Is This the Worst Small-Town Police Force in the U.S.?

Monday, August 20, 2012
Is This the Worst Small-Town Police Force in the U.S.?
It has been a bad month for the police department of Coopertown, Tennessee (pop.: 4,278), about 30 miles northwest of Nashville. At the beginning of August, police dash cam video (at 6:00) from May 16 of white volunteer officer Robert McCormick using anti-black racist slurs in reference to the sex life of Mayor Sam Childs, who is white, and referring to an African-American man who had lodged a complaint against McCormick, ignited a furor. McCormick, whose punishment had been limited to a one-day suspension, was fired.
The video was leaked by the town’s only other full-time officer, David Deckerd, only days after his July 31 termination. Coopertown says Deckerd was fired because on July 21 he was accused of pulling a gun during an off-duty road rage incident. Deckerd counters that his firing was retaliation for uncovering the video. The last remaining Coopertown police officer, Police Chief Paul West, resigned on August 16, in response to what Mayor Childs called “predatory reporting” by the media.
None of this is really new to the people of Coopertown, which has had ten police chiefs in the last eleven years. The trouble seems to have started under Police Chief Matthew Norrod, who was fired in 2000 and convicted in 2001 of theft, admitting in court that he stole $2,120 from a suspect during an arrest. In May 2007, Chief Dave Barrera was dismissed over the hiring of his wife by the department. Over the past several years, the city has been sued at least five times for unlawful termination of police employees. Three settled for an undisclosed amount of money, one case was dismissed, and another cost taxpayers $90,000 after a jury verdict.
Other lowlights include the 11-month tenure (May 2005-Apr. 2006) of Chief E.J. Bernard, a homicide detective who left the Nashville Police Dept. amid an internal inquiry that concluded he had filed false reports and intimidated and berated a dead woman’s son whom he wrongly suspected of murder. Bernard resigned shortly after testifying—in a corruption case brought by local prosecutors—that Coopertown Mayor Danny Crosby was dangerous and irrational, used racial slurs, called drunk driving a crime that doesn’t “generate revenue and should be ignored,” and contended that many residents were out to get him. Crosby, who once tried to change local speed limits on his own, got the town council to change them and earned Coopertown a reputation as a speed trap.
Ironically, when the people of Coopertown voted 16 years ago to transform their sprawling rural community into an incorporated city, they did so as a way to prevent Robertson County officials from locating a new landfill in their midst. They stopped the trash dump, but have been plagued ever since by odors of corruption and incompetence emanating from City Hall and police headquarters.
The town will be patrolled by the Robertson County Sheriff’s Office until new police officers can be hired. Anyone interested in the $16 an hour job has until September 6 to apply here.
-Matt Bewig
To Learn More:
Coopertown’s Last Officer Quits, Blames Media Glare (by Brian Haas and Nicole Young, The Tennessean)
Robbing Banks is Not a Cost-Efficient Profession
Monday, August 20, 2012
Robbing Banks is Not a Cost-Efficient Profession
Income potential being an important factor in evaluating career options, readers should note that despite its glamorous media image, bank robbery is not a particularly remunerative profession, especially in the long-term. The conclusion that crime doesn’t pay was reached by three economists originally paid by the British Bankers’ Association to assess the cost effectiveness of bank security measures. Using confidential data on the value of every bank heist in the U.K. from 2005 to 2008, the trio came up with an economic model of bank robbery.
They found that the average revenue from a British bank robbery in 2005-2008 was only $31,600, although excluding the one-third of robberies that came up dry boosts the average to $46,600. But those proceeds have to be divided among the gang, and while extra gang members raise the average take, the haul per person decreases.
The average take per person per successful job was $19,792, equivalent to less than six months’ average wage in the UK, although being armed increased revenues substantially. While that may not sound too bad, multiple jobs greatly increase the risk of arrest and incarceration, as 20% of heists ended that way.
Data from the FBI paint a similar picture. In 2011, there were 5,086 bank robberies in the U.S., generating $38,343,501.96 in revenues for the perpetrators, or an average of $7,539 per heist. Excluding the robberies where nothing was taken increases the average only to $8,457. Not only is the return low, the risk is high: out of 13 people killed during bank robberies in 2011, 10 were robbers.
On the other hand, and in light of AllGov’s story last week on the Justice Department decision not to prosecute Goldman Sachs, it appears that robbery does pay well…if the robbers are the bankers themselves.
