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.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Correcting perceptions

My predecessor used to be fond of saying "perception is reality." There is a certain truth to that. Nonetheless, I'm always interested in discovering the reality and challenging the perception if it is inaccurate. The most common misperception I encounter is someone who's seen a couple stories in the news and now believes that a terrible crime wave is gripping the City. The crime wave is often a function of a slow news day on other fronts, rather than some dramatic swing in crime. We have plenty of stuff everyday to fill the reporters' plates if nothing more tasty is available.

Police are not immune to these misperceptions either. Some of our long-held maxims fail to prove up if put to the test: for example there are fewer domestic assaults on holidays, not more. Saturday morning's Lincoln Journal Star carried a story with a headline "Increased risk of crime prompts worry about Capitol security". The online story's headline is slightly different. I cringed a little, because although this neighborhood has some challenges, to be sure, it also some strengths and some dedicated stakeholders who work hard to counter misperceptions about it's livability.

I'm all in favor of improving the security in and around the State Capitol building. I think this is a good idea in this age where twisted fame-seekers, copy cat criminals and terrorists are drawn to iconic buildings. But to assert that this is needed due to increased crime in the neighborhood struck me as odd, and I wanted to put that to the test. So, I drew a circle with a quarter mile radius around the Sower, and counted all the assaults, murders, rapes, arsons, robberies, burglaries, thefts, auto thefts, drug offenses, child abuses, vandalism, sex offenses, and weapons offenses within that circle. Here's the results:

The 2007 data is as of late last week and we have 10 weeks to go, but it looks like there's a good chance it won't crack 300.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Stump the sergeant

Years ago, when I was the downtown sergeant on the second shift, Glen called me on the radio, and took me to a side channel for a question: "I've got a guy from Romania stopped and he has an International Driver's License. Is that valid in Nebraska?" I may have been young, but I wasn't stupid. I had a mental image of Glen and a buddy in the basement of the Clayton House taking an unauthorized coffee break, giggling like a couple of sixth graders. So I waited several minutes, then called him back: "Somebody ripped the Romanian pages out of my ordinance book, just give him a warning."

Stump the sergeant was a popular pursuit by my squad. I assume it's still the same for freshly-minted supervisors. Yesterday, though, it was a citizen with the brain teaser. A nice guy emailed me with an innocent enough question. He wanted confirmation that his Segway personal transporter was legal on downtown sidewalks. He was hoping to get an affirmative email response from me that he could carry with him, in the event that an officer ever thought otherwise. He reminded me of the State Legislature's action in 2002, passing LB1105, which legalized the "self-balancing two-nontandem-wheeled, device designed to carry only one person" on streets and sidewalks.

Not so fast, Chief. This one requires a little deeper research. I had a sneaking suspicion that the City ordinances took precedence, and the actual State Statute confirmed this with the key phrase "...except as provided by the Department of Roads or local authority." The local authority in this case would be the City of Lincoln, which has it's own ordinances that regulate what can be operated where. Lincoln has no exceptions for Segways. You have to do some serious digging to get all the stuff that applies, because it's buried in different chapters, but it's in there. So, an hour or so down the trail, I was able to send this response back to the guy who asked the simple question:

"I wish this had an easy answer. The State law that allows Segways does not appear to overrule local ordinances. Lincoln Municipal Ordinance 10.24.030 prohibits the operation of vehicles in the sidewalk space, and L.M.C. 10.02.450 defines a vehicle as anything motorized other than snow removal equipment. Thus, I think technically a Segway is prohibited from sidewalks, as is an electric or gas scooter, a minibike, or a battery-powered Barbie car. Obviously, these ordinances were adopted way before anyone ever thought that little children might motor about in miniature jeeps, or forward-thinking citizens might spend a few thousand dollars on a gyroscope-stabilized human transporter.

Virtually everyone on the police department would be left scratching their head if confronted with this question, which renders the chance for a citation remote, but not impossible. I suspect that to be ticketed you'd have to engage in one or more of the following:

1. Operate a Segway like a maniac, or while intoxicated
2. Be the subject of a specific complaint
3. Mow down some innocent pedestrian
4. Distinguish yourself with some kind of unusually obnoxious behavior.

