Monday, November 30, 2015

In an instant

We are living in the age of instant, where the time involved in slapping two slices of bread and a Kraft single into a frying pan with a pat of butter seems so time consuming as to justify a product designed to speed the process.

Yesterday's big events in Lincoln--the City's first murder of 2015, and an officer involved shooting--were a reminder of just how quickly news spreads. Before I even got notified by the chief of the unfolding events, Twitter was already lighting up with live reports for the scene. Reporters were providing a blow-by-blow from their vantage point.

By the time I made it to police headquarters, the phone was ringing steadily in the duty commander's office. The captain decided to prioritize the 402 area code, and at least temporarily ignored the inbound calls from the 212 area code--those could wait. That's right, reporters from the east coast were already calling, before any of us any clear idea of what had transpired.

I recently overheard a reporter asking for details about an injury traffic crash to which no one had yet arrived! It's not all bad, though. I was getting some useful updates from those same tweets last night. Reassuring phone calls to and from spouses were speeded along, good wishes and prayers were being expressed with equal alacrity from all over the country, and even Larry the Cable Guy was tweeting positive thoughts within the hour.

A major incident like this is reminiscent of the story of the blind men and the elephant: many officers have a piece of the puzzle from their own perspective, but no one really has the complete picture. It has to be pieced together over time. More than 40 officers were involved in their own piece: collecting evidence, staffing a secure perimeter, transporting a subject, interviewing a witness, and so forth. A fair amount of the clock ticks off before all these minutia can be assembled into a coherent account of the events.

I've seen this happen so many times that it barely registers now. I have simply learned that the early reports will be fragmentary, and often wrong in some significant details. I was reflecting on this today during the regular daily police briefing, while the reporter sitting to my right Periscoped the proceedings live.

Patience is a virtue, as dynamic events eventually come into focus. But in the age of already-peeled orange segments, prepackaged peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, and paper towels dampened in advance, it is still remarkable to sit back and think about how our culture has changed, and how much we expect things in an instant.

It is also remarkable to observe how unsupported assumptions, wild speculation, fantastical theories, naked conjecture, and scurrilous innuendo by amateur (and often anonymous) commentators compete for attention with the work of professional journalists--an endangered species these days.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What the heck?

I ran a series of posts a few years ago about unusual artifacts found around the police station. Well, this one wasn't physically around the police station, but it was on my computer monitor when I snapped this screen shot. Any guesses?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Don't click that link

One of my early morning pastimes is reading some of the police reports filed overnight. The stuff that happens after midnight often contains the cases that just make you shake your head. So it was this morning, when I noticed an Incident Report on a call classified as "Misc Other." I've learned that when an officer makes a report on something with this call type, it's often a doozy.

The reporting party received an email from a sender with an address beginning with "donotreply@".  The topic concerned student loan consolidation. The email contained a hyperlink, which the reporting party followed to another website. On that site, she supplied her name, address, date of birth, and social security number. Afterwards, she got a bit concerned, and called the police.

So far, no nefarious activity has been attributed to this breach, but time will tell, and our victim is right to be worried. Officer Jareke had a chat with her about the wisdom of providing such information to anonymous solicitors.

What intrigued me about this case is the fact that, as in the past, the victim is relatively young--in her 20s. I've looked into the demographics of fraud victims before, and discovered that the stereotype of elderly folks who are too trusting is not always so accurate. While retirees are sometimes targeted, most of those who are wooed by such scams aren't eligible for the senior citizen discount. Many victims are in their teens and 20s, perhaps too accustomed to laying information out there on the web for others to pick over.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

My take on smart guns

Smart guns are firearms that incorporate some type of technology that makes it difficult for anyone other than the authorized user to discharge the weapon. There are several such technologies, but to the best of my knowledge, no smart gun is commercially available in the United States.

Yesterday, a reader asked me address my view about smart guns here in my blog, so here we go. I like the concept of a smart gun a lot. You need not look far to find an example of a police officer killed with his or her own sidearm. When my colleague Deputy Sheriff Craig Dodge was murdered in 1987, his killer, Terry Reynolds, helped himself to Craig's .357 revolver. I would have been glad to know at the time that it was a brick. I also think smart guns could be a good choice for some civilian firearms owners, and would almost certainly avoid a few of the tragic deaths we read about where children have gotten their hands on mom or dad's handgun.

Here's the problem: almost all smart gun technologies rely on electronic components, turning a mechanical device into an electromechanical one. My experience with biometrics, RFID, and Bluetooth LE on other devices has been okay and improving over time, but certainly not flawless. Introducing the need for power makes a smart gun inherently less reliable. Power sources are not permanent, and electrical components add complexity. Recovering from an electronics failure requires time and effort, and sometimes can be really annoying. We see plenty of examples of this in every day life with electronic gizmos from keyless ignitions to remote controls.

I would have to think long and hard about introducing another significant potential point of failure into any device upon which my life could depend. On the other hand, I realize the ever-present risk of my own gun being used against me. In my only encounter where someone was trying to kill me, I came within a gnat's eyelash of just that scenario. I would trade a certain amount of technological failure risk, for the diminished risk of being defeated, disarmed, and killed with my own sidearm. I would need to be convinced that the technology is sufficiently robust to make that trade a wise one.

Basically, whether officer or civilian, I'd like to have the choice. If smart guns were available, I think some people would consider that option, and I think the technology would improve over time. I saw my first prototype smart gun nearly 40 years ago, fitted to a Smith & Wesson revolver. It required the user to wear a ring, without which the trigger would not move. You needed a ring on both hands for ambidextrous shooting. It wasn't electronic at all, rather magnetic. I wonder if that technology is still around, if it has developed at all, and how it might develop if market forces were at work.