April, 2016 - Week 1
Brussels Attackers' Original Target Was France, Prosecutor Says
by AURELIEN BREEDEN and ALISSA J. RUBIN
PARIS — Belgian authorities announced on Sunday that the group of attackers who targeted the Brussels airport and metro on March 22 had initially planned to hit France.
The Belgian federal prosecutor's office said in a statement that “numerous elements in the investigation have shown that the terrorist group initially had the intention to strike in France again.”
“Eventually, surprised by the speed of the progress in the ongoing investigation, they urgently took the decision to strike in Brussels,” the statement said.
The specific targets in Paris were La Défense, the large office and commercial complex that is just to the northwest of Paris, as well as an unidentified Catholic association, said Claude Moniquet, a former French intelligence officer who now works in Belgium and who has been in regular contact with investigators.
Two of the men who took part in the Nov. 13 attacks in and around Paris, and who died in a police raid days later, had also been planning an assault on La Défense, the Paris prosecutor said at the time. The Islamic State, which has claimed responsibility for the Paris and Brussels attacks, had also mentioned an assault in the 18th Arrondissement of Paris in November, but the exact location was never clear and no strikes ever occurred.
La Défense would be both a symbolic target and an important economic one for terrorists. Tens of thousands of people work in the large complex, which includes the office towers of many of France's major companies, including Areva, Total and Société Générale. Many multinational companies also have substantial offices there.
La Défense is also home to a sprawling indoor shopping mall, as well as a train station for two of the busiest commuter lines in the Paris region.
Investigators have uncovered an increasing number of links between the group of attackers who targeted Paris in November, killing 130 people, and the group that bombed the Brussels airport and Maelbeek metro station last month, killing 32.
Those links suggest, as did the Belgian prosecutor's office statement from Sunday, that the two groups were part of the same larger network, with several people playing roles in both attacks. Although many of those individuals have now been arrested, it is unclear to what extent the network is still operational.
One of those involved was Mohamed Abrini, 31, who is suspected of playing a significant logistical role in the Paris attacks. He was seen in surveillance video with some of the Paris attackers in November as they traveled from the Brussels area to Paris to organize logistics for the attacks, and also on the trip transporting some of the attackers to Paris.
Mr. Abrini, a Belgian and Moroccan citizen, was arrested in the Anderlecht section of Brussels on Friday. He later admitted to the police that he was the “man in the hat,” a suspect in the Brussels airport bombing who was caught on surveillance cameras leaving the site after two accomplices detonated explosives in the departures hall, killing 15 people and themselves.
Mr. Abrini's DNA and fingerprints were found in a Brussels apartment, on Rue Henri Bergé in the Schaerbeek neighborhood, that investigators suspect was used to manufacture explosives and suicide belts used in the Paris attacks. Traces of Mr. Abrini were also found in an apartment in Schaerbeek, on Rue Max Roos, that was used by the Brussels attackers, and where investigators found large quantities of explosives and bomb-making equipment.
A Belgian judge specializing in terrorism cases put Mr. Abrini in detention in connection with the Brussels attacks, and charged him with participation in the activities of a terrorist group, terrorist murders and attempted terrorist murders, the Belgian federal prosecutor's office said on Sunday.
US warns of 'credible threats' to Americans in Turkey
by Fox News
The U.S. issued a dire warning to its citizens Saturday about “credible threats” to tourist areas in Turkey on the same day Turkish authorities exploded a roadside bomb in Istanbul.
The emergency message from the U.S. Consulate urged Americans to exercise “extreme caution” in public squares and docks in Istanbul and the Mediterranean beach resort of Antalya.
"The U.S. Mission in Turkey would like to inform U.S. citizens that there are credible threats to tourist areas, in particular to public squares and docks in Istanbul and Antalya," U.S. officials said in the statement. "Please exercise extreme caution if you are in the vicinity of such areas."
The small bomb was left near an overpass in the Mecidiyekoy district, the Anadolu Agency reported. It was designed to create a loud noise. Three people were hospitalized with minor injuries, the report said.
Turkey has been decimated by four suicide bombings this year. The most recent one came last month in Istanbul. Two of the attacks have been claimed by the Islamic State and the other two were claimed by Kurdish militants.
A large police presence responded around roads near a Hilton hotel. Armed special police units were deployed outside other foreign consulates, including the German and Italian missions, Reuters reported.
Turkey has joined the U.S.-led air campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, while fighting Kurdish militants in the southeast where a proposed ceasefire collapsed last July. The U.S. also has ties to the Kurds who have been helping in the fight against ISIS, which has also complicated Ankara's relationship with Washington.
The U.S. and its allies targeted militants in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon said Saturday. Four strikes in Iraq were targeted near Hit and one strike in Syria destroyed seven ISIS rockets system near Manbij.
Earlier Saturday, the U.S. announced it is deploying B-52 bombers in Qatar. It's the first time the aircraft will see action in the Middle East since the Gulf War.
The announcement came a day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry vowed to "turn up the pressure further" against ISIS during an unannounced visit to Baghdad Friday to meet with Iraqi's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as well as Kurdish and Sunni leaders.
Undercover cops, Rahm aides kept tabs on protesters
by Mick Dumke
As Mayor Rahm Emanuel faced growing criticism last fall over the city's handling of police shootings, Chicago Police Department officials laid plans to have undercover officers spy on protest groups, records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show.
The police department already had been monitoring the actions and online postings of protest groups in the aftermath of the 2014 shooting of a black teenager by a white cop in Ferguson, Missouri.
Then, in October, the records show Ralph Price, the police department's top lawyer, signed off on a plan to send undercover cops to “monitor” meetings of four additional groups. They included Black Lives Matter activists, as well as churches and philanthropic organizations.
A month later — after the court-ordered release of police dashcam video showing a white Chicago cop, Officer Jason Van Dyke, shooting and killing a black teenager, Laquan McDonald — a top Emanuel aide went to the command center of the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications to keep tabs on protests organized by the Black Youth Project 100, one of the groups spied on by the police.
