Monday, April 30, 2007

One fine day

It was a fine weekend. Good weather, though, usually increases the police department's workload. Reading this morning's paper, I saw a small "police blotter" article describing three police incidents yesterday: some burglaries, and a sex crime.

Those three incidents, however, were three from among the 434 that Lincoln police officers responded to yesterday, Sunday, normally the slowest day of the week. You can check out our daily workload easily on our website. Those 434 incidents included:

16 Traffic accidents
17 Assaults
107 Disturbances
6 Drunk drivers
32 Larcenies
11 Missing persons
5 Narcotics cases
15 Prowlers

It's a very busy city--even on Sunday we are running all over the place handling all manner of crises and mayhem. You don't see the full picture in the news, because the volume is just so overwhelming. So, here's four more stories from the 434 incidents we handled yesterday:

We responded to a gang fight shortly after midnight at 32nd and Vine in which a self-avowed 14 year old gang member was chased by a group of people from a rival gang wielding baseball bats. He ran into Vine Street and flagged down a passing motorist who called 911. The victim had no real explanation for what he was doing out on the street shortly after midnight. He's accumulating quite a few police reports already for a 14 year old. We have recent information from two sources that he's trying to get his hands on a pistol. His parents clearly have no control. He's on probation from Juvenile Court right now, and is supposed to be on "house arrest." Guess that's not working.

We handled a bunch of wild parties (17) in response to complaints. The one near 48th and Sherman was a mess. Apparently some guests showed up who nobody knew (big surprise) and began stealing stuff from the home. One of the other party-goers confronted one of the thieves, and the fight was on. Two assaults and one ambulance later, we were investigating a robbery with $140 worth of DVDs missing, along with the gang of unknown suspects. These party-related thefts are getting pretty common--its the risk of having a huge house party where the host doesn't have any idea who all the guests are.

The missing persons are mostly chronic runaways. That doesn't reduce the need to find them, the work involved for the police, nor reduce the risk to the child. A sixteen year-old high school student led the group. We have a detailed description of her body piercings and tattoos from the 10 prior reports. She's obviously had a tough life, given the nature of her other past police contacts. Kids like this are at great risk for victimization, because despite their hardcore exterior, they are incredibly vulnerable and the world is full of predators willing to take them in and provide food, alcohol, and drugs in exchange for other services.

Drunk driving sent six Lincoln citizens to the detox center or jail, but the on-duty uniformed security guard at Nebraska Wesleyan University who crashed at 50th and St. Paul and tested five times the legal limit (yes, you read that right) has to take the cake.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


I am in Baton Rouge, Louisiana this morning, at LSU. I flew in last night, I have a speaking engagement at the Louisiana Sheriff's Association this morning, and I'll fly back to Lincoln this afternoon.

LSU's Campus-Community Coalition for Change brought me here, and I will be addressing a group of about 75 people this morning about the importance of law enforcement in community efforts to reduce the impact of high-risk drinking by young adults. I'll be sharing some strategies that have been successful for us.

LSU and UNL are part of a program called A Matter of Degree. We are a group of major University's who have been involved in campus-community coalitions to reduce high-risk drinking by college students. Our coalition is NU Directions, which I co-chair with Dr. Juan Franco, UNL's Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs. We are something of the poster child for success in Lincoln, where (believe it or not) the high-risk drinking rate by UNL students has fallen significantly and consistently since we started our efforts in 1998. Enforcement has been only one part of those efforts.

After my flight arrived, Dr. Nancy Mathews drove me around campus. Except for the huge 200-300 year old oaks, LSU looks a lot like UNL. Some of the surrounding neighborhoods look pretty similar to the transitional neighborhoods in Lincoln where lots of students live, and the college bars look quite familiar. Baton Rouge is a little smaller than Lincoln: we're 239,213 at the Census Bureau's most recent population estimate, while Baton Rouge is 227,818.

Back at my hotel, I decided to spruce up my PowerPoint a little bit. I was on the Baton Rouge Police Department's website when I noticed something interesting in the FAQs section at the bottom of their main home page:

How Big is the Department?

