Police Foundation Launches Center for Mass Violence Research Studies

The center, piloted by one of the nation’s leading police think tanks, will explore how police and other first responders can improve their ability to handle mass violence incidents like terror attacks and school shootings.

One of the country’s leading police research organizations is launching a Center for Mass Violence Research Studies to explore how police and other first responders can improve their ability to handle mass violence incidents like terror attacks and school shootings.

The Police Foundation described the center’s mission as an effort to help public safety authorities and community leaders “think critically about mass violence events, so as to develop and implement comprehensive prevention, response and recovery strategies.”

“Public safety officials, policy and decision makers, and community leaders learn from research, data and comprehensive case studies to identify what’s working, and what areas can be improved to enhance public safety’s response to mass violence events,” said Foundation President Jim Bueermann, a former chief of police in Redlands, Ca., in a press statement.

“As threats constantly evolve, it is critical that we continuously evaluate protocols to ensure our communities remain as safe as possible.”

The Foundation said it was spurred to action by recent acts of violence across the U.S., ranging from the terror attack in San Bernadino, Ca. in 2015, at the 2016 massacre at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando, Fl., and the shootings earlier this year at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fl.

Noting that such incidents remained “relatively infrequent,” the Foundation said the chaos and devastation suffered by communities and survivors in their wake, represented a new strategic challenge to emergency response protocols.

The Police Foundation, established in 1970 as a non-partisan think tank with a grant from the Ford Foundation, has sponsored research that has led to significant changes in policing in areas ranging from police ethics and use of force to immigration enforcement and gun policy.

Its senior staff and research fellows includes former police chiefs and senior police managers.

In 2015, with funding from the National Institute of Justice and the Office of Community Oriented Policing, it created the Averted School Violence database, and is currently expanding it to include a state by state review of school and building safety security standards.

from https://thecrimereport.org

FBI Says It Thwarted July 4 Terror Attack in Cleveland

An Ohio man plotted to set off a bomb at the Fourth of July fireworks celebration in downtown Cleveland in an attempt to “strike at the values at the very core of our nation.” Demetrius Pitts, 48, expressed a desire to join al Qaeda and kill US citizens, the FBI said.

A Maple Heights, Ohio, man plotted to set off a bomb at the Fourth of July fireworks celebration in downtown Cleveland in an attempt to “strike at the values at the very core of our nation,” reports Cleveland.com. Demetrius Pitts, 48, expressed a desire to join al Qaeda and kill U.S. citizens — including military personnel and their families — as he told the undercover agent of his plot to conduct a July 4 attack on Voinovich Park, where fireworks are set off each year. “Just last week, this defendant was walking around downtown Cleveland conducting reconnaissance on what he believed would thought was a large-scale attack,” said U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman. “He looked for a place to park a van full of explosives.”

Pitts is charged with one count of attempting to provide material support to al-Qaeda, a designated foreign terrorist organization. The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested Pitts on Sunday afternoon. Pitts is a US citizen and Philadelphia native, but he became radicalized. An affidavit says Pitt expressed anti-American sentiment between 2015 and 2017. This year, he was introduced to an undercover FBI agent who he believed to be a “brother,” the affidavit says. FBI agent Stephen Anthony declined to say if Pitts had access to, or was capable of making, an explosive. “Law enforcement cannot sit back and wait for Mr. Pitts to commit a violent attack,” Anthony said. An undercover agent told Pitts that people would die in a potential terrorist attack, but Pitts responded by saying he did not care and had no regrets, the affidavit says. Pitts has an extensive criminal history, including prior convictions for felonious assault, domestic violence, carrying concealed weapons. Herdman, Anthony and Cleveland police Chief Calvin Williams said they expect the Fourth of July celebration to be safe.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Libyan Militia Leader Gets 22 Years in Benghazi Attack

A jury acquitted Ahmed Abu Khattala, 47, of murder and attempted murder in the attacks that began Sept. 11, 2012, on a U.S. diplomatic mission and nearby CIA post. He was convicted of conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists. It was the extent of his role as ringleader that U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper considered in sentencing him.

A Libyan militia leader convicted in the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans was sentenced to 22 years in prison Wednesday, reports the Washington Post. A jury in November acquitted Ahmed Abu Khattala, 47, of murder and attempted murder in the attacks that began Sept. 11, 2012, on a U.S. diplomatic mission and nearby CIA post. He was convicted on charges including conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists, and it was the extent of Abu Khattala’s role as ringleader that U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper considered in sentencing him. Legal analysts said the ability of the government to incapacitate Abu Khattala through a life sentence or its equivalent would influence decisions whether to seek civilian prosecutions in similar cases. Prosecutors had sought a life sentence; the defense sought 15 years.