Joe Deal, deputy chief of staff for the mayor, relayed information gathered by public safety officials to mayoral chief of staff Eileen Mitchell and the City Hall press team. That's according to emails that were buried amid a trove of records released by the city in late December amid outrage over the video, which showed the teenager, who had a knife, being shot 16 times as he appeared to walk away from Van Dyke.
It was the seventh investigation opened by the police department since 2009 to monitor groups exercising their free-speech rights. The department requires investigators to justify such investigations in a “First Amendment Worksheet” outlining each proposed inquiry, which are supposed to be allowed only when there's a “reasonable law enforcement purpose.”
The Sun-Times previously has reported that, over the past seven years, the police have spied on anti-Olympics protesters, the Service Employees International Union, critics of the visiting Chinese premier, the Occupy movement and NATO Summit demonstrators.
Also, in late 2014 and early 2015, following nationwide protests over the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, the police here monitored black demonstrators and kept logs of events led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and other groups.
In each case, members of the groups being investigated had spoken out against City Hall or its allies.
Since 2009, only one police request to investigate protesters has been rejected by department lawyers, records show. That was in 2012, when a commander proposed using undercover officers for “infiltration” of activists planning a march during the NATO Summit, held in Chicago. The police already had a separate investigation into NATO protesters underway.
For decades, the police department had a unit, known as the Red Squad, that spied on dissidents and City Hall foes. It was disbanded in the 1970s.
But those targeted by the recent investigations say little really has changed.
“I always operate under the assumption that someone is looking at us,” says DeAngelo Bester, co-executive director of the Workers Center for Racial Justice, one of the groups the police investigated last fall.
Bester, whose group's main focus is access to jobs, says it's “ridiculous” and wasteful to spy on law-abiding protesters.
“The Chicago Police Department and Emanuel administration try to justify the harsh treatment [by cops] in black communities by saying there's so much violence,” he says. “Meanwhile, they're spending the time and resources to surveil groups exercising their First Amendment rights.”
Organizers for the Black Youth Project 100 — a leading voice in the Black Lives Matter movement that had been demonstrating against police shootings — say they aren't surprised the police spied on them.
“There's just a history of knowing we are organizing in a very hostile environment,” says Johnae Strong, a Chicago leader of the group. “The Chicago Police Department does exactly what it wants to do and finds ways to make it bureaucratically valid.”
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi says the investigation was “routine,” legal and “documented to ensure transparency with the public.”
“These protective actions — which happen in limited circumstances — are conducted to protect public safety and people's First Amendment rights,” Guglielmi says.
The undercover police operations last fall stemmed from plans announced by the Black Youth Project, the Workers Center and Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation — a coalition of churches and neighborhood groups known as SOUL — to protest the annual conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, held Oct. 24-27 at McCormick Place.
Funders for Justice — a nationwide network of philanthropic groups that includes the Ford Foundation, one of the country's biggest and best-known charitable organizations — posted an announcement of the “counter-conference” on its website. The Funders group had been formed to support discussions of police practices post-Ferguson.
On Oct. 19, police Cmdr. Leo Panepinto asked for departmental approval to investigate Funders for Justice and the three activist groups for the next nine days, according to the First Amendment Worksheet he filed.
Panepinto is the commanding officer of the Crime Prevention Information Center, where the police gather intelligence with agents from the FBI and the federal Department of Homeland Security. The center had also collected information on African-American protesters in 2014 and early 2015, records show.
According to Panepinto, the chiefs' association had learned demonstrators planned to “disrupt” the conference. He wrote that “the methods, scale and actions such groups intend to take to cause their disruptions are not identified and may include unlawful conduct.”
He didn't explain why the four organizations listed were chosen but got permission to send undercover officers to their meetings.
On Oct. 22, Black Youth Project, the Workers Center for Racial Justice and SOUL demanded that City Hall and the federal government spend more money investing in black communities and less on policing. Two days later, some demonstrators marched from police headquarters at 35th and Michigan to McCormick Place, while others chained themselves together to block an entrance to the police chiefs' convention.
“Social media was monitored,” police records show. “There were discussions of civil disobedience.”
After several hours, 66 protesters were arrested outside McCormick Place.
A month later, a judge ordered the release of the McDonald shooting video. Before the city complied, aides to Emanuel asked black elected officials, pastors and organizers to meet with him at City Hall on Nov. 23 in an attempt to minimize the fallout.
Black Youth Project leaders turned him down. Then, they held a news conference outside the South Side courthouse where the arrested McCormick Place protesters were appearing before a judge. Mayoral spokesman Adam Collins emailed the group's press release to other top Emanuel aides.
Later, on Facebook, the organization announced plans for a protest at 5:30 p.m. the following day — after the city released the McDonald video. Several mayoral aides were tracking protesters on social media, and one forwarded the rally information to other Emanuel staffers, according to the emails released by the mayor's office.
City officials made the McDonald video public the afternoon of Nov. 24, as Emanuel called on demonstrators to remain peaceful.
At 6:22 p.m. that day, Deal emailed the first in a series of updates on the Black Youth Project protest to Collins, chief of staff Mitchell, Guglielmi and others, including Michael Sacks, chairman of the investment firm GCM Grosvenor and one of Emanuel's closest advisers and biggest campaign contributors.
About 30 demonstrators were marching in the street down Roosevelt Road, Deal wrote, citing information from OEMC, which coordinates the city's public-safety efforts.
“I will be at OEMC this evening and will report any significant activity,” he wrote.
An hour later, Deal reported the group had grown to 150 people and had moved to Balbo and Michigan, where some protesters were sitting in the street. Guglielmi forwarded the message to then-Supt. Garry McCarthy and other police officials.
“Any sign it's growing?” emailed David Spielfogel, then one of Emanuel's top advisers.
“It definitely grew in the last hour,” Deal replied, and minutes later he emailed a photo. “It looks like mostly college kids. They are trying to antagonize the line of cpd.”
