Friday, February 26, 2010

What now?

Since yesterday's post about the Journal Star's sex offender map seems to have stimulated a fair amount of comment and an interesting dialog with sex offenders looking for a debate, I've decided to wade in even further. So, you've got a sex offender in your neighborhood, what now? I don't know what to tell you. There is a huge difference among offenders. Some aren't much of a risk at all, others are very, very worrisome. As I've often said, in my job you have to know a lot of stuff that you'd rather not know.

Not really, though. As uncomfortable as it may be, I really do want to know whether the seemingly-nice guy that is actually a sex offender is really creepy, or whether he just did something slightly creepy once, but doesn't represent a risk to others anymore. I usually know such things, because I swim in this information soup, but the general public is left to guess. I suppose you should err on the side of caution. You might look for details of the crime in the online news archives, but that's pretty hit-and-miss. You might meet the offender on your block and just ask him: just keep in mind that it is human nature for people to blame others for their misdeeds, and to paint their own conduct in the most favorable light, even if they fess up to it. Bottom dollar is that it is going to be difficult to make your own determination, unless you're willing to go to courthouse and find the trial transcripts and court documents.

Earlier this year, a friend emailed me after learning that a sex offender was moving into a residence on his block. This offender is one of the scary ones--multiple convictions in multiple jurisdictions, volatile behavior, jammed his time. Reading the reports made me cringe. I don't have a pamphlet or a PowerPoint for this circumstance, so here's the advice I gave him:

"His pattern in Lincoln has been to befriend young teenagers, primarily boys, and ply them with alcohol and pornography. I think he represents a significant risk. If he lived in my neighborhood, I would:

1. Familiarize myself with his current appearance.
2. Check the sex offender registry regularly for any address change.
3. Call the police immediately if I noticed him apparently residing at a place other than the address listed on the registry.
4. Familiarize myself with the vehicles at his address that he might drive.
5. Make sure all of my family members have seen his photograph and are also familiar with the cars he drives.
6. Warn all my family members to avoid him at all times.
7. Provide this same information to my neighbors.
8. Be watchful for any evidence of young people going into his house or hanging out with him, and report any such observations to the police.
9. Stay away from him.
10 Avoid any contact, confrontation,or conversation."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Grain of salt

I noticed this week that the Lincoln Journal Star, has joined the ranks of newspapers that are publishing maps of registered sex offenders. The data about registered sex offenders are public record, so nothing keeps anyone with a little talent from grabbing that from the State Patrol’s sex offender registry, and geocoding it for display in Google Maps.


We’ve been doing something similar in our own internal mapping applications for over a decade. I’ve never been keen on publishing this data in our public mapping applications, though, because we are not the keeper of the records: the registry is the responsibility of the Nebraska State Patrol. In recent years, though, it has become comparatively simple to use public-domain tools to geocode and map all manner of data , so I’m not surprised the newspaper has chosen to do so.

I do, however, have a few words of caution. You will note at the top of the Journal Star’s application that over 80 sex offenders in Lincoln do not appear on the map. Many of those are located in various correctional institutions, but there are several records that are just missing from the map. For example, if you zoom into 4505 Holdrege Street, you will find one offender on the Journal Star’s map. If you scroll through the sex offenders in zip code 68503 on the sex offender registry, though, you will find around 10 offenders at that address. The same thing would be true at 1009 G Street, 3700 Cornhusker Highway, 1626 D Street, and more than a dozen other addresses in Lincoln where multiple sex offenders share the same street address.

The granddaddy of them all would be 801 W. Prospector Place, where over 50 sex offenders share the same street address in the 68522 zip code, but only one push pin appears on the Journal Star’s map. Actually, they are there in the Journal Star’s data (check for the actual names in the table), they just won’t appear when you click the pin on the map because the data points are layered on top of one another. In addition, not all addresses will geocode properly, and the geocoding process itself is inherently inaccurate: it’s just an estimate of the precise location.

