NEWS of the Day - May 20, 2013
on some LACP issues of interest

NEWS of the Day
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 ...

North Korea fires short-range missiles for two days in a row

by Jane Chung

(Reuters) - North Korea fired a short-range missile from its east coast on Sunday, a day after launching three of these missiles, a South Korean news agency said, ignoring calls for restraint from Western powers.

Launches by the North of short-range missiles are not uncommon but, after recent warnings from the communist state of impending nuclear war, such actions have raised concerns about the region's security.

"North Korea fired a short-range missile as it did yesterday into its east sea in the afternoon, " South Korea's news agency Yonhap reported, citing a military official.

A South Korean defense ministry official confirmed the Yonhap report, but did not provide any details.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was concerned about North Korea's launch of short-range missiles, urging Pyonyang to refrain from further launches and return to stalled nuclear talks with world powers.

Ban, who spoke to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti during a visit to Moscow, called Saturday's launch a "provocative action".

Tension on the Korean peninsula has subsided in the past month, having run high for several weeks after the United Nations Security Council imposed tougher sanctions against Pyongyang following its third nuclear test in February.

The North had for weeks issued nearly daily warnings of impending nuclear war with the South and the United States.

South Korea's Unification Ministry criticized the missile tests as deplorable and urged the North to lower tensions and hold talks over a suspended inter-Korean industrial park in the North's border city of Kaesong.

South Korea pulled out all of its workers from the industrial zone early this month after North Korea withdrew its 53,000 workers as tensions mounted.




Hero cop, who sat next to the first lady, charged with rape

by Ben Brumfield

A former "top cop," who had the honor of sitting next to first lady Michelle Obama during a televised presidential speech four years ago, is facing rape allegations.

Richard DeCoatsworth left a party with two women on Thursday, according to authorities.

The women called authorities and said once they arrived at a second, undisclosed location, the retired officer pulled a gun on them, the Philadelphia Police Department said in a statement.

He allegedly forced them "to engage in the use of narcotics and to engage in sexual acts," the statement said. He was charged with rape on Saturday.

DeCoatsworth became a hero in 2007, after an assailant shot him in the face with a shotgun, according to a White House statement preceding President Barack Obama's 2009 speech to Congress.

Then a rookie on the Philadelphia police force, DeCoatsworth had followed a group of men in a car, whose activities he found suspicious. They parked and three men got out of the vehicle.

As he followed them on foot, a fourth man emerged from the car and fired a blast from a shotgun at DeCoatsworth's face. He briefly lost his eyesight.

"But when his vision returned, he was still standing. Bleeding from the face, DeCoatsworth chased the perpetrator on foot for nearly two blocks. The officer returned fire and put out flash information on the subject during the pursuit, before he finally collapsed," the White House statement said.

More officers arrived, and the assailant was captured.

The Philadelphia Police Department rewarded DeCoatsworth for his valor, promoting him to an elite highway patrol unit. He received the "Top Cops" award in 2008 from the National Association of Police Organizations.

In February 2009, dressed in a ceremonial uniform, he took a seat of honor next to Michelle Obama for the president's address before a Joint Session of Congress.

But two years later, the officer's meteoric career took a dive, when he was accused of using excessive force, shooting a motorcyclist in the leg, CNN affiliate KYW reported.

He retired in 2011.

Last year, the City of Philadelphia granted him a disability pension, according to a city government protocol. But a neighbor also took him to court, claiming DeCoatsworth had threatened him.

Along with rape, the former hero faces accusations of "sex assault, terrorist threats and other related charges," according to police.

KYW reported his bail at $60 million.



Should FBI manhunts use drones? US lawmakers debate

by Nidhi Subbaraman

At Friday's house hearing on privacy and domestic drones, government representatives and civil rights advocates tried to wrap their brains around a drone-filled future.

Once drones are a common sight as scheduled in 2015, activists have suggested that privacy laws need an update. Police drones, for example, are already proving their use, but will privacy be threatened by more capable technology? Who should regulate their use, and how?

But some who attended the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigationshad questions beyond the issue at hand.

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, asked the assembled panel of drone tech and privacy experts: "Can you shoot down a drone over your property?" Without answering the senator directly, the expert panel pointed out the obvious safety issue of a plummeting drone.