At 10:12 p.m., Deal reported a “minor skirmish” between protesters and police and at 12:45 a.m. wrote that protesters had surrounded a squad car: “They aren't doing anything. Just surrounding it.”
Just before 1 a.m., he wrote that the protest was over.
According to Collins, the mayor's “office has no involvement in the investigatory decision-making of the police department.”
Collins says Deal “frequently” oversees city operations out of OEMC “to manage street closures, to protect people's first amendment rights and to ensure the safety of people gathering.”
He didn't respond to questions about why other top aides and press staff were tracking protesters.
Training US/Mexican border law officers at STC's new public safety center
At last week's signing of an interlocal agreement between the City of Pharr, PSJA ISD and South Texas College to build a much-anticipated South Texas College Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence — where peace officers and peace officer candidates will train — there was a very special guest from Mexico. His name is Gerardo Alejandro Treviño and he works for the Tamaulipas state attorney general's office.
He was at Tuesday's event, he told us, because once this center is built in Pharr, he hopes it will also one day train law enforcement officers from Mexico. These are officers that U.S. officials tell us could prove vital in the ongoing battle to help prevent and deter human trafficking and illegal immigration crossing the Rio Grande into South Texas. And these are officers who are fighting a wave of crime and killings in Mexico that keeps increasing and inching closer to our border.
“We have every intention (for our officers) to learn here,” Treviño told us. “But there's a process that needs to be taken before we can implement it,” he added in Spanish.
Pharr Police Chief Ruben Villescas told us they want U.S. federal government officials to become a part of this new regional training center, by sending instructors, sharing technology and information and using the center to help train and further educate federal agents.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Assistant Special Agent in Charge Vance Callendar, who for the past six months has been assigned to McAllen, also said he was supportive of the idea but Thursday, at another press conference, was the first he was hearing of it.
Granted, the construction of a college building and the signing of interlocal agreement among some South Texas cities, a college and a local school district wouldn't normally necessarily catch the attention of federal government officials. But it should this time. Because this is a great opportunity for U.S. Homeland Security officials to train more agents on the border, and on the Rio Grande. It's also an opportunity for our local police forces — which already work extensively with state and federal border agents — to augment training and to learn the latest information and gain access to the latest technology as they fight crime on the border. This is particularly important because border crimes often are associated with human trafficking and smuggling of illegal immigrants. Furthermore, this center offers a unique opportunity for peace officer recruits in what has been the epicenter for immigration since 2014.
As Callendar told us: “Any training to keep up with the criminals is a fantastic opportunity, especially here on the border where we have a lot of trans-national criminal organizations and they are always changing the way they do business. So the opportunities for the local police departments and the state officials and federal government to keep up with that trend is an outstanding opportunity.”
Indeed it is. Sending federal and state agents here to learn and to educate our peace officers is a natural fit. And it would expand upon the many already established training programs that already are in place between local, state and national agencies.
As Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told us last week, just days after he toured the Rio Grande: “We've long had a public partnership ... that has included other officials are trained alongside U.S. military; drug enforcement and FBI agents, so it strikes me as a good opportunity to operate from a common training background and hopefully coordinate activities on both sides of the river.”
Callendar said recruiting Mexican peace officers to train here “isn't something we've done yet,” but he said Homeland Security has offices in 48 countries and six offices in Mexico, “through that we build international partnerships.”
He added: “Right before this press conference, I was talking with the police chief and the mayor about using that training facility just for that purpose.”
Please keep talking and encourage Homeland Security officials to seriously look into how they can plug into this $6.5 million facility; what funding they can offer; how they can get international buy-in, and what they can get out of it.
We also encourage federal officials in Mexico to begin whatever local, state and/or federal application process will be required to send their trainees here.
The 21,800-square-foot center will be located on Cage Boulevard, just south of Rancho Blanco Road and just north of the main floodway. The center is scheduled to be ready by December 2017, and is to include many classrooms, a vehicle driving range, outdoor shooting range, firearms simulator and a mobile firearms simulator.
As STC President Shirley Reed told us when asked if they will open it up to Mexican trainees: “If they wish because that border is pretty seamless and it's a great opportunity to bring in officers from Mexico to also take advantage of the training.”
Yes it is. And with crime up 11 percent nationwide in Mexico, according to data released this month, we can only imagine how sharing what our officers do over here might help them over there.
We congratulate Tamaulipas officials for taking the first step by sending Treviño to explore the idea of Mexican peace officers training in this center. We encourage Reed, as well as Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez, and Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District Superintendent Daniel King — who represent the three entities collaborating on this facility — to reach out to state and national officials and to begin the process for enlisting trainees, signing up outside instructors and acquiring government technology that could be useful at what promises to be a facility that will transform the way public safety is defined in the Rio Grande Valley, our state, and perhaps our nation.
As Callendar said: “The bad guys look at this border like crossing the street.”
Therefore our officers from both nations should look at it the same way and should work together to educate, train and fight crime here on our “seamless” border.
From the Department of Homeland Security
Protect Your Data Against Ransomware
At DHS, we've recently observed an increase in ransomware attacks across the country. Ransomware is a type of malicious software, or malware, designed to block access to a computer system until a ransom is paid. Ransomware is typically spread through phishing emails or by unknowingly visiting an infected website.
Criminals may try to persuade you to inadvertently download ransomware, which would then infect your computer. For example, if you're visiting a website, you may see a message like, “Your computer has been infected with a virus. Click here to resolve the issue.” In these cases, the computer has not yet been infected with ransomware, but clicking the link downloads the ransomware onto your computer.
After you download ransomware, a pop-up message will appear on your computer screen alerting you that your computer has been locked and that your files have been encrypted. Ransomware messages typically say something like, “Your computer was used to visit websites with illegal content. To unlock your computer, you must pay a $100 fine.” Or, “All files on your computer have been encrypted. You must pay $500 within 72 hours to regain access to your data.”
Ransomware can be devastating to an individual or an organization. Anyone with important data stored on their computer or network is at risk, including government or law enforcement agencies, healthcare systems or other critical infrastructure entities. Recovery can be a difficult process that may require the services of a reputable data recovery specialist, and some victims pay to recover their files. There is no guarantee that your files will be recovered if you pay the ransom.