The greatest source of error derives from the fact that the addresses are self-reported by sex offenders. Sex offenders are highly mobile, and the number of absconders and fictitious or outdated addresses is significant. Some are homeless and have no address. Offenders have a few days to update any address changes, some fail to do so as required, and there is a certain amount of delay involved in the updating of records.

As a result, no one should ever assume that the data are complete, or completely accurate. This is not to say the information is worthless, just take it with a certain grain of salt.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


These two crime-related articles in the Omaha World Herald on Sunday caught my eye, after a coworker called them to my attention. It is incredible to me that Nebraska’s murder rate for black residents ranks as the third highest in the United States, and that the rate is 18 times greater than for white residents. It is incredible that in our State--one of the least affected by the current recession--the poverty rate for African-American residents in our largest city ranks as the 11th highest in the country. It is incredible that the high school drop out rate of black students in Nebraska is four times greater than for white students.

It is more than incredible, it is disgraceful. Such blatant disparities should cause all Americans to cringe, and to think about what we can do to assure that our country lives up to the lofty assertion our founders made: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

It should be obvious to everyone that education, income, and risk of victimization are all interconnected. We should work to ensure equal educational outcomes for all residents in Nebraska. This is the most practical way to address these disparities and ensure equal access to success, regardless of race. Attack the dropout rate, and the crime rate will follow.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Morbid curiosity

An enterprising publisher has figured out that mug shots are public record, and is scraping them from various locations (such as the newspaper) to republish in a classy $1 paper called Cuffed. I haven’t seen one yet, but a number of people have asked me about it, including this guy who emailed me last week:

Can you please tell me what's the point in embarass people who have made mistakes in their lives. Who benefits from that?

These people are ridiculed and scrutinized by friends and co-workers and for what?? Plus it's a cheap attempt to make it look like you guys are doing such a great job making arrests when really you can look at your website and see thousands of warrants that are years old that you guys have never solved. It just seems like a cheap, disingenuine attempt to praise yourselves.

I just do not get it. There has to be better things to do then print that garbage. I can only hope you guys get sued for slander when you have a typo in there which I have heard there are many of, and you incorrectly post what someone was arrested for and they sue the pants of of the Police dept. People who have been arrested have a tough enough time regrouping after their legal problems.

Please explain what or how you guys are helping anyone by attempting to embarass and humiliate people in their own community?? Great idea, Chief, you should be proud. I have made mistakes, I have tried to pay my dues and take responsibilty and learn from my mistakes. Why try and further harm people, I just don't get the logic.

The sad part is that I guarantee that should one of your friends, family members or officers ever be arrested, you will abuse your so called authority and make sure THEY don't appear in this stupid magazine. How many other cities waste time and money with this type of junk??

Save your outrage, friend. This publication has nothing whatsoever to do with the police department. I can’t imagine that enough people would blow a buck on Cuffed for its publisher to make a profit, but apparently there is some kind of fascination with such things. I’ve blogged before about the Tampa Bay mugshots site offered by the St. Petersburg Times, which, although you have to appreciate the technology, appeals to the same human characteristic that causes people to buy supermarket tabloids.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Where you are not

Where are you? Office? Meeting? Class? Lunch? Vacation? Lots of people want to know. It’s easy these days to keep others advised of your whereabouts. A local reader of the Chief’s Corner reminded me of this yesterday. Your family can follow you, you can let colleagues know how close you are to arriving, you can keep your friends up to date on your travels, all automatically.

There’s an app for that, and lots of free ones will take advantage of your new phone’s GPS capabilities to provide a feed or your current latitude and longitude. You can publish that live if you wish, or invite friends to view it. Go ahead, put a gadget on your Facebook page so readers can see your current location on a map. Even if your phone is not GPS-enabled, if you are giving regular updates on your activities via Twitter or even uploading today’s ski slope photos to Flickr, you are providing people with near-real time information about your location.

