Friday, February 29, 2008

Loss from crime

A comment on yesterday's blog post asked an interesting question:

"How does bicycle theft compare in annual dollar losses to other crime categories? I have a hunch that the monetary loss in that category is higher than any others. Am I right?"
Here's a comparison among some of the common property crimes:

The dollar amounts are a combination of the theft loss and any property damage. Although auto theft tops this partial list, it's a little misleading. In Lincoln, the vast majority of stolen autos are recovered, so the "loss" is only temporary. Joyriding and "transportation auto theft" make up the majority of our offenses. Keep in mind that these are only offenses reported to the police.

The total loss from all crimes in Lincoln during 2007 was $15,162,769.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Spree vandalism

Spree vandalism is the senseless crime of committing a large series of property damage over a short period of time, in a spree. I've never understood the attraction of driving around shooting windows, smashing mailboxes, or slashing tires, but that's the typical M.O. of a vandalism spree.

A Sunday comment by a reader of The Chief's Corner suggested that I blog on this topic, because we had one of these last weekend: eight tire slashings in a small area in south Lincoln. It's probably related to another tire slashing spree in a different part of town that occurred overnight from January 9 to 10. The most common kind of vandalism spree involves the use of BB or pellet guns to shoot out car windows. Windshields and rear windows are typically in the $300 range, with side glass around $250, so the bucks can add up quickly.

The largest sprees are often solved, because vandals can't help but brag about their exploits. Inevitably word seems to make it's way back to one of the victims, or to somebody else who the vandals have annoyed. People who would commit such crimes have a tendency to make plenty of enemies in other aspects of their lives--a decided advantage from an investigative standpoint.

That's how we solved our our biggest single spree in recent years, which occurred on November 11, 2005. Three fine young men popped 144 windows with total damage conservatively estimated by our officers at $37,835. The county attorney filed felonies on this crew, and two of the three actually got six months of three hots and a cot. The third received 30 days in jail and 3 years of probation. The chance of a victim getting restitution from such deadbeats is between slim and none. The biggest tire slashing spree in recent years was overnight 0n December 2, 2003, when tires were slashed on 42 vehicles resulting in $6,715 damage.

As I have often pointed out, there is one rather effective preventative measure. It's not equally available to all, but if it's an option for you, it's worth the effort to park your car in the driveway, rather than on the street. The three car monte in the morning as everyone in the family is preparing to leave at different times can be a hassle, but it works.

Another common kind of vandalism spree is the destruction of mailboxes with a ball bat or club swung from the passenger side of a passing vehicle. Back In November, 2002 a group of three young men were driving around Northeast Lincoln vandalizing mailboxes. The front seat passenger was the designated hitter, using a golf club. During one hit, the shaft of the 3-wood broke off above the hosel . The club head, with a few inches of shaft attached, ricocheted into the open rear passenger window, impaled itself in the head of the back seat passenger and killed him.

Overall in 2007, we suffered 5,258 vandalisms, with a total loss of $1.3 million. Hardly a small-potatoes crime. Motor vehicles were the most common target (click to enlarge):

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

From the inbox

On Friday, I received this missive:

"Chief Cassidy,

Just wanted to take a minute of your time to alert you of the growing speeding problems on Capital Parkway West. With O Street being closed due to the bridge replacement, many drivers are exceeding the speed limit to make up for the additional drive time. As I drive this route to work every day, I'm often passed by cars at least 10 if not 20 mph over the limit. This morning again I was nearly rear ended by a speeding car. As I neared downtown I slowed for the drop to the 35 mph limit and since the car in the left-hand lane also slowed, the speeding car had to hit the brakes pretty hard to keep from hitting us.

I rarely see any traffic enforcement on this road. Maybe once a month or so. I hope the Police department could pay more attention to this stretch of road.

Thanks for your time."

