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Posted on Techdirt - 24 March 2021 @ 1:38pm

Drone Company Wants To Sell Cops A Drone That Can Break Windows, Negotiate With Criminals

from the did-we-mention-it-breaks-windows dept

A drone manufacturer really really wants cops to start inviting drones to their raiding parties. This will bring "+ whatever" to all raiding party stats, apparently. BRINC Drones is here to help... and welcomes users to question the life choices made by company execs that led to the implementation of this splash page:

If these cops don't really look like cops to you, you're not alone. And by "you," I also mean BRINC Drones, which apparently wants to attract the warriors-in-a-war-zone mindset far too common in law enforcement. BRINC has a new drone -- one that presents itself as warlike as its target audience.

Drones are definitely an integral part of the surveillance market. BRINC wants to make them an integral part of the "drug raids and standoffs with reluctant arrestees" market. Sure, anyone can smash a window. But how cool would it be if a drone could do it?

The LEMUR is built by BRINC Drones to help police locate, isolate, and communicate with suspects. It has an encrypted cellphone link for two-way communication and can right itself if it crashes upside down. But it’s that remarkable glass smasher that sets it apart from the many other police drones we’ve seen.

BRINC says the 5-inch blade has tungsten teeth and can spin at up to 30,000 RPM. It’s enough to break tempered, automotive, and most residential glass. It’s an add-on feature to the drone, but it can be quickly attached with three thumb screws.

Whatever tactical gains might be made by a two-way communication device for negotiations will presumably be undone by the Black Mirror-esque destruction of windows by a remotely controlled flying nuisance. Assuming the suspect isn't able to, I don't know, throw a coat over the drone, negotiations will proceed between the human person and the bug-like drone sitting on the ground in front of them.

And let's not underplay the window-smashing. Cops do love them some broken windows. Break a window, justify your policing, as the old "broken windows" philosophy goes. "Command presence" is the term often deployed to excuse the physical destruction that precedes physical violence by police officers. Disorient and disarm. That's why cops smash all the doors and windows they can when raiding houses.

But if you give cops a specialized tool that is cheap to buy and cheap to replace, it will swiftly move from a last resort to Plan A. Case in point: flashbang grenades. These are not harmless weapons. They are war weapons designed to disorient lethal forces. Instead of being used in only the most desperate of situations, they're used as bog standard raid initiators. That's how they end up in the beds of toddlers, resulting in severe burns -- something the involved cops claimed was an innocent mistake. How could they have know the house might have contained children, they said stepping over a multitude of children's toys scattered across the lawn of the house they were raiding.

This drone will become as common as a flashbang grenade if they're cheap enough to obtain. The difference between a severely burned toddler and a flayed toddler is something the courts will get to sort out. And no matter how the court decision goes for cops, no one can put the skin back on injured toddlers. "By any means necessary," say drug warriors, forgetting the Constitution and a bunch of other state-level safeguards are in place to supposedly prevent the ends from justifying the means.

But there's even more here. And the "more" is inadvertently hilarious. BRINC claims its drone can open doors. But that's only true if by "open" you mean "make incrementally more open." Check out the drone "opening" a door in this BRINC promotional video.


It gets funnier when you add physics to the mix. BRINC promises cops a warlike machine. Science says theses drones can be swiftly turned from aggressors to victims simply by allowing the drones to operate in the advertised manner.

Viewers of Battlebots know if a whirling blade comes into contact with a stationary object, at least SOME of the energy is absorbed by the blade. A 2.4-pound drone would be knocked reeling from a 30,000 rpm collision. The video doesn’t actually show that moment of impact, but the fact it hits the floor upside down suggests there’s no fancy electronics or damping to keep it stable.

Sure, we can laugh at this now. And we can hope our local law enforcement officials aren't so taken in by a presentation that keeps its boots slick with saliva. But tech will keep moving forward and BRINC's fantasies will edge closer to reality.

But what we have to ask ourselves (and hope our government agencies will consider) is how much this actually might subtract from the deadly human costs of police-citizen interactions. Sending a drone smashing through a window hardly sounds like de-escalation, even if the end result is a walkie-talkie hitching a ride on a modded tech toy. There's still a lot of intrinsic value in human interactions. Putting a flying buffer between law enforcement and those they're attempting to "save" sounds like a recipe for more violence, rather than less. The physical approach of dystopia through a recently shattered window is hardly calming, especially for those already on edge.

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Posted on Techdirt - 24 March 2021 @ 3:35am

Sidney Powell Asks Court To Dismiss Defamation Lawsuit Because She Was Just Engaging In Heated Hyperbole... Even When She Was Filing Lawsuits

from the behold-the-kraken-and-the-unholy-mess-it-has-made-on-the-carpet! dept

In January, Dominion Voting Systems sued former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell for defamation. The voting machine maker claimed the self-titled "Kraken" was full of shit -- and knowingly so -- when she opined (and litigated!) that Dominion had ties to the corrupt Venezuelan government and that it had rigged the election against Donald Trump by changing votes or whatever (Powell's assertions and legal filings were based on the statements of armchair experts and conspiracy theorists).

Sidney Powell has responded to Dominion's lawsuit with what is, honestly, about the best defense she could possibly muster. And that defense is, "I have zero credibility when it comes to voting fraud allegations and certainly any reasonable member of the public would know that." From Powell's motion to dismiss [PDF]:

Determining whether a statement is protected involves a two-step inquiry: Is the statement one which can be proved true or false? And would reasonable people conclude that the statement is one of fact, in light of its phrasing, context and the circumstances surrounding its publication…

Analyzed under these factors, and even assuming, arguendo, that each of the statements alleged in the Complaint could be proved true or false, no reasonable person would conclude that the statements were truly statements of fact.

In other words, these allegations were just Powell's "heated" opinions and should be viewed as protected expression. These wild accusations based on hearsay and YouTube videos were nothing more than contributions to the "robust discourse" surrounding the 2020 election.

As political speech, it lies at the core of First Amendment protection; such speech must be “uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.” N.Y. Times Co., 376 U.S. at 270. Additionally, in light of all the circumstances surrounding the statements, their context, and the availability of the facts on which the statements were based, it was clear to reasonable persons that Powell’s claims were her opinions and legal theories on a matter of utmost public concern. Those members of the public who were interested in the controversy were free to, and did, review that evidence and reached their own conclusions—or awaited resolution of the matter by the courts before making up their minds. Under these circumstances, the statements are not actionable.

Maybe so, as far as public appearances go. But Powell also made the same allegations in her election-related litigation. Somehow, Powell evidently feels this calling her statements nothing more than "protected expression" should contribute to her defense against defamation claims, rather than adding to the weaponry Dominion can deploy against her.

All the allegedly defamatory statements attributed to Defendants were made as part of the normal process of litigating issues of momentous significance and immense public interest. The statements were tightly focused on the legal theories they were advancing in litigation and the evidence they had presented, or were going to present, to the courts in support of their claims that the presidential election was stolen, denying millions of Americans their constitutional rights to “one person, one vote” by deliberately mis-counting ballots, diminishing the weight of certain ballots while enhancing the weight of others and otherwise manipulating the vote tabulation process to achieve a pre-determined result.

It's a solid defense. Sort of. Claiming your wild speculation was just mildly-informed wild speculation that anyone of a reasonable mind would have viewed as nothing more than highly opinionated hot takes on election fraud is a good way to get out of defamation lawsuits. Powell isn't wrong here: discussions about issues of public interest are given more First Amendment leeway, especially when both parties involved are public figures.

But this defense ignores one critical fact -- one Dominion has accounted for. This "robust discussion" wasn't limited to press conferences and Fox News appearances. It was also the basis for lawsuits filed by Sidney Powell -- lawsuits in which she presented these same allegations as facts backed by sworn statements. Sure, it takes a court to sort the baseless allegations from the actionable ones, but filing a lawsuit in a court and signing it means the plaintiff believes all allegations to be true until otherwise proven false. And while there are some protections for allegations made in court, it's pretty tough to argue averred statements of fact are also just harmless opinion tossed into the highly charged political ether.

Powell's response claims her comments fall into the "exaggeration and hyperbole" end of the spectrum -- an area of opinion that gets a lot of First Amendment coverage because it's both heated and open to interpretation by "reasonable" people. But "exaggeration and hyperbole" isn't generally welcome in sworn pleadings. Knowingly shoveling bullshit into a courtroom and asking the court to weigh in on its relevance and honesty isn't something courts tend to tolerate. It's this exact thing that has led to Michigan state officials asking the court system to sanction Powell for her bad faith litigation.

We'll see where the court takes it from here, but it's hard to see a court responding favorably to a motion to dismiss that basically says no one should take Powell's allegations seriously… except for courts handling cases in which she's the one filing complaints.

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Posted on Techdirt - 23 March 2021 @ 3:53pm

Connecticut Legislature Offers Up Bill That Would Make Prison Phone Calls Free

from the let's-get-this-trending! dept

A lot of rights just vanish into the ether once you're incarcerated. Some of this makes sense. You have almost no privacy rights when being housed by the state. Your cell can be searched and your First Amendment right to freedom of association can be curtailed in order to prevent criminal conspiracies from being implemented behind bars.

But rights don't disappear completely. The government has an obligation to make sure you're cared for and fed properly -- something that rarely seems to matter to jailers.

Treating people as property has negative outcomes. Not only are "good" prisoners expected to work for pennies a day, but their families are expected to absorb outlandish expenses just to remain in contact with their incarcerated loved ones. The government loves its paywalls and it starts with prison phone services.

Cellphone adoption changed the math for service providers. After a certain point, customers were unwilling to pay per text message. And long distance providers realized they could do almost nothing to continue to screw over phone users who called people outside of their area codes. Some equity was achieved once providers realized "long distance" was only a figure of profitable speech and text messages were something people expected to be free, rather than a service that paid phone companies per character typed.

But if you're in prison, it's still 1997. The real world is completely different but your world is controlled by companies that know how to leverage communications into a profitable commodity. As much as we, the people, apparently hate the accused and incarcerated, they're super useful when it comes to funding local spending. Caged people are still considered "taxpayers," even when they can't generate income or vote in elections.

