A Discussion of Criminal Justice Issues and Other Things

Saturday, July 31, 2004

Locking Doors

I reviewed a number of reports recently that indicates we still have thieves going around and getting into unlocked cars and garages. I would encourage you not to leave valuables in your vehicles. Right now, it seems like CDs, cell phones and cash are the items of choice. Unfortunately, these folks generally grab everything and dump what they don't want. It is definitely unwise to leave your keys in your car. Most of the vehicles stolen in Northfield are found with the keys still in the ignition.

We have also received reports that we have people traveling to Northfield driving around neighborhoods during the day checking out what is visible in garages where the doors are left open. The thieves then return after dark to help themselves to the contents. Oftentimes the garage doors are still open. Please be sure to lock your garage when you are not actively working in or around it.

A recent interview with an admitted thief caught in the act, revealed that among circles of drug users and car prowlers, this area is a good target to find unlocked vehicles and homes in which to steal items from. The Star Tribune published a recent article about this problem. To read that article, click here.

We are also getting increased reports of identity theft incidents. In many cases, thieves are removing mail from residential mailboxes that individuals have put there with the flag up for the postal carrier to pick up. The flag up on the mailbox is a signal for a potential thief as well as the carrier. We would strongly suggest that you take your mail, especially bills and items that reveal your identity to a U.S. Postal mail box for pickup.

There have been a number of inquiries lately about emails people receive that look like they are from a bank or credit card company. The emails are asking for account information and social security numbers. Your banks, credit card companies, and insurance companies already have your credit information and don't need to have it verified through an email There are also people who have taken a snapshot of the Amazon.com home page and are sending it to people asking them to fill in their information, including credit card information. I can't get a response from Amazon but an examination of the email I got showed it didn't come from Amazon.com, so be careful.

If you have a concern about anything you receive by mail, email or a phone, it is best for you to contact the business directly to determine if they sent you the request. Do not respond to emails just because they look "official." It is quite easy to acquire a web address containing the name of a well known business or financial institution within five minutes on the Internet. These folks establish the site for about 24 hours and then abandon it after they get the information from unsuspecting victims who respond.

On a brighter note I want to remind you that our National Night Out activity will be this Tuesday, August 3rd from 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at the Northfield Safety Center. There will be many representatives present to discuss their programs. We will have crime prevention and Neighborhood Watch information available as well.

I also want to congratulate our Northfield Police Explorers and Sergeant Ted Berg on their successful competition at the National Explorer Conference. I've asked for some photos and information that I'll post as soon as I receive it.

Friday, July 30, 2004


Last night, I was engaged in a conversation with several people when the topic of conversation turned to mentoring. We discussed the importance of providing others the opportunity to learn and grow. We all cited examples of persons who helped us in the development of our law enforcement careers. Since I didn't ask permission to share the names of the individuals I spoke to, I will respect their privacy for now.

Once we all went our way to tend to business, I did think back to those who had an influence early on in my career. Several individuals came to mind and I ask your indulgence as I write a note of appreciation to them here.

I mentioned in an earlier entry that my uncle, Chuck Morgan, spent over thirty years with the Hastings, Nebraska Police Department. I had a number of conversations with him over the years about the issues that faced police officers in the early 1960's. Policing really began to change during that time. I feel that despite the times, many of the officers who worked during the 1960's and 1970's worked hard to change the culture of corruption, bias, and brutality to pave the way toward more responsible policing.

Another individual who comes to mind is Fay Obester. Mr. Obester was a high school English teacher when I attended Grand Island Senior High School in Grand Island, Nebraska. Mr. Obester is responsible for my passion for reading, particularly mystery novels. He is also the person who encouraged me to write about my experiences and feelings. Later, after graduating from high school and working and spending time on the beach on South Padre Island, Texas, Mr. Obester took the time during his vacation to locate me and invite me out for an evening meal. It's amazing how one sentence can change a person's life. Mr. Obester bluntly told me to get off my duff and get back to school. He was a bit more blunt that that..... Well, I took his advice and years later, I realize I owe him much for taking the time and interest to encourage me.

