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Police In 22 Cities Test "Blunt Impact Projectiles" As Less-Lethal Weapons

Police in 22 U.S. and Canadian cities are testing "blunt impact projectiles" that cause suspects excruciating pain but do not kill them, the Associated Press reports. Police have "nonlethal" weapons at their disposal, including pepper spray, stun guns and beanbag projectiles. Those weapons have caused deaths, leading to a search for "less lethal" alternatives. The quest has taken on new urgency amid furor over high-profile police shootings of black men. Micron Products Inc., based in Fitchburg, Ma., makes the new ammunition, which are much larger than rubber bullets and have silicone heads that expand and flatten on impact, enhancing the pain and incapacitating a suspect.

An executive of the company that patented the technology who tested it said it was the "equivalent of being hit by a hockey puck." "It was like, 'Ow!' I had to shake it off," said Allen Ezer of Security Devices International, a defense technology company that hired Micron to make the projectiles. Sixteen law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and six in Canada have purchased them, including SWAT units of the Los Angeles County and Sacramento County Sheriff's Departments in California, and police departments in East Hartford, Ct.; Sioux Falls, S.D.; and Los Alamos, N.M. The product has its limits. While it could subdue an armed suspect from a distance in a standoff situation, it probably wouldn't be useful during sudden confrontations, said Sheriff Toby Wishard of Codington County, S.D., who bought the projectiles several months ago but hasn't used them yet.

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Corrections Officers Defend Solitary Confinement As A Key Deterrent

Prison officials in New York reached a tentative settlement with the state's civil liberties union lst year, agreeing to shelve a pending legal battle and collaborate on new rules that could sharply limit the time inmates spend in solitary confinement. That could mean downsizing the state's network of isolation cells known as SHU units, reports NPR. The deal angered corrections officer Mike Powers, head of the state prison guard union, who says, "Our SHUs are not the dungeons that people portray them to be." Powers says officers use solitary confinement strategically every day to maintain order and safety, especially in New York's often violent maximum security prisons.

He says the threat of isolation is an important deterrent. "I don't know how many times I've had an offender, an inmate, tell me that 'I'm not going back in there, Powers. You can count on that,' " he says. Many corrections officers call solitary confinement a normal practice, relied on for decades. Reform advocates say isolation is used too often. They point to the fact that many of the 4,500 inmates held in New York's isolation cells before last year's agreement were teens, pregnant women and inmates who committed minor infractions. "Five out of six offenses that lead people into solitary are for nonviolent ticket infractions, like excessive bearding or having too many stamps," says Five Mualimm-ak, now a reform activist, who spent 11 years behind bars on weapons charges, including five years in solitary. The data come from a 2012 New York Civil Liberties report.

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Boston Firearms Arrests Show Police Use Of Social Media In Crime Solving

Two men who over social media threatened gun violence at the Pokemon World Championships in Boston face firearms possession charges in Boston, the Christian Science Monitor reports. Kevin Norton and James Stumbo of Iowa were stopped from entering Boston’s Hynes Convention Center Thursday after the venue’s security staff alerted police. The incident reflects the growing value of social media to law enforcement as a means to catch criminals as well as to connect with communities. The International Association of the Chiefs of Police says about 80 percent of police agencies report social media has helped solve crimes.

In the last two weeks, police have used social media to help find a stolen Playstation in Virginia, arrest a murder suspect in Dothan, Al., and live-stream traffic stops in Fargo, N.D. In Boston, social media played a significant role in police monitoring of and communication with protesters involved in the Occupy movement in 2011 and 2012. The Boston Police Department began amplifying its presence on social media after the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. Today, the department has four officers running its social media accounts.

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How One Rust Belt County Copes With Heroin Overdose Epidemic

A Pennsylvania county of 200,000 people recorded eight heroin overdoses in 69 minutes this month, says the Washington Post. There would be a total of 16 overdoses in 24 hours and 25 over two days. Three people died. Many were saved by a recent decision to equip every first responder with the fast-acting antidote naloxone. The toll wasn’t from a supply of heroin that had been poisoned on its journey from South America. Nor was there a party where careless junkies miscalculated the amount of heroin they could handle. It was simply an extreme example of what communities in parts of the U.S. are enduring as the heroin epidemic rages on. “It’s absolutely insane. This is nuts,” said District Attorney Eugene Vittone, a former paramedic who is trying to hold back the tide of drugs washing across Washington County, a Rust Belt area 30 miles south of Pittsburgh. On any day, he said, the county averages five to eight overdoses, almost all from heroin.

“There’s been a progressive increase in overdoses the last two years, and it just went out of control,” added Rick Gluth, supervising detective on Vittone’s drug task force. “I’ve been a police officer for 27 years and worked narcotics for the last 15, and this is the worst. I’d be glad to have the crack epidemic back.” The United States averages 110 overdose deaths from legal and illegal drugs every day. The heroin death toll has quadrupled in the decade that ended in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By all accounts, it has only grown worse since. In Washington County, there have been more than 50 fatal overdoses this year. The national drug-death total, larger than that from auto accidents, is disproportionately concentrated in the Rust Belt, the Great Lakes region and the Northeast.

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Judge Hears From Angry Victims' Families In CO Theater Shooting Case

In what the Denver Post calls perhaps the bleakest day yet in the case against Aurora theater gunman James Holmes, dozens of people stood before Judge Carlos Samour Jr. yesterday and spoke of anger and injury and overwhelming, can't-leave-the-house sadness. Two criticized the case's outcome, which spared the life of the person who caused their pain. "The message is that the state of Colorado values the life of a mass murderer more than the lives of those he murdered," said Kathleen Pourciau, whose daughter, Bonnie Kate, was wounded in the shooting.

That prompted Samour, for the first time, to speak up in defense of the jury's decision and the trial's fairness. "Justice was done in this case not because of the outcome but because of the process," Samour said. When Robert Sullivan, the grandfather of the youngest slain victim, 6-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan, suggested that a juror had lied about her views on the death penalty to serve on the jury and swing the panel toward a life sentence, Samour dismissed the claim, saying there was no evidence of that. "I'm not going to allow that type of criticism to be uttered without evidence," Samour said. "There is no reason to believe anyone on the jury was deceptive or did anything improper." The purpose of the hearing is for Samour to formally impose a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for Holmes.

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Miami-Dade Becomes One Of Largest U.S. School Districts To End Suspensions

Instead of booting kids from school for serious disruptions, a move that often leads to troubled students finding more trouble, Miami-Dade public schools are aiming to become one of the nation's largest districts to end out-of-school suspensions, reports the Miami Herald. With growing evidence that tough discipline policies don’t work, the district is instead turning to more counselors, character development and an overhaul of the student code of conduct to address misbehavior. The approaches will include keeping kids in class or in-school programs.

“We often deal with the behavior at the expense of the kid, and this is a way of flipping the approach,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told the Herald. The shift will take extensive re-training and a massive culture change in a school district that suspended 36,000 students in 2013-2014. A disproportionate number of those students were black. One notorious example of what can happen: Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old from the Miami area, was serving out a suspension from school in 2012 when he was killed by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, a case that prompted a national debate about self-defense and racial profiling. A new analysis of federal data from the University of Pennsylvania identifies districts in 13 Southern states where black students are suspended or expelled at rates overwhelmingly higher than white children. While black students represented just under a quarter of public school students in these states, they made up nearly half of all suspensions and expulsions, the New York Times reports.

 

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PA Attorney General Kane Ordered To Stand Trial In Leak Case

A judge ordered Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane to stand trial on criminal charges after a hearing in which one of Kane's most trusted aides testified against her, and the judge repeatedly rejected her legal arguments, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Prosecutors say Kane, a Democrat who is the state's top law enforcement officer, broke the law by orchestrating a leak to a newspaper reporter in a bid to embarrass a foe and lied about it under oath. Using Kane's testimony before the grand jury that investigated the leak, prosecutors attempted to show that she repeatedly lied in an effort to cover up her actions.

David Peifer, a special agent in Kane's office, described meeting with Kane last year and giving her information she is charged with leaking to the press. Kane's lawyers raised several objections that Judge Cathleen Kelly Rebar overruled, including blocking their effort to delve into pornographic emails exchanged by top prosecutors who worked for Kane's Republican predecessors. When Kane lawyer Gerald Shargel mentioned the emails, Rebar cut him off, saying he was moving far afield from the issue at hand: whether Montgomery County prosecutors had enough evidence to take the case against Kane to trial. Kane, 49, is charged with a felony count of perjury and seven misdemeanor charges, including conspiracy, obstruction, official oppression, and false swearing. 

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Police Use Stingrays In Routine Crimes, Don't Tell Prosecution, Defense

Police in many cities are using phone trackers known as stingrays to locate the perpetrators of routine street crimes and frequently concealed that fact from the suspects, their lawyers and judges, reports USA Today. In the process, they transformed a form of surveillance billed as a tool to hunt terrorists and kidnappers into a staple of everyday policing. The suitcase-size tracking systems, which cost up to $400,000, allow the police to pinpoint a phone’s location within a few yards by posing as a cell tower. In the process, they can intercept information from the phones of nearly everyone else who happens to be nearby, including innocent bystanders. They do not intercept the content of any communications.

When and how the police have used those devices is mostly a mystery; the FBI swore them to secrecy. In Baltimore, USA Today obtained a police surveillance log and matched it with court files to paint the broadest picture yet of how the devices have been used. The records show that police used stingrays to catch everyone from killers to petty thieves, that the authorities regularly hid or obscured that surveillance once suspects got to court and that many of those they arrested were never prosecuted. Defense attorneys assigned to many of those cases said they did not know a stingray had been used until they were asked by USA Today, even though state law requires that they be told about electronic surveillance. "I am astounded at the extent to which police have been so aggressively using this technology, how long they’ve been using it and the extent to which they have gone to create ruses to shield that use,” said Stephen Mercer, chief of forensics for Maryland’s public defenders.

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