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Police All Over the U.S. Are Issuing Fewer Traffic Tickets

traffic violations
Jeffrey Coolidge—Getty Images

Drivers appear to be catching a break from cops, who are writing fewer tickets of late. But don't think for a second the decrease is because police have become softies all of a sudden.

The Nevada Supreme Court says it could be completely broke by May 1. The primary reason the court won’t have enough cash to operate? Not enough people are breaking the law. Or rather, not enough people are being caught breaking the law.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal recently reported that the number of traffic and parking citations has plummeted in Nevada, from 615,267 in 2010 to 484,913 last year. That’s a dip of more than 21% over five years. The state court system’s budget relies on millions of dollars in funding from such citations, so when significantly fewer tickets are issued, it can wreak havoc on the court’s ability to do its job, and even just keep the lights on.

In mid-March, Nevada Chief Justice James Hardesty raised the problem to a group of state lawmakers, asking the legislature to provide emergency funding to make up for the shortfall in citation revenues. The court’s budget is currently running $700,000 short. As for why the number of tickets issued by police has steadily declined, Hardesty doesn’t think it’s simply because a broad swath of drivers has suddenly seen the error of their ways and stopped speeding.

“With all due respect to the citizens of Nevada, I don’t think anyone is driving better,” Hardesty said to lawmakers. “I think the truth is that we’re seeing less traffic violations because law enforcement’s priorities have changed and it has changed dramatically.”

What, then, are the new priorities? The Review-Journal noted that police have put new “emphasis on violations that could cause crashes,” with citations up for drunk driving and cellphone use behind the wheel. Understaffing may be a factor as well.

In any event, the decrease in traffic citations is hardly limited to Nevada. Speeding tickets are down sharply in Wisconsin, from 294,000 convictions in 2004 to 156,000 in 2013. In Washington, D.C., police officers issued 76,832 traffic tickets last year, down from 81,161 in 2012 and 116,509 in 2010. Citations issued on interstates in Ohio are down as well, especially on busy I-70, where the monthly number of tickets is down 25%. Over in Pennsylvania, the number of tickets issued by state police was down 22% in September 2014 and 11% in October compared with the same months the year before.

Speed Limits Up, Revenue Down

What’s to explain the decline in tickets? In some cases, it’s a matter of not having the funds to keep police out on patrol looking for violators. Police in Wisconsin, for instance, say that federal grant money that used to support anti-speeding campaigns has dried up.

What’s interesting—or perhaps sad, in a which-came-first, dog-chasing-its-own-tail sorta way—is that budget tightening is often blamed for why ticket issuance is down, at the same time a decline in citations is pointed to as a prime reason for budget shortfalls in the first place. Understaffing due to budgetary constraints has been blamed for the sudden and dramatic decline in ticket revenues in Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York as well in recent years.

Higher speed limits that are more in line with how people actually drive also appear to have handcuffed the need to issue speeding tickets. When Ohio upped its speed limit to 70 mph in 2013, it became the 37th state to OK speeds of 70 or above. In light of that, it’s no coincidence that speeding tickets have dropped 7% on Ohio’s 70 mph stretches, and they’re down 25% on rural areas of I-70 where the limit is 70 mph.

In some cases, especially in D.C., there are indications that police are writing fewer traffic tickets because automated red-light camera systems are doing the job for them. In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, traffic tickets were supposedly down steeply last fall partly because police were occupied in a seven-week manhunt for alleged cop killer Eric Frein. What many drivers might find alarming is that even as citations were down during this period, ticket revenues were up significantly compared with the year before. How could this be? The average traffic fine simply got more expensive, hitting $125 in 2014, up from $114 the year before.

The cynics among us may think that police are writing fewer tickets mainly because they have little incentive to write more tickets. This certainly seems to be the case in parts of Illinois, where police issue traffic tickets at a tiny fraction of the rate their citation-happy brethren in law enforcement do across the border in Missouri. The most infamous example of this is Ferguson, Mo., where the killing of an unarmed Michael Brown by police inspired months of protests, and where police are known to write more and more tickets to fund local budgets. Nearly 12,000 traffic tickets were issued in Ferguson (population: 21,111) last year. Across the border in Illinois, where municipalities see very little of the money taken in from traffic fines, police in cities of similar size like Alton (population: 27,690) and Edwardsville (population: 24,663) handed out only 6,653 and 3,128 tickets, respectively, in 2013.

