Friday, February 27, 2015

Lots of comments

I just noticed that the number of comments posted on the Director's Desk cracked 15,000 this week. That's quite a dialog that has gone on since I started this blog back in April, 2007, and one I have enjoyed. I hope it's been as interesting for readers as it has for me.

In recognition of the milestone, I added a gadget to my blog that displays the most commented posts. You'll find it over in the right sidebar, if you scroll down a bit. It not entirely accurate, though, because it missed my post Share the road, which had 86 comments and Whadda ya think, which had 50. Maybe it only goes back a certain number of years or posts.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


Capt. Kim Koluch managed to quietly slip out the door while I was preoccupied, retiring after 33 years at LPD.  Kim joined the police department when it was a far different place, and women were exceedingly rare on the force. She leaves as one of the most seasoned, veteran commanders. Capt. Koluch spent many years commanding the Department's Southeast Team, and in more recent years the Center Team. More than anyone I know, she embraced a problem-oriented approach to policing, which she modeled and taught to many sergeants and officers she led.

Among Kim's many accomplishments, she was also he first women to join the SWAT Team, and she commanded the Team for several years. I can't tell you how glad I was when she accepted that job. I always had the utmost confidence in her to manage the most serious emergencies LPD encounters. She is a true professional, and one of the trailblazers who helped pave the way for other women in policing to achieve their goals. She was also a community leader, active in many organizations.

Kim has a wicked sense of humor. She pulled the best practical joke on me that I can ever recall, involving a crow, a basketball hoop, and a big bag of bird seed. She is one of those people who I love to be around, to chat with, laugh with, to brainstorm with. Kim,  I'm going to miss you tremendously. Congratulations, and best wishes. Buy yourself a new driver...again.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

What has fueled the drop?

Friday, local cyber-reporter Deena Winter quizzed me via Twitter about the cause of the drop in calls for service (CFS) handled by the Lincoln police department. CFS peaked in 2001 and 2002 at just over 148,000. We didn't quite crack 119,000 in 2014. I've been somewhat perplexed by the drop of 29,000 CFS during a time when the population of  Lincoln increased by over 35,000 people. What could be fueling that dramatic drop?

Although Chief Al Curtis and I cut a lot of call types in the 1990s (such as funeral escorts, private property traffic crashes, barking dogs, lock-outs, most medical emergencies already dispatched to Lincoln Fire & Rescue, and others) the drop in CFS really didn't start until the early 2000s--long after those changes. Aside from privatizing downtown parking enforcement in 2010-2011, there really hasn't been any big change that I can think of in what LPD handles since the 2001-2002 peak.

Wanting to explore this phenomenon more closely last year, I got a list from IT of all CFS by incident type, and ran a comparison between 2002 and 2013. I just updated this for 2014 over the weekend in order to answer Deena Winter's question more accurately. Here are the incident codes with drops of more than 1,000 between 2002 and 2014. When applicable, I've linked past posts about things that might be contributing to these declines.

1,036   fewer abandoned vehicles
2,264   fewer false alarms
3,850   fewer disturbances
1,863   fewer forgeries  (when's the last time you wrote a check?)
2,027   fewer traffic crashes
1,040   fewer suspicious person/vehicle calls
6,203   fewer parking calls  (more than half of the drop was before privatization.)
2,802   fewer vandalisms
4,523    fewer theft and burglary cases
3,171     fewer miscellaneous other (a call type code that functions as sort of a catch-all)

In contrast, here are the call types that have gone up by 1,000 or more:

1,445   more mental health investigations
1,546   more suspended drivers

There are several other call types that have gone up or down, but those that have declined simply outnumber those that have increased.

A rather spirited public discussion is underway on the issue of police staffing in Lincoln. Unfortunately, it has become somewhat clouded by electoral politics. I'm glad we're having the discussion, though. We had it last summer, too, when a consensus emerged to add two officers to the biennial budget, and apply for a grant (which we received) for two more. That's good. I like having four more officers to serve a growing community. But there is no magic number. Lincoln needs exactly enough officers to deliver the services citizens expect, in the manner they wish to receive them.

You judge that by listening and watching. We know that public satisfaction with our services is pretty high, because we ask a few thousand people about that every year.  I think we are able to produce this result with a lean police force because we are particularly efficient. We need to continue to listen closely to that feedback, and to keep an eye on our response time to priority 1 and 2 incidents--the things where time really matters--because geographic growth alone impacts that independently of workload.

