Friday, December 30, 2011

Holiday shopping

During December, 148 shoplifting reports were filed in Lincoln.  Here's a partial list of some of the more interesting articles appearing on those police Incident Reports, proving that thieves will steal anything:

Kitty Litter
Picnic Basket
Shopping bags
AirWick refills
Red Alert security kit
Navel jewelry (not to be confused with Naval jewelry)
Hot dog buns
Chili cheese dogs
2 green limes (do they come in other colors?)
Shot glasses
Beer (lots of)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Wake up call

If you didn't catch this tragic story on the national news this week, it is difficult to read, but should serve as a wake up call for everyone to check and test your smoke detectors, formulate and test the family fire drill.  While your at it, give up smoking--one of the leading sources of ignition for house fires in Lincoln and nationwide

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Christmas prayer

This was the first Christmas since 1981, as I recall, that I wasn't at work. I only remember two Christmas days in the past 38 that I was off duty.  It was strange being at home, and I have a new appreciation for the feeling Tonja has had these many years.  All day long, I thought about the officers, firefighters, and dispatchers working on Christmas.

I also found myself wondering what normal people do on Christmas, until I discovered my own answer: they go to the movies.  My own desire to see the latest Mission Impossible flick proved to be, indeed, a mission impossible.  That will have to wait for a later date.  Late in the afternoon, though, we slipped out on a mission of our own, to find a recipient of a random act of kindness, an annual tradition for Tonja and her coworkers.  We tapped on the window of a young mom with two toddlers at a convenience store, and handed an envelope of cash through the car door, with a simple "Merry Christmas". 

It wasn't an easy day for the emergency services personnel.  A tragic gunshot suicide on Christmas day occurred.  I pray that the victim's family and friends are able to cope with the loss. Although this was the most major case, there was plenty of other work to do.  The police department responded to 169 incidents on Christmas.  That's a little less than half a normal Saturday, but it included a dozen assaults, three child abuse cases, two death investigations, four burglaries, and the usual flotsam and jetsam of human behavior.  You've got to wonder about the motivation for shoplifting a six pack of Earthquake beer on Chirstmas.  Is that a microbrew?

Lincoln Fire & Rescue responded to 52 incidents.  During the early morning hours on the 26th, we responded to a house fire where a young father was critically injured. Fortunately, is wife and two children escaped unharmed.  I thank God that he is still alive, and pray for his recovery.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Had me stumped

Every couple of months I do a call-in to a morning radio talk show on KLIN Radio, Jack & John in the Morning.  Jack Mitchell and John Bishop have quite a shtick, and we enjoy bantering back and forth--with a little genuine content mixed in.

This morning, at about 7:45 they asked me how many phone calls the 911 Center in Lincoln handles per day.  I was stumped, and admitted that I couldn't answer.  This caused quite a bit of guffawing on their part, as I apparently have a reputation for being able to spew obscure data on demand.   When they regained their compsure, they closed out the segment by telling me that they'd be looking forward to a post on my blog with the information.

Here it is.  In 2010, we handled 373,056 incoming phone calls.  That is an average of 1,022 per day.  Hope that was quick enough for you!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Police iPad advice

Apparently if you Google the terms "iPad" and "Police", a couple of my past blog posts are near the top, concerning my own experiences using an iPad as a tool in my job.  As a result, I get an occasional contact from other police & fire types on this subject.

Friday, a captain at a small department emailed me.  I'm not sure if he is comfortable with me naming the agency, so for the moment, I won't.  He had attended my presentation at a conference earlier this year, and had gone home determined to look into equipping his staff with tablets.  It appears he found a funding source, and now has 14 Apple iPads on order. He was looking for any advice or tips.  Here's my reply:

That is awesome! Congratulations. Here are my top three applications: 
1. Google Maps.  A good, current street map that follows you around, aerial photos if you need them, and street-level images.  You have good StreetView coverage in your town, and this works great on an iPad.  With 14 units, you could actually set up Google Latitude and create what amounts to an AVL system for your department--you'll all be able to see where one another are on the map.  This is how my family keeps track of me.  
2. The Apple web browser is Safari, and the iPad version is preinstalled.  Think of any website that you and your colleagues find useful on your desktop computers. If you have an Internet connection, you'll be able to access almost all of those same sites on the iPads. There are a few web components that do not work on iPads--sites that use Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight, for example, but this is pretty minor.  One of the cool things you can do with an iPad is to take any bookmark you've set in the browser, and create it as an icon on the desktop. Stuff that you use often, like the sex offender registry, state statutes, state inmate locator, and any other websites can be set up as a one-click icon on the screen.  
3.  Any documents that you want to deploy--procedure manuals, handbooks, telephone contact lists, etc.--can be loaded up in iBooks, as .pdf files.  I've got a ton of these, and it works really, really well for arranging all those printed documents we're used to carrying in a three-ring binder!  If you get yourself a free Dropbox account, you can store the master documents in a shared folder, install the iPad Dropbox app on each iPad, and this would be a great way of distributing new or updated .pdfs.

I take it from your email that you are getting the WiFi only iPads, rather than the 3G model.  If you have a wireless network at the office, schools, home, etc., you can connect to those whenever you are close enough, but to really get the maximum value out of your iPads, you're going to need that Internet connection when you are on the move. A mobile hotspot like a MiFi or Overdrive wireless hotspot would be the solution, as you note.  One problem with that is that you then have another battery to go dead. Be careful when you go shopping for your mobile hotspot, and try to find one that will continue to transmit and receive while connected to the charge cord--some do, some don't--and make sure you've the cell provider you select has good coverage.

You'll have some work ahead getting fourteen iPads set up and activated, and some ongoing administrative work keeping application updates current. This isn't difficult, it's just going to require a little time now and then.  You can lock those iPads down in lots of different ways, to prevent users from accidentally deleting applications, or buying applications, or installing stuff, or using certain features like youtube, videos, iTunes, in app purchases, and so forth.
I've got a post on my personal blog about some of my favorite apps:
  Tom Casady  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

'tis the season

I counted 22 cases reported to the police theft or vandalism involving Christmas lawn displays since Thanksgiving. Fortunately, no babies have been reported stolen from mangers (yet), but we are missing a small flock of geese, and a damaged donkey. A reindeer named Rudolph has been smashed, and another unnamed reindeer is missing in action; possibly Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Cupid, Comet, Donner, or Blitzen.

A polar bear has been stolen, along with two penguins, one snowman, and a pair of Santas.  One of those Santas has a serial number, so if you encounter a shady character trying to sell you a Santa out of the trunk of his car at a too-good-to-be-true price, be sure to check the base for the number 8500, lest you purchase stolen goods.

In a twist of irony documented under case number B1-116522, someone stole the Grinch that stole Christmas from a home on North 15th Street.  What goes around, comes around.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Back-up up and running

Tuesday night around 7:30, the lights went out. Lincoln's 911 Center lost power, due to a badly corroded breaker box far away at the opposite end of the County-City Building, down in an underground vault where the building's electrical panels live. We ran on backup battery power for a while, but when it became apparent that the fix was days, rather than minutes, the staff hit the ejection button and moved to the back-up center.

Parts are being overnighted, and we hope to be back in business at the main center today or tomorrow. We are fortunate to have a back-up center, and also fortunate that it is regularly exercised. This little crisis was not without its trials and tribulations, but the public would not even notice the difference. In fact, we had previously planned on moving to the lifeboat for the later half of the week as part of a normal exercising of the back-up site, and in order to take care of carpet cleaning and other maintenance at the main site.

