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Lynch at DOJ: 'Little Time and a Long Docket'

By Gloria Browne-Marshall

Loretta E. Lynch is about to make history. If, as expected, the Senate votes to approve her nomination today, she will be the 83rd U.S. Attorney General—and the first African-American woman to hold that office.

Lynch, 55, knew she was placing herself in the cross-hairs of a political battle when President Barack Obama placed her name in nomination five months ago. With little time and a long docket, she must now prove herself in the midst of a storm. She will have to navigate allegations of race-based police killings, as well as address a sensitive agenda that includes the threat of cybercrimes and terrorism, and national policies on immigration, voting rights, Wall Street chicanery, and the future of Guantanamo Bay—all while under the scrutiny of a Republican-controlled Congress and a conservative-led Supreme Court.

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The ‘Revolving Door’ for the Justice-Involved Mentally Ill

By Joseph Galanek

State Sen. Barb Goodwin has received broad support for her proposal last month to build three 16-bed diversion facilities, at a cost of $5.5 million, that will offer short-term stays for individuals with mental illness. The facilities are intended to provide evaluation services and “immediate treatment” for persons taken into police custody.  

The proposal addresses a chronic problem. The scarcity of psychiatric crisis beds has frequently forced officers to transport individuals hundreds of miles away for evaluation—often after the individual has already spent many hours waiting in a hospital emergency department for an assessment by a mental health professional and then locating a hospital bed somewhere in the system.

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The Death Penalty and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

By James M. Doyle

The superb opposing legal teams in the Tsarnaev case will provide an indictment of the system in principle. They will prove that an adversary trial can never produce what the Supreme Court says capital punishment depends on: the community’s individualized moral judgment on a particular defendant.

No lawyers can supply what that judgment needs: a full understanding of an individual.

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Police Perspective: Dealing with Contentious Incidents

By Jeri Williams

Contentious police incidents, such as an officer-involved shooting or use of excessive force by an officer, understandably generate considerable attention from community leaders, residents, the media, and elected officials. Some of that attention can manifest itself as criticism of the action taken by the officer involved or of the agency as a whole. By taking steps to build trust and partnerships with community members before a contentious encounter occurs, however, police officials can ensure that their post-contentious encounter response is less reactive and more thoughtful.

Establishing relationships in the community before contentious incidents occur will make it easier to work collaboratively with local leaders, residents, officials, and organizations to solve problems or address negative outcomes, such as a breakdown in community trust, that may occur as a result of the incident. 

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Cops and Kids: We Need New Thinking

By Lisa Thurau and Johanna Wald

There is much to love about the interim report released last month by the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. It is clear that the task force delved deeply into the research, listened carefully to experts and practitioners, and was extremely thoughtful in its analysis. But in two critical areas regarding policing youths, the report falls short. In order not to miss an unprecedented opportunity to advance urgently needed reforms, these should be revised before any final report is issued. 

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Avoiding 'Profiling by Proxy'

By Lisa Thurau and Bob Stewart

When an individual calls the police and makes false or ill-informed claims of misconduct about persons they dislike or are biased against—e.g., ethnic and religious minorities, youth, homeless people—police must be careful to avoid “profiling by proxy”.

This problem can arise when police officers rely on the emergency dispatcher’s recitation of what a biased caller claims to have happened instead of making an independent and professional assessment of the caller’s claims. Police should professionally and accurately evaluate the facts and risks of each individual case—beyond the hearsay of the transmitted complaint. Otherwise, a biased caller’s original inferences can generate accusatory claims by police and outraged denials of wrongdoing by the accused.

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The Confederate Flag: Symbol of Terrorism or Free Speech?

By Gloria Browne-Marshall

The Confederate flag represents racial oppression to many. Yet to others, it is a mere relic of Southern history. This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments to decide whether this symbol of the old Confederacy should be allowed on official Texas license plates.

In the case of Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc, the Confederate Veterans are appealing a decision by Texas to reject their request to have an official license plate bearing the Confederate flag. Currently, Texas motorists pay an extra $30 for the specialty plate. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has joined the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ fight. Nadine Strossen, New York Law School professor and former ACLU president, advocated on behalf of the Confederate flag on the grounds that Texas’ refusal to allow the specialty plate amounts to censorship—even while admitting the flag is offensive to many people, especially African-Americans.

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Why Police Need ShotSpotter

By Eric W. Rose

The latest version of ShotSpotter is a wide-area acoustic surveillance system that detects and locates gunshot and explosive events in near real-time. The technology works by installing three sensors containing microphones and global satellite positioning technology.

Following an explosive sound, the sensors are triggered and the system utilizes triangulation to detect and locate the shot’s origination. Audio from the incident is then sent to the SST Incident Review Center via secure, high-speed network connections for real-time confirmation of shots being fired.

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