Monday, November 30, 2009

Black Friday shoplifting

We've all been told that the Friday after Thanksgiving is the peak shopping day of the holiday season. I wondered whether it might be the peak shoplifting day, as well. Alas, not even close. Interestingly, the peak day for 2009 was January 2nd, with 11. Black Friday's 6 reported shoplifting cases would be sixth numerically, but there are a lot of dates tied with 10, 9, 8, and 7.

Shoplifters on Black Friday ripped of bracelets from the Buckle, rum from Russ's Market, jeans from Sears, a Marie Osmond wallet from Four Star, a sweater from Von Maur, and a portable 7" TV from Kohl's.

Kohl's, by the way, must have opened awfully early on Friday. The shoplifting case was the first of the day, reported at 4:44 AM. The early bird gets the worm.

Friday, November 27, 2009

While the Packers were winning

In keeping with this holiday tradition, a few one-liners from Thanksgiving day's dispatches:


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

LA take away

I have one more post about my side trip to Los Angeles late last week for an NIJ-sponsored meeting on predictive policing. One of the reasons the concepts of predictive policing are being widely adopted, even if the phrase itself does work its way into the lexicon, deals with the realities of municipal budgets. Virtually every city is dealing with a budget crises to one degree or another, and the consensus of opinion is that it is not just a short term issue: it is the new normal.

One of my fellow panelists in LA, San Francisco Chief George Gascon, described the conundrum. He pointed out that police and fire services are consuming an increasing percentage of the total municpal budget, while parks, pools, libraries, and other municipal services have been decimated. Strictly from a budgetary standpoint, we are becoming a police state. It is unsustainable in California. To a lesser extent, this is also true in Lincoln, where, despite our small size, the police department and fire department are becoming a larger wedge in the budget pie every year as the rest of municipal government shrinks. Chief Gascon opined that the use of analysis to better target resources is an imperative to keep the cost of policing at a level citizens are willing to support.

The good news here in Lincoln is that we are already doing an effective job of smart policing. We serve this City at a very low cost per capita, without sacrificing quality. Many police departments could learn a lot from our use of information, problem-oriented policing, prioritization, and prevention strategies as methods to maintain high productivity without breaking the municipal bank.

Last Thursday, the attendees at the predictive policing meeting toured LAPD’s new headquarters building, and their $107 million real-time crime center. The facilities are impressive, and the efforts underway to use analytics and information to improve police services are apparent. I came away, however, with a very positive feeling that even though we may not have the impressive video wall that LAPD’s RACR boasts, we take a back seat to no one in our ability to get actionable information into the hands of our personnel, and to work creatively to provide police services in an efficient and effective way. We should always, though, be on the lookout for ways to improve even further, and open to considering new ways of doing business.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Predictive policing

Predictive policing is a phrase that is beginning to gather more and more usage in our field. It will be in the news even more, because it is being touted as the next big thing. I was among a group of practitioners and researchers invited to Los Angeles late last week by the National Institute of Justice for a conference on predictive policing. I served on a three-chief panel with Jim Bueermann from Redlands, CA, and George Gascon, from San Francisco to discuss what chief's expect to emerge from predictive policing.

In a nutshell, predictive policing is the practice of using data and analysis to predict future police problems and implement strategies to either prevent or ameliorate those problems. It borrows from the principals of problem-oriented policing, information-led policing, hot spot policing, community policing, situational crime prevention, evidence-based policing, and intelligence-led policing. Can you tell that we have a penchant for catch phrases in policing?

What distinguishes predictive policing from other paradigms is the emphasis on using analysis to anticipate problems--rather than responding to problems after they have occurred. At the simplest level, this might mean using crime analysis to determine the likely patterns of drive-by shootings, then deploying police officers to the areas and at the times these are most likely to occur in order to preempt the crime. At a more complex level, it might mean watching the trends in the spot copper price, and implementing strategies (such as legislation and scrap business monitoring) to reduce the marketability of stolen copper in advance of an anticipated spike in thefts.

None of this is exactly new, but predictive policing is gaining some steam because of the huge influx of data into police work, and our increasing ability to use these data to not only find existing trends and patterns, but to anticipate new ones. We know, for example, well in advance what the proliferation of a hot product like portable GPS devices will mean. When a new nightclub is planned, we can anticipate the impact on crime and police problems. You could build a pretty effective mathematical model to anticipate what happens when 500,000 square feet of retail space is developed, or when 600 two bedroom apartment units are built, because we have lots and lots of data about what goes on in similar situations.

