Monthly Archives: March 2015

HAVE SIREN WILL HARRASS & COLLECT TAXES

Illustration: Michael Mucci.

Illustration: Michael Mucci.

NSW is over-policed. Taxpayers are funding a costly, inefficient and increasingly intrusive force that devotes only 21 per cent of its work hours to investigating crime. Most of the rest is soft stuff and bureaucracy. The amount of the public’s time being wasted by police is both prodigious and unacknowledged.

Without exception, every single intrusion by police, every act of harassment, every misallocation of resources, is rationalised as “public safety”. This Orwellian catch-all is used to rationalise a multitude of sins.

On average, about 16,000 people a day are enduring random intrusions by police, fined for petty offences, or fined via private tax collectors acting for profit.

I don’t even have to leave my house to sense the scale of the rising officiousness. The following incident, multiplied by a thousand times a day, is why the NSW Police are on a course to being perceived as an occupying army rather than a safety net:

On December 22, a woman double-parked outside my house to pick up a package from me. It didn’t take long, it was mid-afternoon, the street was quiet. Suddenly, a police siren wailed. A patrol car had pulled up behind her. The siren blast was manifestly unnecessary. The woman drove off and there had been no disruption to traffic. A few days later she received a Traffic Infringement Notification. She had been fined $242. She could pay or she could go to court.

She was outraged. By any measure, this was bastardry, and thus poor policing. Patrol cars are linked to the police data base, so Officer Siren would have seen that the woman had a very good driving record. He booked her anyway, for a trivial breach.

Two weeks ago it happened again. Another police siren outside my house. It was mid-morning. I went outside to see another woman being booked by another Officer Siren.

I took a photo of the car with my iPhone. The police officer called out “Can I help you, sir?”

I replied: “Do you think you’re doing the reputation of the police any good by doing this?”

“The car is double-parked. There’s nothing I can do about what people think, sir.”

I replied: “There’s everything you can do.”

Every year, NSW police stop more than five million people who have done nothing wrong. They do so politely, but most of these interventions are non-productive and cost the public tens of thousands of hours of lost time. The majority of these checks are bureaucratic make-work.

Only about 0.35 per cent of people stopped for random breath tests are charged with an offence, and most of those offences are minor.

There is a social cost to the increasing use of police and paralegals as tax collectors. As a former NSW police detective told me: “The exponential rise in revenue from Traffic Infringement Notices since the advent of privatised speed cameras has seen an escalation in people losing their licences, and their employment. Some have even lost their homes.”

On March 8, the NRMA took the unusual step of issuing a press release to complain about the way the state government was using private sub-contractors to ramp up the revenue collected from motorists via mobile speed traps: “New data shows almost 41,000 motorists have been fined by the cameras so far this financial year, up from almost 26,500 in 2013-14.”

That’s a 50 per cent surge. The NRMA urged the government to have the speed limit displayed on warning signs, “to reduce unnecessary anxiety for motorists”. It called for a fairer, safer warning system, as warnings are currently displayed only 250 metres and 50 metres before the speed camera. The NRMA wants the speed camera vehicles more clearly marked.

The major corporate operator of mobile speed cameras is Redflex. It has a contract with the NSW government and its 2014 annual report contains this ominous paragraph: “During financial year 2014, over $3.5 million was invested in the [NSW] contract which is anticipated to deliver annual revenue of more than $9 million per annum over the next two-and-a-half-year period.”

Redflex thus estimates it will harvest revenue of $23 million during the duration of its contract until 2016. Packaged as “public safety” of course.

Ever since random breath testing was introduced in 1982, there has been a steady decline in road fatalities. The annual reports of the NSW Police have cited RBT as the most effective tool in the fight to reduce fatalities. But the deterrent effect of RBT plateaued years ago. The continued downward trend in fatalities in the past decade has come more from the introduction of air bags and improvements in auto technology.

Police could achieve broadly the same impact with RBT with half the rate of stoppages, half the cost, and half the social disruption. Instead, the police and the government are going in the opposite direction, with more intrusions.

Compounding this policy malfunction is the rip-off of motorists at the federal level. Over the past 15 years, the federal government has extracted $136 billion in fuel excises from vehicle-owners, yet spent $53 billion on road infrastructure. The disparity is $83 billion. Vehicle owners are thus being milked by government in addition to the impositions imposed by the states.

Then there is local government, where inner-city councils deploy swarms of tax collectors they call “rangers”. No bureaucratic euphemism can disguise the grim pettiness attached to the term “parking inspector”. They seem to live in my street.

At every level of government – federal, state, local – vehicle-owners are being used as cash cows by government, in a disingenuous and increasingly intrusive way. And I don’t even own a car.

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Henry Sapiecha

New York police begin using ShotSpotter system to detect gunshots

New York City police commissioner Bill Bratton, center, speaks during a news conference at police headquarters in New York.

New York City police commissioner Bill Bratton, center, speaks during a news conference at police headquarters in New York. Photo: AP

The New York Police Department has started using a detection system that pinpoints the location of gunfire and sends the information to law enforcement, the latest move to modernise the nation’s largest police force, the department announced Monday.

