| NEWS of the Day - February 7, 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
Female genital cutting sworn off by thousands of African villages
Eight thousand communities in Africa have sworn off female genital excision, including almost 2,000 that abandoned the practice in the last year, the United Nations Population Fund and UNICEF announced Monday.
In some northern and eastern stretches of Africa and the Middle East, cutting the female genitals is seen as a coming-of-age ritual that ensures chastity and makes a woman marriageable. U.N. agencies have pushed to end practices that cut away all or part of female genitalia, saying they have no health benefits and cause severe pain.
There are also long-term risks for women who undergo cutting: The World Health Organization says female circumcision can increase the risk of childbirth complications, cause recurring infections or create the need for later surgeries to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth.
Over the last year, Kenya and Guinea-Bissau passed laws banning female genital excision. In Ethiopia, Senegal and other African countries, thousands of villages have publicly declared that they were against it. U.N. agencies spent more than $6.1 million last year to combat the practice.
The Times' Robyn Dixon wrote about genital cutting five years ago, interviewing a Senegalese former "cutter" named Oureye Sall who said girls used to flee at the sight of her face:
She inherited the trade from her mother and made a tidy profit: a dollar per operation for the practice known locally as "cleaning," and in much of the rest of the world as female genital circumcision, or mutilation.
Sall broke each razor blade in two for economy's sake and used each half until it was too blunt to cut properly. Sometimes she did 15 or 20 operations a day, other times two or three. She has no idea how many girls she cut in her decades-long career.
"Of course the girls would fight," she said of the procedure, in which she sliced off the external sexual organs. "Of course they would hit you. They would cry, they would kick.
"But you'd have three good strong women to help you. Someone had to actually sit on each leg and someone had to control the arms and upper body. We would cover their mouths. You don't want the neighbors to hear."
As African and Middle Eastern immigrants have resettled elsewhere, the practice has spurred debate there as well. Ireland, for instance, has proposed legislation that would criminalize female genital excision. It's already illegal in Britain, Scandinavia and much of the rest of Europe.
But physicians have sometimes argued that minor cutting should be permitted as a cultural practice. The American Academy of Pediatrics caused a stir two years ago when it suggested that U.S. doctors should be able to make a ceremonial pinprick if it would keep their families from sending them abroad for more drastic cutting. It retracted its statement after outpourings of criticism from advocacy groups.
Female genital excision has long been the norm in much of eastern Africa.
Susan Powell's son drew picture of his mother in trunk of car
A son of missing Utah mother Susan Powell drew a picture for a school assignment that depicted his mother in the trunk of the family vehicle, a lawyer for Powell's family said Monday.
The comments come a day after Powell's two sons died in an explosive house fire in Washington state believed to have been set by their father, Josh Powell, who was also killed in the blaze.
"Charlie drew a picture at school. You were supposed to draw a picture of something you had done during the summer. And he drew a picture of the family's vehicle, with Dad driving the car, he and Braden in the back seat, and Mom was in the trunk," Tacoma, Wash., attorney Steve Downing told the Los Angeles Times.
A member of the Cox family later told The Times that it was actually Powell's younger son, Braden, who drew the picture, but confirmed the other details.
Expanding on statements he made Sunday about the children's increasing recollections, Downing said Charlie, 7, and his brother Braden, 5, were starting to talk more about the disappearance of their mother in December 2009.
Their father, who had been a person of interest in the investigation, had said he was not involved in his wife's disappearance and did not know what happened to her after he took the boys out for an impromptu, middle-of-the-night camping trip in the Utah desert during a snowstorm.
The blaze swept through Josh Powell's house in Graham, Wash., only moments after a social worker dropped the boys off for a court-ordered visit. Authorities have said they believe Powell doused the house with an accelerant and then torched it.
Downing said the boys had only recently begun talking about their mother's disappearance as they gained confidence living with Susan Powell's parents, Charles and Judith Cox of Puyallup, Wash., who took custody in September.
"I think as the children were transitioned to the Cox home, they began to feel more comfortable. They began to feel safe. And I do think they opened up and began to share information that perhaps they had not been comfortable talking about before," Downing said in an interview.
"This was not information that was encouraged or coached by the Coxes. It was spontaneous statements," he said. "As they were with the Coxes, they were again able to meet cousins and friends from Utah, people they hadn't seen for awhile. They began to remember things. And they did begin to talk about their mother. And certain things that they remembered."
He said Charlie hasn't been able to pinpoint a date for the car trip--he was only 4 when his mother disappeared. But he said his parents got out of the vehicle. "And she got lost."
In an interview with Seattle's KIRO TV, Charles Cox said there had been "warning signs" about his son-in-law, but the couple was attempting to comply with court orders to allow Powell to visit his sons.
"There were too many warning signs that I feel were known, but due to legal limitations, were unable to be acted upon. So we ended up where we ended up," Cox said.
Just before leaving for Sunday's fatal visit, he said, the boys were playing happily at the Cox home and at first didn't want to go.
"They were having a good time. They didn't want to stop and go see Daddy today. They seemed to be losing interest in going to see him. They liked it here," he said. But his wife, Judith, he said, talked them into it.
It was an act of encouragement she said now she deeply regrets. "Because look what happened."
Powell sons had 'chop injury,' autopsy report says
Josh Powell and his two young sons died of carbon monoxide poisoning, the Pierce County medical examiner's office said Monday night, but the boys apparently were injured before their death.
Powell, a person of interest in his wife Susan's 2009 disappearance from their Utah home, is believed to have set his rented house in Graham, Wash., afire just after his children arrived for what was to have been a supervised visit Sunday afternoon.
He let the boys in but barred the social worker, and as she called authorities to say she'd smelled gas, the home erupted into flames.
But the medical examiner's report seemed to indicate that the children had been subdued before or during the blaze. The younger boy, 5-year-old Braden, had a “chop injury” to his head and neck, and his brother Charles, 7, had a similar injury to the neck, the autopsy report said.
A medical examiner's spokeswoman refused to elaborate on the injuries or what could have caused them.
But Pierce County Sheriff's Det. Ed Troyer said investigators found a hatchet they believe was used on the boys.
"We found a small hatchet in the same room with the bodies," he told the Los Angeles Times.
Susan Powell, then 28 and a stockbroker, vanished in December 2009. Josh Powell said he'd taken the children into the desert for an impromptu camping trip during a snowstorm and, when he returned, Susan was gone.
From Google News
Report of Union County rape brings calls for caution when drivers pull over
MARYSVILLE, Ohio — When a woman saw red and blue flashing lights mounted in the grill of the vehicle driving behind her on Paver Barnes Road in Union County, she pulled to the side of the road.
That's a natural reaction and is what drivers are supposed to do, authorities say.
But the vehicle was a white, extended-cab pickup truck that authorities said in no way resembled a cruiser. The woman told them that one of two men who got out of the truck was wearing a green Carhartt jacket, a checkered shirt, bluejeans and a John Deere baseball cap, so he didn't appear to be a police officer, said Chief Deputy Tom Morgan of the Union County sheriff's office.
The woman reported that the two men pulled her from her vehicle about 4:30 p.m. on Friday, drove her to another location and raped her. She eventually broke free and drove herself to a hospital about 12:45 a.m. Saturday.
Tips flowed into the sheriff's office all weekend, and detectives were following up on them yesterday, Morgan said. “We have good descriptions of the suspects and the vehicle, and that will help.”
He said he would not characterize the attack as random, but he wouldn't elaborate. The men didn't pretend to be police, with the exception of the illegal flashing lights, he said.
The woman's story raises the question of what drivers should do to ensure their safety on the road. “Our traffic stops are made by officers in marked cruisers wearing uniforms,” Morgan said. “We don't make a habit of stopping people while we're in plainclothes.”
He said drivers should always be aware of their surroundings, even when stopped by what appears to be an emergency vehicle.
“Keep your door locked and your window rolled up until you see that officer and his badge,” he said. If you feel that your safety is threatened, call 911 and drive away.
In Ohio, it is against the law for any nonemergency vehicle to have any flashing, rotating or oscillating blue lights. Volunteer firefighters or others who routinely respond to emergencies in private vehicles can use red lights but not blue ones, said Lt. Anne Ralston, spokeswoman for the State Highway Patrol.
Troopers made 1,401,840 traffic stops on Ohio roadways last year and almost all of the officers were in uniform and driving marked cruisers, Ralston said. The only exception would be if an out-of-uniform trooper came upon a crash or saw a violation so egregious that others were in danger, she said.
She echoed Morgan's cautions. And she said she has occasionally seen drivers not immediately pull over and later say they were concerned about whether the cruiser was legitimate.
She had advice for that, too: “Signal to the officer that you see them, that you recognize them, that you aren't running from them — maybe turn your hazard lights on — until you can get to what you believe is a safer location . . . like that nearby gas-station parking lot.”
Mayor outlines policing plan
by James Lu
February 7, 2012
Mayor John DeStefano Jr. sketched out a broad strategy for improving the Elm City's public safety in his State of the City address at City Hall Monday evening.
The mayor set out two missions — establishing a clear strategy for reducing violence crime and reinvigorating community partnerships with the police — as part of a five-pronged plan to enhance the security of city residents. DeStefano's five strategies, which include creating a shooting investigation unit and reviving the ‘cold case' unit in the New Haven Police Department, as well as expanding the department's community policing efforts, drew praise from members of the Board of Aldermen. But members of the board also said they were waiting on the mayor to finalize the staffing structure and financial plans for the new initiatives before they could assess its financial viability.
“In 2011, we lost 34 people to violent crime,” DeStefano said in his address, referring to New Haven's 20-year-high homicide count. “It isn't normal. We must never think it's normal, or that someone deserved it, or most important that we can't do something about it. We can. We will.”
To address the city's violent crime — which dropped 11 percent in the first half of last year — DeStefano emphasized partnerships between the NHPD and state and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as city residents.
The NHPD will continue to implement strategies that address gang violence and “other blights” these gangs bring to local neighborhoods, such as open-air drug dealing, DeStefano said, calling the strategy “High Point” after the North Carolina city in which it was pioneered. The strategy aims to “interdict the behaviors behind violence” by bringing federal and state law enforcement, probation and social services agencies together to combat recidivism, he explained.
NHPD Chief Dean Esserman, who was in attendance Monday along with his 10 district managers, said he would bring “High Point” to New Haven when he was appointed in October. When he served as chief of the police department in Providence, R.I., he oversaw the federal government's first successful effort to replicate the program, according to the New Haven Independent.
Since he took the NHPD's top job Nov. 18, Esserman has introduced several of the other strategies DeStefano highlighted. With only 27 of last year's 133 shootings solved, the NHPD has created a new shootings task force with funding from the Connecticut state attorney's office, DeStefano said.
In addition to this new unit, the NHPD will renew efforts to solve cold cases, DeStefano said, adding that the city may need to change some personnel rules in order to implement the move.
“Every day the police department needs to be out there building relationships,” DeStefano said. “Things like inviting the [community] management teams to staff to substations, or participating in youth programs, or just by walking the beat.”
The NHPD will continue to roll out walking beats for its patrol officers in the city's 10 policing districts as part of Esserman's efforts to revive the community policing model he helped introduce to the city as assistant chief under former NHPD Chief Nicholas Pastore in the early 1990s.
DeStefano's proposed changes, however, will require more officers. The mayor said he believes the community wants to double the number of cops on walking beats from 20 to 40, as well as add additional school resource officers.
All of these plans will require additional funding in the city budget, noted Board of Aldermen President and Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez. Perez said he looks forward to the mayor's formal presentation of his plans to the Board, explaining that “there's a lot of misinformation” in the discussion about expanding the police department. The city budgets for 467 officers, but only around 400 spots are filled at the moment, he explained.
Ward 7 Alderman Doug Hausladen '04, who represents the downtown area and sits on the Board's public safety and finance committees, said he expects the city's renewed efforts at partnership with state, federal and community groups will translate into increased grant money to help fund the new 40 to 45 new officers DeStefano intends to hire.
So far this year, no murders have been recorded.
Police Coordinating Interfaith Block Watch
The safety and security initiative is being undertaken by Sgt. Richard Schultz in the department's community policing office.
Last month's discovery of anti-Semitic graffiti at two Fair Lawn parks and the delivery of an anti-Semitic letter to the Fair Lawn Jewish Center have prompted the borough council to take action.
“With the number of instances that have occurred, we just can't sit back and watch,” said councilwoman Lisa Swain, who proposed forming an interfaith committee at the Jan. 24 council work session. “We really have to make sure we are on top of this, from the local level to the federal level.”
As it turns out, Fair Lawn police Sgt. Richard Schultz unknowingly laid the groundwork for such a community interfaith group late last year while performing his standard end-of-year functions.
“I was doing all the file updates for the alarm contacts and I realized I didn't have the contacts for the houses of worships,” said Schultz, who set out to compile a convenient mass reference list of Fair Lawn's houses of worship in case the need to quickly contact all of them ever arose.
Following a January security briefing on the county's recent rash of synagogue attacks, Schultz independently conceived of forming an interfaith group and had started working on it even before council assigned him leadership of the task.
Schultz' conception of the group is as a sort of interfaith community block watch that focuses on crime prevention and security issues. By the end of February, he plans to hold an initial meeting with the Office of Emergency Management and members from the nearly 30 houses of worship in town to educate them on security best practices and the development of emergency evacuation plans, among other things.
Schultz believes the key is instilling the town's religious leaders with a security-minded approach that can be cultivated amongst themselves in subsequent periodic meetings.
“The people have to have a vested interest in it and they have to put work into it,” Schultz said. “If the group is going to rely on the police to keep it going, then it's not going to survive.”
A good start, Schultz said, is getting congregants to stay on the lookout for suspicious activity at any religious institution in town.
“You may be a congregant of Shomrei Torah,” he said, “but as you pass the Jewish Center, what's the big deal if you look over your shoulder and try to take a quick look to see what's going on around the building?”
Schultz equated the block watch mentality to the old adage that it takes a village to raise a child.
“Everybody has to have that mindset, everybody has to be looking out the window,” he said. “Regardless of whether you're a Jew, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, whatever it might be, we're all members of the community, so it shouldn't make a difference what the faith is – if it's an attack on one it's an attack on all.”
Maintaining a renewed sense of vigilance will not be an easy task, Schultz acknowledged.
“It's not going to be easy because you've got to change people's habits, you've got to change their mindset,” he said. “Things that happen in the newspaper bring it to the forefront, and for that brief hot minute in time everybody gets on the same page. But then once it starts to settle down, everybody goes back to their old habits.”
One factor working in the town's favor will be the institutional knowledge gleaned during Fair Lawn's earlier attempt at forming an interfaith group a few years ago.
Community Emergency Response Team volunteer Steve Kobrin, in conjunction with the police and OEM, formed the previous committee, which sought to form an alliance for safety and security among Fair Lawn's religious institutions.
“People were interested,” said Kobrin, who believes Fair Lawn -- with its history of volunteerism and large number of religious institutions -- is well equipped to coordinate such a council.
“There is a history of bias incidents in the town. We are bisected by major highways on which dangerous materials are transported…there could be an emergency of some kind or another.”
Unfortunately for religious institutions, the committee was forced to cease operations shortly after forming due to cuts in the police force and OEM.
“The rug was pulled out from under it due to the budget priorities of the town,” Kobrin said. “How do you [establish an emergency escape plan] if the OEM's hours are cut? If you want members and officials of congregations to go through the police academy, how can you do that if you cut the personnel in the community policing department?”
Although the previous committee failed to achieve any of its concrete goals, Kobrin said houses of worship had begun to realize that they faced similar safety challenges and could play unique roles within the community to combat intolerance.
“Religious congregations have a very special, well-developed sensitivity to [intolerance and hate],” Kobrin said. “It makes sense that religious institutions would take the lead on hate issues. Even if your particular house of worship is not targeted, the attitude really is, ‘Not in my town.'”
Among the characteristics that make religious institutions uniquely equipped to perform a protective community function are their large reach.
"If they're on board with these issue then the town can really contact 30 houses of worship and in the process contact thousands of residents, because each has lines to its congegants," Kobrin said. "If organized and mobilized, the town could reach a good portion of the population through them."
While a lack of time is preventing Kobrin from being directly involved with the current incarnation of the interfaith group, he's been in touch with Schultz to network and share what he's learned from his own experience.
“I wish him much success,” Kobrin said of Schultz. "His idea of an interfaith block watch is solid...It would be wonderful if congregants of 30-plus houses of worship in Fair Lawn served as eyes and ears.”
St. Louis Police Dept. accepting applications for Citizens Academy
February 6, 2012
The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department is in search of quality candidates for its Citizens Academy Class 2012-01.
The program, designed to strengthen the bond between the department and the community will begin March 7, 2012 and conclude with graduation on May 23, 2012. The class will meet Wednesday nights from 6-9 p.m.
The Citizens Academy is a twelve-week course with one night of instruction per week. Citizens will gain a better understanding of the inner workings of the department through instruction in the department's history and structure, predicting and analyzing crime patterns, gang intelligence, homicide investigations and community policing techniques.
Nearly all instruction is provided by commissioned police officers.
Participants will have the opportunity to meet Chief Daniel Isom and the Deputy Chiefs of the department. They will also interact with police canines, the police bomb robot, tour the 911 call center and use the driving and shooting simulators.
Applications for the program can be found on the department's website, www.slmpd.org, and will be available online until February 22, 2012. Applicants must be St. Louis city residents or business owners, must be at least 18 years of age, must have no outstanding arrest warrants and must agree to a criminal background check. There is no fee associated with attending the Citizens Academy.
Citizens who have questions about the Academy can contact the department at 314-444-5638 or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org .