LACP - NEWS of the Week - Jan, 2015
on some LACP issues of interest


NEWS of the Week

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.


January, 2015 - Week 3



Japan condemns IS execution, demands remaining hostage release

Japanese leader says saving second Japanese man is top priority, while reiterating Japan would not give in to act of 'outrageous and impermissible' terrorism.

by Reuters

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday called the killing of a Japanese captive by Islamic State militants "outrageous" and again demanded the group release a second Japanese national they are holding.

Abe, speaking to public broadcaster NHK, said chances were high that a recording and an image of what appeared to be the decapitated body of captive Haruna Yukawa, which emerged late on Saturday, were authentic.

The Japanese leader called for the immediate release of the remaining Japanese captive, veteran war correspondent Kenji Goto, and said saving Goto's life was a top priority.

But he reiterated that Japan would not give in to terrorism.

"Such an act of terrorism is outrageous and impermissible, which causes me nothing but strong indignation," Abe said. "Again, I strongly demand that Mr. Kenji Goto not be harmed and be immediately released."

The escalation of the hostage crisis has become a test for Abe, who took power in 2012 pledging to bolster Japan's global security role. On Tuesday, Islamic State militants released a video showing Goto and Yukawa kneeling with a knife-wielding, masked man demanding a $200 million ransom for their release. A 72-hour deadline for that payment expired on Friday.

In the latest recording, Goto says Yukawa was "slaughtered in the land of the Islamic Caliphate." But the journalist said the Japanese government could save him by working through Jordan where Abe earlier this week set up an office to coordinate the government's response to the hostage situation.

Goto says the militants would free him in exchange for the release of Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi held in Jordan, and that the militants have dropped the ransom demand.


"I am filled with disappointment, that it has finally come to this," Yukawa's father, Shoichi, told NHK. “I feel pained, that he (Goto) risked his life out of concern (for my son) and ended up being captured. I hope he can be released as soon as possible, and return to Japan to continue his activities.”

Goto's mother, Junko Ishido, told NHK: “First of all I wish it weren't true, that it's some mistake. I'm a mother so it's unbearable. What I want to tell Islamic State is that Kenji's ideal is world peace." She was later quoted by Kyodo news agency as doubting her son would seek a prisoner exchange.

More than 100 people congregated at Tokyo's Denenchofu Protestant evangelical church, where Goto was baptized in 1997 and where he prayed just days after Yukawa was captured in August. Three policemen stood guard outside the church.

"Please have Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa in your thoughts as we go through today's prayers," Pastor Shun Takatsu said.

Abe told NHK he had spoken to Jordan's King Abdullah about the situation, but he had no comment on the Islamic State demand for the release of al-Rishawi.

US President Barack Obama condemned Yukawa's "brutal murder" in a statement released by the White House, and later called Abe to express his condolences and thank him for the humanitarian aid Japan has provided to the Middle East.

French President Francois Hollande in a statement also condemned what he called the "barbaric killing," while Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has forged closer security ties with Japan, called it an "absolute atrocity".

"All this means is it's more important than ever to do everything we can to disrupt and degrade the death cult," Abbott added in a statement from Canberra.

Humanitarian aid

Yukawa, 42, was seized by militants in August after going to Syria to launch a security company. Goto, 47, went into Syria in late October seeking to secure Yukawa's release, according to friends and business associates.

The new recording, released on YouTube late on Saturday before being deleted, showed an image of a gaunt Goto in an orange t-shirt with audio of what appeared to be him making a statement in English.

"I would like to stress how easy it is to save my life," the recording says. "You bring them their sister from the Jordanian regime, and I will be released immediately. Me for her."

Al-Rishawi was arrested shortly after she failed to blow herself up in one of three deadly hotel bombings that hit the Jordanian capital in 2005.

Japan paid $6 million to Japanese Red Army hijackers after a 1977 kidnapping, but in recent years has moved toward the US government's hard line against paying ransoms.

Japan's pacifist constitution also rules out any military response. A briefing paper prepared for Abe's office on Friday and reviewed by Reuters said Japan would not have the legal authority to strike the Islamic State even after proposed legislation loosening military restrictions that the prime minister is seeking to pass later this year.

Abe told NHK that Japan did not intend to join the US-led military operation against Islamic State, but wanted to continue to provide humanitarian aid. The decision by Abe to give aid specifically to countries contending with Islamic State has raised some eyebrows.

"I think it's unavoidable if they (Islamic State) took this as support for their enemies and view Japan as an enemy," Ichiro Ozawa, leader of the small opposition People's Life Party, told NHK, adding the government appeared not to know how to respond.

The Islamic State has executed five British and American aid workers and journalists in recent months. Yukawa's capture by Islamic State fighters outside Aleppo in August was the first time a Japanese citizen has been held by the group.




France sees as many anti-Muslim acts in January as all of 2014

More than 100 incidents against Muslims registered in two weeks after gunmen massacred journalists at Charlie Hebdo, according to French Muslim group.

by The Associated Press

At least as many anti-Muslim acts have taken place in France since the terror attacks this month as for all of last year, a leading Muslim group reported Friday.

The French Council for the Muslim Religion said 128 anti-Muslim actions or threats were reported from January 7th to the 20th — a number that does not include the densely populated Paris region. That's compared to 133 in all of France, including Paris, in 2014.

Three Islamic extremist gunmen carried out the attacks, which began on January 7 with the killing of 12 people at the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which lampooned religion and had been threatened repeatedly after publishing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

One gunman also led an hours-long standoff with police inside a Paris kosher supermarket, killing four French Jews before a special forces raid eliminated him, saving the remaining hostages.

Since then, mosques have suffered a grenade attack, shots and repeated vandalism, and stores owned by Muslims have been burned. At least one person was assaulted and hospitalized, said Abdallah Zekri, of the National Observatory Against Islamophobia, which worked with the group to produce the total.

Zekri said the report only included those attacks that were reported to police.

The French government last week deployed security forces to protect mosques and synagogues, as well as other places deemed in danger since the terror attacks that left 20 people dead, including three gunmen killed in stand-offs with police.




Three People Dead, 5 Wounded in 'Gang-Related' Omaha Shooting

Three people were killed and five people were injured in an early Saturday morning "gang-related" shooting at an unoccupied home in Omaha, Nebraska, police said. Jakela Foster, 19, and Latisha Fox, 24, were found dead from gunshot wounds at a house party in the northwest part of Nebraska's biggest city that police were called to at 1:44 a.m. (2:44 a.m. ET), said Police Chief Todd Schmaderer during a Saturday afternoon news conference. Twenty-six-year-old Cameron Harris later died at the hospital, Schmaderer said. Two more victims were brought to the hospital in serious condition, and three more people suffering from gunshot wounds were also hospitalized, police said.

More than 40 people were at the empty home when the "gang-related" violence broke out, Schmaderer said. Omaha police later arrested Christopher T. Grotell, and are investigating if he had any involvement in the shootings. Schmaderer said none of the witnesses would assist police on the scene, but appealed to party goers to come forward now that they "have an opportunity to be away from any intimidation."

Schmaderer said four male victims are affiliated with gangs. "The violence that we're seeing here is the product of gang members that have no regard for human life," he added.




Shocked: VPSO accused of using Taser on 11-year-old

Troopers, Tlingit & Haida investigating alleged incident

by Emily Russo Miller

Terrie Ward, a mother of three in Kake, was stunned Wednesday when she learned that a Village Public Safety Officer had shocked her 11-year-old son and another boy with either a Taser or a stun gun after the curious children asked the officer to “Tase” them.

Equally as concerning, Ward said, is that she was not informed about the incident by authorities. She found out about a month later through a concerned friend.

“She was asking me how my son was doing after the incident, and I was like, ‘What is she talking about?'” Ward said, adding that she and her husband were out of town at the time, and their children were staying at their grandparent's house. “I was in shock because, I mean, I did not hear of it. I did not know about it.”

The Alaska State Troopers, who supervise the law enforcement aspect of the statewide VPSO program, are investigating the alleged incident, which demonstrates the sometimes strained relationship between the only police presence in a small rural village and its residents. Kake, located about 100 miles south of Juneau, has about 600 or so year-round residents, most of whom are Alaska Native.

Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, the tribal government that employs the VPSO in Kake, is also investigating the incident. VPSOs are employed by the regional Alaska Native nonprofit corporation, not the state of Alaska or state troopers.

“This is a personnel issue and T&H is working through the Alaska State Troopers in this matter,” T&H's VPSO program manager Jason Wilson said in a statement Friday provided to the Empire upon request. “This matter was investigated and forwarded to the (attorney general's) office.”

The Alaska Attorney General's office said it had not heard about the incident when contacted by the Empire on Friday. The office referred the Empire to the Juneau District Attorney's Office, and a phone message to the DA was not returned Friday.

In an interview at her home Friday, Ward said not all the details about the incident are known. From what she's been able to gather, her son was among a group of about eight to 10 children who were getting ready to play kickball outside the Boys & Girls Club of Kake one afternoon in December. The club is located next to the VPSO office, and as the VPSO walked by or approached them, her son and another boy asked the VPSO to use his Taser on them. They wanted to know what it felt like, the mother said.

“They were talking about being Tased, and my son did ask to be Tased, and he Tasered him on his arm or his wrist,” the mother said, adding that her son never told her about it later because he thought he would get in trouble.

Ward wasn't sure if the weapon was a stun gun or a Taser. A stun gun produces an electrical shock when placed against a person's skin. A Taser shoots barbs that attach to a person's skin to deliver a disabling shock. The barbs usually require medical assistance to remove, and medical assistance was not rendered in this case. If a Taser's cartridge is removed, it can serve as a stun gun.

The VPSO, Ward said, should have known better than to use a police weapon and deliver an electrical shock to a minor child, especially since it was not warranted. The boy was not harmed physically but she worries if it could have a lasting emotional or psychological effect.

“I'm just not happy about the whole situation,” she said, declining to say whether she has contacted an attorney. “To me, this is considered child abuse.”

She noted that her son is technically her stepson, although she has raised him almost since birth.

The family of the other boy allegedly involved was not willing to discuss with the Empire what happened.

Anchorage-based Alaska State Trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters confirmed the name of the VPSO as Mac McGonigal, who was assigned to Kake in April 2013. The Empire attempted to get McGonigal's side of the story and that of his supervisor in Kake by visiting the VPSO office there multiple times Friday. No one was at the office, likely because they were either off duty or on patrol. The Empire also called the office — the city's office provided the number — but the number was not working. The Empire will publish comments from McGonigal if he wishes to contact the paper.

Spokeswoman Peters told the Empire by email that the troopers and Tlingit & Haida were notified about what happened the day of the incident and sent Alaska State Troopers from Juneau to investigate. The Juneau District Attorney's Office was also informed of the incident, and “the completed report will be sent to them for review and a decision regarding any charges,” Peters said.

When asked specifically why the troopers did not contact the mother of the 11-year-old, Peters only wrote in the email, “The parents or the guardians of the involved children were contacted.”

Ward, however, said she was only contacted this past week by the supervising VPSO in Kake, James Smith. She said he called and asked her to come down to their office to meet with him and a trooper there. She declined, saying she wouldn't talk to them unless a lawyer was present.

She said Smith then informed her that the city councilors would be taking up the matter for discussion during their regular scheduled meeting. When she attended the meeting Wednesday evening, she found out the matter was not on the agenda and was not discussed during the meeting. She brought it up during the public comment portion of the meeting to ask what was being done, and she said she felt “publicly humiliated.” Warn noted she's concerned that the incident will be “swept under the rug.”

The village's mayor did not return messages left for comment Thursday and Friday.

The Alaska State Troopers website makes clear that VPSOs are not police officers or troopers, but citizens who are trained to respond to be first responders to public service emergencies such as fires, medical calls, search and rescues and “basic” law enforcement. Alaska began using the VPSO program in the late 1970s since it can take days for trained law enforcement officers to respond to emergencies in remote rural communities that cannot afford full-time officers.

The citizens are trained at a 10-week village safety officer training course, according to DPS' website, although Peters said McGonigal attended a course that was two weeks long.

VPSOs have been allowed to carry Tasers on their belt at least since 2007, and Peters said VPSOs may use them “in accordance with their training and the specifics of the situation.” When asked if it's ever OK to use a Taser on a minor, Peters said it may be justified in some circumstances.

