Criminal Justice News Coverage in 2018

Mass shootings, the special counsel’s Russia investigation, immigration, and sexual assault charges against powerful men in the worlds of entertainment, media and business dominated the news media coverage of criminal justice in 2018. But the most significant development, as it was in 2017, was the continued drop in coverage of local justice issues.

The most significant development in 2018, as it was in 2017, was the continued drop in coverage of local justice issues, which arguably has a greater impact. The U.S. justice system overwhelmingly comprises players who operate in state, county and municipal jurisdictions, where policies and practices directly affect millions of people.

Layoffs or closures in many mid-market or small outlets across the U.S. affect many subjects of news reporting in addition to criminal justice. Budget and staffing pressures have forced  many outlets to combine traditional justice beats with others and to reduce deep-dive reporting on local justice issues. The daily survey of several dozen media websites for the news digest produced by The Crime Report shows fewer in-depth stories on criminal justice than there were in earlier years.

Some fairly new online news sites had filled some of the gaps in criminal justice reporting among mainstream media organizations but there were layoffs at such places as BuzzFeed News and Huffpost. The workforce problem shows every signs of continuing this year.

There are some bright spots worth noting. Some of the smallest outlets, mostly in rural areas, have demonstrated enthusiasm for reporting on the rural jail crisis and opioid overdose deaths. A media training program on justice in the “heartland” organized by the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College in July produced an impressive collection of stories. Some can be read on The Crime Report’s website.

Last year’s midterm elections drew media attention to the emergence of a new wave of “progressive” prosecutors from both parties, whose actions will come under increased attention over the next several years.  (See “Progressive Prosecutors’ below.)

Turning to the national landscape, an Associated Press survey of editors found that criminal justice issues were involved in five of the six top news stories of 2018, topped by the Parkland, Fl., school shooting on Valentine’s Day 2018 that led to a national student movement for gun control. (The one other story in the leading half-dozen was the 2018 midterm elections.)

Editor’s Note: An annual survey of nightly television news coverage of all subjects by ABC, CBS and NBC by analyst Andrew Tyndall will be available shortly, and a revised copy of this report will be posted on our website.

This assessment of criminal justice news coverage was based in part on a conference call conducted by Criminal Justice Journalists on Feb. 1, 2019 with criminologist James Alan Fox of Northeastern University, William Freivogel of Southern Illinois University and the Gateway Journalism ReviewRoger Goldman of Saint Louis University School of Law, and Dan Shelley of the Radio Television Digital News Association, with contributions by Marea Mannion of Pennsylvania State University and Brandt Williams of Minnesota Public Radio.

Local Criminal Justice Coverage Continues to Drop

While several newspapers and online outlets in the national media produced exemplary criminal justice coverage during the year, it is clear that the volume of detailed and analytical coverage has decreased at the local level.

The number of employees in newspaper newsrooms fell 45 percent between 2008 and 2017, from about 71,000 to 39,000, a Pew Research Center study reported last summer.

Commenting on the Pew findings, media critic Margaret Sullivan of the Washington Post wrote, “One problem with losing local coverage is that we never know what we don’t know. Corruption can flourish, taxes can rise, public officials can indulge their worst impulses.”

It should be noted that several local news outlets produced fine coverage of important subjects in their areas, such as the prize-winning Cincinnati Enquirer’s reporting on the opioid overdose crisis in that hard-hit area, the Miami Herald’s investigations of abuse of inmates in Florida prisons, and the Houston Chronicle’s stories on similar problems in the sprawling Texas prison system.

The Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College continues to receive dozens of high-quality entries in its annual competition for prizes for the best coverage during the previous year, so it should be clear that there is plenty of good reporting going on in this important area.

The issue is that the stories often revolve around scandals in a particular city or region. As Sullivan notes, it is not clear in many areas whether there is news or not about basic operations of the criminal justice system.

On a broader scale, it is fairly rare to see the news media produce serious stories about what causes the high level of violence that continues around the nation even while rates of reported crime clearly are lower than they were in the 1990s.

In a book to be published in mid-2019, “Bleeding Out,” Thomas Abt of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, a former U.S. Justice Department anticrime official, faults the media for not paying enough attention to the underlying issues of violence.

He says, “In [today’s] sensationalized, polarized environment, evenhanded stories about everyday violence often find it hard to compete for attention. And it is these stories that can celebrate the successes of treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy and explore the science supporting them. The media—mainstream, new, and social—must do a better job of getting the word out on such stories.”

Of course, some local newspapers and television stations do run occasional feature stories on projects aimed at the violence problem, but the fact that overall crime rates around the U.S. are not so high as they have been in past decades means that the media typically do not focus on the issue unless there is clear increase in lawbreaking in their circulation areas.

Mass Shootings and Gun Control

Once again, 2018 was a year punctuated by mass shootings, which always get disproportionately more news coverage than other crimes because they are so shocking. Most of the 50,000 or more annual shootings involving just a few individuals get hardly any attention by comparison.

The killings of 17 students and staff members at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018 were especially newsworthy for a variety of reasons: They took place in an upscale area; the local law enforcement reaction to the attack was erratic at best, with the school’s own police officer accused of not responding quickly, and there had been several danger signs involving the shooter that were not taken very seriously.

Many Douglas students immediately announced that they would campaign for stronger gun control measures, a drive that resulted in quick adoption of a state law in Florida that imposed a three-day waiting period for most purchases of long guns, raised the minimum age for buying such weapons to 21 and banned bump stocks, devices that can make semiautomatic weapons fire like fully automatic firearms.

A large volume of media coverage speculated that the student enthusiasm would make Parkland different from the pattern that followed other major school shooting incidents, starting with the one at Colorado’s Columbine High School in 1999 and continuing through Newtown, Ct.’s Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. In each instance, widespread pleas for new gun control laws had relatively little impact, particularly in a Congress heavily lobbied by the National Rifle Association.

At year’s end, the South Florida Sun Sentinel published a sobering review of events leading up to and following the Parkland episode. “Once he decided to shoot up a school, there wasn’t much to stop Nikolas Cruz,” said the newspaper. “His threats were ignored, the campus was wide open, the school doors were unlocked and students had nowhere to hide.” Ten months later, students at the school “are still exposed to potential danger,” the Sun Sentinel said.

The Parkland shooting was followed by an episode on May 18 in which a 17-year-old student at Santa Fe High School in Texas killed 10 students, using his father’s gun.

Unlike in Florida, that incident did not lead to a particularly strong call for gun control in Texas, where policymakers have been much more conservative on gun issues. There also was no significant action in a Republican-dominated Congress, but there clearly will be much more attention to the issue now that Democrats have taken control of the House of Representatives. Whether that leads to any significant changes in the law is yet to be seen.

Throughout the year, several important aspects of school security were covered by the Washington Post. The newspaper compiled a graphic updated in December concluding that more than 220,000 students have experienced gun violence at schools in the two decades since Columbine. In June, the newspaper reported that many school districts were rushing to buy facial-recognition technology, although it “remains unproven as a deterrent to school shootings.”

This was followed up by a lengthy examination published on November 15 questioning how much equipment sold to schools by a $2.7 billion industry (a figure that doesn’t even count the large sums spent on security guards) actually works. The story said, “little research has been done on which safety measures do and do not protect students from gun violence.”

Then in December, the Post told how many of the four million children who had endured school lockdowns around the U.S. during the last school year were traumatized by the experience.

