Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Catching up

A nasty back spasm has laid me low, but also provided me with a little time to catch up on the news. This story (and this one a few weeks ago) always stirs the readers. And I noticed that Kevin is back in the news.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Packers v. Lions

Running a little behind this year, but in keeping with my holiday tradition, here’s a few one-liners from the blotter on Thanksgiving Day:


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

In the Smithsonian

Last Friday, I was in Washington, DC with a couple hours to kill waiting for an 8:00 PM flight from National Airport.  Whenever I can, I love to spend a little time at any one of the Smithsonian museums.  On this occasion, I stopped at the Castle for a few minutes on my way to the Freer Gallery, just to find a quiet spot to work a little email.  There are a few items on display in the Castle itself, though, and I could not resist snapping this photo of an IBM Selectric in the west wing.

I forwarded the photo to Police Chief Jim Peschong, who keeps one of these Mesozoic relics in his office, ostensibly for the occasional envelope, or self-carbonated form (for extra credit: what is "carbonated?").  I have refrained from informing him that he could print an envelope on his HP LaserJet, but nonetheless, I often rib him about his Selectric.  "You're in the Smithsonian!" I said in the text accompanying the photo.

A few minutes later he replied:

"You didn't have to go all the way down there to get a photo of one.  Stop by sometime and take all the photos you want :)
       Sent from my Verizon wireless Blackberry"

No doubt he will also be the last man on earth using a Blackberry :) . I snapped a couple of other shots on my way down to the National Mall.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Research to practice

Dr. John Laub is the Director of the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the United States Department of Justice.  He hosted a discussion Friday concerning how research is translated into practice.  I represented the practitioners, and was the onion in a petunia patch of academics.  I told the group that in my view, four things must converge for research to be translated into practice.

First, there must be a champion at the agency: one or more people interested in advancing practice, willing to try things, open to change and to new ways of doing things.  While it may help if this catalyst is the chief or a highly-placed placed manager, that isn't absolutely necessary.  Change agents and opinion leaders may be, and often are, rank-and-file, first-line supervisors, and mid-managers.

Second, these agents-of-change must find out about the research findings.  Practitioners and researchers do not swim in the same pond.  You won't find many police chiefs reading the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, or attending the American Society of Criminology conference.  If you want to influence criminal justice practitioners, you better disseminate your findings in a format and venue likely to reach the intended audience.  I rattled of some publications cops are more likely to read, gave a plug for really short summaries of significant findings, and suggested a few conferences where you might actually find practitioners in attendance.

Third, the research better be actionable if it's going to impact practice.  The research has to suggest relatively clear and straightforward actions, changes, or practices that flow from the research results.  When research suggests specific actions or steps, it is far more likely to find favor among practitioners than vague or broad implications that are difficult to operationalize. Researchers should ask themselves this question: "What exactly can I suggest that an agency or individual do, based on the results of this research?"

Finally, the implementation steps that emerge from the research must be practical.  All sorts of impediments to change exist, including internal resistance, conflicting external expectations, financial constraints, political opposition, union contracts, to name but a few.  Understanding the local landscape and the land mines that police managers must tiptoe around can help researchers frame recommendations that are more likely to have a fighting chance of moving from research to practice.

Organizational momentum exerts its own gravity, and liberating practice from its pull can require considerable power.  My sense, however, is that the field of criminal justice is very interested in adopting evidence-based strategies, and that a large plurality of police officers are open to research.  My experience in fire and rescue is short, but thus far I have sensed the same thing: willingness to adapt as new technology, new research, and new knowledge as it emerges.

Here's the best way to get research in front of the practitioners, and to maximize the chance that research results find their way into the field of practice: collaborate with the practitioners on the research.  And I mean really collaborate.  Involve practitioners in framing the research questions, developing the research strategies and methodology, interpreting the results, developing the final products, and disseminating the research to others. True collaboration is a lot more than soliciting a letter of support and getting access to a set of agency data. Rather, it is a partnership.  I've had the opportunity to be a full partner in research (including some underway right now), and it is a far different experience than being a subject of research.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Predictive firefighting

I've blogged before about the concept of predictive policing: using our data and our knowledge to make informed judgement about where crime is likely to occur in the future, what kinds of crimes are ascendant, and who is likely to commit crime.  Google "predictive policing" and you won't go far until you find my name associated with this topic.  Earlier this year, I edited an issue of Geography and Public Safety on predictive policing, and contributed my own article to the volume, "Police Legitimacy and Predictive Policing."