On Monday, this message arrived:

"To Whom It May Concern,

I live in southwest Lincoln and use Rosa Parks Way at least 2-4 times a day. Speeding does not seem to be a big problem on this road, other than a few that I have seen in the past 2 years, the fastest of which, did get pulled over. The problem that I have is that the police department regularly has speed checks on this road. I have never gotten a ticket for speeding in Lincoln, but they pull everyone over going just over the speed limit, even though there are no hazards around (schools, residences, commercial properties, pedestrians, bicyclists, etc.)...I will change my route, even though it will add 10-15 minutes to my commute. Then, another young person with advanced degrees will leave the city of Lincoln ASAP. Please let me know what you will do to remedy this situation."
For my out-of-town readers, you should know that Capital Parkway West was renamed Rosa Parks Way last year. Both correspondents are referring to the same stretch of road. Maybe I should just forward each of them the other's email.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Impact of growth

Lincoln has a steady historic population growth rate during the past 100 years that averages a bit over 1% per year. Since the 2000 census, Lincoln's population has grown by about 21,000. Essentially, in the past seven years, we've added the city of Columbus, Nebraska to our population. Columbus, a little city at the confluence of the Loup and Platte rivers, is Nebraska's 14th largest city. It has six public elementary schools, one middle school, one public and one parochial high school. It has a library, senior center, 34 churches, a hospital, a community college, and a pair of 18-hole golf courses.

Columbus also has a police department, with 35 officers and 17 vehicles. Taking on the population of Columbus since 2000, Lincoln has added 21 officers. Considering the extant administrative, investigative, and support infrastructure in place in Lincoln, I'd say that's about right to account for the population increase. Trouble is, Columbus started out a lot larger than Lincoln in police per capita to begin with. Columbus has 1.63 officers per 1,000 residents. Lincoln has 1.30 per 1,000. If Lincoln's police force was the same size as Columbus, we'd need to add 90 more officers to our force of 317. If we did that, we would then rank sixth in Nebraska in the ratio of police officers to residents, still way behind places like Omaha and Grand Island.

Lincoln's growth is having a major impact on the police department. If you draw a circle with a radius of half a mile at 87th and Highway 2, we handled 339 police dispatches within that circle last year. In 2001, we handled a whooping eight. It's not just the number of dispatches, though, it's also the geographic spread of the city. Lincoln's added nearly 15 square miles during that time period. Think about this: the officer sent to the traffic accident at 87th and Highway 2 at shift change is travelling nearly 8 miles as the crow flies from headquarters. If you're wondering, it's a 23 minute trip at 3:30 p.m..

Here's an interesting graphic of Lincoln's geographic growth I made for a presentation I did at the City Director's meeting last Wednesday. It's an animated map of Lincoln's historic growth. Click on the image to start the loop.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Intern turns up

Last summer, I wrote a few posts on The Chief's Corner about an interesting series of projects an intern, Kyle Heidtbrink, was working on. After snagging his bachelor's degree, Kyle spent the summer with us--unpaid--just to get some practical real-world experience. He did some valuable analyses of sex offender residency and movement. (Speaking of which, this arrest early yesterday morning by Sgt. Jason Stille was a really nice job--he found the defendant hiding in the shower in his underwear).

I had lost track of Kyle towards the end of his internship, which finished up in our Narcotics Unit, located in another part of town. So I was glad to hear from him this week when he emailed me on Tuesday. Here's an excerpt.
"I'd like like give you the scoop on what's been happening in my life lately. I recently acquired a job with AMEC Earth & Environmental, an engineering firm located in Topeka, KS. I really think that my experience with the police department this past summer was a major contribution to being offered this position. For that reason, I wanted to thank you for your time and effort in making the internship a reality. It was a pleasant experience and gave me the unique opportunity to understand what it feels like to know that the work I was doing made a difference in the community. I guess that's probably one of the biggest things any law enforcement officer can take home each and every day he/she comes to work. "
It's good to know that his internship helped him land a sweet job. I think internships for college students are incredibly valuable, and we've had many, many interns go on to successful careers that, like Kyle, gained some valuable experience here at LPD. We benefit from their enthusiasm and talent, and try to return the favor by providing them with interesting and worthwhile work experience. Congratulations, Kyle!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Frequent flier

I keep a manila folder in my lower left desk drawer labeled "Bad B&G". It's been there for over a decade. The B&G stands for "Boys & Girls." It's a single-spaced two page list of every person arrested or cited for a criminal offense by the Lincoln Police Department 200 times or more, since we computerized our records in 1980. There are 83 names on the list, which was just updated late last month.

Eddie, with 652 Lincoln Police Department arrests since 1980, is perched at the top. He's our Hank Aaron. When I started keeping the file, I could ask any Lincoln police officer who the most-arrested person in the city was, and the instant answer from everyone was "Eddie." Today, there are a growing number of officers who never had the honor, because Eddie died back in January, 2004. I figured his record was safe, and that no one would ever match his staying power.

