February, 2015 - Week 4
Department of Public Safety again warns against Mexico trips
by The Associated Press
AUSTIN — The Texas Department of Public Safety has again warned students looking forward to spring break to avoid Mexico due to drug-related violence.
DPS on Tuesday said the Mexican government has made great strides battling drug cartels. But the public safety agency for Texas also urged travelers to avoid Mexico, based on the unpredictable nature of drug cartel violence.
DPS in past years has raised similar concerns about spring break travel south of the border.
DPS Director Steven McCraw says troopers are preparing for an increase of highway traffic as more students and families take time off for spring break.
McCraw urged all travelers to use care and especially slow down during bad weather, in construction areas and while driving in unfamiliar areas.
What cops can learn from the the 1993 WTC bombing investigation
The pre-9/11 terrorism operational model seen in the Kahane assassination, the World Trade Center bombing, and the New York Landmarks plot shares many parallels with the current environment — the big difference between 1993 and today is that we are now acutely aware of who the jihadists are
by Scott Stewart
On the morning of February 26, 1993, a massive truck bomb ripped a hole almost 100 feet across the B-2 level of the parking garage beneath the World Trade Center's North Tower. The blast wave was so powerful that it penetrated five stories of the reinforced concrete building.
In addition to causing structural damage, the explosion destroyed or heavily damaged hundreds of vehicles parked in the garage. That such a powerful explosion killed only six people is nothing short of miracle, for the attackers had a goal much more grandiose.
They wanted to topple the North Tower onto the South Tower to destroy them both and kill thousands. Had a device of the same magnitude been detonated at street level during rush hour, it would have likely killed scores if not hundreds of people and wounded perhaps thousands more.
From Yemen to New York City
An hour or two after the bombing, I landed in Frankfurt, Germany, on my way back to Washington from Yemen. I was working as a Special Agent for the Diplomatic Security Service investigating a bombing attack against U.S. Air Force personnel in Aden on December 29, 1992, and a rocket attack against the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa in January 1993.
As I stood in the airport terminal looking at the first reports of the World Trade Center bombing, I had no idea the attack was linked to the incidents I had been investigating in Yemen. Later it would be discovered that the same group that conducted the Yemen attacks also bombed the Trade Center: al Qaeda.
I had initially flown to Yemen with a colleague from the explosives section of the FBI laboratory to investigate the strikes against U.S. interests there. We suspected the Libyans might have conducted those attacks after seriously wounding embassy communicator Arthur Pollick in a 1986 shooting in Sanaa and conducting a series of other attacks against U.S. interests around the world.
One of the explosive devices in the Aden attack had failed to detonate, and we wanted to examine it to see if it matched any of the components or bomb-making signatures from devices used in previous Libyan and Libyan-sponsored attacks. However, after examining the Aden device and the manner in which the rocket attack against the U.S. embassy had been conducted, we were fairly certain the attacks were not the work of the Libyan intelligence service or one of its usual proxies such as the Abu Nidal Organization or the Japanese Red Army, also known as the Anti-Imperialist International Brigade.
But the manner in which that attacks were conducted did tell us one important thing: The CIA had trained whoever had conducted them. Several specific elements of those attacks matched techniques I had learned when I attended the CIA's improvised explosive device training course. (Agents assigned to my office attended the bomb-making course because knowing what is required to make a bomb is crucial when investigating a bombing.)
After the CIA station chief assured us that he and his people were not behind the Aden and Sanaa attacks, we concluded that the attackers were most likely Yemenis who had traveled to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet occupation and had received some training from the CIA's Office of Technical Services — or someone it had trained.
So we knew what the attackers were — jihadists who had returned from Afghanistan — we just didn't have a name for them yet. It would be almost a year before I heard the term "al Qaeda" and a several months after that before I realized the term was the name of a group of former mujahideen who fought in Afghanistan and had turned their sights against the United States.
As I watched the newsfeed in Frankfurt, I also had no idea that I would spend the next two years of my life investigating the World Trade Center bombing and the New York Landmarks bomb plot that was connected to it, which targeted the Lincoln Tunnel, the United Nations Headquarters and the Javits Federal Building in Manhattan among other locations. In fact, since I was returning from a 10-day investigative trip in Yemen, I figured that if my office was asked to assist in the investigation, my supervisor would assign another agent to the case.
But I was wrong. When I arrived home February 27, I found a message on my answering machine telling me to pack my gear for an indefinite rotation to New York. One of my colleagues had been designated to run the case, but he had become tied down at headquarters handling the myriad of investigative leads being sent to regional security officers at U.S. embassies around the world, and he had requested that I be sent to New York to help with the investigation.
Initially, the FBI's working hypothesis was that Serbian terrorists had carried out the bombing in revenge for U.S. support of the republics that had broken away from the former Yugoslavia. Regional security officers at U.S. embassies all over the world were pulling visa applications, airline manifests and crew lists of merchant ships with Serbians on board in an effort to identify the potential bombers. I was skeptical of the idea that Serbians carried out the attack, and my previous experience investigating large vehicle bombings by Hezbollah, such as the March 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, led me to suspect that this was another of its attacks. Of course, we would all be proven wrong within a week.
The Crime Scene
I did not deploy to New York alone. The FBI laboratory requested that we transport one of the State Department's EGIS explosive detection machines to the crime scene, and a security engineering officer from the Diplomatic Security Service traveled up to the World Trade Center with me. We arrived in New York at an opportune time on Sunday, February 28.
As I checked in with some of my Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and NYPD friends at the crime scene, they excitedly told me how they had just found the rear differential of a vehicle that showed indications of heavy explosive pitting and gas wash — signs that it had been in intimate contact with the explosives, or possibly was from the rear end of the vehicle used to transport the bomb.
They documented their find and placed it on an ambulance gurney to take it to the NYPD explosives laboratory in hopes of recovering the vehicle identification number from the differential. The sight of a gurney being wheeled out of the parking garage and loaded into a truck led the press to speculate that another victim had been found. It was a good thing the NYPD and ATF personnel had identified and removed the differential Sunday, because on Monday morning, a huge slab of concrete fell from the level above right onto the area where it had been. Had the agents not moved the differential, it might have been buried for some time.
The excitement my ATF colleagues felt over the differential find became somewhat dampened as they learned of events that transpired in Waco, Texas, earlier that day. A group of Branch Davidian members had holed themselves up in their compound and killed four ATF agents during a raid. The next morning, we all reported for work with black bands over our badges to mourn the agents who lost their lives in Waco.
Monday morning was also when we fired up the EGIS machine and ran its collector over several items that appeared to have been in close proximity to the seat of the blast, including a huge steel girder that had been hurled into the Port Authority office where four of the victims were killed. The machine's mass spectrometer showed a substantial spike of some sort of nitrate compound, but the machine had only been programmed to recognize six different common explosive compounds, so it could not identify what it had detected. Laboratory tests would later determine that the main charge was comprised of urea nitrate.
The EGIS machine turned out to be pretty much useless, so I volunteered to help with the rest of the crime scene investigation. I was given a broom and shovel to help the army of police officers and agents working at the site collect bits of rubble, vehicles and other miscellaneous materials so they could be sorted and catalogued at an armory in Long Island. Literally sweeping the crime scene proved to be a long, labor-intensive process.
A few days later, I came off of broom and shovel duty after lab techs were able to pull up the VIN number from the differential and trace it to a Ryder truck that had been rented by Mohammed Salameh. He was known to be a member of a group the FBI had previously investigated as a possible terrorist threat after one of its members assassinated Meir Kahane, the founder of the Jewish Defense League, in a Manhattan hotel in November 1990. Our New York field office was familiar with the group after working with the Manhattan District Attorney's office to investigate overseas leads in the Kahane investigation.
Officers and agents from the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) arrested Salameh at a Ryder rental office March 4. He had filed a stolen vehicle report for the truck and was attempting to retrieve his security deposit. After detaining him, agents and police officers began rounding up his associates identified in the earlier investigation.
One of those associates, Ibrahim Elgabrowny, attacked a colleague of mine from the ATF who was serving a search warrant on his home. Authorities arrested Elgabrowny for assault, and a search team discovered Nicaraguan passports bearing the photos of his cousin, Kahane's assassin El Sayyid Nosair, and his family in addition to Nicaraguan driver's licenses and identification cards. I talked to the JTTF unit supervisor and told him I was confident I had enough to make a passport and document fraud case against Elgabrowny. Because there was no other evidence tying Elgabrowny to the bombing investigation, the JTTF supervisor told me to approach the U.S. Attorney's office to see if it was interested in pursuing the passport fraud case. It was, and Elgabrowny was soon indicted on assault and passport fraud charges.
I quickly developed a close working relationship with the group of assistant U.S. attorneys working the case. They frequently came to me seeking the Diplomatic Security Service's help with some of the more problematic suspects in the World Trade Center bombing case and the connected New York Landmarks plot.
In addition to helping with the successful prosecution of Elgabrowny, Diplomatic Security Special Agents tracked and arranged for the capture and rendition of Mahmud Abouhalima, who had fled the United States after the bombing. We also uncovered sufficient evidence to help tie Ahmed Ajaj to the conspiracy and found critical information that helped the U.S. Attorney convince the U.S. Attorney General to allow the indictment of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman. I developed a visa fraud case against Rahman so he could be arrested if acquitted on the seditious conspiracy charges, and we also obtained an indictment for Abdel Basit, also known as Ramzi Yousef, for passport fraud and captured him in Pakistan.
In retrospect, Nosair's assassination of Jewish Defense League founder Meir Kahane was the first notable grassroots jihadist case in the United States. When the FBI infiltrated a group of Nosair supporters, it judged them to be inept and not posing a serious threat. The 1993 World Trade Center case serves as an example of how seemingly bumbling grassroots jihadists or "Kramer Terrorists" can become quite deadly when they link up with a highly trained terrorist facilitator who can lead and organize them. After learning lessons from this case, today, even when a group appears to be somewhat inept like the group of Nosair supporters, the authorities must go after them as hard as they can with whatever charges available instead of just writing them off.
The pre-9/11 terrorism operational model seen in the Kahane assassination, the World Trade Center bombing, and the New York Landmarks plot shares many parallels with the current environment. It is far harder for jihadist groups such as al Qaeda or the Islamic State to conduct a 9/11-style attack using highly trained operatives dispatched from overseas to conduct attacks in the United States and the West. The big difference between 1993 and today is that we are now acutely aware of who the jihadists are, be they members of al Qaeda, the Islamic State or other organizations. We also know what they believe and have a clearer idea of their capabilities. There is much more emphasis on countering the threat than there was in 1993. Security agencies also have more resources now.
Finally, my involvement in the investigation of the 1993 bombing gave me a profound sense of the sheer magnitude of the events that occurred on 9/11. I had seen firsthand how a large truck bomb that caused substantial damage in the parking garage had little impact on the twin towers themselves. Seeing the towers completely destroyed was something almost impossible for me to imagine.
I am person with a sheepdog-like wiring that gives me a deep need to protect others, and the time I spent working in the bowels of the World Trade Center and the many months of effort I put into helping catch and prosecute those responsible for the attack also gave me a special affinity for the buildings. Watching the Twin Towers fall on live television impacted me in a deep and personal way — and I am sure that my colleagues from the wide array of agencies involved in the 1993 investigation shared those same feelings of disbelief, grief and shock. New York and the country have moved on from the loss of the World Trade Center, but even today, there is a hole in my heart when I gaze at the Manhattan skyline.
About the author
Scott Stewart is STRATFOR's VP of Analysis. He is a former Diplomatic Security Service Special Agent who was involved in hundreds of terrorism investigations, most notably the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the follow-on New York City bomb plot investigation, during which he served as lead investigator for the U.S. State Department. He led a team of Americans who aided the government of Argentina in investigating the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, and was involved in investigations following a series of attacks and attempted attacks by the Iraqi intelligence service during the first Gulf War.
NCJJ Report Shows Juvenile Crime Keeps Falling, But Reasons Elusive
by Matt Smith
The latest comprehensive survey of the U.S. juvenile justice system paints a mixed picture of troubled youth even as the numbers of teens in the system continued a long decline.
Juvenile arrests for violent crime have dropped to a 30-year low, and fewer teens are being locked up than at any time in nearly 20 years, the National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ) found in its latest periodic national report on offenders and victims. The number of killings committed by youth under 18 is at the lowest point in at least three decades, the authors write.
