Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Preparation advice

Yesterday, I received an email from a United States Marine, who will be leaving active duty in the near future, and is interested in a career in policing. He intends to continue his college education (he already has an Associate of Arts degree) to pursue a bachelor's degree, and was seeking my advice on the best majors for his career aspirations.  Here's what I suggested:

Good to hear from you, and thank you for your service to the United States. I would strongly advise that you pursue your bachelor's degree and take full advantage of your GI bill benefits. If you can do that before seeking full-time employment, you should do so. Having finished my own BS and MA while working full time, it's a load I certainly wish I could have avoided! 
If the financials don't work, the key is to put the nose to the grindstone and make sure you are getting at least a few credit hours under your belt every single semester, and at least one of the summer sessions. 
My personal opinion is that the field of study matters little. I switched my major to criminal justice as a senior, only so I could take advantage of Federal funding opportunities. Otherwise, I would have been an English major. One of the best police officers I ever hired, Vicki Bourg, had a BA in Restaurant Administration. 
I always advise young people to study what interests them, what they would find to be the least tedious.  You're more mature, and in your case I would also add this: "What course of study will require the least number of credit hours to complete my degree?" 
A Marine with a BA in Synchronized Swimming and some real-world experience still has a mighty strong set of credentials, in my book! 

Best wishes, 
Tom CasadyDirector of Public Safety

Thursday, December 8, 2016

You can do it!

This started as a series of tweets last night, but I want to preserve these thoughts by republishing them on my blog. Lincoln has reached 10,000 followers on PulsePoint, and the app is exploding across the U.S. and Canada. Too many people, however, think they need some kind of certification to perform CPR. Nothing wrong with good training and certification, but on the other hand, the lack thereof certainly doesn't prevent you from potentially saving a life. Here's the tweets:

Maybe you haven't dowloaded PulsePoint because you're not CPR certified. Training is always good, but 911 dispatchers around the world... callers through bystander CPR over the phone every day. If you do nothing, because there isn't a card in your wallet,... 
...the odds are not good. Get the victim flat on his back, put your hands in the center of his chest, push hard and fast, and don't stop. 
Get some good training later, but in the meantime, don't just stand there and watch someone die. Any CPR is better than none. You can do it!

I should have added "Call 911",  get the victim on the floor flat on his back", and maybe even "send someone to look for an AED", but I bumped up against the 140 character limit. By the way, in the midst of my mini tweet-storm last night, I received this, which really says it all:

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Gun control rant

Last week, I bemoaned the number of firearms stolen from unlocked motor vehicles in Lincoln--noting that about half of those guns were stolen from people who are supposedly firearms-savvy: the holders of concealed carry permits.

The form of gun control mentioned in the title of this post is the most basic kind: maintaining control of your own gun. I am annoyed that people who feel so confident in their own capabilities that they carry a concealed gun in their vehicle would be so careless as to leave their vehicle unlocked, resulting in their pistol falling into the hands of a criminal.

An incident last evening, however, has sent me over the edge from annoyed to angry. About 5:00 PM, an officer was dispatched to a theft in the 2200 block of O Street. The victim had parked his pickup truck in the alley, and left it unlocked as he went about his business. He returned about 20 minutes later, and found the door ajar. His loaded Smith & Wesson .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol was missing, along with an extra loaded magazine.

About an hour later, another officer was sent to an address about a mile away, after a tip was received that a teenaged runaway was at that address. He spotted the runaway, who did not want be taken into custody. A fight ensued, during which this 18 year old punched the officer. He was forcibly subdued and handcuffed. In his pocket was the loaded pistol stolen earlier, along with the extra magazine. Another 15 year old accompanying him had the victim's holster and a bottle of Hennessy in his backpack.

This was a close call. How easily could this encounter have turned into a fatal one, either for the teenager or the police officer?

All of this might have been avoided if the owner of the pistol had practiced some pretty darned basic gun control: locking his vehicle so his pistol remains under his control, not that of a teenaged runaway and a 15 year old with a taste for Cognac.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Gun owners beware

So far in 2016, at least nine people with concealed carry permits have suffered the loss of their pistol through a theft from a motor vehicle. In all nine cases, there was no sign of forced entry, suggesting that the vehicles in each of these thefts was simply left unlocked.

These things happen, and I hate to beat up on people who have already been the victim of a crime. But with a concealed carry permit comes great responsibility. Among those responsibilities is the obligation to take reasonable steps to protect your weapon. One of those steps is to keep it under your control.

In addition to the nine concealed carry permit holders, eight other cases involved the theft of a firearm from a motor vehicle. Interestingly, of this total of 17 cases, only one involved forced entry.

Storing your pistol in your vehicle, in my opinion, is not a great idea. I'd rather it was in a lockbox in your bedroom than in the console of your vehicle overnight. It is also illegal to store it for more than 24 hours in a motor vehicle here in Lincoln (Lincoln Municipal Code 9.36.110).

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Interesting street names

Readers of the Director's Desk know that I'm a big fan of PulsePoint. I'm subscribed to the Twitter feed (@1000livesaday) that tweets every PulsePoint CPR notification. Yesterday morning, I noticed one of those in Kingston, Ontario. It was the street name that caught my eye:

You can confirm that with Google's StreetView, too.

It made me think about other interesting street names. Here's is my nomination from Lincoln, the aptly-named Short Street.

I'm also pretty partial to the intersection of S. 37th and S. 38th Streets, which seems to defy all logic.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Crime down, arrests up

A couple weeks ago, I had an interesting conversation with our County Attorney, Joe Kelly. We ran into each other before a meeting at the Malone Community Center, and chatted about his perception that felony prosecutions are up this year. I pulled up the most recent data on my smartphone, and indeed felony arrests by LPD are up about 10% so far in 2016. We speculated about what might be cause of this increase.

Afterwards, I put together a chart of the trend since the turn of the century, and compared it side-by-side with the crime trend. It's rather interesting.