I was wrong. Barring his untimely demise, Kevin should rocket past Eddie in 2008. His 615 arrests leave him in third place at the moment, but he had a prolific 2007, with 66 arrests. He enjoys a distinct advantage over number one and two--he's still alive. Those 66 arrests are quite an accomplishment, given the limited amount of time he had during the year when he was not in jail. He's in the slammer now, serving a 180 day assault sentence for beating, kicking, and biting a girlfriend. He went in on November 18, so if he's been good, he should be back out shortly and can continue his climb to the top of the page.

Like many of my Bad B&Gs, Kevin is an alcoholic drug abuser, and many of his arrests are for public order crimes like drinking in public, panhandling, trespassing, urinating in public, and so forth. But he's also been arrested for robbery, false imprisonment, weapons offenses, and assault--25 times for assault. Among the assaults is a 1997 case in which Kevin was convicted of slashing the throat of a 34 year old victim who barely survived. That one landed him a five year prison sentence for 2nd degree assault and use of a weapon to commit a felony.

All told, Kevin has been sentenced to 5,086 days in prison or jail since he landed in Lincoln in 1989. That's 14 years. He's also been fined $31,576. I doubt if he paid any of those fines, rather he sat them out in jail at $60 or so a day--another year and a half.

The revelation that a 43 year old man can be arrested 615 times is a shocker for most people, but it's not for police officers--in Lincoln or elsewhere. A couple years ago, Capt. Dennis Duckworth inadvertently created a little dust-up in his early morning press briefing when he mentioned an overnight arrest. He casually noted that it was the defendant's 226th arrest by LPD. The story hit the wire, and was published worldwide. I ended up with a Chicago Tribune columnist, Howard Witt, in my office chatting about the phenomenon.

Mr. Witt, unlike many, understood that this had nothing to do with Lincoln or with Nebraska. The same frequent fliers (not to mention their offspring) are on a first name basis with the police in any city. The difference in Lincoln was simply that--unlike L.A., Chicago, or Houston--in Lincoln the information on past arrests is accurately and instantly available to the overnight shift commander giving the boring details of a slow night to the bleary-eyed reporter at 5:00 a.m..

Monday, February 18, 2008

Party crashers

Last November, I blogged about some of the hazards that arise from large, open-invitation drinking parties. In Not all harmless fun I described a couple of "party invasion" robberies that had occurred in the North Bottoms neighborhood on the preceding weekend.

Well, they're back. Sunday morning, I was reading overnight reports waiting for the newspaper to arrive, when I encountered the Incident Reports on three robberies in the 1100 block of Claremont Street, just after midnight. Apparently, the victims, leaving a party were confronted by a group of assailants cruising the neighborhood just for the purpose of committing such crimes. The victims were jumped, and lost cash, credit card, wallet, cell phone and (of course) the 12-pack they were toting to their next stop.

My guess would be that at least some of the suspects were also involved in the November cases in the same neighborhood. Party crashers seem to be coming in two types: "invaders," who are looking to forcibly rob and assault the inebriated and meek; and "slinkers," who will secretly look around, lift a purse or two, and maybe case the place for a later burglary. We've had our share of both, and made a few arrests in such cases.

It appears that this is a growing risk of hosting a rent party, or something that looks like one to the gang on the prowl for tipsy victims who are accustomed to a little high school chest-bumping, but not to real violence. With spring on the horizon, and Phase II of the high-risk drinking party scene about to unfold, this is worth keeping in mind.

We are not alone. A Google search and a click on the News link revealed quite a few recent news articles from far-flung media sources. This phenomenon of violent party invasion is occurring in many other locations, and the story is often quite similar to our own local cases.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Biggest threat to public safety

There are no TV shows about it. I can't think of any movies or books either. By far and away, though it's the biggest threat to public safety in our City, State, and nation.

Traffic crashes.

Last year, they killed 256 people in Nebraska. By comparison, there were 53 murders. In Lincoln, there were 9,713 traffic crashes in 2007, injuring over 2,500 people. I don't have the data right now on the total property loss, but it was huge. It is a threat that effects more people than anything else. That's why traffic enforcement and traffic control is an important part of our job.

