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Seattle Mayor Sets Downtown Anticrime Plan; Prosecutor Blamed

When Seattle Mayor Ed Murray called his administration “significantly behind” in responding to an uptick in street crime and disorder downtown, Scott Lindsay, his top public-safety adviser blamed King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, reports the Seattle Times. “The increase in street disorder is largely a function of the fact that heroin, crack and meth possession has been largely legalized in the city over the past several years as the County Prosecutor significantly raised the bar to prosecuting drug possession (arrests and prosecutions have dropped off a cliff as a result),” said Lindsay.

“The unintended consequence of that social policy effort has been to make Seattle a much more attractive place to buy and sell hard core drugs,” added Lindsay. “With drugs and drug addiction comes property crimes and street disorder.” Satterberg held his ground yesterday, arguing that his office isn’t causing the problem. More social and mental-health services are needed, he said, along with more police officers on the street, rather than more felony prosecutions. The mayor will soon announce a “9½ Block Strategy,” a section of downtown where there were 10,000 “calls for service” in 2014. The strategy will include high-visibility policing, moving newspaper boxes used for drug dealing, limiting access to alleys, activating park spaces, reviewing the siting of some bus stops and opening a shared storefront for several government agencies.

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Hundreds Of Baltimore Residents Tell DOJ Of Police Brutality Over The Years

Frustration spilled onto a gym floor last night as hundreds of Baltimore residents gathered to air grievances over years of harassment, beatings and other mistreatment they say they have endured from city police, the Baltimore Sun reports. They turned out for a meeting convened by the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate, at the city's request, complaints about Baltimore's Police Department. When a former San Jose, Calif., police chief hired to lead the meeting told the crowd he wanted to know whether they "trust" the city's police, a woman shouted "No." From that point on, dozens of residents, most of them black, inundated federal officials with assertions that city police have been brutalizing residents with impunity.

"When are you all going to help us?" cried out Wayne Amon Ra, 35, who said he was assaulted by police after he called officers for help when he detained a man breaking into cars. The town hall meeting was part of a "collaborative review" between DOJ and city police officials into the agency's history of misconduct claims, brutality allegations and excessive force complaints, including those that have resulted in injury or death. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Anthony Batts requested federal help after a Baltimore Sun investigation last year found that city taxpayers had paid nearly $6 million since 2011 in judgments and settlements in 102 lawsuits alleging police brutality and other misconduct. Officers had battered dozens of residents in questionable arrests, the investigation revealed, resulting in broken bones, head trauma, organ failure and even death.

 

 

 

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Annual U.S. Cost of Gun Violence Put At $229B, Most In Quality Of Life

At least 750,000 Americans were injured by gunshots over the last decade, and more than 320,000 were killed. Working with Ted Miller of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, Mother Jones magazine estimates the annual cost of U.S. gun violence as $229 billion. Direct costs account for $8.6 billion—including long-term prison costs for people who commit assault and homicide using guns, which at $5.2 billion is the largest direct expense. Even before accounting for intangible costs of the violence, the average cost to taxpayers for a single gun homicide is nearly $400,000. We pay for 32 of them daily.

Indirect costs amount to at least $221 billion, about $169 billion of which comes from what researchers consider to be the impact on victims' quality of life. Each year more than 11,000 people are murdered with a firearm, and more than 20,000 others commit suicide using one. Hundreds of children die annually in gun homicides, and each week seems to bring news of another toddler accidentally shooting himself or a sibling with an unsecured gun. As crime overall has declined steadily, rates of gun injury and death are climbing (up 11 and 4 percent since 2011).

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CO Theater Shooting Trial Jurors Asked 75 Questions, Including TV Habits

To pick the jury for the Aurora, Co., movie theater shooting trial, where testimony begins this month, the judge and attorneys asked jurors about their views on mental illness, the death penalty, the criminal justice system, and reality television, the Denver Post reports. "Do you watch any court or police reality programs?" one question on the written juror survey asked. Others included, "What are your three favorite TV programs?" and "What, if any, bumper or window stickers do you have on your vehicle(s)?"

Judge Carlos Samour Jr. unsealed the questionnaire yesterday, one day after a jury was picked. Including instructions, the survey spans 18 pages and 75 questions. Many questions cover subjects at the heart of the trial of James Holmes. Eight questions ask jurors for their views on the death penalty and whether they had already formed an opinion on what punishment he should receive. Eleven questions ask about views on or experiences with mental illness. Several questions also asked about less weighty matters, including television-viewing habits and hobbies. One question asked jurors what forms of social media they use. Another asked whether they blog.

 

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Did Hernandez Murder Conviction Set New Precedent For Athlete Crimes?

Found guilty for the 2013 killing of Odin Lloyd, Aaron Hernandez went from the status of a professional football star with a $40 million contract and a bright future to life behind bars. The Christian Science Monitor asks if his conviction set a new precedent for professional athletes charged with criminal activity. Despite a circumstantial case and a strong defense that got much evidence excluded, a jury convicted Hernandez.  “The fact that he was a professional athlete meant nothing in the end,” said Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn.

As the long trial progressed, and the media began to dig more into Hernandez’s back story, they found that he was charged in a 2012 double murder, he is a “person of interest” in a 2007 shooting, a friend is suing him for allegedly shooting him in the face. His credibility came into question, overshadowing his star status, the Monitor says.

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Seattle Works Out Police Body Cam Issues To Protect Privacy

Seattle Police chief operating officer Mike Wagers talks to NPR about some of the issues involved with administering officer body cameras, which Seattle adopted after federal investigators faulted the department for patterns of excessive force. Seattle started its own YouTube channel, posting video that's been blurred-out and stripped of audio for privacy purposes. The software to do the blurring was written by a computer hacker, who earlier had overwhelmed the department with public disclosure requests. Says Wagers: "The YouTube channel was simply a way to upload as much as possible so the citizens can go on there now and look at it and see how we do business - 99.9 percent of it is so mundane you'd probably fall asleep watching it."

Wagers says body cameras alone can't restore trust between citizens and police. Seattle provides bias-free training on issues like crisis intervention and dealing with mentally ill suspects to every officer in the department. With cameras, he says, "There are privacy protections about what video we can release ... the question is when you get that one-on-one interaction between that officer and that citizen, whether it's a sexual assault, whether somebody engaged in some sort of disturbance, when do you turn the camera on? When do you turn the camera off? There are calls to have it on all the time and then use technology to make sure that you're not capturing moments when people are in crisis and making that stuff public - not only just making sure you adhere to your state law, but, you know, it's sort of common sense."

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Personnel Woes Blamed For 215 Shots Fired In Five Years At Nevada Prison

Accusations of poor oversight at a Las Vegas area prison came as no surprise to former corrections employees and relatives of inmates who spoke out against officials as lawsuits citing unreported shootings at the facility began to emerge, the Las Vegas Sun reports. “The Department of Corrections is out of control,” said Mark Clarke, who retired from the agency about a decade ago after a 15-year stint as a corrections officer. Inmate Carlos Perez was handcuffed when a corrections officer trainee fatally shot him in a shower hallway last November at High Desert State Prison. News of that shooting, which corrections officials disclosed five months later in a sparse press release, has brought to light additional accounts of unreported shootings at a facility where guards have fired guns more than 200 times in a recent five-year period.

Data from the corrections department shows guards at the prison fired 215 shots from 2007 to 2011, nearly twice the 124 shots reported in Nevada’s 21 other prison facilities. The statistics list a total of 605 use-of-force incidents at High Desert and 1,103 incidents at the other prisons combined. Mercedes Maharis, who became an advocate for prison inmates in the late 1990s after working as a chaplain for the Department of Corrections, obtained the data from a state senator. “I’m glad all this has come out,” said Maharis, who often accuses the agency of discouraging public scrutiny. “The state’s prison system is totally broken.” Critics blamed the spate of shootings at High Desert on low pay, high turnover and poor training for employees.

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Federal Judge Keeps Marijuana On the Dangerous Drug List

Efforts to legalize marijuana nationally suffered a defeat in court yesterday when a federal judge upheld the constitutionality of a 1970 federal law that classifies cannabis as a dangerous drug akin to LSD and heroin. the Los Angeles Times reports. U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller said she could not lightly overturn a law passed by Congress. Mueller had held an extensive fact-finding hearing, raising the hopes of activists seeking to legalize marijuana and worrying opponents who consider the drug a threat to health and public safety. The hearing marked the first time in decades that a judge was willing to examine the classification of marijuana under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act.

The Schedule 1 classification is for drugs that have no medicinal purpose, are unsafe even under medical supervision and contain a high potential for abuse. In addition to marijuana, heroin and LSD, other Schedule 1 drugs include Ecstasy and mescaline. Mueller, an Obama appointee, announced her decision before issuing a written ruling. She considered the constitutionality of the classification in response to a pretrial motion brought by lawyers defending accused marijuana growers. “At some point in time, a court may decide this status to be unconstitutional,” Mueller said. “But this is not the court and not the time.” Dale Gieringer of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws said Mueller’s decision could not be appealed until after the criminal case against the growers was resolved. A trial is not expected until late this year or early next year.

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