Law Enforcement News

Vol. XXX, No. 618 A publication of John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY May 2004

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In this issue:

Around The Nation: A coast-to-coast roundup of police news.
A mismatch: Comparing DMV, Social Security data — a bad idea?
Improving a good thing: Seattle refines domestic-violence response.
That’s a wrap: Agreements end federal probe of county force.
“Back in business”: Reopening a pipeline of seized-asset funds.
The big bang: Tracing the origins of guns used in crimes.
People & Places: Putting a Hurtt on Houston policing; man of mystery; field of dreams; making history; $10-million send-off; goodbye, Madison.
Short Takes: Easy-to-digest news capsules.
Bigger picture: Tampa expands benefits to cover domestic partners.
Forcing the issue: Use of force is scrutinized in Austin.
Trading places: Why U.S. & Canadian prosecutors swapped homes & offices.
The mighty Quinn: Higher ed for Mass. cops may face a different future.
Disconnected: Pa. deputies lose court case over wiretap authority.
Fighting back: Chicago cops sue those who make false claims.
Balancing act: Problems linger with Megan’s Laws.
Forum: The threat of improvised explosive devices.
Split verdict: Should police prosecute traffic cases?
In Baltimore, it’s same crimes, new approaches.

Old habits die hard
Atlanta’s underreporting of crime has deep roots

     An audit of the Atlanta Police Department’s 2002 crime-incident reports has found the agency to have underplayed by more than 3 percent the number of felony offenses that year, but such data manipulation appears to be nothing new. According to the auditors, it has been ongoing for at least a decade.

     The report by an outside consulting firm, which was released in February, had been ordered by Chief Richard Pennington, who shocked and angered city officials when he called Atlanta “the most dangerous city in America.” ...

New image, wrong message

     While a more military-style uniform that includes boots and washable fatigues has gotten rave reviews from officers, some experts and even Metropolitan Police Department officials are concerned that the new look is sending out the wrong message.

     Beginning in February, Chief Charles Ramsey authorized officers and sergeants in patrol units to wear the so-called battle dress uniforms, or BDUs, for a six-month trial period. The District is one of the only departments in the country to allow line officers to patrol in the paramilitary garb; most reserve the uniforms for their tactical teams or canine units....

Comparing Social Security, DMV data — a bad move?
NYS effort would lead to license suspensions

     Given the permeability of the Social Security Administration’s database, the attempt by New York State to ferret out fraud and inaccuracies in its motor-vehicle department files by comparing information contained in both sources is quixotic at best, according to an expert on identity theft.

     In March, the Department of Motor Vehicles began sending the first 112,000 of about a half-million warning letters to drivers whose data does not match up. By the time the project is completed, at a cost of roughly $740,000, at least 150,000 licenses are likely to be suspended, according to Raymond P. Martinez, the state Commissioner of Motor Vehicles. ...

Making a good thing better:
Seattle refines response to domestic violence

     Seattle police appear to have wasted no time in addressing some of the domestic violence issues brought to light by a recent study that assessed the city’s criminal-justice response to battering.

     While Seattle’s domestic-violence system still has gaps, it remains among the best in the country, according to a draft report by the Seattle Domestic Violence Council, which was released in January. The assessment was drawn from police reports, municipal court case files, interviews with law enforcement and domestic-violence advocates, and court hearings. ...

Agreements end federal probe of Prince George’s County force

     A federal probe of the Prince George’s County, Md., Police Department that has spanned the terms of three police chiefs is finally over, with officials from the county and the Justice Department signing off on two agreements that call for the appointment of a monitor to oversee the implementation of sweeping reforms.

     One of the contracts signed in January, a memorandum of agreement between the county and the federal government, calls for the department to draft a clear use-of-force policy, create a board to review all firearm discharges and thoroughly investigate allegations of officer misconduct, and change its policy on the use of pepper spray. The agency will also be required to develop an early-warning computer database. ...

Putting Utah cops “back in business”
Law reverses referendum, reopens pipeline of asset-forfeiture funds

     A Utah lawmaker says he has “put the cops back in business” with legislation amending a 2000 ballot initiative that banned law enforcement from receiving funds from asset forfeitures.

     Under SB175, which was passed by both the House and Senate in March by wide margins and subsequently signed into law by Gov. Olene S. Walker, roughly $1 million in state forfeiture money that had gone to a Uniform School Fund would return to police, as would an estimated $4 million to $6 million in federal forfeiture funds that have been held in reserve by the Justice Department. ...

Weapons stockpiles:
ATF data traces retail origins of crime guns

     Nearly 15 percent of the guns recovered in crimes during a recent five-year period were traceable to just one-tenth of 1 percent of the nation’s gun stores, according to analysis by a Washington-based gun-safety group.

     In its report “Selling Crime,” the Americans for Gun Safety Foundation reported that 54,694 of the 373,006 guns traced by the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives during 1996 though 2000 came from 120 stores in 22 states. Half of those dealers were in five states: Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Virginia and Georgia. There are approximately 80,000 stores licensed to sell guns in the United States....

Short Takes

     Given the success of the FBI’s DNA database in helping local authorities identify suspects and exonerate those who have been wrongly convicted, a bipartisan group of members of Congress is calling on the Senate to pass stalled legislation that would increase funding for the bureau’s forensic work.

     More than 30 Democratic and Republican members of Congress signed a letter stating that the bill “is our opportunity to pass legislation that will help put criminals behind bars and prevent the innocent from serving time for a crime they did not commit.”...

In Tampa, there are benefits to being partners

     Health benefits will be extended to the domestic partners of Tampa, Fla., municipal employees who meet specific criteria, including police, under an executive order signed by Mayor Pam Iorio.

     The decision, the mayor said, is the fulfillment of a campaign promise made in 2001 when Police Officer Mickie Mashburn was denied death benefits after her longtime domestic partner, Officer Lois Marrero, was gunned down during a bank robbery. Marerro left no will, and her benefits were awarded to her parents....

Forcing the issue:
Use of force is in the spotlight in Austin

     Blacks and Latinos in Austin, Texas, are far more likely than whites to have force used against them by police, according to an analysis of more than 6,000 use-of-force reports filed by officers between 1998 and 2003.

     The analysis formed the heart of a four-part series of articles on racial tensions between police and the community, published by The Austin American-Statesman in January. Police were found to be twice as likely to use force against African Americans as against whites, and 25 percent more likely to use it against Latinos than whites. ...

U.S., Canada prosecutors swap homes & offices to fight trans-border crime

     Just like neighbors swapping homes on television, prosecutors in British Columbia and Washington state are trading places as part of an effort to stem the tide of illegal immigrants, drugs and weapons across the border.

     Assistant U.S. Attorney Janet Freeman of the Western District of Washington traded homes and offices for six weeks beginning in March with her counterpart in Canada, Robert Prior, director of the Federal Prosecution Service in Vancouver. It is the first exchange of its kind, said U.S. Attorney John McKay....

Higher ed for Mass. cops may face a different future

     Although Massachusetts’ oft-criticized Quinn Bill, which is aimed at encouraging police to pursue higher education, was significantly overhauled last year by the state Board of Higher Education, lawmakers are apparently not done recasting the 34-year-old program.

     Legislation introduced by Senator Robert A. O’Leary, a Barnstable Democrat, would require police recruits to have either a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree and an honorable discharge from the service before entering the police academy. O’Leary’s proposal would effectively phase out the Quinn Bill, but would grandfather in all current police officers to continue receiving educational benefits...

Deputies disconnected on wiretap powers

     The Pennsylvania Sheriffs’ Association has vowed to appeal a ruling by the Commonwealth Court which held that deputies, given their limited law enforcement powers under state law, are not authorized to conduct undercover wiretap operations in the same fashion as police officers or investigators.

     “In this time of homeland security and with law enforcement stretched to the limits, we certainly don’t want to let something occur that may take more officers off the street,” Centre County Sheriff Denny Nau, the association’s president, told The Associated Press....

Chicago cops are fighting back against false claims by motorists

     Filing suits against motorists who have brought false claims against officers is one of two steps the Chicago lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police has taken in recent months to try and reduce the number of frivolous complaints made against its members.

     In two separate incidents, officers issuing citations were accused of being either drunk or under the influence of drugs. Tests revealed neither, according to the FOP....

Balancing act:
Problems still linger with Megan’s Laws

     More than a decade after the passage of Megan’s Laws and related civil commitment statutes, states and localities are still struggling to balance the rights of the community with those of convicted sex offenders who must have someplace to live when they are released back into society.

     In March, the state of Iowa appealed a federal district judge’s decision that struck down a two-year old law banning sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or child care center. Judge Robert Pratt ruled that the law would effectively banish offenders from 30 percent of the towns in the state, and thereby unconstitutionally infringe upon the plaintiffs’ due-process rights under the 14th Amendment....

Should police prosecute traffic tickets? In Maine, it’s a split verdict

     Giving police the authority to prosecute — and even downgrade — traffic tickets may work for some localities in Cumberland County, Maine, but the police chief in the county’s largest jurisdiction is arguing against the new policy on the grounds that it places officers in a compromising position.

      As of May 1, police assumed the responsibility for prosecuting traffic tickets in Portland District Court, the busiest court in Maine. ...

Old problems, new approaches:
Baltimore tries a few new anti-crime tools

     While the offenses are the same, the Baltimore Police Department has begun attacking street-level drug dealing and nuisance crimes with new strategies.

     In February, police began issuing civil citations for a variety of minor offenses, including spitting, public urination and loitering. The strategy is one that Commissioner Kevin P. Clark, with the backing of Mayor Martin O’Malley, has been pushing for since assuming command of the agency in 2003. ...