Crime in Lincoln has been falling pretty significantly, whereas felony arrests have been increasing--especially in the last four years. This seems a bit counter-intuitive: I would expect that less crime would mean fewer arrests.

These charts begin in 2000, but the patterns for both crimes and felony arrests are more longstanding. These trends actually start back in in 1991. Interestingly, misdemeanor arrests do not show a similar pattern. They have declined slightly between 2000 and 2015, and are down by more than a third from their 2008 peak. I have a working theory on why felony arrests are increasing, but it's going to require some research to put my guess to the test.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Crash alerts worthwhile

Last week, I was about to head home from the office when I learned of an injury traffic crash at S. 40th St. and Highway 2 in Lincoln., which would ordinarily be on my route. With an injury crash, lots of emergency vehicles would be responding, and I realized that an alternate path would be preferable.

When I got home 20 minutes later, I checked the traffic cameras. Sure enough, the eastbound lanes were essentially a two mile linear parking lot. The standstill persisted for the better part of an hour. I'm sure hundreds of commuters were stuck in that mess on Tuesday, wishing they had known about it in advance.

There's an easy way to be alerted to injury traffic crashes in Lincoln. Get the PulsePoint application, follow Lincoln Fire & Rescue, and opt in to alerts for vehicle accidents and expanded vehicle accidents in the app's settings. Now, when LF&R is dispatched to an injury crash, you'll get a notification on your device.

One tip, though: when you start setting up notifications on things like traffic crashes and fires, you'll want to go into settings on your iPhone, and find the do not disturb feature. It's there in Android, as well, though you may have to dig a little bit. You probably don't want to be awakened when a drunk driver plows into a parked care across town at 2:32 AM!

Friday, September 2, 2016

The busy season

Today marks the start of a busy season for Lincoln's public safety personnel. LPD has already cracked 400 daily incidents a couple times in the recent past, including 411 yesterday, Thursday September 1st. Last year, the busiest single day for Lincoln police officers, with 443 events dispatched, was September 5, 2015--the Saturday of Nebraska's home football game with BYU. Tomorrow's 2016 home opener with Fresno State will be similar, and today's pre-game will be no slouch, either

Five of the busiest six day for the police last year were the Fridays and Saturdays of home football games. The lone exception was May 7, the day of an unusual flooding event that inundated parts of Lincoln's south bottoms neighborhood.

September 5, 2015 was also the busiest day last year for Lincoln Fire & Rescue, with 128 incidents.  The day of the flood, May 7, was number two, but after that the lists diverge for police and fire. July 4 was pretty hectic for both, ranking 12th for LPD and 7th for LF&R

My rough count shows 47 officers and 16 firefighters with game-related duties tomorrow, and that's on top of all the other usual stuff associated with a busy fall weekend when tens of thousands of visitors descend on the City. Fortunately, it's a night game and the weather will be mild, which may take some of the edge off.

As busy as it gets during these weekends, it's also an exciting time for public safety professionals. The police officers, firefighters, and dispatchers who make it all work are generally exhausted in an oddly pleasant way when it all wraps up. My hope is that it comes off safely, and everyone eventually hits a cool pillow for a good and well-deserved rest sometime on Sunday morning.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Graffiti not as common

A couple years ago I blogged about the falling number of vandalism cases in Lincoln, and particularly the decline in graffiti vandalism. I attributed that decline, in part, to Lincoln's graffiti abatement ordinances, adopted in 2006, and to good work by William Carver at the Lincoln/Lancaster County Health Department.

I have an automated report that spawns every afternoon to let Mr. Carver know about new graffiti cases. I also direct a copy to myself, and have thought I was noticing unusually small numbers this year. I ran the data. Sure enough, the decline I noted back in 2014 has continued and has even gone significantly deeper in 2015 and 2016.  So far this year, LPD has handled 152 graffiti cases. Here's a graph that shows that same time period over the past six years. That is a mighty dramatic drop in a crime that was already falling significantly.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Call processing time improving

Time is of the essence in cardiac and respiratory arrest. When your heart stops pumping blood, and when you cannot breathe effectively, you're a goner unless something intervenes to change things mighty quickly.

We often talk about the importance of having fire stations strategically located and the importance of rapid turnout times by firefighters and paramedics. You don't hear much, however, about the critical role of the first first responders: the dispatchers.

When someone calls 911, the response is not instantaneous. In all but the smallest 911 centers, the job of fielding the phone call is separated from the job of radio dispatching: the call taker gathers the information, then forwards it to a dispatch position when enough has been collected to know who needs to be sent, where, and with what level of response--basic life support, advanced life support, multiple units, lights and sirens or not, and so forth.

This all takes a little time. Callers don't always know their exact location, and cannot always communicate clearly right away. Even in the best circumstances, call takers must ask clarifying questions:

"Are you with the patient?"
"Is she breathing normally?"
"Is she clammy?"
"Did she take any drugs or medications in the past 12 hours?"

... and so forth. The basic details are often forwarded to the dispatcher as this questioning continues, but even then the dispatcher has to read the call information, decide what to do, find some clear air time on the radio, and actually say the words necessary to set the responders in motion. It takes longer than you might think. This interval of time, from the 911 ring to the dispatch of the responders, is known as call processing time.

Earlier this year, Lincoln's 911 Center implemented some changes to our protocol, under the supervision of our medical director, to try to shave a few seconds from the call processing time for the highest priority medical emergencies. Our medical director also did some great staff training to improve the ability of our dispatchers to recognize an ineffective respiration pattern known as agonal breathing.

The results of this enhanced training the protocol tweak have been impressive thus far. These changes were implemented on June 1st, and since that date we have dispatched 79 presumptive cardiac arrest events. The call processing time on these was 31 seconds faster than the 51 incidents dispatched during the same time period in 2015. The numbers are still rather small, but that is a huge improvement, and if it holds, represents an accomplishment that will contribute significantly to survivability.

