Sacramento neighborhood hires private security, sees crime drop

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KCRA) — Sacramento’s Woodlake neighborhood is among a growing number of communities that is adding an extra layer of protection against crime: private security.

“It’s just another set of eyes on the situation,” said Andy Hernandez, a homeowner and member of the Woodlake neighborhood safety committee.

Hernandez helped push Woodlake residents to hire the firm Paladin Security in 2012.

In the past five years, they’ve seen a drastic change.

“We’ve seen a major drop in the everyday petty crimes, and it seems to have reduced the number of car break-ins,” Hernandez said.

Now, more neighborhoods and organizations are following suit.

“We’ve certainly gotten a lot busier,” said Matt Carroll, Paladin’s vice president of operations. “We’re seeing an increase in our call volume of 20 to 30 percent every year over the past five years.”

Paladin now services about 450 customers in the greater Sacramento region.

That includes neighborhoods such as Woodlake, regional transit stations and a growing number of business districts.

“Police have to work for everyone, and we only have to work for the people who are paying us,” Carroll said.

And police said they support the efforts of security officers like Ryan Giarmona to help reduce and identify crime.

“I think it takes a lot of pressure off their shoulders, and they actually like us assisting them and helping them,” said Giarmona, who works with Paladin Security four times a week, serving 12-hour shifts mostly at Regional Transit light rail stations.

Sacramento police sent KCRA the following statement: “We appreciate the presence of private patrols in the city. It is important to remember that private security officers do not have peace officer authority and do not have the training that police officers in California have.”

But for Hernandez and his neighbors, who voluntarily pay about $20 a month per home for private security, it offers peace of mind he can’t put a price on.

“Quite frankly we wanted to be able to help our law enforcement officers any way we could in solving crimes and preventing crimes,” Hernandez said.

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22 indicted in ICE-led probe into multimillion dollar theft ring

SAN DIEGO – A San Diego federal grand jury has indicted 22 defendants following a long-term probe spearheaded by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) into a highly organized, often violent theft ring suspected of stealing more than $20 million worth of merchandise from upscale shopping malls in the San Diego area and nationwide.

Twelve of the defendants named in the indictment were arrested Wednesday morning during a carefully coordinated operation in the San Diego area involving more than 250 federal, state, and local law enforcement personnel. Three of those charged in the cases were already in custody. The other seven individuals named in the indictment remained at large as of early Wednesday afternoon. The defendants who are in custody are scheduled to make their initial appearances in federal court Thursday morning before U.S. Magistrate Judge Barbara Lynn Major.

As part of Wednesday’s enforcement actions, investigators searched three homes in Lemon Grove, Chula Vista, and San Diego. The searches resulted in the confiscation of approximately $30,000 in cash, along with about a dozen large trash bags filled with new clothing, the merchandise tags and security devices still attached. The goods included items from Victoria’s Secret, Hollister Co., Guess, Express, and Abercrombie & Fitch, and brands such as Calvin Klein, Hurley, Armani, Adidas, Kenneth Cole, and Puma. Agents also recovered piles of new Louis Vuitton shoes and boxes of security sensors that had been removed from clothing.

The indictment alleges the defendants formed crews of thieves to steal merchandise from retail stores throughout the U.S. The stolen items were then transported across state lines and sold in Mexico. According to the indictment, on Oct. 23, 2013, defendant Maria Angelica Mendez Valdivia had more than $480,000 worth of merchandise stolen from at least 57 retailers. The indictment states the goods were then transported to Mexico and sold to an alleged “fence,” defendant Sara Portilla, who is accused of selling the merchandise from a store she operates in Tijuana.

The highly organized ring, which investigators believe has been in operation for over a decade, assigned members of its theft crews specific roles. Team leaders selected the stores to target, scouted the locations, and choreographed the actions of other team members using cell phones and hand signals. The team’s so-called “mules” smuggled the stolen merchandise out of stores in “booster bags” fitted with metallic linings designed to defeat anti-theft sensors. And finally, the team’s “blockers” prevented store employees from seeing the ongoing theft, either by obstructing their view, distracting them, or by physically preventing the employees from responding.

When necessary, court documents state, the teams used force against store employees, customers, and law enforcement to escape. For example, the indictment alleges that in November 2009 defendant Sergio Manuel Montano Nava knocked over an infant in its stroller and injured the child’s father to avoid being arrested for a theft at a Hollister store in Schaumburg, Illinois. In November 2012, defendants Jose Damazo Herrera, Robin Macias, and others allegedly drove vehicles through a crowd while fleeing a theft from a Hollister store in the Fashion Valley Mall in San Diego. In yet another incident in March 2013, one of the defendants allegedly grabbed a loss prevention officer by the throat and threw her to the ground while running from a theft at Abercrombie & Fitch at the Plaza Bonita Mall in National City.

