Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bank robbery clearance rate

Last week's robbery of a Bank of the West branch in Lincoln was quickly cleared with the arrest of a 47 year-old woman--not your typical bank robbery suspect. It was nice work by an off-duty LPD sergeant, moonlighting at Bryan West hospital nearby. She was monitoring her portable radio, picked up on the description, and spotted the suspect on the hospital campus.

It was the fifth bank robbery of 2013, all of which have been cleared with arrests, mostly in a matter of minutes. I've blogged before about the poor prospects of bank robbers in Lincoln. Nationwide, bank robbery has a very high clearance rate--about 60%, but in Lincoln it is even higher.

Friday, Lincoln Journal Star reporter Lori Pilger sent me a tweet: "So how far back does LPD's 100 percent clearance rate for bank robberies go?", she asked. "Last unsolved bank robbery in Lincoln was 12-7-2007," I replied. If we make it through the rest of the day without an unsolved bank robbery, it will be our sixth year of a 100% clearance rate for bank robberies in Lincoln.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Yobbish behavior persists

Have you ever heard the claim made that the problem with high-risk drinking by 20-somethings in the United States is a byproduct of our high age limit (21)? The proponent normally tries to contrast the drink-'til-you-puke mentality of American college-aged drinkers with the far more laid back attitude towards alcohol across in pond. We are led to believe that alcohol-related problems are much less pervasive in those cultures where the forbidden-fruit phenomenon is absent among young people.

Think again: it's not necessarily so. Have a look at this article from the New York Times last week. Loved this quote by Inspector Vaughn Clarke: "People in America don’t go out and get hammered in the same way." Actually, Inspector, they really do. Yobbish behavior at bar break in Britain sounds mighty familiar to the scene Lincoln police officers deal with in certain areas.

That yobbish behavior post, by the way, was quite early on in my blogging career. I must admit to a certain pride of authorship in the last sentence of the fifth paragraph. I worry even more today then I did in 2007 that stupid mistakes made by inebriated young people will hamper their careers and lives in ways they never imagined. Things that used to fade into the mists of time now live on forever on the Internet.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Last minute shopping

So, you waited until the last minute--again. While you might be forgiven by your wife or boyfriend for procrastinating, Santa has a long memory, and stealing things will likely get you on the naughty list. Here's the stuff on the last minute list of the shoplifters arrested on Christmas Eve:

SIL (2) 18 PACK COORS LIGHT 120Z CANS $25.98
TOTE BAG, 2 - WALLETS  $70.49
4 - SHIRTS  $62.76
GRN B2P GEL PEN  $4.29

Monday, December 23, 2013

Popular electronics

I spotted a news story in Omaha over the weekend that piqued my interest. The Omaha Police Department is opening drop off sites for Christmas gift packaging. The purpose is to provide citizens with a place to take all those boxes that would ordinarily be sitting curbside on December 26th, advertising the fact that someone in the house just scored something nice like an LED TV,  an iMac, or a WiiU from the Big Guy.

Trying to find a link to the story for this post, I also found this article, from the Omaha World Herald, reporting that residential burglaries in Omaha peak in November and December. Not so in Lincoln, where July and August are way out in front, and December ranks near the bottom.

On the subject of stuff being stolen, consumer electronics are near the top of the list for Christmas wish lists, and that applies to criminals, too. Electronics tend to score pretty high on the CRAVED scale. I recall in the 1970's the hot ticket for theft was CB radios. In the 1980's cassette players were big. In the 1990's CDs, amplifiers, and speakers were huge. Personal electronics such as MP3 players, tablets, and smartphones are a hot commodity today.

Here's some interesting data, year to date, from burglaries and thefts in Lincoln so far in 2013. You can click on each map for a larger view:

CB radios taken in thefts and burglaries this year
Amplifiers taken in thefts and burglaries this year
iPods taken in thefts and burglaries this year

Thursday, December 19, 2013

To tweet

To tweet, or not to tweet--that is the question: whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous blogging, or to take arms against a sea of words, and by limiting them to 140, to sleep some more--and by sleep to say we end the headache, and the thousand natural shocks that writer's block is heir to. 'Tis a cosummation devoutly to be wished. To sleep--to sleep--perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub, for in that sleep what dreams may come of complete paragraphs, full punctuation, and proper grammar, must give us pause.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Earned her rest

Lois Neuman died last week. She was 77 years old. Hundreds of people knew Lois, yet she passed quietly, pretty much unnoticed. Elaine Severe, the administrative aide at the Health Department, was the first to tell me of her death, after spotting the one-line obituary in the newspaper.

I first met Lois in the 1970's. Lois liked police officers, and ran up to any she saw (unless it was someone who had made her mad recently), usually at the most awkward moment. She was on hand for traffic crashes, street brawls, traffic stops, and every special event imaginable. Lois was, well, a character--one hard to describe. She had both an endearing and annoying habit of blurting out whatever she wished to say to you, no matter how inappropriate the setting. She was at the same time street-savvy but child-like.

And despite the fact that she was totally self-powered, she was fast: very, very fast. The speed with which she moved earned her the nickname Road Runner among the police force. You'd be at a collision at 27th and O Street, and Lois would be hollering at you to come over to the corner, where she had some trinket Chief Leitner had given her that she wanted to show you. Five minutes later, you'd be helping to cuff up a panhandler at 9th and Q, and Lois would be there, too. She ran or biked around downtown and the near south faster than a police cruiser could drive. In later years, she used a walker, but still managed to be at five different events where you would encounter her on the same day.

One Saturday, Tonja and I had taken our grandson to see the State Capital. We were on the 14th floor in the Memorial Chamber, when the elevator doors opened, and out popped Lois. She had to show us the project she was crocheting, and of course we had to introduce her to our grandson. On occasion, I had to admonish Lois when her antics were causing a bit of a disruption or problem. I found her one evening in the early 1980s, sitting on a curb at 16th and K Street in tears. I had said something mean to her earlier in the shift at another location that had hurt her feelings. I felt about a half-inch tall.

For the past twenty years or so, I've been on the lookout for little lapel pins that I could often pickup at conferences or meetings. Lois loved these, and I always felt a little bad when she would stop to see me and I was tapped out for the moment. She was a giver, and was constantly creating law enforcement-themed crafts for her friends. Yesterday morning, as we were reminiscing about Lois with the reporters at the daily press briefing, Sheriff Terry Wagner disappeared for a moment, and returned from his office with a typical example: a crocheted clock, in the classic style of Lois Neuman. She must have made scores of these over the years.