My hat is off to our medical director, Dr. Kruger, and to the 911 Center staff. These early results are very encouraging, and I will keep tabs on the call processing time as we gather more experience.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Just because they wear a badge

There isn’t a national census of police officers in the United States, but most sources peg the total number at somewhere around 750,000. These officers have hundreds of thousands on interactions with citizens every day: crime victims, witnesses, drivers in traffic crashes, arrests, traffic stops, mental health crises, dog bites, missing persons, drunk drivers, arrest warrants, and so forth. Most of these are in relatively mundane circumstances, and some are in the most ugly situations imaginable.

Inevitably, a small number of these contacts will go badly. Some of those involve not mere error or misjudgment, but rather misconduct by a police officer: anger, hatred, lack of emotional control, maliciousness, reckless disregard. Officers are hired from humankind, where all of these bad motives exist, and where even otherwise good people do bad things from time to time.

In the context of the enormous number of police-citizen interactions, it is perhaps remarkable that so few tragic errors, lapses, and bad acts occur. We learn about this tiny number, however, almost instantly, and seemingly continuously, in this day and age of social media and a news cycle that never rests.

When malice or recklessness by a police officer is the cause of the bad thing, he or she deserves to be held accountable just as any other person—maybe even more so. We should rightly be able to expect more from our police, to whom we cede power and authority.

But rational people should understand that “the police” is a false construct. Rather, policing is composed of individual officers, organized into individual departments. The officers and the departments have differences in their skill levels, training, education, disposition, orientation towards the use of force, accountability systems, and cultures. To target the Dallas Police Department and 12 Dallas officers with violent rage due to the bad act of some officer elsewhere entirely is more than absurd, it is the most evil manifestation of stereotyping.

You will be hard-pressed to find this phenomenon with any other occupational group. Individual teachers, preachers, senators, presidents, and physicians commit bad acts, but no one indicts the entire field of education, the clergy, the senate, the presidency, or medicine.

Imagine you are the husband or wife of a police officer anywhere in the United States today. You’ve watched an assassin kill five Dallas officers who had nothing whatsoever to do with the events that created the grievance motivating his attack. Think about how you would feel when your loved one goes to work this evening, as you realize that the same mindless anger could be directed at him or her,

just because they wear a badge.

Isn't that the same process by which mindless anger is directed towards someone just because of the color of their skin, their religion, gender, national origin, or sexual identity?

Friday, July 1, 2016

Still appears to be working

Here's an update to the police department's strategy to deal with chronic repeat suspended drivers by impounding more of their cars. We now have a fourth month of data, that the decline in suspended drivers compared to overall traffic tickets continues. The 218 suspended driving tickets in June represent 2.95% of the total tickets, which is the lowest month since the time-series comparison period starts in January, 2013. Each of the four months since the policy change has been the lowest month.

Now, a little theory: crackdown strategies like this are usually based on the belief that violators will be deterred. The deterrence can be specific (the offender ticketed is deterred from continuing to violate the law) or general (other suspended drivers, learning of the crackdown, will be less likely to drive and/or drive less frequently). Crackdowns are generally announced with considerable fanfare, in order to increase general deterrence.

There is a considerable body of research demonstrating that the deterrent impact of crackdowns usually decays rapidly over time. Interest fades, publicity lags, things rebound more or less to the same condition as before the crackdown. It will be very interesting to see if that occurs with the police impound strategy. It certainly hasn't yet, despite the fact that there has really been little publicity about the strategy since the initial blast of news stories back in February.

I think there is a good chance that the effect of this strategy may be quite sticky compared to other crackdowns, because this one is not just based on the deterrent effect. It has an additional component: removing the instrumentality of the crime--the car. Impounding the car for 30 days makes it more difficult for the suspended driver to continue to drive. The time and effort necessary for finding another vehicles to drive is significant, and that alone should impact the likelihood the driver gets back behind the wheel, as well as how quickly he or she does so.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The old-fashioned way

With the explosion of social media and smartphones, there has been a growing expectation that police departments and 911 Centers ought to send tailored alerts of potential risks directly to citizens and organizations, such as schools, businesses, assisted living centers, and just ordinary citizens. Last night, a local TV station ran a story about this, interviewing the proprietor of a day care center who was unhappy that she wasn't notified of a shooting that happened at 3:50 AM on Sunday morning a short distance from her business.

There are many software systems out there for delivering mass notifications. The problem is not the lack of technology, rather it is the lack of the infrastructure necessary to exploit the technology. Specifically, it would require personnel. Essentially, someone would need to be dedicated to the task of listening to the radio and watching the flow in the computer-aided dispatch center. This person would need to make a determination about which incidents need to trigger a public alert, to whom it should be sent, and what the content should be. He or she would not only need to compose the alert, but would also need to determine when an "all clear" rescinding the alert is appropriate.

This is no small task. It would require someone with exceptionally good knowledge about the dynamics of police events in the field. Not very many robberies, for example, represent an immediate risk to people in the surrounding area. Many reports are belated, and in many cases the assailant is known to the victim and was long gone before the police were even called. Conversely, a simple hit-and-run crash could turn into an emergency event, if the wanted felon involved in the collision flees the scene on foot armed with a pistol and disappears into the surrounding neighborhood. Although technology can help, this is something that cannot be entirely automated. Human judgement is needed to distinguish the incidents that require notifications from the background noise.

Moreover, a mass notification system like this would need to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. That requires about 5.5 full-time equivalent employees. In a low-volume environment, you might be able to use employees who multi-task, performing other duties but able to drop what they are doing to attend to alerts as needed, a sergeant, for instance, or a dispatcher. That's not going to happen reliably in a busy 911 Center where employees are frequently working mandatory overtime, and where its a struggle just to fill the seats. Consider that during a big event that might suggest an alert, the dispatchers and police officers are especially busy.

If it's so difficult, you might ask, why are universities able to manage such systems, notifying their students and staffs of risky business? Aside from the fact that universities are generally mighty well funded, the simple fact is that your typical university police department is not very busy. As an example, the University of Nebraska Police Department handled 13 incidents yesterday. The Lincoln Police Department handled 334.

