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"Felony Lane Gang" Finds Ways To Cash Stolen Checks

An identity-theft scam called the "felony lane gang" scheme apparently started in Florida and has spread to other states, says the Columbus Dispatch. Typically, it involves a team of people stealing purses from vehicles. The purses provide identification cards and checks that are then fraudulently cashed at banks. The thief cashing the checks usually uses the bank's drive-through lane that is farthest from a teller's window, in hopes of passing as the victim.

When authorities recently pulled over a driver in an Ohio case, they found several wigs, stockings, and earrings in the vehicle - items allegedly used in disguises at bank drive-throughs. One Cincinnati-area woman found that her bank account had been hit for $10,000 in fraudulently cashed checks after her purse was taken. "Ladies have to stop keeping their purses in their car," said West Chester, Oh., police detective Tim Mintkenbaugh. In West Chester, purses were stolen from vehicles parked at day-care centers while mothers had gone inside to get children.

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N.Y. Times Opposes NRA On Gun Rights Under Age 21

The New York Times editorial page objects to stances of the National Rifle Association on various issues. Last week, President Obama had barely nominated a new director at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which is supposed to control firearms — Andrew Traver, a well-qualified career professional — before the gun lobby denounced him as “deeply aligned with gun control advocates.” His sin was associating with a police chief’s group that wants to reduce the use of handguns on city streets. The nomination was rated dead on arrival in the next Congress, where the NRA will be more powerful.

Then there are two NRA lawsuits in federal court in Lubbock, Tx., to compel the state to allow young people between 18 and 20 to buy handguns and carry them concealed in public places. One case challenges the longstanding federal law prohibiting licensed gun dealers from selling handguns to anyone under 21. The second contests a Texas law setting 21 as the minimum age for carrying a concealed weapon. Both lawsuits should fail, the Times believes. In recent Second Amendment rulings, the Supreme Court struck down complete bans on handgun ownership, but left room for limits on gun ownership and possession by felons and the mentally ill, and other reasonable restrictions like Texas’ age limitations. The Supreme Court has said nothing to suggest that the Second Amendment requires Americans to allow armed teenagers in their communities. The newspaper calls the idea that people 18 to 20 have a constitutional right to buy weapons and carry them loaded and concealed in public "breathtakingly irresponsible."

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Only 1/4 Of Nashville Pedestrian Deaths Bring Criminal Cases

Families of pedestrians killed by cars find that justice and closure are hard to come by in Nashville. says The Tennessean. Since 2006, only about one in four pedestrian deaths resulted in charges. Families and advocates say prosecutors need to be more aggressive or laws need to be harsher to ensure that drivers are held accountable for inattention, negligence, or bad decisions that lead to someone's death.

"Texting is against the law, but running people over on the sidewalk isn't, apparently," said Brenda Smallwood, daughter of one pedestrian who was killed. "I think there are laws that could have been used." Prosecutors counter that pedestrians are usually drunk or not crossing at crosswalks when they're hit and killed. In other cases, such as Smallwood's father, they say they can't prove a driver was reckless or drunk. And sometimes, an accident is just that, an accident. "There's a fine line between an accident and crime that you have to be careful when you cross," said Kyle Anderson, head of the Nashville District Attorney's Office's Vehicular Crime Team.

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NY Law Allows Parental Rights Extended During Incarceration

Friends and advocates of female prisoners in New York State gave thanks this week for the Adoption and Safe Families Act Expanded Discretion Bill, a new state law, reports Women's eNews. Before this statute, parents of children in foster care had their parental rights automatically rescinded after 15 months of incarceration. The median sentence length for women in New York's prisons is 36 months.

The law gives foster care agencies the discretion to extend that cutoff if the parent has remained involved with the child and the child's best interest is served by the parent's ongoing relationship. It's part of a push to maintain family relationships in New York, where 83 percent of female inmates are convicted of nonviolent crimes and 73 percent of incarcerated women are mothers of children under 18.

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Alternative To Airport Pat-Downs: In-Depth Interrogations

If Americans don’t want the government touching their “junk” to improve air security, the alternative may well be greater scrutiny of passengers’ travel histories and personal backgrounds. The public backlash against the aggressive pat-downs rolled out this month could lead to more pressure for measures previously rejected on privacy grounds, including in-depth interrogations of travelers, government scrutiny of passengers’ airline information, and creation of a secure, standardized national ID card, says Politico.com.

The alternative vision, described by former Department of Homeland Security official Stewart Baker: “We’re going to gather information about people we’re going to encounter hours before they arrive. We’ll compare names and travel partners to lists of people, not just no-fly lists, but anyone who’s suspect one way or another. One hundred and ninety-nine people spend 30 seconds in primary [screening] getting an ID check and moved on, but one person in 200 gets an hour of screening, reviewing their personal effects, and an interrogation that’s very free ranging.”

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Homeland Security Urges Scrapping Color-Coded Terror Alerts


The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is proposing to discontinue the color-coded terror alert system that became a symbol of  post-9/11 jitters and the butt of late-night talk show jokes, the Associated Press reports. The 8-year-old system, with its rainbow of five colors - from green, signifying a low threat, to red, meaning severe - became a fixture in airports, government buildings, and on newscasts. 

