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At Least 26 Dead In Shooting At Texas Baptist Church
The victims' ages ranged from 5 to 72 years old.
by Roque Planas, Paige Lavender, and Ninc Golgowski
SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas ― More than 100 people gathered outside the post office here on Sunday night, just blocks away from the First Baptist Church where a lone gunman killed 26 members of this tight-knit community on Sunday morning. It was the worst mass killing in the state’s history.
“Who are we going to be tomorrow?” Stephen Curry, a pastor from a nearby church, asked the crowd. “We’re going to be people of love.”
“Amen!” the audience exclaimed.
Mourners held candles and raised their open palms in the air as religious leaders urged them to help their neighbors heal. Reminders of the tragedy were all around them. Behind the vigil, the lights of a police car continued to flash, and the road toward the church remained blocked off.
Officials responded to reports of a gunman at the church at around 11:20 a.m. A young white male wearing black clothing and tactical gear ― who ppolice later identified as 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley of ― had opened fire with a Ruger assault-type rifle outside the church and then entered the building, walking to the front of the congregation, as he continued to fire. He kept firing as he walked out of the church’s back door.
“I don’t think they could have escaped. You’ve got your pews on either side,” Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt Jr. said Sunday.
At that point a resident began firing with his own weapon, causing the suspect to flee in his car, officials said. The suspect was later found with a fatal gunshot wound in his vehicle in nearby Guadalupe County. Tackitt Jr. told CBS News that authorities were “pretty sure” the wound was self-inflicted. Multiple weapons were found inside the vehicle.
Kelley had family who were congregants on the church, Tackitt said Monday, but were not present during the shooting.
“We know that his ex-in-law, or in-laws, came to church here from time to time,” Tackitt said. “They were not here yesterday.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday he believes Kelley deliberately targeted the church.
“This was not a random active shooting,” he told CBS News. “I don’t think this church was picked out at random. I think there was purpose and intent that Devin Kelley had in showing up at this location.”
Abbott confirmed that 26 people had been killed in the shooting during a press conference on Sunday afternoon. A pregnant woman and several children ― including the church pastor’s 14-year-old daughter ― were among the dead. At least 20 people were injured. The ages of the wounded and dead ranged from 5 to 72 years. A witness told San Antonio TV station KENS 5 that the fatalities accounted for about half of the church’s congregation.
The massacre took place exactly eight years after an Army psychiatrist killed 13 people on a U.S. military base in Fort Hood, Texas― just a few hours drive from Sutherland Springs.
Shocked community members were still reeling from the massacre that took place just hours before. They described the unincorporated community, home to cattle ranches and oil fields, as the type of place where everyone knows each other. People move there to avoid crime, residents told HuffPost.
“It’s a nice, quiet town. It’s respectful,” said former resident Pamela Padilla. “We don’t normally have any crime or anything ... It was a small town, and quiet until today.”
“This has just been so devastating. It hasn’t hit home quite yet,” said resident Kelly Carter.
“It’s very small, quiet. Everyone knows each other,” said David Betancourt, 18. His friend was wounded in the shooting. The last Betancourt heard, he was undergoing surgery.
Michael Ward had family members at the church that morning. When he heard that the killer had fled, he said he considered going after him. But when he saw the police en route, he went to the church with his wife Leslee to look for their family members.
The family of Ward’s brother Chris was severely affected, Ward said. Chris’ wife Joann is in surgery, as is Chris’ son Rylan and daughter Brooke. Chris’ daughter Emily is among the deceased, Ward said.
Authorities have not yet provided information about a possible motive for the suspect.
Kelley was previously a United States Air Force member who served in logistics readiness at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, from 2010 until his bad conduct discharge in 2014. He was court-martialed in 2012 for assault on his spouse and assault on their child. Law enforcement officials told media outlets that, despite his history, Kelley was able to purchase the weapon he used on Sunday from a San Antonio sporting goods store last year.
“Current law should have prevented him from being able to get a gun, I can tell you that before he made this purchase he tried to get a gun permit in the state of Texas and was denied that permit,” Abbott said.
Sunday’s shooting comes just over a month after a gunman killed 58 people at a country music festival in Las Vegas before killing himself. It was the deadliest mass shooting in recent U.S. history.
During a press conference in Tokyo, President Donald Trump said he viewed the deadly shooting as “a mental health problem at the highest level” and not as a “guns situation.” He added that it was “a little bit soon” to get into a discussion about gun control.
The president, who is currently on a five-nation tour through Asia, had earlier tweeted his prayers to the people of Sutherland Springs and gave an official statement on the shooting. He called the attack an “act of evil,” and later ordered for U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff to honor those killed in the shooting.
Mike Gonzalez, who lives nearby and works at Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, helped lead prayers at Sunday night’s vigil.
“Let us not be people of anger,” he told the crowd. “Let us not be people of fear. Let us build your kingdom as something constructive in the face of destruction.”
“I propose that we make a pact, right here, in this small town, that evil will not prevail!”
After Texas church stooting, here's the question we should ask
by Philip Boas
Only hours after 46 people were shot in a church in rural Texas, putting the little town of Sutherland Springs on a grim national registry, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced his state is “dealing with the largest mass shooting in Texas history.”
He spoke fully composed and clear-eyed, with a matter-of-factness that tells us he’s been here before.
Haven’t we all.
If there is a provenance for these mass shootings in modern America it is Texas. Fifty-one years ago, a former Marine sharpshooter carried his footlocker full of rifles to the observation tower of the main building at the University of Texas in Austin and killed 15 people and injured 31 others.
Some 130-plus rampage shootings later, we are back in Texas pondering,
“Why did this happen and how can we stop it?”
Hours old, shooting renews gun debate
Our futility was realized again Sunday morning, when witnesses said a young man dressed in all black opened fire on people at the First Baptist Church in Wilson County, Texas, about 40 miles east of San Antonio.
Killed were children, adults and the elderly. The youngest victim was 2 years old. The oldest, 72.
Late Sunday, investigators had yet to release a motive, but Americans had already begun to overlay their politics on the event, arguing on social media for gun control and gun freedom.
“Texas thoughts & prayers are useless. When will DC lawmakers actually protect us?” tweeted one angry Twitter user.
“Sadly guns would of saved these people,” came a response from the other side.
Perhaps we suffer from a loss of optimism
Perhaps the root of the problem isn’t our violent culture and our profusion of firearms — some 300 million and counting. Perhaps it’s not the NRA or the stubborn Second Amendment.
Perhaps we suffer from a loss of confidence, a dearth of national optimism that once drove us relentlessly to solve our biggest problems.
We don’t do that anymore, do we?
Lack of new ideas, approaches to consensus
We seem to lack the youthful drive and ingenuity that once fearlessly wrapped its arms around huge, daunting challenges.
Why does the gun problem confound us? Why are we paralyzed when machine-gun fire rains down on a concert in Las Vegas or when 20 school children are murdered in Newtown?
The predictable head-butting of gun-rights and gun-control advocates gets us nowhere.
Why isn’t there new thinking? Why no new approaches to consensus?
There are too many guns in America. There are too many sick and violent people. And there is nothing stopping those sick and violent people from obtaining tools of mass murder.
Because of these certainties, there are a lot of Americans who demand their Second Amendment right to defend themselves should they ever confront any of these armed and depraved souls.
'Why the despair' may be essential question
This circular dilemma creates a logjam we can’t break.
Maybe we need to start thinking about guns the way one physician has started thinking about another intractable American problem –- opioids.
Dr. Thomas A. Andrew was hip dip in the opioid crisis and ready to surrender. The 60-year-old chief medical examiner of New Hampshire was laboring in a state that recorded more deaths per capita from synthetic opioids than any other, reports the New York Times.
In fact, overdose deaths in New Hampshire have reached about 500, a 10-fold increase since the year 2000, and the bodies are stacking up.
The essential question to the opioid crisis is “Why the despair?” Why are so many young people spiraling into a world of dangerous drugs when the dismal odds of survival are so well known?
From new ideas come hope, perhaps solutions
Dr. Andrew wants to find out. He will doff his lab coat and pull on a minister’s cloak and start attacking the problem at the front end.
He is entering a seminary and working toward a divinity degree that will allow him to confront the opioid problem in a new way – at the moment when young people, still alive, are confronted with choices about a life on drugs. And then he will use his medical-examiner’s intimacy with life’s fragile nature to try to steer them away, The Times reports.
It’s a small thing, but a new thing. And one that offers hope.
Where is that kind of creative thinking on the gun problem? Why are we still debating the same points after the Texas Clock Tower shooting a half-century ago?
We need Americans who come to this discussion with new ideas, because the old ones are crumbling with every Newtown, Vegas and Sutherland Springs.
Doctors prepare for deep dive into Las Vegas shooter's brain
Doctors will examine the 64-year-old's brain tissue for any possible neurological problems
by Sally Ho
LAS VEGAS — Scientists are preparing to do a microscopic study of the Las Vegas gunman's brain, but whatever they find, if anything, likely won't be what led him to kill 58 people in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, experts said.
Stephen Paddock's brain is being sent to Stanford University for a months-long examination after a visual inspection during an autopsy found no abnormalities, Las Vegas authorities said.
Doctors will perform multiple forensic analyses, including an exam of the 64-year-old's brain tissue to find any possible neurological problems.
The brain will arrive in California soon, and Stanford has been instructed to spare no expense for the work, The New York Times reported. It will be further dissected to determine if Paddock suffered from health problems such as strokes, blood vessel diseases, tumors, some types of epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, degenerative disorders, physical trauma and infections.
Dr. Hannes Vogel, Stanford University Medical Center's director of neuropathology, would not discuss the procedure with The Associated Press and referred questions to officials in Clark County, where Las Vegas is located. They also refused to provide details.
Vogel told The Times that he will leave nothing overlooked to put to rest much of the speculation on Paddock's health as investigators struggle to identify a motive for the shooting.