Fred Zwonechek, the administrator of the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety sent a chart to me a couple of weeks ago showing the fatal crash trend in Nebraska back to 1980, benchmarked against the number of vehicle miles travelled (click to enlarge):

That's an impressive reduction. Had the rate remained the same, 152 more people would have died in Nebraska traffic crashes last year. Lincoln's traffic accident rate has also been falling over this same time period, although it's been pretty much unchanged since 2003.

Declining crash rates are attributable to a variety of causes: better roadway engineering, anti-lock brakes, vigorous law enforcement (especially drunk driving), and graduated drivers licenses all come to mind. In addition to those things that reduce the number of crashes, other factors influence the number of fatalities and the number and severity of injuries: seat belts, child restraints, air bags, and helmets are all obvious, and have had a huge impact.

My first few years in policing were spent as a traffic specialist. I was a member of a six-person Alcohol Safety Action Program squad that handled 1992 DWI arrests in 1974. Remarkably, four of us are still at LPD: myself, Jon Morris, Steve Wetzel, and Mike Garnett. By the middle of 1975, I was a motor officer on the second shift, dedicated to investigating traffic crashes and writing tons and tons of tickets. Traffic is in my blood, but more importantly, it's critical to our mission of providing services that promote a safe and secure community. You can expect it to continue to be an important emphasis.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Chiefs' debate

Mark Beckner is the Boulder, Colorado chief of police. We are not only in neighboring states and in cities with large universities, we also have rather similar careers. He's been a Boulder police officer since 1978--four years after I joined the Lincoln Police Department. He's been Boulder's chief since 1998--four years after Mike Johanns appointed me Lincoln's police chief.

Chief Beckner has sent a series of emails to his officers and to fellow police chiefs advocating a national discussion on lowering the legal drinking age. I received a forwarded copy from one of my sergeants early yesterday morning, and another directly from Chief Beckner yesterday afternoon. These messages appear to be in the wake of a soon-to-be-broadcast 60 Minutes episode, for which he was interviewed. While 60 Minutes has not come looking for my view, 48 Hours did, back in 2002.

A quick Google search on my name will reveal that I've been something of the police poster child for the idea that binge drinking by young people really can be reduced by relatively straightforward collaborative practices involving law enforcement agencies and other community stakeholders. Enforcement is part, but not the only (nor by any means the most important) part of the effort. I've been on the circuit to such places as Atlanta, Dallas, London, The University of Delaware, the Problem-Oriented Policing Conference in Madison, Louisiana State University, Virginia Tech, and several other places on this topic. I've had to turn down many other invitations, because I have a job to do here that takes precedence.

I'm not absolutely convinced I am right. Chief Beckner's opinion is held by many. Sometimes, I am lured by it. Maybe, the argument goes, the taboo on alcohol until age 21 actually makes people under the age of 21 more likely to binge drink, not less. Although I am skeptical, I'm willing to consider the possibility. I'm also quite bothered by the fact that soldiers who have served in combat can not legally drink in their own hometown. But Chief Beckner, I believe, is mistaken in his conclusion that reasonable efforts to reduce underage and high-risk drinking are futile. We stand as the outstanding, well-researched, and well-documented example that things really can change, and that it doesn't necessarily have to end in the annual riot on the Hill. Lincoln has experienced something quite different.

Chief Beckner and I are both members of a small group of chiefs that exchange information and meet annually. He is hosting the Benchmark City Chiefs meeting this year, and yesterday he proposed adding this issue to the agenda. I think it's a great idea. The more people discuss this, the better. Information and debate on this topic is valuable.

The consequences of error are potentially great. Regardless of how Mark or I feel about the drinking age, it is indisputable that alcohol-related traffic fatalities among young people have fallen like a rock since the drinking age was raised to 21 nationwide. Mark could be right--this decline might be unrelated to the higher legal drinking age. On the other hand, he could be wrong. Alcohol-related fatalities have fallen more for those under 21 during the past 20 years than for those over 21.

I've always been one for testing the hypothesis, as readers of The Chief's Corner are well aware. Changing a nationwide policy that correlates with a huge decline in alcohol-related fatalities among young people is not something we should enter into based on any one's opinion, but rather upon solid evidence. Let's put it to the test: Colorado vs. Nebraska. The Buffs can go to a drinking age of 18 in Boulder, the Huskers can stay at 21 in Lincoln, and we can see what the difference in alcohol-related fatalities is after a few years. It's not a perfect experiment, but it's a pretty good naturally-occurring quasi-experiment: a time series with similar control and experimental groups.