“None of us want an officer to have a financial incentive to write citations,” Edwardsville Police Chief Jay Keevan said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

For that matter, traffic tickets aren’t supposed to be about money, right? They’re supposed to exist in order to incentivize drivers into behaving better behind the wheel and keep roads safer. The purpose of lower speed limits is supposed to be to save lives as well. With that in mind, one might assume that since speed limits have risen, and since police seem to have grown lax in their approach to writing tickets, roads would become more dangerous. But the statistics don’t bear this out.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there were 30,057 car crashes in which someone died on American roads in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available. That’s the second-lowest fatal car crash total ever (2011 had slightly fewer), and it marked an all-time low for the death rate per 100,000 vehicle occupants.

In other words, roads today are safer, not more dangerous, and it’s hard to argue that writing more tickets is going to make anyone safer.

TIME police

Virginia Governor Calls for Probe Into Student’s Arrest

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe waits for President Barack Obama to address members of the National Governors Association at the White House on Feb. 23, 2015 in Washington.
Win McNamee—Getty Images Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe waits for President Barack Obama to address members of the National Governors Association at the White House on Feb. 23, 2015 in Washington.

"He didn't need to be tackled. He wasn't being aggressive at all," said one witness

(CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.) — Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is calling for an investigation into the arrest of a college student who was shown in a photo with a bloody face as he was held down by an officer.

Charlottesville General District Court records show that Martese Johnson is charged on two counts: obstruction of justice without force, and public swearing or intoxication. The Alcoholic Beverage Control agent who made the arrest Wednesday morning, listed in court records as J. Miller, said in the arrest report that Johnson “was very agitated and belligerent.”

A statement from a group calling itself “Concerned Black Students” claims the arrest of Johnson was unprovoked and extreme.

“The brutish force used resulted in his head and bodily injuries,” the group said in a statement. “His treatment was unprovoked as he did not resist questioning or arrest.”

UVA student Bryan Beaubrun said he is friends with Johnson and witnessed the arrest.

Beaubrun said Johnson was trying to get into the Trinity Irish Pub when he was stopped by a bouncer.

After having discussions with the bouncer, Beaubrun said an ABC officer grabbed Johnson by the arm and pulled him away from the bar to speak with a group of police officers.

After about a minute, Beaubrun said Johnson asked the ABC officer to let go of his arm and tried pulling away from the officer. At that point, another ABC officer grabbed Johnson from behind and the two ABC officers wrestled Johnson to the ground, Beaubrun said.

He said Johnson hit his head on the ground when he was tackled and that police acted with unnecessary force.

“He didn’t need to be tackled. He wasn’t being aggressive at all,” Beaubrun said.

Johnson did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

UVA President Teresa A. Sullivan said in an email to the campus community that she had “deep concern about an incident” and asked McAuliffe for an independent investigation.

McAuliffe’s office issued a statement asking state police to investigate “the use of force in this matter.”

The ABC issued a statement saying that “uniformed ABC Agents observed and approached” an unidentified individual “after he was refused entry to a licensed establishment” around 12:45 a.m. at an area of bars and restaurants near campus known as “the corner.”

The ABC said the unnamed individual received injuries while being arrested and was treated at a local hospital before being released.

A photograph provided to The Associated Press by a witness shows Johnson lying on the ground with blood streaming down his face. The Concerned Black Students group said Johnson required 10 stitches.

The ABC said the agents involved with the arrest are being restricted to administrative duties while a state police investigation is underway.

ABC agents in Charlottesville have been accused of heavy-handed actions in the past.

The state of Virginia reached a $212,500 settlement last year with a UVA student who was arrested after her purchase of water was mistaken for beer.

Elizabeth Daly fled in terror outside a Charlottesville supermarket in April 2013 when her vehicle was swarmed by state ABC agents who mistook her just-purchased carton of sparkling water for beer.

Daly was charged with eluding police and assaulting a police officer after her SUV grazed two of the agents. The arrest provoked a public outcry, and the charges were dropped.

