Thursday, May 29, 2008

Call box key

Last night was the graduation ceremony for our Spring academy. Seventeen new police officers were commissioned. They were hired for these positions from a total pool of 372 applicants. I've been making remarks at two graduations annually for 14 years, and the regular attendees are probably a little tired of couple of variations on the theme that I normally talk about. Nonetheless, I haven't covered this ground in The Chief's Corner, and I thought it might make a good story for those who haven't had to hear it a dozen times before.

It's about the endurance of values in the police department. I talked to the trainees earlier in the day about the importance of upholding their ethics, abiding by their oath, keeping balance in their lives, focusing on quality, not obsessing over the inevitable missteps that will start tomorrow, and a few other things I think are important for police officers. The most important of all: The Golden Rule. I told them that the values of the organization are healthy, and are passed on from each generation to the next.

To illustrate the point, I tossed them my key ring. The gray plastic fob is a smart card that pops the doors in our facilities' computer-controlled access system. The brass key is my call box key. New recruits don't know what a call box key is, and some readers won't either. A call box is a metal box containing a direct-line telephone to headquarters. This is how the police communicated before radio. These boxes were strategically located around the city, and on a specified interval, the officers contacted headquarters for dispatches or instructions, and to report their status.

When I was hired in the summer of 1974 the call box key was among the stuff in the cardboard box of gear Officer Paul Wiar issued to me. Forty years earlier, LPD's first radio system was acquired in 1933. It was receive only, until two way radios were deployed in 1942 (page 9, if you have the patience). By the mid 1960's portable two-way radios were common, and by the time I started, everyone went out with both a mobile radio in the car, and a portable on the belt. Rookie officers all started with an assignment to downtown foot patrol. We were required to go to a call box and phone in to HQ between five minutes to and five minutes after the hour. The call boxes were long obsolete, but we were still calling in every hour, even though we all carried perfectly functional portable radios on our Sam Brownes.

The last remaining call boxes were removed from downtown utility poles in the mid-1970's. I'm still carrying the key, which has now been obsolete for at least 30 years. I'm not alone, many Lincoln police officers still have their call box key. The key is emblematic of tradition, endurance, and the inertia of values. We best make sure those are healthy and productive, because they last a long, long time.

Graduation ceremonies are among my favorite duties. Department veterans look forward immensely to watching the careers of these men and women unfold, and seeing them have the same opportunity to do challenging, socially-significant work that we have enjoyed.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Lock slows burglars

A few weeks ago, a burglary was reported at a self-storage unit in north Lincoln. It came to my attention because I know the victim, Steve, and he told me about the crime. Somebody clipped the padlock on his unit with bolt cutters, and made off with a trunk-load of goods. Among the stolen items were hundreds of jazz CDs.

The case was cleared when the suspects tried to sell the goods at a second-hand music/video/game store. I guess the people that showed up trying to offload the collection just didn't look like fans of classic jazz, and the owner was suspicious. He contacted us, and within a few days we had arrested three suspects--all meth addicts, two of whom are recently released from prison.

Before the arrests were made, I quizzed Steve about his padlock, and told him to get a disc lock. A few days ago, he confirmed that he had done so. Several years ago during an ACUDAT meeting, we were examining a spate of storage unit burglaries. During the discussion, Det. Sgt. Jeri Roeder mentioned that she rented a storage unit personally, and that the company required tenants to purchase a disc lock. She could never recall a case where one of these locks had been successfully attacked. No one else could either. From that point forward, the disc lock has been standard advice to owners and tenants of storage units.

This style of lock isn't a guarantee, but a standard padlock is a snap for a burglar armed with bolt cutters. Getting around a disc lock is a more complicated affair, and as we know, most burglars are essentially disorganized, lazy, and possessed of a rather short attention span. Let them move on to an easier target.

There have been 19 storage unit burglaries in Lincoln so far in 2008. The number has fallen like a rock over the past decade. I would attribute this in part to our efforts to promote better locks, in part to better physical security by complex owners, and in part to the proliferation of video surveillance systems. That's a very nice trend line.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Retirees appreciated

Last week, we held a luncheon for our retired police officers and civilian personnel at the Northeast Team's Station in University Place. We had a great turnout, ranging from some very recent retirees to some pretty seasoned veterans.

