Alarming Rash of Gun Thefts Reported in Kansas City

Firearms thefts rose 37 percent increase, and the higher rate is continuing this year, says the Kansas City Star. Many gun owners are making it easy for criminals to propel the city’s high rate of gun violence. They are stowing their guns carelessly in cars, not securing them in locked boxes, and failing to record serial numbers to help law enforcement if they are stolen.

Kansas City has experienced an unprecedented and alarming rash of gun thefts citywide, the Kansas City Star reports. The number of annual firearms thefts rose from 496 to 588 between 2008 and 2015, but it exploded last year. Thieves stole 804 a year ago, a 37 percent increase. And they are on pace to steal some 830 firearms in 2017. Many gun owners are making it easy for criminals to propel Kansas City’s harrowing gun violence. They are stowing their guns carelessly in cars, not securing them in locked boxes, and failing to record serial numbers to help law enforcement if they are stolen. “It comes down to personal responsibility,” said Mark Jones of Chicago, a retired agent of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives. “All guns start life as a legal commodity,” he said. But when gun owners fail to protect their weapons, criminals take them “into the underground market.”

Gun thieves know there are eager buyers for illegal guns who, because they can’t get them legally, will readily pay a hefty cash price on the street, said Don Pind, a Kansas City firearms training consultant. “You can get $300 for anything that goes bang,” he said. A 2016 study by the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health determined that in violent crimes where guns were recovered, the perpetrator carried a gun owned by someone else 8 out of 10 times. “Those guns stay on the streets,” said Kansas City police spokeswoman Capt. Stacey Graves. “They bring violence on our community.” At some point police may recover a stolen gun, but by then odds are “it has changed hands many times” and been involved in multiple crimes.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Police Experiment With Cameras on Guns

“It’s kind of cutting-edge technology now,” said Assistant Chief Michael Kovacsev of St. Petersburg, Fl.,  which tested gun cameras this year. “One thing about the gun camera is you can actually see what’s going on. You actually get to see the viewpoint of the officer where the weapon is pointed.”

Some police departments are showing interest in a new type of video camera that can be mounted directly on officers’ guns, saying it may offer a better view of officer-involved shootings than body cameras. Some law enforcement officials and civil rights groups are skeptical, the Associated Press reports. Critics note that gun cameras start recording only after weapons are removed from holsters and won’t capture what led to officers drawing their guns, or other interactions with the public. Besides the better view, supporters say the pros include lower video storage costs because gun cameras record much less often than body cameras, and a feature in some models that instantly alerts dispatchers and nearby police when officers draw their weapons and may need help.

Officers’ arms, walls and other objects can get in the way of body cameras, as they did in a New York City officer’s fatal shooting of Miguel Richards last month. Officers’ body cameras also may not be turned on. “It’s kind of cutting-edge technology now,” said Assistant Chief Michael Kovacsev of St. Petersburg, Fl.,  which tested gun cameras this year. “One thing about the gun camera is you can actually see what’s going on. You actually get to see the viewpoint of the officer where the weapon is pointed.” Gun-mounted cameras have been around for years, mostly for sport shooting enthusiasts, but have not caught on with law enforcement. Some police departments use cameras mounted on stun guns that activate when the safety switches are turned off. The NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union both say gun cameras should not be used instead of body cameras. “I think there’s a lot of context you’re going to be missing with the gun-mounted cameras,” said the NAACP’s Ngozi Ndulue.

 

from https://thecrimereport.org

Police Killed in Criminal Acts Rise from 41 to 66

The FBI’s annual report says last year’s numbers were higher than those five and ten years ago. The average age of officers killed was 40.

Some 66 law enforcement officers were killed in felonious incidents in 2016, the FBI reported Monday, up from 41 in 2015. Last year, 52 other officers died in accidents. In addition, 57,180 officers were victims of line-of-duty assaults. The 66 felonious deaths occurred in 29 states and in Puerto Rico. Five- and 10-year comparisons show an increase of 17 felonious deaths compared with the 2012 figure (49 officers) and an increase of eight deaths compared with 2007 data (58 officers).

The average age of the officers who were feloniously killed was 40. The officers had served in law enforcement for an average of 13 years at the times of the fatal incidents. Of the 66 officers, 64 were male, and two were female. Sixty-one of the officers were white, four were black/African-American, and one was Asian/Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Amid Opioid Crisis, How Drug Industry Defeated DEA

Last year, at the height of the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history, Congress stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration of its most potent weapon against drug companies suspected of spilling prescription narcotics onto the streets, the Washington Post and “60 Minutes” report.

In April 2016, at the height of the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history, Congress  stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration of its most potent weapon against drug companies suspected of spilling prescription narcotics onto the nation’s streets, the Washington Post and “Sixty Minutes” report. The opioid war had claimed 200,000 lives, more than three times the number of U.S. military deaths in the Vietnam War. Overdose deaths continue to rise. A few members of Congress, allied with major drug distributors, prevailed on the the Justice Department to agree to a more industry-friendly law, undermining efforts to stanch the flow of pain pills. The DEA had opposed the effort for years.

