Crime & Public Safety

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Dillinger Days (SLIDESHOW)

Posted By on Sun, Jan 24, 2016 at 8:00 AM

Photos from the 22nd annual Dillinger Days event at Hotel Congress on Saturday, Jan. 23. The notorious bank robber John Dillinger—also known as Public Enemy No. 1—and his gang were captured in Tucson in 1934, 82 years ago. 

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Friday, January 8, 2016

Into the Mild: Refugees Are Being Sold Fake Life Jackets? That's Just the Beginning

Posted By on Fri, Jan 8, 2016 at 10:15 AM

Lesbos Island, Greece

By now you’ve likely heard the news that refugees coming to Greece are being sold fake life jackets.

I’ve personally seen this, and it’s every bit as despicable as your gut reaction tells you it is. Unfortunately, the life jackets are the tip of the iceburg. If smugglers sell water-absorbent life jackets for only 45 euro (roughly 45 U.S. dollars), imagine what they’ll do for real money.

I hate writing this, but the media seems to ignore everything except the headline-grabbing life jackets. Someone has to tell it…

Bademli, Turkey and Lesbos, Greece are separated by less than 10 kilometers. The Aegean Sea lies between the two, with generally calm water and a mild climate. This short trip between Turkey and the European Union has been the most common route into Europe for refugees, with over 500,000 refugees arriving on Lesbos in 2015. A raft can make the trip in less than two hours on a clear day.

The trip is almost always done on a dinghy boat. These are made of rubber and will pop like a balloon if they hit a rock. These inflatable boats come from China and cost smugglers 1,200 euros. An average of 40-60 refugees are packed into each raft. 40-60 people on any of these rafts is far beyond any safe limit, with refugees sitting in the middle and hanging off the sides of the raft. Most arrive to Greece with only what fits in their pockets, as any bags on the raft with them are tossed into the sea to make room for more people. On top of all of this, refugees are told to steer the ship themselves. The price for all of this? 1,000 euros each.

The dinghy boat being towed by the Coast Guard was originally filled with roughly 50 people.
  • The dinghy boat being towed by the Coast Guard was originally filled with roughly 50 people.

The tickets are so expensive that many refugees wait in Turkey for up to a year, working under the table until saving enough money to be smuggled. This makes them easy targets for gangs and human traffickers. Or sweatshops. Sweatshops where they make fake life jackets. Once you’re able to save 1,000 euro, you are able to be smuggled into Europe with only the clothes on your back.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Obama Takes Executive Action to Limit Gun Violence. Let the Shouting Begin.

Posted By on Tue, Jan 5, 2016 at 3:00 PM

  • Courtesy of
President Obama just finished giving a speech about measures he plans to take using executive action to try and lower the incidence of gun violence in this country. I'm not going to outline his plans. You can read and hear about them all over the media. If you want, you can learn how terrible "Emperor Obama's decrees" are from the NRA, the right wing press and Republican presidential candidates. The fact is, Obama isn't doing much. He can't do much without Congress passing laws, and the NRA is holding enough members of Congress at electoral gunpoint that nothing is going to happen there for a long while. What Obama proposes won't create any major changes in the availability of guns, and it won't bring down the level of gun violence significantly. But it will make some difference. It's something. It's what he can do. It's a small but important step.

I lock my doors when I leave the house. That won't stop someone who is serious about wanting to rob me. Anyone who has the necessary skill and determination can stake out my house, figure out when it's empty, then either pick a lock or use a hardware store glass cutter to get in and take what they want. It's not that difficult. I take security measures to make it harder for the casual thief to bust in, grab a few items and run. If the doors are locked and the windows are closed, that should be enough to discourage someone who isn't absolutely bound and determined to get in.

