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Washington D. C.
Personalized Restorative Justice Best Way to Teach Traumatized Students, Conferees Told
by John Holland
WASHINGTON — A white board with a giant illustration of the human brain sat in the middle of the room, a constant reminder, participants said, that any real attempts to treat juvenile offenders begins not with detention or tough love, but with science.
Many of the teens who find themselves in the juvenile system or alternative school programs have grown up with trauma that directly impacts their cognitive functions, said Pender Makin, assistant superintendent of schools in Brunswick, Maine. Physical abuse, hunger, the pain of living through domestic violence or watching a parent sucked into a life of addiction has a physical impact on a growing brain that creates chemical reactions and PTSD symptoms.
Those problems get worse under stress. How professionals in the education and juvenile justice systems react to the outbursts and misbehavior caused by that stress often is the key to determining whether troubled kids have successful outcomes, according to Makin and a host of experts at a recent Coalition for Juvenile Justice conference.
A recurring theme in many of the presentations was a focus on restorative justice. When kids get out of control, the best educators come up with solutions that make the offender understand the consequences of their actions while tailoring a punishment that helps the teen improve, instead of escalating an already traumatic and difficult time in the youth's life.
“When students come to school and don't know how to read, we teach them how to read. When they don't know how to do math, we'll teach them algebra,” said Page Nichols, a restorative justice specialist at the REAL School , a Portland, Maine school geared toward at-risk students.
“But when a kid comes into school and acts out because they don't know how to behave, we punish them,” she said. “We give them detention or send them into the court system. Restorative justice is really about understand what is causing the bad behavior, and helping work with them.”
Programs need to be integrated
The conference drew hundreds of juvenile justice and education experts from around the country, including judges, probation officers, teachers and correction officials. The event's title, “Access, Accountability & Advocacy: Addressing Educational, Physical and Mental Health Needs in the Juvenile Justice System,” summed up the complexity of issues facing those in attendance.
Many of the strongest presentations June 15 and 16 at the Washington Hilton Hotel focused on the need for educators to tailor their approaches to fit individual traumas that affect the youth they see.
“I think as much as anything we are trying to show how to integrate different programs and pool resources,” said Karli Keator, director of the National Center on Mental Health and Juvenile Justice . “Right now we aren't doing enough to integrate programs, to break down some of the barriers. There isn't enough of a collaborative approach, and that hurts treatment.”
Asked about the difficulties of trying to present new ideas to professionals, Kantor said the goal is to give people a few good ideas to take home to their districts.
“Nobody is really doing that great a job, when you think about it, so I think we can all learn from each other,” Keator said.
Relying on two decades of studies and evolving brain science, educators and juvenile justice officials said they now have a better understanding that all trauma isn't equal, and therefore treatments and punishments must be tailored to have the best outcomes.
Equally important, educators said, is making sure that students aren't punished or jailed for actions stemming directly from their own years as victims of crimes and poor upbringing.
“Girls are criminalized for their natural responses to the trauma in their lives,” said Shakira Washington, associate director for policy at the Girls Initiative in Takoma Park, Maryland. Girls are more likely to be victims of sexual abuse, more likely to run away and more likely to be punished criminally for incidents such as truancy or minor actions that are directly attributed to their years of abuse, she told about 350 people.
Washington read an account from a woman helped by their program who told of running away from foster homes and being arrested at 14 for prostitution even though she was being trafficked by a pimp who lugged her around the country to avoid prosecution. The girl, now 22 and working a full-time job, was first trafficked at the age of 11.
Trauma-informed approach crucial
Justin Rush, director of public policy for the True Colors Fund , talked about growing up black and gay in rural Mississippi in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He emphasized how important it is for educators and juvenile justice officials to understand why youth are acting out and getting in trouble instead of just reacting to their behavior.
He routinely got into fights as a response to taunting, and had a constant anger that he didn't know existed until years later, he said.
“Nobody there knew what to do with me, and I was in and out of the system,” Rush said. “I grew up being taught if someone hits you, you hit them back harder. Well, let me tell you, that just gets you in trouble. I didn't know any better.
“And nobody addressed the issues I had as a queer youth growing up in that environment. It's important for us, in our work now, to understand where my responses and responses of other kids are coming from. A trauma-informed approach to my actions would have made helped so much.”
That's the approach Makin, who brought the giant brain diagram to her panel, emphasized to those in attendance. She outlined a multipoint system she said has been proven, through trial and error in her long experience in the field, to help the most at-risk children. Some were obvious, such as making kids take personal accountability, while others focused on role-playing exercises to give such students a knowledge of “structural empathy.”
The goal is to create role-playing scenarios in which students who abuse others, steal, vandalize or take other actions that hurt others in the community understand the pain they are causing.
For example, if a kid screams at a teacher and punches a hole in the wall, they aren't automatically expelled or sent to the justice system. Instead they must fix the hole and meet with the teacher to craft a personal apology that makes the teen know just how much their words hurt.
“Many of the things we are prosecuting kids for are normal adolescent behavior,” Makin said. “The damage that trauma causes on the developing brain is great, and the science has proven there is a chemical reaction.
“When kids get upset and scared, the cognitive learning process is affected, similar to PTSD. Nobody can learn that way, so you have to calm them down and not escalate the situation,” she said. “Restorative justice is about understanding the role trauma plays on the brain and developing teaching methods that actually are based on the needs of the students.”
Parole As a Juvenile: 'You Are My First Visitor in Over 40 Years'
by Richard Ross
For more than a decade I have interviewed more than 1,000 kids in 35 states. What of these kids who were sentenced to long sentences and JLWOP, life sentences without parole? These kids become adults who become geriatric. These are the people I have interviewed for the past year.
Miller v. Alabama ruled that even in capital cases, juveniles cannot be given life without parole. Montgomery v. Louisiana made these cases retroactive.
In Florida when these people don't get to go in front of a parole board, now renamed a “sentencing review board,” they have been given de facto life sentences. Other states find workarounds so they don't have to comply.
In some cases where parole is granted, the men and women are improperly prepared plus required to pay administrative fees. Some states have “lifetime parole.” You can go to your grave making sure your parole officer knows where you are 24/7. It is difficult and may be close to impossible to comply for people who are already living on the margins of society.
These are their stories. I tried to focus on the commonality of poverty, failure of education, broken families. It is up to the reader to digest this and listen to these teens, now 40, 50, 60, 70 and even 80. When you have incarcerated a teenager since Eisenhower was in his first term … are we deterring others? Rehabilitating people? Or is this far beyond the concept of a punishment fitting a crime.
How do we address this? How do we repair this? There are more than 2,000 people — juveniles serving life without parole all over the country. These are some of their voices. These are their faces.
For more information
Today We Remain Silent
by Melinda Merritt
The officer whose job you just criticized . . .
