Many thanks to our very own "MJ" Goyings, a resident of Ohio,
for her daily research that provides us with the news related material that appears on the LACP & NAASCA web sites.
North Korea Leader Warns US of Reality of its Nuclear Program
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un says the United States must realize that the North's nuclear program is a reality.
In his annual New Year's address Monday, Kim warned that he has a nuclear button on his desk. "The entire area of the U.S. mainland is within our nuclear strike range," Kim said. "The United States can never start a war against me and our country."
The North Korean leader said his country "can cope with any kind of nuclear threats from the U.S. and has a strong nuclear deterrence that is able to prevent the U.S. from playing with fire."
"The U.S.," he said, "must realize this is not blackmail, but reality."
Kim's annual New Year's address is widely considered to be an indication of his direction and priorities for the upcoming year.
Last year, Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump engaged in a series of escalating verbal exchanges, with Trump warning that North Korea would face "fire and fury" if it threatened the United States.
Pyongyang responded by saying it was considering test firing an intercontinental ballistic missile into waters near the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam. Soon after, the North launched two long-range missiles over Japan and in September conducted its sixth nuclear test.
The war of words continued in Trump's address to the United Nations in September, when the president referred to Kim as a "Rocket Man" on a suicide mission.
Kim responded in a statement that described Trump as a "dotard," which means senile, and that described his behavior as "mentally deranged."
In November, the North announced it had reached its goal of developing operational ICBM capability after it launched a long-range Hwasong-15 missile that could potentially reach the U.S. mainland.
Kim also suggested in his New Year's speech that the North and the South should meet to discuss the possibility of the North sending athletes to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
South Korean presidential office spokesperson Park Soo-hyun said Monday the Blue House welcomes Kim's "willingness" to send North Korean athletes to the Olympics and "the suggestion that the two governments hold a meeting to discuss the issue."
Sung Yoon Lee, an associate professor in Korean studies at Tufts, told VOA the current South Korean administration is "all for dialog and inter-Korean cooperation."
Sung said South Korea welcomes what he called the North's "peace overture" that would place the South in "a better position to even try to persuade the United States to endorse South Korea's keen interest in re-opening the Kaesong Industrial Complex that was shut down almost two years ago."
South Korea suspended all activities at the industrial zone it operated jointly with North Korea to punish the Kim Jung Un government for conducting nuclear and missile tests.
The possibility of re-opening the complex, however, is fraught with complications, Sung said. "Kaesong has been a funnel, a cash cow for the North Korean regime, with South Korea sending upwards of $100 million, sometimes $120 million a year to the North Korean regime for workers' wages, which, of course, must have been diverted to North Korea's weapons development program," putting it in direct violation of the United Nations security resolution.
When Kaesong closed, South Korean companies left behind over $600 million in equipment and raw materials.
Gunman ambushed deputies in deadly Douglas County shooting: 1 deputy dead, 6 people wounded
by Tom McGhee, Kevin Simpson and Larry Ryckman
The gunman who killed a Douglas County deputy and wounded four law enforcement officers Sunday ambushed them after they responded to a domestic disturbance call at a Highlands Ranch apartment complex, Sheriff Tony Spurlock said.
“He knew we were coming,” Spurlock said. He said the gunman used a rifle and fired at least 100 rounds. The gunman, identified as a 37-year-old former soldier and lawyer, was killed in a shootout with officers.
Four deputies arrived together at the gunman's home in the Copper Canyon Apartments, a collection of two-story brick buildings near County Line Road. After the officers entered the suspect's apartment, he barricaded himself inside a bedroom and then unleashed a volley of gunfire. All the officers were wearing bulletproof vests but were struck in unprotected parts of their bodies.
“They all went down, almost within seconds of each other,” Spurlock said at a news conference. The wounded deputies crawled away while others responded. Deputy Zackari Parrish, 29, was identified as the slain officer. Spurlock said Parrish was shot several times.
“When (Parrish) was shot, and went down, the other officers went down right around him,” Spurlock said. “They tried to pull him out but were unable to due to their injuries.
“I do know all of them were shot very, very quickly, and they all went down almost within seconds of each other. So it was more of an ambush type of attack on our officers. He knew we were coming, and we obviously let him know we were there to investigate the disturbance.”
Spurlock said Parrish is survived by a wife and two young daughters. Parrish had been a deputy for about seven months.
“They had many hopes and dreams and he was doing his job, and he was doing his job well, and his life was taken from us this morning,” Spurlock said. He added: “We are deeply saddened by the loss of Zackari. When I sat with his wife and held her hand, I could see in her eyes, her life is over. … It was very difficult today to go see Zack the last time.”
The injured deputies are Michael Doyle, 28; Taylor Davis, 30; and Jeff Pelle, 32. Castle Rock police officer Thomas O'Donnell, 41, was also wounded. All were listed as stable at hospitals.
Two people in adjacent apartments were wounded, but their injuries were not life-threatening, Spurlock said.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to them as well, as just regular people trying to live their life, disrupted by this individual,” Spurlock said.
Spurlock said the gunman had no apparent criminal history, but he was well known to law enforcement. Spurlock declined to provide further details. The sheriff's office identified the gunman as Matthew Riehl, an Iraq war veteran who has posted a number of anti-law-enforcement videos on YouTube. Riehl at one time worked as a lawyer in Rawlins, Wyo.
Parrish's body was moved from Littleton Adventist Hospital in a black hearse, accompanied by dozens of law enforcement vehicles and motorcycles as it drove south on Broadway toward C-470. Firefighters stood, saluting, on their trucks along the procession route, and some residents stood on street corners with American flags.
A gofundme page for Parrish's family was set up, but the sheriff's office urged people to send donations to the Douglas County Fallen Officer Fund instead.
Parrish's neighbors in Highlands Ranch tied blue ribbons to trees in support of the fallen officer. A nearby Michaels crafts store quickly sold out of wide blue ribbon.
Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle's son, Jeff, was among the wounded deputies, according to the sheriff's Facebook page.
Three of the wounded were taken to Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree, and four were taken to Littleton Adventist Hospital. Deputies closed down a stretch of County Line Road between University Boulevard and Colorado Boulevard for hours while the incident unfolded.
Later on Sunday afternoon, investigators searched two vehicles: a Ford Mustang LX and a four-door, maroon Chevrolet sedan. The plate on the Mustang said “Veteran of Iraq War.”
Deputies were called to the apartment in the 3400 block of County Line Road near Colorado Boulevard at 3 a.m. on a report of a verbal disturbance between two males.
“One male said the suspect was acting bizarre and might be having a mental breakdown,” the sheriff's office said in a news release. Deputies cleared the scene at 3:40 a.m. and left because no crime had been committed.
“The suspect was just making a ton of noise and annoying everyone around him,” Spurlock said.
They were called back to the scene at 5:14 a.m., and all four officers were there by 5:35 a.m., the release said. Riehl's roommate then gave deputies a key and permission to enter the apartment, but the man left before the gunman opened fire from a bedroom at 5:56 a.m.
SWAT team members entered the apartment at 7:30 a.m. and exchanged gunfire with the suspect, the release said. The gunman was killed, and officer O'Donnell was wounded by the suspect. Riehl's roommate was not injured and has been cooperating with investigators, Spurlock said.
Spurlock said investigators will examine officers' body cameras to piece together details of the incident, with Douglas County detectives working around the clock along with Arapahoe County and the 18th Judicial District.
“This is going to be a several-day investigation, as you can imagine,” Spurlock said. “So I ask the community to have patience with us.”
The sheriff noted that although he didn't know whether the deputies arriving at the call had any specific knowledge about the possibility of guns at this residence, they always know it's a strong possibility.
“We respond to every call, anticipating that everyone has a gun,” Spurlock said. “This is Colorado. Everybody has a gun. We anticipate that when we respond to them that people have guns, and we address that in that fashion.”
He added that once a suspect barricades himself, “you can almost always assume that there's a gun there. The situation went very quickly once the officers could no longer negotiate with him.”
Chicago police count fewer murders in 2017, but still 650 people were killed
by Madison Park
Chicago saw nearly a 16% decline in murders in 2017 from the previous year, according to statistics released by police in the early hours of New Year's Day.
The city recorded 650 murders in 2017, a drop from 771 murders in 2016 -- which had been the deadliest year in nearly two decades.
Chicago Police Department attributed the decrease in murders and shootings to "hard work by officers, adding more sworn personnel, investing in new technology to drive our smart policing strategy, and increasing partnerships."
In 2017, the city had 2,785 shooting incidents and 3,457 shooting victims, which was a decrease from the 3,550 shooting incidents and 4,349 shooting victims in 2016, according to the newly released statistics.
"I am proud of the progress our officers made in reducing gun violence all across the city in 2017, but none of us are satisfied," said Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson in a statement. "In 2018, we are going to work to build on the progress we made last year -- to reduce gun violence, to save lives and to find justice for victims."
Police also said that total citywide crime complaints had fallen by 2% and that they had made 27% more gun arrests in 2017.
Although the number of killings are down from 2016, the murders were still above most annual tallies in Chicago for the past decade. The number of yearly homicides in Chicago had hovered between 400 and just about 500 , between 2007 and 2015.
Chicago also has been a frequent target of criticism for President Donald Trump, who has talked and tweeted about the failure to fight gun violence there.
In 2017, more than 1,100 new police officers were hired and the entire department was trained on a revised use of force policy, according to Chicago police. All officers on regular beat patrol wear body cameras. Johnson said in early December that certain investments, including technology, have helped police tackle crime.
That included the use of "strategic decision support centers" in neighborhoods that have struggled with violence, he said last month. The centers use predictive crime software that helps police commanders decide where to deploy officers. They also provide "additional cameras, gunshot detection systems, and mobile phones to officers in the field who receive real-time notifications and intelligence data at their fingertips," Chicago police say on its website.
The first two districts equipped with strategic decision support centers saw respectively a 43% and 26% reduction in shootings, according to police.
Despite its reputation, Chicago didn't have the nation's highest per-capita (murders per 100,000 people) homicide rate in 2015. Thirteen large cities -- population 250,000 or more -- had higher murder rates . Atlanta, Washington, Oakland, Memphis and Kansas City, for instance, all have higher violent crime rates. But Chicago's numerical murder rate has been higher than that of the country's two larger cities , Los Angeles and New York.
Johnson had said that his officers know there is more to do.
12-Year-Old Girl Steals Gun, Shoots 16-Year-Old Friend Dead, Charged With Homicide
by Riddhima Kanetkar
A 12-year-old girl from Tennessee has been charged with shooting her 16-year-old friend with a stolen gun, Nashville Metro Police Department said Sunday.
The victim was identified as Brentrice Wilson, who was pronounced dead at the scene after officers responded to a report of shooting at Falcon View Apartments on East Palestine Avenue in Madison at around 3:25 a.m. local time (4:25 a.m. EST).
According to police officials, the 12-year-old, whose identity is being kept under wraps, snuck out of her apartment without her grandmother's knowledge along with Wilson and several other friends.
According to a report in the Tennessean , the girls went to a nearby parking lot and began pulling on car door handles. The report states that the girls found an unlocked vehicle and burglarized it.
Police said the 12-year-old supposedly took the loaded semi-automatic pistol from the same vehicle which she later used to shoot her friend.
Officials said that the girls first brought the gun back to the apartment, and the minor suspect reportedly pointed it at other girls before discharging it, thus killing Wilson.
The investigation in the case is still ongoing and as of now the girl is charged with criminal homicide after consultations with the District Attorney's Office. Nashville Police Department tweeted about the girl being charged with criminal homicide at Juvenile Court.
In a fairly similar incident from Dec. 20, 2017, a 15-year-old boy was accidentally shot by a teen in Glendale, Arizona. Detective Tom Sye of the Glendale Police Department said then, "Upon arrival, officers discovered a juvenile male had accidentally shot another juvenile male who was transported to a local valley hospital with life-threatening injuries.”
According to a report in Fox10 News , the boy who was shot was declared dead the same day. No names were released by the police as the boys involved were both juveniles.
In another incident on Dec. 26, 2017, the teenage son of a pastor accidentally shot and killed his 15-year-old cousin while they were looking for a possible intruder at a church in Will County, Delaware, Chicago Tribune reported.
