| NEWS of the Week
|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 ...
NOTE: To see full stories either click on the Daily links or on the URL provided below each article.
March 11, 2012
It's time to test the smoke detectors
March 11 marks the beginning of Daylight Saving Time. With Daylight Saving Time comes the reminder to change the batteries in your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.
In 2010, there were 362,100 residential structure fires reported in the United States. These fires caused 2,555 civilian deaths, 13,275 civilian injuries and $6.6 billion in property damage, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
Two-thirds of the reported fire deaths occurred in homes that had no or non-functioning smoke detectors. It is now required that new homes have interconnected smoke detectors on every floor and in every bedroom, but what about those of us with older homes?
We can certainly provide the number of smoke detectors and make sure that we have them on every floor and in every bedroom, but interconnecting them would be a challenge at best until now. There are new smoke detectors on the market that are interconnected using radio waves.
Remaining 5 inmates in Mississippi pardons controversy freed
(CNN) -- All five remaining inmates held in the Mississippi pardons controversy have now been released from prison. Mississippi's Supreme Court last week upheld the controversial pardons of more than 200 convicts that former Gov. Haley Barbour granted on his way out of office, rejecting a challenge by the state's attorney general.
In a 77-page, 6-3 ruling Thursday afternoon, the court found the pardons "may not be set aside or voided by the judicial branch." Attorney General Jim Hood argued that no proper notice had been posted in newspapers, but the court found the final decision rested "solely with the governor."
"We are mindful that the victims and their families are entitled to be interested in the subject matter of this case, and they are undoubtedly -- and understandably -- concerned with its outcome," Justice Jess Dickinson wrote for the majority. But in the cases before them, it was up to the governor to " decide whether the Constitution's publication requirement was met."
In a statement after the court ruling, Barbour said it "reaffirmed more than a century of settled law in our state," but acknowledged that his decision has been difficult for many of the inmates' victims.
March 10, 2012
'Speed Freak Killer' sends new letter to station
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) A Sacramento television station has received a second letter from serial killer Wesley Shermantine, with it claiming that he knows of more than 70 murder victims.
Shermantine wrote to reporter CBS-13 Koula Gianulias (http://cbsloc.al/A5FaSn) saying that his accomplice, Loren Herzog, and a third man killed 72 people. The station did not identify the third man.
Shermantine, one of the so-called "Speed Freak Killers," is on San Quentin's State Prison's death row for killing four people from 1984 to 1999. Herzog was convicted of three murders, but authorities had said previously that they suspect he and Shermantine killed about 20 people.
Herzog's convictions were overturned after a judge determined his confession was illegally coerced. He instead struck a plea deal on one count of voluntary manslaughter and was paroled in 2010.
He died in an apparent suicide in January, hours after receiving a call from bounty hunter Leonard Padilla warning him that Shermantine planned to reveal the burial locations.
A reviews high-risk inmate, gang member policies
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) A sharp reduction in prison crowding is giving officials in the nation's largest state prison system breathing space to rethink long-outdated policies affecting where inmates live and how best to suppress the gangs that unofficially control many aspects of life behind bars.
California prison officials on Friday unveiled proposed changes to rules that kept some gang members locked in isolation for years and led to widespread inmate hunger strikes last year.
They also released a study that could help save taxpayers money by giving the state more flexibility to house some high-risk inmates in lower-level prisons instead of building new maximum-security lockups.
Both moves are possible, officials said, because the state is diverting thousands of lower-level criminals from state prisons to local jails under a law that took effect in October.
The shift was driven by federal judges who ruled state prisons were so jammed that officials could not provide proper care to mentally and physically ill inmates. The U.S. Supreme Court last year upheld the authority of the judges to order the state to reduce crowding.
Man accused of sending threatening letters to Congress
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) A 39-year-old man charged in connection with threatening letters containing white powder that were sent to members of Congress and some media organizations was arrested Friday.
Investigators said Christopher Lee Carlson was indicted on two criminal counts arising out of an investigation into the mailing of about 100 envelopes containing white powder.
