Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Few shootings still too many

While in Ohio last Friday, one of the presentations by the eight police departments comprising the Northern Ohio Violent Crime Consortium included some data about murders and shootings last year. The City of Akron (population 198,402) had 25 murders in 2012, and slightly over 250 people were shot. By comparison, the City of Lincoln, (population 262,341) had four murders, and there were 17 people shot, which  includes two of those murders.

That's a whopping difference in gun violence.  Actually, Akron is pretty typical of cities in our size range, and would be well below the really violent cities of similar size. I think Akron has an excellent effort underway, and I was impressed by their strategy, but it also made me glad to live in Lincoln. Sometimes it is good to put things into perspective and be reminded that despite the daily reports of mayhem, Lincoln is still incredibly fortunate to have an unusually low rate of serious violent crime. Despite the low numbers, 17 shootings is still too many. If you are one of those victims, it is small consolation.

I get a daily email containing links to interesting news articles from the Police Executive Research Forum. Yesterday's clips included an article from last Friday's Chicago Sun-Times, in which police superintendent Gary McCarthy suggests that FBI start tracking shootings in the Uniform Crime Reporting program. McCarthy thinks this is a more accurate barometer of violence than murders, since whether the victim dies or not is dependent on a variety of other factors. He may have a point there, but it's probably not going to make Chicago look much safer. The Sun-Times article mentions that as of last Thursday (he 53rd day of 2013), 56 people had been murdered in Chicago and 221 shot.

While I basically agree with Superintendent McCarthy's belief that it would be good to have some national data on shooting incidents, I also wonder how many of the 17,000 or so police agencies in the United States would be able to accurately and reliably produce the data. It's easy in Lincoln--and apparently Akron and Chicago--but I suspect some agencies might be hard pressed to tell you how many people were shot last year without some digging in the stacks.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Celebrating John Clarke

Yesterday morning, Officer John Clarke passed away suddenly and unexpectedly, following a workout at his fitness center.  I first met John when he was a University of Nebraska student, taking a criminal justice class I was teaching in the late 1980's.  John was a tackle on the Nebraska football team, and like every lineman who ever took one of my classes, he was a very bright and a conscientious student.

John joined LPD in 1991, while I was away at the Sheriff's Office, and I am certainly glad that he did.  For over 21 years, he brought the same dedication to the police department that he displayed as a student and Division 1 athlete. For most of his career, John served as a canine handler.  He and his latest partner, Remo, were quite an imposing team. You would find no Lincoln police officer more well respected by his colleagues than John Clarke.  He was even-tempered, reliable, polite, compassionate, and you could depend on him to do the right thing in all circumstances.  This was the man I want showing up at my own door in a personal crises. John set a tone that influenced all those who worked around him.

As tragic as his passing at such a young age, John Clarke had a tremendous influence on others, and in that respect his foreshortened life was still a full one.  Few people will ever have the opportunity to have the experiences, and to make the difference in the lives of others, that John did.  While we mourn with Lisa and John's family, we also celebrate his life, and the contribution he made to his community. May God grant him rest, and may his family and friends be comforted by One who lived life intensely in the service of others, as did John Clarke.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Budget woes

I spent last Friday in Cleveland, as a guest at a meeting of the Northern Ohio Violent Crime Consortium.  NOVCC is a group of eight of the largest police departments in the region, who are all working on projects to improve their analytical capability, in order to practice what is known as intelligence-led, or information-led policing.  The basic concept is to use the techniques of crime analysis to drive policing strategies that are more effective and efficient than merely responding to radio calls and investigating each case independently.

My role at the meeting was twofold.  I gave two short presentations, both on topics extensively discussed here on the Director's Desk.  My second role was to critique the ILP plans of the participating agencies, after a series of half-hour presentations by each city. These were very interesting to me, and I took copious notes.

Driving these agencies move towards ILP is the new budget imperative: the necessity of doing more with less. Nebraska for the most part has avoided the most severe effects of the economic downturn, whereas these Ohio agencies are in the geographic heart of the recession.  I talked with three agencies during breaks who are forced to operate from 15% to 25% below their authorized strength due to their municipal budget woes.