The examination will come about a month after Paddock unleashed more than a thousand bullets through the windows of a 32nd floor suite at the Mandalay Bay casino-hotel into a crowd below attending an outdoor country music festival. After killing 58 people and wounding hundreds more, Paddock took his own life with a shot through his mouth, police say.
Investigators working around the clock remain frustrated by a lack of clues that would point to his motive. Authorities have resorted to putting up billboards in southern Nevada seeking tips and now the intensive brain study that medical experts say likely won't yield definitive answers.
If a disease is found, experts say it would be false science to conclude it caused or perhaps even contributed to the massacre, even if that explanation would ease the minds of investigators and the world at large.
"There's a difference between association and causality, and just because you have anything, doesn't mean it does anything," said Brian Peterson, president of the National Association of Medical Examiners and chief coroner of Wisconsin's Milwaukee County.
The microscopic study is not a standard practice but is regularly used as needed. Families sometimes request such a detailed examination to better understand their own genetic risks.
Peterson said it's also common in high-profile cases such as Paddock's, where so much is riding on the results that all forensic options must be exhausted.
Douglas Fields, a neuroscientist who studies the rage circuit in brain systems, said horribly violent events, such as mass shootings and terrorism, rarely involve actual brain abnormalities but can be triggered by psychiatric problems.
Perpetrators often are suicidal psychopaths who are motivated to commit heinous crimes because they have internalized their isolation and anti-social behavior as an existential threat for themselves, he said.
"When police look for motive, it's kind of misplaced in cases like this because they appear to be crimes of rage. There's no motive for crimes of rage. It's a crime of passion," Fields said.
One such case involved the University of Texas shooter Charles Whitman, who fatally shot 13 people in 1966 from a clock tower on the Austin campus. Whitman was found to have a pecan-sized tumor in his brain, though the suggestion that it caused his rampage is still debated decades later.
Peterson, who is not involved in the Paddock case, said an initial inspection that is standard for any autopsy would generally include dissecting the brain at one-centimeter intervals to look for issues identifiable to the trained eye — infection, tumor, symmetry, bleeding and blood vessel abnormality.
A further study would involve a microscopic focus on the tissue cells, such as using stains to determine different types of dementia and other degenerative diseases, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is sometimes found in people who have suffered repetitive brain trauma.
There also would likely be a review of the brain at a molecular level though DNA, Peterson said.
Experts say the brain study on Paddock will be a worthy effort for scientific reasons.
Dr. Paul S. Appelbaum, a psychiatry expert at Columbia University, said that at minimum, it might yield something even tangential that can be passed on to the public, such as awareness for psychological disorders or brain diseases.
"Are we ever going to know for certain what caused his brain to do that?" Appelbaum asked. "Probably not from a neuropathological examination, but it's not unreasonable to ask and see whether it might contribute to our understanding of what occurred."
Meth found in Halloween trick-or-treat candy in Wisconsin
by CBS News
KESHENA, Wis. -- Menominee Tribal Police say a parent on the reservation in northeastern Wisconsin found a packet of methamphetamine among her child's trick-or-treat Halloween candy.
The parent turned the small packet of crystal powder over to police early Monday and officers say it tested positive for meth. The child did not ingest the powder.
CBS affiliate WFRV reports that police are urging parents to check their children's candy if they have been trick-or-treating in the Keshena area on the Menominee Indian Reservation, about 160 miles north of Milwaukee.
"Had that parent not looked through they could have tasted it and it could have turned deadly," Lana Washinawatok told WFRV. "I get really angry because it is sad."
BPD forms community advisory panel
by Dean Johnson
BOISE - What do you want from your police department? It's a question the Boise Police Department is looking to you to help answer with a brand new initiative to the City of Trees. Boise Police Chief Bill Bones is forming the Chief's Community Advisory Panel.
“This is the beginning of a panel that we believe will be a lasting change for the Boise Police Department,” Boise Police Chief Bill Bones said.
The community panel will help the Boise Police Department determine what priorities they should be setting and how the department can better police the community they serve.
“Everything from maybe a crime that's going on in your neighborhood, but also the way we provide police services. Where should we be putting our priorities and our personnel? What focus should we be looking at?” Bones said.
The group will meet four times a year with Chief Bones and help develop concepts, improve public service, and also help provide transparency between his department and the city of Boise.
“This is more than just an email or a filtered comment. It's that direct face-to-face and really learning what people's concerns and thoughts are,” Bones said.
Bones added it is an initiative other police departments across the county have also adopted to help improve with community policing.
“This is actually something that we've been working on for three years now. An idea where we wanted to take another step forward in community policing,” he said.
The panel will consist anywhere from eight to 12 people and can be anyone from citizens to business owners. To allow for greater participation from the community, BPD will elect new members of the panel every two years.
“I'm hoping that it creates even more partnerships because as we grow as a city, it's going to require those partnerships with the community we serve to maintain this quality of life,” Bones said.
If you're interested in being a part of the panel or would like to nominate someone for the Chief's Community Advisory Panel you can email the Boise Police Department at email@example.com .
Bones says they may not be able to accept every nomination, but will make an effort to ensure the department does have a good representation of the community. The chief expects the panel to be up and running in a couple of months.
'We've Got to Break This Mindset That Policing Is the Only Tool'
CounterSpin interview with Alex Vitale on The End of Policing
by Janine Jackson
Janine Jackson: The litany of instances of police violence and misconduct is both infuriating and almost numbing. Our guest's new book suggests we reconsider our understanding of policing, see it less as a tool that has on some occasions been used for abuse, and more as a tool for abuse, a system that does considerable harm even when functioning as designed. That reflects more closely the history of the institution in this country, and it's really only seeing things that radically—going to the root—that lets us see a way out, not a way back to some imagined time in which there was harmony between police and community everywhere, but forward to a time in which policies of punishment don't distort so many societal functions, and consign huge numbers of especially black and brown people to the margins.
The book is called The End of Policing ; author Alex Vitale is professor of sociology and coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College. He joins us now by phone. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Alex Vitale.
Alex Vitale: Thank you.
JJ: People are offended, I think morally, when you suggest that the inequity of the impact of policing is not a bug but a feature. I think we tend to think of it as an institution made in a lab, you know: We need protection from criminals, so let's create “law enforcement.” I wonder if you would tell us a little bit of the actual history of US policing that shapes the role that we see it playing today.
AV: Sure. There's kind of a standard liberal narrative, academic narrative, historical narrative, about the police, that begins with the London Metropolitan Police formed in 1829. And the idea behind it, that's propagated behind it, is that it was an improvement over the kind of semi-professional watch, that was made up of volunteers and others pressed into service that would walk around at night, on the one hand, and the use of the militia to put down riots and disorder on the other hand. And the feeling was that this would be a civilian force under the control of local authorities, and would engage in a kind of neutral enforcement of the law.
But the reality is, is that the model for the London Metropolitan Police actually is directly tied to the British occupation of Ireland. And the person who creates the London police, Robert Peel—Robert, Bob, the Bobbies—had been in charge of the British occupation of Ireland, and it was there that he begins to develop the idea of a civilian force that could be used to put down rural uprisings more efficiently than relying on the British army, which had been tied up in the Napoleonic Wars, was overstretched and highly indebted. So he creates the Irish Peace Preservation Force, which is located in local communities, which allows for better surveillance and preemptive action to put down social unrest.
London, during this period, is awash in this newly industrializing working class, that's come from rural areas, and the job of the police was to micromanage the lives of this new industrial urban workforce, in a way that tried to mold them into a reliable workforce. So there were all kinds of little minor nuisance laws that were enforced, as well as proscriptions on, you know, drunk and disorderly behavior, etc., that had the purpose of getting people to go home to their families, get up in the morning and go to work and be productive, and to try to stamp out lifestyles that weren't tied to a standard industrial work life. At the same time, they put down riots, they put down labor movements, they attacked strikers, etc.
And we can see this in the US context as well, with the creation of forces to drive Native American populations out, to drive out Mexicans from what was becoming Texas at the time, to stamp out workers movements, to shoot miners in Pennsylvania, etc. And so the book basically argues that the origins of policing should be understood as intimately tied to three major forms of accumulation during the 19th century, and these are slavery, colonialism and the new industrial workforce.
JJ: So it's always been a kind of social engineering, if you will. The definition of crime itself has been very much shaped by the social control impetus of the enterprise of policing.
AV: It was a new way of constructing state power that was more fine-tuned than relying on the army and the militia. It was able to produce legitimacy for the state in a way that the army was not; it relied on brute power. And so this was much more efficient for the state, and the state immediately began on this kind of mythmaking, of saying that, well, of course we understand the state is legitimate, because these are liberal democracies of some form, and therefore any expression of state power is legitimate. But all of that discourse completely hides slavery, completely hides the suppression of workers movements, and so the actual tasks of this seemingly legitimate state are in fact designed to reproduce race and class inequalities, and the police are just a softer touch in carrying out that mission.
JJ: You can certainly see a worldview at work that is fomented, I think, by media, in which you want police to have all of the weapons, and you want them to have freedom to do anything at all, because there are good and bad people in the world, and cops protect the good from the bad. When major percentages of people are going to prison for nonviolent drug offenses, for example, this idea that there are different sorts of people, bad criminals who do harm and good noncriminals, you have to challenge that.
AV: This is the problem with all this “thin blue line” and “war on cops” discourse that's out there, is that it assumes that the world is divided up between good people and bad people, and that the only way to produce safety, to protect the good from the bad, is through coercive state power: the threat of arrest, the use of violence.
And of course, when we look at middle-class, leafy suburban communities, they don't need police to manage their social problems. They have mechanisms and resources to regulate those things themselves, and, of course, they're beneficiaries, in large part, from the basic political and economic arrangements. And so no one feels like, oh, of course they need heavy-handed policing in those communities. It's poor people who are perceived to be only responsive to this kind of coercive power.