The Post took a close look at the issue of how school shooters obtain their weapons. On August 5, the newspaper reported that among 105 school shootings since 1999 in which the weapon’s source was identified, 80 percent were taken from the homes of the child, relatives or friends. The newspaper could find only four cases in which someone had been prosecuted for allowing a young person access to a firearm.

Non-school mass shootings also made major news during the year. On June 28, a man who had held a grudge for many years against the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Md., burst into the newsroom and killed five journalists. The man had made threats against the newspaper and filed a lawsuit that was dismissed over a 2011 story in the publication about his guilty plea to harassment of a high school classmate. The newspaper was able to continue publishing with the help of journalists from other cities. The story ranked eighth in the list of crime stories covered by the three major television networks.

Then on October 27, a man killed 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, a case that has been classified as a hate crime. The massacre got a large volume of news coverage, focusing on the suspect’s long history of anti-Semitic statements. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a front-page headline in Hebrew, the first words of a Jewish mourners’ prayer, as a tribute to the victims.

The Post-Gazette reported October 30 on Trump’s “somber visit to Pittsburgh just three days after the massacre, a visit marked by protests and pushback from local officials who expressed discontent with his appearance and chose not to attend.”

One aspect of gun crimes getting considerable attention was “red-flag” laws in 14 states that allow law enforcement to seize weapons from people who are judged to be serious threats to themselves or others. The Washington Post on March 18 took a close look at the use of such a law in Connecticut, where there have been 200 cases since the measure was enacted in 1999.

As the newspaper summarized the debate, “Gun-control advocates say it is a common-sense way to prevent suicides, murders and mass shootings. Some gun owners say it is the manifestation of their greatest fear, in which the government confiscates legal guns from the homes of law-abiding citizens.”

Among major mainstream media, the New York Times most consistently covered gun issues not directly related to school shootings. Three examples:

On June 4, the Times reported on lax enforcement by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The agency regularly finds violations of the law by licensed firearms dealers but rarely penalizes them. Of 11,000 inspections in the year starting in October 2016, more than half of dealers were cited for violations but fewer than one percent of inspections resulted in the loss of a license.

On September 10, the Times took on the issue of how California is dealing with ammunition control. The state is limiting internet sales, banning large-capacity magazines, requiring sellers to have licenses, raising taxes on bullets, and requiring serial numbers or other traceable markings on ammunition so police can more easily track them.

The newspaper on Christmas eve detailed how in at least eight mass shootings since 2007 that killed 217 people, gunmen financed their attacks using credit cards, some using credit to acquire weapons they could not otherwise have afforded.

The news media’s habit of featuring mass killers continued to get attention last year. Criminologist Adam Lankford of the University of Alabama, who has studied the practice, was invited to speak at the annual meeting of Investigative Reporters and Editors, an event covered in The Crime Report.

He contended that the media may inadvertently encourage school shooters, commenting that, “When someone is desperate for fame or attention, committing a high-profile mass killing is one of the only guaranteed ways to get it. In many cases, winning a Super Bowl or Academy Award garners less media attention than committing one of these crimes.”

There was no exact count available on how often the media named mass shooters, but many follow-up stories did not use the name of suspects but rather referred only to “the shooter” or similar anonymous characterizations.


After seemingly endless debates in Congress for decades over the nation’s immigration policies, the Trump administration has made immigration a top-priority issue for more than two years, prompting constant news media coverage over a series of controversial policy moves.

News coverage has been extensive and often critical. In a year end reviewThe Guardian quoted Gregory Chen of the American Immigration Lawyers Association as saying, “It is breathtaking, how sweeping and deep the policy and legal changes are that this administration has ushered in within a period of just two years.”

The newspaper said the changes “hit every angle of the immigration system, from assailing humanitarian protections with the family separation policy to restricting workers travelling on the so-called ‘high-skilled’ H-1B visa with a plan to revoke their spouses’ work permits.”

In the criminal-justice arena, one major policy shift was the “zero-tolerance” policy of stepping up enforcement at the southwest border, which resulted in the separation of  thousands of immigrant children from their parents.

The separations were necessary because those accused of crossing the border illegally typically were jailed, and children are not supposed to be jailed with their parents. The Texas Tribune and Reveal combined to tell the story of a Guatemalan women who was separated from her four children even though she attempted to enter the U.S. legally by seeking asylum. A lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union cited 40 such cases.

Much of the controversy concerned basic facts, including repeated contentions by President Trump that immigrants are responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime. In “The Myth of the Criminal Immigrant,” The Marshall Project cited a study concluding that in 136 metropolitan areas, the immigrant population increased between 1980 and 2016 while crime was stable or fell. The study, which reflects the results of other research on the subject, “suggests either that immigration has the effect of reducing average crime, or that there is simply no relationship between the two,” the story said.

The Washington Post’s fact-checking team said immigration accounted for the “biggest source” of the 8,158 false or misleading claims by President Trump in his first two years of office. The fact checkers added that the tally has grown with the addition of 300 misleading immigration claims in [early 2019] for a total of 1,433 of the president’s total.

To take one example, the president claimed that if his proposed wall were built on the southern border, “The crime rate and drug problem in our country would be quickly and greatly reduced. Some say it could be cut in half.”

The Post called that statement “simply laughable,” saying, “There is no evidence to suggest that is the case. Most undocumented immigrants do not illegally cross the southern border, undocumented immigrants do not commit crimes at a rate higher than U.S. citizens, and drugs flow through the border mostly through legal crossing points.” Many other media have made similar points.

Conservatives complained that much media coverage of the president’s policies was negative. It is true that stories about policy changes almost always included quotations from critics, but that didn’t prove that the overall coverage was biased. Coverage would have been more favorable if the media hadn’t had to devote so much space in print, on the internet, and in broadcast reports to correct factual errors made by the White House.

The New Yorker observed that the media gave plenty of coverage to the president’s anti-immigration rhetoric. Much of the coverage was explanatory to a public that largely does not know much in detail about the U.S. immigration system. The magazine said that in mainstream media coverage overall, with some exceptions words like “migrants” and “asylum” before 2017 “appeared primarily in coverage of foreign countries.”

Another big issue covered by the media has been the level of cooperation between local law enforcement and the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. The Washington Post discussed the debate in “County by county, ICE faces a growing backlash” on October 2. The story focused on counties that cut off contracts to house alleged immigration-law violators for ICE. Only near the end of the piece was it reported that during the Trump administration, the number of counties joining the federal 287(g) program that allows local jails to screen inmates for immigration violations had tripled.

The Post also reported extensively on the role of California as a “sanctuary state.” A May 14 story examined the state’s California Values Act, which prohibits most communication between local law enforcement and federal immigration agents. 

Federal Sentencing and Prisons Bill

Almost since long mandatory minimum federal sentences for drug crimes were enacted, starting in the 1980s, critics have tried to roll them back, arguing that they far exceed the damage actually done by narcotics and their application often hits minorities the hardest.

Tough-on-crime members of Congress managed to block major changes until late 2018, in large part because President Trump was persuaded to back a reform measure called the First Step Act that had gained support among many Republicans.

Much of the persuading was done by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, whose father had served a federal prison term, but he was joined by such conservatives as then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA.)

Trump’s endorsement of the measure was surprising to many, partly because his initial choice as attorney general, Jeff Sessions, had opposed it, as had hard-line conservatives on Capitol Hill. On November 15, the New York Times recognized the significance of Trump’s move, leading the newspaper with a story headlined, “Trump Embraces a Path to Ease U.S. Sentencing.”

