Friday, April 30, 2010

Ignite Lincoln

Last night at the Bourbon Theater, 15 Lincolnites queued up for 75 minutes of lightning talks—five minute presentations illustrated with 20 PowerPoint slides, auto-advancing every 15 seconds.  The event, Ignite Lincoln,  was patterned after similar Ignite events in places Like Seattle, Cincinnati, and Denver. 

I had been invited by one of the event organizers, Justin McDowell, to be one of the speakers.  Now this, for me, was a challenge.  I’m used to presenting, but five minutes normally covers my introduction.  I squeezed it in, though, in a talk about how technology is impacting our privacy titled “Nowhere to Hide.”

Tonja and I really enjoyed the event.  The presentations were great, and the time flew by.  The topics were diverse, ranging from Marcus Tegtmeier’s "Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse,” to Jason Johnson’s “Concerning Wealth & Travel.”  The evening wrapped up with Jay Wilkinson’s “How Silicon Implants Made Bill Gates & Steve Jobs Millionaires.”

As you might imagine, the presenters tended to be on the young side.  I think Lyle Schmidt and I were the only two of the 15 presenters who recognized my first slide.  I was sitting at a table with Jason Johnson, Nate Lowery, and Nick Ebert.  They were remarking about the theater being pretty cool, and I told them that the first time I had been there was to see Goldfinger.  Nate said something to the effect of “Oh, yeah, I saw them about five years ago.”  No, Nate, I meant the 1964 James Bond film, not the punk band.

Great time, though, despite feeling like Dobie Gillis’s dad in a room full of Maynard G. Krebbs.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Criminal history

There is so much misunderstanding of the term “criminal history” it’s almost funny.  Except it’s not.  Lots of organizations pay good money to buy criminal history reports that they rely upon to determine if their employees, volunteers, and so forth have prior arrests and convictions.  They know not, in most cases, what they are actually buying, and how incomplete it may actually be.  They certainly aren’t worthless, but you need to know what you are getting—and what you may be missing.

When someone uses this term “criminal history” they have in mind a list of all the criminal arrests of a person, and the disposition of those cases.  It’s just not that simple, though.  Not all arrests are part of the public record:  if the case is more than a year old, and was dismissed, it won’t show up.  Cases are dismissed for all sorts of reasons other than lack lack of evidence: plea agreements and pre-trial diversion being prime examples. Second, if the arrest was a juvenile, and the case was handled in juvenile court, it won’t show up on a criminal history report.  Third, if the arrest was not accompanied by a ten-print fingerprint card, it won’t appear on State and national criminal history checks—because these are both fingerprint-based. 

That last one—the fingerprint card, is a big one.  Very few people arrested for misdemeanors are actually fingerprinted. That normally happens only when the the defendant is jailed, and in Nebraska, as in most states, misdemeanants are typically issued a citation and released following their arrest, rather than booked into jail.  Thus, the great majority of misdemeanor arrests will not appear on these state and national criminal history records.  Do not make the mistake of assuming that misdemeanors are all minor crimes, either.  Contributing to the delinquency of a minor is a misdemeanor, as is third degree sexual assault, stalking, violating a protection order, impersonating a police officer, and lots of other creepy crimes.  Conversely, rolling back an odometer is a felony.  The misdemeanor-felony distinction is just a rough estimation of the gravity of the crime. 

So, if a defendant is issued a citation and released for a misdemeanor, the arrest will in all likelihood not appear on a State criminal history report, nor will it appear on the individual’s record in the Interstate Information Index—the so-called FBI Rap Sheet.  Likewise, if a defendant makes a voluntary court appearance and is arraigned without every having been fingerprinted in connection with the case, the record won’t appear on a state or national check.  While I think we have this later scenario pretty well under control here in Lancaster County, these voluntary-arraignment-without-being-booked situations are still pretty common around the country, particularly in so-called white collar crimes.  No prints, no record on the FBI Rap Sheet.

Since there is no one-stop-shop for criminal history records, if you really want to know what someone has been arrested for and what happened to the case, a great deal of research is needed. You actually need to check local records, as well as state and national records.  And since you usually can’t be sure of every single locality that the person has travelled to and where he or she has possibly been arrested, you could still miss cases, even when you’ve been quite diligent.  You might not know about the trespassing in Trenton, the window peeking in Poughkeepsie, or the indecent exposure in Eureka, because you didn’t even know the subject had ever been there. 

