Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Letter to the driver

We receive phone calls now and then from people who have observed a serious traffic violation.  There’s not a lot we can do about it after the fact, in most cases. We have a process, though, by which we will collect the information on the more significant cases, and send a form letter to the registered owner. The object is to encourage him or her to drive more safely in the future

Last week, the registered owner of a 1998 Cadillac received a form letter with my facsimile signature at the bottom.  The violation is described as follows:

“Your vehicle was observed being operated with a medium-sized dog standing on the steering wheel while the vehicle was in motion.”

Hmmm.  Too bad I didn’t look at that one before it went out.  Maybe we should have sent the letter to the dog this time.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pizza and a prayer

Lest yesterday’s post about happenings on Easter Sunday makes me seem like a cynical curmudgeon, here is a more uplifting Easter story.  It was about 1978, I suppose, when a new pizza parlor opened next to Mid-City Toyota, on the northwest corner of 13th and Q Streets.  The building had formerly been the home of a restaurant with the mind-bending name of the Hong Kong Pizza King. 

The new owners had extensively remodeled the place and opened as Pontillo’s Pizzeria.  It was New York style pizza in a town where Valentino’s thicker, saucier, cheesier variety held sway.  My good buddy Tim, though, was a Brooklyn native, and a Toyota owner.  He converted me to both.  Soon, Pontillo’s was a frequent stop for my wife, baby boy, and me.  We’d meet on my dinner break sometimes, and drop in on my days off at least once a week. 

The owners of the Pontillo’s franchise were Kal and Darlene Knudson, and they were like grandparents to our new baby boy when we visited the store.  Darlene would scoop him up and take him in back.  As he grew into a toddler, Kal or Darlene would take him to back to the fountain to fill up his tippy cup with Mountain Dew.  A bunch of the Knudsen’s kids worked at the store, and it was a picture of a hard-working family enterprise.

As the years passed, the Knudsen’s branched out with a new store at 44th and O Street, then eventually became the five DaVinci’s we all know today.  Kal and Darlene not only started a successful business, they also started a longstanding Easter tradition of giving.  Since 1985, the Knudsen family has opened their doors to the lonely and needy, serving  Easter dinner to hundreds in the true spirit of this Holy Day, no questions asked. 

Now be honest: doesn’t a pepperoni pizza or an Italian hoagie sound mighty good compared to the usual, ham, lamb, and yam?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Soaked on Easter

Long time readers of the Chief's Corner know that I often shake my head in wonder at the incidents that occur on holidays.  The holiest of the holidays is no exception.  On Easter, over a dozen people greeted the sunrise in detox after being tagged in by Lincoln police officers in an intoxicated state in the wee hours of the morning--nine of them for drunk driving.  Nine DWI arrests would constitute a pretty productive night under any circumstances at all.  

The most bizarre and incongruous alcohol-related call, however, came in later in the day: just shy of 6:00 PM.  Officer Justin Feldaus was sent to a cemetary on case number B1-035781, a report that a man in a white shirt and baggy pants was urinating on graves.  

Thursday, April 21, 2011

“It’s temporary…”


What’s that?

Here's my next entry in the ongoing series of puzzling objects in need of identification and explanation.



Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Through the lens

Officer Katie Flood serves as our public information officer, takes care of our public web site, and publishes our annual report, among other duties.  As a result, she spends a fair amount of time at her computer. I was walking down the hallway yesterday and saw Officer Katie Flood smiling at her monitor.  I knew it had to be something good, so I stopped and inquired.

"I just saw this headline, and was expecting something a little different," she said.