Soon, villages will choose whether they want their VPSOs to be armed with a more lethal weapon. Former Gov. Sean Parnell last year signed a bill that allows VPSOs to carry a firearm. The legislation was in response to the March 2013 shooting death of Manokotak VPSO Thomas Madole during a call.

Alaska State Troopers are in the process of conducting a pilot project to arm the first group of VPSOs, Peters said. The firearms training and psychological screening that armed VPSOs receive will be identical to that given to State Troopers and municipal police officers.

Eight VPSOs are employed in Southeast Alaska, two in Kake. VPSOs have been a presence in Kake since its police department closed in 2009.

Ward said she has never had a problem with a VPSO in Kake before this incident, and hopes the matter is addressed by the authorities properly.

“He's not the adult; he didn't know better, which the law enforcement knew right from wrong,” she said, adding, “I just think that it was wrong on so many levels.”



From the Department of Justice

Alleged Terrorist, Charged with Murder of Five American Soldiers, Extradited to United States

Defendant Allegedly Aided Suicide Bomb Attack on U.S. Base in Iraq

U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch for the Eastern District of New York, Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos of the FBI's New York Field Office and Commissioner William J. Bratton of the New York City Police Department announced that tomorrow, Jan. 24, 2015, Faruq Khalil Muhammed ‘Isa, aka “Faruq Khalil Muhammad ‘Isa,” “Sayfildin Tahir Sharif,” and “Tahir Sharif Sayfildin,” will have his initial appearance at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, New York, on charges of conspiring to kill Americans abroad; and providing material support to a terrorist conspiracy to kill Americans abroad. ‘Isa was extradited to the United States from Canada.

According to court documents, the defendant is charged in connection with his support for a multinational terrorist network that conducted multiple suicide bombings in Iraq. According to the complaint, filed on Jan. 14, 2011, in the Eastern District of New York, the defendant assisted in orchestrating an attack on the United States Military's Forward Operating Base Marez (FOB Marez) in Mosul, Iraq, on April 10, 2009. A truck laden with explosives drove to the gate of FOB Marez and exchanged fire with Iraqi police officers guarding the base and then with an American convoy exiting the base. The truck detonated alongside the last vehicle in the U.S. convoy, leaving a 60-foot crater in the ground. Five American soldiers were killed in the blast. They are: Staff Sergeant Gary L. Woods, 24, of Lebanon Junction, Kentucky; Sergeant First Class Bryan E. Hall, 32, of Elk Grove, California; Sergeant Edward W. Forrest Jr., 25, of St. Louis, Missouri; Corporal Jason G. Pautsch, 20, of Davenport, Iowa; and Army Private First Class Bryce E. Gaultier, 22, from Cyprus, California.

“Today's extradition demonstrates to those who orchestrate violence against our citizens and our soldiers that there is no corner of the globe from which they can hide from the long reach of the law,” said U.S. Attorney Lynch. “We will continue to use every available means to bring to justice those who are responsible for the deaths of American servicemen and women who paid the ultimate price in their defense of this nation.”

“Faruq Khalil Muhammed ‘Isa is alleged to have helped orchestrate an attack that killed five U.S. soldiers at the Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul, Iraq, in 2009,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin. “The families of these five Americans and all who have lost loved-ones to acts of terrorism should know that we will never cease seeking to hold terrorists accountable for their acts. I want to thank the many agents, analysts and prosecutors who are responsible for this matter.”

“As alleged, Faruq Khalil Muhammad ‘Isa was involved in the most callous act: a suicide bombing murdering U.S. soldiers in Iraq,” said Assistant Director in Charge Venizelos. “Our memory is long, and our reach is longer. Today we hope to bring some measure of justice to the families of those five servicemen who sacrificed their lives in defense of this nation.”

“I want to commend the United States Attorney Loretta Lynch and her team for working closely with the NYPD and the FBI to extradite this individual who is allegedly responsible for the death of soldiers sworn to protect and serve,” said Commissioner Bratton. “We hope today's extradition will bring some closure to the families.”

The charges in the complaint are merely allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The government's case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Zainab Ahmad, Alexander Solomon and Peter Baldwin, with assistance provided by the Justice Department's Counterterrorism Section and Office of International Affairs. The department extends its grateful appreciation to the Canadian government for its assistance and cooperation in the extradition.

Faruq Complaint

Faruq Indictment




Supreme Court to review lethal injections used in Oklahoma executions

On Friday, the Supreme Court agreed to consider whether the three-drug protocol Oklahoma uses in executions violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

by Warren Richey

The US Supreme Court agreed on Friday to examine whether the three-drug protocol being used for capital punishment in Oklahoma violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual execution methods.

At issue in the case is whether the first drug injected into the condemned prisoner's body, midazolam, is capable of rendering the inmate reliably unconscious before the following two drugs are administered.

Under the three-drug protocol used in Oklahoma, the first drug is used to make the prisoner unconscious. The second drug, vecuronium bromide, is used to paralyze the body. The third drug, potassium chloride, is deployed in the final stage to stop the heart.

If all three drugs work together, the inmate should appear to fall asleep and die.

But botched executions in several states suggest the ordeal may be anything but peaceful. Experts say that if the first drug fails to render the inmate into an extended, coma-like level of unconsciousness, the prisoner may awaken and experience excruciating pain as the other two drugs are administered.

In April 2014, for example, Oklahoma death row inmate Clayton Lockett awoke in the middle of the execution process and writhed in pain as officials scrambled to discover what had gone wrong. It took 40 minutes for Mr. Lockett to die.

Similar episodes involving midazolam were observed during executions in Ohio in January 2014 and in Arizona in July 2014. The Arizona execution took nearly two hours with the inmate gasping more than 640 times, according to a reporter who witnessed the execution.

Oklahoma officials later issued a report about the Lockett execution. They concluded that the first drug was not being effectively injected into Lockett's bloodstream. They revised their protocols, increased the dosage of midazolam, and sought to resume executions.

That's when the four inmates filed a lawsuit seeking a judicial examination Oklahoma's capital punishment protocol. A federal judge and a federal appeals court upheld the state's procedures.

The inmates then filed their petition asking the US Supreme Court to examine the Oklahoma protocol.

Their petition was pending last week, when the first of the four inmates, Charles Warner, was scheduled to be put to death. For reasons that remain unclear, the high court declined to intervene on Jan. 15 and Mr. Warner was, in fact, executed.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissent of the high court's refusal to issue a stay of execution. Three other members of the court, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan joined the dissent.

“Petitioners have committed horrific crimes, and should be punished,” Justice Sotomayor wrote in her eight-page dissent. “But the Eighth Amendment guarantees that no one should be subjected to an execution that causes searing, unnecessary pain before death.”

She added: “I hope that our failure to act today does not portend our unwillingness to consider these questions.”

There is no indication in the court's brief order how many justices agreed to take up the Oklahoma case. The votes of four justices are required to grant a petition.

The case will likely be argued in April with a decision handed down by late June.

Dale Baich, one of the attorneys representing the Oklahoma inmates, said the inmates were pleased that the court had agreed to decide the execution process.

“The drug protocol used in Oklahoma is not capable of producing a humane execution, even if it is administered properly,” Mr. Baich said in a statement.

“The time is right for the Court to take a careful look at this important issue, particularly given the bungled executions that have occurred since states started using these novel and experimental drug protocols,” he said.

The case is Glossip v. Gross (14-7955).




U.S. Court Sentences Colorado Teen to 4 Years in Jail for Trying to Join ISIS

by Vittorio Hernandez

Federal Judge Raymond Moore gave on Friday a four-year sentence to 19-year-old Shannon Maureen Conley for conspiracy to support the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Conley had admitted to the court that she wants to marry a jihadist and take part in the extremist Islamic group's battles to create a caliphate in the Middle East. Moore initially favored having Conley undergo psychiatric treatment, but he eventually agreed with the prosecutors to send the young woman to prison to deter other young Americans from making similar moves.

In a span of few months, Conley agreed to marry three people from the ISIS just to become a part of the terror group. She also prefers to be called Amatullah, which means female servant of Allah, although when she converted to Islam, she initially used the name Halima, according to KMBC.

Before she was sentenced, Conley cried and read a statement that recounts her experience with ISIS. She acknowledged that her arrest allowed her to know the truth about the ISIS because while in jail, she had time to read the whole Quran, the holy book of Muslims.

The teen blames the Islam scholars she had been following online for giving her a distorted idea of the faith and says her commitment to the idea of a jihad was borne out of a desire to defend Muslims, not to hurt other people.

Conley asked the court for a chance to prove she is not a threat to society, but the court rejected her plea.

Not surprisingly, her parents are angry at the court's decision as her mother said, quoted by CNN, that if the American legal system "is willing to sacrifice the future of a 19-year-old American citizen to drive the point home ... then we feel the terrorists have won this particular battle in the war on terrorism."

Besides the four years of prison term that Moore sentenced Conley, he also ordered that she undergo three more years of supervised release and perform 100 hours of community service that requires interaction with ordinary people. He banned her from owning any black powder or explosive materials.



More people caught trying to bring guns on planes in 2014

TSA: 8 of 10 guns found were loaded and ready to fire

by Daniel Goldstein

The Transportation Security Administration said that in 2014 it found more guns in carry-on luggage than ever before, a record haul of more than 2,200 firearms. That's a jump of 22% over 2013 and the most since it began keeping statistics a decade ago.

The numbers were revealed on the TSA's blog as part of the agency's “Year in Review” where the TSA lists some of the weapons and explosive devices — real and fake — that passengers attempt to carry on or check at U.S. airports.

The agency says it typically intercepts as many as six firearms a day at U.S. airports, but found 18 in one day in June alone, breaking a previous one-day record of 13, in 2013. In 2005, there were just over 600 instances of weapons found at TSA checkpoints, the agency said. According to the Congressional Research Service, there are 300 million guns in the U.S., of which 115 million are handguns.

In almost all cases when the TSA has found a handgun or other weapon, there was no nefarious intent, said TSA spokesman Ross Feinstein, but he said in each case the procedure is that law enforcement gets called and screening gets shut down.

“The bottom line is always know what is in your carry-on and what you are checking in,” he said in a phone interview. Still, even without ill intent, the TSA can fine you up to $11,000 for trying to bring illegal items on board. A typical fine for a first time violator for carrying an unloaded firearm is $1,500, and a loaded firearm is a $3,000 fine, Feinstein said, on top of local penalties.

About 1.8 million passengers a day are screened by the TSA, the agency said.

In 2014, TSA agents discovered firearms at more than 220 U.S. airports, 19 more than in 2013. Of the guns seized, more than eight out of 10 were loaded and ready to fire, the TSA said on its blog.

No guns of any kind — and ammunition — are allowed in carry-on baggage or on your person, and even on-duty law enforcement officials must go through rigorous screening and processes before they can carry a weapon into a plane cabin or in their luggage. Weapons and properly packed ammo for civilians that are in checked luggage is typically OK, so long as the weapons are securely locked in a hard-sided container with TSA-approved locks and you alert the airline first and follow their procedures, which can mean extra paperwork and security checks.

In 2014, Dallas Fort-Worth (DFW) had the most weapon seizures, with 120, followed by Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport (ATL) with 109, Phoenix Sky Harbor (PHX) with 78 and George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) in Houston with 77, the TSA said.

Check here to see how many guns were found at your airport last year.

The agency said that while it screened more than 658 million passengers in 2014, it was only an increase of 2.3%, or about 15 million more passengers than in 2013, which meant weapons seizures outpaced the increased passenger numbers.

“There are simply more passengers who are bringing on guns and other things they shouldn't onto an airplane,” said Feinstein, who said the increase didn't appear to be connected to any sort of terrorist threat.

The TSA said some got creative trying to conceal their guns and other contraband, hiding them in everything from Playstation consoles to raw meat .

And at a Sonoma, Calif., airport named for “Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz, an eight-inch knife was found in an enchilada . At the time, the TSA said the intent was “delicious not malicious” and the passenger was allowed to board the aircraft.



New Jersey

New Jersey police shooting leads to renewed interest in body cameras

The killing of Jerame Reid after a traffic stop was captured on a police car's dashboard camera but experts call for footage from the officer's point of view

by Jessica Glenza and Oliver Laughland

The fatal police shooting of Jerame Reid, a 36 year-old black New Jersey man, has thrown the issue of police body cameras back into the spotlight, as experts say recently released dashboard footage raises as many questions as it answers.