JJ: The book—and I do want to get onto it, because the book talks about alternatives, it talks about a way that we could do things differently, so I wanted to get you started talking about that. When we're talking about this kind of—you know, you say at one point, “Whole segments of our society have been deemed always-already guilty,” and it's there that the most help is needed, of course. So what are some of the alternatives to policing that the book is getting at?
AV: Well, what I do is I take eight areas of policing, and look at the origins of that kind of policing, what the problem is it claims to be trying to solve, and then look at the literature that shows just how many problems that kind of policing actually produces rather than resolves, and then try to lay out a series of alternatives to relying on police.
So we don't need nicer school police, we don't need better-trained school police. The whole idea of school policing is deeply flawed. All the research shows that it doesn't make young people any safer, it contributes to an environment of insecurity for young people, it's also often demeaning, degrading, abusive and at times even deadly to these young people. There are alternatives to relying on police to deal with discipline issues in schools. And there are schools that are using these methods, like restorative justice programs, where the whole school is oriented not towards driving people out of school and into the criminal justice system, but in trying to actually resolve problems. And they use various forms of peer mediation, peer adjudication.
We could look at a community schools model that's being tried out in some areas, where the school is seen as a resource center for the whole community, so that after hours, on the weekends, there are classes and services available to the families of students. So that if there is a mental health issue, if there is an English-as-a-second-language problem that maybe is contributing to financial insecurity, if there are nutrition issues, health issues, the school could be seen as a resource for that, rather than just another place where young people are criminalized.
JJ: And I would say the book also talks about, you know, police dealing with people with mental illness, it talks about the war on drugs and border policing and political policing—as you say, a number of different aspects in which the police seem to be taking on roles that would be better played by other social forces and other social mechanisms. Of course, what people will hear and should hear is that this requires resources, this requires a redirection of resources. And I think, I imagine, that would be some of the pushback, is simply this myth of scarcity that we hear, that we just can't invest in community somehow.
AV: So a lot of the money we're spending now on the criminal justice system is not making people safer, it's often making communities less safe, because of the disruptive effects of cycling people through prisons and jails, and we could redirect a lot of those resources. The Youth Justice Coalition out in Los Angeles wrote a report a couple years ago where they said, look at the spending in LA County on police, jails, courts, and if we redirected just 10 percent of that money, we'd have a billion dollars a year to spend on new youth programs. And they worked with young people to lay out a program of what kinds of services would actually help young people. And they had summer jobs and after-school programs and more counselors in the schools, and these kinds of things, rather than more school police, more gang-suppression policing, more gang injunctions, the kinds of things that the county spends a lot of money on that don't work.
JJ: You do cite a lot of existing work that this is building on. So there is a history of consideration of this idea, and then, as you're saying, places where it's actually being tried, or some aspects of it are being tried.
AV: Every chapter is filled with examples of alternatives that lay out a program that says, there are noncoercive solutions to our problems, and the thing that's preventing us from doing them is not an absence of money, it's an excess of neoliberal, neoconservative, austerity politics, that has labeled the poor as incapable of benefiting from any kind of positive proactive interactions, and defines them as basically only capable of responding to threats and punishment. And in a way, this is, I think, a profoundly racist ideology. Even though it is embraced by many black and Latino politicians, it really treats their constituencies as less than fully human, and then subjects them to dehumanizing treatment by the police, jails, prisons, etc.
And so we can't just tinker with the police response, to make it a little bit nicer or to make the police department a little more diverse, because none of that gets at this core problem. We have to really, directly address the politics of the country, that's largely bipartisan, that says that the only way we can solve problems is to criminalize them. Whether it's homelessness, severe mental illness, discipline problems in schools, youth violence, etc., we've got to break this mindset that policing is the only tool that people can have.
JJ: I've heard you say at some point, I think of abolition as a process rather than an outcome. What are you getting at with that, and is the book—I assume the book is an attempt to sort of spark that process?
AV: Yeah, I never start from the position of, like, imagine a world without police, something like that. I don't think that's very helpful, I think it's alienating to most people, it's confusing, and it doesn't seem, you know, realistic. However, underneath that is the root idea that policing as an institution should be understood as deeply problematic, historically, functionally and contemporarily. And that it should always be approached as the tool of last resort, so that if a community has a problem—and many of our communities do have serious problems—wouldn't it better to start from the position of saying, let's put all the resources of the community, of government at different levels, on the table, nonprofits, and say, how can we best solve this problem?
And we could have some principles in the process, that what we do should be cost-effective, there should actually be evidence to show that it can work, and it should try to treat people with as much dignity as possible. And when we have a process like that, such as when Ithaca looked at their opioid problem, and developed a plan for opioids that didn't involve criminalization, it involved drug treatment on demand and safe-injection facilities and needle exchange, etc., when we do that, we can come up with noncoercive solutions for so many problems that we've asked the police today to deal with.
And so that's the process that should guide community-based problem-solving, which is the exact opposite of what most communities experience today, which is, government tells them that they have to express the problem in terms that can be solved by the use of more police, more police power, more police resources. And, unfortunately, things like community policing are part of that problematic dynamic, where all community problems have to be articulated in terms of what the police can do to solve them, rather than holding the rest of government accountable for not doing something about these problems.
JJ: I just attended the Drug Policy Reform Conference in Atlanta, and one of the things that was said was that, in a way, criminal justice reform is trending now, but we have to be very wary about what it means, because at this point, anything that you do that decreases the prison population can be seen as reform, but people can still be ensnared in the criminal justice system. And one of the things that I think Deborah Small from Break the Chains said was, you don't have to lock people up to lock them out.
So there is reason to be cautious about what is going to be put forward right now. There seems to be a bipartisan understanding that, oh yes, mass incarceration is bad, we should get those numbers down. That doesn't necessarily mean they are going to the root of the question in the way that you're talking about.
AV: Certainly, if you don't deal with the front end of this process, it's going to be very hard to really get at the root of this. Because mass incarceration should not be understood as just an expression of how many people are in prison. It's maybe more accurate to look at what Marie Gottschalk says about the development of a carceral state, in which the whole state is organized around punitive social control mechanisms, targeting the poor and the nonwhite and the immigrant. And so this suffuses, not just in the prisons and courts and policing, but into the delivery of social services, youth programs, treatment programs. It's all suffused with this coercive and punitive ideology.
This is the problem with relying on things like drug courts. We're finding, increasingly, that the services that people are sent to by these drug courts are driven by the same punitive outlook that treats people as incapable of making real decisions for themselves, belittles them, looks at their problems as ones of individual moral failing, and then fails to provide the kinds of services that people really need, like access to stable housing, stable employment, adequate healthcare, etc. So I hope that this book will put policing on the map in terms of our discussions about mass incarceration, but also the broader punitive ideology that's driving all of this.
JJ: Many would say it's time for a bold vision. I'm reminded, though, of an op-ed I just saw a few days ago, saying that calling for universal healthcare is going to re-elect Donald Trump. It seems like people who want things really to change are seen as antagonists, not just of conservatives or the right wing, but of many people who define themselves as centrists. You get this feeling of, oh, we also want this social change that you're calling for, but if you really push for it, well, then you're to blame for anything that happens. It's hard not to hear a kind of “go slow, go slow,” which I just wonder, that seems something we have to fight against as well. Bold ideas require courage, and not least the courage to hold one another up when we're being attacked as being somehow the real reason that we can't see any change.
AV: Well, I have two thoughts on that. One is that if we embrace supposed reforms to policing that just re-empower the police, and relegitimize the police, without really addressing the negative consequences of what they're doing, then we haven't really accomplished anything, and we've actually maybe made things worse.
The other is that policing is overwhelmingly a local concern, and the vast majority of policing happens in major urban areas, the majority of which are run by Democrats. And so we should not be paralyzed about broader national political trends in trying to do something about this. Wherever you're listening to this, there are local politicians who are empowering the police to be a coercive force, in a way that lets them off the hook from engaging in real problem-solving that will produce real justice for people, and we can do something about that, wherever we are.
JJ: I'll just ask you, finally: When we last spoke, the book was forthcoming; now it's out. Has the response been what you expected?
AV: Well, it's been out for a week or two, and I've had some very positive reviews and feedback. I'm waiting to hear more from the mainstream police scholarship community, more from police, many of whom I know are reading the book, and also from elected officials, who I know are reading the book. So I'm still waiting to get more feedback, if you will, and to see what the reaction is like.
JJ: All right then. We've been speaking with Alex Vitale. The book is The End of Policing . It's out now from Verso . Alex Vitale, thank you very much for joining us this week on CounterSpin .
AV: You're most welcome.
$1 million grant will help combat crime in 4-mile area of north Flint
by Dominic Adams
FLINT, MI - Flint resident Jeanette Edwards said she wanted to cry when she learned about the $1 million grant coming to help reduce crime and improve safety in neighborhoods on the north side.
"When people see you try and do something, more people will get involved," she said. "We got a village now."
The three-year, community-based crime reduction planning and implementation grant for the North Flint Revitalization Initiative announced Monday, Oct. 30, will allow for a comprehensive strategy to be created using research that is intended to advance neighborhood revitalization in the city's First and Third wards.
The grant will allow researchers the opportunity to study the most-efficient ways to deploy resources to combat crime in these neighborhoods.
"We have to get in and find out what is the problem," said Clarence Pierce, CEO of Hamilton Community Health Network, which is the fiduciary agent for the grant. "Right now there are not a lot of people who feel safe."
After researchers study the best approach, organizers say, they'll come back to law enforcement and other community partners to come up with a solution.
Flint is one of nine recipients across the country to get the grant, which is a part of the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance.
"We know that this city needs community policing and that's what this does," said Chief Time Johnson. "We've got crime popping up all over the city, not just the north end."
