Sunday, February 22, 2015

What has fueled the drop?

Friday, local cyber-reporter Deena Winter quizzed me via Twitter about the cause of the drop in calls for service (CFS) handled by the Lincoln police department. CFS peaked in 2001 and 2002 at just over 148,000. We didn't quite crack 119,000 in 2014. I've been somewhat perplexed by the drop of 29,000 CFS during a time when the population of  Lincoln increased by over 35,000 people. What could be fueling that dramatic drop?

Although Chief Al Curtis and I cut a lot of call types in the 1990s (such as funeral escorts, private property traffic crashes, barking dogs, lock-outs, most medical emergencies already dispatched to Lincoln Fire & Rescue, and others) the drop in CFS really didn't start until the early 2000s--long after those changes. Aside from privatizing downtown parking enforcement in 2010-2011, there really hasn't been any big change that I can think of in what LPD handles since the 2001-2002 peak.

Wanting to explore this phenomenon more closely last year, I got a list from IT of all CFS by incident type, and ran a comparison between 2002 and 2013. I just updated this for 2014 over the weekend in order to answer Deena Winter's question more accurately. Here are the incident codes with drops of more than 1,000 between 2002 and 2014. When applicable, I've linked past posts about things that might be contributing to these declines.

1,036   fewer abandoned vehicles
2,264   fewer false alarms
3,850   fewer disturbances
1,863   fewer forgeries  (when's the last time you wrote a check?)
2,027   fewer traffic crashes
1,040   fewer suspicious person/vehicle calls
6,203   fewer parking calls  (more than half of the drop was before privatization.)
2,802   fewer vandalisms
4,523    fewer theft and burglary cases
3,171     fewer miscellaneous other (a call type code that functions as sort of a catch-all)

In contrast, here are the call types that have gone up by 1,000 or more:

1,445   more mental health investigations
1,546   more suspended drivers

There are several other call types that have gone up or down, but those that have declined simply outnumber those that have increased.

A rather spirited public discussion is underway on the issue of police staffing in Lincoln. Unfortunately, it has become somewhat clouded by electoral politics. I'm glad we're having the discussion, though. We had it last summer, too, when a consensus emerged to add two officers to the biennial budget, and apply for a grant (which we received) for two more. That's good. I like having four more officers to serve a growing community. But there is no magic number. Lincoln needs exactly enough officers to deliver the services citizens expect, in the manner they wish to receive them.

You judge that by listening and watching. We know that public satisfaction with our services is pretty high, because we ask a few thousand people about that every year.  I think we are able to produce this result with a lean police force because we are particularly efficient. We need to continue to listen closely to that feedback, and to keep an eye on our response time to priority 1 and 2 incidents--the things where time really matters--because geographic growth alone impacts that independently of workload.

Like every police department in America larger than Petticoat Junction, we have times during the week when the number of calls for service exceeds the number of available officers. And like every city, we prioritize pending calls during those rush hours, assisted by computer-aided dispatch software. A belated report of neighbors shoveling snow into the street can wait quite a while, whereas a crime in progress needs an immediate response. The queuing of calls is happening less today than it was in the mid 1990s, when LPD was at its busiest.

As calls for service have fallen, the workload has moderated considerably. It used to be common for several officers on the Southwest and Center Teams to crack into the low 100s in CFS per month. When's the last time you've seen that?

click to enlarge

Weird, but true. It can't last, though. That bar has got to start inching up at some point.


Anonymous said...

I don't know quite how it fits in, but I wonder if the omnipresence of smart phones has something to do with the drop. Could it be that more people are resolving their own issues thanks to the ability to quickly search google or call a friend?

Steve said...

Am I misinterpreting that chart, or is there roughly only one service call per day on average for a police officer? That seems ridiculously low. I realize some calls can take a fair amount of time, but what are these officers doing the rest of the shift?

Anonymous said...

When I am at my computer I often listen to the LPD online broadcast of radio calls. A lot of folks take the fantastic service we get from both LPD & LFR for granted. Even something as trivial as a barking dog usually gets an officers response. That is a huge difference than most cities of comparable or larger size. In about 1982 I was in Houston, Texas and I had about $1,800.00 worth of equipment stolen from my truck. I called 911 and when my call was answered two or three minutes later a recording asked "is your call a matter of life or death? If it is stay on the line. If it isn't call the Harris County Sheriff's office at ***-****"."

I finally got in contact with their Sheriff's office and I made arrangements to have theft forms FAXED to my company's office. Contrast that with Lincoln where a shoplifted bottle of booze gets almost immediate attention.

This is partly because of the fantastic job LPD and LFR does but even more important is the class of people residing in Lincoln. If you spend some time in other cities around the country you will realize just how special the majority of Lincoln residents are.
Gun Nut

Tom Casady said...


It's more complex than that. First of all, not all officers respond to CFS. It's a smidgen over 70% of the total force. The rest are investigators and detectives in criminal investigations, narcotics, and fugitive task force assignments, and managers.

In addition, many calls require more than one officer. I haven't done the math in several years, but it was about 1.4 per call on average as I recall.

Throw in vacation, days off, training days, and holidays and you start getting up into the 3-4 CFS per shift on an average day, plus the backups, followups, POP projects, directed patrol, traffic enforcement, report writing, and so forth.

Police officers are plenty busy. The International City Management Association uses a "rule of 60" as a guide to police staffing: patrol officers should have no more than 60% of their total time consumed by CFS and administrative tasks. LPD does an annual workload analysis, and we run in the mid 50% range, so we have a little room, but not much.

Anonymous said...

What am I missing, a couple of years ago when the Service Desk was eliminated, the Chief & Asst. Chief said that there was a dramatic increase in CFS, by over 40 %? Now, your bar graph shows nothing of the sort! Is this a case of the numbers/stats being manipulated for some reason?

ARRRRG!!!! said...

Maybe there is less crime because there are less pirates (because of global warming.)

Tom Casady said...


No way. No one has said any such thing. The Annual Reports are all published online back to the Pleistocene.


Of course! Why didn't I think of that?

Anonymous said...

Ok, maybe Noone has said anything about the jump in CFS after the Service Desk was eliminated, publicly? But, there was s plenty of talk about it internally! It brings to mind that people who are good with numbrrs and statistics, can make them say or reflect what ever that author wants them to say! As your readers will agree, you are very good with numbers!

Tom Casady said...

12:01, 6:33,

Really? Do you really think that I've been able to surreptitiously manipulate the CFS data since 1985? I must have had a lot of co-conspirators in all the people at LPD and 911 who are involved in producing the data, the monthly statistical reports, the annual reports, and the annual workload analysis for the past 30 years..

The data is what the data is. And reread my response to Steve, above. LPD officers are plenty busy. Fewer CFS has provided more time for high-quality proactive work by our officers that has in turn produced the results you see.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response. I did read your response to Steve and I agree that officers are very busy. But, I don't agree that they now have a lot of extra time to be proactive. If you read my comment, I never mention going back to 1985, only two years ago? True, the data is the data.
Thats why I originally commented. The data didn't match what I heard.
Thanks for your responses and posting of my comments, you are more than fair!

Steve said...

I would have assumed that the calls per officer chart only included those officers who actually respond to calls. Anything else seems pointless to me. By the way, I wasn't trying to suggest that officers are not busy, just questioning the meaning of the chart. Your explanation helps. You might want to think about changing the number of officers to those actually responding to CFS, as it more accurately reflects how busy our officers are. By the way, I believe there were at least 5 officers dispatched to the house across the street from me for maybe a couple of hours for some kind of disturbance. I overheard something about a man with a gun, possibly threaten someone.

Anonymous said...


Is it just my imagination, or did you scrap an entire blog post, the "I counsel patience" one? I'm not sure that you've ever done that before. Deleting comments or editing your own post, sure, but not deleting one lock, stock, and barrel.

Tom Casady said...


You're not hallucinating. A commenter made a good point this morning, and I deep-sixed the post as a result of his or her criticism. Not the first time, by far.

MJ said...

Ha, you have got to love the internet where everything goes and nothing dies.

Then I got to thinking why doesn't TC run for mayor? He is highly qualified and would do a great job. Then I remembered he loves his current job, his current bosses job is basically safe because there are more D's then R's in town. And the big one why would he want a job that pays half but has twice the grief.

Anonymous said...

I know many people who don't call because the police are useless. I don't call the police for any reason other than a dead body. The last time I had a crime committed against me I called the police and even with a taped confession the police and lawyers decided it was too much work to put the person who committed multiple serious crimes in jail. Many people I know have had that same experience. The police are worse then useless. So we stored calling the police and we started telling everyone we know to only dial 911 if you have a dead body. The police kill things anyway so only bring v them in for the dead.