Morale Killer

Last week, we had a couple of nasty ice days, causing the executives at my employer to reiterate their delay/cancelation policy. Basically, the policy states that the workplace is open unless the governor issues a decree ordering businesses/agencies in the State closed. I don’t work for the government and am supportive of company officials to develop their own policy for inclement weather, but to have a policy that translates into “we are never closing” is questionable. What is even more troublesome is when inclement weather strikes, organization executives seem to all declare that they are working from home for the day.

On Christmas Eve last week, the agency’s parking lot was nothing more than a skating rink and a danger to any employee or guest at the location. The organization’s contractor who treats the large hilly parking lot had not arrived by noon, and no members of management were available to provide direction. Since the governor had not issued any type of closing order (I write that followed by a belly laugh), everyone was on their own. As you can guess in situations like this, morale sinks.

On the topic of morale, I wanted to touch on how managers/police supervisors can be a positive influence with employees. First, a supervisor should see himself/herself as a facilitator. The supervisor’s role is to provide the resources and remove obstacles that permit his/her personnel to be successful. People are motivated to work for different reasons, and it is the supervisor’s job to identify and then provide those incentives for each individual.

One important motivational attribute is that the supervisor, within reason, stands by his/her people. Supporting personnel when upper management or the public question their decisions is respectful and strengthens morale.

For example, as a young patrol officer I was initially given a check on the welfare of a person. Before my arrival, the dispatcher received additional information and asked if it was ok if I “take a number” or close out the call with no further action. I did, was immediately given another call, and forgot about the incident. After the exchange, my supervisor called dispatch via phone, got the information, and went to the location with another officer to verify that the subject involved in the welfare check was all right.

Later in the shift, I met with the sergeant to turn-in paperwork and he told me why checking on the subject was necessary. He said that the dispatcher should not have put me on the spot like that to cancel the call, but in future similar instances I should defer a decision like that to the supervisor. He had called in via phone to the dispatcher so not to embarrass me over the police radio. I appreciated his efforts, and was always motivated to do more when working for him.

In contrast, I worked for one supervisor for a year without him realizing that I was permanently assigned to his district. On the last day of the reporting period, he had to type all of my quarterly and final evaluations for signature and submission. He rated me average in most categories, despite having no knowledge of my actual performance. Needless to say, when I had a choice in the future, I did not work for this supervisor again.

The issue of morale in policing is a common topic. In 2002, an officer in the Detroit Police Department wrote an honest anecdotally-based paper on problems with morale in his agency.

In sum, persons with supervisory responsibility (executive management included) have to motivate their folks, and one sure-fire way of killing morale is to announce that you are “working from home” while everyone else is required to toboggan to the office on dangerous snowy/icy day.

Citizen in Pursuit of the Police?

This story from a couple of years ago was one of the strangest officer reactions to a police situation that I have ever read. I have never heard of another marked law enforcement vehicle being pursued by a citizen through the streets of town as described in the following story.

Even though the involved officer was most likely thinking defensively, I am sure he took some ribbing from his colleagues (like "did you get the suspect to complete an after action pursuit report?"). Mentally unstable people make for many sleepless nights for officers and the general public.

This was printed on 11/17/2006 in the Press Enterprise:

A former Penn State student is again in trouble here, this time for allegedly chasing a police cruiser and threatening an officer.

But Jason "Jay" Bundy, 20, a former student council president candidate in State College, says the chase was only an attempt to get directions that went awry. Bundy was in town to defend himself against charges filed in October, when police say he stole from a Lightstreet minimart and then threw a tantrum in a district judge's office. But Bundy couldn't find his way to District Judge Craig Long's office in Catawissa, he said at an arraignment Thursday. Bundy was driving east on Drinker Street in Fernville around 10:45 a.m. when he saw Hemlock Township Cpl. Scott Traugh's marked cruiser.

"I wanted to speak to him to ask for guidance on how to get to 400 Fisher St. in Catawissa," Bundy told District Judge Ola Stackhouse of Millville.

But Hemlock Police Chief Mike Van Dine said, "He did just about everything that someone who wanted to hurt a police officer would do."

'How does it feel?'

Here's what happened, according to court papers filed by police:

Bundy drove a gold minivan "at a high rate of speed with its four-way flashers activated" toward Traugh, trying to get him to stop. When the officer stopped at the intersection of Drinker and Hemlock streets, the van pulled up next to him. Bundy asked Traugh, "How does it feel being chased?" He then said "Just kidding." But Traugh noted Bundy, a black man, and his van matched the description of a suspect and vehicle from an Oct. 14 robbery in Bloomsburg that involved an assault rifle.

Bloomsburg Police say Bundy is not a suspect in that crime.

But at the time, Traugh did not know "if the operator was going to cause harm to him," according to court papers.

So the officer pulled away and contacted the county 9-1-1 center, telling a dispatcher that he was being pursued by a person who matched the description of the recent robber, papers said. Traugh had not been in a position where he could defend himself if the driver of the car had meant to harm him, Van Dine said. "He was trying to get in a better position."

Chase through town

Traugh drove down Drinker Street to Bloom Street and then crossed a bridge onto Railroad Street into Bloomsburg, court papers say. Bundy followed.

After crossing Main Street, Traugh took Railroad Street to Fifth Street, and Bundy followed at a high rate of speed, police said.

Traugh then took Fifth Street to Market Street. Heading down Market Street in the area of Town Park, Bundy tried to pass Traugh on the right, with his driver's-side window rolled down, papers say.

"If you were trying to shoot a police officer, you wouldn't shoot through a window," VanDine said.

Traugh stayed in front of Bundy's van and swung right onto Fort McClure Boulevard, where Bundy continued to follow Traugh "at an excessive speed," court papers say.

By that time, Bloomsburg and State Police cars had gathered at the end of Fort McClure near its intersection with Route 11. They took Bundy into custody without incident, Van Dine said.

Van Dine said police found a cap gun in Bundy's pocket.

On meds

In court later, Bundy said he had recently been discharged from a 20-day involuntary commitment at Mount Nittany Medical Center.

He said he is on medication for bipolar disorder.

Bundy was arraigned on misdemeanor counts of stalking, terroristic threats and recklessly endangering another person.

He was sent to Columbia County Prison because he did not meet bail, which was set at $25,000.

In a call to his father in a public area of the district judge's office, Bundy pleaded with him to somehow get the bail money together.

"What part of 'I don't want to spend a night in jail for DWB' don't you understand?" Bundy said. "DWB" is a common abbreviation for "driving while black."

What They Don't Remember

In the book Habitation of Dragons, author Keith Miller tells this poignant story:

...It was the middle of night some years back, shortly after I had seriously tried to give God the key to my future. One of our children had called out in the darkness, "Daaaddy" I was surprised since they usually called for their mother. But I got up, stumbled into her room and carried her into the bathroom...

Her head lolled gently to one side and then she would catch herself, but never quite awaken. As I stood there looking at the softness of her face with her eyes closed, and the slightly tousled blond hair, I was filled with the most amazing sense of love and gratitude to God for that little girl. I kissed her gently on the nose and thought, "Some day you and I will remember this time of great closeness." And I could picture us talking about that night when she was a grown girl.

But then I realized that she would never remember this midnight closeness--because she had been asleep the whole time I was holding her. But even though she was asleep and would not remember these moments, my own love for her had in some way filled and changed my life as I had quietly helped her through a long winter night.

