Thursday, August 30, 2007

Red to blue

It is that time of year in Lincoln when all the attention is on the start of the University of Nebraska football season. If you've never lived in Lincoln, it's hard to imagine how fixated this State is on college football. There are two seasons here, football and spring practice.

With the first game scheduled for Saturday, I thought it might be an appropriate time to point out the connection between the Lincoln Police Department and the University of Nebraska football team. A couple of senior members of the department, Sgt. Bill Kuhlman and Capt. Dave Beggs, helped me brainstorm everyone we could think of who was both a Lincoln police officer and a Cornhusker football letterman. No doubt we missed some Bugeaters, but here's our alphabetical list:

  1. Dale Adams
  2. Barry Alvarez
  3. Alvin Banks
  4. Joe Buda
  5. John Clarke
  6. Dan Delaney
  7. Mike Eger
  8. Gail Gade
  9. Bruce Hauge
  10. Jim Hawkins
  11. Ron Kirkland
  12. Jim McCord
  13. Donnie McGhee
  14. Harry Meagher
  15. Wayne Meylan
  16. Mike Osborne
  17. John Pitts
  18. Dennis Richnafsky
  19. P.J. Schneider

There would be many more if we had included those players who worked part time as police officers over the summer (a quaint practice the persisted until 1975), but those listed are all Cornhuskers who were actually employed full time as regular police officers.

Some of these officers were short-timers, but others worked long careers to retirement. Hall of famer Wayne Meylan was probably the most successful football player of this group. Several of these men were very successful police officers. Two of the more accomplished were Gail Gade and Dale Adams. Gade left LPD as a lieutenant to become the Univeristy's chief of police. Adams, after serving as LPD's assistant chief and interim chief of police, finished his law enforcement career as the four-term sheriff of Lancaster County.

Two former Huskers wear LPD blue right now. John Clarke earned his letter in 1990. He is a canine handler assigned to the Center Team. Three-year letterman John Pitts was a member of the Cornhusker national championship teams of 1970 and 1971. John is our self-defense instructor and in my opinion he is the toughest person on the Lincoln Police Department. He is also an exceptional citizen, husband, father, grandfather, and an extraordinary gentleman by every measure.

Saturday, three days shy of his 34th anniversary as a Lincoln police officer, you will find John Pitts with an Acme Thunderer directing traffic at the intersection of 10th & O Streets, as he has done for every football season since Richard Nixon was President. John was directing traffic in the heat, cold, rain, wind, and snow at Nebraska football games before 112 of our 317 officers were born. Starting in over 200 games earns him a place in our hall of fame!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What's not happening

The ususal question from a reporter is open-ended: "What's going on?" But last Thursday, Dale Johnson of KFOR News asked me just the reverse during our monthly interivew on Lincoln Live. So I told him what isn't going on:

  • Church burglaries. We had 14 in the first six months of 2007, but since July 1 there have been none. There were 25 at this point last year, including six in July and August of 2006.

  • School burglaries. They've been up this year, with 32 compared to 21 at the same time in 2006. But there have only been two since July 1, 2007.

  • Thefts from construction sites. Copper, brass and aluminum metal thefts are down overall this year, but it's particularly dramatic at construction sites.

  • Methamphetamine labs. Hard to improve much on this trend.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Nice arrest, but help needed

Just a few hours ago, the officers of the Northeast Team made a nice arrest. They got a tip from an alert citizen who reported a couple guys prowling cars in the area of 36th and Huntington. Officer Don Hunt talked to the witness , then started checking the area. About eight blocks away, he spotted a black Chevy Beretta driving eastbound. There was good lighting at this location, which is a retail area, and Don saw that the driver matched the description given by the suspect.

After making the stop, and identifying the two occupants, the arrest was made. It looks like these subjects had entered several cars looking for goods to steal. The two defendants, ages 21 and 22, are not strangers to the Lincoln Police Department. They have both been arrested many times, both as juveniles and adults. In fact, both of these men were just arrested on August 9th doing exactly the same thing a couple miles away. They each have eight charges pending from that arrest. Both were lodged in jail, but apparently were released on the same day.

So there's two places we need some help. First, we need citizens to continue to help us by being alert to suspicious behavior and calling us. In both the August 9th arrest and this morning's arrest, watchful citizens made our day. Second, we need some help from the rest of the criminal justice system in making sure that repeat offenders face increasingly severe sanctions. That's something where consistency is sorely lacking. It sometimes seems to police officers that arresting people like this just increases their cost of doing business, causing them to need to commit even more crime to pay their new expenses.

