Tuesday, January 31, 2012

First first responders

The blog took a back seat last week, as events prevented me from posting very much.  I attended a three-day course on emergency medical dispatching, along with our new dispatchers-in-training.  It was a multi-agency class, with dispatchers from Shenandoah, IA, Sarpy County, NE, and Pottawatomie County, IA also in attendance.  The instructor was Fred Hurdato, a retired Los Angeles Fire Department battalion chief.

The curriculum was from the National Academies of Emergency Dispatch.  I thought it was excellent training, and I learned a lot. I have a much better understanding of the role dispatch plays in the emergency medical response system.  The training was pretty intensive, and of course the classroom portion is just the beginning.

I have always appreciated the skills and talents of good dispatchers, who have saved my bacon on more than a few occasions.  I now know more about how those skills and talents help ensure the best possible outcomes in medical emergencies. Dispatchers, after all, are the first first responders.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Thanks, Tony

Wednesday night around 2130, my home phone rang, and it was Chief Jim Peschong.  Jim was on his way to the hospital in York, about 40 miles away, and shared the tragic news that Officer Tony Howe had been killed in a single-vehicle traffic crash while on his way to work from his home there. Tony was an eight year veteran of LPD.  Our hearts and prayers go out to his wife, children, parents, and family.

From time to time, we have dealt with passing of a coworker. Sometimes it has been the culmination of a long struggle; sometimes it has happened in an unimaginable instant.  The thought of a young colleague suddenly taken from his family and friends is almost inconceivable.  It takes some time to sink in.  There was a pall over LPD last night and today.  That standard "how ya doin?" greeting was mysteriously absent, as was the laughter, the smiles, and friendly banter.  Everyone was thinking about Tony, and had the same lump-in-the-throat feeling.  It could have been any of us.  It could have been my family, my wife, my son, my dad, getting the news that Tony's family had to deal with.

I don't know whether this is unique to this work, because I really haven't done much anything else, but it seems to me that police officers develop a particularly strong bond.  It's probably similar in other jobs where people share a set of experiences, both inspiring and terrifying, that most people can barely relate too.  It creates a sense of family, a brotherhood and sisterhood, that's hard to describe, but palpable.  It brings us together in the times when the mutual support is most needed: in the face of both exhilarating accomplishments, or crushing blows, when we share the highs and lows of life.  It's a lot like a big extended family at such times, and in a strange way, even in tragedy it is comforting.

Tony Howe was a fine police officer and deputy sheriff. His career in law enforcement brought him to Lincoln in 2003, after serving at the York Police Department and the York County Sheriff's Office.  I felt fortunate at the time to have the opportunity to hire someone with Tony's experience, and he never dissappointed me. He was well-liked and respected here.  He was just recently assigned as an investigator in our Criminal Investigations Team.  This is a highly sought after position, and the selection is competitive.  You get this job when your supervisors and peers recognize your proven work ethic, performance, and talent as exemplary.   It is a testament to Tony's reputation and track record as a Lincoln police officer.  But more importantly, Tony was a fine husband, dad, son and man. He was exceptionally active in the community, and will be sorely missed by all those whose lives he touched.

Among the condolences I received yesterday was an unexpected one from the Executive Director of the Teammates Mentoring Program.  I am on the Teammates Board, yet I did not even know that Tony, aside from raising three children of his own, served as a mentor in his hometown. Suzanne wanted me to know that Tony will be missed by the youngster he has been partnered with for the past two years.  Police work is plenty exhausting. All the more so when you face an 80 mile round trip commute everyday to a night shift, with the not-so-unusual court appearances, hearings, training sessions and the like, which almost inevitably take place in the middle of your "night" or on your days off.  Yet despite a demanding career and a growing family, the blur of work, kids, cub scouts, youth sports, and Sunday school, Tony made room to serve as a one-on-one mentor to a youngster who needed his presence, encouragement, and support.

Hard to think of a better example of someone who stepped up to the plate for the benefit of others. Thanks, Tony, for all you've done, and may God bless you and your family.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Fact check

A couple of weeks ago I took issue with the Hometown Quiz printed in our local newspaper concerning Lincoln's first roundabout. More recently, one of the questions was to identify the streets in Lincoln that are named after Presidents. The answer published Saturday was five: Adams, Cleveland, Garfield, Madison, and Washington.

Hmmm. I wonder what Abraham Lincoln (Mall), Andrew Jackson (Drive), Benjamin Harrison (Street), and Franklin Pierce (Drive) would think about that answer. If you look really close, you might even find that James Monroe (Avenue) could make a case. It would take a little research to determine whether the last few yards west of 21st Street were actually ever vacated by ordinance. I wouldn't rely on Google Maps as the deciding factor, if I were President Monroe, but if you searched for "2050 Monroe Ave. Lincoln, NE" you'd see his point.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

False alarms 2011

About a year ago, I reported on the impact of Lincoln’s revised false alarm ordinance.  At the time, however, the new law had only been in effect for six months.  We now have a full year operating under the new ordinance.  Here is the trend over the past decade—beginning in 2002, which also happened to be our peak year for false alarms. 

The number of false alarms has declined by 45%.  The number of addresses with  five or more false alarms during the calendar year has decreased by 82%.  This has occurred despite the fact that Lincoln's population during the past 10 years has increased by about 54,000. These are certainly impressive results. 



Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Crime interrupted

Maybe I'm the last to know, but yesterday I received a letter from Darryl Forté, the Kansas City, MO chief of police.  Here are some excerpts:
"I would like to share some positive information...regarding one of your police officers....He and his wife bravely interrupted a rape in progress...while visiting in Kansas City.  [They] were walking to their hotel...when they heard a female voice screaming for help. They...observed a naked man on top of a female who was trying to fight him off.  [The officer] ran toward the two and the male...attempted to flee on foot.  However [the officer] caught the male and detained him until our police officers arrived.  [His wife] stayed with the female victim until police officers arrived. Due to their efforts, a rape suspect was apprehended that night and has since been charged with the crime....It is good to know that another police department shared ouir commitment in helping others in time of need, whether it is on or off duty, and I thank you."
That's a pretty fine citizen's arrest by an off-duty Lincoln police officer and his wife while on vacation in another jurisdiction. Congratulations on a job well done to both of you.  And thanks, Chief Forté, for passing this along.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Taxi !

You could step outside in downtown Lincoln and shout that until you're blue in the face, but no taxi is likely to materialize. Despite what you see on the movies, there are only a few cities in the United States where you can actually hail a cab: New York, Washington D.C., Chicago.  There are a few other cities where taxi stands in certain areas are common, or where you can walk up to the nearest hotel and reliably find a cab just waiting for a fare, such as South Beach in Miami, the Gaslamp district in San Diego, or the Riverwalk area in San Antonio. Let's face it though: it takes a really large population density to make a business model work that relies upon driving around waiting for someone to hold up their hand and shout.

The dearth of taxis in Lincoln has been in the news lately, as a State Senator has proposed legislation making it easier for a taxi company to get into the business.  I'm all for fair markets and competition, but it remains to be seen whether there is a steady enough demand for taxis in Lincoln to support a higher level of service from the private sector.  We shall see.

As this issue has unfolded, I've been reading the comments on news stories, many of which are ripping the City of Lincoln for maintaining a monopoly on taxi service, and obstructing others from entering the fray.  This is ludicrous.  The City does indeed have some regulatory authority over taxis: we require drivers to obtain a taxi license--primarily to ensure that Chester the Molester is not your driver.  The City has no role, however, in how many taxis are in play on the street, how many companies do business, or what a taxi ride costs.  The State Public Service Commission has some regulatory authority over taxi companies, but this is not a City function at all, and those who believe the gov'mint is responsible for their taxi wows are ripping the wrong unit thereof.

I'm a bit skeptical about whether anything can be done that makes it significantly easier for a tipsy twenty-something to find a taxi while weaving along the sidewalk at 14th and O after the bars close.  There may be a demand for more taxis during the hour of power, but it's pretty hard to make a living on a demand that exists for only an hour or two and only two or three nights a week.  Consider this: if you're a driver, you will be pretty lucky to make two runs between the time the demand picks up near bar break and the time it disappears again, because it's going to take you at least a half hour to shuttle you're first fare home and return downtown--often longer.  Not my concern, however, and I wish good luck to any company that wants to try to figure out how to make this work.

