while on duty and orders to vacate a public sidewalk. On Saturday, I believe an officer was incorrect in asking me to vacate an area on a public sidewalk. The officer had no identifying information on his person that I could see. I could see no badge, only a yellow shirt that said "POLICE", so I could not get either a name or a badge number. I do not know if the officer was off-duty acting as private security or was on-duty for the city of Lincoln. My three questions are these. First, if I ask an officer for his/her name and/or badge number, is that officer obliged to give me that information, whether or not the officer is acting in the capacity of a Lincoln police officer or acting as private security? Second, if I want to file a complaint about a particular officer, how may I go about doing that? Finally, if I am on a public sidewalk, standing and doing nothing illegal (including not blocking the sidewalk, foot traffic is free to flow around me while still remaining on the public sidewalk), am I obliged to vacate that sidewalk if an officer orders me to do so?"

I responded to him,
"We have no such uniform, and my officers are prohibited from working off-duty in any other uniform as security. Do you want to tell me where and when this happened on Saturday, and I'll see if I can figure out who you might have been dealing with?"
After a little more back-and-forth, I figured out that his encounter was probably with a private security guard at a parking lot. The proliferation of all manner of uniforms and quasi-uniforms has made it more difficult these days, in my opinion, to identify the players.

The homecoming game against Louisiana-Lafayette was Nebraska's 300th consecutive sellout. In honor of the occasion, the Huskers wore a throwback uniform designed to look like that worn by the 1962 Cornhuskers, back when the streak started. Maybe we should try the same thing. I'm not sure we'd be able to finance it, though, by auctioning the game-day worn uniforms on the Internet.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

All in the same boat

I was part of a panel discussion Monday with the police chiefs in Lakewood, CO, Naperville, IL, Colorado Springs, CO, Plano, TX, and Fremont, CA. The topic was the economic crises, and it's impact on police departments. To varying degrees, all of our cities are under financial stress and have had to handle cut backs.

As each of us described what we had done to cope with flat or declining municipal revenues, there was a remarkable degree of similarity in the strategies. We all seem to have the same philosophical approach: when your resources aren't keeping up, you drop back to your core responsibilities, and you cut those services that make the smallest contribution to safety and security of the community.

Hearing about some of the problems faced by some of the other cities made me feel fortunate. The depths of the cuts in some of these communities are sobering. Virtually all municipal police departments and City governments are in the same boat, but ours is bobbing pretty safely compared to some where the water is up to the gunwales.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Many violations

Friday’s post about motor vehicle registration has a back story. I spent a good part of the Wednesday morning looking into this case. When a State senator’s office contacts you about a constituent who has complained concerning lax law enforcement by your department, you tend to do that. Officer Adams had done a quite competent investigation of the lone complaint we had received, and I wanted the Senator to have the “rest of the story.”

In doing so, I collected some data to demonstrate to the Senator that we are hardly shy about citing people for improper registration. In 2008, we issued 14,784 official citations and 5,094 warning citations for registration violations. The warnings generally went to folks who were less than a month overdue on a renewal. The total of nearly 20,000 citations is a whopping number, but I can’t imagine that we actually caught anywhere close to half the violators. My estimate is that at any given time, around 10-15% of all the vehicles in Lancaster County (with a population of about 275,000) are improperly registered.

Each of those violations represents wheel tax, personal property tax, and in some cases sales tax that would either be unpaid entirely or at least delayed. In many cases, cheaters with otherwise legitimate plates are either registering their vehicles in another State where there is a lower vehicle tax, or in another Nebraska County, in order to avoid Lincoln’s $49 wheel tax. We have a few local businesses who have a system whereby their vehicles are registered at business addresses just outside the City limits, yet their fleet lives and works primarily in the City. They avoid City wheel tax by registering vehicles at a rural Lancaster County address.