Probably the biggest impact of the fail-over was the loss of connectivity between the computer-aided dispatch system and the police and fire records systems. The 911 Center's computer systems feed data to the police and fire systems, and without those links, things get a little interesting--sort of like 1974. Not a bad thing at all for highly-computerized enterprises to maintain their practice at operating in an unplugged condition from time-to-time as part of their emergency preparedness planning and exercising.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Behind the curtain

Do you ever wonder what really goes on at the police department, behind the curtain?  Here's a little insight: an internal email that Officer Jason Brownell (who is currently assigned as our domestic violence investigator) sent out Friday to his colleagues:
Thank you to all who have been completing the Domestic Violence Lethality Assessment forms. This has proven to be a valuable tool for us as adepartment to use in gauging the actual and real threat imposed on a victimand his/her family. I have not only received valuable feedback from theCounty Attorney's reference your efforts, but victims have also commented on investigating officers willingness to go beyond the window of the immediate report and listen to their story. As always, there will be instances where victims do not always make the choices we may find easy to make in our own lives, yet that is the reason why we come to work every day; to make a difference."
Now that's enough to make this public safety director pretty proud, but it's also worth checking out this local video-on-demand program about Lincoln Fire & Rescue, in which local radio host Dale Johnson interviews Firefighter Nancy Engelbrecht.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Day at the Legislature

I spent a good part of the day on Monday at the Nebraska State Legislature, which isn't even in session.  The Judiciary Committee, however, was having some interim study hearings, and I had been asked to testify on two issues.  The first was a special hearing by the committee to study "policies and procedures associated with immigrants who come in contact with law enforcement at Federal, state, and local levels." The second was Senator Amanda McGill's Legislative Resolution 243, an interim study to examine the extent of human trafficking in Nebraska in connection with labor and sex trafficking.

Of the two, I was more intrigued by the human trafficking testimony. I came prepared with a couple of actual examples of cases investigated by LPD in 2011.  I had planned to fill the role of trying to help those in attendance at the hearing understand that human trafficking really does occur in Nebraska. My friend Alex Hayes, the Omaha Police Chief, beat me to the punch when he testified about his experience in Omaha with the sex trade.  He essentially told the senators the same thing I had planned.  He was followed by another friend, Weysan Dun, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Omaha field office.  Among other things, SAC Dun told the senators another story about an Omaha case that was quite similar to one of my two examples.

By the time I was in the seat, the point had already been made, and there was no real need to convince the committee that the sex trade in Nebraska is a good example of human trafficking. Instead, I told them about the hard life, and about the vulnerability evident with sex trade victims, who often suffer from mental health and substance abuse issues, have endured a lifetime of abuse, neglect and exploitation, and are hardly free to make their intelligent, informed, and voluntary decisions. Rather, they are often manipulated and abused by handlers who may pose as boyfriends, business partners, husbands, and the like, but in actuality are pimps and exploiters who take advantage of the vulnerability of addiction, poverty, alcoholism, and mental illness. For that matter, so do all of the johns.

Paul Hammel's Omaha World Herald article contains a good description of the immigration hearing, while Dan Holtmeyer's Daily Nebraskan article thoroughly covers the human trafficking hearing.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Number three

Lincoln's snowfall on Saturday didn't amount to much.  By Nebraska standards, a couple inches of wet slushy stuff on December 3rd is par for the course.  Nonetheless, it was the first snowfall of the season, and like every year I can remember, the first snow resulted in chaos on the roads.  There were 78 traffic crashes in Lincoln Saturday, which ranks as number three for 2011.  They happened all over town.

The two leading days for traffic crashes in 2011 were earlier this year.  There were 123 on February 24th, and 98 on January 31st.  Unlike those days, however, this past Saturday was a day when most driving was optional.  It's not like rapidly-deteriorating street conditions caught us when a storm struck at rush hour on a weekday.

I hate to whine, but boy, did I see some idiotic driving.  I watched a guy yesterday who was tailgating the pickup in front of his so closely he's lucky that he didn't hook his front bumper on the trailer hitch.  And here's an idea: how about leaving half a car length in between you and the car ahead when you stop at a light.  That way, at least when you get rear-ended, you won't be paying for a new radiator and grille, too. My favorite, though, are those owners of four-wheel drive SUVs who don't seem to understand physics: they may be able to get better traction on the slick stuff, but once all four wheels are locked in a skid, that Yukonasaurus is just a heavier sled.

It generally takes a while before most people come to their senses, and start to realize that in winter conditions, you've got to plan ahead with a little more time, slow down, leave a little more following distance, think ahead about the incline at the upcoming intersection, maybe consider applying the brakes a little earlier and more gently, and so forth.  Not to worry, though, by about the first of April, drivers seem to have it figured out.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Catching up

A nasty back spasm has laid me low, but also provided me with a little time to catch up on the news. This story (and this one a few weeks ago) always stirs the readers. And I noticed that Kevin is back in the news.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Packers v. Lions

Running a little behind this year, but in keeping with my holiday tradition, here’s a few one-liners from the blotter on Thanksgiving Day:


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

In the Smithsonian

Last Friday, I was in Washington, DC with a couple hours to kill waiting for an 8:00 PM flight from National Airport.  Whenever I can, I love to spend a little time at any one of the Smithsonian museums.  On this occasion, I stopped at the Castle for a few minutes on my way to the Freer Gallery, just to find a quiet spot to work a little email.  There are a few items on display in the Castle itself, though, and I could not resist snapping this photo of an IBM Selectric in the west wing.

I forwarded the photo to Police Chief Jim Peschong, who keeps one of these Mesozoic relics in his office, ostensibly for the occasional envelope, or self-carbonated form (for extra credit: what is "carbonated?").  I have refrained from informing him that he could print an envelope on his HP LaserJet, but nonetheless, I often rib him about his Selectric.  "You're in the Smithsonian!" I said in the text accompanying the photo.

A few minutes later he replied:

"You didn't have to go all the way down there to get a photo of one.  Stop by sometime and take all the photos you want :)
       Sent from my Verizon wireless Blackberry"

No doubt he will also be the last man on earth using a Blackberry :) . I snapped a couple of other shots on my way down to the National Mall.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Research to practice

Dr. John Laub is the Director of the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the United States Department of Justice.  He hosted a discussion Friday concerning how research is translated into practice.  I represented the practitioners, and was the onion in a petunia patch of academics.  I told the group that in my view, four things must converge for research to be translated into practice.

First, there must be a champion at the agency: one or more people interested in advancing practice, willing to try things, open to change and to new ways of doing things.  While it may help if this catalyst is the chief or a highly-placed placed manager, that isn't absolutely necessary.  Change agents and opinion leaders may be, and often are, rank-and-file, first-line supervisors, and mid-managers.

Second, these agents-of-change must find out about the research findings.  Practitioners and researchers do not swim in the same pond.  You won't find many police chiefs reading the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, or attending the American Society of Criminology conference.  If you want to influence criminal justice practitioners, you better disseminate your findings in a format and venue likely to reach the intended audience.  I rattled of some publications cops are more likely to read, gave a plug for really short summaries of significant findings, and suggested a few conferences where you might actually find practitioners in attendance.

Third, the research better be actionable if it's going to impact practice.  The research has to suggest relatively clear and straightforward actions, changes, or practices that flow from the research results.  When research suggests specific actions or steps, it is far more likely to find favor among practitioners than vague or broad implications that are difficult to operationalize. Researchers should ask themselves this question: "What exactly can I suggest that an agency or individual do, based on the results of this research?"

Finally, the implementation steps that emerge from the research must be practical.  All sorts of impediments to change exist, including internal resistance, conflicting external expectations, financial constraints, political opposition, union contracts, to name but a few.  Understanding the local landscape and the land mines that police managers must tiptoe around can help researchers frame recommendations that are more likely to have a fighting chance of moving from research to practice.

Organizational momentum exerts its own gravity, and liberating practice from its pull can require considerable power.  My sense, however, is that the field of criminal justice is very interested in adopting evidence-based strategies, and that a large plurality of police officers are open to research.  My experience in fire and rescue is short, but thus far I have sensed the same thing: willingness to adapt as new technology, new research, and new knowledge as it emerges.

Here's the best way to get research in front of the practitioners, and to maximize the chance that research results find their way into the field of practice: collaborate with the practitioners on the research.  And I mean really collaborate.  Involve practitioners in framing the research questions, developing the research strategies and methodology, interpreting the results, developing the final products, and disseminating the research to others. True collaboration is a lot more than soliciting a letter of support and getting access to a set of agency data. Rather, it is a partnership.  I've had the opportunity to be a full partner in research (including some underway right now), and it is a far different experience than being a subject of research.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Predictive firefighting

I've blogged before about the concept of predictive policing: using our data and our knowledge to make informed judgement about where crime is likely to occur in the future, what kinds of crimes are ascendant, and who is likely to commit crime.  Google "predictive policing" and you won't go far until you find my name associated with this topic.  Earlier this year, I edited an issue of Geography and Public Safety on predictive policing, and contributed my own article to the volume, "Police Legitimacy and Predictive Policing."