He just left a call where he held a dying woman in his arms. She knew she had overdosed . She was afraid to die. The officer felt helpless. Then he watched as the medical team loaded her into “the box.” He was the last person to ever see her alive.
His next stop was pulling over a speeding car. This person informs him he pays his salary and doesn't hesitate to scold him how he should be out catching criminals instead of silly things like stopping people who are driving a little too fast.
By definition, a criminal is relating to, involving, or being guilty of a crime . Crime is defined as an illegal act for which someone can be punished by the government. The officer IS doing his job. You're welcome.
But today, he remained silent.
The officer whose job you just criticized . . .
She just rescued a person who had come to the end of their rope. A person who felt helpless, hopeless, and desperate. A person who was filled with an uncontrollable sadness . It became her job to not only save this person from a dangerous situation, but somehow, save this person from theirself. They lived to tell about it. She goes to another call.
Domestic dispute . When she arrives she hears a couple screaming from the street. Faint cries from a child can also be heard. When the door opens, the smell of alcohol is strong. The mother can't bring herself to look the officer in the eye. Signs of bruising are visible on the mother. She won't talk but claims she fell down the stairs. The child hides behind the couch because she is afraid of the “mean lady” who is going to take daddy to jail again. No charges pressed. Nothing more to be said. The officer gets in her car, closes the call, and slowly drives away.
Today, she remained silent.
The officer whose job you just criticized . . .
“Hey Officer . . . Why are you spending your time here at the convenience store? Don't you have better things to do than waste my tax money eating donuts and being lazy?”
Little did you know . . . this was the officer's first break in over six hours. He thought his bladder may explode and the cramps from hunger were making him feel a bit weak. A quick stop to grab a small snack to tide him over and a drink to help quench his thirst turns into a hate fest. He gets glares from people who watch as he sits silently in his car, finishes his snack, and drives away.
Another call is coming in. He must brush off the comments, maintain his composure, and move to the next call.
Today, he remained silent.
The officer whose job you just criticized . . .
A breaking story begins to spread like wildfire on social media . As with any news story, the facts are few and the speculation deep. The officers involved in the case aren't able to share many details because they have an active case open. Little detail can be shared because it could compromise a witness, the suspect, or even the crime scene. A press conference is scheduled and the public demands answers. They share what they can, but it isn't enough. The police are put to the fire because they do “an awful job” and should have done “this” differently.
But today, like every other day, our officers remain silent.
Because the public always knows their jobs better than they do. And they don't hesitate to tell them. Day in and day out. Call to call. There is always another person waiting to criticize, demean, and find fault. There is always another person whipping out their camera in hopes of catching them “doing wrong” failing to see how much they do right. Every. Single. Day. I'm not discounting the major mistakes, nor am I overlooking the few bad apples out there. But as a wife behind the badge of an officer I love dearly. One who sees, hears, and knows so much more of what goes on than anyone who can even pretend to “know” the job an officer does . . .
I Refuse to Remain Silent
You don't see the pain in their eyes, or understand the turmoil a body goes through having to be “on” everywhere you go. You haven't listened through tears as they share the horror they witness. Moreover, you haven't had to shield yourself from hate from people who want to do you harm, hunt you down, find your family, and wreak havoc or even death. Simply because of a job and a badge.
I likely won't be able to influence the media. I likely won't make an impact to the masses of protestors and general public who are hell-bent in thinking the ill decisions of a select few reflect on the entire crew. Furthermore, I may not even make an impact on you. But I won't let it stop me from trying by the avenues I'm afforded. And I won't let it stop me from speaking life into my officer and our family in blue. It won't mean I always take it to the comments section on social media, but it will always mean I take it to my knees to Someone higher than me who can fight my battles for me. And for us.
And with that, I will never remain silent.
Opioid commission tells Trump to declare state of emergency
by Wayne Drash
The White House panel examining the nation's opioid epidemic has told President Trump to declare a national public health emergency to combat the ongoing crisis.
"Our citizens are dying. We must act boldly to stop it," the commission, headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, said in an interim report Monday. "The first and most urgent recommendation of this Commission is direct and completely within your control. Declare a national emergency."
In pushing for the emergency declaration, the commission said that Trump is the "only person who can bring this type of intensity to the emergency and we believe you have the will to do so and to do so immediately."
It is not often that a public health emergency is declared for something other than a natural disaster. The US Department of Health and Human Services declared one in Puerto Rico last year after more than 10,000 Zika cases were reported there. Before that, the last emergency declaration, unrelated to a natural disaster, was during the 2009-10 flu season, when there was widespread concern over a potential pandemic.
Citing the fact that 142 Americans die from drug overdoses every day, the commission said, "America is enduring a death toll equal to September 11th every three weeks."
"Your declaration would empower your cabinet to take bold steps and would force Congress to focus on funding and empowering the Executive Branch even further to deal with this loss of life," the commission said. "It would also awaken every American to this simple fact: If this scourge has not found you or your family yet, without bold action by everyone, it soon will."
The White House said it would "immediately" begin reviewing the commission's recommendations.
"The opioid crisis is a tragedy that has been harming America's communities for far too long," the White House said in a statement. "We appreciate the Commission's hard work on this important interim report. We will immediately begin reviewing its recommendations, and eagerly await its final report."
Since 1999, the number of American overdose deaths involving opioids quadrupled. From 2000 to 2015, more than 500,000 people died of drug overdoses, and opioids account for the majority of those. "The average American would likely be shocked to know that drug overdoses now kill more people than gun homicides and car crashes combined," the commission said.
The commission had faced sharp criticism for missing two deadlines to release this report, first in late June and again in mid-July.
Trump made fighting opioid abuse -- which the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies as an epidemic -- a key platform in his 2016 campaign, especially in states ravaged by the issue.
"I just want to let the people of New Hampshire know that I'm with you 1,000%. You really taught me a lot," Trump said in that state just before Election Day. He later promised to help people who "are so seriously addicted."
The executive order that formed the commission in March was meant to be the White House's main effort to make good on those promises. The President picked Christie, a longtime confidant and supporter, to lead the effort, while Democrats Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, former Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts were also asked to serve.
Among the other recommendations in the interim report were to rapidly increase treatment capacity for those who need substance abuse help; to establish and fund better access to medication-assisted treatment programs; and to make sure that health care providers are aware of the potential for misuse and abuse of prescription opioids by enhancing prevention efforts at medical and dental schools.
"We must equip all law enforcement in the United States with naloxone to save lives," the commission added.
Naloxone is the opioid antidote used by first responders to save people who have overdosed.
The commission's final report is due in October.
2 Calif. officers shot after suspect grabs one of their guns
by PoliceOne Staff
LOS BANOS, Calif. — Two officers were shot during a struggle after the suspect grabbed one of their guns.
Officers responded to a man who was breaking into an apartment Monday morning, the Los Banos Enterprise reported . A struggle ensued inside an apartment.