The letters, postmarked in Portland, Ore., so far have all tested negative for toxic substances, the U.S. Attorney's office in Portland said.
A federal grand jury indictment returned Friday in Portland charged Carlson, described as being from the Portland-Vancouver, Wash., area.
The U.S. Capitol Police said in a statement that Carlson was arrested at a home in the Portland area.
Rockford Police Department to host Citizens Police Academy
Citizens who want to gain insight into the police department will soon get the chance to learn more.
The Rockford Police Department will host its seventh Citizens Police Academy. The academy is an educational opportunity for Rockford citizens to learn more about how police officers perform their duties and how the department serves the community. Attendees will graduate from the program more familiar with their role in partnering with the police department to help reduce crime, increase the solve rate, and improve the quality of life for all citizens of Rockford. Any citizen over the age of 18 who lives or works in Rockford is encouraged to attend.
Program curriculum includes patrol operations, 9-1-1 Center operations, community policing, criminal law, city ordinances, and more. The sessions run every Wednesday from 6 to 8p.m. for a 10 week period and begin March 21. All classes will be held at the Public Safety Building, 420 West State Street, except for the second class, which will be held at the 9-1-1 center.
Applications for the academy are available at the Rockford Police Department front desk and online at http://www.rockfordil.gov/police.aspx. Applications can be turned in by sending them to the Rockford Police Department, Attn. Sgt. Carla Redd, 420 West State St., Rockford, IL 61101.
March 9, 2012
DRUG WAR: 16 bodies found in northern Mexico graves
MONTERREY, Mexico - Mexican authorities found 16 bodies in three clandestine graves on the outskirts of Monterrey, an industrial city that has seen an upsurge in drug cartel-related violence, officials said Wednesday.
David Perales, spokesman for Nuevo Leon state's investigative agency, said the burial sites were located on an abandoned ranch in the township of Juarez, the same area where 51 bodies were found in mass graves in 2010.
The is no immediate information on the victims' identities or those of their killers, but authorities said previously the 2010 burials were probably carried out by a drug gang.
Many farmers and ranchers in the region have abandoned rural properties in the face of drug gang violence; cartels frequently take over the ranches to use them as operating bases, training grounds or clandestine burial sites.
Authorities said they went to the ranch outside Monterrey Tuesday after drug gang suspects revealed the burial sites during questioning.
They found 15 human skulls and other bones. The bodies appeared to have been buried there at least 8 months ago.
Colleges find ways to foil pro-gun rulings
Policies make carrying tough
DENVER Courts are ruling in favor of allowing those with concealed-carry permits to bring their handguns on campus, but universities are figuring out ways to keep the guns out.
Gun rights advocates recently notched major legal victories in Colorado and Oregon, with courts in both states agreeing that university policies banning firearms on campus must defer to state laws allowing permit holders to carry concealed handguns.
In response, however, university officials in Oregon and Virginia have enacted policies allowing concealed carry on campus but not in buildings, including classrooms, dormitories, event centers and dining halls.
The result is that permit holders may do little more than walk across campus with their handguns, an outcome that circumvents the intent of the court decisions, critics say.
Gunman dead after killing 1, wounding others at Pittsburgh psychiatric clinic
A man armed with two semiautomatic handguns entered the lobby of a psychiatric clinic at the University of Pittsburgh on Thursday and opened fire, killing one person and wounding several others before he was shot dead, apparently by campus police, the mayor said.
Six people were wounded by the man's gunfire, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said. A seventh suffered unspecified injuries but wasn't shot, officials said.
The mayor stopped short of confirming the gunman was fatally shot by at least one University of Pittsburgh police officer who responded. But he confirmed "police acted admirably and did engage in gunfire."
"There's no doubt that their swift response saved lives today," Ravenstahl said.
Shooting witness Gregory Brant said he was in a waiting room on the first floor of the clinic building when pandemonium broke out Thursday afternoon.
