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.