Monday, March 31, 2014

Let's crowdsource this one

This vehicle was involved in a series of four Molotov cocktail "bombings" (fortunately with limited damage), three-out-of-four of which were in my neighborhood. One witness thought the vehicle was a Plymouth Neon. Although I see the resemblance, I'm not so certain. Note the two black strips on the roofline. I can't seen to find this detail on any Neons I've spotted, or in online photos of Neons.

So, readers, let's crowdsource this one, and see if anyone has more luck than I did tonight in narrowing down the make and model. Aside from the roof detail, here's a few other clues: headlight shape, tail light shape, size and location of the stop light in the rear deck, location of front side marker lights, a and c-pillar shapes, lack of a passenger side outside rearview mirror. The driver's side outside rearview mirror housing looks like it's black, and the door handles are not body color--two factors that would indicate to me that this is a basic economy model.

I put this out on Twitter, too. We shall see if anyone comes up with the probable make and model.

Robust growth

One of the news stories this week locally has been the release, by the U.S. Census Bureau, of the most recent population estimates for counties in Nebraska. These estimates are made every year between the decennial censuses, but they are always about a year behind. The estimates are as of July 1st of the preceding year--in this case, 2013. This particular release was for county populations; the city estimates will be out in the summer. When you read a little bit about their methodology, you'll understand why these estimates are normally quite accurate. Since the City of Lincoln comprises over 90% of the population of Lancaster County, the county estimate will mirror the city estimate very closely.

Lancaster County has grown by 4.1% between 2010 and 2013, adding an estimated total of 11,629 residents. You can bet that almost all of that growth is in the City of Lincoln, and a few thousand more have been added since the estimate date of July 1, 2013. Put another way, that's about the population of Beatrice, Nebraska. Beatrice has a police force of about 32 employees, a fire department with around 25 employees, four elementary schools, a high school, middle school, and five pizza places.

An annualized growth rate of 1.33% may not sound like a lot, but when it's on a base of over a quarter million, it adds up fast. The July 1, 2013 estimate had the Lancaster County population pegged at 297,036. Since it is nine months old now, it is likely that the county has already cracked 300,000 population, and Lincoln has topped 275,000.

The smallest county in Nebraska, by the way, is Arthur County, whose 458 residents are spread over 718 square miles. I am uncertain about the pizza situation in Arthur.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Cash strapped

An interesting article appears in the current issue of The Atlantic, "How the Decline of Cash Makes America a Safer Country." The article relates the decrease in crime in the United States to the decrease in the use of cash, and cites some interesting research that supports this, leveraging a naturally-occurring experiment: a multiple time-series in the State of Missouri. I may have scooped The Atlantic in a way, as I blogged about this very topic several weeks ago, on February 4.

There are two other factors in the declining U.S. crime rate that rarely get mentioned, but I believe are significant: the growth of remote sensing security systems (i.e., CCTV and alarms), and he proliferation of cellular telephones. Not only is there less cash floating around the steal, but your basic thief is far more likely to trip an alarm or be caught on camera, and every single witness now has a hotline to the 911 center in his or her hand.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

...and we expect perfection

Last week, Police Chief Jim Peschong and I met with two faculty members from the University of Nebraska who are interested in research related to police decision-making. We are often approached by faculty and graduate students about research projects, and at any given time we are likely to be participating in at least one or two of these. I can think of two in process at LPD right now. We like research, particularly when it is the type that might actually inform our professional field. Better understanding of the factors that influence police decisions could do just that, and provide insights into how we can help police officers deliver superlative service to the community, so we were in a receptive mode, and listening.

After discussing a type of decision that might be good research target, we offered to send some data about the issue to the professors, and a sample of an investigative report--with names redacted. I assembled that information and forwarded it. The following morning, I received a response from one of the researchers. I could tell from the tone that he had been impressed after reading the case report I had sent, in which the officer explained what she had observed, what she heard from those she interviewed, what she learned from her own investigation, how she assessed the information, considered alternatives, and the thought process that led to her ultimate decision on the best course of action.

