Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Not aimless

If routine patrol implies driving around aimlessly burning fossil fuel waiting for a dispatcher to give you something to do, then what is the alternative?  

Friday morning, prior to my Academy class, I encountered a good example of an officer who’s patrol was purposeful rather than aimless.  I was out for my morning bike ride at about 5:30 AM, when I encountered Officer Bob Smith parked on 22nd Street, checking out the Union Plaza and the Antelope Valley recreational trail.

We’ve had some problems in this area, and Bob was spending a little time doing two things: deterring the problems, and making the early morning runners and cyclists feel better knowing that the police are around on occasion.  Reassurance begets more use, which in turn makes the space less attractive to those who would cause problems—public urinators, overnight campers, drinkers, grafitti artists, and so forth. 

Bob’s patrol, rather than being aimless, was targeted towards a specific place, time and problem.  That’s the kind of officer Bob Smith has always been.  I guarantee you he does not drive around waiting for the next call.  He’s focusing his time on where the crime or issue can be anticipated, and that’s one of the reasons he is so effective.  He gets a big bang out of his gallon of gas.

Bob, by the way, had his windows down: he understands the value his sense of hearing adds to his patrol.  I remarked about how much nicer the weather had been lately, because we had suffered through some nasty humidity this summer.  “Yes,” he replied, “I’m sure glad it cooled down for Pike’s Peak last weekend.”  “How many is that?,” I asked.  “Fourteen,” he replied. 

Fourteen races up a 14,115 ft. mountain.  That’s a police officer that you don’t want on your trail you in a foot pursuit.

Monday, August 30, 2010

On patrol

One of the most common activities of police officers in the United States is driving around in cars—or as we call it, patrol.  The automobile is so integral to the definition of patrol, that we must convert a noun into an adjective to describe patrol by any other means: hence, foot patrol and bike patrol. 

Every time I hear the phrase routine patrol, I cringe.  First, there should never be such a thing as routine in policing, and second, the thought of police officers in cars on routine patrol makes me think of another phrase: driving around aimlessly burning fossil fuel.  So, whenever I hear the phrase routine patrol, my habit is to substitute my own phrase.  Thus, a news story sounds something like this in my head:

“Saturday, police officers, driving around aimlessly burning fossil fuel, fortuitously stumbled upon two wanted men who were in possession of a large quantity of stolen property and illegal drugs.” 

Patrol is expensive.  The Lincoln Police Department has a fleet of over 120 marked patrol cars.  It takes a lot of police officers to ensure that all those cars have drivers during the week, and we drive about two million miles every year. I came to this profession in the 1970’s when some of the seminal research in our field was being published. I cut my academic teeth on such studies as the Kansas City Preventative Patrol Experiment, which questioned the efficacy of this pillar of American policing.

I believe patrol should never be aimless or routine.  It should have a direction, a purpose, and be part of a strategy.  Moreover, patrol should not be the only—nor even the dominant—activity the police engage in to promote a safe and secure community.  Patrol may have its value, but it is only one arrow in the quiver.

This was one of the themes of the two-day class I conducted for our new recruits in the police academy last Thursday and Friday.  The first day was a class I’ve done for several years, and blogged about before: how to use the department’s considerable information resources.  Day two, however, concerned what to do with that information—how to move beyond the call, the case, and driving around aimlessly burning fossil fuel to something more productive in advancing our mission.  More on that will follow, as the week unfolds.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Clearance rate rises

The clearance rate is the percentage of all Part 1 Crimes that are solved by an arrest.   Actually, it’s a little more complex than that, but if you really want to read the details, you’ll have to do your own digging. 

Nationally, the clearance rate for Part 1 Crimes always hovers around 21%, though it varies dramatically by offense.  It is highest for crimes of personal violence, and lowest for property crimes.  Until recent years, Lincoln’s clearance rate hovered around 24%.  Lately, though, our clearance rate has been increasing, and last year, it hit 30% for the first time on record.  That's quite a change from a 22% rate in 2004.  Through the first 7 months of 2010 it is running 31.2%. 

Our clearance rate is pretty remarkable.  The figure is a little difficult to compare from city to city, because not everyone is equally attentive to applying the FBI definitions of “cleared,” but we have been consistent in our work, so the increase is a real one, not an artifact of some kind of change in reporting practices or coding. 