Like every police department in America larger than Petticoat Junction, we have times during the week when the number of calls for service exceeds the number of available officers. And like every city, we prioritize pending calls during those rush hours, assisted by computer-aided dispatch software. A belated report of neighbors shoveling snow into the street can wait quite a while, whereas a crime in progress needs an immediate response. The queuing of calls is happening less today than it was in the mid 1990s, when LPD was at its busiest.

As calls for service have fallen, the workload has moderated considerably. It used to be common for several officers on the Southwest and Center Teams to crack into the low 100s in CFS per month. When's the last time you've seen that?

click to enlarge

Weird, but true. It can't last, though. That bar has got to start inching up at some point.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Lincoln bank robbery stats

The bank robbery data for 2014 has been compiled:

Number of bank robberies:                     0
Clearance rate for bank robberies:       0%

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Visit from the FBI

In-service training is underway this week and next at the police department. In order to deliver a training program to all officers, it is necessary to present the same session on ten days. You can't take everyone off the street at once, so small groups receive the training on consecutive days. As you might imagine, this is quite a commitment for instructors.

I slipped into training twice this week, during a 30 minute presentation focusing on the kind of assistance the FBI can provide--and vice versa. The session is being conducted by Special Agent Jeff Howard.

I guess I took it for granted that everyone knows Jeff, since he was a Lincoln police officer for many years before he left for the FBI, but I looked it up this morning, and Jeff actually left LPD in 1999. Seems like yesterday to me, but it's been 16 years, and probably half of the officers today never worked with Jeff.

He was a superlative police officer. During my time as chief, he was clearly one of our top investigators. His name is splattered over all the significant case files of the 1990s. What I most admired about Jeff's work was the fact that he took it personal--in a very positive sense. Jeff was driven by a desire to see justice done on behalf of victims, and worked with a single-minded determination to assure that happened. Although he's been around the country since he joined the FBI, I have no doubt that this same quality has characterized his years at the bureau.

Jeff was LPD's Officer of the Year in 1998. Interestingly, his wife Cheri, a longtime civilian employee who managed the Police Service Desk, was also the Civilian Employee of the Year that same year. I appreciate Jeff introducing himself to a new generation of Lincoln police officers, and I am mighty glad to have him back in Lincoln as a resident agent who will have the opportunity to work with the department on the local level. He has joined a long list of accomplished LPD alumni.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Not just Lincoln

My Tuesday post about the long-term crime data in Lincoln seems to have surprised some people, despite the fact that I have posted similar data on several past occasions. This trend is not unique to Lincoln. Here's what violent crime rates per 100,000 population in the United States look like since 1993:

The FBI's Uniform Crime Report website provides a nice downloadable table of the national crime rates from 1994 through 2013. There is no strong consensus on the cause of this unprecedented drop, but theories abound. I've reviewed some of these before. I continue to be intrigued (though not convinced) by the unleaded gasoline theory.

It's hard to overestimate how these decreases in crime have changed urban living for the better. Regardless of what you may think, you haven't been safer in the U.S. since the 1960s. Why the perception hasn't caught up to the reality is also an interesting question, with most observers citing the same factors I have described previously, towards the bottom of this post.

It is worth repeating, perhaps, a fact that I have often mentioned here on my blog in connection with crime statistics: crime is only part of what the police do. In fact, it's a rather small part. Those FBI Part 1 crimes upon which virtually all comparative stats are comprised amounted to only 10,003 of nearly 119,000 police dispatch records last year. It's the same in almost all cities.

Traffic control, public intoxication, illegal panhandling, crash investigation, crowd management, dispute resolution, mental health investigations, special events, loud motorcycling, inappropriate leaf blowing, mean people on Facebook, poorly-placed upholstered furniture, temperamental seven year-olds, foreign doggie poo,  and other low-level public order incidents and non-criminal services are all components of the police workload.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

2014 crime statistics

Crime statistics have been compiled for 2014, and are now available at the Lincoln Police Department's website, using the interactive tool for creating statistical reports. Katie Flood, LPD's public information officer, has also posted some nice graphics, a prelude to the forthcoming Annual Report: Here's what 2014 looks like:

click image to enlarge
Overall Part 1 offenses (the crimes tracked nationally by the FBI) are down 2.9% from 2013. Violent crimes (murder, robbery, rape, and aggravated assault) are down 5.4%, while property crimes (burglary, auto theft, and larceny/theft) are down 2.7%. It is probably more meaningful, however, to look at the crime rate, which is the number of crimes divided by the population. Since the City is growing by over 3,000 residents per year, the decline in the crime rate is somewhat greater than the decrease in the raw number of offenses.

