Thursday, May 29, 2014

High risk, low frequency

Lincoln Fire & Rescue has been training lately on techniques for fighting fires in high-rise buildings. The mothballing of two 1960s-era University of Nebraska residence halls (the Cather/Pound complex) have presented a great opportunity for this training, coordinated by Capt. Jamie Pospisil in the department's training division.

Capt. Pospisil put it well, when she characterized high rise fires as "high risk, low frequency." You could say that about significant fires generally: in the past 90 days, we have responded to 31 fires with any property loss at all, no matter how small. During that same time period, we have responded to 4,894 medical emergencies. It is clear that our primary business is emergency medical services, and that is where the greatest risk to public safety exists--by a huge margin.

Nonetheless, fires happen. High-rise fires, although very rare, also happen--and in a city approaching 275,000 like Lincoln, you better be ready when they do. The potential consequences of failure to train and failure to prepare are huge.

I spent a lot of hours during my career on the firing range. I never needed to discharge my sidearm in combat, and rarely needed to deploy it at all. I can count the number of police officers who have actually used their firearms against a threat during my years on one hand. It's pretty much the same concept with high-rise fire training: prepare for a bad day, and hope that it never happens.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Incredible opportunity

I spent a few years in the police training unit, have a long history of presenting seminars, and taught college classes for about 12 years as a graduate assistant and instructor. You might say I enjoy teaching! In fact, had it not been for the accidental trajectory of my career into public safety, there is little doubt in my mind that I would have ended up in education. For that matter, I still may.

One of the ways I indulge my love of teaching is in the police academy, where I've elbowed my way onto the schedule for various courses over the past few decades. Recently, I've been instructing a two-day course called "Information Resources," about which I have blogged before. I do a short version of the course during the training of dispatchers and civilian police employees, as well.

This week, I had the opportunity to get onto the training schedule for our firefighter recruits. Monday morning, I did a short course to get them set up and acclimated to FireView Dashboard, our new analytic application for Lincoln Fire & Rescue. I enjoyed my time with the trainees. As I explained to them at the outset, if nothing else it was an opportunity for them to see that I do not have horns growing out of my head. One of the great frustrations of being public safety director is that my workforce is now so large that it is impossible for me to know everyone.

During the class, I was explaining something to the trainees that was really unrelated to my topic, but an important message nonetheless, one that I also share with police recruits and dispatchers. Many people go to work everyday and find it a drudge. They labor for the best years of their lives in jobs that provide a living, but little reward. We, on the other hand, can make a difference in the lives or our fellow citizens every single day. It is an incredible opportunity, one to be cherished and not squandered.

If the only thing that attracts one to the job is the adrenaline rush that comes from a major structure fire, you'll inevitably be disappointed at the rarity, that excitement will not help you (rather, it will interfere with your performance), and you will be a grumpy cynic in short order. But if you can take away a positive feeling from a medical emergency where you provided competent care and helped a patient and his or her family deal with one of life's frightening crises, you will have an incredibly rewarding career, because that opportunity will arise with great regularity.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Good neighbor

Monday evening a bit before 11:00 PM, the police were summoned to a south Lincoln home by a mighty good neighbor. He hadn't seen the 91 year old next door in a few days, and had noticed three newspapers at her front door. Her car was visible through the window of her locked garage. Thinking this highly unusual, he called 911.

Assessing the circumstances, The Southeast Team officers who responded had an uncomfortable feeling, and made the decision to force entry. They were able to do so with minimal damage to a screen door, and a little nifty work with a lock pick set. It's a good thing: the resident had fallen and was on the floor, unable to get up. Lincoln Fire & Rescue was summoned, and she was transported to the hospital in good condition.

It is quite posssible that her neighbor saved her life. Thank God he was acquainted with her and alert to the unusual circumstances. Had it not been so, she may have suffered in agony alone. She is blessed to have a such a good neighbor. I wonder how many other elderly Lincoln residents, living independently, are so fortunate.