After a nice lunch and a short talk about some of the issues the department is dealing with at the present, everyone had a chance for a tour of the facility, and we ended up in the conference room where help was solicited identifying the personnel in many old photos. Do yourself a favor and write those names on the back of prints as soon as you get them. And get cranking on my digital collection, too.

These men and women committed their lives to public service. When I joined LPD, many of them were in supervisory and command ranks. The department wasn't without flaws, but I came to work for an organization with strong values and a strong work ethic, where misconduct was rare and wasn't tolerated well. I learned a lot from the example of my supervisors, particularly those that were upbeat, enthusiastic, and clearly enjoyed what they were doing. I think they still do. They still follow the trials and tribulations of LPD, and despite the moaning and groaning we all do during our work lives, they're still stuck to this department like glue.

When I walked up to the front of the building, one of our newest rookies, freshly assigned to the Northeast Team, was on the steps shaking hands with one of our most senior retirees. It was a nice picture. I guarantee you he wished he could change places with Derek, and was thinking back to the day he was in the same place, just starting out on an incredibly exciting, challenging, and fulfilling career at the Lincoln Police Department.

Thanks are due to Capt. Joy Citta, Michele Selvage, Sgt. Don Scheinost, Officer Katie Flood, and Mallory the Intern for organizing the event, and to Capt. Doug Srb and his staff for hosting.

Friday, May 23, 2008

History online

I'm not exactly sure why, but The Chief's Corner seems to be particularly popular among librarians. Someone must have discovered it one day, and forwarded the link around. It makes sense, I suppose, since they are in the information business. At any rate, some of the employees over at the Nebraska Library Commission took note of a few posts concerning the history of the Lincoln Police Department. It turns out that the commission is involved in a great project to do exactly what we've been working on: preserving and digitizing many of our historic documents and photos for online access.

We've been doing this work using a succession of interns. Free labor is great, but it's also episodic, so the work proceeds slowly, if steadily. The Library Commission, however, has the scanning, conversion, and web serving of historic documents on a fast track with the Nebraska Memories Project. We are thrilled to have their help, and this is a great way to make our historic documents available to the general public. We hope you enjoy the collection as it grows!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Benchmark chiefs' discussion

I am just returning from this year's meeting with the Benchmark City Chiefs. Chief Mark Beckner hosted this year's meeting in Boulder. Eighteen of the 20 cities were represented. As usual it was a great exchange of information and dialogue about our issues of mutual concern.

The much-anticipated discussion of binge drinking by young people and the legal drinking age was cordial and open-minded all around. I found an ally in Chief Dennis Harrison of Fort Collins. Following several alcohol-related deaths, the 2004 alcohol poisoning death of Samantha Spady at a Colorado State University fraternity was a catalyst for change. A broad-based coalition led by the lieutenant governor was formed, and Chief Harrison reports that there is good progress being made in addressing binge drinking with consistent efforts that sound quite similar to our ten year effort with NU Directions (now the Lincoln College Partnership.) There was a lot of discussion of the link between high risk drinking and violent crimes that victimize young people.

We also had a great round table discussion about things we are each doing that are innovative, effective, and potentially of value to other agencies. I highlighted our computer-enhanced roll calls, a training series Capt. Brian Jackson and I have been conducting to help officers prepare for career opportunities, and our efforts to improve fuel mileage through reduced idling.

Richardson, TX has a very intriguing program that really caught my eye. Chief Larry Zacharias calls it "The Richardson Challenge." It is a series of rather non-traditional challenges for new officers to complete during their first year. I want to look into that more.

Yesterday morning, we closed things up with a discussion of budget issues most of us are confronting. With a couple of exceptions, most of these 20 cities are in the same boat with Lincoln: we've grown dependent on sales tax for funding city government, and it has gone flat. We have almost all had varying degrees of pain associated with the current economic conditions.