Business has been using these analytics and models for a long time to make decisions: it's not just chance that there's a new Walgreen's on the corner, and Starbucks didn't just throw a dart at the map when deciding where to locate that new store. In policing, we are just starting to use our data to anticipate police problems. We are babes in the woods compared to the private sector.

Whether the predictive policing moniker persists and becomes part of the fabric of policing remains to be seen. There are all sorts of labels out there, some are a flash in the pan, some with great staying power. You might see articles, books, grant solicitations, and conferences galore on predictive policing. Conversely, the term might fade from use rather quickly. Regardless of whether the label gets sticky or not, these concepts are here to stay. Police departments will continue to improve in their ability to analyze data and formulate strategies based on these analyses.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Quite a night

A few weeks ago, reporter Deena Winter asked me if she could spend a shift with one of our downtown officers. Officer Chris Vigil got the assignment, and the result was this article in yesterday’s Sunday Lincoln Journal Star.

It’s good for citizens to get a glimpse into the world their police officers encounter on game days—or for that matter on about any Thursday, Friday, or Saturday. It helps build support for the police, and creates a little greater understanding about the challenges we encounter. While most LPD officers are Husker fans just like other Nebraskans, the experience of game days is not quite the same for a police officer in downtown Lincoln as it is for the fans.

Police experience taxed my loyalty to my alma mater. Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, I worked every home game for 13 consecutive seasons. When I finally had the seniority to do so, I swore that I would never darken the door at Memorial Stadium voluntarily. For about a decade, I kept that pledge. When I finally returned, I learned that the experience as a spectator with a ticket can actually be rather pleasant. I must admit, though, that I don’t feel entirely disappointed when I must enjoy the game in the man cave at home.

I salute the officers who endure the long, trying, and tiresome day of a Nebraska home football game. They put up with all manner of abuse and deal with some of the worst behavior imaginable by otherwise “law-abiding” citizens. It takes a thick skin, a cool head, and more patience than you can imagine.

Go big red.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Big drop

In yesterday's post, I suggested making a table of thefts from vehicles from 2002 through 2008. If anyone did so, you noticed a dramatic drop--a trend I've blogged about before. This is one of the offenses that is most likely to victimize your average Lincoln resident, and it is nothing to snarf about: the dollar loss, damage, and inconvenience is huge. So a reduction of this magnitude represents a very nice result for the citizens of Lincoln. Here's what that would look like on a chart:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Teachable moment

Rita, a teacher at one of our local public high schools, emailed me earlier this week. Monday’s post Roll your own statistics caught her eye. She told me that she was a regular reader of my blog, and had gathered some of our data to create a project for the students in the computer applications class she teaches. She wondered whether I would be interested in seeing the assignment.

Are you kidding? Of course, I was interested. She sent the assignment along in her next email, and jokingly offered to grade my work if I completed the assignment. Now, how in the world could I pass that up? I skipped lunch, and did the assignment.

The students (and me) were given two years’ data by month on thefts from vehicles—one of our most common and significant crimes. The job was to format an Excel spreadsheet, and create a graph comparing the trends in 2008 and 2009. In order to complete the project, students would have to apply some basic Excel skills: create a new workbook, enter data, merge cells, insert rows, format cells, copy cells, calculate formulae, and design and format a line graph. It made a nice project for students with basic Excel skills moving towards the intermediate level.

The best part, though, was the “thought question” at the end of the assignment sheet: “What are some of the most effective strategies that can be used to avoid being the victim of this crime?” I gave Rita my lengthy list, but what I really liked was the idea of high school students—frequent victims of this crime—thinking about the things they can do to protect their car and their stuff. That’s a teachable moment, and I hope she is able to amuse the students in her class with the story of the police chief completing the same assignment they worked through.

P.S. Just for fun, make yourself a table of thefts from vehicles from 2002 to 2008, and look at the annual totals. That’s an eye-opener.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Nice new design

Yesterday's post about City and County merger had me off to do a little research. I needed to get the correct year that Manhattan, Ogden, and Riley County Kansas merged their law enforcement agencies. I went to their web site, where I knew there was a history page. The Riley County Police Department has visited Lincoln a few times in recent months. I noticed that their web site has recently been redesigned. Look familiar? In the interest of full disclosure, we took some inspiration from the Sacramento Police. Nice job!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Can't blame them for asking

During the Q & A after my speech at last week's Chamber of Commerce luncheon, I was asked a question that has repeatedly been posed to me for the past 20 years or so: "Would it be feasible to merge the police department with the sheriff's office?" The answer, of course, is "Yes." You could merge the police department and the library system if you wanted to. Whether it would be a brilliant idea is another matter. As the only person around who has served as both Lincoln's police chief and the Lancaster County sheriff, it's probably not unusual that people would ask me.

