Tuesday, December 29, 2015

PulsePoint milestone met

When we implemented PulsePoint, the remarkable application that delivers alerts to smartphones when a need for CPR exists in a public place nearby, I had hoped to reach 5,000 users within the first year. Last night, we passed the 5,000 mark--on the 82nd day following the public launch of PulsePoint in Lincoln on October 8, 2015.

While 5,000 seems like a mighty good number to me, it really was a goal plucked from the air. The PulsePoint foundation had suggested that a reasonable goal is to reach 1% of the population in year one. When we blew by that in the first week, we just set our sights on 5,000. I think several good things have resulted from PulsePoint in Lincoln.

  • 26 CPR alerts have been sent to 128 smartphones. Although we do not yet have a documented case where a PulsePoint alert resulted in bystander CPR before the arrival of LF&R, we know that in at least a few cases PulsePoint-equipped citizens responded and tried to assist. This case at a local motel certainly demonstrates the potential, and a PulsePoint-enabled save is simply a matter of time.
  • About 1,400 citizens have signed up for alerts pertaining to injury vehicle crashes and structure fires. These people are receiving notifications that allow them to avoid the traffic snarls that accompany such events, in which multiple LPD and LF&R vehicles are converging on the scene of an emergency. Anecdotally, this appears to be one of the most useful aspects of PulsePoint in daily use.
  • The news media has widely adopted PulsePoint. Reporters are getting story leads quickly, are able to notify their audience of emergencies, and are producing more stories than ever about the work of LF&R. It is common to see media outlets using screen shots from PulsePoint in tweets and on websites. One reporter told me that PulsePoint had significantly changed the way their newsroom works.
  • Lincoln Fire & Rescue personnel are occasionally getting a jump on dispatches. Most firefighters have loaded PulsePoint on their personal smartphones. Since the PulsePoint alert often hits the phone even before the dispatcher has had the opportunity to put the call out over the radio, crews sometimes get a few seconds head start. I witnessed this personally one day when Engine 3's crew was dashing for the rig well in advance of the radio dispatch. Managers like the chief, myself, assistant chief, and battalion chiefs are also benefitting from rapid notification of emergent events.
  • The number of AEDs registered in Lincoln has increased three-fold, as many PulsePoint users have either adopted the companion app, PulsePoint AED, or have just noticed that the AED in their workplace has never been registered with the local emergency service, as required. PulsePoint displays the location of the nearest AED when a CPR alert is sent.
  • Citizens have a much better concept of the work performed by their 911 center personnel and firefighters. PulsePoint has exposed the volume and variety of incidents to a good swath of the public. People mention this to me regularly. In answering the question "I wonder where those sirens are going?," we are not just satisfying curiosity. we are building public understanding and support.
  • PulsePoint has increased public awareness of the importance of bystander CPR in the chain of survival for sudden cardiac arrest. Deploying the app has caused a buzz in the community, and even without a smartphone in sight, will increase the likelihood that good Samaritans in Lincoln will step forward to help when needed.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Last minute shopping

Christmas crime, for some reason, always interests me. I'm just amazed at the dumb stuff people do on Christmas eve and Christmas day that land them with a court date--or worse yet, in the slammer. A dozen shoplifting arrests took place yesterday, as a few folks got in some last minute shopping. Beer seemed to be the most common target, accounting for a third of the ill-gotten goods.

The first arrest of Christmas day, just a few minutes after midnight, was also for shoplifting. Two offenders with a past history boosted some lingerie and personal electronics from Dr. John's, a purveyor of, shall we say, adult-themed products. There won't be much joy on Christmas for this pair. as the prior offenses resulted in booking the defendants into jail, rather than cite-and-release.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Nebraska 511

Seasoned readers of the Director's Desk know that I've had a longtime interest in location-based services: applications that deliver useful information to users based on their current location. Good public safety examples include P3i and PulsePoint. With winter weather beginning to set in, it would be a good time to remind folks about an excellent app from the Nebraska Department of Roads: Nebraska 511.

The Department of Roads travel information website, Nebraska 511, has been around for many years now, and has developed quite nicely. There is a full-featured version of the website, a streamlined version, and a version optimized for small screens. But there is also a mobile application designed specifically for smartphones, available in both Apple and Android flavors.

The mobile version has evolved a lot in recent years, and the current version is very slick indeed. It's great for checking road conditions, traffic in the metro areas, and for peeking at the large network of traffic cameras on Nebraska's highway system.

Next time you're taking a trip, try the "Tell me" feature--which will alert you to road closures, construction projects, and traffic incidents which are near your path.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

No logical explanation

Yesterday morning, folks here in Lincoln awoke to a couple inches of fresh snow. I was up early, watching the big flakes fall in the still darkness. It was beautiful, but from lots of past experience, I knew it would be wise to get an early start on my day: avoid the traffic, head to the office, and watch the chaos of the morning commute unfold.

The roads were slick in my subdivision, but merely wet and slushy once I hit arterials. I arrived at the office without a problem, but still expected Armageddon: it just doesn't take much to make the pending dispatch screen explode with collisions. Sometimes just a little rain will do it, and the first significant snow of the year seemed certain, despite the fact that it was more wet than slick.

The trouble, however, never emerged. We ended the day with 22 traffic crashes, which is just slightly below the daily average. Interestingly, five days ago, on December 10th the weather was beautiful. It was sunny, calm, and the high hit 62 degrees--very unusual for Lincoln in mid-December. About half way through the day I noticed that we were logging quite a few crashes, and sent out a tweet about that fact. We ended the day on December 10th with 38 crashes, far above the average of 23.

Perfect weather, crashes abound. First snowfall of note, all is well. There's no logical explanation for that, but we should take it while we can get it. I can assure you that we'll have our days of 78, 98, or 123 traffic crashes ahead. Anyone remember December, 2009?

Monday, November 30, 2015

In an instant

We are living in the age of instant, where the time involved in slapping two slices of bread and a Kraft single into a frying pan with a pat of butter seems so time consuming as to justify a product designed to speed the process.

Yesterday's big events in Lincoln--the City's first murder of 2015, and an officer involved shooting--were a reminder of just how quickly news spreads. Before I even got notified by the chief of the unfolding events, Twitter was already lighting up with live reports for the scene. Reporters were providing a blow-by-blow from their vantage point.

By the time I made it to police headquarters, the phone was ringing steadily in the duty commander's office. The captain decided to prioritize the 402 area code, and at least temporarily ignored the inbound calls from the 212 area code--those could wait. That's right, reporters from the east coast were already calling, before any of us any clear idea of what had transpired.

I recently overheard a reporter asking for details about an injury traffic crash to which no one had yet arrived! It's not all bad, though. I was getting some useful updates from those same tweets last night. Reassuring phone calls to and from spouses were speeded along, good wishes and prayers were being expressed with equal alacrity from all over the country, and even Larry the Cable Guy was tweeting positive thoughts within the hour.

A major incident like this is reminiscent of the story of the blind men and the elephant: many officers have a piece of the puzzle from their own perspective, but no one really has the complete picture. It has to be pieced together over time. More than 40 officers were involved in their own piece: collecting evidence, staffing a secure perimeter, transporting a subject, interviewing a witness, and so forth. A fair amount of the clock ticks off before all these minutia can be assembled into a coherent account of the events.

I've seen this happen so many times that it barely registers now. I have simply learned that the early reports will be fragmentary, and often wrong in some significant details. I was reflecting on this today during the regular daily police briefing, while the reporter sitting to my right Periscoped the proceedings live.

Patience is a virtue, as dynamic events eventually come into focus. But in the age of already-peeled orange segments, prepackaged peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, and paper towels dampened in advance, it is still remarkable to sit back and think about how our culture has changed, and how much we expect things in an instant.