The Baton Rouge Police Department is authorized to employ 645 sworn officers, 44 communications officers, 34 other specialized police personnel, and 189 civilians, for a maximum allotment of 912 employees.
Lincoln, by comparison has 317 police officers and 105 civilian employees. Baton Rouge--a little smaller than Lincoln, a State Capital, home of a big University with a fairly successful football team--has a police department that is more than twice our size. I hope no one tries to tell me later this morning that they don't have the time to mess with minors in possession of alcohol.
Actually, they might have a point there. Last year, Baton Rouge had 56 murders. Lincoln would have to add up the past decade to reach that number. Let this final score for 2006 sink in:
Baton Rouge 56
Lincoln 5
You suppose alcohol played a role in those 56 murders, or in their 1,727 robberies, or 1,757 aggravated assaults? That will be my point: if you can have a small impact on high-risk drinking, it will help protect young people.
We take a fair amount of heat at LPD for the work we do in liquor license enforcement, DWI enforcement, efforts to control large drinking parties, and the like. A few years ago, some researchers right here at LSU studied alcohol-related deaths in 107 of the largest cities in the United States. The lowest rate: Lincoln. The reason:
"Regulations related to alcohol accessibility, licensure of alcohol outlets, disciplinary procedures of alcohol outlets, and enforcement of laws were associated with lower rates of fatalities."
That would be us.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Candid camera

The Public Works Department's network of pan-zoom-tilt traffic cameras continues to grow, as three more were added in the past week. Although these are primarily designed to help the traffic center monitor flow patterns and signal timings, they actually have some great potential for assisting us at the police department.

You might be thinking photo speed enforcement, or photo traffic signal enforcement--which is common in Europe and in parts of the U.S. (the Phoenix metro area, for example.) I like photo enforcement for traffic signals, not only because I am familiar with the research, but because I've personally seen the results: it seemed to me when I was last in Phoenix that people actually stop when the light turns yellow, rather than jam the accelerator, bust through the light, and suck three more cars through behind them. It will take action by the State Legislature to enable photo enforcement in Nebraska, and past legislative proposals have not fared well.

What really has me thinking, though, are the applications these cameras may have for criminal investigations and for public-place monitoring to improve safety. A few weeks ago, Capt. Jim Thoms and I followed a suspect vehicle up 27th Street on cameras at Old Cheney, Highway 2, South Street, Capital Parkway, and O Street. We finally caught a good enough shot at O Street to realize that the vehicle we had been following was the wrong one.

The City's traffic cameras aren't recorded (that's not something Public Works really needs), but a Nebraska company, Hawkeye Vision, has loaned me some equipment to cobble together a little experimental recording system right in my office for a few weeks. I'm only recording a handful of the 20 cameras, but it's been interesting. Officer Ray Kansier used it a couple weeks ago to get a better description of the possible getaway vehicle from a robbery. Investigator Shannon Karl found the suspect vehicle leaving the scene of a convenience store robbery on video last week. I've caught and recorded a few police incidents, and a bunch of traffic violations.

It certainly has my head spinning about what the future may hold. Checking video from convenience stores, ATMs, banks, gas stations, and so forth has become a pretty common step in many criminal investigations in the past few years. The difference here is in monitoring public places--streets, in this instance, but it could be parks, bus shelters, or other public facilities. If we have a description of a vehicle leaving a crime scene, for instance, it is almost a certainly that the vehicle will be driving through one of those 20 intersections. If they were all recorded, and the camera resolution, angle of view, and lighting cooperated, we'd really have something!