Ideally, we probably need to change the ordinance to reflect the same exception as the State Statute. Experience tells me that someone will eventually complain about anything, no matter how seemingly innocuous.

By the way, I know there is at least one other Segway commuter in town, because every morning, I park next to a Segway that's locked to a bollard right next to my car. It must be an employee here at the County-City complex who works unusual hours, because I get here early, and it's already here, but gone by the time I normally leave. It makes me wonder if it's one of my employees. You would think an investigator could get to the bottom of this.

If we had the funds, I'd love to equip several of our downtown officers and our parking enforcement staff with Segways, as the Atlanta Police Department does. Eight or nine months or so out of the year, it would be great.

I'll ask our City Law Department if they would be amenable to a modification of 10.24.030 to exempt 'self-balancing, two-nontandem-wheeled devices, designed to transport only one person'."

Whew! I'm not announcing a campaign to rid the sidewalk of toddlers on Tonka Trucks, but we sure have a variety of electric and gas powered scooters, sitters, and skaters popping up on the market these days. I don't think anyone anticipated these things when these ordinances were adopted in 1954.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Camera back home

Last week, one of our retirees, Marvin Morgan, visited Lincoln from his home in Texas. Lt. Morgan retired in 1988, after years heading our Identification Bureau--the police lab. He brought a couple of items with him: two cameras that he had saved from the trash bin in the waning years of his career. The first was a Crown Graphic, a classic Graflex medium format camera. The second, however, was even more impressive: a very old mugshot camera. Mounted on an impressive oak tripod, the camera has a sliding front that allowed two half-frame shots on the 4 X 5 film sheet: one facing, and one profile.

The identification plates on the camera and tripod show that it was manufactured by the Folmer & Schwing Division of Eastman Kodak. A little research on the Internet reveals that Kodak acquired Folmer & Schwing in 1907, then renamed the "division" to the "department" in 1917. Thus, our new camera was manufactured within that ten year time period.

This was the Lincoln Police Department's mug shot camera for around fifty years. The Folmer & Schwing took thousands of classic mugshots of gangsters, bookies, burglars, bootleggers and murderers from World War I through the mid-1960's. It is now esconced in a display case at headquarters, where it looks quite marvelous.

Several employees have been amazed that this antique was still being used for mug shots in the 1960's. I pointed out that we might have some equipment today that's been in regular use for fifty years. I suspect that some of those IBM Selectric typewriters that seasoned officers have squirreled away all over the place are pushing 40. Heather Christensen, our Records Unit Manager, nominated our microfilm camera, which looks like a yellowed prop from 2001 a Space Odessey. I wouldn't be surprised if there are several Remington 870 shotguns in our inventory that top the half century mark. Parkerized and retrofitted with synthetic stocks, they may look like their grandkids, but lots of them were here when I started and in need of refinishing then.

But the winner (so far) was nominated by Captain Terry Sherrill. It's a note pad in the Duty Command office that uses a roll of cash register tape. It's still used all day every day, and I don't think you could pry it away from the Duty COs. It must have seen five or six decades of service by now. Long before the 3M Post-it note, these rollers were used by the desk sergeant, criminal division commander, the traffic commander and others to record their notes. At the end of the day or the week, you could just tear off the length you'd doodled on, roll it back up, stick a paper clip on it, and toss it in the archive--the lower left desk drawer. More than once I've seen Lt. Ideen thumbing through twenty feet of an archived roll, searching for some name or number from last week, last month, or last year.

As you can see, I've upgraded this model with a USB 2.0 interface which allows a direct download.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Fast information flow

This is a short story about information technology contributing to police work. It's not a big case, and not particularly flashy, but when I thought about it, it seemed to be a remarkable example of how the flow of information in investigations has changed.

I had tickets to the Nebraska v. Oklahoma State football game Saturday. Before heading out to the game, I checked my email. Among the dozen or so was one from myself. I have an automated Threshold Alert that had triggered the email. The alert is one of over 40 automatic queries that run every morning in the wee hours, using data from our police Records Management System and our geographic crime analysis software, CrimeView. This particular query is one I wrote last summer, after the City Council adopted a residency restriction on certain high-risk sex offenders. The ordinance prohibits level 3 high-risk offenders whose victim was under the age of 19 from residing within 500 ft. of a school. At the time it was being debated, some people wondered how in the world it could be enforced. Like this:

The Threshold Alert looks into the 1.5 million names in the department's master name index, finds the registered sex offenders, and determines which are classified as level 3 high-risk offenders. Next, CrimeView creates 500 ft buffers around each of Lincoln's schools, and determines which of these offenders' addresses fall within these buffers. Finally, it checks the date of the address. Since you can't enforce an ex post facto law, the residency restriction only applies after July 1, 2006. Whenever we update a person's address in our master name index, we also store the date of the address update. My query is interested in new addresses.