Representatives in government, like many Americans, are still coming to grips with the reality of drone technology, which today spans the range from missile-hurling Predators that land themselves to hobbyist quadracopters with an hour-long battery life that can be carried in a backpack. At a Judiciary Committee hearing on domestic drone regulation in late March, assembled senators were tickled by the idea of a mini drone with a camera in hands of an adolescent child. On Friday, committee participants asked serious questions they hope will be answered long before the drones are flying.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., posed a hypothetical question about evidence collected against the Boston Marathon bombing suspects.

"[I]f the Tsarnaev brothers had been detected by a drone," would that evidence be inadmissible in court? , brought up the FBI's shutdown and search for the Tsarnaev brothers in Boston among his first questions to the panelists.

In the immediate aftermath of the bombings, street cameras recorded footage of the event, Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said, later in the hearing. "Does it matter to you constitutionally if those images came from a street camera or unmanned surveillance?"

Christopher Calabrese, legislative council at the American Civil Liberties Union, said that warrants should be required for all law enforcement drone work, to prevent mass surveillance by the government. But his fellow experts argued that a blanket warrant requirement could have serious drawbacks.

"Suppose that law enforcement is monitoring a traffic accident [by drone] and on the sidewalk a terrible assault takes place," said panelist John Villasenor, a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a non-profit policy think tank, and a professor at UCLA. "Suppose the video evidence is the only evidence," he added, suggesting that a drone-approved for traffic monitoring would not be able to provide that evidence against the perpetrator of that crime.

Rep . Bobby Scott, D-Va., described a similar situation: "If you were watching traffic and you saw a drug deal, what then?" A warrant for traffic watching would prevent that drone's footage from being used in court.

Rather than defining when drones would and wouldn't be used, Gregory S. McNeal, an associate professor at Pepperdine University School of Law, recommended addressing the activities themselves. Defining the scope of search and watch activities would be more effective than making rules about devices, he said. For example, defining the duration of surveillance would be better than deciding if a wall-mounted or drone-carried camera can be used.

The senators had a laundry list of other concerns:

•  Racial profiling. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas asked one panelist if racial profiling would be something to be concerned about in videos collected by future drones. "We've seen it applied in video cameras and it seems logical to assume that it would be applied here," Tracey Maclin, of the Boston University School of Law replied. The ACLU's Calabrese had said earlier, video surveillance even today wasn't perfect operators "look for pretty girls and they follow their biases. We think it's very probably that that will happen with drones."

•  Drones with guns. Though the FAA currently bans the use of weaponized drones in the U.S., the thought of a drone carrying a gun still concerned some senators. "Are weapons ever appropriate with drones?" Rep. Scott asked. "By and large, no," ACLU's Calabrese responded.

•  Companies flying drones . Rep. Goodlatte asked if Congress should regulate the future of commercial drones, which are illegal in U.S. airspace now, but will be permitted by 2015. Calabrece responded that for "big time" drone users, like Fedex, for example, " privacy isn't the big issue there, it's safety."

The FAA is working on integrating commercial drones into the U.S. air space by 2015, acting on a 2012 mandate from Congress. If all goes according to plan, the international industry association for drones projects that the air crafts could have economic impacts for agricultural use and public safety that at the very top end will run into more than $300 million (in California).

While waiting for more drones in the sky, new drone legislation is cropping up around the U.S. Idaho and three states are the first among them, scheduled to have drone legislation enacted later this year. Meanwhile, cops across the country are already putting them to use.




Oakland police struggle to rebuild using fewer resources

'Working smarter' and reorganization can go only so far. It's not clear that the public is ready to make the investment.

by Lee Romney

OAKLAND It was a quiet evening by this city's standards, and still the police emergency lines were lighting up.

As screams rang out behind her, a caller said her neighbor was being beaten. A woman reported that a front door down the street had been bashed in by a possible intruder. Another said a family member with a knife and supply of methamphetamine was threatening to kill herself.

By 7:30 p.m. there were 40 calls requiring squad cars on the eastern half of town but no officers available to respond. The western district wasn't faring much better.

So when a resident phoned to report that someone was removing boxes from his driveway, he was told he'd have to wait. "Can't you just have an officer drive by?' he asked the 911 dispatcher.

Managing expectations amid a rising crime rate is the latest challenge in California's most violent city.

The Oakland Police Department is under pressure to satisfy conditions of a decade-old federal court settlement that stemmed from racial profiling and improper use of force. Two of its chiefs have left in as many years. A quarter of its sworn officers have been lost since 2008 to budget cutbacks. Yet it handles about twice the emergency calls per capita as the average law enforcement agency in the state.