The system's demise would not be the end of terror alerts; instead, the alerts would become more descriptive and not so colorful. In the past two years, Obama administration officials have changed security protocols without changing the color of the threat (orange currently), such as introducing new airport security measures after a terrorist tried to bring down a Detroit-bound jetliner last Christmas. By scrapping the colors, President Obama would abandon a system that critics long have said was too vague to be useful and that Democrats criticized as a political scare tactic. Officials confirmed the recommendation and the draft proposal was described to the APs on condition of anonymity because other federal agencies are weighing in on the idea, and no final decision has been made.


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DEA Bans Five Chemicals Used To Make "Fake Pot" Products

The Drug Enforcement Administration used its emergency authority to control five chemicals used to make “fake pot” products.  The action, announced today, makes possessing and selling these chemicals or the products that contain them illegal for at least one year while the DEA and the Department of Health and Human Services study whether the chemicals and products should be permanently controlled. 

DEA said that over the past year, smokable herbal blends marketed as being “legal” and providing a marijuana-like high, have become increasingly popular, particularly among teens and young adults.  These products consist of plant material that has been coated with research chemicals that mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, and are sold in retail outlets, in head shops and over the Internet.  The chemicals have not been approved by the FDA for human consumption and there is no oversight of the manufacturing process.  Brands such as “Spice,” “K2,” “Blaze,” and “Red X Dawn” are labeled as incense to mask their intended purpose. DEA has received an increasing number of reports from poison centers, hospitals, and law enforcement about these products.  Fifteen states have already taken action to control one or more of these chemicals.

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Defense Of Crime Rankings: The Numbers Are The Numbers

CQ Press is defending its rankings of city crime rates based on city reports of data to the FBI. In St. Louis, the murder rate is about 40 per 100,000, eight times the national average. Anyone in St. Louis could use that data to conclude that the murder rate is quite high, the publisher's spokesman, Ben Krasney, tells the Houston Chronicle. "The cities that are on this list have crime rates per population that are several times the national average," he said. "So, they have a crime problem. [] The numbers are the numbers."


Houston Mayor Annise Parker lashed out at the study, which ranks Houston's crime as ninth-highest for big cities nationwide, placing it on a list with the likes of Detroit and Columbus, Ohio, although Houston has less than half the crimes per capita of those atop the rankings. Violent crime in Houston fell 8 percent in the first half of this year and was on a pace to reach the lowest rate since 2000. Parker charged that the publisher allows different cities to avoid counting certain crimes. New York does not count robberies of property less than $1,000, she said, and Chicago frequently is not included in the list because it does not follow FBI standards. The Houston suburb of Sugar Land was 389th out of 400 cities on the list. "It helps our community," said public safety official Steve Griffith. "As people are looking for a place to live, they want communities with great schools that are safe."

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New Florida "Pill Mill" Restrictions Delayed By Legislature

In their zeal to slow down government regulations, Florida legislators halted an effort to regulate so-called "pill mills'' that fuel an epidemic of prescription drug abuse, says the Miami Herald. Regulations that were set to take effect Sunday for most pain clinics were stalled by a new law intended to crack down on expensive state regulations. The law requires legislative approval of rules that have a significant fiscal impact.

That means the regulations could be in limbo until next spring when the 2011 legislative session convenes. "I would like legislators to explain the fact that the drug epidemic continues to grow while they remain silent,'' said Lynn Locascio, founder of Parents Against Prescription Drug Addiction. "We feel like we're back to square one banging our heads against the wall.'' Locascio's son, Robert Palmisano, 26. has been clean from pills since 2006. Before that, he was one of hundreds of addicts who went from doctor to doctor to get their fix of pain meds such as Oxycodone. The new regulations provide basic standards for pain clinics, including how patients are evaluated and the physical specifications of offices. The rules also require unannounced inspections each year. Many clinics are currently unregulated because they don't accept health insurance.

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In New York State, Empty Juvenile Facility Has Two Dozen Staff

New York State's Tryon Detention Center is like a poster-child for government waste, says Fox 5 television in New York City. It is a juvenile detention center without any juveniles. The sprawling campus north of Albany is empty except for 25 to 30 staffers. Each employee collects almost $90,000 a year with benefits.

The state tried to shut Tryon down, moving detainees to other facilities. A New York law requiring union members at juvenile detention centers and prisons to get a year's notice kept it open. Now the empty detention center costs taxpayers $3 million year. There are only 661 juveniles in the state system, and 2,134 state employees watch over them. The cost is huge: $228,000 a year to keep a kid in a secure facility and $298,000 in a non-secure facility. Vincent Schiraldi, the New York City probation commissioner, said that the half-empty and empty facilities throughout New York are bleeding taxpayers dry. New York City has sued the state, saying it is overcharging the city and counties for services that it is not really providing by charging localities for empty facilities.

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TCR at a Glance

What the Ferguson Grand Jury Missed

commentary November 25, 2014

Why did the killing of a young black man by a police officer capture our attention—and challenge the national conscience?

Crime and Prison Population Fall in N.C.

new & notable November 21, 2014

A series of justice reinvestment reforms in North Carolina have created a more efficient system, according to a report by the non-profit ...

Does 'Right-to-Carry' Lead to More Crime?

new & notable November 20, 2014

Laws that allow concealed weapons in public are associated with higher rates of aggravated assault, rape, robbery and murder, according t...