The email I received gave me the results of my query: there was a high risk offender with a new address, just updated on Friday, who now appeared to be living within 500 ft. of a school, in violation of the ordinance. I opened CrimeView on my laptop and measured the distance from property line to property line at 260 feet against the backdrop of Lincoln's orthorectified aerial photos. I checked the Nebraska State Patrol's online sex offender registry (they're the official keeper of the record) and determined that this offender's victim was 14 years old. That was the final element of the offense. Just to save him time, I printed that page as a .pdf, and emailed it to Capt. Dennis Duckworth, Saturday morning's duty commander at HQ. He assigned Officer Steve Niemeyer to investigate. Good choice. Steve is our Officer of the Year.

Steve found the offender at home, and cited him for the violation. He had just moved into the apartment, and alleged that his landlord had told him that he was 900 ft. from the school. Steve had already used Google Earth to make his own estimate of 265 ft., but as one final check, he used a Rolatape to measure a precise distance of 253 ft., lot to lot. At 1307 hours, I received an email from Officer Niemeyer letting me know that he had handled the matter, and providing me the case number, so I could read the reports online after the game. Nice work, Steve.

That's a heck of a lot of technology squeezed into a misdemeanor.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

and some inspiration

Last week, I was giving Sam Hicks a quick tour as his day of job shadowing was getting underway. We visited the Forensic Uni--LPD's lab, where fingerprints are classified, shell casings matched, documents examined, handwriting analyzed, and so forth. The entire full time staff of five was hard at work, but they were joined by two unpaid volunteers.

One was Ole Buck. Ole is a retired employee, who worked for LPD for 33 years as an auto service worker at the police garage. After he retired in 2001, I'm not sure he missed a full week before he was back volunteering, in several different capacities and in several different units. It's remarkable to see this man who checked my oil, fueled my patrol car, and cleaned my windows a few thousand times, now in the lab on the computer.

The second volunteer last Thursday when Sam and I walked through was Margi Stelling. Margi is also a former employee. She was an outstanding police officer for seven years when she sufferred a career-ending critical injury in an off-duty automobile accident in 2005. Margi suffered a catastrophic injury, and has fought back from paralysis to regain sufficient function to move on with a dramatically different life. It will be a fulfilling one, of that I am quite sure. Margi was working on an AFIS terminal examining fingerprints.

I missed the third volunteer who had been in last week, Jayme Krueger, also a former officer, who had to take a disability retirement earlier this year due to an on-the-job injury.

Here are three people who have every reason to be exhausted, or depressed, or downhearted. Instead, they are working--for free--in challenging tasks and contributing their efforts the organization they obviously love. I hope that when I am several years into retirement I still have Ole's energy, enthusiasm, good nature, and that I can be as active in contributing to others as he is. I pray that if should ever have to face the challenges placed before Margi, that I would be able to muster the faith, courage, and determination to do so with the same grace she shows, and turn my face to a bright future with my smile intact, as she has.

Jayme, Ole, Margi, you inspire me. Thank you for all you do for your colleagues and your community.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Housing slump blues

I had a visit yesterday in my office from a very nice couple with a problem. They've been caught in the housing market slump. They bought a new home almost two years ago, and haven't been able to sell their previous residence. It's a nice place in a great east Lincoln location--three bedrooms, finished walk out basement, covered deck, cathedral ceilings. The photo on the Lancaster County Assessor's site confirms their description, and it sure seems to be reasonably priced to me, at an asking price of $229,000.

But they've had no takers, and in order to make two house payments, they've need to rent the house. Here's where the problem comes in. The police have been called to the address on disturbances six times since December of 2006. Most recently, the Southeast Team was sent there at 1:34 AM on September 20th on a report of loud music. The responding officer could hear it from half a block away, and he found a minor carrying a beer walking down the driveway, as he walked up the same.

