Friday, March 29, 2013

Remounted and refurbished

A pretty slick trick was unveiled to the public yesterday by Lincoln Fire & Rescue.  Logistics Chief Kendall Warnock and his staff took an old ambulance that had been relegated to backup status, and worked some real magic on it.  Our back up ambulances are the rolling stock we bring up when a front-line unit is temporarily out of commission, or when heavy workload requires standing up additional medic units.

The backups are awfully tired iron: they've already served on the front line for more than ten years, and are pushing 200,000 miles.  Those miles, however, are accumulated in emergency response, in a lot of stop and go urban driving, and with tons of idling.  You could probably double that mileage for a comparison with a vehicle operated in normal driving conditions.

The cost of replacing an ambulance with a comparable new unit would be in the neighborhood of $175,000. Instead, however, the staff remounted the box from the backup unit on an entirely-new Chevy drive train and chassis. Hoist up the box, drive the old truck out, the new one in, and bolt the box back on.  Well, not quite. It was really a quite extensive project.

Along with the new drive train, the ambulance got a new wrap and graphics (at half the cost of a paint job), new LED lighting inside and out, new flooring,  new upholstery in the back, and a host of other repairs and replacements.  The upfitting is really exceptional, and the net cost was about $85K to $100K less than new.

The unit is on the front line now, in order to put some miles on and get some experience before it returns to first-backup status.  We will probably do another remount later this year, and if this all proves as successful as it appears at first blush, I expect this will become the standard way we extend the life of our fleet without compromising performance and patient care.

Nice job by all involved!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Online criminal history

The news yesterday was the announcement by the State Patrol and Governor Dave Heineman of a new online state criminal history report.  For $18 on your credit card, you can now get a more-or-less instant check of a Nebraska State Patrol criminal history. Lincoln Police Department criminal histories have been available online at $10 each for, oh, about a dozen years, I suppose.

So, what's the difference between a LPD criminal history and an NSP criminal history?  A Lincoln Police Department criminal history is a listing of arrests by Lincoln police officers and their disposition (with certain exceptions described here.) It does not include arrests by any other law enforcement agencies.  A Nebraska State Patrol criminal history, is a list of arrests and dispositions (with certain exceptions described here) by all Nebraska law enforcement agencies.

Theoretically, then, you would expect an NSP criminal history to be more complete than an LPD criminal history. The answer, however, may be both yes and no.  The reason it isn't so simple is this: NSP criminal histories are fingerprint-based.  If the defendant wasn't fingerprinted, the arrest will not appear.  There are many arrests for which the defendant is not fingerprinted.  Nebraska State law favors citation and release for misdemeanor offenses.

In Lincoln, for example, about 80% of misdemeanor arrests are cite-and-release situations: the defendant is issued a ticket and given a court date for something like misdemeanor assault, shoplifting, trespassing, disturbing the peace, urinating in public, vandalism, DWI, driving while suspended, littering, procuring alcohol for a minor, and released with a ticket and a court date--no slammer, no prints, no mugshot.  Arrests like this will not show up on an NSP or FBI RAP sheet. There is an acknowledgement on NSP's website of this limitation, but it gives the impression that these are just minor traffic infractions, which is not the case.

Conversely, an LPD criminal history will show all of these arrests and dispositions, whether the defendant was booked into jail and printed or just cited and released.  If you really want to get the best information, you'd need to do both a State criminal history and an LPD criminal history.  If you only do one or the other, it is something of a crap shoot as to which will be better.

If you're responsible for background checks, it would be wise to re-read my previous post on this topic, and to remember: "online" doesn't necessarily mean "complete."  In reality, there is no such thing as a complete criminal history.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The mosaic theory

From time to time, I blog about various technologies that collect and collate information about our daily movements and activities.  Some of these are investigative tools used by law enforcement, such as automated license plate readers. Some, like traffic cameras or toll booths, are operated by government for non-investigative purposes, such as monitoring and adjusting traffic signal timing or collecting fares.  Most, however, are not governmental at all: the access control software at your place of business, the cameras at the convenience store where you buy gas, the credit card that gets swiped at a coffee shop and the dry cleaners, the check of emails and the phone calls that traversed certain cell phone towers, and so forth.

