Law Enforcement News

Vol. XXVII, No. 567, 568 A publication of John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY December 15/31, 2001

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In this issue:

Frozen moments: Images from 2001.
DARE officials yield on the issue of curriculum overhaul.
Reduced funding for policing’s “secret weapon.
Terror attacks prove little deterrent for drug traffic.
USA’s porous borders get a second look.
A regular riot: Troubles aplenty in Cincinnati and elsewhere.
A change in fortunes for a troubled FBI.
800 megahertz seems like an unlucky number.
Facing up to some harsh new surveillance realities.
Racial profiling is more than just a black and white issue.
Policing goes back and forth on college requirements.
Can the thin blue line get much thinner?
How terror attacks added to a shifting gun-control landscape.
The tug of war between police and the media over privacy issues.
Legislating against terror with the 2001 Patriot Act.
People & Places: Some of the personalities who made their mark on 2001.
DNA concerns widen and deepen the gene pool.
Judges and legislatures still wrestle with nuances of the sex-offender issue.
Militias have dwindled, but there’s still plenty of hate out there.
Who’s looking over policing’s shoulders? It seems like just about everybody.
Columbine is history, but school violence persists.
Order in the court: The Justices have their say.
Giant technological leaps sometimes come in small packages.
Justice by the Numbers: A statistical profile of criminal justice in the post-Sept. 11 era.

2001 — the year in review:
Facing a harsh new surveillance reality

      While facial recognition software and other types of surveillance methods seemed to many to smack of “Big Brother”-type interference in civil liberties prior to Sept. 11, fewer people are complaining about it now. But whether such devices will actually help capture terrorists remains to be seen. At present, their greatest value would seem to lie in their deterrent effect.

      Last January, Tampa became the first jurisdiction in the nation to use biometric software for routine surveillance. The program can digitally dissect facial features and compare them to entries in a mug shot database. During the Super Bowl, police came up with 19 hits of people thought to be wanted on misdemeanor warrants. No arrests were made. In July, the city installed three dozen security cameras loaded with FaceIt software in Ybor City, Tampa’s entertainment district.

      At that time, not all residents supported the effort. In fact, approximately 100 people wearing Groucho Marx glasses and other disguises protested the new security system. The surveillance also got the attention of the state’s civil liberties group and even raised the concerns of a conservative law enforcement lobbying group, the Law Enforcement Alliance of America.

      “These spy cameras are a violation of the very Constitution that law enforcement officers are sworn to uphold,” said Jim Fotis, executive director of the LEAA, which had called for their removal from Tampa and other jurisdictions, such as those in California and New Jersey.

      Yet in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, much of the opposition has evaporated. “I think we now think of it less like Big Brother and more like a little friend,” said David H. Ready, city manager of Palm Springs, Calif., where plans were made last year to line Palm Canyon Drive with cameras linked to facial-recognition software.

      In Virginia Beach, Va., authorities received a $150,000 state grant in July to install surveillance cameras along the main boardwalk. As in Tampa, public sentiment was not entirely in favor of the system last summer, but with reports circulating that at least two of the Sept. 11 hijackers spent time in the area, that view has changed.

      “I was really struggling with this,” Mayor Meyera Oberndorf told The New York Times in December. “But people are feeling so unsettled since 9/11 that they wanted this. They kept saying, ‘How can you deny us a tool that will keep us safe?’ ”

      The effectiveness of such systems remains a matter of some debate. In a battery of tests conducted by the Defense Department in 2000, the Visionics Corporation’s FaceIt system, considered the best in a field of five, was able to pick the correct person only 55 percent of the time from a file of 227 faces. Tampa police have yet to make a single arrest using the system, which scans up to 100 faces a minute.

      A surveillance system of a different kind — one that scans license plates rather than faces — came crashing to a halt in San Diego, after a judge threw out tickets received by some 300 motorists caught by the police department’s red-light camera program. According to the ruling in September by Superior Court Judge Ronald L. Styn, the technique, which photographs cars that run red lights, does not violate privacy rights. Rather, he said, the contract worked out between the city and Lockheed Martin IMS of Washington, which owns and operates the cameras, constituted a conflict of interest.

Face-It software captures a face in the crowd, and gets ready to search its data base for a possible match. (Courtesy: Visionics Corp.)

      The company kept $70 from each $271 fine collected. It also decided whether a motorist could be ticketed, which Styn said violated a state law that gives that authority exclusively to law enforcement.

      Elsewhere around the country:
      Sixteen closed-circuit cameras were installed around the city of Lakeland, Fla., in February. Their benefit will be in deterring crime, said police Lieut. Randy Harrison.

       Live streaming video replaced black and white images in Oakland and other busy stations of the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit system in September. The footage has already helped police solve 10 crimes.

       The Virginia Beach, Va., Police Department will have to consult the commonwealth’s attorney prior to the undercover monitoring of any civic group. The new mandate was handed down in March after police admitted to sending plainclothes officers to meetings of a group opposed to a planned museum exhibit.

      Hidden cameras that can rotate 360 degrees and zoom in and out were installed in May in the retail district of Jersey City, N.J. While the 18 cameras can see into the homes above stores, a spokesman for the company that developed the system said a computer program automatically places black or gray squares on residential windows if the camera is trained in that area. A shooting was captured on camera the day the equipment was being set up.

Racial profiling is more than a black & white issue

      Racial profiling may seem to have lost some of its urgency as a law enforcement issue in the aftermath of Sept. 11, but the problem had by no means disappeared. In fact, it took on new life and new dimensions after the terrorist attacks as law enforcement struggled to maintain non-biased policing protocols in the face of public demand for greater scrutiny of Arab-Americans.

      Well before Sept. 11, in what seemed like a different lifetime, racial profiling was the subject of intense, ongoing debate among lawmakers, researchers and policy makers, who sought ways to determine whether it was being practiced and, if so, how to eliminate it.

      In July, the Police Executive Research Forum issued a report which cautioned police departments from relying solely on data collection as a response to the issue. The study, “Racially Biased Policing: A Principled Response,” offered 50 recommendations in six key areas including accountability and supervision, data collection, education and training, minority-community outreach and establishment of policy.

      “PERF project staff determined that there are not as yet satisfactory ‘best practices’ in the realm of data interpretation and analysis…,” said the study. Among its suggestions, it urged police executives to work with citizen leaders in deciding whether resources spent on data collection could be allocated for other initiatives that would combat biased policing.

      Data collection, said the study, is a low-level indicator, not proof of wrongdoing on the part of police agencies. Such statistics could also be used against departments by defense attorneys, said Lorie Fridell, the report’s primary author.

      One month prior to the study’s release, federal legislation was proposed that would mandate data collection and impose sanctions on police departments that failed to act on the results. The Clinton-Conyers bill infuriated law enforcement by stating that prima facie evidence of profiling would be established by proof that routine investigatory activities showed a disparate effect on the minority population.

      “If one loves this business, one can’t help but be depressed when you read this bill,” said Arlington County, Va., Police Chief Edward Flynn, chairman of PERF’s legislative committee. The Clinton-Conyers bill, he said, “moves in an extremely harmful direction.”

      During the year, jurisdictions in virtually every state initiated data-collection policies. The Denver Police Department began recording all traffic stops on June 1. Washington, D.C., Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said in May that he would order the collection of data on traffic stops, after an audit of internal e-mail uncovered hundreds of messages in which racist or offensive language was used.

Data collection may be increasingly popular, but research says it offers no proof of wrongdoing by police agencies.

      As of Nov. 1, Los Angeles police were required to fill out a form on each pedestrian or motorist they stopped. Using a black or blue pen, or a No. 2 pencil, they had to answer roughly a dozen questions, including the “apparent descent” of the person. In the coming year, it was estimated, LAPD officers would fill out roughly 750,000 data slips.

      In New York City, statistics on black victims and suspects that were never before made available were posted on the police department’s Web site in May. According to data from 1998 through 2000, blacks accounted for 40 percent of crime victims in 2000, 60 percent of the suspects identified by victims, and 49 percent of those stopped on the street by police. They also made up 55 percent of arrests.

      Law enforcement agencies resisted pressure in the aftermath of Sept. 11 to begin profiling those of Middle-Eastern ethnicity. According to polls taken in the days following the attacks, 68 percent of those queried by The Los Angeles Times said they favored police “randomly stopping people who may fit the profile of suspected terrorists.” Another survey, by CNN/USA Today/Gallup, found that 49 percent favored special identification cards for “such people,” and 32 percent endorsed “special surveillance” for them.”

      Around the nation, other incidents involving racial profiling or the perception of it included:

      A survey by The Tulsa World in May which found more than one-third of people stopped in 11 Oklahoma counties that were heavily patrolled for drugs were black or Hispanic, although the populations there were overwhelmingly white. In Mayes County, where blacks account for just 1 percent of residents, 12 percent of those stopped by state troopers were African American. The newspaper studied more than 34,000 warning tickets issued between 1996 through 2000.

      Members of Michigan’s Arab-American community are often detained at airports and at the Canadian border, according to a report released in May by the Michigan Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Muslim women, the report said, are often harassed, fired from work or denied interviews when they wear traditional clothes.

      A report using data collected from law enforcement agencies throughout Rhode Island from Jan. 15 through the end of March found that blacks were twice as likely to be searched and released as whites during a routine traffic stop, and three times as likely as whites to be searched and arrested.

      According to the third report by an independent monitor appointed under a 1999 consent decree between the Justice Department and the state of New Jersey, the percentage of blacks and Hispanics arrested on the New Jersey Turnpike was back up to 1997 and 1998 levels - the same rate as before state police officials admitted to racial profiling. The data came from 441 videotapes of traffic stops. Monitors found six “problematic” incidents involving the excessive questioning of subjects and unprofessional questioning.

      In April, California Highway Patrol Commissioner D.O. “Spike” Helmick temporarily banned officers from conducting consent searches. The order was said to be unrelated to a pending lawsuit brought by the ACLU against the agency in 1999 or concerns over racial profiling. A review of CHP traffic stops, Helmick said, found that the number of consent searches was minuscule compared to the number of stops made by officers. However, with the public questioning the practice, they seemed unnecessary, he said.