Law Enforcement News

Vol. XXIX, Nos. 591, 592 A publication of John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY January 15/31, 2003

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In this issue:

Around The Nation: A coast-to-coast roundup of police news.
People & Places: FOP in mourning; Flynn gets it; time for change; doing more with less; Timoney’s Miami welcome; Norris’s new challenge.
Me & my big mouth: Use of force linked to a suspect’s backtalk to police.
Less bang for the buck: Impact of new “smart-gun” laws questioned.
Lightening up: The weight of the law eases for some Connecticut juvies.
Shades of gray: Traffic-stop data doesn’t answer profiling question.
A clearer picture: Sioux Falls seeks insight into police aggressiveness.
Lights, camera, interrogation: DC gets set to videotape suspects.
Game over: Unconscious bias may guide shoot/don’t shoot decisions.
Who’s the felon? Cracking down on bounty hunters with criminal records.
On the attack: DC reworks the data to bring down aggravated assaults.
Sticking to its guns: The NYPD believes it was right in 1989 jogger assault.
Flag flap: Why a Utah cop is seeing red, white & blue.
Easing the crunch: Michigan ends mandatory minimum drug terms.
Forum: Talk is a problem, so DC takes action; wrongful convictions hurt everyone.
Finger-pointing: NYPD prepares pilot test of new high-tech ID cards.
More women wanted: LAPD eyes mentoring program to boost female ranks.

Hitting the brakes
Amid rising accidents, LAPD seeks to rein in pursuits

     A rise in the number of accidents caused by police chases over the past year, accompanied by an increase in public anger, has prompted Los Angeles Chief William Bratton to propose a change in policy that would ban police pursuits initiated by minor infractions, and require greater supervision of chases already in progress.

     According to a study by the Los Angeles Police Commission, which Bratton is said to be drawing heavily upon, the department engaged in more chases in 2001 than did agencies in 20 other locations, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Las Vegas, Philadelphia and St. Louis. That year, there were 781 pursuits in Los Angeles, compared to 597 the previous year. The problem has grown to the point that police pursuits in the city, which are covered in real time by constantly-hovering helicopters from seven TV stations, have been described as “L.A.’s longest-running reality show...”

Desperate to find Baton Rouge serial killer, some say DNA net goes too far

     Civil libertarians charged this month that investigators hunting for the Baton Rouge, La., serial killer have used coercive tactics in their efforts to obtain DNA material that they hope to match to crime-scene evidence left behind by the person who has so far murdered four southern Louisiana women.

     In November, Shannon F. Kohler, a 44-year-old welder from Baton Rouge, became the first person to have his identity revealed when he refused to submit a sample. According to Kohler, authorities told him that providing it was his choice, but if he refused, his name would be publicly linked with the investigation...

The big chill:
It’s all over but the eulogy for Md. HotSpots effort

     It appears that Maryland’s HotSpots program, a community-policing initiative that has long had its yea- and nay-sayers within the state’s law enforcement community, is finally headed for the chopping block.

     The initiative is considered as good as dead by community leaders. A signature program of former Lieut. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, HotSpots was launched seven years ago with a $32-million state grant. Local police departments opened storefront substations, saturated troubled neighborhoods with resources and cracked down on the smallest offenses. The program had some real success, according to a University of Pennsylvania study issued last September, which found an 8.8-percent decrease in violent crime in HotSpots communities from 1996 to 2000...

Me & my big mouth:
Study links use of force to suspect’s backtalk

     Mouthing off to a police officer is not illegal, but it can be hazardous to your health, according to a new study sponsored by the National Institute of Justice, which found that when force is used during an arrest, it was more likely to have been prompted by a suspect’s uncivil demeanor or resistance than by such characteristics as race, gender or age.

     In “Characteristics Associated with the Prevalence and Severity of Force Used by the Police,” published in the December issue of Justice Quarterly, researchers used officer self-reports about 7,512 adult arrests in Charlotte, N.C., Colorado Springs, Dallas, and the city and county of San Diego to determine a base rate of force, and which factors were consistently present when an arrest became physical...

‘Smart-gun’ laws in NJ, Md., may not offer much bang for the buck

     Two pieces of gun legislation said to be the first of their kind in the nation were recently enacted, but neither New Jersey’s new smart-gun law nor Maryland’s ban on the sale of handguns that lack internal safety locks appear likely to have an impact any time soon.

     Under legislation signed by New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey in December, all handguns sold will be required to contain smart-gun technology, beginning three years after a prototype is deemed safe and commercially viable by the state attorney general. A separate decision will be made in the case of law enforcement officers, who are currently exempt from the law...

Weight of the law lightens up for Connecticut juveniles

     Adolescents in West Hartford, Conn., who commit minor offenses may not be feeling the full weight of the law, but neither are they getting away with their crimes, under a four-year-old program that offers teenagers an alternative to juvenile court.

     The Juvenile Review Board was created in 1999 by a coalition of public and private social service agencies. Last year, it reviewed the cases of 324 youngsters referred by police. That figure is up from 285 in 2001, but Lieut. Jack Casey contends that officers are now more inclined to send youngsters there than they were in the past. ..

Black & white makes gray:
Traffic-stop data fails to clear up profiling question

     Analyses of data collected by municipal police in Massachusetts and by troopers in Washington state have found a disparity between the number of minority drivers and the number of whites subjected to discretionary searches, but researchers say the findings still do not definitively link the disproportion to racially-biased policing tactics.

     Both The Boston Globe and The Seattle Times released reports this month showing that minorities are searched at a rate ranging from two to two and a half times that for whites. Moreover, when whites are searched, they were found more likely than either blacks or Hispanics to be carrying contraband...

Are some cops too aggressive? Sioux Falls wants a clearer picture.

     Prompted by a report which suggested that some officers act too aggressively when arresting suspects, officials in Sioux Falls, S.D., ordered changes that which will make the police department’s operations more transparent, particularly its disciplinary actions.

     According to an analysis by The Sioux Falls Argus Leader in December, seven of the more than 200 officers on the force accounted for over one-quarter of all cases that involved resisting arrest or aggravated assault on a police officer between 1997 and 2001. Three worked primarily on the night shift, the other four on rotating day and night assignments...

Lights, camera, interrogation. . .
DC prepares to videotape violent-felony suspects

     Police in Washington, D.C., will soon be required by law to videotape the interrogations of individuals suspected of having committed violent offenses, under the provisions of a bill enacted by the District Council.

     Although video and audio taping is used extensively by investigators, it is only very recently that jurisdictions have considered following Minnesota’s lead in making it law...

Game over:
Bias may guide shoot/don’t shoot decisions

     Granted, it was just a video-game scenario that researchers were studying, but when players were asked to make on-the-spot decisions as to whether white or black male characters in the game were armed, people were more likely to mistakenly conclude that the blacks were armed, and to shoot them.

     Two new studies surmise that unconscious biases instilled by factors such as the news media, advertising or other cultural influences are behind the results, rather than racial prejudice...

Following killing, Virginia cracks down on bounty hunters with criminal records

     Spurred by an incident last year in which a bounty hunter mistakenly shot and killed a Mexican immigrant, the Virginia State Crime Commission is prepared to recommend that any individual with a felony record be barred from becoming a bounty hunter, and that renewable national criminal background checks be conducted every two years on bail bondsmen.

     In a preliminary report released in January, based on a two-year study that is expected to be completed by the end of 2003, the commission examined legislation enacted or proposed in other states. Its recommendations were due to be presented to the state General Assembly this month...

DC number-crunching takes bite out of crime

     There were about 500 fewer aggravated assaults in Washington, D.C., in 2001 than previously believed — a sharp decrease brought about after the Metropolitan Police Department reclassified hundreds of simple assaults that had been erroneously entered in a database compiled for submission to the FBI Uniform Crime Reports.

     According to Sampson Annan, the police department’s director of research and resource development, the review was prompted by a 21-percent spike in the aggravated assault category. Aggravated assaults, which had been on the decline from 1993 to 2000, surged by 1,000 incidents in 2001...

NYPD sticks to its guns on park jogger verdicts

     The five men whose guilty verdicts in the Central Park jogger assault were overturned by a judge last month “most likely” were involved in the 1989 attack, according to a three-member panel commissioned by the New York City Police Department. The panel rejected prosecutors’ contentions that the victim was probably attacked by a lone assailant.

     The 43-page report by Jules Martin and Michael Armstrong, two prominent attorneys, and Stephen L. Hammerman, the deputy police commissioner for legal affairs, agreed that the DNA evidence linked Matias Reyes, a convicted killer and serial rapist, to the rape was sufficient grounds for Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Charles Tejada to overthrow the convictions against Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, Kharey Wise and Raymond Santana. Nonetheless, the report said, the new evidence still did not exonerate them...

Flag flap has Utah cop seeing red, white & blue

     Enraged by a supervisor who told him that the two American flag stickers he had placed on his patrol car might offend the public, a Salt Lake City police officer drummed up a groundswell of support in January when he shared the incident with colleagues via email.

     In a widely circulated message, Officer Thomas Potter wrote: “Quietly I stood, biting my tongue as I was grilled in a despicable tone and questioned who had authorized those stickers. I’m not writing to get your sympathy. I don’t care what you believe in, whom you voted for, how you feel about the military or what you think about me. But the next time you look at the flag I demand you show some respect. For hundreds of years, thousands of families have lost their brothers, fathers, husbands and sons who died protecting it...”

With prisons packed, Michigan ends mandatory minimums for druggies

     Once a state with among the nation’s harshest sentencing guidelines for convicted drug offenders, Michigan has altered course dramatically by eliminating mandatory minimum sentences in hopes of reducing a skyrocketing prison population.

     Under legislation signed by outgoing Gov. John Engler on Dec. 28, judges may now hand down sentences of up to 20 years. The law, which takes effect on March 1, will also replace lifetime probation for the lowest-level offenders with a five-year probation term. Some prisoners will also be eligible for earlier parole under the new statute. At present, some 4,000 inmates must report to state parole officers for the rest of their lives...

Va. police like their DNA database

     Law enforcement agencies in Virginia have begun taking advantage of a state law passed last year that requires suspects charged with violent crimes and some other felonies to provide a DNA sample, or forfeit the right to be released at their booking.

     The law, which took effect Jan. 1, is the first in the nation to allow such action so early in the legal process. State Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore pushed for it in 2002, calling the statute the next logical step in the buildup of the state’s DNA database. With 170,000 samples, Virginia’s data bank is rivaled in size only by Great Britain’s...

LAPD eyes mentoring to boost female ranks

     Hoping to boost from 19 percent to 25 percent the proportion of women in the 9,000-officer Los Angeles Police Department, Police Chief William Bratton and city officials in December launched a recruitment campaign that includes programs to prepare female recruits for both the physical and psychological rigors of police work.

     The new programs were prompted by a provision of the city’s consent decree that requires the department to pursue policies that would increase its gender and ethnic diversity...