Read next: Baby Cut From Woman’s Womb When She Responded to a Craigslist Ad

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Japan

Japan Investigates Death Threats to Caroline Kennedy

US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy in Tokyo on March 17, 2015.
Kimimasa Mayama—AFP/Getty Images U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy in Tokyo on March 17, 2015

And a similar threat against another American envoy

Japanese police are investigating phone calls threatening to kill U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, authorities said Wednesday.

The Associated Press, citing anonymous sources, reports that Tokyo police are looking into calls to the U.S. embassy threatening Kennedy and similar calls about Alfred Magleby, the U.S. consul general based on the southern island of Okinawa.

The death threats came last month from a caller speaking in English, Japanese media reports, and police were looking into suspected blackmail.

The U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert, was knifed by an anti-U.S. activist in Seoul earlier this month and was hospitalized for several days.

Michelle Obama is planning a trip to Japan from March 18 to 20.

[AP]

TIME Crime

Attorney: Ferguson Shooting Suspect Didn’t Target Officers

Jeffrey Williams
St. Louis County Police Department/AP Jeffrey Williams

Suspect's lawyer says Williams was not targeting the police

(CLAYTON, Mo.) — A man accused of shooting two officers last week in Ferguson was not targeting police or aiming at demonstrators at a late-night protest, his attorney said Monday as he countered an earlier police description of the crime.

Defense attorney Jerryl Christmas also suggested that St. Louis County police may have used excessive force when arresting the suspect, Jeffrey Williams, saying his client had bruises on his back, shoulders and face and a knot on his head.

Police spokesman Brian Schellman called the lawyer’s allegations “completely false,” adding that Williams was seen by a nurse when booked into the county jail, standard procedure for all incoming inmates.

“The nurse released Williams as fit for confinement,” he said.

Williams is accused of shooting the two officers Thursday outside Ferguson’s police station, which has been the scene of protests since last summer’s fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Williams, 20, appeared in court Monday morning, one day after his arrest on charges of felony assault, armed criminal action and a weapons offense. His case was continued until March 31. Christmas did not appear at the brief hearing and said he first spoke with his client late Monday afternoon.

“This wasn’t any type of ambush shooting,” Christmas said in an interview with the AP, countering an earlier description by St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar of the March 12 shooting outside Ferguson police headquarters. “Those officers were shot accidentally.”

Williams also told investigators he was not targeting law enforcement and had been aiming instead at someone with whom he had a dispute, authorities said. But that assertion was met with skepticism by St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch.

“We’re not sure we completely buy that part of it,” the prosecutor said Sunday.

Christmas said he wasn’t aware of any details regarding a possible dispute that could have preceded the shooting.

But Ferguson activist Derrick Robinson said Sunday that Williams told him during a jail visit that he had been robbed earlier on the day of the shooting and returned to the protest zone to retaliate. On Monday, Robinson referred inquiries to Christmas.

The shooting happened as a demonstration began to break up. The protest followed the resignation of city Police Chief Tom Jackson in the wake of a Justice Department report that found widespread racial bias in the city’s police practices.

Christmas said his client was not a regular participant in demonstrations outside the police station, echoing statements by protest leaders who said they did not recognize Williams as one of their own.

“That little strip has become the hang-out spot,” Christmas said, noting that the area has attracted people besides demonstrators.

Williams is jailed on $300,000 bond. Christmas said his client is unemployed and expecting a child with his girlfriend.

On Monday, no one answered the door of the north St Louis County home Williams listed as his address on court records, and several neighbors said they did not know him. The home is about 5 miles northeast of the Ferguson Police Department.

According to 2014 county court records, Williams lived in the nearby community of Jennings, which borders Ferguson. No one answered the door there either.

Online state court records show a man by the name of Jeffrey Williams at the address police provided Sunday was charged in 2013 with receiving stolen property and fraudulent use of a credit/debit device.

Belmar had said the two officers easily could have been killed. A 41-year-old St. Louis County officer was shot in the right shoulder, the bullet exiting through his back. A 32-year-old officer from Webster Groves was wearing a riot helmet with the face shield up. He was shot in the right cheek, just below the eye, and the bullet lodged behind his ear.

