LACP - NEWS of the Week
on some LACP issues of interest

NEWS of the Week

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following group of articles from local newspapers and other sources constitutes but a small percentage of the information available to the community policing and neighborhood activist public. It is by no means meant to cover every possible issue of interest, nor is it meant to convey any particular point of view. We present this simply as a convenience to our readership.


December, 2015 - Week 3


Recent Strange Events Show ISIS May Be Preparing 'Hell Cannons' To Rain Down Hell Upon America

Propane Tanks On Steroids Can Hit Targets A Mile Away!

by Stefan Stanford

(Pictures and videos on site)

The strange stories continue to flow in and the latest out of North Carolina tells us four New York men have been arrested after attempting to steal massive amounts of plumbing supplies from a Lowes, just the latest in a string of similar larcenies in Virginia and North Carolina we are told. Over at Carolina Shooters Club, readers get it - one commenter mentions 'bomb making supplies' while another chimes in 'ISIS run out of money this week?'

While officials believe Yudesh Ruplal, Shane Ali, Benjamin Curtis and Alexandre Michel Regis were only going to resell these stolen supplies, one Shooter Club commenter mentions galvanized pipe was allegedly stolen while another mentions 10 to 12" sections, threaded, with threaded caps. Bomb making materials or something much worse?

The events in North Carolina and Virginia are just the latest in a series of what seem at first to be unrelated events in America recently. With the FBI launching investigations into countless stolen propane tanks and mass cell phone purchases by Middle Eastern men, we're beginning to see the pieces of the puzzle put together that, if allowed to continue, could lead to a devastating sequence of events with severe repercussions in America.

What could terrorists use plumbing supplies and propane tanks for? The pictures in this story gives us one good idea. With a major hattip going out to ANP reader Ann Inquirer for bringing this to our attention, we see an ingenious and devastating creation concocted by the Syrian rebels in their fight against Syrian President Assad, propane tanks on steroids, "hell cannons" that can be fired at targets up to a mile away. You can see them action in the first two videos below.'Hell cannons' have gone from minor nuisances to major threats and as you'll see in the videos and pictures here, can cause an absolutely amazing amount of damage for home made artillery and are extremely deadly. It just so happens that several of the items used in their creation include propane tanks and plumbing supplies, among other materials. Is it just a coincidence that these items are among those recently reported to be stolen by Middle Eastern men in various locations across the country?

Will all of these recent stolen items by Middle Eastern men in Missouri and elsewhere in America be used to create 'hell cannons' in America to be used against the American people and American infrastructure? Take a look at how easily these can apparently be made in the images here. Automobile? Check. Extra set of wheels? Check. Propane tanks and plumbing pipe? Check. Car battery or cell phone battery? Check. Weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Middle Eastern terrorists on US streets? As Susan Duclos reported on ANP yesterday, we also recently learned of some very strange purchases by Middle Eastern men of Xbox 360 Kinect sensors that left the store owner who contacted us very concerned considering everything else that we've also been witnessing in the region recently.

Interestingly enough, the US is believed to have taught the 'moderate' Syrian rebels how to build 'hell cannons' in their fight against Assad. Might 'karma' soon play out in America as terrorists who are here and who hate us use this creation against innocent American people? Are we as a nation preparing to reap the same destruction we have sown?

Back in December of 2014, the Daily Mail ran a story telling us all about these 'hell cannons', how they're created and the devastation that they can cause. Video reports on these hellacious weapons at the bottom of the story.

How many scenes like that seen below left are playing out across America right now? We should all pray that any such scenes to the below left that might now be playing out in America are stopped before they lead to scenes such as below right.

Yesterday, we also learned a man from Maryland has been charged by the FBI with supporting ISIS have receiving $9,000 from the terrorist group to carry out attacks in America - how many more 'Mohamed Yousef Elshinawy's are there in America? One of the ISIS militants who was in contact with Mohamed said the money was to be used for 'operational purposes'. How many more 'operations' do they have going in America with the seemingly endless cash supply ISIS has acquired via their extremely lucrative ' oil business'?

Another possible weapon using propane tanks and cell phones was brought to our attention by Shoebat in this linked story. Showing us a backpack IED using propane tanks, just imagine the damage this could cause - with huge numbers of stolen propane tanks and massive numbers of cell phones now in the hands of Middle Eastern men and possible terrorists, is it time to ban propane tanks, cell phones and backpacks, in addition to knives and guns too?

Seems to us it would be much easier to just get those who want to kill us out of the country before they succeed.




Suspected bomb found on Air France flight 463 to Paris

by CBS News

NAIROBI, Kenya - Kenyan authorities say they are questioning several suspects who were on an Air France flight from Mauritius to Paris that was forced to land early Sunday in the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa after a device suspected to be a bomb was found in a lavatory.

A few passengers are being questioned, said Kenya's Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery, speaking at a press conference at the Mombasa airport. Bomb experts are inspecting the device to see if it was an explosive, he said.

A Kenyan police official said six passengers are being questioned. The police official, who insisted on anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said during the flight a passenger noticed something in a lavatory that looked like "a stopwatch mounted on a box."

The passenger reported the device to the cabin crew, who informed the pilots, leading to an emergency landing at the airport in the Kenyan city of Mombasa. The official said one of those being interrogated is the man who reported the package.

The Boeing 777 Air France flight 463 was heading to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris when the pilots requested an emergency landing at the Moi International Airport at 12:37 a.m., police spokesman Charles Owino said.

"It requested an emergency landing when a device suspected to be an explosive was discovered in the lavatory," Owino said.

The plane was carrying 459 passengers and 14 crew members on board and had left Mauritius at 9 p.m., Owino said

All passengers were safely evacuated and the device was taken out, said Owino.

"The object, believed to be an explosive device has successfully been retrieved from the aircraft," said Kenya Airports Authority in a post on Twitter, adding that scheduled flights to Mombasa were disrupted during the interval but that normal operations have resumed.

A passenger who spoke to journalists after leaving the plane in Mombasa described the emergency landing.

"The plane just went down slowly, slowly, slowly, so we just realized probably something was wrong," said Benoit Lucchini of Paris.

"The personnel of Air France was just great, they were just wonderful. So they keep everybody calm. We did not know what was happening," said Lucchini. "So we secured the seat belt to land in Mombasa because we thought it was a technical problem but actually it was not a technical problem. It was something in the toilet. Something wrong in the toilet, it could be a bomb."

France has been under a state of emergency since the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for that and the Oct. 31 crash of a Russian passenger in the Sinai desert that killed all 224 people aboard. Moscow has said that the crash was caused by a bomb on the plane.

Two Air France flights from the U.S. to Paris were diverted on Nov. 18 after bomb threats were received. No bombs were found on the planes from Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

Kenya itself has also dealt with a host of terrorist attacks and threats, mostly from al Shabaab, the extremist group based in neighboring Somalia.




Savannah-Chatham police, residents work to improve relationships

by Dash Coleman and Brittini Ray

One afternoon in late August a sick teenager, on his way home early from an eastside Savannah school, had a run-in with police. He was black. The officers were white.

What happened was a minor incident — the kind of thing that doesn't make the news. But it was just another story in a continuing and nationwide narrative about the tense relationship between young black men and law enforcement.

The kid, who had permission to go home, was reportedly rude after police asked him to pick up a tissue he had dropped on the ground. The police wouldn't let him leave until he picked it up. The teen, who apparently felt harassed, refused to pick it up and attempted to walk away. Tension escalated and the teenager — with an otherwise clean record — was ultimately charged with misdemeanor littering and two counts of obstruction.

His attorney, Nicholas Pagano, eventually got the charge dropped, but the hard feelings persist.

“If I were a black kid in Savannah and I saw a cop coming up to me — and it's not necessarily the white cops, it's the black cops who do it, too — if I saw a cop coming toward me, I know I'm going to turn around and run, too, because I know I'm going to get arrested,” Pagano said. “That is a feeling. That is a thought that runs through my mind. I'm thinking no matter what they do they're going to find some excuse to arrest that person.”

Stories about the poor relationship between young black men and police have gripped the nation in recent months and, in many cases, have dominated headlines and public discourse.

Savannah isn't immune to that problem. But, according to local police officers and community advocates, it's something they're working to improve.

“People think that all our youth are so bad, and they're not,” said Capt. DeVonn Adams, commander of the Savannah-Chatham police department's Central Precinct. “It's just a small percentage, and because of that, the larger percentage sees the way that we sometimes treat that small percentage.

“But if we treat them unfairly, if we treat them without respect, then that's something that they're not going to give to us, and we'll never bridge that gap.”

A very real perception

Ulysses Bryant has a long history as a law enforcement officer. Three decades of that has been dealing directly with kids. He retired last year as longtime campus police chief for the Savannah-Chatham County public school system.

“Perception is reality, and today there's a perception that law enforcement will not react fairly and objectively, especially in cases involving encounters with minorities or people of color,” Bryant said during a recent interview in his office at Savannah State University, where he's interim police chief.

“They feel that they are not going to be given the same rights as those that are given to other members of society.”

There are reasons for that perception.

Michael Brown's 2014 death in Ferguson, Mo., is still fresh on everyone's mind. So is that of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland the same year. And Eric Garner in New York that summer. And Freddie Gray in Baltimore this spring. And Walter Scott in North Charleston, S.C., just a few weeks earlier. And Sandra Bland, who was determined to have committed suicide in custody after a highly contested arrest near Houston in July.

They're all black. They all died either directly at the hands of law enforcement or after an encounter. None of them were wanted on serious charges.

The list goes on.

All those — and more — have contributed to a perception among many African Americans that they may be the next headline.

Beverlee Trotter, who runs advocacy nonprofit Savannah Youth City, said she frequently hears safety concerns when she talks with African-American teenagers about their relationships with police.

“Young people abroad need to be safe and know they're not going to be killed or treated any kind of way because they ask questions,” Trotter said. “Or because they're scared because they're nervous because their skin is a certain color. They should never feel afraid.”

One young man, she said, told her this: If something happens to his family, he's going to call 911, but he hopes first responders don't come in shooting.

“Something happens to anybody, they're going to call a policemen,” she said. “That's who they want to come to help them. They shouldn't be afraid that when they come they're going to say just because you're this type of person or you look this way we're going to look the other way… It's kind of twofold: Young people are scared of them, and they're scared of young people”


A lack of trust and respect are seen as significant factors.

LaGarius Adside, a junior at Armstrong State University, said he's no stranger to racial profiling.

“I mean, it's happened to me,” Adside said as he left a campus event concerning racial protests at the University of Missouri and subsequent administrative resignations and protests at other colleges across the country. “It's happened to my friends. It's happened to my family.

Wearing dreadlocks pulled back and a black jacket, the junior from Macon said he doesn't believe police respect the black community and vice versa.

“When police interact with us, it's just standard procedure,” Adside said. “They don't actually know us.”

Chatham County Commission Chairman Al Scott, who also is president of the Savannah branch of the NAACP, said distrust of police by African Americans is at an all-time high.

In July, the local NAACP branch invited police chiefs from every municipal department in Chatham County to talk about use of force.

The meeting was well attended.

“To ensure you're not mistreated, we want to better educate you,” Scott said. “We want a relationship with the police department. We want them to be able to come to us and ask for assistance, and we want to be able to go to them and ask for assistance, and so it's a two-way street.”

While there's still a way to go, Scott said the relationship between police and the African-American community in Savannah has started moving in the right direction. Ongoing cooperation from everyone is needed for that to continue, he said.

“We want the very best law enforcement in the black community that you can possibly have, but we also want a high level of trust and we want zero abuse,” Scott said. “And you can't achieve those things without working together.”

Flip side

Bryant says it's often a matter of respect — or lack thereof.

Young people sometimes bring attitudes to encounters with police, and so do officers, he said. That can be a dangerous combo.

“We've got to be more tolerant of each other,” Bryant said. “This is a very diverse country that we live in, and we all have different customs, different cultures, different backgrounds.”

Adams, the Central Precinct commander, said part of the issue is getting officers to approach situations without assigning guilt. Just as only a minute portion of law enforcement officers abuse the citizenry, only a minute portion of the citizenry causes problems that require police attention.

He said it's important for officers to just walk up to kids and make small talk. That's how rapport is built.

But, on the flip side, he said, people profile police, too.

“Don't profile us and determine in your mind that everybody that wears a badge is a murderer,” Adams said. “It's the same way that we're instilling into our officers that just because you're African-American and you're standing on a corner in a white T-shirt doesn't automatically make you a drug dealer or a thug or a criminal.”

But the headlines keep coming.

At a meeting of high school students and police this month at Savannah Arts Academy, 17-year-old Alfredo Small said reports of police abusing their authority affect how he views law enforcement as a whole.

“I can't really name many police officers, and the only time I seem to see them is when they're on the five o' clock news when something bad has happened — where something questionable has happened that they've done or something has happened to them,” Small said. “And I think that's a really big problem.”

Trying to fix it

One of the videos talked about at the Savannah Arts meeting was the highly publicized encounter between a white school resource officer and a black South Carolina teenager who had her phone out in class.

As 18-year-old Ben Tablada put it: “We've all seen that video of this girl being thrown from her desk by a police officer, and it's videos like that that really have put an image in a lot of teenagers' minds that, ‘Oh, it's the ‘popo' — run away.'”

Metro Police Chief Joseph Lumpkin was at the Dec. 4 discussion and criticized police actions during the South Carolina incident.

“That's not policing. That's bullying,” he said.

Nothing will change, he said, until law enforcement leaders step forward after incidents such as that and set examples.

“We can't ask for your respect if we come over here and flip you over and grab you out of the classroom,” Lumpkin said. “... We have to be able to maintain our emotional control throughout a range of issues. The best officers do.”

Bryant said much the same.

And while, understandably, law enforcement officers tend to have each other's backs, he said that occasionally can go too far, such as in North Charleston, where video of the police slaying of an unarmed man showed a second officer apparently tampering with the shooting scene.

“I think it's despicable, and it taints the rest of us that will do what's right,” Bryant said.

Pagano, who worked as a police officer before passing the bar, said much hasn't changed in the way of loyalty among officers.

“When I was a police officer, you did not rat out on another a brother officer, and the term ‘brother' was used,” he said. “There is a brotherhood among police officers... There are fraternal orders of police, and they will protect each other from accusations made by the public.”

Bridging a gap

But here's something Bryant, Lumpkin and others are quick to point out: The majority of officers do good things the majority of the time. Police, like other people, feel marginalized because of a few bad eggs.

Bryan said people “have a right” to question police actions.

“Police officers and people in public safety, we're held to that higher level of expectation,” Bryant said. “But when I look back at 9/11 and that footage where all of those buildings are crumbling — while people were running away, there were firemen and policemen running toward it.”

Adams said trust between police and the public can be improved by both accountability and approach. More interaction might lead to stronger relationships, and members of the public might feel that police will listen to them when they have problems.

There's the escalation problem, too.

When a police officer and someone they're talking to bring an attitude to a situation, it may not end well. Even if a person is being mistreated by an officer, it's probably best not to escalate the situation.

The best way to handle such an incident, Adams said, is to note the officer's badge number and name, go home and call for a supervisor. However, the level of trust needs to be high enough that residents feel a police department will listen to them and take action when necessary.

Adams says compassion can go a long way, too, especially when it comes to police encounters with the youngest demographics.

As an example, he said, officers need to stop and think before automatically arresting a teenager or child who has no money for stealing a snack from a convenience store.

And he's eager to reinstate community programs such as the police department's Police Athletic League to help bridge the gaps between kids and police. The program, which started back in 2004, was suspended this year because of the department's severe staffing shortage. But, Adams said, plans are to bring it back stronger in 2016.

“When it's functional, what it does is it helps bridge that gap between youth and law enforcement,” Adams said. “We throughout the community go to their schools and interact with them educational wise, and we're a direct line for the parents to give us a direct call if they have any issues as well.”

Overall interaction

It may not be a panacea, but the phrase “community policing” keeps popping up in conversations about relationships between law enforcement and the general public.

