AG Kamala Harris meets with DAs to reduce gun violence
by Rick Orlov and Doug Saunders
Bringing together district attorneys and law enforcement officials from throughout the state, Attorney General Kamala Harris convened a working group Friday to develop a strategy on how to better enforce gun laws, particularly for those prohibited from owning a firearm.
"We need to eliminate and reduce gun violence in California," Harris said during a news conference at the Los Angeles Police Department administration building. "We came together to talk about best practices and what we can do to bring our resources together."
Harris said she is particularly concerned with enforcement of the state's Armed Prohibitive Persons System, a list of people with criminal records, mental illness or court orders banning them from owning a gun.
California has a backlog of 20,000 people who might be prohibited from owning firearms and whose names have to be checked on that list. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said his department receives a monthly list of 3,000 people who are checked out as quickly as possible by either his 20-officer gun unit or officers assigned in divisions to check on the parole status of individuals.
The APPS program, enacted in 2007, is unique to California, Harris said, adding she hopes it becomes a model for other states and the nation as they look to reduce and prevent gun violence.
"This is not about ideology or politics," Harris said. "It is a false choice to suggest you are either in support of the Second Amendment or in favor of reasonable gun safety rules. We can do both."
Harris said her department has seized more than 10,000 firearms under the law and recently received an additional $24 million to expand its efforts.
Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said the laws are important to protect residents.
"Our focus is to harness the collective wisdom of DAs throughout the state and develop a common-sense approach to enforcing the laws already on the books," Lacey said.
San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos said the meeting was valuable.
"There were DAs from all over the state trying to learn from each other and come up with ways to get illegal guns off the street and out of the hands of those individuals that shouldn't have them," Ramos said.
"We also need to focus on those with mental health problems that shouldn't have firearms in their possession. We want to be proactive so we (Californians) don't have a Sandy Hook elementary school incident in our own backyard."
Beck said the Sandy Hook incident prompted him to change the direction of his gun unit.
"I called them in and told them we need to focus more on the mentally ill," Beck said. "This is not about making arrests, it is about making sure they don't hurt themselves, their families or others. We are trying to get them help."
Harris said a number of subgroups were created among the prosecutors to develop information that can be given out on a statewide basis looking at the best practices that are in use and procedures needed on everything from enforcement by going to the homes of those on the APPS list or the mentally ill to making the best use of gun buyback programs.
Los Angeles has held a number of gun buybacks, which generally have been sponsored by private donations.
Beck said he will be offering information the LAPD has developed on how to promote the events, staffing that is needed and other variables involved in the program.
Ramos said San Bernardino is planning a gun buyback awareness campaign.
"When it comes to people wanting to rid their homes of firearms they just don't know how to do it legally or where to go," Ramos said.
Harris said another part of the task force's mission is to develop a way for the public to learn about existing gun laws and what they have to do if they want to turn in a weapon.
Inmates report sexual abuse at L.A. County jails
by Christina Villacorte
Jails in downtown Los Angeles are among the worst in the nation when it comes to inmates alleging sexual abuse by fellow convicts or even the deputies guarding them, according to a new survey from the U.S. Justice Department.
The survey found that 8 percent of respondents at the downtown Twin Towers Corrections Facility complained of "sexual victimization" - compared to a national average of 3.2 percent. At Men's Central Jail next door, the rate was 6.9 percent.
The "Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates" survey was mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003.
Sheriff Lee Baca's spokesman, Steve Whitmore, said the department was taking the survey seriously.
"We're going to analyze this and take appropriate action," he said. "If anything needs to be done, we're certainly going to do it."
He seemed skeptical about the findings, however, pointing out that about half of the Twin Towers' 3,300 inmates are mentally ill.
"With Twin Towers, especially, there's a large population of those people with mental challenges," Whitmore said. "Sometimes, they will say things that are just not true in reality."
"But we investigate all sexual assault claims regardless of who makes them," he added.
Only five other jails across the country reported higher than 8 percent of sexual assault allegations. The highest was Philadelphia City Industrial Correctional Center, at 9.5 percent.
Almost three dozen other jails in the survey had zero incidences.
The report cautioned against trying to rank the jails exactly in order because of the study's margin of error.
DOJ's Bureau of Justice Statistics senior statistical adviser Allen Beck, who conducted the survey, urged the Sheriff's Department not to dismiss its findings.
"You should take these numbers seriously," Beck said over the phone from Washington D.C., adding the survey used techniques to try to weed out false responses and ensure reliable results.
"Obviously, not all inmates necessarily tell the truth but I think you have to be very careful when you discount allegations simply on that basis," Beck said.