Getting it right is incredibly important. Lives are at stake.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Crying shame

When you've been around a few decades, you've heard about everything imaginable. But last week, this one caused me to cringe. I was on my way out to the Northeast Team Station for a meeting with Capt. Srb, when I heard Officer Mike Pratt dispatched to this call at an elementary school across town:

Mike's subsequent investigation revealed that the five year old had a very good understanding of what her parents "weed" looked like, and where it could be found. Both mom and dad were subsequently arrested for child abuse, possession of marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia.

While it may be unfathomable, it's not that rare. Last year, we investigated 110 drug-related child abuse cases. One of the greatest things about being a police officer is that occasionally you get to rescue a child from such circumstances.

Here's a few typical excerpts from the 2007 records:


Drug abuse, a victimless crime. Right.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Shiner Bock?

Somebody on the editorial page staff at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram discovered The Chief's Corner. Editorial columnist J.R. Lubbe called me on Friday. I was a little leery of a Dallas area newspaper editor named J.R., at first. She had apparently Googled "Crawl for Cancer" and hit one of my posts from back in September: Philanthropic Binge Drinking.

She seemed to have the same general reaction to the concept that I did. Good. For a while there, I was thinking maybe I was just getting grumpy, but apparently I'm not the only one who recognized this scam for exactly what it is.

I must admit, though, I'm a little bit surprised that this was so patently absurd to a major metropolitan newspaper in Texas that it merited a 1,200 word editorial in the Sunday edition.

Friday, February 8, 2008

100K and counting

I run Google Analytics on The Chief's Corner, which collects a lot of statistics on the traffic. The number of visits to The Chief's Corner topped 100,000 this week. Yesterday was pretty typical, with 441 visits, bringing the total to 100,651 since I launched in mid-April, 2007. There have been 208,160 pageviews by 23,785 unique visitors. The average visitor stays on site two and a half minutes, and views two pages. Of the total visitors, 40% have returned 15 or more times, 11% more than 100 times.

The hits came from computers using the following operating systems: 95.5% Windows, 4% Mac, and 0.26% Linux. The browsers line up as 84% Internet Explorer, 11% Firefox, and a smattering of Safari, Firefox for Mac, Netscape, Opera, and Camino (whatever that is.)

Just under a third of the total hits came from the City-County domain--so the blog's biggest readership is intimately local. But there are several other domain names that are heavy hitters, including all the major Internet service providers, the University of Nebraska, Lee Enterprises, and Lincoln Public Schools.

Hits have come from all over the place. Canada and the United Kingdom have a some regualr readers, especially in Vancouver, BC and in London. In the United States, seven states topped 1,000 visits. Nebraska contributed the most, naturally, followed by Virginia, Colorado, and New York. Reviewing the new visitor vs. returning visitor stats for each state and the domain names makes it clear that there are loyal readers in unexpected places like Herndon, VA , San Bruno, CA, and New York City .

The ways in which people found The Chief's Corner are interesting. Although the vast majority of hits were direct, search engines produced a dizzying array of unusual results. Here's an example: back on September 25th, 2007, someone in Charlotte, North Carolina Googled the phrase "bob and tom lincoln nebraska", hit this page, then spent 20 minutes visiting a total of 16 pages. Go figure.

Aside from the obvious terms like "lincoln police", "chief's blog" and "casady" (spelled about a dozen different ways), the biggest single search term that brought people to The Chief's Corner was "acudat".

Proving that less is more, the most popular single post, by a long shot, was also the shortest: I wonder who drove (2,205). Second place goes to Gary got his gun permit (858), followed by Not the only one with that thought (782), Third shift wrap up (622), and Prevention wins every time (589).

A hundred thousand hits is probably chump change for a popular blog, but to me that seems like a lot of traffic. It doesn't count the unknown number of readers who follow the Chief's Corner by subscribing to the RSS feed. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect this blog to reach so many people in 10 months.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Live and learn

Yesterday charges against one of the teenagers who was found in possession of a gun stolen from Scheel's All Sports were dropped. The dismissal of the case follows a decision about a month ago in which the court suppressed the key evidence (the gun) as the product of an unlawful search.

