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Why Ferguson Has Caused National Outrage Over Police Shootings

They were killed by police officers in Wisconsin, New York and California. Some were shot on the street. One was killed in a Walmart. Another died after being placed in a chokehold. The Associated Press reports that the outrage after the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of the unarmed, black Michael Brown, 18, by a white officer in Ferguson, Mo., has become a rallying cry in protests over police killings across the nation. Demonstrations fueled by a sense of injustice and buoyed by social media have occurred in several cities, regardless of whether the shootings took place last week or last month. The spark, said Garrett Duncan of Washington University in St. Louis, was how Ferguson police handled the aftermath of Brown’s killing, leading to rioting and looting in the face of a heavily armed police force and, later, the National Guard.

“When you leave an 18-year-old boy’s body in the street for four hours in a Missouri summer, that’s going to trigger something,” Duncan said. “The reason it’s politicized is we still don’t know what’s going on. The boy is buried and we still don’t know the circumstances." In a culture where the 24/7 news cycle dissects events and can fill the information void with opinion, the topic of police shootings has become polarizing. In Los Angeles, with a long history of racial tension between police and black residents, the police department has taken a more proactive approach, releasing information and holding public forums. “They’ve gone on a charm tour with the community,” said Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable. Still, he said, the same tension that boiled over in Ferguson lies just beneath the surface in Los Angeles.

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Is Improved Camden Policing Responsible For Big Murder Drop?

In 2012, when Camden, N.J., broke a record for homicides, 21 people were murdered over the summer. This summer, there were six. Shootings are down 43 percent in two years, and violent crime down 22 percent, says the New York Times. It has been 16 months since Camden took the unusual step of eliminating its police force and replacing it with one run by the county. Beleaguered by crime, budget cuts and bad morale, the old force had all but given up responding to some crimes. Avoiding expensive work rules, the new force hired more officers on the same budget: 411, up from 250. It hired civilians to use crime-fighting technology it had never had the staff for. It tightened alliances with federal agencies to remove a large drug ring.

The police changed their culture. Officers moved from desk jobs and squad cars onto walking beats. Chief J. Scott Thomson likens it to a political campaign to overcome years of mistrust. Average response time is now 4.4 minutes, down from more than 60 minutes, and about half the average in many other cities. The number of open-air drug markets has been cut nearly in half. In June and July, the city went 40 days without a homicide — unheard-of in a Camden summer. Still, no one is declaring victory over crime.

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FBI Checks iCloud Hacking After Nude Actress Photos Surface

The leaking of hundreds of private and intimate photographs of Hollywood celebrities cast new doubt on the security of popular online storage sites  as investigators probed for explanations of the high-profile breach, the Washington Post reports. The FBI said it was looking into the leaks. An Apple spokesman said the company was “actively investigating” apparent breaches of some of its iCloud accounts. Privacy experts joined Hollywood publicists in denouncing the leaks, which flooded websites over the weekend with nude images of more than a half-dozen A-list actresses, including Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence.

The breach prompted concerns about the security of photographs, videos and documents that millions of Americans store in popular Internet “cloud” accounts. Lawrence’s photographs allegedly were obtained from a personal iCloud account, a service operated by Apple and often used to automatically store photos taken by a user’s mobile phone. Experts said the hackers appear to have targeted celebrity accounts, suggesting that it is unlikely that ordinary users’ files were compromised. Still, with official investigations just getting underway, it was unclear precisely what methods were used to steal the photos and whether the thefts pointed to broader vulnerabilities.

 

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DNA May Free NC Mentally Disabled Men After 31 Years In Prison For Murder

In 1983, a North Carolina sheriff’s detective knocked on Henry McCollum’s home and invited the 19-year-old to the police department for questioning. An hour and a half later, his brother, Leon Brown, and their mother went to the station to see what was taking so long. Soon, says the Raleigh News & Observer, agents had a five-page murder confession from McCollum detailing how he and three other teenagers had gang-raped an 11-year-old girl in a bean field and jammed her panties down her throat with a stick. By dawn, agents had a confession from Brown, 15. Police wrote the confessions in longhand; Brown and McCollum signed each page. Those two confessions have kept them locked up for nearly 31 years.

