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Preview: The Chief's Corner

The Director's Desk





Updated: 2018-02-14T01:42:41.423-06:00

 



What are they thinking?

2017-09-13T18:01:28.163-05:00

My blog, languishing in suspended animation due to lack of interest, has been awakened today for a rant that has been brewing for a considerable time. It's a topic I have blogged about on several past occasions: the practice of leaving your loaded gun stored in your motor vehicle overnight--compounded by not locking the doors.

Some follow-up investigation by the police department this week on a case earlier this summer is what caused my pot to boil over. Back on August 8, LPD was summoned to the parking lot of the Lancaster County Event Center on a juvenile disturbance. They arrived and spotted the primary disturber, a 17 year-old who made a beeline for his parked vehicle upon their approach. His escape was interrupted, and he put up a fight but was quickly cuffed and stuffed. A subsequent search of his car turned up a stash of cash, pot, scales, packaging material, and a loaded pistol.

As is normal practice, an e-trace was initiated through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. The results came back last week, and identified the original purchaser of the pistol, which was acquired in 2014 from a local gun dealer by a 40 year-old Lincoln man who holds a Nebraska concealed carry permit. When he was contacted, he told officers that he noticed his pistol missing from his unlocked car back in November, 2016. He didn't report it as stolen, because he thought he might have misplaced it.

This encounter with a gun-toting teenager on August 8 could easily have ended quite differently. It reminds me of this case last fall, where another absent-minded concealed carry permit holder left his loaded pistol in his unlocked pickup. It was snatched by a teenaged runaway, and pulled from his pocket about an hour later after some fisticuffs with police officers who spotted him a mile away from the site of the theft.

Thefts of this kind are happening with depressing regularity. Noticing what seemed to be a trend last year, I started pulling these cases out and creating a spreadsheet to keep track. Since January 1, 2016, there have been 37 cases of this nature where a pistol has been stolen from a motor vehicle. Only two of those were locked. More than half of the stolen firearms belonged to victims who hold concealed carry permits.

Here's what I think is happening: people are acquiring concealed carry permits, but quickly learning what most rookie police officers learn--that carrying a concealed pistol has certain drawbacks. It ruins the lining of your jacket, pokes a hole in your driver's seat bolster, precludes you from stopping for a beer on the way home, limits your wardrobe choices, causes your pants to sag, your ribcage to hurt, and so forth. As a result, many of these permittees are deciding to just carry the gun in their vehicle. The practice of actually carrying it back and forth every night from the vehicle is apparently too inconvenient for some, so it simply remains in the console, under the seat, or in the door pocket pretty much permanently--easy prey for a thief who is trying door handles around the neighborhood in the wee hours of the morning.

It's one thing to lose your Ray-Bans and $2.25 in loose change from your cup holder because you either habitually or absent-mindedly leave your vehicle unlocked. It's another thing entirely when your Smith & Wesson .40 caliber semi-auto with a fully-loaded magazine is now in possession of a 17 year old drug dealer grappling with the police in the dark parking lot at the Lancaster County Fair. If you consider yourself sufficiently level-headed and disciplined to carry a concealed firearm, you ought to know better.



