Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Not a permanent condition

Deena Winter's series The Core, winds down today in the Lincoln Journal Star with some closing observations and the lead editorial. Couldn't have said it better myself, and it makes me to wonder whether my posts about this neighborhood could have contributed to the effort. I hope so. It needs the attention, and it's gratifying to see a little friction being generated. I just hope it turns into some energy.

I wish there were just one more little article in the series to remind people that the condition is not permanent. An individual apartment building car rebound, an entire neighborhood can too. We have many examples of this around Lincoln. Some long-serving police officers will note the difference today between the President and the Ambassador--two apartment buildings in the shadow of the State Capitol that used to be a virtual police substation due to the volume of calls and problems. Today, they are not an issue. Sgt. Don Arp will remember the trouble at a group of apartment buildings near 56th and Holdrege. They're not perfect, but still a far cry from 1994.

Assistant Chief Jim Peschong will recall vividly the major problems we were experiencing along a three-block stretch of W Street in the early 1990's, when that area was under his command. He lit that street up like an airport runway with a little help from the Lincoln Electric System. Those three apartment buildings where his officers were virtually camped out due to the volume of crimes have experienced a grand total of seven minor police incidents in the entire year of 2007. Capt. Joy Citta can take pride in the difference up the street in a single census tract in the Clinton Neighborhood. The work of her Team in collaboration with the Lincoln Action Program made a huge difference with Free to Grow.

And here are some larger neighborhoods that are dramatically different, incredibly better places to live or work today compared to the early 1980's when they were my responsibility as the second shift Northwest-Center Team sergeant: Arnold Heights, Malone, and the N. 27th Street corridor. I am embarrassed to admit that we used to refer to one of these neighborhoods as "the Zone"--as in the Twilight Zone. No more. Today, it's a great place bursting with new development, economic vitality, and green space. Stand in front of Liberty Village at 24th and Vine Street, look south, and think about what was here 20 years ago. Check out the police station, commercial development, and streetscape along N. 27th Street and reflect back on how that stretch looked in 1977 or so. And there are others.

As a newly-minted police officer walking foot-beat 1 in the late summer of 1973, I spent my hours flushing drunks, vagrants and pigeons out of a dilipidated and gritty area of Lincoln that his now one of it's shining stars. The condition is not permanent. Neighborhoods ebb and flow. We can't control it entirely, but we can clear the channel.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Backgrounds not that tough

One of the things made evident in the Lincoln Journal Star series running this week, The Core, is that when a lot of problematic tenants get concentrated in a small area (such as a single apartment building or a small neighborhood), the sum is greater than the whole. When a critical mass of trouble-makers is reached, it drives the good people away, and the place spirals downward. This is exactly what happened at 1520 D Street.

All neighborhoods have their characters, and there is a certain "carrying capacity" in the environment for a few chaotic individuals or households. But when the bad actors start to effect those around them to the extent that the quality of life is significantly diminished, good tenants are suddenly looking for a new place at the end of the lease.

One solution rests with landlords. When you're occupancy rate is pushing 20% it's hard to turn down a tenant who can make the damage deposit and pay the first months rent. That might seem better than nothing, even if he or she isn't exactly an upstanding citizen. If you look at our maps of people with arrest warrants, people on parole, and registered sex offenders, the concentration in The Core is very obvious. Obviously, everyone's got to live someplace. I'm not saying you shouldn't rent to an ex-con, a registered sex offender, or a person with an active arrest warrant. But you might want to know the details, ask a few more questions, and weigh the gravity of the tenant's past conduct before you seal the deal. There is a world of difference between someone who spent a couple of years in the pen for burglary in the 1990's, and someone who is still plying their drug trade despite dozens of arrests and convictions. Some landlords do a great job with this, some are asleep at the wheel.

Landlords really need to take advantage of the easy and instant checks at their disposal, and avoid renting to the worst characters. It protects them, because the really bad tenants are eventually going to put them through the purgatory of eviction anyway, and in the process, the neighbor-from-Hades will scare off their better renters. We make available some very good resources for landlords to do simple backgrounds, at little or no cost. These resources are highlighted front-and-center on our public home page. I also have a guide to criminal history checks posted that provides practical advice on how to do a background in a logical order that minimizes expense.

