Thursday, July 26, 2012

Skunked again

Every now and then, I still like to pretend I'm a real cop.  Last night before going home, I was in my office perusing data in CrimeView NEARme (the app formerly known as P3i), when I clicked on a nearby arrest warrant. It was issued for a California sex offender who had moved to Nebraska and failed to register.  We had begun investigating the case back in April, and a warrant was issued on July 20. There was nothing in the reports, however, that showed any activity on the case since the warrant was issued. Sometimes ships pass in the dark, and I wondered to myself if the investigating officer realized that his case had finally turned into a felony warrant.

I made a phone call to Sgt. Ryan Witzel, for the purpose of suggesting that he and his Center Team officers might want to check out the address, and determine whether our felon was still around.  Sgt. Witzel, however, told me he had just received an email from the original investigating officer.  He pulled the email up, and read it to me.  The felon, it appears, had been arrested on July 21st by a fugitive task force in Kansas City. I complimented Sgt. Witzel on clearing the case four days before I called.  Drat, skunked again.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Heat stress

A month without rain and few weeks with temperatures soaring into the triple digits has about everyone in Lincoln in a foul mood.  Over the weekend, we investigated 46 assaults. That's really pretty typical here in the big city, though, so I can't declare these assaults to be the result of the heat.  I'll tell you what, though: I've lived here for 45 years, and I just can't recall a summer as hot as this for as long as this--and it's only half over.

On the positive side, I haven't mowed the lawn in a month.  Apparently the grass is suffering from heat stress, too, which suits me just fine at the moment.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Fingers crossed

Well, it now appears that Plan B will replace the previous plan to drop the investigation of non-injury traffic crashes by police officers in a budget cutting move. Plan B is to institute a $15 fee for a copy of the officer's report, which are now distributed free of charge on the Internet.

If all goes well, we should sell 10,000 of those annually, generating about the same amount of money that we would have saved by cutting the service. Before we began distributing reports on the web (we were the first in the U.S. to do so) back in the mid-1990s, we used to sell even more than that, at $2 each. There are fewer crashes today, though, and we can only speculate on the impact of the $15 charge.

My fingers are crossed.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

It's no accident

The lead editorial in the Lincoln Journal Star yesterday gave some props to the Public Works Department for the continuing decline in Lincoln's traffic crash rate.  Over the years, I have provided some good examples here in my blog of engineering projects that have made a significant difference in the traffic crash experience at specific locations.

These engineering projects do not happen by accident.  Rather, they are based on the analysis of traffic crash data.  These data, in turn, come from the investigative reports completed by Lincoln police officers.  Crash reports provide traffic engineers with information about the contributing circumstances, the vehicle movements, the location of the point of impact, and a variety of other information.  Lincoln can target its limited resources based on these data, so that the general public gets the biggest return on investment, and improvement in safety.

Return on investment is not something you might not always think about when you see a project underway, such as installing a deceleration lane, or converting an intersection to a roundabout.  If such an engineering change has a significant impact on the crash rate, however, there is indeed a measurable economic benefit.  Traffic crashes are expensive, creating property damage, productivity losses, medical expenses, and so forth. Using data on crash costs from the United States Department of Transportation, we can calculate the ROI of traffic safety engineering projects.  The Public Works Department has examined 33 safety engineering projects undertaken in Lincoln since 2003, with an ROI of 6:1--for every dollar invested, six dollars of loss is avoided. 

brief summary, as well as the full technical report, is available online.  

Monday, July 16, 2012

Re-read it

I re-read this post over the weekend, just to make sure I hadn't had a change of heart on the matter.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Leaving Las Vegas

Until yesterday, I had never been to Las Vegas.  Tonja and I don't gamble, can't stand cigarette smoke, find the whole atmosphere of casinos rather unpleasant, and we generally hit the sack by 10:30 PM.  It just has never appealed to us.  But I was asked to meet with a delegation of officials from the Abu Dhabi Police, so we just decided to bite the bullet and see what this was all about.

Fortunately, a colleague gave me a good hotel recommendation: Vdara, a new non-smoking, non-gaming high rise right next door to the Bellagio.  It proved to be a very nice place to stay, with plenty of interesting people watching nearby.  We walked around City Center Thursday, wondering who actually shops at a Hermes or Tiffany store, and then had an excellent dinner. No lack of restaurants around here, that's for sure.

The meeting with the Abu Dhabi Police today was very interesting.  The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police, winners of a recent award for their GIS work, was the primary reason this delegation had come to town.  Abu Dhabi is in the process of improving their GIS and crime analysis systems.  I had a small role on the agenda, speaking about lessons learned in implementing geographic crime analysis, and to specifically highlight the promise of location-based applications for policing.

All in all, it's was a nice trip, but Las Vegas still isn't quite my cup of tea.  I would prefer a seashore, lake front, or  a genuine City, over the fake version.  When I was using Google maps to get the lay of the land in advance of our trip, this mobile billboard was the first StreetView image that popped up when I dropped a pin on Las Vegas Boulevard.  Sort of says it all, don't you think?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Not without precedent

Mayor Beutler's proposed budget includes a cut of two police officers, to be accomplished by discontinuing the investigation of non-injury motor vehicle collisions.  It's an idea I floated before here in my blog, where it received a tepid response. It has continued to be in the annual budget discussion since then, because it is among the lowest remaining priorities in the police department's list of programs and services.

