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Experts Suggest Ways To Keep Guns Out Of Dangerous People's Hands

After the on-camera shooting deaths of two journalists at Virginia’s WDBJ, gun-rights advocates have argued that nothing that could have prevented the shooter from getting his hands on a firearm, reports The Trace. A study by Duke University’s Jeffrey Swanson and others found that nearly one in 10 Americans have both anger management problems and access to firearms.  Swanson believes policymakers can use existing tools that go beyond the federal background check system to help prevent people with anger issues from getting guns or to take weapons out of their hands once they turn violent. He recommended banning those arrested for violent misdemeanors from possessing a gun. Current federal policies only prohibit people convicted of crimes carrying at least a year of prison time, but California bars people convicted of a a range of violent misdemeanors, including many that suggest a volatile temper, like battery or threatening a school official, from owning a gun for 10 years. A smaller class of violent misdemeanors results in a lifetime ban. Other states give police the discretion to deem someone too risky to be allowed to have a gun. 

Thirteen have “permit to purchase” system that require a prospective gun buyer to be vetted by local law enforcement before buying any firearm. These permits to purchase occasionally involve character references, which could alert law enforcement to anger issues. California passed a law last fall that allows police or concerned relatives to petition for the temporary removal of firearms from someone who might be poised to harm themselves or others. Gun-friendly Indiana has a similar "dangerous persons" law. Law Prof. Richard Bonnie of the University of Virginia, a member of the Consortium for Risk-Based Firearms Policy, believes a policy like Indiana’s would have provided the best chance for stopping Vester Flanagan from committing gun violence. Meanwhile, murdered Alison Parker's father, Andy, told CNN he was going to "take on" the National Rifle Association to get gun-control legislation passed. Parker said yesterday, "I'm for the Second Amendment, but there has to be a way to force politicians that are cowards and in the pockets of the NRA to come to grips and make sense — have sensible laws so that crazy people can't get guns. It can't be that hard."

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Some News Media Defend Using Disturbing VA Shooting Images

The New York Daily News and New York Post have had what the New York Times calls withering criticism for using stills from Vester Flanagan’s video of Wednesday's killings of two Virginia journalists, with critics charging that the newspapers sensationalized the killing. The Daily News was roundly criticized for its front page. Under the headline “Executed on Live TV,” the paper published three stills from the video, which showed in chilling succession Flanagan pointing his gun at Alison Parker, a local news reporter, and opening fire. He also killed cameraman, Adam Ward; both worked for WDBJ in Roanoke. The Daily News defended its decision to use the images, saying they were “a definitive part of the story, however disturbing and horrific.”

The Boston Globe took a different approach, posting a still picture on its front page from the footage Ward was recording when he was gunned down. The New York Times "decided against running the pictures because they were deeply disturbing images that showed the act of killing,” said Matthew Purdy, a deputy executive editor. At ABC’s “World News Tonight,” anchor George Stephanopoulos said, “Something we wrestled with today: whether to grant the gunman his last wish by playing his video. We will not.” CBS played 23 seconds of Flanagan’s video in its evening newscast, stopping it right before he began shooting. David Rhodes, CBS News president, defended the decision.  “Using the material we did, we helped people understand the degree of premeditation behind the attack,” he said. “If you don’t show some of what we showed, you can leave people with the impression that somebody just snapped.”

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Employer's Dilemma: What To Do About Angry But Noncriminal Workers

The killing of two Virginia journalists by a former colleague illustrates a nightmare for any employer: what to do with a volatile, constantly aggrieved worker who has had angry, even frightening confrontations with fellow workers yet has committed no crime, says the New York Times. With convictions or adjudiciations of mental illness, Vester Flanagan was able to buy his Glock 19 handgun legally after passing a background check. Flanagan's ex-boss, Jeff Marks, said it might be possible to screen job applicants better, but he noted the difficulty of getting an honest reference from a former employer. Violent events like this week's cannot be predicted, but there are things a company can do to reduce the risk of them occurring, say labor experts, psychologists and consultants in workplace safety. Suggestions include forming teams to monitor and provide help to workers who seem to be boiling over with bitterness and, if firing is necessary, doing so in a way to preserve the worker’s dignity as much as possible, said psychologist J. Reid Meloy.