At dinner Sunday night, I was something of a rookie at my table with a mere 33 years. Dennis Harrison (Ft. Collins, CO), Craig Steckler (Fremont, CA), David Dial (Napierville, IL) , John Douglass (Overland Park, KS), and Phil Cotton (Norman, OK) all had time on me. In this business, the average tenure of chiefs is not very long, but in this group we are all among the original chiefs who formed the Benchmark Chiefs in 1997. We can finish each other's sentences.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Two more guns located

Over the past seven months, I have blogged several times about Lincoln's largest gun shop burglary at Scheel's All Sports back on October 1, 2007. Although 30 of the guns were recovered within a day of the burglary, the remainder have been surfacing in an incredible array of crimes and tragedies.

Since the initial recovery of 30 guns in October, 11 more have been located. Two of these have were accounted for in the past week. Number 10, a Ruger .40 cal., was actually recovered some time ago, but we just learned of it last week. Apparently Phoenix police, investigating a robbery of an individual which occurred on November 29, 2007 identified a suspect who was allegedly attempting to cash a check stolen in the crime. The suspect's vehicle was impounded and was searched pursuant to a search warrant on March 7, 2008. The gun was recovered at that time, but we were not notified until a confirmation request was sent to LPD on May 14.

Number 11, a Glock 9mm, was recovered last Friday, May 16, in Omaha during a vehicle stop by the Omaha Police Department. The pistol was located under the driver's seat. This brings the total recoveries to 41. The total number of guns still missing stands at 39, and the investigation continues.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Two good meetings

A couple of very good meetings took place last week that are noteworthy. On Monday evening, Jon Carlson, Capt. Mike Woolman and I hosted a meeting with landlords. We had invited the individuals and companies who own rental property in the 48 square block area south of the State Capitol where we are focusing our efforts for Stronger Safer Neighborhoods.

I expected a light turnout, and was quite surprised when about 80 individuals showed up at headquarters. We briefed the group on what we are up to in the neighborhood, and introduced them to some resources that might help them: LPD's online resources for background checks, Lincoln's REOMA (Real Estate Owners and Managers Association), and Tenant Data Services. There was a good discussion, and many landlords lingered after the meeting to talk about various issues in greater detail. Landlords are key stakeholders in this area, where the home ownership rate is very low, and 94% of the residential units are rentals.

Meeting number two was on Wednesday night, when I met with high school youth at an open forum sponsored by the Lincoln Police Department's Youth Advisory Council. It was a good discussion with a diverse group of about 40. The most interesting question: "What can we do to help you?" I mentioned practicing good crime prevention (young people are disproportionately victimized by crime) with some specific examples, and staying active in community affairs--including paying attention to the police department's issues, and continuing to give us advice and feedback.

I noted previously that the Topeka Police Department was impressed with our Youth Advisory Council, and has organized a group of there own. All in all, a pair of very worthwhile evenings with two quite different groups, both very engaged and willing to help.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Peace Officers Memorial Day

Flags across the United States will be at half staff today. In 1962 a joint resolution of Congress authorized and requested President John F. Kennedy to proclaim May 15 of each year as Peace Officer's Memorial Day. The week in which it falls is "Police Week," and nationwide at court houses, state houses, cemeteries, police stations, and other locations ceremonies large and small will be held honoring police officers, deputy sheriffs, state troopers, and other law officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.

The Lincoln Police Department marked Police Week at our own ceremony on the steps of the Hall of Justice and Law Enforcement Center on Tuesday. A nice crowd ranging from our newest recruits to a large contingent of our retirees turned out to here remarks appropriate for the occasion by our long time colleague from the City Law Department, John McQuinn after an invocaton by Rev. Dr. Harry Riggs. Captain Genelle Moore revealed a previously hidden talent by singing Amazing Grace a capella, the LPD Honor Guard posted and retired the colors with their usual precision, and Sgt. Tom Ward's playing of taps raised the goose bumps on many arms.

All in all, it was a fitting remembrance of those officers who gave their lives in service to their fellow citizens of Lincoln. It has been forty years since a Lincoln police officer has died in the line of duty. I think, though, that we all realize it could happen at any instant. We will pass the memory of these five officers on to each succeeding generation of Lincoln police officers.

Captain Charles E. Hall died on March 31, 1917 in a motor vehicle collision near 33rd and Adams. Detective Hall was 53 years old and survived by his wife and four children.

Officer Richard E. Leyden died on September 26, 1949 of injuries suffered in a traffic collision on 16th St. between G and H. Officer Leyden was to be married on October 2, 1949.