It is also remarkable to observe how unsupported assumptions, wild speculation, fantastical theories, naked conjecture, and scurrilous innuendo by amateur (and often anonymous) commentators compete for attention with the work of professional journalists--an endangered species these days.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What the heck?

I ran a series of posts a few years ago about unusual artifacts found around the police station. Well, this one wasn't physically around the police station, but it was on my computer monitor when I snapped this screen shot. Any guesses?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Don't click that link

One of my early morning pastimes is reading some of the police reports filed overnight. The stuff that happens after midnight often contains the cases that just make you shake your head. So it was this morning, when I noticed an Incident Report on a call classified as "Misc Other." I've learned that when an officer makes a report on something with this call type, it's often a doozy.

The reporting party received an email from a sender with an address beginning with "donotreply@".  The topic concerned student loan consolidation. The email contained a hyperlink, which the reporting party followed to another website. On that site, she supplied her name, address, date of birth, and social security number. Afterwards, she got a bit concerned, and called the police.

So far, no nefarious activity has been attributed to this breach, but time will tell, and our victim is right to be worried. Officer Jareke had a chat with her about the wisdom of providing such information to anonymous solicitors.

What intrigued me about this case is the fact that, as in the past, the victim is relatively young--in her 20s. I've looked into the demographics of fraud victims before, and discovered that the stereotype of elderly folks who are too trusting is not always so accurate. While retirees are sometimes targeted, most of those who are wooed by such scams aren't eligible for the senior citizen discount. Many victims are in their teens and 20s, perhaps too accustomed to laying information out there on the web for others to pick over.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

My take on smart guns

Smart guns are firearms that incorporate some type of technology that makes it difficult for anyone other than the authorized user to discharge the weapon. There are several such technologies, but to the best of my knowledge, no smart gun is commercially available in the United States.

Yesterday, a reader asked me address my view about smart guns here in my blog, so here we go. I like the concept of a smart gun a lot. You need not look far to find an example of a police officer killed with his or her own sidearm. When my colleague Deputy Sheriff Craig Dodge was murdered in 1987, his killer, Terry Reynolds, helped himself to Craig's .357 revolver. I would have been glad to know at the time that it was a brick. I also think smart guns could be a good choice for some civilian firearms owners, and would almost certainly avoid a few of the tragic deaths we read about where children have gotten their hands on mom or dad's handgun.

Here's the problem: almost all smart gun technologies rely on electronic components, turning a mechanical device into an electromechanical one. My experience with biometrics, RFID, and Bluetooth LE on other devices has been okay and improving over time, but certainly not flawless. Introducing the need for power makes a smart gun inherently less reliable. Power sources are not permanent, and electrical components add complexity. Recovering from an electronics failure requires time and effort, and sometimes can be really annoying. We see plenty of examples of this in every day life with electronic gizmos from keyless ignitions to remote controls.

I would have to think long and hard about introducing another significant potential point of failure into any device upon which my life could depend. On the other hand, I realize the ever-present risk of my own gun being used against me. In my only encounter where someone was trying to kill me, I came within a gnat's eyelash of just that scenario. I would trade a certain amount of technological failure risk, for the diminished risk of being defeated, disarmed, and killed with my own sidearm. I would need to be convinced that the technology is sufficiently robust to make that trade a wise one.

Basically, whether officer or civilian, I'd like to have the choice. If smart guns were available, I think some people would consider that option, and I think the technology would improve over time. I saw my first prototype smart gun nearly 40 years ago, fitted to a Smith & Wesson revolver. It required the user to wear a ring, without which the trigger would not move. You needed a ring on both hands for ambidextrous shooting. It wasn't electronic at all, rather magnetic. I wonder if that technology is still around, if it has developed at all, and how it might develop if market forces were at work.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Many more Thanksgiving dinners

Last week, two Lincoln police officers were in the right place at the right time, when a 42 year old man suffered cardiac arrest at a hotel. The victim's wife called 911 and with help from a dispatcher, started CPR. Two officers arrived within three minutes, and took over CPR until firefighters from Station 12 arrived five minutes later, and a return of spontaneous circulation ensued.

We received a phone call yesterday from the patient's wife, with an update on his condition and her expression of gratitude. What a great team effort by dispatcher, police officers, firefighters, and the medical team at the hospital! As a result, this man who would otherwise have passed away is returned to the bosom of his family, to enjoy many more Thanksgiving dinners.

Can you imagine the feeling of knowing you played a role in something like this? You could. If you or someone you know would be interested in becoming a dispatcher, police officer, or firefighter in Lincoln, we are always looking for intelligent, dedicated, flexible, and compassionate women and men who want to make a difference in their community--not only in big ways like this, but in small but significant ways that occur for every first responder every single day.

We are also hoping that more and more people will download the remarkable PulsePoint application, and put themselves in the position that these two police officers were in--close to a victim who needs CPR, and able to take action immediately pending the arrival of EMTs and paramedics. Three phones got the PulsePoint alert on this incident, and had it not been 2:07 AM, might have been the ones. Since the launch of PulsePoint in Lincoln, 12 CPR alerts have been delivered to 70 phones.

There are many people out there willing to help, and it is probably inevitable that the stars will align and put a PulsePoint user in the perfect place at just the right time.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

We'll keep looking around

A bit of a kerfuffle occurred last week, revolving around our attempts to find suitable land for the four fire stations which will be built with funding from the voter-approved sales tax increase in Lincoln. Although it will be quite awhile before we turn a shovel, we need to find sites, and either purchase land or acquire a first-right-of-refusal. Otherwise, when the time comes to build, we may find that all the suitable parcels have evaporated. We are not the only ones looking for reasonably-priced building sites with good access to arterial streets in rapidly-developing areas. Go figure.

One of the more problematic locations identified in our optimization study is the S. 84th Street and Pioneers Boulevard area. We really need to be within a half mile radius of the intersection, and the pickings are getting slimmer as time passes. So earlier this year, when we were contacted by an owner of two parcels that abut 84th Street about a quarter mile south of Pioneers, we expressed an interest. Before we signed an agreement, however, we thought it wise to meet with the neighbors, and sent a letter to all the property owners within 500 ft. of this potential site.

Last Wednesday night, Assistant Chief Pat Borer and Battalion Chief Eric Jones heard an earful--so much so that we have put negotiations on hold for the time being, and are studiously looking at every other potential site within that half-mile radius. We're checking to see if any other suitable sites are for sale, large enough, have access to the streets, and would meet our needs. We are happy to do so, and my fingers are crossed.

We want to be good neighbors. Right now, 11 of our 14 fire stations are right next to residences, directly across the street, or both. While you might have your conversation interrupted by a siren from time to time, for the most part I think a fire station can be a very good neighbor, and far better than some other land uses that you tend to see along busy five lane arterial streets.

This new station near 84th and Pioneers replaces the extant Station 12, which is about a mile and a half further north. That station is woefully inadequate, and falling into disrepair. Our optimization study found that if it was relocated we could dramatically improve our coverage and response times to areas of Lincoln that have developed since it's original construction in the 1970's.

A lot of the concerns our staff heard last week dealt with lights and sirens. Station 12 is not among our busiest, nor our least busy fire stations. So far this year, Engine 12 has made 232 emergency runs between the hours of 10:30 PM and 6:30 AM--less than one per day during those hours. This time period is the slowest portion of the day for emergency calls, so it's not as if the din is constant late at night and in the wee hours of the morning. About a third of those emergency runs went south of Pioneers, so Engine 12 was driving right by those same residences.

I think our other three optimal locations will be somewhat less problematic. In the meantime, we will keep looking for the best place to relocate Station 12, with an eye on the cost of land acquisition, suitability of the building site, impact on response time and coverage, and concerns of neighbors. Lots of things have to be considered and balanced.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

PulsePoint update

I just got back from Washington, DC where I participated in my first meeting after being appointed to the Law Enforcement Forecasting Group, a DOJ think tank composed of both academicians and egghead-leaning practitioners like me. We had lively discussions on issues of concern now and in the future for American policing. I'm working on a blog post about one of those issues, but it's a slow go.

