Thursday, October 30, 2008

Holiday ride share offer

This craigslist posting was forwarded to me yesterday. I'm sure it's someone's warped sense of humor at work, but it's a clever way of expressing an opinion on the wisdom of Nebraska's Safe Haven law. I don't know how long the link will be functional, so I'll post the full text:

A safe haven for your child (Omaha)

Date: 2008-10-28, 7:35PM EDT

My family and I will be in the Atlanta area over the Thanksgiving holiday, after Thanksgiving we will be heading home to Omaha, Nebraska. We will have an empty seat in our car on the way home. Nebraska allows any child under the age of 18 to be dropped off and become a ward of the state, this is refereed to as the Safe Haven Law.

One lucky Georgia resident has already taken advantage of this wonderful program. I'm offering you an opportunity to do the same, I'll transport your child from Atlanta to Nebraska for the cost of fuel, $125. Upon arriving in Nebraska I will drop your child off at a local hospital where they will become a ward of the state.

Nebraska law makers have said they are going to change the law next year, so you may not have another opportunity to shed those unwanted responsibilities of parenthood so easily again. I have reliable transportation and can guarantee your child will make it to Nebraska without issue, or your money back. If you have any questions please ask.

Location: Omaha
PostingID: 897386955

Looks like the window of opportunity may be short, based on the Governor's call for a special legislative session to revisit the law.

On a lighter note, this article was also forwarded to me. I thought that the appropriate title for a blog post on this topic would be "Silent but Deadly."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Weapon type

Continuing with the robbery theme this week, I did a little checking on the types of weapons used in robberies. The "other" category is interesting: pepper spray, screwdrivers, and PlayStation (click to enlarge).

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

BB gun vandalism

Friday, in the comments on The Chief's Corner , a reader asked if I could provide a map of BB/pellet gun vandalism in Northeast Lincoln. As much as I encourage people to roll-their-own crime maps using or CrimeView Community, I am nonetheless happy to oblige. Here's the entire city for the month of October (61 offenses) and a zoom in on the Northeast Team area, where 35 of those occurred (click to enlarge).

The reader was interested in whether there was a "walking pattern" evident. It appears not. The greater likelihood is that the perpetrators were driving around in a car. It is unknown whether the cluster in southwest Lincoln is related to the cluster in the northeast. Most of the southwest cases were overnight on the 17th, and most of the northeast cases were overnight on the 21st and 22nd--although some are spread around during the month.

I've blogged about spree vandalism before. The losses can be very large. This year, the 261 BB gun vandalism cases have resulted in damage totalling $68,940. The Northeast Team dominates, with a huge lead in the totals for some reason.

Friday, October 24, 2008

How to prevent home invasion robbery

Three words of advice I gave yesterday during my monthly on-air chat with KFOR Radio's Dale Johnson:

"Don't deal drugs."
I'll have some more on home invasion robbery next week.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

In the press

My early morning hobby, The Chief's Corner, isn't the only writing I do. There are a couple of articles in national police publications this month that I submitted over the summer. You'll recognize some similarities between past posts on The Chief's Corner and the content of these articles in the September issues of Law Officer, and The Police Chief.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Underrated crime

I'll admit it. I'm guilty of it too. Bicycle thefts have never been on my list of serious crime. Despite the fact that I've owned one or more pricey steeds continuously since my freshman year in college (yes, the bicycle had been invented), I've never been the victim of a theft. If I had been, I'm sure it would be much higher in my hierarchy of criminality. Being a victim yourself tends to do that. It has moved up a notch however, in the wake of last Wednesday's ACUDAT meeting.

The Crime Analysis Unit made a nice catch recently. Sgt. Grant Richards discovered a group of half a dozen stolen bikes that were pawned by a thief on the same day of the theft. The going sale price for a really nice bike at a pawn shop is $50. Not bad for a Kona Unit 2-9 valued at $943. Doing a little research, Sgt. Richards found three other suspects who have been pawning stolen bikes regularly of late.

This was good work by the Crime Analysis Unit, but it shows we've got to redouble our efforts to prevent thieves from using pawn shops to offload stolen high-end bicycles. It's easy for pawn brokers to check our stolen property records to determine if a bike has been reported stolen (although the stolen report is about a day behind the crime), and it's also easy for the investigating officer to check our electronic pawn records to determine if the stolen bike has turned up in a pawn shop after a couple weeks have passed. There are several other ways to dispose of a stolen bicycle, and I seriously doubt that pawnshops are anywhere close to being the most common method. Nonetheless, that's a fairly easy door to close more firmly by diligent checks.

