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Archive for February, 2011

‘Problem Solving’ Courts: America’s Answer to its Law and (Dis) Order?

Monday, February 28th, 2011

For a few days at the end of January, I got to go to New York City for the sixth annual Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America. It was an honor to represent the Kitsap Sun and the good news is it gave me lots of new ideas for how to better cover criminal justice in our area.

This year’s theme was “Law and Disorder: Facing the Legal and Economic Challenges to American Criminal Justice.”

I was among 26 journalists from around the country that submitted a project and was awarded a chance to come to New York to hear from some of the most accomplished judges, prosecutors, police, corrections officials in the nation.

One of the best speakers was the symposium’s first: Jonathan Lippman, chief judge of the New York state court of appeals. Lippman has done much work promoting “problem solving” courts. I immediately thought of Kitsap County’s drug court.

I wonder if Lippman would say we could go further in this arena.

There are more than 180 drug courts in New York and he said 57,000 offenders have gone through them, giving those a chance to “get clean and avoid jail and prison,” he said.

Lippman said problem solving courts, which include domestic violence and veterans courts, have saved the state two million days of incarceration. For more about his discussion, click here.

I’ll blog about other experiences from New York that have stuck with me in the coming weeks and months.


Medical Marijuana Case Working its Way up the Judicial Ladder … in Michigan

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Turns out Washington’s not the only state where issues over medical marijuana are being litigated. The American Civil Liberties Union earlier this month filed an appeal to a federal judge’s decision to throw out a Michigan case of a medical marijuana patient fired from Wal-Mart for his use of the drug.

In January, we covered our state supreme court’s hearing on a similar case in which a woman was fired from Teletech in East Bremerton for using medical marijuana to relieve migraine headaches. The woman is authorized under law to use medical marijuana.

She sued; her case was thrown out at the county and court of appeals level and it was taken for review by the state’s highest court. We are still awaiting their opinion.

Here’s the press release from the ACLU:

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – The American Civil Liberties Union today said it will appeal a decision by a federal judge to dismiss its lawsuit filed in June against Wal-Mart and the manager of its Battle Creek, Michigan store for wrongfully firing an employee for using medical marijuana in accordance with state law. The patient, Joseph Casias, used marijuana to treat the painful symptoms of an inoperable brain tumor and cancer.

Michigan voters in 2008 passed the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, which provides protection for the medical use of marijuana under state law. But in a 20-page ruling today, U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Jonker said the law doesn’t mandate that businesses like Wal-Mart make accommodations for employees like Casias, the Battle Creek, Michigan Wal-Mart’s 2008 Associate of the Year who was fired from his job at the store for testing positive for marijuana, despite being legally registered to use the drug. In accordance with the law, Casias never ingested marijuana while at work and never worked while under the influence of marijuana.

The ACLU will appeal today’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.


Emergency Responders, Kitsap County Addressing Address Problems

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Armed with the new census information, Kitsap County Central Communications (our 911 center) is coordinating an effort with our police and fire agencies to weed out “problem addresses,” around the county.

A rather unknown benefit of the census is that it helps ensure homes and their addresses match up what’s on record. The benefit of having correct addresses is that in the event of an emergency, police officers or firefighters can find a location quickly without confusion.

Kitsap County’s Geographical Information Systems (GIS) is also helping with the project. More information can be found at www.kitsapaddress.com.

Here’s the news release from the county:

(Port Orchard, WA) – Kitsap County Central Communications (CenCom) is working with local first responders and Kitsap County’s Geographical Information Systems (GIS) experts to correct problem addresses throughout the County. While preparing for the 2010 Census, the County identified many homes whose actual location differed from the location indicated by their address. Addresses that are hard to find or are out of logical sequence are also reported by first responders from fire, emergency medical, and law enforcement agencies who encounter these problems when they respond to emergency calls. Problem addresses also create challenges for school districts, Kitsap Transit, delivery services, and other agencies. “Correct addressing is absolutely critical to enable law enforcement to respond to emergencies quickly and efficiently. Its absence places our deputies, as well as the safety of our citizens in jeopardy,” said Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer.