The next individual is someone I've never met in person. Sometime around 1996-1997, I was getting frustrated with the lack of overall progress in moving policing away from traditional policing practices and toward more of a problem solving, community policing philosophy. I found it often difficult to put into practice what I researched and wrote about in the classroom. One particular day, I picked up my recently arrived copy of the Law Enforcement News, a publication of John Jay College. On the front page was an interview with Herman Goldstein. Professor Goldstein has long been associated with problem solving in policing. His books Policing a Free Society and Problem Oriented Policing, changed my philosophy of policing and my life. In the article, Professor Goldstein discussed the changes in policing good and bad. Professor Goldstein's words in Policing a Free Society helped me realize that there had to be a fundamental change in how we as criminal justice practitioners, did our jobs. It required empowering of the community and those in the system who did the job. It forced me to take an honest look at my attitudes and approach to policing. Professor Goldstein's research and words are much of the basis of my approach to policing today. Often when I propose a new initiative or process, internal conversations often ask if the chief's new scheme is a "Herman Goldstein idea." I can think of no greater compliment.

Chief Howard Bacon hired me as a police officer in Grand Island, Nebraska in 1981. He had owned his own business and been a city council member before he joined the police department. The most important thing Chief Bacon conveyed to me was the absolute need for honesty and ethical conduct. He was uncompromising on these issues. He also taught me that regardless of the consequences, you tell it like it is. I often saw him suffer politically and professionally for standing up for what he thought was right but I will always respect his sincerity and honesty.

Gene Watson was the Administrative Division Captain when I started with the Grand Island Police Department. The first words I remember him saying was when he came over during the hiring examinations and told Lieutenant Bernie Shum he decided to drive over to see what kind of stock thought they were good enough to be Grand Island police officers. Captain Watson later became Chief Watson. He is still considered one of the most popular and progressive department heads the city has ever seen. Chief Watson had worked himself through college to get a degree. He promoted education within the department and he allowed many of us to experience various aspects of police administration as line supervisors not commonly found in departments the size of Grand Island. Gene's legacy is the fact that many of us have gone on to be chiefs, sheriffs, and officials of federal law enforcement agencies. Most, if not all of the command staff on the department now was hired or mentored by Chief Watson. Gene pursued excellence and taught me that you had to give respect to get it.

Gary Piel was the Deputy Chief of Police for the Grand Island Police Department in Grand Island, Nebraska when I started there as a patrol officer on January 5, 1981. Chief Piel was the first progressive police administrator I met. He fought to automate the department in the early 1980's and to improve the quality of police reporting and investigations at a time when such activity wasn't really in vogue. The chief and I had plenty of disagreements and I remember how frustrated I used to get when he would respond to my ideas with "Is it something we can afford and what is the long term implications for the department?" Chief Piel provided me the opportunity to learn and encouraged critical thinking and demanded a realistic view of real world public sector operations. Chief Piel went through some tough personal challenges. He never really complained, just kept on going when others would have probably given up. There are few individuals I hold in as high esteem as I do Chief Piel. He taught me that you can argue, and vigorously engage in debate, but when it's all done, someone has to make the decision, popular or not, and take the responsibility for the results. Chief Piel recently retired. Law enforcement in Nebraska is better for his public service.
A good number of Northfield residents recently undertook a challenging project to mentor young people in our community. There was an overwhelming response from the community when the volunteer question was raised. I understand that the willingness for adults to step forward on behalf of our youth has not diminished one bit and our kids are better for it.

Whether you participate in an established program or just live by example, what you do matters. You will never know when that word of encouragement or short time you spend to just listen will make a life changing impact on the future of another person.

I for one am glad for those who spent the time to encourage me. Because of their time and attention, I am able to write these words, put the passion in their meaning and live their legacy.