Here's why it's important. Bicycle theft is an underrated crime. So far this year, there have been 494 bike thefts in Lincoln. The loss has been $100,305. That's not even counting the 71 burglaries in which bicycles were among the stolen goods. Last year, the total dollar loss from bicycle theft was $125,301. Robberies, by comparison resulted in a total loss of $92,839.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Easy button

Capt. Joe Wright used the phrase yesterday to describe this phenomenon. It's one I have blogged about on a few prior occasions. This example is from Tuesday. Our Information Technology manager, Mr. Clair Lindquist, brought it to my attention Thursday morning. The summary comments field, "LAID ON FLOOR, WOULD NOT PARTICIPATE IN THERAPY SESSION," must have caused him to do a double take and read the full report. The key players are a 7 year old girl, a private counselor, a private medical transportation provider, and a caseworker in the Children & Families division of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. They pressed the easy button, but it didn't function quite the way they were hoping (click on the report to enlarge the image .)

In order to protect identities, I had to edit this report a little more aggressively than normal. There are 422 Lincoln police employees, though (many of whom read this blog) who can attest that this edited version is faithful to the original.

In summary, the solution to a 7 year old who won't participate in her therapy session, when the transport company doesn't want to come back: call the cops. That's the best a couple professionals could come up with.

This is not about workload: it's about ethics, the appropriate use of police authority, and the compassionate care of patients and clients with dignity. I commend Officer Matt Tangen for diplomatically suggesting an alternative, and declining to participate in an improper use of the coercive powers of the police. In addition, I thank the worker at the foster care company who simply drove over and picked the child up. A familiar caregiver sounds a lot better to me than the plastic back seat of a patrol car.

Before I wrote this post, I described this case and discussed the general issue with a group of University of Nebraska students in Dr. Susan Jacob's Criminal Justice Ethics class, CJ 406, where I was a guest Thursday afternoon. They felt that this is an issue the general public needs to be more informed about, and suggested that I redact any identifying information from specific cases. This is not the first time I've asked for ethical advice from university students in the past, and it's proven to be valuable..

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Moving day burglaries?

Yesterday morning, I met with our Crime Analysis Unit, in preparation for our ADUDAT meeting later in the day. We were reviewing recent burglary trends, and discussing the recent uptick in burglaries at apartment complexes. In a few of these burglaries, thieves loaded up the small electronics (iPods, digital cameras, laptops and the like) in laundry baskets. A number of televisions were taken. I have often wondered aloud how someone makes of with a box full of stuff without anyone in the complex noticing. Better yet, how to you spirit away a 50" plasma TV in broad daylight?

Crime Analyst Char Estes had an answer. She noted that many of our recent burglaries happened on September 30 and October 1. She theorized that the large number of tenants moving in and out around the first of the month provided cover for a couple of blokes wrestling with a TV, and that someone carrying a box or laundry basket through the hallway or parking lot would not attract much attention. Interesting thought.

After our meeting, I did a little analysis of my own. There have been 348 residential burglaries of apartments so far this year. Here's where those have occurred. It gets a little complicated, because some apartments have a single address for the entire complex, some have separate addresses on each building, and there are even some with separate addresses for each apartment. The larger the dot, the more burglaries at an individual street address--from one to five.

The map essentially shows the location of multiple-family dwellings in Lincoln. The cluster just south of the downtown area is the densest concentration of apartments, although the bigger complexes are at the fringe of the city--where more land was available for development. Here's the burglaries of apartments by day of the month for the 3,760 apartment burglaries in Lincoln since January 1, 2000:

Char's observation about first-of-the-month burglaries proves to be correct: there is a significant spike on the first day of the month. I'm not quite sure what this means. What do you think?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

IACA conference

The International Association of Crime Analysts sent me on a very short trip to St. Petersburg, to serve as a presenter and Tuesday's keynote speaker at their annual conference. I appear to be the only police chief that is a member of the association, but I do not think of myself as a crime analyst. I'm a police officer who is comfortable with data, evidence, analysis, and information, but this certainly is not the focus of my professional life.

Some of the long-time members of the association refer to me as the "anti-chief." I think this is because they have met me in an environment totally different than that in which they interact with their own chief. I am not alone, and I associate with a group of like-minded chiefs.