According to police officials, the boys were at their home, which is attached to Christian Faith Center church outside Wilmington, when they thought they heard a noise.
The pastor's 17-year-old son grabbed a rifle from his parents' bedroom but he tripped on an extension cord thus causing the gun to fire and kill the cousin.
Police said the teen was not going to be charged as the whole incident was considered an accident, and the teen had a valid Firearm Owner's ID card and had been trained in the handling of a firearm.
The teen that was shot was identified as Mikey Wilkey of Godley, a community of a few hundred people about eight miles southwest of Wilmington. According to Wilkey's half-sister Danielle Picciola, it was unbelievable that such a tragedy could take place in their family.
Road to SFPD reform cautiously, sometimes haltingly, engages community
by Charlotte Silver
S an Francisco's attempt to incorporate community input into the police reform effort could be viewed as delusional (police would never take advice from civilians) to foolhardy (the two would never get along). Nevertheless, that is what the SFPD and civilian stakeholders have attempted to do as they work through the Justice Department's 272 recommendations to make the SFPD better.
Nearly half of those recommendations have found solutions – at least on paper. To gauge the success of community input, Mission Local surveyed dozens of residents who have participated – and are likely to continue to participate – in the process.
Many said they remain skeptical and would like to see stronger mechanisms for incorporating their input. For now, the residents – who generally represent stakeholders such as the Bar Association, neighborhood activists and criminal justice professionals – will remain on the committees that are far from finished with the work.
“It's a kind of a revolutionary concept,” said Adriana Camarena about involving community in reform, “to turn a hierarchical, isolated agency into one that is very responsive to community concerns.”
That prospect is what drew Camarena, an attorney from Mexico and a community activist in the Mission District, to sit on the Working Group for Community Policing, one of the five areas the Justice Department's recommendations fall under. The others include bias, accountability, use of force, and recruitment, hiring, and personnel practices. Each is led by a command-level officer – the Executive Sponsor – and some include Police Commissioners.
“Community engagement is about changing the way policies are made,” Camarena added, pointing out that some officers conflate it with community relations. Community engagement is not, Camarena says, coffee with a cop. Instead, she and others see it as a process where police take into account civilian recommendations.
While the Community Policing working group, led by Commander David Lazar, has been praised for facilitating the most dynamic and involved participation, the two-way exchange between officers and the community was supposed to be present in each working group.
But numerous people who have spoken to Mission Local expressed dissatisfaction and frustration with how the group leaders have integrated their input. They described an opaque, and at best confusing process that mostly keeps community participants at the periphery of developing new policies.
The use of force working group, headed by Commander Peter Walsh, faced the most challenges, according to those who spoke to Mission Local. Stakeholders who would not speak on the record said that they have repeatedly asked Walsh to invite representatives of the ACLU or the Blue Ribbon Panel, a panel sponsored by the District Attorney that was largely ignored by the SFPD. These suggestions have faced resistance, they said.
Nevertheless, many believe there is a sincere desire among the police officers who have taken leadership roles in the working groups to involve the community—they just lack a real infrastructure to do so.
“I never felt ignored, but what I did suspect, was there was no mechanism for taking the feedback and incorporating it into the process,” said John Talbot, a member of the bias and accountability working groups.
Measuring community involvement is tricky. While members of the police department may feel like they are putting in a valiant effort – putting in extra hours to attend meetings late into the night, patiently listening to citizens' concerns and explaining the intricacies of their work – it still falls short for those who expect to have a voice in how they, and their neighbors, are policed.
Traditionally, police reform has not included the community, and experts on police reform say that getting through the resistance to community involvement is the next frontier. Whether San Francisco gets there, is yet to be seen.
Barry Friedman, the director of New York University's Policing Project, works with cities around the country to make police departments' practices more transparent and accountable to the community.
“Democracy works this way around everything except policing,” Friedman said.
In Los Angeles, homicides are down, but violent crime is up for the fourth year in a row
by Cindy Chang
H omicides and gun violence were down in Los Angeles in 2017, a payoff of building closer ties between police and communities and increased efforts to remove firearms from the streets, officials said.
The 6% decline in homicides was a reversal from the increases of the previous two years. There were 271 homicides through Dec. 16, compared with 289 last year. The number of shooting victims was also down by 11% from 2016.
Angelenos are far less likely to be murdered than in the 1990s, when homicides peaked at 1,094 in a single year.
But there were other, more ominous trends in the year-end tally of crime in the city. Violent crime was up for the fourth year in a row, fueled by a 6% increase in robberies and a 5% spike in aggravated assaults. Property crime also ticked higher for the third year in a row— up 1% over last year.
Overall, violent crime was up 4% over last year and 16% over two years ago.
The Los Angeles Police Department did not make an official available to discuss the crime trends. A spokeswoman said no one could speak on the topic until a news conference in late January.
Earlier this year, a similar media event that was planned to discuss 2016 crime numbers never occurred.
In a written statement, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said the drop in gun violence was due in part to “data-driven community-focused strategies, expanding community trust, and relentless follow-up.”
Beck did not address the increases in other types of crime.
Mayor Eric Garcetti, in a statement, said, "This year marked an important moment in our drive to end gun violence as we reduced the number of homicides and shooting victims. I thank Chief Beck and the LAPD for their continued work to make Los Anleles the safest city in America."
Kevin Orange, a Westmont resident who works to reduce gang violence, said rival gangs are increasingly building relationships with one another. He attributed the decline in homicides and nonfatal shootings to those networks.
"Before, they would pick up their guns. Now, they're picking up the phone and making a phone call," Orange said. "Instead of blaming somebody, what's the best way to deal with this situation without someone losing their life?"
In 2016, a rash of homicides and shootings early in the year prompted the LAPD to send extra platoons of elite Metropolitan Division officers to South Los Angeles.
This year, the situation stabilized. But while homicides went down, robberies continued to climb. Earlier this month, the LAPD held a news conference to discuss a 30% citywide increase in cell phone robberies.
"Keep your head up and put your phone down," Capt. Rafael Ramirez of 77th Division said. "On the bus, on the train, walking down the street-put your phone away, be aware of your surroundings and stop advertising that item."
At a Police Commission meeting earlier this month, Beck said the rise in aggravated assaults was due partly to ongoing adjustments in how the crimes are categorized- and issue that first surfaced in a 2014 Times investigation which found that the LAPD misclassified thousands of aggravated assaults as minor offenses artificially lowering the city's violent crime rate.
The increases in some types of crime were not limited to the violent areas of the city. In the Wilshire Division, for example, which includes Fairfaz, Hancock Park and nearby neighborhoods, robberies were up 17%, and burglaries were up 16%. In the Topanga area, robberies increased by 14% and auto theft by 9%.
At a park near the La Brea Tar Pits, some Los Angeles residents said they did not worry much about crime.
But Remy Bender, 41, who has lived in the area for 20 years, said she never feels safe. An increase in the homeless population makes her feel uneasy, she said.
"I'm always looking out for somthing," she said.
The Watts area, meanwhile, did not see the drop in homicides most other places did.
Eddie Lewis, 58, stood outside his house on West 105th Street and pointed up the street and down an alley. Two homicides occurred at those locations in the past year, Lewis said.
"Two many shootings involving young kids," he said.
In the areas patrolled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, violent and property crime fell this year by 5% after two years of increases.
Homicides decreased by 20%, driven largely by a decline in gang-related deaths.
Compton recorded 39 homicides in homicides in 2016, compared with 21 through Nov. 30 of this year.
"Some of this we can take credit for by being proactive, by being out there, by working with community partners, engaging in intervention activity, working through the schools," Sheriff Jim McDonnell said of the homicide trend at a news conference Thursday.
McDonnell also cited the department's anti-gang, unit, Operation Safe Streets, for quelling gang activity.
The Sheriff's Department runs the county jails and patrols the streets of unincorporated areas as well as cities such as Lakewood, Lancaster and West Hollywood.
McDonnell said criminal justice reforms such as Proposition 47 and AB 109 that were designed to reduce the prison and jail population have resulted in more people on the streets committing crimes to support their drug addiction. Meanwhile, there has been no increase in treatment programs, he said.
Proponents of the measures say there is no evidence they have led to more crime. Earlier this year, Los Angeles County received nearly $40 million from a Proposition 47 fund for drug and mental health treatment as well as prison re-entry programs, said Will Matthews, public affairs manager for Californians for Safety and Justice, which sponsored the proposition.
In a pair of studies released this fall, Mike Males, a senior research fellow at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, argued that changed in the law are not responsible for crime increases because crime trends vary widely both in L.A. Couney and statewide.
Local variations, including organized crime rings and economic conditions, are a more likely explanation, he said.
"Of course, the police are blamed a lot when crime goes up, and I don't thimnk it's justified in most cases," he said.
In San Francisco, crime was up 11% through Nov. 30, with homicides increasing by 14% and thefts from vehicles by 26% compared with 2016 data.
Oakland saw a 1% increase in crime this year. Homicides and violent crime were down, but burglaries were up 21%.
Craig Lally, president of the union that represent rank-and-file LAPD officers, pointed to a chronic shortage of manpower as a reason why crime has been going up in Los Angeles. The department needs to add at least 2,500 officers to its 10,000-person force, Lally said.
"We're working the homeless problem-that's always our problem, as is the mental illness problem," Lally said. "We're tasking with doing way too much with very little resources."
Community policing programs, paired with enforcement strategies such as taking guns off the street, have helped reduce homicides, said Steve Soboroff, president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, the LAPD's civilian governing body.
But building trust among the city's Latino residents is increasingly difficult because of he Trump administrations' strict immigration policies, Soboroff said.
And, he said, the root causes of crime-poverty, overcrowded schools, drug addiciton- are beyone a police department's power to fix.
"What it comes down to in the very end game, it isn't about policing," Soboroff said. "It's about the underserved getting services, and they're not getting enough."
Baltimore breaks city record for killings per capita in 2017
by David McFadden
Baltimore has set a new per-capita homicide record as gunmen killed for drugs, cash, payback - or no apparent reason at all.
A surge of homicides in the starkly divided city resulted in 343 killings in 2017, bringing the annual homicide rate to its highest ever - roughly 56 killings per 100,000 people. Baltimore, which has shrunk over decades, currently has about 615,000 inhabitants.
"Not only is it disheartening, it's painful," Mayor Catherine Pugh told The Associated Press during the final days of 2017, her first year in office.
The main reasons are the subject of endless interpretation. Some attribute the increase to more illegal guns, the fallout of the opioid epidemic, or systemic failures like unequal justice and a scarcity of decent opportunities for many citizens. The tourism-focused Inner Harbor and prosperous neighborhoods such as Canton and Mount Vernon are a world away from large sections of the city hobbled by generational poverty.
Others blame police, accusing them of taking a hands-off approach to fighting crime since six officers were charged in connection with the 2015 death of Freddie Gray , a black man whose fatal spinal cord injury in police custody triggered massive protests that year and the city's worst riots in decades.
"The conventional wisdom, or widely agreed upon speculation, suggests that?the great increase in murders is happening partly because the police have withdrawn from aggressively addressing crime in the city's many poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods," said Donald Norris, professor emeritus of public policy at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
Even as arrests have declined to their lowest level in years, police say their officers are working hard in a tough environment. They note the overwhelming majority of Baltimore's crime has long been linked to gangs, drugs and illegal guns.
"The vast majority of our kids and residents of this city aren't into criminal activity like this. It's that same revolving group of bad guys that are wreaking havoc for people's families," said T.J. Smith, the chief police spokesman whose own younger brother was the city's 173rd homicide victim in 2017.
Baltimore's homicide rate started to surge after Gray's death in 2015, a year when the city saw over 340 slayings. There's been a depressingly steady march of killings since.
Violent crime rates in Baltimore have been notoriously high for decades and some locals sardonically refer to their city as "Bodymore" due to the annual body count. But prior to 2015, Baltimore's killings had generally been on the decline. Before rates in recent years eclipsed it, Baltimore's homicide rate had peaked with 353 killings in 1993, or some 49 killings per 100,000 people. Baltimore had over 700,000 inhabitants back then, making the per-capita rate lower than in 2017.