I'm not saying "never," but the impediments to such notification systems are substantial. Recently, we have been looking at various notification systems, and trying to brainstorm about how we might possibly incorporate these into our operations. If we had the personnel to do so, we might even use something as simple as the police department's Twitter feed, but it isn't staffed or monitored constantly, and we don't have the people to do so. We've also been considering the feasibility of launching a real time crime center for Lincoln, which might be an ideal location for a public notification system.

In the days before Twitter and Facebook, people turned to the news media in order to stay abreast of things going on in the community. Folks actually used to listen to AM radio, and could follow the news reports of the Martian invasion and take appropriate precautions. If we had some big deal going on and needed to get the word out quickly, a couple of phone calls to the radio stations were obligatory. In every news room in Lincoln, whether print, radio, or television, assignment editors and reporters are listening to police scanners right now. These days, they are often tweeting about interesting or emergent transmissions they hear in near real-time.

For the moment, your workaround might be to simply follow the Twitter feeds of a few of the local news outlets if you really need to know what's breaking bad at any given moment. Rest assured that if we thought a day care, senior center, business, or residence was in imminent risk of harm, we'd be making concerted efforts to notify you the old-fashioned way: door to door, and also through the news media.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Out of the ashes

The fire last month that destroyed Ideal Grocery in Lincoln was devastating on several levels. The neighborhood lost a convenient full-service grocery store within walking distance. The City lost a landmark. Lincoln's foodies lost a favorite destination where you could pick up a tin of escargot, a bottle of Veri Veri Teriyaki, and a tube of anchovy paste.

Tonja and I visited Ideal frequently, usually on Saturdays. In addition to the quaint charm of its 1930s vibe, what we really loved about Ideal was the memories it stirred up of  Pete's IGA, the tiny 3-aisle store Tonja's dad owned at 31st and U Street--before he went big time with Wagner's IGA at 33rd and A Street. Both buildings are still there. Wagner's is now the A Street Market, not much changed from the time Pete acquired it in 1976.

I worked for Pete for six years at the little store from the age of 15 until I joined the police department. Tonja worked for her dad for 10 years at the "big" store. Every time we went into Ideal, the memories flooded back.

After the fire, I tweeted about one of the things I'd really miss from Ideal: the small wheeled shopping baskets, a precursor to the modern grocery cart. Many others commiserated on Twitter. But here's a surprise.

I stopped into Leon's at Winthrop Road and South Street yesterday to pick up a steak for the grill, and what did I find but the famous Ideal carts, looking pretty much the same as they did during the Hoover administration.

Our checker told us that she helped wire brush the baskets, which were salvaged from the debris. That's a nice save out of the ashes that many Lincoln citizens will continue to enjoy, and explain to their grand children!

Monday, June 13, 2016

What we can do

One of the largest mass shootings in the history of the United States yesterday in Orlando has many public safety professionals thinking about what can be done in their local context. While some of the issues are national or even international in scope, there are some very good things we can do at the local level. Here are some thoughts that came to mind over the lunch hour. Although I think we have given all of these some attention, there is always room for improvement.
  • We can improve our ability to collect, analyze, and when appropriate disseminate intelligence information. The may mean providing good training to police officers on what to be alert for, how to document suspicious activity, and so forth. We should not forget the community, either. We did a lot of work in the 1990s with landlords and retailers to make them aware of the kinds of activities that might be related to methamphetamine labs. The result was lots of tips that really helped. We need to do the same thing surrounding terrorism and radicalization. We also need to maintain or improve our analytical abilities. This means investing in software, system, and (most importantly) analysts needed to turn information into intelligence, 
  • We can participate in information sharing and joint agency operations. Participation in joint terrorism task forces, shared information platforms, and even just good informal relationships with our area law enforcement agencies will maximize our opportunities to connect the dots. We must avoid information silos and cultivate an environment of inter-agency collaboration.
  • We can cultivate and maintain a good relationship with the LGBTQ community, developing personal relationships with opinion leaders, community members, business owners, and so forth. These citizens feel incredibly vulnerable in the wake of Orlando, and need to be assured that we take our duty to protect them seriously, and are committed to doing our best to vigorously investigate hate crimes and hold perpetrators responsible. 
  • We can cultivate and maintain good relationships with the Muslim community in our jurisdiction. They need to know that we are concerned for their safety and well-being, that we will protect them and the free exercise of their religion. We need to develop personal relationships of trust, so that Muslim citizens will feel comfortable contacting the police about when they have information we need to know about.
  • We can train and exercise for active shooter events and mass casualty events. We can make sure that this training includes everyone that is likely to be working together in such incidents: law enforcement agencies, 911 centers, fire and rescue agencies, hospitals, etc.. We should train for a team effort, because if we ever have such incidents, they will undoubtedly involve all of us. 
  • We can train police officers in critical emergency care for traumatic wounds. We can make sure that officers have the basic equipment and training that might allow them to save a critically-injured victim before medical personnel can take over patient care. 
  • We can improve our ability to get life-saving emergency care to patients in danger zones. This will require improving communication between law enforcement personnel and EMS responders. We need to train together with enough regularity that we all understand how we will safely get patients out, and paramedics in, when the threat is still imminent, and the situation only partially stabilized. We need to practice communication, unified command, and collaborative operations in the mundane daily events, such as traffic crashes, so it is second nature when it is most needed. 
  • We can organize a multi-disciplinary threat management team, with expertise in assessing information and identifying the truly dangerous.
Early identification and rapid intervention are the most important components to prevention, and prevention is the paramount goal. Robust intelligence processes, information sharing, and good connections in the community are critical to intercepting terrorists before they can act.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Appears to be working

A few months ago, the Lincoln Police Department implemented a new policy that encourages officers to take advantage more often of a state law that allows vehicles driven by suspended drivers to be impounded for 30 days. The policy change went into effect in late February, and provides an opportunity for a bit of evaluation research.

