Friday, July 30, 2010

Graffiti arrests

On short notice yesterday, I was asked to come over to the Mayor’s weekly news conference, where graffiti abatement was on the agenda. William Carver of the Health Department, who coordinates the City’s graffiti abatement efforts, was the main attraction, but the Mayor also wanted to mention arrests for vandalism involving graffiti. 

I had to scramble to put some data together, and I found it rather interesting.  So far this year, 445 graffiti cases have been reported to the police.  Of those, 69 cases have been cleared with an arrest—quite a few more than I would have expected.  Some of those arrested, however, were prolific offenders whose arrest solved several cases. 

The total number of arrests was 23, five of whom were adults, the remainder juveniles.  The ages range from 10 to 57.  A third of them were 14 year olds.  I have no easy way of knowing what has become of the cases that were referred to juvenile court, but for the five arrests that went through adult court, the outcomes are as follows:  one case is still pending, the offender has been convicted and is awaiting sentencing on September 10; one case resulted in a 30 day jail sentence (note: do not tag a church!); three cases resulted in $250 fines, and two of the three defendants who were fined have failed to pay their fines, resulting in the issuance of arrest warrants for that pair.

Mr. Carver is pretty familiar with the various tagging crews who are active in the Lincoln area, and he has a database of graffiti that is searchable by tag.  The purpose of the news conference was for the Mayor to highlight the City’s success in keeping up with this crime, and William is the main cog that makes that apparatus successful. 

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Special thanks

The afterglow of the Special Olympics national games is mighty pleasant for Lincoln.  This has been the City’s finest moment in my recollection, and I am glad we could be a part of it.

Capt. Brian Jackson managed LPD’s official role in the games, but the volunteer effort was huge part of the story.  Over 85 Lincoln police employees volunteered for the Special Olympics.  We had a few people who took the entire week off on vacation so they could donate their time and work through the games.  It is impossible for me to thank them each individually in this post, but they all deserve props. 

I would like to take a moment, though, to express my thanks to two people in particular, both long time advocates, cheerleaders, and fundraisers for Special Olympics.  They would be the first to pass the credit along, so rather than being embarrassed by this, they can just consider themselves as representatives of all the other volunteers, too.

Retired Sgt. Jerry Thraen coordinated logistics for the 2010 games.  He did a phenomenal job, recruiting and scheduling scores of volunteers from dozens of law enforcement agencies to cover each venue and make sure any safety and security needs were handled.  He also handled transportation and other logistics for the games. Jerry got many deputies, officers, and troopers—both active duty and retired—involved in a memorable week of service that they will not soon forget.  Jerry has been involved in Special Olympics on the local, national and international scene, for twenty five years.

Sgt. Jeri Roeder coordinated the Torch Run for the 2010 games, a major undertaking.  The Law Enforcement Torch Run is the largest grassroots fundraising effort for the Special Olympics, and Jeri did a great job spearheading the multi-state final leg for the national games.  She coordinated the runners, the althletes, the schedules, the routes, the support vehicles and personnel, the community events, and the media relations and publicity for the Torch Run.  She has been a tireless, dedicated worker for Special Olympics for many years through all sorts of clever promotions—Tip a Cop, Cop on Top, Cops n‘ Lobsters, Polar Plunge, to name a few.

Now there’s a couple of tired cops for you, recuperating from the capstone experience of a multi-year effort for an event on the national stage.

Jerry, Jeri, my hat is off to the two of you, and everyone else who made this such an incredible event for Lincoln and for the athletes and their families!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Trouble in the Valley?

I blogged about my Father’s Day bike ride with my daughter a couple of months ago, and since that time the ride through the Antelope Valley trail has become part of my regular routine.  I’m down the trail at least three times a week.  So when I read this column in the Sunday paper, I had a pretty good visual. 

I usually take my rides between 5:30 and 7:00 AM.  Most days, there are two or three men sleeping under the bridges at N, O, P, or Q Streets.  I’ve seen a few small items of clothing or food packaging left behind.  Like any other urban watercourse, Antelope Creek carries the flotsam and jetsam of trash that washes down four miles below Holmes Lake.  Plastic bottles and tennis balls bob in the tepid pool that forms between J Street and the weir.  Someone is obviously collecting it from time to time.

