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One Dollar at a Time: How Well-Connected Activists Are Destroying the American Justice System

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According to a new report by the American Bar Association, both civil and criminal courts are unable to enforce justice due to budget cuts and inadequate funding.

The courts of our country are in crisis. The failure of state and local legislatures to provide adequate funding is effectively — at times quite literally — closing the doors of our justice system. At the same time, Congress has reduced its support for both the federal courts and other programs that directly and indirectly support our justice system at the state, county and municipal levels. . . Our courts, already short-staffed, have thus been forced to lay off judges, clerks and other personnel just as they are being inundated with hundreds of thousands of new foreclosures, personal and small business bankruptcies, credit card and other collection matters, domestic fractures, and the many other lawsuits resulting from the Recession. . .

To cite but one state’s experience, the courts in Georgia have seen their funding shrink 25% over the last two years, such that their budget (which must also pay for prosecutors) now constitutes a mere 0.89% of the state’s overall budget.

These are real problems that affect not just the poor but also anyone seeking recourse for civil cases or business matters.  Middle-class and business people are finding themselves at the end of a very long and slow line when they need access to a courtroom.

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Of course, it’s still money-burning time at agencies like the Department of Justice, where they are spending more than ever “coalitioning” on pet projects with the A.C.L.U., the Open Society Foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies, and the Center for Constitutional Rights (click on each link to see just one program subsidized by your tax dollars, at their behest).  Such elite members of the prisoner’s-rights-only lobby can go directly to Eric Holder when they want to intervene between the great unwashed public and the criminals they vigilantly defend.

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Meanwhile, the prisoner’s rights lobby has succeeded in nearly pricing the death penalty out of existence.  Every frivolous appeal means that some other citizen is being denied access to courtrooms they — not the activists — subsidize.  From Oregon:

Convicted killer Robert J. Acremant, judged delusional, was moved off of Oregon’s death row two months ago, spared by a deal that got him a life sentence instead. . . Acremant admitted killing a Medford lesbian couple, binding them and shooting them in the back of the head in 1995. His publicly paid lawyers have been contesting the case since a jury in 1997 sentenced him to die. . . One avenue of appeal alone cost taxpayers $317,000.

$317,000 for just one appeal; fourteen years of appeals and counting, until the state gave up and commuted his sentence.

Robert Acremant

Acremant admitted killing a man and two women.  What was there to reconsider?  Well, thanks to the death penalty activists, every last thing.  And by creating this system of mandatory, endless appeals (with help from journalists and academics who have deceived the American public into believing that death rows are filled with innocent men), they have succeeded in defunded criminal justice to a point where we prosecute fewer people who belong behind bars.

The goalposts for these activists is to abolish the death penalty, then abolish life-without-parole, and eventually whittle down sentencing to the good old days of the 1970′s, when even aggravated murder wasn’t hard time.  It’s unconscionable and anti-democratic to do this by placing fiscal pressure on the courts, and thus the American taxpayers, but “unconscionable” isn’t a label that seems to bother.  Instead, now that their tactics are working, they are even pretending that their motive is to save money:

Defense attorneys say changing how murderers are prosecuted could get the public the same result most often seen now — life sentences — at less cost.

But the moment the death penalty’s off the table, don’t expect a single activist to declare victory and retire from the fray: they’ll just get up the next morning and start making life sentences as expensive to litigate as death sentences once were, as prosecutors in Oregon point out:

Prosecutors are pushing back, saying defendants would be far less likely to take plea deals if the death penalty weren’t hanging over them. The savings that reformers promise would be swallowed by new and expensive criminal trials, they say. . . “We have many people who are aggravated murder defendants who plead guilty to aggravated murder and either take a true life sentence or an extremely long mandatory minimum who would never do that if there was not a death penalty involved in the equation,” [Multnomah County chief deputy district attorney Norm] Frink said.

Here is one of Robert Acremant’s many appeals.  Take the time to read it, to see the sort of litigious junk that really gets murderers off death row — not “innocence.”  Here is a raw jailhouse interview with Acremant, in which he describes the pleasure of killing three people, just for the hell of it (the interview starts at 5:57).

And think about this, as you watch a killer laugh: everything these activist groups want, they can achieve, while making us foot the bill and simultaneously de-funding our courts . . . as we’re forced to live alongside criminals who certainly don’t move into George Soros’ neighborhood, nor Chuck Feeney’s,  when they’re sprung loose.

DeKalb Officers Site Raises Issue of Burglars Let Loose, Homicide Cops Playing Daycare Daddies?

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The terrific website DeKalb Officers raises questions about DeKalb D.A. Gwen Keyes:

It appears the District Attorney has taken a page from terminated police chief Terrell Bolton. Ms. Keyes now has a driver permanently assigned to her. Some of the driver’s duties include getting her children to and from daycare.

DeKalb County has the second highest homicide rate in the state (2nd to the City of Atlanta). The driver is one of 3 homicide investigators in D.A. Fleming’s office. Now her office has 2. Her driver is no longer assigned cases or carry case load. The case load has to be spread among the other 2 investigators.