Employers face conflicting legal obligations and huge uncertainties. They have a duty to provide a safe workplace, and can be sued for failing to prevent predictable threats. They must tread carefully with employees with mental health problems. The federal disabilities act prohibits discrimination against those with mental illness. For every angry employee who might pose a serious threat, there are far more who will not act and whose rights must be respected. There is no sure screening method. “It’s nuance,” said Linda Doyle, a employment law expert with McDermott Will & Emery in Chicago. “Not every one of these is a Mr. Flanagan,” she said. “The goal is to help the person be well and change the behavior, but the other goal is to protect your workplace.”  Many companies refer troubled workers to employee assistance programs. Therapists are bound by confidentiality unless the patient makes a clear, immediate threat to harm himself or someone else. Nearly two million Americans each year report workplace violence.

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In Bid To Expand "Fairness," NYC Cops To Give "Receipts" After Stops

As police departments reevaluate their encounters with citizens on the streets in a post-Ferguson era, the New York Police Department will begin giving “receipts” to those stopped, questioned, or frisked but then allowed to go on about their day, reports the Christian Science Monitor. On Sept. 21, beat cops will start giving any person they stop, but do not end up arresting, an information card that will explain why he or she was stopped in the first place. The card, now being dubbed a “receipt,” will include the officer’s name and badge number, as well as information on how to make a complaint, if necessary. Just a few years ago, New York’s famous mean streets included one of the nation's most aggressive police departments. Police flooded high-crime neighborhoods, stopping and frisking hundreds of thousands of people each year, a proactive policing tactic meant to nip crime before it started.

But nearly 9 of 10 of those stopped were never arrested or charged with a crime, and more than 85 percent of those stopped were black and Latino men. The new receipt program represents a dramatic turnabout for the department. Most experts believe its is the first of its kind, and its timing is significant. It could resonate beyond New York, if successful. “This is all over the literature now – police legitimacy, fairness in policing,” says Edward Connors of the Institute for Law and Justice in Williamsburg, Va. “There’s no solid science behind it yet, but from the psychology field, it’s been a theory that’s been tested and has shown a lot of promise: that if you treat people fairly and give them an explanation – maybe they’re not happy, like in the case of someone who gets a traffic ticket – but they understand and they might feel that some justice has been done.”

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Retiring NYPD Chief Hostage Negotiator Comes From "Place Of Empathy"

Successful police hostage negotiators must “experience the emotion of love at one point in their life, to know what it means to have been hurt in love at one point in their life, to know success and perhaps, most important, to know what it means to know failure, New York Police Lt. Jack Cambria, who retires today after 33 1/2 years, tells the Wall Street Journal. “The very good negotiators, I think, are the ones with the life stories,” he said. As the team’s commanding officer, Cambria, 60, has saved a detective held hostage, trained guards at Guantanamo Bay and even been a consultant on movies such as the 2009 remake of “The Taking of Pelham 123.” He has known failure. Just two weeks ago, Cambria oversaw a six-hour standoff between police and a man who had shot a New York City firefighter. It ended in what could have been a "suicide by cop" case.

Stuart Kirschner, a retired psychology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and one of the creators of the hostage team’s training program, said Cambria’s negotiating style comes from a place of empathy. “The (training) sessions that we had are incredibly moving, because he taps into their own experience. It’s almost like group therapy.” Cambria says the first 15 to 45 minutes of a negotiation are the most crucial. “What we have to do as negotiators is manage that emotion level first, and by doing so, by bringing it down, rationality levels are coming up. So you can’t have high emotion and rationality at the same time,” he said.

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Advocates Hope Other States Will Adopt NJ Juvenile Justice Reforms

A juvenile justice reform bill passed by New Jersey’s legislature and signed by Gov. Chris Christie this month will keep 14-year-olds out of criminal court, regardless of the crime. New Jersey is the first state to have no exceptions in the law surrounding waivers for defendants 14 and under, reports the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. The bill also narrows the list of offenses that can lead to prosecution as an adult, keeps some prisoners in juvenile custody until age 21, ends solitary confinement as a punishment and restricts the duration when it is used as a safety measure.

New Jersey is one of 21 states that directs juvenile courts to focus on rehabilitation, using language from the Balanced and Restorative Justice movement. The movement focuses on three primary interests: public safety, accountability to victims and the community as well as developing skills in offenders so they can have productive and law-abiding lives. The bill takes effect seven months from signing. Some juvenile justice organizations are hoping New Jersey’s reforms will prompt other states to follow. Melissa Sickmund, the director of the National Center for Juvenile Justice cited New York, which treats 16- and 17-year-olds as adults no matter the offense. “What a huge difference between what side of the river you’re on," she said.

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Homicides Up, Milwaukee Chief Calls For More Collaboration With Feds

With Milwaukee experiencing a surge in homicides this year, Police Chief Edward Flynn called for more collaboration between local police and federal prosecutors. He said focused deterrence strategies used in Kansas City's No Violence Alliance and in High Point, N.C., produced results, says the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The strategy entails identifying prolific offenders and hosting call-ins where they are given community support and offered resources to turn their lives around. They are told, often as a group, they have the attention of law enforcement and will face serious consequences, often federal charges, if arrested again. The most famous example is Boston, which saw homicides plummet from 152 in 1990 to 31 in 1999.

