Monday, April 20, 2009

Peter Hermann's article on police pat-downs, etc.

President Rosslyn to Commander of  Battlestar Gallactica: "The war is over: we lost."

Buz read with interest Peter Hermann's article a while back on how police came into a hardware store in Southwest Baltimore, made a guy go outside, "pat him down", find nothing, and just let him go back inside and go about his business. It was treated and accepted as just the "code of the streets" and how it supposedly applies to police stops in high-crime areas. I dunno, maybe it's just me, but I'll betcha plenty of defense attorneys out there had nice smiles on their faces, just thinking about the stat-driven police force which has them wandering around (in Southwestern District-home of the famous Flex Squad, no less), jacking people up because they think they might be dirty.

Dragging a guy out of the store and patting him down?
Patting down (searching?) the store owner who was taking out trash?

Um, okay, stop and frisk. Terry vs. Ohio? Wonder if that is still taught in the police academy.
We now get a little more insight into why the State's Attorney's Office drops so many cases without charges, in Baltimore City. And how, though this guy didn't seem to mind much (after all, what could he do?), many males in Bmore object to being summarily stopped, frisked, having their pockets gone into, and pants pulled down in public {though they may be wearing 3 pairs of pants in the winter}. Does anyone think about: "The fire next time?"

And I'm pretty certain the store owner minded being stopped and patted down while taking trash out behind his own place.

While all of us are glad crime is "down", except for murders, of course, Buz wonders if police would be better served that instead of stats, they were patrolling, looking for guys where the evidence was already there; preventing and looking for burglaries; preventing, responding to and looking for robbery and theft suspects. I know, I'm starting to sound like Peter Moskos, but you just gotta wonder: is jacking up people for little or no reason because you think they might be dirty, really a good use of your community relations if you don't find anything, or good use of your time if you do?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

April is the cruelest month

Buz had an occasion earlier this week to journey to Emmitsburg, Maryland, home of the campus of Mt. St. Mary's University, a small Catholic liberal arts school in the Catoctin mountains close to Pennsylvania.

Buz thought he had been picked up and dropped in  heaven! And the presence of Catholic priests walking around in their black outfits with white collars added to this thought.

He was struck about how idyllic and peaceful and serene the campus looked, and he remembered that  not too long ago someone had fired a shot thru the window of a dorm room there on the campus. (Frederick County, where MSM is located, is a mostly rural/suburban area with lots of woods).  And, a few weeks later, gunshots were heard in the vicinity of the school, and were heard again as the unarmed campus safety staff responded to check it out. In both cases the school activated its version of an emergency notification system, keeping students informed about what was going on. (they were grateful!). Of course, there has not been a public determination by anyone who fired the shot(s), and whether they were the same person(s), or whether the school was targeted in any way. MSMary's, like most colleges in the U.S., has a small, generally unarmed, campus safety force, and relies on the local police force or state police to respond to dangerous, serious incidents.

Your consultant's thoughts turned to April. Today, April 20th, will be the tenth anniversary of the attack on that high school community by two of its own students. And just last week passed the second anniversary of the Virginia Tech "massacre"--32 killed by one of its own, who never felt part of the VT scene. Buz is pretty sure that the availability of an emergency notification system, such as used at Mt. St. Mary's, would probably have not made much, if any, difference at either Columbine or the home of the Hokies. Though updates to students might have helped a little. Other than that electronic innovation, and school "Thereat Assessment Teams", not much has changed in the American landscape of security against mass killings. It's still pretty easy for any crazy or semi-crazy or just plain upset person to get a gun around about anywhere.

Just this month:
  • Three police officers were killed at one time in Pittsburgh by a nut-job with a rifle.
  • Thirteen people were killed in an immigrant center in upstate New York by another nut-job, who blocked a rear door with his car to maximize death from his "going postal".
  • A family in Washington State was killed when dad thought mom was fooling around; if he couldn't have her exclusively, nobody else would. Oh, might as well kill the kids, too.
  • And a guy in Frederick County, ironically not too far from MSM, killed his wife and kids and himself because he felt like it.
  • This list can probably go on.
  • And, of course Columbine occurred in April; a new book has come out about that mass killing, vigorously researched by a Salon reporter, Dave Cullen. Buz hasn't read that book yet, but it apparently has a lot of new info challenging many long-held assumptions about that incident.
  • And, of course Virginia Tech occurred in April; apparently, not much happened in VT response to nut cases, despite the occurrence of Columbine a number of years before.
  • Oh, and just before April began, a parolee in Oakland, California shot and killed 4 police officers on the same day: 2 initially, then 2 members of the SWAT team later, shooting and killing them right thru a house wall.
Policy prescriptions, anyone?

Hundreds of colleges and universities have spent millions of dollars on "emergency notification systems", which now include text message and email alerts, as well as sirens on campus to alert people on campus to "significant threats to the campus community".  And, apparently, the latest department of Education rules under the Clery Act require them to have some sort of notification system. Most high schools, however, don't have such systems, except the time-honored public address system, and the ole fire alarm. While better than nothing, these systems largely ignore the 800 pound gorilla in the room: the Secret Service study of school shootings (though somewhat dated now), estimates the vast majority are over in 2-4 minutes. The actual Columbine shooting of others was over in less than 15 minutes, though it took some time later for them to decide to kill themselves. Those involved, police, students, etc., thought it went on much longer, because no one at the time new that the cowards had already killed themselves. Police are now trained to respond immediately, as soon as practical, to get into the school (or wherever) to try to stop the shooting. Usually, it will already be too late.

By the way, Columbine High School did have an on site "School Resource Officer", an armed, unifomed police officer on duty at the school, but he was driven away from the school, along with another colleague, by the heavily armed students.

Many schools and colleges are trying to create "threat assessment teams" for figuring out what to do with loony students who scare others. This is the only real answer: to separate disturbed and distressed students from the rest of the campus, at least temporarily, to find out more about them, and to try to learn if they have firearms, if possible. And to have a way for students to alert campus authorities to potentially dangerous folks. [Of course, none of that worked at Virginia Tech, where teachers repeatedly tried to get help for future gunman Cho, but he kept falling thru the cracks, since VT, like most schools then-and probably now-do not have the mechanisms to deal with people like him.]