Here’s the problem: if the whole world knows where you are, it also knows where you are not--home. And that’s where your Browning Citori, Rolex Oyster Perpetual, Sony LCD television, Nintendo Wii, and the signed album cover for Midnight Ride all reside. Hope they are still there when you tweet to let your followers know that you have returned from that ski trip. I’m sure glad you didn’t let all those uncollected newspapers pile up on your porch.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The shadow knows

I had a great time yesterday hanging out with Adam. He’s a 16 year old sophomore at Lincoln East High School, and needed a job shadowing experience for his career education class. I’ve hosted other high school students in career ed classes in the past. It takes a certain amount of confidence to contact the chief of police, and I’m not about to turn down anyone who makes that effort.

We started the day with lineup and an informal staff meeting. Then we were off to the daily news media briefing. We went from there to a planning meeting with the Crime Analysis Unit, where we prepared for our monthly ACUDAT meeting. Afterwards, we took care of a few items on the “to do list” around headquarters. A short road trip followed, including a couple of cheeseburgers and fries.

Then it was back to headquarters for the ACUDAT meeting, where we examined the recent crime trends and patterns, particularly daytime residential burglaries and larcenies from auto in which wallets and purses are being stolen. We discussed the circumstances and locations where purses or wallets would typically be left in parked cars. At ACUDAT, we also did a little impromptu training on how to use our information system to search for suspects with an unusual physical description. The idea for this little demo came from an email Officer Mike Schmidt sent out recently looking for anyone who might recognize a distinctive description of a suspect in a case he’s working.

Following ACUDAT, I just had to take a glance at the bulging email inbox while Adam went through a few questions he needed to ask me on his interview list for the class assignment. We were in my office when Officer Katie Flood came in with a hot tip about the residential burglaries we had just discussed at ACUDAT. The tip came from a reporter, who had experienced something unusual at home over the weekend. We passed that information on to Capt. Kim Koluch of the Southeast Team.

I didn’t want to bore Adam to death, but I continued what I intended to be a fast look at the email. One of the messages, though, was a Threshold Alert that had just arrived, notifying me that a sexual predator had given a new address that placed him in violation of Lincoln’s municipal ordinance restriction on residency within 500 ft. of a school. This needed some immediate follow-up, so we pulled up the details on the subject in our records management system and the State sex offender Registry. Using the new Lincoln GIS viewer, we zoomed to the area, identified the parcels, adjusted the slider to turn the aerial photos on, and used the measure tool to calculate the distance from the sex offender’s lot line to the edge of the school grounds: 351.5 feet. This whole exercise took us about five minutes, and we delivered the results to Sgt. Tim Kennet on the Southwest Team for investigation.

Our next trip was to the Mayor’s Office, where I had hoped to catch chief of staff Rick Hoppe for a quick conversation, and also hoped to introduce Adam to the Mayor. Alas, they were in meetings, but around the corner at the planning department, I needed to see Jeff McReynolds, who is one of the main people behind the new GIS viewer we had just used. He enjoyed that story, and took a minute to show Adam a couple of other things in the application.

I had Adam ring his mom up and tell here there was no need to pick him up, then we went mobile and headed for home. On the way, I showed Adam some of the ways we are using mobile data in our vehicles. I discussed an idea with him that has been floating around in my head for a couple of months. I’m meeting with some researchers to pitch the concept next week, and we’ll see if we can bring it to market. Adam liked it. Hopefully he won’t run off and patent it first, now that he knows.

I don’t know about Adam, but I had a good day. I have a sneaking suspicion he did, too. He’s an outgoing guy with a very sharp mind. He was picking up on the crime analysis portion of the day instantly, and connecting those dots quickly. He also has a dry sense of humor that will serve him well. When you can kid around with the chief of police—both take it and dish it out--it’s a good sign!

