The Lincoln, Neb., PD (LPD) has a long tradition of technological innovation. The department, for example, began using computers in 1978. The result: “Our databases are big and data rich,” says Chief Jim Peschong. “We can pull up case investigative reports that are 30-plus years old and read them on a computer screen.”
The tradition continues. Today, the LPD works diligently to cultivate and use this trove of information. License plate recognition systems, a fleet of new cruisers, a host of mobile devices and tools, and innovative approaches to policing are all tools contributing to its success.
Lincoln, Nebraska’s capital, is a city of nearly 260,000, surrounded by farmland. “The agriculture around us helps to define the city. We have several co-op elevators around the city,” says Peschong. “We don’t have any suburbs.”
Despite the economic downturn, the city enjoys healthy employment numbers, with the public sector leading the way. Crime is relatively low: about 125,000 calls for service yearly. But the department has only 1.24 LEOs per 1,000 civilians.
As a result, “We rely a lot on tech to help us get our jobs done,” says Peschong.
Get It Out There
Part of what makes the LPD so efficient is its records management system (RMS) that was developed by in-house programmers, which greatly enhances the ability to get necessary information to officers instantly.
“Officers have the ability to read reports, do name searches, view an intelligence report, look at mug shots, etc., from a mobile device—an MDC or a smartphone or a tablet,” says Peschong. “Now, if you get into something and you need to be able to read something or bring up a photo, you have it there.”
For example, there’s a built-in alert system that tags names in the system for warrants, sex offenders, parole and probation. “We also put caution flags on people who have made threats against officers or have shown a history of violence or mental issues,” says Peschong. “When an officer runs a name, it comes up with a cautionary note that might say, for example, ‘OK when on medication.’”
Databases are updated throughout the day. If someone bonds out of jail the night before, for example, the officer will know that after performing a simple name search.
In 2010, after seeing the effectiveness of commercial geo-location services, such as Google Maps, the LPD’s former chief, Tom Casady, sought a similar function for LEOs—an interactive mapping service that could be searched for pinpoint information and which would provide greater layers of relevant detail in an intuitive and unobtrusive way.
To do this, the department partnered with the University of Nebraska and won a grant from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) to make this happen. The collaborative effort included working with the Omega Group and their own in-house programmers. The technology they created—dubbed “P3i”—now serves 75
officers in the department.
P3i interfaces with GPS units to display a real-time Google Map of an officer’s location. The program can display warrants, sex offenders, parolees, probationers, crime types, people wanted on broadcasts and more.
Officers are able to select information that they want displayed on the map or they can choose to see everything that’s been tagged in the database. “This is especially important in areas that might have higher crime and more densely populated areas,” says Peschong. “When everything is activated on all of the available databases, driving down one street can be a challenge [because of all the available information].”
When an icon comes up, the officer can hover over it to get further information. There’s also a hyperlink that will allow the officer to access an offense report or case file, if needed. They can also pull up the information on a broadcast in order to read the specifics or read a crime analysis intelligence flier.
P3i has proved especially effective in dealing with warrants. “At any given time, we have about 7,000 people wanted on arrest warrants,” says Peschong. But because arrests lead to new warrants, the list is constantly changing.
“Before P3i, a beat officer would actually get a list printed out and the officer would study the list and make a contact to see if he could serve the arrest warrant,” says Peschong. “If no one was home they’d move on to another address, reading the list to see where there might be another person on the list that is relatively close. With P3i the officer doesn’t have to waste this time studying any kind of list: Active warrant information is just pushed to his MDC as he drives down a street.”
As of mid-July 2011—just 45 days after its launch—504 contacts, 65 arrests and 92 intelligence reports occurred that otherwise wouldn’t have. Note: If this sounds like a tool you’d be interested in having, it’s commercially available as the Omega Group’s CrimeView NearMe product (www.TheOmegaGroup.com).
With so much information available to officers—and so much invested in procuring that information, as well as the significant costs of fuel and cruisers—Chief Peschong sought to ensure patrol units were running as efficiently as they could.
“I need to see where I can reduce cost and still provide good quality service,” says Peschong. “If this stuff isn’t used, it’s worthless.”
His solution: two-person patrol vehicles on the second and third shifts in each of the city’s five zones, beginning January 2012. One officer is the driver and the other is the “navigator of information.”
“The navigator of information can be continuously working on the MDC,” either in support of the driver or in support of other single-officer vehicles during calls for service. They can also run plates through the system and interact with other officers over the radio.
So far this approach appears to be working effectively. After the launch of the program, an officer emailed the chief: Advantages “have far surpassed [my] expectations. Almost every aspect of our job has become easier, more fun and safer.”
Information and tools traditionally relegated to crime analysts, dispatch and desk-bound detectives are now available to cops in the field. This makes officers safer, as well as more effective and efficient. As a result, officers have embraced the technology which has improved service levels.
Although the LPD has done a lot on its own, it’s also partnered when it makes strategic sense. For example, it works with landlords, building and codes departments, community organizations and local businesses to address crime. It also partnered with the University of Nebraska, the NIJ and the Omega Group to create P3i. At the same time, it maintains its autonomy: Having in-house programmers allows it to alter information technology systems to better suit the department without having to wait on vendors.
Building on a history of innovation, the LPD is committed to evolve as the community requires and to innovate as technology changes. Few departments have collected as much relevant data about their community. Still fewer are able to instantly get that information to where it can make a real difference.