Since the policy is intended to deter suspended drivers, if it's working we would expect a decrease after implementation. Here's the problem: you can't simply count up the number of suspended driving tickets, because the overall level of traffic enforcement would influence that independent of the policy change. When officers are writing a lot of tickets, they are more likely to encounter suspended drivers then when they are writing fewer tickets.

Traffic enforcement activity by police officers varies considerably over time for several reasons, such as weather, service demands, and staffing levels. As an example, the peak month for tickets in 2015 was March, with 8,046 tickets (both warnings and officials), while the low month, December, produced 5,718. In order to account for these fluctuations, a good measure would be to calculate a percentage of tickets that yielded a suspended driver: suspended driving tickets divided by total tickets.

As the chart shows, that percentage takes a significant drop in the three months since the policy change. In fact, March, April, and May are the lowest months during the entire comparison period, which begins in January, 2013. If the percentage during the past three months had been the same as the average over the preceding 38 months, there would have been 159 additional suspended driving arrests from March through May.

I think this is pretty strong evidence that the policy is having the intended effect, although I'd like to watch it over a longer time period. Sometimes the impact of a crackdown initiative decays quickly over time. Officer Luke Bonkiewicz, whose research credentials are better than mine, is doing some more sophisticated work with these data. In particular, he is also looking at repeat suspended drivers. His work may shed even more light on the efficacy of impounding vehicles. Police practitioners ought to do this stuff more often: simple evaluations that, despite some methodological warts, provide evidence about what might be working (or not.)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

New feature in PulsePoint

PulsePoint released a new version of the app yesterday. The update adds one significant feature you may notice, called "roaming agency." This feature causes PulsePoint to add the agency at your current location to the incident list. You don't have to look it up any more, until and unless you want to follow that agency and get their notifications on things like traffic crashes and fires. Here's a short video with the details:

"Roaming Agency" Overview from PulsePoint Foundation on Vimeo.

This should be particularly convenient for those users who live in an area where several jurisdictions close to one another have implemented PulsePoint. Your list/map of incidents will always be in your current location.

When you travel, a glance at PulsePoint will now let you know whether your current location is a PulsePoint connected community. Hopefully the middle part of the country will eventually  start to fill in as more agencies adopt this technology.

Lincoln has just over 8,100 users who have downloaded PulsePoint and are following Lincoln Fire & Rescue as of this morning. Not bad, when our goal was 5,000 in the first year since the launch in early October, 2015 and we still have almost  five months to go.

It seems that for the moment "roaming agency" is only a feature in the iOS version of PulsePoint. In Lincoln, 56% of the downloads have been for iOS, 44% for Android.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Two new chiefs

I'm happy to welcome Jeff Bliemeister and Micheal Despain to the City of Lincoln. Jeff has been appointed chief of police, and Mike will begin serving as our new fire chief later this summer. Both were selected after a nationwide search and extensive screening to narrow an excellent pool of candidates.

Not only is it unusual to have new chiefs in both public safety agencies, but it is also unusual to have two chiefs who come from outside the departments. There haven't been many of those in the past fifty  years. Former fire chief Niles Ford (who is now the chief of the Baltimore Fire Department) comes to mind, as does George Hansen, who served a few years as Lincoln's police chief in the 1970's. LPD has only had 6 chiefs in the past 75 years!

One of the good things about chiefs with experience elsewhere it that they bring a new perspective. Sometimes we all get into our groove, and miss things that are in plain sight to a fresh set of eyes. I'm looking forward to working with both of our chiefs, and wish them well as they embark on this new phase of their careers.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Peak erodes to mound

One morning last summer I was looking at the overnight police activity (as usual), and noticed what appeared to be an unusual day, in that police dispatches had been low during the wee hours of the  morning when I would have expected to see a spike. There's always been a peak around the time bars are closing and people who have been drinking are heading out. It's not much of a peak anymore: it's eroded to a mere mound.

The smoothing of the curve I noticed in August is not an anomaly: there has been a change, and a big one. The following two charts demonstrate the change. These temporal heat charts, organized by day of week in the columns and hour of day in the rows, show the relative volume of police dispatches during the 168 one hour weekly time slots. Colors are assigned by standard deviation breaks. Dark red means a very high peak compared to the mean, deep blue means a very low hour. The top chart is for the year ending March 31, 2016. the bottom one covers calendar year 2007, the year my blog started.

The change evident from these charts is striking. The row totals reveal the significance of the change, particularly if you consider that Lincoln's population (of both people and liquor licenses) has increased significantly in the past nine years. Bar break just isn't quite what it used to be, and that's a good thing.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Problem Resolution Team app

Back in the mid-1990s, the Lincoln Police Department was diving into problem-oriented policing, which at the time was still a fairly new concept: instead of responding over and over again the the same place or problem, try to identify the underlying issues and work to resolve those. Several examples of such work can be found on my blog, by following the POP tag in the label cloud. Another great source for information is The Center for Problem Oriented policing,

One of the early practitioners of problem-oriented policing in Lincoln was Capt. Jon Briggs, who commanded the Northeast Team at the time. Some of the problems his officers were working on required the assistance of other agencies, such as the Health Department, Aging Services, the Building & Safety Department, Animal Control, and the Law Department. Jon saw a real need to coordinate and collaborate across agency boundaries.

This need became a concept paper, which we presented Mayor Mike Johanns, and Lincoln's Problem Resolution Team was born--with Capt. Briggs as it's chair. In the ensuing 20 years, the PRT has become institutionalized in Lincoln, and several LPD managers have served as the chair. LPD Crime Analyst Char Estes provides the technical support, among her other duties. The team has experienced many successes in resolving chronic issues at problem properties, and today many other cities have similar inter-disciplinary teams of this type.

