April, 2015 - Week 2
Vallejo Police Department working to improve community ties
by Dianne de Guzman
From South Carolina to right here in Vallejo, the relationship between police and their communities is being tested across the nation.
Police departments across the board have placed into the hot seat by a public with more visual information at its disposal and more questions than answers about lethal force and the power of the police.
Incidents of police brutality and officer-involved shootings of unarmed men being increasingly caught on video. High-profile cases such as Eric Garner, Michael Brown and now Walter Scott in South Carolina have sparked discussions of policing methods and use of force.
It's been three years since Vallejo dealt with its own issues of officer-involved shootings. Yet the city found itself back in the spotlight when online publication Buzzfeed looked into Vallejo's track record in March. .
The term “community policing” — the idea of forming partnerships with the community to solve city problems, being proactive about solving those problems and creating an infrastructure of support — is not a new one. It is, however, a concept that many police departments are looking to implement in the face of community distrust of officers. The disconnect residents feel toward the police is becoming more apparent as police chiefs across the country look to get more in touch with the people they serve.
In Camden, N.J., for example, officers have been placed into the community to let neighborhoods meet the police who patrol their streets.
Vallejo Police Chief Andrew Bidou is also exploring ways to work with residents, saying that is how any modern agency should function.
“I think in our day and age, (community policing) is how a contemporary law enforcement agency should work with the community,” Bidou said. “And so I want to ensure that happens here.”
The latest move to connect with residents is a newly created position within the department: Community Engagement Officer. Brenton Garrick, a 25-year veteran of the department and a local for 41 years, has been tasked with this new job.
Garrick, who has served as a patrol officer, School Resource Officer, D.A.R.E officer, honor guard member and hostage negotiator, welcomes this chance to work with community members.
“I see myself as the ambassador to the Vallejo Police Department,” Garrick said. “Here was an opportunity to essentially put us in a position to be on the cutting edge of having a primary person who's available to not just respond to community needs, but reach out. That's the whole idea of this.”
Garrick will be engaging with the community in a number of ways, bringing back face-to-face interactions with events such as Coffee with Cops, midnight basketball and starting up social media accounts for the police department. First on Garrick's agenda, however, is making sure he's out in the city, talking to the people he serves.
“I'll be reaching out to not only the school district, not only residents, but dropping in on businesses. ‘How are things going? How can we address your needs? Are there any problems?'” Garrick explained. “It goes a step past having a generic survey: There's a person-to-person contact. I've already been involved in a number of community meetings and it seems like the idea's already been embraced.”
Jimmie Jackson, president of the local NAACP chapter, said he's met with Bidou and applauded the moves to be more involved with the community.
“He's very proactive in the sense that he wants to develop a line of communication between the community and the police department,” Jackson said. “That's a good thing because for years it's been police versus community and I think that's a part of some of the problems we've had here in the city.”
President Obama created a task force in December, with a primary goal to “improve community policing.” Vallejo had its own task force of sorts back in 2012, when the city council set up the Ad-hoc Citizens Public Safety Advisory Committee. Joanne Schivley served as chair of that group, which ran from December 2011 to December 2012, and worked with others to create a number of suggestions on how to improve public safety through the police and fire department, in a report that was released at the end of the committee's run.
When asked what the relationship was like between the police department and the community at the time of the advisory committee, Schivley did not mince words.
“In one word: Adversarial. Partway into our deliberations there was a (officer-involved) shooting,” Schivley recalled, referencing the shooting of Mario Romero and Joseph Johnson in 2012. “There were very vociferous demonstrations about that situation. ... There was a lot of dissatisfaction with the department within the community from things like that shooting. That's a real trigger for probably some of the feelings that had been festering for quite awhile and there was not the community involvement that seems to have been generated (because of the shootings).”
Whether the move toward more community policing is an inadvertent or direct way the Vallejo Police Department is addressing criticism, it will hopefully reflect in lower crime rates and increased trust in officers. Beyond the addition of the Community Engagement Officer position, Bidou has resurrected the School Resource Officer position, made additions to the traffic division and brought back the Cadet and Explorer programs. Vallejo police are also looking to increase transparency through a plan to release a monthly crime statistics sheet, a mobile police department app for phones so residents can access police services and setting up tele-town hall meetings so citizens can discuss safety issues in person or remotely in a public forum.
The most lauded effort, however, is the formation of the Police Advisory Group;. Bidou solicited applications from residents for this group, who will meet and provide feedback to the department on community efforts and advise on the needs of locals.
“I think that with Chief Bidou there's going to be more transparency. With the new police committee, there's definitely going to be more transparency,” Jackson said of the group. “He's opened up the police department and I think the new officers, the new leadership at the police department, all of them are buying into the programs and so I think that's developing a better attitude of police community relations. That will alleviate some of the problems. It won't alleviate all of the problems, but it'll alleviate some of the problems — but with that in mind, it'll be better for the entire city of Vallejo.”
The formation of the Police Advisory Group “is encouraging to me,” she says. “That is saying to the community, ‘We want to hear from you.' So I would say that that's a big plus.”
“I think we have made tremendous strides,” Garrick said of the outreach. “I've been here for 25 years and there was a time when I'd like to describe ourselves as a closed door. We basically did police work and, as silly as it may seem, we also had the attitude that, ‘We're busy right now, we're doing police work.'”
Referencing a police support rally from December, Garrick said there is current approval of the work the Vallejo Police Department is doing.
“We can have people protesting on our front steps supporting us, that tells us we're doing a good job,” Garrick said. “They realized some of the hardships that we've had over the years and they've rallied to our support ... it amazes me when you really start to talk to people out there.”
Bidou said he's seen that same support in his work talking to local organizations, but recognized that the job of outreach is never done.
“I think that support for the police department is strong, however, I know that that's a finish line that we always have to be chasing. We're never quite there,” Bidou said. “I know that even though it feels very strong, there are probably those out there that feel differently and I want to look at new ways to try and engage that population because I think that we can always be striving to do as best we can in this area.”
Although a number of the suggestions from the public safety committee are being implemented, Schivley is hoping that there will be strides to include more trained volunteers at the police department. This will not only include the community in policing, but will expand some of the services at the department — something Vacaville did with its police department and the addition of volunteers.
“The more you let the community be involved, the better your relationship is with the community and the more help you get,” Schivley said.
Jackson, like many, applauds the use of body cams and dashboard cams. He says this technological step in police transparency, in addition to the department's other efforts, will improve relations.
“We are setting up vehicles so that there can be a working relationship between the citizenry and the police department,” Jackson said. “I think this chief is reaching out more to the community than there has been in 15 or 20 years. And with those changes, there will be a change in attitude on both sides: From the community as well as the police department. I think some of the youth and the new hires, as well as some of the older personnel that's been there, will understand that we're working as a team and not as enemies or adversaries.”
To Garrick, there hasn't been much of an adversarial feeling between the community and the police department. This, he says, is by design.
“I hate to use Ferguson as an example, but you see what's gone on in that community. We at the Vallejo Police Department have kind of taken pride in knowing that we had quite a bit of community support through the tough times,” Garrick said. “We recognize that over the course of the last seven years, we haven't been able to provide the services that we have wanted to provide because of all the financial hardships the city has gone through. The idea is to build up that trust in the community — if there has been trust lost, for that matter. Only the citizens can make that call of how we're doing.”
Bidou agrees, saying he welcomes the opportunity to hear where things can be improved.
“People here are thanking us for changing or making the effort and people are really requesting us to continue what we've been doing,” Bidou said. “So for me, in my time and all the events that I've done, the support and encouragement to continue is what I've seen most.
“That doesn't mean that we're not being asked tough questions,” Bidou continued. “The community should ask us the tough questions and we should answer those questions and that's what's really been happening. And through that dialogue, we've just become closer.”
Jackson said he can't predict the outcome of the community initiatives started by Bidou, but said they do look positive.
“I'm looking forward to sitting back and observing and assisting where we can,” Jackson said. “The NAACP (will be) on the forefront: We want to observe and we will advise when it's asked for and we will criticize when it's needed.”
Schivley acknowledges the improved relations with the department, but says, “There's always room to improve anything — it doesn't matter what it is. Nothing is ever so good that it can't be improved on.”
Schivley hopes the improvements continue, not just with involving the community but also with police training in dealing with the public.
“If they're making the efforts now that they appear to be, I think that's great,” Schivley said. “I think it's really important in a city with the cultural diversity that we have ... because what I would like to see from the police department may be totally unimportant to someone from a different culture and they may have other criteria of what's important to them.
“At least to me now, from the outside looking in, it appears that there's effort being made in (a positive) direction and that's important. It isn't going to happen overnight and they aren't going to please everybody by any means, but at least they have to be showing that they're trying and I think that's happening now.”
Tensions Persist Between Portland Police and the African-American Community
by Chris Vetter
Despite hundreds of documented incidents involving unarmed African-Americans shot by white cops, few police officers are ever prosecuted. If this was happening to white Americans, there would be Congressional hearings and massive reform efforts underway. Instead we have media reports focusing attention on these incidents but little in the way of real reform.
“There is no question that many areas of the city are intimidating to minorities,” said progressive Portland legislator Lew Frederick. “This has been true for decades. People are paying attention now because of all the media focus but if you talk to folks from any number of cities they will tell you their police systems are broken."
“Some of my black male friends complain they are stopped by police officers for no obvious reason and when they request an explanation the cops get defensive,” said Dr. Michelle Jones, an African-American Portland Public Schools volunteer. "When you are Caucasian, getting pulled over by a traffic cop is an annoyance. When you are an African-American, it is a potentially deadly encounter."
A Complex Issue
The use of excessive force is a complex issue that maligns our national character. African-American men should not fear being murdered every time they are pulled over for a traffic stop. Last weekend in South Carolina, a broken tail light met with the death penalty.
“Police officers in Portland and other cities are largely an extension of the plantation system,” said African-American activist and Don't Shoot Portland Organizer Teressa Raiford Mazique. “They are overseers instructed to keep indigent people in line. In early America, the upper class feared poor people would steal property or rise up in rebellion. The rich aggressively expanded the law enforcement powers of local governments, installing systems of intimidation that exist to this day. Poor people are constantly treated like second-class citizens. I work with multiple civil rights organizations and the evidence of excessive force in Portland and elsewhere is staggering.”
Former City Commissioner Mike Lindberg met privately with Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and other city leaders last year in an effort to develop a plan for police reform. The City of Roses has a richly deserved reputation for the use of excessive force.
According to The Oregonian, a 2012 federal investigation concluded that “Portland police used excessive force against people with mental illness and called for a wide range of reforms to police policies, training and oversight.”
City leaders created a Community Oversight Advisory Board to implement Federally-mandated reforms but they are off to an unproductive start, with hearings marred by bickering and controversy. Citing health issues, former Oregon Chief Justice Paul DeMuniz resigned from the COAB earlier this week. Though respected by local civil rights activists, the suddenness of his departure suggests DeMuniz abandoned the commission because he saw no clear path to improving minority relationships with Portland Police.
“I am optimistic but realistic about what that committee can accomplish,” said Frederick. “Reports of their last meeting were disappointing. I know they have good intentions. I helped them choose some of the folks on that panel. The minority community in Portland has felt disenfranchised for some time and that is not going to change overnight.”
“Everyone in power is looking the other way,” said Mazique. “Portland Mayor Charlie Hales is the police commissioner. He is directly responsible for negotiating the contract with the police unions and has the authority to insist that police officers who harass and intimidate people of color are held accountable. Instead he is fearful of losing police endorsements that might hurt his prospects for re-election. Hales is directly responsible for the collective bargaining process with the rank-and-file. The current police union contract runs through 2018 and there is little we can do to change the accountability process for several years.”
