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.