In the meantime, I just sent an internal email to some of the staff most interested and involved in our PulsePoint initiative, providing a status update. It's probably worth sharing, so here's the latest:

"As of 0800, we have 3,011 people who've downloaded PulsePoint and are following LF&R. Richard Price, the foundation president, tells me that a good target for a community is to reach 1% of the population within the first year. We blew by that in the first week, so I think we've done pretty well. 
In all, 8 alerts have landed on 29 phones since the soft launch on Sept. 2nd. I suspect that's about the volume we will see--around 4 to 6 incidents in public places per month of a call type that generates an alert.  
One of the big benefits I'm seeing is a greater awareness by citizens of the volume and variety of what we do. We're generating some in-person, on blog, and twitter comments about that, and a it has come up in a couple radio interviews I've done this month. That's a good thing. The traffic crash alerts in particular seem to be valued: about 850 people receive those alerts right now, and there seems to be an immediate uptick of a few new followers after each one.  
We've also had quite a bit of activity in new AED registrations spurred by PulsePoint. Back on July 17, we had 155 AEDs registered in Lincoln, and we now have 268. 
The American Heart Association just released their latest CPR and ECC guidelines on Thursday, and for the first time include a recommendation for mobile apps such as PulsePoint. The post on their blog yesterday summarizes:  

Friday, October 16, 2015

The story behind PulsePoint

I blogged earlier this week about PulsePoint, a remarkable application that uses location-based services to deliver CPR alerts to nearby citizens who could potentially be rescuers. There is an interesting back story to PulsePoint, by it's founder, Richard Price.

He tells the full story in this 12 minute TEDx, but here's the condensed version: he's the fire chief in San Ramon Valley, California. One day he's grabbing lunch at a deli when he hears sirens approaching. One of his own rigs ultimately pulls up right outside the deli and the crew jumps out and attend to a sudden cardiac arrest in the shop rnext door. Had he known about it, he could have been there almost immediately and rendered care to the patient until more help arrived.

The experience made Chief Price think about how he might be able to use the concept of location-based services to notify willing citizens of these events when they occurred in public places nearby. CPR by a bystander is critical to improving the odds of survival. Perhaps the geo-aware feature of the smartphone could harness the good will of many who would gladly help save a life if the opportunity presented itself.

This is a brilliant application of location-based services, and one that has and will continue to save lives. Interestingly, Chief Price had this thought at about the same time,as I did, back in November of 2009 when the concept of P3i jumped into my head as I used Google maps to navigate to the nearest craft brewery in Los Angeles on a business trip.

Two chiefs, same idea, both in need of some iOS and Android developers. One was a pretty good idea for its time, which was at the dawn of the modern smartphone. The other was a genuine life saver. Doubt that? Google "PulsePoint saves".

Monday, October 12, 2015

Tips for using PulsePoint

If you've downloaded PulsePoint, good for you. If not, I wish you'd consider doing so. We blew by my initial goal of 1,200 over the weekend and cracked 2,400 followers last night, which is mighty encouraging. There are a couple of features in PulsePoint I want to point out that I think might be of particular interest, completely apart from the CPR-needed-in-public-place alert that is its primary purpose.

The first is the public safety radio feed. Down at the bottom of the list of recent dispatches is a red tab. Tap it, and it slides up to reveal a toggle to turn the radio feed on and off. Its pretty nice, when you see a big event, to toggle on the radio for a few minutes to listen to the transmissions. You can usually figure out quickly whether it's a big deal or not. The feed is actually stereo: fire & rescue on the right, police on the left. If you use earbuds, you'll get the separation. I use a Bluetooth connection to send the audio to my car stereo, which is really slick. The balance control allows me to emphasize and/or mute one or the other if I wish, and the left-right separation actually lets you make sense of both at the same time.

The second feature is the ability to set alerts for other kinds of calls, like structure fires and hazmat incidents. I particularly like the alerts for vehicle accident and expanded vehicle accident. These calls are the injury traffic crashes to which Lincoln Fire & Rescue responds. The expanded collisions are the ones with multiple patients, severity or where the mechanism of injury is more dangerous, such as an overturned vehicle, a car-motorcycle collision, and so forth.

The expanded injury crashes involve several emergency vehicles, unlike your typical fender-bender. Thus, setting an alert for one or both of these accident types will give you advance notice of a potential traffic snarl. These alerts will usually arrive on your phone even before the dispatcher has had the opportunity to speak the words needed to send the first responders. In PulsePoint, go to settings, and you'll see the list of incident types you can choose from for alerts on your phone.

Here's a few more tips to consider:

  • Didn't sign up for CPR alerts because you haven't had training in a while? No problem, the American Heart Association can teach you the basics in 90 seconds. There are other ways to help at a cardiac arrest, too: look for the AED, wait outside to show the paramedics the way, comfort the family, etc..  Don't let the fact that you're not carrying a card in your wallet keep you from being the one.
  • CPR alerts will only be received when the incident is at a public place and you are within a quarter mile. All the other alerts, though, are not tied to your location--you will get those on fires, crashes, hazmat, and so forth regardless of where you are.
  • You can follow other agencies, for example a city to which you are traveling, or your Mom's home town--as long as it is a PulsePoint-connected community.
  • While hands-only CPR is easy, more training is always a good thing. The Red Cross offers lots of opportunities for individuals, and if you're an employer or the team leader, maybe you should sponsor one for everybody!
  • Too many alerts bothering you? I'd suggest picking only CPR and Expanded Vehicle Accident to reduce the volume and still get the ones that are most important. Also, find the "do not disturb" setting on your phone, and select those times of day that you do not want to be buzzed.
  • Do you tweet? If so, the PulsePoint foundation has a twitter feed that republishes all the CPR alerts that are sent out from agencies nationwide, which is rather interesting to see @1000livesaday.
  • If you happen to have an Apple Watch, these notifications will work very well on your wrist.
  • PulsePoint is a smartphone app, but it will run on your iPad. It's a bit tricky to find it in the app store: you'll need to search for PulsePoint (it is NOT the blue Elevon app), then tap the "iPad Only" link at the top left and change to "iPhone only."
  • PulsePoint AED is a companion app for crowdsourcing information about AEDs in the community. The icon looks the same, but is yellow. Information from the public helps us keep the data current, and we appreciate your contribution to the database!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Get the app. Save a life.

We are launching PulsePoint in Lincoln today, a remarkable application that connects willing citizens with nearby emergencies where CPR may be needed. If you have the PulsePoint app installed on your smartphone, and you are within walking distance of a sudden cardiac arrest in a public place like a shop or restaurant, you'll receive an alert and directions.

PulsePoint is free. It requires no information from the user. All you is download it from iTunes or Google Play, and go through the iPhone setup or Android setup. I'm hoping to convince a few thousand people in Lincoln to do so in the next year. It can just sit there next to Angry Birds until the day it might help you become a hero.

If you're a law enforcement officer, firefighter, health care professional, Red Cross volunteer, or dispatcher, you should have PulsePoint. If you're a teacher, mechanic, bartender, or anyone else who carries a smartphone, you should have it too, because you may be the one who is in the right place at the right time to save a life.

PulsePoint is relatively new, but already in use in hundreds of localities. Reports of saves are beginning to trickle in from around the country. It is inevitable that more stories like this will continue to unfold:

Along with the CPR alerts, PulsePoint also has some other nice features: you can follow all the Lincoln Fire & Rescue dispatches, there is a toggle to monitor our public safety radio feed, and you can sign up for other kinds of alerts such as injury traffic crashes and fires. PulsePoint is tapping directly into the 911 Center's computer-aided dispatch system, so you are receiving these alerts at the same time or even slightly before the first responders.