As I tucked her back in bed with a kiss, it struck me that in some sense this might be one of the reasons the whole Christian venture is worth it to God, in light of our amazing lack of awareness of His presence. I saw that He has been with me all along, loving me and helping me in the most mundane ways, even during those long nights of doubt when I have been spiritually asleep, oblivious to His presence. But even then, when I might least have been trying to respond to Him, His love for me may in some way have warmed His life... as my love for my little girl did mine. (Paraphrased by Ken Gire)

I need to open my eyes a little wider during my late night kiddo calls because I am missing some powerful moments.

More Free Time in the Immediate Future

With the Buccaneers 31-24 loss to the Raiders this afternoon in Tampa, they were eliminated from playoff consideration. Losing the final four games of the season and then blowing a 10 point lead late in the game against one of the NFL’s worst teams will certainly give us fans lots to feel sick about until the 2009 preseason starts in August. I remember looking at the Vegas line yesterday and laughed about the Bucs being 13 point favorites. Any supporter of the pewter knows that their games are always close—win or lose—and that viewers like me are better off avoiding the stress of the competition by just reading the box scores and watching the highlights after the final score has been tallied.

Though the players, coaching staff, and owner will take shared blame in the team’s poor on-field product, I think their scouting department really let the organization down. On draft day 2008, CB Aquib Talib was wisely selected first. He contributed regularly on defense, and will be a starter next season. Unfortunately, I think the scouts and coaches were too busy high-fiving each other when they realized it was their turn to pick again (2nd round), and all of the good receivers had been taken while they were celebrating. They looked quickly at their prospect depth charge and saw a guy who ran a 4.2 second 40 yard dash. I believe someone must have shouted “Take Jackson—he is fast.” Unfortunately, lots of fast guys don’t make it in the NFL, and the tiny 5’9 Jackson from a non-Division I school did little more than hold a clip board this season after he showed little proficiency in returning punts and was unable to grasp the complicated offense.

The scouting department whiffed again when the Bucs selected a 305 lbs. DT named Dre Moore with the 4th round selection. The coaches were so unimpressed with Moore that they cut him before the first regular season game. To understand how bad someone drafted in the first four rounds must perform to be cut, it should be noted that coaches and general managers are evaluated on how well they add talent through the draft. Teams that are considered well-managed have lots of homegrown players that are acquired in the draft. Good coaches find special players in the draft.

In essence, to be retained as a first through fourth round draft pick, you basically have to complete training camp sober. For some reason, Moore was cut almost immediately. Now, he was resigned to the Bucs practice squad, but he had to be rejected by the 31 other teams in the league before that was allowed. He spent this season holding tackling dummies for the regulars.

In sum, two of the Bucs top four draft choices were non- contributors this year and may even be considered as busts. Two draft picks that should have supplied talented athletes, and would have helped replace some of the injured players lost throughout the long season.

I did take two positives from today’s stinker loss. First, I now have more free time as the Bucs did not really deserve to go to the playoffs anyway. Losing to the Broncos, Falcons, Chargers, Saints, and other questionable teams, made them more of a pretender than a contender. The Cowboys and the Eagles were both much better competition for the NFC playoffs—and the Eagles showed that they belong by winning today. Since I don’t have to look at Buccaneer reports anymore, I can now practice some Spanish, finish those books I started, and even go pound some pavement in the form of running.

Second, it could be worse; I could be a Lion fan celebrating 0 wins and 16 losses, or a Dallas Cowboy fan who watched their team’s soap opera end with a fiery explosion. At least in a few weeks, Buc fans will have forgotten the 2008 season, and are looking forward to the future—not sure the Dallas and Detroit supporters will be in the same mood. Former Buccaneer head coach John McKay who suffered through the NFL’s other losing season in 1976 had one of the best football quotes of all time:

Reporter: What did you think of your team’s execution coach?

Coach: I’m all in favor of it.

Playlands for all ages?

I am still out of town enjoying some oddly warm weather (yesterday it hit 39 degrees—that is shorts weather this time of year), and was surprised to be able to get this post to work from an unfamiliar computer. We took the little ones to a large playland center, allowing them to burn off some energy.

Now, I am very supportive of parents playing with children. Too many times we go to local parks, and watch children trying unsuccessfully to coax their out-of-shape guardians from being glued to a park bench. We have always tried to play as much as possible with our crew. The neighbors think I am just a big little kid (true of course), but I have never been one to be concerned with my status. Anyway, at the playland center there are huge slides, a ball pit, and multiple climbing areas. I have followed both of our little ones through the playland’s many passageways, and even once was chastised by a 9 year old for moving too slow. If you have to assist your little one through the maze and help fend-off older munchkins then that is quite all right with me.

Today at the playland there were lots of adults in the play areas. Yes, I said lots of adults—over 30 year old men and women and all large folks. Some of the big invaders appeared to be playing with kids that were certainly old enough to maneuver the playland without difficulty; while other adults were just, well um, playing with themselves and trying to relive a lost childhood.

Again, I am supportive of parents assisting and playing with young children, but when your idea of entertainment is flopping all 250 lbs of yourself at 55 years old in a kid’s ballpit. You need professional help. Perhaps this blog post from a few years ago contains an innovative idea:

The Play Area just for Adults

Similar to the ones at McDonalds, when you feel you need an escape, [i seem to need to escape frequently] you pop into this play yard, they give you a freshly laundered t-shirt and shorts, and you spend the next 15 minutes or so, swinging, sliding, playing in the ball pit, jumping on the bouncy castle, or just sitting and sucking on your thumb. Then you go shower, put on your business suit, and get back to work, doing whatever you do to make you miserable.

I consider this an innovative idea in that it would allow adults to exercise, but it would also keep their girth out of the children's ball pit...

Merry Christmas and Happy Other Holidays

Words from Longfellow:

...And in despair I bowed my head:
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men."

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

I'll be busy doing Dad stuff for Christmas and not able to post anything new for a few days. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Part II: Caylee Anthony Insights

Note: This is the second of a three part posting on items of interest from the Caylee Anthony investigation.

3. Case Management: When there is an investigation that involves national attention like this one, thousands of tips from the public are generated. When police are contacted via a tipline, a standard form that includes about everything that you can think of is completed. Once the information is taken, it is entered into a database and then forwarded to one of the case's investigators for follow-up--unless it involves exigent circumstances; as those are sent to the agency's call center for response by patrol units. The two primary differences in using a tipline versus calling 911 or the department's non-emergency number are the logging of the call (tipline calls are easier for officers to track and organize) and the response time by police (the follow-up on tipline information is slower as it has additional desks to visit)

High-profile cases that receive lots of tips can quickly become chaotic for administrators. As you can imagine, some information sent to police is from citizens who genuinely believe the tip is valuable—though later it is determined to be unrelated to the case. Unfortunately, many tips are called in from unstable people and/or jokesters that tie-up valuable resources—as all calls need some type of verification. As a result, logging, tracking, and investigating potential leads in the high-visibility cases requires efficiency and organization.

At my old department, I remember the high profile investigation of a serial killer who was responsible for several restaurant murders causing panic in our jurisdiction. Due to the media exposure, my department was inundated with thousands of tips. The volume and tracking became so much of a burden that the chief appointed two sworn non-investigators to develop and implement a modified case management system that could be used to keep pace with the leads. As it turned out, three people had called the tip line and identified the subject who was eventually arrested and convicted of the murders.

