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Bill outlawing bath salts, herbal incense ready for President Obama's signature
by Brandon Blackwell
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- A bill to stamp out the use of sought-after synthetic drugs -- such as herbal incense and bath salts -- now sits on President Barack Obama's desk.
The "Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012" passed the Senate Tuesday and bans the drugs at a federal level.
The narcotics, commonly purchased at convenience stores and head shops, have incited savage violence from some users.
A Texas man chewed into his housemate's dog earlier this month during an herbal incense-induced rampage. Last year in Washington, a man using bath salts shot his wife and suffocated his 5-year-old son before shooting himself.
The drugs have caused some to lose sight of their own humanity, spurring horrific acts across the country, said U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, a co-sponsor of the bill.
"These synthetic drugs that are on the market have devastated families and ruined the potential of a lot of young people," said the Cincinnati-area Republican in an interview. "These are not 'herbal incense' or 'bath salts.' These are really dangerous chemical compounds that can ruin your chances in life."
Herbal incense is not burned for its aroma. It is a chemically-laced substance resembling marijuana, ingested for the high it delivers. Adverse effects include acute psychosis, hallucinations and violence.
Synthetic bath salts are not meant for the tub even though they resemble the household product. They are crystalline forms of psychoactive chemicals, commonly MDPV and mephedrone. Ingesting bath salts can produce effects similar to herbal incense.
The Plain Dealer reported recently that hospitals and treatment centers in the area and around the country are treating a growing number of people who use the drugs. Portman said he used the story to inform the Senate of this during the passing of the Synthetic Drug Act.
Until the president signs the bill, herbal incense and bath salts will remain legal in many states, but not in Ohio.
The state outlawed the drugs last October, slowing distribution.
Just a few months ago however, the narcotics were rife in convenience stores on East 55th Street on Cleveland's East Side.
"Everyone around here used to sell the stuff, including us," said Cong Nguyen, who works at Rockcliff Market off East 55th.
In April, authorities raided the market and other nearby stores. More than $100,000 in synthetic drugs were seized, according to Cleveland police.
East 55th Street had been a popular destination for people looking to get a synthetic fix. Some even traveled from other counties to get it, said Nguyen.
The reality is, people don't have to travel at all.
With just a few clicks, synthetic drugs can be purchased on the Internet.
Most online sellers advertise their products as "legal highs." The offerings have names like "Zombie Killa," "Mind Trip," and "Miracle Blow."
Freshsalts.com describes its "Faux-caine" product as an "extremely potent bath salt blend that causes euphoria, bliss and puts one in 'the zone.' " It also says the product is "not for human consumption."
The ambiguous labeling of synthetic drugs was key in keeping them legal. Calling them "herbal incense" and "bath salts," and indicating they are not for human consumption, provided some lee from Food and Drug Administration scrutiny.
Authorities have caught on. The federal bill will block brick-and-mortar and online retailers from selling the volatile and misleading products.
Not only do the familiar names for these drugs contradict their purpose, the contents are widely inconsistent.
"We tested 20 bags of herbal incense that had the same label, and all of them had different ingredients," said Capt. Brian Heffernan with the Cleveland Police Narcotics Unit. "You don't ever know what you are getting. You have no idea what you are ingesting."
Police find new way to roll
by Amanda Memrick
Belmont Police Cpl. Doug Huffstetler doesn't step into a car when he goes on duty.
He hops onto a bicycle instead and pedals out on his patrols.
Huffstetler is the department's community relations officer who is leading the effort to create a new way of policing the city.
Huffstetler started doing some outreach activities on his own before deciding to shift his focus into community policing full time.
He concentrated his efforts in one area, riding to the neighborhood on his bike and establishing a relationship with residents and children. The number of calls for police service decreased significantly after the neighborhood focus, Huffstetler said.
Belmont Police Chief Charlie Franklin decided to take community policing to the next level by making a concentrated effort to get the entire department involved. He approached Huffstetler about becoming the full-time outreach officer.
Huffstetler debated the offer.