The case for encryption and delay

2017-08-09T09:00:23.197-05:00

Lincoln is in the process of acquiring a new public safety radio system. The new system is from Motorola, and is a P25 trunked system, which is inherently digital. Since it is a digital radio system, encryption is easy to implement. It is our intention to use encryption to protect law enforcement-sensitive transmissions. We do not intend to encrypt Lincoln Fire & Rescue radio traffic. If we encrypt all of our law enforcement talk groups (colloquially, "channels"), this will essentially put scanners out of business.People have been using scanners to listen to police radio transmissions, well, for as long as Lincoln has had police radio transmissions-the 1930's. Prior to the mid-1990's, this hobby generally required some relatively expensive equipment and a little expertise to set up. As a result, the number of people using scanners was rather small, and rarely caused problems for the police. This all changed with the advent of streaming audio on the Internet. By the mid-to-late 1990s, a scanner buff could simply publish the audio from a scanner to a URL, and suddenly anyone with an Internet connection could listen.With the proliferation of smartphones, this became incredibly easy and popular, and scanner applications proliferated. Publishing the audio from police radio traffic to the Internet became a problem for those of us in law enforcement, because instead of a small group of dedicated hobbyists, the number of people listening to the police radio grew dramatically--including the number of people with ulterior motives: criminals. Part of the problem was that publishers of scanner feeds were often streaming audio that had no business out in public: information channels, tactical channels, investigative channels, and so forth. While the primary police dispatch channels were challenging enough, these private channels carrying even more sensitive traffic were especially problematic.About five years ago, we decided to publish our own Internet feed of primary dispatch channels. Our motive in doing so was to occupy the market. We hoped that if we put out an official audio feed, the amateurs who were publishing their own feeds--sometimes with no regard for the most sensitive traffic--would fade away, as the official feed became the de facto standard. Most people looking for streaming public safety audio from Lincoln would choose the official feed, and since we controlled that content, the chance of someone inadvertently or intentionally streaming the most sensitive radio traffic would be greatly reduced. It worked; the official feed essentially pushed most of the freelancers out of the game.Despite this, there is still plenty of radio traffic on the primary dispatch channels that is sensitive, especially early in the life-cycle of an emergent incident. Bad actors can, and have, used this information to evade the police, and to further criminal enterprises. We have many examples of this, but since most of these uses are never discovered, I am sure the practice is much more widespread then we know.Recently, for example, a burglary occurred at Gateway Mall. There was good video of the burglars, and it was apparent that they were monitoring a smartphone scanner application, which allowed the thieves to skedaddle when the alarm was dispatched. We have documented examples of scanners or scanner applications used by criminals during everything from shoplifting, to kidnapping, robbery, burglary, and murder. While it is probably still a fairly small percentage of criminals who are organized enough and smart enough to use police radio transmissions to their advantage, it is easier than ever, and has become more common than ever.With our new radio system currently under construction, it will be a simple matter to implement encryption, which would defeat the use of scanners and the rebroadcasting of Internet audio feeds from scanners. The technology is baked into the radio system.Here's the problem: we also recognize that there is some value in the public being able to listen to our radio transmissions. C[...]



Unique dataset

2017-03-31T15:41:10.997-05:00

Open data is the rage in policing these days, spurred on by the White House Police Open Data Initiative, which sprang to life after the release of the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing  report.

A handful of early adopters contributed some of their data to the portal, which is now hosted by the Police Foundation. With the launch of Lincoln's open data website, I thought we might offer up our data to the Police Foundation portal as well, and I have been in contact to do so.

Since the early months of the initiative, the number of police departments providing open data in the United States has grown dramatically. Lincoln is not exactly the first wave, although as a percentage, the number of agencies offering license-free, machine-readable datasets is still mighty small.

Those departments offering open data typically have such things as police dispatches, incident reports, traffic stops, arrests, and so forth. Some have use of force reports,  and officer-involved shooting incidents. Here in Lincoln, we really only have one dataset that is somewhat unusual, and I would venture to say it's actually unique.

What we have that would fit the definition of unique is this: a dataset consisting of tens of thousands of surveys asking citizens about their recent experience after actual police contacts, and also about their perceptions of safety in the neighborhood where they live.

This survey, our Quality Service Audit (QSA) was originally developed in conjunction with the Gallup Organization in the mid-1990s. It is a telephone survey conducted by Lincoln Police Department student interns, volunteers, and recruit officers in training. Surveyed citizens have had recent police contact in one of three categories: arrested or cited, crime victim, driver in traffic crash. 

The survey is not random: it is only conducted with citizens who have had recent police contacts of these types; it only surveys citizens who surveyors were able to reach by telephone; and the volume of surveys completed is dependent on the availability of surveyors,which fluctuates throughout the year.

While many police departments conduct surveys, very few of these survey people who have actually had recent police contacts, even fewer of those include surveys of people who have been cited and arrested. And I am pretty comfortable in saying that nobody has two decades of individual row-by-row records open to the public: 78,134 survey responses from 1996 through 2016.



Open data for Lincoln

2017-03-23T09:04:20.608-05:00

Today the Mayor is announcing our new Open Data and Performance Management website, opendata.lincoln.ne.gov. The site brings together some extensive data applications and resources that have been available on various City websites, but may have required some deep digging. Now, they are also available in this single portal where they may be more easily accessed.

More importantly, though, the site also provides open data: license-free, machine-readable datasets that may be downloaded in such common formats as csv, kml, shp, and json. A bit over half of the 100+ resources on the site today are available as open data, including both tabular and spatial datasets such as police incident reports, traffic crash records, zoning, city council districts, and much more.

Information about the City's performance management process, with links to the relevant data and documents will also allow visitors to see how we are doing on the City's eight key outcomes, along with their associated goals and performance indicators. We have also included a link to the City's new performance management meetings, LNKstat. The status reports from LNKstat meetings will show you what we are working on and the action steps planned.

Lincoln is joining a select groups of cities in the United States that are making open data available to the public. It's a great way to allow citizens to use these resources in creative and entrepreneurial
ways, and to increase transparency in municipal government.