So, for years, we've chosen to additionally punish inmates by turning basic communication options into high priced commodities. And we've decided they don't have any right to complain, even when the fees are astronomical or prison contractors are either helping law enforcement listen in to conversations with their legal reps or making it so prohibitively expensive only the richest of us can support an incarcerated person's desire to remain connected to their loved ones.

Connecticut legislators have had enough. Whether it will be enough to flip the status quo table remains to be seen. But, for now, a bill proposed by the Connecticut House aims to strip the profit from for-profit service providers, as well as the for-profit prisons that pad their budgets with kickbacks from prison phone service providers. (h/t Kathy Morse)

Connecticut holds the dismal distinction of being the state with the most expensive prison phone calls in the country. But a new bill in the state legislature may soon make Connecticut the first state to make prison phone calls free.

Senate Bill 520 would require Connecticut state prisons to offer telephone or other communication to incarcerated people free of charge, at a minimum of 90 minutes per day. The state could not collect any revenue from operating these services.

Seems like a reasonable response. 90 minutes per day should make most calls from prisons free for all but the most talkative. And I hope those profiting from these services socked some money away for a legislative rainy day. They've certainly had the opportunity. As this report notes, prison call services raked in over $13 million in fees in 2018 alone. There's no reason to believe this amount declined in 2019 or 2020, especially when 2020 gave people millions of reasons to avoid in-person visits with anyone.

The bill [PDF] is short and sweet -- somewhat of a surprise considering it was crafted by public servants who often seem to believe they're being paid by the word. Here it is in its entirety:


Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Assembly convened:

That title 18 of the general statutes be amended to require the Department of Correction to provide voice or other telecommunication services to incarcerated persons free of cost for a minimum of ninety minutes per day.

Statement of Purpose: To provide certain cost-free telecommunication services for incarcerated persons.

As it says on the tin, the purpose of the legislation is to provide prisoners with free phone calls, rather than allow them to be subjected to per-minute fees last viewed as "reasonable" sometime in the early 1990s. (And only viewed as "reasonable" by long distance providers, not the captive market they provided service to. [And "captive" means people who have few options in terms of service providers, not just those locked behind physical bars.])

Expect significant pushback. And it won't just be coming from prison phone service providers like Securus. It will also come from local law enforcement agencies which receive a percentage of these fees -- something most people would call a kickback, even if law enforcement continues to argue that it isn't.

If this passes, this will be the first successful effort that covers a whole state. Pockets of prison phone fee resistance have been found elsewhere prior to this (New York City, San Francisco) but it has yet to be implemented at state level. This bill would be the first to make it illegal to charge for prison phone calls across an entire state.

This is the sort of legislation that should be adopted across the nation. Prisons -- for better or worse -- are a public service. They shouldn't be subject to the predatory behavior of private companies. Making it prohibitively expensive to talk to loved ones should be considered "cruel," if not "unusual." It serves no deterrent effect. All it does is enforce the unspoken fact that people in prisons are no longer considered "people." That's not how our justice system is supposed to work.

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Posted on Techdirt - 23 March 2021 @ 12:07pm

North Carolina Legislators Push Bill That Would Prevent Cops, Prosecutors From Charging Six-Year-Olds For Picking Flowers

from the yeah-i've-never-seen-all-those-words-in-that-order-before-either dept

This is today's law enforcement. While there are multiple societal and criminal problems that deserve full-time attention, our tax dollars are paying cops to turn our children into criminals. We don't have the luxury of pretending this isn't happening. Schools have welcomed cops into their confines, turning routine disciplinary problems into police matters.

While there may be some schools plagued by actual violent criminal activity, the stories that most often rise to the surface are those that involve violence by (uniformed) adults being inflicted on children. And I don't just mean legal minors -- a group that usually involves anyone under the age of 18. We're talking actual kids.

Here's a brief rundown of some notable cases involving "school resource officers, " a term that suggests these cops aren't actually just cops, but rather an integral part of the school disciplinary system. But when SROs deal with children, they treat children just like they treat hardened criminals.

This is a post about cops in schools I put together back in 2013. In this one, students were arrested for engaging in a water balloon fight, a 14-year-old was arrested for wearing an NRA shirt, and a DC cop gave a 10-year-old a concussion for ditching out on his music class. That's the tip of the ugly iceberg covered in this post.

But let's look at a few more incidents.

- Cops arrested a 12-year-old for pointing "finger guns" at classmates.

- Cops strip searched an 8-year-old while "investigating" feces found on a school bathroom floor.

- Orlando (FL) police officers arrested a six-year-old, zip tying her hands. One cop said the child looked like an "infant." The arresting officer was later fired for not asking permission to arrest someone under the age of 12.

- A five-year-old was hogtied by an SRO for allegedly "battering" a school employee.

That's how we've chosen to run schools in this nation. Students are just grist for the "criminal justice" mill when cops are involved. Problems better handled by administrators and parents are turned over to government employees with guns and a toolset that turns every misbehaving student into a criminal on the verge of becoming hardened.

But that's only the entry point. Cuffing elementary school kids and hauling them off to face criminal charges is only the beginning. This dumps them into a system that is inclined to believe cops and view accused persons -- no matter their age -- as items to be processed and disposed of.

This report for the Winston-Salem (NC) Journal shows what happens once cops are done turning misbehaving students into criminal defendants. If you think this nation won't tolerate criminal court proceedings involving kindergarten students, well… you just don't know what we're capable of.

The 6-year-old dangled his legs above the floor as he sat at the table with his defense attorney, before a North Carolina judge.

He was accused of picking a tulip from a yard at his bus stop, his attorney Julie Boyer said, and he was on trial in juvenile court for injury to real property.

The boy's attention span was too short to follow the proceedings, Boyer said, so she handed him crayons and a coloring book.

"I asked him to color a picture," she said, "so he did."

That's just the beginning of the report: a case involving a picked flower and a six-year-old who had no idea what the criminal justice system was willing to do to him. In child porn cases, minors are considered unable to give consent to the sexual acts perpetrated upon them. But during criminal proceedings against minors, we're apparently supposed to believe minors know the intricacies of local ordinances and only violate them with the intent of committing criminal acts.

Sure, the NC Juvenile Justice Division may require parents to take part in court proceedings against their children, but it also apparently expects children to defend themselves against criminal charges -- something they're obviously incapable of doing. Hiring a lawyer helps but, as can be seen by this case, it doesn't prevent courts from following through with the ridiculous motions of, say, prosecuting a six-year-old for picking a flower.

Things might change in North Carolina, though. The Juvenile Justice division has offered its support of legislation that would raise the minimum age for criminal prosecution to 10. The Justice division would actually like to see it raised to 14, but state legislators seem unwilling to protect prepubescents from the machinations of a justice system that relies heavily on plea deals and -- despite stating otherwise -- tends to view accused people as guilty.

Then there's the other problem, which probably can't be fixed with legislation. The juvenile "justice" system plays favorites, starting with the law enforcement agency performing the arrest.

From 2015 through 2018 nearly 7,300 complaints were filed against children age 6 to 11 years old, according to numbers from the state Juvenile Justice section.

Of those complaints, 47% were against Black children, 40% were against white children and 7% against Hispanic or Latino children.

In general, 22% of the state's population is Black, 70% is white and 10% is Hispanic.

That's how it works in North Carolina. White kids are usually taken to their parents. Minority kids are fed to the system. And the poorer you are, the worse it is. Courts punish kids and parents who are unable to attend hearings or court-ordered programs due to a lack of reliable transportation or conflicts with work schedules. For wealthy residents, court cases involving their kids are a mild inconvenience. For everyone else, they're capable of disrupting lives, ending employment, and saddling families with the stigma of criminal convictions. And all for doing nothing more than picking a flower at a bus stop.

Fortunately for parents, judges are willing to exercise the discretion law enforcement agencies and prosecutors won't. The child who picked a tulip had his case dismissed once the judge got to see the facts of the case. But even this dismissal meant his parents had to ensure their child appeared in court and had legal representation.

Legal defenders of children point out this isn't the only time prosecutors have been willing to throw the book at minors legally (and mentally) incapable of defending themselves against criminal charges.

Others cases have involved young children who have broken windows at a construction site with older friends and stood on a chair and thrown a pencil at a teacher, attorneys said. Another case involved sexual exploration with another child, attorneys said.

One of Mitchell's youngest clients was a 9-year-old with autism whose response to a teacher resulted in him being found guilty of assault on a government official.

Even if the state legislature manages to raise the age to 10, North Carolina will still be one of the worst states in the nation when it comes to accusing children of criminal acts. Only 12 states still set the minimum for prosecutions at ten. Most go higher. Some don't specify an age at all, apparently believing prosecutors are capable of exercising discretion. But, for years, North Carolina scraped along the bottom, allowing prosecutions against children as young as six years of age. That law was passed in 1979, but there's nothing on record that indicates why legislators thought justice would be better served by running kids this young through the system.

Then there's the schools, which are as least as culpable as any of the other government participants in the prosecution of children barely old enough to attend school.

Most of the complaints for kids under 12 come from schools, according to Juvenile Justice data.

From 2015 to 2018, 87% of the complaints against 6-year-olds and 58% of the complaints against 10-year-olds were from schools.

If administrators can't figure out how to effectively discipline their newest additions to their rosters without involving people with guns and prosecutors who wouldn't know discretion if it raided their house and arrested their children, then it definitely needs to be addressed with legislation that alters the contours of these judgment calls. Administrators have failed to exercise good judgment. So have the prosecutors who have relied on similarly logic-free cops to feed them underage defendants.

With any luck, the law will pass and we'll only be subjected to horror stories about kids over the age of ten being prosecuted for throwing pencils or picking flowers or whatever. Unfortunately, mindset can't be legislated. And, as long as administrators would rather throw children to the uniformed wolves for minor infractions, the justice system will never find itself running low on pre-teen defendants.

