| NEWS of the Day - February 4, 2012
|on some issues of interest to the community policing and neighborhood activist across the country
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 Los Angeles Times
NYPD investigation of Muslims: Civil rights groups ask for probe
The New York Police Department found itself under increasing pressure on Friday over how it has investigated Muslims as part of its anti-terrorism probes, with angry civil rights groups asking the state attorney general to look into the matter.
In a letter to state Atty. Gen. Eric Schneiderman, about 32 civil rights groups called for an investigation of allegations that the department uses religion as the sole criteria in deciding surveillance of Shiite mosques. The attorney general's office did not immediately return repeated telephone calls for comment.
The Associated Press was the first to report on a May 2006 confidential intelligence document that recommended the department focus anti-terrorism intelligence operations on Shiite mosques. The news agency also reported on the city's surveillance operations, which monitored and built databases about usual activities in Muslim neighborhoods.
The agency's investigative report led to a call in October by several state senators for an investigation by the attorney general.
“The report details far-reaching operations by the NYPD that include surveillance of hundreds of mosques, businesses, nonprofits and individuals by using undercover officers known as ‘rakers,' without evidence of any criminality or wrongdoing,” said the lawmakers, who mainly represent heavily Muslim areas in Brooklyn. “The department created files tracking daily life in bookstores, restaurants, barber shops and gyms as a part of a human mapping program."
“I am greatly troubled that the NYPD seeks to criminalize an entire faith tradition,” Democratic Sen. Kevin Parker said in a prepared statement. “The message seems to be if you are Muslim, you are guilty until proven innocent. New York, and Brooklyn in particular, is home to one of the largest Muslim populations in the nation. We face serious security challenges; unfortunately this approach by the department may not only violate the law but also focuses resources on law-abiding citizens rather than targeting those who seek to do us harm.”
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg have repeatedly insisted that the department does not target Shiite Muslims as a religious group but does follow what it considers to be legitimate investigative leads.
The dispute over surveillance follows other complaints from the Muslim community, particularly over a film, “The Third Jihad,” that was shown at police training sessions. Kelly appears in the movie, which Muslims consider offensive.
Super Bowl: Backed by tougher Indiana law, nuns target sex trade
Backed by a tougher Indiana law, a coalition of Roman Catholic nuns has stepped up efforts to curb the sex trade during this weekend's Super Bowl.
The group, which includes the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Cleveland, has contacted hotels in Indianapolis and its environs to be on the lookout for sex trafficking and to take steps to halt it. The effort was first reported by WKYC-TV.
"No one wants human trafficking in their town," Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Ann Oestreich said in a prepared statement. "These activities happen in the dark. What we are attempting to do is to shine a light on sex trafficking and reduce opportunities for it to happen."
Oestreich is coordinating the Super Bowl 2012 Anti-Trafficking Initiative for the Coalition for Corporate Responsibility for Indiana and Michigan. The group says it has contacted the managers of 220 hotels within a 50-mile radius of Indianapolis to help spot trafficking.
"Human trafficking is a tragic violation of human rights that devastates its victims, strips away their dignity and security, and tears at the fabric of our global society," said Sister of St. Joseph Nancy Conway. "It is a form of imprisonment and oppression which demands a compassionate response to the cries of victims who long for a future with hope."
Major events such as a Super Bowl or Olympics often attract a host of illegal activities, including sex trafficking and gambling.
To deal with an expected increase in prostitution, Indiana passed a law, which went into effect on Monday, designed to make prosecution of sex trafficking easier. Among other things, the law makes it a felony to recruit, transport or harbor anyone under the age of 16 for prostitution or other sexual conduct, punishable by 20 to 50 years in prison.
"Sex trafficking is tragic because it is imprisonment and oppression that devastates its victims," Sister Pat Bergen, a team leader of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in La Grange Park, wrote in Friday's Chicago Tribune. "Mostly young women and children, the victims are subject to gross human rights violations, including rape, torture, forced abortions, starvation, and threats of torture or murder. Many of these victims have been imported from poverty conditions in foreign countries, duped with promises of good jobs in the U.S. Others were purchased like possessions or kidnapped outright. And some are American runaways whose lives have hit bottom."
