Law Enforcement News

Vol. XXVI, No. 529 A publication of John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY March 15, 2000

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In this issue:

Around The Nation: A coast-to-coast roundup of police news.
People & Places: Helping hands; on the hot seat; Price is right; new chief builds on community roots; strummin’ on the old banjo.
Shocking & stunning: San Diego expands officers’ use-of-force options.
Learning from mistakes: Aim is to avoid a repeat of a fatal SWAT mission.
Changing with the times: A project once aimed at tracking a possible serial killer gets new focus.
OK, with an asterisk: NYPD crime lab gets accredited despite problems.
The price of honors: Amid awards controversy, Louisville dumps its police chief & may add a civilian review board.
Show me the money: Police force riddled with tax-dodging allegations.
First response: Omaha scraps its gang unit, reassigning officers to 911 response duties.
Forum: A drug warrior calls for peace; paying a visit to the blue wall.
Y2K bug: Computer glitch spawns jail-records mess in Georgia county.
The high seize: Connecticut police get more than they bargained for with gun-seizure law.
Getting even tougher: Despite criticism, California voters OK tough juvenile justice initiative.
Protecting the protectors: Black Secret Service agents say they’re victims of on-the-job bias.
Warts & all: Minnesota to add potentially flawed crime records to state database.

Getting it right
Study says Miami-Dade PD has a handle on use of force

      If black, white and Latino officers are using overall similar levels of force against resisting suspects, whether of their own or different racial or ethnic groups, then the Miami-Dade (County), Fla., Police Department is doing something ever so right, according to the conclusions reached in a federally funded study that examined the role ethnicity played in use-of-force incidents.
      The research draws on data collected from more than 1,000 of the department’s Control of Persons reports from the years 1996 through 1998. In their analysis, Geoffrey P. Alpert, a criminologist from the University of South Carolina, and Roger G. Dunham, a sociologist from the University of Miami, found that officer characteristics such as race or ethnicity, gender or age, had little if any bearing on whether force was used, or at what level...

Fed appeals court says Miranda mistakes can be personally costly

      The failure of a police officer or detective to advise a suspect of his Miranda rights, or to respect a suspect’s wishes once those rights are invoked, can typically mean the loss of a criminal case for a prosecutor, but rarely any individual penalty for the officer. For police in nine Western states — and potentially nationwide — those days may be over.
      The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently affirmed a ruling by a three-judge panel of the court that police may face civil liability for violating the constitutional rights of murder suspects when they continued their interrogations after the men requested lawyers...

LAPD Board of Inquiry report spreads the blame around for Rampart scandal

      If it were a report written in computer jargon, it might have highlighted the catch phrase “garbage in, garbage out.”
      A searing report by a Los Angeles Police Department Board of Inquiry, convened in response to last year’s devastating Rampart corruption scandal, has concluded that the dysfunction-plagued LAPD needs to significantly change the way its officer candidates are tested and screened prior to hiring, in addition to taking a more proactive approach to detecting patterns of behavior that could serve as indicators of corrupt activities...

Shock ’em, stun ’em, spray ’em
Two incidents prompt expansion of San Diego officers’ use-of-force options

      Giving officers more use-of-force options is at the heart of a new initiative by the San Diego Police Department that includes deploying an array of non-lethal weapons to virtually all uniformed personnel and providing advanced training in how to avoid deadly confrontations.
      Under a plan outlined in a memo by Chief David Bejarano, the department will provide air tasers and beanbag shotguns to every patrol officer. Also being evaluated is a weapon that fires pellets laced with pepper spray, and a hand-held device that can launch a net over a suspect from a distance of 5 to 25 feet. Bejarano’s strategy also calls for the creation of a panel of lethal-force experts and community leaders to review the department’s shooting policy, which allows police to fire to protect themselves or others from imminent harm...

Learning from mistakes?
County aims to avoid repeat of fatal SWAT mission

      A mutual-aid agreement signed by sheriffs in Cobb and Paulding counties in Georgia is just one of the responses that local law enforcement officials have taken to improve the effectiveness of tactical initiatives, in the wake of a report that slammed the Cobb County Police Department for a rescue mission by its SWAT team last July that resulted in the deaths of two officers.
      Although the sheriffs dismissed speculation as to their motives, the accord signed on Feb. 9 came one day after a review by the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) placed blame for the deaths of Sgt. Steve Reeves, 35, and Officer Stephen Gilner, 32, on a faulty strategy employed by the SWAT commander, Lieut. Steve Merrifield...

Changing with the times in Charlotte:
As a problem evolves, so does task force

      Under a project that transmuted from one originally aimed at tracking down a possible serial killer, police in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., are encouraging prostitutes to take advantage of a multi-agency effort aimed at getting them the proper treatment and counseling necessary to change their life style.
      Deputy Chief Larry Snider said the project began last year when the department, fearing the presence of a serial killer, formed a task force to investigate the disappearances of six prostitutes within an 18-month period. As it turned out, five of the women had been murdered and one remained a missing person. The squad was disbanded, however, when it appeared that the deaths were not the work of a single individual...

Despite lingering problems, NYPD lab wins accreditation

      Despite being plagued by problems with its evidence-tracking system and drug-identification procedures, the New York City Police Department’s $33-million crime laboratory was awarded national accreditation in February.
      Under a 1994 state law, all public forensic labs must be accredited, with those that fail to make the cut facing fines of $7,500 and possible closure. During a review last year by the laboratory accreditation board of the American Society of Crime Lab Directors, chemists at the NYPD’s 85,000-square-foot facility were found to have made “technical errors” in about 3,300 cases they had handled...

The price of honors:
Louisville dumps its chief, may get review panel

      Louisville, Ky., Police Chief Gene Sherrard’s decision this month to honor two officers involved in the shooting of an unarmed black suspect not only brought about his dismissal, but may also have been a key factor in the decision by the city’s Board of Aldermen to move forward with an ordinance establishing a civilian review panel, a proposal that was thought to have little chance of passage before the awards ceremony.
      Sherrard was fired by Mayor Dave Armstrong on March 1, one day after a banquet in which Officers Chris Horn and Paul Kinkade were given the Exceptional Valor Award. Armstrong said he fired the chief because in approving the awards he had violated the mayor’s trust and that of the community...

Big tax-evasion problems in small-town police force

      The suspensions and resignations of more than half of the 37-member police department in Bensenville, Ill., on suspicion of failure to report income, among other charges, has led some residents to question why village officials did not keep a tighter rein on the agency’s off-duty employment policies.
      Sgt. Joseph DeAnda became the latest sworn officer to be suspended when he was accused in February of stealing $6,000 in cash seized in drug and gambling busts, concealing drug trafficking at a bar owned by his parents and evading income taxes. Although he has not been criminally charged, the village is seeking to have him fired and has turned over to the DuPage County state’s attorney...

Eye on better response time, Omaha scraps its gang unit

      An overall improvement in the performance of the Omaha Police Department — particularly its response time to priority calls — is behind a reorganization of the agency that took effect in March.
      The changes are being made in response to concerns about the agency’s response to Priority 1 calls, which deal with life-threatening situations. In 1998, it took an average of 7½ minutes for officers to arrive on the scene after a top-priority emergency call was made to 911. By last November, that time had been shaved to 5 minutes and 27 seconds. The department’s goal, said Sgt. Dan Cisar, an agency spokesman, is to bring response time to “well below five minutes.”..

Belated Y2K glitch may mean return to pen & paper records

      Problems with a new Y2K-compliant computer linkup that connects DeKalb County, Georgia’s jail to its courthouse have been compounded by the refusal of the Public Defender’s office and other officials to allow county computer managers’ complete control of the system.
      Until the problem is solved properly, officials say they have a contingency plan worked out: It involves pen and paper instead of a mouse and monitor...

Conn. police get more than they bargained for
Lots of firearms may be seized under new law

      When state lawmakers passed a controversial bill last year giving Connecticut’s law enforcement officers the power to seize the firearms of those deemed to be threats to themselves or others, officials did not count on such a large number of residents falling under that description.
      Since the law took effect last Oct. 1, it has been used by police to take away a submachine gun and 10 other firearms from a Greenwich man accused of answering the door to a neighbor with a gun at his side. In West Hartford, handguns and a military rifle was seized from a Korean War veteran who was said to suffer from combat flashbacks. Police there also took away the handguns of a man depressed over the hospitalization of his mother...

The tough get even tougher, as California targets juvenile justice

      While supporters of a California ballot initiative that makes sweeping changes in the state’s juvenile justice system have hailed its passage this month as a victory for law enforcement and victims’ rights, opponents claim the package of laws will prove overwhelmingly expensive and force into the criminal justice system thousands of young, nonviolent offenders.
      Proposition 21, the Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Prevention Act of 1998, was approved by 62 percent of voters on March 7 and is the latest tough-on-crime measure to come out of California, where in 1994 voters passed the three-strikes law that mandates a minimum sentence of 25 years to life for a third felony conviction...

Presidential protectors seek protection:
Racial bias alleged in Secret Service

      “Who you know” may outweigh “what you know” for black agents with the U.S. Secret Service, who last month filed a federal complaint alleging a pattern of discrimination within the agency with respect to performance evaluations, assignments, training, promotions, transfers and a “racially hostile work environment” dating to 1987.
      The lead plaintiff in the case is Reginald G. Moore, 40, who rose to one of the most prestigious posts in the Secret Service as lead agent on President Clinton’s protective detail before being reassigned to a Dallas-based counterfeiting squad. Moore was also given the task of training a white agent who had been promoted ahead of him...

Minnesota posts up crime files, warts & all

      Minnesota state officials last month decided to add tens of thousands of conviction records containing potentially inaccurate information to a database used by police to check the criminal backgrounds of suspects, reasoning that the records are too important to be left out.
      The 140,000 records contained in what is known as the “suspense file” had been previously off limits because they either did not have fingerprints attached or contained data entry errors...