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Amid Crime Increase, Los Angeles Police To Improve Accuracy Of Statistics

Los Angeles police officials have announced reforms to improve the accuracy of the city's crime statistics, saying reporting errors undermine the public's trust in the department, according to the Los Angeles Times. Crime reporting "is a critical aspect of what we do," said Assistant Chief Michel Moore, noting that the data is used to determine where to assign patrols units and develop other crime fighting strategies. "Garbage in equals garbage out."

 

Under the plan, supervisors, clerks and detectives are undergoing training to better understand how to classify crimes under federal reporting guidelines that police departments nationwide are supposed to follow. A new rule will place the onus on station supervisors to classify crimes correctly. The change come after a Times investigation found the department reported a significant number of serious violent crimes as minor offenses. The errors artificially lowered the city's official crime figures. Police Chief Charlie Beck said the Times report had been "the impetus for a lot of" the reforms. The reforms come as the city is poised to finish the year with an increase in violent crime for the first time in more than a decade.

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Murders Up In El Paso; Officials Say Mexico's Problems Aren't Responsible

After four years running as the safest city of its size in the nation, El Paso will close out 2014 with an 80 percent increase in murders, reports the Texas Tribune. The jump from 11 murders in 2013 to 20 so far this year doesn't mean the city is unsafe, analysts insist, and law enforcement officers say spillover crime from Mexico is not to blame. The increase is consistent with recent trends, said U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Tx.), one of a group of border Democrats that has for years fought back against claims that Texas border cities are unsafe because of violence in Mexico.

“We’re in between as low as five [in 2010], which is remarkable, and as high as 23 [in 2012] in the last four years,” he said. “This [increase] should and does catch our attention. It’s concerning but it’s not alarming.” O’Rourke often touts the "safest city" title in interviews and congressional hearings on border security and immigration. The increase in murders shouldn't stain El Paso’s image, he said, because major crimes that the FBI designates as “Part 1 crimes,” including rape, aggravated assault, robbery and major theft, are down in El Paso by 6 percent. Victor Manjarrez of the National Center for Border Security and Immigration at the University of Texas at El Paso, said crime statistics change everywhere, and El Paso isn't any different.

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Attack On NYPD Officers Calls Attention To Police Legal Bureau

The attack on two New York police lieutenants by demonstrators last weekend has thrown a spotlight on a police unit that typically remains on the sidelines: the Legal Bureau, reports the Wall Street Journal. Lts. Philip Chan and Patrick Sullivan were attacked and injured when they tried to arrest Eric Linsker, 29, as protesters were escorted across the Brooklyn Bridge. The lieutenants and 21 other legal team members had scattered across the city as part of the police response during protests of a grand jury’s decision not to indict officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner.

The bureau includes sworn officers with arresting powers. Part of their role is to act as a legal eye for the department during demonstrations. Among its other functions are reviewing legislation, weighing in on procedures and policies and assisting officers regarding legal matters in the field. It operates a 24-hour hotline officers can call if they are unsure about the legality of their actions. Chris Dunn of the New York Civil Liberties Union said the unit's officers “almost always are a constructive presence at demonstrations.” Lawyer Bill Amato of the Tempe, Az., Police Department and a board member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said the goal of a legal bureau is to foresee problems before a legal issue arises.

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Taliban Attack On Pakistani School Shows Terrorists' Moral Limits Fall

Yesterday's deadly attack by the Pakistani Taliban on a school in Peshawar, an assault that featured suicide bombers and heavily armed gunmen going from classroom to classroom and on to the school auditorium to slaughter dozens of students, is part of an increased willingness by terrorists to target children, says the Christian Science Monitor. In April, the Nigerian Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls, an attack that shocked the world but was only the high-profile tip of the group’s assault on both girls and boys, and on education.

In Afghanistan last week, the Taliban sent a young suicide bomber into a high school auditorium to detonate himself as students watched a modern dance program that depicted the horrors of suicide bombing. The attack was part of an intensifying destabilization campaign by the Taliban that had largely focused on the Afghan military, government officials and buildings, and sites frequented by foreigners. While using children to get at their parents or the government is not a new terrorist tactic, the mass targeting of children suggests that moral limitation on certain kinds of attacks is falling as terrorists look for more stunning and horrific ways to grab the international spotlight. “This is a massacre, and a massacre of children,” says Daniel Markey of the Council on Foreign Relations. “That means the barriers to attacking children have gone down, and that does reflect something different.”    

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Congress Ends U.S. Prohibition On Medical Pot, A Major Drug Policy Shift

Tucked deep inside the new 1,603-page federal spending bill is a provision that effectively ends the federal government's prohibition on medical marijuana and signals a major shift in drug policy, reports the Los Angeles Times. The bill's passage marks the first time Congress has approved nationally significant legislation backed by legalization advocates. It brings near a close two decades of tension between the states and Washington over medical use of marijuana. Under the provision, states where medical pot is legal would no longer need to worry about federal drug agents raiding retail operations. Agents would be prohibited from doing so.

The Obama administration has largely followed that rule since last year as a matter of policy. The measure approved as part of the spending bill will codify it as a matter of law. Congress' action marked the emergence of a new alliance in marijuana politics: Republicans are taking a prominent role in backing states' right to allow use of a drug the federal government still officially classifies as more dangerous than cocaine. "This is a victory for so many," said the measure's coauthor, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). The measure's approval, he said, represents "the first time in decades that the federal government has curtailed its oppressive prohibition of marijuana."

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Newtown Victims' Lawsuit Against Gun Manufacturer Will Test U.S. Law

A lawsuit by victims of the Newtown school shooting, seeking to hold liable the manufacturer of the Bushmaster AR-15 used in the massacre, will test the 2005 federal law designed to protect gun companies by using an exemption normally applied to car accident cases, reports the Hartford Courant. The lawsuit by families of nine students and adults killed and one surviving teacher who was shot several times by Adam Lanza will attempt to use what is known as the negligent entrustment exemption to the law. In a negligent entrustment case, a party can be held liable for entrusting a product, in this case a Bushmaster rifle, to another party who then causes harm to a third party,

"The court needs to decide whether they want to extend negligent entrustment from a retailer selling a gun to someone standing right in front of them to the theory that the manufacturer of the weapon is also responsible when the weapon they made is then sold by another party to a third person," said Albany Law School Prof. Timothy Lytton. Lytton, who has written a book about the history of lawsuits against gun companies, said an example of negligent entrustment would be the sale of a weapon by a gun retailer to a suicidal person. A negligent entrustment lawsuit would claim the retailer should have known not to sell that person a gun. Extending that to the gun manufacturer is unprecedented. Because it has never before been brought before a court, it is difficult to predict what will happen, says Dennis Henigan, former vice president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

 

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Amid Criticism On Immigration, Obama Opens TX Detention Facility For 2,400

The U.S. opened its largest immigration detention facility yesterday in South Texas, drawing attention to border security measures that are part of President Obama’s hotly debated executive actions on immigration, the New York Times reports. While Obama has offered protection from deportation and work permits to millions of unauthorized immigrants, he has ordered efforts to reinforce the southwest border to prevent a new surge of illegal immigration. The 50-acre center in Dilley, 85 miles northeast of Laredo, will hold up to 2,400 who have illegally crossed the border and is designed to hold women and their children.

Standing on a dirt road lined with cabins in a barren compound enclosed by fencing, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson delivered a blunt message to families without legal papers considering a trip to the United States: “It will now be more likely that you will be detained and sent back.” Republicans have assailed Mr. Obama’s measures, saying he overstepped his constitutional authority with a program of deportation reprieves that they predict will attract another wave of migrants like the one in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley this summer. Critics like Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said, “It is inhumane to house young mothers with children in restrictive detention facilities as if they are criminals.”

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Advocates Say NYC Spends $1.13M Daily On Misdemeanor Cases; 90% Go Free

Misdemeanor arrests cost New York City ​$1,134,000 daily, police reform advocates estimate. Nearly 90 percent of those arrested are people of color, these advocates say, reports Newsweek. The Police Reform Organizing Project examined arrest data from January to September 2014, finding that New York police averaged 648 misdemeanor arrests per day.The project estimates that each misdemeanor collar costs $1,750.

A report by the group alleges that "a stark racial bias marks the NYPD's petty arrest practices. In 2013, 87 percent of the individuals charged with misdemeanors were people of color; in 2014, the figure has been 86.2 percent." About 10 percent of those charged do jail time," meaning that 90 percent of misdemeanor suspects "walked out of the courtroom." Sometimes prosecutors decided not to pursue a case, while at other times, defendants might have been sentenced to time served or even received outright dismissal.

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Ramsey, Robinson Discuss Need To Improve Police Training In "People Skills"

NPR interviewed Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and former assistant attorney general Laurie Robinson, now at George Mason University, about the federal Task Force on 21st Century Policing that they lead. Robinson mentioned the possibility of tying "specific changes that the way training is done as a requirement for receiving federal grants in the area of criminal justice." Also on training of police, Ramsey said, "We do a good job of training police in the mechanics of policing, [but] not necessarily spending enough time on the educational component, having officers understand the role of police in a democratic society. How do you establish trust?"

Robinson cited the need to train officers on how to de-escalate confrontations. "We've seen in many of the incidents that have sparked controversy that de-escalation could have been a very helpful skill for the officers to have had. Oftentimes, in training, there's a lot of technical training, how to drive cars, how to shoot. But people skills are so critical." On police use of force, Ramsey said, "The issue to me, is making sure that if officers do have to use force, that it's only that force that's appropriate based on the situation they find themselves in. If you do have to resort to deadly force, then your life or the life of another has to be in immediate jeopardy. And we've got to constantly train, constantly reinforce and hold people accountable if their actions fall outside of policy or guidelines."

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TCR at a Glance

Justice Returns to Navajo Nation

December 22, 2014

Federal funds to construct detention facilities allow tribal authorities to end a moratorium on prosecution that has fueled one of the co...