Showing posts with label police. Show all posts
Showing posts with label police. Show all posts

Thursday, November 19, 2015

I chatted with The Daily Dot about my IT work for nonprofits

Like most people in IT, I wear a lot of different hats. While I haven't mentioned it before on this website, I have spent the last two years working with a non-profit devoted to researching animal cruelty called the Puppycide Database Project. After a lot of work, that organization's research is starting to get noticed by the press. In the last two weeks, we've been cited by RT and the Washington Post.

Yesterday, I had an interesting conversation with Amrita Khalid from The Daily Dot about the difficulties involved in compiling information about pets killed by police officers. Because most of my responsibilities with the PDB Project have involved designing and implementing the databases that store the organization's research, in addition to coding the means we use to acquire the data, I've been able to put together a unique perspective on this topic. The database I manage for PDB is currently the largest set of records compiled detailing shootings of pets in the United States that I am aware of and includes details of violence involving close to 3,000 animals.

Ms Khalid was kind enough to include some of my comments from our chat in a recent feature story for The Daily Dot.


The quotes that The Daily Dot included from my conversation with Ms Khalid were part of a larger conversation we had in which I debunked several widely-repeated statistics about law enforcement use of force. While there was only room in the article to include my response to numbers provided by the Department of Justice, during my interview with The Daily Dot I demonstrated that claims routinely cited by newspapers and activists are poorly sourced if not pulled from thin air.

Specifically, we discussed the claims that a dog is shot by the police every 98 seconds and that half of all police shootings involve an animal. The 98 seconds claim was invented by a producer of a crowd-sourced documentary back in 2013 as part of a marketing drive for his film and carried absolutely no evidence to back it up other than a promise to provide citations upon the release of the film (originally titled "Puppycide", the film has been renamed "Of Dogs and Men" and is still yet to be released). The claim that half of all police shootings are aimed at dogs is the result of a misreading of a DOJ policy paper called The Problem of Dog-Related Incidents and Encounters [PDF]. While that paper does include such a statement, it cites a single police department (Milwaukee) during a single year (2009) and makes no claim that Milwaukee's numbers are nationally representative. Its a shame that the DOJ paper is so frequently mis-attributed, perhaps most influentially by the ASPCA in their policy statement related to police shootings of dogs, because its a great paper when read correctly and critically.

Like people, statistics can lie. A vital component of critical thinking involves the ability to distinguish dishonest statistics from reliable data. Even for those who are not particularly interested in matters of policy related to law enforcement, today's Daily Dot article may be of interest solely as a critical conversation about when statistical claims should be considered authoritative.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Tamir Rice Video Casts Doubt on Statements from Police

There seems to be a great deal of confusion about what happened between Tamir Rice, a 12 year old who was playing in a park with a BB gun, and the police officer who killed him.

Take, for example, this: 


Quite a few members of the "public at large" seem to be convinced that young Tamir Rice was brandishing a convincing pistol replica at the police. The police, after begging Rice to lay down his weapon multiple times, were forced to open fire when young Tamir made some sort of furtive movement toward his waist band, in which this make-believe pistol was ensconced. 

While I find it quite troubling that so many of our fellow citizens find it reasonable to leap to the defense of today's police force immediately after they gun down a pre-pubescent child, perhaps in this instance the Public can be forgiven. After all, the narrative described above has largely been formed from police statements of what happened. 

Here's the police version: A man calls 911, informing them that someone is brandishing a pistol in the park. We also know this man told 911 dispatchers that he believed the gun was fake. Police claim that they were not informed of this key detail - which, frankly, should be a controversy in and of itself. As we will see, though, its not the worst of what happened.


Its this last detail that is really the clincher. Based on the police description of events, their response was still tragic, but reasonable. Police told Tamir to raise his hands three times. The boy failed to respond, and instead reached for what the police had been told was a gun. They then killed him. 

The issue is that the officer's description of events is, at worst, an outright lie and at best an intentionally misleading misrepresentation of events. Fortunately, the Tamir family was able to receive and make public a video of the park that completely captures the events. This video is below. I would encourage readers to watch the video; the shooting occurs begin at time code 7:00 



As can be clearly seen in the video, police arrive on the scene by nearly bowling over Tamir Rice with their car. The officer on the right opens his car door and immediately opens fire. The New York Times has reported that the length of time that elapsed during this period is 2 seconds.

2 seconds is enough time to open a car door and shoot someone. 2 seconds is not long enough to order someone to raise their hands and for that person to respond to even one such warning. Particularly when the person responding is a 12 year old child who has nearly been struck by a car and is no doubt completely shocked and terrified about what is occurring. There is no way that police told Rice to raise his hands 3 times; 2 seconds is simply not enough time for that to occur.