Given our volume of cardiac arrests (and the fact that only a fraction of those occur in public places) the number of PulsePoint CPR alerts in Lincoln will be relatively small--a handful per month. But these incidents do happen, as these great local stories from earlier this year attests. There is always the possibility that you will be the person who is able and willing to help save a life.



Thursday, September 24, 2015

F Street Community Center

My wife and I just saw a commercial on TV this morning for a long-standing Lincoln electronics and appliance business, Schaefer's. They're having an anniversary event, and some photos of past store locations flashed across the screen. Tonja was trying to recollect where the business was originally located. I knew that immediately. It was on the corner of 13th and F Street, where the heavily-modified space still retains some of it's design features, and is now incorporated into Lincoln's F Street Community Center.

Specifically, the old Schaefer's occupied the space on the southwest corner of 13th and F, which would be the northeast corner of today's Community Center building. Interestingly, a little further to the west, an historic Fire Station is also incorporated into the building. The fire station pre-dates Schaefer's by a couple decades, and my guess is that the commercial building on the corner was built to reflect the design of it's neighbor down the block to the west.

There's a nice little Lincoln Police Department substation in the southeast corning of the Community Center, which gets a lot of use. That's why you'll often see police patrol cars in the curb cut on 13th Street.

Friday, September 18, 2015

A walk in the dark

Last month, one of our city council members, Leirion Gaylor Baird, emailed me. One of her constituents had been hosting an event at a hotel in Lincoln's dynamic Haymarket area, and got involved in a discussion of one of the workers, a young woman. As they were chatting, she told him that she liked her job at the hotel, but was a little concerned because she had to walk quite a distance to her car at night, after her shift ended.

This citizen thought that perhaps a couple people he knew on the city council could come up with an idea that could help in this situation. Interestingly, I had heard the same concern voiced by two other employees of restaurants. Tonja and I are habitual eaters-of-appetizers-at-the-bar types, and tend to strike up conversations with our servers. Parking is a significant expense for downtown workers, and many restaurant employees have to snag their spot quite a distance away, to find an affordable option.

I didn't have any great ideas for the council member, other than to opine that it might be worthwhile for some businesses to offer a buddy system, allowing another employee to spend 15 minutes on the clock in order to accompany a lone employee going off duty after dark to a remote parking spot.

A couple of days ago, though, I spotted Companion, a smartphone application with exactly this problem in mind. Someone mentioned it on Twitter, and remarked how much her college-student daughter appreciated the app. Companion seems to be targeted towards college students, but the concept would work equally well for a shift-worker facing a jaunt of several blocks during the hours when a sense of discomfort may be present.

I have no personal experience with Companion, and I'm sure there are other apps with a similar function. In fact, one that I use everyday, Glympse, could be used for this purpose. I generally send a Glympse to Tonja when I'm heading home, and occasionally to someone I'm meeting when I am running late. I've even used Glympse to provide the family with an update on my travels when I am out of town. There are several things I especially like about Glympse.

Here's something men virtually never consider when searching for a parking spot: how safe will I feel when I come back to the car? We think about how close is it, how expensive in it, but I don't think men are ever thinking about their personal safety when they come back to the car after the game, the movie, or the class. A man would rarely pass up an otherwise prime parking spot because there isn't a streetlight nearby, or there's a sketchy alley to traverse. Yet, I think these are factors that women consider reflexively.

Juice up your battery, pick an app, and you needn't be entirely alone as you head home.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Impulse purchase pans out

In technology terms, 2010 was a long time ago. Back then, I was an early adopter of the original Apple iPad, and quickly found that it was a useful device at work. I admit it: I have a problem with gadgets. My smartphone habit goes way back to the Palm OS, and my handheld organizers even earlier. I had made up my mind, though, that there was no way I was buying an Apple Watch. And then....

A couple Sundays ago, I accompanied my lovely wife and daughter to the mall in Omaha. Ugh. There's nothing for a man there, and only a couple options that won't cause downright pain. I debated, then zigged left to the Apple Store, rather than zagging right to Scheel's. I found myself ogling Apple Watches instead of bicycle accessories and fly rods. 

I suppose I was ripe for the picking. I've always been a watch-wearer, and the Apple Watch proved to be less bulky in person than it looked in photos. The friendly associate said, "You should try it on." I swallowed hook, line, and sinker. A few minutes later I stumbled out the door, dazed, carrying a little white bag. They just make it too doggone easy. 

After a couple of weeks, I actually like my impulse purchase. It's great to get notifications on my Apple Watch of incoming text messages and emails. I don't have to dig for my iPhone. I can discretely glance at my watch during meetings without disrupting things. At home, my iPhone can stay on counter or plugged into the charger,  but I can still get check my emails and messages while puttering in the garage or out on the deck, or just kicked-back across the room.

I've only answered one phone call on my Apple Watch. It worked fine on both ends of the call, although I was alone in a quiet room at the time. I was hoping no one would walk by and see me channelling Dick Tracy. (How badly does this reference date me?)

The Apple Watch experience has me thinking about more sophisticated public safety applications for wearable technology. At one time, I thought Google Glass might be a breakthrough in this regard. Now, I think the smartwatch has good potential for doing things like delivering the patient's vital signs to the paramedic's wrist; or the tornado warning, the wanted bulletin, and the critical incident alert. I can see the potential of location-based information like that served up from P3i,  delivered to the user on a wearable device.

It's not just a pipe dream. I already have an application that sends notifications to me about certain types of major incidents. I get the alerts to my iPhone and now on my Apple Watch, too. It tickles my wrist to let me know of an emergency response like this one on Wednesday, and it usually does so several seconds before the 911 center has even been able to say the words on the radio necessary to dispatch the responders to the incident. You'll be hearing more about this on my blog and in the local news in coming weeks.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Another brutal day looms

Tomorrow is the University of Nebraska Cornhusker's home opener against Brigham Young University at Memorial Stadium here in Lincoln. The weather forecast calls for highs in the mid-90s, humidity around 50%, and a dew point of around 70 degrees. Kickoff is at 2:30 PM, the heat of the day. That, friends, is about as bad as it gets. The temperature inside the stadium will be even worse.

The police officers directing traffic will be soaking up the heat from black asphalt. Having done that for 13 consecutive seasons, I can assure you that they will not be having a pleasant game-day experience. I remember the soles of my shoes one year, literally melting into the pavement. It's worse now. Body armor and traffic vests weren't around in 1974, and the stadium capacity was far smaller.

Lincoln's firefighters will be swamped with hundreds of patients who are overheated, dehydrated, and ill. Some of them will be suffering the combined effects of the heat and too much pre-loading. There will be vomit, lots of vomit. Among the unwell throngs will be a few people with really serious medical issues that need the expert attention of our EMTs and paramedics followed by transport to the hospital.

The public safety personnel who plan and manage our part of the festivities have done all the preparation reasonably possible, but a repeat of 2013 is almost certain, and by 6:00 PM, there will be a lot of exhausted police officers and firefighters. Oh, and most will be looking forward to a regular shift afterwards, and it won't exactly be a quiet Saturday night.

If you're at the game or in the neighborhood, be nice to them. Thank them for their service. Have a look at this list and this list on Sunday morning, and you'll understand that it was a tough day for the public safety personnel.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Dispatchers in training

I spent the afternoon yesterday with a group of eight new dispatchers who are going through the classroom portion of their training. My topic was similar to one I've done for years with police officers in training: how to use the department's information resources effectively.

We barely scratched the surface in four hours, but I hope it was a good introduction that encourages the trainees to continue to explore and learn independently. I was impressed by the group. Working in a public safety answering point (what most people would call a 911 center) is a challenging job. It's one of the few jobs in City government where you are locked to a position, and can't get up for a change of scenery now and then. The shift work, odd days off, and overtime requirements can be difficult. You handle a lot of calls that could be frustrating or even disturbing.