Fortunately, that system aided investigators in linking the three separate leads, developing suspect information, and finally matching physical evidence from the crime scenes. As more information on the Anthony case is released, I will be watching to see what type of case system was used to manage the Anthony leads, and if faulty practices led to the water department employee’s calls being lost or not being thoroughly investigated.

One additional thought on the use of the tipline in the Anthony Case. One report listed the reason for not following-up on the water department employee's second call was that an investigator determined that the location described had already been searched, and the information was discarded. Understanding the limitations of even good searches is essential as physical evidence can be missed. Specific information (like a bag) about an area should be viewed as a new lead and investigated thoroughly--not only for the integrity of the case, but in relation to the department's liability as well. Similar missed evidence scenarios occurred in the well-known Chandra Levy investigations, and two cases that I have read much of the information available--the Ray Gricar and Beau Ramsey missing person cases.

In the Gricar case, a shallow waterway was searched by police divers a few times (near where is car was recovered) and considered "clean." Months later, a fisherman found Gricar's laptop submerged in the primary area that had been searched. Again police conducted a limited search and found nothing else. A few weeks later, investigators now with egg-covered faces, were presented with the laptop's missing hard drive--recovered by a boy and his mom skipping rocks a few yards from the area where the laptop had been found.

In the Ramsey investigation, the missing person's motorcycle was found adjacent to a less-traveled road. Despite an unsuccessful yet intensive searches of the wooded areas in the area of the find, a citizen later located the man's decomposed body in heavy brush less than three miles from the location of his recovered motorcycle. In sum, ruling out information based on the "we already looked there" theory has historically been shown to be a risky approach.

I'll post Part III: Caylee Anthony soon, and here is the link to Part I.

Part I: Caylee Anthony Insights

Note: When I finished writing this post, I realized that it was too long. As a result, below is part one and I’ll post parts two and three later.

I have not been a follower of the high profile Caylee Anthony missing person/homicide case (I have researched and thought more on three other cases: Ray Gricar, Brianna Maitland, and Beau Ramsey), but I have read some of the articles related to the investigation. I was sorry that her remains were recovered last week hidden in a bag from a wooded area, less than a half-mile from her grandparent’s residence. Four aspects of the case were particularly puzzling and/or of interest to me:

1. Police Response to the Tipster’s Calls: The circumstances surrounding the city water department employee whose call to police led them to the child’s body hidden in a bag are odd. In his media statement he said that he had called police on three other occasions about the suspicious bag in a wooded area, but the body was not recovered until he made the fourth call. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office is investigating what happened on the” tipster’s” three previous calls.

From the published reports, the tipster called police directly and then indirectly through an information hotline. For the calls to 911 or the police non-emergency line, most likely, a patrol officer would have been dispatched to investigate the suspicious bag. Speaking in probabilities, the officer would have wanted to talk to the person providing the information—so that he could tell him or even show him where the suspicious object was located. The one report stated that the officer could not find the object, and was also unable to locate the tipster.

Unless the information came in anonymously (which I did not get that impression), calls such as this from city employers are given more credence—a water department employee who is frequents a neighborhood is more likely to know what is suspicious and what is not. I am sure that the police were swamped with calls wanting locations checked, but again a city employee describing a bag in a wooded area would be an easy tip to check-out.

I saw one report that trained dogs had been used to search the area based on the report but found nothing. On a second call, a uniformed officer reportedly looked there, but again did not find anything. If the information about the two searches (especially the one using dogs) is true, we are not being provided the whole story. Going back to the tipster’s calls, I cannot imagine searching a wooded area with trained dogs in which the citizen source of the information was not interviewed or not even asked to lead searchers to the suspicious bag.

2. The Tipster’s Actions: If you had enough curiosity to phone the police three times about a suspicious bag, would you not have opened it? I think he did open the bag on the fourth call, but that strikes me as strange—why not on the previous occasions? If police did not have an interest in the item, why not return to the area on your non-working hours to examine the bag’s contents?

Contiuing this line of questions: was the bag clearly visible from the road? If so, why did police not find it on the initial three calls? If it was hidden in the brush, it seems it would be awful tempting to retreive the object yourself--especially if you had concluded that police had searched the area and were not interested in the suspicious bag.

After posting, I found additional information on the tipster's actions and police response. The article states that dogs had been used to search the area previously, and an investigator initially dismissed the water department employee's tip. I am sure additional information will be forthcoming.

Comfort Circle

Yesterday, on an outing simply to get the kids away from the house for a short time, I ran into an old friend. "Donnie" has been a correctional officer for 17 years. Despite the presence of my son's soccer coach who was having a funny conversation with my wife, Donnie and I ignored their talk (Donnie knew them as well) and immediately began catching-up.

Police officers are typically comfortable talking primarily with other officers and those in similar professions (e.g. correctional officers). I think of these relationships as those within a comfort circle. Go to a cookout with officers and other folks, and you will likely see the officers and those they relate with, standing off to the side in private conversations. Donnie and I discussed his senority, shift work, dealing with law-breakers, etc. Despite no longer being an officer, I am comfortable in Donnie's world.

Military men and women have the same sort of social preferences as illustrated by the common site of crowded Legion and VFW halls in American communities. Seeking persons that we can identify with is important. In the book “These Good Men: Friendships Forged from War,”: Mike Norman tells his story as a Vietnam veteran and Marine who went on a quest to reconnect with 11 members of his former platoon that had survived an ambush in 1968. Norman describes the lasting bonds forged among soldiers who have experienced armed conflict:

I now know why men who have been to war yearn to reunite. Not to tell stories or look at old pictures. Not to laugh or weep. Comrades gather because they long to be with the men who once acted their who suffered and sacrificed.....who were stripped raw......right down to their humanity. I did not pick these men. They were delivered by fate and the military. But I know them in a way I know no other men. I have never given anyone such trust. They were willing to guard something more precious than my life. They would have carried my reputation.....the memory of me. It was part of the bargain we all made.....the reason we were so willing to die for one another.

I have always held in high regard those who have served. For some reason, Sundays seem to reinforce this feeling. Perhaps it is a combination of my father being a career Marine (honor God and country) and one poignant scene from the old Jimmy Stewart movie ”Shenandoah.” I am referring to the part where Stewart and what is left of his Virginia family (ironic in that he and his large family had tried to stay neutral during the Civil War, but were drawn into the violence), are singing in church. During the hymn (“Rock of Ages”), his youngest son who had been mistakenly identified as a soldier, captured, and then escaped, limps in through the back of the church. He then walks to his father where emotions take over, and everyone finishes the song.

Today, I'll pray for those people in my comfort circle, and God Bless those who protect our freedoms.

Price is Right Rules

I grew up watching the television game show “The Price is Right.” Airing at 10 am Central Time, my brother and I would enjoy the last watchable show in the summer before the three networks (before cable) tried to immerse us in soap operas for the rest of the afternoon. Since I am now home some with the little ones during the daytime, I have the Price is Right on while I am making them lunch--almost like in the old days.