In a matter of five minutes from any Internet connected computer, you can determine if the prospective tenant is a high risk registered sex offender, has served time in prison for a felony, has been convicted of a crime in a prosecution by the Lancaster County Attorney, or is currently the subject of an arrest warrant held by the Lincoln Police Department or Lancaster County Sheriff. These are all free, but for a $10 fee on your credit card you can add a comprehensive list of all arrests by the Lincoln police and the disposition of those cases. For landlords and property managers, we also have a service available that allows them to check police dispatch information to any address they own or manage, so they never need be surprised to learn that the police had been called to their place.

There's not a community I know of where so much is so readily available. I used to call it "Dads' Instant Boyfriend Check." These resources are equally valuable for such people as employers or volunteer coordinators. How you hire a convicted embezzler for your accountant in this day and age is beyond me. All these checks are public record, by the way, they are just particularly accessible in Lincoln compared to every place else.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Bursting the bubble

Last November, I wrote a series on the Chief's Corner highlighting a fragile area of Lincoln: The Southwest Team's A Beat: roughly, the northern-most part of the southwest quadrant of the city. The posts, Veterans Day on the Street, The Denizens of A Beat, and Outside the Bubble, generated a good deal of traffic and discussion.

This week, the Lincoln Journal Star is running a multi-part special report on this area, entitled The Core. Deena Winter, the lead reporter on this series, has been getting a lot of data and information from us for the past few months as she prepared for this series, and she's been on a few ride alongs with the Southwest Team. The resulting special report is an eye-opener for many people who are pretty much oblivious to the kinds of things going on in their own city. Greater awareness is a good thing. We need help, and lots of it. But the police cannot bring this neighborhood back from the brink by themselves--it's going to take a much broader effort. Perhaps this series will help jump start that effort, and provide some additional support to the people who have been trying hard to do so.

There are thousands of people in Lincoln (and a lot of community leaders) who need to have their own bubble burst. That's one of the things I've been trying to do in this blog and at every single public speaking engagement I've been at for the past few years. Hopefully, the Journal Star's larger readership will have a more pronounced effect.

As an aside, the online version of The Core is the most interactive content I have yet to see on the Journal Star's website. The multi-media interviews, back stories, and interactive maps are impressive indeed. I think you're seeing a glimpse of the future of newspapers.

Friday, January 25, 2008

More guns turn up

More guns have surfaced from the The October 1 burglary of Scheel's All Sports in Lincoln. I wrote about the circumstances of some of the recoveries previously, but the most recent three guns, which have been recovered in the past week, have yet to hit the news. So, here's the summary of all eight Scheel's guns that have turned up in the Phoenix area so far:

1. November 30, 2007: Gun one recovered, a .45 cal. Glock. Phoenix officers investigating a juvenile case found the gun laying on the ground, apparently dropped by someone in a small group that took off as the officers approached.

2. December 4, 2007: Gun two recovered, a 9mm Glock found by Phoenix police investigating the apparent suicide of a 26 year old man who used the stolen gun to shoot himself .

3. December 5, 2007: Guns three and four recovered, a Ruger .45 and a Ruger .40. Both guns were recovered by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office during a vehicle stop. Approximately 10 pounds of methamphetamine and the guns were found in the vehicle.

4. December 28, 2007: Gun five recovered, a Glock .357. Phoenix police investigating a chop shop found the gun in the possession of one of the occupants.

5. January 16, 2008: Guns six and seven recovered, two Springfield Armory .45s. These guns were recovered by Phoenix police after an armed carjacking. Officers located the two suspects, and found the guns inside the stolen vehicle.

6. January 20, 2008: Gun eight recovered, another .45 cal. Springfield. The gun was recovered when the Phoenix police rescued a kidnapping victim who was being held for ransom.

That's a pretty hefty string of crimes in the Phoenix area connected with our largest-ever Lincoln gun burglary: a suicide, a big meth bust, a chop shop investigation, an armed car jacking, and a brutal kidnapping--so far.