But on the other hand, dispatchers are the front-end of the public safety team, and the job has the incredible rewards inherent in being part of that team: truly making a difference in the safety and wellbeing of the community. Lots of people are going to jobs today that are boring and unrewarding. You never have to worry about that as a dispatcher. You have an opportunity every day to help others and to make a difference. Your days are filled with variety, sometimes dramatic events, but always opportunities to help others. I told the trainees that they will almost inevitably play a role in saving a life in the first few months of their careers, but the the small stuff is the key to feeling good about what you do.

A great example of this happened during the class. Somehow, a call got transferred to my cellphone, which normally buzzes only when there is something quite important that I must answer. The students listened in as I handled the call. It was a person with a rather small problem, who didn't know what to do. I listened carefully, and provided my best advice. Her issue had nothing to do with me, but just by treating her kindly and giving her a good referral, you could tell by her voice that she was feeling better about matters. It only took about 90 seconds.

Afterwards, I told the trainees that this tiny little interruption to my day actually made me feel good. Rather than being annoyed at a mis-directed blind transfer, I got to help someone through a minor bump in the road. If you can take away positive feelings from such things, you can do this work for decades and still enjoy it. The big events will come along as punctuation marks in your career, but the little ones happen every day, several times a day, and your approach to those is the difference between  becoming a jaded 25 year old cynic or a fulfilled 62 year old optimist looking forward to the next day.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Strange day

The ebb and flow of policing in Lincoln has a strong temporal pattern. The demand for police services ramps up in the late afternoon,  peaking with the evening rush hour, then cools in the evening. Around midnight it takes another uptick, until shortly after the bars close at 2:00 AM, and then begins sliding to it's low point around 5:00 AM.

When I first wrote about this back in the beginning of my blogging career, the bars closed at 1:00 AM, so the second peak was a bit earlier, and also a bit steeper.

This morning, I noticed that yesterday's pattern was quite different. Here's what it looked like for Monday, August 24, 2015:

There's no obvious cause to the peak between 8:00 and 9:00 AM, there were just a lot of unrelated calls. The same is true for the spike between 3:00 and 4:00 PM (1500-1600 hours.) Again, it is composed of a variety of unrelated calls with no apparent connection. The lack of a larger rush hour peak is unusual. By comparison, here is the previous Monday, August 17, 2015:

While the unusual pattern yesterday caught my attention, what's really interesting to me is the difference between the 2007 pattern (linked above) and the 2015 pattern. Essentially, the huge bar break peak we were experiencing a decade ago has moderated. It's still plenty busy, but does not compare to the evening rush hour in terms of sheer volume.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Technology dependence

Those who know me, even in passing, generally realize that I'm interested in technology. Probably because this is so well known, I am often asked to serve on advisory groups, committees, and such when the issue at hand is technological. In reality, my reputation exceeds me, but nevertheless, it has stuck.

This week, two meetings on matters technological caused me to think. The first was a rather informal get together at the Lancaster County Emergency Operations Center. This one was intended as a demonstration for those in attendance of some of the web-based applications we have, both public and internal, that assist in managing critical incidents. The second was a meeting of the FirstNet Working Group, which I was drafted to chair. FirstNet is a nationwide initiative to deploy a secure, interoperable, public safety broadband communications network.

Both of these meetings made me think about how much we rely on technology these days, and to reflect on our capabilities, in public safety, of continuing to function smoothly when the technology is not available or is crippled by a castastrophe. The catastrophe might be as small as a power outage, or as large as a tornado. How would we do without our web maps, field reporting systems, instant messaging, remote monitoring, and so forth?

There is a risk in our dependence on technology that we will lose important skills that we will most need on the worst day. Every public safety agency ought to have a continuity-of-operations plan of some sort, and ought to exercise from time to time, so they do not lose their ability to function in a disconnected world with no cell phone, no Internet connection, and no Google.

As my pal Sgt. (Ret) Mike Siefkes always said, "A luxury once tasted becomes a necessity." Technology can be helpful and very valuable, but we should try to avoid a situation where it becomes so critical as to constitute a necessity. We need to refresh our recollection, now and then, that a patient can still be treated, a crime investigated, a fire suppressed, an evil-doer arrested, without an MDC, WLAN, PCR, MACH, NCIC, PDMS, or any other alphabet soup.

Heck, there was a time when you could actually drive to an unfamiliar address without GPS. Be sure you still can. By the way, once you unfold this, you will never be able to make it look like this again.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Pretty good response

Last week's post about cleaning up our data pertaining to the location of AEDs in Lincoln got a pretty good response. A couple dozen AED registrations followed, and a few photos of AEDs in their context were added by users as well.

Several of these updates were made using PulsePoint AED, the free smartphone app made specifically for the purpose of collecting information about where AEDs are located in the community. Over the weekend, a big article by Erin Andersen in the Lincoln Journal Star gave a perfect example about how an AED in the workplace saved a life.

I'm certain there are more AEDs out there we don't have registered, though, and plenty of photos that could be collected using the handy "add photo" function in PulsePoint AED. Is one of them at your workplace?

PulsePoint AED is a companion app to PulsePoint Respond, which we hope to launch later this year in Lincoln. If you've followed my blog for a few years, you know that I've been interested in the technology of location-based services, which has been a frequent topic here. I can think of few other examples of how this technology can improve public safety than PulsePoint. Here is a short piece from ABC World News Tonight earlier this year that explains why:

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

You can help

PulsePoint is coming to Lincoln. In preparation for its launch, we have been working to improve the accuracy of the database about Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs). Lincoln Fire & Rescue maintains a registry of AEDs, and this is the source for the location information needed by PulsePoint. People who manage facilities can register or update the information about their AEDs at LF&R's website using a simple online form. Registration is actually required by State law.

Ordinary citizens, however, can also help us--if they use an Apple or Android smartphone. Here's how: download the free PulsePoint AED app. Whereas PulsePoint aims to notify citizens of cardiac arrests in public places near their current location, PulsePoint AED is designed to crowd-source information about the location of AEDs in the community. Data collected via PulsePoint AED is fed to PulsePoint Respond.

If you see an AED in Lincoln, open the PulsePoint AED app to check if it shows up on the map. If not, tap the plus sign to add it. You can also use your smartphone to take a snapshot of the AED. We'll double check the data, approve the submission, and within a short time it will be added to the map. If you see an AED that is already on the map but lacks a photo, take one and submit it. Try to take the photo with a little of the context around it, like the one below in the lobby of Hall of Justice.

We know there are lots of AEDs out there that we don't know about. We also suspect there are others that have been moved, or been retired. We'd really like to clean the data up, so we can maximize the chance that citizen-rescuers can find a nearby AED in the event of a cardiac arrest.

Screenshot from my iPhone

Friday, July 3, 2015

Busy weekend looms

Thursday LPD hit 418 police dispatches, making it one of the busiest days of the year thus far. The Fourth of July is huge every year, but with the holiday landing on a weekend, it could be massive. LF&R had a brutal Forth of July last year with 87 runs total, but an incredible dump started around 10:00 PM: 26 incidents in two hours, including four working fires. It continued well into the wee hours of July 5th.

We're fielding extra fire & rescue assets this year, after sucking wind in 2014. That's probably a guarantee things will be relatively calm; sort of like washing your car on Saturday morning inevitably brings on an afternoon thundershower, while leaving it dirty guarantees sunshine.

LF&R's GIS analyst Phil Dush and Battalion Chief Eric Jones, spun up a web mapping application to provide personnel with an interactive event management tool. It's a nice upgrade from last year's inaugural version. Visualizing the Incident Action Plan on a map is very useful, and this will look great on the big screen in the command post.