I have yet to see anyone drinking, but that is probably a function of the time of day I am there. It’s not exactly cocktail hour. I can’t imagine that it isn’t a problem from time to time later in the day.  I walked it this afternoon, and everything looked pretty good. The area under the bridges is shaded, clean, has a ledge at the top, is out of the rain and dew, has attractive lighting, is out-of-view from the roadways above, and is a stone’s throw from a liquor store and the People’s City Mission distribution center. 

While the author of the column hasn’t seen any police officers during his strolls, we are indeed spending a little time in the Valley. The best we can do as a police department is try to keep the illegal behavior—nudity, public urination and defecation, drinking alcohol in public, unlawful panhandling, and so forth—somewhat in check through judicious application of a little patrol, surveillance and enforcement.

Build it, and they will come.  If I had designed it, here’s something you would not see at all beneath those bridges:  a flat spot.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The illegal dilemma

Illegal immigration is an incendiary issue in the United States these days.  Last week, I was correctly quoted (mainly) in a short news article that summed up a two-hour meeting I attended with the Mayor’s Multicultural Advisory Committee.  Partly through my own ill-chosen words, and partly through the filtering process that distills a long meeting into a few paragraphs, I felt as though my remarks and opinions were mischaracterized.  I’m not blaming anyone but myself, though, I am just trying to clarify.

The Committee asked me to explain what our practice was regarding notifying Immigrations and Customs Enforcement when an illegal alien was arrested or contacted.  They had become aware of a specific case, in which a 43 year old woman from El Salvador had been arrested for a misdemeanor by the police department, and subsequently became the subject of a deportation proceeding.  She had entered the United States legally in December, 2001 with a short-term visa, and was arrested by LPD for identity fraud after she tried to open a bank account under an assumed name with fake ID.

I explained that the fingerprint record of the arrest was submitted to the Federal government, as prints have been for decades.  In this particular case, the record matched an ICE database record on a person who had overstayed her visa by more than 8 years.  The existence of these databases, and the rapidity with which such comparisons can be made makes these kinds of matches much faster and more likely today than in the past.  We hadn’t gone out of our way to bring the weight of the Federal system down upon her at all—she merely was discovered by ICE in the ordinary course of business.  We did our job, ICE did theirs, and that’s the way it is supposed to be.

Some of the members of the Committee, however, had been concerned that the Lincoln Police Department had signed up for a Federal program by which selected local law enforcement officers are trained to initiate immigration proceedings, the Section 287 program.  We have not, and I am not interested in investing our resources in this manner. Having just lost 6 front line staff in the budget process, I assure you we have plenty to do without assuming work that is vested by the Constitution in the Federal government and is the statutory responsibility of a Federal agency.  In explaining this  to the committee, I said something to the effect of “I’m not interested in helping the Federal government do its job.”  Bad way to be quoted, although that is in fact what I said, or something reasonably close to it.  I was narrowly referring to signing up for the Section 287 program.

Let me set the record straight.  I appreciate the work of our Federal law enforcement agencies, and we work closely with them.  We both receive from, and render assistance to, Federal law enforcement agencies regularly—including ICE.  Every single fingerprint record we collect for arrestees is provided to these databases, and ICE is able to check any foreign-born subject against their database.  I think it is very important that we continue to do so, and I was correctly quoted on that, too.  I have never, ever, declined assistance to any Federal agency. 

This particular case is unusual, in that a women who—except for her obvious immigration violation--had otherwise been a law-abiding local resident got arrested for a fraud offense (I am told she needed an account for direct deposit from an employer, and was scared she would be caught by E-Verify), and  was quickly detained for an immigration violation by ICE.  My experience has been that trying to get someone deported is often a maddening process even when the subject has been arrested on multiple occasions and is is terrifying our community and  driving the local police crazy.  It takes a lot of time, and requires convictions for just-the-right-kind of crimes.  

What frustrates me the most about Federal immigration policy is that local police departments are being increasingly burdened by the intransigence of our Federal officials, who are failing to come to terms with the issue, and failing to provide sufficient resources to deal with it.  This women’s visa expired in February, 2002.  Why wasn’t the INS looking for her years ago?  She hasn’t exactly been in hiding.  How much more difficult is it to send her home nine years later than it would have been in the Spring of 2002?  How many other people have overstayed their visas by years, and how many of those have bought homes, had children, and otherwise sunk deep roots? 