Patrick Sharkey, a sociologist at New York University, described Baltimore as a place "where there is an urgent need to make sure that neighborhoods do not continue to fall apart and the population doesn't give up on the city."
Pugh, who took office?as mayor in December 2016, said her year-old administration is focused on reducing crime, boosting police recruits, and improving long-neglected neighborhoods. She told attendees at a candlelight vigil she hosted for victims of violence that "this will become the safest city in America."
Attending the vigil were Norman and Yvonne Armstrong, who struggled for words to describe their heartache since losing their son, Shawn, to gun violence. The working family man, a 31-year-old father of three, was fatally shot at a Baltimore carwash in September. His murder is unsolved.
"The kids out there with guns don't care about anything," said Norman Armstrong, the pain of grief etched on his face.
Among the names behind the 2017 numbers is Jonathan Tobash, a 19-year-old college student who embodied the best hopes of his Baltimore community. Police say the sophomore at Morgan State University was shot to death Dec. 18 after stumbling onto a robbery in progress outside a convenience store near his family's home.
Ericka Alston-Buck, who founded the Kids Safe Zone community center in the rough Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, said concentrated poverty must be addressed and a measure of healing has to take place in order to truly tackle high rates of violence in Baltimore.
"Hurt people hurt people. No one's doing anything to close those holes in their souls," she said. "As long as no one does that, nothing is going to change."
Md. police chief: Community policing is essential to fighting hate crimes
by Megan Cloherty
With the increase of hate crimes across the D.C. region, Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger said community policing is essential for officers to connect with diverse communities.
“We pay a great deal of attention to hate crimes and this past year has been tough,” Manger said of 2017.
What used to be disagreements are more frequently escalating to violence that requires police response, Manger told WTOP.
“If somebody disagrees with you, you can't have a civil conversation — you have to shout them down and ridicule them. This has manifested itself in hate crimes, and that has an impact on our community,” he said.
The county's annual crime report for 2017 has yet to be published, and while Manger could not provide numbers of hate crimes, he said the climate his police officers are working in is much different from even two years ago.
“They care less about the crime stats. What they care more about is what's the relationship between police and the community. Every community, of our many different communities, are asking, ‘How are police treating me? How should I be treated by police?' … We have put a great emphasis on community engagement, beyond what we've ever done in the past,” Manger said.
After 40 years wearing the badge, the chief said he hopes for a more peaceful 2018, though he admitted high-profile cases that dominated 2017 seem like the new normal. Reflecting on the major crimes of the last year, the murder of pregnant Howard County teacher Laura Wallen was top on Manger's mind.
“When she was found murdered, it broke the heart of an entire community,” he said. “I think the Wallen family will never be the same, in my opinion, with the loss of their daughter.”
Though the crime rate remained flat in 2017 — up less than 1 percent from the previous year — there were gruesome stories coming out of Montgomery County, many surrounding gang violence.
“The gang-related homicides , when we're taking bodies out of graves that are dismembered. We've got the two kids who were killed the night before their graduation — it's just case after case,” he said.
Manger said no matter what the case, the pain of the victims' families is what keeps him up at night. “Every one of these cases, whether it's a homicide or sexual assault, even when some elderly person is bilked out of their savings, I'll tell you … after doing this for 40 years now, it doesn't get any easier,” he said.
Chief: LAPD officer recovering after being shot in ambush
Chief Charlie Beck called the gunman a "coward" and says the injured officer is in "good spirits"
by Kate Mather and Paul Pringle
LOS ANGELES — A suspected gunman was in custody after allegedly opening fire on a group of Los Angeles police officers Friday night, wounding one, in what LAPD Chief Charlie Beck described as an ambush by a “coward.”
Beck said on Twitter on Saturday morning that the gunman fired from a “significant distance” in an unprovoked attack.
The shooting occurred about 9:50 p.m. on Hartford Avenue, south of 7th Street.
“She was ambushed,” Beck wrote of the female officer who was hurt.
Officer Mike Lopez said, “You're walking and all the sudden someone starts shooting at you.”
The unidentified officer was hit in the thigh and hospitalized at L.A. County-USC Medical Center.
The chief said the officer was in stable condition late Friday.
The LAPD tweeted, “Please keep the officer in your prayers tonight.”
“She is in remarkably good spirits,” Beck said in an update Saturday morning. “The dangers of this profession should never be lost on any of us. Please keep both her and her family in your prayers as she recovers.”
The wounded officer recently graduated from the LAPD academy and was with her training officer at the time, Beck said.
The training officer was not wounded. Neither fired their weapon, Lopez said.
A 28-year-old suspect, who was not immediately identified, was taken into custody and a gun was recovered at the scene, Beck said. Several streets in the area were closed, as well as the southbound 110 Freeway, as officers conducted their search.
The chief cautioned that the investigation into the shooting was still underway, but he said the information relayed to him overnight indicated that the suspect fired at least nine shots at officers who were “standing out in the open,” backlighted by the lights of their patrol vehicle. The shots were fired from almost 500 feet away, Beck said.
“They were doing their job and were targeted for it by a coward,” he said.
The suspect ran as the wounded officer's partner pulled her to safety and called for help, Beck said. As other officers responded to the scene, the chief said, witnesses pointed out the fleeing suspect.
When confronted by police, Beck said, the suspect let go of his weapon and was arrested without incident. Physical evidence, video and witness statements “support his arrest,” the chief said.
Camden homicides fall sharply, despite more shootings
by Jim Walsh
CAMDEN - Camden County officials say homicides in the city fell to a 30-year low in 2017, although the number of shootings rose.
Year-end tallies show an overall drop of 7 percent for violent crime in Camden, compared to an increase of 3.6 percent in 2016.
Nonviolent offenses fell by 6 percent, after a 5.8 percent decline a year earlier.
But Camden's violent-death toll, although down sharply by any measure, was open to interpretation.
In declaring the 30-year low, the Camden County Police Department reported 23 homicides for 2017.
In contrast, the county prosecutor's office lists 25 homicides for the year, the lowest since 2001. Its count includes a fatal police shooting and the death of a woman in September from injuries suffered in a 2015 attack.
The city had 44 homicides in 2016.
The latest improvements reflected double-digit percentage decreases for homicides, arson, sexual assaults and burglaries. Smaller declines occurred for aggravated assaults and thefts.
The largest increase, a 10 percent jump, occurred for motor vehicle thefts.
Police also reported 3 percent increases for two categories of gun crimes.
“The men and women of the county police department delivered one of the safest years in the modern era for Camden City residents,” said police spokesman Dan Keashen.
“There's been a tremendous amount of progress that has not been seen in the city since the 1960s,” he asserted.
Last year's downturn for homicides was magnified by a spike in murders in 2016, when police staffing levels fell to 325 officers. The department now has 456 full- and part-time officers, its highest level since operations began in May 2013.
The county police department reported a 48 percent decline in homicides last year, along with a 52 percent drop in fatal shootings.
Last year's homicide total was down by 28 percent from 2015, when the city had 32 murders, and by 30 percent from 2014, when 33 people were killed.
The county department, which emphasizes community policing techniques, replaced a smaller city force that had been hit hard by layoffs.
Last year's report tallied 1,467 violent crimes and 2,583 nonviolent offenses in the city.
It showed decreases of 40 percent for arson, 15 percent for sexual assaults and 10 percent for burglaries. Declines measured 7 percent for larcenies, or thefts, and 6 percent for larcenies from vehicles.
Aggravated assaults fell by 5 percent, although those involving guns rose by 3 percent, to 289.
The number of non-fatal "shooting hit incidents" also rose by 3 percent, to 95.
The stubborn level of gun crimes reflects the widespread availability of illegal weapons, said Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli.
“The market is flooded with them, and the lack of real gun restrictions in other states makes them easy to buy on the street for as little as $50,” he said.
Cappelli said police "will continue to target violent criminals that are using illegal firearms as tools to destabilize neighborhoods and terrorize our community.”
This was what it was like to live in Chicago in 2017
by Aimee Levitt
There was a shooting in my neighborhood, Rogers Park, in October. There were probably shootings in every neighborhood sometime this year, but this one attracted extra notice because the victim, Cynthia Trevillion, was a teacher at the local Waldorf School—she was on her way out to a Friday-night dinner with her husband and was unlucky enough to get caught in gang-related cross fire. The bullets hit her in the head and neck and she died immediately.
The following Monday our alderman, Joe Moore, called a community meeting at the site of the shooting, the corner of Morse and Glenwood, next to the el stop. Reporters from DNAinfo and TV stations were there, but I went as a civilian, on my way home from work. Maybe 150 people showed up. Someone had set up a few rows of chairs in front of the stage, but most of us stood in the street and on the sidewalk. The sound system wasn't good. We had to strain to hear.
The alderman spoke, and then Glen Brooks, the police department's director of public engagement, spoke, and then John Warner, the organizer of neighborhood "positive loitering" events, spoke. They all said Trevillion's death had been a tragedy. They said that future tragedies might be prevented if everyone in the neighborhood put up a united front of "vigilance" by attending CAPS meetings and forming block clubs and positive loitering groups to show criminals that they weren't welcome.
On the surface, this all seemed reasonable. Yes, let the neighbors of Rogers Park come together to mourn the loss of one of our own and then vow to maintain a united front to protect our streets! Kumbaya!
That's how things should work, but that's not how Chicago worked in 2017. For one thing, it was the police who were making this request, and, if you're black, as one-third of Rogers Park is, you have to wonder how much you can trust the police. (You even have to wonder this as a white person.) You wonder even if the representative the Chicago Police Department had sent to this particular meeting was black.
Then there's the perception that positive loitering is just another form of racial profiling, targeting people of color and assuming they don't belong—even when the neighborhood is two-thirds people of color. Neighborhood policing is for white people.
So by the third speech, lauding the virtues of community policing, a few members of the audience had enough. They had objections to the police department's view of the world, and no one was letting them speak. So they shouted. They shouted about positive loitering. They shouted about the $95 million that was going to fund a new police academy when public schools were grossly underfunded. The speaker, Warner, the positive-loitering organizer, wasn't used to hostile crowds. He began to falter.
There was one young man who was especially loud. The cops who'd been standing behind the stage surrounded him and herded him down the street, away from the rally. A whole group of bystanders followed. We held up our cell phones to record, just in case the encounter went badly.
That was another thing about living in America in 2017. You expected encounters between white police officers and young black men to go badly, and you knew that it was your duty as a citizen to bear witness.
The protester asked the cops why he couldn't speak his piece. A police officer told him he shouldn't be interrupting. The protester asked why only the alderman and representatives of the police got to speak. The police officer said he didn't know. They let the protester go.
Back at the rally, Alderman Moore was urging everyone to sign up for community policing and block associations. There was a table set up on the sidewalk. A few members of the crowd, mostly older white people, were shoving to get close to it. The protesters kept shouting.
Moore and Warner, who are both white, told DNAinfo's Linze Rice the next day that it wasn't their goal to alienate people of color. Instead, they wanted everyone to take a more active role in community policing.
"The thing is that they don't want to join because they're afraid they're going to be called 'Uncle Toms,'" Warner said. "That has come from more than one black person that I have talked to. That is why we have such a low count of people of color, because they're afraid they're going to be profiled by their own people."
It's not "your color I'm going after, it's what you're doing," Warner explained.
"People hear 'positive loitering,' and they think we're going after black people because they're the drug dealers and gangbangers. Wrong."
When asked what his group could do to change that perception, he said there was "nothing we can do to help that, that's their mindset."
And it did indeed turn out to be true that the meeting did nothing to change anyone's perception of community policing. There was supposed to be a period during the event when people who weren't aldermen or police officers could come onstage to speak, Rice reported, but the organizers decided to skip over that altogether.
Instead, a black pastor came up to say a final prayer. As he began to speak, a woman in the crowd shouted, "Remember Laquan McDonald!" The pastor raised his voice. The woman kept chanting. He got louder. So did she.
