Push For Policing Reforms Expected In Upcoming Legislative Sessions

Push For Policing Reforms Expected In Upcoming Legislative Sessions

By Sarah Breitenbach, Stateline.org (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Advocates for policing reform are expected to return to statehouses next month pushing for increased scrutiny of officers, transparency in police department proceedings and improved crisis training across law enforcement ranks.

Backed by increasingly vocal public criticism following reports of police shootings and allegations of brutality in places like Chicago and Minneapolis, many civil rights advocates will ask lawmakers to revisit measures abandoned earlier this year.

Samuel Walker, a policing expert and professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said public dissatisfaction with police practices makes the upcoming legislative sessions ripe for action.

“I think we have a huge opportunity, the moment is here,” Walker said.

The push for more changes in policing in states such as Missouri, where a white police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in August 2014, comes as Americans are losing confidence in police. Advocates hope the shifting public attitude can overcome opposition from police unions and law-and-order legislators who are wary of changes they fear could make policing more dangerous or paint officers as suspects right off the bat in shooting incidents.

Missouri lawmakers considered at least 50 proposals related to policing this year, but passed only one new law — to limit the revenue local jurisdictions can raise through traffic tickets.

Though national opinion is changing, passing more laws in 2016 will depend on politics — and the level of public outcry — in each state. Sarah Rossi, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, said it’s hard to tell if the legislative climate in her state will be different in 2016.

“I think the biggest hurdle is getting the point across that it’s not enough to reduce the number of tickets, fines and fees,” Rossi said. “We actually have to change the way law enforcement and community members are interacting with each other and that wasn’t really a conversation we got to have last year.”

At least 26 other states passed laws relating to police practices this year, many of which focus on the deployment of police body cameras. Several states are still crafting policies to govern how and when police use the cameras and who can access the footage. Illinois, Indiana, Texas and Washington enacted laws related to crisis intervention training for officers. Maryland and Texas set new requirements for reporting and tracking officer-involved shootings and use of force.

Officials in Ohio announced this month they would move forward with plans for a tougher police recruit training program that is expected to include drug screening as well as physical and psychological exams. A Maryland legislative panel is on the cusp of making recommendations to reduce the amount of time officers have to comply with an internal investigation and to give the public more time to make brutality complaints against officers.

Because the federal government has no jurisdiction over local policing, state lawmakers are ultimately responsible for reforms. As they proceed, lawmakers can look to recommendations from the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, said Laurie Robinson, a George Mason University professor and former Justice Department official who co-chaired the group of police officers, academics and social justice advocates.

The task force issued a final set of recommendations in May, reflecting what Robinson and others call a “guardian mindset” that encourages law enforcement to police with the idea of protecting communities, rather than trying to control a population by threatening arrest.

The panel’s findings were issued after many states’ legislative sessions had concluded. As state legislatures return to work, starting in January, Robinson said they should pursue laws that address how police-involved deaths are investigated, make updates to police training protocols, and review and update public records laws that pertain to body-camera footage. They should also consider legislation to require local police departments to track officer-involved shootings, she said.

Montgomery County (Maryland) Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said state lawmakers need to strike a balance between reforming police practices and instituting poor polices that could hamper police work.

“Please let’s not paint the police with a broad brush,” Manger said. “Let’s not lose sight of the good work that’s being done out there every day.”

Responding to calls for more transparency and accountability, some state lawmakers want to reform how police-involved shootings are investigated, prohibiting investigations by secret grand juries and requiring police departments to participate in multiagency investigations rather than allowing a single department to investigate one of its own. The Maryland panel is also considering opening trial boards — which are made up of sworn officers and review complaints against other police officers — to the public.

The National Fraternal Order of Police supports the task force’s recommendations to increase training for officers and diversify police departments, said Jay McDonald, the group’s vice president. But he is wary of proposals to change the way officers are adjudicated.

“We agree with a lot of the things people have proposed, but we’re not going to agree with things that make our jobs more dangerous or frame us as the suspects right off the bat,” McDonald said.

Though there is no federal standard for collecting and comparing data about use of force in local police departments, the FBI has announced that it will expand its program for tracking fatal police shootings to include all cases of serious injury or death caused by a police officer.