"We heard a bunch of yelling, some shooting, people yelling, `Hide! Hide!" he said. "Everyone's yelling, `Stay down!"'
JOSEPH REISERT: Community, culture important in affecting individual behavior
James Q. Wilson, one of America's greatest social scientists, died on March 2. Though he was not well known to the general public, Wilson was at once an exemplary scholar and an extraordinary citizen, who both advanced our understanding of social problems and contributed mightily to their solution.
Wilson's most famous work is a 1982 article, co-authored with George Kelling and published in The Atlantic, titled "Broken Windows: The Police and Neighborhood Safety."
In that article, Wilson, a Harvard government professor, reports on the results of an experiment, conducted in Newark, N.J., to determine whether assigning more police officers to foot patrol duty would reduce the incidence of crime.
It didn't. Whether officers walked the streets or patrolled in their cars, crime rates during the studied period were about the same.
Wilson, however, noted that, though crime rates were immediately unchanged, the people in the neighborhoods where the police patrolled on foot felt much safer, and they reported much higher satisfaction with the police. What the neighborhood police presence established, Wilson saw, was a communal sense of public order.
March 8, 2012
CSUN's police department launches online crime reporting service
Cal State Northridge's Department of Police Services has launched an online crime reporting service. The public can log on to the web-based system to file reports for minor thefts, vehicle burglaries, lost property, hit and run, identity theft and other crimes and incidents.
The service allows the public to file a report at a time when it's convenient, rather than having to wait for an officer to respond or call back. Estimated time to complete an online report is four to six minutes.
"The department is challenged by the growing size and pace of the campus, which can contribute to longer wait times for officers to respond to your location to take a report," said Police Chief Anne P. Glavin. "Online reporting is convenient, fast and free."
The public can print a temporary copy of the report after submitting the information. The report will be reviewed by police and once approved, the person filing will receive, at no cost, an email with a copy of the report attached.
The web-based crime reporting service is available on the department's website at www-admn.csun.edu/police.
Milestone in prison overcrowding
INMATES: Bunk beds packed into gymnasiums removed after court order
TRACY - California prisons marked a milestone Friday, when officials said they had removed the last of nearly 20,000 beds that had been jammed into gymnasiums and other common areas to house inmates who overflowed traditional prison cells.
Inmates in rows of double- and triple-stacked bunk beds became an iconic symbol of the overcrowding crisis, Corrections Secretary Matthew Cate said in announcing an end to the practice.
"It symbolized, I think, a system that was so crowded it could not work effectively or efficiently," Cate said at Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, 70 miles southwest of the state capital.
Crowding was so bad at the California Rehabilitation Center in Riverside County in 2005 that it was hours before guards discovered an inmate had been killed in his bunk in a makeshift dormitory.
Since then, federal judges have forced California to radically change the way it houses criminals. The prison population dropped by nearly 19,000 inmates after a new law took effect in October that sends less serious offenders to county jails instead of state prisons.
Cellphone-related fatal car crashes are down 47%
SAN JOSE - California drivers squawked, they talked, and one or two even balked at having cellphones ripped from their hands when the state law forbidding the use of hand-held phones on the road went into effect in 2008. But according to a study announced Monday by the state Office of Traffic Safety, the total number of traffic deaths in California declined by 22 percent since that time. With fewer drivers yakking into handheld phones, the death-by-cellphone rate dropped an even more stunning 47 percent.
"Those are huge numbers," said state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, author of the bill whose outcome the study tracked, while taking a (hands-free) victory lap after the announcement. Simitian submitted a version of the bill for five consecutive years and was rebuffed each time, before the Legislature finally relented in 2006.
The year after the law was implemented, the CHP reported 700 fewer fatal accidents, and that there were 75,000 to 100,000 fewer collisions. "The drop in collisions was the biggest single year-to-year drop in the history of the state since the CHP began keeping the data," Simitian said.
The report examined state crash records two years before and two years after the ban went into effect.