Longtime readers of this blog know that I am something of a minor league GIS geek. Every now and then I'll dive into a GIS project, which is an opportunity to work on something that requires an entirely different skill set than my normal job duties. This week, I spent several evenings working on a project for the PRT. With a little help from Jeff McReynolds, Lincoln's GIS program manager, I was off to the races in an effort to create a mapping application for tracking current PRT properties.

I used ArcGis Online to build a web mapping application that displays the location of these properties. A click on the icon brings up the details, including the most recent photo from the Lancaster County Assessor's Office, and a link to more detailed information about the property. I think it will be a nice tool for the PRT, and it's certainly a good example of the utility of ArcGIS online if even a GIS hobbyist like me can do it.

Many crime analysts read the Director's Desk, and most of those are involved in GIS work as part of their duties. If you have yet to explore creating web mapping applications, I suggest you do so. This is only one of many we use for a variety of purposes in public safety: CCTV cameras, parcel lookups, street finder, fire hydrant locations, fire pre-plans, P3i, stream gauges, and much more. Web mapping applications are ideal when you need a simple, single purpose application quickly.

A good starting point (other than visiting would be to look around the GIS community in your own jurisdiction: the county assessor, public works department, parks & recreation, building inspections agency, and so forth. You may find that other municipal GIS technicians are already deploying web mapping applications, and can offer you some assistance in getting started.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Award bestowed

A pretty nice feather was poked into Lincoln's cap today at the weekly City Council meeting, when the chairman of the PulsePoint Foundation board of directors, Matt Stamey, and fellow board member Don Ledoux presented the City with the Foundation's first annual Award of Excellence. Matt and Don flew out from California specifically for this purpose, and it was an honor to have them visit.

Apparently Lincoln has been something of an overachiever with PulsePoint, the phenomenal life-saving application that delivers an alert to your smartphone if you're close to a location in a public place where someone may need CPR. We have an unusually large number of followers for our population, and we were recognized for our effective use of social media, traditional media, and such novel things as message boards and sports events to get the word out about PulsePoint.

As a result, slightly less than six months after the app launched on October 8, 2015 we have over 7,000 PulsePoint users following Lincoln Fire & Rescue, whereas our goal for the first year was 5,000. There have been 43 CPR alerts since the launch, which landed on exactly 200 smartphones. PulsePoint in Lincoln continues to grow, and has not yet plateaued. At the current rate, it's possible we could reach 10,000 in year one.

I asked Kelly Davila from our Emergency Communications Center, to accept the award on behalf of the City. Kelly is the one who worked methodically behind the scenes to coordinate all the moving parts that had to come together to bring PulsePoint to Lincoln.

From left: Dr. Jason Kruger, LF&R Medical Director; Systems Specialist Kelly Davila, 911 Center; Don Ledoux, PulsePoint Foundation Board; Tom Casady, Director of Public Safety; Julie Righter Dove, 911 Center Manager; Matt Stamey, PulsePoint Foundation Chairman; Patrick Borer, Assistant Fire Chief; Tim Linke, Interim Fire Chief

It never hurts when first-time visitors to Lincoln land on a perfect spring day, enjoy an evening stroll around the Haymarket, and a nice meal at a local favorite. Lincoln is a surprising find for many such travelers, and I suspect Don and Matt can appreciate my good fortune for living in such a community, and working with such great colleagues.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Time of offense

I made a chart last night of the day and time of the most recent 5,000 suspended driving cases handled by the Lincoln Police Department:

You can click on the chart for the full size image, which is easier to read. The rows are days of the week, Sunday at the top, Saturday at the bottom. The Column are hours of the day beginning at midnight from left to right. The color reflects the number of cases in each day/time cell from low (light blue) to high (deep red).

This kind of chart is known as a temporal heat chart, or a temporal grid, and I've published several of these on my blog over the years. This one is meant to show when suspended drivers are most often driving, or more specifically, when they are being caught. It's not on the way to school or work. Rather, it appears to be on the way home from bars.

The relationship to alcohol is hard to ignore. You will notice that it shows a similar pattern to this temporal heat chart of violent crime, which I published seven years ago (although the former reverses the column/row arrangement.) It also looks quite similar to this one from four years ago depicting DWI arrests.

All of these--suspended drivers, violent crimes, DWI arrests--are very different then this one, which shows over 30,000 traffic crashes, and reflects the density of traffic during the weekday rush hour.

The concentration of suspended drivers in the wee hours of the morning on drinking days may in part be caused by the nature of police activity. These are the times officers are most likely to be looking for drunk drivers, and in the process finding suspended ones al well. Or, the concentration could be caused by the fact that these are the times suspended drivers are more likely to be on the road, or more likely to be driving poorly and drawing the attention of the police.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Worth watching

Last week on my blog I mentioned a change in practice at the Lincoln Police Department aimed at reducing the problem of people who continue to drive motor vehicles after their operator's license has been suspended or revoked. The change involves taking advantage more often of a State statute that allows officers to impound cars driven by suspended drivers for up to 30 days.

While this has been used often in the past, there were several impediments to impounding every car, not the least of which is the sheer amount of time necessary to summon a wrecker. But after consulting with a broad committee of both law enforcement and public members, the department committed to redoubling its efforts to impound cars--particularly those driven by people who have a past history of driving while suspended.

I have been reading reports every morning and noting a big spike in vehicles beingimpounded. The night shift officers seem really committed to this, despite the pain of waiting around interminably and completing extra paper work, while knowing that there are many other things going on for which you may be needed.

This morning for the first time, I ran a little data. During the past week (February 26 to March 4), LPD officers arrested 42 suspended drivers. During the same week in 2015, there were 63. During the week prior to the public announcement of the enhanced effort and attendant publicity (February 17 to February 23, there were 58 arrests.

Many things influence suspended driving arrests: weather, the amount of time officers have available for traffic enforcement, and so forth. I am not yet willing yet to declare this before-and-after test  as proof positive that the new strategy is exerting a deterrent effect, but it is certainly worth watching over a longer term to see if the curve bends.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Violence reduction network

The Violence Reduction Network (VRN) is a program of the United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance which aims to provide training and technical assistance to some of the cities with the highest rates of violence in the United States. To date, ten cities have received this help, and for 2016 three additional cities have been added: St. Louis, New Orleans, and Milwaukee.