The grant covers almost a 4-mile area with a population of 12,530 residents, Pierce said.
"As we transition from crisis to recovery, our goal is to make Flint better than it was before," said Mayor Karen Weaver.
Undercover cop arrests man who sexually assaults her on NY subway
The suspect was immediately arrested and charged with forcible touching and sex abuse
by PoliceOne Staff
NEW YORK — A man has been arrested for grinding his crotch on an undercover female police detective when she was in plain clothes on a New York Subway.
The New York Daily News reported that Felipe Mondragon, 52, was on a train that left Union Square when he reportedly began grinding his crotch on the undercover detective's thigh. The officer was wearing plain clothes as part of an operation when the incident occurred.
Mondragon was immediately arrested and charged with forcible touching and sex abuse.
The detective is a part of the NYPD Transit Bureau's Anti-Crime Squad, which is responsible for patrolling subways in the area and prevent crime.
ICE highlights role in combating opioid supply in Northern Virginia
Cyber Crimes Center offers training to target illicit smuggling and financial networks
WASHINGTON – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) led a briefing with federal and local law enforcement partners to discuss the coordinated enforcement strategies being used in Northern Virginia to reduce the supply of fentanyl and other opioids. The briefing, held at ICE's Cyber Crimes Center in Fairfax, Virginia, came in response to President Donald J. Trump's declaration of the opioid crisis as a public health emergency and the implementation of the White House Comprehensive Opioid Response Initiative announced yesterday.
Acting Executive Associate Director Derek Benner led today's briefing, where he announced that HSI's Cyber Crimes Center will expand its efforts to offer investigative support and dark net training to state, local, and international partners. Benner also discussed plans to enhance training focused on illicit payment networks and financial transactions associated with fentanyl smuggling and distribution.
Joining Benner for the event were Congresswoman Barbara Comstock (VA-10), First Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Tracy Doherty-McCormick, Acting Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Richard Baum, HSI Washington, D.C. Special Agent in Charge PJ Lechleitner, HSI Baltimore Special Agent in Charge Andre Watson, and local law enforcement leaders from Maryland and Virginia.
“From coast to coast, American communities are being ripped apart by a steady influx of illegal and deadly narcotics; chief among them heroin and the synthetic opioid fentanyl,” said HSI Acting Executive Associate Director Benner. “We are committed to increasing our enforcement by targeting online sales of opioids, following the money trails and leveraging our international and local partnerships to take down the opioid smuggling rings and stop this crisis from spreading any further.”
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. According to Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) estimates, one kilogram of fentanyl can produce 1 million to 1.5 million pill dosage units. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than 20,000 Americans were killed by fentanyl and fentanyl analogues in 2016, and that number continues to rise.
The efforts of ICE and its law enforcement partners to disrupt the supply of these deadly substances are an important complement to the president's commitment to public health and safety, as detailed in yesterday's announcement from the White House.
Earlier this month two cases worked by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in Mississippi and North Dakota resulted in federal indictments against two Chinese nationals and their North American based traffickers and distributors for separate conspiracies to distribute large quantities of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues and other opiate substances in the United States.
Briefing participants included: Deputy Chief Samir Patel, Prince George's County Police Department; Lt. Colonel David L. Ruel, Chief of the Criminal Investigations Bureau for the Maryland State Police Department; Sheriff Chapman, Loudon County Sheriff's Office; Major Fiano, Loudoun County Sheriff's Office; Sheriff Mosier, Fauquier County Sheriff's Office; Lieutenant Joe Kantor, Arlington Police Department; and Chief Maggie DeBoard, Herndon Police Department.
NYC terror attack: Halloween horror would have been much worse without top notch NYPD
by Judith Miller and Seth Barron
The Halloween assault in Lower Manhattan was straight out of the ISIS playbook. Ever since October 2010, when Al Qaeda published the second issue of its online magazine Inspire, jihadi leaders have been urging the faithful to turn ordinary cars and trucks into killing machines to “mow down the enemies of Allah.”
On Tuesday in New York, Sayfullo Saipov, 29, a green-card holder from Uzbekistan in Central Asia and resident of Florida, responded to the call.
He drove his rented Home Depot truck from West Houston Street onto a Hudson River Park bike path, one of New York's most beloved amenities. Within ten minutes, eight people were killed and 15 were injured. A note found in the truck, law enforcement officials said , indicated that Saipov committed the attack out of devotion to ISIS.
At a news conference at 1 Police Plaza less than two hours after the deadly attack, John Miller, the New York Police Department's chief of counterterrorism, cited the Islamic State's updated guidance to jihadi aspirants contained in the third November 2016 issue of its own online journal, Rumiya (Rome), as the attacker's probable inspiration. The article encouraged followers to attack “large outdoor conventions and celebrations, pedestrian-congested streets, outdoor markets, festivals, festivals, parades, [and] political rallies.” It even specified the ideal type, weight, and speed of a car needed for terror purposes, according to a translation provided by the Counter-Extremism Project.
It seems likely that the killer's original target may have been the famous Greenwich Village Halloween parade, another beloved New York tradition that close to 1 million people typically attend. But the NYPD's overwhelming security presence, and the numerous street closures adjacent to the parade, may have dashed his dreams of an even more memorable massacre.
While the attack investigation is ongoing and details of Saipov's motives and plans are still being gathered, the vehicle assault bore the hallmarks of the attacks that ISIS and other militant jihadi groups have long been promoting. NYPD commissioner James O'Neill said that the terrorist emerged from his rental vehicle after crashing into a school bus screaming a statement that indicated terrorist intent. While the politically attuned O'Neill declined to identify what the attacker shouted, the language in which he was shouting, or his suspected nationality, numerous eye witnesses said that the man, dressed in dark clothing and carrying a pellet gun and a paint-ball gun, was screaming “Allahu Akhbar”—“God is Great” in Arabic.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pointed out another hallmark of a vehicle assault. The perp, he said, was one of those “lone wolves” who “meant to cause pain and harm and probably death and the resulting terror.”
But it takes a pack to raise a lone wolf. Even if Saipov acted alone, he was part of a growing ideological fraternity numbering in the tens of thousands who now inhabit every region of the globe.
Those seeking eternal glory have staged similar attacks in at least a dozen other cities—from Nice to Paris to Barcelona to London to Jerusalem.
Like the attacks in these cities, the Halloween attack in Lower Manhattan was aimed at inflicting maximum carnage. Schools in the area were letting out students shortly after three o'clock when Saipov drove his rented truck off West Houston Street onto the bike path.
There was no shortage of targets. The streets between West Houston and Chambers were crowded with parents picking up their costumed children prepared for an evening of trick-or-treating. Pedestrians and bikers on the Hudson River bike path were stunned and helpless as Saipov careened his weapon through the crowd.
With the collapse of its self-declared “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq, ISIS is on the run. So are its adherents. But as the extremists disperse, the terrorist threat, paradoxically, increases. American and other intelligence agencies have long warned of a likely rise in vehicle and other attacks as the frustrated, furious faithful are forced to reorient their campaign. In May 2017, the U.S. Transportation and Security Agency (TSA) warned truck and bus companies to be on guard for suspicious individuals seeking to rent vehicles.
According to TSA data, Islamist terrorists have carried out more than a dozen vehicular assaults since 2014 that have killed more than 170 people. Such attacks are ever more likely, the TSA memo warned, since “unsophisticated tactics such as vehicle-ramming” are hard to prevent and capable of inflicting “mass casualties if successful.”
Saipov might have killed even more people had the NYPD not been the nation's premier counterterrorism force. NYPD officers showed up in force minutes after the attack began, shooting Saipov before he could kill even more New Yorkers.
The NYPD, in fact, was already responding to the vehicular threat long before this type of terror became the focus of federal concern.
At Tuesday's press conference, Miller discussed the department's SHIELD program, which has sent officers to brief some 20,000 businesses in the private sector about the growing terrorist threat post–9/11.
Miller noted that after Rumiya reissued its call for vehicular attacks and suggested an assault on the Thanksgiving Day parade, the NYPD visited over 148 truck rental offices in the metropolitan area asking employees to watch for “suspicious indicators.” The police department conducted repeated visits in person and by phone, he said.
Even more essential has been the NYPD's intelligence division, which has long collected information about suspicious individuals. After being heavily, and in many instances unfairly, criticized for allegedly violating civil liberties, Miller's former boss, William Bratton, shut down a particularly controversial program that the intelligence unit had run early in its existence—a so-called “demographic unit” that collected information on the location and activities of Muslims suspected of terrorist intentions.
Another critic was New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who lambasted the NYPD for surveilling New Jersey-based Muslims and asked whether the spying was “borne out of arrogance, or out of paranoia, or out of both.” Unconfirmed news reports Tuesday night indicated that Saipov had lived for some time in Paterson, New Jersey.
But the NYPD has not scaled back most of its vital surveillance activities. In fact, New York's Finest, working in tandem with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies that comprise the Joint Terrorism Task Force, have continued collecting information on suspected terrorists living in and visiting the city.
They were unable to prevent the Halloween attack. The so-called “flash-to-bang” trajectory of lone-wolf radicalization is accelerating. An individual intent on mayhem against “soft” targets is the toughest law enforcement terrorist challenge.
Eight people were killed Tuesday. But the toll could have been much higher had the police not responded so quickly and New Yorkers not been so stubbornly resilient.
Concluding his remarks Tuesday, Governor Cuomo issued his own call to arms. “We're not going to let them win,” he said. “And if we change our lives, we contort ourselves to them, then they win and we lose.”
Three and a half hours after Saipov's wicked rampage, hundreds of thousands of costumed New Yorkers poured into the streets to celebrate Halloween, as planned. Paradoxically, Saipov's perverse mission failed: New Yorkers were not cowed, and he was denied the martyrdom that he was clearly seeking.