At any rate, these two have surely proven this month that they're not very good at what they are doing for a living. Maybe they ought to consider a career change--like a job.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Small tweak yields results

Exactly one month ago, we changed the Lincoln police department's response to gas drive-offs: cases where someone has pumped fuel then driven off without paying. For as long as anyone could remember, we had dispatched officers to all these reports, conducted whatever investigation was possible, and completed a police incident report.

On July 27, following a meeting I had arranged with the major gasoline retailers in Lincoln, this changed. Rather than dispatching an officer, we now simply broadcast whatever description exists of the vehicle. If an officer spots something similar, he or she makes their own case. An officer is dispatched only if two conditions are met: the retailer has a license plate number (or it's functional equivalent, in terms of a unique description), and an employee can identify the person who committed the alleged theft.

As of Friday, we had dispatched police officers to 26 gas drive-offs during the month of August. By comparison, we dispatched officers to 125 drive-offs in the same 24 days of August, 2006. My goal was to avoid wasting police resources plowing time into the investigation and reporting of incidents with virtually no likelihood of clearance. This appears to have been achieved.

These thefts are a significant problem for the retailers. But gasoline retailers have an easy solution to the problem of drive-offs: pre-pay. This is common in many areas of the country, but the local retailers worry that unless all of them adopt pre-pay, they will lose a competitive edge. Apparently this is a bigger deal for some customers than it is for me.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Lincoln police alumni

Sgt. Ann Heermann, Capt. Dave Beggs and I were involved in a short conversation Monday about unusually successful people who were Lincoln police officers. There are a lot of LPD officers who have gone on to quite successful careers in a variety of fields--some after short stints as Lincoln officers, some after long service. There are six former LPD officers presently serving as police chiefs elsewhere:
  • Jim Hill is the chief of police in Salina, KS

  • Erv Portis is the chief of police in Jackson, MI

  • Charlie Clark is the chief of police in Lexington, NE

  • Steve Lamken is the chief of police in Grand Island, NE

  • John Packett is the chief of police in Grand Forks, ND

  • Al Townsend is the chief of police in Port Orchard, WA
Former LPD detective sergeant Ron Tussing is the Mayor of Billings, MT--where he previously served as police chief. Ron was also the Superintendant of the Nebraska State Patrol, and the Sheriff of Lancaster County, NE. Steve Lamken, Erv Portis, and John Packett have all been chiefs in other more than one municipality. I wouldn't be entirely surprised if there were others I'm not thinking of. I can think of several retired or former police chiefs in various cities who started their police careers in Lincoln.

Several Lincoln police alums who have gone on to accomplished careers in federal law enforcement over the years. One of the more well known is Ron Kirkland, who directed the FBI National Academy for several years now heads the Law Enforcement Activities Division of the NRA. Former LPD detective Sheri Farrar retired last year as an Assistant Director of the FBI--probably the most accomplished LPD officer in the field of law enforcement.

There are others who have distinguished themselves in completely different fields. Here are a few former Lincoln police officers that may suprise you:

  • Col. Steve Adams, Commander of the 155th Air Refueling wing

  • College Football Hall of Famer Wayne Meylan

  • Univeristy of Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez

  • Anyone recognize this 25-year old?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Case cleared

A comment late last night on yesterday's blog post Maytag repairman merits a longer response. The comment asked how Lincoln's clearance rate on murder, business robbery, and auto theft compares with other cities. A clearance, by the way, is basically a "solved" case--usually through arrest. These crimes are good choices for comparison, because of all the Part 1 offenses, they are probably the least susceptible to varying reporting practices--it's hard to write off a missing car, a stick-up, and a corpse as anything other than an auto theft, a robbery, and a murder.

The author of the comment hypothesizes that clearances decrease as population increase. This indeed appears to be the case. Although there are a few deviations, the pattern appears to be correlated with size. I must admit, I did not know that, nor suspect it until I looked this morning.

