| NEWS of the Day - February 20, 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
Mexico prison brawl ends with 44 killed
Mexican authorities say inmates at the prison in Apodaca, near Monterrey, started fighting in one cellblock and then the violence spread.
by Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times
February 19, 2012
Reporting from Mexico City
Dozens of inmates were killed Sunday in a fierce brawl inside a Mexican prison, authorities said, the latest lethal incident in Latin America's overcrowded, poorly maintained jails.
Officials said at least 44 inmates died at the prison outside the northern industrial city of Monterrey.
Initial reports blamed the violence on efforts to transfer some inmates to another jailhouse elsewhere in the country. But it was also likely that the fighting involved rival drug gangs that increasingly dominate Mexican prisons. One guard was reported having been taken hostage, but none was reported killed.
Public security authorities in Nuevo Leon state, where Monterrey is, said inmates began fighting in one cellblock about 2 a.m. and the violence spread to a second block.
Relatives of inmates gathered before dawn for Sunday visiting hours and realized that something was badly amiss inside. They shoved against security gates to demand information; some told reporters they had heard explosions and seen smoke coming from the prison.
But Jorge Domene, the state's public security spokesman, said all of the dead were killed by knives, other sharp instruments, clubs or stones.
He said authorities regained control of the institution about four hours after the clashes started. Most of the prisoners were incarcerated on drug-trafficking charges and related crimes, Domene said.
Last week, more than 350 people were killed when fire spread through an overcrowded prison in Comayagua, Honduras, underscoring the deteriorating conditions in prisons throughout Latin America.
Mexico'sraging drug war is helping to fill prisons in many cities at more than twice the capacity.
In Sunday's incident, the prison in a town called Apodaca, about 20 miles from Monterrey, was reportedly built to hold 1,500 inmates but had a population of 3,000.
Violence in Mexican prisons, mostly between rival gangs, has killed more than 100 inmates in the last two years. Mass escapes are routine.
Sunday's "tragedy is not an isolated incident, but rather one that is part of a continuous and perverse process of dehumanization in the penitentiary centers," the Monterrey-based Citizens in Support of Human Rights said in a statement. Authorities "have failed to take basic measures to secure the lives and integrity of inmates, as well as of the people who work in these centers."
Gun owners hope to win the right to carry concealed weapons
In an unusual twist, optimism among California gun enthusiasts stems from recent legislation banning them from openly carrying even unloaded handguns.
by Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times
February 20, 2012
Chuck Michel's strategy for crime-fighting rests on the element of surprise: Keep the bad guys guessing who's armed and who's not.
"If 5% of the ducks could shoot back, you're not going to go duck hunting," said the Long Beach lawyer representing many Californians denied concealed weapons permits and, in his view, their constitutional right to self-defense.
For decades, that argument has fallen flat in the courtroom. Judges have routinely held that denying permits to carry loaded firearms in public does not infringe on gun owners' right to keep and bear arms.
But now, some gun owners hope that courts will soon reverse course and find that they have a right to secretly tote their weapons in public. Ironically, their optimism stems from a piece of gun control legislation that took effect last month and bans them from openly carrying even unloaded handguns.
Courts have upheld local law enforcement officials' authority to deny concealed weapons permits in part because "you had the opportunity to openly carry an unloaded weapon and in the event of an emergency you can quickly load and defend yourself," said Adam Winkler, a UCLA law professor and author of "Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America." "Now that option has been taken off the table."
Open carrying of an unloaded weapon never satisfied gun rights advocates like Michel, who have been challenging — unsuccessfully — California's ever-tightening restrictions on who can buy guns; what guns are legal; and when, where, how and if weapons can be carried outside the home. The new law, Michel said, has given him the ammunition he needs to win in court.
Although gun owners can easily qualify for concealed permits in some remote and rural counties, it is all but impossible for residents of densely populated counties, where the majority of Californians live, unless the gun owner can prove an actual threat.
