Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hubcaps to GPS

I’ve blogged before about CRAVED products: those goods that thieves love to steal because they are Concealable, Removable, Available, Valuable, Enjoyable, and Disposable.  Here is a chronology of some CRAVED products during my career:


Monday, June 28, 2010

Final reminder

Just three days remain before Lincoln's new alarm ordinance goes into effect on July 1.  The new ordinance requires that every alarm company, and every residence or business with an alarm, register that alarm within 60 days.  If you have an existing alarm, you have until August 30 to register.

After the initial registration, you must re-register during January of even numbered years, so you'll be good until January of 2012. The registration fee is $100 for commercial alarm users, and $60 for residential alarm users.  There is a discount for alarm users who submit their registration through their alarm company.  All the details can be found on a FAQ page at our public website. 

False alarms have been falling in Lincoln since peaking out in 2002 at 4,848. Last year, there were 3,181.  The decline is continuing this year.  So far in 2010, false alarms are down 8.3% from the same period in 2009.  I expect that with the passage of the new ordinance the number may fall even further.  If false alarms continue to fall, this is a good thing.  Responding to alarms is dangerous, and when sloppy installation, maintenance, or operation causes repeated false alarms at the same premise, it is especially important for the owners to sit up and pay attention. 

Last year's most egregious offender is a home improvement store that had 19 false alarms.  They're doing just a little better this year, with only seven false alarms thus far.  Under the new ordinance, you are allowed six free false alarms within a two-year registration period.  After that, there is a $100 fee assessed for each false alarm until you hit 16, when the fee jumps to $250.  Had this ordinance been into effect in 2009-2010, this business would have been assessed $3,650 so far with a half year left during which each additional false alarm would cost another $250.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Police iPad

Until recently, I had never owned an Apple product.  I’m probably the only person left who does not own an iPod.  On April 30, though, the FedEx truck brought me a package containing my pre-ordered iPad 3G on the very day of its public release.  I’ve been using it since, and although it is personally-owned, it has proven to be a workhorse, too.

I didn’t expect it to be so.  All I wanted was to read books, magazines, and newspapers without carrying around the weight and bulk.  I had been contemplating buying an eReader when I read about the upcoming iPad, and decided it might be both a DVD player and an eReader, killing two birds with one stone.  Little did I know…. 

Since most all of LPD’s records management system is web-enabled, the iPad proved to be a dandy device for checking current calls, reading reports, or for that matter creating reports. It’s handy for my calendar and email, and mug shots absolutely look horrible, which is absolutely great.  I can’t get over the display quality, and how marvelous it looks with Google Earth, Google Maps, and StreetView

Sunday and Monday night during our weekend storms, I was glued to weather radar with WeatherBug, listening to radio traffic from the police, fire, and storm spotters using 5-0 Scanner HD, and checking our storm related police dispatches in the LPD records system., which we use for remote participation in lineup, has a great iPad app, and all my important files and spreadsheets are available through Google Docs. 

I find myself booting my computer much less often at home and on the road, as the iPad fulfills many of my most common needs.  The battery really does last ten hours, and unlike my laptop, it’s instant on and instant off.  The several minutes required to boot up or shut down my laptop now seems like an eternity, and annoys me even more!  There are a few things I can’t do with the iPad: sites I use that demand Flash or Silverlight, things that require the specialized software loaded on my laptop, and some web pages that just don’t render quite right in Safari mobile. It’s not exactly the weapon of choice for substantial key stroking, but for the much of my work it’s fast, light, thin, powerful, and perfectly adequate. 

As advertised, the iPad fits right in between my smartphone and my laptop.  On a recent flight, I had a row-mate who was watching movie on an iPad while I read Road & Track.  He was a twenty-something audio engineer, on his way to set up the sound system at a rock concert. He had the same story as me: and Apple-avoider who couldn’t believe he bought it in the first place, but loves it now.  I think we’ll be seeing a lot of this form factor in the future of police mobile computing, and I’m betting there are more police officers out there finding on-the-job uses for iPads right now.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fifty two

That’s the number of people shot in Chicago over the weekend.  In Lincoln, population 255,000, there were no shootings over the weekend and there have been four this year, none fatal.  Last year, there were 12 people shot in Lincoln; four were fatal.  I don’t know how many people have been shot in Omaha this year, but news reports show two over the weekend, and  16 fatal shootings so far in 2010. Gun violence is killing a lot of people, and we are fortunate that the level in Lincoln is comparatively low. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