There are many reasons problem addresses exist. Some addresses were created long ago and assigned before the current addressing conventions were established. Some annexations have brought properties into a different addressing system for the City than the addresses established by the County. The directional indicator assigned to roads (such as NE, SW, etc.) are based on an addressing grid and cause problems when the road extends in two different parts of the grid. The project looks to correct these problems. Once this is accomplished, officials are confident that technological advances in GIS will prevent similar problems from arising with new addresses in the future. “We have spent considerable time and effort collecting and prioritizing problem addresses throughout the county, so I am anxious to get the change process started,” says Tom Powers, CenCom’s addressing coordinator. “There is a lot of work to be done, but it is exciting to be moving forward” Powers added. He provided examples of two scenarios encountered during their research. These are actual scenarios with the street names changed.

* There is a business at the corner of X and Y streets. The business lists its address is 6090 X Street. Street addresses for properties around the business are all in the 3200 block, which is in line with the numbers on Y Street. The numbering sequence on X Street is completely different. Their address places them at the other end of X Street and creates confusion when someone is looking for that business or a potential disaster in an emergency response where time is critical.
* CENCOM receives a call for emergency services. The caller says they are calling from 20595 Any Road. The 9-1-1 info says they are calling from 20952 Any Road. The road is a private road and the residence is not visible from the road. In this case the homeowner went to the main road to help flag down the responders and direct them to the proper address.
“There are also issues beyond emergency response and deliveries,” notes Diane Mark from the County’s Information Services Division. “Accurate addresses help ensure voters get the proper ballot, and are essential for redistricting based on the 2010 census,” according to Mark. “The Auditor’s Office must be able to match a voter’s residence address to a parcel of land in order for that voter to receive the correct ballot in an election,” says County Auditor Walt Washington. “With the Census Bureau providing population totals and redistricting of our city council, county commissioner, legislative and congressional districts beginning in 2011 it is critical to our mission to provide voting materials in a responsible and accurate fashion,” Washington added.

Most addresses are not affected by this project, and in some areas the changes are not finalized, so it is not currently possible or necessary to call and find out if your address is likely to be changed. If there is a problem with your address you will receive a letter advising of the problem and how it is being corrected. The first phase of the program aims to correct out of sequence numbering beginning in North Kitsap. Future phases will include resolution of confusing existing road names as well as the addition of new road names where unnamed driveways are serving multiple residences and/or businesses. A public meeting on the topic is planned for 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 1 at North Kitsap Fire & Rescue’s Paul T. Nichol Headquarters Fire Station (26642 Miller Bay Road NE) near Kingston. More information is available at www.kitsapaddress.com


The ‘Registry’ Phenomenon: How Far Should it Go?

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

In December, we wrote about the limits of sex offender registries. Basically, where should policy makers draw the line when deciding which offenders should be tracked years after they’ve served their prison sentences?

Currently in Washington, we have only a registry for sex and kidnapping offenders. But other states have proposed setting up registries for various crimes. That means that after they’ve done their time, certain offenders must disclose their addresses to authorities and can be monitored more closely.

Federally, there has been talk of an arson registry. In Nevada, felons are registered. In Suffolk County, N.Y, animal cruelty convicts are.

And just this month, Connecticut lawmakers started looking at a registry for gun offenders, according to the Hartford Courant.

At the crime in America symposium I attended in New York, Ohio State University Professor Douglas Berman posited that sex offenders are the “canary in the coal mine,” with regard to registering. They were the first required to do so — and it appears that they won’t be the last.


DNA Testing Nets Washington State Record for Suspect ‘Hits’

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

The Washington State Patrol’s crime lab identified 379 suspects from DNA samples in 2010, a record.

Every offender in the state convicted of a felony, and even some gross misdemeanors and misdemeanors, has to submit a DNA sample, which goes into a database, the state patrol said Tuesday in a release. Sex and kidnapping offenders provide samples as well.

That database has grown to 194,000 people in its more than a decade of existence, so not surprisingly, more “hits” are coming back when police agencies around the state submit a DNA sample from a crime scene.

Here’s more from a news release by the state patrol:

In June of 2009 an unknown male robbed a grocery store in Spokane.  A wig and fake beard matching that worn by the suspect were discovered along the escape route and submitted to the crime lab.  DNA recovered from both items was linked to a convicted offender in the CODIS database. Due to a previous drug conviction in 2006, he had been required to provide a DNA sample for the database. Faced with the evidence, the suspect pled guilty to robbery in May 2010.