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Posted on Techdirt - 22 March 2021 @ 1:42pm

Drone Manufacturers Are Amping Up Surveillance Capabilities In Response To Demand From Government Agencies

from the watched-over-by-machines-of-everlasting-antagonism dept

The CBP loves its drones. It can't say why. I mean, it may lend them out to whoever comes asking for one, but there's very little data linking hundreds of drone flights to better border security. Even the DHS called the CBP's drone program an insecure mess -- one made worse by the CBP's lenient lending policies, which allowed its drones to stray far from the borders to provide dubious assistance to local law enforcement agencies.

The CBP's thirst for drones -- with or without border security gains -- is unslakeable. Thomas Brewster reports for Forbes that the agency is very much still in the drone business. It may no longer be using Defense Department surplus to fail at doing its job, but it's still willing to spend taxpayer money to achieve negligible gains in border security. And if the new capabilities present new constitutional issues, oh well.

This year, America’s border police will test automated drones from Skydio, the Redwood City, Calif.-based startup that on Monday announced it had raised an additional $170 million in venture funding at a valuation of $1 billion. That brings the total raised for Skydio to $340 million. Investors include blue-chip VC shops like Andreessen Horowitz, AI chipmaker Nvidia and even Kevin Durant, the NBA star.

The CBP is not alone. It has used government drones and private party drones to engage in border surveillance. But as prices continue to fall and the gap between government and private capabilities continues to narrow, the most bang for taxpayer buck may also be the most banging of constitutional rights only minimally observed near our nation's borders.

For the inland police, it's the same thing. Buy first and let the courts sort it out. Capabilities move drone surveillance far past the limitations of mounted cameras and law enforcement officer eyes and ears. Pervasive, continuous surveillance is only a few dollars away. Sometimes, it's even free (as in taxpayer-funded lunches, not free as in freedom.)

By Forbes’ calculation, based on documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and Skydio’s public announcements, more than 20 police agencies across the U.S. now have Skydios as part of their drone fleets, including major cities like Austin and Boston, though many got one for free as part of a company project to help out during the pandemic.

The tech sector gains. So do its government patrons. Caesar has been rendered unto, but unto citizens, what? Well, the opportunity to be surveilled in greater detail for pennies on the dollar.

[Skydio] claims to be shipping the most advanced AI-powered drone ever built: a quadcopter that costs as little as $1,000, which can latch on to targets and follow them, dodging all sorts of obstacles and capturing everything on high-quality video. Skydio claims that its software can even predict a target’s next move, be that target a pedestrian or a car.

Seems like a problem. Surely we can count on the multiple layers of oversight to ensure we're not just characters in surveillance fanfic composed by people who never met a dystopia they haven't liked.

Nope. Skydio is run by all-American boys who see themselves as updated Hardy Boys, providing tools to law enforcement to track down The Smugglers of Pirates Cove or whatever. The heads of Skydio rolled through MIT and Google before settling down to sell cheap surveillance gear to law enforcement agencies. And now they're lobbying the FAA to obtain clearance for surveillance drones to operate in air traffic space -- something the FAA tends to deny to hobbyists and researchers due to the possibility of interfering with airport operations.

Skydio has some big competitors in the market. DJI has taken the lead in supplying all and sundry with drones. But the company has taken a hit due to its link to Chinese manufacturing. Skydio is all about its USA location. It may use some Chinese components, but it assembles its products domestically, making it a safer bet for government agencies that have to comply with the latest wind-guided legislation thrust upon it by legislators who love scoring political points more than they love serving their constituents.

It's not just the CBP and a handful of local cops using Skydio's drones -- ones capable of keeping a very close eye on the movements of multiple people at one time. The DEA has also ordered some high-end Skydio drones to help it with whatever it imagines to be its primary purpose at this point. (The Drug War has been lost. We can only steal from the wallets of those still on the battlefield.)

DJI is hamstrung by anti-Chinese activity. But it will be back. Skydio -- which sells high-end cameras mounted to high-end drones -- doesn't face these obstacles. The winner of this arms race really doesn't matter. Drones will ultimately take over the job done by aircraft with higher buy-in costs and higher maintenance requirements.

And in the CBP's case, the eventual winners of this tech race will circle overland, unrestricted by constitutional niceties. The CBP is mostly out of the reach of courts and case law. Anything within 100 miles of a border (or port) [or international airport] is considered fair game for intrusive searches and surveillance. We have people in power who can change this. But it seems unlikely they will. A vague threat is all that's needed to expand government power. Reigning it back in requires thousands of dollars and voluminous legal arguments. The status quo only requires a shrug.

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Posted on Techdirt - 22 March 2021 @ 12:07pm

Cop's Lies About A Traffic Stop Are Exposed By A Home Security Camera Located Across The Street

from the golden-age-of-surveillance-of-public-officials dept

Cops lie.

This is undeniable. But why do cops lie? There seems to be little reason for it. Qualified immunity protects them against all but their most egregious rights violations. Internal investigations routinely clear them for all but their most egregious acts of misconduct. And police union contracts make it almost impossible to fire bad cops, no matter what they've done.

So, why do they lie? If I had to guess, it's because they've been granted so much deference by those adjudicating their behavior that "my word against theirs" has pretty much become the standard for legal proceedings. If a cop can push a narrative without more pushback than the opposing party's sworn statements, the cop is probably going to win.

This reliance on unreliable narrators has been threatened by the ubiquity of recording devices. Some devices -- body cameras, dashcams -- are owned by cops. And, no surprise, they often "fail" to activate these devices when some shady shit is going down.

But there are tons of cameras cops don't control. Every smartphone has a camera. And nearly every person encountering cops has a smartphone. Then there's the plethora of home security cameras whose price point has dropped so precipitously they're now considered as accessible as tap water.

The cops can control their own footage. And they do. But they can't control everyone else's. And that's where they slip up. A narrative is only as good as its supporting evidence. Cops refuse to bring their own, especially when it contradicts their narrative. But they can't stop citizens from recording their actions. This is a fact that has yet to achieve critical mass in the law enforcement community. A cop's word is only as good as its supporting facts. Going to court with alternative facts -- especially ones contradicted by nearby recording devices is a bad idea. (h/t TheUrbanDragon)

But that still doesn't stop cops from lying to courts. Cops in Lake Wales, Florida tried to claim a driver attacked them during a traffic stop -- something that could have resulted in a conviction on multiple felony charges. But camera footage obtained from a home security camera across the street from the traffic stop undermined the officers' sworn perjury:

A Lake Wales man, who could have been sent to prison for years based on the claims in a police report, was saved by a home surveillance camera. It showed he didn’t attack an officer, as claimed in the report.


Officer [Colt] Black’s report said, “Cordero immediately exited the driver door and began to charge towards my patrol vehicle.”

It also indicated Cordero approached the officer with closed fists.

Sounds like an attempted assault on police officers -- an assault only negated by the swift (and brutal) acts of officers on the scene. But here's what really happened, according to an unblinking eye located across the street.

Cordero stood by his car for more than 20 seconds.


Black approached Cordero about 30 seconds later.

“He sucker-punched me from the back, right here, cracked a piece of my tooth out. I landed on the ground,” Cordero said.

Despite this being an assault of a citizen by Officer Black (with an assist by Officer Travis Worley), Officer Black claimed he "delivered an elbow strike" because he thought Cordero was reaching for a weapon. This lie was added to the lie that Cordero had "approached" the officers with "closed fists." The security camera recorded the whole thing, which showed officers attacked Cordero as he stood motionless by his car.

So, what was the excuse given after security cam footage showed Officer Black had lied? Officer Black lied again. He claimed he was unable to accurately recall the traffic stop because it was so "stressful."

After Cordero shared the footage with police, Officer Black wrote in another report, "I believe my perception was altered due to the high stress of the incident.”

If a regular traffic stop is so stressful it alters officers' recollection of events, no officer -- or at least not this officer -- should be considered trustworthy when it comes to testifying about traffic stops or any other unrecorded interactions with citizens. Presumably most interactions are stressful. But that's the job. And if the stress makes you make shit up about incidents that implicate a host of constitutional rights and people's actual physical freedom, you probably shouldn't be a cop.

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Posted on Techdirt - 19 March 2021 @ 5:54am

Cricut Hastily Walks Back Plan To Charge Cutting Machine Owners $10/Month To Fully Use Their Purchases

from the lol-check-out-these-Cricut-tools dept

Cricut -- the leading brand of home use CNC machines -- has decided to alienate the people you'd think it would most want to embrace: its paying customers. Cricut machines allow users to upload designs and put their machines to work cutting materials from paper to cloth to metal to whatever will fit into the machines, giving hobbyists and craftmakers control of a small-scale manufacturing operation. They're pretty amazing. And they're pretty expensive.

They're also subject to a whole lot of rules -- some written and some unwritten. Cricut has made efforts to lock competitors out of the market by limiting cutting tool compatibility and restricting sheet size to increase sales of its own line of Cricut raw materials. Most designer paper comes in a standard 8.5" x 11" size. Sheet size in Cricuts is limited to 6.75" x 9.25", meaning off-the-rack, non-Circut-branded papers are about 20% useless.

Things like this help Cricut make the most of its multiple revenue streams. Cricut has apparently decided it has at least one too few revenue streams. As Hackaday reports, the company is now asking customers who've purchased printers to start paying the company in exchange for the privilege of fully utilizing their purchases.

[Cricut] has dropped a bombshell in the form of an update to the web-based design software that leaves their now very annoyed users with a monthly upload limit of 20 new designs unless they sign up for a Cricut Access Plan that costs $9.99 on monthly payments. Worse still, a screenshot is circulating online purporting to be from a communication with a Cricut employee attempting to clarify matters, in which it is suggested that machines sold as second-hand will be bricked by the company.

Well, that's at least two levels of suck contained in a single announcement. First, the decision to hit people who've already shelled out hundreds or thousands to Cricut with perpetual fees is inexplicable. Cricut isn't the only cutter on the market and a move like this just talks loyal users out of their loyalty and encourages them to explore their options. In exchange for smaller fees, Cricut seems willing to watch thousands of dollars exit the market for their competitors.

Second, the bricking of secondhand devices is pure bullshit. A Cricut is a Cricut. Anyone who bought one should have the right to sell it. And anyone buying one from a former user should rightfully expect it will be fully functional, not bricked by a company willing to compound its errors.

Fortunately, the company has listened to its users. It has dropped the rent program and said that anyone who buys a cutter before the end of this year will be grandfathered into the existing unlimited free program. Buyers who purchase one after December 31, 2021 will apparently be expected to purchase a subscription, which means this mini-debacle will be revisited later this year if Cricut refuses to drop its subscription program completely.

Cricut has also clarified that it's not moving forward with a plan to brick secondhand machines. New users will need to set up their own accounts, but the machines will function as normal.

All's well that ends well, I guess. But anyone outside of Cricut could have informed Cricut how this was going to play out. Chances are, some people inside Cricut realized that as well, but were overridden by those willing to ask what the market was willing to absorb, even if it meant shedding a few more reputation points.

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Posted on Techdirt - 18 March 2021 @ 3:43pm

Appeals Court Decision Shows The Cleveland PD Cares More About Being Lied To Than About Officers Killing Children

from the damned-by-its-own-legal-victory dept

In 2014, Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann exited his cop car and -- within seconds -- killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was playing with a toy gun in a city park.

Say what you will about Airsoft guns and their ability to mimic real guns, but Tamir Rice was never given a chance to drop his "gun," much less comply with orders that were punctuated by Officer Loehmann's gunshots. There were multiple failures en route to this tragedy, but even the dispatcher's failure to pass on the caller's suggestion that the "gun" was most likely a toy doesn't excuse the officer's actions. There was a chance to turn this into something that wouldn't result in death. But that course of action was never considered. Instead, in less than three seconds, Rice was shot and killed by an officer who never should have been a police officer.

That's not just me saying that. That's the Cleveland Police Department saying that. The PD very belatedly acknowledged its error in hiring Timothy Loehmann by firing him months later. But it was too late to undo the damage, the least of which was yet another PR black eye for the ultra-violent PD. Records from Loehmann's previous employer -- the Independence (OH) Police Department -- showed the officer was failing to deal with a number of personal issues that affected his daily performance. When he applied to become a Cleveland police officer, Loehmann omitted the fact that he had quit his job as an Independence officer rather than be fired.

A cop who should have never been a cop made a split-second decision to kill a 12-year-old black child. But that's not why Loehmann was fired. Killing 12-year-olds is acceptable, as long as internal investigations clear you. No, the unforgivable crime was Loehmann lying about his previous law enforcement experience. That's what bothered the Cleveland PD enough to fire him.

More than a half-decade later, this is the legacy the Cleveland PD has managed to secure, thanks to an Ohio Appeals Court decision [PDF]. Loehmann's firing was justified, but not because he spent less than two seconds dealing with a possibly non-threatening situation before depriving a Cleveland resident of his life. (via Courthouse News Service)

The Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association decided to dispute the firing of Loehmann. The Appeals Court disagrees, saying the city and the PD were correct to do so, even though it appears the officer was fired for the lesser of two evils.

Accordingly, we must follow well-established Ohio law and find that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the CPPA’s application to vacate the arbitration award. We therefore are unable to reach the merits of the CPPA’s appeal and overrule its assignment of error. Judgment affirmed.

That's how Loehmann's career ends in Cleveland: not with a bang but with a procedural whimper. The dismissal survives because the police union screwed up its appeal. Officer Loehmann's failed law enforcement career is shrugged into the record books with a procedural asterisk rather than a strong condemnation of his killing of a 12-year-old.

That's the biggest insult of all to taxpayers. The Cleveland PD found his killing of a 12-year-old boy acceptable. But it couldn't stomach being lied to. And, thanks to being tied up by police union contracts and arbitration agreements, the city had to jettison this trigger-happy cop over some resume embellishment rather than, you know, shedding the blood of innocents.

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Posted on Techdirt - 18 March 2021 @ 1:44pm

Data Shows The NYPD Seized 55,000 Phones In 2020; Returned Less Than 35,000 To Their Rightful Owners

from the whole-new-way-of-looking-at-public-funding dept

The Supreme Court said law enforcement needs to get warrants to search phones seized incident to an arrest. But that decision didn't have much to say about other seizures -- some that aren't linked to any arrests at all.

Lots of police departments take phones from people. The NYPD is one of the worst about taking phones. And it's definitely the worst when it comes to returning them. If someone's not willing to engage with the labyrinthine process required to secure their return, the phones remain in the hands of the Department.

The NYPD seized 55,511 cellphones last year, according to a disclosure report released yesterday. Most likely due to the pandemic, this number is actually markedly lower than the roughly 92,000 phones they seized in 2019. But another apparent consequence of the COVID era is that far fewer people jumped through the regulatory hoops necessary to get their phones back, meaning police kept nearly 40 percent of the phones taken in 2020.

As this report notes, nearly 85% of all seizures performed by the NYPD aren't related to any criminal charges against the person whose phone has been taken. One lawyer pointed out the NYPD officers took a shooting victim's phone from them while they recovering at the hospital, claiming they needed it for "evidence."

That's the black hole a bunch of these phones are falling into: evidence. The person they're taken from may just be a victim. But once it's considered evidence, the NYPD can hold onto it until its investigation concludes and any court proceedings are finished. This can take months or years.

Even if prosecutors manage to secure a quick plea deal, that's no guarantee someone can get their phone back. And it took a court order to keep the NYPD from trapping people's phones in a Catch-22 most residents couldn't bypass.

[T]he city previously required claimants to present two forms of ID in order to get their property back—even if police had seized the owner’s driver’s license. The settlement agreement puts strict limitations on seizure of driver’s licenses and cuts the ID requirement down to one.

All cops have to do is take a phone. Phone owners, however, have a whole set of hoops to jump through, even with this settlement in place. They have to take the property voucher to the District Attorney's office and ask for a release letter. The DA does not need to grant this request. And the Office has up to 15 days to respond to any requests. All the DA Office has to do is claim the phone is still needed for investigatory reasons and applicants/owners are out of luck. This can be appealed. The only other option is to wait for more time to pass and ask again. The DA's Office and the NYPD do not notify phone owners when their possessions are no longer needed by law enforcement. That's how the NYPD ends up holding onto more than 20,000 of the 55,000 phones they seized in 2020.

Just like civil forfeiture, seizing property under the pretense that it's needed as evidence directly benefits the NYPD.

[T]he 21,660 unclaimed phones that New York City took from citizens last year will wind up being auctioned. It’s not like the NYPD needs that money: those proceeds wouldn’t even put a dent in the 10.9 billion dollars the city spent that year to fund their police force.

This is the NYPD doing something just because it can. It clearly doesn't need most of what it seizes as evidence -- not when almost every criminal case ends with a plea deal. And it certainly doesn't need the spare change selling used phones generates. But when nothing stands between it and doing what it wants, it will do what it wants. No single phone makes much of a difference to the NYPD, but it makes a big difference to those they're taken from -- people who rely on them day in and day out to stay connected, get work done, and access any number of services.

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Posted on Techdirt - 18 March 2021 @ 10:44am

Forfeiture In Theory: TAKING DOWN DRUG LORDS! Forfeiture In Practice: Taking A Guy's TV And PlayStation During A Drug Raid

from the can't-make-a-drug-war-without-breaking-a-few-home-electronics dept

Asset forfeiture means taking everything that isn't nailed down. Why bother being selective? In most cases, it's pure profit for the law enforcement agency that performs the seizure. And since forfeitures are so rarely successfully challenged, it's pretty much a foolproof way to make a little extra cash. The citizens who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (in their own houses with their own possessions) are acceptable collateral damage.

We're in the middle of a war against drugs. Collateral damage should be expected. That's the viewpoint of drug warriors, even when the "acceptable" collateral damage means nothing more than law enforcement officers taking stuff just because they can.

Here's a rare successful motion for a return of property -- one filed against the Bay County (FL) Sheriff's Office by a person who had his stuff taken even though it was his father being charged with criminal acts. The son -- whose father had all charges dropped after passing away -- took on the Office and secured a ruling that should finally give him back what was taken from him. (via FourthAmendment.com)

Unfortunately, there are still some hurdles standing between the plaintiff and the 75-inch TV and PlayStation 4 taken by the Sheriff's Office during a raid of his father's house. One set of hurdles has already been cleared. But it involved getting the Office to not only admit it was lying about taking the property, but also admitting it had likely liquidated the seized items before it had legal permission to do so.

Here's how the Florida Court of Appeals details the events [PDF] leading up to its findings in favor of the plaintiff.

The Sheriff’s Office initially denied having taken these items, but ultimately admitted that it had. By the time of the hearing below, the Sheriff no longer had the items and did not know where they were.

So, that's the first part of the puzzle. The Office lied to the plaintiff, if not the court itself. And it had apparently gotten rid of the seized property prior to giving the deceased's son a chance to ask for its return. Despite this, the Sheriff's Office argued it lawfully possessed the property it could no longer locate because the "title" to the seized property would have automatically transferred to the Sheriff's Office sixty days after the "conclusion of a legal proceeding." The death of the accused started the sixty-day clock, according to the Sheriff.

Wrong, says the court. That 60-day transfer only goes into effect if the contested items were seized "pursuant to a lawful investigation." That's a pretty low bar but the Sheriff's Office failed to meet it.

At the hearing below, the Sheriff did not address, and therefore did not prove, whether Appellant’s TV and PlayStation were lawfully seized from his bedroom during a search related to his late father’s drug charges.

And that's where the lower court went wrong. It never bothered to make the Sheriff's Office establish the items -- seized from the plaintiff's bedroom -- were linked to the charges facing his father. Back it goes to the lower court where the Sheriff's Office will have to offer some evidence linking the property it can no longer locate to the charges no longer pending against the plaintiff's dead father. Good luck with that. Just because items are inside a house belonging to someone who sells drugs doesn't mean every item in the house was purchased with ill-gotten gains.

