Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Top posts of the year

All the news outlets are doing "top stories of 2008" this week, so I thought I'd recap the top posts of the year on The Chief's Corner, where there were just over 136,415 visits in 2008. Now, how do your measure the most popular posts?

You could count the total number of page hits. Page hits, though, come primarily from external links or from backlinks contained in other posts--something I do a lot of. As the year wears on I might write three of four new posts with a link referring to the same post I wrote back in February, for example. That could generate quite a few page hits. A lot of external hits come from Google searches, particularly images. Since I post quite a few photos and graphs, if you do an image search on something like "SWAT" or "call box key", it's going to generate a page hit.

Alternatively, you might count the number of visits per day. Theoretically a good post will generate a large number of visits compared to a dull and boring one, and those visits will come on the day of the post or perhaps a day or two thereafter.

Finally, you might count the number of comments. A provocative post ought to create more dialog and comments than a lame one, although sometimes the comments take off in a completely different direction than the original post. So here's the top ten lists for 2008:

Most page hits:

Share the road

Hole in his bucket

Exemplary planning and execution

Call box key

To the rescue

Not a wise choice

Frequent flyer

Not an urban legend

Enough with the speed trap

Most visits in a day:

Share the road

Surprised me

Not an urban legend

Bad year for bank robbers

Why would you assume that?

Tried to warn him

Enough with the speed trap

More from the inbox

Quite a show

Call the police

Most comments:

Share the road

Easy button

Hole in his bucket

Guns here and there

Quite a show

Could it be?

Citizen crime analysts

Enough with the speed trap

Never even asked

Why we do this

My personal favorite never made any of the lists.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New gizmo

I'm getting acquainted with a new cell phone. I've been using a smartphone of one kind or another for years, and I opted for a Samsung Omnia, running Windows Mobile 6.1. It's my third Windows Mobile device, after making the jump from a decade of Palm OS. My first handheld was a Sharp Wizard, nearly 20 years ago. I still own it, and it still works. Seems to me that the useful life of a cell phone or handheld computer these days is about three years.

I am pretty dependent on syncing my calendar, and on carrying around an array of PowePoints, Excel spreadsheets, documents and .pdf files of all sorts. I picked up an 8gb micro SD card on sale at Best Buy this past weekend, and loaded it up. It blows my mind to think of the storage on that tiny chip. I can essentially carry around all my important files and applications. I can see that the laptop is going to be staying in the bag more often. The wide screen on the Omnia makes those spreadsheets a little more comfortable than it's predecessor.

The mind boggling application, though, is Google Maps Mobile. The newest release is astounding. It includes StreetView, and it works great on a handheld. It's one thing to search for an address and quickly render a Google Map in your hand, but now with a click you are looking at the street-level photo of the surroundings.

It seems like it wasn't long ago that a Motorola bag phone and a IBM XT with a 10 meg hard drive was a pretty spiffy set up. I sometimes wonder where the future will lead us.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas follow-up

I noted in my post last Friday that second shift on Christmas had been rather interesting, and that I'd report on that later. Overall, Christmas is normally a slow day. We handled a total of 176 dispatches, which is about half our daily average.

What always surprises me about Christmas isn't the volume of incidents, but rather the nature. The ugly side of human behavior does not take a break for holy days. Here's a few snippets from the Christmas Incident Report one-liners:


We were involved in ten mental health investigations on Christmas Day. At one point, around 8:00 PM, officers were dealing with three individuals threatening suicide at the same time. Sgt. Craig Price, covering supervisory duties on the east side of Lincoln, had just finished coordinating his second tactical entry in 20 minutes, when he cleared and asked the dispatcher if she was holding any more.

Nonetheless, the day really was slow. I blogged last year about the common myth that the holiday season is the high-water mark for suicide attempts and domestic violence. It's not. It's all comparative, though: I think Christmas always seems busy because there is a minimum staff on duty, and things like domestic assaults and suicide attempts seem so incongruous on Christmas.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Bag man

Since the Casady family Christmas celebration is on Christmas Eve, I always work on Christmas Day. It let's someone else take the day off, and it's a tradition for me that is always interesting. I'll have to recap the days events later.

The profane, however, is moderated by the uplifting. Once again this year, two groups of citizens I am acquainted with endowed me with some cash to distribute on Christmas Day. Officers Chris Fields and Lane Johnson gave me a good tip. They had encountered a young woman in crisis on Christmas Eve. She has had a string of recent trouble that had brought her near a breaking point: divorce, unpaid child support, the recent loss of her job, and a traffic crash (not her fault) that destroyed her minivan. She is raising three young children alone in half of a Spartan duplex.

Just like last year, as the shift wore on, I couldn't find her at home. There was a Christmas tree lit in the window, though, so I suspected she would be back eventually. Around 8:30 PM, I left an address where officers were searching for a suicidal man, and made another pass on my way to the station. The lights were on, and I knocked on the door. "Come in," she called, obviously expecting a guest other than the chief of police. After introductions, I explained my mission, handed her $300 in two gift cards, and received the hug that actually belongs to others who merely sought my help as the bag man.

I had obviously interrupted bath time for the kids after a long day. They were all peering out the window as I remounted my sleigh. I treated them to a blue and red light show as I drove away. I'm sure that little excitement delayed bedtime a few minutes.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Gang taggers nabbed

The reports are still being prepared by the officers as I write this post, but the Northeast Team made five nice arrests early this morning when they interrupted a group who had spray painted gang graffiti at several locations in the vicinity of UNL's east campus.

Officer Nichole Loos spotted the suspects leaving the area in a vehicle, and some good interviewing and observation tied them to the crimes. One of the defendants has an extensive history of vandalizing property with gang graffiti. In 2006, when he was 16 years old, Officer Forrest Dalton cleared dozens of cases which he linked to this suspect through follow-up investigation. He went to juvenile court for those. The outcome might be a little different if he is convicted of the current charges: he's 18 now, a grown-up who can face the music in adult court.

For those who (incorrectly) think that gang activity isn't much of an issue in Lincoln, we have now had 357 incidents of gang-related graffiti reported in 2008.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Primary care

Last week, I received a nice email from an acquaintance who volunteers at a local free clinic. Her email concerned an incident that happened at the clinic recently. A client experienced some suicidal ideation, and needed help beyond what the clinic could provide. The police were called, and she was incredibly impressed by the work of the officer who responded, Mike Muff. She didn't know his name, but wanted to pass on her appreciation.

I wanted to determine who the officer was, so I could pass the compliment on to the appropriate supervisor. Since she gave me the date (Dec. 9), I thought it would be a simple matter, and looked up the mental health investigations for that day. There were nine. Think about that for a moment: the Lincoln Police Department responded to nine mental health investigations on a Tuesday. We've handled 2,147 so far this year, an average of over six per day. That's more than all the violent Part 1 crimes combined.

During those investigations, we took 345 people into emergency protective custody, and helped make other voluntary placements or arrangements for hundreds of others. We have become, in many respects, the default provider of mental health services. It's increased over the years: back in 2001 it was 1,550 cases. Not a complaint, just an observation: we are relying upon the police to provide the care and services on an increasing variety of personal and social ills that were once provided by others.

I'm not certain to what extent these problems have increased, and to what extent these other providers have just backed away. Some of both, I suspect.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Citizen crime analysts

This is your chance to think like a crime analyst. I'm going to try a little exercise where members of the general public who read the Chief's Corner put on a crime analyst's hat. If you want to play, other readers can be your cheerleaders or critics--including me! Nobody gets hurt, it might be illuminating, fun, and ultimately helpful.