In Lincoln, we call this a Supplementary Report, or an Additional Case Investigation Report, and this one was quite typical for the type of case in question. He questioned whether this was typical, and I forwarded him a few other examples, all of which were selected completely randomly. All of these are evidence of compassionate, professional, deliberative decision-making, which is the norm. He closed his email by telling him how impressed he had been by the information we provided, and I told him this story:

It was the summer of 1975, and I was in my first solo assignment after a little less than a year on the department, as a motorcycle officer. I was dispatched to a disturbance in an upscale neighborhood deep in southeast Lincoln. I encountered a victim who had been beaten by her husband, who was in a simmering rage. As his wife had been trying to escape his wrath, he had grabbed her by the hair right outside the front door, and smashed her head against a concrete step. She broke away and managed to call 911. He was a physician, and could not believe that I had the audacity to arrest him. He was a lot older than me, and quadruple my income and social status, or more. The cuffs fit just fine, though. 
A cruiser officer who had arrived as backup transported him to jail. The victim needed to go to the hospital. She had a split lip, a lump on her temple almost the size of a baseball, and was in extreme emotional distress. Even as a 21 year old, I knew that the source of her distress was complex, though unspoken. She was frantic over the impact my arrest might have on her family, her husband's job, her children--and she was almost certainly in a panic thinking about what he might do to her now. She had wanted to end the beating, but had no time to consider what her 911 call might set in motion, nor to comprehend the resolve of the young man with a badge who first arrived in response. In addition to all this, going to the hospital would now inevitably result in revelation of the abuse within Lincoln's tight medical community. 
Unable to either console her or to convince her to go with me  to the hospital, I sought assistance from a nascent human service agency, which dispatched an advocate within about 30 minutes. The volunteer who arrived was even younger than me. She was completely ineffective, seemingly in shock at actually witnessing the aftermath of genuine domestic violence, unable to communicate. Despite my sense of inadequacy in dealing with a case that epitomized every dynamic of domestic violence, I was left to my own devices, and muddled through.

As I told the professor, things are a little better today. The training of new officers, for one thing, is much better than what I received. The field of victim advocacy and support has also matured, and a similar call today would bring a seasoned, trained advocate. But I remind myself a couple of times every year, around graduation time, that we still give guns to 21 year olds, then send them forth to deal with the most complex interpersonal and societal issues than humankind can dish up, often pretty much alone--and expect them to do so with perfection.

Friday, March 21, 2014

FireView Dashboard

This week, we have begun to roll out a new application at Lincoln Fire & Rescue, FireView Dashboard from the Omega Group. We have been using their police application, CrimeView Dashboard, at the Lincoln Police Department for several years. These products are examples of many in the marketplace for both government and the private sector that provide tools for analyzing, visualizing, and reporting data from large back-office databases. The object of such products is to provide views of data that are more intuitive and meaningful than green-striped paper spitting from a line printer.
Here are a few examples of things that I've learned or had reinforced by FireView Dashboard as I've worked on setting up data views in the past few weeks. These individual view frames are called widgets, and we have authored 391 of those for the application. That is only the pre-configured portion, though, as the Analysis Mode allows users to create a virtually unlimited number of queries on the fly. The images are just screen shots; in the app you can zoom, pan, change the view (for instance from a map to a day-of-week chart), and drill down as far as you wish--even to the individual incident data. I don't think any of these are a big surprise to firefighters in Lincoln, and some were things that I already knew or suspected, but they are now immediately clear. Click on any of these images for a slightly larger and more legible view.

Medical emergencies dominate
EMS is nearly 80% of our business, and the remainder is composed primarily of false alarms and standby duty at athletic events. Fires are few. I think of them as low frequency, but high-criticality events, for which you must be properly equipped and trained, despite their rarity. Since our core business is emergency medical services, our recruitment, hiring, training, and organizational culture need to reflect the reality of what we actually do. This ought also inform our decisions about what to drive.

The rhythm of the day
The demand for LF&R services peaks at about the same time as the demand for police services: around the time of the evening rush hour. We should keep this in mind when planning discretionary activity like a workout or fueling up the rig during this time, in order to maximize our availability and minimize turnout time.

Problematic false alarms
I've blogged on many occasions about efforts by the police to reduce chronic false burglar alarms, and the value thereof. A burglar alarm, however, is small potatoes compared to a false fire alarm, which sends a convoy of resources by comparison: six to eight firefighters in at least two large apparatus that suck diesel fuel at around 3.5 MPG. If we do something in collaboration with the owners or managers to reduce repeat false alarms, it  be a will be a very good thing. It's not just the resources, either. I walk by the photos of three firefighters and three police officers nearly every day, who were killed in the line of duty during emergency driving. Reducing unnecessary Code 3 driving protects everyone.

Residential fire hotspot
House fires have a strong geographic pattern in Lincoln, one that I have seen before. The same pattern is evident in crime. Despite the conventional wisdom, I do not believe this pattern of house fires is the result of newer construction at the edge. Rather, I think it is a reflection of population density and a host of socio-economic factors. The historic core of Lincoln, represented by an ellipse that runs roughly from Cooper Park in the southwest to the edge of Nebraska Wesleyan University in the northeast, is where we need the most fire suppression capability, and a great place to focus fire prevention work.