The suspect allegedly grabbed one of the officer's guns and shot the officers. The suspect was shot as well but it's unclear how.
The officers and the suspect were flown to the hospital to receive treatment. One officer is reported in stable condition while the other officer's condition was unknown. Officials told the publication it's too early to know if both are expected to survive. The suspect's condition was unavailable.
No other injuries were reported.
From the Department of Justice
Federal Gun Prosecutions Up 23 Percent After Sessions Memo
Attorney General Thanks Police and Prosecutors
Today, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that, following the memorandum from Attorney General Sessions to prioritize firearm prosecutions, the number of defendants charged with unlawful possession of a firearm increased nearly 23 percent in the second quarter of 2017 (2,637) from the same time period in 2016 (2,149).
“Violent crime is on the rise in many parts of this country, with 27 of our biggest 35 cities in the country coping with rising homicide rates,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “Law abiding people in some of these communities are living in fear, as they see families torn apart and young lives cut short by gangs and drug traffickers. Following President Trump's Executive Order to focus on reducing crime, I directed federal prosecutors to prioritize taking illegal guns off of our streets, and as a result, we are now prosecuting hundreds more firearms defendants. In the first three months since the memo went into effect, charges of unlawful possession of a gun – mostly by previously convicted felons – are up by 23 percent. That sends a clear message to criminals all over this country that if you carry a gun illegally, you will be held accountable. I am grateful to the many federal prosecutors and agents who are working hard every day to make America safe again.”
In February, immediately after the swearing-in of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, President Trump signed an Executive Order that directs the Attorney General to seek to reduce crime and to set up the Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety. The Task Force has provided Sessions with recommendations on a rolling basis. In March, based on these recommendations, Attorney General Sessions sent a memorandum to Department of Justice prosecutors, ordering them to prioritize firearms offenses.
In the three months immediately following the Attorney General's memo – April, May and June – the number of defendants charged with unlawful possession of a firearm (18 U.S.C. 922) increased by nearly 23 percent compared to those charged over the same time period in 2016. The number of defendants charged with the crime of using a firearm in a crime of violence or drug trafficking (18 U.S.C. 924), increased by 10 percent.
Based on data from the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA), in Fiscal Year 2016 (starting October 1), 11,656 defendants were charged with firearms offenses under 18 U.S.C. 922 or 924. EOUSA projects that in Fiscal Year 2017, the Department is on pace to charge 12,626 defendants with these firearms crimes. That would be the most federal firearms cases since 2005. It would also be an increase of eight percent from Fiscal Year 2016, 20 percent from 2015, and an increase of 23 percent from 2014.
U.S. Test-Launches ICBM Amid North Korea Tensions
by Courtney Kube
WASHINGTON — The U.S. military successfully test-launched an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile from California early Wednesday, according to an Air Force spokesman — just days after North Korea's second test of an ICBM.
The unarmed Minuteman III missile was launched at 2:10 a.m. PT from Vandenberg Air Force Base, about 130 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
An Air Force statement said that the test was not a response to recent North Korean actions, but shows that America's nuclear enterprise is "safe, secure, effective and ready to be able to deter, detect and defend against attacks on the United States and its allies."
The ICBM was equipped with a test reentry vehicle, which officials said showed it traveled about 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
The operation was conducted by a team of Air Force Global Strike Command Airmen from the 90th Missile Wing, along with the 576th Flight Test Squadron and the 30th Space Wing stationed at Vandenberg.
"These test launches require the highest-degree of technical competence and commitment at every level," Col. Michael Hough, the 30th Space Wing commander and launch decision authority, said in a statement.
Air Force Global Strike Command has tested 299 Minuteman III ICBMs over the program's history. The Minuteman IIIs are the U.S. military's only land-based ICBMs. Another one was tested earlier this year in February from Vandenberg.
The U.S. military schedules four test-launches each fiscal year, with the actual schedule plotted out several years in advance — so it's unrelated to recent events, Air Force Capt. Michele Rollins, a spokesperson for the strike command, told CNBC .
Last week, North Korea tested an ICBM for the second time. The missile flew for 45 minutes and traveled more than 1,000 kilometers laterally, defense officials and analysts said. U.S. officials believe the missile broke up upon re-entering the atmosphere.
The United States and its allies flew supersonic bombers and fighter jets over the Korean Peninsula in a 10-hour show of force Sunday against North Korea following the country's latest ICBM launch.
The U.S. B-1 bombers first flew over Japanese airspace, where they were joined by two Japanese F-2 fighter jets, before flying over the Korean Peninsula with four South Korean F-15 fighter jets, U.S. Pacific Air Forces said in a statement.
The Air Force said the 10-hour mission was a direct response to North Korea's two ICBM tests this month, including the latest on Friday .
Analysts say the North's test Friday showed that a broader part of the mainland United States, including Los Angeles and Chicago, is now in range of Pyongyang's weapons.
Asked about possible U.S. military action against North Korea, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reiterated on Tuesday that "all options are on the table" but the administration would not "broadcast what we're going to do."
The focus for the administration remains on stopping North Korea's nuclear program and halting their aggression, Sanders said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham said Tuesday that President Donald Trump has told him he's willing to go to war over North Korea's missile program if the rogue nation continues to aim ICBMs at America.
Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Norio Maruyama said he was unaware of the remarks, but that his country — a key ally of the U.S. — was in favor of the Trump administration's posture "using both words and action to show that all choices are on the table."
Another longstanding ally in the region, the Philippines, is set to host an international regional security meeting on Monday, when leaders could pressure Pyongyang to halt its intermediate-range missile tests. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to attend the meeting in Manila.
On Wednesday, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte went on the attack against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whom he referred to in a speech as a "fool" and a "son of a b----," according to Reuters.
"That chubby face that looks kind ... If he commits a mistake, the Far East will become an arid land," Duterte said. "It must be stopped, this nuclear war."
"A limited confrontation and it blows up here, I will tell you, the fallout can deplete the soil, the resources and I don't know what will happen to us," he added. Duterte has previously called for the U.S. to show restraint in dealing with Kim's totalitarian regime.
Do Baltimore police not realize they're being watched?
by The Baltimore Sun
Police and prosecutors ask us not to rush to judgment about a second series of police body camera videos that raise questions about officers planting drugs during a search. Fine. But it certainly looks fishy, and it reinforces concerns raised by the Department of Justice's report into the Baltimore police's conduct a year ago.
We learned from the first questionable video released this summer that Baltimore's body cameras are continually recording a short loop of footage even when they're turned off, so that when an officer activates the camera, the device preserves the previous 30 seconds of tape, though with no sound. That's why we were able to see Officer Richard Pinheiro appear to place a baggie of drugs in a soup can in an alley, walk back to the corner, turn his camera on, walk back and “find" the drugs. And it's part of what makes the new series of videos that came to light this week so suspicious.