The system, called ShotSpotter, is used in several major cities. It works by installing sensors – basically, sensitive microphones – around an area to pick up sounds from the street that might be gunfire, and uses the sensors to locate where the shots were fired. It then sends the information to the Police Department.

As part of a pilot program, ShotSpotter sensors are being placed in seven precincts in the Bronx and 10 in Brooklyn, a total area of 15 square miles, where there have been a high number of shootings. The sensors in the Bronx began working shortly after midnight Monday, and sent data on shots fired at 12:49am The sensors in Brooklyn will start collecting data shortly after midnight next Monday.

“Today, we are rolling out cutting edge technology to make the city safer, to make our neighborhoods safer, to keep our officers safer,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio, who appeared with William Bratton, the police commissioner, to announce the initiative. “This gunshot detection system is going to do a world of good in terms of going after the bad guys.”
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Both the mayor and Bratton stressed that ShotSpotter would help the relationship between the police and the communities where they work while also helping officers respond more quickly to shootings. Still, some have raised concerns about how the data might be used.

The city first solicited proposals for a pilot program in 2009, and tested a system from Safety Dynamics, but found that the technology yielded too many false alarms.

In 2014, the city again sought proposals, after de Blasio’s campaign promise to bring gunfire detection software to the city. Bratton has also supported the measure; he sat on ShotSpotter’s board before returning as commissioner, but has since resigned, the company said.

ShotSpotter is used in cities including Washington, Boston, San Francisco and Minneapolis, as well as smaller cities like East Chicago, Indiana, according to Ralph Clark, the company’s chief executive.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announces the use of the ShotSpotter system.

Bratton said that episodes in which guns are fired are vastly underreported. “On average, 75 percent of shots fired called in by ShotSpotter are never called into 911,” he said.

Gun violence in the city has increased this year, with 185 shootings reported, up 11 percent from the same period last year, according to the Police Department. Bratton said ShotSpotter’s data might further raise the numbers, since more gunshots will be recorded and reported to the police.

ShotSpotter works to ensure accuracy by requiring that three sensors pick up the sound of gunfire; additionally, the recordings of any gunshots are sent to ShotSpotter’s headquarters in Newark, California, where analysts determine whether the noises were gunshots or something else like backfiring cars or slamming doors.

The two-year pilot program in New York will cost US$1.5 million (A$2 million) annually, Bratton said.

Some experts and elected officials are raising concerns about how the data, which belongs to the Police Department, is collected and used.

Letitia James, the city’s public advocate, is planning to introduce a bill to the City Council to require quarterly reports on the gunshots recorded, as well as any other data collected by the ShotSpotter system.

Eben Moglen, a privacy law professor at Columbia University, said programs like ShotSpotter have Fourth Amendment implications.

If potentially incriminating evidence is picked up by the microphones, he said, it should not be allowed as evidence, because it constitutes a warrantless search and seizure by collecting public sounds.

Clark said ShotSpotter has received inquiries from those looking to improve relations between police officers and the communities they serve because it can provide more information on cloudy confrontations between police and civilians, like the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri.

Clark said ShotSpotter was able to find that the source of the gunfire in that case did not move over the course of the confrontation.

“This is not about technology, it’s not about law enforcement,” Clark said. “It’s really about how communities and law enforcement can work together to deter gun violence.”

The New York TImes

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Henry Sapiecha

Ex-Policeman sentenced after having Glock sex with woman at Sydney police station

Used during a sexual encounter: A Glock.

A former police officer who had sex with a woman and allowed her to handle his gun at a police station has been sentenced to 20 months’ imprisonment but is being assessed for an intensive correction order

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Mark Garner appeared before a Sydney court on Thursday after pleading guilty to two counts of misconduct in office.

Garner, 50, from the NSW Far North Coast, began a relationship with the woman after she went to Tweed Heads police station in June 2011 to say she had been sexually assaulted.

The former detective sergeant then had sex with the woman and used his Glock pistol as a sex toy during their intimate encounter.

He also accessed police files in an attempt to retrieve a laptop, which contained incriminating photos of himself and the woman.

The former police supervisor bowed his head and cried as Judge Ross Letherbarrow told the Downing Centre District Court that he had abused his position of power.

“It was a significant error of judgment. The offender abused a position of trust in relation to the victim,” Judge Letherbarrow said.

The court heard Garner suffered from depression and post traumatic stress disorder as a result of his time working as an officer who targeted outlawed bikie gangs.

The stress he endured resulted in a marital breakdown and he experienced a series of anxiety and panic attacks.

During the sentencing hearing, the court also heard that Garner had stopped drinking, had gone to a detox clinic and had “done his best” to restore his relationship with his family.

Judge Letherbarrow ordered that Garner be assessed for an intensive correction order.

An intensive correction order is a community-based punishment in which offenders must participate in rehabilitation programs, observe strict curfews, and undergo regular drug and alcohol testing.

The orders, introduced in July last year, also allow a court to set conditions such as a ban on drinking, travel restrictions, random breath tests and electronic monitoring with ankle bracelets.

Garner declined to comment about his sentence outside court.

He will next appear before the same court on March 20 to learn whether he is suitable for the order.

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Henry Sapiecha