The merger question is usually posed by business groups, because their members are often conscious of what stuff costs, and thinking about what efficiencies might be achieved in government. More broadly, people sometimes ask if it wouldn't be possible to simply merge City and County government. Personally, I think this is always something that elected officials should examine and think about. There are potential advantages and disadvantages, but in a time of falling government resources, it is particularly important to consider all options. We already have a few merged City-County agencies: the Personnel, Information Services, Planning, and Health, for example.

Most people are not aware that the police department and sheriff's office have already merged several of our functions. Over the past 30 years some of the high cost support services of the police department and sheriff's office were combined: computer systems, evidence, physical facilities, communications. These are major cost centers, and have saved a boat load of cash. Whether these two agencies should be completely merged is the question.

LPD and LSO have decidedly different missions: services to courts, extradition, and civil process are major functions at the sheriff's office that have no corollary at the police department. On the positive side, I think there are some dollars to be saved by merger--primarily in the form of fewer management positions that would be necessary if the two agencies became one. On the negative side, I am concerned that the services to residents of Lancaster County's small towns, villages, and rural areas might deteriorate: the bright lights of the City would almost inevitably drag the officers towards the incidents that are filling dispatcher's queue screens. When I was sheriff, keeping the patrol deputies on their districts and outside of the City of Lincoln was a challenge: merge the agencies, and the workload of the big city will draw on the resources that would otherwise be in Hallam, Kramer, Davey; on Highway 77, 33, 43, 34, 2, and so forth.

Fully-merged countywide police agencies are not entirely uncommon, but they are normally found in large metro areas where a single city is essentially consuming an entire county: Las Vegas Metro Police was a merger between the Las Vegas Police and the Clark County Sheriff. Indianapolis and Marian County became Indianapolis Metropolitan Police, Charlotte and Mecklenberg County became the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police. In the midwest, Manhattan, Ogden, and Riley County Kansas became the Riley County Police clear back in 1974.

Is it feasible? Yes. Is it a good idea? That's more a political decision than an operational one. I can't blame anyone for asking.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Roll your own statistics

You can get your own crime statistics easily on our web site, by specifying the time period and the offenses you are interested in. I believe that Clair Lindquist, our IT whiz, built this about six or seven years ago.It's a nice little utility, that probably is helpful to a lot of students, in particular. Internally, you can get a little more detail with a more robust version of the same application that breaks down the data by police command areas (we call them Teams.)

I noticed a few months ago that the Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice (AKA the Crime Commission) has deployed a similar applications on their public web site. It's really quite powerful. You can custom produce tables of offense data, arrest statistics, and crime rates. By clicking agencies while holding down the Ctrl key, you can select several agencies for comparison. This allows you to perform some interesting analysis.

There are several other databases and statistical reports available from the Crime Commission's statistics page. It is an excellent statewide resource.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Uplifting experience

I made a quick trip to Atchison, KS yesterday, home of Benedictine College. I spoke with Dr. Kevin Bryant's Criminology 463 class: Policing and Social Control. Several of the students and Dr. Bryant took me to lunch on campus, and then it was off to the classroom, where around 35 students were gathering. They have been peppering me with emailed questions (at my request) for the past couple of weeks, so I engaged in speed-talking to try to address each of those, so we could leave time for some more open-ended Q&A. After class, several students without schedule conflicts stayed around for a Diet Coke and informal discussion.

For me, it was a uplifting experience. These were very engaged students. I talked to two in particular who seem to be quite interested in policing generally, and Lincoln specifically. If we fit into someone's later career plans after college, that would certainly justify the day out of the office. I also received a follow-up email from a student last night that made me feel great. Sometimes you say something to someone at the right time, and apparently I had inadvertently done so.

Atchison proved to be a little further than I thought, but I'm glad I made the trek. I accepted the invitation because one of the students asked. I thought the voice sounded familiar when he called me, and then he confirmed that he is the son of a deputy sheriff I hired many years ago, who is now in Federal service. I had a hard time accepting that his son could be old enough to be in college. He's a 6'3" 292 offensive lineman on Benedictine's football team, and a spitting image of his dad--who must be awfully proud. Thanks, Steve. Go Ravens!

I took the back way home, Kansas Highway 7, hugging the Missouri River north to White Cloud where you leave the river and Kansas behind. It was a nice fall afternoon in the heart of the harvest, windows down, music up.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tuesday and Wednesday

Tuesday at 10:00 AM, the Glendale, CA police department’s command staff, Glendale Information Technology Department, and the City Manager’s Office joined me for a web conference. It was a follow-up to a previous get together I had conducted with a smaller group at Glendale. Apparently, they wanted a bigger group to see what we are doing to get actionable information into the hands of our police employees.

