Friday, December 28, 2007

Landlord holds the key

Last weekend, Northwest Team officers got slammed with a series of investigations that emanated from a large drinking party in a big new duplex on N. 21st Street near the northern edge of the city. Six assaults and one robbery occurred after a group of uninvited attendees showed up and were not exactly friendly, a trend of late. Fortunately, the robbery was cleared quickly when Sgt. Bill Kuhlman stopped a vehicle leaving the area and found the rather distinctively-described suspect. (Note: not a good idea to commit robbery when you are 6'7" tall. )

When the dust cleared, the Northwest Team had a mound of reports to complete, follow-up to conduct, evidence to tag, and statements to transcribe. It's not the first time, as this same location has been the site of 19 police incidents this year, including a total of 9 violent crimes: rape, robbery and assault. I think it will get dramatically quieter in the next several months, because Capt. Genelle Moore had a frank conversation today with the registered agent of the corporation that owns the duplex--a nice little factoid made readily available 24/7 courtesy of the Lancaster County Assessor and the Nebraska Secretary of State. Our registered agent is a well-known developer of many-bedroomed-vinyl-sided-huge-garage-in-front duplexes.

Our experience with such places has been that when we bring some pressure to bear on a landlord, manager, or property owner, the situation normally improves quite quickly. Take away the anonymity, and suddenly it's not just the police who are trying to solve the problems. We have occasionally used Lincoln's ordinance Maintaining a Disorderly House to cite landlords or property owners, but usually the mere implication that we might do so spurs the owner to get a move on it.

The Northwest Team has another great example of the phenomenon. It's another one of those big duplexes dropped into a formerly quiet little area of single-family homes. In 2005, we responded to the duplex on 34 incidents. In 2006 it was 48. I was working on New Year's Day this year, and noticed the trend. I sent a facetious email to the captain who commands the area, wondering if we should just assign an officer to park in front of the duplex as a fuel saving measure, since we were there ten times in December of 2006 anyway.

That ramped up the heat on the landlord with a citation for Maintaining a Disorderly House (we had warned him several times previously). His initial response was to complain to a City Council member. I had to explain all the details in order to assure her that we weren't picking on the landlord, rather, he was failing to take the necessary steps to deal with these problem residents (among those cited there--five times--was this guy). After he was cited, the landlord promised to do better, and the City prosecutor dismissed the charge. Within a matter of weeks, he sold the property. He just wasn't equipped to deal with tenants who were not cooperative.

Apparently the new owner is. Our last police dispatch to the duplex was case number A6-139400, a wild party disturbance on December 29, 2006. If we make it through today, that's a full year with zero police calls, arrests, citations, and complaints.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Big blue elf

I've had some pretty neat experiences working second shift on Christmas over the years, but yesterday was the best ever. Here's what happened.

My wife and her coworkers at Chico's decided to forego their usual Christmas gift exchange at work, and to pool the money they would have spent on little gifts for one another. They asked me if I could help find a family who could use an unexpected gift. I've helped line such things up for other groups before, so of course I was happy to do so. I usually get a tip from the police department's Victim Witness Unit, but this time I had someone in mind already.

In the meantime, Capt. Dave Beggs received a call last week from a citizen with a similar request. Dave had me call him back, and it turned out to be a guy I know, Jim Otto. He and some friends were doing the same thing Tonja and her coworkers were doing. After their Christmas Eve get together, they dropped off an envelope to Assistant Chief Jim Peschong, who was working the evening shift. Jim sent me an email, and locked it up in my office.

All in all, I had $600 in Target and WalMart gift cards and postal money orders to deliver on behalf of these donors. I knew exactly who I wanted to help. It was a young family I had met along with Officer Cass Briggs, as I worked Veteran's Day on the Street. They are living in some of the poorest housing in town, but obviously were trying to make a good life. Someone had stolen their bicycle, and as I took the report, I reflected on the challenges they face. They were the ideal choice, I thought, to receive this random act of kindness.

I checked by their apartment a few times after the 2:30 p.m. briefing for second shift, but I couldn't find them at home. I was getting a little worried when I found the lights burning just after 8:00 p.m.. I suspect they were a little surprised to find the police chief at the door, but I was warmly greeted, and explained my purpose. When I told them how much money I had for them, I think they were momentarily dumbfounded. I soon found myself being hugged by the entire family. For Jaime, Ana, and the children, this would be a major event. It would be the equivalent of somebody knocking on my door and handing me around three grand. Cass Briggs said it well: "That will make a huge difference for that family."

My work done, I sprang to my Tahoe and beat feet. But I had to explain, ere I drove out of sight, that I was just the heavily-armed and highly-paid delivery man.

Wow, did I have a great Christmas!


Earlier this month, I blogged about the common misconception that suicides are more common around the winter holidays. The data showed this is not the case at all. So what happens? No sooner do I post the article, and we have more suicides. December, with six so far, now is the highest month of 2007.

Monday morning, I blogged about the success of a project to reduce residential burglaries through sliding glass doors at apartment buildings. I noted that only three of these had occurred during December. So what happens? Four more, of course.

Reporter Nancy Hicks called me on Christmas Eve, and jokingly asked me if I'd have any news for her on Christmas. Like me, she works on Christmas, and she's always the one calling me that night trying to find something for the December 26th news. I told her she could always do the standard story about the stupid ways people end up in jail on Christmas. I told her that Christmas is usually quite slow, but that the events that occur just seem to stand out in contrast to the joy that should be prevailing. I spent a good deal of the morning putting some data together for her to debunk the myth that there are more domestic assaults on Christmas, in order to illustrate the point.

Micah Mertes ended up doing the story on this, which ran in this morning's Lincoln Journal Star, and included the data I worked up on the 24th (click to enlarge):

So what happened on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day this year? You guessed it. The 23 assaults topped the average of 21.8 on every other Monday and Tuesday of 2007, and the 15 of those that were domestic assaults blew the average of 9.8 out of the water.

I'm beginning to wonder if this blog is the Lincoln police equivalent of the Sports Illustrated Cover Curse.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Proactive policing

Last Thursday, Capt. Kim Koluch, who commands our Southeast Team, handed me a Lincoln Police Department Problem-Oriented Policing Project Summary. I was on my way out the door at the time, to a speaking engagement at the Lincoln Chapter of the Association of Information Technology Professionals.

The POP Project Summary gave me a great example to demonstrate how we use information and analysis to inform good police work. At our November 21st ACUDAT meeting, we had discussed a rash of burglaries occurring at apartment complexes, with entry through sliding glass doors. In many of these, the simple expedient of a broomstick in the track would have prevented the burglary. Capt. Koluch's team was already on top of this trend before the meeting, and three of her officers had initiated a POP Project two days earlier. It had just concluded when Capt. Koluch handed me the summary.

In the parking lot of the restaurant where the AITP meeting was being held, I cracked open my laptop, and used CrimeView to make a year-to-date map of these offenses, and a bar chart by month. For once in my life, I was actually five minutes early, and a good current example is always so much nicer than a PowerPoint.

Here was the strategy employed by officers Spencer Behrens, Matt Tangen, and Joe Yindrick: They contacted managers at 22 large apartment complexes, to make sure they were aware of the pattern. They handed out over 100 informational fliers for posting at entryways and communal mailboxes. Some complexes publish tenant newsletters, and included this information in the next issue. The information provided included the advice of a bar in the door track--something several complexes make available for their residents. The Southeast Team also beefed up patrol time in these complexes, as workload allowed. Finally, we got this information out to the news media, and several stories highlighting prevention resulted.

The results are impressive. In the six weeks prior to the project, 24 of these burglaries occurred. In the six weeks after, there were 8. On Matt, Spencer, and Joe's beat, where they did the door-to-door work, these burglaries fell from 9 to 2. Whereas there were 16 sliding glass doors citywide in October, and 20 in November, as of today there have been only three in December.

Dr. Susan Welch, who taught my research methods class, would point out the problems with the methodology of this simple pre-post test. First, the n is quite small, making statistical significance hopelessly elusive. Second, the effect of history compromises the internal validity of this quasi-experiment. I'm a huge believer in basing strategies on sound scientific evidence, but in the real world you must sometimes act on incomplete information and imperfect knowledge.

"Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome."

-Samuel Johnson

Friday, December 21, 2007

'Tis the season

The police department receives lots of nice Christmas cards. This one caught my eye because it was addressed to me personally (with the usual misspelling), and carried the words "Inmate Mail" stamped in red on the lower left corner of the envelope. The front of the card has a silver foil ornament embossed on a red background.