Matter of preference, but the application can also be viewed within the framework of FireView Dashboard. One of the neat features of these web mapping applications is that you can click on any of the icons or symbols to bring up the details. It's a far cry from the flip chart taped on the wall and plastered with Post-It notes. Moreover, staff can view it on any Intranet-connected device: desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

It's not the equipment

There has been a lot of talk this past year, in the wake of Ferguson, about militarization of the police. Most of the commentary on this issue has focused around the acquisition by local police departments of surplus equipment from the armed forces. Police departments have been using military surplus equipment for decades. As a rookie officer in 1974, the S&W .38 revolver issued to me was stamped "U.S. Navy" on the back strap.

I see no major concern in police agencies taking advantage of this surplus gear, within reason. A few rifles, a truck, a night vision scope, or a HumVee doesn't really worry me. Police need this kind of equipment from time to time, and normally buy it (or something similar) brand new. If you can save a few tax dollars by reusing something the taxpayers have already purchased, that's generally OK with me. Look over the list of gear Nebraska agencies have received, and it's pretty typical stuff for which there are civilian counterparts: nobody is acquiring RPGs, mortars, and land mines.

The issue of militarization of the police that concerns me, rather than surplus equipment, is the intrusion of a war-fighting ethos into police culture that is not properly counterbalanced with an even stronger mentality of service and guardianship. There was an interesting article about this recently in the Harvard Law Review. I'm all for good training and tactics for protecting police officers from the risk of violent assault. Policing is one of only a handful of occupations with a sustained record of practitioners facing felonious attacks in the course of their employment. Safety is good. Better training and procedures, along with body armor, have dramatically reduced the number of officers killed in the line of duty in felonious assaults during my career.

But it is critical for police officers to recognize that the vast majority of citizens--rather than representing a threat to their safety--are firmly on our side, and depend on us from protection and service. The public is not the adversary. Many of those citizens would put themselves in harm's way without hesitation to help an officer in distress. When police officers begin to view citizens as a population of which they must be constantly wary, it is difficult to develop and sustain good relationships. Suspicion, distrust, and fear are corrosive to trust, collaboration, and partnership.

The line between good safety practices and good interpersonal relationships is a fine one, to be sure. I don't think relationships with the community are strained when a police SWAT team executes a high-risk arrest warrant. On the other hand, it's pretty tough (although not impossible) to have a friendly rapport with an officer decked out in fatigues, a load-bearing vest, and a slung MP5, which is why the drift towards military-styled language, BDUs, and tactical gear for street officers bothers me. It is the attitude and outlook behind the uniform, however, that matters most, and that one must be one dominated by the desire to protect and help others.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

First impressions

The Lincoln Police Department is preparing to start a new recruit class in July. I happened to be at police headquarters yesterday, as the soon-to-be-trainees were getting some preparatory administrative work out of the way. I was pleased to see a young woman in the class that I met earlier this year over a cup of coffee at Bruegger's. I did not intervene on her behalf in any way, but I could tell from our conversation she'd be an excellent candidate.

During my entire career, the LPD recruit academy has been based on an academic model, rather than a military one. Sgt. Lancaster, who ran the short academy when I was a newbie, was a friendly, avuncular fellow that set a nice tone. When I was running the academy in the early 1980's, I tried to avoid the drill instructor style you see in the movies and on TV. My current role is only a couple of days, but along with other instructors, I try to follow the principles of adult learning.

It's not this way everywhere. David Couper, who served as the Madison, Wisconson chief for twenty years, reminisced in his 2011 book, Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off About Protest, Racism, Corruption and the Seven Steps Necessary to Improve Our Nation’s Police, about the paradigm that was common in police academies, and still persists in some places:
"When I was introduced to the academy class that was already in training before I was appointed, the class stood at attention when I entered the room. In fact, I found that not only did they stand at attention when I entered, but that they did so for every supervisor who came into their class. A coercive, top-down leadership model had no place within a police department that was seeking highly educated people to come and join it. Some of the people we were trying to attract into a police career were currently in business, law, social work, or teaching. And most of them wouldn’t choose to remain in a police department that ran like an 18th century British warship."
Jack Lancaster set a good tone for me in 1974. I hope I'm doing likewise for trainees today. Its great to see these folks beginning their career, and the impression we make at the outset is an important one throughout their careers.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Strat plan at hand

We're at the Municipal Services Center out by the airport this morning, with labor and management from Lincoln Fire & Rescue participating in a half-day strategic planning session.  This one is professionally facilitated by John Beranek.

A good discussion is taking place on how we can do a better job collaborating to move the organization along towards our key goals. I wish there were ways, in this day and age, to step back from our daily work more often, and take a deeper dive into the bigger issues.

I don't think I'm alone: the issue just came up from across the room!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Hour of bliss

I was just checking CrimeView Dashboard this morning, when I noticed the widget for calls for service at LPD yesterday. Check this out: between 0400 and 0459, there was not a single dispatched incident. Can't ever recall that before, an entire hour with no police calls for service.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The latest gun

It has been quite a while since I have blogged about what is arguably Lincoln's most famous burglary, the 2007 break-in a Scheel's All Sports. Monday, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms sent a telecommunications message to the Lincoln Police Department advising us that a Smith & Wesson 9mm pistol stolen from Scheel's was recovered in Mexico, where the gun had been involved in a crime.

The message didn't contain much in the way of specifics, but we've requested more reports, and might get some more details when and if those arrive. Three years have passed since the last gun was recovered in Petaluma, California. Of the 79 guns originally stolen, 51 have been recovered, and 28 are still out there. More will trickle in as time goes by, as they have over the past seven years.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Pace quickens

From time to time I've blogged about the population estimates that are released annually by the United States Census Bureau. Last week, the estimate for Lincoln's population as of July 1, 2014 was released. The estimates are always for the preceding year. I was surprised to see Lincoln's estimate at 272,996. That's over 1,000 more people than I had expected.

The pace of growth seems to have quickened between 2013 and 2014, to 1.5%. We added 4,041 souls to the City between those two July 1 estimates. To put that in perspective, that's about the size of Cozad or Fairbury--pretty substantial 'burgs by Nebraska standards.

Since we now have an authoritative 2014 population estimate, and it's higher than expected, it will affect the crime rate statistics in a positive way. When I plug the new population figure into the spreadsheet, the violent Part 1 crime rate for 2014 will be 3.4 offenses per thousand population, rather than 3.6, and the property Part 1 crime rate will be 33, rather than 33.2.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Anatomy of the flood

Lincoln's flooding on Thursday of last week had a few positives, too, at least from my persepective. First, the Antelope Valley Project--which has been the target of plenty of slings and arrows over the past 20 years for the five mayors who helped propel it forward--decisively proved its worth. I have no doubt that we avoided a huge urban flooding nightmare, and tens of millions in damage.

Second, it was a good opportunity to thoroughly exercise the Emergency Operating Center--since it relocated a few years ago to 233 S. 10th Street. One of the remarkable changes from my last stint in the EOC was our ability to use the City's network of pan-zoom-tilt traffic cameras to monitor events, along with such resources as GIS mapping applications projected on the walls. It was a far cry then the windowless room in the basement of the County-City Building, where you're only connection to reality outside was the radio. We were able to get great streaming video of many trouble spots.

Third, it was an opportunity for me to get acquainted with Glenn Johnson, the general manager of the Lower Platte South Natural Resources District, aka the NRD. I learned a lot from listening to Glenn last week, a soft-spoken guy who clearly knows his stuff. His information about the Salt Creek levee system, the watershed, the stream gauges, sand boils, channel work, tributaries, and so forth was both useful and interesting. I became particularly interested in the systems for monitoring flood conditions, which include physical observation by NRD employees walking the levees, and remote monitoring of flow rates and water levels.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service (say that three times fast) publishes data from stream gauges nationwide. This one, located in Salt Creek a bit north of Cornhusker Highway, will provide you with the anatomy of the flood for a couple more days, until the date window of May 6-8 scrolls off the page. You can hover your mouse over the blue points on the graph, and see the readings at each time interval.