I am also an advocate of looking at the crime rate over a period of several years, to provide a better perspective. Year-to-year data can fluctuate quite a bit. A period of several years depicts trends more effectively. Here's what the long term crime rate in Lincoln looks like, starting with five year increments in 1970, then switching to one year increments in 1990:

click image to enlarge
If you are interested in the full data, here's a link to the sheet upon which this graph is based, which will save you some time digging through the archives of annual reports.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Biting my lip

The recent string of armed robberies at retail businesses in Lincoln has been a gold mine for the Monday morning quarterbacks. I've been biting my lip for a week or so, as the social media pundits  have piled on a bit. All the while, I knew that a rather massive stakeout detail involving over two dozen officers from four different city, county, state, and federal law enforcement agencies was underway. I was rather confident that the suspect would be identified and apprehended in fairly short order.

I also knew later in the week that he investigation had focused in on a particularly good suspect, and that an extensive surveillance project was underway to locate his whereabouts. Again, only a matter of time would be involved.  Here's a news flash: the general public virtually never knows what is really going on behind the scenes, and the police are not going to tell the press about their undercover operations, surveillance projects, and stakeout details.

What's the purpose of pulling stakeouts and surveillance, if you're going to tell the bad guys where you're at, who you're looking for, and what you're doing? More than a few of the snarky comments during the week caused me to bristle a bit, but I had to keep it to myself. Basically, you can assume in almost any criminal investigation that you only know a fraction of the facts.

Nice work by all involved. While our armed robbery rate for 2015 has taken an early hit, the clearance rate for robberies will be off to a fine start as well.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Modus operandi

Latin for "method of operation," modus operandi is commonly considered in criminal investigations, when officers or analysts assess potential connections between similar cases. Criminals frequently have behaviors or styles that form a signature, a certain way of doing things.

Last week, I helped teach a seminar in Oregon, "Crime Analysis for Police Executives," sponsored by DOJ's Bureau of Justice Assistance and the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training. The training teamed crime analysts with their command staff. As with most trainings, I learned as much as I imparted, a lot of which took place in the informal conversations during breaks.

When you rub shoulders with a group of crime analysts, they often lament the lack of solid M.O. data in database fields, which makes queries difficult, impossible, or not entirely accurate. Incomplete entries, or even ignoring the M.O. fields entirely is a rather common problem. If you want police officers to use those fields reliably, there are two things that can be done to make this more likely,

First, make sure officers understand the value and importance of the data. Do some training, so officers understand that the only way you can provide a map or list of robberies committed by a suspect who threatens victims with a knife is if the officers have completed the weapon type and usage fields in their Incident Reports. When officers see the results of providing the M.O. data, they will be encouraged to collect it with more diligence.

Second, ensure that the system for collecting M.O. data is as straightforward as possible. I have seen some multi-page M.O. forms that make my eyes glaze over. Keep the number of fields reasonable, and the selection of values for those fields concise. Ideally, an officer completing a report on an assault would not have to wade through all of the fields that only pertain to other crimes, like vandalism, auto theft, or robbery in order to get to those that apply to assault.

Several years ago, when we were developing an online Incident Report at LPD, we were inspired by TurboTax: if you have no self-employment income, you never see all the additional fields associated with that particular circumstance. Similarly, if you are reporting a burglary in Lincoln, and have entered the incident code for that crime type, the only M.O. fields you'll see are those that relate specifically to burglary: point of entry, method of entry, day/night, and victim activity. The choices in the dropdown are relatively few. It's great data when an officer or analysts wants to know something like, "Where are any other burglaries where entry was made through an overhead door left standing open?"

Here are a few screen shots clipped from the Incident Report entry screen, that show the M.O. fields and dropdown values for burglary (click image for larger view.)