Among the crime patterns we discussed last night, at our regular ADUDAT meeting, was a group of four larcenies from auto occurring at Churches within the past two weeks. A larceny from auto is a case in which someone illegally enters a motor vehicle and steals stuff inside. It's one of the most common crimes in Lincoln, and causes a huge dollar loss--well over $1 million annually, even more than burglary. These four cases were among the 63 overall within the past two weeks. That's a very low number, driven by the demise of good shopping weather for thieves.

So, here we are, on the verge of a big Church week, where the number of services and the number of attendees goes through the roof. I'm challenging non-LPD readers to come up with strategies to combat this crime. Remember that the strategies need to be practical: something we could do that is within our resources and capabilities, remembering that there are a lot of other crimes, disorder, and chaos for us to deal with this week, too (not to mention traffic crashes.)

If you need more information upon which to base your decisions or formulate your strategy, just ask. You might find or CrimeView Community helpful. As time permits the next few days, I dig it up for you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

First dollar

You've seen these before: a framed dollar bill above the counter at a bar, store, restaurant, or other small business. It was placed there in celebration of the first buck earned by a entrepreneur who risked it all to follow a dream.

Last week, our Administrative Officer/Accountant, Michele, showed me a deposit she was working on. Among here many duties she deposits funds that are seized as evidence after the court has disposed of the case, if the cash is forfeited. She had several hundred dollars in currency that was headed to the bank in a recently-concluded narcotics case. Among the bills was a neatly-framed Fifty. Ulysses S. Grant was staring out from the black shadow box.

I guess drug dealers are entrepreneurs, too.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Chilling effect

Ah, Nebraska. Nothing like a bracing fall wind to get the blood flowing. We had a beautiful weekend. Saturday, it hit 59 degrees. People were walking around without jackets. The kids across the street were out playing in shorts. Sunday, it was still 51 degrees at 3:54 AM. Over the next few hours, though, things changed rapidly. At 8:54 AM, it was 12 degrees with a 38 MPH wind from the northwest. By 11:54 PM, it was 1 degree, and the wind had dropped to 32 MPH, for a wind chill of -25. A 50 degree drop in the same day is pretty impressive, even by our local standards. That cooled the week off. It's up to a balmy 5 degrees right now, after yesterday's low of -4.

The good news is that bad weather has a chilling effect on crime, as I noted here in the Chief's Corner a year ago. As I publish this post, we've had 27 incidents dispatched since midnight. On another Tuesday, August 12, we had 47 incidents dispatched prior to 5:30 AM. When the bottom drops out of the thermometer, the same thing happens with crime. This is especially true of crimes that require a bit of outdoor work--things like burglaries and thefts from automobiles. I remind myself of that good side to bad weather every time I'm scooping snow.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Work the field

I spent last Friday in Washington, DC at a meeting convened by the National Institute of Justice--the research arm of the Department of Justice. I had been invited, along with about a dozen other criminal justice practitioners and academicians, to participate in a discussion of strategies for improving the implementation of research-based strategies in the field. NIJ wants to improve the uptake of research findings by practitioners.

Personally, I think they do a very good job of disseminating the most important research in criminal justice. Conference presentations, publication in professional journals, the NIJ website, and a variety of concise, summary reports aimed at practitioners are used to get the word out about new findings from NIJ funded research. To the extent that important findings sometimes fail to result in research-based strategies by practitioners in the field, I don't think this is due to lack of effort by the NIJ.

Rather, I believe that we are not prepared to assimilate the results of research very well. There is a whole body of knowledge out there about research-based strategies in policing, but it does not always find fertile ground in the field. I tend to hang out with like-minded chiefs who are constantly scanning for the latest-and-greatest information about "what works," but I think this is the exception, rather than the rule. As a profession we need to do a better job in colleges and universities, police academies, and professional development training preparing our personnel to use the results of good research to guide their actions and decisions. Other fields do a comparatively better job of this--medicine and education come to mind.

On a Sunday drive last week, my mother-in-law Joyce Wagner--a farm girl at heart, made a Nebraska observation that fits very well: "That field's already been worked," she said. It was a compliment. She saw a hillside of dark earth in an otherwise muted landscape, indicating that an enterprising farmer had already put the disc to a harvested field: turning over the earth, loosening the ground, preparing the field to accept next spring's planting. More of that needs to happen in policing.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Huffing deaths

This post is a serious warning about the practice of "huffing:" inhaling substances (usually aerosols of some sort) for the purpose of getting high. In Lincoln, there have been two recent deaths and one recent medical emergency involving the inhalation of the propellant and compounds contained in "canned air": aerosol products marketed for blowing dust off such things as computer keyboards.

The last death in Lincoln from huffing that I can recall was about 16 years ago. These three cases in rapid succession are of grave concern. I feel that we have an ethical obligation to warn the public about this phenomenon, even though I realize that this may be painful for the friends and family of the victims.

On November 12, 2008, a 19 year old Lincoln man was found in his apartment next to a plastic bag and a can of "Maxell Blast Away". CPR was initiated and he was transported to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead in the emergency department. The case number is A8-113360.

On December 8, 2008, a 36 year old Lincoln man was found dead in his apartment, with a can of "Safe Clean" dust remover in his hand. Four other empty cans were also recovered, along with receipts for the purchase of 11 cans over a three day period. The case number is A8-121264.

Autopsy results in both of these cases show that the victims died from asphyxia after inhaling these substances.

On December 6, 2008, Lincoln emergency personnel responded to a medical emergency behind Shopko at 6845 S. 27th Street. A 28 year old man was found slumped over in his vehicle with a can of "Clean Safe" dust remover in his hand. This man recovered from his condition after on-scene treatment by Lincoln Fire & Rescue, and was cited for the offense of inhaling intoxicating vapors. The case number is A8-120719.

Other deaths have been reported as a result of the practice of inhaling dust remover products. Warning signs that might be indicative that someone is engaging in huffing these substances might include such things as multiple purchases in a short time period, possession of several cans, discovery of several empty cans, and the presence of cans with plastic bags or other paraphernalia associated with huffing.

Data to crunch

Every year, the FBI publishes a compendium of data from 17,000 or so police agencies that participate in the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program by submitting their data to the FBI. The program is voluntary, and while not all agencies submit, this represents that vast majority of state, county, municipal, and university police agencies in the country. The thick publication that results, Crime in the United States (CIUS) is an annual publication in which the FBI compiles volume and rate of crime offenses for the nation, the states, and individual agencies. This report also includes arrest, clearance, and law enforcement employee data. I sometimes refer to the report as the UCR.

If you go to the UCR website, before you can actually open the report, you are cautioned about the hazards of ranking agencies. The FBI's disclaimer warns that "rough rankings provide no insight into the numerous variables that mold crime in a particular town, city, county, state, or region. Consequently, they lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities and their residents." The FBI is correct, and the UCR data must always be understood in the context of how it is collected: these data are submitted by participating agencies, and are only as good as the individual reporting and coding practices of those agencies. I could blog for a month on that topic.

Despite the warnings, though, comparing cities using UCR data is as American as apple pie: everybody does it, everyone wants to know how their robbery rate compares to others, where they stack up in police-citizen ratios, and so forth. Since there are common questions, I have created my own Excel spreadsheets over the years to massage the FBI data by adding a few calculated fields, performing sorts based on population or geography, and so forth.