We have our regular weekly staff meeting at the Lincoln Police Department on Tuesday mornings at 8:10 AM, so I invited my management staff to stick around if they wished, for the Glendale web conference. Most were able to do so, and we had the unusual situation of two police management staffs in two similar conference rooms separated by 1,700 miles engaged in a joint meeting for two hours. It seemed to have everyone engaged and interested, so I think it was productive on both ends.

Wednesday was a National holiday, but that didn’t stop the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce from having their monthly “Face the Chamber” luncheon. I was the grillee. At my last appearance, I caused a bit of a dust up. The government reporter from the Lincoln Journal Star emailed me earlier in the week, asking what I intended to talk about. She was probably wondering whether I intended to stick my foot in my mouth again this year, so she could decide if it would be worth covering. I told her that I wouldn’t really know what I would be talking about until I started speaking, but that it would probably be something about crime statistics and trends, blah, blah, blah.

Then I had a better idea: I talked about a topic I’ve covered here on several occasions: why it’s getting tougher and tougher to get away with many kinds of crime. I even took along a prop in a grocery sack to pull out while talking about one aspect of this phenomenon. I walked one member of the audience through his day thus far, pointing out all the breadcrumbs he had dropped before noon. You just can’t fly to Argentina anymore to visit your mistress and claim you were hiking on the Appalachian Trail.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

National security

Happy Veterans Day to all current and former members of the armed forces. Thank you for your service.

Did you catch this national news story late last week? A good article about this ran in the Lincoln Journal Star last Friday, but I can’t find the link at the moment. Basically, a group of retired military brass have formed a group called Mission: Readiness that is very similar to a coalition of law enforcement leaders I belong to called Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. The generals have the same goal of convincing Americans of the value in supporting early childhood education, quality child care, and support for parenting.

Mission: Readiness released this report last week, revealing that 75% of young people between the ages of 17 and 24 are ineligible for military service due to a variety of issues. The top three reasons are inadequate education, criminal records and physical fitness issues such as obesity and asthma. One in four are high school dropouts. One in ten have acquired a disqualifying criminal conviction—or several. It is a national disgrace.

The retired generals, admirals, and civilian military leaders have concluded that the best way to ensure an adequate supply of qualified recruits is to support early childhood education. Several thousand of my fellow police chiefs, sheriffs, and chief prosecutors also believe that early childhood education is one of the best ways to fight crime.

Long term solutions are always a tough sell, but when your military and law enforcement leaders are united in an issue like this, it should cause citizens and decision-makers to sit up and take notice. It’s a matter of national security.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Check that plate

We are right on the verge of launching our Automated License Plate Reader system in two police vehicles. In preparation, we have been fine tuning a process for creating and loading a database for the ALPR system to check against. We obtained a dump of six months data on wanted vehicles from NCIC—the National Crime Information Center. I was quite surprised by the number of stolen license plates contained in this national file, so out of curiosity I ran a query of my own this morning on stolen plates this year in Lincoln.

So far in 2009, we have had 225 stolen license plate cases reported to the Lincoln Police Department. In a bit over half the cases (134) both the front and rear plates were stolen. In the remainder, only one plate was taken. There are probably a few cases where a plate simply fell off, but not very many. Our officers encounter stolen plates on a fairly regular basis, but once those ALPR units are in service, that number will certainly increase.

I’m hoping someone locates this plate, stolen from a visitor over the weekend. I suspect, however, that it is adorning a wall somewhere, rather than a bumper, a criminal souvenir of this Saturday night fracas.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Close call

It was a busy weekend for the Lincoln Police Department, with 1,281 dispatched incidents on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. A Nebraska home football game and perfect weather will do that.

The biggest event from the week was shortly before game time on Saturday, when one of our officers was sent to a disturbance in the northeast Lincoln apartment parking lot. He arrived to find two stolen cars pulled up alongside one another, heading in opposite directions. In the ensuing attempt by the drivers to get away, one fleeing vehicle struck a parked car then the driver's side of the officers cruiser. The officer had dismounted, and fired at the oncoming stolen car. The driver, wanted on misdemeanor warrant and felony warrants, was struck in the left arm. Despite being shot, he fled from the scene in the stolen car but was arrested a short time later at an address a couple miles away.