Some cities, like London and Chicago, are going hog-wild with cameras in public places. After dabbling with it a little bit, I can see why. When you think about it, we're all probably caught on camera several times daily--not just at the traffic light at a major intersection, but using the ATM, buying coffee at the Gas 'n Gulp, at the airport, and all sorts of other circumstances. It's cheap and easy, and lots of businesses are doing it that would never dream of CCTV five years ago. It's a little disconcerting to some people who think about the infringement on their privacy. I have to admit, I'm a little uncomfortable thinking about who's watching whenever I'm on an elevator these days.
I'm not without "big brother" concerns of my own, but on the other hand, the ability to remotely keep an eye on the pot boiling at 14th and O Street, or get a better description of the vehicle involved in the robbery is pretty enticing. My prediction: this is going to be a significant force in the future of policing.
We may not be able to do much about the private sector spread of cameras, but on the public side, it will be up to citizens to determine how far we allow this to go.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sure sign of spring

No, not dandelions. Rather, prostitution on the street. For my first 25 years in policing, I never saw street level prostitution in Lincoln. Now, it's not hard to find johns cruising for hookers, and hookers looking for johns--if you know where to look. It's a reflection, I think, of the depth to which addicts will sink in search of their next hit of either crack or meth. The low prices are probably the best indication of this.

Over the weekend, Sgt. Mike Bassett organized a special project in the area south of Lincoln's downtown--Just a couple blocks from the Governor's Mansion and a block from a City recreation center. In a couple of hours late Friday night and early Saturday morning, undercover police officers were propositioned by six men, all of whom were arrested for Pandering, a Class IV felony. The prices offered by these big spenders were $15 at the low end, and $50 at the high end.

This commerce has a horrible effect on neighborhoods, and we are committed to continuing our efforts to suppress it. As he has the past few years, I expect Sgt. Bassett will continue to put the heat on those who come to his beat looking for prostitutes. This is very difficult work, especially for the police officers who are posing as hookers. I will not name them, to protect their identity for future undercover work, but these are uniformed LPD street officers who were willing to adopt the persona of a prostitute for a few hours to make these arrests--in addition to the million and one other things they have on their plate.

Imagine how difficult and stressful (not to mention downright dangerous) it is to subject yourself to the process of negotiating with some repulsive cretin for sex. My compliments to these officers who did a great job of giving these johns something other than what they bargained for: a night or two in jail and a trip to court.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Do the right thing, Part II

Dr. Boohar's class yesterday was great. I had them work their way through some of my own rather recent ethical dilemmas. A couple of these would make your palms sweat and the veins pop out on your forehead. I explained the ethical decision framework I try to use, and the value of the very discussion we were having in deciding right from wrong.

I drew a rough diagram of our organizational chart on the blackboard. Like most organizations, it resembles a pyramid, with the officers on the bottom, the sergeants and captains in the middle, and yours truly balanced at the top. Then I drew another one, upside down. I explained that although the police department is a pretty hierarchical organization, in many respects our most important decisions are not made at the top. Rather, they are made by the police officers, investigators, and civilian employees on the street. The decision-making structure in policing stands the organizational chart on its head: the base makes the most decisions, and the most important ones. Many of these decisions have monumental consequences for the people they effect. I gave them a couple of examples.

As I told the students, there is a key difference between my decisions and those made by officers on the street. I make mine in a very comfortable conference room, surrounded by seasoned managers with whom I can discuss options. There is a very experienced lawyer right next door to my office, whose job is to give us legal advice. I can let it marinate for a few days in many cases. I can draw upon over 30 years of mistakes to predict what might go wrong. Conversely, officers on the street are making most decisions alone, at night, in the weather, under extreme pressure, with little or no opportunity for consultation, and often with only a few months or years of experience to draw upon. Oh, and forget thinking about it most of the time, you have to decide right now--sometimes instantaneously.

I closed the class by seeking the students advice on a puzzler that is on my plate right now. I've been debating what to do, but the students were quick to pick a course of action, and I have promised to follow their advice. That's what I'll do. This will now probably take a couple of weeks to develop, but they'll know it when they see it or hear about it. When I explained the negative consequences this could have for me personally, they did something truly amazing: they offered their help and support if it backfires!

Anyone who thinks there's a problem with young people these days needs to hang around with me. These were honor students, to be sure, but I had a similar experience on Tuesday, when Officer Kacky Finnell (LPD's public information officer) and I met with Joe Starita's beginning reporting class from the UNL College of Journalism. Officer Finnell and I remarked afterwards to one another about what a great group of students this had been.