The officers were released from the hospital hours after the attack.

The Ferguson Police Department has been a national focal point since Brown, who was black and unarmed, was killed by police officer Darren Wilson, who is white. A grand jury declined to indict Wilson in November, and Wilson was cleared of civil rights charges by a Justice Department report released March 4. Wilson resigned in November.

A separate Justice Department report found widespread racial bias in the city’s policing and in a municipal court system driven by profit extracted from mostly black and low-income residents.

TIME Crime

Police, Other Groups Try to Tamp Down Tensions in Ferguson

Officers from the St. Louis police, March 12, 2015, in Ferguson, Mo.
Jeff Roberson—AP Officers from the St. Louis police in Ferguson, Mo., on March 12, 2015

The "path to justice is one all of us must travel together," Obama wrote on Twitter

(FERGUSON, Mo.) — With measured remarks and a conciliatory tone, police, political leaders and civil-rights activists on Thursday sought to tamp down tensions after two police officers were shot in front of the Ferguson Police Department during a protest.

The officers were quickly released from the hospital, but St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said they could have easily been killed and called the attack “an ambush.” Several people were taken in for questioning after a SWAT team converged on a Ferguson home near the shooting site, but they were later released, and no arrests were made.

The shootings marked the first time in more than seven months of tension in Ferguson that officers were shot at a protest, and the bloodshed threatened to inflame the already fraught relationship between police and protesters just as the city seeks reforms in the wake of a withering Justice Department report on racial bias in its law-enforcement practices.

The attack also seemed to create another layer of race-related mistrust after a week in which an unarmed young black man was killed by a white officer in Madison, Wisconsin, and a University of Oklahoma fraternity chapter was thrown off campus after a video surfaced showing members singing a racist chant.

In Washington, President Barack Obama took to Twitter to relay his prayers to the officers and to denounce violence against police. “Path to justice is one all of us must travel together,” Obama wrote, signing the tweet with his initials to indicate the president personally composed it.

Attorney General Eric Holder said the gunman was “a damn punk” who was “trying to sow discord in an area that was trying to get its act together, trying to bring together a community that had been fractured for too long.”

The shots were fired early Thursday just as a small crowd of protesters began to break up after a late-night demonstration that unfolded hours after the resignation of Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson.

The shots were believed to come from a handgun across the street from the police department, which has been a national focal point since the fatal Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, who was black and unarmed, by a white police officer.

The gunman may have fired from up to 120 yards away, a distance longer than a football field. But with a line of roughly 20 officers standing in front of the building, the shooter did not have to be particularly accurate to hit two of them, Belmar said.

“We’re lucky by God’s grace we didn’t lose two officers last night,” he said.

A 41-year-old St. Louis County officer was shot in the right shoulder, the bullet exiting through his back. A 32-year-old officer from Webster Groves was wearing a riot helmet with the face shield up. He was shot in the right cheek, just below the eye, and the bullet lodged behind his ear.

On Thursday night, about 50 people gathered at a public plaza in downtown Ferguson near the police station for a vigil. The group sang spirituals, prayed for peace and expressed sympathies for the injured officers.

Later, a larger group marched, chanted and beat drums in the street in front of the police department. Some were demanding the resignation of Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III. About 20 officers were visible outside the station.

With light rain falling, protest leaders said around 11:10 p.m. that the demonstrators should head home. Most had disbanded by 11:30 p.m. No arrests were made.

Tensions have been high in Ferguson since August and escalated in November after a St. Louis County grand jury declined to prosecute Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown. Justice Department investigators concurred with that finding in a report released March 4.

But a separate Justice Department report released that same day found racial profiling in the Ferguson police force, and a municipal court system driven by profit, largely on the backs of black and low-income residents.

In the week after the report, Ferguson’s court clerk was fired and the municipal judge, two police officers and the city manager voluntarily stepped aside. Wilson resigned in November.

John Gaskin III, a St. Louis community activist, speculated that the shooting was conducted by outside agitators intent on hijacking attention from peaceful, reform-minded protesters.

Activists “cannot afford these kinds of incidents happening, because that gets us absolutely nowhere.”

