Friday, February 26, 2016

Great career draws to close

Today is the last day for our police chief, Jim Peschong, who retires after a 41 year career with the City. Jim and I have worked together during that entire time, and the memories are many. Early in our careers, Jim distinguished himself as a real go-getter in criminal investigations. Even as a patrol officer, he had a knack for criminal work that everyone recognized.

It was no surprise when he became a detective. Our paths diverged for a while, as Jim focused on the criminal side of the police department and I went off for a seven year stint at the Sheriff's Office. We came back together, though, in 1994 when I was appointed police chief, and Jim was the captain commanding the Northwest/Center Police Team--the largest and busiest command in the City. A few years later, when a retirement opened an assistant chief slot, Jim was my choice. When I left to take my assignment as director of public safety, the Mayor and I agreed that Jim was the logical choice for chief.

One of the reasons I selected Jim as my assistant chief was that I felt we had complimentary skill sets. The things he was best at were not my strong suit, and vice versa. I don't know if he felt the same about that, but I do know that we worked very effectively together for the past 22 years, enjoyed one another's company, and accomplished many good things. I'm going to miss him a lot.

Every year when it came time to complete Jim's annual performance evaluation, my comments started off with the same thing, the characteristic that I most admired and appreciated: his ethics. I never saw Jim make any decision or take any action that was motivated by anything other than a desire to do the right thing. While there are those who have disagreed with them (as with any chief) from time to time, no one can claim that he was trying to polish his own badge.

Jim Peschong leaves a legacy at LPD. He has passed along his skill in criminal investigation to many others who learned from him. He was an innovator in the mid 1990's as a team captain in initiating greater public involvement in decisions that had previously been made by the police internally, with little input or attention to our citizens. He has helped to cement the value of citizen engagement as a part of our DNA. Soon, we will be moving to a marvelous new firearms range, a project that Jim shepherded through many daunting snares and obstacles.

There are many others, too numerous to mention. Two that I think are vastly under appreciated, and for which Jim sometimes was subjected to a lot of criticism, are relatively recent. Jim worked hard to make sure that Lincoln police officers are scrupulous in their use of seat belts, and to bend the curve on dangerous driving. These efforts were overdue, no thanks to his predecessor. Despite a lot of howling in the process, these are critical to the safety of our police officers. This issue that Jim took on is protecting our officers today, and will continue to protect them in the future. Every Lincoln police officer should thank him--and so should their family members.

One winter about 15 years ago, Lincoln had some early snow in December that had made a mess of the parking areas at the police garage. Mounds of refrozen snow had turned the entire area into ridges of icy ruts and knee-high drifts between all the parked patrol cars. On Christmas Eve that year, Assistant Chief Jim Peschong and Sgt. Dan Schmidt, off duty, brought their own equipment down to the garage: pickups, trailers, skid loader, and spent the day jockeying parked cars so they could use their power equipment to scrape the snow and ice down to the gravel and asphalt. They did this for one reason only: to make the rest of the winter a little more bearable for their coworkers.

That's the kind of person Jim is. I wish him well in his next adventure.

The problem with community policing

The problem with community policing as practiced in the United States is that too often it turns into community relations, rather than community engagement. Don't get me wrong: I like feel-good programs and initiatives that humanize police officers and highlight the work they do. Who doesn't break into a smile when they see the hashtag #copslovelemonadestands?

But citizen academies, bicycle rodeos, Facebook pages, storefronts, foot patrols, Segways, ice cream socials, and so forth do not constitute community policing, unless community engagement is at the core. It's fine to burnish the image, it's good to create relationships, it's important to make the police approachable. It is more important, though, to involve citizens in the most significant decisions about how the community is to be policed.

This news story from the Lincoln Journal Star is a good example of what community engagement means. Faced with an issue (growing numbers of chronic, repeat suspended drivers) LPD assembled a task force that included not just law enforcement personnel, but also ordinary citizens, to consider what, if anything, the police department could and should do. The result was some significant changes in policy and practice. Involving the public in decisions like this needs to happen more often in U.S. police departments.