Shot in the stomach, Saipov will probably live to be brought to justice, not far from the scene of his heinous crime.
Changing with the times
by Holly Camero
Police sometimes get a bad rap.
They do, after all, often appear when people are at their worst.
But in Maynard, officers are working hard to change that perception, by being involved in community policing activities throughout the year.
They host a Youth Academy in the summer and are planning a Citizens Academy in February. They participate in Maynard Fest, Octoberfest, local carnivals, downtown Trick or Treats, and the Christmas parade.
During Coffee with a Cop, residents have a chance to visit with an officer at a local coffee shop and just chat. While many people just come in for the free coffee before heading off to work, others take the opportunity to find out what the police officer's job entails and what goes on day-to day.
“Some people are a little intimidated to come to the police station to talk to an officer,” said Maynard police Lt. Michael Noble. “Seeing [officers] in an outside venue ... it's a less intimidating or less formal setting that they can talk to us.”
Often, people's perception of the police department stems from what they see on television. But Maynard's department is different from the TV version, Noble said.
“We're a small town with that community feel and many of the officers are from the community, so they are out more in the community,” Noble said.
Policing in a small town is also quite different from policing in a city like Boston.
In Maynard, Noble said, quality-of-life issues are very important, whereas safety is more important in Boston. So, while a noise complaint might be considered a minor issue in Boston, in Maynard it is taken seriously. Police also try to find any underlying factors – for example trying to determine if a noise complaint is really a neighbor issue.
“Here, where we are smaller, we have the ability to have a more personal approach,” he said.
Maynard police also place a high value on de-escalating a situation, and include that as part of their training.
“We've been deescalating all my career,” Noble said. “You are always outnumbered. A lot of times you are able to do that because you already have a relationship with these people.”
The ability to deescalate a situation also means that the department's use of force is very low.
“We try to be out as much as we can,” Noble said. “With anything if you see the problem you can fix the problem; if you don't see it you can't fix it.”
Getting to know the kids
Being out in the community also means partnering with the schools.
Once a month, officers can be seen at Green Meadow School, offering high fives to students entering the building.
“It's well received,” Noble said. “They see you in uniform and realize they can approach us. Giving kids a high five breaks down barriers.”
Last year, they collaborated with the schools to send care packages to soldiers through the American Legion. At Green Meadow, they hosted a safety program and participated in the Read Across American program. They attend Career Day, host substance abuse programs, a mock car crash, provide internships and help high school seniors with their senior projects.
They have recently started a Law Enforcement Leadership Club at Fowler School and will be starting a Female Empowerment Group there.
It's all about the interaction with students, Noble said.
There are 21 officers in the police department and all are involved in community policing in one way or another.
“We always want people to know that they can talk to us at any time. We try to do as much as we can,” he said. “I believe we do a lot for the size of the department we have.”
Thornton police arrest Walmart shooting suspect who allegedly killed 3
by Kirk Mitchell
Thornton police have arrested a 47-year-old suspect in the apparently random Walmart shooting in which a man almost casually shot two men and a woman, killing them, before turning around and walking out of the store Wednesday night.
Scott Ostrem, 47, was arrested at around 8 a.m. Thursday near 72nd Avenue and Federal Boulevard.
Ostrem was seen Wednesday night driving a red 2017 Mitsubishi Mirage with Colorado license plate number 882TQB, and police asked the public to keep an eye out for the car and Ostrem, warning that he was “armed and dangerous.” Ostrem was stopped on the street Thursday morning while driving that vehicle.
Police searched Ostrem's last known address, in the 7100 block of Samuel Drive in Denver, on Thursday morning, Thornton police spokesman Victor Avila said at a 9 a.m. news conference. Ostrem was not at home.
Officers from several local departments were in the area Thursday morning when a citizen called Thornton police to report that Ostrem might be nearby, at 72nd Avenue and Federal Boulevard. The red Mitsubishi was among dozens of cars stopped in morning commute traffic near the intersection.
Ostrem was stopped and arrested without incident, Avila said. A loud noise reported by bystanders was a SWAT unit's flash-bang grenade, used as a distraction during the arrest, Avila said.
A tow truck promptly removed the Mitsubishi from traffic. Avila would not say what was seen inside the car.
Ostrem allegedly used a handgun to shoot the three people in Walmart, Avila said.
According to several witnesses the 6:10 p.m. shooting at the Walmart Supercenter, 9901 Grant St., appeared to be random, Avila said.
“He walked in very nonchalantly with his hands in the pockets, raised a weapon and began shooting. Then he turns around and walks out of the store,” Avila said. “From what we have right now it appears to be random. It's a crazy world we live in.”
Aaron Stephens, 44, was in the self-checkout line at Walmart when he heard a single shot fired, followed by more bursts of gunfire. He said customers started screaming and running for the exits.
“I was scared,” Stephens said. “I feared for my life.”
Hundreds of emergency responders ringed the Thornton Town Center shopping center for hours after the shooting was reported: “multiple parties” were down.
The victims have not yet been named. The woman was taken to a local hospital for treatment but she later was pronounced dead, Avila said Thursday morning.
They were the only people who were shot, he said. Other people were treated for anxiety-related issues.
“We are relieved that an arrest has been made in this case,” Walmart said in a statement Thursday. “The local authorities have done an outstanding job. This has been a tragic situation. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the families who lost loved ones and on supporting our associates. We will continue assisting law enforcement however we can.”
No Walmart employees were injured in the shooting, company spokesman Ragan Dickens said. He said employees receive training for shooting situations but declined to provide details of that training. The company is making counselors available for impacted employees.
It is unknown when the store will reopen, as the investigation is ongoing, he said.
Maurice Sartor, 45, said he was walking toward the exit Wednesday evening when he heard the first rounds drop.
“As soon as I heard them, I started to run,” he said Thursday morning as stood outside the store.
Sartor, who is homeless, said he had just purchased a sleeping bag Wednesday evening, and he ran out the doors when he heard gunfire.
“Everyone started to run,” he said. He said he yelled to people approaching the store, “Get in your car and get out of here!”
Sartor said he came across kids outside the store and asked drivers to ferry them away from the scene.
“I was trying to protect myself at first, and then I came across some kids,” he said.
Sartor said he was shot in the abdomen years ago during a robbery at the used tire shop where he worked in Oklahoma City, so he immediately recognized the sound of gunfire.
Police questioned Sartor, he said, and then they took him to a local hospital for a checkup after he said he suffered PTSD and anxiety. He said he was released from the hospital Thursday morning and had returned to the Walmart to get his sleeping bag. No one was allowed inside the store.
The store was closed for the day, but dozens of cars remained in the parking lot.
One by one, people who had fled the scene Wednesday night returned to retrieve them.
A woman who identified herself only as Holly returned to her car about 7:45 a.m. She said she works for a vendor with a business inside Walmart and was working Wednesday evening.
“I saw a gentleman go down,” she said, and heard a shot. She said she knew it was gunfire after watching and hearing the video reports from the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas over and over.
Everyone started running, she said. She and others near her ran out a back door. “It was a nightmare,” she was. “It was terrifying.”
Avila implored anyone with information about Ostrem to call police as soon as possible.
According to court records, Ostrem declared bankruptcy in 2015, but he does not have a lengthy criminal record.
In 2013, he was arrested for driving while ability impaired, according to court records.
Anyone with information regarding this investigation is asked to call the Thornton police tip line
at: (720) 977-5069.
CIA Releases Nearly 470,000 Additional Files in May 2011 Raid on Usama Bin Ladin's Compound
LANGLEY, VA – The CIA today released to the public nearly 470,000 additional files recovered in the May 2011 raid on Usama Bin Ladin's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. CIA Director Mike Pompeo authorized the release in the interest of transparency and to enhance public understanding of al-Qa‘ida and its former leader.
The files released today are available at: https://www.cia.gov/library/abbottabad-compound/
Today's release builds on prior releases of materials from the Abbottabad collection by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). In keeping with the 2014 Intelligence Authorization Act, which required ODNI to conduct a review of the documents for release, ODNI previously released documents from the collection on May 20, 2015, March 1, 2016, and January 19, 2017 after an interagency review spearheaded by CIA.
These previously-released materials are available at: https://www.dni.gov/index.php/features/bin-laden-s-bookshelf.
"Today's release of recovered al-Qa‘ida letters, videos, audio files and other materials provides the opportunity for the American people to gain further insights into the plans and workings of this terrorist organization," said CIA Director Pompeo. "CIA will continue to seek opportunities to share information with the American people consistent with our obligation to protect national security."
The material contains audio, document, image, video and software operating system files. The material is posted in the original Arabic and in as close to the original form as possible, modified only so the files cannot be edited.
Among other things, this release includes:
Usama Bin Ladin's personal journal and more than 18,000 document files.
Approximately 79,000 audio and image files, which include practice reels for public speeches, audio correspondence, and imagery gathered or generated by al-Qa‘ida for a variety of purposes.
More than 10,000 video files, which include a video of Hamza Bin Ladin as a young adult, al-Qa‘ida "home videos," draft videos or statements by Usama Bin Ladin, and jihadist propaganda.
These materials, like those in previous releases, provide insights into the origins of fissures that exist today between al-Qa‘ida and ISIS; as well as strategic, doctrinal and religious disagreements within al-Qa‘ida and its allies; and hardships that al-Qa‘ida faced at the time of Bin Ladin's death.
Other themes in the materials include:
Al-Qa‘ida's preparations to commemorate the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and the group's attempts to promulgate its message through Western media.
Al-Qa‘ida's efforts to exploit the Arab Awakening for its benefit and that of the global jihad.
Bin Ladin's efforts to maintain unity within the group and among its affiliates, despite disagreements over tactics and doctrine.
Al-Qa‘ida's efforts to rehabilitate its tarnished image among Muslims due its mistakes and negative media portrayals.