Lois loved police officers, firefighters, public officials, and their assistants. She may have died without family, but in a sense, we were her family. Her guardian sent me an email about her passing, with this excerpt:
"As you know, the only true family Lois had is the one she created on her own with public officials, their staff and the people she came in contact with who would take time to be her friend. The last story she told me about an officer was when she was still in her apartment and there was a fire above her. An officer came in, wrapped her in a blanket and put her in his cruiser to keep her warm until she could be placed somewhere overnight. I am going through her belongings, and the mementos from LPD are countless. I am sure it is no surprise to you." 
I will miss Lois. She could be cantankerous from time to time, but that was the exception. She managed on her own for decades as best she could, facing obstacles that I can only imagine. At the heart, she was a gentle soul, and has earned her rest. There will be a memorial for her in the Chapel at Tabitha, 4720 Randolph, at 4:00 PM on January 6th.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Intentional omission?

A faculty member at Wayne State College that I met on this trip sent me a short email last week, linking this article about New York City's new online crime map.  NYPD must be about the last City of substance to publish a public-facing crime mapping application on the web (Lincoln started doing so in 1998.)

I had a look at the site myself, and several things impressed me. The performance was good. I liked the ability to visualize the data as a choropleth map ( precinct map), a continuous surface density map (the so-called "heat map"), and as graduated point symbols. I liked the statistics that pop up when you click on a precinct, and especially the comparative statistics that appear in the sidebar when you search for a specific address. It appears to be a location-aware app, judging from the GPS button at the top left, so I assume it will center itself on your current coordinates if you are using a location-aware device. The underlying base map is Google (if you doubt that, check out the point where West O Street crosses the Platte River.)

As noted by the critics, the app lacks any detail about the crime points, other than the incident type. At the bare minimum, I would want the date and time of occurrence, and the case number. I can imagine a precinct commander getting a call from the owner of a building who has noticed a nearby robbery and is inquiring about any details that the officer might be able to share. Without a case number, you'd be somewhat in the dark trying to figure out what case he or she refers to. If it were my patch, I'd be a bit embarrassed by that. Even if there was very little I could ethically or legally provide, there would at least be a few public record details that might be informative, and would prevent me from appearing to be clueless, or, alternatively, require that I turn to the internal system and try to match up the point in question with its case number.

Nonetheless, this is an attractive and functional app, and I'd say a good start. I just wonder what the discussions were that led to the decision to exclude time, date, and case number. I don't think that could possibly be a mere oversight; it must be intentional.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Mass shootings analyzed

Mike Masterson, the police chief in Boise, Idaho, feeds an email list that I subscribe to with some very interesting posts. He sent a link out this week to a fascinating analysis of mass shootings in the United States since 2006, from USA Today.

Not only is the analysis interesting, the techniques used for visualizing the data are impressive. The statistics come alive in this infographic, in a very powerful way.  There is also an interactive database application with which one can query the dataset in several ways.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Remote sensing

Remote sensing is the process of obtaining information from instruments that are not in direct contact with the object of investigation. A common example is the use of cameras to obtain information about  phenomenon at a location distant from the observer.

This particular form of remote sensing has been a frequent topic on my blog (see, Candid Camera in the label cloud). A good example arose Monday at the City Council's weekly pre-council meeting with department directors. One of our council members, Jonathan Cook, inquired of our Public Works and Utilities Director, Miki Esposito, about a movable message board sign he had seen near the intersection of 14th and Highway 2 earlier in the day. The message had something to do with the pending closure of S. 14th Street.

I was sitting next to Director Esposito when the question was asked, and we were both caught off guard. The Public Works Department is a big, complex operation, and there simply is no single person who knows about every single project, activity, and operation underway at any given time. I had driven right through that area on my morning commute, and had not noticed a message board at all.

Using my laptop, though, I accessed the traffic camera at 14th and Highway 2, zoomed in on the message board a couple blocks further south, and the three of us eventually read the message--a little tricky due to the dirty camera housing, the wind blowing its mast, and the mid-afternoon glare straight in the iris. Nonetheless, we confirmed the message, and from the tire tracks in the snow, the fact that the message board had been placed quite recently.

Looks like S. 14th Street will be closed for work on the railroad crossing south of Highway 2 after the morning rush on December 16. I, for one, intend to find an alternate route (assuming I remember--my remote memory sensor has been a little inconsistent lately)!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

How to have an impact

I headed off the the Captiol yesterday afternoon, to testify at a hearing before the Legislature's Education Committee on Legislative Resolution 211, introduced by Omaha-area Senator Rick Kolowski. The resolution is an interim study concerning expanded learning opportunities: programs aimed at enriching activities and educational opportunities for youth outside of the normal classroom setting and school day.

Testimony before the committee is limited to five minutes, but my message was simple. I passed copies of this graph out, and explained that over 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, and chief prosecutors (including 75 in Nebraska) have joined an organization to support expanded learning opportunities, because they understand very well that public safety is enhanced when communities provide kids with great early childhood education and opportunities for productive, instructive, and fun activities throughout the day.

Want to impact this? Start with this.  Fight crime: invest in kids.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Gang-related incidents

As they prepare Incident Reports, Lincoln police officers are presented with a field to identify whether or not the incident was, in their opinion, gang-related. We have encouraged officers to select "Yes" if they suspect a gang tie, because these data are not for evidentiary purposes; rather they are to provide us with a barometer about the extent of gang-related crime in Lincoln.

The gang flag is imprecise, for several reasons. First, only incidents that come to the attention of the police result in an Incident Report. If a crime is never reported, it won't be reflected in the data. Gang crime is undoubtedly under-reported, and I suspect more so than crime generally. Second, even if the crime is reported to the police, we may not realize that there was a gang tie. The relationship may not be apparent, or we may have victims, witnesses, and perpetrators who are no forthcoming and cooperative. Finally, the choice of the gang flag is based on the officers' opinion, and can be somewhat subjective. The threshold for identifying an incident as gang-related can vary from one officer to another.

Despite these limitations, the flags provide a quantitative indicator of what's going on, without which we would have no basis other than anecdotes for assessing gang-related crime. We initiated this flag in our Incident Reports in 2007, so we now have data for 6 years and 11 months. Here it is (click the table to enlarge):

I suspect this will surprise some people. It surprised me a little bit. Three recent gang-related murders certainly have raised some eyebrows around Lincoln, but the data would show a declining trend in gang-related crime overall. Except for vandalism the numbers are small, and do not lend themselves to any meaningful trend analysis. The most significant thing I can tell you from these data is that reported gang-related vandalism (almost exclusively consisting of graffiti) is falling significantly and consistently. Since vandalism accounts for over two-thirds of the total, that decline is driving the overall trend.