There are still 44 guns missing.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Prime time for youth crime

Yesterday, I was on a panel at the Governor's Summit on Extended Learning Opportunities at the Nebraska State Capitol. Governor Heineman and his wife, Salley Ganem, were in attendance. The First Lady was an elementary school principal in Fremont, Nebraska and if I recall correctly, continued in that job for quite some time after the election of her husband. They are obviously both quite interested in this topic, and were at the summit all day long.

My panel's role was to discuss the value of after school extended learning programs, such as Lincoln's Community Learning Centers. In preparation for my very brief presentation, I made a graph that I thought the attendees might find interesting. I took every police incident report (except missing persons) over the past 8 years: 2000 through 2007. I selected those cases with a status code of 41: cleared, juvenile. The graph shows the time of day of each of these cases; shoplifting, burglary, assault, drugs, robbery, vandalism, and so forth.

That spike is at 1500 hours (3:00 p.m.). The times are much different than adult cases, which are relatively level through the day, then peak between 11:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m.. It's pretty clear from this why police chiefs and police officers are often interested in productive after school activities for kids. Over the years, lots of Lincoln police officers have invested their personal time in helping to ensure good activities for kids in Lincoln. There are many officers who have served as scout leaders, camp counselors, mentors, coaches, and more. Police officers are keenly aware of the difference a committed adult can make in the life of a child.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Warrant focus areas

There's been a bit of a spirited discussion going on in the coments posted on the Chief's Corner this week centering around specialized Warrants Units, and the relative priority of such an operation. One thing everyone has agreed on, though, is that it seems to make sense that putting pressure on people with outstanding arrest warrants is a good thing.

Not all of these defendants are just forgetful speeders who missed a court date. Many are petty criminals who are committing misdemeanors with abandon. The 25 year old woman I discussed yesterday is a good example. Moreover, there is some overlap between the warrants we hold--Municipal Ordinance misdemeanors which tend to be fairly minor--and much more serious criminals. The burglars, drug dealers, robbers, and professional thieves are missing their court dates on dog-at-large, maintaining a disorderly house, and driving while suspended, too. They are represented in our warrant files, but they have other, more serious criminal patterns as well.

So, if we can't beat on ten or twelve thousand doors, what can we do? In late 2005, I asked our five Team captains (who command our major geographic areas) to give me a small area of their Team where the social problems and crime is most intense, and to make a special effort to assure that people with newly-issued warrants get a little police attention within those neighborhoods. They each did so, we named them warrant focus areas, and I created a threshold alert that runs on Mondays and emails its results automatically at 6:15 a.m.. It produces a map showing the last known address of everyone in that neighborhood with a fresh arrest warrant issued in the preceding seven days. Here's the map that went to Capt. Mike Woolman and Det. Sgt. Tim Kennett of the Southwest Team on Monday:

There were eleven freshly-minted arrest warrants in this area of about 3/4 of a square mile. By limiting both the area and the time, it's a workable number. Nobody's going to bust a gut knocking on a few doors a time or two during the week. The map isn't particularly important, but the .pdf report listing the details is, and the names are hyperlinks from the report into our records management system, to facilitate very quick research and a mug shot.

The addresses on warrants are notoriously outdated, which is why the report is only new warrants. Even those are usually outdated, but much more likely than the entire pool to be either good addresses or recent ones. I think that if the police come around to your former residence looking for you, talk to your ex-boyfriend, or your previous roommate, or even the neighbor you used to share a bowl with, that it gets back to the target quickly. I took a handful of warrants with me when I spent shifts with Officer Tim Abele and Officer Cass Briggs, and we knocked on a few doors. We didn't find a single one of the people we were looking for, but I have no doubt the word got back to a few of them.

If we manage to find and arrest a defendant, he or she is off the street for a few hours or maybe even a day or two during which the normal business is suspended. If we don't find the defendant, but he or she gets wind of the fact that the police are actively looking, he or she may lay low for a while. For a professional shoplifter, she might just cool it for the day. For the suspended driver, he might minimize his driving for a few days and stick to side streets. For the drunk driver, she might decide not to hit the bars this weekend, and just get plastered alone at home. Some of these defendants may actually try to take care of the warrant before the police come around again, and some of them will even remember next time.