With today's release, the information remaining in the Abbottabad collection that has not been released publicly includes materials that are sensitive such that their release would directly damage efforts to keep the nation secure; materials protected by copyright; pornography; malware; and blank, corrupted and duplicate files.
For example, some of the material being withheld from public release are the following copyrighted videos:
Batman Gotham Knight
BBC Great Wildlife Moments
Biography – Osama bin Laden
CNN Presents: World's Most Wanted
Final Fantasy VII
Heroes of Tomorrow
Home on the Range
Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
In the Footsteps of bin Laden – CNN
National Geographic: Kung Fu Killers
National Geographic: Inside the Green Berets
National Geographic: Predators at War
National Geographic: World's Worst Venom
Storm Rider – Clash of the Evils
The Kremlin from Inside
The Story of India
The Three Musketeers
Where in the World is Osama bin Laden
The entire Abbottabad collection has been available to the U.S. Intelligence Community and to the Department of Defense for years.
Fighting crime while fighting fictions with facts and figures
by C Kim. Bracey
As we approach Thanksgiving, I give a heartfelt, never-ending thanks to all those on the front line of city government who give their all to make our city safe, hum and tick. I also give a heartfelt thanks to all our citizens – our partners and friends – who work with us to keep our neighborhoods safe and drumming with productive activity.
It's always the duty of responsible leaders to post objective facts and figures; to posit sound, bold, and pro-active approaches; and to implement sustained and sustainable programs to stem violence – one of the paramount issues of our and any other era.
First, from day one, our strategy has been to intensify Community Policing and consistently deploy Neighborhood Enforcement Units because Communication, Relationships, and Trust are the best antidotes to crime.
I also challenged our community and our Police Department to work hand-in-hand to reduce Part I. crimes to below 2,000 per year. The FBI-defined Part I. crimes are the most serious crimes, including murder, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, larceny, arson and motor vehicle theft.
Almost eight years later, the results are in: intensive Community Policing works. The year 2016 marked the fourth straight year in which Part I. crimes were below 2,000. We have reduced Part I. crimes from 2,652 in 2008 to 1,840 in 2016 with mostly decreases from year-to-year in between.
As clearly shown in our Police Department's annual reports, that's a 31%-plus decrease – from 2,652 in 2008 to 1,840 in 2016 -- the lowest it has been in 22 years!
Second, we have given our people high quality public safety services while keeping property taxes at bay. Through painful cuts, renegotiating union contracts, and disciplined spending, we held the line on municipal property taxes in 2013, 2014, and again in 2015, and we effected a property tax reduction of 1% in 2016 and 2% in 2017. Our 2018 budget calls for an additional 4% reduction. These combined cuts mean that our Vision 2020 already is on its way to reduce property taxes by 15% by 2020.
I am thankful for the civic spirit and leadership of the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge #15, our retired police officers, and the International Association of Firefighters for enabling our city to blaze a new path of fiscal viability.
Second, we have worked for and delivered a steady complement of police officers while consistently deploying Neighborhood Enforcement Units in our Salem Square, South George Street, York College and Downtown neighborhoods.
Third, real Community Policing is a two-way street shared by neighbors and our public safety professionals, and it is improving daily in our York.
I am thankful for all our citizens who use iPads and other devices to text, tweet, stream and be the changes you want to see.
I am thankful for our awesome annual National Night Out and peaceful gatherings that show our solidarity, innovation and pride as Yorkers.
I am thankful for our Take 30s, in which officers walk the bricks 30 minutes per shift. On average, they complete 100 per week. We will strive to take this up a notch as we go forward because mutual communication, relationships, and trust trump the cynicism, dysfunction and alienation that foster violence.
I am thankful for our public safety pros engaging citizens at Neighborhood Association meetings, playing video games with our youngsters at Martin Library, sponsoring bowling outings at Colony Park Bowling Lanes, and playing hoops with our kids as part of Shoot 4 Peace at Voni Grimes Gym and William Penn Senior High School.
I am thankful for our 100 Men Reading Program, which, for six years, has paired at least 100 local men with York City school students so literacy is “manly” and desirable. These are just a sampling.
Fourth, I am thankful that WellSpan has funded body cameras, at a cost of about $100,000, for ALL City police officers, which made York City the first municipality in York County with a department universally equipped with body cameras.
Fifth, knowing that a minority perpetrate the vast majority of gun violence, we have engaged the National Network for Safe Communities to implement York's Gun Violence Intervention.
Recently, our Gun Violence Intervention held our first-call-ins with chronic criminal offenders in a city church. They were forced to participate lest they be found in violation of their parole.
We have to curb gun violence, one of the great civil rights and public health challenges of our time. My messages to the attendees were: “We want you out of prison. We want you alive. We want a new life for you. And we will not tolerate gun crimes.”
We also said that we will work with them to find counseling, employment or other services to help them get their lives on track. If they take one step toward us, we'll take more than one step toward them. We are providing them a second or third chance while giving our community a new lease on peace for all.
Sixth, I am thankful for all citizens who have worked with us to get guns, especially illegal guns, off of our streets and out of access from youth and children.
In addition to our anonymous YORKTIPS hotline at 717-847-411, we offer “Gun Drop Off Amnesty.” Under the amnesty, we promise “no asking of names, no judgment, and no charge” to people who turn in any gun.
Following the same principle, our recent gun buy-back event, at no cost to city taxpayers, was a success. We were able to get weapons off the street that could have been used to commit crimes.
Seventh, I am thankful that we have improved our levels of customer service and professionalism. Upgrades to our Police Headquarters on West King Street means greater integrity of our evidence storage and processing system, a stronger security system, renovated locker-rooms, new detective interview rooms, new prisoner cells, and a new fitness center. Upgrades also enabled our department to receive long sought accreditation by the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association and the award for excellence in policing from the International Chiefs of Police Association – both historic firsts.
Real Community Policing is in the tradition of the old African proverb, “It takes a village.” It takes a village for meaningful communication, trust and relationships between our public servants and citizens to keep our neighborhoods safe and on-the-move.
In our York, our officers and firefighters are much more than “warriors” or “city soldiers.” They are valued servants, guardians, stewards, communicators, ambassadors, partners, brothers, and sisters.
And, most importantly, our people are much more than “numbers,” “demographics,” “widgets,” or “customers.” They are valued citizens with dreams of dignity and families of pride.
More than ever, I am grateful to work with all our associates, and partners to build a safe, thriving urban community – One York: indivisible, invincible, and great.
C. Kim Bracey is mayor of York.
What are the biggtest challenges impacting policing in America?
The Heritage Foundation's report shows encouraging evidence that law enforcement leaders are acknowledging the challenges of policing today
by Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D.
The Heritage Foundation recently released a report that shows encouraging evidence that leaders are facing the reality of the pressures and dangers of today's law enforcement climate.
Retired police executives, lawyers and other police advocates met in March of this year for a policing strategy summit. The resulting report, Policing in America: Lessons from the Past, Opportunities for the Future, recognizes four major challenges:
1. The false narrative of systemic racism in law enforcement;
2. The lack of budget support for needed improvements;
3. A lack of credit for success in maintaining historically low crime rates;
4. The need for more application of scientific crime-fighting methods.
To quote from the report's introduction: “Agency budgets have tightened. At the same time, hostile narratives have emerged in mainstream and social media, which encourage antipathy toward police and paint American law enforcement as ‘systemically racist.' The high volume of consent decrees handed out by the Department of Justice under prior Administrations has only exacerbated this misrepresentation of today's police. The predictable result has been friction between police departments and the communities they serve, which has occasionally erupted in violent protests and targeted attacks on law enforcement officers. This prevailing narrative belies major successes and innovations in law enforcement across the country, as well as long-term declines in crime rates, which are now being threatened.”
As I discussed in my article on how the outdated police media strategy lost the Twitter-verse in Ferguson, law enforcement agencies are just now developing the ability to use the variety of media platforms to form a fact-based narrative.
The Heritage Foundation's report calls for better “branding” – a term purloined from marketing – to provide a consistent reputation as a backdrop for the inevitable rough spots.
The report criticizes reports of systemic racism that are based on legitimate data-driven crime control methods. Police contacts with citizens will disproportionality involve minorities when crime reports are highest in minority communities. Numbers without context have been used by the Department of Justice with increasing frequency under the Obama administration to intervene in local agency operations, such as reducing stop and frisk decisions by patrol officers.
The cruel irony is that crime has increased in places where officers and administrators become hesitant to use proven methods of criminal interdiction.
Police leaders recognize what economic development and political leaders often do not – that quality law enforcement is as much a factor in attracting jobs to a community as are parks and schools. Political leaders seem to succumb to pressure from anti-police activists to reduce the effectiveness of law enforcement, including budget tightening, rather than accepting the necessity to support and encourage quality policing for a community's health and vibrancy.
Lack of credit for crime control
Successful crime control methods are being labeled as civil liberty violations despite the wide protections of Constitutional guidelines. The report cites that the “stop and frisk” debate leaves out the reality that police don't randomly stop and search citizens, but must articulate acceptable reasons for the contact, questions and frisks. Critics further cite the low rate of discovery of weapons, rather than interpreting that statistic as a success of deterrence.
Despite the reality that crime is at historic lows, law enforcement is seldom credited with its part in the decline. An increasing erosion of support for the effectiveness of quality of life enforcement often credited for dramatic crime reduction in New York City and other jurisdictions is being associated with the perception that police officers are wasting time on petty offenses that target minorities.
Calling for increased federal cooperation and more sources of funding, the report cites high promise for the application of scientific methods for predicting and solving crime. Efforts to concentrate on repeat offenders who are responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime should be enhanced by predictive intelligence and more efficient processing of physical evidence.
Many summit participants expressed hope that the Department of Justice would become less political and more constructive. The federal government could foster great gains in training, technology and best practices if it moves toward less oversight and more support.