"California is a stand-alone where you can't carry an unconcealed and unloaded gun and you can't get a permit to carry one concealed," Michel said, arguing that the state is out of step with at least 40 others that issue concealed-carry permits to any applicant with a clean slate.
From his law office bedecked with guns, ammo and Old West memorabilia, Michel keeps a close eye on the U.S. Supreme Court and believes the justices are on the lookout for the appropriate right-to-carry case to find a constitutional right to carry loaded guns for self-protection.
The justices issued a watershed ruling in 2008 in the case of Heller vs. District of Columbia, recognizing for the first time since Civil War days a citizen's right to keep a weapon at home for self-protection. Gun rights groups had watched carefully for years to find the most sympathetic plaintiffs to make the point that residents of the crime-ridden national capital were being denied a means of self-defense by the district's ban on handguns, Winkler said. Two years later, in McDonald vs. Chicago, the high court extended that right to the states as well as federal territory.
Those seeking recognition of a right to carry guns have petitioned the Supreme Court to review several cases since Heller in which gun owners failed to convince ower courts that their rights were being denied. The justices have so far declined to address the right-to-carry question, probably because those cases involved plaintiffs appealing convictions for illegal firearms possession or denial of carry rights to applicants with stains on their records, Winkler said.
Those who support strict gun control say the court deliberately limited its Heller ruling to recognize only a right to keep a gun at home.
"I expect the Supreme Court to decide as courts around the country have decided in hundreds of cases that there is not a 2nd Amendment right to carry guns in public places," said Jonathan E. Lowy, legal action director for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, who sponsored the new ban on open carry, likewise brushed off the gun lobby's contention that gun control supporters have shot themselves in the foot.
"Obviously the pro-gun person is going to look for anything to spin a pro-gun agenda," said the La Cañada Flintridge Democrat. "This is a reasonable move to close a loophole, and we are confident it will stand up in court."
Portantino proposed the open-carry ban after gun owners began protesting in demand of carry rights by converging by the dozens on coffee shops with Berettas and Smith & Wessons riding on their hips.
As concealed-carry permits became more difficult to get, Eduard Peruta, a client of Michel's, took his protest to the courts.
A semi-retired investigator from San Diego who wanted protection for himself and his wife when they traveled to remote places in their motor home, Peruta applied for a concealed weapons permit but was denied because "generalized fear for one's personal safety" doesn't meet county authorities' definition of what amounts to "good cause" to carry a weapon. As do most other populous counties, San Diego requires applicants to demonstrate a specific and verifiable threat to their lives.
In his lawsuit, Peruta also accused San Diego County Sheriff William Gore of violating his equal protection rights by issuing concealed-carry permits more liberally to members of the Honorary Deputy Sheriff's Assn., which raises funds for law enforcement. Peruta lost the case, and it is now pending appeal.
There is also gross inconsistency among authorities in California's 58 counties on what constitutes good cause, which could lead to courts finding equal protection violations, said Stephen Halbrook, a Virginia attorney and frequent litigator for the National Rifle Assn. In remote Plumas County, one in 39 adults has a carry permit, according to state Department of Justice statistics for 2011. In Los Angeles County, one in 33,700 adults is licensed to carry, and in San Francisco the latest records show zero civilian holders among the county's 700,000 adults.
Statewide, the number of civilians with concealed weapons permits is 32,666, or 0.1% of the adult population. That compares with about 5% licensed to carry nationwide, according to Calguns Foundation chief Gene Hoffman.
Halbrook says Peruta and a handful of other carry challenges from California could eventually get the justices' attention, along with a lawsuit by a 71-year-old Illinois woman beaten and left for dead in a 2009 robbery of her church treasury office. The woman, Mary Shepard, had sought and been denied a carry permit.
"You always want to put your best foot forward," Halbrook said of the strategy that succeeded in Heller.