American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California legal director Peter Eliasberg noted the same survey was conducted in 225 prisons and 358 jails.
"It's troubling that when the same methodology was applied in different places, Twin Towers came out as one of the worst 20 in the country (specifically in inmate-on-inmate incidents)," he said.
"I don't think any responsible person will say that L.A. inmates lie more than New York inmates," Eliasberg said. "Even if the actual number is not perfectly accurate, I don't see any reason why the comparison would not be a valid one."
The survey took a sample of 200 inmates at the Twin Towers in 2011 and 2012, and found 8 percent of them reported some form of sexual victimization, defined as a wide range of activity from improper touching to penetration to willing or unwilling sexual activity with staff.
Of the alleged incidents of sexual victimization at Twin Towers, 4.9 percent fell into "inmate-on-inmate" category while jail staff allegedly perpetrated 4.4 percent.
The numbers are double or triple the national averages, which 1.6 percent for "inmate-on-inmate" abuse and 1.8 for staff sexual misconduct.
Beck said the most vulnerable inmates were the mentally ill, and those who were gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
He acknowledged the data has shortcomings.
"The (survey) collected only allegations of sexual victimization," Beck wrote in the report. "Since participation in the survey is anonymous and reports are confidential, the survey does not permit any follow-up investigation or substantiation of reported incidents through review."
"Some allegations in the (survey) may be untrue," he conceded.
Beck added, however, that the number of false responses might be offset, to some degree, by the number of inmates who keep quiet about actual abuse because of shame, fear of retaliation, and other reasons.
The survey comes about six months after the blue-ribbon Commission on Jail Violence criticized Baca and the department for rampant excessive force at the jails.
Jesse Lerner-Kinglake, spokesman for the Just Detention International, criticized Baca for what he considered leadership failures.
"There are facilities in this survey that have virtually eradicated sexual abuse, which is proof that this can be done," he said. "This does not have to be an inevitable consequence of incarceration."
"Sexual abuse can be stopped and it all boils down to leadership and staff," he added.
Half of U.S. public pools contaminated by feces
by Anna Edney
WASHINGTON — Human feces taints more than half of public swimming pools, a finding U.S. health officials are using to urge better personal hygiene as the summer months approach.
E. coli, which indicates the presence of fecal matter, was detected in 58 percent of samples taken from pool filters by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to data released Thursday by the Atlanta-based agency. Pools frequented mostly by children were more likely to test positive for E. coli, which can cause stomach and respiratory illness.
Municipal pools open to all were worse than public pools requiring membership, the CDC said. Acute gastrointestinal illness related to recreational water sports has substantially increased since 1978, with diarrheal incidents and other poor swimmer hygiene being a major contributor, the CDC said.
"Finding a high percentage of E. coli-positive filters indicates swimmers frequently contaminate pool water when they have a fecal incident in the water or when feces rinse off of their bodies because they do not shower thoroughly before getting into the water," the agency said in a statement.
The CDC tested pool water from filters around the Atlanta area in June through August 2012. It's unlikely that swimmer hygiene differs in other areas, the CDC said.
E. coli was in 70 percent of municipal pools tested and 49 percent of pools that require membership or are at a club. The bacteria was detected in the same percentage of pools whether they were outdoor or indoor, the data show. Pools used primarily by children tested positive 73 percent of the time.
Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacteria that can cause rashes and ear infections, was found in 59 percent of the pools sampled, the CDC said. The contamination comes mostly from dirt, either from humans or pool toys, and underscores the need to clean pools and keep chlorine at proper levels, the CDC said.
The CDC recommended swimmers shower with soap before getting in a pool, don't swim when they have diarrhea and wash their hands with soap after using the toilet or changing diapers. Also, don't swallow pool water, the agency said.
North Korea Fires Missiles Into Sea
by KYONG-AE CHOI
SEOUL—North Korea fired three short-range guided missiles into the sea off the eastern coast of the Korean peninsula on Saturday, once again stirring tensions that had appeared to ease in the wake of a recent series of bellicose statements directed at South Korea and the U.S.
Analysts said the launches were likely intended not only as a protest against the joint South Korean-U.S. military drills in the East Sea earlier this week, but also as a political gambit aimed ultimately at drawing a dialogue offer from the U.S.
The launches come several weeks after the final group of South Korean workers returned home from a jointly run industrial park inside North Korea, after Pyongyang blocked inbound traffic into the complex.
The closure of the Kaesong Industrial Complex—-the last outpost of inter-Korean economic cooperation—in turn followed weeks of near-daily verbal attacks by North Korea against the South and the U.S. after the U.N. imposed tougher sanctions against Pyongyang following its third nuclear test in February.
