PoliceIssues | Crime and Justice

Laws, policies and politics clash with the messiness of policing
(#321, 10/8/18)

      Let’s begin by summarizing two episodes in Nashville:

  • On February 10, 2017 Nashville police officer Josh Lippert was driving an unmarked cruiser when he observed an SUV run a stop sign and pull into a parking lot. Officer Lippert, who is white, parked behind the vehicle. He was immediately approached by its driver and sole occupant, Jocques Clemmons, a 31-year old black man. Officer Lippert said he told Clemmons, who appeared to be fumbling with something on his person, to return to his car. Instead, the man took off running (see surveillance video, beginning on the extreme upper left). Officer Lippert chased him on foot. As they made their way around parked cars a revolver reportedly fell from Clemmon’s waistband. According to Officer Lippert, Clemons snatched it up and turned towards him. That, Officer Lipper told investigators, is why he opened fire. “He was fixing to kill me. I truly believe he was fixing to kill me.” 

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In an era of highly lethal firearms, keeping patrol informed is job #1

     On October 8, 2016 Palm Springs police officers Lesley Zerebny and Jose “Gil” Vega were shot and killed as they stood outside a residence to which they had been called over a “simple family disturbance.” (Another officer who responded to the scene was wounded but is doing well.) Only moments earlier the father of John Felix, a 26-year old ex-con, had frantic ally begged a neighbor for help. “My son is in the house, and he’s crazy. He has a gun. He’s ready to shoot all the police.” Tragically, the officers learned that Felix was armed only after they arrived. When they called on him to come out he opened fire with an AR-15 .223 caliber semi-automatic rifle, shooting multiple rounds through the home’s front door.

     Officers Zerebny and Vega were wearing soft body armor. Given the weapon used, we can assume that it was ineffective. Due to their extreme velocity, .223 caliber (5.56 mm) and similar rifle ammunition readily penetrate the soft body armor that street cops typically wear. Specialized ceramic or hard metal inserts can stop these rounds, but vests so equipped are too heavy and uncomfortable to wear on patrol. (Felix reportedly used “armor-piercing” ammunition whose composition and construction is intended to pierce armor plates. But ordinary .223 rifle ammunition readily defeats soft body armor.)

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Poor witness ID + pressure to solve a crime = tragedy

     Inspiring stories don’t often come around, so when the Orange County (CA) Register published the first installment of a two-part series on the exploits of a Santa Ana police detective, we curled up for a good read. Then he recoiled in horror.

     No, we weren’t horrified by the crime, terrible as it was. A man driving a black, shiny 4-door Cadillac picked up a prostitute. She was driven to a secluded place, forced to perform unspeakable acts, choked nearly to death, then for good measure thrown in a dumpster. Fortunately, she survived. Amazingly, she had memorized six digits of the car’s license plate. Unfortunately, there was no match in the DMV database.

     Why did our ears curl? In horror at the investigation. In part two of the series we learn that four months after the crime a Santa Ana patrol officer caught two men having sex in a Cadillac. Although the car was white, the license plate didn’t match and the act was between members of the same gender, police placed a photo of the driver in a six-pack and showed it to the victim. Sure enough, she picked him out, and the man was arrested. At the preliminary hearing she nailed him again, this time in person. Despite the man’s protests, the judge bound him over for trial based on her identification alone.

     End of story? Thankfully, no. Three days later the DNA came back. There was no match. Although prosecutors don’t necessarily dismiss cases under such circumstances -- after all, prostitutes can have multiple sex partners -- this time they did.

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Speed Kills Acting swiftly can save lives. And take them, too. (#320, 9/23/18)

The Bail Conundrum Bail obviously disadvantages the poor. What are the alternatives? (#319, 9/4/18)

Make-Believe Surprise! A well-known terrorist winds up in the U.S. as a refugee (#318, 8/18/18)

Police Slowdowns (Part II) Cops can’t fix what ails America’s inner cities – and shouldn’t try (#317, 8/4/18)

Police Slowdowns (Part I) Bedeviled by scolding, cops hold back. What happens then? (#316, 7/22/18)

Should Every Town Field Its Own Cops? Recent tragedies bring into question the wisdom of small agencies (#315, 7/6/18)

No One Wants Ex-cons to Have Guns The New York Times affirms its liberal creds. And falls into a rabbit hole. (#314, 6/24/18)

Fewer Can Be Better Murder clearances have declined. Should we worry? (#313, 6/9/18)

The Blame Game Inmates are “realigned” from state to county supervision. Then a cop gets killed. (#312, 5/21/18)

Is Your Uncle a Serial Killer? Police scour DNA databanks for the kin of unidentified suspects (#311, 5/6/18)

There's no "Pretending" a Gun Sometimes split-second decisions are right, even when they're wrong (#310, 4/18/18)

A Reason? Or Just an Excuse? Figuring out why officers kill persons “armed” with a cell phone (#309, 4/5/18)

Loose Lips Enable Terrorists Safeguard sources and methods. Or wish that you had. (#308, 3/27/18)

Again, Kids Die. Again, our "Leaders" Pretend. Like the Dem’s, the GOP addresses gun lethality with make-believe (#307, 3/17/18)

Routinely Chaotic Rule #1: Don’t let chaos distort the police response. Rule #2: See Rule #1. (#306, 3/6/18)

Ban the Damned Things! There’s no “regulating” the threat posed by highly lethal firearms (#305, 2/21/18)

Why do Cops Lie? Often, for the same reasons as their superiors (#304, 2/10/18)

Be Careful What You Brag About (Part II) Citywide crime statistics are ripe for misuse (#303, 1/25/18)

Be Careful What You Brag About (Part I) Is the Big Apple's extended crime drop all it seems to be? (#302, 1/15/18)

Accidentally on Purpose A remarkable registry challenges conventional wisdom about the causes of wrongful conviction (#301, 12/24/17)

Massacre Control What can be done to prevent mass shootings? (#300, 11/19/17)

"Bump Stocks" Aren't the (Real) Problem Outlawing them is a good idea. But it’s hardly the solution. (#299, 10/8/17)

Sanctuary Cities, Sanctuary States (Part II) Should states legalize recreational pot? (#298, 9/5/17)

Sanctuary Cities, Sanctuary States (Part I) What happens when communities turn their backs on immigration enforcement? (#297, 8/23/17)

Three (In?)explicable Shootings Grievous police blunders keep costing citizen lives. Why? (#296, 8/1/17)

Silence Isn't Always Golden A proposal to deregulate firearms silencers ignores the hazards of policing (#295, 7/14/17)

A Lost Cause Legislators are ambushed. And a gun-numbed land shrugs and moves on. (#294, 6/24/17)

Are Civilians Too Easy on the Police? When attempts are made to sanction cops, citizens often get in the way (#293, 6/3/17)

Ideology Trumps Reason Clashing belief systems challenge criminal justice policymaking (#292, 5/16/17)

People do Forensics Conflicts about oversight neglect a fundamental issue (#291, 4/30/17)

Why Do Cops Succeed? Shifting resources from finding fault to studying success (#290, 4/13/17)

Guilty Until Proven Innocent Pressures to solve notorious crimes can lead to tragic miscarriages of justice (#289, 3/19/17)

Is Crime Up or Down? Well, it Depends It depends on where one sits, when we compare, and on who counts (#288, 2/27/17)

An Illusory Consensus (Part II) Good intentions don't always translate into good policy (#287, 2/10/17)

An Illusory Consensus America's police leaders agree on the use of force. Or do they? (#286, 1/29/17)

Do Gun Laws Work? Are they doing any good? We crunch the numbers to find out (#285, 1/11/17)

Is Trump Right About the Nation's Inner Cities? America's low-income communities desperately need a New Deal (#284, 12/17/16)

A Stitch in Time Could early intervention save officer and citizen lives? (#283, 11/26/16)

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished To avoid anointing Trump, the FBI Director falls into a trap of his own making (#282, 11/2/16)

A Matter of Life and Death In an era of highly lethal firearms, keeping patrol informed is job #1 (#281, 10/20/16)

Is it Always About Race? Unruly citizens and streets brimming with guns make risk-tolerance a very hard sell (#280, 10/5/16)

Words Matter In a conflicted, gun-saturated land, heated rhetoric threatens cops’ effectiveness - and their lives (#279, 9/17/16)

Where Should Cops Live? Officer-citizen conflicts stir renewed interest in residency requirements (#278, 9/2/16)

Getting Out of Dodge For families caught in dangerous neighborhoods, there is one option (#277, 8/19/16)

Better Late Than Never (Part II) DOJ proposes rules for forensic testimony. Do they go far enough? (#276, 8/3/16)

Good Guy/Bad Guy/Black Guy (Part II) Aggressive crime-fighting strategies can exact an unintended toll (#275, 7/18/16)

Good Guy/Bad Guy/Black Guy (Part I) Do cops use race to decide who poses a threat? (#274, 7/18/16)

Intended or not, a Very Rough Ride A hung jury and two acquittals mar Baltimore's crusade against police violence (#273, 7/3/16)

A Ban in Name Only Pretending to regulate only makes things worse (#272, 6/21/16)

Better Late Than Never (Part I) A "hair-raising" forensic debacle forces DOJ's hand (#271, 6/10/16)

Location, Location, Location Crime happens. To find out why, look to where (#270, 5/25/16)

Orange is the New Brown L.A.'s past sheriff and undersheriff pack their bags for Hotel Fed. (#269, 5/7/16)

Role Reversal Chicago's falling apart. Who can make the violence stop? (#268, 4/25/16)

Is a Case Ever too Cold? Citing factual errors, an Illinois prosecutor successfully moves to free a convicted killer (#267, 4/16/16)

After the Fact Ordinary policing strategies can't prevent terrorism (#266, 3/31/16)

More Rules, Less Force? PERF promotes written guidelines to reduce the use of force. Cops aren't happy (#265, 3/18/16)

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