By the way, Adam is the grandson of the last Lincoln police officer to be killed in the line of duty, George Welter. I’m sure his grandfather would be very proud of him

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

President’s Day

Monday was President’s Day, so I thought it might be a good week to post some information about Presidential visits to Lincoln. I remember Richard Nixon stopping by a pep rally at the Coliseum during my senior year in high school, and Gerald Ford was the commencement speaker at my college graduation a few years later. I wasn’t around, however, when President Benjamin Harrison paid a visit to Lincoln in May, 1891, and was toured about the City by Chief Dinges and his officers on horseback:


Wonder what the overtime bill for that came to.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Could be worse

We are in the process of preparing our budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year. The budget cycle lasts almost nine months these days, and it’s not exactly a time of joy and mirth. We have had a couple lean years in municipal budgeting here in Lincoln. Sometimes it is good to look around and consider the positives, though. We have not lost any positions, and in fact we were able to add four officers to our complement during the current budget year by virtue of a stimulus grant. All in all, Lincoln is doing pretty well compared to the rest of the nation, as evidenced by this article in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal.

Friday, February 12, 2010

New stuff

I had a fun speaking engagement yesterday, addressing this year's class of Fellows in Leadership Lincoln, a great program that has been helping develop civic-minded leaders in this community for 25 years. Their day long seminar this month focused on public safety, and I had a one hour slot at 9:00 AM. I had been asked to talk a little bit about new technology in policing, and I came prepared with a four-slide PowerPoint. Not only was it only four slides, the slides contained a total of nine words--and that included the title: New Stuff.

My presentation was the story of four technology developments either recently implemented or in progress at LPD. Nothing particularly dramatic, but all current, and all significant. I took along my favorite prop as an ice breaker, then proceeded to cover topics that I've hit on before here in the Chief's Corner: ALPR, the Crimestoppers blog, the Omega Dashboard, Threshold Alerts, and the general concept of using push in information systems, rather than pull. I also briefed the Fellows on our digital evidence project (a topic for a future blog post), and an idea that popped into my head a couple of months ago I hope to be working on soon--also a topic for a future post (I hope.) Leadership Lincoln Fellows are always bright, engaged, energetic and thoughtful. Interacting with the class is a bright spot of upbeat energy.

Ditto for our own "fellows," and my week had started out on Monday in the classroom at the Lincoln Police Academy, teaching my regular full day class to the recruits on Information Resources--a nice warm up for this chat with the Leadership Lincoln class.

Speaking of the recruits, when I started doing this class several years ago, I used to ask everyone at the beginning: "Who had an email address of their own before we hired you?" This was my way of getting a quick feel for the level of technology comfort and experience of the students. The question seems rather absurd today. Now, I ask: "Who does not have a broadband Internet connection at home?" Not a single hand went up among the 18 students. I was, however, surprised that a few people raised their hand when I asked: "Does anyone have a land line telephone?"

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Flying Hoover?

I can't make this stuff up...

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Scams of all kinds

The world wide web is the wild west of scams. I blogged last year about some of the circumstances in which scam artists tried (and sometimes succeeded) to relieve Lincoln residents of their cash. A new one to our vicinity surfaced recently, but it is well-known. The first report of this in Lincoln I am aware of was made by a local property owner on January 26.

This one targets people who are seeking places to rent in online listings, such as craigslist. The thief finds a online real estate listing, often of foreclosed homes set for auction, then poses as the owner of the property in an online ad, and claims to have the property for rent. The property actually exists, so if the victim looks it up on the local real estate site, the information is there, and matches the “for rent” ad. The scammer can scrape real data and even photos from the auction or real estate listing to bolster the victim’s confidence. The not-really-the-owner claims that he or she is out of the country for a few years, and is seeking to rent the place. All the victim needs to do is wire the damage deposit and the first months rent to a destination in someplace like London.

All the contacts are via email, and the thief may use an email address that is some derivation of the actual owner’s name. When I see or hear about these kinds of things, one of the first things I do is to simply Google the keywords: in this case I used craigslist house for rent scam. Many of the results that this returned read almost the same as the narrative in Officer Aaron Beasley’s Incident Report.

