of the Day
- November 11, 2009
some issues of interest to the community policing and neighborhood
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following group of articles from local
newspapers and other sources constitutes but a small percentage
of the information available to the community policing and neighborhood
activist public. It is by no means meant to cover every possible
issue of interest, nor is it meant to convey any particular
point of view ...
We present this simply as a convenience to our readership ...
From LA Times
Watchdog finds flaws in LAPD's 'biased policing' investigations
November 10, 2009 | 2:43 pm
An independent examination of how the Los Angeles Police Department investigates officers accused of profiling people based on race, gender or sexual orientation found serious problems with a third of the sampled investigations, the inspector general for the L.A. Police Commission reported today.
In six of 20 LAPD investigations into allegations of “biased policing” — the LAPD's new name for what traditionally has been termed racial profiling — police failed to interview witnesses, did not ask important questions or made similar gaffes, concluded Andre Birotte, the inspector general, in the 41-page report.
Birotte's staff also found problems with how several of the cases were resolved, saying that decisions by supervisors to not discipline the accused officers were “not based on information gathered” or “appeared to be unsupported because the underlying investigation was incomplete.”
LAPD Cmdr. Rick Webb, who oversees internal affairs, agreed that some of the mistakes highlighted in the report had indeed been made, but disputed the conclusion that the errors affected the outcome of the investigations.
How the department handles claims of biased policing has become a high-profile issue over the last few years. The commission, led by its president John Mack, began pressing for reforms after it realized that at least since 2001, the department has dismissed all of the hundreds of allegations of profiling filed against officers each year.
Former Chief William J. Bratton defended the results, arguing that, without a confession from the officer, it is impossible to assess whether the officer made a traffic stop or took some other police action because of a secret bias.
The department set out to revamp how it investigates claims of bias and, last Spring, it adopted a new set of protocols for how investigators should be carried out. Both Webb and Assistant Inspector General Susan Hutson told commission members the cases reviewed in the report were concluded shortly after the changes went into effect and cautioned it was too early to assess whether the new guidelines were having an impact. The Inspector General is expected to return to the issue in coming months.
Despite intense efforts to train the department's roughly 100 internal affairs investigators in the new protocols and improve quality controls, there will always be a risk of incomplete or imperfect investigations, Webb warned.
Instead of wading into the murky world of trying to determine the motives behind an officer's decision to detain or search a suspect, Webb suggested, the department should focus more on the more discernible question of whether the officer's actions were legal.
A former tagger searches for a new means of expression
Fenix gained street fame by tagging from Slauson Avenue to Sunset Boulevard. Now he attends community college and hopes to give his stories of L.A.'s streets a new life in print.
November 10, 2009
A young man once known as Fenix is standing at a fork in the road.
He's 19 years old, a year or so removed from a high school life in which he was popular for his charm and for his prowess at certain illegal activities, like tagging and "jacking" supermarkets.
When he tagged, Fenix tells me, he felt free: "It's the one thing where it doesn't matter what race you are or how much money you have." I want to tell him that there are many other less-destructive activities where that is true, but I don't -- yet.
Fenix was a very good tagger, apparently. A tagging crew bought him a ticket to Las Vegas and paid him for his work there with boxes of spray paint. In the corner of Los Angeles where he lives, this gave him prestige, he says. "People look up to you."
But he's left all that behind, he tells me. He hasn't painted his "Fenix" tag in a year. It had no future. Who wants to be one of those guys who's 30 and still cruising the buses, tagging day and night because he doesn't know what else to do?
He's in a community college now, though the temptations of his neighborhood are never far away. He's a tall, burly young man with big ambitions, and he sought me out for advice on how to proceed in the legit world.
So we sit and talk at a Mid-City eatery. Like so many other young men in L.A., he's smart but impatient.
"I want to be known for something where I can use my real name," he says. In the tagging world and in his neighborhood, he's known as Fenix and another two-syllable, one-word nickname.
For obvious reasons, he would rather I didn't print his real name.
I, on the other hand, have my real name on everything I write.
He called me after he heard me speak at his community college a few weeks ago. "That was clean!" he told me. "It was mad dope!"
No one had ever said that one of my readings was "mad dope" before. I was flattered, though Fenix explained that it wasn't so much what I read that impressed him.
Instead, he noted how the English professor who introduced me had recited my biography and read selections from my books.
I stood behind a lectern as other professors, and some students too, asked me thoughtful questions.
That's what Fenix wants from life. He wants to be able to command a stage and have people see deep and meaningful things in what he has to say. More meaningful and more enduring than a tag on a wall.
"Books last forever," he says, and this brings a smile to my lips because I thought reverence for the printed word was going out of style. He likes to write, though "I need to work on my grammar," he tells me.
What's the magic potion, Fenix wants to know?
So I give him Hector's 15-minute recipe for writing success. I talk about the importance of reading widely and seeking out good teachers and lots of other things that don't seem to impress him so much.
"The hardest thing is to learn from all the teachers and editors you have and still stay true to who you are," I say finally.
For some reason, this last point seems to resonate with him. He's brought a portfolio for me to look at.
There are a few pictures of his tags in there, but that's not what he wants me to see.
Instead, he produces some poems and fragments of stories he's written about growing up in Mid-City and Koreatown, and about his adventures in crime.
He describes putting his single mother through nights of worry and agony.
In one story, he's about to leave for the streets when he says goodbye to his mother. "I told her it was going to be the last time," he writes, "but those eyes of hers told me, 'You're like an old show [my son]. Nothing but reruns.' "
This is a good start, I tell him. You've got to fill out the details. Then he asks me what kind of cars the "top" people at The Times drive and how much they make, and he's sort of disappointed by my answers.
I can see it's not just fame he wants.
He'd already gone on the Internet to study how the book business works. "So you get an advance. And you make 15% off each book," he tells me, and he's already started to calculate how many he would have to sell to live well.
Most people don't get rich writing books, I say. "You don't do it for the money. You do it because you love it."
This is not exactly music to his ears.
Earlier that day, he tells me, his mother broke down crying because she had to sell her old junker of a car for $175 to pay the rent. So he gave her his car.
Much of his young life has been defined by the pursuit of money and by finding ways to get things without spending any.
He shows me his counterfeit MTA bus pass, for example, and tells me about various grocery-store scams, including one he used just that morning to get a $3 bag of grapes for 75 cents.
Just the other day, he ran into an old acquaintance who invited him to a meeting to plan a serious crime.
"No, I won't go that way," he says. That's the route his father took, and he spent much of Fenix's childhood in prison.
After a while, he mentions other pursuits. Photography, screenwriting. He's been reading "The Hollywood Rules" to learn the way that industry works.
To be successful at anything, I say, you have to work hard.
Fenix says he's used to working hard. He was an industrious tagger. He would tag all the way from Slauson Avenue to Sunset Boulevard in a single day. That's how he got street famous.
Yeah, and he also infuriated a lot of people, I say. Finally, I ask him: What would you tell all those people whose property you tagged?
"I would want to apologize," he says.
Fenix was arrested as a juvenile and forced to work in clean-up brigades, but he erased only a fraction of what he was responsible for.
"I did a lot of damage. I feel bad for the little family-owned stores. They don't have as much money, so your tags stay longer."
One day, he hopes, when all of his tags are painted over and forgotten, he'll walk into his mother's living room with $10,000 and say: "Here, Mom. Ten stacks. I worked for it. My business is doing good."
That's the dream of the young man who once tagged as Fenix.
The life lessons he's learned so far have caused him and a lot of other people much grief -- and he's still got many more lessons ahead of him.
But L.A. has given him everything he needs to succeed, including a high school degree and a community-college bridge to his future.
Now it's all up to him.
If he takes the right path, you may know him one day by his real name.
71-year-old 'sexual psychopath' arrested at LAX gets 17-year sentence
November 10, 2009 | 7:26 am
A 71-year-old man described by authorities as a "sexual psychopath" was sentenced to 17-1/2 years in prison for attempting to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor overseas.
Arthur Leroy Shoot was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport, allegedly carrying pornographic pictures of his wife's preteen niece. Shoot arrived in Los Angeles from the Philippines, where he and his wife lived, according to federal prosecutors.
Prosecutors described Shoot as a "a self-admitted pedophile and a sexual psychopath'' who has been convicted of child sex offenses three times. He molested his 11-year-old daughter four decades ago, officials said.
Shoot pleaded guilty in connection to the LAX arrest last year and was sentenced Monday.
Southern California police look for possible links to Cleveland serial-killer suspect
November 10, 2009 | 6:56 am
The FBI said it will investigate whether a Cleveland man accused of being a serial killer might have committed crimes in the Camp Pendleton area when he was stationed at the base.
Anthony Sowell, 50, is suspected of killing at least 11 people in Cleveland. During a military stint, Sowell was stationed in Camp Pendleton for a few days in January 1985. The FBI has decided to check for possible victims in Southern California and other places where Sowell was stationed while in the military.
"We'll put a timeline together and start looking at that," FBI spokesman Scott Wilson told the North County Times.
Oceanside police said they were looking though their files for any possible cases, and The Times reported that Coronado police were investigating a woman's claim that she was raped, possibly by Sowell.
Sowell also was stationed in Japan, North Carolina and South Carolina. Police in North Carolina also are checking for crimes possibly linked to Sowell.
Obama praises the fallen at Ft. Hood memorial
'Their life's work is our security and ... freedom,' Obama says of 13 victims of last week's shootings. He also hints at an ideological motive: 'No faith justifies these murderous and craven acts.'
By Ashley Powers
November 11, 2009
Reporting from Ft. Hood, Texas
President Obama tried to console a grieving military Tuesday, telling the families of those killed in last week's shooting rampage at Ft. Hood that their "loved ones endure through the life of our nation."
"We come together filled with sorrow for the 13 Americans that we have lost; with gratitude for the lives that they led; and with a determination to honor them through the work we carry on," Obama said.