Unsafe levels of lead still found in California youths
Despite enormous strides over the last 20 years in protecting children from the metal, health workers still find unsafe levels in thousands of youngsters every year. At the same time, programs to combat lead poisoning are being slashed.
by Anna Gorman, Los Angeles Times
February 19, 2012
One-year-old Nelly Gomez refused to eat. Anything she swallowed, she immediately threw up.
Thinking Nelly had indigestion, her parents took her to a nearby clinic in MacArthur Park. A blood test revealed a diagnosis that surprised and worried them: lead poisoning.
"I didn't know what was going to happen," said her father, Nelson Gomez, an unemployed construction worker. "As her dad, I felt desperate."
Despite enormous strides over the last 20 years in protecting children from lead, which can cause irreversible nerve and brain damage, health workers still find unsafe levels in thousands of California youths every year.
Now the number of cases could climb dramatically based on emerging research of the harm associated with low levels of the metal in children's systems. At the same time, government programs to combat lead poisoning are being slashed.
"Much of the effort that has been put into educating the public, and particularly the communities that are the most vulnerable … will fade because there won't be enough prevention," said Hilary Godwin, a professor at UCLA's School of Public Health who has studied lead poisoning.
The problem remains most persistent in low-income neighborhoods, where families like Nelly's live in aging apartment buildings with peeling lead paint or other hazards. An inspector found lead on the window frames and a door in the family's apartment, Gomez said.
Two decades have passed since federal officials sounded the alarm on childhood lead poisoning, calling it the nation's top environmental health threat.
Laws banning lead in paint, gasoline and other products have sharply reduced the danger. The number of young children with elevated lead levels dropped from 4.4% in 1991 to 0.6% in 2006, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Still, the metal is commonly found in old paint and dirt, as well as in jewelry, toys, candy and home remedies.
"So many products have lead in them," said Maurice Pantoja, chief environmental health specialist for the county's lead prevention program. "Lead is all around us."
Health officials are giving renewed attention to the threat. For the first time since 1991, the CDC is considering lowering the lead level considered safe for children. Currently, the agency says 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood is considered elevated. But in light of research showing damage to children with lower levels, an expert advisory panel wants the cutoff dropped to 5 micrograms.
If adopted, the number of children under age 6 requiring assistance could jump from 250,000 to 450,000 nationwide.
But budget pressures have reduced money to combat the problem. Congress this year cut more than 90% of the federal government's lead poisoning prevention program, leaving just $2 million nationwide. Los Angeles County alone lost $660,000.
As it is, state and county officials said they have to prioritize delivery of services to children with the highest lead levels, using the CDC's guidelines.
In California, 21,692 children under age 6 tested positive for elevated lead levels in 2010. But only 2,035 qualified for assistance, which typically includes a visit by a public nurse and an environmental inspector and follow-up testing. In L.A. County, health workers found 6,453 young children with lead in their blood, but only about 562 qualified for services.
"We don't have the resources to do more," said Angie Toyota, director of the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program for the county health department.
Children under 6 are most at risk for lead poisoning because they put more things in their mouths. Even at low levels, poisoning can cause lower IQs, learning disabilities and behavioral problems. Higher levels can cause organ problems or even coma.
Many cases go undiagnosed because the symptoms are hidden or children aren't tested. Not all pediatricians consider lead as a possible cause when a child is sick.
"There are many cases that are going under the radar, where children are not getting diagnosed and the environment is not getting cleaned up," said Perry Gottesfeld, a member of the CDC's lead poisoning advisory panel.
California requires doctors to test young children on Medi-Cal and other public safety-net programs, but state officials acknowledge that only about 60% of all low-income children are being screened.
The state remains committed to testing children and educating parents, said Valerie Charlton, head of the state's lead poisoning prevention program.
Charlton said the state is assessing what it would cost to provide services to more children if the CDC lowers its lead threshold. "We would like to extend that care to other children … but a lot of this is extremely resource-intensive," she said.
Los Angeles County health officials continue to work with schools, child-care centers and hospitals to raise awareness about lead's dangers. During a workshop at an elementary school in Gardena, health educator Deborah Reff told parents about the causes of poisoning and the importance of screening.