When you are responsible for doing background checks, a criminal history may be part of your process, but you should never rely on it solely or completely.  It’s not nearly as good as most people think. You can find my advice for checking criminal records online in this document I authored several years ago.  The most important thing to remember is that there is no such thing as a complete criminal history. You are only getting part of the picture, so you cannot rely upon it entirely.  In the final analysis, the old-fashioned tools of background checks are still some of the best. Don’t let your credit card payment to some website purporting to offer criminal history checks be a substitute for personally speaking to references and past employers.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Two-ply preferred

First it was the beer box bandit, now it is Mr. Toilet Paper Head.  I really can’t make this stuff up.


Monday, April 26, 2010

Indicators look fine

Last week, the police department had its budget meeting with the Mayor, as we prepare our fiscal year 2010-2011 budget.  The  budget season started back in late January, and concludes when the City Council puts the final stamp on it in August.  As the City has moved from a line-item to a performance-based budget, the focus of discussion at these meetings has changed.  The Mayor wants to know how each department is doing on its performance indicators, how the budget supports that, and (this year) how any reductions might impact those indicators.

The police department has seven key performance indicators contained in the budget. These are the items we monitor to determine how we are doing, relative to the budget.  I reported to the Mayor last week that we are currently meeting all of our targets, and that the indicators are in good shape.  Only a significant reduction in resources would be likely to impact our ability to continue to do so.  It is far too early in the process to predict what, if any, significant changes to our proposed budget might occur, but from a performance standpoint we are doing well, and will continue to make good use of the resources available. 

Our performance indicators make up a dashboard that is available on our public web site.  The dashboard is a quick and simple view of where we are in comparison to our targets.  The dashboard caught the eye of a Portuguese technical writer last week, who sent me this email:

“Hi Tom,

My name is Jorge and I´am from Portugal. I have a published books about Balanced Scorecard Methodology, "Implementation of The Balanced Scorecard Methodology in the State", and about "Monitorization of the Company’s  Performance". I'm going to publish a third book about Dashboards, in which one part consists in the presentation of some examples. I really liked yours, and would like to ask your permission to use. Obviously, they will be identified

Best regards,
Jorge Caldeira”
Permission granted, Jorge, help yourself.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Lack thereof

Last night was our monthly ACUDAT meeting, where we discuss the highlights of current crime trends and patterns in Lincoln.  I must say, that the highlight of last night's discussion of crime was the lack thereof.  We seem to be down in a pretty significant trough right now--which is, of course, good!  If there is one thing I've learned during my career, though, it is this: nothing lasts.  With spring weather finally upon us, I would expect the activity to pick up significantly.  Here are our first quarter crime statistics:

Crime may be a little slow right now, but it certainly hasn't come to a complete halt. Among the trends under discussion last night were residential garage burglaries, thefts of copper, thefts of golf equipment, thefts of license plate thefts, and thefts of high-dollar commercial outdoor power equipment.  We are anticipating increases in certain types of crime as the economy recovers, and we discussed new construction starts in particular as an area of vulnerability. As always, prevention efforts were on the agenda: six of the eleven auto thefts in the past two weeks were cases where the keys were left in the car.  Eight of the 43 residential burglaries were cases in which the garage door was standing open.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Visit to Raikes School

I've been a guest at several University of Nebraska classes during the current academic year--a little more than usual.  Yesterday was surely my last one, since dead week and finals loom on the horizon. I was invited to speak to a class at the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management.  Formerly known as the J.D. Edwards Honors Program in Computer Science and Management, the name change occurred with Jeffrey Raikes retired as President of Microsoft's Business Division, and made a huge gift to the School.

The Raikes School is a very interesting program, and one that I've been curious about, so the visit was something I had been looking forward to.  My curiosity began about a decade ago, when the parking lot north of the UNL Student Union became a gorgeous new building,  the Kaufman Academic and Residential Center.  The Kauffman center was both living space and classroom space for the honors students selected for the program.

The building certainly provides quite an environment, and I was most impressed.  I was even more impressed, though, by the students, who listened intently, peppered me with questions, and hung around to continue the dialog until I had to take off.  The class I spoke with was about 60 juniors and seniors in the Design Studio, a class in which the students take on a client and develop computer applications for management. Their showcase is scheduled for Friday, and I intend to see if I can bend the schedule to drop by for a peak at what they've been creating this year.