Much of the national news media gave extensive coverage to the measure’s often-uncertain march to passage before Congress adjourned late last year. In fact, some of the reports were too exuberant, wrongly labeling the measure “sweeping criminal justice reform” when it actually involved only parts of the federal justice system.

The New York Times took a more measured approach, saying on December 19 after the Senate voted for the bill that, “the legislation falls short of benchmarks set by a more expansive overhaul proposed in Congress during Barack Obama’s presidency and of the kinds of changes sought by some liberal and conservative activists targeting mass incarceration.”

On the next day, the Washington Post analyzed “How the law-and-order GOP pivoted on criminal justice.” Its story noted that, “Republicans said revising the criminal justice system will save money by moving people convicted of low-level offenses out of prison and into programs that will help reduce the recidivism rate.” The newspaper said the bill was “also a response to moves on the local level, where similar changes passed in some of the nation’s reddest states, including Oklahoma and Texas.” It was one of the relatively few stories that explained how the federal reform actually lagged changes in many states.

The New York Times contributed good reporting on federal prisons. On June 18, the paper reported in a lead story that a workforce shortage in institutions meant that some prisons “regularly compel teachers, nurses, secretaries and other support staff” to step in as guards.   On November 18, the Times described the “harassment, humiliation and terror” experienced by many female employees of federal prisons.

“Murder With Impunity

The Washington Post deserves a special mention for a lengthy series over the course of the year that mapped homicides in major cities over a decade and found “areas where murder is common but arrests are rare.”

It was unusual and successful attempt by a newspaper with a national readership to analyze a key criminal justice issue that is touched on only occasionally by most local media.

Here is a rundown of some highlights of the series:

* Police blamed the failure to solve homicides on insufficient resources and poor relationships with residents, especially where witnesses fear retaliation, the paper reported on June 6. Families of victims say the fault rests with “apathetic police departments.”

* Police in 52 large cities have failed to make an arrest over a decade in nearly 26,000 killings; in 18,600 of those cases, the victim was black. Black victims were the least likely of any racial group to have their killings result in an arrest. Police arrest someone in 63 percent of the killings of whites but only 47 percent of the killings of blacks, the Post reported on July 29.

* A September 14 story discussed high caseloads for detectives in Detroit and other cities. The article reported that departments with lower caseloads tended to have higher arrest rates, while departments with higher caseloads tended to have lower arrest rates; 39 of 48 departments reflected that pattern.

* On October 18, the series focused on Richmond, Va., where police have the highest homicide arrest rate of 50 cities surveyed, having made an arrest in 351 of 495 homicides — more than 70 percent of cases — since 2007. Police officials credit persistent community outreach that has helped encourage witnesses to cooperate.

Kavanaugh Confirmation and Sex Crimes

President Trump’s nomination of federal appellate judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace the retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy would have had extensive news coverage in any case, but the story gripped the nation in the summer and early fall when Kavanaugh was accused of having sexually assaulted a high school classmate decades earlier.

The mainstream media generally covered the issue responsibly, giving detailed accounts of accuser Christine Blasey Ford’s account before and during a Senate hearing in September, as well as Kavanaugh’s strong denials.

In the rush to cover all angles of the contentious nomination fight, some cable news programs and newspaper stories gave too much play to unsubstantiated allegations dating from Kavanaugh’s high school and college years. For at least a few days while the Senate was deciding how to proceed, it seemed like any accusation against the nominee about his activities in the 1980s could get publicity.

As just one example, USA Today reported that Deborah Ramirez, a Yale University classmate of Kavanaugh, ”said that he exposed himself to her and shoved his penis in her face at a dorm room party in their freshman year at the Ivy League school. She said they were playing a drinking game at the time and admits there are gaps in her memory of that night.” That, like several other stories about Kavanaugh, never got much traction as he was narrowly confirmed.

Other sex-assault charges got major attention, most prominently the conviction of comedian Bill Cosby in a court near Philadelphia for having abused a Temple University employee 14 years earlier. Charges against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein for allegedly raping a woman in 2013 and forcibly performing oral sex on another woman in 2006, and the sentencing of former Michigan State University sports doctor Larry Nassar for molesting many young female athletes also had a huge volume of print and broadcast coverage.

The Cosby verdict may have been more an anomaly than a breakthrough for sex-crime cases, the New York Times said on April 28, quoting a former prosecutor in the jurisdiction where Cosby was tried as saying, “The reality for sex crimes prosecutions against victims of acquaintance sexual assault, even post-Cosby conviction, is the cards are stacked against them.”

Mueller Probe: ‘Watergate Times a Thousand’?  

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference with the 2016 U.S. presidential election attracted saturation coverage, as the media competed to pierce the veil of secrecy covering the probe’s activities. Leaks and unsourced comments complemented (and occasionally confused) reportage on the prosecutions of former Donald Trump advisers Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, among others. Ambiguity over the sources of the leaks (Congress, the White House, Trump’s legal team) added further confusion, and made it hard to assess the information——and also led to criticism that the media was pouncing on any details that would undermine the President.

In one story after Republicans in Congress issued a memo criticizing the Mueller probe, the Associated Press noted that the “media’s partisan divide seems wider than ever.”

AP said that, “Fox, CNN and MSNBC, which are now more political talk than news channels, have been consumed by the story.” Fox host Sean Hannity declared, “This is Watergate times a thousand,” charging the FBI with deliberately misleading a federal judge. On MSNBC at the same time, talk-show host Rachel Maddow was laughing. “That’s it?” she asked. “That’s all they got? That’s what all the hype was about?”

Some of the media can be faulted for constantly speculating that the Mueller investigation was about to end. It was still going on in the late winter of 2019.

Most reporting of the Mueller investigation seemed accurate, but the special counsel rarely said anything and stories mostly consisted of reporting on court cases or statements from key figures about what testimony grand juries were hearing.

It wasn’t until 2019 that a major media report was questioned by Mueller directly. The special counsel’s office denied a BuzzFeed News report that prosecutors possessed evidence that the President had directed then-lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about a potential Trump real estate project in Moscow. BuzzFeed stood by its story.

Attorney General Sessions Fired

Reportage on the short tenure of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was fired shortly after the midterm elections, centered on Trump’s continued criticism of Sessions for recusing himself from overseeing the Mueller probe, a decision that most ethics experts said was legally correct.

The focus on the probe largely overshadowed detailed analysis of the actions Sessions was taking on crime and immigration issues, most of which agreed with White House policies. USA Today reviewed his record, noting that he had “urged federal prosecutors to intensify their focus on immigration crimes” and that he had added 311 prosecutors to help fight opioids, crime and immigration offenses.

Opioid Epidemic

Scores of media stories continued the previous year’s focus on the death toll from drug overdoses, and the roots of the crisis. The Washington Post concentrated on drug manufacturers’ role in causing the problem. The newspaper reported in February on a congressional report that two of the biggest drug distributors sent 12.3 million doses of powerful opioids to a single pharmacy in a tiny West Virginia town over eight years.

A congressional panel is investigating the sale of pills in the state by wholesale drug distributors, which are required to tell Drug Enforcement Administration about suspicious purchase orders for opioids.

Many media outlets contributed good reporting on how the opioid epidemic has affected their communities.

Meriting special attention is the Cincinnati Enquirer, which won a Pulitzer Prize last year for it 2017 story “Seven Days of Heroin,” in which 60 journalists contributed to what the Pulitzer price board called “a riveting and insightful narrative and video documenting seven days of greater Cincinnati’s heroin epidemic, revealing how the deadly addiction has ravaged families and communities.”