The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) released an alert last week with precautions organizations can take to protect against the threat of ransomware. These include:
Employ a data backup and recovery plan for all critical information and back up your data on a regular basis. Ideally, this data should be kept on a separate device and should be stored offline.
Update software and operating systems with the latest patches. Out of date applications and operating systems are the target of most attacks. Keeping them up to date greatly reduces the number of exploitable entry points available to an attacker.
Restrict users' ability (permissions) to install and run software applications, and apply the principle of “least privilege” to all systems and services. Restricting these privileges may prevent malware from running or limit its capability to spread through your network.
Remind employees to never click unsolicited links in emails.
Follow safe practices when browsing the Internet. Read Good Security Habits and Safeguarding Your Data for additional details.
More precautions and technical information is available in the alert from US-CERT.
If you believe your data has been encrypted with ransomware, report it to DHS at www.us-cert.gov/report, or contact your local FBI Field Office or Secret Service Field Office.
A success story for community policing
East Stuart had a problem.
Through the first 11 months of 2015, there had been 22 calls for shots fired, with five people injured. Stuart Police and residents feared it was only a matter of time until someone was killed.
So in early December, community leaders convened a town hall meeting where police and residents agreed neither could solve the problem on their own. They needed to work together.
They did. And four months later, it's made quite a difference.
There have been no reports of shots fired in East Stuart since that meeting. That's not to say there's been no crime or disorder in the community. But the problem of violence does appear to have been mitigated.
And for that, credit is due both the Stuart Police Department — and the community it serves.
"Community-oriented policing" has been around for decades, lauded as a way to build relationships that ultimately result in safer communities. It focuses on crime prevention rather than crime response; officers get out of their cars and walk, or ride a bike, getting to know the people who live in the neighborhoods they patrol. Residents begin to see police as individuals who want to help, rather than an occupying force.
Stuart Police is not the only Treasure Coast department engaged in community policing. Since taking the position of Fort Pierce Police Chief last June, Diane Hobley-Burney has focused on "community interaction." She's made sure police are visible in the community; when they serve search warrants, they knock on nearby doors to let neighbors know what's happening. When police handed out presents to the needy last Christmas, they went door-to-door for the first time.
And Hobley-Burney holds what she calls "front porch roll calls," where a group of officers meets somewhere in the community — in front of stores, churches or homes — providing an opportunity for citizens to see officers and hear what they're working on that day.
In Indian River County, Fellsmere police have worked to gain the trust of the mostly Hispanic city, forming partnerships with nonprofit agencies, government entities and churches through the Fellsmere Action Community Team, which the police department helped establish. And on Monday, the first session of the "Police Partners Program" will be held, with a potluck dinner and a presentation by police and other law enforcement officials.
In the mid-2000s, such efforts were commonplace. But in the wake of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, many police departments cut back on community policing because of manpower shortages and budgetary constraints. The U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services surveyed the Major Cities Chiefs Association — a group of chiefs and sheriffs from the largest cities in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom — and more half of the 42 agencies that responded said the recession affected community policing efforts.
Other agencies have chosen to focus on a newer strategy called "data-driven policing," which utilizes mapping to target crime "hot spots" for stepped-up enforcement. Many law enforcement officials say this approach can be highly effective.
But the drop in violence in East Stuart shows that there's still plenty of value in a cop walking a beat.
In the wake of that Dec. 8 meeting, Stuart Police deployed "walking teams" — on foot, bicycle and Segway — with a goal of interacting with residents, younger ones in particular.
"We are spending a lot of time with the next generation in hopes they do not grow up with a poor image of who a police officer is and what they do," said Stuart Chief David Dyess.
A new neighborhood group is forming, said Dyess, and police will be involved in it. Last month, police delivered Easter baskets to the Gertrude Walden Child Care Center and Building Bridges to Youth.
And police have stepped up code enforcement, taking down uninhabitable, abandoned buildings. Dyess calls this "community policing with a scalpel" — removing criminals, even structures, that blight an otherwise good neighborhood.
Community policing, however, is a two-way street: It requires buy-in from the community itself to succeed. East Stuart residents have done their part by volunteering for a neighborhood crime watch, tackling blight and showing a willingness to build relationships with the police to take back their neighborhood. Residents should be proud of the difference their efforts have made.
Unfortunately, effective as community policing might be, the approach requires both manpower and money. And Stuart Police have been unable to sustain that commitment.
Dyess said police in February had to scale back the Segway/foot/bicycle patrols because of overtime costs, though the department is applying for a federal grant that would allow it to hire another full-time officer. It's a long shot, admitted Dyess; should the money not materialize, we'd urge Dyess and other Stuart officials to investigate other options to make the necessary resources available to police.
It's worth noting, too, that events in Port Salerno last weekend suggest some of the violence has merely moved to a place where there are fewer eyes on the street. There, three East Stuart men were arrested after a fight led to gunfire.
The relative calm in East Stuart may not last indefinitely; the work's not done. But for now, Stuart Police and the East Stuart community deserve plaudits for their willingness to work together, and for what they've accomplished.
Their efforts have made East Stuart a better place. And they serve as a reminder of the broader power of community-oriented policing.
LPD changes plans to beef up community policing unit
by Clifford Parody
LAKELAND — The Lakeland Police Department pushed for four new community policing officers and two new detectives in this year's budget, and won support from city commissioners. But after moving people around, Chief Larry Giddens said only one new detective will be hired.
“We have selected and transferred four officers into COPS: Jason McCain, Donnie Baker, J.R. West, and Dave Gupti,” Giddens said. “We are currently in the selection process for the first COPS sergeant's position.”
The department now plans to double down on the current set-up.
“The expanded plan … is to add four additional COPS officers and a second sergeant to the unit,” Giddens said. “This internal movement will reduce the number of officers assigned to Uniform Patrol Division, but we feel strongly that the benefit gained will ultimately reduce the calls for service.”
