Thursday, January 28, 2010

Class act

I was a guest speaker last night at Dr. Donnette Noble’s University of Nebraska class, Diversity and Leadership (ALEC 466), at the College of Agriculture on East Campus. I am a frequent guest at a variety of college classes, and I really enjoy talking with students. I was one myself for nearly 10 years, and taught part time at UNL and NWU for another 12, so a pretty good chunk of my life has been spent hanging around campus and jockeying for parking spots.

It was a great class, with engaged students who were willing to participate in a challenging dialog. The primary topic was hate crimes, and I gave them my take on what each of them could do personally to impact the kind of bigotry and hate that rears its ugly head in our community with depressing regularity. A couple of the topics we addressed last night have been here in the Chief’s Corner in the past.

For me, it’s inspiring to see young people tackling subjects that we just don’t talk about much in our culture in a mature, thoughtful manner. One of the reasons I’m an optimist is that I am around students and police recruits enough to realize that the world is going to be in good hands for a good long time to come. Dr. Noble’s class was another class act.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dance if you want

Personally, I normally do so only at weddings, but I have no objection to others who wish to do so on more frequent occasions. Some observers, however, seem to think that I have some sort of vested interest in Lincoln’s ordinances that regulate public dances. I don’t. These ordinances date from the 1930’s, but have been tweaked from time to time—most recently in 1993.

This issue has become a matter on the public agenda lately, due to a campaign by a local club owner to expose the problems he sees with these laws. The rub seems to be the City’s differentiation of public dances from teen public dances. You can’t hold a public dance that overlaps the age groups of 14-18 with the age group of 19 and up, unless it’s a dance without alcohol service, in which case you can admit 18 year olds, or unless the minor is accompanied by a parent or guardian.

One of our city council members sent me an email with a list of questions, one of which was this: “What is the intent of the rule and has it outlived it's time?” My response:

“I wasn't around in the 1930's but I suspect that public dances were occasions where there was a perception of heightened risk for such things as rumbles, unlawful gambling, illegal liquor; underage drinking; kissing, hand-holding and other forms of naughtiness--particularly between adult male ne'er-do-wells and impressionable young people. That is still probably the case. The inspection by [the] Building & Safety [Department] for exits, capacity, lighting, electrical, and other life-safety issues seems to me to be the best reason to require a permit for a public dance--there have been some famous disasters at public dances in our national history--Coconut Grove, the Kansas City Hyatt, and the Station in Warwick, RI, to name a few with particularly large loss of life.”

I’m guessing that the evidence of shenanigans at public dances dates back to the beginning of recorded history. I know what was going on at Teen Canteen in Lincoln when I was in ninth grade, which is pretty close to that time. I doubt it has changed much. Changing the age limits or just repealing the teen dance permit ordinance entirely would have little or no impact on the police department.

Does the thought of your 15 year old daughter grinding with a 24 year old man who’s been drinking bother you? Does it bother you any more or less than if he was a Pepsi-drinking 17 year old? Is it a matter for government to concern itself with? This is a public policy issue for our elected representatives to mull over; it doesn’t impact the police department or me personally, one way or another—because my daughter isn’t 15 any more.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Nice acknowledgement

I’m one of those people who still likes holding the newspaper in my hand. One of my favorite weekly routines is leisurely perusing the Sunday paper in our north-lit living room with a pot of coffee. It’s actually about the only time we ever use the room.

My newspaper habit is fixed: I turn first to the Editorial page, then to the local section, then back to the front page, and wrap up with sports. I suspect that the majority of police chiefs start at the editorial page. This is a highly political and pressure-packed position, whether you’re chief in a big city or a small town.

Yesterday, the lead editorial in the Lincoln Journal Star was focused on the police department. That sentence alone is enough to make most of my colleagues cringe, but this editorial was a compliment, not a criticism. The editorial staff has taken notice of the trend in party disturbances in Lincoln, and was passing on props for the results achieved.

