Friday, December 28, 2012

Public place cameras

The police department has been experimenting with a public place camera at 14th and O Street, monitoring the street and sidewalks in this area.  The camera (actually, it's a pair) is on a 36 hour recording loop, with the idea that this strikes a balance between the police desire to capture evidence in the event of a crime on the one hand, and the discomfort some people have with government recording them on the other hand.

While many police agencies around the world have implemented camera monitoring of some public places, often reporting significant reductions in crime, I have a little discomfort with the concept. Simply put, I am concerned over the extent to which our daily lives are being cataloged by all manner of electronic gizmos and databases.  I'm not sure there is much we can do about it, since most of this is done by non-governmental entitites.  Our own desire to use such things as debit cards and smartphones is apparently greater than our concern that the bank and the cell phone provider have data about where we've been as a result.

It is noteworthy that privately-owned cameras are plentiful in such places as retail stores, parking lots, shopping malls, parking garages, a growing number of apartment complexes, office buildings, and the like.  It is also worth noting that government-owned cameras are also commonly operating at such places as schools, public transportation facilities, and university campuses. Private enterprise is already operating several public place cameras in the downtown area.  Nevertheless, when the police decide to install cameras in public places, I think it is beneficial to do so after some public discussion, and a consideration of input from citizens.  Because of this, the police department's cameras have gone dark until this discussion can take place a bit more broadly in the community.

If Lincoln is going to have any public place camera monitoring by the police, 14th and O Street is the logical choice, because it is simply the most troublesome location in the city.  This is due to the density of bars and the combination of testosterone and alcohol that converges there--espeically on weekend nights as bar break approaches.  So far this year, there have been 122 assaults reported to LPD that occurred within 1/2 block of the intersection--basically the effective range of the camera to potentially capture useful evidence outdoors. There is no other place in Lincoln that comes close to that concentration.

This is a good discussion to have, and I look forward to the dialog.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Easy solution

Keeping with my recent penchant to reuse blog post titles, you may want to read the eponymous post from 2009 (and yes, I've waited almost six years to use the word eponymous in a sentence.)

My latest example of a simple solution to what is undoubtedly a somewhat more complex interpersonal problem comes from this ruling on a petitioner's request to the Lancaster County Court for a protection order, sought by mom and dad in order to keep their daughter's ex-boyfriend away and enjoin him from being mean to her Facebook.  This court order is a public record, but I redacted the names, to avoid embarrassing the individuals. Click each page image to enlarge for more comfortable reading.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Christmas story

If you think you've seen that title on a previous post on my blog, you're right. I've reused the title with another story that will warm your heart as the big day approaches.

It starts on Wednesday, when Flora left Chicago to come visit her son in Lincoln.  On the way, she stopped at a rest area in eastern Iowa.  In the ladies room, she found a black Coach purse, apparently left behind by another traveler.  Flora made it to Lincoln in the grip of a major winter snowstorm, and yesterday morning, Flora dropped the purse off at the police station.  Toby, one of our staff members in the Property & Evidence Unit, decided she would try to find its owner  She found the ID of Audrey in the purse, from Hebron, Kentucky.

There was no answer at the home phone number in Kentucky, and Toby surmised that Audrey was probably still on the road.  She couldn't find a cell phone number in the purse, but she did find an appointment card from a doctor's office back in Kentucky. Through the receptionist at that office, Toby was able to get Audrey's cell phone number, and called to let her know that her purse--contents intact--had been found.  When Toby told Audrey that a citizen had found the purse 300 miles away, but had turned it in to the police in Lincoln, Nebraska, there was a moment of silence on the phone, and then Audrey stammered, "I can't believe this!"

Audrey, a military wife travelling with three little daughters to her mother's home in Oregon, was actually in Lincoln, too! She was at the Cobbler Inn--on the west edge of town, stranded overnight by a good old fashioned Nebraska blizzard that had closed Interstate 80 westbound by the time she realized her purse had gone AWOL.  She had no cash, no credit cards, nothing for food or gas.  Her mom had been able to get the motel room Wednesday night with a credit card number phoned in from Oregon, but Audrey was facing the daunting logistics of getting back on the road Thursday in her penniless condition after leaving her life on a bathroom counter a couple hours east of Des Moines, Iowa.

Officer Mario Robinson overheard the telephone conversation between Toby and Audrey, and learned that Audrey's car was running on fumes when they pulled into the Cobbler Inn the previous night.  Rather than directing her to HQ and risking running out of gas, he volunteered to get the delivery made.  He passed the football to Sgt. Grant Richards, who reunited Audrey with her Coach a few minutes later at the motel. I can only imagine her relief.

You've got to appreciate the incredible coincidence that brought Flora and Audrey to the same place at about the same time in a blizzard, not once, but twice, a few hundred miles apart, and resulted in getting the girls back on the way to grandma's house for Christmas.  Or (if you're like me) rather than coincidence, you can consider this just another example of the Hand on the chessboard.

Merry Christmas Audrey and Flora, and thank you Toby, for going the extra mile to make the season bright for a soldier's family caught in a big storm and a small crisis!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Not that way everywhere

A rather common theme on my blog is information technology and information resources.  I have often asserted that Lincoln police officers have access to more information at their fingertips than any police department I have ever seen, anywhere. As a result, they can be more productive--and safer.

Many of our officers don't even realize how good we have it in this regard.  If you haven't worked at (or closely with) a few other agencies, you may not understand what par for the course looks like in much of the rest of the law enforcement world. This editorial column in the Sunday edition of the New York Times is worth a read, not so much for the proposed solution as for the first-hand description of the problem by an outside observer: a law student accustomed to 21st century information technology who spent a semester rubbing shoulders with police officers.

While the author provides a nice description of the antiquated workflow for criminal cases, he's only seeing part of the picture: it's even worse in some respects, then the convoluted process he has witnessed.  By comparison, we live in a veritable Tom Cruise movie: well, maybe sans the transparent data wall navigated with hand gestures--for the moment.

Although I enjoyed the author's description, I also think he oversimplifies the solution.  As much as I love my iPads, and have advoacted for their value in policing, it's not the hardware so much as the information systems that really matters.  I don't care if you access it on a mobile data computer in a patrol car, a Windows desktop, an Android, iOS, or Blackberry tablet or phone, or on a VT100 terminal: it's the information that matters, and easy access to it by the people who really can use it to get the job done.

By the way, after spending a few minutes a couple weeks ago in a Microsoft store with a Surface tablet running Windows 8 RT, the near-term future of mobile computing in police and fire service is starting to come into focus for me. We shall see, when the Windows 8 Pro version arrives in early 2013.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Gun control needed

The title of this post is guaranteed to cause a spike in traffic, but I'm not talking about the type of gun control you might think.  The kind I'm interested in is the most basic type of gun control: the control of guns by their owners.  In several mass shootings during the past 20 years, someone with a serious emotional disturbance obtained their firepower by theft from an acquaintance or family member of unsecured or lightly-secured weapons.

I've published a few examples of careless gun storage here on my blog in the past.  That's just a snapshot of a larger problem, though.  Police officers investigate gun thefts with some frequency in which the security of the firearms is pretty poor: an unlocked door, a $15 key-on-knob lock meant for a bathroom, a window screen, and so forth.  Guns demand a little more security than your collection of garden tools.  I've seen plenty of tragedies and crimes committed when Junior helped himself to an unlocked gun in the household of his parent, grandparent, or friend, or when a disturbed person was able to get a hold of a firearm with minimal effort.

Here's what I suggest for gun owners: at the bare minimum, your firearms should be secured with a trigger lock. Better yet, use a gun safe, preferably one strongly mounted to the floor joists with some major lag screws, or (even better) to concrete with hefty anchors. I'd prefer the thief require something like a reciprocating saw, rather than merely a good-sized screwdriver. I like combination locks better than keyed locks. Anyone who thinks their 12 year old can't figure out where the hidden key is located fails to recall their own skill at the same age in finding mom and dad's hiding spots. If you worry about quick access, their are plenty of  lock boxes that will provide rapid access and at least a little bit of security, too.

