Image courtesy of Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Graphic video was released this week of an officer-involved shooting by officers from the Albuquerque Police Department (APD). The video, which appears to have been taken by a police helmet cam, shows officers at the end of a nearly three-hour standoff with a man who was reportedly mentally ill. After several minutes, the man appears to turn away from the police and is then shot several times in the back.

Release of the video has lead to protests by local citizens concerned that this was an unjustified shooting and an excessive use of force against a vulnerable person.

Read the rest of this entry »

Inmate art is nothing new. As long as people have been confined with little or nothing else to do, they’ve been seeking ways to express themselves with whatever items they have at hand. And, some of what’s created can be quite compelling.

CARLOS-GUITTERREZ-Caught-in-a-Web-of-Violence

According to artist, Phyllis Kornfeld, inmate art is informed by the negative nature of the individual’s experiences:

Read the rest of this entry »

What role does “character” really play anymore and what is its relationship to good policing? In our highly cynical, ultra-hip, post-modern society, the very word seems little more than a throwback to another era.  Modern technologies that monitor, document, and report our every move distances us ever further from the idea that “character” is an important concept to develop internally, even in criminal justice work.

integrity

When it comes to policing, data gathered by automated logs, dash cams, CCTV systems, body cameras, and other technological devices are often held out as a proxy for what are arguably internal processes alone. We can’t monitor a person’s thoughts or beliefs in real-time (yet), but we can monitor outward behaviors that make it easier for us to differentiate those we perceive as having character from those who we believe lack it.

And isn’t that enough? Do we really care about a police officer’s actual inner character as long as he or she lives up to the legal, ethical, and moral standards we expect?

Read the rest of this entry »

It slices, it dices, and it even stuns suspects!

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Drones are everywhere these days, it seems. Hobbyists, researchers, photographers, students, and yes, the government, are all actively using drones for a wide range of purposes, both peaceful and violent.

From protecting wildlife and surveying damage in the aftermath of natural disasters, to killing people by remote control in foreign countries, drones are quickly becoming the platform of choice for a diverse array of activities.

Killing by drone is probably not going to fly here in the US anytime soon (we hope), but never fear; a less-than-lethal solution is close at hand.

Drones are now being developed than can deploy taser-like weapons to stun and temporarily disable interns and other suspicious characters.

Read the rest of this entry »

Disclaimer: The below article makes reference to federal laws related to gun purchases. Please note that state gun laws vary, and you are well advised to seek expert assistance from an attorney knowledgeable of your state’s statutes regarding the ownership, possession, and/or transfer of firearms if you have questions before buying or selling. The below is not legal advice.

Time Magazine ran a somewhat hyperbolic article this week about the ability of Facebook users to arrange firearm purchases through the site’s messaging features (gasp!). The article’s breathless hook was that it was easier to purchase a gun on Facebook than it was to understand the site’s privacy settings (oh, the horror!), which is  not only misleading, but a misstatement of fact to boot.

Facebook7

The implication was that nefarious individuals were using Facebook as a way to skirt gun laws, but the article provided scant evidence to support that assertion. And, as several commenters pointed out, it’s entirely legal to purchase guns from private citizens, as long as certain guidelines are followed.

None of those guidelines prohibit the use of online platforms to arrange a firearm sale.

According to the federal Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms web site:

A person may sell a firearm to an unlicensed resident of his State, if he does not know or have reasonable cause to believe the person is prohibited from receiving or possessing firearms under Federal law.

Federal law is silent regarding how the sale is arranged or whether those arrangements can be made online, and there is no requirement that a background check be completed by private sellers under federal law. According to the ATF, federal law only prohibits the sale or transfer of a firearm to an individual who:

  • Has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding 1 year;
  • Is a fugitive from justice;
  • Is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance;
  • Has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to a mental institution;
  • Is an alien illegally or unlawfully in the United States or an alien admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa;
  • Has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;
  • Having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced his or her citizenship;
  • Is subject to a court order that restrains the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of such intimate partner;or Has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence Cannot lawfully receive, possess, ship, or transport a firearm.

There’s no restriction — that I could find, at least — barring the use of online platforms to discuss or arrange a gun purchase. To suggest otherwise, or to imply that people are somehow buying guns directly through Facebook (which the article noted doesn’t offer an e-commerce capability anyway) would be factually inaccurate and, frankly, a little dumb.

Photo courtesy of nesoiam

Photo courtesy of nesoiam

The reality is that people all over the country frequently use the internet to search for and purchase firearms. A Google search for online gun stores returns millions of hits, including Armslist.com, which alone had 1.3 million unique visitors per month, as of August, 2012.

So, a more relevant and interesting point for debate might be the issue of universal background checks for all gun buyers, including those making a purchase from a private seller they met on a site like Facebook.