This week, I participated in an intriguing meeting and web conference, along with Lincoln Fire Chief John Huff, Assistant Chief Rick Furasek, Chief of Logistics Kendall Warnock, Chief of Training Roger Bonin, Capt. Eric Jones, and Capt. Scott Weibe. The web conference was with Buxton, a firm that specializes in consumer analytics.  Buxton has been doing some work with the Philadelphia Fire Department, applying its methods to create a "Fire Vulnerability Index."  This all sounds incredibly familiar to me, and is essentially the same process used in policing to deploy resources and determine strategies that are geared to creating the most bang for the buck.

Our current station relocation study is well on its way to identifying the best alternatives for providing data-driven decisions for Lincoln's fire, rescue, and emergency medical services.  While the current study is based largely on historical data about incident trends, the methods used by the private sector for locating retail businesses hold promise in creating more robust predictive analytics in public safety.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What I learned from Jake

In the summer of 1975, I was a 21 year old police officer, newly promoted to an assignment as a motor officer. It wasn't really a promotion, but as I looked around the Lincoln police department, the chief, assistant chiefs, most of the captains, lieutenants, and sergeants had all been motorcycle cops, or so it seemed.  It appeared pretty evident to me that riding motor was a resume-builder.  So, despite my complete unfamiliarity with the steed, I accepted the assignment.  As part of my accouterments, I acquired a pair of aviator sunglasses--to protect against pebbles, wind, sun, and bugs, of course.

One day, Capt. Paul Jacobsen called me aside.  Jake was a Captain of Detectives--among the most prestigious of positions at LPD.  He was a legend for his investigative skills, particularly his ability to develop rapport with suspects that led to an inevitable confession of the most heinous crimes.  It was said that Jake could get a tree to admit to the offense of issuing a bad check, wood pulp being a necessary precursor in the production of the paper upon which the check had been printed.

"Casady," Jake said, "You need to lose those mirrored sunglasses.  You can't talk to a man when you can't see his eyes."  Sage advice from the master of interviewing.  The Ray-Bans were relegated to off-duty wear.  I remember one more thing Jake taught me about interviewing:  "When you ask a suspect a direct question, and he repeats the question back to you, the next words out of his mouth are likely to be a lie."

Jake knew a few things about human nature, humor, honor, gunfights, and life.  He passed a couple of those on to me, and to this day when someone repeats a clearly worded question right back at me before answering, I recall his words.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Institutional failure

Like most Nebraskans, I'm a fan of the Nebraska football team.  I'm not the rabid sort, but I make it a point to find a TV or a radio on fall Saturdays. I watched Saturday's game against Penn State on TV, but the best part for me was on the radio, afterwards, as I puttered around in the garage and listened to Coach Pelini in the post-game show.

It was the coach's finest moment.  He spoke bluntly, and what he lacked in polish was more than made up for in candor and emotion:
I will be honest with you. Going into the football game, I didn’t think the game should have been played, for a lot of different reasons. My job as a football coach is to educate and to prepare the kids that come into the program for the rest of their life and that’s what we are. We’re a university system. The situation that’s going on is bigger than football. 
I had the same feeling. Something seemed so wrong about this.  Wednesday's spectacle of 10,000 clueless students rioting, the veneration of the former head coach, all this just smelled rotten.  While neither the fans nor the players are responsible for this mess, the institution of The Pennsylvania State University has some soul-searching ahead.

I urge you to read the grand jury presentment.   There is an old legal saw that a decent prosecutor could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.  We all should remember that Jerry Sandusky is innocent before the law.  He will have his day of judgement, and it will be from a higher authority than you or me.  Assuming his innocence of the criminal charges that have been filed, I separate this from the actions of the institution, through its leaders, who, regardless of the veracity of the charges, should have quickly and decisively acted to protect children and fulfill their legal and moral obligations.  From their own sworn testimony before the grand jury, it is clear that a cascade of Penn State University personnel failed to take steps to intervene in an apparent felony sexual assault of a child in progress and to report a suspected violent crime to the police after becoming aware of the offense.

When you read the grand jury report, you learn that a 28 year-old graduate assistant, witnessing what he believed to be the first degree sexual assault of a child in the shower room, called his father.  The head football coach apparently felt no obligation at all beyond passing the graduate assistant's report along to the athletic director, who in turn told the senior vice president.  And the president of the University, informed that a staff member had seen some sort of discomforting activity in the shower between a former coach and a child, did not ask follow-up questions, investigate any further, or heed these obvious warning signs.

Everyone understands that evil exists in the world, and that in any institution a trusted person in a position of authority can succumb to its power.  We've seen in in churches, in schools, in police stations, in the halls of Congress, and in the White House.  Normally, we can separate the bad act of a person from the insitution itself.  How do you make that distinction, though, when the chain of culpability begins with the graduate assistant, and flows through the head football coach, the athletic director, the senior vice president of business and finance, and the president himself?  The problem, in this case, is not only an individual.