I glanced at the headline, and my mind's eye immediately inserted a "t" in the word "sealing."  I guess we all tend to see things through the lens of our professional experience.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Weekend fights

Over the weekend (Friday through Sunday), Lincoln police officers investigated 41 assaults.  If that sounds like a lot, it's really not out of the ordinary.  Last year, we investigated 4,852, an average of a bit more than 13 per day.  Of the 41 assaults, 18 were domestic:  they involved people who live together, have lived together, share a child in common, or have a dating relationship.  This definition includes roomies, siblings, and even parent and child.  Not all domestic assaults fit the expected template.  Here is the slightly-sanitized narrative from case number B1-033422, in which a young man called to report a violent attack by his mother:

"Mother reports that she and her adult son became involved in an argument over his cursing at her when she told him to fold his clothes from the wash. Son said during this argument his mother struck him on the left shoulder with the wand of the vacuum. He stated this caused him pain. There was no visible injury and Mom denied the accusation."

The 41 assaults occurred at schools, on buses, at residences, on the street, at a community center, a homeless shelter, a nursing home, and a group home. A common thread was alcohol, which was involved in over half the assaults.  Here are a couple of lightly-edited excerpts from typical examples of the alcohol-related variety:

Case Number B1-033432
"Victim said he was talking to a girl at a party when the suspect came up to them, was being loud and mouthy and said 'I'll fight you for her.' Victim said suspect then 'sucker punched' him in the side of the head and a fight ensued."
Case Number B1-033336
"Victim was contacted walking on the sidewalk with blood running from his mouth. Victim reports that he was walking down the sidewalk on the NE corner of Centennial and O St. A unknown male wearing a black baseball hat, with large biceps and tattoos on his arms struck him in the face causing his top lip to be cut. Victim was unable to give any more description about the party responsible. Victim stated that he didn't want anything done and he only wanted to go home, and walked away from officer with his friends."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Reaccredited, again

I made a speedy trip to Washington, DC to join a couple of staff members, Sgt. Don Scheinost and Capt. Joy Citta, as we appeared before the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.  The Commission considered the report of the onsite team that visited LPD last November, asked several follow-up questions, then voted unanimously to award accreditation to us for the next three years.

We were also named a Meritorious Agency, an award bestowed on agencies that have been accredited for 15 years or more (our first was in 1989).  The Commission has also designated us as a Flagship Agency, meaning that we are recognized as being at a level of excellence sufficient to provide other agencies seeking accreditation with examples of “best practices” on how to address compliance, policy development, file maintenance, and other issues relating to the accreditation process.

Our employees should be proud of this milestone and recognition.  Accreditation assures Lincoln's citizens that the department follows the recognized best practices in policing.  It is not an easy process, and only about 5% of the agencies in the United States are accredited.  Compared to our last appearance before the Commission, the trip was uneventful:  no tornado, no looters. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Design studio

The Jeffrey S. Raikes School at the University of Nebraska is an honors program for Computer Science and Management majors at the University of Nebraska. Retired Microsoft division chief Jeff Raikes, a Nebraska native who currently heads the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is it's patron.

I was at the Raikes School early about a year ago, invited to talk with students about some of our technology initiatives at the police department. This academic year, I had a much more in-depth experience with a group of Raikes Center students. One of my volunteer activities is serving on the board of the Teammates Mentoring Program, a great non-profit that matches up 5,000 mentors for an hour a week with school kids who need an extra supportive adult. Teammates is a client of a team of Raikes School in a year-long capstone class called Design Studio.

The Design Studio team takes on a software development project for a client, and spends the academic year designing and developing the project to the clients specifications. My role was to represent Teammates as the customer. Several times during the year, I have attended checkpoint meetings with the team, where the next iteration of the product was demonstrated, progress discussed, and the work plan reviewed. If I am satisfied with the work from the client's perspective, I sign off on behalf of Teammates.

Satisfied would be a huge understatement. The last checkpoint meeting was Friday at 8:00 AM (this is a motivated group!) and the work is in the home stretch. The product looks great, the functionality is excellent. It is designed to help recruit mentors, match them with Teamates chapters, suggest good potential student matches based on a preferences and interests algorithm, and track potential mentors through the recruitment process. It's going to be easy for people interested in becoming mentors to use, and a big hit with Teammates staff in the central office, chapters, and schools. The integration with Teammates management software is a particularly noteworthy a complishment.