Originally, the plan was to bolster the detective bureau by two and create a new community policing unit of four officers, an initiative that had consistently received strong support from the commission.
Last week, half of that of that plan came to fruition in the form of the Community Oriented Policing Section — COPS.
Assistant Chief Reuben Garcia, who was in charge of reinvigorating the COPS program, said the officers will be placed in each quadrant of the city — one each in northwest, southwest, southeast and northeast — to focus on each neighborhood's specific problems.
“Instead of using a Band-Aid to temporarily fix issues,” he said, “COPS officers will be getting to the root of the problem.”
Commissioner Don Selvage, who was unaware of the internal movement, said he is OK with the decisions.
“I like Larry's approach to community policing and I think that's the way that all cities need to go,” he said. “I have applauded him at putting those officers in different sectors … I am interested to hear the logic behind it, but not so much because I question it.”
Commissioner Justin Troller agrees.
“I know we are short in the detective area,” he said. “However, if we are being more proactive on the front end the hope is those detectives' workloads will go down."
LPD now has 235 sworn officers.
City Manager Tony Delgado said, “I think more of our community wants to have greater interaction with the Police Department. When you have officers in the community, people become more comfortable. The ultimate goal is to show folks that you can go to an officer, you can share your thoughts, you can help."
Speakers urge Decatur to work together
by Chris Lusvardi
DECATUR — Ray McElroy described Thursday how he wanted to make a tackle on his first play in the NFL.
Instead, McElroy picked up audience member Caleb Smoes on stage and showed how he was upended on the play by an unanticipated blocker, throwing his feet thrown in the air.
“Just like Decatur, when I was knocked down, I didn't stay down,” McElroy said. “I picked myself up and finished that play.”
McElroy, a former Eastern Illinois University player who later played for the Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions during a six-year professional football career, was the featured speaker during the Community Leaders Breakfast at the Decatur Conference Center & Hotel.
Prior to McElroy, Nicole Bateman introduced the latest focus for the City Limitless community marketing initiative, which was started last year. The message from the "Safe Streets, Strong Community" campaign will be changing the perceptions about public safety and crime in the Decatur area, said Bateman, the community marketing manager.
“The time is now to tackle the misperceptions that tarnish our image and hamper success,” Bateman said. “Perception is not always reality.”
Decatur's total crime rate has dropped by 56 percent in the past 20 years, Bateman said. Violent crime is down 55 percent, and property crime decreased by 57 percent, she said.
“This was not by chance,” Bateman said. “We have an opportunity to put the facts out and not sit on the sidelines. We need to speak up and not let others define our story.”
Since 2002, Bateman said Decatur has been the second-safest metro area in Central Illinois, behind Bloomington-Normal. Violent crime has decreased since hitting a peak in 1996, she said.
Local law enforcement officials have been taking a proactive approach in an attempt to cut down on crime, said Jim Getz, Decatur interim police chief. Getz said officers are encouraged to interact with members of community, particularly youth.
“I don't know if that was always the case 20 years ago,” Getz said. “Our relationship with the whole community has come a long way. To build those relationships with the youth can pay dividends, not just now, but 10 years from now.”
Macon County Sheriff Thomas Schneider has been particularly encouraged to see the drop in violent crime, with more than 15 homicides a year in some cases dropping more recently to single digits. He credited stepped-up enforcement in relation to drugs as part of the reason behind the changes.
“You have to have the community involved,” Schneider said. “They have stepped up to support law enforcement.”
Getz and Schneider said their departments plan to be part of the upcoming City Limitless-led efforts to provide information about public safety in Decatur.
McElroy said his career is similar to the transition Decatur is going through. McElroy overcame obstacles and what others might have thought about him or his teams to achieve his boyhood dream to play professional football by continuing to believe in himself.
“I know what it's like to be labeled,” McElroy said.
Shortly after his playing career ended, McElroy said he became a statistic among former NFL players by filing for bankruptcy. McElroy said he had given away too much money and made bad business investments.
With the support and help of his family, McElroy turned his outlook around.
“After 10 years, things are looking up,” McElroy said. “It took a lot of hard work.”
He said the Decatur community should work together to achieve its goals.
“We are stronger when we come together,” McElroy said.
McElroy's message is one that should be shared with youth groups, Schneider said.
McElroy shared his story later Thursday with students at Decatur Christian School in Forsyth.
Superintendent Randy Grigg said he was looking forward to having the students hear from McElroy in a faith-based environment.
Grigg said the students can learn from McElroy how to believe in themselves and about the importance of working hard.
Rep. Kennedy Calls Juvenile Justice the Next Civil Rights Issue
by Daryl Khan
BOSTON — Rep. Joseph Kennedy III drew on the spirit of his grandfather Robert F. Kennedy this morning, casting juvenile justice as an urgent civil rights issue in a rousing and eloquent keynote address at the inaugural Probation System Reform Symposium.
He applauded the 200-plus symposium attendees, many of them people who work with children in the system, for being on the front lines of this movement and putting reforms into place that de-emphasize punishment and throwing children deeper into the system. The juvenile justice system isn't just about cells; it's more about the systems in place after the child has been released, Kennedy said.
The Democratic congressman from Massachusetts talked about how the juvenile justice system is not an illness, but a symptom of the deeper illness of poverty. Far too often the juvenile justice system is "an enemy, not a friend" to the poor, who disproportionately end up in the system in an implacable cycle, he said.
He asked the rapt audience to imagine a single mother with a child, leaving prison with a felony drug conviction. She represents two-thirds of women coming out of prison.
What are her options? She "scrambles to put a roof over her head" but realistically where can she live, Kennedy asked. She tries to go to public housing, but because of restrictions she can't live there as a felon. She tries to find an apartment but background checks keep finding the felony conviction.
Say she is lucky enough to move in with her mother, he continued, but when she tries to sign up her daughter and herself for federal programs, she finds the felony drug conviction makes them ineligible for public assistance. That's the case if she lives in states like Georgia or Arizona.
