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.