If my theory is right, and the chronics lay low for varying periods of time, depending on their level of intellectual organization, this can't help put have a positive effect, small though it may be. If we can concentrate this effect on the areas that need it most, and if we can combine it with other activities that have positive impacts, we can help those areas avoid the tipping point. I really wish there would have been some way to build in an evaluation component to this strategy, but we had neither the money nor technical expertise to do so at the time, and you can't always wait for the results of the clinical trials before you start attacking the infection.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The revolving door

There is a bit of background information relating to this post in my previous post, Most frequent arrest. After Clair Lindquist got me the number I was seeking (2,492 warrant arrests by the Lincoln police officers in 2007), he pointed out a particularly illustrative example to me. He had me look up a 25-year old Lincoln woman. Here's her record of being booked into the Lancaster County jail:

Basically, she is a chronic shoplifter, who boosts merchandise to support a drug habit. She's regularly getting busted, and normally is issued a citation and released, because she's a local resident and the offenses are misdemeanors. This started to change about a year ago. She missed her first court date back in 2006 and a warrant was issued. In February of 2007, she was stopped for a traffic violation, the officer discovered the warrant, and booked her into jail. She posted bond on the warrant and was released. This process occurred three times in all, while in the meantime many more court dates were missed, resulting in many more warrants. The missed court dates also resulted in seven additional charge of Failure to Appear in Court. Each of these were dismissed, however, in what appears to be a plea agreement that finally netted her a 30 day jail sentence.

She's been playing quite a game. The court apparently figured this out by the middle of December, and she has been esconced in the Lancaster County Jail since that time. She still has a pair of additional shoplifting charges pending, from November 30 and December 6, 2007. She's scheduled to be in court on January 289and January 30 on those two cases. I hope she's still in jail on those dates, because the chances of her actually showing up are slimt to none otherwise.

Her record of failing to appear in court will now pretty much guarantee that she will be jailed whenever she's caught shoplifting or driving on a suspended license. She'll bond out, miss her court date, a warrant will issue, she'll get pulled over again, and on and on and on. Imagine the workload this revolving door process is causing for police, prosecutors, jail, and courts.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Most frequent arrest

Every year in our annual report, we include a short list of some of the most common arrest charges by Lincoln police officers. I haven't got all the 2007 numbers yet, but here's the 2006 list:

Assault 2,057
Minor in possession of alcohol 2,038
Consuming alcohol in public 1,852
Disturbing the peace 1,472
Possession of marijuana 1,379
Trespassing 1,089
Theft 1,088

The top spot, however, is missing--it's not really assault. I started thinking about this Friday, and Clair Lindquist, the builder and manager of our information systems, had the number in my hands within minutes: the leading cause of arrest is the existence of an outstanding arrest warrant. There were 2,492 warrant arrest last year, considerably more than the next closest contender. Moreover, whereas the great majority of the 27,000 or so misdemeanor arrests are handled with a citation and release, all of the people arrested on warrants actually end up in jail.

There are lots of arrest warrants. Those issued on underlying charges of State Statute violations (felonies and a few misdeanors like marijuans possesion) go to the county sheriff. Those issues on underlying charges of City Ordinance violations (most of the misdemeanor and traffic violations) come to the police department. Between the two agencies, we've got over 10,000 on file. Many are for people who are long gone from Lincoln, and unlikely to be seen again, but there are thousands of people moping around Lincoln every day who are wanted on warrants. We've posted them all online for years, and get leads and calls regularly. Be careful who you offend when a warrant is out for your arrest.

While the felons are aggressively pursued by the sheriff's fugitive task force, there just aren't enough resources to ferret out the misdemeants with zeal. Because of the small size of the police force, our small warrants unit was phased out four chiefs ago in the late 1970's. As a result most of these misdemeanor warrant arrests occur when the defendent gets contacted for something else: pulled over for a traffic violation, picked up for a new shoplifting offense, involved in a traffic crash, and so forth. The officer checks the name, discovers the outstanding arrest warrant, and it's off to the slammer.

There are many ways to get an arrest warrant, but the most common ones, probably accounting for more than 90% of the total, are to miss a court date or fail to pay a fine. When someone is booked into jail on an arrest warrant, they are often able to bond out. A new court date is set, they post a few bucks as surety (either $50 or $100 in most cases), and it's off to the boats.