There are many other examples of community engagement: citizens involved in conducting training for police officers; citizens participating in the selection process for police officers; citizen involvement in promotional processes; citizens working as volunteers; citizens participating side-by-side with police personnel in developing the strategic plan, the language access plan, and the gang strategy; citizen police review processes; citizen involvement in problem-oriented projects.

I could go on, but the point is this: getting the public deeply involved in key decisions and the work of the police is where the action should be. This is what truly builds respect, trust, collaboration, accountability, and a shared sense of responsibility for the safety and security of the community.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Important to know location

On the receiving end, every 911 call here in Lincoln begins like this:

"911, where is your emergency?"

Notice that the first question isn't what is your emergency, but rather where. Location is critical, and believe it or not, it has become more difficult recently, rather than easier. This article by Paul Hammel in the Omaha World Herald provides a detailed description of the problem, but in a nutshell, the demise of the landline and the proliferation of cell phones is the cause.

The technology of 911 is now approaching age 50, and was developed over the decades to function with copper wire telephone switching systems, in order to identify the subscriber and the subscriber's address. The location was fixed: you could pretty much count on the Princess phone being in the same place to which the bill was mailed every month. Today, however, over 70% of the inbound 911 calls come from cell phones, which are not as easy to locate as you might think.

Sure, you can navigate to the nearest frozen yogurt with Google Maps, watch your daughter on Find my Friends, and vector in for the meet-up with Glympse. You would think it would be a simple matter to pass location information along with a 911 call, but it's not the case. Only about 55% of the wireless 911 calls in Lincoln come with what is known as Phase II location information, which locates the phone within a few dozen meters of its presumed location.

Your smartphone gets operating system updates a few times every year, replaced every couple of years, and the carrier is constantly expanding coverage and capabilities. Your 911 system, however, was designed in a different era, and is composed of an immense, expensive network of hardware and software that is not easily upgraded.

It will change, as circuit-switched 911 systems become packet switched NexGen 911 systems, but the change won't be nearly as rapid as the world of consumer electronics, where massive profits drive innovation. So for the time being and into the mid-term future, you best know where you are when the chips are down, so you can pass the most precise information along to the 911 operator. The best information still comes from the caller, not his or her device.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

How to get the word out

If you still visit my blog from time to time, you've surely noticed that I'm not posting very often. After close to ten years of prolific writing, I've realized that blogs, for the most part, are just not that popular anymore. My page visits have fallen in half, and I'm not alone. The world has simply moved on, for the most part, to other social media options such as Facebook, Instagram, and especially Twitter.

These days I blog rather rarely, but I'm feeding posts to Twitter often. I am still something of a new comer to Twitter, but first realized its power  back on May 7, 2015, as I tweeted out updates during Lincoln's most recent flood. By the end of the day, it seemed like everyone was turning to Twitter for the most recent updates and latest news.

We are in the midst of cleaning up from a pretty significant snow event here in Lincoln, and a residential parking ban is in place. Getting neighborhood streets plowed is always a problem, because no matter how much you might try, not every gets the word about these bans, and not everyone obeys them. While the police can ticket the violator (250+ were issued overnight Tuesday to Wednesday), that really doesn't solve the problem

The tickets don't help the plow operator. When a single vehicle owner on the block ignores the parking ban, the plows must go around it, and the blade can't get to the curb. The owner digs out a few days later, but everyone else on the block has to cope with the resulting burial mound for the remainder of the winter. Another one on the opposite side of the street, and its a slalom course for the neighbors. Good luck with a bus or fire engine.

This morning, a discussion of this problem broke out on Twitter, questioning how people can be made more aware of such things as parking bans, in an age when few subscribe to the newspaper, listen to AM radio, or watch a local evening newscast. A UNL professor offered to canvas the students in her communications class for ideas this week. Do you have any? How can the City of Lincoln more effectively reach people with information like this?