I certainly appreciate the recognition of the department’s work. Specifically, it’s the late-shift officers and sergeants that need to take the deep bow, along with the five Team captains who have worked with landlords, property owners, managers, and in some cases parents. These calls are more than annoying. It is a genuine pain to work your way through a big party, where there is inevitably a handful of obnoxious drunks, a pre-law major who wants to engage in a curbside debate, and a loud mouth whose daddy is personal friends with Chief Cassaday.

It is good to know that the editorial board recognizes the positive impact that this good police work has had on the community in several ways. Thanks!

Monday, January 25, 2010

2009 meth labs

Among other things, Sgt. Mike Basset supervises our clandestine lab team. He sent me a summary of the meth labs located in Lancaster County last year:

For 2009, the Lincoln Metro Clandestine Laboratory Team responded to
and processed six (6) meth lab incidents. Below are the labs worked:

  • A9-017650 Feb 26th, 2009 400 block of N. 44th St. & Wyuka Cemetery; dumpsite with equipment
  • A9-19239 March 3, 2009 900 block of S. 44th St.;equipment with residue
  • A9002144 March 26, 2009 5500 block of Claire Ave.; dumpsite
  • A9-067881 July 14, 2009 West O St. & NW 90th St.; lab in progress
  • A9-117754 November 27-28, 2009 4600 block of Baldwin Ave.; lab in progress
  • A9-124184 December 17th, 2009 2200 block of S. 9th St.; dumpsite glassware with pills

Five persons were arrested in connection with these six lab incidents which is unusual. Meth labs have fallen precipitously in Nebraska since 2004, when we had around 60 in Lancaster County. Although they are encountered less often today, it is still important to have a group of properly trained and equipped personnel who can safely deal with the hazards that labs can present, and can both the collection of evidence and the proper disposal of chemicals. I certainly appreciate the work of the officers and deputies who have volunteered to serve in this capacity.

On a related note, like many police chiefs and sheriffs, I have a small collection of photos of meth addicts taken at two different time intervals, showing the devastating impact the chronic abuse of this drug has upon some addicts. The Partnership for a Drug Free America maintains a website devoted to this phenomenon. Yesterday, a friend who has seen my collection sent me a link to this NPR program that ran on Sunday. I had the same idea a few years ago, but it looks like Mendocino County (CA) Sheriff Tom Allman actually acted upon it, and found a company to produce the software.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Welcome aboard, Dexter

Officer Nikki Loos has a newly-certified partner, Dexter. He’s a good looking youngster, don’t you think?

Dexter 3

And Dexter, give a welcoming bark to the 18 new police recruits that started their training in our police academy yesterday.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Choropleth map

A choropleth map is one in which polygons (such as census tracts, zip codes, states, etc.) are shaded in hues that correspond with the density of some phenomenon within each polygon. They are frequently used to display demographic data, and often used for crime data within such polygons as police districts, census tracts, and so forth. I don’t use them very often myself for some complex GIS-geek reasons, but you’ll find a couple of examples in the Chief’s Corner of choropleth maps.

I received an email yesterday from Mike Behm, the director of the Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice (AKA the Crime Commission). Mike was letting the police community in Nebraska know that the Commission has launched a new application that generates a choropleth map of Nebraska’s 93 counties, based on either the offense rate or arrest rate. chormap

Like LPD, the Crime Commission has some good web-based tools for generating your own tables and statistics from the data that it collects. This mapping application is a nice addition to their offerings.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Thanks, Jim

One of the most well-known Lincoln police officers, Capt. Jim Thoms, retired last week after 37 years on the force. He was often the person interviewed at the scene and quoted by reporters. Jim spent 31 of his 37 years as a supervisor at the rank of sergeant and captain, so a large percentage of the officers on the department worked for him at one time or another. At his reception on Friday, I mentioned that there are 177 Lincoln police officers who weren’t even born on the day he first pinned on the badge.

Jim was a motor officer when I joined LPD. He was promoted early, and supervised many squads of street officers for a good long time. In the mid-1990’s I had the opportunity to promote him to the rank of captain, where he has been in charge of field operations during his shift as one of our duty commanders. He has also coordinated all our emergency preparedness activities, a job that took on new importance in the past decade.