The inside inscription starts with "'Tis the Season to be Merry, you red-neck mother." The quality of the prose goes downhill rapidly after that, but he managed to fill both sides with invective.

This lovely card comes from a man the Lincoln Police Department has arrested or cited 70 times, booked into jail on 16 occasions, and who's done three prison terms in our fair State. He is now in custody for murder, and has filed his third small-claims court lawsuit of the year against yours truly. What I particularly enjoyed, though, was on the back of the card--it's a Hallmark.

He cared enough to send the very best!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Not the worst

A long time ago, in a blog post far away, I was planning on following-up by tackling the issue of Lincoln having the worst driver's in the United States. Finally, I have been spurred to action by a clever article by Micah Mertes in the Lincoln Journal Star this week, and the dozens of reader comments that amused me so much.

This is, by the way, a recycling article that will appear from time to time in a column or letter to the editor. I am constantly amazed at the way Lincoln residents who immigrated from far-flung communities wistfully recall the bucolic traffic in places like Los Angeles or Atlanta, where the driver's are skilled, the traffic engineering is sophisticated, the women are strong, the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.

I think it's a psychological thing: the idiots around you right now are clearly incompetent compared to the brilliant formula one driver's you used to commute with in San Jose.

Here's some evidence that, despite our collective belief to the contrary, Lincoln driver's probably aren't the worst. First, LSU studied alcohol-related fatalities in the largest 107 cities in the United States over a multi-year period. Lincoln was dead last. Next, CMAC Insurance commissioned a nationwide driver's test, with a scientific sampling method, and a sample size of over 5,000 drivers. Nebraska finished 7th. Finally, Allstate Insurance publishes it's annual "Best Driver's" report of collision rates in the largest 200 cities in the United States. Lincoln ranks 22nd, ahead of virtually all those places where the driver's are allegedly better, with a likelihood of collision 12% below the national average.

And for all those comments about the lack of traffic enforcement in Lincoln (despite the personal experiences of tens of thousands of motorists who received official or warning tickets from Lincoln police officers last year) I offer this: scroll down on this page to compare the number of traffic stops made by our little force of 317 sworn officers with the 787 officers at our big brother down the road.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Tagger nabbed

Yesterday morning, Alyssa posted a comment on my blog post from last Friday, Drugs, alcohol, and gangs. She asked which gang was responsible for the "D3M" graffiti in downtown Lincoln. I replied to her with, "Stand by for breaking news on the tagger using the signature D3M."

Here's the breaking news. A 22 year old Lincoln man was arrested early yesterday afternoon in connection with several graffiti vandalism cases in which the moniker "D3M" was applied with a marker. The most recent cases occurred on the night of December 15, at two downtown locations and at several other spots on State property (these were handled by the State Patrol), including the Governor's Mansion.

Snow helped, as the suspect, riding a bike, was tracked by the Capital security force, contacted and identified. There was not enough evidence to detain him at the time, but further investigation by our officers from the Center Police Team resulted in probable cause. Officers Bob Smith, Justin Darling, and others did a nice job with the follow-up work to make this case.

The "D3M" signature (some think it looks like "P3M") has appeared on many past occasions. Overnight on July 28, for example, over a dozen tags were reported. The tag has also appeared frequently on University of Nebraska property (investigated by the University Police). We will continue follow-up investigation to determine if this same suspect is responsible for these other cases. The recovery in his residence of two trophy news articles from the January 13, 2006 Daily Nebraskan and the July 29, 2007 Lincoln Journal Star would tend to indicate that he has been busy. We took quite a beating from one of the property owners and some of the reader comments in that July 29 article.

It's not this guy's first time. Back in October of 2001, we arrested him for trespassing after finding him inside a construction site in south Lincoln. At the scene of his arrest, we recovered a discarded marker. Earlier in 2001, on May 12, we arrested him in connection with a dozen graffiti vandalism cases downtown. He was using a different signature at that time. All of these 2001 cases were transferred to juvenile court, and our suspect received probation.

We arrest 'em, folks, but we don't decide the sentence.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Weather and crime

I was on the phone Friday with our new fire chief, Niles Ford. Chief Ford is most recently from Georgia and prior to that Alabama. I asked him how he was adapting to Nebraska's late fall (yes, that's right; winter has yet to begin). He said there have been some challenges. I told him not to worry, this would be all over by June.

It's been a more typical Nebraska December this year. In the first 15 days of the month, we have had snow on 9--including three snows significant enough to require some work with the shovel--or scoop--depending on your preference. That's a far cry from December, 2006 when there was no snowfall at all until a trace blew around on the 22nd. Moreover, the average temperature in the first 15 days of the month last year was 7 degrees warmer than this month's average. Last December, the high temperature in the first 15 days of December included 8 days when it was 50 degrees or better.

The snow and cold may be a bit daunting for Chief Ford, but for Chief Casady, it has a decidedly bright side. Few things slow crime like a good old Nebraska snowstorm, and the three weekend hits this month have been accompanied by 171 fewer Part 1 Crimes--the offenses tracked by the FBI for all the annual statistics. That's a 30% decrease.

Criminals generally don't want too hard or be very uncomfortable. When you look at the "outdoor offenses"--things that require a little walking about in the cold, like auto theft, burglary, and larceny from auto--it's easy to see that the thieves hunker down in the Nebraska winter--er, fall.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Drugs, alcohol, and gangs

This year, we implemented a new police incident report. The report is entered live into our database, and adds a number of context-sensitive fields that capture data relevant to specific types of events--such as the point of entry in a burglary, or the type of weapon in an assault. Among the new fields, we are now collecting the involvement of drugs, alcohol and gangs in each incident report. This will provide some additional insight into trends in Lincoln. Here are some highlights of the data in 2007 as of this morning:

Drug involvement was indicated in 1232 incident reports; including,
28 robberies
8 rapes
83 burglaries
47 weapons offenses
105 child abuse
201 assaults

Alcohol involvement was indicated in 3657 incident reports; including,
29 robberies
29 rapes
1374 assaults
179 child abuse
352 larcenies
42 weapons offenses
    Gang involvement was indicated in 563 incident reports; including,

    7 robberies
    10 weapons offenses
    11 burglaries
    426 vandalisms
    53 assaults

    These fields are selected based on the best judgement of the assigned officer. We want officers to apply these liberally--if it seems like drugs contributed to or were involved in the event, then select it--these data are for our own use and surveillance, not matters of evidence. I suspect if anything, we're under-reporting the involvement of drugs, alcohol, and gangs, but we'll continue to improve--and remember to check all the fields before mashing the submit button!

    Thursday, December 13, 2007

    Commissioning day

    My short trip to Virginia Tech for a discussion with campus administrators or Monday was a learning experience for me. Among the things I learned about was Virginia Tech itself. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University is one of six senior military colleges recognized under the United States Code. Virginia Tech and Texas A & M are the only two of these where a military college is embedded within a large civilian university. While VT has over 26,000 students, about 700 are members of the Corps of Cadets.

    Lieutenant Colonel Bill Stringer is the Deputy Commandant of the Corps of Cadets. After my meetings on Monday, he was my ride from Blacksburg to the closest commercial airport that afternoon in Roanoke, Virginia. That's where my five-airport travel adventure began. On the 40 minute trip, he answered all my questions about the Corps of Cadets, the military colleges. I remarked that it must be incredibly gratifying for him to see these young men and women develop into military officers, and to realize he had a role in that development.

    That was a real door-opener. It is, of course, one of the highlights of his long career as both an Air Force and Marine Corps officer (there's a combination for you!). Only this highlight just keeps on happening. He told me that Thursday (today) and Friday, he'd be attending the ceremonies for commissioning the cadets graduating at the end of the fall semester. He described the ceremony, and he told me how that made him feel. I didn't need much description, because that's exactly how I felt last night, as 18 men and women graduating from our academy were sworn in and commissioned as Lincoln police officers.

    Every time LTC Stringer hears about an accomplishment by a Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets graduate (and there are many), he is not only proud by his association, but he feels that in some small way he owns part of each success. He contributed to it, he helped make it happen, he and his fellow staff members set the conditions up that led to the outcome--a military officer grounded in tradition, strengthened by training, imbued with strong ethics, and intellectually equipped to lead and succeed.

    That is precisely how I feel whenever something like this happens, and it happens every day. Not always in such dramatic fashion, but every day nonetheless.

    No surprise

    While I was at it, a also looked at the manner of the suicides over the past few years. I don't think there's any surprise here, although I can't remember quite this many carbon monoxide poisoning cases.