Detective Lieutenant Frank H. Soukup died on December 16, 1966. in a gun battle at 2413 P Street. Lt. Soukup was 53 years old and survived by his wife and three children.

Detective Paul B. Whitehead died on August 10, 1967 when he was shot near 38th and O Street by an escapee from the Indiana State Prison. Detective Whitehead was 30 years old and survived by his wife and three children.

Officer George E. Welter died on February 9, 1968 when his police motorcycle collided with a motor vehicle at 27th and W Street. Officer Welter was 25 years old and survived by his wife and three children.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Project Safe Neighborhoods

Project Safe Neighborhoods is a national program sponsored by the United States Department of Justice to reduce gun crime. In 2004, the Lincoln Police Department applied for and received a small grant to implement a multi-pronged strategy, consisting of close supervision of parolees and probationers, saturation enforcement, and undercover details in a small area of southwest Lincoln. We have continued to receive these small grants for four years. You can read a little more about our strategy on page 15 of our 2004 Annual Report.

Friday night/Saturday morning, we conducted our 45th Project Safe Neighborhoods detail. Sgt. Don Scheinost from my Management Services staff, organizes and supervises these projects. He assembled a group of 15 officers, 2 parole officers, 2 adult probation officers, and 2 juvenile probation officers. Six officers were teamed with the probation/parole officers and conducted home visits of people in the target area on parole or probation. Sgts. Mike Basset and Tim Kennett led the five-person undercover detail, and the remaining officers were assigned to saturation patrol and enforcement.

The detail kicked off with a 5:00 PM briefing at headquarters. The officers working on Project Safe Neighborhood details are all on overtime, supplementing the on-duty staff. This really allows us to concentrate some resources intensely in areas where the extra help is most needed. PSN works in two areas in southwest Lincoln that have the densest concentration of the kinds of gun-related crime the these projects are meant to suppress. The PSN target area overlaps the Stronger Safer Neighborhoods project area where we are also working more holistically on a variety of fronts to improve conditions.

Although Friday night's weather was less than ideal, the PSN detail had a productive night--something we have come to expect from this project. The pandering arrests I referred to in Monday's post resulted from the PSN undercover detail. The probation/parole/police officer teams and the saturation patrol and enforcement details both had good success. Overall this is what the detail produced:

64 home visits
9 probation/parole searches
5 probationers/parolees tested for drugs or alcohol
3 probation/parole violations
25 official traffic citations
46 traffic warning citations
3 driving during suspension arrests
33 misdemeanor arrests (17 narcotics related/16 other)
1 felony Arrest-Forgery
3 felony arrests - Pandering
4 warrant arrests (misdemeanor)

That's excellent productivity by a group of motivated police, probation, and parole officers who laid it on the line to help keep this City safe. Anyone who thinks this work is easy is sorely mistaken. It takes determination and courage to make a difference.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Good police work, 2008 style

Back when Case Number 1 was successfully prosecuted, good investigative work was characterized by a sharp eye, an intuitive mind, a good memory, an active work style, and great interpersonal skills. Not much has changed in the ensuing 140 years.

In 2008, though, a few other things contribute to investigations. Automated fingerprint identification systems, relational databases, sophisticated communications systems, DNA testing, and the Internet all come immediately to mind. Another contributor is the rapid proliferation of video surveillance systems. As I have mentioned previously, you and I are increasingly in the field of view of a large and growing number of cameras every day.

An excellent example of the merger of modern technology and good old-fashioned police work occurred over the weekend, when Officer Jeff Hanson arrested the men responsible for an armed robbery that occurred last Thursday. The victim was approached by two suspects who brandished a gun and relieved him of his wallet, watch, and cash.

The suspects and their vehicle were captured by a surveillance camera at the University of Nebraska. Although the scene was rather dark, comparing the video to images from, we were able to determine that the vehicle was in all likelihood a late 1990's Chevrolet Lumina. A representative photo of the body style was included in all of our daily web-cast roll call briefings on Thursday and Friday.