Gun safes and lock boxes aren't a panacea.  The cheapest are easily defeated with hand tools, and as with everything, the good ones tend to be expensive. A decent box for a pistol or two will start at around $150, though, and still provides a fair degree of protection from a hurried, worried, and not-so-bright thief.  If you can afford a firearm, you can afford a proper storage solution.  A skilled thief with with a cool head (and even an amateur with plenty of time) and access to a tool box may be able to steal guns even when stored in a good strong box--but for protecting your guns against the less organized, less competent, and less determined, a gun safe is pretty, well, safe.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Knew what to do

The latest mass shooting incident in the United States, at  a shopping mall in Portland, OR, made me wonder about where we are headed.  I was in Seattle on Tuesday night when the news broke. I was standing in front of a TV monitor at SEATAC, watching the breaking news on a local station.  As the evening wore on, more video footage and more interviews with customers began to flow.  Here's what amazed me:  people really seemed to know what to do in order to improve their chance of survival.

As I listened to interviews and watched some of the video from both inside and outside the mall, it appeared that when the shooting began, customers were taking cover, staying low, and moving quickly; employees were getting people into back rooms, locking and barricading doors; people exiting the mall were voluntarily raising their hands to make it evident to the arriving law enforcement officers that they were unarmed; and so forth.  Basically, people have learned some important things to do (and not do) in a mass shooting event. In one way this is good, but what in the world does it say about our society and culture?

Monday, December 10, 2012

In the event of an emergency

A lot of periodicals land on my desk, and I just don't have the time to read them.  I will, however, occasionally thumb through the table of contents, scanning for any articles of particular interest.  One of the best of the lot is Emergency Management magazine.  In the current issue, the cover story was "When 911 Fails."  Having been through a few of these episodes in the past 38 years, this one caught my eye as I scanned the pile on Friday morning.  On my way to page 16, however, my eye was drawn to this blurb on page 14:

Emergency Management, Nov. / Dec. 2012

That looked like a candidate for the best news of the week.  I circled it, ripped the page out, and handed it to our Health Department director, Judy Halstead.  She read it to the last sentence, noting "...but the flavor was altered."  "What numbskull do you suppose they got to taste it?", she asked.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The environmental approach

In last week's post about Project Extra Mile, I praised Diane Riibe for her advocacy of the environmental approach to underage drinking prevention.  Just what is the environmental approach?  It is perhaps easiest to explain by contrasting it with an individual approach.

The individual approach focuses on young people who are under the legal drinking age.  It uses strategies aimed at convincing them that they should refrain from consuming alcohol until they reach the legal age.  It threatens them with consequences for violating the law.  It attempts to educate them about the effects of alcohol, and about the risks of underage drinking.

The environmental approach, conversely, focuses on making changes not in the individual, but in the external environment.  Such changes often involve public policy and legislation.  Typical examples would be raising the legal drinking age, lowering the threshold for driving under the influence, strategies to reduce access to alcohol by those underage, increases in alcohol excise taxes, heightened accountability for adult providers. Tools for an environmental approach might also include compliance checks for retail establishments, efforts to reduce marketing aimed at youth, and more.

I am a strong believer in the environmental approach, and these are strategies that we used extensively during the 12 years I co-chaired Lincoln's campus-community coalition to reduce high risk drinking by young people, NU Directions (which subsequently transitioned to the Nebraska Collegiate Consortium).  These strategies, however, do not entirely replace those aimed at individuals. I still firmly believe in holding individual underage drinkers responsible for their actions, and for doing what we can to ensure that they understand the consequences.  An environmental approach, however, is appealing in its efficacy: it offers a big bang for the buck.

At last Wednesday's Project Extra Mile recognition dinner, a speaker did a good job of explaining the a dozens of overheated students on the verge of heat-related illness.  You could rush about to each, have them stop their physical activity and sit or lie down, apply cool damp washcloths to their head and neck, and provide each with cool water to drink.  That would be an individual approach.  Or, you could turn down the thermostat, and turn on the ceiling fans--an environmental approach.

Better yet, you could use a combined approach: tweak the HVAC, ramp up the fans, stop the scrimmage, and push the liquids.  

Monday, December 3, 2012

Missing backbone

The daily listing of selected police Incident Reports published on the web contains a short summary comment for some crime types.  These one-liners can sometimes be rather amusing.  This one from last Thursday was interesting.

Click image to enlarge
Officer Pat Knopik investigated this theft, and brought the case to my attention.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Project Extra Mile

Project Extra Mile is a Nebraska non-profit organization that advocates strategies to prevent underage drinking. On Wednesday, I attended their annual recognition dinner in Omaha. Three Lincoln residents were among the honorees recognized for their contribution to the mission of Project Extra Mile: Beverly Neth, the Director of the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles; Fred Zwonechek, Administrator of the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety; and Vince Powers, an attorney in private practice.

Diane Ribbe, the executive director, is leaving Nebraska to accept a similar position in North Carolina. She has been an especially effective advocate during the past 17 years, and she rightfully enjoyed the accolades of all in attendance. She has been a particularly effective leader, teacher, lobbyist, organizer, and leader, and will certainly be missed.

One of speakers remarked about her laser-like focus on an environmental approach to underage drinking prevention, which is considerably different than the individual approach that people usually associate with such efforts. I will have more to say on that difference next week.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Worth a thousand words

Nlets, the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, is a critical service used by virtaully all United States law enforcement agencies. Nlets is keeping the acronym, but has recently changed its full name to the International Justice and Public Safety Network.  Nlets is just that: a network, through which over a billion electronic messages annually are routed to and from law enforcement agencies at all levels of government.

Many Nlets messages concern wanted persons and vehicles.  A typical message, for example, would be a regional broadcast for a missing person, or suspect-at-large.  As bizarre as this may sound in the 21st century, Nlets messages do not support images at the present time. Thus, you might receive a message to be on the lookout for a victim who is believed to have been abducted by her ex-husband, driving a 2011  Mitsubishi Outlander--but the message will not include an image of the victim, the suspect, or the vehicle type.

This is about to change.  This month's edition of the Police Chief contains an article, A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words, that describes a project underway involving Nlets, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Institute of Justice, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, aimed at moving beyond text and voice-based messages to incorporate images in Nlets when appropriate.

I have been appointed to the practitioner advisory group impaneled to provide input on this project. I attended my first meeting this past fall, and will be attending a second one soon. It is an exciting development, long overdue, that will bring improved capability to virtually every police officer in the United States.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Word verification on

Regrettably, I have turned on word verification for those posting comments on the Director's Desk. I know this is a bit of a hassle, and really hope it does not severely impact the dialog, but over the holiday weekend I was slammed with just over 300 spam comments. The flood started a few weeks ago, and seemed to get worse with each passing day. Since I moderate, I can prevent these from being posted on my blog, but it is just too time consuming with this volume. The problem is that among those 300+ are a few legitimate posts, so I really have to look at each one, at least briefly. Word verification is the only way I have to prevent the deluge of computer-generated barf from filling my inbox, unless someone has a better idea.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Item identification

I thought we might continue this small series concerning items likely to be forgotten in the mist of time.  Anyone recognize this stand, holding up the plant in Jackie's office at HQ?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Not exactly an innovation

I encountered this article last week, describing the Denver police chief's effort to replace some of the police officers working in support positions with non-sworn civilian employees.  From the data in the article, it appears that a little less than 15% of the employees at DPD are civilians.  This is significantly below the national average for United States cities, which is 22%.  Lincoln, by the way, is slightly above that average at 23%, and this percentage is likely to climb to around 30% by the end of the year.