I was in Washington DC today, attending the spring VRN summit at the request of the Feds, to provide some support to New Orleans and Milwaukee on a topic near-and-dear to us in Lincoln: crime analysis. Just click the link to that tag in the label cloud on my blog, and you'll see that we do a lot of work in Lincoln guided by data and analysis. We've developed somewhat of a reputation, hence the invitation--even though I'm not so sure our experience with such things as party disturbances and garage burglaries translates entirely to such things as car jackings and muggings.

Rather than making a presentation, though, my colleague Dr. Noah Fritz from Tempe AZ and I tried to facilitate discussion. These two cities have a pretty clear idea of their problems, issues, and challenges. They don't need us to figure that out, but sometimes an outside facilitator can help in lubricating a productive and frank assessment of where we are, where we want to be, and what we need to do to get there.

I hope that was the case. It takes a certain amount of courage for the VRN cities to step forward and ask for federal assistance, and I applaud them for their efforts. I made good contacts with New Orleans and Milwaukee, and hope I can be of further help in their efforts to leverage data and analysis to guide police tactics and strategies to effectively deal with violence in their communities.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Great career draws to close

Today is the last day for our police chief, Jim Peschong, who retires after a 41 year career with the City. Jim and I have worked together during that entire time, and the memories are many. Early in our careers, Jim distinguished himself as a real go-getter in criminal investigations. Even as a patrol officer, he had a knack for criminal work that everyone recognized.

It was no surprise when he became a detective. Our paths diverged for a while, as Jim focused on the criminal side of the police department and I went off for a seven year stint at the Sheriff's Office. We came back together, though, in 1994 when I was appointed police chief, and Jim was the captain commanding the Northwest/Center Police Team--the largest and busiest command in the City. A few years later, when a retirement opened an assistant chief slot, Jim was my choice. When I left to take my assignment as director of public safety, the Mayor and I agreed that Jim was the logical choice for chief.

One of the reasons I selected Jim as my assistant chief was that I felt we had complimentary skill sets. The things he was best at were not my strong suit, and vice versa. I don't know if he felt the same about that, but I do know that we worked very effectively together for the past 22 years, enjoyed one another's company, and accomplished many good things. I'm going to miss him a lot.

Every year when it came time to complete Jim's annual performance evaluation, my comments started off with the same thing, the characteristic that I most admired and appreciated: his ethics. I never saw Jim make any decision or take any action that was motivated by anything other than a desire to do the right thing. While there are those who have disagreed with them (as with any chief) from time to time, no one can claim that he was trying to polish his own badge.

Jim Peschong leaves a legacy at LPD. He has passed along his skill in criminal investigation to many others who learned from him. He was an innovator in the mid 1990's as a team captain in initiating greater public involvement in decisions that had previously been made by the police internally, with little input or attention to our citizens. He has helped to cement the value of citizen engagement as a part of our DNA. Soon, we will be moving to a marvelous new firearms range, a project that Jim shepherded through many daunting snares and obstacles.

There are many others, too numerous to mention. Two that I think are vastly under appreciated, and for which Jim sometimes was subjected to a lot of criticism, are relatively recent. Jim worked hard to make sure that Lincoln police officers are scrupulous in their use of seat belts, and to bend the curve on dangerous driving. These efforts were overdue, no thanks to his predecessor. Despite a lot of howling in the process, these are critical to the safety of our police officers. This issue that Jim took on is protecting our officers today, and will continue to protect them in the future. Every Lincoln police officer should thank him--and so should their family members.

One winter about 15 years ago, Lincoln had some early snow in December that had made a mess of the parking areas at the police garage. Mounds of refrozen snow had turned the entire area into ridges of icy ruts and knee-high drifts between all the parked patrol cars. On Christmas Eve that year, Assistant Chief Jim Peschong and Sgt. Dan Schmidt, off duty, brought their own equipment down to the garage: pickups, trailers, skid loader, and spent the day jockeying parked cars so they could use their power equipment to scrape the snow and ice down to the gravel and asphalt. They did this for one reason only: to make the rest of the winter a little more bearable for their coworkers.

That's the kind of person Jim is. I wish him well in his next adventure.

The problem with community policing

The problem with community policing as practiced in the United States is that too often it turns into community relations, rather than community engagement. Don't get me wrong: I like feel-good programs and initiatives that humanize police officers and highlight the work they do. Who doesn't break into a smile when they see the hashtag #copslovelemonadestands?

But citizen academies, bicycle rodeos, Facebook pages, storefronts, foot patrols, Segways, ice cream socials, and so forth do not constitute community policing, unless community engagement is at the core. It's fine to burnish the image, it's good to create relationships, it's important to make the police approachable. It is more important, though, to involve citizens in the most significant decisions about how the community is to be policed.

This news story from the Lincoln Journal Star is a good example of what community engagement means. Faced with an issue (growing numbers of chronic, repeat suspended drivers) LPD assembled a task force that included not just law enforcement personnel, but also ordinary citizens, to consider what, if anything, the police department could and should do. The result was some significant changes in policy and practice. Involving the public in decisions like this needs to happen more often in U.S. police departments.

There are many other examples of community engagement: citizens involved in conducting training for police officers; citizens participating in the selection process for police officers; citizen involvement in promotional processes; citizens working as volunteers; citizens participating side-by-side with police personnel in developing the strategic plan, the language access plan, and the gang strategy; citizen police review processes; citizen involvement in problem-oriented projects.

I could go on, but the point is this: getting the public deeply involved in key decisions and the work of the police is where the action should be. This is what truly builds respect, trust, collaboration, accountability, and a shared sense of responsibility for the safety and security of the community.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Important to know location

On the receiving end, every 911 call here in Lincoln begins like this:

"911, where is your emergency?"

Notice that the first question isn't what is your emergency, but rather where. Location is critical, and believe it or not, it has become more difficult recently, rather than easier. This article by Paul Hammel in the Omaha World Herald provides a detailed description of the problem, but in a nutshell, the demise of the landline and the proliferation of cell phones is the cause.

The technology of 911 is now approaching age 50, and was developed over the decades to function with copper wire telephone switching systems, in order to identify the subscriber and the subscriber's address. The location was fixed: you could pretty much count on the Princess phone being in the same place to which the bill was mailed every month. Today, however, over 70% of the inbound 911 calls come from cell phones, which are not as easy to locate as you might think.

Sure, you can navigate to the nearest frozen yogurt with Google Maps, watch your daughter on Find my Friends, and vector in for the meet-up with Glympse. You would think it would be a simple matter to pass location information along with a 911 call, but it's not the case. Only about 55% of the wireless 911 calls in Lincoln come with what is known as Phase II location information, which locates the phone within a few dozen meters of its presumed location.

Your smartphone gets operating system updates a few times every year, replaced every couple of years, and the carrier is constantly expanding coverage and capabilities. Your 911 system, however, was designed in a different era, and is composed of an immense, expensive network of hardware and software that is not easily upgraded.

It will change, as circuit-switched 911 systems become packet switched NexGen 911 systems, but the change won't be nearly as rapid as the world of consumer electronics, where massive profits drive innovation. So for the time being and into the mid-term future, you best know where you are when the chips are down, so you can pass the most precise information along to the 911 operator. The best information still comes from the caller, not his or her device.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

How to get the word out

If you still visit my blog from time to time, you've surely noticed that I'm not posting very often. After close to ten years of prolific writing, I've realized that blogs, for the most part, are just not that popular anymore. My page visits have fallen in half, and I'm not alone. The world has simply moved on, for the most part, to other social media options such as Facebook, Instagram, and especially Twitter.

These days I blog rather rarely, but I'm feeding posts to Twitter often. I am still something of a new comer to Twitter, but first realized its power  back on May 7, 2015, as I tweeted out updates during Lincoln's most recent flood. By the end of the day, it seemed like everyone was turning to Twitter for the most recent updates and latest news.

We are in the midst of cleaning up from a pretty significant snow event here in Lincoln, and a residential parking ban is in place. Getting neighborhood streets plowed is always a problem, because no matter how much you might try, not every gets the word about these bans, and not everyone obeys them. While the police can ticket the violator (250+ were issued overnight Tuesday to Wednesday), that really doesn't solve the problem

The tickets don't help the plow operator. When a single vehicle owner on the block ignores the parking ban, the plows must go around it, and the blade can't get to the curb. The owner digs out a few days later, but everyone else on the block has to cope with the resulting burial mound for the remainder of the winter. Another one on the opposite side of the street, and its a slalom course for the neighbors. Good luck with a bus or fire engine.

This morning, a discussion of this problem broke out on Twitter, questioning how people can be made more aware of such things as parking bans, in an age when few subscribe to the newspaper, listen to AM radio, or watch a local evening newscast. A UNL professor offered to canvas the students in her communications class for ideas this week. Do you have any? How can the City of Lincoln more effectively reach people with information like this?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Closing date set

The application closing date for Lincoln's chief of police position has now been set as February 29, 2016. If you are among those considering applying, or you know anyone who is interested, please pass the word. I've spoken with many potential candidates, and I am excited for LPD's future.

I bleed LPD blue, and want the absolute best leader we can find, whether internal or external, to propel the department forward with a vision the community and our employees can get behind. This is a dynamic time in the field, and this is one of the premier leadership jobs in policing in the United States this year.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Police chief opening

The City of Lincoln has posted an opening for the position of chief of police. You may find the job posting from the Human Resources Department by going to the City's website,, and entering the keyword JOBS--or just click here.

Chief Jim Peschong is retiring in February, after a 41 year career.  This is a fine department in a wonderful community, and it is my hope that an exemplary group of applicants leads to the selection of a leader who can inspire others with a vision for the future. The City will be advertising this position nationally in the next several weeks, but applications can be accepted now.

Everything I wrote in this post a few years ago about the community and the department still holds true (well, I think the cost of a parking meter has gone up to a buck an hour.) It's just a great place to live, work, and raise a family. I pinch myself at the good fortune of serving as Lincoln's public safety director. If I were considering this job, here are the most important factors that would influence my decision:
  • The workforce of the Lincoln Police Department is exceptional. We have large numbers of applicants, and have been able to choose excellent candidates over the years. The educational level is high, and there is a strong ethical value system that permeates the department. I am constantly impressed by the quality of our police officers.  
  • The department has a highly capable command and management staff. I feel entirely comfortable leaving anyone on the command staff in charge of the department. Civilian managers and sworn commanders have outstanding credentials and experience. They are deeply involved in civic affairs, and widely recognized as leaders not only in the department, but the community.
  • Support from our elected officials is good. While Lincoln (like almost all other cities in the United States) has had some budgetary challenges in the past decade, we have been spared from cuts to the sworn workforce, and actually grown slightly. Our stations, equipment and fleet are in very good condition, and our technology is impressive. My sense is that as revenue rebounds the police department will be a continuing priority.  
  • Community support is strong. Lincoln has a long history of the true practice of community-based, problem-oriented policing. We have earned the goodwill and respect of our citizens. Even when we have our inevitable missteps, citizens trust us to do the right thing and set matters straight. We have a great relationship with the news media, with neighborhood organizations, and with other governmental and non-governmental agencies.   
  • Although Lincoln has a strong mayor form of government, in which all department heads serve at the pleasure of an elected mayor, this position does not have a history of a revolving door: Lincoln has had just six police chiefs in the past 75 years. I served as chief of police for five mayoral administrations.
You can find a huge amount of information about the Lincoln Police Department on our public website and in our annual reports. I'm more than happy to talk to anyone who wants to get in touch and chat.