"Don't assume your child has been tested," she said. "Ask your doctor. That's very, very important."
Nelly's blood test results showed a blood-lead level of 22.9 micrograms. A nurse dispatched by the county counseled the family on how to clean the apartment and what to feed Nelly. An inspector also checked the paint, dust and toys, and worked with the landlord to replace two windows and a door where lead was found, Gomez said.
Nelly's lead level dropped just below the level requiring action by public health officials, her father said. She seems back to normal, but Gomez said he worries about the possible long-term effects.
Finding hazards before children exhibit symptoms like Nelly's is critical, experts say.
Cities and counties can inspect properties for possible lead hazards and compel owners to correct problems. But in Los Angeles County, there is a patchwork of code enforcement, and housing and building and safety agencies — some very proactive and others less so, advocates and officials said.
For its part, the county public health department tries to pressure landlords to make repairs but isn't always effective, said Jonathan Freedman, chief deputy director. "It becomes particularly thorny in low-income communities," where landlords sometimes can't or won't make fixes, he said.
With limited resources, organizations like St. John's Well Child and Family Center in Los Angeles work with community groups to organize tenants, assess housing conditions and push landlords to make repairs. The clinic also provides medical care to children with elevated lead levels that fall short of the state's threshold.
Marc Brown and his wife took their son, Aidan Brown, to St. John's for a physical just before he turned 3. Aidan's blood-lead level was 5.7 micrograms. "He never showed any signs," Brown said.
St. John's worked with the family to make changes to the diet and the home, where the paint was peeling. Follow-up testing showed Aidan's lead level had dropped back down. "We followed what they said to do and it worked," Brown said.
From Google News
State tries to ease job hunts of ex-cons
by Alan Johnson
The feared question that trips up one in six Ohioans — “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” — will soon disappear from state job applications.
Gov. John Kasich's administration is working with private organizations to help knock down barriers created for past offenders by 800 sanctions attached to scores of laws. The state still will conduct criminal-background checks on job applicants, but only after initial screening based on qualifications.
The consequences of “collateral sanctions” are widespread: 1.9 million Ohioans have a crime on their record that is a barrier to employment after they've served their sentence.
Jose Torres and Jason Smoot, two Columbus men with records, hit that wall. Hard.
Torres, 35, a native of Colombia, can't get a good job even though he has a degree in economics and extensive experience in the restaurant business and as a language interpreter. Smoot, 24, is blocked from getting a job even with his family's business, Smoot Construction.
“You can't get your license, you can't get a job, you can't get a place to live,” Smoot said. “I'm basically put in the system to fail.”
Kasich said that although he isn't “cavalier about people who've broken the law ... for people who've paid their debt and rehabilitated themselves, we want to give them a chance.”
The governor added: “We have rules that are overly punitive. That's just not right.”
For example, someone with a criminal record generally can't be a teacher, get a barber or cosmetology license, become a plumber, work in a casino or be a security guard at a cemetery. Often, they can't even drive to a job interview because their license is suspended.
On top of that, they often owe thousands of dollars in restitution and probation, reinstatement and other fees when they walk out of prison.
A new online database — http://opd.ohio.gov/CIVICC/ — allows Ohioans to search under a specific crime or occupation to see the consequences attached. The site was jointly developed by the state and private organizations.
Stephen JohnsonGrove of the Ohio Justice & Policy Center in Cincinnati has preached the gospel of reducing collateral consequences for years. His office helped created the database, culling sanctions from 500 state laws.
“I never want to put an embezzler in the bank or a molester in a child-care center,” Johnson said. “But so many of these just don't make sense. The crime may have been 25 years ago, but most of these laws don't have a time limit on them.”
Ohio prisons Director Gary C. Mohr said he is working with state lawmakers in both parties on legislation to lift some sanctions.