Generally speaking, a high percentage of civilian employees is a good sign that a police department is operating efficiently.  Sworn police officers are expensive employees, for a number of reasons, when compared to non-sworn employees, and there are lots of jobs in policing that do not require arrest powers and law enforcement certification.  When these jobs are occupied by civilians, the taxpayers benefit.  In addition, specially-educated civilians are more likely to have the specific skills needed for many of these support jobs, compared to a police officer whose education and experience may have little bearing on the job at hand.

Using civilians more effectively is hardly an innovation in policing.  This is something that has been undertaken by enlightened police managers for decades.  Here in Lincoln, the golden age of "civilianization" was really in the late 1970's, although it has continued to the present.  The most recent position that transitioned from a sworn police officer to a civilian was the Crime Analysis Unit Manger, in 2010.  Here is a list of job titles at LPD that were once occupied by sworn police officers earlier in my career, and are now civilian.  It is a total of over 35 positions:

Crime Analysis Unit Manager
Crime Analyst
Idenfiication Lab Manager
Service Desk Supervisor
Police Service Specialist
Records Manager
Records Supervisor
Systems Supervisor
Systems Specialist
Administrative Officer
Property and Evidence Manager
Stores Clerk
Audio-Visual Technician

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Hand on the chessboard

It was 1979, and I was a sergeant on the police department's Northwest Team.  I encountered two girls who had run out of gas, and were basically broke.  They were on the way back to Kansas after a road trip, and had miscalculated their cash reserves.  I sprung for $5 worth of regular at the Sinclair, so they could make it home. It isn't uncommon at all for police officers to help someone with a few gallons of gas, a bucket or chicken, or a box of diapers, but last weekend this one came back to roost from the mists of time.  Here is the story.

Tonja and I took advantage of  the Armistice Day weekend to take a trip to Kansas City for some Christmas shopping. We settled in for two nights at the airport Hilton. We stayed here a couple times before when we were flying from MCI, and liked the accommodations. It is a long ways from the Plaza, but there was a deal-to-good-to-refuse available, and it's close to one of Tonja's other favorite shopping areas, Zona Rosa. I started looking for a restaurant in the north metro for Sunday, so we wouldn't have to backtrack on our last night. I was thinking of someplace new, that we hadn't been to before. After a few minutes with Yelp, I stumbled upon Justus Drugstore in Smithville, MO, which was just a few minutes northeast of our hotel just beyond the fringe of the Kansas City metropolitan area.  The reviews looked great, so I snagged a reservation.

Dinner was excellent, and we loved the restaurant.  We chatted with our server, Cindy, about how pleased we were to find such a gem, and lamented our misfortune at living so far away.  "Where are you from?" she asked.  "Lincoln," we replied.  "Ah, Lincoln," she said, "I have such fond memories of Lincoln.  Back when I was 18, I got stranded in Lincoln on my way back from Iowa, and a police officer bought me some gas to get home." The hair on the back of my neck suddenly came to attention.  "You had a girlfriend with you," I said, "Pretty sure that was me. You must be about 51 or 52 now."  

We were both shocked and tingling. Tonja was speechless. Pretty soon, chef-owner John Justus was over at out table, and we were retelling the story. Cindy, it turns out, tells this story to most all of her guests from Lincoln.  We posed for a group photo, and exchanged handshakes and hugs.  What a night, what a dinner, and what a story! It was one of those moments when you realize that a bigger hand is moving the pieces on the chessboard of life.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Racial profiling training

A couple of years ago, the Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center asked me to teach a segment on racial profiling in the week-long course for law enforcement managers. This course is a requirement for officers promoted to managerial ranks.  I had done a similar class for staff at the Lincoln police department a few times, which probably was the reason I was asked to teach the topic at NLETC. I took the drive out to Grand Island last week to teach my most recent session.

My original approach was focused on explaining the law and emphasizing the requirements imposed on Nebraska law enforcement agencies for collecting and reporting data. Over time, I have included some significant discussion of the racial disparity in motor vehicle stops, and the variety of potential explanations for the disparity.  One of the things I've been emphasizing lately is that racially disparate police practices are not necessarily ill-intentioned: a strategy employed by an individual officer or an agency can have a disparate impact even when the motive for its had no biased intention whatsoever.

It is up to managers and supervisors to recognize these, and to make informed decisions on whether the need to employ the strategy is worth the disparate impact it might have. A good example would be a decision on where to locate a sobriety checkpoint.  In a diverse city, the location selected could have a huge impact on the racial composition of the drivers stopped.  Other examples abound. In Lincoln, if you assigned a patrol car equipped with an automated license plate reader system in the Southwest Team area on A Beat, the demographic characteristics of drivers stopped, ticketed, and arrested as a result of its use would be far different than if the same equipment had been deployed on the Southeast Team's B Beat.

Early in my career, there was an illegal after hours speakeasy in Lincoln's Malone neighborhood patronized almost exclusively by black customers. A couple times each year, the place would be raided, a few guys would receive tickets for being inmates of a disorderly house, and the police would cart off a makeshift craps table, a couple coolers of beer, and a cigar box of cash.  Out in east Lincoln however, was a legendary night spot with a much more sophisticated collection of gambling paraphernalia, and casino nights that--if the rumors were true--made Charlie's dice game look pretty insignificant by comparison. I don't ever recall it being raided.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Life and death

This is going to be a long-winded story.  If you're short on time or get bored, you can skip the tedious part and just go to the heart of the matter: the last sentence.  I was reading reports in my living room early yesterday morning, when a case file brought back the memory of a winter night almost three decades ago.

I was a 31 year old sergeant with the big squad of officers working the second shift for the Northwest-Center Team.  It was a busy Friday night, and the city was hopping.  Everyone on our squad was tied up on calls, so dispatch sent Officer Bob Citta off his beat from Southwest Lincoln to an incident downtown.  He was a long ways off, but this couldn't wait for a downtown officer to clear.  The dispatcher detailed him to the McDonald's restaurant on the southeast corner of 14th and O Streets, where Sandy's bar is now located, on a report that a man had come into the business carrying a large knife.

I was just clearing from HQ a few blocks away, so I offered to back and cruised up 14th Street.  There was an unobstructed view into the restaurant. It looked like business as usual inside, so I didn't wait for Officer Citta's arrival. I told dispatch that everything appeared normal, and went in to see what had happened.  The manager was at the counter, and gave me the details: a man had come into the store and approached the counter as if he was going to place an order.  He was holding a very large knife in his right hand, with a wrap-around handle like brass knuckles.  He kept the knife at his side, and never said anything. After a few seconds, he simply turned and walked away, leaving out the O Street door a few minutes before I arrived.

"Can you describe him for me?" I asked.  "Well, he was shorter, and had bushy red hair.  He was wearing an OD field jacket and blue jeans...." Suddenly, the manager pointed over my right shoulder and said, "That's him!"  I turned.  The man he described had entered through the same O Street door and was making a beeline towards the restroom, now with me in hot pursuit.   As he pushed the restroom door open, I heard a loud metallic clank. He had tossed his trench knife in the sink, although I couldn't see it.  I grabbed a handful of jacket and the fight was on. We spilled into the dining room, customers scattering, tables, milkshakes, and french fries flying.

Now many young men have been in a fight at some point in time: maybe some fisticuffs for honor behind the schoolhouse, or a scuffle on the basketball court when tempers have flared.  Few, however, have been in a real fight, one in which someone is likely to be hurt, and hurt badly.  I had been in plenty of scrums during my 11 years as a police officer, but this one was entirely different.  This man wasn't trying to posture for his girlfriend, save face in front of his buddies, or merely get away from a police officer attempting to make an arrest. He had plenty of opportunity to just bolt for the door. This guy came back for a fight, he wanted to fight, and was amped up to the nth degree.

