Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Contact appreciated

Long-time readers of the Chief’s Corner know that I frequently hold up a particular problem-oriented policing project as one of the best example of how data, analysis, and a simple-but-clever crime prevention strategy has dramatically impacted a pernicious crime problem in Lincoln. 

Prevent BUrg NRN NFE

I remember some officers being concerned that waking people up in the wee hours of the morning might not be so well received.  On the contrary, our experience is that people are quite appreciative of the effort, and glad that we let them know.  Here’s an example, that I received yesterday:

“Just wanted to give a Thank You to the Officer who was on my doorstep this morning at 2:30 am - I was a little groggy and I'm not even sure I said anything to him.  He came to our door to alert us that we hadn't shut our garage door last night after we came home from the grocery store.  We had the garage door light on and were advertising it quite well when he must have driven by.  I really appreciate the notification and patience while I figured out that my door bell was ringing before I came down stairs!”

I get this kind of feedback regularly, often in person by someone who recognizes me at the restaurant, coffee shop, or hardware store.  It makes quite a lasting impression when Officer Reed Pavelka is introducing himself on your front steps at 2:30 AM, and reinforces the habit of checking the garage door before bedtime for the next six generations. 

So far this year, Lincoln police officers have talked to citizens in their flannel jammies and fuzzy slippers (the citizens, that is, not the officers—I think) 142 times.  It is widely appreciated, and is the cause of the effect evident in that graph. That is a 59% decrease in open garage door burglaries, and it has driven the 27% decline in rate of all residential burglaries over the past three years. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Every phone is a camera

…these days, and I have frequently warned people that the chances are pretty good that if you do something dumb in public (and sometimes in private) you ought not be surprised if it comes back to haunt you when you are least expecting it.

This warning pertains to police officers, too.  I ran across this controversy in St. Louis.  Police officers should never retain their own “collection” of interesting evidentiary photos they have acquired on the job.  This has been a problem from time to time, and with digital imaging and the ubiquitous cell phone camera, it has the potential to become an issue today than it has in the past. 

Years ago, a police officer could use his or her own 35 MM camera to take a photo, then tag in the film as evidence. It was never retained on the camera itself, the film was not developed by the officer, and the negative was in the custody of the police department.  This is not the case with digital images, hence, it is best to refrain from using personal cameras to take evidentiary photos at work.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Thanks for your service

The Chief's Corner was a little sparse last week, due to pressing business that limited my available time--and a little writer's block to boot.  I'm back at it, though, and want to start the week by acknowledging about 67 years of service to the citizens of Lincoln by two fine men who have just retired: Capt. Terry Sherrill and Officer Larry Bratt. 

I have known both of these men since their careers began, and I would be relieved to have either of them on my doorstep in a moment of personal crisis.  They both leave the department in fine health, with their sense of humor and optimism intact, and with a profound sense of accomplishment few people can match.  Both Larry and Terry spent a good portion of their careers in assignments involving children--investigating crimes of the most unimaginable sort, and serving as mentors, role models, and counselors to kids in trouble.  They have touched thousands of lives quite directly, and I have shared some incredible moments of pathos and triumph with them both. 

The large turnout of current and past LPD employees at their retirement events is a testament to the good will Terry Sherrill and Larry Bratt have sown with their colleagues.  I wish them both the very best as they turn the page to the next chapter.  Congratulations!


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

100 years ago

I still subscribe to the local newspaper—the one printed on actual newsprint. There are few things more enjoyable than an hour in the living room with the Sunday edition of the Lincoln Journal Star, just after sunrise with the light streaming in our northeast-facing windows. 

One of my favorite Sunday columns is called 140 Years Ago.  It summarizes the big story in Nebraska or Lincoln during the same week, decade by decade, beginning in 1871. This past Sunday, the blurb for a century ago was from a 1911 article in the Omaha Bee, noting that in the previous 22 months there had been 31 murders in Omaha. 

I grabbed my iPad and looked up the 1910 census.  Omaha’s population was 124,096.  A little math yielded an annual murder rate of 13.7 per 100,000 population during 1910-1911.  A quick check of OPDs statistics revealed that there were 34 murders in Omaha last year, and the new 2010 census data pegs Omaha’s population at 408,958.  So the 2010 murder rate in Omaha was 8.3 per 100,000 population.