And that was it: this was what it was like to live in Chicago in 2017, where everyone wanted the shooting to stop. The police thought they were doing a good thing by encouraging the people of the community to contribute to the overall safety of the neighborhood—when you have power and authority, people should accept your suggestions. They didn't understand—or maybe they didn't bother to acknowledge—that by squandering the people's trust, they had also squandered their authority. Why should anyone listen to the police, even if it would be for their own good, when the police wouldn't listen to the people they said they wanted to help? So here we are. And still the shootings continue.
16 homicide investigation inn 2017 is Amarillo's most in a decade
by Robert Stein
Amarillo saw an uptick in homicides in 2017, marking the highest total in a decade and the second year-over-year increase, according to a preliminary Amarillo Police Department tally.
APD reported 16 homicides for the year, which is up from 11 in 2016 and more than double the total of seven reported in 2015.
APD spokesman Sgt. Brent Barbee said the numbers may seem shocking, but he cautioned against drawing conclusions from the data. Larger cities with homicides that number in the dozens or hundreds provide more useful data, Barbee said.
“Crime statistics often bring as many questions as they do answers,” he said.
Homicide victims for the year ranged in age from eight months to 69 years.
All 16 homicides currently meet the FBI Uniform Crime Reports Program's definition of homicide, which excludes officer-involved and justifiable killings, but Barbee said the final count could change.
Still, the 2017 tally will likely stay above the average compared to the preceding decade and signals the reversal of a downward trend.
There was an average of nearly 11 homicides per year from 2007 to 2016, according to FBI data. Amarillo's population steadily grew by thousands during that span, but the annual number of homicides trended downward before nudging upward in 2016.
A high of 19 homicides in 2007 slid to a low of seven in 2014 and 2015.
Barbee said the emerging reversal of that trend could easily be short lived.
“Every single homicide is something to be concerned about,” Barbee said, “but I know that if we had 16 this year we could go back down to seven next year.”
Three homicides from 2017 remain unsolved, two of which happened in November.
The oldest unsolved case of the year is the death of 53-year-old Joseph Guzman. Guzman died Aug. 8 from injuries he received days earlier in a fight at his west Amarillo home, authorities said.
Also among the victims was a 3-year-old boy who police said died after being found unresponsive while under the care of a home health care professional. A grand jury eventually indicted a nurse for murder in connection with the death and she is awaiting trial, records show.
Last year was the first full calendar year with Chief Ed Drain atop the police department. He started as interim chief in July 2016, replacing Robert Taylor.
Drain's tenure has been marked by a focus on community policing and the creation of a domestic violence coalition.
The coalition, which includes sheriff's and prosecutor's offices in Potter and Randall counties, was formed in 2016 after a report from an advocacy group showed a spike in domestic violence homicides.
Domestic violence homicides increased from one in 2014 to five in 2015.
The coalition includes data tracking and the use of a “lethality assessment protocol” by uniformed officers to identify victims at high risk for repeat violence and connect the victims with advocates at Family Support Services.
Barbee said authorities hope the domestic violence and community policing efforts will reduce violent crime, but he said it was too early to expect them to have a significant effect.
Community policing, he said, involves reinforcing positive interaction between young people and police and changing culture over a period of several years or decades.
“I'd love to tell everyone we have officers out in the neighborhood so now, suddenly homicides will cease,” he said, “but, realistically, it's not going to happen because these are long-term efforts.”
The unincorporated areas of Potter County saw zero homicides, said Det. Sgt. Steve White, who oversees murder investigations in the county.
The count was down from 2016, when Potter County opened two homicide investigations. One was found to be justified, White said.
The other homicide was a murder-suicide where a mother killed herself and her three children.
“It's just ebb and flow,” White said. “From time to time, there will be one or two that'll pop up.”
A Randall County Sheriff's Office spokesman said there were zero homicides in the county's unincorporated areas in both 2017 and 2016.
Canyon police didn't open a homicide investigation in 2017, continuing a streak that has lasted since 2012. The city has about 15,000 residents compared to 200,000 in Amarillo, according to recent population estimates.
Police in Lubbock, which has about 50,000 more residents than Amarillo, investigated 14 homicides in 2017 — eight more than last year, according to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.
LAPD offers warning after recreational marijuana becomes legal
The LAPD says while recreational marijuana may be legal, smoking in public and driving while stoned are not
by Kate Mather
LOS ANGELES — As Los Angeles moves toward allowing the sale of recreational marijuana, joining cities across the state in the newly legal enterprise, police here offered a stern word of caution.
Yes, recreational pot will be legal to sell (and buy, and consume, and cultivate). But there are limits. And the Los Angeles Police Department will help enforce them.
“Let me be clear,” Assistant Chief Michel Moore said Tuesday. “The use of marijuana needs to be done in a responsible manner that's consistent with the law.”
What isn't allowed? Driving under the influence of marijuana. Consuming pot in public. Purchasing or consuming recreational cannabis by someone under the age of 21.
“Those are all illegal actions,” Moore said. “And the department will take aggressive action in enforcing the law.”
Moore's comments came a day after the sale of recreational marijuana became legal in California, a voter-approved endeavor that has presented challenges for police and city leaders across the state as they decide how to handle the hotly anticipated retail sector.
Most cities in California have yet to sign off on the commercial sale of cannabis. Others that have — including L.A. — scrambled to get policies and procedures in place before the January deadline.
Los Angeles, the state's biggest city, decided it would permit the sale of recreational pot, but it has yet to start approving marijuana businesses for those transactions after the City Council backed a set of complicated new regulations in December.
As long lines of customers snaked outside pot shops from Sacramento to San Diego on Monday, and again Tuesday in West Hollywood, L.A.'s dispensaries had to wait.
“We are going to do this the Los Angeles way,” said Cat Packer, the head of the city's Department of Cannabis Regulation. “That means that we're going to have to do this responsibly. And if that means that we start this process a few days late, I'm perfectly fine with that.”
Existing L.A. medical marijuana dispensaries that have been following city rules should be able to start applying Wednesday and are expected to get some form of temporary approval from the city quickly — some could have them by Monday, Packer said.
Under city regulations, they are supposed to be protected from local prosecution while they seek licenses.
But the lack of local authorization has left some medical marijuana dispensaries nervous about whether they could be at risk before that approval is granted. And it is unclear when the city will start approving other kinds of pot businesses, including existing marijuana growers and manufacturers that supply dispensaries.
Alex Traverso, a spokesman for the state Bureau of Cannabis Control, said Tuesday that the agency is prepared to take enforcement action against shops that are not properly licensed. The bureau, he said, was ready to investigate complaints and conduct compliance checks “at any time.”
Moore said the LAPD's approach to medical marijuana shops would not necessarily change, even if shops do not yet have the local approval required under the new rules.
Otherwise law-abiding shops could continue to sell medical marijuana, Moore said. If the state's cannabis bureau were to ask the LAPD to take enforcement action against them, he said, the department would decide if it was an “appropriate use of our resources” given the circumstances.
Both Moore and Packer acknowledged the adjustment period ahead, as residents, businesses and police become accustomed to the new rules. Some elements of those laws are nuanced, Moore said.
For example, people can grow marijuana, but no more than six plants at a time, and only in locked spaces out of public view. And drivers can have marijuana in their vehicles, but must keep it in a container in the trunk.
The LAPD is working to educate officers through written bulletins and during roll-call meetings. The department is also working with the county's Health Department and other agencies to determine the “intended and unintended consequences” the legal use of recreational marijuana might have on public safety, Moore said.
“This is a new day for us as well,” he said.
It was also a new day in West Hollywood on Tuesday, the first day recreational pot could legally be sold in the city. Outside the MedMen store on Santa Monica Boulevard, the mood was celebratory and the line was long.
Wearing shirts that read “It's legal,” MedMen employees checked IDs at the door and stamped red marijuana plants onto customers' hands. Guards kept the shop from getting too crowded, letting in only five customers at a time. Customers took selfies as they waited their turn.
“I'm overwhelmed by the products,” said Becky Filer as she looked over weed-infused lip balm, honey and teas. Filer, a New York resident, happened to be on vacation in California when recreational sales became legal.
It was “perfect timing,” she said.
L.A. Police Talk Community Policing Tactics
Over the years, we've reported the Belize Department's community policing initiatives. Locally, a number of programs are used to combat crime – but it is no secret that this softer side to policing is not fully embraced by all rank and file of the department. While a full report to show its impact is not readily available, anecdotally, it is believed that it has reduced crime in the city. As a part of the U.S. State Department's support to tackle drugs, gangs and crime in Central America, journalists from the region travelled to Los Angeles and Boston to learn how community-based efforts have benefited the relationship with law enforcers. In those two cities, there are big populations of Latinos from Central America and the Latin Caribbean. News Five's Andrea Polanco joined journalists from Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Costa Rica on a reporting tour with the L.A.P.D. We share a first look at a few of the best practices and tips on community policing.
by Andrea Polanco
The City of Los Angeles is the second-largest urban population in the United States and home to four million people. It's known for its sunny skies, beaches, iconic landmarks and attractions, entertainment and celebrity culture. But decades and decades ago, the City of Angels was synonymous with “city of dreams”, a place where the disillusioned can start over and rebuild their lives. That allure continues to lead people from all over the world to migrate to LA – and one of the biggest immigrant populations is the Latino community. People from all across Latin America, including Central Americans and Latin Caribbean, come here looking for a better life.
National, Undocumented in U.S.A. [Translated]
“I send money for them to study. I have two nephews who are studying communication science at University and I am sending them money for that. And I am here suffering so that they can have a good life over there.”
“Is it worth it to come here to and work hard so that the family lives good back home?”
American National, Undocumented in U.S.A.
“Oh yes. Because back there the salaries are very low and we can't make ends meet – sometimes not even for food and so we live very poor. That is why we come here [in the USA] to progress. And when everyone back home in my country see that workers bring back money from the states and it has value – because in Mexico we barely make anything. We work and work and we are still poor; sometimes it is just enough for food; but we can't buy clothes. For example, to buy a pants, if you earn eight hundred pesos for the week, a Levi's [pants] costs a thousand [pesos] Not even the salary for a week can buy you a pants. And that is why a lot of people come here [to the USA], despite the fact that they suffer, but it is worth it.”
The introduction of various ethnicities to a different urban culture compounded existing social problems, including gangs and drugs – rife within the Latino communities since the 1920's. Many of those who can't get permanent jobs because of their immigration status or the language barrier get involved in illegal trade – and it becomes a cycle within families. But fast-forward to today; criminal street gangs continue to be one of the most serious crime problems in LA and by extension, California. Gang violence—particularly assaults, drive-by shootings, homicides, and brutal home-invasion robberies—accounts for one of the largest, single, personal threats to public safety in the city. And over the years the LAPD, the third largest police department in all of the U.S.A., had to find a solutions to the problems when they discovered that arrest and jail time didn't make the problem go away. They have learnt that community policing address these issues from the root – starting with children and youth.
Javier Barragan, Senior Lead Officer, Community Relationship Division, LAPD
“We, as agency, understand that community policing is the answer. You can't arrest your problem away. We love to start with the kids. We go out and play with kids. As crazy as that sounds. We understand the value in that. We understand that going out there and playing basketball with a child, hand a child a sticker, kneeling down at their level and offering them an ear and just looking them in the eye is very significant. It makes more of an impact on the child's life and the community's life because a parent sees that we are not out there to hurt their kids. Ultimately, that is what you want, that your children are safe and that you feel safe. The job of a law enforcement officer is to protect all people.”
To complement the work of the LAPD in communities afflicted by gang warfare, other projects have been developed to reach the vulnerable populations. Officer Joseph Lopes works with the Community Relationship Division. Their work is to improve the relationship between the community and the LAPD. He says “soft activities' have a big impact on crime and violence in the Latino communities.
Joseph Lopes, Latino Liaison, Community Relationship Division, LAPD
“We do shoes with Santa every year, where we as a department, from those divisions, go to talk with the local schools and see what families need shoes. Everybody is like, ‘everybody has shoes.' And we understand that but it is one of the basic needs that we have. They collect shoes from many different places and shoes with Santa, we invite the families to come to the police stations and Santa is there and they give out the shoes and the toys. A lot of different programs that we have.”
“Have you seen a marked difference in terms of things that have been happening ten years ago compared to now?”