This got a lot easier a few years ago, when the individual tables in the report became available as .xls files. Now I just grab Table 8 (Offenses known to the police by City) and Table 78 (law enforcement employment by City) and have at it. I write the formulae I need to calculate new columns I want, apply filters and sorts, and use copy and paste to create some sheets that meet my specific purposes: crime data for cities within 50,000 or Lincoln's population, for example, or police officer/population ratios for cities in Nebraska and the surrounding states. I spend about a day on this project every fall when the UCR is published, and I'm prepared all year long when some reporter, city council member, or reader of The Chief's Corner asks a question containing "how do we compare?"

In a recent phone conversation with a colleague, Chris Bruce, the crime analyst at the Danvers, Massachusetts Police Department, I learned that he does the same thing. Lots of analysts from other police agencies read this blog, so in the interest of sharing with others, I've posted my Excel workbook and you are free to download it. It's almost 5 meg, so you' may need to be patient--it took just under a minute on my home wireless network this morning. Table 8 and 78 are the last two sheets, and for all the others that include both crime and employment data together, I only included cities that reported both. Some cities had crime data but no employment data, or vice versa. There were a handful of cities with incomplete employment data (such as no population listed) that I also did not include.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Seems about right

When street-level prostitution started surfacing in Lincoln a few years ago, it was an indicator of much more serious problems. You can argue all you want about prostitution being a victimless crime: when you arrest a john who's brought his baby along for the ride, bust someone who negotiates a $5 sex act with a desperate addict, or investigated a soup-sandwich robbery report in which the victim is lying about the hooker and pimp who jacked him, you'll soon discover that there are indeed many victims in street prostitution. One of those victims is the neighborhood.

Few things are more damaging to a neighborhood than street walkers hanging out while prospects slowly cruise by gawking. For that reason, our Southwest Team officers have worked hard to reduce street prostitution. This has been difficult and risky work. They should be commended for their dedication and courage. Their efforts should also be supported by an equal commitment by the rest of the criminal justice system.

I received this recap of sentences that have been meted out to johns seeking prostitutes in the Southwest Team area this year during our Project Safe Neighborhoods operations:

I'm encouraged, because I think this shows that these offenses are not being trivialized. I also think it has made a difference. The problem has been impacted, and the neighborhood has seen the results. It has been a team effort, and a good example of the collaboration of the community and the police to address a problem of mutual concern.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Be careful in the surf

Yesterday one of our local reporters from KOLN TV wanted a "law enforcement perspective" on couch surfing. Sounds like a neat idea to me, sort of like the newest version of youth hostels. As a baby-boomer, I grew up in an era when crashing on a stranger's couch, traveling to Europe with a backpack and a hundred bucks, and hitchhiking all over the place was pretty well accepted.

Alas, now we have to know stuff that we'd really rather not know. Particularly when you're in my business: you want three references and a cheek swab from grandma before you allow her to babysit. Same creeps were out there in the 1970's, we were just blissfully ignorant compared to today.

With a little time before the interview, I jumped on, put in a few parameters, and rendered a list of available hosts in Lincoln. I found an interesting guy who specified in his profile "no cigarette smoking." He's been arrested four times by my officers for smoking or possession of marijuana, though, and we have a slew of intelligence information about him dealing in various controlled substance.

I also found a registered sex offender offering his sofa. This particular guy was convicted of a felony count of child enticement, when he tried to romance what he thought was a 13 year old girl, and arranged to meet her to consummate the relationship. The forensic examination of his personal computer was rather interesting.

Another prospective couch host was taken into emergency custody by our officers quite recently after threatening to shoot himself.

So, if you're going to couch surf, take advantage of the free resources for background checks, email some of the references, don't go it alone if you can help it, and bring your own sleeping bag: never know what's been on that couch. No need to be paranoid, though. You can't live in a cocoon, and somehow the concept of people hosting travellers in their home is appealing to a guy who was on his own at an early age, and depended on the kindness of others to make his way for several years.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Mystery solved

Two or three years ago, I noticed these annoying foam core signs popping up at intersections, posing the question "Single?" and advertising or I've also seen them all over in the Omaha metro area, with names like, or Someone has bought a boat load of domain names. Insert your City name with singles, dating, .com and .org in various combinations, and see for yourself. The mystery for me was where in the world these signs come from. Suddenly, you'd spot dozens of them in the right-of-way, as if a platoon of elves installed them overnight.

Signs placed in the public right-of-way are illegal in Lincoln and most anywhere else, but it's hardly a police priority. Nonetheless, we receive complaints about this from time to time. I've been quizzed a couple of times by members of the City Council about these. Finally, earlier this year, one of our officers actually found a person in the act of installing these signs, and issued a citation to a Papillion woman driving a Lexus. She declined to reveal who she worked for, and was ultimately fined a whopping $10. That'll teach her.

With the distinct lack of concern by the Court, I had totally lost interest in this minor offense, until last week. Just before Thanksgiving, I noticed a new bloom of signs. At the intersection of 56th and Highway 2, for example, I counted six--one on each corner and two stuck in expansion joints in the medians. Meanwhile, a reader of The Chief's Corner brought to my attention this rather lengthy but intriguing story of these signs, which goes a long way towards solving the mystery.

If you wade through the story (take a glance at the comments, too), you'll learn that a franchise dating service, The Right One, is the likely purveyor of the signs. They have franchises in Lincoln and Omaha and are registered with the Better Business Bureau. The Lincoln office is in the US Bank building at 56th and O Street.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Enough with the speed trap!

That was the subject line on this email I received last Tuesday, which I have condensed somewhat due to length:

"Come on guys, enough with the speed trap at the bottom of the hill on A Street right by 70th. It is the equivalent of entrapment. You have people going down a hill, so their rate of speed goes a bit faster, and so you are jumping on them there. I was astounded to get a ticket the other day, because I have to pull out from a side street where I live, I was ticketed for momentum, basically. And by an officer who was sullen. I have seen this speed trap there for the better part of a year, usually at the end of the month when you need to write more tickets. It comes off as abuse of power. It is these sort of actions by policemen that causes us citizens to lose respect for you and bad blood between you and the neighborhood. Thank you for your consideration."

The complaints about speed traps are almost as common as the complaints about the lack thereof. There is no single issue that citizens complain to me more about than speeding in their neighborhood. I would say that this is especially true for anyone who lives within a mile or so of a high school. This particular speed trap is midway between two: Lincoln East High School and Pius X High School. The value of the hill is not in creating "momentum," rather it is in limiting visibility: you can't see the radar until it's already seen you. Since the citation this correspondent received was for 11-15 MPH over the limit, I think we can safely assume that gravity was not the culprit.

Citizens who complain about speeding in their neighborhood, of course, are normally referring to speeders other than their own friends, family members, and selves. I sometimes have to shake my head at the mental process whereby someone complains bitterly about red light runners, but then himself guns it through every yellow light he encounters.

Let us dissect the concept of a speed trap. Colloquially, I think this means a location where speeders are easily snagged by police officers. Snagging speeders, of course, is part of our job. Before anyone has a conniption, let me reiterate that the Nebraska Constitution specifies that fines be paid into the general fund of the school district: a ticket benefits the City of Lincoln and the Lincoln Police Department not one whit. If we wrote no tickets at all, we'd actually save quite a bit of money.