The details of the ruling are summarized in a Lincoln Journal Star article published a month ago today. Basically, the defendant was on probation from Juvenile Court. The probation order specified the conditions, and number 12 on that list was a requirement that the defendant "shall submit to search of his person, home, and school locker by the juvenile probation officer." The police officers spoke to the juvenile court probation officer via telephone, who advised them that they could search based on the court's order.

The District Court ruled that the officers did not have consent from the parents for the search, and that the probation officer can't transfer the authority of the Juvenile Court's order authorizing a search to a police officer. Juvenile court probation officers are not on duty, for the most part, at night and on weekends, so no probation officer was present or available when the officer's were at the defendant's home after midnight. The absence of the probation officer from the site of the search appears to be a factor in the District Court's decision suppressing the products of the search.

Though disappointing, four other defendants are still charged in connection with the burglary here in Lincoln, others are charged in Phoenix, and we have now learned something important that will help us avoid a similar problem in the future. We have generally considered probation officers to be "officers of the court." We call them at home at night with some regularity, because it is from them that we must receive authorization to hold a juvenile in the Detention Center. Now we know that the probation officer cannot delegate the search authority in a Juvenile Court probation order to the police.

No one acted in bad faith in this case. At 1:24 a.m., a police officer trying to do the right thing made what the District Court determined three months later was a mistake, by relying on a probation officer's search authority granted over the phone. In this job, you live and learn.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


Yesterday's snowfall was a traffic nightmare. We responded to 149 traffic crashes. A normal day would be just over 26. Earlier this winter (December 6, 2007) we had 161, so I guess yesterday was just a bad dream, not a nightmare. They were split precisely at noon. Half were in the morning, half in the evening. Yes, I realize 149 was an odd number, but one of those crashes was actually on the button at 1200 hours.

A couple of weeks ago, I was testing out a new data report--an idea that a colleague, Bruce Silva at the Omega Group, had come up with. I did a little tweaking on his template, then ran the report against four years of traffic crashes, 30,287 cases. I thought that would make a good test, because I knew crashes would show some obvious day of week and time of day patterns.

Hour of day is in the rows, day of week is in the columns. The bluest cells are the coolest--with the fewest crashes. The reddest cells are the hottest. Here's a snapshot of the report (click to enlarge):

The weekday afternoon drive-time is clearly the prime time for traffic crashes by a considerable margin. Have a look at Friday. I think people are leaving work a little early on Fridays....

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Metal theft legislation

The Nebraska Legislature is in session, and I've made a couple of trips down Lincoln Mall to the Capital so far to give testimony. About a week ago, I supported LB766, which is aimed at reducing the theft of valuable metals such as brass, aluminum, and copper. This has been a significant problem worldwide. Sen. Abbie Cornett, a retired Omaha police officer, introduced the bill, which establishes new requirements for buyers of such metals to thoroughly identify both the seller and the material. I told the committee about the apparent success of our ordinance here in Lincoln. Maybe if similar restrictions were in effect statewide, Lincoln's thefts could be even further reduced, since the market for stolen goods in other Nebraska cities would be further constricted. Here's my testimony at the committee hearing:
"The City of Lincoln supports LB766 because we believe it will help reduce the theft of high-value metals such as copper, brass, and aluminum by constricting the market for ill-gotten goods of this type. The bill will require identification of both the seller and the materials, including photo identification and a fingerprint. This will assist in investigations. Just as importantly though, we believe these measures will deter thieves due to the increased risk of apprehension.

These crimes cause large losses not only from theft, but from the property damage associated with the offense. It is common for us to investigate cases where thousands of dollars of damage has been done for a few dollars worth of copper or aluminum. Virtually all stolen metals must go through the rather small number of commercial buyers. By increasing the risk at that choke point, this bill will reduce the market for stolen metal significantly. There is no market for this material in the classified ads or on eBay, or from the trunk of a car in a parking lot.

The Lincoln City Council passed a Municipal Ordinance in 2006 that has some of the same provisions as LB766. I would like to tell you about that ordinance, and its impact. A unique feature of our ordinance is that it makes it unlawful for anyone who has been convicted of theft-related offenses during the past five years to sell salvage metals. This provision was essentially imported from our pawn shop ordinance, where it was adopted with some success in 2003. Another important feature is a requirement that high value metals such as brass, aluminum and copper be held for 72 hours prior to disposal or alteration. There are exceptions to this hold period for certain sellers.