In the new case, police pull over a car on Nov. 29, 2016, after witnessing what they believe to have been a drug deal. Police said they smelled marijuana in the car and initiated a search. At about 11:51 p.m., according to a time stamp on the video, one officer is seen thoroughly searching the area around the driver's seat. He takes out the floor mat, runs his hands between the cushions, shines his flashlight under and around the seat and, after a minute of looking, finds nothing.
Then, for reasons that are unexplained, the officers turn off their cameras. When the cameras come back on, an officer is squatting next to the open driver's side door. Nothing happens for about 30 seconds. Then an officer asks whether the driver's side area has been searched already — which it had, half an hour before. No one responds, and he almost immediately finds a black bag he says contains marijuana and other drugs.
The odd sequence of events doesn't prove anything, of course. Police say the officer who found the drugs had been watching the car before the traffic stop and knew where to look.
If that's true, why didn't he share his knowledge of where in the car the drugs were likely to be half an hour before? And what about the turning cameras off and on? The delay of 30 seconds means that whatever happened immediately before the cameras was reactivated would not be preserved. Is that proof that the officer planted drugs? No. Does that provide the defense with a mountain of reasonable doubt? You bet. Consequently prosecutors dropped this case and are reviewing dozens more associated with the officers who participated in the arrest.
What was so damning about last year's Justice Department's report was not the misconduct federal investigators uncovered, it was the utter brazenness with which it was conducted. DOJ officials uncovered repeated incidents of blatantly unconstitutional practices during the months when they were in Baltimore conducting their review, including some that occurred right in front of them. It's as if no one thought there was anything wrong, for example, with a supervisor telling a officer to “make something up” as a pretext for stopping a group of young African-American men and ordering them to disperse.
These two body camera videos and other recent events raise the disturbing prospect that even after the DOJ report and the consent decree that followed, many Baltimore police officers still don't get it. The federal investigation that led to racketeering indictments against seven Baltimore police officers who are accused of seizing and pocketing money from people they stopped for no reason, falsifying evidence and making fraudulent overtime claims started while the DOJ was conducting its investigation and continued after the report was released. The first of the two questionable body camera videos to surface in recent weeks depicts — in a best case scenario — an officer “recreating” a search on camera with the evident cooperation of two other officers. Whatever happened in this latest incident, it involved a coordinated decision by multiple officers to turn their cameras off and back on.
Commissioner Kevin Davis recently issued a memo reiterating a policy that officers keep their body cameras on throughout “a call for service or other activity that is investigative or enforcement-related (e.g., crime scene, car stop, or pedestrian stop)” and during a search, and cautioning that “under no circumstances” should officers recreate incidents on camera. But it's increasingly evident that the problem is much deeper than a misunderstanding about body camera policy. It's that so many officers are willing to break the rules even when they know they're being watched. It's going to take a lot more than a memo to fix that.
'Lives have been cut short': Jeff Sessions gave an unexpected warning on police abuse
by Michelle Mark
Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday issued a rare rebuke of police misconduct on Tuesday in his remarks to the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, just days after President Donald Trump urged police officers not to be "too nice" to suspected criminals.
Sessions, who has opposed federal "consent decrees " that oversee police departments and frequently lamented the decline in police morale, acknowledged in his remarks that trust and confidence in police among African-Americans has dropped significantly over the last three years as instances of police brutality and fatal shootings have gained national attention.
"We all know the cases of the last several years where, in confrontations with police, lives have been cut short," Sessions said in his prepared remarks . "Just as I am committed to defending law enforcement who use deadly force while lawfully engaged in their work, I will also hold any officer responsible breaking the law."
He continued: "You and I know that all it takes is one bad officer to destroy the reputations of so many who work day in and day out to build relationships in these communities and serve with honor and distinction."
Sessions' comments did not necessarily represent a pivot in his previously expressed views on policing practices. He also commented on political efforts to rein in certain law enforcement tactics, and suggested that local governments were hamstringing their police departments.
Sessions, who has consistently denied claims from police reform advocates that law enforcement agencies struggle systemically with issues like excessive use of force and unconstitutional practices, repeated his stance that departments as a whole should not be punished for individual officers' behavior.
"We cannot let mayors and city councils run down police in communities that are suffering only to see crime spike in the very neighborhoods that need proactive, community policing the most," he said. "That helps no one. That protects no one."
Sessions also did not directly criticize Trump for his comments on Friday, in which he appeared to encourage officers to handle suspects roughly after arresting them.
"When you see these towns and when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough," Trump said. "I said, 'Please don't be too nice.'"
He continued: "Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you're protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over. Like, 'Don't hit their head' and they've just killed somebody.
"'Don't hit their head.' I said, 'You can take the hand away.' OK?"
The remarks provoked a fierce backlash from the public, some law enforcement agencies, and even the acting head of the Drug Enforcement Administration , who sent his staff an agency-wide memo urging officers to "act honorably" and "earn and keep the public trust."
Bomb threat locks down Norfolk piers for second time this week
by Mark Faram
A bomb threat prompted Navy officials to lock down the piers and adjacent buildings on Naval Station, Norfolk Wednesday morning, a security alert that comes just two days after reports of a mysterious diver led to a similar lock down.
“At approximately 6 a.m. the regional dispatch center received a telephonic bomb threat on the Naval Station Norfolk Emergency 911 phone line,” said Kelly Wirfel, spokeswoman for Naval Station Norfolk.
“In response to the threat, security deployed additional military working dogs to sweep various areas on base. At approximately 7:45 a.m. a military working dog alerted on a vehicle in the vicinity of Pier 14. In response, all piers have been secured to vehicular and pedestrian traffic.”
Pier 14 is the furthest north of the naval station's piers and aircraft carriers are normally berthed there. Currently, the aircraft carriers Harry S. Truman and Abraham Lincoln are tied up there.
Wirfel said in a press release that in addition to all the piers being on lockdown, Piers 11, 12 and 14, as well as buildings Q-80, Q-33, Q-133, Q-50, W-5, W-313, X-218 are currently under shelter in place orders.
“Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit, Naval Criminal Investigative Services, Naval Station Norfolk Security and Fire and Emergency Response are on the scene and investigating the situation,” she said.
More details emerge in Calif. shooting at Rastafarian pot farm
by Sophia Bollag and Kathleen Ronayne
OREGON HOUSE, Calif. — A suspect died and two Northern California deputies were shot and wounded Tuesday in a shootout after the officers responded to reports of an agitated man pulling up plants in a Rastafarian church's marijuana farm, authorities said.
Yuba County Sheriff Steve Durfor said three deputies responding to reports of an unclear disturbance arrived separately at the small farm in remote Oregon House, which is about 55 miles (88.5 kilometers) north of Sacramento, beginning at about 8:40 a.m.
A resident pointed out the suspect to two of the deputies. The suspect then fled up a hill behind the farm and deputies lost sight of him after about 100 yards near another home.
