Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Hazards of the job

This Incident Report has been lightly edited to protect the identity—of the officer, that is.  Where’s the OC spray when you need it?


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

You haven’t actually won

Used up the proper title previously, but we’ve had something of a rash of lottery scam frauds here lately.  I’m always amazed at the people who get taken in by this, but I suppose if you make a hundred thousand phone calls, you will hit the jackpot every now and then.

Officer Rob Brenner handled an attempt earlier this month, in which the victim received a phone call notifying her that she had won $1.5 million.  She hadn’t entered any lotteries, but the caller told her that she had been automatically entered just for paying her utility bills on time.  Wow, who knew!  All she needed to do was send the $150 processing fee to Mr. Anderson in Jamaica---no doubt the first installment.

Here’s the good part:  Officer Brenner redialed the caller, and had a little chat, identifying himself as a police officer.  During the conversation, the scam artist tried to talk the officer into sending the $150 on behalf of the victim-winner!  Rob declined, but he did offer to go to Jamaica personally for some follow-up, if I would foot the bill for travel.  I think I will pass on that.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Idea to share

I have a great idea to share with other police departments, but it’s not my idea.  Detective Sergeant Jim Breen came up with it, and Officer Katie Flood made it happen.  Here’s the story: a couple weeks ago, we busted up a burglary ring that had been quite prolific.  After the search warrants were served, we had a huge volume of household goods of all kinds: clothing, jewelry, cameras, electronics, and so forth.  These are obviously ill-gotten goods, but with a few exceptions we have no idea where it it all came from. We would like to get this property back to the rightful owners, and we would also like to tie these suspects to other unsolved burglaries.

The normal process of accomplishing this is a laborious process of contacting victims of similar crimes, and trying to arrange for them to come have a look at the mounds of property that we suspect is stolen.  It’s incredibly time consuming, inconvenient, and inefficient for both officers and victims.  Sgt. Breen asked Officer Flood if she could create a web archive of digital photos.  He and his colleagues laid out some of the most-likely-to-be-identified items, and took the photos.  Katie created a menu structure of categories, and tagged over 600 photos up for a web page. 

About two days’ labor was involved in this, but the process of getting the goods identified has now been vastly streamlined, and there’s a terrific return on investment for this effort.  Since these kinds of cases occur several times a year in agencies of our size, I thought this might be a good concept to share with other police departments who face the same daunting task from time to time. 

Here’s a couple of screen shots.  The URL is not published, though—we want victims looking for their property, without tempting uninvited visitors trying to claim something enticing.

image image

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Blue street map

A reader yesterday posted a comment requesting a visual representation of the private streets in Lincoln (those with the blue street signs), so here it is. Please forgive the absence of a scale bar and north arrow, I was in a hurry.  The map makes the point from yesterday's post: there really are a lot of them, and the number is growing. You can click the map for a larger view.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Distracted driving

The Nebraska Legislature has been pontificating this week about the problem of distracted driving.  Legislative Bill 945 advanced on a first- round vote Monday.  The bill prohibits texting-while-driving: composing, sending or reading text messages, emails, web pages, and so forth while driving.  My personal favorite in this category occurred three years ago. Back in May of 2007 I reported here in the Chief's Corner my observation of a driver at 9th and South Streets in Lincoln who was brushing his teeth. 

Not that I'm opposed to good oral hygiene, but there sure is a lot of bad driving out there. Like everyone else it seems to me that I see a lot of lane-straddling weavers driving like ding-a-lings driving 10 MPH under the limit, only to pull up alongside and notice the driver yammering on the cellphone.  And don't get me started about the aggressive driving.  I hear from people all the time complaining about speeders, red light runners, tooth brushers, and big talkers.  It seems to me that bad driving is epidemic. 

Or is it?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Twenty five and counting

Included in  the good police work that’s been going on this week at LPD was a little case yesterday that mostly flew under the radar, because their were bigger fish to fry.  Omaha’s KETV ran a short snippet about it.  Officer Jason Hellmuth and Officer Matt Voss nabbed this suspect in the act just after midnight.  At the 0735 lineup, Capt. Jim Davidsaver mentioned it during his briefing. 

I thought the name sounded familiar.  I remembered that Officer Jim Ashley sent me an email a few days ago about this man.  Jim had arrested him on March 8 for driving under a suspended license.  The defendant was jailed and appeared for arraignment the next day, where he pled guilty and was sentenced to a $50 fine, which he sat out in jail. 

Given the fact that we arrested 2,984 people for driving under suspension last year, another one isn’t especially noteworthy.  Officer Ashley sent me an email, though, because he thought the $50 fine was noteworthy, in light of the fact that this was the man’s 25th conviction for DUS.  His DUS convictions are from Lancaster (17), York (4), Seward (2), Sarpy (1) and Cass (1) Counties.  Needless to say, he is uninsured.