This week, I participated in an intriguing meeting and web conference, along with Lincoln Fire Chief John Huff, Assistant Chief Rick Furasek, Chief of Logistics Kendall Warnock, Chief of Training Roger Bonin, Capt. Eric Jones, and Capt. Scott Weibe. The web conference was with Buxton, a firm that specializes in consumer analytics.  Buxton has been doing some work with the Philadelphia Fire Department, applying its methods to create a "Fire Vulnerability Index."  This all sounds incredibly familiar to me, and is essentially the same process used in policing to deploy resources and determine strategies that are geared to creating the most bang for the buck.

Our current station relocation study is well on its way to identifying the best alternatives for providing data-driven decisions for Lincoln's fire, rescue, and emergency medical services.  While the current study is based largely on historical data about incident trends, the methods used by the private sector for locating retail businesses hold promise in creating more robust predictive analytics in public safety.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What I learned from Jake

In the summer of 1975, I was a 21 year old police officer, newly promoted to an assignment as a motor officer. It wasn't really a promotion, but as I looked around the Lincoln police department, the chief, assistant chiefs, most of the captains, lieutenants, and sergeants had all been motorcycle cops, or so it seemed.  It appeared pretty evident to me that riding motor was a resume-builder.  So, despite my complete unfamiliarity with the steed, I accepted the assignment.  As part of my accouterments, I acquired a pair of aviator sunglasses--to protect against pebbles, wind, sun, and bugs, of course.

One day, Capt. Paul Jacobsen called me aside.  Jake was a Captain of Detectives--among the most prestigious of positions at LPD.  He was a legend for his investigative skills, particularly his ability to develop rapport with suspects that led to an inevitable confession of the most heinous crimes.  It was said that Jake could get a tree to admit to the offense of issuing a bad check, wood pulp being a necessary precursor in the production of the paper upon which the check had been printed.

"Casady," Jake said, "You need to lose those mirrored sunglasses.  You can't talk to a man when you can't see his eyes."  Sage advice from the master of interviewing.  The Ray-Bans were relegated to off-duty wear.  I remember one more thing Jake taught me about interviewing:  "When you ask a suspect a direct question, and he repeats the question back to you, the next words out of his mouth are likely to be a lie."

Jake knew a few things about human nature, humor, honor, gunfights, and life.  He passed a couple of those on to me, and to this day when someone repeats a clearly worded question right back at me before answering, I recall his words.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Institutional failure

Like most Nebraskans, I'm a fan of the Nebraska football team.  I'm not the rabid sort, but I make it a point to find a TV or a radio on fall Saturdays. I watched Saturday's game against Penn State on TV, but the best part for me was on the radio, afterwards, as I puttered around in the garage and listened to Coach Pelini in the post-game show.

It was the coach's finest moment.  He spoke bluntly, and what he lacked in polish was more than made up for in candor and emotion:
I will be honest with you. Going into the football game, I didn’t think the game should have been played, for a lot of different reasons. My job as a football coach is to educate and to prepare the kids that come into the program for the rest of their life and that’s what we are. We’re a university system. The situation that’s going on is bigger than football. 
I had the same feeling. Something seemed so wrong about this.  Wednesday's spectacle of 10,000 clueless students rioting, the veneration of the former head coach, all this just smelled rotten.  While neither the fans nor the players are responsible for this mess, the institution of The Pennsylvania State University has some soul-searching ahead.

I urge you to read the grand jury presentment.   There is an old legal saw that a decent prosecutor could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.  We all should remember that Jerry Sandusky is innocent before the law.  He will have his day of judgement, and it will be from a higher authority than you or me.  Assuming his innocence of the criminal charges that have been filed, I separate this from the actions of the institution, through its leaders, who, regardless of the veracity of the charges, should have quickly and decisively acted to protect children and fulfill their legal and moral obligations.  From their own sworn testimony before the grand jury, it is clear that a cascade of Penn State University personnel failed to take steps to intervene in an apparent felony sexual assault of a child in progress and to report a suspected violent crime to the police after becoming aware of the offense.

When you read the grand jury report, you learn that a 28 year-old graduate assistant, witnessing what he believed to be the first degree sexual assault of a child in the shower room, called his father.  The head football coach apparently felt no obligation at all beyond passing the graduate assistant's report along to the athletic director, who in turn told the senior vice president.  And the president of the University, informed that a staff member had seen some sort of discomforting activity in the shower between a former coach and a child, did not ask follow-up questions, investigate any further, or heed these obvious warning signs.

Everyone understands that evil exists in the world, and that in any institution a trusted person in a position of authority can succumb to its power.  We've seen in in churches, in schools, in police stations, in the halls of Congress, and in the White House.  Normally, we can separate the bad act of a person from the insitution itself.  How do you make that distinction, though, when the chain of culpability begins with the graduate assistant, and flows through the head football coach, the athletic director, the senior vice president of business and finance, and the president himself?  The problem, in this case, is not only an individual.

I will be curious to see how the NCAA reacts to this case of institutional failure.  How does (at best) ignoring, or (at worst) covering up the signs of 13 years of child sexual assault compare to something like failing to report that some players have received free tattoos? How to you deal with this situation, when the reaction of the entire chain of command at the University, faced with these unfathomable report of the rape of a child was:

to take away the alleged perpetrator's keys to the locker room?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Nebraska law

Mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect to law enforcement or the Department of Health and Human Services is the law in Nebraska.  The Statute is very clear:

28-711. Child subjected to abuse or neglect; report; contents; toll-free number.
(1) When any physician, medical institution, nurse, school employee, social worker, or other person has reasonable cause to believe that a child has been subjected to child abuse or neglect or observes such child being subjected to conditions or circumstances which reasonably would result in child abuse or neglect, he or she shall report such incident or cause a report of child abuse or neglect to be made to the proper law enforcement agency or to the department....

28-717. Violation; penalty.
Any person who willfully fails to make any report of child abuse or neglect required by section 28-711 shall be guilty of a Class III misdemeanor.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Rethink that

I've had this conversation with a few hundred parents across the years, and it has occurred twice in the past week.  The parent will be talking to me about some kind of situation their teenager was involved in (normally, getting arrested or ticketed for something like shoplifting or MIP).  The parent asserts that their child was just an innocent bystander, and that the police arrested/cited him or her despite the child's innocence. The police officer wouldn't even listen.

I generally read the parent a few excerpts from the investigative reports, which is decidedly different from the account offered by the son or daughter.  With depressing regularity, the initial reaction of the parent is that the officer is lying.  "What", I ask, "would the police officer gain by fabricating the report, or by embellishing the facts?"  The answer is pretty obvious: absolutely nothing.  In fact, she or he would most certainly face termination of employment if the facts were embellished or fabricated.  The teen, on the other hand, has a vested interest of immense proportions.

Nonetheless, the parental response, rather than being a rational assessment, is often this: "My child would not lie."  Really?  Like you never lied to your parents, or stretched the truth, or told the story in a way that made you sound a little less culpable, and a little more like a victim of circumstances who was just in the wrong place and the wrong time?  Really? Better rethink that.

Here's a news flash:  good people do bad things.  Young people are even more prone to do stupid things than adults, even when they are honor role students, standouts in the school orchestra, and members of the Church youth choir.  Human nature is to paint our own bad conduct in a manner that reflects less negatively upon ourselves. Parents need to remember that.  A good starting point is to remember what they did and said themselves when they were caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

Doesn't mean you shouldn't support them, help them, protect them, or love them as they learn the lessons of life in the school of hard knocks.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Good things in medium-sized places

A few months ago, I blogged about good things in small places: what I admired and learned from the tiny little police department in Waverly, Virginia.  Yesterday and today, something similar is going on here in Lincoln.  Four members of the San Diego County Sheriff's Office are here in Lincoln for a site visit: Commander Beyers, Captain Donahue, Deputy Blackwell, and Dr. Noah Fritz, the crime analysis manager.

