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S.F. Chief Releases Contents Of Officers' Racist, Homophobic Texts

San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr has released transcripts of racist and homophobic text messages that were allegedly exchanged between a former lieutenant and two former officers. The San Francisco Chronicle says the messages came to light after a woman accused one of the officers of raping her. The messages are loaded with slurs and ugly stereotypes. One officer, responding to a photo of a blackened Thanksgiving turkey, asks, “Is that a Ferguson turkey?” referring to the city that saw widespread protests after police fatally shot Michael Brown in 2014. Suhr made the transcripts public at a news conference surrounded by leaders in the city’s black community, two days after former Lt. Curtis Liu was charged with obstructing the rape investigation of ex-Officer Jason Lai.

The chief is under mounting pressure to show he is in control of a force that is facing heavy criticism, and a U.S. Department of Justice review, over the racism of some officers as well as the circumstances of recent fatal shootings. Some of the messages, which include derogatory and at times threatening statements toward black, Latino, Indian, transgender and gay people, were released by Public Defender Jeff Adachi on Tuesday, when he announced he was reviewing more than 200 cases that the officers’ bias may have tainted and may need to be dismissed. Messages refer to black people as “savages” and Latinos as “beaners.” In one exchange, an officer talks about black and Latino people stealing iPads, calling them “F— typical savages.”

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White House Urges Easing Rules For Agencies To Get "Smart Guns"

The White House issued recommendations aimed at curbing the illegal use of firearms by making it easier for federal, state and local agencies to purchase “smart guns” that would function only in the hands of specified users, the Washington Post reports. The measures include a proposed rule allowing the Social Security Administration to report beneficiaries with mental health problems to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The proposals came under fire from some police groups and gun rights organizations before they were publicly unveiled. Anti-gun-violence activists and administration officials described the measures as prudent steps aimed at preventing firearms from getting into the wrong hands.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the auto industry routinely innovates to make its vehicles safer and that gun manufacturers should consider following that lead. Under the proposal, the government would define requirements that gunmakers need to meet for police departments to consider purchasing. Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett said local governments could apply for grants for guns equipped with the new technology. Although a German company tried to introduce a smart gun into the U.S. two years ago, most of the technology is at the prototype stage. The guns are designed to function only when used by those authorized to fire them. Manufacturers are pursuing a variety of authorization methods, such as fingerprints and wireless chips connected to rings or watches.

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New Federal Sentencing Bill Rolled Out; Alabama's Sessions Blasts It

A bipartisan group of senators unveiled their new compromise plan yesterday to overhaul the way federal drug criminals are punished, making one last push for legislative reform before the presidential election all but forecloses action this year, NPR reports. At a news conference yesterday, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) proclaimed, "This is the best chance in a generation to reform our federal drug sentencing law." After Republicans, including Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, complained that the measure might open prison doors for violent offenders, now gone from the bill are provisions that would have lowered the mandatory minimum sentences for people convicted of certain firearms offenses. The new bill also adds mandatory minimums for offenses relating to fentanyl, which has been linked to overdose deaths. Sessions issued a long statement denouncing the new version of the bill, saying it would "release thousands of violent felons and endanger millions of Americans." Sessions is Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's key backer on Capitol Hill, although Trump hasn't commented on the sentencing reform bill.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA), will ask for time for a floor debate on the bill, now sponsored by 37 members. Senate floor time is scarce this year in part because of summer recess and the fall elections, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), is not likely to provide any time unless the bill clearly has enough votes to stop a filibuster. In the House, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has said he wants to move justice overhaul plans this year. What should be included in the bills, and what should be left out, is not so simple. House Republicans have said they will not move a plan to lighten penalties for drug criminals without language that would raise the burden for prosecutors in proving criminal intent in some environmental and business cases. That's a deal-breaker for the Justice Department and some Democrats.

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GA's Gov. Deal Seeks Cuts In "Extraordinarily High" Numbers On Probation

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal will urge legislators next year to tackle the stubborn problem of the “extraordinarily high” number of offenders on probation, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He wants to target the rise of “split sentencing” in Georgia, in which a defendant serves part of the sentence behind bars, and then often a greater time outside prison. He called it an “unusual phenomenon, and we don’t know why it’s happening.” Deal adds, “We have a significantly high number of people who are under probation supervision – an extraordinarily high number compared with most other states."