-Matt Bewig
To Learn More:
Bank Robbery Doesn’t Pay (Much) (by Christopher Shea, Wall Street Journal)
Robbing Banks: Crime Does Pay – but not very much (by Barry Reilly, Neil Rickman & Robert Witt, Significance) (behind a paywall)
Federal Court Rules Utah’s Anti-Hair Braiding Law Unconstitutional
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Federal Court Rules Utah’s Anti-Hair Braiding Law Unconstitutional
Jestina Sunkarie Bangura-Clayton has won her legal case against the state of Utah, which tried to force her to obtain a cosmetology license for her hair-weaving business.
Clayton’s part-time work came to a halt in 2009 after state officials told her she needed a cosmetology license to charge for African hair braiding. The refugee from Sierra Leone objected, arguing that the license would have required her to spend 2,000 hours and thousands of dollars on cosmetology classes, most of which had nothing to do with her line of work.
With the help of the Institute for Justice, Clayton sued in federal court. There, District Court Judge David Sam ruled the state had wrongly applied its Cosmetology Act and licensing regulations against her.
“Utah’s regulations do not advance public health and safety when applied to Jestina because Utah has irrationally squeezed ‘two professions into a single, identical mold,’ by treating hair braiders—who perform a very distinct set of services—as if they were cosmetologists.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff
To Learn More:
Utah Licensing Law Is Unfair to Hair Braider (by Jonny Bonner, Courthouse News Service)
Jestina Clayton v. Mark Steinagel (U.S. District Court, Central Utah) (pdf)
Legally Married U.S. Couples Live Longer than Unmarried Couples…If They’re White, but not Black
Sunday, July 22, 2012
Legally Married U.S. Couples Live Longer than Unmarried Couples…If They’re White, but not Black
Being married, as compared to merely cohabitating with one’s partner, allows both mates to live longer, but whites benefit far more than African-Americans, according to a recently released study authored by two sociologists. Put another way, those who cohabitate with a mate live longer than those living alone or with a roommate regardless of race, but marriage reduces mortality only for white cohabiters, while blacks gain no extra benefit. The study, in the Journal of Marriage and Family, is the first to document mortality differences between cohabiters and married people across racial groups in the United States.
The authors, Professors Hui Liu of Michigan State University and Corinne Reczek of the University of Cincinnati, noted that previous studies had compared married people to all others—cohabiters, widows, widowers, divorcees, and the never-married—without asking whether those who cohabitate without marriage might get some of the benefits of marriage. Their conclusion, that married blacks don’t appear to live any longer than cohabiting blacks, “implies that marriage and cohabitation have very different meanings for blacks and whites,” said sociologist Hui Liu.
Liu said these numbers indicate that whites are more likely to see cohabitation as a trial marriage, which may mean that cohabitation would yield lower levels of shared social, psychological and economic resources. In contrast, the greater prevalence of cohabitation among blacks suggests blacks are more likely to see cohabitation as an alternative to marriage, with similar benefits accruing to the couple.
Wealth and income disparities along racial lines, as discussed in a recent AllGov report, likely play a major role, because one of the primary benefits of marriage arises from economic cooperation. With black unemployment rates nearly twice those of whites, black men earning only 71% of what white men earn and white median wealth now 44.5 times higher than black median wealth, there are fewer financial benefits for marriage to provide the average black couple.
The number of Americans who cohabitate has increased dramatically in the past 50 years–from 400,000 in 1960 to 7.6 million in 2011, and the study data, derived from health surveys of nearly 200,000 people taken from 1997 to 2004, also confirms that blacks cohabitate at nearly twice the rate of whites.
-Matt Bewig
To Learn More
Marriage has Different Meanings for Blacks and Whites (by Andy Henion, Michigan State University)
National Institutes of Health to Expand Program for People with Mystery Diseases
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
National Institutes of Health to Expand Program for People with Mystery Diseases
Despite lean budgetary times, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has decided to invest more money in a special program designed to identify “mystery” diseases.
The Undiagnosed Diseases Program (UDP), now in its fourth year, currently sees about 150 patients a year at a cost of $3.5 million budget. Its mission is to utilize the NIH’s vast wealth of scientific knowledge to identify and characterize previously unknown diseases.
A total of about 500 patients have been seen by UDP since it began. About 10% of patients have been fully diagnosed with a genetic disease and about 30% have a partial diagnosis.
In many instances, patients have “incredibly rare diseases” with only a few dozen cases in the world.
UDP became so popular, thanks to media attention, that it had to stop accepting new applications last year to catch up on its backlog.
