- Associated Press - Sunday, March 9, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Chad Staley flips a U-turn on 21st Street to check out the license plate on a pickup when something else catches his eye: A red Acura Legend blows a stop sign right in front of him.

“It did not stop,” he says.

The Lincoln police officer revs his cruiser’s engine, stops, then whips a left to go west on G Street, away from Lincoln High.

Another car is in his way. “Go around,” says his partner, Officer Conan Schafer.

Staley does, and now there’s nothing but distance between him and the Acura. The license plate comes into view, and Schafer is on it. He hails dispatch and tells them he and his partner are stopping the car. Then he’s pecking away at the cruiser’s laptop computer.

Schafer tells his partner that the car is registered to a 53-year-old woman who lives a dozen blocks away. She has a valid driver’s license and has been in a couple of accidents, and her only run-ins with police are traffic-related.

The game changes if Schafer unearths a history of drug abuse, drunk driving, attacking cops or carrying a gun: “That would put us in a different mode,” he says.

The Lincoln Journal Star reports (http://bit.ly/NmXiTh ) Staley and Schafer, both 17-year veterans at the Lincoln Police Department, are paired as part of a reinstituted strategy of putting two officers in some cruisers - giving them more manpower for serious incidents, saving money on gas and giving the driver a co-pilot who can work a computer and tap into the department’s wealth of information.

Lincoln police abandoned partnering officers in cruisers in the 1970s. Having them ride solo gave the department more chess pieces to cover the board. Instead of tying up two officers on a vandalism call or a car break-in that happened overnight, that second officer could handle something else.

That’s why single-officer cruisers still make up the bulk of the police department’s army, with only seven two-officer cars among the roughly four dozen cruisers that rove about the city.

But better technology, rising gas prices and the allure of instant backup in the passenger’s seat led police officials to upgrade a few pawns to rooks three summers ago.

Now, each of the city’s five geographical teams deploys at least one two-officer cruiser overnight, when they’re more likely to catch a call about a robbery, wild party or domestic violence. Those calls would require two officers to respond, no matter how many cars they came in.

The southwest team, which covers the Near South and Everett neighborhoods, uses three cruisers with paired officers since that area has a higher concentration of serious incidents.

There’s a balancing act, says Capt. Mike Woolman, who oversees the southwest team. Single-officer cruisers can cover more calls and more ground, and help give police larger presence in the mind of the public - both for keeping would-be criminals in check and making the community feel safer.

If two officers respond to every little incident, one of them inevitably winds up twiddling thumbs while the other writes a speeding ticket or catalogs what a burglar stole from a garage overnight.

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