What's missing in Milwaukee, Flynn said, is the regular involvement of the federal system. "The key element in the group violence reduction initiative, the High Point initiative, is the involvement of the United State's attorney's office because there are serious federal sanctions for a number of crimes that (in state court) are misdemeanors," Flynn said. "Now, you don't want to use it wantonly," he added. "It's got to be the right bad guys." Acting U.S. Attorney Gregory Haanstad said it's important to be selective with cases and choose those with a "clear federal interest at stake." He added, "I think a lot of times what federal judges are on guard against is handling a high volume of what they see as relatively simple, straightforward street crime cases that could be just as easily prosecuted in state court." 

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MD Corrections Issue: 213 Employees Charged With Crimes, Most Still Working

Maryland corrections secretary Stephen Moyer has a reform agenda beyond closing the Baltimore City Detention Center, the Baltimore Sun reports. Speaking of the now-closed facility, Moyer says, "I could barely stomach it. Prison isn't a good place for anybody, but people deserve better conditions than what that building offered. It was time for this place to go." Now he plans to toughen the way employees are disciplined and clean up a lax culture of employee discipline in the corrections system. Moyer said more than 250 employees have been arrested and charged with a crime since January 2013, but more than 200 of them are still employed. The charges include assault, driving under the influence and having sexual relations with an inmate.  

Moyer ordered the review after two Baltimore correctional officers were charged with looting a downtown convenience store during unrest over the death of Freddie Gray. He asked his staff to review how many employees had been arrested or charged with crimes and was surprised to learn there were hundreds of such cases. "I don't want them working here," he said yesterday. A spokesman for the agency called the number "troubling" in an agency with 11,000 employees. "The sheer numbers of arrests, and the fact that many of these employees are still working, indicates that the way things have been done is not working," said the spokesman. "The Secretary wants to know where the breakdowns have been. This illustrates the need to reform and streamline the [human resources] process." Moyer also wants to expedite tearing down the detention center and other uninhabitable parts of the Baltimore corrections complex.

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Judge Agrees Public Has Access Right To Federal Surveillance Requests

A federal judge in Texas ruled that the public generally has a right to see secret government requests for electronic surveillance in ordinary criminal cases. However, she said that a batch of such documents cannot be released now because the relevant cases are ongoing, denying a request by the Wall Street Journal. After a series of motions from Journal publisher Dow Jones & Co., U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos found that Dow Jones has a legal right to see government applications for surveillance, an idea the U.S. Justice Department had fought. But she agreed with DOJ that the requested documents shouldn’t be disclosed yet because the 14 applications, dating from 2010 to 2013, all relate to continuing cases.

The government made some of its arguments to the judge in private last year. The Justice Department argued in June that the public would have no right to any information about the applications, including basic descriptions, even if the cases were closed. Ramos rejected that argument. She also ordered the government to update her every six months on the status of the investigations and whether they remained open. “We’re pleased that the court agreed that the public has a broad right to access government surveillance requests, and we look forward to the court continuing to oversee this process,” a spokeswoman for Dow Jones said. 

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Bag Of Heroin Cheaper Than Pack Of Cigarettes Around U.S.

Heroin in the U.S. is now cheaper than cigarettes, the Washington Post reports. Ashley Kennedy, an addict currently in rehab, said she could buy a bag of heroin in Baltimore for about $5. A pack of cigarettes costs $7.75 in Maryland. In southwestern Pennsylvania,  a single bag of heroin goes for about $8, said Rick Gluth, supervising detective on the Washington County drug task force.  In Pennsylvania, the price of a pack of cigarettes ranges from about $6.25 to $6.85.

And in New York City, where heroin goes for about $10 a bag, according to a Drug Enforcement Administration official, a pack of cigarettes costs from $10.29 to $12.85. Asingle dose of heroin might be more accurately compared with the price of a single cigarette, in which case the legal substance is still much cheaper. Heroin pricing varies by region. It can cost more in Detroit than it does in New York, which is not what might be expected given the relative economies of those two cities. In the last few years, price has largely been determined by concerted action on the part of Mexican drug cartels, said DEA agent Joseph Moses.  Most of the heroin on U.S. streets is from Mexico, Moses said, and despite the efforts of the DEA and other law enforcement agencies, there is plenty of it, which keeps the price down despite the seemingly insatiable demand. 

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