This is a budgeting practice I oppose.  We all understand that times are tough, but if we only have the funds for 75 police officers, that's what the budget book and the organizational chart should reflect.  To claim that the authorized strength is 100, when the money is actually there for only 75 is an illusion, and obfuscates a reality of which citizens and elected officials should be keenly aware.

It was an informative day, and I really had a good feeling that my participation was helpful and productive. The United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio plays a key role, and academic partners such as the University of Akron and Kent State University are also working with NOVCC. It is an impessive collaboration, and I was honored to be asked to help them navigate the path towards information-led policing.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

If we had immense resources the New York City Police, we'd probably be able to develop some really cool applications like this, described in a story sent to me by Officer Justin Darling, who likes to remind me that I helped coach his fifth grade baseball team.  If you click the label tag for "Technology" however, and keep going back to older posts, I think you'll find that we do rather well out here in flyover country.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Urban turkey trouble

Yesterday morning, local Radio station KLIN was giving its usual morning traffic report, when the newscaster mentioned a traffic snarl near 56th and Pine Lake Road caused by turkeys in the roadway. That's just around the corner from my place, and I've encountered this flock of birds interfering with the use of the street on a few previous occasions. Lucky for them, I couldn't find my ticket book quickly enough to cite the miscreants.

Come to find out, troubles with urban turkeys are increasing nationwide. This is what happens when turkeys are uprooted from their traditional rural lifestyle, and migrate to the environs of the city. Cut loose from the restraints of the usual institutions of social control, the young turkeys run amok.  Gangs are part of the problem, I suspect, coupled with the influence of popular culture on impressionable young gobblers struggling to fit into a urban culture dramatically different than the agrarian society of their parents. What we need here is a few more wily coyotes.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Same thing with fires

I played around a bit yesterday with cartodb, an open source web application to produce map visualizations from tabular data. Yesterday's example used 2012 assaults in Lincoln. Later on Thursday, I received the updated data on Lincoln Fire & Rescue incidents for 2012, so I thought I'd experiment around with that a little bit, too. I ran a query on incidents that were classified as various types of structure fires.  Here's the app, this time using Google's imagery as the basemap.  When you zoom in tight enough, Google switches to oblique imagery, much like Bing Maps. This is a new addition to Google Maps within the last year.  The oblique images in my neighborhood appear to be about one year old

Lincoln Fire & Rescue, 2012 Structure Fires

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Wayne State vist

I had a nice outing last week to visit with criminal justice and geography students at Wayne State College, about two hours due north of Lincoln.  Hard for me to imagine, but this was my first visit to Wayne, NE. It was a relaxing drive on two-lane state highways, with very little traffic, through the heart of Nebraska's eastern farmland. I always enjoy seeing farms, outbuildings, small villages, unincorporated places, and old cemeteries all of which were plentiful.

Particularly intriguing was a building visible from the highway in Snyder, NE that caused me to rubberneck and turn off Nebraska 79 momentarily. It looked like an Opera House, and my guess proved accurate. That short detour led to another turn-of-the century building, the Town Hall, right around the corner. These are a couple of genuine architectural gems.

At any rate, after a stop at Miss Molly's Coffee and a chat with a wonderful barista there, I made a presentation at the Wayne State student center about how GIS technology is used in public safety, focusing on some of the trends I've blogged about here on the Director's Desk with some regularity: the move to cloud services, and mobile applications. My visit made the student paper, The Wayne Stater, but I can assure you that the quote in the last sentence contains a word I haven't used in well over 30 years, other than to explain why I do not use it. No biggie, though. If this is the worst misquote of the week, I will count myself lucky.

On my way out, I stopped and had a chat with a Wayne police officer, who had stopped by the student center to catch up on a little paperwork. All in all, a nice evening, although the drive home in the dark was a little tedious. I got a few thank you emails from both faculty and students in the ensuing days, which was certainly appreciated.  One of the emails included a link to an interesting article about data visualization in Philadelphia, including this intriguing animation of homicides since 2006. The technique is similar to one I've used before.

