Saturday, April 18, 2015

FBI overstated forensic hair matches in nearly all trials before 2000: Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project, commended the FBI and department for the collaboration but said, “The FBI’s three-decade use of microscopic hair analysis to incriminate defendants was a complete disaster.”

FBI overstated forensic hair matches in nearly all trials before 2000

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FBI headquarters in Washington. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)
The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.
Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project, which are assisting the government with the country’s largest post-conviction review ofquestioned forensic evidence.
The cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death. Of those, 14 have been executed or died in prison, the groups said under an agreement with the government to release results after the review of the first 200 convictions.
The FBI errors alone do not mean there was not other evidence of a convict’s guilt. Defendants and federal and state prosecutors in 46 states and the District are being notified to determine whether there are grounds for appeals. Four defendants were previously exonerated.
The admissions mark a watershed in one of the country’s largest forensic scandals, highlighting the failure of the nation’s courts for decades to keep bogus scientific information from juries, legal analysts said. The question now, they said, is how state authorities and the courts will respond to findings that confirm long-suspected problems with subjective, pattern-based forensic techniques — like hair and bite-mark comparisons — that have contributed to wrongful convictions in more than one-quarter of 329 DNA-exoneration cases since 1989.
In a statement, the FBI and Justice Department vowed to continue to devote resources to address all cases and said they “are committed to ensuring that affected defendants are notified of past errors and that justice is done in every instance. The Department and the FBI are also committed to ensuring the accuracy of future hair analysis, as well as the application of all disciplines of forensic science.”
Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project, commended the FBI and department for the collaboration but said, “The FBI’s three-decade use of microscopic hair analysis to incriminate defendants was a complete disaster.”
“We need an exhaustive investigation that looks at how the FBI, state governments that relied on examiners trained by the FBI and the courts allowed this to happen and why it wasn’t stopped much sooner,” Neufeld said.
Norman L. Reimer, the NACDL’s executive director, said, “Hopefully, this project establishes a precedent so that in future situations it will not take years to remediate the injustice.”
While unnamed federal officials previously acknowledged widespread problems, the FBI until now has withheld comment because findings might not be representative.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a former prosecutor, called on the FBI and Justice Department to notify defendants in all 2,500 targeted cases involving an FBI hair match about the problem even if their case has not been completed, and to redouble efforts in the three-year-old review to retrieve information on each case.
“These findings are appalling and chilling in their indictment of our criminal justice system, not only for potentially innocent defendants who have been wrongly imprisoned and even executed, but for prosecutors who have relied on fabricated and false evidence despite their intentions to faithfully enforce the law,” Blumenthal said.
Flawed forensic testimony by state
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), urged the bureau to conduct “a root-cause analysis” to prevent future breakdowns.
“It is critical that the Bureau identify and address the systemic factors that allowed this far-reaching problem to occur and continue for more than a decade,” the lawmakers wrote FBI Director James B. Comey on March 27, as findings were being finalized.
The FBI is waiting to complete all reviews to assess causes but has acknowledged that hair examiners until 2012 lacked written standards defining scientifically appropriate and erroneous ways to explain results in court. The bureau expects this year to complete similar standards for testimony and lab reports for 19 forensic disciplines.
Federal authorities launched the investigation in 2012 after The Washington Post reported that flawed forensic hair matches might have led to the convictions of hundreds of potentially innocentpeople since at least the 1970s, typically for murder, rape and other violent crimes nationwide.
The review confirmed that FBI experts systematically testified to the near-certainty of “matches” of crime-scene hairs to defendants, backing their claims by citing incomplete or misleading statistics drawn from their case work.
In reality, there is no accepted research on how often hair from different people may appear the same. Since 2000, the lab has used visual hair comparison to rule out someone as a possible source of hair or in combination with more accurate DNA testing.
Warnings about the problem have been mounting. In 2002, the FBI reported that its own DNA testing found that examiners reported false hair matches more than 11 percent of the time. In the District, the only jurisdiction where defenders and prosecutors have re-investigated all FBI hair convictions,three of seven defendants whose trials included flawed FBI testimony have been exonerated through DNA testing since 2009, and courts have exonerated two more men. All five served 20 to 30 years in prison for rape or murder.
University of Virginia law professor Brandon L. Garrett said the results reveal a “mass disaster” inside the criminal justice system, one that it has been unable to self-correct because courts rely on outdated precedents admitting scientifically invalid testimony at trial and, under the legal doctrine of finality, make it difficult for convicts to challenge old evidence.
“The tools don’t exist to handle systematic errors in our criminal justice system,” Garrett said. “The FBI deserves every recognition for doing something really remarkable here. The problem is there may be few judges, prosecutors or defense lawyers who are able or willing to do anything about it.”
Federal authorities are offering new DNA testing in cases with errors, if sought by a judge or prosecutor, and agreeing to drop procedural objections to appeals in federal cases.
However, biological evidence in the cases often is lost or unavailable. Among states, only California and Texas specifically allow appeals when experts recant or scientific advances undermine forensic evidence at trial.
Defense attorneys say scientifically invalid forensic testimony should be considered as violations of due process, as courts have held with false or misleading testimony.
The FBI searched more than 21,000 federal and state requests to its hair comparison unit from 1972 through 1999, identifying for review roughly 2,500 cases where examiners declared hair matches.
Reviews of 342 defendants’ convictions were completed as of early March, the NACDL and Innocence Project reported. In addition to the 268 trials in which FBI hair evidence was used against defendants, the review found cases in which defendants pleaded guilty, FBI examiners did not testify, did not assert a match or gave exculpatory testimony.
When such cases are included, by the FBI’s count examiners made statements exceeding the limits of science in about 90 percent of testimonies, including 34 death-penalty cases.
The findings likely scratch the surface. The FBI said as of mid-April that reviews of about 350 trial testimonies and 900 lab reports are nearly complete, with about 1,200 cases remaining.
The bureau said it is difficult to check cases before 1985, when files were computerized. It has been unable to review 700 cases because police or prosecutors did not respond to requests for information.
Also, the same FBI examiners whose work is under review taught 500 to 1,000 state and local crime lab analysts to testify in the same ways.
Texas, New York and North Carolina authorities are reviewing their hair examiner cases, with ad hoc efforts underway in about 15 other states.
Spencer S. Hsu is an investigative reporter, two-time Pulitzer finalist and national Emmy award nominee.
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Terrorism Case Renews Debate Over Drone Hits