I will be curious to see how the NCAA reacts to this case of institutional failure.  How does (at best) ignoring, or (at worst) covering up the signs of 13 years of child sexual assault compare to something like failing to report that some players have received free tattoos? How to you deal with this situation, when the reaction of the entire chain of command at the University, faced with these unfathomable report of the rape of a child was:

to take away the alleged perpetrator's keys to the locker room?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Nebraska law

Mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect to law enforcement or the Department of Health and Human Services is the law in Nebraska.  The Statute is very clear:

28-711. Child subjected to abuse or neglect; report; contents; toll-free number.
(1) When any physician, medical institution, nurse, school employee, social worker, or other person has reasonable cause to believe that a child has been subjected to child abuse or neglect or observes such child being subjected to conditions or circumstances which reasonably would result in child abuse or neglect, he or she shall report such incident or cause a report of child abuse or neglect to be made to the proper law enforcement agency or to the department....

28-717. Violation; penalty.
Any person who willfully fails to make any report of child abuse or neglect required by section 28-711 shall be guilty of a Class III misdemeanor.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Rethink that

I've had this conversation with a few hundred parents across the years, and it has occurred twice in the past week.  The parent will be talking to me about some kind of situation their teenager was involved in (normally, getting arrested or ticketed for something like shoplifting or MIP).  The parent asserts that their child was just an innocent bystander, and that the police arrested/cited him or her despite the child's innocence. The police officer wouldn't even listen.

I generally read the parent a few excerpts from the investigative reports, which is decidedly different from the account offered by the son or daughter.  With depressing regularity, the initial reaction of the parent is that the officer is lying.  "What", I ask, "would the police officer gain by fabricating the report, or by embellishing the facts?"  The answer is pretty obvious: absolutely nothing.  In fact, she or he would most certainly face termination of employment if the facts were embellished or fabricated.  The teen, on the other hand, has a vested interest of immense proportions.

Nonetheless, the parental response, rather than being a rational assessment, is often this: "My child would not lie."  Really?  Like you never lied to your parents, or stretched the truth, or told the story in a way that made you sound a little less culpable, and a little more like a victim of circumstances who was just in the wrong place and the wrong time?  Really? Better rethink that.

Here's a news flash:  good people do bad things.  Young people are even more prone to do stupid things than adults, even when they are honor role students, standouts in the school orchestra, and members of the Church youth choir.  Human nature is to paint our own bad conduct in a manner that reflects less negatively upon ourselves. Parents need to remember that.  A good starting point is to remember what they did and said themselves when they were caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

Doesn't mean you shouldn't support them, help them, protect them, or love them as they learn the lessons of life in the school of hard knocks.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Good things in medium-sized places

A few months ago, I blogged about good things in small places: what I admired and learned from the tiny little police department in Waverly, Virginia.  Yesterday and today, something similar is going on here in Lincoln.  Four members of the San Diego County Sheriff's Office are here in Lincoln for a site visit: Commander Beyers, Captain Donahue, Deputy Blackwell, and Dr. Noah Fritz, the crime analysis manager.

Noah and I became acquainted more than a decade ago, when he managed the Crime Mapping and Analysis Program for the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center.  He went on to be the president of the International Association of Crime Analysts for several years, earn a doctorate, teach at the collegiate level,and conduct original criminal justice research--all after a good run at the head of the Tempe, AZ crime analysis unit, where he mentored a rather incredible cohort of young people who are now some the leaders in this field from coast to coast.

Most recently, Dr. Fritz has returned to his roots: managing a large crime analysis operation in an agency of nearly 4,000 employees providing law enforcement services in the fourth largest county in the United States.  He and a his colleagues are visiting Lincoln to learn about our unique approach to police information resources and technology, which begins with the fundamental question "What would be helpful to our street officers, investigators, and detectives?"  It has been an honor to host their visit, and just as I was impressed by Chief Kevin Sands' operation in Waverly, I think the staff from San Diego has seen some very interesting and thought-provoking stuff here in Lincoln, despite the fact that we are about one tenth their size.

As previously noted, Lincoln seems to be in a sweet spot: large enough to have some significant resources, yet small enough to actually implement some clever and innovative ideas.  Size is not always an advantage, and organizational momentum exerts its own gravity. It would be hard to turn an aircraft carrier around in Salt Creek.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Hot seat

Remember that scene in A Christmas Story where Ralphie's little brother, bundled up in a snowsuit, falls down on the way to school and can't get up? That's about what I felt like yesterday afternoon at a live burn training for Lincoln Fire & Rescue recruits.  The rookies helped suit me up, and into the burn house I went, where what seemed to be a pretty intense fire had been kindled.  Despite the Nomex hood, my ears were burning, and it had nothing to do with anyone talking about me.