If no tenuous link was asserted then, there's no link to a lawful seizure, which means the clock on automatic transfer to the cop shop inventory isn't 60 days, but four years. The items are likely long gone. But the Sheriff's Office may soon find itself shelling out its own ill-gotten gains to replace the ones it apparently unlawfully took from the plaintiff during its drug warring.

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Posted on Techdirt - 17 March 2021 @ 1:34pm

After 40 Years Of Being Wrong, Texas Rangers Finally Decide Hypnosis Isn't A Viable Investigative Technique

from the when-modern-policing-meets-your-crazy-aunt's-hobby dept

Never let it be said that cops are not open-minded.

Sure, everyone with a darker-than-white skin tone moving around in any part of the city deemed unsafe by the same people charged with keeping it safe are almost always considered de facto criminals, but cops are still very willing to explore alternate avenues when it comes to arresting and criminally charging people.

Let's take a look at cops and their willingness to suspend their disbelief. Anyone accused of a crime is inherently untrustworthy: guilty until proven innocent. This includes people they've killed for doing nothing more than, say, threatening to kill themselves. The only good criminals are those who are willing to work with cops. These criminals have reputations that are unassailable and cops are willing to fabricate the paperwork needed to keep assailing of their reputations to a minimum.

Cops and prosecutors have, for years, relied on "experts" who were often no better than YouTube conspiracy theorists. For years, law enforcement has said things like bite marks, hair samples… even mass-produced clothing should be admitted as damning evidence of criminal acts. And everyone indulged them.

We've finally reached the critical mass needed to turn criticism of cop means and methods into mobilization. Years after it should have been apparent this was abject bullshit, the Texas Rangers are finally abandoning an investigative "technique" that has done little more than propel the storylines of horror movies since its inception.

The Texas Department of Public Safety has ended the controversial practice of using hypnosis to investigate crimes.

A department spokesman said the hypnosis program ended in January 2021, more than forty years after its inception, because its officers are now relying on better investigative practices.


Second, "better investigative practices" would seem to be anything but this. A Ranger with a divining rod and a backpack full of healing crystals could presumably turn up better leads than this method -- one that, let's not forget, the Texas Rangers relied on for four decades.

And yet, the Rangers persisted. The last documented case didn't happen sometime during the Satanic Panic of the 80's (something else faith in hypnosis managed to make worse). It happened only months ago.

The Rangers used hypnosis to investigate an attempted kidnapping as recently as October 2020, just two months before the program was ended.

While there may be some therapeutic value to hypnosis, there's almost no evidence supporting the assumption that hypnotizing victims and witnesses will result in usable evidence. "This thing their brain said" should be considered so far removed from "hearsay" as to be completely inadmissible.

But while the Texas Rangers have finally decided to abandon hypnosis in favor of literally anything not so ridiculously stupid, doesn't mean other law enforcement agencies are following suit. The Rangers may have made the first move, but others are so sure it works they're not willing to give up this ultra-specious investigative method.

Even without the program, local police departments may still be using hypnosis to investigate crimes. More than 800 law enforcement officers statewide have been approved to use hypnosis as an investigative tool since the 1980s, and Dallas and Houston once boasted the most hypnotists on staff.

Can you even imagine making such a boast? It's like telling people you've got the most Tarot readers on hand for their fortune-adjacent law enforcement needs. Step right up and get your fortune told! Oh, sorry, the cards say you've committed some crimes or whatnot. Sometimes it just works out that way. Let's get you processed.

But the acolytes are having a hard time letting go of this bogus investigative technique, especially those who were getting paid to make the Texas Rangers dumber.

Marx Howell, one of the chief practitioners of police hypnosis in Texas, said he was not aware that the Department of Public Safety ended the program and expressed disappointment in the decision

“It is a viable investigative technique under certain circumstances in certain types of cases where you don’t have any other leads,” Howell told The News. “If DPS has stopped it, that will be a major effort to use hypnosis that has gone away.”

So, when you have no other leads, you just do whatever the fuck? Is that the thought process at Ranger HQ? Toss science out the window and scatter tea leaves on the breakroom table just because an investigation has been dead-ended? Jesus. That's worse than just plain sad. That's self-induced delusion so strong one wonders how many times Howell has stood in front of a mirror telling himself he's getting sleepy.

At least the Rangers have dumped this. Hopefully, other agencies will join them in abandoning a technique that offers almost zero investigative benefits but plenty of ways to deprive people of their rights and freedoms.

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Posted on Techdirt - 17 March 2021 @ 10:48am

Florida Prisons Are Buying Up Location Data From Data Brokers

from the pretty-extravagant-solution-to-a-well-contained-'problem' dept

Everyone loves buying location data. Sure, the Supreme Court may have said a thing or two about obtaining this data from cell service providers but it failed to say anything specific about buying it from third-party data brokers. Oh well! Any port in an unsettled Constitutional storm, I guess.

The DEA buys this data. So does ICE and the CBP. The Defense Department does it. So does the Secret Service and, at least once, so did the IRS. Data harvested from apps ends up in the hands of companies like Venntel and Babel Street. These companies sell access to this data to a variety of government agencies, allowing them to bypass warrant requirements and phone companies. Sure, the data may not be as accurate as that gathered from cell towers, but it's still obviously very useful, otherwise these brokers wouldn't have so many powerful customers.

The latest news on the purchasing of location data comes to us via Joseph Cox and Motherboard -- both of which have been instrumental in breaking news about the government's new source of third-party data capable of tracking people's movements.

So, who's using this data now? Well, it's a government agency overseeing a very captive audience.

The Florida Department of Corrections (FDC), which runs state-owned prisons in the state and is the third largest state prison system in the country, bought access to a tool that lets users track the location of smartphones via data harvested from ordinary apps, Motherboard has found. The tool, called Locate X, allows users to draw a geofence around a particular area, see which phones were at that location, and then follow them onwards or back in time to other places.

Unlike other uses of this data, the FDC's contract indicates it wants to know who's using phones inside its prisons. Most prisoners aren't going anywhere and even if they escaped, location data pulled from apps would be possibly the least useful way to track them down. Instead, it appears this data is being used to locate contraband phones being used by inmates.

But are contraband phones so much of a problem the Department of Corrections should spend nearly $70,000 a year on data broker services? That seems unlikely. And even if prisoners are having phones smuggled in, it would be a stretch to assume they're all being used to engage in criminal activity. Prison phone services are prohibitively expensive and internet access is severely limited. Some of these phones are being used for nothing more than allowing inmates to stay in contact with loved ones without draining their bank accounts or subjecting them to eavesdropping by prison staff.

Then there's the unanswered question as to whether the FDC is limiting its data searches to the confines of prisons. If it isn't, it could be tracking the movements of visitors and making some inferences about their day-to-day existences.

For now, this is all pretty Wild West. No court decisions directly address this and, despite efforts from legislators like Senator Ron Wyden, data brokers haven't really been willing to share information about their practices and government business partners. And not much has been said by federal and local agencies buying this data, which has filled this void in caselaw with more questions than answers.

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Posted on Techdirt - 17 March 2021 @ 5:00am

Maryland Legislators Pass Bill That Would Keep Most Teens From Being Prosecuted For Sexting

from the more-helping,-less-hurting dept

It's been a delayed reaction, but legislators are finally trying to do something about the horrific outcomes that result from advances in technology colliding with laws that have been on the books for decades. Smartphones are omnipresent and teens are using them just like adults use them. Sexting -- the sending of explicit images to willing recipients -- shouldn't be illegal. And yet it is because some of those participating in this consensual distribution of explicit images are minors.

Operating under the belief that no one engages in sexual acts until they reach the age of consent, law enforcement has managed to turn this form of communication into a lifetime of misery for participants. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of using child porn laws to prosecute minors for sexting is the fact that actual sexual acts would be legal under the same set of laws.

Rather than allow parents to handle sexting by minors, prosecutors have stepped in to turn consenting teens into sexual predators, even if they've done nothing more than send images of themselves to another teen. There's a massive logical leap that needs to be made to turn a teen photographing their own body into their own child pornographer, but cops and prosecutors have been willing to bridge that gap over reality to prematurely end these teens' lives. Charges stemming from child porn charges -- even when the teen has done nothing but "exploit" themselves -- come with a lifetime of downsides, thanks to sex offender statutes.

Maryland's legislature is trying to mitigate the damage done by existing laws -- ones passed by legislators who could not have possibly foreseen teens willingly (and easily) distributing sexual images amongst themselves. The absence of any actual child pornographer isn't something addressed by child porn laws, so the Maryland legislature has decided to make it a bit more difficult for prosecutors to convert questionable judgment calls by teens to criminal charges.

A bill that defines how to handle juveniles charged with sexting in Maryland passed in the House with a wide majority on Wednesday.

The bill, which passed on a vote of 131-8, doesn’t legalize sexting for juveniles, but it defines certain cases that aren’t a part of child pornography laws.

In addition to defining certain cases, HB0180 states that a juvenile in violation would not be committed to custody — unless there are extraordinary circumstances — and would not be subject to register as a sex offender.

It's not great. (But it's still pretty good.)

"Great" would be terminating any prosecutorial options for the consensual sharing of explicit images between teens. But it's better than what's out there now, which allows prosecutors who've never exercised discretion in a positive way from railroading teens into a lifetime of sex offender list misery.

What it does do is blunt the most harmful edges of existing law. Non-consensual sharing would still be a crime, but no teen can be considered a producer or possessor of child porn unless they're over the age of 18. It also considers sexting to be a crime if the participants are more than four years apart in age, something that aligns sexting provisions with state law on consensual sexual acts between teens.

But there are still concerns. First, the bill [PDF] may have been passed but there's no guarantee it will become law. Second, it still gives prosecutors a lot of leeway when it comes to prosecution of edge cases. But hopefully it will deter the sort of insanity that inspired this legislation.

All three House bills were drafted in response to a case in 2019 involving a teenage student who sent an illicit video of herself with a male to two of her friends, a video that was distributed by one of the friends to the rest of their high school.