I attribute this phenomenon to two factors: very good follow-up work by our officers, and our excellent information resources, which put a rather incredible amount of investigative information in the hands of our officers.  I can’t ignore, however, a third factor: a robust flow of leads and information from our citizens that has been kicked up a notch in the past two years. 

Whatever the causes, the increase in our clearance rate, and it’s overall excellence, is certainly something our staff can be proud of. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Alcohol-fueled assaults

Last weekend was one of our busy ones—the final blast before the fall semester starts.  Our late shift officers certainly kept busy, but the cauldron never quite boiled over.  We did, however, have a rather violent weekend, with 55 assaults on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  None life-threatening, but several requiring medical treatment.

Of the 55 assaults, officers recorded “alcohol involved” on 31 of the Incident Reports.  A third were within a par five of the intersection of 14th and O Streets, where the twenty-something bars cluster.  Here is the timeline on when the 31 alcohol related assaults occurred (no surprise):


Monday, August 23, 2010

Fatherly advice

Would it surprise you to learn that a few tickets for minor in possession of alcohol were issued over the course of the last weekend before the start of classes at our colleges and universities?  Friday, I received an email from the father of a 19 year old UNL sophomore who got one of those tickets, in the wee hours that same day.  His son was a victim of circumstances.  He had been called by his friends, who needed a sober driver to come pick them up at a party and take them home. It was the friends who had the beer.  His son hadn’t even been drinking.  He was an innocent bystander trying to be a good Samaritan.  What’s more, something quite similar happened to him when he received another MIP citation a couple of years ago in his own home town.  The local police wouldn’t listen to him then, either. 


Here’s my response:

“After your email was routed to me, I read the reports. Your son's account is wildly different than the events reflected in the officers' reports. The difference is far greater than could be explained by a different angle, viewpoint, or perception. Ultimately, when the facts are in dispute, these cases are decided in court, but the version your son provided is so vastly different, I think something else may be going on here. I'm a father, too, and I hope you will allow me to give you my advice as a father. I think you have two choices: forget about the discrepancy, accept the fact that your son might be trying to save face with his dad, and help him deal with the consequences. Alternatively, you could ask him again. If you chose to do that, first let him know that you have spoken to the chief of police. He might--and I stress might--be a little more forthcoming. Sometimes, however, when you've told a tall tale, you are so committed to it that instead of acknowledging that it might not have happened quite the way you said, you continue to embellish the whopper and dig yourself into an even deeper ethical hole.

I would be happy to sit down with you and discuss the details, but he's an adult, and your son probably ought to be the one who decides whether he wants that to happen or not. You know him well, but I would just ask you to remember that we all tend to tell things in a way that makes us appear a little less culpable when we have done something regrettable. Personally, I'd give him the space to do so, rather than insist on getting the bottom of the story. But if you and he want to do so, we can hash this out. I can't think of any reason at all it would be beneficial in any way for the officer to recount a completely inaccurate version of the events. If she did so, it would not be at the risk of her Dad being disappointed, rather it would be at the risk of her job as a Lincoln police officer, and her career in law enforcement.  I think it is far more likely that your son is painting a picture of the events calculated to explain how he received the ticket without admitting to some conduct he knows would be terribly disappointing to his parents. Even good people do dumb things.

Think back to your own youth, and recall some occasion when you failed live up to your parents expectations. Did you ever stretch things, deflect some of the blame elsewhere, omit a few pertinent details, or anything of the sort?

Tom Casady, Chief of Police”

I realize this is a little long winded, but it still might  be good for all parents of teens and young adults to read this and save it for future reference, particularly if you are about to tell the chief of police that your son or daughter did nothing wrong, and would never lie to his parents.  Add it to my other parental advice.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Uniform change

It's been about 35 years since LPD's uniform has been updated in any significant way, but that is changing.  Last year, we started issuing trousers sans the French blue stripe running down the leg.  That stripe's been around for about 60 years or so.  Losing the stripe makes a few other trouser styles more practical, particularly those with auxiliary side pockets--a popular option given the amount of gear officers carry.