I had never been in bunker gear before (hot, tight, heavy), and never used a self-contained breathing apparatus before (hot, tight, heavy, and slightly frightening at first).  I have a major fire phobia, and here I am--at 58 years of age--crawling on hands and knees into an inferno.  Geez, I took a baby aspirin this morning, who am I kidding?  In Round Two, the inferno was much more intense, but the experienced firefighters all reminded me that this was kids' stuff compared to a real fire, and that the combustibles in this exercise--all wood products--were quite a bit different from mattresses, upholstered furniture, carpeting, and so forth that would be encountered in the real deal.

Having survived a deadly real deal (barely) in 1964, I knew they were right.  Hence, my fire phobia.  I'm glad I did it, though.  It was informative, and in a strange way rather exhilarating--sort of like exorcising a demon that has dogged me for nearly 50 years.  Here's a few take-aways from the afternoon:

  1. I will never view a knot of firefighters standing around at a fire ground in the same way.  From this point forward I have a new appreciation for "rehab."
  2. The principle of "two in, two out" is crystal clear to me.  Even in a controlled training situation, I was mighty comforted to know that someone had my back, a feeling I have had on many occasions, though in a different uniform.
  3. It takes me at least 60 seconds to tie my necktie in the morning. Getting into your turnout gear in a minute is a feat I can hardly imagine.
  4. I was crawling into the burn house to watch.  Firefighters, on the other hand, have work to do in that gear: roofs to ventilate, power tools to operate, ladders to climb, strategies to execute, hose to drag.  It was about all I could do to drag myself.
  5. Relaxation really works:.  A little past experience in remaining calm in crisis helped me deal with the instinctive terror remarkably well.  To a certain extent, you really can convince yourself to stay cool in the hot seat. I have a feeling that this ability cuts both ways: it is at the same time both helpful and dangerous.
  6. Forced to choose between fire, heights, snakes, spiders, and public speaking, I'll deliver an speech with a tarantula on my head while handling a copperhead and balancing on a phone pole (are there still phone poles?), thank you very much.  
And thank you to the instructors and the trainees who helped me.  I wish you all well as your careers begin. Within a few months, you will have experiences and accomplishments that few people can even imagine, much less achieve.

Why am I suddenly craving a nice wild party call, a bar fight, 10th & Q, and a foot pursuit with a drunken chain smoker?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Alarmed and sprinkled

Since becoming Public Safety Director, I have maintained an office at the Lincoln/Lancaster County Health Department building, at 3140 N Street.  Yesterday afternoon, though, I was downtown for a city council meeting, when my iPhone beeped with an automated text message notifying me of a working fire at...3140 N Street!

Shortly after I had left the building, a fire alarm sounded at the Health Department.  Despite around 200 employees and clients who were in the facility, no one knew there was a fire until the alarm sounded.  The building was evacuated promptly, but this was no false alarm.  A pretty significant fire had started in a lower level storage room.  It had a head start, but as soon as the detectors detected, the alarm went off along with the sprinkler system, keeping the fire isolated to the room of origin until Lincoln Fire & Rescue responded and completed extinguishing the fire.  We'll have a better idea in a few days of the source of ignition.

Without the alarm and the sprinkler system, it's hard to tell what would have happened.  This much is for sure: the damage would have been much more significant, and quite possibly lives would have been imperiled.  We've seen recently what a fire can do in an unsprinkled office building of similar size.  This is the second time in the past two days that alarms have alerted occupants to a peril and allowed evacuation from a structure fire that could have been catastrophic.  

Mayor Chris Beutler came to the scene as the overhaul was underway, and had a good opportunity to see how the Fire & Rescue Department handles a fireground, and how the National Incident Command System works in managing such incidents.  I could tell he was both intrigued and impressed, as was I.  In particular, I was interested in watching and learning about the work that must occur after the fire is out: the removal of smoldering materials, the examination of interior walls and ceilings for lingering fire that may be hidden from sight, the monitoring of hazardous carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide gas, the ventilation of the building, and so forth.  All of this is time consuming and tedious, but very necessary before the clean-up and rehabilitation can begin.  

It appears that the damage and loss will be somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000--covered by insurance. It could have been much worse. Good preventative engineering and preparation and good response by all involved prevented a greater tragedy.