Friday, June 29, 2012

Unusually effective

The Mayor, City Councilman Jon Camp and I all received an email yesterday from a disgruntled citizen who is upset to learn that he must pay a $25 annual fee to register his residential alarm system.  He opined that the two-year old ordinance changes here in Lincoln would do nothing to reduce false alarms.  I've given several updates on this topic here on my blog before, but here is the response I sent him:
"The Mayor's Office has asked me to respond to your email about your disagreements with the City's alarm registration and excess false alarm ordinances.  Ordinances of this type are virtually universal in cities of Lincoln's size.  We have a fairly conservative ordinance, in that the cost of registration is comparatively low, the number of "free" false alarms comparatively high, and the fee for excess false alarms comparatively low.  These ordinance changes were adopted to both decrease false alarms and to place more of the cost for responding to false alarms on the users of such systems, rather than the general taxpayers.   
With respect to the impact of more restrictive false alarm ordinances in our region and in Lincoln, I can assure you these policies have made a significant difference. As a practical matter, over the past several years alarm companies have instituted procedures to verify alarms more effectively, and to provide better training and support to customers in order to avoid an excessive number of false alarms at a business or residence.  Since our peak year, The number of false alarms in Lincoln has declined by more than 2,000 per year, a 45% reduction.  The number of addresses with  five or more false alarms during a calendar year has decreased by 82%, from a peak of 242 to only 44 last year.  This has occurred despite the fact that Lincoln's population continues to grow by about 3,600 per year.  
From my standpoint, these are certainly impressive results.  Each false alarm results in the dispatch of at least two police officers, and officers are typically tied up on an alarm anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour or more.  Since we respond to alarms in an emergency driving condition, there is also a risk to both the officers' safety and that of other motorists. Reducing false alarms both conserves resources and improves safety.  I regret the fact that you disagree with this public policy decision by our elected officials, but I wanted you to know why I continue to support this approach to alarm registration and excess false alarm fees. "

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Morton's Fork

I'm a little concerned that a "show me your papers" bill will turn up in the Nebraska legislature again, now that this provision of Arizona's SB1070 has been upheld by the United States Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court also declared the other provisions of the Arizona law unconstitutional.  The net result is an unsatisfying predicament.  Here's what this decision means, as I read it:

1.  Arizona law enforcement officers can be required by law to investigate the immigration status of someone they lawfully detain for another offense, when the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the person may be an illegal alien. 
2.  If this inquiry reveals that the person is illegally in the United States, there is nothing the officer can do about that, because the State criminal violation for being in the country illegally has been overturned.

3. Oh, and by the way, if you detain the person too long in your attempt to comply with the requirement to investigate immigration status--a rather vague judgement call--you're going to be in trouble for violating his or her Constitutional rights (see pages 22-23 of the decision).

4. And don't forget, the provision in the Arizona law that creates a cause of action against the officer and agency by any Arizonan who believes the police are not being sufficiently diligent about investigating immigration status. That part was untouched by the decision.

What we have here is a Morton's Fork.  The police are left holding the bag.  The Supreme Court's decision is practically inviting a series of lawsuits against Arizona police officers.  Ironically, the Arizona bill was called the "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act." I've already heard a Nebraska state senator testing the waters on a similar proposition, and thus my concern.  The sensible thing to do, in my view, is to let the case law develop in Arizona and the 9th District, before dipping Nebraska's toes into this murky pool. A little more clarity for the officers on the street would be a mighty good thing.

Now, before the rant begins in the comments, let me re-emphasize:  in Lincoln, the process for every single person arrested for a crime serious enough that he or she is booked into jail includes notification to Federal authorities.  Each has his or her fingerprints and descriptors transmitted electronically to the Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement for a check against their database. That is the way it has been for a good long time.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Felony lane

The "felony lane" is the lane at a bank drive-through furthest from the teller. In recent years, the modus operandi of thieves with forged checks has increasingly included the use of the felony lane to pass checks. Here's how it works: someone steals the victim's purse at a pool, golf course, trailhead, school, or similar location by busting into a parked car. Armed with the victim's ID and checks, an accomplice driving a stolen vehicle or one with stolen plates--often donning a disguise to resemble the victim--presents a forged check in the "felony lane", sending the genuine ID along in the pneumatic tube. An alert teller at a Union Bank branch, forewarned by Union's security staff, noted the vehicle description from an earlier case yesterday at another bank. The result was this pursuit, which ended in a dramatic collision. Thank God, no one was critically injured. As noted by a witness, however, it was a matter of inches.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Emergency response vehicles

I had a public speaking engagement at a civic organization Monday, and opened the floor for questions after my presentation. One of the questions concerned why both a fire engine and ambulance respond to so many medical emergencies in Lincoln. I explained that our goal is to put an adequate number of trained personnel at the patient's side without regard to what type of vehicle they arrived in. We have 18 fire companies in Lincoln, but only 6 medic units, and those medic units are often tied up. The engine or truck is staffed by EMTs, and usually includes a paramedic, and is typically in a better position to get to the scene more quickly. We are currently experimenting with a smaller alternate response vehicle, but right now, the only ride Station 12 has to pick from is Engine 12. Fire engines have become more like general purpose emergency response vehicles, as the medical emergency workload has eclipsed the number of fire responses.

