Albuquerque Fingerprint Backlog Increases to 6,000 Cases

“Three Albuquerque Police Department forensic scientists have a daunting task – closely examine and match thousands of collected fingerprints to suspects in order to help solve crimes.

At the Albuquerque Metropolitan Forensics Science Center, 6,000 latent fingerprint packets are waiting to be processed.

The backlog has increased 20-fold since 2014, according to APD data. In 2014, there were five forensic scientists and approximately 300 backlogged cases. Back then, prints took one to two months to process.

Now, latent fingerprints can wait anywhere from one week to 16 months to be processed depending on the Bernalillo County Case Management Order.

The CMO was created to clear up the Bernalillo County District Court case backlog and to prevent pretrial detainees from waiting in jail for months for their cases to be tried.

Instead, Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez has said that the CMO has unintentionally put an undue burden on the public because defendants – sometimes repeat offenders – are often released with no bond before their trial.

Though the Albuquerque City Council approved funding to train and employ civilians to be property crime scene specialists in order to help police, the rate at which the civilian specialists have been collecting prints and dropping them off at the metro lab is greatly outpacing its ability to process them.

“We’ve increased our staff to get reports done and collect the evidence, but we haven’t been as proactive in increasing the lab staff to do the backend work,” APD Commander Jeff McDonald said.

‘I GUESS THEY DON’T CATCH ANYBODY’

Criminals have targeted Aragon’s Lawn and Wood Center in northeast Albuquerque more than 30 times over the past decade, according to the owners. It’s gotten to the point where Owner Richard Aragon has slept at his business armed.

The marine veteran was a sniper in the Vietnam War.

“They’re all fully loaded,” Aragon said.

That isn’t the extent of the precautions he has taken. The lawnmower business is surrounded by motion detector lighting, surveillance cameras and concertina wire.

“We can catch them with the infrared (cameras) and we can get good images at night. Some of the pictures that we’ve taken with our surveillance show us the same guy,” he said.

Aragon and his wife, Kathy, are just two of the thousands of property crime victims in the city waiting for justice.

“Nothing that we know of, or at least they don’t tell us anything and I guess they don’t catch anybody,” Kathy Aragon said.

McDonald has a message for the Aragons and others in their situation.

“Be patient. We’re trying,” he said. “We’re trying to get everybody’s cases solved.”

McDonald said there are currently plans to hire two more forensic scientists. Two retired in 2015, but were never replaced.

Still, the hiring process could take anywhere from two to four months. If the applicant is a recent college graduate with limited experience, he or she will have to be trained for a year.

“I joined the police department to help people,” McDonald said. “(It’s) just not at the fastest rate I’d like.”

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Walmart security officers honored by St Paul Police

“It was a routine day for Walmart security officers Chao Vang and Dan Miller until a man in a winter coat slipped out the door with a pair of pants and some medical supplies.

Soon, along with St. Paul police officer Tom Reis, they were embroiled in a life-or-death struggle with the shoplifter. The man was sprawled across the ground flailing his limbs, a 6-inch knife in his right hand.

“I was on my knees holding [the man] down,” Reis recently recalled. “He would’ve been in the perfect position to get my neck … It is a possibility I wouldn’t even be here” were it not for Vang and Miller.

Both hands clamped down on the man’s right wrist, Reis yelled for Vang and Miller to help until other St. Paul officers could arrive. Vang and Miller recently received the police chief’s life saving award for their actions during the Dec. 22, 2016, incident. One other civilian and two officers also received the award for their actions in other cases.

“He asked for help, so I just jumped in,” Vang said.

Reis was working off-duty at the Midway store on University Avenue when he spotted the shoplifter and stopped him. Unbeknown to the officers at the time, the man had just allegedly violated a harassment restraining order, sliced another man several times with the knife and was apparently seeking a change of clothes and first aid at Walmart.

Reis walked the man into the back of the store with Vang and Miller in tow. When Reis gave him a pat down, he discovered the knife stashed in a coat pocket. “Don’t do anything stupid,” Reis told the man.

But the man pulled away, brandished the knife and refused to drop it, according to Reis and court documents. Reis and the man struggled to the ground, with the officer warning the man that he would use deadly force if necessary. That’s when Reis called for Vang and Miller.

Miller yelled for a store worker to call 911 and held down the man’s back and left arm. Vang grabbed onto his legs.