The specific answers, now. I can't break out business robberies from all robberies, but the other data is pretty easy to find on the FBI's Uniform Crime Report site, and in the LPD Annual Reports. The column contains the average clearance rate for Lincoln over the past decade, the 2006 national clearance rate for Group II cities (100,000 to 249,999), and the 2006 clearance rate for all U.S. cities:

Crime Lincoln GroupII All Cities
Murder 95% 55% 61%
Robbery 40% 23% 25%
Auto theft 33% 10% 12%

Of all the Part 1 offenses, the only one for which Lincoln's clearance rate is lower than other cities is rape. Our ten year average was 27%, the Group II average was 39%, and for all cities it was 41%. I have my own theory about that, but I'd rather hear yours first.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Maytag repairman

The job of Internal Affairs is to investigate allegations of serious police misconduct and make recommendations to me regarding the validity of the complaint. A thorough, impartial, and timely investigation protects officers from wrongful accusations and the public from police misconduct.

An interesting phenomenon is underway at the Lincoln Police Department. The Internal Affairs Unit is becoming something like the Maytag repair man. So far this year, Internal Affairs has conducted only seven investigations, after failing to crack into the 20's for two consecutive years. The downturn in caseload is steady and remarkable, and has occurred during a time period that the number of officers have been increasing.
The same thing has been true with the Citizen Police Advisory Board, created by Municipal Ordinance in 1975 to receive complaints independently. The Board has had a few goose eggs in recent years, and hasn't cracked into double digits in over a decade. These trends are a testament to exemplary conduct by our police officers.
With the trend of falling numbers of investigations by Internal Affairs continuing it now appears that in 2007, we will reach an all time low since the Internal Affairs Unit was founded 31 years ago by Chief George K. Hansen. Check out the byline on this article about the Unit's formation from the Lincoln Star in March, 1976 (click to enlarge):
A remarkable story about an apparent failure of discipline appeared in the Denver Post this past weekend. This is not what how you want to see your police department highlighted on the front page, whether you're a citizen of Denver or a Denver police officer. I am confident citizens in Lincoln need not worry about our commitment to maintaining high professional standards.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Where are the parents?

How often do you see that caption on a letter to the editor or on a posted comment following some news account of a crime committed by a minor? It may be a natural response from people who grew up in reasonably functional, loving households. But life is not always like that for everyone. When you work in policing, you learn pretty quickly that:

  • Not everyone has parents.
  • Some parents are barely able to survive.
  • Addicts are parents, even when they are totally consumed by their drug of choice.
  • There are a lot of ineffective parents. If there was an exam to become a parent, half of the applicants would score in the bottom 50%.
  • If you are a really bad parent, nothing prevents you from being one again, and again.
  • Some parents are in jail or prison. You should see the lobby on Saturday morning.
  • Parents aren't the only influence on kids, and compete with lots of other powerful forces.
  • Some children are themselves parents.
  • Some children would be better off if they had no parents.
I could go on a long time with this list. It might interest you to know that as of this morning, Lincoln police officers have investigated 1,688 cases of alleged child abuse or neglect in our fair City so far this year. Here are a few other things I've learned:

  • There are some really, really, miserable parents. It's easy to see how the child ended up the way he or she is, when the apple didn't fall far from the tree. There's no substitute for a good role model.

  • There are some seemingly decent parents who have children who fall the other way, through no apparent fault of the parent. Perfectly caring, loving, attentive parents struggle with out of control behavior by their kids. It's not always the parents' fault.

  • Lots of children survive abusive parents and dysfunctional families and yet prosper as productive adults with stable relationships and become great parents. Many children are incredibly resiliant.

  • Many kids with incredibly self-destructive behaviors in their teens and early 20s are responsible, buttoned-down adults by age 30. Don't ever give up hope.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Negotiations concluded

Last month, I reported on the negotiations underway between the City and the Lincoln Public Schools concerning the funding of the 10 Lincoln police officers who serve as school resource officers. The deal has now been struck, and the City will be receiving about $230,000 in revenue to support this program from LPS.

That's a sizeable increase from the $120,000 participation in the current fiscal year, but still shy of the $293,512 the schools paid for fewer SROs back in 2002-2003. Nonetheless, this added revenue, combined with the largess of the City Council, will allow us to bring the department up to our full authorized strength--a very good thing.