In a statement, Knowles and the city council said although they respect the right to protest peacefully, “we cannot continue to move forward under threats of violence and destruction to our community. We ask our residents and clergy in this area to partner with us as we make our way through this process.”

Belmar said he reached out to civil-rights leaders, asking them to urge peace. He treaded lightly in response to questions about how police will prepare for other potential demonstrations, saying he would seek officers from other departments.

Officers from St. Louis County and the Missouri State Highway Patrol planned to take over protest security in Ferguson on Thursday evening.

Not everyone was conciliatory.

Jeff Roorda, spokesman for the St. Louis police union, said the shooting was evidence that many people are not satisfied with Jackson’s resignation.

“What they wanted was to kill police officers, and that’s what they tried to do,” Roorda said.

He called for nighttime curfews. St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger said there are no plans to institute a curfew.

In amateur video of the shooting accessed by The Associated Press, two shots ring out and a man is heard screaming out in pain.

Someone at the scene, unseen and unidentified in the video, says: “Acknowledgement nine months ago would have kept that from happening.”

Officers saw some alarming trends prior to the shooting, Belmar said.

Fist fights broke out among protesters. Rather than staying in one group in a parking lot across from the police station, demonstrators were spread out over a wide area. Some reportedly threw rocks and bottles. Three people were arrested.

Though the crowd was small compared with some earlier protests, with fewer than 200, Ferguson officers were concerned enough to ask officers from neighboring towns to assist. By 10 p.m., 69 officers had responded, Belmar said.

Some protesters said there was a different vibe than most nights.

“It was a very rowdy group,” said Kristie Johnson, 32, who has been a frequent protester. “They were fighting each other. A lot of people out here tonight we haven’t seen before.”

Marciay Pitchford, 20, said she was near the street.

“All of sudden gun shots came through and everybody just started running,” she said. “It seemed like they were just trying to shoot any police officer. It came from behind our heads.”

TIME Crime

Ohio Police on the Hunt for Serial Pooper

He has defecated on (and in) 19 cars in the last 3 years

Ohio police are on the lookout for a mysterious serial pooper who has defecated on at least 19 cars in the last three years.

Akron police said that the culprit was caught in the act and photographed Wednesday morning when pooping on the hood of a car. But according to Cleveland.com, the suspect has also reportedly pooped on door handles and in passenger seats of unlocked vehicles.

A 2012 police report notes that “the excrement did not cause any damage to the car, but it did cause a big mess.”

Read next: Virginia Police Take to Facebook to Find Rightful Owner of Lost Cocaine

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Burma

Washington Condemns Burma’s Violent Student Crackdown

Police hit a student protester during violence in Letpadan
Soe Zeya Tun — Reuters Police assault a student protester in Letpadan, Burma on March 10, 2015.

Students and monks were peacefully calling for changes to the country's education bill

The U.S. State Department condemned Monday the brutal suppression of a protest by students and monks in the Burmese city of Letpadan.

The demonstrators were calling for educational reform in the former military state.

Video captured by local journalists shows police officers and what appear to be vigilantes using batons, fists and kicks to round up dozens of activists, only hours after student leaders and officials appeared to have reached a deal that would allow the protesters to travel to the country’s largest city, Rangoon.

“Freedom of assembly is an important component of any democratic society,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday. “We condemn the use of force taken against peaceful protesters.”

The Letpadan protest erupted just days after President Barack Obama paid homage to an earlier student movement in Burma that was crushed by the country’s ruling junta in 1988.

“Young people in Burma went to prison rather than submit to military rule,” declared Obama during a soaring address commemorating the U.S. civil rights marches in Selma on Sunday.

Students from across Burma, which is formally known as Myanmar, have been participating in widespread protests for months, calling for changes to the National Education Bill. Critics of the legislation say the law severely hampers students’ abilities to form unions, forbids institutions from lecturing in local languages and overly centralizes power in government hands.

Monday’s crackdown followed a brutal episode last week, when pro-government thugs assaulted activists rallying near Rangoon’s city hall in solidarity with the students in Letpadan.

The use of vigilante groups was common during the days of military rule in Burma, and their continued existence underscores fears for the future of Burma’s democratic reforms.