In response to the ongoing problems, Capt. Kim Koluch sent a letter to the property owners. She let them know of our concerns, and of the fact that they could be held responsible for repeated disturbances at their property, through Lincoln's Municipal Ordinance prohibiting maintaining a disorderly house. It was this warning letter that caused them to schedule a meeting with me.

They began by telling me that they feel these calls were merely the result of a single oversensitive neighbor. I let them know that the calls had come from at least four different telephone numbers, were made by people both male and female, with different last names and addresses, and were clearly not all from a single neighbor. They weren't aware of the officer's personal observations on September 20, so I just I read them Officer Aksamit's narrative report. I gave them a few other excerpts from previous calls:

"Party in a hot tub in backyard" (3:04 AM)
"Loud music and male voices in background" (2:23 AM)
"Lots of people, very loud" (12:09 AM)

...and so forth. It's obvious that the hard-partying lifestyle of the young renters is in conflict with that of the rest of the neighborhood. When you've got to get up at 5:15 AM to get your workout in before getting the kids off to daycare in time to make it to work by 7:30 AM, you really aren't particularly interested in listening to the exploits of the hot-tubbers, or their music.

I looked up the names the couple gave me of the three polite young people who couldn't possibly be causing such problems. They are age 21, 22, and 25. Between the three, they have been arrested or cited for the following alcohol-related offenses:

2 Maintaining a disorderly house
1 Open container of alcohol in motor vehicle
2 Driving under the influence of alcohol
4 Minor in possession of alcohol
5 Disturbing the peace

Each tenant contributed at least two to the total of 14. The disturbing the peace and maintaining a disorderly house arrests were at three separate addresses. In addition, it appears likely that a fourth person is actually a roomie (not on the lease, but he keeps giving us that address when he gets arrested, which is frequently.)

I'm sorry to tell this nice couple that it does not appear to be a grumpy neighbor who is the problem here, and that Capt. Koluch's warning letter should be heeded. I gave them a copy of our brochure for landlords and property managers on how to track police dispatches at your property, and how to do an effective background check on prospective tenants. My closing advice after talking with them for about an hour was a strongly worded letter of their own, along the lines of "FINAL WARNING."

Monday, October 8, 2007

Problems all weekend

Last weekend the police department had the audacity to write a few parking meter tickets, spurring an angry Saturday call from a disgruntled citizen, now this weekend two more unhappy campers contacted me personally. The first, a resident of the Arnold Heights neighborhood, is a hard-working taxpayer who is absolutely fed up with the cars driving on NW 48th Street and NW 49th Street playing their stereos so loud. We, of course, do nothing about it, and he isn't interested in hearing our usual lame excuses.

The second one, though, was a perplexing problem in another area of town, and arrived Sunday evening via email. It was a little long-winded, so here's the applicable excerpts:
"Hi Tom, I was kind disappointed with your police officers & they acted like
they don't want to do anything about it. We had duplex next door to us on
west side & never have any problem with them at all until the boys move
there last year on the north side of duplex. Every time they mow the lawn,
they mow the grass all over our driveway & I'm getting tired of cleaning up
their mess. I told them to clean it up when get done & they don't want
to do it....So what should I do Tom? Like I said, I'm getting tired of
cleaning up their mess when mow the grass all over the driveway. The
police department don't want to do nothing about it...."
While this mayhem went unattended by the police, we responded to 818 incidents on Saturday and Sunday. This included 6 sexual assaults, 17 narcotics cases, 48 thefts, 213 disturbances, 11 child abuse cases, 15 missing persons, 30 assaults, 17 alarms, 40 traffic accidents, and 3 death investigations.

One Monday at a public pre-council meeting, a City Council member (not currently serving), asked me with a completely straight face if we couldn't do more about people who flick cigarette butts out of their car windows.

Friday, October 5, 2007

An encouraging word

Sam Hicks spent the day with me yesterday. He's a 15 year-old sophomore at East High School. Sam was doing a job shadowing assignment for his Career Education class. We had a great time. Sam basically learned that my job is about answering calls, responding to emails, going to meetings, and talking to people all over the place. We made it to the 0730 and 1430 lineups at HQ and at Center Team, hit the morning staff meeting and the media briefing, and dashed over to the Northeast Team Station, where Sgt. Tom Towle took the time to show Sam the plethora of gear and equipment in the Team's inventory.