Time is compressed in such situations. Two or three minutes seems like an eternity.  You are exhausted within moments.  I needed both hands from the outset, and couldn't reach for my radio to call Code 61.  The customers and crew were looking on, and I was hoping someone was on the phone.  I later learned that the manager had called 911 three times during the battle, as dispatchers frantically tried to find someone closer to respond. At one point, I managed to get my nightstick out, and deliver a blow to his legs, without much effect.  The subject grabbed my nightstick, and we struggled for control. I was bigger, but couldn't quite get the upper hand.

And then it happened.  We were wrestling with both hands over my baton, when he head butted me, square in the face and hard. Really hard.  I was dazed, seeing stars, about to puke.  I knew that if I lost consciousness or lost control of my nightstick, I was a goner. There was a S&W Model 66 .357 on my hip and a Model 36 .38 in my ankle holster. I couldn't let go of the stick to reach for either, but if I passed out, my assailant would have all my weapons, and he had that look in his eyes.  As this life and death moment was about to tip one way or the other, a rookie University of Nebraska police officer, Carl Oestmann, arrived and entered the fray just as my knees buckled.  He was followed shortly by Officer Don Naughton, and then the cavalry.

Officer Oestmann, probably ignoring some rule about leaving campus to chase City calls, had saved my life.  I was apparently talking nonsense, which concerned Officer Naughton sufficiently that he piled me into his patrol car and trundled me off to the hospital. I was treated and released, sent on my way with a prescription for Darvon suffering nothing more serious than a slightly bruised ego, a bad headache, split lip, and a couple loosened teeth.  I took a pass on the prescription, and went home to my loving wife, my little boy, and my baby girl, all sleeping soundly.

As I was reading the police reports on this case yesterday morning, I thought back to my encounter with Mark Rittenhouse on that cold February night in 1985.  Officer Tu Tran was in a similar situation--probably even more dangerous--in the wee hours yesterday morning. Alone, he had lost his radio during the pursuit and struggle, deployed his TASER without sufficient effect, was engaged in a protracted episode of hand-to-hand combat, and was rapidly running out of options.  As is often the case, this was a much more intense encounter than the short news story conveys.

Thank God Officer Tran was able to prevail, and that his fellow officers found him with the help of a citizen who heard the fight, called 911, and vectored them in to his aid.  Thank God there are men and women who are willing to risk their lives in the dark of night to protect their community and their fellow citizens.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Slammed with spam

My blog has been crippled this week by a huge attack of spam comments.  While the flood has subsided somewhat, I still may have to turn on word verification, if this continues.  I have avoided doing so in the past because I think it is a hassle for readers, but at the rate this is going, I'll have to do something soon.

I've spent my usual blogging time in the early morning this week upgrading my home computer to Windows 8, which has certainly been a journey.  It's running happily now, though, and I am actually enjoying a nice improvement in performance over Windows Vista.  The boot time is much better, and it feels to me like Windows 7 with a skin.  The new interface is becoming less annoying as the week progresses. The performance improvement has been worth the pain.

Pardon my lapse in posts this week, and I'll get back to business shortly. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

By Tuesday

Snapped this at 56th and Highway 2, around the time of my previous post, Ba leaners. I haven't been back southbound after dark lately, so I can't confirm whether the repair took place by Tuesday or not.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wildcard queries

Late last week, the Omega Group, makers of the CrimeView suite of products we use, announced a small addition to their web-based mapping product, CrimeView Dashboard: Wildcard Query.  This new feature allows users to add an ad hoc search with a wildcard within any field in the data, even one composed of unstructured text.  Let's say, for instance, that for some inexplicable reason you wanted to map the location of crimes committed with pumpkins.  Our crime data has fields for the mechanism of vandalism, and for weapons and projectiles, but "pumpkin" is not one of the values in the entry table.  The data does, however, include a 60 character comments field that summarizes the crime, and searching within that field for the term "pumpkin" would produce the map in a jiffy.

This isn't entirely new to LPD, as our records management system has always had this capability, but still, it's pretty nice if you want to do something like quickly map the location of the car/bicycle traffic crashes this year (78), or make a map of the home addresses of the registered sex offenders named "Bill" (4).

Exploring the function of the new feature, I ran a query for iCrimes this year, a topic I blogged about years ago, and one that still surfaces in the news from time to time.

Apple products of the iP* variety have figured in 471 crimes in Lincoln thus far in 2012.  The larcenies and burglaries are pretty obvious, and you can figure out scenarios pretty easily for the frauds, robberies, and auto thefts.  How, though, would an iPhone figure into a child abuse case?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Impressive STEMI care

I'm republishing below an email sent out last week by Lincoln Fire & Rescue EMS supervisor Scott Wiebe to his coworkers.  You may have heard the phrase "time is muscle", indicating that when a coronary artery is blocked, time is of the essence. With each passing minute that the heart muscle is starved of oxygen, the severity of damage increases, as does the threat to life.

"Everyone, Unbelievable work!!! Here are the results of the impressive work that is done in our system for patients suffering an S-T elevation MI who are taken to Bryan/LGH East. The national “Gold” time standard is 90 minutes from EMS arrival from first device deployed (FDD). As you can see for quarter 3 of 2012 we averaged 66 minutes which is 24 minutes or 27% FASTER than what is defined as exceptional care. In fact,  looking retrospectively, as a cardiac care system we have outpaced the gold standard from EMS Arrival to FDD every quarter since 2010. I would like to congratulate and thank each of you for the exceptional care that you provide each and every day for patients suffering a STEMI!!  Please let me know if you have any questions and keep up the great work."

To translate (with a litle help from Chief Huff), when people in Lincoln suffer a heart attack, we get them to the hospital, and get a procedure underway very quickly--thus increasing the chance of survival, and decreasing the severity of damage. That's a team effort.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Maybe it's Facebook

There was an intriguing comment submitted this morning on one of last week's posts.  The topic of the original post was the increase in mental health investigations by the police.  The person leaving the comment has his or her own theory on something that may be contributing to this increase.  I thought it was interesting enough to merit it's own post:

"As an Officer I think a large portion of the increase can be attributed to the proliferation of social media, specifically Facebook. Several suicidal party calls are generated through social media, ie.'She posted suicidal statements on Facebook.' The vast majority of these calls are false alarms and I've never seen anyone EPC'd over a Facebook posting. I can't even think of a time that a Facebook threat has led to a self admit. Usually when we find the poster, he/she are clearly not suicidal and typically were looking for attention or upset with a friend of family member and trying to scare them. The increase in social media over the last few years should be noted when looking at the increase of these types of calls. "

Monday, October 22, 2012

New servers

From time to time, I have asserted that the Lincoln Police Department Records Management System is simply the best police information system I have ever seen (and I have seen quite a few.)  The amount of information at a Lincoln police officers fingertips is simply unprecedented, as is the ease of obtaining that information. Although I occasionally see individual applications at other agencies that are impressive, when you consider the total package, there is no way I would trade.

Part of this success is early adoption of information technology. Another key was the selection of an especially flexible and robust operating system and database, OpenVMS and ADMINS.  How many software companies do you suppose are still in business after 38 years? There are several other factors I could point to that also contribute to the success of LPD's information technology.  The most significant, however, is the fact that the information system was designed from the outset with a laser focus on the end user: police officers. One of the young sergeants who was on the initial design team, Clair Lindquist, continues to work his magic, and continues to enhance and create functionality that never ceases to amaze.

Last week, ADMINS and our Records Management System transitioned to a new hardware platform, a pair of Hewlett Packard Itanium-based Integrity servers. In 1979-80, ADMINS ran on a Digital Equipment Corporation PDP 11/70 mini computer--before the PC was invented. Within a few years, it moved to first of several DEC VAX and HP Alpha servers.  You will still hear the LPD Records Management System occasionally referred to as "the VAX," and it is often referred to as "the Alpha."  Effective last Saturday, it isn't an Alpha anymore, but I'm betting that term sticks around for a long time anyway.

The cut over had some bumps and bruises, not unusual when you consider the size and complexity of this enterprise, and the sheer number of connections, interfaces and processes that ADMINS touches.  Kudos to everyone at LPD and at the City Information Services Division who worked hard on the transition.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Devolved upon the police

One of the more common dispatched incidents for Lincoln police officers these days is a mental health investigation.  It's a topic that I've blogged about before.  Since I launched my blog in early 2007, however, the number of cases handled by the police has nearly doubled.  I believe this is a reflection of declining resources available in the community for people with mental illnesses--especially those who are poor and those who are in crisis.  Essentially, as the services have dwindled, the problem has devolved upon the police.

Capt. Joe Wright is doing an in-service training class for police officers this week on this subject, and I took notice of the very first slide in his PowerPoint. The data confirms these anecdotal observations.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

How much is that doggie in the window?

One dollar.  You just can't make this stuff up.  Lightly edited to protect identities, click to enlarge.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Not quite how it works

There was an interesting opinion column in the Lincoln Journal Star last week written by Coby Mach, the director of the Lincoln Independent Business Association.  Mr. Mach calls upon the members of the firefighters union to give up many of the benefits or "perks" in their contract.  There are a couple of slightly misleading inferences in the column, but he's got the major benefits right, and there is no denying that firefighters in Lincoln earn a nice wage and have some pretty good fringes, too.

What interested me about this was whether Mr. Mach was simply using this column as a vehicle to inform his fellow citizens of the wages and benefits firefighters receive, or whether he truly believes that by calling upon a labor union to give up some of their benefits, you can actually convince them to do so. If it is the later, that's not quite how it works.

Labor unions exist to get the best possible salary, benefits and working conditions they can for their members through collective bargaining  They do so in negotiations with management--in this case, the City of Lincoln. Negotiating is a back-and-forth process in which each party attempts to get what they want. If the give and take does not result in an agreement, and the parties are at impasse, they may exercise their options under the law.

In Nebraska, state law establishes the process by which disagreements may ultimately be settled in the Commission on Industrial Relations.  The prevailing rule is comparability: public employee salaries and benefits are to be compared by the Commission to those of employees doing similar work requiring similar skills in similar conditions.

A proceeding in the Commission to resolve a dispute is much like a trial: both sides present their evidence, usually composed of salary and benefit information from other jobs they think are suitable matches, and the Commission ultimately decides.  Like a trial, you can win or you can lose. There is a certain risk involved for both sides, which operates as an inducement for the parties to earnestly attempt to reach an agreement without resort to the Commission.

Under this legal scheme, created by the Nebraska Legislature, you can expect the salary and benefits of public employees to be pretty close to the midpoint of similar employees in other places that resemble Lincoln.  The parties at odds can argue about the math, and disagree about what the most comparable places may be, but in the end the range is not very large, regardless of who prevails.

Laws can be changed, and the City of Lincoln has advocated changes in the past. The statutes were tweaked last year but there has not been a sufficient number of cases before the Commission since those revisions to assess their impact.  If Mr. Mach and LIBA believe that firefighters' benefits are out of line and should be eliminated or reduced, lobbying for changes in the state law that would produce that result is probably more productive than calling upon a union to voluntarily surrender their benefits.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Ba leaners

Just off 4th and Main Street in Keokuk, Iowa, my Dad's home town, stood a dry cleaning establishment.  The letter C must have pooped out sometime during the Eisenhower administration, and for the next 25 years, as dusk fell the neon sign beckoned with the promise of ARTISTIC   LEANERS.  An on-going Casady family shtick speculated about the goods and services available there.  In the most common version, one could retain the services of a couple beatniks, arranging for them to come over to your place on Saturday wearing turtlenecks and berets.  They would then strike dramatic poses against the living room walls as your guests arrived, adding a certain je ne sais quoi to your cocktail party.

That was in the 1970s, and I do not know the current status of the expired C. I note, however, that the  laundry is still  in business, 30 years after Dad and I last chuckled about the sign. Thus began my longstanding habit of keeping an eye peeled for and missing letters in neon signs, and pronouncing them just as they appear.  I'm sure the fam has grown a little weary of me suddenly blurting things out like, "Look, it's the F  IEND     MOT  L  , let's stay there!"

My second favorite was in Summit County, Colorado, where we usually vacationed with our kids. One summer evening in the early 1980's, a local recommended a nearby saloon for good Mexican. Rather than the usual navigational instructions, she simply told us to drive down the highway and look for a sign flashing BA  BA  BA .  Those were the best driving directions I have ever received, and we enjoyed the Old Dillon Inn on many return visits over the next quarter century.

It is a pity that the ODI appears to have closed.  The ba would have been a perfect hang out for some of those artistic leaners.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Collateral consequences

Last week in a news article, I caught wind of this website under development:

The site is a project by the American Bar Association, funded by the National Institute of Justice under a 2007 Congressional mandate. It is an attempt to identify all the potential consequences for criminal convictions in each state, and to provide a tool that can be used by the public to research these.

Only a few States have been added so far, and Nebraska is not among those.  Neighboring Iowa, however, is one of the early ones, and can provide some insight into the potential ramifications of various kinds of criminal convictions on such things as business and professional licenses, public housing, and employment.

Suffice it to say that the fine or jail term is just one of the bad things that can happen when someone is convicted of a crime.  The collateral consequences can last a lifetime, and have a significant negative impact on one's life and livelihood.  How do you suppose a registered sex offender fares in the world these days?

I suspect that people who think about these collateral consequences have a couple different reactions.  Some   think that they are a terrible over reaction that creates and sustains a permanent underclass. Others think, "don't do the crime if you can't do the time."  Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle: some of these consequences are quite appropriate in serving the interests of public safety; others may be overbroad and should be either eliminated or changed to reduce the length or severity of their impact.

Basically, I believe it is in the public interest for people who have been convicted of crimes and served their sentence to be gainfully employed and to be able to find suitable housing.  Disabilities imposed by law that impair this ought to be carefully weighed, and in many cases should be limited to a defined duration. If an ex-offender has demonstrated that he or she is no longer a risk for an appropriate length of time, the disability should be mitigated or expire in many circumstances.

While I truly believe in second chances and in the possibility of rehabilitation, at the same time I have little sympathy for sex offenders, chronic offenders, and offenders whose victims were children.  When in doubt, I would prefer to err on the side of protecting others, rather than making life easier for the offender.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Provocative idea

Every now and then, someone comes up with an idea that fundamentally alters things.  A so-called "game-changer".  I think that Commander James Schnabl, of the Santa Ana, CA Police Department may have done just that.

In an article published in the September edition of The Police Chief, Commander Schnabl asks the question,"Are Video Police Reports the Answer?"  He then lays out a paradigm shift, in which the police officer's written report is essentially replaced by real-time video recording of interviews with victims, witnesses, and suspects.  The written report becomes just a brief supplement to the meat-and-potatoes provided by the video.

Commander Schnabl essentially questions the status quo, in which police officers make observations and conduct interviews, distilling these into written reports describing the investigation. While recordings are made in some cases, they basically supplement the written case file.   Instead, in Schnabl's process, video provides direct evidence of what the officer saw, did, and what people said. The written report is merely a synopsis that supplements the video, rather than the other way around.