More coverage is needed on how federal, state and local agencies are spending large sums of money that are being allocated to deal with the crisis.

The New York Times made such an effort on February 20, questioning how much the $38 million being spent by the city had to do with a decline in the number of drug fatalities between 2016 and 2017. The largest single chunk of the money was spent on police heroin overdose teams. Critics said more should be devoted to increasing treatment opportunities.

Media have dutifully reported on laws passed by Congress authorizing federal funding for dealing with the issue, but little follow-up so far on successes and failures.

Other Criminal Justice Issues

“Progressive” Prosecutors

The election of more local prosecutors who favor alternatives to prison terms for many low-level offenders got more attention from the media. The Washington Post, for example, published a front-page feature November 20 on Mark Gonzalez, a former defense attorney who became district attorney of Nueces County, Texas, on a platform that included decriminalizing marijuana possession and aggressively prosecuting police in unwarranted shootings of civilians. The New York Times did a version of the overall story on October 26, focusing on what proved to be the successful campaign of former judge John Creuzot against incumbent prosecutor Faith Johnson in Dallas County, Tx.

Because the phenomenon is relatively new, there have been few reviews of how new prosecution policies have fared. The New Yorker published a notable feature in October on Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s “campaign to end mass incarceration.”

Bail Reform

Changes in pretrial release practices to reduce discrimination against suspects who can’t afford to pay for bail got significant media attention, especially in connection with a new California law that would eliminate cash bail (the statute is being delayed by court challenges from the bail industry).  The New York Times reported on the issue April 1 in an article headline “Extortion or the Price of Freedom?” It said that, “As commercial bail has grown into a $2 billion industry, bond agents have become the payday lenders of the criminal justice world, offering quick relief to desperate customers at high prices.”

Shootings by Police Officers

 The number of killings of civilians by U.S. police officers again neared 1,000 last year, according to an ongoing Washington Post database, but the number involving unarmed people declined to 68 in 2017 from 94 in 2015, the Post reported. Criminologist Geoff Alpert of the University of South Carolina said, “What we don’t understand yet is what’s causing these numbers to move downward.” Print and broadcast media continue to give good coverage to incidents when they occur, but the Post is virtually the only news organization to be tracking the issue on a constant basis.

Genealogy Websites

 Websites offering the public information about family histories have emerged as a source of key information to solve some cold cases. The break authorities said led them to the man accused of being California’s “Golden State Killer” came when investigators linked DNA evidence from the slayings to genetic information contained on a consumer genealogical website, reported the Los Angeles Times. Investigators had known the killer only through a string of DNA recorded at several of a dozen murder scenes. Eventually, they tapped genealogical databases that the public uses to search for relatives and ancestors. That narrowed the investigation to several families listed in the database, with a pool of some 100 men who fit the age profile of the killer. That case and others prompted a debate about the privacy issues in such DNA searches.

 Selective Focus on Crime Victims

The press has long been criticized for paying more attention to crimes involving photogenic, media-friendly victims in what one scholarly analysis called a”hierarchy of victimization.” The murder of Shanann Watts, a pregnant Colorado woman, and her two young daughters in August and the arrest of her husband, Christopher, for the crimes, was one of last year’s most prominent examples. The Watts case received a large amount of airtime on major television networks, ranking sixth in the number of minutes devoted to the top ten crime stories reported by three major television networks in the annual survey by Andrew Tyndall cited earlier in this report. The Washington Post said “the story may reflect race, gender and class dynamics as much as any other detail.” The newspaper quoted sociologist Zach Sommers of Northwestern University as saying that stories about young, white, female victims are “a natural trope” in U.S. society, a variation of the classic “damsel in distress” tale that has been reinforced by movies, books and culture for centuries. The recent list of victims or alleged perpetrators include Laci Peterson, Chandra Levy, Natalee Holloway, Elizabeth Smart, Amanda Knox, Jodi Arias and Casey Anthony.

The Crime Report thanks the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation for its continued support of these annual reviews. A second part of the 2018 Year in Review with a transcript of the conference call mentioned above will be posted later, along with the revised summary.


Criminal Justice News Coverage in 2017

After a year of concentration on national politics, much coverage of crime and justice in 2017 in the U.S. news media shifted to a discussion of the presidential election’s aftermath and of a topic given new prominence by Donald Trump’s presidency: immigration. Also dominating the year’s news cycle were two subjects that hadn’t been so prominent before: drug overdoses and sexual abuse. The media also paid attention to what seemed like an endless series of mass shootings and a continuing […]

After a year of concentration on national politics, much coverage of crime and justice in 2017 in the U.S. news media shifted to a discussion of the presidential election’s aftermath and of a topic given new prominence by Donald Trump’s presidency: immigration.

Also dominating the year’s news cycle were two subjects that hadn’t been so prominent before: drug overdoses and sexual abuse.

The media also paid attention to what seemed like an endless series of mass shootings and a continuing focus on fatal encounters between police and private citizens.

We’ll cover all of this and more in our annual review of how the news media treated major crime and justice subjects over the year.

A capsule of what captured the most mainstream media attention can be seen by looking at what the three major broadcast networks covered in their nightly news programs, as compiled by analyst Andrew Tyndall.

In 2016, the biggest single crime stories by far were the gay night club massacre in Orlando and the killing of five police officers on the same day in Dallas.

Last year, not surprisingly, the most-covered crime stories were mass shootings: the killing of 58 concertgoers in Las Vegas by Stephen Paddock, followed by the attack on members of Congress at a baseball practice in northern Virginia, and the massacre at a Texas church in which 26 people were killed.

Viewed through a broader lens, seven of the top 20 stories on all subjects had some criminal justice element, leading with the investigation into possible Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections and including President Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey, the White House ban on travel from Muslim-majority nations, and the immigration crackdown generally.

This assessment of criminal justice in 2017 as reported by the media will be supplemented by a conference call conducted by Criminal Justice Journalists with James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University; William Freivogel of Southern Illinois University and the Gateway Journalism Review; Marea Mannion of Penn State’s College of Communications; Brandt Williams of Minnesota Public Radio; and Dan Shelley of the Radio Television Digital News Association.

Editor’s Note: A transcript of the conference call will be posted online. Please check The Crime Report for availability.


Crime had been rising in many big cities in the two years before the 2016 presidential campaign, giving Republican candidate Donald Trump a major issue to discuss. The final crime numbers are not in for Trump’s first year in office.

Because the FBI reports its national crime count so late (typically in late September for the previous year), an advocacy group, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, has commanded much of the media attention to the subject by publishing its own compilation of crime totals from the 30 largest cities.

Typical was this report by NPR, which quoted the Brennan Center’s projection that when the totals are in, rates for overall crime, violent crime and murder in the U.S. will have declined in 2017.

One subject that received less national media coverage last year than it had in the last few years was crime in Chicago, where homicides in recent years had hit the highest levels in two decades. That is because the total dropped in 2017. This Chicago Tribune summary said that the year’s murder count was down 15 percent, or more than 100.

The newspaper said the decrease has “raised new hopes that Chicago could make progress in shedding its national reputation for gun violence, an image fueled by both President Donald Trump’s frequent mentions and by the distressing loss on Chicago’s streets.”

The FBI in September issued the final crime numbers for 2016, as submitted by local police agencies. The website reported a month later that the newest edition contained about 70 percent fewer data tables, most of the missing ones concerning arrests and homicides. There was little explanation for the omission other than that the data tables had relatively few hits when they were posted on the internet in the past.