    Tuesday, December 11, 2007

    Down time

    A travel weather nightmare has turned my one-night trip to Virginia Tech into an odyssey taking me to five airports in the past 24 hours. Detroit gets my award for the nicest. Chicago's O'Hare retains the title of my least-favorite. I'm now in Minneapolis, and the prospects are improving for a flight home. With some down time to use, I thought I would catch up on some report reading.

    I noticed a very unusual phenomenon in the police reports from Sunday. We handled four death investigations on December 9, of which three were apparent suicides. These are always time consuming investigations, and this made an incredibly busy day for our investigations team. Overall this year, we have investigated 30 suicides, so three on one day is more than we would typically have in a month.

    I recalled hearing some commentator on the news in the past few days talking about seasonal depression, and asserting that suicide peaks during the winter holiday season. I wondered about that, and as regular readers know, I have a penchant for actually putting the "common knowledge" to the test. So, here's five years of suicides in Lincoln, by the month in which they occurred:

    That would tend to debunk the conventional wisdom, and indicate that last Sunday was just an especially peculiar day--from a statistical standpoint. But the overall number was small, so I decided to look at the much larger number of both successful and attempted suicides. Five years yeilds 1,675 of these cases, and here's how they look by month:

    So, our data would show that August, rather than the winter holidays, is the peak time for suicide and attempts. After finding this in our own data, I also discovered with a little Google research that I'm not the first one to debunk the myth.

    Time to go check the departure monitors and see if I'm depressed.

    Monday, December 10, 2007

    From Virginia Tech

    I am in Blacksburg, Virginia this morning in my capacity as co-chair of NU Directions for the past decade. I came to Virginia Tech to facilitate a discussion today with a group about our efforts in Lincoln and at UNL to reduce high risk drinking. This is the same presentation I made back in April at LSU in Baton Rouge. I'm hoping that our counterparts may either pick up a good idea or have one reinforced that they're already engaged in. Sometimes learning that you're not the only one with that thought is enough to encourage you to continue.

    I was originally scheduled to be here on Monday, May 7. That was just three weeks after the horrific Virginia Tech massacre, and the seminar was understandably rescheduled due to the more pressing issues confronting the campus community. It is ironic that my trip here follows the mass killing at Westroads Mall, in our own back yard. I had a chance to take a leisurely walk around campus Sunday afternoon. Standing on the drill field, it's hard to imagine the chaos and terror of last April occurring in this beautiful campus setting.

    Last night, I had dinner with the Virginia Tech's campus police chief, Wendell Flinchum and Capt. Vince Houston. They've had quite a year. We compared notes on the youthful drinking scene in Blacksburg and Lincoln. Chief Flinchum's description of bar break here in Blacksburg sounds just like Lincoln. We might have discussed a little football, too. Virginia Tech visits Lincoln next September 27th, so I'm hopeful I can return the favor of dinner at the Outback Steakhouse with my treat at a place featuring a more local flavor, like Misty's.

    Kim Crannis, the Blacksburg chief of police, was going to join us for dinner, but circumstances prevented that. She had an alcohol-related homicide yesterday at a nightclub directly across the street from the Inn at Virginia Tech, where I am staying. Not surprisingly, It happened right at bar break. She was undoubtedly called out of bed shortly after 2:00 a.m., and consumed with that case all day.

    The relationship between high-risk drinking and violent crime is a key point it my presentation on strategies that have helped us in Lincoln. Though tragic, the timing of yesterday's stabbing makes the case better than anything I can say.

    At the beginning of this year, we implemented a new police incident report that includes a data field on the relationship of drugs, gangs, or alcohol to each incident. I'll give you a snapshot of this new data later this week.

    Friday, December 7, 2007

    Guns surfacing

    The October 1 burglary of Scheel's All Sports in Lincoln is the largest gun burglary any of us can remember. To date, five people have been arrested in connection with the burglary, in which 82 guns were stolen. Within the first two days after the burglary, 30 guns were recovered in a series of arrests and searches. That left 52 guns on the street.

    Tips concerning the fate of the missing firearms have been numerous, and a huge amount of investigative work has gone into this case. As of this morning, there are 189 narrative investigative reports alone in the case file. If it were printed, that would kill a tree or two.

    There have been new developments this week. Over the weekend, we learned that a Phoenix police officer recovered one of these guns, apparently tossed on the ground at an apartment complex as officers approached. A second gun was recovered by Phoenix police investigating the apparent suicide of a 26 year old man who used one of Scheel's stolen Glocks to shoot himself on Sunday. Finally, we learned yesterday that the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office recovered two more stolen guns in a drug bust that netted around ten pounds of methamphetamine on Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

    The four recoveries in the Phoenix area mean that 48 handguns are still out there. It's apparent that a significant number made their way quickly to Arizona, and our investigators are searching for any connections between our suspects and their acquaintances that might provide some leads. I suspect that the Scheel's guns will continue to surface in crimes in various parts of the country for many years. I hope I'm wrong on that, and a large stash is discovered somewhere.

    Thursday, December 6, 2007

    Missing person process

    A commenter on my Monday post asked me to blog about how we handle missing persons cases, so here goes. Whenever we are called about a missing person, an officer is dispatched to make personal contact with the reporting person. We gather the pertinent information and make an initial incident report within a matter of minutes. Contrary to anything you may have heard, there is no “waiting period” and hasn’t been for decades.

    The missing person incident report is handled telephonically by the investigating officer, who calls the details in to our Records Unit for live entry by a records technician. This incident report immediately triggers what we call a “broadcast”—a database flag the alerts any officer to the person’s status, adds him or her to the daily “hot sheet”, notifies the Nebraska State Patrol, and starts the entry into the National Crime Information Center database. This is all accomplished in a matter of minutes. In this fashion any law enforcement officer in the United States who contacts the missing person and checks the name would be alerted to his or her status as a missing person.

    During the initial investigation, officers are looking for any signs of suspicion or high risk: medical or mental health conditions, age, weather, and so forth. We are particularly attentive for any information that could indicate the missing person has been the victim of abduction. Officers who have reason to believe that these risk factors are present will continue active investigation and enlist the assistance of their coworkers and field supervisors. This would include notifying the news media and asking for their assistance in alerting the public. If the person meets the criteria for an Amber Alert, that would also be initiated. We also might use mass outbound telephone calls for notification, via a Child Is Missing.

    Depending on the circumstances of the case, we might be searching residences, contacting friends and acquaintances, conducting door to door searches, checking financial records, cell phone records, and many other steps.

    If it appears the person is voluntarily absent, we check out any immediate leads, and the report is submitted for review. A police captain reviews all missing person reports, and he or she assigns the case for follow-up investigation. All missing person cases are assigned for follow-up, which is recorded and tracked in our database. These cases are assigned to both the original investigating officer, and to our Criminal Investigations Unit. Follow-up work is documented on written reports, and reviewed by supervisors. An electronic “tickle file” notifies supervisors when a case report is overdue, or when a missing person has not been located or returned. We do not close cases, and work is periodically completed as new information surfaces or new ideas pop up.

    For people who are voluntarily absent, we depend primarily on the reporting person and family members for tips and leads, and we try to check out fresh information with phone calls, interviews, visits, and searches. Investigative steps, report requirements, and follow-up review procedures are contained in our written directives, General Order 1730, and all officers receive training on missing persons investigations.

    The volume is huge. So far in 2007, we have investigated 2,245 missing persons in Lincoln. When your teenager has run away from home, or you haven’t heard from your son for several days, your mind races, and you want the police to drop everything and devote themselves to the case. With 317 police officers handling about 140,000 events annually, we have to prioritize everything and apply our limited resources accordingly. Cases with suspicious circumstances and cases with evidence of abduction, or very young, elderly, or ill victims are the priority for missing persons follow-up.

    Wednesday, December 5, 2007

    We're with you

    What can we say? Chief, you know we'd do anything you need. Your staff is doing a great job under serious pressue.

    It's so incredibly frustrating to see these events unfold in our society. Were they happening all along, and we just existed in our little envelope of bliss before the instant and mass media?

    New challenge

    Kacky Finnell's 23 year career as a Lincoln police officer winds up today. She has an offer in the private sector that's too good to refuse, and has decided to cash it in a little early. It's been a fine tour of duty, but she's now moving on to start a second career. Although I'm going to miss her wicked sense of humor, she has a great opportunity and I wish her the best.