In general, that means police getting out of cars and talking to residents. That means trying to make it more likely that the average person encounters a police officer casually as opposed to when something terrible is happening. It's something metro police have been trying to do over the past year. It's something the old Savannah Police Department was lauded for in the 1990s.

Scott, the NAACP president and county commission chairman, said he remembers police walking the streets of Cuyler-Brownville when he was growing up.

“You knew why you were assigned there,” Scott said. “You knew your success was based on you having a relationship with the community. They had your back and you had to have theirs. I don't think that exists anymore — that understanding.

“We may never get back to that level, but we have to have something in between so you have a better working relationship and a better appreciation. And it has to be both ways — it has to be community and it has to be policemen.”

Additionally, Lumpkin said the metro department will improve its standards of interpersonal communication training in 2016. Over the past year, he has mandated that all officers take a crisis intervention training course that focuses on de-escalating tense situations. New training is aimed at helping officers deal with stress, shake of insults and control emotions.

Trotter, the Savannah Youth City director, had similar words. She hopes Savannah can become an example of a good working relationship between police and the public. But, she cautioned, it might take some work — from everyone.

“Once you ruin that relationship, it has to be repaired,” Trotter said.

“You can't expect the cops to repair their end and the citizens not repair their end. Otherwise you'll go around in a circle.”



Deaths Due to Guns, Cars Occur at Same Rate in US

by VOA News

For the first time in more than 60 years, the death rate for Americans killed by firearms is as high as the mortality rate linked to motor vehicle accidents.

New data released by the government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that guns and car accidents each cause 103 deaths among every 1 million people.

The two death rates were far apart for decades, but improved safety equipment in cars has drastically reduced the number of fatalities from motor vehicle accidents.

At the same time, the incidence of deaths caused by firearms is higher, the CDC said, but most of that increase is due to a rise in suicides involving guns.

Mortality trends

Despite the converging mortality trends for firearms and automotive incidents, the biggest causes of Americans' deaths are medical ailments such as cancer and heart disease.

The CDC said firearms and motor vehicles are among the leading nonmedical causes of Americans' deaths each year. Guns and cars kill more people than do falls, and considerably more than alcohol abuse does.

Automobile deaths have dropped about 60 percent since the 1960s because of the introduction of seat belts, air bags, antilock brakes and other technological aids for drivers, plus increased enforcement of prohibitions on driving under the influence of alcohol and advances in roadway designs.

Regional differences illustrate the changes in mortality data linked to firearms. Ten years ago, only two of the 50 U.S. states — Alaska and Maryland — recorded more gun-related deaths than auto-related fatalities. However, the most recent figures available, for 2014, show 21 states had more gun deaths than auto fatalities.

Firearms deaths

The District of Columbia, the nation's capital, had a higher rate of firearms deaths compared with car accident fatalities throughout that period.

It is easy and legal for the vast majority of people in the U.S. to buy guns, including assault rifles. That fact is regularly mentioned in the news with the country's string of mass killings — the latest earlier this month when a radicalized Muslim couple killed 14 people and wounded 22 others at a holiday party in California.

The National Rifle Association, a strong lobbying group, has been successful in blocking gun control regulation, despite calls by President Barack Obama for Congress to take action against certain types of gun sales.

Some Americans maintain that the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees the right to bear arms, means there must be no restrictions. Other Americans say some restrictions are necessary in an attempt to cut down on the number of deaths by gunfire.

The Second Amendment, ratified in 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights guaranteeing all Americans' 10 basic freedoms, says: "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."



From the FBI

New Top Ten Fugitive

Help Us Find a Violent Criminal

(Pictures on site)

Myloh Jaqory Mason—wanted for a series of violent crimes, including attempted murder—has been named to the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.

A reward of up to $100,000 is being offered for information leading directly to the arrest of the 25-year-old fugitive, who is being sought on federal and state charges for his alleged involvement in recent violent bank robberies and two separate shootings in Lakewood, Colorado.

“Myloh Mason is a very violent felon. It's important for the safety of the community that we apprehend him as soon as possible,” said Special Agent Russ Humphrey, fugitive coordinator for the FBI Denver Field Office's Rocky Mountain Safe Streets Task Force.

Along with two accomplices—who are in custody—Mason is believed to have robbed at least two Lakewood banks within the last four months, and his tactics have become more aggressive. The first robbery took place on September 30, 2015. Mason and two others wearing costumes allegedly shoved guns in the faces of bank employees and said the tellers would be killed unless they opened the bank vault.

The crew struck again in November. Mason and two others allegedly wore green and white skeleton masks when they staged a takeover robbery, shoving guns in the faces of tellers to gain access to the vault. During that robbery, Mason—a convicted felon—was wearing a ballistic vest. Pursued by police after fleeing the bank, Mason and his partners shot two innocent citizens during a home invasion and a carjacking.

“The robbers clearly seemed desperate,” Humphrey said. “It was lucky that the two injured civilians, one of whom was shot four times, weren't killed.” He added that the scenes played out near schools—which were locked down for hours—and a community recreation center frequented by parents with young children.

“We do not accept this kind of ruthless violence in our communities,” Humphrey said. “Adding Mason to the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list is an indication of how serious we are about apprehending him.”

Mason is 6-foot-2 and weighs approximately 155 pounds. He has black hair, brown eyes, and tattoos on his chest, both arms, and hands. He has ties to Colorado, Florida, and Nevada. Investigators say that he uses a variety of aliases and caution that he should be considered armed and extremely dangerous.

“Mason and his gang have committed some of the most violent bank robberies we've seen in Colorado,” said Thomas Ravenelle, special agent in charge of the FBI's Denver Division. “We believe he's not going to stop and is a real danger to the community.” Ravenelle urged the public to help the FBI catch Mason and noted the substantial reward for cooperation.

If you have any information concerning the whereabouts of Mason, please call the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI (225-5324), or contact your nearest FBI office, law enforcement agency, or U.S. Embassy or Consulate. You can also submit a tip online.

Mason is the 505th person to be placed on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, which was established in 1950. Since then, 473 fugitives have been apprehended or located, 156 of them as a result of citizen cooperation.




2014 Expanded Crime Statistics Released

National Incident-Based Reporting System Includes More Detailed Data

Today, the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program released details on more than 5.4 million criminal offenses reported by law enforcement through the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) during 2014. According to NIBRS, 2014 , 6,520 law enforcement agencies—charged with protecting more than 93 million U.S. inhabitants—reported 4,759,438 incidents involving 5,489,485 offenses, 5,790,423 victims, and 4,414,016 known offenders.

Among the report's highlights:

•  Of the offenses reported during 2014, 63.6 percent involved crimes against property, 23 percent involved crimes against persons, and 13.4 percent included crimes against society (so-called “victimless” crimes like gambling).

•  There were 4,414,016 known offenders, meaning that at least one characteristic of the suspect—such as age, sex, or race—was known. Of these offenders, nearly a third (32.3 percent) were between 16 and 25 years of age, the majority (63.9 percent) were male, and more than half (57.1 percent) were white.

•  Concerning the relationship of victims to known offenders, 52.7 percent of the 1,273,602 victims knew the individual perpetrating the crime but were not related to them. Nearly a quarter of the victims (24.8 percent) were related to their offenders.

In addition to the standard data tables, this year's NIBRS report includes a brand new feature: an interactive map that allows users to click on a state, view map pins for each agency, select a pin, and get a dropdown listing of that agency's offense data for 2014.

NIBRS, 2014 also includes a monograph on sex offenses previously reported by law enforcement that demonstrates the benefit of NIBRS data in allowing a more granular examination of a topic.

Unlike data reported through UCR's traditional Summary Reporting System (an aggregate monthly tally of crimes) and published annually in Crime in the United States , NIBRS data goes much deeper because of its ability to provide circumstances and context for crimes. It includes all offenses within a single incident as well as additional aspects about each event, like location, time of day, relationship between victim and offender, and whether the incident was cleared. NIBRS also includes data on 23 offense categories made up of 49 offenses, as opposed to the Summary Reporting System's 10 Part I offenses. Ultimately, NIBRS will improve the detail and overall quality of crime data, which will help law enforcement and communities around the country use resources more strategically and effectively.

However, only about a third of all U.S. law enforcement agencies currently participate in NIBRS. Transitioning to the new system can be somewhat costly, and—because of the greater level of reporting specificity in NIBRS—it can initially appear that an agency has higher levels of crime after switching to NIBRS.

But because NIBRS can provide more useful statistics that will promote constructive discussion, measured planning, and informed policing, FBI Director James Comey has made across-the-board implementation of NIBRS one of his top priorities. At a recent International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) conference in Chicago—a video excerpt of his remarks is included in this latest NIBRS report—he talked about the importance of this program: “We face a data shortage on the violent crime front. We can't tell you on a national level how many shootings there were in any particular city last weekend,” Comey said. “How can we address a rise in violent crime without good information? And without information, every single conversation in this country about policing and reform and justice is uninformed, and that is a very bad place to be.”

And influential organizations like the IACP, the National Sheriffs' Association, the Major City Chiefs Association, and the Major County Sheriffs' Association agree—all have pledged their support for NIBRS.



From the Department of Homeland Security


We are in a new phase in the global threat environment, which has implications on the homeland. Particularly with the rise in use by terrorist groups of the Internet to inspire and recruit, we are concerned about the “self-radicalized” actor(s) who could strike with little or no notice. Recent attacks and attempted attacks internationally and in the homeland warrant increased security, as well as increased public vigilance and awareness.


•  Though we know of no intelligence that is both specific and credible at this time of a plot by terrorist organizations to attack the homeland, the reality is terrorist-inspired individuals have conducted, or attempted to conduct, attacks in the United States this year.

•  DHS is especially concerned that terrorist-inspired individuals and homegrown violent extremists may be encouraged or inspired to target public events or places.

•  As we saw in the recent attacks in San Bernardino and Paris, terrorists will consider a diverse and wide selection of targets for attacks.

•  In the current environment, DHS is also concerned about threats and violence directed at particular communities and individuals across the country, based on perceived religion, ethnicity, or nationality.


•  DHS and the FBI are providing additional guidance to state and local partners on increased security measures. The public should expect an increased presence of law enforcement across communities in the weeks ahead. More stringent security should also be anticipated at public places and events. This may include a heavy police presence, additional restrictions and searches on bags and the use of screening technologies.

•  The FBI is investigating potential terrorism-related activities associated with this broad threat throughout the United States. Federal, state, and local authorities are coordinating numerous law enforcement actions and community outreach to address this evolving threat.

How You Can Help

•  Community leaders, co-workers, friends, and family can help by recognizing signs of potential radicalization to violence. For more information visit: https://nsi.ncirc.gov/

•  Report threats or suspicious activity to the FBI or your local authorities. Contact info for FBI Field Offices can be found here: http://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field

Be Prepared

•  Expect increased security across most U.S. cities and plan ahead to anticipate delays and restricted/prohibited items.

•  In populated places, be responsible for your personal safety. Make a mental note of emergency exits and locations of the nearest security personnel. Keep cell phones in your pockets instead of bags or on tables so you don't lose them during an incident. Carry emergency contact details and any special needs info with you at all times. For more visit: http://www.ready.gov

Stay Informed

•  The U.S. Government will provide additional information about any emerging threat as additional information is identified. The public is encouraged to listen to local law enforcement and public safety officials.

•  We urge Americans to continue to travel, attend public events, and freely associate with others but remain vigilant and aware of surroundings while doing so, particularly during the holidays.




All schools shut down in Augusta County, Virginia, over Islam homework

by Ben Brumfield

After a teacher at a Virginia school handed out a standard homework assignment on Islam, such an angry backlash flooded in that it prompted officials to close every single school in the county as a safety precaution.

"While there has been no specific threat of harm to students, schools and school offices will be closed Friday, December 18, 2015," Augusta County Schools said. Extracurricular activities were shut down Thursday afternoon.

And social media exploded over the school lesson -- a simple drawing assignment -- into a caustic discussion about religion and education.

Draw this

When the world geography class at Riverheads High School in Staunton rolled around to the subject of major world religions, homework on Islam asked students to copy religious calligraphy.

It read:

"Here is the shahada, the Islamic statement of faith, written in Arabic. In the space below, try copying it by hand. This should give you an idea of the artistic complexity of calligraphy."

The illustrative classical Arabic phrase was the basic statement in Islam. It translated to: "There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is the messenger of Allah."

Angry calls

When students took it home, it was like a spark hitting a powder keg. Some of their parents saw the homework as an attempt to convert their children to Islam.

Calls and emails flooded the school. Some of them demanded the teacher be fired for assigning it.

Cheryl LaPorte had not designed the assignment herself, but took it from a standard workbook on world religions, local newspaper The News Leader reported.

LaPorte told The News Leader that now her job is to get her students through Standards of Learning tests.

No more shahada

The county school system reacted.

It removed the shahada from world religion instruction. "A different, non-religious sample of Arabic calligraphy will be used in the future," it said.

And it issued a statement saying no one was trying to convert anyone to any religion.

"Neither of these lessons, nor any other lessons in the world geography course, are an attempt at indoctrination to Islam or any other religion or a request for students to renounce their own faith or profess any belief," Augusta County Schools official Eric Bond said in a statement to CNN affiliate WHSV.

Not enough

But that hasn't been enough for Kimberly Herndon, who kept her ninth-grade son home from school.

"There was no trying about it. The sheet she gave out was pure doctrine in its origin," she told WHSV.

"I will not have my children sit under a woman who indoctrinates them with the Islam religion when I am a Christian," she said.

By Tuesday, like-minded parents and residents of the town of nearly 24,000 gathered in the sanctuary of Good Will Ministries to voice their grievances, including against the teacher.

At the same time, former students have taken to Facebook to defend her.

"I'm against anyone getting steamrolled by convoluted logic and I'm very pleased to see that there is so many people around me that feel the same way," a supporter wrote.

Security scramble

Back at the school, the sheriff and administrators had begun worrying about security.

On Monday, Augusta County issued a letter reassuring parents that schools in the county were safe. It did not refer to the homework assignment but did say that parents had become worried about security.

"All doors are locked with the exception of one front door. ... Faculty and staff monitor all activities inside and out of the buildings." Standard security procedures, the letter explained.

But as the week went on, officials got more specific about the source of concern -- calls and email messages -- and their target -- the world geography class.

"The school division began receiving voluminous phone calls and electronic mail locally and from outside the area," the school system said. And the "tone and content" were nasty.

The sheriff deployed more officers to county schools and began monitoring communications. Then all the schools in the county shut down.

Facebook arguments

The homework assignment in Staunton had ballooned into a national argument that was trending on Facebook.

Both sides dished out hard -- those who see the assignment as an affront to their religious beliefs and those who see it as a mind-broadening education assignment.

"This is so WRONG! There is only ONE GOD and HIS NAME is JESUS!" one user posted.

"You THINK ignorance is a GOOD thing!! Heaven forbid we should learn about other cultures when .03% of them are terrorists -- while more than 99% are good, honest, moral people," posted another.

As passions overflow, for fear of their potential effects, Augusta County Schools will remain shuttered over the weekend for all activities.




Justice Dept. Police Probe Can't Ignore 'Chicago Way' City Hall Operates

by Mark Konkol

CHICAGO — When the federal watchdogs landed in town to start sniffing around police headquarters, it signaled to many that they've got their investigative noses pointed in the wrong direction — upwind from the traditional source of the department's strongest stench: City Hall, that is.

Now, don't take that as the opinion of a cynical reporter.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, after all, is the guy who reminded everyone exactly how entrenched his administration — and the City Hall operation of every mayor for more than 40 years, for that matter — is in the day-to-day operation of the police department that the feds are investigating.

That became clear when Emanuel explained he was sorry for going along with city attorney Steve Patton's decision to follow a longtime City Hall policy of keeping potentially damning evidence secret for the sake of protecting the integrity of an investigation. That was the reason the city gave for holding the dashcam video of police officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald with all 16 bullets in his gun.

“Just because we have done it like this for 40 years doesn't mean it's right," Emanuel said. "Just because that's how we've done it, I should have along the way challenged the entire legal team and others, of how a practice that was actually undermining the very value that I think is essential to the public safety and wholeness of the city.”