Noah and I became acquainted more than a decade ago, when he managed the Crime Mapping and Analysis Program for the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center.  He went on to be the president of the International Association of Crime Analysts for several years, earn a doctorate, teach at the collegiate level,and conduct original criminal justice research--all after a good run at the head of the Tempe, AZ crime analysis unit, where he mentored a rather incredible cohort of young people who are now some the leaders in this field from coast to coast.

Most recently, Dr. Fritz has returned to his roots: managing a large crime analysis operation in an agency of nearly 4,000 employees providing law enforcement services in the fourth largest county in the United States.  He and a his colleagues are visiting Lincoln to learn about our unique approach to police information resources and technology, which begins with the fundamental question "What would be helpful to our street officers, investigators, and detectives?"  It has been an honor to host their visit, and just as I was impressed by Chief Kevin Sands' operation in Waverly, I think the staff from San Diego has seen some very interesting and thought-provoking stuff here in Lincoln, despite the fact that we are about one tenth their size.

As previously noted, Lincoln seems to be in a sweet spot: large enough to have some significant resources, yet small enough to actually implement some clever and innovative ideas.  Size is not always an advantage, and organizational momentum exerts its own gravity. It would be hard to turn an aircraft carrier around in Salt Creek.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Hot seat

Remember that scene in A Christmas Story where Ralphie's little brother, bundled up in a snowsuit, falls down on the way to school and can't get up? That's about what I felt like yesterday afternoon at a live burn training for Lincoln Fire & Rescue recruits.  The rookies helped suit me up, and into the burn house I went, where what seemed to be a pretty intense fire had been kindled.  Despite the Nomex hood, my ears were burning, and it had nothing to do with anyone talking about me.

I had never been in bunker gear before (hot, tight, heavy), and never used a self-contained breathing apparatus before (hot, tight, heavy, and slightly frightening at first).  I have a major fire phobia, and here I am--at 58 years of age--crawling on hands and knees into an inferno.  Geez, I took a baby aspirin this morning, who am I kidding?  In Round Two, the inferno was much more intense, but the experienced firefighters all reminded me that this was kids' stuff compared to a real fire, and that the combustibles in this exercise--all wood products--were quite a bit different from mattresses, upholstered furniture, carpeting, and so forth that would be encountered in the real deal.

Having survived a deadly real deal (barely) in 1964, I knew they were right.  Hence, my fire phobia.  I'm glad I did it, though.  It was informative, and in a strange way rather exhilarating--sort of like exorcising a demon that has dogged me for nearly 50 years.  Here's a few take-aways from the afternoon:

  1. I will never view a knot of firefighters standing around at a fire ground in the same way.  From this point forward I have a new appreciation for "rehab."
  2. The principle of "two in, two out" is crystal clear to me.  Even in a controlled training situation, I was mighty comforted to know that someone had my back, a feeling I have had on many occasions, though in a different uniform.
  3. It takes me at least 60 seconds to tie my necktie in the morning. Getting into your turnout gear in a minute is a feat I can hardly imagine.
  4. I was crawling into the burn house to watch.  Firefighters, on the other hand, have work to do in that gear: roofs to ventilate, power tools to operate, ladders to climb, strategies to execute, hose to drag.  It was about all I could do to drag myself.
  5. Relaxation really works:.  A little past experience in remaining calm in crisis helped me deal with the instinctive terror remarkably well.  To a certain extent, you really can convince yourself to stay cool in the hot seat. I have a feeling that this ability cuts both ways: it is at the same time both helpful and dangerous.
  6. Forced to choose between fire, heights, snakes, spiders, and public speaking, I'll deliver an speech with a tarantula on my head while handling a copperhead and balancing on a phone pole (are there still phone poles?), thank you very much.  
And thank you to the instructors and the trainees who helped me.  I wish you all well as your careers begin. Within a few months, you will have experiences and accomplishments that few people can even imagine, much less achieve.

Why am I suddenly craving a nice wild party call, a bar fight, 10th & Q, and a foot pursuit with a drunken chain smoker?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Alarmed and sprinkled

Since becoming Public Safety Director, I have maintained an office at the Lincoln/Lancaster County Health Department building, at 3140 N Street.  Yesterday afternoon, though, I was downtown for a city council meeting, when my iPhone beeped with an automated text message notifying me of a working fire at...3140 N Street!

Shortly after I had left the building, a fire alarm sounded at the Health Department.  Despite around 200 employees and clients who were in the facility, no one knew there was a fire until the alarm sounded.  The building was evacuated promptly, but this was no false alarm.  A pretty significant fire had started in a lower level storage room.  It had a head start, but as soon as the detectors detected, the alarm went off along with the sprinkler system, keeping the fire isolated to the room of origin until Lincoln Fire & Rescue responded and completed extinguishing the fire.  We'll have a better idea in a few days of the source of ignition.

Without the alarm and the sprinkler system, it's hard to tell what would have happened.  This much is for sure: the damage would have been much more significant, and quite possibly lives would have been imperiled.  We've seen recently what a fire can do in an unsprinkled office building of similar size.  This is the second time in the past two days that alarms have alerted occupants to a peril and allowed evacuation from a structure fire that could have been catastrophic.  

Mayor Chris Beutler came to the scene as the overhaul was underway, and had a good opportunity to see how the Fire & Rescue Department handles a fireground, and how the National Incident Command System works in managing such incidents.  I could tell he was both intrigued and impressed, as was I.  In particular, I was interested in watching and learning about the work that must occur after the fire is out: the removal of smoldering materials, the examination of interior walls and ceilings for lingering fire that may be hidden from sight, the monitoring of hazardous carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide gas, the ventilation of the building, and so forth.  All of this is time consuming and tedious, but very necessary before the clean-up and rehabilitation can begin.  

It appears that the damage and loss will be somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000--covered by insurance. It could have been much worse. Good preventative engineering and preparation and good response by all involved prevented a greater tragedy.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Lost and found

Here's an email that went out to all LPD employees on Saturday, from Officer Brad Junker. Let's hope it has a happy ending!

On 10-29-11, at approx 1300 hrs, I located a men's white gold
wedding-style ring in the weight room; it was found on the floor next to the
white squat rack. In the event that you do not enjoy wearing gloves in your
house around your wife and do not enjoy sleeping on the couch, the ring was
turned over to Cpt Wright and can be claimed in the LPD Duty Command office.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Job hunt

Here in Lincoln, there are two universities that offer graduate degrees in forensic science.  I suppose there are 20 or more people who graduate with a master's degree in this field every year in Lincoln.  I doubt there are five jobs that open up annually in the entire state of Nebraska for forensic scientists. I get the sense that the same phenomenon occurs elsewhere in the United States. It is another aspect of the CSI effect, I suppose.  Our gain, though, because a significant number of our police recruits these days are graduates from these programs.

On the other hand, the field of crime analysis seems to have a significant number of job openings at any given time, and I know from my own experience that sometimes good applicants are hard to find for those jobs. Here's a sampling of job postings from a single source (the International Association of Crime Analysts) in just the past several weeks. Anyone looking to get involved in policing, but not as a sworn officer, would do well to consider this field--especially anyone interested in applied technology, problem solving, computer software and data mining, as applied to policing.

Earlier this week, I had a conversation with a friend who is a crime analyst at a mid-sized California police department.  She has a very bright intern who is interviewing for jobs as an analyst.  I offered to help with some references, as I am acquainted with people at the two agencies where she had applied.  If my friend thinks she is sharp, I have no doubt that she'd be a good one.  In reality, the intern needs to decide where she would prefer to work, because in her job hunt, she will have choices to make and need not settle for the first offer.  That's not true in many fields these days.

The International Association of Crime Analysts website is a great place to go for working analysts looking for resources, or for students exploring potential career fields.  Crime analysts do varied and interesting work, and have the opportunity to make a major impact in their community in many different ways.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Made me think

Dr. Jerry Ratcliffe, a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, is among my crime analysis/GIS pals.  We met about a dozen years ago, "networking" after a conference session. Jerry is unusual in is field, in that he has a decade of experience as a police officer at the London Metropolitan Police before he moved on to academe.  Dr. Ratcliffe maintains a personal website that is chock-full of great stuff.  He also has a wicked sense of humor, and the best presentation style--bar none--I've ever seen.

