Syria strike seems inevitable as U.N. warns against unilateral military action, hunt for evidence continues
DAMASCUS, Syria -- U.N. chemical weapons experts investigating an alleged poison gas attack near Damascus left their hotel again Wednesday hoping to carry out their second field trip, which was delayed Tuesday for security reasons.
The team of about 20 inspectors left their hotel in the Syrian capital in a convoy of cars to visit the eastern Ghouta suburbs, where the Obama administration says President Bashar Assad's forces unleashed a chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 that killed hundreds of people.
Local opposition activists told CBS News that the convoy had reached the town of Mleiha, in the sprawling Ghouta area, and videos posted online by the activists showed the U.N. inspectors interviewing patients at clinics in Mleiha and the nearby town of Zamalka.
On Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden made it clear that regardless of what the U.N. inspectors find, the White House is now convinced the attack was carried out by Assad's forces.
The American government's assessment is based on the circumstantial evidence from videos posted on the internet, and, as CBS News correspondent David Martin reported Tuesday, intelligence -- much of it still classified -- ranging from intercepted Syrian communications to tests of tissue samples taken from victims.
Another key piece of circumstantial evidence which has been cited by both officials and analysts for days is the simple fact that the regime is the only entity in Syria known to have chemical weapons and the means to disperse them.
Based on that evidence, the U.S. has moved four missile destroyers into the eastern Mediterranean, close to Syria's west coast and reportedly joined by a British submarine, "ready" to launch a strike if and when it is ordered by President Obama, according to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
Speaking Wednesday at The Hague, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sought to calm the situation, calling for the international community to give his inspection team in Syria time to "do its job."
"It is essential to establish the facts. A U.N. investigation team is now on the ground to do just that. Just days after the attack, they have collected valuable samples and interviewed victims and witnesses. The team needs time to do its job," he said.
He urged the United Nations Security Council not to be "missing in action" as the Syria crisis deepens. "Give peace a chance. Give diplomacy a chance. Stop acting and start talking," he said.
The U.N.'s envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said later Wednesday in Geneva that while "it does seem like some kind of substance was used" that killed hundreds of people, "international law says that any U.S.-led military action must be taken after" agreement in the 15-nation Security Council.
He added that President Obama's administration was "not known to be trigger-happy."
Russia and China have used their position as permanent members of the Security Council to block any harsher action against the Assad regime thus far, and those nations have both also urged the U.S. and its allies to refrain from military action. Russia, a long-time ally to the Assad regime, insists the evidence showing government culpability in the alleged chemical attack is inconclusive.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said Wednesday that the U.K. had drafted a resolution condemning Assad's government for the chemical attack, which he said would be circulated later in the day at a meeting of all five permanent Security Council member states. The U.S., Britain, Russia, China and France are the permanent members; the so-called P5 nations. Each one holds the power to veto any action taken by the Council.
Syria's foreign minister renewed Tuesday the regime's vehement denial of any involvement in a chemical attack, demanding that the U.S. "produce the evidence" of government culpability.
On Monday, the U.N. team collected samples and interviewed witnesses in a Damascus suburb. Their convoy was hit by snipers en route, but the experts were not hurt. They abandoned plans for a second site visit Tuesday due to unspecified security concerns.
In his news conference Tuesday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said the delay was a result of the rebel groups failing to "agree among themselves" to guarantee the U.N. team's security. Muallem sought to counter repeated accusations from Washington and its allies that the Syrian regime was delaying the inspectors' work. He insisted the government was "implementing its commitments" with the team.
The U.N. has said the team might stay in Syria longer than the initially scheduled two weeks. The current mandate expires on Sunday.
Jerry Brown has plan to ease prison crowding without early releases
To comply with judges' order, Jerry Brown proposes to spend from state's reserve to house excess prisoners in alternate facilities.
by Chris Megerian and Anthony York
SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown and top lawmakers pledged Tuesday to ease prison crowding without releasing inmates early, laying out a plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars for alternate housing.
