How a Nebraska police chief has leveraged technology and predictive policing to decrease crime
Chief Philip Lukens has a simple goal: Allow computers to do computer work and humans to do human work
As an independent consultant and police/public policy researcher, I am privileged to interview amazing police leaders from across the country for various projects.
While researching trends in police training, I met several chiefs and sheriffs whose creative minds and innovative spirits caught my attention. These dynamic leaders are implementing meaningful change within their departments and communities, and they are seeing tangible results. The most impressive part is that many of them are operating on shoestring budgets, which makes their creativity and motivation even more valuable.
I am honored to showcase these leaders in this multi-article series titled “Pioneers in Policing: Innovative Approaches in Law Enforcement Leadership.”
When Philip Lukens became chief of police in Alliance, Nebraska in December 2020, he faced an uphill battle: low case clearance rates, a 50% staffing shortage, a city ranked number six on the top 10 worst cities in Nebraska and a severely limited budget.
He wanted to implement changes to improve how his officers operated and to redefine public safety for his community. These changes required creativity, innovation and leadership, and Chief Lukens was the right person for the job.
Chief Lukens’ goals seemed simple:
- He wanted more people to call the police to report crime. He believes all crime should be considered high priority, as even property crimes affect UCR rates and public safety sentiment. He wanted residents to feel safe in their communities and comfortable calling the police for assistance. He thought of his own mother and asked himself, “Would this experience pass my mom’s test?” This simply meant, that if his own mother needed to call the police in his community, would she have a positive experience?
- He wanted to make life easier for everyone in his department by leveraging resources and technology that would allow computers to do computer work and humans to do human work.
Chief Lukens brought his entire department together to choose the department’s mission, vision and values, ensuring all officers were operating from the same founding principles. The mission the team chose is to “Serve our community by protecting all” and their vision is “Leadership through dedication of service.” To execute the mission and vision, the team chose the following values to guide their daily thoughts and actions: Excellence, Professionalism, Integrity and Compassion (EPIC).
Once the founding principles were established, Chief Lukens looked to technology and artificial intelligence to automate time-consuming processes and put officers back out into the community.
Technology and predictive policing
The Alliance Police Department uses CentralSquare’s Record Management System (RMS). Chief Lukens immediately saw the potential for add-ons.
1. Non-arrest pathways to treatment
He partnered with the Police Assisted Addiction & Recovery Initiative (PAARI) to help create non-arrest pathways to treatment for citizens struggling with substance abuse. After any dispatch calls involving substance use, the RMS automatically forwards the dispatch report to members of the PAARI network who then reach out to the citizen to offer resources like treatment, employment assistance, or financial guidance.
2. Community volunteer coordinators
For non-chemical-dependency calls, such as car theft, Chief Lukens implemented the Volunteers in Policing (VIPS) program. Similar to PAARI, an arrest report is automatically emailed to community volunteer coordinators who reach out to offer support, guidance and resources to help citizens avoid jail and solve the root cause of their issues.
3. Officer safety
Chief Lukens knew he needed better visibility of his officers in the field and coverage areas, so he incorporated Intrepid, an app that tracks officers’ cell phone location versus vehicle location. By tracking cell phones, dispatch, administrators and other police can locate officers even when they are away from their vehicles, enhancing officer safety. This technology also allows Chief Lukens to view a map to determine which areas have adequate coverage and which need additional officers. He can park decoy vehicles in “hot spots” and even program “ghost calls” in advance that dispatch officers to specific locations for added patrol coverage.
4. Measure community sentiment
To gauge community sentiment and build trust with citizens, Chief Lukens paired with Know Your Force, a company that gauges feedback on individual officers as well as calls for service. Officers distribute business cards with unique QR codes to citizens they engage with. After the interaction, that citizen can scan the code and provide feedback. The caller also receives an SMS message offering them the same opportunity to offer feedback on the experience. This service is connected to the RMS, which automatically generates a daily report of feedback, affording officers an opportunity to reach out to citizens to correct situations or misunderstandings.
The introduction of Know Your Force led to immediate behavioral changes among officers, and Chief Lukens believes this service is just as valuable of a tool for police as handcuffs. Officers now compete with one another for positive ratings or compliments, and Chief Lukens is developing a reward system to ensure officers receive the credit they deserve.
5. Bodycam footage automation
One crucial area Chief Lukens knew he needed to automate was body camera footage. He uses software from CentralSquare, paired with an add-on called Attorney Client Portal, to automatically bundle and send case reports to county attorneys. CentralSquare also offers a Digital Evidence Management System (DEMS) that makes body camera footage automatically available to prosecutors. For these systems to work properly, Chief Lukens needed to replace the system that required officers to physically upload camera footage and instead implement a cloud-based system that offered direct upload to the cloud, which he found via Visual Labs. Bodycam footage is now uploaded to the cloud within minutes, and from there, software called Vollee automatically dictates the footage, providing officers with a written transcript they can simply copy/paste into their report.
6. Augmented intelligence
Here’s where things really get interesting. Using an augmented predictive intelligence platform called Metis, Alliance Police Department officers can enter components of a crime (like “burglary suspect June 15”) and receive a list of potential suspects. Metis integrates with and spools data from all systems: the RMS, ALPR (license plate reader), dictation software, HALO cameras, etc. The system then offers officers insights to make educated decisions, identify emerging threats and minimize future risks.
Chief Lukens’ technology and predictive policing initiatives are lowering crime rates and allowing officers to focus more on community engagement. His department is so short-staffed that, currently, all officers are patrol officers and he has no detective division. Yet, through his technological advancements, case clearance rates are higher now than when he had detectives. And as case clearance rates are increasing, crime rates are decreasing. There has been a 30% drop in crime since 2022. From 2021 to 2022, crimes against persons dropped 20%, and since 2022 have dropped an additional 30%.
Too good to be true? You can see for yourself. All department statistics are displayed on a dashboard on the Alliance Police Department website, along with the department’s Know Your Force score (currently 91%). Along with these improvements, in March 2023, Alliance was named one of the top 10 safest cities in Nebraska.
These tech initiatives have helped Chief Lukens to achieve his goal of using AI on the back end to be more human-focused on the front end. His officers are now less busy with reports and tedious work, so they’re able to spend more time visible in the community. Crime is down, case clearances are up, and the community holds positive sentiment toward their police.
Nothing more to do, right? Not for Chief Lukens. He continues to search for new and improved technology to enhance law enforcement and allow humans to do human work while computers handle the rest.
About Chief Philip Lukens
Chief Philip Lukens began his policing career in 1995. Both the Chief and the Alliance Police Department have been widely recognized for innovative and creative policing initiatives. The Alliance Police Department received CALEA accreditation on July 29, and Chief Lukens was recently selected as a member of the 2023 National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Law Enforcement Advancing Data and Science (LEADS) program cohort. He remains committed to evidence-based, human-centered policing.
Since the writing of this article, Chief Philip Lukens has departed from the Alliance Police Department, but his indelible legacy continues to resonate within the department’s culture and operations. During his tenure, Chief Lukens exhibited unwavering dedication to the principles of community policing, emphasizing trust, transparency and collaboration between law enforcement and the residents they serve. His innovative approaches to crime reduction, officer training and community engagement have left an enduring mark, shaping the department’s ethos for years to come. Chief Lukens’ commitment to excellence in policing lingers on, inspiring both current and future officers to uphold the high standards he set, ensuring a safer and more connected Alliance community. Chief Lukens is available for consulting and can be reached through LinkedIn.