“Burma’s reforms are looking increasingly shaky day by day,” stated Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in response to the crackdown on the Letpadan protests

The heavy-handed police action is also embarrassing for the country’s European partners. Last year, the European Union sponsored a multimillion-dollar initiative to train Burma’s police force in crowd-management techniques, supposedly to help protect the “democratic rights of citizens.”

“Whilst training can be given, the E.U. cannot make decisions on the ground,” said the E.U. Delegation to Myanmar. “We have discussed recent events with the Minister of Home Affairs and the Myanmar Police Force, emphasizing the need for negotiation, mutual understanding and compromise.”

TIME Ferguson

Holder ‘Prepared’ to Dismantle the Ferguson Police Department

Attorney General Eric Holder talks with media as he arrives on Air Force One in Andrews Air Force Base, Md. on March 6, 2015, with President Barack Obama, from Columbia, S.C.
Carolyn Kaster—AP Attorney General Eric Holder talks with media as he arrives on Air Force One in Andrews Air Force Base, Md. on March 6, 2015, with President Barack Obama, from Columbia, S.C.

'We are prepared to use all the powers that we have,' the Attorney General said Friday

Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday that he’s “prepared” to dismantle the Ferguson, Mo., police department after a Wednesday Department of Justice report revealed numerous instances of racial discrimination and constitutional violations within the force.

“We are prepared to use all the powers that we have, all the power that we have, to ensure that the situation changes there,” Holder said. “That means everything from working with them to coming up with an entirely new structure … If [dismantling is] what’s necessary, we’re prepared to do that.”

Holder called Ferguson an “anomoly” but hopes other departments around the country are paying close attention to the contents of the Wednesday report, which stated that the Ferguson police valued “revenue rather than public safety needs.”

“The notion that you would use a law enforcement agency or law enforcement generally to generate revenue, and then the callous way in which that was done and the impact that it had on the lives of the ordinary citizens of that municipality, was just appalling,” Holder told reporters at Andrews Air Force Base. “And that is not something that we’re going to tolerate.”

[Washington Post]

TIME Crime

How to Rebuild the Ferguson Police Department

Police are deployed to keep peace along Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 16, 2014.
Scott Olson—Getty Images Police are deployed to keep peace along Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 16, 2014.

Other troubled local police forces show the way after a scathing federal report

At the end of the U.S. Department of Justice’s report into widespread police misconduct in Ferguson, Mo., are a series of recommended reforms so extensive that it’s as if the law enforcement agency would be best served by tearing the whole thing down and starting from scratch.

That might just be the point.

The report listed a series of overhauls that would require retraining dozens of police officers while upending the agency’s policing strategies, all in an effort to repair the department’s relationship with communities of color in the aftermath of last summer’s shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson. That shooting led to weeks of often violent protests in the St. Louis suburb. And while Wilson was never charged and the federal report largely corroborated his version of events, it nevertheless faulted the mostly white local police for being systemically and violently prejudiced against the majority black town’s residents.

“Members of the community may not have been responding to a single isolated confrontation but also to a pervasive, coercive and deep lack of trust,” Attorney General Eric Holder said of the protesters on Wednesday. “Some of those protesters were right.” He said federal authorities will make sure the local police force takes “immediate, wholesale and structural corrective action.”

MORE: These Are Some of the Racist Emails Ferguson Police Sent

So what’s next?

Ferguson has examples it can look to as it rebuilds: Over the last decade, several U.S. police departments have been subjected to federal oversight. Cincinnati reformed its department after an unarmed black teenager was shot in 2001. Maricopa County‘s force in Arizona was sued by the Department of Justice in 2012 over charges of racially profiling Latinos. Seattle and New Orleans both came under federal scrutiny for excessive force and misconduct.

But the most relevant example might be found in East Haven, Conn.—a town and police force that is similar in size to Ferguson—where the DOJ found a pattern of illegal searches, traffic stops and use of force against Latinos by local cops. In October 2012, the Justice Department reached a settlement with the town to change the police agency’s treatment of Latino residents. Two years later, compliance expert Kathleen O’Toole, now the Seattle police chief, called the progress of the East Haven Police “remarkable.”