Reid was killed during a confrontation with police in Bridgeton, New Jersey, on 30 December, his death captured by a dashboard camera in the patrol car parked feet away. The footage was published by the South Jersey Times on Wednesday following a public records request.

The video shows the moments before Reid's death, including the run up to the incident, and his shooting. He was shot by two officers, one white and one black, after the black Jaguar he was riding in was stopped for a traffic infringement. The car's driver, Leroy Tutt, 46, can be seen holding his hands out the window throughout the incident.

What the video does not show is what the officer saw inside the black Jaguar, as Reid is repeatedly warned not to reach for a handgun allegedly found on the scene.

In the video, officer Braheme Days approaches Reid from the passenger side of the car. He calls to his partner, Roger Worley, when he says he sees a gun in the glove compartment of the vehicle. The tension quickly escalates.

An enhanced version of the video, reported by CNN, appears to show Days pulling out a silver object shaped like a gun from the passenger window of the car.

“Don't you fucking move! Show me your hands! Show me your hands!” Days shouts.

“I'm showing you my hands,” says someone from inside the car.

Days then accuses Reid of “reaching” for a weapon.

Reid then gets out of the car, with what appears to be his hands up. He is then shot dead, killed within two minutes of officers approaching the vehicle. Bridgeton police have provided scant information on the case but said a handgun was “revealed” at the scene.

Experts say the footage alone, lacking the officer's point of view, is not enough to draw conclusions about whether the use of force was justified.

“Does the officer at this point see something [a weapon], or does he make a mistake? It's unclear to me,” said John Decarlo, an associate professor of police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and a former Connecticut police chief.

“This is a really great argument for body-cams,” Decarlo continued. “Unlike the dash-cam, the body-cam would have shown us from the officer's perspective what he was seeing. It would have answered these questions. It would have provided clearcut evidence as to what had transpired between the officer and the individual,” he said.

Decarlo's assessment echoes that of many, activists and politicians alike, who have called for expanded use of the technology amid a spate of high-profile police brutality cases.

The campaign to make police use of body cameras mandatory intensified across the United States in the wake of the grand jury decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson, who shot dead unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last summer.

Brown's parents have called for a law that would require every police officer in the US to wear a body camera. In December President Obama called for a $263m spending package to reform police departments across the country, which could lead to the purchase of an extra 50,000 body cameras for police, but resisted calls for mandatory implementation.

Alexa Van Brunt, a clinical assistant professor at Northwestern University Law School, also noted the lack of footage from inside the Jaguar.

“In this case, you can't exactly see what he's doing in the car – you can make inferences,” she said “But I think the real question is what happens in the aftermath.”

“One of the huge shortcomings of cameras is unless you have accountability from the top down … whether or not an event like this is caught on camera is really irrelevant.”

And whether such incidents are filmed or not, Van Brunt said, it is unlikely everyone will agree on what they depict. Researchers time and again have found that people see media, like video footage, through their own biases, a phenomenon referred to as “hostile media effect”.

“I see serious over-escalation [in the video],” said Van Brunt “And sure, a vast population would say, ‘I'm sure the police officer was under threat, and he did what he had to do.'”

That the dashboard camera was filming before the minor traffic violation occurred could be an indication police were already following the men, since such cameras are not often set to record for an entire shift, Decarlo said.

Bridgeton police declined to comment on their dashboard camera recording policy, and instead directed the Guardian to file a formal request for information.

Bridgeton police do not wear body cameras “yet”, city officials said. “Funding is the issue,” the city administrator, Dale Goodreau, said. The New Jersey legislature is considering a bill that would introduce the equipment.

National police reform advocates have called on the New Jersey state attorney general to investigate the shooting , arguing that the Cumberland county prosecutor's office is not impartial enough to deal with the matter fairly.

It remains unclear if the shooting will be referred to a grand jury.





Community Policing: The Push For Body Cameras

State Attorney Jerry Hill thinks law enforcement agencies around Polk County should wait before forcing patrolmen to strap on body cameras. The advocacy for such technology has grown louder and more widespread since last year's events in Missouri, New York, Ohio and elsewhere — even to the White House, now that President Barack Obama has proposed putting up $75 million to help outfit 50,000 local cops with the devices.

Hill's advice must be heeded here, however, because while the body-cam idea seems sound on the surface, its implementation would raise issues that are not clearly resolved. Hill, in a letter to local departments, cited potential problems with citizens' privacy, dissemination of public records, retaining the recordings for storage as well as for evidence, and the capabilities of the technology itself.

Hill did not appear to reject the idea outright — as, for example, Sheriff Grady Judd has. Rather Polk's chief prosecutor seems to be gauging the practical effects and how those would affect actions in the courtroom, and has yet to see those satisfactorily resolved in his mind.

The body-cam promoters are hard to argue with, admittedly. Such devices might help defuse potentially volatile or violent situations by serving as a check on both the police and the people they interact with. Dashboard cameras, for example, have helped the public gain a better perspective to determine what occurred when some incidents have gone awry. It seems an easy fix to just affix a camera to the officer as well.

But recent examples underscore Hill's point. Let's take just one of his concerns — public records. National Public Radio reported that the police chief in Flagstaff, Ariz., in complying with a public records request, released body-cam footage of an officer's fatal scuffle with a suspect. The chief, however, declined to release all of the tape. He cut the footage at the moment the suspect pulled a concealed gun. He said he sought to spare the officer's family from the "pretty significant trauma" of a broadcast of his death. Yet would open government activists agree with the chief's call? Shouldn't he turn over the whole footage? It's a point that needs debating.

NPR also reported on the Seattle Police Department's dilemma in fulfilling a different public records request. There, the department struggled with whether to implement body cams after someone asked for all of the department's dash-cam videos — some 1.6 million recordings. NPR also noted that the Los Angeles Police Department was set to equip its 7,000 officers with body cams, but then revealed it would make the footage available only for legal cases. That, too, is likely to stir a public records debate.

We're not suggesting that police officers in Polk County or elsewhere should escape scrutiny. Police brutality is not a phantom boogeyman stalking the imaginations of members of minority communities, hard-core civil libertarians and would-be anarchists. It is a real phenomenon that occurs almost every day somewhere in America and frequently causes real pain and suffering to many innocent people. Yet the police have a difficult and risky job in dealing with the worst or most dangerous among us, and, like it or not, that often requires force.

It is worthwhile to examine what drives the push for body cams — and new Lakeland Police Chief Larry Giddens recently nailed part, perhaps the biggest part, of the problem. In a recent talk at the Lakeland Yacht & Country Club, the chief spelled out a plan to deploy select officers throughout the city to improve communications within neighborhoods. It was also a way, the chief suggested, to gather better intelligence about wrongdoing in those areas.

The critical revelation in Giddens' speech was that this move was an exercise in building trust — which is vital in preventing or solving crimes, he said. Citizens either here or elsewhere across the country are demanding body cams because they no longer trust the police — and when things go haywire, they don't trust the police to police themselves. Trust, however, is a two-way street. Giddens is right to express that officers are frustrated by a lack of cooperation. If people won't help the police, they should not expect crime to evaporate. Giddens' plan is a good step to rebuilding that sorely needed trust. We hope he continues to emphasize bridge-building through community policing. The public and the police nowadays seem to want to look at each other only through a lens, either that of a camera or of a skewed perspective — and either way, it isn't rose-colored. That must change.




Disorganized evidence room at Flint Police Department astounds authors of public safety report

by Molly Young

FLINT, MI -- Bags of evidence not properly secured and sitting on the floor, guns improperly tagged and tossed into a shopping cart and decades-old pieces of evidence collecting dust.

That's the state of the evidence room in the Flint Police Department, which "poses a significant ongoing liability threat to the city, the department and its employees," according to an 82-page report assessing the efficiency and adequacy of the department.

According to the report, created by the Center for Public Safety Management in Washington, D.C., after a yearlong investigation, the department has not been audited in several years, has not discarded unneeded evidence in several years, cannot accurately account for all property and cannot accurately say exactly where evidence is stored, which is not in line with "best practices in American policing."

Flint emergency manager Gerald Ambrose issued a statement saying the report will be used to guide city decisions: "Both the police and fire departments are evaluating these recommendations and will use these as guidelines for the development of up-coming revisions to the City's Strategic Plan. We still have severe limitations on the available revenue for public safety services. These studies provide recommendations on changes the departments can use to operate within those budget limits."

Former emergency manger Darnell Earley commissioned the report a year ago.

Here is an excerpt from the report:

"Upon physical inspection, the consultants were astounded by the sheer volume of property and evidence that is currently in the department's possession. One member of the department estimated that the number of items in the department's possession is 'well north of 300,000, perhaps 500,000.' It goes without saying that this is an unnecessarily high number. One member of the department stated that some items, such as evidence from old homicides, 'go back fifty years.' The biological evidence room was found to be quite large and apparently filled almost to capacity. We were advised that the room contained many items 'that should be destroyed.'"

Those factors have led to a build-up of evidence, including a "remarkable number" of handguns – about 10,000 – that need to be sorted piece by piece and reorganized so that evidence is not lost, stolen or degraded, according to the report.

While Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said he believes many urban areas with high crime rates have the same problems storing evidence, it does make the search for the truth more difficult.

"My job is not to convict. It is to find justice. When any evidence disappears, it hurts the search for justice," Leyton said. "I'm certain the Flint Police Department would love to go over there and bring it up to 2015 standards, but it takes resources, and with this economic climate, it's not easy."

The report – which offered 16 major suggestions for change within the department that city officials say the department will seriously consider while developing their strategic plans – recognizes that the task of sorting through and organizing the evidence room is a virtually insurmountable task that requires thousands of hours of manpower that the city can't afford.

The report says the task would be so time-consuming that a commercial property and evidence management firm apparently declined to perform an on-site audit or provide advice for the department when asked, saying it would take many years to perform a proper audit of 300,000 items.

In any case, the report says, it needs to be reorganized and properly secured, and soon.

Flint Police Chief James Tolbert says the department has already begun working in the evidence room. "We have in fact been working on the evidence room for about eight or nine months now, trying to clear space, trying to match up evidence to cases. We've been doing that for quite some time."

He said a full audit of the room may not have been done for 10 years or longer. "From what I'm hearing, there hasn't been a full property room audit in two or three decades, if not longer," he said.

Thomas Deasy, commander of the Michigan State Police Flint post, said having 300,000 to 500,000 pieces of evidence, like the report claims the Flint Police Department has, would be "unusual," and not having close control of who is entering the evidence room could be detrimental in court.

"When we've charged somebody with a crime, they have a right -- and so does the judge and jury and prosecutor – to know that the evidence is just as we collected it. If we keep track of who has touched it, we can have those people come to court and say, 'Here's what I did with it, and it hasn't changed,'" Deasy said.

"The other concern is we want to know what we have, just for accountability purposes," he said. "We don't want anything getting lost. We don't want anything getting stolen. And if we don't know who's coming and going and touching it, we can't prevent those things."

The report states that individual lockers within the evidence room are properly secured with locks, and keys to the locks are properly secured, but "large bags of items were observed on the basement floor, outside of the property cages."

Anyone with access to a master key would have access to those bags, the report says. The report didn't say what was in the bags.

The report claims that the department cannot accurately say what evidence is in its possession or exactly where particular items are located, since items are not organized chronologically, and not every item is "bagged and tagged" and entered into the electronic property system using today's procedure, leaving some items unaccounted for.

Leyton said the evidence room has been an ongoing problem for years, and has caused some problems during cases when evidence couldn't be located in a timely matter, or sometimes, not at all.

"My experience, and my trial lawyers' experience with the evidence room is that it has not been a major problem for us – we've made it work," he said. "There have been instances, though, where evidence has either been misplaced or lost. But, my people make do, and do the best with what we have."

Flint defense attorney Frank Manley said loss of evidence isn't damaging just at the trial stage, but also during appeals stages, as testing of old evidence with new technology can exonerate defendants and those wrongfully convicted of crimes.

"Most people cleared over the years for criminal sexual conduct, rape or murder charges have been cleared through development of DNA technology. Once that technology was available, people had to go back and test evidence, especially where defendants were given lengthy sentences," Manley said. "If evidence would have been lost or stolen, many innocent people would be in prison for a crime they did not commit."

The report, while recognizing the economic challenges the department faces, suggests immediately forming a committee of people of various ranks within the department. It should include Tolbert, a professional standards officer, one or more property managers or supervisors from other police departments within the state and a representative from the city attorney's office, the report recommended.