In Lincoln, as elsewhere, speed traps tend to have a few common characteristics. First, it's a location where there is a suitable supply of speeders. This criterion is met at places near high schools, arterial streets with moderate traffic flows that allow you to isolate single vehicles, and collector streets in residential areas. Second, it is a location where speed enforcement can be established with a certain element of surprise. Third, it's an area that is accessible to the police. There are some places where it's tough to set up enforcement due to such things as high-volume, elevated roadways, the lack of an area where stationary radar can be safely deployed, no good place to safely pull cars over, and so forth.

Since the characteristics of speed traps can be described, they are rather easy to identify if you think about it. There are several locations in Lincoln where to this day I double check my speedometer. Call it muscle memory from 40 years of driving in this City, but I'm tapping the brake and checking the needle anytime I'm westbound on Vine from 46th Street. And that, folks, is the purpose of a speed trap: it is our job to enforce speed limits. That means writing tickets, and trusting that people will have that experience (or the sight of someone else having it) in the back of their mind as their speedometer creeps to 57 MPH on Old Cheney Road west of 70th Street.

Speed traps are predictable to the thinking motorist, and fairly easy to avoid if you use your head rather than your foot. Enforcing traffic laws is an important part of our role in promoting public safety. Why should we be criticized for doing so with a certain degree of efficiency? Nobody likes to get a ticket, but I think we all realize that there is only one person to blame.

Friday, November 28, 2008

While the Lions were losing...

Ah, Thanksgiving! The turkey, the stuffing, and the whole family gathered around the dining table for the traditional feast and fellowship. Well, maybe not for everyone. Here's a some of the one-liners from Lincoln police Incident Reports and dispatch records on Thanksgiving:


It was actually a very slow day: 196 dispatches, about half our average. If you are a long time reader, and this post looks familiar, don't worry: it's just déjà vu. You can keep an eye on what we're up to at the Lincoln Police Department day-by-day on our public web site.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The spirit of community policing

It's graduation night for the LPD police academy. Late this afternoon, the badges will be pinned on a group of new Lincoln police officers, who will assume their duties beginning tomorrow. It's a great event, one that I have mentioned before in The Chief's Corner. We are all proud of their accomplishment, and look forward to working alongside our new officers as their careers unfold.

We always combine our awards ceremony with the two academy graduation events. It will be a busy one tonight. There are 38 awards to bestow; 17 to officers (11 of those are life saving awards), and 21 to citizens who helped us in a variety of ways. There are retail employees and service sector employees who helped build an important drug cases by providing critical information. We will honor two citizens who intervened to help save lives along with officers, and three citizens who put their own safety on the line to help police officers struggling with combative suspects and needing a little assist in getting the cuffs applied.

We also have awards for nine private property managers and landlords that have helped us immensely in dealing with prostitution in Lincoln. This has made a real difference in the area of Lincoln where street prostitution has been most problematic. We truly appreciate their help and support.

All of these citizens are examples of the real spirit of community policing: everyone pulling together to promote a safe and secure community. These citizens didn't hide behind their window shades: they got actively involved and exhibited resourcefulness, courage, and self-sacrifice when duty called. Yes, I mean duty. In a democratic republic, we all share the duty for public safety and security. The police are merely paid to do it full time.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

New member

I'm a new member. I joined in San Diego a couple weeks ago, where I was pulling duty representing the IACA at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference. It was easy, and there was no fee. I signed up because I fundamentally agree with the principals of the organization, and I think it represents the best hope we have for fighting crime and for passing on the important values of this republic that are worthy of upholding.

Oh, I forgot: Fight Crime, Invest in Kids.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pay it forward

One Thursday evening in 1949, sixteen year old Pete Wagner went with his pals to Hilsabeck's Sporting Goods store in downtown Holdrege, Nebraska. The boys were ordering their letter jackets--a substantial expense at $30 each. While his buddies tried on samples for size, Pete stood quietly in the background. Although he was a new letterman, he couldn't afford a jacket. Pete's dad had died just a few months earlier, and it was up to him to work all the hours he could at the grocery store so the income of the short order cook mom and the apprentice meat cutter son could keep the family afloat.

Mr. Hilsabeck, the proprietor, talked quietly to Pete and asked him why he wasn't ordering a jacket. Pete told him he couldn't afford it, but that he might be getting a sweater sometime later. In a small town like Holdrege, everyone knew about Pete's dad and about the family's precarious financial condition. "You go ahead and order your jacket, Pete," said the proprietor, "and you can pay me a few dollars a week--whatever you can afford."

Through the kindness of Mr. Hilsabeck, Pete got his letter jacket, paying off his debt interest-free and the rate of $2 a week. It was a story Pete Wagner told me a dozen times or more, and it was an act of kindness and generosity I saw him repeat in his own life over and over. A proprietor himself in later years, he was always there to help the poor family in the neighborhood of his grocery stores, the disabled employee, the customer down on his luck, the shut-in down the street, the kid with no job, the college student with no place to stay, nothing to eat, and no car to get to class.

My father in law, Pete Wagner, the best fishing buddy I've ever had, died last Thursday after an intense battle with a sudden illness. We will lay him to rest this morning, a year after my own Dad's passing. A man is lucky to have a father he can look up to, aspire to be like, and learn life's important lessons from. I was blessed with two.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Evidence-based policing

This is the fifth and final post in a series that started Monday.

Having spent the week vastly oversimplifying criminology and policing, I need to acknowledge a couple things. First, there are many other theories of crime, supported by really smart people that I have not even mentioned. Second, no one theory explains crime. I think that even the most ardent proponent of a particular theory would probably agree with that. As a police officer, you can see crimes that seem to be best explained by one or another. Many of the distinctions in theory are blurred in the real world. Police strategies are not neatly compartmentalized into those based on one particular theory. There is a good deal of overlap.

In my own paradigm, I tend towards routine activities and rational choice theories because they are actionable. As a police officer, I can actually do something about wolves, ducks, and dens. Given a crime pattern, generating alternatives grounded in routine activities theory and situational crime prevention is comparatively straightforward. Information about what works and what doesn't is often available. The Problem-Oriented Policing Center provides a great compendium of such information. It is more difficult to come up with strategies that I have the resources to implement if I accept strain theory or subcultural theory as the best explanation for criminality. I'm not discarding other theories, just focusing on strategies that are within our power to carry out.

Most of all, I want us to engage in police strategies that work. Evidence of impact impresses me more than theory. Show me that arresting more drunk drivers is correlated with fewer alcohol-involved fatal accidents, and I'm on board. Demonstrate that enforcement of minor public order crimes is related to lower overall rates of victimization, and I'll head that direction. Prove to me that when an offender is arrested, prosecuted, and sentenced for an act of domestic violence that he or she is less likely to commit the same crime against the same victim in the future, and I will make those investigations a priority.

I believe in practicing evidence-based policing. The evidence isn't always clear-cut, there are often gaps in our knowledge, and sometimes you must operate on the best information you have at the moment. You should always, however, keep your mind open for new and better information, and be willing to change course and adapt as the state of our knowledge improves. You should also look for any available evidence of the impact of your own activities on your desired outcomes, and at the bare minimum be able to describe the logical link between what you are doing, and what you hope to accomplish.

The Series:

Theory and practice
Evidence-based policing


This is part four of a series. Read Monday's post, if you haven't already.