The kind of reforms that will likely take place in Ferguson may be similar to what occurred in East Haven. Police officers there each completed 60-100 hours of training on practices like bias-free policing and use of force. One lieutenant attended an executive education program at Harvard’s Kennedy School.

The training appears to have made a difference. In December 2011, the Justice Department found that traffic stops of Latino drivers by the East Haven police accounted for 19.9% of stops, which was more than the percentage of Latino drivers (15.5%). But during the year the police trained—from December 2012 to June 2013—the federal report found that only 8.9% of traffic stops were of Latinos. It cost roughly $2.5 million over four years to reform the department, according to the New Haven Register,

Kym Craven, the director of the Public Safety Strategies Group, a police consulting firm, says that reforms for agencies like Ferguson need to begin at the recruiting and hiring phase to ensure a department’s officers are reflective of its community. She says departments also need to have explicit policies and procedures in place that lay out what police chiefs expect from officers.

Ferguson may go through scenario-based training like what happened in East Haven to better react to situations where implicit racial biases may affect how an officer handles a situation. Those biases, Craven says, should also be talked about honestly and openly within the department and with the community.

But the biggest changes could likely come with a shift toward community policing, which has been routinely discussed as an alternative to the so-called “broken windows” strategy—which focuses on lower-level crimes on the assumption that it helps keep overall crime rates down.

MORE: U.S. Faults Ferguson Police for Racial Bias

The DOJ report’s first recommendation includes implementing a shift from “policing to raise revenue to policing in partnership with the entire Ferguson community,” while calling for more community partnerships between police and residents.

One city that appears to have found success with community policing is Atlanta. Two incidents eroded trust between the city’s residents and the police department over the years: a 2009 incident in which officers raided a gay bar while reportedly using derogatory slurs that triggered a federal lawsuit, and the death of a 92-year-old black woman by a drug strike force team in 2006.

“We lost the confidence in both our black community and the GLBT community,” says Atlanta Police George Turner, who took over the agency in 2010.

Turner soon shifted the department toward community-based policing that required police to get out of their cars, patrol their neighborhoods and engage with citizens. He outfitted cops with less-lethal weapons like TASERs, but sought the community’s involvement in the decision first. The city today has 4,600 surveillance cameras that feed into police headquarters, but the department asked for community input on where they should be placed. Turner has also set up special liaisons with the Hispanic and gay and lesbian communities.

“I think this is the most effective way,” Turner says. “You have to work every day with community leaders. People will give you an opportunity to investigate when crises happen, but you don’t get that unless you have a relationship with people and relationships are built on trust.”

The department has been widely praised by police experts, but it’s a cautionary tale nonetheless: The Atlanta Citizen Review Board actually saw complaints go up between 2012 and 2013, but numbers have remained stable since, according to statistics compiled by the Christian Science Monitor.

“Community policing was something that was started a long time ago, and it’s morphed into community relations,” Craven says. “But departments need to get back to the root of it, which is joint problem-solving between the police and the community. It’s more than having a BBQ or a picnic.”

The Justice Department also appears more willing to fully back community policing in ways it hasn’t in the past. Bob Stewart, president of Bobcat Training and Consulting, says that in the last two years, consent decrees—which are court-mandated orders that require police departments to follow federal guidelines—have increasingly recommended initiatives that deal with community trust and civilian oversight.

It’s likely that Ferguson will eventually be the subject of a consent decree, forcing the town’s police department to reform. But it’s possible that those reforms, taking place at a police department that drove a national conversation about race and use of force nationwide last summer, could be the focus of a new discussion, one about better ways of policing.

TIME Crime

Failures by Three Governments Preceded Homeless Man’s Death

February 2000 photo provided by Ventura County Sheriff's Office shows Charley Saturmin Robinet after his arrest for robbery
Ventura County Sheriff's Office—AP Ventura County Sheriff's Office shows Charley Saturmin Robinet after his arrest for robbery in 2000

The homeless man, a native of Cameroon, was known simply as "Africa"

(LOS ANGELES) — Mistakes and miscommunication by three governments on three continents over nearly 20 years led to a homeless man known as “Africa” being on Los Angeles’ Skid Row, where he was shot by police after authorities say he became combative and appeared to reach for an officer’s weapon.