My message to the crime analysts was one which is frequently revealed here in The Chief's Corner: focus on prevention; think outside the box; be an advocate for new approaches to crime, but be scrupulously honest in demanding evidence of effectiveness before you become an evangelist for something that sounds smart, but does not produce proven results. Always acknowledge the fact that you might be wrong. I try to practice what I preach, but it's incredibly difficult. That's one of the benefits of a blog that allows anonymous comments: if I've done it or said it, I better be able to either defend it or willing to abandon it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

In Architecture Hall

Last Thursday night, I spent three hours with Dr. Yunwoo Nam's class, "Planning with GIS" at the University of Nebraska's Department of Community and Regional Planning. My role was to introduce the class to the way geographic information systems are used in policing. I did a short PowerPoint presentation, then the class and I did a little analytical work: examining the impact of residency restrictions on sex offenders, checking out recent patterns or residential burglary in the city, and analyzing dispatch data to determine the best location for the Northeast Team to locate a substation.

Judging from the interaction and the questions, I think this was a particularly interesting class session for the students. It is a three hour class that meets once a week, and I filled the entire time. As the class was breaking up, I reminded the stsudent that I see many job announcements for police crime analysts, and GIS experience is often one of the chief qualifications employers are looking for. Two of my former interns have found nice jobs, and crime analysis is a dynamic and growing field as more and more agencies learn it's value.

Dr. Nam's class was in room 316 in Architecture Hall, my favorite campus building, dripping with history and resplendent in it's late 19th Century architecture. When I was an undergraduate, the most spectacular marble urinals I had ever seen were located in the men's room on the ground floor. I tried to check them out, but the door I thought led to the toilet is marked as room 102 and does not appear to be a restroom any longer. That's a pity--it should have been preserved.

On the same subject (crime analysis, that is), Friday I spent the morning reviewing proposals from three companies who are in the running to serve as consultants on the Nebraska Fusion Center. Fusion centers are the rage in law enforcement at the moment, as Federal funding streams have opened to encourage the development of these information sharing and analysis centers. The State Patrol, Crime Commission, Omaha police, and Lincoln police are the major players in the project, coordinated by NSP.

The committee met in the conference room of the Nebraska State Patrol's Criminal Identification Division, at 233 S. 10th Street. When I arrived, one of the employees started to give me directions to the conference room. There was no need: the room was my personal office for over six years. Other than the furniture, it hasn't changed at all.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Police car wrong solution

The tragic story of a single mom coping with a mentally ill 12 year old son appeared in yesterday's Lincoln Journal Star. I have incredible sympathy for what she is going through. I talked to her a few weeks ago, when she called me to express her displeasure that a police officer would not transport her handcuffed child in a patrol car to the hospital. LPD took a bit of criticism in the comments. The very first commenter misinterpreted this passage in the article:

"His mother knew he needed to go to the hospital. But the officer, although sympathetic, said Lincoln Police Department policy wouldn’t allow her to take the boy to the hospital."

The "her" in the excerpt is the police officer--not the mother. The police officer would not transport the child to the hospital. We most certainly did not prevent mom from taking the child to the hospital, which, under the circumstances, sounds like a pretty reasonable course of action.

As I explained to the child's mother, we do not think it is either safe or good public policy to transport people in acute mental health crises to hospitals or elsewhere restrained in the back seat of police cars, if this can be avoided. This practice poses known risks, and is also ethically dubious. For what other medical condition would the solution to a critical episode of the illness be to call the police? An asthma attack? Anaphylactic shock from an allergy? A severe diabetic reaction? I think not. As I told her, I believe her son needed an ambulance, medical professionals, and a hospital bed--not a set of handcuffs and the back seat of a patrol car.

I'll grant you this, though, if neither the mother nor the principal had the presence of mind to call an ambulance for this emergency, the police officer probably should have suggested it. We'll try to make sure we do that more reliably, when the care-givers don't think of it.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Searching the Chief's Corner

There are well over 300 posts on The Chief's Corner so far, and I am loosing track of what I've already blogged about. I've been thinking about re-posting some older ones just to see if anyone notices. It could be a sort of "best of" series sometime when I'm suffering from writer's block.

I wanted to point out, though, the blogger search box, at the top-left of the masthead, just above the words "The Chief's Corner." Don't confuse it with your browser's search box on the toolbar. Put in a couple of key words, and all the posts containing those words will be returned. It's a handy tool I use often when I'm trying to find some tidbit that is lost in space. It doesn't search comments, though, only the posts themselves.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Domestic assaults and football

Speaking of stuff on game days, Sgt. Chad Barrett emailed me earlier this week. He has an intern who is interested in the relationship between sports events and domestic violence. Specifically, are there more domestic assaults when Nebraska loses football games, as opposed to days when the Cornhuskers win? I sent a quick reply back to him, and included a decade's worth of data about domestic assaults occurring on Saturdays. I suggested our intern could figure out which ones were game days and of those, which were wins and which were losses. That's the makings of a great semester project in a research methods class. Play your cards right, and you could parlay that into a master's thesis.