As he remembered the dead, offering personal details about each one, Obama also praised the modern military and reminded service members that their mission remained difficult and unfinished.
The speech left some of the thousands of military personnel and civilians in attendance in tears. It appeared that Obama too had to compose himself at times.
Many presidents, like Ronald Reagan when the space shuttle Challenger exploded, have assumed this role of counselor in chief. And Like George W. Bush after Sept. 11 -- not quite eight months into his first term -- Obama's time to offer solace came early in his presidency; it also followed his recent somber visit to Dover Air Force Base to salute the bodies of service members and Drug Enforcement Administration agents killed in Afghanistan.
Before the ceremony, held on a sunny day under a flawless sky, survivors of the shootings -- some with arms in slings, some on crutches -- carefully made their way down a set of steps to seats close to the stage. They were followed, solemnly, by families of the dead.
Many members of the audience were military and wore fatigues. Some were civilians from nearby Killeen. Small children played on the grass as the adults listened to the president, who said the tragedy was all the more painful because the shooting had occurred not overseas, but at home.
"This is a time of war," Obama said. "Yet these Americans did not die on a foreign field of battle. They were killed here, on American soil, in the heart of . . . this great American community. This is the fact that makes the tragedy . . . even more incomprehensible."
Obama directed his remarks to the troops, the nation and, perhaps most movingly of all, the families of the 12 military personnel and one civilian shot down Thursday at the Soldier Readiness Processing Center.
"We knew these men and women as soldiers and caregivers," he said. "You knew them as mothers and fathers; sons and daughters; sisters and brothers.
"But here is what you must also know: Your loved ones endure through the life of our nation. Their memory will be honored in the places they lived and by the people they touched. Their life's work is our security, and the freedom that we all too often take for granted. Every evening that the sun sets on a tranquil town; every dawn that a flag is unfurled; every moment that an American enjoys life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- that is their legacy."
Along with the eulogizing, Obama called for firm but fair justice for the Army psychiatrist who allegedly shot his fellow soldiers.
Without explicitly noting the Muslim faith of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, Obama called for tolerance as he denounced those who invoke faith to justify violence.
The president, who was accompanied to Ft. Hood by First Lady Michelle Obama, spoke from a stage in front of the III Corps building, headquarters of the base's top brass. One giant American flag, draped over the building's windows, formed a backdrop while another rustled at half-staff.
A row of gray shipping containers was erected far from the stage, forming a wall behind the audience and creating a huge amphitheater.
Obama noted that today is Veterans Day, and that the military continued to fight two wars. He is scheduled to meet with his war council today to discuss strategy options in Afghanistan.
The nation's history, Obama said, is "filled with heroes," but this generation has distinguished itself as well.
"We need not look to the past for greatness," he said, "because it is before our very eyes."
The president also praised those who aided not only the shooting victims, but also Hasan, who was wounded in a shootout and remains hospitalized.
"We are a nation of laws whose commitment to justice is so enduring that we would treat a gunman and give him due process, just as surely as we will see that he pays for his crimes," Obama said.
The alleged gunman has been described as a devout Muslim who was despondent over his scheduled deployment to Afghanistan. Witnesses said that he shouted "Allahu akbar!" -- Arabic for "God is great" -- before discharging more than 100 rounds.
FBI officials have said that they are trying to determine whether Hasan, 39, might have acted alone or been directed by others.
While the president did not suggest a motive or mention Islam, he left room for the possibility that there may have been an ideological motivation.
"No faith justifies these murderous and craven acts," Obama said. "No just and loving God looks upon them with favor. For what he has done, we know that the killer will be met with justice -- in this world and the next."
Obama added: "We're a nation that guarantees the freedom to worship as one chooses. And instead of claiming God for our side, we remember Lincoln's words, and always pray to be on the side of God."
The ceremony Tuesday was a traditional military service, with a sermon, rifle volley and roll call of the dead. Thousands of heads bowed as the victims' names rang out amid chilling silence. When Master Sgt. Natasha D. Hartley sang "Amazing Grace," many in the audience wiped tears from their eyes.
Afterward, the mourners paid their respects before 13 pairs of boots, each displayed with a helmet mounted on an M-4 rifle. The stage was arrayed with color photographs of the 13 victims.
Pfc. Jessie Ponce, 25, had helped carry in the large, wood-framed pictures of the dead. She had been trying not to dwell on the shooting, but those photos gave her pause.
"I just stared at them," she said. "I didn't know what to think. This shouldn't be happening."
Military not told about Ft. Hood suspect's e-mails
A Defense official says the FBI and anti-terrorism teams never shared information about Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan's contact with a radical Yemeni imam. President Obama has ordered a review.
By Julian E. Barnes and Josh Meyer
November 11, 2009
Reporting from Washington
Two high-profile anti-terrorism task forces did not inform the Defense Department about contacts between a radical Islamic cleric and the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people in last week's rampage at Ft. Hood, a senior Defense official said Tuesday.
On the day of a memorial service for those killed at the Texas military base, the revelation compounded questions about whether the government had known enough in advance to stop the gunman.
The FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Forces investigated e-mails that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan sent over the last year to Anwar al Awlaki, an imam in Yemen who espouses a radical Islamist ideology and who has ties to militants. However, officials said, task force members concluded that the communications posed no threat and had been undertaken as part of Hasan's research on Muslims, the military and post-traumatic stress disorders.
Defense officials said Tuesday that the department did not learn about Hasan's contacts with Awlaki until after the Ft. Hood shootings. "There was no U.S. Army or other Department of Defense organization that knew of any contact he had with Muslim extremists," said the senior Defense official, who requested anonymity when discussing the ongoing investigation.
At least one of the task forces included a Defense Department investigator, who did not seek to share the intelligence with the military, officials said.
Various government agencies assign officials and investigators to the Joint Terrorism Task Forces. But there are strict rules about sharing information that is discussed or developed on a task force. "Any and all information from the task force . . . has to be approved by the FBI," the senior Defense official said.
Senior federal law enforcement officials acknowledge that approval is required from a joint task force supervisor, traditionally an FBI official, to share information from investigations with agencies.
In the case of the Hasan e-mails, however, the Pentagon investigator -- a member of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service -- agreed with the task force assessment that the psychiatrist did not pose a threat. The investigator did not press to bring the case to the military's attention.
"It just didn't get to that point," said a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity when discussing the case. "They made the judgment that it did not rise to that level."
The official cautioned that an investigation would touch on the question of intelligence-sharing, but said there was "no evidence" that any request to share intelligence had been denied. A spokesperson for the Defense Criminal Investigative Service did not return a call for comment.
President Obama, who attended the memorial service Tuesday, has ordered a review. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said U.S. agencies would seek to learn whether there were warnings that should have been heeded.
"That's what we want to figure out," Gibbs said.
The FBI has launched its own internal review, one likely to examine why information on Hasan was not provided to the Defense Department -- and whether the task forces erred in not investigating more thoroughly.
The Army Criminal Investigation Command is working to assess what clues to Hasan's plans or behavior may have been missed by military officials, and whether that evidence should have spurred action.
The possible communication lapse recalls the kind of breakdowns of intelligence-sharing that plagued U.S. agencies leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks. However, it is striking because the interagency task forces were created in large part to make sure information is more easily and routinely shared.
D.C.-area sniper John Allen Muhammad is executed
Muhammad, who along with a teenage accomplice terrorized the Washington area in 2002 with a shooting rampage that took 10 lives, dies of lethal injection in Virginia.
By Scott Calvert
November 11, 2009
Reporting from Jarratt, Va.
A defiant John Allen Muhammad, who terrified the Washington area in 2002 as he orchestrated a series of sniper shootings, including 10 murders, was executed by lethal injection Tuesday night.
Muhammad, 48, was pronounced dead at 9:11 p.m., said Larry Traylor, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Corrections.
Asked whether he wanted to make a last statement, Muhammad "did not acknowledge us," Traylor said outside the Greensville Correctional Center. The execution took place without incident, he said.
Issuing a statement on behalf of Muhammad's family and lawyers, attorney Jonathan Sheldon said they "deeply sympathize with the families and loved ones" of the victims, and offered "prayers for a better future" for those left behind.
As his execution drew near, Muhammad "accepted his fate," said another of his lawyers, J. Wyndal Gordon. "He has no remorse because he maintains his innocence."
During the day, Muhammad met with members of his family, including an adult son. For his last meal he ate chicken with red sauce and cake, Gordon said. Muhammad's family said they would hold a news conference today in Richmond, Va., where they will release a statement from him.
The execution comes seven years after Muhammad and his then-17-year-old accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, terrified the Washington area with a shooting rampage from Baltimore to Richmond, beginning on Sept. 5, 2002.
The first victim, a restaurant owner in Clinton, Md., was robbed and shot six times, but survived.
The rampage began to grip the Washington area on Oct. 3, when four people were shot in separate incidents, three of them fatally.
Muhammad and Malvo killed without apparent plan or purpose, using a rifle to pick off people going about routine tasks. Victims died while pumping gas, vacuuming a minivan, sitting on a park bench. The lack of any discernible pattern raised anxiety and prompted people to dart and weave as they walked to make more difficult targets.
Eventually, the snipers demanded $10 million to stop the killing. The FBI used fingerprints on ransom notes to trace the pair to Washington state, where police say their shootings began. After the bureau posted an alert for a 1990 Chevy Caprice, Muhammad and Malvo were arrested while asleep at a highway rest stop in Maryland in the early hours of Oct. 24, 2002.
Authorities said the car had been modified into "a killing machine," with a hole cut in the trunk for a rifle barrel.
The pair are also suspected of killings in other states, including Alabama, Louisiana and Arizona, beginning in February 2002.
"This was a nationwide murder spree by a serial killer without any motivation other than to wreak terror upon the community," said Maryland Atty. Gen. Douglas Gansler, who was the Montgomery County state's attorney in 2002. "And he did paralyze an entire community for weeks."
