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