Obama orders security review after DC shooting, Defense Department report
by Michael Isikoff and Daniel Arkin
President Barack Obama has ordered a comprehensive review of government contractor and employee protections, according to the White House.
The move comes in the wake of the mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard, which raised concerns about security procedures at U.S. military installations.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday that Obama has directed his Office of Management and Budget to closely inspect security measures for contractors and employees across federal agencies.
Military officials said that the shooter — Aaron Alexis, 34, a former Navy reservist who was working as a civilian contractor — had a security card that allowed him access to the Navy Yard but not to the office building where he later opened fire, killing 12 people and wounding several others Monday.
Obama's move also followed the public release Tuesday of a Defense Department Inspector General report which disclosed major flaws in security screening of contractors working on Navy installations.
The reports says some 52 convicted felons managed to routinely get on bases even though their felony convictions came before they were granted entry credentials.
“Numerous” contractor employees, according to the report, were issued such credentials without proper vetting through authoritative databases such as the National Crime Information Center and the Terrorist Screening Databases, the report found.
What's more, contractors were too easily allowed to get local day passes without the mandatory screening, according to the report.
"While there may not be a direct link between the result of this report and the horrific loss of life, I am deeply concerned about the current security situation at Navy facilities,” U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, wrote to Mabus Tuesday after a briefing by the inspector general. "It is unacceptable that the Navy has granted installation access to individuals without performing thorough and complete background checks." He called for "immediate action to remedy all security gaps.”
Before the mass shooting, Alexis was working for a subcontractor for Hewlett-Packard Enterprises called The Experts, which does work in the Navy Yard complex. A company spokesman said Tuesday that Alexis had passed two background checks — most recently in June — and that the company confirmed twice through the U.S. Defense Department that Alexis had security clearance.
There was "no unadjudicated derogatory information" on Alexis when he received his secret security clearance in March 2008, a Defense Department official told NBC News.
In an emailed statement, the official said: "According to the Joint Personnel Adjudication System (JPAS), which is the department's management system for security clearance actions, the Office of Personnel and Management (OPM) conducted a National Agency Check with Local Agency Checks and Credit check (NACLC) scope investigation on Mr. Aaron Alexis."
According to the statement, the NACLC was completed in 2007. Then, in March 2008, the Department of Navy Central Adjudication Facility (DONCAF) found Alexis eligible for access to "secret" information.
The statement goes on to say: "According to applicable federal investigative standards, an individual with Mr. Alexis' non-critical level of eligibility would only need to be re-investigated once every 10 years."
In addition to the OMB inquiry, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus plans to order two reviews to examine security protocols at all Navy and Marine Corps installations, a senior defense official told NBC News.
The first of those reviews will be a “quick look” at physical security requirements of bases, the official said. The second will be a more in-depth look at both the physical and personal security requirement.
The personal requirements include whether someone is likely to protect classified information and adhere to standard security procedures. The physical review is a deeper look at physical security requirements on a base: swipe access, perimeter security, patrols, etc.
Meanwhile, in an interview with Spanish-language broadcaster Telemundo on Tuesday, Obama called on Congress to take swift action on ramping up background checks for gun purchases.
“The fact that we do not have a firm enough background-check system is something that makes us more vulnerable to these kinds of massing shoots,” Obama said, adding that “ultimately this is something that Congress is going to have to act on.”
Online fund for Glen James, homeless man, nears $100k
by Brian MacQuarrie
If doing the right thing is its own reward, Glen James appears on the verge of a big-time bonus.
The homeless Boston man who turned in a backpack holding $42,000 in cash and travelers checks is attracting donations from across the nation. By early Thursday, an online fund set up by a Virginia man who has never been to Boston had collected almost $100,000.
And Ethan Whittington said he planned to keep the fund open for as long as people wanted to give.