Walker, of the University of Nebraska, said tracking police use of force is a first step toward developing broader reforms because it enables policymakers to compare police departments and identify patterns of excessive force.

“We know about smoking deaths, we know about cancer deaths, we know about all these things,” he said. “We can begin to figure out what kinds of interventions make a difference.”

©2015 Stateline.org. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Chris Yarzab via Flickr


In Wake Of Paris, How Prepared Are U.S. States, Cities?

In Wake Of Paris, How Prepared Are U.S. States, Cities?

By Sarah Breitenbach, Stateline.org (TNS)

WASHINGTON — For Tuscaloosa, Alabama, there are lessons to be learned from the terror that gripped Paris this month.

After the Islamic State attacks, Democratic Mayor Walter Maddox took note of the Parisian security staff that prevented a suicide bomber from entering the French national soccer stadium. His thoughts turned to Bryant-Denny Stadium — where more than 100,000 people gather for University of Alabama football games.

Maddox said he considered what could happen in his 95,000-person city. But he and some terrorism and security specialists say many chief executives and police departments in midsize U.S. cities may not realize that terrorism could put their people and infrastructure at just as much risk as high-profile targets like New York City and Washington, D.C.

“The larger cities understand and grasp this,” Maddox said. “I’m not sure that at the midlevel cities the awareness is that high.”

But terrorism can and does happen in those places. This year, two men suspected of communicating with overseas terrorists were killed when they attempted to attack a free-speech event in Texas, a gunman killed four people at a military recruiting center in Tennessee, though it was unclear if he had worked with known terrorist organizations, and security was heightened across the country during Fourth of July weekend.

In the days following the Paris attacks New York City deployed the first 100 officers in the city’s new Critical Response Command. The 500-officer program will be dedicated to counterterrorism in the city, which spent $170 million this year to bring 1,300 new police officers to its 34,500-officer force.

Conversely, in Wichita, Kan., where an airport worker was arrested after he tried to execute a suicide attack at the local airport in 2013, the 437-officer police force was struggling to stay fully staffed this summer.

While it’s difficult to tell just how prepared every state and municipality is for a potential terrorist attack, security specialists say the ability to prevent and react well depends on a communication system and local counterterrorism efforts that are still underdeveloped, even 14 years after 9/11.

Chet Lunner, a security consultant and former senior official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), said the FBI has counterterrorism investigations in every state, but most places probably lack the resources to prevent or respond to an attack.

“You might think that all 50 states are responding to that kind of warning, but I’m not sure that they are at the appropriate level,” Lunner said.

The Paris attacks on “soft” targets like the restaurant and the concert hall — places with minimal security — should signal to local governments in the U.S. that they, too, could be at risk.

Lunner and Michael Balboni, a security consultant and former New York state senator who wrote homeland security laws for his state, say even if smaller cities and towns aren’t at high risk for violence and are short on the financial resources that big cities have, they should still plan and practice for terrorist attacks.

“State and local personnel are literally the tip of the spear,” Lunner said. “They owe it to themselves as well as the communities they serve” to be as prepared as possible.

Despite repeated efforts and hundreds of millions of dollars spent on collecting and sharing information nationwide about potential terrorist threats, questions remain about how much filters down to local officials, especially in smaller municipalities.

In 2003, DHS and the U.S. Department of Justice began creating fusion centers to encourage and ease the sharing of information between federal law-enforcement and counterterrorism officials in states and major urban areas. But a 2012 U.S. Senate subcommittee report found the centers yielded little counterterrorism intelligence.

In 2011, the White House released the first national strategy and plan to empower local governments to prevent domestic violent extremism and homegrown terrorism. The plan advocates enhancing federal engagement with local communities that may be breeding grounds or targets for violence, though it has been criticized for disproportionately focusing on and alienating Muslims.

Until there is centralized information-sharing between the national and local governments, it will be difficult to get localities invested in sustained antiterrorism work, Balboni said.

Balboni, who also served as a New York state homeland security adviser, said the fusion centers need to morph into what he calls “command and control centers” that gather intelligence and work in places where a potential threat or terrorist activity surfaces.

People who don’t live in big cities typically viewed as likely terrorist targets may not think about terrorism affecting their communities or about devoting the resources to countering the possibility they could be hit. But they ought to.