When these small points of data are viewed together, you really can create a history of an individuals travels and activities over time. Increasingly, detectives try to assemble such information about victims and suspects in the most serious criminal cases, such as homicides. It has been a relatively recent, but dramatic addition to the investigators arsenal. In a presentation I did a couple years ago at Ignite Lincoln, I titled this new reality as "Nowhere to Hide." I am certain that we are on the verge of some real hand-wringing and soul searching about the loss of personal privacy that attends the explosion in technology that tracks our daily lives.

I read an interesting article on the state of the law of arrest search and seizure as it pertains to such data last week in the current issue of the Police Chief magazine. I recommend it to my law enforcement audience:

The Mosaic Theory and Electronic Public Safety Technology

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

On a mission

A comment on my post yesterday about public safety mobile applications mentioned a forthcoming app called GeoParade.  From the information on the website, and on the developer's blog (Canadian crime analyst Joseph Glover), it appears very similar to the "Missions" function in the Omega Group's CrimeView NEARme, the application that was born here in Lincoln as P3i.

Missions are user-defined areas to which information of interest is attached. As a police officer moves into one of those areas, the background color changes, and an information icon appears.  Here's what a Mission area looks like in CrimeView NEARme, along with the details that open with a click on the label.

Lincoln's Crime Analysis Unit Manger Andrew Dasher created this Mission yesterday, in response to a recent spate of burglaries that pop up in Lincoln from time to time.  The whole concept here is location-based services: delivering information to personnel in the field that is relevant to their current geographic location, using a map that stays centered on that location by taking advantage of the GPS capability of the device.

Mr. Glover's blog is about a year old, and has some gems for crime analysts and data hounds.  I really liked his tutorial on creating heatmaps in Excel, a technique I think does a particularly good job for large datasets with strong temporal patterns.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Public safety apps

Approaching six years, the Director's Desk is among the old timers in the tiny niche of public safety blogs. As such, you'll find me pretty readily with a Google search.  Since one of my more common topics (see the label cloud) is technology and tech-related issues, it's probably not surprising that I get a lot of contacts from around the country--and world--on such topics, from people who have encountered my blog or Googled such things as "police iPad".

Lately, the University of North Carolina has contacted me to seek some publicity for a new application that one of their faculty members has developed.  ASSET (Arrest, Search and Seizure, Electronic Tool) is an iOS app with a nice summary of key points of the law of arrest, search and seizure.  Although it is tailored to North Carolina statutes, on balance it is a good resource for the most current interpretations of the Federal District Courts and the United States Supreme Court.  I particularly appreciate its simplicity and brevity. UNC faculty member Jeff Welty is the developer, and has great credentials for this work.  I've added ASSET to the "References" folder on my iOS devices.

On the fire & rescue side of the house, every firefighter with a mobile device should have WISER: the Wireless Information Service for Emergency Responders from the National Library of Medicine at the National Institute of Health.  Availabe for Android, iOS, Windows, Blackberry, and even Palm (!).  What, no WISER for my Sharp Wizard?

It's been a while since I've blogged about mobile apps for public safety, so I might touch on a few more this week.  I'd appreciate any nominations that other readers of the Director's Desk would like to contribute.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Catalytic converter thefts

The Crime Analysis Unit spotted an emerging crime pattern consisting of 17 catalytic converter thefts since the series began on January 14. This compares with a total of 31 in Lincoln during the entire year of 2012. Just a few years ago, I was slightly alarmed by six in eight months.

This is a good example of the value of crime analysis. I was unaware of this trend, and I imagine few if any officers knew about it. Even if you investigated one personally, you would be unlikely to know about other cases reported to other officers on other beats, other shifts, and other days off. Alerting officers to a crime series like this is very good police work.