    For the past several years, Kacky has been working in our Management Services Unit, as our public information officer. She is in charge of media relations. She comes in early to get a jump on the overnight activity, prepares the reports and printouts, then runs a daily 8:45 a.m. media briefing. The rest of the day is filled with phone calls, questions, and requests from the news organizations. She chases down statistics, lines up interviews, sends out public record mug shots and criminal histories, and updates the police news release RSS feed.

    That's just part of her job, though. She also manages our public web site, produces our Annual Reports, and coordinates the updating our our General Orders and Resource Manual. In addition, she's one of three people who work part-time to ensure we are complying with accreditation standards, and maintaining suitable proof of compliance to smooth our next reaccreditation cycle.

    She's represented the police department superbly. Kacky can take a healthy amount of the credit for our excellent media relations, and for polishing our public image with print and on-line publication. Rookies may not realize it, but she is a rock solid street cop. I was always impressed with her knack for being in the thick of things, her initiative, her reports, and her savvy. She's also a dead eye shot, with plenty of regional and national pistol competition hardware to prove it.

    Before she caught the eye of an expanding firm looking for talent, Kacky was headed back to a street assignment, by her own choice--she missed life outside the bubble. Rumor had it that in January she was going to back onto the Southwest Team, her old stomping ground. It's too bad the denizens of A Beat won't be seeing her in uniform. Her new employer's facility is on A Beat, though, so troublemakers better not underestimate that nice red-headed mom in the SUV.

    Tuesday, December 4, 2007

    Nice catch

    Around 2:00 a.m. on Saturday, Officer Lance Maxwell made a very nice case. In the parking lot of a local motel, he spotted a stolen vehicle with Iowa plates. We had just briefed officers on this vehicle at the 2300 assembly at HQ.

    The description of the vehicle came from a regional broadcast on the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System--NLETS--concerning a convicted serial bank robber who had left a minimum security halfway house facility in Ames, Iowa on Tuesday, and was suspected in bank robberies in Des Moines and Omaha on Wednesday and Thursday. Although we had no reason to believe this suspect would be in Lincoln, it seemed worthwhile to pull this from the daily chatter.

    The briefing included this photo, to show everyone what a 2005 GMC Savana van would look like, this photo of an Iowa license plate (always good to refresh the memory) and this news story from KPTM in Omaha, because at the time it had the best photos of the suspect. These photos were displayed on the big 50" monitors in our assembly room as we talked about the suspect.

    Lance took it upon himself to do some good fundamental police work--checking the motels on his beat. His initiative paid off. A perimeter was established and the on duty clerk was able to identify our suspect and pinpoint the room he was staying in. When the suspect realized that the police were present, he crawled out a window to take off, but he didn't make it very far. Within a few steps, the officer covering the north side, Tim Mika (a former bank teller himself), snagged our bank robber without incident.

    This was nice heads-up police work by Lance, with a dose of information technology courtesy of NLETS and the Internet.

    Monday, December 3, 2007

    Visit from Topeka

    Last Wednesday, the Topeka Police Department paid us a visit with a group of police personnel and citizens, looking for some fresh ideas. If you follow The Chief's Corner, you're already aware this isn't unusual. We host site visits and exchanges with other departments with some regularity.

    What was unusual about this visit was that Topeka brought along a news crew. A nice story about the visit ran on the local ABC affiliate in Topeka, asserting that there's a bit of a friendly competition between us to be "America's Safest Capital City." I think Capt. Brown and I were just kidding about that, but for the record we have an awfully big lead--not that I'm bragging or anything.

    We had a far-ranging conversation, and our visitors also attended our regular ACUDAT meeting. I suspect the most salient idea the Topeka delegation took away concerned information for landlords. One of the things we've tried to do is make good current information available to property owners and managers about the police incidents occurring at their property. We do this with an instant report that they can generate 24/7/365 based on the specific address. We also provide some good advice on background checks for prospective tenants. We have some great web resources for instant access to this information.

    Police department's are hampered in their ability to adapt and change by the fact that the great majority of officers work their entire career at the same agency. While this has some tremendous advantages, it also slows innovation because of the relatively rare injection of people who have other experiences and exposure to other ways of operating. That's why exchanges like these are so valuable for all involved. You can learn a lot by looking around.

    Friday, November 30, 2007

    We'll miss her

    Today is Virginia Fischer's last day at the Lincoln Police Department. My loyal and trustworthy executive secretary retires after 42 years, serving five chiefs of police in nine mayoral administrations. She started for $1.36/hr a few days after Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater.

    She is simply the best. You could not find a more competent and committed colleague. Over the years, her job has become less like an executive secretary, and more like an office manager for the entire department. She trouble shoots the most bizarre and complex correspondence and phone calls, moving people toward the assistance they seek. She is the scheduler of assignment changes, work requests and appointments, expediter of City Council and news media inquiries, organizer of meetings, publisher of agendas, author of minutes, reviewer of documents and correspondence, and keeper of archives for everyone--not just me. She's done this superbly from onion skin and carbon paper through .pdfs and web servers.

    Virginia has been knee-deep in this City's deepest secrets and dirtiest scandals. As the chief's executive secretary, she's the person who has been called upon to transcribe the most confidential reports and statements in those cases. Think back to all those headlines. The same thing is true internally, where Virginia has handled the transcription needs for every case of passing through the Internal Affairs Unit. She's been the witness to all our failings, foibles, and missteps. The stories she could tell about the high and the mighty! But everyone knows a secret is safe with her.

    What's truly remarkable is that despite carrying this load, she is the first to look past the bad conduct and see the good in everyone. She forgives, and focuses on the humanity of others and the good in all. The parade of new puppies, new babies, wedding photos, graduation announcements, new family photos, and so forth that flow into her office on a daily basis is a testament to how much everyone at LPD wants to share their joy with her. The same is true of bad news--frightening diagnoses, deaths, tragedies. Virginia listens, Virginia cares, you know that Virginia means it from the depth of her heart when she asks you how you are. She lives her faith through her work, and it rubs off on all of us.

    I've been blessed not only with a great assistant who has made my job so much smoother, but a great friend who has cried and celebrated with me. She'll be sorely missed, but we all wish her the best in retirment.

    Virginia, enjoy more Operas!

    Wednesday, November 28, 2007

    Noteworthy update

    If you're a regular reader of the Chief's Corner, you just might want to check out the comment to one of my blogs from October 25, Third shift wrap up, which was just submitted tonight at 7:14 p.m.--it will be the last one in the series of comments. Aamazing how this rather obscure minutia got back to one of the personages in question, and elicited such a nice response. I can now turn my warning light off, and replace my fuse.

    Tuesday, November 27, 2007

    ...pants on fire

    Police officers quickly develop a knack for recognizing the truth from prevarication. But some people are such bad liars that you just have to chuckle. I noticed three of these early this morning as I was perusing the overnight reports.

    The first report was by Officer Jason Wesch, who at 3:17 a.m. was investigating a report of a stolen car. The reporting person claimed that he had left the car parked at a residence, and when he got back to where he had left it, the car was gone. He described the evenings events: He said he had gotten a ride downtown with another guy to have a few adult beverages, that after having a bit too much to drink at the bar he gave his car keys to his buddy to drive him home, and the buddy had made off with the vehicle after depositing him. Apparently he forgot that he had already told us he had left his car elsewhere and gotten a ride downtown.

    Case number two was at about 11:38 p.m., when Officer Jim Quandt pulled a car over for a minor traffic violation. The driver was in Jim’s patrol car for a little assessment, when Officer Quandt asked him about the passenger. Our subject said that her name was Jessica, and that he had been dating her for about a month. He didn’t know her last name (a clue). When the officer contacted Jessica, she said they had been dating for about three years. She picked out the last name of “Smith.” She had no ID with her, but claimed to have a Missouri license. A quick computer check nixed that. She couldn’t remember her mom and dad’s names. Turns out Heather (her real name) had an arrest warrant she was trying to evade.

    The final case was at about 10:07 p.m., when Officer Travis Ocken encountered a man who was suspected in an indecent exposure. The suspect said his name was Antonia Paul Watkins. Officer Ocken describes the conversation in his report:
    When asked for his name, Rodney first stated that it was 'Antonio.’ Rodney consistently stated that his middle name was 'Paul' and his last name was 'Watkins.' When asked to spell his name, Rodney first began to state 'A-n-t-o-r...' before stating 'A-t-o-n...' Rodney stated that he did not know how to spell 'Watkins.' As Rodney's lies were becoming tangled, he claimed that he could not spell his name as he was bad at spelling.”
    Note: when lying to police, remember to keep the story straight, choose a last name other than Smith, come up with June and Ward on short notice, and be prepared to spell your own name.

