Monday, August 31, 2009

Look in the mirror

I received a thought-provoking email on Friday from a retired Lincoln resident who was out for a ride with his wife on their new bicycles. They came across a car-pedestrian traffic crash near Captial Parkway and A Streets, just a few minutes after it occurred early on Thursday afternoon. According to a witness they talked to, a jogger had run right out in front of the car driven by a young woman.

The man who emailed me was bothered by the scene. Several paramedics tended to the injured runner, while police officers went about investigating the crash scene:

"Over the next 20-30 minutes, with all the police, fire and EMTs there, I kept seeing a haunting site, the young woman driver...wailing, sobbing...sitting under a tree bawling....I did not see any females. I know it's a male-dominated world in your business, but it did strike [me] as sad that there was no one for the young woman....I understand the focus is on immediate response. But seeing the young woman under the tree was a pretty sad human sight. She needed to be hugged, held, and calmed down."

The picture he painted put a lump in my throat. I certainly agreed that it was sad no one was there for her. I replied to his email, and asked how he, his wife, and at least one other person who witnessed the crash could stand by and watch this young woman in emotional distress for 20 or 30 minutes without anyone stepping forward to hug her, console her, and help calm her down. I don't think that was his point, but that's how it struck me.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The hour of power

Yesterday's post about what went on in Lincoln on a typical Thursday morning between midnight and 5:23 AM drew out a question in a comment that I thought might be worth expanding upon. The comment (by Dave) simply asked how the 51 police dispatches compares. I responded that it was pretty typical--although the average is skewed quite a bit by Saturday and Sunday. Here's what I mean by that, police dispatches by day and hour so far this year (click to enlarge):

The bluer the cell, the lower the workload; the redder the cell the higher the demand. The red cells in this chart are more than three standard deviations from the mean. Although the hour between 4:00 and 5:00 PM is clearly the busiest one hour period during the week, the daily counts during the evening rush don't come close to 1:00 AM to 2:00 AM on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Those one hour cells are by far the busiest single hours of the week. On other days, however, the bar break hour is pretty mellow--while the evening rush hour is consistently high throughout the week.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Since midnight

It’s 5:23 AM on a Thursday morning. Since midnight, we’ve responded to 51 incidents, as follows:


There are four drunk drivers among the eight alcohol-related calls. The prowlers are interesting. It looks like Officers Sara Genoways and John Hudec interrupted a couple of young men prowling cars looking for something to break into near S 27th St. and Old Cheney Road. There wasn’t enough evidence to arrest them, but I have no doubt that a few people who would have been victims will wake up this morning with their stuff safe as a result. The disturbances are always a good read. Officer Ben Faz was sent on one shortly after midnight in which the dispatch information indicates a 15 year old was staring at his mother and refusing to go to bed. I'll bet there's an interesting story there. Four of the five larcenies were from cars. In one case, the victim’s stereo was removed from the dash and his UNL employee ID and backpack. He parks on the street at his residence near Bryan/LGH Medical Center West. He told Officer Nichole Loos that he always leaves his car unlocked. Go figure.

A few minutes in the police reports always confirms what your mother told you: “Nothing good happens after midnight.”

UPDATE: Apparently as I was writing this post, Officers Andy Ripley and Rick Roh were in the process of arresting two men involved in a burglary in progress at Bryant Heating & Air Conditioning in northeast Lincoln!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Forgery falls further

Yesterday, I was reviewing our monthly statistical report for July. A number jumped out at me: 347. That is the number of forgeries investigated by the Lincoln Police Department in the first seven months of 2009. It’s down from 369 during the same period in 2008—a 6% decline. These numbers seemed very low to me. I checked. They are indeed very low, and part of a dramatic downturn. The bottom has essentially dropped out of forgery cases since the peak in 2005.