It’s utterly shocking to take any investigator off the job to act as driver — and isn’t it illegal to have them ferry the kids around?

Someone in the comments thread adds the following about a recent deal to let gang members walk free:

Anonymous said…
Well what about the gang out of Clarkston that were arrested for burglary, only to be sentenced to 5years probation then released with time served. Was this a plea deal or what. The citizens should take note of this in the up coming elections for DA and Judges. I mean these punks were breaking into everything. Heck even Fox 5 did a story on them and their outrageous criminal past. But what do our ellected officials do in Dekalb County (time served) the citizens should revolt. Both the DA and the Judge should be invited to attend every community meeting in all of the neighborhoods who were victimized by these punks and made to explain why they were not sent to prison.

It’s too bad Atlanta doesn’t have a website like this run by cops.  They see what is going on in the criminal courts, and they know the judges and cases start to finish.

From the Comments: Matt Podowitz Offers Atlanta Resources for Safety

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http://www.safe-atlanta.org/www.novictims-atlanta…

Tina, thank you for this post and encouraging people to consider how to react to something BEFORE it happens. I wanted to share with you two free, non-commercial resources located in the very neighborhood where those incidents take place that can help people take constructive steps to secure their homes, protect their families and live their lives:

Safe Atlanta For Everyone (SAFE) – Founded in East Atlanta in response to a crime wave in the summer of 2008, this organization now operates five innovative programs (SAFEWatch, Graffiti Removal, Safety Tipsheets, Cookies For Cops/Food For Firefighters and Refuse To Be A Victim Seminars) across many neighborhoods in Southeast Atlanta. SAFE’s mission is to create positive ways for individuals to make their neighborhoods stronger and safer. All of SAFE’s programs are designed for “export” to other communities that want to be stronger and safer too. More information is available at http://www.safe-atlanta.org.

No Victims – Started in early 2009 by a Southeast Atlanta resident in response to a demand for impartial, objective and effective crime-prevention and firearms safety information, No Victims publishes new articles every week designed to inform and educate readers about ways to secure their homes and protect their families based on real experience and careful research. All original No Victims content is available for syndication or reproduction under a Creative Commons license to allow community organizations, houses of worship and other noncommercial entities make this important information available to their members directly. No Victims’ founder is a certified Refuse To Be A Victim(R) crime-prevention seminar and Home Firearms Safety instructor and offers to teach these classes for no charge except the cost of the mandatory student materials. More information is available at http://www.novictims-atlanta.info.

District Attorney Paul Howard Should Do His Job, Leave Self-Defense Training to that Judo Guy Down the Street

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People in Atlanta deserve better.

Reeling from months (years, really) of life-altering crime in the streets, they finally drag the Mayor and Chief of Police kicking and screaming to some podium, where the two continue to deny that they are not doing the job of serving the people before storming off again.

Now Act II opens with District Attorney Paul Howard holding a town hall meeting where he insults people further by using the pulpit to praise Pennington (!) and lecture the public about taking responsibility for self-defense.

Isn’t it extremely weird for the person in charge of putting criminals behind bars to tell you that you should learn how to engage in hand-to-hand combat with them, instead of talking about what he is doing to, say, put offenders behind bars?

Grannies with numchucks?  That’s the plan?

Just to let folks know, this is NOT the way things happen in cities where elected officials are actually serious about fighting crime.  This is the type of smoke and mirrors that happens instead of vigorously enforcing the law.

In cities where elected officials actually behave as if crime is unacceptable, the district attorney responds to crime by prosecuting criminals.  Nobody wonders about the whereabouts of the chief of police.  The mayor does not refuse to come out of her office.

It would be a shame if all the hard work being done by the anti-crime activists got co-opted into a bunch of meaningless “summits” and calls for “mentoring” and the other claptrap designed to garner grant dollars and do precisely nothing about that 16-year old stealing your car.

People who already pay for security cameras and neighborhood patrols, who commit hours of their own time attending NPU meetings, who have to hold complex negotiations with the city in order to ensure that the 911 operators aren’t elsewhere getting their nails done, deserve better than this:

“You are a victim waiting for a perpetrator,” said summit organizer Derrick Boazman, a former Atlanta city councilman.

Residents learned self-defense techniques, such as stomping on someone’s foot and hitting him in the groin if he grabs you from behind.

“What do you do after that?” asked instructor Steven Muhammad.

“Take off and yell, ‘Fire,’ ” the participants answered in unison.

Is that Steven Muhammad of the Nation of Islam, listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center?

Is he working for free?  Or are you the one who is working for free, after you go to work at your real job, and pay the tax dollars that are ending up in questionable community activists’ pockets, and then spend your evenings sitting through mind-numbing committee meetings for the (real) neighborhood groups, where the real crime-fighting work is getting done?

Enough of this nonsense.  Enough showcasing by the usual suspects.  Enough of telling people to “stomp on their feet.”  Is that even what a real self-defense instructor would advise?

Pennington spent six months insisting to you that Atlanta didn’t need more police.  Here is what he said at the “summit”:

Police Chief Richard Pennington announced a plan two weeks ago that includes increasing the Police Department’s gang unit from six to 24 officers and conducting more sweeps of high-crime areas. “Any time you have more police officers on the street, you have more visibility,” he said.