In a short briefing, South Korea's defense ministry said Saturday that North Korea had fired two guided missiles into waters off the Korean peninsula in the morning, followed by a third missile in the afternoon.
"In our judgement, the missiles are short-range guided missiles, not mid-range missiles such as the Musudan," defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said. "South Korea's military is on high alert to prepare for any hostile acts from the North following the guided-missile launch today."
The Musudan has a range of more than 3,000 kilometers, meaning it could hit Japan and possibly the U.S.
The ministry didn't elaborate further.
Shin Jong-dae, professor at the University of North Korean Studies, said the launches were more likely a means of drawing attention from the international community than a test launch.
"North Korea is an expert at crisis diplomacy or crisis marketing," Mr. Shin said.
Kim Yong-hyun, professor at Dongkuk University's North Korean Studies department, said the North appears to hope that launching missiles will prompt an offer of dialogue from the U.S.
Analysts said the missiles appear to have been surface-to-ship missiles.
States cracking down on drunken boating
by Larry Copeland
Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents, Coast Guard says.
It's not just the highways: With the summer recreational boating season just getting underway, several states are moving to cut down on boating under the influence.
Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. It was the main factor in 17% of the 651 deaths involving registered recreational vehicles in 2012; that was a slight uptick from 16% the year before.
National Safe Boating Week begins Saturday, and some states are moving to reverse that trend:
Georgia on Wednesday lowered its blood-alcohol content limit for boaters from .10 to .08, the same threshold for drivers; it also enacted harsher penalties for those convicted of boating while intoxicated. "We believe getting a drunk boater off the water gets a drunk driver off the roads," said Harris Blackwood, director of the state's Governor's Office of Highway Safety."That's because they're eventually going to head back to shore and most likely get in their car."
The Illinois Legislature just passed a bill that authorizes the state to suspend a person's driver's license if the person is caught operating a motorboat while intoxicated; it extends the concept of "implied consent" to test suspected intoxicated boaters involved in injury or fatal accidents. Both houses gave unanimous approval to the measure and it's now before Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat. "This is meant to deter the reckless behavior that is resulting in deaths and injuries every year on Illinois lakes and rivers," Democratic state Sen. Julie Morrison said.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, on Thursday signed into law a bill that aligns the state's boating under the influence law with its DUI law. The bill adds penalties for boaters found to be under the influence of marijuana and extends the implied consent concept to boaters.
Efforts such as these often follow horrific drunken boating crashes that galvanize public opinion.
Georgia became the 47th state with the same blood-alcohol content threshold for boaters as for drivers after a drunken boating crash on Lake Lanier last June that killed two boys. Griffin Prince, 13, and his brother, Jake, 9, were with family and friends on a pontoon boat when it was rammed by a fishing boat operated by Paul Bennett, who was indicted in August on charges including homicide by vessel and boating under the influence; his trial is pending. Jake was killed in the crash; Griffin's body was found in the lake after nine days of searches.
Morrison said she introduced the Illinois bill after her 10-year-old nephew, Antonio "Tony" Borcia, was killed last summer on Petite Lake. He was being towed on an inner tube by his father driving a pontoon when he fell into the lake. Three of his siblings and his father watched in horror as a 29-foot powerboat operated by David Hatyina slammed into the boy. Hatyina pleaded guilty to operating a boat under the influence of alcohol and cocaine; he is to be sentenced next month.
"You talk about collateral damage, this All-American family is devastated," Morrison said. "The kids and their dad had gone to the lake and Mom stayed at home. She got a call from the boat telling her that her child is dead. This family is going through that."
With her bill, Morrison said, "We are going to try to change the culture."
The culture is already changing to some degree, said Washington Sen. Mike Padden, a Republican who introduced his state's new bill. "There is more and more of an awareness," he said. "I don't think we're in the same place as with drunk driving, but it gets closer and closer."
The recreational boating culture is changing, too, according to one longtime marine police officer.
"You have a lot of what I call the soccer moms out on the water with their children and their families," said John Fetterman, director of law enforcement for the Lexington, Ky.-based National Association of State Boating Law Administrators. Those families "aren't willing to take that risk" of potentially having their safety compromised by intoxicated boaters, he said.
"Years ago, if you were intoxicated and you were boating, we'd probably tell you to go home," said Fetterman, who was a Maine Marine Patrol officer for 32 years. "Today, if you're boating and you're over .08 (blood-alcohol content), you're going to jail."
