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As Reform Vote Looms, DC Police Budget for Forfeiture Funds

Washington, D.C., police have made plans for millions of dollars in anticipated proceeds from future civil seizures of cash and property, even though federal guidelines say “agencies may not commit” to such spending in advance, says the Washington Post. The city’s proposed budget and financial plan for fiscal 2015 includes about $2.7 million for the District police department’s “special purpose fund” through 2018. The fund covers payments for informants and rewards.

The financial details emerged last week when the D.C. Council’s judiciary committee unanimously voted to forward a bill that would overhaul asset forfeiture laws in the nation’s capital. The bill would raise the threshold of proof required for a forfeiture, bolster the rights of individuals whose property has been taken and require that proceeds from seizures under federal law go into the city general fund, rather than directly to the police department. The full council is set to vote on the bill today.

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'Helpful' Mortgage Firm Accused of Doing Harm

Six years after the housing crash, the foreclosure crisis continues to reverberate in the United States. Ocwen Financial Corp., one of the nation's largest mortgage servicers, is facing an investigation by regulators and a new lawsuit over its treatment of homeowners facing foreclosures, reports NPR. The class-action suit alleges that Ocwen has been charging marked-up, illegal fees and unfairly pushing homeowners into foreclosure. The firm collects mortgage payments from American homeowners.

According to Moody's Analytics, there were 700,000 foreclosures last year. And some of those people probably didn't need to lose their homes. Ocwen marketed itself as a partner in helping homeowners avoid avoid foreclosure. But regulators in New York and elsewhere allege that Ocwen harmed many homeowners rather than helped. The allegations have sent Ocwen's stock price swooning — down more than 60 percent this year.

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Meth Labs Decline in TN as Mexican Imports Rise

Law enforcement agencies across Tennessee are trumpeting a 41 percent drop in meth lab busts over last year, but their excitement is tempered by a cheaper, stronger version of the drug coming into the state from the same Mexican drug cartels that bring heroin and cocaine, says the Tennessean. Other meth-heavy states such as Missouri and Oklahoma have seen similar trends this year.

Stronger enforcement and new legislation regulating the sale of key ingredient pseudoephedrine are getting credit for the drop, but the DEA's Mike Stanfill said it is also tied to vast quantities of meth coming in from Mexico over the past year. Stanfill said dealers who once had to collect enough pseudoephedrine to cook meth themselves now find it easier to buy the drug from outside sources. Mexican cartels are making larger batches of meth using an alternative to pseudoephedrine that is illegal in the United States, according to the DEA.

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IRS, Ag Dept. Join FBI in Undercover Work

The federal government has significantly expanded undercover operations in recent years, with officers from at least 40 agencies posing as business people, welfare recipients, political protesters and even doctors or ministers to ferret out wrongdoing, says the New York Times. The paper cites examples at the Supreme Court, where undercover officers blend into demonstrations; the IRS, agents pose as tax preparers, accountants, drug dealers or yacht buyers, and the Agriculture Department, more than 100 undercover agents pose as food stamp recipients at thousands of neighborhood stores to spot suspicious vendors and fraud.

Undercover work was once largely the domain of the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies. But outside public view, changes in policies and tactics over the last decade have resulted in undercover teams run by agencies in virtually every corner of the federal government, according to officials, former agents and documents. Some agency officials say such operations give them a powerful new investigative tool. But the broadened scope of undercover work also raises concerns about civil liberties abuses and entrapment of unwitting targets.

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AL Judge on Death Penalty: 'You Have to Put 'em Down'

The New Yorker examines an Alabama criminal justice practice known as the "judicial overrides," in which judges reject a jury's sentence of life in prison and instead condemn the felon to execution. The story features Shonelle Jackson, convicted of murder in Montgomery as a teenager in 1997. Circuit Judge William Gordon sentenced him to die, overriding a jury recommendation of life without parole. Jackson is awaiting execution.

Only Alabama, Florida and Delaware permit such overrides, conceived to guard against the overuse of the death penalty. Nobody in Delaware is on death row because of override, and it has been 15 years since a Florida judge has exercised override to impose the death penalty. But nearly 70 Alabama judges have single-handedly ordered an inmate’s execution. Many suggest that politics plays a role since Alabama judges are elected. Asked to explain his override in the Jackson case, Judge Gordon, now retired, said, "You can’t put everybody in the penitentiary. You just can’t.” He added, “Sometimes you just have to put ’em down.”

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NOLA PD 'Couldn't Care Less' About Rape Complaints

The Times-Picayune says rape victims whose crime reports were ignored by the New Orleans Police Department's Special Victims Section describe the hopelessness and depression they felt while trying to convince investigators to treat their complaints seriously. A report last week by the city's inspector general singled out five detectives who had largely ignored hundreds of reports of rape and child abuse from 2011 to 2013. 

Several victims told the newspaper that the officers were skeptical of them and grilled them on how much they had to drink, seemingly looking for a reason to kill their complaint. Each said they experienced a lack of follow-up investigation. A private investigator hired by one victim summed up the attitude of police: "Couldn't care less." Previous inquiries by the inspector general, the U.S. Department of Justice and the news media have found the department for years has mistreated victims, bungled investigations and downgraded statistics.

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Hurdles Are High for Indictment in Police Shootings

When and why should police use lethal force, and who decides whether it is reasonable? The Los Angeles Times says those questions are in play in Missouri as a grand jury weighs whether to indict police Officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old. The hurdles for indicting or convicting a uniformed officer are high, for many reasons. One of them is the "great deference" given to police officers, said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law.

 

Police use of force is guided by the 4th Amendment, which protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. Another legal standard is that police should use no more force than is reasonably necessary. The big question is just what is reasonable. Law professor Franklin E. Zimring, who directs the criminal justice research program at UC Berkeley's Earl Warren Legal Institute, said "enormous obstacles" hinder criminal cases involving law enforcement officers. One impediment is the burden of proof, which requires prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an officer acted improperly.

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Fired Phoenix Officer's Suicide Spurs PTSD Debate

A Phoenix city councilman has called for the firing Police Chief Daniel Garcia, fanning the flames of a debate sparked by the suicide last week of fired Phoenix police Officer Craig Tiger, reports the Arizona Republic. According to Tiger's family and the department's officer union, Tiger suffered post-traumatic stress disorder following a 2012 on-duty shooting. He was arrested for DUI in June 2013, union leaders said.

After Tiger killed himself last week, police unions and family members criticized Garcia and the city's treatment of those with PTSD. Garcia enacted a no-tolerance policy for officers arrested for DUI months after his March 2012 appointment, and Tiger lost his job as a the result of the DUI arrest. Union officials said the on-duty shooting led to a PTSD spiral that ended in suicide.

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MS Focuses on Private Prison Contracts After Indictment

The indictment and resignation of Christopher Epps, Mississippi's longtime corrections commissioner, has raised questions about the state's dealings with firms that operate private prisons, reports the New York Times. Epps, an early advocate of prison privatization, is accused of receiving more than $1 million in bribes from Cecil McCrory, a former Mississippi lawmaker. The 49-count indictment charges that Epps helped secure lucrative corrections department contracts for private prison companies owned or represented by McCrory.

Mississippi has long struggled to fix its notoriously troubled prison system. In 2012, a federal judge called the conditions at one privately run facility “a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions.” Now the state is facing the possibility of a widening corruption scandal, a top-to-bottom reassessment of its prison-contracting system, and the removal of the powerful Epps from the political equation amid the rollout of an ambitious alternative-sentencing law that he helped devise.

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CA Judge Faces Tough Choices on 3-Strike Paroles

More than 1,000 prisoners from Los Angeles County have asked a judge to reduce the length of their sentences or free them under Proposition 36, a 2012 ballot measure that softened three strikes, reports the Los Angeles Times. More than 550 inmates have already been resentenced in Los Angeles County under the initiative, but the district attorney's office is strongly opposing the release of another 530 or so third-strikers, arguing that they haven't been rehabilitated and remain a threat. Decision-makers face the difficult challenge of selecting which of those deserve consideration.

Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan, who handles the cases, said many of his previous decisions were "no-brainer" calls involving inmates who prosecutors agreed deserved release. For another large group of inmates, the district attorney's office opposed resentencing but didn't demand hearings when Ryan indicated that he favored reducing punishments. The latest round of cases, which include Wallace's, are more contentious. "I think the calls will be closer and closer," Ryan said.

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TCR at a Glance

Crime and Prison Population Fall in N.C.

new & notable November 21, 2014

A series of justice reinvestment reforms in North Carolina have created a more efficient system, according to a report by the non-profit ...

Does 'Right-to-Carry' Lead to More Crime?

new & notable November 20, 2014

Laws that allow concealed weapons in public are associated with higher rates of aggravated assault, rape, robbery and murder, according t...

BJS: Crimes Against the Elderly on the Rise

new & notable November 14, 2014

Violent victimizations of Americans 65 or older increased 27 percent from 2003 to 2013, according to a new study by the federal Bureau of...