Friday, August 31, 2012

Oddities of the week

First, was this website, created by Mr. Wilson, the prolific blogger who publishes Lincolnite.  The subtle humor is that if you can't figure out whether your address is odd or even, you won't be able to figure out how to navigate to or read a webpage.  I also admire the fact that it actually works, and the numbers go up high enough to cover almost all the address in Lincoln that are within the city limits--I think it only misses one: the largest numeric address in the City.

Second, I snapped this photo while on my way to a meeting on the University of Nebraska campus Wednesday morning.  I spotted this on T Street,  just south of Memorial Stadium, which was on my route from the parking garage to Avery Hall. I wonder how many other Big 10 Universities have custom manhole covers.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Mug shot gallery

It's not uncommon these days for newspapers to publish galleries of mugshots of jail inmates.  In fact, I blogged more than three years ago about a particularly remarkable such gallery and database that was published by the Tampa Bay Times. Interestingly, the reporter primarily responsible for developing this site, something of an expert in computer-assisted reporting, is Matt Waite, who has now returned to Lincoln and is serving on the faculty of the College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Nebraska.

Apparently our own local paper, the Lincoln Journal Star, has now joined this trend.  I noticed last week a new feature in their online edition, a gallery of Lancaster County Jail inmates, updated daily at 6:00 AM.  Mug shots are a public record in Nebraska, so the County Corrections Department must supply these when requested.  There are a lot of sad faces in that lineup, and a story behind each.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Explanations abound

Okay, I know I have been going a little haywire with posts about Lincoln's watering restrictions, but it has temporarily solved my problem with writer's block.  I promise to exercise a little more self control after this one, and try to bring a little variety back to the Director's Desk.

Several people, including the Big Guy, have asked me why so many folks seem to be having trouble following the watering schedule.  The violators are few (at least in comparison to the population), and the explanations many, dominated by "I didn't know," "I forgot," "I was fuzzy about the schedule," and "I don't know how to operate by automatic sprinklers."

I have been reading a few reports from time to time, but just got the bug Sunday night, pulled out the iPad, and read some more. I thought I'd share some of the explanations, by excerpting officers' reports--protecting identities, of course. With few exceptions, these are good citizens, with whom I empathize, but who nonetheless failed to follow the law.

"Def. said he and his wife were equally responsible for the sprinklers, but he thought she had reprogrammed them to run on the correct days."

"As I issued her the citation she angrily said it should be her husband getting the ticket since he was the one who turned on the water.  Photos were taken and placed in property."

"Def. showed ofc. the controller, which was set to 'Auto'.  Def. insisted that he had turned it to 'Off', and that someone from his family must have messed with it. Def. was cited and released."

"Officer arrived at 0944 hrs and observed a sprinkler watering the lawn. Def was contacted and stated that he believed his girlfriend may have started the water last evening (on the correct day for watering) and they both forgot about it and it was probably watering all night. Def cited and released."

"I was dispatched on a water violation.  I arrived and observed the sprinkler system was on in front of this address. Def. stated she did not know her system was on and thought her father had reset the system for her."

"She was not happy to receive an official citation as she had heard that people were receiving warnings and no one had come to 'warn' her about violating the watering restrictions."

"She stated she knew the city currently had outdoor watering restrictions, but said she thought the provision was that residents could only water two days a week, on any two days they chose. Def. was advised of the particulars of the current watering restrictions, and was cited and released."

"Ofc. contacted def. who was the manager on duty at the time of the offense. She said that she had already been ticketed on Monday and was confused about when the should be watering. Ofc. explained how to determine the proper date to water by address. Def. was cited/released."

"She said she had heard 'rumors' about watering restrictions in the city, but had not made an attempt to learn the details. Def. was informed of the specifics of the restrictions, shown how to turn off her lawn sprikler system, and was cited and released."

"Owner was contacted and she stated she did not know we were in a drought and that there was a water restriction in place. I advised her that we have been in this emergency water restriction for almost a month now and that information was being given through numerous news outlets. She stated she did not know there was a restriction and suggested that the city find another way to inform its citizens of it."