Our city ordinance on salvage metals requires the same kinds of identifications steps for the seller contained in LB766, except the process can be simplified for sellers who obtain a $5 annual salvage permit from the police department. Essentially, we check the permit applicant’s history up front. For a permitted seller, the buyer has a shortened paperwork burden, and also avoids a 72 hour hold on the material that would otherwise be required. This has worked fairly well for us, and as of today, we have 389 permit holders. There is also an exemption in our ordinance for industrial sellers.

The ordinance became effective on December 1, 2006, and we experienced an immediate decline in metal thefts in Lincoln. The total number of metal thefts fell from 169 in 2006 to 128 in 2007, a 24% decrease. The dollar loss from theft and property damage fell from $169,672 to $114,443, a 33% decrease. I would expect similar results from the passage of LB766—especially if it includes a 72 hour hold provision."

Monday, February 4, 2008

Gang strategy updated

The Lincoln Police Department developed and published our gang plan, Gang Activity in Lincoln: a Strategy for Prevention and Response, back in 1994. It had been updated and republished twice, but it had been quite a while since we had revisited it. Late last year, I asked Capt. Brian Jackson, who heads our Narcotics Unit, to pull together a committee for an update.

The dust-off is complete and the updated report is available on our website. The report is organized into categories of action. In each, we describe what we have done and what we intend to do. One of the nice things about the update process was to review what actually happened. We did what we said that we intended to do in almost every instance, and I think it helped.

Gang activity in Lincoln does not seem to be as prevalent as it is in many cities of a quarter million, but it is definitely present. Every now and then, the general public gets a glimpse of this with something like the Scheel's burglary. I was a little surprised at how shocked many people seem to have been when they learned that this was a gang crime. For the most part, though, people in Lincoln still seem somewhat unaware. I suppose you have to be in the right place to see it. Keeping the heat on is critical. The introductory statment from the original report still holds true:
"We are convinced that an aggressive public policy aimed at preventing gang recruitment and membership, coupled with vigorous efforts to respond swiftly and firmly to gang-related crime is imperative to the quality of life we enjoy in Lincoln."

Friday, February 1, 2008

Common problem

I thought I was an early riser. I had this email in my inbox this morning, sent at 0340 hours:

"Tom, thanks for all the work you and your team does for Lincoln!! My question is, that i see so so many vehicles with expired stickers on the plates. Can you folks ticket the cars in parking lots? Is it worth it for me to call you folks if i see one in a parking lot of a grocery store or driving down the street? Thanks for your time and have a great day."
I hear this a lot, along with complaints about speeders, bad parking around schools, poor lawn mowing etiquette, not to mention inconsiderate leaf blowing. When you're up to your ears in what seem like significant issues, it's sometimes amusing to think about what's getting under the skin of a fellow citizen looking for a police crackdown on garage sale signs.

This morning's emailer shouldn't be lumped into that category though. Give the guy a break: he's not aware of the impracticality of vectoring patrol cars to intercepts while the radio buzzes with rolling reports of expired registration stickers. He simply sees a problem, and wants to know how he could help. Unfortunately, the best help he can provide right now is to grit his teeth and be patient. Here's my response.

"We can't ticket them in private parking lots, just on the public street. Thousands upon thousands are issued every year. It's one of our most common tickets. I don't have the 2007 data posted yet, but in 2006, the total was 15,937. It really isn't practical for us to encourage people to call in, because we just don't have enough officers to dispatch them across their beat in search of moving cars with expired plates. I think you just have to accept the fact that for the most part, they will all get their citation eventually if they run on expired tags for very long. Thanks for the good words."
I hope that didn't sound rude or unresponsive, because I really empathize with this guy. It's one of my pet peeves, too, because those improperly registered vehicles are tax dollars uncollected. The City is indeed full of them, just as the correspondent notes. Based on the number that we cite, I would estimate that close to 5% of the vehicles in Lincoln are improperly registered at any given time. Every one of those is tax revenue delayed, and many represent completely uncollected tax--the owners have made an art form of switching plates, faking intransit tags, and coming up with various schemes for avoiding the personal property tax, sales tax, wheel tax, and license plate fee. A healthy subset of those fictitious and expired plate drivers have no insurance, either.