Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A brief history of pirates

In light of recent comments suggesting that I send all pirate-related comments down the gang plank, I thought it might be appropriate to elaborate on the history of pirates in The Chief's Corner. I'll probably regret this.

Pirates first invaded my blog in March of 2008. If you read comments, you've probably noticed that the pirate theme seems to surface every now and then--often from left field. It's annoyingly sophomoric, and I have been tempted on many occasions to exile the pirates. Just about the time I intend to do so, however, somebody will post one that is actually clever. A handful of these have been stupid enough to be in the same category as the The Naked Gun 2½: you don't want to laugh, you know you shouldn't, but you can't help it.

One pirate-poster in particular, whose blogger profile name is arrrrg!!!!, seems to be particularly adept at relating anything whatsoever to pirates. This guy could find a web link that somehow connects pirates to tennis, turtles, or tutus. You have to put up with a lot of mediocre to get to his (or her?) occasional gem, though.

Just where did all this start? I told the story back on May 13th, in response to a question from another reader. Here's the reprint of that exchange:
Anonymous said...

Please let the rest of us in on the pirate thing, I dont get it.

May 13, 2008 2:11 PM

Tom Casady said...

I'm not sure I understand it, either, but I know how it started. Back in March, I wrote a post, Testing the iCrime theory. The second comment was from a reader named Chris. He had posted a message on an Apple forum about my blog post. I checked the thread, and found that someone else had posted a link to a graph implying a relationship between global warming and the demise of pirates. The graph is making fun of the tendency of some research to confuse correlation with causation--sort of the same point I was making in my post.

From there, the pirate thing took on a life of its own. One or more regular readers of The Chief's Corner figured out a way to work pirates into about all of his, her, or their comments. The humor wore off a long time ago, but I have to admit that I was laughing out loud when I looked at the pirate keyboard somebody linked in their comment in Tulips up.

In summation, a rather sophisticated intellectual discussion about research methods devolved into moronic Junior High humor. Come to think of it, I'm not sure which is preferable.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Call the police

I've blogged about the "call the cops" culture we seem to live in on prior occasions. Not all the examples are humorous. A troubling one has been gathering a lot of ink both locally and nationally of late. Nebraska's unique Safe Haven law has resulted in the predictable: some exasperated parents at their wits end are just leaving their non-infant and/or teenaged children at hospitals. The police, in turn, are called upon to take the child into temporary emergency custody, and make arrangements for a placement.

That is our job by law, and we accept it. Taking steps to protect children when no one else is around to do so is about as fundamental to our mission as you can get. It's the "no one else around" part that bothers me a little bit. I can't help but wonder whether a couple of hours down at HQ followed by a trip in the back seat of the patrol car is the best we can do.

I empathize with parents who feel so incapable of caring for a child that they would choose this route. I don't think you can generalize about them, because each situation differs. You can hardly fault someone who, seeing no other alternative, takes the short-cut to services or professional intervention that the law provides. I am rather amazed that legislators who drafted and passed this law are now so surprised at this result. Apparently they were unaware of the number of parents who are desperate. We weren't. Those of us in policing saw it coming well before the effective date. I'm surprised there haven't been more kids left at hospitals.

Last Thursday, Lincoln Journal Star reporter JoAnne Young emailed me. She said that the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services was suggesting that parents at the end of their rope call the police. She wanted to know what I thought of that. My reply was a bit longer, but I think this excerpt from her article is an accurate, if sanitized, summary:

Lincoln Police Chief Tom Casady said officers would provide enforcement and protection of either a child or parent as needed, and could take a child into protective emergency custody and call HHS for placement. But expecting the police to help parents cope with such problems as mental illness, financial stress, lack of resources, family dissolution, addiction or poor parenting skills “is a bit out of our league,” he said. “Calling the cops” is not the best contingency plan for serving families in crisis, Casady said.

We increasingly rely on the police to handle all manner of individual and societal ills. The Lincoln police department exists to provide the services that promote a safe and secure community, but it's a stretch when we are expected to be the solution for groups homes that are inadequately staffed, schools who are not properly prepared to handle children with serious behavioral issues, a mental health system that is woefully inadequate to meet the need, and a child protection system that has no field personnel after 5:00 PM.

These are complex issues that lack easy solutions. Our expertise lies in problems of crime and disorder, and protecting people and property through prevention activities and in emergency situations. We are ill-equipped to be the default response for every intractable social and personal problem.