Really?  How refreshing.  And thank you to the civilians who dragged him to that point.  Here is Paul Howard:

“[Pennington] never shies away from his obligations,” Howard said.

Howard has also, repeatedly, said that his office does not need more resources and the state does not need better laws to tackle recidivism and sentencing for violent crime, making him the only D.A. in the known world who is happy to let 90% of offenders plead out with a slap on the wrist because prosecutors don’t actually have time to prosecute even a fraction of crimes.  Think about that the next time his office drops the ball on some gun offense.

And, meanwhile, ask some hard questions about how much money is going to be blown by his office on the upcoming “gang summit” and which well-connected activists will be pocketing that cash.

The first step to doing real, adult things about crime is saying no to another dog-and-pony sideshow.

You go to work: so should they.

Blogging Crime Versus “Disappearing” It: Chicago and Atlanta

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Chicago:

In Chicago, something interesting is happening as “twittering” and blogging and e-mail bring in first-hand reports that deviate from official versions.  It is hard to whitewash incidents of violence and rioting when people are reporting them in real time and police are going back over their incident reports to compare notes later.

Take a look at two different sources discussing the Taste of Chicago event.  First, there is the official statement, reported in the Chicago Tribune:

The volatile vibe remained at this year’s holiday fireworks and food festival along Chicago’s lakefront, and authorities Saturday detailed the arrests of eight people accused of carrying guns or knives and several fights that triggered stampedes for the exits Friday evening.

Unlike last year’s pre-July 4 celebration — when one person was killed and several were injured — police said no one was shot in the vicinity of the Taste of Chicago on Friday.

“No Shootings This Year,” reads the headline, a low bar to set.  But is it true?  Here is Mike Doyle, reporting from the blog Chicago Carless:

To compare the stories, I jotted down a thumbnail list of each version of events–the official, and the insider. Here’s what I found:

Events Reported to News Media by City Officials

–One gun-related arrest in afternoon (gang member with shotgun in bag.)
–Arrests for unspecified reasons at Buckingham Fountain at 8:30 p.m.
–No mention of early fireworks start.
–One major fight at 9:45 p.m. (30-person gang melee at Michigan and Congress.)
–Various small, unspecified incidents.

Events Reported by Second City Cop Blog

–Gang members “take over” Buckingham Fountain area and by one account officers are told by police commanders (“Gold Stars”) to “leave it alone, let them have it.”
–911 dispatchers report two people shot at Buckingham Fountain.
–A potential effort (noted here and here) to silence radio reports of shots fired or gang fights.
–Gangster Disciples “50 deep” walking through Taste grounds and throwing gang signs.
–Latin Kings platooning along Roosevelt Road and heading towards Taste grounds.
–Multiple gang fight calls (10-1s.)
–”Numerous chases” and “multiple weapons recovered.”
–Fireworks start at least half-an-hour early.
–At least ten significant gang fights along Michigan Avenue in addition to the large melee as crowds left the southern end of the Taste grounds.

Next, I checked in with my Twitter followers and performed several searches of Twitter’s public timeline to look for tweets that might bear out the Second City Cop version of events. Here’s a sampling of what I found:

“my first year at the taste of chicago fireworks and go figure a shooting occurs 10 ft away from me!” (@chibookgrl, 7:00 p.m. Jul 4th)

Doyle’s appeal for more information bring in detailed accounts of fights and even a possible shooting.  Cops are under enormous pressure to downgrade crimes.  Prosecutors are under enormous pressure to write off charges.  How much crime gets “disappeared” these ways?

Atlanta:

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, the activity of court-watching is providing residents with criminal-by-criminal details of crimes that could have been prevented, if only some judges would actually incarcerate some offenders at some point in their fulsome careers.  Here is only the latest career criminal, finally put away, thanks probably to the mere fact that, this time, somebody was watching when he walked into the courtroom, as reported by intrepid IntownWriter and court-watcher Marcia Killingsworth:

Arrested over 27 times and with three prior felony convictions, Andre Keith Grier returned to Fulton County Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob’s courtroom this week. This time, he came to enter guilty pleas to negotiated charges. . . .

Here’s the final outcome on the three cases:

  1. Robbery and Burglary:  15 years to serve 10 years; balance probated. The conditions of his probation are a drug evaluation and treatment, a job, and to stay away from Zone 6.
  2. Theft by Receiving Stolen Property:  10 years to serve
  3. Entering Automobile:  5 years to serve
    Theft by Taking:  10 years to serve to run concurrent
    Possession of Tools:  5 years probation consecutive with the same terms as Case 1 and restitution to the victim.

“All of cases run currently, so the total sentence is 15 years to serve 10 years with balance on probation,” Schwartz says. “Although he is parole eligible, with his record and the robbery charge he is not likely to be paroled until he has completed the majority of his sentence.”