The entire file was 2,300 records on the dot, and it covered 451 Saturdays from the year 2000 through this past weekend, October 4, 2008. That means there is an average of just over five domestic assaults per Saturday. I predict there will be a slightly higher-than-average number on game days, but I'll be surprised if there's enough data here to reach any meaningful conclusion. The hypothesis seems to be that there will be more domestic violence on days that the Cornhusker's lose than on days the team wins. My own guess is that it won't make any difference. If there is enough data to prove anything, I think this will prove to be a myth, with the caveat that there is just more crime in general on football game days than on non-game days. I'll let you know the outcome when I know. Here's some other links on the topic:

England v. Croatia

Super Bull Sunday

Freakonomics on college football

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Kickoff effect

Unless you've been to Lincoln on certain fall Saturdays, it's hard to understand how consumed this City and State are with University of Nebraska football (despite the Present Crisis.) Memorial Stadium has seen 294 consecutive sell outs. When you bring 85,000 people downtown in a City of 250,000 it is quite an event, and one that taxes the police.

I noted last week that September 27, the Saturday of the Nebraska v. Virginia Tech game, was our busiest day of the year so far, with 517 police dispatches. This past Saturday, October 4, is close behind, with 493. Win, lose, or get completely dismantled, I don't think it makes much difference. Game days are just plain busy. Alcohol-related events are a chief contributor.

There is, however, a lull in the action. Check over these two charts. You can click to enlarge them, but the hours of the day start at midnight, on the left. The first is the distribution of police dispatches on Saturdays during 2008, sans football game days. The second is the distribution last Saturday, Nebraska v. Missouri; a nationally televised game with an 8:00 PM kickoff.

As you can see, the radio becomes a bit more quiet as the populace becomes glued to the tube. I wonder if last night's presidential debates caused the same effect.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Bad year for bank robbers

It started with this one, cleared in record time: 6 minutes. Then on Friday, this pair made the bad mistake of (allegedly) robbing People's Choice Credit Union, formerly known as the City-County Employee's Credit Union. Then Monday, visitors from the Northeast came to Lincoln, and ended up staying in our local graybar hotel.

Great work by Lancaster County Deputy Sheriff Kirk Price, who dropped what he was doing serving civil process, headed for the highway to give the hairy eyeball to passers-by, and spotted the suspects trying to be inconspicuously evasive. Not the first time that's happened: Sheriff's Captain Gary Juilfs spotted the suspects in similar circumstances (and not very far away) back in March, 2000 . The Nebraska State Patrol's helicopter also came in very handy, as the last of the three suspects ran into a rather isolated and desolate area of the county. There's a certain comfort in having that baby hovering overhead as you take a bank robber into custody.

If you were going to pick a place for your suspect to run into a field, you couldn't do much better than this flat, treeless triangle of land bounded by Highway 6, Interstate 80, and the Warner Wetlands.

Wait a minute. Yes, come to think of it, you could do better.

Financial institution robberies are a very bad thing. The risk is great, and although three is a very low number, it is three too many. The good news is that the clearance rate this year is 100% and the average time between the robbery and the arrest is about an hour.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Why would you assume that?

I received this email a few weeks ago, meant to blog about it, and never quite got it done until today.

"I just wanted to share with you something I saw last night that
concerned me. Around 11:30 PM, I was traveling east on Cornhusker
Highway, approaching 48th St. In the right turn lane (turning east),
stopped at the stop light, was a police cruiser (it may have been a
State Patrol vehicle, I cannot say for sure). As I was turning on to
48th, I saw the cruiser's lights switch on as he drove through the red
light. Immediately after he cleared the light, the flashers went off.

I don't know if there is an exact policy on this or not, but I find
that kind of behavior very troubling. This is the kind of thing that
helps to fuel the negative feelings so many Lincolnites have about law
enforcement officers. Regardless of whether it is a condoned practice,
I wanted to bring it to your attention. Thank you."

I get calls or correspondence like this from time to time. Back when I worked in Internal Affairs I would take an occasional complaint of the same nature. I just don't understand why someone, having observed an officer turn his or her lights on and tap the siren to clear an intersection, would automatically assume that the officer had no good reason to do so.

From looking at dispatches during this time frame back on Sept. 11, I surmised that it was probably one of the Northeast Team's officers was on the way to an alarm at Dyno Sport, a nearby business. I explained to this correspondent that officers sometimes are on their way to events that are not quite full-bore emergencies, yet require an expedited response without a 45 second delay--as well as one which does not broadcast the officer's approach too dramatically in advance of his or her arrival. I suppose if you've never feathered the emergency brake, you just don't understand the need for stealth in approaching a potential crime in progress.