I think the future is in good hands.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Do the right thing

I genuinely enjoy college students. I taught part time at the University of Nebraska and at Nebraska Wesleyan University for 12 years, first as a graduate teaching assistant then as an instructor in sociology, political science, and criminal justice. I loved it. I still get a chance to be a guest in several classes every year, from geography to journalism.

Later today, I'm on my way to the most interesting by far, Dr. Richard Boohar's class, Deciding Right and Wrong. Dr. Boohar, a distinguished biologist, is a professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska . Since his retirement, he has continued to teach this class, part of a special honors program for outstanding scholars. About a decade ago, he invited me to speak to his class about some of the ethical decisions in policing. It was especially interesting for me, with a great group of students who were really engaging. Dr. Boohar has invited me back every year.

The honors students I talk with every spring are just as good as the first group, but I've improved. I have always had a core of gut-wrenching mind benders to tell the students about, but a few years ago, I started doing something different. I asked the students to give me their thoughts on an ethical conundrum that I was dealing with right at that moment. Tell me what you would do about this issue I'm confronting this very week. They work their way through these pretty much the same way I do--considering options, weighing pros and cons, debating these with one another.

This is precisely what goes on in the police department's conference room. I often ask my commanding officers and civilian managers for advice, and frequently the discussion at our staff meeting focuses around the topic of "What's the right thing to do?" It's also a question we pose to our five citizen advisory councils when timing permits this kind of consultation. I also have a few people who are ethical touchstones that I occasionally seek out for a sounding board. I think these discussions about ethical choices and decisions are incredibly important.

I've got a good one to talk to the students in Dr. Boohar's class about this afternoon. It's a tough call on a high-profile issue, and I really can't make up my mind which course of action is best. I promise you this: I'll let Dr. Boohar's class decide, and follow their advice. Standby for the results.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

LPD around the country

There's an airline ticket laying on my desk for a trip to Blacksburg, VA on Sunday, May 6. I met Virginia Tech's Vice President for Student Affairs, Dr. Zenobia Hikes , a couple months ago. After attending a presentation I conducted, she asked me if I could come to Virginia Tech at the University's expense to share my experience with strategies to reduce high-risk drinking by college students, gained in the past nine years as the co-chair of NU Directions. I will be surprised if the session still occurs, in light of this weeks tragedy. If it isn't cancelled, it will be a tall order for me to deliver my usual shtik under the circumstances.

Nonetheless, other police departments can learn a lot from LPD, as we also learn from them. We host a fair number of visits and field a lot of inquires from other police departments at the Lincoln Police Department. Here's a few examples from last week and the very recent past.

Several inquiries came from around the country lately as the most recent edition of The Police Chief has hit desks. It's the most read publication in policing, and touches a big audience. We've had calls about this idea from the police departments in Seattle, Washington and Gainesville, Florida. That's about as coast-to-coast as you can get. LPD Capt. Jim Thoms actually ran our day shift roll-call with the Gainesville police chief and several of his staff joining in from their conference room.

Wednesday, Sgt. Gregg Ladislaw of the Alexandria, VA Police contacted us. Alexandria, a department of exactly our size in a city of just over half our population, is reorganizing along geographic lines, similar to our Team concept. He had heard from his colleague and my friend, Crime Analysis Supervisor Mary Garrand, that this is how we work in Lincoln. He is looking for information about how we evaluate officers. I sent him the forms, general orders, and such, and put him in touch with LPD Capt. Brian Jackson for more information.

As an aside, the 800+ member Oakland, CA Police Department is also reorganizing along the lines of the Lincoln Police Department. The press release on Oakland's "new" approach is eerily similar to the article that ran in the Lincoln Star on 11-22-1975, announcing the Lincoln Police Department's implementation of a geographic team concept.

Someone at the Portland, Maine Police Department learned about our Internal Home Page--a collection of Internet and Intranet resources that in the past decade has become the primary portal into LPD's vast information resources.

Apparently, one of their staff members attended a seminar I conducted on the topic of leveraging Internet and Intranet technology for police information systems. I only learned about this when a reporter from the Portland Herald called me for some comments. Thursday, Andrew Robitaille from the Lewiston, Maine PD emailed me for some material on this same subject. Sounds like a light bulb has gone on in the Northeast United States!

