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Baltimore Prepares For Protests During Court Hearings In Freddie Gray Case

Baltimore officials are preparing for protests as court hearings ramp up in the Freddie Gray case by coordinating with law enforcement agencies around the state, upgrading riot gear and conducting crowd-control training, the Baltimore Sun reports. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said officials plan to hold educational sessions in schools to explain the justice system to students. Over the next two weeks, court hearings will be held to consider several key issues in the Gray case, including whether charges should be dismissed, whether Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby should be recused and whether the trials should be moved out of Baltimore. The first is scheduled for Wednesday.

 

 

 

 

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Why Is L.A. Crime Rising? Desperation Over Ghetto Poverty May Be A Factor

After more than a decade of decline, violent crime in Los Angeles rose more than 20 percent in the first half of this year, with felony assaults up 26 percent and robberies up 19 percent. No one knows why, but there's plenty of speculation, writes Joe Domanick, West Coast bureau chief of The Crime Report, in the Los Angeles Times. Criminologists say crime goes up and down, and sometimes it's a trend, or just a blip, apart from what the police are doing. Violent crime in cities like Los Angeles may have plunged to historic modern lows and simply bottomed out.

 

 

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Referendum Will Make Nebraska "Ground Zero" In Death Penalty Debate

Nebraska's death penalty won a last-minute reprieve yesterday when a group fighting to keep capital punishment said it has collected more than enough signatures to stop its repeal and place the issue before voters in 2016, the Associated Press reports. Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, which was heavily financed by Gov. Pete Ricketts and his family, said it had gathered 166,692 signatures from all 93 of the state's counties. Nebraska's legislature voted in May to repeal capital punishment over the objection of Ricketts, becoming the first traditionally conservative state to do so in 42 years.

The pro-death penalty group needed about 57,000 valid signatures from registered voters to force a statewide referendum, and double that number to immediately halt the death penalty repeal that was set to go into effect on Sunday. Organizers appear to have exceeded the 10 percent of registered voters hurdle needed to block the repeal until the November 2016 general election. The likely referendum could prompt both sides to pour money into the state in hopes of swaying voters, said Douglas Berman, an Ohio State University law professor and death penalty expert. Berman said the legislature's vote to repeal had suggested the death penalty was losing support even in the U.S. heartland but a referendum "certainly ... will make Nebraska a kind of ground zero in the death penalty debate."

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Nashville Chief Calls City's Homicide Surge "Absolutely Unacceptable"

After two years of declines, Nashville has experienced a surge in homicides this year, leaving local law enforcement and community leaders grappling to find a solution, The Tennessean reports. As of Wednesday, there had been 40 criminal homicides in Nashville, just one shy of last year's total of 41. At that same time last year, the city had 25 homicides. The all-time high was 112 in 1997. "The murder rate is up and if we don't do something in the next few months it could go above last year's total," said Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Steve Dozier. "Years ago, people who may have had issues had a fist fight but now it just seems more and more youth are packing and for some reason think they have to go around carrying firearms and shooting people."

Of the 40 homicides so far this year, 20 remain unsolved. Metro Police Chief Steve Anderson said the increase in this year's homicide count, particularly over the record lows of 2013 and 2014, is "something Nashville as a whole should declare as absolutely unacceptable. The message in Nashville needs to be strong and reinforced that violence, particularly involving firearms, is against everything we believe. While I am aware that many American cities have seen significant increases in homicide this year, we in this community can make a difference by reinforcing to our teenagers and young adults that violence is not the answer to resolve conflict."

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AP, Reporters Committee Sue DOJ Over Creation Of Fake News Story

The Associated Press and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press sued the U.S. Department of Justice today over the FBI's failure to provide public records on the creation of a fake news story used to plant surveillance software on a suspect's computer. At issue is a Freedom of Information request seeking documents related to the FBI's decision to send a web link to the fake article to a 15-year-old boy suspected of making bomb threats to a high school near Olympia, Wa.. The link enabled the FBI to infect the suspect's computer with software that revealed its location and Internet address.

AP objected to the ruse, which was uncovered last year in documents obtained through a separate FOIA request made by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "The FBI both misappropriated the trusted name of The Associated Press and created a situation where our credibility could have been undermined on a large scale," AP told then-Attorney General Eric Holder. In an opinion piece in the New York Times, FBI Director James Comey revealed that an undercover FBI agent had also impersonated an AP reporter, asking the suspect if he would be willing to review a draft article about the bomb threats. Comey described the tactic as "proper and appropriate" under Justice Department guidelines in place at the time.

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Virginia Killing Of Two Journalists Offer Lessons For Newsrooms

Several lessons from the murders of two Virginia journalists were offered by Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute, a journalist training organization. The job of journalism involves risk and danger, he notes, but the incident should not stop journalists from going out into the public and hearing what people have to say to us. Newsrooms should assess how much risk they expose their journalists to every day. Tompkins says he is "especially concerned about the large number of one-man-band journalists who wade into crowds and confront people who would rather not talk. A journalist with a camera is a target. A journalist with a camera working alone is an easy target."

Newsroom bosses should see what they are asking of their employees, he says, adding, "It is easy to ask people to confront danger when you have no idea what you are asking of them. Tompkins says it is time to rethink whether every liveshot should be on a delay. There was no reason to think that Wednesday's liveshot in Virginia would turn into a double murder. Still, liveshots should be delayed just in case, Tompkins says. It's time to use delays, "not just when you are covering a hostage standoff or a car chase. Whole YouTube channels now show collections of reporters being insulted, assaulted and kissed while trying to do their jobs live on the air. Profanity and nudity is quite common, and we shrug it off with a 'who knew that would happen' look," he says. "Delay the shot like radio stations routinely put live callers on delay.

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VA TV Journalists Shot To Death During Interview; Shooter Kills Self

A reporter and photographer from WDBJ, a Roanoke, Va., television station, were shot to death while doing a live broadcast this morning, the station reported. They were reporter Alison Parker, 24, and photographer Adam Ward, 27. The incident occurred at a shopping center at 6:45 a.m. The station was interviewing Vicki Gardner, head of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce. Gardner was shot in the back, and was hospitalized. A former station employee who shot the journalists, Vester Lee Flanagan, 41, of Roanoke, later shot himself to death.

Flanagan, who worked under the name Bryce Williams, was a WDBJ employee from the spring of 2012 until he was laid off in February 2013. He later sued the station but the case was dismissed. WDBJ President Jeff Marks said, “We always say 'senseless’ crime.' How can this individual have robbed Alison and Adam’s families of their lives and loves?” Marks said that Flanagan "gathered a reputation as someone who was difficult to work with…“he was sort of looking out for people to say things that he could take offense to. And eventually, after many incidents of his anger coming to the fore, we dismissed him. And he did not take that well. We had to call the police to escort him from the building."

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Why The U.S. Leads The World In Mass Shootings

The U.S. is by far the global leader in mass shootings, claiming just 5 percent of the global population but 31 percent of the world's mass shooters since 1966, says a new study reported by the Los Angeles Times. The Philippines, Russia, Yemen and France,  all countries that can claim a substantial share of the 291 documented mass shootings between 1966 and 2012, collectively didn't even come close to the U.S.  What makes the U.S. such a fertile incubator for mass shooters? An analysis of the perpetrators, their motives and the national contexts for their actions suggests that several factors are at work.

They include a chronic and widespread gap between Americans' expectations for themselves and their actual achievement, Americans' adulation of fame, and the nation's extent of gun ownership. Set those features against a backdrop of poorly managed mental illness, and that produces a uniquely volatile brew. With those conclusions, University of Alabama criminologist Adam Lankford set out to illuminate the darker side of American "exceptionalism." His paper is being presented this week at the American Sociological Association annual meeting in Chicago. U.S. mass shooters were 3.6 times more likely to arm themselves with multiple weapons than were those who perpetrated similar crimes elsewhere, Lankford found. His said more weapons used in a mass shooting translated into more people killed. 

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Some States Try To Cut Court Fees, Debt, And Encounter Resistance

Driving 10 miles an hour over the posted speed limit in California brings a base fine of $35, to which the state adds $40, and the county adds $28. There’s an $8 fee to fund emergency medical services, a $20 fee to fund DNA testing, a $40 court operations fee and more. That relatively minor moving violation costs you $238, reports Stateline. For years, state and local governments have attached fees and costs to everything from speeding tickets to parole supervision. The extra assessments are supposed to pay for court operations and associated justice system programs, such as DNA testing. A growing body of research says they also can trap poor people in debt, and corrupt law enforcement and the courts. Citing such studies, some states are trying to scale back court-ordered debt but they have run into significant obstacles. In a time of tight budgets, it can be politically problematic to choke off a steady revenue source.

Passing a state law restricting such fees doesn’t necessarily mean that local courts, which may operate with significant autonomy, will abide by it. “It’s very difficult to characterize across the nation, because it’s almost complete chaos,” said Prof. Karin Martin of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. A U.S. Department of Justice investigation said Ferguson, Mo. police wrote tickets to raise more money for the town. Courts threw low-income people into jail when they couldn’t pay their debts— a throwback to the 19th century practice of “debtors’ prisons.” Thomas Harvey of ArchCity Defenders, a legal services group that represents poor clients in the St. Louis area , said, “I wish this was something new. I wish it were something that only impacted St. Louis because it would be easier to get at. It’s not. It’s a nationwide phenomenon.” 

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Maryland Finally Closes Decrepit Baltimore Jail; "It's A Dump"

Maryland corrections officials transferred the last detainees from the Baltimore City Detention Center, bringing an end to the decrepit jail, the Baltimore Sun reports. "The final closure of this detention center removes a stain on the reputation of our state and Maryland's correctional system," said Gov. Larry Hogan. "For years, corruption, criminal activity, and deplorable conditions have plagued this facility, but that ends today." Hogan had announced he would close the Men's Detention Center and move 1,100 inmates and detainees to other facilities in Baltimore. The jail's 772 employees are to be transferred to other nearby facilities.

Most cheered the governor's decision, but there have been some complications. Attorneys for some detainees said they were having trouble keeping tabs on clients as they were moved to nearby buildings, including an annex building, a jail industries building and the women's detention center. Charles Dorsey III, the state's deputy public defender, said Stephen Moyer, the state's corrections secretary, fixed those issues. Thomas Maronick Jr., one attorney who had clients in the facility, said, "It's a dump, and I'm glad it's closed." The jail housed defendants awaiting trial and convicts serving short sentences. The state took it over in 1991.

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