U.S. military challenged on sexual assaults in hearing
by Phil Stewart and Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lawmakers admonished America's top military officers over sexual assault in the armed forces on Tuesday, but top brass warned against a plan in Congress to take the cases out of the hands of commanders.
The Senate hearing comes after a wave of sexual assault scandals and new Pentagon data showing a steep rise in unwanted sexual contact, from groping to rape, that have deeply embarrassed the military and prompted lawmakers to try to impose change with new legislation.
"You have lost the trust of the men and women who rely on you that you will actually bring justice in these cases," said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York.
Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, said he could not "overstate my disgust and disappointment" over the continued reports of sexual misconduct.
The top uniformed officers of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard sat in a line, listening silently, as did the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the top attorneys from each service.
The exceptional display underscored how the problem of sexual assault, which has been around for years, appears to have exhausted the patience of lawmakers.
"My years of experience in this area tell me they are committing crimes of domination and violence. This isn't about sex," said Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri and a former prosecutor who handled sex crimes.
The chiefs appeared to lend their support to an April proposal by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that would curb a key power of commanders - their ability to alter verdicts in courts-martial for major crimes like murder or sexual assault.
But they objected to Gillibrand's proposal, which would take responsibility for prosecuting sex crimes out of the victim's chain of command altogether and given to special prosecutors.
"The legislation ... is absolutely the wrong direction to go," said General James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps.
General Raymond Odierno, Army chief of staff, cautioned against any rush to create new laws overhauling the military justice system, saying "we cannot simply legislate our way out of this problem."
A study the Defense Department released in May estimated that cases of unwanted sexual contact in the military, from groping to rape, rose 37 percent in 2012, to about 26,000 cases, from 19,000 the previous year.
Lawmakers scorned top brass for failing to break down that data.
"Unwanted sexual contact is everything from somebody looking at you sideways when they shouldn't to someone pushing you up against the wall and brutally raping you," McCaskill said.
Outrage in recent months has been fanned by a series of cases of alleged sexual assault across the military. This includes accusations leveled against military officials whose job it was to defend victims of sexual assault.
There has also been growing concern about how the military justice system itself works.
In one high-profile case, a senior U.S. military commander in Europe set aside the sexual assault conviction of an Air Force officer, throwing out his one-year prison term and dismissal from the service.
"It's almost intolerable that we can continue on this current path by allowing the commanders to be in charge at the level they are," said Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia.
Gillibrand went further, saying that there was still discrimination in the armed forces and that not every commander wanted women in the military.
"Not every commander can distinguish between a slap on the ass and rape," she said.
Boston Bomb Suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Getting Financial Donations
by KIRIT RADIA
Alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has told his mother that people are sending him money and that someone opened an account for him, according to a new recording of their first phone call from prison.
When his mother asked if he is in pain, Tsarnaev replied in Russian: "No, of course not. I'm already eating and have been for a long time," according to a translation by Channel 4 News in the UK, which first aired the audio. The call took place last week.
"They are giving me chicken and rice now, everything is fine," he said.
Dzhokhar also told his mother that he has received at least a "thousand" dollars in a bank account that someone opened for him since his arrest. The mother says the family has also received $8,000 from individuals pledging their support, according to Channel 4 News.
Tsarnaev's parents say they have been offered one phone call a month with their son, who is in prison awaiting trial.
He was shot and injured during a standoff with police just days after he and his older brother Tamerlan, 26, allegedly placed two bombs near the finish line during April's Boston Marathon. The explosions killed three people and injured hundreds. Tamerlan was killed, shot by police and then run over by Dzhokhar as he fled a standoff with cops.
Dzhokhar, 19, has been charged in federal court with using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction. If convicted he faces the death penalty.
Federal prison officials told ABC News that like all inmates, Dzhokhar had a federal prison trust fund step up in his name upon his transfer there.
"They can receive money from outside sources and deposit money from their prison work assignments," said Federal Bureau of Prisons spokesperson Chris Burke. Burke declined to say if Dzhokhar was working while he recovers from his injuries.
Listening to the recording again, his mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, is visibly emotional. She said Dzokhar spent much of the call trying to calm her down.
"Everything is good," her son assured her.
During the phone conversation, Tsarnaev's father Anzor told his son they will meet again in heaven.