The U.S. State Department recently estimated that 14,500 to 18,000 victims are trafficked into the United States annually for prostitution or other forms of forced labor.
From Google News
Bloomberg reloads in push for gun control
by Emily Flitter
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Among the slick, million-dollar ads for the likes of Pepsi and Honda during the Super Bowl this Sunday, viewers in New York and Boston will see a far more modest spot. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino will be sitting on a couch touting an issue most politicians avoid like the plague: gun control.
The two mayors, whose local teams face off in the big game, are making the pitch for Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG), the organization they co-founded in 2006.
Murder has been on the decline in New York and other major American cities for years, but the mayors say they still see too many dead cops and teens. On Tuesday night, Bloomberg was at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan visiting a New York police officer who had just been shot in the face in Brooklyn.
"We have someone who's dedicated his life to protecting all of us, who has had a much too close brush with death tonight because of what appears to be an illegal gun," Bloomberg told a news conference. He added that more Americans have been killed by illegal guns since 1968 than were killed in World War II.
Candidates for local and national office in the U.S. have faced sharp backlashes for advocating restraints on gun ownership, such as assault weapons or guns on campus. Such pushes draw fire from the well-funded National Rifle Association (NRA) and its allies. For many defenders of the Constitution's Second Amendment - the right to bear arms - guns are the single issue on which they vote.
"We have to face the fact that both Democrats and Republicans have for a while viewed this as the third rail of American politics," said John Feinblatt, who helps run MAIG as Bloomberg's chief advisor for policy and strategic planning. (Bloomberg is an independent; Menino is a Democrat.)
Democrats, who are more likely than Republicans to favor some restrictions on gun ownership, made a conscious decision to stay away from the gun issue in the 2010 midterm congressional elections. The aim: protect the so-called Blue Dog conservative Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, who didn't toe the party line on gun control. Most were defeated anyway.
If the Democratic Party hoped to keep the gun issue off center stage in the 2012 presidential race, MAIG's campaign makes that unlikely. So does the fact that the NRA and the gun industry's trade group, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), have announced they will have a combined war chest of $225 million .
"We are anticipating having a voter-education effort that will be our largest effort ever," said Lawrence Keane, senior vice president and general counsel at the NSSF.
NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre echoed the sentiment.
"I don't think this is going to be an apathetic year for American gun owners."
NO MORE CANDLES
New York's activist mayor cannot simply restrict handguns in his city - as he has done with smoking and transfats. Two Supreme Court decisions - District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago - have declared such local initiatives unconstitutional. Instead, Bloomberg launched MAIG, which now has 600 members nationwide. Although it has a handful of private donors, the bulk of MAIG's $4 million budget comes out of the mayor's own pocket.
"He's putting his money where his mouth is," said Carolyn McCarthy, a Democratic congresswoman from Long Island. She entered politics after a 1993 shooting spree on the Long Island Rail Road left her husband dead and her son severely injured.
Bloomberg, in his third and last term, is free from concerns about electability and can tap a personal fortune of $19.5 billion, according to a November estimate by Forbes. As for speculation that he might mount a presidential bid this round or next, his leadership on such a divisive issue makes that look less likely.
"There was a lot of political capital that was poured into this," one person who worked closely with MAIG said.
In the past, advocates for stricter gun controls held marches, rallies and candlelight vigils. MAIG has taken a far more activist approach, conducting undercover investigations and sting operations that are then dramatically revealed to the press.
In 2009, New York City contracted the security firm Kroll Inc. to send undercover agents to gun shows in Ohio, Tennessee and Nevada to show how people who could not pass a background check easily bought guns.
MAIG also used undercover investigators to expose gun dealers who sold to "straw purchasers," buyers intending to quickly resell the guns on the black market. Another investigation identified online gun sellers who did not require background checks.