I had the opportunity yesterday to attend a session Jerry presented at the National Institute of Justice's Mapping and Analysis for Public Safety conference.  His topic was the impact of crime theory on police practice, a topic that staved off writer's block for me during an entire week of bloging a few years ago.  He focused on routine activities theory, rational choice theory, crime pattern theory and the types of police strategies that flow from these theories of crime: crime prevention through environmental design, situational crime prevention, geographic profiling.  

It was a good session, primarily review for me, but he said one thing in particular that piqued my interest and, made me think,and caused me to reach for a pen. When discussing rationale choice theory,  Dr. Ratcliffe opined that criminals do not often consider the risk of apprehension, rather are usually concerned only with the immediate escape.  So true.  This observation suggests that investigating crimes with an eye towards clearance after-the-fact, whatever it's merits, is unlikely to cause criminals to stop and reconsider their actions before they commit the crime.  Strategies that create the appearance or reality that immediate escape will be difficult, on the other hand, can effectively prevent crime.  This difference has some clear strategic implications.

My own presentation at the conference will be later this morning, concerning our new location-based services application, P3i.  I also had a great opportunity to discuss our current fire station relocation study with another friend, Bruce Silva from the Omega Group.  We buy the CrimeView family of products from his firm, but they also market a suite of similar products for fire departments, named FireView, naturally.  Bruce is quite familiar with fire operations and data, and confirmed my feeling that our current study is headed down the right path.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Be prepared

The Lincoln Public Schools has launched a new application to provide its staff and emergency responders with updated situational awareness information about each of its schools and facilities.  The system, developed with assistance from a U.S. Department of Education Readiness & Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) grant, was developed by a contractor, SafePlans.  I attended a kickoff training session yesterday, along with other staff from LPD and LF&R

The system is called Emergency Response Information (ERIP), and provides data such as area maps, aerial photographs, floor plans, exit locations, utility shutoffs, hazardous materials locations, and digital imagery of the interior and exterior of each site.  This is all good information, and it is nicely packaged.  The site is designed for simple navigation, and does not require any uncommon plug-ins or helper applications.  It runs fine in IE, Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Opera, Safari's iPad edition, and the webkit browser on my Android tablet.  Like many such systems these days, it is a secure web application.  Here's the problem with web applications for emergency preparedness: in an emergency, there is a fair possibility the Internet will be unavailable:  power may be out, data centers offline, backhaul cut, wireless services overwhelmed.  

We have experienced all of these to varying degrees with three comparatively minor crises during my tenure as police chief: We had a fiber optic line cut between the County City Building and the Law Enforcement Center that effeectively severed computer communications with police headquarters and the 911 Center.  We experienced a water main break at the County City Building that took out the entire building for four months.  We had a huge early season snow storm that took out power to over 100,000 citizens for up to a week, and crippled both landline and cellular telephone.  These are nothing of the scale of an F4 tornado, a Category 4 hurricane, or a major earthquake.

If your eggs are all in the basket of an Internet/Intranet solution for preparedness, you may not be prepared.  That's why I was very pleased to see that ERIP also provided a low-tech "offline" variant.  If the cool web version is inaccessible, you've got the backup on a memory stick and still provides critical information with nothing more than a working laptop and a generator for an occasional recharge.  Keep it fairly current with an update at least every year and you will have a good sturdy belt in the event your suspenders fail.  

Friday, October 14, 2011

Fired up

Wednesday night, I attended a City informational meeting about the N. 14th and Superior construction project.  It was a lively crowd--one of the more fired up groups I have seen in a while.  Nonetheless, I was happy to be there, and pleased to talk to a lot of people one on one.  It seemed to me that the great majority of those that attended were opposed to the construction design, which calls for a roundabout and for two pedestrian underpasses. I don't know whether the dialog changed many minds.

Obviously, this isn't my project to defend or explain, but I was asked to step forward and tell people what I thought about the public safety aspects.  Some guy in the back kept yelling at me and interrupting, but eventually was called out by the crowd. I told the audience what we had experienced at Lincoln's first significant arterial roundabout, which was a huge reduction in traffic crashes, and an even larger reduction in injury crashes.  As previously noted here on my blog, in the eight years since the roundabout at 33rd and Sheridan was installed the overall number of crashes fell by 80%,  and the number of injury crashes fell by 92%.  There have been two crashes at 33rd and Sheridan so far this year--neither with injury. Back in 1998, there were 24--thirteen of which were injury accidents.  

These are the facts, and however you feel about roundabouts, you can't ignore these results. My own data and  experience inclines me to believe that professional traffic engineers don't make this stuff up, and I tend to accept the research evidence on roundabouts they present in part because it is confirmed by my own observation. I told people that from a safety standpoint, I was more concerned with the impact of the year-long construction project than the intersection design.  Construction zones pose hazards for both motorists and workers, and inevitably result in traffic on local residential streets from those motorists who ignore the posted detour routes.

A lot of concern was voiced about pedestrian underpasses planned on the south and west legs of the intersection, where the lay of the land supports this method of crossing.  Apparently the grade on the east and north legs is such that an underpass is not practical.  Some people are worried that these underpasses will be a place for ne'er-do-wells to lurk, close to the nearby middle school.  I reminded folks that there are many pedestrian underpasses in Lincoln. I'm in a few of them virtually every day, and I've never seen a problem like this in Lincoln's underpasses, with the exception of the bridges along the Salt Creek levy where we sometimes have vagrants hanging out.  This probably is due to the proximity of these bridges to the railyards and the People's City Mission, which does not admit drunks or allow drinking on the grounds.  About the worse thing I've seen elsewhere is graffiti in a few locations. I just don't think 14th and Superior is going to be an attractive place for transients to crash.

It will be up to us to do what we can to ensure that any such mischief in the pedestrian underpasses is suppressed, and I think we can do so effectively.  The alternative, at-grade pedestrian crossings of a seven lane conventional intersection, is worse, in my opinion, than the risk of trolls in the underpass.  Several people I spoke with preferred the idea of an overhead pedestrian bridge.  While I like the better visibility in a bridge, in order to comply with accessibility requirements, such structures built at a site like this would need to incorporate an exceptionally long approach or a long ramp with switchbacks in order to to keep the grade sufficiently low.  Lincoln doesn't have any of this kind, but I've seen this type of overpass built in other cities, and then rarely used because the route of travel is so long that the very people it was intended for it will not walk the extra distance. I'm thinking of one in particular where the pedestrians almost always cross at street level right underneath a huge million-dollar-plus pedestrian overpass.

In a perfect world, we wouldn't have situations where middle school kids need to cross one of our largest arterial streets, but there isn't much the City can do about this, and the next best practical solution at 14th and Superior appears to be these underpasses.  Sure wish we had one at Highway 34 and Fletcher for the Schoo Middle School students, and I wish the kids going to Scott Middle School didn't have to navigate 27th and Pine Lake, either. At these large intersections lots of distractions, I especially worry about right-turn-on-red vehicles failing to pay attention to a pedestrian or bike crossing in the crosswalk.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Happy trails

I am a regular user of Lincoln's extensive network of recreational trails, normally in the pre-dawn hours.  As such, I am particularly annoyed at crime on the trails, a subject that has been addressed on my blog on a few past occasions.

Recently, I have been quite concerned about a series of indecent exposures and a third degree sexual assault that occurred along the MoPac trail in north Lincoln.  I've seen this pattern before, and it was eerily reminiscent of past cases.  Our Crime Analysis Unit published a bulletin on the current pattern a couple weeks ago, and a lot of effort has been underway to catch this offender.