“The mall is supposed to be a safe place for families to shop, eat and enjoy themselves,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Alana Robinson. “Instead, a prolific and violent group of thieves has stolen millions of dollars in merchandise as well as peace of mind from mall employees and customers. With today’s action, we are protecting customers and businesses both physically and economically, and we are restoring and preserving the safety of our community gathering spots.”

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Authorities Are Toughening Penalties To Would-Be Looters

In flooded Houston, with scores of businesses closed and homes evacuated, authorities are sending a message to those thinking of looting or price gouging: Taking advantage of the situation won’t be tolerated.

Police are beefing up security over reports of looting during and after Hurricane Harvey. That includes imposing a curfew and stiffening penalties for crimes committed in the stricken area.

“We’re city that is about diversity and opportunity and all kinds of justice,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo told reporters at a news conference Tuesday. “But we’re not a city that’s going to tolerate people victimizing people that are at the lowest point in their life.”

Acevedo said additional police officers were heading into the Houston area and described the curfew as a “tool to assess the intentions of people that are out there.”

Mayor Sylvester Turner stated that the midnight to 5 a.m. curfew is intended to prevent criminal activity. It “exempts flood relief volunteers, those seeking shelter, first responders, and those going to and from work.”

It’s not clear how many criminal incidents have occurred in areas hit by flooding, and the police chief declined to provide statistics. “I don’t have the numbers. I can just tell you … we’re nipping it in the bud,” Acevedo said.

Fourteen people accused of looting were arrested in the past 48 hours, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a statement released Tuesday. They will face “heftier penalties” if they are found to have broken the law in the disaster area. Burglarizing a home could mean life in prison.

“People displaced or harmed in this storm are not going to be easy prey,” Ogg said. “Anyone who tries to take advantage of this storm to break into homes or businesses should know that they are going to feel the full weight of the law. … Offenders will be processed around the clock without delay.”

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NC College Launches Drone Academy for Public Safety

A North Carolina college is offering a bird’s-eye view to enhanced public-safety innovation with the opening of a drone academy this fall.

Located 50 miles south of Greensboro, Montgomery Community College will launch the NC Public Safety Drone Academy to prepare regional emergency service members and first responders with the needed tools to become effective and well-educated drone pilots.

The college’s drone program got off the ground last year in offering a Part 107 Prep course as well as a basic flight training class for emergency services.

“We decided to legitimize ourselves throughout North Carolina by partnering with the state Division of Aviation, Department of Emergency Services, and several local and state municipalities to create the academy,” MCC Director of Health & Public Safety Riley Beaman said.

Tuition will be waived for emergency/public-safety employees such as sheriff’s deputies, police officers, firefighters and first responders.

The 95-hour academy will focus on drone laws and regulations while offering a hands-on flight school that will expose pilots to:

Simulation Flight Time: grasping drone mechanics and basic operation through simulation;
Real-World Flight Time: after learning the basics, completing real flight time objectives and training;
Live Scenario-based Flight Objectives: focusing on fire, rescue, police, and emergency management situations and scenarios;
UAV Mobile Command Center operations training.
The college deploys a variety of more than 40 drones of all sizes – from microdrones to quadcopters, specifically the industrial grade DJ1 Matrice 100 equipped with a thermal camera.

“There’s something about North Carolina being first in flight and first in unmanned flight,” MCC Dean of Continuing Education said in a recent interview with The (Asheboro, N.C.) Courier-Tribune. “It’s been said that drones are the most impactful thing in aviation since the jet engine.”

When it comes to innovative drone education, colleges and universities are soaring – especially in North Carolina.

As earlier reported in DroneLife, Lenoir Community College now offers a drone-piloting program and several Lenoir County agencies plan to take advantage of it to receive federally-mandated training. The program grants students an associate’s degree in drone piloting – the first ever in the state. Edgecombe Community College in eastern North Carolina offers a consumer-level class.

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Private security hired to guard Confederate monument

Security guards were hired this week to watch over the federal monument and cemetery of Confederate dead near Point Lookout State Park. Those buried in the mass grave have been deceased for more than 150 years.

In addition, an online link to a private park commemorating the Confederacy, near the entrance to the park in Scotland, was removed from the St. Mary’s County tourism website this week, upon the request of a citizen, without the county commissioners’ knowing about it.