Bloomberg launched another probe after the January 2011 shooting in Arizona that killed six people and wounded 13, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Using city money, he sent undercover investigators to Arizona to repeat the gun show sting and prove how easy it was for someone like Jared Lee Loughner, the shooter, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, to get a gun.
That move enraged supporters of unfettered gun rights.
"The 'sting' was a waste of money that misleads Americans and did nothing to reduce crime," wrote John Lott Jr., an economist who writes about guns, in a column on FoxNews.com. "Talk about an aggressive publicity stunt."
The NSSF's Keane said there are serious problems with many MAIG actions. He cited another investigation in which MAIG used gun data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) to sue dealers found to be selling guns to straw buyers.
"The New York City police department went to the ATF, traced data, turned that traced data over to private investigators, violated federal law, and interfered in 18 ongoing criminal investigations," he said. "The ATF had to pull agents out of the field because they were placed at risk."
Marc Lavorgna, a spokesman for the New York City mayor's office, said in response: "They can't argue the substance, so they continue to make a false, tired claim that has been directly refuted by the ATF. And the courts have validated that our investigations were legal."
The ATF did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Opponents of the mayors' efforts have also seized on a Department of Justice program codenamed "Fast and Furious" to discredit sting operations. Beginning in 2009, the ATF, investigating a gun-trafficking network in Arizona and Mexico, supplied 2,000 illegal guns they hoped to trace through the system so they could catch the leaders. Instead, they lost track of hundreds of the guns - two of which were found near the murder scene of Brian Terry, a border patrol agent, in 2010.
Last Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder was called before a congressional committee for a second time to explain how the program went bad. He repeated that senior Justice Department and ATF officials had not known about the operation until it was over.
Members of the MAIG say they are not trying to take guns away from their legal owners, just to close loopholes that allow criminals to get guns and move them around undetected.
"It's a serious safety issue," said Margaret Stock, the Democratic mayor of Butler, Pennsylvania, the town of 13,000 where Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum spent part of his childhood. "If an officer gets shot with an illegal gun I'm responsible."
Butler is in a sparsely populated area of western Pennsylvania where the first day of deer hunting season is often a school holiday.
"We're a big hunting community, but this is illegal handguns, it's a totally different issue," Stock said. "I had a little bit of backlash from local members of the NRA that I was somehow anti-gun. That was not the intent of the coalition."
MAIG's efforts have spurred some change. In 2008, Wal-Mart signed the voluntary 10-point code of conduct MAIG developed for gun sellers. It includes videotaping the area of a store where guns are sold, setting up a computerized gun tracing and alert system, and performing background checks on its employees.
An Ohio gun show operator identified in MAIG's 2009 sting began offering police and federal firearms agents a free booth at his shows to strengthen background checks and help dealers recognize straw buyers, according to the Dayton Daily News.
MAIG claims on its website that "four out of the seven gun shows and venues" fingered in the 2009 investigation "have changed their practices."
ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL
No one thinks gun control is going to be the most important issue in 2012, but there are specific races and constituencies where it certainly will matter.
One such race is northwestern Arkansas, where a 33-year-old Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran named Ken Aden is challenging his former battalion commander for a Congressional seat. Aden is running as a progressive Democrat; his Republican opponent, Steve Womack, is a freshman incumbent, part of the Tea Party sweep of the 2010 midterm elections.
Aden, who has already met with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and other party officials in Washington, has strong views on guns. He collects them, and say he knows what damage they can do. When Aden was 16 his father was shot and killed by his stepmother, using his dad's own 357 magnum and his shotgun.
"We've got to keep guns out of the wrong hands," Aden said.
He supports the background checks mandated by the 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and has pledged in his platform to "fight to make sure that dangerous assault rifles and ammunition with no practical purpose in hunting, self-protection, or sport shooting ... stay off our streets."