There will be more to this story later.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Perplexing trend

Last night was our monthly ADUCAT meeting, and among other things we were discussing a recent spate of residential burglaries at apartment complexes. We got an update on the status of a current investigative effort that is quite promising, and on the prevention strategies that have been underway. This isn't the first time that residential burglaries have been on our agenda, and we've had some creative efforts concerning these crimes in the past several months that I've reported on previously in the Chief's Corner. The current pattern has been a little different, in that it has included a larger number of door-kicks: cases in which brute force is applied to a regular exterior door, breaking the door jamb away from the lock bolt.

Tuesday night, I was at a meeting at one of our nicer new apartment communities, the Links at Lincoln, where about 100 residents had gathered to talk about an outbreak of burglaries plaguing their 612 units. In advance of the meeting, the management staff at the complex had spoken to me by telephone, and also been quoted in the local press in a way that was just slightly testy--as if we hadn't been doing anything, when in fact we have worked hard on this trend and cleared half the cases.

I pointed out that of the 36 residential burglaries there since January 1, 2007, eighteen appear to be the work of a single suspect who was arrested several weeks ago: an employee of a subcontractor who managed to get his hands on the master key. The remaining 18, though incredibly annoying and frightening to their victims, probably would not be nearly as alarming compared to any other similar-sized complex in Lincoln over the course of a little more than a year. It's still too many, though, and we had a great discussion in the clubhouse Tuesday about what needs to be done to drive that number down. The meeting went really well, and it was about the largest turnout I can recall in my career for anything of this sort--a very good sign.

Anticipating finger-pointing that failed to materialize, I had taken along data concerning the 20 year trend in residential burglary and maps depicting all the hotspots for apartment burglaries (the Links is hardly alone). I never used any of this, but the 20-year trend is interesting nonetheless (click to enlarge).

The burglary rate has fallen precipitously since 1987. I understand why commercial burglaries are down (better and more alarms and security systems), but this just doesn't seem to apply to residential burglaries. Residential security systems are still rare in our city. The decrease is pretty significant--about a 30% reduction in the burglary rate. The actual number of residential burglaries has dropped slightly since 1987, despite the addition of around 54,000 residents. This is different than other crimes, all of which have increased to varying degrees. I like it, I just don't fully understand it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Still watching

Back in October, I posted the story of a fast information flow involving a registered sex offender. Monday, virtually the same thing happened: a CrimeView threshold alert notified me at 0500 hours that we had updated an address on a registered sex offender over night, placing him within 500 feet of an elementary school and thus in violation of Lincoln's residency restriction. This address was right across the street from an elementary school. I measured the distance at 77 feet, give or take a couple of inches.

Officer Court Cleland had investigated a missing person report concerning our subject on Sunday. His girlfriend contacted us, concerned that she had not seen him for . It was that report that caused his address to be updated in our primary database, and that update in turn caused the threshold alert to fire up in the wee hours. I forwarded my information to Officer Cleland before he got to work at 0700 hours Monday morning. He initiated the needed investigation on the ground to document the elements of the violation. Later Monday night, Officer Scott Parker found our subject and lodged him in jail for both violating the City's residency restriction and for failing to register an address change with the county sheriff, as required by State law. The subject was initially contacted at the University of Nebraska Student Union by the UNL Police, who notified us. He has been frequenting campus lately.

The use of this automated query has really simplified a task that would be pretty daunting without the technology. I'm not quite sure how we would be able to catch these violations if we had to rely on a manual process, because as of this moment we have 468 registered sex offenders living in Lincoln, and they are a highly-mobile group.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Record for arrests

The 2007 arrest data has been compiled, and it was a record year. There were 2,687 felony arrests, and 26,717 misdemeanor arrests. Actually, those are arrest charges, not individuals. Some arrests are for more than one charge (assault & vandalism, for example), and some individuals are...gifted: they manage to get arrested more than once in the same year.

Both of these numbers are high water marks for LPD, and represent a very large volume for a department of 317 sworn personnel and a city of 241,000. As in the past, I would challenge anyone to find a similarly-sized department that approaches these numbers. I can't account for the 38.8% increase in arrests during the past decade--a period of time during which crime has decreased. The increase in the number of arrests more than doubles population growth. I blogged about this phenomenon before, so rather than getting redundant, I'll just update the chart from last July's post (click the chart to enlarge).

