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"Onslaught" Of Scam Phone Calls Target The Elderly; Complaints Jump

Authorities are fighting a wave of phone crime enabled by cheap technology that blasts out nefarious calls and hides wrongdoers’ whereabouts. The scammers are targeting the elderly, prompting a push in Congress to fight back, the Wall Street Journal reports. Callers often pose as cash-strapped grandchildren, tax collectors or providers of technical support. Complaints to the Federal Trade Commission about unwanted calls—including robocalls, telemarketing sales calls with recorded messages, and spoofed caller identification, such as falsely showing that a legitimate entity is calling—hit a record 1.7 million in the first four months of 2016, up 41 percent from last year. Monthly complaints about automated robocalls have more than tripled since 2009.

“We now have this onslaught—it’s terrible,” said Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller. He is one of several elected officials, as well as advocacy groups like Consumers Union, who are pressuring phone carriers to do more to block robocalls. Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Claire McCaskill, (D-MO), leaders of the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging, are among lawmakers making the push. A California legislator has also filed a bill to force phone companies to offer technology that would block the calls. Federal law allows charities, political campaigns and schools to use robocalls, while telemarketers are barred from using recorded sales calls without a consumer’s written consent. The technology to pump out automated calls isn’t new, but easy access is. “Technology has made it a lot easier for the bad guys to make illegal calls,” said the FTC's Will Maxson.

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NBA Player Killed In Dallas; Broke Into Wrong Apartment At 3:20 A.M.

National Basketball Association player Bryce Dejean-Jones of the New Orleans Pelicans was shot and killed early Saturday after he broke into a Dallas apartment he believed was his girlfriend’s and instead startled a man he didn’t know, police and his agent told the Dallas Morning News. Dejean-Jones, 23, “kicked open the front door” to an apartment about 3:20 a.m. Police said the man who lived there woke up, grabbed his handgun and “called out” to the intruder. He got no answer. When Dejean-Jones kicked the door to the bedroom, police said, the man fired, apparently in self-defense. 

Dejean-Jones' agent said the NBA player was in Dallas to visit his girlfriend for his daughter’s first birthday. He said Dejean-Jones was visiting her new apartment for the first time and, when he came back to the apartment later that night, he went to the unit directly below hers. Dejean-Jones, his agent said, was “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” It’s unclear whether the unidentified man who shot Dejean-Jones will face charges. Under Texas law, a person is allowed to use deadly force to defend himself in his home. It also says a person using force cannot provoke the attacker or be involved in criminal activity at the time.

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Why Does NYC Have Fewer Murders Than Chicago? Police And Guns

Already embroiled in a crisis over race and police conduct, Chicago is reporting a 62 percent increase in homicides this year. Through mid-May, 216 people have been killed. Shootings also are up 60 percent. The New York Times compared Chicago with New York City. Both cities began the 1990s with historically high homicide rates; both have diverse populations, including many blacks, Hispanics and whites, and a wide range of economic fortune as well. Chicago has about the same population as Brooklyn, but a year’s worth of homicides in the two places shows an astonishing difference in the toll.

There are significant differences in policing, especially around guns. Chicago has a reputation for strict gun laws. Gun rights advocates point to it as proof that gun regulation doesn’t reduce violence. Its laws aren’t what they used to be. Federal courts struck down its ban on handgun ownership in 2010, and its ban on gun sales in 2014. Guns were easily available from nearby jurisdictions, especially Indiana. New York hired many more police officers in response to the crime of the 1990s, and steeply increased gun enforcement. Recent studies have suggested more police might mean less crime, said Jens Ludwig of the University of Chicago Crime Lab. Chicago’s overwhelmed police department can respond only to the most serious problems, leaving citizens to feel responsible for their security, he said.

 

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Iowa Supreme Court, 4-3, Bans Life Without Parole For Juveniles

The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled that sentencing juveniles to life in prison without parole is unconstitutional because it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, the New York Times reports. Writing for the majority in a 4-to-3 decision, Justice Brent Appel said juvenile character is “a work in progress” and that courts should not preclude the chance for juvenile offenders to be released for good behavior by parole boards after they have matured. “We should not ask our district court judges to predict future prospects for maturation and rehabilitation when highly trained professionals say such predictions are impossible,” he wrote. Dissenting, Justice Edward Mansfield said the court was overstepping its role, writing that the “inherent uncertainty regarding future prospects for rehabilitation is simply an insufficient basis for supplanting the judgment of our elected representatives.”

The ruling is the latest in a trend away from harsh sentences for juveniles. The U.S. Supreme Court has banned the death penalty and mandatory sentences of life without parole for juvenile cases, and 16 states prohibit life-without-parole sentences for juveniles. “The courts and state legislatures alike have agreed that life without any chance of parole is an inappropriate sentence for a child,” said Joshua Rovner of the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based nonprofit that lobbies for reduced sentences in juvenile and drug cases. “There is a widespread understanding now, with scientific research backing up our own common sense, that juveniles are not adults, and shouldn’t be treated that way,” he said. “Adolescence is not a permanent condition, and the courts are recognizing this.”