Womack, for his part has co-sponsored several pieces of legislation to reinforce Second Amendment rights, including a bill that would force states to honor other states' concealed carry permits.
"New, more stringent gun laws will not keep guns out of the hands of criminals," Womack told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette in January 2011, after the Tucson shootings. "Rather, proper enforcement of our current laws will provide the necessary mechanisms to ensure the well-being of the American people."
The NRA is telling supporters that President Obama will outlaw guns in a second term by appointing Supreme Court justices to reverse the gains made in the Heller and McDonald decisions. The White House denies that it has any such aim.
"The real threat to the Second Amendment is the reelection of President Obama," said LaPierre.
He believes that other Democratic candidates will stay away from gun issues so as not to draw attention to Obama's ultimate game plan.
"Their strategy is to fog the issue through the 2012 election, because they don't want the Second Amendment or guns to prevent the reelection of President Obama," LaPierre said of the Democrats.
Democratic strategist Celinda Lake, who has spent many years polling on gun issues, said her data suggest two audiences will be open to gun-control measures in the 2012 elections: Latinos and suburban women.
Her firm, Lake Research Partners, conducted a poll in late October for MAIG that found 76 percent of Latinos supported a new program requiring gun dealers in border states to report when someone attempts to buy more than one semi-automatic rifle within a five-day period.
Suburban women, Lake said, who are known to be swing voters, want guns kept out of their neighborhoods.
In addition to his work with MAIG, Mayor Bloomberg is keeping a close eye on elections all around the country. He has already backed six candidates for Virginia's state senate with contributions of $25,000 each, and may give to more candidates.
MAIG's Feinberg said the group had not yet identified congressional races it wanted to support, but, he added, "We're always watching."
Phoenix police stepping up community relations efforts
by Susan Casper
PHOENIX - Phoenix police officers are better trained to keep you safe.
The department is undergoing training to help heal its relationship with citizens after one of its officers was involved in an altercation with Phoenix City Councilman Michael Johnson .
"That's certainly not a position I want to be in again," smiled Phoenix's Vice Mayor Michael Johnson.
Johnson can finally laugh when talking about such a serious altercation.
"It was an unfortunate situation that happened," he explained.
In March of 2010, Johnson accused Phoenix Police Officer Brian Authement of violating his civil rights after he was handcuffed and wrestled to the ground. The incident happened after Johnson awoke to find his neighbor's house engulfed in flames.
Johnson says he rushed outside, where he asked the Phoenix Fire Department battalion chief if he could talk to his neighbor to find out if he was all right and that he was granted permission to enter the fire scene. That's when Johnson says he was confronted by Authement and the alleged abuse of power took place.
After their altercation, both Johnson and Authement walked away with cuts and bruises and accused the other of assault.
"It helped shed some light on some things," Johnson said. "And helped add some validity to some of the issues that citizens had been complaining about."
Issues, according to Johnson, that include complaints of police brutality, harassment and race-related civil rights abuses within the Phoenix Police Department.
"Our mission on the Phoenix Police Department is treat everyone with dignity and respect," explained Commander Mike Kurtenbach.
The Maryvale precinct commander oversees the department's community outreach programs. Following Vice Mayor Johnson's scuffle, a task force issued more than 30 recommendations on ways the department can better handle citizen complaints.
"We had a horrible incident back in 2010," Kurtenbach explained. "But we've learned from it internally and we're connecting better with the community."
Within the last year, Phoenix police officers have undergone additional community policing training and even hosted the first ever Spanish-speaking citizens police academy.
"This incident happened, we've learned from it, and we're moving forward," Kurtenbach said.
Johnson, a retired 20-year veteran with the Phoenix Police Department, is also moving on and has no bad blood for the force.
"It did foster a better atmosphere, a better relationship with the police department, and really more training within the department for sensitivity," Johnson said proudly.
Court order for Seattle police reform being rushed, groups say
Even as the U.S. Department of Justice has begun crafting a court order aimed at ending what it says is the unconstitutional use of force by Seattle police, some community groups — who have waited years for their complaints about police to be addressed — are feeling rushed by the process.