Most people probably haven't even noticed the mix of stripe/no stripe as the old ones begin to disappear.  But the shirts are a little tougher to phase in, since our Uniform Task Force recommended a switch from French blue, which we have worn since our last uniform makeover in 1976, to solid navy blue--by far the most common shirt for municipal police forces.  Navy is easier to obtain in the market place, and is a standard stock item from suppliers that will be easier for our Property Unit to deal with. 

Beginning this week, you will start seeing some LPD officers in full navy blue, but it's going to be a while before the French blue shirts are a thing of the past.  We're not buying those anymore, and everything that needs to be ordered for replacement or new issue will be in the new styles and colors.  We will eventually get to the point where we can just declare those obsolete--probably within six months to a year.  With 321 officers, a uniform switch is tough to pull overnight, but we'll get there.  In the meantime, navy blue and French blue shirts will coexist, and the striped slack will fade away.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

From the crime files


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Crime on the trails

I enjoy cycling, and this summer I have been hitting the trails a lot, trying to justify the expense of a new bike I acquired.  So I paid particular attention to an indecent exposure case late last month that happened along one of Lincoln’s trails on one of my most frequent routes. 

On July 27 At about 6:20 PM, a cyclist rounded the gentle bend on the Rock Island Trail where it passes under Sheridan Blvd., and got a frightening surprise.  The suspect, a skinny white male in his late teens or 20’s, had his shorts pulled down and was masturbating in full public view for the edification of passers by.  Quite a bit of work has been done on this case by Officer Wendy Ground, who was dispatched to the call  She has checked out past offenders, done a photo lineup with the victim, reviewied video from a nearby convenience store, and along with other officers conducted some more patrol and surveillance on the trail.  I think we’ve exhausted the possibilities unless something more surfaces, but I’m still keeping my eye peeled.  I am sure our other LPD trail users are doing likewise. 

The case made me think about other similar crimes that have occurred on or near recreational trails in Lincoln, and we had an informal conversation about this one morning at our staff meeting.  We had a well known local offender in the early 1990’s that committed several indecent exposures on our trails and in our parks. In 2000, Officer Rob Brenner broke a case open in which another offender had committed 13 indecent exposures along or adjacent to several Lincoln trails.  In 1999 a recently-released sex offender molested an 8 year old boy next to another section of the Rock Island Trail.  In 2007, a 15 year old suspect sexually attacked a runner on the MoPac trail in east Lincoln.  Also in 2007,  two 14 and 15 year old suspects attacked and stabbed a runner on another section of the MoPac in what looked like a gang initiation.  Finally, back in 1988, an unknown male suspect attacked a female cyclist on the Billy Wolff trail shortly after 1:00 AM.  The cyclist was an off duty police officer, headed home after her shift—armed, and unhappy about being delayed on her commute.  Bet that guy needed an underwear change. 

That’s quite a list, but when you consider the hundreds of miles of trails in Lincoln, and the tens of thousands of users, it puts this in perspective.  We could do the same thing if we all started thinking about violent crimes along 48th Street, for example. 

I’ve blogged about trail safety before, and the advice is still sound.  Lincoln’s trails are quite safe, but anytime you have a place where people gather, crime will inevitably follow.  There have been 27 Incident Reports on recreational trails in Lincoln so far this year.  By comparison, there have been 130 in alleys, 677 in bars and restaurants, 1066 at schools, 1972 on streets, and  11529 in residences, to name just a few other location types.

In cemeteries, however, there has been only one Lincoln Police Department Incident Report so far in 2010.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Another kind of community policing

Last week’s arrest of three suspects who we believe have been involved in a string of church burglaries in Lincoln is a great example of good police work—not all of which is done by police officers. 

First, our all-civilian Crime Analysis Unit has done a good job of keeping all of us informed as this pattern has emerged.  The strong geographic pattern gave police officers an area of focus.  Second, our local news media, having been informed of the trend, did a good job of publicizing the crime pattern and helping us encourage citizens who live near churches to be good neighborhood guardians. 

Third, one of those alert neighbors spotted the suspicious activity near the Church of the Brethren, and alerted our late shift officers.  Fourth, the Southeast Team officers did a great job responding quickly and establishing a perimeter.  Finally, Lincoln Police Department K-9 Dexter, accompanied by his handler, Officer Niki Loos, sniffed out the suspects in their hiding place, and the collar was made.