I know this is a complex issue, without easy solutions.  But by continuing with the status quo, the day of reckoning is just being put off, and it gets harder with each passing day.  As States like Arizona, and cities like Fremont, Nebraska pass their own laws aimed at controlling illegal immigration, local police departments are being asked to fill the void created by the Federal government’s abdication of responsibility, and their under-resourcing of the effort.  This leave us between a rock and a hard place, and I don’t like that.

I have my own opinions on what might be done at the Federal level to begin to straighten this mess out.  My personal opinion is similar to proposals made in the past by President Bush and  by Congressman Tom Osborne.  Those weren’t exactly embraced even in their own political party, but I think they were more realistic than most, and would start us on a more productive path than the one we are on, which seems to be an aimless wander down a road to nowhere.

Friday, July 23, 2010

In the report stack

You read police reports, you find a lot of interesting material.  As I have often said, you just can’t make this stuff up

I have edited the original report somewhat to protect the identities of those involved. 


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Contributing to a stereotype

It’s that time of the year again, the Battle of the Badges has concluded.  At yesterday’s weekly meeting of the department heads with the Mayor, the travelling trophy was to be bestowed on the winning team.  The suspense was palpable.  After the police team was announced as the winner, I should have been flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct—excessive celebration. 

The Blood Bank representatives brought donuts to the Mayor’s office for the announcement, but only a few were consumed by the City directors.  I snagged the box from the Mayor’s conference room after the meeting, brought them back to HQ and passed them around to the staff.  To the victor go the spoils, as they say. 

Our Team leader, Michele Selvage, grabbed the hardware, since I was busy gloating and my hands were filled with a box of bleached flour, refined sugar, and fat.  All for a good cause, though.  For 12 years he Battle of the Badges has brought out donors for the Community Blood Bank. 

Is this photo contributing to a stereotype? 


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Special Olympics

This is old news to Lincoln readers of the Chief's Corner, but for those of you in far flung states and countries, we are hosting the National Special Olympics Games in Lincoln this week.  It's quite a show, with 3,600 athletes, their coaches, families, and fans filling the city. 

The Special Olympics is the signature event for police philanthropy in the United States.  The Law Enforcement Torch Run is the largest grassroots fundraiser for Special Olympics, and generally coincides with each State's games.  This year, with the national games in Nebraska, the torch run involved scores of law enforcement officers and Special Olympics athletes from all over the United States.

I was honored to help escort the Nebraska delegation in the parade of teams at the opening ceremonies on Sunday, and it was a memorable event.  My favorite part, though, wasn't in the arena: rather, it was on the adjacent track, where the teams were assembled for the entrance, a rather complex choreography indeed.  As the teams arrived, myself and several dozen police officers, troopers, and deputies from coast to coast in an array of varying uniforms shook hands, bumped fists, hugged, and high-fived athletes of every kind, type, and description.

In the process of welcoming folks to our city, I was surprised by the number of people who remarked about how nice and clean Lincoln seems.  Funny, when you live here, you don't so much notice.  They're right, though, it's an awfully nice place where you have to do quite a bit of looking to find the dust bunnies. 

Hotter than blazes the past several days, and the heat intends to stick around for the games.  Let's hope everyone stays well hydrated, and enjoys great competition, sportsmanship, and fellowship.  I get to hang medals on Thursday at track & field, where I'll be looking for a little shade between events! 

Monday, July 19, 2010

Final arrest

Officer Ray Kansier retired last week, after 38 years and 2 months wearing the LPD uniform.  While we don’t keep records on such matters, I suspect Ray is in the top two or three in our 130+ year history on length of service for a street police officer.  It’s a remarkable accomplishment. 

There was a nice retirement coffee for Ray on Friday afternoon.  I noted that Officer Kansier had been involved in a very nasty motorcycle accident in 1975 which would have been career ending for anyone with less grit and determination.  I also noted Ray’s final arrest: this pair, for a righteous felony and a collection of misdemeanors.  Ray was telling me the story, when he mentioned that a colleague, Officer Cassandra Briggs, did the reports for him.  Now that’s a nice retirement gift!