Under the proposed expansion, NIH will fund five or six centers at universities at $145 million over seven years. Each center will see about 50 patients a year.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
To Learn More:
NIH to Expand Undiagnosed Diseases Program (by Jocelyn Kaiser, Science Insider)
NIH Backs Disease Detectives and RNA Sleuths (by Meredith Wadman, Nature Blog)
Medicine: Last Chance Clinic (by Brendan Maher, Nature)
Undiagnosed Diseases Program (Office of Rare Disease Research)
Bounty Hunter Seizes Wrong Woman, Refuses to Take Her Back Home Unless She Pays for Gas
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Bounty Hunter Seizes Wrong Woman, Refuses to Take Her Back Home Unless She Pays for Gas
A Georgia woman is suing a bounty hunter for wrongfully arresting her and dragging her to jail.
The bounty hunter, identified by the court as a John Doe employee of Savannah Bail Bonding, allegedly apprehended Becki Terry from her home Chatham County in February. At the time of the arrest, the bondsman would not say why Terry was wanted by the authorities.
It turned out she wasn’t.
Once the two arrived a local police station, the bondsman was informed by the police that there were no outstanding warrants for Terry.
Terry demanded an explanation for the arrest. Savannah Bail Bonding apologized for the mistake, adding that this “happens all the time.”
According to the complaint, "The bondsman refused to take Ms. Terry home unless she paid him gas money."  She had to call her fiancé, who paid the man $20. She is suing for compensatory and punitive damages for negligence, battery, false arrest, false imprisonment and infliction of emotional distress.
Savannah Bail Bonding is owned by Meia Joiner.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
To Learn More:
'This Happens All the Time,' Hey? (by Julia Filip, Courthouse News Service)
Becki Terry v. Savannah Bail Bonding (Georgia State Court, Chatham County) (pdf)
North Carolina Closer to Legalizing Fracking Because Legislator Pushed Wrong Button
Thursday, July 05, 2012
North Carolina Closer to Legalizing Fracking Because Legislator Pushed Wrong Button
North Carolina moved a big step closer to allowing the most controversial form of natural gas drilling, thanks to the errant voting of Democratic lawmaker Becky Carney.
Republicans in the statehouse pushed through legislation that would create an Energy and Mining Commission to conduct studies and create new regulations governing natural gas production through horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
But Governor Bev Purdue vetoed the legislation, claiming the underground drilling could risk clean water and public health if fracking was allowed to proceed without the proper safeguards.
So Republican lawmakers challenged Purdue and set up a vote to override the governor’s objection. GOP leaders needed a few Democrats to join them in order to have enough votes for the veto override. When the time came for the vote just before 11:30 pm Monday night, Republicans were one vote short.
Then came Carney’s blunder.
The Democrat from Charlotte had no intention of overriding the governor’s veto. But she helped do just that after she hit the wrong voting button on her desk. Instead of pushing the green button that said, “AYE,” she pressed the red one that said, “NO.”
She realized her mistake immediately and tried to change her vote, but House Speaker Thom Tillis refused to let her do so.
Once the new commission completes its work by October 2014, the legislature will have to vote again on approving its recommendations regarding fracking.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
To Learn More:
Carney's Mistaken Vote Is Key in Fracking Override (by John Murawski, Charlotte Observer)
Playboy Playmate Gains “Extraordinary Ability” Visa
Sunday, July 01, 2012
Playboy Playmate Gains “Extraordinary Ability” Visa
A former Playboy Playmate and ex-girlfriend of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner has been granted an O-1B “Extraordinary Ability” visa, allowing her to remain in the United States for three years. According to the government, an O-1B visa is for “individuals with an extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in [the] motion picture or television industry.”
Canadian Shera Bechard was born September 14, 1985, and raised in the small Francophone town of Kapuskasing, Ontario (pop.: 8,196), which is also the hometown of director James Cameron.
Bechard has appeared in one video, The World’s Sexiest Nude Women, one feature-length film, Sweet Karma, and one episode of the TV show Kendra on Top. In the first and third productions, Bechard “played” herself, and although she starred in Sweet Karma, she had no lines because her character was mute. To be fair, a reviewer for the Montreal Gazette wrote that Bechard gave “an emotionally resonant performance,” for which she won a best actress award at the 2009 Fantastic Film Festival in Austin, Texas.
Bechard was also Playboy’s “Miss November” in 2010, and is credited with having started the Twitter phenomenon of “Frisky Friday,” in which participating women post risqué, but non-nude, pictures of themselves on Twitter.