Although not all summit participants agreed on all points, police officers on the front lines can be encouraged that those at a high level of influence are addressing the realities that affect every officer.
How 'broken windows' policing devolved into a false narrative of racism
The premise that there is a systemic racial problem in American law enforcement is simply unfounded and without merit
Feb 4, 2015
by Sgt. Glenn French
Will the Ferguson and New York protests shift police response from proactive to reactive? Everybody from the White House to the protestors seems to scowl at the idea that a person would be stopped and questioned by an officer unless they were actually guilty of a crime.
Proactive policing is a significant factor in fighting crime. Proactive policing of minor offenses such as panhandling, prostitution, and graffiti can reduce the fear of crime in our neighborhoods, strengthen communities, and prevent serious crime. This is the basic theory behind ‘broken windows' policing.
The theory obtained notoriety in the early 1980's and into recent times with its use in some major cities. The practice however, is a basic premise for every good cop working the streets.
A Brief History
Residents living in any neighborhood can become fearful of crime and criminals when they witness or are subjected to minor crimes on a regular basis such as loitering, public drinking and prostitution with the addition of blight, vacant lots and abandoned buildings. These minor crimes often motivate stable families to move out of their neighborhoods seeking safer environments — thus leaving the neighborhoods for the criminal element, which tends to lead to urban decay and a spike in crime.
Policing ‘broken windows' refers to cops on the street having a zero tolerance of criminal behavior on the streets they work. This is accomplished through basic police work such as strict traffic enforcement, keeping neighborhoods free of minors and adults loitering, drinking, selling , and other minor criminal offenses. When the streets are free of minor offenders, there is less opportunity for vandalism, drug offenses, gang activity and basic lawlessness.
The cause and effect of this theory then suggests that less opportunity for minor crimes reduces major crimes such as homicide, gang activity, robbery and burglary. The principle is simple: officer presence in any neighborhood reduces crime.
During the 1990s, crime rates in New York City dropped dramatically, even more than in the United States as a whole. Violent crime declined by more than 56 percent in NYC, compared to about 28 percent in the rest of the nation. Property crimes dramatically fell by nearly 65 percent, but dropped only 26 percent nationally. What did the NYPD do that was in sharp contrast to other agencies?
The police force in New York City grew by 35 percent during that era and misdemeanor arrests increased by 70 percent. When arrests for misdemeanors had risen by 10 percent, indicating the increased use of the broken windows policing method, robberies and motor vehicle thefts declined significantly.
A Dangerous Narrative
The recent protests in Ferguson and in New York City have spawned a dangerous narrative. The premise that there is a systemic racial problem in American law enforcement is simply unfounded and without merit. They will have you believe that we need to implement new policies for law enforcement to curb the perceived racial divide. These new policies will surely be a soft approach of reactive policing and the outcome of their efforts will encourage crime rates to climb.
Promoting criminals as poster children for a false narrative of racism only creates a problem that doesn't exist. Targeting honest cops and labeling them as racist after being cleared by a grand jury will only send a strong message to law enforcement.
The message will be to avoid making proactive contact with citizens to avoid being targeted as a racist cop. The neighborhoods will become lawless blocks of criminal enterprises, houses and buildings will be abandoned, and blight will fill the neighborhoods.
Good citizens will fear for their families' safety and leave the neighborhood for a safer community.
Politicians at this nexus in law enforcement can make a real impact by recognizing that law enforcement is the bedrock of a free and safe society. They now have the opportunity to stop the rhetoric of racism and saturate our cities with cops and a zero tolerance policy. They can take this opportunity to:
1. Explain to the youth of this country that disobedience to law enforcement will only place oneself in harm's way.
2. Reinforce that the laws of a free society provide, that racism in law enforcement won't be tolerated. Educate Americans that unfair treatment by a law enforcement officer can be dealt with through the very laws that govern how we police.
3. Make a strong commitment to the hiring practices, pay and benefits needed to insure quality candidates are sought in law enforcement.
4. Spend the money needed to equip every cop in this country with less lethal equipment and training so that we all have the same options in dangerous encounters.
Each and every day cops across this country buckle their duty belts, attend roll call, and hit the streets willing to sacrifice their lives for the very people they serve, no matter what the color of their skin. Too many cops have died fighting for this rule of law. We all accept that this can be our reality on any given shift but we won't accept the unfounded acquisitions of being a racist police force with no true factual evidence that this is the case.
About the author
Glenn French, a retired Sergeant with the Sterling Heights (Mich.) Police Department, has 24 years police experience and served as the Team Commander for the Special Response Team, and supervisor of the Sterling Heights Police Department Training Bureau. He has 16 years SWAT experience and also served as a Sniper Team Leader, REACT Team Leader, and Explosive Breacher.
Tacoma crime story not as dire as you might think
by Marilyn Strickland and Mark Lindquist
Crime is down in Tacoma.
In the last decade, per-capita violent crime has gone down 9 percent, burglaries are down 14 percent and auto theft is down 26 percent.
While our population has trended up, crime has trended down. We recently read some scary headlines about crime in Tacoma ("When it comes to crime, we're No. 1 statewide,” TNT, 10/22), but headlines can be deceiving and may give the wrong impression.
We acknowledge that we should always strive to prevent and reduce crime, but here are some facts to consider:
When it comes to violent crime, a person is more likely to be victimized by someone they know.
Domestic violence is the number one cause of injury to women.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, people ages 25 and younger are more likely to be victims of violent crime. The older you are, the less likely you are to be victimized.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation releases annual numbers that compare crime rates in various cities. While it is useful to compare Tacoma numbers past and present, it is not useful to compare Tacoma with Seattle or Yakima. Why not?
Because not everyone plays by the same rules. Different cities report crime differently and define crimes differently. They also have have different populations.
Some cities, including Tacoma, encourage the reporting of domestic violence, while other cities do not. Some cities treat elder abuse crime as a civil matter, others as a criminal matter.
In Tacoma, our Police Department encourages citizens to report domestic violence and elder abuse, both of which are underreported in some other jurisdictions. We are leaders in prosecuting and preventing DV and elder abuse.
This is due, in part, to public awareness campaigns that temporarily drove up numbers in those categories. This uptick was not due to more crime, but to more reporting. That means more accountability, which means less crime in the long run.
And that's what we should focus on: long-term trends. Gang violence in Pierce County is down almost 60 percent the last few years and much of the decline is in Tacoma.
Reputation, however, often lags reality. Both of us often have lunch on Hilltop and sometimes must explain to friends that it's now a perfectly safe neighborhood.
Though crime is decreasing, there's still work to do. The Tacoma Police Department is in the process of recruiting and hiring more officers. TPD has been cutting edge in their use of DNA, data and other modern tools. It is a major partner in the Pierce County Prosecutor's Office High Priority Offender program, a new data-driven approach to fighting crime by focusing on career criminals.
Tacoma has also led in addressing some of the root causes of crime with our Gang Prevention Project, investment in mental health services and youth programs, and making education a civic priority. Project Peace is building on and improving our community policing efforts and relationships.
What matters are not short-term problems, but long-term progress. Tacoma had a tough reputation for many years — “the most stressed city,” “keep Tacoma feared” and so on.
That's a reputation from the past, not today's reality. More people are visiting, moving here and choosing to stay for our quality of life. Seattle-based restaurants are opening in Tacoma. Nearly one billion dollars of private investment in housing, office and retail are planned for Tacoma.
Look beyond headlines and bumper stickers. Singer Neko Case called Tacoma “a dusty old jewel in the South Puget Sound.”
Our past may be dusty, but our future shines.
Marilyn Strickland is the mayor of Tacoma, completing her second and final term. Mark Lindquist is the Pierce County prosecutor, also in his second term.
After Stockley, city leaders once again point to Ferguson Commission report as a way forward
by Celeste Bott
ST. LOUIS -- One week after protests erupted in St. Louis over the acquittal of former police Officer Jason Stockley, Mayor Lyda Krewson challenged the city to recommit itself to reforms laid out in the Ferguson Commission report.
The 198-page report, consisting of 189 “calls to action,” was the culmination of nearly 10 months of work for a commission established by former Gov. Jay Nixon in 2015, as a response to the outcry over the shooting death of Michael Brown , a black teenager, by a white Ferguson police officer.
Commissioners grouped their post-Ferguson calls for action into three categories: Justice for All, involving urgent police and court reforms; Youth at the Center, exploring policies to promote better lives for children; and Opportunity to Thrive, laying out changes to address economic inequalities.
Three years later, as St. Louis enters its eighth week of protests following Stockley's acquittal in the 2011 shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith , regional leaders have largely focused on the “Justice for All” component of the report, overhauling municipal court practices such as jailing defendants who could not pay their fines.
In St. Louis, debates have begun on strengthening the Civilian Oversight Board, equipping police with body cameras and developing police policies for using force and for handling public demonstrations.
The report also called for improving the public's relationship with law enforcement through community policing, by encouraging police departments to facilitate better interactions between officers and those they serve, and allowing the public to weigh in on programs and policies through forums.
Krewson points to a new requirement for police officers to spend time out of every shift outside their patrol cars, talking to residents. A citizens' commission is vetting candidates for a new police chief.
But protesters have alleged police have used heavy-handed tactics to break up recent demonstrations, including mass arrests. Among the hundreds jailed during those protests was one of the men who led the Ferguson Commission : the Rev. Starsky Wilson.
In a recent interview with the Post-Dispatch, Wilson said that while police accountability and reform has clearly been the starting point for those revisiting the commission's findings after the Stockley decision, he hoped elected leaders wouldn't forget the aspects of the report devoted to building a better St. Louis for the city's children.
“It can't just be about police. That's just one piece of the puzzle,” Wilson said.