The deputies were given permission to search the home and the gunman fired on the two who went inside while the third deputy took up a position at the backdoor. The third deputy raced into the house twice to pull his two colleagues outside to safety.
None of the deputies knew what happened to the shooter and so SWAT teams fired tear gas inside before entering and finding the dead man. The sheriff said they had not identified the shooter nor determined if the deputies killed him or if he shot himself.
The sheriff said the deputies were airlifted to a hospital and both were in serious condition, but each was expected to recover after undergoing surgery.
Sugarleaf Rastafarian Church leader Heidi Lepp said she received a call from church members who live on the marijuana farm saying a newly arrived worker had become erratic, was ripping up plants and holding a gun.
Lepp said she called the sheriff's office and told the men on the farm to leave immediately.
Lepp said she knows the suspect only as "Sawyer" and he showed up at the farm about a month ago. The property is owned by a branch of Lepp's church, she said.
The property is between 20 and 40 acres, Lepp said, and the church considers marijuana a sacrament. It does not have a permit to grow medicinal marijuana in Yuba County.
The shooting occurred a day after two police officers were shot and wounded nearly 200 miles (322 kilometers) south in the central California city of Los Banos during a struggle with a man who broke into his estranged wife's apartment. Police fatally shot that shooter.
Davis says drugs legitimately found, arrests valid in two body-camera cases where drug planting is alleged
by Kevin Rector
Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said Wednesday there was “no doubt” that illegal drugs were legitimately recovered in two criminal cases that were dropped by prosecutors amid questions surrounding officer body-camera footage.
Defense attorneys in both cases have alleged that the footage showed officers planting drugs.
Davis, who called a news conference Wednesday to discuss the cases, said it is the job of defense attorneys to raise doubt. But he warned that accusing officers of fabricating evidence is “a heavy allegation to make” and “irresponsible” before investigations into the footage are complete — even if the footage looks “ugly” on first impression.
“It would be premature of me to stand in front of you and reach a conclusion as to exactly what happened,” he said. “But I do know that it's not healthy to jump to a conclusion that police officers did something criminal.
“In both of these cases, it's no doubt that drugs were recovered and the recovery of those drugs were captured on body-worn cameras. There's no doubt that that took place in either case. There's no doubt that probable cause existed for arrest.”
Debbie Katz Levi, who heads the special litigation section in the Baltimore public defender office, called Davis' comments “incredibly offensive.”
“Let's wait to see all the evidence before charging someone with felonies that carry 20 years in prison,” Levi said. “What is the excuse for them rushing to judgment, and then looking backward and dropping charges seven months later?”
In the first video, recorded in January and released by the public defender's office last month, a police officer can be seen placing a bag of alleged drugs in a debris-strewn back yard, walking to the street, activating his body camera — which automatically saved footage of the 30 seconds prior to activation — and then walking back into the alley and recovering the bag.
The public defender's office said the video showed the officer planting the bag of drugs.
The second video, released Tuesday, shows officers conducting a search of a vehicle and finding nothing in the front driver's side area of the car. Then, about 30 minutes later, it shows an officer leaning down into the same area of the vehicle and back up with a bag of alleged drugs.
The public defender's office and Josh Insley, a private attorney for a woman arrested in that incident, said the video showed officers manipulating evidence. Shamere Collins, the woman who was arrested, said the drugs were planted in her vehicle by police.
Prosecutors dropped the charges against Collins Monday. She has said she will pursue her legal options against the Police Department.
Insley on Wednesday said he and his client “understand that there is an internal affairs investigation going on” and are “content to let the investigation play out.”
The Police Department has launched investigations into both incidents. Officials said they have suspended one officer and placed two others on administrative duty pending the outcome in the first case. No officers have had their status changed in relation to the second.
The police union has cautioned against reaching conclusions in the cases before the investigations are complete.
Police have said they are investigating whether the officers were “re-enacting” a legitimate discovery of drugs that had been made when their cameras were not activated as they should have been. On Tuesday, Davis issued a memo reminding all officers to keep their body cameras on at all times at a crime scene or conducting an investigation, and warning that “under no circumstances” should they “attempt to recreate the recovery of evidence.”
Levi, the public defender, said Davis should simply admit the officers' actions in the videos are unacceptable no matter what the explanation, rather than pretending to be neutral in the discussion while offering a theory that they weren't planting evidence but re-creating its discovery.
“Is he not jumping to conclusions by inserting this ‘re-creation of evidence' language?” she asked.
Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby has begun dropping criminal cases against dozens of defendants whose prosecutions hinged on the testimony of the officers in the videos.
Mosby's office said it has dropped or will drop 41 felony drug and gun cases against defendants that rely on the testimony of the officers in the first video. She said 55 cases remain under review, and 27 will move forward on the strength of independent, corroborative evidence.
Mosby's office has dropped five cases that rely on the testimony of the officers featured in the second video, and sought postponements in two others.
Her office did not respond to questions on Wednesday.
Davis stopped short of criticizing Mosby for dropping the cases.
“In her opinion, the best of interest of justice compelled her to make the decision that she made, and I completely respect that decision,” Davis said.
But he acknowledged that he hates “when a criminal case has to be dropped because of real or perceived concerns about a police officer's credibility,” in part because he believes some of the people whose cases have been dropped will likely return to the street to commit additional crimes.
“God forbid that they hurt somebody,” Davis said. “That's what I worry about.”
The pace of violence in the city this year is breaking records. Two hundred and six people had been killed in Baltimore in 2017, the most ever recorded at this point in the year.
Since spring 2016, when the Police Department began rolling out body cameras, officers have recorded 121,000 hours of footage, Davis said. The cameras are part of a broader reform effort mandated by a consent decree between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice. The sides negotiated the decree after Justice Department investigators found widespread unconstitutional and discriminatory policing in the city — and particularly in its poor, predominantly black neighborhoods.
Police have sustained 14 administrative misconduct cases against officers based on body-camera footage, Davis said. One officer was indicted on criminal assault charges based on body-camera footage, he said.
Another 62 officers have received administrative reprimandeds based on lesser infractions revealed by body-camera footage, he said.
Much other body-camera footage has shown officers acting bravely and for the benefit of the community, he said. Still other footage shows officers simply getting used to the new technology.
“We just have to have a frank conversation with the community that we are still in the midst of growing pains,” he said.
Sessions: US prosecutors will help addiction-ravaged cities
The DOJ will dispatch 12 federal prosecutors to cities ravaged by addiciton who will focus exclusively on investigating health care fraud and opiod scams
by Sadie Gurnam and Andrew Welsh-Huggins
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Justice Department will dispatch 12 federal prosecutors to cities ravaged by addiction who will focus exclusively on investigating health care fraud and opioid scams that are fueling the nation's drug abuse epidemic, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Wednesday.
He unveiled the pilot program during a speech in hard-hit Ohio, where eight people a day die of accidental overdoses.