While enduring a long snow and ice drive home from work yesterday, I enjoyed listening to ESPN Radio fill-in host Erik Kuselias’ funny discussion about the Price is Right. The witty Kurselias’ is a lawyer by trade, but switched careers a few years ago after enjoying sports talk so much. Evidently, a contestant recently guessed the exact price of his Price is Right showcase-—something that has not happened in the 30 years of the program. You can see it here:

Conspiracy theorists are chiming in that the contestant must have cheated to guess such an odd number, but I am more apt to believe that after 30 years and thousands of chances, it was likely to eventually happen.

Anyway, Kuselias discussed how his family uses the phrase “Price is Right Rules” meaning that you are required to guess as close to the actual number as possible without going over for certain discussions or games. He then offered two scenarios when Price is Right Rules apply. First, when your wife asks the question: “Hun, how much do you think I weigh?” This potentially dangerous situation requires a skillful answer that does not (repeat does not) go higher than the actual pound total. Second, he said the rule applies when a woman asks you to guess her age. If she is 40, your guess better not be 41 or above. Guess 35, 25 or 18 years old, but say “50” and you might lose some teeth.

I’ll have to think about other suitable applications for this wise rule. For now, I am going to conduct an exhaustive grid search of our downstairs living quarters in an attempt to recover that illusive television remote control. No location should be deemed impossible--including behind the toilet, in the play dough basket, and behind the sofa.

Declining Homicide Clearance Rates

Blogger extraordinaire Dr. Helen Smith had an interesting discussion as to why the clearance rate of homicides in the United States has declined since the 1960s. The conversation was based on an article that appeared on the PJM website in relation to the recent closure of the Adam Walsh case (murdered young son of TV personality John Walsh). My initial response is listed below:

...I think that your point about less cohesive communities and the reader replies including lack of witnesses, the change in the evidence required to convict (from the 60s to today), and the impact of drugs are all relevant factors.

In the literature, it has been strongly argued that the decline in homicide clearances is due to a host of factors that have altered the contexts of the most common cases. Examining data between 1960-2002, Ken Litwin and Yili Xu's research indicated that primary factors influencing the decline in homicide clearances could be attributed to: 1) significant increase in the number of minority victims (meaning less cooperation from minority communities and/or fewer resources dedicated to solving the cases of the less powerful--depending on your world view), 2) a 196% increase in the number of bodies recovered from vehicles, 3) a 14% increase in cases where firearms were used, and 4) 13% increase in male victims.

Crime writer and blogger Stacy Horn tackled this issue in 2006, and after talking with a number of detectives offered that the retirement of veteran investigators could be contributing to the decline in clearance rates. She also briefly mentions improvements in police reporting practices as a factor--one that I would agree with. For instance, in the 1960s, I believe that many missing persons cases never made it to be classified as homicides--cases that modern forensics teams could have at least established that a crime had been committed and thus labeled the incident as a homicide

Despite differences in the type of crime, research has consistently shown that the availability of quality evidence (duh right?) is the driving factor in case solvability. When thinking about this simple observation, it is important to dissect the factors that comprise evidence. Are witnesses willing to provide police with information? Do police have the resources and want to commit them to developing leads into evidence? How much evidence is immediately available? A host of other questions could be constructed that relate to the amount and quality of evidence generated for homicide cases.

Solving real life crime is not something that is performed in an hour (with commercial breaks) as commonly seen on television--but police should consider innovative approaches and partnerships that could positively impact the percentage of cases that are cleared.

Guaranteed: A Winner Every Time

When I was a police officer, I was commonly asked by friends, family, and even strangers: "so what is the best way to get out of a traffic ticket?" Every officer gets prodded for information of this type by civilians--which is probably one reason why officers usually socialize among themselves. The answer to the ticket question is nothing. No approach is full-proof and will work in all situations. My tactic was usually to reverse the question and reply, "I can tell you with certainty the way to get cited every time--show the officer a bad attitude." This response is guaranteed to produce a "winning" ticket.

Continuing with how attitude can dictate results, I attended a testy meeting yesterday involving two parties pursuing similar projects in the same community. The guy I work with was asked to facilitate the discussion and try to gain common ground among the differing groups. Also in attendance were three elected officials and representatives from a couple of big dollar local foundations. My friend the facilitator did a masterful job in getting the sides to meet again and work together in developing the structure and specifics for a future study, but it was obvious that both sides parties not going to get along in the long-term.

During the meeting, leaders for both sides committed silly errors that weakened their bargaining positions. Rather than recommend successful approaches to obtaining funding, I would rather discuss guaranteed ways not to receive support for a project. Practiced effectively at yesterday's meeting, here are five bumbles to destroy your project idea:

Participate with arrogance : You know everything and the audience is stupid. Describe your plan with this in mind, forget any type of feasibility study, and present your implementation plan. It is ok to admit that your data is not backed by any empirical studies, but you should portray anecdotal information as fact. When others suggest potential reviewers for the concept, accuse them of trying to stall the project.

Embarrass a funding source representative: Discuss the development of your plan and state that it has been hindered by those waffling foundations who committed to funding your idea but then retracted that support without explanation. This is most effective when directors of the funding source are seated across a table from you and are too shocked to respond even after you offer a finger-point for emphasis.

Interrupt frequently: Interrupt individuals speaking who are considered to be powerful. Injecting your disruptive discourse with phrases such as “that is not true” or “you are misleading” will certainly result in some red-faced participants.

Note: The Navajos have a tradition that out of respect for the person speaking, the listener is not only expected to not interrupt, but will wait several long moments after a person has finished talking to make sure they are really done speaking. Now that approach is something worthy of universal consideration.

Refuse to apologize: If accused of not meeting expectations, saying you are sorry is silly. Admitting your mistake is a sign of weakness; even when chastised in an open forum by the public official that provided you with the $30,000 in tax-payer funds.

Stubbornly Refuse Compromise: When the foundation of your proposal has been turned to sand, do not budge on your concept design; even if all of the funders are in favor of alternate approaches. You should continue to argue your approach and even create facts on the spot in attempt to bolster your position. Failing to realize that your original idea is not workable is essential of this approach.

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise. Proverbs 23:15.

Following advice and listening seems to be in short supply in my world. In sum, attitude impacts results whether you are stopped on the highway by a traffic enforcement officer or attempting to convince high rollers that your project is worthy of their funding and support. A bad attitude guarantees that you will be a "winner" every time.

Hijacked by Sociologists

This November’s issue of the Journal of Criminal Justice Education contains an article by Dr. John P. Wright of the University of Cincinnati (and colleagues) decrying the lack of exposure provided to advanced criminal justice students about the biological and genetic findings associated with aggression and violence (Lombroso’s Legacy: The Miseducation of Criminologists). Referred to as the miseducation of criminologists, he places the bulk of the blame for this omission on sociologists who have dominated the field for several decades.

Wright provides three empirically supported reasons for this problem. First, he argues that since the majority of criminal justice and criminology professors are liberal or hold radical views on crime causation which are ideologically opposed to individualist explanations of crime, sociological explanations are more relevant and biological theories are discounted. As a result, he states that the domination of these sociopolitical viewpoints has resulted in a general lack of objectivity among researchers.

Second, he notes that biological theories have been unfairly connected to eugenics and fascism which permit criminologists to ostracize these ideas. Dr. Wright adds that the same uncomfortable standard is ignored regarding the dark history of sociological theories in that they were held strongly by such infamous leaders as Mao and Stalin—leaders who were responsible for the deaths of thousands of people.