Without getting too far into the details of the case, here is what happens when a Lincoln police officer is involved in an incident where he or she discharges a firearm in a use of force situation. The Criminal Investigations Team conducts an investigation of the incident. Their job is to document the facts for any potential criminal charges. Their investigation revolves around interviews with the principals and witnesses, collection of physical evidence, and careful documentation of the scene. In this case, the driver was arrested for a variety of felonies. Further investigation is also underway to identify the driver of the second stolen car.

In addition to the investigation by the Criminal Investigations Team, the LPD Internal Affairs Unit also conducts a separate and distinct investigation. The purpose of this second investigation is to determine if the use of force by the officer complies with the department's policies. Internal Affair's job is to assess the facts and circumstances of the case against the standards established in General Order 1510-Use of Force, and report their findings to me.

In a case where an officer has shot a person, the officer will be placed on administrative leave for the next few days, which (in conjunction with his or her days off) will ordinarily provide Internal Affairs with about a week in which to conduct this review. While a longer period of time might be needed, I can never recall this being the case--perhaps because these are very rare events in Lincoln. After I receive information from Internal Affairs, I will make a decision on the officer's duty status.

Fortunately, the officer was uninjured from this harrowing event. I spoke with him last night, and despite being sleep deprived, he seems to be dealing with these events as well as can be expected. The suspect will recover from his wound, and will eventually be jailed when he is ready to be released from the hospital. This was a close call for all involved, but the positive result is that a felony and misdemeanor warrant apprehension occurred, and a stolen vehicle was recovered.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Interesting events

I’ve had a couple of evening engagements this week that have been interesting. The first was Tuesday night at Pius X High School, where I spoke for about 45 minutes to a group of around 100 parents. I gave them some of my usual advice about some of the risks that teens face, and what parents can do to minimize those.

One of the interesting things about this visit to me was to briefly reflect with the audience on how things have changed. I think most people think that drugs, sex, alcohol are all much worse today. My perspective is different: I think it’s actually a little bit better—at least in this age group. Why do I think that? Two sources: data, and anecdote. The data comes from sources like the UNL Omnibus survey, and from the Lincoln/Lancaster County Youth Behavior Risk Survey. The anecdotes comes from many years of reviewing job applicants’ background investigations and polygraphs exams. I think you really get a feel for the bad things that basically good people have done.

Don’t get me wrong, the world is still a prickly place for teenageers, I just happen to believe that it is ever-so-slightly less scary today than a decade or two ago. One of the glaring exceptions to that is the whole range of new risks posed by young people (not to mention adults) leaving all sorts of indelible markings about their indiscretions in the bits and bytes that will never go away.

The second was Wednesday night, when I was a guest at Dr. John Bender’s class, Journalism 414: Government Controls of Information. It’s a once-a-week class, and a small one, so I had plenty of time to dialog with the students. They are reading a couple of books for the class that are on my list: David Simon’s Homicide: Life on the Killing Streets, and John Grisham’s lone non-fiction work: The Innocent Man.

I did my duty by passing on the obligatory information about the kinds of public records that police agencies keep, some of the things you can potentially learn from this information or do with it as a reporter, and where to go looking for it. But I most enjoyed chatting with them about these two books, and recommending another Grisham novel, Playing for Pizza. An airline flight attendant recommended it to me while I was dallying in a terminal bookstore on my way to Seattle last year. Hardly your average Grisham page-turner, I enjoyed it tremendously, and it made me hungry.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

No one is immune

Over the weekend (Friday night from 5:00 PM until Monday morning at 5:00 AM) we arrested 40 drunk drivers. That’s a big number, and I suspect it is a single-weekend record, or close to it. Our Friday night-Saturday morning checkpoint was responsible for three of the total, and produced lots of evidence of partiers using designated drivers. Looks like plenty of people missed the message, though.

Halloween has become a popular drinking holiday, and since it fell on a Saturday, the Stars the the Moon had aligned for a big night. We had extra personnel focusing on DWI—of all violent crimes the one that is most preventable by law enforcement. Hats off to all the officers who snagged a drunk driver. You are preventing property damage, injury, and even death by doing so.

Unfortunately, not all drunk drivers were caught before the had victimized others. Drunk drivers were involved in three weekend traffic crashes. No one is immune from the risk posed by drunks behind the wheel. At about 1:40 AM on Saturday morning, a Honda Civic blew through the stop light at S. 13th and Washington Streets and plowed into a Lincoln police patrol car. Officer Jennifer Witzel was treated at the hospital and released, but will be a sore puppy as a result. The damage to the police car was over $5,000, and the Honda was totaled. The driver, 22 years of age, tested over twice the legal limit. Too bad we didn’t get her before she got us.