Making it harder for bad actors and people with mental illnesses to get guns won't keep guns out of all their hands, but it will stop a shooting here and a shooting there, which means a few people who otherwise would be injured or killed by gunfire will be spared. It's not going to reduce the 30,000 annual deaths from firearms significantly. But it's a start. And it will help keep the conversation going, maybe bend it enough that people realize the right for decent people to bear arms won't be impeded by measures designed to keep firearms out of the hands of people who plan to harm others.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

DOJ: Law Enforcement Should Stop Violating Rights of Domestic Abuse, Sexual Assault Victims

Posted By on Tue, Dec 15, 2015 at 12:30 AM

  • Courtesy of Photospin

The Department of Justice issued new guidance to law enforcement agencies today, pointing out that certain police responses to domestic violence and sexual assault complaints violate victims' civil rights.

These suggestions document the "systematic failure" of police departments in Maricopa County in Arizona, New Orleans, Puerto Rico, and Missoula, Montana, to properly investigate domestic abuse and sexual assault cases, as well as to hold cops accountable when they commit domestic or sexual abuse, according to a press release from the American Civil Liberties Union. DOJ is currently investigating gender-biased policing in those regions. 

The department has found that victims of domestic and sexual abuse are denied equal protection under the U.S. Constitution in cases when these complaints are deal with "less seriously than other offenses based on gender bias."

"Victims’ due process rights are also violated when police commit acts of violence, such as sexual assault, or when a victim is put at greater risk as a result of police conduct," the ACLU says. 

The DOJ guidance asks local police departments to look into their policies and practices pertaining to domestic and sexual violence, and breaks down the following eight principles that they should follow:
Recognize and address biases, assumptions, and stereotypes about victims.

Treat all victims with respect and employ interviewing tactics that encourage a victim to participate and provide facts about the incident.

Investigate sexual assault or domestic violence complaints thoroughly and effectively.

Appropriately classify reports of sexual assault or domestic violence.

Refer victims to appropriate services.

Properly identify the assailant in domestic violence incidents.

Hold officers who commit sexual assault or domestic violence accountable.

Maintain, review, and act upon data regarding sexual assault and domestic violence.
The ACLU, as well as several other civil rights and anti-violence groups, have led the effort pressuring DOJ to issue these new guidelines. More than 180 national, state and local organizations joined the demand.

According to the ACLU, "domestic violence and sexual assault are two of the most prevalent forms of gender-based violence. In the U.S., over one million women are sexually assaulted each year, and more than a third of women are subjected to rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime, with women of color disproportionately affected."

Survivors often face disbelief and victim-blaming from law enforcement—all of which is detailed in the ACLU report, "Responses from the Field: Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, and Policing."

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Season 2 of 'Serial' Started Today

Posted By on Thu, Dec 10, 2015 at 11:31 AM


Attention everyone with desk jobs, mindlessly staring into their computers and helplessly waiting for 5 p.m.: Season 2 of Serial started today, and Episode 1 is online now. 

After much speculation it turns out, yes, Season 2 is going to focus on Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. solider who was held prisoner by the Taliban for five years after leaving his Army outpost in eastern Afghanistan.

Here's Serial's description of Season 2: 

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Monday, December 7, 2015

Into the Mild: Sorry, Prostitutes Can´t Stay in the Dormitory

Posted By on Mon, Dec 7, 2015 at 10:00 AM

Santiago, Chile


Was I bored or hungry? My night shift at the hostel seemed to be moving in slow motion that night. I stepped away for a couple of minutes to grab food from the staff refrigerator in the back yard. A coworker, Julie, watched the office for me.

I returned to an empty office and an open door. I went out to see why the door was open and found Julie talking to a man through the fence. The man was around 45 years old and needed a bed for the night for a friend. He didn’t have a reservation but claimed to know the owner, Jon. Jon would vouch for him. They were friends. I talked with the man as my coworker went back inside to call Jon. The man asked again if he could have a room and then gave us 10,000 Chilean Pesos (15 dollars), said he didn’t need the change, and signaled to the car across the street.

When the man brought his friend out, I immediately saw why he had left her in the car during our initial conversation. She was roughly 45, distraught, and wearing a very short skirt & very high heels, one of which had a broken strap. A strong limp and eyes that told of recent drug use came into focus as she got closer. I stepped inside for a minute to brief my coworker. Neither of us knew what to do. Our daily workload focused mostly on arranging reservations and giving tours. I must have missed the training session on dealing with battered woman escorted by their abusers.

I stepped back outside, opened the gate, and let the woman in. The man tried to follow her in, putting his hand on my shoulder as he talked to me. I told him twice not to touch me, each request followed by him removing his hand for five seconds. The third time, I told him very colorfully to leave, pushed him out, and slammed the gate as he yelled at me.

The woman obviously needed help so I led her in and took her to the dining room. I then found Julie and told her “She’s pretty f***ed up, we should call an ambulance.” I then saw the two guests in the same room and regretted not pulling Julie to the side to say it. We went to a smaller room near the kitchen. The woman said that she was hungry so I brought her bread and butter as Julie began asking her what had happened. Julie was Latina, charismatic, and spoke Spanish as her first language. The woman warmed and opened up as she spoke with Julie.

I felt that they would be more comfortable in private so I left them and grabbed the phone in the office. No one picked up the emergency line for the hospital, so I gave up and called the police instead. They told me they would send a unit by soon.

I went to update Julie and hoped that things weren't how they looked. They were. In addition to the bad ankle, her speech was slurred and she had a long red mark on her face that she earlier tried to hide with her hair. She eventually opened up and said that the man had been beating her and she didn’t want to return.

What to do?

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Friday, September 18, 2015

About Ahmed Mohamed's Not-a-Bomb Clock and the School/Police Reaction

Posted By on Fri, Sep 18, 2015 at 12:00 PM

Ahmed Mohamed made national and probably international news when the 14 year old brought a homemade clock to his Dallas high school which some people thought might be a bomb, and when they realized it wasn't, accused him of bringing a prank bomb to school. He was detained, questioned without being allowed to talk with his parents and handcuffed. As a former high school English teacher, I've been running through the scenario in my head, thinking about what I might have done if I had been involved and how the school should have responded to the situation. I'm using the details as they were described in a NY Times article.

I'm reasonably certain that Ahmed's dark skin and Muslim faith caused a heightened reaction from the school and the police, that this situation would have been handled better if he were white, but let's neutralize that issue for the moment. This was a student in my class, his name was Ahmed or Andy, he was black or white, Muslim, Christian or nonreligious.

So. Ahmed/Andy is a student in my English class. I hear something beeping in his backpack. I ask to see what it is. This nice, shy, somewhat nerdy kid reaches into his backpack and pulls out a metal briefcase with a clock face on the front. What do I do?

The first thing that happens inside me, I'm guessing, is I experience an electric shock of panic in my chest. I think, "Oh shit, that looks like the kind of bomb I've seen in a dozen spy/terrorist movies!" What do I do? My first reaction is to protect the safety and welfare of my students and other students at the school. Whatever temporary problems I create for Ahmed/Andy are secondary, I'll worry about that later. This may be a bomb, and this seemingly nice kid may be one of those people who does some terrible thing, after which everyone says, "He was such a nice kid, I never would have suspected he would have done something like this."

My best reaction, I think, would have been to tell Ahmed/Andy to pick up his belongings and come into the hall with me, away from the other students. Then I would say, "Tell me what that device is." If he answered, "It's a clock I brought to school to show to my engineering teacher," my next best reaction would be to say we'd better take it to the office, where I would explain the situation to an administrator. When I felt comfortable the administrator understood and had things in hand, I would return to my class. If I was feeling especially panicky and feared it might be a bomb that could go off at any moment, I'd take him outside with me. We would set all Ahmed/Andy's belongings some distance away from the school, then we could move back toward the school so we would be out of potential danger. At that point, I would somehow alert an administrator or one of the campus cops to help with the situation. (Would I have reacted this calmly if I were actually in this situation? I honestly have no idea.)

Now that the potential threat is away from the school, the situation changes. My responsibility is no longer to the students in my class or in the school. It's to Ahmed/Andy's welfare. Assuming this isn't a bomb, assuming this kid did nothing wrong, he's been through a frightening experience through no fault of his own. I should do whatever I can to lessen the negative impact of his being suspected of doing something as horrible as bringing a bomb to school. "Look," I might say, "Your clock scared the crap out of me. I saw that box and I imagined what might happen if it were a bomb. Why did you bring a thing like that to school?" If he repeated the story about bringing it to show to his engineering teacher, I might smile and say, "Yeah, Mr. Stephens [or whatever his name is], did he like it?" Maybe talk a little about Mr. Stephen's class to move us emotionally out of the present situation. Then I might say, "I hope you know, what I just did, pulling you out of class, that wasn't about you, it was about the concern I felt seeing that box. I would have done the same thing with any student. That's my duty, to do everything I can to keep my students safe. I can't tell you how relieved I feel right now knowing I was worried about nothing."  I might ask, "How are you doing? Are you OK?" to gauge his mental state.

Once it's determined this was nothing but a homemade clock (which they must have decided quickly, because the bomb squad wasn't called), the well-being of Ahmed/Andy should become the school's primary focus. As much as possible, this should be a school-based action, not a police action. If it's determined that this kid brought the clock to school as a prank, some appropriate disciplinary action should be taken. It's distantly possible, I suppose, that this was a trial run for sneaking a bomb into the school. Both of those possibilities should be considered. But the higher probability is that this was exactly what Ahmed/Andy said, that he brought the clock to impress his engineering teacher. If someone in the administration went down and talked to the teacher and confirmed the student's story, that would pretty much have put an end to the situation. But that's not what happened, and that's where this situation went astray.

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Friday, September 11, 2015

A Case of Mistaken Identity, and Theft of Dignity

Posted By on Fri, Sep 11, 2015 at 9:54 AM


Story: A neatly dressed, well groomed 30-something man is standing outside a nice hotel in Manhattan, waiting quietly, a smile on his face. At the same time a sting operation is going down inside the hotel where the police are arresting some people who have been accused of identity theft. The man just standing there minding his own business is identified as looking like one of the people in the theft ring. Oh, and, by the way, the 30-something man is white.

How do the plainclothes officers outside the hotel respond? Do a few of them move in this man's direction, form a loose circle around him, show their police identification and tell him to put his hands up, then only take more aggressive action if he fails to comply? Or do they rush him without warning, pick him up, body slam him to the ground and cuff him? Either scenario is possible, but since he's only a suspect, not someone who they've seen commit a crime, since the crime he may have committed is a white collar, nonviolent crime, and since he's standing quietly in front of the hotel, I think good police work would mean refraining from the use of force unless it's necessary.

The incident I described unfolded Wednesday night in front of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan, but one thing about the man is different than the way I described him. He's black. He's James Blake, the 35 year old tennis star who has retired from the tennis circuit but is still playing in the Champions Tour with the likes of John McEnroe and Jim Courier. When he was identified as one of the people possibly involved in the identity theft ring, he was waiting for a car that would take him to the U.S. Open where he was going to be interviewed. According to an interview Blake gave on ABC News, a plainclothes policeman wearing t shirt and shorts without a visible badge charged him.
"I saw someone from the street running directly at me. . . . He picked me up and body slammed me,  put me on the ground, told me to turn over, shut my mouth, and he put the cuffs on me."
Sure, it could've happened to any well dressed, 30-something guy standing quietly on the sidewalk outside a fancy hotel who the police thought had committed a crime, but the chances are far more likely that the aggressive take-down would happen to a black male than a white male who was similar in every way except for skin color. It can be dangerous to be Driving While Black, Walking While Black or Standing While Black.

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