Justice for all
The Ferguson protests did produce changes, particularly in Ferguson itself, where new city and police leaders came into power. The state Legislature also passed a municipal reform law limiting how much operating revenue cities could make from traffic tickets, after a Post-Dispatch investigation revealed that cities in the St. Louis region relied heavily on money generated through court fines and fees triggered by minor traffic violations and often targeting minorities.
Ferguson's Municipal Court revenue plummeted from $2.7 million in 2014 to roughly $500,000 in 2016.
In St. Louis, Wilson cites several achievements, including the creation of a Civilian Oversight Board and the decision to raise the city's minimum wage, both in 2015, though state lawmakers negated the wage effort this year.
Meanwhile, other bills have been introduced to address some of the Ferguson Commission's findings, including a measure being considered by the St. Louis Board of Aldermen limiting when St. Louis police could use pepper spray and tear gas.
Sponsoring Alderman Megan Green, 15th Ward, says she hopes it will serve as a starting point for officials to discuss revising the city's vague ordinance against unlawful assembly.
Asked what changes were made in the city police department in response to the Ferguson report, spokeswoman Schron Jackson said the St. Louis Police Department has begun training officers in de-escalation tactics and how implicit bias may affect their work, as well as how to work with victims of violence who are gay, transgender and bisexual. These kinds of higher training standards were among recommendations laid out by the Ferguson Commission.
Additionally, Jackson said, the department has launched its Community Engagement and Organizational Development Division, which carries out community outreach programs.
But Wilson questions these early efforts.
“When we see police arrest more than 300 people over 18 days, then we have to ask how seriously the increased training requirements were implemented … and how much culture change is actually happening, around use of force,” Wilson said. “What were the lessons that were learned surrounding de-escalation?”
Allegations that police have improperly used force in recent weeks have already prompted the ACLU to challenge St. Louis police tactics in federal court . They've also sparked conversations at the St. Louis Board of Aldermen about when force should be used — and who should investigate afterward.
The aldermanic public safety committee has already interviewed Maj. Mary Warnecke, deputy commander of the department's Bureau of Professional Standards, and Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner.
Gardner has pitched the formation of a new unit in her office to investigate use-of-force incidents and officer-involved shootings, arguing that it's no longer acceptable for police to be investigating themselves.
In the long term, the Ferguson Commission recommended shifting deadly force investigations to the Missouri Highway Patrol and the state attorney general. Last month, Gov. Eric Greitens said he was open to considering that proposal.
City lawmakers, however, are exploring Gardner's idea, crafting legislation expanding the circuit attorney's prosecutorial powers and giving the office the ability to open investigations into police officers' use of force, according to Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed.
Reed says events such as the Stockley verdict can be catalysts for change, if legislators work quickly enough. The creation of the Civilian Oversight Board is proof of that, he said.
Aldermen had attempted to institute an oversight board back in 2006, but the bill, which included subpoena power, was vetoed by former Mayor Francis Slay.
Ferguson finally opened the door for its creation, Reed said, but subpoena power didn't have the support needed to make it into the final product.
With the continued unrest, a new mayor and a more open-minded board, Reed sees a window of opportunity to revisit subpoena power.
“I see a readiness for people now to step outside of what I would call their normal comfort zone and support efforts that probably in a normal state they would be a little more hesitant to support,” Reed said.
Krewson supports giving subpoena power to the city's Civilian Oversight Board , which investigates complaints against police, and has said she agrees with community leaders who have demanded local police change how they handle use-of-force investigations and prosecutions. She also has committed to establishing a Racial Equity Fund, a proposed 25-year city fund dedicated to promoting racial equity in the region.
“I know I don't have the decision-making power across all of these things, but I am committed to adding my political will to the push to find the right way to get those things done,” Krewson said after the first week of protests over Stockley.
Krewson's aides said her schedule didn't permit time to be interviewed for this story.
Advocates acknowledge reform will take time, but some fear Krewson's words won't translate to substantive changes. One thing they say she has the power to do immediately is oust interim Police Chief Lawrence O'Toole, who declared police “owned the night” after law enforcement used a technique called “kettling” to surround and arrest more than 100 people on a single evening. She has shown no indication that she will act before the chief hiring process plays out.
“We have all the answers we need in the report. The road map exists. The longer (Krewson) chooses not to act, the longer our city hurts,” said Charli Cooksey, a catalyst with the Forward Through Ferguson advocacy group.
‘Not a short-term endeavor'
There may be a long road ahead in making changes laid out in the report a reality, but leaders have pointed to some encouraging signs.
Wilson says he has noticed a more diverse group of people engaging in disruption this time, suggesting that people understand the problems don't amount to “black people's issues” alone.
“These are justice issues. Racial inequity harms the entire region and all people,” he said.
Forward Through Ferguson, the advocacy group that grew out of the Ferguson Commission, plans to knock on as many as 4,000 doors to get feedback before kicking off a series of policy campaigns next spring.
“It's not a short-term endeavor,” Cooksey said. “Diverse stakeholders in the region have to be committed to this for years to come.”
But those inspired to run for office after the events of Ferguson, such as Rasheen Aldridge, a former Ferguson commissioner and now 5th Ward Democratic Committeeman, contend that new leaders have emerged at the state and local levels who have a better understanding of why young people have been protesting in recent weeks.
“We have new people at the table, folks who are for the people, who haven't been bought out and who haven't been around for a while,” Aldridge said. “They're willing to do the work.”
San Francisco officers to carry TASERs
The issue had been debated and rejected in the city for 13 years
by Vivian Ho
SAN FRANCISCO — The San Francisco Police Commission approved the use of Taser electroshock weapons late Friday for the Police Department, an issue that has been debated and rejected in the city for 13 years.
Following an almost seven-hour meeting interrupted by a protest that led to a lockdown of City Hall, commissioners narrowly passed a measure that the police officers union and several past city chiefs have long called for but activists and police critics have strongly opposed.
While members of the department's top brass remained straight-faced during the hard-fought, 4-3 vote in favor of the plan, activists outside the chamber began chanting, “Shame! Shame!”
The San Francisco Police Department is one of the last major city forces in the country without the devices, in part because of the opposition from community members concerned about the weapons' lethality and the potential for abuse.
But those in favor of Tasers, including police Chief Bill Scott, who took command in January amid controversy over a series of officer-involved shootings, say officers need less-lethal alternatives to firearms and Tasers provide such an option.
On Friday, Commissioner Thomas Mazzucco echoed Scott's sentiments on the weapons, citing the findings of the U.S. Department of Justice's community-policing division for why he voted to allow Tasers. In a report last year, the Justice Department said San Francisco “should strongly consider” giving officers stun guns.
“They could not believe we did not have these,” Mazzucco said. “They believe it will save lives.”
The report was the result of a six-month review of the San Francisco force after officers fatally shot Mario Woods in December 2015. Woods, a stabbing suspect who was still carrying a knife, was shot while shuffling slowly along a Bayview neighborhood street, after efforts to subdue him with beanbags rounds and pepper spray failed.
The killing is still under investigation, but following the shooting, the Police Commission revised the department's use-of-force policy to put more of an emphasis on the sanctity of life, deploying de-escalation tactics and using force as a last resort.
“De-escalation has been a topic that the San Francisco Police Department has taken very seriously,” Scott said Friday, as he made his case for Tasers. “The reality is there are times when de-escalation does not work and officers have to use force as safely as possible. We have a duty to reduce injuries to residents and officers when these type of incidents occur.”
But Commission President L. Julius Turman, who voted against the measure, said he felt that equipping officers with Tasers “will derail the progress we have made.”
Commissioner Petra DeJesus, who has long opposed Tasers, had harsher words.
“Shame on this commission for even thinking to vote on this,” she said. “We should give our (policies) a chance to work.”
While Friday's vote did not delve into policy for Taser use nor into the implementation, Chief Scott has said he wants all sworn officers to be equipped with the weapon. As part of the vote, commissioners said officers could not begin using the weapons until December 2018, after the new use-of-force policy has been in place for two years.
Commissioner Sonia Melara said she received about 100 letters in support of Tasers from community members, and a handful spoke at the meeting. But dozens more spoke in opposition. Activists speaking out against Tasers shut down the meeting for about an hour and prompted deputies to lock down City Hall.
“Please try (a Taser) on yourself before you make the decision,” activist Maria Cristina Gutierrez said just before she went beyond the two-minute allotment allowed for each speaker during public comment and Turman called the meeting into recess.
The activists remained in the room, chanting and making speeches against the weapons, as the commissioners filed out and reconvened in another room.
Turman called the meeting back into session without informing the community members still in the original room — a move that was widely criticized — and reopened public comment by bringing in five people at a time who were “not involved in the disruptive behavior.”
In this year's discussion, opponents have shifted their focus from past deaths linked to the devices to their effectiveness. Critics have brought in experts to speak to commissioners about the failure rate of Tasers — and what that means for an officer and a subject in an escalating, perilous encounter.
Many balked at the city budget and legislative analyst's estimate for the overall cost. The low estimate for obtaining Tasers — in a scenario in which some but not all officers get them — was $2.8 million, which includes the cost of the devices as well as officer training, instructor training, testing and defibrillators. Ongoing, annual costs for the low estimate came out to just over $400,000.
The high estimate, which is based on equipping and training all sworn officers, was $8 million in one-time costs and annual costs of about $750,000.
The analysis did not include the cost of litigation that could come as a result of injuries or deaths because of Taser use by a city officer.
Commissioner Joe Marshall, the longest serving member on the panel, commented that he has served on the commission through all 13 years of proposals regarding Tasers.
He said he supported the chief in what he wanted, in part because from his experience, he learned there was no “right time” to equip officers with Tasers and that after 13 years, it was time for a decision.
“People just don't like Tasers,” Marshall said. “I heard the statement that it will never be the time to have them. Time does not matter to me. There is no ‘the time.' You have to decide whether to have them or not.”