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DOJ Argues Against Disclosing Defendants' Mug Shots, Cites Privacy

The federal government asked a federal appeals court yesterday to block the compelled disclosure of mug shots, citing the “substantial” privacy interests of defendants, the National Law Journal reports. The U.S. Department of Justice is fighting a Michigan judge’s ruling in a suit brought by the Detroit Free Press over access to mugs of four police officers charged in a drug and bribery conspiracy. A provision of the Freedom of Information Act allows the government to withhold mug shots, the department told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Mug shots, the government argues, reveal “an otherwise private event in which the individual is captured at ‘a humiliating moment.’” The U.S. Marshals Service denied the Free Press’ FOIA request for the officers’ mug shots, saying the disclosure “could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy.” A federal trial judge ordered the government to release the mug shots but put the ruling on hold pending appeal. Herschel Fink, attorney for the Free Press, said, "there is simply no privacy interest in mug shots of persons who have been indicted and who are actively being prosecuted."

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Baltimore Hopes To Quadruple Surveillance By Including Private Cameras

Baltimore is expanding its public surveillance network to include private security cameras that city officials hope will quadruple the number of digital eyes on neighborhoods and make residents and business owners feel more secure, reports the Baltimore Sun. The city yesterday launched a program two years in the making that gives police quicker access to the hundreds of private cameras mounted outside of businesses and homes around Baltimore. The voluntary program allows property owners to be part of the CitiWatch Community Partnership, which maps where cameras are located and points detectives to available security footage in areas where crimes have occurred.

When crime cameras were first installed in Baltimore in 2005, they numbered fewer than 200 and were largely confined to high-crime areas. The city's network has grown to 696. Officials stress that becoming part of the CitiWatch system is voluntary and police officers will look at footage from the expanded private system only after they receive a report of a crime in the vicinity. The police will not be able to view a live feed from the newly signed-up private cameras. Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said the new program strengthens two areas in which police are trying to improve: technology and community relations. Philadelphia, San Jose, Ca., and Chicago are among other cities that have similar private security camera registries or networks.

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As U.S. Heightens Federal Building Security, GAO Questions How Good It Is

When Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson heightened security at federal buildings this week, this week, he turned to a little-known law enforcement agency that describes itself as an elite protector of federal facilities nationwide. The Federal Protective Service has had its share of problems, and a series of government audits raises questions about whether the agency is fully prepared for any new threats that arise, reports the Washington Post. The reports say the agency has failed to train and oversee properly many of the thousands of contract security guards who stand post at more than 9,500 federal facilities.

In 2011, a contract guard brought an unopened bomb into a 26-story federal building in Detroit and left it unattended for three weeks, triggering bi-partisan blasts from Congress. Two years earlier, government investigators successfully smuggled bomb-making materials into 10 federal buildings protected by the service that house national security or law enforcement agencies, according to the Government Accountability Office. In May, GAO said an official from one Federal Protective Service’s contract guard company reported that about 38 percent of its 350 guards never received mandatory screener training. The GAO used blunt language to express its displeasure. Since 2010, GAO has made 31 recommendations to improve the protective service’s oversight of contract guards and its ability to assess the risk to federal buildings. Only six had been implemented.

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CA Crime Ballot Measure: Ex-Police Chief Backs It, Prosecutor Doesn't

Recently retired San Diego police chief William Landsdowne tells AlJazeera America he endorses California's Proposition 47, which classifies many low-level nonviolent drug and property offenses as misdemeanors, as "a common-sense approach to overincarceration in California and across the nation." As California has moved inmates out of state prisons to reduce overcrowding, "We have not seen a rise in crime," Landsdowne says. The measure on Tuesday's ballot, he says, "will provide monies for drug treatment and K–12 prevention and services, and it provides monies for victims of crime."

Reminded that current California police chiefs oppose the measure, Landsdowne says, "I could not have supported this bill if I was still working. People are afraid of change. They do not want things to change, but it needs to if we want to follow other states." Sacramento prosecutor Anne Marie Schubert doesn't like the measure. She says it is "shocking" that under the proposal, "if you steal a handgun, which is a straight felony in California right now, under this law, if it costs less than $950, it will be a misdemeanor. People steal guns to commit violent crimes." She adds: "Prop 47 will significantly and substantially reduce penalties for individuals who possess drugs, commit thefts and date rapes, regardless of what their record is."

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If Pot Legalization Grows, Watch For Marketing To Kids: Patrick Kennedy

"One key dimension has been left out of the discussion" of marijuana legalization, amid talk about increasing tax revenue for states, getting nonviolent offenders out of the prison system, protecting personal liberty, and possible health benefits for those with severe illnesses, writes former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), for NPR. The missing element, he says, is "the marketing machine that will spring up to support these now-legal businesses, and the detrimental effect this will have on our kids."

He notes that the tobacco industry spent $8.8 billion on marketing in 2011. "Big Tobacco's approach: Hook them young, and they have a customer for life. Why do we think the legal marijuana industry will behave differently from Big Tobacco?," Kennedy asks. "When the goal is addiction, all bets are off." Kennedy adds: "Why is this an issue? There is a mistaken assumption that marijuana is harmless. It is not. Marijuana use is linked with mental illness, depression, anxiety and psychosis. It affects parts of the brain responsible for memory, learning, attention and reaction time."

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Hundreds Of Houston Drug Suspects Who Took Plea Deals "Convicted In Error"

Houston's Harris County District Attorney's office has sent out hundreds of notices to defendants convicted of drug offenses, telling them that forensic lab reports show they were "convicted in error," reports the Houston Press. The letters, sent between July and September, show hundreds of defendants who took plea deals for misdemeanor and felony drug possession charges were later cleared when evidence tested by a crime lab analyst came up negative for a controlled substance. While prosecutors were notified several years ago that those tests came back negative, defendants weren't told until months ago.

The Press is reviewing the cases, some of which date back as far as 2004. In some cases, the crime lab notified the DA's office that there was no evidence of a controlled substance before a defendant even took a plea deal. DA spokesman Jeff McShan says late DA Mike Anderson first discovered the problem shortly after he took office in 2013. DA Devon Anderson was appointed by the governor to take her husband's place after he died last year. McShan says the current DA Anderson realized the gravity of the situation -- that hundreds of cases might be implicated by negative lab reports that were never sent to defendants or entered in court -- and the office began working to clear up cases. "It was just a big mess," McShan said.

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