Even later than the FBI report was the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics’ annual victimization survey, which on Dec. 7 estimated 5.7 million “violent victimizations” in the nation in 2016 but said that because of a redesign of the survey, there could not be a precise comparison between 2015 and 2016.

Newsweek magazine reported that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had misrepresented his own agency’s statistics by saying in a speech, alluding to that report, that there had been a 13 percent spike in the violent crime rate. “The report he was citing clearly said there had been no measurable change,” Newsweek said.


The pledges by President Trump and Attorney General Sessions to take a tougher line than the Obama administration on crime and punishment have shifted Department of Justice polices—and raised concerns among reformers and advocates. The details were just beginning to be laid out in 2017, but the national media chronicled the unfolding story.

“Return of the war on drugs” was the front page headline in the Washington Post on Sunday, April 9. The story featured Sessions’ hiring of federal prosecutor Steven Cook of Knoxville, Tn., an advocate of tougher federal sentencing. The Post reported that Sessions and Cook “are eager to bring back the national crime strategy of the 1980s and ‘90s from the peak of the drug war.”

The following day, in “The Rise and Fall of Federal Efforts to Curb Police Abuse,” the New York Times described another Obama-era policy likely to fall under Trump, the use of consent decrees to impose reforms on policing in cities across the nation. The article detailed the history of the first such decree, in Pittsburgh in 1997. “The only realistic way to look at this is that it did not stick,” University of Pittsburgh law Prof. David Harris told the newspaper about the Pittsburgh experience..

Then in June, the administration replaced a National Commission on Forensic Science with an in-house task force. The Washington Post reported on this, as well as the suspension of an effort to set uniform standards for forensic testimony and to widen a review of FBI testimony on several controversial techniques.

Another notable example of Trump policy coverage was published by the New York Times on Nov. 22 under the headline, “Dept. of Justice Eases Scrutiny of Local Police.” The newspaper said that many police chiefs lamented the demise of the Justice Department’s “collaborative reform” program in which police department got Justice Department advice on best practices. The article attributed the conversion of the program to “technical assistance” in large part to the Fraternal Order of Police, which believes that the previous effort was too burdensome on rank-and-file officers.

The Times treated Trump’s overall philosophy on the crime issue with a healthy dose of skepticism, as indicated by a “news analysis” on Aug. 28, headlined “A Law-and-Order President (Enforcement May Vary).”

The article was prompted by Trump’s pardon of former Maricopa County, Az., Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who had been found guilty of contempt of court after he was found to have violated an order prohibiting his office from engaging in racial profiling. The Times quoted the conservative Washington Examiner, which said in an editorial that “once again Trump really means ‘busting heads’ when he says ‘law and order.’ “


Immigration has been a contentious issue for decades, but the Trump administration ratcheted up media attention with its vow to crack down on undocumented residents nationwide. The news media have devoted a considerable volume of coverage to the issue. It was 16th on the top 20 story subjects covered during the year on the Tyndall summary.

A study by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy of media coverage of President Trump’s first 100 days in office found that immigration was the single most covered subject during the period, commanding 17 percent of coverage by the major media (health care was second, with 12 percent).

The study assessed the tone of coverage, finding that overall coverage of Trump “set a new standard for negativity,” with 80 percent of it judged to be negative. Notably, immigration received far the most negative coverage of any topic, by the Shorenstein Center’s assessment, with a full 96 percent of stories judged as negative.

Could some of this be due to journalistic ignorance? David Seminara of the non-partisan Center for Immigration Studies, who is frequently interviewed on immigration issues, wrote that “for every one reporter I’ve spoken to who understands legal and illegal immigration, there are 20 who are absolutely clueless.”

One reason that so much of the coverage is deemed negative may be that news stories often point out misstatements by President Trump and his associates.

For example, on Aug. 10,  reported on Trump’s repeated references to the 2015 killing of Kate Steinle in San Francisco by a man who had been deported from the U.S. five times and who then re-entered the United States illegally. (The man was acquitted recently.)

Early in this presidential campaign, Trump said, “Public reports routinely state great amounts of crime are being committed by illegal immigrants.”

Slate said, “This is not true. Study after study shows undocumented immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than the general population, and crime rates in cities with large immigrant populations have fallen disproportionately. Regardless, the lie that undocumented immigrants are likely to be violent criminals would help propel Trump to the GOP nomination and ultimately the presidency.”

That story would have been classified negative to Trump by a study like Harvard’s (which was issued before the Slate article), but such coverage seems to be based on facts and not bias against Trump.

Much of the local coverage has dealt with aspects of the “sanctuary city” question, with many stories about the administration’s threats to withhold federal aid from jurisdictions that don’t cooperate with federal authorities on detaining undocumented immigrants. Many big-city mayors and police chiefs have not complied, arguing that many citizens, both legal residents and others, will not cooperate with law enforcement on any issue if they could be threatened with deportation.

On May 14, the Washington Post said that many police departments had experienced a drop in crime reporting in predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods, which police chiefs attributed to undocumented immigrants being hesitant to deal with law enforcement because they feared deportation.

The media have devoted considerable effort to correcting other utterances by President Trump relating to immigration. The Washington Post Fact Checker said that the most popular fact check in the column’s 10-year history involved Trump’s statement that his executive order blocking travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries was comparable to what President Obama did in 2011. In fact, Obama was responding to an actual threat:  two Iraqi refugees were involved in bombmaking that targeted U.S. troops. No specific threat prompted Trump’s order, and Obama’s policy did not prevent all citizens from Iraq from entering the U.S., the Post said.

MASS SHOOTINGS: “We Are Inundated by Rage”

The United States seems to be plagued with terrible mass shooting incidents several times a year.

They follow a predictable pattern in the media: The event gets saturation coverage, with detailed attention both to the shooter and the victims, there are cries for reform from gun control advocates and opposition from gun-rights advocates saying legal changes would make no difference, and then little coverage until the next episode.

One prominent episode occurred on June 14, when James T. Hodgkinson of Belleville, Il., opened fire at a baseball practice involving members of Congress in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Alexandria, Va., severely wounding House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA).

The New York Times termed it the latest example of a “grim trend” of politically-inspired violence (the shooter was a fervid opponent of President Trump).  Former Sen. John Danforth (R-MO) observed, “We are inundated by rage … it’s the demand from the base of the two parties and it is in large part encouraged by the media.”

The October shooting at a Las Vegas concert by Stephen Paddock, whose victim toll of 58 was the largest in recent U.S. history also brought a torrent of news coverage. It was unusual that many months later, neither law enforcement nor the media has been able to determine a motive for the massacre.

In early November, Devin Kelley opened fire in a Baptist church in the small town of Sutherland Springs, Tx., killing 26 people. In most such cases, it becomes clear that either the shooter obtained his weapons legally (as apparently was the case in Las Vegas) or there would have been no easy way to prevent him from obtaining them.

This case was different. As the New York Times put it in a lead story on Nov. 7, the Air Force immediately admitted that it had failed to enter Kelley’s domestic violence court-martial into a federal database that could have blocked him from buying the rifle that he used.

The episode prompted many articles about flaws in the federal background check process, but as seems typical in coverage of firearms issues, the stories mostly came to an end after a few days.

The day after the Air Force story, the Times published a detailed analysis of the mass shooting trend. Its conclusion was that “the only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns.” One figure cited is that the U.S. has about 4.4 percent of the world’s population and 42 percent of the world’s guns.