In the Valley

Father’s day my lovely daughter Kelly came to town for the weekend, intent on taking her dad out for a couple good bike rides.  We went out in the heat and humidity Saturday afternoon, getting a little dehydrated and arriving home hotter than a biscuit and pleasantly exhausted.  On kelly and meSunday morning, though, after a lumberjack breakfast of cinnamon French toast and bacon, the weather was cool and thunderstorms loomed. Undaunted, Kelly, her husband Andy and I set off.  We had consulted our electronics, and concluded the storms would track north of the City.  Wrong.  Leaving home in far south Lincoln, by the time we hit the Rock Island trail at Highway 2, it was clear we were in for a downpour and some lightning.
We hotfooted it a couple miles north, and made it to the 1937 picnic shelter at Antelope Park just before the lid blew off.  We settled in for a one hour rain delay, punctuated by a lighting strike on a cell tower a hundred yards away that sent me to the floor.  stormWhen the great flood subsided, we continued down the Billy Wolf into the brand new Antelope Valley channel.  At ground level, the trails, channel, and Union Plaza are even more impressive. Ystadiumou just marvel at how planners, architects, and engineers were able to visualize this.  We went the length, all the way to  Memorial Stadium, before turning for home.  

The tour made me think about the implications of the Antelope Valley project for the police.  I can guarantee you that this will be a primo location for special events, where we will be called upon for traffic control and crowd management.  We’ll also have a role in making sure that the area is safe and free from illegal activity.  Finally, we will have to be watchful of safety risks, chief among which would be someone enjoying the aftermath of a thunderstorm, unaware of the dangers lurking in stormwater drainage ways. 

By the way, our one-way trip from the ‘burbs through the heart of the city was just over eight miles, during which we had to cross only three arterial streets at grade.  At every other major street, we either had an underpass or a bridge.  Lincoln has a great trails network.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Fourteen and counting

Sgt. Shannon Karl left me a note earlier this week, about a traffic crash last weekend that one of the officers on her squad, Tony Gratz, investigated.  The westbound driver ran the red light, colliding with a northbound vehicle.  Fortunately, there were no injuries.  The eastbound driver was drunk, testing .117%. 

Nothing particularly unusual about this, except for one thing.  The drunk driver has a few priors. Thirteen, to be exact. This was his 14th arrest for DWI.  His first one was in 1975 at age 19.  With that many arrests stretching back to the Gerald Ford administration, I thought for sure that one of them would be mine, but alas, his early career was spent in other Nebraska counties. 

This isn't a record, but it sure puts him in an elite group.  Remarkably, he was not driving on a suspended license.  His license had been reinstated in February of 2008, following it's most recent revocation a year earlier.  Don't ask me how a guy with 13 prior drunk driving convictions is ever able to get a driver's license again, because I have no clue.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Coulda had a V-8

If you don’t think gasoline is going to get very expensive (again), then you are living in a fantasy world.  It’s a simple matter of supply and demand. Back in the 1960’s, the street scene in Chinese cities was devoid of cars and filled with bicycles.china

Today, however, it looks more like this.  Those immense traffic jams in Shanghai and Beijing are indicative of the fact that around the world there are millions of more automobiles being driven these days. The demand for gas is growing by leaps and bounds.  In think we’ve been lulled into a sense of complacency during this recession, but the price of gas will inevitably be jolting in our near future.

Police officers do a lot of driving. Here in Lincoln, we run around 2.5 million miles annually.  That’s a lot of gas, and a huge expense.  We have been working on increasing our fleet mileage, and had some pretty good success, coming up from 11.0 MPG in 2004 to 12.7 MPG last year.  That may not sound like much, but it’s a huge amount of gas when you drive as many miles as we do.

We can do better, though, and it is an imperative.  We simply can’t afford to waste fuel.  This year, our Dodge Chargers will be V-6s rather than the Ford V-8s.  Our unmarked vehicles will be 4 cylinder hybrids.  We are even deploying four hybrid Ford Escapes as marked patrol units—a first for us. 

We are not alone, and a growing number of police departments are foregoing V-8 patrol vehicles.  My prediction is that the police patrol car in the United States is going in the same direction as Europe a few decades ago: smaller, lighter, and much more fuel efficient. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Different ride, same gig

Last Thursday, we hosted our annual luncheon for LPD retirees.  It was a great turnout, the biggest yet.  There were several new faces, including Officer Willie Wichman, who motored up from St. Louis, only to be caught in a downpour just 10 blocks from HQ.  I hadn’t seen him in at least 20 years, so it was great to catch up after he had dried out. 

After fried chicken and hot dogs, I felt obligated to say a few words—although I know that everyone really wants to enjoy their desert and conversation more than they want to listen to a wet-behind-the-ears upstart like me, so I kept it short.  I told them about a few goings-on, including our deployment of more hybrid vehicles in the fleet.  For a group that cut their teeth on big block Mopars, the thought of a 4-banger with a backup from a electric motor is probably a bit odd.  The ride may be different, but the gig remains the same, and at it’s core police work has barely changed.  Many of our retirees could grab a Bic and have at it without any problem.

You can’t help but smile to see the lineup room filled with men and women who devoted their professional lives to public service, back in the bosom of the Lincoln Police Department, enjoying some fellowship and a slice of pie. 

Friday, June 11, 2010

Career opportunity

I am renewing our search for a manager for our Crime Analysis Unit.  Since many crime analysts read the Chief's Corner, I felt this might be a good venue to publicize the opening.  If this seems like deja vu, you are correct: this position was previously advertised, but not filled.  In the interim, at my initiative, the salary range has been raised and we are back in the market place. Applications will open at 4:30 CDT today, on the City of Lincoln's website.  Click here ( after 4:30 today) for the posting and details on the application process.

As you undoubtedly realize from reading this blog, the Lincoln Police Department is at the edge of the envelope in terms of our information resources, our crime analysis, and problem-oriented policing. Our officers are accustomed to swimming in a deep pool of information, and comfortable with information technology.  Moreover, we have a staff that uses that information and analysis to inform street-level police work.  It is a dynamic department for a crime analysis manager.  Follow the links in the label cloud to “Crime Prevention,” "POP," or "Crime Analysis," for many examples. 

Our five-person Crime Analysis Unit (the unit also handles intelligence) is poised to move to a new level of excellence, and opportunities abound.  We are partnering with the Nebraska State Patrol and the Omaha Police Department on the new Nebraska fusion center. We have recently upgraded several information systems and others are in progress, including digital evidence, our public website, automated license plate readers systems, Crimestoppers, digital video, our web-based GIS and dashboard, and more. We have many opportunities that the Crime Analysis Unit will be part of in the near future, and a staff that is anxious to learn and grow.

The Crime Analysis Unit manager will join the police department's other unit managers. Currently, our Service Desk, Records Unit, Information Technology Unit, Property & Evidence Unit, Police Garage, Accounting Unit, Victim/Witness Unit, and Forensic Unit are managed by civilian staff members who participate fully on the department's management team along with their sworn counterparts in operational units. You will work with a chief and a management staff who understand and appreciate the value of crime analysis and the contribution it makes to our success.

The salary range for this position reflects the economic conditions in Nebraska, where the cost of living is comparatively low.  If you are living and working on either coast, you will want to consider in particular the cost of housing in Lincoln, which is quite reasonable.  Take a look at home prices advertised by one of our local real estate brokers, or assessed values on the Lancaster County Assessor's website to get a sense of what your housing dollar buys in Lincoln.  Transportation costs are also low.  Employee parking is free, downtown meters are .50 and hour, and a parking ticket is $10.  This is a very bike-friendly city, with a great trails network. Lincoln is widely-regarded as a great place to raise kids. The City is unusually safe, and maintains its small-town feel despite its population.

This city of a quarter million is home to the University of Nebraska and three other universities and colleges.  We have a beautiful baseball park where the Lincoln Saltdogs and the UNL Baseball team share the facilities. There is nothing quite like Memorial Stadium on game days.  Our voters just approved the development of a new 16,000 seat arena in our historic Haymarket, where a fabulous farmer’s market operates on Saturday mornings.  Lincoln's public schools are first rate. The local arts scene is lively. We enjoy excellent parks and recreation facilities.  We have a variety of top-notch and reasonably-priced locally-owned eateries. I'll put The Oven up against any Indian restaurant in the country, and the craft brews at Lazlo's against any brewpub anywhere. You are 8 hours from Rocky mountain skiing, a bit less than three hours from the Kansas City metro area, and just under an hour from Omaha--all offering great day trip amenities.

I live on the fringe of Lincoln, and my daily commute to police HQ downtown is 15 minutes.  I get a little perturbed if it takes 17.  I actually had to wait through two cycles of a traffic light last night during rush hour. Weekday greens fees at our four 18-hole city-owned courses are $18.  The long-term parking lot at the airport is less than a block from the front door of the terminal, and will set you back $4 per day.  A movie for two with popcorn and a Coke still costs $13,309.  Such is life.

If you are a crime analyst who is tired of spending two hours commuting to and from a job where you are treated like a second class citizen because you don't wear a badge,we offer an alternative.  If you are expected to fetch statistics and make the chief's PowerPoints, I do my own. If you are looking for a chance to spread your wings and grow professionally, we have a challenge. If you simply want to discuss this opportunity, I have a phone and email, and I would love to talk you in confidence:

Tom Casady

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Subtle or radical

I have mentioned in previous posts that phenomenon occurring in U. S. cities in which the police budget is consuming a growing percentage of the overall city budget.  Here’s an example* from Lincoln, but we are certainly not alone: 

The piece of the pie allocated to the police is growing because cities are trying to preserve public safety budgets by cutting other non-public safety municipal services.  If the trend continues, municipal services will increasingly become police, fire, and little else.  This can’t continue indefinitely, and several things may change it: sustained and robust economic growth, for example. 

The consensus among my peers, however, seems to be that something has to give on the expense side, and that policing and public safety services are going to undergo some significant changes to cope with these fiscal realities.  Just exactly how policing changes if the economic crunch we are experiencing turns out to be “the new normal” is an intriguing question.  The changes could be subtle or radical. 

On the subtle side, I expect that more and more police departments will adopt organizational structures and practices that maximize their efficiency.  The cost of policing varies hugely from city to city.  Lincoln delivers police services for a much lower cost per capita than most. Since personnel costs dominate police budgets, you can get a good feel for this by simply examining the number of police officers per 1,000 population.  You will find myriad examples of cities that have similar crime rates, similar demographics, and similar economics—yet one has far fewer police officers than the other, when normalized by population. 

Size does not seem to have any direct relationship to crime, disorder, or citizen satisfaction with police services. In my opinion, being small in comparison to your population forces police departments to be more efficient. In our case, we eschew specialization, use information resources strategically, flatten the organizational structure, deploy a larger percentage of our officers on the street than most, and focus our resources on our core mission.  You won’t find a huge traffic unit, an accident investigation unit, an equestrian unit, an aviation division, or a large grip-and-grin squad at the Lincoln Police Department.  In essence, then, I think you are likely to see more police departments looking like Lincoln, Fort Collins, and Fremont (CA), rather than some of the more bloated police departments with far more officers per capita. 

The better use of information resources, crime analysis, problem-oriented policing, and predictive policing will be part of these subtle changes.  Police departments can’t afford to waste their valuable resources, and will be much more interested in wringing a greater bang for the buck by using information, data, and research evidence to guide their activities.  Evaluation of results will be an accepted part of reviewing police strategies, which will increasingly focus on the outcomes, rather than the outputs.  This is already incorporated into Lincoln’s way of policing, and more cities will start to look like us in this regard.

Also on the subtle side, I expect to see a reduction in the range of services police departments provide, as they focus their limited resources on the core mission, and divest themselves of some duties and services that make a smaller contribution to safety and security.  In Lincoln, we’ve dropped tons of police services over the years: private property traffic crashes, funeral escorts, elementary school resource officers, DARE, money transfers, gas drive-offs, most medical emergencies, lock-outs, citizen police academy, and more.  Other departments are doing the same thing.  I chatted with Ken Burton, police chief in Columbia, MO last week at the meeting in Providence.  He stopped investigating non-injury traffic crashes on city streets a few months ago. We’ve had quite a conversation about that in Lincoln in the past two years.

At the more radical end of the spectrum, I expect we will see more regionalization of police services.  To some extent, this is already underway.  Many small municipal police agencies are folding as towns and cities contract with county sheriffs for their law enforcement services.  In a growing number of metropolitan counties, local law enforcement agencies are merging:  Charlotte, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, and several others. This trend will grow.  At the far end of the continuum, I’ve got to think that more cities will be attracted to full-scale public safety agency merger, such as has existed in Sunnyvale, CA for 40 years. 

Subtle or radical, the cost of police services will drive some of these changes in future years. 

*Note: the police department’s operating budget does not include employee benefits, which are budgeted centrally in Lincoln from the General Fund Miscellaneous budget.  This is somewhat unusual in comparison to other cities. If benefits were budgeted within the department, our operating budget would be approximately 25% greater.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Future policing

I was in Providence, RI for a couple days last week, invited by the National Institute of Justice to the second symposium on predictive policing.  About 100 key informants (police chiefs, crime analysts, researchers, and the like) have been invited to these two meetings to discuss this initiative specifically, and the future of policing more generally. 

