Judge Eases Rules to Allow
NYPD to Widen Terrorism Probes
Citing the dangerous new world Americans live in, a federal judge agreed last week to fundamentally change a long-standing court decree that limited the ability of this city's police to spy on its own citizenry.
The New York Police Department argued that it needed more elbow room to photograph, tape and infiltrate political and social organizations suspected of ties to terror. The proposed changes would allow the police to, among other actions, investigate mosques that police officials described as largely radicalized.
The existing court order, known as the Handschu agreement, prohibits police from photographing political demonstrations, and requires some evidence of a crime before police investigate.
The agreement took root in police abuses of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, when "Red Squads" kept voluminous files on left-leaning organizations and passed on the names of suspected communist sympathizers to the FBI. But police officials argued, and U.S. District Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. in Manhattan has agreed, that the department has purged such abuses and is entitled to balance "individual needs and public safety." Civil libertarians have noted that Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly has declined to cite a specific case in which the consent decree has hindered an investigation.
-- Michael Powell
As Prisons Reach Capacity,
Michigan Explores Cyber-Terms
Before taking office, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) proposed electronic monitoring as a way to create more space in the state's prison system, which is scheduled to reach capacity by the end of this year.
Legislators rejected the idea, but now officials are paying close attention to a pilot project in Oakland County in which prisoners are allowed to finish their terms with a high-tech electronic tether that includes global positioning system tracking and constant monitoring of blood alcohol levels.
It is offered to first-time offenders and those who pose a low safety risk. But what makes it particularly attractive to policymakers is that prisoners, who are permitted to work while in the program, pay for it themselves. It costs as much as $102 a week.
And while some contend most prisoners can't afford the equipment, Donald Prevost-Hart of Farmington Hills is resigned to carrying the electronic box that beeps when he is away from home too long. Convicted of embezzlement, he was sentenced last August to less than a year in jail. He is only allowed out of the house for three hours each week. "It's better than jail," he told the Detroit Free Press last week.
"They're going to have to do something about overcrowding. That's pretty obvious," said Steve Bock, program manager of electronic monitoring for the Michigan Department of Corrections. "I see technology playing a role."
-- Robert E. Pierre
Legal Brewhaha in Memphis:
Should the Jury Pop a Cold One?
Beer and jury duty do not mix well in Memphis.
But, by the looks of an appeal working through the Tennessee courts, some jurors are not too happy about that. Take the case of Vincent Jackson, who was convicted of murdering a Shelby State University student in 1998.
The jury that heard Jackson's case was sequestered during his three-day trial. Shortly after the case began, some of the jurors asked the judge whether they could have beer at their hotel each afternoon when court adjourned. There is no law banning beer drinking when jurors are not deliberating, but the judge said no anyway. Lawyers say this is a common practice with some Memphis judges because they don't want hung-over jurors and are concerned about the public coffers being used to cover bar tabs.
But some of the jurors ignored the order. They called a sheriff's deputy assigned to the courthouse into their jury room, gave her some money and convinced her to make a beer run.
Mike Roberts, Jackson's defense attorney, says the beer run violated a court order and is grounds to toss out the jury's verdict. He also argues that the deputy violated the judge's order to keep the jury sequestered when she let her husband mingle with jurors at the hotel and watch the movie, "Soul Food."
"How would you like to be in your late twenties and looking at 51 years plus," Roberts said, "and know that the jurors were drinking beer and watching "Soul Food" with the husband of the deputy sheriff?"
-- Manuel Roig-Franzia
Okla. Law Officers Decide
To Rip the Rule, Not the Abs
It looks like Oklahoma police and sheriffs' deputies will not have to hit the gym and skip the doughnut shop just yet.
Much to the delight of the Oklahoma Sheriffs' Association, new physical fitness requirements for officers in the state's training academy were dropped in early February barely a month after they went into effect.
Last month, the state's Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training Academy adopted strict new standards for what it evidently imagined would be a new generation of buff cops. New officers in their twenties were expected to be capable of 38 sit-ups and 29 push-ups in one minute, and to run a mile and a half in less than 13 minutes.
The state's training academy for law officers originally promoted the requirements as minimal. But in the January training group, 24 of 45 new officers failed to make the grade and were tossed from the program. Worried that the tough standards would play havoc with recruitment, the sheriffs' association voted against them, and the training academy council promptly suspended them. The officers dropped from the program in January will be reinstated.
The training academy council "lost touch with reality," said Lewis Hawkins, the sheriff of Oklahoma's Canadian County. "You would have to be a Navy SEAL" to meet the tough fitness standards.
Hawkins said that in Oklahoma's empty rural areas, sheriffs are rarely required to run after fugitives anyway. "Even for an old fat man like me, adrenaline will keep you going for a while," he said. "But normally in the rural areas, you're going to find out that the best tool you have is that automobile and a radio."
-- Karin Bruillard