Despite the data, you cannot ignore the fact that three gang-related murders have occurred in Lincoln this year. The anecdotal evidence suggests an uptick in gang-on-gang violence, as well. The  numbers may be small, but the warnings signs are clear in the intelligence information we collect. When I diced some of these data a bit more finely, I found that we had 14 gang-related incidents in 2011 that involved firearms, 26 in 2012, and 10 so far in 2013. That spike in 2012 was quite obvious to police officers, and resulted in some targeted strategies this year that have probably interrupted some (but not all) of this violence. No lack of effort by the bad guys, though (including this past weekend) : poor marksmanship has saved our bacon.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Something's not quite right here

I was doing a lot of GIS work last week, and ran across this interesting view of the area just west of downtown Lincoln in Google Maps. How long did it take you to spot the most glaring error?

click image for larger view

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Light in the sky

I am headed home from Vancouver, BC where I attended CITIG7, a conference sponsored by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, and the Paramedic Chiefs of Canada. I was their guest, and sang for my supper by making a presentation about location-based services at Tuesday's plenary session, followed by a more detailed workshop, in which I actually built a working LBS app for the fire service--right in front of the audience. Thank goodness everything worked, and both sessions were well-received.

At the beginning of the conference, Lance Valcour, the director of CITIG, encouraged attendees to join a conference tweetup, so what the heck--I posted a few tweets. Tough for a blogger like me to say anything meaningful in 140 characters, but I gave it a try. It proved to be a very good conference. I attended several sessions that were valuable, one of the most interesting about the use of social media in public safety. A session on wireless technology in emergency medicine was also quite intriguing. Above all, it was interesting to see police, fire, and EMS leaders gathered together in a joint conference--something I have never experienced I the United States.

Vancouver was beautiful. I would like to spend more time there someday. I snapped this photo Monday night from the sea wall at the foot of Burrard street, looking north across the harbor. The UFO in the sky is actually an illuminated ski area on a mountain in the distance. I had to ask: it was pretty confusing for a rube from the flatlands.

I told the audience that Vancouver reminded me a lot of Lincoln--except for the size, and the mountains, and the ocean, and the bay, and Stanley Park, and the weather, and the seafood, and the sea planes, and the yachts, and the skyscrapers.... In other words, everyone was friendly and welcoming everywhere I went, just like Lincoln.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Fleet well managed

I was part of a budget meeting last Wednesday afternoon in which fleet managers Jim Chiles from the public works department, and Pat Wenzl from the police department briefed the Mayor on the status of our large and small fleets (respectively) and the plans for the upcoming biennial city budget. Vehicles, equipment, and fuel are a sizeable chunk of the City budget, and the Mayor wanted to be well informed of the status, issues, and plans relating to the City's fleet services, which range from dozens of string trimmers, to scores of police cruisers, to the big stuff: bucket trucks, snowplows, front-end loaders, and so forth.

These two managers did a great job in laying out the information relevant to our elected officials and decision-makers. The professionalism with which they are managing some of the City's most important and expensive assets is obvious. Kendall Warnock, Chief of Logistics at Lincoln Fire and Rescue was absent--in the middle of moving the fire department's maintenance facility from it's former location at 3rd and South Streets to the Municipal Services Center across town--but I am also impressed by his skill in management of the fire apparatus (among many other responsibilities.)

Rest assured that the three people managing the second-largest ticket on the City budget (the first is personnel) are professionals who have wide-angle vision, and are creatively implementing practices that minimize costs without impairing the level of service. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

November 22, 1963

I was a fifth grader at Rountree Elementary School in Springfield, Missouri, in Miss Luna's class on the second floor, when we learned that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. My primary recollection was my young teacher in tears. We watched television for the remainder of the afternoon.

Three days later, we watched the funeral. I recall watching Caroline and John, thinking that they were the same age as my younger sisters. Even as a ten year old, I was intrigued by the history of the riderless horse with empty boots backwards in the stirrups, and the caisson following, carrying the President's casket.

In my adult years, I visited President Kennedy's grave at Arlington National Cemetery twice, and also Dealey Plaza in Dallas, the site of the assassination. Standing at these locations causes a flood of memories and a wave of emotion, even for someone who was just a child at the time of these momentous events.

No one of my generation will ever forget precisely where they were on the afternoon of November 22, 1963, and on the morning of September 11, 2001.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Wild west

One of my colleagues at the Lincoln/Lancaster County Health Department sent me this link yesterday, to a map application published by the Houston Chronicle. She knew I would be interested both in the subject matter--officer involved shootings--and the technique used by the newspaper in creating a simple and clever application with filters for querying the data. Making something like this would have been a huge and expensive undertaking just a few years ago. Now, you can do some incredible things in the GIS world quickly and with free or low cost software.

Many newspapers around the country are publishing web mapping applications, but this one from Houston is a particularly nice example. The Chronicle's embedded interactive map was created with ArcGIS Online, and uses the same template and style as several of the small, special purpose apps we deploy at the City of Lincoln for such tasks as looking up parcel ownership, accessing the City's traffic cameras, or displaying Lincoln Fire & Rescue pre-plans.

I used to build large GIS projects that included dozens of layers, fulfilled a myriad of uses, and had scores of controls. Now, I'm increasingly a fan of small, simple apps that do one of two things very well:  more simple, with fewer layers, buttons and controls. As a byproduct of this approach many of these apps work quite well on mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones.

That's a lot of officer-involved shootings in Houston over a four year period. I realize that it is a huge metropolitan area, but still.... Is it just the size of the population? I wonder how the rate of shootings today would compare to the days of the wild west. I couldn't find a link to it, but several years ago I read an article describing research about fatal shootings in California during the gold rush of the mid-19th century. The researcher had gathered contemporary news reports, and using population estimates concluded that the rate of shootings was far, far higher than even the most violent contemporary cities.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Vicki's legacy

Had to love this story from the news last night. Every time I see a photo of Vicki, I get choked up. I can't recall anyone who had quite this effect . Passing along Skinny to the Omaha Police Department is a legacy I think Vicki would thoroughly enjoy. God is good.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

No reason not to

I had a speaking engagement yesterday at the Lincoln Realtors Association. It's one of five I have this week, all with different topics. For this one, I told the realtors about the value of crimemapping.com, our public crime mapping application from the Omega Group. Of particular interest to real estate agents, I would think, is crime alerts--the feature that provides the ability to sign up for automatic email alerts when one of these selected crimes is reported within proximity to the address you have selected.

I know I've blogged about this on a few past occasions, but this is my annual push to remind as many people as possible that this services is available at no cost. I love crime alerts. I am subscribed to the area within 500 feet of my own home address, my son's home in Lincoln, and my daughter's home in Omaha. Even though I have plenty of access to the police records management system, I simply would miss some of these crimes due to the sheer volume of what goes on in Lincoln on a typical day, were it not for crime alerts.

Crime alerts are a great way to learn about crimes in your immediate surroundings. In my case, a little more awareness of the kinds of crimes that occur in my neighborhood has caused me to change two habits in a way that makes it less likely I will be a victim--again.