My thanks to student Nate Lowry, who invited me and made the arrangements for my visit.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Trends in fraud

Several recent news stories about people being targeted by various scams caused a reporter to ask me some questions about the trend.  Since that's been a couple of weeks ago, and no article has emerged, I think that the story he thought might be there simply wasn't.  So I'll write it myself. 

His questions made it apparent that he believed there was an increase in fraud, and he wanted the long-term data to verify his anecdotal observation, and to get a sense of just how dramatic the increase had been.  When I replied to his email, I told him that I doubted it: my guess was that fraud had fallen in the long term. 

The data proved that to indeed be the case, with the peak years in the rear view mirror, and the current trend reasonably stable.  Were it not for craigslist, the decline would be far greater.  It never ceases to amaze me how many people get scammed by failing to heed the simple advice right craigslist delivers right on their front page.

Monday, April 19, 2010

They will steal anything

The price of copper continues to rise.  I didn't need any research to tell me that the price is up: the Incident Reports are evidence enough.  When the thefts are up, that is a reflection of climbing prices for scrap metals.  thieves will steal anything, but the preference is for stuff that is value-dense:  it has a lot of worth for it's weight and bulk. 

Sgt. Grant Richards brought two cases to my attention last week in which thieves had cut the valve and copper pipe standing above the ground from an underground sprinkler system.  The would be a major pain in the drain for the owner faced with the repair, but the copper and brass would net the criminal a few bucks at the scrap yard.  I think we can expect to see more of this--in fact, I imagine we already have: not all crime is reported, after all. 

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The beat goes on

The police beat is a relatively small parcel of land, into which is assigned one or more police officers.  The officer is responsible for the dispatches and events within the beat, but he or she may also be called away to help out on other nearby beats.  Beats are normally created, and their staffing determined, by some kind of analysis of the workload along with considerations with other boundaries like school attendance districts, neighborhoods, arterial streets, and natural features like rivers and streams.

Lincoln’s five Team Areas (our equivalent of what most departments would call a district) are further subdivided into ten beats, and the number of officers assigned in each is determined by workload analysis:  the greater the workload, the more officers and/or the smaller the beat. 

Some commentators believe that the police beat is an anachronism given the emergence of GIS technology which can be used for very precise targeting of police officers into “hot spots.” As you all know, I’m a GIS geek extraordinaire, but on this issue I disagree: police beats are still an important tool for assigning police responsibility, and the patch of land offers advantages over the “cops on dots” approach of hot spot policing. 

There is an interesting roundtable discussion about this underway at ESRI’s Spatial Roundtable.   The discussion was kicked off yesterday by my good friend (and former police chief) Lew Nelson, who is the law enforcement industry manager at ESRI.  I was an invited commentator, and have posted my response to Lew’s provocative question: “Are police beats obsolete?”  We’ll see where the rest of the commentators land on this issue. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Award of Excellence

Every year, the Mayor recognizes an outstanding City employee with the Mayor’s Award of Excellence.  This year’s winner was announced to the public yesterday.  He is Lincoln police officer Jason Brownell.  Jason was honored for the work he did during 2009 in organizing and producing a drug and alcohol prevention forum at Northeast High School (Go Rockets).

Jason works at Northeast as the school resource officer, one of many assignments he has held during his 10-year career.  He has developed a great rapport with students and staff, as evidenced by the attendance of around 300 students at the event he organized. I was one of the panelists on the stage, but I’ve got to say that the highlight had nothing to do with the program: rather, it was seeing the interaction going on between Officer Brownell and the students.  The respect is evident, as is the friendship. 

Congratulations, Jason, on an honor well-deserved. 

Monday, April 12, 2010

Not in the stamp kit

The stamp kit is the collection of ink stamps old-school cops used  for the diagrams on traffic crash report.  This was the way it was done way before AutoCAD, Easy Street Draw, and for that matter before the PC came into existence.  There were basically two kinds of officers: those who relied upon their stamp pad, and others who had attended the Northwestern University Traffic School, and swore by the template that came along with the class.  I was the former. If you were really into it, you didn’t want to use the worn-out and gummed-up collection in the report room. Rather, you went down to Latsch’s Office Supply, placed an order, and a couple weeks later you had your own pristine stamp kit. 

Even if you had sprung for the big kit (which included stamps for things like busses, motorcycles, and overturned cars), every now and then you would have something involved in a crash that just wasn’t represented in your collection:  a semi tractor-trailer rig on its side, a boat trailer, or some such.  In such instances, you would need to improvise.  That’s what tickled me so much about this traffic crash report last week, by Officer Nate Flood.


