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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Police Round-Up - By The Numbers Edition: A Chat with FTPD Lt. Ken Fecher

Each week, we at FTM bring you the latest breaking news coming out of the Fort Thomas Police Department. Part of those weekly updates are the previous week's "Dispatch Numbers," a breakdown of the kinds of calls that go through Campbell County Police Dispatch for Fort Thomas Police. These are some of the same statistics the FTPD lists in its annual report, and these weekly reports are provided to FTM upon request through Campbell County Police Dispatch.

This week, we had the chance to sit down with FTPD Information/Technology Officer, Lt. Ken Fecher, to discuss what these numbers are actually telling us about police activity in Fort Thomas. Here's what we learned:

FTM: What kind of information are the Campbell County Dispatch reports actually giving us?

Lt. Fecher: We can think of these, basically, as "run reports." They refer to any instance in that time period when a call was dispatched to an officer on patrol, or when something was radioed into dispatch from an officer on his or her beat. In a sense, it refers to each instance when an officer is called to respond to or has happened upon a scene or alleged incident.

FTM: In any given week's time, there can be instances of up to 30+ different types of call... "burglary," "suspicious persons," "disturbance," etc. How do these categories factor into an officer's interpretation of these reports?

Lt. Fecher: Yes, there are many categories, or type of call that come through dispatch, and many of them are quite broad. What is most important to remember is that Campbell County Dispatch receives lots of calls throughout the day, and they are all being coded into one of these categories in real time. And one dispatcher might code a call differently than another. It's a lot of data to manage very quickly.

FTM: So, if the categories are broad and sometimes interchanged, then what do these numbers actually tell us?

Lt. Fecher: They only tell us that someone (it could have been an officer) called into dispatch to report a suspected or potential incident. Just because a call was coded as a "Gun Run/Shots Fired," for example, does not mean that a crime has been committed, or even that a gun was fired. That call could have come from an alarmed resident reacting to a car backfire outside their house, for instance.* Just because it was coded and tallied as a call doesn't mean it's real... only that the police responded to the call.

FTM: So the dispatch reports are, in a sense, more accurately describing what residents have reported and/or officers have investigated, rather than a record of crimes occurring throughout Fort Thomas.

Lt. Fecher: That's right. A dispatch report is a good indicator of what residents are seeing (or sometimes what they think they're seeing), and how officers are spending their time while on patrol. And often the explanation isn't there in the report. For instance, with the current rise in daytime burglaries, it's possible we might see an increase in traffic stops or suspicious vehicle calls, as a means of investigation and attempts at preempting further burglary. As an indicator of actual criminal trends in Fort Thomas, these reports can only be a starting point.

*In a follow-up discussion with Lt. Fecher, he added that, while there are often many sounds that can imitate the sound of a gunshot, witnessing real gunfire in Fort Thomas city limits -- whether from a revolver or a hunting rifle -- is always cause to call dispatch. No weapon, including airsoft guns, BB guns, and pellet guns, may be discharged in the city of Fort Thomas (with the exception of bow/arrow weaponry, and only within the parameters of the city's bow hunting ordinance).

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