An SRO is assigned to each of the six public high schools, and the remaining four officers split the 10 middle schools. Most people at LPD would acknowledge that school resource officers in high schools are vital. We'd be there anyway, and it's just more efficient to assign an officer at each school. Middle schools are different, though, and the workload there is not of the same intensity. This is not to say that resource officers aren't valuable in middle schools. I thought it might be interesting for people so know, from a police standpoint, what goes on at our 10 public middle schools, so here's a chart of the police dispatches last school year. This is only those that occurred during the school day, though. Click the graph to enlarge.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Linger longer in Lincoln

Earlier this summer, things were looking grim for the police department’s budget. It has been a tough couple of years for the City due to flat sales tax revenue. It appeared that among our cuts we would be losing $101,450 in police overtime. In preparation for the belt-tightening, we had anticipated further reductions in special events—one of the few kinds of overtime that is amenable to our massaging.

Overtime for court appearances, late calls that hold officers beyond the end of their shift, and emergencies such as SWAT Team call-outs, major crimes, or fatal traffic collisions is unavoidable. That’s why we have it, and that’s what we need to spend it for. But for special events, a portion of the overtime incurred is not for safety—rather it’s for convenience. This is particularly true for the Big Dog on the police department’s extensive special events calendar—University of Nebraska home football games.

Seven or eight times annually, we were spending around $12,000 in overtime to bring in additional officers to direct traffic at dozens of locations, many of which were staffed not to ensure safety, but to get fans to and from the game more expeditiously. Nebraska football is a huge economic engine for the City, and we want everyone to have a great experience. But frankly, in the list of priorities, you’ve got to rank the ability to tarry a little longer at your tailgate knowing the police will get you through the traffic snarls rather low in comparison to getting a crime scene technician to the scene of a serious stabbing.

We made some significant cuts last year that worked quite well and saved $25,000. We were prepared to cut the football detail again this year from about 36 officers to around 20 by staffing fewer traffic direction locations. We had prioritized the locations where we felt traffic gridlock would seriously interfere with vehicle movements, and where there would be the greatest conflict between pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

At the 11th hour, however, the City Council restored funding for our overtime budget, which will be about the same in fiscal year 2007-2008 as it is this year. This will let us put more players on our asphalt-and-concrete field. Although the City Council's action has provided a greater cushion, it could still be a bit tight. Our salary base, upon which overtime is calculated, is increasing due to union-negotiated pay raises of 3.25%. We’ll still need to watch costs closely, and even though we’ll be staffing a few more positions for football then previously anticipated, we will be trying to hold the line and reduce somewhat from last season.

This could be tricky. Years back, when every game started at 1:30 PM, you had the detail honed to a fine edge, and you knew exactly what to expect. This has all changed. There have been huge additions to the stadium, major roadway modifications, new parking lots, facilities, and garages. Now, the starting time fluctuates according to the TV schedule. You don’t even know when kickoff will be until midweek. It’s something of a scheduling nightmare as a result, and the fluctuating kickoff times also cause unpredictable crowd dynamics: this one arrives earlier than expected; the next one presents us with a late-arriving crush.

With change comes risk. I’m assembling all the sports clich├ęs to defend our honor if the traffic at the first game or two turn out to be worse than we expect: “It looked good in practice, but we just didn’t execute”, “We’ve got to work some kinks out and avoid mistakes”, “They threw a new look at us that we hadn’t seen on tape”, “We learned a lot about our character, and we’ll bounce back next week”, etc. etc..

We’ll need a little patience and understanding on this, folks. We’re trying to ensure orderly traffic flow and get everyone to and from the game safely without huge delays. It’s not a perfect science. Linger longer in Lincoln after the game, enjoy downtown for a while, listen to the post game on the radio before heading for the street, and we’ll get this all accomplished with some nice savings for the taxpayers, fewer worn-out police officers who’ve got to be back for the late shift at 2300, and maybe even some happy restaurateurs at some of the nice dinner spots in Lincoln’s Haymarket.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The most important support

Last night was family night in the police academy--an evening when we invite the new recruits' family and friends down to see the police station and hear a little bit about what they will be experiencing during the next year in training. It is important for families to know that we intend to help their daughter, wife, brother, or friend succeed and that we are committed to helping these men and women enjoy fruitful careers.

There are huge misconceptions about policing that can cause officers' family members to be especially apprehensive about their career choice. The 10 o'clock news is all about violent crime: shootings, robberies, and aggravated assaults. But there are thousands and thousands of traffic collisions, motorist assists, shoplifts, disturbances, lost items, runaways, and child neglect cases in that mix that don't get reported very often. It is noteworthy that of our 140,000 police dispatches last year, less than 10% were the FBI Part 1 crimes that capture the headlines.