Sign up. Spread the word. If you live in an area covered by crimemapping.com, which includes hundreds of cities and counties, there is no reason not to.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Learn to Dream

I had the honor last week of spending some time with a group of a couple hundred seniors from Lincoln's high schools. These students are eligible for a scholarship to attend Southeast Community College. The program, Learn to Dream, offers low-income graduates up to 45 tuition-free credit hours at SECC. It's a terrific way to make great progress towards a associates degree in one of SECC's many programs, or to get a head start on a bachelor's degree, as those credit hours can transfer to the University of Nebraska.

The students spent the morning learning more about what SECC has to offer, visiting the campus and facilities, and meeting with staff. My role was to help inspire these students, many of whom face personal challenges and impediments that can be discouraging. I dealt with plenty of challenges similar to those confronting these students, and I told them my own story about how I made it work, and how important my education was to my success in life--along with a cheesy (but true) story about the prettiest girl at Charles Culler Junior High School.

I am always a little apprehensive about being an old guy with a story of walking up hill to school in both directions. Walter Powell, however, assured me that it was well-received the last time I spoke a couple years ago, and I had a good feeling afterwards on this occasion. I really enjoy high school kids, and I hope that I was able to contribute a little encouragement.

Friday, November 8, 2013

At the summit

Wednesday I was in attendance at the Nebraska Digital Summit, a gathering of government technologists at the Embassy Suites here in Lincoln. I attended a few breakout sessions, and enjoyed some time rubbing shoulders with a diverse group from many other fields. In the afternoon, I was one of three speakers in an hour long plenary session that followed the TED format--in other words, fast--a lot of information stuffed into 18 minutes.

My topic was location-based services in public safety. I demonstrated the LBS application for police that we invented here in Lincoln, P3i, which is now commercialized as CrimeView NEARme, then I talked about several other uses for location-based services in police, fire, and EMS service. Interestingly, the second speaker, who followed me, spoke about the same topic in a broader context: how LBS applications are rapidly becoming ubiquitous in many fields.

We have a couple other location-based services applications in the wings here in Lincoln's public safety agencies. The Emergency Communications Center and Lincoln Fire & Rescue are doing some preliminary work to spin Lincoln up on PulsePoint, an application that provides information about sudden cardiac arrest incidents occurring in public places to nearby citizens who may be able to hlep. We are also experimenting across all agencies with a location-based emergency alerting service, Ping4Alerts.

Like my fellow presenter, I think LBS will continue to be a dominant theme in information technology, as the mobile device becomes the primary way in which we all consume content.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Quick is good

In a post last year, I republished an email that Lincoln Fire & Rescue EMS Supervisor Scott Wiebe sent out to his coworkers to acknowledge great work as part of the team effort involved in caring for patients with ST elevated myocardial infarctions--a potentially deadly heart attack.

Scott updated the information for the third quarter of 2013 yesterday. The average time from our firefighter/paramedics arriving at the patient's side to the deployment of the first device at the hospital during the quarter was 56 minutes. The guidelines of the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association recommend a goal of 90 minutes.

That's a mighty fine time in an emergency where quick is good.

Friday, November 1, 2013

More than a scuffle

The ongoing saga of LPD's proposal to light up two CCTV cameras in the public right of way near 14th and O Street was back in the news this week. The police would like cameras here to both deter illegal behavior and to aid in the investigation of crimes that occur within their viewshed on the public streets and sidewalks. This is a logical spot, because of the frequency of such crimes as assault in the area--primarily during the late night and early morning hours when the bar scene is booming.

One of the opponents to these cameras has asserted that many of these assaults were mere scuffles between college students. Well, in a sense he's right: most of the assaults are misdemeanors, although nowhere close to half of these actually involve college students, and I would hardly call these mere scuffles. There are a lot of trips to the hospital involved, many injuries, and I don't think the shoving contests and chest-bumping confrontations are typically reported to the police.

Among the 103 assaults this year that have resulted in an official police report and occurred within a block and a half of the camera location are 25 felony assaults. These one-liners provide a glimpse of what some of the "scuffles" were like:













Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Tip 'o the hat

A couple weeks ago, I posted a blog about the increase in mental health cases that are handled by the Lincoln Police Department. The increase in these cases during the past dozen years has been dramatic--even when population growth has taken into account. I am not completely confident in conclusively identifying the cause of this increase, and suspect that a few different factors may be at work. I am, however, of the opinion that one of those factors is that community-based outpatient care and support for people with chronic mental illnesses simply has not kept up with the need.

As I have asked before, for what other chronic medical condition, normally controlled with outpatient care, is the response in the event of an acute episode to call the police? Would we rely on the police as the basic response to an epileptic seizure? Would our first impulse in the event of an diabetic reaction be to call the cops? Yet, this is precisely what happens with depressing regularity when a person with a mental illness suffers a psychiatric crisis. I am not the only one who sees the reliance on the police in the absence of more appropriate services as a problem.

While I think we can do better, I also acknowledge that the police have, as part of their fundamental purpose, a mission of protecting people, and assisting those in need. It's simply a pity that we often can do no better than summon someone with the power to use force and to arrest as the primary caregiver.

After posting the data on these incidents, however, Sgt. John Walsh caught up with me. Sgt. Walsh has taken over the role as LPD's liaison on matters involving the mental health system from Capt. Joe Wright, who recently retired to accept a position as the security director for the Lincoln Public Schools. Sgt. Walsh wanted to make sure I was familiar with the work of the Mental Health Association of Nebraska. You can read more about what the association is doing in collaboration with the police department at their website.

Here we have a non-organization, led primarily by volunteers who are themselves consumers of mental health services,  reaching out to help the police, and to help other people with mental illnesses in need of some community-based services, one on one. Here is the updated data that Sgt. Walsh sent to his colleagues yesterday morning:

MHA would like to thank the over 150 officers on the department who have made over 400 referrals to their program in the last two years.  They have made contact with over 50% of the people you have referred and over 80% of those folks have accepted services from them.  MHA is operated on a grant from the sale of LGH W, and state funds received after the regional centers closed.
Recently MHA has sent me the names of those you have referred during April, May and June.  We have looked at calls for service three months before the referral and three months after.  Included in the numbers below are those who have accepted and those who have not been located or accepted help.  Below are the results of those 52 referrals:  
                                       Before                                  After
Arrest/suspect                  19                                       14 
Victim                                 46                                       26 
Mental Health Inv.            75                                       12
That is an impressive result, showing that when the MHAN is able to find and contact the referral, his or her risk of arrest or victimization drops considerably, as does the frequency of police involvement in subsequent mental health investigations. The need remains large, but the Mental Health Association of Nebraska, is doing a great job trying to do something productive, and I tip my hat to them.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Same question

This week's fatal school shooting in Sparks, Nevada had me asking the same question again, and wondering whether my ideas are just too simple-minded to possibly have an impact on a few of these tragedies.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Close call

The news story scarcely does the case justice. After reading the investigative reports on the crime this morning, I realize what an incredibly close call we had, and I thank God once again for protecting our police officers. We are indeed fortunate that there are men and women who are willing to risk their lives to protect us from the darkest impulses of humanity.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

When and where

Dr. Joel Caplan, a professor at Rutgers, and assistant director of that university's Center on Public Security sent out a request on Sunday for "expert knowledge" concerning the spatial aspects of assaults on police officers. He and his colleagues intend to produce a bulletin containing this "crowdsourced" information.