    Thursday, November 22, 2007

    Tip of the iceberg

    One of the top news stories nationally in the last week concerned the FBI’s release of the 2006 hate crime statistics. The FBI collects data regarding criminal offenses that are motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against a race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity/national origin, or disability. Hate crimes that are reported to it by law enforcement agencies that participate in the Uniform Crime Report. The definitions and methodology for hate crime reporting are available on the FBI’s excellent hate crime web site.

    The 2006 report showed an increase of about 8% in the number of hate crimes that participating agencies reported to the FBI. The national media jumped on this story, as did some public figures. The tone of many of the stories concerned the alarming increase. Many local news media outlets did stories on their own city’s hate crime stats.

    Curiously, none of the media here in Lincoln came looking for a local angle on this national story. If they had, I suspect the media would have been perplexed by what they found. Lincoln has about 14% of Nebraska’s population, but in 2006 we accounted for almost two-thirds (64%) of the hate crimes in Nebraska—36 of the State’s 56 offenses. The Lincoln Police Department reported six times the number of hate crimes Omaha (6) reported. We also topped St. Louis (11), Denver (15), and Atlanta (11), among many other cities way over our size and much more diverse. Chicago, with roughly 12 times our population, only had one more hate crime (37) than Lincoln. Here’s a typical example of a Lincoln hate crime (click to enlarge--and I gently edited some personal information from this report to protect the victim’s identity):

    Now if anyone really believes that Lincoln had more hate crimes than Atlanta, Denver, Omaha, St. Louis, and most other cities way over our population--or that there were only 7,722 hate crimes in the United States last year--you really need to get a grip on reality. What we have here, folks, is a failure to report. Some cities, like Kearney, Nebraska (7) , Shawnee, Kansas (9), and St. Cloud, Minnesota (20) are obviously doing a good job of officially recording hate crimes, while others are not. Syndicated columnist Clarence Page at the Chicago Tribune seems to be one of the few commentators to recognize the obvious in these data.

    Reported hate crime is the tip of the iceberg. Some police department’s don’t participate in the reporting system at all; many do so haphazardly; and (the biggest source of under reporting) many victims don’t report hate crimes to the police. At this stage, a large increase in reported hate crime ought to cause citizens to think: “Good. I’m glad more people are willing to report, and that our police are quick to recognize and record hate crimes.” Here’s what needs to happen in order to improve hate crime reporting:
    1. Citizens need to have enough faith and confidence in the police that they are willing to report these disturbing, hateful crimes.
    2. Police agencies need to participate in the FBI's hate crime reporting program.
    3. Police agencies need to have good training, policies and reporting processes in place so that crimes motivated by racial, ethnic, and religious animus, and those targeting victims because of their sexual orientation or nationality are both recognized and recorded as hate crimes.
    4. Individual police officers need to be encouraged to record crimes as hate crimes when hate and bias appear to be involved. The original assigned officer, in consultation with the victim, is usually in the best position to make this determination, and he or she should not be discouraged from doing so, nor presented with a unwieldy penalty form.

    That’s what we’ve done in Lincoln. We have encouraged officers to make a common sense call, and provided a fairly easy mechanism for recording additional hate crime information needed for reporting. It just got easier late last year, when we automated our police incident report. Now, rather than a short supplemental form, it’s just a few drop-downs on a web form. The even simpler reporting process is going to result in even more hate crimes being reported (we’ve already recorded 37 through September). I can’t wait to see how this increase gets misinterpreted.

    Hate crimes are despicable. They are happening with much, much greater frequency than the FBI report suggests. The FBI is well aware of this, and their web site is filled with such warnings and disclaimers, largely ignored. We have no clear idea how often these crimes occur, but we ought to be committed to improving reporting dramatically, and also doing all we can to combat the kind of ignorance and bigotry that spawns these crimes.

    Monday, November 19, 2007

    Every dewy morning

    Please forgive me if the blog doesn't get much attention this week. My dad died, and I'll be gone for the memorial service and Thanksgiving. I apologize for my sappy emotion, but I just need to do write this.

    Dick Casady was raised on the wrong side of the tracks in Keokuk, Iowa. He returned to Keokuk after a successful career in business that took him all over the midwest, and died there two days after his 78th birthday. His own Dad died at a young age, and his mom remarried. My grandparents were about as working class as they come: Grandpa Evans--Dad's stepfather--was a foreman at Gate City Steel down on the Mississippi river, and although they lived a pretty humble life, my grandparents sent three boys off to college and started them all on successful careers.

    Dad was an excellent athlete. He lettered in football, basketball, baseball, and track for the Keokuk Chiefs, and at Parsons College. Although golf had no history in the Casady family, it was a virtual requirement for a sales manager with clients to entertain, so Dad took the game up as a young man. He quickly became an outstanding golfer. He was a big hitter, and deadly with a pitching wedge. Many of my best memories are golfing with my father.

    I learned many things on the golf course, a sport where fair play is so integral to the game that the contestants call the penalties on themselves. Dad taught me the rules and the etiquette. I learned the terminology of toe hooks, power fades, sandies, presses, and double bubbles; the lettuce, the cabbage, the heather, the gorse, the OB, the beach, and the frog's hair. I didn’t quite inherit my Dad’s skill, but on those rare occasions I hit it in the screws, knock it stiff, and jar the putt, I know how to describe the experience.

    But the most important lessons I learned from Dad weren’t on the course. I remember a great example of this 30 years ago. Dad was changing his shoes in the locker room. There was an employee in the men's locker whose sole job was to take care of the members' shoes. Dad knew him by name, and talked to him about his wife and kids. He laughed with him about some joke, and basically just treated him precisely the same way he'd treat the president of the club or his best customer. That's the way Dad always was with caddies, waitresses, parking attendants, car hops, bell hops, cashiers, bag boys, and junior assistant pros. It made no difference what your station in life was; he treated everyone like a good friend.

    In the summer of 1964, our family endured an unimaginable tragedy. Dad became a single father at the age of 33, burying one child, caring for three that survived. He bore this pain with strength and grace. My Dad's love and his quiet power both saved and molded me. There can be no better testament to his life than this: his children all know he was the best man they every met.

    The last time I golfed with Dad was over the Memorial Day weekend. Son T.J., Brother Rich, Dad and I played at Holmes Park on Saturday. We were talking about having another go at it, but we are all aware of our obligations on the home front. How could we manage to get in another round on Sunday without neglecting our family duties? It was Dad who suggested that we all just tell our wives that "You won't have your old Dad around to play golf with forever."

    He was wrong.

    He’ll be there in the places I go: in the rough and the hazard, and then finally on the dance floor, with his hickory shafted putter. Every dewy morning I tee it up, he'll be there.

    Friday, November 16, 2007

    Outside the bubble

    Many people in Lincoln live in a bubble. It’s a sort of Norman Rockwell upper-middle class bubble, where kids play in the yard, dad washes the car, and mom whips up something for dinner. They need to spend a shift with the officers of the Lincoln Police Department's Southwest Team.

    They need to smell the rotting, stinking mattress someone has dragged into the vacant garage to sleep on. They need to see the building covered with gang graffiti. They need to meet the unbelievable occupants of Apartment 4, including the Pit Bull. They need to be introduced to The Butcher, Three Fingers, Dennis, Wild Thing, Lebo. They need to walk around 14th & O at 1:00 a.m. on Friday morning, hang out at the jail intake center or Cornhusker Place on Saturday night, or just sit in the Bryan/LGH emergency room for an evening. Moving their evening stroll from their own neighborhood to Capital Avenue would be a nice change of pace.

    In short, lots of people need to better understand the social problems the exist in this City, so they will be motivated to either do something to help ameliorate them, or at least support others in the community who are trying to do so. Like the police. Inside the bubble, one gets the false impression that none of these things affect me. Don't be deluded. When crime, prostitution, addiction, gangs, homelessness, and hopelessness take root, it's an issue for everyone everywhere in the City. If you watch Channel 5 from time to time, you'll see some incredibly lengthy public debates going on about such key issues as a property owner who wants a new curb cut, or a proposed ordinance requiring the neutering of cats. I'm all in favor of infertile cats, but frankly you see a lot of big, big issues as a police officer that don't seem to generate much attention, emotion, or concern.

    Maybe it's because they're just too tough. You can't just pass a resolution.