“The guy said, ‘I’m not going to give up my knife,’ ” Vang recalled. “And, ‘I’m going to stab you if I have to.’ ”
The man thrashed.

“I’m going to get you,” the man said, according to Reis.

“I had to put all my body into it,” Vang said.

The struggle continued despite the pile-on, and at some point, Reis sustained a small cut to his right hand that remains scarred today. He can’t be sure if it was the knife or something else that nicked him, but he knows he was uncomfortably close to an officer’s worst nightmare — being killed on the job or killing someone on the job to save his own life. Backup officers arrived before any more harm could be done.

“I’m grateful they stepped in and helped me,” Reis said of Vang and Miller. “In the big picture of things, no one got hurt, which I think is a small miracle.”

The 31-year-old man, a Minneapolis resident, was charged with three felonies in the incident at Walmart and the earlier assault on a man. Charges were later dropped when he was found mentally incompetent to stand trial.

Venancio Arellando-O’Campo was also recognized for stopping to help an elderly man with dementia who had wandered away from a field trip to Como Zoo on a cold February day.
Arellando-O’Campo was driving when he saw the man walking along Hwy. 36 dressed only in a sweatshirt, said Police Chief Todd Axtell. Concerned by the unusual sight, he pulled over, spoke to the man, who had limited communication skills, and took him to McDonald’s when he said he was hungry.

“This is really a classic definition of being a good Samaritan,” Axtell said.

The man had been missing for hours when Arellando-O’Campo found him.

“I feel glad to help somebody …,” Arellando-O’Campo said.

Officers Jeff Boyle and Santiago Rodriguez were honored for performing CPR on an unconscious man who had fallen to the ground at a gas station during a heroin overdose.

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Texas school police to use drones to keep campuses safe

“School district police officers here completed a months-long drone training program at Sanchez Elementary on Friday.

This spring, Drone Pilot Inc., a Central Texas training firm, taught four officers from the McAllen Independent School District Police Department on the usage of drones. The 100-hour training, which began in February, went through various real-life scenarios.

Friday, the officers had their final exam on completing would-be scenarios of search and rescue. Their drone skills were tested on finding a missing child/endangered adult and identifying an unknown object, a skill that could help diffuse a bomb scare. Another mission was going through hazardous materials like an ammonia leak from a car.
Gene Robinson, vice president, co-founder and flight team director of Drone Pilot, said the officers learned to problem solve and jointly worked together in their missions.

“They (officers) will use the skills that we taught them, go out and try to solve,” Robinson said.
The drones will be used for faster response times and be used for investigative purposes to hold aerial views of parking lots, reconstruct collisions, look for evidence/crime scenes, and assess structural damage to buildings after a natural disaster or arson and most commonly, locate intruders in and around campuses.

“This training will be good for the public to keep them safe,” McAllen ISD Police Sgt. Charles Eric Treviño said. “When you look at it at ground level, it doesn’t look the same when you take it at aerial photographs. It’s different.”

“It’ll take minutes versus possible hours bringing an agency to check it out,” Treviño added about response times.

The drone training was divided into three phases. The introductory section covered legal issues and copyright information. Section two, covered the proper usage of equipment and regulations with recording and documenting the missions on logbooks. The final section was team cooperation and following proper procedures before beginning a mission.
Government use of aerial drones became much easier when the Federal Aviation Administration flipped the switch on new regulations last year, prompting some law enforcement agencies to adopt the technology.

The San Marcos Police Department has purchased a drone that will be used for investigations into vehicle crashes involving serious injury or death.

Before the FAA created new regulations last summer, the Austin Fire Department had already been operating drones to monitor and respond to wildfires for more than a year under a rare exemption that made it one of the first public safety agencies in the country allowed to use drones.”

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Security and police make several arrests at Livingston Mall

“Police assisted security officers and made several arrests with various charges on May 13 and May 14 at the Livingston Mall.

The first call from the Livingston Mall was about person being held in the parking lot by security for potentially being in possession of stolen property, according to police.

Upon police arrival, it was revealed that the individual possessed multiple items stolen from six different stores at the Livingston Mall. Subsequent to investigation, Robert Braswell, 33, of East Orange was arrested and charged with receiving stolen property and was released on his own recognizance pending court action.