I never heard anything back after sending the reply. I imagine given this mind set that the writer now just figures I'm just covering up for an officer who was in a rush to get a taco.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Annual reports back to 1941

It started with Case number one, posted the Chief's Corner on March 21st, 2008. The fourth comment was from flyover living, and was followed by an off-blog email telling me about the Nebraska Memories project at the Nebraska Library Commission. Never one to pass up an offer of free help, we got in touch with the Commission, and they helped us a great deal in getting our archive of Annual Reports scanned as .pdf files. Along with additional assistance from Chris Plock at the City Information Services Department, and our Management Services Unit intern, Jonna, we have completed a remarkable online archive.

You will now find the Annual Reports of the Lincoln Police Department back to 1941 available online, at the police department's web site, and at Nebraska Memories. The 66 year archive contains an 11 yearr gap, however. No annual report was produced from 1974 thorugh 1984 1985.

There are some memorable and historic moments in those old annual reports. Here are a few samples (I'm using the Adobe Acrobat page number in these page references):

Casady is not the only chief with a chart, 1941, p. 25.

...or a confusing chart, 1948, p. 19-20.

...or an incident map, 1945, p. 21.

The impact of WWII on the police department, 1942, p.2.

Two-way radio system inaugurated, 1942, p. 10.

Policewomen added to the force, 1944, p.6, 12, 13.

Turnover rate tops one-third, 1945, p. 7.

The 60 hour, six day work week is replaced with a 48 hour, six day week , 1946, p. 3.

The 48 hour, six-day work week is replaced with a 40 hour, five day week, 1963, p. 8.

The ongoing saga of being a very small force , 1949, p. 8.

University of Nebraska students start as part-time police officers, 1951, p. 7.

Officer William J. Hill dies after one day on the job, 1953, p. 9.

Meter maids introduced, 1958, p. 5.

Not a single mention of Charles Starkweather... , 1958, p. 8-9

...but he committed all six of the murders in the table, 1958, p. 14.

The history of the Lincoln Police Department in the City's centennial year, 1967, p. 6-8.

A 35.8% increase in Part 1 Crime, 1968, p. 8.

Chief: Supreme Court "ties the hands" of police, 1968 p. 3.

Law students and varsity athletes used as police officers, 1968, p. 13.

Last day for 323 N. 10th Street, 1968, p. 20.

First day for 550 S. 9th Street, 1969, p. 3.

Best motor photo, 1970, p. 6.

We still own that typewriter, 1971, p 10.

He's now the mayor of Billings, MT, 1972, p. 21.

He's now the Grand Island police chief, 1973, p. 1.

Best photo ever in an Annual Report, 1973, p. 5.

Officer Richard E. Leyden killed in the line of duty, 1949, p.6.

Lt. Frank Soukup is killed in the line of duty, 1965-1966, p. 7

Det. Paul B. Whitehead is killed in the line of duty, 1967, p. 10.

Officer George W. Welter killed in the line of duty, 1968, p. 6.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Crime alerts available

Back on June 12, we announced the availability of a new incident mapping service, There is a crime alert feature included in this service that is really quite nice, and I've decided to promote that service a little more proactively. There are links to crime alerts at the top of the main page at and in the middle of our public web site, or you can just go directly to the sign up page. Once you are signed up for crime alerts, you will receive an automatic email with the brief details of any new police incident reports that show up in the area where you have subscribed. Here's a sample (click to enlarge):

Most people who use the crime alerts feature will want to subscribe to the area around their business or home. You can choose various distances, but I would be cautious about picking a 1 mile or 2 mile buffer. This city is much busier than most people realize, and you might be getting a lot of stuff in those emails, if you get carried away. It's easy to unsubscribe if you decide you need to throttle back.

Usually, incident reports are processed, geocoded, uploaded to the Omega Group, and available within a shift of the initial report. This varies, though, because sometimes officers are authorized to hold-over reports to their following tour of duty. One caveat: although there are choices for DUI and Disturbing the Peace cases in, these two incident types are not contained within our data.

Crime alerts are a nice addition to the department's many resources for keeping you informed, including two incident mapping choices, and CrimeView Community, and our daily log of police incidents. The key advantage of crime alerts is that the information is "pushed" to you: you don't have to go get it.

The more you know, the better you are prepared to act. When you are more aware of what's going on in your own neck of the woods, you will be more likely to close your garage door, park all your cars in the driveway, make sure nothing is visible from the outside, get a higher security lock, call us immediately when you spot suspicious behavior, and so forth.