Thursday, December 30, 2010

Printer quality

You can buy an awfully nice printer at a pretty low price these days—sometimes for just a few dollars more a replacement ink cartridge.  When you consider the quality of the output compared to just a few years ago, this has got to be one of the consumer products with the most improved cost/quality ratio.

The proliferation of good inexpensive printers must be a nightmare for retailers and for the United States Secret Service.  Counterfeit currency has become much more common in recent years.  I started thinking about this after our most recent counterfeiting case.  Back in the days, counterfeiting was a rare but sophisticated operation.   In my rookie recollections, the appearance of a counterfeit bill in Lincoln resulted in a visit to LPD headquarters by men in dark suits.  Counterfeiters were portrayed in the movies as master artisans who labored over engraving plates wearing jeweler’s loupes and green eyeshades.

This all changed with the color photocopier, but has really taken off with the improvement in inkjet and color laser printers.  This week’s case is number 90 of 2010.  It has been slowly edging up beginning in the late 1990’s.  In researching the numbers this morning, I noted that we had a whopping two counterfeit cases in 1994--my first year as chief.  I also noticed that in the mid-1990’s we had quite a spurt in counterfeit traveler’s checks.  There’s a quaint financial device from a bygone era.  I wonder if there even is such a thing these days, and if so, would a clerk even know what to do if I presented one?

Interestingly, counterfeit bills turn up in Lincoln in virtually all denominations.  On December 17, we collected three $1.00 bills from a customer who used one to buy a drink at Sonic.  My favorite counterfeit bill case, however, dates from 2000 (case number A0-008940).  The suspect used counterfeit bills to post his bond at jail.

Monday, December 27, 2010


Every few years, local governmental agencies pool their resources to buy a new set of aerial orthophotos for Lincoln and Lancaster County.  These don’t come cheap, but by working together, we all get photos that none of us could afford individually.  You will be seeing the new photos in the public web mapping applications in coming weeks.

sowerThis year, Pictometry won the bid, and as part of the project we not only got the orthophotos, but oblique images as well.  Oblique images are shot at an angle.  You may have seen them in Bing Maps, where they are called “Bird’s Eye View.” Our images, however, are at a much finer resolution than the public stuff.  The image at the right is a good example: that’s the Sower atop the Nebraska State Capitol, with the Governor’s Mansion to the right. 

Take a look at this west-facing image of Memorial Stadium.  Note the reverse image in the lower left quadrant of the field: “WOODHOUSE”.  

Now find the plane pulling that banner.  If you’re wondering, this is the University of Nebraska spring game, a scrimmage on April 17, 2010 that drew a crowd of around 65,000.  Not bad for a practice. 

game day

The orthophotos and the oblique images are valuable to LPD in planning special events, dealing with critical incidents, and simply providing a visual of the scene of crimes and incidents we deal with on a daily basis.  These new images are astounding in their quality compared to what was available a few years ago, and it makes one wonder where the future will lead us.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Warm Christmas

If you recall last year, we had quite a blizzard on Christmas Day.  By comparison, it was downright balmy Saturday.  Not quite above freezing, though, as Officer John Winter can attest.  John took a nasty off-duty fall on the icy front steps of his home Christmas morning.  He suffered a head injury that has us all a little scared.  He spent the day in Emergency and ICU, and we are all pulling for him to make a speedy recovery. 

There were a number of contenders for the dumbest act that landed a criminal in jail on Christmas, but my personal nod goes to the arsonist who allegedly lit a rag in the gas filler and tried to blow up his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend’s Camaro shortly after midnight.  A witness saw him sleuthing around, vectored us in for the capture a few blocks away, and the jilted one spent Christmas warm and cozy in the County slammer.  Back when I had to work in the jail on occasion, Christmas dinner was likely to be something like a bologna sandwich with cottage cheese and canned fruit cocktail.  I wonder if the menu has been upgraded in the ensuring decades. The Camaro needs a new paint job, but will recover.  It’s not as easy as you might think to blow up a Chevrolet.

Finally, as in years past, I was the bag-man for some gifts given by a women’s group at a church and the employees of a small retail business.  These two groups sought my assistance in finding a good recipient.  Jody Brott in our Victim/Witness Unit had told me last week about the plight of a domestic violence victim and her teenaged kids.  From Jody’s description, I knew they could really use the help, so I decided this family would be a good match for the generosity of the anonymous donors.  I called the women on her cell phone in advance of the delivery, so no one would be surprised by the police chief banging on the door. She was working on Christmas, though, so I explained my mission.  She was in tears on the phone when I told her what I had in mind, and when I dropped the envelope off to her oldest daughter at the house, she told me that Mom was not only working the swing shift on Christmas, but had worked on Christmas Eve as well. 

You never know how good you have it, until you encounter someone who is struggling mightily against the slings and arrows of life.  I hope the kindness of strangers warms Christmas a little bit for this family.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Silver Bullet

This turned out to be way more fun than I anticipated.  The correct answer is more obvious from the photo below.  The silver object is one of two items in LPD lore known as "the silver bullet."  It is accompanied by the orange wand into which the flashlight fit for convenient carry on a belt ring, then deployed over the lens for traffic direction at night. How many officers inadvertently launched one of these friction-fit orange cones down the street while waving their flashlight a little too vigorously while directing traffic at a UNL football game, basketball games, or the Nebraska State Fair?  About the same number who rattled their teeth when their whistle chain caught on a ballpoint pen or badge.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Recognize this?