The next afternoon, police received a call from both Lord & Taylor security and Livingston Mall security, whom were attempting to take an individual into custody who may have previously passed bad checks. Upon arrival, the female was fighting with security officers, according to police.

Ultimately, Latesha Shavers, 35, of Perth Amboy, was charged with assault and resisting arrest. Police said she had also been under investigation by Lord & Taylor security the previous week for passing bad checks.

Shavers was subsequently charged by Livingston police for passing bad checks and theft by deception on an incident that occurred on May 7. Following these charges, she was remanded to the Essex County Jail.”

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Facebook says police can’t use its data for ‘surveillance’

Facebook is cutting police departments off from a vast trove of data that has been increasingly used to monitor protesters and activists.

The move, which the social network announced Monday, comes in the wake of concerns over law enforcement’s tracking of protesters’ social media accounts in places such as Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore. It also comes at a time when chief executive Mark Zuckerberg says he is expanding the company’s mission from merely “connecting the world” into friend networks to promoting safety and community.

Although the social network’s core business is advertising, Facebook, along with Twitter and Facebook-owned Instagram, also provides developers access to users’ public feeds. The developers use the data to monitor trends and public events. For example, advertisers have tracked how and which consumers are discussing their products, while the Red Cross has used social data to get real-time information during disasters such as Hurricane Sandy.

But the social networks have come under fire for working with third parties who market the data to law enforcement. Last year, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter cut off access to Geofeedia, a start-up that shared data with law enforcement, in response to an investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU published documents that made references to tracking activists at protests in Baltimore in 2015 after the death of a black man, Freddie Gray, while in police custody and also to protests in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014 after the police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old.

On Monday, Facebook updated its instructions for developers to say that they cannot “use data obtained from us to provide tools that are used for surveillance.”

The company also said, in an accompanying blog post, that it had kicked other developers off the platform since it had cut ties with Geofeedia.

Until now, Facebook hasn’t been explicit about who can use information that users post publicly. This can include a person’s friend list, location, birthday, profile picture, education history, relationship status and political affiliation — if they make their profile or certain posts public.

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Arlington Heights police warn about ‘grandkid scam’

Arlington Heights police are warning residents to be wary of calls seeking money to bail loved ones out of jail after an elderly woman was taken for $4,000 last week in a so-called “grandkid scam.”

A scammer phoned the woman on Thursday, claiming to be her grandson, with another person saying her grandson needed money to get out of jail, according to Crime Prevention Officer Brandi Romag.

The woman then followed the scammer’s instructions to go to a local Target store and buy gift cards totaling $4,000, Romag said.

“The sooner they get you moving, the sooner they’ve got you,” Romag said.

She said the scammers told the woman to call them back with details about the gift cards she purchased.

“They ask for the gift cards’ numbers and the PIN, and instantly, the money is gone,” Romag said.

The “grandkid scam” typically begins with a call in which an elderly person is told his or her grandchild needs money for bail, for a medical bill or to get out of some other kind of trouble, according to the Federal Trade Commission website www.ftc.gov. The victim is commonly told the matter is urgent and must be kept a secret, the site says.

“Scammers are good at pretending to be someone they’re not,” the website says. “They can be convincing, sometimes using information from social networking sites or hacking into your loved one’s email account to make it seem more real. And they’ll pressure you to send money before you have time to think.”

Officials advise that anyone receiving such a call should hang up immediately, then call his or her grandchild’s phone number or another family member to determine whether the problem is legitimate. But the scammers can be very persuasive, authorities say.

“Sometimes these callers are very adamant, and they tell the victim they’ll stay on the line with them or will call them back in 10 minutes,” Romag said.

She said often the phone scams involve an easily obtained gift card.

“These offenders prey on your emotions,” Romag said. “It doesn’t make any sense that you’d need to buy a gift card in these situations, but the elderly victims are being told that their grandchildren are in trouble and by the time they figure out something’s not right, it’s too late.”

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U-Haul truck filled with ATMs found by police

WASHINGTON (ABC7) — D.C. Police say they discovered ATM machines inside an abandoned U-Haul truck Monday, and now they are working with police in neighboring Prince George’s County to see if they include some of the five machines recently stolen there.

A resident of a Southeast Washington neighborhood called in to report the abandoned U-Haul, which was blocking parking spaces in an area near 2021 38th Street SE.

When police looked inside, they say they saw at least four ATM machines and a safe.

The area where the U-Haul was found is just a couple blocks from the border with Prince George’s County, where police say five ATM machines have been stolen in the last month.

Prince George’s County did not give the exact locations where the ATM machines were stolen but did say they were scattered in different parts of the county.

ABC7 News confirmed with an employee at a Mobil Corner Mart on Livingston Road in Fort Washington that an ATM had been stolen from outside the store last week.

The employee expressed hope that the machine had been found.

The employee says surveillance video shows that the thieves tied the ATM machine to a white truck and then yanked it from its place outside the store. The theft happened this past Wednesday.

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National Cyber Security Awareness Month

Data breaches resulting in the compromise of personally identifiable information of thousands of Americans.

Intrusions into financial, corporate, and government networks.

Complex financial schemes committed by sophisticated cyber criminals against businesses and the public in general.

These are just a few examples of crimes perpetrated online over the past year or so, and part of the reason why Director James Comey, testifying before Congress last week, said that “the pervasiveness of the cyber threat is such that the FBI and other intelligence, military, homeland security, and law enforcement agencies across the government view cyber security and cyber attacks as a top priority.”

The FBI, according to Comey, targets the most dangerous malicious cyber activity—high-level intrusions by state-sponsored hackers and global cyber syndicates, and the most prolific botnets. And in doing so, we work collaboratively with our domestic and international partners and the private sector.

But it’s important for individuals, businesses, and others to be involved in their own cyber security. And National Cyber Security Awareness Month—a Department of Homeland Security-administered campaign held every October—is perhaps the most appropriate time to reflect on the universe of cyber threats and on doing your part to secure your own devices, networks, and data.

What are some of the more prolific cyber threats we’re currently facing?

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High-end retail theft ring busted that targeted Western US

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco prosecutors have charged 16 people in a retail theft ring that stole more than $200,000 worth of clothing, purses and other merchandise from high-end stores such as Louis Vuitton and Salvatore Ferragamo, the district attorney’s office said Monday.

Ten more people have been charged in other Western U.S. cities where the group stole an additional $200,000 worth of merchandise, including Honolulu and Seattle, prosecutors said. The group is accused in dozens of thefts dating back to 2015.

“We’re taking something that on its face might have been a single or maybe two or three events, and we have been able to connect this to many other events,” San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said at a news conference announcing the charges.

Linking the defendants to multiple thefts increases the potential sentences they face, he said.

The group in some cases sent as many as 10 or 12 people into a store with bags to grab as much merchandise as possible before running out the door, Assistant District Attorney Frank Carrubba said.

Some of the thefts became violent, with the thieves using pepper spray on store employees or brandishing knives, Carrubba said. There were often getaway drivers.

The charges filed include robbery, grand theft and commercial burglary.

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Clerical errors have kept hundreds of Alaska inmates in jail

Last Tuesday, a prisoner walked out of the Anchorage jail a free man. Unremarkable, except it was five months after his sentence ended.

By the Department of Corrections’ own admission, the man — who the department would not name — spent nearly an extra six months incarcerated because of a clerical error in the computation of his complicated sentence.

His case is an extreme example of a widespread and insidious problem in Alaska’s criminal justice system.

Over the past five years, DOC has kept — or would have kept if the errors hadn’t been discovered by state investigators — more than 100 inmates in jail for days, weeks and even months after their sentences expired because of clerical errors, an analysis of data from the state ombudsman’s office shows.

That number, attorneys and investigators agree, is probably a major under count. It represents only inmates who’ve completed a lengthy formal process with the Alaska Office of the Ombudsman.

For every prisoner who complains, there are more who just sit a few extra days in jail, said Bethel attorney Jim Valcarce. He consistently fields two to three calls per month from people, almost all in rural Alaska jails, who say they’ve been detained for longer than their sentence.

“I’ve seen it a few days and I’ve seen it as long as a month,” he said.

Those people are missing out on work, family life, subsistence activities, holidays, he says. They are missing out on their lives.

“I can’t think of anything worse, more unfair, than someone who is sitting in jail for no reason. That’s a miscarriage of justice.”

Such errors break one of the foundational contracts of the justice system: That people should go free once they’ve served their time. At the same time, sentence miscalculations cost the already cash-strapped state hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The prisoner released Tuesday alone would have cost the state at least $23,000 in unnecessary incarceration.

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