A dispute has also arisen over the makeup, or the need, for a citizens advisory panel to oversee implementation of the reforms, as suggested by Mayor Mike McGinn in December in the days after the Justice Department released its findings.
In crafting a court-enforceable consent decree, Justice Department civil-rights attorneys have met with McGinn, City Attorney Pete Holmes, members of the City Council and dozens of citizens groups and community members over the past three weeks with an eye toward completing interviews and most information-gathering by the middle of February.
"There is a sense of urgency to get things done," said Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Bates. "Having this lingering and looming isn't good for anyone."
By agreement with the city, the Justice Department will write the first draft of the decree , perhaps by the end of the month, said City Council Chairwoman Sally Clark.
She cautioned, however, that the city will likely be involved in negotiations with the department for "several months" before a final document is ready and filed in U.S. District Court.
The first draft might contain some specific recommendations, but Clark said much of it will involve setting deadlines and time frames for the Police Department to "address a number of the thornier issues" presented in the Justice Department's findings that Seattle police officers engage in routine and widespread use of excessive force, mostly against minorities, the mentally ill and the intoxicated.
The report also found troubling, but inconclusive, evidence of biased policing.
The decree will lay out how the Police Department will address the findings, while setting deadlines to reach those goals.
A judge will appoint a monitor to ensure the department's compliance.
The U.S. Attorney's Office has declined to discuss a time frame in drafting the decree.
However, some in the community are feeling rushed.
Estela Ortega, the executive director of El Centro de la Raza, said she has asked the Justice Department to extend its deadlines for community input.
After a dozen years of committees, task forces and reports about problems in the Police Department, "why suddenly is there a hurry?" she said Thursday.
"We felt that the process would be more inclusive," she said. "We'll be seeking a little more time to make sure that occurs."
She said El Centro had written a letter Thursday to the Justice Department outlining those concerns and asking for more time to address them.
El Centro was one of nearly three dozen community groups that requested the Justice Department investigation after several highly publicized confrontations between officers and minority citizens, including the fatal shooting of First Nations woodcarver John T. Williams in August 2010.
Ortega and others, including the Minority Executive Directors Coalition of King County, an umbrella group of nonprofits and other community groups, are pushing McGinn's office to ensure that Seattle's various communities have a voice, Ortega said.
Meantime, El Centro and other community advocates have balked at McGinn's expressed plan to appoint a citizens advisory panel. Some groups — the Seattle Human Rights Commission key among them — believe the Office of Professional Accountability Review Board, a citizens panel that reviews police internal investigations, is already in place to fill that role.
Still others, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, simply question the need for any more panels.
"There are lots of groups out there," said ACLU attorney Jennifer Shaw. "I'm just not sure there needs to be another advisory panel."
McGinn had announced his plan to form an advisory group in December, when he ordered police Chief John Diaz to begin to immediately implement the Justice Department recommendations despite police commanders' skepticism of the investigation's conclusions.
Officials who have attended meetings between federal and city officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the city has simply "agreed to disagree" with the Justice Department findings that one of every five incidents of force by Seattle police violates the law.
McGinn's spokesman, Aaron Pickus, said no advisory panel has been formed. "We are working to define the public-engagement process," he said. He offered no additional details.
Clark said there is consensus in the City Council, mayor's office and the City Attorney's Office that a consent decree offers "a tremendous opportunity" for the city to address difficult and long-standing problems between the community and the police.
"This is going to be more than checking off boxes," Clark said.
"We want to come out of this in the lead when it comes to effective community policing and community relations."
But she said the city intends to balance the need to move quickly with the desire to make sure everyone gets heard and that the city's interests are considered. So far, she said, the Justice Department has been accommodating.
"I was afraid they were just going to come in and tell us what to do," she said. "That has not been what has happened."
Likewise, the ACLU's Shaw said she has been "encouraged because everyone is taking this seriously.