The meeting was interesting on several levels, and I hope my minor contribution was worthwhile.  The highlight for me was a “listening session” after lunch on day two.   Many of the attendees had already bolted for the airport, so about 60 of us were left to a town hall meeting with three of the most important DOJ executives:  Kristina Rose, director of the National Institute of Justice; Jim Burch, director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance; and Bernard Melekian, director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing—otherwise known in our field as the COPS office.  It’s not often that three heads of DOJ bureaus are in the same place, and the opportunity to dialog in a relatively small group was great. 

At the airport, Director Melekian and I chatted a little more.  Until this appointment, he has served as a police officer for 37 years—the past 13 as chief of police in Pasadena, CA. Our career trajectories sounded pretty similar.  Chiefs of mid-large police departments have a lot of common experiences, and you can sense that certain shared history when you chat with a colleague.  You just know that he or she has dealt with the same gut-wrenching situations, politics, decisions, conflicts, cases and dilemmas. This is the Far Side cartoon framed on my credenza, and the wallpaper on my computer. 

We had a concourse conversation about the inevitable changes both of us see coming in U.S. policing—driven by the economic realities in government of dwindling resources.  It was a theme also broached at the first predictive policing symposium by San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon.  Police departments are consuming an ever-increasing percentage of the total municipal budget, as income fails to keep up with expenses and cities continue to cut other services to preserve police and fire budgets.  It is an unsustainable model, and something will eventually have to give.  Neither Director Melekian nor I knows exactly how this will play out, but we agreed that we are on the verge of some significant changes in how police services look in the future.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Barricaded suspect

Sgt. Ann Heermann reported to work on a week ago Sunday, and went to the police garage to pick up her patrol car, a 2009 Crown Victoria. She saw something sticking out of the grille, and thought someone had pulled a practical joke on her. Further inspection, however, showed that a 4.5 ft. bull snake had taken up residence in her engine compartment. It is my understanding that bull snakes can have an attitude and will bite, even though they are not venomous. Doesn’t matter to me, though. That bull snake might as well be a king cobra on meth armed with an RPG. It is my understanding that negotiations with this barricaded suspect were unsuccessful, and a forcible eviction was necessitated.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Customer service counts

I am the trustee of my father-in-law's estate, and have been busy settling his affairs. There is a lot to do and it's been a bit of a challenge.  I was further exasperated when I received a letter from the Internal Revenue Service.  "This can't be good," I thought to myself as I walked back from the mail box.

It wasn't, and a wrote a letter in reply.  Low and behold, shortly thereafter I received a call one evening at dinnertime from the IRS office in Cincinnati.  The caller had read my letter, and we had a pleasant conversation about the problem.  She promised to conduct some further research into the matter, and to call me back within the next few days.  She found the source of the problem (a mix up between the estate EID and the trust EID), made the necessary correction, called me back at the appointed time, and suggested that she would send me a letter describing the transaction for my records.  As promised, I received the followup letter shortly thereafter. 

The service I received from the IRS was remarkable.  It wasn't just prompt, professional, and accurate, it was downright nice--no, friendly.  She had no idea that I was also a faceless bureaucrat on the government dole, but she went out of the way to deliver customer service beyond all expectations.  You would have thought, from the tone of these conversations and from the followup, that they were really hoping I would stay with them again, and not jump ship to some other hotel chain. 

Ms. Stenger thank you very much for blowing that stereotype out of the water. Consider this customer delighted.  You can count on me to come back and do business with your outfit again.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Gary Lacey, our county attorney and chief prosecutor, sent me an email yesterday. He's hoping this crime does not come to Lincoln. I most heartily agree!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Coast to coast host

We use around  here to conduct our shift assemblies (what we call lineup) at the various times during the day when officers are coming on duty.  Web conferencing is ideal for getting everyone on the same page (well, the same screen) about current events.  Gotomeeting, though, has some other nice benefits for us, and last week was a good example.

I was contacted by a crime analyst at the Howard County (Maryland) Police Department who had been referred to LPD. He was interested in our geographic crime analysis process and software. Rather than just talking to him, I fired up gotomeeting, and brought him to my desktop for a little demo on Tuesday morning.  I think he was surprised not only by our GIS work, but by the logic that underlies our entire information system.

The following day was our regularly scheduled ACUDAT meeting.  A crime analyst from the King County(Oregon Washington) Sheriff's Office had contacted me a couple weeks ago about that.  She had been referred by someone who had told her about our process.  We exchanged a couple of emails, and I ultimately just invited her to attend our next meeting remotely. So on Wednesday, Cynthia participated in our meeting from 1,800 miles away. 

Over a two day period we had site visits from both coasts, one from an agency about our size (Howard County Police), the other from an agency much larger (King County Sheriff).  No travel was involved, and everyone got the information they sought.  That's a pretty efficient way of doing business.