Friday, December 28, 2007

Landlord holds the key

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Big blue elf

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wow, did I have a great Christmas!


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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 24, 2007

Proactive policing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Samuel Johnson

Friday, December 21, 2007

'Tis the season

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

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

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

He cared enough to send the very best!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Not the worst

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Tagger nabbed

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 17, 2007

Weather and crime

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 14, 2007

Drugs, alcohol, and gangs

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

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

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

    7 robberies
    10 weapons offenses
    11 burglaries
    426 vandalisms
    53 assaults

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

    Thursday, December 13, 2007

    Commissioning day

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

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

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

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

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

    No surprise

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

    Tuesday, December 11, 2007

    Down time

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Monday, December 10, 2007

    From Virginia Tech

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Friday, December 7, 2007

    Guns surfacing

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

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

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

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

    Thursday, December 6, 2007

    Missing person process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Wednesday, December 5, 2007

    We're with you

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

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

    New challenge

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

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

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

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

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

    Tuesday, December 4, 2007

    Nice catch

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

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

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

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

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

    Monday, December 3, 2007

    Visit from Topeka

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

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

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

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