"She said she had no idea there was a watering restriction because she doesn't have a TV, radio, the internet or take the newspaper. She was cited for the violation."

"Def. was advised of the violation that he was in and he immediately stated that he was unaware of the complete ban on Mondays. He stated that he doesn't watch TV, but I observed his large screen TV to be on as he made the statement. After I issued his citation he stated that he will be watering his back yard everyday because he has a tall privacy fence and no one will be able to see that he is watering. Def. disclosed that he works for ________, maintaining customers' lawns, but still had no idea that there was no watering on Mondays."

"I was sent to 1611 ________  regarding a water restriction violation...Def. said she thought her house counted as even numbered because it started with 16. I corrected her that her address was an odd number and her days to water were Tues, Thurs and Sat. She was then cited/released for a water restriction violation."

"I was dispatached to 610 ________ on a watering complaint. As I walked up the driveway I obs the def sitting outside on his driveway.  He asked if I was there because of his watering.  Def said he thought since the address ended in a zero that it was an odd day and he was okay to water. Def. was cited and released."

"Def. said she got up this morning & thought it was a Wednesday so she manually started the underground sprinklers. Def. now realized that it was Tuesday."

"He said an officer could stop by after that time to issue the citation and said the officer could call first to see if he was home. I asked def. if his wife would be home prior to his return because she could be issued the citation instead of him. Def. said he is the one who set the controller for the sprinkler system in error. He also said that he would rather be shot than have to deal with his wife getting the citation."

"Def. said that the sprinklers had been set years ago and he had no idea when the sprinklers are set to come on. Def. was cited and released."

"Def. was shown how to turn his sprinkler system to 'OFF' and was cited and released."

"I made contact with def. who advised she knew she couldn't water her lawn on Monday but forgot.  After being informed she would be receiving a citation, she stated, 'I'll just turn the  %$#@*&!  things off.'  Def. was cited/released."

Friday, August 24, 2012

Sprinklers may run

I've now heard or read several people making a remark something to this effect: "If the police can suddenly jump all over the illegal outdoor watering, why can't they do something about all those illegal fireworks around the Fourth of July?"  I responded to  one of these earlier this week on the Lincoln Journal Star's website, but it's buried in the bowels, so I share it here:

"Sprinklers may run, but they do not run away.  A sprinkler does not see the police car coming around the corner, lay down the punk, and pretend it must have been some other lawn in the neighborhood.  Neither does a sprinkler's mom lie for him, nor do his parents drive him to Missouri to buy water."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

False reporting

False reporting is a huge story in Lincoln right now, but I would like to discuss the issue generally, rather than the specifics of the case that is gathering all the attention. 

False crime reports are a very small percentage of all reported crime, but any experienced police officer has dealt with some of these cases. It is very important for officers not to become jaded by these cases, so that they do not look askance at an unusual crime report, and to keep an open mind at all times.  A critical mistake in any criminal investigation is to fall prey to tunnel vision, and only interpret evidence that tends to confirm your initial hypothesis. 

People report crime falsely for many reasons: to get even with an enemy, to seek financial gain, to seek attention or sympathy, to explain their own bad behavior, to reap financial gain, and due to mental illness or emotional disturbances.  The point is this: despite the fact that these false reports may stand out in your memory, they really are rather rare, and you must not allow them to negatively affect your interaction with crime victims or the the quality of your investigation. 

Of all the false reports, those that concern me the most are child abuse cases.  I cannot tell you how many times I have heard an experienced police investigator or child protective services worker minimize a report of abuse or neglect with these words: “It’s a custody dispute….”  This comment is not merely descriptive, it carries a subtle meaning. The unspoken remainder of the sentence is, “…it’s probably a false report.”

It is a sad fact that sometimes parents will make up or exaggerate claims of abuse. Think, however, about the multitude of factors that may underlie a contentious divorce: financial stress, infidelity, anger, domestic violence, drug abuse, alcoholism, abusive gambling, addiction, obsessive control issues, rages, jealousies, criminality, emotional detachment, narcissism, paranoia, and so forth.  Do not all of these also increase the risk to the children in the family?