As is often the case, a citizen came through with a key tip this week. It  is a good example of the importance of getting this kind of information out to the public via the news media. Alerted to the trend by news coverage, the tipster recognized the description of the suspect from an earlier contact, and notified LPD.  The case has now been cleared with an arrest, and life on the trail is a little happier as a result.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Back office back up

It was August 10, 1967.  Two Lincoln detectives, Paul Whitehead and Paul Merritt pulled over a suspicious vehicle on O Street near 37th.  Little did they know that the vehicle was stolen, and the occupants were escapees from the Indiana State Penitentiary. As they approached the vehicle, one of the escapees rolled out of the door, and opened fire with a sawed off shotgun, mortally wounding Det. Whitehead.  He was the last Lincoln police officer to be murdered in the line of duty.

Would the outcome have been different in 2011, with the availability of the National Crime Information Center's database, with access to wants and warrants via our trunked radio system, and with mobile data computers in patrol cars? It is impossible to know for sure, but in all likelihood, the detectives would have been armed with critical information before they stopped the car and approached.  The world has certainly changed in the intervening 44 years.

Last week, the manager of our Emergency Communications Center, Julie Righter, received the phone call no one ever imagines: her husband and the father of their children, Ron Righter, had died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 51 while on a business trip in Maryland.  It was devastating news.  Ron was a software engineer for Public Safety Sytems Inc., a firm that specializes in computer-aided dispatching software.   That's how Julie and Ron met, many years ago.

Thursday, Julie asked me if I could spread the word to firefighters and police officers who might be attending Ron's funeral this Wednesday that she would appreciate it if they would feel free to wear their uniforms, "Ron was very proud of what he did," she said.  Proud indeed.  I know that corporations exist to make a profit, but over the years I have encountered lots of people in the public safety technology business that have the same pride in what they do that Ron Righter had.  I want to thank them for the work they do that has helped us carry out our duties more efficiently and safely than ever before.

Think about the days before two-way radio, before computer databases and instant registration and wants-and-warrants checks.  Paul Whitehead died before online access to electronic maps, risk assessments, hazardous materials guides, premise history, caution flags, and all the other advancements in communications and information technology we take for granted today.  We all owe a debt of gratitude to the innovators who have created these tools, the companies who have developed and commercialized them, and the employees who maintain them--both in the private sector and our own city staff.

Take a moment to think about the thanks we owe to PSSI, ADMINS, Zoll, Harris, the Omega Group, ESRI, PenLink, DataWorks, Red Brain, and to Clair, Julie, Jackie, Todd, Kelly, Ron, Julio, Tim, Pete, John, Brian, Tara, Wade, Glen, Marcia, Mark, and the other employees who work behind the scenes, in the back office, as the technology back up that helps protect us, and helps us deliver effective and efficient services to the citizens of Lincoln.   Thank you, Ron, for the contribution you made.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Panoramic crime scenes

You've seen them: panoramic photos of the hotel lobby, a vacation rental, or the interior of a new car you are scoping out on the manufacturer's website.  Panoramic photos are just popping up everywhere these days. I blogged about this a couple of years ago, marveling at the work of a local Lincoln firm (, and wondering what the future would hold for panoramic photography in emergency services.

At the time, I was thinking about panoramic photography as a great means of establishing situational awareness for police officers, firefighters, and emergency responders.  I though such imagery would be great for high-risk facilities such as government buildings, arenas, schools, critical infrastructure, and the like.  I pictured a library of panoramas that a SWAT team commander, battalion chief, or incident commander could consult during a protracted critical incident.

What I wasn't really thinking about at the time, however, was preserving information about crime scenes or fatal traffic crash scenes through panoramic photography.  A couple months ago, though, I found a new iPad app, TourWrist, that made me think about this application. TourWrist leverages the gyroscope in an iPad or iPhone, so you can navigate within a panoramic photo by moving or rotating the device.  It is a very immersive experience.  Next time you see someone holding their iPad over their head and looking up at it, or holding it at arms length and dancing in a tight circle, I'll wager they are using TourWrist to check out the ceiling of some opera house, or the landscape of some ancient ruins. It was my experience goofing around with this application that caused me to pause and think about scene photography.

Last week, I discovered something even more immersive and interactive: panoramic video.  The sample videos from (especially playing in their iPad application) simply blew me away.  I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around this: it's as if you are inserted right into the video, able not only to rewind, review, and repeat, but to control the point of view within the full 360 degree range of motion.  What a great way of re-examining a scene, or presenting its appearance to those who were not there to see it live.

There is no doubt in my mind that panoramic photography and panoramic video will be hugely influential in the future of crime and crash scene investigation.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Flatter is better

Last week, a copy of a police department annual report from another city arrived in the mail.  This city’s population is about 50,000 fewer than Lincoln, yet it has 200 more police officers than Lincoln.  Last year, the number of Part 1 crimes in this city was almost identical to Lincoln, as was the number of traffic crashes. This city’s clearance rate for Part 1 crimes last year was 10%: Lincoln’s was 29%.  This city received just over 300 Crimestoppers tips in 2010: Lincoln received 1,833. I could go on, put the point is that LPD’s efficiency look mighty good in comparison. 

Looking at the organizational chart in this city’s annual report, I noted eight different ranks: chief, deputy chief, major, captain, lieutenant, sergeant, corporal, and officer.    In Lincoln's police department there are five: chief, assistant chief, captain, sergeant and officer.  There is a lot of rank evident in this department: I counted a captain, 3 lieutenants, and 10 sergeants in the Traffic Unit alone.

I am a big believer in organizational flattening: reducing levels of rank. I also believe that fewer and smaller specialized units are an advantageous, in order to keep the percentage of sworn personnel delivering direct services—uniformed officers, investigators, and detectives—comparatively high.  At every agency I’ve headed, I have eliminated a middle management rank and/or reduced the total number of incumbents in those ranks in favor of plowing more resources back into field services.  I strongly believe that a flatter organization is more efficient, and that in the information age, a leaner management staff can still competently direct a complex organization. 

Lincoln Fire & Rescue also looks good in this regard.  Like the police department, there are five levels of rank at LF&R: chief, assistant chief, battalion chief, captain, and firefighters. Above the rank of captain (which is the first line supervisor, roughly equivalent to a police sergeant) there are 10 chief officers. This is low for a department of this size, and reflects an efficient use of management-level personnel.

You can find a huge amount of comparative information concerning municipal services online, and I would invite anyone to look at these kind of data if they are wondering about the bang-for-the-buck they receive in Lincoln.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Cover shot

There is a short article in the September issue of Law Officer about the CrimeView Dashboard, a product of the Omega Group that we use here in Lincoln.  The latest version is a huge upgrade from its predecessor that we launched in 2009.  I did a double take when I saw a copy of the magazine laying on the desk of one of our crime analysts. I hadn't seen the issue yet, but I recognized the cover.  I snapped that photo in the Lincoln Police Department's assembly room, over the shoulder of Capt. Jim Davidsaver.  A couple months ago, the editors had asked me for a few screenshots or photos to illustrate the upcoming article. I used my Canon G12 that is normally employed when chasing fast grandkids, a task that benefits from it's optical viewfinder and Tracking AF focus mode.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Quicker is better

I have been a proud member of the Police Executive Research Forum, a professional association of eggheads of my ilk, for a couple decades.  One of the benefits of membership is a daily email composed of links to a handful of interesting or provocative news stories from around the country.  For one reason or another, there has never been one from Lincoln.  Maybe our local media outlets aren't picked up that much on the right coast, or maybe we're just not that interesting.  Oh well.

Colorado, though, was in this week's clips with an interesting article from the Denver Post about a new Auto Theft Intelligence Coordination Center in Lakewood. Here's the excerpt that caught my eye:
The silver Dodge was screaming up Interstate 70 at 2 a.m., outgunning a state trooper who had flipped on his lights because of a minor traffic violation. It was only after the 19-year-old woman crashed inside the Eisenhower Tunnel that the reason for her 100-mph run became clear: She told troopers she thought they were after her because she stole the vehicle 11 days earlier.  None of the law officers involved in the July chase even knew the car was stolen. The reason? Authorities in the small western Colorado town where it went missing hadn't filed a report in a statewide database yet.  A delay in auto-theft reporting by police and sheriff's offices was one of the first problems targeted by Colorado's new auto-theft lab when it began work in January....some jurisdictions were taking from two weeks to three months. Now the average delay in reporting a stolen vehicle is about 1.5 days, down from more than four days a few months ago.