She lands a job as a waitress, but if she lives in a state like New Jersey she is making two bucks and change as a tip worker, Kennedy said. She is ripped off by her employer but doesn't have the money or resources to get a lawyer to fight for her back pay.
The question he left hanging in the air is what happens to that mother now? What happens to her child?
Eighty percent of the children who end up in the juvenile justice system are from families living in poverty or right on its edge, Kennedy said. Again drawing on the inspiration of his grandfather, he said money should be the last thing that matters in the dispensation of justice, but that often nothing matters more.
"To put a price tag on justice," he said to a standing ovation, "might be to deny it."
States Consider Legislation to Raise the Age for Juvenile Court Into Young Adulthood
by Sarah Barr
During the last decade, advocates and policymakers in Connecticut and Illinois won contentious battles to keep young offenders in juvenile court until they turned 18 years old.
Now, supporters of those efforts want to go even further, saying a wave of research into adolescent brain development makes the case for treating young adults differently from mature adults.
Lawmakers in both states are considering legislation that would raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction through age 20. The move would bring young adults into a system some say is better equipped to rehabilitate them — and comes with fewer collateral consequences, such as trouble finding employment, that often accompany a criminal record.
Advocates in both states say it's no accident the bills are under consideration in states that recently raised the age without the problems that those opposed to the policy predicted, such as cost overruns or spikes in the juvenile detention population.
“People become more accustomed to the conversations. It's not as threatening and not as challenging to the status quo,” said Elizabeth Clarke, president of the Juvenile Justice Initiative in Illinois.
Nationally, most states set 17 as the upper boundary for juvenile jurisdiction, meaning an offense most likely will land a teenager in juvenile court until their 18th birthday. Seven states set an upper boundary of 16, while two, North Carolina and New York, set it at 15.
In nearly every state with a boundary younger than 17, there's an active campaign to raise the age.
Melissa Sickmund, director of the National Center for Juvenile Justice, the research division of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, said she's long wondered which state would be last to raise the age to 18. The legislation in Connecticut and Illinois could open the door to an entirely new conversation though, about which states are re-examining their policies for young adults.
“Even if they don't succeed, having a lot of information out there encourages other states to think about it,” she said.
A conversation about raising the age for young adults also has started in Vermont.
Lawmakers there are expected to consider a proposal from state Sen. Dick Sears Jr., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, that would require a committee to study whether to raise the age up to 21 for young adults charged with all but the most serious crimes. The proposal also would put in place new housing restrictions to separate young adults from other inmates in prison and limit when 16-year-olds can be charged in criminal court.
Sears, who spent decades working with young people in group homes, said he long had noticed the similarities between high school-aged teenagers and their slightly older peers — and the more recent brain science findings confirming those similarities has encouraged his interest in changing the system for young adults.
“That's where we have the best chance at lowering recidivism,” he said.
Research on the adolescent brain and development psychology has shown how juveniles differ from adults, with less control of their emotions and more willingness to take risks, said Vincent Schiraldi, a senior research fellow at the program in criminal justice policy and management at Harvard's Kennedy School.
That's helped make the case for why adolescents should be treated differently than adults. But, the research also has shown young adults continue to develop into their mid-20s, meaning juveniles aren't just different from adults but young adults also are different from more mature adults.
Those findings help to explain why policymakers are interested in young adults. If there's no bright line that says when a person crosses from one stage of life to the other, then it's worth looking at whether the justice system needs to accommodate those differences, Schiraldi said.
He added that young people are also crossing key developmental bridges, such as finding secure employment or marrying later than they once did, leading to a longer stretch of time when they can get into trouble.
“The avenues for them to lead stable lives have been put off, and we haven't reacted to it in a lot of ways,” he said.
Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research & Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said it's good to see policymakers recognize that there is no magic birthday that separates an adolescent from an adult. Raising the age is good, but it would be even better for policymakers to think beyond two categories, to the developmental stage and needs of each teenager and young adult who enters the system, he said.
“It's all individualized, and we're just not good at having that system,” he said.
Derek Cohen, deputy director of Right on Crime and the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said he's skeptical of raising the age to 20. He said it's unclear how the policy would work and expects resistance to doing so both because of costs and because people see age 18 as a meaningful line.
“It's an arbitrary designation, to say the least, but it's the one we've gone with for a lot of things,” Cohen said.
The Connecticut bill (SB 18) would gradually raise the age to automatically be tried as an adult to 21 over three years. The General Assembly's joint Judiciary Committee passed the bill in late March by a vote of 22 to 17.
State Sen. John A. Kissel, the ranking Republican on the committee, said the decision to raise the age to 18 made sense, but the new bill goes too far.
“18- to 20-year-olds can vote, drive, and go to war. Putting them into the juvenile justice system for certain crimes seems like an overreach,” he said in a news release.
The bill's path through the legislature is not entirely clear, especially as the state navigates a budget shortfall. But the bill has a champion in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, who gave a major speech in the fall urging lawmakers to raise the age.
“Our prisons should not serve as crime schools for our most impressionable. What we are proposing are long-term, thoughtful solutions that will drive crime down even lower,” Malloy said in a news release after the committee vote.
In Illinois, lawmakers have released several bills related to raise the age, including HB 6308, which would raise the age to 21 for misdemeanors, and HB 6191, which would do so for felonies. Related hearings could begin this week.
The state is in the midst of a major budget crisis, so the outlook for the bills is unclear.
Clarke said she hopes the conversation about how to treat young adults highlights that for some young people, second chances are a given. The experience for a 20-year-old at college who commits an offense are likely to be very different from that for a 20-year-old who is out of school and unemployed.
“It's a terribly difficult time of life for all young people and we should really be focusing on helping them navigate them forward toward independent living,” she said.
Abby Anderson, executive director at the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, said that if the bill succeeds, planning for its implementation will be critical.
“It's certainly possible that the rules of juvenile court, or what it means to be in juvenile court, might be different for a 20-year-old than a 13-year-old,” she said. The system will have to prepare to address the lives of young adults, whose educational, economic and health needs likely will be different than younger teenagers, she said.
