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S.C. Police Use New DNA Technology To Generate Suspect Image

Four years ago, Candra Alston and her 3-year-old daughter, Malaysia Boykin, were murdered in their Columbia, S.C., apartment. Police collected DNA at the scene, but the investigation stalled, says the Washington Post. Police gathered 150 DNA samples and conducted 200 interviews with likely suspects, but had no solid results. Now the police are experimenting with a new technology that uses tiny amounts of DNA to create a computer-generated illustration of their suspect. Snapshot, a program developed by a Reston, Va., company called Parabon NanoLabs, goes beyond simply listing physical attributes — eye color, hair color, ethnicity and facial features — and creates a 3-D image of what the killer might look like.

The police in South Carolina hope that publicly releasing the suspect’s image and description will bring up fresh leads in a stale case. Dabrien “Dabe” Murphy of Parabon sits in front of three monitors. With a few keystrokes, he brings up a revolving 3-D image — the back of a head. Another few taps and a face attaches itself along the hairline. The face is a man’s' olive skin, greenish eyes, full lips. Murphy has fed DNA markers linked to certain facial attributes, into 3-D imaging software to create what he calls a “composition.”

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Little Border Patrol Action So Far On Use Of Force Reform, Discipline

Nearly a year after the Obama administration vowed to crack down on Border Patrol agents who use excessive force, no shooting cases have been resolved, no agents have been disciplined, a review panel has not issued recommendations, and the top two jobs in internal affairs are vacant, the Los Angeles Times reports. That suggests the difficulties of reforming the nation's largest federal law enforcement force despite complaints in Congress and from advocacy groups that agents shot and killed two dozen people on the Southwest border over five years but have faced no criminal prosecutions or disciplinary actions.

Administration officials insist they are moving as quickly as possible in a federal bureaucracy, considering union rules and an internal culture that closes ranks around its paramilitary force. R. Gil Kerlikowske, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, the parent agency for the Border Patrol, told the Times he was reviewing 14 shooting cases for possible violations of agency rules on use of force. "I'm not sure we will reach a level of satisfaction with the public on every one of those cases," Kerlikowske said. "But we will be much more thorough, much more accountable and we will be much more transparent … going forward."

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Cleveland Chief's Brother Killed; Decisions Awaited After Boy's Shooting

The brother of Cleveland police Chief Calvin Williams died in an overnight shooting, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. William D. Williams, 34, was found dead at his home; no further details were immediately available. Meanwhile, Politico reports that nearly three months after a rookie white police officer, Timothy Loehmann, shot and killed Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy wielding an air gun in a city park, no decision has been made on charges against Loehmann.

Then the U.S. Justice Department delivered a devastating 58-page report, written by U.S. attorney Steven Dettelbach and Justice Department staff, chronicling a pattern of unreasonable and excessive force so extreme and systemic—and unconstitutional—that federal and city officials are now negotiating a consent decree, enforced by court supervision, to ensure reform. Asked when he would like a consent decree to be resolved with city officials, Dettelbach said, “Yesterday.” He quickly added that it was appropriate to wait for community input, but he says, “My constant push is, ‘Why isn’t it done yet?’”

 

 

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Grassley, Cornyn, Whitehouse Answer N.Y. Times' Criticism On Sentencing

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) disagrees with last week's New York Times editorial labelling him as a "roadblock to sentencing reform." Proposed "reductions in federal mandatory minimum sentences are misguided," Grassley tells the Times. "These sentences are vital in obtaining the cooperation necessary to prosecute leaders in the drug trade." The senator says it would be "irresponsible" to enact the proposed Smarter Sentencing Act sponsored by Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), which would cut in half the mandatory minimum sentences for importing, manufacturing and distributing drugs like heroin, PCP, methamphetamine and cocaine.

Two other senators, John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), addressed the Times' concerns in the same editorial about their bill that would enable federal inmates to earn earlier release from prison if they complete programs to reduce the risk that they’ll commit future crimes. The senators said the Times worries that their risk assessment tools could disproportionately help white prisoners over minorities. "States across the country have found that risk assessments typically lead to results that are fairer for all groups, including minorities," the senators write, citing a Times editorial of a year earlier saying that data-based risk-assessment tools have been used in “at least 15 states ...with good results.”

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Backlash Against Police Use Of StingRay For Phone Surveillance

A Florida man got probation for a robbery instead of four or more years in prison in a plea deal after police refused to disclose information about a  secret surveillance tool, a cell-tower simulator called StingRay that the Washington Post says raises significant privacy concerns. A gag order imposed by the FBI on grounds that discussing the device would compromise its effectiveness has left judges, the public and defendants in the dark on how it works. That secrecy has hindered debate over whether the StingRay’s use respects civil liberties. The StingRay elicits signals from all mobile phones in its vicinity, collecting information not just about a criminal suspect’s communications but also about those of hundreds of law-abiding citizens.

The Tallahassee, Fl., police used the StingRay or a similar device in 250 investigations over six years, a surprisingly high rate given that StingRay manufacturer, the Harris Corp., told the Federal Communications Commission that the device is used only in emergencies. At least 48 state and local law enforcement agencies have bought it. The secrecy surrounding them prompted a backlash. A Charlotte prosecutor is reviewing whether prosecutors ­illegally withheld information about the device’s use from defendants. In Tacoma, Wa., after a newspaper found that judges in almost 200 cases had no idea they were issuing orders for the StingRay, the courts set new rules requiring police to disclose the tool’s use.

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2,800 U.S. Inmates In TX Moving After Revolt Makes Prison "Uninhabitable"

As many as 2,800 federal prisoners will be moved to other institutions after inmates seized control of part of a prison in South Texas, causing damage that made the facility "uninhabitable," the Associated Press reports. Ed Ross, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, said the inmates who had taken control are "now compliant" but that negotiations were ongoing in an effort for staff to "regain complete control" of Willacy County Correctional Center.

 

 

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Crime Down In Camden, N.J., But Too Early To Declare Victory

Camden, N.J., police say while their city remains a dangerous place, quieter nights come more frequently now. "It's really not as bad as it used to be," said Sgt. Raphael Thornton. "It's actually a little boring to drive around now sometimes. It's good to be boring." Plagued by drugs and poverty, crime in Camden hit a high in 2012 when the city recorded 67 murders. Then local and state officials disbanded the city police department and created a new one that claims it is stemming the tide of violence in the city of 77,000, reports the Newark Star-Ledger.

The new Camden County Police Department Metro Division was established with the help of Gov. Chris Christie, who boasts about its success and is widely expected to discuss Camden across the U.S. if he launches a presidential campaign. "In a city suffering from epidemic crime, we acted boldly," declared Christie at his State of the State address last month. "We terminated the city police department and, partnering with the county, put a new Metro Division on the streets," he said. "The results? Murder down 51 percent. Firearm assaults down by one-third (and) all violent crime is down 22 percent." Even those most optimistic about Camden aren't calling it a safe city. Supporters and critics agree it's far too early for anyone to declare victory. Last year's murder total Christie highlighted in his speech was just one fewer than in 2009, the year before he took office.

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Violence By Guards Continues At NYC's Rikers Island Jail Despite Scrutiny

Last summer, four New York City correction officers pulled an inmate classified as seriously mentally ill into his solitary-confinement cell at the Rikers Island jail and beat him unconscious, reports the New York Times. A few months later, three guards wrestled another inmate to the floor, pepper-sprayed him in the face and broke a bone in his eye socket. On Dec. 9, other officers beat an inmate with an I.Q. of 65 so badly that he had bruises and scratches on his face and blood coming from his mouth. The brutal confrontations were among 62 cases identified by the Times in which inmates were seriously injured by correction officers between last August and January, when city and federal officials were increasingly focused on reining in violence at Rikers.

In August, the U.S. Attorney reported on brutality at the jail complex and threatened to sue the city unless conditions improved. In November, Mayor Bill de Blasio said ending pervasive violence at Rikers had become a top priority for his administration. The violence has continued largely unabated, despite extraordinary levels of outside scrutiny. Guards used physical force against inmates 4,074 times in 2014, the highest total in more than a decade. “It takes time to undo decades of mismanagement,” the correction department said. “We are, however, on our way to a jail system that is safer and more humane.”

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Reforms Planned For Texas' "Total Disaster" Sex Offender Program

At least one new lockup would be opened to house Texas' most violent sex predators and a lone judge no longer would handle all cases under sweeping reforms proposed to bring the state's troubled civil-commitment programs into constitutional compliance, the Houston Chronicle reports. A complete restructuring of the 15-year-old program is being mapped out and a bill reflecting those changes will be filed soon. Legislative support is expected. Even the name of the agency in charge of the civil commitment program would change, from the Office of Violent Sex Offender Management to the Texas Civil Commitment Office.

"We are having to have to start from scratch," said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, who is working with other officials on the reforms. "What we have found is that this program was a model of how not to run a state program. It was a total disaster." More than 360 convicted sex offenders have been ordered into the program, but not a single one has completed treatment and been set free, leading legal experts to question the program's constitutionality. About half of those offenders have been convicted of felonies and returned to prison for violating rules. "As the law is applied today it violates the constitutional rights of the men who are targeted by the statute," said Nancy Bunin, a Houston attorney who has represented men in the program. 

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TCR at a Glance

Study: Medical Identity Theft on the Rise

new & notable February 26, 2015

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.

Chain of Command

February 20, 2015

Military brass undermine the ability to prosecute sex assaults, a New York City Bar Association panel is told

What was the BOP Doing in Afghanistan?

February 19, 2015

The federal agency overseeing prisons played a previously undisclosed role in the war on terror overseas. The ACLU wants to find out more.