"In recent years some of the government officials in our country I think have mistakenly sent mixed messages about the harmfulness of drugs," Sessions said. "So let me say: We cannot capitulate intellectually or morally unto this kind of rampant drug abuse. We must create a culture that's hostile to drug abuse."
Sessions said the group of prosecutors he has dubbed the "opioid fraud and abuse detection unit" will rely on data in their efforts to root out pill mills and track down doctors and other health care providers who illegally prescribe or distribute narcotics such as fentanyl and other powerful painkillers.
Such prescription opioids are behind the deadliest drug overdose epidemic in U.S. history. More than 52,000 Americans died of overdoses in 2015 — a record — and experts believe the numbers have continued to rise. Sessions has made aggressive prosecutions of drug crime a top priority, saying the deadly overdoses necessitate a return to tougher tactics.
The Health Department says opioid-related overdoses killed 3,050 Ohioans in 2015, with that number expected to jump sharply for 2016.
In June, the coroner serving the greater Columbus area said overdose deaths through April of this year rose to 173, a 66 percent jump from the same period a year ago.
The prosecutors will be based in U.S. attorney's offices in the Middle District of Florida; the Eastern District of Michigan; the Northern District of Alabama; the Eastern District of Tennessee; Nevada; the Eastern District of Kentucky; Maryland; the Western District of Pennsylvania; the Southern District of Ohio; the Eastern District of California; the Middle District of North Carolina; and the Southern District of West Virginia.
In May, Sessions instructed the nation's federal prosecutors to bring the toughest charges possible against most crime suspects. Critics assailed the move as a return to failed drug-war policies that unduly affected minorities and filled prisons with nonviolent offenders.
The announcement was a reversal of Obama-era policies that is sure to send more people to prison and for much longer terms.
Advocates warned the shift would crowd federal prisons and strain Justice Department resources. Some involved in criminal justice during the drug war feared the human impact would look similar.
Boston police take to streets to reject Trump 'thugs' remark, celebrate community policing
by Jan Ransom
Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans had not been in Almont Park in Mattapan long Monday evening before residents rushed over to greet him. Some, like Cynthia Lewis and her great-niece, Amiah, leaned in for a photo with Evans. As the smartphone clicked, Amiah smiled broadly, her hand on her hip.
Several feet away, a group of girls gathered around Mayor Martin J. Walsh and gave him a high-five.
Walsh and Evans were among a host of elected officials and police officers who traveled to neighborhoods across Boston Monday and Tuesday for National Night Out, an annual campaign aimed at strengthening police-community relations and reducing crime.
The event drew crowds across the city, a show of unity that contrasted sharply with the kind of heavy-handed policing President Trump encouraged during a speech last week about gang violence.
“We work hard at events like this . . . to build respect and trust with the community,” Evans said before addressing the crowd at Brighton Commons, his first stop during National Night Out. “There's been some troubling times on police-community relations, and the last thing we need to do is encourage the police in overstepping their bounds. We aren't about hurting people, we're about helping people.”
During his opening remarks in Brighton Commons, just blocks from the police station where he worked as a captain years ago, Evans said he had first learned about community policing there. As he spoke, officers handed out hot dogs and cake to the crowd.
“We do it best in Boston,” said City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George, who denounced Trump's comments as “the opposite of what community policing is.”
Trump's remarks, while widely condemned, come at a time when police departments across the country are seeking to mend relationships with minority communities following a series of high-profile cases of police brutality. Boston has avoided the kinds of clashes between police and residents that have led to riots and protests in Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore, and New York City.
“National Night Out started [over] 30 years ago and the intention back then was to build strong community-police relations, identifying that there was an issue,” Walsh said. “We've taken it to the next level. Building that trust and relationship is important.”
The Boston Police Department has been praised for its community policing efforts, which include events like “Coffee with a Cop,” basketball games with youth, peace walks, and police-youth dialogues that help officers and teenagers get to know each other.
Such efforts are critical to reducing crime, Walsh said.
At Horatio Harris Park in Roxbury, Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley thanked residents for providing information that allowed Boston police and Suffolk prosecutors to make arrests in 20 homicides , including five from 2016.
“That's the kind of thing we're trying to promote here tonight — more trust between law enforcement and the community,” he told the Globe.
The type of policing Trump referenced will not be tolerated, Conley said. He pointed to the recent conviction of a former MBTA police officer who was found guilty of beating a Roxbury woman at Dudley Square Station three years ago.
“It very rarely happens, but when it does we're going to hold officers accountable,” Conley said.
Complaints about Boston police officers' use of force have declined in recent years, to a low of eight in 2016, according to the mayor's office.
“They know the people in the community,” said Lewis, a community organizer. “There is a conscious effort to be connected to the community.”
Lewis said Trump's comments promote “violence and hatred,” the opposite of what the Boston Police Department stands for.
Last Friday, Trump told a group of law enforcement officials “ . . . and when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon — you just see them thrown in, rough — I said, please don't be too nice.”
Yusuf M. Ali, 32, lead organizer for Mattapan United, said Trump's remarks were concerning “because there have been too many instances where police killed people.”
On Monday, a White House spokeswoman said she believed Trump was joking when he suggested police should rough up suspects.
But state Representative Russell Holmes, a Mattapan Democrat, said Trump “need not joke about something serious.”
Holmes said Trump's words reminded him of the death of Freddie Gray , a 25-year-old who suffered a spinal cord injury while in police custody. His death set off a series of riots in Baltimore.
“Trump needs to choose his words carefully,” Holmes said.
Denver proposes new bill that would limit police cooperation with ICE
The ordinance would prevent jail employees from contacting ICE about an individual's release without a signed warrant from a federal judge or magistrate
by PoliceOne Staff
DENVER — A Denver City Council committee passed an ordinance that would limit police interactions with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The committee passed the ordinance in a 6-1 vote Wednesday, KUSA reported . Mayor Michael Hancock also announced an executive order that would remove Denver from any immigration enforcement.
The bill would prevent jail staff from contacting ICE about an inmate's release, unless they have a signed warrant from a federal judge or magistrate. ICE agents would need to obtain a warrant to gain access to secure areas of jails. Currently, jail employees must give ICE notice about inmates before their release.
“This bill is not about changing [ICE's] responsibility, it's not about impacting their job, it's about simply saying, we are not required to do it and it's not appropriate for us to do it,” Councilwoman Robin Kniech said.
Kniech said ICE knows who's in the jails due to federal requirements.
“We will continue to follow the law and if you have a warrant, you get access to our jail, you get access to inmates and that is the practice in our country,” she said.
The mayor's executive order would establish legal defense for immigrants through the nonprofit and legal community and would protect victims of crime, regardless of their immigration status. It would also help children and families who are separated by the system.
The ordinance will be proposed in front of the full council for a vote on Aug. 21. The deciding vote will be on Aug. 28.