As long as you make sure taxi drivers have fairly clean criminal and driving records, I'm perfectly happy to let the free market work.  It does not, however always provide us with exactly what we want.  I, for one, am hoping for a Whole Foods market and a Legal Sea Foods restaurant.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

No such luck

I was in Austin, TX yesterday morning, with a team from the Nebraska College Partnership, attending a meeting of 38 college coalitions with similar aims from around the country. Part of my role was to present about the work that led to the results I highlighted in yesterday's post.

I had Good Morning America on the tube as I was packing yesterday morning, when this story came on. Wow, did that crime sound familiar. I recalled an attempted bank robbery in Lincoln several years ago with a similar modus operandi. I also remembered that the perpetrator had been involved in a series of similar robberies involving explosives and hostages in the Denver metropolitan area prior to his arrest in Lincoln. Was there any chance that this guy had been released? Could he be out there again, plying his old trade? I jotted down the name of the Sheriff in Betonville, AK for a possible email contact and bolted for breakfast.

During the introductory remarks for the morning, I found the case: A4-015773, February 11th, 2004, identified my guy and jumped on the Bureau of Prisons Federal inmate locator. Looks like Mr. Huber is still incarcerated in Leavenworth. So much for that theory. Nonetheless, the fact that I was able to pull out my iPad and do this research before finishing my croissant during the opening minutes at the morning plenary is a pretty impressive example of how mobile information technology has changed our world.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Party data

The topic of party disturbances is no stranger to the pages of the Director's Desk. Last week, I put together the end-of-the year data for Nancy Hicks, a Lincoln Journal Star reporter. She mentioned this in the second half of her weekly column.  Here's the graphs on an incredible trend.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Dropped a dime

A reader posted a comment on yesterday's post, inquiring about whether I had dropped a dime on a certain asphaltium potholius.

Dropped a dime. Let's see how many readers of the Director's Desk can explain the origin of that phrase.

Monday, January 9, 2012

"Outta my way!"

January's unseasonably mild weather allowed me to bike to work every day last week. We're normally coping with a foot of snow on the ground and a double-digit below zero wild chill.  I'm out early, before traffic is much of an issue, but with short daylight and heavier traffic, the ride home is a little more treacherous.  I wear hi-viz and run some high-tech lights, though, and am not afraid of a little nighttime riding.  I generally find Lincoln driver's to be considerate and patient when I am the same.

One evening last week, I had an encounter with an irate motorist--a rare occurrence for me. My route included a short two-block stretch on a multi-lane arterial.  It was dusk, and I was in the inside lane, about 3.5 feet out from the curb--basically in the right tire track.  The angry motorist was directly behind me, and I think he was probably annoyed that he couldn't pass right away due to other traffic in the outside lane which prevented him from swinging around me.  He had to dog it for about half a block, and when he finally passed, he executed a right turn directly in my path, rolled down his window, made the universal peace sign, and shouted a colorful greeting that I will translate as,  "Outta my way!"

I wasn't trying to be an obstruction, but I just couldn't get over any closer to the curb safely.  Here's why:

This particular species of pothole tends to form where the poured curb meets a seam in the roadway surface.  This short stretch of road had quite a few in quick succession. While I would ordinarily choose to ride a little closer to the curb, the safest course of action in the situation I suddenly found myself was to assert my presence emphatically in the lane.  If you were behind me in a car, you would not be tempted to pass until you had plenty of room to move into the inside lane.   I could have kept a tighter line to the right, and simply zig-zagged around the obstructions for the next couple of blocks, but it would not be a good thing to be following a cyclist who suddenly changes course to dodge one of these buggers, rather than one maintaining a steady and more predictable course.  He obviously doesn't realize it, but this was safer for both of us.

While I have occasionally seen a cyclist acting boorishly or disobeying the law by failing to right as close as practicable to the right hand side of the road, most of the time when I see a bike out in that right tire track or the center of the lane, it's for the same reason: debris, storm sewer grates, uneven pavement joints, potholes, in preparation for a lane-change or turn.  The vast majority of motorists are respectful of me in traffic, and the vast majority of cyclists understand the physics involved in an encounter between a 22 lb. Huffy and a two-and-a-half ton SUV.