The development, improvement, availability, and proliferation of personal video recording equipment makes this rethinking of police reporting more plausible.  I have no doubt that body-worn recording, server-based retrieval, advancements in video technology, and improvements in archiving and storage will continue to impact police work. Schnabl's radical reinventing of police reporting may indeed be around the corner.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Evaluating times

The City of Lincoln has converted to a biennial budget, relieving those of us in managerial and accounting roles of the annual budget cycle, which begins in December, and ends in August.  Hallelujah.  The administration has decided, in the absence of the work normally associated with budget preparation, that the next year would be a good time to reassess and hone the performance indicators departments are using to gauge their progress towards the City's eight goals.

All three of the public safety agencies are in fairly good shape, but we do have a few measures that need to be tweaked, to make sure they are clearly stated, relevant, understandable by lay people, and backed by a reliable source of data.

LPD, LF&R and the Emergency Communications Center all have one or more performance measure that revolves around time:  response time to crimes in progress, dispatch time for Echo medical emergencies, response time to rescue alarms, and so forth.  For many years, we all set goals for call processing, dispatching, turnout time, response time and so forth as averages.  For example, one of police department's goals is to average less than 5 minutes response time to priority 1 and priority 2 dispatches.

A few years ago, Lincoln Fire and Rescue abandoned the use of averages, and began reporting response time in fractiles. Thus, two of LFR's goals are to achieve an emergency response to life-threatening medical emergencies within 6 minutes, 90% of the time, and the arrival of an advanced life support ambulance within 8 minutes, 90% of the time.  I am convinced that this is a far better way of analyzing response time than using an average.  An average can be skewed by a large number of very short response times, which counterbalance a smaller but significant subset of responses that are unacceptably long.

We are in the process of converting all of our time-based performance indicators that are still averages to fractiles, and setting benchmarks.  This will give us a more informative way of assessing whether we are doing a good job of responding quickly to time-critical incidents, whether police or fire, and of processing and dispatching emergent calls in the Emergency Communications Center.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Time matters, sometimes

Response time has been a topic of discussion among the police chief, fire chief, and emergency communications coordinator of late. Jim, John, Julie, and I have been working on our measurement of response time, and a variety of strategies to ensure that we are delivering good services by expediting responses when this is appropriate. Our primary focus has been to establish reasonable goals, and eliminate unnecessary delays.

In public safety services, time is of the essence--some of the time.  When a crime is in progress, time matters.  When a life-threatening medical emergency is occurring, time matters.  But for much of what we do, time matters much less.  For example, a good deal of crime is belated: it happened over a span of hours or days, although it was just recently discovered.  It would make no sense to drive Code 3 to the scene of a bicycle theft, when the lock had been cut sometime between last night and this morning.  Similarly, it would be foolish to send an emergent response to a medical call in which the outcome for the patient is unlikely to be affected by the additional 60 seconds required for a non-emergent response. The risk created by the code response exceeds any benefit it produces.

This is not to say that time is irrelevant in non-emergencies.  Renewing my license plates is not an emergency.  Delivering the appetizer to my table at the restaurant is not an emergency.  But I am a happy customer when the renewal can be handled expeditiously, and the appetizer arrives in advance of the entree. Quick service is nice, but not at the expense of a typo on my title or a cold center in my egg roll.

I am willing to tolerate a little wait if I have a general idea what to expect.  If I'm tapping my fingers, expecting a police officer in ten minutes to take a report of the hit & run damage I discovered in the parking lot, I'm a bit perturbed after 40 minutes. On the other hand, if I had been told it would be within the next hour, I'd probably be fine with that.  It's sort of like waiting for the cable guy: give me a date and a reasonable time range, and I can plan around that.

Emphasizing response time, without considering the type and circumstances of the incident can unwittingly lead to bad practices: encouraging unsafe driving, cutting corners on other important duties, failing to prioritize limited resources, and so forth.  The key is to determine the time-sensitive incidents, and establish a reasonable measure of a suitable response time based on the realistic conditions of complexity, distance, and traffic.

The simple fact of the matter is this: even in public safety operations, most of what we do is non-emergent, and time is not of the essence.  A routine response without unnecessary delay will  be satisfactory to our customers, especially if they have an idea what to expect, and will not negatively impact the outcome.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How do they do that?

Over the weekend, I ordered two cables from Apple.  Shortly thereafter, I received a FedEx tracking number.  FedEx received the shipment order from Apple on Sunday night, and picked up my cables in Shenzen, China on Monday morning at 8:53 AM.  By Tuesday morning at 8:12 the shipment had made its way to the local FedEx facility in Lincoln.  It was delivered one hour and 18 minutes later at  9:30 AM. I find it incredible that a parcel landed on my step 24 hours and 37 minutes after it was picked up half way around the world.

Question: how do they do that?


Answer: with a very fast kayak, and a short layover in Hawaii. 

(Driving directions courtesy of Google)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Maps dissapoint

Over the weekend, I updated my small personal fleet of Apple products to the latest operating system, iOS 6. I figure it is always best to stay up with software updates, so I bit the bullet.  After playing with Siri on my iPad 3 for a few minutes, I concluded that it was remarkably accurate, but sort of a solution in search of a problem.  I might use it occasionally. I liked the Do Not Disturb feature a lot, though, which will prevent my devices from buzzing all night, but still allow important calls through.

Apple's new Maps application had been getting quite a bit of buzz in the pre-release press, with gushing reviews of its turn-by-turn navigation and Flyover mode. As a GIS geek, that was the feature that I was most interested in checking out. When I opened it for a little exploration, though, it looked like a considerable downgrade to me.  I soon learned that I was not alone: the Internet was a-twitter with map-savvy users complaining about it's inaccuracies, omissions, and problems.

Posting oddities from Apple's Maps app has blossomed into something of an Internet sport in the past few days, and there are plenty of example from Lincoln.  Whittier Junior High School closed 35 years ago, in 1977.  Hayward Elementary School closed 30 years ago, in 1982.  Despite the label in Apple's Maps app, there is no such place as Hatfield Elementary School in the College View neighborhood or anywhere else in the City, and there never has been. There is a Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial and it is indeed a National Park, but it is not on the corner of Jefferson and South Streets, not in the City of Lincoln, nor in the State of Nebraska.

I found lots of other examples around town.  Southwest High School, which opened ten years ago, is missing entirely; but Bethany School, closed for three decades, is still depicted on the map.  Apple apparently didn't get the memo about the State Fair moving to Grand Island, or the skating pond at 15th and Lake Street being drained more than 30 years ago, and they must have forgot about Stransky Park--one of the same neighborhood's real gems.

All these little oddities are amusing, but they have little impact on how I use maps.  The accuracy of streets is pretty good, which is the main need in public safety.  The reason I was most disappointed with the new Maps application was the loss of Google's remarkable Streetview, which I use often, and the lower resolution aerial imagery compared to its predecessor. High-quality imagery is great for firefighters and police officers, and the new application is a step in the wrong direction.  As an example, here is the playground at Antelope park, Apple on the left, Google on the right.

The loss of Streetview and the downgrade in the imagery is not offset by the much-touted Flyover mode, which has extremely limited coverage.  I don't live and work in Las Vegas or New York City, and for my purposes, it's hard to beat the Pictometry images in Bing maps' Birdseye View at the present time.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Furlough more common

This police shooting down the road in Omaha has spurred a little low-level controversy over the Reentry Furlough Program at the Nebraska Department of Corrections. While I do not pretend to know all the details of this offender's situation, I can tell you that the number of people on furlough (not to be confused with parole) is increasing in Nebraska, as it is nationwide. We presently have 46 offenders in the Reentry Furlough Program living in the community here in Lincoln, compared to 443 on parole from the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services.

Essentially, the cost of housing and caring for prisoners has become so great that state and local governments are looking for more options to get offenders into some other kind of setting: house arrest, home detention, pre-trial release, probation, intensive supervision probation, drug court, work release, halfway houses, furlough, and parole.  There are all manner of options, and I am generally supportive of such programs.