I learned a ton by watching the team work, and by seeing the Agile software development process in action. This process, based on successive iterations of software and continuous incremental development, was something I was totally unfamiliar with. Having worked my entire life in a rather strictly defined hierarchy, the concept of self-organizing teams was not exactly in my toolbox. At the same time Design Studio was developing this product for Teammates, I was involved in a software development project of my own back at HQ (more on that later). These two projects were on almost exactly the same schedule, and what I learned by watching the Design Studio Team certainly was reflected in my own approach to our project.

If you ever hear anyone bellyaching about young people generally, or college students in particular, I hope you'll ignore it. I enjoy high school and college classes a lot, and I'm always impressed with the quality of discussion when I'm invited to various classes several times each semester. But Design Studio is on a different level entirely, and the experience of watching these incredibly talented honors students create was not only uplifting, it was quite the learning experience for me personally--and I am putting what I learned to good use.

Megan, Chris, Karri, Ethan, Callie, Eric, you rock! Suzanne, Jeremy, Nate, Chris, Brian, Doug (the other consultants, coaches, and clients), it's been a  pleasure working on this project. Hope I didn't forget anyone. One more thing for the Design Studio students: I know you're going to read this, and you will make certain your parents see it. That's an order: don't make me find my parking ticket book.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Green Thumb

Our officers in the Narcotics Task Force received a nice honor yesterday, when the Midwest High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area honored the unit for the 2010 outstanding investigative effort. The award was in recognition of Operation Green Thumb, which took down a large and indoor marijuana growing enterprise in Lincoln, seized somewhere around $20 million worth of marijuana and equipment, and so far has resulted in Federal indictments or State charges against 13 defendants.

It was a massive effort: long, hot, humid, stinking, and dangerous. The intellectual component to dismantling a sophisticated criminal enterprise and untangling it's finances cannot be underestimated, either. The recognition for the officers and support staff is well-deserved. When you consider that the five-state HIDTA includes more than 50 drug task forces, and some very large metro areas, being tabbed as the top investigative effort by the Feds is an impressive accomplishment. Great work, everyone!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Roundabout bout

The plan of the Public Works Department to install a few more roundabouts in Lincoln has hit a bit of a speed bump.  These proposals are getting a lukewarm reception in some corners. A proposed roundabout at  N. 14th and Superior St. that has become somewhat controversial. The general public appears to be somewhat unconvinced.  Some Nebraskans view roundabouts a little bit like a cow looking at a new gate:  they’re not quite sure what to do.

I have blogged before about the impact of the roundabouts, and about a couple of other controversial traffic engineering projects here in Lincoln that weren’t exactly greeted with open arms.  These projects, though accompanied by plenty can second-guessing and hand-wringing,  have each had a significant impact on improving safety. They take their share of criticism, but the engineers are almost always right.

Yesterday, I went to the City Council’s public hearing on a proposal to redesign another intersection, this one at S. Coddington Ave. and W. Van Dorn Street.  There have been 12 crashes at this location in the past two years.  Eight of those were injury accidents, and a total of 22 (!) victims were sent to the hospital from those crashes.  Every single crash was a right angle collision. 

A roundabout will be only one of several options that will be examined for this intersection, and I have no idea if it would fit.  A lot of that depends on how much land is available, I suppose.  If a roundabout results, though, I can pretty much assure you that the number of crashes will plummet, the injury accidents will become exceedingly rare, and that the typical crash will be a minor one.  I know this, because this is precisely what has happened at two other intersections that were converted to roundabouts at S. 33rd and S. 40th Streets and Sheridan Boulevard.

To illustrate the impact, I took this bar chart to the City Council showing the traffic crashes at S. 33rd St.  and Sheridan Boulevard.  The bar on the right depicts 104 total crashes in the eight years before the roundabout was installed.  The bar on the left depicts the 21 crashes in the eight years after the roundabout was installed.  The pink section of each bar represents the number of the total that were injury accidents: 27 before, two after.  The scale is a quarter inch per crash.  Hard to argue with those data.