“I really liked patrol,” Huffstetler said. “I liked being a police officer.”
But he decided that the move was the right one.
“We feel like volunteerism and enthusiasm is contagious,” Huffstetler said. “Give us a year and we're going to see significant strides.”
Huffstetler has seen some strides already. Two weeks into the community outreach effort, police received a tip about an illegal gambling house. That tipster might not have come forward if the resident didn't know a familiar face on the police force — one that he trusted.
Huffstetler patrols downtown on bicycle and on foot so he can interact with residents. Studies show that an officer on a bike is seen as more approachable, Huffstetler said. He uses his bike to go to what he calls the “retail triangle” — the shopping center that includes Roses along Park Street, the Montcross shopping area with Walmart and Lowes and Main Street Crossing where Fred's and Aldi are located.
“We're trying to make a direct connection with people, provide a contact, a face and a name when you need help,” Huffstetler said.
The effort is designed to both reach out to law abiding residents and help reach others who might become law breakers without intervention. It's also a way for the community to address issues that don't need immediate police response.
“Sometimes this gets labeled as ‘hug a thug,'” Huffstetler said. “But we're not soft on crime by any means.”
Community outreach helps people get to know officers in more positive circumstances.
“Police are the first contact with young people when they start to go astray,” Huffstetler said. “It's not DSS. It's not juvenile justice. First contact is a patrol officer. We actually step in a situation that's been 16 years in the making. And if we start young, provide some influence, it'll make a difference with somebody.”
Belmont Police wants to prevent crimes, rather than respond to them, he said. Being out in the community may deter crime, too.
“If bad guys see us, hopefully they'll stay away,” Huffstetler said.
To get the program started, Huffstetler has eaten lunch with students at the local schools, hosted movie and popcorn nights with officers and mentored a group of 10-year-old boys.
The 10-year-olds, dubbed the “Iron Men,” have been holding food drives for local charity Belmont Community Organization, visiting rest homes and helped put together a safety presentation about bike and train safety and crossing the street.
Huffstetler still fills in for patrol officers when they're shorthanded. He also trades shifts for any officers who want to do community outreach. A second officer has been certified for bike patrol and Huffstetler said more officers have expressed an interest in the program.
“This is not a one-man job,” Huffstetler said. “It started off successful, and we actually are ahead of schedule….People are seeing some action, not just lip service.”
Portland police in Bangladesh? Yes, federal funds enable the partnership
by Maxine Bernstein
Traffic Sgt. Bret Barnum, a 20-year Portland Police Bureau veteran, said he used to hold a narrow view of Muslims as extremists, based on U.S. homeland security concerns and the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But when he joined other Portland police on an unusual month-long trip to Bangladesh
, his attitude drastically changed. He found the people of Bangladesh warm and welcoming, and said he finally got a taste of what it was like to live as a minority.
"Here I am a white, Christian male in a country where more than 80 percent of the people are Muslim," Barnum said. "I'd not been exposed to that at all before. It completely opened my eyes to the Muslim community."
On Thursday, the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh, Oregon National Guard members and Portland police celebrated an unusual federally funded partnership that since September has allowed 43 Portland police officers to travel to Bangladesh to promote community policing. Teams of three officers – representing all ranks
– have taken turns spending a month at a time training members of the Rajshahi Metropolitan Police.
The U.S. Department of Justice's International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program, or ICITAP
, funds the trip, including the airfare. The city of Portland pays the officers' salaries while they're away and backfills their positions. Portland police Sgt. Pete Simpson said he did not know the federal amount awarded to Portland police for the program, but the money is expected to last for two years.
Dan Mozena, the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh, said Portland police are helping the Bangladesh police move away from their old-style of policing, in which they relied on weighted, meter-long bamboo sticks to crack people on the head to gain compliance.
Portland police have worked to create forums between Bangladesh police and the business community, and with schools and universities. They're also teaching community-oriented policing to Bangladesh police academy students.
"This partnership with the Portland Police Bureau is one that pays rich, rich dividends for advancing America's strategic interests," Mozena said.