“It is very different. I grew up here in the City of L.A and I will give you another program that we have that can do that. Back in 2003, we had a program called CSP (Community Safety Partnership) that with the Housing Authority and LAPD, we looked at all the housing we had for lower income families and so we looked at these apartments which was about two hundred units. We had a lot of crime in there; we had shootings; we had drug activity. We placed ten different officers in each one and for the first three years crime went down by fifty percent in those areas, but also crime was reported fifty percent more because a lot of people were calling on the police to let them know what was going on in the community. So, these programs, they do work.”
And the key to effective community policing is the use of available resources, as well as the establishment of strong partnerships. As Officer Lopes explains, most of these programs are not paid for with public funds.
“One of the things is resources and the biggest resources we have is people. The City doesn't pay for these programs. They are all volunteers; people volunteer. For example, community members, the community we are talking about have members who are willing to give for a better community. We clean up communities, so all it takes is a broom; all it takes is manpower and going out and being there, meeting with the community one on one. That is the most important part; it is not necessarily money. If we have the correct people – and like I said, if we want to clean up the community, all it takes is a broom.”
Fighting Gangs in Boston-Area City
In part two of our series on community policing in U.S. Cities, we take you to Boston, Massachusetts where News Five joined a team of journalists from Central America on the U.S. State Department sponsored reporting tour. The journalists went into communities of Latin American and Caribbean nationals to find out how crime and other social ills are affecting them and how they are working with the law enforcement bodies to address the problem.
by Andrea Polanco
Detective Scott Conley, Criminal Investigation Division, Chelsea PD
“We've done so many aggressive cases against MS and Barrio 18 in Chelsea that over the last year, some have started to move into Revere. And now they are just starting to see the graffiti and stuff which as we all know is a first sign that the gang has started to get a foothold into that area. When it comes to MS and 18 th Street in Boston, they use mostly machetes when they attack; very few- we have guns but with other street gangs; with the MS and 18 th Street, they use mostly guns and knives.”
Andrea Polanco, Reporting
This is Detective Scott Conley. He works with the Chelsea Police Department. Chelsea is a small City of about one point eight square miles just outside of Boston. A recent population survey shows that Latinos and minority groups make up more than seventy percent of the City. Over the years, the influx of undocumented immigrants Latin America and the Caribbean has seen a surge in gangs in this Latino community. To tackle this growing problem from the root, the Chelsea PD does a number of community based activities through its community policing unit. It works closely with children and youth.
Detective Scott Conley
“I think it is important not just to look at law enforcement as one tool to arrest individuals when they commit a crime, but also as a proactive tool and a proactive approach to help individuals before a crime happens; before they choose a life that a criminal would. So it is important that we look at many parts, not just the arrest part.”
And to help them ensure that the number of arrests decline and crime goes down in Chelsea, the Police do a number of activities to build the relationship with the community; they participate in festivals and even church service in the community. The Chelsea PD also partner with non-profits and other organizations, like Chelsea Collaborative.
Yessenia Alfaro, Deputy Director, Chelsea Collaborative
“Chelsea Collaborative, the goal and the target is the incorporation of youth from the age of eleven to fourteen through to twenty-one and instead of them hanging around in a corner or doing nothing, that we include them in this summer employment program that runs through a lottery. It runs through funds through the city that we do advocacy to get those funds so we hire many youths. So, that has been very effective in the community to hire a lot of youths than to be in gangs. But, also, something new that we have seen is that the youths are looking for these jobs.”
And Detective Scott Conley says that the work of community organizations is critical to the work that any law enforcement body does – and should be embraced as partner in the fight against crime.
Detective Scott Conley
“We have to realize that law enforcement can't be on the frontlines of addressing every social issues in the communities. Law enforcement officers play one role. The community provides all of the other roles. So, we have to work with our schools. Roca, they do so much work, with individuals after they have been released from jail to integrated back into the community. All of these groups; all of these community groups, when they are successful they make all of our jobs easier. It lowers the recidivism rate. It lessens the number of times the Police deals with a problem over and over and over again.”
Serious crime in NYC dropped by 5.4 percent in 2017, NYPD says
by Anthony M. DeStefano
Serious crime in New York City dropped 5.4 percent last year compared with 2016, according to the latest NYPD statistics, capping 12 months of declines in almost every major felony except for rape, with four more reported, an increase of less than half a percent.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill are scheduled to discuss the year-end crime data at a news conference Thursday, an event that will likely be highlighted by a number of superlatives: the lowest number of major felonies in the modern era of police record keeping, as well as 790 shootings, the fewest in recorded city history.
The city had 290 killings, a 13.4-percent drop from 2016, and a fraction of the body count in 1990 when there were 2,245 homicides.
Eleven precincts — five in Manhattan, two in Brooklyn, three in Queens and one in Staten Island — reported no homicides in 2017. The 67th Precinct, which covers the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn, had the most homicides with 17, compared to 14 in 2016.
“You are living a continuous New York miracle,” Richard Aborn, head of the Citizens Crime Commission, said recently. “Crime continues to plummet, plummet at a time with the lowest number of stops [and frisks], far fewer arrests, decriminalization of a number of offenses, far fewer people in Rikers Island and far fewer in state prisons.”
O'Neill and his staff have in the past attributed the continuing crime drop to “precision” policing against key offenders, anti-gang initiatives and aggressive gun cases. O'Neill also has said neighborhood policing, which is active in more than 50 of 77 precincts, opened up better communication between cops and communities. The police commissioner is expected to push the community policing concept in 2018 throughout the city, although the department has yet to release the results of public opinion polling about the practice.
Criminologists who study policing tactics said community relations approaches, which are much like the NYPD efforts, do lead to some improvement in the public's view of policing in the short term. But there is little research about any long-term impacts, they note.
Serious crime — including rapes, burglaries, felonious assaults, grand larcenies and auto theft — has remained in a period of decline for more than two decades, particularly after 1994, when the NYPD initiated the Compstat system of computerized crime tracking.
The increase in rapes in 2017 is believed by some experts to be the result of victims reporting attacks from prior years, possibly as a result of recent headlines about celebrity sexual harassment and rapes.
Historical comparisons for the city homicide rate are complicated by the fact that over the years, the NYPD methodology of counting them differed until the early 1960s, police officials said. But the current figure of 290 killings is the lowest in the Compstat era.
The homicide rate in 2017 was 3.4 for each 100,000 population: It was about 30.6 in 1990.
Changing CPD's Image
by William Folkes
COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – 2017 was nothing short of controversial for the Columbus Police Department.
From a shortage of police officers, to hiring a consultant, and an officer involved shooting; CPD has had its share of criticism.
Now a new chief is planning on tackling the departments image.
“I have an image in mind, the image that I want is a department of integrity. We are going to have high moral standards,” says Shelton.
Fred Shelton says he wants to improve how the residents of Columbus view the police department, but in order to do that, he's got two things to tackle first.
“Two things I am going to work on is an aggressive recruiting program. We already have some things good and in place like the career fair program and we will utilize that again and once we get our numbers up we are going to try and retain those officers, and train them and put them in various positions so that they can be more effective for this department,” says Shelton.
Chief Shelton says attracting the best officers is key. He says from now on the city will look at applicants who not only want to protect and serve, but who also want to be a part of the community.
“We start by making sure we hire the most qualified officers that we can. We train the officers that we have to a higher standard. We take our supervisors, we start making them more accountable. We interact with the community more and we develop a proactive community policing program,” says Shelton.
The new chief believes that the police are the people, and the people are the police. The only difference is for him it's a full time job, with a badge.
“I've always said, if I were chief I would do this, or if I were chief, I would do that, so now I'm chief and now I can do the things that I know will make a difference in this department,” says Shelton.
Chief Shelton says the department is getting ready to hire more officers, as 18 recruits just graduated from the police academy.
NYC to install hundreds of barriers to protect pedestrians after deadly attacks
The city is spending $50 million on protective measures including the installation of 1,500 metal barriers , or bollards
by Deepti Hajela
NEW YORK — Hundreds of new protective barriers will be permanently installed in Times Square and other locations around New York in an effort to block vehicles from hitting pedestrians after deadly attacks last year on crowds.
The city is spending $50 million on protective measures including the installation of 1,500 metal barriers, or bollards, in key locations around the city, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday.
Known around the world for the New Year's Eve ball drop, Times Square is crowded most days with tourists, costumed characters, sightseeing bus hawkers and office workers.
In May, a man said by police to be high on drugs drove through crowds for more than three blocks , killing an 18-year-old tourist from Michigan. The vehicle was eventually stopped by one of the squat metal barriers.
Temporary concrete blocks were put up along the Seventh Avenue sidewalk while city officials weighed a long-term solution and considered banning vehicle traffic from the area all together.
Then, on Halloween, an Islamic State-inspired attacker drove down a busy bicycle path near the World Trade Center , authorities said. He killed eight people before he wrecked his rented truck and was shot by police.
Barriers were also placed there to keep cars out of the bike path.
"In 2017, New Yorkers witnessed the horrible capacity of people willing to do us harm, whether it was in our subways, on our bike paths or in Times Square," the Democratic mayor said. "We know we have to do even more to keep people safe and that's why we conducted a review on how best to secure our streets and public spaces, and we formulated a plan of action."
The rollout will begin in March. Meanwhile, the temporary blocks already set up will remain in place.
"People have to be able to get around but they have to be safe at the same time," de Blasio said.
City officials didn't specify what other locations will be fortified, beyond the bike path and Times Square, but said there would be barriers set up in all five boroughs.
Alleged White Supremacist is Charged With Terrorism After Stopping Amtrak Train
by Bill Chappell
An armed man who stopped an Amtrak train in Nebraska is facing a terrorism charge, after the FBI discovered ties to "an 'alt-right' Neo-Nazi group," a cache of weapons, and allegations that the suspect, Taylor Wilson, had talked about a desire to kill black people.
Federal authorities have filed a terrorism charge against Wilson, 26, of St. Charles, Mo., who was arrested in October after Amtrak personnel said he entered a restricted area of their train and applied the emergency brake in Furnas County, Nebraska.
Wilson is accused of "Terrorism Attacks and Other Violence Against Railroad Carriers and Against Mass Transportation," according to court papers that were recently unsealed.
Investigators say Wilson had been traveling from California to his home in Missouri when he was found in a secure area of the train. After Amtrak staff found him "playing with the controls" in the engineer's seat, a struggled ensued, in which Wilson repeatedly tried to get loose and to reach at his waistband.
A local sheriff's deputy was called to the scene in rural Nebraska around 2 a.m. on Oct. 22. The deputy found Amtrak personnel holding him down on the ground. He was carrying a loaded .38 caliber handgun, along with a speedloader that was full of ammunition.
A backpack belonging to Wilson was found to contain "three additional loaded speed loaders, a box of .38 ammunition, a hammer, a fixed blade knife, tin snips, scissors, a tape measure," and a respirator-style mask, according to the federal filing. Also in the bag were a business card for the National Socialist Movement in Detroit, Michigan and the Covenant Nation Church in Oneonta, Alabama.
After his arrest, Wilson was charged with two felonies under state statues; he was released on bond on Dec. 11 and was to live at his parents' house in St. Charles, Missouri. The federal counts against him were added in late December, after the FBI investigation turned up troubling evidence that investigators said was consistent with people who are "attempting or planning to commit criminal acts or acts of terrorism or violence."
That evidence included documents from Wilson's phone, which included images of a white supremacist banner reading "'Hands up don't shoot' is Anti-white fake news – Altright" along with a number of how-to books on killing people and carrying out violence. In addition to a pistol he was allegedly carrying when he was arrested, the FBI found more than a dozen other guns at his residence.
In court documents, FBI Special Agent Monte R. Czaplewski said there is probable cause to believe that Wilson's weapons and electronic devices were "used for or obtained in anticipation of engaging in or planning to engage in criminal offenses against the United States."
Wilson's roommate told the FBI that Wilson had begun acting strangely last summer, when Wilson "joined an 'alt-right' Neo-Nazi group" he found after looking for white supremacy forums online.