And consider this: if two parents are so self-absorbed that one or both would use their children as a weapon to falsely accuse the other of abuse or neglect, do you think that is pretty good evidence that the children are in a situation that is placing their emotional, if not physical, well-being in jeopardy?

So, whenever you hear a police officer or CPS worker say, “It’s a custody dispute,” I want you to complete the sentence, “…so we should be particularly concerned about the safety of the children.” Never marginalize a child abuse report that is wrapped inside an ugly custody dispute, and never assume that it is a false report.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tier three water

Lincoln police officers are issuing tickets right and left for violations of the City's outdoor watering restrictions.  Reading reports, I find it remarkable how many people knew that their home or business was watering when prohibited, but hadn't taken responsibility for resolving the matter. For example, officers have encountered a few homeowners' associations with central irrigation systems where an entire street was in violation.While I can understand that each homeowner doesn't control their own system, I would think that the residents would have been burning up the phone lines to property management.

It has been the same thing at some of the businesses, apartment complexes, and professional buildings: some managers knew it was happening, but hadn't taken steps to get it resolved.  Apparently it just wasn't a high enough priority.  While tickets will help make it a higher one, it is a rather cumbersome means of getting people to wake up and smell the coffee.

I suspect that for some residential customers in particular, the arrival of the next bi-monthly water bill, which will cover the July and August usage, will have an impact as great or greater than the arrival of a police officer at the door. Lincoln's water rates are tiered: the first 15 units of water are at a low rate, the next 30 at a higher rate, and after that, you are in tier three water, with a rate more than double the tier one cost. I think a lot of people who are trying to keep their August lawn the same color as it was in May are going to find themselves deep into the tier three pricing, with a water bill bigger than a car payment. Some are probably willing to pay the price, others may be suffering from some sticker shock. We shall see.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Week of water

It has been a slightly frustrating week of chasing watering complaints for Lincoln police officers.  Since Lincoln's watering restrictions became effective on August 9th, LPD has responded to 417 water violation complaints. That's as of midnight, but they are pouring in again this morning.  The officers are doing there best to contact people, and if they are unaware of the restrictions, give them one warning to comply.  There have only been a couple of tickets issued, as most everyone has taken the warning seriously, once it has been delivered.

The addresses with repeat complaints number 17.  Some of these have been determined to be locations on private well water (apparently it's asking too much for some private well owners to just voluntarily adopt the City watering schedule). Some of the repeats have been businesses, churches or apartment buildings, where we had a difficult time locating the person responsible for the premise in the wee hours of the morning when the automatic sprinkler system kicked on.  A third shift officer gets dispatched at something like 4:30 AM, and no one is there until hours after he or she has gone off duty at 7:00 AM.  Some of the repeats have been residences where we simply couldn't find anyone at home--probably people who are out of town or on vacation.

The vast majority of the violators have simply been people who are oblivious to the restrictions.  As a news junkie myself, it's hard to fathom, but apparently there are tens of thousands of people in Lincoln who never pick up a newspaper, never check the local news on the Internet, and never listen to a news broadcast on the radio or TV.  A few have been people who cannot figure out how to reprogram their sprinkler system, and apparently don't understand that they can just turn the dial to OFF, or unplug the control from the wall.

I am a little surprised that the restriction to three days of outdoor watering hasn't had a bigger impact on decreasing water use.  While the total ban on Mondays has had the desired effect, the reduction on the other days of the week is smaller than I would have expected.  My suspicion is that some people, limited to a three day watering schedule, are watering like crazy on their designated day.  It is unbelievable to me to see some of the lawns gracing certain homes and businesses around town.   Personally, I consider a brown and dormant lawn to be an indication of good citizenship, and a lush green one to be a sign of clueless self-indulgence.

Here's a news flash: it hasn't rained significantly in Lincoln since early June, we're in an extreme drought, and the water flow in the Platte River where Lincoln's well fields are located is at an historic low--too low to recharge the aquifer.  Hope you enjoy that lush green bluegrass when sand is coming out of your faucet, or your house is burning down while a trickle drips from the fire hose.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

That's a wrap

On occasion, the Director's Desk strays from its normal content: the unusual and interesting stuff that crosses my desk, fills my screen, and floats through my brain during the day.  One of those rare occasions concerned a certain pork tenderloin in south-central Iowa.  Today marks the second sandwich story in 1,016 blog posts on the Director's Desk.