I blogged once before about the long-term decline in another crime—auto theft—and it’s likely cause. What do you think is driving this large decrease in forgery cases, occurring over a relatively short time period?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

School year starts

The kids went back to school in Lincoln last Wednesday. So far, we’ve investigated six assaults: four at middle schools, two at high schools. With about 35,000 kids in K-12, a handful of scuffles with no injuries requiring medical treatment isn’t bad at all. Schools, however, represent a high-demand location—just like anywhere else lots of people gather. When you think about it, the population of Lincoln Public Schools is a little larger than the City of Kearney, Nebraska.

One of our biggest concerns surrounding schools is traffic. Comparatively few kids walk to school today, and traffic jams are legendary even around elementary schools, where some parents drive their children the whole five blocks. Given the number of schools and the number of police officers, there’s not much we can do about those snarls other than to appeal to people’s common sense and good citizenship.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Mixing up the fleet

For about the past 15 years, LPD has used Ford Crown Victorias exclusively for our marked sedans. The Crown Vic is a fine police patrol car, but this year we decided to add a little diversity to the mix, so we ordered two Dodge Chargers and two Chevrolet Impalas as well. We wanted to get some experience under our belt with a couple of other models.

I haven’t heard much comment about the Impalas, but the Chargers are certainly getting noticed around town. Several people have commented about them to me, and this photo, snapped by a local citizen at Haymarket Park, was posted on Flickr. Nice image!

Friday, August 21, 2009


Last Thursday, I had a virtual site visit from the Glendale, CA Police Department. The Crime Analysis Unit and two commanding officers spent a couple hours with me, using gotomeeting for a web conference. Glendale is working on improving their information flow and systems, and somehow came up with our name as a good place to check out. In preparation for the meeting, I had crawled all over their website, and read their strategic plan. A few parts of the plan resonated particularly well with me:

  • The Glendale Police Department will explore the feasibility of employing an Area Command Model.

  • We will be on the forefront of emerging crimes by identifying enforcement and prevention strategies to address emerging crime trends.

  • The Department will identify and implement crime analysis software and mapping tools to provide police management and employees with real-time access to crime data to efficiently allocate and deploy resources.

  • The Department will integrate new technologies and provide Comstat type crime information to Department members.

They were about to visit the right place to see those principals in action, in a City where they have matured for many years. It was a great discussion, and I got the feeling that we really helped them with some ideas and concepts, some of which were so downright practical that they could be implemented the next day.

While visiting their website I found something that really struck a cord with me. I grabbed the link to this video, and emailed it to a few people here at LPD. It’s a powerful statement about one of the things that makes this career so fulfilling. Nicely done, Glendale PD!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Where seldom is heard...

...a discouraging word, and the sky is not cloudy all day.

Atticus, you rock. Thanks for feeding the blog while I disconnected for a few days.

I'm back from suburban Mullen, Nebraska, along the banks of the Dismal river in God's Country--surely one of the most beautiful areas on earth, the Nebraska Sandhills. Specifically, I was here, and here.

View Larger Map

No cellphone coverage, no wireless Internet. Just good sport, hearty food, great companionship, and a pleasantly exhausted collapse into bed at the end of a wind-burned and sun-drenched day. For those of you not from our fine State, it is just hard to describe what you experience when you drive north from the big city of North Platte on Highway 83 or 97. You've never seen so many stars and such natural beauty.

I encountered a visitor from New York City who was an early riser like me. Over coffee on the porch, he quizzed me about the weather, the local economy ("No, these would be ranches, not farms") and the landscape. I was explaining what I could about the group of Sandhills counties named after Civil War generals. We concluded that his apartment building has a greater population than Grant, Arthur, Hooker, Thomas, Logan, and McPherson Counties combined. He just went on and on. I don't think he'd ever been anywhere where the people were so...nice.