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Mayor Vows Crackdown On Crime In St. Louis' Fast-Growing Downtown

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay pledged a crackdown on downtown crime, saying the area would see more officers and strict enforcement of even the lowest level offenses, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Whatever we are doing, we need to do more," Slay said. "We are going to step up security dramatically." He said the "more" includes strong enforcement of all city laws and ordinances, including crackdowns on loud noise, speeding motor cycles, public urination, and littering. "If people think they have a little leeway here, a little leeway over there, they take advantage of it," Slay said. 

Slay gave Police Chief Sam Dotson authority for more officers and unlimited overtime. He said he has "full confidence" in Dotson to handle the problem. The comments come after last weekend's murder of a 21-year-old woman on a downtown street and a spate of other crimes in the heart of the city. Surveillance video from early Tuesday showed a gunman firing shots at a man who apparently refused to give him cash during a robbery at Old Post Office Plaza, a renovated space near two luxury hotels. "It certainly is making a lot of people angry, including me," Slay said. Downtown has struggled with its reputation, largely over persistent criminal problems. Still, the area was by far the fastest growing city neighborhood, according to the 2010 census. 

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Most NRA Warnings About Hillary Clinton Are Exaggerated, Newspaper Says

The National Rifle Association's dire warnings about Barack Obama in 2008 didn't happen, but this year, the NRA is making even darker predictions about Hillary Clinton. "If she could, Hillary would ban every gun, destroy every magazine, run an entire national security industry into the ground and put your name on a government registration list," says the NRA's Wayne LaPierre. In an editorial, the Chicago Tribune says that LaPierre's various accusations are the product of his "overactive imagination. But amid all the hyperbole, he has a point." Two Supreme Court decisions affirming an individual right to own guns for self-defense were decided by 5-4 votes, and one of the five, Antonin Scalia, has died.

Clinton could shift the court's balance on the Second Amendment, but "the conclusions the NRA draws from this prospect are way out of line with reality," the Tribune says. Even if a Clinton appointee unsympathetic to gun rights could be confirmed, a new justice would most likely accept the definition of gun rights that now prevails but neither expand nor shrink it. The NRA's worst-case scenario is greatly exaggerated, says the newspaper. Even if the court were to renounce the view that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own guns for self-defense, that would not open the floodgates for gun control zealots.

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Baylor Sex Assault Scandal Called Wake-Up Call For University Presidents

Baylor University perpetuated “a culture of silence” for rape victims in the way the school handled claims of sexual assaults by football players, victim advocates say. Baylor football coach Art Briles was fired and president Kenneth Starr was demoted after the results of an external review found that the private school’s athletic department and football program “failed to take appropriate action to respond to reports of sexual assault and dating violence reportedly committed by football players,” the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram reports. The case highlights how higher education institutions must establish systems that protect victim, a responsibility that falls on everyone from the president to coaches to law enforcement, said Alison Kiss of the Clery Center for Security on Campus.

“Campus safety is an institutional obligation,” Kiss said. “It shouldn’t fall on one department.” Kiss said when university leaders don’t take reports of rape or sexual assault seriously it sets a tone for the entire campus. “It perpetuates a culture of silence where people will not come forward,” she said. Scott Berkowitz of the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN) in Washington, D.C., said it is a positive sign that Baylor regents made significant changes based on the investigation. “I think it is going to be a wake-up call to a lot of university presidents across the country,” Berkowitz said.

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CA, FL High Courts Give New Chances To Young Offenders Serving Life

Ruling in the case of a teenager serving 50 years to life for a 2011 killing, the California Supreme Court said yesterday that youths serving potential life terms for murder are entitled to parole hearings within 25 years under a new state law. The court ruled 6-1 that the teenager, Tyris Franklin, should have another hearing to allow witnesses to describe his mental state, lack of maturity and other factors that might have contributed to the crime. That evidence wasn’t allowed at Franklin’s sentencing hearing, because the 50-to-life term was required by law. It could be important for the future parole board that considers his case, the court said.

The ruling set new procedures in California for juveniles tried as adults and sentenced to lengthy terms. The opinion and the state law on which it relied followed a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2012 barring mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles. Also yesterday, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that juvenile offenders serving sentences so lengthy they amount to life in prison must have their cases reconsidered by a judge, even if they are eligible for parole, the Tampa Bay Times reports.  The 4-3 ruling will dramatically expand the number of juvenile offenders who qualify for resentencing, granting a second chance for release to potentially hundreds of people convicted of murder and other serious crimes in their youth.

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TCR at a Glance

The New Politics of the Drug War

special report May 26, 2016

As presidential candidates focus on the opioid epidemic, grassroots initiatives are transforming the national debate about drugs.

Life After Prison: Opting In or Opting Out

special report May 23, 2016

In Part 4 of our podcast series, Lorenzo Brooks faces the challenges of navigating a now-unfamiliar world he left behind when he went to ...