Tag Archives: John Jay College of Criminal Justice

If There’s a Warrant for Your Arrest, the Government Should Have to Tell You

Image result for outstanding warrants

            There ought to be a law.

            I read about Eric Barrier, half of the classic rap duo Eric B. and Rakim, and how he recently wound up in jail. The story is interesting not because it’s unusual but because it’s typical.

            Without getting into the weeds of his original 2002 offense because that would distract from my point here, Barrier’s lawyer told him to skip his sentencing hearing because his presence wasn’t required.

            Wrong. Unbeknownst to Barrier, New Jersey authorities had issued a warrant for his arrest. “More than 17 years passed before he first learned of the warrant, from law enforcement authorities in Vermont when he came into the United States from Canada last month,” according to The New York Times. In October Barrier presented himself to court officials, who promptly arrested him. He was freed on bail November 12. Weeks in prison! I’m 99% sure he would have addressed the issue if he’d known about it.

            This is a common problem. Every day, courts across the United States issue thousands of arrest warrants for crimes ranging from serious felonies to offenses as minor as failing to pay a parking ticket, jaywalking or not renewing a dog license. Millions of Americans have outstanding warrants. In 2016, there were 1.5 million warrants for New Yorkers—one out of six residents of the city.

            The vast majority have no idea they’re wanted.

            “Most jurisdictions around the nation are doing nothing with warrants like this. Nothing,” said Professor David Kennedy of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Criminals and innocent citizens alike conduct their daily routines oblivious of the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads until they get pulled over for a traffic stop or otherwise come into contact with a police officer. The computer spits out their name, handcuffs get slapped on and off they go, sucked into the system.

            When it’s a rapist or a murderer, that’s great. But does a system that only snags rapists and murderers who don’t make full stops and drive over the speed limit make sense?

            It’s not so great to arrest and process people who committed minor offenses, many of whom would have happily paid their old tickets if the state didn’t keep them ignorant about their legal peril.

            Many friends I talked to about this subject told me that they or someone they knew had been arrested on a warrant they’d never heard of. It’s hardly surprising. About 7 million Americans are driving around with their licenses suspended because municipalities believe they owe money for unpaid parking tickets or moving violations. Many of them have no idea they are a single traffic stop away from a seriously bad day.

            I got a speeding ticket and paid the fine, on time. But the municipality didn’t credit me. I had my canceled check so I assumed I was in the clear. Later, when I was pulled over for something different, the officer informed me that my license had been pulled over the “unpaid” ticket—the DMV never notified me of the suspension, and no, I hadn’t moved—so the cop arrested me and took me to the station for an hour or two. Setting things straight ultimately cost me thousands of dollars in attorney fees.

            Warrants and license suspensions can be life-changing events. What if you get nabbed on your way to pick up your child from school and they take away your phone while you’re being booked? Given how disruptive warrants are, not just to civilians but also to law enforcement officers who should be chasing actual criminals, there ought to be a federal law mandating that states and local municipalities send notices via the mail to the last or most likely address for people wanted for arrest or whose driving privileges have been suspended. Notices should be mailed repeatedly, at least annually, to give people a chance to make things right.

            Police departments and other government agencies have massive comprehensive universal databases, some with facial recognition and DNA, that make it possible for them to find almost anyone in the United States if they really want to.

            So why don’t issuers of arrest warrants tap into these resources? The cynic in me has an answer: governments make millions of dollars by dunning scofflaws with additional fines, fees and bail. That’s a revenue stream that would vanish if most people knew they owed cash and where to send it in to settle their debt.

            If Congress acts, life will get a little easier. More importantly, it will restore a bit of the faith Americans have lost in our government and public officials.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why Are Americans Killing More Cops?

“Tough on Crime” Sentencing Laws Come Home to Roost

It sounds like the plot of the dystopian movie “Robocop”: policemen are getting shot like they’re going out of style.

Violent crime in general is decreasing. But more cops are being killed in the line of duty. According to the FBI, 72 police officers died under fire in 2011. That’s up 25 percent from 2010 and up 75 percent from 2008.