When the commissioners learned that the online page for the private park was taken down, the board instructed staff to put it back up on late Wednesday.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said it hired the local security firm Spaulding Security and Investigation to guard over the Point Lookout Confederate Cemetery this week.

The VA did not respond by deadline on Thursday to say how long security would be needed at the cemetery, or how much the service is costing.

St. Mary’s County Commissioner John O’Connor (R) said of the need for security at the cemetery, “I think it’s a sad state of affairs that we’re in that we’ve lost all civility to the point where we have to have security over monuments and graveyards, and that we’ve sunk so low that we’re removing Asian sportscasters because his name is Robert Lee,” referring to an on-air personnel change made by ESPN, which reassigned a broadcaster from working an upcoming University of Virginia football game in Charlottesville.

“That’s sad,” O’Connor said.

Joe Anderson, a former St. Mary’s County commissioner and chairman of the board of governors for the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center, sent an email to the St. Mary’s County

Department of Economic Development on Aug. 18 to request that its tourism website remove mention of the private Confederate Memorial Park.

“Given the terrible turn of events in our country over the last week, I don’t think anything more need[s] to be said,” Anderson wrote.

Anderson cited a post from Facebook that said, “I know that since the actual ‘Confederate Memorial Park’ is private property, not much can be done to remove it … but who can we talk to for it to be taken off of the St. Mary’s County tourism website?”

The privately maintained Confederate Memorial Park has a statue in the center of it of a Rebel soldier. The park is at the corner of Route 5 and Scotland Beach Road, owned by Confederate

Memorial Park Inc. with a mailing address in Friendswood, Texas. The 2-acre property was purchased in 2003 for $30,000. The park includes flags of the states that seceded from the Union in the
Civil War, and was dedicated in 2008.

Adjacent to that property is a 1-acre site owned by the United States government, with federal and state monuments to those Confederates who died at Point Lookout, which was a prisoner of war camp during the Civil War.

Between 1863 and 1865, more than 50,000 Confederate prisoners passed through Camp Hoffman at Point Lookout. Approximately 4,000 died there, but the federal monument lists the names of 3,382

Confederate soldiers and sailors and 44 civilians.

The site, which is home to the unmarked remains of the Confederate dead, is overseen by Baltimore National Cemetery. The site also is home to a state-erected, 25-foot obelisk to the

Confederate dead. That state monument was dedicated on July 4, 1876, on the edge of Tanner Creek, where the mass grave had been moved to in 1870 because of erosion from the Chesapeake Bay at the original site at Point Lookout.

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The Law and Science of Eyewitness Identification

“Several years ago, I sat in a tavern in a city of abandoned textile mills with a client who had been exonerated of several rape convictions by DNA testing. Like the city itself, my client saw better days ahead. The police investigations into the crimes were riddled with errors, and he would later reach a multimillion dollar settlement in his civil rights case. Yet, as we met for the first time to look over the case file, another disturbing aspect became clear: the sheer number of times witnesses had misidentified our client during the investigation.

One area of law in need of profound change is the process by which courts and investigators collect witness identification evidence. Eyewitness identification plays a fundamental role in criminal cases, and also plays a part in civil cases and internal business investigations. But this critical tool is often plagued with reliability problems. While it is important to use identification procedures to solve crimes, it is equally important to exclude innocent people from prosecution.

According to the Innocence Project, since 1989, there have been 349 wrongful convictions overturned via DNA testing. In those cases, eyewitness misidentification was a factor in over 70% of those cases—far more than any other factor.

Last year, I attended the 2016 National Symposium on Eyewitness Identification Reform along with other lawyers and investigators. We studied and discussed the latest research. Historically, many procedures for testing eyewitness identification were not validated in a scientific manner before being implemented by investigators. As a result, many of us have been trained using eyewitness identification techniques that are outmoded and flawed—and those methods have led to innocent people being implicated in an investigation.

However, forward-thinking investigators throughout the country are making changes in their techniques based on new scientific research in this area. Below, I summarize some highlights of the research and provide a link to free training materials.

The Law

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, Neil v. Biggers (1972), was one of the first cases where the court made extensive recommendations on evaluating eyewitness testimony. In somewhat of a departure for Supreme Court decisions, the court delved into the facts:

“The assailant directed the victim to ‘tell her [the daughter] to shut up, or I’ll kill you both.’ She did so, and was then walked at knifepoint about two blocks along a railroad track, taken into a woods, and raped there. She testified that ‘the moon was shining brightly, full moon.’”