Ray Kansier starts his next career this morning, working security at Lincoln’s Federal Building.  I suspect he’ll be the same reliable, loyal employee there as he has been for the citizens of Lincoln since the Nixon administration.

Congratulations, Ray, job well done.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Budget meeting

Yesterday was our budget meeting with the City Council.  The police department's $35 million budget was on the schedule for 30 minutes, so I had to keep it at the 25,000 ft. view.  We reviewed the status of our key performance indicators, and then I covered the significant changes in our budget compared to the current-level-of services budget. 

The questions from the City Council mostly concerned the layoff of all nine of our paraprofessionals (public service officers), and the reassignment of four officers to the street that are currently serving as middle school resource officers.  As one of the council members pointed out, even though the cut in LPD's budget is just over $900,000 compared to what it would take to provide exactly the same services as we provide this year, our budget still goes up 2.5%, in order to cover the rising personnel costs, fuel costs, and other operational expenses that don't seem to take a vacation despite the City's lagging tax revenue. 

The news from Lincoln is not, however, as bleak as in many cities.  Yesterday Oakland, CA laid off 80 police officers--about 10% of it's force. Down the road in the little city of Grand Island, NE (population 45,000) my good friend Chief Steve Lamken is losing 3 civilians and 7 of his 75 police officers.  The Nebraska State Fair moves to Grand Island this year, which should make that even more challenging.  Times are tough.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

First half crime stats

The Records Unit has finished processing June’s reports, and the Information Technology Unit has compiled the crime stats, so here is where we stand, half way through 2010 compared to the same period last year.


As you can see, only two of the Part 1 crimes are up—auto theft and aggravated assault.  The decline in burglary is particularly large.  Although there is a slight increase (13 offenses) in the violent crime category, it is overwhelmed by the significant decrease (-302 offenses) in the property crimes, so overall crime is down 5.6%.  Considering the growth in the population during the past year or around 3,500 people, the crime rate is down 6.9% so far.

It’s always best to consider crime trends in light of the longer term, though, so you might want to look at the graphs contained  in this post from earlier this year when the 2009 crime statistics were released.  Slide number 11 in the embedded presentation would be the most meaningful.

Apart from the overall decline in crime, we are also having a banner year for crime clearance.  Half way through 2010, the clearance rate stands at 32.5%, which is incredible.  Good work all around!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Better times ahead

Mayor Beutler’s proposed budget was released to the public yesterday, and will receive wide media coverage today.  Bits and pieces of it have been coming out during the past week, but the whole enchilada is out there now.  There are some significant cuts, and for the first time this includes substantial cuts to the police department.  We will be losing 10 employees—our entire paraprofessional staff of public service officers, and one senior office assistant who provides technical support to our training staff. 

Although the news media hasn’t seemed to grasp this, the PSOs do much more than downtown parking meter enforcement: they handle thousands of complaints from the public about parking problems all over the city, they deal with abandoned vehicle complaints, wheel tax evaders, traffic direction and control, found property, abandoned bicycles, assistance at traffic crashes, and a myriad of other duties that don’t require the authority of a sworn police officer. Of the nine PSOs, only four (actually, one is half-time, so it’s 3.5 of 8.5) deal with downtown parking enforcement.

Making these cuts isn’t easy.  These are 10 dedicated City employees who average 23.1 years of service and work hard every day.  I had to look them in the eye and tell them that they are not included in the budget, and it is through absolutely no fault of their own.  In addition, we will be expected to find $375,000 in savings by watching the line items closely and by throttling our hiring of replacement staff carefully. As painful as this has been, I also realize that other City departments have dealt with these kinds of cuts for the past several years, when the police were for the most part immune from reductions.

Like most municipal governments in the United States, we have some significant financial challenges.  As painful as this is, we are better off than most.  Since we are dependent on over $600,000 in Federal revenue that is contingent on maintaining our sworn police officer strength at 321, the need for budget cuts at the police department required finding those cuts among our civilian staff. 

In some respects, cutting civilian support staff is not good management.  I have spent my professional life in management trying to civilianize jobs that did not require the services or more expensive police officers, and now we seem to be going backwards in this regard.  I don’t know any other way to do it, though, when faced with a budget cut, than to prioritize the work, and drop those services that have the least connection to our core mission: “…to provide quality police services that promote a safe and secure community.” 