While some saw Cooper’s decision as a setback for prosecutors, he cast it otherwise. “Even if you did not pour the gasoline or light the match, the evidence showed you were aware of the attack, and once the gates were breached, the likelihood someone would die was extremely high. This was not guilt by association,” Cooper told Abu Khattala. “This case stands as an exemplar for the principle that a defendant accused of international terrorism can get a fair trial in the U.S. criminal justice system.” Abu Khattala’s defense said jurors found him not guilty of the murders, arguing that they concluded that Abu Khattala joined the conspiracy at the mission after it was already on fire and that his “conduct did not lead to death.” The case was seen as a test of detention and interrogation policies developed under the Obama administration to capture terrorism suspects overseas for criminal trial.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Supreme Court Votes 5-4 to Uphold Trump Travel Ban

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said the high court was not expressing a view “on the soundness of the policy. We simply hold today that plaintiffs have not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of their constitutional claim.” The ACLU responded that ‘history..will judge today’s decision harshly.”

The Supreme Court has upheld President Trump’s ban on travel from several mostly Muslim countries, rejecting a challenge that it discriminated against Muslims or exceeded his authority, the Associated Press reports.

The 5-4 decision on Tuesday was the court’s first substantive ruling on a Trump administration policy.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, joined by four conservative colleagues. Roberts said that presidents have substantial power to regulate immigration. The four more-liberal justices dissented.

The Trump administration “has set forth a sufficient national security justification” to justify preliminary approval of the travel ban, Roberts said. He noted that the high court was not expressing a view “on the soundness of the policy. We simply hold today that plaintiffs have not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of their constitutional claim.”

Trump’s proclamation on travel “is expressly premised on legitimate purposes: preventing entry of nationals who cannot be adequately vetted and inducing other nations to improve their practices,” Roberts said. ” The text says nothing about religion.
Plaintiffs and the dissent nonetheless emphasize that five of the seven nations currently included in the Proclamation have Muslim-majority populations. Yet that fact
alone does not support an inference of religious hostility, given that the policy covers just 8% of the world’s Muslim population and is limited to countries that were previously
designated by Congress or prior administrations as posing national security risks.”

In a dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, said that, “a reasonable observer would conclude that the [President’s] Proclamation was motivated by anti-Muslim animus. That alone suffices to show thatplaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their Establishment Clause claim. The majority holds otherwise by ignoring the facts, misconstruing our legal precedent, and turning a blind eye to the pain and suffering the Proclamation inflicts upon countless families and individuals,
many of whom are United States citizens.”

In another dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justice Elena Kagan, said, “I would, on balance, find the evidence of antireligious bias, including statements on a website
taken down only after the President issued the two executive orders preceding the Proclamation … a sufficient basis to set the Proclamation aside.”

The court may have signaled its eventual approval in December, when justices allowed the policy to take full effect even as the court fight continued and lower courts had ruled against it.

The American Civil Liberties Union, a staunch opponent of the travel ban, commented, “This is not the first time the Court has been wrong, or has allowed official racism and xenophobia to continue rather than standing up to it. History has its eyes on us — and will judge today’s decision harshly.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Counter-Terrorism Programs Still Don’t Work, Target Minority Communities: Study

Funding for Countering Violent Extremism programs has increased under the Trump Administration, but researchers at NYU’s Brennan Center found the programs still don’t work, and continue to unfairly target minority communities—particularly Muslims.

Funding for Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programs has gone up under the Trump administration, but the programs still don’t work, according to a report released by the Brennan Center For Justice.

Researchers found that the amount of CVE funding going to law enforcement has tripled, from $764,000 to $2,349,000 and programs unjustly target minority communities, such as Muslims, LGBTQ Americans, Black Lives Matter Activists, immigrants, and refugees.

“Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programs have a long and troubled history, from before and including the Obama White House,” authors said. “These programs unfairly target Muslim and minority communities as inherently susceptible to terrorism.”

Authors’ Faiza PatelAndrew LindsaySophia DenUyl said the programs also conflate community services and intelligence-gathering, often under false pretenses, undermining trust between law enforcement and communities.

And there is no evidence that they provide any national security benefit, which is unsurprising since they rely on theories and assumptions about terrorism that have been empirically disproven, they added.

Yet 85 percent of CVE grants, and over half of CVE programs, explicitly target minority communities.

More, the programs target young children (as young as five years old) to report suspicious behavior by parents or fellow students. 14 of the 26 programs funded by the Department of Homeland Security target schools and students, the study found.