Officer Hanson saw those images on the 50" monitor across town at the Northeast Team Substation during briefing at the beginning of his shift when he reported to duty on both Thursday and Friday night. Shortly after midnight on Saturday morning, he spotted the suspect vehicle with matching passengers several miles away in northeast Lincoln. Further investigation produced more evidence connecting three suspects to this crime. This was good heads-up police work, with a little technical assistance from a CCTV system and the Internet.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Tulips up

The evidence is in. Spring has arrived at last. It's a couple weeks late this year, but the tulips are up, the flowering trees in bloom, the garden centers are crowded, and the grass has to be mowed three times a week.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The watchful citizen

The inscription above the main entrance to Nebraska's beautiful art deco State Capitol reads: "The Salvation of the State is Watchfulness in the Citizen." That's the whole idea behind neighborhood watch: residents will recognize and report suspicious activity more readily if they know one another, and will deter crime by their watchfulness.

Lincoln's a good city for neighborhood watch: there is a high level of civic involvement generally, a strong population of long-term stakeholders, and very positive police-community relations. We have a large number of households that belong to neighborhood watch groups--over 19,000. Some neighborhood watch groups met once and are rather inactive, others are conscientious about keeping up their own phone lists, sponsoring National Night Out events, distributing newsletters, and otherwise maintaining a level of activity and involvement beyond the initial meeting.

Wednesday, a graduate student contacted me. He is working on a project to create an index of social capital. Among the data sources he is examining as part of this index is participation in neighborhood watch. I had never actually examined the geographic distribution of neighborhood watch membership in Lincoln, although I had a pretty good idea about the pattern it would show when displayed on a map. I geocoded the records, and here is the result, overlaid against the hotspots for crime in Lincoln (click to enlarge):

For the most part, neighborhood watch groups are most common in areas where there is comparatively little crime. This is not cause-and-effect, rather, neighborhoods with high home ownership, long term residency rates, and relative economic strength are more likely to organize. Some of our most fragile neighborhoods from a crime standpoint have very few neighborhood watch groups. It is probably for this reason that the evidence on the effectiveness of neighborhood watch is not strong: you're most likely to have it where you are least likely to need it. Personally, I think active NW groups are a great way to build and sustain neighborhoods. I salute those citizens who are willing to step up and organize their block, and I wish we had more of them in the places where greater collective efficacy could really make a difference.

Just a little bit about the method here: the dots are actually a representation of the relative density of neighborhood watch members--not the individual members themselves. The yellow-to red weather-map-like density of crime was created from all crime types except those occurring at businesses. When you include businesses, retail crime like forgery and shoplifting skews things hugely towards the retail centers.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

From the mouths of babes

A few times every week something happens that reminds me how much I enjoy my work, and how fortunate I am to have a calling in life. Last week, two boxes of cookies were dropped off at headquarters from the Eager Beavers, the children at Piedmont Park Seventh Day Adventist Church.

The half-life of a homemade cookie in the LPD assembly room is, well, short. I didn't move quickly enough, but the boxes stuffed with red tissue paper, the poster thanking police officers for helping God do His work, and the brightly-colored constrution paper cards from the kids were the real treat.

Inside each card, the children had listed a few reasons they were thankful for police officers. It looked like some kids got a little penmenship help from grown ups, but they were all sincere and precious. Det. Sgt. Erin Sims pointed out the gem--this message from a little one who shall remain nameless in order to protect her lead-footed parent:

"Thank you for always being around the corner to stop speeders like my mom."

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Back to the future

Remember my past post, Stump the sergeant? Sunday, City Councilman Jonathan Cook sent me this email:


Can you please reply to the individual below as to how City or State law would need to be changed to accommodate such vehicles? I'd also be interested in your opinion about any safety or other issues that concern you regarding these vehicles. I don't know if other council members received the same e-mail, but I would guess some or all did, so please copy the council office on your reply.

Thank you.