Dens are problem places. These are the addresses that police officers are quite familiar with on their own beats: places with repeated calls for service and problems. Some dens have achieved their status because they are the location of lots and lots of human activity that inevitably involve the police and mostly minor crime. For example, so far this year, the list of the top five places where the most crimes have occurred (142 to 406) includes three high schools and two shopping centers.

Other dens are true dens of iniquity: places where bad actors congregate and bad actions occur with regularity. Retired LPD officers will instantly recognize addresses like 1416 P Street, 913 O Street, and 2272 Y Street--problem spots during the 1970's and 1980's. Today's officers have their own list of familiar-sounding addresses. I found, for example, one single-family residence in Lincoln this year that has already generated 13 police crime reports. There is also a home with 12, four with 9, and two with 8. That's a lot of stuff for a few single-family homes.

The Lincoln Police Department is quite good at is in identifying dens. I can give you the track record of a specific address all the way back to 1980 in a matter of moments, and find the owner and a photo of the premise in a few clicks thereafter. Our information by address is rich and deep. A den may be an exact address, or it may be an area where problems are concentrated. We use some specific techniques for pinpointing locations with emerging problems, such as Threshold Alerts. Our GIS capability is well-developed.

A key to dealing with dens is to look beyond the individual calls for service and incidents. This is the essence of most good problem-oriented policing projects: gathering the information, assessing the underlying problems, addressing those with a targeted strategy, and assessing the results.

Dealing with problems at places is not solely the job of the police. Place managers such as business owners, apartment managers, retail managers, and property owners have the most important role. We want to help them do it well because it is in our best interest. As an example, we provide some great resources to rental property owners and managers, so that they may be alerted to a den existing in their own units. Owners and managers can instantly obtain up-to-the-minute information concerning the basic details of all police dispatches to their property. We also provide liquor license holders with information about drunk driving arrests where the defendant claims to have been drinking in that particular establishment. We emphasize the value to our officers of establishing relationships with retail businesses on their beat, and we are heavily-involved in one of the most important places in any community: schools.

Here are a few examples of place-based interventions LPD has initiated that I've blogged about here in the Chief's Corner in the past:

Working with landlords to reduce problems at rental property.
Keeping close tabs on the residences of high-risk sex offenders.
Dealing with problematic practices at bars.
Recruiting good tenants into fragile neighborhoods.

Despite the fact that we do a particularly good job of locating and working on dens, there are a few ways I think we could improve. We could, for example, intervene more effectively on businesses with repeated false alarms. If the small fines don't seem to have the desired impact, maybe a personal visit by the police captain who commands the area would. I also think that in some case we could intervene earlier with place managers--even thought this is an area in which we generally excel. Sometimes we wait a little longer than we should. By the time we've actually spoken to or written the owner/manager, the problem has been in existence for quite a while.

Some people opine that place-centered police intervention merely moves the problems elsewhere. In my book, though, the displacement argument is unconvincing. The net effect of displacing crime is usually positive:even if there is some displacement, it's not one-to-one. And there can be some unexpected diffusion of benefits when crime prevention efforts focused on one offense type or one area actually exert a positive influence on crimes and areas other than those directly targeted. It's a contested issue, but I believe the greater weight of research evidence backs me on this one.

The Series:

Theory and practice
Evidence-based policing

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


This is part 3 of a series. Read Monday's post, if you haven't already.

Ducks are victims or targets. A citizen who leaves the keys under the driver's side visor in his car is a sitting duck. A retailer who keeps a considerable amount of cash in the register, rather than making timely deposits is a sitting duck. A gaggle of catalytic converters conveniently piled up by the fence at a salvage yard is a flock of sitting ducks.

Focusing police efforts on the victims and targets is generally more productive then devoting those efforts exclusively towards offenders. We've shown over and over again that you can reduce crime with straightforward prevention methods. It is much more efficient and effective, in most cases, than investigating cases after the fact and seeking to arrest the offenders. Since ducks can be both persons and things, you can engage in strategies primarily aimed at changing potential victim behavior, and in strategies that are primarily aimed at making the thing less craved.

Craved, as in: Concealable, Removable, Available, Valuable, Enjoyable, and Disposable (I believe Ronald Clarke originated that, but it's become so commonly repeated, I'm not certain.) If it is difficult to dispose of stolen property, it is less craved. If the thing is concealed from view and protected by a lock, it's less available. If the product won't work without an electronic code, it's less enjoyable. Car alarms, removable-face plate and auto disabling stereos, fox urine sprayed on park fir trees, regulation of pawn shops, cable locks on school laptops, the list is long on efforts to harden targets in order to make them less craved. Some target-hardening initiatives have been especially effective. You'd be hard pressed to find a credible explanation for the drop in business burglary other than the proliferation of alarm systems, for example.

Many of our efforts in situational crime prevention involve attempts to increase guardianship. In this approach, we seek to make people more aware so they will be more watchful. We also encourage them to notify us when they observe criminal or suspicious behavior. We encourage the use of countermeasures that make it easier to guard themselves and their property: security lights, visibility corridors, CCTV, alarms, controlled access, drop safes, and many others.

I'd give the Lincoln Police Department good marks for our work on preventive strategies in the duck pond. We practice problem-oriented policing department-wide, and we do a pretty good job of recognizing crime trends and jumping on them early with preventive strategies. There are many good examples of these in past posts on the Chief's Corner, such as:

-Making it harder to offload stolen bicycles.
-steps to protect portable GPS units.
-Recommending the use of better locks.
-Suggesting getting your car up into the driveway when possible.
-Contacting us about suspicious behavior.

If I were to pick out the two best examples from my blog of LPD efforts to reduce crime by focusing on sitting ducks, though, it would be our comprehensive strategy to reduce metal thefts, and our projects to reduce open garage door burglaries.

Finally, there is a special category that must be mentioned: repeat victims. In preparation for this post, a ran a report I had never created before: 2008 Incident Reports summarized by the name of the victim. After winnowing out the obvious (various retail stores, City of Lincoln, Lincoln Public Schools, etc.) I was left with a list of individuals who had been repeatedly victimized by crime this year. When you look at these victims, you find that almost all of those at the top (there was one exception in the top 8) are women who are in domestic violence situations and have been repeatedly assaulted, had property vandalized, been stalked, had their protection order violated, and so forth. In many cases their assailant had been arrested on multiple occasions, and in a couple of cases, he is presently a fugitive. If we can intervene effectively to protect these repeat victims, there is a chance we can prevent very serious crimes.

The Series:

Theory and practice
Evidence-based policing

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


This is part 2 of a series. Read Monday's post, if you haven't already.

There is a lot of police focus on wolves--primarily catching them. Crook-catching consumes a huge amount of police resources. It's a job police officers generally find rewarding.

The concept behind our crook-catching is either incapacitation or deterrence. If criminals are identified, arrested, successfully prosecuted, and sentenced to incarceration, there will be an interval of time when they are unable to ply their trade. That alone should have a salutary effect. Once released, the offender may be deterred from committing the next crime by the memory of the unpleasantness involved in the last one (specific deterrence). Other would-be criminals will be deterred by the example (general deterrence.)

There are plenty of examples of the failure of incapacitation and deterrence. I've blogged about some of these in the past. The fact of the matter is that the old saw "crime does not pay" may not always be accurate. Your chances of actually being incarcerated for a given crime are quite small. This table from my friend Dr. Jerry Ratcliffe's fabulous book Intelligence-Led Policing makes the point:

Even when cases are reported to the police, cleared, and result in a conviction and sentence, the results can be discouraging. Police officers generally see so many examples of shortcomings in the criminal justice system that we become rather cynical. On the other hand, we still hold out hope that even short brief incarceration, and loosely-supervised probation help. On occasion, criminals change and become law-abiding and contributing members of society. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that most of the people we arrest are not repeat customers. Our attention needs to be directed towards the most ravenous wolves--the small percentage of repeat offenders who are responsible for the better part of all crime.