We had a couple important meetings, the most interesting of which was probably our hiring review panel. For 90 minutes or so we reviewed the first of three groups of applicants for our January recruit class. Sam got a first-hand look at the kinds of things employers are looking for: solid transcripts, stable employment records, bilingual skills, clean records, good life experiences and so forth.

I was expected at the Mayor's Office for a news interview about graffiti in Lincoln at 1300 hours, and I told the reporter from KOLN TV that the only way she'd get an interview with me was if she made sure Sam somehow got in the frame. She graciously and cleverly assisted in getting Sam a cameo appearance on the news, deep, in the background.

A day like this reassures you that the world turns, and that young people today are just as smart, capable, funny, and enjoyable as ever.

Come to think of it, I had two doses of this youthful optimism during the week, the other at Dr. Miriam DeLeone's Criminal Justice 101 Class on Wednesday. I told the students there that I was in the exact same class 34 years ago, taught by Dr. Roy Roberg, and it was the original stimulus that got me thinking about policing as a potential career.

Good luck on that car, Sam.

A discouraging word

Yesterday, the Planning Department forwarded a comment to me that they had received on-line pertaining to a zoning request. It came from a property owner who opposes a special permit application for a day care proposed near 12th and D Streets:

"I do not believe we should increase the size of facilities for young children inthis nieborhood until there is a commitment to reduce crime and prostitution andother unwanted elements in this area.We spent the time to have a rec center down here so the teenagers can be and learn trades that are not valuable to our community.

More efforts should be placed in making this area safe and should not encourage additional children until a plan is in place and action has been taken to bring this area of wide streets and close proximity to downtown back to a normal and respectable part of this community.

I would request that you pass this on to the city council and chief of police. I have been an owner in this area for over 16 years and have not been impressed with public works or our law enforcement in caring for this area as it were an important part of our great inner city that leads to downtown and the Capitol.

Thank you for the time you have spent in reading and forwarding this response from a concerned citizen and taxpayer."

Given the huge effort that the Southwest Team has devoted to this area, this message was a bit discouraging. I think our Southwest Team officers have been incredibly devoted to the neighborhood, and I've blogged about it before. The neighborhood seems to realize the level of effort and committment, judging from the comments, calls, and letters I've received.

Here's my response:

"The planning department forwarded your remarks on to me, as you requested.I am very discouraged to hear the you feel the police are not doing enough to try to protect this neighborhood from the many social ills that have descended upon it. I assure you that I personally advocate for this neighborhood at every available opportunity with civic groups all over town. I am deeply concerned about the area between 9th and 27th Streets, G and A Streets. We have spent a huge amount of our very limited resources in this area, helped in part by aProject Safe Neighborhoods grant we have leveraged for the past three years. Virtually every week the officers who work this area are putting themselves in grave risk working undercover details to try to drive down prostitution and drug dealing.

Until your remark, I have heard nothing but thanks and praise from the people who actually live in the area, who seem to have both noticed and appreciated the additional efforts we are expending, and seem to recognize the fact that the police alone have little control over many of the social and cultural ills that have collapsed into relatively small areas of our city. There is no area of Lincoln where we have done more undercover work, made more arrests, or worked harder than this neighborhood.

I hope you will remember that it was certainly not the police who allowed the density of this area to increase with lightly-constructed slip in apartment buildings during the 1960's and 1970's, that inevitably reached the end of their lifecycle as quality housing a long time ago. It was not the police department that converted stately single family homes into multi-unit apartment buildings, or allowed buildings to fall into disrepair, trash to accumulate, graffiti to proliferate, home ownership to decrease, poverty to increase, and so forth. We are committed to working with the stakeholders in the neighborhood who are trying to reverse such trends, and we have and will continue to put our lives on the line to do so."

I suspect that the author of the comment operates under the notion that the reason prostitutes, johns, drug addicts, and trouble makers abound is because the police don't arrest them. Nothing is further from the truth, and the problem people generally have lengthy arrest records. The simplistic notion that arrest is the answer to such complex issues often is accompanied by the misconception that the police control such things as conditions of release and sentencing. I don't know what the Public Works Department did or cause them to be lumped in with us.