Digging a little deeper, it appeared the animation by Mark Headd, Philly's chief data officer, was created with an open source web application, cartodb. I opened a free account, and uploaded a file last night of over 4,000 assaults in Lincoln that occurred in 2012. I then attacked that with cartodb's geocoding engine, which was not as accurate as our own, but still not bad. This would be a great way to create a simple map application from tabular data like that spreadsheet of your old high school classmates.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Give that man a hand

Ever watched some high school basketball player throw up an ill-advised shot, while the coach mouths the word "No!", only to have the shot fall, and the coach shout "Nice shot!"?

Generally, I do not encourage citizens to physically intervene in crimes in progress. The standard advice is, "be a good witness." Nonetheless, there are many cases every year where a citizen or group of citizens steps into the breach and interrupt a crime in progress. Every time that happens I feel just a little like that coach: grimacing and grinning at the same time.

Such was the case on Saturday, when a customer in line at the Union Bank branch at 1300 N. 48th Street realized that the guy in the teller line was attempting to pull a robbery. The customer armed himself with a fire extinguisher opined to the robber that he worked for his money, and the fight was on. This was no little shoving match, but a genuine donnybrook.  The news coverage didn't really do it justice. Fortunately, our citizen prevailed, took the suspect to the floor, and with the help of another onlooker detained him until officers arrived and the arrest was made.

Intervening carries many risks. The suspect could have a gun, or a long blade up his sleeve. The intervention could go bad and people could be hurt rather than the suspect merely running away. It could trigger a hostage-taking. I don't think any of this was running through the mind of this citizen, watching the ill-conceived crime go down. Rather, he was thinking what he said out loud, "I work hard for my money!" While it may not always be the soundest tactical move, and I do not recommend it, I admire the courage of all those who step forward, and thank them for their willingness to do so. They are frequently honored at LPD's awards ceremonies, and give a new meaning to the phrase "community policing."

By the way: the last robbery to occur at this particular branch was in November, 1996. One of the tellers involved was a 20 year-old University of Nebraska junior in the bank's student program, Thomas J. Casady, who still works for Union Bank & Trust. Wish I would have been Glad I wasn't in line behind that suspect, eyeballing a fire extinguisher.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Cut the cord

Longtime readers of my blog know that on occasion I will utterly geek out. This is one of those occasions, so proceed at your own risk. There are, however, many readers of the Director's Desk that share the nerd gene, so cut us some slack.

Every year, I teach a two-day course called Information Resources to new recruits in the police academy. I always enjoy it, and have blogged about it before. It was on the agenda for last Thursday and Friday, in week two of the current class. On Friday afternoon, I moved the 13 trainees from Classroom A to the main conference room. My motive was twofold: first, a change of scenery after a week in the classroom would be nice; second, I wanted to use the big 60 inch monitor in the conference room instead of the LCD projector in the classroom, in order to try out a new toy.

Right before Christmas, I bought an Apple TV. One of the factors in my decision was the ability to mirror content wirelessly from Macs, iPads, and iPhones--a feature Apple calls AirPlay. On Christmas eve, we streamed 3,000 or so family photos from Tonja's iPad to the LED television in the family room while the holiday music played and we all enjoyed the grand kids rampage through the wrapping paper. I started thinking, though, about other uses for the Apple TV at work, and on Friday I implemented the trial run.

I wanted to run a presentation, and then demonstrate and train on some applications that require a computer (CrimeView Dashboard), an iPad and an iPhone (CrimeView NEARme). So during the lunch break I hooked up my Apple TV to the big monitor in the conference room. During the afternoon session, I moved back and forth mirroring the content from a MacBook Air, iPad, and iPhone--wirelessly, seamlessly, and with nothing more than a swipe. Had I thought about it, I could have had the students with iPhone 4S or 5 (about half) do the same thing, and we could have passed control of the content on the big screen around to our hearts' content.

I've put a kit together with a spare power cord and HDMI cord, so I can steal the Apple TV from the family room without having to snake cords from behind the entertainment center. It seems to me that this would be a terrific setup for a college instructor or someone like me that does a lot of business presentations or training sessions.  Your iPad becomes a full-featured wireless presentation pad, allowing you to roam at will, hand it off to anyone else, and even trade off control of the content with other devices in the room. Actually, it's far more than a presentation device, because you can do much more than navigate among slides: you can switch applications, surf the web, and interact just as if you were standing at a computer hard-wired to a projector. Apple's presentation software, Keynote, works very well with this set up. I can open a PowerPoint stored in Dropbox, Keynote converts the format automatically, and I can run it from my iPhone or iPad mini while wandering. It looks just as good as if I had done it from a laptop on the podium tethered to the projector.