Our open data site is built on the ESRI ArcGIS open data platform, which several other cities are using, such as Washington DC, Minneapolis, Tampa, and Wichita. It is a work in progress, and I expect it will continue to evolve as we add more data and features in the future.

I've been pleased to lead the City's open data initiative for the first few months, as the convener of our open data governance committee. We got a start last summer, when our City Council unanimously passed an open data resolution introduced by council members Trent Fellers and Leirion Gaylor Baird. The resolution created the governance committee, which has contributed a great deal to this project, and continues to work through five subcommittees.

Last fall, we were selected by What Works Cities to receive technical assistance and support for performance management and open data. Eric Reese from GovEx (Johns Hopkins Center for Government Excellence) was our primary contact from What Works Cities, and helped us tremendously. Thanks to all of these individuals and organizations for putting Lincoln on the open data map!




Fifty years ago

2017-03-01T14:52:44.606-06:00

It's Nebraska's 150th anniversary today. Nebraska became a state in 1867. I arrived here in 1967,  Nebraska's centennial year. I was reflecting on this today, and came upon an interesting statistic from 50 years ago. In 1967, there were 445 traffic fatalities in Nebraska. Last year, there were 194. This huge decline is even more dramatic when you consider the population increase over the past 50 years, and the increase in miles driven. Here's what the trend looks like since 1995:



There are probably many factors that contribute to this decline, such as better roadway engineering, air bags, anti-lock breaks, stability control, better emergency medical care. Nothing, however, is as important as seat belt usage. Roadway surveys show that about 83% of Nebraskans were buckling up in 2016. Unsurprisingly, 68% of those who died in Nebraska collisions last year were not wearing their seatbelt.

Last night, as I was preparing dinner, a PulsePoint alert fired off on my phone. It was an injury traffic crash at 29th & O Street. I pulled up the nearest traffic camera, which is at 27th Street. It looked bad. An SUV was on its side, and it appeared to be a high-speed right angle collision. The driver of that vehicle, however, walked away with only minor bumps and bruises--because she was buckled up.

There is probably nothing you can do today that is more important in protecting you from death or injury than simply using your seatbelt. Make sure your passengers do the same, and that your children develop the lifelong habit through your example.




Getting the message?

2017-02-09T07:54:05.526-06:00

Yet another pistol has been stolen from a vehicle that was apparently left unlocked overnight from Friday to Saturday. The gun was in the console. As in many of the past cases I've chronicled here, this victim has a concealed carry permit. I continue to advise against leaving your pistol in the vehicle overnight, for just this reason. If you accidentally forget to lock up, the pilferer picks your pistol, rather than just the loose change in your cup holder and your Ray Bans.

This is the first one in several weeks. Maybe, just maybe, people are getting the message.



Public safety at the Airbase

2017-02-25T21:30:28.931-06:00

Lincoln's Airpark West is getting a lot of public safety attention lately, as we've opened a new firearms range and training facility, and are about to break ground on a replacement for Fire Station 11, near NW 48th and West Adams Streets. One of the most interesting periods in Lincoln’s history was from the early 1950s through the mid 1960s, when the Lincoln Air Force Base served as one of the largest and most important components of the nation’s nuclear shield. Not to forget the importance of the Lincoln Army Airfield’s role in World War II, but during the cold war the stakes were raised even higher. Lincoln’s huge airbase was the home of B-47 squadrons on hot alert 24/7/365, loaded with nuclear bombs, ready to roll around the clock during the height of the cold war, including the 13 days in October, 1962, when the world stood on the brink of Armageddon. It is a fascinating part of our history, and one that is rapidly fading.Today, however, considerable visible evidence of this 15 year window of history remains. The concrete pads on either side of the runway where eight B-47 Stratojet nucler bombers awaited their mission are still there, slowly disintegrating into the earth. The bunkers that held both nuclear warheads and conventional munitions remain, and will probably outlast virtually every evidence of Lincoln’s very existence. Many of the buildings have been demolished, but many remain; including Lincoln Parks & Recreation’s Airpark Recreation Center.Along Highway 33, between Lincoln and Crete, lies a Nike missile site, which protected the Lincoln airbase from Soviet bombers, and where over 100 soldiers and K-9s worked around the clock to ensure the security of the base, the City, and nearby Atlas Intercontinental Ballistic Missile installations. A companion Nike site north of Lincoln still stands as a daily reminder of these sentinels. The Integrated Fire Control center for the north site is now the campus of Raymond Central High School. When I was a student at Rountree Elementary School in Springfield, MO, fire alarm drills were not quite as memorable as the drills we practiced in the event of a nuclear attack: duck under the desk, hands behind the neck, fingers interlocked. A few years later, when the family moved to Lincoln, I had no idea that a significant component of the forces protecting us from this threat, through nuclear deterrence, were right here in my new hometown. [...]