I didn't have a lot of time to devote to this, but Tuesday morning, I produced a little analysis of our data in Lincoln on assaults of police officers, dating back to 2001. There have been 826 such assaults as of midnight Monday. A healthy percentage of these (18%) have occurred at a handful of institutions:

72 Cornhusker Place Inc. (detox center)
42 Bryan LGH Medical Center West
19 Lancaster County Jail
7   Group hope for teenage runaways
6   Hall of Justice/Law Enforcement Center

Another 60 assaults occurred within two blocks of 14th and O Streets--the bar district in Lincoln that caters predominantly to the young drinking crowd.

We collect a two-digit location code on all crime reports, that describes the type of premise. Here are the premise types with 10 or more assaults:

181 Street
75   Correctional institution or treatment center
96   Apartments with 7+ units
74   Single family residences
64   Sidewalk
46   Hospital
30   Alley
30   Duplex
22   Tavern/bar
17   Public high school
16   Apartments with 3-6 units
11   Grocery store
11   Restaurant
10   County-City Building complex

There is not only a strong spatial pattern in assaults, but a very strong temporal pattern as well. From the map and the chart below, I think we can safely conclude that alcohol contributes markedly to the risk of a police officer being assaulted (click to enlarge).

Monday, October 14, 2013

Cheap fix

Over the years, I have occasionally pointed out traffic engineering projects that have led to a significant reduction in motor vehicle crashes. I am convinced by these examples that good engineering is by far the most important factor in crash-reduction. There is a recent change at an intersection along my commuting route that I think is destined to have a dramatic impact.

The location in question is the notorious triple intersection of S. 14th Street, Old Cheney Road, and Warlick Boulevard. I usually refer to it as the Bermuda Triangle. There are lots of traffic conflicts, and it is the scene of many collisions. Many of those crashes are in the red rectangle, where 14th Street traffic headed north must merge with the northeast-bound traffic coming in from the left on Warlick.

Here's what happens several times every year: a northbound driver on 14th ( vehicle A) looks over the left shoulder, and sees traffic approaching in the outside lane of Warlick (vehicle B). Unable to merge at the yield sign, vehicle A slows dramatically or comes to a complete stop. The driver behind him, also looking over his shoulder to assess the possibility of a merge, collides with the stopped or nearly-stopped vehicle A. Back in 2008, I got nailed here myself, when a Dodge Ram pickup lived up to its name, and set my teeth a-chattering.

The fix implemented in August by the Public Works Department involved striping the outside lane of northbound Warlick Blvd. beginning back at Old Cheney Road, thus forcing all the Warlick traffic into the inside lane. This effectively eliminates the need for the northbound 14th Street traffic to stop or slow drastically, and leads to a smooth merge between these two traffic flows. Any drivers that need to change lanes in preparation for turning movements at the next major intersection  have close to a mile to get things sorted out amicably.

It will take awhile for the data to prove my assertion, but as a regular user of this route, I am certain that there will be an immediate and long lasting reduction to the types of rear-end collisions that impacted me and about 100 other motorists in the past decade at the Bermuda Triangle. This will all be accomplished by the application of 50 bucks worth of paint.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Much faster than population

I have often said that the Lincoln Police Department is one of the largest providers of emergency mental health services in the community. You can add Lincoln Fire & Rescue to that claim, as well. One of the things I've learned in the past two years is that our police officers and firefighter/paramedics are rubbing shoulders with many of the same people, such as the denizens of A beat.

Over the weekend, someone challenged my assertion that this is a growing problem. I put together the data from LPD's records management system yesterday, querying each year since 2001 for two incident codes: 56400 and 56466. These two codes describe mental health cases to which police officers were dispatched. Here's what I found: there has been consistent, steady growth, from 1,276 incidents in 2001 to 2,294 last year. That is an 80% increase.

Lincoln's population, however, has increased since 2001, too.  To be specific, there are 35,004 more souls in the Capital City today than in 2001. If you calculate the rate of mental health dispatches per 100,000 population, it has grown from 554 to 864. Thus the population-adjusted increase in mental health calls is 56%. That is still a mighty large increase, even when population is taken into account.

No two ways about it: the cops and paramedics are called in mental health crises far more frequently today than in the past.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Nice tool, but not available

Okay, I admit it: when it comes to data, I've never met a spreadsheet I didn't like. Whenever possible, I like to bring data to the table when decisions must be made. I realize that data isn't always available, isn't always complete, and isn't always accurate. But in many circumstances, there is good objective data that can help us manage more effectively.

I keep quite a bit of data on spreadsheets for all manner of topics, many of which are covered with some frequency here in my blog. Whether it's changes in false alarms, the impact of problem-oriented policing projects, the trend in fuel usage, or the pattern of pumpkin smashings, data can inform and even amuse.

So I was pleased a couple of weeks ago to discover that the FBI has launched a table-building tool for crime statistics. It is similar to the same kinds of tools the Lincoln Police Department and the Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice have made available for years.

For managers and analysts who frequently need comparative data across time or from other cities, the FBI's new offering at http://ucrdatatool.gov is pretty sweet, and simplifies the task of wringing such data out of the full Uniform Crime Report.

Of course, due to the current shutdown of the Federal government, the site is not available at present. If the Congress gets its act together sometime, though, it's worth checking out.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

May not match the perception

There has been a lot of talk around Lincoln lately about crime, much of it concerning the perception that crime is on the upswing. At the risk of contradicting the conventional wisdom, I think it would still be best if the facts were clearly stated. Regular readers of my blog know that I generally have the data in order. Here you are (click to enlarge):

I picked 1991 as the starting point, because that was the peak year for crime in Lincoln. If you'd like to see the source data from which this graph is derived, I am happy to share my spreadsheet, which will save you the trouble of digging through a couple decades of Annual Reports, or compiling your own stats from our online statistical summary generator.

I realize these data may not match the perception, a phenomenon I tried to explain towards the end of this lengthy post a few years ago, which was a follow-on to this one from the day before.