Less-populated locales are where terrorists may settle in to plan or practice attacks, Lunner said. It is up to local police to get to know people and seek out information about potential threats.

“In this country, if you dial 911, the CIA does not show up at the end of your driveway,” Lunner said.

(c)2015 Stateline.org. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: Andrea Wright via Flickr


States Wrestle With Cost Of Electronics Recycling

States Wrestle With Cost Of Electronics Recycling

By Sarah Breitenbach, Stateline.org (TNS)

WASHINGTON — An old television. A first-generation iPhone. The free printer that came with a new computer.

These once novel items are among the millions of tons of technology pitched into the trash or taken to recycling centers each year. Though states have been trying to get manufacturers to help pay for electronics recycling since the early 2000s, half do not have statewide recycling programs and those that do are evaluating how to make their programs work as the size, volume and value of recycled electronics change.

Many electronic devices should not be thrown away with regular trash because they contain hazardous materials, such as mercury and lead, which can seep into soil and groundwater. And much of the metal, plastic and glass in devices can be recycled.

California became the first state to pass a law mandating “e-cycling” — electronic recycling or recycling e-waste — in 2003. Under its program, consumers pay a fee that supports e-cycling when they buy a product. The remaining 24 states and D.C. put the cost of e-cycling programs on manufacturers, often by requiring them to pay for the collection and processing of a certain amount of e-waste based on how much they sell within the state.

Five states — Connecticut, Maine, Oregon, Vermont and Washington — have “centralized” or “convenience-based” programs requiring electronics makers to help pay for local drop-off centers.

This patchwork of laws, coupled with a variety of registration and reporting requirements, makes compliance difficult for manufacturers, said Walter Alcorn, a vice president at the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA).

States with recycling quotas can see unanticipated costs when a manufacturer meets its annual goal and stops paying for local programs.

Initially, the CEA, which represents retailers and manufacturers, lobbied for laws requiring consumers to bear recycling costs, as they do in California. Now the group is working with states to make existing laws similar across states and more agreeable to the industry.

“We want to see recycling incorporated into these corporate business models,” Alcorn said. “That’s where they can thrive and companies can get creative in getting their customers to bring back their used products.”

State laws that require manufacturers to pay for a set amount of e-cycling can backfire when annual recycling goals are met before the end of the year and manufacturers stop participating, said Resa Dimino, a senior adviser at the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI).

When that happens, nonprofits and state and local governments are left to either pay for recycling efforts themselves or shut them down, she said.

PSI provides technical and policy support to states with e-cycling laws and Dimino said that modifying programs so producers are required to keep paying for recycling collection, even after they’ve met their quota, is one way states could maintain manufacturer financing.

Manufacturers in Washington and Oregon pay for municipalities to have a collection sites, Dimino said. Access to recycling centers makes it easy for residents to recycle and, without quotas, the states don’t have to worry about suddenly losing manufacturers’ funding. E-cycling in those states is more stable as a result.

Washington and Oregon have some of the highest rates of e-cycling per capita in the country, but experts warn against state comparisons because the products designated for recycling vary from state to state.

As electronic devices become smaller and people hold on to them longer, there’s sometimes a different problem: it may be difficult for electronics companies to collect enough recycled materials to meet the state-imposed quotas, said Allison Schumacher, a policy manager with CEA.

She points to recent reforms of an e-cycling law in South Carolina to give antitrust protection to electronics makers so they can collaborate on financing strategies, selecting vendors and partnering with local governments.

Schumacher said the reforms, which are in their first year, will give manufacturers the flexibility to meet state recycling requirements. She hopes other states will be able to use it as a model.

“We’ve always been concerned with the idea of having these arbitrary targets, they don’t necessarily mean anything,” Schumacher said.

Manufacturers’ ability to meet recycling quotas also might decline because there are fewer cathode ray tubes (CRTs) in the recycling stream. CRTs, a component of bulky older televisions and computer monitors, usually containing leaded glass, have largely faded out of production since 2010.

Heavy CRT devices helped manufacturers meet their recycling weight requirements, but at this point fewer of them are entering the waste stream. Once they are gone, meeting recycling goals will be harder, Schumacher said.

