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Police love Rapid DNA and facial recognition but hate encryption. Privacy advocates beg to differ.

(#342, 10/18/19)

     DNA’s forensic applications date back to 1984, when Dr. Alec Jeffries discovered that he could distinguish between family members by comparing repeat sequences of linked chemical pairs in their genetic code. Within a couple of years he used the technique to assist police, and in the process helped free an unjustly accused man. DNA’s usefulness for fighting crime (and exonerating the innocent) quickly became evident, and its use took off.

     Forensic DNA analysis is couched in probabilities. An absolutely positive match, with the likelihood of error less than one over the population of the Earth, requires that samples have identical linked pairs at each of thirteen standard locations (“loci”) in the human genome. (For more on this see our interview with a real expert at “DNA: Proceed With Caution.”) Attaining that level of certainty is not difficult when DNA is abundant, say, from a cheek swab. But things can get tricky with crime scene evidence, and especially when the DNA is a mix with multiple contributors.

     Processing DNA involves four steps: extracting whatever DNA may be present; measuring its quantity and assessing its quality; using the “PCR” method to make millions of copies of DNA sequences; and finally, separating the DNA molecules, reducing their characteristics to a profile that can be compared with other samples. Each step involves different groups of highly-skilled technicians laboring in clean rooms using specialized tools and expensive machines. Even under the most favorable conditions, and with the most up-t0-date equipment, traditional DNA typing can consume an entire day.

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Extraordinary measures beget extraordinary consequences

(#341, 9/28/19)

Despite redevelopment, South Bend's poverty and crime remain locked in an embrace
(#340, 9/13/19)

Doing right by the public might
mean doing wrong to the cop
(#339, 8/27/19)

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

When it comes to crime, it's neighborhoods that count
(#337, 8/2/19)

Street gangs and officer cliques have a lot in common (#336, 7/20/19)

Decriminalizing illegal immigration would have serious consequences (#335, 7/1/19)

An epidemic of officer suicide raises the question: do guns cause violence? (#334, 6/22/19)

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

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

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

As good guys and bad ramp up their arsenals, the margin of error disappears (#330, 3/4/19)

Lapses in policing lead to chronic rulemaking. Does it hit the mark? (#329, 2/15/19)

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

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

To improve police practices, look to the workplace (#326, 1/3/19)

Preventing more than suicide may carry serious risks (#325, 12/5/18)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent tragedies bring into question the wisdom of small agencies
(#315, 7/6/18)

The New York Times affirms its liberal creds. And falls into
a rabbit hole.
(#314, 6/24/18)

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

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

Police scour DNA databanks for the kin of unidentified suspects
(#311, 5/6/18)

Sometimes split-second decisions are right, even when they're wrong
(#310, 4/18/18)

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10/16/19 Two years ago Jackson Co. (MO) deputy Lauren Michael was awarded a Medal of Valor after shooting and killing an ex-con shoplifter who allegedly Tasered her during an arrest. This past August she shot and wounded a traffic violator who ran off after - again - allegedly Tasering the deputy. This time Deputy Michael was charged with “felony assault and armed criminal action.” Related posts 1 2

10/15/19 Ex-Georgia cop Robert Olsen was acquitted of murder but faces up to thirty-five years in prison after his conviction for aggravated assault and perjury for shooting and killing a mentally disturbed black vet who had stripped naked and was lying on the ground. Jurors found that Olsen, who is white, lied when he said that the victim ran at him and refused to stop. Related posts 1 2

10/14/19 Summoned by a neighbor who reported an open front door, two Fort Worth officers arrived at a residence during the early morning hours. One officer saw a woman standing inside. He yelled for her to show her hands, then fired a single shot, killing the woman, the home’s lawful resident. She was reportedly playing video games and came to the window because of the commotion. Related posts 1 2 3

10/13/19 A 66-year old man with “anger management issues” shot and killed five other residents of the condo complex where he had long resided. According to police most of the other tenants “have had problems with him,” from being accused of “making too much noise to exchanging dirty looks to bumping into each other in the stairwell.” Related post

10/13/19 A shooting at an unsanctioned “social club” in Brooklyn’s economically-challenged Crown Heights neighborhood (poverty level 24.3 pct) left four dead and three wounded. A July shooting in Brooklyn killed one and wounded eleven. Patrolled by NYPD’s 77th. Precinct, Crown Heights has experienced an increase in murder, from one to date in 2018 to nine so far this year. Related posts 1 2 3

10/12/19 California Governor Gavin Newsom (Jerry Brown’s successor) signed a bill that adds “teachers, school administrators, employers and co-workers” to the list of those who can petition courts that guns be seized. Related post

10/10/19 Wisonsin’s Supreme Court turned away a lawsuit against Armslist, an online website that puts together private gun sellers and gun buyers, for facilitating a gun purchase by Daniel Haughton, whom a restraining order had made ineligible to buy a gun under state law. In 2013 Haughton used a gun he got through the service to murder his wife and two of her coworkers. Related posts 1 2

