Law Enforcement News

Vol. XXVII, No. 552 A publication of John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY March 31, 2001

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In this issue:

Around The Nation: A coast-to-coast roundup of police news.
People & Places: Money talks, but not much; a prophecy fulfilled; worth the weight; car tunes; just press “clear”; now you see them, now you don’t.
It takes a county: Fla. sheriffs get good reviews for handling child abuse.
Just the facts: Police agencies & the media square off over information access.
Anybody home? Amid abuses, HUD suspends the Officer Next Door program.
More than a number: Young Mass. troopers seek return of mandatory retirement age.
The dead pool: Line-of-duty deaths drop sharply.
Outdoing themselves: American Indians pay a disproportionate price in violent-crime victimization.
Stormy petrol: Gasoline-sniffing is a worrisome craze in Canada.
You’ve got hate mail: Vulgar & racist e-mails bedevil DC police.
Riverside oversight: The California A-G will have a look-see.
Ending the abuse: Federal monitor gets the call in NY town.
Forum: Old & new paths to achieving justice.
Eager beavers: Florida town pulls in the reins on overzealous police volunteers.

Loopholes? More like bullet holes.
GAO study finds little problem evading Brady background checks

      Federal agents working undercover as part of a Congressional investigation punched right through loopholes in the Brady Act recently when they were able to purchase a variety of firearms, including a Russian-manufactured semiautomatic assault rifle acquired with little difficulty from a Montana pawnshop using a counterfeit driver’s license.
      Montana was one of five states selected for the investigation by the General Accounting Office at the request of U.S. Representative Henry Waxman, (D.-Calif.). As detailed in a report released in March by the GAO, investigators sent to Arizona, New Mexico, Virginia and West Virginia, in addition to Montana, were able to purchase weapons in each state using false identification created with off-the-shelf software, a scanner, a laminating machine and a color laser printer...

Amid police outcry, S. Carolina A-G alters “open season on home invaders” stance

      Clarifying a controversial policy, South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon said this month that prosecutors will seek law enforcement’s input before dropping murder charges against those who use deadly force to defend against from home invaders.
      Condon had angered police when he refused to prosecute a woman who fatally stabbed her boyfriend. The attorney general said he believed the act fell under his new home-invasion policy...

Public housing may be left on its own as HUD anti-drug grants face the ax

      Law enforcement and municipal officials, faced with the potential loss of tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), fear they may lose whatever ground has been gained in the past few years in providing a safe environment for residents of public housing.
      The 2002 budget proposed by President Bush would slash the Drug Elimination Program, a $310-million initiative administered by HUD which funds a variety of law enforcement and crime prevention initiatives in public housing, including police patrols, alarm systems and after-school programs. The program, whose funding would be halved in 2002 under Bush’s proposal, was deemed by the White House to have a “limited impact.” Regulatory tools, such as evictions, have a greater impact in reducing drug activity in housing developments, the statement said...

It takes a village — or a county:
Sheriffs get A’s for handling of child abuse

      Florida’s experiment with taking the investigation of child abuse and neglect out of the hands of the state Department of Children and Families (DCF) and placing it under the purview of county law enforcement has garnered some encouraging early reviews by criminal justice and child-welfare experts.
      Over the past three years, sheriffs in Pasco, Pinellas, Manatee and Broward counties have taken over child protective services as part of Gov. Jeb Bush’s plan to privatize services for children and families. Within two years, according to state officials, the 27,000 employees who now work for DCF could shrink to as few as 1,200...

Just the facts, ma’am:
Police, press duel over info access

      The interpretation of guidelines handed down last year by the Illinois Supreme Court have some legal experts and prosecutors protesting that law enforcement agencies are going too far in restricting the news media’s access to basic information on crimes ranging from murder to car thefts.
      Last year, the state adopted the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, intended to limit pretrial publicity, which advise lawyers against talking about confessions, physical evidence or the possibility of a guilty plea. Prosecutors are also held responsible, under the rules, for making sure law enforcement officers do not say anything that could affect a defendant’s right to a fair trial...

Anybody home?Officer Next Door program shelved

      The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has suspended the Officer Next Door program after uncovering widespread fraud among participants who were given deep discounts to purchase homes in troubled neighborhoods.
      Officers were found buying HUD-owned properties at 50 percent below market value, then renting them out, or re-selling them at a profit before the end of a three-year contract made with the agency. Nine felony convictions and 15 indictments have stemmed from the abuse. [See LEN, March 15, 2001.]..

Youth is wasted on the young?
Suit seeks return of Mass. retirement age

      Younger officers with the Massachusetts State Police, who have filed suit seeking to reinstate the agency’s former mandatory retirement age of 55, suffered a setback in the case when a federal judge on March 29 rejected their request for a preliminary injunction.
      The lawsuit, filed on behalf of some 115 troopers, claims that abandonment of the mandatory retirement age has thwarted the vertical mobility of younger members of the organization by allowing senior officers to remain on the job indefinitely...

American Indians leading the pack as violent-crime victims

      When it comes to violent crime victimization, no racial group in the United States has it as bad as American Indians, who sustain per-capita rates of violence that are two and a half to five times higher than those for blacks, whites and Asians, according to a recent report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
      And, while victimization rates for blacks, whites and Hispanics fell by double-digit percentages between 1993 and 1998, violence against Native Americans showed virtually no change over that period...

Line-of-duty deaths in steep drop in ’99

      The number of line-of-duty deaths of law enforcement officers fell sharply in 1999 to its lowest point since the mid-1960s, according to an FBI report released in March.
      In “Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, 1999,” the FBI reported 42 felonious killings in 1999, 19 fewer than the previous year. Accidental deaths fell from 81 in 1998 to 65 in 1999, with automobile, motorcycle and aircraft accidents claiming the lives of 51 of those officers...

Gas-sniffing is fiery craze for Canada’s native youth

      Victims of crushing poverty, abuse and neglect, dozens of children belonging to the Innu Nation in Labrador, Canada, have become addicted to sniffing gasoline, say social workers who became involved in the case last year after the provincial government removed more than 20 youngsters from their homes.
      On Nov. 20, 2000, government health-care workers were sent to the village of Sheshatshiu to assess the children. Twenty-one of the most seriously addicted were subsequently taken to a military base in Goose Bay. “The safety of these children is the paramount issue,” said Paul Rich, Innu tribal chief. “The ongoing situation is drastic, and we need to take drastic measures. We insist that these children be taken into care immediately,” he said in his statement to officials...

You’ve got hate mail!
DC police officials find nearly 1 million obscene & racist patrol car e-mails

      Still reeling from the shock of finding that nearly one-quarter of 4 million e-mails sent by Washington, D.C. officers during a single year from internal computers contained obscenity or hate-filled language, Metropolitan Police Department officials this month began the daunting task of assessing the damage by categorizing the messages based on content.
      The objectionable e-mails sent between computers in patrol cars were uncovered during a routine audit of the department’s IT systems, Executive Assistant Chief Terrance W. Gainer told Law Enforcement News. Although the majority of the 900,000 messages contained just vulgar language, many others reflected racism directed at both civilians and fellow officers. They also contained sexual banter, comments about female officers and other women, and derogatory statements about homosexuals...

Keeping watch in Calif.:
Riverside agrees to oversight by A-G

      It was with deep misgivings, but members of the Riverside, Calif., City Council last month entered into what is believed to be the nation’s first agreement between a municipality and a state attorney general’s office to improve the training, monitoring and supervision of the city’s police department.
      Many council members said they felt that Attorney General Bill Lockyer had made them an offer they could not refuse. A new state law gives his office the authority to bring litigation against police agencies whose practices violate civil rights, a power usually reserved for the U.S. Justice Department...

Abuse & harassment by NY police lead to 3-year role for Fed monitor

      The Wallkill, N.Y., Police Department will be under the oversight of a federal monitor for at least the next three years, after the Town Board last month ratified the provisions of a 31-page consent decree.
      The consent decree, which was approved by the board on Feb. 22, was spurred by a federal civil rights complaint filed in January by New York state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. “I think it’s a shame that it took a gun to the head for them to come to the realization that there’s a problem,” Oscar Dino, former chairman of the town’s volunteer police commission, told The New York Times. “They always thought this would go away and that they could cover this up.”..

Pulling in the reins on overzealous volunteers

      A Pinellas Park, Fla., volunteer law enforcement initiative was cut to the bone by Police Chief Dorene Thomas this month after city officials complained that its members had gone overboard in giving out tickets.
      Changes outlined in a March 15 memo by Thomas included the elimination of the group’s ticket-writing duties, the reduction of its numbers from 41 members to 20 through attrition, and the use of only two cars instead of four...