Crime is but a small part of what the police do. The Lincoln Police Department provides many services and fulfills many duties that are very important in the community, but have little or nothing to do with crime. Every years we're going to handle thousands of non-criminal child abuse/neglect investigations, thousands of missing persons investigations, thousands of motor vehicle crashes, thousands upon thousands of disturbances, deal with boatloads of traffic problems, mental health crises, alarms, alcohol and drug issues, suspicious persons and vehicles, and on and on and on, ad infinitum. You need exactly enough police officers to provide the services your citizens expect, in the manner they wish to have those services delivered.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Demise of driver's education

I received an email last week from a woman who wished to inform me about a number of bad driving habits she observes on a regular basis. I really did not need to have these pointed out to me, but for one reason or another, there seem to be many people who think the reason bad drivers continue to procreate is because I am clueless about their existence in our community.

Among the bad drivers on her list were those who do not follow proper procedure when turning at a signalized intersection with a permissive left turn, when oncoming traffic is present. The process is this: the driver should move into the intersection with his or her front bumper just shy of the center. Keeping the wheels pointed forward, wait until there is a break in the oncoming traffic that allows adequate time, then execute the turn into the nearest available lane on the cross street. If there is no break in the oncoming traffic until the signal changes to red, continue to wait until you can confirm the oncoming traffic is stopping, then execute the turn. Since you entered the intersection lawfully on a green light, you still have the right of way, and the cross street traffic must wait until you have cleared the intersection to proceed.

The mistake my correspondent noted in her dispatch last week is a growing number of motorists who stop behind the intersection, rather than moving into the intersection, to wait for their opportunity to make a left turn. She didn't need to convince me on this one, as it is one of my pet peeves. But my list of pet peeves seems to be getting a little unwieldy as I grow older, so I try not to get as worked up about them, and rarely fire off missives to the authorities.

A few days before her email, I was mentioning this to my wife, after the car in front of us missed a left turn opportunity, forcing us all to wait through a couple more cycles. I wondered if the lack of left turn etiquette has something to do with the demise of driver's education in high school. In our generation, all high school sophomores took driver's ed, as reliably as gym class or algebra. You watched all the films, spent some hours in the simulator, drove around town under the tutelage of the assistant basketball coach, and took the quizzes and tests.

Driver's education started to disappear from the high school curriculum sometime in the 1980s, and today is offered by very few school districts. While there are alternative driver's training courses available in many cities for a fee, the classroom-lab-road training that was nearly universal in the 1970's is a thing of the past, and motorists no longer have that consistent base of knowledge. I'm really not saying that drivers overall are worse today, only that there are a few techniques that everyone used to learn in the same way, that they either no longer learn, or learn in different ways: left turns, parallel parking, merging, positioning wheels when parking on inclines, and so forth.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Phrase never uttered

My wife Tonja has worked in the womens' fashion industry for most of her life, beginning at age 16, when she got a job at Tober's in the Gateway Mall. She moved on to Magee's, then Steinmart. For the past ten years or so she has been at Chico's, a boutique down the road from home. As you can tell from this circa 1956 photo, she has some serious fashion sense, which developed at an early age!

She is about the hardest working person I've ever known. Years ago, when we really needed a heftier second paycheck, she left Magee's for a 2:00 AM job at a bakery, then cared for the kids and home all day and night while I attended grad school and worked the swing shift. The financial need for two incomes passed long ago, but she continues to work part time at Chico's because she really enjoys the interaction with coworkers and customers.  Don't tell corporate, but I'm pretty sure she'd do it for free, were it not for the Fair Labor Standards Act.

When she talks about work, she often tells me about a particular customer she helped today--perhaps someone who needed something special for a reunion, a party, a trip, even a funeral. The passion with which she relates these encounters, and the joy she takes in helping someone find that "just right" accessory or outfit is just like what I experience at work. "Do what you love," as the saying goes, "and you'll never work a day in your life."

So I couldn't resist snapping this photo for her on a downtown Lincoln sidewalk yesterday when I spotted it in front of Footloose & Fancy at 12th and P Street:

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

So far, so good

The opening of the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln's Haymarket district had me a little on edge, primarily concerning our ability to move traffic after large events. Maybe it was because people have moaned and complained to me about traffic control at basketball games, volleyball games, and football games since the Ford administration.

I was concerned that with many more events in the 10,000-15,000 range, and with an arena area pretty closed in on the north and west, the stars were aligned for massive jams. This had been Omaha's experience when the Qwest Center (now CenturyLink Center) opened. I recall Omaha's police chief at the time,Thomas Warren, calling me one day to compare notes with Nebraska football traffic control. I especially worried that the first few months would be particularly bad, since lots of construction is underway, and many of the roads and parking structures are not yet open.

Alas, traffic Armageddon failed to materialize at the first two concerts, both of which were sold out. In fact, it's been surprisingly smooth. Perhaps people heeded the advice to park a distance away and enjoy the stroll. Maybe more people are opting to patronize the restaurants and bars after the events, rather than make a mad rush for the car. In any case, so far, so good.

Tonja and I attended the inaugural concert on September 13th, Michael Buble (yes, I know, but I'm not wasting 10 minutes searching for the keystroke combination to produce l'accent aigu). Then last Thursday, we decided to dine out, and wanted to try the new bar and grill in the Cornhusker Hotel, Miller Time Pub. When we arrived, the place was packed, and there was a wait, which is quite unusual on a weekday in Lincoln. "What's going on?" I asked the hostess. "The Jason Aldean concert," she replied. "Oh, of course," I said, not wanting to appear entirely clueless. To my self I was thinking, "Who the heck is Jason Aldean?" Never heard of him.

I'd probably get the answer if it were Alexis de Tocqueville, Sojourner Truth, Jonas Salk, Vidkun Quisling, and maybe even Maynard G. Krebs. But in a game of Trivial Pursuit, I'd be completely worthless in the country western music category.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Wrong Lincoln

Hmmm. Come to think of it, I've already used that title. Oh well, it still works for this story.

Sunday morning, I received an email from a guy named Jim. He was pretty upset about a case in which a Lincoln police officer had kicked a women who was on the ground and handcuffed. Jim let me know exactly what he thought about this, and wanted to know how I would feel if that had been my wife or my daughter.

I had to spend a few minutes searching the web, but apparently this is the case to which he refers--involving a Lincoln, Rhode Island police officer in 2009. The officer was convicted of felony assault, and dismissed from the police force. He apparently appealed his termination (??), and apparently Jim had just run across the story.

I asked Jim if he had confused Lincoln, Nebraska with Lincoln, Rhode Island, and included my full address in my email signature. He assured me that he had not, including the link to the news story that had so incensed him. I thanked him for the link, and told him that I had just wondered why he had sent this to the head of a department 1,800 miles away.

At that point, the light bulb came on:
Well sir i do owe you an apology... this head cold has me hallucinating apparently!!!! I did just go back and look at your City Profile and sadly you are correct about where you live ... laughs.. and I agree NEBRASKA is a piece away from RHODE ISLAND... sighs.. I will have to come out there one day and take you to lunch.. At least, I made a new friend, and you did not get angry at me for my stupidity.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Past posts

The blog has been taking a bit of a backseat this week. The early morning hours I normally devote to blogging have been consumed by three early morning commitments I had this week, complicated by the release of Apple's new operating system for iPhones and iPads, iOS 7. Between me, my wife, and my mother-in-law, I had five devices to update, and a short learning curve to navigate.

As a result, I'm just going to recycle two posts from the past which are somewhat related to the big local and national news stories this week:

When the doors swing open

Where did the gun come from?

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Truth

On the way home last Wednesday, September 11, I stopped at the cluster box and picked up the mail. Among the offers for free investment seminars, lower interest rates, and replacement windows was a United States Postal Service Ready Post mailer--no return address, way too much postage, and addressed simply to "Casady." The four stamps affixed were Liberty, Equality, Freedom, and Justice.

We call these things a clue in my business, and in retrospect I should have called in a Level 3 Hazmat incident, then gone across the street and bummed a beer off my neighbor, Curtis. We could have sat in his driveway and watched the festivities unfold. But I threw caution to the wind, and opened it up. It contained a single, unmarked DVD. I told Tonja that it was probably some video manifesto by an anti-government conspiracy theorist. I get this kind of stuff at the office with some regularity.

I popped the DVD into my home office PC.

I know, I know, but believe me: I would be quite pleased if the Dell contracted a deadly virus and I had an excuse to replace it with a 27" iMac.

The DVD wouldn't autorun, and I didn't recognize the file extensions. I wasn't in the mood to spend the evening hunting (Shark Tank was about to start!), so I just tossed it in my briefcase. I knew I'd find a PC in the duty commander's office at LPD that would in all work, because they deal with DVDs from all sorts of systems with all kinds of codecs.

So early yesterday morning, I fired it up in Capt. Beggs' office, and sure enough, it was a downloaded video about the 9/11 deception some anonymous donor had burned for my enjoyment. Between the $1.49 mailer, the postage, and the DVD, that had set him or her back five bucks. I had to watch a few minutes to confirm my initial suspicion, and by then I was hooked. Since the gov'mint had lied to us, and the news media and public had been duped, I really wanted to find out who actually destroyed the World Trade Center.

Despite liberal use of fast-forward, it still took me a-half-hour-I'll-never-get-back to search for The Truth. Alas, the video ended without revealing secret of 9/11. I still don't know whether it was the bankers, Bush, Obama, the generals, the insurance companies, or the same secret international cabal that puts fluoride in water and beans in chili.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Resources will be needed

Seven times a year, the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce hosts a luncheon with the somewhat daunting title of "Face the Chamber." I am not easily daunted, though, and have often been the speaker at the event. I had the podium again yesterday, and decided to speak about the challenges of prison overcrowding and the high cost of incarceration.

I told the audience about four high profile incidents in Nebraska that have grabbed headlines during the past year, involving conditionally-released inmates, and one who was very recently-released. These incidents have occurred against the backdrop of a significant move in Nebraska and nationwide to reduce prison populations.

I tried to make three key points. First, prison is expensive, and if we are unwilling as taxpayers to foot the bill, we better find smart alternatives. Second, a critical factor on whether alternatives to prison or shorter sentences work is whether there are good services available. People being released from prison need help with such things as housing, employment, transportation, treatment, and supervision. Our record on child welfare reform, and behavioral health reform in Nebraska has been pretty spotty, in part because while we closed institutions and privatized services, we just never provided enough community-based alternatives to meet the demand. Let's not do the same thing in corrections.

Lastly, I encouraged the audience to listen closely whenever they hear someone talking about alternatives to prison for non-violent offenses. I can show you plenty of people incarcerated for a non-violent offense right now, but whose criminal history is very long, and includes a mix of violent and non-violent felonies. The current sentence is usually only a small part of the total picture. I'd also argue that someone serving a sentence for their 8th drunk driving conviction, or their 4th conviction for felony drug dealing is really not a "non-violent offender." I think we already do a mighty good job keeping people who don't need to be there out of prison. Might be some room for improvement, and never hurts to look, but from my perspective I don't see a lot of inmates in the big house unnecessarily.

I also explained the reality of sentencing, because many citizens are not aware of such things as "good time" laws. Basically, Nebraska law provides that for every day served, you get a day knocked off your sentence. Ten years actually means five. At sentencing, many defendants get credit for the time served in jail awaiting trial, and you're generally eligible for parole after you've served about half your minimum. Thus, the ten year sentence ends up being more like three years in many cases. The recently-released offender now charged with four Omaha murders was sentenced to a term of 18 to 21 years for five violent felonies, but served less than 10 years before he reached his mandatory release date in July.  It is alleged that he shot and killed four people over the course of the next month. That's the law. Welcome to my world.

I think our Nebraska Department of Correctional Services does a good job with the resources we give them, and I have great confidence in their leadership. But if our public policy as determined by our elected legislators is to release more people who have served a fraction of their sentence, increase the number of people on parole, furlough, probation, and in other community corrections settings; then our corrections department will need the resources to deal with the caseload and provide the services. That's where I'm concerned.

We are also going to have to accept the fact that although risk can be mitigated, it cannot be eliminated. Nothing is perfect: stuff happens. With more inmates in community corrections programs, and with shortened sentences, cases like those I cited will continue to occur from time to time.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

No place like Nebraska

Last week, Tonja and I gathered her mom, Joyce, and took a quick trip to attend the funeral of a family friend in Bertrand, Nebraska. When we left the country church after lunch, I realized we were only a couple miles from the Gosper County farmstead of Tonja's grandparents, Doris and Leroy Biesecker--Joyce's childhood home.

I enjoyed many summer vacations at the farm, where Leroy (everyone called him Tooter) taught me to start siphon tubes during irrigation season, one of the more frustrating skills I never quite mastered. The chores were completed after we enjoyed the Largest Breakfast Ever Served. We could then set out for morning of fishing at Johnson Lake. This is Tooter at the farm, in a snapshot I took when we stopped by on the way home from our honeymoon in 1973.

As we left the church last week, I couldn't resist the temptation to head down the gravel to see the old place. It is unoccupied at the moment, and like many Nebraska farmsteads, looking a little rough compared to it's better years. But the house is standing, and the barn is sturdy.

I snapped this photo of a basketball hoop on the west side, and sent it off to Joyce's youngest sibling, Tonja's uncle Gary, a recently-retired physician in High Point, NC.

Gary messaged me back in an instant: "That's been there for 60 years, must be made in America!" He also pointed out that his dad, not being particularly savvy about basketball, had installed the hoop upside down. "No problem," I replied, "just rotate the photo." The bird, however, will then be hanging from the rim at a rather odd angle.

There really is no place like Nebraska, particularly when you get off the Interstate and go back in time a few decades to revel in the simple joy of a late summer day in God's country, surrounded by sun, wind, waves of grass, and currents of memories.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Part of the problem

Yesterday's Lincoln Journal Star contained a couple front page stories about the challenges the Lincoln Police Department faces in dealing with game day Saturdays, when over 91,000 fans fill Memorial Stadium, and an uncountable throng converges on the downtown and campus area--whether they are actually attending the game or not. It's been a few years since the last news feature on this topic, and it reminded me that I have missed my own annual blog post about football Saturdays. No matter, it's pretty much the same as in previous years.

I'll be getting a slightly different perspective next week. I'll be attending the Nebraska v. UCLA game as a fan, courtesy of my son-in-law. Look for me attempting to make a left turn across three lanes of traffic, or wandering down the sidewalk with my head buried in my smartphone. It will be the first opportunity I've had in a few years to be part of the problem.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Fuel usage down

I received this email Tuesday morning from the police garage manager, Pat Wenzl, with a spreadsheet attached.
"We ended the fiscal year using 13,440 fewer gallons of fuel and driving 169,417 fewer miles.  We were 6.8% under projection in our mileage budget which is about $194,000.  Let's hope the trend continues into 13/14."
Using the data from Pat's spreadsheet, I updated this graph, which shows the longer term trend beginning in the last quarter of 2004.

That's a pretty dramatic drop in fuel usage, in a City that has grown quite a bit geographically in the past decade. I've blogged on this topic previously, but to recap, the cause of the drop is a more fuel-efficient fleet, and less idling of vehicles. Gas is huge expense when you drive 2.3 million miles a year, and a 20% decrease in the average monthly fuel use over the past ten years represents a huge amount of taxpayers' dollars.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Close call

I was just about to bite into a sandwich Friday, when I heard a text message arrived from Julie Righter, the manager of our Emergency Communications Center: "Did you hear that call?" As I was reading the message my cellphone rang, and Sgt. Don Scheinost told me that Lincoln Fire & Rescue had just been dispatched on a working fire to the house next door to my home.

I switched on the radio and listened to the traffic on the fire tactical channel. Engine 6 was putting other responding units back in service, a pretty good indication that the fire was small and had been quickly extinguished. That's the corner of my house, on the right.

Apparently someone had stubbed out a cigarette in a plastic flowerpot which was up against the exterior wall of the garage. This eventually ingited the vinyl siding. Fortunately, a few houses away a crew was working on a siding project spotted the flames and made the 911 call. Any other day most everyone would have been at work, and the fire likely would have gotten a much better start. I suspect the results of that might well have been similar to this one, a week ago Saturday.

There have been several fires in the past year that were caused by the disposal of smoking materials in plastic containers. In fact, smoking materials are the leading cause of residential fires. To the extend residential fires are fewer these days, the decline in smoking rates is a major contributor.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Props to photographer

Stephen Shield is a young aspiring professional photographer here in Lincoln. I haven't met him, but I spotted some of his photos of a recent house fire near my neighborhood on his Facebook page, and was pretty impressed. That led me to his website, where he has some nice shots from his professional portfolio posted on his webstore. This one was particularly striking to me. Ah, to be young again. Back in 1971, you posed for a mug shot, and that was the extent of your senior photos.

I'd say Mr. Shield has a bright future. He has obviously taken an interest in photographing police and fire incidents in the field. I'm guessing that he's using a scanner app on his smartphone to tap into these events.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Saw it coming

This article from Gizmodo hit the web this week, and the story was also picked up by other tech sites, such as Tech Crunch. It took a while for the potential application of Google Glass technology to public safety to start causing some buzz, but I blogged about it back in March, using the same examples. That's a long time ago, in the rapidly-evolving world of mobile technology!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Museum panorama

I dabble just a bit in photography, and became interested in panoramic photos a couple years ago. While I am strictly an amatuer, my favorite digital camera has an excellent panoramic photo mode. One of my colleagues at Lincoln Fire & Rescue mentioned last week that he would like to have a panorama of the Lincoln Fire & Rescue Museum, so a snapped a few and picked this one. The museum is located in Fire Station 1 at 1801 Q Street. It has an outstanding collection of firefighting equipment stretching back more than a century. It would be an excellent visit for a school class, service club, or just a family outing. Please make an advance appointment, so we can make sure someone is available to host your visit.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Not quite as intense

Last month, I wrote a post called Micro-places in which I tried my own version of some research that studied how crime concentrates in very small places: in this case, a study of individual blocks in Seattle. My little project basically looked at the same thing in Lincoln, and showed similar results: intense concentration of crime on the "top blocks."

The post was certainly not my first about the geographic dynamics of crime in Lincoln, but for some reason, it got more attention than most, as evidenced by the online comments, and also by a few delivered to me personally. One of those came from a city council member, who correctly perceived that a lot of those "hot blocks" were in retail areas.  This is really pretty obvious when you think about it.  Many common crimes are related directly to retail activity (shoplifting, credit card fraud, forged checks, etc.), and many are related to the processes that bring people together in the same place at the same time: potential victims and potential criminals--something that happens naturally around busy retail areas.

The council member wondered if the picture would be different if I had excluded those retail-oriented crimes. I opined that it would, but I have my own formula for assessing such questions, something I call the "neighborhood well-being incidents." My 2004 intern, Becky Colwell, won a national student paper competition using this concept, which she named the "quality of life index." What Becky and I did was rethink the kinds of police incidents that most accurately reflect the safety and well being in a neighborhood.

Becky's paper describes this in greater detail, but in essence we thought that some crimes had very little impact: a fraudulent credit card swipe at the grocery, a shoplifted pack of cigarettes at the convenience store, a resident of the youth detention center assaulting a staff member.  Other crimes would more obviously influence the quality of life or the well being of the neighborhood: a residential burglary down the street, a child abuse in the apartment building, a drug arrest at the park, etc.. Using combinations of incident codes and location codes in the police database we excluded the kinds of crimes at places that seemed to have little relevance to well being, which in the process also emphasized those that do.

I ran the same GIS process as in my earlier Micro-places post, but this time filtering the incident and location codes using my neighborhood well being query. The resulting map is below, and a side-by-side comparison will show some similarities and differences. The key difference, though, is not really depicted by the map so much as the data. The neighborhood well being incidents are not nearly so concentrated as crime generally. Removing the retail and institutional crime reduces the intensity of the concentration. Whereas 81% of all crime was concentrated on the top 5% of the blocks, when only neighborhood well being incidents were examined, 49% of those incidents were concentrated on the top 5% of the blocks. That's still some major concentration, nonetheless. Some of that is simply a byproduct of population density, some is related to economic and demographic conditions, and since many crime types are integrally related to our automobile culture, traffic density is another important factor in concentrating crime along certain street segments.