Catalytic converters contain small amounts of precious metals, such as rhodium and platinum. As a result, they command a hefty price at scrap yards, around $100-$200. That is small potatoes, though, compared to the typical cost of a tow, repairing the damage, and replacing the converter, which runs in the range of $500 to $1,500.

These converters are being sawed off with a hacksaw, or possibly a battery-powered reciprocating saw. Either way, it takes some time and makes a little noise. Some have occurred at an indeterminate time over a period of a few days, but others were cut off in broad daylight. We could really benefit from a little more public awareness. If you happen to see a pair of feet sticking out from beneath a car in a parking lot, we'd like to get a a call.

About half of these recent thefts have occurred in the rectangle bordered by 48th and 84th, A and O Streets.   In late breaking news, an arrest was made Thursday that may clear up some or all of these cases.  Nonethless, with the value of these converters, this won't be the last spree, and vigilance will be good.

Registry updated

Over the course of the past few weeks, the Nebraska State Patrol has rolled out new software for its public Sex Offender Registry website. Without much fanfare, the registry has been significantly updated. Here are a few examples of the new functionality.

1. Search by name
You can now search by first name, last name, or both. You could, for example, search for registered sex offenders whose first name is Edward. The name search automatically uses wildcards, so if you searched for a last name of "Rob", the results would return Roberts, Robertson, Robbins, and even Frobish. The more letters you add, the more specific the results. There must be some soundex algorithim at work as well, since the "Rob" search also returns Rabinowitz.

2. Larger thumbnails
The images returned from a search are significantly larger, a nice improvement.  Click on the image to open the offender's information page, with the full size image.

3.. Mapping
Search results produce a map, using the Google Maps API.  It may not be 100% accurate, but it's pretty close, and definitely a nice upgrade. Click the icon for the basic information in a pop-up label, and click the label to hyperlink to the details. Or, if you prefer, just scroll down to the results displayed below the map. You can zoom, pan, turn the aerial images on and off, and even use Pegman for StreetView within the Google Maps pane.

4. Buffer search
Click the "Search by Location" button, and you can input an address and select a buffer of 1, 2, or 3 miles.  Previously, you could search only within boundaries, such as zip codes, cities, or counties.  The ability to select a buffer distance is an improvement. I would prefer a choice for one smaller unit (such as a half mile) but it is still a good feature.

5. Subscriptions
Click the link "Notify Me" and you will have subscribed to that offender.  You will receive an email with the information anytime this offender's information has been updated.  This is a useful feature, similar to some of the internal subscriptions we offer in the LPD records management system, or to the inmate notification feature available to the public in the excellent VINELink application.

There are a number of other little details, but overall, the new look of the Nebraska Sex Offender Registry is sleek, and the functionality a major improvement over its predecessor. Well done!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Mobile traveler

Yesterday's snowstorm was a bit of a surprise in eastern Nebraska. We are certainly familiar with March snowstorms in Lincoln, but this one was supposed to hang further to the east, with Lincoln predicted to get only a dusting. I will be blowing about 8 inches of that dust off the driveway shortly.

The snow caused all sorts of traffic woes, especially on the Interstate. I was headed to Omaha for lunch with my daughter. An inch of snow wasn't going to deter me, until I started checking the Nebraska Department of Roads web cameras. It was pretty obvious from the cameras between Lincoln and Omaha that the conditions on I-80 were horrid, so we hunkered down and bagged the lunch date.

The NDOR network of traffic cameras is a mighty nice resource for such purposes. The main interface is a map application, the Advanced Traveler Information System. Personally, I prefer Mobile Traveler --which is optimized for a smart phone or tablet. Mobile Traveler presents a simple table of links to the cameras. Despite the fact that I am obviously a GIS and mapping geek, I just find it a little easier to navigate quickly.