Emanuel might as well have been talking about how generations of mayors have either established or unquestionably followed policies that people who know about these things say protect the thin-blue-line code of silence that a federal court ruling, and Rahm, himself, has said exists in the police department.

Over the last few weeks, political insiders and gadflies, police officers and public relations flacks, ticked-off aldermen and union radicals, have called to complain — off the record, of course — that nobody has completely explained how “The Chicago Way” puts City Hall at the center of a rigged game that helps protect dirty officers from being fired.

“You just gotta lay it all out there, piece-by-piece, so everybody, and the feds, knows how it works and can see how it works,” one off-the-record complainer said. “Let ‘em decide for themselves.”

Over the last decade, I've read enough police brutality lawsuits, dug into the officer misconduct discipline process and, during the process of reporting stories, witnessed exactly how interconnected the mayor's office is with the day-to-day operations at the Police Department.

So, what the heck, if it might help the feds sniff out the systemic problem plaguing Chicago's Police Department, why not give it a shot?

The system that withheld the Laquan shooting video from the public goes way back, more than a half century, to the most heated moments of the Civil Rights movement and the construction of public housing towers. It goes back to when Chicago's most iconic mayor, the late Richard J. Daley, once proclaimed our town's police were here to “preserve disorder.”

There are plenty of reasons why it's politically important for Chicago's boss to demonstrate unwavering support for the police force — and the Fraternal Order of Police endorsement that almost certainly guarantees tens of thousands of votes — by agreeing to union contract terms that conceal the officers' identities when misconduct allegations are made and requiring a mayoral appointed police board's approval before a dirty cop can get fired, to name a few.

Outsiders, maybe even a U.S. Attorney General from North Carolina, might think that's an exaggeration of City Hall's role in alleged police corruption.

Chicagoans know better.

In our town, everybody knows all roads lead to the mayor's office, no matter who's in power.

The mayor historically sits atop an elaborate pyramid of power designed by the Democratic Machine that cynics will tell you was constructed to preserve a publicly accepted level of crookedness locals refer to, sometimes lovingly, as "The Chicago Way.”

At first glance, it might look like Chicago's top cop runs the police department, but it's Chicago's mayor who is always in charge. Not only does the mayor hire the police superintendent, he sets the police budget and has constant oversight.

Former police boss Garry McCarthy, recently fired in the wake of the Laquan McDonald shooting scandal that brought the feds to town, will tell you that Emanuel called him almost every single morning to get debriefed on police department doings.

Also, there's decades of evidence that the executive branch of Chicago government systematically set limits on police superintendent's authority, specifically when it comes to establishing and implementing certain department policies and police officer discipline.

But it doesn't stop there.

Emanuel's City Hall spin machine, for instance, preapproves the top cop's public statements and determines when, how and if certain reports get released to the public.

The most recent example of that includes the soft release of the so-called “Safer Report” suggesting police misconduct reforms, which was quietly made public without sending out a news release. And sources told DNAinfo Chicago that McCarthy's draft report on what he heard after this summer's “listening tour” was put on a shelf before it was shared with community leaders.

Also, it should be noted, if you send a Freedom of Information Act request to the police department, it gets forwarded to the City Attorney's office, which makes all decisions on what documents and information — incident reports and a certain dashcam videos of a police shooting, for instance — the public has a right to see.

And when it comes to police discipline, City Hall has its hands in every part of the process.

It all starts with the Fraternal Order of Police union contract, which includes provisions that for generations have prohibited release of officers' identities and details of misconduct allegations levied against them. It also sets rules for when officers involved in police shootings can be questioned by investigators, among other things.

The mayor has the final say on police union contract terms before the City Council gets a chance to give the deal its rubber stamp.

DNAinfo Chicago reported that starting in 2013, McCarthy made a failed attempt to push Mayor Emanuel to change rules in the contract — along with making changes to other city laws and policies that the then-top cop believed stood in the way of reforming police discipline.

Ultimately, Emanuel signed off on a contract billed as a win for taxpayers that allowed details about officer misconduct complaints to remain secret.

During a recent "Chicago Tonight" TV interview, FOP boss Dean Angelo said that's not the union's fault, then deflecting questions to City Hall's chief labor negotiator, Jim Franczek, who was hired in that role by former Mayor Richard M. Daley and remains in Emanuel's employ.

"I don't think that we pulled the wool over Jim Franczek's eyes in the negotiation process. ... We didn't hoodwink Jim Franczek,” Angelo said.

In a lot of ways, union contract provisions and city laws set the rules for how officers are investigated for serious misconduct allegations — brutality complaints, racial profiling and filing false reports, among them — by the Independent Police Review Authority, IPRA for short, that the agency's critics say is anything but independent of City Hall.

It can be a tangled web. Sometimes, the city attorney's office must use all its might to defend officers against potentially costly, and sometimes damning, civil lawsuits. At the same time, those officers being defended by the city often face serious supensions or even termination from the city.

Here's how the city's police discipline system often works:

• When IPRA launches an investigation into misconduct allegations, the process or the release of findings can sometimes be delayed until the matter is settled.

• In many civil lawsuits, the city attorney (called the Corporation Counsel) takes the lead to defend police officers from misconduct allegations, even as those same police officers are fighting against the city to keep their jobs. The city attorney's office often negotiates settlements that give payouts to accusers, and sometimes include provisions to keep evidence secret — like the Laquan shooting video, for instance — without admitting any guilt on the part of the city or the officers.

• Once the case has been settled, which can be in months or years, IPRA often reviews evidence in the civil case — including the city's defense of the officers — for its disciplinary investigation to determine if allegations should be sustained. In sustained cases, the mayor-appointed head of IPRA recommends punishment to the police superintendent.

• If the top cop wants to fire an officer, he doesn't have unilateral authority to do it. According to the discipline protocol, officers facing termination and harsh suspensions first get a hearing before the Chicago Police Board.

• Since January 1999, only about 30 percent of officers facing termination hearings before the mayor-appointed police board got fired.

In about 70 percent of termination hearings, the police board has either doled out lesser punishment or the accused officers have resigned before the hearings. About 43 percent of officers who the city's top cop wanted to fire eventually returned to duty, according to a Chicago Justice Project report.

Mayor Emanuel, who has publicly acknowledged problems in the city's police misconduct disciplinary system after a series of published reports about its ineptness, has used his authority to make minor changes.

Earlier this year, the mayor shook up the police board, appointing former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot as president, and adding two new board members.

Earlier this month, Emanuel fired McCarthy and IPRA boss Scott Ando, who he replaced with Sharon Fairley, and created a taskforce on police accountability to take a good long look at the broken system.

That leaves the mayor and his City Attorney Steve Patton as the only survivors of the Laquan McDonald shooting scandal.

Both their offices are at City Hall — 121 N. LaSalle, for our out-of-town guests.

A lot of people think the federal watchdogs should start sniffing over there because any corruption uncovered in the police department is a symptom of a cancer — radicals call it “institutional racism” — that developed within a city government run “The Chicago Way” for generations.

It's what keeps Chicago starkly divided by race and class, a modern Tale of Two Cities.

Chicago isn't the first American city to be rocked by unjust police shootings and officer misconduct scandals, and it won't be the last.

You could argue that when unjust police shootings and officer misconduct scandals rocked other cities — Boston, New York City, Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, to name a few — too much blame got heaped on police departments and not enough on the governments that control them.

If the feds have the guts to change directions and dig into City Hall, they'll find a perfect opportunity to put the whole system — The Chicago Way, if you will — on trial before a national audience.

It might save our city from itself.




Coalition calls on city residents to "channel this outrage" into police reform

by Yvonne Wenger

A coalition of civil rights, religious and community leaders gathered Thursday in Sandtown-Winchester to urge city residents to work for lasting reform of the Baltimore Police Department.

The Rev. S. Todd Yeary, co-chair of the Maryland NAACP, said the trial of Officer William G. Porter isn't the only test underway in the city. He said the Police Department's effort to change its policies and practices also is under scrutiny, as are elected officials.

"What are we going to do about the structural issues that led to the pressure building that ended up being released because of a police encounter?" said Yeary, senior pastor at Douglas Memorial Community Church.

The group, which is calling itself the Campaign for Justice, Safety and Jobs, spoke a day after Porter's trial on charges in connection with Freddie Gray 's death ended in a hung jury. Attorneys met with the judge Thursday to discuss a retrial, but no date was set. Five other officers also face trials. All six have pleaded not guilty.

Ray Kelly, an organizer with a West Baltimore group called the No Boundaries Coalition, said the activists are seeking more than a verdict in the coming trials; they want a change in Police Department policies and the protection of protesters' First Amendment rights.

"Somehow we must continue to channel this outrage," he said.

The Baltimore Police Department is undergoing a civil rights probe by the U.S. Department of Justice, and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Commissioner Kevin Davis have pledged to make systemic changes. Rawlings-Blake selected Davis to lead the agency after she fired Commissioner Anthony W. Batts in July.

In an interview Thursday, Davis welcomed citizen input for improving his department and said he wants to have an open discussion about what those improvements should look like. "I hope people keep their eye on police reform," he said.

He said he is focusing on three things: policy and procedure, training, and an "efficient disciplinary system" when officers stray from that policy and training.

"If you have a breakdown of any of those three legs," Davis said, "you've got problems."

The justice campaign is made up of dozens of groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, CASA and Jews United for Justice.

Members said they are sending youth leaders to high schools and colleges to register voters, collecting testimony from victims of alleged police misconduct, holding workshops to teach people about their rights and organizing city residents.

Ben Jealous, former head of the NAACP and a senior fellow at Center for American Progress, said the Police Department needs to go beyond increased training for officers. He said more "bad cops" must be fired and the department must lift a policy that stops victims of police brutality from talking publicly after reaching legal settlements with the city.

The city has paid $6.3 million to settle more than 120 cases of alleged police misconduct since 2011, in addition to the $6.4 million Gray's family was awarded.

Jealous said "uprisings" in various American cities follow a typical pattern surrounding "deep frustrations around housing, around jobs and active police brutality that sets it off." Baltimore is now facing two crises, he said, "increasing homicides and ongoing police brutality."

Change will come when trust builds between the police and the community, he said. And trust will come through increased transparency, he said.

"We're calling on Commissioner Davis to sit down with this coalition, and together explain to us how he is going to get serious about reforming the Police Department," Jealous said.

The group previously asked the department to equip the force with body cameras and give the public access to the footage. It has also asked for better community policing, "de-escalation" training for all officers and for department policies to be published online.

The mayor's office has said many of the recommendations are being implemented, including equipping officers with body cameras and instituting a training curriculum to instruct young officers in community policing.




Police address community fears after recent homicides

by Chris Teale

Alexandria Police Chief Earl Cook stood before residents at a community meeting Monday night at the Cora Kelly Recreation Center and repeated something he often tells the public when asked about the city's crime rate.

“The good news really is that Alexandria is a safe city,” he said. “2015 has been a good year for the city and for the Alexandria Police Department.”

Cook cited data that said Alexandria has seen a 2-percent reduction in crime so far this year, a downward trend that has repeated each year for the last decade and is in keeping with the last four decades of overall crime reduction. He noted that the four homicides in the city in 2015 is in line with historical averages, saying there are normally between three and five each year.

But that did little to assuage the fears of some residents, who turned out to question the chief and his colleagues in the wake of two homicides in as many months, where the victims were found in Alexandria parks. Eduardo David Chandias Almendarez, 22, was found dead in the creek of Four Mile Run Park on December 4, less than a month after Jose Luis Ferman Perez, 24, was discovered with chop and stab wounds to his head and neck in Beverley Park, commonly referred to as The Pit.

Earlier this year, Leon Williams, 37, was shot to death on October 7 on Belle Pre Way, and Shakkan Elliot-Tibbs, 22, of Woodbridge, who was fatally shot July 2 along the 700 block of N. Fayette St.

Conversation at Monday night's meeting was dominated by the question of whether gang violence has returned to the city. Cook said gang-related crime has decreased in recent years thanks to stepped-up intelligence sharing across the region. He emphasized that while investigators cannot be certain that the two most recent killings were gang-related, his experience told him they might be.

“I think early on in this investigation, my guesstimate is probably [that it was gang-related], but we haven't got to the point where we can say that for definite,” he said.

Cook has said previously that members of several gangs live in the city, including the California-based Bloods and Crips. In previous years, Arlandria struggled with the influence of MS-13, a notorious Salvadorian gang, and at a city council meeting last week, Cook said his department works to keep gang activity out of the city but that gang members have always lived in Alexandria.

“What we have seen is that there's been a constant residency of gang members living in Alexandria that has never changed,” he said. “It has been more or less depending on what part of the decade you're talking about.

“Currently, it's a bit of a guess because most gang members don't identify themselves in terms of residency, and unless they break one of our laws or come into contact with us in some other way and [we] get that intelligence or knowledge, we don't know they're there. I would say 150 to 200 gang members are living in the city of Alexandria in any given moment.”

At Monday's community meeting, gang prevention and intervention coordinator Joe Regotti outlined the programs the city offers for young people to prevent them from becoming involved in gangs, including after-school clubs and sports as well as direct intervention if they are at risk.

“Behind the work the police do, there's a lot of prevention and intervention that goes on in the community,” he said, noting the role families play in ensuring their children lead positive lives and do not get sucked into the gang lifestyle.

Residents raised the question of community involvement on several occasions. They asked Cook how they can make their neighborhoods safer and engage young people in positive activities that keep them out of trouble. The chief urged residents to be the drivers of change, as the police cannot do it for them and more officers on the beat may have the opposite effect.

Cook said he was working with his colleagues to encourage officers to engage in more community policing, known as “discretionary time,” which involves officers getting out of their patrol cars and walking in the community, talking to people and answering questions. Cook said a staffing shortage has prevented the police from doing more of that, but the department is determined to look at increasing discretionary time given the rise in distrust between police and communities in Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore and other cities.

On several occasions, Cook repeated his call for citizens to continue to contact police if they notice suspicious behavior.

“No call is too small,” he said, noting that the police were duty-bound to investigate everything, even if the caller is reluctant to get the authorities involved.

Detectives still are investigating all four of this year's homicides. Cook emphasized that while the overall crime rate is on the decline, Alexandria is an urban city that is not immune to crime, and officers will maintain open lines of communications with residents.





Drone registration system a good step toward public safety

There needs to be some way to track down people who use their aircraft irresponsibly or maliciously.

by The Los Angeles Times

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx this week announced that the federal government will have an online registration system in place for drones before thousands of Americans unwrap new ones Christmas morning.

That's a relief. The past few months have been filled with reports of careless drone operators endangering the public by not following rules about the use of U.S. airspace. Having a database of drone registrations will help authorities track down people who use their aircraft irresponsibly or maliciously.

However, building a registration system is meaningless if no one knows about it. That raises a real concern about how to get the word out to hundreds of thousands of people by Monday, when everyone with a drone that weighs over half a pound will be required to register with the Federal Aviation Administration, pay a $5 fee and affix a tail number to their drone.

Foxx was smart to bring together the associations representing drone makers and users in October to help draft the recommendations that led to this week's rule. They will no doubt convey the new mandate to their members.

Even if they do, however, that still leaves thousands of people unaware. And though the FAA can impose hefty civil or criminal penalties on people who don't register, let's be honest: No one's going to be rounding up scofflaw owners and dragging them to jail for failing to put a tail number on their toy drone. Nor should they.

But we want people to register, and a voluntary system may not accomplish that. Who'd bother to register their car they didn't have to? Sooner rather than later, the FAA must consider requiring drones to be registered where they are sold, so that it becomes automatic. With over 1 million drones in the hands of users, many of them novices with little appreciation for the damage they can do, the public shouldn't be left guessing who owns the drone that crashed into their property or violated their privacy – or worse.




Officer's Mistrial In Freddie Gray's Death A Letdown For Both Sides

by The Associated Press

BALTIMORE (AP) — As jurors deliberated the fate of one of six police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray, Baltimore braced for a possible repeat of the protests, destruction and dismay that engulfed the city in April, when Gray died of a broken neck in the back of a police van. But instead of a dramatic conclusion, there was confusion.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams declared a mistrial Wednesday after jurors made it clear they were hopelessly deadlocked over whether Officer William Porter had committed any crimes due to actions he didn't take prior to Gray's death.