Make that armed robbery charges.  Holding a gun to somebody’s head ought to be enough to get you sent away for ten years, no questions asked, but that does not always turn out to be the case.  I am hesitant to criticize judges at precisely the juncture when they being to respond to citizen demands for real incarceration for serious crimes, but I still have to ask — what happened in court the other 24 times he was arrested?

And that leads to another question: whither those other 24 alleged crimes?  What becomes of them, statistically?

Killingsworth reminds readers:

Fulton County Senior Assistant District Attorney Andrew Schwartz says he believes the presence of neighborhood representatives made a difference. “In my opinion, the reason Mr. Grier received this sentence is because of your community’s involvement and willingness to come to court.”

Here is a notice from the Fulton County CourtWatch about a pending case involving another serious repeat offender.  Several things about his record stand out:

–Demetrius Lester is an 17-Time Convicted Felon.*
–Lester is charged with 3 Felonies – Theft by Receiving (Auto), Criminal
Damage to in the Second Degree and Fleeing & Attempting to Elude.
* The previous notice stated that Lester had 18 prior felony
convictions.  Another review showed that one Burglary case had been
reduced to Theft by Receiving (Misdemeanor).  Therefore, he has 17 prior
convictions.

Seventeen convictions.  What on earth were the sentences?  There are repeat offender laws in Georgia.  If they have so little teeth, or if some loophole is enabling judges to ignore them, why isn’t the legislature doing something about it?

Not to make light of this man’s behavior, but when I looked up his state prison record, I could not help but be amazed by the number of aliases he has accumulated:

KNOWN ALIASES
A.K.A. HAWKINS,DENICO
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETERIUS
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETRE
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETRIC
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETRIUS MICHAEL
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETRTIUS
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETRUIS
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETRUIS MICHA
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETRUIS MICHAEL
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETRUS
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETTUIUS
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMTRIUS
A.K.A. LESTER,DOMETRE
A.K.A. RACKO,FREDDY
A.K.A. ROOKS,TRAVIS
A.K.A. SMITH,DARRLY
A.K.A. SMITH,DARRYL
A.K.A. VESTER,DEMETRIUS
A.K.A. WOODS,ANTONIO

Freddy Racko? That’s not a very good alias.  If I met somebody named Freddy Racko, I would assume they were doing something illegal.

OK, back to not being amused. Lester/Hawkins/Racko/Rooks/Smith/Vester/Woods has three separate burglary convictions.  Two homes and a church, this man entered.  Four separate convictions for breaking into cars.  One conviction for possession of firearm by a felon.  Not one, but two terrorist threats and acts convictions.  Two obstructions of a law enforcement officer.  One criminal interference of government property.

Eight separate stints in state prison, and who knows how many arrests.  This is beyond revolving door justice.  More from Fulton County CourtWatch:

Facts:  Around 10:00AM on Tuesday June 9, 2009, Officers J. Storno and
I. Streeter of Zone 3 saw the Defendant driving without a seatbelt in
the area of Grant Terrace and Georgia Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30312 (between
NPU-W and NPU-V).  Upon initiating a traffic stop, the Defendant sped
away at a high rate of speed and in a manner that was dangerous to the
public.  At one point, the vehicle flew off the ground and caused a
smoky haze upon landing.  The Defendant finally hit a telephone pole and
fled on foot.  Officers Storno and Streeter were eventually able to
apprehend the suspect after an extended chase.

I have spoken to the victim of the car theft.  He has been left without
a vehicle and has endured a significant financial hardship as a result
of having his car stolen.  His vehicle was a total loss and the
insurance company had to pay off his lien-holder, leaving the victim
without a car. Fortunately, no one was injured during Defendant’s
attempt to elude the police but, according to the officers, he was
driving in a manner that easily could have injured someone.  Defendant
is also suspected in other car break-ins in the Summerhill and Grant
Park neighborhoods.  One incident was caught on video and posted on You
Tube, but a positive ID was not able to be made.

Criminal History:  Defendant has 17 felony convictions, including 5
prior convictions for Entering Auto (all in Fulton County), 3 prior
convictions for Burglary (2 residential, 1 for burglarizing the Georgia
Avenue Presbyterian Church), as well as convictions for Terroristic
Threats, Interference with Government Property and Sale of Marijuana.  I
have obtained certified copies of all of his convictions and will be
presenting them in court.

The District Attorney is asking for the maximum penalty which is 16
years in prison (10 years for Theft by Receiving, 5 years for Criminal
Damage to Property in the Second Degree and 12 months for Fleeing and
Attempting to Elude).  However, under the law, the judge can sentence
the Defendant to anything, including straight probation.  The District
Attorney has recidivised the Defendant under OCGA 17-10-7(c), therefore
the Defendant will have to serve every day of the prison sentence he is
given, if any, without parole.

Community Support is greatly appreciated to keep this repeat offender
incarcerated.

So what is the problem?  It’s called 17-10-7 of the Georgia Code.  It requires people convicted of a second felony to serve their entire sentence.  Sounds good, right?  Except there is nothing in Georgia’s recidivist code that prevents judges from suspending that entire sentence after delivering it.  Thus Freddy Racko can climb into your car, steal it, endanger police and civilian lives, and total the car — yet still walk away without a single day in prison.

