Some Police Chiefs Oppose DOJ’s Oversight Cutback

Some police chiefs, even in areas that supported Donald Trump for president, support the Justice Department’s “collaborative reform initiative” that advises local police departments. The Fraternal Order of Police, which represents rank-and-file officers, helped trim it back.

When the Justice Department said it would significantly scale back its collaborative reform initiative to monitor local police departments and reorient it toward more hands-off “technical assistance,” the decision reflected the Trump administration’s approach to law enforcement: crack down on violent crime, don’t regulate the police departments that fight it. The changes have encountered some resistance from police chiefs in cities that participated, the New York Times reports. Those chiefs work not only in big-city Democratic strongholds, but also in places like Spokane, Wa., which has a Republican mayor and in a county that voted overwhelmingly for  Trump. Under Trump, the Justice Department has not entered into a single court-monitored consent decree with a troubled police department. It has also ordered reviews of existing consent decrees, which are a tougher, more punitive alternative to the collaborative reform initiative.

Some chiefs called the new direction out of step with a growing consensus that rebuilding community trust is essential to fighting crime, particularly after high-profile police shootings led to a national debate on policing. The Justice Department says some police departments complained that the program was too aggressive and produced wide-ranging reports that contained errors. The Fraternal Order of Police helped lay the foundation for the administration’s action, opposing what it calls federal meddling in the affairs of local police. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has not named a director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, which operates the collaborative reform program. Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan asked COPS to review his department after an officer shot an unarmed man. Without a new leader, the office delayed his request. “Everything is on hold, and that’s not a good place to be in,” said Jordan, who is making his own community policing changes. “We’re kind of frustrated by the fact that we’re having trouble getting decisions.”


Baltimore On Track For Worst Homicide Year Ever

Home to 615,000 people, the city has recorded more killings this year than either the much larger New York or Los Angeles. While Chicago has had more homicides, Baltimore is No. 2.

Baltimore, which has by far the highest per-capita homicide rate among biggest U.S. cities, is on track to have its worst year on record, the Wall Street Journal reports. More than 300 people have been killed this year. Home to 615,000 people, the city has recorded more killings this year than either the much larger New York or Los Angeles. While Chicago has had more homicides, Baltimore is No. 2. A homicide detective was fatally shot on duty just after Mayor Catherine Pugh said, “Violence in the city is out of control.”

Officials say the violence is being driven largely by gun-wielding gangs warring over drug turf. Police have stepped up patrols and are working with other city agencies. Officials say they don’t know why criminals have been emboldened. Local communities are fighting back. Activists have called for a citywide ceasefire, organized a peace walk and held a candlelight vigil at which people read aloud the names of those murdered this year. Erricka Bridgeford, 45, a Baltimore native, has gone to many funerals for homicide victims. In 2007, one was for her brother, who was killed in a shooting. She has also lost a stepson and “countless cousins” to the violence. Bridgeford, a professional mediator, helped organize Baltimore Ceasefire, weekend-long consciousness-raising efforts that were held in August and early November. Bridgeford said she was encouraged that several participants heeded advice such as working to have their criminal records expunged or seeking drug treatment. Most murder victims are African-American men. Shootings happen largely in areas where residents live surrounded by poverty, unemployment, drug addiction and crime.


St. Louis Homicide Total Running Ahead of Last Year

An early November shooting was reclassified as a homicide after the victim died. The change brought the number of homicides in St. Louis so far this year to 185. Last year on the same date, the city had 165 homicides.

An early November shooting in St. Louis has been reclassified as a homicide after the victim died. The change brought the number of homicides in St. Louis so far this year to 185. Last year on the same date, the city had 165 homicides, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. 

The city’s homicide total spiked to 188 in 2015 and reached the same number in 2016. In 2014 St. Louis had 159 homicides, and in 2013 there were 120. The newly classified homicide involved Christopher McReynolds, 43, who was shot along with another man while they were driving just after midnight November 5. A vehicle pulled up next to them and its occupants opened fire, police said.


Hundreds of Victims Suing Over Las Vegas Massacre

Lawsuits name MGM Resorts International, owner of the Mandalay Bay resort; Live Nation, organizer of the country music festival where 58 people were killed; and the estate of shooter Stephen Paddock, Plaintiffs say the shooting could have been prevented, and they seek policy changes to avoid similar incidents.

Hundreds of victims of the Oct. 1 Las Vegas shooting have filed five lawsuits in Los Angeles Superior Court. The largest of the suits names 450 plaintiffs. Among those being sued are MGM Resorts International, owner of the Mandalay Bay resort; Live Nation, organizer of the country music festival where 58 people were killed; and the estate of shooter Stephen Paddock, reports NPR. The victims claim negligence by MGM and Live Nation. They accuse MGM of not having adequate security policies, not properly training staff or surveilling the premises, and failing to respond quickly when security guard Jesus Campos was shot. The suit says Paddock’s VIP status as a high-stakes gambler gave him access to a Mandalay Bay service elevator he used to stockpile weapons and ammunition. Plaintiffs say Live Nation failed to provide enough exits or train employees “in case of a foreseeable event, such as a terrorist attack or other emergency.”