Finally, he believes that biological theories are not debated as they should due to the idea that criminologists and sociologists tend to ignore concepts that are considered “dangerous.” Research that attempts to better understand individual and group differences is commonly labeled as racist and/or supporting future attempts by government authorities suppress citizens. Therefore, biological theories should be ignored.

He also includes an entertaining quote from V.L. van de Berghe regarding how sociologists have refused to allow biology and neuroscience to enter their thinking and believes that it is applicable to criminologists as well:

Sociological resistance to biological thinking is in large part trained incompetence…Many sociologists are not merely oblivious to biology; they are militantly and proudly ignorant… Blessed be the biologically ignorant for they shall see the Kingdom of Sociology.

I took a class with Dr. Wright previously, had a few discussions with him, and found him to be one of those fascinating knowledgeable and rebellious types. My guess is that he developed a very strong resolve during his journey in higher education in that he obtained his PhD after coming from a military background—-which is the road less traveled in academia. He is not afraid to stand against the majority, but the odds are certainly against him in his fight to free criminology and criminal justice from the death grip of the sociologist hijackers.

Beyond the Sunset

I admire (and am sometimes jealous of) the work of writers who evoke powerful imagery. The prose of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper telling of a slave mother’s child being sold at auction or the writings of Gordon Rhea (link is to his books list only as I didn’t see a writing sample) describing the Civil War carnage at the “Bloody Angle” left me with vivid and telling impressions of those events.

Songs can have a similar effect. In my reading area, I have a worn paperback written by Kenneth Osbeck entitled “Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions." Osbeck, adept at creating images with words, developed an excellent writing niche by combining two topics of interest—church hymns and history. In the book, Osbeck retells the creation of Virgil Brock’s hymn “Beyond the Sunset.” Brock recounts how he and a group of friends, that included his blind cousin Horace, watched an unusual yet spectacular sunset at Winona Lake, Indiana in 1936:

“…A large area of water appeared ablaze with the glory of God, yet there were threatening storm clouds gathered overhead. Our blind guest excitedly remarked that he had never seen a more beautiful sunset.

“People are always amazed when you talk about seeing,” I told him. “I can see,” Horace replied. “I see through other people’s eyes, and I think I see more; I see beyond the sunset."

The phrase “beyond the sunset” and the striking inflection of his voice struck me so forcibly that I began singing the first few measures. “That’s beautiful,” his wife replied. “Please go to the piano and sing it.”

"...Before the evening meal was finished, all four stanzas had been written and we sang the entire song together.”

This is fourth verse from Brock’s hymn:
"Beyond the sunset, O glad reunion with our dear loved ones who’ve gone before. In that fair homeland we’ll know no parting—beyond the sunset forevermore."

The full lyrics are posted here.

Horace the blind man evidently had the talent as well; he painted pictures with words, albeit spoken. Seeing “beyond the sunset”—now that is an inspiring image…

Marley and Me: The Unpleasant Yankee Version

Sunday morning, I took the little ones to a local university field so that they could expend some energy. It was cold so I had them bundled, but they were still mobile. We apparently had the place to ourselves. The field is surrounded by a small hill that obscures the view of the parking lot.

The gang and I were playing when we heard a dog barking. I turned, looked toward the parking area, and saw a large yellow lab sprinting atop then down the hill toward the two-year old boy. Like a probable scene from the upcoming movie “Marley and Me,” I picked up my son, pushed the little girl behind me, and we quickly moved behind a low wooden platform—one that provided additional spacing between us and the growler. If I needed to protect them, this would at least give me some options.

As the dog closed in on our crew, a man in running clothes followed by two women appeared from the parking lot shouting at the 90+ pounder. The dog stopped, turned and jogged back over the hill, disappearing into the still of the morning. A few moments later, I watched the owner start running with the women and then remove the leash that he had attached and used to pull the dog away from us.

Now, I am a dog lover. We grew up with them, always had one to play with, and I still count my English Springer Spaniel of 13 years (who died in 2006) as my best friend. Sara the Springer loved people and I learned my lesson about not paying full attention to her at a park. One time, she was not leashed and found a hiker on our favorite trail that she decided needed a cheer-up hug--complete with two muddy paws to the stomach. After apologizing profusely, I became a better dog owner.

After yesterday's incident, it struck me as odd that the lab’s owner never attempted to apologize for his lack of responsibility in letting the dog run at us. His pooch scared some little kids, but instead asking for forgiveness, he just walked away. No sorry, or not even a wave to serve as a half-hearted apology. Nothing. It would not have been hard to put the dog in his car (parked in the lot) or let one of the women hold the leash, while he walked over the hill, and said that he was sorry for the scare. I certainly would have at least done that, but maybe I expect too much from others.

Then, I remember that I am up North now where people are just different. Exchanges from people as the one I would have hoped to experience don't seem to happen around here. When we first moved in, I remember meeting a transplanted NYC native who lived in our neighborhood. After talking with him a few times, he said to me: “you know I hate it when people I don’t know say hello to me. If I already know them it is ok—-but why would strangers want to greet me? I don’t want to talk to them." I was dumbfounded. I guess yesterday’s labrador incident serves to once again reinforce the obvious—-“Ok, I am definitely no longer in Tennessee or Arkansas.”

This is where I end with Colossians 3:13: "Forgive as the Lord forgave you." Right????

50 Lousy Gifts for NFL fans

The Sports Guy's newest article discusses 50 of the worst Christmas presents for NFL fans. Here are my two favorites:

14. Brandon in Newton, Mass.: "What Bears fan wouldn't get excited over this signed Rex Grossman action photo for $178.99? Check out that beautiful short-arm throw! I wonder which team caught that beauty."

2. This nearly made the No. 1 slot and probably should have: It's a throwback Jim Brown Cleveland jersey, only it's part of the "women's premier" collection, which means it's a jersey specifically designed for women to wear. Can you think of a more appalling gift for a girlfriend or wife than the throwback jersey of Jim Brown, the guy with a history of domestic abuse charges and making demeaning comments against women? I certainly can't. No wonder it's on sale. Too bad they can't sell this with an "Ike Turner's Greatest Hits" CD..

The Current Reading List

Here are the books on my current read list:

Irrational Atheist: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens, Vox Day
Bucknell graduate, Christian, and Libertarian, Day challenges the arguments of prominent atheists. With his other writings and different from those labeling themselves as Christians, Day uses an aggressive approach when expressing an informed opinion that is unapologetic, sometimes offensive, but very entertaining. For example, after studying the history of war, he is able to refute the common atheist argument that religion is responsible for the vast majority of war--he estimates that less than 5% of the conflicts between nations/peoples can be attributed to believers (of any faith). From a synopsis:

While other religious apologetics have challenged atheism on theological or biblical grounds, this book fights fire with fire, disproving the scholars' logic through modern, secular reason. Rigorously documented and supported by hard factual data, this careful analysis is critical reading for any religious person seeking to rebut the assertions of new atheists and essential information for any open-minded atheist who wants his beliefs to stand on firm ground...

