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.