The Jamaican-born Malvo, now 24, was also convicted. Because of his age, he was sentenced to life without parole in 2004.
Muhammad was executed for the murder of Dean Harold Meyers, who was shot in the head at a gas station in Manassas, Va., on the evening of Oct. 9, 2002.
Gansler called the punishment appropriate.
"If you have a death penalty in a state, John Muhammad is the poster child for who should get the death penalty," Gansler said Monday, likening him to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy J. McVeigh, executed in 2001 for killing 168 people.
Gansler said Muhammad was in effect being punished for the nine other murders he and Malvo committed in the Washington area.
Six of the murders took place in Maryland, three in Virginia and one in Washington. Other victims were wounded, including a 13-year-old boy who had just been dropped off at middle school.
Then-U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft sent Muhammad and Malvo to be tried in Virginia, where death sentences are promptly carried out.
Earlier Tuesday, Gov. Tim Kaine denied Muhammad clemency. And on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Muhammad's bid to halt the execution.
So many relatives of the victims were on hand that the prison could not accommodate all of them, Traylor said.
Sonia Wills, mother of one of the victims, Montgomery County bus driver Conrad Johnson, traveled from Dallas to be on the prison grounds, but did not want to witness the execution. "He needs to be gone from this Earth," she said before the execution. "That man has caused too much disturbance in everyone's life."
After Muhammad's death, Wills said, "I will breathe a sigh of relief."
Ex-astronaut Lisa Nowak pleads guilty in attack on romantic rival
Nowak, who police say drove 1,000 miles to confront Colleen Shipman, pleads guilty to lesser charges of burglary and battery. She is sentenced to time served, probation and community service.
By Sarah Lundy and Willoughby Mariano
November 11, 2009
Reporting from Orlando, Fla.
Former astronaut Lisa Nowak turned to face the woman she was accused of attacking nearly three years ago after driving 1,000 miles across country: Colleen Shipman, who sat in the front row of a packed Florida courtroom Tuesday.
"I am sincerely sorry for causing fear and misunderstanding and all the intense public exposure you have encountered," Nowak said.
Then Orange County Circuit Court Judge Marc Lubet accepted Nowak's guilty plea of burglary of a car, a third-degree felony, and misdemeanor battery.
Taking into consideration her background, lack of criminal record, apology and other factors, the judge sentenced Nowak to two days in jail with credit for two days' time served. He also sentenced her to one year's probation and 50 hours of community service. She could have received up to five years in prison.
Nowak originally was charged with two felonies -- attempted kidnapping and burglary -- along with misdemeanor battery. She could have faced life in prison on those charges.
The deal ends a bizarre drama that titillated the nation. Nowak, now 46, a mission specialist on space shuttle Discovery's July 2006 flight, confronted Shipman at Orlando International Airport on Feb. 5, 2007.
Shipman, then 30, was dating William Oefelein, an astronaut and Nowak's former lover. Orlando police said Nowak drove nearly 1,000 miles from Houston to Orlando. Soiled diapers were found in her car. A detective said she told him she used the diapers so she wouldn't have to stop on the way. Her attorney later denied that.
Nowak, wearing a wig and trench coat, was accused of attacking Shipman with pepper spray in the parking lot. Shipman fled, and police arrested Nowak nearby. She was carrying a black bag containing a steel mallet, a 4-inch folding knife, a BB gun, 3 feet of rubber tubing and several garbage bags. A wig was found in a plastic bag in a nearby trash bin.
During Tuesday's hearing, a tearful Shipman said she was certain Nowak had intended to kill her. "It was in her eyes, a blood-chilling expression of unlimited rage and glee," she said. "I am 100% certain Lisa Nowak came here to murder me."
Shipman, who had been a captain in the Air Force, said she lost her job because of the attack. She still has nightmares, she said, and constantly looks over her shoulder. She bought a shotgun and had an alarm installed in her home, "all in effort to feel secure again, but none of it has worked."
She and Oefelein, 44, are engaged and live in Alaska. He did not attend the hearing.
Nowak remains in the Navy, but she was dropped from the astronaut corps. Oefelein also was forced out of NASA.
Lubet ordered Nowak to stay away from Shipman and to write her a "sincere" letter of apology within 10 days.
The judge also barred Nowak from contacting Oefelein.
"No books, no messages, no poems, no nothing," he said.
On Veterans Day, feeling the cost of war
Afghanistan was abstract, until my friend's flag-draped coffin came home.
By David S. Abraham
November 11, 2009
Ithought I knew the cost of combat. I recommended plans to spend billions of dollars in Afghanistan from my desk at the White House Office of Management and Budget. But it was not until last month, as I stood on the tarmac at Tweed-New Haven Regional Airport in Connecticut watching my friend's flag-draped coffin come home, that I truly understood the price of war.
Army Capt. Ben Sklaver, 32, was killed in a suicide attack in what was the deadliest month for U.S. soldiers since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001. At the time, he was trying to meet with local leaders in a village outside Kandahar to see what infrastructure they needed. To those at home who see our troops strictly as combatants, this is not a traditional soldier's role. But Afghanistan is a new type of war, and Ben was on the front line.
Ben was in a civil affairs unit, tasked with showing tangible progress to counter the Taliban's effort of intimidation. The work appealed to him. Bringing people basic infrastructure such as water and schools fosters hope in a region desperately lacking it. Ben was eternally optimistic, and despite numerous close calls, he proudly told me a week before his death that he was making progress.
Such optimism and sense of purpose had previously led him to start a nonprofit organization, ClearWater Initiative, focused on bringing fresh water to conflict-ridden regions in Uganda after his first tour with the military there in 2007. Villagers whom his organization helped thanked Ben for his "miracle" of water.
Ben's death robs not only his fiancee of a husband and his family of a son, it denies the world his unrealized potential, including the "miracles" that may have been in Ben's mind for Afghanistan on his return. This is a price our leaders must consider as they define our new strategy in the region. The cost of war is not just the billions spent on guns and bullets, but a trade-off between losing the future of soldiers like Ben for the hope that a greater good is achieved.
For too long, that full accounting of war was hidden from our national emotional balance sheet. The media were prevented from showing the return of the dead; even families of the deceased were unable to make the trip to Dover Air Force Base to view their loved one's arrival.
Watching my former roommate unloaded from a plane in a silver container brought an indescribable pain. But for family members and those close to the soldier, watching the arrival is an important step in coming to terms with the loss. The ritual, the simplicity, the slow process of salutes and patriotic symbolism offer an important modicum of comfort for what is one of the worst experiences life can provide. It brings home the reality of death, both physically and emotionally.
President Obama's decisions to allow media coverage of returning coffins, to assist families of fallen soldiers to come to Dover and to attend a ceremony himself last month are significant steps for us as a country to fully account for war. They highlight the total price of war -- not just the more than $200 billion spent so far but also the thousands of lost futures both here and in Afghanistan.
What's most disheartening this Veterans Day is that many of us, including some in government, are still too far removed to truly appreciate that our troops are engaged in battle daily. Maybe it is because the money we spend is too large, the costs too abstract or the fighting too far away from our daily lives to comprehend. I have no doubt that sentiment was true for many in southern Connecticut. That is, until Ben came home.
David S. Abraham, who worked at the White House Office of Management and Budget from 2003 to 2007, is a director at ClearWater Initiative.
Army must be on guard for extremism
Religious beliefs have driven soldiers throughout U.S. history. For Maj. Nidal Hasan, religion might just have been the lens through which his inner disquiet focused itself.
November 11, 2009
There is a profound difference between watchfulness and a witch hunt.
In the aftermath of the Ft. Hood shootings, that's a crucial distinction, though nothing the authorities -- and particularly the U.S. Army brass -- have said so far has done much to help people make it. In fact, after Monday's revelations concerning the botched federal investigation into Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan's repeated contacts with a notorious jihadi imam, the military's initial response to the killings in Texas takes on a new coloration. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr.'s insistence that "speculation [about Hasan's Islamic faith] could potentially heighten backlash against some of our Muslim soldiers," for example, now looks less like a sensible plea for tolerance and more like a familiar defensive maneuver designed to protect the rear ends of guys with stars on their shoulders.
As we now know -- and as Casey surely knew when he made that remark -- the 39-year-old American-born son of Palestinian immigrants had been giving off warning signs of personal distress and instability for much of his Army career. Other physicians in training programs in which he studied formally complained to their superiors about his expression of anti-American, pro-jihadi views in what were supposed to be presentations on psychiatric medicine. He reportedly was "counseled" during his residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for proselytizing.
According to U.S. officials, late in 2008 and into January of this year, federal anti-terrorism operations intercepted 10 to 20 e-mails between Hasan and Anwar al Awlaki, an American-born imam who now preaches jihadism from Yemen. Awlaki isn't just any clerical extremist; he's one of the movement's rock stars, a joke-cracking English-speaker who operates an influential Al Qaeda-linked website. More than that, as a radical imam in mosques in San Diego and Virginia -- the latter attended by Hasan -- he met with at least two of the 9/11 hijackers. A subsequent FBI investigation forced him to flee to his parents' native country, where's he's been in and out of jail. British authorities have banned him from addressing audiences in their country. On Monday, he praised Hasan as a "hero" on his website and urged other American Muslim soldiers to emulate his example.
Yet the FBI and, reportedly, military investigators concluded that Hasan, who'd hired a lawyer to help him get out of the Army, was pursuing harmless research into post-traumatic stress syndrome. Thus, no notice was taken when he subsequently bought two high-powered handguns at a Texas gun store -- purchases reported to the FBI. The two handguns he is said to have carried into the reception room on the day of the outrage were easily and legally purchased at a nearby store charmingly named "Guns Galore." According to ABC News, the more lethal of the two -- an FN Herstal Five-seveN -- is often called "the cop killer" because of its firepower. The semiautomatic pistol's standard clip holds 20 rounds, and a clip extension, which Hasan purchased, adds 10 more. So, assuming one cartridge in the chamber, he could have fired 31 times without reloading. Early forensic reports say more than 100 rounds were fired.
Clearly, the FBI screwed up here, but so did the Army. For years, Hasan displayed signs that he was a troubled man, and religion may simply have been the lens through which his inner disquiet focused itself. If convicted, he'd hardly be the first American killer of whom that's true. The Army's apparent willingness to ignore this may have had less to do with promoting "diversity" or "multiculturalism" than it did with the service's large financial stake in Hasan's medical training and the hard time the military has in recruiting competent mental health professionals. We need answers, not obfuscation, on all this, and the Army brass needs to cough them up -- quickly.
In the meantime, there is a need for perspective that doesn't impugn the more than 3,000 Muslim soldiers now serving their country in the Army. The accusations against Hasan cut to the bone because, if true, he violated not only his oath as a commissioned officer but also his Hippocratic oath as a healer of war's most intimate wounds. Still, it's well to remember that military fratricide is an ancient and recurring problem.
More than a century ago, the most famous of Rudyard Kipling's "Barrack-Room Ballads" -- "Danny Deever" -- drew on an actual incident to recount the story of a regiment forced to watch the hanging of one of its privates who had murdered another soldier. As the "colour-sergeant" narrator says:
For 'e shot a comrade sleepin' -- you must look 'im in the face;
Nine 'undred of 'is county an' the regiment's disgrace.
Nor are issues of divided loyalty foreign to the history of the U.S. military. During the Mexican-American War, hundreds of Irish immigrants and a handful of Germans -- all Catholics -- deserted and joined the Mexicans when they discovered that most of their American comrades were nativists bent on a crusade against Catholicism. As the San Patricio Battalion, they provided the Mexican army with its best horse-drawn artillery. After the fall of Mexico City, those who fell into U.S. hands were either hanged or flogged and branded.
None of the implications of Hasan's alleged betrayal are unique to Islam. When dealing with soldiers far from their homes and families and subject to the greatest imaginable stress, the Army needs to be on the watch for the predatory inroads of any form of political or religious extremism -- whether it be the jihadism to which Hasan was drawn or the Christian identity nonsense that inspired Timothy McVeigh.
Healing our troubled vets
Suicide, homelessness, stress disorders -- caring for today's veterans will be a long-term and costly commitment.
November 11, 2009
The public is kinder to its veterans today than it was during the Vietnam War, when soldiers risked their lives overseas only to face scorn from antiwar activists when they got home. Yet veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan may be having a harder time readjusting to civilian life than previous generations of warriors.
Recognition and treatment of combat- related mental health problems have greatly improved over the years, so it's impossible to compare historical rates of, say, post-traumatic stress disorder. But the statistics that do exist are troubling. Military suicides are soaring -- last year, the Army reported a record 133, and the suicide rate among soldiers in Iraq is 11% higher than in Vietnam. A Rand Corp. study last year found that almost 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans report PTSD or depression. And homelessness may be on the rise; a report from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America suggests that Vietnam vets who became homeless didn't end up on the streets until, on average, five to 10 years after they returned to the United States, while veterans of today's conflicts are turning up in shelters 18 months after leaving the service.
It doesn't help that soldiers are coming home in the midst of a recession. High rents and a lack of job prospects can send those already struggling to cope with war-related stress over the edge. But the likeliest explanation for these troublesome trends is that the military is stretched too thin. In order to fight two Middle Eastern wars, troops have been forced to serve multiple deployments, and reservists who thought their combat days were over have found themselves on the front lines.
As Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates pointed out last month at a mental health summit held by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the war in Afghanistan has surpassed the Revolutionary War as the longest conflict ever fought by this country with an all-volunteer force. The resulting strains have been cited as a factor in last week's shooting rampage at Ft. Hood, Texas, though it's too early to tell whether institutional stresses, cultural conflicts or personal demons caused the suspected killer, an Army psychiatrist, to snap. What's clear is that neither the men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor the American people as a whole, will be finished paying the cost of these wars even after the last U.S. soldier has left. Treating their invisible wounds -- mental disorders, substance abuse and traumatic brain injuries -- will take many decades.
To their credit, the Defense Department and the VA are increasingly recognizing this. Last week, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki laid out an ambitious plan to end homelessness among veterans, mostly by improving medical services, including mental health care. The Pentagon has nearly doubled its budget for psychological and brain-injury treatments over the past year and created a new program, Real Warriors, aimed at reducing the stigma many soldiers feel in seeking treatment for PTSD.
And yet so much more needs to be done. A report released earlier this year by the VA estimated that more than 130,000 veterans were homeless in January 2008. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the VA's figures mean that veterans were more than twice as likely to be left homeless as the typical American. By far the largest number of homeless vets was in California, with an estimated 20,000 in Los Angeles alone. But advocates say California, like many other states, has no strategy for dealing with this problem, which is exacerbated by the region's elevated unemployment rate and high cost of housing.
In a glimmer of good news, Shinseki announced last week a groundbreaking agreement with two nonprofit groups in Los Angeles -- affordable housing developer A Community of Friends and New Directions, which provides housing, outpatient and residential treatment services to veterans -- to allow two buildings at the Sepulveda VA center in North Hills to be converted into a housing and treatment complex for veterans only. Executives at the two groups say it's the first time the VA has dedicated property to housing for needy veterans.
Seven years into the effort, the developers haven't yet raised all the money necessary to restore the two buildings and convert them into housing units -- a project that's expected to cost about $40 million -- or to provide the social services its future residents will need. They're still working on that front with private donors, government agencies and lawmakers. Nevertheless, the nonprofits have blazed a trail for others to follow by cutting through a prodigious amount of red tape in Washington and Sacramento just to get to this point, including barriers to creating subsidized housing just for veterans. They've also found a way to answer community concerns. The VA has an estimated 175 million square feet in dilapidated buildings on its property across the country, and it makes sense to use some of it to give troubled soldiers a place to live where they can also get help repairing their bodies and their psyches. Meanwhile, state and local officials need to open their eyes to the problems faced by returning veterans and start working with the VA and other agencies to solve them.
As we recognize Veterans Day today -- marking the 91st anniversary of the end of World War I -- it's important to remember the purpose of this federal holiday, which many Americans confuse with Memorial Day. The latter is meant to honor soldiers who have died in service to their country; today is for honoring the living. We can do this best by ensuring that veterans get the care and support they need.
From the Daily News
Civilians can honor vets and troops by soldiering on at home
By Lt. Col. Rob "Waldo" Waldman
Updated: 11/10/2009 04:34:35 PM PST
AS we celebrate this Veterans Day to honor our country's heroes and pay respect to their service and sacrifice, it's difficult not to get caught up in the emotions and controversy surrounding the recent massacre at Fort Hood Army post in Texas.
What happened was indeed a tragedy, and the families and loved ones of those killed or injured will have many challenging days ahead. My heartfelt condolences go out to all of them.
Although it is difficult to do, I am trying not to focus on the individual responsible for this tragedy. I believe he was a traitor to the core values that have established America as a pillar of freedom and democracy, and I will not let his act of cowardice dilute the true meaning of Veterans Day.
With the War on Terror so prevalent in the news, we need to remind ourselves that those executing government policy on the battlefront are real men and women with families, dreams and aspirations. They don't make the policy but simply carry out their duties with honor, courage and commitment.
As a former fighter pilot and veteran with 65 combat missions in Iraq and Serbia, I know there is no greater advocate for peace than a soldier. And while we may not agree 100 percent with the decisions our country makes, our commitment and our responsibility to our country should always take precedence over our personal opinions and feelings. When we take an oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States," we should honor it. It's about commitment, integrity, courage and sacrifice.
So, as Americans, how can we pay tribute to our veterans and to those currently serving?
We do it by committing ourselves to service in our everyday lives and creating an environment in our country that embraces the values and principles that our soldiers fight to protect. We should:
Honor our responsibilities as parents, employees and business owners.
Live with integrity at home and at work.
Lend support to those who are suffering in this tough economy.
Respect our environment, give to charity and volunteer in our communities.
In essence, we need to set the example and live our lives with honor and integrity so that our veterans and troops abroad can truly say, "America is worth fighting for."
I believe you don't need to wear a flight suit or Army fatigues to serve our country. The best way we can thank our veterans is to make them proud of us through our own personal commitment, courage and compassion. We need to be warriors for freedom and do the right thing by living with honor. This is how we can make Veterans Day, and every day, a day worth celebrating.
Lt. Col. Rob "Waldo" Waldman is a former combat decorated fighter pilot and leadership speaker.
From the Washington Times
November 11, 2009
Peace Corps' popularity jumps
by Karen Goldberg Goff
The Peace Corps, the volunteer program that emerged from President Kennedy's New Frontier in 1961 to promote international development and good will, is seeing a record number of applications.
The organization received 15,386 applications in fiscal 2009, says spokesman Joshua Field. That is the largest number since the Peace Corps began electronically recording applicants in 1998 and also a record 18 percent increase from 2008. About one-third of applicants are selected for service.
What accounts for the popular resurgence of the New Frontier-era relic? Have President Obama's call to service and efforts to court world public opinion made international volunteerism fashionable again? Or does Peace Corps service represent a rewarding job opportunity in a struggling economy?
Mr. Field says the Peace Corps does not keep track of volunteers' reasons for joining.
"That is part of a larger decision everyone makes," he says. "It is a life-defining experience whether you are 22 years old or 55 years old. You are embarking on a new part of life. You will learn leadership qualities that apply to everyone."
For those who are prepared for the challenge of serving overseas, the Peace Corps can be a life-enriching experience. While each individual has unique personal reasons for joining the Peace Corps, volunteers typically decide to join because of their commitment to public service, Mr. Field says.
He says several factors are probably at work in the applications upsurge. College graduates are growing up in a culture that encourages service, and many have a strong sense of world issues. The post-service benefits, such as career services and graduate school tuition assistance, are also appealing.
There also are more older applicants than ever -- people who volunteer for service at a time when they typically would be thinking about retirement. Mr. Field credits this increase to an "effective outreach campaign" designed "to keep pace with the changing demographics of our nation."
Diana Yan, a 24-year-old State Department employee, will begin a health care assignment with the Peace Corps in Morocco in the spring. She says volunteering with the Peace Corps has been something she has planned on doing since high school.
"I am not sure what my ultimate career goal is," Miss Yan says, "but I have always wanted to help people. Hopefully, this assignment will help me figure out what that means."
Carla Sanchez, 33, of the District, is a Peace Corps volunteer working on dental health promotion in Fiji. She signed up in 2007 after receiving her master's degree in public health, "feeling it would be the best way to add experience to my qualifications," she says in an e-mail from Fiji. "I joined out of a sense of adventure, out of the desire to give back to at-need communities and to experience a different culture."
For all the earnest intentions of volunteers, though, there are some who say the Peace Corps has not kept up with what the locals really need and that it has never really resolved a fundamental ambiguity in its mission.
"The Peace Corps doesn't know if it's a goodwill organization or a development organization," says Robert Strauss, a former Peace Corps volunteer, recruiter and country director. "When it fails to achieve quantifiable development benchmarks, it falls back on the goodwill goal. It doesn't monitor either of these in any scientific, credible way, so pretty much it justifies itself on anecdotal evidence from volunteers. This isn't to say that a lot of good things don't happen. They do. It's just that they are very insignificant when compared to the agency's overall potential."
Mr. Strauss says he is not surprised the Peace Corps is getting a higher number of applications during an economic downturn.
"What would be impressive is if the Peace Corps got a lot of applications during good economic times," he says.
Mr. Strauss says volunteers often are not sent where they are needed most -- and in fact, there is a lot that needs to be done right in the United States.
"The appeal of Peace Corps is rooted in the broadly held appeal of wanting to do right by others," he says. "The international aspect of the agency seems to magnify that appeal as people wrongly imagine that it will be easier to make a difference far away from home than it is a block or two off Main Street, USA. It isn't. I encourage anyone thinking about volunteering for the Peace Corps to make sure that they've tried out volunteering at home first."
Mr. Field says part of what Peace Corps volunteers are learning abroad is useful skills to bring back to their home communities.
"Volunteers receive both practical, tangible benefits and a life-defining experience from their service," he says. "Volunteers live and work in other cultures, make significant impacts on local communities, develop invaluable leadership skills and learn a new language. These are important experiences for all Peace Corps volunteers to bring back to their home communities and for young people entering the global marketplace."
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Veterans eager to continue service at home
by Audrey Hudson
As the nation honors millions of veterans who served their country in numerous wars, those fresh from battle in Iraq and Afghanistan say they are ready for another tour of duty, but this time as a civic engagement in their home communities.
The public often hears about rocky transitions for returning veterans, with problems as dramatic as suicide and homelessness. But a poll by Civic Enterprises, a public policy firm, presents a very different picture.
The results of the survey, being released Wednesday, show that 90 percent of returning veterans want to continue to serve their communities in some capacity.
"The public perception is that they are damaged in some way when they come back," said John Marshall Bridgeland, chief executive of Civic Enterprises. "They view veterans as already having served their country and think they should be left alone because they have given the ultimate sacrifice, risked their lives, and that their service is done.
"But what this survey shows is that service is embedded in their DNA," Mr. Bridgeland said. "They believe they have a lot to teach, especially to young people."
Although 89 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans agreed that other Americans could learn from their service, only 44 percent said they consider themselves leaders in their communities.
Nearly 70 percent said they have not been contacted by a community group or place of worship, while 54 percent said they were contacted by a veterans service organization. However, of those who did speak with veterans groups, only 21 percent were asked to serve their communities.
As one veteran in the survey said: "Recognize our usefulness. We are not charity cases. We are an American asset."
Of those surveyed, 95 percent said they wanted to help wounded veterans, 90 percent wanted to serve other veterans and military families, 88 percent were interested in disaster relief, 86 percent wanted to help at-risk youths and 69 percent wanted to help conserve the environment.
Nearly seven in 10 said they had not volunteered because they had not been asked.
Sonja Meneses, a 12-year Army veteran featured in the survey, became partially deaf from repeated attacks on her convoys by insurgents in Iraq. Upon her return, she was awarded a fellowship from Mission Continues that paid for her to volunteer at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Clarksville, Tenn.
"It's great to hear children say that I am their role model, because it means I have to be doing something right," Ms. Meneses said.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, authored the survey's foreword and said this generation of veterans also will be the new generation of leaders.
"This report is evidence that veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are ready to reconnect to their communities; they just don't have access to or knowledge of all the pathways to do so," Adm. Mullen said.
"The bureaucracy can lay out the vision and put the resources behind it, but only through local communities -- with real people willing to lend a hand, people who know our veterans -- can the vision become a reality," Adm. Mullen said.
The survey was intended to better understand the assets and needs of veterans in order to better integrate them once they return home.
A total of 779 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans took the survey online from Jan. 27 to March 9. The poll's margin of error was 3.5 percentage points.
The report made recommendations to local, state and national leaders that began with changing the dialogue that veterans are not challenges to society, but contributors to society. Its suggested actions included public service announcements and destigmatizing post-traumatic stress disorder.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Polygamist sect member get 10 years in sex case
ELDORADO, Texas | The first polygamist sect member to face criminal trial after the April 2008 raid of a West Texas ranch was sentenced to 10 years in prison Tuesday for sexually assaulting an underage girl with whom he had a so-called "spiritual marriage."
Jurors who last week convicted Raymond Jessop, 38, handed down the sentence, which includes an $8,000 fine. His attorneys had sought probation for the conviction that could have brought him up to 20 years in prison.
Jessop, who prosecutors allege has nine wives, still faces a separate bigamy charge to be tried later. He is the first member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to go on trial since authorities raided the sect's Yearning For Zion Ranch.
The girl in the assault case, now 21, was previously in a spiritual marriage with Jessop's brother before being "reassigned" to Jessop when she was 15, according to documents seized at the ranch. She became pregnant at age 16.
An appeal, planned "as quickly as it can be filed," will challenge the search warrants initially obtained with what authorities now acknowledge were false calls to a domestic-abuse hot line, said Willie Jessop, a church spokesman and Raymond Jessop's distant cousin.
"We believe he will be released when the government is held accountable," Willie Jessop said in an interview Tuesday.
The weeklong ranch raid was hounded by missteps early on. After scouring the ranch for days in 2008 in search of a caller who claimed to be an abused girl, law enforcement acknowledged that "Sarah Barlow" didn't exist.
Forensic experts who testified during Raymond Jessop's trial said there was a nearly 100 percent probability that Jessop fathered the now 4-year-old daughter of the woman in the case. The woman was on the prosecution's witness list at trial but did not testify.
Eleven other sect members, including its jailed leader Warren Jeffs, face separate trials for charges ranging from failure to report child abuse to sexual assault and bigamy.
The FLDS is a breakaway sect of the mainstream Mormon church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago and does not recognize the FLDS.
Jeffs, revered by the FLDS as the group's prophet, has been convicted in Utah as an accomplice to rape. He awaits trial in Arizona on charges related to underage marriages there. He'll then face separate sexual assault and bigamy charges in Texas.
Jeffs led followers six years ago to buy a 1,700-acre Texas ranch, where they built a temple and log-cabin homes.
In the 2008 raid, Texas authorities swept 439 sect children into foster care. Appellate courts ordered the children returned to their parents or other relatives; documents seized were used to build criminal cases against sect men.
From the Wall Street Journal
- NOVEMBER 11, 2009
More Job Seekers Scramble To Erase Their Criminal Past
By DOUGLAS BELKIN
U.S. job seekers are crashing into the worst employment market in years and background checks that reach deeper than ever into their pasts.
The result: a surge of people seeking to legally clear their criminal records.
In Michigan, state police estimate they'll set aside 46% more convictions this year than last. Oregon is on track to set aside 33% more. Florida sealed and expunged nearly 15,000 criminal records in the fiscal year ended June 30, up 43% from the previous year. The courts of Cook County, which includes Chicago and nearby suburbs, received about 7,600 expungement requests in the year's first three quarters, nearly double the pace from the year before.
One petitioner is Wally Camis Jr., who wanted to clear the air about the time he threatened two men with a hairbrush.
Setting the Record Straight
Sally Ryan for The Wall Street Journal
Wally Camis Jr. works as a cook and classroom helper at a day care center in Naperville, Ill.
Mr. Camis was hungry for work amid a divorce last fall. The 41-year-old Air Force veteran, who had worked as a security guard and owned a restaurant, filled out an application for temporary employment in Eugene, Ore., checking a box saying he had never been arrested.
When he followed up a week later, the temp agency told him no thanks -- they'd turned up a 1986 conviction. Stunned, Mr. Camis recalled the night the two men threatened him and he pulled a silver brush from his back pocket, saying it was a knife. He called the police, he says, and later pleaded guilty to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a misdemeanor. The judge entered a "no judgment" finding and ordered Mr. Camis to pay a $60 fine.
"I thought that was the end of it," he says.
Instead, 22 years later, Mr. Camis found himself fighting to erase traces of the arrest, joining the growing ranks of Americans who hope that clearing their records of minor crimes will boost their odds in a tough job market. To help, entrepreneurs have set up record-clearing services and local governments have passed laws to speed the expungement process.
Civil-rights organizations have long complained that young black men are disproportionately hindered when prospective employers ask about applicants' arrests or convictions. But attorneys say past offenses are increasingly catching up with blue-collar and middle-class applicants with solid work histories.
"This is affecting a whole new group," says Michael Hornung, a defense attorney in Fort Myers, Fla., who charges $1,000 to help clients clear records. "I've had more people come in to talk to me about having their records expunged in the last year than I have had in the previous 13 combined."
The increase comes as unemployment has risen above 10%, allowing potential employers to be choosier than they have been in decades. More Americans have criminal records now, criminologists say, in part because a generation has come of age since the start of the war on drugs.
These convictions are increasingly coming to employers' attention. Background checks have become more commonplace in the years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and cheaper. More than 80% of companies performed such checks in 2006, compared with fewer than 50% in 1998, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, an association of HR professionals.
Erased, Sealed, Blocked
Though the definition, terminology and methods of expungement vary by state, its general intent is to restore people to the legal status they enjoyed before a brush with the law -- often giving them the right to answer "no" when a prospective employer asks if they've been arrested or convicted. Most felonies, such as sexual assault or armed robberies, can't be removed. But in many states, some lesser crimes can. After a successful appeal, official records may be shredded, erased, sealed or blocked from view by anyone except entities such as police or schools.
Expungement doesn't wipe away all traces. Local news Web sites routinely post arrest mug shots, which are nearly impossible to eradicate from the Internet. Search engines can turn up a smattering of decades-old news and police reports, plus caches of newer ones. Arrests that have been legally expunged may remain on databases that data-harvesting companies offer to prospective employers; such background companies are under no legal obligation to erase them.
Some employers say background checks provide vital red flags at a time when liability fears run high. Workplace theft cost retailers $15.5 billion last year, according to the National Retail Federation. On-the-job violence costs billions in legal costs and lost work hours, says the Workplace Violence Research Institute, a California consulting firm.
"If I have a guy with four arrests and bad credit versus someone who has never been in trouble in his life, who am I going to hire? It's not rocket science," says Louis DeFalco, corporate director of safety, security and investigations at ABC Fine Wine & Spirits in Florida, which has 175 stores.
Though some employers acknowledge that workers with convictions can become trusted employees, the risk of passing over these applicants is far outweighed by the benefit of culling high-risk applicants from stacks of resumes. Companies can make hiring decisions based on conviction records, but not on arrests that haven't resulted in convictions, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Some lawyers have created services to help clients clear records, including Chicago attorney Tamara Holder's www.xpunged.com. Legal-aid organizations have created or stepped up programs to help guide people through the process. The public defender's office in San Jose, Calif., is among public organizations using federal stimulus money to hire additional attorneys to process the influx of clients.
State lawmakers have taken note. In Pennsylvania, where the state pardons board faces a three-year backlog of record-clearing requests, Democratic Rep. Tim Solobay was author of a bill permitting local courts to process the petitions as well. It passed into law last year. This year, Mr. Solobay is pushing legislation that would expand the class of misdemeanors that can be expunged to include disorderly conduct and possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Mr. Solobay says he wrote the bill after a friend told him that his son, who was convicted of disorderly conduct in college, had been turned down for several jobs.
"It kept coming back time and again and haunting him," Mr. Solobay says of his friend's son, suggesting that eventually the punishment ceased to fit the crime. "The job market is tough enough, and he's competing against people with a clean record. So he's getting disqualified."
Millions of Americans are in a similar position. In 1967, 50% of American men had been arrested. Since then, arrests made in connection with domestic violence and illegal drugs have pushed the number to 60%, estimates Alfred Blumstein, a criminologist at Carnegie Mellon University. The annual number of arrests for possession of marijuana more than tripled to 1.8 million from 1980 to 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Arrests and convictions are also easier for employers to learn about. Even 10 years ago, background checks tended to be cursory or expensive. Now, database providers can quickly access information from the country's approximately 3,100 court jurisdictions, charging $10 or less for simple checks.
One Chicago 53-year-old, who has worked for an overnight delivery service and as a bricklayer, is nervous that his record's sole smudge may come back to haunt him.
In 1974, he says, he was walking down a street near his Chicago home rolling a marijuana cigarette. He was arrested by an undercover police officer and convicted of possession. "That was back in the days when I had hair, and I just said, 'Forget about it.' I was like 17 or 18 years old -- what did I care?"
His employers never learned of the conviction, he says, nor have his own children. But, hoping to coach high-school basketball when he retires in a few years, he's working with a Chicago attorney to clear his record. "Nowadays they look for anything so I figured I better take care of this," he says.
One employer that has taken on candidates with criminal records in recent years is the U.S. military. From 2006 through 2008, the four armed-forces branches issued conduct waivers for more than 2,000 recruits with felony convictions, 3,000 recruits with felony arrests and 42,000 recruits with serious misdemeanors, according to the Department of Defense.
Now, some veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are finding their service may not make up for earlier offenses.
Osvaldo Hernandez of New York served in the Army for 15 months in Afghanistan, then, upon his return to the U.S., scored in the 98th percentile on his civil- service exam, says his attorney, Jim Harmon. Mr. Hernandez, 27, has been unable to land a job with the New York City Police Department because of a 2002 conviction of illegal possession of a gun, Mr. Harmon said.
Mr. Hernandez hasn't sought expungement because his crime doesn't qualify for it in New York. An NYPD spokesman said the department has a policy against hiring felons.
Mr. Hernandez is now serving another overseas tour, hoping "that serving twice in combat will overcome the prior conviction issue," Mr. Harmon says.
Mr. Camis, meanwhile, spent months trying to undo the legacy of one night in 1986.
Then 18, Mr. Camis was leaving his job at a movie theater in Woodridge, Ill., when he says two men threatened him. He flashed the handle of his 5-inch-long brush, he says.
The men fled. Mr. Camis says he called the police. Officers apprehended the men, who accused Mr. Camis of being the aggressor. Before a circuit court judge in Illinois's DuPage County, Mr. Camis admitted he threatened to cut the men -- assault without the battery -- and paid his fine.
Vote: Should people be allowed to expunge certain misdemeanors from from their records to help them land a job?
'Never Had a Problem'
The next year he joined the Air Force, where he serviced F-15s in Okinawa, Japan, and earned an honorable discharge. He later worked as a guard, railroad brakeman, exterminator and restaurateur, he says, passing two criminal background checks along the way. "I never had a problem," he said.
In fall 2008, he says, he approached Cardinal Services Inc. in Oregon. An agent at the temp service said he had openings that might be suitable. Mr. Camis turned in his application.
Cardinal says it paid a background-search firm about $10 to examine his past. It turned up the DuPage no-judgment order -- which the court had posted online in 2004, among other records.
When Mr. Camis followed up with Cardinal a week after applying, he says, an agent there accused him of lying about his criminal history. Cardinal wouldn't help him find work, the agent said.
Cardinal Services' manager and general counsel Mike Lehman says the company's application asks prospective workers about arrests, as well as convictions. Mr. Lehman called Mr. Camis's denial of his arrest a "red flag."
"If someone has a criminal history, we can work with them," Mr. Lehman says. "But if they have one and lie to us, that's pretty ominous."
Mr. Camis says he had forgotten about the incident and, even when reminded, thought the "no judgment" ruling had cleared him.
A few weeks later, he called Ms. Holder of Xpunged.com. She filed an expungement petition with the DuPage court.
In April, Mr. Camis flew from Oregon to Illinois for a five-minute hearing in front of a DuPage circuit judge. The judge agreed to seal the record. Ms. Holder added that under Illinois law, Mr. Camis's charge wasn't technically a conviction.
On Sept. 8, the records supervisor of the Woodridge Police Department signed an affidavit swearing that she had shredded all identifying materials connected to case 86CM4967, "People of the State of Illinois vs. Wallace E. Camis Jr." The destroyed documents would have included the police report with details of the arrest.
Mr. Camis is back in Illinois, taking education courses and logging full-time hours at a day-care center where he is the cook and a classroom helper. He says he eventually hopes to be a teacher.
Of his police record, Mr. Camis says: "Hopefully it's gone for good."
From the White House
November 10, 2009
Remarks by the President at Memorial Service at Fort Hood
Fort Hood - III Corps, Fort Hood, Texas
1:55 P.M. CST
THE PRESIDENT: To the Fort Hood community; to Admiral Mullen; General Casey; General Cone; Secretary McHugh; Secretary Gates; most importantly, to family, friends and members of our Armed Forces. We come together filled with sorrow for the 13 Americans that we have lost; with gratitude for the lives that they led; and with a determination to honor them through the work we carry on.
This is a time of war. Yet these Americans did not die on a foreign field of battle. They were killed here, on American soil, in the heart of this great state and the heart of this great American community. This is the fact that makes the tragedy even more painful, even more incomprehensible.
For those families who have lost a loved one, no words can fill the void that's been left. We knew these men and women as soldiers and caregivers. You knew them as mothers and fathers; sons and daughters; sisters and brothers.
But here is what you must also know: Your loved ones endure through the life of our nation. Their memory will be honored in the places they lived and by the people they touched. Their life's work is our security, and the freedom that we all too often take for granted. Every evening that the sun sets on a tranquil town; every dawn that a flag is unfurled; every moment that an American enjoys life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- that is their legacy.
Neither this country -- nor the values upon which we were founded -- could exist without men and women like these 13 Americans. And that is why we must pay tribute to their stories.
Chief Warrant Officer Michael Cahill had served in the National Guard and worked as a physician's assistant for decades. A husband and father of three, he was so committed to his patients that on the day he died, he was back at work just weeks after having had a heart attack.
Major Libardo Eduardo Caraveo spoke little English when he came to America as a teenager. But he put himself through college, earned a PhD, and was helping combat units cope with the stress of deployment. He's survived by his wife, sons and step-daughters.
Staff Sergeant Justin DeCrow joined the Army right after high school, married his high school sweetheart, and had served as a light wheeled mechanic and satellite communications operator. He was known as an optimist, a mentor, and a loving husband and loving father.
After retiring from the Army as a major, John Gaffaney cared for society's most vulnerable during two decades as a psychiatric nurse. He spent three years trying to return to active duty in this time of war, and he was preparing to deploy to Iraq as a captain. He leaves behind a wife and son.
Specialist Frederick Greene was a Tennessean who wanted to join the Army for a long time, and did so in 2008, with the support of his family. As a combat engineer he was a natural leader, and he is survived by his wife and two daughters.
Specialist Jason Hunt was also recently married, with three children to care for. He joined the Army after high school. He did a tour in Iraq, and it was there that he reenlisted for six more years on his 21st birthday so that he could continue to serve.
Staff Sergeant Amy Krueger was an athlete in high school, joined the Army shortly after 9/11, and had since returned home to speak to students about her experience. When her mother told her she couldn't take on Osama bin Laden by herself, Amy replied: "Watch me."
Private First Class Aaron Nemelka was an Eagle Scout who just recently signed up to do one of the most dangerous jobs in the service -- diffuse bombs -- so that he could help save lives. He was proudly carrying on a tradition of military service that runs deep within his family.
Private First Class Michael Pearson loved his family and loved his music, and his goal was to be a music teacher. He excelled at playing the guitar, and could create songs on the spot and show others how to play. He joined the military a year ago, and was preparing for his first deployment.
Captain Russell Seager worked as a nurse for the VA, helping veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress. He had extraordinary respect for the military, and signed up to serve so that he could help soldiers cope with the stress of combat and return to civilian life. He leaves behind a wife and son.
Private Francheska Velez, daughter of a father from Colombia and a Puerto Rican mother, had recently served in Korea and in Iraq, and was pursuing a career in the Army. When she was killed she was pregnant with her first child, and was excited about becoming a mother.
Lieutenant Colonel Juanita Warman was the daughter and granddaughter of Army veterans. She was a single mom who put herself through college and graduate school, and served as a nurse practitioner while raising her two daughters. She also left behind a loving husband.
Private First Class Kham Xiong came to America from Thailand as a small child. He was a husband and father who followed his brother into the military because his family had a strong history of service. He was preparing for his first deployment to Afghanistan.
These men and women came from all parts of the country. Some had long careers in the military. Some had signed up to serve in the shadow of 9/11. Some had known intense combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, and some cared for those did. Their lives speak to the strength, the dignity, the decency of those who serve, and that's how they will be remembered.
For that same spirit is embodied in the community here at Fort Hood, and in the many wounded who are still recovering. As was already mentioned, in those terrible minutes during the attack, soldiers made makeshift tourniquets out of their clothes. They braved gunfire to reach the wounded, and ferried them to safety in the backs of cars and a pickup truck.
One young soldier, Amber Bahr, was so intent on helping others, she did not realize for some time that she, herself, had been shot in the back. Two police officers -- Mark Todd and Kim Munley -- saved countless lives by risking their own. One medic -- Francisco de la Serna -- treated both Officer Munley and the gunman who shot her.
It may be hard to comprehend the twisted logic that led to this tragedy. But this much we do know -- no faith justifies these murderous and craven acts; no just and loving God looks upon them with favor. For what he has done, we know that the killer will be met with justice -- in this world, and the next.
These are trying times for our country. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the same extremists who killed nearly 3,000 Americans continue to endanger America, our allies, and innocent Afghans and Pakistanis. In Iraq, we're working to bring a war to a successful end, as there are still those who would deny the Iraqi people the future that Americans and Iraqis have sacrificed so much for.
As we face these challenges, the stories of those at Fort Hood reaffirm the core values that we are fighting for, and the strength that we must draw upon. Theirs are the tales of American men and women answering an extraordinary call -- the call to serve their comrades, their communities, and their country. In an age of selfishness, they embody responsibility. In an era of division, they call upon us to come together. In a time of cynicism, they remind us of who we are as Americans.
We are a nation that endures because of the courage of those who defend it. We saw that valor in those who braved bullets here at Fort Hood, just as surely as we see it in those who signed up knowing that they would serve in harm's way.
We are a nation of laws whose commitment to justice is so enduring that we would treat a gunman and give him due process, just as surely as we will see that he pays for his crimes.
We're a nation that guarantees the freedom to worship as one chooses. And instead of claiming God for our side, we remember Lincoln's words, and always pray to be on the side of God.
We're a nation that is dedicated to the proposition that all men and women are created equal. We live that truth within our military, and see it in the varied backgrounds of those we lay to rest today. We defend that truth at home and abroad, and we know that Americans will always be found on the side of liberty and equality. That's who we are as a people.
Tomorrow is Veterans Day. It's a chance to pause, and to pay tribute -- for students to learn the struggles that preceded them; for families to honor the service of parents and grandparents; for citizens to reflect upon the sacrifices that have been made in pursuit of a more perfect union.
For history is filled with heroes. You may remember the stories of a grandfather who marched across Europe; an uncle who fought in Vietnam; a sister who served in the Gulf. But as we honor the many generations who have served, all of us -- every single American -- must acknowledge that this generation has more than proved itself the equal of those who've come before.
We need not look to the past for greatness, because it is before our very eyes.
This generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen have volunteered in the time of certain danger. They are part of the finest fighting force that the world has ever known. They have served tour after tour of duty in distant, different and difficult places. They have stood watch in blinding deserts and on snowy mountains. They have extended the opportunity of self-government to peoples that have suffered tyranny and war. They are man and woman; white, black, and brown; of all faiths and all stations -- all Americans, serving together to protect our people, while giving others half a world away the chance to lead a better life.
In today's wars, there's not always a simple ceremony that signals our troops' success -- no surrender papers to be signed, or capital to be claimed. But the measure of the impact of these young men and women is no less great -- in a world of threats that no know borders, their legacy will be marked in the safety of our cities and towns, and the security and opportunity that's extended abroad. It will serve as testimony to the character of those who served, and the example that all of you in uniform set for America and for the world.
Here, at Fort Hood, we pay tribute to 13 men and women who were not able to escape the horror of war, even in the comfort of home. Later today, at Fort Lewis, one community will gather to remember so many in one Stryker Brigade who have fallen in Afghanistan.
Long after they are laid to rest -- when the fighting has finished, and our nation has endured; when today's servicemen and women are veterans, and their children have grown -- it will be said that this generation believed under the most trying of tests; believed in perseverance -- not just when it was easy, but when it was hard; that they paid the price and bore the burden to secure this nation, and stood up for the values that live in the hearts of all free peoples.
So we say goodbye to those who now belong to eternity. We press ahead in pursuit of the peace that guided their service. May God bless the memory of those that we have lost. And may God bless the United States of America.
From the Department of Homeland Security
Secretary Napolitano Unveils New Veterans Website Designed to Highlight Veteran Employment and Contracting Opportunities
Release Date: November 10, 2009
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano today unveiled a new website designed to provide a one-stop location for veterans and veterans organizations to learn about DHS' many veteran outreach initiatives and hiring and contracting opportunities.
"This new website reflects the shared commitment across the Department to hiring American veterans," said Secretary Napolitano. "Veterans play a vital role in the Department of Homeland Security's mission to protect the nation, and this website will help us build our veteran workforce to more than 50,000 Department-wide by 2012."
Today's announcement comes one day after Secretary Napolitano joined President Obama as he signed an Executive Order on the Employment of Veterans in the Federal Government, which emphasizes recruiting and training veterans for employment at federal agencies, increasing the veteran workforce within the executive branch and assisting recently hired veterans in making the adjustment to service in a civilian capacity.
The new website, available at www.dhs.gov/veterans , features information for veterans about how to find employment opportunities at DHS, ways to get involved in community-based efforts like Citizen Corps, and special veteran programs such as Operation Warfighter and Wounded Warrior, which provide employment opportunities for severely wounded or recovering service members to assist their transition back to the military or civilian workforce.
The website also features DHS procurement opportunities for veteran and service disabled veteran business owners and information about DHS policies and news impacting the veteran community.
The new website is the latest step in DHS' active engagement and recruitment of veterans and veteran-owned businesses. DHS' civilian workforce includes approximately 47,000 veterans, comprising 25 percent of all employees—including Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute—in addition to the 42,000 active duty members of the U.S. Coast Guard.
On Oct. 29, Secretary Napolitano met with leaders of several veterans service organizations to discuss DHS' ongoing collaborations with veterans on recruitment and other key DHS initiatives, such as the Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business contract program, which promotes contracting opportunities for veteran-owned businesses.
Secretary Napolitano also recently announced the DHS Veterans Outreach Steering Committee—a group of representatives from across the Department who will meet regularly and advise the Secretary on efforts to improve and integrate veteran outreach. At the Committee's first meeting, held in October, she discussed plans to expand existing veterans programs and streamline the Department's veterans outreach efforts to enhance openness and transparency—including the website overhaul announced today.
For more information, visit www.dhs.gov/veterans .
From the Department of Justice
Honoring and Serving America's Veterans
November 10th, 2009
Posted by Tracy Russo
On a day meant to honor the service and sacrifice of America's veterans, we wanted to highlight a handful of service member-specific initiatives at the Justice Department.
The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division works to protect the rights of those who have protected us – America's veterans – by enforcing laws that defend their employment, voting and financial security rights. The Uniformed Services Emplovment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) , the Uniformed and Overseas Citizen Absentee Voting Act of 1986 (UOCAVA) , and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) are three laws, enacted by Congress, to protect the rights of service members.
The Uniformed Services Emplovment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) is a federal statute that protects servicemembers' and veterans' civilian employment rights. Among other things, under certain conditions, USERRA requires employers to put individuals back to work in their civilian jobs after military service. The law also protects servicemembers from discrimination in the workplace based on their military service or affiliation.
The Civil Rights Division has filed 20 lawsuits under USERRA in 2009. Enforcement of this law is a top priority of the Division and the Department. For a catalog of USERRA cases, as well as other actions the Department has undertaken on behalf of veterans, visit: http://www.servicemembers.gov/cases.htm
The Uniformed and Overseas Citizen Absentee Voting Act of 1986 (UOCAVA) was enacted by Congress in 1986. It requires that states and territories allow certain groups of citizens to register and vote absentee in elections for Federal offices. U.S. citizens covered by UOCAVA include members of the U.S. Uniformed Services and merchant marine; their family members; and U.S. citizens residing outside the country.
In October, U.S. District Court Judge Richard L. Williams ruled in favor of a Department complaint that Virginia violated the voting rights of American military personnel and other overseas citizens by failing to mail absentee ballots in sufficient time for them to be counted in the Nov. 4, 2008, general election. Williams declared that Virginia's failure to mail more than 2,000 absentee ballots at least 30 days prior to the election violated UOCAVA and wrote in his ruling: “The right to vote means a right to cast a ballot that will be counted.”
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act of 2003 (SCRA) is a federal law that provides protections for military members as they enter active duty. It covers issues such as rental agreements, security deposits, pre-paid rent, eviction, credit card interest rates, mortgage foreclosure, insurance and tax payments.
In September, the Department announced the settlement of its first landlord-tenant case under SCRA. The Department filed a lawsuit on behalf of Colonel Debra Bean, a highly decorated member of the Armed Forces, who currently serves as Vice Commander for the 78th Air Base Wing at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia. The lawsuit alleged that Bean's former landlord failed to return prepaid rent and security deposits after she terminated her lease early in order to comply with military orders to relocate.
The Department of Justice is committed to the vigorous enforcement of these statutes and all others, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act, which allow us to serve and protect the brave men and women who serve our Nation in uniform.
The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) works to support and enhance the Nation's criminal justice system through strong partnerships with key stakeholders.
Employing Returning Combat Veterans as Law Enforcement Officers
Department of Defense military personnel are committed on a large scale to support the Nation's war on terrorism, specifically the ongoing military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Law enforcement professionals and their families bear a significant burden in meeting these challenges as Reserve and National Guard units are activated and deployed. Law enforcement officers, like other public servants, share this responsibility as citizen soldiers.
The Department of Justice and law enforcement leaders across the country recognize that many combat veterans returning from deployment face many challenges as they enter new positions or return to positions held as federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies.
As a result, the Office of Justice Programs' (OJP) Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) has partnered with the International Association of Chiefs of Police to support research and best-practices on the integration and reintegration of military personnel into federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies.
In early 2010, BJA will release guidebooks for law enforcement agency leaders and veterans who are returning to their positions or who are seeking to enter the law enforcement career field.
Veterans' Treatment Courts
Veterans' Treatment Courts are hybrid Drug and Mental Health Courts that use the Drug Court model to serve veterans struggling with addiction, serious mental illness and/or co-occurring disorders. They promote sobriety, recovery, and stability through a coordinated response that involves cooperation and collaboration with the traditional partners found in Drug and Mental Health Courts, with the addition of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health care networks , the Veterans' Benefits Administration, volunteer veteran mentors , and veterans and veterans' family support organizations.
In Fiscal Year 2010, in partnership with the Veterans Administration, BJA is launching a pilot Veterans' Court Planning Initiative which will be run by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. This initiative will create a curriculum for existing drug courts who want to enhance their operational drug court by adding a veteran's component. The curriculum will be piloted with 10 drug court teams, consisting of eight team members from each jurisdiction to be trained. Factors which will be considered in curriculum development and delivery will include: issues unique to veterans' experiences, identifying and addressing co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders, incorporating a mentor component. To follow the progress of the Pilot Veterans Court Planning Initiative, check out this BJA website: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/BJA/grant/drugcourts.html .
To further these efforts, our partners at the National Association of Drug Court Professionals are launching a new Veterans' Treatment Court Clearinghouse, a comprehensive web site for Veterans' Treatment Court news and resources. For more information, go to: http://www.nadcp.org/node/430 .
The Department of Justice is proud to serve our Nation's service men and women. Through enforcement of veteran-specific statutes as well as state and local support offered in conjunction with our partners, we salute these Americans.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Justice Department Signs Agreement with Wilmington, North Carolina, to Ensure Civic Access for People with Disabilities
WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today announced a settlement agreement with the city of Wilmington, N.C., to improve access to all aspects of civic life for persons with disabilities. The agreement was reached under "Project Civic Access," a Justice Department initiative to bring state and local governments into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This agreement is the 171st reached under Project Civic Access and the tenth this year.
Project Civic Access was initiated to ensure that people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in civic life. As part of the project, department investigators, attorneys, and architects survey state and local government facilities and programs throughout the country to identify modifications necessary to comply with ADA requirements. Depending on the circumstances in each community, the agreements address specific areas where access must be improved.
"Civic access is a basic right guaranteed to all, and today's agreement illustrates Wilmington's commitment to improving access for all of its residents and visitors with disabilities," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "We applaud Wilmington for entering into this agreement that will further the rights and opportunities of individuals with disabilities."
The city of Wilmington, also known as the Port City, is located in the southeastern corner of North Carolina between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean. Wilmington has become a popular location for filming movies and TV shows. More than 15,400 individuals with disabilities call Wilmington home, and the percentage of Wilmington residents who have a disability is higher than the national average.
Under the agreement announced today, the city of Wilmington will take several steps to improve access for individuals with disabilities, such as:
- Making physical modifications to its facilities so that parking, routes into the buildings, entrances, public telephones, restrooms, service counters, and drinking fountains are accessible to persons with disabilities;
- Posting, publishing and distributing a notice to inform members of the public of the provisions of the ADA and their applicability to the city's programs, services, and activities;
- Adopting a grievance procedure to deal with complaints of disability discrimination;
- Amending its employment policies, as necessary, to comply with the regulations of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act;
- Implementing a plan that will provide accessible sidewalks and curb ramps throughout Wilmington;
- Ensuring that the city's official website is accessible to persons with disabilities, including individuals who are blind or have low vision;
- Providing information for interested persons with disabilities concerning the existence and location of the city's accessible services, activities and programs; and
- Installing signs at any inaccessible entrance to a city facility directing members of the public to an accessible entrance or to information about other accessible facilities where services can be obtained.
Today's agreement was reached under Title II of the ADA, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities by state and local governments. The agreement will remain in effect for three years. The department will monitor compliance with the agreement until required actions have been completed.
People interested in finding out more about the ADA, today's agreement with Wilmington, N.C., or the department's Project Civic Access initiative may find this information on the ADA Web site at http://www.ada.gov or may call the toll-free ADA Information Line at (800) 514-0301 or (800) 514-0383 (TTY).
From the FBI
|UNITED AGAINST MS-13
Our Central American Partnerships
The law enforcement officers from Central America and the U.S. were mid-way through a tour of the Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles when they spotted a shirtless prisoner exercising in the rooftop recreation area. The tattoos covering the man's back, neck, and shaved head had gotten their attention—one tattoo in particular. When asked about it, the prisoner moved closer to the steel mesh barrier that separated him from the group and said the design was Mayan—“just another way to say ‘13.' ”
Thirteen, as in MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha. It's one of the largest and most violent street gangs in the U.S. and Central America. It was MS-13 and another transnational gang, 18th Street, that brought this group of 27 officers together as part of a program created by our MS-13 National Gang Task Force (NGTF).
| MS-13 National Gang Task Force The MS-13 National Gang Task Force was established in 2004 to facilitate the exchange of information and intelligence among U.S. and Central American law enforcement agencies. Besides CALEE, some of the task force's other initiatives include:
- TAG , Transnational Anti-Gang Unit: In existence since 2007, TAG consists of law enforcement, prosecutors, and analysts from El Salvador's Policía Nacional Civil (PNC), as well as two FBI agents permanently stationed in the country.
- CAFÉ , Central American Fingerprint Exchange: Through assessments and funding, we help partner nations improve or develop fingerprint and biometric capabilities. Currently active in El Salvador.
- CAIP, Central American Intelligence Program: Established to enhance the seamless exchange of intelligence between the U.S. and partner countries. The first CAIP class was held last summer at our training facility in Quantico.
- CHIP , Criminal History Information Program: Set to begin in 2010, the program will provide our partners with criminal history information regarding individuals who have been deported to their home country from the U.S.
The Central American Law Enforcement Exchange, known as CALEE, is a joint FBI and State Department initiative which brings U.S. and Central American agencies together to share information and intelligence in the fight against the growing gang problem.
Because MS-13 and 18th Street cross borders to commit crimes such as murder, extortion, and drug trafficking, it's critical that law enforcement also work together across borders, sharing everything from criminal records and investigative techniques to ongoing intelligence efforts. Efficiently exchanging information as basic as types of tattoos—a person's body art often indicates his or her gang affiliation—can alert officers if new gangs or “cliques” are turning up in their areas.
“The CALEE program is fundamentally about building relationships,” said Special Agent Robert Guyton, who runs the program through the NGTF. “We're talking about relationships built on personal interaction, not just by talking on the phone or sending e-mails.”
The recently completed exchange program—the second of its kind—brought together representatives from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, and Belize, along with their U.S. counterparts from the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, and officers from Northern Virginia and several jurisdictions in North Carolina, where gang activities have been increasing. For those in the program who did not speak English, two of our Spanish-speaking language analysts provided translation.
For nearly a month, participants spent their days together in settings ranging from conference rooms and command posts to ride-alongs with officers on the street. The program started with a visit to our training facility in Quantico, Virginia and included tours of prisons in North Carolina, California, and El Salvador. At every step of the way, the Central Americans saw how U.S. agencies work—and work together—to combat gangs.
In Los Angeles, the group heard from gang experts by day, and by night accompanied officers who policed the worst neighborhoods in patrol cars and even in helicopters. Along the way, many friendships were forged.
Some countries, like El Salvador, have serious gang problems. Others, like Belize, have emerging problems and are educating themselves about gang operations and tactics through CALEE. Still other countries, like Nicaragua, are learning investigative strategies and techniques to make sure their minor gang problems don't become major ones.
“The CALEE experience,” said Navas Funes, of Nicaragua's Policía Nacional Civil through an interpreter, “has strengthened the ties among us and united us all in a common cause against transnational gangs.”
Check back for a feature video on CALEE in the near future.
- FBI Violent Gangs website
- National Gang Assessment