Sometimes you forget what you have in your own backyard, and how great it is to live and work in a place where the one-finger wave is performed by lifting the index finger subtly from the steering wheel to acknowledge a stranger or a friend you meet on the road. I understand that in New York City the one-finger wave carries another meaning--and employs a different digit.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Buckner

Next monday morning is the Don Buckner Memorial Scholarship fundraiser event, which is a golf tournament put on by the Lincoln Police Union. 'The Buckner', as it is commonly called, is one event that LPU holds in which all of the money raised goes towards scholarships that are awarded to LPD employee's children. Don Buckner was a Lincoln police officer that passed away from a heart attack. Coincidentally I met Mr. Buckner when I was young as he attended our church and he and my dad knew each other.
The Buckner is a great event and I am really looking forward to playing in it. Although I am kind of a hack and not a great ball striker, it's a 4-person scramble so I only have to hit a good shot once in a while. Consistency is not in my golf bag. This year the Buckner is being held at the Lincoln Country Club. I've never played there and I am excited to have the chance.
Besides being a great event and a worthy cause, the Buckner is tons of fun. It's a great chance to relax and have fun with co-workers and friends. The teams in the Buckner are usually made up of law enforcement officers, fire fighters, attorneys, and friends and family. It is a nice opportunity to see people away from work in a different environment. Plus, I get to see that even though I am not a great golfer, I can assuage my feelings in seeing that I am not alone. Good luck to all the teams!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Work in progress

It appears that the Chief did not give me the ability to moderate comments. I am working to get that addressed. Otherwise I guess the Chief will have a few posts to go through when he gets back.


The Chief has again allowed me to take over his blog. The Chief has been fairly heavy in the computer/techno talk for the last few posts; I think we'll take a break from that. But I would like to point out a thing or two that are related in a way.
There are people today who watch too much TV and have a huge misconception of what being a police officer in the techno age is all about. Apparently all you have to do is type in a shoe size, hair color, and favorite cereal of the perpetrator and the computer will throw out the suspects name, DOB, and current whereabouts. All the TV sleuth has to do is go pick him up.
The advances in technology have helped the police clear crime without question. However there is still way more to the story. As the Chief mentioned a few days ago, Officers Forrest Dalton and Jason Brownell made a good arrest on the guys who robbed the convenience store at 13th & South st. These arrests were aided by some of those technological resources that are now available. By the time these arrests were made, the picture of the suspect's distinctive sweatshirt were all over LPD and could be pulled up on any PC in the station in seconds. The fact that the pictures were as clear as they were is a testament to the video systems that are now being used in many businesses; which is a huge upgrade to the old grainy, out of focus photos we used to have to try to decipher.
But those technological advances only helped to clear the crime. What remained was good old fashioned police work. That means being out there on the street and being observant. It means talking to people and gathering information. It means having a feel for the neighborhood or area we are working and knowing the people we are serving. Forrest and Jason observed the sweatshirt from the video, but still had to contact the individuals and detain them. Once that was accomplished there was still the matter of establishing a rapport and gaining an admission and/or finding further evidence linking them to this crime.
There are many examples of this type of work everyday. I think about things in this way. If me or my family were the victims of a crime, there are certain officers I would want to lead the investigation. They are good cops, good communicators, and they care. But I would also want them to be the type that takes advantage of all the information resources we have at our fingertips. All of this has to work together, with no one part being the end all be all of fighting crime.
I recently had occasion to arrest an individual that I have been seeking for some time. I managed to find him and get him in custody, but it took a lot of research using our information resources, a little old fashioned police work, and a little luck. Those are the elements to clearing crime and all work together.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Atticus invited

I'm gone for a few days to a place in the middle of the Nebraska Sandhills where Internet access is unlikely, so my posting is suspended until about Thursday. I'm also looking forward to a couple of days untethered from the electric grid--well, sort of.

As I did last year, I've invited a regular reader, Atticus, to fill in if he wishes. I have no clue who Atticus is, but his comments are always spot on, and he did a nice job last year.

Atticus, I hope this finds you, and that you have time to share some thoughts early next week. I sent you an email invitation a few days ago, to the anonymous email address you provided last year. Follow the invitation, and you are an author.

If Atticus doesn't surface, I'll get cracking again as soon as I plug back in.

Friday, August 14, 2009

What the heck?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Omega Dashboard

This week we launched a new computer application from the Omega Group that has some good potential. It’s the Omega Dashboard, an internal application designed to keep our staff informed. The dashboard is a webpage containing automated, updated content that presents employees them with the common operating picture: an overview of certain trends and information so you can stay abreast of what’s going on in this busy City. The whole idea is to give you at a glance a webpage with key information that you don’t have to fetch: it’s already been pushed to your page.

The Dashboard page is composed of panels called viewers. You can display several viewers in your browser, and they can be clicked on and off, arranged on the page, rolled up or expanded. Each viewer contains maps, data, and reports about incidents, crimes, places, or persons. Each viewer can have multiple pages, through which the user can cycle using the control buttons. These pages usually contain links to much more detailed reports which in turn contain drill downs to an increasing level of detail.

The content on the webpage is customized somewhat to your area of assignment: there is different content for the Northeast Team than for the Southeast Team, and so forth. The content is available for the City as a whole, or just limited to any one of the department’s five geographic commands. Here are some examples:

Crime Trends: A series of graphs of this year's trends by month for selected Part 1 Crimes.

Recent Crimes: Maps and details of selected crimes within the past 3 days: robbery, rape, indecent exposure, burglary, auto theft, larceny from auto.

Registered Sex Offenders: An overview graph of sex offenders by risk level, with a link to the detailed information on each; a map of all high risk sex offenders with an address change in the preceding week, and the details on each.

Hot Persons: Maps and details on each person for whom a new arrest warrant was issued in Lancaster County during the preceding week, and each person for whom a police broadcast (our term for an “all points bulletin”) during the preceding week.

Problem Places: Maps and details about the top 10 locations for false alarms, and the locations of any repeat calls to party disturbances at the same address within the preceding 90 days.

Dashboard News: This viewer contains an RSS feed of brief information or notices from the Crime Analysis Unit (and me!)

I’ve blogged about dashboards a couple times lately. This concept has caught on in business and in government as a means of simplifying vast information resources into snapshot view of a few key indicators. I’ve already seen the preliminary concepts of the next version of the Omega Dashboard already, and it looks like a big jump to a new plateau.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What’s up?

A few weeks ago Mayor Chris Beutler asked all the City department directors to make a short presentation at our weekly staff meetings. The Mayor was interested in new ideas or best practices in government, and wanted each of us to essentially tell him about “what’s up” in our fields, and what impediments or challenges we face in implementing some of the things other cities are doing that are exemplary. He wanted specific example of cities that are engaging in these practices.

I was first at bat, last week. With about a half hour to cover this, it had to be a fairly short presentation, so I focused on four practices:

  1. Geographic decentralization, such as Madison’s five police stations;
  2. Web reporting, as in Ft. Collins or Tulsa;
  3. The expanded use of paraprofessionals, as in cities like Fresno or Fremont, CA;
  4. Merger of police agencies, as in Indianapolis, Charlotte, or Manhattan, KS.

I went through the pros and cons of each, where Lincoln stands, what the impediments to these are, and what I think the future holds. I finished up with a final slide, where I very briefly touched on some of the technological developments that are of interest—many of which I’ve blogged about before and some of which we are already exploring and/or implementing:

  • Mobile broadband
  • Hybrid gas-electric fleet vehicles
  • Automatic vehicle locators
  • Automated license plate readers
  • Forensic lab expansion
  • Digital video
  • Public place closed circuit TV

The Fire Department is next up, followed by the Urban Development Department. I’m glad mine is out of the way, and I’m looking forward to hearing from the other City departments.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Neighorhood a little safer

Friday night was another Project Safe Neighborhoods detail. I won't get all the particulars until the project supervisor, Sgt. Don Scheinost, gives me a briefing later this morning, but the highlight of the evening surely must have been the arrest of two suspects who committed an armed robbery at a 13th and South Street convenience store earlier in the week.