I noted that the person who sent the comment lives on a golf course, by the way.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Determined effort by the team

Early Monday morning's burglary of Scheel's All Sports was a frightening and frustrating affair. The frightening part was the thought that at least 84 firearms and a large amount of ammunition had been stolen in a brazen burglary of a large, well-secured, and tightly alarmed sporting goods store. Among these were some particularly powerful weapons: 4 DPMS tactical rifles, a Desert Eagle .44, a S&W .460 XVR, and scores of .45, 9MM, .40, and other handguns. Having this arsenal in the hands of criminals caused every single Lincoln police officer to cringe.

The frustrating part is that despite the alarm and the security gate, we weren't notified of the alarm until 2:12 AM, about 32 minutes after the burglars entered. After the alarm drop, the monitoring company notified the store manager, who drove to the shopping center, discovered the burglary, then called us. The burglars had a full eight minutes to pack up a trunk-load of goods valued at tens of thousands of dollars, and drive leisurely into the night.

All day, everyone from raw rookie to seasoned veteran had this crime on their mind, but later on Monday, one of our most experienced and skilled investigators developed some key information that led to a search warrant. Our SWAT Team served the warrant at around 10:00 PM, and introduced themselves to two suspects who were holed up in an apartment surrounded by loaded guns and ammo. Twenty six guns, including all the assault rifles, were recovered there, and by the end of the night, we had arrested a third suspect and recovered four more guns at other locations.

There are more than 50 pistols still missing, though, and we are all concerned. Our officers, detectives, and investigators will continue to work hard on this. Tuesday night, we made a fourth arrest, and recovered a stolen car that we believe may be connected to this gang. None of these suspects is a stranger to the police. Their ages are 16, 17, 17, and 18. More arrests will probably follow, as these guns surface. Citizens are getting a glimpse into something every Lincoln police officer knows well: this is not a quiet little city where nothing much happens. Under the surface and after most people in bed, we're no different than any other big city: we have a hard core criminal element, a thriving drug problem, and more soul less gangsters than the general public realizes. Our biggest fear is this: as time goes by, the guns are dispersed to the four winds and into the criminal subculture we see so regularly.

There is a silver lining in this dark cloud for me. When the major crime occurs and the fire is in the breech, the officers and employees of this department pull together with a determination that is an incredible thing to witness and be part of. I can't possibly explain how gratifying it is to see the laser-beam focus of everyone to do everything they can to contribute. Whether it's a school resource officer, a patrol officer across town, a checks and fraud investigator, or a records technician, everybody is on the case in whatever way they can contribute. Teamwork is a thing of beauty.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Gary got his gun permit

This is the long-winded and long-awaited follow-up to my visit with Dr. Richard Boohar’s University of Nebraska honors class, Deciding Right and Wrong. I told this story to the students, and let them know that I expected Gary (who had just applied) would indeed be getting his concealed handgun permit within a few weeks. My question to them was whether I should or should not tell this story. We discussed the pros and cons, and in the end, they strongly believed that I should let it rip.

Blogging about concealed handguns is a sure way to attract a lot of spirited comments. I’m taking the plunge anyway, because I think this could provide some insight to some citizens on my discomfort, and because a group of really smart University of Nebraska students felt it was my obligation to do so.

Although I was not in favor of concealed carry, neither was I greatly worried about it. My opposition wasn’t based on fear that permit holders would run amok (the vast majority of perfectly law-abiding citizens) so much as it was on the knowledge that the law was a Swiss cheese of loopholes that would poorly define “law-abiding.” A few pretty untrustworthy people would end up with permits. They would use these in various ways—presenting them as ID when cashing a check, impressing people they meet socially, and who knows what else.

The Virginia Tech shootings exposed one of the glaring loopholes in firearms laws I have testified about during the past 15 years: the law does not effectively prevent some people with serious mental illnesses from obtaining permits or walking into a gun shop and buying a Glock and a Walther.