It galls me to think that my tax dollars are providing three squares, new eyeglasses, Ampicillin, hemorroidectomies and root canals to non-violent offenders who could be taking care of themselves, to some extent. Frankly, I've known plenty of people who have been cooling their heels in jail or prison for things like third offense drunk driving, kiting checks, stealing granny's credit card, and so forth who do not need a high-security facility where the doors cost ten grand each.  Don't get me wrong: I want them to pay for their crime.  I just don't necessarily want to pay their room, board, and upkeep while they do so.  In many cases, they would be fine with a house mother who does bed checks. Many could continue their employment or find work, make partial restitution, pay some of their child support, or defray the other costs that end up being borne by taxpayers, and we'd all be better off.

The trick, however, as the Omaha case illustrates, is picking the right offenders.  When you have thousands of people under correctional control who have been placed in community settings, you are bound to have an occasional situation where Something Bad Happens.  When it does, it is a good time to review the criteria, the decision making, and the other contributing circumstances to see if anything needs to be tweaked.  I do not, however, like to see the baby thrown out with the bath water.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

iPhone found

Reading reports yesterday, I came across Case Number B2-089570, a theft report. The victim is a delivery driver, and had left his iPhone in a hidden spot on his motor scooter, while he made a quick ground floor delivery downtown at 14th and O Streets. In the few moments it was out of his sight, the phone was stolen. He went back into the business, logged onto iCloud, and used Find My iPhone to determine the location of his phone: at about 1st and O Street.

The victim enlisted help from a friend, and the two went on the hunt, tracking the iPhone further west, to a wooded area just north of the Westgate Industrial Park. There, they encountered a hobo camp, and summoned the police. The investigating officers contacted a transient returning to the camp, and found the iPhone's case in his knapsack. The victim subsequently found the iPhone discarded in the brush nearby. Find My iPhone put the victim and officers in the right neighborhood to make the recovery and arrest. This is a scenario that plays out every day in the USA.

For as long as I've been around, and probably sixty years before, the wooded areas near Salt Creek, Oak Creek, and Middle Creek west of downtown have been dotted with these camps. It's not Madison, though, so there's no electricity. You'd have to make your way to an outlet elsewhere when the battery poops out. I'm glad the victim got his phone back, and the thief got a night of stainless steel indoor plumbing.

By the way, this is the same area where a murder occurred several years ago.   Alfredo Estrada was found deceased on April 17, 1996.  Some excellent investigation led to two other transients who had been with Estrada around the time of his demise. As the investigation continued to unfold in the summer of 1998, more than two years after Estrada was killed, Vincent Janis was charged with manslaughter and a warrant was issued for his arrest.  Janis was located in South Dakota, but died of natural causes before he could be tried.

Friday, September 14, 2012

When and where

Whew! A month of emergency water restriction violations has come to an end.  My hat is off to the police officers who worked diligently to bring some enforcement teeth to this little crisis, when voluntary restrictions failed to do the job.  Some individual officers in particular shouldered a particularly heavy load, due to their shift and beat assignments. The violations had some strong patterns in both time and space, so if you worked any of the hours between 0400 and 1000 on the night or morning shift in northwest or southeast Lincoln, you were more likely to catch these calls.  Here's a visual on the spatial and temporal distribution:

While the map shows the density of the violation complaints, it is also depicting the relative density of automatic sprinkler systems, and the bar graph of violation times also reflects the preferred watering schedule of their owners, along with the time newspaper is delivered.  I think we can conclude that newer subdivisions at the edge are more likely to have automatic sprinklers, that most people follow the standard advice of watering in the early morning, and that newspaper carriers have cell phones.

Nebraska has a history of multi-year drought cycles, so we could be back in a water emergency again next summer or more often in the next several years. The Mayor has assembled a work group that I will be participating in to see if we can build a better mousetrap.  I'm pretty confident we can, and I intend to try to figure out how we can enforce restrictions more efficiently and without involving the criminal justice system.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Pick up the phone and call

When you need emergency services, the instructions are pretty simple: pick up a phone and call 911.  I used to say dial 911, but I can't seem to find a phone with an actual dial anymore.  Despite this simplicity, however, more and more people seem to expect that they can summon the police, fire, and other emergency services with a text message.  Actually, Durham, NC has been engaged for about a year in a trial of this, during which they received precisely one (1) text message: to report an audible alarm sounding.

There are some significant drawbacks to text messages, in the public safety field.  This short article lists some of those, but if you're really geeked out, the long story lays it out in excruciating detail.  Suffice it to say that for the time being, and at least for the next several years, an actual telephone call is by far the most effective way to engage a public safety emergency response.  There may be some value in tapping in to the texting phenomenon, especially for the police, but when the chips are down or lives are at stake, nothing comes close to a phone call for getting the cavalry on the way.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Where were you?

Note:  this is a re-post from my blog five years ago today.

I was in Ms. Luna’s fifth grade class at Rountree Elementary School in Springfield, MO on November 22, 1963. Everyone my age remembers where they were on that day.

On Tuesady morning, September 11, 2001, I was in the main conference room at LPD Headquarters. Our weekly staff meeting had just begun. Just as the meeting began, someone came in and told us that the World Trade Center had been struck by an aircraft. We turned on the television just about the time the second tower was struck.

Since the command staff was already assembled, we quickly brainstormed about what we ought to be doing, and started making some assignments of officers to key public facilities, such as the Federal Building, State Office Building, State Capital, City-County Building, and Airport. We didn’t have any detailed instructions, other than to be visible and to keep your eyes open for the unusual. More than anything, I suppose, we just wanted to make sure that citizens were reassured somewhat by the visibility of the police at these public places.

I imagine that 45 years from now, those in their mid-fifties will all remember exactly where they were on September 11, 2001.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Might not solve the problem

I knew this was coming, based on the comments here on my blog and at the newspaper's web site over the past couple of weeks: the Lincoln Journal Star lead editorial in today's edition opines that the City should change the classification of convictions for violating Lincoln's emergency water restrictions from a misdemeanor to an infraction.

The reason for their position is outlined in this article, by Nancy Hicks, asserting that conviction of such a violation could effect someone's professional license or employment prospects. They are correct in noting that the improved availability of criminal history records has made access to these public records easier than ever. They may be correct in the assertion that some lazy employment offices are just setting aside applicants with any kind of conviction, rather than applying some judgement to make a decision whether the offense has any bearing on the position sought.  But if that is the problem, I'm not so sure a change in the classification will work.

Conviction of an infraction is a public record too, and there is no exception in the law that allows such a record to be redacted or withheld.  If you get yourself convicted here in Lincoln of possessing less than an ounce of marijuana  failing to pick up your dog poop, flicking a cigarette butt out the window, placing a "Lose 30 pounds in 30 days" sign in the public right of way, or allowing your unspayed cat to run at large (or any one of hundreds of other minor misdemeanors and infractions), this will appear on your public criminal history record when someone forks over a sawbuck to buy it from LPD.  Traffic infractions are also available online from the State Department of Motor Vehicles, and many employers use this service.

The editorial may have pinpointed an issue concerning practices of some organizations that try to substitute automated records checks for intelligent discernment by an employment official who uses some common sense.  The solution offered, however, might not solve the problem.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

LBS for community corrections

For the past couple of years, I have been very excited about the technology known as location-based services.  CrimeView NEARme (formerly known as P3i), invented here in Lincoln, is my best example of the value LBS has in policing.  Location-based services, however, have potential value in government far beyond this application, and so far, the surface is only being scratched.