LNKstat kick off

2017-01-25T13:14:22.940-06:00

Taking Charge, the City of Lincoln's performance management process, by which we set goals, develop performance indicators, and monitor progress, jumped up to a new level today with the inauguration of LNKstat: a meeting designed to collaboaratively focus the attention of the City's management staff on our municipal government's performance. LNKstat meetings are patterned after a practice that was originally developed in policing during the 1990s, COMPSTAT, which here in Lincoln our police department calls ACUDAT

LNKstat is designed to serve the same purpose as ACUDAT, only by more broadly examining all eight of the City's outcomes, from safety & security to efficient transportation. We have been receiving some top-notch technical assistance from the What Works Cities initiative to develop and refine LNKstat, and this morning's meeting begins a series of six coming up in the next few months. 

Today's focus was on the City's first outcome area: safety & security. Our police and fire chief, along with our Parks & Recreation Department and Public Works Department, reviewed the public safety performance indicators from Taking Charge with Mayor Beutler and his staff, and fielded questions and comments from the other City department heads.

The City's performance management team, a group of representatives from most of the departments, led by the Mayor's Chief of Staff, has been working for the past few months with What Works Cities to prepare for this process. The first meeting was excellent. Lots of good information was shared, several action steps were identified, and we all had a productive meeting examining how things are going in the effort to ensure a safe and secure community, and what we need to do to keep on track. 

Next week, LNKstat will shift focus to outcome area number two: livable neighborhoods. This one may be even more challenging than safety & security, because there are eight City departments with a   portion of responsibility for this outcome. What's exciting to see is the City's top management staff focused together on these outcomes, not just those within our own individual domains. 



What works?

2017-01-11T05:57:36.872-06:00

What Works Cities is an initiative of the Bloomberg Philanthropies that helps cities enhance their use of data and evidence to improve their services. Lincoln was fortunate last year to be selected as one of the cities (57 so far) to receive technical assistance from the initiative.

Part of that assistance is in the form of training, and today we are hosting Eric Reese, from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Government Excellence, GovEx. Eric is leading a training session on performance management for about 130 City of Lincoln staff: department directors, their assistants, and senior managers. The purpose of this training is to help us further enhance our performance management process, exemplified by Taking Charge, Lincoln's outcome-based budgeting process.

Tomorrow, both the audience that the topic changes to open data. Lincoln is joining the nationwide open data movement, and our open data governance committee will be participating in what we are calling an Open Data Boot Camp: a half day to get every one up to speed on the concepts, purpose, practices, and opportunities surrounding open data. The governance committee is composed of 17 City staff and citizens from several walks of life.

I'm leading the City's open data initiative, at least for the moment, because of my interest in data. Greater transparency with police data was a recommendation of the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, and anyone who has read my blog for any part of the past decade knows that I'm mighty interested in using data and analysis to guide operations. Lincoln already makes lots of data and information available to the public, but we intend to do even more, and to transition to more data made available in machine-readable format that can be easily downloaded and employed by anyone interested.

We are looking forward to a couple of days of engaging, interesting, and productive training. City Council member Leirion Gaylor Baird is largely responsible for Lincoln's selection as a What Works City, and the Mayor's Chief of Staff, Rick Hoppe, has been doing the heavy lifting for organizing both this training and the City's interface with the initiative.



Preparation advice

2016-12-21T06:46:02.454-06:00

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



You can do it!

2016-12-08T06:44:37.413-06:00

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...   
...coach 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:





Gun control rant

2016-12-14T18:42:57.296-06:00

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.





Gun owners beware

2016-11-16T06:38:38.282-06:00

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).






Interesting street names

2016-11-15T05:50:24.828-06:00

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.







Crime down, arrests up

2016-10-13T08:18:21.216-05:00

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.





Crash alerts worthwhile

2016-09-22T06:21:06.021-05:00

(image) 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!



The busy season

2016-09-02T08:44:25.117-05:00

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.



Graffiti not as common

2016-08-17T05:07:04.011-05:00

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.





Call processing time improving

2016-08-11T21:42:04.635-05:00

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.



Just because they wear a badge

2016-07-09T08:33:36.716-05:00

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?



Still appears to be working

2016-07-01T20:41:01.070-05:00

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.



The old-fashioned way

2016-06-29T14:35:26.227-05:00

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 d[...]



Out of the ashes

2016-06-27T05:32:05.965-05:00

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!





What we can do

2016-06-15T09:43:12.634-05:00

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 par[...]



Appears to be working

2016-06-03T06:38:02.625-05:00

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.)