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Entrapment Concerns Surround FBI's New Terrorism Cases

When terrorist hijackers struck on Sept. 11, 2001, federal investigators had few contacts among international terror informants and little intelligence about global terrorism. Now, says USA Today, government investigators increasingly are resorting to a controversial tactic that has netted alleged plotters in Dallas, Washington, D.C., New York, and Chicago. But simultaneous, months-long operations in Portland and suburban Baltimore are raising questions about whether the government is going too far in trying to identify dangerous operatives, entrapping suspects who lack the desire or ability to carry out the plots. In both cases, informants identified suspects on the Internet and then undercover agents engaged them in elaborate ruses culminating in the delivery of dummy bombs to their targets.

Public defender Peter Fleury in Dallas represented Hosam Smadi, 20, a Jordanian national snared in a plot to attack a downtown Dallas skyscraper with a bomb that was fake and had been assembled by the FBI. He says Smadi, sentenced to 24 years in prison, was a victim of entrapment. "Left to his own devices, he wouldn't have been able to pose a danger to anybody," Fleury says. Farhana Khera of the Muslim civil rights group Muslim Advocates says the FBI could be wasting valuable resources on people who, without the FBI's planning and technical help, may be incapable of little more than spouting unpopular political rhetoric. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder defends the government's tactics. "I make no apologies for how the FBI agents handled their work," Holder told Khera's group last week.

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5% Of U.S. Residents Victims Of Identity Theft In 2 Years

An estimated 11.7 million persons, five percent of people in the U.S. 16 or older, were victims of identity theft during the two years before being surveyed in 2008, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics said today. The financial losses totaled more than $17 billion. Identity theft was defined as the attempted or successful misuse of an existing account, such as a debit or credit account, misuse of personal information to open a new account, or misuse of personal information for other fraudulent purposes, such as obtaining government benefits.

About 6.2 million victims experienced the unauthorized use or attempted use of an existing credit card account; an estimated 4.4 million persons reported the misuse or attempted misuse of a banking account, such as a debit, checking, or savings account. Another 1.7 million persons experienced the fraudulent misuse of their information to open a new account, and about 618,900 persons reported the misuse of their information to commit other crimes, such as fraudulently obtaining medical care or government benefits or providing false information to law enforcement during a crime or traffic stop. About 17 percent of identity theft victims reported the incident to a law enforcement agency. The majority of victims (68 percent) reported the theft to a bank or credit card company.

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Indiana Gov. Daniels Backs Sentencing-Reform Plan

Sweeping changes proposed for Indiana's sentencing system have won the endorsement of Gov. Mitch Daniels, who said that if lawmakers enact the changes they would hold down the expanding prison population and save taxpayer money by reducing the need for more prisons, reports the Associated Press. Daniels "strongly" endorses the changes called for in a new report, including giving judges more leeway to sentence people convicted of lesser felonies to community corrections or treatment programs to help free up prison space for the worst offenders.

Indiana's inmate population soared 41 percent — a rate more than three times faster than adjacent states — and its correction-related costs grew around $100 million, to about $600 million, between 2000 and 2008, said the state-commissioned report by the Pew Center on the States and the Council of State Governments Justice Center. That review found that last year, Indiana had the nation's fastest growing prison population, with nonviolent theft and drug offenders accounting for about 55 percent of the state's overall increase in prison admissions. Daniels said enacting the recommendations would hold the inmate population to the current 29,000 over the next seven years and save the state about $1.2 billion in correction expenses that would otherwise go toward new prisons. The findings also call for increasing access to community-based substance abuse and mental health treatment — services that could keep former inmates from ending up back in prison, said Richard Jerome of the Pew Center's Public Safety Performance Project.

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Easy Evasions Of Gun-Store License Revocations Called "Asinine"

Hobbled by Congress, federal watchdogs rarely revoke the licenses of lawbreaking gun dealers, says the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. When they do, stores can easily beat the system by having a relative, friend or employee pull a fresh license - something that routinely happens across the country. The newspaper identified more than 50 stores in 20 states over the past six years where such a move was made, wiping the operation's slate clean. The review, which involved contacting more than 150 gun dealers, uncovered 34 additional stores with indications a revoked license holder remains connected to a gun-dealing operation. (A recent Washington Post investigation reached similar conclusions).

In Indianapolis, Popguns - a top dealer of crime guns according to data from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives - had its license revoked in 2006. The business remains in operation after owner Mike Hilton's wife received a fresh license and the violations disappeared. Mike Hilton remains closely involved. "The fact that I can be in here and work in the store other than in a clerk capacity, it is kind of asinine, I agree," Hilton told the Journal Sentinel. "You revoke a license but then the person whose license is revoked, they can come right back in and can be an integral part of it." The license loophole shows how Congress protects the biggest sellers of crime guns by crippling the enforcement agency responsible for regulating them - the focus of the newspaper's "Wiped Clean" investigation, launched after a pair of Milwaukee police officers were severely wounded with a gun purchased from Badger Guns. Next year, lawmakers may further cripple ATF when they consider a law that would make it harder to revoke a firearms license. Gun store advocates argue the agency can be overzealous in inspections and go after licenses for petty violations, a charge the agency disputes.

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Ohio Human-Trafficking Panel Calls For Busting Johns

After sizing up the human-trafficking problem in Ohio, expanding victim services, and crafting a tough new law, a state panel got to the bottom line: busting "johns," says the Columbus Dispatch. "Men have to be arrested," said Jewel Woods of the Renaissance Male Project, a subcommittee leader of the Ohio Trafficking in Persons Study Commission. "There is no substitute for arresting men who are involved in commercialized sex." Attorney General Richard Cordray's panel focused in its final report on the "demand" side of human sex trafficking, making recommendations to law enforcement, prosecutors, and community agencies.

Woods' committee said the demand for sex is fueled by "the limitless profits that traffickers and pimps generate from repeatedly selling sexual services of those under their control." The panel suggested reducing demand by increasing arrests of "buyers of prostitution," typically men who quite often escape punishment while the woman goes to jail. There should be more "john" schools (Columbus and four other cities already have them), and community agency staff members should be trained to recognize human-trafficking cases, the committee said. The "boys will be boys" attitude must be abandoned, Woods emphasized. The committee called on law-enforcement and social-service agencies to be more diligent in pursuing child pornography and child sexual-abuse cases. Both are often markers of men who later become involved with "consumer sex" with human trafficking victims. The committee cited studies finding that the average "john" is an adult male in his late 30s, unmarried or separated. One out of five men surveyed said he had visited a prostitute at least once in his life.

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Anti-Government Motive Hinted In FL School Board Shooting

Ex-convict Clay Duke, 56, who held the Panama City, Fl.,school board at gunpoint and began randomly firing, had circled the date on a calendar found in his mobile home, evidence he had been planning the attack police told the Associated Press. The shooting at the Bay District board meeting was not "a spur of the moment thing," said Police Chief John Van Etten. Police found anti-government paraphernalia at Duke's home. "He was obviously was not happy with our government," Van Etten said.

Minutes before the shooting, the room had been filled with students accepting awards, but no one was hurt except Duke, who shot himself after exchanging fire with a security guard. He had rambled to the board about tax increases and his wife, who he said had been fired by the school system, and had apparently created a Facebook page last week that refers to class warfare and is laced with images from the movie "V for Vendetta," in which a mysterious figure battles a totalitarian government.

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"Stupidest Burglar" Posts Photo Of His Crime On Facebook

A Washington, D.C., burglar posted a photo of himself on his victim's Facebook account holding money he had lifted from the boy's desk, writes the Washington Post's Marc Fisher. The victim was Fisher's son, 15.  "I've seen a lot, but this is the most stupid criminal I've ever seen," said police officer Kyle Roe. Still, Fisher says two officers said police in the city rarely press hard on burglary cases because the courts almost always let thieves go with nothing more than probation. Maybe that's why four days after handing over the photo, the Fishers waited to hear from the detective assigned to the case.

Burglaries are up 11 percent in Washington this year, to a total that will top 4,000 -- most likely a reflection of continued hard times, especially since virtually every other category of crime is down. Police made 30 burglary arrests in the last two weeks of November, up from six in the same weeks last year. Nationwide, police solved only 12 percent of burglaries last year; in big cities like Washington, the figure often is barely more than half that high. Says Fisher: "No wonder the guy in our photo wore such a confident smirk."

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NRA Plots Against Proposal To Report Multiple Rifle, Shotgun Sales

Federal agents in charge of stopping gun trafficking to Mexico have quietly advanced a plan to help stem the smuggling of high-powered AK-47s and AR-15s to the bloody drug war south of the border, says the Washington Post. The controversial proposal by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives calls for a measure strongly opposed by the National Rifle Association: requiring gun dealers to report multiple sales of rifles and shotguns to ATF.

The issue is so incendiary and fear of the NRA so great that the ATF plan languished for months at the Justice Department. The NRA got wind of the idea last month and warned its 4 million members in a "grassroots alert" that the administration might try to go around Congress to get such a plan enacted as an executive order or rule. In the past few days, the plan has gained traction at Justice. Sources fear that if the plan becomes public, the NRA will marshal its forces to kill it. Such is the power of the NRA. With annual revenue of about $250 million, the group has for four decades been the strongest force shaping the nation's gun laws.

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FOP's James Pasco: Key Figure In Gun-Regulation Debate

As part of its series on the "Hidden Life of Guns," the Washington Post profiles James Pasco, the Washington lobbyist for the nation's largest police officers union, the Fraternal Order of Police. Pasco, the national executive director for the union, worked against the nation's big-city mayors and police chiefs in 2007 when those groups launched a major campaign to reverse a decision by Congress that kept federal federal records about guns used in crimes from being made public.

The FOP's backing was crucial in deflecting the chiefs' criticism that the secrecy undermined crime fighting. "It was very effective," said Arkadi Gerney, an assistant to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has crusaded for tougher gun laws. Before joining the FOP in 1995, he was the chief legislative representative for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the agency that regulates the gun industry and enforces federal gun laws. People who know him describe him as a charming operator whose motives can be opaque. "Jim knows everybody in Washington," said James Cavanaugh, a former high-ranking ATF official. "And he moves like a shadow through the halls of power, as if it's a little town. If you want something done in Washington, there's only one guy to call, and that's Jim." The FOP primarily focuses on traditional labor issues, such as collective bargaining or Social Security and pension benefits. But it frequently has weighed in on gun-related issues during Pasco's tenure.

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How Memphis, Richmond Use Technology To Head Off Crime

Each morning at Memphis' Real Time Crime Center, police officers scan walls of video feeds from hot spots around the city while computers spit out the latest crime predictions, says the MIT Technology Review. A red dot flashing on a map signals that a crime may happen on that block soon. If a commanding officer thinks the software is correct, he'll send a patrol ahead of time to catch the criminal red-handed. Better yet, the police presence may prevent the crime from happening at all.

Memphis police director Larry Godwin says this isn't a real-life version of Minority Report. In Steven Spielberg's sci-fi thriller, psychic mutants immersed in goo foresee criminal activity so that Tom Cruise and "precrime" officers can arrest would-be suspects before they act. In Memphis, no one is arrested preventively. The software does aim to forecast burglaries, drug sales, gang violence, and other illegal acts before they take place. The predictive software, called Blue CRUSH (for "criminal reduction utilizing statistical history"), works by crunching crime and arrest data, then combining it with weather forecasts, economic indicators, and information on events such as paydays and concerts. The result is a series of crime patterns that indicate when and where trouble may be on the way. Says Godwin. "You can literally know where to put officers on a street in a given time." The city's crime rate has dropped 30 percent since the department began using the software in 2005. Memphis is one of a small but growing number of police units that are turning to crime analytics software from IBM, SAS Institute, and other vendors. They are reporting similar results. In Richmond, the homicide rate dropped 32 perent in one year after the city installed its software in 2006. Some funding comes from the Justice Department's National Institute of Justice. Other funding is coming from nonprofit groups. This year, the nonprofit RAND Corporation teamed up with the Chicago police department to apply predictive analytics to gang behavior.

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TCR at a Glance

Study: Summer Jobs Can Reduce Teen Violence

new & notable December 10, 2014

Youth employment can have a long-lasting impact on violent crime rates, according to a new study from the University of Chicago Crime Lab...