We are called upon to provide services that are clearly more appropriate for others because we are here: in a moment of crisis, trained professionals will reliably answer the call and will actually send a caring, committed adult to the scene to do what he or she can to help--no matter how unpleasant or disconcerting the circumstances. You cannot count on that from every organization that has "helping families" in their mission statement. Voice mail, telephone answering services, and a cumbersome on-call system are more the order of the day. Not necessarily their fault: it takes money and commitment to make emergency services available around the clock.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

One very busy day

Yesterday (Saturday, September 27th) was the busiest day of 2008 for the Lincoln Police Department, by a healthy margin. August 30 ranks in second place, with 457 incidents. A lot of good police work took place on a hectic night. It didn't get much better after midnight, either.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Surprise inspection

I skipped the luncheon at the POP Conference Monday, to make a surprise inspection.

The subjects did a world-class neck-snapping double-take when they returned from lunch in a black Tahoe to find yours truly standing on the steps of City Hall. I spent $25 on ferries and a sawbuck on gas to get there, and then had to turn right around and head back across Puget Sound in order to make my next session. The look on their faces, though, was priceless.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Your criticism is duly noted

I received an anonymous letter while I was away. I feel it needs an immediate response, and this is the best way I can think of to do so, thus I am breaking my normal practice of not blogging at work, and not blogging twice in the same day. It begins like this:

"Dear Chief:

I am a public official and therefore cannot sign this letter. However, I wanted you to know that as a citizen it is absolutely abhorrent to me that the police are promoting and assisting MTV in filming arrests and our officers in the line of duty. I suspect that it takes some coordination and planning with your office, which seems particularly inappropriate."

The letter goes on at length to question my actions in allowing a production crew from the MTV show Busted to accompany our officers. It was copied to the Mayor's office, the chair of the City Council, and the Lincoln Journal Star. I would gladly respond directly to the sender regarding all the questions, were it not for the fact that the author is unknown.

I have been contacted on many occasions by "reality" TV shows, and always rejected their proposals. When the company that produces Busted telephoned, I was prepared to do the same thing, but I hesitated due to the nice work of the representative that phoned. She overnighted two episodes on disc to me, and I crawled the web doing my own research. The following day, much to my own surprise, I was convinced that this would be a worth considering. I was impressed that the episodes, while appealing to a youthful audience, contained positive portrayals of police officers, and essentially had an important message for viewers about the consequences of one's actions.

During the spring semester of 2008, an advanced marketing class at the University of Nebraska School of Journalism produced two exceptional marketing campaigns for the Lincoln Police Department, as their semester project. The campaigns focused on improving our recruitment. Both "teams" noted the importance of our online materials, stressing the need for more interactive and fast-paced material. This is exactly what attracted me to the opportunity to host the production company for a potential episode of Busted. The audience is in our target age demographic, and the episodes show real police officers going about their work in a very human fashion. I thought that these videos were exactly the kind of things the marketing students had been suggesting.

Before I agreed to this project, I played two episodes of Busted at our weekly management staff meeting. Like me, I think everyone was skeptical. But after watching the show, the consensus was strong that this was a project that could benefit us. I still feel that way. I also checked with the administrative aide to the Mayor who is responsible for liaison with the police department. I knew that this was something that should be approved by the Mayor's office, and I sought and received that approval.

There is no secret here. We have nothing to hide, and no reason to be concerned if a TV crew films us working, so long as they are out of harms way and not interfering with our functions. People on the street are doing it all the time with hand-held video cameras and with cell phone cameras. This production crew is experienced in working with several other law enforcement agencies. They know how to keep clear, where they should and should not go, and what they can and cannot do. The officers who have hosted them have reported no problems in this regard.

The Busted crew was on a ride along last week when a critical incident occurred. The anonymous letter implies a relationship between the ride along and the incident. The fact that the crew was along with the officer played no part whatsoever in this tragic event. The crew stayed behind at his vehicle, and the people involved in the incident were entirely unaware of their presence. There was no video footage, but the officer was wearing a wireless microphone that accurately recorded the audio portion of the events in excellent quality. This is a fortunate accident, as this recording will doubtless be probative in the legal proceedings that emerge from the incident.

In response to the other questions posed: two members of the department were assigned as liaisons to the Busted crew, which does it's ride alongs with regular on-duty officers during their shift; no remuneration is given or received by LPD; Busted carries their own insurance; we have both communications and signed agreements on pertinent matters; the officers follow our normal written general orders; no advance law enforcement information is provided to the crew; we exercise no editorial control over their material, and they are on their own to seek or obtain releases from citizens they may film. I hope this answers the questions posed by the anonymous public official who authored the letter.

Good tenants sought

Yesterday (and on previous occasions) I blogged about the importance of landlords in assuring that crime and disorder do not infect neighborhoods. I think landlords generally do a very good job, and are as committed as anyone to making sure that problem tenants or risky business practices are avoided.