Police officers in the United States have long been involved in gunning down citizens. It took the death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014 to make the phenomenon been a major subject of national and local news coverage.

In the absence of reliable federal data, the Washington Post has been maintaining a database of police shootings. Early in 2018, the Post reported that last year’s total was 987, roughly the same as in the previous two years. The newspaper said that since its project began, it had logged the details of 2,945 police shooting deaths, which it compiled from local news coverage, public records and social-media reports. The number of unarmed black men killed last year declined from 2015.

Earlier, the Post ran a front-page story on May 3 reporting that the U.S. Justice Department had decided not to bring charges against a Baton Rouge, La., police officer for shooting Alton Sterling on July 5, 2016 in a case that got much national attention. It was the first major federal decision in such a shooting during Jeff Sessions’ tenure as attorney general

One of last year’s well publicized and controversial police shooting incidents involved the July 15th fatal shooting in Minneapolis of Justine Ruszczyk Damond. The 41-year old Australian woman was shot moments after she called 911 to report an alleged assault in a back alley behind her home, and reportedly struck the side of a police squad car       .

An officer in the passenger seat fired a single shot shortly after Damond approached the vehicle from the driver’s side. The incident not only came with a racial angle twist—Damond was white; the officer who killed her is of Somali descent—but it attracted international coverage as Australian journalists traveled to the Twin Cities to cover the case.

The coverage was distinctive. “American Nightmare” was the front page headline in the Sydney Daily Telegraph.


“In Justine Damond’s native country, news of the meditation teacher’s baffling death has dominated the airwaves, newspapers and websites for days, feeding into Australians’ long-held fears about America’s notorious culture of gun violence,” wrote the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

In essence, the coverage overseas appeared to castigate and place more blame for Damond’s killing on the United States’ gun culture than at the hands of an individual police officer, who may or may not ultimately face criminal charges in the shooting.

The Washington Post is one of the few national media outlets that have closely following the problem of police misconduct since the Michael Brown shooting.

On Sunday, Aug. 6, the newspaper published results of a major investigation headlined “Fired/Rehired,” concluding that since 2006 at least 1,881 officers had been fired by 37 large police departments. Some 451 of them appealed and won their jobs back through rulings of arbitrators.

Policing reforms overall did not get much significant attention from the news media last year. One exception was a front-page story in the New York Times on October 21 reporting a study in Washington, D.C., that seemed to show that equipping police officers with body cameras had almost no effect on their behavior. Police Chief Peter Newsham was quoted as being surprised by the results, but he said the city’s police force would continue using cameras because they bring benefits that are not easily measured.


The overdose death totals from the opioid epidemic keep rising, especially in the Rust Belt states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Media attention also has increased, notably in newspapers like the Washington Post and Cincinnati Enquirer.

The Post has provided extensive coverage of the national picture, reporting on Aug. 9 that newly released data showed that drug overdoses increased in the first nine months of 2016. The story also said that President Trump had declined to declare the situation a national emergency, something he later did.

CBS’ “60 Minutes” and the Post deserve credit for an investigation that was broadcast and published on October 15. It reported that as the opioid epidemic raged, Congress in the spring of 2016 stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration from its strongest weapon against drug companies that are suspected of providing large quantities of prescription narcotics to the public. The law made it virtually impossible for DEA to freeze suspicious drug shipments from the companies.

The reporting had at least one significant result: It highlighted the fact that the legislation had been spearheaded by Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), who had been nominated by President Trump as the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (popularly known as the “drug czar.”) After all of the publicity, Marino withdrew his candidacy.

The Post has long been ahead of the curve in reporting on the drug industry’s role in the crisis. On April 3, the newspaper published a lengthy story detailing the federal government’s failure to file criminal charges against Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals for failing to report suspicious orders of 500 million pills it manufactured that were distributed in Florida between 2008 and 2012. The firm ended up agreeing to pay a $35 million fine, a sum one government official described as “chump change” for the company.

The Cincinnati Enquirer, located in the heart of the area most affected by the opioid epidemic, published a special report on Sept. 10 headlined “Seven Days of Heroin: This Is What An Epidemic Looks Like.”

As described by Nieman Storyboard, during one week in July, the newspaper sent more than 60 reporters, photographers and videographers to document the impact of heroin in the Cincinnati area. They went to jails, courts, methadone clinics and psychiatric hospitals. The reporting included witnessing overdoses, listening to 911 calls, attending recovery meetings and riding with police officers who were looking for users and dealers.

They tallied 18 deaths and 180 overdoses during the week.

Nieman Storyboard called the paper’s effort “a riveting portrait of the human face of heroin. Instead of a traditional narrative, the project was presented largely as a series of chronological vignettes, interspersed with photos, social media posts, 911 recordings and rap lyrics. The mixed-media collage effectively showed that virtually no local geography or institution was left untouched by heroin.”

In the New York Times on June 18, freelance journalist Sam Quinones contributed a strong piece about an effort by two dozen county jails in Kentucky to start “therapeutic communities” for their increasing population of addicts.

These and other stories are indications that the media have covered the opioid crisis both as a public health emergency and as a criminal justice challenge. This contrasts with the treatment of the crack cocaine surge of the 1980s, which was mostly reported on the topic as a law enforcement issue.

Media coverage also highlighted the business aspect of the opioid crisis. “Mexican heroin is flooding the US, and the Sinaloa cartel is steering the flow,” was the headline to a Business Insider piece last fall, referring to the band of traffickers formerly headed by Joaquin El Chapo Guzman.



Sexual abuse in the U.S. may not have increased, but news media coverage of it has intensified notably, as it seemed that hardly a week went by in late 2017 before another celebrity was accused of harassment, some of it dating from decades earlier.

At least one case from years past already had attracted considerable interest before the year began: Accusations against comedian Bill Cosby in the form of a criminal case filed in the Philadelphia suburbs. A well-covered trial ended up with a hung jury.

The issue exploded again onto the front pages in early October, when the New York Times published an extensive report that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein had quietly settled at least eight sexual harassment complaints over three decades. It was not clear in early 2018 that any of the numerous accusations against Weinstein would lead to a criminal case, but the Weinstein story has set the backdrop for a number of other prominent charges against entertainment and media figures as well as politicians, such as U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), who was pressured to resign after he was accused of abuse in several cases.

The news media themselves were hit by a barrage of major departures over sexual harassment charges, including Matt Lauer of NBC, Charlie Rose of CBS, Michael Oreskes of NPR and Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker.

“The news media is supposed to be a surrogate for the public, and most Americans don’t like the thought that our surrogates are living in and endorsing workplace environments in which sexual harassment now seems to be too common,” Jeffrey McCall, a professor of media studies at DePauw University, told The Hill.

“Further complicating the media’s image in all of this is the sanctimonious manner in which the media has covered sexual harassment in other corners of society,” McCall said. “It is difficult for the news media to parade around as haughty overseers of right and wrong in broader contexts of society when they clearly have in-house confusion about first principles of decency.”

Between the time allegations first surfaced about Weinstein in early October and Nov. 20, the evening-news programs of ABC, NBC and CBS devoted 218 minutes to sexual harassment stories on their weekday newscasts, according to industry consultant Andrew Tyndall, Variety reported. Most of that coverage involved Weinstein and Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore. (By comparison, the probe into Russian influence on the U.S. presidential election drew 85 minutes of coverage during the period and the church massacre in Texas 67 minutes.)

