Law Enforcement News

Vol. XXX, No. 622 A publication of John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY August 2004

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In this issue:

Around The Nation: A coast-to-coast roundup of police news.
Getting away with murder: Why it’s easier in Richmond.
Awaiting the ax: What fate awaits FBI computer upgrade?
Clearing the air: FCC makes more room at 800mhz for public safety.
People & Places: Reluctant goodbye; Hoover cleans up; straight to the top; ready, aim, fired; lobbying for more in Montana.
Small-town thinking: Portland follows others’ lead on weapons policy.
Cat & mouse: Police innovate to keep pace with speeders.
The face is familiar: Pressing the case for facial-recognition software.
The paper chase: Cops swamped with unserved warrants.
Breaking the chain: Additive may stick it to meth-makers.
Keeping it real: “Reno 911!” is a spoof with an edge.
Short Takes: Easy-to-digest news capsule.
Making their case: Suspects tell their side of story to grand juries.
Forum: You never stop learning.
Making an impact: DoJ focuses on violent crime in 15 cities.
Upcoming Events: Professional development opportunities.

Getting away with murder in Richmond

     The loss of experienced detectives, coupled with increasingly frightened and reluctant witnesses, are among the factors that Richmond, Va., officials cite as contributing to a homicide rate in which nearly two-thirds of killers got away with their crimes from 2000 through 2002.

     According to an analysis of arrest and court records by The Richmond Times-Dispatch in May, police arrested suspects in 48 percent of 224 murders occurring in 2000, 2001 and 2002. Sixty-eight of those murders resulted in conviction, or just 30 percent of the total for those years studied. In surrounding counties, the conviction rate was more than twice as high, the newspaper reported....

Is the ax about to fall on upgrade to FBI’s info-sharing capability?

     With the project already years behind schedule, there is now the possibility that a critical component of a long-awaited computer system which would allow FBI agents to share information easily may have to be abandoned altogether, according to one bureau official.

     The official, who spoke with The New York Times on condition of anonymity, questioned why agents are being trained in the use of a system that may never see the light of day. The long delays could cause the bureau to re-evaluate the project, he said....

FCC agrees to clear the airwaves to make more room for public safety

     After years of complaints about radio interference caused by Nextel Communication Inc.’s cellular network, public safety agencies are finally going to have their own blocks of airwaves on the crowded 800-megahertz band used by both entities, under an agreement approved in July by the Federal Communications Commission.

     The FCC has received reports about interference to public safety communications systems since 1999. In cities such as Tigard, Ore., signals from cell phone towers transmitting on the 800-megahertz frequency created dead zones — one exists just a few blocks from the Tigard’s police station. A tower in Phoenix owned by Nextel interfered with the ability of police and fire radios to transmit or receive transmissions for nearly three-quarters of a mile around the site....

Small-town thinking:
Portland follows others’ lead on shootings

     While it is generally the smaller agencies that look to the larger to set trends and examples, in Oregon it was the Portland Police Bureau that turned out to be a step behind the many who already document all instances in which their officers point their weapons.

     A new rule requiring the state’s largest police force to do the same took effect on July 1. The policy makes good on a recommendation last year by an outside consultant who examined more than three years of Portland police shootings. The policy change gained further impetus earlier this year with the shooting death of an unarmed black...

PDs innovate to keep pace in cat-and-mouse game of speeding enforcement

     Drivers can be reasonably sure that a camera installed on a lamppost is just what it looks like — a device aimed at catching speeders. But can they really be so sure about that innocent-looking golfer, or the homeless person on the median?

     In recent years, police agencies have taken to disguising their officers in an effort to enforce speeding laws. For example, the Pennsylvania State Police in June gave out 27 speeding tickets when it dressed some officers in camouflage and deployed them to wooded areas along state highways, according to the state Department of Transportation....

The face looks familiar. . .
Holding out hope for the viability of face-recognition programs

     Facial recognition software may have failed to meet the expectations of law-enforcement agencies in Tampa and other cities where it was implemented as a potential anti-terrorism tool, but the Pinellas County, Fla., Sheriff’s Department contends that in the small, controlled environment it intends to use the technology, it will be a boon to deputies.