The committee should refer to the International Association for Property and Evidence standards and practices to determine best practices for sorting through the evidence and keeping up the organization of the room in the future.

Those guidelines suggest that an annual inventory is critical, and evidence should be stored in a way that allows police to find things quickly and that prevents cross-contamination.




Crimes declined in city last year

Homicide improved most, down 62.5 percent

by Dave Gong

According to the city administration and public safety officials, Fort Wayne's crime rate is on the decline.

Mayor Tom Henry, joined by community members, local officials and law enforcement officers, announced Thursday that Fort Wayne saw a 14 percent overall crime reduction in 2014.

“Public safety continues to be one of the most important areas of citizens' concern in not only our community, but in others as well,” Henry said.

He commended the Fort Wayne Police Department for its successes in reducing crime over the past year, noting in particular the city's gang and violent crime unit, increased communication with the public and the addition of 15 police officers to the force.

“These are dedicated personnel who have been responsible for significant decreases in their areas of concentration,” he said of the gang and violent crime unit.

Homicides in Fort Wayne decreased by 62.5 percent in 2014, Henry said. Burglaries dropped by 26 percent, and robberies declined by 22 percent.

Property crimes and violent crimes were down about 14 percent, larceny by 11 percent and assault by 6 percent. Vehicle thefts decreased by about 6 percent as well.

Though there were significant decreases in crime across the board, the city did report an increase in rape and arson in 2014. Rapes increased to 104 incidents last year from 95 in 2013, and arson increased to 45 incidents from 29 in 2013.

“We are fortunate to live in a community where we feel safe,” Henry said. “We can have open communication with officers who are being asked to protect and serve us.”

Fort Wayne might have seen a drop in homicides last year, but the city has already experienced its first suspicious shooting death of 2015. On Wednesday night, a 34-year-old man was killed by a stray bullet in the Weisser Park area. Hamilton said police are investigating the shooting, but preventing similar incidents is difficult.

“Last year, we had approximately 1,228 shots-fired reports, and (many) of those come from firecrackers and other things,” he said. “When you think you've heard shots, we do go out and investigate those, but that's so random, it's hard to predict where it's going to take place.”

If police identify a pattern in reports of gunfire, Hamilton said more efforts will be concentrated in those areas. Hamilton said no homicides were committed by this time last year, likely due to the intense cold.

“The weather was extremely cold in January and February, so we didn't have any homicides until March or April,” he said.



ISIS-affiliated militants say 'countdown has begun' for group to kill Japanese hostages

by Fox News

Militants affiliated with the Islamic State terror group issued a new threat against a pair of Japanese hostages Friday as the deadline passed for Tokyo to pay a ransom of $200 million to prevent their beheading.

An online posting shows a clock counting down to zero along with gruesome images of other hostages who have been beheaded by the Islamic State group, or ISIS, as well as a warning that the "countdown has begun." The posting did not show any images of the Japanese hostages.

In the past the website has posted Islamic State videos very quickly, sometimes before anyone else. Nippon Television Network first reported the message in Japan.

The status of efforts to free the two men was unclear. Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga, when asked about the latest message, said Japan was analyzing it.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe convened his National Security Council to discuss how to handle the crisis, as the mother of one of the captives appealed for her son's rescue.

"Time is running out. Please, Japanese government, save my son's life," said Junko Ishido, the mother of 47-year-old journalist Kenji Goto.

"My son is not an enemy of the Islamic State," she said in a tearful appearance in Tokyo.

Ishido said she was astonished and angered to learn from her daughter-in-law that Goto had left less than two weeks after his child was born, in October, to go to Syria to try to rescue the other hostage, 42-year-old Haruna Yukawa.

"My son felt he had to do everything in his power to try to rescue a friend and acquaintance," she said.

In very Japanese fashion, Ishido apologized repeatedly for "all the trouble my son has caused."

The national broadcaster NHK reported early Friday that it had received a message from ISIS "public relations" saying a statement would be released soon.

Lacking clout and diplomatic reach in the Middle East, Japan has scrambled for a way to secure the release of the two men, one a journalist, the other an adventurer fascinated by war. Two Japanese who said they have contacts with an ISIS leader offered Thursday to try to negotiate, but it was unclear if the Japanese government was receptive to the idea.

Ishido said she had not had any contact with the government.

The militants threatened in their video message, released Tuesday, to kill the hostages unless they received $200 million within 72 hours.

Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga reiterated Friday that Japan was trying all possible channels to reach those holding the hostages, and that its policy of providing humanitarian aid for those displaced by conflict in the Middle East was unchanged.

"We are doing our very best to coordinate with related parties, including through tribal chiefs," Suga said.

Suga confirmed Thursday that the government had confirmed the identity of the two hostages, despite obvious discrepancies in shadows and other details in the ransom video that suggest it may have been altered.

Japanese officials have not directly said whether they are considering paying any ransom, but said their lives were the top priority.

Japan has joined other major industrial nations of the Group of Seven in opposing ransom payments. U.S. and British officials also said they advised against paying.

Tokyo lacks strong diplomatic connections in the Middle East, and Japanese diplomats left Syria as the civil war there escalated, adding to the difficulty of contacting the group holding the hostages.

There was no sign the government had taken action on an offer to try to negotiate with ISIS by Ko Nakata, an expert on Islamic law and former professor at Kyoto's Doshisha University, along with freelance journalist Kousuke Tsuneoka.

Nakata and Tsuneoka, who both are converts to Islam, said Thursday that they have a contact in ISIS and were prepared to go to Syria.

Nakata and Tsuneoka, who was released after being held hostage in Afghanistan in 2010, visited Syria in September in an unsuccessful attempt to gain Yukawa's release. Goto was seized sometime after late October when he entered the area.

Since Japan's military operates only in a self-defense capacity a home any rescue attempt would require help from an ally like the United States.




Online Threats Target Bridgeview Mosque

A post on Facebook started as a generalized threat against Muslims before the discourse grew more specific in subsequent comments

Increased police patrols were seen early Friday morning near a mosque in south suburban Bridgeview after a series of threats were posted online this week.

The threats, which began as a status update on the Facebook page of a teenage boy, threatened to put local Muslims "in check" for the actions of extremist followers of Islam on the other side of the globe.

"F****** Muslims burn down christian churches in France! We got to start breaking some rules putting these n****** in check,” the unidentified teen wrote, according to a redacted copy of the post obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

Bridgeview spokesman Ray Hanania said police launched an investigation with the help of the FBI on Tuesday after they were alerted to the postings, though a spokeswoman for the FBI would not confirm their involvement. Hanania said a Facebook contact of the teen saw the postings and alerted authorities.

While the post started as a generalized threat against Muslims, discourse grew more specific in subsequent comments.

"I'd like to start with that mosque down the street . . . Eye for an eye tooth for a tooth," the teen continued.

Pretty soon a different friend of his chimed in: "Haha . . . yep . . . maybe we should walk down the middle of the street without a worry in the world like they do shootin every one of them!!!!"

Eventually it was suggested that the two target a mosque near 87th and Harlem, according to the posting.

That effectively identified their theoretical target as the Mosque Foundation, which is close to that intersection, said Ahmed Rehab, executive director for the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

"You have to be vigilant and take things seriously," said Oussama Jammal, vice president of the mosque's board of directors. The threat, he said, "had specifics that made it very alarming."

"We have a large community, lots of children and a school — obviously more than enough to make anyone concerned about the safety of children," Jammal said.

Rehab said his organization sent out a community alert about the threats Thursday night because it is important to combat “this conflagration between a terrorist ideology and Muslims or Islam.”

Bridgeview Police Chief Walter Klimek took the threats “very seriously,” Hanania said. He added that police have identified the teen behind the posting but have not made an arrest.

The teen might be a little disappointed to hear Bridgeview police are on the case, according to the posting.

By targeting a mosque, he speculated that it “will be in the FBI's hands to catch me.”

Then he added: “Something a little cooler than the Bridgeview police.”




Police announced Murder Charges against a Man in Connection with ‘Gypsy Hill Murders'

by Irene Müller

Nearly four decades after 'Gypsy Hill murders' shocked the Bay Area, California investigators have found the man who is believed to be responsible for minimum two of the five killings.

Police in San Mateo County have made announcement about murder charges against Rodney Halblower, who is linked to the 1976 killings of Veronica Anne Cascio, 18, and Paula Baxter, 17.

Already, Halblower, 66, was in Oregon State Prison for an unrelated attempted murder and has been termed as a 'serial killer'. Authorities said that with the help of DNA proof, investigators figured out that Halblower had connections with two of the five murders. About four decades ago, these murders terrorized the Peninsula between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean.

The man was charged with two counts of murder and special circumstances of murder during the course of a rape in the 1976 deaths of Cascio and Baxter. Body of Baxter was found in Millbrae and she was last seen leaving her high school.

The five slayings known as the Gypsy Hill Murders took place between January and April of 1976. Body of Cascio was found on January 7, 1976, near a creek on an area golf course. In September, the man was formally connected to the killings when the San Mateo County Crime Lab made a DNA match.

According to authorities, he was not connected to the killings of three other victims in the Gypsy Hill murders. The other three victims included, Denise Lampe, 19, Tanya Blackwell, 14, and Carol Lee Booth, 26. According to the FBI, all the victims were raped before they were killed. Halbower made an initial court appearance on Thursday.

"I think it's significant for a couple of reasons, one certainly for the families of these two young women who were killed so early in their young lives", said San Mateo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Karen Guidotti.




Well known police officer takes community policing to heart

by Michael Hall

It took less than five minutes for someone to approach Glynn County Police Sgt. Randall Lacey Wednesday afternoon after he arrived at the pier on St. Simons Island.

A man Lacey had never met walked by with his bike, stopped and extended his hand.

“Are you Lacey?” asked Brad Curtis, a man who has visited St. Simons Island since 2010 and recently moved there. “I've heard about you. You're kind of a legend around here.”

With his booming, gravelly voice, Lacey said it was nice to meet Curtis and chatted for a minute.

It was an exchange Lacey has come to expect and one he relishes.

“If ever we need community policing, it's right now,” he said between waves and jokes with people he recognized who were enjoying the nice weather.

Community policing is more than part of Lacey's job. It is a philosophy he puts into practice every day as he makes his rounds on the island.

Developing relationships with the people on his beat by regularly walking through the Pier Village or Redfern Village and talking with business owners and residents makes them feel more comfortable and willing to tell him when something needs attention, Lacey said.

As the sometimes contentious relationship between police and the public has been making national headlines, Lacey said he finds treating the public like he would like to be treated is the best way to earn their trust. It is a lesson he has learned in his 20-year career with the Glynn County Police Department.

“If people trust you, they are more likely to help you,” he said. “But you have to earn it. The biggest thing is knowing your people. The only way we can do our job is with the community.”

A self-described people person, Lacey said he was essentially made a supervisor for St. Simons Island several years ago by Chief Matt Doering and has cherished the opportunity.

That was clear Wednesday. Sitting near the entrance to the pier, Lacey seemed to know everyone who passed by, and everyone seemed to know them.

“I see you're still speeding,” he said with a chuckle to a young mother pushing her child in a stroller.

The island where he works today is a world away from the rough neighborhoods where he grew up in Washington, D.C. After high school and after getting a couple of college classes under his belt, Lacey said he made the best decision of his life by joining the Navy and leaving the nation's capital city.

“Being from the D.C. area, I would have ended up being a statistic,” Lacey said of being a black man from Washington.

He spent 20 years in the Navy where his secondary job was working security. That eventually led to working part-time as a reserve police officer with several police departments, including in St. Marys, near where he was stationed at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay.

When leaving the Navy, Lacey said several pieces fell into place to get him the job with the Glynn County Police Department, something for which he is still thankful, 20 years later.

Today, at 58, Lacey does more than just patrol St. Simons Island. He has taken the idea of community policing to heart.

He regularly reads to elementary school students and periodically puts on a golf program for them with local professional golfers at Altama Elementary. Over the years he has helped feed the homeless and worked with teenagers who are getting in trouble.

His hope is to show children that police officers are not to be feared and are not out to get them. Instead, they are there to help, he said.




Reports: FBI completes probe of Ferguson shooting

The FBI has completed its investigation into the police shooting of an unarmed, black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri, according to the Associated Press and The New York Times reported that federal prosecutors had begun work on a legal memo recommending no civil rights charges against Officer Darren Wilson, after an FBI investigation found no evidence to support charges against him.