The proposal, which has divided Democratic leaders, would pay for enough beds in privately owned prisons and other facilities to shed more than 9,600 inmates from state lockups by the end of the year, as federal judges have ordered.
"This is the sensible, prudent way to proceed," Brown said at a Capitol news conference. "The plan is to find as many cells as needed."
Paying for the extra housing would drain $315 million from the state's $1.1-billion reserve over the next year. The price tag is expected to increase to $415 million for each of the following two years.
The proposal would avoid inmate releases while Brown continues fighting the order to reduce the population in state prisons, which the judges say are unconstitutionally crowded. Plans his administration previously considered could have forced the state to free about 1,000 inmates before their sentences were finished.
The governor is appealing the judges' order to the U.S. Supreme Court but in the meantime is taking steps to comply.
Brown faces an array of political challenges in pushing his plan through the Legislature, notably opposition from Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) and Republican leaders in both houses flanked Brown for his announcement, but Steinberg was absent, saying later that he would issue his own prison plan Wednesday.
"The governor's proposal is a plan with no promise and no hope," Steinberg said in a statement. "As the population of California grows, it's only a short matter of time until new prison cells overflow."
The Senate leader has called for more spending on mental health and drug treatment programs that can reduce the number of ex-offenders who return to prison, helping to lower the inmate population in the long run.
Brown and Pérez said they also would consider more long-term solutions to prison crowding, such as changes in sentencing laws. Meanwhile, the funding for alternative cells is needed, they said.
"We are not going to release a single additional prisoner," Pérez said.
The proposal announced Tuesday would move thousands of offenders from state facilities to privately owned prisons in and outside of California and reopen city-owned detention facilities in Shafter and Taft, in the Central Valley. More inmates could be placed in county jails.
Law enforcement groups representing district attorneys, police chiefs, county sheriffs and others are backing the plan.
"The efforts by the governor will help protect our communities," said Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal.
More key support comes from the politically powerful prison guard union, which has strongly opposed outsourcing of inmate housing. But Brown's plan would use state guards in a privately owned prison in Kern County.
Brown's political risks extend into next year, when he may run for reelection and face off with critics of his prison policies. One possible challenger, Republican former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, is pushing a ballot measure to undo some of Brown's policies.
But on Tuesday, top Republican lawmakers said the governor was taking the right steps.
"Our No. 1 responsibility is public safety," said Senate Republican leader Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar). "We can't allow dangerous inmates on our streets."
Lawmakers have less than three weeks to consider Brown's proposal before they adjourn. The Assembly budget committee is scheduled to convene Thursday to begin discussions.
Brown's effort to comply with the court order has short-circuited some of his previous plans to lower prison spending and end contracts to house inmates out of state. If the Legislature approves his proposal, prison spending will outpace state funding for higher education in the current fiscal year.
Don Specter, a lawyer for inmates who have sued the state over prison conditions, said leasing more prison space would be "an incredible waste of hundreds of millions of dollars for no benefit to public safety."
He said the state should consider some early releases, by expanding the credit prisoners can earn for good behavior or freeing inmates who are elderly and sick.
Delmarva police agencies expand social media to help public outreach
Police expand public outreach through social media
by Vanessa Junkin
SALISBURY — When the Delaware State Police posted on Facebook looking for a man in connection with the assault of a trooper, people responded by tagging him on the social media site and posting his cellphone number.
Social media is making it possible for law enforcement agencies to connect with the community in different ways, get the information that they want to out there and offer an additional venue to obtain tips on crimes.
“It's been a win-win for everyone involved as well as the public,” said Police Officer 1st Class Mike Levy, public affairs officer for the Ocean City Police Department. “Now the public can get the information they want directly from their department. As it was when I first started 25 years ago, it wasn't that easy. You know, if you couldn't get through on the phone, it was very challenging to get the information.”
Using Twitter and Facebook allows the Salisbury Police Department to show that it is comprised of members of the community, according to Chief Barbara Duncan, one of the officers who updates the department's social media feeds. While the department gets crime tips through social media, that isn't all it's about, she said.
“We have also found that we're able to kind of put a human face on what the agency is and what the agency can do,” Duncan said.