Down at the lower left of the page, check out the section for "Historic Crests." Our 28.8 ft. crest at about 4:00 PM on May 7 is the highest since July 6, 1908--same summer the Cubs were on their way to the World Series pennant.

Saturday, May 9, 2015


One afternoon back in 1983 or so, I stumbled upon what looked like a minor fender-bender at N. 1st Street and Cornhusker Highway. I was a young sergeant, and prided myself on a willingness to handle such on-view events without burdening the officers on my squad.

Stepping out of my patrol car to start the paperwork, I suddenly realized that the station wagon involved in the collision way sitting on top of a human being--its driver--who had been ejected in the collision. A gaggle of four or five gawkers was looking on as the screaming victim was being seriously burned by the vehicle's exhaust system.

I barked a few commands. The onlookers grabbed fenders and bumpers, and literally lifted the weight of a two-ton vehicle. In a genuine emergency, a small group of people can muster super-human strength. My part was easy: I grasped the victim's ankles and pulled him from under the car.

For this act of other peoples' heroism,  I was subsequently awarded the Lincoln Police Department's Lifesaving Award. It's in a box in the basement, I think. Not that I wasn't appreciative, but there are a few other actions, never known by management, I hold more dear in my heart. This is true of virtually every other police officer, firefighter, and dispatcher I know.

Last night, a Lincoln firefighter who had read my recent blog post about the LUCAS device emailed me a story of a save, told with the same sense of wonder and amazement that I felt that evening, and on that handful of occasions no one else ever knew about.

We will save more lives with this device and this training. We will return victims, too young to die, to the bosom of their families; to grow old and bounce grand children and great grandchildren on their knee; and in a tiny, tiny, infinitesimally small way, I will take satisfaction in my minuscule role in facilitating this.

No man or woman could dream of such a fulfilling calling in life.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Help on the way

Thanks to the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, some pretty amazing help is on the way to Lincoln, in the form of  LUCAS automated chest compression devices. This machine essentially takes over the CPR chest compressions, delivering consistent compressions far more effectively than even a well-trained  human rescuer could sustain.

The Trust is funding hundreds of these devices for hospitals and EMS services across Nebraska. Lincoln Fire & Rescue will be receiving six--enough to equip each of our front line ambulances. We have been field-testing a LUCAS device for the past several months, and our EMS supervisors have developed techniques for quickly applying the device, which has been deployed over 70 times.

The LUCAS device is a life saver, no question about it. Check out the video to see how it is going to help our community of providers deliver remarkable care to patients:

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Back in the news

Some publicity, of the unfavorable kind, has come the way of Panama City Beach, Florida after the national media picked up the story of a gang rape witnessed by scores of people who did absolutely nothing to protect the victim or stop the assaults. This comes on the heels of national media coverage of the shooting of seven people at a Panama City Beach house party a couple of weeks earlier.

Thirteen years ago to the day, I made my own effort to bring these risks to the attention of a national audience, calling out the local authorities for their role in promoting this anything-goes atmosphere that leads to the inevitable harms epitomized by these recent events. I have little sympathy for the boosters: they've created their own monster.

Some things just don't change, even when such tragedies temporarily jump into the national consciousness.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Recollecting the alley

Some eyebrows are raised around Lincoln this week, after some news coverage of a project in downtown Lincoln that is turning an old alley into a pedestrian walkway, in order to connect the Haymarket area on the north with the developing South Haymarket area on the other side of the Harris Overpass.

The new Lumberworks Garage on the southside of O Street is about to be joined by two large residential projects under development in the South Haymarket, with more undoubtedly to come. The alley in question is the route from one to another, and while it carries significant pedestrian traffic today from the parking garage to the Pinnacle Bank Arena and other Haymarket destinations, it will be a veritable thoroughfare in the future.

This north/south alley is a half-block west of 8th Street, from P to O Streets. When I was a brand-new-barely-21 rookie police officer in the fall of 1974, it was on Beat 1 of Lincoln's seven downtown foot patrol beats. I often was assigned to Beat 1 that fall and winter, trudging the area from the railroad tracks on the west, to 10th Street on the east, between O and R all night long.

And those nights were really long. Unlike beat 3, 4, 5, and 6, Beat 1 was as dead as a wedge at night. The workforce from the Russell Stover plant was long gone, and nothing much was left other than the occasional traveller making his way to the train depot, perhaps stopping for a cup of joe at the Russian Inn, and vagrants. Just thinking about it brings back memories of the smell of urine and Mad Dog 20/20.

I often rousted snoozing drunks out of the alley that is about to become a Haymarket jewell, which at the time was littered with broken bottles and mounds of pigeon droppings. It's hard to fathom the incredible transformation, not only of this alley, but of the entire Haymarket area. During my career, Beat 1 has gone from a dilapidated collection of warehouses where little human activity lingered after dark, to a shining star that is the favorite destination for Lincoln's residents and visitors, streets (and alleys) filled with the vibrant hum of urban life.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

New leaders

It was bittersweet, over a period of a few weeks this year, to bid goodbye to three great colleagues at the Lincoln Police Department, Capt. David Beggs, Capt. Doug Srb, and Capt. Kim Koluch. I miss them, but it's also nice to see them all retire after long careers with their health and humor intact.

These retirements have created a mini-flood of promotions, as the positions are filled. Promotions at LPD are usually rare events, and there are always many fine candidates to consider. These unusual circumstances have created an opportunity to turn several pages in short order. Here's a shout out to a group of newly-promoted supervisors at the Lincoln Police Department that rose to the top in a pool of excellence.

Sgt. Ben Kopsa
Capt. Jeri Roeder
Sgt. Mario Robinson
Capt. Jeff Bucher
Sgt. Michelle Jochum
Capt. Mayde McGuire
Sgt. Tarvis Banks

All of you make me very proud, and I have been immensely pleased to see you develop into leaders. Your ability to move to the next level, and your willingness to accept the responsibility that comes with rank, is commendable. Best wishes.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Many thanks

Yesterday's election has had me a bit distracted for the past week, but I am now breathing again, after Lincoln voters decisively approved a three year increase of a quarter-cent to the City sales tax to fund replacement of our aging radio system and four new facilities for fire and police personnel.

Many thanks are due to the committee of citizens who studied these proposals and weighed the funding options, presenting this recommendation to the Mayor late last year, and to the Mayor and City Council, who unanimously supported this effort. Thanks, also, to the police, fire, and 911 personnel who have worked for several years planning these much needed projects.

But the thanks especially is due to the citizens of Lincoln, who voted themselves a tax increase. Even though the amount sounds small, that's never an easy thing to do. The wisdom of this plan was understood by our citizens, whose vote for the ballot issue I also interpret as a vote of confidence for our public safety agencies.

You have my pledge that we will do our best to be good stewards of the funds you have entrusted us with for these projects.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Motown lowdown

I was in Detroit most of the week, helping teach a seminar on crime analysis for police executives, funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, a division of the United States Department of Justice. I agreed to serve as a so-called "subject matter expert" at two or three of the ten seminars planned around the country.

This one was bigger than Oregon, with about 20 agencies in attendance, such as Grand Rapids, Flint,  and Detroit. It was a great group, and I had some excellent offline discussions with the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Michigan Department of Corrections, Canton Police, Grand Rapids PD, and the Detroit Public Schools.

A highlight for me, though, was on Friday morning after the conference. With late flights and time to kill, my two co-instructors and I managed to invite ourselves to the Detroit Police Department Crime Analysis Unit, on the seventh floor of the spanking new downtown police headquarters. Hey, what do you know: it's a Department of Public Safety joint police and fire facility! Sgt. Sloan and Deputy Chief Levalley were our hosts.

