Friday, February 27, 2009

Wrong Lincoln

Among the email I received this week was this complaint about the neighbors' dogs:

Dear PD,

My wife and I live in the Eastland Shores subdivision. We're certainly dog lovers, but there are some owners in the neighborhood who let their dogs run free. Most of them are aggressive, enter other properties and bark viciously at just about anybody. They dig up our flower beds, crap all over the yard and in at least one case tore up some plants. The neighbors cannot go to their mailbox or walk their dogs because of the aggressiveness of these animals. Please counsel us on what actions we can legally take. Are there leash laws in Lincoln? Sorry for the nature of this complaint... This is anything but high crime, but we're fed up. Thanks in advance for your response.

Eastland Shores? I thought I was reasonably good at Lincoln geography, but this one had me stumped. We’re a little short on subdivisions with “shores” around here. A little research on, however, revealed that the couple is in Lincoln, Alabama. Needless to say, they were a little embarrassed. Nice neighborhood—except for the dogs, that is.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Nodes and segments

A minor dust-up in Lincoln occurred this week when a local used car dealer, Todd Carpenter, put up a sign in front of his business blaming our Mayor for the fact that he’s going out of business. Mr. Carpenter asserts that the City’s action in redesigning the traffic flow on the streets adjacent to his car lot back in 2002 is the root cause of his business difficulties.

Disregarding the fact that Mayor Beutler was still four years away from being elected to City office at the time the change was made, and ignoring the fact that Mr. Carpenter was compensated to the tune of $375,000 for the loss of his right of way and reduction of his frontage access, I was still curious. My curiosity concerned the efficacy of the traffic flow redesign—Lincoln’s most recent use of one-way pairs. I’ve blogged about some of the impacts of these traffic engineering projects before.

This one, however, wasn’t quite as easy as 9th & Van Dorn, or 33rd & Sheridan. The area effected actually encompasses O Street, 56th Street, N and P Streets, and Cotner Boulevard. Counting the accidents requires including each of the adjacent intersections and each of the street segments between those nodes. On the map below, the intersections are yellow dots, and the segments and the magenta lines.

The task is also complicated by the fact that there was a considerable amount of construction and periods of street closures in the affected area during the early part of the decade. So, just to avoid that impact, I simply counted the number of crashes on these segments and at these nodes for a before-and-after period of 1998 and 2008. In 1998, the total was 97. In 2008 the total was 58. That’s a 40% reduction. Chalk up another one to the engineers.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Three hots and a cot

With regard to felony crimes when charges are pending, I must be circumspect in my comments. Nothing, however, would keep me from posting a link to a newspaper article that quotes from the public-record court document referred to as the probable cause affidavit.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sex offender residency restrictions

I had the opportunity to write a journal article for the current issue of Criminal Justice Policy Review, reacting to a series of research articles in the March issue on the subject of sex offender residency restrictions. It’s not free, so let me sum it up in a few sentences: residency restrictions don’t work very well. There are some unintended consequences that could be counterproductive. It is wise public policy (like Nebraska) to limit the distance in residency restrictions to something reasonable.

Lincoln’s restriction of 500 ft. from a school for high risk offenders whose victims were children is judicious. It was a public policy carefully crafted to avoid the result of making housing unavailable to sex offenders, forcing them underground or into small “sex offender ghettos,” and destabilizing offenders to the detriment of public safety. We keep a close watch on those who are subject to the restriction, using some pretty sophisticated GIS work to automate this surveillance.

We have had several cases like this, most recently on February 12th, when we found a restricted offender living within 415 ft. of Prescott Elementary School, and issued a citation for the violation. He has subsequently moved, and is now in compliance with the law.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Hot product

Officer Vicki Bourg, the school resource officer at Northstar High School, is growing tired of the number of iPods being reported stolen by high school students. We discussed this trend at last week’s ACUDAT meeting, and it’s pretty obvious that the Apple iPod is a hot product for thieves at the moment.

In 2008, we had 242 burglaries or thefts where iPods were among the stolen goods. This list of iPods reported stolen in the past 120 days is not complete—it’s only those for which we had a serial number or other identifying mark.