Lt. Tim Hegerty of the Riley County Police (Manhattan, KS) also emailed me Thursday. He's looking for some advice on implementing crime mapping and GIS at their department, and apparently our name surfaced as a good resource. This is an area where we have quite a reputation, and I probably average two or three contacts from other police departments on this topic every month. I sent him to the Riley County GIS Coordinator first, then to the Kansas State University Geography Department. You always want to start by looking in your own back yard.

I think it's great when other agencies pilfer our materials and ideas--just as we have done from other departments ourselves. We're all about sharing. Here's a great example: The Lincoln Police Department Field Training Program is well-known by all of our officers, and an integral part of our organization. It was lifted shamelessly from Sgt. Glenn Kaminsky at the San Jose, CA police department, circa 1976 by Lincoln Police Lt. Jon Briggs. He went to a training session in San Jose, and came back with the works: the daily observation reports, the standardized evaluation guidelines, the FTO training curricula. Thousands of U.S. police departments owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Kaminsky, who freely shared the seeds that sprouted in almost every police flower pot.

Trading good ideas and not reinventing the wheel is a great tradition in policing.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

True heros

Last night in conjunction with the graduation ceremony for the Citizen Police Academy, the Lincoln Police Department bestowed awards on ten officers and seven citizens. It's one of four awards ceremonies we conduct annually. This was a big one, where we honored the officer of the year, Steve Niemeyer, along with several others for excellent performance and life saving interventions.

It's always a button-popping experience for me, but there was also a rather poignant moment in light of the shootings yesterday at Virginia Tech. Two citizens, Ed Rypkema and Larry Parker, received special awards for confronting assailants who represented serious and immediate threats to Lincoln students within the past few months.

Last November 10th, Larry, the Lincoln High athletic director, diverted the attention of a man who arrived at a high school volleyball tournament game brandishing a knife with the stated intention of killing his girlfriend. He put a bear hug on the subject, restraining him until security staff and police officers could arrive.

Ed, a Lincoln Public Schools bus driver, confronted a suspect armed with a knife who was attempting to board an elementary school bus on February 9th. He disarmed the intruder, pushed him from the steps of the bus, and protected the children. These men both acted instantly, without regard for their own safety.

Ed had his whole family at the ceremony--his wife, two daughters, their husbands, and four gorgeous grandkids. I stopped and chatted with them, and asked the children if they all knew that their grandpa was a hero. Of course, they did.

I imagine they knew that way before this incident ever happened.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Higher authority

My secretary, Virginia Fischer, Lincoln's most competent and compassionate public employee, had that look on her face early this afternoon. I know the look.

Among her many duties, Ms. Fischer opens and sorts my incoming mail--about a foot of it every day. She handed me a letter, handwritten in pencil on lined notebook paper.

It was dated March 18, but arrived today, April 13, 2007. Mail from prison must take a while. It was from Terry Reynolds, who murdered my friend and colleague, Deputy Sheriff Craig Dodge 0n March 14, 1987.

Apparently a few days before the postmark, Reynolds had read a story in the Lincoln Journal Star commemorating the 20th anniversary of Craig's death, and had been moved to write me, to apologize for the trauma he may have inflicted on others, and to tell me about his attempts to make amends for his "life choices."

Virginia was right. I found the letter quite disturbing.

I do not think about Terry Reynolds. Neither do I care to be updated on his efforts to lead a Christian life in prison. Reynolds should seek his forgiveness from higher authority.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

And the Oscar goes to...

I am constantly amazed at the good police work I see while reading the overnight police reports early in the morning. But good police work comes in many flavors. This is one you wouldn't ordinarily think of: Best Documentary Short Subject.

Officer Conan Schafer works on the bike patrol downtown. Like many LPD officers, he's just a very interesting person, who busts most of the stereotypes people have about police officers. He came to police work a little later than most, with a world of experiences in his prior pursuits. He is a deep thinker and has a lot of interests, at least one of which we share: photography.