I am something of a student of history, and this I know from that hobby:  nothing stays the same, history repeats itself, everything is cyclical, and there will be better times ahead.  In the meantime, we must be committed to delivering the best services we can with the resources that we are provided with by the citizens of Lincoln.

Friday, July 9, 2010

New hate crime law

Tuesday, I was among eight LPD officers who attended a day-long training session on hate crimes sponsored by the United States Attorney for the District of Nebraska, Deborah Gilg. It was a good session, and included an interesting multicultural panel in the afternoon, as well as a thoughtful morning presentation by the retired chief of the Laramie, WY police department, Dave O’Malley.  Mr. O’Malley described the impact of the murder of Matt Shepard

The most practical portion of the training was presented by several lawyers from the Department of Justice, who briefed us on the changes to the Federal law concerning hate crimes as a result of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Act, passed in Congress last fall. 

I was seated next to Capt. Marty Fehringer.  He and I were recalling Lincoln’s own gay-bashing homicide that would have been a prime candidate for Federal prosecution under this law had it existed in 1993, when Lincoln shoe salesman Harold Grover was murdered by Clifford Privat and Troy Leger.  I was marginally involved in the investigation as Lancaster County Sheriff; Marty was personally acquainted with the victim. 

The murder of Mr. Grover, in my mind quite a sensational crime and not really that long ago, seems to be lost in the mist:  I Googled the case and came up empty-handed.   It is certainly the most dastardly hate crime in our City and County during my years of service. 

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Six Fourths

Independence Day is normally one of the busiest days of the year for the Lincoln Police Department.  This depends, however, on the day of the week it falls upon, and (of course) the weather.  This year’s rain obviously played a role in keeping a lid on the police dispatches, which look like this over the past six years:

2010     383
2009     428
2008     439
2007     441
2006     448
2005     462

Friday, July 2, 2010

Lock or not

An interesting comment at 12:12 on my Wednesday post dealt with the efficacy of locking your car as a deterrent to the crime of larceny from auto:

“I don't think it matters anymore whether the items are in view or hidden, or whether the car is locked or not. These car break-ins are happening almost daily in the parking lots…”
A few minutes later, another comment at 1:32 said,

“I'm pretty sure that the Chief can destroy that argument, with one hand tied behind his back.”

Let’s see if I can live up to that vote of confidence.  I’m not so certain. A seasoned fellow employee whose opinion I trust a great deal made the argument to me a few weeks ago that in some cases, it’s better to leave your car unlocked.  His rationale was this: his daughter’s car had been broken into, even when there was nothing of value inside.  The risk of loss from a stolen stereo, purse, iPod, sunglasses, etc. was effectively nil, but the cost of replacing the broken window was considerable.  She would have been better off, he reasoned, if the thieves would have just opened the door, rummaged around, and figured that there was nothing worth taking.

There is, however, the car itself.  I hate to disagree, but to my way of thinking, anything you do that causes the criminal to expend more energy, take more time, make more noise, and generally expose himself to more risk is a good strategy in the long run.  To illustrate, I looked at all larcenies from auto so far this year.   There have been 1,078 through the end of June. Of those, 454 (42%) of the vehicles were unlocked.  Entry was gained by breaking a window in 210 cases (19%).  In the remainder, either the lock was slipped or the method of entry was unknown.  I do not doubt that many of those cases actually involved an unlocked door, but the victim wasn’t aware (or didn’t want to admit) that the vehicle was unlocked.

This evidence would suggest that locking up is the best policy—despite the slight risk of a glass break.  One of the final comments from Wednesday’s topic (10:07 July 1) summed up my viewpoint quite well:

“Most appealing LFA:

1. Visible loot, unlocked door
2. No visible loot, unlocked door (toss car for any loot, maybe even the keys will be in the glove compartment)
3. Visible loot, locked door
4. No visible loot, locked door

As you go down the list, the risk vs reward gets less and less appealing. If given a choice of something higher on the list vs something lower on the list, the crook will almost always choose the higher option. There is always some dummy who at least does #3, if not #2, or even #1. Make sure that you're only offering option #4”