These are only a few examples of how we can use data and analysis to help guide our operations. FireView Dashboard is a powerful application with immense capabilities, and this is not even scratching the surface. Anyone who has read my blog for a while knows that I am an advocate for, and practitioner of, data-driven management. In this day and age it is critical for public-sector organizations to make decisions based on analysis, and to optimize their service-delivery wherever possible.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Wait just a minute, there

Interesting article on the front page of this morning's Lincoln Journal Star about a proposal by an out of state developer to build a parking garage and 200 unit apartment complex on land roughly between Q and O Streets, 18th St. and Antelope Valley Parkway. The accompanying photo (and map, in the print edition) shows the area under consideration, directly across Q Street from the large complex named 50/50, which is nearing completion.

In fact, that is where the photo was shot from, looking to the southeast. In the photo, it appears there's already a pretty substantial building on the south side of Q Street, though, in the area where both the photo and the map depict the new project landing. Wait just a minute, there. I think I recognize that building. Well, my goodness, that's 1801 Q Street, Lincoln's Fire Station Number 1, and Fire Headquarters.

Nobody has talked to me about this proposal, nor Fire Chief John Huff. Replacing that facility would be quite an undertaking. It is both are largest and busiest fire station in the city, by a considerable margin.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

What would you do...

...if you were a police officer, and watched a couple people who seemed to be making book in the stands during high school tournament basketball games, right in plain view of the security staff, off-duty uniformed police officers, and other fans--even if the amounts were small--and hands full of dollar bills were being openly exchanged?

...if a man passing out religious literature on the arena property had been warned three times not to do so, provided with an alternative location a few steps away on the sidewalk, and decided instead on an act of civil disobedience? Would it make any difference to you if you realized that allowing him to continue would mean that this could be thrown back in your face (so to speak) in the event that other groups decided to do the same thing in the same place with quite different literature?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Red flag warning

Eastern Nebraska, including Lincoln and Lancaster country, is under a red flag warning today. A red flag warning is a fire/weather warning from the National Weather Service, meaning that conditions are ideal for wild fires: dry vegetation conditions, very low humidity, high winds. Historically, Nebraska's prairies have been regularly scorched by wildfires, which, despite their destructive power, also brought renewal to the grasslands.

Today, however, the grassland wildfire can threaten more than the occasional soddy on the plain. A wildfire in eastern Nebraska could cause millions of dollars in property loss, and threaten thousands of people. We had a close call on Saturday, when a fire ignited on this triangle of land west of Salt Creek and south of West A Street.

Driven by a gusty northwest wind, the fire threatened the commercial/industrial buildings to the south. Fortunately, a fast and furious response by Lincoln Fire & Rescue (the first three-alarm fire in quite some time) contained the fire before the buildings were lost, and kept the property damage to a minimum.

For my entire career, this triangle of land has been the site of hobo camps. I've walked it on many occasions, as Southwest Team officers still do today. From time to time, a body has been discovered in this vicinity. Although the fire inspector has not determined the source of this fire with certainty, I would not be surprised at all if it was a cigarette discarded by one of the denizens of the brush.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Sad state of affairs

My daily email from the Police Executive Research Forum yesterday contained a link to a three-part series from USA Today:

The ones that get away

A license to commit crime

The short arm of the law

These concern an ugly truth about dysfunction in the criminal justice system that is little known by the public, but often encountered by police officers. Many wanted fugitives, for whom felony arrest warrants exist, evade arrest by simply leaving the state--because in many states, prosecutors are unwilling to bear the expense of extradition, the process through which a fugitive is returned to the state where the charges originate.

The USA Today series tells the stories of what occurs as a result: some of these wanted felons go on to commit more crimes, including robberies, rapes, and murders. How would you feel, if your own family member was the victim of such a crime, when you learn that the local authorities has arrested the defendant on an out-of-state felony warrant, but had been forced to release him because the state of origin declined to extradite? What a sad state of affairs.

I've encountered this throughout my career, from both sides, and I get it: extradition is expensive, and it makes little sense to spend a few thousand dollars to bring a forger back from Florida to face a fine of a few hundred. We can just try to execute the warrant when and if he returns to our state. But when a fugitive wanted for a violent felony is arrested in another state, and the authorities in the originating jurisdiction are unwilling to bring him back to face justice, that is another matter. They should just fold up their tent and close down, because the first obligation of government is to protect the citizens, and they have failed.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Warm weather surge

Yesterday's spring preview certainly was welcome. Too bad it was a Monday, though. Nonetheless, outdoor activity was at a recent peak, as Lincolnites took advantage of the fine weather.

This made for a busy day for the public safety agencies, as well. Dispatchers sent police officers to 396 incidents, the busiest day of 2014 so far. Lincoln Fire & Rescue responded to 74 incidents, also an unusually busy weekday.