I stopped in my tracks the other day in our assembly room, passing through on my way somewhere else. There was a video playing on one of the monitors, and Conan was watching it with a couple other employees. It was a Conan Schafer production, and it blew me away. While going about his usual job, he had collected a series of video clips using his own digital video camera.

These were clips of interviews with some of the denizens of his beat: homeless, alcoholic, mentally ill, and addicted transients who hang out downtown--the people he frequently arrests or carts off to the detox center. At home on his own time, he had done some pretty classy editing, plugged in some appropriate music and some titles, and the result was an outstanding short documentary. Conan simply asked short questions, and the film is basically the subjects talking about their activities and lives. It is incredibly powerful. If he could figure out the releases and the royalties on the music, he'd be renting a tuxedo.

Here's why it's such good police work: we need this. People in Lincoln need to understand the scope of this problem, how homelessness, addiction, and chronic mental illness have devolved upon the police, and how arrests and citations simply do not solve the problem. We can and should use our arrest authority to enforce the law when the behavior is illegal, but that is just a temporary fix for this sub population that lives on the fringe, and for whom a two-day trip to the slammer is just part of life.

Conan's film doesn't point to any simple solutions, it's just a testimony to a pernicious set of problems that this and other communities must confront. I have no easy solutions, but expecting the police can somehow make "those people" disappear if they would just clamp down and arrest them more often is unrealistic. The more people who see this work, the more people will understand these realities, and start brainstorming about what more we can do as a community. Maybe some better ideas will emerge other than just more aggressive policing.

Shoe on the other foot

I had court last Fiday, a Grand Jury appearance in Washington, D.C..

Last fall, my wife was the victim of an attempted purse snatch right in front of the White House, walking arm in arm with her camera-toting husband. I was there for a meeting and Tonja came along for a little Christmas shopping on Connecticut Avenue. We were strolling after dinner.

It was a pretty frightening event for her. She'd never seen her husband in a fight before, or seen a fight at all for that matter. She'd never seen 15 police officers pounce on a a couple of guys grappling in the street. She'd never given a statement to a police officer clenching a flashlight under his chin. She didn't want to come out of the hotel the next day, and it has bothered her a lot over the past few months.

So when the subpoenas directing our appearance at the Federal Grand Jury arrived, there was no joy in Mudville. Now for me, hiking across the country to court is an annoyance. To Tonja, it was something else entirely. To say she was apprehensive would be a massive understatement. Abject terror would be more like it. But she was a trooper, and did a great job.

The hallway and waiting areas in the Lancaster County Court at the Hall of Justice here in Lincoln can be a rather surreal experience to the uninitiated. But the Judiciary Center in the District is downright bizarre by comparison. Running the security gauntlet and rubbing shoulders in the waiting room would cause hives with their own area codes to break out on the meek and feint-hearted. She survived that, then learned that I would not be going into the Grand Jury room with her. I hadn't told her that part, and thankfully, she hadn't asked. Fortunately, by the time she figured that out, the Assistant United States Attorney was whisking her into the room.

I sat in the waiting area with a dozen tired police officers and a couple of civilian witnesses waiting for other cases, along with Officer Mike Stafford, of the Secret Service uniform division. He was the arresting officer, and the artful flashlight holder. Typical cop. Great guy, here on his day off, with other places to be and a lawn to mow. I told him what a good job he and the other officers had done. It was textbook, and they had no idea who I was for quite a while. We were asked about 10 times if we were okay. They handled the defendant superbly. He said ,"We're used to being on videotape." Killing time, we had an interesting chat about how frightening the whole criminal justice process is for ordinary people--victims and witnesses. It's something we lose sight of.

A half hour later, Tonja came out and I got up to take my turn. She was crying, but there was only time for a quick hug. I wondered what the Grand Jury had done to her, but I soon realized that it was the other way around: she had done something to them.

