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Police Lobbyists Begin Fight to Retain Military Gear

Police associations are beginning a major lobbying push to protect their access to the military equipment that was used against demonstrators in Ferguson, Mo., says The Hill. Law enforcement groups argue a Pentagon program that provides surplus military gear helps protect the public. They are gearing up for a fight with lawmakers and the Obama administration over whether it should be continued. “We intend to be at our most vigorous on this issue,” said Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police.

The FOP and other police groups are already meeting with lawmakers’ staffs to get a jump on the issue before Congress returns from the August recess. Police groups fear a stopgap bill to fund the government, which Congress must pass in September to avoid a government shutdown, could be used to stop the transfer of military gear. Lawmakers in both parties have expressed support for curbing or defunding the Pentagon program. Pasco said his group is working to counter what he calls “misinformation.”

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GA Board's Vote on Felon Gun Rights 'a State Secret'

The Georgia parole board's votes to restore a convicted felon’s firearms rights is treated as a "confidential state secret," reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Each board member votes in isolation and in secrecy. The five members rarely, if ever, deliberate as a body over restoring offenders’ gun rights. They keep no public record of their votes. And they give neither public notice nor public explanation of decisions that enable felons to re-arm – not even to the felons’ victims.

Georgia’s process for restoring firearms rights to convicted felons, even those who used guns to commit violent crimes, is among the most secretive in the nation and is almost entirely unregulated by the state’s open government laws. Why? The board won’t say. Through a spokesman, board members declined to be interviewed. They also directed senior staff members not to comment. Some former board members suggest the process is overly secretive and open to abuse.

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Denver Proposes Broad Use of Police Body Cameras

Denver police on Wednesday said they hope to equip 800 officers, including all patrol and traffic officers, with body cameras in 2015, reports the Denver Post. Many U.S. police agencies are experimenting with body cameras, and some smaller departments equip all officers, but their use in Denver apparently would be the most widespread. The cameras, which will record audio and video, not only will protect people who make legitimate complaints, authorities say, but the technology also should protect police from false allegations of excessive force.

The equipment will cost about $1.5 million. The City Council must approve the expense. Denver began testing and evaluating body cameras last year. Taser International and researchers from the University of Cambridge are conducting an independent study to determine their efficacy. Taser gave the department 125 cameras for the study, the first involving a major metropolitan police department. A pilot project in Rialto, Calif., which has about 250 police officers, triggered a double-digit reduction in excessive-force complaints.

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St. Louis County Chief: No Regrets for Show of Force

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar defended his department's use of tear gas, smoke, batons, rifles and armored trucks in the days of civil unrest that followed the Michael Brown shooting, reports USA Today, saying that the military equipment is sometimes necessary to patrol "very urban areas." Speaking at a news conference, he said he used his 28 years of law enforcement experience and deployed the appropriate response to peaceful demonstrators and others who officers saw carrying guns.

"I never envisioned a day in which we would see that type of equipment used against protesters," Belmar said. "But I also never envisioned a day in 28 years that we'd see the kind of criminal activity spin out of peaceful demonstrations." He said officers had to make a decision and that he had no regrets about his department's tactics. "Our choices were to rip, wade into the crowd with nightsticks and riot sticks," Belmar said. "In my 28 years, I've seen the damage they can do. They're not temporary damage, sometimes those injuries are long-lasting."

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Shooting by 9-Year-Old Offers Glimpse at Gun Tourism

The Associated Press says that the shooting death of an Arizona firearms instructor by a 9-year-old girl who was firing an Uzi displayed a tragic side of what has become a hot industry in the U.S.: gun tourism. With gun laws keeping high-powered weapons out of reach for most people — especially those outside the U.S. — shooting ranges with high-powered weapons have become a popular attraction. Tourists from Japan flock to ranges in Hawaii, and a dozen businesses in Las Vegas offer bullet-riddled bachelor parties and "shotgun weddings," where newlyweds can fire submachine guns and pose with Uzis and ammo belts.

The death of Charles Vacca, 39, set off a debate over youngsters and guns. Prosecutors say they will not file charges against the girl or her parents, who have not been identified but were reported to be tourists from New Jersey who traveled to the range from Las Vegas. The owner of the range said the parents had signed waivers before the shooting. They were standing nearby, video-recording their daughter, when the accident happened. "We have better safety standards for who gets to ride a roller coaster at an amusement park," said Gerry Hills, founder of Arizonans for Gun Safety.

