Sunday, February 23rd, 2014 — Good Morning, Stay Safe
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The Roman Catholic St. Patrick's Day Parade and the NYPD (A Religious & Irish Cultural Celebration)
Should 'New York's Finest' March on Saint Patrick's Day, If Gays Can't?
By Wendy Kaminer — Saturday, February 22nd, 2014 'The Atlantic' / Washington, DC
(Op-Ed / Commentary)
COMMENT: Incidentally, how many LGBTQ New Yorkers are going to march in the NYC Muslim Day parade?
Why haven't the gays, lesbians, transgendered and transvestites ever pushed to parade with the Muslims?
That is also a celebration of religion and culture; no different than the St. Patty's day parade is for NYPD's Irish-Catholic police officers.
And the NYPD Muslim Officers' Society and the department's official NYPD Band march in uniform in the Muslim Day parade.
Have you heard one peep from those LGBTQ hypocrites or for that fact - the mayor?
What are the gays, lesbians, transgendered and transvestites afraid of? Demand to march with the Muslims!
PS Anybody want to bet that the 'Traffic Nazi Sphincter Muscle' doesn't march with the Muslims despite their lack of gays and acceptance?
I'm taking all bets. - Mike Bosak
New York City's Saint Patrick's Day parade dates back to 1766, when Irish soldiers serving in the British army organized "a parade of sorts … including fife and drums at dawn." Today the parade maintains an air of militarism, its ranks swelled by uniformed police officers, as well as firefighters. They march to express ethnic pride, or so one assumes. But ethnic pride can be a form of tribalism, and tribalism has a dark side: ethnic (or religious) bias. New York's St. Patrick's Day parade excludes identifiable Irish gay and lesbian groups, and GLBT rights advocates regard the participation of uniformed officers as official discrimination.
"The presence of uniformed police and firefighters in such a procession sends a clear signal to LGBTQ New Yorkers that these personnel, who are charged with serving and protecting all New Yorkers, do not respect the lives or safety of LGBT people," a coalition of organizations, individuals, and public officials recently asserted in a public letter to Mayor DeBlasio.
They characterized the participation of uniformed officers as a violation of the City's Human Rights Law (although its application here is unclear), and they asked the mayor "to direct all City departments not to organize marchers for or allow personnel to participate in this anti-LGBTQ procession either in uniform or with any banner that identifies them with the City."
De Blasio has already directed himself not to march, citing the exclusion of gay and lesbian groups. But his power to ban uniformed personnel from participating is questionable at best, unless he bans all personnel from participating in all private parades, in uniform or with any official banner. If De Blasio cedes to the demands of LGBTQ advocates in this instance, he'll invite a federal lawsuit, which he'll probably lose.
If the immorality of discriminating against LGBTQ groups seems clear (at least to the Mayor and other LGBTQ advocates), the legalities are complicated, involving the interplay of private speech and associational rights and public obligations to ensure equality. The complications are familiar to federal courts.
First, consider the First Amendment rights of St. Patrick's Day parade organizers to exclude LGBTQ groups, or others with whom they don't wish to associate. In 1995, in Hurley v Irish American Gay Lesbian Bi-Sexual Group, a unanimous Supreme Court upheld the exclusion of a gay and lesbian group from the Boston parade, overturning a state court decision that ordered the group's inclusion, under a state anti-discrimination law. Justice Souter's opinion in Hurley confirmed what was constitutionally obvious—that a parade is "a form of expression," as the Court had previous recognized in cases involved protest marches.
Every identity group participating in a parade "affects the message conveyed by the private organizers," which means that an official order requiring inclusion of a group that organizers prefer to exclude is a fundamental violation of their right to say what they choose according to the dictates of their collective conscience. Organizers of a gay pride parade, for example, have an essential right to exclude identifiably homophobic groups.
Uniformed police officers, clothed in official power, behind an official banner, have no obvious or equivalent private rights to march in any private parade. But, as a general rule, any one group of officers has a Fourteenth Amendment right to the same privileges and prerogatives afforded any other group of officers.
That's a right gay and lesbian officers no doubt appreciate: They had to fight for permission to march in uniform in New York City's gay pride parade, accompanied by the NYPD marching band. They marched for the first time in 1996, after the Gay Officers Action League sued the NYPD for discrimination in federal court. Their official recognition was an emotionally resonant moment for the gay community, as a New York Times report back then suggested:
Gay and lesbian police officers brushed the lint from their dress uniforms yesterday, polished their buttons and shined their shoes. Today, for the first time, members of the Gay Officers' Action League will be marching in full dress uniform, accompanied by the New York Police Department marching band and representing New York's Finest in the 27th annual Lesbian and Gay Pride March.
The equal treatment granted by the police department to gay and lesbian officers in 1996 (under threat of litigation) was definitively vindicated in federal court a few years later. A group of Latino officers successfully sued the NYPD for the right to march behind their own banner in a Puerto Rican Day parade.
"(T)he NYPD already permits at least 25 such organizations to march in uniform," the Second Circuit Court of Appeals observed, in 1999, in Latino Officers Association v City of New York. "Having allowed these organizations to use the NYPD uniform in such a manner over many decades, the NYPD cannot now deny plaintiffs the same privilege without demonstrating that their use of the uniform is both distinguishable from that of the various authorized organizations."
The court was careful to note that it was not deciding "whether or not (city officials) could constitutionally prohibit all fraternal organizations from marching in uniform." That's an observation DeBlasio might be advised to consider. A comprehensive ban on all city employees marching in uniform or behind official banners should be and, I suspect, would be constitutional and might be wise.
When police and firefighters march in uniform they march with the aura of power and authority the uniform confers. Arguably, marching becomes, in effect, a sort of hybrid private and public speech, giving the impression that the marchers speak for or with approval of officialdom. Is there an important expressive right to march in a private parade in order to express private views (or private pride) while wearing a public uniform that implies your views are quasi public? I don't think so. But LGBTQ advocates who want to bar uniformed officers from the St. Patrick's Day parade, while allowing them in the Gay Pride parade, would, on occasion, disagree.
