Law Enforcement News

Vol. XXVIII, No. 583 A publication of John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY September 15, 2002

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In this issue:

Around The Nation: A coast-to-coast roundup of police news.
People & Places: Bumpy road ahead; putting on a game face; pressing concerns; Orlando’s real McCoy; ex-con job; a PERF-ect pair; now you see them, now you don’t.
Registration blues: More questions than answers over sex offenders on college campuses.
Just say “oops”: Nevada cops mix up their signals on pot-decrim initiative.
Going back in time: NJ prosecutor’s office puts 178 years of history on display.
New era for policing: Amid 12 months of changes following 9/11, law enforcement is still struggling to find its place.
Body of evidence: Twitches, tics & blinks can say more than words, to cops who know what to look for.
Ante up: Fed auditors want Albuquerque to come up with millions for misspent COPS grants.
Forum: There’s nothing small-time about pickpockets.
Other Voice: Editorial views on criminal justice issues.

Danger from behind
Concern grows over Ford Crown Victoria gas-tank explosions

     Concerns about the safety of the Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, perhaps the most popular vehicle used in law enforcement work, has prompted lawsuits by jurisdictions nationwide over the past several months, a trend that began in Arizona, where three officers have died in fiery crashes since 1998.

     In the past 20 years, fires allegedly caused by the location of the vehicle’s gas tank have killed at least 11 officers nationwide. In 2001, Phoenix police officer Jason Schechterle was disfigured with burns to the face, head and neck when his vehicle was hit by a cab going more than 100 miles per hour. A puncture to the gas tank caused the explosion...

Illinois docs are armed & ready to roll with SWAT

     They’ve never drawn their weapons, and they probably never will, but on the off chance that the tactical EMS team that accompanies Peoria and Peoria County, Ill.’s SWAT unit gets caught in a cross fire, they’re armed and ready.

     Known as STATT, for Special Tactical Assistance Trauma Team, the three-year-old unit comprises four emergency care doctors and four paramedics who are on call 24-hours-a-day for both law enforcement agencies. The team’s mission is to provide medical support during a raid, staying close enough to the action to respond within 30 seconds...

NYC cops have their contract, but victory is in the eye of the beholder

     New York City police officers may have a new contract, but it doesn’t appear to have done much to improve morale, with officers blaming both the city and union officials for a pact that will give them only an 11.5-percent pay hike over two years — half of what they had demanded.

     The city’s Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association was hailing the new contract as a victory, yet only weeks earlier the union had brought the issue of sagging morale into sharp focus when it took the unusual step of posting out-of-town job openings on its Web site for the benefit of underpaid members of New York’s Finest...

College registration blues:
Solving the sex-offender-on-campus puzzle

     The law’s intent is fairly basic — to give those living or working at colleges and universities the same protection from convicted sex offenders as individuals in all communities have. However, there seem to be more questions than answers surrounding a federal law passed two years ago that was aimed at tracking Megan’s Law registrants on campus.

     The Campus Sex Crimes Prevention Act of 2000 (CSCPA) amended the Jacob Wetterling Act, one provision of which is Megan’s Law. In order to receive criminal justice funding through the Edward Byrne Memorial Grant program, states must have a sex offender registry program. The CSCPA requires already-registered sex offenders who are employed or enrolled at colleges to notify the state about such enrollment or employment. The state is then responsible for informing campuses that a registrant is on campus. Should a state fail to do so, roughly 10 percent of federal crime-fighting funds could be withheld until compliance...

Oops! Nevada cop group says it meant to “just say no” to pot decrim issue

     The Nevada Conference of Police and Sheriffs last month hastily withdrew its endorsement of a ballot initiative that would decriminalize possession of up to three ounces of marijuana, claiming that board members did not realize what they were sanctioning.

     The action led to the resignation of the group’s president, Andy Anderson, who had helped found the 3,000-member organization 23 years ago. Known as NCOPS, it serves as an umbrella group for a number of unions representing law enforcement in Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson and the Clark County School District, among other agencies...

Changes in “state of the art” chronicled by NJ prosecutor

     One era’s state-of-the-art police tool can look like another era’s torture device, as evidenced by a display at the Morris County, N.J., Prosecutor’s Office of law enforcement and criminal memorabilia culled from the agency’s past 178 years.

     The collection, which can be viewed by appointment only, was dedicated last month to the memory of Paul W. McKenna Sr., a retired deputy chief of detectives and avid collector. Said Michael Rubbinaccio, the county prosecutor: “If an organization is going to appreciate who they are, they have to know the history of the department.”...

The rhythms of a new era
Twelve months after 9/11, policing still struggles to find its place

     Despite the many bureaucratic, tactical and operational changes that have taken place in policing over the past 12 months, local law enforcement is still struggling to find its role in a post-Sept. 11 world in which its federal counterparts seem to set the rules and continue to hold most if not all of the cards.

     A recent sampling by Law Enforcement News of municipal and county police agencies found that training for first responders in the event of biological or chemical attack has been stepped up; more personnel have been assigned to joint FBI anti-terrorism task forces, or task forces made up of other municipal agencies in the region; and virtually all have come up with innovative ways of handling situations which, prior to 9/11, were unheard of, such as the anthrax scare...

It’s not what you say. . .
Twitches, tics & blinks make for “body of evidence”

     Words may deceive, but the body doesn’t lie. At least that’s what’s behind the science of analyzing non-verbal behavior, or body language, such as twitches, blinks and other hints that federal law enforcement agencies believe will help agents identify not only drug couriers, but potential terrorists.

     Even prior to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, some law enforcement agencies had been training personnel in reading these clues. Suspicious body language and behavior led to the capture in 1999 of Ahmed Ressam, a man who confessed to planning to disrupt the millennium celebration in Los Angeles. Ressam was caught in Port Angeles, Wash., by a U.S. customs inspecor who was checking cars coming off a ferry. Ressam failed to make eye contact and toyed with his car’s console while Insp. Diana Dean spoke with him. After asking him to leave his vehicle, a stack of bomb components was found inside...

Fed auditors want Albuquerque to ante up millions in COPS funds

     It has been at least three years since Justice Department auditors began questioning Albuquerque officials about their use of a multimillion-dollar COPS grant, but the city seems no closer to being off the hook with the federal government than it did in 1999.

     Federal auditors informed local officials in August that the city could be forced to ante up $7.6 million in allegedly misspent funds. The sum includes $4.1 million that the Justice Department claims was used to supplant municipal dollars while not adding any new officers, and an additional $3.5 million that Albuquerque was expecting...

Other Voices

     Findings in a National Institute of Justice report issued in 1997 should have been enough to convince police in St. Louis to abandon most high-speed chases. That study concluded that these hot pursuits usually are counterproductive, with 40 percent resulting in accidents, 20 percent in injuries and 1 percent in somebody being killed, usually an officer or innocent bystander or motorist.

     That sad outcome played out Thursday night when police apparently pursued a stolen vehicle occupied by six teenagers. The chase ended in a deadly crash in which Officer Michael Barwick was killed and his partner was seriously injured. Two other police officers were injured when pulling their colleagues from the burning cruiser...