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.