In Lincoln, many landlords are members of REOMA, the Real Estate Owners and Managers Association. Landlords also make good use of our online resources for conducting background checks, and a novel Internet application that we make available, whereby owners and managers can check up on all police dispatches to their properties instantly.

Recently, a landlord with property in our Stronger Safer Neighborhoods project area emailed me. He uses our Internet dispatch-monitoring service, and had a few questions over some of the codes and abbreviations. In the same email, he told me about a nice two bedroom apartment he had available--just in case I knew anyone who was looking.

That same week, a University of Nebraska journalism student was in my office. While we were chatting, he told me he was looking for an apartment. He said that he was a little bit concerned about the "reputation" of the Capital south area, but that there were some good deals, and he really liked to proximity to downtown and campus. I told him he had little to be concerned about unless he was engaged in high-risk behavior, and I gave him the email with the details of the apartment that the landlord had pitched to me on B Street.

The conversation got me thinking. This area used to be a popular one for college students. I hope that popularity returns. I think college students are generally good neighbors and good tenants. Despite all my blogging about the problems of high-risk drinking and party disturbances, the fact of the matter is that the stereotype about college students is quite inaccurate. A small percentage of students live the Animal House lifestyle. Most are like me at that age, pretty solid citizens working their tails off to pay part or all of their college expenses.

Shortly before I was married, I went to look at an apartment right across the street from Nebraska Wesleyan University at 2822 N. 52nd Street. My basement apartment at 3021 U Street were not going to cut it for a married couple. The owner didn't rent to single men, but when he met my fiancé, his made an exception to his policy. We got a great landlord, and I think Dale Moser got some pretty good tenants--despite my college student status.

I'm hoping we can promote the value and convenience of the Capital south area to more University of Nebraska students. Some of those complexes on the fringe of the City are examples of the phrase "beauty is only skin deep," and with gas at $4 a gallon, a short bike ride to class is pretty nice.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Back at the POP conference

I'm traveling today, with some airport time to blog. Last year, I wrote a few posts about my first experience at the annual Problem-Oriented Policing Conference. I'm back at this year's conference, in Bellevue, Washington. The POP Center has brought me here to present two sessions, Mainstreaming Problem-Oriented Policing, and Problem-Oriented Policing in Mid-Sized Cities.

I wrapped up my assignment yesterday afternoon, and I also had the chance to attend some other sessions. As with most conferences, though, some of the best stuff was on the breaks and after the sessions. I had the opportunity to meet and speak with several other chiefs from Dayton, OH, Lee's Summit, MO, and Port Washington, WI. The host chief, Bellevue's Linda Pillo, is a member of my Benchmark City Chiefs group. I particularly enjoyed chatting with St. Paul Minnesota police chief John Harrington. He's just completed a rather significant challenge for a municipal police department. We've had very similar careers in cities that also have a lot of similarities.

One of the presenters, Chris Bruce from Danvers, Mass., featured The Chief's Corner in one of his slides during his presentation, Reporting to the Community about Problem-Solving Efforts. Several attendees told me that they read this blog from time to time. Dr. Brandon Kooi and Dr. Gary Cordner have both been picking my electronic brain and apparently finding some of my rambling useful in their educational settings.

Highlight of the conference for me was a presentation Tuesday by John Campbell, Better Solutions for Crime Reduction in Public and Subsidized Housing. His theme was essentially echoed a few past posts I've made in the Chief's Corner. It reaffirmed my belief that getting place managers engaged is a key to effective crime and disorder control strategies.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tips for tots and trail users

The editor of a neighborhood association newsletter here in Lincoln contacts me from time to time for a contribution. She recently emailed me and asked if I could give her a few Halloween tips. I gave here the predictable tips about traffic safety--light colored costumes, reflective material, flashlights and glo-sticks, good peripheral vision and so forth. I also gave her a few tips on being careful with candles, to prevent Zorro's cape or Miss Piggie's boa from falling into a flame.

She made a few tweaks and additions (she's an editor, after all), reformatted it into a bulleted list, and emailed it back for my okay. I couldn't help but notice, though, an additional tip she had included in the list:

  • If your child is carrying a prop, such as a scythe, butcher knife or
    a pitchfork, assure that the tips are smooth and flexible

I don't know why this tickled me so much; I guess I had this mental picture of dad in the garage with his bench grinder, rounding the points down on the pitchfork tines for Junior. Just for the record, I'm not recommending scythes, butcher knifes, and pitchforks for kids..

The editor of another newsletter, this one published by the Great Plains Trails Network, also asked me to write a column. Apparently the editor is a reader of the Chief's Corner, and caught this post about thefts at trail heads. Here's the advance copy:

Vigilance on trails helps

When you consider the number of people who use Lincoln’s trails, they are quite safe by any reasonable standard. Nonetheless, just like any other place where people are found, we have a few crimes that on our trails and in the parking lots at trail heads. So far in 2008, there have been 25 incidents on trails reported to the Lincoln police. Of these, 11 were graffiti vandalism. The incidents that concern me the most involved a pair of indecent exposure cases. In both cases, arrests have been made—one by an off duty police officer who was using the trail.