I've admired the enjoyment he takes his work. Jim Thoms bleeds LPD blue: he loves this place, he enjoys his coworkers, he relishes the opportunity to solve a problem, help someone out, and make a difference. On his last day, he was having as much fun as on his first. I have enjoyed working with him tremendously. Jim Thoms always practiced the Golden Rule policing that I so frequently talk to new police recruits about. He has modeled it for scores of officers who have been fortunate to work for him.

Jim likes to pretend that he walked five miles to school everyday, uphill in both directions, after milking the cows, slopping the hogs, cleaning out the chicken coop, and pitching 60 bales of hay. He also likes to pretend that he is old-school, and eschews technology. It doesn’t work, but it’s a funny shtick. I came to work one day a couple years ago, and he was wearing this memory stick on a lanyard around his neck. He signed it and gave it to me as a memento last week.

Thanks, Jim, for all you have done for the department, your fellow officers, and the citizens of Lincoln. You are a charming man. Enjoy your retirement!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Statewide crime prediction

Friday's release of Lincoln's 2009 crime stats took place earlier in the year than in most other cities. We normally have our UCR crime reports wrapped up by the middle of the month, so we are ready pretty early. The national data all has to be compiled. The FBI's annual compendium of Uniform Crime Report data, Crime in the United States, generally isn't published until the fall.

In Nebraska, the Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice sends the local UCR data on to the FBI, and also publishes its own statewide report, cleverly titled Crime in Nebraska. Like the FBI, the Nebraska Commission of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice publishes the report online. It also has a very slick application which allows you to plug in various parameters and create your own statistical reports. The Nebraska report will be out this spring or summer.

In the meantime, I am predicting that statewide crime in Nebraska will fall in 2009. My prognostication is that the decline will be slightly more than 3% overall. Auto theft and aggravated assaults will fall significantly, while there will be a slight uptick in burglary, and reported rapes will increase by around 10%. This prediction sounds pretty similar to what we already know from Lincoln's data.

Omaha hasn't released its end-of-year crime data for 2009 yet, but the data for the first 11 months are published on their public web site. The pattern looks very similar to Lincoln. December's rotten weather would almost guarantee low crime during the 12th month, so I doubt the year end percentages in Omaha will change much in any of the crime categories.

If the crime data for Lincoln and Omaha are similar, it's a pretty good bet that the Statewide data will reflect the same trend, since these two cities together comprise about 39% of the State's population. Lincoln is 14%, Omaha 25%. Later this year, we can see if my projection proves accurate.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Updated by request

An update of this graph, by request from a comment on Friday's blog post:

Friday, January 15, 2010

Crime stats for 2009

We have wrapped up our crime statistics for the 2009 calendar year. The Mayor and I will be releasing these later this morning. These data will be the FBI Part 1 crimes:

  • Murder and non-negligent homicide
  • Forcible Rape
  • Aggravated Assault
  • Robbery
  • Burglary
  • Auto Theft
  • Larceny Theft

The first three are the violent Part 1 offenses, while the last three are the property Part 1 offenses. Since Larceny-Theft comprises almost 75% of the total, small changes in that crime's frequency can overwhelm large changes in the more uncommon offenses, such as murder or rape. When the total number of offenses is small, year-to-year fluctuations are accentuated even by small numerical differences. These data are only crimes reported to the police. Many crimes go unreported, so changes in reporting practices or habits can influence that data. I know of nothing during 2009 that would have been likely to cause any significant changes in reporting rates, however.

Overall, the trend of declining crime in Lincoln continued in 2009. I always think it is best to look at a decade or more, though, before drawing any conclusions about trends. Lincoln's crime rate peaked in 1991, so that makes a good watershed for examining the long-term patterns. I will be using a few slides to present the data at a 0900 news conference this morning. The embedded version below has some issues with fonts I can't quite figure out, but there is a good .pdf file available here.

