Friday, June 27, 2008

Annual reports

A few weeks ago, I blogged about Nebraska Memories, a project of the Nebraska Library Commission to digitize historical material. They've continued to scan LPD historical documents, and there are a lot more of our Annual Reports from the 1940's and 1950's available now.

In the meantime we've been coming at it from the opposite direction, scanning some of our Annual Reports from the 1980's and early 1990's. The net result is that we now have Annual Reports for 20 years online. We'll continue trying to fill in the gaps. Beginning in 1997 we produced the Annual Report with desktop publishing software then distilled document with Adobe Acrobat. The resulting .pdf files are reasonably-sized. For earlier years, though, the reports were scanned as images, so they are pretty large files.

One of my favorite parts of the Annual Reports is the "Year in Review" section we started about twelve years ago. It's interesting to look back at the month-by-month highlights. You'll also find mostly the same data reported from year to year, usually in about the same place within the report. This is a great resource to high school or college students looking for a term paper project.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Curse returns

Last week, I wrote a blog post about the theft of gasoline, noting that the siphoning cases are few--despite the high price of petrol. The second comment on that post contained a link to this Denver Post article. So, guess what happens? Yep, the curse returned. On Monday, we investigated two separate cases where thieves cut into gas tanks to drain away the liquid cash.

These two cases were about a mile apart in northeast Lincoln. The same make and model of vehicle was targeted in both cases. These were both a particular type of commercial van. I believe both were parked on the street. I suspect the suspect has discovered a technique for this specific type of vehicle to make the cut quickly and easily.

To your list of things to watch for, please add legs sticking out from under vehicles in the wee hours. And call us. We clear lots of thefts from autos because watchful citizens saw someone prowling around and picked up the phone.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

All for a good cause

Back on June 6, I received this email:

Chief Casady,

I was approached by a woman yesterday outside of Walgreens who informed me that the DARE program in Lincoln has been removed from the schools because of budget cutbacks. She was selling DARE merchandise to help keep the program going. I was wondering if this has actually happened (or if it was a con) and if so, if there is something that can be done to reinstate the program. I know there are probably a few good officers who would donate their time and if this were made known to the public many citizens would also help out. Thank you for your time.
I replied, letting her know that in Lincoln, DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) ended eight years ago, in 2000--primarily due to the fact that we had exhausted our supply of potential instructors over the preceding 11 years, and the fact that the research evidence on the program's effectiveness was not very encouraging.

On Friday, I received a phone call in my office from a man who was at the local Sam's Club. He was on his cell phone outside the store, and told me that there was a solicitor there with a table set up selling DARE merchandise. He said he had quizzed this person about how much of the proceeds go to DARE, and that the solicitor dodged the question until he continued pressing--ultimately telling him that it was about 5%. He was somewhat incensed that the name of DARE was being used to raise money which was essentially lining the promoter's pocket.

He had obtained the office phone number from the solicitor and called that before calling me. He said that the phone was answered with something like JM Promotions, and that the person who answered the phone refused to tell him where the office was. He had the number, and I determined that the phone number was indeed to a local business called Momentum Marketing.

If you want to buy this company's wares, and are satisfied that around 5% of the proceeds are going to DARE America (assuming that's true), then have at it. But if anybody thinks their purchase is helping kids in Lincoln or Lancaster County, or supporting DARE locally, it's not. This is a common ploy to use the name of something that sounds like a good cause to make money. Reminds me of another ethically-challenged fundraiser.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Gas and GPS

At Wednesday's ACUDAT meeting, we reviewed current crime trends. Trailer thefts, street robberies and garage burglaries were among the topics. We also had a look at the theft of GPS devices. We've had three of these in the past two weeks, and 21 this year. I continue to think this will be a target of growing popularity with thieves, and hope more people take precautions.

One would think, with gas topping $4 per gallon, that the ancient art of siphoning would reappear. It has, although not as many cases have been reported to the police as I would have expected. I suspect that the skill of siphoning is mostly lost on the present generation. The skill of spelling siphon is clearly lost, too. So far this year, ten cases have been reported to the police. One of the victims was a retired police officer. Apparently the thief was unable to get into his locking gas cap (a good precaution), and was scared off, abandoning his hose and gas can.

There's not much of a geographic pattern to these offenses. They are spread around town. They have both picked up in recent weeks though--half of each have been since the first of May:

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Foul play suspected

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, something like this happens:

And this dastardly crime occurred yesterday right in my own neighborhood. I'll keep an eye peeled for any of these flamingos in the area.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Helping hand

Monday night, Al Berndt, the assistant director of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, called me. Al is a former Lincoln police sergeant. He was looking for some Nebraska law enforcement agencies that could commit personnel to an 8-day tour of duty in Cedar Rapids, IA. Nebraska and Iowa have mutually agreed to assist one another in circumstances such as the flooding presently occurring in Iowa.