There will be a couple hundred people who instantly recognize the objects in this photo—part of my occasional series on identifying certain objects of interest.  It is remarkable that these two objects have survived.  One belongs to Assistant Chief Jim Peschong, the other to Information Systems Manager Clair Lindquist.  Keep in mind before you post that I moderate all comments.  Stay classy.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

When at Mom’s…

I woke up yesterday morning and checked the inbox, where I found a new comment, left last night on a blog post I wrote way back on April 11, 2007—my second day of blogging.  I figured the reader must have been looking at that post when he decided to ask a question. 

I responded, but he must have lost track of where he had left the comment, because he called me yesterday afternoon to ask the same question and seek my opinion.  Here’s the exchange we had online, which pretty much mirrors our telephone conversation.  Very nice young man, and I think he will follow my advice.  When at Mom’s is the same as When in Rome.
Anonymous said...

Hi Chief. I'm sorry if this is the wrong place to ask this, but I am an 18-year-old who moved to college recently. I am home over Christmas Break, and my mother is trying to enforce a 12:00 curfew on me. It's embarrassing and cuts off a lot of my ability to hang out with friends. I see your statistic about DWIs by hour, and although they peak closer to 2:00, if I am driving sober, would a 2:00 curfew involve enough more of a risk to me to warrant the 12:00 curfew?

Tom Casady said...
If you are 18 and no longer living at home, bedtime is your own business. However, as a basic matter of politeness, a guest in someone else's home should always endeavor to abide by the "house rules.". Your mother probably doesn't want to lay awake tossing and turning until she hears the door at 2:00 am. You should respect her wishes.
And yes, the risk is greater at 2:00 am then at midnight.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Big night

I mentioned a week ago that we had a pretty big night for DWI arrests on Friday, December 10th, with a total of 10 drunk driving arrests.  That’s a pretty productive night, but it can’t hold a candle to the day before yesterday. On Saturday, December 18, LPD officers arrested 17 drunk drivers.  That’s the biggest number of arrests on a single day in 2010.

As I have often told our officers, there is nothing a police officer does that has a more immediate impact on public safety than arresting a drunk driver.  Great job, night shift officers, on another weekend of life-saving work!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Time of the crime

I have been promising the news media that I would provide some data eventually on the impact of the change in the mandatory bar closing time in Lincoln from 1:00 AM to 2:00 AM.  This change became effective on Sept. 17, and more time will need to pass before we can draw any firm conclusion. 

Nonetheless, I took my first stab at analyzing data yesterday, by looking at the time profile of DWI cases before and after the change.  The first graph (blue) below presents the time distribution of DWI cases in the (not quite) three months since the change was made, the second (red) shows the distribution during the same period last year, and the third (orange) shows the three months in 2010 immediately prior to the change. 

I wouldn’t make much of the difference in the overall numbers, since DWI enforcement is heavily influenced by the available time of officers and by the weather.  I do, however, think the time profile is interesting.  In comparing the past three months with a 2:00 AM close to both the preceding three months, and to the same period last year, it is evident that the peak has moved to the hour-of-power: now 2:00 AM to 3:00 AM for drunk driving.  Moreover, this preliminary look at the data shows that the peak now stretches over a two hour period from 1:00 AM to 3:00 AM.  It will be interesting to see if this observation holds as more data is accumulated over time.

Anecdotally, officers tell me that the intensity of bar break seems to be a little less this year with the later closing time. This may mean that the exodus spreads over a longer time period. Mind you, 2:00 AM bar break downtown on weekends is still a sight to behold, but perhaps not quite as crazy as 1:00 AM bar break would have appeared in previous years.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Missing mailbox

I warned a couple of weeks ago that thefts of mail sometimes happen during the season when the daily delivery might contain a gift card or a five-spot from Granny.  But never did I dream that this one would occur:


Monday, December 13, 2010

The Sower

Atop Nebraska’s unique State Capital resides The Sower, a 19 foot tall statue of a pioneer flinging seed across the prairie.  A local philanthropic and fraternal organization, the Sowers, takes its name from this iconic statue.

Every year for at least the past 17 that I know of, the Sowers have included the Lincoln Police Department in their philanthropy.  I have had the honor of representing the many recipients of their donations with a few remarks at their annual dinner for many years. 

Friday night, I told the Sowers how important it is for women and men of our generation to pass on to those who follow us the great rewards in life they may otherwise miss: the taste of a thin-cut pork chop brown and crisp; the succulence of a slow-cooked, bone-in chuck roast; the dawn over the Platte River at the Overton exit in late March; and the feeling of giving—passing on to others a portion of the gifts we have received, sharing the bounty of life with others. 

The Sowers, apart from supporting dozens of other organizations with millions of dollars over the decades, bestowed a gift of $1,000 Friday night to one of my favorite charities, Santa Cop.  In addition, the members festooned a Christmas Tree in the banquet hall with cash (who says money doesn’t grow on trees?) to the tune of an additional $1,200.

Social, fraternal, and philanthropic clubs have fallen on hard times in an age of air conditioning, 24-hour television, and the Internet.  The Sowers, however, buck the trend, and continue to be a vibrant force for good in Lincoln, connecting members one-and-one, and making a difference in our world.  Thanks you, Sowers, for your contribution!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Ten last night

Ten drunk drivers arrested Thursday night/Friday morning. That's a big number for a weekday--or for any day at all, for that matter. December is the month that leads the year, mainly due to the extra focus we give DWI during this season. Be careful out there....

Thursday, December 9, 2010

How about this one?

Since everyone enjoyed the 1975 pre-test so much on Tuesday, let's try this object:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

He has seniority

Reading reports yesterday morning, I came across a disturbance arrest by Officer Jake Dilsaver. I chuckled over this excerpt from the report, in which the defendant asserts his seniority:
"At detox he was uncooperative with myself and staff, and insulting
toward everyone. The defendant tested .245 BAC, substantiating my concern
for his level of intoxication. The defendant was sure he would be getting
his citation dismissed since he had been a criminal far longer than I had
been a police officer."

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Identify this

Monday, December 6, 2010

Seems to be working

Lincoln's City Council passed a new alarm ordinance that became effective on July 1.  The ordinance establishes an enhanced fee structure for repeat false alarms during a two year period.  The intent of the ordinance was to reduce false alarms.  Through the end of November in 2010, our officers have responded to 2,583 false alarms.  During the same period in 2009, we responded to 2,917 false alarms a reduction of 11%, and its picked up steam since the ordinance went into effect.

The decrease is being driven by repeat false alarms.  In 2009, there were 281 premises with three or more false alarms in the first 11 months, and they accounted for 1,301 of the false alarms.  In 2010 that number has fallen to 218 premises, accounting for 985 alarms.  This is exactly what the ordinance sought to accomplish, and I suspect the results will improve even further with time.

The alarm trend has been good since our peak year of 2002.  During the first 11 months of 2002, we responded to 4,354 false alarms--almost 1,800 more than we have rolled on from January through November this year  When you consider that each of those false alarms requires at least two units, that's a huge impact over time.  During the first 11 months of that peak year of 2002, we had 483 premises with three or more false alarms, accounting for 2,771 of the total false alarms.  So the repeat false alarms in 2010 are well under half the 2002 level.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Weapon identification

One of our officers made an interesting concealed weapons arrest this week involving an unusual weapon which was found on the person of the defendant. The story  piqued the interest of the reporters later at the daily media briefing, and resulted in a few stories. During lineup on Tuesday morning Capt. Jim Davidsaver briefed officers on this case and described the man has been armed with this mace. As lineup concluded, I asked him this question: "What is the difference between a mace and a flail?" It was a rhetorical question. I already knew the answer.

The distinction between the two is this: a mace is a fixed club with some kind of striking head, often with flanges, knobs, spikes or protrusions of some sort.    The spiked variety may also be correctly referred to as a morning star.  A flail, on the other hand, combines a handle and a striker by means of a flexible connection such as a hinge or chain. The object above is a flail, not a mace. The object on the right is an example of a mace.

You know how gun aficionados cringe when someone refers to a semi-automatic rifle as an automatic weapon? This is the same kind of error in medieval weaponry. I hate to be a stickler, but by pointing this out the, perhaps I can prevent someone in the future confusing a catapult with a trebuchet.

Here endeth the lesson.  I shall now remove my tongue from my cheek.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Second wind

I've had the opportunity to work with an lot of great colleagues during my carer, one of whom was Officer John Winkler. John was a member of my unit when I was a young lieutenant commanding the department's juvenile unit. He had a terrific ability to relate to kids, and I depended on to investigate the most serious crimes against children, and to guide hundreds, perhaps thousands, of youngsters who ran afoul of the law. John left LPD in 1991 to pursue business ventures, after 21 years on the force.

John was a good-looking guy and incredibly fit. When we worked together he must have been one of Lincoln's most eligible bachelors. But I remember how star-struck he was when he met his future wife, Debbie, and how excited he was when he became a dad a few years later. During the 1980's he and I were members of the same running and cycling group that trained together. We spent a lot of hours on the trail and in the saddle. Not that I was in his league, though. Apart from his several marathons, John completed one of the early Ironman Triathlons. That's not just a triathlon, mind you, it is The Ironman: a 2.4 mile open water ocean swim, followed by a 112 mile bike race across the black lava of Oahu, followed by a full length marathon--26.2 miles ending in Honolulu.

John passed away yesterday, far to young. Those of us who knew him will miss his wit and his friendship. My heart goes out to Debbie and to John's family, and I hope they are comforted by the knowledge that he had such a positive impact on so many kids whose lives he touched, something I had the privilege to witness on many occasions. God's speed, John, as you pass one finish line, grab your second wind, and head for the next event.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Delivery intercepted

Continuing on yesterday’s subject of holiday thefts, there is another type of crime that we have been seeing in recent years: intercepted delivery of the United States mail.  Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, a lot of grandmas send that card containing a five spot or a gift card.  During the past few years, we have had several cases where mail was stolen from curbside boxes, probably by thieves hoping to score a gift card or cash.  My guess is that there were many more of these offenses that went undetected and unreported. 

Make those gifts in person if you can, check to make sure the recipient actually received the card, and help us keep an eye out for anyone fooling around your neighbor’s mailbox.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Parcel security

Officer Steve Standley, a skilled veteran of 36 years, has intitiated a problem-oriented policing (POP) project aimed at a crime type that surfaced last year: theft of parcel deliveries.  In Steve's Southeast Lincoln team area alone, there was a loss of goods valued at over $5,000 during the holiday season in 2009.  The M.O. is pretty straightforward: the thieves watch the courier make a delivery, then sneak up and snatch the parcel off the porch or patio.

Creating more awareness of this crime is part of Steve's strategy.  Yesterday, he alerted his fellow officers to be on the look out for anyone lurking in a residential neighborhood while FedEx and UPS drivers are making their rounds.  He's especially interested in anyone who might be parked in a car or idling at the curb a block or so down the street as a delivery is made. 

Today, he has enlisted my help to spread this same word to the general public. You are our eyes and ears.  There are only 321 of us, but there are 255,000 residents in Lincoln, who are far more likely to spot this kind of suspicious behavior.  If you are retired, a stay-at-home parent, or a shift worker who is around the house during the daytime, you are a particularly valuable crime prevention asset right now.  These deliveries are almost always between 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM, and that's when the snatches occur. 

Keep your eyes peeled, and please call us ASAP if you see anything that looks like a parcel theft, surveillance of a delivery, or anything else that appears odd.  It could be the set up to one of these thefts.  Don't worry about bothering us, and don't hesitate because of uncertainty--we'll check it out, and if there is a legitimate explanation, no harm has been done. 

Good luck, Steve.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Peaks in summer

A local member of the news media was aiming to do a story about the uptick in domestic violence that accompanies the holiday season.  It is a topic I’ve blogged about before.  The assumption underlying this reporter's story idea is a myth.  Contrary to popular belief, domestic violence (like most crime) actually peaks during the middle of summer.  Here’s the monthly breakdown on 15,134 domestic assaults in Lincoln over the past decade:


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dramatic improvement

Fifteen years ago my boss, Mayor Mike Johanns (now Senator Johanns) decided to commit some City resources and time to a project to improve the community’s response to domestic violence.  In collaboration with several stakeholders, the Family Violence Council was formed, following a year of strategic planning. 

Earlier this month, the director of the FVC, Bob Moyer, was among the testifiers at the public hearing held by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies regarding the Lincoln Police Department’s application for reaccreditation.  Mr. Moyer testified about the police department’s partnership with other organizations in the community on a variety of strategies to improve the response to domestic violence. 

During his testimony, Bob presented some statistics that were really rather mind-boggling.  I’ve watched them from year to year, but to look back over the life of the Family Violence Council is quite a different perspective.  Here’s a snapshot of some of that data:

Dual arrests17641
Percent of arrests being custodial arrests43%77%
Number of repeat offenders19657
Number of offenses committed by repeat offenders324103
Number of offenders committing 4 or more offenses in year244
Number of perpetrators ordered into intervention programs0465
Number of perpetrators sentenced to jail126318

This reflects a remarkable accomplishment in combatting violent crime in the City of Lincoln.  Consider that during this same time period, the population of the City has increased by about 47,000 and the change becomes even more dramatic.  While the police department did not cause this effect, we were a critical component in the improved community response that led to these results, and this is something we can all be proud of.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Online research revealing

A comment was posted at 10:40 AM yesterday on my blog post from Friday.  It had nothing to do with Friday's topic, but was an interesting question demonstrating that the reader has mastered the art of online research.  I will repeat the comment here to save you a couple clicks:


Here's an unrelated, but timely, item of information tangential to a current suspect. The prostitution charge seems minor, at least in contrast to this earlier conviction. Since most accessory to murder convictions were most likely reduced from a stiffer charge, I bet there's a story behind that one."

Indeed, there is a story, and I suspect the reader who made the comment knows more about the underlying crime than he or she reveals.  The reader has made good use of a simple Google search, combined with an inquiry into the public inmate locator maintained by the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services.  I suspect that the reader who posted the comment knows more than he or she lets on, because the basic details of the conviction that landed her and others in prison are not hard to find

My, how the world has changed.  There is no place to hide.

Friday, November 19, 2010

If you wore a gray shirt…

…then you ought to be able to describe these phrases:
  • time…time…time…time
  • 40 – 40
  • Motor 8½
  • Car 25
  • 842
  • Dime check
You also ought to know these people:
  • Topper
  • Pappy
  • Crash
  • Uncle Neil
  • Hardrock
  • Clean Gene
  • Boo Boo

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Things you haven’t seen

Okay, here’s another one many officers would not recognize. You might have found this on a Pinto, a Pacer, or a Vega.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010


During yesterday's staff meeting one of our senior members of the management staff blurted out "KAB463" as we were discussing the rather interesting adaptations required by some of our officers when we reverted to a less computer-based way of doing business for a time during the upgrade to the City Communications Center's computer-aided dispatch system.

So, what is KAB463, a phrase burned into the cerebral cortex of all of our personnel with employee numbers less than _____?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

LPD unplugged

If you’ve read the Chief’s Corner for any length of time, you realize that information technology is deeply embedded in the operations of the Lincoln Police Department. We depend on our information resources in a number of ways, but much of it begins with dispatch information.

Decades ago, when someone called the police, a call-taker wrote the pertinent details down on a card, that went into a conveyer belt that transported it to a dispatcher, who picked it up, assigned an officer, stamped it with the time and case number, and stuck it in a slot.  This was all computerized in the early 1990’s, when the City’s Communications Center replaced this manual process with a computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system. 

Today, the electronic dispatch records feed our records management system, pre-populate our online reports, and are transmitted electronically to the officers’ mobile data computers in the patrol cars.  Veteran officers like me will still catch themselves from time to time referring to the dispatch record as a dispatch card, which makes about as much sense as calling a digital image displayed on an LCD monitor a slide. 

The computer-aided dispatch system was due for a hardware and software replacement this year, and the switch over was scheduled for 4:00 AM this past Sunday, and expected to take at least 24 hours.  Killing CAD would also knock out our interface to our mobile data system, and the interface to our Records Management System.  As a result, there would be a period of time where police employees would need to revert to an earlier tool in order to document their cases:  the pen and pad of paper. 

Rather than looking at this switchover as an obstacle, I looked at it as an opportunity to practice police work with part of our information intrastructure crippled.  By reminding ourselves from time to time that all you really need to do police work is a writing instrument, we will be better prepared, organizationally, in the event of anything from an massive snow storm to an EMP event.   Think of it as an exercise to test our resilience, just like you might fire up the emergency generator, or move to the backup facility temporarily.  When you exercise these plans, you increase the likelihood that you will be able to do so if the real need arises. 

The changeover is going about as planned, but has included the inevitable unplanned twists and turns.  We have weathered it just fine, though, and a large group of police officers who have never actually dialed a phone (nor hung one up) learned that LPD can continue to work pretty well unplugged.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Onsite complete

We have applied for our sixth accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA).  We were first accredited in 1989.  The accreditation cycle is three years and we were last reaccredited in 2008, so if we achieve reaccreditation it will be awarded in the first quarter of 2011. 

The review occurs in two parts: a desk review, in which assessors pore over all the documents that demonstrate our compliance, and a site review in which a team of assessors visits the agencies and looks under the hood.  Our site team was here this week.  the assessors have extensive backgrounds in policing, they have a good frame of reference for comparing us with the rest of the policing field.

A public hearing was held Monday night for CALEA to accept comments concerning our application for reaccreditation.  Testifiers could also call in comments on a hotline during the afternoon.  The testifiers spoke about the quality of our work with other agencies, with the homeless, with victims of sexual assault, with chronic alcoholics, and with domestic violence victims.  The Chief Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court was among testifiers who phoned in comments to the assessment team.

The exit interview with the assessors before they departed was a button-buster.  To say that they were impressed would be an understatement.  They specifically mentioned the quality of our personnel, our facilities, the apparent quality of our relationship with citizens and with other governmental and community organizations, and our information technology.  The daily news meeting briefing and lineup both were singled out for special mention, too.  The praise was glowing, and a prelude to what I expect with be smooth sailing when the full commission hears the team’s report early next year.

I am incredibly proud to serve as Lincoln’s police chief.  The opportunity to work with the women and men who share this mission to provide police services that promote a safe and secure community is immensely fulfilling.  Special thanks is due to our own accreditation team, who handle this in addition to their many other duties: Capt. Joy Citta, Sgt. Don Scheinost, and Officer Katie Flood. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tactical hat

Most Lincoln police officers of my vintage are predisposed to dislike their uniform hat.  I think the reason for this is that we were forced to wear them when we were rookies—all the time.  Get caught with a bare head, and some form of punishment would be meted out, wildly disproportionate to the violation.  As a result, the eight-point police cap came to be a symbol of the boot of management pressed against the neck of the proletariat. 

For the most part, LPD officers were relieved when our new chief made the hat optional in the late 1970’s, except for weddings, wakes, funerals, and football.  I was a bit of a holdout, along with a handful of others, who carried my hat and wore it from time to time even after it was optional.  Although it provided little protection, it was still better than nothing for an easily-burned redhead like me (yes, I once had hair).   The bill helped shade my sun-sensitive eyes, and at 5’9” (just a smidgen taller than the Sheriff, I like to claim), I also appreciated the perception of a couple extra inches in some circumstances.

So, as something of a hat holdout, I was impressed last week when I watched a video of our patrol officers in the flotsam and jetsam of bar break downtown on a weekend night.  What is that—a whole squad in hats?  Joe Carroll would approve.  The video made evident why several of our officers have recently decided to sport their hats at certain times.  You had no trouble seeing one another in the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd.   I would deem that a wise tactical move.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Demise of cursive

A couple weeks ago, I was the entertainment for the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Face the Chamber.  I’m normally invited once a year, when the list of more interesting topics has been exhausted.  It is an event I always look forward to, as the room at the Lincoln Country Club is always filled with movers and shakers, opinion leaders and muckity mucks. 

My topic this year was the changing paradigm in policing, as we move away from the style of policing that has dominated the past 80 years: patrol.  Patrol, in modern police parlance, is a system of delivering police service that relies upon citizens using telephones to call the police, the police being radio dispatched to respond to these calls.  In between these calls, patrol involves driving around aimlessly burning fossil fuel waiting for the next call.

I explained to the Chamber why I believe this era of policing is rapidly drawing to a close, and I told them about the style of policing that I think will replace it.  In making my point, I asked the audience to think about three things that have changed in the very recent past.  The change has been remarkable, and we hardly even notice until we think about it. 

First, personal navigation.  A few years ago, your local Phillips 66 station gave out complimentary road maps. That’s how you found your way to Duluth or Joplin.  Folding the map back up was an exercise in the art of Origami, and would confound most 30 year olds today.  Personal navigation has been transformed by the Garmin, the GPS-enabled cell phone, the on-board navigation system, and by MapQuest, Google Maps, and Yahoo Maps. 

Second, digital photography.  I can barely remember the Photomat.  It wasn’t that long ago that the back counter at Walgreen’s was lined with envelopes of prints returned from film processing.  When we opened our new police headquarters in 2000, it had a nicely-equipped darkroom—which has never been used and today is a storage room.  The world of photography shifted beneath our feet, and it did so incredibly quickly.

Third, handwriting.  Not long ago, we gave very little children very large pencils (what’s the deal with that?) and politically incorrect Chief tablets upon which to practice their penmanship.  By third grade, they were learning cursive.  When is the last time you wrote anything in cursive, other than your signature?  If you’re like me, it’s been a good long while.  I can no longer write in cursive without an incredible effort, and Mrs. Hogan would scowl at the scrawl I produce as an adult.  The demise of cursive, however, has hardly brought about the fall of western civilization.

I can think of many more examples, but the point is this:  change happens.  It happens radically or subtlety, gradually or quickly, but it is an inexorable.  He who adapts to change thrives.  He who resists change withers. 

Friday, November 5, 2010


Doggonit, I failed to follow my own rule, and paid the price. During the wee hours of the morning yesterday, my neighborhood was nailed by a vandalism spree. The morons responsible for these crimes drove around smashing car windows with a golf club, or something similar.  We’ve had about 45 of these reported.  The numbskulls responsible for this spree may have been driving a light colored (gray, silver, beige?) Chevy Cavalier with a loud exhaust. 

After scrupulously parking my old pickup up in the driveway for the days around Halloween, I left it in the street Wednesday night.  My standard  advice has always been to get your vehicles into the drive as much as you can, because they are much less likely to be targets for vandalism or theft. 

I was watching the news on our local ABC affiliate, KLKN, when they ran this story last night. That’s my pickup they recorded for the B-roll.  Apparently someone went out to collect a little video, and found my truck on the street before I could get home and clean up the mess.  Bet the reporter wishes she had known that was the police chief’s Chevy.

I sure wish I had heeded my own advice on Thursday.  That would have saved me about $400, an hour of cleanup, and a headache.  Dagnabit.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

One of many

By the way, Monday's drunk driver dressed as a breathalyzer wasn't the only DWI arrest over the Halloween weekend.  From midnight on Friday to 0500 hours on Monday, there were a total of 26 drunk driving arrests.  That's a pretty hefty number for a single weekend. Nor was he the only drunk driver in costume.  He was joined at the detox center by a French maid and a naughty border patrol agent. 

Monday, November 1, 2010

I'm predicting this

In the past year, I have blogged a few times about the concept of predictive policing: using data and information to get out in front of crime and disorder--hopefully with a prevention or early intervention strategy.  It is a way of thinking that comes pretty naturally to Lincoln police employees, who have been immersed in information and involved in proactive policing for a good long while.

Early last week, I was representing the International Association of Crime Analysts (IACA) by helping to staff their exhibit at the huge annual police chiefs' chiefs conference.  Although I wasn't planning on making any presentations at the conference, I was pressed into service at the last minute by a colleague from Arlington, Texas: Jim Mallard.  Jim supervises the Crime Analysis Unit at the Arlington PD, and he was scheduled for one of the principal presentations at the conference, along with Chief T. Bowman.  Chief Bowman had been delayed in Arlington in the aftermath of the Texas Ranger's league championship.  How would you like to have the Super Bowl and the World Series in your City during the same year?

I was happy to fill in.  Fortunately I have been writing about predictive policing lately, so I had some thoughts in mind, and all went well.  You can read a little bit about the session Jim and I presented here. The session was interpreted live in several languages, and I'm hoping that some of the colloquialisms I used mad sense in Spanish, French, and Portuguese.  I got a good laugh recently when I used the phrase "madder than a wet hen", which I incorrectly thought was a pretty universal expression. 

Back to Chief Bowman:  I encountered him several weeks ago working email, reading documents, surfing the web, checking the news, and keeping in touch with the office via an Apple iPad tethered to a Sprint Overdrive.  He's the first chief I've seen managing his communications with an iPad, just like me. I'm predicting this in policing: the tablet computer is going to overtake current police mobile data computers rather quickly.  It is a natural for police officers, and makes more sense than the hardened docked laptops that presently rule the transmission hump.  Give me a vehicle docking solution for the iPad and a grab-and-go case with a hand strap, and the tablet makes perfect sense for police officers who are in and out of vehicles and buildings all day long.  It won't be too long before the vendors of police mobile data applications figure this out and design their products for this form factor.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Protect your pumpkin

No, this isn't a warning about the controversy du jour regarding helmet-to-helmet hits in college and professional football.  Rather, it is my annual warning about the upswing in gourd-related offenses.  It's already started, and the mailboxes, rear view mirrors and car windows are my chief concern.  If you leave the ammo out on your front stoop, you shouldn't be entirely surprised when the vandals take advantage of it.  But the $50 destruction of your mailbox by a pumpkin tossed from a passing car, or a couple hundred for your rear windshield is another matter.  That's a significant crime. 

The chances of catching a pumpkin flinging Grand Am are slim.  The chances that the juvenile offenders will suffer an appropriate consequence and that the victims will be made whole is even slimmer.  Thus, prevention is the key.  The formula is pretty simple.  Protect your pumpkins.  Not so much from theft, but from use to destroy your neighbor's property.  Pull them inside off the steps for the next few nights as you are double checking your garage door.  While your at it, move your daughter's car from the street into the driveway.  Yes, I know you'll have to move it again so you can get out to go to work in the morning, but please indulge me for just a few days.  You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Many other crimes

Choosing Lincoln's ten most infamous crimes was a challenge.  Although the top two were easy, the picture quickly became clouded.  We tend, of course, to forget our history rather quickly. Many of the crimes I felt were among the most significant are barely remembered today, if not completely forgotten.

Some readers will take issue with my list.  Several comments have mentioned other crimes that were certainly major events in the City.  In choosing ten, here are the others I considered, in no particular order.  They are all murders:

Mary O'Shea
Nancy Parker
Charles Mulholland
Victoria Lamm and Janet Mesner
Martina McMenamin
Regina Bos (presumably murdered)
Patty Webb
Marianne Mitzner

I also thought about the five murder-suicides in which a mother or father killed multiple family members before taking their own life. Though tragic, these crimes did not command the same kind of attention as the others, perhaps because there was no lengthy investigation, no tantalizing whodunit, no stranger-killer, nor any of the details that come out in the coverage of a major trial.

The Sereies:

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Number 1: Starkweather

The subject of several thinly-disguised movie plots and a Springsteen album, the Starkweather murders are clearly the most infamous crime in Lincoln’s history—so far.  One of the first mass murderers of the mass media age, six of Starkweather’s 11 victims were killed inside the City of Lincoln, and the first was just on the outskirts of town.  I didn’t live in Lincoln at the time, but my wife was a first grader at Riley Elementary School, and has vivid memories of the City gripped by fear in the days between the discovery of the Bartlett murders and Starkweather’s capture in Wyoming.

The case caused quite an uproar.  There was intense criticism of the police department and sheriff’s office for not capturing Starkweather earlier in the week after the discovery of the Bartlett’s robinson reportbodies.  Ultimately, Mayor Bennett Martin, and the County Board of Commissioners retained a retired FBI agent, Harold G. Robinson, to investigate the performance of local law enforcement.  His report essentially exonerated the local law officers, and made a few vanilla recommendations for improving inter-agency communication and training.  A faded copy resides in my desk drawer, passed down through five chiefs.

Now I know that many readers are mumbling to themselves “how obvious.” Hold your horses, though.  It’s not quite as obvious as you might think.  I recently had two experiences that drove this fact home to me.  The first was a visit by a small group of journalism students.  Only one member of the class had any idea, and her idea was pretty vague.  You need to remember that the Starkweather murders were in 1957 and 1958—before the parents of many college students were even born. 

The second experience was a visit by a Cub Scout den.  I was giving the kids a tour of the police station one evening.  We were in the front lobby waiting for everyone to arrive.  As I entertained the boys, I told the moms and dads that they might enjoy a small display in the corner of the Sheriff’s Office display case: the contents of Starkweather’s wallet—discovered a couple years ago locked up in the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office safe.  After a few minutes, one of the confused fathers asked me who Starkweather was, and why it was significant.  


The Sereies:

Monday, October 25, 2010

Number 2: Lincoln National Bank

On the morning of September 17, 1930 a dark blue Buick carrying six men pulled up in front of the Lincoln National Bank at the northwest corner of 12th and O Street.  Five of the men entered the bank while a sixth stood outside by the Buick, cradling a machine gun.  Observing the unusual events, a passerby called the police.  The officer who responded, Forrest Shappaugh, was casually instructed by the machine gun toting lookout to just keep going, which he wisely did.   Returning with reinforcements, the robbers had already made good on their getaway, netting $2.7 million in cash and negotiable securities. 

gus_winklerUltimately, three of the six suspects were arrested. Tommy O’Connor and Howard Lee were convicted and sentenced. Jack Britt was tried twice but not convicted by a hung jury. Gus Winkeler, a member of Al Capone’s gang, winged a deal with County Attorney Max Towle to avoid prosecution in exchange for orchestrating the recovery of $600,000 in bearer bonds.  The following year, Winkeler was murdered in Chicago, the victim of a gangland slaying. The final two robbers were never identified.

The Lincoln National Bank robbery stood as the largest cash bank robbery in the United States for many decades.  It precipitated major changes at the Lincoln Police Department.  Chief Peter Johnstone was rapidly “retired” after the robbery, the department’s fleet was upgraded to add the first official patrol cars, the full force was armed, and a shotgun squad was organized.  Forty four years later when I was hired at LPD, the echo of the Lincoln National Bank robbery was still evident in daily bank opening details, and in the Thomspon submachine guns and Reising rifles that detectives grabbed whenever the robbery alarm sounded at headquarters.

The Sereies:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Number 3: The Last Posse

My first inkling about this crime came about 20 years ago, when I was the chief deputy sheriff.  One of my interns, a young man named Ron Boden (now a veteran deputy sheriff), had been doing some research on Lancaster County’s only known lynching, in 1884.  I came across a reference in the biography of the sheriff at the time, Sam Melick, to the murder of the Nebraska Penitentiary warden, and subsequent prison break.  Melick had been appointed interim warden after the murder, and instituted several reforms.