Officials and experts have said such a prosecution against former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson would be highly unlikely, in part because of the extraordinarily high legal standard federal prosecutors would need to meet.

According to the New York Times, quoting unnamed law enforcement officials, the federal investigation did not find out anything that differed significantly from the evidence presented by authorities in Missouri last year. The newspaper also reported that the Justice Department is planning on releasing a report on its decision.

A U.S. official who was not authorized to discuss the case by name and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson declined to comment to either news organization.

Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for Michael Brown's family, said in a statement that the family would not address speculation from anonymous officials and was waiting for an official Justice Department announcement.

Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson and Mayor James Knowles said Wednesday that they had no information about the status of the investigation, according to the Associated Press.

Wilson, who is white, was cleared in November by a state grand jury in the Aug. 9 death of Michael Brown, a shooting that touched off protests in the streets and became part of a national conversation about race relations and police departments that patrol minority neighborhoods.

Wilson told the St. Louis County grand jury that he feared for his life during the confrontation with Brown and that the teen struck him in the face and reached for his gun. Some witnesses have said Brown had his hands up when Wilson shot him.

To mount a federal prosecution, the Justice Department would need to show that Wilson willfully deprived Brown of his civil rights. That standard, which means prosecutors must prove that an officer knowingly used more force than the law allowed, is challenging for the government to meet. Multiple high-profile police-involved deaths, including the 1999 shooting in New York City of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed West African immigrant have not resulted in federal charges.

Wilson, who had been on administrative leave since the shooting, resigned days after the grand jury decision was announced. A lawyer for Wilson did not immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday.




Federal charges unlikely for Darren Wilson in Ferguson case, officials say

by Sara Sidner, Pamela Brown and Shimon Prokupecz

A federal investigation has not found enough evidence to charge Darren Wilson with the federal crime of depriving Michael Brown of his civil rights, according to multiple sources familiar with the investigation.

The FBI has completed its investigation into the August shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, and sent the findings to the Justice Department, a law enforcement official and a separate U.S. official said Wednesday.

Justice Department prosecutors will not recommend civil rights charges against Wilson, who killed Brown, because there is not sufficient evidence to support charges, a U.S. official told CNN.

The New York Times first reported the development Wednesday.

A grand jury decided not to indict Wilson on state charges in November.

However, the final Justice Department report has not been completed. The FBI joined local officials in interviewing over 200 people and looked at much the same evidence as the grand jury.

What are the Brown family's options?

Ultimately, the decision will be made by Attorney General Eric Holder, who has said he will announce a decision before he leaves office, which is expected to be by spring.

Another Justice Department civil rights investigation into the Ferguson Police Department's overall track record with minorities is ongoing.

Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Brown's family, declined to comment on the news Wednesday.

"The family of Michael Brown Jr. will wait for official word from the Justice Department regarding whether or not any charges will be filed against the police officer who shot and killed him," Crump said in a written statement released Wednesday. "The family won't address speculation from anonymous sources."

Months of protests over alleged police brutality and racial profiling surged in Ferguson and across the country after Wilson, a white officer, killed Brown, an unarmed African-American teen.

Legal experts have long noted that a federal civil rights case against Wilson would be more difficult to prove.

"The bar is extraordinarily high," said Joey Jackson, a criminal defense attorney and legal analyst for CNN's sister network HLN. "You have to show an intentional deprivation of a civil right."

Given how difficult it is to prove intent, and also how many conflicting accounts emerged from the grand jury investigation, "it would be very difficult to move forward federally with a civil rights charge," Jackson said.

If no federal charges are brought against Wilson, who resigned from his position as a Ferguson Police officer in November, some people in the area will be disappointed, said Antonio French, a St. Louis city alderman who lives near Ferguson.

"I think you have a lot of people who will be disappointed if this does turn out to be the case. The community and the family wanted a day in court, an opportunity to see all the evidence laid out, cross-examined," French said. "And it looks like that's not going to happen. I hope we don't have any violence as a result of this."

Violent protests erupted in Ferguson after the grand jury's decision not to indict Wilson in November. Police are still searching for suspects accused of looting.

Protests aren't likely to stop any time soon, French said.

"People have a right to protest. We will probably continue to see that. That's a good thing. But we want to keep them peaceful, nonviolent," he said. "Because violence makes the situation worse. It divides the community in a time we need to come together and make everyone feel like they can get equal protection."

Ultimately, he said, some of the protesters' goals can be achieved outside the courts.

"The next steps I think are legislative change," French said, "trying to make sure that in cases like this we get a special prosecutor by law, and to create a new level of civilian oversight over police departments."

In his State of the State speech on Wednesday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said addressing "the broader, systemic issues" raised by the unrest that followed the killing of Brown would demand "sustained effort."

"The legacy of Ferguson will be determined by what we do next ... to foster healing and hope ... and the changes we make to strengthen all of our communities," he said.



New Jersey

New ‘Hands Up' Shooting Is Anything But Black and White

by Jacob Siegel

A victim with a history of shooting at cops. A prosecutor accused of being compromised. An officer who may've known his target. There's a new police slaying case. It's not at all simple.

At first glance, it appeared to be another case of cops shooting dead an unarmed black man with his hands raised. But a video, released Tuesday, complicates the claim made by some activists that the killing of Jerame Reid was some kind of summary execution.

The shooting of Reid by two Bridgeton, New Jersey police officers has sparked weeks of protests. The new video, which only gives a partial view of the shooting, is unlikely to quell the outrage—especially because it doesn't address protestors complaints over conflicts of interest in the prosecutor's office charged with the investigation.

The nighttime video of the shooting taken from the officer's dashcam begins with a traffic stop and goes from routine to deadly in just over a minute. The footage was obtained by the South Jersey Times through an open-records request.

Just after the video switches on, police officer Braheme Days approaches Reid on the passenger side of a pulled over Jaguar.

“How you all doing?” Days asks peering into the car.

“Good, how you doing officer,” comes the reply from one of the vehicle's two occupants, either Reid or the car's driver Leroy Tutt.

Less than 20 seconds later Days is drawing his gun and telling Reid, “don't you fucking move.”

Day's partner, officer Roger Worley, moves to the opposite side of the car with his gun drawn on Tutt who holds his hands up and out of the window from the driver seat.

“Get ‘em out the car Rog,” Days says to his partner. “We got a gun in this glove compartment.” Shortly after that, Days appears to reach into the vehicle and retrieve something from the glove compartment.

As Worley radios for backup, Days issues a series of expletive laced threats and commands to Reid.

“You reach for something you're going to be fucking dead,” Days warns. Someone in the car replies, “I got no reason to reach for nothing.” A moment later, Days says again, “Hey Jerome, you reach for something you're going to be fucking dead.”

Then seconds later: “he's reaching, he's reaching.”

(It's not clear if Days recognized Reid and mispronounced his first name calling him Jerome instead of Jerame. But Days was one of the officers involved in Reid's arrest last year for drug possession and obstruction charges. Reid had also been arrested before, as a teenager, for shooting at police officers and spent over 12 years in prison.)

After what sounds like “I'm getting out of the car,” the passenger doors opens and Reid stands up with his hands at his chest. Days appears to shoot first, followed by Worley, as Reid collapses to the ground.

Following the shooting the two officers involved, Days and Worley, were placed on administrative leave.

The video, which shows not only the shooting but also the background leading up to it, still leaves unresolved questions that will be critical in a criminal investigation.

A “Use of Force Policy” (PDF) from the New Jersey Attorney General states, “a law enforcement officer may use deadly force when the officer reasonably believes such action is immediately necessary to protect the officer or another person from imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm.”

Though the video appears to show officers finding a gun before Reid steps out of the car against their orders, it's not clear what threat they believed they faced when they began shooting.

“The Bridgeton Police Dept. policies and procedures regarding the use of force mirror that of the New Jersey Attorney General's Guidelines on the use of force without deviation,” the department said in a statement released along with the video of Reid's shooting.

The investigation into the shooting has had its own complications. The original lead prosecutor in the case, Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae, recused herself from the inquiry because of her personal ties to officer Days. That put the investigation in the hands of Cumberland County First Assistant Prosecutor Harold Shapiro.

The move hasn't satisfied some protestors like Walter Hudson, chairman and founder of the civil rights group the National Awareness Alliance, who has been active in the protests after Reid's death.




2 Michigan men to be arraigned over suspicious package

by Holly Fournier

Two Michigan men face criminal weapons and incendiaries charges after customs officers found a suspicious package in their vehicle as they tried to enter Canada on Tuesday, Windsor police said.

Police said the package appeared to contain a smoke bomb or grenade.

The men were charged shortly after the discovery around 5 p.m. that resulted in the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel closing in both directions as police investigated the package, Windsor Police Staff Sgt. Jeff Mailloux said on Wednesday.

The tunnel reopened by 9 p.m. Tuesday, Windsor police said.

“They were charged by the Canadian Border Services Agency, they were held overnight and they'll have to go to court today,” Mailloux said.

Mailloux said the specific charges each man faces will be released after their arraignment later Wednesday. Authorities are withholding their names and specific charges until the arraignment.

The men entered Canada about 5 p.m. Tuesday and were flagged for a secondary inspection, during which “a bag was discovered to contain a suspicious device,” according to the Windsor authorities.

Officials also found percussion caps inside the vehicle, which could be used in bomb making, according to Mailloux.

“It's like the starting piece if you were to put together a device. Another term might be blast caps,” he said. “They use them in mining and all that other stuff, too. All kinds of flags go up.”

Canadian Border Services Agency officials closed the tunnel Tuesday evening, notified police and evacuated staff.

The Windsor Police Explosives Disposal Unit was called to investigate; members deployed a robot with an on-board camera.

“Investigation has revealed that the bag contained an unmarked cardboard cylinder with a fuse attached,” police said in a statement. “EDU members are satisfied that the device is consistent in structure as being a commercial grade smoke bomb or smoke grenade. These types of devices emit a thick cloud of smoke when ignited.”

Elsewhere in the vehicle, officers also found a pair of brass knuckles, a switchblade knife and a butterfly knife.

“The men could be facing charges in relation to the brass knuckles and depending on the nature of the package,” Windsor police Sgt. Matthew D'Asti said.

The Windsor police's major crimes branch is continuing to investigate.

Anyone with information is asked to call Windsor Police at (519) 255-6700 ext. 4830 or Crime Stoppers at (519) 258-8477 (TIPS), go to www.catchcrooks.com or submit a tip at https://www.facebook.com/Windsor.Police.Service.




Supreme Court sides with Muslim inmate -- and helps solidify a key religious right

I n what is perhaps their least surprising decision in recent years, the justices of the Supreme Court ruled unanimously Tuesday that an Arkansas prison violated a Muslim prisoner's rights by forbidding him to grow the half-inch beard he said was required by his religion. When the case was argued last fall, the justices were incredulous at the state's argument that Gregory Holt's beard would pose a threat to security. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. elicited laughter when he suggested that perhaps a comb could be used to see whether a half-inch beard concealed "a tiny revolver."

But while Tuesday's decision was expected, it is still significant. It not only rights a wrong against Holt and put prison officials nationwide on notice that they must make reasonable accommodations to inmates' sincere religious practices. It also clarifies the importance — and limits — of federal laws providing a measure of protection for religious practice over and above what the 1st Amendment requires.

Until recently, there was a bipartisan consensus that, where it didn't endanger the public good or interfere with the rights of others, believers should be allowed to opt out of complying with laws that limited their exercise of religion. That view was reflected in the overwhelming congressional support for the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the 2000 Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

But support for these laws and similar statutes at the state level has fractured in recent years, with many liberals entertaining second thoughts. One reason is the fear that such laws will be used to justify anti-gay discrimination. Such concerns were raised last year about an overly broad "religious freedom" measure in Arizona that critics said would allow businesses to refuse to serve gay and lesbian customers. The bill was vetoed by then-Gov. Jan Brewer. An even bigger blow to public support for religious liberty was struck by the Supreme Court itself last year in its Hobby Lobby ruling. That decision stretched the meaning of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act beyond all reason, holding that religious owners of some for-profit companies could decline to include contraceptive coverage in their employee health insurance plans.

By contrast, Tuesday's decision returns to the original purpose of both of those laws: to protect the religious rights of individuals (or businesses) when doing so doesn't harm others.