Friday, January 6, 2012

One more round

What is it with roundabouts, that this topic ends up in my posts so often?  Earlier this week I mentioned the weekly "Hometown Quiz" in the newspaper that proposed Lincoln's first roundabout was "near 31st and Pine Lake Road."  Pshaw.  The one the author had in mind is only 10 or 12 years old.  I noted that another roundabout, at 16th and Centerpark Road had been around for at least 40 years, and that there were probably others in Lincoln's past.

The comments thread took off, with several readers pointing out even older roundabouts, such as this one in Pioneers Park, and these two in the Woodsshire neighborhood. Two readers, Dave and Eric, recalled that a fountain once stood in the middle of 11th and J Street at the turn of the century.  Sometime later in the automobile age it was retired to Antelope Park where it still resides (although no longer as a fountain) on the grounds of the Children's Zoo.  I think we can safely say that the intersection of 11th and J Street was Lincoln's first roundabout, as he fountain would have caused the intersection to function as such, and no instructions were needed.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Holiday DWI focus

Every year in December, the Lincoln Police Department puts a special focus on drunk driving enforcement. Since the vast majority of drunk driving arrests occur on the late shift, Capt. Marty Fehringer, one of the overnight Duty Commanders, was this year's coordinator, and sent me the results: 213 DWI arrests by LPD during the month of December.  This is the all-time single month record for drunk driving arrests in Lincoln. As I have often said, there is nothing that a police officer does that has a greater impact on public safety than arresting a drunk driver.  The officers who contributed to this project should be complimented for their efforts.

We weren't alone in focusing on DWI during the month, and the local news has reported on the results from the Lancaster County Sheriff's Office, and the statewide arrests by the Nebraska State Patrol.

Here's an interesting way of looking at LPD's drunk driving arrests: a temporal grid of the past few years, cases.  I've blogged before about using this method for visualizing data sets that have strong time-and-day patterns, which is clearly evident in the DWI arrests. You can click on the image to enlarge the view.

This grid, by the way, is a screen capture from our latest version of CrimeView Dashboard.  It took me less than five minutes to prepare this for my blog this morning. Performing this analysis and producing a graphic like this a few years ago would have made a decent project for the week.  It also would have required a few thousand dollars worth of software on a fat honking PC, and a GIS analyst with extensive training and experience.  Now it's a few minutes on my wife's low-end Dell with an iffy WiFi connection in our little home office, while sipping my first cup of joe. Pretty incredible, when you think about it.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

First roundabout?

Saturday's Lincoln Journal Star always contains an insert, the Neighborhood Extra.  There is a small feature in the insert every week called "Hometown Quiz."  The quiz posits three questions about Lincoln's history, the answers to which are published in the following week's edition.  Last week, Tonja read one of the questions to me: "Where was the first roundabout in Lincoln?"  I took a stab, although I was a little doubtful: "9th and M Street."

When the paper arrived this past weekend, I was a little surprised to see the printed answer: "31st Street near Pine Lake Road."  I think not.  Never mind that there is no 31st Street near Pine Lake Road; I imagine the author was thinking about the little roundabout at the intersection of S. 32nd Street and a private roadway named Zermatt Drive that feeds the SouthPointe Pavilions shopping center.

I guessed 9th and M Streets because I recall seeing a late19th or early 20th century photo depicting a horse fountain in the middle of M street, looking west, with the Lincoln Paint and Color Company (now known as  Color Court) building in the background.  It caught my eye because at the time I first saw the image, the police station was located at that corner.  If that fountain was in the intersection at S. 9th Street, it would have caused the intersection to function exactly like a modern roundabout.

Lacking any confirmation that the fountain was in the intersection, rather than midblock, I still think it is quite likely that there have been circulators in Lincoln's distant past that are long since forgotten.  I know for sure, however, that the S. 32nd and Zermatt Drive example is nowhere close to the first.  The huge rotary at S. 16th and Centerpark Road has been there for at least 40 years, and still ranks as the largest roundabout in Lincoln.  It has been carrying traffic all day long, including the largest tractor-trailer rigs some pretty busy shift changes (Square D, Weaver's, and the Miller & Paine warehouse, come to mind). Funny, this roundabout has served well for several decades without any of the consternation that seems to accompany current iterations of this rather ancient intersection form.