This case came to light when the real owner of the property starts receiving phone calls from prospective renters seeking more information. These are people who have done their due diligence—they’ve gone beyond the online ad, found the owner’s information and placed a phone call instead of relying only on the email address in the “for rent” ad. Good for them.

Many of these scams are virtually untraceable, as the trail normally often leads to someplace like Nigeria. I know this is frustrating for the property owner who’s good name is besmirched, but we just don’t have the resources to devote a team of technical investigators to international travel in order to lance at windmills.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Compliments received

The complaints seem common, when in fact the compliments are far more frequent. It’s good to listen to the criticism (to pick out any grains of truth) but it’s also important to focus on the positive. Over the weekend, two landed in my inbox that were particularly gratifying. The first concerned the work of one of our officers on a missing person case. I had spotted the reports on this one a week ago, and sent a note to the investigating officer and her supervisors about the quality of the investigation that was reflected in the reports. This weekend, the family of the missing person sent me an email expressing their thanks. They were genuinely impressed with the level of effort they sensed from the department—something they hadn’t really anticipated. I’m not comfortable with reposting the content here, but the second weekend compliment is suitable for these pages:

“Hello LPD, Last night my husband accidently left our garage door open in the Thompson Creek area in south Lincoln. At about 3 AM a police office rang our door bell to let us know that we needed to close our garage door. THANK YOU x 1 million!! Thanks for keeping your eye out on our neighborhood and for bringing a this simple mistake, which could have been devastating, to our attention!!! I cannot thank you enough for keeping our neighborhood safe!! Keep up the amazing work - know that you are greatly appreciated for all that you do!!”

The author of this nice email may not have realized that this contact is part of a strategy that has been particularly effective in driving down residential burglaries in Lincoln.

This kind of feedback is certainly appreciated. In police work, you deal with an awful lot of negativity, and officers need to be reminded from time to time that the good work they do is appreciated immensely by the vast majority of people we serve. Last week, Officer Lacey Schwochow certainly made an impression!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Hiding in plain sight

Regular readers of the Chief’s Corner know that I have a keen interest in history, and from time to time post stories about artifacts around the police station. A couple of months ago, for one reason or another, I noticed the demise of the phone booth in Lincoln. I just couldn’t find one. I wanted to snap a photo to preserve the history, but despite keeping an eye peeled on my normal routes of travel, I had no luck.

Last Thursday, I jokingly mentioned this on my monthly radio show with Dale Johnson, at KFOR radio. The lines lit up, and in short order citizens clued me in to the location of a handful. One of those, it turns out, is on the northeast corner of N. 27th and Holdrege Streets—directly across from the Lincoln Police Department’s Center Team station. I’ve only driven by this a few thousand times. There it was, hiding in plain sight.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Business robberies

Two crimes that are especially low in Lincoln are robbery and auto theft. I’ve blogged before about the unusually small number of stick-ups we have, for a City of 252,000. While the overall robbery rate is very low, the number of business robberies is even lower.

The first business robbery of the 2010 was on January 6, when a Super C convenience store was held up. The frustrated robber got no loot at all. We almost made it through the first month with a single business robbery, but during the wee hours on January 31st, we had our second business robbery of the year, at a Kwik Shop convenience store. The criminal committed a Class II Felony, punishable by up to fifty years in prison, that netted somewhere around $20—a pretty typical score in a convenience store robbery.

In 2009, there were a total of 42 robberies of businesses in Lincoln. By comparison, our big brother a few miles to the northeast experienced 205 robberies of businesses in 2009.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Recruit blog

The idea was hatched by a group of University of Nebraska advertising students, in the spring of 2008. One of the two teams who took us on as their customer suggested, as part of their marketing plan, a blog about police academy training. It was one of many ideas developed by the class, several of which are now reflected in our recruitment materials and our web site.

blogthumb This one took a few months to take flight, as our newest class of 18 officers was assembled. It is a blog about the police academy by the class members. I think it will be a great way for young people to learn a little bit about our profession. It is also going to be an engaging read for anyone thinking about applying at LPD, or applicants already in the process. Even members of the public at large will be interested in the weekly account of the police academy training.