“Rather than in years when the story was “Oh my God, look at how high the numbers are,' now it's the reverse — ‘Oh my Lord, look at how far they've dropped,'” center director Melissa Sickmund said. The decline in arrests “has rippled through the system,” meaning fewer youths end up in residential placement — “particularly the types of residential placement that are the sort of upper, deep end, more like prison kind of places.”
The 244-page report includes data on arrests, commitment and detention up to 2010. It's the first such report since 2006 by the NCJJ, the research arm of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.
Of a juvenile population of more than 74 million, 1.6 million were arrested in 2010, down 21 percent from 2001 to 2010. About 1.4 million of those cases went to court.
One reason for the decline may be that there's more attention being paid to child welfare before a boy or girl ends up in the system compared to previous decades, Sickmund said. And the increased cost of juvenile detention has led states to consider alternatives to traditional punishment, she said.
Jeffrey Butts, who leads the Research and Evaluation Center at the City University of New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the figures reflect a long-running decline in juvenile crime since a peak in the mid-1990s, but doesn't address the reasons behind that fall.
“It appeals to policymakers and elected officials to think that states are getting better due to their own efforts, but crime is coming down everywhere,” said Butts, himself a former NCJJ analyst. “The real question is not who's responsible and why did this happen, but if it does not continue to come down, what do we do in terms of policy and practice?”
Sickmund said perhaps the question researchers should ask isn't why arrests and delinquency fell, “but why was there that blip where it went up in the first place?”
“I think it's returning to a normal state and something weird went on between the mid-'80s to 2000-something,” she said.
Though the data is now more than 4 years old, the report provides a broad, comprehensive snapshot of juvenile justice — particularly when looking at the numbers of children who have been victimized, said Amanda Petteruti, a senior research associate at the Washington-based Justice Policy Institute.
“The way that they really did a deep dive on who is experiencing crime and who is a victim, that's important work,” Petteruti said. “Our community is thinking more and more about the intersection between young people who are victimized and young people who come in contact with the juvenile justice system.”
About 4 percent of children are abused or neglected, the report found; nearly half had been exposed to some sort of bullying or assault in the past year, and 10 percent suffered injuries as a result, the study found.
About a quarter of the nation's known victims of serious violent crime are children, mostly girls, the center found — about the same as in the previous report, in 2006.
And despite the decline in arrest rates seen in the report, wide disparities in the percentages of African-American and Latino teens in the system remain when compared to whites.
The number of youth transferred to adult courts and prisons remains higher than in the early 1990s, before a spike in crime prompted many states to make it easier for teens to be tried as adults.
And the number of girls arrested has reached a two-decade high. Females were 28 percent of delinquency cases in 2010, a 69 percent increase since 1985. But that may have more to do with changes in police policies and courtroom practice: Until recently, a male defendant was more likely to get committed to custody than a female, Butts said.
“Especially if the judge is a little older, they would tend to think, ‘We've got to send this young lady home,'” Butts said. “I think that inbred sort of deference to gender is decreasing, and so that explains some of the shift.”
And Sickmund said schools and police respond more aggressively to misbehavior among girls than in previous decades. Girls who once might have received detention for a fight now face the possibility of arrest, she said.
“The whole tolerance for misbehavior has changed,” she said.
From the Department of Homeland Security
Remarks by Secretary Johnson and FEMA Administrator Fugate on DHS Funding Impacts on State and Local Law Enforcement and Emergency Responders
Secretary Jeh Johnson: Good afternoon everybody. Over the last few weeks I have outlined the consequences of a failure to fully fund The Department of Homeland Security with a full-year appropriations bill for fiscal year 2015. We have stressed that shutdown of the department means that almost 200,000 people will be required to come to work without pay during the period of a shutdown. We have stressed that 30,000, approximately 30,000, DHS employees will be furloughed, including most of our headquarters staff. We have stressed that as long as the department is on a continuing resolution we cannot pay for added border security necessary for the southern border. Last week I issued a statement about the drawbacks of being on a continuing resolution to maritime security if we're not properly funded. Yesterday I was honored to stand with former Secretaries Ridge and Chertoff while they talked about the importance of a fully-funded Department of Homeland Security.
Today, I am sending a letter to our Congressional leadership outlining the real, concrete impacts to homeland security and public safety in the event of a government shutdown of our department. Today now I also highlight the impact of a shutdown of homeland security or an extension of the continuing resolution on the heroic men and women of state and local law enforcement, emergency managers, first responders, firefighters and their ability to protect and serve the public.
I am pleased to be here with first responders from the Commonwealth of Virginia, including the Virginia state police and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, officials of police, sheriffs, fire departments, emergency management officials from Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax counties including Fairfax Battalion fire chief Chris Schaff. From here in Washington D.C., Metropolitan Police Department Assistant Chief Lamar Greene, Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Chris Geldart and Washington D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Chief Eugene Jones. Representing the International Association of Fire Chiefs, Chief Marc Bashoor of Prince George's County Fire EMS Department. Representing the Major Counties Sheriffs' Association Sheriff Rich Stanek, Hennepin County Sheriff's Office in Minnesota. Representing Police Executive Research Forum Executive Director Chuck Wexler and representing the International Association of Chiefs of Police Deputy Executive Director Gwen Boniface. Also, publicly supporting our position is the Fraternal Order of Police. I also appreciate the statement issued yesterday by the Commissioner of the New York City Police Department Bill Bratton about the importance of a fully-funded Department of Homeland Security.
Much of the Department's mission is fulfilled through grant-making activity at about 2.3 billion dollars a year. Through our grants we assist the people you see on this stage in preventing, responding to, or recovering from, terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies. For example, when I was at the Super Bowl late January for the security briefing I received just days before the Super Bowl, officials at the operations center pointed out to me that all of the communications and surveillance equipment that I saw was paid for by grants from the Department of Homeland Security. If you look at photographs of the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, much of the first responder communications equipment, portable radios, fire helmets, high-visibility vests, response vehicles, life-saving equipment and mass causality supplies were things paid for by grants from the Department of Homeland Security. Our Emergency Management Performance Grants contribute 50 percent of salaries of state and local emergency managers in 58 jurisdictions. Our staffing for adequate fire and emergency grants, also known as “SAFER grants,” fund the salaries of over 1,800 firefighters throughout the country in places such as Detroit, Phoenix, Miami-Dade and Jersey City. None of this, because we're on a continuing resolution, is being funded right now.
This is not just an inside-the-beltway political jousting. A failure to fund the Department of Homeland Security fully has real impacts on public safety and the jobs of people like you see up here on this stage across every reach of this country. Every mayor, governor, police chief, sheriff and police commissioner, fire chief and emergency manager should be concerned about this. Every mayor, governor, police chief commissioner sheriff should be concerned about a failure to fund the Department of Homeland Security. There are just 34 hours left. Time is running out.
Our grants are funded by FEMA, and to provide a little more detail about the impact of the failure to fund the people in this room I'd like to call upon Administrator Craig Fugate. Thanks Craig.
Administrator Craig Fugate : Thank you Secretary.
It's really hard to describe the impacts because it's hard to show other than a dollar figure in Washington D.C., a top-line number that is being held up under the CR. The people here represent the reality that disasters happen. It is the local responders, properly prepared, trained, and equipped that make the difference in what oftentimes will be an emergency and not grow to being a disaster.
The ability to prevent and interdict terrorist threats, the ability to manage emergencies at their level. There are events that have been occurring since we have made investments since 9/11 in local response that historically required a much larger federal presence that they're able to manage with the resources that they have built from this. But like many programs, when people look at dollar figures, they forget this is a perishable capability. You have to continue to train, equip, and maintain the capability we build as a nation. So while most people look at this top-line numbers, they forget it's the people that are standing in here, that every day when 9-1-1 is called, respond, and that these funds have built capacity and capabilities beyond which we had when 9-11 struck.
That is a perishable commodity.
Delays in funding will begin to erode this capability and begin to erode the needs that communities have to be more self-sufficient with these dollars. So as the Secretary said, this is a timing issue. The longer we delay the funding, the more capability will begin to erode. We've spent a lot of money and time to build this - we should not go backwards delaying the funding.
Secretary Johnson: Alright we'll take a few questions.
Question: Mr. Secretary, yesterday you said that you were confident and optimistic that they were going to be able to come to an agreement. Do you still feel that way today?
Secretary Johnson: I agree things seem to be moving in the right direction, but there's also a timing issue. There's just 34 hours left before midnight Friday when funding for our Department runs out. I'm continuing to urge members of Congress to come together as quickly as possible and pass a clean appropriations bill for our Department.
I was up there today, I'm going back to the Hill this afternoon, I was up there most of the day yesterday. I have to be optimistic. I have to be optimistic for our people; I have to be optimistic for the people up here on this stage with me. And so I do believe that Congress will come together and finally fund our Department.
As I said a moment ago it's not just a matter of funding our Department, it's a matter of funding the important and heroic work of people like you see up here on this stage. I'm optimistic and I have to be optimistic.
But I'm gonna keep fighting. Alicia?
Question: In the past we've heard Doomsday scenarios, with the government shutdown a year and a half ago, the sequester before that, that didn't pan out. Whether it be line in airports, or security threats at the border, is there a tangible example you can point to where those previous incidents have hindered would it be a security or response you fear will be replicated should this go past...
Secretary Johnson: Well, I'll give you one example.
First, let me preface this by saying that in my public statements and sessions like this and in my meetings with members of Congress I have endeavored to be factual about the impact of a shutdown, the impact of continuing to be on a continuing resolution. I don't want to engage in demagoguery, rhetoric, flowery language, I don't want to overstate things, but we have to be factual.
So in a series of statements like today, I think it's important for the American public to understand that this is not just an inside the beltway political debate.
If we fail to fund this Department it has consequences well beyond what's happening in Congress right now, well beyond the political debate. And so I've endeavored to be factual and I think I have been.
One of the things that come to mind, Alicia, with your question is in 2013 our Department was shut down for 17 days. We had to furlough a lot of headquarters personnel. There are things that should have been done in those 17 days that we're not accomplished that we have not been able to get back on track since that period of time.
The other thing I'll say is that any time you ask people to come to work without pay, even though they may eventually get paid, and they miss a paycheck or two, that creates anxiety within their families. It creates anxiety about the certainty of their jobs, I think a lot of people take that for granted. And so that has a lasting impact in my view.
And so that's one of the reasons why Craig and I and other senior leaders of the Department have been so forceful about the impacts of a shutdown because it affects our men and women, it affects the people who work every day to protect the homeland, to promote public safety and I think that they deserve a lot better from their political leadership in Washington then the plight that we're in right now.
Question: Can you explain your optimism when things in the House aren't looking as clear? I know you lobbied the Senate very heavily, but now there's a clean bill that might go through the House. So what's the optimism there?
Secretary Johnson: Like I said, I'm optimistic because I have to be. And because I believe that most members of Congress when they appreciate, and I think a lot of them do, when they appreciate the consequences of letting funding for homeland security in these challenging times lapse, the consequences to public safety, the consequences to homeland security, the consequences to our counterterrorism, border security, maritime security, aviation security efforts, cybersecurity efforts, that they will come together and figure this out.
Very few people on Capitol Hill in Washington want this debate, very few people want us to be in the situation that we're in. And for that reason I think, and I hope, that we will find a way out of this. But I'm going to continue to stress every day the importance of funding this Department, the importance of funding the work of the people we see here on this stage.
So I'm optimistic, but not without a fight. And so that's what we're doing today.
One more question. Yes, ma'am?
Question: If you could address for a moment some concerns people have with this funding. Um, a federal court in Texas vs. United States has said giving an illegal alien a social security number is not an act of prosecutorial discretion. What specific law gives the President the authority to give a social security number to a foreign national in the country illegally?
Secretary Johnson: Well, that's a case that's on appeal right now. We disagree with the district court's decision, but that's what appellate courts are for. We've appealed the decision, we're asking for a stay of injunction. We went to the district judge first and the matter will be resolved in a few days. And so that's in litigation. I believe that the injunction will be reversed in a matter of time.
Okay. Thank you very much. Thanks for attending.
And thank you all very, very much. Appreciate it. Thank you for the work that you do.
Emanuel creates new deputy chief position to 'cement' community policing
by Fran Spielman
Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Friday created a new position — deputy chief of community policing — to “further cement” a program that his challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia claims has suffered from Emanuel's failure to honor his campaign promise to hire 1,000 additional police officers.
Emanuel announced the new position during a news conference with Police Supt. Garry McCarthy called to showcase the promotion of four new deputy chiefs, one commander and five captains.