Seattle mayor asks community members to contribute to data-driven "Predictive Policing"
SEATTLE — Mayor Mike McGinn and Seattle police Deputy Chief Nick Metz announced Friday that new "Predictive Policing" software will be deployed in all five Seattle police precincts.
McGinn and Metz asked community members to get involved by reporting crimes proactively.
“The software has been used by police departments all over the nation to reduce crime through deep analysis of crime and location data,” a statement from the mayor's office said. “The software makes predictions about the places where crime is likely to occur, based on crime and location data from police reports. It does not predict who, only where. But by knowing the place where crimes are likely to occur, it enables SPD to deploy patrols where they are most needed, and it allows the community to develop strategies to make places safer.”
"We've heard from communities, particularly in the North Precinct, through our Safe Communities outreach process that we need better data analysis to prevent property crime," said McGinn. "We've had anecdotal successes with the pilot project in East and Southwest Precincts, so we're expanding Predictive Policing citywide. We're asking the community to get involved by reporting even minor property crimes so we can improve our data set and predict where crime is likely to occur. This is a tool that can help us prevent some crimes before they happen, so it's very important that community members get involved.”
“Predictive Policing is a technology tool that increases our odds of stopping crime because it tells law enforcement when and where crime is likely to occur” said Metz. “With the community's help, we can prevent some crimes before they take place by being in the right place at the right time.”
The statement from the mayor's office explained that, using computer models similar to those used to predict earthquake aftershocks, Predictive Policing analyzes crime data dating back to 2008 and forecasts times and locations where crime is likely to occur—down to a geographic area as small as 500 feet by 500 feet. Officers receive new crime forecasts at the beginning of each shift, telling them when and where they should focus their patrols in between 911 calls.
“But the predictions are based on police reports,” the statement said, “so they can only be effective if community members are proactive about reporting even minor property crimes with the department's online tool at seattle.gov/police/report. The more data the system has, the better the predictions it produces.”
13 People Shot In Detroit Within 24-Hour Period
Detroit recently hired a new police chief.
But if Chief James Craig was expecting a honeymoon period, he was sadly mistaken. Fox 2 News Detroit reports that 13 people were shot within a 24-hour period. Though, during a press conference this week, the department failed to mention it, according to Fox 2 News.
In fact, when a reporter asked about the high number of shootings during a press conferece, a police department spokesperson shut it down. For some reason, asking about crime numbers seemed to be a bit of an issue.
It's something that Detroit Police Commission Chairman Rev. Jerome Warfield says he wants to change.
“Part of community policing is to arm the community with as much information as you can give them in order [that] they may look out for you,” Warfield said. “If these type of activities are going on, then the community can coalesce and come together and then be able to help the police in their job.”
The most recent shooting involved the death of 54-year-old Almeter Walls who was murdered in front of her home Wednesday. All that is known so far is that Walls argued with someone and gun fire occurred soon after.
The 54-year-old Walls, who was going to dialysis once a week, was hours away from a kidney transplant.
Four other people were also shot, including Walls 24-year-old daughter, Fairline, her boyfriend, Arturo Franklin, and two of her nieces, one of them just 15 years old, according to Fox 2 News.
In light of the 13 shootings over the last 24 hours, the department's unwillingness to hand over crime rate figures was something that did not go unnoticed. But Warfield is confident that Detroiters will see some big changes now that they have a new police chief.
“Transparency is an issue for (Chief Craig), making sure that he's engaged… because he cares a great deal about community policing,” he said.
As for the unanswered questions over homicide deaths during the press conference, the Detroit Police Department did release a statement. It said, in part, there have been 115 homicides in Detroit since the beginning of the year The number of non-fatal shootings stand at 375.
Detroit has a population of 706,585 residents, making the number of homicides and shootings relatively high.
From the FBI
Internet Crime 2012
IC3 Releases Annual Report
The Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3, had received dozens of complaints about a St. Louis woman who was selling what she claimed were designer handbags. Buyers spent as much as $100,000 for a single bag, but ended up with either knock-off bags or sometimes nothing at all…and the woman refused to refund their money. The IC3 forwarded the complaints to the St. Louis FBI Field Office, and after an investigation, the woman was charged with selling counterfeit goods and ultimately pled guilty last year .
This case is an example of the effectiveness of the IC3—a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center. Submissions to this central hub for Internet-related crime complaints can not only lead to culprits getting caught, but also help identify trends that are then posted on the IC3's website to educate the public about constantly evolving cyber threats and scams.