Jonathan Cook
The "individual below" the Councilman refers to is a local resident interested in acquiring a Zap Xebra. She had contacted the dealer in Kansas, who advised her that he had been informed these vehicles are illegal in Lincoln. The prospective customer was seeking the Councilman's help in changing the law to allow such a vehicle. I'm not sure who this dealer actually talked to, but from the information in the chain of emails, it appeared that whoever it was had interpreted the City and State laws concerning "minibikes" as applying to this vehicle. I think that is not accurate, and I emailed the citizen (and Councilman Cook) back:

Councilman Cook asked me to respond to your email concerning the Xebra. The rapid and recent proliferation of alternative vehicles of various types has greatly complicated the task of determining which are legal for operation on the street and which are not. The Nebraska Statutes on such issues are lengthy and complex, and there are vehicles today that were never anticipated at the time these cumbersome definitions were adopted. You will probably get a variety of opinions from law enforcement officers when you ask about this vehicle.

I believe, however, that the 3-wheeled Xebra meets both the State Statute and City Ordinance definitions of a motorcycle, and hence, could be lawfully titled, registered, and driven on the street by a person who holds a Class M (motorcycle) operator's license and wears the required DOT-approved helmet. The vehicle is quite similar to the Cushman Truckster, which was manufactured here in Lincoln for a few decades, and driven by dozens of Lincoln police personnel. I still have about ten employees who spent some significant time in a three-wheeled police Cushman prior to the demise of the product in the 1980's.

The 14-inch wheel specification referred to in this chain of emails is based on the definitions in both State Statute and Municipal Ordinance of "minibikes." That definition, however, also specifically states that a minibike has two wheels. Since this vehicle has three wheels, I do not believe that it is a minibike.

Nevertheless, I am not a lawyer. I would not invest in one of these vehicles unless I had solid confirmation from the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles that the vehicle is street legal, and can be registered and licensed. Personally, I'd want something in writing, because I imagine that County Clerks are as confused about this as police officers.


Tom Casady
Chief of Police
Lincoln Police Department
575 S. 10th Street
Lincoln, NE 68508
I'm not sure you could get a straight answer from the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles about the Zap Xebra. They may be confused, too. Nonetheless, I can absolutely guarantee you that a group of quite experienced Lincoln police employees who still work here drove registered and licensed three-wheel Cushman Trucksters just like these when Clair, Sid, Ray, Doug, Dave A., Larry, Dave B., Greg, Scott, and Mark were police cadets. They had motorcycle operators' licenses and wore helmets. And I may be missing a few Cushman veterans. Anyone recognize the street in this 1970's advertisement? How about this one from the late 1980's or very early 1990's?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Too slow

I got a kick out of this letter to the editor published in the Lincoln Journal Star late last week:

Terrible drivers in Lincoln

I have driven in lots of cities all across the country and never have I seen worse drivers than I see in Lincoln.

First off, it does not help that the city’s engineers have done a terrible job as far as making traffic flow smoothly. Most of the time, you are made to stop at each light on your journey, which jams up traffic. Add that to drivers who are yakking on cell phones and sit there for 10 seconds after the light turns green before they bother to move, and driving across town is a nightmare.

Lincoln drivers do not get the concept that slower traffic should keep to the right. You have slow drivers in the passing lane, slowing up the progress of others. Cars will often drive side by side for blocks well below the speed limit, not allowing faster traffic to pass. Most drivers drive well below the speed limit, which makes them and other cars miss stoplights that they should make if they were driving the right speed. It’s a joke that I can drive to Omaha faster than I can drive across town and back.

I am shocked that Lincoln police write any speeding tickets, because 98 percent of the cars I see are driving below the speed limit!

Jeff Richardson, Lincoln
There you have it, someone complaining that people in Lincoln drive too slow. Traffic has been a regular topic in The Chief's Corner, and I've dealt with the issue of "worst drivers" before. There is nothing--absolutely nothing--people complain to me more about than driving. This complaint that people are driving too slow and impeding progress, however, is definitely a first, and the opposite of what I usually hear.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Never even asked!

From yesterday's inbox:

I would just like to voice my opinion that I find it unfair that an officer gives a person a ticket for speeding without asking the reason why they were going above the speed limit, or even having a conversation about it. The interaction I had tonight was a joke; no, on second thought, it was rude. What a surprise from a law enforcement official! Keep on protecting and serving, you're doing a great job using those hiding places on speed violations instead of meth houses and communities full of rapists!!!
I know, I know, I've blogged about this issue before, but I thought this complaint that we failed to ask why the driver why he was speeding was a novel approach. I think we could come up with an interesting list of excuses we've heard.