Instead of helping, a school resource officer believed the teenager committed a crime, Lisae Jordan, executive director and counsel of Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, wrote in testimony to lawmakers.

The student was charged in Juvenile Court with child pornography and obscenity.

It really takes a sick mind to view someone who's being subjected to abuse as a criminal. But that's just how some people think. This bill, if passed, will prevent idiots like this from treating the victims of non-consensual sharing of intimate images from being treated as child pornographers. Anything that strips discretion from people who've proven incapable of exercising it wisely is better than doing nothing.

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Posted on Techdirt - 16 March 2021 @ 3:33pm

Florida Sheriff's Office Sued For Using 'Predictive Policing' Program To Harass Residents

from the better-at-creating-litigants-than-fighting-crime dept

The Pasco County (FL) Sheriff's Office is being sued over its targeted harassment program -- one it likes to call "predictive policing."

Predictive policing is pretty much garbage everywhere, since it relies on stats generated by biased policing to generate even more biased policing. In Pasco County, however, it's a plague willingly inflicted on residents by a sheriff (Chris Nocco) who has apparently described the ultimate goal of the program as "making [people] miserable until they move or sue."

Well, Pasco County's getting one of these outcomes, after years of hassling residents who happen to find themselves labelled as criminals or possible criminals by the Sheriff's faulty software. Under the guise of "fighting crime," Sheriff's deputies make multiple visits to residences deemed troublesome, ticketing them for unmowed lawns, missing mailbox numbers, or for "allowing" teens to smoke on their property.

This program has bled over into the area's schools, subjecting minors to the same scrutiny for failing to maintain high grades or steady attendance. In one case, a 15-year-old on probation was "visited" by deputies 21 times in six months. Since 2015, 12,500 "checks" have been performed as part of Office's predictive policing program.

The Institute for Justice is representing four plaintiffs, including Robert Jones -- a target of the program who did both things the Office wanted: moved and sued.

Robert Jones, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, knows the cruelties of Pasco’s program firsthand. In 2015, Robert’s teenage son had a number of run-ins with the law. That landed his son on Pasco’s “prolific offender” list. Shortly thereafter deputies started to conduct “prolific offender checks.” These warrantless “checks” involved repeated, unannounced visits to Robert’s home at all hours of the day. Robert grew tired of the harassment and stopped cooperating with police. That only made matters worse.

Code enforcement is a common tactic to compel cooperation. One deputy said they would “literally go out there and take a tape measure and measure the grass if somebody didn’t want to cooperate with us.” In Robert’s case, deputies cited him for tall grass, but failed to notify him of the citation. Then, when he failed to appear for a hearing that he was never told was happening, they arrested him for failure to appear.

All told, Robert was arrested five times by Pasco deputies. Although the bogus charges never stuck—they were all dropped—the harassment accomplished its goal: Robert ultimately moved his family out of Pasco County to escape the constant harassment from the Sheriff’s Office.

The lawsuit [PDF] says the misery inflicted by deputies isn't confined to "targeted" residents. If deputies feel they're not getting enough cooperation from their targets, they'll threaten friends and family members with arrests/citations until they get the level of cooperation they desire.

The lawsuit claims this program violates a number of constitutional rights, including the First and Fourth Amendments. The program makes it impossible for anyone's debt to society to ever be repaid. Plaintiff Dalenea Taylor served two years as a juvenile and hasn't committed any criminal acts since. Despite severing ties to her old criminal acquaintances, deputies have visited her residence as often as "every other day" for the past three years, demanding permission to search her house and threatening friends with criminal charges if they did not cooperate with their demands.

Another plaintiff was harassed by deputies multiple times a day because her son had ended up on the Sheriff's "target" list. This ultimately resulted in deputies manufacturing arrests to turn her into a convicted felon.

In order to avoid prosecution and the risk of additional time in jail, Tammy pled guilty in March 2018 to the offenses of misdemeanor battery, obstructing or resisting an officer without violence, and giving false information to law enforcement.

Subsequently, in September 2018, during another visit to Tammy’s property conducted as part of the Program, PCSO officials arrested Tammy for opening her front screen door into a PCSO deputy in the process of consenting to a search.

Because she was on probation stemming from the prior arrest, Tammy spent 76 days in jail. She accepted a plea deal to avoid additional jail time, and now she is a convicted felon.

There's a pattern of rights violations and intimidation the Sheriff's Office will now have to answer for. Here's another plaintiff's experience with deputies due to her son's (non-violent) criminal activity.

In one instance, PCSO deputies scaled a privacy fence to gain access to Dolly’s property. And in another, PCSO deputies assembled outside the residence and, using a bullhorn, demanded that Tyler—who was not there—come outside.


As retribution for Dolly’s perceived failure to cooperate with the Program, Dolly was cited for trivial code violations. Specifically, Dolly was fined $3,000 for missing house numbers, tall grass and having construction materials on her property while putting up a fence.

The pervasive harassment and intimidation of residents by the Sheriff's Office is so awful even long-standing supporters of law enforcement are demanding changes.

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz has called on Florida's governor to remove a sheriff who was sued this week by four residents claiming an intelligence program run by the top cop's agency violated their constitutional rights.

In a tweet on Thursday, Gaetz, a Republican congressman from the Florida Panhandle, said Gov. Ron DeSantis had the authority to remove Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco and should consider doing so.

“I don’t care that this is being done by a GOP Sheriff," Gaetz said in the tweet. “Its awful to harass citizens because you think they may commit crimes, hoping to make their lives miserable.'

And even if the program worked, it still wouldn't be an acceptable excuse for years of unwarranted harassment. But it doesn't. The stats don't back up the Office's claim the program is essential to reducing crime.

The agency has previously said it stands behind its intelligence program and credited it with a reduction in burglaries, larcenies and auto thefts over the last decade. The decline mirrors those in nearby police jurisdictions, according to the Times.

A decade of abusing the public and the public's trust and all the Pasco County Sheriff's Office has to show for it is a brand new lawsuit. Hopefully the judge will see this for what it is: a long-running intimidation campaign pretending to be "intelligence-led policing."

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Posted on Techdirt - 16 March 2021 @ 9:34am

Man Sues Hertz For Not Turning Over A Receipt That Would Have Cleared Him Of Murder Charges Until After He Spent Five Years In Jail

from the customer-service-0/5-stars dept

Law enforcement loves loves LOVES third parties. Anyone one step removed from someone they're investigating generally isn't covered by the Fourth Amendment, which means no one needs a warrant or probable cause to go fishing for "third party" data.

But when it comes to the accused, what's easy for law enforcement is seldom simple for regular citizens. Third parties obtain tons of personal data when interacting with customers and users. But when a regular person asks for this information, third parties apparently feel free to blow them off. That's the case when someone's trying to do nothing more than dispute something on their credit record. And it's also the case when someone's life is literally on the line.

This cavalier approach to record keeping might finally cost a third party some money. A man falsely accused of murder is taking car rental agency Hertz to court for sitting on a receipt that would have cleared him for several years.

A Michigan man was convicted of second-degree murder in 2016, but he didn’t do it. Now, he’s suing the car rental agency that held onto the receipt proving his innocence.

Herbert Alford spent almost five years behind bars for the 2011 shooting death of Michael Adams before his conviction was overturned last year and he was released.

Hertz had the records that would have cleared Alford. But it didn't hand them over until after he had already served five years for a crime he didn't commit.

The rental records would have shown that Alford was miles away from the murder scene six minutes before the crime was committed. But Hertz took its time producing the exonerative evidence.

Alford’s lawyers repeatedly insisted that he was nowhere near the area at the time of Adams’ murder and instead was at Capital Region International Airport in Lansing, approximately 20 minutes away, renting a car from the Hertz station six minutes before the fatal shooting.

“If anybody has ever traveled Lansing from Pleasant Grove to the airport you know that is not possible to accomplish,” Alford’s lawyer, Jamie White, told WLNS. “You couldn’t even do it in a helicopter.”

Hertz got the records request in 2015. It took the company three years to produce it. Once it did, Alford was cleared of all charges. This is all Hertz has to say about its inability to keep Alford out of jail.

“While we were unable to find the historic rental record from 2011 when it was requested in 2015, we continued our good faith efforts to locate it,” spokeswoman Lauren Luster told the Associated Press. “With advances in data search in the years following, we were able to locate the rental record in 2018 and promptly provided it.

Whatever. If it had meant as much to Hertz as it meant to Alford, the records would have been found much earlier. The problem is it didn't mean much to Hertz. So, it took its time locating records requested by a man facing decades in prison, resulting in him losing a half-decade of his life to the penal system. For Hertz, it's nothing but a very minor PR black eye -- one unlikely to deter renters who have yet to be falsely accused of committing crimes.

But for Hertz renters, records like these matter, even if they have yet to discover how much they matter. A subpoena for records shouldn't be thrown on the back burner, whether it's issued by a law enforcement agency or someone they're trying to prosecute.

But there's more ugliness to this case if Alford's allegations are true. It's more than a missing receipt. It's the deliberate inducement of false testimony by investigators.

Police said that a police informant, Jessie Bridges, reported that he saw the shooting and identified the gunman as 38-year-old Herbert Alford. Bridges would later recant his statement and claimed that police had offered him $1,500 to falsely implicate Alford.

So, that's another lawsuit waiting to happen. Maybe this didn't actually happen, but it's not so far removed from reality it's immediately dismissible. Let's not forget law enforcement thinks criminals who work for them are inherently trustworthy and everyone accused of a crime is inherently dishonest. But sometimes it takes a bit more -- shall we call it "legwork" -- to get informants to agree with the established narrative. And when some coaxing is required to seal a prosecutorial deal, the "good" criminals tend to be enriched. That's what happens when the criminal justice system is more concerned with scoring wins than upholding justice.

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Posted on Techdirt - 16 March 2021 @ 6:28am

UK Home Office Floats Bill That Would Make It Illegal To Be Too Loud During A Protest

from the quiet,-you dept

The British government is looking to literally silence dissent. Protests are a fact of life. There hasn't been a government yet that's been able to avoid them. But governments still do all they can to prevent them from reaching critical mass. In Hong Kong, the Chinese government has turned protesting into a national security crime with life sentences. In the United States, legislators are still trying to find ways to shut people up without violating their long-protected right to be verbally and demonstratively angry at their government.

Over in the UK, the government wants people to shut up. So, the Home Office has crafted a bill that would do exactly that: criminalize the "noise" protesters make. The bill would amend the 1986's Public Order Act to make it a crime to do the one thing demonstrations and protests are supposed to do: draw the public's attention. Here's Ian Dunt, writing for Politics.co.uk.

On Tuesday, the Home Office published the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill. It covers a wide range of areas, from sentencing to digital information. But it has a specific section on the policing of protests. And the function of this section is simple: It aims to silence them.

This isn't a metaphorical silencing. It's a literal silencing. The 1986 law forbids protests that threaten serious damage or disruption. These amendments add "noise" to the list of aspects that allow the government to intervene or shut down demonstrations.

If the noise of the protest “may result in serious disruption to the activities of an organisation” – for instance by distracting employees in a nearby office, then the police can impose restrictions. It goes without saying that this applies to almost any protest at all around parliament, the whole purpose of which is to get the attention of politicians. It can therefore cause “serious disruption” of an organisation.

It also applies to passers-by. If the noise of the protest could have “a relevant impact on persons in the vicinity of the procession”, the police can impose restrictions. The standard for this threshold is very low indeed: If the police believe that just one person nearby could be caused “serious unease, alarm or distress”, they can impose restrictions.

Unease and alarm are often byproducts of even peaceful protests. It's something commonly suffered by those targeted by the targets of demonstrations. Their unease is the point, because without it, it's pretty hard to compel change.

With this amendment, anyone could complain about the "noise" made by protesters and prompt a law enforcement response. Law enforcement can also use any imagined level of noise as impetus for shutting down protests under the presumption that stopping a protest before it gets "too" loud is just proactive police work.

It's SHUT UP: the law. The entire point of protests is to draw attention to and disrupt the status quo. This bill makes it illegal to hold an effective protest. And that appears to be the way the Home Office wants it. As Dunt points out, Home Secretary Priti Patel has been openly critical of many different protests, calling Extinction Rebellion protesters "eco-terrorists" and saying Black Lives Matter protests are not "the right way" to protest.

This is a gag order on dissent. Every government would love to have one. And it looks like the UK may be the next to criminalize complaints by the public it's apparently failing to serve properly.

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Posted on Techdirt - 15 March 2021 @ 3:33pm

Kansas City PD Presentation Says Every Shooting Investigation Is Handled The Same Way... Unless It Involves A Cop

from the no-bias-here-if-you-don't-count-the-bias-towards-cops dept

The Kansas City Police Department has managed to turn a few heads -- and not in the good way -- with an internal PowerPoint that may as well have been titled "So, You've Killed Someone." The document was obtained during discovery in a wrongful death suit against the KCPD. Back in 2019, Officer Dylan Pifer shot and killed Terrance Bridges, claiming he thought Bridges was trying to pull a gun from his sweatshirt pocket. No gun was found on Bridges.

The presentation [PDF] obtained from Bridges' family's lawyer by the Kansas City Star advises cops of two things: police shootings should be handled like routine criminal investigations to eliminate claims of bias. And police shootings should be handled nothing like routine criminal investigations because they involve cops.

The opening slide makes it clear what the priority is in investigations of shootings by cops: preserving the narrative. It even has the number one next to it.

Upon completion of this block of instruction, the participants will, with the use of handouts and notes, be able to:

1. Identify the best defense again [sic] claims of bias or favoritism in the investigations of officer involved shootings.

You know what's not a top priority? Preserving evidence. That comes behind officer safety.

Supervisors should consider the preservation of evidence as secondary to the safety of the public and department personnel.

The presentation points out that shootings are controversial and claims "police critics" will often claim investigations -- which routinely clear officers of wrongdoing -- are "biased and that police receive special treatment." So, the best defense is a good offense:

The best defense to these claims is CONSISTENCY in how we conduct ALL criminal investigations.


The best way to do this is to treat the investigation into officer involved shootings LIKE EVERY OTHER CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION.

All well and good, except the presentation spends most of its running time explaining how this sort of investigation won't be treated like a regular criminal investigation.

Does this look like the sort of thing cops offer to non-cops involved in shootings?

Don’t engage the member in detailed conversation about the incident, but you are encouraged to talk with them like you would on any other day.

Make sure that all requests (bathroom, food, drinks, cigarettes) by the involved members are met as soon as possible.

Forget about preserving evidence:

If their recording system is active, have the member mute the mike and mute yours. They will be making calls to FOP [Fraternal Order of Police] and spouses and family. They may be in an excited state and hyperverbal.

And start hiding stuff from journalists:

Park somewhere that responding media will not be able to film the involved member.

But that of course only means the involved cop. The non-cop will have any and all possibly incriminating information immediately forwarded to local media, along with any mugshots the PD happens to have on hand. Information about the involved officer will be much slower in arriving. Much slower than even the involved officer's statement to investigators:

Generally, the member will be permitted up to forty-eight (48) hours to complete such statement

The presentation then spends a bit of time bemoaning the public's confidence in law enforcement, which isn't at an all-time high. It blames the media (again) for misrepresenting shootings by officers and, again, stresses doing everything by the book to combat this perception. But the book for officers is very different from the book for citizens. And until law enforcement agencies are willing to change that, the rest of what bothers the presenter about public perception isn't going to change.

And this is about the worst possible way you could end an instructive presentation on handling shootings by officers:

There is nothing wrong with being glad to be alive and being okay that you were the winner in a competition in which the winning prize was your life.

Law enforcement isn't a competition with winners and losers. It's a job, an important one, but one that has apparently been handed to people who believe members of the public are enemy combatants and that shootings are just games to be won.

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Posted on Techdirt - 15 March 2021 @ 12:12pm

Iowa Journalist Cleared Of All Charges In Bullshit Prosecution Over 'Failure To Disperse'

from the that's-not-how-journalist---or-the-First-Amendment---works dept

The good news is that Iowa prosecutors' attempt to jail a journalist for being present at a protest has failed. Andrea Sahouri -- who was arrested while covering a George Floyd protest in Des Moines last summer -- has been acquitted of all charges by a jury. But the fact that she was prosecuted at all is still problematic.

Sahouri was arrested by Des Moines police officers while apparently walking away from the scene of a protest. Officers at the scene broadcast conflicting orders from their squad cars. While one loudspeaker told protesters to disperse, another told protesters to "protest peacefully." Officer Luke Wilson performed the arrest. Unfortunately, it took place out of view of nearby CCTV cameras. That shouldn't have been a problem since Officer Wilson was wearing a body camera. But he "forgot" to ensure it was recording before he began arresting people.

The prosecution of Sahouri was handled in bad faith. Prosecutors sought to bar any mention of her employment as a Des Moines Register journalist during the court case. They claimed this case had nothing to do with press freedom -- that it only involved someone disobeying a lawful order to disperse. They claimed this despite recordings of the PD's arrival on scene showing officers issuing conflicting orders to protesters.

Police body-camera video played at the trial showed protesters blocking Merle Hay Road near the Wingstop restaurant at about 6:30 p.m. The word “disperse” from police car loudspeakers is barely audible amid the crowd noise, and the crowd is also asked to protest peacefully. Officers on the street are heard saying “get back, get back,” and many people in the crowd are shown doing just that, backing away from the street.

But the judge was having none of this bullshit, even as the prosecution donned its gaiters and waded into it. Officer Luke Wilson may have failed to activate his camera but the footage still could have been salvageable. Instead, Wilson took affirmative steps to make sure it wasn't. That ended up hurting the prosecution's case.

It was disclosed at trial that the body cameras used by Des Moines police have a background recording function. Had Wilson notified his supervisor promptly of his failure to turn on the camera, video still could have been captured. In a rare move, the judge instructed jurors that they could consider whether Wilson intentionally destroyed evidence favorable to Sahouri.

The prosecution also tried to use Sahouri's own journalism against her. They claimed the photos she took of property damage to a nearby mall was evidence she had "failed to disperse." But journalists aren't necessarily subject to orders to disperse. And documenting newsworthy events is not the same thing as participating in them.

But the arrest did serve a limited purpose for the Des Moines PD: it deprived the public of documentation of their actions during their dispersal effort. Instead of having a neutral third party relaying info, the public was left with what police officers recorded on their cameras. And it's safe to say Officer Wilson wasn't the only officer who "failed" to record arrests and uses of force.

Fortunately, Sahouri has been cleared. But she should never have been charged in the first place. This may be a loss for prosecutors but it won't deter officers from acting in bad faith again when they're confronted with third parties recording their actions.

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Posted on Techdirt - 15 March 2021 @ 10:59am

DOJ Says Encryption Is Just For Criminals As It Goes After Another Secure Phone Purveyor

from the dark-mode-engaged dept

The DOJ has indicted another company for supposedly making it easier for criminals to elude law enforcement. The true target, though, isn't the company whose principals have been indicted, but encryption itself.

A couple of years ago the DOJ decided to bring RICO charges against Phantom Secure, a cellphone provider that catered to the criminal element with "uncrackable" phones/messaging services built on existing Blackberry hardware/software.

The FBI approached Phantom Secure, asking for an encryption backdoor that would allow it to snoop on its customers. Phantom Secure declined the FBI's advances. Its phones -- originally marketed to professionals desirous of additional security -- were soon marketed to criminals, a market sector that truly valued the security options offered by Phantom.

But rejecting the FBI and selling to criminals causes problems. The DOJ went after Phantom Secure, arresting the owner and charging him with a bunch of RICO and RICO-adjacent crimes.

It is happening again. The DOJ has decided encryption is a crime when companies offering encrypted communications choose to sell to people the DOJ considers to be criminals.

Here's the DOJ's portrayal of its crime-fighting efforts -- one supported by people who rarely find a sandwich they don't think can be criminally charged.

A federal grand jury today returned an indictment against the Chief Executive Officer and an associate of the Canada-based firm Sky Global on charges that they knowingly and intentionally participated in a criminal enterprise that facilitated the transnational importation and distribution of narcotics through the sale and service of encrypted communications devices.  

Jean-Francois Eap, Sky Global’s Chief Executive Officer, and Thomas Herdman, a former high-level distributor of Sky Global devices, are charged with a conspiracy to violate the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Warrants were issued for their arrests today.

But here's where it gets sketchy. The DOJ is basically trying to hold a phone provider responsible for the criminal acts of its customers. In order to do that, it needs to depict encryption as an unnecessary evil that serves mainly to allow criminals to escape justice.

According to the indictment, Sky Global’s devices are specifically designed to prevent law enforcement from actively monitoring the communications between members of transnational criminal organizations involved in drug trafficking and money laundering. As part of its services, Sky Global guarantees that messages stored on its devices can and will be remotely deleted by the company if the device is seized by law enforcement or otherwise compromised.

"Or otherwise compromised." There are plenty of non-criminal reasons to want to remotely wipe a phone that has ended up in the hands of someone other than its owner. Some of those reasons are ones even the DOJ finds legitimate, like the protection of trade secrets. But in this case, the DOJ only sees an evil that must be stopped. And the fact that Sky Global's market share is so small it amounts to a rounding error isn't stopping the DOJ from attempting to make the company pay for the sins of some of its users.

There are at least 70,000 Sky Global devices in use worldwide, including in the United States. The indictment alleges that for more than a decade, Sky Global has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in profit by facilitating the criminal activity of transnational criminal organizations and protecting these organizations from law enforcement.

Allegations are just that: allegations. Sky Global may have had some legitimate customers who felt vanilla phone offerings by Google, Apple, and a host of Android-based manufacturers weren't secure enough, but those people's concerns don't matter when criminals are also using the same phones to conduct criminal activity.

The real enemy is encryption, according to the DOJ. The DOJ says preventing law enforcement from "actively monitoring communications" is its own evil, even while multiple messaging services now offer end-to-end encryption that prevents law enforcement from listening in. This is the foot in the door. If the FBI and DOJ can make enough noise about a company that supposedly marketed its product to criminals, it can make further inroads towards demonizing encryption as a threat to the security of the nation, if not an aider and abettor of criminal activity.

This is the ongoing PR war being fought by our government against a feature that provides more security to phone users. And it's being done by an agency that has yet to be completely honest about how much of a problem encryption actually poses to criminal investigations. For that reason alone, the DOJ's accusations shouldn't be granted credence. Its efforts to undermine the safety of millions of non-criminal phone users shouldn't be ignored either, because it's clear at this point the security concerns of the American public mean nothing to it.

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Posted on Techdirt - 12 March 2021 @ 11:59am

Police, Police Supporters: Ending Qualified Immunity Makes Being A Cop Too Hard, Somehow 'Defunds' The Police

from the snowflakes-in-bulletproof-vests dept

Last Wednesday, the House passed the "George Floyd Justice in Policing Act," a bill that targets a number of aspects of law enforcement that need improvement, including two that have caused a considerable amount of collateral damage.

The bill [PDF] -- passed by the Democratic majority 220-212 with all but one member of either party voting the way you'd expect them to vote -- bans discriminatory profiling, mandates more training on discrimination, and requires law enforcement agencies to collect data on investigatory activities. It also bans chokeholds and no-knock warrants, both instruments of death still permitted by far too many law enforcement agencies. The on-again, off-again limits on the requisition of military gear via the 1033 program are back on.

There are also mandates for federal officers, finally requiring their use of body cams and dashcams -- something they've avoided doing for years.

But here are the accountability add-ons that are resulting in pushback from law enforcement agencies, their supporters, and (of course) their unions.

Makes it easier to prosecute offending officers by amending the federal criminal statute to prosecute police misconduct. The mens rea requirement in 18 U.S.C. Section 242 will be amended from “willfulness” to a “recklessness” standard.

Enables individuals to recover damages in civil court when law enforcement officers violate their constitutional rights by eliminating qualified immunity for law enforcement.

Officers really don't want to be held accountable for their actions. Thanks to the US Supreme Court, they've been able to avoid personal responsibility with relative ease for years now. Citizens have been able to sue government employees for rights violations since 1871, following the passage of the Ku Klux Klan Act. The Supreme Court didn't create the qualified immunity defense until 1967. So, for nearly 100 years, law enforcement agencies at both the state and federal level operated without this shield and, despite its nonexistence, were not swamped with bad faith litigation.

But the complaints emanating from these agencies following the House's passage of this bill could give listeners the impression this litigation shield has always existed and that any alterations to it would open the litigation floodgates. And the constant threat of litigation would have other negative effects, like deterring people from entering the law enforcement field.

But let's go back to the vote. One Republican rep who voted the "wrong" way swiftly ran to the nearest social media outlet to make sure his voter base knew he never intended to support police accountability efforts.

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, H.R. 1280, passed 220-212 — although a Republican representative said he'd voted yes by mistake and changed the official record to reflect his opposition.

Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Texas, tweeted that he'd pressed the wrong button and voted for the bill by accident.

Virtue signaling but for avoiding virtuous acts. Nicely done, Rep. Wrong Button.

The bill passed the House, which is held by the Democratic Party. The party has a slim majority in the Senate which may not be enough to move this legislation forward. Nevertheless, the complaints have begun to roll in. And, as is to be expected when legislators target something created out of thin air that solely benefits law enforcement, law enforcement is complaining about the possibility of it evaporating back from whence it came.

The Placer County Deputy Sheriffs Association president says a majority of law enforcement officials are following the rules and if the bill passes, getting rid of qualified immunity will just end up hurting good officers.

“Bad police officers should be held accountable. That’s something we can all agree with. The language in this bill, isn’t a step in that direction,” said Deputy Noah Frederito.

But bad officers aren't held accountable very often. And this neglect often begins in the agencies that employ them. Qualified immunity tends to ensure they won't be held accountable in other arenas law enforcement doesn't directly control. Bad officers get sued. Good officers won't -- or at least, they won't be sued successfully, even in the absence of qualified immunity. In fact, most officers are never sued, so it tends to be the baddest of the bad that find themselves in court trying to explain why violating rights was the best way to conduct law enforcement business.

Here's the National Association of Police Officers with a similar complaint, one that says it's almost impossible for officers to figure out what citizens' rights are and/or how to avoid violating them. It's an appeal to idiocy, written by idiots.

With the change to qualified immunity, an officer can go to prison for an unintentional act that unknowingly broke an unknown, and unknowable, right. Further, the threat of the elimination of qualified immunity has already caused decent, experienced officers and newly hired officers alike to question whether the risks of the profession are worth the noble job of serving and protecting their communities.

It's pretty sad when you openly admit that increased accountability will result in fewer people opting for a law enforcement career. It's almost as if the thing that attracts applicants is the combination of increased power over citizens and extremely limited accountability, rather than any sense of duty to their communities.

Here's another union rep saying pretty much the same thing:

"They want to take our Qualified Immunity away, and we're totally against that."

John Kazanjian, who also serves as the President of the Palm Beach and Martin County PBAs, says it would lead to a slew of lawsuits being filed against individual officers.

"So when they take that away, next thing you know I put a set of handcuffs on somebody, they get bruising on their wrists (and) we're getting sued."

Yes, the existential threat of bullshit lawsuits -- one that Kanzanjian somehow manages to portray as a defunding effort by Congressional Democrats, despite there being no defunding mandated by the law.

He says, in essence, the legislation that's named after the black man who died while in police custody in Minneapolis last May, would wind up defunding the police. That's because, with individual officers potentially facing costly law suits, agencies would have to spend a portion of their funding on lawyers to defend them.

This is something some already do. And it's not even their money. It's the taxpayers' money. That it often comes from city/county funds rather than the departments themselves doesn't change the fact that the money comes from taxpayers. If it starts coming from police departments themselves, it's still not their money and it's still an expense agencies should do everything to limit, which means cultivating a positive police culture rather than just shrugging off misconduct allegations and excessive force deployments.

Others are making the same disingenuous arguments about "defunding the police," knowing that this phrasing conjures images of cop shops going broke and criminals running wild. More importantly, it harms their political opponents.

Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, repeated one of those attacks on Thursday, asserting that the bill would “defund the police” by imposing “mountains of new regulations” that would drain departments’ resources. The attack sought to conflate the House Democrats’ effort with calls by progressive activists to shrink or otherwise pull resources from departments — which the lawmakers in Washington who crafted the bill explicitly rejected.

“Democrats just doubled down as the party of Defunding the Police,” Mr. McCarthy wrote on Twitter.

Again, nothing in this bill strips funds from law enforcement agencies. It does require them to use some of their funds to meet training and reporting mandates, but moving money around isn't the same thing as taking money away.

Two Iowa Congressional reps made the same specious argument two different ways. Here's Representative Ashely Hinson:

Law enforcement officers in Iowa and across this country put their lives on the line every day to keep our communities safe. It’s reprehensible that House Democrats would bring forward legislation to defund police departments while relying on law enforcement to protect our Capitol from imminent threats…

And here's Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks:

The Justice in Policing Act would eliminate qualified immunity, which would make recruitment and retention difficult and increase retirements, decrease the number of officers on patrol, and cost taxpayer dollars municipalities litigate frivolous lawsuits. In effect, this is a backdoor way to defund the police.

Again, no defunding takes place. The second statement is worse, because it again suggests people get into the cop business to access power that's tied to very limited responsibility. When that balance shifts to something a bit more equal, those originally drawn to the more favorable power/responsibility blend exit the workforce. But cops leaving (or failing to ever arrive) isn't "defunding."

The opposition is making their voices heard. And their voices are saying they have no interest in holding cops accountable because… accountability apparently keeps people from becoming cops and keeps employed cops from continuing to be cops. That's a pretty sad admission.

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