Hopefully, it won’t happen this time.  But how many times has it happened with Racko(Lester) before?  How many times, outside those 17 convictions, have charges against him been dropped?  How many charges were dropped in the process of assigning those 17 felonies?  It boggles the mind.

And remember, those are only the times he got caught.

The Next Step for Georgia Court Watching

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I have been watching the growth of court-watching in Georgia, and it is encouraging to see the practice taking hold.  Nothing will change on the streets until public scrutiny is brought to bear on the courts, where evidence abounds that judges have been breaking and bending the intent of Georgia’s sentencing laws with no professional consequences whatsoever.

No consequences for judges, even when they actually violate Georgia’s sentencing laws.  No prosecutor dare complain when a judge cuts an illicit deal with an offender — because the prosecutor must appear before that judge, or one of that judge’s peers and colleagues, every single day.  You can’t be critical of judges and be effective in the courtroom.  So there are no consequences for judges, even when their decision to overlook the law or their failure to do their jobs with appropriate diligence results in preventable murders, like the killing of Dr. Eugenia Calle.

The judiciary is far too much an insider’s club — loyal only to each other and unwilling to hold their peers to appropriate standards of conduct.  Does anyone disagree?

Thus, court-watching.  The judiciary behaves better when they know they are being watched.  And when they don’t behave better, someone will be there to see it and report it to others, maybe even complain about it.  To whom do you complain?  That’s a subject for another day. The next step for Atlanta is to create a site where all the different court watchers can report on the courtroom decisions they witness — the good, the bad and the ugly.

Atlanta’s court watchers could not adapt a better communication model than Orlando CourtWatch’s.  Here is their blog and here is their organizational website.  This nonprofit has trained 150 volunteers in two years and monitored more than 7,000 hearings.  With the exception of a proliferation of Snow Whites and Goofys, Orlando has a good deal in common with Atlanta, demographically and crime-wise, so the same could certainly happen in Atlanta.

Orlando CourtWatch is organized differently from the Atlanta program, which is being run through the D.A.’s office.  The Orlando CourtWatch organization is an independent 501-c3 with one paid staff member, and their primary focus is domestic violence courts.  But the organizing model would apply to any court.  And having a program independent of the D.A. is useful in many ways, not least of which being that independent court watchers could speak out without worrying that they are endangering prosecutions by doing so.

In terms of impacting public safety, I think court watching is every bit as vital as neighborhood watches.  When offenders are permitted to cycle through the system, they are not only free to commit more crime: the local system gets depleted of funds as it addresses the same criminals over and over again.

So lives get endangered (including the lives of all those 18-year old criminals, for those who exclusively sympathize with them), tax dollars get squandered, and nothing gets resolved.

Tomorrow: Georgia Tech Crime Wave, and What to Watch for in a Court

An Important Law Georgia Still Does Not Have: Arrestee DNA Databasing

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Back in the 1990′s, Georgia Lt. Governor Mark Taylor made it a priority to build the state’s DNA crime database.  He did this long before other states got on board, and for many years Georgia was rightly viewed as a leader in using DNA to solve violent crimes.  Taylor was driven by his strong commitment to victims of rape and child molestation who had been denied justice.  He did not heed the civil rights and convict rights lobbies who tried to stir up hysteria over using DNA to solve crimes (ironically, these same activists are howling over the Supreme Court’s utterly reasonable decision last week not to enshrine post-conviction DNA as a blanket, federal right, when 46 states already guarantee it, as even Barry Scheck admits: don’t believe virtually anything you read about this case on the editorial pages).

Taylor’s leadership on DNA databasing yielded an extraordinary number of database “hits” long before other states got their databases up and running.  In 1998, only convicted and incarcerated sex offenders were required to submit DNA samples in Georgia, yet 13 repeat-offender rapists were immediately linked to other sexual assaults, and scores of “unidentified offender” profiles were readied to be used if those offenders were finally caught and tested.

The convicted-and-imprisoned-sex-offenders-only database also revealed a chilling reality: many of the prolific rapists whose DNA matched other sex assaults had only ever been convicted of non-sex crimes such as drug crimes, burglary, and robbery.

Any prosecutor of a certain age will tell you that, before DNA evidence, it was so difficult to prosecute rapists that prosecutors often made the choice to allow rapists to plead to non-sex offenses such as burglary just to (temporarily) get them off the streets.  This strategy was directed at serial, stranger sex offenders who were known to the cops but managed to avoid conviction because the public was so resistant to finding anyone guilty of rape.  Taylor’s database made this injustice to victims visible.

Unfortunately, the types of injustice (to victims) and justice (against offenders) the database revealed was of little interest to the media.

Nevertheless, for several years, Georgia’s DNA database quietly withstood efforts by “civil rights” activists to shut it down.  In 2000, the legislature expanded DNA testing to all incarcerated felons: 70 crimes were immediately solved, including serial rapes committed by convicts who had no prior rape convictions.

In 2007, the legislature expanded the database again, adding felony probationers — that weird category, the existence of which should splash some cold water on heartfelt feelings that we are far too harsh in sentencing and imprisoning criminals.  In the real world, even violent felons still routinely walk away with nothing more than probation for their crimes.