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An American once considered a possible target to be killed in Pakistan is in custody in the United States, bolstering an argument that it is feasible to capture terrorism suspects, even in remote parts of the world.

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The drone strike killed Ibrahim al-Rubeish, an ideologue and spokesman for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who had been a prisoner at Guantánamo Bay.

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American troops returning for the first time since 2011 said they were stunned by the state of the army they had once trained.

Boehner Calls for Expanded Role for U.S. Troops in Fighting ISIS in Iraq 

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Speaker John A. Boehner said American troops should be allowed to engage in more planning and directing of military operations in the battle against the militant group.
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California: Another Guilty Plea in Navy Bribery Case

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A lieutenant commander on Tuesday became the fifth Navy official and the eighth person over all to plead guilty to federal charges in a bribery scandal involving ship-supply contracts in the Pacific.

Putin's targeted strike - The Economist

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Northwest Arkansas News

Putin's targeted strike
The Economist
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Moscow bans movie for showing Russia as 'Mordor' - CNNMoney

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Moscow bans movie for showing Russia as 'Mordor'
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Obama Is Using Cuba To Counter Russia, Iran, And China's Growing Influence ... - Forbes

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Obama Is Using Cuba To Counter Russia, Iran, And China's Growing Influence ...
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A US-Russia War Over Ukraine? -

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Wall Street Journal

A US-Russia War Over Ukraine? 
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US paratroopers to train Ukraine army as Russia complains - BBC News

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BBC News

US paratroopers to train Ukraine army as Russia complains
BBC News
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US troops in Ukraine to train forces fighting pro-Russia rebels - Yahoo News

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Yahoo News

US troops in Ukraine to train forces fighting pro-Russia rebels
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Russia says foreign troops in Ukraine could 'destabilize' east Ukraine situation -

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Russia says foreign troops in Ukraine could 'destabilize' east Ukraine situation
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US Will Not Survive a Nuclear War Against Russia - Jean-Paul Baquiast - Sputnik International

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US Will Not Survive a Nuclear War Against Russia - Jean-Paul Baquiast
Sputnik International
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Airlines Slash Routes to Moscow in Latest Sign of Russia's Growing Isolation - Bloomberg

