Covering police accountability at Oakland Local

Over at Oakland Local (a community news and views site I cofounded), I’m working with reporter Eric K. Arnold to cover police accountability — an important and touch topic in this town.

We’re approaching this from the perspective of empowering Oaklanders to be able to wield influence on how police operate in their neighborhoods. There’s been a lot of friction and violence, and community members have often felt powerless on this front.

So here’s what I’ve written so far on this topic:

Also, today Eric Arnold published an excellent overview of what Oakland’s Citizens Police Review Board is and how it works:

Much more to come on this front. Stay tuned!

Citizen v. Pro Journalism: Division is Diversion

The house to the right is a small settlement, ...
What, exactly, are journalistic fences supposed to accomplish? (Image via Wikipedia)

Recently Kellie O’Sullivan, a third-year communication student studying at the University of Newcastle in Australia, asked me some questions about citizen journalism for a class assignment. I get questions like this a lot, so she said it was fine if I answered her in a blog post.

The way she framed her questions made me wonder: Why are folks from news organizations and journalism/communication schools still so hung up on building fences to divide amateur from professional journalism? Does this reflect insecurity about their own status/worth, or simply a lack of understanding of how much these endeavors mostly overlap and complement each other?

Seems to me that we’d all gain more by focusing on the practice of reporting and journalism (especially being transparent and open to discussion, correction, and expansion of news and information). In my opinion, doing journalism is more important than what kind of journalist you consider yourself to be, or how others label you.

With that caveat, here’s what she asked, and how I answered… Continue reading

Los Angeles Police Geocoding Error Skews Crime Maps

LAPDcrimemaps.org has some recently revealed geodata flaws.

LAPDcrimemaps.org has some recently revealed geodata flaws.

Crime maps are one of the most popular and (in urban areas) ubiquitous types of geo-enabled local news — and they’re a staple of the Knight News Challenge-funded project Everyblock. This data comes from local police departments — but how reliable is it?

On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times reported a problem with the Los Angeles Police Department’s online crime map, launched three years ago…

LAPDcrimemaps.org is offered to the public as a way to track crimes near specific addresses in the city of Los Angeles. Most of the time that process worked fine. But when it failed, crimes were often shown miles from where they actually occurred.

“Unable to parse the intersection of Paloma Street and Adams Boulevard, for instance, the computer used a default point for Los Angeles, roughly 1st and Spring streets. Mistakes could have the effect of masking real crime spikes as well as creating false ones.”

Apparently the LAPD wast not aware of the error until alerted by the Times…

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One streaker gets plea bargain. Boulder cops defend their bullying

After I attended the Dec. 17 arraignment hearing for the 12 streakers cited by Boulder cops during the 10th annual Naked Pumpkin Run, I had a pretty busy week and didn’t have time to follow up further. Fortunately, The Colorado Daily did follow up on this case, reporting that one of the runners did accept the plea bargain offered by the Boulder District Attorney.

According to the Colorado Daily:

“[The runner] agreed Thursday to plead guilty to disorderly conduct, a petty offense. She agreed to undergo six months of unsupervised probation, eight hours of community service and pay $27 in court fees. She will not be required to register as a sex offender, and her record will be cleared if she doesn’t commit any crimes for at least six months.”

Also, Colorado Daily reported that according to prosecutor David Chavel:

“The agreement with [this defendant] would likely represent the same offer extended to all of the accused Halloween streakers. However, he said it would be ‘up to each individual’ to accept such an offer.”

“All of the cases are being handled separately, Chavel said, because some of the runners have attorneys and others do not. He said the remaining cases involving the naked runners are in negotiations with the Boulder District Attorney’s Office.”

What got me, though, was this statement from the Boulder Police Department quoted at the end of the Colorado Daily story. (Note: This statement does not appear to be on the Boulder Police Dept. web site, I’ll request a copy.)

“The decision was made by the District Attorney’s Office, which consulted with the department. Chief Mark Beckner believes this is an appropriate disposition. As for future violations, Boulder officers will continue to issue citations or make arrests based on the law as it is written. It is — and will remain — the province of the District Attorney’s Office to determine whether other charges are possible.”

…Correct me if I’m wrong, but this statement appears to mean that the Boulder cops intend to continue issuing indecent exposure citations to streakers — despite the fact that the DA’s office does not appear to consider that charge appropriate. Which means the cops can (and probably will) continue to bully and intimidate citizens through inappropriate charges — and leave it up to the DA and the courts to spend our resources to bring those charges back to reality.