The new deputy chief will “further cement the expanded role community policing and neighborhood partnerships have taken” under Emanuel and work with the Patrol Division and CAPS personnel to better coordinate community policing initiatives, the mayor's office said.
The statement claimed Emanuel has strengthened community policing by moving hundreds of officers from desk jobs to street duty, expanding neighborhood foot patrols and bike patrols, creating CAPS offices in each of the 22 police districts, and implementing new community organizing training programs for officers.
Garcia's campaign manager Andrew Sharp dismissed the new deputy chief as window dressing.
“What's missing from the mayor's crime strategy is not one police officer. It's 1,000 police officers. Where are the 1,000 police officers he promised? I don't think adding one is going to stop the shootings,” Sharp said.
“The mayor has had four years now to implement effective policing strategies and stop the shootings. Instead, he's cut the number of police and failed to fully fund community policing. We've had 10,000 shotings under his watch. The question voters are deciding now is, do we want to have another 10,000 shootings over the next four years. Because the one thing this mayor has told people repeatedly is that he doesn't change.”
Emanuel campaigned on a promise to hire 1,000 additional police officers, then revised the pledge after taking office by adding 1,000 more “cops on the beat,” more than half of them by disbanding special units. The other half were primarily officers working desk jobs reassigned to street duty.
The mayor also balanced his first budget by eliminating more than 1,400 police vacancies, declaring an end to what he called the annual “shell game” of budgeting for police jobs the city had no intention of filling.
When shootings and murders spiked and Chicago started making headlines as the nation's murder capital, Emanuel used runaway overtime to tamp down the violence — to the tune of $100.3 million in 2013 and $95 million last year.
Garcia has vowed to deliver on Emanuel's broken promise to hire 1,000 additional officers — and considered it so important, he made it a cornerstone of his television commercial.
He has argued that moonlighting police officers working ridiculous amounts of overtime get burned out. They also don't know the neighborhoods they parachute into and don't build the kinds of ties to the area that are needed to rebuild trust between citizens and police, Garcia said.
“He said he'd bring in 1,000 new police officers. That never materialized. They played some games about numbers and moving cops from desks to the street but it's not fulfilling the promise that was made. The police department is still understaffed and we need to get it up to better levels to improve community policing,” Garcia told the Chicago Sun-Times on the day he unveiled his plan to combat crime.
Two years ago, Emanuel and McCarthy called community policing — when done right — a “force multiplier” and tried to breathe new life into Chicago's once-vibrant but then-stagnant CAPS program.
They moved 50 community policing employees from police headquarters to districts and placed the entire program in the hands of Chief of Patrol Joe Patterson.
Patterson was taking over from Ron Holt, the police officer father of Blair Holt, a 16-year-old gunned down in 2007 by a reputed gang member who opened fire on a CTA bus crowded with students on their way home from Julian High School. Ron Holt shifted his focus to victims assistance.
Instead of dictating “cookie-cutter” CAPS programs from downtown, Emanuel said district commanders would customize programs to attack local problems, foster relationships with residents and businesses using social media, and be held accountable under the CompStat evaluation system used to hold everybody else's feet to the fire.
The mayor's plan called for every district to be assigned a CAPS sergeant and two police officers, along with a community organizer. It also said every district would have access to a youth service provider and area coordinator.
Four citywide coordinators were supposed to oversee community policing programs with a particular focus on seniors, youth, domestic violence and victims assistance.
Every police officer was to be trained in community policing strategies, including “procedural justice and police legitimacy.”
Under community policing, citizens and police work together to identify neighborhood problems that can breed crime and to solve crimes.
At the time, Emanuel and McCarthy acknowledged that they were not increasing the community policing budget, nor were they restoring overtime to attend beat meetings and CAPS events.
“Why should we be paying officers overtime to do their job?” McCarthy said on that day.
“Community meetings are now being attended by officers who work in that beat. I don't understand why it has to be an on-duty, off-duty issue. They're working. They should be there.”
The mayor added, “We have the same budget, but it's applied differently. You can have the same 50 people. But if they're in the downtown headquarters, they're not doing community policing, and they're not helping a commander focus on the community. . . . I believe 50 community policing officers working in individual districts is a better application of those resources than sitting down in headquarters shuffling paper.”
CPD renewing focus toward community policing
by Craig Wall
CHICAGO -- Officer Quincy Jones has been working beat 333 in the South Shore neighborhood for the last six months. On Friday, he was visiting businesses on his beat, touching base and building connections.
It comes on a day when Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy announced a new Deputy Chief for Community Policing.
“Revitalizing community policing is the foundation of our public safety strategy,” said Mayor Emanuel.
His challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia's campaign called the move window dressing and said Emanuel has failed to fulfill a campaign promise to add 1000 officers to the force.
Politics aside, officers like Jones are just trying to do their part.
“It's a great feeling helping someone with their problem, or making them feel safe around the community, so I think all officers like that, helping out the community,” Jones said.
Working the beat and building connections is particularly important this year in the 3rd District where robberies, batteries, burglaries and thefts are all up, year to date, compared to 2014. Jones makes it a point to stay in contact with many business owners or managers.
“Some of the business store owners do have my personal cell phone number, just cause if they have a problem like kids hanging around, or maybe towards the end of the day they might not feel comfortable coming out of their business so I might swing by, if I'm not too busy I might swing by, make sure they close their business and get to their car safely,” Jones said.
In the 3rd district, beat officers are making strides as they make connections, all with the goal of making the South Shore neighborhood safer.
Mina Juarez, Papa John's Manager
“They're always here when we need them,” said Papa Johns manger Mina Juarez, “we had an incident but it was taken care of, they found the perpetrator, everything was good.”
Juarez added that seeing the officers in her area makes her feel safer. And that's the goal of the program which Superintendent Garry McCarthy credits with helping reduce overall crime in Chicago by 40 percent in the last four years.
'Jihadi John': Eric Holder Says US 'Working On' Ways to Kill or Capture Him
by PIERRE THOMAS, MIKE LEVINE, JACK CLOHERTY and JACK DATE
The U.S. government has been “thinking about” and “working on” ways to either kill or capture the ISIS propagandist known as “Jihadi John,” the nation's top law enforcement official says.
Over the past year, as it has been wreaking havoc in Syria and Iraq and recruiting tens of thousands of fighters from around the world, ISIS has released several videos online showing the man with a distinctly British accent standing beside hostages from the United States and elsewhere as they were being beheaded.
“I think there is something to be said for holding accountable [and] getting at the people who are responsible for these barbaric acts,” Attorney General Eric Holder told ABC News' Pierre Thomas in what is likely to be one of Holder's last TV interviews before stepping down.
The BBC and Washington Post Thursday identified “Jihadi John” as Mohammed Emwazi, a college graduate with a degree in computer programming who grew up in a part of London described by some as working class. He reportedly left for Syria in 2012 and then joined ISIS.
In the interview with ABC News, Holder refused to confirm those reports, insisting nothing “would be served” by revealing the true identity of the masked man.
“It would cut back any of the operational possibilities we have been considering,” Holder added.
Nevertheless, asked whether he can guarantee “Jihadi John” will face justice, Holder said: “The vow that I can make to the American people, along with our allies, is that we will hold accountable all of the people who have been responsible for these heinous, barbaric acts. ... That is something that we are focused on each and every day.”
President Obama echoed those sentiments, saying the United States is “consistent and we are patient.”
“Eventually, if you hurt an American, you are going to be brought to justice in some fashion,” the president said in an interview Thursday with ABC News' Seattle affiliate, KOMO-TV. “I'm confident we will get the job done. ... It will take a little bit of time but in the end, this death cult that has developed there ... is a dead end.”
Chicago PD denies paper's claims of 'black site'
British newspaper that alleged people have been illegally detained, beaten and denied access to counsel in a Homan Square facility
by Jeremy Gorner and Meredith Rodriguez
CHICAGO — The Chicago Police Department in a statement Tuesday night denied accusations in a story by a British newspaper that alleged people have been illegally detained, beaten and denied access to counsel in a Homan Square facility.
The Police Department issued a statement in response to the Tuesday story in The Guardian. The department said violence does not happen as a part of interviews with suspects or anyone else and that lawyers have access to any clients at the West Side facility. The site also houses the department's Bureau of Organized Crime, SWAT unit evidence technicians and the CPD ballistics lab, the department said.
"CPD abides by all laws, rules and guidelines pertaining to any interviews of suspects or witnesses, at Homan Square or any other CPD facility," department spokesman Martin Maloney said in a statement. "If lawyers have a client detained at Homan Square, just like any other facility, they are allowed to speak to and visit them. It also houses CPD's Evidence Recovered Property Section, where the public is able to claim inventoried property."
The British newspaper's story, which describes the Homan Square facility as being akin to a CIA black site, quoted a few attorneys and Brian Church, who was part of the so-called NATO 3. That three men were convicted last year on explosives charges, not more serious state terrorism charges, on allegations that they made crude Molotov cocktails in the lead-up to the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago.
Church is quoted as saying he was handcuffed for 17 hours and interrogated by police at the Homan Square facility while being denied access to an attorney. Church and two others received sentences ranging from five to eight years.
The story characterizes the facility as being "off the books," but in his statement, Maloney said, "There are always records of anyone who is arrested by CPD, and this is not any different at Homan Square."
"The allegation that physical violence is a part of interviews with suspects is unequivocally false," Maloney said. "It is offensive, and it is not supported by any facts whatsoever."
Smart policing? Why NYPD's 'closed eyes' tactic is anything but
Suggesting that officers should put themselves in danger by literally taking their eyes off what they're doing is ludicrous at best and possibly criminally negligent at worst
by Doug Wyllie
Police officers working for the venerable NYPD have been instructed to close their eyes during tense, potentially violent situations. According to the New York Post one cop who attended this patently stupid (and dangerous) “training” said that officers were “given breathing exercises to learn how to calm down” and told that when they get into a heated situation, cops should “take a step back, close your eyes and take a deep breath.”
Okay, how about this: This “advice” has been presented to some 4,000 police officers, and will reportedly be taught to some 16,000 more as part of a $35 million “smart policing” primer that includes pearls of wisdom such as giving cops breath mints to “help them quit cursing the way a smoker kicks the habit” and spraying protesters with baby oil to get their linked arms apart — cops would reportedly use rubber gloves so their grip would not be affected.
You Cant' Fix Stupid (But You Can Counter It)
You can't make this stuff up. While it sounds like a typical headline you'd find around here every April Fool's Day, this story is — unfortunately — all too real.
The NYPD program was dreamed up by Michael Julian, a goofball department bigwig — the Post's words, not mine — who was hired in late 2014 as the department's deputy commissioner of training. Two months later he was “promoted” to deputy chief of personnel (hopefully, a position in which he can do less damage).
As utterly ridiculous as Julian's program in New York is, there are numerous tried-and-true ways in which law enforcement officers can — and do — train to be safer and more successful on the streets. Let's just consider the ideas of of closing your eyes and breathing deeply. Note that both of these exercises happen in the safety of the squad room or the agency's in-service training facility — not out on the street.
1. Close Your Eyes: Have you ever seen video of the Blue Angels meeting around a conference table before they perform an airshow? Each of them has their eyes closed as they listen to the commander call out every maneuver. This powerful visualization tool can be employed with the when/then thinking you may already perform at your locker before heading to roll call.
2. Breathe Deeply: There are myriad ways in which officers can employ autogenic breathing — sometimes called combat breathing — in training. For a breathing exercise that actually can help on patrol, try practicing autogenic breathing while “code 3” in a driving simulator. You can even do this exercise with just an audio tape of sirens blaring (once again, with your eyes closed!).
“Learning self-calming and relaxation techniques should be part of every officer's training — but not for use on the front line,” said Chief (ret.) Joel Shults. “Preparation for violent confrontation requires readiness, not relaxation. Reducing the brain's ability to make quick decisions in volatile environments ignores the science of human capacity.”
Lieutenant (ret.) Dan Marcou added, “Teaching autogenic breathing — sometimes called survival breathing — is a valuable technique, but telling a police officer to close his or her eyes, during a tense situation on the street is inviting them to die in the dark.”
Back out on the street, when facing the type of heated situation for which Julian suggests an “eyes closed” tactic, officers should employ tactical communications (Verbal Judo or similar techniques) while rapidly assessing the subject for non-verbal pre-attack indicators like gnashing of teeth, clenching of fists, and glancing in search of either weapons or escape. Breathing calmly plays a factor in this, but certainly not the closing of one's eyes.