    While Cass Briggs and I met the denizens of A Beat during Veterans Day on the street, we heard Officer Todd Danson being dispatched to The Bubble. He was sent to an address in the Ridge:

    On the Southwest Team on Monday, while Officer Rich Fitch was dealing with the suicidal Somali man, while officer Kirk McAndrew was investigating a child abuse, while Officer Cass Briggs and I were looking for the mentally ill Vietnamese dad, while Officer Chris Ehrhorn investigated a hit and run accident at 13th and B, and while Officer Kelly Koerner was snapping photos of gang graffiti at 19th and Washington, someone was calling the police to the Ridge because a neighbor with a leaf blower was blowing his leaves into the street.

    Here's a final image. There is a despicable movement afoot in some corners of the United States called stop snitchin. It's a campaign to encourage people to avoid the police, not to cooperate with the police, to deny knowledge when they've witnessed a crime, and to stand back while criminal predators ply their trade. On Monday, Officer Mark Fluitt was dispatched to 21st and D Street at 4:01 p.m.. Someone reported that the stop sign on the corner had been covered up. Look closely at the message (click to enlarge)

    We need your help, folks. Please step out of your own bubble.

    Wednesday, November 14, 2007

    The denizens of A Beat

    One of the critical skills for police officers has always been the ability to talk to strangers. The more you can introduce yourself and carry on conversations easily, the more effective you will be. Good police officers can be talking to the president of the bank one minute, and the delusional vagrant the next—with equal facility.

    I was impressed with Officer Tim Abele’s knowledge of his beat and the people upon it during my tour of duty with him in October, and it was the same with Officer Cass Briggs on Monday. She and her coworkers are plugged in to the Southwest Team area. My initial glimpse of this was at the first order of business: get a cup of joe. Officer Briggs and Officer Mark Fluitt took me to one of their favorite haunts, Meadowlark Coffee & Espresso, where they were obviously not strangers

    We took off to survey Southwest A beat, and Cass spotted a familiar vehicle parked on 18th Street. She told me that officers had handled a few calls involving a woman was bringing her disabled husband to Hazel Abel Park every day. He had developed a habit of dropping his drawers. Sure enough, it was them. He had his pants up, though. It was pretty chilly early Monday morning. We made a little conversation then went on our way.

    We were soon dispatched to check the welfare of a man with mental health issues. As we were checking his residence, Officer Kelly Koerner drove by just to make sure all was well. She stopped to talk with someone she recognized across the street. When we finished up, we walked over. She was making small talk with a guy carrying a large kitchen knife in a tattered sheath held together with packaging tape. On the other side, a 12” sharpening steel dangled from his belt. He looked like a character from a Bud Light commercial. She was chatting with him as nonchalantly as you’d talk to your next door neighbor. The Butcher recognized me, and offered his services as a secret police investigator, should we have the need.

    After departing this parallel universe, we heard Officer Koerner being dispatched to a suspicious person in the area of 27th and F Streets. On the way, Cass pointed out a woman walking a three-legged dog. Officer Koerner beat us to the suspicious one. She and Cass both recognized the man, who they knew by his appropriate nickname: Three Fingers. Hmmm, mere coincidence?

    It was just the beginning, though. We handled the arrest of a methamphetamine addict who called me by my first name. He apparently knew me better than I knew him. Later, we conversed with his frightened and disheveled wife. Cass introduced me to the nice proprietor of the Super C convenience store and her daughter, and we chewed the fat with the clerk at Laundry Land. After making a special stop to meet an apartment full of incredible criminals, we ended the day chatting with a nice young family and their beautiful little niece, Giselle. In between we talked to a dozen other people of all kinds, including two guys reclining in a hot tub right alongside an arterial street. I rolled down the window, and asked them if they had room for two more. It had been an interesting day of meeting and talking with the denizens of A beat.

    Tuesday, November 13, 2007

    Veterans Day on the street

    I don’t know where to begin. A blog post has to be reasonably short, and all of mine are already too long. But I can’t possibly capture the day in a handful of paragraphs. I guess this is going to have to be a short series.

    Yesterday—Veterans Day—was a City holiday. The police department, though, is always at work, and I spent the day joining in the festivities. As part of our United Way campaign, donors got a chance to win the services of the chief as their gopher for a shift: I’d handle your calls, and do your reports. All you’d have to do is keep me out of serious trouble. Officer Tim Abele, who works the graveyard shift on the Southeast Team already collected his winnings, but yesterday, winner number two was paid off. I spent Veterans Day with a United States Navy veteran, Officer Cassandra Briggs, who works the twelve hour shift from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on the Southwest team. I’ve known Cass for a long time. I met her when I was a rookie police officer with less than a year on the job. She was three.

    I had a great time a few weeks ago with Tim, but I got off pretty easy with the rather light reports--a minor traffic collision and a vandalism. I predicted it would be different with Cass, and the day did not disappoint. Here’s the summary: Cass and I responded to several back ups with other officers, and were dispatched to eight calls for service of our own. Seven of these were reportable: three larcenies from auto, one trespassing, a stolen bicycle, a graffiti vandalism, and a disturbance. I cranked out two Additional Case Investigation Reports, six Incident Reports, one warning citation, one official citation, on arrest book-in, one Property Report, and one Probable Cause Affidavit. Luckily for me Capt. David Beggs (the second shift duty commander who would ordinarily be reviewing my reports) was off for the holiday, and Assistant Chief Jim Peschong was the substitute. That probably saved me a few error notifications.

    I hold Cass responsible for the small avalanche of reports. No sooner had the words “It’s pretty quiet” fallen from her lips then the dispatcher was calling our number. Three of the reportable incidents emerged as we were working other calls--victims approached us. By the way, one of the hardest parts of working with both Tim and Cass was trying to respond to another officer's call number. Your mind is conditioned to hear "304." The brain filters the huge volume of radio traffic, cell phone conversations, information on the mobile computer screen, and face to face conversations going on simultaneously and delivers your radio call number directly to the front when it's called. It's not quite so effective when you've temporarily adopted someone else's "name."

    Of the people we dealt with on these events, we spoke with a Latino victim of a car break-in, a Russian victim of another larceny from auto, a young Vietnamese woman whose dad was in a mental health crises, a Somali man contemplating suicide, and a Latino family who discovered that a suspect had climbed up onto their balcony, stolen a bicycle, and was riding into the sunset as they arrived home. It was a great multi-cultural, multi-ethnic experience.

    I was getting a little nervous. It’s November, and getting late in the year. I had yet to make my annual arrest. That was resolved, however, by the disturbance at 1027 Washington. We located the man responsible at 11th and B Streets, several blocks from the scene. He was wanted by another officer on another matter—a case in which he had fraudulently used an acquaintance’s stolen ATM card. We snatched him up on that case. He was a tweaking meth head, with all the classic symptoms—including the syringe in his jacket pocket.

    The saga will continue later this week.

    Monday, November 12, 2007

    Not all harmless fun

    One of the more common calls the Lincoln Police Department responds to on Thursday night through Sunday morning is a party disturbance. The typical complaint involves someone who has kids, a job, or a Friday morning class who isn't nearly as interested in the shenanigans going on upstairs or next door as the partiers who are regaling the neighborhood with the inflated tales of their prowess at 3:00 a.m..

    We have had some strategies in place for the past few years to try to reduce the number of these complaints, and to prevent "party houses" from damaging the livability of fragile neighborhoods in our city. These strategies have primarily involved ramping up enforcement, and identifying and engaging landlords in helping to solve the problems being caused by certain tenants who could care less about their neighborhood--or their guests. While there is still an unending supply of disturbances, the strategies have actually helped reduce some of these problems.

    Cutting down on these complaints not only helps out the affected neighborhoods, it saves some substantial police resources, as well--a topic I blogged about earlier this fall. There is, however, an even more valuable side-effect to controlling the party scene and minimizing high-risk behavior. Sometimes drinking parties become the site of much more serious events. We saw a tragic example of this in 2004, when Nebraska soccer player Jenna Cooper was murdered, landing her killer, Lucky Iromuanya, in prison with a life sentence. But less dramatic and less publicized violent crimes--especially assaults and rapes--occur at or in the wake of drinking parties with depressing regularity.

    In the wee hours on Saturday morning, for example, we investigated two cases in which uninvited "guests" crashed two separate parties in the North Bottoms neighborhood. Only one of these was reported in the local press, but the two parties together resulted in one robbery, two vandalisms, and eight assaults. On top of the victimization, that's a noticeable bump in the crime rate and a ton of investigative work and police reports.