When Connecticut raised the age previously it was critical that the juvenile justice system was working as well as possible before older teenagers were added. The same would be true this time around, she said.
A juvenile justice reform bill aimed at increasing diversion and reducing detention and recidivism is making its way through the Connecticut legislature. Its provisions go hand-in-hand with raising the age, Anderson said.
“You have to make sure the juvenile justice system is as safe, effective and small as it can be before you can introduce this new cadre,” she said.
Montclair Police Community Service Unit - The Softer Side of Policing
by CINDY C. A. PEREIRA
MONTCLAIR, NJ - An at-large shooting suspect was apprehended two weeks ago without incident because of his relationship with Montclair Police Sergeant Tyrone Williams, Jr. This relationship, built through Williams' role with the Montclair Community Policing Bureau (CPB), led to the subsequent arrest of the suspect when he turned himself in at Union Baptist Church of Montclair.
Sergeant Williams, self-described as one face of the softer side of policing, told Tap into Montclair that his role and that of the Montclair Community Policing Bureau, “is to bridge the gap between the police department and our community.”
Many of the sworn police officers at the CPB do what patrol officers are often unable to do, which is to stop and chat, build relationships with business owners, address community concerns and establish community ties. They are trained in community policing theories and strategies and patrol on foot or by bicycle and can be identified by their bright blue polo shirts.
Williams said, “We want to address problems collectively. We find viable solutions that work on both ends. Our mission is to break barriers and forge relationships.”
On March 20, Tap into Montclair first reported on a domestic shooting in Montclair. The suspect, Edward Thompson, was at-large, but there was no chaotic chase, because Thompson had a personal connection with Williams. Thompson had met Williams in his neighborhood and established a friendship with him over the last three years.
According to Williams, the suspect knew that Sergeant Williams attended the same church that Thompson's family attended, and as a result, the suspect himself reached out to Williams and asked to be taken in. This occurred minutes before Sunday morning service began.
In 2008 with the downturn of the economy, reduced budgets and shrinking grants, the community program was eliminated. This entire department was closed down for a few years. However, since September 2013 the unit has reopened and Sergeant Williams, a 15-year veteran of the police department, was commissioned to command the new Community Service Unit (CSU).
Since then they have been fervently reestablishing community ties, by being involved in Read Across America, Coffee with a Cop, National Night Out safety event, talking to seniors about safety, raising awareness about how to protect oneself from theft, creating neighborhood watches, coordinating bicycle safety, avoiding cyber crime, to name a few. You name a safety concern, and this group is likely to have some sort of endeavor to address it.
Williams said they could use volunteers to help coordinate the National Safety Event in August. “It's the first Tuesday in August. It's an opportunity to promote safety, bring the community together, strengthen relationships between law enforcement and residents and also to celebrate.”
This unit also extends outreach to Montclair youths providing activities, many of which sponsored by the Montclair Police Athletic League, such as PAL basketball, Junior Police Academy, and more.
For more information on the community service unit, to contribute, or to be involved in volunteer efforts that will increase safety and promote cooperation, please reach out to Sergeant Williams by phone at 973-509-4775 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Boston Marathon Security: 5,000 Cops, No Drones or Backpacks
by DENISE LAVOIE
As security plans for this year's Boston Marathon are being finalized, lessons learned from the 2013 marathon bombing and three major attacks elsewhere over the last year are being incorporated, authorities said Wednesday.
Hank Shaw, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston division, said no specific threats have been made against this year's marathon. But he said the intelligence community remains vigilant after attacks in Paris, Brussels and San Bernardino, California. He said authorities urge people to report anything suspicious.
"The often-used phrase 'See something, say something' can save lives," Shaw said during a news conference with law enforcement and marathon officials.
"I feel strongly that we have a well-thought-out plan, which will continue to be updated as needed as the race day approaches," Shaw said.
The 120th running of the Boston Marathon is scheduled for April 18. The world's oldest annual marathon is expected to attract approximately 30,000 runners and as many as 1 million spectators.
Kurt Schwartz, director of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, said nearly 5,000 local, state and federal law enforcement officers will be stationed along the 26.2-mile course and in the state's emergency management bunker in Framingham.
Like the last two years, spectators are being asked to leave backpacks and other large bags at home and to carry only clear plastic bags, which are easier to search. People are also being asked to refrain from flying drones over any part of the marathon route.
Enhanced security checkpoints will be set up at key entry points for spectators, and dozens of surveillance cameras are being installed along the route.
Security has been stepped up significantly since two pressure-cooker bombs hidden in backpacks exploded near the 2013 finish line. Three people were killed and more than 260 were injured.
Brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev detonated the bombs in an attack prosecutors said was meant to retaliate against the U.S. for its actions in Muslim countries.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was convicted and sentenced to death for his role. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed during a getaway attempt days after the bombings.
Authorities at the news conference wouldn't give specifics on how the security plan has been enhanced since last year but said it's possible the public might not notice any changes.
"The public should expect enhanced security zones in some areas," Schwartz said. "Those 5,000 law enforcement officers will be watching, vigilant, looking for any type of suspicious indicators."
Calif. lawmaker wants to allow supervised heroin use
Law enforcement has opposed the move in California, saying it will worsen addiction
by The Associated Press
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A lawmaker wants to allow California addicts to use heroin, crack and other drugs at supervised facilities to cut down on overdoses, joining several U.S. cities considering establishing the nation's first legal drug-injection sites.
The proposal introduced Tuesday comes as San Francisco, Seattle, New York City and Ithaca, New York, weigh ordinances to set up the facilities, citing the success of a site operating in Canada since 2003.
But law enforcement has opposed the move in California, saying it will worsen addiction. And lawmakers seemed reluctant to support it, postponing a committee vote.
Though federal authorities have taken a hands-off approach to states' legalization of marijuana, it's not clear how they would respond to facilities permitting users to shoot up hard drugs.
