Friday, February 28, 2014

Stubbed butt

It was not a big surprise to learn that the cause of a major fire on the University of Nebraska-Omaha campus was a discarded cigarette. While the details are few, I'll wager there is a fair chance that a stubbed butt was tossed in a plastic container. This seems to be a common theme for smoking-related fires.

Fortunately, no one was killed, and only one minor injury to a firefighter occurred. The property loss is huge, however, and few if any of the displaced students have renter's insurance that will cover their personal property. I imagine they'd like to have a few private words with the careless smoker who caused this catastrophe.

The easiest way to avoid such fires is to quit smoking. The next best way is to extinguish and discard smoking materials in a non-flammable container. Duh.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

How laws are made

One of the ongoing news items this month has been the application of Marcus Theaters for a liquor license at the Grand, their multi-screen downtown movie house. It seems that some people are just becoming aware of a municipal ordinance (5.04 .120) that prohibits people 15 and under from being in a licensed liquor establishment after 9:00 PM, unless accompanied by someone 21 or older.

I don't think we're exactly awash in junior high kids trolling bars in Lincoln. I can only recall a couple of times in the past quarter century where we've needed to pull this ordinance out of the book in response to a problem. Actually, I may have violated it myself as a 15 year-old in the spring of 1969, in the same circumstances as this affair the following year on January 9, 1970--although I suspect Valentino's did not yet hold a liquor license.

Some people wonder why we have such a law in the first place. I have a theory, which I described a few years ago. Do you think the problems of Mrs. Dennis, Mrs. Shaw and mothers in similar circumstances may have gotten a little worse when a few thousand members of the Army Air Forces came to town in 1942?

Officer Hulda Roper (for whom Roper Elementary School is named) would certainly know. She followed Matron Rickard into the police force in 1944. By then, Chief Joe Carroll had replaced the politically-incorrect job title of Matron with the (now) politically-incorrect job title of Policewoman. One night in late October of 1949, Hulda fired up the audience at the First Evangelical United Brethren Church.

Apparently not only brethren were present. City council member Fern Hubbard Orme introduced an ordinance, and the Lincoln Council of Church Women rallied support.

The Public Safety Director, never far from a reporter's notebook, weighed in on the legal nuance concerning the definition of "taverns".

Thus, thereafter the tots were tossed from taverns at 2100.

And that's how laws are made. In 1949, there were a few dozen "beer taverns" and a handful of private bottle clubs in Lincoln. Liquor by the drink inside the city limits didn't come along until the mid 1960s. No one in 1949 would have envisioned that bowling allies, music halls, arcades, family restaurants, airports, hotels, golf courses, and a laundromat would have liquor licenses--much less a sushi place or a motion picture theater. Nor would they have imagined that two high school sophomores would be violating the law by patronizing a pizza parlor after a high school basketball game.

My first visit to a theater with a liquor license was in Dallas several years ago. It had really nice seats, cocktail tables, some decent small-plates, and a nice selection of beers and wine by the glass--quite similar to the Marcus Midtown in Omaha. It seemed a very low-risk drinking environment. As much as I might long for a return to the days when not every single activity demanded alcohol be served, the fact is that we also need more low-risk drinking environments where the alcohol is a small part of the experience, and not the main attraction--as an alternative to Ms. Rickard's poetic description of the aftermath of a binge 65 years ago, that hasn't changed much since:
"Did succeed in getting her to erp in the toilet. Oh my, I didn't want the lunch I had brought. My lungs are filled with the smell of foulness and liquor. I sure need a cigarette, but am out of them. These night drunks are awful." 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Traffic monitors

The City of Lincoln Public Works and Utilities Department has a network of about 50 cameras for traffic management at major intersections in Lincoln. These cameras are not recorded, but I use them on occasion to check on a situation within their view--such as this rollover collision this morning at 87th and Highway 2.

Yesterday afternoon, I queued up the camera at Interstate 180 and Cornhusker Highway as we were responding northbound to an emergency, and found a whole committee of traffic monitors surveying the flow.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Good time to be a parent

I am often asked to speak to parent groups, to provide my perspective on the risks our kids face and provide my advice on what parents can do to minimize these risks. After blathering on about this topic many years ago during an interview on KFOR radio, I wrote down some of these tips. Reading them now, nearly a quarter century later, is somewhat amusing.