Kelly McBride of the Florida-based Poynter Institute, a longtime writer on media ethics, says that many media policies on reporting sexual harassment are behind the times, limited to rules such as “Because of the stigma associated with sexual assault, we do not publish the names of victims.”

McBride issued a challenge to news organizations:

Rather than starting with a policy that tells us what to avoid, what if our policies encouraged us to tell the story of sexual assault more completely, so that the public might understand how it happens and how to prevent it? Today’s policies presume that our journalistic motive for telling a sexual assault story is rooted in our urge to improve public safety. But sexual assault isn’t really a public safety problem; it’s a public health problem




Criminal justice policy, from policing to courts to prisons, always has been primarily an issue for states and localities to decide, but the issue had more national resonance in recent years as the Obama administration and a bipartisan group of U.S. senators focused on ways to reduce the rapidly growing federal prison population, which is larger than the total in any single state.

The Trump administration worked on increasing the number of federal criminal cases and has shown no interest in reducing prison sentences, in line with positions taken by  Attorney General Sessions as a U.S senator.

This has made prisons and sentencing again more of a question for states than for Washington, D.C., but the news media have shown only sporadic interest.

One of the few national examinations of the subject ran on the front page of the New York Times on May 19, which focused on a reform bill in Louisiana and reported that 30 states had limited some sentences and expanded alternatives to incarceration.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune and The Advocate also reported on the reforms, with the Times-Picayune quoting Gov. John Bel Edwards on May 17 as saying that the state may still have the nation’s highest per capita rate of incarceration after the new law goes into effect.


While we have reported on significant criminal justice coverage by many news media organizations from around the nation—and there are many others that are not reflected here—it is important to note that the manpower available to report on justice and many other major topics has dropped sharply in recent years.

Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan discussed this trend in an April 17 column that cited the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting that had just been won by the Charleston, W. Va., Gazette-Mail for stories on the prescription drug epidemic.

The family-owned, 37,000-circulation paper with a staff of 50 decided to pursue the question of “where all these drugs were coming from, and how could so many pills be diverted onto the street,” said executive editor Robert Byers.

Gazette-Mail reporter Eric Eyre attributed the winning series partly to his coverage of the state attorney general’s office.

The problem, The Post’s Sullivan says, is that this kind of journalism is disappearing. Over the last 15 years, the workforce of U.S. newspapers shrunk from 412,000 employees to 174,000. The number of reporters covering statehouses—where much criminal justice policy is made—has declined even further. (After Sullivan’s column was written, the Gazette-Mail filed for bankruptcy but will continue to publish under new ownership.)

Newspapers are not the only source of local reporting, of course. Television and radio stations, and community newspapers, continue to thrive in many areas. Websites have filled some of the gap left by the erosion of daily newspapers.

Among nontraditional sources that have contributed notable reporting on justice subjects are the California-based Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal, the Frontier in Tulsa, Ok., and the Grits for Breakfast blog in Austin, Tx.

Crime and justice always have been staples of local reporting, and that hasn’t changed. There is bound to be less of that reporting as the number of people doing it on a regular basis is much diminished in many U.S. cities.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists (CJJ) and Washington Bureau chief of  The Crime Report. Rubén Rosario is Metro columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and a CJJ board member. The Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College thanks the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation for its continuing support of the crime journalism year-end reviews.


Prescription Opioids Lead to More Fatal Car Crashes: Study

The use of prescription opioids by drivers is increasingly implicated as a contributory cause in fatal motor vehicle crashes, according to a new study published in the JAMA Network Open.

The use of prescription opioids by drivers is increasingly implicated as a contributing cause of fatal motor vehicle crashes, according to a new study published in the JAMA Network Open.

Authors Dr. Guohua Li, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, and Stanford Chihuri a staff associate at the Department of Anesthesiology, found that using prescription opioids more than doubles the risk of initiating a car collision, regardless of the drivers blood alcohol level.

Using data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the researchers analyzed 36,642 drivers involved in fatal two-vehicle crashes between January 1st, 1993, and December 31st, 2016. All had undergone toxicological drug testing in the wake of the tragedy.

Before the opioid epidemic began in the mid-1990s, prescription opioids were rarely implicated in fatal motor vehicle crashes, the researchers said.

Over the 24-year period they studied, the percentage of drivers in fatal crashes with opioids in their blood increased enormously—from 2 percent to 7 percent among those whose actions initiated the crash, and from just under 1 percent to 4.6 percent for the driver of the other vehicle.

The increased risk associated with opioid use is largely due to such drivers’ “failure to keep in the proper lane.”

Drifting over the line “accounted for more than half—54.7 percent—of driving errors leading to fatal two-vehicle crashes committed by drivers testing positive for prescription opioids.” Among drivers who tested negative, it was the cause of only 40 percent of such accidents.

“Failure to keep in (one’s) proper lane, such as crossing the center line, is a particularly dangerous error, and might be attributable to the adverse effects of prescription opioids on alertness,” researchers wrote.

Clinicians should take into consideration the adverse effect of opioid analgesics on driving safety while prescribing these medications and counseling patients, the authors concluded.

A full copy of the report can be found here.


Gun Violence Top Issue as 14 Vie for Chicago Mayor

“There’s no place we can call safe,” said former police superintendent Garry McCarthy, one of 14 people running to succeed two-term Mayor Rahm Emanuel in next week’s election. Many voters are demanding that the city’s next leader overhaul its troubled police force.

Twenty hours after a Chicago gang leader was assassinated this month on a street, a toddler was shot and critically injured while sitting in an SUV with his mother and grandmother. It was the latest spasm of bloodshed before a mayoral election that many people say could redefine Chicago’s identity, reports the Washington Post.

For much of the campaign, candidates have described a city wracked by gun violence. They point to a wave of carjackings and shootings downtown and in better-off neighborhoods as proof that violence has seeped out of the South and West sides to affect all of Chicago.

“There’s no place we can call safe,” said former police superintendent Garry McCarthy, one of 14 people running to succeed two-term Mayor Rahm Emanuel in next week’s election.

There’s no unanimity on solutions, though many are demanding that the city’s next leader overhaul its long-troubled police force. Candidates tread a fine line between supporting the department and responding to communities that harbor a deep distrust of law enforcement.

“You can’t solve it just on the policing side — that we all know,” said Bill Daley, the son and brother of two previous mayors, who calls police reform the “single biggest issue” facing the city.

The Crime Lab at the University of Chicago says violence is a reason for the exodus of more than 200,000 black residents since 2000. While homicides fell in 2018 compared with 2017 and 2016, when 762 people were killed and more than 4,000 shot, every new spate of violence only reinforces fears.

See Also: One- Third of Youth In Violent Chicago Areas Have Carried Guns

Across the spectrum, the 10 men and four women vying to be mayor have pledged to address root causes of violence: poverty and segregated neighborhoods, too few jobs in lower-income areas and the disproportionate incarceration of African-American men.

Additional Reading: Sessions Echoes Trump Criticism of Chicago Crime


Trump and Pelosi Declare A Violent Crime Crisis in The US

  Highlights Thanks to Speaker Pelosi and President Trump, we have confirmation from the right and left that we have a violent crime crisis in the United States. Author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Retired federal senior spokesperson. Thirty-five years of award-winning public relations for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every […]

The post Trump and Pelosi Declare A Violent Crime Crisis in The US appeared first on Crime in America.Net.

