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Olympics Over-Security? 36K Soldiers, Police, Private Cops--10K Athletes

The 10,000 athletes competing for medals in the Olympic Games that start Friday in London will be dwarfed by a contingent of more than 36,000 soldiers, police officers, and private security staff, backed by U.S. law enforcement agents, thousands of closed-circuit cameras, unmanned drones, at least six missile batteries positioned on rooftops, and the Royal Navy’s largest warship, the HMS Ocean, floating in the Thames, McClatchy Newspapers report. “Lockdown London,” read one headline in the Guardian newspaper.

The measures prompted worries from civil liberties advocates about heavy-handed policing, excessive surveillance, and whether officials have taken precautions too far. Last Friday, 25 police officers responded to a protest in Trafalgar Square involving three people who were enacting a play critiquing the environmental record of chemical companies that are Olympic sponsors. The police arrested six people for “criminal damage” after some green custard spilled to the ground. "As people start to see thousands of troops, military installations, a huge increase of civilian security, they will start to wonder if the authorities have lost sight of the proportionality in their response,” said Nick Pickles of Big Brother Watch, a civil liberties group.

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Causal Relation Between Gun Laws, Availability, and Crime in Dispute

If the man who killed 12 people and shot dozens more in a Colorado movie theater last week had tried to carry out his scheme in a different state, or at an earlier time, he would have faced more obstacles, says the New York Times. In California and Massachusetts, most assault rifles and large capacity ammunition magazines are banned, as they were across the U.S. from 1994 to 2004 by federal law. Before a 1986 change in the law, ammunition could not be legally sent by mail. States with the strictest gun laws — Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York — have among the lowest gun death rates, according to figures from the federal Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, and those with the most lenient laws — Alabama, Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi — have among the highest.

Whether there is any causal relationship between the two remains in dispute, as does whether more deaths can be attributed to the availability of more guns. Prof. Philip Cook of Duke University says, "The effect of gun availability is not to increase the crime rate but to intensify the crime that exists and convert assaults into murders. I have never seen evidence that gun access influences the volume of violent crime. But when you add guns to a violent situation, you get a higher level of murder.” Gary Kleck, a professor of criminal justice at Florida State University, believes that guns do not bring murder; murder brings guns.

 

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St. Louis Court Quandary: How To Pay Out $7.6 MIllion It Shouldn't Have

The St. Louis Circuit Court is sitting on $7.6 million to which it has no rightful claim, says the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Clerk Jane Schweitzer is  negotiating with a contractor that would sort through the office's holdings, determine what should go to government agencies, and arrange to transfer responsibility for the rest to the state treasurer to handle as unclaimed property.

The money is a mix of bail posted by defendants, fees paid for lawsuits, and other court costs that were supposed to be returned but for various reasons never were. Most of it is owed to individuals. "We've got an awful lot of money here, and it's got to be distributed," Schweitzer said. The process of tracking owners, and portioning off what belongs to the government, promises to be messy. Much of it can only be traced through hand-scribed records and dusty court files long since relegated to storage. Addresses of defendants have changed, and in some cases, only a lawyer's name or address is known. What is owed to the city and state is based on laws and fee scales that shifted over time.

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Texas Holds Security Audit at Juvenile Lockups After Escape

Stung by the discovery that an escape occurred after a guard failed to report a hole in a perimeter fence, top officials at Texas' troubled juvenile justice agency conducted a surprise security audit at all six state-run lockups to thwart other problems, reports the Austin American-Statesman.  Juvenile Justice Department officials said the sweep was partly a response to investigators' findings in a July 14 breakout of three youths.

"We're checking everything about security — whether surveillance cameras are working and being monitored, checking security logs, batteries for radios," said spokesman Jim Hurley. Yesterday's surprise security audit is the latest in a series of steps the agency has taken in recent months to quell violence and gang activity in the lockups. In April, an internal report detailed how fights and gang activity had continued unchecked for months at the Giddings State School, as agency officials debated how to curb the continuing violence. Gov. Rick Perry assigned top aide and confidant Jay Kimbrough to beef up security at the youth lockups. Kimbrough took over as interim director this month after the executive director, Cherie Townsend, retired.

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MA Gov May Sign Bill Making Repeat Violent Offenders Ineligible for Parole

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick says he may be open to signing a high-profile crime bill if lawmakers agree to make changes next year, the Boston Globe reports. The bill approved by legislators last week would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug ­offenses, a Patrick priority, while making many repeat violent offenders ineligible for parole under a much-debated “three-strikes” provision.

“It’s a good bill; it’s not a great bill,” said Patrick. “There’s a lot of work that has not yet been done, and I’m hoping that I can get a commitment from the leadership, a commitment to come back and do some of it at the beginning of the next session.” The law has drawn wide support among prosecutors, victims’ families, and the Legislature, where lawmakers have responded to public outcry and are eager to look tough on crime during an election year. It has been heavily criticized by black and Hispanic lawmakers, who say it will add to an ­incarceration crisis in their communities.

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Should Media Curb Reporting On Colorado Shooting to Deter Copycats?

The news media’s focus on James Holmes in the Aurora theater shooting inspired familiar criticism, says the Washington Post? Was the attention to the details of an alleged mass killer’s life not just wrong but also potentially lethal? Could the media’s gaze inspire the next nobody to commit a similar act in a sick attempt to become somebody, too? “How often must we see the alleged murderer’s name in print and his face shown in photographs from happier times?” asked Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox. “It is perfectly reasonable to shed light on the tragic event without a media spotlight on the alleged assailant. It is shameless, if not dangerous, to transform” an obscure individual into “an infamous somebody who may be revered and admired by a few folks on the fringe.”

Some people do get ideas that they hadn’t had before and are willing to try them out,” says Howard Zonana, a Yale professor of psychiatry and law. “We’re all susceptible to [media] influences, to a degree. It could be that someone is disgruntled enough and sees that he can go out in a big blast of fame.” Fox says the media should limit information reported about criminal suspects, as is the practice in other countries, where victims and suspects’ names are shielded until after a trial. He draws the line at stories that delve deep into a suspect’s background, in which friends and neighbors describe the accused person’s hobbies, habits, and personality. “The first question people ask is what kind of monster did this?” said David J. Krajicek, a former crime reporter for the New York Daily News and vice president of Criminal Justice Journalists. “That’s our job as journalists.” He adds, “These aren’t loving portraits [of the accused]. We put these people under a microscope to figure out their pathologies. They’re an object lesson for the rest of us."


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