     Under a $250,000 plan paid for with a portion of an $8 million community-policing grant from the Department of Justice, 50 of the agency’s 550 vehicles will carry a stand-alone digital camera and special software hooked up to the cars’ laptops. One car began carrying the equipment in June, and 10 deputies have already been trained. ...

The paper chase:
S.C. cops swamped with unserved warrants

     With a growing backlog of warrants for such nonviolent offenses as writing bad checks, law enforcement agencies throughout Charleston County, S.C., and neighboring jurisdictions continue to look for ways to keeps their heads above haystacks of paper.

     “What we’re seeing from the numbers is that warrants are coming in faster than they can be served, and it’s growing exponentially,” said Charleston County Sheriff’s Sgt. B.K. Williams, a warrants division supervisor....

Iowa tries to break a link in the meth-making chain

     What it is and how it works is a secret, but Iowa officials claim that a chemical added to anhydrous ammonia will make the common farm fertilizer ineffective for the manufacture of methamphetamine.

     “The development of this additive will aid in our fight against this poison and help us better secure our children,” said Gov. Tom Vilsack. ...

Keeping it real:
‘Reno 911!’ is a cop-show spoof with an edge

     Every so often, a TV program comes along that wins the hearts of cops with its portrayal of some slightly off-kilter fellow officers — “Barney Miller” being one of the most frequently cited examples. And then there is “Reno 911!” the Comedy Central hit show that follows the lives of seven of the most flagrantly dysfunctional deputies this side of a television screen.

     A spoof of the reality show “Cops,” “Reno 911!” premiered in 2003. Each week, viewers follow the adventures of Lt. Jim Dangle, the sexually confused officer in the skin-tight shorts; Officer Trudy Wiegel, who may or may not be dating a serial killer; and Deputy Junior, who tells a class of 10-year-olds during a classroom presentation that all of them will be raped, and teaches them how to make wine in prison which can then be traded for cigarettes....

Short Takes: Easy-to-digest news capsule.

     Scientists have discovered that the anthrax powder mailed in letters three years ago had a distinctive signature that may make it easier to match with a source, according to a progress report requested by U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton.

     Walton is presiding over a lawsuit brought by Army biowarfare expert Dr. Stephen J. Hatfill, who claims that the FBI destroyed his reputation and career with a campaign of leaks suggesting that he was the anthrax mailer. ...

Making their case:
Suspects tell their side of story to grand juries

     The days when defense attorneys were loath to allow a suspect to testify before the grand jury because the prosecutor could “indict a ham sandwich” appear to be gone in New York City. More often than ever, cops and criminals are now getting their chance to tell their stories.

     In 2004, nearly 14 percent of felony suspects testified before grand juries in Brooklyn, according to the district attorney’s office there. The highest figure among the city’s five boroughs was in Staten Island, where 18 percent took the stand, and the lowest in Manhattan, with just 4 percent of suspect testifying....

DoJ looks to have an impact in 15 cities with focus on worst violent offenders

     Those cities where crime has not fallen as precipitously as in other jurisdictions got a little extra attention from the Justice Department this summer in the form of “Impact Teams” — groups of federal agents that will focus on nabbing and prosecuting the worst violent offenders.

     The initiative, called Violent Crime Impact Teams (VCIT), is based largely on the government’s Project Safe Neighborhoods program, said Michael Kulstad, a spokesman for the Justice Department. The program, launched in 2001, provided $533 million that year to all 94 judicial districts, funding 113 new federal prosecutors and 600 state and local prosecutors to work with police agencies and community groups on gun-related cases. [See LEN, Oct. 15/31, 2003.] ...

Upcoming Events

     4-8. Criminal Intelligence Analysis Training. Presented by The Alpha Group Center for Crime & Intelligence Analysis Training. St. Paul, Minn. $525.

     4-8. Criminal Investigative Analysis (Criminal Profiling). Presented by The Alpha Group Center for Crime & Intelligence Analysis Training. Palatka, Fla. $525....