If you happen to have a single senior citizen next door or across the street, this evening would be a great time to make sure you strike up an acquaintance, and put yourself in the position to be the ultimate good neighbor.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Massive cranium

From time to time, I have blogged about the value of oblique aerial imagery in public safety. Lincoln contracts with Pictometry for such imagery, which is a valuable asset for police commanders and fire battalion chiefs.

Our most recent images were flown in the spring of 2013, just as Lincoln's Union Plaza was just coming into focus after several years of construction. One of the signature features of the Plaza is James Tyler's sculpture Groundwater Colossus, which the Lincoln Journal Star indelicately described as a "massive cranium." Here it is in the east-facing Pictometry view of the plaza last spring:

I drive by the sculpture on 21st Street between P & Q a few times weekly, as it is right around the corner for Lincoln Fire & Rescue headquarters. Having seen a few impromptu photo sessions in progress, I have concluded that a picture of one of the kids picking the gargantuan nostril is now among the iconic images of Lincoln. I consider this a good thing, as I appreciate interactive art.

Friday, May 16, 2014

One more time

A few weeks ago, I blogged about a 29 year old driver who was arrested for driving while his license was suspended. At the time, he already had 21 prior convictions for driving while suspended. Well, he's still at it. Around 2:30 AM yesterday morning, he was spotted by an officer who recognized him from the prior arrest on April 18, and popped him again. He also had two arrest warrants for failure to appear in relation to two other suspended driving cases in Douglas County.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Cite and release

I was in New York City early this week, attending a meeting at the Laura and John Arnold Foundation concerning some research in the early stages about the use of citation in lieu of arrest for misdemeanor crimes. Cite and release is the default for misdemeanors in Nebraska, declared so by the Legislature several decades ago. Apparently, however, there are many differences in this practice around the country. I had responded with some comments to a blast email from the researchers, and the next thing I knew, they asked me to come brainstorm with the group in person.

While the law in Nebraska provides exceptions when misdemeanants may be booked into jail (most commonly, the defendant has a history of failure to appear), around 85% of the Lincoln Police Department's misdemeanor arrests are handled with cite and release. Among the issues to be studied are the pros and cons of citation in lieu of arrest, its impact on failure to appear rates, and the impact of the lack of a ten-print card in most cite and release arrest situations on criminal history records. These issues have been the subject of several past posts on by blog.

I suspect we will still be calling it a ten print card decades after it has no longer been a card.

Sunday night, I stayed at a Hampton Inn on the corner of 8th Avenue and 51st Street. My room was on the second floor, and when I opened the drapes, this was right outside the window.

Ground transportation in New York was an adventure, involving the JFK AirTrain, Long Island Railroad, subway, and a little shoe leather. I took public transportation into Manhattan--something I always like to do when visiting cities with connected airports. I enjoy rubbing elbows with the locals and paying a little pocket change, rather than $65 for a taxi--even when someone else is paying the bill.  I like it even better when I can get to the airport for free! 

Friday, May 9, 2014

One thing really well

Lincoln has a residency restriction for registered sex offenders who meet the definition of "sexual predator" in state law. Our local ordinance prohibits these offenders from living within 500 ft. of any K-12 school. The ordinance (9.16.250) specifies that this measurement is from the property line of the school to the property line of the parcel upon which the residence is located.

With some frequency, sexual predators subject to this restriction contact us trying to determine if a particular location is within or outside of the restricted area. They also contact the Sheriff's Office, the Parole Administration, and probably others trying to make this determination. It has always been a little tedious to do so, requiring a fairly good knowledge not only of the ordinance, but also a more-than-casual familiarity with the City's GIS viewer at its measuring tools.