As of a year ago, thanks to the expansion of the database, 12 of these “felony probationers” were linked to serious crimes through DNA.  That’s 12 fewer violent offenders on the streets.

Still, no paper.  Few headlines.  Fewer editorials.  And, eventually, Georgia began to fall behind other states in DNA databasing.

As I write this, Florida Governor Charlie Crist has briefly emerged from his offender-kumbaya-fervor to sign a bill requiring all people arrested for felonies to submit DNA samples for analysis — just like they submit photographs and fingerprints.  Florida now joins 20 other states that are using DNA to investigate and solve crimes (Denver D.A. Mitchell R. Morrissey has a good website explaining the use of DNA in the courts).

But Georgia still languishes on the list of states that do not require DNA samples to be drawn upon arrest for a felony.  Here is a chart comparing state laws from the DNA Resource Report.

In 2008, the Georgia Legislature did pass Senate Bill 430, which started out as a felony arrestee DNA database bill but got watered down through the legislative process.  It emerged as little more than a statement affirming that prosecutors may ask the GBI to check a suspect’s DNA sample against the existing database so long as “the sample was obtained through a search warrant, consent of the suspect, court order, or other lawful means.”  Then it concludes: “The bureau [GBI] shall not add a DNA profile of any such suspect to any DNA data bank except upon conviction.”

In other words, a bill that started out attempting to add felony arrestees to the state database morphed into a bill specifically restricting arrestee DNA from being added to the state database.  I’d like to know the story behind this watering-down, particularly as it occurred at the same time when other states were successfully expanding their DNA databases to include felony arrestee samples under certain conditions.

Why did Georgia fold?  Is there another bill in the works?

If you still aren’t convinced that arrestee DNA databasing is an urgent need, take a look at the website for DNA Saves, the organization Dave and Jayann Sepich started after their daughter Katie was raped, strangled and set on fire in New Mexico in 2003.  Her offender was arrested and convicted of several other crimes, but his DNA had never been databased, so her murder went unsolved and he went free to continue attacking women for three years after Katie’s death.

How many victims of murder and rape in Georgia would have been protected by such a law?

Meanwhile, here is a statement from FDLE commissioner Gerald Bailey to the St. Petersburg Times correcting some of its inaccurate and fear-mongering press on the issue of arrestee DNA:

A valuable tool in fighting crime

Your editorial regarding the new Florida Department of Law Enforcement DNA database legislation failed to provide the public with a full picture.

This initiative, once funded, will expand Florida’s DNA database to include samples from persons arrested for felonies. The process is no different from the way Florida already stores and handles fingerprints from arrests. Like the current law on fingerprints, the DNA legislation has provisions for removal of the file when a person arrested for a felony meets certain requirements.

The database in its current form has been a great investment for our citizens; every month it generates an astounding 230 hits. These hits match an unknown DNA sample left at a crime scene to a known felon whose DNA is already on file, or links two or more unsolved crimes. It’s an invaluable investigative tool.

Including felony arrests means more samples in the DNA database and more crimes solved. It also means crimes will be solved faster and, most important, crimes will be prevented. Taking DNA at the first felony arrest ensures that DNA is taken from those offenders who evade felony conviction time and time again. It ensures that DNA from the first felony will be matched to that offender’s next crime, halting further victimization and saving lives.

Florida becomes the 21st state to take samples from felony arrestees. There is no other tool that can prevent violent crimes as efficiently and effectively as this. The Legislature got it right. Our citizens expect this level of protection. I think they deserve it.

Gerald Bailey, commissioner, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Tallahassee

I certainly deserved it: too bad it wasn’t there to help me in Florida when I needed it.  Worse, too bad it still doesn’t exist to protect victims in Georgia.

Sgt. Scott Kreher Update: Cops and Us

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Sgt. Scott Kreher of the Atlanta Police Department, has been returned to desk duties as Mayor Shirley Franklin continues down the path of using the D.A.’s office to “investigate” him for importune remarks made during a hearing on denying medical benefits to the city’s disabled officers.  Stephanie Ramage, at The Ramage Report, has issued another call to restore Sgt. Kreher to his full duties.  It’s an amazing plea for forgiveness and the respect the police deserve.

Along the lines of Stephanie’s blog, I’ve been having some interesting conversations with a young police officer at my gym.  What always strikes me when I’m talking to police is how they view their jobs as a calling, not just a place to punch the clock.  The young officer at my gym told me that he does not do overtime because he recognizes the need to be able to go home and have a life at the end of his shift, because the job is so intense and what is being asked of police officers is so emotionally challenging.

One of the biggest challenges that he sees is the constant pressure of going into situations where people feel comfortable expressing hatred for police officers — and not just on the streets, where it’s not so surprising that the guy you’re locking up is not responding with gracious consideration for the demands of your profession.  Almost every cop I’ve ever met talks about the pain of being automatically reviled by some media types and politicians and activists.