DNA testing completed by the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory Division resulted in a record 379 hits in 2010 using the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).  Since it was implemented over a decade ago, this crime-fighting tool has provided investigators with over 1,500 leads.

“This is about arresting and convicting the guilty, and clearing the innocent,” said WSP Chief John R. Batiste. “DNA is the most reliable way we’ve ever had for telling if someone was present at a crime scene.”

Located in Seattle, the WSP CODIS Laboratory receives approximately 1,400 convicted offender samples each month. The resulting database contains over 194,000 DNA profiles from Washington state offenders convicted of a felony, or certain gross misdemeanors and misdemeanors. State legislation also requires that registered sex and kidnapping offenders submit a DNA sample.

Samples from convicted criminals are compared regularly with DNA evidence retrieved from the scenes of more than 3,500 crimes statewide. Samples in the state database are also routinely searched against the nationwide CODIS database.

In 2010, over half of Washington’s CODIS hits were linked to burglary cases, while approximately 39% were hits in connection with violent crimes such as homicide, rape, robbery, and assault.

Of note is that 79% of the DNA hits were from convicted offenders whose profiles were in the database for typically less violent crimes, such as burglary or drug possession. This shows the value of capturing DNA from those convicted of less severe, mostly non-violent crimes.

In addition to being an all-time high, the 379 hits generated in 2010 equal a 47% increase over the 257 hits in 2009.  This marked increase is attributable to a number of factors, including a pilot project testing evidence from property crimes, and technology improvements implemented by the WSP Crime Laboratory Division.

“The CODIS program is a forensic time machine”, said Forensic Laboratory Services Bureau Director Larry D. Hebert.  “Our scientists use this powerful technology to link suspects to unsolved crimes, some of which were committed over 40 years ago.  CODIS is also used to link apparent unrelated cases to each other providing investigators with valuable information.”


Child Porn Prosecutions Skyrocket

Monday, February 21st, 2011

An interesting, if creepy trend in criminal justice these days is the growing number of (mostly) men prosecuted for having child pornography.

There was a time when child porn was exchanged on polaroids in back alleys around the nation, one local detective told me recently. But these days, the internet has made it possible to move millions of pictures and videos instantaneously, and law enforcement is struggling to keep up.

In the words of AP writer Paul Elias:

The number of federal child porn cases has exploded during the last 15 years as Congress passed mandatory five-year minimum sentences and federal authorities have declared such investigations a priority.

The FBI has made more than 10,000 arrests since 1996 and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency reports a similar number of arrests since its creation in 2003. The U.S. Department of Justice says prosecutions are up 40 percent since 2006 resulting in roughly 9,000 cases. In 2009, 2,315 suspects were indicted.

No crime’s prosecution has exploded similarly, Elias points out: a 2,500 percent rate increase by the FBI.

We are not immune to child porn prosecution here locally either: some examples can be found here and here.


Purdy Prison: Should Inmates Raise Children Behind Bars?

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

The “Residential Parenting Program” at Washington’s largest women’s prison in Purdy is turning heads of criminal justice officials around the nation.

The program allows non-violent, brief sentence offenders with young children to keep their young behind bars with them. A pioneering if controversial approach, no doubt, but one supported by the Department of Corrections because of the desire to break the strong likelihood that the children of felons will too commit crimes in their own lives.

A great report by Melissa Luck with Spokane’s KXLY4 explains one woman’s story:

When she got to the (Washington Corrections Center for Women), she was in the general population. Then, she found out she qualified for the Residential Parenting Program, where she could keep Deegan while serving her 31-month sentence.

“We’re promoting a healthy bond between incarcerated women and their children,” explained Sonja Alley, who supervises the program. On the day we visited last week, the RPP housed 10 women and 10 kids, with the youngest child just two weeks old.

Sheri Pam’s son Quincey is 20-months old, the oldest in the unit right now. Pam is serving time for Second Degree Robbery; she was six months pregnant when she was sentenced. Like every room in the unit, Pam’s room has a bed for her, a bed for Quincey and the toys and books you’d see in any toddler’s room. Women here have to meet strict criteria to qualify: they have to be minimum-security offenders, CPS history is considered and mental health is evaluated.