Tuesday night, I found myself in the gymnasium at St. Teresa's School, talking to another parents group on the same topic, with a more up-to-date message about those things that have changed since 1990. Towards the end, I said something rather provocative, to the effect that today is the golden age of parenting. What I meant by that is that in many respects there hasn't been a better time than today (at least during my lifetime) to be a parent of a teenager.

I explained my rationale: the number one threat to the well being of teenagers is a motor vehicle crash. Traffic crashes are down dramatically in Lincoln and nationwide during the past three decades. The rate of fatal crashes per million miles driven has been slashed by more than half. Lots of things underlie this. Consider the improvements in safety equipment like seatbelts, airbags, antilock brakes, lighting systems, stability control, bike helmets, crumple zones, defrosters, and high-visibility gear. Roadway engineering improvements have been made, drunk driving is taken much more seriously, and an entire field of emergency medicine has matured with remarkable results. In some communities, mortuaries used to do double duty as ambulance services. Now, paramedics are performing life-saving procedures in the field and the emergency care starts immediately upon their arrival.

In addition to improved traffic safety, other things have changed since 1990. A parent today can normally be in instant communication with a teenager at any time from any place. If you want, you can know precisely where your teen is, and what his maximum speed was this week. Because of social media, an attentive parent has opportunities to spot the early signs of problematic behavior and intervene before catastrophe strikes. And the crime rate is lower--considerably so.

To be sure, there are some new risks that have emerged during that same time, that we would not have dreamed of in 1990 (sharing selfies of your private parts and texting while driving come immediately to mind), but on balance, kids are safer today by a big margin, despite the perception to the contrary.

Here's a problem though: many mistakes in judgement teens made in earlier generations simply disappeared after a few years. No one remembered, and the records, if any, were protected by their practical obscurity. Today, a screw up lives on and can come back to bite many years later. That arrest in Panama Beach will now be a Google search away, and the selfie once out there, will not fade and cannot be pulled back. We are just now beginning to see the surfacing of past peccadilloes from the bowels of the Internet to hurt young adults who never dreamed at the time that they would be revisited in the future by their past.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Be my Valentine

Suprisingly, when Valentine's Day falls on a Friday, these events are no more numerous than when it falls on a Tuesday.

ASSAULT-DOMESTIC               5

Friday, February 14, 2014

Suspended but undeterred

One of my many, many pet peeves is suspended driving. People lose their driving privileges for a number of reasons, but the leading causes are too many tickets in too short of a time period, conviction of drunk driving, and failure to have insurance after being involved in a traffic crash. Oh, and when you're convicted of driving while suspended, your driving privilege is...suspended some more. 

Yesterday morning around 5:00 o'clock I was perusing the recent police incidents, when I noticed that there had been seven suspended driving arrests since midnight. That piqued my curisosity, so I launched a query, and found that there had been 481 suspended drivers so far in 2014, and 3,153 in calendar year 2013. It has become one of the most frequent of all traffic offenses.

 Suspended drivers particularly annoy me because many are chronic repeaters, and many (probably most) do not have valid insurance, as required by law. Good luck if you get involved in a crash with one of these motorists--who by definition have already proven themselves to be poor drivers. My big concern are the chronic repeats: people who get arrested for DUS over and over again.

To my way of thinking, after you've been convicted of suspended driving a two or three times, your next conviction ought to involve the forfeiture of the car you were driving--if you own it, or if the person who owned it knew that you were suspended. Interesting pattern evident on these charts pertaining to the time of day and day of week of those 3,153 suspended driving cases in 2013. You think there might be a link to alcohol?

By the way these are screen shots from CrimeView Dashboard, which allowed me to do this analysis in a matter of moments in my living room while sipping my first cup of coffee.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Most valuable perspective

I've just concluded a workshop presentation to several dozen colleagues from around the country on the value of Pictometry's oblique aerial imagery for public safety personnel, such as fire battalion chiefs, police officers, dispatchers and emergency management personnel. Many people are familiar with Pictometry images through Microsoft's Bing Maps. The public imagery available through Bing, however, is not the latest-and-greatest. In Lincoln, these are 2010 images, whereas the 2013 photos we use internally are more recent and taken at even higher resolution.

The workshop was at the request of Pictometry for their annual users' conference. Many of the municipal and county customers of the firm are such people as county assessors and city GIS managers. Apparently in some communities where the city or county have already spent the money to acquire this imagery for such purposes as tax assessment, it isn't necessarily being used by the public safety agencies.