Holy cow, a day and a half is an improvement?  Cheri Marti, who manages LPD's Service Desk and who's staff handles entries into the National Crime Information Center database tells me that from the time an Lincoln police officer submits a stolen vehicle report until the time the entry has been made in the State and national databases is less than two hours--often much quicker.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

P3i for Duluth

Duluth’s a nice place, I’m sure, but my only recollection of spending a month there one week during March several years ago is being pelted with horizontal freezing rain for about three straight days.  I was travelling with Jane and Steve, colleagues from our local domestic violence shelter, Friendship Home, and Lancaster County Adult Probation.  We were attending a training/planning session on improving our community response to domestic violence, taught by the renowned Ellen Pence.

Oh, wait, there was that lovely restaurant north of the City on the shores of Lake Superior.  Ellen sent us there, with instructions to ask for a specific server, Zoe, and to inform her: “We are here to end violence against women.”  A meal to-die-for ensued.   But I digress….

Chief of Police Gordon Ramsay and I have become acquainted over the past couple of years.  We’ve talked about various issues over the phone and email.  He reminds me of me, and I suspect its mutual.  Chief Ramsay is very interested in leveraging technology to work efficiently, and he learned of P3i via my blog.  We have offered to bring Duluth onto P3i during the remainder of our research grant, and we are working on that right now. Like Lincoln, Duluth is a customer of the Omega Group and, and like me, Chief Ramsay is a big proponent of crime alerts as a means of keeping citizens informed about crime in their own back yard.

Looks like the Chief is both a new blogger, and writes a column for the local newspaper, the Duluth Tribune. That’s great public outreach, and I wish him well in the blogosphere.  It’s a challenge to keep up with fresh posts, but the pay off is huge when you let the public inside your office to see what’s on your mind. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Not particularly surprised

Last week I testified at a City Council meeting, regarding a resolution to increase the rates we charge for Lincoln Fire & Rescue ambulance services.  The rate increase averages about 4.5%, and is based on a formula that increases rates annually in an amount equal to the consumer price index increase, plus 2%.  This method was the recommendation of a committee that studied the ambulance service in Lincoln a few years ago, and acknowledges the reality that medical services are increasing at a rate well beyond the general CPI.

During my testimony, I mentioned that LF&R actually recovers just over half of what we bill.  This seemed to surprise many people, including some of the media.  The Lincoln Journal Star ended up discussing this in their lead editorial yesterday.  It's really pretty straightforward: many people who need an ambulance do not have private health insurance.  The medicare and medicaid rates are well below the billing rate, and many uninsured patients have little ability to pay.  Absent private health insurance, other taxpayers pick up the difference between the bill and the reimbursement rate, or the entire tab in many cases.  This shouldn't shock anyone.  The taxpayers also pay to extinguish your fire when you've put your grill too close to the deck railing, investigate your theft when you've left your garage door standing wide open, and incarcerate the offender if he is caught and convicted.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Good work noted

My email address is on many of the internal lists and groups, so I get copied in on lots and lots of internal email.  It is sometimes a battle to keep up, but I'm sure glad I didn't miss a couple of this week's emails (lightly edited for length), from Capt. Tim Linke and Chief Jim Peschong, and I heartily agree!

"Just a quick note to advise you of a significant incident to which B-shift crews responded today. Engine 3 and Medic 2 were dispatched to a person with a head injury.  Upon arrival, the crew noted that the patient was down a steep embankment along the Salt Creek Levee. Engine 3 advised they would need a Truck Company for slope evacuation, and began providing aid to the victim. Truck 1 arrived then began setting up their rope rescue equipment and used Battalion 1's vehicle as an anchor point. Engine 10 arrived and assisted. Units skillfully immobilized the patient and placed him in a Stoke's Basket; he was then moved up the embankment with the haul system rigged by Truck 1. The patient was transported to Bryan West with potentially life-threatening injuries. Thanks to the combined efforts of all members on location, the patient was removed from a quasi-complex situation and delivered to definitive care within a very short time from dispatch." 
Tim Linke
Captain, Acting B1B
"I just wanted to say to everyone "Congratulations on a job well done" on the Peter Hardy homicide investigation.  As an observer from the sidelines, which is still very hard to do, you all worked like a well-oiled machine on this investigation. I mean from all the street officers, Team Detectives, Criminal Investigations Unit, crime scene tecs, Fugitive Task Force, Commanders, Support units, etc.. To see the work and precision that was done on this investigation just has to make you proud to be a member of the Lincoln Police Department." 
Chief Peschong

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How many?

Yesterday one of my colleagues at the police department emailed me with a question. He wanted to know what number I use for Lincoln's population.  That's an easy one right now, as the 2010 Census data released earlier this year pegged Lincoln at 258,379.  The problem comes in between the dicennial censusus (censi?).  I'll see news articles, websites, and reports that will continue to use that 258,379 number clear up until 2021, when the next census numbers from 2020 are released.

I'll bet you could search through the City of Lincoln, State of Nebraska, and Lancaster County websites and find plenty of different numbers for Lincoln's population on pages and documents published at about the same time, so I counsel the consistent use of the best and most recent available population data. Right now, that's the 2010 Census count, but population is a moving target, and that count is just a snapshot in time. Lincoln's population is likely to change significantly every year during the decade.  Based on our historic rate, we will probably grow by somewhere between 35,000 and 45,000 during the next decade.

Thus, unless you want to use increasingly outdated numbers, you've got to make some kind of adjustment or estimate in between the decades.  If you live in a City of 100,000 or better, you shouldn't have to make your own guess, because every two years the United States Census Bureau releases fresh population estimates.  The methodology of the estimates is described in detail, and from my experience these have proven to be quite accurate when the actual tally is made at the end of the decade.

I recommend using the Census Bureau's most recent count or estimate because they are the authoritative source: not some city limits sign or some website with unattributed population data.  The every-other-year estimate is released in the summer of even numbered years, but it is an estimate as of July 1 of the preceding year.  The estimate is essentially one year behind, and always for the odd numbered year.  So next summer, the census bureau will release an estimate of Lincoln's population, but it will be an estimate of where that population stood on July 1, 2011.

By the way, think about the implications of Lincoln adding 3,500 to 4,500 residents annually.  In Nebraska, that's a pretty big town in its own right: somewhere around the size of Auburn, O'Neill, Fairbury, Cozad, or Broken Bow.  That's what we are tacking on to Lincoln, every single year.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Highly visible

Leaving church southbound yesterday, Tonja and I encountered a traffic crash in the cleanup stages at 70th and NebraskaHighway 2. Due to a curve and hill, we didn't see the crash site until it was too late, and we were briefly caught in the jam. It was an opportunity for me, though, to do something I always enjoy: watch professionals at work. Officer Dave Hensel was investigating the crash, while Officer Mario Herrera handled traffic control.

This is a big, busy intersection with 20 total traffic lanes, and this was the peak time. It was raining, chilly, and visibility was poor. Mario, in his rain gear, had his hands full but was in complete control of the intersection. Dave went about his work in short sleeves and a traffic vest, no doubt soaked to the skin. Mario's cruiser number 218, a 2011 Charger, stood out well, too, equipped with an LED light bar and grill lights. By comparison, thin halogen rotators in the light bar on cruiser 107, Dave's 2007 Crown Victoria, were much less eye-catching.

The switch to LED lights is a very nice technological advance in emergency services, one that will no doubt help protect emergency services workers. They are brighter, last longer, have fewer moving parts, and draw considerably less energy. I run LED lights front-and-back on my bikes for my pre-dawn rides, and the output from these small rechargeable units simply amazes me. Who would have thought, just a few years ago, that you would be able to pump that kind of power from a 165 gram lighting system? Despite the lights, though, it was the high visibility outerwear--Mario's rain jacket and Dave's vest--that mattered most to me. It wasn't exactly easy to get this habit ingrained in our officers, but these days they do a great job.

