Monday, January 31, 2011

Green stamps

Friday's robbery at Shoemaker's Truck Station was the first robbery of a business in Lincoln in 2011.  We have been on quite a diet lately when it comes to business robberies, with only 21 in all of 2010.  That is an incredibly low number for a city of over a quarter million.

I am proud of the job LPD does on retail robberies.  Put the search term "robbery" into the Chief's Corner's search box, scroll through the posts, you will find lots of examples of great investigations and quick arrests.  Friday was no exception. The robbery at 1:43 AM resulted in the suspects landing in the slammer before noon.  They were identified by a combination of some good old fashioned police work, and some information technology.

Robbery is a tough crime to get away with, and our clearance rate on these cases is remarkable.  In part, this is due to LPD's ability to ingest information (see, for example, and to access deep information resources during investigations in order to collect information about suspects, their associates, their vehicles, and so forth.  Such was the case on Friday, as officers were able to quickly connect the dots left by the suspects.  Those dots, by the way, are plentiful these days.  Criminals continue to leave plenty of digital footprints. There really is nowhere to hide.

The average take on robberies in Lincoln is pitiful.  Why someone would risk arrest and conviction for a Class II Felony in order to make off with $23 and two packs of Marlboros (a pretty typical example of the big haul) is beyond me.  Something robbers can ponder in the County Jail while they wait for the next episode of Southpark.  Although there are occasional exceptions, for the most part if the robbers would have devoted the same amount of time and energy to licking S&H Green Stamps as they did to planning and executing their failed crime, they would have been money ahead.

The Green Stamp reference is going to to seriously date me, and miss most readers entirely.  Let's change that to, "...same amount of time and energy picking up aluminum cans from highway ditches."

Friday, January 28, 2011

Party crash

There has been a crash in the number of complaints we receive from the public about loud, unruly parties.  In police lingo at LPD, the type is Incident Code 12311—Disturbance Wild Party. This dispatch record is pretty typical of the call:


In 2005, we responded to 1,862 of these complaints.  In 2010, we responded to 877.  In those six years—despite a population growth of around 18,000—the number of party disturbance complaints fell by 985.  That is huge—a genuine crash to be sure. 

Wild party complaints are no fun.  At least two officers must be dispatched, and in many of these calls, you have to deal with people who are a not entirely pleasant and cooperative.  Even when an oversensitive neighbor calls on a pretty nice social gathering (which is rarely), there always seems to be that one guy….You know him, he’s the jerk we all know, who was even a bigger pain in the drain when he’s liquored up—which is about anytime he’s in the presence of alcohol.  He’s pre-law, or a criminal justice major, or his daddy is a personal friend of Chief Cassaday.  No, as a police officer you’re just not feeling the fun and frivolity of it all when you are called because the neighbors are not as amused by the contest occurring on the front porch as the participants and spectators. 

This is not to mention the collateral splatter from parties that have gotten to the point that someone has called the police to complain—assaults, vandalism, drunk driving, sexual assault, and the occasional robbery or homicide.  Follow the tag in my label cloud to “Party on”, to read more about this, and to read about the various strategies we’ve engaged in to reduce these neighborhood problems and these harms. 

Fortunately, the great majority of the time a request to quiet things down, take it inside, tone down the music, and so forth works:  the hosts oblige and we can go on to fry bigger fish.  But there are always those few hundred warnings that go unheeded, and when that happens—especially more than once—some other strategies kick in, including zero tolerance enforcement for law violations.  Enforcement, however, though quite important, has not necessarily been the most efficient means of ameliorating the problem. 

Working with landlords, property owners, and managers has been particularly effective, and explains the steep drop since 2005.  While we are occasionally called to a single family owner-occupied home, this is not the norm.  Usually the location is a rental home, an apartment, or a house that Mom and Dad back in Frostbite Falls bought, thinking that the three kids who would be serial college students in Lincoln could live there over the next 10 years, and it would be a better investment than a decade of dorm fees.  We have learned that if you methodically get to the owner or manager of a property with repeat complaints, and motivate him or her to have the same interest as you do in solving the problem, the results are far better than anything we can accomplish alone. 