The caveat is that all the devices and the Apple TV must be on the same WiFi network, and it's HDMI out, so you need a monitor or projector with HDMI in. In a room with an HDMI projector and WiFi, this just beats the pants off a laptop and a long VGA cord. One other thing I've noticed about my Apple devices is how easily they all seem to work with various LCD projectors when using standard VGA. For years I've wrestled trying to get projectors to recognize laptops. The drill is to show up to your room 20 minutes early, futz around with resolution settings, graphics properties, and Ctrl-F8 until your hands are sweaty and the audience is fidgeting waiting for an image. Not with Apple. Plug it in, and it just works.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Period, space, space

Assistant Police Chief Brian Jackson sent me a couple links to articles he thought I'd be interested in. The chiefs, assistant chiefs, and I often exchange such tidbits when one of us encounters something especially interesting or provocative. The first article he sent me was a recap of research (and the gaps therein) concerning gun control. The second, however, was the one that really raised my eyebrow.

I learned in eighth grade typing class to double space after the period at the end of a sentence before beginning the next sentence. I've typed that way for the ensuing 46 years. The double-tap on the space bar is programmed into my muscle memory. Now I am told that the rules have changed, and that a sentence should be followed by a single space. The evidence that I never got the memo can be found in the past 1,078 posts here on my blog. Trying to compose this post with a single space is requiring all of my concentration, and frequent resort to the backspace key.

Next, I suppose, someone will decide that it's perfectly okay to place the closing quotation mark on the inside of the period, rather than the outside.   That will be the final straw.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

School bell to dinner bell

Quite a discussion about school security took place yesterday morning at a joint meeting of the city council, school board, and mayor. My roll was primarily to discuss the history, usage, and value of school resource officers in Lincoln. There were many questions, one of which came from school board member Kathy Danek, who inquired about after-school hours.

Click to enlarge

This is a subject I had researched, blogged about, and spoken of on a prior occasion, so I was pretty familiar with the data, as described in this post from 2008. Dr. Steve Joel, the superintendent of schools (and an occasional blogger himself), snagged me after the meeting, and inquired about the data.  My graph of the eight years from 2000 through 2008 was a little outdated, so when I got back to my office, I updated the chart to reflect the 20,542 juvenile offenses that were cleared in the past decade. The time profile hasn't changed significantly, and still shows that the prime time for youth crime is between the school bell and the dinner bell. Take note, though, of the the lunch spike.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Name that pistol

One of the big changes in journalism I have seen during my career has been the emergence of "computer-aided reporting": the use of database technology to mine public records for all sorts of interesting tidbits that would previously been concealed in the sheer volume of data.  I've blogged before about our own local expert in such reporting.

Because of my passing interest in such matters, this column in the New York Times a couple weeks ago caught my eye, essentially asking the question: " Just because we can do it, should we do it?" In response to the outcry that emerged from the Westchester County Journal News decision to publish their map of people who had applied for gun permits (apparently something they subsequently reconsidered), a Nebraska state senator introduced LB293, to insure that such a thing does not occur in Nebraska.

While trying to find the legislative bill number to include in this post, my search returned this article from  The photo illustrating the story also caught my eye.  At first glance, that appears to be a rare Beretta Model 93R machine pistol, complete with extended magazine and folding foregrip. Something, however, was a little fishy.  First of all, that's a mighty obscure item.  Second, the grip material doesn't look quite right: perhaps some kind of plastic composite.  Finally, there appears to be a mold mark on the underside of the trigger guard--unexpected on a quality firearm like a Beretta.

My guess is that we are looking at an airsoft pistol, most likely from Tokyo Marui.  This certainly highlights the difficulty of distinguishing the real McCoy from the replica, and we are encountering realistic-looking BB guns, pellet guns, and airsoft pistols on the street with considerable frequency, brandished in crimes ranging from assault to robbery in some cases.