    These party invasions have become rather common, fueled in part by the instantaneous spread of information via cell phone and text messages about the location of parties where few questions are asked about invitations, nobody knows who's supposed to be there, and many people just show up on their own. Larceny is sometimes the motive for the new guys who (after the goods are noticed missing) nobody seems to have recognized. Purses and home electronics are the frequent target of such thieves posing as party-goers.

    Anyone who thinks our efforts to keep large drinking parties under control is merely the result of the conservative leanings of the police chief has never seen the unhinged mayhem that police officers encounter, or the aftermath in the emergency room. Want to make an impact on violent crime in your community? Institute strategies to encourage safe, sane, and legal partying that doesn't involve inviting a couple hundred of your closest friends over to share six kegs and a single toilet in your 750 sq. ft. rental.

    Friday, November 9, 2007

    From the pacific northwest

    The Seattle Police Department's west precinct paid us a visit yesterday. They didn't actually come to Lincoln in person, rather, they participated in our 1430 roll call remotely, via web conference. Capt. Steve Brown, Officer Anthony Gadke, and Lt. Jim Fitzgerald joined in.

    Second shift lineup included some information about two recent commercial burglaries, and the arrest of two suspects in some high-dollar thefts of racing equipment and tools. We discussed a Wednesday arrest of a frequent flier for carrying a concealed .380 pistol with the serial number ground off, the latest information about our favorite escaped suspect, and a series of organized thefts occurring at Sprint stores in the Omaha and Kansas City area--in the event the larcenous team visits our city.

    Seattle hooked up (along with our Narcotics Unit, Northeast Team, and Center Team) via web conferencing from, so that everyone is looking at the same content, either on a 50" plasma monitor or with an LCD projector at all of our work sites simultaneously. Capt. Brown had read an article about this a couple of months ago, which piqued their interest.

    This is about the tenth time we've had another police department join our meeting. A group from the Council Bluffs Police were the most recent visitors prior to Seattle. It seems that by actually participating, other departments quickly understand the utility of using computer content to improve the information flow during the ubiquitous roll call briefing. It's a pretty simple idea, but police agencies often adopt new ideas rather slowly. We're a little more agile than most. Maybe that's one of the reasons Lincoln was just named the top digital city by the Center for Digital Government.

    Wednesday, November 7, 2007

    Take your GPS with you

    One of the more serious crime problems in Lincoln for many years has been larceny from automobiles--cars that are broken into in order to steal property. This is one of the most common ways citizens in Lincoln are victimized by crime. We work very hard on these crimes, and we get many good tips from watchful citizens who observe car prowling.

    In recent years, there have been some good healthy reductions in these offenses. This year, though, the numbers have been up 4%. As of midnight, we have investigated 2,883 larcenies from auto in 2007. During the same time period in 2006, the total stood at 2,762. Here's the trend over the past five years (click to enlarge):

    That's a reduction of 46%--more than $900,000--not counting the inflation that occurred during that time period.

    Hot items in Lincoln for these crimes have changed over time, from CB radios in the 1970's to car stereos in the 1980s, and CDs in the 1990's. Lately, iPods, cell phones, laptops, and other personal electronics have been common targets. Around the country, portable GPS units, catalytic converters, and airbags have been hot commodities for such thieves. We haven't seen much of this in Lincoln--yet.

    My prediction is that GPS unit theft in Lincoln will pick up big time in the next several months. These units are much more widely available, more affordable, and are growing in popularity. The high value and small size of portable GPS units will be irresistible to thieves. Best protection: stow your unit and it's mounting hardware out of sight (better yet, take it with you), and keep a microfiber cloth in the glove box so you can wipe off that tell-tale circle where the suction cup sticks to the windshield, a sign that there may be a unit loose in the console or glove box.

    Oh, and park your car in the garage or driveway if possible--even if you have to do that three-car-monte maneuver the next morning. It makes a big difference in reducing your risk (scroll down and check out the table about half way through this page from the Problem-Oriented Policing Center).

    Monday, November 5, 2007

    Fewer than expected

    Friday evening a University of Nebraska graduate student emailed me with a few questions about the impact of Nebraska's new concealed handgun law on crime, and my opinions generally about concealed carry. I've left a long trail of opinion on this issue, mostly to the effect that carrying concealed guns is not a great idea. Although I am personally ambivalent about concealed carry, it no longer matters. It's a done deal by the Nebraska Legislature, and my job is to enforce the law as it exists. Her questions though, caused me to pause and think about what's different than I expected--now that we are a year down the road.

    I told her that the most significant surprise to me was the low number of applicants. The State Patrol (which actually issues the permits) had predicted 19,000 Nebraskans would apply in the first year. This prediction was based on the experience of other States that passed concealed carry legislation. I figured Lincoln would be proportional, so we would have around 2,500 in the first year. As of today, there have only been 402 permits issued in Lincoln and Lancaster County. There have been 16 applicants we were concerned about due to prior arrests, convictions, or mental health crises that came to the attention of the police. Six of these 16 had some kind of conviction that would bar them from receiving a permit. Of those, the State Patrol has denied five, and one is still pending.

    In the other ten cases, while we had concerns, the applicant met the criteria of the law and was issued a permit. I chronicled one of those cases in a previous post on this blog. To date, I am aware of no cases in which a permit holder has thwarted a crime, although I expect that this will inevitably happen. I am aware of only one case in which a permit holder did something stupid: a drunk driver in an injury motorcycle collision in Waverly who neglected to inform the deputy and the paramedics that he was packing heat, as required by law. I expect these types of occurrences will continue to be rare.

    The student wanted to know how concealed carry has impacted crime. I have always doubted that concealed carry would have any impact whatsoever on crime, one way or another. There is a ton of research on this issue, it is quite contradictory and quite methodologically flawed. The kinds of crimes that might be committed because of the presence of a concealed weapon or prevented because of the presence of a concealed weapon are so rare (especially in Lincoln) that the direct impact of this law in either direction is negligible. A handful of overnight lawn ornament thefts would have a greater impact on our Part 1 crime rate than the net effect of concealed carry

    During the decade of the 1990's, crime declined steadily and significantly in the United States. Advocates of concealed carry credited the growing number of States authorizing concealed handguns with that trend. Beginning in 2005, though, there have been some significant nationwide increases in violent crime. You won't hear anyone claiming credit for that trend.

    Thursday, November 1, 2007

    Familiar face

    In our daily roll-call assemblies at the beginning of each shift, Capt. Jim Thoms likes to highlight some particularly noteworthy person he would like to see arrested. These are normally prolific alleged criminals who Jim wants less senior officers to become familiar with now, knowing that this will serve them well as their careers unfold. With surprising regularity, his favorite subject gets picked up in a short period of time. Putting the focus on an individual fugitive in this way may be part of the reason for the successful apprehensions.

    This summer, one elusive defendant started dominating Capt. Thoms most wanted position for an embarrassingly long time. Derek Breazeale has a pretty extensive criminal history, and had previously served time in prison for burglary. He was the subject of two felony arrest warrants this summer, resulting from several burglaries early this year he is alleged to have committed shortly after the expiration of his parole. Frankly, his photo had been displayed on the big monitors in our briefing room for so long I was afraid it was starting to burn in the plasma screen.

    On October 10, we were all relieved hear he was finally arrested in rather dramatic fashion near Junction City, Kansas as were law enforcement officers in Kansas, Illinois, and Iowa. At last, someone else could become Capt. Thom's most wanted.

    Until today, that is.

    Tuesday, October 30, 2007

    417 heading for retirement

    Car 417 is on it's last leg in the Lincoln police fleet. It is a 2002 Toyota Prius that Debbie Northcott drives in her daily duties as a public service officer in Northwest Lincoln, handling parking complaints, snagging abandoned bicycles, directing traffic, and the like. Debbie's put 86,000 miles on this little hybrid in the past five and a half years, and it's replacement will soon be ordered. She's not too happy about loosing it. If she had her preference, she'd keep it rather than get a new ride in the spring.
    It is a gas-electric hybrid--the first or second year Toyota's now wildly popular Prius was available in the market. The conventional wisdom is never buy a car in it's first couple of production years, but back in 2002, we thought it would be wise to get our feet wet with a hybrid, and try the technology out. The conventional wisdom in this case was wrong, because the car has been great. I took it out for a spin myself when it was new, and was amazed at the technology and the guts 417 had compared to the Toyota Tercel I was more accustomed to. I had this weird feeling, though, that I'd killed the engine every time I stopped.
    The Prius has been pretty much trouble free, and it's been covered by the warranty. It's averaged 34 miles per gallon, nearly triple the fleet average. Debbie drives its wheels off 417--lots of stop and go traffic, lots of idling, and in all sorts of inclement weather. This workhorse doesn't get the ArmorAll and McGuire's treatment every Saturday at the car spa--it's been stored outside continuously. Anybody thinking about a Prius and a little worried about buyer's remorse in three or four years should talk to Debbie.
    We'd be buying more hybrids, especially for our public service officers and parking enforcement staff, if the price was right. At the moment, as with car 417, the increased gas mileage fails to offset the higher purchase price over the life cycle of the car in our fleet operation. This is beginning to change, however, and I predict more hybrids may be in our future within the next few years.

