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How Government, Private Entities Try To Keep Mentally Ill Out Of Jail

Police, judges and elected officials increasingly are pointing out that a high proportion of people in jail are mentally ill, and that in many cases they shouldn’t be there. Stateline reports that many cities and counties are trying to reduce those numbers by training police to deal with mental health crises, creating mobile mental health units to assist officers, and establishing mental health support centers as an alternative to jail, among other measures. A coalition including the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the American Psychiatric Foundation and the National Association of Counties are running a campaign to encourage local jurisdictions to collect data on the jailed mentally ill and adopt strategies to avoid incarceration. The MacArthur Foundation plans to send $75 million to jurisdictions interested in reducing unnecessary incarceration of people, including the mentally ill.    

State spending on mental health services has shrunk through the decades. Between 2009 and 2012, states cut back mental health spending by a total of $4.35 billion, according to a study by the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors. Although some of that funding has been restored in recent years, it has not been enough to meet the need, with the result that more mentally ill people are ending up in jail. “It’s been frustrating and tragic that so little has been done to address the problem,” said Ira Burnim, legal director of the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. “There’s not a lot of magic in the solution.” Many are hopeful that the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, which extends health benefits to poor, single adults, will enable many to get mental health treatment and avoid the crises that previously landed them in jails. But 21 states have resisted expansion.

 

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Judge Voids D.C. Concealed Weapon Permit Law; Case Could Go To High Court

Ten months after striking down Washington, D.C.'s long-standing ban on carrying firearms in public as unconstitutional, a federal judge has ordered the city to halt enforcing a key provision of the gun-permitting system it adopted in response, the Washington Post reports. District’s carry legislation remains among the nation's strictest, requiring applicants to state good reason to carry a weapon in order to obtain a permit from police, matching laws in Maryland, New Jersey and New York. U.S. District Judge Frederick Scullin said that condition, known as the “good reason/proper reason” requirement, “impinges on Plaintiffs’ Second Amendment right to bear arms,” because it fails to target dangerous people or specifically how or where individuals carry weapons.

"The issue is whether this requirement, no matter how well intended, violates the Second Amendment,” Scullin wrote. The ruling runs counter to some federal appellate decisions and guts a law that allows city residents who own properly registered handguns, as well as nonresidents with a state carry license, to apply for a permit to bear a concealed weapon in the District. WAMU radio reported that as of late January, 66 people had applied for concealed-weapons permits. Police had granted requests by eight people and denied 11 others. UCLA law professor Adam Winkler said there is a good chance that Scullin’s decision will be overturned on appeal. However, he said, the Supreme Court has not yet decided whether the Second Amendment requires cities such as the District to allow guns in public, or what kind of permitting is permissible. “The D.C. case could be the next Second Amendment case in the Supreme Court,” he said.

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O'Donnell: Ask Community What It Wants Of Police, Including Body Cameras

Eugene O'Donnell, a former police officer and prosecutor now on the John Jay College of Criminal Justice Faulty, tells NPR police departments should ask the the public before it practices community policing. "Literally, block-to-block public housing, building-to-building, floor-to-floor, people don't agree on what they want the police to do and how they should do it," he says, adding that, "The simplistic notion that the cops just have to be nice to people is silly, and that's a lot of the conversation."

O'Donnell explains that, "Police [do] a job that involves conflict. When you pull somebody over and you ask them for their license, they're under arrest. Police are not equal with people in that situation..." He also calls body cameras on police officers a "terrible idea - worst idea you can think of." He says, "I'd like to talk to the neighborhood and see what they think...Is this the kind of relationship you're going to want with the cops? Everything you do is going to be on video. Everything they do is going to be on video. Everything is going to just be yes, sir, no, sir..." 

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Tech Coalition Asks Obama To Keep Decrypted Data From Law Enforcement

Big technology companies including Apple and Google and leading cryptologists are urging President Obama to reject any government proposal that alters the security of smartphones and other communications devices so that law enforcement can view decrypted data, reports the Washington Post. A coalition of tech firms, security experts and others are appealing to the White House to protect privacy rights as it considers how to address law enforcement’s need to access data that is increasingly encrypted. “Strong encryption is the cornerstone of the modern information economy’s security,” said a letter to the president signed by more than 140 tech companies, prominent technologists and civil society groups.

The letter comes as law enforcement officials warn about the threat to public safety from a loss of access to data and communications. Apple and Google last year announced they were offering forms of smartphone encryption so secure that even law enforcement agencies could not gain access, even with a warrant. “There’s no doubt that all of us should care passionately about privacy, but we should also care passionately about protecting innocent people,” FBI Director James Comey said recently. He earlier said he could not understand why companies would “market something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law.”

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TX Motorcycle Gang Violence That Killed 9 A Rare Event

The shootout between two rival gangs and the police at Waco's Twin Peaks restaurant casts a frightening light on Texas' outlaw motorcycle gang culture, known for its drug dealings and bar brawls, but rarely for outbreaks of extreme violence, reports USA Today. Police are  trying to decipher exactly how the weekend clash between rival motorcycle gangs ended with nine people dead, 18 others injured and 170 people arrested. "We have not seen anything like this ever in Texas," said Todd Harrison, president of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas. Sunday's gathering was a Region 1 meeting of the Texas Confederation of Clubs and Independents, which gathers each month in different Texas cities to discuss new memberships, motorcycle rights and legislative bills that affect riders.

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Justices Give Felon Some Say In What Happens To His Guns

A unanimous Supreme Court has sided with a Florida ex-convict who wants a say in what happens to his seized firearms, McClatchy Newspapers reports. In a high-level but small-bore clash over gun control, the court gave former Jacksonville, Fl., Border Patrol agent Tony Henderson another shot at determining who gets his weapons seized more than eight years ago after his arrest. Henderson pleaded guilty to distributing marijuana and served a six-month prison. Once free, he sought return of his collection, which included included three old M1 Garand rifles, a group of .22-caliber rifles and pistols, two shotguns, a carbine and several revolvers. Federal law prohibits felons from possessing firearms.

Henderson has proposed that the weapons be returned to another individual, such as his mother, his next-door neighbor or his wife. The court said yesterday such a transfer could be allowed, rejecting Obama administration arguments to the contrary. “We hold that (federal law) does not bar such a transfer unless it would allow the felon to later control the guns, so that he could either use them or direct their use,” said Justice Elena Kagan.

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Think Tank Agrees With Sensenbrenner: Eliminate Embattled ATF

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, charged with enforcing the nation's gun laws and regulating the firearms industry, has been so hobbled by high-profile operational failures, internal dysfunction and external limits on its authority that the agency should be eliminated and merged into the FBI, contends a new report from the left-leaning Center for American Progress, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. U.S. Rep Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) has proposed to dissolve the agency.

The bill and the report are the latest in a series of efforts, from both sides of the political spectrum and even by veterans of the ATF, to reform or eliminate the agency. In July, a Government Accountability Office report on ATF described an agency trying to redefine itself while struggling with high personnel turnover and internal problems. The think tank's 182-page report traces the agency from its origins as a tax collection agency to the present, as it again finds itself with no director and beset by problems. The report's authors interviewed more than 50 current and former ATF personnel. Its argument boils down to this: The vital job of keeping guns out of the hands of criminals is too important to leave to a weakened, embattled agency like the ATF. The Department of Justice, which oversees the agency, said it "supports ATF in its current form and believes Congress should fully fund the President's budget request that will enhance ATF's ability to carry out their important mission."

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White House Curbs Local Police Acquisition Of Military Equipment

Bayonets, weaponized vehicles and grenade launchers are no longer available to local police under a new presidential task force on the militarization of law enforcement released today, Politico reports. If local cops want riot gear and other types of armored vehicles, they’re must meet many new standards for training and data collection. The images of police in armored vehicles and camouflage uniforms confronting protesters in Ferguson, Mo., last summer brought new scrutiny to federal programs that transfer military gear to local law enforcement officials. The outcry came not only from civil-rights groups but also Republicans like Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID). The departments of Justice, Defense and Homeland Securities to re-examine the programs. What they found were “no consistent standards” for local police who wanted this equipment, said Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Munoz, “There wasn’t a single federal strategy.”

The Obama administration is making camouflage off-limits for urban departments, and local cops will have to make the case that they really need those armored vehicles going forward. An effort to make relations between cops and communities less combative has become a central White House mission, and with the release of broader recommendations for “21st Century Policing,” the White House is gearing up to temper the scenes of chaos in Ferguson and Baltimore with its plan for more dialogue and data. After President Obama’s visit toay to the county police headquarters in Camden, N.J., his cabinet will fan out across the country to highlight other success stories over the next few weeks, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch will start her own community policing tour in Cincinnati.



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TCR at a Glance

Study: Rape on Campus an 'Epidemic'

new & notable May 22, 2015

A study in the Journal of Adolescent Health finds rampant instances of both incapacitated and forcible rape on campus