If you watched TV police dramas and police-themed movies, you would probably conclude that most police officers are suicidal alcoholics with an average of three failed marriages. In truth, on the Lincoln police department's 17-person command staff, there are at least seven 30 year+ marriages that I can think of. For this group, a 20 year relationship is a good start. We have some veteran police officers like Paul Aksamit, Ray Kansier, Mike Davis, Mark Johnson, Dave Goehring, Charlie Solano, Scott Arnold, Sid Yardley and Steve Wetzel who've been doing street police work for over 30 years and do it withe skill and enthusiasm that people half their age have a hard time matching. They have had an unparalleled opportunity to make a huge impact on their community. Each of them has saved many lives and changed many lives.

More than anything, though, the immediate family of new officers worry about their safety. Here's another misconception: that police work is the most dangerous occupation. The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles and publishes detailed statistics concerning on-the-job deaths and injuries. Construction trades, farming, and a variety of other occupations involving such things as heavy machinery, heights, confined spaces and motor vehicles are way, way out in front.

If you limit your examination to murders on the job, though, we were tied with retail cashiers at the top of the list in 2006. Other occupational groups near the top were management occupations and transportation occupations. Apparently supervisors, store clerks, and taxi drivers join police officers at greater risk for violent death than other workers. Police officers have actually become much less likely to be victims of fatal attacks over the past 35 years. Largely due to better training, body armor, and safer tactics that have been developed and widely implemented in the field, the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty has fallen precipitously since 1993.

This is not to minimize the risks. It is only through good training and practice that this number is kept low in the United States, and one is one too many. But the greatest risk in policing, in my view, is psychological rather than physical. Our employee assistance program, internal resource officers, critical incident stress debriefings, and mentors are vital for protecting new officers from the stress of intensely demanding shift work and the cumulative trauma of dealing with some of life's most distressing events and circumstances. Support systems allow them to focus instead on the boundless opportunities they will have to do socially-significant work the likes of which most people can only dream.

The most important support system to protect our officers' psychological well being, however, is nothing the police department or the City provides; it is the love and support of their intimate partner, their family, their friends, one another, and their community. That's what family night is about.

Monday, August 13, 2007

New class begins

Last Thursday morning, our fall academy class began, as promised. We have 18 new recruits who have begun their careers at the Lincoln police department. Everyone always enjoys the sight of each new training class. It reminds us all of the beginning of our own careers, and you can't help but smile thinking about the many experiences, challenges, frustrations, adventures, and triumphs laid out before these class members.

There were over 400 applicants for the 18 seats in Classroom C. That's been the trend over the past decade. While you'll hear a lot in policing about the "cop crunch"--too few applicants--this has not been the case at LPD.

Over the past 12 years, we've hired 3.9% of the people who have applied to be Lincoln police officers. To be fair, a little more than half the applicants are really serious, but that's still a large pool from which to draw.

We'll be doing it again, too, as we are presently recruiting for a class scheduled to begin in early 2008. We expect to be hiring a class of about the same size. Due to two consecutive peak years for retirements, these will be the largest back-to-back classes since 2000, when we hired classes of 22 and 19.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Happy birthday, Laurie

My wife and I saw our high school classmate, Laurie, while we were at dinner last week. She wished me a happy birthday. She knew it was coming up, because she and I were born on the same day. Although we were classmates, our social circles were a little different: she was a cheerleader, I was a debater. Our paths crossed frequently in classes and student council, though. I admired Laurie then and now for the genuine and friendly manner with which she treated everyone--without an ounce of high school cliquishness.

Laurie had just finished a round of golf when she saw us in the grill at Wilderness Ridge and stopped to chat. I've played with her before, and she is an excellent golfer. If you check out the Rocket Yearbook, you will see that she also excelled in athletics as a member of the Penguins (synchronized swimming), and the Girls Athletic Association.

There you have the extent of high school girl's athletics in 1971: synchronized swimming and intramural field hockey. You'll find no women in the Northeast High School Athletic Hall of Fame until the late 1970's, but it's not due to the lack of athletic women. I have no doubt that Laurie could have been a scholarship athlete in softball, volleyball, basketball, track and field, or all of the above, had women's sports we now take for granted existed.