The mistrial leaves prosecutors, defense attorneys and a populace anxious to find closure back at square one. Lawyers are scheduled to meet in the judge's chambers Thursday to discuss dates for a possible retrial.

Members of the community still trying to process the news gathered outside the courthouse Wednesday afternoon following the verdict and about 100 demonstrators carried signs of protest as they marched peacefully through the streets.

“I'm not expecting our community to repeat April,” said Erika Alston, a community leader who runs a children's after-school program in the heart of West Baltimore, in reference to the violence, looting and unrest that erupted the day of Gray's April 27 funeral. “But it is a bit of a kick in the chest.”

Jurors took three days to deliberate on the charges against Porter, which included manslaughter, assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office. On Tuesday, after only nine hours of deliberation, they told Williams they were deadlocked. He sent them back to try again.

The message was the same on Wednesday, after roughly 16 hours of deliberation. The jurors said they were at an impasse on every charge. A unanimous verdict, they told Williams, was impossible.

For a week, Democratic Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake had urged citizens to remain calm and peaceful no matter the outcome, while Police

Commissioner Kevin Davis canceled leave for the department's officers in anticipation of the jury's decision.

But the mistrial was a disappointment for some residents in need of a definitive resolution. Small crowds of protesters gathered with signs and bullhorns. They marched through downtown, converging on City Hall, while scores of police followed, forming lines in the streets to keep them away from the courthouse. Two demonstrators were arrested outside the courthouse.

With the impact of the trial muted, that left many to wonder what comes next.

Gray died April 19, a week after his neck was broken in the back of a police van.

Prosecutors said Porter is partially to blame because he didn't call an ambulance when Gray indicated he needed medical aid and didn't buckle Gray into a seat belt, leaving him handcuffed and shackled but unrestrained in a metal compartment, unable to brace himself when the van turned a corner or braked.

Porter told jurors he didn't think Gray was injured when he checked on him on the floor of the wagon, and helped him onto a bench inside. Instead, Porter told the van driver, Caesar Goodson, to take Gray to the hospital. Porter also said he didn't buckle Gray in because it wasn't his responsibility; the wagon driver is in charge of making sure the prisoner is strapped in while the van is moving.

But jurors couldn't decide whether Porter's failures amounted to a crime — an outcome legal analysts say isn't surprising given the difficulty of proving a case with no eyewitnesses or unequivocal evidence as to exactly how or when Gray was critically injured.

Steve Levin, a Baltimore defense attorney and former federal prosecutor who followed the case, said the result was unfortunate for both sides.

Prosecutors did not present strong evidence on the more serious charges against Porter, but the hung jury suggests that at least one juror wanted to convict him on those counts, Levin said.

“The state proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Freddie Gray died. Beyond that, they weren't able to prove anything,” Levin said. “They proved a tragedy, but I don't think they proved a crime.”

Porter was the first of six to stand trial: Goodson, who faces the most serious charge of second-degree “depraved-heart” murder, is scheduled to go to trial Jan. 6. Prosecutors intended to call Porter to testify against Goodson and another officer whose trial is slated to begin after Goodson's. The mistrial will likely complicate prosecutors' plans, and as such, their strategy moving forward.

Prosecutors will have a harder time calling Porter to testify because of his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself, according to attorney Warren Alperstein. Options for the state could include granting Porter immunity in exchange for his testimony, trying to persuade the judge to postpone the other trials while retrying Porter or striking him from their witness list altogether.

David Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh with expertise in policing issues, said State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby created a false impression about the simplicity of obtaining convictions with her swift decision to charge six officers in Gray's death.

“It was never going to be easy. Prosecution of police officers is never easy, but when you look at some of the facts in this case, you've got to understand nothing here is a slam dunk,” Harris said.

Gray's stepfather said at a news conference Wednesday that the family isn't upset by the mistrial, and looked forward to 12 fresh jurors being given a new chance to evaluate the case.

“We are not at all upset with them and neither should the public be upset,” Richard Shipley said. “They did the best that they could. … We are confident there will be another trial with a new jury.”

Some residents who saw charging the police officers as a step toward justice and healing in the city said the mistrial was a failure to deliver on that promise.

Duane “Shorty” Davis, a community activist, said he was not surprised.

“If any of the officers get convicted, it will be a surprise to me,” Davis said, adding that he doesn't think Mosby has been sincere in her vow to prosecute the officers but was compelled to bring charges after the April unrest.

“I think the state's attorney put on a weak case. I think the state's attorney went in there with the intention of losing,” Davis said. “The prosecution had no intention of winning the case because of their relationship with the police department. They're not going to eat their own.”




Calm in Baltimore Overnight After Freddie Gray Mistrial

by Kelly Stevenson

The streets of Baltimore were calm overnight as activists urged peace and healing after the Wednesday announcement of a mistrial in the trial of police officer William Porter.

People gathered across the city to protest the decision, but they remained largely peaceful.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called for calm after a jury failed to reach a verdict in the first trial of the six police officers charged in connection with the April death of Freddie Gray from injuries he sustained while in police custody.

"In the coming days, if some choose to demonstrate peacefully to express their opinion, that is there constitutional right,” she said. “I urge everyone to remember that collectively, our reaction needs to be one of respect for our neighborhoods, and for the residents and businesses of our city.”

Porter was charged in connection with the death of Gray, facing four charges: second-degree assault, involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office. He pleaded not guilty to all the charges, as have the other five officers charged in connection with the death.

It's unclear whether the state will pursue a retrial of Porter.

Gray died in April from a severe spinal injury while in custody after being arrested when he fled from the police. Porter allegedly failed to get medical help for Gray as the transport vehicle carrying the suspect made several stops in Baltimore after picking him up on the way to the police station.

Congressman Elijah Cummings, a Democrat whose district includes a portion of Baltimore, released a statement about the mistrial urging people to "ensure that the process of healing our community continues."

"I know that many of my neighbors have been following this trial closely, and many may be disappointed by today's outcome,” he said. “Each of us will continue to struggle with the very raw, very real emotions the death of Mr. Freddie Gray invokes.”




Miami-Dade, Broward schools receive threat; classes open on Thursday

by The Miami Herald Staff Report

Miami-Dade Public Schools on Wednesday night received a “threat similar” to ones in Los Angeles and New York, but the district's police department says it's “less than credible” and classes will be open Thursday as scheduled, according to an email bulletin sent to parents and students.

The district informed federal, state and local authorities and will deploy additional security to campuses on Thursday, according to the announcement.

“Parents are encouraged to send their children to their regularly scheduled classes,” the district said.

The Broward school district also received an email threat.

“All Broward County Public Schools will be open today, Thursday, 12/17, as usual, following a less-than-credible threat,” the district said in a statement.

On Tuesday, L.A. closed all of its schools after receiving an email threat. New York City received a threat as well, but kept its school campuses open.

“Awareness, preparedness, vigilance, communication, but not fear, must continue to be the appropriate actions to less than credible threats,” Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho tweeted Thursday morning.




READ: Full text of threatening email sent to LAUSD, mentions Bakersfield

by Stephanie Guzman and James Johnson

Our affiliate KABC-TV in Los Angeles obtained the full text of the threatening email directed towards Los Angeles Unified School District that led the district to close all of their schools on Tuesday.

The full email also threatened Bakersfield, San Diego, and San Bernardino.

In an email to 23ABC, Rob Meszaros, Coordinator with the Kern County Superintendent of Schools said that no one in their office or any school district in Kern received the email, nor did the law enforcement, either from the source of as a heads up from anyone who did get it.

Meszaros added that that was the first time they were seeing the email. They plan to do some digging to ensure that is the case.

According to 23ABC's sister station KGTV, the mayor of San Diego, Kevin Faulconer the following statement.

"Unlike Los Angeles and New York City, a threat was not sent to San Diego officials. The email, which focused almost entirely on Los Angeles, referred to San Diego in passing along with other Southern California cities. The San Diego Police Department and San Diego Unified school police did not believe the message posed a credible threat, but in an abundance of caution provided extra patrols at local schools. San Diego law enforcement will continue to coordinate with state and federal officials and remain vigilant.”

The full email text:


I am emailing you to inform you of the happenings on Tuesday, 12/15/15.

Something big is going down. Something very big. It will make national headlines. Perhaps, even international ones. You see, my last 4 years here at one of the district high schools has been absolute hell. Pure, unmitigated, agony. The bullying, the loneliness, the rejection... it is never-ending. And for what? Just because I'm 'different'?

No. No more. I am a devout Muslim, and was once against violence, but I have teamed up with a local jihadist cell as it is the only way I'll be able to accomplish my massacre the correct way. I would not be able to do it alone. Me, and my 32 comrades, will die tomorrow in the name of Allah. Every school in the L.A. Unified district is being targeted. We have bombs hidden in lockers already at several schools. They are strategically placed and are meant to crumble the foundations of the very buildings that monger so much hate and discrimination. They are pressure cooker bombs, hidden in backpacks around the schools. They are loaded with 20 lbs. of gunpowder, for maximum damage. They will be detonated via Cell Phone. Not only are there bombs, but there are nerve gas agents set to go off at a specific time: during lunch hour. To top it off, my brothers in Allah and I have Kalashnikov rifles, Glock 18 Machine pistols, and multiple handheld grenades. The students at every school in the L.A. Unified district will be massacred, mercilessly. And there is nothing you can do to stop it.

If you do end up trying to, by perhaps, beefing up security, or canceling classes for the day, it won't matter. Your security will not be able to stop us. We are an army of Allah. If you cancel classes, the bombings will take place regardless, and we will bring our guns to the streets and offices of Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Bakersfield, and San Diego.

I wish you the best luck. It is time to pray to allah, as this may be your last day.

Classes are back in session in the Los Angeles Unified School District a day after an emailed threat led the huge school system to shut down.

A district statement says all schools are open Wednesday morning and are operating on regular schedules.

Chief Deputy Superintendent Michelle King says all schools are safe and crisis counselors are available if students want to talk about the situation.

Most high school students are taking semester final exams. Friday is the last day of school before winter break.

The decision Tuesday to close the district with 640,000 students came after a school board member received an email threatening a large-scale attack.

New York City schools received a similar threat but officials there concluded that it was a hoax.



North Carolina

Justice Department suggests 76 ways to improve Fayetteville Police Department

by Paul Woolverton

The U.S. Department of Justice issued a report Wednesday with 76 recommendations on how the Fayetteville Police Department can reduce its use of force incidents, improve its relationship with the community and make other improvements.

The study and report from the agency's Community Oriented Policing Services Office were done at the request of Police Chief Harold Medlock. The report followed months of detailed assessment and was published Wednesday in conjunction with a news conference in Fayetteville.

"What we did find, to be very candid, is a solid police department that is doing very good work," said Director Ronald Davis of the Community Oriented Policing Services Office. "We see now with these recommendations, this is not about how to go from being broke to being fixed, this is about - now I'll steal the words from the chief - how to go from good to great."

The report had 49 "findings" - problems that the authors think should be addressed - and 76 recommendations to solve those problems. Many are related to the use of force or the use of deadly force.

Some of the findings:

Racial disparity in traffic stops and searches of people's vehicles, a years'-long complaint that predates Medlock's tenure, has declined. In January 2013, black drivers were stopped at a 20 percent higher rate than would be expected (based on population numbers) than white drivers. In December 2014, the rate was down to 14 percent.

Black drivers also are more likely to receive a citation or be searched than white drivers, the study says.

The department should develop a way to monitor for disparate treatment, the study recommends.

It takes an average of 114 days for the department's chain of command to investigate officer use-of-force incidents and report the investigations' results.

The Police Department should set a 30-day deadline to complete these investigations, the study says.

The department's deadly force policy says officers are allowed to shoot warning shots in deadly force situations and to shoot at moving vehicles.

Warning shots should be banned, the report says, because they put officers and others at risk of getting injured.

Twenty-nine of the findings were related to the use of force, whether deadly or non-deadly. Policies on when and how force should be used need clarification, the report says, and procedures for investigating deadly force incidents need to be improved.

It also says the department needs to put more emphasis on de-escalation of situations in order to avoid the use of force.

Other findings address community policing and efforts to prevent biased policing. It also says the department needs to make its practices for disciplining officers for misconduct more clear and consistent.

Medlock said the department is under no obligation to implement the recommendations, but he intends to use them all. It's entirely voluntary for the department to use it.

"There's nothing in that report that scares me, that surprises me, or that I think that we shouldn't undertake and successfully improve the department," Medlock said. "This is really about us becoming better for our community here in Fayetteville."

The study was conducted as part of the Justice Department's Collaborative Reform Initiative for Technical Assistance. This program is designed to help police departments build trust with the communities they serve, a fact sheet from the Justice Department says.




Justice Department meets with top Chicago police officials in civil rights probe

The high-profile Laquan McDonald shooting prompted the probe

by John Byrne and Bill Ruthhart

CHICAGO — With U.S. Department of Justice officials set to meet Wednesday with Chicago Police Department command staff as part of a federal civil rights investigation into officers' use of force, aldermen had a marathon hearing Tuesday focused on the high-profile Laquan McDonald shooting that prompted the probe.

Political symbolism and campaign angling ahead of the March primary election were among the themes at a joint hearing of the City Council's Human Relations and Public Safety committees. Aldermen don't have the power to force changes at the state's attorney's office, which has been vilified for waiting 13 months to charge the officer who shot the teen. And while aldermen asked for information on Police Department policies, they are not calling for specific changes in the way police misconduct cases are investigated.

While Mayor Rahm Emanuel has come under intense criticism for keeping video of the shooting under wraps, the aldermen did not request that the mayor or even top aides appear at the hearing. And the first witness, the mayor's head of the agency that reviews police shootings, offered generic answers as aldermen pressed for specifics, saying she's new to the job.

The agenda did feature a symbolic resolution asking for a special prosecutor to replace Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez in the prosecution of police Officer Jason Van Dyke for murder in the McDonald case. But with Alvarez facing a difficult re-election bid, some aldermen even balked at calling that resolution for a vote.

The hearing stretched into a 12th hour before concluding late Tuesday, but it's the presence of federal investigators that provides the opportunity for wholesale changes in the city's long-beleaguered department. Chicago police interim Superintendent John Escalante acknowledged there is a certain amount of unknown as he and his command staff prepare for their first meeting with federal investigators Wednesday.

"We have not been through anything like this before. We can only look at some other major cities and what they've gone through for a little bit of reference. I think we're all going into it tomorrow with open minds," Escalante said. "We understand the reason for it, and we'll take it day by day as we work with the Department of Justice. We fully intend to cooperate with them, and as we've said before and truly mean it, we know this is going to be a lengthy process, but when all is said and done, we should be and expect to be a better department and more professional department."

Escalante said he and the Emanuel administration plan to identify a liaison within the Police Department to work with Justice Department officials.

"It's my understanding that we will provide them with a senior command person, but we haven't identified that person yet," Escalante said. "We'll have a better idea of who to put in that position after we meet with them tomorrow."

The just-begun federal probe promises to be long and costly, and if a pattern of legal violations emerges, the city could be forced to pay even more to carry out reforms in areas such as police staffing, training, policies and oversight, experts have said.

It could take a year to complete the historic, exhaustive civil rights investigation focusing largely on use of force and the disciplinary process for wayward officers. Then, assuming a pattern of violations is found, city officials and the Justice Department will hammer out a lengthy legal agreement over how to reform the department. Finally, the most difficult task falls on the Police Department: implementing those changes.

Prior to Tuesday's City Council hearing, Latino Caucus Chairman Ald. George Cardenas, 12th, said he wasn't sure removing Alvarez makes sense.

"The (Justice Department) is coming, there's a lot of folks coming down here to investigate the Laquan case and many other cases," Cardenas said. "I think they will speak to that if it's needed. At this point I think we have a lot of people here with eyes on this stuff. If we bring somebody else in here, who's going to be in charge? I think it makes it more difficult for us to do our job, and more processes for justice to take place."