  Highlights Thanks to Speaker Pelosi and President Trump, we have confirmation from the right and left that we have a violent crime crisis in the United States. Author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Retired federal senior spokesperson. Thirty-five years of award-winning public relations for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every […]

The post Trump and Pelosi Declare A Violent Crime Crisis in The US appeared first on Crime in America.Net.


Jussie Smollett has sung is Swan Song…

Jussie Smollett is going to hang by his FAKE NOOSE!There are over 3500 stories on this blog
go to the main page at

Jussie Smollett is going to hang by his FAKE NOOSE!


Cyber Attacks on Elections Called ‘Imminent National Security Threat’

In a joint bipartisan resolution, 22 Western governors called on the feds to make cyberattacks a top priority, beginning with restoring the position of the White House cybersecurity coordinator—eliminated in May.

The governors of 22 Western states have appealed to the federal government to step up efforts to deter foreign hackers from undermining the election process, and to work more closely with states on “early, meaningful and substantive” measures to protect America’s cybersecurity.

“State election systems remain targets of foreign interference (and) there is nothing more fundamental to the enduring success of our American democracy,” the governors said in a joint resolution sent to Congress last week.

“This is an imminent national security threat that transcends party lines.”

In a  resolution of the Western Governors Association, the governors warned that the federal government’s ability to cope with cyberattacks on the nation’s energy grids and other key parts of the infrastructure was seriously undermined by  “a severe deficit” of trained cyberworkers, and further exacerbated by Washington’s failure to renew the position of White House cybersecurity coordinator.

“Our nation cannot defend itself without a well-trained, experienced cyber workforce,” the bipartisan group said in a message to Congressional leaders.

“The public sector must dedicate resources to cybersecurity education, training and recruitment programs, and encourage the private sector to do the same through effective policy.”

The White House scrapped the cybersecurity position on the National Security Council in May, under a directive from national security advisor John Bolton shortly after he was appointed.

Bolton said the post was no longer considered necessary because cybersecurity issues were already a “core function” of the president’s national security team.

At the time, the decision came in for sharp criticism from senior congressional leaders.

“I don’t see how getting rid of the top cyberofficial in the White House does anything to make our country safer from cyber threats,” said Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The governors cited a report by the federal government in May, finding that 71 of 96 federal agencies were “at risk or high risk of cyberintrusions.”

The report also charged that federal agencies were “not equipped” to figure out how saboteurs were able to gain access to the agencies’ computer systems.

“This deficiency results in ineffective allocations of the agencies’ limited cyber resources,” the governors said.

According to the governors, the parts of the federal government infrastructure at risk include the electric grid, energy resource and supply delivery chains, finance, communications, the chemical industry, the defense industrial base, healthcare and public health and wearter and wastewater systems.

“The federal government should use the full range of economic tools, including travel and financial sanctions, to deter cyberattacks organized or supported by nation-states,” the governors said.


OT2018 #19: “Fake Mootness”

OT2018 #19: “Fake Mootness”As we enter the February sitting, we give you the rarest of episodes: a completely comprehensive preview of all the cases that will be argued this week! All two of them!

The post OT2018 #19: “Fake Mootness” appeared first on SCOTUSblog.

OT2018 #19: “Fake Mootness”

As we enter the February sitting, we give you the rarest of episodes: a completely comprehensive preview of all the cases that will be argued this week! All two of them!

The post OT2018 #19: “Fake Mootness” appeared first on SCOTUSblog.


The First Step Act:  It’s Only a ‘First Step’

Congress shouldn’t rest on its laurels following the landmark sentencing overhaul bill signed into law in December, writes one of the original advocates of the legislation. He argues the changes should be part of a major ongoing effort to reform the U.S. justice system.

A poignant moment during the recent State of the Union address was listening to the story of Matthew Charles, a former prisoner who became one of the first persons released from incarceration under the First Step Act.

Charles was one of several special guests of the president in attendance.

Signed into law during the closing days of 2018, the bipartisan First Step Act expands rehabilitative programming, modifies some mandatory minimum laws to provide more proportional sentencing, and provides a second chance to people like  Charles who’ve worked hard to transform their lives while in prison.

The new law also freed Edward Douglas, who until recently was serving a life sentence in a federal prison for a nonviolent drug offense. Like Charles, Douglas used his time in prison to learn new skills and serve as a mentor to other prisoners.

The First Step Act is working in other ways too.

Despite the partial government shutdown, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has been implementing new compassionate release rules to help terminally ill prisoners and their families file for sentence reductions.


Ready for next step in prison reform? Photo by Kevin Burkett via Flickr

The law is also acting as a catalyst for states that haven’t yet reformed their criminal justice systems.

But as important as the law is, additional steps are needed to improve our criminal justice system. To bring about transformative change, policymakers at all levels must act.

The private sector, civic organizations and community leaders must also do their part to ensure that the formerly incarcerated can find work, housing and access the tools they need to succeed after being freed.

First up for government is ensuring that the provisions of the new law are carried out faithfully.

Make Sentencing Changes Retroactive

Congress should apply three of the law’s sentencing changes retroactively, to help people who received overly harsh sentences under outdated policies and pass other front-end reforms that prioritize prison beds for dangerous criminals while addressing low-level, nonviolent offenses through treatment and other programs that better serve this population.

In addition, Congress should codify the Supreme Court ruling that requires prosecutors share all of the information that they have about the alleged crime with the accused at the outset the case.

Lawmakers can also address our over-incarceration epidemic by clarifying criminal intent standards and working to rein in our bloated federal criminal code and regulatory code, under which virtually anyone can be charged with a crime.

The Trump administration can act on its own to reform the executive clemency process to create second chances for people who wouldn’t necessarily qualify for relief under the First Step Act.

Needed: More ‘Clean Slate’ Laws

States can parallel many of these federal actions by removing barriers for people with criminal records. More “Clean Slate” laws, like the one enacted in Pennsylvania last year, will create second chances for people by unblocking them from jobs, housing, and education.

States could also increase the transparency of their criminal justice systems through more data collection and enhanced due process protections for citizens. Across the country individuals are incarcerated awaiting trial without considering other factors like the potential for flight risk, or whether the individual poses a threat to public safety, while others are incarcerated due to excessive fees and fines, and technical violations.

Research has shown that even a brief period in jail can increase the likelihood of a low-risk defendant committing a new crime.

Businesses can help transform lives and enable people to contribute to their communities by hiring qualified candidates with criminal records.

I’m proud to work for Koch Industries, which hires people with criminal records and recently signed the Getting Talent Back to Work pledge with the Society for Human Resource Management to end outdated, non-inclusive hiring practices.

Train Returning Citizens in Employable Skills

Mark Holden

Mark Holden

Finally, groups like Hudson Link for Higher Education, Safe Streets & Second Chances and The Last Mile can provide incarcerated people with skills and identify obstacles that prevent them from succeeding after their release.

We believe, as Winston Churchill did, in “an unfaltering faith that there is a treasure, if you can only find it, in the heart of every man.”

We all share a moral imperative to help find and unlock that treasure, to unleash the potential in everyone.

If we all do our part, we can bridge the partisan divide and build on the great foundation provided by the First Step Act.

It’s time to take the next steps on criminal justice reform, this year and beyond.

Editor’s Note: Mark Holden will join Holly Harris of the Justice Action Network and Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof to discuss the politics of justice reform at this week’s 14th annual John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America. The conference will be livestreamed. The link will be announced shortly.

Mark Holden is general counsel of Koch Industries. Readers’ comments are welcome.