From the FBI
Statement Before the House Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee
on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies
Good morning Chairman Wolf, Ranking Member Fattah, and members of the subcommittee. On behalf of the over 34,000 men and women of the FBI, I would like to thank you for the years of support you have provided to the Bureau.
The FBI remains focused on defending the United States against terrorism, foreign intelligence, and cyber threats; upholding and enforcing the criminal laws of the United States; protecting civil rights and civil liberties; and providing leadership and criminal justice services to federal, state, municipal, and international agencies and partners. Our continued ability to carry out this complex and demanding mission reflects the support and oversight provided by this subcommittee.
More than 10 years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the FBI continues to be a threat-focused, intelligence-driven organization that is guided by clear operational strategies. And we remain firmly committed to carrying out these strategies under guidelines established by the attorney general that protect the civil liberties of those entrusting us with the authorities to carry out our mission.
As our nation's national security and criminal adversaries constantly adapt and evolve, so must the FBI be able to respond with new or revised strategies and operations to counter these threats. The FBI continues to shift to be more predictive, preventative, and actively engaged with the communities we serve. The FBI's evolution has been made possible by greater use of technology to gather, analyze, and share information on current and emerging threats; expansion of collaboration with new partners, both domestically and internationally; and investments in training, developing, and maximizing our workforce. The FBI continues to be successful in maintaining this momentum of transformation even during these challenging times.
March 7, 2012
Video allegedly shows shackled patients in Syrian hospital [Video]
Disturbing televised video allegedly showing shackled and bruised patients in a Syrian military hospital falls in line with evidence of torture gathered by the United Nations Human Rights Council, a council spokesman said Tuesday.
The video above was shot by an employee of the Military Hospital in the central Syrian city of Homs, who said he had witnessed electrocutions, whippings, operations without anesthetics and other brutal treatment of patients, according to a televised report by Channel 4 News in Britain.
Torture in Syrian military hospitals has been documented by United Nations commissions. One report found that regime security agents "chained seriously injured patients to their beds, electrocuted them, beat wounded parts of their body or denied them medical attention and water," Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Tuesday in a statement.
The stories echo those recounted by Doctors Without Borders, which has reported that Syrians wounded during the uprising face torture and arrest when they seek medical help.
Female service members sue U.S. military for alleged rape, sexual assault
Washington (CNN) -- Eight current and former U.S. service members filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging they were raped, sexually assaulted or harassed while serving in the military and were retaliated against once they reported the abuse. Among the defendants named in the suit are current and former Defense and Navy secretaries and Marine Corps commandants.
"Although defendants testified before Congress and elsewhere that they have 'zero tolerance' for rape and sexual assault, their conduct and the facts demonstrate the opposite: They have a high tolerance for sexual predators in their ranks, and 'zero tolerance' for those who report rape, sexual assault and harassment," according to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington.
The suit outlines a pattern of abuse and portrays, in grim detail, the alleged experiences of the eight female service members -- two former Marine Corps officers, one active duty enlisted Marine, one former enlisted member of the Marine Corps and four former enlisted members of the Navy.
"At first it was easy to laugh it off," plaintiff Elle Helmer, one of the former officers, said about her superiors' advances. "When you finally said, you know, I'm really not interested, I'd rather we be friends -- that's when you became the target. They hated you for standing up for yourself," she told HLN's Jane Velez-Mitchell on Tuesday night.
The lawsuit alleges Helmer was raped by her superior at his office in March 2006 after a required pub crawl.
Memphis police offer glimpse at new crime fighting plan
MEMPHIS, TN- (WMC-TV) - The Memphis Police Department has a new approach to fighting crime and while all the details haven't been revealed, officials say the rank and file has been heavily involved in developing the new plan.
Talks have begun to implement a community policing strategy and to realign neighborhood police precincts in Memphis.
The police department is not ready to release proposed maps of how the precincts would be realigned. But officials say the rank and file were heavily involved in mapping out the precinct assignments and new community policing strategies.
