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WI Law Orders Outside Review of Police Custody Deaths

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday signed a new law requiring an outside investigation when people die in police custody — the first of its kind in the nation, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The law requires a team of at least two investigators from an outside agency to lead reviews of such deaths. It requires reports of custody death investigations to be publicly released if criminal charges are not filed against the officers involved. Officers also must inform victims' families of their options to pursue additional state and federal reviews.

The law is largely the work of Michael Bell, who has waged a 10-year campaign for greater accountability when police use lethal force. Bell's namesake son was shot and killed by Kenosha police in 2004. The officers who killed Bell, 21, were quickly cleared of wrongdoing after an internal investigation. Bell's father has spent more than $1 million on billboards, newspaper advertisements and a website to ask this question: When police kill, should they judge themselves?

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FBI Informant Coordinated Foreign Hacking Campaign

An informant working for the FBI coordinated a 2012 campaign of hundreds of cyberattacks on foreign websites, including some operated by the governments of Iran, Syria, Brazil and Pakistan, reports the New York Times. Exploiting a vulnerability in a popular web hosting software, the informant directed at least one hacker to extract vast amounts of data — from bank records to login information — from the government servers of a number of countries and upload it to a server monitored by the F.B.I., according to court statements.

The details of the 2012 episode have been kept largely a secret in closed sessions of a federal court in New York and heavily redacted documents. While the documents do not indicate whether the FBI directly ordered the attacks, they suggest that the government may have used hackers to gather intelligence overseas even as investigators were trying to send computer activists to prison. The attacks were coordinated by Hector Xavier Monsegur, a member of Anonymous. An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment.

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Six Fired Over Arizona Child Welfare 'Fiasco'

Arizona state officials laid the blame for a mountain of neglected child-welfare cases on six state staffers Wednesday, firing all of them, including a high-ranking deputy at the state Department of Economic Security, reports the Arizona Republic. The terminations came as the state Department of Public Safety released a lengthy report on the origins of the fiasco that culminated in November with the discovery of nearly 6,600 child-abuse and neglect reports that had been deliberately set aside and marked "NI" for "not investigated."

State law requires all neglect and abuse reports to be investigated. The report reached no conclusions, but it prompted Charles Flanagan, the director of the state's new child welfare agency, to terminate five members of an elite unit at the former Child Protective Services office. In addition, DES Director Clarence Carter fired Sharon Sergent, the agency's deputy director for programs. The fired employees had been on paid administrative leave since early December.

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Report: TX Prison Heat Has Killed 14 Inmates Since '07

At least 14 Texas prisoners have died from overheating since 2007, according to a new report by the University of Texas School of Law Human Rights Clinic. The Texas Tribune said findings in the 40-page report echo claims made in lawsuits over eight inmate deaths that the Texas Civil Rights Project filed against the state's Department of Criminal Justice on behalf of the deceased inmates and their families.

The UT report said prison workers are exposed to the same extreme conditions and recommended that state officials install air conditioning and keep temperatures at the facilities below 85 degrees. Prison officials argue that adding equipment would be too costly and that the agency takes adequate measures to ensure the safety of both inmates and employees in its prisons. Prisoner advocates have an ally in the Texas correctional officers' union, which has been complaining about the heat for years.

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Oregon Sheriffs to Refuse ICE Immigration Detainers

Sheriffs in nine Oregon counties say they will no longer hold people in jail based on requests from federal immigration authorities after a U.S. judge in Portland ruled that an immigrant’s rights had been violated when she was held in a county jail on such a request, says the New York Times. The Oregon decision was the latest of several federal rulings this year that raised doubts about the constitutionality of detainers that federal authorities have routinely issued to state and local police.

The Oregon sheriffs join a growing resistance nationwide to the expansion of the local reach of federal immigration enforcement. In response to the judge’s decision last week, the nine sheriffs said they would no longer comply with documents, known as detainers, issued by the federal immigration enforcement agency. The detainers, which are issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, request that immigrants be held for up to 48 hours so their legal status can be investigated.