"The child is in shock, he doesn't understand what has happened to him," the father told Channel 4 News, speaking from their home in Makhachkala, the capital of the restive region of Dagestan, in Russia's North Caucasus.
Investigators say Tamerlan spent six months in Dagestan last year, where he sought out extremist and militant contacts with modest success. His family insists he was there only to visit family and to pick up a new Russian passport.
The family has dismissed reports that Dzhokhar has confessed to plotting and carrying out the attack during a police interrogation. She also denied earlier reports that Dzhokhar had told his parents during the call that he and Tamerlan were innocent.
His parents continued to insist that their sons were set up.
"I know that my kids did not do it," the mother told Channel 4 News.
Oakland Begins Implementing Community Policing Plan To Fight Crime
OAKLAND (KCBS / KPIX 5) – Starting Saturday, Oakland will take a big step towards fully implementing its neighborhood policing plan by assigning officers to one of five newly identified districts in the city.
The goal is to keep officers within these narrowly defined areas to improve response times and allow captains in charge of each district to have greater say over distribution and use of resources.
“So we're (re-organizing) the department to allow the captains to more quickly respond to crime patterns in their area,” explained interim police chief Sean Whent.
“It's kind of the first major step of implementing the crime prevention plan that the city paid the contractors for,” he added. “So, we're starting.”
Former Los Angeles police chief William Bratton is among those paid consultants who recommended changes in the wake of skyrocketing crime throughout Oakland.
Bratton visited department headquarters on Tuesday to help implement the strategy. He told KPIX 5 that it will take some time to solve the city's crime problems.
“There is no quick fix, if you will. No silver bullet,” Bratton said.
Bratton also weighed in on the recent shakeups in department leadership. On May 8th, Chief Howard Jordan announced his retirement, citing medical issues. Jordan's replacement, Interim Chief Anthony Toribio, stepped down from the post two days later, leading to Whent being appointed Interim Chief.
“It's a hiccup. There's no risk of derailing the plans that have been made,” Bratton said.
Bratton said he will meet with the new district captains this week and make sure everything goes according to plan.
“The captain would be effectively the mini chief of that area. He would be the go-to person for the local neighborhood residents,” Bratton said.
While the implementation is moving along, what concerned Bratton is the number of players involved with fixing Oakland Police. The department has to answer to a compliance director, a federal judge, Mayor Jean Quan and at the same time, work with the consulting team Bratton heads.
“The secret to success in Oakland is going to be the collaboration and the coordination between the many players,” he said.
Bratton acknowledged the shortage of police officers is also a concern, but would not tell KPIX 5 what kind of impact it would have on the strategy. He said the most important thing now is to finish the decentralization of the department.
“I always remain optimistic. I don't go any place to lose,” he said.
This new district deployment plan will be executed in conjunction with a crackdown on sideshows, announced Monday by the Oakland Police Department .
Sanford Police Department reforms should include closer ties to community, panel says
Citizens panel's draft report calls for officers to be more visible
by Martin E. Comas
Sanford police officers must build a closer relationship with residents — particularly in the historically black Goldsboro community — to reduce crime, a citizens panel recommends in the draft of a report to City Hall.
The report suggests that officers become more visible in the community and build trust with residents when they're not responding to calls. That can pay off for police, the report notes, because residents will then be more willing to report crime and come forward as witnesses.
The panel, which was formed to examine Police Department policies and procedures after the shooting of Trayvon Martin in February 2012, also recommends that the city hire more officers because the department is understaffed compared to similar agencies. Pay should be increased as well, the panel found, because officers are paid less than those at other agencies even though they "face challenges that officers of higher-paying agencies do not face."
Among other recommendations:
• Sanford should consider installing cameras in high-crime neighborhoods because the practice in other cities, such as Orlando, has been successful.
• Officers should stop and investigate when they observe even relatively minor crimes, such as gambling. The panel said it heard anecdotal evidence that officers sometimes see crime happening but don't stop.
• Sanford officers also should do a better job of protecting the confidentiality of citizens who report a crime. Officers sometimes reveal information about who called 911. "Then, not only is that citizen at risk, but the concepts of community policing are undermined," the report states. "This is particularly important in Sanford, where many people know each other and the reporting of crime can create stresses in relationships or in fact might result in danger to the reporting citizen."