Tuesday's decision is welcome for another reason. The prisoner whose religious freedom was affirmed is a Muslim, and his cause was supported by prominent Christian and Jewish organizations. At a time when some Americans believe that Islam is the enemy or "un-American," this decision is a timely reminder that religious freedom belongs to Americans of all faiths.



New Jersey

Phillipsburg patrolmen use community policing efforts to collect donations for food bank

by Sarah Peters

Phillipsburg Town Council recognized three police officers Tuesday night for launching a food drive to fill NORWESCAP's shelves.

Police Chief James Faulborn introduced Patrolmen Michael Connaughton, Matt Amey and Ryan Sokolowski as the officers whose idea started the effort. NORWESCAP, an agency that provides social services throughout northwest New Jersey, has done a lot to help Phillipsburg, Faulborn said.

He pointed to the $1 million grant the agency secured to revitalize the Downtown and the $125,000 grant that its associate director, Georjean Trinkle, helped them acquire from the U.S. Department of Justice for a school resource officer. The patrolmen wanted to give back to NORWESCAP, Faulborn said.

Officers collect donations in the neighborhoods where they do their community policing. Generous residents quickly stepped up to help, Sokolowski said.

"We owe a debt of gratitude to them, as does NORWESCAP," Sokolowski said.

Sokolowski said that during a union meeting, the food drive came up as a way for the police to help the community. They drafted a letter with Trinkle to ask for support.

Council President John Lynn and Vice President Todd Tersigni praised the officers for their initiative.

"It shows your dedication to the program, and I think the community is starting to recognize (community policing) is a worthwhile thing," Lynn said.




Community policing under fire in Madison

by Matt Pommer

A protest group wants to end community policing in Madison to help cut in half the number of poor and black people who get arrested. It's a local spin growing out of incidents across the nation between police and black citizens.

The group, called the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition, said police have become an “occupying force” in neighborhoods of minority residents.

“The relationship we desire to have with the police is simple: no interaction,” the group said in an open letter. “Our people need opportunities for self-determination, not policing.”

Madison Police Chief Mike Koval, who is white, blistered the criticism, defending his officers who participate in community policing to improve the quality of life in the neighborhoods and create better relationships. Drugs and guns are major issues. Community policing efforts allow officers to help, rather than just focus on making arrests.

“People in our neighborhoods rely on our assistance and hope that our influence will make these challenged neighborhoods safer,” Koval responded. “Are you really advocating the police abdicate our responsibilities to these folks?” he asked rhetorically.

Unsaid was that older residents in the challenged neighborhoods may not agree with the idea of removing officers from their streets and playgrounds. Koval said he hears from neighborhood residents who like the added presence of his officers.

Community policing is growing in America. In Madison, it is a decentralized approach in which officers work with other city departments to help provide services to challenged neighborhoods. Incidents between police and African-American residents in Missouri and New York City have triggered protest activities in many areas, including Madison. The demonstrations have included rallies at City Hall and people lying down in shopping malls. The group also has opposed expanding the Dane County Jail, saying the $8 million should be used to help poor people.

Koval said it was time for the protesters “to look a lot closer at issues besetting our people of color and stop pandering to the ‘blame game' of throwing my department to the wolves.”

The chief said the state Legislature could make changes in laws that would reduce any racial bias in law enforcement. Possible changes include ending the practice of trying 17-year-olds as adults, using “restorative justice” courts to keep people from quickly ending up in the state justice system, and changing drug possession laws.

It's doubtful elected state officials would tackle that agenda. They could face criticism in the media that they are “soft on crime.”

Last April, 65 percent of Dane County voters said “yes” to an advisory ballot question on whether the state should legalize marijuana. But the issue has lots of twists and turns. In December, the Dane County Board rejected a federal grant from the Cannabis Enforcement and Suppression Effort. In previous years, the county had received tens of thousands of dollars from this federal program.

The grant provides money to fight heroin, other drugs and gun traffic. Supervisors who opposed accepting the money said they wanted to send a signal about racial disparity in drug-related arrests.

The drug issues have attracted more attention with a substantial increase in the number of heroin deaths. In 2013, Dane County saw a 350 percent increase in heroin deaths—the majority were white residents.

Turning down federal money to make a point is familiar to Wisconsin citizens. Gov. Scott Walker has rejected hundreds of millions of federal dollars to expand Medicaid, saying he doubted the federal government could continue the program.




Activists Seek To Improve Community-Police Relations In St. Louis Area

UNIVERSITY CITY, Mo. -- Amid broader discussions about improving police tactics across the country, a local Missouri group is working with a national police research organization to take a look at the problems specific to policing in the St. Louis region.

Over the past several weeks, the local organization Better Together and the Police Executive Research Forum have organized four town hall meetings throughout the St. Louis region, hoping to improve relations between communities and police in the area. Information from the town halls will be incorporated into a study, conducted jointly by the two groups, about the "'ideal' policing solution for the St. Louis region," according to Better Together's website. The groups expect to issue a report by April.

Better Together was established in late 2013 to promote better community relationships with municipal governments in St. Louis County. The group has been focusing on policing issues since before unarmed teenager Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, although Better Together has intensified its push for reform since Brown's death in August. Brown's killing sparked months of protests that called attention to policing problems in the larger St. Louis region.

Brooke Foster, communications director for Better Together, says the organization wanted to give respect to Brown's family while completing its study. "We were going to do the work regardless. It's just the events in Ferguson attracted more attention to our research," Foster said.

The Police Executive Research Forum is an independent research group that focuses on policing issues. Better Together reached out to PERF to help produce a report about the future of community-police relations in the St. Louis area.

During the town hall discussions, residents talked about experiences they'd had with police. Many people wanted a better relationship with their local police departments and asked how police could be held more accountable for their actions.

One issue that received attention was the difference in approach between the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, which covers the entire city, and the multitude of small police departments in St. Louis County. Chuck Wexler, executive director of PERF, asked town hall attendees to elaborate on the differences.

Ferguson Democratic Committeewoman Patricia Bynes explained the perceived dynamic. “There's a joke we say here. It's that only the St. Louis County police that will harass you because the St. Louis City police are too busy dealing with real crime,” Bynes said during the third town hall, held on Jan. 14 inside a church in Ferguson.

Much of the discussion focused on the municipal courts system in St. Louis County. Many of the tiny towns in the county depend on fines and fees to survive, and several have allegedly violated a state law that is meant to limit the percentage of a city's revenue that can come from fines and fees. Residents of St. Louis County have complained that the structure incentivizes police departments to give out unnecessary tickets, and Wexler seemed to agree that this was a problem.

“There are parts of this region that are stopping people for -- excuse my language -- bullshit reasons for revenue,” said Wexler during the fourth and final town hall, which took place on Jan. 15 in University City.

Several police officers from the region attended some of the meetings, including recently promoted St. Louis County Officer Lt. Troy Doyle. “In order to be better, we have to listen to the people," Doyle told The Huffington Post when asked why he came to the meeting. "We're not going to know what people want, if we don't listen.”

Col. Frank Mininni, police chief for the city of Normandy, echoed Doyle's sentiments. Mininni, who attended the final town hall meeting, said police officers needed to stop living in a “bubble of police culture.”

“If you can't get outside that bubble and learn what people want and how people would like to be policed, you're not doing a service to community or the police department. And you're really setting up a lose-lose situation for the community to work in,” Mininni said.

Many participants said that they thought police did not know their communities and were fearful of nonviolent residents. But Mininni said his department has seen success with a policing style known as the “area policing initiative," which he described as an approach that increases police officers' involvement with their community.

“It's not about traffic tickets. It's not about heavy-handed enforcement, it's about a relationship. In the city of Normandy, we go to schools, we teach there. We go there to eat lunch with the kids, we play with them at recess,” Mininni said.

While the final town hall discussion was taking place, a nearby incident underscored the continuing tensions over police tactics in the area. Just a few minutes away from the meeting, even as residents talked about improving relations between the community and police, 22-year-old Joseph Swink was mistakenly arrested and beaten by St. Ann police officers.

Wexler tried to keep the discussions focused on policing, but noted that the conversations constantly expanded to other areas. “It starts out as one thing and it evolves into something much larger,” he acknowledged to the crowd.

“I think we had a very honest conversation. Four town halls, four different parts of this area, all been different, all been interesting, all been important. I think that's what we're really trying to do, is get a slice of every part of this region,” Wexler told HuffPost.

After interviewing over 300 people, and listening to people share their experiences, Wexler suggested that the main issue with policing is respect. “It's not like I haven't heard these stories before, I've worked in the Middle East and I've worked in Northern Ireland, and so much of this is about respect," he said.

"There's a lot of tension from both sides. Through these sessions we can begin to see the future,” Wexler added.




5 views of LAPD community policing strategies

by Frank Stoltze

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, a reformer hand-picked by former LAPD Chief Bill Bratton, is seen as an innovator and also someone who's respected by the old guard. Kirk Siegler/NPR

The LAPD's relationship with the communities it policies has improved dramatically since the videotaped beating of Rodney King by officers in 1991. The acquittal of those officers in state court sparked the 1992 Los Angeles riots. A federal jury later convicted two officers.

Today, amid a renewed debate about policing in America, the LAPD touts itself as a leader in community engagement. But not everyone is convinced. Here are five views of the LAPD's community policing efforts.

The Brothers

Mac Shorty and Anthony Lawrence are brothers who were born and raised in Watts.

Shorty, 46, says LAPD officers would pull him over “for no reason” when he was a young man. But when the same thing happened recently, Shorty, a mortician who serves as the vice president of the Watts Neighborhood Council, challenged the officer.

Later, at the urging of the officer's supervisor, they met to discuss what both perceived as rude behavior by the other, says Shorty.

“My behavior played a part of it,” he concedes. “So at the end of the day we both agreed that our behavior may have been wrong. We apologized to each other and moved on.”

It's an example of how the department is building trust in Watts, Shorty says.

Shorty spoke outside a police meeting at the Green Meadows Recreation Center. His brother was there too. He has a different take on the LAPD.

Lawrence, 47, believes officers still racially profile people. He is also suspicious of the proposal to place body cameras on every officer.

"The body cameras sound like a great idea, but who is really reviewing those videos," he asks. Shorty believes officers would cover up any video that showed wrongdoing.

"Instead of getting body cameras, I think they need to build a better relationship with the community," he says.

The Cop

The LAPD's top commander in Watts is Captain Phillip Tingirides, a 35-year veteran of the department. For the past seven years, he's worked to improve relationships, he says.

“For the first three years, it was a constant attack,” Tingirides says of how people treated him and the department. “There was a lot of listening that had to be done. There had to be a lot of owning up to the things that we as a police department had done.”

Tingirides says he also took action. He reconstituted his gang unit, bringing in officers who treat people with more respect. Officers assigned to the housing projects work there five years, and focus on solving problems not arrests. It's considered a model of community policing.

“We have built a far more functional relationship,” Tingirides says. The veteran captain adds that the people who protest outside police headquarters are a “minute minority.”

“There are far more people who are sitting at home watching TV very supportive of us,” he says.

Tingirides is being honored Tuesday night at Barack Obama's State of the Union speech in Washington; he will sit next to First Lady Michelle Obama for the speech.

The Mediator

Sitting in his office on the 21st floor of City Hall in downtown Los Angeles, Francisco Ortega reflects on the LAPD.

“A lot of good work has been done in Watts,” he says. But Pacoima, Van Nuys and other parts of South LA have not received the same attention, he argues.

“I think the department needs to do a better job of reaching out – and not just to people who are friends.”

Ortega works with the city's Human Relations Commission. He's spent the last decade mediating disputes between the police and communities. The LAPD leadership has embraced community policing, he says.

“The true challenge continues to be how the rank and file are responding on the street level,” Ortega says. “After all this talk of community policing, I still hear folks that are afraid” of LAPD officers.

The reverse is also often true, he says.

“There's real fear and trepidation on the part of police officers” in some neighborhoods.

The Professor

U.C. Irvine Professor Paul Jesilow studies community policing. He traces many of today's problems to the 1950's, when a “bureaucratic style” of policing took hold in America.

“Police departments began to see themselves as the crime expert and the citizens were merely to call the police and to request assistance,” Jesilow say. “As a result, police officers' have a tendency to ignore what the community has to say about policing.”

The LAPD has made efforts to engage with communities, but officers still have this tendency, says Jesilow.

As their legitimacy is challenged, police need to include communities more in decision making, Jesilow argues. “The public wants order, but not necessarily achieved through law enforcement. In fact, police can cause more disorder sometimes.”

He's also sympathetic with police. “They have extremely difficult job. On one day we want them to be law enforcement. On another day, we want them to be able to help the lost child.”

“For the officer, its ‘Who do you want me to be today?'”

The Activist

On a recent weekday afternoon, Marta Segura stood outside the LAPD'S Newton Division in South LA. She was waiting for a community meeting with police leaders.

The department has been slower to build relationships with Latinos than African Americans, Segura argues. But that's slowly changing. She's encouraged that Chief Charlie Beck has replaced the captain at Newton, following the controversial shootings of two unarmed men, Ezell Ford and Omar Obrego.

“The placement of Captain Jorge Rodriquez here is going to be pivotal,” she says.

Choosing her words carefully, she says Rodriquez is a better choice than the previous captain, who was white.

“It's something that sometimes is inherent to the individual because of their life experiences and because of how they see themselves reflected in the community,” she says.

Segura counts herself a strong supporter of the LAPD, but when asked to rate its community relations she is cautious.

“I think I would rate them around a six or seven,” she says. “They still have a long way to go.”




State Of The Union: LAPD Husband And Wife Team Will Be Guests Of The First Lady

by Phil Shuman

He's white, she's black, they're both blue. LAPD Captain Phil Tingirides, and his wife of four years, LAPD Sgt. Emada Tingirides have worked together for years in South LA on a community policing effort called "Community Safety Partnership'', which seeks to rebuild trust and mutual respect between residents and the LAPD.

It's working, and they certainly understand their role as both role models and police officers, being a high profile interracial law enforcement presence. "Multi-cultural'' she called it. According to police stats, violent crime in the Watts area is down some 50 % compared to recent years, and trust is up.

I saw it first hand at the once notorious Jordan Downs Housing project this afternoon. While I was there, the Tingirides were on their way to Washington D.C, guests of Michele Obama at the Presidents State of the Union address, to be recognized for their efforts in minority communities.

Particularly poignant to be talking about this on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He'll be in the Capitol, she'll be in the White House theatre with other invited guests. She was ''thrilled and honored'', he was more matter of fact when I interviewed them at LAX this morning. (They had to wait in line and go through security checkpoints just like everyone else by the way.) She said she was so proud to be representing the LAPD and talk about their efforts, he said ''this is what all policing should be about, reaching out doing non traditional things.

In the past the LAPD used to only be in the business of putting people in jail. '' Not anymore. And Mac Shorty, a community leader who's on the Watts Neighborhood Council, couldn't have been happier for '' Captain T. and Emada '' as he calls them. "We've had our ups and downs with police here, but now there's tranquility.'' Nothing is perfect.

There is still graffiti, crime, barbed wire, and surveillance cameras everywhere, and I"m sure there are plenty who still have nothing but contempt for the LAPD, but overall, there's a different feeling in the air. So in a time when it's fashionable among some to bash police, keep in mind that 99.9 percent of them are trying to make their corner of their world a better place, and sometimes they get well deserved recognition for it.




Biden promotes community policing to ease tensions

by Michael A. Memoli

Citing the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Vice President Joe Biden said Monday that the U.S. needs to "bridge that separation" that exists between law enforcement and communities of color and suggested a return to "genuine community policing" to restore trust between the two.

In a possible preview of recommendations coming from the president's so-called Task Force on 21st Century Policing, Biden recalled a major component of the 1994 crime bill he wrote was an infusion of billions in federal dollars to help hire 100,000 new police officers through what was known as the COPS program. Funding for that program has dropped by 87% since 1998.

"That means fewer cops in the streets, in the neighborhoods, building recognition, trust -- seeing one another," Biden said at a Martin Luther King Day breakfast in Wilmington, Del. "The result -- more separation, less communication, more hostility, and a place for crime to thrive in a neighborhood [where there] are decent and honorable people."

Biden used the holiday speech to discuss the polarizing political issue, presenting himself as a bridge between the two camps by playing up his reputation as a law-and-order politician and his personal connection to the local black community without which, he said, he "wouldn't have this job."

"I know when I see the decency and the honor and the dignity that exists in each of the communities of this city, they're a reflection of the decency all of you represent," he said. "But through that same period of time I've also worked with thousands of honorable women and men wearing a uniform … . And at times I've seen in their eyes the uncertainty and fear that comes with being asked to put their lives on the line, them wondering who has my back?"

He said Americans all need to agree on two points: that "cops have a right to go home at night" and that minorities "no matter what the neighborhood, have a right to be treated with respect and with dignity."

Weeks after he attended a funeral service for one of two New York police officers who were murdered in the line of duty, he noted that both were minorities – and that in fact the city police department is now a majority-minority force.

"They had a humanity that was denied them by an assassin's bullet, who judged them by the color of the uniform they wore, as Dr. King would say, not by the content of their character," Biden said.

President Obama formed the policing task force in December in the wake of violent confrontations between law enforcement and individuals protesting the death of an unarmed black man, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo. Its recommendations were to be delivered in 90 days.

In addition to beefing up community policing programs, Biden said the commission was looking at ways to increase diversity in police forces, increase the use of technology like body cameras, and new training methods that would educate officers “how to respond to dangerous situations without inflaming them.”

In his speech Biden made no mention of a law enforcement matter closer, literally, to his home – an incident Saturday night when an individual fired shots at his Delaware residence while driving past on a public street. New Castle County police and the Secret Service are investigating.




Ohio panel on community police relations holding first meeting tonight

CLEVELAND, Ohio - Bishop of the Youngstown Catholic Diocese, George Murry will join former U.S. Senator and Governor George Voinovich and 16 other community leaders from around the state tonight during the first meeting of the governor's Task Force on Community Police Relations.

Ohio Governor John Kasich announced last week that he had appointed Bishop Murry to the panel which was formed in response to a series of incidents in Ohio and around the nation including the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

Since that time, there have been several events that have highlighted strained relations between police and some communities around the nation.

“In light of events which have occurred during the past few months, events which have demonized police departments and various communities, it is my hope that this Task Force will help communities and police departments better understand each other and work together for the common good," said Bishop Murry.

In the coming months, the task force will conduct at least three more public forums throughout the state to gather input on ideas of how communities across the state can build what the governor's office calls constructive relationships between communities and police that are built on mutual understanding and respect.

The task force is exploring issues that include determining the best available community policing practices, assessing law enforcement training, setting standards for law enforcement interaction with the community, and gauging the impact of the criminal justice system and community oversight.

The organizational meeting is scheduled to begin at 4:00 pm, and the public forum will start at 4:30 pm at Waetjen Auditorium, Cleveland State University, 2001 Euclid Ave., Cleveland.

The governor expects the task force to issue a report by April 30.

Bishop Murry is the only representative from the Valley on the task force.



New York

NY prefers detention centers over prison for youth

by Joseph Spector

ALBANY – The state would gradually stop treating 16- and 17-year-olds as adults when they face the justice system under a plan endorsed Monday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The recommendation from Cuomo's Commission on Youth, Public Safety & Justice would change the state's age of criminal responsibility to 17 at the beginning of 2017 and 18 at the beginning of 2018. Currently, anyone age 16 or older is treated as an adult in the state's justice system.

If fully implemented, 16- and 17-year-olds who are accused of misdemeanors or non-violent felonies would have their cases sent to family court and would be treated as juveniles. Those who commit violent felonies would have their cases begin in criminal court.

The change — which would require legislative approval — would mean fewer prison sentences and more intervention for young offenders, which Cuomo and state officials said will hopefully reduce recidivism rates.

"These balanced reforms will place New York at the forefront of the pack in reducing the collateral consequences to young people who receive a criminal record while also protecting public safety," said Jeremy Creelan, an attorney and former Cuomo aide who co-chaired the commission.

Cuomo first appointed the commission last year and tasked it with coming up with a way to transition the state's criminal responsibility age to 18. New York is one of two states in the country that allows 16- and 17 year-olds to be charged with felonies and sent to adult prisons.

Under the commission's plan, the most serious crimes, such as murder and other violent convictions, would still be treated in criminal court, and youth could still be convicted of the crimes. A judge would have the option to move the cases to family court.

Youthful offender status would be available for those up to age 20, and in non-violent cases, youth could get their records sealed if they stay out of trouble for at least five years.

Currently, a teen charged with a misdemeanor has mandatory youthful offender status, which seals a teen's record after 19 and cannot be made public. The current law allows for the judge's discretion if the teen is charged with a second offense or charged with a felony.

The plan, which will be included in Cuomo's State of the State address and budget proposal Wednesday, would soon be developed into a legislative package and sent to the Legislature.

Families Together in New York State, a group that advocates for children with behavioral issues, called the state's current system "archaic in its design."

"New York appears on the cusp of major reforms reflective of long-heralded calls from advocates, parents and experts alike," the group wrote in a statement Monday.

The commission's plan would require a boost of about 1,500 beds at various facilities that house juvenile offenders, while Cuomo said he's hopeful it will help cut down on the state's prison population. The state said it currently has about 800 youth aged 16 and 17 in state and county prisons, mainly minorities.

The state operates three youth facilities in Tompkins County and also contracts with a private facility in the county. State facilities include The Finger Lakes Residential Center, formerly called the Louis Gossett Jr. Residential Center, in Lansing, the nearby Lansing Residential Facility for Girls and the MacCormick Secure Center in Caroline. The private William George Agency for Children's Services near Freeville also serves youth, many referred there through the state.

"We're going to keep 16 and 17-year-olds out of prison," Cuomo said. "We're going to create juvenile facilities and get them the training in a safe environment so we can actually help them turn around their lives."



NSA program reportedly helped US gather evidence against North Korea in Sony hack

by Fox News

A program implemented by the National Security Agency to help the U.S. and its allies track the computers and networks used by North Korean hackers was critical in gathering information that led Washington to conclude Pyongyang was behind last year's cyberattack on Sony Pictures.

The New York Times reported late Sunday that the NSA began placing malware in North Korean systems in 2010. Originally, the purpose of the surveillance was to gain insight into North Korea's nuclear program, but the focus shifted after a large cyberattack on South Korean banks and media companies in 2013.

In the case of the Sony Pictures hack, which knocked nearly the entire company's system offline, investigators believe that the North had stolen the "credentials" of a Sony systems administrator, which enabled them to spend two months familiarizing themselves with Sony's network and plotting how to destroy files, computers, and systems. The attacks themselves, which Sony first reported to the FBI Nov. 24, are widely considered to be in retaliation for the release of "The Interview," a comedy that features an assassination attempt against Kim Jong Un. Pyongyang has repeatedly denied any involvement in the Sony hack.

Skeptics have cast doubt on the official story that North Korea was behind the Sony hack, with many suggesting a disgruntled current or former Sony employee was responsible. Earlier this month, FBI director James Comey said U.S. investigators were able to trace emails and Internet posts sent by the Guardians of Peace, the group behind the attack, and link them to North Korea.

Comey said most of the time, the group sent emails threatening Sony employees and made various other statements online using proxy servers to disguise where the messages were coming from. But on occasion, he said, they connected "directly," enabling investigators to "see that the IP addresses that were being used to post and to send the emails were coming from IPs that were exclusively used by the North Koreans."

A senior military official told The Times that the evidence against North Korea that was presented to President Barack Obama was so compelling that he "had no doubt" the Communist regime was responsible. The White House has imposed new economic sanctions against North Korea as a response to the cyberattack.

The Times report quotes a North Korean defector as saying that country's military first displayed interest in hacking in 1994, when it sent 15 people to a Chinese military academy to learn the practice. Two years later, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, Pyongyang's primary intelligence service, created Bureau 121, a hacking unit that has a substantial representation in the northeast Chinese city of Shenyang.

South Korea's military claims that the North has a staff of 6,000 hackers dedicated to disrupting the South's military and government. That estimate is more than double an earlier projection made by that country's Defense Ministry.



Police investigate gunshots outside VP Biden's Delaware home

by Randall Chase And Ken Thomas

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - Law enforcement officials have boosted security at the Delaware home of Vice President Joe Biden after several gunshots rang out from a vehicle speeding by the property over the weekend.

The vice president and his wife were not at their Wilmington home Saturday night when the shots were fired and there were no reports of injuries, authorities said Sunday.

Biden's office said the vice president and his wife, Jill Biden, were briefed Saturday night, as was President Barack Obama. Biden's office referred all other questions to the Secret Service. The vice president was set to speak Monday morning in Wilmington at a Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast organized by a minority women's group.

Secret Service spokesman Robert Hoback said the shots were fired at about 8:25 p.m. Saturday on a public road outside the home's secure perimeter. Biden's home is several hundred yards from the road. Secret Service personnel stationed at the top of the long, winding driveway leading to Biden's home heard the shots, saw the vehicle drive past the home at a high rate of speed and flee the scene.

Young Cho, who lives two houses up from the Bidens, told The Associated Press by telephone that he heard several gunshots Saturday evening.

"We heard the shots, four of them," Cho said. "But next door there is always Secret Service so I wasn't too worried. I feel really safe here. But it was really strange, to hear those kinds of shots next to the vice president's house."

Biden's home is nestled in a heavily wooded neighborhood of stately stone-and-brick homes along a curving two-lane road that winds through rolling hills. Biden's home is not visible from the road, but a gatehouse cottage, occupied by the Secret Service, sits just yards from the main road, in front of a driveway blocked off by security vehicles.

Authorities searched outside the Biden residence and nearby homes to determine whether any rounds hit anything. Police said they also received a report of shots fired in the area of nearby Hoopes Reservoir, a source of fresh water for Wilmington.

On Sunday afternoon, half a dozen sport utility vehicles were parked near the entrance of the Bidens' property, providing a heavy security presence.

The shooting occurred just days after the Delaware National Guard increased security at its air base near Wilmington after several incidents in which vehicles approached the main gate before turning around. In several instances, the vehicle occupants appeared to be lost and asked for directions.

The National Guard base is part of a dual-use facility that includes New Castle Airport and which has been used by Biden when he travels to Delaware aboard Air Force Two.

Authorities said about 30 minutes after the shooting near Biden's home, an individual in a vehicle tried to pass a county police officer at a checkpoint set up after the shooting. The person was arrested for resisting arrest, but New Castle County Police spokesman Sgt. Jacob Andrews said it did not appear the man was connected to the shooting.

The Bidens spend many weekends at their Delaware home, and, while he served in the Senate, Biden frequently made a daily commute from Delaware to Washington by train.




Investigation continues into shooting of Okla. chief, bomb threat

Police Chief Louis Ross was shot four times, body armor credited for saving his life

by Darla Slipke

SENTINEL, Okla. — A call to 911 to make a bomb threat against a school in a southwest Oklahoma town was not made from the house where the police chief was shot on Thursday morning, investigators said Friday.

The question of who did make the bomb threat — called in to 911 about 4 a.m. Thursday — remains unanswered.

What is known is that in response to the threat, authorities broke in the door of a house about 6 a.m. Thursday at 205 S 4, where Police Chief Louis Ross was shot three times in the chest and once in the arm by a man in the home.

Ross survived thanks to a bullet-proof vest loaned to him by a sheriff's deputy minutes before the raid, investigators said. He has been released from the hospital.

Friday, an Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation forensic computer analyst examined phones taken from the home, agents said.

OSBI released a statement saying the 911 call "was not made from phones in the possession of those who live inside the home nor any other phones inside the residence at 205 S. 4th in Sentinel."

Sentinel Mayor Sam Dlugonski and a neighbor on S 4 said the man who lives at 205 S 4 is Dallas Horton. Dlugonski said Friday that someone called 911 and used the name Dallas Horton to make the bomb threat.

Investigating authorities have not identified the person who shot Ross but confirmed that the shooter was questioned at length and released after agents determined he was not aware it was officers who had barged into his house.

As of Friday afternoon, no arrests had been made in connection with the shooting or the bomb threat.

"Everything is still under investigation," OSBI spokeswoman Jessica Brown said.

OSBI officials said the man who shot Ross was cooperating with the ongoing investigation.

After the bomb threat was made, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol bomb squad cleared numerous buildings, including the home where the shooting took place, and no trace of explosives was found, OSBI reported.

The threat was made against the Sentinel Community Action Center, Dlugonski said. The building houses the town's Head Start program.

After the threat, Ross and two deputies from the Washita County sheriff's office raided the house on S 4.

Dlugonski said Ross has been the police chief in Sentinel, which has a population of about 900 people, for a little more than a year.

Attempts to reach Horton on Friday were unsuccessful.




Texas prison program aims to produce business-savvy inmates

The Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) is based on a philosophy that making inmates business savvy will reduce the likelihood that they will end up back in prison

by Henry C. Jackson

CLEVELAND, Texas — Standing in a prison chow hall, Richard Chavez Jr. outlines his past: violent felon, former gang member, the fourth member of his family to go to prison. Then his future: owner of a mobile counseling youth service that goes where the troubled kids are.

Arching a tattooed eyebrow, Chavez credits an innovative program run out of the Cleveland Correctional Facility, about 50 miles northeast of Houston, with helping him develop the skills needed to run a business — from character-building and how to carry himself to writing a business plan and finding financing.

"Man, my life was just selfishness," says Chavez, who is serving an eight-year sentence for aggravated assault. "That's all my life was. I had a daughter, a beautiful little girl, and I couldn't do it. I wasn't the father I needed to be. I joined a gang. And, you know, it hurts my heart, to say that. But that was comfortable for me. That was life."

The Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) is based on a philosophy that making inmates such as Chavez business savvy will reduce the likelihood that they will end up back in prison. It emphasizes reforming behavior while also working on a broader goal of reducing the prison population.

With 1.5 million inmates, the U.S. has the world's largest prison population. Costs are soaring at the federal and state levels.

In Texas, it costs about $18,200 a year for each of the 150,000 inmates in a state prison.

Lawmakers in Washington are looking at ways to reduce prison costs, including trimming mandatory federal sentences and creating incentive programs for model inmates. PEP tackles the problem from a different perspective: What happens when inmates are released?

Since it began operating in 2004, the program has graduated more than 1,100 students. About 165 have opened businesses, and at least two are grossing more than $1 million. Within 90 days of their release, nearly all the ex-inmates had found jobs. This year, the program is looking to expand to a prison near Dallas.

But that's not the only way to measure success. PEP's graduates have a recidivism rate of less than 7 percent, compared with 23 percent of the overall prison population in Texas.

The cost to the state: nothing. Operating on about $2 million from private donations, PEP uses a mix of permanent staff and volunteers, including Texas business leaders.

In Washington, the Senate's No. 2 Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, has introduced legislation, sponsored with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., that would require the federal Bureau of Prisons to offer more such programs to inmates. After a visit last year to PEP's Houston office, Cornyn called it as a model worth replicating.

All inmates within the Texas state prison system who have less than four years to serve and were not convicted of a sex crime are eligible for the program. Those who apply face a rigorous interview process. If selected, the inmates are transferred to the Cleveland facility.

In time, inmates essentially will become full-time business students. They will go through course work that is sufficiently demanding that, last year, Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business began awarding a certificate of entrepreneurship to each graduate. Inmates learn how to finance a business, how to market products and how to sell themselves and their stories.

But not before they learn how to get along, and, in some cases, learn how to use a computer. With participants serving sentences that range from a few years to more than 20, tech skills vary greatly.

To break down prison cliques and lingering negativity, the program co-opts the culture. The class gives itself a nickname — "The Transcendent 22," for example. They, the staff, and the regular volunteers also get "sweet names." Bert Smith, CEO of the Houston-based program, is "Chocolate Truffles." Some of the classmates are "Humpty Dumpty," ''Pringles" and "Instant Potatoes."

Arturo Martinez Jr. — sweet name "Selena Gomez"— was convicted of aggravated assault and escape charges. He got his GED while in prison, and "I thought I was set," the 27-year-old said.

But he wanted more and was admitted to PEP.

The classes forced him to look internally and focus on the flaws in his personality. This was nothing like memorizing for the GED.

He was critiqued by his peers. Classmates told him they liked him, but they also said they found him manipulative and self-centered. "You start finding things out about yourself you didn't know," he said.

There are also exercises designed to help inmates put their life in perspective.

On a day when volunteers visit the program, inmates in dark blue jumpsuits and business leaders dressed for work stand on one side of the room, behind a blue line. Smith or another PEP leader reads out a series of personal characteristics such as, "you were raised by a single parent" or "you did drugs."

For each one that applies, participants step toward the line. By the end of the exercise, inmates and business leaders may stand shoulder to shoulder, close to the line. The idea is to dissuade them of the idea that who they are can prevent them from succeeding in business.

Not everything is quite this serious.

There are musical interludes. One day, a DJ plays the "The Chicken Dance" and Smith playfully orders inmates to find a business volunteer to dance with. They do, locking arms and twirling in a circle while clucking at one another.

"Heyyyy," inmates shout.

After a comfort level is established and computer skills are locked in, the program intensifies to 40 hours a week, focusing on business skills.

Paired with a volunteer, inmates work to develop a business idea, determine pricing, financing and realistic growth rates. There are lessons on business jargon, how to sell, the importance of a five-year projection and so on. The process culminates with a two-day business plan contest, where inmates pitch their ideas to volunteer judges. One inmate is selected the class winner.

This is how Chavez, "Sweet Sugar," decided to become a youth counseling entrepreneur.

PEP volunteers encouraged him to make his own story part of his pitch. They helped him find research that showed youth counseling was a potential growth industry in the Houston area. (None of the inmates can use the Internet, so volunteers often provide market data.) Making himself mobile, going to wherever the kids need counseling, was Chavez's tweak.

"Off the Streets Youth Counseling" was born.

A charismatic speaker, Chavez also has a distinct look. In a Texas prison system filled with tattoos, his ink stands out because it stretches across the hairline of his shaved head and all the way down his neck and shoulders. There are tattoos over each eyebrow and all over his arms.

He joined a gang in prison, which gave him friends and protection. Eventually, he said, he thought about his young daughter and pushed himself to change.

The decision wasn't easy. Quitting, he said, meant enduring a brutal beating by former gang members. The threat only eased after he was put in solitary.

After time in a lockup, Chavez saw one of PEP's postcards. He decided to apply. Once he got in and transferred to the Cleveland prison, the structure and the course work made sense to him right away. The mix of discipline and humor was something he had lacked.

His story, he thought, could be an asset.

"I've realized I have to give that away," he said. "It's not meant for me to keep. It's meant for me to tell."

Now Chavez has a business plan. His final proposal seeks about $50,000 in funding. He wants to open in 2020, perhaps sooner if he is paroled.

Entrepreneurship programs such as PEP are especially useful because they equip inmates with a range of skills, said Lois Davis a senior researcher at the RAND Corporation who has studied prison education programs and recidivism. "It's teaching them not only hard concrete skills on the business side of things, but also soft skills that are important."

On graduation day, Cedric Hornbuckle, who completed the PEP program while finishing a term for drug trafficking, tells the current class, "Business is good. This program gave me discipline I absolutely needed."

His business, Moved by Love Moving, based in Houston, is now transitioning into trucking. It also employs a handful of program graduates.

Another PEP alumnus, Charles Hearne, who now works for the organization, reminds the graduates that they will have a network to rely on, including transitional housing in Houston and Dallas, and post-release courses to continue their business education.

Family members watch from rows of folding chairs inside the cavernous prison gymnasium. Small children crawl up and down on chairs, giggling and crying. At the back of the room, there are buffet tables of gourmet cupcakes, high-end snacks and sandwiches.

PEP pays for many of the families to get to Cleveland because it helps close another post-release loop. But there are disappointments. A day before graduation, one family cancels — their car broke down. While several members of Chavez's family, including his mother, do make it, his daughter has to cancel at the last minute.

The graduation ceremony has all the trappings of a school ceremony: a valedictorian and salutatorian, class superlatives and award winners. Inmates have traded drab prison jumpsuits for shimmery, royal blue graduation gowns.

"Pomp and Circumstance" pumps through the gym. John Wesley, also known as "Oompa Loompa," a 28-year-old serving five years for robbery who plans to open a music business, sings a song dedicated to family and teachers. The rest of the class, on and off key, provides backup vocals.

Smith announces the winner of the business plan contest — a company that will service and maintain man-made lakes in the Houston area.

Then, inmates are called to the stage individually and Smith hands each a diploma.

As Chavez's turn approaches, he shows a mix of excitement and been-there cool. He pumps his fist as he walks across the stage.

For the new graduate, opportunity awaits.