“I would say that we’re probably now peaking on the return for CRTs,” Schumacher said. “We’re past the halfway point.”

Some states, such as Washington, have leveled off in CRT recycling, Dimino said, but the real impact on e-cycling of the demise of CRTs and the upswing of smaller and longer-lasting handheld devices is yet to be seen.

Alcorn predicted it would be more difficult to get rid of CRT devices in coming years because they are not valuable to manufacturers, even though they contribute significantly to weight quotas.

When electronics are recycled they are either refurbished for resale or broken down to have their commodities, such as plastic and metal, sold by manufacturers or recycling companies.

“You have to use a lot of energy to get the lead out of this glass,” Alcorn said. “It’s better if you find something where the leaded glass is useful (and) the demand has faded considerably.”

States without formal e-cycling programs are not without recycling opportunities. Programs in those states are supported by companies that host electronics buyback programs as well as nonprofit and local government initiatives, said Jason Linnell, director of the National Center for Electronics Recycling (NCER).

“States that don’t have the laws tend to be the ones that don’t have a number of other environmental laws on the books anyway,” he said.

Instead of advocating for more state laws, NCER helps states implement existing laws more efficiently. Linnell said he does not expect more statewide laws to pass in coming years.

In Massachusetts, where CRTs have been banned from landfills and trash incinerators since 2000, no statewide program exists and the burden of recycling falls to municipalities, said Brooke Nash, who manages recycling for the state’s environmental agency.

Initially the state provided grants to municipalities so they could afford e-cycling, but that has since ceased. Lawmakers have made several unsuccessful attempts to pass a statewide law, and they are expected to try again in 2016.

But Massachusetts does benefit in some ways from being surrounded by other states that force manufacturers to support e-cycling, Nash said. Because electronics makers and third party recycling vendors come to Massachusetts to collect e-waste, the cost of recycling has actually come down in that state.

“We are riding the coattails of the regional market,” she said.

Photo: Some people will carelessly throw away fancy electronics like Apple’s iPhone 6S in a few years when the phone is no longer new. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach

States Rush To Regulate Drones Ahead Of Federal Guidelines

States Rush To Regulate Drones Ahead Of Federal Guidelines

By Sarah Breitenbach, Stateline.org, (TNS)

WASHINGTON — In New Hampshire you can’t use a drone to harass a hunter. California lawmakers don’t want you to fly an unmanned aircraft near a forest fire. And in Texas you better not pilot one anywhere near the state capitol.

In the absence of federal regulations, states are eager to pass their own policies on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), mandating everything from where drones can be flown to whether law enforcement can use them to gather evidence. But advocates for the technology, which is growing in popularity both commercially and among hobbyists, say legislatures are overstepping their authority and hamstringing an industry ripe for growth.

According to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), an industry-supported group, at least six states — Florida, Minnesota, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon and Virginia — have passed legislation restricting the commercial use of drones. Another eight have restrictive legislation pending.

More broadly, 45 states considered at least 156 bills relating to drones this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Nineteen of those states passed legislation targeting the use of commercial drones as well as the use of devices flown privately or by law enforcement; another four adopted resolutions.

In California, however, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a measure Wednesday that would have made flying a drone less than 350 feet above private property without consent a trespassing violation.

Tom McMahon, a spokesman for AUVSI, said the legislation posed a number of challenges for commercial drone operations such as delivery services that need to fly long distances, likely over private property, to serve customers.

An AUVSI study projected that the first decade of fully integrating drones into California’s airspace would bring more than 18,000 jobs and an economic impact of $14 billion to the state. Across the country, AUVSI estimates commercial drone use could create more than 100,000 jobs and $82 billion in economic impact.

Those projections, though, rely on pending Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations to integrate drones into the U.S. airspace, job growth in the industry, the availability of financing and capital for drone purchasers and manufacturers, and other economic conditions.

Laws specifically regulating how drones can be used are largely unnecessary, McMahon said. Existing state-level policies on privacy, trespassing and harassment can be used to address illegal acts committed with drones, he said.

“It’s a new technology, but don’t restrict the technology,” McMahon said. “Instead, prosecute the person who is using the technology maliciously.”

But existing laws aren’t enough to protect people from risks associated with data collection by commercial drones, said Jeramie Scott of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a nonprofit that advocates for privacy regulations.