As the department works to rebuild its force and earn citizens' trust, it offers lessons on how deeply the nature of policing changes when resources are cut to the bone.

"There are places in the country right now like Oakland that are at a tipping point," said Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum. "They are really testing how much police make a difference."

Patrol officers Abdullah Dadgar and Themis Lomis edged their vehicle into a Fruitvale district neighborhood that had suffered a spate of armed robberies.

Two nights earlier, they had responded to 13 in three hours. But before they could set up a stakeout, they were sent to check out a reported burglary in progress.

Oakland is now the nation's robbery capital, following a 24% jump last year. A 43% surge in burglaries left the lone full-time investigator drowning in 13,000 cases.

By the time Dadgar and Lomis arrived at the scene, witnesses reported that three young men had fled in a white car, the stolen goods stuffed into pillowcases.

"It's pretty disheartening," said Dadgar, an 11-year department veteran. "How do you tell someone whose home has just been burglarized, 'Well, we can't really do too much about this'?"

With the contraction of Oakland's force, which fell from 836 officers in mid-2008 to 611 this spring, teams assigned to round up violent-crime suspects and witnesses were disbanded. Many officers on walking beats the kind of community policing that has been shown to reduce crime were ordered back into their cars. The vice and traffic enforcement details were eliminated.

In turn, vehicle stops plummeted from 48,000 to 10,000 last year. Arrests dropped 44%, with enforcement of weapons possession, drug possession, prostitution and pandering laws suffering noticeably.

Neighborhoods plagued by burglaries and robberies pushed to keep their "problem-solving officers," who analyze patterns and causes of crime. But the rising number of homicides and shootings in gang-afflicted areas forced a reshuffling.

It's not an uncommon story: A fourth of the agencies surveyed nationwide in 2010 by the Major Cities Chiefs Assn. had cut back on traffic, property crime and drug investigations; more than a third had sliced into community policing. The following year, the Justice Department tallied 12,000 law enforcement layoffs and 30,000 unfilled positions.

"Oakland is definitely not alone," said Josh Ederheimer, acting director of the agency's office of community-oriented policing services. "We hadn't seen anything like that since the 1970s."

A mending economy hasn't improved matters much: Half of agencies surveyed last year by the Police Executive Research Forum were experiencing cuts. Two-thirds said property crimes were up, and more than one-third reported an increase in violent crimes.

As darkness fell, Dadgar and Lomis parked in an alley and noted the license plate number of a Buick that matched the description of a robbery getaway car. But before they could investigate further, they were responding to an armed robbery call at a Jack in the Box.

"You ever see those cartoons where someone puts their finger in a leaky dike and it squirts out somewhere else?" Dadgar asked, his foot hard on the pedal. "That's how we feel."

Hanging along the dingy hallway of Oakland's crime lab squeezed onto the sixth floor of police headquarters are architectural plans drawn up more than a decade ago, after a study determined the operation needed a facility that would take up half a city block.

The lab has a good reputation. Many staffers have master's degrees and serve on national boards. But insufficient funding has left them buried in work.

Units that analyze DNA, firearms and latent fingerprints are all short-staffed.

Grant-funded technology helps: One DNA robot that came online in March can process 96 sexual-assault samples every eight hours up from the 17 a day that the staff could handle by hand. But manpower matters.

Firearms unit supervisor Mark Bennett said his three-member team last year scrambled to process evidence in 131 homicide cases and more than 800 assaults. In one recent shootout, eight guns were used and more than 100 rounds fired requiring extensive testing to try to link weapons to other crimes.

Oakland's firearms unit can process only about half the requests it gets from homicide and assault investigators monthly, Bennett said. Results sometimes are delivered years after a weapon was fired, and "since guns are passed around, it makes it almost useless."

Similarly, the latent-print unit has the technology, but not the staff, to run its backlog through the Automated Fingerprint Identification System. So homicide cases are prioritized while others often languish.

An evidence technician collected prints in the Jack in the Box heist, but robbery falls next to last on the lab's to-do list.

"We could really help the citizens of Oakland if we had enough people to just do the work that we have in front of us," supervisor Debra Galaviz-Flores said.

File folders, each with a victim's photo taped inside, cover Officer Jason Andersen's desk. As with other homicide detectives, his open caseload averages about 16 up from 2009's department average of seven.

Oakland has more than three dozen internal affairs personnel, a product of the court settlement, more than those assigned to violent crime. Each of the homicide division's five two-person teams is on call for a week at a time, 24/7.