Speaking to federal agents, the roommate said that Wilson has said he's interested in "killing black people," the affidavit states; it adds that the roommate believed that Wilson was serious. The witness also said that Wilson's earlier statements also led them to believe that he and others in his white supremacist group were responsible for putting up "Whites Only" signs at businesses.
Wilson joined other members of that group in traveling to protests in Charlottesville, Va., the roommate said, referring to what investigators believe to be the violent Unite the Right rally that took place in August, 2017.
The accused terrorist possessed at least 20 guns, ranging from a .38 caliber revolver that he was carrying when he was arrested to a number of powerful rifles, from an AK-47 to AR-15s and an M-4.
The FBI says that after Wilson's parents told agents in Omaha, Neb., that they weren't sure where he lived — other than "an apartment somewhere" — the agency determined that he lived in a residence in St. Charles, Mo., that is owned by his parents.
A search of Wilson's residence turned up a hidden compartment behind a refrigerator, in a space that had been disguised to look like a permanent wall panel.
From the affidavit:
"Upon removing the panel agents discovered a large amount of evidence to include a tactical vest, 11 AR-15 (rifle) ammunition magazines with approximately 190 rounds of .223 ammunition, one drum-style ammunition magazine for a rifle, firearms tactical accessories (lights), 100 rounds of 9mm ammunition, approximately 840 rounds of 5.45x39 rifle ammunition, white supremacy documents and paperwork, several additional handgun and rifle magazines, gunpowder, ammunition reloading supplies, and a pressure plate. Also located in the compartment was a hand-made shield."
While at the residence, agents also spoke to Wilson's father — who, after consulting with his attorney, gave 15 of his son's guns to the FBI team, along with a tactical body armor carrier with ceramic ballistic plates.
At least two of those weapons were found to be in possible violation of federal laws. One, a Pioneer Arms Corporation Model PPS43-C, a lightweight rifle, was "fully automatic," the affidavit said. The other, a CZ Scorpion Evo 3, had been shortened.
The CDC wants to gently prepare people for (an unlikely) nuclear war
by AJ Willingham
It is absolutely impossible to mention nuclear war without freaking people out, but the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is trying to gently prepare for the possibility.
The CDC is holding a session January 16 to discuss personal safety measures and the training of response teams "on a federal, state, and local level to prepare for nuclear detonation."
The meeting, part of the agency's monthly Public Health Grand Rounds , will include presentations like "Preparing for the Unthinkable" and "Roadmap to Radiation Preparedness," and it will be held at the CDC's headquarters in Atlanta. "Grand rounds" are a type of meeting or symposium in which members of a public health community come together to discuss topics of interest or public importance.
This isn't the first time in recent months that official entities have informed the public about the consequences of a possible nuclear strike.
In August, amid escalating nuclear rhetoric from North Korea, Guam's Homeland Security and Office of Civil Defense released a two-page fact sheet about what to do in the case of a nuclear event.
The fact sheets that officials in the territory of Guam gave residents in August.
And in December, Hawaii started monthly testing of a nuclear warning siren system -- the first such tests since the end of the Cold War.
The timing is sure to be uncomfortable for the more anxious among us, since just a few days ago, President Trump continued the nuclear staredown on Twitter.
Plus, the CDC's online announcement of the meeting is accompanied by a very comforting photograph of a mushroom cloud.
However, the communications director for the Public Health Grand Rounds said the meeting is not out of the ordinary and is not related to recent tensions between the US and North Korea.
"The bottom line is, (this is) not new," Susan K. Laird said. "The calendar is developed back in February or first part of March, and then the calendar is set up for the following season, which starts in December. This stuff is determined far in advance."
Kathryn Harben, chief of news media at the CDC, also sought to ease concerns.
"As part of its mission, CDC provides for the common defense of the country against all health threats," she said. "Planning for the Grand Rounds takes place regularly, and planning for this one began last April."
Wilmington's deadliest year: Mayor withholds 'serious concern' until plan takes hold
by Christina Jedra, Esteban Parra and Adam Duvernay
Latonya Smith will never feel right.
Six months after her 22-year-old son Cyree Watson was killed on Wilmington's streets, she still feels like she did the moment that terrible phone call arrived.
"I can have a day where I'm OK. Just OK," she said. "But then all it takes is one second, one thought, and I go back into depression.
"I wouldn't wish this pain on no one. Not even the guy that killed my son."
With 197 people shot, 32 fatally, 2017 was Wilmington's worst year ever for gun violence .
The city already had climbed to the highest rate in the country of young people being shot , but shootings in general increased more than 35 percent in 2017 over the prior year. Homicides, including non-gun crimes, increased 25 percent.
Officials say Wilmington's shootings are almost always targeted attacks, but bystanders also get caught in the crossfire. Victims in 2017 include a 6-year-old boy who survived a bullet wound to the head and a 16-year-old pageant princess who was shot and killed in April .
Now, a record number of families are starting a year without their loved ones.
And the majority of those families are without answers. Most fatal shooting cases go unsolved in Wilmington. Only 38 percent of city homicides result in arrest, according to the police chief. That's below the national average clearance rate of 59.4 percent .
"Wilmington, to me, is a very dark place," said Smith, who grew up in Delaware but has lived in North Carolina for years. "I know they're not trying hard enough."
One year into his term, Wilmington Mayor Michael Purzycki has a different perspective.
"I'm not as rattled by these numbers because I think we're doing the right thing," he said.
Purzycki is confident in his police chief, Robert J. Tracy, who brings to Wilmington the same data and accountability strategies he believes lowered crime in New York City and Chicago.
"Obviously there will be a day when we have to reflect on what's going on, and if they continue at this level and we're not able to change things, it's going to be a cause for very serious concern," Purzycki said. "I don't feel that way right now."
At what point that reflection will come, Purzycki said he doesn't know.
"I would hope that six months from now we start to see some real statistical evidence that what we're doing, inside the department and outside of the department, are working."
The mayor and police chief say they inherited complex problems that have no quick solutions.
But for the families of murder victims, the city's request for more time rings hollow.
“How much time does he need?" asked Barbara Albanese of the police chief, weeks after her 18-year-old great nephew was killed. "There's been more murders now than before he started.”
Some families claim elected officials' apparent inaction has to do with race and economic class.
THEIR STORIES: The 2017 victims
"It's prominently happening to African Americans," said Mia Jones, whose 20-year-old son, Kai'Mel Ennals, was shot dead on Sept. 2. "Until it happens on their doorsteps, then it would be a problem."
It feels to her like the city doesn't care that its minorities are killing themselves off, Jones said.
"I can't be the only one outraged," she added. "This is ridiculous."
'Patience with a sense of urgency'
Chief Tracy said he is doing his best. Much of the violence in Wilmington is retaliatory, and one shooting "snowballs" into another.
“They sometimes don't even know the reason why it started,” he said.
He's trying to stop the bleeding while simultaneously building a foundation for the police force, he said.
"I have to practice patience with a sense of urgency," he said. "I'm trying to get there as quickly as I can, but I want to build this department for long-term, sustainable success."
To do that, the chief implemented department-wide community policing strategies including assigning officers to the same neighborhoods every shift and requiring them to attend civic association meetings when they're not responding to calls for service.
“You can't solve crimes without the community,” Purzycki said. “They have got to be willing to pick up the phone and call you. That's a trust that takes a long time to build up.”
Tracy also pushes officers responding to shootings to find suspects early –– and work on preventing the next incident.
"The person or the people who are going to retaliate are the friends of the victim," the chief said. "You can try to get in front of who they're in conflict with and... if we have a suspect or known perpetrator, make sure we're looking for them immediately. In the past, we waited."
Tracy said the department was not set up to do this when he came in.
"To change the culture of the way we do policing is going to take a little bit of time."
The mayor said he "could not be any happier" with the state of the police department.
"Aside from some of these disappointing statistical realities that we deal with, I know the foundation being laid in that department is as strong as I ever could've hoped for."
The Wilmington Police Department is in frequent contact with other area law enforcement agencies and the attorney general's office, the chief said, in an effort to improve communication and strengthen cases.
“Everybody counts in this criminal justice system,” Tracy said. “We're getting on the same page. … I understand our relationship wasn't the greatest in the past.”
The chief said there are reasons to believe his approach is working.
Property crimes, like robberies, burglaries and auto thefts, are down over 2016 numbers, he said. And although shootings and homicides are at all-time highs overall, the number of shootings "slowed" after he started work. The average number of shootings in the first four months of the year was 17. The average was 16 for the remaining months of the year.
“They're staying more steady this year compared to last year, instead of seeing those big spikes,” he said. “I think some things have worked, but are we where we need to be, or as good as we need to be? No, we're not there yet.”
Tracy said he takes every shooting to heart.
“I look at, how did we deploy, how did we miss it?” he said. “There is no one more critical of what we do than myself."
‘A political world'
In a year of record gun crimes in a city known for its violence, Purzycki said he hasn't gotten the pressure his predecessor, former Mayor Dennis P. Williams, was subject to.
The citizens, he said, are “very patient with us.”
“I don't see the public pressing too hard on us. I think they really believe we're doing the right things,” the mayor said. “They all understand we didn't get here overnight and it's not going to change overnight.”
But when asked about long-term solutions for Wilmington's long-term problems –– specifically the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that have not been fulfilled two years after they were issued –– the mayor said it's out of his hands.
The state is responsible for creating and funding the CDC-recommended database and services, he said.
“I think the people involved are committed to doing it, but these things are brutal in their implementation,” he said. “We all live in a political world… It takes collaboration at a level that is really difficult at times. It's hard enough to do it within the four walls of the city government… It's really hard when you have to go outside.”
Gov. John Carney announced on Wednesday that the state was awarded an 18-month technical assistance grant to help implement the CDC recommendations. As for when the recommendations will be completed, "it's hard to put a specific timeframe on" it, said Jill Fredel, communications director for the department of health and social services.
Carney, in a statement, told The News Journal that he's spent a "considerable" portion of each day focused on Wilmington since taking office a year ago.
"I talk to members of my cabinet almost daily about their actions in the city, and we are constantly looking for ways to do more," said Carney, who has lived in Wilmington for 30 years. "Our work in Wilmington is reflected in the growing role of the Family Services Cabinet Council throughout the city and it will be reflected in our budget."
Carney added that he and Purzycki regularly speak and coordinate their work in order to discuss ways they can do more.
"The state is committed to supporting Wilmington, and making it healthy again," he said.
Purzycki is focused on something more politically feasible, tackling blighted and vacant properties in the city. It's something he feels is an environmental cause of city violence.
"Our neighborhoods are shockingly bad by so many measures, and it shouldn't surprise anybody that you have crime in those neighborhoods," he said.
A reform measure before the city council would make it easier for the city to send dilapidated and vacant homes to a sheriff sale. The mayor believes changing the city landscape will change "criminal, dysfunctional behavior."
‘Nobody cares until it happens to them'
The mayor and police chief describe a police department full of dedicated officers who are committed to adapting to new methodologies.
For mothers of murdered sons, their perception of the police department is different.
All Alicia Jackson knows is that she gave police the name of a suspect and a witness to her only son's May killing, but no arrests have been made.
"I feel the Wilmington police department don't really care about these murders," she said. "It seems like it's a high epidemic of young boys getting murdered left and right, and I haven't talked to a detective since August or September."
Answers won't heal Jackson's broken heart, she said, but justice would calm the urge she feels to exact revenge on the person who killed her son.
"I had to view my child with a hole in his head," she said. "Nobody cares until it happens to them."
Barbara Albanese, whose sister's grandson Justin McDermott was shot and killed, is also frustrated that she feels clues are not being followed.
“It's ridiculous the way things are ending up in Wilmington,” she said. “I know there's rumors on the street and police have heard them.”
When shootings become "stereotypical," police can become apathetic, said Justin McDermott's cousin Chris Albanese.
"(Police) see where it is, how old he is and maybe he had a bag of weed in his pocket or something and automatically they think criminal, drug dealer, whatever,” Chris Albanese said. “The cops definitely need to put more effort into it.”
Around Thanksgiving, Latonya Smith visited a memorial for her son Cyree at the site of his shooting. Two other memorials were erected within steps of his.
“I don't understand how they just shoot somebody up in their head and live every day without a conscience,” she said.