Nothing wrong with a nice party.  Have at it.  Don’t violate the law by letting minors drink, by providing alcohol to people who are already drunk (yes, that really does violate the law), by selling alcohol without a license, by littering, or disturbing the peace, or allowing your guests to illegally park all over the neighborhood.  If the police are called, and ask you to cool it, do just that (or at least make a vigorous attempt to do s), and you’ll probably be just fine.  Ignore the law, or try to get cute with some ruse like selling red plastic cups for $5 with free beer, and we’ll keep the lights on for you.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A life well-lived

Fifteen years ago, I had the opportunity to make a great hire when I grabbed 24 year-old Vicki Bourg, pastry chef at the Molan Bakery.  A graduate from Central Missouri State with a bachelor’s degree in Restaurant Administration, she was looking for an opportunity to do something more socially significant after a few years in the hospitality industry.  She certainly found that opportunity at the Lincoln Police Department, and she quickly developed into an excellent officer.  What I liked about Vicki was not just her work, but her personality.  She instantly brightened every room she walked into. 

Vicki passed away Monday night, after battling cancer for the last several years.  Vicki continued to work as much as she could through treatment.  Early after her diagnosis, when chemotherapy was planned, Vicki came to see me one day.  She had gorgeous long blond hair, and she wanted to know if I would permit her to wear a plain dark ball cap when it fell out. Like everyone else, Vicki knew how the chief felt about police officers wearing ball caps, and I think she expected me to wince.  “Vicki,” I said, “you can wear absolutely anything you want—you can come to work in flannel PJs and fuzzy slippers if it helps.”  We had a nice laugh, as I explained the advantages of baldness.  Vicki donned that ball cap, and worked right through chemo, rarely missing a day, seemingly without any self-consciousness at all.  She arrived at 0730 lineup daily, spare handcuffs on her belt, brimming with optimism and humor through it all. 

We thought she had licked it.  God had other plans. 

I hope Vicki’s family can take solace in the knowledge that her life, though far too short, was a fulfilling one.  Vicki did things during her career that few people will ever have the chance to experience.  Her file is bursting with commendations that speak of crimes interrupted, artful interviews, skilled investigations, good arrests, rescued victims, and justice served.  She received the department’s Life Saving Award, Exceptional Duty Award, and she was selected as the Field Training Officer of the Year. Vicki accomplished things most people can scarcely dream about.  She lived the dream, and her legacy is the people whose lives she touched— victims, coworkers, new recruits, students, friends, a school, a community, this department. 

Vicki’s last assignment was serving as the school resource officer at Northstar High School.  The staff and students at Northstar adopted Vicki and helped her through the depth of her disease.  When Vicki lost her hair, they made caps up with her employee number and a pink ribbon to sell as a fundraiser.  They kept her spirits up and made sure she wasn’t alone.   They, in turn, were uplifted by her infectious optimism, her electric smile, her laugh, and the qualities her coworkers at LPD admired so much.  These memories will never go away, and we are all better for having known and worked with her.  We are also better for having shared her white chocolate raspberry cheesecake. 

That was a cake well-made, a fight well-fought, and a life well-lived.  God bless you, Vicki. May you rest in the peace of His gentle love.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

K-9 activity

Capt. Mike Woolman commands the Lincoln Police Department's Southwest Team, a group of 47 personnel who deliver police services around the clock and 365 days a year in one of our five geographic command areas. In addition, he also coordinates our police service dog program citywide--five handlers and their assigned dogs.

Capt. Woolman gave me a recap of the 2010 activity by our K-9 officers, and it was pretty impressive.  In 2010, there were 462 incidents where K-9s were called to assist.  This included 141 track of suspects or missing persons, 197 narcotics searches, 99 building and area searches, and 25 SWAT Team deployments.  These cases resulted in 87 felony arrests and 146 misdemeanor arrests. The K-9s participated in the location and seizure of controlled substances with an estimated value of $4.9 million, and $97K cash. That's a pretty productive year, I'd say.