The Shape Shifter, Tony Hillerman
This is the last of Hillerman’s novel mystery series set (#18 I think) in the Navajo Nation. I don't read too many mysteries or police fiction, but I finished many of Hillerman's fiction (as well as some of non-fiction). I have enjoyed Hillerman’s style—focusing on good character and story development, as opposed to explosions, gun battles, and car chases. I was sorry to see that Hillerman, a decorated WWII veteran, had died a few months ago. The series books are easy reads, and I am about 30 pages into this one.

Into the Kill Zone: A Cops Eye View of Deadly Force, David Klinger
I interviewed Dr. Klinger for a project last summer, was impressed with his knowledge and critical thinking skills, but have not read this book. I have enjoyed his scholarly writing, as he has published what I consider innovative works. To his credit, he has the rare insight as a police practioner and an academician--aka the professor who has experienced the field he is is studying. From a posted synopsis:

Klinger presents the stories of other officers who have visited The Kill Zone to tell the reader what it’s like: the female cop who is overcome with remorse after shooting an assailant who turned out to be unarmed, the SWAT team member who has only one narrow shot at a robber holding two kids and their mother as human shields, the off-duty officer who engaged in a wild courthouse shoot-out with a man who looked just like his father, and many other intensely dramatic, beautifully told episodes that convey what officers experience before, during, and after gunfights.

Into the Kill Zone presents an original point of view about one of the most intriguing, controversial, and poorly understood aspects of American society...

Running for My Life : My Journey in the Game of Football and Beyond, Warrick Dunn and Don Yaeger
I discuss the book and Dunn’s life in this post.

Note: It is me and the little ones on solo this weekend as the Mrs. and the older boy went to NYC. This means lots of Dad time for the kids, and translates into lots of caffenine for Dad...

Hunting for Treasure

Writer Deb Barnes of Hugo, MN recently posted a humorous article on one of our family's favorite pastimes, here is an excerpt:

For the Neri kids, a visit to grandma Jerrie and grandpa Russ’s place in Hugo has taken on a whole new attraction since August. Chutes and Ladders? Uncle Wiggly? Dominoes? Nope. Three months ago, the grandparents took up treasure hunting, and things will never be the same again. “It’s a delight to have an activity we can all be active in,” says Jennifer Neri. “The kids like it as much as [they do]!”

“My grandma never did this with me!” exclaims Jennifer’s mom, Jerrie Daly, a recent retiree who—like many other kids of all ages around the world—is completely sold on geocaching. Touted as “The sport where you are the search engine,” geocaching could be the best antidote to couch-potato grandkids since Twister...

Three years ago a guy from work introduced me to the hobby of geocaching. "Treasure box hunting" as my older son likes to refer to it, has provided motivation for our family to get outside and explore our surroundings--whether at home or visiting elsewhere. All that is needed to geocache is a handheld GPS unit, coordinates for a cache (posted free online), and the spirit of an adventurer.

First, you look online at sites like Geocaching Website, and obtain the longitude and latitude for some of the hides in your area. Next, enter the coordinates in your GPS and then you are then ready to search for the treasure. Ok, so treasure is maybe a bit misleading in that the caches with hidden containers (some are just virtual) could be anything from a small sheet of paper rolled into a test tube to trinkets hidden in a shoe box-sized container. Once a cache is located, the finder(s) is then permitted take a trinket from the box, as long as something is left in return.

Treasure boxes are hidden worldwide and can be found in forests, urban areas, and even underwater. The older kid loves geocaching and it has allowed us to spend quality time together while discovering trails and other hidden areas close to our residence that we never knew existed (only one local police encounter for us).

I also have a cache that I hid in cooperation with a local historical society that wanted to increase a site's visibility and attract new visitors (near where the photo at the top of this post was taken). In the first 6 months after planting the cache for them, more than 50 individual seekers and families from near and far reported finding it. As Ms. Barnes states, the hobby is an excellent way to involve families in outdoor exercise and reduce couch-potatoism.

Unfortunately, for Hugo, MN this morning, it is a balmy negative eight degrees...

Impressed by...The Wiggles?

Ok, having young kids (among other things) means surrendering any time that you previously spent watching things that you wanted to view on TV in favor of suffering through children's programming. Needless to say, I endure more Barney, Elmo, and Pooh than any current programs geared to persons over the age of 7. After some recent channel surfing and failing to find much worthwhile, I have concluded that I am not missing anything anyway other than my ability to engage in conservations about the entertainment industry.

One group of children's entertainers that I have been impressed with are Australia's singing and dancing guys, The Wiggles. Yes, I have put aside my hurt feelings from their manager's failure to recognize my musical performance talent and refusing to allow me to join these performers as a back-up dancer. Confession: Ok, so my dancing is laughable, and I hesitate to remember not so long ago practicing a dance step nightly in the bathroom where no one could see me so that I would not embarrass my wife during the bride-groom dance at our wedding. Nevertheless, the Wiggles music is a big hit with the young ones. They will jump, skip, hop and dance and scream for more of these Wiggle characters. Seeing our crew of 4 (5 when mom gets stuck playing) play their version of musical chairs with pillows and watching little bodies diving everywhere "when the music stops" is quite a sight.

I am impressed with the Wiggles' style: camera close-ups, catchy song selections, simple dance moves, and character attributes that resonate with children (e.g. Jeff the sleeping guy, Murray the rock guitarist, etc.). My respect for the Wiggles was reinforced when I saw that they had performed the traditional version of "Dry Bones" for a recent video release. The song's newer versions, remove references to God, and are commonly used today to teach children anatomy. The original lyrics are based on Ezekiel 37:1-14 and the prophet Ezekiel's vision of the "Valley of Dry Bones":

Ezekiel cried, "Dem dry bones!"
Ezekiel cried, "Dem dry bones!"
Ezekiel cried, "Dem dry bones!"
"Oh, hear the word of the Lord."

Standing up for what one believes in can be difficult. Steve Wiggins, lead singer of the now disbanded musical group Big Tent Revival, once described being a Christian in a public school as the ultimate display of unconformity. He said that practicing your Christian faith in a worldly setting like at school will most likely result in a student being ostracized and considered an outcast--even more than the young people labeled as rebellious who sport all black and wear trench coats year-round.

The Wiggles and their producers could have selected the traditional version minus the "Lord" references, but they did not. They could have omitted references to God and Jesus Christ in their Christmas episode and presented being a Christian as simply one of many options (as a holiday episode of Sesame Street did), but they did not.

Taking a stand in the face of adversity to promote the Kingdom: impressive and earns respect from me every time.

A Peterson Punch

I consider the writings of Pastor Eugene Peterson as my personal punch in the stomach. He has the unique ability to call myself and others on accepted and seemingly harmless behaviors that make little sense when considering God's plan for each of our lives. In the book "Living the Message" he writes this under the caption "An Odd Phenomenon":

The puzzle is why so many people live so badly. Not so wickedly, but so inanely. Not so cruelly, but so stupidly. There's little to admire and less to imitate in the people who are prominent in our culture. We have celebrities, but not saints. Famous entertainers amuse a nation of bored insomniacs. Infamous criminals act out the aggressions of timid conformists. Petulant and spoiled athletes play games vicariously for lazy and apathetic spectators. People aimless and bored amuse themselves with trivia and trash. Neither the adventure of goodness nor the pursuit of righteousness get headlines...

No other culture has been as eager to reward either nonsense or wickedness.

Nothing like a good body punch to take the wind out of my lungs. I enter a plea guilty to celebrating stupidity with the masses---must get to work on changing...

