Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 — Good Afternoon, Stay Safe
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Thursday's NYPD Holy Name Society's 100th Anniversary Celebration at 1 PP Has Been Cancelled
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16 More Retired Police Officers And Four More Former Firefighters
Next wave of arrests in massive NYPD, FDNY disability scam coming: Sources
Nearly 30 additional defendants - including retired cops and firefighters - will be arrested Tuesday as part of the Manhattan District Attorney's mammoth probe into an alleged disability scam, the Daily News has learned.
By Shayna Jacobs — Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 'The New York Daily News'
Nearly 30 additional defendants — including retired cops and firefighters — are expected to be arrested Tuesday as part of the Manhattan District Attorney's mammoth probe into an alleged disability scam, the Daily News has learned.
The additional defendants include the sons of two of the scam's alleged ringleaders, who also received benefits by claiming disabilities that authorities contend did not exist.
They are expected to be arraigned in Manhattan Supreme Court on Tuesday after the morning sweep, sources said.
It will be the second round-up since Jan. 7, when over 100 beneficiaries of an estimated $21.5 million in Social Security disability payments were busted for grand larceny.
Alleged orchestrators lawyer Raymond Lavalle, 83; former detective's union employee John Minerva, 61; ex-cop Joseph Esposito, 64; and consultant Thomas Hale, 89, are charged with recruiting, steering and vouching for dozens of SSDI cheaters.
Esposito's son, retired cop Sam Esposito, will be charged with fraudulently getting benefits, along with Douglas Hale, whose dad allegedly steered hundreds of fakers, a source said.
The purported ringleaders are expected to be named in new court papers, but they will not appear again in court as part of the latest wave of arrests, sources said.
Last month, District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. announced the indictment of dozens individuals who allegedly claimed bogus ailments to cash in on a monthly pay out.
Some falsely claimed they suffered as a result of work they did on and after Sept. 11, prosecutors said.
The DA said the fraud may be as large as $400 million and predicted that hundreds of additional arrests were possible.
Among those already arrested was 60-year-old ex-cop Louis Hurtado, who brazenly ran a martial arts club in Florida for years but cashed in on $470,395 through his allegedly fake affliction, and Glenn Lieberman, 48, a former narcotics cop, who became the poster boy of the racket when prosecutors unveiled a photo of him flashing two middle fingers while living it up on a jet ski.
To be eligible for SSDI, a person must be completely unable to work as a result of a disorder.
More to be charged in 9/11 Social Security disability scam
By Rebecca Rosenberg — Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 'The New York Post'
Another 28 NYPD and FDNY pension cheaters — including two sons of the alleged ringleaders of the massive Social Security disability scheme — will be swept up Tuesday in the ongoing probe, sources told The Post.
The scammers, many of whom pretended to have suffered emotional trauma from 9/11, will be rounded up in the morning by investigators from the Manhattan District Attorney's Office.
They will be arraigned in the afternoon before Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Daniel Fitzgerald, according to the sources.
The new roundup follows the January arrest of 106 people in the $400 million taxpayer fraud — including bird-flipping, jet-skiing poster boy Greg Lieberman, 48.
Lieberman, a former Brooklyn anti-gang cop, allegedly scored nearly $176,000 in bogus disability and claimed to suffer from debilitating depression and panic attacks. He then brazenly posted online photos of himself zipping around on a jet-ski — while giving two middle fingers.
Among those expected to be nabbed in Tuesday's pickup is retired cop Sam Esposito, the son of former cop Joseph Esposito, 70, an alleged kingpin of the disability plot who recruited and coached retirees.
Sam Esposito is expected to be charged with fraudulently obtaining disability payments, the sources said.
Another scion of the alleged scam, Douglas Hale, also is expected to be charged, according to the sources. Hale's 89-year-old father, Thomas, headed a company that allegedly helped prepare bogus Social Security applications.
The new group to be rounded up includes 16 retired NYPD cops and four retired FDNY members, a source close to the investigation said. Of that batch, one lives in Wisconsin, another in South Carolina and two in Florida,
Like the previously busted cops and firefighters, many in the latest group allegedly claimed falsely that they worked at Ground Zero or lost loved ones on 9/11 in a bid to score fat disability payments.
In addition to the elder Esposito and Hale, prosecutors say ringleaders included police-union employee John Minerva, who allegedly helped gather applicants, and former FBI agent and ex-Nassau County prosecutor Raymond Lavallee, who allegedly reviewed the final paperwork.
The four men, prosecutors said, coached greedy NYPD and FDNY members on how to fake mental illness, and helped them prepare their bogus claims.
Many of the alleged fraudsters claimed they couldn't sleep, do simple arithmetic or even leave their own homes — but investigators found that they'd been piloting helicopters, teaching karate, deep-sea fishing and even running half-marathons.
Prosecutors say one of the worst offenders was ex-cop Louis Hurtado, who took in $470,000 in the alleged scheme and was caught teaching karate.
Hurtado had been conning the system the longest, since 1989, authorities said.
Officials believe that as many as 1,000 people might be involved in the colossal swindle.
Indictments for 28 More in Fraud Case
By JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr. — Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 'The New York Times'
Twenty-eight more people, including retired police officers and firefighters, have been indicted as part of the Manhattan district attorney's investigation into an extensive scheme to defraud Social Security disability insurance, law enforcement officials said.
The new defendants include the sons of two of the accused organizers of the scheme who were arrested last month along with 104 others, including dozens of former police officers and eight former firefighters, the officials said.
Prosecutors have accused the defendants of feigning mental illnesses to obtain more than $21.4 million in disability payments from the federal government. Many of the accused falsely claimed to have been unnerved and mentally impaired while working during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, court papers said.
According to the court papers, the defendants were coached by a retired officer, Joseph Esposito, 64, to pretend to have symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder during exams by psychiatrists from the Social Security Administration.
Prosecutors say the scheme was orchestrated by a Long Island lawyer, Raymond Lavallee, 83, who specializes in representing people with disability claims, and a consultant, Thomas Hale, 89, who had been convicted of operating a similar fraud involving veterans on Long Island in 1983.
John Minerva, 61, a former disability consultant for the Detectives Endowment Association, was also a major player in the scheme, prosecutors say. He referred retired officers and firefighters sent to him by Mr. Esposito to two psychiatrists who said they had mental illnesses. The doctors have not been charged.
All four men have pleaded not guilty.
The newly indicted defendants were expected to be arrested Tuesday and taken before Justice Daniel FitzGerald in Supreme Court in Manhattan. They include Sam Esposito, a retired officer and the son of Joseph Esposito, and Douglas Hale, whose father is Thomas Hale, law enforcement officials said. The 28 people are accused of grand larceny and filing fraudulent documents.
Prosecutors have said the scheme stretches to 1988 and may involve as many as 1,000 people, making it the biggest case of its kind in the history of the Social Security Administration. Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, has estimated the total loss to the government at about $400 million.
More than 100 people have been arrested, though only a few have pleaded guilty. Anthony Maher, 44, a retired officer who now lives in Pima, Ariz., pleaded guilty earlier this month to grand larceny and agreed to repay $192,000 in exchange for probation. A similar deal was reached by a retired sanitation worker, Raymond Herlihy, 66, who pleaded guilty to grand larceny and agreed to repay $165,000.
'Traffic Nazi' Flimflams the New York Times But Very Few Others
This Time, de Blasio Confronts S.U.V. Issue Head-On (NOT)
By KATE TAYLORFEB — Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 'The New York Times'
(Edited for brevity and generic law enforcement pertinence)
COMMENT: Really! He confronted the S.U.V. issue head on? Maybe I'm just really, really stupid. I just can't figure it out. What does blowing through stop signs and red lights, and speeding all over the city have to do with the Traffic Nazi's personal security? Please tell? One has never been equated with the other, at least not before. - Mike Bosak
Three days after walking out of a news conference as reporters shouted questions at his back, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday finally fielded inquiries (??) about his motorcade's caught-on-camera violations of traffic laws — but he could not resist offering reporters some pointed criticism of his own.
Addressing a City Hall press corps that had made much of his reticence after a television news report showed his S.U.V. speeding and driving through stop signs without pausing, Mr. de Blasio insisted that he would not second-guess the police officers who drive him and are responsible for his safety.
"No one's above the law," Mr. de Blasio said. "I think that's a very different question, however, from the question of security for someone protected by the N.Y.P.D., and I think those two things should be separated. And my view was, that hasn't happened enough in the last few days."
The report, by WCBS-TV, had been particularly awkward for Mr. de Blasio, because it came just two days after he announced a sweeping set of proposals intended to reduce pedestrian deaths, including increased enforcement of traffic laws and reduced speed limits.
When a reporter said on Monday that, after watching the report, many New Yorkers were questioning whether the administration followed its own policies, Mr. de Blasio curtly interjected.
"Let me just respectfully say, I'm not interested in the construct of what you as an individual think many New Yorkers think," he said. "I say that with absolute respect. I talk to New Yorkers all the time. My colleagues talk to New Yorkers all the time. Let's not get into this concept of any one of us will speak for all the people."
Of course, Mr. de Blasio said, every city employee needed to respect the law, including the traffic laws, and to "comport themselves in a way that's safe."
But when asked if he had the discretion to tell his drivers how fast to go, Mr. de Blasio said: "I don't tell the N.Y.P.D. how to do their work when it comes to protecting me. They're the experts. I respect that. So, in any given moment, they may see something I don't see, they may act in a way that isn't immediately understandable to me, but they're trained to handle things in a certain way."
Mr. de Blasio had ducked questions about the WCBS-TV report since it aired. His office first referred reporters to the Police Department. Then, on Friday afternoon, after a lengthy news conference at City Hall about a settlement of litigation over Long Island College Hospital, Mr. de Blasio read a short statement and walked out. He held no events over the weekend; aides said he was on a family trip to Pennsylvania.
His news conference on Monday came at Staten Island Borough Hall, where the mayor met with the borough president, James S. Oddo, and other local officials about Hurricane Sandy recovery.
Mayor de Blasio Gets Testy In First Grilling On His NYPD Security Detail's Driving Habits
Mayor de Blasio, in his first media grilling since he was caught silently sitting shotgun while his NYPD detail flouted traffic rules, insisted his security team did nothing wrong.
BY Jennifer Fermino — Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 'The New York Daily News'
The press availability, held after a Hurricane Sandy meeting with Staten Island officials, was cut short after four off-topic questions - half the number of the last Q&A that he took off-topic questions.
That Q&A occurred right before his detail was caught on camera blowing through two stop signs and going above the speed limit on city streets.
De Blasio - veering between testiness and resignation over the questioning into what he repeatedly insisted was an NYPD matter - said the traffic violations were the result of the NYPD protecting him.
The violations came just two days after he unveiled a series of street safety initiatives aimed at reducing fatal accidents.
"The NYPD provides security and they do it in a very professional manner, and I will not get into a discussion of their security protocols," he said. "That's just a red line from my point of view because that to me is a very slippery slope. I wish we were living in an environment where I didn't need security, I really do. But that's not the world we live in."
He refused to say why his team felt the need to go so fast.
"They may act in a way that isn't immediately understandable to me, but they're trained to handle things in a certain way," de Blasio said.
When a reporter said people thought he was violating the same laws he was trying to enforce, he warned her not to attempt to speak for New Yorkers.
"I'm not interested in the construct of what you as an individual think many New Yorkers think," he said in a disdainful tone, before adding, "I say that with absolute respect."
"I talk to New Yorkers all the time. My colleagues talk to New Yorkers all the time. Let's not get into this concept of any one of us will speak for all the people," he said.
And he sounded outright annoyed when explaining that - despite his detail's behavior - he expected everyone to follow the rules of the road.
"Should everyone who works for me and should I follow the law scrupulously? Of course. Yes," he said.
But he struck a philosophical tone when asked if the thought the barrage of criticism he's faced since taking office for everything from his detail's driving to keeping school open during a huge snowstorm was unfair.
"'If you don't like the heat, get out of the kitchen,' as Harry Truman used to say," he said.
"And I chose to take the heat."
Mayor de Blasio Addresses Speeding Controversy
By Michael Howard Saul — Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 'The Wall Street Journal' / New York, NY
UPDATED | Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday his security detail and all New York City employees should abide by traffic laws, just days after his police-driven SUV was caught by a television crew allegedly speeding and running through stop signs.
But Mr. de Blasio, who took office on Jan. 1, said he wasn't going to second guess his security detail. WCBS-TV reported last week that the mayor's SUV was traveling above the speed limit and violating other traffic laws on Thursday, two days after he unveiled a comprehensive citywide plan to combat traffic fatalities.
At a news conference on Staten Island Monday afternoon, Mr. de Blasio took several questions on the controversy. On Friday, the mayor declined to take questions on the issue at his news conference, leaving the room as reporters shouted questions.
"Every city employee needs to respect the law, myself included needs to respect the traffic laws, needs to comport themselves in a way that's safe, of course," Mr. de Blasio said Monday. "No one's above the law. It's a fundamental view I hold in everything I think about public life in a democratic society."
"My message to my detail and all city employees is obey the law, drive in a way that is safe and be careful," he added. "There's no question about it."
But the mayor made clear on Monday he won't question his security detail, though last year he campaigned heavily on questioning other police tactics.
"There needs to be a respect for the fact that the NYPD provides security and they do it in a very professional manner," he said. "And I will not get into a discussion of their security protocols. That is just a red line from my point of view because that, to me, is a very slippery slope."
"I don't tell the NYPD how to do their work when it comes to protecting me—they're the experts," he added. "I respect that. So, in any given moment, they may see something I don't see. They may act in a way that isn't immediately understandable to me. But they're trained to handle things in a certain way."
The mayor said he wishes he lived in an environment in which security wasn't necessary.
"I really do," he said. "But that's not the world we live in."
The mayor reiterated that he stands firmly behind his administration's plan, titled "Vision Zero," to reduce traffic fatalities. At a news conference last week, Mr. de Blasio said he is seeking permission from the state to lower the speed limit citywide to 25 miles an hour from 30. He said the NYPD will also be beefing up enforcement of traffic laws, specifically targeting speeding and drivers failing to yield to pedestrians.
"I wouldn't have put forward 'Vision Zero' if I wasn't fundamentally serious. It could have been really easy to put forward something less," he said. "I believe in it. There's a reason why it's such an extensive program. We aim to change this city fundamentally."
Later in the afternoon, at City Hall, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said she is very comfortable with the police who are responsible for driving her. She said she hopes her detail is obeying the law.
"We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard," she said. "And the expectation is that they are abiding by those rules."
Ms. Mark-Viverito described her detail as "professional" and she said she has been "satisfied" with how her security team has conducted itself.
At the mayor's news conference, Mr. de Blasio responded to questions about whether he believes he has been harshly criticized by the media. In addition to the report about his security detail, an article in The Wall Street Journal earlier this month reported he contacted a high-ranking police official on behalf of a political supporter who was arrested.
"If you don't like the heat get out of the kitchen as Harry Truman used to say, and I chose to take the heat," the mayor said. "I think there has to be a different examination of what matters and doesn't matter in the scheme of things."
Mr. de Blasio said the public discourse should focus on the fundamental issues that affect New Yorkers' lives. "I think too much of the time the debate veers away into, you know, sideshows," he said. "But I'm not shocked by that."
Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan
NYPD's New Transportation Chief Talks Vision Zero at Council Hearing
By Stephen Miller — Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 'Streetsblog New York.Com' / New York, NY
A marathon City Council hearing elicited some new details about Mayor Bill de Blasio's Vision Zero agenda and brought out the raw emotion of New Yorkers mourning loved ones killed on city streets.
The top item on the agenda at the joint transportation and public safety committee hearing was police enforcement of traffic laws. Newly-minted NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan said the department would focus on speeding and failure to yield, as well as improper turns, disobeying signage, and using a handheld device while driving.
Chan trumpeted a recent increase in staffing at the Highway Division, soon increasing to 270 officers from the previous 170. But under questioning from Council Member Corey Johnson, Chan revealed some of the limitations of that unit. "They're dedicated to patrol the highways: FDR Drive, Henry Hudson Parkway and roadways of that nature," Chan said. "In terms of enforcement on the street, it's going to be on the precinct level."
With precinct-level attention traditionally focused on violent and property crime, many council members were skeptical that the department would devote sufficient resources to traffic safety. Chan said there are currently 56 speed guns distributed between 32 of the department's 77 precincts, and the department has another 200 speed guns on order — most of them using laser technology, which is more effective on city streets than traditional radar. Additional officers at each precinct will receive the four-day training to operate speed guns, Chan said.
Council Member James Vacca said a reduction in manpower has made it more difficult for the department to do traffic enforcement. "Since 2001, the Highway Unit was cut by 50 percent," he said. "Local precincts were also coping with a 7,000[-person] citywide reduction in manpower."
For Vision Zero to be successful, Council Member Brad Lander said, it has to be about more than just providing additional manpower, which may or may not materialize. "This is a big change in NYPD culture and structure," he said. "Recruits don't sign up for the academy, in their minds, to write speeding tickets."
"My goal is to change the mindset of the individual officers who are on daily patrol in the precincts. They are the ones who are going to make a difference on this," Chan said. "I cannot rely on a specialty unit to do this to achieve this goal."
At the press conference last week unveiling the city's Vision Zero Action Plan, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said the police, even with a renewed commitment to traffic enforcement, simply could not be everywhere they are needed to issue speeding and failure-to-yield tickets. Automated enforcement could fill the gap, but so far Albany legislation has restricted the city to 20 school zone speed cameras and 150 red-light cameras.
Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said Vision Zero — specifically, reducing the citywide speed limit and securing control over enforcement cameras — ranks high on the mayor's Albany legislative agenda. "We aim to try and get some action this year," she said, adding that she hopes her agency's work over the next few months will build momentum for action from the state.
Trottenberg has set a goal of implementing street redesigns on 50 corridors, reducing speed limits on 25 arterial streets, adding 250 speed humps, and improving lighting at 1,000 intersections. To map out where these changes will be happening, the agency will be organizing traffic safety plans for each borough, and will soon outline a schedule of community meetings to hear concerns about traffic safety hotspots.
It's not just DOT that will be gathering input: Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, testifying this morning, said community board managers in her borough have suggested 90 streets and intersections in need of attention.
"Never before have we seen such broad recognition that New York City faces an epidemic when it comes to traffic injuries and deaths," transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez said, adding that cooperation must extend across a wide range of communities and officials.
During his testimony, Taxi and Limousine Commission Chief Operating Officer Conan Freud said his agency is in many ways bound by rules outside of its control. Currently, the TLC can only suspend or revoke a hack license once there's adjudication of a ticket. A bill from Council Member Helen Rosenthal would automatically suspend licenses for taxi drivers who kill.
The taxi driver who killed 9-year-old Cooper Stock on the Upper West Side, for instance, is still driving a cab. "He got away with a $300 summons. He killed a boy," Rosenthal said, before asking what it would take to keep taxi drivers who kill off the streets until an investigation takes place.
"It's a simple question. It's a complicated answer," Freud said. The TLC is currently reviewing Rosenthal's legislation.
NYPD's crash investigations didn't get much attention during today's hearing, but Amy Cohen, whose son Sammy was killed by a driver on Prospect Park West, told Streetsblog yesterday that NYPD said it would begin regularly releasing crash reports to families. Traditionally, it has been difficult for families to gain access to these records.
After city officials testified, family members of traffic violence victims told their stories. The emotion was palpable in the council chambers as mothers and fathers told of police coming to their doors with the news, their frustration at the lack of attention the cases were getting from the city, and the hope they felt with Vision Zero.
"I don't want you to feel sorry for me," said Lizi Rahman, whose son Asif was killed by a tractor-trailer truck driver on Queens Boulevard. "I want you to do something."
The NYPD Only Has 56 Speed Guns, And Other Observations From The Vision Zero Hearing
By Lauren Evans — Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 'The Gothamist' / New York, NY
A handful of Mayor de Blasio's top officials convened for an oversight hearing yesterday to talk about Vision Zero, a lofty Swedish concept that seeks to eliminate all traffic deaths by 2024.
The goal of the hearing—a joint venture by the City Council's Transportation and Public Safety committees—was to get details from heads of the NYPD, Department of Transportation and Taxi and Limousine Commission on each agency's specific plans for reducing traffic fatalities and injuries involving cars, bikes and pedestrians.
Council members came armed with a battery of questions for Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, the NYPD's newly appointed Transportation Chief Thomas Chan, and the TLC's Chief Operating Officer Conan Freud, a shellacking that occurred over the course of nearly three hours.
While each department was ready with their own respective lists of ideas, council members were incredulous as to how actual implementation would work. Chan said he plans to ramp up enforcement at the precinct level, targeting in particular the most dangerous violations like speeding and failure to yield. He added that intensive investigations will be conducted for all collisions resulting in critical injury, and that officers will be additionally trained to handle collision response.
But council members seemed reluctant to accept these promises on face value. Brooklyn Councilman Brad Lander repeatedly questioned Chan's plans for increased enforcement, given the department's already thinly stretched resources. Chan insisted it would be incumbent on officers already on patrol to keep an eye out for traffic violations, and that they would be held accountable for their results at Traffic Stat meetings.
"If [officers] had accidents in their particular sector, than I would want to see what they're doing," Chan said. Additional officers will also be trained to use speed guns, of which the NYPD will be acquiring an additional 200 (from the current 56), and a plan is in place to increase Highway Division patrols from 210 to 270.
Lander remained unconvinced. "You have to be able to commit the resources to do it, and that may mean actually pulling somebody from their cars into the places where they are able to write those summonses," he said.
Councilman Mark Weprin inquired as to whether the NYPD planned to crack down harder on reckless drivers, like those, for instance, who find their way onto sidewalks and walk away with no charges. Chan's response was less than satisfying: "We do have a Collision Investigation Department that will possibly take a look at those situations," he said, but ultimately change will come from Albany, where additional legislation could someday increase the penalty to a misdemeanor. "That would certainly help deter some of the accidents," he said, adding vaguely that each instance must be looked at "case by case."
DOT commissioner Polly Trottenberg also outlined her agency's plans for curbing traffic fatalities—altered signal timing to reduce speeding and intersection conflicts, new street lining and a more robust speed hump program, to name a few. Councilman James Vacca, though, was quick to point out the agency is already suffering from a backlog of speed humps—in many instances, installation is already more than a year late. "I support your commitment, I'm glad you're making that commitment, bet we have to free up that backlog," he said. Trottenberg admitted that was true. Still, she said, DOT aspires to redesign 50 of the city's deadliest corridors, reduce speeds on 25 arterial streets and improve lighting at 1,000 intersections.
"As soon as the weather gets a little better, you're going to see us out doing work on roadways all over the city, improving intersections, improving lighting, all the things that we've talked about in the report," Trottenberg insisted. "So those will be some concrete things you're going to see right away."
NYPD adding 200 radar guns to combat speeding
By Beth DeFalco — Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 'The New York Post'
Leadfoots, beware: The odds of getting a speeding ticket in New York City are about to go way up.
The Police Department is adding 200 radar guns to its arsenal — more than quadrupling the scant 56 now in the hands of cops in the city's 77 precincts.
Chief Thomas Chan, head of the NYPD's Transportation Bureau, testified before a City Council committee Monday that cops are already getting training in how to use the devices.
Chan also said traffic enforcement would be made part of an officer's daily work assignment.
Some legislators were skeptical about the crackdown.
"Let's be honest: Recruits don't sign up for the Police Academy in their minds to write speeding tickets," said Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Queens).
But Chan said the NYPD is committed to making the streets safer for pedestrians and motorists.
"My goal is to change the mindset of the individual officers who are on daily patrol in the precinct," he explained.
Chan was one of several witnesses at the hours-long hearing, the first to examine Mayor de Blasio's sweeping "Vision Zero" plan to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2024.
There were 286 people killed in traffic accidents citywide last year.
Meanwhile, Council Member Chaim Deutsch (D-Brooklyn) suggested some cops were being overzealous in his Sheepshead Bay/Midwood district, where Orthodox women have complained about being pulled over for fixing their wigs because it appears they're using cellphones.
Seeking Details on Plan to End Traffic Fatalities
By J. DAVID GOODMANFEB — Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 'The New York Times'
Speed humps. Crossing guards. Police officers on patrol just being more alert to lawbreaking drivers around them.
As the City Council heard testimony Monday on Mayor Bill de Blasio's ambitious plans to increase pedestrian safety, his goal of ending traffic fatalities met fundamental questions of how it would work on the city's streets, crosswalk by crosswalk.
The hearing, which stretched to more than four hours, included worry over the thin ranks of school crossing guards ("I actually brought some applications with me today," said Chief Thomas M. Chan of the Police Department), statistics on the number of speed-detection guns (56 for all 77 precincts), and testimony from parents of children killed in traffic, their voices quavering as they held glossy photographs of the dead.
"The driver changed our lives forever," said Amy Tam-Liao, whose 3-year-old daughter, Allison, was killed in October by a sport utility vehicle making a left turn as she walked in a crosswalk with her grandmother.
For the council members on hand, it was a first chance to publicly question the de Blasio administration over the traffic plan, known as Vision Zero and based on the idea that all traffic deaths are, in principle, preventable.
How those deaths might be prevented took up 42 pages of proposals that included lowering the citywide speed limit to 25 miles per hour from 30, expanding the number of red-light and speed-tracking cameras that issue tickets — both of which need approval in Albany — and redesigning streets to slow traffic.
Councilwoman Vanessa L. Gibson, the new chairwoman of the public safety committee, observed that the city had already made strides in bringing down traffic fatalities over the last two decades, but said more needed to be done. In 2013, 176 pedestrians died in traffic accidents in New York City, according to police data.
Mr. de Blasio announced his plan to "literally" bring deaths to zero near where an 8-year-old boy was killed in traffic in December, and he unveiled its details last week near the site of three fatal accidents.
But the hearing provided no details on cost or a timeline for reaching the mayor's goal as council members questioned Chief Chan, the head of the Police Department's transportation bureau; Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, of the Transportation Department; and Conan Freud, the chief operating officer of the Taxi and Limousine Commission.
The city is currently short approximately 200 crossing guards, Chief Chan said, a fact he attributed in part to the position's hours. In Manhattan's First Precinct, for example, there are five crossing guard positions but only one filled, the precinct commander said at a meeting last month.
Several council members argued that the plan would require broad changes at the Police Department.
"I think we should be honest: This is a big change in N.Y.P.D. culture and structure," Councilman Brad Lander of Brooklyn said. "Recruits don't sign up for the police academy in their minds to write speeding tickets."
In response, Chief Chan said that the plan's success would depend on individual officers in local precincts, whose "mind-set" would likely have to change in many cases. They could also be held accountable for addressing dangerous traffic conditions, he said, adding that the department had ordered about 200 more speed guns to help in the task.
Pedestrian advocates and some council members have bristled at the absence of criminal charges in many fatal accidents. On Monday, Councilman Mark S. Weprin suggested that, if a car ends up on the curb, the presumption should be that a crime has occurred.
Prosecutions of drivers after crashes are complicated and not always possible, said Karen Friedman Agnifilo, the chief assistant district attorney in Manhattan. "Until the law is changed, our hands are tied," she said. But by the time she spoke, some four hours in, much of the hearing room had emptied out.
Cop Killer Skating / Tragic Murder of 40 Pct. Hero Daniel Enchautegui
Sopranos actor jailed for botched robbery that led to death of police officer gets his first acting role since leaving prison
Actor jailed for burglary that resulted in the death of NYPD officer
Lillo Brancato was released on New Year's Eve after serving eight years
He hopes to resurrect his acting career and has already got his first role
Brancato, 37, is set to star in pop singer Natali Yura's latest music video
By James Nye and Alex Greig — Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 'The Daily Mail' / London, England
Lillo Brancato, an actor who once starred in The Sopranos, has landed his first acting role since leaving prison - in a music video.
Brancato, 37, is set to star in pop singer Natali Yura's latest music video for her song Fall For You, directed by the son of the producer of Scarface.
Brancato was sentenced to 10 years for his role in a botched robbery that led to the shooting death of an off-duty NYPD police officer.
Brancato was released on New Year's Eve after serving eight years in prison.
The music video is produced by New York nightclub owner Noel Ashman, who had promised to give Brancato a job once he was out of prison, the New York Post's Page Six reported.
Coincidentally, the music video will be directed by Michael Bregman, who is the son of the producer of classic mob drama Scarface.
Alan Sharpe, ex-Nassau detective, pleads guilty to official misconduct
By BRIDGET MURPHY — Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 'New York Newsday' / Melville, L.I.
A former Nassau County police supervisor ensnared in a corruption scandal tied to a 2009 school burglary pleaded guilty to official misconduct Monday as his trial was to begin.
A judge then sentenced retired Det. Sgt. Alan Sharpe to 150 community service hours and a $1,000 fine.
"I'm truly sorry for any inappropriate action I took involving this case," Sharpe said in pleading to the misdemeanor.
Acting State Supreme Court Justice Mark Cohen said Sharpe will satisfy a 2-year probation term when he finishes community service that he won't be allowed to do with law enforcement agencies.
Sharpe, former deputy commander of the Seventh Precinct detective squad, also gave up his right to an appeal.
The case involved the burglary of more than $10,000 worth of electronics from John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore.
Prosecutors alleged Sharpe was one of three high-ranking police officials who played a role in preventing the arrest of burglary suspect Zachary Parker, now 22, as a favor to his father, Gary Parker, a Merrick resident who was a partner in a Manhattan-based accounting firm and longtime donor to police causes.
"After the third and final conviction in this case, our prosecution has shown once again that there shouldn't be one set of rules for public officials and another set of rules for everyone else," Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice said in a statement.
Police never arrested Zachary Parker. Prosecutors presented his case to a grand jury that indicted him before he plead guilty and served prison time for the burglary.
Sharpe had faced five misdemeanors, including a sixth-degree conspiracy count and official misconduct charges, and could have gone to jail for a year if a jury had found him guilty, a Rice spokesman said.
In accepting Sharpe's plea, Cohen said he was less culpable than the other indicted police officials. But Cohen told Sharpe his actions reflected poorly on himself and the department he served for 27 years.
Authorities had accused Sharpe of ordering the burglary case closed on police computers by claiming falsely that school officials didn't want to press charges.
Sharpe pleaded to the count accusing him of ordering a subordinate to return stolen property, knowing it was evidence in an open case, to help Gary Parker by preventing his son's arrest.
The case started when the school's principal reported the theft and identified the younger Parker as a suspect. He was a high school senior and civilian employee in the police ambulance unit.
In 2013, a jury convicted former department Second Deputy Commissioner William Flanagan on misdemeanor charges of official misconduct and conspiracy. An appellate court has stayed his 60-day jail sentence as he appeals his case.
Also last year, retired Deputy Chief of Patrol John Hunter pleaded guilty to official misconduct. A judge gave him 3 years of probation, community service and ordered him to make a training video for police recruits.
Sharpe, 56, of Huntington Station, retired in January 2012 after earning an annual salary of about $139,000. Authorities have said that the case wouldn't affect Sharpe's pension.
In describing the government's plea offer, Assistant District Attorney Bernadette Ford told the judge Sharpe didn't personally reap material benefits from Gary Parker as the other defendants had.
Defense attorney Anthony Grandinette released a statement saying Sharpe's plea was "a practical decision" to end a two-year legal battle. He said Sharpe always said his role was limited to helping return stolen property on orders from a division chief and a deputy commissioner who said the school and Parkers had resolved the matter. He said Sharpe also had gotten prior communications from the school telling him not to arrest the younger Parker.
"Absolutely nothing that happened today changes the fact that Al Sharpe is a great husband, father and proud retired police officer," the lawyer said.
Sharpe wouldn't comment while leaving State Supreme Court in Mineola, pausing briefly to hug supporters.
DA: Former Detective Sentenced in Cover-Up Involvement
Last of three former cops sentenced in connection with preventing arrest of police benefactor's son.
By Heather Doyle — Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 'The Glen Cove Patch'
The final sentencing came down Monday in a case of three cops who reportedly worked to cover up and prevent the arrest of a police benefactor's son, according to the Nassau County District Attorney's office.
Alan Sharpe, 54, of Huntington Station, was sentenced to two years of probation, 150 hours of community service, and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine after pleading guilty to one count of official misconduct.
Sharpe was one of three officers who conspired to prevent the arrest of Zachary Parker, 21, of Merrick. Parker faced charged for stealing more than $3,000 worth of computers he swiped from Kennedy High School during the 2008-09 school year.
Gary Parker, Zachary's father and major police benefactor, contacted his friend and then-Deputy Police Commissioner William Flanagan asking for help.
John Hunter, NCPD Deputy Chief of Patrol at the time, then directed Sharpe to return the stolen computers and get a school administrator to sign a withdrawal of prosecution form. The administrator refused to sign it, but Sharpe told a subordinate to enter a "close-out" memo in the police records, claiming the school did not want to press charges.
Flanagan was convicted of two counts of official misconduct and sixth-degree conspiracy in February 2013. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail, 420 hours of community service, and a $1,000 fine.
Hunter pleaded guilty in May 2013 and was sentenced to three years of probation, 500 hours of community service, and was required to film a police training video to avoid illegal mistakes. He pleaded guilty to two counts of official misconduct and sixth-degree conspiracy.
Political Mover Who Did Dale In
Oheka Castle owner Gary Melius, 69, shot in the head by masked gunman in Suffolk County
An unknown assailant attacked him Monday at the castle, which he turned into a luxury hotel and event space on Long Island.
By Edgar Sandoval AND Tim O'Connor — Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 'The New York Daily News'
High-powered developer Gary Melius — a heavy hitter in the blood sport of Long Island politics — was shot in the head by a masked gunman in an apparent assassination attempt Monday outside his tony Oheka Castle, police said.
Melius, 69, was struck down about 12:30 p.m. as he climbed into his Mercedes in the valet parking lot of the Huntington castle he calls home, Suffolk County police said. The shooter fled and has not been captured.
A family member drove Melius to the hospital, where he underwent surgery for a bullet wound to his forehead. After surgery, he was alert and chatty in visits with family, friends and political bigwigs at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset.
"As best as we can determine, (Melius) was entering his vehicle," Suffolk Police Detective Sgt. John O'Sullivan said. "We don't have a motive at this point. It doesn't appear to be an accidental shooting at this time."
Police were not aware of any prior threats on Melius' life, O'Sullivan said. Police said they don't know if the gunman and Melius exchanged any words before the shooting.
Cops also hadn't determined how many shots were fired and had not interviewed the victim. Investigators will review surveillance footage.
Melius, who is as comfortable rubbing elbows with celebrities and former Presidents as he is with throwing elbows in rough-and-tumble Long Island politics, turned Oheka Castle from a decaying estate into a luxury hotel and events space.
The 109,000-square-foot castle hosted the 2010 wedding of then-Congressman Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin. Former President Bill Clinton officiated the nuptials. The Gold Coast estate routinely hosts celebrity events, including a May 2012 benefit for pop star Debbie Gibson's charitable foundation.
Melius has engaged in political skirmishes with some of Long Island's most powerful officials, a high-ranking political source told the Daily News. In recent weeks, Melius spoke with law enforcement authorities investigating political corruption, the source said.
"He said he had evidence of witness tampering and other crimes," the source said. "He said he had enough to put people in federal prison."
Melius, who was born in Jackson Heights, Queens, has long been involved with the Democratic, Republican and Independence parties, contributing more than $800,000 total to the three parties since 1999, according to state records.
Last year, he was at the heart of a political scandal that led to the resignation of Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Dale. At Melius' insistence, Dale directed cops to arrest a key witness in a case connected to the county executive race.
The witness, Randy White, was a campaign worker for third-party candidate Andrew Hardwick. Melius, who poured $23,000 into Hardwick's campaign coffers, was accused of backing the candidate as a favor to his Republican pal, County Executive Ed Mangano, in an effort to siphon votes from the Democratic candidate, Tom Suozzi.
In a lawsuit Democrats filed to challenge Hardwick's nominating petitions, White testified he was paid per signature, not by the hour, by Hardwick's campaign. Paying per signature is illegal.
Three days later, White was arrested on an outstanding warrant over an unrelated $250 fine he hadn't paid.
The campaign irregularities eventually got Hardwick sacked from the ballot. Suozzi still lost in November. In December, Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice, a Democrat, found no criminality in White's arrest. But Dale resigned immediately after her ruling.
Rice's decision drew the ire of her one-time political ally, Nassau County Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs.
"I am disappointed and surprised, and I disagree vehemently," he fumed then.
Whatever precipitated the shooting, it was likely connected to business — not politics, Jacobs said Monday.
"We've had our differences in the political realm," he said. "But I cannot imagine this would have anything to do with political disputes."
Rep. Pete King, a Republican and friend of Melius, said he had no idea who would want to harm Melius: "I just hope and pray that he's going to come back."
Frank Mackay, chairman of Suffolk's Independence Party, called the shooting "gutless."
"It was a cowardly act, whoever hired these guys," he said.
Melius boasts of friendships with King and Democratic Rep. Steve Israel.
He plays cards with Republican former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato. The ex-senator had a lunch date scheduled with Melius on Monday until he learned of the shooting from Melius' daughter, according to Newsday. "It was not a robbery," D'Amato told Newsday after leaving his pal's hospital room, where cops were posted outside. "It was an attempt at assassination . . . They just shot him."
Melius bought the Oheka Castle in 1984 for $1.5 million after it had fallen into disrepair. He renovated the building and grounds to the tune of $30 million. The castle, built in 1919 by financier Otto Kahn, was used as a setting in the classic 1941 film "Citizen Kane."
When Melius fell on hard times financially in 1988, he sold the property to a Japanese company. He rebounded and bought it back for $30 million in 1998.
In August, Melius negotiated a modification of Oheka's $27.9-million mortgage loan and got a five-year extension, Newsday reported, citing Trepp, a Manhattan-based company that tracks commercial mortgages. A year earlier, Melius had defaulted on the loan.
With Rocco Parascandola and Oren Yaniv
Developer shot in the face outside castle home
By Larry Celona, Jamie Schram, Selim Algar and Carl Campanile — Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 'The New York Post'
A Long Island political power broker was shot in the face Monday on the sprawling grounds of his Oheka Castle in an attempted assassination.
A masked man fired a bullet into Gary Melius, 69, just as he was getting into his Mercedes-Benz at around 12:30 p.m. in the valet area of the Huntington estate, which he uses as a hotel, catering hall and his family residence, authorities said.
Melius — a kingmaker with deep ties to officials in the Democratic, Republican and Independence parties — crumpled to the ground as the masked gunman hopped in a Jeep Cherokee and his getaway driver sped off.
Melius' daughter, Kelly, heard a gunshot from inside the castle and rushed out to him.
"Take me to the hospital," Melius pleaded before his daughter took him to Syosset Hospital. He was transferred to North Shore University Hospital in Manhassett, where an eye surgeon was called in to treat the wound.
Melius was listed in stable condition Monday night.
Former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato — one of Melius' many political-heavyweight pals — visited him and said the developer had no idea why he had been targeted.
"He didn't understand why the shooting happened. He said, 'Why?' He couldn't believe it," D'Amato recalled. "It was an assassination attempt, not a robbery."
The bullet went through a window of Melius' car, which redirected the bullet enough to avoid a "clean head shot," one of his friends said.
"It does not appear to be an accidental shooting at this time," said Detective Sgt. John O'Sullivan of Suffolk's Second Squad Detectives.
O' Sullivan said a relative had called the shooting in to Suffolk Police.
"As best we can determine, he was entering his vehicle [when he was shot]," the detective said.
Cops were searching for the gunman and his driver Monday night, but could find no witnesses.
The Suffolk canine unit, aviation unit and precinct patrol searched the 443-acre grounds for clues.
Police said they were not aware of any recent threats against Melius or Oheka Castle.
D'Amato said he was supposed to meet Melius, his longtime poker partner, for lunch in Roosevelt when Melius called and said he was running 15 minutes late.
"The next thing I know, his daughter called and said he had been shot," he recalled.
D'Amato said that at the hospital, "Gary had a good sense of humor for a guy who was shot in the head."
"The Lord has blessed us. We're lucky to have him. Gary is going to survive," D'Amato said.
Cops had yet to interview Melius Monday, and the motive for the shooting was unclear.
Melius frequently holds lavish fund-raisers at his estate on Long Island's Gold Coast.
He and his wife, Pam, have made $870,000 in campaign contributions since the 1990s — including $11,000 to Gov. Cuomo, $25,000 to state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, both Democrats, and $5,000 to Republican state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.
Last year, Melius was a key figure in the ouster of Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Dale.
Melius had told Dale that Democratic ex-Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick, a friend, wanted to file a perjury charge against Randy White, a witness in a lawsuit challenging the validity of Hardwick's petition signatures.
White was never charged with perjury. But Dale ordered White arrested because he had an open misdemeanor warrant, said District Attorney Kathleen Rice.
White was served with a subpoena by Hardwick's lawyer while in police custody, which Rice called "deeply troubling."
Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs said Melius should have been investigated for witness tampering, and also said, "All evil in Nassau politics goes through Oheka Castle."
On Monday, Jacobs said Melius' shooting was beyond the pale.
"It's awful. It's shocking. Anytime someone of his stature in the community is subject to this kind of violence, it deserves condemnation — no matter what side of the aisle you're from," he said.
Melius' political tentacles extend to state Independence Party Chairman Frank McKay , a close friend. The Nassau County chapter is headed by Melius' former son-in-law, Rick Bellando.
Bellando is also an Oheka employee.
McKay told The Post Monday night: "Gary is one of the toughest men I know. This was a horrible, cowardly act."
Melius appears to have financial issues. In 2012, he skipped a payment on Oheka Castle's $27.9 million mortgage, and he worked to refinance the debt on the French-style castle, which was used as a photo prop for the Xanadu estate in the classic 1941 film "Citizen Kane."
Records show Melius racked up millions of dollars in judgments and liens in the early '90s.
"There's no question Gary is a wheeler dealer. He's a controversial guy. He's a hard hitter," said a Long Island politico.
"His friends and allies love him, and there are other people who don't like him."
The Oheka estate was built in 1919 as a summer home by investment banker Otto Hermann Kahn. "Oheka" is taken from the first or second letters of each of those three names.
The manor is frequently used for high-end weddings, including recently that of Melius' 40-year-old daughter, Kelly.
It was also the site of disgraced ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner's marriage to Huma Abedin in 2010. Former President Bill Clinton officiated. Pop stars Joey Fatone and Kevin Jonas also held their weddings there.
Additional reporting by Reuven Fenton, Priscilla DeGregory and Leonica Valentine
L.I. Castle Owner Is Shot
Gary Melius, a Political Donor and Developer, Expected to Survive After Surgery
By Joe Jackson and Will James — Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 'The Wall Street Journal' / New York, NY
No suspects have been identified, and "it doesn't appear to be an accidental shooting," Det. Sgt. O'Sullivan said. Mr. Melius was in surgery Monday evening and is in stable condition, he said.
"He is in good spirits. It was a miraculous situation and he will make a full recovery," said Ronald Rosenberg, Mr. Melius's attorney and close friend, who saw Mr. Melius before the operation.
Mr. Melius, who lives in the castle in Huntington, called himself an adept networker in a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal. He said he has 6,400 names in his address book.
"I collect people," he said.
Mr. Melius is known for his political contributions and the informal and formal parties he hosts at the estate. Former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner and his wife, Huma Abedin, married at Oheka Castle in a July 2010 ceremony officiated by former President Bill Clinton.
Mr. Melius has close ties to the Independence Party on Long Island. The party's Nassau County branch spent $118,000 on fundraisers at the castle over the last three years, according to campaign-finance records.
Mr. Melius donates to other political parties locally, statewide and nationally, and has contributed to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Republican Rep. Peter King and the National Rifle Association.
"It's shocking everybody here," David Pennetta, a local official who has worked with Mr. Melius on real-estate projects, said of the shooting.
The French chateau-style Oheka Castle was built in the early 1900s and is listed on the National Register of Historical places. Mr. Melius said he first bought the castle in 1984, sold it, then bought it back. It was abandoned and in a state of disrepair before he led its restoration and conversion into a hotel and event space. Mr. Melius said he put in $40 million in renovations into the estate, painted with murals of the sky and including spiral staircases and a subterranean poker room.
"Certainly if you have a fundraiser there, people come," Mr. Pennetta said. "He's always helped out nonprofits, giving them pricing where they can afford to host events."
"He's been involved in the political growth of Long Island," he added. "He's touched a lot of people in a lot of different areas. He's always a fair guy."
In 2013, Mr. Melius was a central figure in a controversy that led to the resignation of Nassau County Police Department Commissioner Thomas Dale. Mr. Melius called Mr. Dale and asked him to arrest on perjury charges Randy White, a witness in a court case against Nassau County executive candidate Andrew Hardwick. Mr. Melius was supporting Mr. Hardwick's run.
Mr. White said during an official hearing that he was paid to collect signatures for Mr. Hardwick, resulting in the candidate being removed from the ballot.
A day after Mr. Melius called Mr. Dale, Mr. White was arrested on an outstanding warrant, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice has said. Mr. White was released after his arrest and given more time to pay the fine.
"Look, if I know these people, I'm not going to call the guy in the clerk's office," Mr. Melius told the Journal.
Mr. Melius said he dropped out of school at age 15 and worked in plumbing and construction before compiling a real-estate portfolio. In the early 1990s, he said, he was "dead broke." "I'm not the brightest guy, but I'm tenacious, so I just work," he said.
—Pervaiz Shallwani contributed to this article.
New York State
State Legislature proposes harsher penalties for killing police dogs, horses
By Steve Lieberman — Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 'The Journal News' / White Plains, NY
Legislation dictating harsher penalties for those who kill or injury police dogs and horse while they are on duty was adopted Tuesday by the state Assembly and Senate.
Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, D-New City, was a main sponsor of the proposal in the Assembly.
State and local law enforcement agencies increasingly rely on these animals in crime solving, rescue and recovery operations. Under current law, killing a police animal is a misdemeanor.
The legislation passed by both houses on Tuesday would make harming the animals a felony, punishable by up to 4 years in prison, the highest penalty for killing an animal in the state.
"The role of police animals has significantly expanded over the past few years leading to increased use in investigations and apprehensions," Zebrowski said in a statement "These animals provide protection, assistance and improve public safety."
"State and local police invest a great deal of time and resources in the training of these extraordinary animals," he said. "These animals are viewed and respected as ordinary police officers and we should begin to reflect that by increasing the penalty for killing them."
The rest of the Zebrowski press release says:
Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-C, Newfane, also sponsored the proposed law that helps recognize the important roles these animals have in crime solving, rescue and recovery operations and other duties by creating a felony-level offense.
"Police animals do a remarkable job protecting and serving the citizens of this state," Maziarz said in a statement released by Zebrowski's office.
"In 2011, the Niagara County Sheriff's Office lost their K-9, Rocky, when he fell off a roof tracking clues regarding a robbery," Maziarz said. The use of police animals is increasing and they continually undertake tasks that our own police officers do. It is time that we provide these animals the protection they deserve under the law when they are injured or die in the line of duty."
In addition to the loss of Rocky, another high-profile death of a police animal came in March 2013 when Ape, a newly-trained FBI dog, was fatally shot as police searched for Kurt Myers – a suspect in the deaths of four people in Herkimer.
"The role of police animals has significantly expanded over the past few years leading to increased use in investigations and apprehensions," Zebrowski said. "These animals provide protection, assistance and improve public safety. State and local police invest a great deal of time and resources in the training of these extraordinary animals. These animals are viewed and respected as ordinary police officers and we should begin to reflect that by increasing the penalty for killing them."
ACLU: Newark stop-and-frisk targets black residents more than others
By David Giambusso — Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 'The Newark Star-Ledger' / Newark, NJ
NEWARK —Despite comprising just more than half of Newark's population, African Americans make up 75 percent of the stops under the city Police Department's stop-and frisk-program, a report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey has found.
The report, which examines six months of police department data, is the first look at the city's stop-and-frisk program — a controversial policing tactic used to interrogate and search people suspected of criminal activity. The data is published regularly on the department's website under a policy instituted by recently retired Police Director Samuel DeMaio.
"Several disturbing patterns have emerged that raise constitutional red flags about the Newark Police Department's stop-and-frisk practices," Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey and co-author of the report, said in a statement. "Specifically, our report raises concerns about the high volume of stops, racial disparities in who is getting stopped and the fact that the vast majority of stops appear to be of innocent people."
The report, which studied data from July to December 2013, found that 25 percent of those stopped in Newark were arrested or issued a summons, meaning 75 percent were deemed not to have done anything wrong.
Most of those stopped — 75 percent — were African American, who make up 52 percent of the city's population, the report said. Of the rest, 23 percent were listed as white or Hispanic and 2 percent were listed as "other." One of the recommendations contained in the report was that police provide more details surrounding the ethnicity of those stopped.
"Stop-and-frisk has become an all-too-common tactic relied on by police departments,
particularly while patrolling low-income communities of color," the ACLU said in its 19-page report. "It has been used with great frequency against innocent people, inflicting humiliation on community residents and greatly damaging police-community relations."
Despite multiple attempts, Newark police did not provide comment on the report. Mayor Luis Quintana, through a spokeswoman, also declined comment.
According to the report, police stopped 2,471 people in both August and September, the most during the six-month period studied. The number of stops hovered around 1,800 per month for the rest of the period, the report said.
The ACLU, which sparked a federal investigation into the Newark Police Department with a landmark 2010 report on police misconduct, applauded the department's publication of the data but made several recommendations for the future.
Ofer and co-author Ari Rosmarin, the state ACLU's public policy director, urged police to review the policy, specifically where it concerns racial disparities and innocence rates.
They also asked for more details about officer interactions with residents by separating out summonses from arrests, providing details of arrests and summonses, and giving reasons on why the stop was made, among other recommendations.
Read the full report here:
ACLU Stop and Frisk Report http://media.nj.com/essex_impact/other/2014/02/ACLU%20Stop%20and%20Frisk%20Report.pdf
Newark Stop-and-Frisk Data Is Analyzed
By JOSEPH GOLDSTEINFEB — Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 'The New York Times'
A new study about police stop-and-frisk encounters in Newark found that one quarter of police stops ended in an arrest or a summons, about twice as often as they do in New York City.
The study, by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, is the first to examine the stop-and-frisk practices of the Newark Police Department, which only last year began publicly releasing data about street stops.
The group's executive director, Udi Ofer, said that new data could help to spur a public debate in Newark about stop-and-frisk police tactics similar to the one that led to a drastic curtailing of police stops in New York City.
Mr. Ofer said that the data from Newark, although limited, nonetheless depicted "a troubling picture of stop and frisk in Newark."
"We have serious concerns regarding the high volume of stops, the racial disparity of who is getting stopped and the fact that 75 percent of stops targeted people who engaged in no wrongdoing," Mr. Ofer said.
The study, which is scheduled to be released Tuesday, comes amid a Justice Department civil rights investigation into the Newark Police Department.
But the data pertaining to stop-and-frisk practices is incomplete and leaves many important questions unanswered. For example, it is not clear how many firearms or knives the police seized as a result of the stops, a crucial indicator that police watchdog and civil liberties groups look to in evaluating the constitutionality and effectiveness of the practice.
Nor is it clear whether the data encompasses pedestrian and car stops, or just pedestrian stops, according to Mr. Ofer. (A spokesman for the department said that he was not sure if the data included vehicle stops.)
According to the study, the department averaged 2,093 stops per month for the second half of 2013. The police force in Newark has about 1,000 officers, who police a city of just over 277,000 people.
In New York City, by comparison, a 34,000-strong force was stopping on average nearly 68,000 pedestrians a month at the height of the New York Police Department's use of stop-and-frisk tactics in early 2012.
But comparisons between the stop-and-frisk tactics of the two cities are difficult, and not merely because the Newark data is incomplete. Newark has a far higher crime rate: Last year the city had 111 murders, the highest number in more than two decades, according to The Star-Ledger. New York City, with a population 30 times as large, had 335 murders last year, the police said.
In Newark, according to the civil liberties report, black people were the subject of stops 75 percent of the time, although they make up 52 percent of the city's population.
Stricter Gun Limits Eyed in New Jersey
Effort by Democrats Could Lead to Battle With Christie
By Josh Dawsey — Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 'The Wall Street Journal' / New York, NY
TRENTON—New Jersey's senior Democrats vowed Monday to pass stricter gun laws, possibly sparking a battle with Republican Gov. Chris Christie later this spring.
Standing by two parents of Sandy Hook school-shooting victims and wiping away tears, New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat, said he would support reducing the ammunition capacity of gun magazines to 10 rounds from the current 15 rounds.
It is a new stance for Mr. Sweeney, who was also flanked Monday by a cadre of high-ranking legislators. The powerful lawmaker kept the magazine limits from a Senate vote last year, even as it passed the Assembly.
The reversal by Mr. Sweeney, who is eyeing a run for governor in 2017, may give the bill enough political fuel to drive it to Mr. Christie's desk this year.
The bill's supporters say limiting ammunition capacity forces shooters to reload more often. That gives victims more time to escape and law-enforcement officials more time to converge. It also limits the barrage of bullets a shooter can spray at a time.
"When [Adam Lanza] stopped to reload, 11 children were saved," said Mark Barden, a gun-control advocate and the father of Daniel Barden, a 7-year-old who died at Sandy Hook.
Mr. Christie has vetoed past gun-control bills. Asked to comment on the proposed law, the governor's office said, "New Jersey already has the third-toughest gun laws in the entire country.…If and when this legislation reaches his desk, Gov. Christie will review it and make a decision in due course."
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearm trade association, said it would "actively lobby" against the bill. Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman at the National Rifle Association, called the law's focus "flat-out wrong." Those groups say the law would target law-abiding citizens who use high-capacity magazines for shooting competitions, hunting or self-defense.
Jake McGuigan, director of state affairs at the National Shooting Sports Foundation, questioned the timing of Mr. Sweeney's reversal, saying he suspects Democrats want to pressure Mr. Christie to take political positions before a possible presidential run in 2016.
For his part, Mr. Sweeney said, "I'm very much pro-sportsmen. But when you look into the eyes of the parents, I'm a father."
Bloomfield mayor alleges police 'cover up,' vows to 'purge' police department of 'bad officers'
By Seth Augenstein — Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 'The Newark Star-Ledger' / Newark, NJ
BLOOMFIELD — Alleging a "cover up," the town's mayor has vowed to "fight to purge" the township's police department of "bad officers."
Mayor Michael Venezia made the statement on his Facebook page Monday, in the wake of an indictment of two Bloomfield police officers on conspiracy and misconduct charges after prosecutors viewed recordings from two dashboard cameras showed officers hitting a suspect during a June 2012 arrest on the Garden State Parkway.
A police officer also slammed his cruiser into the front of the suspect's parked car.
Officers Orlando Trinidad and Sean Courter, both 33, were arraigned Friday in Superior Court on charges including tampering with public records and false swearing, according to Katherine Carter, a spokeswoman for the Essex County Prosecutor's Office. Trinidad also faces an aggravated assault charge.
The charges stem from the arrest of 30-year-old Marcus Jeter, who was initially charged with eluding, resisting arrest, and aggravated assault on an officer. Prosecutors dropped all charges against Jeter after viewing a second dashboard video.
The mayor said he was "outraged."
"Like many of you, I am outraged by the police dashboard video and the fact that these charges were initially dismissed by our internal affairs division," Venezia said in the statement. "I have contacted the Essex County Prosecutor's Office to request and investigation of our police department's internal affairs division.
"I will demand the immediate suspension of any officer involved in this police cover-up, and fight to purge our department of any bad officers," the mayor added.
Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray is pursuing official misconduct charges against two Bloomfield police officers.
Mayor Michael Venezia is also asking the prosecutor to investigate the Bloomfield police department's internal probe of the June 2012 arrest, and why they didn't find the officers at fault.
The Bloomfield Police Department has been a lightning rod for controversy recently. Two officers were suspended without pay in December, after being accused of bilking the town of time off while saying they were in the Air Force Reserves. Those two officers were reinstated by the township in January after some public demonstrations.
The chief, Chris Goul, took an early retirement at the beginning of the year, and the acting chief in his place, James Behre, was placed on paid leave earlier this month after publicly accusing a councilman of asking him to trade favors in exchange for the councilman's support of making him chief permanently.
Fake 911 calls cause tense, risky armed police standoffs
By John Kelly — Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 'USA Today'
Hannah Chiasson watched heavily armed police officers in black vests swarm her suburban Indianapolis home, pointing "big guns" at her, her father and a friend.
"Why are you pointing guns at me?" the 22-year-old recalls asking the police.
The answer: a fake 911 call so extreme police felt compelled to respond in force.
A dangerous prank, commonly targeting celebrities in Los Angeles, is becoming more common elsewhere. It happened twice last week in central Indiana, according to a special report in The Indianapolis Star documenting the 911 calls. The police response details how the prank known as "swatting" manufactures a tense situation with potentially fatal consequences.
The Star reported that police "don't have the luxury of judging the veracity of a call in an emergency situation" because they're trained to treat every call as real.
"You don't want to let your guard down or be less tactical in a situation where you have to be," Carmel police Lt. Joe Bickel said.
