A 9-year-old girl accidentally killed a shooting instructor at a gun range in White Hills, Ariz., as he was showing her how to use an Uzi machine gun, reports the Associated Press. Charles Vacca, 39, was standing next to the girl on an outdoor range at the Last Stop, a popular tourist attraction on U.S. Highway 93, when she pulled the trigger and the recoil sent the gun over her head, investigators said.
The Last Stop advertises a "Bullets and Burgers Adventure," though the website was down Wednesday morning. Authorities said the girl, who was not identified, was at the shooting range with her parents. Ronald Scott, a Phoenix firearms safety expert, said most shooting ranges have an age limit and strict safety rules when teaching children to shoot. "You can't give a 9-year-old an Uzi and expect her to control it," Scott said.
Laws designed to restrict where sex offenders can live "are really and truly useless, except as a means of politicians scoring easy political points by ratcheting up hysteria," writes Jesse Singal in New York Magazine. There are many tricky social-scientific issues on which there are a range of opinions and some degree of debate among experts, he writes, but this isn't one of them. Among those whose job it is to figure out how to reduce the rate at which sex offenders commit crimes, there is zero controversy: These laws don't work, and may actually increase sexual offenders' recidivism rates.
Singal cites policy papers and other published evidence. He also asked Karen Terry and Cynthia Calkins Mercado, both professors at John Jay College of Criminal Justice whose primary area of expertise is sex offenders, whether the residency policies work. Terry said, “To date, there is no empirical evidence that these policies reduce the rate of sexual offending.” Mercado added that there's "considerable evidence that these restrictions make readjustment to the community more difficult and thus may inadvertently increase risk for recidivism."
The nation's drug czar, Michael Botticelli, 56, is an alcoholic who has been sober for a quarter-century, according to a Washington Post profile. He quit drinking after a series of events, including waking up handcuffed to a hospital bed after a drunken-driving accident and a financial collapse that left him facing eviction. He now is the face of the Obama administration’s drug policy, largely predicated on shifting people with addiction into treatment and away from the criminal justice system.
Botticelli’s story is the embodiment of the policy — a view that he credits with saving his life. He became the acting director of drug-control policy in March, about a year and a half after he came to Washington to be then-czar Gil Kerlikowske’s deputy. The White House has not formally nominated him to take over the job permanently. It is a position that has been held by law enforcement officials, a military general and physicians. But for now, it is occupied by a recovering alcoholic.
Writing in the New York Times, Erwin Chemerinsky, the California-Irvine law school dean, says that the U.S. Supreme Court has made it very difficult to hold police officers and the governments that employ them accountable for civil rights violations. This undermines the ability to deter illegal police behavior and leaves victims without compensation. When the police kill or injure innocent people, the victims rarely have recourse.
Because it is so difficult to sue government entities, most victims’ only recourse is to sue the officers involved. But here, too, the Supreme Court has created often insurmountable obstacles. The court has held that all government officials sued for monetary damages can raise “immunity” as a defense. Police officers and other law enforcement personnel who commit perjury have absolute immunity and cannot be sued for money, even when it results in the imprisonment of an innocent person. A prosecutor who commits misconduct also has absolute immunity to civil suits. This means that the Ferguson, Mo., officer who shot Michael Brown will most likely never be held accountable in court, Chemerinsky says.
The recent slaying of a Twin Cities-area police officer during a traffic stop served as a reminder that cops learn hard lessons about safety when law enforcers are shot, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Shootings become case studies that are used to hone techniques, alter strategies, improve training and shape standard procedures. “No law enforcement agency ever wants to criticize publicly or even privately a fellow officer killed in the line of duty, period,” said Andrew Scott, an expert on police training. “But each realizes that in the deaths of officers or armed encounters, lessons can be learned for the benefit of others.”
Twenty years ago, two officers in St. Paul were killed as a result of a seemingly routine call to check on what police call a “slumper”--someone sleeping or passed out in a car. But when Officer Ron Ryan Jr. knocked on the window of the car, it set in motion a day of tragedy ending with the death of Ryan and another St. Paul police officer, Tim Jones, that still echoes through the city today. There also was a lesson learned: Whenever possible, police now respond to slumper calls with two squads — not one.
Facing protests from other vendors, the FBI has cancelled plans to hand industry giant Motorola Solutions Inc. a sole-source contract worth up to $500 million to upgrade the bureau’s antiquated nationwide two-way radio network, reports McClatchy. The FBI had argued that switching to another vendor would force the purchase of a complete new system costing $1.2 billion because the existing Motorola network has proprietary features that can’t interact with non-Motorola equipment.
However, the bureau proposal in July was met by three formal protests to the Government Accountability Office, led by a small Florida radio manufacturer, RELM Wireless Corp., which said uniform design standards for radios had ensured that other brands could connect to a Motorola system. The firm sells walkie-talkies with the same specifications as Motorola’s for less than half the price, $1,700 compared with Motorola’s $4,200. Illinois-based Motorola commands an estimated 80 percent of the U.S. public safety market. An FBI official said the bureau will "reassess its requirements as well as the acquisition strategy for meeting them.”
Writing in USA Today, criminologist James Alan Fox mulls whether school-shooting drills serve a useful purpose or needlessly frighten students. Countless schools have adopted these simulations, voluntarily or by legislative mandate. The hope is that students and faculty will be sufficiently prepared should some dispirited student or deranged intruder decide to turn the school into a battle zone. But Fox writes that such drills can do more harm than good.
"It is questionable whether children are indeed better prepared by participating in such charades," he writes. "But the downside is in needlessly scaring impressionable youngsters and reinforcing the notion that they are in constant danger." Fox concludes, "Obsessing over the unlikely possibility of a school shooting can unfortunately serve to inspire potential copycats and inadvertently increase the chance of tragedy."
The Times-Picayune reports that a $600,000 campaign to recruit new police officers in New Orleans has attracted hundreds of applicants but only a handful who qualify. Some wonder if NOPD standards, including requiring some college credits, may be hindering the recruitment effort. But in a department with a long history of rogue officers, advocates in the past have also urged the NOPD to be more selective.
The city has a goal of increasing the NOPD's regular ranks from the current 1,100 to 1,600. It won't be easy. Of the 2,048 people who have applied this year, only 17 had been cleared for hire in an upcoming NOPD academy class. Officials explained that most of the applicants don't meet basic requirements, don't follow through on their initial application or can't pass the required tests and background check.
South Carolina's aging prison population will become an increasing financial burden, reports The State. In the past decade, the number of state inmates age 55 and older has more than doubled. At the end of June, one in every 11 inmates was 55 or older. Barring changes in the state’s parole system, the aging prison population stands to become even more expensive.
“We’ve passed policies and laws that have dictated we want our prisons to become nursing homes,” said Jon Ozmint, the Columbia lawyer who was head of the state’s prison system under former Gov. Mark Sanford. It costs about twice as much nationally to house a prisoner over 50 as it does the average prisoner, according to an ACLU study. South Carolina prison officials say they do not break out costs according to a prisoner’s age. But the cost per inmate to state taxpayers increased from $12,353 in 2003 to $16,542 last year.
In another setback for California's tough gun-control laws, a federal judge ruled Monday that the state can't require gun buyers to wait 10 days to pick up their newly purchased weapon if they already own a gun or have a license to possess a handgun, says the San Francisco Chronicle. U.S. District Judge Anthony Ishii of Fresno said the 10-day wait for current gun owners is a restriction on constitutional rights that isn't justified by safety concerns.
He said there was evidence that some would-be gun buyers, including the two individual plaintiffs in the case, had decided not to make the purchase because of the time and expense needed for a second trip to a gun shop. "The 10-day waiting period burdens the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms," Ishii said. The ruling applies only to individuals who already own guns or have obtained a concealed-weapons license from their local law enforcement agency, and leaves most first-time gun buyers still subject to the waiting period, which was not challenged in the lawsuit.