Monday Night Football and Forgiveness

I did some work last night while watching my Buccaneers get pummeled by the Panthers on Monday Night Football. Unfortunately, with the general public’s thirst for dirt on athletes and celebrities, many of the good works performed by these professionals goes unnoticed. This year the Bucs resigned a hometown favorite (from his previous time with the team) in Warrick Dunn. Not only is Dunn recognized as a good running back who has 12 years in the NFL, Dunn is also considered one of league’s most inspirational individuals.

While being raised in a single-parent home, his mother (the single parent and a police officer in Louisiana) was shot and killed during a robbery while he was in high school. With no other relative able to help with all the children, two days after his 18th birthday, Dunn was awarded full custody of his five younger brothers and sisters. Despite the burden placed on him at an early age, he went on to star in football at Florida St. and kept the family intact—-always providing for the needs of his younger siblings. He continued to be successful professionally in Tampa Bay and Atlanta. In 1997, he established the Warrick Dunn Foundation that has since built 81 new homes for single parents. He has made it a priority in his life to help others in need.

He recently released a book that describes his life, battles with depression, and the struggle that he went through in meeting and forgiving the convicted murderers of his mom—-now in a Louisiana prison. Writer Gary Shelton described Dunn’s 2007 visit to the prison:

Men come to The Farm for a lot of reasons, most of them evil. They come because of murder or malice, because of violence or brutality. Many of them come here to die. As for the man with the wounded soul, he had come to find peace. Warrick Dunn stood in front of the barbed wire of Angola Prison in St. Francisville, La., his emotions swirling within him. There was fresh anger and familiar pain and the twisted knot of anticipation. In some ways, he was 18 again, and once more, his heart had just been ripped from his chest.

It was Oct. 29, six weeks ago, and Dunn had come to face his demon. After all this time, Dunn had come to confront the man who murdered his mother. "It wasn't something that I wanted to do," Dunn said quietly. "It was something I needed to do." For more than an hour, Dunn talked to convicted killer Kevan Brumfield about their lives since Jan. 7, 1993, the night when Brumfield and Henri Broadway ambushed and killed police officer Betty Smothers, Dunn's mother, as she drove a grocery store manager to the bank to make a night deposit. For Dunn, now 32, it was almost half of his life ago. Still, he has never fully recovered…

"We just sat down and talked like two men," Dunn said. "It's hard to describe the emotions. We've all been through things and been hurt. We all could say, 'I wouldn't have been able to do it,' or, 'I wouldn't be strong enough to do it.' But sometimes, you don't know what you can do. That's just human nature. I've had a lot of people tell me, 'I would go crazy. I would lose my mind.' But you don't know what you would do unless you've been in my situation…I don't hate him anymore," Dunn said. "I've moved on. I'm in a better place."

I'll have to add Dunn's book to my future reading list, and learn more about his journey of forgiveness. Forgiving someone is never easy, even in the most difficult circumstances as illustrated by Dunn’s inspirational story. Fortunately, as a Christian, I believe that I have been provided with the perfect model of forgiveness displayed by Jesus Christ.

A final note on the game: Despite the consistently good play by the Buccaneers defense over the last 12 years, the game plan to beat them remains the same: establish a physical running game that features big backs mixed with speed backs running between the tackles. The Bucs have always favored undersized defensive players with lots of speed. Their strategy is to force teams into obvious passing situations--where they can rush 4 speed lineman, pressure the quarterback, and capitalize on having fast guys making plays in the zone pass coverage. When the Panthers were able to pound the running game inside, the fast guys got a little tired, and the secondary began cheating up to help with run support-—making the defense vulnerable for the big play. Hence, the Panthers had big running numbers, made several long pass completions, and easily tallied 38 points on the Bucs beloved defense.

The "Atta Boy" and the "Atta Girl"

I believe that if I used the term "atta boy/girl" in the presence of my Northern counterparts, I would be met with blank stares. Through not as dumbfounding as the Southern term as "jeet?" (translation: did you eat (yet)?), this phrase meaning "being recognized for doing a good job" is definitely not heard above the State of Kentucky. Anyway, I am firm believer in providing frequent yet meaningful "atta boys/atta girls" where possible--having experienced the positive impact that they can have in my own life.

Giving a family member, friend, or stranger an "atta boy/girl" through a simple email, note, card, or other form is almost always unexpected yet meaningful to the recipient. I remember when I wrote an appreciation note to the organist of the church that I was attending a few years ago. I was relatively new to the area, having just moved from Oklahoma to take my first real job in Tennessee as a happy 21 year old. I sent her a card thanking her for an excellent piano rendition of a Bach piece performed during a Sunday service. After church the following week, she thanked me repeatedly and said that the card "was a joy" during what had evidently been a difficult month for her. For my 8 year stay in TN, she always made a point to check with me regarding how things were going and offering me encouragement--she never forgot my thank you.

My wife, a professor, recently recieved a welcome "atta girl." With the end of the fall semester approaching, life for all students and faculty is certainly hectic. To complicate matters, she is juggling a few grant applications while still doing a fantastic job as a mom. One student sent her an email a few days ago describing how my wife's class was instrumental in helping the student with some life changing decisions that the she had recently made. In the long email, the student stated that after an abusive childhood, and a tenuous relationship with her mom and step-dad, she was making a concerted effort to be a positive influence in her family; especially, with her little brother. My wife's comment was: "This is why I do what I do."

Two of the last "atta-boys" that I received were fantastic as well. A few years ago, after moving North, one of my coworkers from the TN job sent me a letter that actually contained two "good job" notes. One was from a lawyer in the DA's office, that congratulated me on a successful auto theft case that was prosecuted involving juveniles. i had made the intial stop of like 10 juveniles crammed into a van at 3 am on a summer morning, and it took days to verify that the vehicle had actually been stolen (the owners were on an extended vacation). The owner was sad the incident had occured, but was thankful no one was hurt. The second note was from a woman thanking us for the kindness shown to her when she had discovered that her elderly mother had committed suicide. Unfortunately, I only had a vague memory of the call, but do remember several officers on the scene listening to her and providing support during a difficult time (ironically, as I wrote this part, I received a Christmas card in the mail from one of the officers on the scene that day who is now a K-9 sergeant). Regardless, it was nice to be thanked.

Though I prefer sending written "attas" I did receieve a verbal good job a few months ago that was special. I was dropping my oldest son off at a gym class and was carrying the twins--the 40 lbs. in the right arm and the 30 lbs girl in the left arm (my days of being a wanna-be-body-builder are ancient history). When I got to the buildings double-doors, I used my special move--pull the door handle open with one of my fingers, catch it with my foot, use my elbow to fling the door wide, and then quickly move into the open passageway. I repeated this process through the second door while holding the little ones--which was a little more complex as the 40 lbs kiddo decided to turn and look at something. When I got inside, a mom who watched the entire comic routine, glared at me and said "Oh, you're good." Thus, I received the verbal "atta" for my fatherly door-opening abilities with a boyish grin.

The New Testament verse 1 Thessalonians 5:11 offers this direction: Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. "Attas" are not something that I do nearly enough, and have made a committment today to identify more opportunities to use this effective form of compliment.