A decade ago, Dr. Ronald Clarke coined the acronym CRAVED to describe hot products that are common targets for crime: Concealable, Removable, Available, Valuable, Enjoyable, Disposable. The iPod fits the bill perfectly. The same characteristics that make it a desirable consumer products also make it a likely target for thieves.

Vicki should take heart in the knowledge that hot products inevitably come and go. A few years ago, it seemed like virtually every larceny from auto and residential burglary involved the theft of a case-full of CDs. That has dropped way off now—only 140 burglaries and thefts listed CDs in 2008. Hot products in my rookie year would have included things like 8-track tapes and CB radios!

Reducing the theft of iPods or any other hot product is usually a matter of working on the Ducks.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Caught on camera

The rapid proliferation of video recording systems has certainly changed criminal investigations. As I have noted before, we’re all being caught on camera several times daily as we go about our normal business. From the investigative standpoint, this has opened up a rich vein of information that can be effectively mined to help solve crime. I’ve blogged about such cases in the past.

Wednesday’s arrest of a suspect in a startling daytime sexual assault of a 14 year old victim near one of the busiest intersections in Lincoln is another case in point. The victim reported that the suspect walked towards a nearby convenience store after the assault. Follow-up work by investigators turned up some very good video from the store showing a subject who matched the description of the suspect provided by the victim.

Still shots were released to the news media the same day we received the video, and were seen by a few hundred thousand viewers on the Tuesday evening newscasts and Wednesday morning paper. Tips started coming in thereafter. Investigator Mayde McGuire showed the image around in a neighborhood canvass where one Crimestoppers caller reported having seen the suspect, and during that canvas, he was positively identified. Officer McGuire found him walking in the same vicinity, and the arrest was made.

The chances of clearing this case without the video would have been considerably less. Say what you may about the loss of privacy (have I mentioned that it might be wise to refrain from adjusting your underwear on on elevator anymore?), these camera systems are a boon to investigators, and a bane to criminals.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Short strides

My post last Friday about auto theft generated quite a few comments. One of those, posted on Monday at 2:20 PM, was from a reader who noted a Sunday auto theft case with a depressingly common modus operandi: the victim had left the car running, unlocked, with the keys in the ignition.

Well, around 2:00 AM on Tuesday morning, Officer Jason Wesch, who took the initial report, made a nice find when he spotted the stolen Pontiac parked at 10th and B Streets--just a few blocks from the initial theft. As he approached the car, he was surprised to see a subject exit the door and dash.

The suspect was taken into custody, all 4'5" and 106 lbs. of him, after a short foot pursuit. Short indeed. You can't get much speed up with that kind of stride length. This errant 14 year old is off to quite a start, as this is the 11th time we've made the juvenile equivalent of an adult arrest on him. His mug shot is so cute, you just want to squeeze his little cheeks. I hope something happens that changes his trajectory.

Truman show

Remember the movie? Jim Carrey Tom Hanks is blissfully whisking around Seahaven Pleasantville, unaware that his every thought and move is being monitored, recorded, and produced as a television show?

I get some unusual mail. It normally comes handwritten, single spaced, in cursive, and is several pages long. As soon as my assistant opens the envelope, she knows it's one of those. These lengthy letters are usually a circuitous tale about some unintelligible form of mind control that the author has been subjected to by some individual or organization for no apparent reason. I suppose one or two letters of this type arrive each month. They are all different, but have some common themes of mysterious transmission of energy or implantation of devices in the author's head or home, the hearing of voices, surveillance through such household fixtures as the TV or toilet, having their mind read; bodily functions being inexplicably controlled remotely by others, and so forth.

One day I was in my office being interviewed by a Lincoln Journal Star reporter (who later became the Governor's spokesman), when I took a phone call from a woman who was suffering from this same type of delusion. The neighbors were beaming some kind of energy into her home. Her chief complaint was that this was causing her to have unanticipated bowel movements at inconvenient times. I asked her if she had told her personal physician about this issue (she had not), and gave her some encouragement to do so. I got his name, and offered to call for an appointment on her behalf. We chatted for about 5 minutes, and I could tell she felt better, and she promised to follow through with her doctor. I think the reporter was amazed and impressed

Last night, I received one via email. I pasted the text into a document, so I could do a word count. It is 10,682 words in 17 pages of single spaced text with nary a single paragraph break. The author is a 60 year old woman in Illinois. She has the usual symptoms: since a new neighbor moved into the townhouse next door a few years ago, he and his wife along with their criminal gang have somehow implanted both audio and visual monitoring devices in her skull:

"There is a gang in my neighborhood that consists of mostly males, and through some sort of (sophisticated) electronic, electro-field, ultrasound, satellite or some other method/application of surveillance has somehow tapped/set-up/hooked into me/my body and are intercranially stalking me 24/7365."
She has a rather unusual last name, and just out of curiosity I googled that. She shows up on a number of web forums. Apparently there are support groups for the intercranially stalked. Having heard the same basic delusion from diverse sources repeatedly during my entire career, I've always wondered how so many people have such similar delusions relating to plumbing fixtures, radio energy, dental work, and automobile mufflers.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Explain this

Here's a couple questions for the theorists, thinkers, and crime analysts out there among the readers of the Chief's Corner. Lincoln's auto theft rate is very low--just compare us to any other city of note. Despite it's low level to begin with, it has been falling for a good long time. Here is Lincoln's auto theft rate for the past 21 years (click image to enlarge):

The national rate in 2008 was 363 auto thefts per 100,000 residents. The national rate has been falling in a similar fashion since the mid-1980's. So here's my question: why, and what should we learn from this?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Mark this case cleared

There was an interesting story on one of our local TV channels Tuesday night. Unfortunately, I'm not finding it on their website, so I'll just have to describe it. KLKN reporter Stephanie Costanzo interviewed a resident of the Thompson Creek neighborhood about an ongoing problem they are experiencing with beavers felling trees near the ponds.

Apparently efforts to trap the beaver led to a byzantine maze of State and City regulations, and a bit of frustration. Guess no one really thought that we'd be dealing with urban beaver problem in Lincoln.

Watching the story, though, I recalled this case--located just a stone's throw from the neighborhood where the beaver roam. I think we can safely mark this case cleared.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Temporal heat chart

A few weeks ago, I updated an animated graphic that demonstrates how time effects violent crime in Lincoln. The thought struck me that a temporal heat chart would be another valuable way of looking at these data. I’ve blogged about the technique before, using this method for examining the day-and-hour patterns of traffic crashes. It's a table of values with days of the week in the columns, and hours of the day in the rows. I was suspecting that the temporal clustering of violent crimes would be dramatic. Here’s the result (click to enlarge):

Monday, February 9, 2009

Another try

Sunday morning, an email was in my inbox informing me of a crime that occurred a short distance away from my home. It was a larceny from auto. Someone entered the victim’s vehicle, rummaged around in the glove box, and ultimately stole a pair of insulated coveralls. It looked like the window may have been cracked just enough that the thief was able to pull it out far enough to hit the lock button. I know that sounds a little odd, but with some vehicles, there is a surprising amount of “give” in the window.

One unusual aspect of this case is that the victim’s vehicle was in the driveway. This is somewhat rare. Parking in the driveway (when possible) is usually a good preventative measure. I am going to add “make sure your windows are rolled all the way up” to my list of advice on preventing thefts from automobiles.

A year ago, I probably would not have known about this crime in my own neighborhood. It would have been lost among the 320 incidents we responded to on Saturday. I know about the crime now because I am subscribed to a Crime Alert for incidents within a half mile of my home address. Whenever a police incident report hits our database and is geocoded within that circle, I get a push email with the basic details. It’s a great service, and it is available to the general public through, one of our two public crime mapping applications in collaboration with the Omega Group.

We’ve promoted this application before, with some success. I checked a couple of weeks ago with the Omega Group, and at that time, there were 742 people signed up for crime alerts in Lincoln. That’s not bad, but it ought to be a few thousand, in my opinion—it’s that valuable, and it’s free. I want to give it another try, and see if a second round of publicity about Crime Alerts can bump that number up. The more people know about crime in their own neighborhood, the more likely they are to take precautions, and the more likely they are to take notice when they wake up for a drink of water in the wee hours of the morning, and see someone walking into the driveway of a house down the block.