Also of concern is a group of thefts from automobiles parked at trail heads—two on the MoPac, and 7 at the Jamaica North. Parks, trail heads, swimming pools, and fitness clubs are relatively common locations for smash and grab thefts from autos, for the obvious reason that the owner has left the vehicle and can be expected to be gone for an hour or more. Moreover, the thief can be reasonably certain that a wallet, purse, and perhaps a laptop are left in the car.

There are a couple of things regular trail users can do to help prevent these crimes. First, you can consider biking or running to the trail head as a warm up, and avoid leaving your car in the lot at all. If you drive, keep your valuables locked in the trunk—thieves are much less likely to enter a trunk than the passenger compartment. Anything visible from the outside is an enticement to a thief—even a pair of sunglasses—so make sure that your remote opener, glasses, cell phone, CDs and so forth are all out of sight. Finally, be vigilant, and don’t hesitate to call us if you see someone or something that seems suspicious. Often the suspicious glance alone is enough to cause a thief to move on.

One final word: personal attacks on trails, though rare, really do happen. There were two of these in 2007. Fortunately no one was seriously injured, but both of these were serious incidents. The perpetrators were arrested in both cases. If you are even approached by someone threatening, get away. Now is the time for your interval training. Most would-be-muggers are smokers, drug abusers, and often high. In a footrace or on a bike, they are no match for a fit trail user, and won’t be able to pursue long. We enjoy arresting exhausted bad guys.

Monday, September 22, 2008

In the pulpit, on the bus

Late last fall, I was asked to speak to a group of Lincoln clergy on retreat at Camp Carol Joy Holling near Ashland, Nebraska. The camp has a gorgeous new retreat center that is as nice as any hotel in the State. Dr. Susan Gourley, Lincoln's Superintendent of Schools, and I had both been asked to address the group about some of the unmet needs we see in Lincoln. This wasn't long after my dad's death, and my experiences with Officer Cass Briggs on Veteran's Day, so I was feeling pretty sentimental and had a lot of things on my mind to tell them about.

I must have done okay, because a year's worth of invitations to speak to church groups hither and yon has followed, including each of the past two weeks. Apparently when you do a decent job speaking to a group of a few dozen people who have to come up with material weekly, they're not shy about drawing on the available resources! That's not a complaint, by the way. Being a spokesperson in the community for the police department is an important part of my job, and raising awareness about the things that occur in our community most people don't know about is a key reason I started this blog. I try to accept invitations to groups of all kinds whenever I can.

A week ago Sunday, I was scheduled to speak in northeast Lincoln at St. Andrews Lutheran Church after the service. The twist, though, was that the pastor asked me to actually take the members to see some of the things he'd heard me talk about. When I learned that this was to be two bus loads from the congregation, I had to get some help. I had those arrangements made, but a family emergency for my co-host meant that the Northeast Team's Sgt. Randy Clark had to be pressed into service at the 11th hour as the tour guide on one of the busses.

After a short talk at the church, we loaded up to huge over-the-road coaches. Randy had pre-selected a route for his group, based in part on his knowledge gleaned as the Northeast Team's representative on the City's Problem Resolution Team. My wife, Tonja, who goes with me to a lot of speaking engagements (she wouldn't see me much if she didn't) decided she'd rather go on Sgt. Clark's bus than mine because she had already seen my route. She and I had scoped that out on Saturday. It takes a little reconnoitering to figure out where you can get a bus in and out.

So, a couple of jaded cops took about 80 or 90 nice folks on a short jaunt to a few places in the City where life is harder and conditions harsher than they are used to. I hope some of them are motivated to participate (or continue to participate) in things like Teammates, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Boys and Girls Club, City Impact, the LPS/Food Bank Backpack Program, Lincoln's Paint-a-thon, the Center for People in Need, and Habitat for Humanity (to name just a few) as a result. There's a lot of mission to be performed in our own back yard, a point I tried to make on the return trip by taking my group by a house just a few blocks from their suburban church where someone could use a helping hand. People in Lincoln are driving by obvious needs right under their noses all the time. I hope some of these citizens see their own City with new eyes.