It was a partnership that involved sworn, civilian, and four-legged members of the police department, the media and an alert citizen.  Now that’s what I would call “community policing!”

Friday, August 6, 2010

Robbery update

Tuesday’s bank robbery at a US Bank branch was Lincoln’s second bank robbery of the year.  The first, back on May 4th, was also at a US Bank branch—on the opposite end of the city.  Both of these robberies were cleared up in a matter of minutes.  In the most recent case, the subject was in Office John Clarke’s custody 30 minutes after the robbery and a couple hundred yards away.  During her short period on the lam, she had allegedly spent some of the proceeds ordering a set of dentures at a nearby business, and then backtracked in the direction of the scene of the robbery, a rather flawed get away plan.

Interestingly, this was not our suspect’s first bank robbery.  She was arrested for robbing US Bank’s main Lincoln location downtown on July 27, 2005.  She was  sentenced to three years of probation in connection with that case.  In the 2005 robbery, she was apprehended by Officer Rich Fitch about 3 blocks and 5 minutes away.  Somehow I think she needs to select a new career; this one doesn’t seem to be panning out too well.

We were six for six when this article ran more than a year ago in the Lincoln Journal Star.  We are eight for eight now: each of the last eight bank robberies has been cleared by arrest, and the average time from the crime to the collar is less than an hour.  Lincoln continues to be rather inhospitable to bank robbers.

Just a quick update on where we stand so far in 2010 on robberies of all types of businesses.  There have been 13.  This compares with 29 during the same period in 2009.  That’s a 55% drop in biz robberies: very weird, and very gratifying.  

By the way, I counted 77 business robberies in Omaha so far this year on the Omaha World Herald’s map, which is a pretty reasonable number for a city of their size.  Only three of those appear to be bank robberies, which is excellent.  The overall number of robberies in Omaha was down by 12% through the end of May—the most recent month available on their public website. Although we only have a fifth of their volume,  the Omaha decrease robbery decline actually beats ours.  Overall robberies in Lincoln are down 11% this year.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Flash back to 50’s

It’s been a good week for oddities.  This one merited a small mention in the local media.  In an earlier generation, mothers always warned daughters of the risks involved in wearing patent leather shoes.  Now, you have to worry about a Nikon in a Nike, a Pentax in a Puma, and a Canon in a Converse.  Good grief.  Looks like we’re not the only place with technically-inclined peepers with foot fetishes. 

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Like I always say…

…you just can’t make this stuff up. I think we could add one more identifying characteristic to the suspect’s description, though. 


Monday, August 2, 2010

Long, boring, and useless

Last Wednesday, our regular ACUDAT meeting was attended by a crime analyst and a police lieutenant from the Aurora, Illinois.  Like many departments (Lincoln included) Aurora is looking around for good ideas.  They’ve been thinking about some potential changes to their Compstat meetings, and that’s why they were interested in having a look at ours.

We hooked Aurora up remotely using gotomeeting.com, and for a little over an hour they were able to eavesdrop on our meeting.  On the menu last week were Church burglaries, school burglaries, and larceny from autos in swimming pool parking lots.  No doubt these same crime patterns occur from time to time in Aurora.  We exchanged some information about these crimes, discussed some strategies and plans, reviewed our year-to-date crime stats, how we’re doing on some crimes discussed at previous meetings, and that was that. 

I don’t know if Aurora saw anything of interest, but I think the reason so many other departments have visited our ACUDAT meeting is because it represents an alternative to how Compstat is carried out in most other cities.  After visiting with dozens of other departments, in my view the typical Compstat meeting is too long; is static (rather than interactive); is too general, dealing too much in statistics rather than getting down into the  specifics of individual problems; focuses too much on trying to hold district commanders accountable; has a “gotcha” feel rather than an information sharing one; is too scripted; contains far too many PowerPoint slides; is not sufficiently current; and is targeted too much at administrators, rather than operational personnel. 

Compstat has pretty much swept the field in policing.  If you’re not doing a Compstat meeting now, you will be with your next chief.  On balance, I think the fundamental concepts it represents are good ones: focus on results, monitor your performance, get the command staff engaged in the department’s key outcomes.  Care must be taken, however, not to create a meeting that is long, boring, and mostly useless.