It is remarkable to think about how things have changed. This is also true at the police department, where women occupy many of our key supervisory and managerial positions--something unheard of a generation ago. These include some traditional male bastions: some of our most experienced and capable detectives include Sgt. Sandy Myers, Sgt. Erin Sims, and Sgt. Jeri Roeder. Three of our top commanders today, Capt. Joy Citta, Capt. Kim Koluch, and Capt. Genelle Moore rose through the ranks in a department and a profession that largely excluded women until the mid 1970's. These women have all been trailblazers for those who follow the path they helped cut.

Here's how we compared on women in supervisory and managerial positions to the other cities in my research group, the Benchmark City Chiefs (click to enlarge):

Think about this: until Doris King took over the Property and Evidence Unit from a police lieutenant, or Linda Steinman became a sergeant (I'm not sure which happened first, but I think that its been about 25 years), every single one of these jobs was held by a man.
Back to Laurie's birthday. She looks a lot younger than me, I admit, as we turn the page on Saturday. She's always had the easy-going good looks of an athlete. She was not, however, the prettiest girl at Lincoln Northeast High School. That was Tonja Wagner, with whom I'll be celebrating 34 years of marriage on Sunday. Happy birthday, indeed!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Latest on the budget

The City Council tweaked the Mayor's proposed budget this morning, and the final action resolution will be based on the action they took this morning. I was planning on blogging about this tomorrow morning, but Deena Winter, the Lincoln Journal Star's government reporter wanted some reaction from me this afternoon, so I think I'll save myself the time of double entry by simply posting my response to her inquiry.

"I'm still trying to digest this, Deena, but it looks to me that the council has restored $340,000 to the police department: $190,000 from streets and $150,000 from contingency. We are still negotiating with LPS, so it is not settled yet what, if any, additional revenue will be forthcoming for the services of school resource officers. I'm not counting that revenue until I see an approved Inter-local Agreement.

It is my intention to plow additional revenue into police officers. The reduction of our authorized strength from 317 to 316, and the under funding of the rest of our personnel costs meant that we would have to operate below our authorized strength by up to 10 officers. The increases will help us largely avoid that, and we will be using as much additional revenue as is available to come back up to a strength of 317 sworn officers. I don't think there is anything we can do about the loss of the remaining 4.75 support positions, though.

As a practical matter, our January recruit class is going to be larger than it looked a month ago. We may have a little more breathing room in our overtime budget, too, which will be helpful--since the base salaries are going up 3.25% in the third year of a three year contract. It is noteworthy that the police overtime expense this year is less than the amount we paid in fiscal year 1993-1994 when the payroll was half it's present size.

It does not appear to me that there will be enough to add additional officers over and above 317, however, which is what we would need before we could draw against our existing COPS grant. Moreover, I would be hesitant to start doing so, even if we could get to 318 or 319, because the obligation is for four years--three years of the grant, and one year beyond it's conclusion. I don't think we would want to run the risk of paying money back to the Federal government, and the issue I see looming is that some of the restored funds are still coming from one-time sources, rather than an increase in revenue. We will see, though.

Right now, I think caution is in order. The City still has work to do in order to get our revenue and expenses into balance. I share Mayor Beutler's vision of how this needs to be done--methodically, maturely, and with a stronger community consensus about what services we want our City government to provide. The Mayor has been pretty clear about this with the department directors, and I think we all realize that next year's budget will be round two of a multi-year plan. "

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you might want to go back and read a comment I posted in this blog on May 17 in response to a question from Jenn. It's not the post itself, but the second comment's last paragraph, that merits a re-read:

"When the dust clears on the City's current budget crisis, reasonable people will see that the police department's efficiency, our credibility in the community, and our record of strong financial self-control have paid off. We will be just fine, and better than most other City agencies."
What happened today is in large part the result of everyone on this department being frugal with gas, thinking twice before spending overtime that might be avoided, double checking the special details for potential reductions, keeping a close eye on the mileage, and so forth. We have built a reputation as good stewards of the public dollar, and that has been a team effort.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The O factor

Nebraska's two largest cities, Omaha and Lincoln, are barely 50 miles apart and growing closer every day. Lincoln's population is 241,167; Omaha's population is 419,545. While the Omaha metro area is considerably larger (a little over 800,000), you could make a good argument that Lincoln and Omaha are part of the same population center. The development occurring in the Interstate 80 corridor between the two cities is evidence of this.