Timothy Evans, chief judge of Cook County Circuit Court, wrote an opinion piece published on the Chicago Tribune website Tuesday afternoon saying "several people," whom he does not name, have asked him to appoint a special prosecutor in the Van Dyke case but that he does not have the power to do so under the law. "Only the judge to whom the case is assigned can decide whether to appoint a special prosecutor," Evans wrote.

While protesters and some aldermen also have called for Alvarez to resign because of her handling of the case, some members of the Latino Caucus have been more circumspect about the best course of action. Alvarez is facing two challengers in the March 15 Democratic primary, Kim Foxx, who is backed by many African-American leaders including County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and Donna More, who has put $250,000 of her own money into the campaign.

"Calling for resignations, to me, we have elections," Cardenas said at a news conference Tuesday with other members of the caucus when asked what they want from Alvarez. "You can certainly call for resignations, but reforming the system is a priority, I think not just for the caucus, the council and the city at large."

At the committee hearing, Sharon Fairley, whom Emanuel named last week to take over the Independent Police Review Authority that investigates police misconduct, faced pointed questions from aldermen about how that agency investigates officer-involved shootings. Having just taken over at the agency, Fairley mostly told aldermen she will look into the policies that led to IPRA taking so long to investigate the McDonald shooting before the video of the incident was released on a judge's orders.

Asked why the video wasn't made public sooner, Fairley said, "I don't believe it's illegal (to release video before an investigation is complete), and that is definitely a policy that needs to be revisited."

Ald. Daniel Solis, 25th, expressed frustration with Fairley's inability to talk specifics. "I think that's a ridiculous response," Solis said when Fairley said she did not have numbers about the results of IPRA investigations. "Maybe there's somebody on your staff who can talk about it, since you just started.

"Again, this is about understanding the system is broken," Solis said. "We need information, we need understanding of how the system works, and if you can't answer the questions, then this is not going to be — it's a waste of time."

And Ald. John Arena, 45th, said Fairley's predecessor, Scott Ando, should have been the one on the hot seat to explain the reason for the McDonald investigation stretching for more than a year. But Ando "conveniently resigned" before aldermen could call him in, Arena said.

Fairley, who formerly served on city Inspector General Joseph Ferguson's staff, asked Ferguson to take over the still-ongoing administrative investigation into the McDonald shooting. "I did not think that if IPRA undertook that administrative investigation at this time that it would have that degree of confidence," she said. "And I think it's critical for the city that everyone feel confident that that administrative investigation was conducted with the integrity you expect."

Up next at the hearing was Lori Lightfoot, president of the Chicago Police Board, who will recommend to Emanuel three finalists to replace Garry McCarthy as police superintendent after the mayor fired his top cop early this month amid the McDonald video fallout. She told aldermen the board plans three or four hearings for the public to weigh in on what residents want to see in a new superintendent. Lightfoot said the board will likely have hearings on the North, South and West sides, and possibly one downtown. She said the board hopes to have a hearing schedule set by early next month.

Lightfoot also is a member of Emanuel's hand-picked task force that will make recommendations for Police Department reforms by the end of March. Lightfoot said the task force will look at developing "an early warning system" when police officers start getting accused of wrongdoing on the job. Van Dyke had been the subject of numerous complaints before he shot McDonald.

She said the task force also will look to establish "a very clear policy on when videotape and other evidence gets released in connection with important police actions such as police-involved shootings or other in-custody incidents."

And she said they will try to set clear directives for police to deal "with individuals who are in duress, and particularly those who are exhibiting any mental illness or mental disability." McDonald was behaving erratically the night Van Dyke shot him.

But Ald. Chris Taliaferro, 29th, questioned Lightfoot's objectivity. He said her membership on the Police Board and onetime participation in the police Office of Professional Standards, which then-Mayor Richard M. Daley replaced with IPRA amid a series of high-profile instances of police misconduct, makes her part of a "broken system."

Taliaferro, a former police officer, said it's inappropriate for Lightfoot to now serve on the task force picked by Emanuel to recommend changes to the Police Department, and asked her to consider resigning. Lightfoot refused.

During later testimony, Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo Sr. told aldermen it was "very disturbing" to rank-and-file officers that the mayor said during a high-profile speech to the City Council this month that the city needs to deal with the "code of silence" in which Chicago police protect each other when they engage in misconduct.

"We have kids, we have bills, we have families," Angelo said. "And to think, in 2015, with all the cameras that are around and all the videotaping that's going on, that a police officer's going to risk his livelihood for his family is ridiculous. And to think we have a population of people that say, 'Oh, it's not a big thing. We do it every day.' We don't do that. This is not 1950."

But when Ald. Proco "Joe" Moreno, 1st, asked Angelo to state for the record that a code of silence doesn't exist in the Chicago Police Department, Angelo hedged. "There is not an answer I could give you that would be a blanket statement that someone out there is not doing something they should not be doing," Angelo said. "I can't say that."

Angelo also estimated that only 1 in 5 officers on the Chicago Police Department has been trained on how to use a Taser.

Before the hearing, the Latino Caucus sought to draw attention to another controversial police-involved shooting. Cardenas called for the city to initiate settlement talks with the family of Emmanuel Lopez, who was killed by officers in 2005.

As the Chicago Tribune reported, Van Dyke admitted as part of an ongoing civil case in the Lopez shooting that he copied the work of other officers on the scene, which made his official report match theirs, without conducting his own interviews of witnesses.

"Isn't it a high risk to taxpayers to really be going to trial in this case?" Cardenas asked Tuesday.

Multiple aspects of the official police narrative of the September 2005 shooting of Lopez have been challenged in the Cook County lawsuit accusing the Police Department of excessive force and lying to cover up officers' conduct.

Lopez was driving to his overnight shift as a janitor in a sausage factory when he led police on a brief chase after a hit-and-run fender bender. Police said he used his Honda Civic to partly run over one of the officers as he was trying to escape. The Lopez family's lawsuit heads to trial in February over allegations Chicago police shot the 23-year-old janitor 16 times without justification and then concocted a story that they were acting in self-defense because Lopez tried to run over an officer with his car.




NYC gets threat similar to LAUSD, but considers it a hoax

by Craig Clough

New York City schools also received an email terror threat today, according to various media reports. But unlike the LA Unified school district, which closed all of its campuses this morning, New York schools remained open today.

In fact, New York leaders are cracking jokes about the situation as LA Unified officials are closing roughly 1,000 campuses and mobilizing police units around the city to search district buildings.

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said the email received in New York was similar to the one received in Los Angeles, but police have determined it not to be credible and are investigating it as a hoax, according to CBS and the Associated Press.

Bratton said big indicator that the email is a hoax is that the word “Allah” was not spelled with a capital “A.”

“The language in the email would lead us to believe that this is not a jihadist initiative,” Braton told CBS. ”That would be incredible to think that any jihadist would not spell ‘Allah' with a capital ‘A.'”

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio also said the message appeared to be a hoax, and one that didn't fool New York officials.

“Based on the information that we have, this was a very generic piece of writing sent to a number of different places simultaneously and also written in a fashion that suggests that it's not plausible, and we've come to the conclusion that we must continue to keep our school system open,” said de Blasio, according to CBS. “In fact, it's very important not to overreact in situations like this.”

Bratton, the former chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, said he thought LA Unified had overreacted and even poked fun at the threat by joking that the hoaxster appeared to steal plot lines from the hit TV show “Homeland.”

“In reviewing it, I think the instigator of the threat may be a `Homeland' fan … it [the threats made] mirrors a lot of the recent episodes of `Homeland,' ” Bratton said, according to the New York Post.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, however, issued a statement this morning that supported the decision to close LA Unified's schools.

“I understand the concern families must be feeling this morning, but it is critical we remain calm. This decision has been made by the School District in an abundance of caution,” Garcetti said in a statement. “As Mayor, we have shared our support and our intelligence and LAPD is working in collaboration with LAUSD School Police to fully investigate this threat. We have also asked our Emergency Operations Center to be activated and we have arranged for MTA to help by providing free bus rides to all LAUSD students. We will continue to monitor this situation. Nothing is more important to me than the safety of our families.”





L.A. schools closure: Don't let fear undermine freedom

While the facts were still fluid on threats in an email sent early Tuesday to several Los Angeles Unified School District board members that prompted the closure of more than 1,150 traditional, magnet and charter schools across the second-largest school district in the nation, affecting 640,000 students, we do know that schools are popular targets for terrorists around the world.

With notable examples in Russia, Pakistan and across the Horn of Africa, not only do terrorists target schools because they allow the depraved to strike at the most defenseless among us, but also because they wish to uproot fundamental Western values.

That is why we mustn't succumb to fear at the expense of our freedoms.

The LAUSD acted out of “an abundance of caution,” as L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and other officials noted. But the New York Unified School District received a similar threat, and officials there quickly concluded it was not credible and were investigating it as a hoax, prompting many to question LAUSD's decision to close. New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton, who previously served as chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, described it as a “significant overreaction.”

“Based on the information that we have, this was a very generic piece of writing sent to a number of different places simultaneously and also written in a fashion that suggests that it's not plausible, and we've come to the conclusion that we must continue to keep our school systems open,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “In fact, it's very important not to overreact in situations like this.”

“These threats are made to promote fear … we cannot allow ourselves to raise levels of fear,” Mr. Bratton said.

Regardless of whether the threats were sent by a wannabe terrorist or a prankster, we can acknowledge and reaffirm that this is the new age of terrorism. But while we understand that the LAUSD did not want to take any chances with student safety, we must balance our fear with a resolute stand to maintain our way of life and the freedoms that make it possible. Once we surrender to fear the ideals that made this nation great, we will have ceded a victory to the terrorists.



Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network RFP Approved

by David Kidd

Our nation is a step closer to establishing a nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN).

On Dec. 9, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) Board approved the request for proposals (RFP) to build, operate and deploy the NPSBN and directed management to take all necessary actions to release the RFP in early January.

“This is a landmark day for FirstNet and public safety,” said FirstNet Chair Sue Swenson. “By approving the RFP, the Board has taken a major step forward to deliver a mission-critical network that first responders deserve – one that is dedicated to public safety, is secure, sustainable, and will continuously utilize state of the art technology across America.”

FirstNet Vice Chair Jeff Johnson said, “We engaged in an open and transparent process to develop this RFP from the start and met our goal of completing it by the end of the year. I commend the Board and FirstNet staff for their dedication. I also recognize the valuable contributions of our stakeholders who provided us with feedback every step of the way. FirstNet is looking forward to receiving competitive offerings from industry to build the network.”

Back in October, FirstNet approved the key RFP elements. The FirstNet RFP is objectives-based and incorporates public safety's needs for a nationwide broadband network. Central to this approach, FirstNet issued multiple Requests for Information, Public Notices and Special Notices for public comment. FirstNet also collected vital stakeholder feedback on the RFP documents through consultation and outreach with public safety partners nationwide.

Background on FirstNet

FirstNet will be a wireless broadband LTE network that operates on 700 MHz spectrum and is dedicated to emergency responders nationwide.

Back in 2013, I conducted this interview on FirstNet with Teri Takai. Ms. Takai was the Department of Defense (DoD) chief information officer at the time, and she remains a current FirstNet board member.

For readers not familiar with FirstNet, the following definition may help from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) website:

“The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) as an independent authority within NTIA. The Act directs FirstNet to establish a single nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network. The FirstNet Board is responsible for making strategic decisions regarding FirstNet's operations."

You can learn more about the history of the FirstNet at this press room link.

FirstNet Perspective from the Private Sector

So how important is FirstNet to our cyber and communication ecosystem? David O'Berry, who is a former state government cyberleader in South Carolina, addressed this question in a powerful way at a recent Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) Emerging Technology Forum in Atlanta. O'Berry is a longtime friend of many state and local government CISOs, and someone I trust on this issue.

Stephanie Toone described his remarks this way in her recent blog post:

“It's a real challenge we have to attack, not just in the law-enforcement community, but everywhere,” said David O'Berry, worldwide technical strategist, Office of the CTO, Intel Security Group. “The law-enforcement community has kind of done things maybe in the middle of the pack or afterward, but, with FirstNet, this is the chance to set the tone for the entire world.”

During the “FirstNet: Securing the Network at Public Safety Grade” session, O'Berry discussed the need for public-safety data security to be handled at the most basic level—from body-worn cameras to LTE devices—because the “attack surface” continues to expand as the number of Internet-connected devices increases.

As devices have evolved, the number of known pieces of malware has grown from 1 million in 2007 to 150 million this year, O'Berry said. As an example of the ubiquity of data security breaches, O'Berry cited a recent ransomware incident that paralyzed the computer system at the sheriff's office in Lincoln County, Maine, after an accidental virus was downloaded on the system. The sheriff's office had to pay a $300 ransom to de-freeze its system.

For these reasons and many others, the development of a secure FirstNet is vital to the future success of the criminal justice community.

DHS Names 10 Radio Interoperability Advisory Panel Members

In a separate but related matter, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) named 10 people to a new Interoperability Advisory Panel. In a Dec. 9, 2015, press release, DHS announced the membership of its Project 25 Compliance Assessment Program (P25 CAP) Advisory Panel, to help establish standards for interoperability among digital two-way land mobile radio communications products.

“Project 25 aims to solve the issues that first responders face as manufacturers often use different technical approaches that make their radios unique, and, thus, potentially incompatible with other systems. P25 CAP is a formal, independent process, created by DHS and operated in collaboration with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, for ensuring that communications equipment that is advertised as P25 is actually compliant. Through a well-defined testing process with publicly published results, the P25 CAP provides public safety agencies with evidence that the equipment is tested against and complies with standards for performance, conformance and interoperability.

The P25 CAP Advisory Panel will provide S&T's Office for Interoperability and Compatibility (OIC) with federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial perspectives on portable, handheld, and vehicle-mounted radios and infrastructure equipment. Through the P25 CAP AP, S&T OIC can support the collective interest of organizations that procure P25-compliant equipment. ...”

The inaugural Advisory Panel membership includes the following people as it commences its activities across the fall/winter of 2015:

•  Dan Robinson, state of Michigan

•  Arnold Hooper, state of Tennessee

•  Morton Leifer, state of New York

•  Marty McCoy, state of Wyoming

•  Roger Strope, state of Missouri

•  Chris Kindelspire, state of Illinois

•  Mike Kionka, state of Colorado

•  Gerald Reardon, commonwealth of Massachusetts

•  Joseph Heaps, National Institute of Justice

•  John Evanoff, Federal Communications Commission

For more information, visit http://www.firstresponder.gov//P25CAP.

Final Thoughts on FirstNet

These recent FirstNet developments, along with the appointment of this DHS Interoperability Advisory Board, offer encouraging signs that real progress is finally coming toward establishing a nationwide public safety broadband network.

Yes – progress on FirstNet has been slow. Too slow for most state and local first responders across the nation.

And yet, with the recent developments, terrorist attacks in San Bernardino and ongoing criminal investigations across the county, these FirstNet efforts have never been more important to government technology infrastructure.




Ferguson: Lack of public input on cost, reforms are obstacles to DOJ agreement

After the Michael Brown shooting, the DOJ spent months investigating the practices of the department

by Stephen Deere

FERGUSON, Mo. — A letter to the Department of Justice from the Ferguson City Council indicates that the inability of residents to review the cost of a federal monitor and proposed reforms are hindering an agreement between the city and federal agency.

Negotiations between the two parties began months ago, shortly after the Justice Department denounced Ferguson's police and municipal court for constitutional violations and predatory policing after an investigation following the protests over the 2014 Michael Brown shooting.

The letter says the city objects to a department deadline that passed Dec. 8, contending that the city needs time to make residents aware of the cost of a federal monitor, which is projected at $350,000 the first year and $225,000 yearly afterward.

“The citizens of Ferguson must bear some responsibility to make community policing and other programs work and must pay all of the cost associated with the agreement,” the letter, dated Dec. 4, says. “They are entitled to know how the agreement and the associated costs will affect their families, their financial situation, the services they receive from the city and the overall outlook of the city.”

Despite the letter, signs of progress in the negotiations have surfaced over the past week.

Emily Davis, a member of a group called the Ferguson Collaborative, said that Justice Department officials met with the group Wednesday, advising it that Ferguson's reluctance to approve an agreement may be softening and that a settlement could be reached within days.

Last week, the collaborative sent letters to city officials requesting that as part of the agreement police undergo recurring training on nonbias and nonprofiling practices and adopt a robust community policing program — the top two concerns that came out of the group's survey of 400 residents this year.

As a part of its response to the collaborative, the city also drafted the letter to the Justice Department, which noted that while it disagreed with some of the collaborative's points, citizens “must have a fair opportunity to share their thoughts prior to any agreement being signed.”

Ferguson released the letter Monday in response to a request from the Post-Dispatch under the state's open records law.

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department said in a statement: “The Justice Department continues to engage with the community on the issues addressed in our investigation. While we cannot comment on the content of negotiations, the talks with the City of Ferguson to develop a monitored consent decree have been productive. The department believes that in order to remedy the Justice Department's findings an agreement needs to be reached without delay.”

Mayor James Knowles III last week said, “Negotiations are still ongoing.”

After the Brown shooting, the Justice Department spent months investigating the patterns and practices of the Ferguson Police Department, and, in a 102-page report released in March, accused the city of running a municipal court that ignored defendants rights in the interest of raising revenue.

The report said that the city used its police officers as collection agents and issued a staggering number of arrest warrants — a tactic that disproportionately affected African-Americans.

For months, a committee made of up Knowles and City Council members Mark Byrne and Wesley Bell has been privately negotiating with the department on a package of reforms. Byrne and Bell did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment.

The absence of information has bred rumors and frustrations, as both protesters and the city's supporters clamor for more details.

“That's been a consistent theme from all the residents is that we want the city to tell us what they are going to agree to,” said resident Blake Ashby, who oversees a website soliciting donations for the city's legal expenses. “We want to understand how it's appropriate to what we have been accused of and how it fits in our budget.”

At a City Council meeting in October, a resident told the council that, despite the city's claims to the contrary, the Justice Department had informed her and others that Ferguson could disclose a draft of an agreement.

Davis said the department's representatives initially told her group that the city was free to release a draft of a proposed agreement. But after further discussions with the city, the agency concluded that doing so could harm negotiations, Davis said.

Knowles said that many don't understand that Ferguson has been implementing reforms since Brown's shooting 16 months ago, including the formation of a citizens' police review board, improvements to the court and a community policing program.

“If we get to an agreement with the DOJ, the majority of the things that we agree to are not going be a surprise to anybody,” Knowles said. “People act like: ‘Oh, my God, what's going to be in it?' ... A lot of this is the things that we have been doing.”

Throughout the process, the city has gathered public input in a variety of forums, Knowles said, but because the dialogue with the Justice Department involves a legal contract, Ferguson has been prohibited from disclosing the discussions.

Still, the city has always maintained that residents would have to review any agreement before it is approved, and that hasn't changed, Knowles said.

“We still want people to see what the final product would be before we sign anything,” he said.

Knowles also predicted that the city would be under the $500,000 budgeted for legal expenses associated with the negotiations. The city retained litigator Dan K. Webb at an hourly rate of $1,335, plus other expenses.

Davis disputed that city had effectively solicited public opinion, especially from those who suffered the most under the abuses described in the Justice Department report.

“They'll say over and over that they have held these meetings to engage the community,” Davis said. “Those meetings have been very few and far between ... They have never, ever effectively outreached to the people who have been most affected by the predatory policing in Ferguson.”

As far as the objections outlined in correspondence to the Justice Department, Davis said that the city “just wanted to throw the cost of the monitor out there so that residents would reject the idea of paying for this.”

Still, Davis said she left the meeting with department attorneys on Wednesday feeling hopeful and was eager for a resolution.

“If they are really and truly on the verge of an agreement, and they are backing down off this, I want it to happen,” Davis said. “The moment it gets filed in court it is binding on the city of Ferguson.”



New York

30 NY retailers agree to stop selling realistic toy guns

The toys in question violate a law against sales in the state

by The Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York's attorney general says 30 online retailers have agreed to stop selling realistic toy guns in New York.

The settlements announced Tuesday follow July letters to the retailers from across the U.S. who were selling the imitation weapons through an Amazon.com platform for third-party retailers.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says the toys in question violate a New York law against sales in the state. The law requires toy guns sold to be brightly colored or have colored striping down the barrel.

His investigation found 1,337 were sold in New York City.

This summer, retailers including Wal-Mart, Sears, Kmart and Amazon agreed to keep realistic toy guns off their shelves in New York.

In November, a Cleveland police officer fatally shot a 12-year-old holding a realistic-looking pellet gun.




Herpes-infected Dairy Queen employee booked after spitting on La. cop's food

A lieutenant noticed what looked like spit on the top of a burger he ordered

by The Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. — Police have arrested a fast-food worker they say was suffering from herpes and spat on an officer's burger.

Spokesman for the Baton Rouge Police Department, Cpl. Don Coppola, tells The Advocate 21-year-old Elijah Johnson was booked Sunday on counts including mingling harmful substances.

Coppola says a lieutenant noticed what looked like spit on the top of a burger he ordered at a Dairy Queen.

He says a surveillance video showed that Johnson grabbed a bun, walked off to the side, brought the burger up to his mouth and walked back to finish making the burger.

Coppola also says the saliva is being tested to see if it matches Johnson. According to Coppola, Johnson admitted he suffers from herpes.

Online jail records do not list an attorney for Johnson.




How mobility and instant data sharing can transform public safety

by Alex Kottoor

Time is representative of many things to many people, but rarely does it represent lives. To public safety agencies, however, it does. A second here or a second there can be the difference between an injury, rescue or a fatality. Better planning and preparedness ultimately leads to better and faster response for agencies tasked with preventing or minimizing loss of life. Anything that speeds up processes while maintaining or improving quality is especially valuable to government organizations.

Evidence collection should be both swift and accurate, but for too long those goals have been mutually exclusive. Incredibly, the process most law enforcement agencies still use today involves substantial amounts of time spent rummaging through binders for the appropriate forms, switching between documenting devices and driving from HQ to scene and back again to upload information.

For example, the process to document common incidents in public safety today typically follows these six steps:

Jotting notes using pen and paper

Taking pictures using a digital hand-held or body-worn camera

Transcribing notes to Microsoft Word documents

Consolidating case information into one report

Storing information on a hard drive

Loading final reports into records systems

The process is slow and cumbersome, and begs an obvious question: Why not sync investigative files with HQ in real-time?

Indeed, the ubiquity of mobile devices has created an opportunity to streamline information sharing between field officers and their precinct offices without having to make massive investments in new systems or revamp tried-and-true processes.

Unfortunately, however, in most public safety agencies have no integrated communication system. County and contractor resources are often deployed to an incident with limited information about the specifics of the event. This situation creates bottlenecks in workflow, lack of coordination in response, and it can lead to dangerous circumstances for responding personnel who are not properly prepared for the incident at hand.

The development of mobile platforms has created the opportunity for mobile investigative work to be more than dashboard laptops and digital cameras. There is a potential for greater connectivity, and good investigative work is enhanced when agencies can tie systems together and move information seamlessly between technologies.

Mobile devices offer increased efficiency of information movement, while decreasing the administrative burden of collecting information from the scene of an incident and transmitting it to affected communities, agencies and contractors. Using smartphones or tablets onsite lets public safety personnel initially document the nature of the incident, determine specific requirements for the response, then relay this frontline information in near real time to supervisors who can dispatch the closest assets and coordinate among various responding agencies.

Moreover, by merging on-scene note-taking with after-incident report compilation, mobile devices can speed up the overall reporting process while reducing time and improving accuracy, because the report is being written up with the incident scene's details in plain view.

Let's take a look at a real-world use case that underscores the above: the challenge of determining the best use of resources when multiple state and local government agencies are involved in a response.

In 2014 in Virginia, Rockbridge County Emergency Management, Lexington Fire Department and Montgomery County Emergency Management all began to use mobile devices loaded with investigative software that allowed them to collaborate on responses and communicate in near real time.

The ability to compile detailed reports while on scene saved RCEM coordinator Robert Foresman significant time and hassle. “It used to take me an hour to take my field notes on a hazardous materials incident, and format them into an ICS-compliant (Incident Command System) report back at the office,” Foresman said. “By utilizing mobile devices and the inherent real-time communication that comes with them, I've been able to cut this time, on average, to just 20 minutes per incident.”

A real boon was that all the agencies involved reported an 85 percent decrease in processing time for documenting scenes and a significant improvement in the quantity and quality of information being shared. Emergency Management (EM) office paperwork was completed with full documentation and final reports in 20-40 minutes, depending on severity of the incident. Other county agencies noted that the information obtained by the EM offices, particularly the photos, helped them quickly notify county and contractor assets, who were then able to dispatch exactly the right type and number of vehicles and equipment to each incident.

While we believe that the public safety market is ready to embrace mobile technology through devices such as smartphones and tablets, public safety agencies must first validate and fund such a critical and game-changing shift in ideology. It is imperative that each agency identify use cases, research different options to find devices that fit goals and needs, and only then pilot and operationalize a framework for usage.

If agencies are evaluating mobile infrastructure to simply make calls and email, then they are missing the boat. The power of handheld devices is unleashed when an application ecosystem enhances and optimizes business process, thereby making the device and the applications it delivers a cornerstone of agency operations.

The idea of public safety making a paradigm shift to “mobile first” is no longer a question of “if,” but rather “when.” For every challenge mobile adoption creates, it also opens the door of opportunity for public safety to close the productivity gap, reassess practices and procedures, boost efficiency and renegotiate its relationship with the people it serves.




Challenges remain to recruit female, people of color into Ill. department

Bloomington's 121 officers include 112 (93 percent) white males

by Maria Nagle

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — After nearly a year focused on hiring more minority and female police officers, the makeup of Twin City law enforcement agencies remains, by a large majority, white male cops.

Only one woman has been added to the local officer ranks since the departments' lack of diversity was raised last January at a "Breaking Barriers" public forum.

The female officer was hired by the McLean County Sheriff's Department, bringing its number of female officers to two; there are 48 male officers. All are white, said Sheriff Jon Sandage.

The percentage of minority and female officers for Bloomington, Normal and Illinois State University police departments did not change despite concerted recruitment efforts over the past 10 months.

Bloomington's 121 officers include 112 (93 percent) white males. Normal's 80 officers include 68 (85 percent) white males. ISU police's 27 officers include 18 (67 percent) white males.

"We've lost three people since February, but the actual number of minority and female officers is the same. So it's the status quo," said J. Gary Sutherland, whose duties as Bloomington assistant police chief of professional standards include training, recruitment, testing and hiring of new officers.

The local departments use various means, including social media, to recruit minorities and women to participate in their testing. They've posted hiring notices at universities and colleges and with church groups and civic organizations; advertised in publications and media outlets, used Internet sites and posted hiring notices in stores that service or cater to diverse populations.

"I think we had to be more diligent about reaching out to the community and using other resources to help get those qualified applicants," said Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner.

Recruitment fliers featuring Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner, one of the department's two African-American male officers, and Amy Keil, one of three female officers on the force, drew 15,000 hits on BPD's Facebook page.

Local police agencies are not alone in their struggle to find qualified female and minority officers. Every department across the country is looking to hire for diversity — so everybody is recruiting the same group of people, said Sutherland and other chiefs.

And, regardless of race or gender, the recruitment poll is shrinking, added Sutherland.

"Look at the national outcry against police officers," he said. "It's a terrible time to recruit. You don't have people storming down the doors wanting to be police officers right now."

Hiring Process

BPD's recruitment efforts resulted in 193 people, including 51 nonwhite and female applicants, participating in BPD's last round of testing in late February.

But after each of the female applicants failed a physical agility standard, the department is looking at changing it.

"A physical agility standard that eliminates all female candidates, that's clearly an identifiable problem," said Sutherland. "It's easy to rectify as long as the standard is the same for all applicants."

The department should be able make that adjustment because the physical agility standard it was holding everybody to is higher than the one on the entrance examination of the Illinois State Police Academy, which officers must successfully complete as a condition of employment.

The standards for police training academies are set by the Illinois Training and Standards Board and are used by other law enforcement agencies, including Normal and the sheriff's department.

"For us, we want to use the same test that the academies are using for admission because years ago we had a process that was different," said Bleichner. "You would end up having someone who passes your process, but gets to the academy and can't pass that."

The local departments' hiring processes are similar — though ISU's department also is subject to the state's civil service testing process.

Applicants who pass a series of tests — physical agility, written and oral — are ranked on a eligibility list by the total of their test scores and points for military service. They are considered for hire as openings become available. If offered a job, candidates must pass additional tests — typically a polygraph exam, background investigation, psychological evaluation and medical exam.

"We ended up with 17 people who were eligible to be hired out of that 193," said Sutherland. "We have since hired four of those people and they are at the (Illinois State Police) academy. They are all Caucasian males."

NPD Efforts

Normal has hired one white male officer since February, and is in the process of testing for additional officers.

"The last process that we're wrapping up, it was right at 36 percent of the 298 applicants who were minorities and women," said Bleichner. "We have 38 people, including 10 who are minority and female applicants, that we interviewed. The process is ongoing, so it doesn't mean all 10 or all 38 made it into the (hiring) pool."

ISU police department's recruitment efforts were placed on hold until the state recently completed revamping its civil service testing process.

Meanwhile, through an intern program, the department found a replacement for an officer who left earlier this year.

"We replaced a white male officer with an individual who is a white male," said ISU Police Chief Aaron Woodruff. "So our numbers remain the same because we haven't had a chance to impact them yet.

"Ideally, we would have a department that represents our community, and our community is pretty diverse here on campus," he added. "But it's just a challenge getting people from different backgrounds here into the testing process."

"We need to have the volume of people applying so that as we go through the process we have reasonable numbers when it comes time to get to the interviews and hopefully to the point of extending a conditional offer," added Bleichner. "So it's a numbers game, but we want to recruit the best people that we can."

"It's integrity and character issues that wash the most people out, and it doesn't matter what their race or gender is," said Sutherland.

"We ask tough questions," he added. "Everybody's got those little things that they don't like to talk about and can be the eliminator when it's time to be a police officer."




Maryland Man Charged With Attempting to Provide Material Support to ISIL

Defendant Allegedly Received Money from Individuals Overseas to be used for “Operational Purposes” in the United States -- When Confronted by the FBI the Defendant Allegedly Lied to the FBI and Concealed his Support for ISIL

Mohamed Elshinawy, 30, of Edgewood, Maryland, was arrested on Friday, Dec. 11, 2015, on a federal criminal complaint charging him with attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a designated foreign terrorist organization; obstruction of agency proceedings; and making false statements and falsifying or concealing material facts. Elshinawy will have his initial appearance today at 2:45 p.m. EST before U.S. Magistrate Judge Beth P. Gesner of the District of Maryland in Baltimore.

The criminal complaint was announced by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein of the District of Maryland and Special Agent in Charge Kevin Perkins of the FBI's Baltimore Division.

“According to the allegations in the complaint, Mohamed Elshinawy received money he believed was provided by ISIL in order to conduct an attack on U.S. soil,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin. “When confronted by the FBI, he lied in order to conceal his support for ISIL and the steps he took to provide material support to the deadly foreign terrorist organization. He will now be held accountable for these crimes. The National Security Division's highest priority is counterterrorism and we will continue to pursue and disrupt those who seek to provide material support to ISIL.”

“This case demonstrates how terrorists exploit modern technology to inculcate sympathizers and build hidden networks, but federal agents and prosecutors are working tirelessly and using every available lawful tool to disrupt their evil schemes,” said U.S. Attorney Rosenstein. “The affidavit alleges that Mr. Elshinawy initially told the FBI that he was defrauding the terrorists, but further investigation showed that Mr. Elshinawy was supporting the terrorists and misleading the FBI.”

The affidavit filed in federal court alleges that in June 2015, the FBI became aware of an individual located in Egypt who was attempting to send money to the United States, possibly for nefarious purposes. The investigation revealed that on June 28, 2015, that individual wire transferred $1,000 to Elshinawy. The FBI interviewed Elshinawy on July 17, 2015. The affidavit alleges that Elshinawy first claimed that his mother had sent him the money, and then that the money was to purchase an iPhone for a friend. Later, he admitted that a childhood friend had contacted him a few months earlier to connect him, through social media, with an unidentified member of ISIL (referred to in the complaint as the “unidentified ISIL operative”). Elshinawy began communicating with the unidentified ISIL operative through a method of communication used by ISIL. The defendant also admitted that he understood the individual in Egypt who wire transferred the money on June 28, 2015, also to be an ISIL operative (referred to in the complaint as the “Egyptian ISIL operative”).

Elshinawy said that he had received a total of $4,000 in two payments –$1,000 through Western Union and $3,000 through PayPal – and that the ISIL operative instructed Elshinawy to use the monies for “operational purposes,” which Elshinawy understood to mean causing destruction or conducting a terrorist attack in the United States. Elshinawy stated that ISIL instructed him that if he ever came under surveillance by law enforcement, he should stop whatever activities he was doing in connection with executing an attack. Elshinawy claimed, however, that he never intended to carry out an attack and was only trying to get money from ISIL.

The affidavit further alleges that during a second interview with the FBI on July 20, 2015, Elshinawy stated emphatically that he received no other funds from ISIL other than the $4,000 he had previously disclosed. Later, however, Elshinawy said that he remembered receiving another payment of $1,200 from ISIL through PayPal, from the same unidentified ISIL operative, by order of a man in Syria. In this instance, Elshinawy explained that in order to receive the transfers from the unidentified ISIL operative, he engaged in a scheme by which he pretended to sell printers on eBay that would serve as a cover for the payments he received from ISIL.

A review of PayPal records indicates that Elshinawy allegedly concealed at least $3,500 of $7,700 that he received from ISIL operatives through his PayPal account between March and June 2015, specifically, $1,500 on March 23; $1,000 on April 16; $1,000 on May 1; $3,000 on May 14; and $1,200 on June 7. In total, Elshinawy allegedly received at least $8,700 from individuals he understood to be associated with ISIL.

According to the affidavit, Elshinawy used social media, multiple email accounts and “pay as you go” phones subscribed to him under various aliases to communicate with the individuals he understood to be associated with ISIL.

The social media communications between Elshinawy and his childhood friend were in Arabic, and many contained jihadist rhetoric found in ISIL- and other terrorist-related propaganda.

The investigation revealed that on Feb. 17, 2015, Elshinawy pledged his allegiance to ISIL and asked his childhood friend to deliver his message of loyalty. He stated that he was a soldier of the state, a common reference to ISIL, but temporarily away. Elshinawy also stated that his soul was over there with the jihadists and that every time he saw the news, he smiled. At the time of this conversation, ISIL recently had conducted a series of attacks and gained territory in Iraq. On Feb. 16, 2015, a video was publicly released showing the execution of 21 Egyptian nationals in Libya by ISIL extremists.

Also on Feb. 17, 2015, the childhood friend told Elshinawy to seek God's help and not tell anyone his plans for a terrorist attack. Elshinawy agreed and acknowledged that it is a crime in the United States. He further declared his allegiance to committing jihad.

The investigation also revealed that on April 27, 2015, Elshinawy told his brother that he had pledged allegiance to ISIL and that he had received money from ISIL and expected to receive even more. In further communications with his brother in May 2015, Elshinawy stated his desire to die as a martyr for the Islamic State (ISIL), and in August 2015, he directed his brother to take steps to conceal their communications and any communications with the childhood friend, because Elshinawy believed his relationship with ISIL had been compromised.

Elshinawy's sentence will be determined by the court after review of factors unique to this case, including the defendant's prior criminal history, if any, the defendant's role in the offense and the characteristics of the violation. The maximum sentence of imprisonment for attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization is 15 years; for obstruction of agency proceedings is eight years; and for making material false statements is eight years.

A criminal complaint is not a finding of guilt. An individual charged by complaint is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The case is being investigated by the FBI. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine Manuelian of the District of Maryland, with the assistance of Trial Attorney John Gibbs of the National Security Division's Counterterrorism Section.



From the FBI

2014 Expanded Crime Statistics Released -- National Incident-Based Reporting System Includes More Detailed Data

Today, the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program released details on more than 5.4 million criminal offenses reported by law enforcement through the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) during 2014. According to NIBRS, 2014 , 6,520 law enforcement agencies—charged with protecting more than 93 million U.S. inhabitants—reported 4,759,438 incidents involving 5,489,485 offenses, 5,790,423 victims, and 4,414,016 known offenders.

Among the report's highlights:

•  Of the offenses reported during 2014, 63.6 percent involved crimes against property, 23 percent involved crimes against persons, and 13.4 percent included crimes against society (so-called “victimless” crimes like gambling).

•  There were 4,414,016 known offenders, meaning that at least one characteristic of the suspect—such as age, sex, or race—was known. Of these offenders, nearly a third (32.3 percent) were between 16 and 25 years of age, the majority (63.9 percent) were male, and more than half (57.1 percent) were white.

•  Concerning the relationship of victims to known offenders, 52.7 percent of the 1,273,602 victims knew the individual perpetrating the crime but were not related to them. Nearly a quarter of the victims (24.8 percent) were related to their offenders.

In addition to the standard data tables, this year's NIBRS report includes a brand new feature: an interactive map that allows users to click on a state, view map pins for each agency, select a pin, and get a dropdown listing of that agency's offense data for 2014.

NIBRS, 2014 also includes a monograph on sex offenses previously reported by law enforcement that demonstrates the benefit of NIBRS data in allowing a more granular examination of a topic.

Unlike data reported through UCR's traditional Summary Reporting System (an aggregate monthly tally of crimes) and published annually in Crime in the United States , NIBRS data goes much deeper because of its ability to provide circumstances and context for crimes. It includes all offenses within a single incident as well as additional aspects about each event, like location, time of day, relationship between victim and offender, and whether the incident was cleared. NIBRS also includes data on 23 offense categories made up of 49 offenses, as opposed to the Summary Reporting System's 10 Part I offenses. Ultimately, NIBRS will improve the detail and overall quality of crime data, which will help law enforcement and communities around the country use resources more strategically and effectively.

However, only about a third of all U.S. law enforcement agencies currently participate in NIBRS. Transitioning to the new system can be somewhat costly, and—because of the greater level of reporting specificity in NIBRS—it can initially appear that an agency has higher levels of crime after switching to NIBRS.

But because NIBRS can provide more useful statistics that will promote constructive discussion, measured planning, and informed policing, FBI Director James Comey has made across-the-board implementation of NIBRS one of his top priorities. At a recent International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) conference in Chicago—a video excerpt of his remarks is included in this latest NIBRS report—he talked about the importance of this program: “We face a data shortage on the violent crime front. We can't tell you on a national level how many shootings there were in any particular city last weekend,” Comey said. “How can we address a rise in violent crime without good information? And without information, every single conversation in this country about policing and reform and justice is uninformed, and that is a very bad place to be.”

And influential organizations like the IACP, the National Sheriffs' Association, the Major City Chiefs Association, and the Major County Sheriffs' Association agree—all have pledged their support for NIBRS.



Want to Obtain FBI Records a Little Quicker? -- Try New eFOIA System

The FBI recently began open beta testing of eFOIA, a system that puts Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests into a medium more familiar to an ever-increasing segment of the population. This new system allows the public to make online FOIA requests for FBI records and receive the results from a website where they have immediate access to view and download the released information.

Previously, FOIA requests have only been made through regular mail, fax, or e-mail, and all responsive material was sent to the requester through regular mail either in paper or disc format. “The eFOIA system,” says David Hardy, chief of the FBI's Record/Information Dissemination Section, “is for a new generation that's not paper-based.” Hardy also notes that the new process should increase FBI efficiency and decrease administrative costs.

The eFOIA system continues in an open beta format to optimize the process for requesters. The Bureau encourages requesters to try eFOIA and to e-mail foipaquestions@ic.fbi.gov with any questions or difficulties encountered while using it. In several months, the FBI plans to move eFOIA into full production mode.

Here's what you need to know to assist the FBI in testing the eFOIA system:

•  You are limited to one request per day.

•  So the FBI is confident in the identity of the requester, you will need to provide a valid e-mail address and a government-issued form of identification in one of the following formats: .pdf, .doc, .png, .gif, .jpg, or .jpeg.

•  Your requests are limited to information about organizations, events, or deceased individuals.

•  If you are requesting information on a deceased individual, you will need to upload proof of death unless the deceased individual is more than 100 years old. Acceptable proof of death includes obituaries, death certificates, recognized sources that can be documented, written media, Who's Who in America , an FBI file that indicates a person is deceased, or a Social Security Death Index page.

•  The maximum combined size of all attachments in a request is 30 megabytes.

•  Regulatory FOIA fee schedules remain in effect for eFOIA requests.

•  Audio and video files, because of their large size, must be sent to requesters through standard mail.

A quick note: If you want to make what's called a “first party” request asking for information about yourself or another living person—which falls under the U.S. Privacy Act (PA)—you will need to mail, fax, or e-mail the U.S. Department of Justice's Certification of Identity Form DOJ-361, plus any additional information that may help in locating the records you're looking for, to the FBI.

Submissions to the FBI's overall FOIA/PA program continue to trend upward, according to Hardy. “Requests have increased over the past decade by as much as a third,” he said. “Over the past year, we've received approximately 18,500 requests and, thanks to a skilled workforce and increasing automation, we were able to review for release 1.1 million pages.”

And while many of the requests that come in are from the media, authors, academia, organizations, and the like, Hardy noted that 40 percent of FOIA/PA requests come from individuals looking for records on themselves.

The original purpose of the decades-old Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act was to promote openness in government. “Our belief in the concept of government transparency and the public's right to access certain records held by government agencies is what continues to drive us to this day,” said Hardy, “and eFOIA represents another step by the FBI to enhance that access.”

Check Out Previously Released FBI Records on the Vault

Before making a FOIA or eFOIA request, you may want to conduct a search of the thousands of previously released FBI records that are contained in our online FOIA Library, also known as the Vault.

This electronic reading room contains approximately 6,700 documents and other media that have been scanned from paper into digital copies and can be read from the comfort of your own home or office. In general, information posted to the Vault has been the subject of multiple FOIA requests, so you can often locate material on popular topics.

Over the past several months, information has been added to the Vault related to the following subjects: the 2002 Washington, D.C. sniper case, President Ronald Reagan, the Oklahoma City bombing, Huey Percy Newton, Joan Rivers, the Patricia Hearst kidnapping case, Alger Hiss, Shirley Temple Black, and Irwin Allen Ginsberg.

You can search the Vault using one of several methods:

- Select one of 20 categories found on the right-hand side of the Vault's homepage and look through all the releases that fall under that one category;

- Do a keyword search of the Vault;

- Peruse the Vault's A-Z index; or

- Read through the list of recently added material




Paris teacher stabbed by masked man who yelled about ISIS, prosecutor says

by Pierre Buet and Faith Karimi

A masked man yelled support for ISIS as he stabbed a French kindergarten teacher in the throat Monday morning, authorities said.

The teacher, who is hospitalized with nonlife-threatening injuries, was in class in the Paris suburb of Aubervilliers when the man attacked, French newspaper Le Parisien reported.

It said the unarmed attacker had on a balaclava, and used a sharp item found in class to slash the teacher. The students were not in class at the time, the paper said.

"This is a warning, this is only the beginning," the attacker said, according to a statement from Bobigny district prosecutor's office.

The Paris anti-terror prosecutor's office is investigating.

France on alert

France remains under a state of emergency following last month's Islamist extremists attacks that left 130 people dead in Paris.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks. In response, President Francois Hollande vowed to destroy the terror group and intensify an international military campaign against ISIS territory in Syria and Iraq.

Shortly after the November attacks, French warplanes pounded ISIS targets in the terror group's northern Syrian stronghold of Raqqa.




In American mosques, growing safety concerns — and more armed guards

by Idrees Ali

From the suburbs of Los Angeles to the outskirts of Washington, D.C., mosques around the United States are warily stepping up security in the face of growing fears about reprisals on American Muslims.

The increasing safety concerns described by American Islamic leaders – and the steps they are taking in response, including hiring armed guards - represent the flip side of the rising public anxiety about Islamic State-inspired terror after attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California.

The call by Republican presidential contender Donald Trump to ban Muslims from entering the United States only amplified concerns about an anti-Islamic backlash at mosques and community centers, religious leaders and organizers say. l

At least two mosques – one in Phoenix and the other in suburban Virginia – are working with the Department of Homeland Security to check up on the security their facilities provide for worshippers in recent weeks. Others report taking a range of steps, including hiring armed guards, because of fears that an American mosque could be a target for an attack.

"We are always concerned about lone wolf attacks," said Usama Shami, president of a Phoenix mosque that has been working with the Department of Homeland Security to review its security measures since the Paris attack last month.

Over the weekend, police arrested a 23-year-old man suspected of setting a fire at a Southern California mosque in what authorities are describing as a hate attack, following the massacre of 14 people in San Bernardino on Dec. 2 by a Muslim couple, U.S.-born Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his Pakistani-born wife Tashfeen Malik, 29. Authorities have not said if the suspect was motivated by the shooting.

That fire set on Friday at the entrance of the Islamic Society of the Coachella Valley caused no injuries. But it charred the building's stucco front entrance and left it littered with debris.

The FBI is also investigating an incident in Philadelphia in which someone drove past a mosque and threw a severed pig's head at it from a passing truck as a possible hate crime.

On Thursday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an advocacy group, was forced to evacuate its office on Capitol Hill after receiving a letter containing white powder. The note said, "Die a painful death, Muslims," CAIR attorney Maha Sayed said.

"Our fear is at a pretty high level at this time, given the anti-Muslim rhetoric going on," said Sayed.


Given the rising tensions, some mosques say they have struggled to hire and keep security guards. In Dulles, Virginia, a suburb of Washington with a large Muslim community center, security guards abruptly quit after the San Bernardino attacks, said Rizwan Jaka, chairman of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society.

"Security guards resigned because they were fearful of getting hurt in the backlash," Jaka said. "People were concerned."

The mosque has now hired armed guards and the imam of the mosque, Mohamed Magid, said security had been increased for programs in which children take part. "We are concerned about the feeling in the larger community about Muslims," he said.

Jaka said that after the San Bernardino shooting federal law enforcement officials had also completed a security assessment for the mosque.

At the East Plano Islamic Center near Dallas, Texas, Nadim Bashir, the imam, said the mosque had hired an armed security guard ever since the Paris attacks. "We're just trying to ramp up our efforts in the community and get a better name," said Bashir.

A mosque in Corona, California, which, like San Bernardino, is a working-class suburb on the dusty eastern edge of Los Angeles, has spent $10,000 over the past two weeks to increase security. It is now asking for donations from the congregation to defer that expense, Imam Obair Katchi told Reuters.

The Islamic Society of Corona-Norco has also put up a banner on its website denouncing the San Bernardino attack. The mosque has faced extra scrutiny after it emerged that Enrique Marquez, who supplied guns used in the San Bernardino massacre, had once attended.

"The Muslim community stands shoulder to shoulder with our fellow Americans in repudiating any twisted mindset that would claim to justify such sickening acts of violence. We encourage everyone to be extra vigilant," the mosque's website says.

Not all mosques see the need for new security. Mufti Ikram Ul Haq at the Rhode Island Masjid Al-Islam said the mosque there is relying on a police presence during prayer times.

"We have surveillance. We lock our doors and we have an alarm system," he said. Local police, Haq said, "have been increasing patrols around our places of worship, and that gives us enough sense of security."

The FBI will not release data on hate crimes for 2015 until next year. Some critics, including CAIR, say the official statistics undercount reported incidents targeting Muslims. For 2014, FBI data showed that out of 1,140 victims of anti-religious hate crimes, approximately 16 percent were victims of an anti-Islamic bias.

"Anecdotally, there is no question that we have had something of a flood of anti-Moslem hatred and hate crimes," said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Montgomery, Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group.



Since Sandy Hook, an American Kid Has Died by a Gun Every Other Day

by Mike Brunker and Polly DeFrank

There are at least 554 reasons to ask whether American children are safer from gun violence today than they were three years ago, when the unthinkable happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

That's how many kids under the age of 12 have died from gunshots — both intentional and accidental — since Adam Lanza stormed into the school in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012, and shot dead 20 children and six staff members, according to an NBC News analysis.

That figure, derived from news reports and other publicly available information, is likely significantly lower than the true number of child gun deaths, as suicides often are not covered by news media and other gun deaths sometimes go unreported. Even so, it works out to a rate of just under one death of a child by firearm every two days in this country.

That's not an improvement from the rate before Sandy Hook, and one new government dataset suggests that the risk of children dying by gunfire may even have increased slightly since then.

Shannon Watts, a stay-at-home mom who created a Facebook page after the Newtown shooting that has grown into the national gun safety group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, said she believes that while progress to reduce gun deaths among children has been slow, the Sandy Hook tragedy will one day be seen as a turning point.

"I wouldn't wake up and spend 12 hours a day working on this if I didn't think we were winning," she said. "… I'm just so saddened by the lives we're going to lose in the meantime."

As we did two years ago on the first anniversary of the Newtown shooting, NBC News looked at the most recent government data on child gun deaths to see if there has been a noticeable change since the Sandy Hook shooting.

We didn't find much: The mass shootings that make headlines still account for a tiny portion of the gun deaths that claim the lives of the youngest Americans. It is the steady drumbeat of deaths in ones and twos, in homicides, suicides and accidents, that accounts for the vast majority of cases.

We also talked to 10 experts on gun violence, from both sides of the political divide, to try to answer the question that inevitably arises on milestones such as this: Has anything changed to make children safer from gun violence?

The answers we got varied considerably, depending on who was answering and their perspective on the overall debate over gun rights and gun restrictions. Some key players, most notably the National Rifle Association, widely acknowledged as the most-influential advocate for gun rights, did not respond to requests for comment.

But most of the experts said progress is being made — even as they disagreed about what constitutes progress.

We also found a few areas where common ground has emerged among gun rights advocates and those who believe more restrictions on gun ownership could substantially reduce the number of Americans — including children — who die each year from gunshots. That number totaled 33,599 last year, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

What the data show

While gun deaths, along with violent crime in general, have been trending downward for years, the latest data on gun deaths provides no evidence that kids are safer today than they were three years ago.

The broadest measurement of U.S. gun deaths comes from the CDC, which uses death certificates for U.S. residents to determine cause and makes the aggregated data available through its online WONDER database.

The federal agency's data on child and young teen deaths (14 and under) from guns from 1999 through 2014 show 6,495 deaths, for an overall rate of 0.7 per 100,000 population. That makes up a very small slice — just over 1.2 percent — of the overall number of 497,632 U.S. gun deaths over the same period. (It's also worth noting that gun violence isn't close to the leading cause of death. Motor vehicle accidents, for example, killed 628,016 Americans during those years.)

For kids and young teens, homicide was the no. 1 cause of death by gun (59 percent), followed by suicide (22 percent) and unintentional (16 percent).

In 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, 460 children and young teens died from gunshot wounds, the highest number since 1999. The overall death rate also ticked higher, to 0.8 per 100,000, up from a low of 0.6 per 100,000, most recently attained in 2011.

To look at homicides exclusively,we also crunched the FBI's Supplemental Homicide Report data for 34 years, from 1980 through 2013, with assistance from the staff at Investigative Reporters & Editors, to see if we could see any changes in the patterns of gun deaths since we checked in 2013.

We found little had changed. Children under 12 (the FBI uses different default demographic categories than the CDC), who make up 3 percent of all homicide victims, are still far more likely to die from guns held by family members and acquaintances (75.2 percent of firearms incidents) than from guns held by strangers; arguments and other violence at home lead to the taking of a young life more often than random crimes; and guns kill 17 percent of child homicide victims, well below the 40 percent attributable to "personal weapons," a category that includes beating, strangulation, shaking and biting.

And despite recent headlines about terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, in which the killers were armed with assault-style rifles, most of the guns that kill children are handguns (69 percent), as is true of the general population, and less than 1 percent of child gun homicides occurred in "mass killings," which the FBI defines as involving four or more victims.

Jeffrey Swanson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University and a leading researcher on firearms laws, mental illness and prevention of gun violence, said many Americans — including some policy makers — fail to realize that outsize tragedies like San Bernardino are not a key component of American gun violence.

"Mass shootings get all the attention, but they are a small part of the overall problem," he said. "On the same day as the Sandy Hook shooting, about 90 other people died as the result of a shooting."

Legislative action since Sandy Hook

While many gun safety advocates believed that the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary would break the gridlock in Congress over guns, that hasn't happened.

Congress failed to pass several bills intended to strengthen federal gun laws in the aftermath of Newtown, including a bipartisan bill cosponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., to expand background checks for some gun sales. The Associated Press reported Thursday that President Barack Obama is now expected to take executive action to close the so-called "gun show loophole," which allows people to buy weapons at gun shows and online without a background check.

In the absence of congressional action on guns, the battle has largely shifted to the state level.

In a 2014 update to a report on reducing gun violence, originally published just 44 days after the Sandy Hook shooting, Daniel Webster and Jon Vernick of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research said that gun laws were strengthened in 15 states plus the District of Columbia in 2013, immediately after Newtown. Those jurisdictions cover roughly 44 percent of the U.S. population, they said.

The state laws addressed a range of issues, including requiring background checks for all handgun sales, expanding firearm prohibitions for high-risk individuals and banning assault-style weapons or large-capacity ammunition magazines.

Lindsay Nichols, senior attorney with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence in San Francisco, said children's safety specifically is being enhanced through state laws that enable authorities to seize guns from people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence — now on the books in 18 states.

"That's sort of the untold story," she said. "In many of these shootings, kids are being shot along with their mothers. Because so many states have now enacted these laws, kids there are certainly safer now than they were."

Another promising template in the eyes of gun safety groups is a law passed last year in California that allows concerned family members or law enforcement officers to seek a "gun violence restraining order" against someone deemed to pose a threat to themselves or others. If a court agrees, authorities could temporarily remove any firearms or ammunition in the subject's possession and prohibit him or her from buying guns.

Gun rights advocates have had their successes at the state level as well.

John Lott, a longtime gun researcher and president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, said that the trend of states making it easier for permit holders to carry concealed weapons has continued since Sandy Hook. In fact, eight states now don't require permits to do so, he said.

And a dozen states have, to varying degrees, required universities to allow permit-holders to carry concealed weapons on campus, he said, while some also have extended the option to K-12 public schools.

Gun rights advocates consider concealed carry to be a major deterrent to criminals, a concept famously captured by NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre shortly after Sandy Hook: "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

While many gun researchers dispute the notion that concealed carry laws improve safety, Lott says he has collected accounts of two dozen cases where mass public shootings have been stopped or prevented by concealed weapons permit holders.

"If the person hadn't been there, there would have been national news coverage," he said.

Where is the common ground?

While the debate over gun violence is often seen as an intractable standoff between gun safety and gun rights advocates, there are at least a couple areas where the two sides are working toward similar ends, if not exactly in tandem.

The first revolves around efforts to improve the U.S. mental health system, which some experts believe could prevent at least some dangerous mentally ill individuals like Adam Lanza from carrying out mass shootings.

In Congress, Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., a psychologist by training, has introduced the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, which he says is an effort to fix "a chaotic patchwork of antiquated programs and ineffective policies across numerous agencies." The bill, which Murphy often introduces by mentioning mentally ill killers, has broad bipartisan support, with more than 150 members of both parties signed on as cosponsors.

Meanwhile, Lawrence Keane, an executive with the National Sports Shooting Federation (NSSF), the firearms industry's trade association, said his organization has been pressuring states to do a better job submitting data on individuals barred from owning a gun — including for mental health issues — to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), through its FixNICS campaign.

Gun safety advocates say those efforts are largely in step with their goals.

Dewey Cornell, a professor of education at the University of Virginia and co-author of a 2013 report by the American Psychological Association on predicting and preventing gun violence, said approaches that "do more than just address guns and provide prevention programs, counseling services and threat assessment … that's a very promising development."

Deborah Azrael, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, said violence prevention efforts also must be accompanied by public education about guns and suicide, similar to the campaign in decades past that raised awareness of the dangers of drunken driving.

"There has to be a commitment to change social mores around guns and to try and promote the notion that … 'friends don't let friends have access to weapons when they're at risk,'"she said.

Swanson, the Duke psychiatry professor, is generally supportive of efforts to reform the mental health system, but cautions that changes should take into account that most mentally ill people don't pose a threat of violence.

"There is agreement that a really dangerous person shouldn't get their hands on a gun … but to talk about it in terms of preventing mass shootings runs the risk of increasing the stigma and social rejection that people with mental illness often feel," he said.

Teaching safety, taking potshots

Another area where both sides of the gun debate are working toward a common goal is gun safety education.

Groups like Moms Demand Action on Gun Sense, which is aligned with Michael Bloomberg's Everytown.org campaign to tighten restrictions on gun ownership, have stepped into a role that historically has largely been played by gun rights groups like the NRA and the NSSF to provide such education.

Watts, the founder of the moms group, said her organization has given more than 450 presentations in the past year along to educate parents about "responsible gun storage" to prevent accidental shootings. The Be SMART program also encourages parents to talk to other parents about whether they have guns in the home and how they are stored to head off senseless tragedies.

"It's a non-partisan program," she said. "It doesn't matter if you're a gun owner or a non-owner. It's about keeping guns safe."

The NSSF sends a similar responsible storage message through its Project ChildSafe program, which partners with law enforcement agencies to spread safety education messages and distribute free firearm safety kits that include a cable-type gun-locking device. The Project ChildSafe website says it has distributed more than 36 million firearms safety kits to gun owners in all 50 states and five U.S. territories.

The NRA's Eddie Eagle Gunsafe Program emphasizes parental responsibility, including teaching children about the dangers of guns and talking to other parents about whether they have guns in their home. It also directly addresses kids through an Eddie Eagle Tree House website that includes lessons, music and coloring activities.

Despite their seemingly aligned interests, the hard feelings that surround gun politics doesn't appear to allow for cooperation or support for the other side's efforts.

"Eddie Eagle is akin to Joe Camel, a way to get into schools and talk about guns," said Watts, of Moms Demand Action on Gun Sense, about the NRA's campaign.

The NRA's First Things First blog, meanwhile, belittled Watts and her organization for apparently being "more concerned with teaching grown-ups to badger other parents about whether they store guns in their house" than gun safety.

While the NRA did not respond to requests for comment, Keane, the NSSF executive, said that Project ChildSafe is not aimed at indoctrinating young potential gun owners.

"There is no marketing effort, there is no effort to persuade anyone to persuade anyone to purchase a firearm," he said. "It's straight-up information."

And he bemoaned the sniping from the other side, noting that when Project ChildSafe recently received a $2.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, gun safety advocates, including the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, petitioned the agency to withdraw it.

"One would think they would be supportive of us educating on safety and providing gun locks," he said. "But instead, these groups put politics ahead of safety to try to have the grant withdrawn. That's unfortunate."



States expanded gun rights after Sandy Hook school massacre

In the three years since, many states have embraced the National Rifle Association's axiom that more "good guys with guns" are needed to deter mass shootings

by Ryan J. Foley

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in which a mentally troubled young man killed 26 children and educators, served as a rallying cry for gun-control advocates across the nation.

But in the three years since, many states have moved in the opposite direction, embracing the National Rifle Association's axiom that more "good guys with guns" are needed to deter mass shootings.

In Kansas, gun owners can now carry concealed weapons without obtaining a license. In Texas, those with permits will soon be able to carry openly in holsters and bring concealed weapons into some college classrooms. And in Arkansas, gun enthusiasts may be able to carry weapons into polling places next year when they vote for president.

Dozens of new state laws have made it easier to obtain guns and carry them in more public places and made it harder for local governments to enact restrictions, according to a review of state legislation by The Associated Press. The number of guns manufactured and sold and the number of permits to carry concealed weapons have also increased, data show.

The trend has been discouraging to some gun-control advocates, even as other states have adopted stricter background checks. Other gun-control supporters say their movement is emboldened by the recent rise of Everytown for Gun Safety, a well-funded group backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg that is becoming influential in some state capitols.

The debate over gun rights moved to states after Congress rejected a bill in 2013 that would have expanded background checks to all gun sales, including those at gun shows and over the Internet. The arguments are expected to intensify next year as legislatures convene in the wake of the mass shooting of county government employees in San Bernardino, California, which is being investigated as an act of terrorism.

Recent mass shootings at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, a community college in Oregon and a church in South Carolina have also reignited passions on both sides.

"Most of our churches are just wide open," said Mississippi Republican Rep. Andy Gipson, who plans to file a bill next year allowing congregations to designate people who could carry guns.

The pro-gun legislation reflects a growing public sentiment that "gun-free zones are magnets for bad guys," said David Kopel, a gun policy expert at the Independence Institute, a libertarian think tank in Colorado. He said that concept was not popular after the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, but the frequency of mass shootings since then has made the idea of having a trained, law-abiding gun owner present more appealing.

"We've gone from, 'You can't even say that out loud' to it being an evenly divided issue, with the pro-gun side having an advantage on that," he said. "I would expect that we will see continued movement on that in the coming year."

Even before the Dec. 2 shooting at the office holiday party in San Bernardino, gun purchases and permit applications were on the rise.

On the day after Thanksgiving this year, U.S. gun sales approached a single-day record. More than 185,000 federal background checks were initiated, the most in the 17-year history of the program, according to FBI data.

"Everybody is swamped," said Mike Conway, a salesman at Bullseye Sport in Riverside, California, near San Bernadino, which has run out of most guns. "A lot of first-time buyers. A lot of people that realize that they have to be responsible for their own safety."

From 2007 to 2014, the number of concealed-carry handgun permits in states nearly tripled, from 4.7 million to 12.8 million, according to a recent report by the Crime Prevention Research Center, a group whose research is often cited by gun-rights supporters. Meanwhile, several states have passed laws shielding the identities of permit holders to protect privacy and prevent potential harassment.

Instead of limiting access to firearms after Sandy Hook, states such as Indiana and Mississippi passed laws to beef up the presence of police officers in schools. Kansas adopted a law allowing people to carry concealed weapons in many public buildings. Georgia and Arkansas, among others, allowed concealed weapons in bars and some churches. Tennessee made clear that permit holders can carry concealed weapons in vehicles and parks.

Several states also passed reciprocity agreements recognizing gun permits approved by other states, reduced permitting fees and loosened requirements. Wisconsin, for instance, eliminated a 48-hour waiting period to buy handguns.

And then there are new laws designed to thwart gun-control measures. States have prohibited authorities from seizing guns during emergencies, moved to ban the use of taxpayer funding for government gun buyback programs and banned the destruction of firearms seized by law enforcement. Some Republican-controlled states have pre-empted local governments' ability to pass stricter firearms laws by declaring that it's a matter for the state.

Everytown President John Feinblatt said many of the measures that expanded gun rights were passed when the NRA faced little opposition in statehouses, but that is starting to change. He said his group succeeded this year in opposing bills in several states that would have allowed concealed weapons on college campuses and permitted people to carry without obtaining permits.

Since Sandy Hook, six states have expanded background checks, and two more such measures are expected to be on statewide ballots next year in Nevada and Maine, Feinblatt said. His group, he added, isn't concerned with how many guns exist, but wants rules in place to make sure they aren't sold or transferred to criminals and the mentally ill.

"If more responsible gun owners want more guns and they are doing it the right way, that's not going to affect public safety," he said.

Eric Fleegler, a doctor at Boston Children's Hospital who has studied state gun laws, said he worries that the expansion of gun rights could cause more fights to escalate into deadly confrontations, more people to commit suicide and more kids to die from gun accidents.

"In a country with 330 million people and 310 million guns," he said, "the suggestion that the problem is we don't have enough guns available just doesn't seem to hold much weight."