Approaches to policing, communities worth talking about
Last updated 12:46 a.m. ET, Feb. 19, 2016
Letting data drive police changes
Collecting information on traffic stops is the focus of a new project by Stanford University researchers. Sharad Goel, an assistant professor in the school of engineering, is leading the project designed to examine interactions between police and minorities using unbiased data.
Goel and his team will collect information on 100 million traffic stops and log facts about them, including demographic information. Researchers intend to use the reports to determine statistically whether a law enforcement agency is discriminating against groups of a particular race, age or gender.
‘Smart guns’ show promise but face hurdles
Smartphones are locked with a pass code, and some with a fingerprint sensor. But guns, left loaded and ready to fire, can be used by children who accidentally stumble upon them or thieves who steal them. Wouldn’t using “smart guns” — firearms that don’t work without electronic confirmation of ownership — make communities safer?
In January, President Obama delivered a series of executive actions on guns to address gun violence. One of the initiatives included more research into gun safety technologies, in particular smart guns. Although these preventive technologies might not decrease mass shootings, because often those shooters use legally bought and owned weapons, smart guns could help prevent accidental deaths.
Progress is being made in developing a dependable smart gun, but opposition from the gun lobby is still a formidable obstacle to the adoption of the technology. In 2014, the first commercially available smart gun in the U.S. went on sale but was quickly pulled after pressure from gun advocates. And this year, at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, only one exhibitor presented smart gun technology, according to organizers.
However, the Obama administration is committed to advancing the technology. A White House statement said, “As the single largest purchaser of firearms in the country, the Federal Government has a unique opportunity to advance this research and ensure that smart gun technology becomes a reality.”
The Washington, D.C., City Council on Feb. 2 unanimously approved a bill that would pay stipends to select high-risk residents to avoid criminal activity. The residents would be asked to fulfill obligations including behavioral therapy in order to be paid. The program is based on one in Richmond, Calif., which has been credited with reducing violent crime in that area. After a final vote scheduled for March 1, the bill will go to Mayor Muriel Bowser and then Congress.
The program would cover up to 200 people. Details about how much each individual could receive are not set, but the Richmond program offers up to $9,000 per year, according to an AP report.
The legislation, written by City Council member Kenyan McDuffie, is part of a broader initiative to reduce crime in the nation’s capital. Homicides in Washington, D.C., jumped more than 50% last year.
By Jenna Adamson
President Obama has announced significant reforms of the federal Bureau of Prisons’ solitary confinement practices. They include a ban on solitary confinement for juveniles and curtailment of its use as punishment for low-level infractions. He introduced these changes in a column published Jan. 25 in The Washington Post
The president hopes state prisons will adopt the federal reforms, which the Justice Department recommended after conducting a review requested by the president. He noted in his Post op-ed that research has revealed the devastating psychological effects of solitary confinement, mental wounds that can linger for years after a prisoner finishes his or her sentence, including “depression, alienation, withdrawal, a reduced ability to interact with others and the potential for violent behavior.”
About 5% of the total federal prison population, 8,625 prisoners, were in solitary confinement as of last November. A total of 1,071 of those prisoners had been imprisoned in solitary for over 90 days. The ban on solitary confinement for juveniles will affect a much smaller number of Bureau of Prisons inmates, only 71 of whom were juveniles as of December. Thirteen of those 71 faced solitary confinement, usually only for brief periods, sometime during the year-long period ending in September 2015.
Obama says the reforms will enable the criminal justice system to better reflect the American belief in second chances. He wrote in the Post, “In America, we believe in redemption. … We believe that when people make mistakes, they deserve the opportunity to remake their lives. And if we can give them the hope of a better future, and a way to get back on their feet, then we will leave our children with a country that is safer, stronger and worthy of our highest ideals.” Read President Obama’s piece and find out more about his plans to reform solitary confinement.
Local police from Los Angeles and Philadelphia are among other groups — including federal agencies and some foreign governments — receiving training from the U.S. government’s elite interrogation unit. The High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group was created in 2009 after the torture scandal of U.S. handling of al-Qaeda suspects. Part of the group’s focus has been examining law enforcement’s practice of employing adversarial methods during interrogations. Los Angeles detectives now have used non-confrontational techniques during interviews instead of those traditional methods. They also have benefited from instruction on how to prepare for interviews and set short- and long-term goals. Read more about the group’s research and training.
‘Ban the box’ on federal job applications
In an effort to help former inmates re-enter society, President Obama directed federal agencies to “ban the box,” or stop asking about criminal records on job applications.
Obama wants to make it universal practice to wait until later in the hiring process to ask about criminal histories.
Dancing the tensions away
What would you do if you came upon teens in the heart of Washington, D.C., who were about to fight? Dancing, likely wouldn’t come to mind. Take a look at how this cop used her slick dance moves, including the “Whip/Nae Nae,” to turn what could have been an ugly situation into one of levity and cooperation. Check out these dance moves.