"Some precincts have a higher call load volume," said Memphis Police Association President Michael Williams, as he explained the focus of the new precinct realignment strategy. "Some precincts have a lesser call load volume. Some precincts have a greater distance mileage."
With that, he says the department is considering smaller patrol areas.
From the FBI
Help Us Bring Bob Levinson Home
$1 Million Reward Offered for Missing Retired FBI Agent
This week marks the fifth anniversary of Robert Levinson's disappearance, and the FBI today announced a reward of up to $1 million for information leading to the safe recovery and return of the retired special agent.
Levinson, who retired from the FBI in 1998 after 22 years of service, was working as a private investigator when he traveled to Kish Island, Iran on March 8, 2007. He has not been seen or heard from publicly since he disappeared the following day. In 2010, a video showing him in captivity was sent to the Levinson family by his captors.
The FBI is responsible for investigating crimes committed against U.S. citizens abroad. We have been working since 2007 to obtain information about Levinson's whereabouts and well-being.
On the fifth anniversary of Bob's disappearance, the FBI continues to follow every lead into his abduction and captivity, said James W. McJunkin, assistant director in charge of our Washington Field Office. We are committed to bringing Bob home safely to his family. We hope this reward will encourage anyone with information, no matter how insignificant they may think it is, to come forward. It may be the clue that we need to locate Bob.
Though he is retired from the FBI, Bob remains a member of the FBI family to this day, said Director Robert S. Mueller, and his family is our family. Like all families, we stand together in good times and in times of adversity. Today, we stand together to reaffirm our commitment to Bob Levinson.
Learn About Smoke Alarms
Why should I have a working smoke alarm?
A properly installed and maintained smoke alarm is the only thing in your home that can alert you and your family to a fire 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Whether you're awake or asleep, a working smoke alarm is constantly on alert, scanning the air for fire and smoke. According to the National Fire Protection Association, almost two-thirds of home fire deaths resulted from fires in properties without working smoke alarms. A working smoke alarm significantly increases your chances of surviving a deadly home fire.
There are many different brands of smoke alarms available on the market, but they fall under two basic types: ionization and photoelectric .
It cannot be stated definitively that one is better than the other in every fire situation that could arise in a residence. Because both ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms are better at detecting distinctly different, yet potentially fatal fires, and because no one can predict what type of fire might start in a home, the USFA recommends that every residence and place where people sleep be equipped with both ionization AND photoelectric smoke alarms, OR
dual sensor smoke alarms, which contain both ionization and photoelectric smoke sensors
In addition to the basic types of alarms, there are alarms made to meet the needs of people with hearing disabilities. These alarms may use strobe lights that flash and/or vibrate to assist in alerting those who are unable to hear standard smoke alarms when they sound.
March 6, 2012
President may order killing of American terrorists, Holder says
The attorney general offers a rationale for how the airstrike that killed U.S. citizen Anwar Awlaki in Yemen last year is in line with the Constitution.
The president has legal authority to target and kill American citizens working with Al Qaeda and its allies overseas, according to Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., who declared that when such people pose a threat to the country and cannot be captured, "we must take steps to stop them."
Speaking to an audience at Northwestern University Law School, Holder gave the most complete explanation to date of the Obama administration's legal rationale for killing people such as American-born Anwar Awlaki, who was targeted in a U.S. airstrike in Yemen last year.
Such killings can be ordered "in full accordance with the Constitution," but it requires "at least" an imminent threat in a situation where capture is not feasible, and when the strike is "conducted in a manner consistent" with the rules of war, Holder said.
"In this hour of danger," Holder said, "we simply cannot afford to wait until deadly plans are carried out. And we will not."
North Carolina's death penalty debate
A 2009 state law allows death row inmates to reduce their sentences to life without parole if they can prove racial bias in sentencing or jury selection.
The machinery of death is ripping itself to chunks in North Carolina. Would that this would happen in more places like, say, California.