Tonja, by the way, reports that Randy's tour was much better than mine. He had color handouts with maps. Not only that, it turns out he was confirmed and married at this same church. That's an unfair advantage! Thanks for the help and the great job, Sgt. Clark.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

MOCIC conference

The Mid-States Organized Crime Center (MOCIC) is holding it's annual conference in Lincoln this week. There are 406 participants registered, primarily law enforcement officers and civilian intelligence analysts from the nine states that comprise MOCIC's area: Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

MOCIC, located in Springfield, MO, is one of six regional information sharing systems (RISS) in the United States. The RISS centers exist to provide a variety a nationwide information and intelligence sharing network to law enforcement, and to provide technical support and assistance. MOCIC's name belies a much broader role than just organized crime.

The conference has an extensive lineup of training sessions on forensic evidence, critical incidents, investigative techniques, and more. It's great to see the high attendance this year. A week-long conference attended by hundreds of out-of-town guests is always a nice thing for our City. At the opening session yesterday, the usual line up of welcoming remarks were planned: City Councilman Doug Emery on behalf of the City, followed by Nebraska State Patrol Superintendent Col. Bryan Tuma, Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner, and yours truly.

Col. Tuma set the bar rather high, making some insightful remarks about the importance of the conference and the mission of the RISS centers in an era of dynamic threats to public safety. Terry Wagner and I were glancing at one another nervously, because I think we had both planned on something more like: "Welcome to Lincoln! Try a Runza." I had the tough spot and the end of this train of welcomes, so I spared the audience a speech, and gave them my short list of locally-owned restaurants I enjoy, followed by three pieces of advice that got a hearty laugh:
  • Parking tickets are $10, so take your chances.
  • You'll look pathetic in the bars on O Street, unless you're under age 23.
  • If you encounter a nice-looking hooker, it's an undercover Lincoln police officer.
I ended by encouraging the participants to network with one another, because the best stuff at all conferences normally comes during the social times: on breaks, over beers, at the restaurant as the participants process what they learned at the sessions and share ideas and thoughts with one another. I also invited everyone who was interested to come down to the police station this afternoon at the end of the day.

Cops are always interested in seeing the digs of their counterparts when traveling, but in our case we've got something that would be particularly interesting to these attendees: a rather incredible information system that provides an unusually rich research capability to every single member of the department. Anyone attending a RISS conference would be particularly intrigued by that. A few people who couldn't make it today came by yesterday afternoon, and I think our visitors from DuPage County and from the Iowa Department of Public Safety left with their heads spinning and some new ideas percolating.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fighting crime, one desperado at a time

Monday, I told the story of wasting the day in Omaha testifying at a committee hearing on an interim study commissioned by the Nebraska Legislature. It wasn't a total waste, though. The hearing was in the Omaha City Council's chambers--on the second floor of the Omaha/Douglas County Civic Center. During the morning testimony, I stepped out into the foyer to handle a cell phone call. Omaha Deputy Chief Mark Sundermeier was doing the same thing, and a uniformed Omaha police officer was also outside the chamber, apparently functioning as security.

A gentleman came gliding up the escalator that all three of us recognized. He is a prolific thief, who specializes in smash-and-grab crimes like these. Although he is an Omaha resident, he has been arrested in Lincoln on several past occasions, and we always consider him when we have an outbreak of these offenses. For the benefit of the police employees who read The Chief's Corner, his initials are JCJ. I actually carry around a bulletin about him on my laptop and cell phone. That's how I recognized him: from the photo--we've never met. He's better looking in person than his mug shot; a tall, rather elegantly dressed man, and he was arm-in-arm with his wife.

I greeted him by name at the top of the escalator. He had that look of feigned recognition, and introduced me to his wife. I explained who I was, and asked him if he had been stealing anything in Lincoln lately. He said he had not. I thanked him, and asked him if he would please not do so in the future, either. I thought it might be therapeutic for him to know that the Lincoln police chief recognizes him, knows about his M.O., and politely requested that he not ply his trade in my jurisdiction. I'm not sure, but I think my Omaha counterparts were a little taken aback by my direct and personal approach.

I encountered desperado number two yesterday afternoon. Among my more arcane duties is to serve on the board of appeals for peddlers permits and taxi licenses. If you are turned down, you can appeal to a three-member board. Since it's usually me who is denying the permit or license (well, not me personally, but my staff), it seems odd that I'm a voting member of the appeal board. In reality, though, I'm a pushover. If you can convince me that you really are trying to stay on the straight-and-narrow, I'm the one most likely to make the motion to grant your appeal despite the legal grounds for denying the permit application. I look at it like this: we're all better off if you are employed, so if I think you're not a genuine risk, I'd like to see you get the job.

Our subject arrived for his appeal hearing at the time and place appointed. That step alone trips up most of the appellants. We talked to him for a few minutes about his lengthy record of misdemeanor convictions. He made his pitch, and I asked him to wait in the lobby while we considered the matter. After a brief discussion, I made the motion to approve his permit and the vote was unanimous. I went out and told him I had good news and bad news: "The good news is that we've unanimously granted your appeal, and you can have your peddlers permit. The bad news is that you are under arrest."

I handcuffed him and walked him across the parking lot to book him into jail. He knew that he had failed to appear in court to settle a court-imposed fine back on June 16, but I don't think he expected that I would be aware of the outstanding arrest warrant. The 31 year-old holder of a new peddler's permit was waiting for his mom to bring $60 down to spring him from jail when I departed. He needs the job.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The week in police reports

Here's a few that you probably won't read about in the press. With 400 or so incidents daily, a lot goes by that gets little attention. I have lightly edited these to remove personal identifiers, and for brevity in some cases. Click on the report for a larger image.

Attack bat:

Careful with those abbreviations:

Did we win or lose?


Carrying a concealed dish scrubber:

Anyone check the usual beavers?

Why police officers carry knives:

Dangers of second hand smoke:

All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing:

Fortunately, there are plenty of good people who understand the golden rule:

Monday, September 15, 2008

From the fourteenth floor

Friday, I spent most of the day in Omaha, where the Nebraska Legislature's Judiciary Committee was holding a hearing on Legislative Resolution 390, an interim study of gun violence in Nebraska. The resolution was chiefly concerned with the prevalence of gun violence in the State, so I took along the most recent data on the involvement of firearms in violent crime in Lincoln:

The morning testimony exclusively concerned gun violence in Omaha. Mayor Fahey, two Omaha City Councilmen, and three groups working to reduce gun violence in Omaha spoke. The committee then took a lunch break, from which half of the senators and most of the reporters did not return. Thinking it would be improper for the second-largest City in the State to be absent from a hearing about gun violence in Nebraska, I stuck around.

When it was my turn to testify, I told the committee that I was at a loss to describe the apparent discrepancy in gun violence rates between Omaha and Lincoln--particularly since Lincoln's rate of aggravated assault is actually higher than Omaha's. If you check comparative crime rates between these two cities, you'll see that Omaha leads in robbery, murder, and auto theft; Lincoln leads in aggravated assault, burglary, and larceny-theft; and we are essentially tied in forcible rape rates. I digressed into a little amateur sociology, but I really have no good answer on why two cities that seem so similar in many respects differ so much on one particular type of crime--rare, though serious: gun crime.

Earlier in the week, on Wednesday, I testified at another hearing after being subpoenaed to the Commission of Industrial Relations. The Commission is hearing a labor dispute between the Omaha Police Union and the City of Omaha. In Nebraska, public employees have no right to strike. The trade-off is that the State has adopted the rule of comparability in public employee compensation: salaries and benefits are to be based on comparable work in comparable cities. The Commission is the arbitrator when two sides disagree on what constitutes comparability.

Apparently the Omaha Police Union does not want the City of Lincoln to be considered by the Commission in the array of comparable cities--due to the lower benefits our officers receive compared to Omaha. They argue that Lincoln should be excluded because the working conditions are so different in Lincoln that it is not comparable to Omaha. Rather, the union would prefer the Commission accept some more distant cities where salaries and benefits are higher. I have no dog whatsoever in this fight, but can't ignore a subpoena, and was summoned to testify by the lawyers representing the City of Omaha.

During my testimony, the attorney for the union asked an interesting question. He asked me to consider two welders: one who works on structural steel, 20 floors up; the other who welds at ground level. "Wouldn't you agree that the working conditions are not the same," he asked. "Yes, I would," I answered. I wanted to say more, but held my tongue. His implication that Omaha police officers are welding on the 20th floor might be a good one, but Lincoln officers aren't exactly at ground level. We may be welding on the 14th floor, but the fall is equally fatal.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Story in the works

If members of the local news media can report about my blog, can I blog about their reports? I think so.

When I started writing The Chief's Corner, one of my goals was to provide readers (if any) with some information that they wouldn't normally find in the news: stuff that was too long, too boring, or too opinionated. But an interesting thing happened: reporters started using my blog for story leads and even quotes. I suppose that's OK with me, but they spend 30-45 minutes every morning at our daily media briefing, and they call all day long, so it's not like they don't have plenty of access to pick my brain in person. I've been telling other police chiefs who ask me about my blog that it's almost like having your own news channel--you can blather on at length about whatever you want, and nobody but you is going to select the sound bites.

So, one Jeremy Buckley, associate editor and the Daily Nebraskan, emailed me last night. He tells me that a colleague steered him to this post, and to the sentencing order linked there:

"A co-worker recently sent me a link to a post from your blog where Judge Gale Pokorny issued a judgement against an individual for assault on someone at a house at the 1000 block of Charleston St. last May 1. While the report was shocking, it fostered a discussion as to how aware students are that events like the one discussed transpire. We'd like to try and work on a news story discussing the perils of hosting house parties that have the capability of attracting unwanted company.

My reason for emailing you is to ask if you can think of any other similar situations where students attracted unwanted attention that led to unfortunate outcomes such as the curb stomping described in the court ruling for the Phipps case.

I want to stress that my goal isn't to sensationalize, rather, I'd like to tastefully explain some extreme circumstances that can arise from seemingly harmless house parties or gatherings. I've made a phone call to Judge Pokorny's office to see if the judge will speak with me about his/her (?, not sure with Gale) opinions on the subject, but I'd also like to be able to bring up other cases as well as get some thoughts from law enforcement officials and students who live in the area and might host such parties."

I encouraged his story idea, and sent him a few links to other posts on The Chief's Corner where other cases and incidents of a similar vein are either described or linked. Many young people seem to be oblivious to some of the risks involved in hosting or attending a loosely-controlled house party, and the disturbance is not the most serious risk by any means. We've had plenty of serious crime that has occurred in and around high-risk drinking parties in residential settings--thefts, assaults, robberies, rapes, and a murder.

I'll be interested to see what results from Mr. Buckley's efforts.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Alarm comparison

Since I'm blogging about false alarms this week, I thought it might be worth exploring how we compare to other police departments. There is no national source of data on this, but fortunately it's among the hundreds of items the benchmark city chiefs share with each other in our annual survey. Here's how we compare on false alarms per 100,000 population with our 20 benchmark city members:

Looks like we are in pretty good shape, relatively speaking. So, summing up this short series:

1. False alarms are a common police dispatch, and consume some significant resources. They also hold the inherent risks of emergency driving.

2. Their numbers have fallen significantly since 2002.

3. A substantial number of false alarms are caused by employees.

4. There are some premises that account for a startling number of false alarms.

5. Compared to other cities, Lincoln's false alarms are low.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Cause for alarm

...or, maybe more appropriately, cause of alarm. Here's the breakdown for the 3,514 false alarms Lincoln police officers responded to in 2007:

The "unknown" category probably skews these numbers a bit, and in reality to proportion of employee-caused false alarms is even greater. While proper installation and maintenance is certainly important, there is no substitute for good employee training.

Some of our alarmed premises seem to have chronic problems with false alarms. It's a crime in Lincoln to have more than four false alarms in a 12 month period. So far in 2008, the Home Depot on S. 70th Street leads the way, with 14 false alarms since January 1. They've been issued 48 citations for exceeding four false alarms in a 12 month period since 2005.

Circuit City with 12 false alarms so far in 2008, and a specific Wells Fargo ATM with 11, aren't far behind. The award for most improved would have to go to the Lincoln City Libraries, which, for the first time in several years, managed to stay entirely out of the top ten so far this year. Nice work LCL!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Alarm trends

One of the more frequent police dispatches is to a false alarm. In the past 15 years or so, the number of alarm systems has mushroomed, probably due to more competition in the field, less expensive technologies, and just perceived need. The up side to this trend is that it has likely contributed to falling burglary rates in Lincoln. Here's the burglary trend:

False alarms, however, are problematic in that the volume consumes substantial police resources. At least two officers are dispatched to each alarm, there is always the potential for hazard when emergency responses are undertaken, and the time-on-location can be significant if the key holder is difficult to locate or a considerable distance away. Reducing false alarms, then, is a good thing--as long as it doesn't reduce legitimate alarms or the deterrence of alarm systems in the process. Here's our false alarm trend in Lincoln:

The falling numbers, in my opinion, are likely the result of a new ordinance enacted by our neighbors to the northeast. In 2002, Omaha stiffened it's false alarm ordinance considerably, enacting much stiffer fees after one "free" false alarm. Number two and three cost $100, and after that it's $250 a pop. Lincoln, conversely, allows four false alarms with no penalty, followed by a $25 fine for each false alarm after that. Since the alarm business is to a large extent regional, as are many of the retailers, I think we have benefited from the Omaha metro areas ordinances in this case, without enacting our own.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Could it be?

I was checking up on Labor Day weekend activity, when I ran a query on "wild party" disturbances. These are complaints from citizens about disruptive parties. There were only 34 over the four days from Thursday night through Monday. That seemed low to me. So did the preceding week. Here's what Incident Code 12311-DISTURBANCE WILD PARTY looks like through Labor Day weekend over the past several years:

That's 449 fewer incidents--a 34% drop. It represents a huge workload, when you consider that each of those party disturbances requires a minimum of two officers, and holds the potential for many problems. Lots of assaults and complaints (mostly bogus) against officers in particular emerge from these alcohol-fueled events. One of our County Court judges summed it up pretty well in this sentencing order he sent me a couple weeks ago (the footnotes on page 3 are worth reading, too.)

Could it possibly be that some of these messages are getting through?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Outstanding trend

Traffic seems to be the topic du jour of late on The Chief's Corner, so it might be a nice time to point out a particularly outstanding trend. I've pointed out before that traffic crash fatalities are falling precipitously in Nebraska and in Lincoln. It's not just fatalities, though, it's all traffic crashes. Over the past 15 years, the crash rate (crashes per million miles driven) in Nebraska has fallen by more than one third. Lincoln's decline has been particularly impressive.

In August, two excellent crash analyses were released. The Nebraska Department of Roads released it's Annual Report, Traffic Crash Facts, and the City of Lincoln Public Works Department released it's 2006 Crash Study. Both of these are concise documents with informative charts and tables that won't overwhelm readers.

It is generally held that three major factors help reduce traffic crashes: engineering, education, and enforcement. We play a small role in engineering and education, but we pretty much have a monopoly on enforcement. Of the three, I think engineering provides the most dramatic case studies of the impact.

There are some outstanding examples in Lincoln of engineering projects that have had a huge impact on crashes. The intersection of S. 33rd St. and Sheridan Blvd. (the webcam there is displayed on the sidebar in The Chief's Corner) is a case in point. That intersection became a roundabout on June 26, 2002. In the six years prior to the conversion, there had been 76 crashes, 20 with injuries. In the six years since the conversion, there have been 16 crashes with no injuries at all. Click the graph for a larger view:

There are many other examples of this, including such locations as Highway 77 and Cornhusker Highway, Old Cheney Rd. and Highway 2, 17th and Holdrege St., and the elimination of left turns at 56th and O St. and Cotner and O St. It will be interesting to see if a similar phenomenon occurs at 9th and Van Dorn, where a major redesign has drastically changed the traffic pattern. Personally, I'm hoping the Bermuda Triangle at Warlick, Old Cheney, and S. 14th Street gets re-engineered in my lifetime!

Good engineering is critical, but enforcement of traffic laws also contributes to enhanced safety. It is noteworthy that the decline in Nebraska traffic fatalities parallels the statewide increase in drunk driving enforcement. Traffic law enforcement is a very important part of the police role. Making traffic stops and issuing citations may not be glamorous, but it reduces property losses, prevents injury, and truly saves lives. It probably has a more immediate impact on safety than most anything we do.

Through the first seven months of the year, Lincoln police officers issued 32,068 official traffic citations, 28,803 warning tickets, and arrested 1,295 drunk drivers. We are on track to (finally!) smash the decades-old record of of 1,992 DWI arrests set in 1974. It may be aggravating for otherwise law-abiding citizens to occasionally receive a traffic ticket, but enforcement works and it helps protect us all.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

More from the inbox

I posted a couple of interesting emails a few months ago on the same topic. Here's another one received last Thursday night:

"Let me start by just saying that I think that the Lincoln Police Department needs better things to do! It saddens me to know that my tax paying dollars are going towards cops sitting on the side of the road clocking people as they are going to and from their jobs. Yes recently I was waved off the road for speeding in my $300 vehicle that I just bought to save on gas which the speedometer doesn't work in.

I was following a vehicle which I thought to be going about the speed limit comeing back from picking up my perscriptions after working a 12 hour shift on my way home, just wanting to get home so that I could go to bed. Do you people really have nothing better to do that make times harder on the working middle class people?? I work two jobs, have a house and truck payment, trying to make it in this world on my own, and this happens! For what? So my insurance can go up? Make times a little harder for me? So the LPD can pay for their gas that they're buring in their cars while sitting on the side of the road? Really...What other towns have speed traps?

I'm not trying to sound like i'm wineing here because i'm not and yes I was speeding, but when all is said and done, my tax dollars are going towards selective cops that are screwing the working middle class people! I've had 3 speeding tickets sinse living in Lincoln and all were going to and from work and all were speed traps. How is this fair? You say that your job is to protect and serve...It's more like to screw the middle class working american! Keep up the great work! What a joke! Where would we be without you fine officers?!"

Justin, I'm sorry you got another speeding ticket. I am also sorry you weren't wearing your seat belt as required by law--again. I know that another hefty fine is no fun. We tried to warn you.

Ensuring safety by enforcing traffic laws is one of our most important duties. Just exactly how would you expect us to enforce the speed limit, other than clocking people from the side of the road? It's our job to catch speeders, and I don't think we need to apologize for doing so effectively. Maybe if you wouldn't drive 15 MPH over the posted speed limit through a school zone in front of Goodrich Middle School, you wouldn't get a speeding ticket.