The law was the “crowning achievement of a multifaceted campaign by the drug industry to weaken aggressive DEA enforcement efforts against drug distribution companies that were supplying corrupt doctors and pharmacists who peddled narcotics to the black market,” say the Post and “60 Minutes.” The industry worked behind the scenes with lobbyists and key members of Congress, pouring more than a million dollars into their election campaigns. The chief advocate of the law that hobbled the DEA was Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), President Trump’s nominee to become the next drug czar. Marino spent years trying to move the law through Congress. It passed after Sen. Orrin G. Hatch  (R-UT) negotiated a final version with the DEA. The new law makes it virtually impossible for the DEA to freeze suspicious narcotic shipments from the firms according to federal documents and an independent assessment by the DEA’s chief administrative law judge in a soon-to-be-published law review article.

from https://thecrimereport.org

DOJ Investigates SC Youth Incarceration

Child advocates have pressed for an investigation for at least two years, said Susan Dunn of the American Civil Liberties Union. An investigation is critical to ensure the safety of staff and juveniles involved in more than 15,000 cases each year, she said. The probe will include the incarceration of youth with disabilities.

The U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has opened an investigation into the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) that will include probing the evaluation and incarceration of youth with disabilities, the Charleston Post and Courier reports. About 40 percent of juveniles sent to DJJ’s Columbia detention center qualify for special education services. Child advocates have pressed for an investigation for at least two years, said Susan Dunn of the American Civil Liberties Union. An investigation is critical to ensure the safety of staff and juveniles involved in more than 15,000 cases each year, she said. “This is a system that really needs assistance,” Dunn said. “It seems like we have avoided an objective evaluation of the place.”

The news comes less than a week after the Post and Courier published an investigation into the state’s wilderness camps that exposed a web of secrecy that shrouds deaths and assaults at the camps and the agency’s failure to track them. DOJ officials will look at security issues at the Broad River Road prison and at centers where thousands of youth are locked up each year to undergo court-ordered evaluations. That likely will include probing the number of youth placed in solitary confinement and the length of time they spend there. The state’s Legislative Audit Council issued a sharp rebuke of the state agency this year. Auditors wrote that they “did not find convincing evidence that [the state] is adequately prepared to respond to major disturbances in its facilities.” They faulted the state for not investigating allegations of foul play after a teenager died at one of its wilderness camps, among other criticisms. The agency director resigned the next day. Riots at the main state prison in 2015 and 2016 raised lawmakers’ alarm.

from https://thecrimereport.org

How NY Reformed Its Juvenile Justice System

The Miami Herald, examining problems in Florida’s juvenile justice system, reports on how New York State changed its own system after criticism.

A New York state group home run by a century-old human services agency with roots as a charity for sick children has virtually nothing in common with the razor-wire fortresses that house many of Florida’s youthful offenders. Juvenile justice administrators designed it that way, the Miami Herald reports. “The deprivation of liberty is the punishment,” said Gladys Carrion, retired commissioner of New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services and former head of the state system. Contrasting youth justice programs such as New York’s with most others, a National Institute of Justice report last year said of the latter: “Whether they are called ‘training schools’ or ‘youth centers,’ nearly all of these facilities are youth prisons.” It added: “This ill-conceived and outmoded approach is a failure, with high costs and recidivism rates and institutional conditions that are often appalling. Every youth prison in the country should be closed, and replaced with a network of community-based programs and small facilities near the youths’ communities.”

Neither New York City nor other reform-minded youth justice systems have embraced so sweeping an approach. The detainees who represent the greatest risk still are housed in prison-like institutions, and the most dangerous often are charged and incarcerated as adults. That’s especially true in Florida, which has one of the nation’s highest rates of charging and trying juveniles in adult court, a practice called “direct file.” New York state faced a series of tragedies and struggles before reform. In 2006, an emotionally troubled 15-year-old died during a physical restraint at a youth prison, leading to a $3.5 million lawsuit settlement. Three years later, the Justice Department concluded an investigation into New York State’s youth justice effort, finding an unnecessarily “high degree of force” throughout the system, leading to “an excessive number of injuries.” At the same time, almost two-thirds of youths released from custody were rearrested within two years.

from https://thecrimereport.org

U.S. Cuts Contracts for Federal Inmate Halfway Houses

The Trump administration has been cutting support for halfway houses for federal prisoners, ending contracts with as many as 16 facilities in recent months. The cuts are prompting concern that some inmates are being forced to stay behind bars longer than necessary.

The Trump administration has been cutting support for halfway houses for federal prisoners, severing contracts with as many as 16 facilities in recent months, Reuters reports. The cuts are prompting concern that some inmates are being forced to stay behind bars longer than necessary. Bureau of Prisons spokesman Justin Long said the reductions affect only areas with small populations or underutilized centers. “The Bureau remains firmly committed to these practices, but has had to make some modifications to our programs due to our fiscal environment,” he said. Halfway houses have been a part of the justice system since the 1960s, with thousands of people moving through them each year. For-profit prison companies such as GEO Group Inc have moved into the halfway house market, though many houses are run directly by government agencies or non-profit organizations.