Smith never considered cremation for a loved one, but Cyree was different. She didn't want to leave her son in the ground in Delaware.
“He's in my room. I talk to him. I hold him. Everybody thought I was losing my mind because everywhere I went I would carry him with me. I would walk around with him in my arms like a baby.”
Even though money is tight, she travels from North Carolina to Delaware every few weeks to check in with the detective on her son's case, which is still unsolved.
She wants them to know that someone cared about him.
“I will never stop calling. I will never stop seeking information,” she said. “I will never give up.”
U.S. dramatically increased searches of electronic devices at airports in 2017, alarming privacy advocates
by Chris Megerian and Brian Bennett
B order officers dramatically increased their searches last year of photos, social media messages, emails and private files kept on cellphones and other electronic devices carried by international travelers, including U.S. citizens, according to statistics released Friday.
Although fewer than 1% of travelers have their devices screened, the increase alarmed privacy advocates who say U.S. citizens should not lose their protections against warrantless searches when crossing the border.
Cellphones, laptops, tablets and other devices carried by 30,200 travelers were searched during the 2017 fiscal year, which ended last September, compared with 19,051 the year before, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The increase follows an even starker jump before that. Just 8,053 travelers had their devices searched in the 2015 fiscal year.
“In this digital age, border searches of electronic devices are essential to enforcing the law at the U.S. border and to protecting the American people,” said John Wagner, the CBP's deputy executive assistant commissioner in charge of field operations.
Fewer than 20% of the travelers whose devices were searched were U.S. citizens, according to the agency, which did not make exact numbers available.
“The idea that they can be searched just by entering or leaving the country we are citizens of — it goes against the very thing the 4th Amendment was designed to protect against, which is arbitrary dragnet surveillance,” said Ryan Calo, law professor at the University of Washington in Seattle and an expert on privacy law.
In addition to releasing the statistics, officials detailed new guidelines for customs officers to clarify and circumscribe the broad authority the agency believes it has to search and copy information storied on U.S. citizens' devices.
Officers can ask for passwords, although they're required to destroy them after the search, according to the guidelines. Although they can review files on a device, they're not permitted to search or access information stored on a digital cloud. Although data connections must be turned off during searches, officers can open social media applications to view any messages or posts that are visible.
In limited cases, officers can conduct an advanced search, which could allow them to download files for further review.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which has sued over what it describes as unconstitutional searches of electronic devices, said the tighter guidelines are helpful but inadequate.
“The policy would still enable officers at the border to manually sift through a traveler's photos, emails, documents and other information stored on a device without individualized suspicion of any kind,” said Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel at the ACLU.
Courts have repeatedly held that 4th Amendment protections against unreasonable searches can be balanced at the border against the federal government's need to protect the public from terrorism and crime.
But whether an American traveler's electronic device can be searched at an airport or on the border has not been fully determined by the courts.
A 2014 Supreme Court ruling found that law enforcement agents must have a warrant to search a phone or computer when a person is being arrested. Privacy advocates argue that a U.S. citizen crossing the border should have at least the same rights as a person arrested under suspicion of a crime.
Searching the devices of Americans at the border is “problematic” and reflects “mission creep,” said James Norton, who was a senior official at the Department of Homeland Security during the George W. Bush administration.
Norton also is concerned that any data copied by customs officers at the border may be vulnerable to hackers, given that the federal government has failed to protect private information in the past.
Congress has been “delinquent” and needs to weigh in and define exactly how much search authority border officials have over American travelers and what limits are placed on how copied electronic information can be shared, Norton said.
Stewart Baker, senior policy official at the Department of Homeland Security from 2005 to 2009 and an expert on national security law, said there's “nothing new” about searching electronic devices at the border.
“The basic principle is that however personal something is, it is subject to search at the border because it is necessary to decide whether to admit people and determine if they are carrying contraband,” he said.
A senior Customs official, who refused to be publicly identified discussing the statistics or guidelines, said there had been no formal decision to ramp up searches. Instead, the official said, more travelers have been carrying devices — sometimes multiple devices — leading to more searches.
Officials said the searches “have resulted in evidence helpful” for combating terrorism, child pornography, visa fraud and the trafficking of pirated movies, software and other types of protected intellectual property.
New York's number of murders dropped in 2017
by the Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) -- Murders in New York City have dropped to the lowest number in the modern era.
Officials say there were 290 murders in 2017, down from 335 the year before. There were also fewer shootings and fewer overall crimes reported. Arrests are down as well.
The number of murders was the lowest since 1951, when comparable record-keeping began. In 1951, the Brooklyn Dodgers were playing and the subway fare was a dime.
Police say the decline in crime is due in part to focusing more on larger takedowns and less on smaller infractions, and in part to a shift in community policing.
Mayor Bill de Blasio says he's proud of the numbers.
Crime was down in most categories except for rape. There were four more rapes reported in 2017 than 2016.
"Protect and serve' vs. 'patrol and control' in Little Rock
As the Little Rock Police Department has increased traffic stops to crack down on crime, it says the stops can also be part of community policing. Others say it's akin to stop-and-frisk.
by Jacob Rosenberg
One night in November, LaJoy Person did not use her blinker when making a left turn, and then noticed a Little Rock Police car following her. She waited for officers to pull her over, maybe give her a ticket, but they just trailed. "[They] even waited on me to stop at a stop sign [and] didn't turn on their lights," she remembered. Only when Person arrived at her destination, a white shotgun house just south of Interstate 630 where her friend Dexter Porter has a home office, did blue lights flash.
Porter, who had been expecting Person to arrive to lend him a textbook, saw the lights and peeked out the window of the home. He's grown used to being stopped on his street. "I'm numb to it," he said. He can remember at least five times in the past couple of years he's been pulled over for random stops and searches of his car. But he did not expect to see Person pulled over. "I was kind of surprised she was pulled over, because she's such a known helper in the community," he said. Person, 39, has been, among other things, a substitute teacher for 10 years, a member of a neighborhood association, an AAU men's basketball coach (some call her "Coach Momma"), a door-to-door community aide to help residents get on health insurance, a volunteer for homeless aid organizations and a mother to three boys. Person and Porter are both studying to be insurance agents, hence the textbook.
As one officer approached Person's window and another took up a position at the back right side of Person's car, Porter decided he'd pretend to take out some trash, walk in front of his house and activate a motion-sensor light so he could watch. He wanted to make sure he could keep an eye on the stop. Person noticed Porter, but focused on the officer at her window. The officer asked Person what she was doing in that neighborhood and for her registration. After explaining herself and handing over some papers, Person looked behind her and in Porter's light she was able to see fully the other officer hovering at the rear of her car.
"I saw a [female officer] out on the right side with her gun out," Person said. "The gun was literally out." Porter confirmed this. "[The officer] had pulled her weapon from her holster, but had it down," he said. For 15 minutes Porter watched as the stop continued: the female officer's gun out but down, the other officer questioning Person, and blue lights spinning through the darkness of his neighborhood.
The stop ended with the police officers giving Person a warning. It was, in some ways, just another of many routine police traffic stops. But it had a big effect on Person. "It really made me mad, because he pulled me over for really no reason. Why [were] they trailing me for no reason?"
"I've always been doing community work," she said. "But [the police] don't look at me like that; they look at my car." Person — who describes her car as "not nice" — did not forget to use her blinker: It's broken, one of many problems with the vehicle she can't afford to repair. Police "were just assuming because of how my car looked that I was a no good person or something," she said. "It felt like they wanted me to do something more than just not signal."
Such stops are called pretextual or investigative stops, in which officers use petty traffic violations — a broken tail light, expired registration tags, failing to use a blinker — as a means to inspect those they deem suspicious and possibly uncover more serious crimes. Officers hope to find a gun or drugs, leading to an arrest. More often they find a driver like Person and offer a warning.
In Little Rock, Person's story is becoming common, and so is the frustration. Since Aug. 18, the Little Rock Police Department has been paying 45 patrol officers overtime to conduct increased patrols. The move came after a violent summer in the city. By July, Little Rock had 42 homicides, the same number as the entirety of 2016. (At the end of the year, there had been 55 homicides.) On July 1, 25 people were shot — none fatally — during a concert at the Power Ultra Lounge nightclub, inspired, police said, by a dispute between "rival groups."
The suspected cause of the mass shooting underlined a cruel regularity to the rising violence. Soon officials launched task forces and made promises to crank up the federal prosecution of drug kingpins and to address problems of poverty and unemployment and prisoner re-entry, all long-term goals to curb the root causes of crime. But, in the meantime, with national news outlets evoking again the narrative of a gang war in Little Rock (a situation in the '90s that still casts a pall over the city), the public demanded immediate action from the police force.
It was in that context that the LRPD began, in August, requiring patrol officers to work an extra four-hour shift once (and a few twice) a week on top of their 40 hours to increase patrols. During a normal shift, a dispatcher directs patrol officers to 911 calls or other reported incidents. This leaves little time to do anything other than responsive policing. During the overtime shift, patrol officers roam neighborhoods that police intelligence has shown have high crime and conduct traffic stops in large volumes. Overtime pay, from implementation to Dec. 8, cost $970,434.
Critics have compared these investigative stops to stop-and-frisk, New York's controversial policy of stopping people on the street to question and pat them down, often with only a police officer's suspicion as a motive. As with stop-and-frisk, proponents of the policy say it's a valid tool to keep down crime. Opponents say it targets communities of color and treats innocent people like criminals.
But in Little Rock, the debate has taken on a new dimension. The LRPD calls the many warning stops — when a pullover does not lead to an arrest or ticket — an opportunity for community policing, part of the department's proactive strategy to create an amicable working relationship with the public to tamp down crime.
When top officers in the LRPD suggested at a public meeting, held Nov. 6 at the Willie Hinton Center on 12th Street, that increased patrols could serve as a way to improve community relations, few bought it.
Ward 2 City Director Ken Richardson had called the meeting after hearing complaints from residents like Person about the stops. Richardson had earlier sent emails to fellow directors and city administrators about the increased patrols. Under the heading "Crisis In our Community," Richardson wrote, "Our police/community relationships are horrible at best and insulting and offensive at worst." He said he'd seen "single car traffic stops [with] 4 or 5 [police] units committed" and that he'd been told by people who'd been stopped that "officers were insulting, condescending ... dealing with the community members."
But Assistant Chief Hayward Finks told the dozen or more people who attended meeting that he heard from residents every day, too, mainly those complaining about the crime. Since police began the increased patrols, he said, calls reporting gunshots fired had declined by 32 percent. He also said situations in which warnings were given, as with Person, allowed for "constructive contact." Police had only used force twice amid thousands of stops, Finks said. He said officers were respectful and that giving warnings was a way to keep crime down and to interact with community members.
Person was taken aback by Finks' logic when she heard it. "That's not community policing. How is that community policing? Nobody wants to get pulled over, no matter what community you're in," she said. "It feels like stereotyping to me. ... What was I learning from this, that I can die today, for nothing? ... That's not making me feel good or comfortable. ... That's not community policing. How is that community policing? ... If every time they pulling you over the gun is out?"
After the meeting, Richardson said the idea that investigative traffic stops were community policing was "crazy."
"How do you build a relationship by randomly pulling over people?" Richardson asked. "That's not community policing. That's random stops."
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, who had been sitting in the back of the meeting room, echoed Richardson's sentiments.
"It is dumbfounding that the Little Rock Police Department would come out and brag about doing a rolling stop-and-frisk exercise and say, 'Look, this is how we're going to do community policing,' " he said after the meeting. "So we're not going to do community policing, we're going to roll up on people and stop them. ... but, be nice about it? And this is going to be the way we establish trust and build positive relationships with a community that already has ample reason not to trust us? It's stupid."
But in an interview, a week after the meeting, Finks stuck to his point. "I mean it's fair to feel frustrated and concerned. I think that's fair. I think that we have an obligation to do everything that we can. However, like I said, we have not abandoned community policing.
"We're not moving in as some type of a major enforcement state. ... I think that we are taking a course where we can — as we stop the crime — build a rapport and constructive contacts along the way. We're not abandoning constructive contacts ... even while we're short-staffed. We're trying to figure out a way to do both."
Others complain of treatment similar to what Person experienced.