Both men are mentally disabled; McCollum with an IQ in the 60s, Brown's as low as 49. The men say they were bullied and tricked into confessing. Now, the state  Innocence Inquiry Commission has unearthed DNA evidence showing the killer was a sexual predator with a lengthy criminal history. The brothers are scheduled to appear today in court, where defense lawyers will ask a judge to free them both. District Attorney Johnson Britt is not opposed. “The whole case rests on the confessions,” Britt said, “and the DNA evidence threw those confessions under the bus.” Despite a number of criminal justice reforms in recent years, the case raises many questions: How common are false confessions? How many inmates have boxes of evidence hidden from them for decades? How does the justice system treat the mentally disabled? Were the brothers put on death row because of police and prosecutorial tunnel vision, or something worse? How many innocent inmates languish in the state’s penal system?

 



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32 Teens, Nearly Half At Nashville Detention Center, Escape Through Fence

Thirty-two of 78 teenagers being held at a Nashville detention center overnight, triggering a massive police manhunt, The Tennessean reports. Police apprehended about half of the escapees overnight. Most had records of at least three felonies.

The teens, 14 to 18 years old, were able to break out of a weak spot under a fence at the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center. The escape occurred after a 10:30 p.m. shift change, when staffing was reduced.

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Federal Judge Agrees To Portland Police Reforms Sought By DOJ

In a move community leaders say "should lead to better treatment of all Portlanders," a federal judge signed off on an agreement between the federal government and the city that seeks to improve the sometimes violent encounters between police and people with mental illness, The Oregonian reports. The settlement approved by U.S. District Judge Michael Simon calls for many changes in police policies, training and oversight. Among them: more clear-cut policies about when officers can use deadly force, a push for greater diversity in police hiring, an expansion of the city's mobile crisis units and quicker investigations into officer misconduct.

The city must give the judge annual updates of its progress in carrying out the reforms, which could take as long as five years. The city and police union had objected to the annual check-ins, but a community group said they were necessary to hold the city and police accountable. The judge also ordered the city or its new compliance officer to give him quarterly reports. Simon stopped short of ordering that police wear body cameras to record their interactions with the public, though he noted that the technology is improving and police forces around the country are using them "in ways that protect both law enforcement officers and the public they serve."

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Ferguson Police Adopt Body Cameras; How Much Good Will They Do?

Police in Ferguson, Mo., are now wearing body cameras. The Christian Science Monitor says reports suggest that interest in the technology among police departments has spiked since unrest swept the St. Louis suburb last month. The shooting death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown by a Ferguson officer Aug. 9 and the sometimes-violent protests that followed raised deep questions about race and justice. Nationwide, the trend toward wearable cameras is in its infancy and shows both the promise of the technology and its shortcomings. Data suggest complaints and violent encounters can decline significantly, but police can maintain a "blue wall of silence" to prevent public access to the videos.

The cameras can be useful in improving policing, but should not be viewed as a cure-all. "These cameras are viewed as the ultimate silver bullet, but they're not," Barry Donelan, president of the Oakland Police Officers' Association, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "They're another great tool in policing, but they have limitations just like everything else." Currently, about 1,000 of the 18,000 police departments nationwide are using wearable cameras, says MSNBC.


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Baltimore Residents Putting Locked Gates On Crime-Ridden Alleys

A decade ago, many Baltimore alleys were havens for drug use and prostitution. Fed-up residents are shutting them off with locked gates, reports the Baltimore Sun. "It's the best thing that ever happened to this block," said J.D. Bowen, a construction superintendent, the gated alley behind his home. Without it, "I don't know if we would've stayed in the city after we had a child." The city has 600 miles of alleys, public rights of way used in most neighborhoods for trash pickup or parking.

The idea of gating these spaces is gaining traction and has the support of the Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's administration, which is trying to streamline the process. "We want to see it for the appropriate neighborhoods," said Steve Sharkey, director of the Department of General Services. "If people in the neighborhood want it, and the city agencies and utilities are accepting of it, we do want to see it happen." Residents must get 80 percent of their neighbors to sign off on a project. The new bill would reduce that to 75 percent.



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