FBI confirms IED caused explosion at Islamic center in Bloomington, Minn.
by Romy Ackerberg
BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (KMSP) - The Minneapolis chapter of the FBI is investigating the early morning explosion at Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota.
According to the FBI, a preliminary investigation indicates that the explosion was caused by an Improvised Explosive Device.
Community leaders say the explosion occurred in the Imam's office around 5:05 a.m. Saturday, five minutes after the first morning prayer had begun.
"I was sad, and I was surprised," said Mohamed Omar, executive director of Dar Al-Farooq. "I was shocked. It was first prayer, it was 5 a.m. and the whole neighborhood was calm, people were supposed to be sleeping. That's how peaceful it should be."
Omar said that five minutes into first prayer, the congregation saw smoke billowing out of a broken window leading to the center Imam's office. When they saw the broken window, they called police.
There were said to be dozens of people inside during the incident, though no one was injured. Those present describe the office that contained the explosion as having broken and burned furniture.
Asad Zaman, executive director of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota spoke at the press conference as well, condemning the act of violence.
"Hate is not okay," said Zaman. "We need a better America, we need an America where people are safe with their neighbors. Targeting people because of their race, their ethnicity or their religion is absolutely and completely un-American."
In the past, Dar Al-Farooq has been subject to Islamophobic threats and messages. During the press conference, Omar described hateful messages, calls and emails the center has received lately, but said he has faith the police will find out more with their investigation.
During another press conference, spiritual, religious and government leaders from around the state gathered to show their support for Dar Al-Farooq.
Leaders of all faiths spoke, spreading messages of love, acceptance, support and encouragement. Many asked more people to speak up concerning religious intolerance, and encourage more interfaith dialogue.
Among the speakers was Father Dennis Zehren, Pastor at the Nativity of Mary church in Bloomington who was authorized to speak on behalf of the Archbishop of St. Paul. Curtiss DeYoung, the CEO of the Minnesota Council of Churches also spoke.
"It is a tragedy that we have to gather here today," said DeYoung. "An attack on a mosque is an attack on a synagogue, an attack on a church, it's an attack on all faith communities, so we stand with you, a million protestants in Minnesota."
"Together we can, together we will," said community member Mahamud Kanyre, leading a chant. "This is Minnesota, this is what we are about."
Gail Anderson, with Empathy Works, spoke out about interfaith education, and repercussions of actions like those taken on Saturday morning.
"If you're out there and feeling uneasy about Muslims, take advantage of all the opportunities around you to get to know your Muslim neighbors," said Anderson. "Anyone who thinks that throwing a bomb into someplace called a youth and family center is going to solve any problems, is the problem."
The Muslim American Society of Minnesota is offering a $10,000 reward to anyone with information that leads to the conviction and incarceration of the person responsible.
Additionally, the Council on American-Islamic Relations is offering a $10,000 reward for information.
Bloomington police have not called this a hate crime, though Zaman said all indications lead toward it being one.
One worshipper said they saw a pickup truck speed out of the parking lot just after the incident, as well as a man standing near the broken window. Zaman said the likelihood of anyone from the congregation leaving during that time was highly unlikely.
Anyone with information is asked to call 1-800-CALL-FBI, option #1 or call Bloomington police at (952) 563-4900.
Statement from Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar
"This is a time for Minnesotans to stand together in opposition to hate. It saddens beyond words to know that someone in our state would set an explosion in a place where children gather every day to learn and play. This building is more than a religious symbol, it's a place where Minnesotans are gathering to create community, to talk to their neighbors, to learn about our world and each other, and to help care for children. My thoughts, prayers, and love are with the families and neighbors in this community who feel a bond with each other shaken today.
We cannot tolerate this sort of act in our state. I'm reminded that today is the fifth anniversary of a shooting massacre at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and I feel the need to remind my community that attacks on places of worship – no matter who commits them, no matter what religion is targeted, no matter the city or state or immigrant community – these attacks are attacks on our founding principles as Americans. I'm thankful no one was harmed in this explosion, unlike the shooting in Wisconsin, but targeting faith communities shakes all of our American pursuits of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We must all unite to stand against them as Americans who cherish the ability to worship freely, and who cherish the ability of our neighbors to do the same."
Statement from Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton
“Every place of worship, for all Minnesotans of every faith and culture, must be sacred and safe. My prayers are with the children, families, and faith leaders of the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center today.
“I thank the Bloomington Police and Fire Departments, all other first responders, the FBI, and the ATF for their swift responses to this incident. Their investigations will be crucial in determining what happened this morning. I will remain in close contact with Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman throughout the weekend and until this investigation is complete.”
Statement from Lt. Governor Tina Smith
“Governor Dayton and I offer our unwavering support to the faith leaders of the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center, and the families and children who call the Center their place of worship and learning.
“Every Minnesotan has the right to worship in peace and safety. Though we do not know what happened this morning, or who was responsible, we all stand together for love and acceptance, and against hate and intolerance.
“We are grateful for the first responders, law enforcement, and the Bloomington Police and Fire Departments, who have been working all day at the Islamic Center to investigate this incident and protect the safety of our community.”
Statement from Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo
“The Minneapolis Police Department continues to monitor the incident and information released by investigative authorities related to the explosion that occurred at the Dar Al Farooq Mosque in Bloomington, MN earlier today. At this time there are no known threats to any Minneapolis Mosques or Islamic organizations. The MPD will work with our local Muslim community members and continue to provide public safety in the neighborhoods where their places of faith and organizations are located.”
BRPD responds to uptick in violence with increased patrols, community policing effort
by Scottie Hunter
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) -
The Baton Rouge Police Department rolled out a new initiative Friday to combat violent crime in the city.
"We're pooling together some evening shift guys and some seasoned guys and they're going to do some active patrol out here in the streets," said BRPD Sgt. L'Jean McKneely.
The initiative comes on the heels of a violent weekend in the Red Stick with a handful of fatal shootings and a deadly stabbing spilling onto streets like Alaquippa Street, South Flannery Street and Goodwood Boulevard.
"This is an immediate response to calls that are happening out there right here and now," McKneely added.
Mere hours after the new unit came online, officers made a traffic stop at the intersection of Alaquippa and Wyandotte streets where they pulled what appeared to be prescription drugs from the car before taking the driver away in handcuffs. Minutes later, police swarmed the intersection of North 48th Street and Gus Young Avenue in response to a double shooting.
"I think it's unfortunate that a few hours after the announcement we have an incident like this," said EBR Councilman LaMont Cole.
Cole agrees something needs to be done about violent crime in the city but hopes the street crime unit is about more than just stamping out violence but building relationships as well.
"I'd like to see officers make a real strong effort to learn who residents are in the areas where they're canvassing to get to know the families and know the events that are taking place," Cole added.