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AZ Governor Again Vetoes Controversial Gun Bills

For the third time in four years, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has vetoed legislation that would have allowed citizens to carry guns into public buildings and events, reports the Arizona Republic. Brewer also vetoed a bill that would have made local officials personally liable for passing gun statutes that are more restrictive than the state's. Gun advocates said they will try again next year under a new governor, after Brewer leaves office.

Brewer vetoed House Bill 2339, which would have allowed guns in public buildings and events that do not provide security guards and metal detectors at each entrance. It did not apply to K-12 schools, community colleges or universities. She voiced concerns about the cost to local governments of meeting the requirements to keep guns out as well as the wisdom of allowing guns in certain public buildings. The personal liability measure, HB 2517, which would have added penalties to an existing state law that restricts cities, towns and counties from regulating firearms more strictly than the state.

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DC Smartphone Theft Surge Reflects National Trend

A Consumer Reports survey suggests that smartphone thefts are surging across the country, reports the Washington Post. Based on statistical extrapolations from its survey, Consumer Reports estimates that about 3.1 million Americans were victims of smartphone theft last year, nearly double the number in 2012. In Washington, a recent Metro report listed 643 “snatch” thefts in the transit system last year, 90 percent of which involved cellphones, up from 491 in 2012.

The increasing popularity of smartphones, easy to carry and conceal and highly valuable, is a major factor in the growing number of thefts, according to law enforcement officials. The “prevalence of portable electronic devices, particularly iPhones, over the last five years has made the crime of theft/snatch skyrocket,” Transit Police Chief Ronald A. Pavlik Jr. said in the Metro report.

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NY Woman Guilty in Gun Case From Firefighter Ambush

Even after a guilty verdict in the case gave some closure, emotions are still raw over the ambush killing of two West Webster, N.Y., firefighters on Christmas Eve 2012, reports the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Dawn Nguyen, 25, was convicted last week of lying on a firearms transaction form when she bought a pair of guns back in 2010. Prosecutors argued that this act put the weapons in the hands of her neighbor, William Spengler Jr., a convicted felon who used the guns to kill two firefighters and wound two others.

In Webster, several residents and public safety leaders said they were satisfied that Nguyen had been held accountable for a decision that helped lead to the shootings. She will be sentenced May 19 for first-degree falsification of a business record, a felony that does not necessarily require prison time, but carries a maximum sentence of four years. She also still faces three federal charges in connection with the 2010 gun purchase — making false statements in acquiring firearms, disposing of firearms to a convicted felon and possessing firearms as an unlawful user of marijuana.

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Survey Finds Employers Prefer Rap Sheet to Resume Lies

Lying on a resume is viewed more harshly than a criminal record, reports the Cleveland Plain Dealer. A recent survey of companies that rely on employee background checks found "that employers consider resume distortions as a serious breach of trust and confidence," according to EmployeeScreenIQ. "In fact, this data suggests employers are more concerned about resume distortions than criminal convictions."

This is the fifth year the company has done the informal survey, partly aimed at finding out how employers use background checks. Nearly 600 companies participated in the poll. Jill Rizika, executive director of a Cleveland organization that helps ex-offenders find work, said she was encouraged by the results. Under the "ban the box" movement, 11 states now have laws that forbid employers from using admission of a conviction on an application as a first-step rejection of a potential employee. 

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Software Program May Change Face of Police Sketches

Lois Gibson, a Houston police forensic sketch artist, has helped a group of Michigan State University researchers in the development of FaceSketchID, a computer program that could soon revolutionize how police identify criminal suspects, reports the Houston Chronicle. The software can help find a name for a police sketch by comparing drawn facial features to existing mug shots of identified people.

The software, four years in the making, will match hand-drawn sketches to a vast photo collection quicker and more accurately, developer Anil K. Jain said. Traditionally, police have distributed sketches to the media, hoping someone will recognize the face. Jain said an automated search of mug shot data bases will be much more efficient. Gibson said only about two dozen forensic artists work full-time on sketching in the U.S. "There have been 3,000 to 4,000 people trained to be sketch artists that aren't being hired because police think that sketches don't help," Gibson said.

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TCR at a Glance

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