Friday, January 11, 2008

New view

Yesterday, Jim Anderson over at the City's Information Services Division, made a little change to our public crime mapping application, CrimeView Community. We have a new set of 2007 aerial photos, and Jim replaced the 2005 series with the new ones. Aerial photos show up when you zoom in a click or two.

Contrary to a common belief, these are not satellite photos. Rather, they are photos shot from aircraft overflight, then orthorectified. This is a nice set, with six inch resolution: a single pixel is approximately six inches on the ground. They've also been updated in the City's other web mapping applications, such as the Lancaster County Property Map--which is probably a better place to browse the photo layer, since CrimeView Community limits how close you can zoom. Google Maps and Google Earth (a great application for touring) are actually two versions behind in the aerials--the photos date from 2003, as I recall. Microsoft Virtual Earth uses the 2005 photos.

Aerial photos are a very nice tool for police officers in a variety of situations: special events planning, tactical operations, missing person searches, crime scene and traffic crash investigation, and so forth. With the growth, change, and development that occurs in the City, a new set every couple of years is a very good thing to have. I'll be looking forward to getting the 2007 series in the compressed MrSID format, so we can incorporate those into our mobile mapping application for the field.

In CrimeView Community, the aerial photos show up automatically as you zoom in. In the Lancaster County Property map, you'll need to turn that layer on when it becomes available in the table of contents at the lower right. I'd suggest turning the parcel layer off, too, just to reduce clutter. Aside from the usual interesting places to look at on your tour, such as the State Capital and Memorial Stadium, I like the Pioneer Park bison (both live and bronze), and there are a couple of really cool lawn darts parked with the KC-135s .

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Different angle

That would be a 90 degree angle to the left, to be precise. Check out the comment posted late yesterday afternoon in response to my post Tagger nabbed way back on December 18. Follow the link to the Lincoln Journal Star article from July, 29 2007, and as the commentator suggests, tilt your head (to the right). Or I suppose you could tilt your monitor to the left.

What do you know, Kanji: Rain.

We arrested another downtown tagger yesterday, using a tag that looks like aek . I've been rotating his tag right and left without luck. My neck hurts.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Not a wild guess

Urban police departments in cities of our size almost always divide the patrol landscape geographically into districts. We call our's Team Areas, or just Teams. We have five, which would be about par for the course in cities like Lincoln. Our Teams are further divided into beats. Into each beat, on each shift, a certain number of officers is assigned.

A good deal of numbers crunching goes into the allocation of resources to Teams and beats. We conduct an annual workload analysis that kills a couple trees in order to make sure that our field resources are distributed in a way that mirrors, as much as possible, the workload. This is not perfect, because you've got the realities of schedules to deal with. You can't bring in an officer to work two hours, go home, then come back for six more; you can't split days off, and so forth.

A misconception I confront occasionally is the mistaken belief that we assign officers equally across the city or across shifts and days. A reporter asked me about this recently, and wanted some information to back up my response. I produced a simple map of our Team and beats for her, with three measurements: The total number of officers assigned to each beat, the number of officers per square mile that represents, and the number of officers per 1,000 population. I thought it was an interesting graphic that the general public might like to see (click to enlarge).

Southeast Team is the two orange beats, Center Team the green beats, and so forth. Here is the response I sent to the reporter with a few points to remember:

"Attached is a graphic that shows the total number of officers assigned to each patrol beat, the number of officers per square mile in each beat, and the number of officers per 1,000 population (based on 2,000 census block data). Thus, the Southwest Team's A beat has a total of 26 officers assigned, which is a density of 4.36 officers per square mile, and a ratio of 1.0 officers for every 1,000 residents.

A few things to keep in mind:

1. These are only uniformed patrol officers in non-supervisory positions (no sergeants, in other words), and I intentionally left out the 10 school resource officers.

2. This is the full staffing of each beat, and those officers are spread across 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. When you do the math on that, on average there would be a little less than 20% of the total on duty at in given time--in reality, it's never 20% because we staff up on the peak days and hours, and down on the off peak days and hours.