Georgia's probation rate led the nation last year, which critics said reflected an overuse of the system. The state moved to reform the misdemeanor probation system after a Journal-Constitution investigation showed that courts contract with private probation companies to “supervise” and collect payments from people who can’t afford to pay off expensive traffic tickets and other misdemeanor fines on the day they go to court. Deal’s Council on Criminal Justice Reform has recommended that lawmakers consider taking another step in 2017 by decriminalizing most traffic violations and rethinking the length of probation terms.

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MN Sheriff Won't Release Info In Criminal Probe Of Prince's Death

The investigation of Prince’s death took a turn yesterday indicating that the megastar’s collapse on April 21 is now the focus of a criminal probe, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The Carver County Sheriff’s Office cited an exception to Minnesota public-records laws that allows it to suppress information relating to a “criminal” probe in deciding to release only scant information about the 911 response the morning he was found dead. Sources said they are investigating whether an overdose of opioids led to Prince’s death. Prescription pills were found at his music studio, but it was unclear whether they were prescribed to Prince. Investigators are trying to determine how Prince got the pills, and who may have provided them.

Authorities have said that Prince was alone when he died and that neither foul play nor suicide is suspected. Twenty-four minutes elapsed between the 911 call reporting an “unresponsive adult male” and Prince's being pronounced dead. The 911 call from the music studio was made at 9:43 a.m. Sheriff’s deputies and emergency personnel arrived at the scene five minutes later and found Prince in the elevator. Emergency responders administered CPR, but were not able to revive the 57-year-old rock star and he was pronounced dead at 10:07 a.m. The cause of death was listed as “unknown.”

 

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New App Deletes Names Of Mass Killers, At Least Sometimes

A new Google Chrome app unveiled last week that deletes the names and images of mass shooters and Google search results of major news sites is reviewed by Ruben Rosario of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Promoting the app, Dan Gross of the Brady Campaign To End Gun Violence, says, “Instead of rewarding killers and inspiring copycats, we should be lifting up the stories and the lives of victims, heroes, and survivors. The fact is, notoriety serves as a reward for these killers and as a call-to-action for others who would seek to do similar harm in the name of infamy.” Kelly McBride, a media ethics expert at the Florida-based Poynter Institute says the app “is a great solution to this problem, because it allows consumers to filter the names if they don’t want to see them.”

Rosario says one problem is that the killer's last name often appears in subsequent references in stories that are accessed online with the new app. Poynter's McBride doesn’t want to see news organizations self-censoring names of mass killers “because I think it will lead to weaker watchdog reporting. Based on my experience working with editors around the country, I don’t believe that a majority of editors would succumb to that pressure.” University of Minnesota journalism Prof. Chris Ison asks, “Is the suggestion that the public has no right or need to know who commits terrible crimes? “I don’t think we should bury history. Many different facts and details help us remember and understand issues and events that are important."

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Dallas Police Officers Testing "Sponge Guns" To Reduce Officer Shootings

Some Dallas police officers will soon be toting “sponge guns,” weapons aimed at reducing the chances of a deadly officer-involved shooting, reports the Dallas Morning News. Police booster group Safer Dallas Better Dallas announced that it plans to raise $250,000 to help pay for more than 100 launchers that shoot sponge pellets. The less-lethal weapons are meant to disarm and incapacitate someone from up to 100 feet away. Being hit with one of the sponge-tipped bullets is much like being pinged with a baseball or hockey puck. The guns are designed to cause enough pain on impact to force a person to drop a weapon or to the ground without breaking the skin, making it safer for police officers to approach.

“If they get hit in a soft spot, they go down,” said Deputy Chief Jeff Cotner, who oversees the police academy. The launchers, which will be bright yellow, would be dispersed among patrol officers throughout the city to help respond to incidents involving volatile or mentally ill people. The yellow coloring shows other officers and people in the community that police are trying to use less-lethal force. The goal is to put as much space as possible between responding officers and a suspect who might be holding a weapon, such as a knife or screwdriver. Other less-lethal weapons, like Tasers, require that officers be within 21 feet of a person, making it more likely that an officer might have to use a gun. About 20 other police departments in the U.S. and Canada are testing the weapons in some form. 

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