CVE programs can look like any of the following:

  1. Intervention: Identifying individuals as potential terrorists mostly based on vague and unproven indicators, such as feelings of alienation, experience of racism or discrimination, difficulties in school or career, searching for sense of meaning or community, bullying, and economic hardship. These programs generally involve training people who are likely to come into contact with young people, including schoolteachers, to spot these signs. Once such individuals are identified, these programs often provide or refer them to counseling or mental health care, a process that almost always involves law enforcement. Some intervention programs do not include a referral element, but rather focus on a “train the trainer” model.
  2. Social Services: Programs to fund or facilitate the provision of health, education, and social services to American Muslim and other communities, based on the theory that adverse economic and social conditions facilitate terrorism. Social services may also be part of an intervention program as described above.
  3. CVE Online: Efforts to create or promote messages that are thought to counter the appeal of groups like ISIS and encourage reporting of so-called “extremist content” so that it can be removed from the Internet.
  4. Community Outreach: Traditional approaches to building relationships between law enforcement and communities, such as visits by police to community events and houses of worship.
  5. Deradicalization: Measures aimed at currently or formerly incarcerated individuals identified as at risk of violent extremism, such as support services and counseling upon release.

A full copy of the report can be found here.

Megan Hadley is a staff writer at The Crime Report. She welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

NYPD Surveillance of Muslim Communities Decreased: Report

The first annual report of New York’s Handschu Committee, a court-appointed body to review police monitoring of Muslims shows the average length of investigations dropped from 427 days to 340 days. But critics say that’s still too long.

A federal court released Thursday the first annual report of former federal judge Stephen Robinson, the civilian representative appointed to oversee reforms in the wake of wrongful New York Police Department (NYPD) surveillance of Muslim communities.

Judge Robinson’s report affords the public a first opportunity to observe the workings of the “Handschu Committee,” the body charged with reviewing NYPD investigations of First Amendment-protected religious and political activity for compliance with a judicially-enforced agreement.

The report disclosed that since the civilian representative’s appointment, the NYPD has made fewer applications for such investigations, and the committee has denied significantly more applications. The average length of investigations approved by the committee has decreased as well, from 427 days to 340.

Judge Robinson expressed privacy and freedom-of-expression concerns over investigations and the NYPD’s use of unreliable information and sourcing. In his report, he verified that the NYPD continues to monitor New Yorker’s and others’ social media accounts.

The court created the position of a civilian representative as settlement to claims brought in two cases against the NYPD, Raza v City of New York and Handschu v Special Services.

Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility (CLEAR) project of Main Street Legal Services at CUNY School of Law, among others, brought Raza in 2013 on behalf of mosques, religious and community leaders, and a charitable organization. Plaintiffs claimed that the NYPD violated the U.S. and New York State Constitutions by singling out entire communities for investigations based on religion.

Handschu is a long-standing class action suit originating in 2013 alleging that the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims violated protections of New Yorker’s lawful political and religious activities from unwarranted monitoring.

The civilian representative appointed in the 2017 settlement of the two cases is tasked with reporting to the court if the NYPD violates Handschu Guidelines, the rules governing NYPD surveillance of political and First Amendment-protected activity. The court originally ordered the guidelines in 1985, but weakened them in 2003 following NYPD requests for broader surveillance powers.

Although Judge Robinson’s report increases transparency of NYPD activities, CLEAR founding director Ramzi Kassem expressed dissatisfaction with the impact on NYPD surveillance practices thus far.

“While it is heartening that during the civilian representative’s tenure, the average length of all Handschu investigations has decreased, it remains shocking that, on average, covert police investigations of New Yorkers’ and others’ protected speech last over 340 days,” Kassem said in an  ACLU statement released Friday on the decision.

“That holds especially true when these investigations focus almost exclusively on American Muslims.”

“In August 2016,” he said, “the inspector general determined that Muslim-identified individuals or organizations featured in more than 95 percent of all NYPD intelligence files reviewed. Nothing in [Judge Robinson’s] report indicates this dramatic over-policing of a minority group has ceased or even changed.”

This report was prepared by Elena Schwartz, a TCR news intern. Readers’ comments welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

What Trump Gets Wrong About Terrorism

In a recent tweet, President Trump called for “changes to our thought process on terror.”  He’s right, but not exactly in the way he meant, says a former US Air Force intelligence analyst.

In response to this month’s knife attack in Paris, President Donald Trump tweeted:

So sad to see the Terror Attack in Paris. At some point countries will have to open their eyes & see what is really going on. This kind of sickness & hatred is not compatible with a loving, peaceful, & successful country! Changes to our thought process on terror must be made.