The problems began in the late 1990s when French officials gave him a passport under what turned out to be a stolen name. He came to the U.S., robbed a bank and then was convicted and imprisoned under the same false name.

U.S. immigration officials wanted to send him back to his native Cameroon but that country never responded to requests to take him. So he was released from a halfway house last May, and U.S. probation officials lost track of him in November.

It took three failed monthly check-ins for a warrant to be issued on a probation violation and it’s unclear whether anyone actually looked for him. He apparently was living the entire time on Skid Row, roughly 50 square blocks of liquor stores, warehouses, charitable missions and a few modest businesses.

Many of the estimated 1,700 people who sleep each night on the sidewalks are mentally ill, like Africa.

Los Angeles police Cmdr. Andrew Smith said the man had no previous arrests in Los Angeles. While officers spoke to him once or twice, he gave them no reason to suspect he was wanted.

“If you’re cool and you’re quiet, and you don’t make a big fuss, you can sit out there quietly and live in your tent pretty much in peace,” said Smith. “If the feds put out a warrant for this guy, shoot, there’s no reason we’d suspect he’s in Skid Row.”

The true name of the man who was long known to authorities as Charley Saturin Robinet remained a mystery Wednesday, three days after a violent death that was captured on a bystander’s video and watched by millions.

Authorities said the man tried to grab a rookie Los Angeles police officer’s gun, prompting three other officers to shoot. Chief Charlie Beck said the officers had arrived to investigate a robbery report and the man refused to obey their commands and became combative.

Peter Nunez, a former U.S. attorney in San Diego who is chairman of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C., said the case points to multiple failures by government.

He criticized France for not being more diligent in investigating the man’s background before issuing a passport and U.S. authorities for not realizing he was a “fraud” before the end of his prison term and then not putting more effort into finding him once he disappeared.

“Shame on all of them,” said Nunez, whose group advocates for stricter immigration policies and enforcement.

Axel Cruau, France’s consul general in Los Angeles, said the system for checking backgrounds was vastly different when the man duped French officials.

“Let’s remember 20 years ago we didn’t have the same databases we have today, the same rules, we didn’t have biometric design, it was before 9/11,” he said.

Using the false name, the man was believed to be a French citizen in 2000 when convicted of robbing a Wells Fargo branch in Los Angeles and pistol-whipping an employee in what he told authorities was an effort to pay for acting classes at the Beverly Hills Playhouse.

In 2013, as he was nearing his release from a federal prison in Rochester, Minnesota, French officials found the real Robinet in France, Cruau said. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement then determined the impostor actually was from Cameroon but said the African country ignored repeated requests for travel documents, hampering efforts to deport him.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that immigration authorities cannot detain people indefinitely just because no country will take them. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that the government would need a special reason to keep someone in custody after six months if deportation seemed unlikely in “the reasonably foreseeable future.”

“ICE makes every possible effort to remove all individuals with final orders of removal within a reasonable period,” spokeswoman Virginia Kice said. “If the actual removal cannot occur within the reasonably foreseeable future, ICE must release the individual.”

A person who said he only has one name, Bindz, and heads the consular section at the Cameroon Embassy in Washington said he couldn’t respond to questions by phone and the ambassador would have to answer in writing.

The man was in immigration custody in September 2013 when a federal judge in California ordered him to a halfway house in Los Angeles. He was released from the halfway house in May, said Ed Ross, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons. His sentence included three years of supervision by federal probation officials.

The man had no place to stay and eventually found his way to Skid Row. He was required to provide reports to his probation officer each month and did so for a time, Deputy U.S. Marshal Matthew Cordova said. But he failed to make contact in November, December and January, and a warrant was issued Jan. 9.

Karen Redmond, a spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, which represents U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services System, declined to comment on what attempts were made to find him, citing an open investigation.

Also Wednesday, police said none of the four officers involved, whose experience ranged from rookie to 11-year department veteran, had fired their weapons while on duty before.

The officers’ names were being withheld until it was determined there was no credible threat to their safety, Smith said.

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