Biggers was later identified during a live showup at the police station, where the victim viewed Biggers. He was made to repeat the threat uttered by the rapist. Finding the showup here met the criteria for reliability, the court listed five factors for evaluating the accuracy of eyewitness identifications:

“As indicated by our cases, the factors to be considered in evaluating the likelihood of misidentification include the opportunity of the witness to view the criminal at the time of the crime, the witness’ degree of attention, the accuracy of the witness’ prior description of the criminal, the level of certainty demonstrated by the witness at the confrontation, and the length of time between the crime and the confrontation.”

The Neil v. Biggers factors were confirmed in a 1977 case, Manson v. Brathwaite, in which the Supreme Court set a low barrier to admitting shaky evidence, holding that if the circumstances of the identification procedure were suggestive, the Court must then weigh the “totality of the circumstances” to determine whether the identification is still reliable. The law of the land for over three decades now, Manson v. Brathwaite has come under increasing criticism that its holding is inconsistent with recent scientific studies into witness identification and memory.

The Supreme Court has noted the unique power of witness testimony; Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.’s dissent in the 1981 case Watkins v. Sowders summed it up best:

“[E]yewitness testimony is likely to be believed by jurors, especially when it is offered with a high level of confidence, even though the accuracy of an eyewitness and the confidence of that witness may not be related to one another at all. All the evidence points rather strikingly to the conclusion that there is almost nothing more convincing than a live human being who takes the stand, points a finger at the defendant, and says, `That’s the one!’”

The Research

What do we mean when we refer to eyewitness identification?

Eyewitness identification can occur in several formats: a showup, live lineups, or a photo lineup. Showups—where a suspect is apprehended and shown “live” and in-person to a witness, close in time to the event—have been demonstrated to have higher percentages of both correct and incorrect identifications as compared to lineups. Showups tend to be have heightened problems with suggestibility, given the fact that they involve just one person who is surrounded by multiple police officers.

Lineups occur at a time somewhat removed from the event, but because they are planned and staged, a process exists to minimize contamination by suggestive elements (for example, a suspect standing closer to the victim than all lineup fillers; police clapping after a successful identification of a suspect).

How often are witnesses successful in their identification? In one study of 11 peer reviewed studies and over 6,000 actual police lineups, witnesses selected the suspect 41% of the time; witnesses selected a lineup filler 37% of the time (i.e., they selected a person who was known to be innocent of the crime).

Several phenomena have been observed in studies where a crime is staged—say, a person enters a classroom in front of student “witnesses” and steals a purse—and the students/witnesses later are interviewed in a controlled setting about their observations.

Here are a few key findings:

1. Proper eyewitness instructions can reduce false positives.

Research has demonstrated that eyewitnesses tend to identify the person from the lineup who, in the opinion of the eyewitness, looks most like the culprit relative to the other members of the lineup. The problem became readily apparent when experiments were run where the actual culprit was not present in the lineup. Under controlled conditions, a concept called the “relative judgment process” will often yield a positive identification—even when the true culprit had been removed from the lineup. While this may seem to be an obvious, simple observation, research shows the effect is incredibly damaging to accuracy.

But research has demonstrated that this problem can be partly remedied with a simple instruction to the witness that the true culprit may not be in the lineup. Some state courts have adopted a set of instructions to be given to eyewitnesses—such as a caveat that the witness need not feel compelled to make an identification, and that police will continue to investigate this incident, whether or not the witness makes an identification.

“These instructions can reduce pressure on the witness to feel as if they must pick a culprit, and this leads to more accurate results.

2. Double-blind identification procedures can prevent information “leaks.”

A double-blind eyewitness identification is one in which neither the administrator nor the eyewitness knows the identity of the suspect. Research has shown that witnesses were adept at picking up clues from the person administering the lineup when that administrator knew the identity of the suspect. The lineup administrator tended to “leak” information about the suspect in subtle (and not so subtle) ways: leaning forward at certain times; raising his hands; making a comment like “take another look at the third guy;” smiling or nodding in agreement when a positive identification was made; or conversely, frowning when the wrong person was chosen. These kinds of cues lead to inaccurate identifications, as well as false levels of confidence in the witness.

Studies have shown there is far less chance of contamination of the process when double blind testing is implemented.

3. Confidence statements from the witness are most reliable at the time of initial identification.

The role played by eyewitness mistakes in the DNA exoneration cases has helped to create a growing impression that eyewitness memory is inherently unreliable. I have heard several witnesses tell me this on recent cases, in essence doubting their own ability to remember accurately. But this overstates the case. Researchers have discovered—perhaps surprisingly given the general trend— that when eyewitnesses are questioned using proper identification procedures, the confidence they have in their initial identification usually is a highly reliable indicator of accuracy.”