President Trump is right. We must begin to change our thought process about terrorism.

What requires changing, however, is America’s general lack of awareness and understanding about the true nature of the terrorism threat.

First, the risk of terrorist victimization in the US is exceptionally low. Specifically, between 2002 and 2016, 190 people (including the terrorist attackers) were killed in the US due to terrorism, or an average of 13 people per year.

To help put the terrorist threat into perspective, on an average day in 2016 approximately 115 people died from opioid related causes. In effect, the average annual 13 fatalities attributed to terrorism each year in America are replicated by the opioid crisis every 2.5 hours.

In fact, deaths on the ski slopes in Colorado—which average 11 per year—are more analogous to the annual number of U.S. terrorist-related fatalities.

Second, despite America’s extremely low terrorist-victimization risk, public attitudes on this topic invariably reflect a much more ominous reality.

For instance, in early March of 2002 (nearly six months following 9/11), 49 percent of Americans worried a “great deal” about the possibility of future terrorist attacks.

Not much has changed since then.

A Gallup survey tracking attitudes towards terrorism found that in the 2015-2018 period, between 40 percent and 51 percent of Americans still worried a “great deal” about the possibility of future terrorist attacks in the US. A separate 2017 Chapman University Survey of American Fears also found that 43.3 percent of respondents were afraid or very afraid of a terrorist attack.

Similarly, a 2016 Pew Research Center poll found that 40 percent of the public believed that the ability of terrorists to launch another major attack on the US is greater than it was at the time of the 9/11 attacks.

Third, the asymmetry observed between actual terrorist victimization risk and perceived terrorist victimization risk matters in two important ways:

  • Heightened fears of terrorism contribute to a weakening of national security. Importantly, national security is composed of both physical and psychological dimensions. The psychological dimension refers to how safe we as Americans feel.
  • The primary target of terrorist groups like ISIS is America’s psychological security and not its physical security. In effect, their goal is to spread fear within a target population in hopes that it will lead to government acquiescence or overreaction. The former is very unlikely, and the latter often back-fires, causing governments to throw their resources around recklessly (and often counter-productively).

Fear of terrorism is also politically consequential for voters.

Put another way, citizens think and act differently when they are anxious than when they are not anxious about a particular issue. Research on political anxiety and terrorism shows that when the information environment is emotionally powerful (e.g. violent and graphic), people are more likely to support policies that are framed as protective[i] .

More precisely, citizens who are more concerned about terrorism are more likely to adopt hawkish foreign policy views (e.g. have increased support for the Iraq war, defense spending, and militarism).

The Media Matters

The media can have a substantial influence on the way political attitudes are shaped over terrorism through how they frame and/or sensationalize terrorism related reporting. Human beings are innately attracted to threatening news because for millennia it was advantageous for our survival.

In other words, we want to know about threats to our own mortality.

Naturally, the media reinforces the human tendency to seek out threatening information by supplying viewers and readers with a steady stream of fear-inducing story lines in an attempt to captivate and grow audiences. The rarity of terrorism in the US affords people little opportunity to ever encounter terrorism first-hand or learn about it through vicarious peer experiences.

This leads the media and also public officials to be the primary sources for all terrorism- related events.

Given the disparity between actual and perceived risk of terrorist victimization, neither the media nor the government has done a sufficient job at accomplishing this task. However, such a task may realistically be insurmountable.

Human beings are intuitively quite poor at assessing risk due to a series of cognitive biases that affect our judgement.

Arguably the most influential one that influences our understanding of terrorism is known as the “availability heuristic”: the process of judging frequency by the ease of which instances come to mind. Events that are dramatic and vivid tend to be easier to recall than statistics.

For example, if you witness coverage of a plane crash, this may temporarily alter your feelings about the safety of flying. In fact, this is precisely what happened following 9/11. More people feared flying and opted to drive instead, causing passenger miles on airlines to drop by 12 percent to 20 percent .

This fear manifested itself in the form of an eight percent increase in traffic fatalities in the last quarter of 2001.

If researchers and practitioners who study or combat terrorism do not do our part to apprise the public to the best of our ability about the true nature of the terrorist threat, we run the risk of allowing these horrendous incidents to produce their intended effects.

Joseph Dule

Joseph Dule

Consequently, we become part of the problem.

After all, we are the ones best equipped to teach the public, and to push back against inflammatory political rhetoric that is often misguided or deliberately construed in order to advance a variety of other political objectives.