In some community groups I belong to or follow, contempt for cops seems like a default, and this is too bad.  Setting aside the small handful of people who don’t belong behind a badge, the police are continually reaching out to the public, so I’d like to propose an exercise in consciously reaching back.  There are some darn great police blogs out there.  Read a few.  You don’t need to hug a cop, just try listening to one.

Here are some of the cop blogs I’ve discovered.  If you have others, I’d love to know about them.

Second City Cop: A Chicago officer talks bluntly about both policing and the politics of policing in Chi-Town.  Brave guy.  Really brave guy.

The Johnny Law Chronicles: Johnny Law is not shy about the frustrations of the “bi-polar moments” that arise when “bohemian wanna-bes are afraid of the criminals in their area but aren’t exactly sure about what they want done about it.”  I wouldn’t exactly say that he is reaching out to the public in a warm and fuzzy manner, but his perspective on this extremely common dynamic is worth confronting.

The Roanoke Cop: Nobody does a better job of explaining what happens during a long, depressing shift.

Behind the Blue Line: One of the cop blogs that is not anonymous, Cst. Sandra Glendinning is a canine officer in Vancouver.  And seems to be a lovely person.  Canada, land of the polite and free.

Officer Smith:  Officer Smith is a cop who apparently does a lot of highway patrol in California.  For readers from Atlanta who have never heard of such a thing, Highway Patrol Cops are police officers who drive on the highways enforcing things like speed limits and other traffic laws.

British Cops, being from Britain and therefore completely unconflicted about being literary while armed, write some of the funniest and most insightful cop blogs.  And because they still have a publishing culture and a reading public over there, cops (and nurses, and paramedics, and dispatchers, and social workers) with blogs are getting book contracts left and right:

The Policeman’s Blog: Funny.  The author of Wasting Police Time.  Lots of the policing and political terms may seem unfamiliar at first, but there’s really nothing all that different under the sun.

P.C. Bloggs, A Twentieth-First Century Police Officer:  The author of Diary of an On-Call Girl, about her career as a female police officer.  Imagine a world where On-Call girls, rather than Call-Girls, were the feminist heroes of the day.  P.C. Bloggs is quite good at expressing the frustrations of officers dealing with an ungrateful, drunken, unruly, and astonishingly piggy public.  Many insightful observations about the central role of body fluids in policing.

The Thinking Policeman: My favorite cop blog.  Long, non-frivolous disquisitions on Hobbes and Locke, The Social Contract, and how to forget the first utterly blown-out arm you see on a junkie.  Posts like “The Mental Health Patient” are an education in policing for the rest of us.

How Atlanta Treats its Wounded Police Officers on Memorial Day

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If the genius of democracy is the peaceful transfer of power through elections, the tragedy of democracy is the exploitation of this public goodwill by elected and appointed officials who treat their last year or so in office (sometimes, their entire time in office) like a tin pot dictatorship, holing up and divvying the spoils while behaving as if the needs of the people are beneath their concern.

There’s little the public can do about a lame duck elected official who treats them with contempt.  Little, that is, except doing their homework for the next election, noting who is aligned with whom, voting accordingly — and carefully counting the towels after each transfer of power is complete.

This last bit of business was sorely neglected when former Mayor Bill Campbell was hauled off in handcuffs — people should not wonder so much when current Mayor Shirley Franklin’s allegedly “reformist” administration feels like deja vu all over again.

Sunday Paper broke this story about the disgraceful treatment of injured Atlanta police officers last weekend. The Atlanta Journal Constitution offered an excellent update yesterday.

Paralyzed cops being denied needed medical services by city administrators: this is the type of injustice that cries out for public leadership.  Phone numbers are below.

And where is Atlanta Police Chief Pennington?  Vegas?  Disney World?  Mars?  These are police officers who were injured in the line of duty — who took a bullet protecting us.  In other cities, that unambiguously means something:

In Atlanta, injured cops are treated like wounded animals put out in the rain.  That Chief Pennington refuses to comment on this mistreatment, let alone oppose it, is extraordinary.  It is the type of thing that should create an outcry, but it has not.  Are people so afraid to speak up for the police who protect them?  Is an entire generation so utterly brainwashed by the type of virulent, anti-cop rhetoric that spews from lefty politics and liberal media that they are able to look at a cop who took a bullet to save innocent people and say: well, who cares?

This is the Vietnam of our age.

Meanwhile, Mayor Franklin and Chief Pennington have managed to find the time for a vendetta against the police officer who stood up for the injured officers.  Sgt. Scott Kreher lost his temper after months of trying to get the wounded officers appropriate medical care and after two hours of being grilled at a City Council hearing.  Kreher said something inappropriate about Mayor Franklin, and now the Mayor is falsely accusing Kreher of being a threat to her and her family.

As columnist Stephanie Ramage points out in her blog, The Ramage Report, Franklin expressed no such anxiety when her son-in-law the violent drug kingpin was terrorizing the city (you can’t make this stuff up).  Here is Ramage on the full statement made by Kreher, not reported in the AJC, which truncated the quote:

The indignities that these cops, all of them injured in the line of duty, have suffered at the hands of Mayor Franklin’s administration are simply unconscionable.