Very few law enforcement agencies used to engage with people, said Lauri Stevens, principal at LAwS Communications. Stevens is a consultant who works with law enforcement agencies to help them strategically use social media and presents at conferences. LAwS stands for Stevens' initials with a “w” added for Web.
Now, most agencies are beginning to realize the relationships that can be formed through the use of social media, Stevens said.
“Social media puts the community back into community policing — but it doesn't if you don't do it right,” she said.
It didn't take long for state police to find Darrell Putnam, 26, of Milford in connection with the trooper assault in Dover. The alleged incident took place Aug. 11. The news release seeking information went out that Tuesday, and he was taken into custody the next day.
Sgt. Paul Shavack, director of public information for the Delaware State Police, said the reason Putnam was located was because the state police received other information about his location; however, the social media information was still valuable.
Facebook fans who like or share information posted by the state police increase the reach of the agency, Shavack said. An Amber Alert went out in late June for an abducted 1-year-old boy. About an hour later, Shavack thanked the public for spreading the information on social media in his news release saying the boy had been found.
“The reach is very quick and very effective,” Shavack said of social media.
Duncan said the Salisbury Police Department has gotten great leads and crime tip information from social media.
“It's very common for us to ask for assistance from the public in searching for identities of individuals, whether they're just persons of interest, whether they're suspects or if we have a particular crime trend in an area that we need the community to be aware of,” Duncan said.
Social media wasn't something Shavack planned to do, but he created a Facebook page for the agency at a Uniform Safety Education Officers Workshop conference hosted by the Kentucky State Police in 2011.
Shavack hadn't used social media before then. Now, he sees social media as a “powerful tool.”
During Hurricane Irene in August 2011, the agency's reach really grew, he said. Shavack posted real-time information about road conditions, driving restrictions and shelters, and he saw the agency's number of Facebook “Likes” go from about 300 to more than 6,000 in a few days. It has more than 25,000 now.
The agency also has a strong Twitter following and tweets regularly.
The Salisbury Police Department saw a big increase in its Twitter following when the agency posted updates about a suspicious package near Salisbury University in March, Duncan said. The package ended up being an electric drill in a case painted with spray paint, she said.
Duncan said the agency has given social media extra attention during the past year.
“When we are attending community events, we almost go live with our broadcast, as it were,” she said.
The Ocean City Police Department started using social media in summer 2009, and its reach now includes Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest. The department also maintains a blog and uses QR codes to make it easy for people to sign up for townwide alerts.
Social media allows the department to get its message out, Levy said.
“Social media allowed us to create content, control the content and actually give people content that they weren't getting through the filtered regular pay media groups,” Levy said.
He said controlling the content is ensuring people get the information that's accurate and in the interest of public safety. Also, people are able to comment to the department using the agency's blog and social media venues, Levy said.
The department creates videos for YouTube about topics such as pedestrian safety and the Law Enforcement Torch Run. Lindsay O'Neal, the agency's public affairs specialist, said Stephen Decatur High School students also worked on a video about senior week safety.
The agency doesn't post all of its crime news releases on Facebook, but it uses its page to share things such as a video of a K-9 demonstration, an Instagram photo of a horse on the mounted unit and information on community events. Employment opportunities are also posted.
Some people may wonder why the police department has a Pinterest page, O'Neal said.
“We think it's a good way to put out some public safety information and also show all the good things that our officers are doing out in Ocean City here,” she said.
While simply using social media more often can bring about more likes or followers for an agency, the Salisbury Police Department also hands out business cards with its Facebook and Twitter information at events.
O'Neal was involved in a meeting with Salisbury police and her agency, as well as talked to members of other departments, regarding social media. Duncan said the Salisbury department had noticed the Ocean City department was doing some things it wasn't, such as recruiting, and that's why Salisbury police reached out.
Even though the agency doesn't have public information staff members, Duncan said she feels social media is very important for both the agency and the community, and it's worth the time investment.
“This has been such a great vehicle for us to really explain who we are, what we provide, how we provide it and then make ourselves available for critique, for input and for participation,” Duncan said.