    Monday, October 29, 2007

    Murder House

    Tonight at 7:00 p.m., Murder House, a Nebraska Educational Television documentary about the forensic science program at Nebraska Wesleyan University, will premier in O'Donnell Auditorium on the Nebraska Wesleyan Campus at 51st St. and Huntington Avenue. The premier is open to the public and free! I think it will be a great event, and Tonja and I will be there in the audience somewhere. If you can't make the premier, the NET1 television broadcast of Murder House is at 9:00 p.m. on Thursday, November 8th.

    I was impressed when NWU started a master's program in forensic science, well ahead of the CSI-inspired flurry of such programs springing up around the country. Det. Sgt. Larry Barksdale and Det. Sgt. Erin Sims have been very involved in the program, and a number of other Lincoln police officers have been graduates or students in NWU's Forensic Science Program. I had the opportunity to teach Sociology 190 at Nebraska Wesleyan several times during the 1980's, and just loved the feel of the campus, the size of the classes, and the engagement of the students. It was quite a change from my assignments as a graduate teaching assistant and part-time instructor at UNL.

    Like many of my Northeast High School classmates, I really wanted to attend NWU. The bargain price of the University of Nebraska, however, was the key factor for a freshman living alone and paying his way by sacking groceries. I still have a very warm spot for Nebraska Wesleyan. At age 19, a few weeks before my wedding, I moved into a one bedroom apartment right next to NWU. I had the best landlord in the world, Dale Moser. He didn't normally rent to single college men, but when he met my fiance, she melted that policy in a heartbeat. Our neighbor across the hall was Dr. Edward Mattingly, retired professor of religion at NWU. Tonja and I were frequently invited next door for conversation and tea served in Dr. Mattingly's Wedgewood china.

    I wouldn't be surpised if after tonight's premier the Casadys take a stroll past Old Main (look out for the ghost), and cross campus to pause in front of 2822 N. 52nd Street for a moment.

    Thursday, October 25, 2007

    Third shift wrap-up

    Overnight Wednesday and Thursday closes out my short week of the late shift. Last night, though, I wasn't the duty commander. Rather, I was Officer Tim Abele's gopher. He and Officer Cass Briggs were the lucky (or maybe unlucky) winners of a shift of my services as a contest for this year's United Way campaign. The deal was that if you were a donor, regardless of amount, your name was in the drawing for the chief to chauffeur you around for a shift, work your calls, and do your reports.

    I sensed that Tim's a little like me: he likes to control the remote, and to control the car keys. He was gracious about it, but my guess is he'd rather be driving the bus than riding shotgun. Tim's beat is 5A: a ten square mile swath of southeast Lincoln from 27th to 98th, O Street to Van Dorn Street. Tim knows his beat very well--just what I saw when Officer Jim Hawkins was forced to take me as a replacement for a sick partner in the fall of 1974. Tim knows what lights are normally on, what alleys have the best access, and where the high spots for the best surveillance are. I was duly impressed. I'd like to think that he was duly impressed too, as I showed him a few spots on his beat that he wasn't familiar with: like Lincoln's least-known City park, Sunburst Park.

    Unlike Monday and Tuesday, it was slow this morning in the wee hours. I survived the night with only two reports, a minor hit & run traffic collision, and the brutal egging of a 2001 Mercury Cougar. I doubt I'll get off that easy when I work Cass's 12-hour shift. The dayside may be better for sleep and family life, but the sunlight officers tend to get slammed with a lot more reports. In police work, the fun tends to be during the dark.

    Tim and I spent most of the night spotlighting businesses and shaking doors. I think we hit every commercial establishment on the entire beat at least once. With a full moon, we spent a good deal of time in residential areas running in stealth mode, but hard as we tried, the best we could do is snag a urinator and a few girls who sneaked out from their sleep over. Tim opined for my benefit that we probably prevented a burglary, even if we couldn't catch one.

    The three 14 year old girls we snarfed up at 70th and O were an interesting contrast to the preceding night's ninth graders. The Wednesday morning boys were convinced that Their Parents Would Kill Them. They were both as scared as a mouse in a trap in my patrol car. The three girls, conversely, were giggling in the back seat as we drove them back to the non-slumber party a mile away.

    Can you imagine that--getting taken home by the police chief at 2:20 AM and laughing about the ride? I think I would have involuntarily sucked the plastic back seat into my lower gastrointestinal tract. This wasn't a nervous laughter, they were just cavalier about the whole matter. Mom wasn't exactly in a death-dealing mode when the girls roused her and she came to the door. The boys yesterday had gotten the hairy eyeball from their mothers so severely that I tried to ease the tension with a little levity. This morning's mom, however, was pretty mellow about the whole affair. My warning lights about their next five years were blinking brightly. I hope I'm wrong, and have just blown a fuse.

    Wednesday, October 24, 2007

    Surprised in the night

    Capt. Joe Wright, who normally runs the City on the late shift, has taken a few days off this week. Capt. Genelle Moore filled in for him on Sunday, and I've taken the late shift from 10:00 PM to 7:00 AM the last couple of nights. I did a few nights early this year, but in the mild weather, it's a lot more fun.

    Yesterday was really hopping. We had three significant burglaries in rapid succession, including one at Cycle Works and another at Office Max. We needed Beersie at three different places at once. The Office Max burglary was particularly interesting, in that the assistant manager was actually still in the store when the burglar broke out the glass. The thief was in the process of trying to remove three digital cameras from their tethers at the camera counter when the assistant manager, hearing the glass break, came out onto the floor and saw him struggling with the cabled cameras. "May I help you?", he asked. Now that's customer service.

    Today was slightly less eventful, but fun nonetheless. As I was briefing the shift at 11:00 PM before they hit the street, I pointed out a string of pumpkin smashing that has been occurring in southeast Lincoln. Nice folks like my wife have a habit of leaving ammo laying around on their porches to facilitate this seasonal crime. In the past few days, vandals have smashed several mailboxes and car windows with the orange projectiles, causing several hundred dollars of damage.

    Around 2:00 AM this morning a citizen called about a group of teens engaged in such activity, and since it was comparatively slow, a perimeter was quickly thrown up in the vicinity by about four officers. It happened to be pretty close to my neighborhood. I parked a few blocks north of the reported location and went quietly walking down a recreational trail that Tonja and I frequently use. A few hundred yards down the trail, I came upon two 14 year olds crouched down by a tree. They were watching a perimeter patrol car parked with lights flashing along Pine Lake Road on the opposite side of a pond. Their attention diverted by the festivities, I sneaked up and surprised them. Not, however, quite as much as I surprised their parents, who never expected the chief of police to be at their door at 3:00 AM.

    While I was outwitting two ninth graders on a sneak-out, Sgt. Mike Bassett was handling some real crime with a tenth grader. He spotted a car parked in front of an apartment building where we have lots of problems. Four people were either in or around the car, and he found this a little unusual at this hour of the day, so he got out to investigated. One of the people who was standing outside the car made some furtive movements after walking around to the open rear door on the passenger side, and Mike located a loaded .22 revolver stuffed under the seat where he bent down. The 15 year old subject was busted for carrying a concealed weapon, unlawful possession of a firearm, and possession of drug paraphernalia.

    Every time I work the late shift, I am impressed at how our officers are constantly looking for suspicious activity. They spend their spare time (sometimes a rare commodity) moving around stealthily and watchfully. One night when I was sleuthing on foot in Densmore Park, looking for my annual arrest. I was startled in the dark by another officer who was sneaking up the same recreational path I had been sneaking down. The late shift officers often find open doors, burglaries, suspects breaking into cars, vandals, and so forth. Working the overnight shift is tough. It interferes with a normal social and family life, the human body isn't well adapted for nocturnal functioning, and you're constantly exposed to the most dangerous and unsettling types of human behavior. You'd be hard pressed, though, to find a group of more enthusiastic police officers who seem to enjoy their work as much.