Today, as part of its ongoing education and prevention mission, the IC3 released its latest annual snapshot of online crime and fraud—the 2012 Internet Crime Report . While there is no end to the variety of cyber scams, the report highlights some of the most frequent ones from 2012. Here are a few examples of what to look for to help keep you from being victimized: Auto fraud: Criminals attempt to sell vehicles that they really don't own, usually advertising them on various online platforms at prices below market value. Often the fraudsters claim they must sell the vehicles quickly because they are relocating for work, are being deployed by the military, or have a tragic family circumstance and are in need of money. And in a new twist, criminals are posing as dealers rather than individual sellers.
FBI impersonation e-mail scam: The names of various government agencies and government officials have been used in spam attacks for some time, and complaints related to spam e-mail purportedly sent by the FBI continue to be reported with high frequency. These scams, which include elements of Nigerian scam letters, incorporate get-rich inheritance scenarios, bogus lottery winning notifications, and occasional extortion threats.
Intimidation/extortion scams: More popular ones involve payday loan scams (harassing phone calls to victims claiming they are delinquent on loan payments); process server scams (a supposed process server shows up at a victim's house or place of employment but is willing to take a debit card number for payment in order to avoid court); and grandparent scams (fraudsters contacting elderly victims pretending to be a young family member in some sort of legal or financial crisis).
Scareware/ransomware: There are different variations of these scams, but one involves victims receiving pop-up messages on their computers alerting them to purported infections that can only be fixed by purchasing particular antivirus software. Another involves malware that freezes victims' computers and displays a warning of a violation of U.S. law and directions to pay a fine to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Read more on these and other scams—as well as online crime prevention tips—in the IC3's latest report. An educated consumer is the most effective weapon against Internet fraudsters.
- The IC3 received nearly 290,000 complaints from victims.
- Dollar losses arising from the 2012 complaints totaled almost $525.5 million.
- Most complaints came from the U.S., but some were sent from Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, India, and other countries.
- California had the highest percentage of complaints (13.41), followed by Florida, Texas, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Virginia, Ohio, and Washington.
- Victims who reported losing money lost an average of nearly $4,600.
- More than 82 percent of complainants were ages 20-50, while 14 percent were 60 and over, and just over 3 percent were under the age of 20.
Fraud Advice for Consumers
- Be suspicious if the seller only accepts wire transfers or cash.
- If purchasing merchandise, ensure it is from a reputable source.
- Be wary of businesses that operate from P.O. boxes or mail drops.
- If you receive an unsolicited e-mail, be very cautious when responding to offers and giving out personal or financial information. Also, do not click on the links in these e-mails; instead, go directly to the organization's official website.
For more tips, go to the IC3's 2012 Internet Crime Report and our Internet Fraud webpage
Police Week: Honoring the Fallen
Candlelight Vigil Held for Fallen Officers
Thousands of law enforcement officers from around the country gathered last night at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial for a candlelight vigil to honor fallen officers. The names of more than 19,000 men and women grace the memorial's marble walls. On Monday, 321 new names were officially added, including 120 who died last year. The names of the fallen were read aloud after thousands of participants passed a flame from candle to candle. In remarks to participants, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napoitano saluted those who wear the badge.
“Heroes, patriots, and role models who did not flinch at the first sign of danger,” she said, “but like all law enforcement, acted to protect us even though their lives were on the line.” (Photo Gallery -- Candlelight Vigil)
Attorney General Eric Holder said the officers died doing what they loved.
“They helped to make this world a far better, and safer, place,” Holder said. “And, despite the fact that these brave officers were taken from us far too suddenly—and far too soon—their legacies and contributions will always endure.”
Preliminary statistics released today by the FBI show that 47 law enforcement officers were feloniously killed last year, 25 fewer than in 2011. Twelve of those killed last year died from injuries they sustained while investigating suspicious persons or circumstances. Eight were killed during traffic pursuits or stops, and five were killed in ambushes.
“Each of these losses reminds us that our safety and freedom come at great cost,” Director Mueller said in a May 13 video message to law enforcement colleagues. “We must continue to do everything in our power to reduce the threats to our officers, deputies, and agents and to keep our colleagues safe from harm.”
An additional 45 officers were accidentally killed in the line of duty last year, eight fewer than in 2011.
FBI Director Robert S. Mueller expressed thanks to law enforcement officers in the U.S. and around the world in a video message released on the first day of the annual Police Week gathering in Washington D.C.
“The recent events in Boston showed our nation once again the exceptional skills, dedication, and bravery of the men and women of law enforcement,” Director Mueller said. “Unfortunately, the death of M.I.T. Police Officer Sean Collier also reminded us that protecting our fellow citizens sometimes requires these brave men and women to lay down their lives. During National Police Week, we honor the memory of Officer Collier, and indeed, all who have given their lives while serving those they were sworn to protect.”