3. As you can see, with the exception of the downtown area (which is drastically skewed by a small resident population but a huge amount of non-resident use and commercial activity), Southwest Team A Beat is staffed at a considerably higher level than anywhere else--and four times the level of Southwest B Beat.

4. We do not staff our teams and beats based on square miles or population, but rather by workload demand. The assignment of police officers to areas, shifts, and days off is based on a complex annual analysis of workload: police incidents, arrests, special events, and so forth--and the time consumed by those activities. Our staffing is a reflection of where and when the workload is distributed."

Monday, January 7, 2008

Seeking your input

I made this same request of our employees on Friday, but the thought struck me that some of the readers of the Chief's Corner might have some ideas on this, too.

An article in Thursdays's Lincoln Journal Star concerns the apparent inconsistency in our issuance of traffic citations at accident scenes on December 6, 2007. Actually, you can see this yourself by simply looking through accident reports by date on our public web site, and comparing those in which citations are issued to those in which none is issued. Sometimes you can spot a logical reason (lack of evidence, for example), and sometime not. When the reporter contacted me with his questions last week, I stumbled through a lame explanation that I don't even buy it.

I think the reporter has done us a favor by pointing out the lack of consistency. While I think we are pretty consistent when the roads are dry, we have some more significant problems with this when the weather is bad. Some officers adopt my approach: you're required by law to have your car under control at all times and if you didn't, it's your fault, not the weather's; others are much more likely to cut some slack because of snow or ice. When your chance of getting a ticket depends as much on which officer gets assigned as what actually happened, something is amiss.

Our written policies provide a little flexibility on deciding when to issue a traffic ticket in connection with an accident-related violation, but not much:

"If the investigation reveals probable cause to believe a traffic law has been violated, the investigating officer should cite the violator. In making the determination to issue a citation when a violation has occurred, officers should consider aggravating and mitigating circumstances."
Generally, our feeling is that if you committed a violation that contributed to a traffic accident, that's even more serious than if the same violation did not result in a collison, so if we'd write a ticket for rolling through a stop sign at 20 MPH, we ought to be even more committed to writing it when the act results in an accident.

Elsewhere in our written policies we describe various aggravating and mitigating circumstances in traffic violations that officers may consider when deciding whether to issue a citation, and whether the citation should be a warning or official ticket. The aggravating circumstances listed include the fact that a violation contributed to a traffic accident.

We'll be discussing this issue at this weeks' staff meeting, and Iwould like your advice. I'd like to find a way to improve our consistency without eliminating discretion entirely. I think there are cases where officers need to have some leeway, for example a case where the damage is exceptionally minor, or nobody else's property was damaged. It seems to me that if you run over your own mailbox, writing you a ticket is overkill. I've been at accident scenes on the elevated portion of southbound Interstate 180 on a few occasions where I had to hold on to the car handle to stand up, and where I really couldn't feel very good about issuing tickets to the dozens of motorists who became involved in the annual chain reactions. The usual admonition about slowing down, anticipating movements ahead, and maintaining a safe following distance would have been useless. An iron clad rule eliminates the ability of officers to make such common sense judgments.

I suppose a good way for police officers to look at it would be this:

"What would I expect to happen if I was involved in this collision, and someone else's driving violation caused the damage to my car?"
If you have an idea on how we can create a little more consistency, or how we ought to change our guidelines, I'dl ike to hear from you.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Guns here and there

A few weeks ago, I reported about guns surfacing in the Phoenix area that were stolen in a major 2007 burglary at Scheel's All Sports in Lincoln. Yesterday, a fifth stolen gun has been recovered in Phoenix. This one was seized during the execution of a search warrant relating to stolen vehicles and narcotics. The Scheel's guns will probably continue to surface for many years in similar circumstances.

Stolen guns (we have around 200 per year) don't always travel across the country, though. In the past week, we had three incidents in Lincoln involving stolen guns.

The first was on December 26 in southeast Lincoln. A 19 year old suspect committed a domestic assault by threatening two women with a Ruger 9mm pistol that had been taken in a south Lincoln apartment burglary back in January of 2007.