Confines of the 77 Precinct
Police shoot woman wielding two knives inside her Brooklyn apartment: officials
Latoya Gibbs, 35, lunged at the officers when they entered her Crown Heights home Saturday afternoon, forcing them to open fire, cops said.
By Rocco Parascandola, Clare Trapasso AND Barry Paddock — Sunday, February 23rd, 2014 'The New York Daily News'
Cops shot an unhinged, knife-wielding woman inside a Brooklyn apartment Saturday.
The incident began when a relative of the woman, identified by police sources as Latoya Gibbs, 35, called 911 claiming she was suicidal, officials said.
When the family member let cops inside the Brooklyn Ave. apartment in Crown Heights just before 3 p.m., Gibbs lunged at the officers with a 151/2-inch knife, police said.
One cop shot Gibbs in the lower back after his partner was knocked to the ground during the struggle, a police source said.
"I heard various shouting and then I heard a pop," said neighbor Cristabel Byrd, 22, who said she hears near-constant fighting from the apartment.
Gibbs was rushed to Kings County Hospital with a non-life-threatening wound. Both cops also went to hospitals, one with a back injury and one for evaluation.
Investigators recovered the knife. Two other 111/2-inch knives were found on the floor near the front door and in Gibbs' bedroom, a police source said.
Officer Shoots Knife-Wielding Woman in Brooklyn, Police Say
By ASHLEY SOUTHALLFEB — Sunday, February 23rd, 2014 'The New York Times'
A police officer shot a woman inside a Brooklyn apartment on Saturday after she lunged at officers with a knife, an official said.
Shortly before 3 p.m. on Saturday, the police received a 911 call about a suicidal woman in an apartment at 107 Brooklyn Avenue in Crown Heights. Two officers were let into the apartment by a relative who told them the woman was in a bedroom, a police spokesman said. When the officers approached the room, the woman ran out of it, charging toward them with a knife. One of the officers fired a single shot, the spokesman said, wounding the woman in her torso.
The woman was taken in stable condition to Kings County Hospital Center, in East Flatbush, and was in police custody, the authorities said.
The police did not immediately identify the woman, but said she was 35 years old.
Detectives were conducting an investigation on Saturday, and had removed a 15-inch knife and two 11-inch knives from the apartment. One of the knives was the weapon, the spokesman said.
Michael Schwirtz contributed reporting.
Cops shoot knife-wielding woman after allegedly tackling officer
By Erin Calabrese and Larry Celona — Sunday, February 23rd, 2014 'The New York Post'
Cops shot a knife-wielding Brooklyn woman in the hip after she tackled an officer to the ground inside her family's Bedford-Stuyvesant apartment, police sources said.
The woman's parents called 911 at 3 p.m. Saturday looking for help with their emotionally disturbed daughter, police said.
Officers arrived at the Brooklyn Avenue apartment and made their way to the back, where the woman, who allegedly had two knives, charged at them, sources said.
An officer fired a single shot at the woman, 35, when she allegedly tackled one of the cops to the ground.
John Miller, head of the NYPD's counterterrorism unit, was among the officials responding to the scene.
The woman was in serious condition at Kings County Hospital. The tackled officer was being treated for a back injury.
Police Commissioner Bratton: Mayor de Blasio's Motorcade Is Equivalent To POTUS
By Jacob Kornbluh — Saturday, February 22nd, 2014; 7:00 p.m. 'JP Updates - Jewish Political News & Updates' / Brooklyn
Police commissioner Bill Bratton told reporters Friday he would not question the police officer assigned to drive Mayor Bill de Blasio who was filmed yesterday driving over the speed limit and breaking traffic rules.
"I am not overly concerned with what I saw," Bratton told reporters as he left City Hall after his regularly scheduled meeting with the mayor. "The officers assigned to the security detail have dual concerns."
One is security and the other, he said, is "traffic conditions. And they are constantly evaluating and making decisions," Bratton said. "They were moving with the traffic flow, which they're trained to do. If you get up on the Grand Central Parkway and that's going 55 miles per hour, you go 55 miles per hour."
As for the stop sign, Bratton said the second car in a motorcade like the one the mayor travels in needs to stay close to the lead vehicle. "Its principal function is to stay with the first vehicle," he said.
Asked whether de Blasio had set up a double standard for obeying traffic rules, Bratton said, "He's the mayor of New York and his security is paramount. It's the same as the president of the United States, the governor or, for that matter, the security that's provided to me. I'm sorry. That's the way it is."
Capital's reporter Azi Paybarah asked Bratton if the motorcade's exception to the some traffic rules violates the mantra he's told his officers, which is that you "can't break the law in order to enforce" it.
"It is not," Bratton said. "Let's get real. Let's get real. Security issues are going to be paramount. We are not going to be questioning those officers as to the decisions they made. They make these decisions all the time, every day, as they attempt to provide security."
A television reporter asked Bratton if the officer filmed yesterday will continue driving the mayor. Bratton said, "certainly," and walked away.
Skell Findlayter Flimflamming and Skating on Active Warrants
De Blasio bishop a Brooklyn powerhouse despite money, legal woes
By Michael Gartland — Sunday, February 23rd, 2014 'The New York Post'
How can a pastor who doesn't pay his bills or file tax returns become one of Brooklyn's most influential power brokers?
If he's Bishop Orlando Findlayter — the man Mayor de Blasio phoned police brass to inquire about after his arrest on outstanding warrants two weeks ago — he charms a citywide network of 12,000 worshippers into making him its leader, then leverages their potential votes into political muscle.
Findlayter's power doesn't come from his own Brooklyn congregation, the New Hope Christian Church, which boasts only 250 or so members; it springs from the umbrella organization his church belongs to and which he leads — Churches United to Save and Heal (CUSH), a multidenominational network of 40 mostly Caribbean churches in Brooklyn, Queens and The Bronx.
CUSH was founded in the aftermath of 9/11 by black pastors wanting a broader, multidenominational outreach in response to the tragedy.
For politicians, Findlayter, 50, is a gatekeeper to thousands of voters and activists.
"If you're looking for black voters, you have to start at the church," state Sen. Kevin Parker, an ally of Findlayter for the past 15 years, told The Post. "Mayor de Blasio understood that, and that was key to his victory . . . Pastors are really the institution of black communities that do the most service."
Findlayter was born in Panama to parents of Jamaican descent. When he was still a child, they moved the family to New York, where he undertook religious study at Nyack College.
During the early and mid-'80s, he belonged to a Salvation Army church in Brooklyn but didn't rise to pastor there, an old acquaintance says.
Findlayter refused an interview request.
He eventually made the transition to a Pentecostal style of worship and founded his own congregation in Brownsville, which he presided over through the 1990s.
As Findlayter became more outspoken on issues like immigration, his profile and influence grew.
He was known for his charisma and passionate sermons. He preaches in a resonant West Indian patois punctuated with pointed hand gestures that grow more animated as he builds to a crescendo.
With a stocky build and his head shaved clean, Findlayter has the bearing of a boxer hammering home the Gospel to applause and amens.
He believes "church should be in the streets," Parker said, and hasn't hesitated to take to them for protests on immigration and stop-and-frisk reform.
Findlayter wasn't CUSH's first chairman but ascended to its top spot sometime between 2003 and 2005, said the Rev. Dennis A. Dillon, who heads the Brooklyn Christian Center and helped found CUSH.
But while Findlayter's influence increased, so did his money problems.
As he became head of CUSH, he was also in the process of evicting at least 10 tenants from two apartment buildings he owned in Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy. One was kicked to the curb for failing to cough up a paltry $950.
Another, Jason Brewster, 42, refused to pay Findlayter because he wouldn't fix a loose handrail that the dad worried might send his two kids falling down the stairs. He and his family were forced from 726A Quincy St. over a $3,800 court judgment in 2002.
"He was a slumlord," Brewster said last week. "Bottom line was he didn't want to fix anything. We owed money because we refused to pay any more."
Findlayter's legal woes extended to his church, as well. In 2011, his congregation was kicked out of its building for failing to hand over more than $45,000 in back payments.
The pastor also wasn't filing tax returns for CUSH. The nonprofit lost its tax-exempt status last May after failing to file three years of returns.
The money woes threaten the sway that sprung Findlayter from jail on Feb. 10. He had been arrested for open warrants stemming from his arrest at an October protest when de Blasio called the precinct house and the pastor was released.
De Blasio says he did nothing wrong. Findlayter refuses to comment.
Sunday, February 23rd, 2014 'The New York Daily News' Editorial:
Spying the truth
A court rightly vindicates the NYPD
A New Jersey federal judge has succinctly put the lie to widely accepted claims that the NYPD anti-terror fighters have been guilty of improperly spying on Muslims.
The notion of unconstitutional surveillance of Muslims, simply because they are Muslims, took root thanks to an overheated series of Associated Press articles that cast cops as spies.
As one example, a post-9/11 NYPD program that mapped city neighborhoods, to show where people have congregated from countries that have been breeding grounds for terrorism, was cast as a drive to keep tabs on innocent people.
Two groups of Muslims filed federal suits, one in Newark, one in Manhattan. Judge William Martini tossed the case across the Hudson.
Concluding that he saw no facts to support the charge that the cops targeted the plaintiffs because they were Muslims, Martini wrote:
"The police could not have monitored New Jersey for Muslim terrorist activities without monitoring the Muslim community itself. . . . The motive for the program was not solely to discriminate against Muslims but rather to find Muslim terrorists hiding among ordinary, law-abiding Muslims."
For good measure, Martini blamed AP, not the police, for ruffling feelings.
Next up, Manhattan Federal Judge Charles Haight should follow Martini's lead in the suit that landed in his courtroom, notably because city lawyers detailed why the police department had an interest in his plaintiffs. A brief excerpt from their legal papers submitted to the court: "based upon information about their lengthy history of suspected criminal activity, some of it terroristic in nature."
Kudos to Martini for starting to set the record straight.
Family Of Japanese Student Killed By NYPD Car: "We Want To Know The Truth"
By Rebecca Fishbein — Saturday, February 22nd, 2014 'The Gothamist' / New York, NY
The family of Ryo Oyamada, the 24-year-old Japanese student who was fatally struck by a police cruiser last year, is still waiting for the NYPD to disclose information regarding their investigation into his death. And they say they will not rest until they have their answers.
At a press conference yesterday, Ryo's sisters, Tomoko and Kaoru, gathered at family attorney Christopher Fitzgerald's office in Lower Manhattan to discuss their treatment at the hands of the NYPD. The family filed an $8 million lawsuit last year that cited gross negligence on the part of the patrol car's driver and demanded the NYPD disclose a surveillance tape and other evidence they're withholding from the night of the crash; they have not received anything from the NYPD thus far. "I can't believe this is happening in New York City, the city of democracy, in 2014," Tomoko said through the help of an interpreter. "We want to know the truth. We just want to have some kind of honest explanation of what happened to Ryo," Tomoko told us.
Right after Ryo was killed, NYPD officers told his family he had been crossing the street in Queensbridge mid-block with his headphones on, maintaining that they were responding to a 911 call in the area and that the patrol car had its emergency lights activated at the time. At least two witnesses, however, say they saw neither sirens nor lights engaged at the time of the incident. The NYPD says they have a surveillance tape that shows Ryo and the cop car on that fatal night, and earlier this month it was ordered they disclose that tape, and any other information pertaining to the investigation into Ryo's death within 30 days; they now have only two weeks to do so. In addition to the tape in question, "We're entitled to the Accident Investigation Squad (AIS) report," Fitzgerald said. "The Internal Affairs Bureau has been investigating, and we're entitled to that too. We've demanded recordings of the 911 call."
For now, the family is playing a waiting game. Though Fitzgerald says the fact that the NYPD's been "dragging their feet" in releasing the surveillance tape may be telling, he's not sure the tape will offer anything other than "grainy footage that doesn't show anything definitive." But as Fitzgerald told us, "There's a public issue here. The public deserves answers as well as the family does. Even if they can't contact the family individually, they should be releasing information to the public regarding this accident."
Left without answers, Ryo's family feels nothing but anger and frustration at the city's treatment of them. "Today marked the one year anniversary. One year ago, we never thought nothing would be disclosed or explained fully to us one year later," the family said. "The NYPD and public institutions are not treating Ryo as a legitimate citizen. We are wondering how they think this of our brother."
No public officials have reached out to the family at any point. Oyamada was killed in the district represented by Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who recently held a press conference calling for Northern Boulevard in Woodside to be incorporated in Mayor de Blasio's Vision Zero initiative. Despite multiple requests for comment, Van Bramer has kept silent on Oyamada's death.
The family has traveled from Japan to New York four times in the last year, and though they noted they have "mixed feelings about New York" because of the "inhumane treatment" they have received at the hand of public institutions, they are grateful for the "local people...who tried to help Ryo" on the night of the fatal incident. At 12:30 a.m. on Friday, they held a vigil at the site of his death, where Tomoko said she thought about "what Ryo was thinking, what Ryo was hearing" in the moments before he lost his life. "We think about it all the time," she said.
Q. Who was New York City's first policeman?
By Michael Pollak — Sunday, February 23rd, 2014 'The New York Times'
A. According to the New York Police Museum, in 1625 Johan Lampo was appointed a "shout-fiscal' for the Colony of New Amsterdam; the job was a combination of police officer and district attorney. Besides making arrests, he administered punishments, which were usually the whipping post or a period in the stocks.
According to the New York Police Academy, he was the first police officer in what would become the United States.
The post was supplemented in 1658 with a night watch of eight men and a captain, who were known as the rattle watch for the wooden rattles they carried. This night watch system remained largely the same until the mid-19th century and the creation of the municipal police force.
New York State
Retired state police investigator convicted of sex abuse
[Trooper-Investigator Worked on NYSP Sex Abuse Task Force]
By D.W. Nutt — Friday, February 21st, 2014 'The Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin' / Binghamton, NY
A retired New York State Police investigator who once served on a sex abuse task force was convicted of first-degree sexual abuse Wednesday in Tompkins County Court.
Randolph B. Stark, 61, of Taughannock Blvd., was on trial for subjecting a woman to non-consensual sexual conduct while she was physically helpless on May 31 in the Town of Ulysses.
The decision was announced in a news release Thursday by the district attorney's office.
Stark was arrested on June 1 and was charged with first- and third-degree sexual abuse.
According to court papers, late on the night of May 31, Stark touched a woman on her upper thigh and buttock area, under the waistband of her shorts, while she was asleep. Stark's defense team argued for dismissal of the case, saying, in part, that no physical harm resulted from the touching and that Stark was drunk to the point of "blacking out," thus unable to form the intent to commit a crime.
In denying the defense's motion for dismissal on Nov. 5, Judge John Rowley wrote, "Defendant's lack of a criminal record and prior public service pale in comparison to the potential harm to the alleged victim and the community if a retired police investigator's sexual abuse charges were to be dismissed because there was no 'physical harm as a result of the touching' and because defendant was allegedly intoxicated at the time of the crime.'"
The judge also cited the impact on the public's confidence if the case were dismissed.
"Defendant seeks dismissal precisely because he enjoyed a position of responsibility and power within the criminal justice system. The failure to treat him like any other accused person would be devastating to public confidence," Rowley wrote.
Stark, who pleaded not guilty to the charges, was described in documents from the defense as a lifelong resident of the area who served in the U.S. Navy before joining the New York State Police. During his tenure with the state police, Stark worked undercover for five years. In 1987, he was promoted to the Bureau of Criminal Investigation as an investigator. In 1989, he received three commendations and two unit commendations. While serving in the Major Crimes Division from 1994 to 1997, he was named Investigator of the Year.
Stark served on the Sex Abuse Task Force from 1997 until 2000, along with current District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson. In 2000, Stark was promoted to senior investigator and was moved to the Community Narcotics Enforcement Team drug task force. Stark retired in 2003 and has since worked security for a number of area businesses.
The case went to trial in January and was prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Wendy Franklin. Stark waived his right to a jury trial. He was represented by Ithaca attorney John A. Stevens. The New York State Police conducted the investigation.
Rowley dismissed a lesser charge of sexual abuse in the third degree.
Stark is scheduled to be sentenced April 9. He faces up to seven years in prison and will be required to register as a sex offender.
Border's New Sentinels Are Robots, Penetrating Deepest Drug Routes
By FERNANDA SANTOSFEB — Sunday, February 23rd, 2014 'The New York Times'
NOGALES, Ariz. — Tom Pittman has made a career as a Border Patrol agent here guarding this city's underground drainage system, where the tunnels that carry sewage and storm runoff between the United States and Mexico are also busy drug-smuggling routes. Over the years, he has crawled and slithered past putrid puddles, makeshift latrines and discarded needles left behind by drug users, relying on instincts, mostly, to gauge the risks ahead.
It is a dirty and dangerous business, but these days, there is a robot for that.
Three robots, out of four in use by the agency along the entire southern border, are newly assigned to the Border Patrol station here. The reason is in the numbers: Most of the tunnels discovered along the border lead from Nogales, Mexico, to Nogales, Ariz., out of sight of the agents, cameras and drones that blanket the ground above. This month, federal agents closed the largest one found so far, a 481-foot passageway aired by fans and lit by lamps hanging from wires that ran along the tunnel's walls.
The robots are just the latest tactic in a vexing battle by the federal authorities to try to stem the flow of drugs through the tunnels, considered prime pieces of real estate by the smuggling groups that build and control them. Border Patrol agents have tried dumping concrete inside the tunnels to render them unusable, and installing cameras and motion detectors to alert them of suspicious movement underground. But still the tunnel diggers persist.
The robots, valued for their speed and maneuverability, can serve as the first eyes on places considered too risky for humans to explore.
"If anyone is going to get hurt, it better be that robot," said Mr. Pittman, a supervisory agent here.
Along the southern border, drug smuggling has remained stubbornly prolific, with seizures happening not just in the tunnels, but also at legal ports of entry and among illegal border crossers carrying bales of marijuana in their backpacks. Some 2.9 million pounds of drugs, mostly marijuana, were seized by Customs and Border Protection agents in the past fiscal year; 1.3 million of those pounds were seized in Arizona, the largest amount among the four states that border Mexico, according to agency statistics. Of the 45 cross-border tunnels found in the Southwest in the past three fiscal years, 25 were in Nogales — not counting the partly finished tunnels the agents found — and three more have been uncovered this year.
The tunnels are part of a sophisticated enterprise. The groups that control the smuggling routes in the Mexican Nogales — the Sinaloa cartel on the east side of the city, the Beltrán-Leyva cartel on the west — have an understanding: One side pays the other to use the areas it holds, both "above ground and underground," said Special Agent Alex Garcia of Homeland Security Investigations, who leads the border tunnel task force here.
A senior American law enforcement official said Saturday that the leader of the Sinaloa cartel, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the world's most-wanted drug lord, had been captured.
Many of the tunnel diggers are believed to come from the copper mines of Cananea, Mexico, about 45 miles southeast of Nogales. They use tools with short handles because, in the tunnels here, there is no room to stand up straight, Mr. Garcia said.
That does not bother the tunnel-detecting robots. They have cameras that look up, down and sideways, in front of them and behind them. Controlled remotely by joysticks, they glide, bump and scrape along dark, cramped areas, where the air is not safe for humans to breathe for long. One model sounds and looks like the remote-controlled Humvees sold in toy stores. The other, with its bullet-shaped body and shiny blue and silver shell, seems as if it had been pulled right off a sci-fi movie set.
Among the daily duties shared by Mr. Pittman and a small group of agents certified to search confined spaces is to comb through Nogales's drainage lines, which the smugglers often tap into to push their loads north. The agents look for signs of disturbance, like a patch of plastic on a steel pipe or scarring where the metal should be smooth.
To get ready for this work, the human agents "have to put on kneepads, elbow pads — we've got to put on helmets, gloves," said Kevin Hecht, the deputy patrol agent in charge of the Border Patrol station in Nogales and one of the agency's foremost experts on illicit tunnels. "Sometimes we have to put on Tyvek suits," he said, referring to the coveralls that protect against the hazards that can lurk below drainage lines.
The robots, on the other hand, need no preparation other than the flick of a switch.
They scour the tunnels much faster than the agents can, and in the complicated work of securing the border underground, to waste time is to risk losing ground to the smugglers. Eric S. Balliet, assistant special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Nogales, said the agents in the tunnel task force had closed, on average, one tunnel a month in Nogales since October 2010. (The Border Patrol and its parent agency, Customs and Border Protection, and the Drug Enforcement Administration are also part of the task force.)
"At any given moment, there's a tunnel being planned, under construction or in operation in and around this city," Mr. Balliet said.
The large tunnel found here this month linked an abandoned home in Mexico to an occupied house not far from the border. The drugs were taken from there in hollowed-out couches or inside washing machines, according to the criminal complaint; three men were arrested on drug-conspiracy charges.
Many of the tunnels that are found end in inconspicuous places like this. One of them, discovered in December, exited into a backyard shed. Another, found last February, ended at an embankment behind the border fence, near a spot where a different tunnel had been closed in March 2012.
Nogales, Ariz., recently banned parking on a section of International Street, which runs parallel to the fence, after a tunnel exit was found there, less than 100 feet from a border crossing. Smugglers inside the tunnel had used a jackhammer to raise a piece of concrete cut from the pavement. Then they pushed bales of marijuana through the fake bottom of a refrigerated truck parked right above the hole.
Task force agents sometimes observe a tunnel for months before moving in. A whiteboard in the bunker from which they operate in Rio Rico, a town just north of Nogales, listed the nine open investigations they have had since January 2013. An inquiry might start with a tip from a disaffected tunnel digger or a breach found by one of the robots along the drainage lines in the United States.
"At the end of the day," Mr. Balliet said, "there's an organizational structure behind these tunnels, and that's what we're after. The end game of every tunnel investigation is in Mexico."
F.B.I. Has 4,476 Complaints Related to Romance Scams in 2012
Dating scams can be costly
By Nick Pappas — Sunday, February 23rd, 2014 'The Albuquerque Journal' / Albuquerque, NM
Valentine's Day 2014 has come and gone – if only the same thing could be said for online dating scams.
But as long as there are people who can be persuaded to part with thousands of dollars while searching for love with virtual strangers – as was the case recently with a California woman who lost more than $300,000 of her retirement savings – online romance scams are going to be around for many Valentine's Days to come.
And there is nothing to love about that.
Locally, the regional office of the Better Business Bureau says it doesn't get many calls about online dating scams, but that doesn't mean it isn't happening here in New Mexico, says Connie Quillen, executive assistant at the Albuquerque-based Better Business Bureau Serving New Mexico and Southern Colorado.
"People are embarrassed not only that they were taken advantage of, but because of the situation that led them to it," she told the Journal.
"It's a double whammy. They may be embarrassed about searching for love online."
That may be one of the many reasons why accurate data on the number of people who fall prey to online romance scams are difficult to come by.
But what information does exist certainly gives a sense of the scope of the problem.
Last spring, the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center reported that it had received 4,476 complaints related to romance scams in 2012 with combined losses of nearly $56 million, which breaks down to an average of roughly $12,500 per victim.
Nearly half of those complaints (46 percent) were filed by people 50 years of age and up, according to "Internet Crime Report 2012," and women outnumbered men, 57 percent to 43 percent.
"These individuals seduce victims with small gifts, poetry, claims of common interest or the promise of constant companionship," the report says. "Once the scammers gain the trust of their victims, they request money, ask victims to receive packages and reship them overseas or seek other favors."
The FBI isn't the only governmental agency to warn the public about online romance scams. For the past few years, the U.S. Army's Criminal Investigation Command has issued warnings about scam artists impersonating American soldiers – especially those stationed overseas or in combat zones – to spark romantic relationships online.
Once a sense of trust is established, scammers then dupe them into sending thousands of dollars under the guise of needing the money for travel or to purchase laptop computers, international telephones or other devices to enhance their romantic relationship.
"We cannot stress enough that people need to stop sending money to persons they meet on the Internet and claim to be in the U.S. military," CID spokesman Chris Grey said in a news release last year. "It is heartbreaking to hear these stories over and over again of people who have sent thousands of dollars to someone they have never met and sometimes have never even spoken to on the phone."
In order to help protect yourself from online romance scams, the FBI has compiled a list of signs that may suggest your new love is more interested in your money than in establishing a romantic relationship:
•Pressures you to move your conversations off the dating service's website to outside email or an instant messaging service.
•Sends a photograph of himself or herself that looks like it came straight off the pages of a glamour magazine.
•Claims to be from the U.S. but is traveling or working overseas.
•Makes plans to visit but suddenly has to cancel them because of a tragic event of some kind.
•And, most of all, asks for money for any number of reasons, be they related to travel, medical emergencies, hotel bills, hospital bills for a child or other relative, visas or other official documents, or to cover losses from financial setbacks or being victimized by crime.
"Try to stay local, at least within the U.S. or even in your commuting area," the BBB's Quillen says. "Otherwise, you are going to run the risk that the person on the other end is not who you think they are."
Detroit police feel the pain of city's money woes
By SHARON COHEN (The Associated Press) — Sunday, February 23rd, 2014; 6:00 a.m. EST
DETROIT (AP) — It has come to this: Even some criminals sympathize with Detroit's cops.
Baron Coleman thought he'd heard it all in his 17 years patrolling the streets. But then came the city's bankruptcy, a 10 percent cut in police salaries, followed by support from a most unlikely corner — the bad guys.
"When they saw us take a pay cut they were in shock. We were arresting guys ... and they were like, 'I can't believe your city would do you like this.' ... I say, 'Thanks for caring,'" the veteran officer says with a smile. "It's just funny because I don't like communicating with a person who has just committed a robbery how sad my life is."
Detroit police officers have long known adversity: They've worked in crumbling station houses with busted pipes, driven run-down cars, tangled with balky radios. They've navigated darkened streets — Detroit has thousands of broken street lights — chasing criminals, breaking up fights, encountering drug dealers who may be carrying AK-47s or wearing their own bulletproof vests.
As Detroit tries to rebound — a plan to emerge from bankruptcy was filed Friday — few groups, if any, have been feeling the pain of the city's financial collapse more than the police. Despite some recent positive changes — a new chief, new cruisers, new plans — there's worry, frustration and anger among the rank and file. Paychecks have shrunk. Morale is low. Co-workers have fled to more lucrative jobs. And those who remain face a formidable task: trying to protect a sprawling, often violent city where hidden dangers lurk among tens of thousands of abandoned houses.
Baron Coleman knows it's hard being a police officer anywhere. In these trying times, it may be a lot harder in Detroit.
Nearly a generation ago, when Coleman traded a factory job for a badge and crisp blue uniform, he had certain expectations: a good salary, great benefits and a pension.
The bankruptcy erased all that. The city's financial future is uncertain. So is his own.
Though he still enjoys being an officer, Coleman he says he never dreamed that as he approached age 50, he'd be working seven days a week — moonlighting in security jobs — to pay for two kids in school and compensate for a $15,000 drop in benefits and wages.
"Right now, the dream of what I came on for has been destroyed," he says. "I'm worried. Is my pension going to be there? If I get injured, is the city going to cover my family? ... Before I would tell my wife, 'If I die, I know you'll be taken care of.' Now, I tell her, 'If I die, you're on your own.'"
The plan by Detroit's emergency financial manager to pull the city out of bankruptcy would give police and fire retirees at least 90 percent of their pensions after eliminating cost-of-living allowances (other city workers would likely get at least 70 percent). But that plan probably faces court challenges and hinges on proposed state funding, among other factors.
While so many unresolved issues linger, the department is under new leadership. James Craig knew all about the department's troubles, but the former Detroit police officer who spent much of his 37-year law enforcement career in Los Angeles eagerly returned home last summer to take what he called his "dream job" — chief of police.
He is the fifth man to hold the position in five years. But he is undaunted.
In a report last month, Craig announced a sweeping reorganization and vowed to reform a police department he said had been woefully mismanaged and had "lost the confidence of the public, lost the confidence of its own officers and lost its way ..."
Or as Craig puts it more succinctly: "The bottom line — the department, like the city, was broken."
Some troubles have been general: The department has operated under a federal monitor for a decade because of accusations of abuse, including excessive force. That oversight is coming to an end. Other embarrassments have been more specific: A member of an elite police squad now awaits retrial — the first jury was deadlocked — in the 2010 shooting of a 7-year-old girl killed during a chaotic search for a murder suspect. The events were captured by a reality TV crew.
The city's financial agony has only added to the dysfunction and disrepair. When Craig arrived, he discovered:
— A 50-minute response time to 911 calls. It's been reduced to eight minutes for priority calls.
— Twelve-hour shifts and "virtual' police precincts, stations that closed at 4 p.m. — two unpopular cost-cutting moves that Craig scuttled.
— Bulletproof vests that were no longer effective. (They've been replaced.) And dilapidated cars with nearly 200,000 miles on their odometers. (Last summer, the business community donated about $8 million for a new fleet of 100 police cruisers along with ambulances.)
Add to all that the stress of seeking justice for the victims of the violent incidents that have come to epitomize the Motor City: the Good Samaritan shot in the eye while trying to help two women robbery victims. The 91-year-old man who was victim to a carjacking. (There were about 700 carjackings in the city last year. In October, Craig may have been a potential target himself when a man approached his unmarked cruiser at a stoplight. The chief didn't wait around to find out the stranger's intentions.)
Craig says when he took over, he had three goals: reduce violence, improve morale and restore credibility. The department, he says, is now on the mend and more accountable. "The people here deserve better," he says, "and they're getting better."
He points to a 7 percent drop in violent crime in 2013 from the previous year. And a 14 percent decline in criminal homicides in the same period — from 386 in 2012 to 333 last year. Encouraging as that is, it is precisely the same number of homicides that occurred in New York City, which has a population almost a dozen times larger than Detroit's.
Over seven months, Craig has been a high-profile presence, holding news conferences, appearing on radio and TV. He recently made headlines when he declared more armed citizens — law-abiding ones, of course __ could help make Detroit safer. He says he learned that lesson as chief in Portland, Maine. (He also headed the department in Cincinnati.)
Craig also has led a series of large-scale raids in crime-ravaged neighborhoods. News crews have been at his heels, chronicling his every comment, whether it's describing a raid as a "party" (meaning law-abiding citizens can celebrate) or publicly apologizing that the crackdowns didn't come sooner
Many residents have cheered the raids. That's no surprise. But something else is: A few of those arrested have actually offered thanks.
Why would someone be grateful to be nabbed by the police?
"They understand it's time for someone to come in and put an end to this. There's no secret," says Elvin Barren, commander of the organized crime division. After a raid one handcuffed suspect, talking with a TV reporter, endorsed the work of Craig and his department: "Keep up the good work," he declared. "Keep my family safe."
Among rank-and-file officers, there are deep-seated anxieties, both about the city's finances and their own.
They fear they're too short-staffed to adequately protect a city spanning about 140 square miles. Craig has announced plans to hire 150 new officers to shore up the 2,300-member force.
They worry about hazards posed by the thousands of abandoned homes, whether it's falling through a rotted floor or hunting a suspect hiding in the inky darkness.
And they're especially unhappy with the pay cut. Some say they're annoyed they have to work second or third jobs to pay the bills while others charged with turning the city around are bringing home six-figure salaries.
"To say morale is up is a falsehood," says Scott Barrick, a second-generation officer who spent 19 years on the streets before recently becoming a full-time police union official. "It seems like every time we turn around they want us to do more and they want to give us less. You can't help but think, 'Why am I doing this every day?' ... You feel like the entire burden of repairing the city is falling on our shoulders and quite frankly over the last year, it has."
He remembers a fight that erupted last year after a nightclub closed in the pre-dawn hours and a crowd spilled into the streets. At first, Barrick says, there were just six officers to subdue hundreds. "We're calling for backup but no one is coming there is no one to help," he says. Eventually, four others arrived to quell the disturbance.
He often says, half-jokingly, that "we're five minutes from disaster all the time."
The police force shrank as Detroit's population — now about 700,000 — dramatically declined. From 2000 to 2010 alone, the city lost about a quarter-million residents. Parts of Detroit are prospering, notably a revitalized downtown. But some neighborhoods are barren landscapes littered with abandoned homes and weed-filled lots. And some streets resemble disaster zones, with initials scrawled on houses, signifying to demolition crews where there's no water or electricity.
Vandals often plunder these empty houses, hauling off anything of possible value: windows, doors, bathtubs, sinks, copper, ductwork, dry wall, heaters, fixtures and more. "It's like a stripped turkey bone," Coleman adds.
Two years, ago, Officer Nicholle Quinn recalls, she and her partner were searching for a burglary suspect in a pitch-black abandoned house. As they headed toward the basement, she could hear and smell water. She told her partner to stop — "something doesn't feel right."
She was right. Copper pipes had been ripped out and rising water had reached the basement ceiling. Anyone who stepped down could have drowned.
Quinn is among the many officers feeling a financial squeeze, both with a smaller paycheck and the increased cost of prescription drugs for her and her 11-year-old son to treat their year-round allergies. She moonlights whenever she can for extra cash, but isn't happy about it.
"People become police officers because they love what they do," Quinn says. "They want to solve problems. They want to catch bad guys." But some rank-and-file officers feel they've borne the brunt of the department's sacrifices and it reaches the point, she says, where "you start hating to have to go to work for 10 percent less."
Quinn's original plan was to work 20 years so that she would be eligible for retirement. Five years short of the mark, she's changed course. She's studying for her master's degree in public administration. "I want to be completely and utterly done with being a police officer," she says.
If she goes, she'll join the exodus of officers who've found better-paying jobs in suburban departments, universities and law enforcement agencies around the country. Detroit police officers' salaries top out at less than $50,000 a year.
In January, 19 new officers graduated and joined the force, but since the start of 2012, 425 members of the department — nearly 20 percent — have left. The department could not provide details, including how many are retirements.
Not all of this is new.
"I think the morale of the typical police officer frankly has been poor as long as I can remember," says Martin Hershock, dean of the college of arts, sciences and letters at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and the son of a Detroit police officer who served from the 1950s to the 1970s.
"My father and his friends constantly complained about community attitudes toward the police and the constant struggle they had with the city to protect their pensions," he says. "The city has often looked to balance the budget on the backs of the police and fire."
But being an officer has become a "thankless job," with a vast area to patrol, a steady stream of citizen complaints and a general mistrust by a largely black populace, Hershock adds. "They see the police department as perpetrating a long-standing culture of aggression, particularly toward minorities, even though the department itself is predominantly minority," he says.
Barrick, the union official, says he hears from officers daily. Veterans ask if they should quit now in case things get worse; younger police wonder if it's time to jump ship. He says it's hard to make decisions with so much unknown. He expects a turnaround, but the big question is when.
"I do believe things are going to get better," he says, "but do you want to stay around and wait to see it?"
Noose closed on Mexican drug lord as allies fell
By MARTIN DURAN, ELLIOT SPAGAT and MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN (The Associated Press) — Sunday, February 23rd, 2014; 8:51 a.m. EST
MAZATLAN, Mexico (AP) -- For 13 years Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman watched from western Mexico's rugged mountains as authorities captured or killed the leaders of every group challenging his Sinaloa cartel's spot at the top of global drug trafficking.
Unscathed and his legend growing, the stocky son of a peasant farmer grabbed a slot on the Forbes' billionaires' list and a folkloric status as the capo who grew too powerful to catch. Then, late last year, authorities started closing on the inner circle of the world's most-wanted drug lord.
The son of one of his two top henchmen, Ismael "Mayo" Zambada, was arrested at a border crossing in Nogales, Arizona in November as part of a sprawling, complex investigation involving as many as 100 wiretaps, according to his lawyer.
A month later, one of the Sinaloa cartel's main lieutenants was gunned down by Mexican helicopter gunships in a resort town a few hours drive to the east. Less than two weeks later, police at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam arrested one of the cartel's top assassins, a man who handled transport and logistics for Guzman.
This month the noose started tightening. Federal forces began sweeping through Culiacan, capital of the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa - closing streets, raiding houses, seizing automatic weapons, drugs and money, and arresting a series of men Mexican officials carefully described to reporters as top officials for Zambada.
But the target was bigger.
On Feb. 13, a man known as "19," whom officials called the new chief of assassins for Zambada, was arrested with two other men on the highway to the coastal resort city of Mazatlan. Four days later, a man described as a member of the Sinaloa cartel's upper ranks was seized along with 4,000 hollowed-out cucumbers and bananas stuffed with cocaine. In the middle of this week, a 43-year-old known by the nickname "20" and described as Zambada's chief of security, was arrested transporting more cocaine-stuffed produce.
By the middle of the week at least 10 Sinaloa henchmen had been seized.
A U.S. law enforcement official said Saturday that at least some were actually security for Guzman, and authorities used them to obtain information that helped lead to the head of the cartel. The official was not authorized to talk to journalists and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Agents learned that Guzman, 56, had started coming down from his isolated mountain hideouts to enjoy the comforts of Culiacan and Mazatlan, said Michael S. Vigil, a former senior DEA official who was briefed on the operation.
"That was a fatal error," Vigil said.
Working on the information gleaned from Guzman's bodyguards, Mexican marines swarmed the house of Guzman's ex-wife but struggled to batter down the steel-reinforced door, according to Mexican authorities and former U.S. law-enforcement officials briefed on the operation.
As the marines forced their way in, Guzman fled through a secret door beneath a bathtub down a corrugated steel ladder into a network of tunnels and sewer canals that connect to six other houses in Culiacan, the officials said.
Guzman fled south to Mazatlan. On his heels, a team of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents set up a base of operations with Mexican marines in the city, according to the current U.S. law-enforcement official.
Early Saturday morning, Guzman's reign came to an end without a shot fired. Marines closed the beachside road in front of the Miramar condominiums, a 10-story, pearl-colored building with white balconies overlooking the Pacific and a small pool in front.
Smashing down the door of an austerely decorated fourth-floor condo, they seized the country's most-wanted man at 6:40 a.m., a few minutes after the sun rose.
A neighbor who declined to identify himself for fear of retaliation said the apartment had only been occupied for two days. An employee of the building's cleaning staff said that clothes were strewn across the floor and bed in the condo, and humble domestic appliances - a microwave, a floor fan, a flat-screen TV on a small table - were left inside.
Photos of the apartment published by a local newspaper showed cheap and unglamorous furnishings. Inside the condo, the photos showed little food or liquor: just a couple of dozen eggs on a shelf. A bag from a low-end supermarket lay on the floor.
Guzman was caught with an unidentified woman, said one official not authorized to be quoted by name, who added that the DEA and U.S. Marshals Service were "heavily involved" in the capture. Mexican officials said, however, that Guzman was detained along with a man they identified as Carlos Manuel Hoo Ramirez.
A U.S. law-enforcement official with direct knowledge of the killing of Zambada's main lieutenant in November described it as part of a concerted binational effort to decapitate the Sinaloa cartel. The organization became the focus of U.S. and Mexican attention after a string of arrests and slaying of the heads of other cartels, most notably the seizure of brutal Zetas cartel head Miguel Angel Trevino Morales in July.
"Who are the only big fish left in the country? We can't just twiddle our thumbs," said the official who was not authorized to speak to journalists and spoke on condition of anonymity. "Now we focus on the biggest elephant in the room. It's by virtue of default."
Guzman's arrest appears certain to all but quash U.S. concerns that President Enrique Pena Nieto's administration has been reducing cooperation with U.S. law-enforcement, a hallmark of his predecessor Felipe Calderon's six-year term.
"This shows that cooperation is working, and that it's discreet and based on intelligence-gathering," said Raul Benitez, a security expert at Mexico's National Autonomous University. "This is, without a doubt, the most important success of Pena Nieto's administration."
By early afternoon, Guzman was marched across the tarmac of the Mexican marines' hanger at the Mexico City airport.
The man who eluded Mexican authorities for more than a decade looked pudgy, bowed and middle-aged in a white button-down shirt and beltless black jeans.
After his 2001 escape in a laundry truck from a prison he came to control through bribery, Guzman was rumored to live everywhere from Argentina to Mexico's "Golden Triangle," a mountainous, marijuana-growing region straddling the northern states of Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua.
The Sinaloa Cartel grew deadlier and more powerful, taking over much of the lucrative trafficking routes along the U.S. border.
Guzman was hit with multiple federal drug trafficking indictments in the U.S. as his drug empire stretched throughout North America and extended branches into Europe and Australia. Guzman's play for power against local cartels caused a bloodbath in Tijuana and made Ciudad Juarez one of the deadliest cities in the world.
In 2013, he was named "Public Enemy No. 1" by the Chicago Crime Commission, only the second person to get that distinction after U.S. prohibition-era crime boss Al Capone.
He appeared in only a handful of photos during his years on the run, staring straight into the camera of an anonymous photographer and defiantly brandishing an automatic rifle.
On Saturday, as he was walked before the press, his hands were cuffed behind him and a masked marine pushed down his head with a black-gloved hand, as if to make clear that Guzman is now under state control.
Guzman said nothing, and looked subdued as he reappeared before the world for a few seconds before disappearing into the cargo bay of a helicopter waiting to take him to prison.
Spagat reported from San Diego, California. Weissenstein reported from Mexico City. Adriana Gomez Licon in Culiacan, Alicia A. Caldwell in Washington and Mark Stevenson and Katherine Corcoran in Mexico City contributed to this report.