Cutting services performed by our police officers is certainly not without precedent.  Like all city departments, LPD has ranked all of its major programs and services in priority order, based on the relative contribution each makes to the department's overall mission: providing services that promote a safe and secure community.  Services that were ranked lower than crash investigation have already been cut, including such things as elementary school resource officers, funeral escorts, police response to most medical emergencies, drive-offs from self-service gas pumps, response to barking dog complaints, Drug Abuse Resistance Education, citizen police academy, assistance with keys locked in vehicles, middle school resource officers, and downtown parking enforcement--to name a few.

Among those many cuts in programs and services over the years is one that took place in 1991: police investigation of private property traffic crashes.  We used to handle nearly 2,000 of these every year, on parking lots, in apartment complexes, and on the network of private roadways. During a time when police resources weren't keeping up with population growth, my predecessor as police chief, Al Curtis, unveiled a package of service cuts in an effort to prioritize the more important stuff.  Crashes continue to happen on private property every day, but there are no longer investigations unless the case is a hit and run or an injury is involved. Despite this, owners and drivers apparently manage to obtain information for their insurance company, and resolve their claims without anarchy reigning.
Click image to enlarge
I had a personal experience with this a few years ago.  My wife was shopping at Target, and had parked her brand new Volkswagen way out at the end of the lot to avoid any risk of door dings.  Unbeknownst to her, a mother had also taken her 15 year old daughter to the same mostly-empty area of the parking lot for a driving lesson.  The trainee panicked and hit the accelerator rather than the brake, jumping a median, taking out a sapling, and slamming into the new Passat to the tune of almost $4,000.  I had to twist State Farm's arm just a little, only because they balked when I wanted them to reimburse me for the $70 cost of two bouquets of flowers I had sent to my wife and to the 15 year old in the aftermath of the crash. The matter was settled amicably and quickly, though, without a police investigation.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Under the rainbow

We finally broke a two-week heat wave this past weekend, making the bike commute a lot more pleasant.  I snapped this photo from the Highway 2 bike path on the way to work this morning, evidence that it really did rain a little--not enough to dampen the pavement, however.  It's pretty unusual to have a rainbow in the western sky at dawn, since the prevailing weather pattern in Lincoln is from west to east.

Biking to work not only saves some mileage on the fleet, it's just a great way to clear the head before and after the workday.  You see a lot of interesting things from the saddle that you would probably miss from the driver's seat.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Number 1,000

This will be the 1,000th post on my blog, which began on April 10, 2007. I remember back at the beginning, when someone made a comment that 99% of blogs don't survive a year. In honor of 1,000 posts, I'm taking it light on the blogging next week. Someone in my immediate household is celebrating a big birthday, and I'm planning a little R&R for her.

If you need a little reading during my sabbatical, though, here's an option: I was looking at Google Analytics this morning, and these are the 10 most popular posts, in order.  Some of these are well-aged, so Iwouldn't be surprised if some of the internal hyperlinks have gone dead over the years.

Share the road
Police iPad
Exemplary planning and execution
I wonder who drove
Criminal History
Gary got his gun permit
Life well lived
Outside the bubble
Sure sign of spring
Not making this up

Thursday, July 5, 2012

No lack of effort

With Independence Day falling on a Wednesday, I expected the usual mayhem to be a little less intense.  From the standpoint of fireworks complaints to the police, that proved to be the case.  LPD responded to 295 such calls, from June 28 until about 5:30 AM today.  That's the lowest number since I've been counting.  The Fourth itself was still a busy day, though, with almost 400 police dispatches, about 20% above the daily average--including a homicide.

On the fire side, I had been watching LF&R activity closely, especially in light of the current drought and oppressive heat.  As the week unfolded, things were actually rather calm, with the number of daily incidents hovering around 60, compared to the daily average of 57.  It was, however, just the calm before the storm, as LF&R doubled that yesterday.  Independence Day was really hopping for the firefighters, particularly late in the evening. Medical emergencies had dominated the earlier part of the day, but after sunset, the fire runs went a little wild: 12 fire dispatches between 10:00 PM and midnight. Thankfully, no one managed to burn their house down, but it sure wasn't for lack of effort.

The most serious incident associated with the holiday was Tuesday night, when two men were seriously burned while in the process of taking apart pyrotechnics in order to remove the powder and build a bigger bang.  During my career, I can recall several serious fireworks-related injuries like this, including one kid who lost a hand, and another who lost his life.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Practitioner-initiated research

A reader of the Director's Desk corresponded off-blog with me yesterday about a certain type of firework that he and I both feel should be banned. In the email, he also sent me the link to an interesting article in Yesterday's New York Times. The New York City Fire Department is doing some investigation of its own into the dynamics of fires involving modern furnishings.

I am a huge fan of challenging the conventional wisdom, and being willing to put it to the test. I also support trying new and different things, when the circumstances are right, i.e. the risk is low, no large capital investment is needed, and there is a readily-invoked back up plan if the bright idea turns out to be a problem.

What particularly interests me in this article is that it represents practitioner-initiated research. In my view, some of the very best research in policing, firefighting, and public safety begins with ground-floor involvement from the practitioners. When the police officers or firefighters help to frame the research questions, develop the methodology, and interpret the results I feel you get a better research product, and I absolutely know that you are more likely to have the results incorporated into practice.