To qualify for an O-1B visa, an applicant must have “received, or been nominated for, significant national or international awards … such as an Academy Award, Emmy, Grammy or Director’s Guild Award.” Although Bechard could not meet that criterion, the rules allow the visa to be granted if an applicant can prove that they have achieved at least three of the following six milestones:
(1) Performance “as a lead or starring participant in productions or events which have a distinguished reputation”;
(2) Achievement of “national or international recognition” for her work;
(3) Performance “in a lead, starring, or critical role for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation”;
(4) “A record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes”;
(5) Reception of “significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies or other recognized experts in the field in which the beneficiary is engaged”; or
(6) “A high salary or other substantial remuneration for services in relation to others in the field.”
Although it is difficult to understand which three criteria Bechard could have met, numbers (1), (3) and (6) seem most likely, assuming that Playboy has a “distinguished reputation,” and that Bechard is making a lot of money.
Bechard’s attorney, Los Angeles immigration lawyer Chris Wright, who immigrated from South Africa, points out that “There’s nothing in those regulations that requires you to be a genius,” and characterized criticism of Bechard’s visa as sexist: “It’s quite condescending to say, ‘Oh, the idiot Playboy Playmates, they don’t qualify.’”
In her own defense, Bechard wrote on her web site, in a post titled “The Visa Thing,” “For the record, I didn’t receive a ‘genius’ visa. I’d be the first to admit I’m not a genius. The visa is given to those in the arts, athletics, business & sciences who have extraordinary abilities. You don’t have to be a genius to be a good fashion model, actor, baseball player or track and field star. You just have to achieve a certain level of success in your field, which I have done. I [sic] took me many months to put the application together – no strings were pulled, no extra cash was paid, no favours done – I got it because I deserved it.”
Nonetheless, aside from demonstrating the importance of retaining skilled legal counsel, Bechard’s visa case also illustrates the class nature of the visa system, which strongly favors immigrants with higher education, business connections, and money. There is even a visa category, the Immigrant Investor Program, or E-2 visa, which allows wealthy immigrants to buy their way into the U.S. by promising to invest a “substantial amount of capital in a bona fide enterprise in the United States” which they either own or manage. A far cry from the ideals engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
-Matt Bewig
To Learn More:
Defense Contractors Want Share of the Credit for Killing Osama bin Laden
Thursday, June 28, 2012
Defense Contractors Want Share of the Credit for Killing Osama bin Laden
Not satisfied with the billions of dollars earned from defense contracts, leading arms manufacturers now want some of the credit for killing Osama bin Laden.
Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, a conservative think tank that supports the work of defense contractors, wrote that companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman deserve kudos for helping take out al-Qaeda’s financial leader.
“Is it really asking too much for some sort of official acknowledgement of the role that private enterprise played in the Bin Laden raid?” asked Thompson. “Based on published reports, the satellites and surveillance drone were probably built by Lockheed Martin, using sensors and other gear developed by Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems. Raytheon probably led development of the network that processed and disseminated key imagery. The Sikorsky unit of United Technologies probably modified Blackhawk helicopters so the SEALS could fly into Pakistan undetected by local forces and Bin Laden supporters. And Chinook helicopters made by Boeing were vital to the initial staging of the operation.”
Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but the Lexington Institute receives, in Thompson’s words, “quite a significant” amount of its funding from defense contractors.
-David Wallechinsky, Noel Brinkerhoff
To Learn More:
FBI Employee Sues over Attractiveness Discrimination
Saturday, June 23, 2012
FBI Employee Sues over Attractiveness Discrimination
Erika Bonilla is suing the U.S. Department of Justice because she was discriminated against … for being too attractive.
Formerly an employee of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Bonilla moonlighted as a professional singer. She claims her singing career and good looks provoked jealousy from co-workers beginning in 2007, when, after four years on the job, she received a new position as an administrative specialist.
According to her lawsuit, four other FBI employees thought the position should have gone to another woman, Maria Grossetete, and management failed to stop the harassment Bonilla endured, including false rumors about sleeping with ”executive management.”
“Ms. Bonilla was targeted, harassed and retaliated against because she is an attractive Hispanic female with a career in Latin music,” the complaint states. Bonilla has continued to work for the FBI, but at an office in California.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
FBI's Latin Singer Sues Justice Department (by David Lee, Courthouse News Service)
Erika Bonilla v. Eric Holder (U.S. District Court, New Mexico) (pdf)
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