The police in Bangladesh don't actively patrol the city, perhaps because they're allotted only a certain amount of fuel a month by the government. When they do respond to problems, they go out in groups of six officers on a pickup truck – four officers riding in back, and two up front.
"They're very limited," Barnum said.
Sgt. Mike Geiger, a supervisor of the bureau's sex assault unit, said the Portland officers first went into local classrooms in Bangladesh to talk about policing, and met with university law and criminal justice professors. They've since encouraged eight schools in the city to connect with Bangladesh police.
It wasn't easy, largely due to the historical distrust between the two groups.
"If you can't even give a greeting to somebody, how are you going to have a substantive dialogue with them?" Geiger asked.
So, Portland police started a "Just Say Hi" campaign in the schools to break down the barrier between police and students.
"We recognize that monumental reform is not going to happen overnight," said Leisbeth Gerritsen, the crisis intervention coordinator for the Portland police who traveled to Bangladesh in November. "But over time, we hope it will lead to some meaningful change."
Redwood City Police Department Becomes First in the Country to Unveil Live Guide Video Chat Service for Community
Citizens are able to connect face-to-face with officers online using the latest in video chat technology.
The Redwood City Police Department today announced it is now using Netop's Live Guide video and text chat to allow community members to have real-time, interactive video chats directly with a Redwood City police officer. Live Guide utilizes the latest technology for two-way text, audio and video chat, offering another way for the community to connect with the Police Department. This makes Redwood City one of the first municipal government agencies in the United States to provide such video interactivity directly between its police department and its community.
While text-based chat is not uncommon, the future for innovative governments like Redwood City is a communication model offering two-way dialogue with a face-to-face interactive exchange of information. This emerging technology will effectively place the Redwood City Police Department on the leading edge of customer service strategy by providing a new standard of “community-centric” policing.
Members of the community can use Live Guide to receive live online assistance with any concerns or questions about police services, and help with reporting crimes online. The video chat service will also facilitate assistance with the Police Department's other online tools, information on how to handle traffic complaints or abandoned vehicles, direction and web page links for which City departments or other resources are most appropriate for their concerns, or any other community policing inquiries they may have. This service is NOT for use in life-threatening emergencies – people should call 911 in those cases. Live Guide is available to the community at http://www.redwoodcity.org/police.
Redwood City Police Chief JR Gamez noted that, “It's a priority of our Police Department to deliver timely and accurate information via cutting-edge social media services. And as a forward-thinking agency, we recognized that social media was only half of the equation - we needed to embrace emerging technology to also work better, smarter, and more efficiently for the benefit of the public. This service is the newest feature in our Department's work to create truly collaborative e-government solutions for the community. The ability for our residents to activate a video chat session with one of our officers from the comfort of their home, office, school, or location of their choosing elevates the level of customer service that we are providing the members of our community.”
“This new service is a wonderful benefit for the people of Redwood City,” added Redwood City Mayor Alicia Aguirre. “It's an innovative and efficient way for our community to easily interact with our Police Department, and as one of the only agencies to use it this way it really puts Redwood City at the forefront of using technology to engage the community.”
City Manager Bob Bell pointed out that, “We know that many of the people who live, work, and play in Redwood City use technology to get their local information. Implementing the Live Guide technology offers another step in meeting our community's needs for interacting with the Police Department.”
"The innovative use of Netop's Live Guide communication technology by the Redwood City Police Department shows how committed they are to making their website a place for meaningful, real-time citizen engagement," says Kurt Bager, CEO of Netop. "In making it possible for citizens to connect immediately with the Police Department, they are setting a new standard for online service. At Netop, we have helped numerous city governments in Denmark connect with citizens on their websites and we are delighted to partner with Redwood City in this groundbreaking use of our technology."
The pilot program will be launched immediately; operating Monday through Thursday from 9 am to 5 pm. Based on customer usage the program may be expanded to include weekend and evening hours. More information and access to the Redwood City Police Department's new Live Guide interactive video chat service is available by visiting http://www.redwoodcity.org/police.