10/10/19 MGM, the owner of the hotel that was the site of the October 2017 Las Vegas massacre, has agreed to pay up to $800 million to settle lawsuits alleging that it negligently failed to keep the shooter, Stephen Paddock, from stocking his room full of weapons and ammunition. Related post

10/6/19 A thirty-seven year old man flew to Florida from Norway. He banged on a front door, and when it was answered jumped out from the bushes. Meant as a birthday surprise, his actions startled his father-in-law, who shot him dead. Related posts 1 2

10/6/19 A Los Angeles Times investigation blames largescale gun smuggling from the U.S. for “stoking a homicide epidemic in Mexico.” According to ATF, seventy percent of the 132,823 guns recovered in Mexico between 2009 and 2018 came from the U.S., mainly border states in the southwest. Most smuggled guns - one estimate says more than 750,000 firearms went South in just two years - are reportedly acquired from U.S. gun dealers and at gun shows by straw buyers. Related posts 1 2

10/4/19 Facebook already encrypts WhatsApp. Now it’s planning end-to-end encryption for WhatsApp, Messenger and other services, placing content out of even Facebook’s reach. These services are being used to exploit children, and have appeal to criminals and terrorists. Law enforcement is demanding a “back door,” which Facebook and privacy experts strongly oppose. Related posts 1 2

10/3/19 Jurors convicted former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger of the most serious charge, murder. Then, after a hearing in which witnesses were called, they sentenced her to ten years. Returning home after a shift, officer Guyger had mistakenly entered the wrong apartment, then shot and killed its occupant thinking that he posed a threat. Under Texas law, Officer Guyger, who faced a prison term of five to ninety-nine years, elected to be sentenced by the jury. Related post

9/30/19 Participants at an NAS symposium on human rights sounded a cautionary note about artificial intelligence, whose misuse can worsen inequality and bias. For example, San Francisco  banned the use of facial recognition technology because it is “demonstrably biased against minorities.” Related post

9/30/19 NYPD officer Brian Mulkeen was accidentally shot and killed by other officers after he fired at an armed felon whom he encountered at a crime-ridden housing project in the Bronx. Although overall crime in New York City is down, the area, patrolled by the 47th. Precinct, had ten shootings to date in 2018 but fifteen so far this year. Related posts 1 2 3 4

9/29/19 An internal, multi-year review by State Dept. investigators has determined that more than one-hundred agency officials sent emails containing classified information to Clinton’s private server. While a former executive calls the inquiry a witch hunt, the agents insist that their effort is not intended to punish anyone and only took this long because of its massive nature. Related post

9/25/19 Suicide rates are climbing in the military services. In the Navy, three off-base suicides by members of the same crew in five days - with two confirmed by gun - raised the number of suicides for their vessel to five in two years. According to the Defense Department, the annual suicide rate of service members is 20.1/1000,000, considerably higher than the civilian toll of 14/100,000. Related post

9/23/19 Illinois’ red flag law, which authorizes judges, acting on petitions filed by family members and police, to order that guns be confiscated for up to six months, has been used 41 times since its enactment on January 1. According to an Illinois gun-control group the law is a valuable “public health tool.” But some major cities, including the state capital, Springfield, are yet to use it once. Related posts 1 2

9/20/19 According to Colt Firearms, “a pretty sharp decline in rifle sales” and a “significant inventory buildup by our distributors” has led it to suspend production of civilian versions of the AR-15. Colt will focus on police and military orders, which, it says, are “absorbing all of Colt’s manufacturing capacity for rifles.” Related posts 1 2

9/18/19 For more than two months, the sister of NYPD’s ninth officer to commit suicide this year reportedly pleaded with his supervisors to take his gun away. NYPD is expanding its anti-suicide efforts, but other agencies such as LAPD have long fielded mental health units with suicide prevention as an explicit mission. Overcoming officer reluctance to seek help is always a problem. Related post

9/18/19 At UC Santa Cruz, Dr. Ed Green, a paleogeneticist, reportedly developed a way to collect an individual’s full nuclear DNA sequence from a single strand of hair, an accomplishment that previously required having the root. A highly expensive process, it’s been used for more than a year to develop leads in cold-case murders by submitting profiles to DNA databanks. Related posts 1 2 3

9/17/19 Three Palm-Springs area high school students were arrested for posting terrorist threats to shoot up their high school. Police seized two handguns and a replica AR-15. “There’s no real way to tell this is a fake weapon without actually having it in your hands,” said a detective. “This could have ended in a deadly confrontation.” Related post

9/14/19 In July a New York City judge accused officers who found a gun in a car of lying when they justified their search by saying they had smelled pot. She also said the problem is widespread. Some officers agree. According to the Times, the practice increased after NYPD, under public pressure, cut back on stop-and-frisks. Related posts 1 2 3