I don’t know what to do about criminals like this.  Going to jail is just part of his lifestyle, and the fine is pretty meaningless if he sits it out.  I’ve always thought that after a couple of DUS convictions, we should arrest the car you were driving.  I don’t care if it belongs to your brother, your mother, or Enterprise—at some point it ought to belong to the people of Nebraska, so that you are relieved of the instrumentality of your crime, at least until you can drum up a new weapon.

This guy would be a good one to keep in mind if you are ever wondering whether to spend a few extra bucks on the uninsured motorist coverage.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

By popular demand

Some anonymous armchair critic in the comments to my Tuesday post accused me of writing about technology too much. The technophobic critic wants me to blog about:
“1) What is the hiring process really like? What gets you bumped? What gets you hired?
2) Thoughts on private investigators? Shady or respectable?
3) What about jurisdictional issues with so many LE agencies around?
4) Anything but a new app, chart, table, dashboard, etc.”
So, here you are:

1)  The details of the process are described online.  The only part that isn’t is the last mile: narrowing down the long list.  I use a hiring review panel of a dozen employees of all ranks. They pore over the files of the applicants who make it all the way through the tests.  Then we meet together, and I decide (largely based on their advice) who moves on.  We’re going to have around 600 applicants for the less-than-ten slots in our fall academy class, so it is intensely competitive.  What gets you bumped?  Lying on your application or in your interviews. Domestic violence. Poor physical fitness. Cheating; use of pejorative racist, sexist, homophobic language, excessive drinking, illegal drug use, thievery, poor debt management—all depending on recency, frequency and severity; bad employment history and references; mediocre academic performance.  What gets you hired?  High scores on the written tests and interviews; strong college education; good GPA, class rank, and ACT scores; good life experiences, such as work experience, extracurricular activities, military experience, cross-cultural experiences, volunteer and/or work experience in helping roles (i.e. mentoring, coaching, teaching, social work); special skills such as multiple language fluency, police certification, or medical training;  lack of any significant negative behaviors; excellent interpersonal communication skills.

2) It is highly individual, but here in Lincoln, the private investigators and firms generally have had good reputations, and I have nothing negative to say.

3) The inter-local, mutual aid, and jurisdictional agreements and practices are strong in our neck of the woods, and we all play well together. You will find little or no conflict or overlap between the Lincoln Police, Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office, Nebraska State Patrol, UNL Police, and Airport Police.



There you have it.  Three out of four isn’t bad.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

KU and NU

A few weeks ago, Jesse Fray, a reporter at the World-Journal in Lawrence, Kansas contacted us.  He wanted to schedule an interview with me as part of a series the newspaper was writing about efforts in Lincoln to curb high-risk drinking by UNL students.  Apparently two KU students died in alcohol-related incidents last year, raising this issue onto the public agenda in Lawrence. 

We were happy to oblige, and Mr. Fray and a cameraman (the World-Journal and 6News are the same media organization) spent a few days in Lincoln in late February.  They did several interviews with a variety of community members, and also went on a late night tag-along with Sgt. Jason Goodwin. 

The resulting series of print and TV stories kicked off yesterday.  From the first couple of installments, I am impressed.  I will say, however, that I think we are getting more credit than is warranted. Although it is quite true that we are one of the few places in the United States that can demonstrate some progress in addressing this issue, it’s not like we don’t have plenty of our own problems.  When our local coalition, NU Directions, started this project in 1998, the Harvard College Alcohol Study showed that we were well above the average in binge drinking rates.  Essentially, we’ve brought that down to the average—which is still not exactly bragging material.  Nonetheless, I think our broad-based and sustained approach can be instructive to other communities and campuses. 

I’ve blogged on several occasions about our efforts to reduce the impact of high-risk drinking parties and unlawful activity at these parties.  This is one area where our success is particularly noteworthy.  I think that the main thing we can contribute to others dealing with this issue is the efficacy of engaging landlords, owners, and property managers.

Tomorrow morning at 1100 hours, I am the guest on a web chat hosted by the World-Journal.  If you’re really bored, feel free to join or lurk.  Somehow I’m not expecting an overflow crowd.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

There's an app for that

I've blogged on many occasions about our superlative Records Management System, a collection of database applications that put an unprecedented amount of information at the fingertips of our employees.  But it's not just our employees: several other criminal justice agencies, such as the Lancaster County Sheriff and County Corrections, build their applications in the same framework.  We all share the master name index, and some other pieces of common files.  We also provide a good deal of functionality to the University of Nebraska Police Department, County Attorney, City Attorney, and other CJ agencies.