The slides concerning individual crime types are all the actual number of offenses. The slide with the stacked bar for violent crime and property crime is crime rates: the number of crimes divided by the population. Since Lincoln's population has been growing rather steadily since 1991, while the number of crimes has fallen, the decline in the crime rate has been quite significant: 20% for violent Part 1 crimes, 46% for property Part 1 crimes, and 44% overall.

Although these data reflect a national trend of declining crime, Lincoln has fallen considerably further and more consistently than the United States as a whole. Everything I've said before about how our work contributes to this still stands. Follow the tags in my label cloud to Stats, Crime, Kudos, POP, Crime Analysis, or Crime Prevention and you will see plenty of examples of police work empowered by a great work ethic at LPD, a penchant for analysis and a focus on results.

Take a bow, LPD employees!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

More false reports

As previously noted, we’ve got enough to do without people making stuff up and lying through their teeth. Two robberies in the past few days have proven to be fabrications. In the first, the victim claimed that she stepped outside around 9:15 PM for a smoke, when a suspect abducted her at knife point, forced her to drive to an ATM, and withdraw money that he took from her. That was easy. Didn’t happen. The plot and the suspect description was suspiciously similar to a segment that ran on an episode of a television show immediately prior to the victim reporting the non-crime.

In the second, two victim claimed that she was just walking down an alleyway at 2:10 AM on Sunday morning, when three total strangers accosted her at knife point, relieved her of $350 cash, then jumped into a car drove away. Turns out that only one of the victims was present as the event unfolded. She had arranged to meet a friend, who was going to take her money and buy some marijuana for her. He took the money, alright, but beat feet with the cash instead of completing the transaction. The “victim” is now a defendant.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sex offender changes

In between all the usual stuff, I have been working the past few days to get everything in our applications updated to reflect the changes in the Nebraska Sex Offender Registration Act that went into effect on January 1, 2010. Deb Moffitt and her colleagues in the Crime Analysis Unit have been working on this, too. The changes are needed so that our Threshold Alerts, our internal mapping applications, and the Omega Dashboard all work properly.

The previous law, in effect since 1997, established three categories based on a risk assessment developed by psychologists: Level 1 offenders were deemed at low risk to reoffend, Level 2 at moderate risk, and Level 3 at high risk. Who was privy to the Registry information depended on the offender’s risk level. Information on Level 1 offenders was only available to law enforcement, Level 2 information to law enforcement and child-serving organizations, and Level 3 information to the general public.

This has all changed. The risk assessment is no more, and the information on all registered sex offenders is now available to the general public on the State Patrol’s sex offender registry web site. There is, however, a new statutory scheme by which sex offenders are differentiated based on the nature of the offense. Sex offenders who have been convicted of misdemeanor offenses must register for 15 years, felony offenses for 25 years, and those who have committed aggravated offenses are subject to lifetime registration. This new scheme, however, does not translate from the old Level 1-3 risk levels.

Lincoln (and several other cities in Nebraska) had a residency restriction law that relied on the old definitions in state law, and this had to change. The restriction now applies to “sexual predators”—those convicted of aggravated offenses and whose victim was under the age of 18. Since the definitions have changed, the list of who is subject to the residency restriction is considerably different, although there is a lot of overlap, too. It appears that a total of 158 offenders have flip-flopped on their status relative to Lincoln’s residency restriction. Here’s the data on who is subject to the City ordinance:

  • 238 Then

  • 224 Now

  • 86 Then, but not now

  • 72 Now, but not then

  • 152 Both then and now

Under the old law, 238 sex offenders were covered by Lincoln’s residency restriction, which prohibits them from living within 500 feet of a school. Under the new law, there are 224 offenders subject to the restriction. They are not, however, all the same people. There are 86 offenders who were subject to the restriction before January 1, 2010, but who now are no longer restricted. There are 72 offenders who were not previously restricted, but under the new law cannot take up residence within 500 feet of a school.