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Airlines Slash Routes to Moscow in Latest Sign of Russia's Growing Isolation
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Russia lifts ban on air defense sale to Iran. A game changer? - Christian Science Monitor

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Russia lifts ban on air defense sale to Iran. A game changer?
Christian Science Monitor
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Germany Seeks to Counter Russian 'Propaganda' in Baltics - Wall Street Journal

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Wall Street Journal

Germany Seeks to Counter Russian 'Propaganda' in Baltics
Wall Street Journal
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Obama downplays Russia weapons system sale to Iran - CNN

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Obama downplays Russia weapons system sale to Iran
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Russia: US Troops in Ukraine Could Destabilize Situation - Voice of America

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Voice of America

Russia: US Troops in Ukraine Could Destabilize Situation
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Russian opposition parties form anti-Putin alliance - BBC News

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BBC News

Russian opposition parties form anti-Putin alliance
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Russia to loan Greece 'up to $5bn' to join Turkish pipeline – report - RT

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Russia to loan Greece 'up to $5bn' to join Turkish pipeline – report
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Russia's Putin says ready to work with United States: TV - Reuters

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Russia's Putin says ready to work with United States: TV
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Russia Kept at Junk Rating With Negative Outlook by S&P - Bloomberg

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Europe faces a 'real threat' from Russia, warns US army commander -

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Europe faces a 'real threat' from Russia, warns US army commander
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Marco Rubio-Jeb Bush alliance sours in GOP primary faceoff

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Ukraine meets with investors in effort to strike debt deal

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Ukrainian authorities met with investors in Washington on Friday as part of an effort to secure agreement on extending maturities of bonds issued by state-run Ukreximbank.


Iraqi forces retake most of Baiji refinery from Islamic State

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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi forces retook most of the country's largest refinery from Islamic State on Saturday, officials said, reversing gains by the militants who seized parts of the sprawling complex in northern Iraq this week.

Mexico confirms capture of Gulf Cartel leader

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican authorities on Saturday confirmed the capture of a leader of the Gulf Cartel, describing him as responsible for much of the violence in the U.S. border city of Reynosa in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas.

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Putin says ready to work with United States: TV

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia has key interests in common with the United States and needs to work with it on a common agenda, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday in a television interview.

Humane Hurricane Hits Puerto Rico | Repeating Islands

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Australian Police Arrest 5 Men They Say Were Planning Terror Attacks 

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Two of the men, both 18, had been preparing to attack police officers in Melbourne during a national holiday, the authorities said Saturday.

Report: With Cartel Help, ISIS Crossing Border From Mexico

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An explosive report released April 14 by the non-profit Judicial Watch, citing official Mexican military and law-enforcement sources, states that the terrorist group ISIS, now calling itself the “Islamic State,” is operating a camp in Mexico just miles away from the U.S. border.

Government Gives Social Security Numbers to 541,000 Illegals

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In an April 10 letter to Senators Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Carolyn Colvin, the Social Security Administration’s acting commissioner, stated that by the end of Fiscal Year 2014, the administration had issued 541,000 Social Security Numbers to individuals authorized to work under the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Russia This Week: After Putin’s Call-in Show, ‘Where is Reality?

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Ukraine Live Day 425: Putin Says He’ll Consider Recognizing ‘Donetsk

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Russia in Review

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April 17, 2015
Russia in Review: a digest of useful news from U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism for April 10-17, 2015