Friday was a great example of how collaboration helps everyone. I had a morning meeting with Gene Cotter, the Chief Probation Officer in our judicial district.  Adult probation is a State agency, but we work closely with the POs.  They have an interest in knowing about it quickly when one of their probationers has been cited or arrested again during the term of their probation.  To get this information, they have been scanning daily lists of fresh tickets and looking for familiar names.

There's an app for that.  We use it internally for officers to receive automatic notices when a person they are subscribed to has a new brush with the law. At any given time, I'm following a  dozen or so names personally.  If any of these pop up on a police report--a ticket, an Incident Report, an Accident Report, or so forth--I get a notice and a link to follow to that report. I thought we might be able to improve the probation department's ability to monitor new arrests and citations pretty quickly, and spoke to Clair Lindquist, who manages our information system, and who is primarily responsible for its excellence. 

Clair hammered some code on Friday afternoon, and by Monday morning he had created a modified version of our own name subscription system tailored to the needs of the probation staff.  You simply select the name of your probationer, and we will now push an email to you as soon as a new citation or arrest is entered in the database here at LPD--normally within a shift or two of the arrest or citation. There is no more delay and no more risk that a probation officer misses one of his or her clients in the lengthy daily list. I'm sure the probation staff will find this quite helpful, and if it helps them, it helps us, too.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Beyond the data

In a post last year, I admired the straightforward presentation of key data by the Teammates mentoring program. It inspired me to publish a dashboard of key performance indicators for the police department on our own website.

Recently, another local non-profit also impressed me with a succinct presentation of key data. The Child Advocacy Center is an important local facility that has immensely improved the response of this community to serious child abuse, especially sexual abuse of children. Check out the Center’s short annual report for 2009. The graphs are simple and informative, and at a glance convey the key information about what the Center does, and about the sources and trends with these cases.

Do more, though, then just look at the graphics. Go beyond the data and think about the lives involved in these cases. Let that sink in. Look in particular at the chart at the bottom of page 3, “Reason for Referral” and think about the implications of over 600 investigations of child sexual assault from southeast Nebraska—mostly cases right here in Lincoln, investigated by LPD’s Family Crimes Unit.

I’ve known the Child Advocacy Center’s director, Lynn Ayers, for over 25 years. A more committed professional you will not find. The Center is presently engaged in a campaign to build a new facility, and would be worthy of your consideration as you consider your charitable giving in 2010.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Handheld mobile data

Mobile data computers have become fairly standard equipment for cities of Lincoln’s size. When I became chief of police in 1994, this was one of my early objectives. The following year, we took the first steps to prepare for mobile data by floating a bond issue to upgrade our radio system to handle the load. A couple years later, we put out our first Panasonic Toughbook in a patrol car, and by the 1999 model year, all new cars were being outfitted.

This wasn’t an easy process at all. Aside from the technical side, there was also a political side. Not everyone was behind this concept, and a couple city council members questioned the need for mobile data. I remember one public meeting at which a council member said that she had heard from “several” officers concerned that this was not a wise use of local law enforcement block grant funds we had received..

This seems almost silly, when you look back on it now. The mobile computer is an important piece of equipment, that has certainly proven its utility. While you can still do perfectly good police work without one, it’s a great tool.

The mobile computer mounted in the patrol car, however, is increasingly being supplemented by hand held data in your pocket, for many officers who are using personal smartphones to access our databases. Since our records management system is web-enabled, if you have the proper credentials and a competent web browser on your mobile device. We have created some RMS content that is optimized for small screens, dating way back to Palm VIIs. You can do some significant business in our system—not to mention other apps such as Google Maps Mobile that can be pretty handy.

Last week, Officer Erin Spilker told me about an incident that her colleague, Officer Frank Foster handled involving a automobile driver with limited English proficiency. Frank has a Motorola Droid, and used the Google Translate app to carry on a simple conversation with the Spanish-speaking driver, and get the information he needed. It’s obviously not appropriate for a criminal investigation or a complex interview, but for this basic information it worked quite well.

Because I have been encountering more and more officers using their own smartphones at work, I did a couple of short training sessions recently where we could all share tips and tricks. It was well-attended, and I was surprised by the diversity of devices that people are using—including iPhones, various Blackberrys, Palms, Droids, Samsungs and other Windows Mobile phones.

Although I’m not real jazzed about people bringing their own electronics to work, I also know that it’s been going on in policing since the battery was invented. As a street officer, I used my own cameras and lenses, recorders, drafting equipment, and eventually computers, PDAs and cell phones. The department never had the funds to keep up with my equipment cravings, and I was willing to take the risk that my own gear might be rattled around. I figure that if some officers are going to use their personal smartphones as handheld mobile data computers, we might as well help them to do so effectively .

Thursday, March 4, 2010

How romantic!