It is my hope that those who currently support the police narrative of events watch this video. It is my hope that people will question why the police statement is completely irreconcilable with the events in this video. It is my hope that people will question why the image of a child with a toy pop gun is an event worthy of calling the police, when in the recent past such an image was as American as Apple Pie. Does the boy below strike you as being a legitimate threat to law enforcement?


The Justice system in the United States is broken. In our fear we have built a machine that destroys lives and devours children. We ought to pause, now, to consider what can be done to stop it.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

This Week in Links: The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act as Explained by Errata Security, and More Fun With the Federales

In a missive to the estimable Jean-Baptiste Leroy, portly Founding Father Benjamin Franklin once wrote, speaking of the longevity of America's fledgling constitution, "[...] in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." It is with the utmost respect then, that I would slightly plagiarize that hackneyed turn of phrase for use by the engineers, owners and managers of the data center: for us, the only two certainties are spam and visits from Federal law enforcement.

This noble profession of ours sits at the crossroads of just about every human activity worth snooping; banking, business big medium and small, healthcare. Criminals both notable and otherwise post their exploits and those posts find their way routed to our n+1 powered, humming homes away from home. Confessions vary from the moronic - as a videotaped confession with a stolen camera surely was - to the barbarous - as the flurry of terrorist attack and recruiting tapes surely are. It is what they say that is of interest, and when it comes to what people say - in the words of Leslie Stevens - "We will control the horizontal; we will control the vertical."

The point is, if you work with networks, the time has come to crack open a case book, and to understand the methods and needs of law enforcement. Whether you wish to self-deputize yourself Internet Police, or you wish simply to do your work and stay out of trouble, governments' interest in IT is only going to increase with time. Its in this frame of mind we post this week's links.

Another excellent piece of work by Robert David Graham of Errata Security (whose work is consistently excellent) went up before the holiday and I highly suggest giving it a read. Telecommunications laws governing the internet are frequently out-dated, ill begotten pieces of junk that criminalize trivial behavior. Fair warning - reading Robert's blog posting violates Federal law (there are no spamming phishing or copyright violations at the site. And at least for the moment I wouldn't worry about being carted off in shackles. Part of the point is that technically, by reading this blog post you are violating Federal law also).

While we are on the topic of the law and its foibles, add Radley Balko's upcoming book to your Amazon wish list, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces. Radley's work has extended from the CATO institute to his latest position with the Huffington Post. His focus is tactical - how and why policing in the US has transformed itself from a job for citizens of the community to protect the community to an exercise more resembling a military occupation - complete with no-knock raids, collateral shootings in the middle of the night, police wearing balaclavas and ghillie suits and driving armored personal carriers to calls. Balko's work has resulted in at least one man being released from death row, and despite my lack luster description, is non-partisan and more astute than any social commentary I can offer.

Finally Ken of Popehat has a great post regarding the use of threatening political communication online. Ken is a former Federal prosecutor gone downright libertarian in private practice. His writing is lucid, concise, and much funnier than anything dealing with Federal laws ought to be. This article scratches its noggin' and ponders, at what point does ill-advised and poorly composed hyperbole become a crime? Implicit to the article that I find interesting is noting the distinctions between what is considered illegal political speech - threats toward government representatives - and what constitutes illegal speech toward average citizens. Non political threats are typically handled under 18 USC Section 875:

(c) Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to kidnap any person or any threat to injure the person of another [...] shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

United States v Kelner (2nd Circuit, 1976) established an "objective threat" test - in essence one cannot make a clear and objective threat only to say it was excusable in context of a personal relationship, or was intended as a joke, etc if the threat is self evident to a third party. At least this is my layman's reading of the decision and related summaries.

What this seems to mean is that the restrictions on violent speech are stricter when the target is a private citizen as opposed to a member of the government. In keeping with the historical significance of the 1st and 2nd amendments as understood within an "insurrectionist" context, this distinction begins to make sense. And I would also go so far as, god help me, agreeing with this distinction - if not necessarily for that insurrectionist reading, but rather for the fact that what we would consider 'normal' if not somewhat heated political debate, for example "oh that Obama is such and such" or "oh that Romney is one real such and such", we would consider to be downright crazy and just the least bit terrifying when applied toward some stranger not in public life. In plain English - the standard for restricted speech ought to be higher when politics are involved because the subject denotes that the full power of the state is involved and brought to bear. 

Let me know what you think! Good ideas? Bad? Writing incomprehensible? Email me or >gasp< leave a comment.

NSA Leak Bust Points to State Surveillance Deal with Printing Firms

Earlier this week a young government contractor named Reality Winner was accused by police of leaking an internal NSA document to news outle...