The workload was spread out among Officer John Clarke and Remo, Officer Tyler Dean and Kony, Officer Chris Vollmer and Brix, Officer Jeff Urkevich and Jake, and Officer Nikki Loos and Dexter.  By the way, the current K-9 trading cards are awfully nice, if you can snag one from a handler refilling a Big Gulp or grabbing a sandwich.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Police iPad update

After receiving my very first Apple product, an iPad 3G, on the very first day of its release, it has become a regular companion.  I previously blogged about my first impressions, but 8 months down the road, it has settled in as the information resources weapon of choice in my extensive arsenal of gadgets and computers. 

Many public apps come in handy during my workday: Gmail, Contacts, Calendar,  FlipClock, QuickVoice, Dropbox, Jumbo Calculator, WeatherBug, Skype, GoogleVoice to name a few.  Since most of LPD’s information resources are Intranet-based, a browser opens the door to almost all of our records management system: reports, case files, master name index, police contacts, criminal histories, vehicle information, stats, and more.  Our web-served mugshots look great on an iPad. 

We publish tons of reference materials on our Intranet: policy manuals, lookup tables, various directories, and so forth.  Web-served legal resources such as the Lincoln Municipal Code and the Nebraska State Statutes, come in handy, as does the City Council agenda, the legislation pending in the Nebraska Legislature, the State Sex Offender Registry, and the Department of Correctional Services Inmate Locator

Our shift roll call assemblies (we call it lineup) are webcast using, and the iPad GoToMeeting app is perfect when I can’t attend in person.  TipSoft’s mobile application works great for keeping up on Crimestoppers tip,.

Mapping is a real strong suit of the iPad, and since I am a major GIS geek, I have a lot of map applications.  MotionX-GPS Drive HD is an excellent navigation app, and the Google Earth iPad app is mildly addictive.  Google Maps soars on the iPad, and the Streetview feature seems born for the tablet form factor.  I can use some of the web-based mapping applications such as , and ESRI’s ArcGIS for iOS lets me access my own custom-built web maps of crimes and incidents.  Lincoln has just acquired a new set of oblique aerial imagery, and the Pictometry Online web application works provides access to those images on the iPad. 

Just as soon as the police mobile data application vendors catch up with the rapidly-changing world of mobile computing, I’m betting tablets take over from the hardened docked laptops in a few hundred thousand police patrol cars around the United States.  Click the image below (and be patient) if you'd like to see some screenshots representing examples of how I use my iPad at work.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Before PowerPoint

Here’s a photo that might take you down memory lane.   A couple of our employees found these transparencies squirreled away in desk drawers.  This was a common instructional aid used by teachers in the ‘70’s and 80’s—sort of the leisure suit-era equivalent of a PowerPoint presentation.

I do a lot of teaching and presenting—in the police academy, during in-service training, at conferences, at university classes.  These days, virtually every instructor or presenter uses a PowerPoint and an LCD projector.  I’m no exception, although lately I have been on a serious PowerPoint diet:  my presentations are shorter, the slides contain few words, and on a few noteworthy occasions I have passed altogether on the PowerPoint, and just talked.  Despite the lack of slides, no one went to sleep—that I know of.

I must admit, after a couple of decades taking pride in clever presentations, I now subscribe to the less-is-more school of thought.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bottom drops out

On several past occasions, I have blogged about false alarms.  These have been falling in Lincoln, despite the fact that the number of alarmed premises has doubtlessly increased.  In 2009, Lincoln’s new ordinance increasing the fee for chronic false alarm responses was adopted, and this law went into effect mid-year in 2010.  LPD did not propose this change, and deserves neither the credit nor the blame for the outcome. 

Now that we have some significant data under our belt, however, I think the introducer, Councilman John Spatz, and his fellow council members who unanimously adopted the ordinance may take a bow.  The council hoped this ordinance would reduce the problem of chronic repeat false alarms.  It appears to have done just that.  The bottom has dropped out of false alarms. 

