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Media Protest Ferguson Police "Lack Of Understanding" On Videotaping

News media members covering the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., repeatedly have been asked by local law enforcement to stop videotaping and photographing protests, which legal experts is not supported up by court precedent and amounts to First Amendment violations, Politico reports. Federal courts repeatedly have affirmed the rights of citizens and members of the press to record on-duty police officers. Citizens have been arrested under  state wiretapping laws that ban audio recording in some instances and for other offenses like obstruction or interference with an ongoing investigation.

The National Press Photographers Association sent a letter yesterday to Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson objecting to his department’s treatment of the media. The association cited a “complete lack of understanding and respect for the First Amendment as it applies to newsgathering.” “While it is understandable that your officers may have a heightened sense of awareness during these encounters that is still no excuse for them to not recognize’s a person’s (citizen or journalists) right to photograph or record an event occurring in a public place,” NPPA general counsel Mickey Osterreicher wrote.

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Stand Your Ground Laws May Raise Homicide Rate, Fuel Bias, ABA Says

Widely adopted “Stand Your Ground” laws may be driving up homicide rates and fueling racial bias in law enforcement, a new preliminary report from the American Bar Association warns, says the Washington Post. Thirty-three states have enacted “Stand Your Ground” laws in the last decade, and nearly all justify the use of deadly force when defending one’s home against an intruder. In seven states, individuals who use force under Stand Your Ground laws are immune from criminal prosecution. States with these kinds of self-defense laws also saw an increase in homicides, says the ABA National Task Force on Stand Your Ground Laws.

The task force advises states with the laws to repeal them if they “desire to reduce their overall homicide rates” or “desire to reduce or eliminate racial disparities in the criminal justice system.” The report is based on more than a decade of empirical evidence and interviews with 70 witnesses. David Harris, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh who served on the task force, pointed to studies at two universities that both found an increase in homicide rates. The researchers behind one Texas A&M study found that homicide rates increased by a statistically significant 8 percent in “Stand Your Ground” states. “The Stand Your Ground law was sold on the basis that it would lower serious crime and, in particular, it would lower homicide rates,” Harris said. “If your city went up 8 percent in murders, do you think there would be a little excitement down at City Hall? Yeah, I think so.”

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Ohio Cuts Access To Facial Recognition System; Is It Still Too Permissive?

A year ago, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine had quietly launched facial recognition software to search Ohio driver's license photos. Without notifying Ohioans, the state allowed more than 26,500 police officers and court employees to upload a snapshot and try to identify the person in it, from any device with an Internet connection. A year later, the facial recognition system still has fewer restrictions for its use than other systems around the U.S., and commonplace features to secure the system are still months from implementation, the Enquirer says.

DeWine has cut the number of users by nearly 80 percent and eliminated all access by out-of-state law enforcement agencies. The changes are intended to limit the opportunities someone might have to misuse the system – say, by uploading a snapshot of an attractive passerby and using the software to identify him. Officials say the remaining users need access to the system to identify crime suspects using images, such as from a security camera. Critics say the system is still too permissive. Ohio's access is wide in part because its statewide law enforcement database is unmatched in other states. The state with the closest system, North Carolina, limits facial recognition use to a handful of fraud investigators.

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Sentencing Panel To Ponder Mandatory Minimum Terms, Risk Assessments

The U.S. Sentencing Commission in the next year will ask Congress to "reduce the severity and scope of some mandatory minimum penalties and consider expanding the 'safety valve' statute which exempts certain low-level non-violent offenders from mandatory minimum penalties. Judge Patti Saris, chair of the panel, noted that the commission had voted unanimously to reduce the advisory guidelines on federal drug sentences, which she called "an important first step to address the continuing crisis in federal prison populations and budgets, while also making the guidelines more effective and maintaining public safety.”

The commission vowed to continue work on multi-year projects to study recidivism comprehensively, including an examination of the use of risk assessment tools in the criminal justice system. Attorney General Eric Holder has expressed concern about the racial impact of using rick assessment in sentencing. The sentencing panel confirmed that it would hear from judges, experts, victims and others on whether changes are needed in the way fraud offenses are sentenced in the federal system, particularly in fraud on the market cases.

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Five Criminal Justice Programs Win Group's Annual Awards

Five criminal justice programs won this year's awards from the National Criminal Justice Association, which represents state and local justice agencies. The honors were announced this week at the group's annual meeting, held in Breckenridge, Co. The Western region award went to Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE), which aims to cut probation violations "by combining appropriate, supportive supervision with the threat of immediate sanctions for non-compliance." A 2008 evaluation found that after one year, participants were 55 percent less likely to be arrested for a new crime, 72 percent less likely to use drugs, 61 percent less likely to skip appointments probation officers, and 53 percent less likely to have their probation revoked. Winning in Northeast was the Pennsylvania Resource Center for Evidence-Based Programs and Practices, which provides localities "free, high-quality training and technical assistance" for 11 proven-effective evidence-based programs to combat youth violence.

The Southern award went to the Johnson City, Tn., Targeted Community Crime Reduction Project, which has sponsored 19 programs to prevent crime, rebuild neighborhoods, improve law enforcement, and provide intervention for probationers and parolees. The award for the Midwestern region was given to the Secure Cities Partnership, created by the Michigan State Police after a 2012 call by Gov. Rick Snyder for an attack on crime through “smart justice” using real-time crime data and evidence-based policing tactics to target crime hot spots. Crime dropped in Flint, Saginaw, Pontiac and Detroit in the year after the program began. Winning the award for tribal nations was the Muscogee Creek Nation Reintegration Program, which uses "proven effective initiatives while embracing traditional Native American cultural values, making it a unique program for reentry into society." It says it successfully re-integrated 90 percent of 500 offenders in the last decade.

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Feds Focus On Scheming Doctors As Medcare Fraud Hits $58 Billion

Law-enforcement officials estimate that fraud accounts for as much as 10 percent of Medicare's yearly spending, which amounts to $58 billion in bogus payments in the 2013 fiscal year, reports the Wall Street Jurnal. The U.S. government recovered just $2.86 billion in Medicare funds that year. "Usually the money gets away," said Glenn Ferry, who oversees the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General's strike-force operations in Los Angeles. "As soon as it hits an account, it disappears."

Many strike-force investigations start with an agent behind a computer screen, eyeing page after page of Medicare claims data, looking for unusual billing patterns. In April, the government released data on doctor billing for the first time after a legal effort by the Journal to make the information public. In one case detailed by the newspaper, federal prosecutors alleged that a fraud stretched over eight years and involved prescribing patients equipment and hospice and home-health services they didn't need, and in many cases didn't receive. In return for referrals, the equipment and service providers allegedly paid kickbacks to the doctor involved. The strike force increasingly targets physicians. "You need a doctor in all the schemes," said David O'Neil, a deputy assistant U.S. Attorney General. The team charged 36 doctors with health-care fraud in the 2013 fiscal year.

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Prosecutor: No Timeline On Ferguson Police Shooting Investigation

Law enforcement officials in suburban St. Louis asked for patience to allow the investigation into the shooting of Michael Brown to take its course as tension over the teenager’s death continued for a fifth straight day, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch said his office will take as much time as necessary to review circumstances that led a Ferguson police officer to fatally shoot the 18-year-old Brown on a street Saturday afternoon. “The timeline on this is there is no timeline,” McCulloch said. (Police used tear gas and smoke bombs to repel crowds who threw Molotov cocktails last night, the Associated Press reports.)

McCulloch said ethical rules prevent prosecutors from disseminating the physical evidence. He also said he won’t do anything to corrupt the integrity of the investigation. Much information has come forward through social media, “some of it good, some of it bad,” he said. He stressed that the medical examiner’s report, 911 tapes and other investigative material will be withheld at this point. Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson said the officer who shot Brown suffered facial injuries and was taken to a hospital. Jackson acknowledged that mending the strained relationship between his department and the African-American community is imperative for the city and region to move ahead following nearly a week of outrage, violence and looting. The chief defended his agency's racial makeup. Three of 53 officers are African-American in a community where two-thirds of the population is black.

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Bloomberg Faulted For Letting Conditions Deteriorate At Rikers Island Jail

The portrait that emerged from the U.S. Attorney's investigation of the Rikers Island jail in New York City last week was of a place with almost medieval levels of violence, meted out with startling ferocity by guards and their superiors, says the New York Times. The probe, which focused on the abuse of teenage inmates by corrections staff, was exhaustive in cataloging the brutality. A critical question that went unaddressed is how conditions were allowed to get to this point.

Rikers has been a place of violent excess for decades. The growing ranks of inmates with mental illnesses, reaching nearly 40 percent of the jail population, have added to the challenges for officials. Conditions worsened substantially under the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which reduced jail staff and failed to curb escalating violence by guards. Bloomberg never made Rikers a high priority, at a time when conditions were drastically deteriorating. “We met with the Department of Correction and the Bloomberg administration about the prevalence of violence directed by correctional staff towards prisoners, and they didn’t respond,” said Dr. Robert Cohen, a member of the city's Board of Correction, a watchdog agency.

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