And that is what Kreher told the City Council: “These five officers were injured in the line of duty…I want to beat her [Mayor Franklin] in the head with a baseball bat sometimes when I think about it…I cannot believe Mayor Franklin’s administration would allow this to happen. This administration should be ashamed of itself.”

Mayor Franklin was not present. Kreher was not visibly incensed. . . .

Franklin has said “I think it’s [Kreher’s remark] intended to intimidate me, my family and city officials. I think it’s very dangerous language and when someone says they want to take a bat and hit you in the head, from my experience, they want to kill you.”

Her family is intimidated? Franklin’s daughter is, even this minute, on probation for money laundering for her now-ex-husband, a kingpin in one of the most violent drug rings in the history of Atlanta. Mayor Franklin must have had at least a few dinners with the thug, yet she expects us to believe that she is afraid of a cop who says that her treatment of paralyzed and brain-damaged police officers makes him want to take a baseball bat to her head when he thinks about it sometimes?

Kreher has been suspended, but the Mayor and Police Chief are still refusing to comment on their actually unconscionable treatment of the injured officers.

As if it is laughable — a paralyzed cop snapping a leg bone because he can’t get the city to fix his broken wheelchair.

The relationship between City Hall and Atlanta residents has descended into paroxysms of sado-masochism.  I wonder when folks will say “enough” and start demanding some respect, if not for themselves, then for the men and woman who sacrificed their ability to walk and talk and think for the public’s safety.

This is, after all, Memorial Day, when fallen officers are supposed to be honored, as is happening in ordinary places, places other than Atlanta.

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Headline: “Series of Mistakes Helped Ex-Cop Escape” (Tools for Activists).

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From today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

A string of mishaps — including uncertainty about whom to call, voice mail messages left unanswered for hours and previous false alarms — combined to help double-murder suspect Derrick Yancey remove his ankle monitor and escape house arrest, according to a report issued Wednesday. . .

A DeKalb Superior Court judge, who revoked Yancey’s bond on Monday, blasted Pre-Trial Services for “a comedy of errors” that helped him escape.

Yeah, blame the monitoring companies hired by Pre-Trial Services.  They’ll sure think twice about donating to the next round of judicial campaigns.  Especially after getting hit with any civil lawsuits that arise from whatever Yancey does next.

I’m not saying that the private monitoring firms are blameless.  But primary blame lies with the judge who let Yancey go free in the first place, over every tenet of common sense and protests by prosecutors and the victims’ families.  She clearly realized he was a flight risk: why insist on electronic monitoring otherwise?  Why let any accused double-murderer out on the streets before trial?  It is unconscionable that the DeKalb County judiciary can issue a report on Yancey’s escape that doesn’t scrutinize — well, the actions of the Dekalb County judiciary.  Maybe somebody else should step in.  The courts are not a sovereign state.   

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You can learn a lot by following money trails.  Unfortunately, the Georgia Secretary of State, Karen Handel, has not updated her office’s website to enable the public to see individual campaign contributions to judges.  You have to go down to the Election Division of the Secretary of State’s Office to do that (1104 West Tower, 2 MLK Jr. Dr. Atlanta, Georgia 30334  404-656-2871).

Seeing who gives money to elect judges is a bracing civics exercise — sort of like a cold shower of droplets of realization that monied interests subsidize the election of sitting judges.  I’m not saying that judges act beholden to those who pay to elect them — or, at least, most judges don’t.  But what about the judges who do?  

What about the legislators who do — and then tell the public that they believe the best way out of our fiscal crisis is to release prisoners to community control, conveniently supervised by the same private companies and non-profit organizations that contributed to their election campaigns?  There’s a great deal of money in alternative sentencing.  Of course, there’s a great deal of money, as journalists love to remind us, in prisons, too, but at least they have the added feature of actually keeping the public safe.  

From where I’m sitting (staring out at a glassy bay as the morning porpoise cavorts in mangrove stands — sort of like the mural outside Underground Atlanta, only your feet don’t get stuck in abandoned gum staring at it), I don’t remember if Georgia’s election contribution records include donors’ companies, employers, or lines of work.  I think they do, and that would make for interesting reading.  

I was able to find the CEOs of the two private prisoner monitoring firms that dropped the ball along with DeKalb Pre-Trial Services when Yancey escaped.  Bruce Thatcher is the CEO for Colorado-based BI Incorporated; Fletcher McCuster is the CEO for Arizona-based Providence Community Corrections.  Did these men, or their employees, donate to judicial races in DeKalb County?  Did other private companies seeking prisoner-monitoring or community-based prisoner rehabilitation contracts?

April Hunt’s article on the delays in reporting Derrick Yancey’s escape is worth a close, slow read.  It raises all sorts of questions about the current system of monitoring convicts and accused felons in the community.  As judges move towards placing more and more violent people on “community control” instead of behind bars, we need to think about the systems that will allegedly keep track of them.  If the courts can’t adequately monitor a two-time accused murderer, what are they doing with garden-variety robbers, burglars and chronically violent gang members, like the ones who killed the young man in Peoplestown this week?  Were they supposed to be behind bars, too?