[i] Gadarian, S. K. (2010). The politics of threat: How terrorism news shapes foreign policy attitudes. The Journal of Politics72

Joseph Dule is a Research & Teaching Fellow at the University of New Haven, where he is completing his Ph.D. in Criminal Justice. Previously, he worked as an All-Source Intelligence Analyst in the U.S. Air Force, where he worked on Counter-Terrorism issues while assigned to the 320th Special Tactics Squadron, located in Okinawa, Japan. He welcomes comments from readers. 

from https://thecrimereport.org

FBI Investigates 1,000 ‘Lone Wolf’ Militants

FBI director Christopher Wray told senators that lone wolf terrorists are the FBI’s highest counterterrorist priority. He said there are another 1,000 probes into “domestic terrorists.”

The FBI is pursuing 1,000 investigations into suspected “lone wolf” militants and another 1,000 into “domestic terrorists”, director Christopher Wray told a Senate appropriations hearing, Reuters reports. Wray said “lone wolf” terrorists – individuals often radicalized over the internet or other social media – are the FBI’s “highest counterterrorism priority.” “And what makes it so hard is that there are not many dots to connect with some of these people,” he said. “They pick soft targets, they use easy-to-use weapons … IEDs (improvised explosive devices), cars, knives, guns.”

Several mass shootings in recent years have been attributed to so-called “lone wolves” whose activities are difficult to predict, such as Orlando night club shooter Omar Mateen. Wray said the FBI was “trying to get better at looking for red flags” that could signal when people becoming radicalized might start to consider taking action. Another official said that included in the lone wolf category are  right-wing extremists, violent animal rights and anti-abortion extremists, and in the domestic terror category were African-American or left-wing militants.  Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), said that as part of the annual budget request the FBI had presented, the Trump administration reduced the FBI budget by 5 percent and postponed plans for a new FBI headquarters.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Are Federal Air Marshals Really Needed?

The Transportation Security Administration calls the marshals an important layer of security, but they never have faced a true terror threat on a flight. Air marshals themselves were arrested 148 times over a decade.

Federal air marshals “are the last line of defense on board an aircraft,” says trainer Mike LaFrance, but some lawmakers and critics in watchdog agencies are asking whether the program that peaked at nearly $1 billion a year and never has caught a single terrorist on board a plane is really needed, USA Today reports. The program has existed under a variety of names and agencies for 57 years, and it expanded significantly after the 9/11 hijackings. Air marshals can’t be on every plane and they haven’t faced a real terror threat during an actual flight. Transportation Security Administration head David Pekoske called the program “a terrific organization” that performs a stressful job under difficult circumstances.

TSA calls the service an important layer of security that begins when a passenger buys a ticket and goes through a database search against no-fly lists and checkpoint screening at airports. The prospect that an air marshal could be on a specific flight is a deterrent to would-be attackers by itself, TSA says. Rep. John Duncan (R-TN) would like to abolish the program that he said had about 4,000 air marshals in 2009 and averaged a total 4.2 arrests per year during the first seven years. He calls the program “the most needless, useless agency.” Air marshals themselves were arrested 148 times from November 2002 to February 2012, according to a report by ProPublica based on TSA documents. Air marshals were also charged with more than 5,000 cases of misconduct during that period, including 1,200 cases of lost equipment and 950 missed flights, the report said. USA Today describes the training that air marshals receive.


from https://thecrimereport.org

Veteran to Avoid Death Penalty in FL Airport Shooting

In a deal approved by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Esteban Santiago, a military veteran charged with fatally shooting five people and wounding six others at the Fort Lauderdale airport last year will plead guilty in exchange for receiving a life sentence.

A military veteran charged with fatally shooting five people and wounding six others at the Fort Lauderdale airport last year will plead guilty in exchange for receiving a life sentence under an agreement disclosed Tuesday in Miami federal court, the Miami Herald reports. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys said they reached the plea agreement after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions weighed in on the death penalty question in the murder case of 27-year-old Esteban Santiago. Sessions, who had final say, received input from both sides in South Florida as well as a panel of experts at the Justice Department.

Prosecutors said Sessions signed off on the plea agreement proposed by Santiago’s defense attorneys and that shooting victims’ family members were also on board with the proposed life sentence. “That was something taken into account in the attorney general’s decision” on whether to pursue the death penalty, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ricardo Del Toro. Santiago is accused of flying on a one-way ticket from Alaska to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in January of last year to carry out the shootings of mostly elderly travelers — one of three mass firearm killings in Florida since 2016. Santiago, who suffers from mental health problems, is expected to change his plea to guilty on May 23 after undergoing a psychiatric competency evaluation ordered by U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom. She said she wanted to be certain Santiago has the “capacity” to make the decision to plead guilty.

from https://thecrimereport.org