To me, this incident was pretty minor. To Tonja, is was a Great Big Deal. Seeing how it has affected her has been a real learning experience. I thought that I was pretty empathetic with victims, but now I think I've been mostly clueless. On the outside, they tell us that everything is okay. They seem to be alright. But on the inside, they are not. I think seeing this first hand over the past six months is going to make me a better police officer.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

That pesky Constitution

Well, today was sort of the straw that broke the camel's back. LPD was thoroughly trashed in the letters to the editor appearing in today's Lincoln Journal Star, and on some of the radio talk shows all week. It seems like many people are blaming the police for the fact that a 17 year old young man continues to just get tickets for driving without a license, despite the fact that he was recently involved in a collision that killed a young passenger in his car.

Listen closely: it's not the police. We don't make the laws, set the bail, decide the cases, or determine the sentences. It's a good thing. We'd need a much bigger jail.

The police cannot put 17 year olds in jail, and we can't put anyone in the youth detention center or in jail for an offense that is not punishable by imprisonment. The Lincoln Municipal Ordinance violation for driving without a license does not carry a potential penalty of imprisonment--just a fine. So he can't go to jail for that, no matter how many times he is cited. That's not our choice, it's the law.

Now, when he was cited for Manslaughter, that's another matter. Manslaughter can be punished by up to 10 years in prison, so he could have been lodged in the Youth Detention Center by the arresting officer. But the prosecuting attorney asked us to cite him, instead. He appeared in court a few days later, and the judge set bail in the amount of $25,000 for his continued release. The law in Nebraska requires defendant's to post only 10% of the bail--in this case, $2,500. The defendant was able to do so promptly, and was out before the ink was dry on the reports.

Although these weren't decisions left up to the police, I will stick up for both the prosecutor and the judge in this case. The prosecutor realized that this young man had a serious injury, beyond the capabilities of the Youth Detention Center. Had he been lodged there, he likely would have ended up in the hospital, and the taxpayers would then be obligated to pay the cost of his care. Given the fact that he was likely to receive a low bail within one or two days anyway, I think the prosecutor's request that he be cited rather than lodged was a good call.

Now, the judge. The eighth amendment of the Constitution of the United States prohibits excessive bail. The purpose of bail is to assure the appearance of the defendant at trail--not to deprive him of his liberty before he has been convicted of the offense. Since this defendant is a lifelong Lincoln resident, it's pretty hard to argue that a million dollar bond is needed to assure that he will return for court.

It was our Founding Fathers who decided that excessive bail should be prohibited, and that our system of justice ought to have as one of it's fundamental pillars a concept that people are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Although I strongly agree that our justice system ought to be set up to protect the innocent, I, too, get frustrated by the result from time to time. But in a free society, justice must await a fair trial.

Hiring new officers

We're in the initial stages of selecting a class of 10-20 officers to start training this fall. It's a process you can read more about on our recruitment web page.

We size classes based on long-term projections of turnover. Accuracy in these predictions is very important. An important part of my job is financial administration, and I have to live within the budget authorized by the City Council. Hiring in anticipation of turnover that doesn't happen has a huge monetary impact. This is a particularly big concern this fiscal year, because our budget is very tight, and we have to absorb 1% of our personnel expenditures--we only got 99% of the actual cost. In our case, that's $250,000 that we have to find. We are also in a peak year for scheduled retirements--nearly double our previous fiscal year and our next fiscal year. Retirement payouts this year will total around a half million dollars. The reverse is also true. Underestimating needs for new officers is a serious mistake, and due to the recruitment cycle and the rather lengthy training time, it takes well over a year to recover.

I use an Excel spreadsheet with built-in formulas that calculate such things as retirements, voluntary attrition, and failure to complete training. These are based on over 20 years of historical data, so we can predict the size of the classes we are going to need to maintain our authorized strength. We also try to predict where we think the City Council and the Mayor might go in the future in terms of increasing our authorized strength. It's a lot of math, and a good deal of educated guessing, but these prediction tools have been remarkably accurate.

The class of 10-20 we'll be hiring this fall (the range depends on what happens in the City budget deliberations this summer) will be filling the positions that we expect will turnover during the fiscal year beginning in September, 2008.

We have no shortage of applicants. Last year, 789 people applied for the 20 positions we filled. That's been pretty typical: since 1994, we have averaged 656 applicants per year, and hired just 3.9% of the total.

