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Chief O'Toole Tries To "Breathe Some Life Back" Into Seattle Police

Kathleen O’Toole, 60, took over a demoralized Seattle Police Department last year, buffeted by years of bad publicity and budding federal oversight requiring it to adopt reforms to address excessive force and biased policing. With a mandate from Mayor Ed Murray, the man who hired her, to make reform her top priority, O’Toole has spent much of her time seeing that a court-ordered consent decree is carried out while still balancing all the other duties the public expects of the department, says the Seattle Times. The trick, O’Toole said, is to not let the day-to-day demands dominate her time. From her past jobs as Boston’s police commissioner and law-enforcement positions in Massachusetts and the Irish national police, she said she knows she must make time to deal with long-term strategy.

It is important not only to meet with community groups, she said, but also to visit the precincts and explain to officers the rationale behind certain decisions and discipline and “why we’re taking some of these cases very seriously.” Already, she said, inroads are being made among officers worn down by scrutiny. “I’m trying to … breathe some life back into the place and get people enthusiastic about getting out and doing police work and recognizing good police work,” O’Toole said. Merrick Bobb, the federal monitor overseeing the reforms, has lauded O’Toole for moving the department toward compliance with the 2012 consent decree between the city and the U.S. Justice Department.

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Will Investigations, Legislators Fix Festering Troubles In FL Prisons?


The festering troubles in Florida's prison system have emerged as a problem that won’t go away, says the Miami Herald. The FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have undertaken investigations into incidents in prisons. Legislators are asking what happened to $300 million they say was intended to increase staff and fix leaky roofs. The Senate is moving a bill to shift oversight of prisons from the governor’s control to an independent panel.  The Herald investigates how the prison system became dysfunctional.
One episode from the recent past: Two DVDs depicted deplorable conditions: uninhabitable dorms, inmate-on-staff assaults and roofs that were so porous that prison staff rigged sheets of cardboard to serve as makeshift gutters. Gov. Rick Scott ordered prisons chief Michael Crews not to show them to legislators. (Crews did it anyway). The governor’s budget staff downsized Crews’ request for inmate food and for more staff. Now, after a series of reports in the Herald about suspicious inmate deaths and claims by whistleblowers that the prison system’s chief inspector general sabotaged investigations, the governor and his new corrections secretary, Julie Jones, are asking the Legislature for $16.5 million to hire more staff and $15 million to repair roofs, vehicles and buildings. Jones is now using many of Crews’ pictures to make the case.

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DOJ To Fault Ferguson For Discriminatory Traffic Stops, Fines Of Blacks

The Justice Department is nearly finished with what the New York Times calls "a highly critical report accusing the police in Ferguson, Mo., of making discriminatory traffic stops of African-Americans that created years of racial animosity leading up to an officer’s shooting of a black teenager last summer." The report criticizes the city for disproportionately ticketing and arresting African-Americans and relying on the fines to balance the city’s budget. The report will force Ferguson officials to negotiate a settlement with the Justice Department or be sued by it on civil rights charges.

The result is likely to be significant changes for the police department at the center of a national debate over race and policing. Blacks accounted for 86 percent of the city's traffic stops in 2013 but make up 63 percent of the population. Once they were stopped, black drivers were twice as likely to be searched, even though searches of white drivers were more likely to turn up contraband. For people in Ferguson who cannot afford to pay their tickets, routine traffic stops can become long ordeals, with repeated jailings because of mounting fines. Such fines are the city’s second-largest source of revenue after sales taxes. Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III has criticized Attorney General Eric Holder for declaring that wholesale change was needed in Ferguson’s police department.i

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16% Of Federal Prisoners Seek Sentence Cuts; Clemency Process Slow

A massive influx of applications from prisoners and a complicated review process have slowed the Obama administration initiative to grant clemency to nonviolent offenders, shifting the burden to an army of pro bono lawyers and specialists willing to help, reports the Washington Post. Just over a year after initiative started, President Obama has commuted the sentences of eight prisoners. In the meantime, 35,000 inmates, 16 percent of the federal prison population, have applied to have their sentences shortened. The Justice Department has sought to deal with the deluge by encouraging outside lawyers to help identify candidates for earlier release and to represent them. Prisoner applications are being reviewed by more than 1,000 attorneys at 323 law firms and organizations.

“We have created what very well may be the largest, most ambitious pro-bono effort in the history of the legal profession,” said Norman Reimer of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, one of the four groups that make up Clemency Project 2014. Justice officials say the clemency initiative is part of their effort to address drug sentences they believe were too harsh. Some inmate advocates view the process as cumbersome, with cases going from the Department of Justice's Office of the Pardon Attorney to the Deputy Attorney General to the White House Counsel's office and then to the President.

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Mexico Captures Drug Lord, No One Expects Violence To End

The Mexican government has been tearing through its list of most-wanted drug lords, but no one expects drug trafficking or violence to drop after the capture of Servando "La Tuta" Gomez, a former grade-school teacher whose Knights Templar cartel once terrorized the western state of Michoacan, the Associated Press reports. Crime will shift around as the now-weakened cartel regroups, or even splinters, as has happened with some Mexican drug gangs after the killings or capture of top leaders. 

"Dismantling them was a necessary step, but that does not end the problem of insecurity," Alejandro Hope, a Mexico City security analyst, said of the Knights Templar. "The next part is more complicated. There are still small groups, remnants, which will be extorting, robbing and perhaps even producing methamphetamine." Gomez, 49, was arrested Friday as he left a house in Morelia, the capital of Michoacan, with eight bodyguards and associates toting a grenade launcher, three grenades, an Uzi machine pistol and assault rifles, National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido said. He said the key break came when agents identified one of Gomez's most-trusted messengers who helped provide him food, clothing and medicine when he hid in remote mountains.

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San Diego Official Seeks Outside Study Of Police Racial Profiling Charges

The San Diego Police Department is trying to assess whether its officers are guilty of racial profiling in traffic stops, as some community activists allege, the Los Angeles Times reports. New statistics suggest that black and Latino drivers are more likely to be pulled over than white drivers, and once stopped are more likely to be searched than white drivers who have been stopped. “We have a racial profiling issue; it is here,” said Mark Jones, a former Marine and leader of the Black Students Justice Coalition.

In 2014, of 144,164 traffic stops, Latino drivers represented 30.2 percent and African Americans 11.2 percent, compared to census data that Latinos are 27 percent of the adult population and African Americans 5.5 percent. Of the 7,142 drivers who were searched, 40.1 percent were Latinos and 23.4 percent African American. Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman noted the difficulty of using such statistics to reach conclusions about racial profiling. Councilwoman Marti Emerald, chair of the Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee, asked the San Diego State University’s school of public affairs to “conduct an independent academic research study.” The goal, she said, “is to improve trust and relations between our communities and our police.”

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TCR at a Glance

How to Build the ‘Perfect Cop’

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Can community policing restore public trust in a profession shaken by national events? The Sacramento News & Review gets a mixed answer.

Study: Medical Identity Theft on the Rise

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The number of patients victimized by medical fraud schemes jumped nearly 22 percent in 2014, according to an annual study by the Ponemon ...

How to Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform

new & notable February 25, 2015

Two new studies by the Sentencing Project, an advocacy group, highlight successful campaigns for changes to state criminal justice policy

There Goes the Judge

February 24, 2015

Once-sleepy “retention elections” for judges have become vulnerable to big-spending partisan campaigns.