A Reminder of the Daily Blessings

Tom Westfall relates this insight from his adventures in artifact collecting:

It seems like there are times when our children are small and having a bad day that we feel like they will never grow up and we yearn for peace and quiet. About the next time we turn around, however, we’re seeing them off to college, walking them down the aisle, or helping them move into their very first home. The house is suddenly quiet, and the tire swing in the backyard swaying in the gentle breeze serves as a silent monument to days gone by.

As I sit among the thousands of artifacts in my “museum room” a particular piece will catch my eye and I often spend a moment reflecting upon its discovery. In the corner of the case from 1982, I look at a small, white corner notched point. It is perfect, and as I open the display case and pick it up, I am reminded of a little girl just four years old wanting to look for arrowheads with her dad. The day is much too cold and she is much too small, but she is so insistent and so there we were, leaving the warmth and comfort of the car and trudging up the slope of a winter wheat field. I’m smiling at the memory of that tiny but determined little girl, bundled in a bright blue snowsuit with attached mittens, fighting the biting wind as we made our way to the blown spot on “Arrowhead County,” one of our favorite hills.

Even I was feeling the sting of the wind that day and I figured we wouldn’t be out more than ten or fifteen minutes before she was ready to go. The wind was blowing hard enough that we really couldn’t talk, and we drifted across the eroded area, never separated by more than about 30 feet. Suddenly I heard her call that she had found an arrowhead, and I saw her bending over (the best that one can bend in a snowsuit). I arrived as she was trying to pick up the point but her mittens were those slick vinyl things and it was just cold enough that they didn’t want to bend. It took us several minutes to get her hand free from those bulky mittens, but she was determined to pick that point up on her own. Perhaps that’s the same spirit she demonstrates today in medical school as she pursues her dream of becoming a doctor.

It is good for me to be reminded of the blessings in each day. Especially when I fail to recognize that this is a unique time for my family. Despite the trying schedules and keeping pace with the seemingly endless energy displayed by our three little ones, they will never be this age again. Sometime in the near future, I'll be staring at the little treasures that we as a family have accumulated during our hiking excursions--the fossils, semi-precious stones (we call them gems), and other "artifacts"--and be thankful for this special time that I experienced as a father.

Death by Chainsaw?

I was scanning through criminal justice journal articles on Monday, and this abstract jumped off the page at me:

A 32-year-old Asian woman with a significant medical history of major depression and schizophrenia who had been under treatment for 10 years committed suicide by an ingenious use of a chainsaw. She was found dead in her apartment where she lived alone. She was an engineer, but had shown no apparent interest in power tools. She designed an efficient and complex system for committing suicide. She put her head under a structure composed of pulleys and bags filled with full water bottles in order to weigh down the chainsaw.

The chainsaw rested at the upper part of the structure on two horizontal wood boards sandwiched tightly between two other vertical wood boards in order to guide the chainsaw and avoid vibration and motion. The entire structure was approximately 1.5 m high. The chainsaw was positioned to slide slowly due to the pulleys and elastics fixed with clinched nails on the floor. Measurements had been made to ensure that the joints were square and the beams parallel. An electric command switch on the chainsaw was found in the right hand of the deceased. It allowed the chainsaw to cut the two horizontal wood planks and slide down the structure in a controlled manner. The deceased laid face down on the floor, and the chainsaw cut through her cervical spine and spinal cord...

From: Journal of Forensics (SEP 2008) “Unusual Suicide with a Chainsaw”

Recently in the media, there was a guy who created a suicide machine and used it while sitting in his driveway--I don't remember the details, but think it involved a firearm or explosives. Anecdotally, most of the folks threatening to kill themselves that I dealt with were attention seekers. Rarely would we respond to a situation like this, and I can't remember a suicidal person call that compares to the innovation used here.

Changing Pardigms: Using Citizen Teams to Assist Police in Cold Cases

In relation to crime solving, the Internet has provided the police and families of the victims a valuable outlet to distribute information about on-going investigations. In combination with this powerful tool, laypersons interested in a variety of criminal cases, especially those involving missing persons and homicides, can learn much of the details regarding specific crimes. Based on experience in the field, my personal opinion is that police departments could benefit from the brainstorming and other potential contributions by groups of diverse yet dedicated citizens. Obviously, only certain cases could be examined and the selection and work of these groups would needed to be strictly controlled.

In contrast, I am not an advocate of bringing some of the rabid CSI fans together for chats and thinking that police investigators will glean useful information that was used to crack the case in season 4, episode 7. I would also argue that students at Bauder College conducting an investigation into the Chandra Levy case or any of the other celebrity cases that they select is little more than an opportunity for free publicity, and that untrained investigators interviewing witnesses could certainly hinder the future of those investigations.

What I do champion is to identify intelligent free-thinkers from a variety of professional backgrounds, develop them into a working group, and provide them with details about certain cold cases. The group would then engage each other in discussions, work with the investigators to conduct necessary follow-ups, and generate potential new directions for the case. I believe that such a group could help investigators to think "out of the box" and potentially assist in closing some current cases. The DOE Network is an example of the good work being done to assist police in missing persons investigations. Citizen Todd Mathews' dedicated work to identify "The Tent Girl" represents the potential that citizen participation in cases can produce The Tent Girl. Even though police do not like to discuss it, psychics are also consulted for certain cases. I think my idea is somewhere between the forensic lead chasing that the DOE performs, and a more practical version of the services performed by fortune-tellers.

In any event, I'll be discussing three intriguing and current criminal cases in future posts that have generated much interest from the media and Internet users: 1) Brianna Maitland; 2) Ray Gricar; and 3) Beau Ramsey...


My friend and I have been competing against each other by picking college and NFL underdogs (straight up, points awarded are based on the midweek line) for about 10 years. We worked together as police officers and he has since moved up the chain of command quickly, while I moved away and changed careers. Calling them "Stupid Underdog Picks" and playing for food, I have lost the last three or so years in a row--ever since the contest was decided by the last bowl game of the season and Reggie Bush and company bumbled away that second-half lead in the national championship.

This year, my strategy was to look for short term trends and spend much less time analyzing and essentially over-analyzing games. Early in the season, the Thursday night underdog won multiple times and I was fortunate enough to jump on that bandwagon and get some wins early. I have built my lead to "need a miracle" level and am enjoying inflicting suffering on this high ranking officer for his previous trash talk.

From our competition, if you can beat the line straight-up 30% of the time, you are doing well. It has helped that his 2008 winning percentage is paltry, but the percentage has been skewed by the high number of longshots he has taken for the last month to try and catch me. This should be the last week of his torment , but I am enjoying the retribution it immensely.

Guns and Conflicting Crime Control Approaches

Interesting contrast in the news this week regarding how best to control violent crime in urban areas. New York City's solution, as promoted in the recent arrest of NY Giants player Plaxico Burress, was to advocate for a statewide mandatory sentencing law for persons caught with an unlicensed firearm. An opposite approach was recently voiced by St. Louis Alderman Charles Quincy Troupe who supports citizens arming themselves: Citizens Protect Yourselves.

A police chief is quoted in the KC article that more citizens with guns leads to increases in violence. I am not sure there is enough unbiased (the majority being sponsored by anti-gun groups) research available to comprehend the long-term impact on crime of either approach. Personally, I would rather be armed when violence erupts versus earning the right to be the first voice to complain about the legal failures of mandatory sentencing.