Back in our peak year of 2002, there were 242 addresses in Lincoln where the police responded to more than five false alarms.  In 2009, it was 71 addresses.  That’s a reduction of just over 70% during that past eight years.  While the number had been falling since 2002, the biggest decreases are in the most recent years, –21% in 2009, and another –25% in 2010: the years the ordinance was debated and adopted, and the year of its effective date. 


Reducing false alarms not only conserves police resources, it improves public safety by reducing the overall number of emergency responses, keeping officers available for other activities, and helps police officers avoid the possibility of complacency when responding to a location that is the site of perpetual false alarms. 

The total number of false alarms last year fell to 2,796.  That was a 12% decrease from 2009, and represents a 42% decline from the peak year of 2002, when LPD officers responded to 4,848 false alarms. Just to give you some sense of how we compare, Garland, TX is one of the cities that we exchange data with as part of the Benchmark Cities Chiefs group.  They are a little smaller than Lincoln, with a population of 240,876.  In the most recent year for which we have exchanged data (2009), Garland responded to 12,716 false alarms--more than four times our number. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Whistleblower

Wednesday afternoon, Kathy Bolkovac stopped by HQ, in town visiting family.  It was great to see her, and she hasn’t changed a bit since she left LPD for her foreign adventure in 1999. 

We had a nice chat catching up on the past eleven years, and she gave me a copy of her newly-published book, The Whistleblower.  She offered to inscribe my copy, but I’d rather get in line Saturday.  Kathy is going to be doing a book signing on Saturday at Barnes & Noble at Southpointe Pavillions from 2:00 to 4:00 PM. 

I polished it off last night, and it was a good read.  The story is classic Kathy: she is one dogged and determined cop, to be sure.  I still wish she was in the Lincoln police uniform.  I’m looking forward to seeing the movie, which is being released in the United States later this year.

If you stop in for the book signing, ask her about her suggested techniques for trying to get a set of keys locked inside a car out through the sunroof.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Fight night

New Years Eve was quite a wild ride.  We responded to a total of 40 assaults on December 31st and January 1st.  That’s an unusually large number.  Of particular note were bar fights. 

The first was at the Main Street CafĂ©, where a drunken 24 year old patron was being ejected by the staff after being denied service.  He allegedly engaged in some fisticuffs with the staff, earning a night in jail. 

Next was Red 9, where a fight broke out between two customers.  During the fracas, the primary assailant allegedly pulled a knife and stabbed the victim, along with his buddy who tried to break things up.  A second interventionist was allegedly slugged and kicked, and a staff member was bit.  But it wasn’t over.  With two stabbings, a portion of the bar quickly became a crime scene, and the revelers had to be removed.  During the attempt to clear the area out, a 66 year old patron, angry that he couldn’t cross through the area to retrieve his coat,   allegedly grabbed a police officer’s gun, lost the scuffle, and spent the night in jail charged with assaulting a police officer.

While a bunch of officers were dealing with the investigation of the Red 9 stabbings, another assault occurred at the Fat Toad, where a greeting to a girlfriend by a stranger was not well received by a boyfriend, and a punch in the face followed.  Differing accounts of the events led to the officers declining to make any arrests, however. 

Still investigating the Red 9 affair, we were dispatched to the Keg, on a report of a fight involving 10-15 people.  Sorting who-did-what-to-whom was rather difficult, but one assailant went to jail, and we are looking for a second who had the good sense to leave before we arrived.  The last victim walked into police headquarters at 10:40 AM to report that she had been assaulted during the fight at the Keg.  She apparently caught a little shut-eye before reporting her victimization. 

All of these bar fights occurred within a 45-minute period.  Mind you, this is only the bar fights.  During the same stretch, we ran on three other assaults at residences, in addition to two traffic crashes, one drunk, a burglary, seven disturbances, a traffic hazard, a telephone offense, a check welfare, and two drunk drivers. 

Interestingly, all of the bar fights occurred after 1:00 AM.  Last year, the bars would have been closed.  Hard to say that they are related to the later closing time, though.  It is possible that the same fights would have occurred an hour earlier last year.