I immediately committed ten officers, and set about getting a detail lined up. Capt. Doug Srb, Sgt. Chris Peterson, and Sgt. Craig Price were quickly recruited, and seven additional officers, Sharon Howe, Matt Brodd, Brian Golden, Mike Muff, Derek Dittman, Tarvis Banks, and Grant Powell volunteered. By yesterday morning, they were assembling their gear and receiving a briefing at HQ.

Capt. Dave Beggs and Sgts. Tom Hamm, Mike Bassett, Shannon Karl, Sam Santacroce, and Danny Reitan had done some initial prep work for them, our accounting supervisor Michele Selvage had the financial arrangements in progress, and Sgt. Don Scheinost had scouted the availability of GPS devices (on sale!) in order to help our team navigate in unfamiliar territory. Sgt. Todd Beam had spent several hours after midnight getting five patrol cars outfitted with aircards, so the team could use our mobile data network on the fly, and programmed radios to provide communications. The police garage staff had prepared the vehicles and had them waiting. I love the way this department pulls together when there is a job to be done.

We sent our group of personnel off Tuesday morning with a command post location and a local Cedar Rapids PD contact person's phone number. Their mission for the next week is to help the local authorities as they can, as long as they are needed--could be a couple of days, could be a week. They can expect 12 hour shifts, foregone days off, less-than-one-star lodgings, uncertain showers, and the possibility of lots of frayed nerves and short tempers. But they will also have the gratifying experience of helping others in a big way.

The Cedar Rapids PD and other local Iowa agencies have their hands full, have been on emergency call out for a considerable time. I presume that many of these officers also have their own homes and circumstances to worry about as well. It is our honor and privilege to join the Minneappolis and St. Paul police departments, Hennepin County Sheriff's Office, and Nebraska State Patrol on this mission to help out our neighbors.

As a police sergeant in the 1980 I was one of a group of officers assigned for a similar mission after the tornadoes that devasted Grand Island, Nebraska. It was one of the best experiences of my career. We all felt good about helping out and relieving some of the stress by covering the night shift for a week. If the shoe were on the other foot, we'd want the same thing.

I shook my head at some of the early comments posted on the Lincoln Journal Star's website pertaining to this operation, which were questioning the expense and insinuating that this was some kind of boondoggle. It was gratifying to see the better angels of human nature prevail as the thread unfolded. Some people seem to quickly forget the help we received when the chips were down in Lincoln.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Robbery trends

Last Thursday, the Lincoln Journal Star crime beat reporter, Lori Pilger, had an appointment with me to discuss Lincoln's 2007 crime stats. The result was this article. The online version doesn't include the 1991-2007 bar chart that was in the print version, but in a nutshell, the Part 1 crime rate in Lincoln have fallen steadily since peaking in 1991. Although there was an uptick in the violent Part 1 crime rate last year, violent crime was still pretty low--in the bottom half of that time period. Since property crimes in the Uniform Crime Report overwhelm violent crimes, the small decrease in thefts resulted in a lower overall crime rate.

I told Ms. Pilger that the crime which concerned me the most was robbery. We had our fifth highest year since 1991 in that category. The article incorrectly reported that it was the second highest year on record. I was probably the only one to notice that, so it isn't a big deal. Robbery concerns me because of the risk that it poses. Holdups, home invasions, and street muggings are incredibly dangerous, and significantly impact the feeling of safety in the community. Even the news reports of such robberies make people jumpy. Many folks don't realize from the news report that the victim had just sold an ounce of pot to a customer who came back with a couple pals and a gun to get the cash and the rest of the stash.

I told Lori that my perception was that the increase was not in robberies of businesses, rather street robberies and home invasions (which are almost always drug-related ripoffs). We ran the numbers on business robberies, which showed that although they've bounced around a bit the trend line was flat. After she left, I did a little more work on other types of robbery. Here's the result (click to enlarge):

Two things stand out to me: the steady increase in robberies at residences, and the unusually low (even in the worst years) number of bank robberies. The cup's half full.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

We have a new option available to the public for mapping crime in Lincoln. is a brand-new site created by the Omega Group for its clients. Right now, it has data for Lincoln NE, Duluth MN, and High Point NC--but this will undoutedly grow as more agencies participate.

The Omega Group is a San Diego-based provider of GIS services to police departments, fire departments, and school districts. We've been using their services and products since October, 2000. This latest addition uses a new approach: a synthesis of the carefully-geocoded data from their flagship desktop GIS product, CrimeView, displayed using the Google Maps API.