“The 2011 deaths were the first time that more officers were killed by suspects than car accidents, according to data compiled by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The number was the highest in nearly two decades, excluding those who died in the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995,” reports The New York Times.

According to a study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, “In many cases the officers were trying to arrest or stop a suspect who had previously been arrested for a violent crime.”

Why this spike in cop killing?

Experts blame a variety of factors for the carnage: the economic depression, low manpower due to budget cuts, policies that assign more cops to the most dangerous neighborhoods, and more aggressive patrolling of those areas, including “stop and frisk” stops of people the police deem suspicious. Maybe.

I think something else is missing in analyses of cop shootings: the motivation of the shooter.

Corporate media outlets cite the shooters’ prior records in order to imply: once a violent felon, always a violent felon. Sometimes that’s true. But not always. There’s more to it than that. Like law-abiding citizens, criminals employ rational decision-making strategies.

Harsh sentencing laws are killing police officers.

Imagine that you’re on parole in California, one of 24 states with “three strikes” sentencing laws. Let’s say you have two prior felony convictions. It doesn’t take much. One California man earned a “strike” for “violent assault”; he landed 25 years to life for stealing pizza from some kids. In Texas, a handyman who refused to refund $120.75 for a shoddy air conditioning repair landed his third strike; the U.S. Supreme Court upheld his sentence to life in prison with possible parole. And you can get two (or more) strikes from one criminal incident.

So imagine yourself in this situation:

Maybe you’ve got drugs in your automobile. Or you’re clean, but you’re not sure about what your passengers might be carrying. (In a car, one person’s contraband is everyone’s.) When you see flashing lights in your rearview mirror, you must choose:

Pull over and cooperate, knowing that you’ll get life behind bars?

Or do you take a terrible chance, shooting the officer and making a run for it? Harsh mandatory sentencing laws like “three strikes” make killing a cop a free gamble. Who knows? You might escape. If you get caught, the sentence will be no worse than if you’d done the right thing.

A joint study by the Long Beach Police Department and California State University—Long Beach found that “in the Los Angeles area (where there is a higher concentration of repeat offenders and three-strikes prosecution has been more actively pursued), there is a notable increase in…resisting and assaulting officers, and a significant increase (113% between 1996 and 2001) in two- and three-strikes crimes with a police officer victim.” A 2002 study by the National Institute of Justice found that three-strike laws “increase police murders by more than 40 percent.”

Another factor that authorities and “tough on crime” politicians fail to consider is how the increased militarization of civilian police forces dehumanizes them in the eyes of the public. Police outfitted in riot gear respond to peaceful protests attended by families with swinging batons and pepper spray. Traffic cops dress like they’re patrolling the Sunni Triangle rather than the suburbs, scowling at the taxpayers who pay their salaries as they sweat under their Kevlar vests.

When Princess Diana died, millions of Americans wept. Be honest. How do you feel when you hear that a cop has been shot to death? Odds are that you feel nothing at all.

During the first few years of the occupation, British officials ordered their forces to assume a less aggressive posture toward Iraqi civilians than their American counterparts. The Brits went light on the helmets and body armor, wearing uniforms that made them seem more like, well, policemen. Many eschewed sunglasses.

British casualty rates fell. Looking human, it turns out, is safer than protecting yourself. The thing is, killing is hard. The more human you appear, the more relatable you are, the harder it becomes, the guiltier your killer feels. Which presumably makes them less likely to kill again. (To make killing easier for its soldiers, the U.S. military deliberately reduces the available resolution on night-vision goggles, scrambling the appearance of the enemy to make him look alien.)

The more aggressive our policemen act, the more they look like military occupation troops than civilian peace officers, the easier it is for a gunman pull the trigger.

Remember this article the next time you get pulled over. Ask yourself: how do I feel? Odds are, the answer will involve a mixture of fear and contempt. Then imagine what you’d do if you were one arrest away from life in prison—and you had a gun.

(Ted Rall’s next book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt,” out May 22. His website is tedrall.com.)