Iraqi security forces report killing long-sought Saddam aide

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Iraqi security forces on Friday killed Izzat Ibrahim al Douri, the highest-ranking member of the late Saddam Hussein’s regime to escape the U.S.-led invasion and occupation, Iraqi officials said.
A photo supposedly taken of the dead man by soldiers involved in the operation and distributed on Twitter closely resembled al Douri, including notable red hair and a red beard. But the final confirmation of his identity will come from DNA testing over the next few days, the Salahuddin provincial governor’s office told McClatchy.
A Kurdish security official who knew al Douri agreed the photo looked like the man he’d known, but he added that in light of past rumors of al Douri’s death in combat or from illness, DNA testing would be necessary to confirm his identity.
No official photo was released.
The Kurdish security official, who asked not to be identified to avoid tensions with officials in Baghdad over credit for the death, said that the man thought to be al Douri was traveling in a small convoy with about nine bodyguards in a hilly, rural area south of the city of Kirkuk and north of Tikrit when it was fired on. The official would not comment if the convoy was being tracked by air.
Iraqi security officials in Baghdad, speaking to local television news, claimed that Iraqi security forces ambushed the convoy and that at least three of the 10 men were wearing suicide vests that were detonated in the ensuing gunfight. Those details could not be confirmed independently.
Al Douri’s militant group, the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order, made no comment on the developments Friday. But the nearly defunct Iraqi Baath Party, Saddam’s political group, issued an online statement denying the death, which it described as a rumor.
Often rumored to have been killed or captured, al Douri formed the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order after the fall of Saddam’s regime to fight American forces in Iraq and oppose the Shiite-dominated government that replaced Saddam’s Sunni-led regime. He later aligned his forces with the Islamic State as the Islamist extremists overran much of northern and central Iraq in June 2014.
A government statement said that al Douri’s death represented a major blow to the military capabilities of the Islamic State, which has worked hard to absorb former military and intelligence officers from the Saddam regime despite at least a superficial difference in ideology between the former secular Baathists and the Islamist radicals.
Many analysts have credited the former military professionals for the training that has enabled the Islamic State’s victories over the past 18 months.
The exact relationship between al Douri’s organization and the Islamic State has been the subject of significant speculation, however, amid persistent rumors of rifts over governance and military strategy.
“The two groups initially coordinated, but it is clear the relationship was one whereby the Naqshbandi hoped to ride the wave of IS-spearheaded offensives to gain a slice of influence in the insurgent landscape,” said Aymenn al Tamimi, a specialist in Iraqi militant groups with the Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia-based think tank. “But things very quickly turned sour as IS dominated all towns out of government control and arrested, killed or co-opted Naqshbandi members, prompting those who did not want to give allegiance to IS to flee.”
Tamimi said that al Douri initially seemed “delighted” by the Islamic State’s rapid advance across northern and central Iraq. But he soon became disillusioned with the Islamic State’s bloody rule.
“His last alleged speech clearly condemned IS conduct,” Tamimi said.
A longtime confidant and possible successor to Saddam, Douri was born in 1942 in the village of al Dour, which is next to Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit. His prominent role in the regime earned him the designation of king of clubs in the deck of cards of wanted regime officials that U.S. occupation authorities issued after U.S. troops invaded Iraq. He was never caught.
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Four British Navy members charged in Canada with sexual assault | Reuters

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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Four members of the British Navy were charged on Thursday with sexual assault in connection with an incident that took place in Nova Scotia on April 10, said a spokesman for the Canadian Department of National Defence.
The four men - Craig Stoner, Darren Smalley, Joshua Finbow and Simon Radford - were members of a British Navy hockey team that was in the Atlantic province for a tournament, according to the spokesman.
The department said the men were charged by a special unit within the military police that has a mandate to investigate serious and sensitive matters.
The assault allegedly took place at a party and involved a Halifax-area woman, the local Chronicle-Herald newspaper reported.
"This is a disturbing accusation of sexual assault," Canadian Forces Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Bolduc said in a statement. "I'm pleased with the full cooperation provided by the British authorities to support the hard work and diligence of the (investigative) team in responding to this matter."
The British Ministry of Defence said in a statement that it takes allegations of this nature very seriously, but that it would be inappropriate to comment further as legal proceedings continue.
Representatives for the accused could not immediately be reached for comment.
(Reporting By Mike De Souza; Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Alan Crosby)

Scant Data Frustrates Efforts to Assess Number of Shootings by Police 

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Under current federal laws, nothing requires police departments and other agencies to report to the public or to the Justice Department about shootings involving officers.