To me, it is a no-brainer. Neither standard overhead aerial photography, nor street-level imagery such as Google's Streetview, quite fills the bill as well as the bird's eye view from Pictometry's oblique images. Whether planning the service of a high-risk arrest warrant, preparing for the potential of a significant working incident, or managing a large special event, the oblique aerial view is quite helpful, and provides the most valuable perspective.

I could sense the topic was timely. My session was well-attended by people who wanted some advice on how to engage their police department, fire department, sheriff's office, 911 center, and emergency management personnel. Many of the attendees wanted to talk in more detail after the session, and I spent an afternoon sipping coffee and brainstorming with people from Virginia to Colorado, and points in between. One of suggestions I made to these existing Pictometry customers was to download the iOS app for iPad, Pictometry Connect Mobile, then to simply hand that to a SWAT team commander or a bat chief. A picture is sometimes worth a thousand words, and these are personnel I would expect to be most likely to understand immediately how this technology could help.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Better use of time and skills

I had an interesting email Tuesday from the supervisor of a crime analysis unit that has recently acquired the same web-based software we use for much of our work: CrimeView Dashboard. Essentially, this product allows a designer to set up a bunch of pre-configured views of data for users, and still provides users with the ability to create and execute their own ad-hoc queries. These views can be maps, tables, graphs, and grids. There are other dashboard products from other vendors, this is just the one I am most familiar with.

The unit supervisor who emailed me is hearing rumblings that the brass thinks that they can reduce the number of crime analysts now, since they have this new-fangled application--even before it has been implemented. She wanted to know what I thought about that.

I sent her a rather lengthy reply, but here is the gist of it: a product of this type ought to let your officers, detectives, supervisors and managers serve themselves with most simple needs. This in turn, should free your staff to do more real analysis, rather than servicing rather simple information requests: "What is the breakdown or Part 1 crimes in my district by type?", "What are the top 10 places for false alarms so far this year?", "Can you make me a map of registered sex offenders I can take to the neighborhood association meeting tonight?" and so forth.

Most crime analysts spend a lot of time on gathering information for others that really ought to be readily available, and not nearly enough on actual analysis. If you can free them from the never-ending parade of "can you get this for me?" requests, there is better use to be made of their time and skills.

With the implementation of CrimeView Dashbaord or any similar product, I would hope to see more in-depth analyses, more and better bulletins; more frequent proactive emails about crime patterns uncovered, more profiles about prolific offenders identified, and briefings from the Crime Analysis Unit on emerging problems; more and better follow-up evaluation of police strategies, more cases connected by a common M.O. discovered, more predictions of the most likely times and locations of robbery in the next two weeks, more consultation by analysts with police commanders seeking information about what strategies have proven successful based on research evidence; and more timely and accurate identification of trends and patterns--because analysts are spending more of their time doing these things, instead of creating bar charts for lieutenants, maps for captains, and weekly statistical reports for the chief.

More analysis, less collation of basic descriptive information from the records management system: that should be the payoff. When you need advice on your portfolio of mutual funds and stocks, you turn to a financial analyst who not only should be reasonably expert concerning investments, but should also give you trusted advice on a strategy to help you accomplish your goals. That's the same thing a crime analyst should do, and he or she should not be spending the majority of time gathering statistics and making PowerPoints for the technologically-challenged. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Cash and carry

Nice arrest Saturday morning by Officer Cameron Cleland, who spotted the suspect vehicle across town who earlier had been involved in the robbery of the Subway sandwich shop in the Piedmont Shopping Center, right across the street from Fire Station 7.

Does holding up a fast food shop at 8:00 AM on a Saturday sound like a good idea? I think not. For that matter, stick-ups at retail businesses generally are a pretty poor plan for a person pondering professional pilfering. Why? There's just not much cash, anymore. To the the extent that retail holdups have always been high- risk, low-reward affairs, the declining use of cash has made the risk-reward ratio even less favorable.

Next time your in line at Subway, Starbucks, Sonic, Schlotsky's, or Samuri Sam's, note how many of your fellow customers are paying with cash, as compared to debit and credit cards. Not very many. Cash has gone the way of cursive. I took a four day trip to Vancouver, BC last fall with six bucks in my pocket--just in case I needed to tip a doorman. I came home with the same six bucks,  having taxied about town, enjoyed several nice meals, and engaged in a bit of shopping with my lovely wife. Plastic was perfectly convenient for everything, and I opened all the doors without assistance.

I calculated the average take in robberies in 2013 at about 1/4th the average ten years ago in 2004. Robbery was always a poor choice for the aspiring criminal. Now, with the demise of cash, it's even more stupid.