I think a lot of people in Lincoln have an Omaha complex: Omaha is great, Lincoln is the unfortunate stepsister. The Lincoln Journal Star did a pretty extensive special report on this, appropriately titled The O Factor.

Time for a followup. There was a remarkable story above the fold on the front page of Sunday's Omaha World Herald: 31 Days, 31 Victims. During the 31 days of July, 2007, 31 people were shot in the City of Omaha. The reporting and writing were top-notch. Here's the number of people that were shot in Lincoln during the month of July:


During 2007, as of today, there have been six people shot in Lincoln. During 2006, there were a total of ten. Something other than the population difference is at work. I suspect that Omaha has more concentrated disadvantage, more gang activity, more drugs. But the differences do not seem to be so dramatic as to account for this phenomenal difference in gun violence. In fact, these communities feel quite similar to one another in many respects. The traffic at 72nd and Pacific feels like 48th and O, Village Pointe feels like South Pointe, the Old Market feels like the Haymarket, Shadow Ridge feels like Wilderness Ridge, N. 30th feels like N. 27th, Wohlner's feels like Ideal.

From a police perspective, I can assure you that although most Lincolnites don't see it, it sometimes feels to police officers that Lincoln is awash in gang bangers, drug addicts, petty criminals of every stripe, thugs, prostitutes, johns, registered sex offenders and career criminals on intensive supervision probation for their 32nd conviction. It just doesn't seem that Omaha should have a shooting nearly every day, and Lincoln less than one a month.

I'm not complaining, though.

Monday, August 6, 2007

It's a team effort

The ugly budget situation the City has found itself in this year continues to bring forth some ridiculous and ill-formed opinions. If you need evidence, read the early comments posted in the Lincoln Journal Star's Sunday article on the police budget. I try not to read these, but every now and then, I can't help myself. Part of the reason I started this blog was to create an outlet for information that either doesn't make the news or gets filtered significantly.

So, here's something I'd like the public to know: the police department is not entirely composed of police officers.

One fourth of our workforce--a hundred employees--are civilians. Among other things, they handle our phone and walk-in services; process our supplies, evidence, and property; keep our fleet running; build and maintain our information and computer systems; examine our handwriting exemplars and fingerprints; process our video and audio recordings; research our peddler licenses, taxi licenses, concealed carry permit applications, salvage permits; keep track of our sex offenders, parolees, information reports, crime bulletins; transcribe our reports, maintain our criminal history information and our master name index; take care of 90% of our parking enforcement, and handled 12,039 of our calls for service last year. Civilian employees pay the bills, prepare and monitor the budget and grants, and ensure that payroll is on time and accurate. We'd be up the proverbial creek without the paddle without our support staff.

While candidates for City all run on the promise to increase police officers, and wring their hands over the prospects of cutting officers, our civilian support staff has been fair game, and despite my protests has not only failed to keep up with our needs, it's been reduced. We will have 8 fewer people on our civilian support staff in the coming fiscal year than we had in 2002, a time period during which our authorized number of police officers increased from 303 to 316. That's not even enough to keep up with population growth, but it's noteworthy that the sworn ranks increased, while the civilian support staff continues to shrink.

Citizens, including our elected officials, need to understand and think about the vital importance of our civilian staff in police work. Our achievements are because of team effort, and everyone is part of that team. Police officers need to think about the impact of these cuts, too. There should be no complaining about reduced service hours, slower turnaround, and the inability of Technical Resources to drop everything in order to replace a toner cartridge.

Keep this in mind: not very long ago, the great majority of these jobs were occupied by sworn police officers. Records was supervised by a Lieutenant and sergeants Property and Evidence was staffed by a lieutenant and officer; the Service Desk had a lieutenant, sergeants, and officers; the lab was run by lieutenant; Operations Information (now Crime Analysis) was staffed with a sergeant and several officers, as was Information Technology.

While we still have a handful of support jobs that could be civilain (try getting the money to do that), the fact is that we've replaced almost all of the sworn support jobs with civilians during the past 25 years. It's not this way everywhere, and you'll still find many U.S. police departments--some in our neighborhood--that are using sworn officers in these jobs. If we were operating that way, our already-undersized police department would have at least another 30 of our officers working support jobs.

