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Viewpoints

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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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Memo to Texas Sen. Cornyn: Don’t Gut PREA

By Liz Ryan

Late last year, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) offered an amendment, approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a voice vote, that would have dramatically weakened the enforcement of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). The amendment would have exempted programs that the Department of Justice (DOJ) had slated to be subject to a financial penalty for states for non-compliance with PREA.

It didn’t make it all the way through the Congress last session. But according to press reports, Sen. Cornyn appears to be preparing to offer it again.

If he does, Senate Judiciary Committee members should reject this ill-advised amendment. Here’s why:

PREA’s implementation is at a crucial phase.

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Justice Commission Needs America’s ‘Best and Brightest’

By Lee P. Brown

President Barack Obama’s Task Force On 21st Century Policing, released earlier this month, provides local law enforcement with concrete ideas designed to improve the relationship between the police and the people they are sworn to serve.

I am especially pleased that the interim report lists as its first overarching recommendation the creation of a National Crime and Justice Task Force “to evaluate all components of the criminal justice system for the purpose of making recommendations to the country on criminal justice reform.”

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What Meaningful Grand Jury Reform Should Cover

By Robin L. Barton

The Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases focused attention on police departments and their relationships with the minority communities that they serve. After the police officers involved in those incidents were not indicted on criminal charges, those cases also drew attention to the grand jury process.

In response to this attention, the St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch chose to release redacted transcripts of testimony and other evidence heard by the grand jurors, who refused to indict Officer Darren Wilson.

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TCR at a Glance

Study: Rape on Campus an 'Epidemic'

new & notable May 22, 2015

A study in the Journal of Adolescent Health finds rampant instances of both incapacitated and forcible rape on campus