The prison bureau last year had about 180 competitive contracts with “residential reentry centers” run by non-profit and for-profit companies. The International Community Corrections Association says there were about 249 separate halfway houses in communities nationwide that are covered by the 180 contracts. Federal judges said the cuts are having an impact in their districts, particularly in states with fewer facilities or larger geographic areas where the nearest center might be several hundred miles away.    Judge Edmund Sargus in Ohio said it was a real “stumper” when in July the government ended its contract with the Alvis facility serving the Dayton area.

from https://thecrimereport.org

How Philadelphia Police Are Cutting Gun Violence

Officers are collecting and disseminating intelligence more quickly in crime-plagued neighborhoods. Shootings are down six percent this year, and violent crime overall also is dropping.

In Philadelphia, a city with more than 1,000 shootings a year, shootings are down six percent this year and violent crime overall is dropping. Philly.com says police tactics are changing. Before an officer stepped out of his car to investigate a recent shooting, a team of officers in a room five miles away already was working the case, remotely scanning for surveillance cameras in the neighborhood and diving into databases to find potential leads about the victim and who might have had reason to target him.

In minutes, that intelligence bureau’s handiwork landed in the officer’s email inbox, easily accessible from his phone. It’s part of a new effort that the department says reflects its continued attempt to drill down on blocks plagued by gun violence.

In recent weeks, the Inquirer and Daily News shadowed investigators in Southwest Philadelphia from crime scenes to hospital rooms and to the intelligence bureau. Along with interviews of beat cops, district commanders, and police brass, the newspapers took a close look at the police department’s strategies for combating gun violence and the challenges that remain in one of the nation’s most violent cities.

“We are not declaring success here,” said one deputy commissioner, Joseph Sullivan. “We just feel we’re moving in the right direction.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Union Cites Unsafe Conditions in NC Prison Worker Deaths

Once every eight hours, a North Carolina prison officer was assaulted last year. Three workers have been killed by inmates this year. An employee union points to staffing shortages.

The deaths of two North Carolina prison employees last week, six months after a third employee’s death, point to unsafe working conditions within the state’s prisons, the group representing state employees tells the Charlotte Observer. Working inside the prisons has long been a dangerous job. Once every eight hours, on average, a North Carolina prison officer was assaulted last year. This year was particularly deadly. Justin Smith, a prison officer, and Veronica Darden, a manager, died Thursday at Pasquotank Correctional Institution. The sheriff believes inmates set a fire and attacked the prison workers during an escape attempt. At Bertie Correctional Institution, Sgt. Meggan Callahan was killed in April. Authorities say an inmate there set a fire in a trash can, then beat Callahan with the fire extinguisher that she had brought to douse the flames.

Ardis Watkins of the State Employees Association of North Carolina, said association officials asked lawmakers to act after Callahan’s death to improve working conditions in prisons, mostly by offering better salary and benefits so that hard-to-fill jobs wouldn’t remain empty. In the months since then, there has been no action. “You’re hearing about things like one officer who has 120 inmates he’s accountable for,” Watkins said. “We said this so much after Sgt. Callahan was murdered. This is going to keep happening.” During last week’s escape attempt, inmates beat prison employees with hammers and stabbed them with scissors. In April, when Callahan died, one of every five correctional officer positions at the eastern North Carolina prison was vacant. In 2016, more than 28 percent of officer positions at the Pasquotank prison were vacant. The vacancy rate there was second highest among the state’s 55 prisons.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Judge to Rule on Dismissing Sen. Mendendez Case

With the defense set to begin its case, Judge William Walls is expected to rule on a motion by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) to throw it out based on the Supreme Court ruling in the case of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.

The defense in the case of Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) is scheduled to begin its case on Monday, but first Judge William Walls is expected to rule on a motion to dismiss it, a motion that he hinted he was considering during arguments about the Supreme Court’s decision overturning the corruption conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, the New York Times reports. The friendship between Menendez and Dr. Salomon Melgen was forged over decades, through weddings and luxury beach vacations, golf outings and shared meals. The friendship was soon contaminated, federal prosecutors say, by avarice and a thirst for power.

Prosecutors say Melgen, who built his fortune through a Florida ophthalmology practice and international investments believed that he should not be encumbered by the kinds of regulations others might have to follow and saw in Menendez a path to that existence. Menendez looked at the life of luxury his public salary could not buy and saw in his friend Dr. Melgen a gateway to that opulence, prosecutors say. Menendez is accused of accepting lavish gifts and donations in return for political favors for Dr. Melgen. Judge Walls has suggested that he was leaning toward interpreting the Supreme Court ruling in the McDonnel case as invalidating a theory of bribery, known as “stream of benefits,” that is central to the government’s case. The high court decision also set a high bar for what constitutes the kind of act an elected official must perform to have an exchange qualify as bribery. Setting up meetings for constituents or making a phone call on behalf of a constituent no longer qualifies.

from https://thecrimereport.org