Nonetheless, we're always looking for more, because we want the best people we can possibly find. Internally, it seems that there is always a perception by some that the quality of the new hires has slipped. I think this comes in part from the simple fact that not everyone we hire makes it on the job. Despite professional test consultants, psychologists, a hiring review panel, and a daunting selection process, there is still no way of being certain a new recruit has the makings of a Lincoln police officer until she or he is on the job. That's why our field training program is such an important part of our selection process.

Personally, I don't agree with those who think our new officers aren't as good as they used to be. I think the quality of the pool is as good as it has ever been, and that applicants come to us with exceptional education, experience, and skills. There is just a natural human tendency for people to look upon the generation behind them as somehow less capable--even if the "generation" is just the next class!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Dumpster diving

Last week at our media briefing, I asked citizens who live in developing subdivisions to call us when they see suspicious activity around construction sites, like someone rummaging around in the roll-off dumpster, or headlights at night. We are trying to reduce the huge loss caused by thefts of copper, aluminum, and brass--which have become a tremendous target of theft worldwide as the prices of these materials has risen. The losses last year totaled nearly $200,000 in Lincoln. Several new homes and businesses were stripped of all their copper plumbing and even brand-new water meters!

Yesterday, I had a phone call from an unhappy camper who makes his living salvaging metals and other materials from construction sites. He's not very happy with me, because he says it is much more difficult to get permission from builders and contractors to rummage through the roll-offs. He thinks my emphasis on this has made the builders more likely to tell him to get lost when he asks if he can sort through their cast-off material. He feels he's not only making a living, but performing a public service by recycling materials that would otherwise be discarded.

I felt a little guilty--momentarily at least. But it seems to me that if he can't convince the builder that he's helping, that's not really my fault. I think contractors are constantly dealing with theft from construction sites. From the "neighbor" who just needs a couple 2x4's to the career criminal who steals tools, generators, compressors, and anything else that he can carry; builders and subs get sick and tired of trespassers who are costing them (and ultimately all of us) tons of money. I don't blame them for not wanting people around their site at all. If it were me, I'd salvage the recyclables myself, or contract with someone who would do the work and pay me a small fee for the privilege.

I hope citizens continue to call us when they see unusual activity around a construction site. We can always check it out, and see if the person has legitimate permission to be there. My message for the dumpster diver: Get permission, don't do it at night, and never when the crew isn't around. If you're contacted by an officer, you better have the name of the person who authorized you to be on the site, because we'll be checking.

Figures don't lie

Forbes Magazine rated Lincoln this week as the 15th best place for business and careers in the United States. Our City Planning Director, Marvin Krout, dug a little deeper into the data, and emailed me to ask why our CRIME RATE was dragging our overall ranking down. He had discovered that our crime rate was supposedly higher than any of the cities above us, including places like Raleigh, NC, Spokane, WA, Des Moines, IA, Winston-Salem NC, Atlanta, GA, and Richmond, VA. Lincoln's crime rates is actually lower than all those cities, but the Forbes report wasn't comparing cities, rather it was comparing Metropolitan Statistical Areas.

I explained an interesting situation to him. Lincoln is one of only three MSAs in the United States where a single large city composes more than 80% of the metropolitan statistical area's population. The other two are in Texas, Lubbock and Laredo. Lincoln is 85% of the population in our metropolitan statistical area. In all the other MSAs above us, even though the largest cities themselves had higher crime rates, they are within areas with large suburban and rural populations--areas which almost always have very low crime. We simply don't have the large rural and suburban population in which to dilute the crime numbers that the 74th largest city the United States (Lincoln) generates.

As I explained to Mr. Krout, one of the cities ranked above us is Richmond, VA. Richmond is a little smaller than Lincoln, with a population just under 200,000. Richmond had more murders in 2005 (89) than Lincoln has had in the past 18 year--COMBINED! They more than quintupled our number of robberies and auto thefts in 2005. Ranking Richmond 82nd on crime rate and Lincoln 141st is about as phony as you can get. What was it Mark Twain said about statistics?

Find your own comparative crime data at the FBI's Uniform Crime Report site, the definitive source for crime statistics.