There was one element to the NYPD training that may actually have some value. It's been reported that attendees to the seminar were shown the scene from the 1989 movie ‘Road House' in which Patrick Swayze's character gave the sage advice, “Be nice — until it's time to not be nice.”
As PoliceOne Contributor Charles Humes has observed, officers should “treat people with courtesy, respect, and be nice — until/unless they choose to not be treated nicely. When they make the choice to not be treated nicely, you simply respond as appropriate. From verbal direction right up to deadly force, it's always the contact's choice on how the situation develops.”
Let's Dispense with the... Breath Mint, Please!
Following the grand jury rulings in the deaths of Michael Brown (Ferguson) and Eric Garner (New York), politicians from around the country have come crashing down on law enforcement agencies with demands that American policing be “reformed” somehow. Suggesting that officers should put themselves in danger by literally taking their eyes off what they'd doing is ludicrous at best and possibly criminally negligent at worst.
Already, there is valid concern among many law enforcement professionals that the Ferguson case may cause officers to hesitate in the application of deadly force.
Private enterprises have sprung up to hawk products which they allege will magically reduce the frequency (and/or relative danger) of police use of force incidents. Such ideas will put officers (and, ultimately, the innocent, law-abiding public) in danger — a society that fails to support its police should be prepared to submit to its criminals.
“Police all over the country have shown amazing restraint and professionalism,” said Shults. “Refining officers' ability to cope with disorder is laudable, but of all the problems taxpayers could invest 35 million dollars on, this isn't one of them.”
It's possible that when the instructors in New York City said “close your eyes” they meant it metaphorically, but from what I've been able to glean (from the information presently available) no such disclaimer was articulated. The fact that this has reportedly become part of the training regimen for NYPD begs a potentially bigger question: If it can happen there, can it happen elsewhere?
Sadly, probably, yes.
Have you heard about a proposed post-Ferguson training idea which should be tossed immediately into the circular file? Sound off in the comments area below.
About the author
Doug Wyllie is Editor in Chief of PoliceOne, responsible for setting the editorial direction of the website and managing the planned editorial features by our roster of expert writers. An award-winning columnist — he is the 2014 Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" winner in the category of Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column — Doug has authored more than 800 feature articles and tactical tips on a wide range of topics and trends that affect the law enforcement community. Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers' Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA). Even in his "spare" time, he is active in his support for the law enforcement community, contributing his time and talents toward police-related charitable events as well as participating in force-on-force training, search-and-rescue training, and other scenario-based training designed to prepare cops for the fight they face every day on the street.
Resources for Crime Victims
by Jean Reynolds
Communities throughout the US will be observing National Crime Victims' Rights Week (NCVRW) from April 19 – 25 this year. Local observances are held across the country, thanks to partnerships between numerous criminal justice agencies, community groups, and private victim rights organizations like the National Organization for Victim Assistance. The week is also marked by the Attorney General's National Crime Victims' Service Awards Ceremony in Washington, D.C. to honor individuals and organizations that demonstrate outstanding support to victims.
NCVRW was established by Ronald Reagan in 1981 to kick of a national effort to provide expanded services for victims of crimes. In 1982 Reagan signed Executive Order 12360, which established the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime. Ever since then, a week in April has been set aside to focus attention on crime victims' rights and the urgent need to provide quality services for victims.
Crime Victims' Rights Week is sponsored by the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), an office of the United States Department of Justice. According to the OVC, this year's theme—Engaging Communities. Empowering Victims—“emphasizes the role of the entire community, individually and collectively, as we support victims of crime and empower them to direct their own recovery.”
Anyone can download the 2015 NCVRW Resource Guide to learn how to host and promote local NCVRW events. Posters and a DVD are also available free. The Guide is a comprehensive handbook with an astonishing range of resources. Its most obvious purpose is to help communities assist victims of crime—but the guide also provides useful information about preparing a speech, working with local media, and developing relationships with agencies, community organizations (such as libraries, churches, schools) and professionals in various fields (healthcare, legal services, counseling, etc.). All materials are in the public domain, so no fees or copyright permissions are need. Spanish-language materials are available.
The main focus, of course, is victims' rights and services. Topics covered in the NCVRW Resource Guide include:
historical overview of victims' rights and services
a sample proclamation
tips for customizing materials and working with a local printer
tips and templates for engaging with media (op-ed column, letter for a newspaper opinion page)
sample press release
suggestions for creating buttons, logos, and magnets
instructions for creating a QR code (a square barcode posted in public places that allows quick scanning for information via a smartphone)
tips for using social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube
sample PowerPoint template
ideas for special events (displays, candlelight ceremonies, billboards, art exhibits, live performances)
a month-by-month list of crime-related observances throughout the nation that could inspire local observances
To learn more and obtain free materials:
Jean Reynolds, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of English at Polk State College, where she taught report writing and communication skills in the criminal justice program. She is the author of ten books, including Police Talk (Pearson), and she publishes a Police Writer Newsletter. Visit her website at www.YourPoliceWrite.com for free report writing resources. Go to www.Amazon.com for a free preview of her book Criminal Justice Report Writing. Dr. Reynolds is the police report writing expert for Law Enforcement Today.
3 arrested in New York City for allegedly conspiring to support ISIS
by Edmund DeMarche
Three New York City residents -- two with Uzbekistan citizenship, and one a citizen of Kazakhstan -- plotted to travel to Syria to join ISIS militants and 'wage jihad,' the Justice Department announced on Wednesday.
One of the defendants also offered to kill the president of the United States if ordered to do so, the criminal complaint alleged.
The men were identified as Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, 24, a resident of Brooklyn and a citizen of Uzbekistan; Akhror Saidakhmetov, 19, a resident of Brooklyn and a citizen of Kazakhstan; and Abror Habibov, 30, a resident of Brooklyn and a citizen of Uzbekistan.
Saidakhmetov and Juraboev appeared in federal court in Brooklyn late Wednesday. Both were ordered held without bail on charges of attempt and conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization. During the arraignment Assistant US Attorney Douglas Pravda said both suspects confessed post-arrest that they wanted to travel to Syria to wage violent jihad.
Habibov appeared in federal court in Florida earlier Wednesday and was also held without bail.
Federal prosecutors say two of the men came to the attention of law enforcement last summer after they expressed online support for the groups. Hilofatnews.com was an Uzbek-language website that called for readers to join the terror group, the complaint said. Authorities were able to link Juraboev to the post, the complaint said.
In August, federal agents met with Juraboev and he spoke of his hopes of fighting with the terror group in Iraq or Syria, the complaint said. He also allegedly mentioned to the agents that he hoped to harm President Obama because of 'Allah.'
"Juraboev added that he would also plant a bomb on Coney Island if he was ordered to do so by ISIS," the feds charge.
Saidakhmetov was arrested early Wednesday at John F. Kennedy International Airport as he tried to board a plane headed to Istanbul, authorities said. Juraboev had plane tickets for March 29 and Habibov helped fund Saidakhmetov's trip, the complaint said.
Authorities have a recorded conversation where Saidakhmetov expressed interest in joining the U.S. military, the complaint said. He allegedly said he could offer information to Islamic militants or open fire on American troops to kill as many as possible.
According to the complaint, Saidakhmetov was recorded in January saying, "I will just go and buy a machine gun, AK-47, go out and shoot all police."
The two had hopes of joining the terror group and--if their travel plans were dashed-- had intentions to commit terror in the U.S., the complaint said. Saidakhmetov--if prevented from joining the terror group-- wanted to purchase a machine gun and shoot law enforcement, the complaint said.
Saidakhmetov allegedly said, "It is legal in America to carry a gun. We will go and purchase one handgun...then go and shoot one police officer...Boom...Then we will take his gun, bullets and a bulletproof vest...then we will do the same with a couple others. Then we will go to the FBI headquarters, kill the FBI people..."
They were officially charged with conspiracy to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.
The three are expected to appear in court today.
"We will vigorously prosecute those who attempt to travel to Syria to wage violent jihad on behalf of ISIL and those who support them," U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch said in a statement. "Anyone who threatens our citizens and our allies, here or abroad, will face the full force of American justice."
Reuters reported that there are ISIS-related investigations in all 50 states.
How Trayvon Martin's Death Sparked A Movement
Three years later, 'Trayvon is the most well-known martyr of our generation.'
by Gil Kaufman
Driving around his hometown of Miami on Wednesday night, 29-year-old Phillip Agnew didn't feel safe. He never does. Not unless he's in his own neighborhood.
“If an officer pulled up right now I'd be afraid,” he told MTV News. “Just like I have been ever since I first started driving.”
Three years after unarmed 17-year-old high school student Trayvon Martin was fatally shot by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, Agnew still can't help looking over his shoulder.
Young black men — including Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland — have continued to meet violent deaths since the morning of February 26, 2012, when Zimmerman claimed he acted in self-defense after Martin attacked him.
Still, something has changed.
“Trayvon Martin was, I believe, the beginning of a heightened awareness of violence against youth,” Daryl Parks, an attorney whose firm represents the Martin family, told MTV News in a phone call on Wednesday. “It brought to light the issue of gun violence, but also it began the whole awareness of all life matters. And that's an issue that for so long as a country we have struggled with.”
And if Agnew has his way, the generation of teen activists he's training will stop penning eulogies and start start organizing for a better future.
A Death That Brought A Movement To Life
“The conversation now is, ‘Do we have the right to live in this country?' ” said Agnew, one of the co-founders of the Florida-based social justice group Dream Defenders, which organized after the Martin case. “It's a sad thing to be discussing in a land that is supposed to be one of democracy … but people are in a place where they're saying, ‘We're not going to take it anymore.' ”
Agnew knows that he and his 100-plus team of young volunteers (some as young as 15 and 16) can't be on the street every minute to save every person who has a potentially deadly interaction with authorities. After the Martin case, though, he's seen a major shift. And the group is channeling that newfound hope into grassroots organizing, town halls and trainings from Orlando to Tampa and Tallahassee to Ft. Lauderdale.
‘Trayvon is the most well-known martyr of our generation.'
On July 13, 2013, a jury acquitted Zimmerman of second-degree murder and manslaughter charge. This week, the Justice Department announced that there wasn't enough evidence for a federal hate crime prosecution. But on the third anniversary of Trayvon's killing, Parks and other activists on the ground in Florida believe that there's reason to have hope — and to stay vigilant.
Parks said Martin's death sparked a movement that continues today in the “hands up” protest against the killing of 18-year-old Brown by a Ferguson police officer and the “I Can't Breathe” mantra spawned by the death of Eric Garner at the hands of a Staten Island, New York, police officer.
“I think the story is bigger than that community [in Sanford],” Parks told us. “It just happened to be where it happened.”
“People are becoming more active and proactive so we can save lives instead of eulogizing people,” Agnew agreed. “Trayvon is the most well-known martyr of our generation. … He died because of the color of his skin, and the people that came out of that movement will never forget his name, his face … Skittles and iced tea. It is imprinted in all our collective memories.”
It Will Happen Again, But This Time The Streets Are Watching
Last summer, Parks joined Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, and the parents of Mike Brown to the United Nations, where the families testified before panels on racial discrimination and torture.
He said the testimony on a world stage were major moments in the movement to end violence against young black men. Even so, he and Agnew aren't under the illusion that the struggle is over. Just this month, police in Miami Gardens killed 25-year-old Lavall Hall, who officers said attacked them with a broom stick.
“It might happen again, but if it happens again, and it will, at least there's an awareness now that people are a bit more focused on the loss of life and what it means,” Parks said. “People who commit these atrocities now know that there is someone who might do something about it.”
The Way Forward
At a time when hashtag activism is easy, Agnew is pushing for a change that he hopes will uplift a generation and get them to use their phones and their voices.
And that, for him, is the true legacy of Trayvon Martin, who would have turned 20 this month.
Bin Laden Documents Reveal Planned Attacks on Russia, Britain
Correspondence between Osama bin Laden and his terror chiefs have emerged for the first time, which refer to planned attacks against Russia, Britain and Europe.
Letters between Osama bin Laden and his terror chiefs have emerged for the first time, referring to planned attacks against Russia, Britain and Europe, news reports said.
The top secret documents were reportedly captured during a US Navy Seal raid on Bin Laden's Pakistan home in 2011, and are known as part of a "treasure trove" of correspondence between al Qaeda leaders.
The documents were presented during the New York trial of 28-year-old Pakistani student Abid Naseer, who was extradited from the UK in 2013 and is accused of orchestrating multiple attacks in Britain. Naseer, who denies all the charges, is facing life in prison if convicted.