Attorney Muhammad Aziz said the cases were filed in California because most of the plaintiffs are from that state and received treatment there. Last week, another law firm filed 14 suits in a Nevada court. Plaintiffs argue that the shooting could have been stopped, and that the lawsuits are intended to bring policy changes so it can’t happen again. MGM said the shooting “was a terrible tragedy perpetrated by an evil man. These kinds of lawsuits are not unexpected and we intend to defend ourselves against them.” Tom Russell, a University of Denver law professor, said, “One can’t blame the hotel for not predicting that this gunman would go up to their 32nd floor with an arsenal and break out the windows and start firing at people.”


Expect Long Airport Lines After TSA Security Failures

The Transportation Security Administration reportedly failed up to 80 percent of screening tests, allowing fake explosives and firearms through checkpoints. The result is that this Sunday could be one of the worst days in history for air travelers, with 2.6 million screenings expected under tighter security.

The Transportation Security Administration has bad news for tens of millions of Thanksgiving travelers: Lines at airports may be even longer than usual as the agency again tries to plug security holes in its baggage screening, Politico reports. TSA is scrambling to respond to another damning investigation, for the second time in little more than two years. The agency already is phasing in revised security procedures — including those for electronic devices — that could cause “a slight increase in wait times,” says new TSA administrator David Pekoske. “The procedure is new,” Pekoske said. “It’s new to passengers. It’s somewhat new to our screeners.”

Travelers could experience some of the longest wait times of the year on Sunday, when many return home from the holiday. TSA has projected that more than 2.6 million passengers and airline crew members will be screened on Sunday, potentially making it one of the agency’s top five busiest days ever. The squeeze illustrates a predicament TSA has faced since its creation in 2001: trying to balance effective security with the need to move travelers efficiently through checkpoints. Most details of the latest IG audit are classified, but media reports indicate that TSA failed somewhere between 70 percent and 80 percent of covert tests, allowing fake explosives, firearms and other prohibited items to slip through undetected. That’s only slightly better than the 95 percent failure rate that TSA suffered in a 2015 IG audit. Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the Homeland Security Committee’s top Democrat said that not only were the findings from the new IG report “hair raising,” they showed little improvement since 2015.


Uber Paid Hackers $100K to Conceal Data Breach

Company fires its chief security officer, says it will notify owners of the affected accounts. The New York State Attorney General is investigating.

Uber Technologies Inc. said it paid hackers $100,000 in an effort to conceal a data breach affecting 57 million accounts a year ago, a disclosure that adds to a string of scandals and legal problems for the world’s most highly valued startup, the Wall Street Journal reports. The ride-hailing firm fired its chief security officer and his deputy for their roles in the breach and for covering it up. In addition to the names, emails and phone numbers of millions of riders, about 600,000 drivers’ license numbers were accessed. Uber said financial information such as credit cards and Social Security numbers weren’t taken. Uber said it identified the hackers and “obtained assurances” they had destroyed the stolen data.

The San Francisco company said it would notify owners of the affected accounts in the coming days. While the scale of the breach pales in comparison with disclosures from Yahoo Inc. and Equifax Inc., Uber’s attempts to keep it quiet raise questions about whether officers still at the company were part of the effort. The New York State Attorney General’s office has opened an investigation into the breach. “None of this should have happened, and I will not make excuses for it,” said Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi. “While I can’t erase the past, I can commit on behalf of every Uber employee that we will learn from our mistakes.” Valued at $68 billion, Uber has a reputation for pushing the limits of the law in its pursuit of dominating the ride-hailing market.


Some Pot-Legalization States Ease Record Expungement

Five states have made it easier for people convicted of some marijuana crimes to get their records sealed or expunged. Other states have refused to take that step, with opponents arguing that people who knowingly violated prior laws shouldn’t be let off the hook just because the law changed.

When Californians voted to legalize marijuana last year, they also voted to let people ask courts to reduce or hide convictions for past marijuana crimes. State residents can now petition courts to change some felonies to misdemeanors, change some misdemeanors to infractions, and wipe away convictions for possessing or growing small amounts of the drug, reports Stateline. “We call it reparative justice: repairing the harms caused by the war on drugs,” says Eunisses Hernandez of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group that helped write the California ballot initiative. Colorado, Maryland, New Hampshire and Oregon also have made it easier for people convicted of some marijuana crimes to get their records sealed or expunged, which generally means removing convictions from public databases. Massachusetts lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow people to expunge any conviction that’s no longer a crime, such as marijuana possession.

These efforts by states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana are part of a national trend toward making it easier for people to seal or expunge a range of convictions. People with criminal records can find it harder to get a job and find housing. Allowing people to seal their criminal records or reclassify convictions is not the rule in states that have legalized or decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. Bills that would remove or reduce convictions on people’s records are often opposed by lawmakers and prosecutors who argue that people who knowingly violated prior laws shouldn’t be let off the hook just because the law changed.