You can check daily fire runs and police dispatches online, if you are so inclined.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Prevention is the only way

Saturday's Lincoln Journal Star contained an article about the frustrations of a landlord with the damage done by her tenants or their guests at her northeast Lincoln rental property. The description of the condition of the house sounded familiar to any police officer, all of whom have investigated child neglect reports, domestic violence cases, party disturbances, and other incidents in such surroundings.

What bothered me a little bit was the landlord's exasperation with the police, who she expected would simply arrest the former residents for the filth and damage they left behind. Oh, that it was simply that easy. In order to convict someone of a crime, you've got to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the specific individual charged committed the crime. In these kinds of cases you have two problems: proving that the damage was intentional, and establishing who actually did the deed.

It's not a crime to be an utter slob, to permit your dogs to defecate on the floor, and to throw your garbage into the  basement--unless it is done with the intent to create damage. This is often difficult to prove. Even more difficult is to determine who did it. If the toilet is smashed apart and leaking all over the house, all the lease-holder needs to do is to claim that it must have been one of the attendees at the party who did it while the renter was passed out, and the police are pretty much at a loss to prove otherwise.

Such was the case for this landlord: four adults were living in the home, none of whom took responsibility for the broken windows, and there was insufficient evidence to establish who, if anyone committed a crime. Even if their had been, arrest doesn't fix the damage. Contrary to popular belief, the judge can't make a criminal defendant fix the fence. The defendant could be offered probation, on the condition of restitution, but the only hammer to enforce that is the imposition of the original sentence. When you lead this lifestyle, the threat of a couple days in jail is not as daunting as you might think.

Nor is the landlord likely to experience much success in civil proceedings. It would be pretty easy to get a monetary judgement from the lessee, but collecting that is a different matter. Have you heard the phrase, "You can't get blood from a turnip"? The type of tenant who would do such deeds, or allow such to be done, is unlikely to have any assets which could satisfy a judgement.

While I sympathize with the plight of this landlord, prevention is the only way to avoid this conundrum. Fortunately, it usually works. Require a hefty damage deposit. Do a good background check on a prospective renter. Take action at the first sign of trouble. And understand that one of the risks of being a landlord is the possibility you will eventually encounter the renter from Hell. Don't blame the police: they deal with such people with depressing regularity, and in all likelihood this isn't their first rodeo.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Wireless notebook

My colleague Jackie sent this photo to me last week. She discovered this cool wireless notebook! Never seen one that's three-hole punched like this. I hope it's 802.11ac, and that she's enabled WPA2 and MAC address filtering.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Remember the Palm?

Riley Johnson, a reporter at the Lincoln Journal Star, penned an interesting article in Saturday morning's paper about the rising numbers of stolen smartphones. No doubt about it, they are a hot commodity right now. I pointed out to Riley that the uptick in smartphone thefts probably is offset by the reduction in thefts of other items. Allow me to explain.

Last year, I was the keynote speaker at the Law Enforcement Information Management Conference. During the speech, I told he audience that if I had been on the same trip just a few years earlier, my kit would likely have included a Casio digital camera, an Olympus microcassette recorder, a Dell laptop, a Palm VII, a Samsung cell phone, a Garmin Nuvi GPS, and an Apple iPod--each with it's own charger. If you had stolen my briefcase in 2006 or so, it would have been a treasure trove of personal electronics. Then I held up my iPhone, and explained that the smartphone performed all of those functions today, and more--walkie talkie, police scanner, spirit level, weather station, travel clock, flashlight, video camera, and so forth.

The briefcase is very light today, and if you snagged my tablet or phone, I could remotely wipe and disable it as soon as I realized it had gone missing. There may be a lot more stolen smartphones over the past few years, but as the data I provided Mr. Riley demonstrates, there are fewer GPS devices, digital cameras, and media devices being stolen, as more and more people use their smartphones for these purposes, consigning their iPod, Canon, and TomTom to a drawer from which they are rarely retrieved. The current hot commodities for theft tend to change over time, with the exception of the always-popular stuff: cash, cigarettes, liquor, jewelry, guns.

Remember the Palm? Before tablets and smartphones, personal digital assistants were huge. PDAs ruled the personal electronics roost from the mid 1990s through the mid 2000s, especially the Palm Pilot. There were a lot a varieties of PDAs and competing operating systems. Several of these overlapped during this time period. I pretty much owned them all at one time or another.

They were also hot products for theft. Not any more, though. Despite the wild popularity of the Palm Pilot, which was in the briefcase or backpack of all the cool kids by the late 1990s, the last Palm stolen in Lincoln was taken in a burglary, on March 8, 2011. I suppose another one will eventually be stolen--from a museum, or from some private collector.