Lincoln Police Department POP Projects

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Story and photos by Corey Day, News Net Nebraska

The Lincoln Police Department has been doing Problem Oriented Police Projects, otherwise known as POP Projects, for over a decade. The projects are designed by LPD officers themselves, and they are used to help correct recurring problems in the city. Sergeant Don Scheinost is the head of POP Projects. He believes these projects are a crucial part of improving safety and quality of life in Lincoln.

“The citizens are really the benefit of the POP projects, even the ones that know nothing about them,” said Scheinost. “These projects will eliminate some calls for service where an officer is now available for some other calls, and it also eliminates crime of some sort. There’s lots of ways it’s beneficial to not only the police, but citizens as well.”

For example, one of the projects involves officers doing random checks of Lincoln neighborhoods. Officers are alerting residents if their garage doors are left open and potential targets for burglars.

“When we started the garage door project, we thought people would actually be kind of upset that we were waking them up at 2 a.m. to let them know their garage was open,” said Scheinost. We have gotten absolutely the opposite response. People are so thankful that we have let them know, and so far it is one of our more successful projects.”

Scheinost said not every project is successful. But he does think as long as the officers try their hardest to achieve their goal, none of the projects are ever really failures.

“The only negative, and I wouldn’t even really call it a negative, is if the project doesn’t help alleviate the problem,” said Scheinost. “Like I said, I’m still not sure I’d even call it a negative. It’s just when an officer puts so much effort into trying to solve a particular problem, and they are ultimately unsuccessful, you just have to go back to the drawing board.”

Jill Curran successfully passes a breathalyzer test as part of her requirements for being on drug court

Another  project taking place is led by Southwest Squad Officer Chris Howard. His project works with the Lancaster County Adult Drug Court. Officer Howard makes random checks on homes of adults enrolled in drug court. Howard makes sure enrollees follow drug court rules and stay off illegal substances.

“I thought it would be a pretty positive thing for us to be contacting them and doing some proactive stuff there and also hopefully have a positive impact on them, said Howard.” “Hopefully someday some of these folks will feel comfortable with the police and also be able to further their progression and stay clean.”

Officer Chris Howard and Drug Court Supervision Officer Andrew Sawtell perform an in-home check as part of their POP Project

The drug court POP project runs nearly the entire length of the year. So far, Howard says they have seen pretty good success with the project.

“It’s tough because with my project I haven’t been able to follow it long enough to be able to see all of the results, but I know almost all of the contact I have had with people has been positive. We’ve had a couple people who have been sanctioned and they have gotten some community service hours, but overall it’s been really pretty positive.”

Drug court participant Jill Curran says it took time for her to trust Howard and Sawtell. She now feels safer because of their in-home checks.

“It gives me a sense of safety when they stop by and visit.  If I ever had a problem, I know I could call the local police or the drug court and they would come if I needed them,” said Curran.

Another positive from the program is that the drug court and LPD have formed a more cohesive team.  Andrew Sawtell, Lancaster County Adult Drug Court Supervision Officer, is the liaison between drug court and Lincoln Police Department. He goes on nearly every house check for the POP project. Sawtell and Howard agree that one of the biggest impacts of this project is the positive relationship drug court participants gain with officers.

“The main thing I’m seeing is the attitude towards police officers is changing,” said Sawtell. “The officers recognize that these clients are putting in a lot of hard work in order to change their lives, and I think the clients realize that and in turn have more respect for the officers.”

Lincoln Police Officer Chris Howard browses through his list of scheduled drug court checks

Howard says most drug court clients have had mostly negative experiences with law enforcement.

“Obviously they are in drug court because they got arrested, and so they have a negative outlook towards police officers,” said Howard. “However, it’s reassuring that over time they start to have positive contact with us and now whenever they see a cop they’re not scared because they’re doing what they’re supposed to.”

Drug court participant Kevin Phillips agrees the officers have his best interests in mind.

“In the beginning, I thought drug court was just trying to control me. But now, I see that they’re there to help,” said Phillips.

Regardless of the project, and whether it is ultimately successful, Sergeant Scheinost is pleased that officers are pushing themselves as hard as they can towards their individual projects.

“It’s an effort we’re making to impact a problem, and each project we put all of our effort into,” said Scheinost.

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