McKneely says community policing is part of the plan. The initiative will pull two officers from each district for a total of twelve officers and he believes they will work the community angle into their response.
"These guys will be responding to some of the violent calls and shootings that are happening and they're also going to do proactive patrol and talk to the citizens out there while they are actually patrolling," McKneely said.
Residents like Charlie Hamilton welcome the heavy law enforcement presence. He said it should make everyone in his community feel safer.
"We need it, we need it, we need it man. We need it," said Hamilton. "I feel good to see them. Anytime I pull up here and see one riding by it makes me feel good."
McKneely says the street crime unit will be temporary step as the department takes a look at how well it works and how to make their policing more proactive.
Sharp increase in shootings in Madison prompts search for creative solutions
by Shelly K. Mesch
When he was in his early 20s and living on Chicago's West Side, Michael Johnson found himself running from the barrel of a gun.
He had gotten into a fistfight with a man he was attempting to buy a car from, and the man pulled a gun on him. With his adrenaline rushing, Johnson weaved around the buildings in his neighborhood as the bullets flew.
Although he survived, a bullet went into Johnson's leg.
“Some of my friends were saying ‘You can't let that go,'?” Johnson said. “But then, thank God, there was somebody in my life. ... Another one of my friends was like, ‘Mike, if you go back and you shoot him and kill him, he loses his life and then you lose yours. You're going to go to jail. Probably for the rest of your life.'?”
Now president of the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County, Johnson credits the support and guidance of a peer with keeping him on the right path. It's an approach he and others hope can stem the violence in what is one of Madison's deadliest summers.
Through July 11, police have confirmed 101 incidents of shots fired in Madison, a 53 percent increase over the same period last year. The number of homicides has also risen — from six in 2015, eight in 2016, to 10 people killed so far in the city this year, tying the record set in 2008.
Worried that the spate of shootings will result in retaliatory violence, police and city officials have partnered with a nonprofit organization on a pilot program to recruit peers of victims and their associates to help calm the impulse for revenge.
“I think peers can be more impactful because they have the relationship,” Johnson said. “They're usually in the same age range, and culturally they connect to one another. I think if there were a few more guys in my ear saying, ‘Let's go get him,' I don't know. I probably would have caved in.”
The initiative, a joint project of the Focused Interruption Coalition and Nehemiah Development Corp., is funded through a $50,000 contract between the city and Nehemiah. The contract provides funding for a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week rapid-response support program with paid peer-support specialists. A longer-term peer-support program, part of a 15-point anti-violence plan offered by community and faith leaders, is in the works.
Those who deal with the aftermath of shootings say the new approach can't come fast enough. Harboring real or imagined slights, young people with easy access to guns are avenging disputes over drugs, girlfriends or reputations with deadly force.
“The lack of an ability to sufficiently deal with conflict resolution is underlying all of this,” Police Chief Mike Koval said. “I think that what we have is an abundance of guns, a lack of conflict resolution, a sense of gang posturing in some instances.”
Causes vary, run deep
It's not clear why Madison has seen such an increase in shootings this year or to what extent they're related. But organizers said they hoped the partnership would bring more focus to what many believe are the root causes of much of the conflict: the lack of opportunity and sense of hopelessness that leads many young men, especially those of color, to turn to gangs or selling drugs.
“A good way to take a gun away from a young man is to train him in a job,” Johnson said. “Without that, the streets will pass that gun along to him or her. The streets will try to employ them.”
An unstable life and a lack of mentors at home and school can severely limit one's options, said Ald. Sheri Carter, 14th District, adding that Madison has lost many of it manufacturing jobs, worsening the gap in opportunities.
“In every city, there was some kind of factory that, whether you had education or not, you can go down, and they could say, ‘This screw goes here,'?” Carter said. “Those jobs now, not only do you have to have an education, you have to have computer skills.”
Compared to a job that pays $7.25 an hour, selling drugs can look like a more sustainable way to pay the rent. But maintaining a criminal occupation brings constant risks. Many offenders end up in a cycle of hopelessness that affects their judgment, Koval said.
“I think that then you become, at the worst desperate, or just as bad, indifferent about your life and certainly more cavalier about the lives of others,” Koval said.
Loose firearm laws also make it easy to respond to any threat with lethal force, said Ald. Samba Baldeh, 17th District.
“In the past, guns were not always accessible, and people could talk to each other over fistfights,” Baldeh said. “But now, guns are all over. So conflict resolutions have become, ‘If you disagree with me or I feel you disrespected me, I just go get a gun.' With guns, you can't just fight. You kill each other.”
Anthony Cooper Sr., executive director of the Focused Interruption Coalition, said that some people who lead criminal lives don't see other options and those who do might not believe a different life is possible for them. He said FIC's peer-support specialists can mentor those people and help them find another path.
“It's more than just telling them where the resources are,” Cooper said. “It's taking them where they need to go and pointing them in the right direction.”
Search for solutions
Some shootings are accidental or posturing, and not intended to kill, Koval said. But an errant bullet can travel half a mile, if it doesn't strike something or someone first. In July, a woman narrowly missed being shot inside her home when a gunman opened fire outside. She was sitting on her bed when a bullet burst through the headboard and her pillow. A 3-year-old was in the room playing.
“What we're faced with is so many innocent people who are not tied with the conflict, they're at risk,” said Ald. Barbara Harrington-McKinney, in whose 1st District the shooting occurred. “That's what raises this to that sense of urgency for me.”
In response, Harrington-McKinney set up “Operation Clean Sweep,” a neighborhood cleanup project to help foster community and a sense of pride.
Police are continuing to build relationships between gang unit officers and community members who may be able to provide tips on where intervention may be needed.
When police do get word of possible retaliation but don't have probable cause for arrest, Koval said, they may make arrests for probation violations or unrelated offenses. Police want potential shooters to know they're are on their radar, he said, adding such arrests won't be “wholesale suppression” but rather “very limited, pinpointed and strategic.”
Role for police, others
But Johnson said police also need to work on building trust among communities of color by simply being more present in their lives. For children in violence-stricken neighborhoods, their first interactions with officers often can be negative and create a lasting bias, he said.
“A lot of times, young people don't see police officers until a loved one is arrested,” Johnson said. “So good community policing strategies get local officers involved in community projects — engaging with young people in community centers, at festivals and other events where young people can see police officers in a positive light.”
Koval said a lack of witness cooperation has frustrated efforts to solve some shooting cases. Victims and witnesses sometimes won't provide helpful leads because they are afraid the shooter or an associate will see them speaking with police, Johnson said. And the consequences of “snitching” can be dire or even fatal.
Organizers hope the partnership with the Focused Interruption Coalition can address that by operating independently of police.
“I don't want (FIC members) to share their notes with me for the simple fact that that will destroy their credibility,” Koval said. “They need to keep an arm's length distance from the police ... to try and accomplish their mission objective, which is to stop the violence or at least mitigate the violence.”