9/13/19 A 60-year old Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney shot and killed his wife and teenage son at their home. He then shot himself dead. A daughter was also present but managed to flee. According to police “the recent loss of a loved one and ongoing health issues played a significant role.” Related posts 1 2

9/10/19 Seth Athor (see 9/6 post, below) was turned away by a gun store in 2014 because of a prior mental commitment. So he got the gun from a private seller. Related posts 1 2

9/7/19 A newly-released study reports an increase in suicide rates in the U.S. between 1999-2016. Among its key findings is that “the presence of more gun shops was associated with an increase in county-level suicide rates in all county types except the most rural.” (It’s believed that household firearms ownership in the latter has already maxed out.) Related post

9/6/19 Check out Jay's op-ed about assault weapons bans in today's Washington Post. Related post

9/6/19 Seth Ator, 36, who shot and killed seven and wounded twenty-two, including three officers, as he rampaged through Texas’ Odessa-Midland region on August 31, used an AR-15 type rifle that he reportedly bought from a Lubbock resident. Federal agents suspect that the seller may be dealing in guns without a license and searched his home. Related post

9/3/19 A 14-year old Alabama boy admitted he shot and killed his father, stepmother and three siblings, ages six months, five years and six years, while everyone was home. He used a 9mm. pistol that, according to police, had been “illegally” present at the residence. Related posts 1 2

9/1/19 A male in his 30s armed with a rifle hijacked a mail truck and went on a shooting rampage in the West Texas cities of Odessa and Midland. He killed seven and wounded nineteen, including three officers, before police shot him dead. Related posts 1 2 3 4

8/31/19: In Mobile, Alabama, a 17-year old opened fire after a fight broke out at a high school football game. Ten teens ages 15-18 were wounded, five critically. Deangelo Parnell, the alleged shooter, was arrested on multiple counts of attempted murder. Related post

8/30/19: Eleven St. Louis children have been murdered since April, including three last weekend. A 54- year old man - so far, he’s the only person arrested in any of the killings - shot a fifteen year old boy dead. An eight-year old girl was also killed by gunfire, and a ten-year old girl and her parents were found dead in their apartment with puncture wounds. Related posts 1 2

8/29/19 Two years after California legalized pot, illegal marijuana farms run by Mexican cartels besiege the state’s forests, causing major ecological damage and threatening wildlife with dangerous pesticides. Meanwhile a profusion of illegal pot shops in L.A.’s low income areas is blamed for worsening violence and decay (a deadly shooting took place in one this day). Advocates claim the fix lies in more legal shops, but “most cities” refuse to license them altogether. Related post

8/24/19 Guns recovered by police in California often come from Nevada, whose gun laws are far looser. California legislators are planning to ask their Nevada counterparts to prohibit assault weapons and high-capacity magazines such as used by Santino Legan, the 19-year old Nevada man who legally bought an AK-47 type weapon at a Nevada gun store on July 9, then used it to kill three and wound a dozen at the Gilroy (CA) Garlic Festival on July 28. Related posts 1 2 3

8/22/19 Long Beach (CA) police credit a coworker for informing them that his colleague planned to shoot up their workplace to retaliate over a recent job-related issue. Officers arrested the man and seized a small arsenal, including a state-banned assault rifle and high-capacity magazines. Related post

8/22/19 Camden police announced a comprehensive use-of-force policy that, among other things, requires officers to de-escalate, prohibits use of deadly force except as a last resort, and mandates reporting of any violations. Related posts 1 2

8/20/19 NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill fired officer Daniel Pantaleo after a department judge ruled that the veteran cop’s use of a forbidden chokehold led to Eric Garner’s death. Noting that Garner resisted arrest, Commissioner O’Neill conceded “he might have made similar mistakes” had he been in officer Pantaleo’s place but faulted him for not relaxing his grip. Related post

8/20/19 Most inner-city job-training programs haven’t proven out. But “Project Quest” may be different. According to a nine-year comparative study, its graduates had “the largest sustained earnings impacts we’ve ever seen in a work-force development program.” One of its advantages may be a “wraparound” component that has participants meet weekly to discuss their progress. Related post

8/20/19 None of twenty-one California residents whose guns were seized with Red Flag orders was found to have later committed gun violence. While not crediting Red Flag for the outcome, UC Davis researchers thought the results promising. California’s new Governor, Gavin Newsom, said he’s open to expanding the law; for example, by allowing teachers and employers to apply for an order. Related post

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 posts 1 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 posts 1 2 3 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 posts 1 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 posts 1 2 3 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


Grievous police blunders keep costing citizen lives. Why? (8/1/17)

Acting swiftly can save lives. And take them, too.

Is society powerless in the face of mass shootings? (8/8/10)

Crime happens. To find out why,
look to where.

The presence of guns can instigate violence (3/9/08)

Apple extends posthumous protections to a dead terrorist’s
cell phone

As good guys and bad ramp up their arsenals, the margin of error disappears (3/4/19)

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