Last summer, Bensalem, Pa., police interrupted a burglary and caught two suspects. Eleven days later and 10 miles north, someone threw a rock through a window to get into a home and steal three handguns. In the past, says the Philadelphia Daily News, investigators might have been hard-pressed to solve the second break-in, let alone link it to the first. Thanks to a new countywide, multijurisdictional DNA database, cops cracked both cases within weeks, after finding DNA evidence at the first burglary that proved the suspect in the second was behind both crimes.
Bucks County officials announced the new database, the first of its kind nationally, yesterday. They recounted case after case in which the new database solved crimes that might have gone cold with few other clues. Most states and big cities have their own DNA databases, but smaller towns and rural burgs don't. They must send DNA swabs to their bigger brethren for testing. That has left many small police departments waiting months to more than a year for results from overburdened state or city DNA labs that prioritize murders and other serious crimes. Bucks County's new database delivers results within 30 days, or 24 hours for urgent cases, said Fred Harran, Bensalem's public safety director. With all 40 Bucks County police departments participating, authorities expect to catch lawbreakers who have dodged justice in the past by hitting the road to a different town.
The Supreme Court, which started its new term this week, will hear today a plea to reinstate death sentences for two brothers convicted in the notorious slayings of four people in Kansas, a case that has roiled the state's politics and prompted calls to remake its judiciary, the Associated Press reports. The cases involve Jonathan and Reginald Carr, sentenced to lethal injection for the killings in Wichita in 2000. The justices also are hearing the case of Sidney Gleason, sentenced to die for the 2004 murder of a woman and her boyfriend after she witnessed a robbery. The Kansas Supreme Court overturned all three death sentences, and Attorney General Derek Schmidt appealed. Kansas reinstated capital punishment in 1994 but has yet to execute any convicted murderers since then because the state's highest court hasn't upheld any death sentence. The state's last executions were hangings in 1965.
Conservative Republicans dominate state politics, but six of the court's seven justices were appointed by Democratic or moderate GOP governors, leading to criticism that it opposes capital punishment. The decision overturning the Carrs' sentences prompted a campaign by victims' family members that came close to removing two justices last year, an effort endorsed by both GOP Gov. Sam Brownback and the state Republican Party chairman. A crime victims' group, Kansans for Justice, tried to oust Kansas Supreme Court Justices Lee Johnson and Eric Rosen for overturning the death sentences. They got less than 53 percent of the vote in a retention election, the lowest percentages since Kansas adopted its current system in 1960. Four other justices in the majority face potential retention votes in November 2016. The outcome of the Kansas cases, reports ScotusBlog, "may tell us more about whether some of the Justices’ discomfort with the death penalty will translate into additional protections for defendants in capital cases or whether the Justices will instead remain ... sharply divided."
Faced with tens of thousands of parents and children crossing the Southwest border last year, the U.S. Border Patrol pledged to hire up to 1,600 women. Female migrants, many of whom are sexually assaulted on their journey, often prefer to be searched by women and would be more likely to share information about smugglers with an agent of their own sex. The Border Patrol, whose ranks have long been dominated by men, embarked on its first-ever female recruitment spree, getting rare dispensation to target only women. The deadline for the effort was the end of the fiscal year last week. It netted just 50 women.
After the female-only announcement was posted last December on USAJobs.com, the government’s largest job board, Border Patrol officials got applications from 3,972 women, mostly from California, Texas, Florida and Arizona. Ten months later, a few hundred candidates are still being vetted and given background checks. Just 5 percent of the 21,000 Border Patrol agents are women, the lowest among federal law enforcement agencies, which average about 15 percent. The work is solitary, outdoors and it can be dangerous, with overnight shifts. Many agents are assigned to remote areas in communities that lack good schools and day care. Policing the border is less glamorous than working as an FBI agent. A college degree is not required, but fluency in Spanish is. Salaries for starting agents start at $39,400. Men and women are held to the same physical standards.
Facebook, YouTube and Twitter increasingly provide the way rival gang members threaten each other, reports NPR. The practice is called "cyber banging," and it's often led to fights and even death. There still is rancor in some Chicago neighborhoods over a long-running feud on Twitter between Chicago rappers Chief Keef and Lil JoJo, both associated with rival gangs. Three years ago, shortly after Lil JoJo issued a taunt along with his location, he was killed. This year, police say cyber banging fueled the death of another Chicago rapper.
Senate Democrats will make another gun-control push after the Roseburg, Or., community college massacre, Politico reports. Minority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) accused Republicans of being “puppets” of the influential National Rifle Association in obstructing action on guns. Reid is reaching out to other Democratic senators on moving background checks legislation. It's a tall order in the Senate, where two years ago Republicans and red-state Democrats blocked a bill when the chamber was under Democratic control. Senate Republicans shrugged off the push from Democrats as political and not addressing the root cause of the country's mass shooting affliction.
"We'll see whether the people who have no solution, who just want to keep talking about guns, are willing to meet us halfway," said Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), who wants to focus on the link between mental health and guns. "If somebody's got a better idea, great. But if they're just going to rail about guns and violence without offering solutions, that's not good enough." The spate of recent mass shootings, including last week’s Oregon killings, the shootings of two journalists on air in August, and a rampage that left nine dead at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., have left Democrats frustrated that the GOP-led Congress is unlikely to act on tougher gun measures. President Obama has suggested people should become single-issue voters on the issue of gun violence. If “we don’t take action, we are equally responsible for innocent deaths as the sick individuals who plot and carry out these horrific measures,” Reid said yesterday. “One thing is clear: To pass background checks, we need Republicans to stop acting as puppets of the NRA.”
The maximum age of 18 for sending juvenile offenders to family court is arbitrary and should be raised, contend Vincent Schiraldi and Bruce Western of the Harvard Kennedy School's Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management. That age was based on the mores of a century ago rather than hard evidence, they write in the Washington Post. Citing research showing that the brain doesn't finishing developing until the mid-20s, far later than previously thought, "it’s time we expanded the protections and rehabilitative benefits of the family court to young adults," Schiraldi and Western say. Current policy "has disastrous public safety outcomes," they write, noting that 78 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds released from prison are rearrested, and about half return to prison within three years, the highest recidivism rate of any age cohort.
The age of family court jurisdiction in Germany and the Netherlands is 21 and 23, respectively. Many European nations have separate corrections facilities for young adults. Several states, including Florida, Michigan and New York, permit young adults’ convictions to remain confidential. San Francisco’s probation office has a special caseload category for “transitional-aged youth,” and the city has established a specialized youth court. New York City justice officials are experimenting with specialized handling of young adults at every stage of the process. Police and prosecutors in Brooklyn and Manhattan have started "Project Reset" to divert youths on arrest. State courts operate adolescent diversion divisions. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has convened an expert panel to explore developmentally appropriate responses to young adults caught up in the justice system. "Now is the time for practice to catch up with science — whether it is raising the family court’s age to 21 or 25 or otherwise creating a separate approach to young adults that reflects their developmental needs and furthers public safety," say Schiraldi and Western.
A furor involving a small-town Texas police department and national secular organization has reached the state attorney general's office, and may wind up in court, reports the Texas Tribune. At issue is whether putting "In God We Trust" stickers on police patrol cars violates the U.S. constitution. After getting a complaint from someone in Childress, a Panhandle town of 6,000, theFreedom From Religion Foundation sentthe police department a letter asking it to stop usingthe motto. The Wisconsin-based foundation, a national church-state watchdog group, says that placing the slogan on a police vehicle breaches the wall separating church and state.
Police Chief Adrian Garcia responded, "I must deny your request in the removal of our nation’s motto from our patrol units and ask that you and the Freedom From Religion Foundation go fly a kite.” That response, which Garcia posted on his department’s Facebook page had been liked more than 170,000 times, shared by more than 145,000 accounts and drawn about 20,000 comments as of yesterday. Yesterday, the two state legislators representing Childress asked state Attorney General Ken Paxton to weigh in. The secular group's Annie Laurie Gaylor contends that 24 percent of the U.S. population is "nonreligiious" and that police should not be wrapping themselves in a "mantle of piety" when they are under criticism for excessive use of force.
Researchers from the University of Cincinnati developed EPICS, short for Effective Practices in Community Supervision, a new model for structured face-to-face meetings between probation officers and their clients. EPICS has become the go-to model for parole and probation in much of the U.S., writes Governing Magazine. Since 2006, more than 80 state and county criminal justice departments have adopted EPICS. By focusing on behavioral change, rather than just threats of being thrown back in jail, EPICS and similar efforts may help break the cycle of incarceration. “I don’t think the majority of people on supervision like being criminals,” says Scott Taylor, who runs the department of parole and probation in Multnomah County, Or. “They just can’t figure how to get out of it.”
EPICS is part of a larger change that is developing within parole and probation systems. Parole boards are under scrutiny for keeping people in prison without explaining why they don’t qualify for supervised release. Many states have changed sentencing requirements so that nonviolent offenders are increasingly the responsibility of local jails and community supervision agencies, not state prisons. Parole and probation officers are using risk assessment tools to concentrate services on people who are most likely to reoffend. Almost five years into using EPICS, some Oregon officers don’t like it. One calls it “paint by numbers” because the model is so prescriptive, it can feel like there’s little room for improvisation or natural conversation. Every meeting follows four steps. Every step comes with its own protocol and training. Even though the clients are adults, officers assign homework and go over clients’ answers at the next session.