We also engage in strategies aimed at displacing offenderss. Assistant Chief Jim Peschong, the best hunter of wolves I have known, believes that one of the reasons we enjoy a low violent crime rate is that we track down criminals with uncommon zeal and celerity, putting pressure on suspects that would draw less police effort and attention in some cities. I concur. It's hard to measure, but Lincoln is not a good town to live in if you a petty criminal, or even a just a chronic lead-foot. Other examples of such displacement strategies would be Project Safe Neighborhoods, and Warrant Focus Areas. With these projects we are trying encourage criminals to either leave or lay low: either one works for me.

We expend the least effort on strategies to prevent wolves from becoming wolves in the first place. You could argue that some of the work of our school resource officers involves promoting pro-social behavior by young people. That's also part of the purpose of such things as the Lincoln Police Department's midget football program, our law enforcement Explorer post, and our early-diversion process for youngsters who commit law violations. These are pretty small operations, though, compared to criminal investigations.For the most part, wolf-prevention is the domain of other institutions and organizations: family, church, mentors--the whole "it takes a village to raise a child" idea. Although we are a fairly small player in the prevention realm, we believe in it, and we support (both individually and organizationally) such efforts as Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Teammates, and the Boys and Girls Club.

The Series:

Theory and practice
Evidence-based policing

Monday, November 17, 2008

Theory and practice

I am going to write a series of posts this week about the application of criminological theory to police practice. Most everything we do about crime is guided by theory in one way or another. Some of those theories are untested or unproven, but they are theories nonetheless. When you operate under the belief that people won't steal stuff if they see you giving them the hairy eyeball, that's an activity based on a theory. If you think cruising through the lot at a nightclub will deter drunk drivers, that's grounded in a theory, too.

There are many theories about the causes of crime. Two of the primary competing schools of thought (at least in my little oversimplification) are routine activities and social disorganization. Actually, I don't think they compete at all, and both have power in explaining certain aspects of crime.

Social disorganization is basically the concept that crime emerges from deprived conditions, such as poverty, urban decay, unemployment, lack of opportunity, and so forth; and the lack of capable institutions of social control: strong families, cohesive neighborhoods, and other kinds of "social capital." You might say that our efforts with Stronger Safer Neighborhoods are consistent with social disorganization theory. Other popular police strategies, such as weed and seed, police athletic leagues, and "broken windows" policing have a strong leaning in that direction. Community redevelopment, urban renewal, early childhood education, mentoring, neighborhood organizing, leadership development, and similar strategies are grounded in social disorganization theory. When LPD was engaged in Free to Grow, it was a good example of social disorganization theory turned into police practice.

Theory number two, routine activities, was originally framed by Larry Cohen and Marcus Felson. Routine activities theory essentially says that crime occurs when there is a motivated offender meets up with a suitable target in the same place and time and in the absence of a capable guardian . If you believe routine activities explains crime, you try to reduce the supply of motivated offenders and suitable targets, while increasing the supply of capable guardians. You can build a whole range of strategies around offenders, targets, and guardians. The approach geared towards increasing the risk to offenders while decreasing the vulnerability of targets is generally known as situational crime prevention. A useful model of how routine activities theory is turned into action is the crime triangle:

Offenders are impacted by handlers--police officers who make arrests, probation and parole officers who supervise offenders, and so forth. Places are impacted by managers--landlords, store managers, barkeeps, and the like. Victims (or targets) are impacted by guardians, or by guardianship. The convergence of offender, victim, and place has been cleverly characterized by John Eck and others as ravenous wolves (motivated offenders), sitting ducks (suitable targets), and dens of iniquity (criminogenic places). Remember that for the exam in Sociology 209.

Wolves, ducks and dens. You can build police strategies aimed at any or all of them, and when you do, your strategy is based on the underlying routine activities theory and situational crime prevention--whether you realize it or not. In the next few days, I'll review what we're doing about wolves, ducks, and dens.

The Series:

Theory and practice
Evidence-based policing

Friday, November 14, 2008

If cops wrt gr8 wrks of lit

blog ded, twtr in. no prob, we abbrv n e thing. evr read IR? if cops wrt gr8 wrks of lit:

Reporting party rec. quasi-threatening letter from PRs # 1 thru 57. PRs stated that it is necessary to end political bonds with RP. These same parties also claimed that the following is obvious: all parties created equal, w/certain rights, i.e. life, liberty, happiness. PRs also claim that RP's gov. is supposed to ensure said rights and has not done so. Parties stated they intended to take matters into own hands. A dist. btw. RP and PRs occ. subsequent to these statements. For details see supp.

Def. was obs. op. horse-drawn sleigh on private property. Upon contact, he stated he stopped veh. near woods, btw. lake and village just to "have a look" at snowfall. Def. states he knows owner of woods resides in village, but could not come up w/owner's name. Def. said he didn't think anyone would mind if he stopped at said woods. Def. admits he had no permission to be in woods. Unk. exactly what def. was doing to/with his horse in woods. Made strange remark about no houses nearby.  Def. was lodged in jail after stating that he intended to flee jurisdiction by continuing travel: "...miles to go before I sleep." If contacted, keep in mind as poss. peeper.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Quite a show.

I spent Veterans day at the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) conference in San Diego (not at taxpayer expense.) There are over 15,000 attendees, and I ran into lots of Nebraska chief's over the past couple of days. My role at the conference was to help staff a booth in the exhibit hall for the International Association of Crime Analysts (IACA) . I am an advocate for the field of crime analysis as a means of improving the effectiveness of the police.

It was my pleasure to talk to other chiefs and commanding officers about the services available from the association to help support the work of their analysts. We talked to several chiefs who had either recently hired analysts or were in the process of starting up a unit. A professional association with training, web resources, a great conference, a vibrant listserv, and a network of professional peers can be immensely helpful to a new analyst or a new unit--and to established analysts as well.

Every downtown hotel and restaurant was filled with chiefs, and the exhibit hall at the San Diego Convention Center was jammed with about three square blocks of exhibits. I had time to visit only a fraction of the vendors, but it was an impressive array of goods and services. Compared to my previous experience, I noted many more video monitoring and CCTV systems, mobile communications and command posts, intelligence and analytical software, and incredibly bright emergency light systems--along with the usual array of body armor, weapons, uniform gear of all types, and so forth.

Two of the more intriguing products I saw were a computerized, wearable personal audio-video recording system from the makers of TASER, and a remarkable prototype of a dedicated police patrol car under development by Carbon Motors Corporation.

I was interested in gathering a little information about mobile command post vehicles--something we sorely need. A command post vehicle is on my list of future wants. I snapped this photo of an impressive example:

This unit is from Sikeston, Missouri--a town with a population slightly over 17,000. LPD's mobile command post, by comparison, is a marked patrol unit--a Chevy Tahoe.

Quite a show, indeed. It reminded me of the Christmas edition of the Sears catalog when I was a lad in the early 1960's.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Pumpkins and scarecrows

A couple blocks away from my home, an overnight crime was reported that might have escaped my attention, were it not for the automated crime alert I received in my inbox this morning from (click to enlarge):

I'm not quite sure how many people have signed up for alerts, but I'm pretty sure I was one of the first. I am subscribed to the area within a half mile of my home. It is an awfully convenient way to keep informed about what's going on in your own back yard--even if you're the police chief.

Pumpkin smashing, of course, is a seasonal crime that occurs when homeowners leave the ammunition laying around on their front porch. Here's another somewhat similar crime from last weekend:

I think I have a good suspect on that one.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Photo identification

A reader of The Chief's Corner sent me a link to a fabulous 1942 Kodachrome image of Lincoln. This photo is part of a remarkable online collection of large and medium formal photos at Your challenge is to figure out where this was taken. Here's the hint: For about a decade, this is where you could find me in the middle of this intersection on fall Saturdays. Tomorrow, Sgt. Sam Santacroce will be in charge here (click to enlarge).

Thursday, November 6, 2008

200K and counting

The number of visits to The Chief's Corner topped 200,000 earlier this week. It took just a little over 18 months. This is my 330th post. There has been a slight re-ordering of the most popular posts since I reported at the 100K mark back in February. The top ten, beginning with the most popular:

Share the road

I wonder who drove

Gary got his gun permit

Outside the bubble

Sure sign of spring

Not the only one with that thought

Philanthropic binge drinking

Prevention wins every time

Third shift wrap up

How many people have to die

Visitor loyalty seems pretty high, as 75% of first time visitors come back again and 101,790 have returned ten or more times. There are 14,081 visitors who have returned more than 200 times. The biggest number of visits come from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Singapore, and Australia. I think I've got only one reader in Singapore, but he or she is a loyal visitor, with 150 visits. 19,093 visits came from search engines, overwhelmingly Google. Those searching for The Chief's Corner spelled my name in many different ways:








...and occasionally, Casady. Not that I mind. I gave up any expectation of having my name properly spelled in about second grade. I've got to admit that the whole think just floors me. I never expected to have anywhere close to this kind of readership when I started to blog back in April of 2007. I'm also surprised at the number of comments that are posted by readers. I see a lot of very good blogs that get very few comments. Readers of The Chief's Corner, on the other hand, drop a lot of interesting and provocative comments. I appreciate it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Budding career

Last year, a frightening crime occurred on the MoPac recreational trail, near Riley Elementary School. The victim, out for a morning run on the trail, was attacked by an assailant who surprised her from behind. The 21-year old UNL student bravely fought off her attacker, while a bystander walking a dog watched without lifting a finger. After the assault, the victim, tears streaming down her face, had a few sharp words with the dog-walker, who told her he thought it was some kind of joke. It was no joke, it was an attempted rape, and her courage and strength were matched by her power of observation.

During the attack, the victim noted a neck tattoo on the suspect, and she provided us with the spelling. As she struggled with him, she also dislodged a lanyard that was around his neck. He snatched it back, but she had already noticed the Lincoln Northeast High School student ID attached. The School Resource Officer at Northeast that morning, Officer Jason Brownell, recognized the description, and within short order the assailant had been identified. Not surprisingly, he never showed up for class, but we found the 15 year old suspect later that evening and made the arrest.

Last week, another crime occurred along the MoPac Trail, this time in the 3800 block of X Steet. The victim and his wife were awakened around 11:20 by noises in the back of the house, and interrupted a burglary. The house backs up onto the same trail where last year's attempted sexual assault occurred, although it is a little less than a mile away.

Two teenage intruders were in the process of removing their TV and DVD player when the homeowner confronted them. The pair took off and the police were summoned. Officer Justin Roach spotted them a few blocks away, and the chase was on. Justin caught one of the burglars in the foot pursuit across yards and fences. The second suspect provided two of our canines, Beersie-Remo and Kony, with a nice workout, and their handlers, Officer John Clarke and Officer Tyler Dean, with a nice arrest.

That second suspect was the same youth who committed last year's attempted rape. He's 16 now. He still has the distinctive tattoo, and has added a little embellishment. This may help us identify him in the future, because unless something happens that changes his trajectory, he's going to be someone we get to know even better. He was a missing person at the time of the burglary. On September 29, he decided that house arrest wasn't for him, cut the electronic monitoring bracelet off his ankle, and became a missing person. Now he has been found. Here are his arrests by the Lincoln Police Department, in reverse chronological order with the burglary at the top and the attempted sexual assault at the bottom:

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Assault weapons

A grocery store argument-turned-assault garnered a little attention in Lincoln over the weekend. I guess the story of the encounter between a leisurely banana selector and a Type-A shopper with a short fuse was a refreshing diversion from electoral politics for the media. It must have tickled a few funny bones, judging from the mid-morning phone call I received from a well-known local citizen who, without introducing himself (he has a very recognizable his voice) just said "Would you just pick a stinking banana, for God's sake!" (or words to that effect.) Adding to the event was the weapon-of-choice: a package of Whisker Lickin' kitty treats lobbed as a missile.

It got me thinking about the odd instrumentalities of assaults. There are several examples in my Wishful Thinking file, including a rather nasty injury inflicted by a can or pork and beans. So, I did a little spelunking in our Records Management System. Overall, the majority of assaults in Lincoln are committed without a weapon: hands, feet, and teeth account for about 63% of the 3,907 assaults in our city so far this year. Of the remainder, knives, swords, hatchets and other cutting instruments were used in 113 cases; clubs and blunt objects were used in 110; guns were brandished in 51, and a huge variety of other odds and ends were employed in smaller quantities.

Rocks and bricks were prominent, as were bats, pool cues, crowbars, pipes, chairs, barstools, cars, and bottles. Among the bottles, beer was the first choice by a considerable margin, but vodka, cologne, and body lotion were represented as well. I'm not sure I really want to read the incident report on that case involving lotion. There was one tossed camera, one DVD player used as a bludgeon, 3 assaults with a telephone , one candelabra, three pens, one pencil, a paper towel holder, a can of Pringle's potato (e) chips, one crossbow bolt, and my favorite: a TV remote control. Bet there's a good story behind that one.

But the best case I stumbled upon involved shoes. There have been 10 assaults with shoes this year. I'm not talking shoes in the sense of somebody kicked by a foot shod with a shoe; rather, I refer to those crimes where the shoe itself was wielded as a weapon. My favorite shoe assault so far in 2008 is case A8-009956, as assault occurring at a Bible study, in which a pair of shoes were launched across the room at the victim. The assailant was cited and released to the pastor. I think there would be several scriptures that could be applied to these circumstances.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Good business from bad habit?

Chris Stokes runs a small business here in Lincoln, OMALiNK, that started as a shuttle service for Lincoln residents using the greater variety of airline connections at Eppley Airfield in Omaha (OMA) compared to those available from the Lincoln Municipal Airport (LNK). I think that was a great idea for an entrepreneur, and his business seems to be growing in popularity, based on the frequency with which I see his colorful logo on Interstate 80. He called me last week, to tell me that he was going to provide another service aimed at a different market. Here's the announcement:

OMALiNK Announces Project Safe Ride Home

Company to Offer Transportation Alternative for Downtown Lincoln

Lincoln – October 29, 2008—OMALiNK Shuttle and Limousine Service is announcing plans to begin groundbreaking service in Lincoln, Nebraska. Project Safe Ride Home will provide downtown Lincoln and its patrons a safe alternative to driving under the influence after a night on the town. “Besides a handful of taxis, Lincoln has never had a convenient, safe, and reliable way for people to get home after an evening at the downtown bars and restaurants,” says Chris Stokes, the president of OMALiNK, Inc. “For too long the people of Lincoln have been held hostage by a lack of transportation alternatives,” continues Stokes, “patrons of downtown Lincoln have few options. People are faced with the choice to wait sometimes an hour for a taxi, or to take the risk of driving home under the influence of alcohol…Too many times people choose the latter.” The decision to begin Project Safe Ride Home was based on discussion with members of the downtown Bar and Restaurant owner’s association, and pleadings of community members and university students who asked OMALiNK to commit to improving the lack of adequate evening transportation options.

With six years experience in the Lincoln transportation market, Stokes has heard repeated pleas for other options for the city of 262,000 people. “Over and over I hear the appeals of my customers for another transportation option…Programs like Project Safe Ride Home will help make Lincoln the great city that it has the potential to be; and an efficient transportation system is crucial for our future and the 2015 vision.” To operate within the city of Lincoln, authority must be granted by the Nebraska Public Service Commission, the entity that governs and regulates the transportation industry in the state. In 2007, Stokes received that authority for OMALiNK in a decision made by the commission, which allowed the company to operate within the city limits using a fare system based on zones. During the hearing process and on public record, story after story of late pickups, rude behaviors, dirty vehicles and drivers, and other examples of poor service were revealed in the existing system. “The system is clearly broken, and it needs to be fixed,” says Stokes, “and OMALiNK’s Project Safe Ride Home is the solution.”

While I wished him good luck, I also told him that I have strongly mixed feelings about safe ride programs, particularly those that target young drinkers in settings such as Lincoln's 14th and O Street area. On the one hand, I like the idea of making affordable transportation options available to people when they are going out to drink and dine. The free shuttles in downtown Denver come immediately to mind. On the other hand, I think you'll find that a lot of those bar break early-20-something drunks in downtown Lincoln are not done for the night. The cheap or free ride is simply taking them to the next party or back to the apartment complex where there car is parked. They will be moving on from there.

I also do not like the implicit message that it's OK to get completely wasted, as long as you have a ride. Drunk driving is certainly a major consequence for binge drinkers, but there are many other risks as well. It's not that I object to the safe-ride/designated driver message, I just think that it should be balanced with messages like these: know your limit; don't drink to the point of intoxication; pace yourself at one per hour; drinking shots is stupid; a nice microbrew or two is more pleasant than a pitcher. Drinking should not be about getting drunk. A social norm that views drunkenness as offensive and the drunk as someone with a serious problem--rather than just someone in need of a ride--is a good thing. Is it just me?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Holiday ride share offer

This craigslist posting was forwarded to me yesterday. I'm sure it's someone's warped sense of humor at work, but it's a clever way of expressing an opinion on the wisdom of Nebraska's Safe Haven law. I don't know how long the link will be functional, so I'll post the full text:

A safe haven for your child (Omaha)

Date: 2008-10-28, 7:35PM EDT

My family and I will be in the Atlanta area over the Thanksgiving holiday, after Thanksgiving we will be heading home to Omaha, Nebraska. We will have an empty seat in our car on the way home. Nebraska allows any child under the age of 18 to be dropped off and become a ward of the state, this is refereed to as the Safe Haven Law.

One lucky Georgia resident has already taken advantage of this wonderful program. I'm offering you an opportunity to do the same, I'll transport your child from Atlanta to Nebraska for the cost of fuel, $125. Upon arriving in Nebraska I will drop your child off at a local hospital where they will become a ward of the state.

Nebraska law makers have said they are going to change the law next year, so you may not have another opportunity to shed those unwanted responsibilities of parenthood so easily again. I have reliable transportation and can guarantee your child will make it to Nebraska without issue, or your money back. If you have any questions please ask.

Location: Omaha
PostingID: 897386955

Looks like the window of opportunity may be short, based on the Governor's call for a special legislative session to revisit the law.

On a lighter note, this article was also forwarded to me. I thought that the appropriate title for a blog post on this topic would be "Silent but Deadly."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Weapon type

Continuing with the robbery theme this week, I did a little checking on the types of weapons used in robberies. The "other" category is interesting: pepper spray, screwdrivers, and PlayStation (click to enlarge).

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

BB gun vandalism

Friday, in the comments on The Chief's Corner , a reader asked if I could provide a map of BB/pellet gun vandalism in Northeast Lincoln. As much as I encourage people to roll-their-own crime maps using or CrimeView Community, I am nonetheless happy to oblige. Here's the entire city for the month of October (61 offenses) and a zoom in on the Northeast Team area, where 35 of those occurred (click to enlarge).

The reader was interested in whether there was a "walking pattern" evident. It appears not. The greater likelihood is that the perpetrators were driving around in a car. It is unknown whether the cluster in southwest Lincoln is related to the cluster in the northeast. Most of the southwest cases were overnight on the 17th, and most of the northeast cases were overnight on the 21st and 22nd--although some are spread around during the month.

I've blogged about spree vandalism before. The losses can be very large. This year, the 261 BB gun vandalism cases have resulted in damage totalling $68,940. The Northeast Team dominates, with a huge lead in the totals for some reason.

Friday, October 24, 2008

How to prevent home invasion robbery

Three words of advice I gave yesterday during my monthly on-air chat with KFOR Radio's Dale Johnson:

"Don't deal drugs."
I'll have some more on home invasion robbery next week.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

In the press

My early morning hobby, The Chief's Corner, isn't the only writing I do. There are a couple of articles in national police publications this month that I submitted over the summer. You'll recognize some similarities between past posts on The Chief's Corner and the content of these articles in the September issues of Law Officer, and The Police Chief.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Underrated crime

I'll admit it. I'm guilty of it too. Bicycle thefts have never been on my list of serious crime. Despite the fact that I've owned one or more pricey steeds continuously since my freshman year in college (yes, the bicycle had been invented), I've never been the victim of a theft. If I had been, I'm sure it would be much higher in my hierarchy of criminality. Being a victim yourself tends to do that. It has moved up a notch however, in the wake of last Wednesday's ACUDAT meeting.

The Crime Analysis Unit made a nice catch recently. Sgt. Grant Richards discovered a group of half a dozen stolen bikes that were pawned by a thief on the same day of the theft. The going sale price for a really nice bike at a pawn shop is $50. Not bad for a Kona Unit 2-9 valued at $943. Doing a little research, Sgt. Richards found three other suspects who have been pawning stolen bikes regularly of late.

This was good work by the Crime Analysis Unit, but it shows we've got to redouble our efforts to prevent thieves from using pawn shops to offload stolen high-end bicycles. It's easy for pawn brokers to check our stolen property records to determine if a bike has been reported stolen (although the stolen report is about a day behind the crime), and it's also easy for the investigating officer to check our electronic pawn records to determine if the stolen bike has turned up in a pawn shop after a couple weeks have passed. There are several other ways to dispose of a stolen bicycle, and I seriously doubt that pawnshops are anywhere close to being the most common method. Nonetheless, that's a fairly easy door to close more firmly by diligent checks.

Here's why it's important. Bicycle theft is an underrated crime. So far this year, there have been 494 bike thefts in Lincoln. The loss has been $100,305. That's not even counting the 71 burglaries in which bicycles were among the stolen goods. Last year, the total dollar loss from bicycle theft was $125,301. Robberies, by comparison resulted in a total loss of $92,839.