Since the residency restrictions cannot be enforced retroactively against those who were previously unrestricted, these 72 newbies will only be affected prospectively, as they move to a new address after the effective date of the City ordinance update: January 1, 2010.

There are 546 registered sex offenders in Lincoln. Of those, 118 are incarcerated in State and County correctional institutions, while the remainder are scattered about the City.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Still falling

On a few past occasions, I have blogged about our efforts to reduce party disturbance complaints. The trend in recent years has been good. I put together the 2009 data last week, and here's an update:

This is a huge reduction. Stop and think for a minute about the impact of 800 fewer party calls. Each of those required a minimum of two officers to be dispatched, and took several minutes to handle. A significant number of those required more officers, more time, Incident Reports, Citations, probable cause affidavits, Property Reports, and so forth. There would have been several that included resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer. How many trips to the emergency room, or to Internal Affairs emerge from 800 wild party calls? How many thefts, robberies, fights, assaults, sexual assaults, drunk driving arrests occur at or as the result of 800 parties that have gotten to the point where the neighbors have called the police? We certainly have many examples of this collateral damage.

Particularly gratifying is the drop in chronic problems at the same place. The number of repeat calls to houses has fallen by 71% in the past five years.

These are some outstanding results, and reflect good police work behind some proven strategies that have been particularly effective. Nothing wrong with a party, so long as illegal activity isn't occurring and if it doesn't disturb the peace of the rest of the neighborhood.

Friday, January 8, 2010 will freeze that way

Most of my readers don’t need to be reminded, but for those of you in warmer climes, here in Nebraska we are suffering through the worst winter is a few decades. The front that blew through Wednesday didn’t dump as much snow, but the arctic air mass behind it is pretty impressive. As I write this, the actual temp is -6, and the wind chill is -25. I am usually online looking through the calls for service early in the morning, about the same time I write the blog. Yesterday morning, this dispatch record from the height of the storm caught my attention:

The windchill at the time was hovering at about -20. Remember what grandma used to tell you when you made a funny face? “You better watch out….”

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Simpler search

This post is really only relevant to our employees. I thought I would use my blog to spread the word to LPD personnel, in part because I thought others might be mildly interested in an internal communication like this. Lots of employees read the Chief’s Corner, so this post is probably nearly as good for notifying them of this change as a department-wide email would be.

All employees:

You should have received your 2010 General Orders Manual this week. The online edition has also been updated. The link is in the usual spot on our Internal Home Page, but the format is slightly different. Instead of a series of separate documents, Katie has distilled all the individual General Orders together into a single file. Although it will take a few seconds longer to load, this offers some nice advantages for searching, since you can now enter a keyword and search for all the occurrences throughout the entire manual at one time.

Here are a couple tips to remember, applicable to any .pdf document:


When you open a .pdf document, the Adobe Acrobat Reader helper application opens in your browser along with the document. Be sure to use the search button in the Acrobat Reader toolbar—not “Edit/Find” in the browser's menu. Some computers may have different versions of Acrobat Reader, but the search button always looks like a pair of binoculars.


If you need to print a few pages (for example, a clean copy of just one specific General Order) use the Acrobat Reader print button, and specify the from-and-to pages. The page numbers in the .pdf document do not correspond with the page numbers at the bottom of the printed page in the print version, so be sure and use the to-and-from numbers displayed as they appear on the Acrobat Reader toolbar.

aabatsavFrom the submenu for the written directives, you can right-click the link, choose “Save Target As” on the context menu, and save your own copy on a memory stick. If you want to load this onto a handheld device and need any assistance, I would be happy to walk you through that if the operating system is Windows Mobile or Android. I don’t do Blackberry, so I can’t help you there, but ask around.

Officer Flood and I have been discussing the possibility of dropping the print edition entirely at some point in the future. Anyone who needed or wanted a printed copy would simply print their own and clip it or put it in a binder. That approach would work well if most people are using the electronic edition anyway. We would appreciate any feedback on this that you might have—via email or in person, please.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

To do list

The beginning of 2010 leaves me with a hefty list of things that I have to get done to close out 2009. Here's what I'm slowly working on between meetings, calls, emails, report reading, minor crises and a blizzard:

1. Update all our materials--mapping applications, threshold alerts, Omega Dashboard viewers, Crystal Reports, and so forth concerning registered sex offenders, to reflect the changes in Nebraska law that went into effect January 1.