The second loophole in our State and Federal law is the nature of the criminal convictions that prevent a citizen from obtaining a firearm or a concealed carry permit. Here are some crimes that are not included on the list: stalking, violating a protection order, impersonating a police officer. Conversely, felony convictions such as rolling back an odometer disqualify one from a permit. Plea bargaining contributes to the problem—some people with frightening criminal records have only misdemeanor convictions because the most favorable plea agreements inevitably seem to go to the most prolific criminals, who come to the table with lots of cards to deal.

Gary is the best example I have, so far--though he's not the only one. It’s illegal for me to identify a concealed carry permit holder, so I’ll use the name “Gary.” He’s quite real, though, and he has a newly-minted Nebraska concealed handgun permit. He was convicted of the following crimes:
  • impersonating a police officer
  • violating a protection order
  • possession of methamphetamine
  • possession of alprazolam
  • possession of marijuana,
  • possession of drug paraphernalia
  • possession of illegal fireworks.
The first two, impersonating a police officer and violating a protection order, do not prohibit a person from receiving a concealed carry permit. I might also note that his protection order conviction was a plea bargain—he pleaded guilty to one count, while four other counts were dismissed. The felony drug conviction would ordinarily prevent a person from receiving a concealed handgun permit, but in 2006, he received a pardon. The Nebraska Board of Pardons (the Governor, Secretary of State, and Attorney General) granted a pardon, effectively erasing his convictions and restoring his gun rights.

Long before he sought the pardon, Gary had appealed his 1994 drug conviction to the Nebraska Court of Appeals. He lost. When I read their 1997 decision containing a short synopsis of the factual basis of the conviction, I was quite surprised that a pardon was granted.

Gary was stopped by a Nebraska State Patrol trooper for a traffic violation on the Interstate. He was wearing a pistol in a shoulder holder, and the trooper also spotted a bogus badge laying on his console. It turns out that Gary, a State employee at the time, apparently had acquired his own “badge”, custom made, with his employing agencies name engraved upon it. Gary worked for an agency which has no badges. The trooper recalled hearing that this same individual had previously used his “badge” to gain access to a Garth Brooks concert at the Devaney Sports Center, claiming that he was on an investigative mission for his employer.

After the Interstate stop, Gary’s car was searched. The troopers found methamphetamine, marijuana, drug paraphernalia, and another illegal pharmaceutical drug. This was all located in his car, along with a stun gun, several pistols, a shotgun, and a semi-automatic rifle. Interestingly, when Gary was convicted of impersonating a police officer in 1992, the case involved him approaching a carload of teenagers at 48th St. and Madison Ave. in Lincoln, waving a badge, demanding their registration and lecturing them about a traffic infraction.

Gary now has a Nebraska Concealed Handgun Permit, which no doubt will make a nice accessory to go along with his badges.

Don't blow a gasket

Just how mad do you have to be that on a Saturday, you call the chief of police to complain angrily about the fact that parking meters in downtown are enforced on Saturdays? We'll see, because he didn't find me. By the time I returned the call, he wasn't in. My guess is that he was at the football game, but the person who answered the phone at the business number he left just said that he would not be in until Monday.

I'll tell him that the police department does not set the hours or days of meter enforcement. That's done by a municipal ordinance, and those are adopted by the City Council. I will also tell him that life would be easier for LPD if the meters weren't enforced on Saturdays. For that matter, if they weren't enforced at all, that would be splendid. I'll tell him that on Saturdays, our parking enforcement staff is cut back to a third of what it is on weekdays. I will tell him that none of the meter revenue benefits the police department, and that by law the fines collected are paid to the school district. None of this will matter, he'll still be angry.

The phone number he left is to a small retail business in East Lincoln. I'll ask him how he would feel if people who weren't even his customers pulled into his parking lot on Saturday morning when his store is open for business, and left their car there for the next six or eight hours. That's what it feels like for some downtown businesses, but he won't get it.

Finally, I'll tell him that our downtown parking enforcement staff was slashed by a third this year, and that last year, we wrote the smallest number of parking tickets on record since parking meters were first installed in the mid-1950's.

Won't matter. He'll still be mad that he got a ticket, and it will still be my fault that he didn't know the meters have always been enforced on Saturdays, and he didn't read the days and hours of enforcement which are printed on every single parking meter. Didn't he even wonder for an instant whether he had to feed the meter? It's unbelievable how worked up some people get over a $10 parking ticket. They should try a San Francisco parking citation, or maybe a New York City ticket.