CO Prosecutors Fight Reform Amid Felony Rise

A nearly 50 percent increase in Colorado felony filings over five years has prompted the state’s prosecutors to oppose proposals for more sentencing reform. They say recent changes in the law are letting dangerous people roam the streets.

Felony filings across Colorado increased by nearly 50 percent in the past five years, prompting concerns that recent criminal justice reforms are letting dangerous individuals roam the streets, the Denver Post reports. Prosecutors and state officials are trying to identify the causes for the swifter pace of felony filings. A surge in drug arrests may be partly responsible. The Colorado District Attorneys’ Council asked  Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office for help in analyzing crime trends. The council has asked district attorneys around the state for more information on felony filings as it prepares to fight a push for sentencing reforms in the next legislative session. Some key lawmakers want to overhaul sex offender and habitual offender statutes to give judges more flexibility in sentencing.

Prosecutors cite the rise in felony filings as cause for caution. Several fear the legislature sent the wrong signal in 2013 when it created more leniency in drug sentencing. Under that change, defendants convicted of lower-level felony drug possession can have their convictions changed to misdemeanors after completing probation. The law restricted the ability of judges to sentence offenders convicted of certain drug crimes to prison. District attorneys also blame the rising felony filings on state initiatives to keep more offenders out on parole and probation and under pretrial supervision instead of behind bars. Others say the 2012 vote to legalize recreational marijuana has enticed career criminals to move to Colorado. “There has been a lot of criminal justice reform in the last 10 years in Colorado,” said Mesa County District Attorney Dan Rubinstein, who said his office is overloaded with criminal cases. “Sometimes those pushes go too far and the pendulum needs to swing a little bit back in the other direction. There was needed criminal justice reform, but not everything has to always be about diverting people away from prison.”



OK Female Incarceration Rate Won’t Be Cut Soon

A new measure reclassifying minor drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors should cut the state’s nation-leading rate of incarcerating women. But “we’re not going to be able to reverse the trend overnight,” says former House Speaker Kris Steele.

Oklahoma’s female incarceration rate is the nation’s highest and more than double the average. It is the result of tough sentencing laws, zealous prosecutors, and a lack of alternatives to prisons, the Christian Science Monitor reports. Female imprisonments  in the state rose 30 percent between 2011 and 2016. Most of the women were convicted of low-level drug and property crimes like fraud or bad checks. Women are just as likely to be arrested in other states for these offenses, says sociologist Susan Sharp of the University of Oklahoma. “But they’re not going to be sent to prison for 5 or 10 or 20 years.” Behind this approach is a conservative culture that takes a dim view of mothers caught up in drug and alcohol addiction. What might be mitigating factors in other places, such as childhood trauma or domestic abuse, fail to sway prosecutors and judges in Oklahoma.

A task force appointed by Gov. Mary Fallin warned this year that the state would need $1.2 billion to add three prisons by 2026 to house a projected rise in inmates. Last November, voters passed a measure to reclassify minor drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. The change took effect on July 1. Over time, this should mean fewer women sentenced to prison for these offenses, says Kris Steele, who led the campaign. Another ballot item mandates that money saved should go to treatment programs. Still, it will take root-and-branch reforms to reduce the prison population, given the bias in the system toward punitive sentences, says Steele, a former speaker of Oklahoma’s House of Representatives. “Oklahoma did not come to have the highest [female] incarceration rate in the country overnight and we’re not going to be able to reverse the trend overnight,” he says.


Conyers Should Quit Over Harassment Case: Free Press

Payment to a former staff member who charged that she was sexually harassed “looks an awful lot like hush money” and violates House ethics rules, the Detroit Free Press says of Rep. John Conyers Jr., top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-MI), top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, should resign over an alleged sexual harassment scandal, his home-town Detroit Free Press says in an editorial. The newspaper calls him an “undisputed hero of the civil rights movement” but also an “aging icon whose felonious wife and sometimes-wandering pace have confounded his place in history.” The newspaper concludes that, “He should resign his position and allow the investigation into his behavior to unfold without the threat that it would render him, and the people he now represents, effectively voiceless.”

On Monday, BuzzFeed reported a former Conyers staffer’s claims that she was fired after she rebuffed the congressman’s persistent sexual advances. Those claims were made in sworn affidavits by the alleged victim and three other former staffers. Conyers denies the claim, but his office decided that if the woman dropped her complaint and signed a legal document attesting that Conyers had done no wrong, and if she agreed never to disparage him or make subsequent claims, she’d be re-hired as a temporary “no-show” employee and paid $27,111.75 over three months. House ethics rules are clear, saying that a member can’t retain an employee who isn’t performing work commensurate with the pay and can’t give back pay for work that stretches further than a month. The payment in this case “looks an awful lot like hush money,” the Free Press says.