2. Update all of my spreadsheets and graphs concerning crime, police workload, budget, and special interests (alarms, wild parties, metal theft, etc.) to include the final data for 2009.

3. Develop the remaining portion of the selection process for a Crime Analysis Manager, and notify the finalists of the next steps.

4. Compose and deliver information to employees about some changes to or General Orders manual that may be helpful to them.

5. Export the geocoded crime and dispatch data for 2009, create those layers in the archive, and reset the year 2010 data in our GIS servers.

Later this week or next I'll update readers on a couple of these projects that I expect to yield interesting results.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Another new record

As predicted, the officers of the Lincoln Police Department closed out 2009 with a record number of DWI arrests: 2,330. The new record eclipses the old one of 2,253 just set in 2008. Prior to that, the record of 1,992 stood for 34 years, since 1974.

As I have often opined, there is nothing a police officer does that has a more immediate and direct effect upon public safety than arrest a drunk driver. It protects not only other motorists, but the drunk himself or herself, too. The plummeting number of fatal crashes (especially drunk driving fatalities) in Nebraska is largely the result of the efforts of men and women in law enforcement to ramp up enforcement.

With two brutal blizzards, December was a tough month for the police and for enforcement. Officers till managed 170 arrests, though, to set the bar at an even highger level. It was a great job, and my hat is off to everyone who made a DWI arrest in 2009, and everyone who helped support the efforts of those officers.

There are a lot of good stories contained in that 2009 number, but you could hardly do better than this one, or this one, and this one, unless it was this one.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Makes you shake your head

Police officers have an opportunity to do a lot of good things for their community and fellow citizens. Some of these are very small, some of them are huge, but there is a constant stream of incidents you handle as a police officer where you take away a positive feeling that you have made a difference.

There are other cases, however, that just make you shake your head. Sgt. Teresa Hruza was the duty commander on Saturday, and while she was reviewing reports, she came across a good example that she forwarded to me. I have lightly edited the report to remove identifying information, and changed the names of the two people involved in this event. I wonder if Officer Ryan Duncan realized, when he was beginning the Academy about a year ago, that he'd be handling incidents like this:

(click image to enlarge)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Behind the scenes

Earlier this week, I taught a class for a group of our civilian employees, providing some tips & tricks for effectively leveraging the police department's information resources. I suppose it's pretty obvious that I enjoy teaching. You will find plenty of posts in the Chief's Corner about training classes, seminars, and visits to colleges and universities. It was a good class, the participants were enthusiastic, and (as usual) I learned a little bit, too. I started thinking, afterwards, that sometimes we fail to acknowledge the work of our civilian support staff sufficiently. As the year opens, I want to take a moment to do so.

In theater, the actors are on the stage, but behind the curtain there is a small army of artists, carpenters, musicians, directors, electricians, marketers, bookkeepers, and janitors that are critical to the production. Without their work, the play does not go on. It is the same in police departments. About 25% of our workforce is composed of civilian employees who perform a variety of critical functions. Without our support employees, Public Service Officers, Service Desk, Information Technology Unit, Records Unit, Victim/Witness Unit, Accounting Unit, Property & Evidence Unit, Forensic Unit, Crime Analysis Unit, and Technical Resources Unit, our police officers would be driving around in circles. Actually, they'd be walking, because we can't very well operate without the work of the staff at the Police Garage.

We are not unique. Education, medicine, and the military would be other good examples of professions where the practitioners need a vast array of behind-the-scenes support in order to do the job effectively. Whatever we achieve here at the Lincoln Police Department in 2010 will be enabled by the men and women who devote their careers to serving the citizens of Lincoln--some as sworn police officers, some as civilian employees upon whom we all depend.