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Smile! Your face is changing how you move through the airport

After years of using passports and boarding passes to check bags or board a flight, travelers in Boston and Minneapolis are trying something new: facial recognition identification systems.

This week, Delta is launching a pilot program in Minneapolis-St. Paul where some passengers will check their bags automatically through kiosks that use facial recognition software to identify ticketed passengers.

Meanwhile, JetBlue is boarding some flights in Boston with the passenger identities being confirmed by a facial recognition system before they board the plane.

“We see a future where your face is your passport for travel. Where you can show up in an airport and your face checks you in, your face allows you to drop a bag, and your face allows you to go through the TSA checkpoint and ultimately board a flight,” said Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue executive vice president, customer experience.

The goal is an admirable one: move passengers through airports quicker and with less hassle. For the airlines there is the extra benefit of freeing up gate workers and those staffing ticket counters to focus on passengers who need more attention.

“It frees up the personnel that we have, to be able to deal with customers when they really need that human heart to empathize and understand,” said Gareth Joyce, senior vice president of airport customer service at Delta.

How do the new facial recognition systems work?

At Delta’s hub in the Twin Cities, passengers use self-serve kiosks to check in, get a luggage tag and tag their bag. After that, they take it to a self bag check terminal, scan their boarding pass and look into the camera screen to confirm their identity. If everything matches, they put their bag on the carousel and it will head on its way to the plane, while passengers walk to the security checkpoint.

JetBlue’s facial recognition system is used at the gate where passengers board a flight to Aruba.

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Spare change you forget at TSA checkpoints

All the nickels, dimes and quarters travelers leave behind at airport security checkpoints adds up to big bucks — enough that next time you forget your change after emptying your pockets, you might want to go back for it.

In fiscal year 2016, travelers left behind a record $867,812.39, according to a report from the Transportation Security Administration. That’s over $100,000 more than went unclaimed the previous year. Of that amount, nearly $80,000 was in foreign currency.

“TSA makes every effort to reunite passengers with items left at the checkpoint, however there are instances where loose change or other items are left behind and unclaimed,” TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said. “Unclaimed money, typically consisting of loose coins passengers remove from their pockets, is documented and turned into the TSA financial office.”

New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport ranked the highest for unclaimed money with $70,615. That was followed by Los Angeles International at $44,811.82. Among D.C. area airports, only Dulles International made the top 10 in unclaimed funds with $20,801.25.

National Airport travelers, however, weren’t far behind Dulles, leaving $18,753.31. And despite being the region’s busiest airport, travelers left only $5,946.50 at checkpoints at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport.

So where does all that spare change go? In 2005, Congress gave the TSA the authority to spend the money on security operations.

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Modesto security officer rescues puppy left in a bag

“A sergeant with Rank Investigation & Protection who was on patrol early Wednesday in downtown Modesto saw movement in a plastic bag on the ground and looked inside to find a roughly month-old puppy.

About 1 a.m. Wednesday, Sgt. Dre Castano was at a commercial property on the 1100 block of 12th Street that Rank does security for, said Lt. Brian Rank. He was checking on a homeless encampment that had been vacated, with belongings left behind.

Castano was picking up trash, Rank said, when he found the puppy. It appears someone put the dog in the bag, rather than it having crawled inside, because it was loosely tied closed and the pup couldn’t get out, he said.

The puppy probably wouldn’t have suffocated, he said, but could have died from exposure or starvation. But it still “was in good condition, healthwise,” when found, Rank said.
Castano took the tiny animal to the Rank office, where a dispatcher looked after it until the sergeant finished his shift and took it home. The dog, which looks to be a Chihuahua mix, Rank said, was started on puppy formula and is doing well.

The sergeant intends to adopt the puppy, Rank said. He didn’t know the gender of the dog or if Castano had yet named it.
That wasn’t the only dog rescue in the area on Tuesday. Because no animal-control unit was available, a Modesto Fire Department truck crew was dispatched to a call for a dog with its head trapped in a dollhouse.

The small dog was in distress and having trouble breathing , according to the daily incident summary by Battalion Chief Jesse Nicasio. Firefighters were able to extricate the dog without injuring it.”

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Church security law passes in Texas

“The Texas Legislature has passed the Church Security Protection Act aimed at allowing churches to provide their own security through members of their congregations.

In a special report, Angel San Juan found that Texas is one of just three states — Oklahoma and Florida are the other two — that restricts church members from providing their own security.

Under Texas law, a church would have to establish itself as a security company and be licensed by the state or hire a company that is licensed by the state, which can be an expensive undertaking.

But violating the law can also be costly with fines up to thousands of dollars.

That’s what led a group here in Southeast Texas lead the charge to change the law.”

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