These cases can be a little complicated because people will lie through their teeth. They tell you they just bought the car, when in fact they are well beyond the 30-day period the law gives you to register a vehicle after purchase. They dummy-up a new bill of sale every few weeks. They tell you the car belongs to their son, who is on active duty in the military and exempt, when in fact it’s their daily driver. They tell you that the pickup is really their farm truck from Burwell, and that it is just here in Lincoln for a couple months. They tell you that they have a vacation home in South Dakota, and that's where they normally keep the RV that's in the driveway. They tell you that they just moved to Lincoln, and will change the registration from Dawson County as soon as it expires, when in fact they have no intention of doing so and have already renewed it twice. They tell you that the car belongs to dear old dad back in Des Moines; they've just borrowed it for a few weeks while they save up money to get the transmission fixed on their own car. Some of these things are easily checked out, others are not--and would require considerable research or weeks of regular surveillance to disprove.

Some people who consider themselves to be upstanding and law-abiding will rail about criminals out one corner of their mouth, complain about their taxes out the other, and all the while think nothing of cheating on their income tax and lying about the tax situs of their motor vehicle to save $50. They normally have plenty of money, by the way.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Split time

An interesting email arrived Tuesday from a legislative aide to a Nebraska State Senator. A constituent had contacted the Senator, complaining that either the law or the enforcement of the law pertaining to registration of motor vehicles needed to be addressed. He said that he and neighbors had repeatedly reported a couple living in the neighborhood for five years who had been continuously registering their car in Minnesota, avoiding Nebraska taxes. He was pretty disgusted with the police department, State patrol, and Department of Motor Vehicles, believing that none of us has enforced the law despite many contacts by multiple people. I, of course, could only find a single report to LPD, in April of 2008.

The caller on that date was anonymous. Officer Jason Adams had investigated, and filed a rather detailed report. He determined that the owner of the car indeed owned the townhome in Lincoln, and that the car was indeed registered in Minnesota. When he interviewed the homeowner, he told him that he works in an industry with offices in various places, and he supervises a workforce in both Nebraska and Minnesota. He said that he quite literally splits his time between two homes—one in Lincoln and one in suburban Minneapolis. He said that he has a daughter in college (she's at UNL, paying non-resident tuition), but the rest of the family is living at the house in Minnesota, and he travels between the two.

Looking at online records on the web, available to anyone, I was able to find that he and his college-student daughter both have area code 615 cellular phones. I also located the Ramsey County tax assessors information about the Minnesota house, including the 2009 property tax statement. It’s the more expensive of the two homes. Checking the two State’s motor vehicle tax estimators, it looks like the registration costs are about the same in both communities. I can’t see any financial advantage to be had, so that would not appear to be a motive for registering the car in Minnesota. His story seems to check out pretty well, but there would be no way short of long-term surveillance to determine whether his vehicle in fact lives in Lincoln for more than 182.5 days per year.

That, by the way, is how Nebraska law determines the tax situs of a motor vehicle: the place where the motor vehicle is kept for the “greater part of the year.” It matters not if your daddy owns half of McPherson County: if the pickup truck spends 30 seconds more in Lincoln than in Tryon, it must be registered in Lancaster County, and you must pay Lincoln’s wheel tax.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


I don't ordinarily do requests, but this one I'm caving into. I have been asked to blog about the City Employees Golf League champion. Decided in a dramatic match yesterday, the Claret Jug went to Lincoln police investigator Bob Hurley.

The word in the squad room is that the winner's purse consisted of a $10 gift certificate. I've teed it up a few times with Investigator Hurley, a big hitter with occasional directional issues that take his ball into unexplored regions from time to time. Bob spent most of 2004-2005 deployed in Iraq, a Major in the Nebraska National Guard. He probably had a little bit of time to work on his sand game.

Well done, Officer Hurley. You make us proud.

Nice impression

About a dozen people have forwarded this link to me. The author is correct: Lincoln really is college football Nirvana. I was pleased that our officers helped create the nice impression. When you’re a police officer working the detail, it takes a lot of hard work to get through a Nebraska football home game day. Officers are certainly on public display, in an often frustrating role where patience and lip-biting are required. It’s a good thing I had a whistle in my mouth back when I directed traffic at every home game for 13 seasons.