I was impressed with their operation, which, despite the huge size differential, employs a quite similar thought process and strategies to those we use in Lincoln to make information available to our personnel in a straightforward and accessible interface relying upon a web browser and an Intranet.

Dr. David Martin, from Wayne State University's Center for Urban Studies, spent quite a bit of time showing me how he has helped DPD create a web-based Intranet interface to the police RMS and other information systems. It is very similar in concept to the strategy that has guided Lincoln's police information resources since the mid 1990's, and cutting edge. I hope I left Detroit with at least one good idea from Lincoln: I know they left me with one.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Not the first time

The Lincoln Police Department and Lincoln Fire & Rescue are planning on co-locating into a joint facility somewhere in southeast Lincoln, where a fire company and the police officers of the Southeast Team will share a station serving both agencies. This project is among those funded by a proposed three year, quarter cent sales tax that will appear on the ballot at the April 7, 2015 City primary election.

These two projects appeared separately in the City's capital improvement program until a couple of years ago, when they were merged. We think that it makes good sense to combine these facilities, in order to save the architectural fees, land acquisition, and infrastructure such as paving, footings, and HVAC which would be necessary for separate facilities. It will also facilitate a good working relationship between LPD and LF&R.

As this description from 1886 demonstrates, it's certainly not the first time the two public safety agencies have shared a common home base (click to enlarge.)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Information is the lifeblood

I just read an interesting Incident Report by Officer Brad Hulse, case number B5-023247. Officer Hulse stopped a vehicle last night with one headlight out, and got an odd feeling that something more was going on then a bad bulb. Back at his patrol car, he checked the driver's information, checked the Nebraska and Missouri drivers license database, checked local police contacts and reports in the LPD database, looked up drivers license photos, as well as information and photos from the Nebraska Department of Corrections.

After a few minutes of research, he discovered why things seemed odd: the front seat passenger was wanted. He had an outstanding warrant for violating his parole release from prison for burglary. Although he tried to deflect the officer by lying about his name, Brad's hunch and his initiative resulted in the subject's return to prison.

The accolades belong not only to Officer Hulse, though, but also to all those people who worked so hard for so many years to put all that information at his fingertips. They built and maintain an incredible police records management database, mobile data network, and user interfaces that are superbly accessible to the people who need the information, right where they are. Information is the lifeblood of policing.

Last night's case is not unusual. I see similar reports regularly, where fast access to information in the field is an important factor in a dynamic investigation. This capability is a huge advantage, that we should never take for granted.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Clearance rates, 2014

I've had a number of questions about crime clearance rates lately, most seeking to compare Lincoln with other jurisdictions. Here's the problem: while I have Lincoln's clearance rates for 2014, the source for the rest of the country, the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report (UCR), Crime in the United States, isn't published until the fall. Thus, the latest comparative data I have is from the 2013 UCR. Nonetheless, here's the comparison for Lincoln in 2014 vs. others in 2013.

Arson is reported separately, since it can be either a violent crime or a property crime, depending on the circumstances. As you can see, Lincoln fares well overall, topping the rate for all agencies and for similarly-sized cities on six of the eight Part 1 offenses. The glaring exception is rape, where our clearance rate is quite low. I have a theory on that, about which I expounded several years ago in this post--but you'll have to read the comments to get the details.

Friday, March 13, 2015

EMS calls increasing

As of midnight, Lincoln Fire & Rescue has responded to 3,988 medical emergencies so far this year. That's a 14% increase over the same time last year. I'll be watching this closely as the year unfolds, because it is part of a long-term trend of increasing EMS calls. The growing population of Lincoln is part of the explanation, but my guess is that baby boomers reaching the age where medical needs are greater is bending the curve a bit. There was an 18% increase in the number of citizens over the age of 65 in Lincoln from the 2000 census to the 2010 census--greater than the overall population increase.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Public safety information

On April 7, Lincoln residents will vote on a ballot proposition to establish a quarter cent sales tax for three years. This proposition would fund two public safety projects: replacement of the aging public safety radio system, and construction of four new fire stations (one a joint police and fire station) to serve a growing community.

This morning, the City is unveiling a website to provide citizens with information about these projects: safety.lincoln.ne.gov. The site features several short videos of firefighters and law enforcement officers explaining the importance of the radio system and the importance of a four minute travel time to life-threatening emergencies. These videos were produced by the Citizen Information Center, and run from one to 7.5 minutes.

I appreciate Scott, Todd, Jeff, Dan, and Brent participating in these. They did a great job describing the need, completely without a script. And thanks to Jami, Justin, and the rest of the staff at the CIC for their editing work and spinning up a nice site with a lot of good information.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Props from NYC

The Lincoln Police Department received a little tip 'o the hat yesterday from a city council member in New York City, according to this article from the New York Times.

Mr. Williams has apparently read this description, which I wrote an eon ago. It gets picked up from time to time, and I am asked for permission to republish it a couple times a year. Although it dates from the mid 1990s, it is still valid today.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Why it is critical

I had a speaking engagement last week at the Chamber of Commerce Young Professionals Group. My topic was discussing the two public safety projects that would be funded by a three year quarter cent sales tax, a proposition that will appear on the ballot April 7 at the City's primary election.

In the process of explaining why the City's aging public safety radio system is so important, I had a sudden epiphany (is there another kind of epiphany?): one of the best ways to understand this is simply to listen. As if on cue, Chamber of Commerce staff member Kyle Fischer pulled out his smartphone and launched his scanner app.

His app was tuned to the official feed published by the City, which consists of the primary police dispatch talk groups, and the fire & rescue tactical talk groups. It's particularly interesting to listen to during the most busy periods of the day, and you get a real feel from doing so about the events that are breaking in the City, and how police officers, firefighters, and dispatchers depend on this system.

The feed is in stereo: police on the left, fire & rescue on the right. I like to use the balance control on my car stereo to emphasize fire & rescue over police a bit, since I've already spent 40 years listening to police radio traffic. I won't entirely mute police, just notch it down to a lower volume--or the reverse if something in catching my interest. There are tons of smartphone apps out there for Internet-published radio feeds (I use 5-0 Radio Pro), or you can listen to it on the web from your desktop or laptop, at broadcastify.com .

Friday, February 27, 2015

Lots of comments

I just noticed that the number of comments posted on the Director's Desk cracked 15,000 this week. That's quite a dialog that has gone on since I started this blog back in April, 2007, and one I have enjoyed. I hope it's been as interesting for readers as it has for me.

In recognition of the milestone, I added a gadget to my blog that displays the most commented posts. You'll find it over in the right sidebar, if you scroll down a bit. It not entirely accurate, though, because it missed my post Share the road, which had 86 comments and Whadda ya think, which had 50. Maybe it only goes back a certain number of years or posts.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


Capt. Kim Koluch managed to quietly slip out the door while I was preoccupied, retiring after 33 years at LPD.  Kim joined the police department when it was a far different place, and women were exceedingly rare on the force. She leaves as one of the most seasoned, veteran commanders. Capt. Koluch spent many years commanding the Department's Southeast Team, and in more recent years the Center Team. More than anyone I know, she embraced a problem-oriented approach to policing, which she modeled and taught to many sergeants and officers she led.

Among Kim's many accomplishments, she was also he first women to join the SWAT Team, and she commanded the Team for several years. I can't tell you how glad I was when she accepted that job. I always had the utmost confidence in her to manage the most serious emergencies LPD encounters. She is a true professional, and one of the trailblazers who helped pave the way for other women in policing to achieve their goals. She was also a community leader, active in many organizations.

Kim has a wicked sense of humor. She pulled the best practical joke on me that I can ever recall, involving a crow, a basketball hoop, and a big bag of bird seed. She is one of those people who I love to be around, to chat with, laugh with, to brainstorm with. Kim,  I'm going to miss you tremendously. Congratulations, and best wishes. Buy yourself a new driver...again.