It was around dusk when the LRPD pulled Sheila Thomas (not her real name) over in November. She and a few friends were headed to the Senor Tequila restaurant on South University.
Thomas, a middle-aged African American, moved to Little Rock eight years ago and settled down in the sprawling and well-to-do West Little Rock neighborhood of Chenal. She was not surprised to be pulled over en route to the restaurant. Since coming home she's been pulled over four times. Once was for speeding, but she characterized the three other stops as simply resulting from driving south of Interstate 630, long a dividing line between the city's mostly white residents to the north and the mostly black and Latino residents to the south.
Thomas, driving a Cadillac with tinted windows, knew the routine. She steered to the side of the road and began gathering up her documents. But this stop was different from the past ones: "By the time we looked up, there were like six other patrol cars," she said. Thomas wondered what she did wrong and what warranted all the police. One of her passengers, just 19, was "scared to death," she said.
An officer approached and told her the car's headlights were not on and to step out of the car. "Magically, when we looked, [my headlights] were on," Thomas said. She was not issued a ticket and drove away with a warning.
"It just felt it was more like my car and the area and just because ... just trying to see who's in the car more than anything," Thomas said. "Once they ran my name and thought I was clear they let us go."
Kim, a convenience store employee in Southwest Little Rock who declined to give her last name for fear of reprisal, said she "watch[es] [the LRPD] give out warnings all night long — sometimes six police cars will have one person pulled over." But, she said she "didn't totally understand it until it happened to me." She was exiting a store parking lot on 65th Street where there was a police officer in the parking lot. As she left the lot, she failed to signal as she turned at a stop sign. A little down the road, she saw "blue lights blazing down 65th Street," Kim said. She pulled over, thinking police were going after someone else. Three police cars pulled up behind her. An officer approached and asked what Kim, a white woman, was "doing in this neighborhood." He said she had a taillight out, too, as well as failing to signal, and gave her a ticket. "I didn't understand why he had to treat me the way he treated me," she said.
Asked if she felt the officers' actions were helping the community, she said, "No, no, no. They are not trying to get to know people — they can tell you that, but by my experience alone, no. I was almost in tears. I haven't done anything yet wrong, and you're treating me like a criminal."
"To be honest," Kim said, police are "just pissing people off."
Thomas also said her stop felt like a crackdown, not community policing. "I can tell the difference," she said. "That was a threatening interaction to me. I just think that type of thing is harassment. ... I don't hardly ride at night now. I'm more worried about becoming Sandra Bland."
The arrest of Sandra Bland in Texas is one of the videos Derek A. Epp, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin and one of the authors of the soon-to-be-published "Suspect Citizens: What 20 Million Traffic Stops Tell Us About Policing and Race," uses to explain investigatory stops. Bland was pulled over on a highway in Prairie View, Texas, for not signaling when switching lanes. The interaction between her and the police officer rapidly turned hostile as the officer questioned her and even tried yanking her from the car. She was arrested for assaulting the officer. Bland was jailed and later found hanged in her cell.
"We have really done the cost-benefit analysis of this kind of policing tactic all wrong," Epp said. "There is a benefit to removing the drugs [on a successful search], but what we've failed to do is assign any kind of cost to a failed search." Bland's arrest and death show those costs bluntly. Investigative stops, Epp says, create "mutual distrust" that builds up between police and the community, often minority and low-income, that is targeted. But when investigative stops were mainstreamed, aggressive policing costs seemed secondary to stopping violence. In the 1970s, James Q. Wilson and other social scientists developed the "broken windows" policing philosophy. Wilson proposed stringent punishment of minor crimes, such as a broken window, to prevent larger crimes. Holding people accountable for petty crimes, Wilson argued, maintained order and stopped the erosion of community, which led to the more serious crimes. He advocated for stop-and-frisk.
Wilson acknowledged in a 1994 New York Times op-ed that stop-and-frisk could result in profiling: "Innocent people will be stopped. Young black and Hispanic men will probably be stopped more often than older white Anglo males or women of any race." For Wilson, stopping crime was more important.
Finks usues similar logic. He was at the scene of a murder on Asher Avenue that occurred during rush-hour traffic when he called Chief Kenton Buckner and petitioned for the LRPD to implement increased patrols. It was the third homicide in as many days.
But Finks points to data that he says demonstrates the program is working. During the first four months of the increased patrols, as compared to the four months before the program began, traffic citations slightly declined, traffic warnings nearly doubled and the number of reports of gunshots being fired declined by 25 percent, from 905 incidents of shots fired from April 18 until Aug. 17 to 683 from Aug. 18 until Dec. 17. There have been 52 weapons and 114 drugs seized, the LRPD says, as of Dec. 25. The overtime patrol charged 349 felony counts (it's unclear, from LRPD data, how many actual people received charges) by Christmas.
But data shows the costs too: 5,823 subject and traffic stops by increased patrols in the same time span. That was approximately 112 traffic stops of residents like Person and Thomas per one gun seized.
The increased patrols have not occurred in a bubble. A task force including the State Police, the FBI, the DEA and other local agencies is trying to put together federal cases against major criminals in Little Rock. The LRPD has touted its Violent Crime Apprehension Team for making many felony arrests. This focus on enforcement, said Sgt. Willie Davis — a longtime member of LRPD and a community police officer who runs a program for young black men in the department — can be problematic.
"[You] still need somebody to soften that blow because when you go into a community like that — impacting people — you have to have someone to deal with the people or talk to the people that are not causing problems," he said. Otherwise, "they can feel intimidated and left out of the loop in terms of helping solve the problem."
This is especially true, Richardson says, because the trust between police and the community has been a problem for years. He has repeatedly complained of heavy policing in communities of color, saying, "There are some parts of the city of Little Rock where it's protect and serve for the Little Rock Police Department, and in other parts it's patrol and control." He said police too often treat residents in areas east of I-30 and south of I-630 "like everybody is everybody's criminal." Under the LRPD's method of policing, Richardson said, "One day you're treated like a trespasser in your community, the next day you're treated like a friend." Painting traffic stops as community policing is just the latest iteration, he says, of something that's been going on for years. In an email to fellow City Board members, he wrote, "I'm not sure if you guys realize this or not but the quick short term benefits may not be worth the long term effects. When these guys are upset about the humiliating treatment by LRPD, they have a tendency to take it out on each other. Usually in some form of violence."
Finks has said the LRPD is wary of a backlash. He said he knows the response in Ferguson, Mo., to the killing of Michael Brown was in part a result of over-policing for many years. But he says the rolling stops — and the number of warnings police have given vs. the number of citations — demonstrate a clear sign that the new effort is not just a crackdown of enforcement but an effort in community policing.
"The last thing we want to do is bring the violent crimes down for a minute and then everything blows up because everybody is so irate with the way the police department has been responding to the community," Finks said. "That's the last thing that we want."
"Community policing is not just narrowed down to the officers walking a beat. ... The problem is a lot of times, because of staffing, the officers are just constantly going from call to call and they don't have to. It's not because they don't have the skills or the will to do community policing. It's because of the call load."
The LRPD doesn't have enough officers, Finks said. In August, when the patrols began, the police had 54 vacancies (by Nov. 30, with a recent academy class graduating, the number was 21). Police can no longer walk beats in neighborhoods, and have to respond quickly to 911 calls instead, Finks said.
"That's great when you have [officers] on bicycles that are walking the beat in the neighborhood, getting to know the community. But, due to staffing concerns and issues, we had to scale back how many officers we could put in the neighborhoods," he said. After a summer of violence, his department needs to simply try to stem the violence. "I'm much more concerned with that right now," he said.
With new recruitment classes, in a year he thinks it's possible the LRPD could have more police working a community beat.
The LRPD has 19 officers assigned to a community beat. Many are concentrated in the River Market district, where nine officers patrol on bicycles. The sprawling southwest and northwest districts have only two officers each on bikes. Downtown has three.
Residents say the reason they feel targeted is that many police officers are not part of the community: A majority of officers live outside the city of Little Rock (65 percent according to the most recent data).
LRPD Chief Kenton Buckner has also drawn criticism. Hired in 2014, his tenure has been rocky at times. The Black Police Association has asked for "an independent investigation into the discrimination, inequities and disparaging treatment of minority officers and supervisors" under Buckner's command. Critics have also said the chief is often rude when talking before community groups; his supporters have said he speaks with a refreshing bluntness. Buckner, who declined to be interviewed for this article, often talks of "black on black" crime at community meetings and personal responsibility and downplays the idea that nonresident cops are a problem.
"Unemployment for black and brown communities is going to [go away]? Now, you know that's not going to happen," he said in an interview with the Arkansas Times last year. "The problem is, we keep looking for penicillin pills. It doesn't exist. Only heavy lifting is left. People are going to have to make some strong decisions about how they conduct themselves, how they go about living their lives, how they view education, choosing not to do drugs, choosing to have kids in wedlock, fathers choosing to have an active role with their kids. None of that has anything to do with a police officer living in the city."
Community members have also complained about what they perceive as the abandonment of the original vision for the 12th Street Station, which was once promised to be a mixed-use hub for the police and businesses but as of now only houses LRPD personnel. Built in 2013 during the tenure of former Chief Stuart Thomas, the 44,000 square feet of office space in the block-long building was supposed to take "the department into the future," Thomas said at the time, adding, "We're really looking forward to the opportunity to get working and operating out of this facility and see how it impacts the rest of the neighborhood." Police hoped the 12th Street Station would solve a chicken-and-egg problem: In order to fix crime, people need jobs, and in order for jobs to come, crime needs to go down. Mocked-up designs of the 12th Street Station made it look like a modern mall.
At the Nov. 6 meeting at the Willie Hinton Center next to the station, Buckner said of the lack of businesses in the area: "You think it's a coincidence that this commercial side of the 12th Street building is still vacant? There are several business people in here: Who in their right mind is going to bring their business into an area saturated with crime?"
The LRPD recently bought a building downtown on Markham to expand its headquarters.
Buckner's take on the failure of the 12th Street Station to attract commercial tenants resonated with Denise Johnson, who owns a beauty salon across the street on 12th: "That's why the police department is not that interested in this area; they're interested in where the money is." She had beamed with pride when the station was opened — she thought it meant the police would be part of the community and more businesses would move in. Now, she's disappointed. After 34 years on 12th Street, she wants to relocate. "When they had the groundbreaking, I thought it would make my clients more comfortable," she said. "They are more frightened now than they were then.
"I tell you one thing. I couldn't keep my door open before the police station and I still can't keep my door open. And I can see the police station, and I still cannot keep my door open."
Davis, the LRPD sergeant, said that an emphasis on community policing could help bring down the crime.
"Here's the thing: There is no way any cop, in any city, in any country can solve any problem unless someone says, 'That guy had on a red shirt, black shoes and he ran west.' If you don't tell us that, we don't know," he said. He does not see community policing as an extravagant add-on to policing but a part of the job. "If any police officer thinks their job is not social, they need to get their brain looked at. This is social work that we do. I don't care how you slice it. It's social work," he said. "I don't buy that I don't want to see them in a grocery store. I want them to see me in a grocery store. Not only that, I want them to see me and my son, who plays in the same park that their kids play in. I want them to know that I have a vested in the community where we all live. ... Do I not want to go to church with you? What are we saying?"
Remembering the officer who'd unholstered her gun during a traffic stop, Person said the police "need people in the community who are in the community who are not scared of the community. I don't like scared police in the community, because the first thing a scared police does is shoot."
Davis was quick to defend his fellow officers. "We have a lot of good officers; we do. I think 98 percent of the time we get it right," he said. "But there's a small degree. And, there's a few that will never accept the idea of community policing. In some cases it may be a person that acts as a leader — that may be a leader." Davis was among the Black Police Officers Association members to criticize Chief Buckner.
That's why so many have been frustrated by the increased patrols, Judge Griffen said. "This is stupid at the policy level," not just a beat cop going rogue, he said. "And it is going to do what stupid policy has been known to do for a half-century: create more distrust, create more possibilities for flashpoints." And those flashpoints, he said, can turn into something larger in this city where, already, distrust is pervasive between the police and communities of color. "Little Rock is running out of time," he said.
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