Team BallyHoo gets the credit for the concept, Officer Katie Flood for the technical/artistic work on the web page, and Police Trainee Jeff Schwartz for being the first recruit out of the chute with his account of week two. Other bloggers from the current class will continue giving us a glimpse into the academy over the next 17 weeks leading up to graduation day.

Monday, February 1, 2010

History of dance

The topic of Lincoln’s dance ordinances dominated my blog last week, despite the fact that I have little to do with the issue. Nonetheless, the question of where these ordinances originated intrigued me, because I knew that the Lincoln police department had been checking dance halls for a long, long time. Our old police blotters have regular entries about this. So, I started digging.

throwthebookThis book is a decoration on a bookshelf in my office. I rescued it from the trash bin when we moved from 233 S. 10th Street to our present headquarters ten years ago. It is a daily log written by police matron Edith Rickard from April 1, 1937 until February 14, 1941. That’s her in the lower right corner of the 1938 group photo. A police matron functioned much like a police officer—but was probably paid significantly less—and handled the female prisoners, family offenses, and other unmentionables of the time. Part diary, part timesheet, she recounts what she did, who she encountered, who was in the female wing of the slammer, and other minutia of daily life. It’s sort of like my blog. On the inside of the front page, she wrote a note:

Names for Indian Hemp, a plant growing wild in backyards, along streams;

One of Ms. Rickard’s most common daily activities is visiting Lincoln’s dance halls. At the time, the action centered at VanAndel’s, 9th & M Streets; the Garden, 1018 P Street; and the Rosewilde, at 1122 P Street. Ms. Rickard records in scrupulous detail, noting the “necking,” “petting,” “spiking” of soda pop, “promiscuous actions”, the good and bad orchestras, the busy nights and the slow nights. It is a fascinating narrative. The stories of destitute “sleepers” in the jail, victims of domestic violence and child abuse, a dust storm, drunks, mental illness, tuberculosis, and violence, are interspersed with her lunch break, often taken at George’s Cafe. Here are a few of her observations:

1936 Tuesday, June 8

11:15 Leaving for public dances. The Garden, average attendance. Mrs. Shaw, Dorothy’s mother, introduced herself to me. Had consulted County Attorney & City Attorney and they did not know of any laws covering the attendance at dance halls of young girls without their mothers or a parent.

1937 Saturday, May 8

10:15 The Garden and hundreds in attendance. Much confusion, pop taken into men’s rest, etc. Mrs. Dennis came to me about her 14 year old daughter coming to the dances without her mother. I have no right to change any orders I have received and told her so. I know what I was given as a working basis. I am not a chaperone for any one’s children. Am on my job, I believe!

11:00 Was leaving for Rosewilde when detained by dance officials; but she ran into the rest room and when I got in there she had left by the way of the fire escape opening off the rest room. Oh!

1938 Wednesday, February 16

Sent with Sgt. Paulson: Patrolman McKinney detaining a drunken women. Sgt. had found her and called McKinney to help. She would not go upstairs, so he came for the matron. We got her to the cell, and then after the men were gone she began to show signs of sickness. Did succeed in getting her to erp in the toilet. Oh my, I didn’t want the lunch I had brought. My lungs are filled with the smell of foulness and liquor. I sure need a cigarette, but am out of them. These night drunks are awful.

By Christmas of 1940, Matron Rickard is snagging minors out of dance halls on a regular basis. It appears that problems such as those of Ms. Shaw in controlling her daughter Dorothy, Mrs. Dennis with her 14 year-old, and the lack of any applicable laws as noted by the County and City Attorneys had been remedied sometime thereafter, and dance permits now required the exclusion of minors.