Conservatives and prosecutors in the Tarheel State are up in arms over a 2009 law that allows death row inmates to reduce their sentences to life without parole if they can prove racial bias in sentencing or jury selection even if the bias wasn't directed at them but at others. In other words, if convicts can show a statistical pattern of racial bias statewide, they can use it as evidence that their own trial may have been skewed. And they don't have to be minorities to appeal; a white inmate who can show excessive dismissal of black potential jurors might be able to dodge the executioner.
Opponents of the law are calling it a backdoor way to end the death penalty, and they're probably not wrong. That's because it's not going to be very hard for inmates to demonstrate racial bias. A Michigan State University study found that, between 1990 and 2010, North Carolina prosecutors dismissed black potential jurors at twice the rate of nonblacks in death penalty cases. The case of the first inmate to test this law, convicted killer Marcus Reymond Robinson, is currently being heard, and as Times staff writer David Zucchino reported Wednesday, it's being watched carefully in other states. North Carolina's law may well spread if Robinson succeeds.
Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at Northwestern University School of Law
Chicago -- For more than 150 years, this law school has served as a training ground for future leaders; as a forum for critical, thoughtful debate; and as a meeting place to consider issues of national concern and global consequence. This afternoon, I am honored to be part of this tradition. And I'm grateful for the opportunity to join with you in discussing a defining issue of our time and a most critical responsibility that we share: how we will stay true to America's founding and enduring promises of security, justice and liberty.
Since this country's earliest days, the American people have risen to this challenge and all that it demands. But, as we have seen and as President John F. Kennedy may have described best In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger.
Half a century has passed since those words were spoken, but our nation today confronts grave national security threats that demand our constant attention and steadfast commitment. It is clear that, once again, we have reached an hour of danger.
We are a nation at war. And, in this war, we face a nimble and determined enemy that cannot be underestimated.
March 5, 2012
Chicago police chief pledges no NYPD-style spying
OAK BROOK TERRACE, Ill. For the first time in public, Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy promised his department will never conduct blanket surveillance of Muslims like the New York Police Department did in Newark, N.J., when he was chief there.
McCarthy addressed hundreds of Muslims on Saturday at the annual banquet of the Council on American-Muslim Relations-Chicago, a civil rights organization. He said police would follow leads in criminal cases, but the department "does not and will not conduct blanket surveillance and profiling of any community in the city of Chicago."
"We are deeply committed to respecting the civil rights of all Chicagoans," McCarthy said.
McCarthy and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have tried to reassure Chicago-area Muslims since The Associated Press revealed the NYPD's spying in Newark. The AP reported last month that in 2007, the NYPD's secretive Demographics Unit fanned out across Newark, photographing mosques and eavesdropping on Muslim businesses. Earlier, the AP reported that the department was conducting similar surveillance in New York, building databases showing where Muslims live, shop and pray.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has vigorously defended the operations, saying police only follow up on allegations. But civil rights advocates and other critics say the NYPD's 60-page report on the Newark operations showed Muslims were targeted for no other reason than they were Muslims, not because they were suspected of crimes.
Citizens Invited to Share Input on Omaha Police
Omahans have the chance, Monday night, to weigh in on Omaha police officers' performance. City council members want to hear what the community has to say, for better or for worse.
Chairman of the Public Safety Committee, Councilman Chris Jerram, said the public forum planned for 6:30 p.m. at Legislative Chambers, 1819 Farnam Street, is the result of other recent community meetings in which police issues kept coming up.
This is the first time council members have held such a meeting, which will be public hearing style, where people can come to the podium and talk for a limited time. Council members will listen and pass the feedback on to police administration. Jerram wasn't sure if any police officers would be present.
"I feel like I've had a really good experience our neighborhood," said Wendy Sully, while walking her dog in Dundee. "I feel like there's a police presence in a really good way."
But at North Omaha Barbers, 24th and Lake Streets, there's a different feeling. "We're just kind of concerned," said owner Steve Moore, "wondering when the violence is going to stop and what the police are going to do."