I get questions of this nature fairly often. These are sometimes mildly critical, and merit an explanation. A typical story starts like this: "Smoke was filling our house, and we called 911. In the meantime, we realized that the smoke was from burning popcorn downstairs, and we doused it in the sink just before three fire trucks, a couple of red SUVs, and about a dozen fire fighters showed up.  It caused quite the uproar in the neighborhood, and we felt really bad about causing such a scene.  I just can't understand why so many people and so much equipment had to come to something so minor.

Another version I have heard several times sounds like this: "My husband has a medical condition, and was feeling ill.  I couldn't get him out to the car, so I called for an ambulance.  Instead, a fire truck roared up the street with its lights and sirens on, follwed by the ambulance a few minutes later. There must have been seven firefighters in our living room. When they finally took him to the ambulance, all the neighbors were outside watching to show.  We were terribly embarrassed." Let me explain:

Virtually all fire and rescue departments nationwide (for that matter, worldwide) establish response protocols: plans and rules about which personnel and apparatus to send to a particular type of emergency. Lincoln's is pretty typical. These protocols often result in a lot of stuff being sent, but they are grounded in experience and research. The goal is to get an effective working force en route, based on the nature of the emergency. When the first arriving units find something different, like a false alarm or a situation that requires fewer resources, the response may be downgraded. This is an excellent video that provides a description of the role of various apparatus and responders at the scene of a working fire:

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Watch for this

Coming this fall, and not to be missed.

Heroes Behind the Badge.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Yet another gun

Early yesterday morning, police officers in Petaluma, CA recovered another pistol from the cache stolen in Lincoln's largest gun burglary at Scheel's back in October, 2007. The pistol recovered way up in Sonoma County yesterday, a Kahr Arms CW .40 S&W, was discovered after a DWI arrest. It has been more than two years since any of the Scheel's guns have surfaced. With this latest recovery, 49 of the 79 stolen firearms have been accounted for, and 30 remain at large.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Way out east

I noticed that the City of Lincoln is preparing to annex Sky Ranch Acres, essentially moving the City limits out to 112th and Holdrege. There has been some incredible eastward growth in recent years. Here's a snapshot of the area along N. 84th St. between Leighton Ave. and Holdrege Street. The sepia-toned image on the left was shot in 2005, the image on the right in the Spring of 2010:

Click image for larger view
Across town, here's another comparison between 2005 and 2010, in the vicinity of S. 27th and Grainger Parkway (that's Yankee Hill Road along the bottom edge):

There has been even more change in both of these areas since the 2010 photos.  Lincoln continues to grow at a rate of about 1.4% annually.  That may not sound like much, but on a base of 258,000 it means we are adding about 3,600 residents to Lincoln every year--about the population of Gothenburg or O'Neill, Nebraska.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Perplexed by sign

I was in Washington, DC yesterday. Earlier this year, I was appointed to the National Institute of Justice's Scientific Review Panel, and we had our first meeting Wednesday and Thursday. I was on my way to the Metro to catch a train to the airport when I spotted this sign and couldn't resist the photo opportunity. Can someone please explain this to me?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Interesting article

There is a nice article in the May edition of Law Officer concerning information resources and technology at the Lincoln Police Department. The article mentions several topics that have been covered here in my blog over the past few years.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Grab the right curb

Yesterday on my way home, I caught a glimpse in my rear view mirror of Battalion 1 southbound on S. 9th Street, heading for a working fire in southwest Lincoln.  I saw the chief approaching from about a half mile away, and when Bat 1 was about four blocks behind me, I grabbed a piece of the right curb.  Most of the other motorists on 9th Street did the same, but several continued on their merry way, and I counted three who pulled over the the left curb.

I've never understood what's so difficult to understand about pulling to the right and stopping upon the approach of an emergency vehicle, but after watching this phenomenon since the Nixon administration, I can't say that it's gotten any better over time.  In the interest of full disclosure, it was only the last couple of weeks of the Nixon administration.  

On a related but unrelated note, I actually saw someone at 56th and Van Dorn over the weekend making a hand signal for a right turn.  He must have blown a fuse. I was pretty impressed that the driver of that pickup knew how to signal a right turn, and also pretty glad he did--I was right behind him, and there were no brake lights, either.  Extra credit if you recall the hand signal for slowing or stopping.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Loud and proud

I had my ear bent this week by a longtime Lincoln businessman who called about motorcycles. He's increasingly annoyed by loud bikes with low-impedance exhaust systems, or even open pipes, and wanted to know why the police don't do something about this. Fact of the matter is that we do, and the offense of unnecesary noise, covered in two chapters of the municipal code, is a fairly common ticket.

It is not, however, common enough to stick a sock in every tailpipe. The caller observed that the problem has increased in recent years, and I tend to agree. Motorcycle registrations are up in Nebraska, and it seems to me that every dentist has acquired a Harley. Not to pick on dentists, though, as I watch cops, judges, lawyers, and accountants roll into work daily on their steeds. Sometimes I think I'm the only upper-middle income 58 year old in Lincoln without a motorcycle.

The loud pipes seem to be a source of pride to many motorcyclists, for reasons beyond my comprehension. Adding to the din are the cafe racers, whose pitch is higher, but equally annoying when you're trying to enjoy a little peace on your patio. In the end, all I could do was commiserate with the complainant. An occasional ticket is not entirely effective in combatting a cultural phenomenon.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

New view

The recent replacement of the 911 telephone system in Lincoln's Emergency Communications Center also included an update to the mapping software.  Since the old system was nearly 10 years old, you can probably imagine that the new version comes with some enhanced capabilities.  Among these are the integration of Pictometry.  The final work on this integration was taking place yesterday.

An incoming 911 call is automatically plotted on the map, and the call taker or dispatcher can quickly launch the oblique image for that vicinity.  These images are similar to those used in Bing Maps' "Bird's Eye View."  I think that in certain circumstances, the ability to visualize the area of the incident may be quite helpful for dispatchers, who are in a windowless room in the bowels of the Hall of Justice.  Here's another sample image from Lincoln's Pictometry data, compared to the standard overhead aerial orthophoto.  Both of these are excellent high resolution images, but the oblique view has some advantages:

Monday, June 4, 2012

Travel time

The final element in this response time series is travel time.  Simply put, travel time begins when the wheels on an ambulance or fire apparatus start turning, and ends when they stop. Travel time is influenced by several different things: roadway capacity, traffic, weather, and navigation  accuracy--to name a few.  In the public safety business, travel time can generally be estimated by examining distance and the posted speed limit.

Experiments have shown that emergency responders are actually doing quite well if the travel time divided by distance averages the speed limit.  This is exactly how we conducted the analysis for Lincoln Fire & Rescue's fire station optimization plan.  Using GIS software, we just calculated the extent of the area that could be reached from each of Lincoln's 14 fire stations within four minutes if averaging the posted speed limit on the roadway network.  Fast driving does not help: smooth and safe wins the race, coupled with good navigation.  Remember when some Type A driver passed you, only to be stuck at the next light as you glided by in the adjacent lane?

Total response time, thus, is the sum of call processing time, turnout time, and travel time.  Of the three, travel time is the longest interval, and thus of particular interest when your goal is to maintain a reasonable response time to life-threatening emergencies.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Turnout time

Monday's post about the elements that comprise response time began with a discussion of call processing time.  Today's topic is turnout time: the interval from the time the assigned units are notified of the emergency until the wheels start moving.  There are a few different ways that emergency responders can be notified of a dispatch: a voice announcement over the radio, an audible alarm at a station, or an electronic message delivered to a device like a computer, phone or pager.  Most emergency response systems use a combination.  In Lincoln, we use all three.

When an fire company or an ambulance crew is assigned to a emergent call, a tone sounds on a PA system in the station, a voice dispatch to the unit is made over our radio system, and an electronic message is delivered to the mobile data computer in the vehicle.  Once the alarm has been received, the assigned units have some work to do: drop whatever they had been doing previously, proceed to the apparatus, don any protective equipment, enter the vehicle, strap in, start the unit, open the door, and roll.  Once again, all of the steps take a little bit of time, and there are many variables in play.  If you're all standing near the engine at 3:00 PM, and the dispatch is to a medical emergency that would not require bunker gear, you are rolling pretty quickly.  If it's 3:00 AM and the dispatch is to a overturned tanker car, it will likely take considerably longer to get under way.

For Lincoln Fire & Rescue, we would like our turnout time for medical emergencies to be 60 seconds or less, 90% of the time.  For response to fire, rescue, and hazmat incidents, our goal is 80 seconds or less, 90% of the time. These goals are not pulled from the air, rather they are best-practices benchmarks established by the leading authority on fire safety, the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), a non-profit that has been developing and publishing standards concerning fire safety for over a century.