“I just felt that this was somebody who needed to be rewarded for his good deeds,” said the 27-year-old Whittington, a marketing accounts manager from Midlothian, Va. “It’s just inspiring to see somebody do an honorable thing like that. If everybody could have the humanity that he did that day, and be together and warm, it’d be a special thing.”
Whittington thinks $250,000 — and a home — is now a reasonable goal for James, a soft-spoken man in his mid-50s who has been walking the streets for five years.
A Virginia man inspired by James’s honesty has started an online fund to raise money for him. As of early Thursday, there were pledges of more than $92,000.
‘“You know, $250,000 can change his life for the rest of his life.” —Ethan Whittington of Midlothian, Va., who started fund to benefit Glen James
The fund had tallied donations ranging from $1 to $500 from more than 3,400 people by Wednesday evening, according to Whittington, who also has received offers of lifetime dental care, computers, furniture, clothes, and jobs for James.
“I think he’s more shocked than anything,” said Whittington, who has had one phone conversation with James. “You know, $250,000 can change his life for the rest of his life.”
James burst into the public eye this week after he flagged down police at the South Bay shopping center in Dorchester, where he noticed a backpack that had been left near an overturned shopping carriage.
The backpack, containing $2,400 in cash, nearly $40,000 in travelers checks, and a passport, had been left behind by a visiting student from China. The student and his money were quickly reunited, and James received a citation of appreciation Monday from Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis, who commended James for an “extraordinary show of character and honesty.”
The end to a nice story? Hardly.
Whittington read a news report about James and went to work. He set an initial goal of $50,000 for the online fund but was startled by the response.
“I want to keep it going,” Whittington said. “Anywhere in America, you’re inundated with negative news on a daily basis. We’re constantly hearing about how Democrats and Republicans can’t get along, or three people were shot downtown, or George Zimmerman and the Trayvon Martin case.
“You know, we have to come together and make this nation better.”
One contributor to the website, Mark Attebery of Texas, wrote, “Please thank Mr. James. I would be proud to call a MAN like that a friend. . . . It’s nice to have one’s faith in mankind renewed.”
James could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Whittington’s work has generated questions along with tens of thousands of dollars. On the donation website, skeptics ask how donors can be sure the money will make its way to James, who spends nights in a homeless shelter and uses food stamps and spare change to get by.
Whittington pledged to bring the check to James personally. Before Whittington delivers that windfall, the fund automatically deducts a 5 percent fee from each donation, plus an additional processing charge of nearly 3 percent, according to information posted on the gofundme website.
“I’m not keeping a penny of it,” Whittington said.
Lin Whittington, his mother, said she cried when she first heard about Ethan’s involvement. “Your children surprise you all the time,” she said in a phone interview.
The project spiraled to a scale Ethan never imagined, said his father, Kim.
“He thought it would be a quick little thing, and he could send some money to the fellow,” Kim Whittington said. “He has really been one that cares about other people more than he cares about himself.”
Ethan’s mother vouched for him on the donation website.
“His heart has been touched by Mr. James’s story,” her posting said. “I assure you, as his Mom, I will hold him accountable.”
Ethan, who was raised in Pike Road, Ala., chuckled at the posting. “That sounds like her,” he said.
“My parents taught me everything — to be compassionate and to have love for this world,” Whittington said.
In the coming days, Whittington said, he will speak with James to determine whether he even wants a house, where the money should go, and how to proceed in his best interests.
“I want to find out what his past life is like, and if there’s anybody around the Boston area that he’s close to,” Whittington said.
“I think he understands the implications of getting this amount of money. I don’t want to hear that this becomes a negative story a couple of weeks from now, that somebody robbed him or whatever,” Whittington added. “I want to be responsible to him. I just don’t want to take a lot of cash up to him and say, here you go.”
Nicholls relies on community policing
by Jean-Paul Arguello
Nicholls State University Police patrol a quiet campus that has its share of incidents that come with university life.
But Nicholls' ranking as one of the safest college campuses in Louisiana on StateUniversity.com is a result of a philosophy of community police work, said Craig Jaccuzzo, director of University Police. Nicholls is the highest-ranked regional university in the website's ranking, sitting at No. 6 out of 44 schools.
People may hear law enforcement agencies using community police as their slogan, "but the truth is that it is the core of our mission of our police department," Jaccuzzo said. "It is our philosophy, not a program."
Part of that philosophy involves using the disciplinary actions the university already has instead of pressing charges on students for every infraction.
"If we catch an individual whose behavior doesn't constitute a criminal charge but violates our code of conduct, then that student is brought before our Judicial Affairs Department and that student will face sanctions by the university," he said.
Jaccuzzo said students who might have committed a misdemeanor or be disruptive would face more immediate punitive action from the university than through the traditional court system because of the accused's right to due process.
"It is proven to be positive," Jaccuzzo said. "It is an intervention and an educational process. And it's immediate"
Typical sanctions include community service, fines, suspension, expulsion, alcohol 101 courses and restricted movement on campus.
"It prevents students from getting criminal records," he said.
The top calls that University Police receive are for thefts, auto accidents in parking lots, locked vehicles, random disturbances and checking in on people.
According to 2012 Clery Act data, annual crime statistics required to be published by all public colleges and universities, Nicholls saw nine criminal offenses in 2011 — eight burglaries and one motor vehicle theft.
Other offenses included drug abuse and liquor law violations, of which there were only a handful.
Jaccuzzo credited his officers, some of whom have more than 15 years of law enforcement experience, and the entire university community for keeping those numbers low.
"Sometimes people think we are a security force," he said. "We're a police department. It's our job to provide the highest level of protection."
The department now has nine full-time patrol officers, he said, adding they watch over the campus at all times.
They also monitor on-campus call boxes, surveillance cameras and submitted police reports, which students can turn in through the department's website or the university's mobile application.
Recreation programs, other initiatives improve quality of life
by Rex Robinson
It’s been six years since the City of Joliet released a study of ways to improve the quality of life for those living in Districts 4 and 5, areas of the city that face challenges of poverty and crime.
The Quality of Life study was an all-encompassing blueprint of proposed initiatives for everything from improving education to reducing crime.
The Unity Community Development Corporation, utilizing information from that 2007 study, has since initiated a number of recreation and after-school tutoring programs aimed at improving the overall quality of life for people who live in the area.
Recreation is a key component to improving the quality of life in the area, which is why the Unity CDC started the Inner City Youth Sports League Program. The primary goal of the program is to partner with other organizations, parents, coaches and volunteers to teach and reinforce core values and life skills using the fundamentals of baseball. Beyond teaching the fundamentals of the game, Unity CDC encourages each coach to access positive and negative core behavior during the season and rewards good behavior.
“It’s not about mastering the sport; it’s about mastering the core values and life skills,” Unity CDC President Mac Willis said. “To this end, our primary focus is youth development.”
Many of the programs started by the Unity CDC came about as a result the organization initiating special committees within the neighborhoods that meet on a regular basis to talk about important issues, good and bad.
A total of 12 community councils representing different areas within the two districts were formed. Some of these included Forest Park, Collins Street, Saint Pats, East Side and the South Side.
Each community council has its own president and they meet each month. Eleven of them represent the different neighborhoods, and the 12th council is the Unity Neighborhood Council, a collaboration of all the councils. That group meets on the last Monday of every month at the Unity CDC office at 1 Doris Ave., in Joliet.
“That allows us bring all the synergies together to address issues at a higher level,” Willis said of the Unity Neighborhood Council.
Serving on the councils is a thankless job. No one is paid and they are all volunteers, according to Willis.
“This is the kind of passion that the residents have to create this quality of life in their neighborhoods,” he said.
Working closely with the city and other organizations also plays a major role in improving the quality of life in Districts 4 and 5. This, of course, includes the Joliet Police Department.
Unity CDC, for example, has worked with the Joliet Police Department to bring community policing back to the area.
“There was a period of time when the police department had discontinued the community policing program due to budget constraints,” Willis said.
The department has since brought back community policing to the area, and Willis and others said they are starting to see results in terms of better communication between residents and the police.
“The relationship between residents and law enforcement is key – it’s vital,” he said.
The only way to reduce crime is for residents to be the eyes and ears of the police department so that when something happens, they will be willing to talk to the police. That, according to Willis and others in the area, has happened.
This weekend, members of Unity CDC, residents of Districts 4 and 5 plan and other Joliet residents plan to gather for the 25th annual African American Heritage Festivities, which include a picnic and parade. These events, according to Willis, fall perfectly into Unity CDC’s recreation category.
The picnic is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Nowell Park, 5 Mills Road, in Joliet, while the parade, which was started 25 years ago by the late Dave Evans, is scheduled for 2:45 p.m. Sunday at the Joliet City Center.
For more information about the picnic and parade, visit unitycdc.org.
Residents Voice Concerns About Police Misconduct, Racial Profiling
by Liz Reid
Pittsburgh residents brought their concerns about police misconduct to City Council Tuesday during an open forum.
Concerned citizens brought up many issues, including a lack of diversity on the police force, racial profiling and overly aggressive policing in communities with high crime rates.
Rashad Byrdsong, president and CEO of the Homewood Community Empowerment Association, said law-abiding citizens of his community are stuck in a difficult situation.
“These type of shootings, homicide, crimes, in a lot of these distressed communities promote more aggressive policing,” Byrdsong said. “So we’re caught right in the middle between a lot of the gang activity and the more aggressive policing that’s going on in our community.”
Beth Pittinger, director of the Citizens Police Review Board, said she’s already fielded more complaints about police conduct this year than in all of last year.
“And once again, they focus predominately on their conduct toward the public and unbecoming conduct, which generally means their demeanor and how they speak to people,” Pittinger said. “Rude and discourteous seems to continue to plague us as a major problem.”
Pittinger, Byrdsong, and others also came to find and offer solutions, asking the city to help plan a conference to address issues of race-based police misconduct.
“The board would like to sponsor and facilitate with some of our partners … major conference that would involve having experts in both social reform and community responsibility and law enforcement,” Pittinger said.
Councilman Ricky Burgess was interested in the idea and said he plans to pursue it further.
Some at the forum, including City Council President Darlene Harris and former president of the Pittsburgh Fraternal Order of Police Dan O’Hara said most officers are not participating in any kind of misconduct or racial profiling.
“99.9 percent of our workforce always does the right thing,” O’Hara said. “Occasionally you’re going to have, in any large organizational structure, regardless of whether it’s the police or any business, you’ll have a problem employee or a situation occur, a misunderstanding with the public.”
Byrdsong was not buying this argument. He said the city needs to take a good look at the culture within the department.
“You can’t talk about the few bad apples being isolated from the culture that perpetuates the bad apples,” Byrdsong said. “The bad apples come from the bushel, so we have to actually look at the bushel, what’s going on there, that creates the bad apples."
Burgess held that the main problem with community-police relations in neighborhoods like Homewood is that there are two competing narratives at play, both of them false.
“You have the police officers who believe the community doesn’t like them, that the community disrespects them, that the community is complicit in the illegal drug trade and complicit in protecting family members and friends from the consequences of illegal activity,” he said. “I think on the other side you have the community who believes that the police hate them and the police disrespect them and … are trying to rob them of their constitutional rights through profiling.”
Burgess recently introduced three pieces of legislation to address the lack of community confidence in the police department, which he says has reached crisis level.
Two of the pieces would bring in experts from Kansas City to participate in a summit on how to address these issues, and a third would create a smartphone app that allows citizens to report police misconduct in real time.