Our civilian employees are as important to the success of this department as the police officers. We all need to appreciate the contribution they make to policing Lincoln. Within LPD, the sworn staff needs to support the civilian staff the same way they support us.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Curbing yobbish behaviour

Yesterday, a commenter on my blog post about the closing of Opulence Ultra Club requested that I weigh in with my thoughts on a later closing hour for bars. The commenter actually provided two links that do a pretty good job of summarizing the arguments pro and con. Generally, supporters of later closing hours (or none at all) think that extended hours would diffuse the "last call" frenzy, whereas opponents think that longer hours simply mean more intoxication and abusive drinking.

I think it's pretty obvious that longer hours means more consumption. You're not going to stay open longer and pay labor if you aren't selling more product. Duh.

Proposals for a later closing hour have been in the Nebraska legislature twice in recent years, and I've been at the General Affairs Committee testifying in opposition. My opposition is based on the dynamics of police work: a later closing hour moves our peak workload period forward, and makes it more difficult for us to get people off duty before the daily cycle starts repeating.

The lull between the end of the nighttime activity and the beginning of the morning rush has gotten shorter and shorter during my career, and a 2:00 or 3:00 AM closing time would mean that we'd have to staff more officers during the time we can now throttle back a little. If you must have more officers on duty at 3:00 AM, you will inevitably have fewer on duty at other peak times during the day.

The theory floated by supporters of extended hours is that bar break would be anti-climatic if the drinking crowd dribbled out over a two hour period, instead of all at once. This theory sounds plausible to the newspaper-reading, politically-active, socially-conscious citizens who arise for their 5:30 AM workout before getting the kids off to day care and to their job by 8:00 AM. The theory, though, is based on the faulty notion that a significant portion of the inebriated nimrods regaling the countryside with the slurred and exaggerated tales of their sexual exploits would leave before the closing hour. Not necessarily the case. A healthy chunk of the bar break drunks are sleeping until mid-afternoon, as they leisurely pursue their degree in General Studies on the six-year plan, make their way to the part-time evening gig in the telemarketing cubicle, and prepare themselves for their next career supersizing your order.

I have talked with fellow police chiefs in other States that have later closing hours. I have visited many other cities with major universities in my role as co-chair of NU Directions. What I see and hear has convinced me that the theory is at odds with the reality. Bar break is still bar break, whether it's 1:00 AM in Lincoln, or 2:30 AM in Madison. If it's an hour later, Beavis has just had another pitcher of beer.

There is a giant naturally-occurring experiment underway right now on this very issue. Until last year, British pubs closed at 11:00 PM. I personally witnessed the last call phenomenon in London, on my only lifetime international trip in 2005, courtesy of the Jill Dando Institute at University College London. The conference committee took me to dinner, and we were eventually evicted by the Italian wait staff, who turned up the lights at 10:45 PM and shot us The Look a few minutes later. It was odd to see the bar break shenanigans so early, but I thanked my hosts for getting me tossed out of a bar for the first time in 35 years. The British drink like fish, and they have huge bladders--there are pubs everywhere, and no toilets anywhere.

With all the same arguments and debates, Parliament decided to drop a mandatory closing time altogether. The time-series opportunity this radical change creates will be fodder for a lot of researchers, and the early returns are beginning to appear in the press and academic journals. The current spin seems to be primarily on the whoops! side.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Deja vu, all over again

First, review this previous post, Making ends meet. Then, click this thumbnail for evidence of history repeating itself.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

A ray of light in the dark

I received word on Monday from the property manager at Gold's Galleria that Opulence Ultra Club has closed. Opulence has been a drag on our limited resources, and the scene of several rather ugly events. But now it's gone, cleaned out of the valuables, and trashed, she reports. It appears that the Director of Security will have to look for a new nightclub to practice his craft.

Maybe there will now be a lull for a while, at least until the next of six or seven nightclubs that have gone broke in the same spot surfaces. But--here's the good news--I will have a new arrow in my quiver when someone applies for a liquor license there. Last session, former State Senator (now City of Lincoln Director of Urban Development) David Landis shepherded a measure (LB 845) through the 2006 legislature that allows the Liquor Control Commission to consider the concentration of licenses in an area and it's impact on law enforcement.

Our data , analysis and testimony was crucial in getting this monumental change in Nebraska law, and you can bet your bottom dollar I'll be rolling out the information and data on the sucking sound from downtown when the time is ripe if someone with a line of credit and a dream proposes the same kind of preposterous drain on police resources. Where is Lance Brown?