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Report: CA Foster Care System 'Numbs' Kids With Pills

In a special report on the California foster care system, the San Jose Mercury News says foster and health care providers turn "with alarming frequency" to a risky but convenient remedy to control the behavior of thousands of troubled kids: numbing them with psychiatric drugs that are untested on and often not approved for children. Nearly one out of every four 4 adolescents in California’s foster care system is receiving these drugs — three times the rate for all adolescents nationwide.

Over the past decade, almost 15 percent of the state’s foster children of all ages were prescribed the medications, known as psychotropics, part of a national treatment trend that is only beginning to receive broad scrutiny. “We’re experimenting on our children,” said Los Angeles County Judge Michael Nash, who presides over the nation’s largest juvenile court. A year of interviews with foster youth, caregivers, doctors, researchers and legal advocates uncovered how the largest foster care system in the U.S. has grown dependent on quick-fix, taxpayer-funded, big-profit pharmaceuticals — and how the state has done little to stop it.

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Black Ex-Chief Nominated for Top MO Police Post

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Wednesday nominated Daniel Isom II, a former St. Louis police chief, to become the state’s top law enforcement official — and the only African-American in his cabinet — in the wake of racially charged unrest in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, says the New York Times. Nixon nominated Isom as director of the state’s Department of Public Safety on the same day that a police command center in Ferguson was dismantled and the National Guard completed its withdrawal.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol and the county police will remain in charge of policing the city of 21,000 that became the site of violent clashes between the police and protesters after Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer, shot and killed Michael Brown, 18, who was black and unarmed, on Aug. 9. Isom, whose nomination must be confirmed by the State Senate, spent 24 years on the St. Louis police force, including four as chief. He left the department two years ago to become a professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

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Civil Rights Prosecutions Rare in Police Shooting Cases

As the Justice Department probes the police shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old in Missouri, history suggests there's no guarantee of a criminal prosecution, let alone a conviction, says the Associated Press. Federal authorities investigating possible civil rights violations in the Aug. 9 death of Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson must meet a difficult standard of proof, a challenge that has complicated the path to prosecution in past police shootings.

To build a case, they would need to establish that the police officer, Darren Wilson, not only acted with excessive force but also willfully violated Brown's constitutional rights. Though the Justice Department has a long history of targeting police misconduct, including after the 1992 beating of Rodney King, most high-profile police shootings never make it to federal court. "It's a very difficult standard to meet, and it really is satisfied only in the most egregious cases," said one legal expert.

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Chicago Cop Charged; Put Gun in Suspect's Mouth

Glenn Evans, a Chicago police commander frequently praised for his no-nonsense approach to fighting crime in some of the city’s toughest neighborhoods, was suspended Wednesday after he was charged with placing the barrel of his gun into a suspect’s mouth, reports the Chicago Tribune. Evans faces one count of aggravated battery and one count of official misconduct.

Evans has been the subject of a series of stories on WBEZ radio. As recently as Monday, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy was standing by him. But after Evans was charged, McCarthy called the allegations "unacceptable." Evans is accused of putting his gun in the mouth of Rickey J. Williams, 24, during on arrest in January 2013. Williams' DNA was found on Evans’ gun, according to a State Police lab report. The Independent Police Review Authority recommended that Evans be relieved of his police powers until the case was resolved, but McCarthy left him in his position until charges were filed.

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ACLU Finds 'Driving While Black' Issue in Nebraska

Minority drivers are more likely than white motorists to get pulled over, searched and arrested by Nebraska law enforcement officers, according to ACLU findings reported by the Omaha World-Herald. The report said 22 percent of traffic stops in Omaha were of black drivers, double the African-American population in the city. In Lincoln, where the black population is 3.5 percent of the total, nearly 10 percent of traffic stops were of black drivers.

The ACLU based its findings on data collected by the Nebraska Crime Commission. The report is the third and final one in a series this summer that looked at practices of the state's law enforcement agencies. Earlier reports found that officers "grossly misused” Tasers and addressed the roadblocks facing people who want to file complaints about law enforcement. The new ACLU report also found that a white driver has a one-in-48 chance of being arrested during a traffic stop, compared with a one-in-13 chance for drivers of color.

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