There’s a much deeper issue at stake here beyond these cases, and it’s why I keep revisiting this story: Is this the kind of law enforcement we want to allow in Boulder?

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Tracking a Rumor: Indian Government, Twitter, and Common Sense

This morning, as I check in on the still-unfolding news about yesterday’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai, I noticed a widely repeated rumor: allegedly, the Indian government asked Twitter users to stop tweeting info about the location and activities of police and military, out of concern that this could aid the terrorists.

For example, see Inquisitr.com: Indian Government trying to block Twitter as Terrorists may be reading it.

Rumors — even fairly innocuous ones — really bug me. Mainly because they’re so easy to prevent!

I’m trying to track this particular rumor down, but haven’t been able to confirm anything yet. At this point I’m skeptical of this claim. Here’s what I’ve found so far…

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Boulder Police DID Have Options: Disorderly Conduct Citation

Yesterday, Boulder Daily Camera reporter Amy Bounds interviewed me about my experience at the 10th annual Halloween Naked Pumpkin Run, where 12 streakers were cited by police for indecent exposure. She used that information to expand her Camera story naming those cited — a list that included several local scientists and students. (I wrote about this yesterday.)

Bounds also added to her story a brief quote from Boulder police chief Mark Beckner:

“Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner said indecent exposure was the charge that best fit the violation. ‘We don’t set the law,’ he said. ‘As police officers, we enforce it. We don’t get into the sentencing part of it.”

It doesn’t look like the Camera saw fit to push back against Beckner’s facile claim, which is unfortunate. Because the Boulder police did have another option here. They could have chosen to cite the streakers instead under Colorado statute 18-9-106. Disorderly conduct.
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12 Naked Pumpkin Runners Named, Camera Catches Up

UPDATE NOV. 5: The Boulder police had other options. They could have cited streakers for disorderly conduct instead of indecent exposure. Also, the Daily Camera interviewed me on this controversy…

Yesterday, after much prodding from local bloggers (including me) and commenters on its site, the Boulder Daily Camera finally reported that the streakers who got busted by Boulder police at the 10th annual Halloween Naked Pumpkin Run will, if convicted, have to register as sex offenders. Today, the paper also published the names and ages of the 12 streakers who were cited for indecent exposure. All of these people are over 18, and thus under current CO law must register as sex offenders if convicted.

No acknowledgement of the community/independent media role in pressing this issue was offered by the Camera.

I just called the Boulder Municipal Court (303-441-1842), which informed me that Boulder County Courts (303-441-3750) are handling these cases. The county court rep I spoke was surprised, since normally misdemeanor citations handed out within Boulder City Limits get processed through the municipal court system. However, he did say that if indeed the county will be handling those cases, they should have more information on Friday. So I’ll call back then and will post an update. I’ll also check back with the municipal court, just in case they gave me incorrect information.

I’m contacting the local courts because I want to learn the dates and locations of arraignment hearings for the busted streakers. As far as I know, the public (including media) can observe these hearings. It’d be here that we’d learn whether these cases are being plea bargained down, whether there are motions for dismissal, and in general the attitudes of the judges, cops, attorneys, and defendants.

Stay tuned…

Boulder Naked Pumpkin Runners = Sex Offenders? COME ON!

Scene of Boulder’s 2008 Naked Pumpkin Run busts, plus two nearby real (violent) crimes earlier that same day.

UPDATE NOV 4. The names of the 12 busted streakers have been published, so I’m following up on this case via local courts

On Halloween, as I wrote earlier, I went down to Boulder, CO’s Pearl St. pedestrian mall to check out the costumes — which are always spectacular — and to see the annual Naked Pumpkin Run. (Note: that link above goes to my blog post which includes a video containing nudity.) This loosely organized event has a lot of local fans.

The Naked Pumpkin Run is nothing more than that — sometime around 9-10 pm on Halloween, a bunch of people get naked, put jack-o-lanterns on their heads, and run en masse down the Pearl St. Mall. It’s not sexual, violent, dangerous, or threatening. It’s just silly. It’s unique. It’s fun. It’s exuberant. It’s positive and life-affirming.

And: It’s illegal.

Unlike in previous years, the Boulder police were out in force for this event, where they ticketed several runners for indecent exposure. Consequently, several fun-loving local folks may end up suffering life-altering public stigma as registered sex offenders.

No kidding.

The Colorado Daily posted this video of the event, including some footage of the busts:

Need some irony? All this happened less than 24 hours after two remarkably violent assaults, which occurred just a half-mile from the scene of the Naked Pumpkin Run busts.

Here are the details, as best as I’ve been able to gather them so far… Continue reading