Here’s a few things that were in short supply in 1911:  meth labs, oppositional defiant disorder, semi-automatic weapons, ectasy, horror movies, post-traumatic stress disorder, violent video games, hip-hop music, oxycontin, high-capacity magazines, crack babies, heavy metal bands, welfare, television, rocket propelled grenades, porn sites.  Yet, the murder rate in Omaha was 65% greater 100 years ago than it is today.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Not in the car

That is the answer.  The question is: what’s a good place to keep your gun overnight?  Last year, we investigated 11 incidents where guns were stolen from cars left parked overnight, and three incidents in which vehicles were stolen with guns inside.  In six of the thefts, it appears that the car was left unlocked.  In all three of the auto thefts, the vehicles were unlocked and the keys were in the vehicle. There have been two more thefts of this type so far this year.

 Aside from the obvious (lock the car), it is not a good idea to keep a gun overnight in a vehicle, for a couple reasons.  Condensation would be one, exposure to theft would be the second.  Consider the case that occurred overnight Wednesday, December 15 to Thursday, December 16.  The victim’s pickup window was broken out, and a 9MM carbine was taken off the back seat, where it had been covered up by a coat.  Five days later, using our SWAT Team, a search warrant was served and the scoped carbine was recovered. Two gang members are currently charged with possession of the stolen firearm.

Apart from the cost and logistics involved in the investigation and the SWAT operation, the fact of the matter is that this gun quickly fell into the hands of a gang.   Stolen guns have a habit of ending up involved in other crimes, and we like very much to minimize that chance.

Safe and secure storage is one way of accomplishing this, and leaving your gun in the car is much riskier than securing it in your gun safe at home.  For one thing, we have triple the number of cars broken into compared to houses burglarized.  Lincoln has a municipal ordinance (9.36.110) that prohibits the storage of firearms in motor vehicles for more than 24 hours for this very reason.  I hate to pile on a victim who has already lost his or her property, but this is the law, and to me it’s just plain common sense.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sticker shock

I’ve been predicting for quite a while that gasoline prices would soar, and after fueling up my POV on Monday, I’m feeling pretty confident about that prognostication.  Here’s a screen shot from one of the City traffic cameras, at 70th and Adams Street yesterday afternoon.

Rising gas prices have a big impact on the police department. Fuel is the second-largest line in the budget, right after salaries.  In anticipation of this trend, we’ve been engaged in a number of strategies to reduce our fuel usage, and for the most part, I’m pretty happy with the results.  In 2004, our fleet was averaging 11 MPG.  In 2010, it hit 13.1 MPG.  When you drive 2.5 million miles annually, that’s a lot of unleaded.

It is very important for us to use our fuel wisely: to minimize unnecessary idling, to concentrate our patrol work where and when it does the most good, to cultivate a more fuel efficient fleet, and to implement strategies that address problems effectively without burning much fuel.  This problem isn’t going away any time soon, and the price at the pump will bite hard if we aren’t careful.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Current events

Looks like we have a vandalism outbreak a couple hours ago.  Someone thought it would be fun to smash mailboxes in the Highlands neighborhood at around 3:15 AM this morning.  So far, officers have investigated nine cases, and I imagine as day breaks those numbers will climb.  

These spree vandalism cases always leave me shaking my head.  I just fail to understand the thrill of mowing down mailboxes or breaking out car windows.  I hope we get some good tips on these cases, because I would sure like to see the miscreants responsible for these crimes face the music.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Been a long time

…since I’ve seen one of these.  If we were still using them when I started, it must have ended pretty soon thereafter.  Anyone out there remember?

Damage Auto Release back LPD
Damage Auto Release LPD

Friday, March 4, 2011

A chronic problem

A few City Council members forwarded this email to me that they received from a citizen earlier this week, asking me to respond to the sender.  I've edited it slightly for length and to remove some personal identifying information:

I have a concern that has grown considerable over this past year.  The problem is pan-handlers on North 27th Street. I am up and down North 27th Street numerous times a day and there are pan-handlers through out the day and into the night. The pan-handlers camp out at the intersections of North 27th & Ticonderoga; North 27th & Northview; North 27th & Kensington; and Superior & Industrial Ave.    
My concern is that it is not only uncomfortable being stopped at any one of these intersections for a red light it is also potentially dangerous.I have witnessed not only confrontations between the pan-handlers and drivers but also between pan-handlers fighting over their "turf". 
I have called the police non-emergency number once to report this problem when I was confronted by a pan-handler.  I was trying to mind my own business waiting for the light to change when the pan-handler approached my vehicle.  When I would not roll down my window the pan-handler took his card board sign which read some thing to the effect of "homeless please help God bless" and flipped the sign over which said "your s--- stinks too". A few days later I was at McDonalds and saw this man with one of his fellow pan-handlers counting their haul for the day which was $135 cash all tax free. 
Is pan-handling legal, I don't notice a problem with it downtown or at other Wal-Mart locations.  All of these intersections have concrete medians with sign post, why can't a sign be posted that states no loitering or something to that affect?
I share his annoyance.  Panhandlers camp at the shopping center I most frequently patronize, and what particularly annoys me is the knowledge (in some cases) that they are neither homeless nor incapable of earning a living, and that they sometimes have (shall we say) a colorful past.  Here's my response.  Note the information in boldface.

Panhandling is not illegal in Lincoln, although it is regulated by Municipal Ordinances, which were crafted to comply with case decisions by U.S. Federal Courts, including the Supreme Court.  Among Lincoln's restrictions are these: it is unlawful under Municipal Code 9.20.080 to panhandle from the occupants of vehicles on public streets or alleys; and under Municipal Code 10.30.080 it is illegal for a person in the public right of way to solicit contributions.   
The semi-professional panhandlers are often quite aware of this, and they usually will position themselves on private roadways just inside the property line and off the City right of way.  They occasionally stray onto the public right of way, and we make lots of arrests for this violation. As an example, one individual who often panhandles near 27th and Ticonderoga has been arrested and jailed by seven different LPD officers on 41 separate occasions since January 1, 2010 for soliciting contributions in the public right of way. 
While it is not illegal to panhandle on private property and private roadways, it could still constitute the offense of trespassing.  Since these are places that invite public access, the law requires actual notice to the trespasser.  A well-worded sign could work, but a direct message is even better. Thus, the owner/manager has to be willing to communicate with the panhandler, to the effect of "Get off my property."  Shopping centers are sometimes reluctant to do this, for a couple of reasons:  they don't want the hassle of having to talk to or deliver a letter to the panhandler; they don't want to offend their customers who support panhandlers; they do not want to post signs and appear to be insensitive to the itinerant and homeless; they don't want to run the risk of being summoned to court to testify; or some combination of the above.  Thus, you will find panhandlers almost nationwide at the entrance/exit roads of certain big box retail centers and shopping malls.  
The places we have the most panhandlers are those where the private roads come right up to the property line, with little penetration into the parcel by a public street.  At the retail complex at 87th and Highway 2, for example, we have less of this because 87th Street remains a public street for about 270 ft. into the complex north of Highway 2. 
As you noted, this is apparently fairly lucrative to some of the panhandlers. The prospect of the occasional arrest, a night in jail, a $50 fine with credit for time already served is not always a deterrent, as the example above would demonstrate.  There is certainly no lack of effort on our part.
I think the only way to more effectively ameliorate this is to convince the management at these locations to get tough with no trespassing policies, and be willing to do what it takes to ensure we can enforce that: signs, personal communication, hand delivery of letters.  We can help (we would be happy to accompany a manager, or example, to deliver a verbal or written notice to get off and stay off the property), but the owner or manager of the property has to be willing to post signs or to make these direct communications.  We haven't had much luck convincing them that this would be a good idea. 
       Tom Casady
       Chief of Police

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Kearney and Milford

I have been teaching in the police academy the past two days.  Trying to keep up with my email and wedging in a few other unavoidable tasks and evening obligations, the blog has taken a back seat.  Please accept my apologies for not keeping up with comments.

Here's what caught my eye yesterday and this morning: the census.  The United States Census Bureau just released the detailed data from the 2010 count yesterday, and Lincoln's official population has reached 258,379.   I keep my own population estimates, projecting average growth rates I calculate from the Census Bureau's biennial estimates in odd number years, and applying that to the current year.  Looks like my best guess was low by 1,127 souls--as you can see from the chart I posted in my Monday post.

Population is an important number for a stats wonk like me, because it is the denominator in all those calculations such as crime rate, number of officers per thousand, false alarm comparisons, and so forth.

Lincoln's population increased by 32,798.  My preferred way of explaining that is that we added the equivalent of the cities of Kearney and Milford to Lincoln during the past decade.  Kearney has 52 police officers, Milford has 5.  We absorbed the equivalent of both their populations, and we added 25 police officers in Lincoln during the decade.