Very early on, I thought that an LBS application could be very valuable for people who work in community corrections, such as parole officers. Here in Lincoln, we have offenders supervised on parole, probation, furlough, drug court, house arrest, work release, and pre-trial release. We also have over 600 registered sex offenders, whose addresses are subject to verification.  The total number of clients is about 3,700 at any given time, but has been growing as more offenders are released from incarceration.  Employees of the State Department of Correctional Services Parole Administration, Lancaster County Alternatives to Incarceration, and the State Probation Administration are all responsible for clients in these various community supervision programs.

It seems to me that an application like this would be very helpful to, for example, a parole officer with a case load of clients with home, school, and work addresses, around the community. When in the field, the officer would see these addresses presented on a moving map, not only improving routing to scheduled visits, but providing opportunities for other unscheduled visits to addresses that happen to be nearby.

Maximizing contacts with parolees, probationers, drug court clients, could improve the utilization of limited field supervision resources.  More contacts also are helpful to clients, encouraging their compliance with the conditions of their release, and reducing the chance of their relapse into unlawful conduct. Our research here in Lincoln has clearly demonstrated that the technology results in more contacts and attempted contacts with wanted persons by police officers, and there is no reason to doubt that the same impact would not occur if this technology was available to community corrections.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Brutal home opener

The University of Nebraska football team opened its season Saturday against Southern Mississippi.  The temperature at kickoff hovered in the mid 90's, with nary a breeze.  While the Cornhuskers rolled up over 600 yards in total offense, the fans were dropping left and right.  Around 300 people were treated for various levels of heat stress, along with a host of other medical emergencies.

While a number of agencies and organizations such as the Red Cross and Star Care are involved in the provision of medical care at Memorial Stadium, Lincoln Fire & Rescue is the backbone and backup.  It took a huge effort to deal with the flood of patients, and I am proud of the personnel who pulled together on one of the busiest days imaginable. And a hearty thanks to the surrounding fire districts who lent a hand when mutual aid was requested.

The police department had a huge day as well, with over 500 dispatched incidents.  Any time the police and fire departments are busy, it all funnels through the Emergency Communications Center at some point, so our dispatchers were working furiously, too.  All in all, a great team effort.  No a bad football game, either.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Oddities of the week

First, was this website, created by Mr. Wilson, the prolific blogger who publishes Lincolnite.  The subtle humor is that if you can't figure out whether your address is odd or even, you won't be able to figure out how to navigate to or read a webpage.  I also admire the fact that it actually works, and the numbers go up high enough to cover almost all the address in Lincoln that are within the city limits--I think it only misses one: the largest numeric address in the City.

Second, I snapped this photo while on my way to a meeting on the University of Nebraska campus Wednesday morning.  I spotted this on T Street,  just south of Memorial Stadium, which was on my route from the parking garage to Avery Hall. I wonder how many other Big 10 Universities have custom manhole covers.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Mug shot gallery

It's not uncommon these days for newspapers to publish galleries of mugshots of jail inmates.  In fact, I blogged more than three years ago about a particularly remarkable such gallery and database that was published by the Tampa Bay Times. Interestingly, the reporter primarily responsible for developing this site, something of an expert in computer-assisted reporting, is Matt Waite, who has now returned to Lincoln and is serving on the faculty of the College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Nebraska.

Apparently our own local paper, the Lincoln Journal Star, has now joined this trend.  I noticed last week a new feature in their online edition, a gallery of Lancaster County Jail inmates, updated daily at 6:00 AM.  Mug shots are a public record in Nebraska, so the County Corrections Department must supply these when requested.  There are a lot of sad faces in that lineup, and a story behind each.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Explanations abound

Okay, I know I have been going a little haywire with posts about Lincoln's watering restrictions, but it has temporarily solved my problem with writer's block.  I promise to exercise a little more self control after this one, and try to bring a little variety back to the Director's Desk.

Several people, including the Big Guy, have asked me why so many folks seem to be having trouble following the watering schedule.  The violators are few (at least in comparison to the population), and the explanations many, dominated by "I didn't know," "I forgot," "I was fuzzy about the schedule," and "I don't know how to operate by automatic sprinklers."

I have been reading a few reports from time to time, but just got the bug Sunday night, pulled out the iPad, and read some more. I thought I'd share some of the explanations, by excerpting officers' reports--protecting identities, of course. With few exceptions, these are good citizens, with whom I empathize, but who nonetheless failed to follow the law.

"Def. said he and his wife were equally responsible for the sprinklers, but he thought she had reprogrammed them to run on the correct days."

"As I issued her the citation she angrily said it should be her husband getting the ticket since he was the one who turned on the water.  Photos were taken and placed in property."

"Def. showed ofc. the controller, which was set to 'Auto'.  Def. insisted that he had turned it to 'Off', and that someone from his family must have messed with it. Def. was cited and released."

"Officer arrived at 0944 hrs and observed a sprinkler watering the lawn. Def was contacted and stated that he believed his girlfriend may have started the water last evening (on the correct day for watering) and they both forgot about it and it was probably watering all night. Def cited and released."

"I was dispatched on a water violation.  I arrived and observed the sprinkler system was on in front of this address. Def. stated she did not know her system was on and thought her father had reset the system for her."

"She was not happy to receive an official citation as she had heard that people were receiving warnings and no one had come to 'warn' her about violating the watering restrictions."

"She stated she knew the city currently had outdoor watering restrictions, but said she thought the provision was that residents could only water two days a week, on any two days they chose. Def. was advised of the particulars of the current watering restrictions, and was cited and released."

"Ofc. contacted def. who was the manager on duty at the time of the offense. She said that she had already been ticketed on Monday and was confused about when the should be watering. Ofc. explained how to determine the proper date to water by address. Def. was cited/released."

"She said she had heard 'rumors' about watering restrictions in the city, but had not made an attempt to learn the details. Def. was informed of the specifics of the restrictions, shown how to turn off her lawn sprikler system, and was cited and released."

"Owner was contacted and she stated she did not know we were in a drought and that there was a water restriction in place. I advised her that we have been in this emergency water restriction for almost a month now and that information was being given through numerous news outlets. She stated she did not know there was a restriction and suggested that the city find another way to inform its citizens of it."

"She said she had no idea there was a watering restriction because she doesn't have a TV, radio, the internet or take the newspaper. She was cited for the violation."

"Def. was advised of the violation that he was in and he immediately stated that he was unaware of the complete ban on Mondays. He stated that he doesn't watch TV, but I observed his large screen TV to be on as he made the statement. After I issued his citation he stated that he will be watering his back yard everyday because he has a tall privacy fence and no one will be able to see that he is watering. Def. disclosed that he works for ________, maintaining customers' lawns, but still had no idea that there was no watering on Mondays."

"I was sent to 1611 ________  regarding a water restriction violation...Def. said she thought her house counted as even numbered because it started with 16. I corrected her that her address was an odd number and her days to water were Tues, Thurs and Sat. She was then cited/released for a water restriction violation."

"I was dispatached to 610 ________ on a watering complaint. As I walked up the driveway I obs the def sitting outside on his driveway.  He asked if I was there because of his watering.  Def said he thought since the address ended in a zero that it was an odd day and he was okay to water. Def. was cited and released."

"Def. said she got up this morning & thought it was a Wednesday so she manually started the underground sprinklers. Def. now realized that it was Tuesday."

"He said an officer could stop by after that time to issue the citation and said the officer could call first to see if he was home. I asked def. if his wife would be home prior to his return because she could be issued the citation instead of him. Def. said he is the one who set the controller for the sprinkler system in error. He also said that he would rather be shot than have to deal with his wife getting the citation."

"Def. said that the sprinklers had been set years ago and he had no idea when the sprinklers are set to come on. Def. was cited and released."

"Def. was shown how to turn his sprinkler system to 'OFF' and was cited and released."

"I made contact with def. who advised she knew she couldn't water her lawn on Monday but forgot.  After being informed she would be receiving a citation, she stated, 'I'll just turn the  %$#@*&!  things off.'  Def. was cited/released."