The second was on New Year's Eve in south Lincoln, when a 19 year old suspect playing around with a .380 Walther PPK shot his 12 year old brother. It was an accidental discharge, and fortunately the wound was not fatal. The Walther had been stolen in a southeast Lincoln apartment burglary in April, 2006.

The third was on New Year's Day in south Lincoln, when officers responded to a report of gunshots. They found a exit hole through an apartment door, and although the residents denied any knowledge of what happened, a search recovered a spent casing and a Daewoo 9mm pistol concealed under a mattress. The pistol had been stolen in Omaha, but we don't have all the details yet.

That's quite a few stolen gun incidents in a six day stretch, and highlights the importance of gun owners securing their premises and weapons. We had a spate this year of guns stolen from automobiles (a really poor place to store your firearm), and in several residential burglaries where guns were stolen, the premises were either left unlocked or lightly secured. A little more attention to good security would prevent some (though certainly not all) of our stolen gun cases.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Safety is job one

A major news story this past week has been the 2007 spike in the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. As of last week, 186 police officers had died, compared to 145 in 2006. Excluding 9/11, 2007 will be the highest year since 1989.

Hopefully the surge in 2007 is an anomoly. I started my career at the Lincoln Police Department in 1974, the deadliest year ever for police officers--277 killed in the line of duty. Since that time, there has been a dramatic decrease in line-of-duty deaths. Adjusted for the increased number of law enforcement officers, the long term decline is even greater.

There are a number of reasons for this, in my opinion. Personal body armor would certainly be one of those. Better policy (such as mandatory handcuffing of prisoners) is another. But in my view, the most important factor has been dramatically better tactics and training. As an example, every police officer in the United States knows the proper way of making a high-risk stopped of a vehicle containing a suspect who may be armed. This method simply did not exist in the summer of 1974, when running up the the driver's door and jerking it open was the order of the day. Similar improvements in tactics and training have impacted prisoner searches, transports, alarm responses, field contacts, and a myriad of other police activities.

There is an interesting and often overlooked statistic in the officers killed data: more officers killed in the line of duty died in traffic collisions than in any other manner. Of the 186 deaths as of December 26, 81 were traffic collisions, and 69 were shootings.

I can't find the source right now (maybe a reader with more time or expertise here can help me), but I am certain I recently saw a comparative graph of civilian an police traffic fatalities per million miles driven. Over the past 40 years, civilian traffic fatalities have fallen like a rock in the United States. Better roadway engineering and automotive engineering--things like crash barriers, reflective roadway markings, seat belts, airbags, anti-lock brakes, and so forth--are responsible. But for police officers, the line is flat. The declining rate of fatal traffic accidents has not impacted police traffic deaths.

My theory is that the failure of police traffic deaths to follow the downward track of civilian fatalities has do to with the far greater burden of dealing with the technology of the patrol car. In 1974, the '72 Plymouth Fury I was assigned had a radio with a knob and 4 buttons. It also had two toggle switches, one for the red lights, one for the siren. That was about the extent of it. Today, your radio has a virtually unlimited number of talk groups, and you can't function without a cell phone. You're mobile data computer is vital, you might have a mobile video system, a moving radar set-up, and a GPS. The very things that have helped improve officer safety in some ways--instant communication and database queries, for instance--makes for more distracted driving and greater exposure to traffic risk.

Three of the five Lincoln Police Officers killed in the line of duty during our history died in traffic collisions: Charles Hall, Frank Leyden, and George Welter. It is simply the biggest risk officers face. Many police officers are committed to reducing their risk of felonious assault. They wear their armor, replace it at five years, they look for tactical training opportunities, and they practice what they have learned. We need to be equally committed to taking steps that will protect us from the greater risk of fatal traffic collisions.

Slow down. Wear your traffic vest. Stop texting. Minimize talking on the cell phone while driving. Pull over if you need to type anything longer than a plate number on a mobile data computer. Keep you seat belt low and tight, your gear out of the airbag deployment zone, your eyes moving, your mirrors adjusted, your windshield clear, and your bladder empty. And by all means, refrain from listening the that certain genre of music while trying to negotiate the mean streets.

My number one wish for 2008: a safe year for our police officers.