You can't beat the near-real time view of conditions these traffic cameras offer. They are great for winter travel, and for checking traffic conditions. The City of Lincoln's extensive network of traffic cameras at major Lincoln intersections provides the same benefits.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Two years difference

Over the course of the past year of two, Google has been quietly adding oblique aerial images to Google Maps, beginning with the largest cities. These type of images, shot at an angle, are very useful in public safety. Pictometry has been a leader in this field, and their images have been used in Microsoft's Bing Maps for several years.

Within the past few months, Google has added Lincoln to the list of cities where oblique images are available. The oblique images in Bing maps were shot in the spring of 2010, whereas those in Google were taken in the spring of 2012. The difference of two years is quite evident at places like Kloefkorn or Kooser Elementary School, and the Haymarket Arena.  Here's an example, catercorner from Lincoln Fire & Rescue's Station 1. This is the Assurity building and part of Union Plaza. You can click these images for a larger view.

Lincoln is acquiring fresh Pictometry images this year, and I expect the results to be stunning. The prime time for aerial photography of this type is after the grass starts to green, but before the tress have leafed out.  The conditions are right about the time you first see a bud blooming on a flowering crab tree.  That window of opportunity should be coming up towards the end of this month, if you are thinking about laying your giant inflatable Darth Vader (or some other toy) out in your back yard.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Scam interrupted

This week is national consumer protection week, and a good time to relate a recent story about a scam interrupted. A young man who lives around the corner in my neighborhood received a telephone message from someone claiming to be Lt. Goblet of the Lincoln Police Department.  The message said that it was vital that he return the call, regarding an unspecified urgent issue. The teenager, however, is the son of a deputy sheriff and recognized that the call was fishy.  There is nobody named Goblet or anything remotely similar in area law enforcement, and LPD hasn't had any lieutenants since the rank was eliminated 15 years ago.

After reading the initial Incident Report, I subscribed to the case number, so I would stay informed about the case. This is a very nice feature in our police records management system.  You can subscribe to a case number, and whenever a fresh report is created you automatically receive an email including a hyperlink to the new report.  You can also subscribe to a name or to an address.  Over the ensuing couple of weeks, the investigating officer submitted three additional reports concerning his follow up efforts to track down the owner of the phone from which the call originated.

"Lt. Goblet" called from a 402 area code number.  When the records were subpoenaed, however, the number proved to be a burner cell phone with the billing address listed as a post office box in Irvine, CA.  It will be impossible to trace this down. In this case, our caller was a con artist looking for a mark in Lincoln, using a number with a local area code in order to build confidence in the call's legitimacy.  The "urgent issue" was undoubtedly going to be some attempt to convince our victim that he should send money to avoid some embarrassing revelation, or something along these lines.

You might make a thousand calls like this before you eventually hit one victim who falls for the scam.  Cons like this are not uncommon, and every year we will have a few victims who are taken in.  On a few past occasions, the con artists have used my name, working on the angle that the victim would recognize the name of their local police chief.  At any rate, nice job by the deputy's son in recognizing the scamn and contacting the police.  Officer Tu Tran actually returned the call to the number captured on the victim's caller ID, and got a rather colorful earful from the make believe lieutenant.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Heads up

Earlier this week, I read a little bit about Google Glass, a soon-to-be-released augmented reality device comprised of a headset in the form-factor of glasses, connected to the Internet via WiFi, or Bluetooth-tethered to a smartphone.  Essentially, Google Glass will combine the function of a head-mounted video camera with a heads-up display for apps running on the device.

Body worn video is spreading quickly in policing, firefighting, and emergency medical services.  We are already using some of these devices locally here in Lincoln.  I believe the day is not far off when it is common for U.S. police officers and paramedics to be recording and/or streaming video from body-worn systems as they go about their daily work, as many departments do now with in-vehicle camera systems.

What intrigued me about Google Glass, however, wasn't video. Rather, it is the concept of a wearable heads-up display.  I can picture all sorts of potential for this. Imagine this application projected in the upper left corner of your heads up display as you move about, or the response from a registration query on your mobile data computer popping into your HUD, or the patient's vital signs.