While there are exceptions, the women typically have to be serving a sentence of 30 months or less. It’s a short time in prison terms, but a lifetime for these infants and toddlers. The program is designed to keep moms and babies from ever coming back.

“Children of incarcerated parents are five to seven times more likely to be incarcerated themselves,” Alley explained. “So, we’re really trying to break that chain.”

I’d suggest reading about the back story on Luck’s blog as well. And I’d welcome your thoughts about this program.


‘I am a SURVIVOR NOT A VICTIM’

Saturday, February 19th, 2011

As a reporter, you can never truly know how a story will impact those who read it. For one local woman who read Tuesday’s story about a man being sentenced to prison for child molestation, it hit all too close to home.

Donna, a victim of sexual abuse, told me she wanted to convey to the victims of the man that they are not alone and that she’s been able to find a way to move on.

I’ll let her words speak for themselves:

“Hello, my name is Donna. After reading your story about the ‘Kingston man gets more than 5 years in prison for molestation,’ I felt the need to write to you.

I have a request if you could please (I’m hoping your able). Is there a way you could get a message to all three of these children? My message to them is they don’t have to be a victim, but be a survivor of molestation. See, I am 36, a wife, and mother of 5 growing wonderful children. I am also a survivor of child molestation. Not by one man but by 7 men … Only one was ever charged. Please don’t get me wrong, my life wasn’t the best. In April ’89, I tried to commit suicide. I was in foster care from the age of 14 to16 1/2. I have had struggled with relationships with my mother, my step mother, men, employers. I have battled with depression and sometimes still do. I was promiscuous, for a time I drank.

But I DID graduate high school, met a wonderful man, married him and five years ago found God again. Jeremiah 29:11 states “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I will never understand why I went through the things I did BUT I know God has had a plan all along. The things that happen made me who I am. In the state of mind I am in now looking back I wouldn’t change what happen. I am STRONGER. I am a SURVIVOR NOT A VICTIM.

So in closing Mr. Farley, is there a way to let these children know 1) they are not alone. 2) God has a plan, let God guide you, and 3) Choose to be a Survivor, not a victim.”


Sheriff Boyer Stresses ‘Civility’ in Wake of Police Shootings

Friday, February 18th, 2011

It was hard in January not to feel the force of numerous nationwide news stories chronicling violence around America — particularly against the police.

Here’s what happened, according to Meg Laughlin of the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times:

The end of January has been a deadly time for police officers around the country. The shootings and killings — which felled 12 officers and a U.S. marshal’s deputy over five days — began with two Miami police officers being shot and killed on Jan. 20 while trying to serve an arrest warrant on a fugitive wanted for murder. Four days later, an Indianapolis officer was shot in the head during a traffic stop and died in the hospital.

The same day, four officers were shot in Detroit, two deputies in Port Orchard, Wash., and another officer in Lincoln City, Ore. Then, Monday morning in St. Petersburg, two police officers and a U.S. marshal’s deputy were shot while attempting to serve an arrest warrant at a home. The two officers died.

Which raises the question: Even as overall violent crime is declining across the nation, is this sudden rash of police shootings the beginning of an era marked by an escalation of brazen, cold-blooded cop killers?

With a half a month’s distance from the violence, the tide of shootings has subsided — though any officer would tell you there’s no such thing as a routine traffic stop.

I asked Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer what he made of the violent January, of which his deputies too were violently attacked:

“I’m hoping the increase in frequency of police involved shootings is not a long term trend,” he said. “It does worry me that it seems like people are attacking our institutions, attacking the symbols of our society.”

“I think civility needs to be stressed more.”

What could have caused the surge? Was it just random? Slate has an interesting piece out about “predictive policing.” Perhaps, as it points out, police shootings — or rather people lashing out violently against authority — could be like an earthquake, in which there are initial tremors, a big incident and aftershocks.


In Memoriam: Kitsap County Sheriff’s K-9 Ryker

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Ryker, a German Shepherd that has long tracked down suspects of crimes in Kitsap County, has died.

Ryker, long the partner of Kitsap County Sheriff’s deputy Aaron Baker, joined the sheriff’s office in 2002.

You can read the story about Ryker here.

While somewhat dated, here’s a list of K-9s in the service of law enforcement on the Kitsap peninsula. Bremerton Officer Brian Johnson, and his dog Tabor, retired last year.


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