Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Rare event

As if February 29th isn't a rare enough event, February 28th didn't want to be left out, so we were treated to a spring thunderstorm last night. Tonja and I sat in the darkened front room and watched the show. It even smelled like a spring thunderstorm. Neither of us could remember such a thing in February in Nebraska.

Another rare event occurred yesterday morning, when the command staffs of both the Lincoln Police Department and Lincoln Fire & Rescue met together. For a couple of hours, the group strategized about how we can do a better job of ensuring that we work well together at the scenes of incidents that both organizations are involved in, such as injury crash scenes, working fires, certain medical emergencies and violent crimes.

LF&R Battalion Chief Leo Benes and LPD Captain Jim Davidsaver facilitated. I had appointed them as a committee of two a couple months ago to undertake this task. It was a productive meeting, and we left with a plan consisting of specific action steps for better cross training, enhanced radio communication, incident debriefings, and functional exercising. I took a photo of the dry erase board where the action steps and assignments were listed with my phone, and emailed that photo to the police and fire chiefs. Sort of a low-tech version of these gizmos.

More than anything, though, I think we all came away from this meeting committed to making a concerted effort to ensure that the police and fire incident commanders at the scene of events are establishing unified command, and engaging in face-to-face communication whenever feasible.

Since I was appointed public safety director last summer, Chief Peschong, Chief Huff, Communications Coordinator Julie Righter and I have been meeting together every Friday morning to discuss our mutual issues and to effect coordination. All of us have been on the job since the mid 1970's, and none of us ever recall the police and fire command staffs meeting jointly. It was about as rare as a February thunderstorm in Lincoln.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Emerging leaders

I do a good deal of public speaking, to all sorts of groups. This week, though, I had a particularly challenging gig--an hour with the current class of Youth Leadership Lincoln, a group of 40 high school sophomores, selected to participate in this intensive leadership development program. I enjoy high school and college students a lot, and I am quite comfortable with these audiences. The challenging part was the topic: technology.

Think about it a minute. I'm a 58 year-old, talking to a group of 15-16 year-olds about technology. I told these future leaders about ALPR, the proliferation of video surveillance systems, the impact of technology on criminal investigations and personal privacy, and our ground-breaking location-based services application, P3i. No problem, I had nothing to worry about in retrospect. The hour flew by, and we could have talked all morning. I guess I can still hold my own in the constantly-connected crowd. But I still won't tweet.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Strange combination

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tale of woe

The names have been changed to protect the identity, but this is a tale of woe I received via email on Sunday:

"Hello, My name is John Doe. I emailed a few days ago about a parking ticket that was issued to me by a deputy. The ticket was issued by Officer J.Q. Public. It was issued at 4:50 p.m. on 02/12/12 at my resident parking lot of the apartment complex in which I live. There is a single handicapped stall in a line of roughly 25 stalls which never gets used by handicapped residence as there are none that I've seen in 9 months of living here. I never park in said spot as I know the law and I do not need to start a habit of breaking it. On the 12th I did park in said spot, however what I would like to know is this being the first and only time my vehicle has ever found it's way to that spot why do I receive a ticket. When on an every single day basis there are other cars that park there which have no handicapped tagging at all. I have noted 4 different cars that have parked there over full days and full nights since then. I don't feel it my place to have to call them in to prove a point. But I would like to know where Officer Public is located now. When people are actually planning a stay there and actually seeing that the law is posted and they take no regard to it. I have a completely clean driving record, and also have an exceptionally clean criminal record. So essentially what happened for Officer Public to enter the private parking lot and issue a ticket would be someone who normally parks in the spot completely illegally was perturbed that I parked there for a quick run inside to change out laundry. So instead of doing the sensible thing they call the police department in order to get the problem taken care of. I have absolutely no way to pay any type of ticket. I have just enough resource to pay my month to month bills and nothing left over from that. So my request of you is to either dismiss the ticket, or have an active deputy dispatched on a regular basis to the residence to ticket the other violators. In my eyes it's completely unreasonable for someone to report violations when they are doing so so they can perform the exact same violation. I'm not asking for a lot really and definitly am not a repeat offender. I would just like some kind of response as well please. And thank you for your time."

It appears from the dispatch record that Mr. Doe's assumption that someone called the police is correct. We dispatched a police officer who found his vehicle in violation and issued the ticket. This is one of the very few traffic violations for which you can receive a ticket on private property.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Short, sweet, and simple

Yesterday afternoon, I was at the Nebraska Legislature, where the Judiciary Committee was holding a public hearing on LB1145, a bill introduced by Senator Amanda McGill concerning human trafficking.  I dread these hearings, because you just never know how long it will be. I've been there for hours on some occasions, waiting for my turn to testify. It turned out to be a good day, though, and I was in and out rather quickly.

The Judiciary Committee enforces a three minute time limit, so you have to get to the point.  I limited my remarks to just one aspect of the bill: a provision that would increase the maximum penalty for the crime of pandering when the victim is under the age of 18.  I gave an example of a case where justice might have been better served, and public safety enhanced, had this been the law.  The overtime warning light blinked red as I uttered my final syllable.

Back at the County-City building, I encountered a colleague, who shall remain nameless for the time being.  "How'd it go?" she inquired.  "Short, sweet, and simple," I replied.  "You, or your testimony?" she asked.



At any rate, for those of you interested, here is the text of my testimony:

"I am here on behalf of the City of Lincoln to support LB 1145. I testified here two months ago on Legislative Resolution 243, and gave some local examples of human trafficking cases in Lincoln.  Although few of these come to the attention of the police, I believe that they are more common than most people realize.
Today, I would like to focus on the primary reason I support LB 1145. The bill changes the crime of pandering from a Class 4 Felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison, to a Class 3 felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, when the victim is under the age of 18.  I think this change treats the crime with the gravity it deserves. 
Shortly after my appointment as Lincoln’s police chief, our officers became involved in a human trafficking investigation in which a 28 year old man was ultimately convicted of pandering.  He had lured a girl who had just turned 16 into the sex trade.  The case that led to his conviction involved arranging an act of prostitution with a 47 year-old man here in Lincoln. 
The “John” was convicted of debauching a minor, a Class 1 Misdemeanor, and sentenced to two years probation.  The pimp was convicted of pandering and sentenced to prison for 2-4 years.  He served a little less than two years, and was released. He has since been convicted of contempt of court, assault, three additional sex-related misdemeanors, and a felony Federal weapons violation that sent him to Leavenworth for a few years.
Something just isn’t right about this. Pandering, ought to be a more serious offense and the court should have the leeway to impose a more serious sentence."

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Hot topic

A hot topic around Nebraska right now is the Governor's plan to eliminate the inheritance tax.  I sent written testimony to the Legislature's Revenue Committee on this topic, expressing my concern about what could happen if Lancaster County loses the $6 million in annual revenue from this source.  What concerns me is that the County will eliminate mental health services, which have already been slashed considerably in recent years.

The reason I'm concerned is that if the Community Mental Health Center and the Lancaster County Crisis Center wither away, the problems of people in mental health crises will even more often become those of the police and paramedics.  This has changed hugely over the years: more and more responsibility has devolved upon the police and our emergency medical system.  In 2011, the police department responded to 2,530 mental health investigations, including 29 suicides, and 258 attempts.  We took 298 people into emergency protective custody, and figured out other options for the remaining 2,203.

That's a huge amount of time, and it comes at a considerable cost.   A significant reduction in community services to the mentally ill will result in more people being transported to the emergency room or the jail. These are very expensive services, and I think we would be money ahead to prevent this outcome.  My bigger concern, though, is an ethical one. For what other illness would the default community response be "call the cops?"  People in mental health crises need community support services, and sometimes (rarely) a hospital bed. What they do not need is a pair of handcuffs and the backseat of a patrol car.  With depressing frequency, that seems to be the best we can muster.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Valentine's day

February 14, 2012:

ASSAULT-DOMESTIC                     4

Monday, February 13, 2012

Pretty impressive

I do occasional presentations at conferences or trainings on various subjects, and sometimes you wonder whether you've actually said anything useful or interesting. Every now and then though, you get some feedback that makes you feel pretty good: you've sparked a thought, seeded an idea, or helped someone else.

This article in the Lexington Clipper Herald last Friday was one of those moments, and made me smile. This was the subject of my post, iPad Advice, just before Christmas. That's a pretty impressive accomplishment, Lexington PD, in a matter of weeks. Small departments like Lexington (150 miles west down Interstate 80) can do some pretty cool stuff, and often faster than their bigger siblings, because although they may be small, they are also nimble.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Incident command

Wednesday afternoon, Lincoln Fire & Rescue responded to a residential fire in the 1700 block of Connie Rd.  that proved to be a structure fire that started in a car parked in the attached garage.  It was a dangerous situation, but had a successful outcome: no one was hurt and the house and contents, though suffering serious damage, were largely saved from destruction.

I was working on some budget issues in my office, and an afternoon meeting had been cancelled.  As a result, I was able to follow the events unfolding on the radio intently, a rare treat.  As usual, I was incredibly impressed, as Battalion Chief Leo Benes commanded operations on the fire ground.  Like fire departments nationwide LF&R follows the Incident Command System (ICS), a component of the National Incident Management System.  NIMS emerged from the fire service and was born of harsh experience of tragedies in wildfire operations in the western United States during the 1970's. It has since been adopted nationwide as the model for complex emergency operations.

Today, all LF&R personnel, all LPD officers, and scores of City employees in other agencies such as the Public Works and Health Departments have been trained in ICS/NIMS.  Firefighters get the most reps, as they practice Incident Command on a daily basis.  This is because firefighting and emergency medical services are almost always a team sport, whereas most of what the police do is an individual one. For me, it is a thing of beauty to behold.  I've commanded plenty of soup sandwiches during my career, but I still marvel at and envy the calm, composed, deportment of LF&R battalion chiefs and fire captains--and LPD police captains and sergeants--when the barricaded suspect is lobbing rifle fire or the flames are licking the soffits, and the combined efforts of many personnel must be coordinated and controlled.

These women and men are able to think clearly, act decisively, and marshal their resources to a common aim with incredible skill and under the harshest of circumstances.  They often do so in a manner that almost seems second nature.  Listen to the radio I carry, and you'll have a new appreciation for the work of our incident commanders and their forces, whether they wear SCBA or body armor.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Russian Inn

Sunday afternoon, Tonja and I were enjoying lunch at one of our favorite local eateries, Lazlo's.  We were seated in the bar, watching the Nebraska vs. Minnesota basketball game.  Several commercials for Russell Stover candies came on during the game. I remarked to Tonja that Stover's was an appropriate sponsor, since we were seated right next door to the factory.

Alas, Lincoln's Russell Stover plant next door closed more than 30 years ago.  Tonja remembers it quite well though, because her mom worked the chocolate packing line.  During her sophomore year (when we started dating), she dropped her mom off at work at Stover's, dropped her dad off at Pete's IGA, took her little sister to Culler Junior High, then drove herself to Northeast High School.  Hard to believe, but less than a generation ago a nice family of four with a successful small business pretty typically shared a single car, which fit neatly into one-wide driveway and a single stall garage in a suburban ranch style.

As we were reflecting on this, I also mentioned that our perch in Lazlo's was actually inside the Russian Inn, which was about the only place a foot patrol officer assigned to Beat 1 on third shift could dine during my rookie year on the police force.  Tonja knew we were in the Russian Inn, the same spot her mom had her lunch break.  So, here's my question: anyone else out there (other than this poet) who remembers the Russian Inn?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Snow day

My blog gets read by people all over the place, not all of whom are familiar with the weird weather we've experienced this year.  Lincoln has enjoyed an unusually mild winter, with nary a snowflake except for a little dusting in early December.  This all ended on Saturday, though, when mother nature took her revenge.  Here's my driveway:

The snow started around 11:00 PM Friday night, and ended around 8:00 PM on Saturday night.  One would think that a good old fashioned Nebraska snowstorm would calm things down in the city, but on Saturday, LPD responded to 417 dispatches--an unusually busy day. This included lots of calls about downed limbs blocking streets, and downed power lines, but also included the usual drumbeat of 38 disturbances, 2 burglaries, 4 thefts, 7 prowlers, 4 child abuse cases, 6 missing persons, 9 drunk drivers, and so forth.

Lincoln Fire and Rescue was hopping, too, with 112 incidents.  About half of those were fire calls, mostly downed electrical lines sparking or starting tree branches on fire. Working around live electric lines is, of course, dangerous as all get-out.  The operating principal is to stay back, extinguish what you can safely, protect the area from anyone walking or driving into it, and get the Lincoln Electric System on the way.  LES was swamped, too.  A lot of good work by all involved on a busy day for emergency services.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mileage update

I've mentioned on a few prior occasions that the efficiency of the police fleet has been gradually increasing. Here's an update: for calendar year 2012, we hit 13.5 miles per gallon.  We drove a little over 2.4 million miles last year.

I have been tracking this since September, 2004, when our fleet average was 11.1 MPG.  That is a 22% improvement in the fuel efficiency of the police fleet.  Put another way, we are burning 4,000 gallons less fuel per month in police cars today then we were in 2004.  That's a pretty impressive impact.  I am hopeful that we will be able to realize similar efficiency improvements in the fire fleet.