Haven’t read these, but I understand they are romance novels. This is lightly edited to protect identities and for brevity. It kind of reminded me of the morning after.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Vulnerable places

At our most recent ACUDAT meeting a couple weeks ago, we noted a series of thefts of purses from autos in the parking lots at health clubs: Gold’s Gym, Prairie Life, the Woods Park Tennis Center, Five Willows, to name a few. These are not new, but it was unusual to have several of these in short order during the dead of winter and spread around town.

We also noticed several thefts from parked cars in the downtown area, late at night while the owner was away at one of the local watering holes or a movie.

These are all examples of places where a purse left in a car is vulnerable, because it is fairly obvious that the owner of the car will be away for a while. The thief simply has to wait until the coast is clear, smash a window, and make off with the purse. Aside from the loss of any cash, the victim has to cancel credit cards, obtain a new driver’s license, watch her accounts like a hawk, and worry about identity theft.

There’s not a easy fix for this, but there are a couple things people could do to reduce the chance they will fall prey. First, make sure all your valuables are out of sight—preferably in the trunk. This isn’t a guarantee, but a purse on the floorboard or seat is a sitting duck to a thief that is window shopping.

If you are going to a place you don’t like to carry your purse into, such as your health club, the movies, or a bar, it would make sense to leave your purse at home and just take your driver’s license, if possible. Stuff it in the side pocket of your gym bag, or the pocket of your jeans and leave the purse at home.

With spring coming, trailheads, dog runs, swimming pools, softball fields, and similar outdoor sports venues will pop up as additional places where purses left in cars are in particular jeopardy. The same advice applies: don’t take it, use a fanny pack, or at least lock it in the trunk.

This is a topic I’ve touched on before, but it bears repeating. There are always going to be crimes like this that exploit vulnerabilities, and we would like to prevent as many as possible. It’s not a good feeling knowing that some cretin has you name and ID, and knows where you live.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Unluckiest man

As I was leaving the office last Friday, I encountered one of the officers from our Narcotics Unit. He chuckled about a guy he just arrested, who had sold drugs to an undercover police officer. The defendant claimed that it was the first time he had ever sold drugs to anyone. “In that case,” the officer told him, “You must be the most unlucky guy on the face of the earth.”

Monday, March 1, 2010

Details coming soon

Last week’s quasi-debate with sex offenders distressed that their allegedly minor misdeeds have resulted in the Scarlet Letter made me think: the private sector would have leveraged this information long ago if the State hadn’t already effectively occupied the field.

If there was no such thing as the Sex Offender Registry, how long do you think it would be before an enterprising web developer made a FOIA request for public criminal history information, attacked it with the Goggle Maps API, and created an application to which employers, landlords, volunteer coordinators, parents, schools, and so forth could subscribe for only $5.95 per month? An annual subscription, of course, would be discounted by 10%.

It is remarkable how quickly the veil has been lifted on public records that for a few centuries were somewhat protected by their practical obscurity.

Here’s what I mean by the "”practical obscurity” of public records: when I was the Sheriff of Lancaster County, the office of the Register of Deeds was across the hall. They had a lot of traffic. If you wanted to find a property record, you hitched up the wagon and went to town. In the basement of the Courthouse, a clerk looked up the address in a card file, then brought you a big dusty book through which you searched through to find the relevant record. The land records were public, but it took some time and effort to get them. By the mid-1990’s, though, you could look it all up instantly at home in your flannel jammies and fuzzy slippers.

I think this same thing is about to happen with court records in the not-too-distant future. The judicial system is not exactly on the bleeding edge of technology (they gave up the powdered wig, but they still wear the robes). Increasingly, though, the records are electronic. Most appellate courts make their decisions available on the Internet already. I predict that the nitty-gritty records of trial courts will someday be a clickable link on a website: notices, petitions, motions, exhibits, orders, affidavits, and so forth.

In fact, they are now to some extent. If you are a Big Cheese and your nasty actions are newsworthy, the news media is often getting the hard copies of court records and scanning them as .pdf files for enhanced content on their website. If you’re a genuine celebrity, is looking for your records. My guess is that we’re going to see courts making such public record documents directly accessible, sooner or later. Since they are increasingly kept in electronic format, there will be a greater likelihood they will be made available without the trip to the County Seat.

If you don’t like the fact that a notation of your conviction is available online, just wait until all the gory details in the court records are splayed out like the innards of a road-killed possum.

It won’t be pretty, and you won’t be able to get on my blog anonymously (like the commenter did last Thursday at 1:58 PM) to claim that you were a hapless 19 year old college student railroaded when a devious minor year old tricked you into committing a felony. By the way, he was 21 and she was barely 14—three months—when the crime was reported by her parents, who had just discovered that she was pregnant. I guess he's not the only one dealing with the long-term consequences.