Supreme Court declines to hear gun law challenges
By Robert Barnes — Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 'The Washington Post' / Washington, DC
The Supreme Court disappointed gun rights activists once again Monday, declining to review two cases involving the rights of those under 21 to own handguns.
Activists had urged the court to accept the cases, saying there has been a "massive judicial resistance" to expanding gun rights following the Supreme Court's decision in 2008 that there is a right to gun ownership for self-defense at least within one's home. In 2010, the court said the right applies to state and local gun-control efforts, not just those at the federal level.
But since then, the court has declined to review unsuccessful efforts to challenge restrictions, such as tight controls on who may carry a firearm in public.
At issue Monday were two such challenges. One involved a Texas law that bars almost all 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds from getting a permit to carry a handgun. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit upheld the state law, which exempts people with military experience.
The other involved a federal law that prohibits licensed firearms dealers from selling handguns to people under 21. The dealers may sell rifles and shotguns to those 18 and over. The 1968 law banning handgun sales to adults under 21 was prompted by Congress's finding that such laws were a logical effort to diminish violent crime.
It, too, was upheld by the appeals court, but over strenuous objections by conservative judges. Both petitions asking the Supreme Court to intervene were filed by the National Rifle Association.
The petitions expressed frustration that gun-control laws were still mostly intact years after the Supreme Court's ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, which struck down the District's ban on handguns.
"Given the number of laws enacted by the federal government, states, and localities in the years when a mistaken understanding of the Second Amendment held sway, one would have expected a major reconsideration of extant firearms laws to have occurred," Washington lawyer Paul D. Clement wrote in the challenge of the federal law.
"Instead, jurisdictions have engaged in massive resistance to the clear import of those landmark decisions, and the lower federal courts, long out of the habit of taking the Second Amendment seriously, have largely facilitated the resistance."
The cases are NRA v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and NRA v. McGraw.
The court also declined to review Lane v. Holder, in which D.C. residents challenged federal laws that restrict buying a firearm from an out-of-state dealer.
Also on Monday, the justices refused an industry request that they step in to stop class-action lawsuits from consumers who complain about a musty smell from front-loading washing machines.
Business groups told the court that the suits were so large that they could involve consumers who had never had a problem with the washers. The groups asked the court to accept the cases and rein in the big suits.
But the justices without comment refused the petitions from Sears, Whirlpool and German manufacturer Bosch and Siemens. That means the suits, which had been upheld by the federal appeals courts for the 6th and 7th circuits, may proceed.
The suits cover machines manufactured between 2001 and 2008. One suit involved Ohio consumers; the other covers those who purchased machines in California, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Texas. The Bosch suit covers consumers in California, Illinois, New York and Maryland.
The consumers charge that a design defect makes the machines likely to develop mold. It was only after they bought the washers, they say, that they learned special care was required to keep the appliances from developing mold and a musty smell.
"In those post-sale instructions, Whirlpool directed all purchasers that they must: clean the exterior, interior, door seal, and dispenser drawer; wipe the machine down after each use; leave the door open between uses; run monthly maintenance cycles; and run cycles with Affresh cleaning tablets," the consumer brief told the court.
Whirlpool contended that it provided customers with information for any easy fix — most front-loader owners know now to leave the door open after use — and that the class of plaintiffs was far too broad.
Liability "depends on individualized issues that permeate plaintiffs' claims and Whirlpool's defenses," the company said in its petition.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was among the business organizations that had told the court it was important to review lower-court decisions allowing the suits to advance.
"If allowed to stand, the decisions will dramatically increase the class-action exposure faced by [Chamber] members who sell or manufacture products in interstate commerce, including in cases where there is no proof that any meaningful number of putative class members have suffered harm," the organization said.
Little hope that 'El Chapo' capture will disrupt drug supply flooding the US
The capture in Mexico of Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, a reputed drug kingpin, won't stanch the huge flow of illegal drugs into the US, analysts say. Chicago, a distribution hub for the Sinaloa cartel, is likely to remain so, they add.
By Mark Guarino — Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 'The Christian Science Monitor'
Chicago -- The capture this weekend in Mexico of the notorious Joaquin Guzman, presumed to head one of the world's most powerful and violent drug cartels, is not likely to stanch the flow of illicit drugs into the United States, experts say. The reason: The huge operation does not require the oversight of just one man to keep it going, and the cartel is deep in experienced hands who understand the nature of the business.
To make a dent in the well-oiled drug operation, "you'd have to round up several more people, because the federation is huge," says Sylvia Longmire, a former special agent with the US Air Force and the author of "Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico's Drug Wars." "The pipeline will, for now, most likely remain intact."
That's disappointing news to anyone who may have hoped that the capture of Mr. Guzman, a.k.a. "El Chapo" (Shorty), would disrupt the supply line of drugs – marijuana, methamphetamine, and cocaine – entering the US from south of the border. In the years since El Chapo escaped from a Mexican prison in 2001, his Sinaloa cartel has squashed most competitors and has come to dominate the drug-trafficking industry. It's now responsible, for instance, for 80 percent of the US meth trade, according to a 2013 study published by Seguridad con Democracia, a think tank in Mexico that focuses on security issues.
Central to the Sinaloa's US traffic-distribution network is Chicago. The city, centrally located, has become a hub for distributing drugs to other cities across the country, and its sizable Mexican population (both legal and illegal) provides the cartel with ready access to foot soldiers. For those reasons, the US Attorney's Office in Chicago indicted Guzman in absentia in August 2009 for conspiring to transport drugs across international borders, and the US has prosecuted key figures in the cartel's US operations here. The Chicago Crime Commission named Guzman public enemy No. 1, a designation previously given to a crime boss from another era, Al Capone.
"The Sinaloa presents its Chicago operatives with the drug of the day, and then those operatives have the organization that accomplishes the distribution to several dozen states," says George Grayson, an emeritus professor of government at William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Va., and the author of "The Cartels: The Story of Mexico's Most Dangerous Organizations and their Impact on US Security."
Sinaloa's presence has created havoc on Chicago's streets, local authorities say. Eighty percent of the drugs that show up in Chicago each year – with a street value of $3 billion – originate with the Sinaloa cartel, police say. Police officials put much of the blame for the violence that has plagued the city in recent years on local gangs fighting over distribution rights for the Sinaloa cartel's products, or on competition for drug-related jobs. According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the cartel is a major Chicago employer, responsible for hiring as many as 150,000 workers to help bring in, store, and distribute illegal drugs.
"The arrest of Chapo Guzman is significant," Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said, in a statement released this weekend. "This is a victory, but we know the tentacles of his cartel still exist and much more work remains to be done. Demand for narcotics will still remain, so we will continue to partner with the DEA as they fight international drug trade, and we will remain focused on our efforts to eliminate the factors that drive violence in our city."
Guzman was largely responsible for cartel's overarching strategy, establishing relationships with crime organizations in Europe, Australia, and elsewhere, according to Ms. Longmire. "El Chapo was the CEO, and even though the CEO is gone the board of directors are running the show," she says.
Others agree that there is stability at the top of the cartel – and that there are few who would challenge it. Two of Guzman's top lieutenants remain free, and they are just as adept and feared as their boss, says Professor Grayson.
One is purported to be Ismael "Mayo" Zambada, alleged to have worked alongside Guzman for decades. "They virtually complete each other's sentences," says Grayson. The other is Juan José Esparragoza Moreno, a former police detective and a "savvy negotiator" between rival cartels, Grayson says.
Both men are alleged to have run the cartel while Guzman was in prison for six years – and to have orchestrated his escape. Analysts say Guzman is unlikely to provide authorities with information that could lead to their capture.
"The Sinaola cartel has no real competitor" in the form of rival cartels that could challenge for control of parts of the drug trade, Grayson says.
US agencies are believed to have provided information – including a wiretap by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Arizona – that led to Guzman's capture, after a 13-year manhunt. Some analysts hope that will signal increased cooperation between the US and Mexican governments in combatting drug trafficking. Under former President Felipe Calderón, Mexico was more active in soliciting help from the US in pursuing the cartels. Current President Enrique Peña Nieto has made it less of a priority, focusing on the economy and on reducing violent crime rather than targeting sweeps of specific cartels.
Under Mr. Calderón, security agencies in the US, such as the DEA, were free to hold informal meetings with their Mexican counterparts. That stopped under Mr. Peña Nieto, who required that any cross-border interaction had to be approved by his administration.
"That hobbled cooperation and perhaps the success of bringing down El Chapo sooner," Grayson says.
Drug smugglers take to the high seas to avoid border patrol
By JULIE WATSON and ELLIOT SPAGAT (The Associated Press) — Monday, February 24th, 2014; 7:35 p.m. EST
SAN DIEGO — While security has tightened at the U.S. border, drug smugglers are increasingly turning to the high seas.
The area where boats were seized off California and the northwest coast of Mexico tripled to a size comparable to the state of Montana during the 2013 fiscal year, which ended in September. Off South America, traffickers over the years have been traversing territory so big the continental United States could be dropped inside of it.
Mexico's Sinaloa cartel has been loading marijuana bales onto 50-foot vessels as far south as the Mexican port of Mazatlan — where its leader, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, was captured early Saturday — and running them up the Pacific coast to the U.S., deep into California. It's unclear if Guzman's arrest will hinder the maritime runs.
Meanwhile, budget cuts have hit one of the lead U.S. law enforcement agencies on international waters — the Coast Guard, the only U.S. military service able to make drug arrests hundreds of miles offshore. To meet automatic federal budget cuts, it reduced its operating costs by 25 percent in 2013. It also lost help from U.S. Navy ships on drug missions off Latin America that were decommissioned and not replaced because of cutbacks, or sent elsewhere because of Washington's new military focus.
As such, only a third of suspected drug smuggling boats or aircraft out of South America that were tracked by U.S. intelligence in cocaine-trafficking corridors in the Pacific and Caribbean were stopped last year, the Coast Guard's top officer, Adm. Robert Papp, told The Associated Press.
"Our interdictions are down 30 percent from the year before, when we had more assets out there, so that's an indicator to me that as soon as we start pulling assets away, they're running more drugs and they're getting through," Papp said.
U.S. authorities stopped some 194,000 pounds of cocaine last fiscal year — more than 40,000 pounds less than in 2012, according to Coast Guard statistics. Marijuana seizures dipped between 2012 and 2013 from 124,000 pounds to 81,000 pounds.
Defense officials have warned the cuts would hamper efforts to reach the president's goal of intercepting 40 percent of the illicit drug shipments flowing into the region by 2015. Fighting drug traffickers at sea is crucial because small aircraft used by traffickers can only carry about a ton of drugs versus large boats that can cart up to 20 tons of cocaine or more, authorities said.
As much as 20 percent of the cocaine moving through South America ends up in the United States. Large amounts also travel across the ocean into Africa, providing funding for insurgents and drug traffickers, and then on up into Europe.
"We've had to cut back in hours and funding, and cut back on resources on the water," said Cmdr. Chris German, deputy chief of law enforcement for the 11th District, which stretches from Oregon to Peru. "The Coast Guard's aircraft and ships have cut back on fuel, so every hour we're not in the air or on the water, it does leave a gap."
Even so, sea smuggling has not grabbed the attention of lawmakers like the flow of illegal goods across the land border, where billions have been spent on beefing up security. Part of the reason is the challenge to patrolling the ocean.
With more than 42,000 active-duty members, the Coast Guard is assisted in the drug war by other U.S. agencies.
It works closely with other nations, but that help only goes so far. Bilateral treaties sometimes limit waters it can patrol, and some of the foreign navies are small and underequipped.
U.S. officials, for instance, cannot venture into Mexican waters without prior permission and will stop a chase and alert Mexican authorities if suspected boats cross into that territory. Treaties with nations such as Colombia allow U.S. authorities more latitude.
"The land border is a much simpler border to defend. You can put up fences. You can put people out there. But it's a finite area. You know where your land starts and where it ends," Papp said. "When you go out into the maritime, it's huge."
The Coast Guard oversees 95,000 miles of coastline and 4.5 million square miles of maritime territory where the United States has rights: "We don't have that many ships, and we don't have that many aircraft, so there are many different places and routes that the bad guys can take to try and get around us."
Rear Adm. Karl Schultz, the 11th District commander, said the tiny Coast Guard is doing its best to optimize its resources but the challenge is "like a police cruiser in Cleveland responding to something in Atlanta."
Off California, smuggling vessels are typically spotted by planes from the Coast Guard or a federal agency, such as Customs and Border Protection, California National Guard or the Department of Defense. Coast Guard or CBP boats are then called to board suspicious vessels.
CBP is prohibited from firing on boats off the U.S. coast unless the pursuit begins within 12 miles of shore. The Coast Guard has no such constraints, so the onus has fallen on it as smugglers have ventured farther offshore.
The Sinaloa cartel has been loading marijuana bales vessels as far south as the Mexican port of Mazatlan and running them up northern Baja California after taking control of that state's coastal territory several years ago, said Michael Carney, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's assistant special agent in charge of investigations in San Diego.
Smugglers driving three-engine boats have been landing along remote coasts of Northern California, reaching as far as the beach town of Santa Cruz, which is about 350 nautical miles from the border city of San Diego. That's a shift from the one-engine drug skiffs seen landing for years in San Diego County.
Support vessels carry fuel and supplies to go longer distances, and smugglers transfer loads onto U.S.-owned pleasure craft, believing they are less likely to raise suspicion than a foreign boat.
Last month, a Coast Guard C-130 plane circled 200 feet over drug runners who jettisoned plastic-wrapped marijuana bales off Mexico's Baja California coast, about 175 miles south of the U.S. border. A Coast Guard inflatable boat closed in each time the three-engine vessel switched fuel tanks, according to Lt. Stephen Davies, who monitored the hour-long, 30-mph chase from a nearby cutter.
By the time the four men were arrested, there were no drugs on board, but the Coast Guard fished 3,500 pounds of marijuana and 34 pounds of methamphetamine from the ocean.
Papp, speaking at a defense conference this month in San Diego, said that the Coast Guard's resources to patrol the high seas and intercept threats are "woefully inadequate at this point."
Its aging fleet of larger cutters is being replaced with faster, more capable National Security Cutters, but the number of high endurance cutters best suited for the high seas has dropped from a total of twelve to eight and will remain that way. The service's operating budget will return to 2012 levels this year, but future years are uncertain.
Meanwhile, demands for the Coast Guard's 240 cutters, some 1,775 boats, and about 200 aircraft are expanding with the warming arctic and its emerging fisheries, cruise ship routes and commercial traffic.
Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., has called for an evaluation of U.S. anti-narcotics efforts out of concern over the limited successes of the multibillion dollar war on drugs and wants more investment in prevention programs to curb the U.S. market for illegal drugs.
"Drug traffickers continue to find new ways to circumvent our laws," Engel said. "Unfortunately, Congress's draconian budget cuts have made the Coast Guard's ability to collect intelligence on and interdict drug traffickers increasingly difficult."
In 2013, the service lost one of its own to traffickers who rammed their 30-foot boat into the small craft of Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III, 34, near Santa Cruz Island off Los Angeles.
Horne's death drove home the dangers of the war on drugs at sea, said Petty Officer 2nd Class William Pless, 28.
"You never know what you are going to encounter," said Pless, his gun at his side as he looked into the gray mist hovering over the Pacific waters on a recent evening, miles from the Mexican border.
State organization investigates claims of police officer cheating
By Liz Navratil and Jonathan D. Silver — Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 'The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette' / Pittsburgh, PA
An organization that sets certification and training standards for municipal police officers in Pennsylvania is investigating allegations that multiple officers from Western Pennsylvania cheated on recent recertification exams.
Three officers from Duquesne's police department are scheduled to speak to the Pennsylvania State Police next week as part of "administrative interviews" being conducted in connection to the alleged scandal, Duquesne Chief Richard Adams said Monday.
The Municipal Police Officers' Education and Training Commission has been working with several other agencies for about two weeks to investigate the claims.
The total number of officers under scrutiny, or departments potentially affected, remains unclear.
Maria Finn, a spokeswoman for the state police, said she did not want to provide specifics because she did not want to jeopardize the investigation.
"At this point, they have no reason to believe it's a criminal matter," Ms. Finn said.
Officers who are caught cheating could face sanctions ranging from suspension to decertification, Ms. Finn said.
Chief Adams similarly provided limited information.
"Once those interviews are conducted and the facts are available, then appropriate action will be taken," Chief Adams said.
That action, he added, could be on the part of state police, Duquesne police, or both.
Chief Adams described the interviews as information-gathering on the part of state police.
He did not know who, if anyone, would be present at the interviews on the officers' behalf.
The chief said he was first made aware of the investigation a few days ago.
He would not identify the officers to be interviewed, their ranks or whether they were accused of cheating. He said they remain on the job.
State police officials declined to elaborate on how the cheating allegedly occurred.
Penn Hills police Chief Howard Burton, who teaches classes to officers as part of their mandatory annual recertification, said he was aware of the probe.
"There's an investigation that's being conducted by the state police, and it alleges, I guess, cheating on certification exams by police officers," Chief Burton said. "Police have to attend mandatory training every year, and it's a 12-hour program."
Chief Burton said he did not know how the allegations came to light.
The state attorney general's office declined comment.
In 2009 the state revoked the certifications of 15 police officers, most from Delaware County on the New Jersey border.
Red flags missed, State Police let problem officers fester
By Mike Beaudet — Monday, February 24th, 2014; 10:36 p.m. 'My Fox Boston News' / Boston, MA
SPECIAL REPORT -- The headlines have come one after another in recent years, State Police officers in trouble with the law, charged with everything from extortion to drunk driving.
But a FOX Undercover investigation, based on documents obtained after a two-year public records battle, shows the public incidents that brought down some of these problem officers was far from the only time they were in trouble. Despite heavy redactions, these records show long histories of problematic, sometimes shocking behavior.
State Police Trooper John Analetto, caught on an FBI hidden camera, bragged about what he was going to tell a bettor who owes him money by slashing his tires and sexually assaulting the bettor's mother.
"Why don't you get a good relationship with the tire center there and tell your mother that we're gonna (expletive) her (expletive). Ok, we're gonna stick a broomstick up your mother's (expletive)," Analetto said.
That and other conversations led to his being arrested and ultimately convicted on extortion charges. His 41-month sentence was a high-profile end to what records show was a career filled with serious accusations of misconduct.
"Trooper Analetto had hired escorts for himself and some friends and then assaulted them by pulling out a knife when they refused to have sex," one complaint went.
In another case he "threatened to 'plant' drugs on (a man) and then have (his) business 'raided.'"
He also "asked questions of a personal and seemingly suggestive nature" of a woman during a traffic stop, one of two similar complaints.
Analetto's career as trooper lasted 20 years before the FBI put an end to it. In that time, he racked up 23 internal affairs complaints.
Federal prosecutors also saw a pattern.
In a sentencing memorandum, a prosecutor wrote that, "the defendant's (internal affairs) file is replete with examples of his abusing his position and authority as a state trooper."
Analetto, prosecutors continued, "is much more than a bully with a badge - he is a criminal."
Howard Friedman, a civil rights attorney who specializes in police misconduct cases, reviewed part of Analetto's file at the request of FOX Undercover and said "no doubt" it should have raised a red flag.
"Anyone who looks at it would say that's unusual," Friedman said.
"When you've seen misconduct, what happens with these officers?" FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet asked him.
"In terms of internally, very little, often nothing. Even when there's a civil suit and a civil suit is successful, police officers are not disciplined," Friedman replied.
Former State Police Trooper David Lemar had 22 entries over a 24-year career, allegations including "excessive use of force", and another complaint he assaulted someone by "grabbing his neck and kicking his leg".
The end of his career came after his involvement with a spa owner indicted for running a prostitution ring.
"Were you going there for sexual favors?" Beaudet asked him in 2011.
"No, I was not," Lemar replied at the time. "It's shocking. It's like how did I get dragged into this, and unfortunately, the truth will eventually come out."
Lemar, who was fired by State Police, did not respond to a new request for comment.
Another State Police officer who made headlines was then-Captain Thomas McCarthy, who was forcibly arrested in 2011 after fleeing from Saugus police. The Saugus police report showed he had alcohol on his breath and beer bottles in his State Police vehicle.
His internal affairs file shows it wasn't the only time he was accused of mixing alcohol and police work. In 2000, someone he pulled over complained he had "alcohol on his breath." A State Police investigator wrote the allegation was "false."
Then in 2002, more allegations of drinking followed. He crashed into another motorist 4 a.m. in Reading. The other driver and his passenger both needed to be taken to the hospital.
A witness tells State Police he saw McCarthy possibly throwing beer cans out of his car and "was possibly operating under the influence of alcohol", records show.
The driver hit by McCarthy was later told that McCarthy ran from the scene. But the Reading police report doesn't even mention McCarthy's name.
A state police sergeant picked him up at the scene of the accident and drove him to the State Police barracks in Andover. The sergeant, Sharon Costine, said she "observed no characteristics of alcohol intake", records show.
But it was impossible to confirm. After being taken to the barracks, McCarthy got a ride and left without being interviewed or tested. He wasn't interviewed until the next week, and was ultimately given an ordinary traffic citation for failing to use care.
Neither McCarthy nor his lawyer responded to requests for comment.
State Police Colonel Timothy Alben took over the department in 2012, after the highest-profile officer misconduct cases had already landed in the headlines.
He said the State Police can "absolutely" investigate themselves but that sometimes his hands are tied.
"We have to deal with credibility issues sometimes of witnesses. We have to deal with evidentiary matters that are not necessarily ideal or the lack of cooperation sometimes from witnesses," Alben said.
"We look at Trooper Analetto, he was finally caught by the FBI, should the State Police have put a stop to him sooner?" Beaudet asked the Colonel.
"If we looked at the complaints that had come in about Analetto or any member of the department, we have to judge those on what I said to you before, about the credibility, about the level of evidence we have, the quality of evidence we have," Alben replied.
"I think it is a fair question, how did it get to that point?" Beaudet asked.
"I agree with you, I think it is a fair question and it's one of those questions that we've gone back to look at about not only him but individuals who could rise to that level in this department, that we can intervene in those situations much, much earlier," Alben replied.
Earlier intervention has helped reduce the number of complaints about State Police officers by 36 percent, records provided by the State Police show, falling from 478 in 2011 to 306 in 2013.
To intervene earlier, Alben has put in place software programs to flag problem officers. He also is making sure supervisors are interacting more with subordinates to find, and try to fix problems before they make headlines.
Efforts like these may have helped reach someone like Trooper Lemar if they had been in place, Alben said.
"I think that's precisely the kind of case we're looking at targeting much earlier in someone's career so that we don't get the 20 instances (of internal affairs complaints)," Alben said.
As for McCarthy, Alben says he could possibly have been helped sooner before his arrest thrust him in the public eye.
"McCarthy's case certainly points to personal problems that he had, certainly alcohol is an issue there. What could have been done 10 years ago with McCarthy, that's a possibility that something was missed," Alben said.
Once wrongdoing is found by the State Police, Alben says he is faced with another hurdle. Discipline can be appealed outside of the department three separate times, allowing cases to drag on for years.
"Are we going to be sitting here a year from now, five years from now, talking about more troopers getting in trouble?" Beaudet asked.
"I certainly hope not, but I think that human nature is what it is," Alben replied. "We're no different. Our people come from the greater community and they bring all of those issues with them. We're just trying to do a better job in identifying it and treating it earlier in their careers here."
Chicago, Illinois (Garry McCarthy)
Top cop 'optimistic' that visiting gang leaders' homes cuts violence
BY FRANK MAIN — Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 'The Chicago Sun-Times' / Chicago, IL
When 14-year-old Venzel Richardson was shot to death on the South Side earlier this month, Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy ordered his staff to draw up a list of warring gang leaders in the area.
Within 48 hours, the commander of the Grand Crossing District was knocking on their doors, warning them to halt the shooting.
Cmdr. Glenn Evans told the young men they'd face stiff prison terms for their next violent crime. But they also were given a contact for job training and other social services.
No one has been charged with the teenager's Feb. 12 murder at 61st and Vernon, but the conflict between the gangs in that pocket of Woodlawn ebbed.
These "custom notifications," which began as a pilot program on the West Side about seven months ago, appear to have persuaded the targeted groups to stop shooting at each other, said Cmdr. John Kenney of the police department's Bureau of Organizational Development.
More than 50 people have been visited in six police districts. Even though most of the men have long criminal records, none has been arrested for a violent felony since a police commander knocked on his door. And none is suspected in a shooting, Kenney said.
"I'm optimistic this could be an effective method to put a wet blanket on something that's taking off," McCarthy said.
Asked whether some people might consider custom notifications a "hug-a-thug" tactic, he said: "It's not an enforcement strategy, it's an intervention. I don't care what people think. If it works, I will give them a hug myself."
McCarthy said he thinks the program changes gang members' behavior because the commanders try to speak to family members, too. They can also apply pressure on the gang members to stay out of trouble, he said.
Things haven't ended well for some of the men who turned their backs on the program, police said.
One of them, Dennis Glover, 27, was shot to death on Dec. 26 while walking with his girlfriend on the West Side, police said. He was killed about five months after the Austin District commander gave him a custom notification, Kenney said.
Apparently, Glover didn't want to have anything to do with the program.
"He told us he was moving out of town, but because he was on parole we knew that wasn't true," Kenney said.
So far, the department has made custom notifications in the Wentworth, Calumet, Grand Crossing and Gresham districts on the South Side and in the Austin and Ogden districts on the West Side.
A pilot program was launched in July in the Austin District. Then, the department reached out to people on a "heat list" of those deemed most likely to become shooters or victims, based on social networks and other factors.
Now the strategy's focus has changed somewhat: The department takes even less time to launch the notifications in response to specific acts of violence — and targets those in the neighborhood most likely to have an influence over those doing the shootings, Kenney said.
Ogden District Cmdr. Maria Pena said she visited seven suspected gang leaders between Feb. 3 and Feb. 7 following a series of shootings involving the Latin Kings and the Two-Sixers.
Her district intelligence officer and a sergeant were the first ones to visit the men or their families at their homes. Their message was simple: They weren't in trouble, but the commander needed to meet with them.
"They don't like the fact that you go to their home and embarrass them in front of their family," said Ildefonso Lara, the intelligence officer. "They drop the act."
Then Pena would show up, accompanied by a woman from New York-based John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who was there to help the men connect with social services.
On one visit, Pena met with a Latin Kings leader and his family.
"I said, 'We want to have people put their guns down,' " Pena said.
The commander said an 18-month-old child was in the room. Pena played to the emotions of the gang leader's family.
She told them that on her first day as Ogden District commander in 2012, she responded to the murder of 6-year-old Aliyah Shell. Latin Kings members were allegedly gunning for members of Aliyah's family, who were Two-Sixers, and mistakenly shot the girl, police said.
"I said, 'We don't want you or your family shot — and we don't want to continually arrest you,' " she said. "Your mom doesn't want to bury you."
Pena said she met with Latin Kings and Two-Sixers leaders — or when they weren't at home, their families. Two of the men have made initial telephone calls about obtaining social services.
More importantly, the daily shootings between the gangs have ended, Pena said.
"The violence between these two gangs has stopped," she said. "In the short period of two weeks, I think it's making a difference."
Las Vegas, Nevada
Fender bender in Las Vegas? Forget calling the police. They're not coming.
By Emma Lacey-Bordeaux — Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 'CNN News'
(CNN) -- If you get into a fender bender in Las Vegas, don't bother calling 911. A car dings yours in traffic, same deal. In fact, unless the car crash resulted in an injury don't expect police to show up.
That's because Las Vegas Police just don't have the time anymore. Every week police in Sin City estimate they spend 250 hours on this kind of work. Time they'd rather spend it tackling bigger cases.
So come March 3, police will leave it up to drivers in these minor accidents to do the right thing. That means exchanging insurance data and filing a report themselves.
Not everyone thinks the new move makes sense.
"People are going to be over exaggerating, understating the accident, and the procedure of the accident isn't going to be reported correctly because of a lack of police involvement," Dena Gaskin told CNN affiliate KLAS.
And while drivers many cities gripe about traffic hazards, Vegas motorists face certifiably mean streets.
All State Insurance Company every year ranks 200 cities based on their claims data. In 2013, Las Vegas ranked 130th. Meaning that on average, drivers there get into an accident once every 8.7 years.
If you don't like those odds, keep in mind, the city has improved on its 2012 performance. It has moved up six whole spots in the rankings.
Police aren't sugar coating their new policy. They acknowledge in a press release that the move "may be an inconvenience to our citizens." But they also say motorists won't be totally on their own. Police will respond to minor accidents if one driver refuses to turn over his or her info.
Also, officials were quick to point out: Las Vegas isn't the first.
San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other cities have similar policies, traffic chief Mark Tavarez told KLAS.
Los Angelinos in particular will likely have some sympathy for Las Vegas's decision.
Their city weighs in at 181 on Allstate's list.
Mayor Murray says to reinstate misconduct finding against cop
As Interim Police Chief Harry Bailey and Mayor Ed Murray explained the decision, new details emerged about six others cases in which misconduct findings were lifted.
By Steve Miletich and Jennifer Sullivan — Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 'The Seattle Times' / Seattle, WA
With an apology, Interim Seattle Police Chief Harry Bailey said Monday he has reinstated a misconduct finding against an officer who threatened to harass a journalist who was observing police detain a man.
"Overturning the finding of misconduct was a mistake and sent the wrong message to our officers and to the public," an emotional Bailey said during a news conference at Seattle police headquarters where he reiterated that his original intent was to educate the officer by imposing additional training instead of a suspension.
His announcement came as new details emerged about six other cases in which Bailey lifted misconduct findings against officers last week, which he said he won't rescind because they were tentatively approved before he became chief.
Mayor Ed Murray, in an interview with The Seattle Times after the news conference, said he issued the directive that led Bailey, whom he appointed interim chief last month, to reinstate the misconduct finding against Officer John Marion.
Marion was found to have acted unprofessionally during a street encounter with Dominic Holden, the news editor of The Stranger weekly newspaper. Holden on July 30 took photos and made notes of police surrounding a man when Holden said Marion "became furious" and began threatening to harass him at his place of work.
Bailey's lifting of the misconduct finding was first reported last week in The Seattle Times.
In the other six cases, spelled out in a Jan. 13 memo prepared by city attorneys and obtained by The Times, Bailey rescinded misconduct findings where discipline ranged from written reprimands to a two-day suspension held in abeyance.
Among the rescinded cases was that of an officer who, while training her police dog, lost 15.6 grams of cocaine which she had fastened under her car. When she forgot to remove it before driving, it fell off.
She got a one-day suspension, now reduced by Bailey to a referral for further training.
In that case, city attorneys advised the Police Department that reducing the finding was a "judgment call," hinged on whether the conduct was willful or a mistake for which the officer had taken responsibility. Misconduct might be overturned by an arbitrator, the attorneys said.
In another case, city attorneys recommended caution in removing a misconduct finding and written reprimand for a sergeant who failed to arrest a domestic-violence suspect, forcing the victim, who was suffering from cancer, to sleep in her car and with friends.
While a discretionary situation and not actual misconduct, the sergeant's decision appeared to be "a significant judgment lapse" that resulted in "real hardship" to the victim, the attorneys wrote.
Bailey reduced the finding to a referral for additional training.
Overall, Bailey reduced two misconduct findings to training referrals where city attorneys found the lesser penalty could be "justified," and for two officers where attorneys found it "potentially" justified.
He also granted a training referral in a case where the attorneys found it "less likely" to be justified and the case involving the sergeant.
He rejected a training referral for an officer who received a five-day suspension for sexual harassment of co-workers involving multiple allegations.
All of the cases were part of a backlog of appeals, or grievances, brought by the Seattle Police Officers' Guild (SPOG) in response to chiefs' actions dating back several years.
In granting the training referrals, Bailey's actions mean the officers' names are no longer subject to public disclosure; their cases can't be listed on a data-collection system to track officer behavior; their erased misconduct can't be used in gauging punishment for any future misconduct; and their cases can't be used for comparative purposes in deciding other disciplinary cases, according to a source familiar with the matter.
At the news conference, Bailey, who came out of retirement as a Seattle assistant police chief to accept the interim post, said he will provide letters to the City Council explaining his rationale for overturning the cases within a 60-day period required under a city rule.
In Marion's case, Bailey said, he thought the misconduct finding would remain in place when he lifted a one-day suspension without pay and referred Marion for training.
"I deeply regret the confusion and misunderstanding that this matter may have caused and I personally apologize for that," he said.
At the same time, Bailey cited his support of federally mandated police reforms to curb excessive force and biased policing, pointing to his acceptance of new policies and reshaping of the department's senior command staff.
A law-enforcement source familiar with the matter said Marion's decision to accept the misconduct finding was his idea because he was tired of the media attention.
The source said Marion acknowledges he could have handled the incident in a better way and wants to put it behind him.
In addition, SPOG said in a statement that Marion agreed to accept the finding after consulting with union President Rich O'Neill and incoming President Ron Smith.
However, Murray said in the interview with The Times that he directed that Bailey reinstate the misconduct finding on Saturday after reconsidering his comments at a Friday news conference where he fully backed Bailey.
Murray, who had joined with Bailey in arguing that training provided a better remedy than the suspension given to Marion, acknowledged the public saw the matter differently without being provided more education.
In a written statement Monday, Murray said Bailey's decision to lift Marion's misconduct finding was the chief's call.
"But I stood with the chief and publicly supported that decision," Murray said. "And I am mayor: the buck stops with me. So, this mistake was mine. And today I am fixing that mistake."
Murray said in the interview he informed SPOG of his decision to reinstate the misconduct finding. "Obviously, they didn't like it," he said.
Smith, incoming SPOG president, praised Marion for accepting the punishment. Marion has agreed not to file another appeal.
"I commend Officer Marion for taking responsibility for his interaction with Mr. Holden, which he obviously wishes he would have handled differently. I now hope all parties can now move on," Smith said.
Marion has presented a PowerPoint to police roll calls to show what he did wrong, including video of the incident with Holden.
Bailey said Monday that over the weekend he had some personal reflections and then talked to the mayor.
At one point during the news conference, Bailey expressed confusion over whether the one-day suspension of Marion remained in place. A department official clarified that it would not.
City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, chair of the council's public-safety committee, said Monday that Bailey sought to clear a backlog of cases. "For his integrity to be attacked because of that, I think is misplaced."