I don't watch a lot of TV, but when I do, I tend to just channel surf, rather than plan to watch a specific show.  If a minute or two of surfing reveals that  there are 57 channels and nothing on, I'm apt to stop on the Food Network.  Lately, there's been a series running on best sandwiches from around the county, so this article in the Omaha World Herald last week caught my eye.  Can it be that the Beef State's best sandwich is meatless, or is it just the result of the overactive imagination of a vegan Food Network Magazine contributor from someplace like New York City?

Intrigued, I stopped by Maggie's Vegetarian Restaurant for an early lunch yesterday. I can now report that an afficianado of the pork tenderloin has also fallen head-over-heels for an organic vegetarian wrap. Wow--that's a wrap!  You could put that mustard sauce on shoe leather and have a decent meal (although I don't think that would be vegetarian anymore).

While I was dining, a hard-hat from the nearby hotel construction site came in.  He looked over the chalk board at length, then asked the staff, "You got anything with meat?" "No," the young woman replied, "we're vegetarian."  He departed quickly, as if he had a sudden attack of irritable bowel syndrome.  He knoweth not what he misseth.

Monday, August 13, 2012

How many?

A comment on my Friday post inquired about the number of calls the police department is responding to regarding violations of Lincoln's mandatory water restrictions, which went into effect late last week.  On Thursday It was 5, Friday 35, Saturday 44, Sunday 26, and so far today we're at 8 and climbing fast.  You can check these numbers yourself at our web site. Water restriction calls are a sub-category of 24000 Miscellaneous.

The primary problem resulting in these calls is the inability of some people to figure out that their automatic sprinkler system has an OFF switch.  In addition, there are some people for whom the concept of even and odd addresses is difficult, and a whole lot of people who do not read the newspaper, listen to newscasts on the radio, or watch the news on TV, so they have no idea at all that Lincoln is under a water restriction.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Wells of Lancaster County

The Bridges of Madison County is the only movie (other than a drive-in) where I actually fell asleep in the theater.  Uggh.  All the testosterone drained from my body, and I didn't need to shave for three weeks. Took a decade (and Grand Torino) for me to forgive Clint Eastwood.

The Wells of Lancaster County, however, is not a movie.  Rather, it's a map.  Yesterday, Mayor Chris Beutler implemented mandatory water use restrictions in Lincoln, to deal with the drought's impact on Lincoln's water supply, which comes from the City well field about 25 miles away on the Platte River.  Violations of the restrictions carry some pretty hefty criminal penalties, but private wells are exempt.

Around noon, I was down in the Emergency Communications Center (AKA, 911), where some of the staff were gathered over a thick sheaf of papers listing all of the privately-owned wells in Lincoln, trying to figure out how these records were organized.  They were wondering how they might be able to determine, when a complaint is received or when a police officer inquired, whether there was a private well at a particular address.

I had an idea. Since my office is at the Health Department building, I have become acquainted with Deb Byrne, a fellow GIS aficionado who does such work for the Health Department.  I knew that she already had a geocoded database of wells in Lancaster County, so it was a pretty simple matter to create an GIS application to display these data: click on the icon, up pops the address of the well and the name of its owner. After lunch, I shipped that off to the police service desk and the 911 center.  This is another good example of how a once-complex head-scratcher is ideally solved with GIS technology. Deb's previous work in creating and maintaining the geodatabase of wells made the final step to a custom map just a short hop.

As I worked on this, I was surprised at how many privately-owned irrigation wells there are inside the city limits. It's interesting to look at: many large entities such as apartment complexes and big commercial parcels; private golf courses; lots of former acreages that had been annexed over the years; some old houses that obviously were once farmsteads; and a fair number of homes that don't fit any of these descriptions. I guess some people have just been willing to bear the expense of sinking a well, for the pleasure of irrigating to their heart's content without enduring a huge water bill.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Bounce house?

I must lead a sheltered life. Why, I didn't even know what a slug was! My most recent confusion occurred last week, while I was demonstrating CrimeView NEARme (the app formerly known as P3i) to some colleagues. I was showing the audience the functionality of the search feature, and entered an address in San Diego. Here is the Bing Maps image that popped up:

I had no idea what that was, but it looked like one of those inflatable bounce houses, only of the gigantic variety.  No doubt it is just me, and everyone else realized instantly what this striped structure really is.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Not even close

On my way to work yesterday, I heard a news story about a national traffic safety campaign focusing on red light running.  The story quoted a National Highway Safety Traffic Administration study which purports to show that running red lights is the leading cause of urban traffic crashes. 

“No,” I said to myself, “that can’t be.”  It certainly has not been my experience, at least not here in the 71st largest city in the United States.  In my view, by far and away the most common cause of traffic crashes in Lincoln is a combination of distracted driving and following too close: all those rear-end collisions that normally result in the driver being cited for Negligent Driving.

When I got to the office, I looked up the most recent traffic crash analysis report from the Traffic Engineering staff at Lincoln’s Public Works Department.  The graph on page 18 shows 2010 crashes by type:


Don’t misunderstand me: red light running is a significant problem in Lincoln, and everywhere else.  But in terms of traffic crash causation, putting down the cell phone (and the toothbrush), and leaving a little more space between the vehicle ahead, would be the most effective way of reducing crashes in my neck of the woods. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Big vending machine

I suppose it was about five years ago that I first noticed some of these big oversized vending machines in airports. A machine where you could buy something like a digital camera, a Samsung tablet computer, or an iPod. They're pretty commonplace, these days, at least at the larger hub airports.

So I already had the mental picture, about a year ago, when Lincoln Fire & Rescue EMS Supervisor Scott Wiebe was describing the use of vending machines for managing medical supplies. He'd seen one in use for this purpose in Sioux Falls (or was it Sioux City). As soon as I heard the idea, I liked it. What a great way to control inventory, ensure an accurate log, manage expiration dates and so forth.

A year later, LF&R has just installed three machines: one each at St. Elizabeth Hospital and Bryan/LGH West, and a third at Fire Station 7, which is in the shadow of Bryan/LGH East. Whereas in the past, an ambulance crew or engine company that needed to restock an item often had to drive down to HQ, find the Battalion Chief, and (hopefully) accurately complete a paper log, the process is now quite different. You're already at the hospital, so step into the paramedic's office, enter your PIN code, and get the airway, EZ IO needle, or medication you need. You've avoided the time required for the trip downtown, getting even further out of position, and burning a few gallons fossil fuel. Moreover, the machine is connected to the Internet, so our stores clerk can keep track of stock online, and supervisors can track transactions from their desk or mobile data computer.

I stopped by Station 7 to see the box last week, and it's a beast. I understand it took a few people, a few hours, a few tools, and a large vocabulary to coax it through the various doors to its resting place. For all the world, though, it looks pretty much like a standard machine in the canteen--just a little larger. I think it's big enough that you'll be hard-pressed to shake loose your M&Ms if they hang up on the fall.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Going viral

I participated in a very interesting discussion yesterday with Capt. Michael Parker, who heads media relations at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office, and Edward Flynn, Milwaukee's Chief of Police.  The topic was "going viral"--stories that explode into the public space, propelled not so much by the news media, as by social media.  This is a relatively new phenomenon in policing, and one that we've had our own experiences with in Lincoln.

Viral outbreaks like this are challenging in policing, where we are accustomed to playing our hand mighty cautiously as an investigation unfolds, or as the facts are assembled.  Chief Flynn put it well when he said, "One thing I've learned is that the early reports are usually wrong." The problem with a viral story, though, is that it moves so fast, often before you've been able to flesh out the details, and craft a response.

Both Capt. Parker and Chief Flynn recommended the proactive use of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, and department news feeds to try to get the department's information out quickly, from an authoritative source, rather than simply be buffeted by the winds of incomplete information, rumor and innuendo spreading unchecked across cyberspace.