We highlighted this crime on our Lincoln Crimestoppers blog, not because they were the best photos we've ever seen, but because the pattern visible on the back of one of the hoodies was pretty identifiable. All week long, officers have been looking at this photo, displayed on the plasma screens during lineup (our name for what other departments typically refer to as roll call).

Around 9:30 PM, Officers Forrest Dalton and Jason Brownell were driving in the 900 block of S. 14th Street, when Jason spotted the pattern on the jacket. The officers stopped and one of the two defendants bolted. He was caught after a short foot pursuit, and a hastily-discarded Colt .45 auto was located in a window well right beside him. The two defendants, ages 14 and 16, were both lodged in the detention center, and the neighborhood is now just a little safer.

The case reminds me of this one, from earlier this year.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Stimulus bill helps

Yesterday, Mayor Beutler announced that the City will be accepting a $679,136 Federal grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to fund four additional police officers. This was great news, and I deeply appreciate the support of the Mayor and the City Council during one of the toughest budget years in decades. The grant covers the entry level salary and basic benefits of four officers for three years. After that, the City has an obligation to retain the positions for at least one additional year.

Applications were submitted for nearly 40,000 officers nationwide, and only 4,699 were funded (24 in Nebraska). Lincoln was one of a handful of Nebraska agencies to succeed in the process. We can sure use the help. With the smallest police force per capita in the State and one of the smallest in the region (180th of the 194 cities with populations over 10,000 in Nebraska and its neighboring states), every little bit helps.

Lincoln is the 72nd largest City in the United States with a population of over 252,000 and we are a growing City. We are clipping along at about 1.5% annually, according to the most recent estimates from the Census Bureau. That means we are adding about 3,500 residents each year. That’s the size of Broken Bow, O’Neill, or West Point. I realize this won’t mean much to out-of-state readers, but trust me, Nebraskans will understand. Those cities all have high schools, parks, swimming pools, and a half-dozen police officers.

When you consider our current police force consists of 317 officers, you can just multiply that by 1.5% in order to calculate the number of officers needed to account for annual population growth. It’s 4.75 officers. Plus a quarter of the department—another 103 positions—are civilian support jobs, and those need to keep up with growth, too. The grant is a nice help that will at least keep us in the ballpark for population growth.

LPD has been shrinking since 1998, after a very good run in the 1990’s. The give you an idea how this has slipped, in order to be back at the 1998 high water mark of 1.39 officers per 1,000 population, we’d have to add 33 officers. We would still be the smallest in Nebraska, and we’d move up in the region to 170th smallest, wedged between two Missouri cities, Blues Springs and O’Fallon. The graph below depicts our trend (click to enlarge image),

The following table was added on request from a reader:

Monday, August 3, 2009

Source of the idea

Last Friday’s post about our dashboard performance indicators has a back story. The word dashboard was already front-of-mind. We have been working for the past couple weeks on implementing a product from the Omega Group called the Omega Dashboard: essentially a series of dynamic, interactive data views that will inform our personnel of what’s hot and what’s not (more on that later).

The word came up again last Tuesday morning, when I attended the Teammates Annual Partnership Meeting. Teammates is a great mentoring program that started here in Lincoln several years ago (more on that later), and I am newly-appointed to the board. There were about two hundred people in attendance.

The executive director of Teammates, Suzanne Hince, started the morning off with a short progress report. A laser focus on performance was immediately evident. She used a PowerPoint presentation consisting of just seven slides, six of which were titled “Dashboard Indicators.” I thought that these slides were very powerful. “Hmmm,” I said to myself, “that’s an idea worth borrowing.”

The Teammates Dashboard Indicator slides convey the important performance measures of the program quickly and simply. You don’t need a ten-minute description, you don’t have to engage intellectual afterburner to interpret a complex table or vexing chart. Here’s the progress report that impressed me: