Law Enforcement News

Vol. XXVIII, No. 586 A publication of John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY October 31, 2002

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In this issue:

Around The Nation: A coast-to-coast roundup of police news.
People & Places: The ego has landed; a cure for what ails ‘em; the chiefs’ chief; the face is familiar; NJSP says so long, Santiago; two quick outs.
Risk assessment: Survey finds schools in heightened peril from terrorism.
Bank robbery fallout: Trooper’s traffic-stop mistake leads to his suicide.
Fires of outrage: Arson attacks target local anti-drug activists.
Stop the presses: Armed citizen patrols chase drug runners (and publicity) along the border.
Federal File: Criminal justice developments at the federal level.
Danger from behind: Another death from Crown Vic rear-end collision.
Hoping for the best: Houston PD wants productive ties to new Copwatch group.
Bumps & grinds: LA pickpocket squad reels in transit gropers.
Light reading: Some just can’t beat the local police blotter.
Homeland insecurity: Intimate partners prove deadly for women.
Forum: End-of-year nest-egg enhancement; controlling crime or explaining it, but not both.
Pot plot thickens: West Coast task forces face thorny questions from medical marijuana.
Shoots & leaders: Boston’s top cop takes lumps from union over shooting at moving cars.

Hard questions about software
Agencies find mountain-sized speed bumps on the information superhighway

     It is a story that has become quite common these days among law enforcement agencies trying to keep in step with the steady advance of digital technology: A city attempting to recover enormous sums of money from a software company that promised to make its police department a “paperless” environment in which officers could submit reports from the field, access criminal records and other databases instantaneously, and carry out many of the workday tasks made so simple by computers operating in the private sector.

     One of the newest cases involves officials from Sarasota, Fla., who are trying to recoup some of the $730,000 they paid to VisionAir, a North Carolina-based firm that was contracted in 1998 to furnish and install a records management system and a mobile reporting system. After more than three years of frustration, the city returned the software 15 months ago, but is still haggling with the company over the refund...

Little things matter in building bridges to growing Somali immigrant population

     When speaking with victims or witnesses who are members of a growing population of refugees from Somalia, it is the little things that count, according to a Somali-American police officer in San Diego, who is trying to bridge the cultural gap between his countrymen and law enforcement.

     Officer Abdiweli Heibeh, who is reportedly the nation’s only Somali lawman, conducted a seminar this month in Columbus, Ohio, where the East African population is approaching 20,000. With greater interaction between officers and this refugee community, some cultural understanding has become necessary, Heibeh said in an interview with Law Enforcement News...

For Florida police, higher education means lower risk of disciplinary action

     Police officers with just a high school diploma made up just over half of all sworn law enforcement personnel in Florida between the years 1997 and 2002, yet they accounted for nearly three-quarters of all disciplinary actions issued by the state, according to a preliminary study commissioned by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

     The findings in “Discipline and Educational Levels of Law Enforcement Officers: An Exploratory Report” are based on statistics gathered by the Florida Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission. As of August 2002, Florida had 42,910 sworn officers. Of those, 24,800 had high school diplomas; 6,777 had associate’s degrees, and 10,364 had bachelor’s degrees. Another 867 officers held master’s degrees and 102 had earned doctorates, said the report...

Inadequate training & planning heighten schools’ terrorism risk

     Limited counter-terrorism training conducted by outside agencies, coupled with inadequately tested crisis plans, have left the nation’s schools vulnerable in the event of an attack, according to a survey released last month by the National Association of School Resource Officers.

     Among the key findings of a questionnaire distributed to attendees at the group’s conference last July was that nearly all of those who responded said their schools were unprepared for a terrorist attack. Nearly two-thirds described them as “somewhat vulnerable,” and another 32 percent called them “very vulnerable.”...

A clerical error turns lethal:
Trooper in suicide over traffic-stop mistake

     In an unusual move that spoke to the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the suicide of a Nebraska state trooper on Sept. 27, state police officials this month chose to honor that death as if it had occurred in the line of duty.

     A full-dress funeral attended by officers from around the state was held on Oct. 2 for Mark Zach, 35. According to authorities, Zach was distraught because he believed that a clerical error he had made the previous week contributed to the murders of five people during one of the nation’s deadliest bank robberies...

Fires of outrage:
Arsons target neighborhood anti-drug activists

     Maryland officials in October said 150 troopers would be provided to patrol Baltimore’s thoroughfares in the aftermath of an arson that took the lives of a local anti-drug activist and her entire family.

     The fire that caused the deaths of Angela Dawson, her husband, and the couple’s five children on Oct. 16 was at least the second in the nation in a five-week span to have been set in retaliation by drug dealers. Toni Henderson, a Greensboro, N.C., woman, woke up on Sept. 12 to find a fire eating away the deck on her duplex...

Anti-drug citizens with media savvy
Armed group patrols Mex border

     After seizing 280 pounds of marijuana this month from smugglers near Lochiel, Ariz., the first telephone call made by members of an armed citizen patrol group was not to law enforcement, but to the local news media.

     “I’m sure they wanted to get some mileage from it,” said Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada, in an interview with Law Enforcement News. “Their agenda is not to help us, but to embarrass us.”...

Federal File
A roundup of criminal justice developments at the federal level.

     True Lies
A report by the National Research Council this month which found polygraphs to be an unreliable means of ferreting out spies and assessing national-security risks may not be exactly a death blow, but security experts say it will serve to undermine faith in a method widely used by federal agencies.

     The 245-page report is not the first to question the validity of the science behind polygraphs, but it is the first by the National Academy of Sciences, of which the NRC is a part. Measuring the pulse and breathing rate of subjects, the report said, had some usefulness in investigating some crimes, but too often flagged innocent people who were exhibiting signs of hate, anxiety and other emotions. Researchers made their evaluations based on previous studies of polygraphy and visiting centers where such tests were conducted...

Crown Vic explosion claims another

     Just hours before a federal judge ordered on Oct. 22 that all class-action suits involving Ford’s Crown Victoria Police Interceptor be centralized in federal court in Cleveland — a move that paves the way for the proceedings to move ahead — another police officer died when his cruiser was struck from the rear and exploded.

     The death last month of off-duty Dallas officer Patrick Metzler, 31, is believed to be the 13th in the nation to occur after a Crown Victoria was smacked from behind since 1983. Nine officers have also been seriously injured in fuel-fed explosions and fires...

Hoping for the best:
Houston PD wants Copwatch on its side

     Although police in other cities with chapters of the citizens group Copwatch have found members to be unwilling to work with law enforcement, the Houston Police Department is optimistic that it can develop with Copwatch the same type of relationship it has with other organizations that often monitor police activities.

     Houston Copwatch was formed in September and began patrolling city streets this month, looking for instances of brutality, misconduct and other abuses of power. In a letter to more than 20 law enforcement agencies in Harris County, Copwatch organizer Ernesto Aguilar requested that police respect the group’s democratic rights by not intimidating or harassing members while they videotape or document officers’ interactions with the public...

LA transit pickpocket squad targets ‘bumpers & grinders’

     While their squad is still called the Pickpocket Detail, officers assigned to an undercover unit of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority police cuff a lot more perverts on the city’s buses than they do thieves.

     The six-member squad, which was created three years ago by the MTA, is believed to be the only one in the nation that sends police out to actively look for gropers and fondlers. According to MTA statistics, officers have made 140 arrests for sexual offenses — 62 so far this year, 44 in 2001, and 21 in 2000. In fact, they make four sex-offender arrests for every one for pickpocketing...

For light reading, some just can’t beat the local police blotter

     The residents of Piedmont, Calif., take their police blotter seriously. So when a new computer system implemented by the police department in August forced the town’s local newspaper to do away with such spice-of-life entries as a report about a neighbor’s overly loud wind chimes, or the hazard of a portable toilet knocked over into the street, the public reaction was as swift as it was negative.

     “Our primary concern was user-friendliness for the dispatchers,” explained Capt. John Hunt. “To be honest, we didn’t really think about the public log. We knew we could print out. We didn’t know what it would look like.”...

It’s not what you know. . .
Intimate partners prove deadly for women

     Nearly every day of the year in 2000, a woman was fatally shot by either her husband or boyfriend during the course of an argument, according to a survey released this month by a gun-control advocacy group.

     In the report “When Men Murder Women: An Analysis of 2000 Homicide Data,” researchers at the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C., found that of the 1,805 women killed in the United States that year by a single male offender, 62 percent were wives or intimate acquaintances of their killers — nearly 11 times the number that were killed by male strangers. Fifty-two percent of the homicides were committed using a firearm, and in three-quarters of those, a handgun was used...

The pot plot thickens:
Task forces confront medical marijuana

     Citing methamphetamine as a greater problem for law enforcement in California than the state’s medical marijuana law, San Jose Police Chief William Lansdowne this month pulled four of his officers from a Drug Enforcement Administration joint task force.

     Proposition 215, which permits local governments to regulate distribution of marijuana for medicinal purposes, was passed in 1996. In San Jose, 63 percent of voters approved the law, as did 81 percent of voters in Santa Cruz, where the task force raided a marijuana club in September...

Boston police union dumps on PC over shooting at moving cars

     Numerous major cities have adopted policies that prohibit officers from firing at moving vehicles, but when Boston Police Commissioner Paul F. Evans proposed a similar rule for his department recently, he was handed a unanimous no-confidence vote and a call for his resignation by police union leaders.

     Evans sought the ban one day after a shot fired by police killed Eveline Barros-Cepeda on Sept. 8. The 25-year-old victim was a passenger in the back seat of a car that had struck an officer, then sped away. She was the fourth person killed by police this year, and the eighth in the past 22 months...