Several years later, a colleague, Sgt. Geoff Marti, loaned me a great book, Gale Christianson’s Last Posse, that told the story of the 1912 prison break in gory, haunting, and glorious detail. 

To make a long story short, convict Shorty Gray and his co-conspirators shot and killed Warden James Delahunty, a deputy warden, and a guard on Wednesday, March 13, 1912.  They then made their break—right into the teeth of a brutal Nebraska spring blizzard.  Over the course to the next few days, a posse pursued.  During the pursuit, the escapees carjacked a young farmer with his team and wagon.  As the posse closed in, a gunfight broke out and the hostage was shot and killed in the exchange, along with two of the three escapees.

There was plenty of anger among the locals in the Gretna-Springfield vicinity about the death of their native son, and a controversy raged over the law enforcement tactics that brought about his demise.  Lancaster County Sheriff Gus Hyers was not unsullied by the inquiry, although it appears from my prospect a century later that the fog of war led to the tragedy.  Hindsight was still 20-20 a century ago.

Christianson, a professor of history at Indiana State University who died earlier this year, notes the following on the flyleaf:
“For anyone living west of the Mississippi in 1912, the biggest news that fateful year was a violent escape from the Nebraska state penitentiary planned and carried out by a trio of notorious robbers and safe blowers.”
Bigger news on half the continent than the sinking of the Titanic during the same year would certainly qualify this murder-escape as one of the most infamous Lincoln crimes in history.

The Sereies:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Number 4: Rock Island wreck

The August 10, 1894 wreck of a Rock Island train on the southwest outskirts of Lincoln was almost lost in the mist of time, until it was resurrected in the public consciousness by author Joel Williamsen, who came across the story while conducting research for his historical novel, Barrelhouse Boys

The wreck was determined to be the result of sabotage to the tracks, perhaps an attempt to derail the train as a prelude to robbery.  Eleven people died in the crash and ensuing fire, making this a mass murder, to be sure.  G. W. Davis was arrested and convicted of the crime, but later received a full pardon.  The story was told in greater detail earlier this year by the Lincoln Journal Star

I snapped this photo of the new historical marker on a beautiful fall afternoon a couple weeks ago.  The marker is along the Rock Island Trail, in Wilderness Park, accessible only by foot or bike from the nearest trail access points about a half mile away at Old Cheney Road on the north, or 14th Street on the south. 


Here’s the big question that remains unanswered: was there really significant evidence to prove that George Washington Davis committed the crime, or was he just a convenient scapegoat?  The fact that he received a gubernatorial pardon ten years later leads me to believe that the evidence must have been unusually weak.  If he was railroaded, then my second question is this: who really pried loose the tracks with the 40 lb. crowbar found at the scene?

The Sereies:

Monday, October 18, 2010

Number 5: Commonwealth

On November 1, 1983, the doors to Nebraska’s largest industrial savings and loan company were closed, as Commonwealth was declared insolvent.  The 6,700 depositors with $65 million dollars at stake would never be fully compensated for their loss, ultimately receiving about 59 cents on the dollar for their deposits, which they all mistakenly believed were insured up to $30,000 through the Nebraska Depository Insurance Guaranty Corporation, which actually was essentially an insurance pool with assets of only $3 million. 

The case dominated Nebraska news for months.  The case and investigation ultimately led to the conviction of three members of the prominent Lincoln family that owned the institution, the resignation of the Director of the State Department of Banking, and the impeachment of the Nebraska Attorney General and the suspension of his license to practice law.  State and Federal ligitagion arising from the failure of Commonwealth drug on for years.

Here at the police department, the Commonwealth failure led to the formation of a specialized white-collar crime detail, now known as the Technical Investigations Unit. At the time, municipal police departments in the United States had virtually no capacity for investigating financial crime and fraud of this magnitude, and we quickly became well known for our expertise in this area.  The early experience served LPD very well in the ensuring years.

The Sereies:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Number 6: Another nightmare

Number 6: Candice Harms

Candi Harms never came home from visiting her boyfriend on September 22, 1992. Her parents reported her as a missing person the following morning, and her car was found abandoned in a corn field north of Lincoln later in the day. Weeks went by before her remains were found southeast of Lincoln.

Scott Barney and Roger Bjorklund were convicted in her abduction and murder. Barney is in prison serving a life term. Bjorklund died in prison in 2001. Intense media attention surrounded the lengthy trial of Roger Bjorklund, for which a jury was brought in from Cheyenne County--as an alternative to a change of venue.  I have no doubt that the trail was a life changing event for a group of good citizens from Sidney, Nebraska who did their civic duty.

I was the Lancaster County Sheriff at the time, involved both in the investigation and in the trial security.  It was at about this time that the cellular telephone was becoming a consumer product, and I have often thought that this brutal crime probably spurred a lot of purchases. During my career, this is probably the second most prominent Lincoln crime in terms of the sheer volume of media coverage.

The Sereies:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Number 7: Worst nightmare

7. Jon Simpson and Jacob Surber

A parent’s worst nightmare unfolded in September, 1975 when these two boys, ages 12 and 13, failed to return from the Nebraska State Fair. The boys were the victims of abduction and murder. The case was similar to a string of other murders of young boys in the midwest, and many thought that these cases were related--the work of a serial killer.  Although an arrest was made in the case here in Lincoln, the charges were eventually dismissed, William Guatney was released, and has since died.

The Sereies: