Police Issues
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Stop with the tangential!
Gun lethality is, first and foremost, about the projectile
(#338, 8/12/19)

     Many years ago, while working as an ATF agent in Phoenix, I became acquainted with a physician whose name came up during one of my investigations. Dr. John, an avid hunter and target shooter, was unmoved when I explained that a man with whom he traded guns was an unlicensed dealer, and that local police had been seizing guns that went through him from thugs on the street.

     That’s how most trafficking casework begins. Agents follow the paper trail from a gun’s manufacturer to its initial retailer, then “hit the streets” to find out how it wound up in the wrong hands. Illegal “street dealers” often get guns one at a time from individuals such as Dr. John. Some deploy “straw buyers” to buy them in stores. Corrupt licensees are often in the mix, falsifying records and supplying firearms in quantity “out the back door.”

     Best I knew Dr. John had committed no crime. He was cordial and helpful and we eventually got to know one another quite well. Possibly too well. On my final visit I knocked on the door of his home. Dr. John greeted me warmly. Then with a flourish he pointed to the floor. Somewhere below, he proudly announced, lay the pistol that Big Brother wouldn’t get when they came for his guns.

     I, too, had once enjoyed firing guns. Proficiency with a firearm, especially a powerful semi-automatic, offers many personal rewards, from the tangible pleasure of operating an intricate gadget to the thrills of accurately striking targets at range. It may be pop psychology, but some also seem to find in guns a sense of power and autonomy that is otherwise lacking.

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Repeat After Us: "City" is Meaningless When it comes to crime, it's neighborhoods that count (#337, 8/2/19)

Two Sides of the Same Coin Street gangs and officer cliques have a lot in common (#336, 7/20/19)

Can You Enforce Without Force? Decriminalizing illegal immigration would have serious consequences (#335, 7/1/19)

A Distinction Without a Difference An epidemic of officer suicide raises the question: do guns cause violence? (#334, 6/22/19)

Informed and Lethal Accurate information can provoke lethal errors (#333, 5/5/19)

Mission Impossible? Inner-city violence calls for a lot more than cops. Is America up to the task? (#332, 4/13/19)

Driven to Fail Numbers-driven policing can’t help but offend. What are the options? (#331, 3/27/19)

No Such Thing as "Friendly" Fire As good guys and bad ramp up their arsenals, the margin of error disappears (#330, 3/4/19)

A Not-So-Magnificent Obsession Lapses in policing lead to chronic rulemaking. Does it hit the mark? (#329, 2/15/19)

A Victim of Circumstance Building cases with circumstantial evidence calls for exquisite care (#328, 1/26/19)

When Walls Collide Ideological quarrels drown out straight talk about border security (#327, 1/14/19)

Cops Aren't Free Agents To improve police practices, look to the workplace (#326, 1/3/19)

Red Flag at Half-Mast II Preventing more than suicide may carry serious risks (#325, 12/5/18)

Red Flag at Half Mast California’s Guv nixes expanded authority to seize guns from their owners (#324, 11/21/18)

Preventing Mass Murder With gun control a no-go, early intervention is key. Might artificial intelligence help? (#323, 11/4/18)

Notching a "Win" A self-professed “sleeper agent” is (legally) flimflammed by the FBI
(#322, 10/21/18)

Is it Ever OK to Shoot Someone in the Back? Laws, policies and politics clash with the messiness of policing (#321, 10/8/18)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There's no "Pretending" a Gun Sometimes split-second decisions are right, even when they're wrong (#310, 4/18/18)
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An epidemic of officer suicide raises the question: do guns cause violence?

      Friday, June 14 was a very bad day for cops in the Big Apple. That date marked the third occasion this month in which a member of the force – in this tragic case, a 29-year old officer with six years on the job – would commit suicide with a gun.

     NYPD suffered four officer suicides in 2018, and four so far this year. Alarmingly, this month’s three took place within a single ten-day period. Reacting to the crisis, NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill called on his colleagues to use and promote the use of mental health resources:

This is a mental-health crisis. And the NYPD & the law enforcement profession as a whole absolutely must take action. We must take care of each other; we must address this issue - now…There is no shame in seeking assistance from the many resources available, both inside and outside the department. Accepting help is never a sign of weakness - in fact, it’s a sign of great strength. Please, connect yourself or your friends and colleagues to the assistance that is so close by.

     Officer suicide is by no means a new phenomenon. Yet it’s never been officially tracked. (The FBI’s yearly Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted report only includes deaths due to criminal activity.) However, in 2016 the nonprofit “Blue Help” began systematically collecting information about episodes of police and correctional officer suicide. According to its website there were 142 officer suicides in 2016, 169 in 2017, 167 in 2018 and 92 so far this year. To compare, the FBI’s most recent LEOKA report indicates that 46 law enforcement officers were feloniously killed in 2017, all but four by firearms. BlueHelp doesn’t presently publish manner of death, but firearms are presumably the predominant instrument in suicides as well.

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Laws, policies and politics clash with the messiness of policing

      Let’s begin by summarizing two episodes in Nashville:

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

One and one-half years later, during the evening hours of July 26, 2018 Nashville officer Andrew Delke, who was also operating an unmarked cruiser, tried to pull over a car that was supposedly “travelling in an erratic pattern.” But the vehicle purposefully eluded him. Officer Delke, who is white, soon happened on a parked car. Several black men stood nearby. Officer Delke later said that they resembled the occupants of his vehicle of interest. One, Daniel Hambrick, 25, promptly ran off, and Officer Delke chased him on foot. Officer Delke said that Hambrick had a handgun in one hand, and that he repeatedly yelled warnings to drop the weapon or be shot. His commands had no apparent effect, and shortly after the pair rounded a corner Officer Delke fired four times: three rounds struck Hambrick in the back, with fatal results (for the graphic video click above image or here).

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8/16/19 An older person living in rural California texted his sister that he was about to commit suicide and asked that police come claim his body. Frightened, she called the local sheriff. But the agency refused to respond because it could wind up a “suicide by cop.” That approach, to avoid aggravating non-criminal situations, has been gaining traction. And yes, the man killed himself. Related post 1 Related post 2

8/15/19 A Philadelphia man who had done Federal prison time for being a felon with firearms fired repeated barrages at police serving a narcotics search warrant. Six officers sustained minor wounds. The suspect eventually surrendered. An AR-15 rifle and a handgun were recovered. Related post 1 Related post 2 Related post 3 Related post 4

8/15/19 Authorities say that the gun used to kill CHP officer Moye (see 8/13/19 update) was a “ghost gun,” meaning untraceable. It was apparently built by completing a partially-machined lower receiver that can be legally bought without a serial number, then assembling it into a weapon using legally-available parts. Related post 1 Related post 2

8/15/19 One day after its unfathomable eighth suicide this year, a 25-year veteran NYPD officer brought the toll to nine. Reportedly, it’s the worst in a decade. Related post

8/14/19 With the suicide by gun of a seven-year veteran, NYPD’s 2019 officer suicide toll now stands at eight. The officer’s best friend on the force was one of four who committed suicide in June. Related post

8/13/19 On August 12 veteran California Highway Patrol officer Andre Moye, 34, was shot and killed and two colleagues were injured when a convicted felon whom officer Moye pulled over for a traffic violation opened fire with an “AR-15 style” rifle. Their assailant was reportedly a gang member who had served prison time for an armed assault. Related post 1 Related post 2 Related post 3 Related post 4

8/12/19 Dayton gunman Connor Betts assembled his gun from legally-bought parts. Its upper receiver came from a friend, Ethan Kollie, who legally acquired it online. Kollie also bought the drum magazine and ballistic vest used by Betts. Related post

8/12/19 Police say that, as manufactured, the .223 caliber weapon used in the Dayton massacre lacked a stock and was classified as a handgun. Connor Betts, the gunman, added a “shoulder brace” to help steady the weapon, transforming it into an illegal short-barreled rifle. He had purchased the weapon and brace separately, and legally. Related post

8/9/19 Weeks before the El Paso massacre, the gunman’s mother worried that he wasn’t “mature or experienced enough” for the assault-type rifle he had ordered. She called police but apparently didn’t convey that her son posed a lethal threat. He moved out and legally got his rifle. Related post 1 Related post 2

8/8/19 Seven dead and fifty-two wounded, including seventeen shot in a two-hour period. That was the toll last weekend in Chicago’s infamous West Side, a gang-ridden area “devastated by drugs and violence.” Those words, incidentally, were the Mayor’s. Related post 1 Related post 2

8/4/19 Known for its raw, unmoderated content, online board “8chan” has become a favored place for extremists to post violent rants. Among those who recently used it to announce their intentions were San-Diego area (Poway) synagogue shooter John Earnest, New Zealand mosque gunman Mark Domingo, and only yesterday, Patrick Crusius in El Paso. Related post

8/4/19 Early this morning an unidentified man wearing body armor and carrying a .223 rifle and multiple magazines opened fire in a Dayton (OH) nightclub area, killing nine and wounding more than two dozen. Police shot him dead. This was reportedly America’s 22nd. mass shooting this year (at least four dead excluding the gunman.) Related post 1 Related post 2 Related post 3

8/3/19 Forty-six persons were shot in an El Paso (TX) shopping center by a twenty-one year old man wielding an assault-type rifle. Twenty have died. Police arrested the shooter, Patrick Crusius. He was dressed in a black t-shirt and was wearing earmuffs and dark glasses. Crusius’ online posts depicted him with a rifle, praised the New Zealand massacre and criticized America’s “invasion” by Latinos. Related post 1 Related post 2 Related post 3
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8/3/19 A rookie Texas cop responding to a person in distress call was confronted by a large dog. He drew his gun and repeatedly fired, wounding the dog and accidentally killing the subject of the call, a 30-year old homeless woman who had been passed out on the grass. Related post

8/2/19 The judge who presided over officer Pantaleo’s departmental hearing recommended he be fired. It’s now up to Commissioner James P. O’Neill to decide. Eric Garner’s survivors and Mayor de Blasio insist that only firing will do. But the police union feels that the officer was “scapegoated.” Related post

7/30/19 Santino Legan, the 19-year old Nevada man who used a California-banned rifle to kill three and wound a dozen at the Gilroy (CA) Garlic Festival on July 28, legally bought his AK-47 type weapon at a Fallon, Nevada gun store on July 9. Police shot him dead. In a recent Instagram post Legan praised a novel that glorifies white supremacism. Related post 1 Related post 2

7/28/19 On July 27 an as-yet unnamed sergeant became the fifth NYPD officer to commit suicide this year. All four prior suicides occurred in June, leading the agency to declare “a mental health crisis.” Related post

7/27/19 Title 8, section 1325 (a)(1) makes it a Federal crime for an alien to “enter or attempt to enter the United States at any time or place other than as designated by immigration officers.” The next section, 1325 (a)(2), prohibits “elud[ing] examination or inspection.” According to the Ninth Circuit, many (a)(2) convictions in San Diego (the L.A. Times says “thousands”) are invalid because there was no “eluding,” so they should have been prosecuted under (a)(1). Justice Bybee concurred but noted that the Circuit’s prior decisions can make proving (a)(1) too complicated. Related post

7/26/19 Ruling that objectors (including the Sierra Cluib) lacked legal standing, the Supreme Court upheld President Trump’s decision to spend $2.5 billion in Pentagon funds on a border wall in California, New Mexico and Arizona, where he said it’s needed to fight drug running. Related post

7/24/19 Worried that a “bunker mentality” threatens to bring back the long-troubled agency’s bad old days, L.A. County Inspector General Max Huntsman bemoaned Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s orders to deny him access to internal documents. With support from some members Huntsman has petitioned the Board of Supervisors to grant him subpoena power. A 2020 ballot measure also proposes to give that right to the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission. Related post

7/23/19 A national study that compared levels of household firearms ownership with gun homicide reveals a significant relationship between more ownership and more domestic homicides but none between ownership level and non-domestic homicides. The recently released 2016 BJS survey of prison inmates reports that ninety percent of those who used a gun in their crime did not buy it at retail. Forty-three percent got it from a street source; six percent stole it. Related post 1 Related post 2  Related post 3

7/22/19 On May 28 Rhett Nelson, a 28-yr. old Utah man with drug and mental issues left home saying that “he wanted to make it on his own or die.” Police were informed, but although Nelson had a gun, officers didn’t think him suicidal or a threat and closed the case. On July 22 Nelson, under arrest in Los Angeles, was charged with two murders, a murder attempt and two robberies. Related post

7/22/19 California authorities complain they’re besieged by unlicensed pot shops. That’s true despite vast increases in enforcement. Raids “tripled” during the past year, and $30 million worth of product was seized. But the Calif. Cannabis Industry Assoc. calls the efforts “severely inadequate.” Related post

7/20/19 Chicago police fired a Sergeant and three officers for lying about their observations during the encounter with Laquan McDonald. According to investigators, the officers “exaggerated the threat” posed by McDonald, who was armed with a knife but, according to video, was walking away when he was shot dead by officer Jason Van Dyke. Related post

7/17/19 Federal authorities indicted twenty-two Los Angeles-area members of the MS-13 gang, an ultra-violent group that originated in El Salvador. Among other things, the defendants  allegedly hacked to death seven “transgressors,” dismembering them with knives and machetes. Nineteen of the accused allegedly entered the U.S. illegally during the past four years. Related post

7/16/19 The Justice Department announced it will not charge officer Daniel Pantaleo with violating Eric Garner’s civil rights as it could not prove he acted “willfully,” meaning that he had intended to cause harm. Administrative action within NYPD is still pending. Related post

7/14/19 New Zealand began buying back semi-automatic weapons it banned in April, one month after the massacres at two mosques by Brendon Tarrant. Semi-auto rifles are now legal only in .22 caliber and with magazine capacities of less than ten rounds. Semi-auto shotguns have been restricted to five rounds. Related post

7/13/19 On July 5th. a distraught 17-year old girl was shot and killed after pointing a replica gun at a Fullerton (CA) police officer whose vehicle she apparently purposely struck. Her family said she borrowed a car without permission and apparently intended to harm herself. Related post

7/13/19 In connection with her Presidential campaign, Senator Elizabeth Warren released a proposal that would, among other things, decriminalize illegal entry, making it a civil violation. Of the candidates, only Joe Biden has come out in favor of retaining illegal entry as a criminal offense. Related post

7/11/19 FBI agents are probing tattooed cliques of L.A. Sheriff's deputies, including the East L.A. station’s “Banditoes,” the Century station’s “Spartans” and “Regulators,” and the South L.A. station's “Reapers.” These gang-like factions allegedly encourage deputies to violate citizen rights and harass officers who don’t comply. Related post1 Related post2

7/10/19 In 2008 Jeffrey Epstein, a hugely wealthy and politically influential financial whiz pled guilty in Florida state court to trafficking young girls to New York for his sexual gratification. Epstein’s money and connections allegedly led to an exceedingly lenient sentence and helped him avoid Federal prosecution. But a new Federal indictment in New York aims to change all that. Related post

7/9/19 Thanks to America’s switch to fentanyl, many Mexican farm families who cultivated opium poppies “ so that your kids could go to school, so you could buy clothes, so that you could get something extra” face potential ruin. For some, the fix is to illegally emigrate to America. Related post

7/4/19 LAPD touts PredPol, a computerized “predictive policing” strategy that uses past activity to map where crimes are likely to occur. But many agencies now say that it doesn’t tell officers anything new, or that it simply doesn’t work. According to a researcher the software’s effect “ is very small...it can be hard to see.” Related post

6/27/19 An unnamed veteran NYPD detective committed suicide yesterday. That brings the city’s tragic count to four officers in three weeks. Related post

6/26/19 On June 19 Adel Ramos, 45, used a high-powered rifle to shoot and kill rookie Sacramento, Calif. police officer Tara O’Sullivan, 26, during a domestic violence call. Ramos, who had a record and an open warrant for domestic violence, had a shotgun, a handgun and two California-illegal AR-15 type rifles assembled from parts. This tragedy apparently led California Governor Gavin Newsom to change his mind and endorse expanding the State’s red flag laws to allow, among other things, “teachers, employers and co-workers to also petition the courts.” Related post


There’s no “regulating” the threat posed by highly lethal firearms

     “We could not have been more prepared for this situation, which is what makes it so frustrating.” Broward County high school teacher Melissa Falkowski’s despairing words aptly convey the consequences of allowing highly lethal firearms to proliferate in civilian hands. With seventeen presently confirmed dead, the toll of the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, exceeds that of the Columbine high school shooting, where twelve died, but is considerably fewer than the twenty-seven who fell at Sandy Hook Elementary. And if we include non-school shootings, far less than the fifty-eight recently murdered in Las Vegas.

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Preventing more than suicide may carry serious risks

      State and Federal laws generally prohibit gun possession by the adjudicated  mentally ill and by subjects of a domestic violence restraining order. According to a nationally-representative survey of 5,653 persons 18 and older, about 10˝ percent of the adult population self-reports substantial “anger traits” and keeps guns at home, while about 1.6 percent self-reports such traits and carries a gun (those required to do so by their job were excluded.) However, only a very small slice of this problematic group – 13.2 percent of the angry, gun-at-home cohort and only 16.3 percent of the angry gun-packers – has been hospitalized for a mental health problem, thus automatically denying them the right to have guns. It’s their far greater number of non-adjudicated, gun-possessing peers that “Red Flag” laws are meant to address.

     Unlike Red Flag laws that simply command alleged possessors to give up their guns (if needed, search warrants must be separately obtained), Connecticut’s statute, which was first out of the gate in 1999, directs officers to conduct a search and seize the guns they find. It was at first applied sparsely, generating about 20 seizure orders a year. But its use jumped after the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, with 100 warrants in 2011, 139 in 2012, 183 for the full year 2013, and 150 or more during each subsequent year through 2017.

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Just how intrusive should patrol be?

      It’s noon on Martin Luther King day, January 17, 2011.  While on routine patrol you observe a man sleeping on the sidewalk of a commercial park.*  He’s lying in front of offices that are closed for the holiday.  A Papa John’s pizza box is next to him.  Do you: (a) wake him up, (b) call for backup, then wake him, (c) quietly check if there’s a slice left, or (d) take no action.

     Think you’ve got it?  You’ll get another chance in a minute.

     It was Sunday afternoon, December 12, 1010.  All was quiet in Belmont Shore, an upscale residential area of Long Beach, California.  Douglas Zerby, 35, was sitting on the second-floor balcony of a friend’s apartment.  As usual, he had been drinking.  For reasons that he would take to his grave he had a pistol-grip water nozzle in his hands.  Yes, the kind for a hose.

     Local residents were accustomed to Mr. Zerby’s presence and paid no attention.  Unfortunately, one who didn’t know him called the cops.  He or she described the object in Mr. Zerby’s hands as looking like “a tiny six-shooter.”     Two officers responded and took cover some distance away.  They observed an apparently intoxicated man fiddling with an object that looked like a pistol.  They called for backup, then for reasons that aren’t completely clear moved in to “contain” the suspect.  One cop was armed with a handgun and the other with a shotgun.  That’s when Mr. Zerby reportedly raised his arms and pointed the object in their direction.  Both officers fired, sending six handgun rounds and eighteen shotgun pellets, each roughly equivalent to a .38 caliber bullet, downrange.  Mr. Zerby was struck multiple times and died at the scene.  There is no indication that he and the officers spoke.

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October 2, 1938 - August 1, 2019

      Ronald Eltzeroth, professor emeritus, Police Training Institute, University of Illinois, formerly a Detective with the Illinois State Police, and most recently an instructor at Danville Area Community College, passed away on August 1st. For more information and his biography, click here.


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