The bill from Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman would make it legal for local and state health departments to allow the use of controlled substances in clinics that would offer medical intervention.
Supporters say the facilities would reduce deaths and transmissions of HIV and hepatitis C.
"Addiction is a health care issue, and I think it's high time we started treating it as a public health issue, versus a criminal issue," Eggman said. "This bill is one step to be able to address the heroin addiction and epidemic of overdoses that we're having in our country."
Advocates of drug policy reform point to the success of North America's only supervised injection facility, established 13 years ago in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Canadian Sen. Larry Campbell, who helped establish the facility as Vancouver mayor, joined Eggman in Sacramento to support her proposal. He said the Vancouver program has reduced the number of overdoses in the city and moved drug use out of the public eye.
"The drug is illegal, but the person who's using that drug is suffering from a recognized medical disease," Campbell said. "What this does is simply treat the addiction, keep somebody alive and keep them off the streets."
The Canadian facility, which has overseen more than 2 million injections, costs $2 million a year to run, he said. In 2003, it saved the state $1.5 million in health care costs, largely due to decreased emergency room visits.
The California measure faces strong opposition from sheriffs and police chiefs concerned the facilities would encourage drug use.
"This sends entirely the wrong message regarding drug use and likely creates civil liability issues for participating governments and officials," said Asha Harris, spokeswoman for the California State Sheriffs' Association.
The supervised consumption sites would violate federal law banning certain controlled substances such as heroin, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Michael Shavers said. There is no official guidance from the agency on the facilities.
The "DEA focuses its resources on criminal distributors and not individual users; our focus is on eliminating the suppliers, the distributors, the larger controlled substance providers," Shavers said.
Eggman said she has not reached out to the agency about her proposal.
Republican Assemblyman Tom Lackey echoed law enforcement concerns and said California should consider how to control addiction to opioids and other prescription medications before moving toward such facilities.
"We need to discourage people, but we also need to help them," said Lackey, a 28-year veteran of the California Highway Patrol. "But I just can't support this because there's a number of problems at this stage.
"I don't think we're quite ready for this step," he said.
At least 87 drug consumption facilities existed in 58 cities around the world in 2012, according to researchers Eberhard Schatz of the Correlation Network and Marie Nougier of the International Drug Policy Consortium, citing the most recent data available.
The thin blue line: A symbol of heroism, not corruption
The thin blue line represents a stance that we are all in this together as protectors of our citizens. The alternative interpretation is just noise
by Ed Flosi
The “thin blue line” is an internationally recognized phrase that provokes different emotions and thoughts depending on who is listening. I remember attending the police academy way back in the 1980s listening to one of the instructors talk about the term.
As he spoke, his tone of voice became somewhat hushed – as if it were a term not to be spoken aloud or outside the presence of law enforcement personnel. He described it as the line that separated “us from them.” What he meant by “us” was the police officers and the law-abiding citizens on one side and the criminal element on the other.
I was puzzled as to why it seemed so secret. I thought it was a noble symbol that I could easily get behind. As a young and naïve police recruit, I was unaware that this term was also recognized by some to have a dark side. I began to hear stories about how officers would cover-up for each other under the guise of the thin blue line as a symbol to protect other cops for whatever happens at any cost. This protection was not in a physical “officer safety” context but rather as an after-action item to conceal any transgressions.
One Symbol, Two Interpretations
This idea of how such a term could have such different meanings never quite settled with me. One term describes a noble profession that will protect and serve the civilians of its jurisdiction against the evil-doers of society. The other interpretation conjures up a group of conspiring thugs that will lie, cheat and cover for one another's misconduct in the name of “the cause.”
It should not surprise anybody which viewpoint the media and news outlets generally take. Some media outlets, TV shows and movies use the term (as well as others like the “blue wall of silence”) as shorthand for corruption and nefarious deeds such as unwarranted searches and seizures and questionable shootings of suspects. The 1988 movie, “The Thin Blue Line” argued that a man was wrongly convicted for murder by a corrupt justice system in Texas.
When officers come forward to report illegal or unethical behavior, they are commonly referred to as “crossing the thin blue line” by the media. This suggests that the thin blue line exists to hide such activities.
I have been asked in court by opposing attorneys about the thin blue line as a mechanism that helps to provide internal cover for rogue officers. It is clear that these attorneys are trying to invoke a negative emotional response for the jury to believe that cops cannot be trusted because we are trained and encouraged to lie for one another.
But that is not the true meaning of the term – and it's important cops take pride in it. The thin blue line describes us, in essence, as the sheepdogs that we are all familiar with. The alternative interpretation is just noise created by those who want to create controversy.
An Honorable Image
The thin blue line represents a stance that we are all in this together as brothers and sisters. It has become a symbol of that line we must stand fast to and hold onto in order to protect each other from harm's way. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder on this line, we demonstrate the commitment to all those who we protect from those that may want to inflict harm.
I wear my thin blue line bracelet with pride and honor as a reminder of the tragedies that are occurring against our brothers and sisters. I light my porch with a blue light now every night as a show of continual support for those still actively protecting us. I am retired now but still do what little I am able to do to support the noble profession that I love. I left it in the hands of those capable sheepdogs that valiantly go out every day and night. To you that continue to heroically protect and serve us, hold fast and steady and protect each other from harm. Stand proudly together along the thin blue line as a show of support and strength.
About the author
Ed Flosi is a retired police sergeant in San Jose (Calif.). He has been in law enforcement for more than 27 years. Ed has a unique combination of academic background and practical real world experience including patrol, special operations and investigations. Ed was the lead instructor for use-of-force training, as well as defense and arrest tactics for the San Jose Police Department. He has been retained in several cases to provide testimony in cases when an officer was alleged to have used excessive force. He has assisted the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) in providing expertise on several occasions related to use-of-force training. He has a Master of Science degree from California State University Long Beach and holds an Adult Learning Teaching Credential from the State of California. He teaches in the Administration of Justice Department at West Valley College. He is currently the Principle Instructor for PROELIA Defense and Arrest Tactics.