Friday, April 9, 2010

Iowa and Nebraska

A couple weeks ago, I blogged about a visit to Lincoln from the Lawrence, Kansas newspaper, the World-Journal.  Last week, we had another visit on the same subject: strategies to reduce high risk drinking by young people. The Thursday and Friday road trip this time was from Iowa City, the home of the University of Iowa. Danny Valentine, a reporter from the Daily Iowan, interviewed several people and visited Lincoln’s downtown bar scene along with his photographer. The result was a pair of articles published on Monday, followed by the staff editorial on Tuesday. 

It appears that Lincoln is being held up in neighboring states as a shining example of success in changing the high-risk drinking culture that infects many campus communities.  While I think we’ve made some good progress in some respects, I am far from willing to declare victory.  From my perspective, Lincoln still largely resembles Mr. Valentine’s description of Iowa’s problems last December. 

Others seem to see it differently, though, and the data is hard to argue with. Apparently we are doing better than many places.  If there is anything others could learn from Lincoln, it’s to build broad-based support for some comprehensive initiatives, then be both consistent and persistent.  The environmental approach is what works, and it doesn’t work overnight.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Harrowing events

Yesterday morning at about 8:34 AM, Officer Chilton Leedom and Sgt. Mark Meyerson were dispatched to a northeast Lincoln home on a disturbance.  The caller’s 32 year-old son, who had been evicted on the previous day, was back at the house, pounding on the door and wanting to be let in.  Officer Leedom followed him into the back yard, as Sgt. Meyerson arrived. 

Officer Leedom drew his pistol as the man began pouring gasoline from a container onto the deck and back patio door of the home.  Then, as the officers attempted to talk him down, he tossed a lit cigarette onto the deck, and the back of the house went up in flames.  Screams were coming from the occupants inside, and the suspect’s feet, splashed with gas, were aflame. 

The officers pounced on the suspect and a protracted fight ensued.  I spoke with Sgt. Meyerson shortly after things were secured, and he described it as the longest fight he’s ever been in.  I know the feeling: a few minutes seems like an eternity when the fight is on, and failure to prevail means you lose your life.

In the meantime, Officer Shawn Kennett (the son of a retired Deputy Fire Chief) pulled up. He helped the officers finish securing the suspect, yelled at the occupants to evacuate through the front door, then gabbed a garden hose and started suppressing the flames.  Lincoln Fire & Rescue arrived and completed the job.
The suspect was checked out at the hospital, then jailed for Attempted Murder, Arson, and Resisting Arrest.  Remarkably, no one was significantly injured.  This was an incredibly harrowing event, brought to a successful conclusion by the fast action of the Northeast Team’s officers.  Great work barely begins to describe what took place yesterday on a quiet residential street near N. 57th and Francis Streets.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Annual Report for 2009

Last Friday, Officer Katie Flood quietly posted the Annual Report of the Lincoln Police Department for 2009.  Again this year, it is an online-only document: if you want one to hold, you can simply print your own copy.  I continue to be impressed and the quality of Officer Flood’s graphic design, reflected both in this document and in our public website, which she manages.  My favorite part of the Annual Report is the “Year in Review,” but I find myself turning most frequently to the statistical data, which I often use as a handy reference.  The 2009 Annual Reports adds to an impressive archive of these data stretching back over a century.  Enjoy!


Monday, April 5, 2010

That’s better

In the mailbox Thursday night there was a letter from the Lincoln Police Department. Turns out it was from me—and to me. The previous Sunday afternoon, my car had been keyed in the parking lot of a local restaurant.  I called the Communications Center, and Officer Ryan Duncan came out to investigate, in the event that my insurance company needed a report for the claim. There wasn’t much that could be done, but Ryan checked to see if the parking lot camera covered the area where I was parked (it didn’t.) His Incident Report on the vandalism caused the letter to be generated, in which I offered myself the services of the Lincoln Police Department Victim/Witness Unit.

Among the services was something called “supportive listening,” so I took my letter into Victim/Witness Unit on Friday morning and presented it to the unit’s manager, JoAnna Briggs.  While I went on a five-minute rant, JoAnna, without speaking a word, conducted an excellent clinic on active listening techniques: maintaining an empathetic facial expression, nodding, and making that little hand gesture that says, “Go on”.  After venting, I felt better, so I took myself out for a cup of coffee.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Easter dinner idea

Turkey, with a nice cheesecake!