TSA makes it official: No knives on airplanes
by Brian Sumers
Bowing in part to political pressure, the Transportation Security Administration will not allow knives on airplanes, reversing a decision once favored by the government agency's top administrator.
The TSA announced proposed changes to the prohibited items list in March, with plans to allow knives with blades shorter than 2.36 inches, as well as some sports equipment, such child-size baseball bats, hockey sticks and golf clubs.
Many flight attendants, pilots and even airline executives opposed the switch, saying it would make cabins unsafe. The change also outraged scores of elected officials, including Los Angeles-area Democratic Reps. Janice Hahn and Maxine Waters.
In response, the TSA postponed implementation, which had been set to begin in late April. But, as recently as last week, TSA Administrator John Pistole indicated the agency was still considering relaxed restrictions, saying screeners should be more concerned about explosives than small-bladed knives.
TSA's statement on Wednesday retracting the new policy was vague, but it appears all the political and airline industry pressure was effective. Earlier this spring, 145 members of Congress wrote the TSA to ask the agency not to implement the new plan.
"I just felt like it was such a step backward with all the progress we have made since 9/11," Hahn said. "I travel twice a week. I know that the thought of passengers carrying even small knives put a lot of people at risk and in danger. We have all been on flights when passengers get angry or have too much to drink."
In April, Hahn and Waters joined several flight attendants for a "No Knives on Planes" news conference and leafleting session outside the international terminal at Los Angeles International Airport.
"There was such an outcry from the traveling public, with the flight attendants, the pilots, and the ground crew people at LAX expressing their dismay," Hahn said. "All the stakeholders that mattered were against this. I think they just went with common sense.
Dante Harris, a United Airlines flight attendant and president of the Association of Flight Attendants Council 12 - Los Angeles, said he is pleased with the TSA's reversal.
"I think it's absolutely absurd to have knives on board a plane," Harris said. "I was just traveling myself for union business, and they took away my toothpaste, and they had three officers looking at my toothpaste. Yet they were going to put knives on planes. It just doesn't many any sense."
TSA statement on knives
The Transportation Security Administration released the following statement Wednesday on its decision to not allow knives on airplanes:
"After extensive engagement with the Aviation Security Advisory Committee, law enforcement officials, passenger advocates, and other important stakeholders, TSA will continue to enforce the current prohibited items list. TSA's top priority continues to be expansion of efforts to implement a layered, Risk-Based Security approach to passenger screening while maximizing resources. Risk-Based Security enhances the travel experience while allowing TSA to continue to keep passengers safe by focusing on those we know less about, and we will continue to take steps to improve our ever evolving security posture while also improving the experience of the traveling public."
Report: Gov't scooping up Verizon phone records
WASHINGTON (AP) — The National Security Agency has been collecting the telephone records of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon under a top secret court order, according to a report in Britain's Guardian newspaper.
The order was granted by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on April 25 and is good until July 19, the newspaper reported Wednesday. The order requires Verizon, one of the nation's largest telecommunications companies, on an ‘‘ongoing, daily basis'' to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the U.S. and between the U.S. and other countries.
The newspaper said the document, a copy of which it had obtained, shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of U.S. citizens were being collected indiscriminately and in bulk, regardless of whether they were suspected of any wrongdoing.
The Associated Press could not authenticate the order because documents from the court are classified.
Verizon spokesman Ed McFadden said Wednesday the company had no comment. The White House declined comment and referred questions to the NSA. The NSA had no immediate comment.
Verizon Communications Inc. listed 121 million customers in its first-quarter earnings report this April — 98.9 million wireless customers, 11.7 million residential phone lines and about 10 million commercial lines. The court order didn't specify which type of phone customers' records were being tracked.
Under the terms of the order, the phone numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as are location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered, The Guardian said.
The broad, unlimited nature of the records being handed over to the NSA is unusual. FISA court orders typically direct the production of records pertaining to a specific named target suspected of being an agent of a terrorist group or foreign state, or a finite set of individually named targets. NSA warrantless wiretapping during the George W. Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks was very controversial.
The FISA court order, signed by Judge Roger Vinson, compelled Verizon to provide the NSA with electronic copies of ‘‘all call detail records or telephony metadata created by Verizon for communications between the United States and abroad'' or ‘‘wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls,'' The Guardian said.
The law on which the order explicitly relies is the ‘‘business records'' provision of the USA Patriot Act.
Parole denial for Leslie Van Houten suggests stigma too great for release of Manson followers
CHINO, Calif. – The news that Leslie Van Houten was denied her 20th bid for parole sounded a warning for other prisoners marked with the stigma of the Manson Family crimes.
"I X-ed myself out of society and I ask you to allow me to re-enter society," Van Houten said, referring to a time when she and other Charles Manson followers emulated the cult leader in carving the letter X on their foreheads.
But her plea, supported by evidence of her rehabilitation and her good works in prison, carried little weight with the two parole commissioners, who said her crimes were so "heinous and atrocious" that they overwhelmed everything else.
"The crimes will always be a factor," said Board of Parole Hearings Commissioner Jeffrey Ferguson. "The question is whether the good will ever outweigh the bad. It certainly didn't today."
Van Houten had told him: "I know I did something that is unforgiveable, but I can create a world where I make amends. I'm trying to be someone who lives a life for healing rather than destruction."
She was convicted of murder and conspiracy for her role in the slayings of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, wealthy Los Angeles grocers stabbed to death in August 1969. During the penalty phase of her trial Van Houten confessed to joining in stabbing Mrs. La Bianca after she was dead. A night earlier, Manson's followers killed actress Sharon Tate and four others, but Van Houten did not take part in those murders.
Van Houten spoke frankly of her crimes and apologized to the families of victims. The hearing lasted eight hours, but while Van Houten spoke of becoming a new person during her 44 years in prison, it was the old person — the 19-year-old killer who was convicted with Manson and two other women followers — who was the subject of Wednesday's parole hearing at the California Institution for Women.
Though cult leader Manson was not present, his influence loomed over the proceedings
Van Houten's lawyer, Michael Satris, said his client "sank to the depths of Dante's inferno and she put herself there by consorting with the devil himself, Charles Manson."
With victims' survivors sitting behind her in a cramped room at the California Institution for Women, Van Houten acknowledged participating in the killings ordered by Manson. She said she was drawn to the cult leader because he seemed to have all the answers.
"He could never have done what he did without people like me," said Van Houten.
The denial came at the 63-year-old's parole hearing on Wednesday, where the panel heard from relatives of the LaBiancas. They denounced her as a remorseless killer and said she would be a danger to society. The panel agreed in spite of 49 letters from friends of Van Houten, who offered her housing and support if she was released.
Van Houten won't be eligible to ask for parole again for five years, but Ferguson said she could request another hearing sooner if circumstances change.
One former Manson follower, Barbara Hoyt, spoke against Van Houten, remembering her as a leader within the Manson group who knew that a race war was being planned. She noted that some have described life with Manson's "family" as hell.
"But she was having a good time time in hell," Hoyt said of Van Houten. "She enjoyed it out there."
Van Houten showed no reaction to the ruling and quickly was escorted out of the room.
At her trial, Van Houten's defense lawyers portrayed her as the youngest and least culpable of those convicted with Manson, as a young woman from a good family who had been a homecoming princess and showed promise until she became involved with drugs and was recruited into the murderous cult.
Now deeply wrinkled with long gray hair tied back in a ponytail, Van Houten acknowledged her most hateful acts.
She said that when she heard the Manson family had killed Tate and others, she felt left out and asked to go along the second night.
Asked if she would have done the same had children been involved, she answered, "I can't say I wouldn't have done that. I'd like to say I wouldn't, but I don't know."
She added, "I feel that at that point I had really lost my humanity and I can't know how far I would have gone. I had no regard for life and no measure of my limitations."
Manson, now 78, has stopped coming to parole hearings, sending word that prison is his home and he wants to stay there.
Community policing already at work in Hopewell
by MARKUS SCHMIDT
HOPEWELL - The partnership between the Hopewell Redevelopment & Housing Authority and the local police department has already brought down crime in public housing communities and improved the relationship between residents and law enforcement, according to city officials.
Financed by two grants, Hopewell police have created six new positions for officers assigned to the HRHA communities.
"This is our first real step of community policing," said Hopewell Police Chief Steven Martin. "This partnership will bring a new philosophy to the police department."
HRHA owns and manages 490 apartments in seven public housing communities spread throughout the city. In the past, residents had to live with high crime rates and drug traffic in their communities - a status quo police are hoping to change with this new partnership.
Officer Lawrence Costello is assigned to the Kippax Community, where HRHA has provided an office for him.
"I need with residents and property managers on a regular basis," Costello said. "I've already seen improvements."
Another officer is based at Piper Square.
Vanessa Floyd, manager of the Piper Square housing community, said she has already noticed improvements in her area.
"When I first got here, there were many complaints about noise and traffic," she said. "Much of that has changed, and the officer communicates well with us. People are glad that he is here."
The first phase of the community policing program was launched in September 2008, after Martin secured a $225,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, funding three positions for three years. The second grant was secured last year.
Both grants pay for the salaries of a total of six officers for three years. The city is not required to match these funds, but must keep and pay the officers for a fourth year.
Martin said that the partnership is very significant to the city.
"Our officers will become a part of the community by becoming familiar with the residents," he said.
But HRHA also fulfills a share of the partnership. In addition to providing free office space for the community officers, HRHA pursues its own improvement plans.
"We ban people with a history of criminal conduct from our property, and we tow cars that are parked on the grass," said HRHA Director Steve Benham. "We are also dealing with the problem of over-sized dogs, enforcing a new pet policy which prohibits residents from owning dogs over 20 pounds."
The focus of community policing is to reduce crime, enforce trespassing laws and improve the quality of life for Hopewell residents, said Herbert Bragg, director of public affairs for the city.
"We'll do this with superior service through excellence," Bragg said.
New police chief brings old policing concept to Modesto
by Jeff Jardine
MODESTO -- With a new police chief comes an old idea.
Last month, Modesto Police Chief Galen Carroll unveiled his restructuring of the force, dividing the city into four quadrants and assigning a lieutenant to each.
"I know it's nothing new," Carroll said. "There's nothing new in policing."
In fact, he worked within the same concept in Long Beach before coming to Modesto. And it is a downsized version of what Modesto unveiled in November 1993, when the city opened its northwest substation along Prescott Road. By mid-1994, there were three more: the southeast substation on Yosemite Boulevard, the northeast substation in a trailer along Oakdale Road within 100 yards of Naraghi Lake and the southwest substation on Paradise Road.
Each substation had a lieutenant, two patrol officers, two property crimes detectives and as many as five tactical patrol officers, one of whom was a sergeant. Granted, these substations were open only during normal daytime hours, but they enabled residents to report crimes and other problems without having to drive downtown.
The area command system was dismantled in the past decade. Carroll simply is bringing it back, albeit without the regional offices. The four areas won't operate like minidepartments under the MPD umbrella, as they did many years ago.
"We don't have the personnel to do that," Carroll said.
Indeed, he has about 125 fewer employees, including sworn personnel, than the MPD did before the economy began its nose dive around 2008. So everything will emanate from headquarters downtown because Carroll believes it is a better way to communicate and for officers to share information.
"When they're split up, it puts the blinders on everybody," he said.
A lieutenant again will command each area and be responsible for it. Sergeants and patrol officers will be divvied up among the areas. Detectives won't be regionalized, though.
"It's more about accountability — having someone to hold accountable for each area," he said.
And he expects officers to treat their respective areas as if they lived in the neighborhood.
"Take care of their turf," he said.
Like Carroll, Paul Jefferson hailed from Southern California when he became Modesto's police chief in 1992. Jefferson also preferred the area command format, though I'm told Lt. Russ Serna began pushing for it here well before Jefferson hired on. Serna went on to command the Paradise Road substation.
In essence, this form of community policing is akin to the precinct system found in big cities. Commanders are expected to get to know their respective areas, to understand and address the issues, problems and concerns of each. Officers learn their beats and are expected to develop relationships with the residents. The theory is that better communication leads to better reactions, responses and safer neighborhoods, along with greater trust and confidence in the police.
In 1995 — two years after initiating the concept in Modesto — the crime rate rose 13 percent, in part because residents began reporting more crimes. In fact, Modesto's crime rate ranked among the nation's highest for cities of similar size.
But during the first six months of 1996, burglaries dropped 3 percent compared with the same period in 1995. All thefts plummeted 38.5 percent, and auto thefts dropped 26.3 percent. At the same time, the economy improved. The department hired, putting more officers on the streets.
In 1999, the countywide crime rate fell by 17.5 percent — with much of the credit going to the community policing concept employed by the Modesto police and Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department.
That same year, the "gungate" scandal forced Jefferson — a nice enough guy but otherwise ineffective leader — to retire. Then-City Manager Ed Tewes left for the same reason.
Roy Wasden replaced Jefferson and eventually dismantled the substations. He instituted more of a social approach that focused on working with the NAACP, gay-lesbian groups, faith-based groups and other organizations.
In redrawing and requartering Modesto, Carroll doesn't expect another similar spike in the crime rate.
"In the early 1990s all across California, crime went out of control," he said. "It was before the 'three strikes' and other laws had a major impact."
And while there are fewer officers in the field, technology will help. New software will enable officers to track crime calls and use the data to predict where crimes are likely to occur. That should give officers a better chance of catching criminals in the act or discouraging them from their dirty deeds by virtue of a more visible police presence.
Such technology is relatively new. The area command concept, though, is not.
Been there, done that and doing it again.