My only warning here is to be careful about the distance you choose: a lot more stuff happens in Lincoln than you realize, and if you pick a buffer of a mile or two, you might be getting more information than you want or can comfortably deal with. A block in Lincoln is about 350 feet on average, so a 500 ft. buffer would be a circle with a radius of around a block and a half. A quarter mile would be a circle about a 4 block radius, and so forth.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Toughest part

I’ve often told people that one of the most difficult things about my job is not what I must see or do, rather what I must know. Frankly, there’s just a lot of stuff I wish I didn’t have to know. You learn about the personal peccadilloes of people you’d like to trust, the dirty secrets and the untoward conduct. You learn of the evil that lurks in humanity, the horrific and terrifying acts that human beings are capable of inflicting on others. You learn of the tragic suffering of innocents. It can be a distressing load.

I suppose we’re not alone in shouldering burdensome knowledge. I can imagine what a first grade teacher hears, and what an emergency department nurse or doctor knows. It takes a good support system and some considerable emotional resilience to carry the load without being spiritually crushed. A good sense of humor helps, too.

May dad made his living selling corrugated boxes. When we moved to Lincoln in the late 1960’s, he took me along one day to call on one of his best customers, Prairie Maid Meats. The company has been out of business for a long time, but in the late 1960’s, the plant at 4th & F Streets was producing a full line of sausages and cold cuts. I got the deluxe tour. I’ve never been able to look at a hot dog in quite the same way. Some things you’d rather not know.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Fast and thorough

Last week while I was teaching in California, I had a brief converstation at lunch with a crime analyst and a lieutenant from one of the northern valley cities. They were among the last to arrive, so were stuck in the row up front. During the break, I was checking on a few things back at the office. I hadn’t turned the LCD projector off, so the contents of my computer screen were still being displayed as I worked a few emails and did a couple of other minor chores. One of the things I did was check on current dispatches back home, just to see what was going on.

The crime analyst asked me if that was live data, and I explained. I happened to notice that several of the 20 or so dispatches showing at the top of the screen were already marked “IR IN.” This means that the Incident Report had already been submitted. I clicked on a few of those, showing that in some cases, the thefts, burglaries, vandalism, and other incidents reported early in the afternoon on January 28th already had police Incident Reports submitted by lunchtime in Calilfornia. In one case, we were actually watching as Officer Jerome Blowers completed his report on the theft of an iPod from a locker at Southwest High School. In another case, there was a 28 minute lag between the crime being dispatched and the Incident Report being submitted and in the database.

Now that raised an eyebrow or two. Many crime analysts deal with records systems where there is a considerable delay between the officer investigating the crime, submitting the report, and the report being available in a database. We’re talking about a lag of days—in some cases weeks. We, on the other hand, usually have the report ready within two or three hours, often even more quickly. Anyone with authorized access can be reading those reports online from wherever they happen to be located. After some work by the Records Unit to complete UCR coding and match name entries, the data is automatically geocoded and in our crime maps the next morning.

Like many other aspects of our information systems, I think we often take this for granted. Since I have the opportunity to bang elbows with people from other departments on a more regular basis than most, I’m probably more aware than most of just how different this is. Officers who get involved in cross-jurisdictional cases often have an awakening when they need to get basic information from other police departments. And it’s not just the speed. The depth of information available, and the ability of people who need it to get it when they need it is crucial. I have yet to find any police department that can put as much information into the hands of its personnel at 3:00 AM on Sunday morning as we can. Thanks, lpd172.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

35 remaining

Within the past couple of days we learned that two more guns stolen in the October, 2007 burglary at Scheel's All Sports here in Lincoln have been recovered. One was located in Omaha, the other in Phoenix. This brings the total number of guns recovered to 44, and the number still out there stands at 35. Since the initial recovery of 30 guns within a day of the crime, 14 have now surfaced. These are the first in a while, as the last ones to show up were back in May and June of 2008.

The gun recovered in Omaha was found by police in possession of a man contacted on an unrelated case entirely. The Phoenix gun was found when the police executed a search warrant relating to guns and drugs. The string of cases in which these stolen firearms have been involved continues to be impressive. My worst fear appears to have been realized, as they dribble in from other crimes.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Statue of Liberty play

Well, the ex-husband suspect from our bank robbery ten days ago turns out to be a newlywed instead, with his bride serving (allegedly) as the get away driver. You've got to love the irony of the Statue of Liberty running him down and getting the vehicle description. Check out the detective on the right in this news photo. Is that a bush on his head?