I want all police officers and firefighter/paramedics nationwide to be as diligent as LPD officers have become in making sure they put on their high visibility outerwear when working around traffic. This simple step will save lives from the most significant threat to personal safety police officers and firefighters face in their work, which is neither bad guys nor burning buildings, rather, traffic crashes.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Different perspective

I had a speaking engagement yesterday morning at a local service club’s breakfast meeting.  I spoke to the group about some technological changes that are impacting the 911 Center, Lincoln Fire & Rescue, and the police department. Among the topics, I told the group about our new location-based services application, P3i.  I explained that I was encouraging officers to get to know the parolees and registered sex offenders on their beat.  I think this both helps in their supervision and encourages their own self-control. 

An audience member just flat disagreed, and during my presentation she took me on head-to-head. She was quite adamant in disagreeing with this entire idea, and did not like this concept in any way, shape, or form.  I tried to steer the Q & A in a different direction, by explaining that if she doesn’t like the sex offender registry or the concept of parole supervision her issue was with the legislature, not me.  She would have none of it, though, and continued to opine in opposition quite stridently. 

It was a little uncomfortable (more so, I think, for the audience than me) but I appreciated hearing her perspective, and admired her persistence and her willingness to go against the grain.  She thinks forgiveness is important (me, too), and doesn’t like the idea of the police inserting themselves into the lives of past offenders in this way.  It is always good to be reminded that not everyone sees things the same.   

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Weekend wrap-up

This past weekend has to be one of the biggest in Lincoln's history.  We had somewhere close to 400,000 people attend several special events from Friday through Sunday: three air shows featuring the Navy's Blue Angels, a sold out University of Nebraska volleyball match, and the 313th consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium for the Nebraska football game.

That's a whale of a lot of traffic.  Over a year's worth of planning and preparation went into the weekend, and all three of Lincoln's public safety agencies--police, fire, and 911--were deeply involved in operations.  It all came off, however, with few hitches.  As we knew, the post-airshow traffic was mighty pokey, but there wasn't much that could be done about that, given the fact that every single vehicle had to pass down one of three lanes.  Everyone was well-warned in advance, and most people were patient.  From what I've seen, the bigger problem seemed to be a shortage of sunscreen.

It was a great show, and I enjoyed it all three days. Tip a broad-brimmed hat to the officers, firefighters, and dispatchers who helped make it a rousing success! By the way, as a former red-head who burns after 5 minutes exposure to a 40-watt incandescent light bulb, I'm recommending Nutregena Sport Face, SPF-70.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Must have missed it

I must have missed the story of chaos and carnage in the two new roundabouts near the University of Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium.  Despite dire predictions from Internet pundits, it seems that a sell-out crowd managed to attend last Saturday’s season-opener for the Cornhusker football team without any bodies being left in the road. 

Having driven the twin-twin rounbabouts (two in a row, double lanes) several times now, I have concluded that navigating them is just pretty natural.  If you want to got right, you get in the right lane; left or u-ball, left lane; straight ahead, take your pick. 

Still, with 85,000 fans coming and going, along with an untold number of dalliers, hangers-on, and tailgaters without tix—I thought it might be a better show than it turned out to be.  The season, however, is still young.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Not that bad

Over the weekend a guest column ran in the Lincoln Journal Star, about which I have mixed emotions. On the one hand, I appreciate citizen awareness and support. On the other hand, the column was a little, shall we say, alarmist. The author suggested that Lincoln's crime rate is higher than the last two places she has lived: New York City, and Martin County, Florida.

Not so fast.  As readers of the Director's Desk should know, the long term crime trend in Lincoln is down, and way down, since peaking in 1991. I cannot find a website named that the writer refers to in her column, but the most recent published national crime data is the 2009 Uniform Crime Report from the FBI. 2010's preliminary report is out, but the final report will be published this fall. In the 2009 UCR.

New York City's violent crime rate was 552 per 100,000.
Lincoln's violent crime rate was 458 per 100,000.

New York City's property crime rate was 1,670 per 100,000.
Lincoln's property crime rate was 3,933 per 100,000.

New York is a very safe city--among the safest big cities. Lincoln's violent crime rate, though, is significantly lower than New Yorks, and in the bottom third of cities within 50,000 either way of our population. While our property crime rate is significantly higher than New York's, 80% of those Lincoln property crimes are the most minor category:  larceny/theft. I suspect that most, if not all of the difference is a reporting phenomenon. Call the New York City Police Department and report that the Sunday New York Times was stolen from your front porch. This will be an interesting experiment. Let's see if that results in an official police crime report for larceny/theft. I guarantee it would in Lincoln. In fact, the most recent case number for a Sunday Journal Star stolen from a front porch is B0-107175. We had to fend off a few such reports when the Journal Star's printing press crashed on June 11.

As for Martin County, Florida, the FBI doesn't publish crime rates for counties, but the largest city in Martin County is Stuart, population 16,000. The 2009 violent crime rate in Stuart was 438 per 100,000, and property crime was 4,688 per 100,000. That's pretty similar to Lincoln, although in fairness I think you'd have to compare Stuart to a like-sized Nebraska City, such as LaVista ( violent crime: 52/100,00 and property crime: 1,995/100,000).

Nonetheless, I appreciate this writer's support and agree wholeheartedly that "taking care of the small stuff" helps prevent the big stuff. This was a mantra at LPD when Rudy Giuliani and I were attending different secondary schools together. I would challenge anyone to find a municipal police department of 321 officers who arrests people for 26,972 charges--as Lincoln did in 2010. I will put our arrest productivity up against anyone, anytime, anywhere. This is a bad City to live in if you're a chronic rider-of-bicycles-upon-downtown-sidewalks.

While she overstates the case, the call to awareness and action is always a good one. Watchful citizens are even more important than plentiful police officers in preventing crime. I think when people get the impression that crime in Lincoln is way up, it is a result of ubiquitous news media coverage of crime (scroll all the way to the bottom, or you'll die of boredom).

On second thought, you best not call NYPD to report the Times stolen: that would be filing a false police report.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

P3i for public

Our new location-based service application, P3i (Proactive Police Patrol information) is now in the Apple iTunes store and the Android Marketplace.  The public version is just like our internal police-only version, except the data available to the user is different.  For the general public, it is a sanitized subset of police incident reports in the past 30 days: crimes like burglary, theft, robbery, vandalism, and assault—with the exact address and personal identifiers redacted. 

You will be able to see the incident reports of this type near your current location as you move(within Lincoln), based on the GPS position reported by your device.  The app will give you some insight into the capabilities the officers have with the application and you can imagine the full-fledged police-only data that displays on their devices.

On a related note, the Omega Group, our longtime crime mapping software vendor, has recently released a mobile version of for iPhone.  The app is very similar to the public version of P3i.  Just as with the regular browser version of, you can sign up for Crime Alerts—something anyone who lives in Lincoln or any other community served by should definitely do.  I’m subscribed to my own address in Lincoln, and to my daughter’s in Omaha, and even though I swim in the stream of police incident reports and daily briefings, I often find out about crime in my own neighborhood through Crime Alerts. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

No monopoly on hate

It’s a new semester, and invitations to speak at various University of Nebraska classes have begun.  Last year, I blogged about a visit to ALEC 466: Agricultural Leadership and Communication,  Leadership and Diversity. The instructor, PhD student Helen Fagan, gave me a couple of broad topics, racial profiling and hate crimes. 

I’m hardly and expert, but it seemed to be a good discussion, like last year. Perhaps my years of experience in policing provide a certain viewpoint that contributes to the students’ learning process.  I took along a few Incident Reports that are typical examples of hate crimes in Lincoln.

The reports (13 in all) are a depressing testament to, hate, racism, and just plain ugliness:  an assault outside a McDonalds on a man who couldn’t restrain himself when he felt the customers ahead of him were moving too slow, and who couldn’t refrain from making his report to the police laced with disgusting, racist language; a gay couple’s window smashed out with a brick; a Latino couple accosted by an Asian man with an incredible barrage of hateful, racist language; a racially-charged fight at a high school: a car load of bigots looking for a victim to torment outside a gay bar.  Remarkable, however, was the racial and ethnic diversity of both perpetrators and victims, proving that no one has a monopoly on hate.

As I reminded the students, this snapshot of a few police reports is just the tip of a much larger iceberg