"The one thing we do not get a lot of [in homicides] is good hard physical evidence," Anderson said. So information from witnesses or informants is key.

Killings in this city of 400,000 once spurred an undercover team to conduct drug-buy operations nearby and haul in potential witnesses for a chat. "More cases were solved then," Andersen said, "because of the sheer number of interviews."

He turned to an officer coming off graveyard and heading into his second overtime shift. He had a rapport with a potential witness, and Andersen pleaded with him to find her.

"It just boils down to everybody's stretched thin," he said wearily. "That's kind of where we're at."

On a spring morning, Oakland's Scottish Rite Center filled with proud families for the first academy graduation in four years.

"Allan. Ashford. Belligan." As 38 names were read, each recruit responded with a forceful: "Here, sir!"

The class was the first of six the city hopes to fund by the summer of 2015. Still, that will bring the sworn force to 700 at most short of the 1,000 that former Chief Howard Jordan, who just stepped down for medical reasons, said the department needs.

With pension and other costs soaring, experts nationwide predict some cuts likely are here to stay, so policing must get smarter.

To that end, consultants including former LAPD Chief William Bratton are helping Oakland to split its department into five districts, each with its own captain and set of investigators. They also are working to reassign officers to neighborhoods while resolving more calls online and by phone.

But even more than reorganization, policing experts said, what really is needed is political will.

When Bratton took charge in 2002, the LAPD was struggling with high crime and a federal consent decree, UC Berkeley criminal-justice expert Franklin Zimring recently told the Oakland City Council. Now community trust is up, and L.A.'s crime reduction success is "second only to New York." With 10 times Oakland's population, L.A. saw about 300 homicides in each of the last few years, compared with Oakland's 2012 tally of 131.

Bratton got most of the resources he sought to expand the LAPD. But with a history of divisive city politics and a department leadership in flux, Oakland faces challenges in attempting a similar turnaround.

"How do we persuade voters to make the investment?" Councilwoman Libby Schaaf asked during a recent public appearance. "What's it going to take?"

As she addressed the crowd, a young woman was shot to death in her car in North Oakland. Her 4-year-old was in the back seat.



Don't want to be tracked? Turn cellphone off, says magistrate

by Suzanne Choney

Don't want your location to be tracked on your cellphone by police? Just turn the GPS off, otherwise you've got no expectation of privacy, a federal magistrate said recently in a ruling. The ACLU calls the decision an "opinion straight from the Twilight Zone," as well as a violation of the Fourth Amendment's protections against illegal search-and-seizure.

The case involves a New York doctor who was recently arrested and indicted by the federal government for illegally distributing oxycodone, a prescription medicine for pain. Among the various ways the doctor was tracked by law enforcement, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, was via the GPS signals from his cellphone.

"Although the DEA agents requested a search warrant and the judge found that there was probable cause to believe that the cellphone location data would assist in the location and apprehension of an individual for whom there was already a valid arrest warrant, the judge later published a 30-page opinion further stating that he didn't think the government needed to seek a search warrant in the first place," writes Chris Soghoian of the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.

The opinion by U.S. magistrate Gary R. Brown notes that the defendant in the case could have turned off his phone if he didn't want to be tracked.

"Cellphone users who fail to turn off their cellphones do not exhibit an expectation of privacy and such expectation would not be reasonable in any event," Brown wrote.

He also cited "business practices in the IT industry" that make phone users like the defendant not only "aware that their cellphone may be tracked and this information may be provided to authorities, but they expressly agree to these terms before operating the cellphone."

Phone users today, he said, know they are being tracked by advertisers or apps.

"There's a big difference between an individual sharing that information with a friend or advertiser and the government being able to collect that information without the user's consent," Soghoian told NBC News. "The judge seems to think that individuals should lose their expectation of privacy in all cases."

Amie Stepanovich, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center Domestic Surveillance Project, told NBC News, that it is "not practical or reasonable to require individuals to turn off their cellphone to prevent law enforcement from accessing a stream of location data."

"Members of the Supreme Court have recognized that individuals have an expectation of privacy in details about their location over time," she said. "The Constitution has already balanced law enforcement interests with individual privacy in requiring a warrant, based on probable cause, for access to this type of information. To hold otherwise perverts the meaning of the Fourth Amendment."

Soghoian described Brown's opinion is "an outlier. Certainly, I've never seen anything like this, the reliance on the power-button angle" to justify tracking via GPS.