The 14-page report is expected to be approved by the 22-member panel tonight during the group's final meeting at Sanford's public safety complex. It will then be sent to city commissioners, who will decide whether to implement some of the recommendations.
Seminole County Property Appraiser David Johnson, who served as a panel member, said he is optimistic that many of the recommendations will be enacted.
"There are some things [in the report] that don't cost a lot of money, that are already here, such as the officers getting out of their patrol cars and meeting with residents," Johnson said. "But obviously, filling those unfilled positions and putting cameras in the neighborhoods do require money. And those may take some time to be implemented."
Mayor Jeff Triplett said many of the recommendations in the report may have to be implemented piecemeal over the years. Even though the city expects to finally see a small increase in property tax revenues for the first time in recent years, Sanford, like most every other Central Florida municipality, faces a tight budget.
"We need to take a look at what are the most important parts of this report and maybe reach out for grant money," he said. "But it's going to have to be little by little."
The 22-member Police Community Relations Blue Ribbon Panel, made up of businessmen, lawyers, pastors and elected officials, was created last November to help Sanford police "heal and reunite" the community after the shooting of Trayvon, city officials said. The group held its first meeting in December and has been meeting twice a month since then.
To put together its report, panel members listened to presentations from Police Chief Cecil Smith, State Attorney Phil Archer, Public Defender Blaise Trettis and Thomas Battles, southeast regional director of the U.S. Justice Department's Community Relations Service.
After George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon, an unarmed black teenager, Sanford was portrayed worldwide as a city troubled by racism because police did not arrest Zimmerman.
Zimmerman was later charged with second-degree murder, and his trial is scheduled to start Monday with jury selection.
During the weeks following the shooting, protesters marched on Sanford's streets and residents spoke out about their long-held distrust of the city's police officers.
The biggest hurdle the Sanford Police Department faces is the lack of community support, according to the report. The report lauds Smith, who became Sanford's new police chief in April, for holding his regular "knock-and-talks," a program in which he and his officers get out of their squad cars in various neighborhoods and greet residents at their homes.
"Building trust; that's what we need to work on," said Sylvester Chang, a panel member and Sanford business owner. "But it's going to take time."
Community invited to help solve crimes with tip line
by Peter Clark
The Issaquah Police Department is making a push for people to use its anonymous tip line.
In operation since 2008, the anonymous recording line has assisted in a number of investigations and arrests, according to Detective Diego Zanella. However, he said he believes the department can do a better job of engaging the public.
“The tips we get are really good, but they're not enough,” he said. “It's because people don't know.”
Zanella expressed understanding about people who might have concerns or knowledge of crime in their area, but live in sensitive situations. Living next to suspicious neighbors would cause a single parent to hesitate about giving information to the police. Zanella said that he was aware of the fears people have, especially in areas with heightened crime rates.
“We know that there are some people that are not comfortable with talking to law enforcement, but they are good people,” he said. “We asked ourselves, ‘How can the people in our city be more involved with our police work and still be safe?'”
Inspired by the federal push of “if you see something, say something,” Zanella approached department heads and suggested they also set up a way to solicit information from the community. In 2011, they installed the tip line. It allows those who wish to remain anonymous to leave a message. It is regularly checked by dispatch and passed along to an officer.
Zanella wanted to stress how seriously the department takes anonymity.
“Just provide us with the information and our reports state that tips were given anonymously,” he said. “We don't use names.”
Throughout the department, officers spoke with approval of the tip line and how the public could assist with police efforts. Sgt. Kevin Nash gave credit to Zanella for setting up the line and acknowledged that more promotion on its behalf could only help the department.
“We've had the tip line for a while, but it hasn't been advertised,” he said. “We want the community to give us tips on any kind of crime. We have it and that is how we solve some of our crime.”
Such interaction with the public is something the police force has tried to stress lately. Recently, the city's website has featured canyouid.me, a photo page of people the police are trying to contact that is viewable by everyone, with the hope for assistance in locating suspects.
“Hopefully, having it on the city's website will get the public to use it,” Nash said about the tip line. “I'm looking forward to the calls coming in.”
“It's not just because of the theory of community policing,” Zanella said about getting the public more involved with fighting crime. “It's that it works.”
Call the tip line at 837-3210.