“The video this week from South Carolina is not unique,” said Frederick. “New York City, Cleveland and plenty of other places have been dealing with these issues for a number of years. These incidents occur several times a day across the country. We are never going to solve this problem by dealing with one bad apple. We are talking about a systemic issue. I have been looking at this issue almost from the day I arrived in Portland. There has always been a mixed message, a split between community policing versus officers who serve as an occupying force.”
Frederick introduced multiple bills in the current legislative session to improve community policing and protect minorities from discrimination. The former newscaster is leading the way in addressing this issue with substantive policy initiatives.
“We introduced significant legislation to address racial profiling,” said Frederick. “At least three of the 12 police reform bills I submitted are going to the Judiciary Committee for review. Other legislation deals with complaint procedures, body cameras, the rights of bystanders to take photos of police officers, excessive use of force, expungement of marijuana offenses and regular psychological evaluations for police officers. Some of this legislation is getting combined. I do not yet know what is going to get through the committee. Some of these bills have been introduced four times. This is a complicated process and even if some of my legislation gets through, there is no magic wand that is going to change things anytime soon.”
The real impediment to progress is the strength of police unions. Even when led by African-Americans, these unions routinely seek to justify almost any action taken by police officers in the line of duty, undermining any accountability.
“I can't tell you what to do about the Portland Police but at this stage I am doing what I can at the legislative level,” said Frederick. “We need to have a serious discussion with the unions. They don't have the support they think they do in the community. They need people who are actually living in the area where they work. It is appropriate to say in this case that the lives and ideas of people of color have been dismissed as invalid.”
“We need to vote people into office that will hold police officers accountable,” said Mazique. “In Salem, reform efforts are only beginning. Even if these bills pass, we may not see any impact in our local communities for years. We will drive back and forth to Salem until July 2015. Rep. Jennifer Williamson was at our grand jury workshop last weekend. We are working overtime to educate community members about the flaws in our system. Real reform will only occur when police officers are actually prosecuted when they commit crimes. Right now, there is zero accountability. As long as officers are allowed to police themselves, there can be no expectation of justice anywhere in the city. There is no oversight. The city will not allow it.”
African-American activists in Portland complain about a culture of intimidation that makes them feel uncomfortable in their neighborhoods. Skanner News Editor Lisa Loving — a white woman — detailed the experience of a black colleague in a celebrated interview decrying racial profiling.
“I started noticing police stops at the side of the road, all over North and Northeast Portland, and how often young black men are made to lay out on the ground,” said Loving. “I've actually never seen a white suspect forced to lay on the ground and crawl towards officers, but I've seen black men forced to do it many times. Before I literally walked side-by-side with a black man, I really did not understand.”
“The entire Portland City Council is showing us little sympathy,” said Mazique. “Our concern is public safety. Our people are beaten and even killed. Why won't they acknowledge we need more protection in our community? We need to audit and investigate every facet of the Portland Police Bureau and force them to end their occupation of our neighborhoods. These officers do not live in the communities they police. Most of them are white. They drive to North Portland from their suburban homes and have no substantive ties to the people they supposedly serve. We need an influx of minority police officers who live and work in the communities they patrol.”
“Anyone who tells you racism is a thing of the past is asleep at the wheel. Given the frustration of losing loved ones, we are going to see more incidents in Portland where minorities assert their rights,” said African-American entrepreneur and lifelong Oregonian Kylee Brooks. “Things may have to get worse before they get better.”
Public safety spending concerning to counties
by Jonathan Cooper
SALEM — Short on money and faced with the prospect of building expensive new prisons, Oregon lawmakers made a politically fractious decision two years ago.
They agreed to shorten sentences for some crimes and let certain low-risk inmates out a couple of months early, using the savings to beef up probation and other, cheaper ways of punishing criminals.
But some worry the Legislature will shortchange the local governments that are taking on a bigger burden for punishing people convicted of crimes.
The Legislature's chief budget writers have proposed $20 million for the program — about a third of the money that prison officials said has been saved by slowed prison growth.
“It's a signal to the counties that the Legislature isn't really serious about doing public safety differently, because they're willing to fund prisons, but they're not willing to fund local accountability,” said Shannon Wright, deputy director of Partnership for Safety and Justice, an advocacy group.
With prison costs ballooning, many states have adopted varying versions of a policy known as justice reinvestment.
By changing sentencing laws, they hope to spend less money building and running prisons, freeing up cash to more intensively watch offenders through probation, treat them with addiction or mental health counseling, or provide housing and education.
Oregon joined the fray in 2013. A bill reduced sentences for certain drug and property crimes, as well as driving with a suspended license and identity theft. A “transitional leave” program was extended from 30 days to 90 days, allowing low-risk inmates to leave early and be closely monitored as they integrate into society.
The plan was supposed to freeze the prison population at about 14,600 inmates for five years. On April 1, Oregon had 14,634 inmates in prison, according to Department of Corrections data.
Prison officials said the changes have saved nearly $58.5 million during the next two-year budget cycle by delaying the opening of a mothballed prison in Madras, which otherwise would've opened last year, and delaying the construction of a prison in Junction City.
Before he resigned in February, former Gov. John Kitzhaber proposed spending all $58.5 million on grants to counties for justice reinvestment programs.
House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Salem, said the legislative leadership is committed to the program and hopes to beef up the proposed $20 million, but “it's unlikely” the final number will be $59 million.
Kitzhaber's budget “did us a disservice by putting a number out there that we didn't think we could achieve,” Kotek said.
Kotek did not say where more money might come from when she spoke to the media last week, but Democrats have been hoping the next revenue forecast — due next month — will give them extra money to spend. They've already promised to give 40 percent of any increase to K-12 schools.
From the FBI
Violent Gangs -- Kidnapping Crew Targeted Criminal Community
The Dominican street gang in Lawrence, Massachusetts must have thought they had the perfect illegal enterprise: kidnap drug dealers, bookmakers, and money launderers, steal their cash and drugs, and then hold them for ransom—knowing that since the victims were themselves criminals, they and their families would likely never report the abductions.
The gang members—known as joloperros, or stick-up guys—were organized, armed, and violent: They often tortured their victims, sometimes with hot irons.
“They targeted anyone they thought they could make large sums of money from,” said Special Agent Jeff Wood, coordinator of the North Shore Gang Task Force, one of the FBI's three Safe Streets Task Forces in Massachusetts.
The kidnappings began around 2010 in and around Lawrence, a largely Hispanic city and gang stronghold located about 20 miles north of Boston. The North Shore Gang Task Force—made up of the FBI, the Massachusetts State Police, the Lawrence Police Department, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, and other local law enforcement agencies—worked with the Drug Enforcement Agency to build a case against the crew.
“The victims and their families would not report the crimes,” Wood said, “because they didn't want to admit that, yes, they were selling drugs or laundering money. And some of the victims were in the country illegally.”
The joloperros mainly targeted drug dealers, and their methods were sophisticated. They used GPS devices to track individuals, conducted surveillance to learn targets' routes and movements, and also tried to identify dealers' stash houses.
“They weren't targeting street-level dealers, but rather suppliers,” Wood said. Some of the victims were selling multiple kilos of heroin and cocaine on a monthly basis.
When the actual abductions took place, the crew would grab the victim, duct tape his hands, and put a cover over his head. Victims were taken to safe houses, where they were often tortured, and large ransoms were demanded from their families.
“When we got word of a kidnapping, we would go to the family and they wouldn't cooperate,” Wood said. But over time, using a variety of investigative techniques such as confidential sources, controlled drug buys, and other means, most of the crew was dismantled.
Last month, after previously pleading guilty to a violent 2012 kidnapping in which a $100,000 ransom was demanded, Edgar Acevedo was sentenced to 16 years in prison.
Since the task force investigation began more than two years ago, approximately 20 individuals have been charged in federal court—including some of the gang's leaders—with kidnapping-related offenses or for crimes associated with the Lawrence-based kidnapping crews. To date, nine people have pled guilty to conspiracy to commit kidnapping, and four others have pled guilty to firearm-related offenses. Several joloperros are awaiting trial.
“At one point, these kidnapping crews had a very large presence in Lawrence,” Wood said, “but their presence has decreased dramatically thanks to law enforcement intervention.” He noted that many people associate violent gangs with Los Angeles or the Southwest Border, “but gangs are just as violent and just as dangerous in upstate Maine as they are in Los Angeles. They lower the quality of life in the community they are operating in, no matter where that community is.”
Trouble, tension in San Francisco's public safety world
As chief of police in Mesa, Ariz., George Gascón showed his mettle by staring down Joe Arpaio, who gained the tag “America's toughest sheriff” by humiliating inmates — many of whom were merely awaiting trial — by putting them in retro-striped clothes, pink underwear and tents in the stifling desert heat. Gascón was the lawman who frustrated Arpaio's wanton raids for “illegals.” Gascón knew the shakedowns of anyone “looking Mexican” were not only immoral and constitutionally dubious but also counterproductive for police, who needed to get a community's trust in order to solve real crimes.
Seven years later, now district attorney of San Francisco, Gascón is at it again. The circumstances and politics could not be more different, but the bottom line is familiar: Gascón, with righteous indignation, is taking on the law enforcement establishment in a big way.
In recent weeks, Gascón has jumped into controversies over racist and homophobic text messages at the Police Department, problems at its crime lab, inmate fights at the County Jail staged by sheriff's deputies and the Fire Department's drinking-on-the-job policies.
Is he grandstanding for political gain, as his critics in public safety's management and union hierarchy claim, or acting out of fearless principle, as he would contend?
All of this comes just a year after Gascón put himself at odds with the vast majority of police chiefs and district attorneys in the state by promoting Proposition 47, which lowered drug-possession and assorted nonviolent crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.
Gascón addressed the suspicions about his motives when he met with The Chronicle's editorial board. The speculation about his ambitions ranges from future mayor of San Francisco to state attorney general. He can't be worried about this year's re-election: He has yet to attract a serious challenger.
“I know there's been a lot of conversation about what my motivations are — which I find absurd, in a way — that somehow I'm doing this for political reasons,” Gascón said. “You talk to any political consultant and they will tell you, 'The first thing you want to do is avoid controversy.'”
Most politicians are especially timid about picking fights with the public-safety establishment, where the ranks are well represented by unions that have money to spend — and the support of cops and firefighters is a potent boost to any campaign.
I reached out to one of the preeminent political consultants in town, Nathan Ballard, who counts himself an admirer of both Gascón and his successor and current adversary, Police Chief Greg Suhr.
“I'm perplexed,” Ballard said of Gascón's aggressiveness in setting up a task force to look into alleged corruption, misconduct and racism in the city's law enforcement structure. “It seems like he leaped before he looked.”
At the very least, said Ballard, the district attorney could have given the police chief a heads up before he announced to the media that he would be creating a task force. For his part, Gascón said he should have been given an earlier warning about the racist and homophobic text messages, which could undermine past prosecutions built on the testimony of those officers. He said he first learned of the scandal in The Chronicle.
“I have never looked the other way when I've seen serious problems … and I'm certainly not going to start looking the other way now,” Gascón said.
Such is the strained state of communication among San Francisco's law enforcement agencies.
Suhr countered that Gascón has exceeded his jurisdiction by thinking he has oversight of departments run by an elected sheriff and a mayor-appointed police chief. Suhr said a state attorney general could step in, “but George isn't the attorney general — he's the district attorney of San Francisco.”
Gascón's task-force crusade rings curious on two counts. First, because he was formerly a police chief, the trail may well lead to his tenure. Second, Suhr is hardly an Arpaio-type foil. He insists on ethical police work and accountability. He readily asked the police commission to fire the eight police offers implicated in the racist and homophobic messages.
I guess the one redeeming quality in this mess is that the district attorney and police chief will maintain their Chronicle subscriptions to know what the other is doing.
John Diaz is The Chronicle's editorial page editor. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
District attorney on a mission
District Attorney George Gascón recently formed a task force to look into allegations of corruption, misconduct and racism in the city's law enforcement structure. Among the issues on his radar:
Issue 1: A captain, a sergeant and six other officers face termination after the discovery of racist and homophobic text messages.
Issue 2: Hundreds of criminal cases have been called into question because a crime lab technician and her supervisor had violated testing standards of DNA analyses.
Gascón: “In my 30 years plus in law enforcement, I have seen a good deal of misconduct by police officers. I have seen scandals. But the level of the problems and the frequency of the problems that we're facing here today are very unusual.”
Pushback: Police Chief Greg Suhr said the district attorney has no role in supervising or overseeing the police and sheriff's departments: “But then again, it's an election year, and task forces generate press conferences.”
Issue: Deputies allegedly arranged and gambled on fights between county jail inmates.
Gascón: “Common sense indicates that such conduct does not occur without the knowledge of numerous people.”
Pushback : An attorney for the deputies union strongly denied the allegations raised by Public Defender Jeff Adachi. “The 'wrestling' was essentially little more than horseplay. There was no betting. The inmates were never forced to work out. They were never forced to fight.”
Issue: A June 2013 fire-rig crash, involving a driver suspected of having been drinking, has prompted the district attorney to implore the department to adopt a “zero tolerance” policy and to tighten its testing regimen.
Gascón: “No on-duty firefighter or paramedic should ever have any measurable amount of alcohol in their blood system.”
Pushback: Tom O'Connor, firefighters union president, defended that the allowance of a 0.04 blood-alcohol level is “the federal standard for flying commercial aircraft or driving a tractor trailer on the highway.”
As incidents unfold, police actions ensure public safety
by Tom Hanshaw, Amesbury Beat Officer
Despite many reassurances over the years from community partners and the police department of Amesbury being a safe city, the sentiment was understandably shaken on March 28.
In fact, over the course of about 12 hours, our community was mentioned twice by Boston news stations. A suspect in a Peabody murder case was apprehended after being stopped by officers on the Interstate 495 off-ramp to Macy Street, and an older woman faced a dangerous perpetrator in a home invasion. While residents are certainly alarmed by incidents such as these, I can assure you police officials are as well.
As officers arrived on scene following the 911 call for help at the home invasion, they immediately began an investigation to identify and apprehend the perpetrator. Medical assistance was requested for the victim, the K-9 team searched the area and officers began collecting valuable physical evidence.
Once the initial investigation was completed, detectives began tracking down additional evidence, interviewing neighbors, obtaining video surveillance, and researching electronic records. Thanks to the teamwork of Amesbury officers, private businesses, law enforcement agencies and the public, a suspect was identified and apprehended. Unlike television, cases are not solved in an hour, but this one was resolved quickly, making everyone feel safer.
Alarming is likely one word to describe the scenario where a woman in her 80s becomes a victim of a crime such as this; I would imagine readers have some more adjectives as well. Many people wonder why something like this could happen in a community like ours.
Sadly, this type of crime can happen anywhere, regardless of how safe a town or city is; it's the times we live in. I don't want to alarm people, but everyone should realize that there are bad and dangerous people in our society and sometimes they find their way to our community.
Once again, I want to stress how safe our city and region are in comparison to some areas. I also wanted to assure residents that police are constantly providing public education about crime prevention, working to deter crime and solving crimes when they happen. We take pride in the community we serve and take such attacks on our residents personally.
The public should also know that police will take steps to assure everyone is safe. As incidents unfold and police resources are deployed, please realize we may not have time to post updates on social networks like Twitter and Facebook. We will do so as time allows and will always notify residents if we feel their safety is jeopardized. Police officers deal with a number of tasks on a daily basis and, honestly, most residents are not aware of what actually goes on.
Residents are invited to attend a very special presentation on April 27 at the Amesbury High School. “Rebound”: The Chris Herren Story is a powerful talk that every parent and guardian should see. Chris was a standout basketball player from Fall River, drafted by the Denver Nuggets in 1999. He was traded to the Celtics after his rookie season but lost everything because of substance abuse.
Alcohol- and drug-free since Aug. 1, 2008, Chris now shares his story, hoping to make a difference. Chris spoke with students last year and his presentation was powerful and well received. The high school will be offering an informational session from 4:45 to 5:45 p.m. in the front lobby and Chris is scheduled to speak from 6 to 7 p.m. in the auditorium. The program is free and the public is welcome; questions may be directed to Bethany Williams-Noseworthy at 978-388-8037 or Rachael Dobbs at 978-388-4800. “Rebound”: The Chris Herren Story is being sponsored by the Amesbury Youth Funding program.
Teacher suspended after third-grade class writes notes to cop killer
Teacher assigned her third-grade class to write "get well" letters to a sick inmate convicted of killing a Philly cop
by The Associated Press
ORANGE, N.J. — A teacher in New Jersey who assigned her third-grade class to write "get well" letters to a sick inmate convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer was suspended Friday, the school superintendent said.
Orange School Superintendent Ronald Lee said in a statement that school administrators "vehemently deny" any knowledge of Marilyn Zuniga's assignment. Preliminary inquiries found that Zuniga did not seek approval from administrators nor were parents notified, Lee said.
The letters were delivered to Mumia Abu-Jamal in prison following his hospitalization last month for what his family said was treatment for complications from diabetes. The former Black Panther is serving life behind bars for the 1981 murder of white Philadelphia police Officer Daniel Faulkner. His conviction was upheld through years of appeals, but he has gained international support for his claim that he is the victim of a racist justice system.
"The incident reported is in no way condoned nor does it reflect curriculum, program or activities approved by the district," Lee said in a statement.
A supporter and history professor at Baruch College, Johanna Fernandez, showed Abu-Jamal the letters while she visited him Monday.
"I think he was touched," Fernandez told The Associated Press on Friday.
Fernandez defended Zuniga from what she called attempts to demonize and bully her, saying Abu-Jamal has received many letters from children over the years.
"Quite frankly, I'm more concerned about 8-year-olds witnessing a police officer kill an innocent man in South Carolina than I am about a teacher sending letters her children wrote to one of the most important black public intellectuals of our time, who happens to be very ill," said Fernandez, referring to last week's weekend shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer.
The school district was closed for spring break, and the superintendent said a full investigation would begin when classes resume on Monday.
Zuniga will remain suspended with pay until the investigation is completed, the superintendent said. Additional action could be taken by the school board once the investigation is finished.
Neither Zuniga nor officials with the Philadelphia police union immediately returned emails from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Abu-Jamal was released from a hospital in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, on April 1, and returned to the prison.
New Report Finds Incarceration for ‘Status Offenses' Still Widespread
by Gary Gately
WASHINGTON – More than half of U.S. states allow children to be detained for repeated nonviolent “status offenses” such as skipping school, running away from home or possession of alcohol, a new report says.
The revelation comes more than 40 years after the landmark Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) stipulated that in states receiving federal juvenile justice grants, no child should be locked up for such minor transgressions. They're called status offenses because they are considered crimes owing only to a youth's status as a juvenile.
The provision of the 1974 JJDPA calling for “deinstitutionalization” of status offenders had led to a marked decline in detention of these youths.
But the JJDPA, the main federal juvenile justice law, was amended in 1980 to include an exception allowing judges to confine a youth adjudicated guilty for a status offense if the child had violated a “valid court order” not to repeat the offense.
The report, Status Offenses: A National Survey, by the Washington-based Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ), showed most of the cases of children being detained for status offenses occurred in just a handful of states. But judges can still detain repeat status offenders under the exception in 26 states and Washington, D.C.
CJJ's 64-page report found the names used to describe status offenses and what constitutes a status offense varied widely among states.
In an email, Naomi Smoot, senior policy associate at the nonprofit CJJ, pointed out that some states include catch-all provisions that apply to behaviors that are illegal only for minors, while other states use status offense laws to deal with new and emerging issues uniquely applicable to children such as bullying and sexting.
The findings come amid growing opposition to incarcerating children for such offenses because doing so endangers them, can cause long-term trauma, often leads to further involvement with the justice system and tends to ignore the underlying reasons for the offenses.
“What we've seen in the research is that status offender youth who are put in detention run the risk of both physical and sexual assault at the hands of both guards and their fellow youths,” Smoot said in an interview.
“There's a large number of youths who are put into detention for status offense behaviors in the same living units as children who have engaged in much more serious and much more dangerous behaviors.”
CJJ, along with a wide array of other advocates for juveniles and the Reno, Nev.-based National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), call for diverting status offenders from the juvenile justice system altogether.
Ironically, the NCJFCJ had lobbied for the 1980 valid court order exception, at a time of clamor for taking action to reduce status offenses, said Melissa Sickmund, director of the Pittsburgh-based National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ), the research division of NCJFCJ.
“They said, ‘We have kids who have not followed rules we set for them. What else do you want us to do?'” Sickmund said. “And so the exception got put into place.”
Now the judges council supports elimination of the exception, she noted.
“If you're detaining the kid — unless they are really a threat to the community — it may be causing more harm than good, it may be putting them in the presence of other bad actors who are worse than them and they just learn bad stuff,” Sickmund said. “We could be traumatizing them, and it doesn't help and it's expensive.”
To understand status offenders, CJJ said in a December report, it's critical to understand youths' brain development and adolescent behavior patterns.
Recent research has shown adolescents' brains are not fully developed until their mid-20s and that youths are more susceptible than adults to peer pressure, more reckless and impulsive, more likely to take risks and less likely to consider long-term consequences. Notably, however, the research also shows juveniles are especially amenable to rehabilitation.
The NCJJ estimates that in 2011, juvenile courts handled 116,200 status offense cases, with 8,800 involving youths being detained at some point between referral to court and case disposition. Youth were adjudicated guilty in 66,400 of those petitioned cases, with 37,200 placed on probation as the most severe consequence.
Some of the youth who were held may not have been detained in violation of the JJDPA, though: Under the act, status offenders may be held under one of several exceptions to the act's requirements. Youths, for example, can end up being held briefly before initial court appearances. But advocates argue that even these short stays can traumatize youths and subject them to risk of abuse.
On a hopeful note, the new report pointed out that in the overwhelming majority of states, status offenders are rarely detained.
The federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention reports that Washington state led the nation in use of the valid court order exceptions, with 2,705 cases; followed by Kentucky, 1,048; Arkansas, 747, and Colorado, 356. (Most of the data, for a one-year span, was from around 2010-2012.) At the other end of the spectrum, a dozen states that retain the valid court order exception used it less than 100 times in a one-year period.
Alessandra Meyer, senior program associate at the Center on Youth Justice at the nonprofit Vera Institute of Justice in New York City, said in an email more and more states are looking to alternatives to detention of status offenders.
“Many states have changed their approach to youth who commit status offenses, embracing community and school-based responses that reduce reliance on the juvenile justice system,” Meyer said.
“As shown in CJJ's survey, however, too many states still allow courts to use the valid court order (VCO) exception to lock up youth for non-delinquent behaviors such as running away from home and skipping school.”
Like others, Meyer pointed to a bipartisan measure introduced in December to reauthorize the JJDPA that would, among other things, phase out the valid court order exception over three years.
A new JJDPA reauthorization bill – expected to be introduced in this session of Congress by Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. — also would likely phase out the exception.
“We would love to see the valid court order exception become a thing of the past,” CJJ's Smoot said. “Our position is that children should never be incarcerated for status offense behaviors because these are behaviors that are a sign of a larger underlying behavior in the child's life.
“Often, there's something either going on at home or an undiagnosed disability, for example, that causes a child to fall behind in school. There are better community-based responses, and we say as an organization incarceration is never an appropriate response.”
Often, CJJ points out, LGBTQ youths run away from home because they don't feel welcome there.
The organization also recommends law enforcement connect possible status offenders and their families to necessary services instead of charging or detaining the youths and says education systems should seek to address underlying causes of truancy and try to avoid court involvement or suspension from school.
And CJJ says children should not be allowed to waive counsel in status offense cases unless the waiver is on the record, the court has weighed the child's understanding and capacity and the waiver occurs in the presence of and with consultation of an attorney.
Law Officers or Gang of Thugs?
Sheriff's deputies videotaped beating man on ground for 2 minutes
(Video on site)
As if the video of the shooting death of Walter Scott in North Charleston wasn't shocking and disturbing enough, now comes an equally disturbing video of a group of sheriff's officers in California severely beating a man who is on the ground and appearing to pose no threat to them.
Indeed, had the officers not been wearing sheriff's office uniforms a viewer could come to the conclusion a horrible assault was taking place by gangland thugs on a lone, defenseless victim.
This latest video (seen at bottom of this report) coming on the heels of the Walter Scott killing video may leave many Americans asking themselves the same question: how much of this jaw-dropping brutality at the hands of law officers goes on every day across the country that is never videotaped for the world to see?
The San Bernardino County Sheriff, John McMahon ordered an internal investigation Thursday into what he called "disturbing" video showing an arrest by his deputies -- an arrest which included what appeared to be an unnecessary, severe and lengthy beating by those deputies of a man who was already on the ground.
“The video surrounding this arrest is disturbing and I have ordered an internal investigation be conducted immediately,” McMahon said in a statement
The sheer viciousness of the beating - it appears on the video that the deputies are doing their best to produce needless damage to the man's body - is both shocking as well as disturbing.
The beating followed a horse pursuit that was caught on camera by the news helicopter of KNBC-TV in Los Angeles. It was not clear if the officers knew their actions were being videotaped by a helicopter from above.
KNBC reported that "what began as a car chase in Apple Valley" ended with the suspect stealing a horse and leading police on a chase through dry, scrub-brush dotted desert terrain in San Bernardino County Thursday afternoon.
According to KNBC, the officers began chasing the man when he fled the scene of a search warrant, apparently in a Dodge minivan. Eventually he abandoned the car and continued his escape on a horse he allegedly stole.
The video shows the man appearing to fall off the horse then it shows deputies as they appeared to use Tasers to stun the man and then, instead of quickly handcuffing him and transporting him to the nearest squad car, beat the man severely.
It was a beating that included one officer appearing on the video to kick the downed man very hard directly in his genital region as the suspect lay prone on the ground with his legs spread wide.
Prior to the beating it appeared on the video the suspect may have voluntarily gone to the ground and into a "spread eagle" position, evidently to show the officers he was not resisting and was willing to be handcuffed.
On a KNBC-TV newscast Thursday night the station reported that its reporters had watched the video many times and saw "dozens of blows including more than a dozen to the head" of the man that was laying on the ground.
In the two minutes that the man was beaten the video shows that deputies, according to one tally, kicked him about 12 times and punched him 29 times. Eleven blows appeared to be to the head as seen from aerial footage.
After the beating frenzy stopped, the man reportedly lay still on the ground without any medical attention for more than half an hour.
The man who was beaten was identified as Francis Pusok, 30, of Apple Valley, a community on the edge of the Mojave Desert about 100 miles north of Los Angeles.
He was taken to a hospital with undisclosed injuries, according to the sheriff's office.
The sheriff's office said the encounter began when deputies went to his home and sought to serve him with a search warrant on suspicion of identity theft.
They said three deputies were hurt during the capture of Mr. Pusok; one was kicked by a horse and two suffered dehydration.
Using Technology and Data to Improve Community Policing: The Police Data Initiative
by Megan Smith and Roy L. Austin, Jr.
In December, President Obama announced the creation of a Task Force on 21st Century Policing to develop specific recommendations to improve law enforcement and community relations while ensuring public safety. The Task Force, representing a diverse array of law enforcement and civil rights experts along with community leaders, engaged numerous stakeholders and constituency groups across the country to identify meaningful opportunities to improve policing in America.
Last month, the Task Force submitted an interim report with more than 60 recommendations to the President. Among other items, these recommendations cover policy, oversight, technology, social media, community policing, crime reduction, training, education, and officer wellness and safety. The report and recommendations place significant emphasis on the potential of data and technology to improve policing outcomes and foster community trust.
Yesterday at the White House, as part of an ongoing effort to respond to these data/technology recommendations, over a dozen police chiefs, municipal Chief Technology Officers, and other leaders from 16 cities and counties across the nation collaborated with technologists, data scientists, law enforcement thought leaders, foundations, issue experts, Presidential Innovation Fellows, nonprofits, and Administration officials.
First, the group heard from police and municipal leaders about innovative solutions that they have already put into practice in their municipalities. These leaders shared existing approaches, insights and innovations that other communities could take back and start implementing immediately. Starting with lightning presentations from four communities, the Police Chiefs of Camden County, NJ and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, NC shared their work on the foundational importance of creating strong internal accountability and community feedback systems. This included steps already taken and vision for the enormous opportunities which exist to analyze the rich data available on police/citizen encounters to improve police practices, community voice, and community trust. Both Dallas and Los Angeles leadership shared the power of opening up key data sets to the public, bringing transparency and context to the complexities of police work.
Next, the group collaborated to surface promising practices and existing efforts — identifying opportunities to build on and expand individual efforts to benefit a broader range of communities. At the working session, attendees shared experiences, identified new solutions, and explored opportunities to reduce inappropriate police conduct, better engage public input in real time, and enhance community trust. Many of these departments made new commitments to open up data that had previously been inaccessible to the public.
It is critically important that the recommendations of the President's Task Force be put into practice without delay by police departments in communities across the country. We are pleased that groups like the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Fraternal Order of Police, and the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights have done a recommendation-by-recommendation review of the Task Force Report with their memberships and provided the White House with some of their thoughts about implementation.
Yesterday's event left us encouraged because these forward-thinking police departments have stepped forward to take on these innovation challenges, have already been working collaboratively to turn the promising ideas in the report into results for their community, and are sharing those innovations with others as well as listening for more they can do. These departments are identifying how to use new tools to solve persistent problems. Yesterday's conversation at the White House was just the beginning of an ongoing initiative — as it is just one of many lines of effort in support of the Task Force's work.
We look forward to continuing to engage with yesterday's participants and others as they take action, using data and technology to build trust, voice, solutions and improve community policing.
Roy L. Austin, Jr. is Deputy Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity in the Domestic Policy Council. Megan Smith is the United States Chief Technology Officer (CTO) in the Office of Science and Technology Policy.
A Positive Sign for Community Policing
by Seth Daniel
The Revere Police and its Community Relations arm – based out of the Pleasant Street substation – is preparing to ratchet up several programs and initiatives this spring.
Community Officer Gerard Salvati, and Community Relations directors Carl Borgioli and Dennis Moschella said they are preparing to place signs throughout the city where Neighborhood Watches and Business Watches are being established.
All three said they have been through the business districts and through the neighborhoods over the past few months helping to organize shopkeepers and neighbors to organize and work with the police.
Signs for businesses will be placed on Broadway, Shirley Avenue, Revere Street and Beachmont.
The Neighborhood Watch signs will be placed in each ward for every neighborhood that establishes a watch.
“A lot of people don't ask for help,” said Moschella. “People are ready and able to help, but just want to be asked. However, people are often afraid to ask. The community policing angle really breaks down these walls. That's why we established this community policing office and why we're having informal meetings with groups who are bringing issues to us.”
Said Borgioli, “You have so many community activists out there who want to help and we've found a way to get everyone on the same page working together to fight crime.”
While Salvati, Moschella and Borgioli do the legwork, the signs are part of the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG). Part of the grant allowed for $2,812 to supplement materials for community outreach.
Salvati said they chose to produce the signs with the money, and begin an effort of organizing local businesses and neighbors.
Already, they have worked with businesses to be able to utilize their surveillance cameras to fight crime. Moschella said this came out of a situation on Broadway more than a year ago where a woman was dragged to death by an MBTA bus. That partnership with a local business and its cameras helped sort our the situation.
“If every business that has a camera could turn it so that it shows the street as well, we'd have cameras up and down Broadway,” Moschella said.
Meanwhile, while meeting with potential Neighborhood Watch groups in Beachmont, police learned that a major problem in the area is overdoses in public bathrooms.
“When we're able to learn about these things, we can reach out to the businesses and to the police in the area to help stop it,” said Salvati.
The City's Community Policing Office on Pleasant Street is gearing up this spring to place new Neighborhood Watch and Business Watch signs all over the city – along with organizing efforts to establish watches in every ward. Shown here is Carl Borgioli, Officer Gerard Salvati and Dennis Moschella.
"It's a public safety crisis:" 'Spice' overdoses in Tuscaloosa leave 1 dead, dozens hospitalized
by Stephen Dethrage
Overdoses on synthetic marijuana known as 'spice' have spiked in Tuscaloosa County in the last two weeks, leaving one victim dead and two dozen others hospitalized.
The leaders of the area's public safety and law enforcement agencies held a joint press conference Thursday afternoon to make the public aware of the problem, which Tuscaloosa's Chief of Police Steven Anderson called "a public health crisis and a public safety crisis."
In the last year, agents of the West Alabama Narcotics Task Force have made at least two major seizures of synthetic marijuana and found the drugs had been treated with insecticides and rodenticides. Public safety officials suspect the poisons are being added to make the 'spice' more potent and to give it hallucinogenic effects, but it is also sending users of the drug to the hospital.
Deric Jones, the medical director at DCH Regional Medical Center in Tuscaloosa, said the hospital's campuses in Tuscaloosa and Northport have treated 24 cases of 'spice' overdose since March 28.
In those 13 days, one victim has died and others are comatose and on life support. Even in the comparatively mild cases, Jones said the victims are so agitated, aggressive and paranoid that many must be either physically restrained or chemically sedated before they can be treated.
Another major concern for public safety officials is that they believe the risk of serious health problems after using 'spice' doesn't depend on how much you take into your system.
"It's not dose-dependent," Jones said. "If you take one puff of this stuff, it very well may cause you to go completely into a coma or even die."
District Attorney Lyn Head praised the state legislature for adding broad language regulating synthetic drugs to Alabama's law three years ago. Since the verbiage of the law does not specifically name what chemicals a synthetic must contain to be illegal, there are no loopholes for manufacturers to exploit by simply trying out a new chemical cocktail when one recipe becomes outlawed.
Head promised to prosecute manufacturers and dealers of the drug to the fullest extent of the law, and asked members of the public to warn everyone they knew about the dangers of smoking 'spice.'
"We are actually not optimistic that the people who are using these substances are going to read these news reports," Head said. "What we're asking the public to do, to save lives, is to tell everyone you know about these substances. They actually contain chemicals that were designed to poison and kill living things, and people are consuming them."
One of the biggest challenges the synthetics present is that they look like legitimate marijuana, and previous iterations of the drug have had effects similar to the real deal. Now that various poisons are being used in their creation, the game has changed, Tuscaloosa County Sheriff Ron Abernathy said.
"This is not marijuana, okay? Tell the public, tell your children, that's not what we're dealing with here," Abernathy said. "This is not marijuana, it shouldn't be associated with marijuana, and it can kill you."
Head said the district attorney's office is working with other members on the WANTF board to discuss how to bring more serious charges to bear on the dealers and manufacturers of the drug, especially since it has now resulted in a death.
She said the board would meet this month to debate and discuss the possibility of filing manslaughter or wrongful death charges to dealers who could be directly connected to fatal overdoses.
Project Wildfire aims to keep improving public safety in valley
by Joe Bartels
LAS VEGAS -- Authorities say Project Wildfire launched a nationwide manhunt on gang members and put 22 suspects from across the valley in jail.
Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and police departments across the country launched an all out offensive effort on gangs. Supervisory Special Agent Albert Giangregorio, with the Department of Homeland Security says the round-up was successful.
"It's a public safety issue," said Giangregorio. "By removing these individuals from our communities we are directly impacting and improving public safety here in Las Vegas. That's our core mission."
Police suited up in bullet proof vests, helmets and high powered rifles and hauled out gang members they say are violent, dangerous and in some cases have no reason to be in the U.S.
"Immigration Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations was involved," said Giangregorio. "These criminal street gangs represent transnational organizations, so they often come across the border and their crimes have border nexus to them."
Authorities say gang members affiliated with Hustlers Taking Over and Public Enemy Number One were arrested in Las Vegas, among other gangs.
The Anti-Defamation League lists Public Enemy Number One as a rapidly growing white supremacist group with a presence in Southern Nevada.
Authorities say the 22 local individuals were linked to more than a dozen Las Vegas Street gangs and are now facing a variety of charges.
"The problem is real. It's here, as evidenced by our 22 arrests, they are living in our community," said Giangregorio. "They are in every area of las vegas."
Homeland Security says the war on gangs rages on and they will continue to work with local police to make even more arrests.
Project Wildfire is part of an even bigger global initiative by Homeland Security Investigations called Operation Community Shield. Since it was created in 2005, more than 36,000 gang members have been arrested.
Witness Who Recorded Shooting Of Walter Scott Speaks Out: 'Police Had Control'
by Andy Campbell
(Video on site)
The bystander who recorded a South Carolina officer fatally shooting an unarmed black man eight times said the cop had control of the situation before he pulled out his gun, and that he had not heard the officer give a warning before he fired.
In an interview with NBC News, the witness, Feidin Santana, said he could hear North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager deploying his Taser on Walter Scott when he pulled out his camera phone. He said the two were on the ground before he started filming.
"I remember the police had control of the situation," Santana said during the interview (above). "You can hear the sound of a Taser... I believe [Scott] was just trying to get away from the Taser."
In a separate interview with MSNBC's Craig Melvin, Santana said he did not hear the officer say anything before he fired his gun. Santana said he did not hear Scott say anything during the incident.
Slager was arrested Tuesday and charged with murder after the shooting, which occurred during a traffic stop on Saturday. Slager was charged only after the video was released, and the footage pulled the officer's own account of the incident into question.
Audio of Slager's call to dispatch was released today, and there are clear discrepancies between that audio and Santana's footage. Slager said he felt threatened because Scott allegedly reached for his Taser. Video evidence shows Slager dropping an object near Scott's body after the shooting.
Santana has reportedly said he waited to release the footage to see how Slager would report his actions.
"He wanted to see what reports were coming from the North Charleston Police Department because of the fact that they may have told the truth,” Walter Scott's brother told TIME on Wednesday. “And when they continued with the lies, he said, ‘I have to come forward.'”
Santana told MSNBC's Melvin that he read the police report and took issue with its account of what happened. Santana said that he went to the police station following the shooting to inform them that he had witnessed and recorded it. After being told to wait, Santana left without handing any information to the police after reconsidering the situation. Santana told Melvin that he didn't believe police would properly handle the video which prompted him to give it to Scott's family.
Santana also said he almost erased the footage, fearing that he'd be "in the same danger" for even possessing it. He told NBC News that he's emotional for everyone involved.
"It's not something that anyone can feel good about," he said. "[Slager] has his family... but he made a bad decision and you pay for your decisions in this life. There are other ways he could have used to get [Scott] arrested."
Michael Slager, Cop Who Killed Unarmed Black Man Walter Scott, Had Prior Excessive Force Complaint
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) -- The white South Carolina police officer charged with murder for shooting an unarmed black man in the back was allowed to stay on the force despite a 2013 complaint that he used excessive force against another unarmed black man.
In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Mario Givens recounted Wednesday how he was awakened before dawn one morning by loud banging on the front door of his family's North Charleston home.
On the porch was Patrolman Michael Thomas Slager, the officer now charged in the shooting death of Walter Lamer Scott, which was captured in dramatic cellphone footage by a bystander Saturday.
Givens, who was clad only in a T-shirt and boxer shorts, cracked open his door and asked what the officer wanted.
"He said he wanted to come in but didn't say why," said Givens, now 33. "He never said who he was looking for."
Then, without warning, Slager pushed in the door, he said.
"Come outside or I'll tase you," he quoted the officer as saying, adding: "I didn't want that to happen to me, so I raised my arms over my head, and when I did, he tased me in my stomach anyway."
Givens said the pain from the stun gun was so intense that he dropped to the floor and began calling for his mother, who also was in the home. At that point, he said another police officer came into the house and they dragged him outside and threw him to the ground. He was handcuffed and put in a squad car.
Though initially accused of resisting the officers, Givens was later released without charge.
Asked about the 2013 incident on Wednesday, North Charleston police spokesman Spencer Pryor said the department plans to review the case to see whether its decision to exonerate Slager was correct. Pryor said he had no timetable for the review.
Givens' relatives remember the encounter vividly.
"It was very devastating," said Bessie Givens, 57, who was awaked by her son's piercing screams. "You watch your son like that, he's so vulnerable. You don't know what's going to happen. I was so scared."
It turned out that Givens' arrest was a case of mistaken identity. Officers had been looking for his brother, Matthew Givens, whose ex-girlfriend had reported that he came into her bedroom uninvited, then left when she screamed and called 911.
The woman, Maleah Kiara Brown, told The AP on Wednesday that she and a friend had gone to the Givens home with the officers and were sitting outside when Slager knocked on the door. The second officer had gone around to the back of the house.
She had provided the officers with a detailed description of her ex-boyfriend, Matthew Givens, who is about 5 feet, 5 inches tall. Mario Givens stands well over 6 feet.
"He looked nothing like the description I gave the officers," Brown said. "He asked the officer why he was at the house. He did it nicely. The police officer said he wanted him to step outside. Then he asked, `Why, why do you want me to step outside?' Then the officer barged inside and grabbed him."
Moments later, she saw the police officers drag Mario Givens out of the house and throw him in the dirt. Brown said she kept yelling to the officers that they had the wrong man, but they wouldn't listen. Though Givens was offering no resistance, she said, she saw Slager use the stun gun on him again.
"He was screaming, in pain," she said. "He said, `You tased me. You tased me. Why?' It was awful. Terrible. I asked the officer why he tased him and he told me to get back."
"He was cocky," she said of Slager. "It looked like he wanted to hurt him. There was no need to tase him. No reason. He was no threat - and we told him he had the wrong man."
She said she later told a female police supervisor what she had seen.
The next day, an angry Mario Givens went downtown to police headquarters and filed a formal complaint. He and his mother say several neighbors who witnessed what happened on the family's front lawn also contacted the police, though they say officers refused to take their statements.
The incident report filed by Slager and the other officer, Maurice Huggins, provides a very different version of events. In the report, obtained by The AP through a public-records request, Slager wrote that he could not see one of Givens' hands and feared he might be holding a weapon. He wrote that he observed sweat on Givens' shirt, which he perceived as evidence that he could have run from Brown's home, and then ordered him to exit several times.
When Givens didn't comply, Slager said he entered the home to prevent him from fleeing and was then forced to use his stun gun when Givens struggled with him. The officers' report describes the Givens brothers as looking "just alike."
After Mario Givens filed his complaint, the department opened an internal investigation. A brief report in Slager's personnel file says a senior officer was assigned to investigate. After a couple of weeks, the case was closed with a notation that Slager was "exonerated."
Brown is listed as a witness in the investigative report, but her purported statement included none of the details she said she provided about Slager shocking Givens while he was on the ground. She said she was never contacted as part of the police investigation and had not spoken with anyone about that night until she was contacted by an AP reporter Wednesday.
The report includes statements from Givens and from another woman who was there that night, Yolonda Whitaker, who said she saw Slager stun Givens "for no reason." Efforts to reach Whitaker by phone and the addresses listed for her in the police report were unsuccessful.
Givens said he was never contacted as part of the internal investigation and learned the case had been closed only after he went to the station about six weeks later and asked what happened.
"They never told me how they reached the conclusion. Never. They never contacted anyone from that night. No one from the neighborhood," Givens said.
Givens shook his head Wednesday when asked about his reaction to learning Slager had been charged with murder. Slager is being held without bail.
"It could have been prevented," Givens said of Scott's death. "If they had just listened to me and investigated what happened that night, this man might be alive today."
South Carolina Shooting: Officer Captured on Video Fired
Mayor signs order to add 150 police body cameras after shooting of a black man by white officer
by Valerie Bauerlein and Cameron McWhirter
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C.—City leaders moved swiftly Wednesday to try to tamp down racial tensions after the shooting death of an unarmed black man by a white officer, captured on video, triggered protests and led to murder charges against the policeman.
While the demonstrations were peaceful, rage simmered beneath the surface, as some citizens complained that, were it not for the cellphone footage by a passerby, concern about excessive police force would have been treated very differently by authorities.
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said in a news conference that the officer, Michael Slager, had been fired, a day after he was charged with murder in the Saturday shooting of Walter Scott following a routine traffic stop over a broken brake light.
Lawyer Andrew J. Savage said in a statement he had been hired to represent Mr. Slager, who was being held in the Charleston County detention center. But he declined to comment further, saying “As we focus in on the facts we will probably have more to say, but it is far too early for us to be saying what we think.”
As part of the city's response, Mr. Summey also announced that he had signed an executive order for the city to add 150 body cameras for officers, on top of 101 that previously had been planned, as South Carolina legislators pushed for a broader law to mandate the technology.
But the actions didn't fully quell the frustration over the shooting, which spurred protesters to gather outside City Hall on Wednesday, chanting and waving posters with slogans such as “Black Lives Matter.”
“Without the video he'd be just another black man dead,” said Jeremy Johnson, 21, a fast-food worker. He said he wanted to keep pressure on officials to clamp down on police brutality and draw attention to the death of Mr. Scott.
The shooting in the sprawling industrial city of 104,000 people whose population is 47% black, according to census data, unfolded in an empty lot the size of a city block, behind a closed car dealership.
The 50-year-old Mr. Scott had been pulled over in his Mercedes on Saturday morning along a busy stretch of strip malls, drugstores and auto shops. He ran across a side street and into the overgrown lot, which is partially shielded by trees, where his confrontation with Mr. Slager culminated in shots being fired into his back.
Justin Bamberg, a lawyer for the Scott family, said Mr. Scott might have run away from the officer because he owed child support and had been arrested in the past for lack of payment.
“I don't think he wanted to go back to jail,” Mr. Bamberg said.
Mr. Scott's mother, Judy Scott, wept in an interview on ABC on Wednesday, saying that watching the shooting video was “the most horrible thing I have ever seen.”
“It tore my heart to pieces,” she said.
In an interview with NBC, the man who took the video, identified by the network as Feidin Santana, said he saw a struggle between a man and a police officer. He said he started recording after he heard the officer's Taser stun-gun being deployed.
“I remember the police had control of the situation,” Mr. Santana said in the interview. “He had control of Scott. And Scott was trying just to get away from the Taser.
“As you can see in the video, the police officer just shot him in the back,” Mr. Santana said. “I knew right away I had something on my hands.”
Todd Rutherford, a Columbia. S.C., defense lawyer, said he was representing the man who shot the video but declined to comment on his behalf.
On Wednesday, small groups of people clustered behind a rusted chain link fence near the scene of the shooting and compared notes on where Mr. Scott appeared to have fallen, and where the person who shot the video likely stood. Some left letters for Mr. Scott's family. Others left bouquets of flowers, real and plastic.
“When I saw the car I knew who it was,” said Keyron Blandin, who lives nearby and knows Mr. Scott's family, as he snapped pictures of the site Wednesday. “I feel for both families,” said the 64-year-old, adding that Mr. Slager's “life is gone.”
Still, the demonstrations were relatively restrained and entirely nonviolent. U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said he attributed the relative calm in North Charleston to five years of strategic partnerships between federal and local law enforcement and the community, including the establishment of a diversion program for low-level drug offenses and street-level community policing through a federal program called Stop and Take a New Direction, or Stand.
“The lack of violence in the streets over this shooting is a peace dividend the city is getting for that investment,” he said in an interview.
In the news conference, Police Chief Eddie Driggers said he didn't know whether a police stun gun had been placed at Mr. Scott's side after he was shot. The video appeared to show the officer dropping something near Mr. Scott after the shooting.
“I have watched the video and I was sickened by what I saw,” Mr. Driggers said.
Mr. Bamberg, the lawyer for the Scott family, said Wednesday that they would be filing a lawsuit against the North Charleston police department and “anyone else responsible for making this happen.”
The family first learned of the existence of the bystander's video on Sunday, when he approached the family and said, “I have something that I think you need to see,” Mr. Bamberg said.
The witness showed the family the video and later gave them a copy, Mr. Bamberg said. The family quickly turned it over to state investigators, he said.
Police Shouldn't Ask If a Shooting Is Justified, But If It's Avoidable
by Seth Stoughton
Every time a police shooting gets national attention, the difference in the conflicting attitudes that civilians and law enforcement have toward the use of force is glaring. That conflict drives much of the tension between police agencies and the communities they serve.
When cops evaluate a use-of-force incident, they ask whether it was justified, focusing on the legal rule set by the Supreme Court in the 1989 case Graham v. Connor. The Court held that officers may use force so long as it is “objectively reasonable.” To determine whether a particular action was objectively reasonable, the Court held, judges must view the situation through the deferential lens of “a reasonable officer on the scene.”
When civilians evaluate a use-of-force incident, they ask whether it was avoidable. They want to know whether the officer could have done something—anything—else.
The tragic shooting of Tamir Rice last November puts the difference between “justified” and “avoidable” in stark contrast. Officers responding to call that there was a “man with a gun” in a park drove to within about ten feet of their suspect. One officer jumped out of the car and, within two seconds, fatally shot the 12-year-old. Was it justified? Probably, if one narrowly considers the officers proximity to an apparently armed man. Was it avoidable? Almost certainly, when one acknowledges that the officers could have—and should have—parked at a safe distance and approached cautiously by using cover, concealment, and communication.
Why do most officers, charged with serving and protecting their communities, persist in asking whether a use of force was justified rather than necessary? I put a great deal of blame on the expansive “warrior mindset” that has become so highly esteemed in the law enforcement community. To protect themselves, to even survive, officers are taught to be ever-vigilant. Enemies abound, and the job of the Warrior is to fight and vanquish those enemies.
That's not the right attitude for police. Our officers should be, must be, guardians, not warriors. The goal of the Guardian isn't to defeat an enemy, it is to protect the community to the extent possible, including the community member that is resisting the officer's attempt to arrest them. For the guardian, the use of avoidable violence is a failure, even if it satisfies the legal standard.
Society invests a tremendous amount of trust and responsibility into our police officers. Policing is a difficult job, not least because of the potential for violence that cannot be predicted or, in many cases, prevented.
But in the long run, it would be safer for everyone if officers saw their role as guarding the community, not defeating enemies.
Seth Stoughton is a professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, where he is affiliated with the Rule of Law Collaborative. He served as a city police officer and state investigator. He is on Twitter.
April 9 speaker to explore racial profiling, community policing
Does racial profiling exist? Why did the Chicago Police Department stop and frisk people more than 250,000 times yet that quarter of a million stops led to no arrests?
How do everyday encounters with the police affect community members' attitudes toward police officers? Did underlying systemic issues exist in Ferguson, Mo., before the shooting of Michael Brown and the demonstrations by activists and angry protests?
Do police need military-style equipment and body cameras? Do citizens have a say in how they are policed?
Ed Yohnka, director of communications and public policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, will explore these thought-provoking issues during a presentation at NIU on racial profiling and community policing.
The event begins at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 9, in the Lincoln Room in the Holmes Student Center. Free parking in the Visitors Lot is available beginning at 7 p.m.
Yohnka, who participated in a panel discussion at NIU last semester, is knowledgeable about the pros and cons of body cameras, a growing trend in police departments.
His return to NIU comes on the heels of a report released by the ACLU which found that Chicago surpassed New York City in the number of people stopped and frisked, with practices that often failed to meet constitutional standards. The new report also suggests that the police subject blacks in Chicago to stops at disproportional rates yet they are less likely to be carrying illegal items.
This free presentation is sponsored by the NIU Presidential Commission on the Status of Minorities and the League of Women Voters of DeKalb County.
For more information, call (815) 753-1527 or email email@example.com
White South Carolina policeman charged with murdering black man
by Harriet McLeod
(Video on site)
CHARLESTON, S.C. -- (Reuters) - A white South Carolina police officer was arrested and charged with murder on Tuesday after a video showed him shooting eight times at the back of a 50-year-old black man who was running away after a traffic stop and died at the scene.
The FBI and the U.S. Justice Department launched a separate investigation into the fatal shooting, which is the latest flashpoint in a series of incidents that have raised questions about policing and race relations across the country.
Civil rights leaders called for calm, while many on social media said the official response would have been very different had the incident not been filmed by a member of the public who then handed the video to the victim's family.
"When you're wrong, you're wrong," North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey told reporters, adding that the recording had been key in the decision to charge the officer.
"If you make a bad decision, I don't care if you're behind the shield or just a citizen on the street, you have to live by that decision," Summey said.
The shooting occurred on Saturday morning after officer Michael Slager, 33, stopped Walter Scott for a broken brake light, police said.
The video shows a brief scuffle between the two men before Scott begins to run away. Slager is then seen taking aim with a handgun before shooting eight times at Scott's back. Scott then slumps facedown onto the grass.
According to a police report, Slager, who joined the department in 2009, told other officers Scott had taken his stun gun from him. At no point in the video, which does not show the initial contact between the men, does Scott appear to be armed.
Slager places the victim in handcuffs as he lies facedown on the ground, and then the officer takes several paces back to a spot near where he opened fire.
The video then shows him appearing to pick something up, return to Scott, and then drop it next to him on the ground.
FEW BLACK POLICE
The shooting took place in North Charleston, which is home to about 100,000 people, nearly half of whom are black, 2010 U.S. Census data shows.
By contrast, only about 18 percent of its police department's roughly 340 officers are black, the local Post and Courier newspaper reported last year.
Elder James Johnson, president of the local chapter of the National Action Network civil rights organization, welcomed the swift decision to charge Slager.
"We still want to tell the community to remain calm," he said.
Chris Stewart, an attorney for Scott's family, said they cried and hugged when they learned of the officer's arrest.
"What happened today doesn't happen all the time," he told a news conference. "What if there was no video? What if there was no witness or hero to come forward?"
The family plans to file a civil rights suit against Slager, the department and the city, he said.
The person who filmed the video is speaking with investigators and will come forward publicly "at some point," Stewart added.
Scott's brother, Anthony Scott, said his late sibling served two years in the U.S. Coast Guard, that he was a father of four, and that he loved the Dallas Cowboys.
He said his brother would "never" have fought the officer for his stun gun. "If you're caught, you're caught," he said.
SOCIAL MEDIA FRENZY
According to the Post and Courier, Scott had a warrant out for his arrest from family court at the time of his death.
His arrest history, mostly for contempt of court charges for failing to pay child support, included one accusation of a violation stemming from an assault and battery charge in 1987, the newspaper reported.
Social media sites saw a frenzy of reaction, mostly by people suggesting that without the video, no action might have been taken against the officer.
"Imagine how many times throughout history they got away with murder because there wasn't a camera," one person on Twitter commented.
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, a Republican, said the shooting was "not acceptable," and vowed the criminal judicial process "will proceed fully."
Slager, who was also formerly a member of the Coast Guard, had not previously been disciplined by the department, the Post and Courier said. He has two stepchildren and a pregnant wife.
The paper reported that in 2013 a man accused him of shooting him with a stun gun without cause, but that Slager was cleared of wrongdoing after an internal police investigation.
North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers appeared to be fighting tears as he described his feelings watching the video.
"I think that all of these police officers on this force, men and women, are like my children," he told reporters. "So you tell me how a father would react."
Wellfleet Residents Petition Selectmen for Community Policing
WELLFLEET - A group of Wellfleet residents have petitioned the Board of Selectmen to adopt the concept of community policing.
The goal of community policing is to develop strong relationships between the police and residents.
Wellfleet Board of Selectman Chairman Paul Pilcher says 60 residents have signed the petition and the issue was discussed at last night's selectmen's meeting.
“The group that has brought the petition forward is asking that this be adopted more formally,” Pilcher said.
Pilcher said selectmen are not against the idea of community policing.
“Being against community policing is kind of like being against motherhood and apple pie,” Pilcher said. “So the devil is in the details and what it is that the police would like to do and what it is the community is prepared to do.”
The issue stems from an arrest last year which caused an officer to resign, according to Pilcher.
Pilcher says police have reached out to the community with events like “coffee with a cop,” softball games and a citizens police academy.
New model of policing needed
by Michael T. McPhearson
As the U.S. Department of Justice embarks on a new series of listening sessions in Ferguson this week — in the wake of its recent report finding rampant racial bias in the city's police department — we are reminded of the ways the Ferguson protests have forced us to imagine a new model of policing. Instead of criminalizing and undermining whole communities, this much-needed new model would create trust by genuinely serving and protecting them.
Since the 1960s, policing has been characterized by a militarized approach: the “War on Crime,” the “War on Drugs” and the “War on Terror.” Asked to fight these wars, police have responded accordingly with tactics that emphasize arrest and incarceration, stop-and-frisk methods that too often ignore the need for reasonable suspicion, and hot-spot policing that targets communities.
These police tactics have exacted a great cost. Our jails and prisons are overburdened, and lives are being destroyed rather than rehabilitated. The lack of concern for building healthy communities has only led to further decay. Is it any wonder that protests against the current model of policing have erupted around the nation? Our policies have led us to the breaking point where police have little legitimacy, and the community can take no more.
Fortunately, there is a blueprint for change emerging from this fog of war. We can see its outline in two reports just issued, the Department of Justice Report on Ferguson and the recommendations from the Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Both imagine ideal cops as guardians rather than warriors, as engaged partners promoting public safety rather than counting arrests as the sole sign of success. A few key principles anchor this vision:
1. Public safety is more than just crime-busting. A larger vision of public safety would promote general welfare by attacking the underlying causes of crime including economic disparity, physical and mental health, and the crisis of despair caused by the lack of trust not just in police but in government as a whole.
2. Police have a role to play in maintaining public safety, but they must act in collaborative partnerships with government and nongovernment agencies to provide necessary services. We often call this community policing, but we must not misinterpret community policing to mean that police must be all things to all people, providing social work, mental health counseling and more. We don't need social workers with guns. Rather we need to reduce the role of police to a manageable workload so they are more often coordinating with service providers and stepping in only as a last resort when necessary.
3. We must stop casting broad nets to catch a small number of violent offenders. Geographical hot-spot policing disrupts whole neighborhoods, and mass surveillance destroys everyone's privacy. We are learning instead how to identify those most vulnerable to committing crime, but we must reach out in nonpunitive ways to change behavior. Programs of focused deterrence have often carried too big a stick and too few carrots. Social services can do more to create positive outcomes than arrests. And building and using social networks to influence behavior has proven successful in allowing communities to heal themselves.
4. Partnership with communities means police transparency, accountability and openness to input. Civilian oversight boards are important accountability tools. But the new vision for policing also emphasizes the need for citizens to set public safety priorities, and to serve on panels for promotion, hiring boards and Use of Force review boards. Data collection and transparency regarding traffic and pedestrian stops, arrests, and discipline outcomes also create avenues for citizen understanding, input and holding police accountable.
We can look to these reports and related testimony to find examples of all these reforms. Then we must leverage this information to create a new type of policing in St. Louis and nationally.
Michael T. McPhearson, executive director of Veterans For Peace, and Denise Lieberman, senior attorney for Advancement Project, are the co-chairs of the Don't Shoot Coalition. John Chasnoff, a member of the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression, is on the steering committee of the Don't Shoot Coalition. The coalition of nearly 50 St. Louis-area organizations was formed last August after the police shooting of Michael Brown.
Police outline neighborhood efforts
by Whitney Helm
Chief Norm Jacobs and Capt. Dan Molland presented what they believe are Beloit Police Department success stories to the city council during Monday's meeting.
Jacobs said the community policing models have been in place at the department for 15 years and include assigning officers to a particular area for at least a year. The officers work with community organizations and citywide organizations, such as the NAACP.
Part of that community engagement is using social media sites such as Facebook, Nixle and Twitter to update citizens.
The department has been conducting enhanced visibility strategies on the West and East sides of the city, citing programs held Feb. 27, March 5 and March 28.
Molland said the police use data from keeping track of shots-fired calls to devise strategies and increase visibility in certain areas during peak crime periods, from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Officers use what they call the “SARA” method — scan, analysis, respond and assessment — to solve issues within the community. Molland said problem-solving makes up 5 percent of the officer's time but has a huge impact on the community.
“It assists us to reduce repeat calls for service, enhances community policing and helps officers see satisfaction in their daily work,” Molland told the council.
According to 2014 data, the police department coordinated 39 problem-solving projects. There were 12 qualify of life, seven public nuisance, five traffic and 16 other initiatives. Molland said there have been 32 foot patrols in the Merrill Neighborhood and 82 citywide.
In February, the department opened a substation in the Merrill Neighborhood, located in the Wisconsin Department of Correction's Probation and Parole Office at 1403 Argall Ave. There are officers in the building from 11 a.m. to noon and 4 to 5 p.m. seven days a week.
The Adopt-a-Cop program has expanded to five schools this year. The program was started in 2012 by Officer Tom Halvorsen at Converse Elementary School.
Officers spend an hour each day to help foster a better relationship between the police and children in the community. Halvorsen is scheduled to present a program on the effort at the 2015 Center for Problem-Oriented Policing Conference.
Molland noted that the department has conducted warrant sweeps targeting repeat and serious offenders.
In an September 2014 interview, Jacobs announced increased efforts in two specific target areas — one on the West Side and the other on the East Side of the city. The West Side zone includes the area between Merrill Street and Shirland Avenue and Bluff Street to Hackett Street. The East Side area includes Keeler Avenue to Henry Avenue and Park Avenue to Prairie Avenue.
“In essence what we're doing is trying to focus forward,” Molland said.
The damning truth about Snowden:
Traitor who put Western lives at risk from terrorists reveals he didn't even read all the top-secret files he leaked
by Ian Drury and Daniel Bates
Traitor Edward Snowden has revealed he did not read all the top-secret intelligence documents he leaked – a move which put lives at risk from terrorists.
In a television interview the fugitive squirmed as he admitted only ‘evaluating' the files stolen from GCHQ and the US National Security Agency.
The former US spy also acknowledged there had been a ‘f***-up' when newspapers that were handed the classified material failed to redact sensitive details exposing operations against Al Qaeda.
But in an outburst of arrogance, Snowden said such potentially catastrophic blunders were a ‘fundamental' price of liberty.
The 31-year-old stunned the world in June 2013 – less than a month after the murder of Lee Rigby by Islamic extremists – when he broke cover as the civilian CIA worker who stole classified documents.
He leaked information about attempts by spying agencies including GCHQ and the NSA to view citizens' private information, claiming internet history, emails, text messages, calls and passwords were harvested.
But security chiefs have warned that secret techniques, revealed by Snowden's leaks to the Guardian newspaper, have made it easier for terrorists and organised criminals to avoid detection.
Last month, Home Secretary Theresa May attacked the harm done by the traitor – now one of the world's most wanted men. Terror experts said lives were being lost because he had hampered security service operations. They warned that extremists had altered their tactics after he leaked details from intelligence agencies – with fatal results.
In Sunday night's interview with British TV host John Oliver, for US channel HBO, Snowden pointedly avoided saying he had read every document he handed over to journalists.
He would only say: ‘I've evaluated all of the documents that are in the archive.' Pressed, he added: ‘I do understand what I turned over.'
But he acknowledged ‘recognising the concern' over whether he knew enough about the contents of the files or the abilities of reporters to protect classified details.
Snowden admitted there had been a ‘f***-up' with the way in which some of the information about the NSA and GCHQ, Britain's intelligence agency, had been released.
Last year, the New York Times published a slide containing the name of the NSA employee who prepared it. The target of the surveillance was also identified as Al Qaeda in Mosul, Iraq.
Snowden said such details should have been removed and, in a feeble attempt to defend his actions, added: ‘In journalism we have to accept that some mistakes will be made. This is a fundamental concept of liberty.'
Unconvinced, Mr Oliver replied: ‘You're giving documents with information that you know could be harmful which could get out there … We're not even talking about bad faith, we're talking about incompetence.'
It is one of the few occasions in which Snowden has been put on the spot over his treachery as he normally speaks only to Left-wing media who have published his leaks.
Lord West, a former First Sea Lord and security minister, said: ‘Since the revelations of the traitor Snowden, terrorist groups have changed how they communicate and talk to each other.
‘His actions have made us all less safe. No doubt people will die who would not have died had he not been so irresponsible.'
Robin Simcox, of the Henry Jackson Society security think-tank, said: ‘This is exactly the danger that those who believe Snowden's actions were hugely irresponsible – and potentially fatal – warned of.
‘This interview seemed to show how little Snowden had thought about the potentially deadly consequences. Snowden stole a huge amount of sensitive documents and as a result terrorists and other serious criminals have adapted their methods accordingly.'
Snowden handed an estimated 200,000 of the 1.7million stolen classified documents to journalists. In June 2013, he told the Guardian: ‘I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest.'
He added: ‘There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn't turn over, because harming people isn't my goal.'
A report by the Henry Jackson Society last month revealed terror suspects were using human couriers instead of email and phones following the leaks by Snowden. Daily operations of British spies have been damaged, with Islamic State seizing on the information – making it harder to track down its operatives.
Al Qaeda militants are known to have changed communication methods to avoid detection, and have produced a video advising fellow extremists on the matter.
GCHQ has lost track of some of Britain's most dangerous criminals because of the way Snowden exposed its operations. Officials had to stop monitoring drug gangs, paedophiles, human traffickers and money launderers.
The agency has also been forced to tone down or abandon surveillance amid fears the tactics are too easy to spot and could force criminals to fall off the radar.
Mrs May told the Commons home affairs committee that the leaks ‘did cause damage', adding: ‘It has had an impact on the ability of our agencies to do the work they need to do.'
Snowden, who was a computer specialist at an intelligence centre in Hawaii, tricked colleagues into handing over passwords so he could copy files in one of the biggest leaks in US history.
He claims he had to act because the US government's policies were a ‘threat to democracy'. He fled to Hong Kong, then Russia, where he was granted asylum and now lives in a secret location.
A Guardian spokesman said the newspaper had ‘nothing to add' in response to Snowden saying he had ‘evaluated' the documents and whether this had put people at risk.
Two bills signed by Governor Ducey aiming to enhance public safety, protect officers on the street
by Lauren Gilger
Governor Doug Ducey signed two bills aimed at enhancing public safety and protecting law enforcement officers last week.
GUNS AND THE SERIOUSLY MENTALLY ILL
The ABC15 Investigators first told you about Senate Bill 1373 after the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission (ACJC) found law enforcement officers on the street have no way of knowing if a suspect is legally allowed to have a gun.
If a court rules that someone is seriously mentally ill, they become a prohibited possessor.
Prohibited possessors are tracked in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. NICS is a system that federal firearms dealers check in order to determine whether or not someone is legally allowed to buy or possess a gun.
Now that SB 1373 is state law, it will allow for the Arizona Department of Public Safety to give law enforcement officers on the street a notification indictor of mental health court rulings. So, when they pull someone over, they will be able to tell if a court has determined that person to be seriously mentally ill – and if they are legally allowed to have a gun.
Ducey also signed Senate Bill 1295, which closes a hole in our state's criminal records system.
The Department of Corrections found there were 53 inmates who arrived at state prisons in one month, January 2015, without accurate fingerprints attached to their criminal records.
That means, the ACJC estimates, if that's an average, there are potentially 600 inmates in Arizona prisons who could serve time, and never have it show up on their criminal records.
Now, SB 1295 will make it state law to require courts to permanently affix a defendant's fingerprints to their sentence document or order for certain offenses and allows for booking agencies to re-take a set of fingerprints if they are damaged or missing.
Community policing brings hope to Camden
CAMDEN, N.J. -- When Camden County police officer Virginia Matias reads to kindergarteners each week, she's establishing a connection that she hopes will extend beyond the classroom.
"It's good to start early," Matias said. "When I was growing up, I didn't have anything like that with police officers."
When not in classroom, Officer Matias patrols the streets of North Camden on foot, checking in on neighbors and greeting people.
"We are knocking on doors, introducing ourselves - letting them know that we're here to serve them," Matias said.
It is an attitude many in Camden are still getting used to. In 2012, Camden was known as America's most dangerous city after breaking its own record of 67 homicides - in a city with less than 77,000 people.
In 2013, Camden eliminated its entire police force that was plagued with corruption and budget cuts, and replaced it with a new one, run by the county.
"The organization that we created was one in which a culture, from day one, was that our officers would be guardians, and not warriors," said Chief Scott Thomson. "Our handcuffs and our service weapons would be tools of last resort."
A total of 411 officers were hired, up from 250. There are now fewer squad cars and desk jobs, which means more boots on the ground. Last year homicides dropped 42 percent. The average response time to 9-1-1 calls is now less than 5 minutes, down from more than 60 minutes, three years ago.
"By having officers out of their squad cars and walking their beats and riding bicycles, there is an enhanced level of human interaction between the officer and the residents," Chief Thomson said. "The byproduct of that is enhanced relationships, and it sets legitimacy and trust."
The city also installed 121 new surveillance cameras. Chief Thomson asked community leaders to help out by monitoring surveillance cameras from their home computers. Homicides fell by 42 percent last year. Chief Thomson credits part of that success to community policing.
"What it's done is its redefined the relationship between the police department and its people," he said.
Almost half of the entire Camden County police force is represented by minority officers. Matias, a 28 year old Dominican, is the face of this new change.
"When I was growing up it was very unsafe. A lot of crimes...I would call it living in a bubble."
At 17, Matias lost her uncle, who was shot and killed in the same neighborhood she is now protecting. Her work was recognized by the White House last month, where she was one of the six police officers invited to discuss community policing with President Obama.
20-year-old Jeremy Lopez has been living in Camden his whole life, and he notices a difference. Recently his family called police because of a neighborhood dispute.
"I swear there were like six cops cars that came... within, like, maybe ten minutes max," Lopez said.
Rev. John Parker leads a congregation of about 500. He believes it's the police chief that is making a difference.
"I think it's the heart of your chief," Rev. Parker said. "And when you have a heart, then that spreads through your crew."
But Eugene O'Donnell at John Jay College of Criminal Justice is skeptical of community policing.
"Truth is police-work can be adversarial, and the community sometimes wants police-work to be adversarial," said Prof. O'Donnell. "They want police to go after significant crime and disorder issues. Trying to reconcile those two things is not easy."
Camden already recorded five homicides this year. As for Officer Matias, eliminating violence starts with earning the trust of her community. And that is why she will continue to read to the next generation that has the power to change Camden's storyline.
Robinson, Ballard say community policing should be Fourth Ward focus
by John Martin
EVANSVILLE - Both Democrats running for Evansville City Council in the Fourth Ward said community policing is key to reducing crime there and elsewhere in the city.
Evansville Police Department crime maps show a high concentration of shots fired calls are in Center City neighborhoods, but in the view of incumbent Fourth Ward Councilwoman Connie Robinson, the area gets a bad rap on that issue. Neighborhoods on the Southeast Side (Second Ward) and in Jacobsville also have seen an uptick in shooting reports.
“What upsets me is when people concentrate on crime in the Fourth Ward,” said Robinson, a business owner who faces challenger David Reitz Ballard in a May 5 primary. “My company's in Jacobsville (part of the Third Ward) ,,, I've had police officers tell me they make more calls in Jacobsville. People want to concentrate on the negative in the Fourth Ward.”
Ballard said he's seen the impact of crime first hand as a probation officer in juvenile court, and it's one reason he chose to enter the race. His job involves preparing reports for prosecutors and judges recommending courses of action for juvenile offenders.
“How can you expect to build a college campus and a new hotel for tourists if the community doesn't feel safe itself,” Ballard said, referring to the two major development projects planned Downtown. “If the residents don't feel safe, why would anyone want to come to medical school in Downtown Evansville or stay in a nice hotel there? One, to some extent has to come before the other.”
Robinson joined other City Council members last year in denying Mayor Lloyd Winnecke's request to fund ShotSpotter, a technology program that uses sounds sensory devices to pick up gunshots. Winnecke and police department officials said the program has been a useful tool in other communities. Police said the devices would cover an unspecified four-mile area determined by shots fired data.
Dave Ballew, president of the Culver Neighborhood Association in the Fourth Ward, said ShotSpotter could have some positive impact.
“We want to work toward the ShotSpotter program,” Ballew said. “It's been proven to work in other cities. We would like to see something a little more proactive. But we understand the budget is tight with the city.”
Robinson does not think the technology would be effective in Evansville.
“The shootings are not random,” Robinson said. “They are things that happen after a night out, or whatever. They have specific targets they are going after. As far as ShotSpotter, I would like to see the money used for more police officers, and community policing. We have a young police force right now.”
Ballard's answer was similar. He said police officers and residents need to work together to build more trust.
“What the City Council can do is promote community policing,” Ballard said. “Shot Spotter is something expensive, and I think there is a more cost-effective way to reduce gun violence in the inner city. We can call it community policing, but in my mind, there needs to be a new bridge of communication built between the police and the residents ,,, The communication barrier exists on both sides. I don't think either of them speak the same language to each other.”
Police officers and all city employees have recently started mandatory “diversity training,” which involves taking an online course.
Robinson said that effort needs to go further. “I'm not impressed with that, sitting behind a computer taking diversity training. I think you need interaction and you don't get that sitting behind a desk. I don't think that's effective. You need to see how people are going to respond to one another.”
Supreme Court to Weigh Retroactivity of Mandatory JLWOP
by Gary Gately
WASHINGTON – A U.S. Supreme Court decision could forever alter the landscape of sentences of mandatory juvenile life without parole, potentially leading to resentencing hearings for some 2,100 convicted murderers.
The high court agreed on March 20 to hear a case that could set a precedent on whether its landmark 2012 Miller v. Alabama ruling applies to cases decided before that ruling.
In the 5-4 Miller ruling, the court did not specify definitively whether the decision should apply retroactively, and lower federal courts and state courts have been divided on the issue.
If the Supreme Court decides Miller should be applied retroactively, those sentenced before the ruling to mandatory life without parole for murders committed as juveniles could receive sentence reviews. Depending on the state, they could still be sentenced to life without parole, to life with parole eligibility after a specified number of years or be released, likely for time served, said Emily Keller, a staff attorney at the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia.
Opponents of mandatory juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) hailed the Supreme Court's decision to take up the retroactivity issue on a Louisiana case, Montgomery v. Louisiana, expected to be heard this fall.
“We're really hopeful that the Supreme Court will rule that Miller applies retroactively and that the thousands of individuals serving these unconstitutional sentences will have an opportunity for new sentencing hearings,” Keller said.
Of the court's decision to take up the case, Keller said: “It's a very hopeful sign; it's a signal that the court thinks this is an important issue that needs to be addressed, and we're hopeful that they'll rule that Miller does apply retroactively and that everyone does get a chance to receive a constitutional sentence.”
Florida just became the 10th state whose Supreme Court ruled Miller v. Alabama should apply retroactively. (The other states are Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Texas and Wyoming.)
Courts in five states — Alabama, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania — have ruled Miller does not apply retroactively.
Keller said it's patently unfair – and unconstitutional – to allow when and where a conviction took place to determine whether someone gets a resentencing hearing.
“I believe it's a matter of fairness and justice, and whether or not you're forced to serve an unconstitutional sentence shouldn't depend on the arbitrary date that your conviction became final or the state where you reside,” she said.
Heather Renwick, litigation counsel for the Washington-based nonprofit Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, also cited the split among state court rulings on retroactivity.
“It's inconsistent treatment across the U.S., depending on what state you're in,” Renwick said. “So we're hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will hold that Miller v. Alabama is retroactive so that every child sentenced under a mandatory sentencing scheme to die in prison will be afforded a second chance to demonstrate rehabilitation and the capacity to re-enter the community.”
In Miller, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled mandatory JLWOP violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Renwick said that if mandatory JLWOP was found to be cruel and unusual by the highest court in the land, the standard should apply to juveniles sentenced before the ruling.
Pennsylvania has the highest number of prisoners serving mandatory JLWOP sentences in the country, with some 500 inmates serving such sentences, including Kenneth C. Crawford III (see related story). The state's juvenile lifers had their hopes for a resentencing hearing dashed when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in October 2013 against applying Miller retroactively.
In its ruling in Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Ian Cunningham, the Pennsylvania high court stated: “Significantly, for present purposes, the Miller majority did not specifically address the question of whether its holding applies to judgments of sentence for prisoners, such as Appellant, which already were final as of the time of the Miller decision. As such, the opinion does not set out the principles governing the High Court's retroactivity jurisprudence.”
In Michigan, too, with nearly 350 inmates serving terms of mandatory JLWOP, the state Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in July that Miller does not apply retroactively.
On the day the ruling was handed down, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a statement: "Today the Michigan Supreme Court upheld the rights of crime victims and their families. This ruling should bring a measure of peace to the many families who struggled with the possibility of painful resentencing hearings for cases successfully prosecuted decades ago."
In Montgomery v. Louisiana, the appellant in the case, Henry Montgomery, received a sentence of mandatory JLWOP for murdering a police officer in 1963 less than two weeks after his 17th birthday.
A Montgomery v. Louisiana petition to the U.S. Supreme Court cited a lower federal court ruling and argued that the Miller decision is “a substantive constitutional rule that mandates courts to implement a new procedure in the sentencing of juveniles.”
In Miller, the U.S. Supreme Court pointed to research showing adolescents' brains are not fully developed and that youths are more susceptible than adults to peer pressure, more reckless and impulsive, more likely to take risks and less likely to consider long-term consequences.
The court said life circumstances, including trauma, must be taken into account in sentencing — and, notably, also found juveniles are amenable to rehabilitation, a finding often cited by opponents of mandatory JLWOP.
Mishi Faruqee, juvenile justice policy strategist at the American Civil Liberties Union, noted the United States is the only country in the world to sentence juveniles to life without parole. (The United Nations special investigator on torture, Juan E. Méndez, condemned juvenile life without parole in a report last month.)
“A child should never be sentenced to die in prison; I mean, they always have that capacity for change,” Faruqee said.
“Part of the nature of being a child is you're still growing and developing who you are, and so I think it's absolutely unacceptable to condemn a child to spend the rest of their life in prison. And that's something that the whole world has recognized except the United States.”
NJ Teen Helps Decide Fate of Some Juvenile Offenders
by Jackie Snow
NEW YORK — Jason Pedreros is considered an adult in the eyes of the law. But at 18, he is still a teenager who, as a volunteer on a judicial panel, is deciding the fate of fellow youths in the New Jersey county where he lives.
Pedreros serves on the Juvenile Conference Committees (JCC) in Hudson County that review charges against underage New Jersey residents and make punitive and rehabilitative recommendations to the court. There are six- to nine-member committees in each of New Jersey's 21 counties. In addition, many municipalities have their own. His handles north Bergen, west New York and Jersey City.
Charges are first reviewed by a juvenile intake probation officer and a Hudson County prosecutor, who decides which cases get sent to committees. First- or second-time minor offenses are eligible.
Pedreros, like all other committee volunteers, went through a training session before he could serve. They learn what types of offenses they will review, how to read a police report, review a code of conduct and find out about services available for juvenile defendants. Volunteers also sit in on an active committee to see how they work.
Pedreros began work in October and plans to continue until he moves to Waco, Texas, to attend Baylor University in the fall. So far, he's seen about 30 New Jersey kids, who are in front of the panel for anything from breaking a window to simple assault to shoplifting.
Pedreros and the other volunteers meet once a month and typically see three or four cases at a time. They are given the police report and any other documentation, reviewing it before calling in the defendant and parent or guardian. Pedreros said the first thing they ask is why the defendant is there. If it doesn't match the police report, it raises a red flag, he said. It's only happened once so far.
Mostly, he said, the panel tries to give them a second chance. Depending on the charge, the committee might recommend to the judge that the defendant should do community service, get at-home counseling or even call the defendant's school to get them extra tutoring.
“I get to see people who don't have as much privilege as I do and try to help them,” Pedreros said. “It makes you more reflective.”
If the defendant and parent accept the recommendation, they sign an agreement that becomes a court order. Once the order is met, the charges are dismissed. Defendants can get their records expunged with a form and fee.
The idea for Juvenile Conference Committees began in 1948; they became law in the early 1950s.
In 2011, the latest available year with data, 7,183 cases were diverted to Juvenile Conference Committees. This represents almost 17 percent of the total juvenile delinquency caseload statewide.
By the end of 2011, there were 262 Juvenile Conference Committees with 2,124 volunteers.
A few years ago, Judge Glenn A. Grant, the acting administrative director of New Jersey Courts, started an initiative to get at least one youth member on each committee.
George Podolak, the Hudson County JCC coordinator, also thinks it's a good idea to have young people on the committees. Youth members can help the rest of the committee empathize with what the defendant is going through, he said.
“Juvenile defendants are held accountable by people in their community and get to see other juveniles on the committee," Podolak said.
Pedreros speaks four languages and has dreams of speaking 10 some day. He is involved in six clubs and studied in Germany last semester.
Fernando Pedreros, Jason's father, said he initially was wary of this extra commitment, but it's now clear how much his son has liked the work.
“Every day he's talking about it,” Pedreros said. “He wants to do better for the country, better for the people."
Pedreros wants to work in public service one day, maybe as the governor of Texas. He often wears a pin emblazoned with the seal of the U.S. Senate, which he said Ted Cruz, one of his idols, gave him. His politics are conservative but, as a young man with Colombian roots, he was excited and inspired to see President Obama elected.
“It showed me America is changing,” he said. “We are bringing more people of color into politics.”