Public crime mapping is nothing new in Lincoln. We launched one of the nation's first interactive mapping applications in the spring of 1999, and our current public mapping application, CrimeView Community, is the fourth generation of our public mapping. has some similarities to CrimeView Community, but also some significant differences. Perhaps its greatest advantages is that is uses the highly-intuitive and well-known Google Maps interface. It has some very nice graphic design, and has a sleek look and feel. And, of course, it's multi-jurisdictional.

CrimeView Community, on the other hand, offers more control over queries, some additional reporting capabilities, more details, and the backdrop of Lincoln's more accurate and extensive geographic layers--including the latest aerial photos (Google's are several years old.)

Personally, I like both. For the moment, we'll have both available. Options are a good thing. Try out, let me know what you think, and if you have any feedback for the developers, I'll pass it on to our friends at the Omega Group.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Drug du jour

About a year ago, I noted in one of my posts on The Chief's Corner that we really don't have any good data about the prevalence of illegal drugs of abuse in the community. Police data reflects arrests and seizures, but these are often a matter of what vein of drugs we happen to have tapped into at any given time. If we take down a mid-level cocaine trafficker, for instance, all manner of related arrests and cases will spin off involving cocaine.

Everyone in Nebraska seems to be convinced that methamphetamine is the primary problem, but I have yet to see any data that makes that case decisively. Nonetheless, it drives a lot of public policy and political rhetoric. Is it really as prevalent as we think, and if so is meth abuse increasing or decreasing? It would be good to actually know what drugs are being abused, to what extent, and how those trends are changing over time.

I had this discussion last year with Lori Seibel, the President of the Community Health Endowment of Lincoln. The Endowment was searching for what they could most productively fund to impact the meth problem, and I suggested that creating a mechanism for gathering baseline data would be a great project. I told Lori about the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) program of the Justice Department, that went belly-up a few years ago. I also pointed out a variety of other potential sources for data on the prevalence of drugs in the community: pre-employment screens, commercial drivers' license screens, hospital admissions, self-reports from people in treatment, police arrests, State Crime lab tests, and so forth. If you could get access to these data (sanitized to protect individual information), you could potentially create a great resource for tracking what's really going on.

The idea took root, and the next thing you know, the Community Health Endowment had arranged for Dr. Phyliss Newton, who headed the ADAM program, to come to Lincoln for a consultation. The Endowment has just awarded a grant to our local alcohol detox facility, Cornhusker Place, to conduct a multi-year project very similar to ADAM. I'm looking forward to seeing the data.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Missing trailers

We have had a rash of trailer thefts lately. So far this year, 15 trailers have been stolen (not to be confused with stuff stolen from trailers--a much larger number). The total loss has been $35,825. Nine of these offenses have occurred since May 1, so the trend is picking up.

When you think about it, a trailer is a rather easy mark. An unsecured trailer is like golf clubs in an open garage: it comes with its own handle. In this case, of course, the handle is easy to hitch up to in just a matter of seconds and drive away.

The best protection: keep it inside, if you can. If not, make sure that you've got a big log chain and a tough padlock, connected to a sturdy object. The object here is to make it difficult for a druggie with a trailer hitch and bolt cutters to remove your trailer. It's not a guarantee, but unorganized thieves always move on to the easy targets.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Road rage

Two recent incidents of road rage have sent Lincoln residents to the hospital. On Tuesday, a 32 year old man was beaten while is six year old son watched, by two men who attacked him after they all exited their cars to discuss one anothers driving. In the wee hours on Sunday, a 24 year old man suffered some pretty significant injuries when an assailant struck him repeatedly with a heavy metal clip on the end of a tow strap. The two were part of a group of occupants in two cars who decided to meet in the parking lot of Wal-Mart to settle their traffic score. Several others from both vehicles were arrested for disturbing the peace by fighting.

In both incidents, the victims and assailants all got out of their cars to have it out. That's never a good idea. Keep your cool, turn off, get away, and if you're followed, drive safely and sanely to the police station. A well lit area with lots of people around is the second best choice (there aren't many witness at Wal-Mart at 2:30 AM on Sunday, though).

Everyone has the perception that such incidents have increased, but I'm not sure if that's the case. Twenty years ago, there was no term for "road rage", and nobody keeps statistics like this. The traffic conflicts that precipitate such cases are buried in assault reports. We just don't know if this type has increased or not.