Although the state won't eliminate the criminal-record check box on state employment forms, applicants will be given a chance to get a foot in the door, Mohr said. Further, state officials have discussed the change with the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, which will monitor state hiring to see if removing sanctions could translate to the private sector.
“If they are crime-free, they should be given a second chance,” Mohr said. “We want to clear the road for gainful employment.”
One of the most-frequent sanctions, the revocation of a driver's license, is tacked onto many crimes unrelated to operating a motor vehicle. That would change under legislation being crafted.
Mohr said the legislation also will propose a new “limited relief” order to allow judges to remove specific restrictions case by case.
State prisons are making strides toward reducing recidivism — the rate at which ex-offenders return to prison. The latest figures show that Ohio's three-year recidivism rate dropped to 31.3 percent, an all-time low; the national recidivism rate is higher than 40 percent.
But not sliding backward is hard when doors are repeatedly slammed in your face, Torres and Smoot said in interviews last week at the Columbus Urban League, where both are involved in programs.
Torres moved to the U.S. in 2001 after his father, a businessman, was assassinated in Colombia. He married and moved to Columbus about four years ago. When his marriage broke up, Torres began drinking and was charged three times with drunken driving. He spent two months in jail after pleading guilty to cashing a paycheck that bounced.
He has a temporary job doing setup and maintenance work for the Columbus Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Smoot, the product of a broken home, hit the street at age 15. Four years later, he served time in an Alabama jail for receiving stolen property. Back in Akron, Smoot committed an aggravated robbery that landed him in a state prison for more than three years.
Now that he's out, Smoot has been unable to find work after submitting a dozen job applications. On each one, he must disclose that he was convicted of a felony; each time, he's turned away. He also must pay $760 for probation and court costs, $560 in fees for reinstatement of his driver's license and $12,000 in back child support accumulated while he was in prison.
State Sen. Charleta D. Tavares, D-Columbus, who has been working on the sanctions issue at the city and state levels, said it disproportionately affects minorities.
“We know the first job is the most difficult to get,” she said. “Nobody wants to take a chance on someone who's been incarcerated. So many young men are being disenfranchised ... We're not even looking at people.”
Wichita police bureaus add analysts to look for crime trends
by Stan Finger
An addition to local crime-fighting efforts is already paying noteworthy dividends, law enforcement officials say.
Two months ago, crime analysts were assigned to each of the city's four police bureaus. They study crime data, looking for trends.
“Where is the latest trend?” said Capt. Hassan Ramzah of the Patrol East Bureau. “They're looking to identify the potential emerging crime wave.”
One recent example: a rash of thefts from vehicles in church parking lots in east Wichita, Lt. Doug Nolte said. Crime analysts quickly picked up on the fact that the thefts were happening at churches close to each other on the same day.
That information was relayed to officers, who notified residents and churches on their beats.
“It helps us get a real picture of what's going on,” Ramzah said. “The hopes are that this will be very innovative for us and pay big dividends for us and prevent crime in the community.”
Officers with a demonstrated interest in and aptitude for crunching data have been chosen for the new posts, Ramzah said.
Catching on quickly to a trend allows police to focus resources on an area and, they hope, catch those responsible before more crimes are committed.
“The time is right for us because of where technology is,” Nolte said.
For years, police used the “interwatch” system to share information between shifts. But not all crimes, such as burglaries, made it onto the interwatch reports.
Thanks to computers in patrol cars and electronic data collection and storage, he said, beat officers can now download information about cases they're working. That information can be posted to electronic “intelligence hubs,” which officers on other shifts can check.
When officers filled out reports on paper and the files were then moved up to investigations, it might take a couple of weeks for trends to emerge. Now, Nolte said, those trends can be spotted within a few days — sometimes even sooner.
“What you have is that confluence of technology,” Nolte said.
A few years ago, having a crime analyst would not have been an efficient use of resources. But times — and technology — have changed.
“There's so much information available now that you could drown in all the data,” Nolte said. “The real key is to unpack that information.”