In one of the letters read in court, Bin Laden allegedly ordered attacks on the UK and Russia, which prosecutors said refers directly to Naseer.
In the letter to Bin Laden, the author reportedly says that "brothers" had been dispatched to Britain, Russia and Europe but that some of them had been arrested.
Another letter refers to a "faltering United States", saying that "by God we shall not stop by His will, except at the doors of the White House and to raise the banner of monotheism on their so called Statue of Liberty."
During the Tuesday trial, the court heard evidence from British security service agents who reportedly wore wigs, false beards, make-up and eyeglasses to disguise their identities.
Berkeley council refers community policing package to city manager
by Emilie Raguso
The Berkeley City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to ask the city manager to assess a long list of issues related to community-police relations and bring back a report on potential associated costs and related efforts that are already underway.
The broad package includes everything from changes in the way police handle the handcuffing and searches of people they stop to more training for police in racial sensitivity.
No action will be taken until the city manager's office brings back the report, which is expected to take a significant amount of time.
“This is an enormous to-do list for the staff,” said Councilman Laurie Capitelli. “This is not weeks and weeks of work. This is months and months and months of work.”
Council voted earlier this month to support, in concept, having Berkeley police wear body cameras. The city manager's office is also doing a cost analysis of that change, in addition to the cost of outfitting police cruisers with dashboard cameras.
Numerous members of the public testified before council Tuesday night about the need for changes due to what they believe is the disparate treatment of black people in the community as compared to white members of the public during police stops and in other contexts, such as municipal employment practices.
Some said they believe they were stopped for no reason other than race, or shared stories of interactions with police they thought had been influenced by the color of their skin. One woman said her son, who is white, had been found drinking with friends at Tilden by police. He had a gun in his pocket, but police simply drove him home.
“I was dumbfounded,” she told council. “And he even said to me afterwards, ‘I know, mom, if I had been black, I would have been put in jail.'”
Added Barbara White, a board member from the Berkeley NAACP: “People have to be seen as human beings and not dehumanized because of the color of their skin.”
Mansour Id-Deen, who runs the Berkeley NAACP, described the “over-policing in South Berkeley” as “horrendous.”
“I live in South Berkeley. I work in South Berkeley,” he said. “I've witnessed far too many incidents.… We certainly need to put an end to it.”
Speakers also referenced the police-related protests in Berkeley in December and said the city needs to take decisive measures to deal with issues of racial profiling, as well as disparities in the treatment of city employees who feel they have been limited in their career opportunities due to race.
Berkeley resident George Lippman, who serves on both the Peace & Justice and Police Review commissions, told council that the city needs to create “a broader racial justice plan for Berkeley to address underlying problems of disparities that go far beyond simply the problems with policing in Berkeley.”
At one point in the meeting, Mayor Tom Bates tried to streamline the list, to remove items he said he did not see as feasible as well as others he said were already being addressed. Other council members pushed back, and told him they thought it was too soon to remove any of the items from the list.
Councilman Max Anderson drafted his own suggestions for how the city should address perceived racial inequities in Berkeley after he said an earlier document failed to tackle the issue head on.
“The depth of this problem, it's deep, it's long, it's longitudinal,” he said. “If we don't craft responses to it that truly address the problem, we kick the can down the road.… We must seek to really address the problem and reverse some of the trends that we almost uniformly recognize are counterproductive and alienating to our people.”
In addition to the consideration of changing police practices regarding searches and handcuffing prior to arrest, Anderson also said the city should consider increasing its funding for mental health services and the creation of a task force to address ideas surfaced in January at a town hall meeting, as well as numerous suggestions that have come in recent years from the Berkeley NAACP to address racial disparities.
Anderson said, too, that it will be important to look closely at the police department's Drug Task Force (DTF) to assess its practices and procedures, and whether significant changes need to be made to that body.
“The presence of DTF officers, driving in unmarked vans and dressed in paramilitary clothes, is perceived by many in the Black community as ‘menacing, threatening, and dangerous,'” he wrote. “The tactics of police stops are even more frightening to many witnesses.”
Anderson said he also hopes the city can consider strengthening the Police Review Commission to allow the panel to be more effective.
Elliot Halpern of the Berkeley/North East Bay chapter of the ACLU told council it will be critical for Berkeley to make changes: “Do whatever you have to do, but these issues have to be dealt with.”
No federal charges in Trayvon Martin shooting
George Zimmerman, the former neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot Trayvon Martin in a 2012 confrontation, will not face federal charges, the Justice Department said yesterday.
The decision, announced in the waning days of Attorney General Eric Holder's tenure, resolves a case that focused on self-defense gun laws and became a flashpoint in the national conversation about race two years before the Ferguson, Mo., police shooting of Michael Brown.
Zimmerman has said he acted in self-defense when he shot the 17-year-old Martin during a confrontation in a gated community in Sanford, Fla., near Orlando. Martin, who was black, was unarmed.
Once Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder by a state jury in July 2013, Martin's family turned to the federal investigation in hopes that he would be held accountable for the shooting.
That probe focused on whether the killing amounted to a federal civil-rights violation, which would have required proof that it was motivated by racial animosity. Although Martin's parents have said Zimmerman initiated the fight, the Justice Department said there was not enough evidence to establish that Zimmerman willfully deprived Martin of his civil rights or killed the teenager because of his race.
Zimmerman's attorney, Don West, was unavailable to comment on the decision.
Martin's parents were too distraught after their meeting in Miami with Justice Department officials to speak with reporters, said their attorney, Ben Crump.
States predict inmates' future crimes with secretive surveys
Lengthy questionnaire is the latest tool among the nation's court systems to try to predict the likelihood that an offender will commit a crime again
by Eileen Sullivan and Ronnie Greene
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — On a hot Friday last July, a parolee was mowing a lawn in a small cul-de-sac on the west side of the city when he stopped to ask for a glass of water.
The 70-year-old widow whose yard he was mowing told him to wait on her porch. Instead, she said, he jerked the storm door open, slammed her against the wall, forced her into the bedroom and raped her. The parolee pushed her with such force, she said, that her front teeth were knocked loose.
Then he went back to mowing the lawn.
Milton Thomas, 58, said he's not guilty. His trial is set for March.
Thomas has been in and out of Arkansas prisons since 2008 for nonviolent crimes, including check fraud. After he got out in November 2013, the state predicted he was a low risk to commit another crime, Thomas said, and assigned him the least amount of supervision.
His low-risk prediction would have been calculated based on answers to a lengthy questionnaire, the latest tool among the nation's court systems to try to predict the likelihood that an offender will commit a crime again.
Across the country, states have turned to a data-driven movement to drive down prison populations, reduce recidivism and save billions of dollars. One emerging practice is the use of risk-and-needs assessment tools, which are questionnaires that explore issues beyond criminal history. They are based on surveys of offenders making their way through the justice system.
In a country with the highest incarceration numbers in the world, these questionnaires are a pillar of a new effort to get people out of prison. Repeat offenders are a major driver of bloated prison populations. But an Associated Press examination found significant problems with the surveys, which are used inconsistently across the United States, sometimes within the same jurisdiction.
Supporters cite some research, such as a 1987 Rand Corp. study that said the surveys can be up to 70 percent accurate in predicting the likelihood of repeat offenses, if they are used correctly. Even the Rand study, one of the seminal pieces of research on the subject, was skeptical of the surveys' effectiveness.
It's nearly impossible to measure the surveys' impact on recidivism because they are only part of broader efforts.
These assessment surveys, used for crimes ranging from petty thievery to serial murders, come with their own set of risks.
Many rely on criminals to tell the truth, though jurisdictions do not always check to make sure the answers are accurate.
The surveys are clouded in secrecy. Some states never release the evaluations, shielding government officials from being held accountable for decisions that affect public safety.
Some have the potential to punish people for being poor or uneducated by attaching a lower risk to those with steady work and high levels of education.
The surveys can include more than 100 questions and explore a defendant's education, family, income, job status, history of moving, parents' arrest history, or whether he or she has a phone. A score is affixed to each answer and the result helps shape how the defendant will be supervised in the system.
"How easy would you say it is to acquire drugs in your neighborhood?" a convicted thief could be asked.
"How many prior sex offense arrests (with force) as an adult?" a sex offender could be asked. A bubbled answer sheet lists options ranging from zero to more than three.
The idea is to use data about past offenders to predict what current defendants with similar backgrounds might do when released from prison. A major push is to free up parole and probation officers to focus on those more likely to reoffend, instead of lower risk inmates.
"It is a vast improvement over the decision-making process of 20, 30 years ago when parole boards and the courts didn't have any statistical information to base their decisions on," said Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project at the Pew Charitable Trusts, which is working with the U.S. Justice Department on changes to the prison systems nationally.
Cost savings are significant. In Arkansas, a prisoner costs the state $63 a day. A parolee costs $2.
But the sexual assault case in Little Rock also points to shortcomings.
Before Thomas was released, the parole board assessed him as a high risk to commit more crimes. But a second risk assessment, conducted by the state's community supervision agency, found him to be a low risk, Thomas told the AP. Thomas said he has no recollection of answering questions from the lengthy survey.
Not only were Thomas's contradictory assessments never explained, but after he was arrested on charges of raping Diana Miller, he was assessed again. The AP doesn't identify victims of sexual assault, but Miller, now 71, agreed to be identified by her middle and married names because she said it is important for her story to be told.
Stunningly, Thomas' risk-rating decreased after the rape charge.
The reason for the difference? The state couldn't figure out how old Thomas was when first arrested, according to Solomon Graves, a member of the state parole board.
In June 2013, Thomas said he wasn't yet 25 when first arrested, a high-risk factor, Graves said. The following year, Arkansas criminal history reports listed Thomas as having been in his late 30s when first arrested, so Thomas's risk-rating was lowered. In a letter to the AP, Thomas said he was 19 when he was first arrested.
The calculations for determining probation conditions are often just as bewildering.
In February 2014, an Arkansas consultant said a majority of male parolees and probationers were classified as low risk by the state's Department of Community Correction but 46 percent were rearrested within 18 months — "creating a potentially dangerous situation for public safety," consultant JFA Associates LLC concluded.
"Virtually any recidivism reduction plan can be helpful," said U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., who favors changes in prison policies.
Scott co-sponsored legislation in the last Congress that called for using risk assessment surveys for the federal prison population. "I think you ought to have some assessment and do the best you can and keep updating it based on the research. But you ought not be afraid of a system that's working on average because of one anecdote."
"Garbage In, Garbage Out"
Jurisdictions use dozens of different surveys that vary in the kinds of questions asked and how they are used. The Justice Department is helping bankroll this movement by providing millions of dollars to help states develop and roll out changes.
"We really consider them to be a cornerstone or a foundational piece of what we can accomplish," said Ruby Qazilbash, associate deputy director for policy in the Bureau of Justice Assistance.
The goal is ultimately to save money, since states and counties spend some $92 billion a year on corrections.
But in most cases, the surveys can only work if the rest of the judicial system is working properly.
In September, that gap played out in a juvenile courtroom in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
There, a teenager faced sentencing for a charge of aggravated battery with bodily harm stemming from an incident one year earlier over a neighbor's dog. The neighbor let his dog out without a leash, and the barking dog ran toward the teen's father. The teen's dad told the dog to go away, upsetting the dog's owner. Curses and threats followed. The dog owner walked away, then turned back toward the teen's dad and took his shirt off. When the teen's father called the police, his son joined the fracas and stabbed the dog owner, police said.
The teen was given a 128-item questionnaire called the Positive Achievement Change Tool, or PACT, standard for juvenile cases in Florida. He was deemed a low risk to commit further crimes. The AP does not generally name juveniles charged with crimes.
The survey asked about his history of school expulsions, views on the value of education, whether his parents had been arrested and whether his friends had committed crimes.
One answer helping earn him the low score: getting credit for having a good group of friends.
But when the prosecutor, Maria Schneider, dug into the defendant's background, she found that his circle of "friends" had attempted a drive-by shooting of his house because they said he owed them money.
The assessment "is completely flawed," Schneider said in court. "They were obviously depending just on the information this young man was providing himself," she said.
She believed the teen was moderate to high-risk, worthy of detaining under a residential program. The judge sentenced him to such a program, where teens are supervised 24 hours a day, but not held behind bars. At low risk, as the survey suggested, he would have received probation.
The case is a perfect example of "garbage in, garbage out," Schneider said in an interview. "I continue to see where the PACT does not reflect the reality."
Corrections systems always have been plagued by inaccurate information, said Sean Hosman, founder of Assessments.com, the company that, in collaboration with Florida, fashioned the survey.
Even so, he said, the assessments are an improvement over past practices and help defendants get a fair shot.
"Too often," Hosman said, "we would do a gut check or you'd use intuition ... or assess them based on the color of their skin, or the fact that we knew their brother and they went through here before."
In California, a public defender in San Joaquin County, Christine Kroger, said she is not seeing much improvement. She has had trouble even getting access to the surveys conducted on her juvenile clients.
"You feed all this information into a computer and it spits out what should happen to this child," Kroger said.
In Kentucky, the surveys have helped decide which defendants should be released before trial, said Ed Monahan, Kentucky's public advocate.
In his state, Monahan has seen a 3 percent increase in the number of defendants released before trial with "no adverse consequence to appearance or criminal behavior."
These tools are also used by the parole board, but Monahan said he has been less impressed with the outcomes.
Of inmates who were eligible for parole and assessed to be a low risk of committing future crimes, only 60 percent are being released, Monahan said. "Millions of dollars that could be saved there — that's not being done," he said. The state's parole board did not respond to questions about the discrepancy.
Questions of Potential Bias
The surveys have been largely confined to parole and probation decisions, but they increasingly are being used for sentencing.
One 2013 study said at least one court system in 20 states is using these questionnaires at some stage of sentencing. In some states, such as Michigan, the tools are used statewide.
Offenders in Michigan have been assessed since 2007 when they go to prison. Now the risk assessment is incorporated into a report given the judge before sentencing. Among the 135 questions:
—In the last 12 months before this incarceration, how often did you move?
—Was one of your parents (or parent figure who raised you) ever sent to jail or prison?
—In the last couple of years before this incarceration, how many of your friends/acquaintances had ever been arrested?
Sonja B. Starr, a University of Michigan law professor who wrote the 2013 study, said the surveys could punish people for being poor.
"They are about the defendant's family, the defendant's demographics, about socio-economic factors the defendant presumably would change if he could: Employment, stability, poverty," Starr said. "It's basically an explicit embrace of the state saying we should sentence people differently based on poverty."
In a sense, the justice system has taken a page from the insurance industry, using data to assess risk.
"This is a way to put a blood pressure cuff on the guy and say, 'This is what the data show. Now what are we going to do for the patient?'" said Thomas A. Powell, a forensic psychologist in Vermont, which uses an assessment tool called VASOR for sex offenders.
The Justice Department's position on the tools has been inconsistent. On one hand, it's funding them, and on the other, the department is putting on the brakes.
"Criminal sentences must be based on the facts, the law, the actual crimes committed, the circumstances surrounding each individual case, and the defendant's history of criminal conduct," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in August. "They should not be based on unchangeable factors that a person cannot control, or on the possibility of a future crime that has not taken place."
The Justice Department cautioned the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which sets national policies, about relying too much on the new surveys. But jurisdictions are sorely tempted to test new systems that could save billions.
For instance, North Carolina could save $560 million by 2017, a Justice Department report concluded. Between 2011 and 2014, the North Carolina prison population decreased by more than 3,000 people, according to the state. Overhauls, including the use of risk assessments, have saved the state nearly $84 million, and it plans to use $32 million of those savings for community treatment programs.
A Low-Risk Serial Killer
Texas has been widely praised for overhauling its prison system — including use of surveys — in ways that helped drive down prison populations by more than 9 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to the Texas state figures.
The case of Darren Vann, however, exposed deadly flaws.
In 2004, Vann, then 33, grabbed an ex-girlfriend in a chokehold, doused her with gasoline, threatened to light her on fire and dragged her through an alley, according to court documents. He spent about one month in jail. His charge was downgraded to a misdemeanor, and he was sentenced to a year in jail, which he served on probation. The original presiding judge in his case was kicked off the bench about six months after Vann's sentence because of a backlog of cases, the state's supreme court said.
Vann violated his probation in 2005 and was to spend 12 days in jail. But it was unclear whether he did. Court records show a hearing scheduled for November of that year was canceled.
Four years later, Vann landed in jail again, this time for raping a woman in Austin, Texas.
When he completed his sentence in 2013, Texas performed an assessment on Vann, as it does on all sex offenders. Vann refused to take the three surveys that Texas typically uses. An employee filled out a 10-question survey, called Static-99R, to score Vann's likelihood that he would commit another sex crime. Vann scored a 1 — the lowest risk — on a scale of 1 to 6. His assessment predicted only a 3.8 percent chance he would commit a future sex crime in the next five years.
But that was only if the answers to the questions were actually true.
One of the questions asked whether Vann had a previous sex offense. Because Texas had no record of his 2004 crime, a criminal history check noted in the survey indicated he had a clean record.
Had Vann scored higher on the Static-99R, Texas would have sent postcards to the community where he was living — if he was living in Texas. But Vann moved to Indiana after his release.
About one year later, 19-year-old Afrika Hardy was found dead in a Motel 6 bathtub 20 miles southeast of Chicago.
Vann had found her through an online escort ad, calling himself "Big Boy Appetite."
According to police, Vann said he had sex with Hardy on Oct. 17 then things got rough. Wearing white gloves, he strangled Hardy with his hands and an extension cord, he told investigators. Vann was arrested after police traced him through cellphone records.
In custody, Vann confessed to the killing, and also told police he murdered six other women, directing them to abandoned homes in Gary, Indiana, where the bodies lay. Under a pile of tires and teddy bears at one home was the body of 35-year-old Anith Jones, who had gone missing earlier that month.
It was unclear how many of the women had died after Vann had taken the Static-99R.
Experts say that the risk-and-needs assessment tools should be evaluated every few years. Texas, which started using the instrument that evaluated Vann in 2000, is just now doing this, state spokesman Jason Clark said.
"States and localities and all the jurisdictions that are working on risk assessment right now, they're in different places with respect to their ability to implement a good risk assessment," Gelb said. "But it's absolutely critical that they do."
With more than 2.2 million people in jails and prisons across the country, the U.S. leads the world in incarceration, ahead of both China and Russia, according to the International Centre for Prison Studies. Successful changes in some states means lawmakers are considering changes for the federal system, too.
"We know that our prisons are overcrowded, and pretty much everyone agrees that recidivism, the percentage in which people repeat crimes, is way too high," said U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. He cited a national recidivism rate of about 68 percent within three years, a figure from a 2014 Justice Department estimate of prisoners released in 30 states.
Cornyn and U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, reintroduced legislation this month that would require the use of a risk assessment tool in the federal prison system.
"We' can't simply incarcerate our way to public safety," Whitehouse said. "We have to be smart."
There is a separate bill in the House that would also require risk assessments for the federal prison population.
Which risk assessment survey would be used and how it would be applied is a subject of debate.
Despite problems with the tools in Arkansas, the Justice Department in 2013 heralded the changes the state made to its corrections system.
Arkansas state Sen. David Sanders, however, said the changes have made the community less safe because it pushes responsibility to the parole and community supervision systems.
"Our parole system is absolutely dysfunctional," said Sanders, an outspoken opponent of some of the changes in corrections policies made in Arkansas. He is pushing for more transparency about the use of the survey tools.
Even those who advocate for surveys acknowledged that they are imperfect.
Graves, the Arkansas parole board member, said that over time the tools will become more dependable.
"We're never going to have a 100 percent predictive tool," he said. "We'll never be there."
Compassion Fatigue Rampant in Youth Service Industry
by Matt Smith
Maybe it starts as an extra drink after work — you know, just to take the edge off. Or an extended gripe session at lunch.
But maybe it stretches out into a long silence after dinner. An explosive snarl at a minor snag. The odd nightmare. And maybe — just maybe — it starts coming into the office as a vague sense of dread or pointlessness, a late start here and there, an urge to dodge co-workers or clients.
For workers in fields like juvenile justice and youth welfare, gazing into the abyss of someone else's trauma every day can start taking a bite out of their own psyche. It's called “compassion fatigue,” and it's increasingly being recognized as a hazard in the social services workplace.
Christina Clarke, the head of continuing medical education at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina, called it “the cost of caring for others in emotional and physical pain.”
“Can we walk through water without getting wet?” Clarke asked. At some point, the immersion in someone else's hurt starts to take a toll — and no one is completely immune.
“It attacks the very core of what brought us into this work — our empathy and compassion for others,” Clarke said. Left unaddressed, it can lead to cynicism, damaged relationships, depression and stress-related illnesses, she said.
Clarke spoke at a recent seminar on the issue put on by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Another presenter, ToriShana “TJ” Johnson, said working with troubled children and teens “weighs heavy on your heart, and it can affect your ability to deal with stress if you don't have the appropriate resources.”
“We must learn to unplug from work, and this is very difficult for the individuals who are very dedicated to the work that they do,” Johnson said.
Researchers began to identify the problem as an offshoot of studies into post-traumatic stress among Vietnam veterans, said Brian Bride, who has studied compassion fatigue since the early 1990s. It's relatively common and fuels high turnover rates in social service agencies, he said.
“With social workers, probably 10 to 15 percent at any given time have relatively severe compassion fatigue,” said Bride, the head of the School of Social Work at Georgia State University. “I've looked at sex abuse counselors, that's at 20 percent. Among the highest are child protective service workers who work with [victims of] sexual assault, physical assaults, and that's about 33 percent.”
Others show symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety, said Bride, who developed a 17-question survey to measure those impacts in the late 1990s.
There's a high correlation between compassion fatigue and ordinary job burnout, but burnout is more of an organization issue.
“Burnout seems to be a reflection of tension between resources and the amount of work that needs to be done, and then working with difficult populations contributes to that,” Bride said. “Whereas with compassion fatigue, the real causative factor is hearing the stories of trauma.”
Excessive venting can make things worse, Johnson said. It's not unhealthy to discuss a problem with coworkers — but once the problem is aired, the talk should turn to solutions.
“What you're doing is reliving that incident, reliving those same issues,” she said. “And then your emotions are actually intensified and heightened, and you're back to where you were, if not worse than when you first started discussing the situation.”
So a certain degree of compassion fatigue may be inevitable. However, researchers have identified a variety of ways to beat back its advance.
Be aware of the symptoms. They can range from physical ailments like headaches and upset stomachs to insomnia, irritability and excessive drinking or smoking. Those can not only hurt performance, but can endanger safety, Clarke said.
Seek support. People in the same field are likely to have faced similar problems and may have helpful advice, Johnson said. Ask about employee assistance programs. Family can help; and don't hesitate to see a counselor or therapist.
Practice self-care. Make sure you're maintaining boundaries between your professional and personal life, Clarke said. Diet, exercise and hobbies can help take your mind off the stress; so can a spiritual component.
And finally, take a break. Working harder under stress “doesn't make it easier to cope with,” Clarke said; “In fact, it worsens the situation.”
“Whatever you choose to do — whether it's prayer, meditation, being one with nature — something that gives you a sense of peace is important to your mental capability and your mental and emotional stability,” Johnson said.
And volunteering in the community can help, but avoid causes similar to your job: “You don't want to actually contribute to compassion fatigue because of the type of volunteer activity you decide to participate in,” Clarke said.
Don't just take 10 outside, take a “mental health day” once in a while, or take your vacation time.
“We need to be able to listen to our bodies, understand it's OK to take a breather,” Johnson added. “When we continue to ignore warning signs, the mental and physical effect of compassion fatigue can be very detrimental to our health.”
Teen Siblings Create App to Monitor Police Interactions With Civilians
by Stell Simonton
ATLANTA — Three Georgia teens have created an Android app called Five-O to document police abuse of authority that has been downloaded more than 10,000 times. The three are now at work on an iPhone app.
Ima, 16, Asha, 15, and their brother Caleb Christian, 14, developed the app in response to the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in August. The teens, who live in Stone Mountain, near Atlanta, had been concerned about police interaction with young black men long before that.
“We had been hearing about all of the cases [of shootings of young African-Americans] many months before the Trayvon Martin incident,” Ima said. “We've had family members who've gone through similar incidents.”
Their app, available from the Google Play Store, lets users document interactions with police — whether good or bad. The app aggregates the police reviews for each county.
Users can check a local area to see incidents reported there and view an overall grade for police in the area.
The teens hope good reviews will provide motivation for law enforcement to treat people well and motivate entire police departments to improve.
The three have a solutions-oriented approach.
“We were all comfortable with the idea of creating something using computer science and using code, so the idea of developing an app wasn't that unusual for us, especially when we started thinking of how we could solve a problem,” Ima said.
Their mother, a manager at technology company EarthLink, had encouraged them from an early age to learn programming.
They were introduced to computer science in an after-school robotics program and played with Scratch in middle school. Developed at MIT Media Lab, Scratch allows users to create animated characters and move them around using simple drag-and-drop functions. Offered free online, it helps kids learn to reason and think creatively, according to the website.
Designed for kids 8 to 16, it can be used at home, at school and in informal learning environments.
The siblings say most of their coding experience took place outside school, although Ima and Asha took some computer science and web design courses in high school and a summer course for teens on building Android apps at Georgia Tech.
On their own, the three scoured YouTube tutorials and did Google searches to find information.
“It was a climb to get there, but it's really fulfilling once you build the app and see your product,” Caleb said.
The siblings have two other apps listed on their Pinetart Inc. website.
The Five-O app also has a Know Your Rights section, which answers questions users might have, such as “What should I do if officers come to my house?”
“Ask them if they have a warrant,” Five-O advises.
The app is named after a slang term for police popularized by the 1970s TV show “Hawaii Five-O.”
In DeKalb County, Ga., where the siblings live, the police get a grade of C on Five-O.
The reviews on Five-O for this area include:
Aug. 1, 2014
Dekalb county sheriff's dept served a warrant at my apartment at 2AM in the morning. I refused to open door until 911 confirmed that officers were legit. We did not recognize anyone by the name given to us. Officers were polite and courteous but my kids and I were still scared.
Aug. 15, 2104
Pulled over by ga state trooper for expired tags … he was cool … half way decent
“You just have to identify a problem in the field that you're interested in and start thinking about solutions,” Asha said. “That was the first step for us.”
Researchers Find More than 1 Million Youths in Gangs
by Gary Gately
More than 1 million youths in the nation are gang members — more than triple the number estimated by law enforcement, according to a new study that shatters some long-held beliefs about gangs.
The study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, refutes the notions that gang members are overwhelmingly black or Latino males and that once youths join a gang, they cannot leave.
Lead author David Pyrooz, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, said gang members come from all backgrounds. The study found about 40 percent are non-Hispanic white, Pyrooz said, with the remainder disproportionately black and Latino.
He said another misperception suggests that when youths join a gang, they stay in it, when actually the turnover rate in a one-year period is about 36 percent.
“The public has been led to believe that gang members are black and Latino males and that once someone joins a gang, they cannot leave a gang, both of which are patently false," Pyrooz said.
The study also found about 30 percent of gang members are female.
Pyrooz noted the National Youth Gang Survey by the U.S. Justice Department puts the number of youths in gangs at only about 302,000.
But, the study said, “The population of juvenile gang members to date has been grossly under-recognized.”
The study, now appearing online and to be published in the print edition of the Journal of Adolescent Health in March, noted that law enforcement agencies put the cutoff age higher than the study, which tallied youths ages 5 to 17.
Law enforcement, the study said, puts more emphasis than the study did on older gang members and those involved in violent acts in determining the total number of gang members.
And while law enforcement relies on several factors, such as participating in violent acts or wearing gang colors, the researchers in the new study determined gang membership solely by youths identifying themselves as gang members.
“We're picking up on this sort of dark figure of this hidden population of gang members in the U.S. that just aren't going to be identified in law enforcement databases,” Pyrooz said.
“These are the guys who are more peripheral to the gang. They aren't necessarily involved in deep-end gang activities, whereas law enforcement is picking up on those guys who are the deep end, those individuals who are committing crimes at high rates. They're involved in lots of violence. They're extremely embedded in the gang, hanging out on more of a daily basis, whereas we think we're picking up on the entire picture as opposed to just that core element of the gang population.”
Pyrooz said most youths who join gangs do so at around ages 12 or 13, and the peak age for gang membership is 14.
The study called for more preteen efforts to prevent gang membership.
Pyrooz pointed to the nationally recognized Gang Resistance Education and Training program, which he called “one of the only programs that's ever been identified to prevent gang membership.”
The program helps counter some of the ways gangs entice youths to join.
“They tend to sell gang membership as being something that's very attractive, something that can give you protection if you're the kid getting bullied on the schoolyard,” Pyrooz said.
“If you're the kid who doesn't have money, it can give you opportunity to sell drugs. It can give you opportunities to make money other illicit ways. If you don't have a girlfriend, it can give you a chance to meet girls. If your life is boring, it's fun. It gives you excitement.”
But the consequences can be devastating: becoming a victim of violence, getting arrested, getting involved in substance abuse, practicing unsafe sex, dropping out of high school and facing severely limited job or career opportunities
Tod W. Burke, a professor of criminal justice at Radford University in Radford, Va., praised the new study.
“It's a super-interesting study. I think this is something that the community, law enforcement and other agencies should look at,” Burke said.
“I think this is promising in that now we really should be devoting our resources not so much for the older gang members, but let's look at prevention measures for the young, without ignoring the older ones as lost causes.”
The study is based on interviews with a nationally representative sample of more than 6,700 youths.
Community and Tulsa police discuss relationship, community policing and their future partnership
TULSA - Tulsa police and many residents agree: More can be done to foster their relationship to ensure the trials seen between police and communities across the country do not translate here.
It's been a little more than six months since the shooting of Michael Brown. The unarmed teen's death led to nationwide protests with chants of "Hands Up. Don't Shoot." In the months since, outrage and confrontation between law enforcement and the public has become common place, especially in the wake of further violence.
In Cleveland, protests took place across the city after the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. He, too, died after being shot by a police officer.
In New York, Eric Garner's death following a scuffle with police left a lasting impression on the community. His last words as he was choked by officers: "I can't breathe." A grand jury decided against indicting the officers involved. In retaliation, a man brutally shot and killed two NYPD officers in what has been described as an execution while the officers sat in their patrol car.
The events of the last six months have shined a spotlight on the relationship between cops and their communities, regenerating a dialogue about how the two can and should coexist.
In Tulsa, according to Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan, that relationship is strong. He says TPD's participation in January's Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade is just one example of that.
"For our police officers to walk in the MLK Parade and to have applause all the way through and to have people yelling 'Thank you TPD' was so uplifting to our police department and it was such a commentary on our community," said Jordan.
While many people 2NEWS spoke with across the Tulsa metro are confident in this relationship, there are other citizens who have filed complaints against officers. The most common complaints, which TPD provides in yearly reports, are excessive force and violation of procedure or issues of public relations.
COMPLAINTS FILED BY CITIZENS AGAINST TPD
Despite those complaints, Jordan thinks the overall relationship between Tulsa's police and citizens is a good one.
"(People in the community) recognize that there's always problems between the police and the community but that they're going to stand with us and support until we get it worked out, and I'm just so appreciative of that."
Community outreach, like participation in the parade, is one aspect of community policing, which Jordan says is how the department can sustain a positive relationship with the public.
"Community-style policing to me is when the police and the community (come) together, in collaboration, to address crime problems," said Jordan.
The many facets of community policing in Tulsa include Hispanic outreach, bicycle policing, officers attending city council and community meetings and -- perhaps the most recognizable -- Alert Neighbors through the Crime Prevention Network.
Bob Savage heads up one of these groups beneath the shadow of the Golden Driller in Tulsa's Mayo Meadow neighborhood.
"There's six of us, and we just take and drive the neighborhood and look for suspicious activity," said Savage as he began his morning patrol. "We're all familiar. We all live here. We know who belongs and who doesn't. We see something that isn't right, we call the police in to figure it out for us."
Savage says the group started two and a half years ago when there was more crime in his neighborhood of 1,500 homes. It was more crime than the neighborhood or Tulsa police could handle.
"We were probably getting break-ins once a week. And since we've been going, we've had less than I think eight," said Savage.
He attributes some of that success to a community banded together against crime.
Savage also says the Alert Neighbors program has shown Tulsa police that his piece of midtown Tulsa is ready to do its part when it comes to fighting crime.
That seemingly cozy relationship isn't the same in north Tulsa, where community advocate, State Senate candidate and lifelong north Tulsa resident Regina Goodwin lives.
"We are always, I think, trying to be engaged and collaborate. That kind of thing," she said. "I think, though, that there is a mistrust that exists and so what we have to do is figure out how we, you know, work toward having better trust from this community as it relates to the police."
Goodwin says she and other north Tulsa community members have sat down with members of the Tulsa Police Department to discuss their issues, and often it leads to an increased presence. But too often, she says, the response times on calls from citizens don't improve.
"What we are also concerned about are police response times when good, hard-working folks want help," she said.
Jordan says the relationship between cop and community
will never be perfect and likens it to a marriage, where both sides must work every day to make it better. He also says, from his office at police headquarters, that proactive policing suffers when he has 100 fewer officers today than he did in 1994.
"Studies show that we should be spending 40 percent of our time on calls and another 40 percent of our time should be on proactive policing, which includes community policing. And 20 percent on administrative," said Jordan.
With fewer officers, Jordan says double that time on calls.
"That's not conducive to proactive policing," he said.
Jordan and Goodwin agree that the need to work together only increases due to lower staffing numbers, but Goodwin stresses that police need to be more representative of the population they serve so that community members feel a connection that extends beyond the badge.
"It's absolutely critical that the police officers and the neighbors that they serve know each other, that they get to see each other just as human beings that just want the best out of life, want to enjoy life," said Goodwin. "It's very important that they have that kind of connection, that they relate to each other as people."
Gary mayor says labor relations key to effective policing
by Sarah Reese
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson on Monday told a White House task force labor-management relations are key to building trust between police and the communities they serve.
Freeman-Wilson testified before President Barack Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which is gathering information on how police can reduce crime while also strengthening relationships with community stakeholders. The task force is scheduled to present its recommendations to Obama on March 2.
Freeman-Wilson serves as chairwoman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors' Working Group of Mayors and Police Chiefs, which last month unveiled its recommendations on improving community policing after a four-month review of best practices nationwide. Freeman-Wilson spoke Monday as part of a panel focused on labor and management relations.
"I believe our role as mayors is to provide our police departments with the resources they need to get the job done," Freeman-Wilson said. "Those resources can be money or equipment, or something less tangible, such as creating an atmosphere that makes it easier for our officers to get the job done."
City leaders need to examine policing from the viewpoints of officers and their unions, the departments as a whole, city government and the justice system, she said.
"In Gary, I use my convening power as mayor to involve the whole community," she said. "I address the big picture and work with our chief to relate it to law enforcement."
Freeman-Wilson said she works closely with Police Chief Larry McKinley to improve "policing practices of concern" and to provide a consistent message that officers are "doing a great job."
"We make it clear that we support our officers and what they do, so long as they follow our established protocols," she said. "But we also make it clear that, when something appears to have been done wrong, we will investigate it and act on the findings of that investigation."
Gary police and firefighters picketed Friday outside Freeman-Wilson's State of the City address, saying they're the lowest-paid in the state, have poor equipment and are losing experienced employees to other departments.
Freeman-Wilson said $8 million raised by a new Lake County income tax was nearly wiped out by a $6 million drop in casino revenues. She said after her address that the city likely has spent more than $2 million on police and fire equipment in the past five years and is constructing a new fire station.
The Working Group of Mayors and Police Chiefs' report says the deaths of several black men during encounters with white police and the retaliatory killings of two New York City officers have brought issues of race, class, prejudice, poverty and inequality to the forefront. The recommendations are grouped into six topics: building police-community trust, improving police department practices, ensuring timely and accurate communications, conducting independent investigations, addressing racial and economic disparities and providing national leadership.
Community policing is a philosophy, not a program, the report says.
"Improving police-community relations is not solely a law enforcement responsibility," Freeman-Wilson said. "The entire community — business, the not-for-profit community, civic and social organizations, the faith community, police and government at all levels — must be involved to ensure no just public safety, but justice and, equally important, a sense of justice in the community."
The full report on the Working Group of Mayors and Police Chiefs' recommendations is available at www.usmayors.org
Are tech startups the key to improving public safety?
by Julie Kliegman
Public safety is a universally important issue. Few things matter more to communities than staying safe: in cars, on foot, and in our homes.
It's natural to think public safety issues are problems for police officers and communities to solve, perhaps in conjunction with city hall. But often, that's not enough.
What if it's entrepreneurs who have the answers? That's exactly what the Washington, D.C., metro chief of police is wondering.
Cathy Lanier put out a call in January for tech startup solutions to public safety problems:
What are some innovative, cost-conscious, and effective strategies for preventing crime in those unique public spaces such as walking/biking trails? And how can we continue to pose additional public safety challenges on which we can work together with new organizations to find cutting-edge solutions to remain a growing, safe, and "smart city"? We're looking to startups for answers.
Lanier's idea sounds unconventional, and it is. But it also makes a lot of sense. Small start-ups driven by entrepreneurs unencumbered by allegiance to existing public safety procedures and infrastructure can potentially smartly disrupt this space just as they have other industries. And indeed, examples of the "cutting-edge solutions" Lanier seeks already exist.
Take these three Georgia teenagers who built Five-O, an app vaguely reminiscent of Yelp, where residents can rate cops they've interacted with. It's meant as a response to the shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri.
In Philadelphia, an initiative called FastFWD pairs startups with the city to create specific public safety solutions. The resulting partnerships sound promising thus far:
Jail Education Solutions: They'll work with Philadelphia prisons to provide an educational tablet program to lower the recidivism rate.
Textizen: Along with Philadelphia RISE, they'll improve communications with people on parole by using SMS text messages.
Village Defense: This is a stab at a high-tech town watch, where neighbors can send each other alerts of suspicious activity.
The program is only two cycles in, so there are still a lot of kinks to work out, as Technical.ly notes. But the basic idea, that there's a fast track for pairing tech-minded entrepreneurs with city officials, is a powerful one.
It's not just cities and the public that stand to benefit from small start-up businesses focusing on safety. Business owners benefit, too, as public safety focused startups often form partnerships with a city or other public agency, which turns out to be a great way of acquiring resources. Money, yes, but also connections, useful data, and a wide audience of willing participants.
Working in tandem with city officials is also a good way to build a reputation as a civic-minded problem solver. In turn, businesses engaged socially in their communities tend to experience greater customer loyalty.
In 2015 and beyond, it's likely we'll see more contributions by entrepreneurs in the name of public safety. Some will work hand in hand with the cities they serve, while others will take a more ground-floor approach to building products meant to keep citizens safe. There's no silver bullet when it comes to keeping people safe, but intrepid small business owners can find success just by doing their part.
Public safety is a team effort at malls across the US: Reminders from security experts at Clearview Mall
by WGNO Web Desk
METAIRIE, La. (WGNO) – A video posted online Saturday has been labeled “propaganda” by the U.S. State Department. It names the “Mall of America” in Minnesota as a potential target for terrorism.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is reminding the public to be alert and to remember — “If you see something, say something.”
DHS works with malls and security teams across the country, including Merchants Security Services at Clearview Mall. Eric Amerland, president of MSS, says anything out of the ordinary should be reported to authorities.
It could be an unattended package, a car in a no parking zone or even someone taking photographs.
“Public safety is everyone's responsibility. Everyone plays a part. Police can't do their job unless things are reported to the police. Security can't do their job unless things are reported to security,” says Amerland.
While officials say shoppers have plenty of reasons to feel safe, it's better to err on the side of caution. Amerland also says it's okay to call something in after the fact — even if it's hours or days later. He says just try to remember as many details as possible about who or what you saw, when you saw it, where it occurred and why it looked suspicious.
“It's better to call and report something and have it be nothing than to find out hours later on the news that it was a serious event,” says Amerland.
Another reminder for shoppers at Clearview Mall: security escorts are available to take shoppers to and from their vehicles at any time that the mall is open. The number to call is 504-858-8386.
Meanwhile, the DHS released a statement saying “we are not aware of any specific, credible plot against The Mall of America or any domestic commercial shopping center.”
US Homeland Security Chief Calls for Vigilance Following New Video
by Victor Beattie
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is appealing for public vigilance following the release of a video purportedly by the Somali-based al-Shabab terrorist group calling for attacks on Western shopping malls. Johnson said the latest video underscores the fact that the global terrorist threat has entered a new phase.
The U.S. Homeland Security Department says it is not aware of any specific, credible plot against the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota or any other domestic commercial shopping center.
The statement follows release of a video late Saturday purportedly by the al-Qaida-linked, Somali-based al-Shabab terrorist group, which calls for attacks on Western shopping malls. The group claimed responsibility for the September 2013 attack on Nairobi's Westgate mall in which 67 people died. The masked narrator spoke of that attack at length.
"If just a handful of mujahedin fighters could bring Kenya to a complete standstill for nearly a week, then imagine what a dedicated mujihad in the West could do to the American or Jewish-owned shopping centers across the world. What if such an attack were to occur in the Mall of America in Minnesota? Or the West Edmonton Mall in Canada? Or in London's Oxford Street? Or any of the hundred or so Jewish-owned Westfield shopping centers dotted right across the Western world," said the narrator.
He warned of more attacks in Kenya following the country's military operations against al-Shabab in neighboring Somalia. The authenticity of the video could not be independently verified.
Secretary Johnson, appearing on the NBC program “Meet the Press” Sunday, said new groups like Islamic State (IS) are joining al-Qaida in effectively using videos, publications, social media and the Internet to reach into communities in other countries and inspire independent actors to commit acts of violence.
"We've got to be vigilant. So, we ramp up security. There was a call for an attack on locations in Canada and Europe. And so, in response to that, I ramped up the presence of the Federal Protective Service at federal buildings a couple of months ago. I'm sure security at this particular mall will be enhanced in ways visible and not visible. But, it also involves public vigilance and public awareness. If you see something, say something has to be more than a slogan," said Johnson.
The Mall of America, near a sizeable Somali-American community, said it has taken extra security precautions in response to the video.
U.S. federal prosecutors Thursday indicted a Minnesota man for allegedly providing support for Islamic State and lying to federal authorities in a terror investigation. Nineteen year-old Hamza Naj Ahmed, along with three others, was arrested in November after allegedly attempting to travel to Syria via Turkey.
Canadian police Sunday said their investigation has uncovered no imminent threat from al-Shabab. Edmonton Deputy Police Chief Brian Simpson said the West Edmonton Mall has an impressive security system that adapts to the changing environment. He also said police are closely working with the Somali and Muslim communities to identify and contain emerging threats.
"Our best opportunity to deal with like-type threats is to involve our communities, particularly with the lone wolf (individual) is where the community can definitely provide us with a lot of support and help, by identifying that behavior of radicalization. That's our best and quickest opportunity to intervene and put it to the right place. We need to do our normal day-to-day business. That's how we effectively deal with this. We don't give them (terrorists) more power than they deserve, because they are terrorists and they are trying to create terror," said Simpson.
Terrorism analyst Luke Howie of Australia's Monash University said shopping malls are obvious “soft” targets for terrorists because of their open and free spaces with no security checkpoints, in contrast to airports. By their very nature, he said, they are difficult to secure, and that makes the latest threat something to be taken seriously.
"A group like al-Shabab, they release a video for its propaganda benefit, and it's to try and tap into that lone-wolf person, that person sitting as their computer getting radicalized wanting to act out. And so, the propaganda potential of a video like this always, I think, needs to be taken very seriously. So whilst, indeed, there might not be any specific intelligence that indicates there might be an attack imminent, a statement like this, a video like this from al-Shabab, or any other terrorist organization, can start to stir the pot if they have sympathizers in a particular area," said Howie.
Howie said al-Shabab initially made headlines capturing territory. Now, like other terrorist groups, they have recognized the propaganda value of using social media to export their message and gain a celebrity-like status.
Secretary Johnson said Muslim-American groups tell him terrorist organizations like Islamic State (IS) are attempting to hijack Islam. He said to refer to them as Islamic extremists dignifies them and gives them a place in the Islamic religion they do not deserve.
Jeh Johnson: Focus on fighting ISIL, not ‘Islamic extremism'
by Ben Wolfgang
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Sunday defended the Obama administration's refusal to use terms such as “radical Islam” when talking about the Islamic State terrorist organization and other militant groups.
Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Mr. Johnson said it matters very little what terms are used to describe the Islamic State — also known as ISIS or ISIL — and that the focus should be on how to defeat the group, not what it is called.
“From my perspective, whether it is referred to as Islamic extremism or violent extremism, what it comes down to is ISIL is a terrorist organization that represents a serious potential threat to our homeland that has to be addressed militarily and through a whole-of-government approach,” he said.
Mr. Johnson's comments come just days after a White House summit on countering “violent extremism.” Throughout that summit, administration officials, including President Obama, would not use terms such as “radical Islam.”
By not using such terms, Mr. Johnson said, the administration avoids giving terrorist fighters the “dignity” they seek.
“It seems to me that to refer to ISIL as occupying any part of the Islamic theology is playing on a battlefield that they would like us to be on. I think that to call them some form of Islam gives the group more dignity than it deserves,” he said.
Balancing Medical Privacy and Public Safety
by Charles G. Kels
Shortly after the tragic elementary school shooting at Newtown, Connecticut, President Barack Obama announced a series of nearly two dozen executive actions intended to reduce gun violence. Among these were efforts to clarify federal health information privacy protections and address real or perceived barriers to information sharing between health care professionals and law enforcement officials.
In one of these initiatives, the White House announced that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would release a letter to health care providers “clarify[ing] that no federal law prohibits [them] from warning law enforcement authorities about threats of violence.” This letter, which was issued in 2013 by the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR), explains that a health care provider can share necessary health information when attempting “to warn or report that persons may be at risk of harm because of a patient.”
Now that two years have passed since the horrific event at Sandy Hook and the executive actions it prompted, it is possible to look back and carefully assess the role of health information privacy regulation in addressing gun violence reduction.
In its letter, OCR reminds the health care community that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule does not prohibit physicians and other medical providers from disclosing patient information when the health care professional believes in good faith that the disclosure is “necessary to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to the health or safety of the patient or others.” The disclosure must be made to someone who is “reasonably able to prevent or lessen the threat,” such as a law enforcement official, family member, school administrator, or “the target of the threat” itself.
In accordance with the presidential initiative, OCR used its letter to reiterate and explain the HIPAA Privacy Rule's provision on averting serious threats to health and safety, which is one of the “12 national priority purposes” for which HIPAA regulations permit the use and disclosure of protected health information without the patient's authorization or permission. This standard generally reflects the “duty to warn” potential victims imposed on medical providers in numerous states by common law and statute.
The HIPAA Privacy Rule does not establish its own duty to warn. Rather, it is designed to be “consistent with” the predominant legal and ethical consensus developed over the past 40 years that medical confidentiality should yield to public safety in cases where there is both a serious threat and a reasonably identifiable third party at risk. HIPAA regulations also expressly permit disclosure of health information when “required by law,” including state statutes and regulations. However, the specific provision discussed in OCR's letter creates additional leeway for health care entities to act in accordance with permissive state laws that allow but do not compel disclosure in these scenarios, as well as with professional codes of conduct advocating “reasonable precautions” when patients make credible threats.
While the “good faith” of health care providers and institutions in making such warnings is usually presumed, releases of health information permitted under this standard are nonetheless intended to “apply in rare circumstances.” The Privacy Rule's relatively narrow exception was envisioned as an emergency mechanism, requiring a certain level of acuity to overcome the general presumption against disclosure without patient authorization. Thus, the HIPAA Privacy Rule provides a fail-safe lever for doctors to issue alarms in accordance with preexisting legal or ethical obligations, not a blueprint for strategic information exchange with law enforcement agencies.
Although the ability to contact law enforcement, family members, or others when a patient presents a serious and imminent threat has special relevance to mental health practitioners, the scope of HIPAA's permission is not limited to psychiatric records. The Privacy Rule generally does not distinguish between different types of health information. When state laws accord extra protections to mental health or other categories of especially sensitive records, HIPAA defers to these “more stringent” standards.
Since the physician's duty to warn stems primarily from state law and professional standards, the correlative HIPAA permission enables health care professionals to act pursuant to these legal or ethical touchstones. Conversely, where state law prohibits such disclosure, it would not be allowed merely because the Privacy Rule permits it. One of the challenges to leveraging HIPAA in gun violence reduction efforts is that even when the Privacy Rule itself does not prevent the release of health information, other laws may still do so. This limits the extent of assurance that OCR can provide to health care providers about the lawfulness of their disclosure.
To many health care practitioners, health privacy law may sometimes seem absolute. But the letter HHS issued in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy makes clear that HIPAA protections are not inviolate. The Privacy Rule balances patient privacy and the public interest. It does not stand in the way when professional duty or state law calls for disclosure to lessen serious and imminent threats to safety. This standard underscores the importance of medical providers understanding the laws and ethical norms applicable to their practice. HIPAA need not be a barrier to disclosure in critical situations, but neither is it a gateway to widespread information sharing absent patient authorization.
Charles G. Kels, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, is an attorney for the Office of Health Affairs of the Department of Homeland Security and a major in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Homeland Security, Air Force, or Defense Department.