I do know, however, that many years ago as young motorcycle officer yours truly investigated a homicide that we would call road rage today. Donald Edelman was run over by a pickup truck driven by Clyde Rice, after the two met in the parking lot of the VFW club on Cornhusker Highway (now KFOR radio / Three Eagles Communications) to settle their differences.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Eyes in the night

A couple posts this week about (shall we say) "unusual" police calls should not leave anyone with the impression that this is typical. In the huge volume of events we handle, police officers inevitably deal with a lot of stuff that is peculiar and bizarre (and sometimes quite humorous). But the vast, vast majority of citizens who need our services exercise exceedingly good judgement: they use the valuable public resource wisely and judiciously.

They also help us--and their fellow citizens--regularly. A common example was brought to my attention by Capt. Jim Thoms, who suggested this post. The case occurred on Wednesday morning at 4:50 AM, when a man and wife noticed two men who were prowling in the area of 11th and D Streets. The couple watched these men walking up and down 10th and 11th Street opening car doors. They called the police, and the Southwest Team officers swooped in and scooped up two suspects who had entered seven cars, and stolen property from three.

This is a frequent occurrence, and our late shift officers are often helped by citizens who notice unusual goings-on in the wee hours and call the police. It's the most common way we catch suspects in the act of car break-ins, and also results in interrupting many other types of crime. I am convinced, for example, that it's the primary factor in reducing construction site thefts in Lincoln.

What was especially gratifying about this case was the location. These events happened in the core of the City--right in the area where we have some of the greatest challenges and where we are working hard with the Stronger Safer Neighborhoods project. This is the area where we most need the help of residents. Lincoln doesn't have many police officers. Watchful citizens are important to the community's protection, and we appreciate the partnership of so many people in Lincoln who are willing to be our eyes in the night.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

One solved, two to go

Officer K. Flood, our always-diligent public information officer, informed the local media about this cleared case yesterday morning at our regular daily press briefing (click to enlarge):

It is not evident from this report that the investigating officer is aware of the following cases, which by time, date, location and modus operandi appear to be related:

So, two additional cases of flaming dog poo await potential clearance, thanks to the sophisticated database and crime analysis. It did not escape my notice that the investigating officer who cleared the Glenwood Drive case is one of our K-9 handlers. Jake will be even more proud if his partner clears up two more FBI Part 1 arson offenses.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

To the rescue

We are living in a "call the cops" culture where many people are easily irritated, unwilling to talk to one another about these minor irritants, and seem to think that the solution to every annoyance is to summon the power of government.

I think the Incident Report speaks for itself. It has been edited just slightly to protect the identity of those involved (click to enlarge).

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Escaped unscathed

I returned late last night from a one-day trip to Washington D.C., where I served on a an advisory panel for an upcoming research effort concerning eyewitness identification. The research is funded by the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the United States Department of Justice.

The flight home was filled with 7th and 8th graders from an Omaha parochial school. You can make this trip in a single day, if you leave on one of the very early morning flights and catch the 7:35 PM flight back to Omaha. I thought maybe that's what the group had done. I asked one of the chaperones. Nope, it was a five day trip. She looked a little worn out. I was exhausted just thinking about it.

I have been invited by the NIJ to this and similar meetings from time to time, at their expense, to shed some practical light on research proposals and projects from the perspective of a police chief who dangles one foot lightly into the academic and scientific pool. It's a task I enjoy, and one that has helped me grow professionally.

The pressure of daily affairs often keeps police managers from reading and studying the literature of their field. The NIJ reviews and panels have forced me to read and think about issues that might not otherwise have been in my briefcase. It's a valuable experience, and I appreciate the opportunity from time to time to interact with peers in policing and in academia. I hope that on occasion I make a helpful contribution.

This was my first trip to Washington D.C. since the fall of 2006. Fortunately, I did not contribute to the District's violent crime rate this time.

Monday, June 2, 2008

...and danged if you don't

I'm running out of titles for my posts. It's remarkable how the same issues keep recirculating.

On Friday a letter arrived from a citizen who wrote me personally to express his displeasure with a realtor's open house sign displayed in his neighborhood. The writer asked if I couldn't please have an officer remove the offending sign. Based on the two photos he included with the letter, though, This particular sign was not in violation.

It might surprise some people to think that someone would complain directly to the chief about such a seemingly minor matter, but this isn't a first. Several times over the past few years, City Council members have inquired if there is anything more we can do to catch those who are illegally posting signs in the public right of way. I've also had several citizens complain to me personally about this in the past, including one neighborhood association president who particularly dissatisfied that the police department was not more zealous in dealing with this offense.

I thought that the recent issuance of a citation to a women who an officer caught in the act of putting out 300 illegal signs from the back of her Lexus SUV would help to gruntle the disgruntled. I'm not sure the outcome, however, will be viewed as satisfying. The case was disposed of in court last week with a guilty plea, and a fine of $10.