It is now getting a whole lot easier. Andrew Dasher, the manager of the Lincoln Police Department's Crime Analysis Unit made a web mapping application yesterday, using ArcGIS Online. It is a application that allows a user to input an address, and quickly see whether it is within the 500 ft. buffer from nearby schools. While it's awfully good as is, he is in the process of working with Lincoln's GIS manager, Jeff McReynolds, to make it even better, so this app is likely to be slightly different in the future, and even more accurate.

Over the past few years, I've started to really appreciate these ArcGIS Online web mapping applications. They are easy to build (even a Director can do it) and quickly deployed. Previously, I used apps that contained dozens of layers and fulfilled many different purposes. Now I am drawn to simple applications that do one or two things really well. ArcGIS offers many templates, and web maps can be embedded in other sites.

We use one that is a very simple lookup for parcels, another that is a basic streetfinder, one that is a portal to the City's traffic cameras, another that locates Lincoln Fire & Rescue pre-plans, one that just looks up the correct police reporting district and zipcode for a specific address, and now this one--to discover whether an address is within 500 ft. of a school. A gallery of such web mapping applications (similar to Grapevine, TX), is a nice way of providing these tools either internally or to the public.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Don't be a victim

I blogged last week about the police department's efforts to reduce residential burglary by notifying people when their garage door is standing open. There is another type of garage burglary, however, that is even more concerning. This one applies only to people who have an attached garage.

A good example happened yesterday morning (B4-038801), in far south Lincoln. At about 4:45 AM, a couple sleeping in their upstairs bedroom heard a familiar sound: a creaking noise they recognized as the door between their attached garage and the house.  Upon investigating, they discovered that someone had apparently entered their garage through the unlocked walk-in door, gone from the garage into the house through the unlocked connecting door, then took the wife's purse off a shelf right inside.

This is a modus operandi that we have experienced before. It is very disconcerting to know that you've not only been the victim of a burglary, but that the criminal was actually right inside your house while the family slept. This type of burglary takes advantage of this common habit: men almost always deposit their wallet on the nightstand or on top of the dresser in the bedroom. Women, however, usually stow their purse very near the back door; on an entry table, for example, or on the kitchen counter.

So, in addition to making sure your garage door is closed, also check the walk-in doors, and give some thought to installing a good sturdy deadbolt with at least a one-inch throw on that exterior door into the garage--which is usually the most vulnerable point of all.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

What would you do?

The story starts with a citizen who found a diamond ring in the parking lot at Target. Erin called the police, and turned the ring over to the officer who was assigned the call for service, Jason. He took the ring to a nearby jeweler on his beat, who confirmed that it was not only the real deal, but a rather nice rock, and quite valuable. Jason tagged it into the Property & Evidence Unit as a found item.

The next day, Toby, a civilian employee in the Property & Evidence Unit, was processing the incoming items when the ring caught her attention. Surely, she thought, someone was heartbroken over this loss, but who? She took the ring down the hall to one of our crime analysts, Marie, who publishes a weekly PowerPoint that loops in the off-hours on the big monitors in the briefing rooms. By chance, I happened to be in the Crime Analysis Unit when Toby brought that ring in, and I remember thinking that the chance of finding its owner was about nil.

Wrong again.

A couple of weeks passed, when this past Monday the second shift duty commander, Danny, noticed a call in the pending queue on the status monitor concerning a diamond ring lost by a couple from Ohio while visiting Lincoln back on April 12. He reminded Brian, the on-duty field supervisor, of the recovered ring from a couple weeks ago. Brian, in turn, alerted Trevor, the officer who was assigned the lost item report. Trevor obtained a photo and the GIA report on the ring from the owner in Ohio, took that to another jeweler on his beat, and confirmed the identity.

Thus, the ring resides safely in the police evidence room, awaiting a return trip by the couple, at which time it will be reunited with its owner. Great work by Jason, Toby, Marie, Danny, Brian, and Trevor--but especially by Erin, the citizen who found the ring and did the right thing when no one was watching. That, folks, is the definition of character.

Case numbers B4-036197 and B4-030806.