Police fear 'war on cops' after 11 shootings - US news - Crime & courts

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A spate of shooting attacks on law enforcement officers has authorities concerned about a war on cops.
In just 24 hours, at least 11 officers were shot. The shootings included Sunday attacks at traffic stops in Indiana and Oregon, a Detroit police station shooting that wounded four officers, and a shootout at a Port Orchard, Wash., Wal-Mart that injured two deputies. On Monday morning, two officers were shot dead and a U.S. Marshal was wounded by a gunman in St. Petersburg, Fla.
On Thursday, two Miami-Dade, Fla., detectives were killed by a murder suspect they were trying to arrest.
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"It's not a fluke," said Richard Roberts, spokesman for the International Union of Police Associations. "There's a perception among officers in the field that there’s a war on cops going on."
With the Florida deaths, the nation is on track in 2011 to match the 162 police officers killed in the line of duty in 2010, said Steve Groeninger, spokesman for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that tracks police casualties. In January this year there have been 14 deaths, the same number as in January 2010, the fund posted on its web site.
The 2010 toll ended a two-year drop in fatalities and spiked 43 percent over the 117 killed in 2009, Groeninger said.
Story: Suspect dead after 2 cops killed, marshal wounded in Fla. home
Law enforcement advocates worry that cuts in police budgets could exacerbate the danger.
"We don't have any data, but there seems to be a type of criminal out there looking to thwart authority," he said.
He cited the example of Jared Loughner, accused of killing six and wounding 13, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, on Jan. 8 in Tucson, Ariz. "People with this mentality feel the need to eliminate those in position of authority," he said.
Roberts said the recent shootings are reminders that officers must constantly stay on alert.
"The bad guys are not afraid of cops," Roberts said. "They’re rarely rational. You get that combination, when you ID yourself as a cop, it does not scare them away; it makes it more dangerous for you."
Noting the Oregon and Indiana shootings occurred during so-called "routine traffic stops," Roberts said, "The word routine should be eliminated from the job. There's no such thing. There is only 'known risk' and 'unknown risk' " he said.
Roberts, a former North Beach, Md., police officer, and Groeninger both voiced worries over police budget cuts.
Reducing police response times and cutting back on in-service training can endanger not just citizens but cops on patrol, they said.
"It's not a good situation out there," Groeninger said.
Here is the status of the police shooting investigations on Monday:
  • Indianapolis police say they arrested Thomas Hardy in the shooting of Officer David Moore, who was shot in the face and body and remained in a coma.
  • A manhunt continued in the Oregon beach town of Waldport for a gunman who shot officer Steven Dodds, 45, a six-year veteran of the Lincoln City Police Department. Police were looking for the owner of a 1984 Dodge truck that fled the shooting scene.
  • In Detroit, four officers shot inside their precinct were recovering, police said. Investigators said Lamar Moore, 38, of Detroit entered the 6th Precinct on the city's northwest side about 4:30 p.m. Sunday and shot Cmdr. Brian Davis, Officer David Anderson; Sgt. Ray Saati; and Sgt. Carrie Schulz. Officers returned fire and killed Moore, who was scheduled to be sentenced Monday for his role in a double homicide, they said.
  • One of two deputies wounded in Port Orchard, Wash., was released from the hospital while another remained in satisfactory condition after being wounded Sunday in a gunfight. A suspect and a female victim who came running to his aid were killed. Police were investigating how the female victim was shot. The gunman was identified as Anthony A. Martinez, 31, of Salt Lake City. The Deseret News said police had issued an endangered persons advisory for a 13-year-old runaway believed to be traveling with Martinez.
  • In St. Petersburg, Fla., a suspected gunman was found dead after two police officers were shot to death and a U.S. marshal was injured as they tried to make an arrest. Suncoast Benevolent Association President Mark Marland identified the fallen officers as Tom Baitinger and Jeffrey Yaslowitz.
  • In Miami, thousands of law enforcement officers gathered at a funeral service in American Airlines Arena to honor Roger Castillo, 41, Amanda Haworth, 44, who were killed on Thursday while serving a warrant on a suspected killer. The suspect, 22-year-old Johnny Simms, was killed by another officer.
The Associated Press and Reuters also contributed to this report.
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Stop the war on police

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Maj. Jay McDonald 2:27 p.m. EDT August 31, 2014
Marion Police Department Maj. Jay McDonald, commander of the investigations unit, which includes the MARMET Drug Task Force, testified before the Ohio House of Representatives study committee addressing the drug epidemic in Ohio. The committee heard from witnesses on the current drug issues and the challenges it presents to employers and educators and how they work with law enforcement. The hearing, chaired by Rep. Dorothy Pelanda, R-Marysville, was held Wednesday, in Maynard Hall on the Marion campus of The Ohio State University. (Photo: Bill Sinden/The Marion Star )