Without more comprehensive laws, companies could expand surveillance techniques, Scott said. For instance, they could use drones to collect personal or location details from cellphones, via license plate scanners or facial recognition software, and provide or sell that information to law enforcement or to other businesses.

“The current laws might address individual use of drones in terms of the malicious activities somebody might do,” Scott said. “But they don’t address the bulk collection of information of people in public.”

It is illegal to fly commercial drones in the United States, though the FAA is developing rules to regulate commercial flights of small UAVs.

There is little agreement on the ultimate scope of such federal regulations. Industry advocates such as McMahon and Michael Drobac, executive director for the Small UAV Coalition, say only the FAA can regulate the nation’s airspace, and they dismiss state efforts to regulate drones as empty attempts to weigh in on a hot topic.

But privacy advocates like Scott say a federal standard would create a baseline that states could supersede if they wanted to create stricter privacy laws.

In the meantime, as the FAA works on drone regulations, the agency has granted more than 1,000 exemptions for businesses to use the aircrafts.

But the exempt companies must follow strict rules, McMahon said. The drones can only fly up to 500 feet in altitude and only in daylight. Final FAA rules will, hopefully, expand when and where companies can fly, he said.

Drobac called the California legislation a “diabolically bad bill” and said the law, and others like it, were stifling innovation. “Titillation and hysteria are leading to really bad state laws.”

Scott and EPIC said state laws can be a good first step, but they want the FAA to do more. The FAA has said that privacy issues are beyond its purview, leading EPIC to sue the agency in an attempt to force its officials to address privacy concerns raised by the use of drones. “Companies using drones should be required to inform the public of the information they plan to collect, how that information will be used and the policies regarding retention of the information and the sharing of the information,” Scott said.

While already popular among hobbyists and amateur aerial photographers, drones are being used in a rapidly growing number of industries, Drobac said. In 2014, the FAA estimated as many as 7,500 small commercially operated drones could be in use by 2018, if the necessary regulations are put in place. The devices can be used by realtors to showcase properties, by utility companies to safely inspect cellphone towers and high-voltage power lines, and by farmers to monitor crops.

“It’s going to save lives; it’s going to create efficiencies,” Drobac said.

Legislatures are not the only bodies imposing limits on drone use. Last month, the University of Arkansas banned drone flights over its campus without approval, and the skies will have to be clear during high school football games in Broward County, Florida.

The American Civil Liberties Union has not called for regulation of privately used drones because, according to ACLU attorney Chad Marlow, most privacy concerns can be covered by existing laws.

He said many state proposals — like New Hampshire’s application of existing harassment standards to the use of drones to observe hunters — could hamper public knowledge of illegal activity.

“It’s dangerous and not necessary,” Marlow said.

Eager to protect civil liberties, a handful of states are setting rules for how governments and law enforcement can use UAVs for surveillance and evidence collection.

In North Dakota, state Rep. Rick Becker, a Republican from Bismarck, wanted to pass legislation to force police officers to obtain warrants before using drones to collect evidence.

“I wanted it to be fairly encompassing and good model legislation,” he said. “(Something that) addressed civil liberties, but wasn’t technophobic.”

Becker also wanted to forbid law enforcement from arming drones with weapons. But, in passing the legislation, lawmakers stripped some of that language from the bill, effectively making North Dakota the first state to allow police to equip drones with nonlethal weapons like rubber bullets and tear gas.

Nadia Kayyali, an activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit focused on civil liberties and technology, said the potential for law enforcement to use weaponized drones is concerning and many proposed limits don’t do enough to protect people from unwarranted surveillance.

“It definitely feels like states are doing this piecemeal and they’re not doing very much,” Kayyali said.

An ideal privacy law, the nonprofit says, would require at a minimum that police obtain a warrant in order to use a drone, that commercial use of drones be subject to privacy protection and reporting requirements, and that standards for media and private drone use be created that balance privacy and the First Amendment.

“When it comes to innovation,” Kayyali said, “we don’t want to stifle that.”

Photo: Eager to protect civil liberties, a handful of states are setting rules for how governments and law enforcement can use UAVs for surveillance and evidence collection. Lima Pix/Flickr