Gun control advocates argue that the lack of universal background checks allows unqualified or dangerous buyers to purchase firearms from private sellers. They argue that all purchases, whether through a licensed gun dealer or not, should be required to complete the same background process. They also note that:

…because federal law does not require universal background checks, “individuals prohibited by law from possessing guns can easily obtain them from private sellers and do so without any federal records of the transactions.”

The NRA, on the other hand, opposes such measures as an unnecessary restriction on the rights of law-abiding individuals to purchase weapons. They argue that most legal gun purchases are made through licensed dealers, who do background checks as a matter of course, or from family, friends, and acquaintances who should already know whether or not the buyer has some disqualifying characteristic.

In terms of how criminal offenders obtain guns, the NRA points to the problem of straw purchasers:

In 1985, the Department of Justice reported that only about one in five convicted felons obtained guns through legal channels such as retail stores. In 1991, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms reported that 37% of armed career criminals obtained firearms from street sales, 34% from criminal acts and associates, 8% from relatives, and only 7% from dealers and 6% from flea markets and gun shows.  More recently, a Bureau of Justice Statistics survey of state prison inmates convicted of firearm crimes found that 79 percent acquired their firearms from “street/illegal sources” or “friends or family.” This includes theft of firearms, black market purchases of stolen firearms, and straw purchases. The survey also found that 12 percent obtained their firearms from firearm dealers (gun stores, pawn shops), while only 1.7 percent obtained firearms from anyone (dealer or non-dealer) at a gun show or flea market.  The FBI’s National Crime Information Center stolen firearm file contained over 2 million reports as of March 1995, and an annual average of 232,400 firearms were stolen between 2005 and 2010.  46.3% of firearms traced by the BATFE in relation to firearm trafficking investigations originate with straw purchasers.

Requiring private sellers, therefore, to conduct a background check would be needlessly burdensome and a waste of resources. The people least likely to comply with background checks are those who aren’t law-abiding in the first place. So, nothing is really gained by requiring such checks by private individuals conducting private sales.

Whether buyers and sellers connect on a social media site, through a web site designed specifically around firearms sales, or via some other online platform, hardly matters at all. If people are abiding by local, state, and federal laws, I can’t see why there’s concern about this happening on Facebook.

What are your thoughts?

Share this post with all your favorite services!

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Image courtesy of koratmember / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of koratmember / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Last week, the US Department of State released its human rights report for 2013, which offers up an assessment of human rights compliance and non-compliance in countries around the world. Secretary of State, John Kerry, had this to say about this year’s report:

Governments that protect human rights and are accountable to their citizens are more secure, bolster international peace and security, and enjoy shared prosperity with stable democratic countries around the world. Countries that fail to uphold human rights can face economic deprivation and international isolation. Despite that simple truth, these reports show that too many governments continue to tighten their grasp on free expression, association, and assembly, using increasingly repressive laws, politically motivated prosecutions and even new technologies to deny citizens their universal human rights, in the public square, and in virtual space.

The irony here, of course, is that our nation’s credibility is questionable at best on many of these measures. The NSA’s eavesdropping activities alone, as revealed by the Snowden leaks, have made it clear that our own government is willing to engage in legally questionable practices that have a chilling effect on free speech, freedom of expression, and the willingness of citizens to lawfully disagree with their own government. Eavesdropping, of the type that the government claims is legal and necessary, also erodes press freedoms enshrined in the US Constitution that are fundamental to the maintenance of a free and vibrant democracy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Image courtesy of Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you haven’t seen it yet, the below dashcam video of a New Jersey man being stopped, beaten, and otherwise abused by police — without any apparent justification or cause, as it turns out — is pretty disturbing to watch. 

According to a New York Daily News article about the incident, Marcus Jeter, the man being arrested in the video, was pulled over by police who accused him of fleeing and attempting to take one of their firearms during a struggle. None of which was true.

Alleged Police Misconduct Caught on Tape

Jeter had this to say about what happened during the encounter:

“The next thing I know, as he’s coming around the car, the glass gets busted and all the glass goes in my face,” Jeter told WABC. “My hands are up. As soon as he opens the door, one of the officers just reached in and punched me in the face. As he’s trying to take my seatbelt off, he’s elbowing me in my jaw. And I’m like ‘Ahhh!’ and he’s like ‘Stop trying to take my gun! Stop resisting arrest!’”

Police initially charged Jeter with several felonies, all of which could have landed him in prison for as much as five years.  But all those were later dropped after an alleged police cover-up was disclosed.  Several officers involved have since been charged with a variety of crimes stemming from the incident, including assault and falsifying reports, after a second dashcam video was turned over to Jeter’s defense attorney. It shows pretty clearly what actually happened that night.

And, the only crimes it appears to show are those being committed by the police.

One of the officers has already pleaded guilty to a “tampering” charge, but the cases against two other officers are still pending. I’m willing to give the officers the benefit of the doubt, of course, just like any other accused person. It’s important for all the facts to come in and to wait and see what a judge and jury determine to be true about what happened that night.

But, I also can’t fathom why any cop anywhere would be okay with assaulting and verbally abusing an innocent person, arresting him without probable cause, charging him with crimes he never committed, lying about all of this in police reports, and then believing that somehow he would get away with it.

To me, that’s not only about an individual officer’s willingness to engage in illegal, unethical, and antisocial behavior, but also smacks of an overall culture of corruption. The officers must have felt they could act with impunity, if indeed they did do what they appear to have done in the video and what’s been alleged in the formal charges against them.

Either that, or there’s some other reasonable explanation that hasn’t been revealed yet.

It’s awful to think what might have happened to Jeter had his attorney not requested the video, or had police not released it. An innocent man would likely have gone to prison for doing nothing more than running across some cops with an apparent axe to grind.

Have a safe weekend!

Share this post with all your favorite services!

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Another week, and yet another social media app has parents, school officials, and others concerned about its potential to facilitate cyber-bullying. Yik Yak is an app that lets people broadcast information to other users in their geographic area based on the GPS settings of the device being used. According to the Yik Yak site, users can:

screen568x568

In other words, it’s like an amplifier that anonymously broadcasts your text messages to hundreds of people within a 5 mile radius around you in real time. Sounds like the perfect cyber-bullying tool to me.

But, never fear, the app’s creators forbid transmission of “any pornographic, obscene, offensive, threatening, harassing, libelous, hate-oriented, harmful, defamatory, racist, illegal, or otherwise objectionable material or content.” And, I’m certain everyone will abide by those terms.

The creators are also careful to point out that they are not responsible for material transmitted via their service:

Yik Yak, LLC is in no way responsible for user-generated content. Content posted on this app is subject to:

  • 1st Amendment: Freedom/Anonymity of speech is protected under the 1st Amendment
  • Communications Decency Act: “Operators of Internet services are not to be construed as publishers and thus not legally liable for the words of third parties who use their services”

I’m all for free speech, of course, but I’m also concerned that this particular app creates yet another vector for people to transmit harmful information about others in a way that completely skirts personal responsibility. One school in Missouri is already contending with the fallout from this particular app.

App creates cyber bullying concerns in Johnson County

What are your thoughts? Does this app go too far? What are parents doing to address this and prevent Yik Yak from being used as yet another tool to bully children?

Share this post with all your favorite services!

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Image courtesy of tiverlucky FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of tiverlucky FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In many of the corrections courses I teach, we frequently end up having some variation of the below conversation:

Student: We need to build more prisons because crime is increasing.

Me: Actually, crime isn’t increasing, and there’s little consensus that prisons work to reduce crime rates anyway. In fact, many who research the relationship between incarceration and crime feel that we’ve gone too far in our use of prisons, which has lead to overcrowding.

Student: But if our prisons are overcrowded, we need to build more.

Me: Or, we could stop over-relying on prisons as a primary way to deal with crime.

Student: But, if people don’t believe they’ll go to prison, they’ll just commit more crimes.

And on it goes.

I don’t fault my students, of course. They’re just learning about the system and how it works, and I expect them to bring their ideas about correctional practice to the classroom. I also expect them to challenge what they’re learning and to think critically about all of the new information they’re being exposed to in their studies.

It’s certainly no wonder that students are frequently convinced that a) crime is on the rise, and b) we need more prisons. Both of those points are commonly misconstrued in the media and, more significantly, by ill-informed politicians seeking to whip the public into a frenzy over crime issues as a way to secure funding for this or that pet project.

True, the evidence is somewhat mixed on whether or not prisons actually reduce crime. There’s some research showing that the incapacitating effect of imprisonment does reduce certain forms of criminal behavior.  The relationship between incarceration and crime rates is complex, though, which makes studying it quite challenging.

But some leading academics have pointed out the illogical elements of pro-prison arguments. On this point, Dr. Joan Petersilia of Stanford University wrote that:

…if there were a close correlation between crime rates and incarceration, the prisons would have begun emptying out in the late 1990s, when crime in most of its forms began to decrease.

As we know, that’s not what’s happened at all. Incarceration rates have soared to the point where the US  leads the world in the use of imprisonment. According to a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (PDF), the incarceration rate in the United States (including both jails and prisons) was 920 per 100,000 residents in 2012, down slightly from the 1,000 persons per 100,000 rate in 2009.

The reductions in imprisonment rates is welcome, but will that translate into increases in crime as some fear? Not necessarily, at least according to a 2013 summary by the Pew Public Safety Performance Project. According to the below infographic that summarizes state data on 2012 imprisonment rates, 29 states simultaneously reduced both the rates of imprisonment and crime.

PSPP_pop_webgraphic_FINAL

The Pew infographic also makes a direct comparison between data from two states (Maryland and Arizona) that both experienced more than a 20% drop in the crime rate but also had very different rates of incarceration. Maryland reduced prison use by 11% while Arizona increased their use by 4%.

This highlights the complex relationship between incarceration and crime rates – but the overall message is clear:  it is possible to reduce prison use without increasing crime.

In my opinion, we’re at a point where reducing our reliance on prisons is not only a good idea, it’s a necessity. We’re spending billions of dollars annually to house, feed, and clothe inmates, many of whom could be safely and effectively supervised in the community at a fraction of the cost. As Dr. Petersilia also noted in her article above, informal discussions with correctional administrators around the country have disclosed their belief that fully 10-15% of their current prison populations could be safely released to the community.

When we couple all of this with the advancements in evidence-based practices, such as Cognitive Behavioral Interventions, it becomes apparent that we now have tools that can indeed reduce our reliance on incarceration while also increasing our ability to successfully intervene with correctional clients in community-based settings.

What are your thoughts? More prisons, less prisons? Leave a comment and share your opinions below!

Share this post with all your favorite services!

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

The US Constitution proclaims the right of the people to keep and bear firearms, but the reality for some law-abiding citizens has been quite the opposite. Last summer, the New York Times published an article about otherwise law-abiding folks from all walks of life being arrested and charged in New York City for violating local firearm statutes.

Photo courtesy of nesoiam

Photo courtesy of nesoiam

Their crime? Bringing a legally-owned firearm from their home state to New York City without first understanding New York’s draconian gun laws.

According to the above Times article:

The visitor arrives in New York and retrieves the gun. No problem there. They see the city, whether armed or with the gun locked away at the hotel, without incident. Trouble arrives upon their return to La Guardia Airport or Kennedy Airport to fly home. The visitors repeat the procedure practiced at their home airport, presenting the firearm to a gate agent to be checked. Only this time, the gate agent calls police officers from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees the airports. The gun owners are then placed under arrest.

I wouldn’t argue against the fact that gun violence is a problem in our country. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, over 14,000 homicides were perpetrated in 2011, and 9,900 of those involved a firearm (PDF).  Obviously, the government does have a compelling public safety interest in reducing violence of all types, including gun violence.

I also wouldn’t argue against the right of individual states to establish their own laws either — whether that be to regulate firearms or anything else — but the patchwork of legal standards that exist around the country is destined to make law-abiding citizens, who have no intent to violate any law, into felons simply due to a misunderstanding.

So, what’s a law-abiding gun owner to do?

Many people scour the internet for advice before traveling with their firearm to another state.  A very, very bad idea, and here’s why:

Reciprocal Carry - Minnesota

The above was found on a web site intended to provide information about state-by-state gun laws across the US. It claims that Minnesota (my home state) doesn’t recognize firearm carry permits from any other states. But the link it provides in support of that assertion takes you to:

Minnesota DPS Gun Laws

That’s right. This is the Minnesota Department of Public Safety page on permit reciprocity that correctly identifies the out-of-state permits that Minnesota will indeed recognize as valid.

Now, you may or may not care about permit reciprocity issues specifically, but my point is that the internet has a very high potential to be wrong about all kinds of things (shocking, I know). And if you rely on it exclusively for guidance on where you can bring your legally owned firearm, you’ll potentially suffer the consequences.

So, take this advice from the Minnesota DPS:

Minnesota permit holders who plan to visit another state, and who also wish to carry a concealed firearm while visiting that state, are urged to contact that state before traveling. This will allow Minnesota permit holders to determine all restrictions or prohibitions regarding the carrying of concealed firearms in those states, as well as their laws regarding firearms and weapons in general. Most of these states have web pages dedicated to this subject. State firearm laws and reciprocal agreements may change frequently, and are also subject to court interpretation. Information contained on this page is not to be considered legal advice.

You should always contact an attorney licensed to practice law in your state for any legal advice.

In fact, contact an attorney who is familiar with all of the jurisdictions involved, and ask questions until you fully understand the gun laws at your destination and everywhere in between. It’s worth the time and money to protect yourself from needlessly being arrested and prosecuted for a crime you had no intention of committing.

What are some thoughts on all this? Do you have any experiences dealing with gun laws in other states? Leave a comment and share your ideas and experiences below!

Share this post with all your favorite services!

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine