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by German Lopez 12.05.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Streetcar, Police at 10:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Council pauses streetcar, issue could make it to ballot, groups call for police camera fixes

City Council yesterday voted to allocate $1.25 million to pause the $132.8 million streetcar project and study how much it will cost to continue or cancel the project. The final 5-4 votes to pause came despite offers from private contributors to pay for the $250,000 study and construction for the one or two weeks necessary to carry out the cost analysis. The city administration warned council earlier in the day that pausing the project for one month could cost $2.56-$3.56 million, while previous estimates put continuing construction for the month at $3 million. After the cost study is finished, council members expect to make a final decision on whether to continue or cancel the project.

Meanwhile, Councilwoman Yvette Simpson filed a motion to draw up a city charter amendment that would task the city with completing the current streetcar project. If the charter amendment gets council approval, Cincinnatians would vote on the issue approximately 60 to 120 days afterward. But it’s unclear whether the $44.9 million in federal grants for the streetcar project would survive through the months; the federal government previously warned a delay could be grounds for pulling the money.

Commentary: “Atmosphere at City Hall Changes for the Worse.”

Following various cases of malfunctioning or disabled police cruiser cameras, various groups, including Councilman Chris Seelbach, are asking to get to the bottom of the issue. Police officials say old, deteriorating technology is to blame, but critics claim some officers are purposely tampering with the technology to avoid filming themselves during controversial moments in the line of duty. For both sides, getting the cameras working could be mutually beneficial; functioning cameras would allow police to clear their names but also show when officers make mistakes.

The University of Cincinnati asked Hamilton County judges to crack down on criminals targeting students on or near campus.

State Sen. Eric Kearney of Cincinnati says he won’t give up his Democratic candidacy for lieutenant governor despite $825,000 in unpaid state and federal taxes.

Republican State Sen. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati canceled a vote for a proposal that would greatly weaken Ohio’s renewable energy and efficiency standards. But he vowed to pursue a “three-pronged strategy to reform the current envirosocialist mandates,” including potential litigation. Environmental groups argued Seitz’s proposal would have effectively eliminated the state’s energy standards. According to a study from Ohio State University and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy coalition, repealing the standards would increase Ohioans’ electricity bills by $3.65 billion over the next 12 years. CityBeat covered Seitz’s proposal in greater detail here.

The Republican-controlled Ohio legislature yesterday approved a bill that establishes a state panel to oversee Medicaid and recommend changes for the costly program. Republicans insist the measure isn’t about reducing benefits or eligibility for Medicaid; instead, they argue it’s about finding ways to cut growing health care costs without making such cuts. Gov. John Kasich must sign the bill for it to become law.

Months after rejecting Kasich’s proposal to do so, Ohio House leaders introduced a scaled-down measure that would slightly raise the oil and gas severance tax and cut income taxes. Unlike the governor’s previous proposal, the House plan seems to have support from the oil and gas industry.

Another Ohio House bill seeks to reintroduce prayer in public schools.

Ohioans are borrowing more to pay for college, but the debt load remains less than the national average.

Headline from The Cincinnati Enquirer: “CVG board votes to hire investigator for butt-dialed call.”

It seems Metropolitan Sewer District rates will increase by 6 percent.

Cincinnati could get three to six inches of snow tomorrow.

Robert Carr, a 49-year-old Cincinnati man, has been going into the homes of strangers and trying to claim them as his own. He’s now being held in the Hamilton County Justice Center on six felony charges for breaking into homes.

Ohio gas prices fell below $3 a gallon.

According to a study from the Library of Congress, 70 percent of America’s silent films are lost and a good portion of the remaining films are in poor condition.

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by Hannah McCartney 11.12.2013
Posted In: Media, Media Criticism, News, Ethics, Courts, Police at 03:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Gannett Weekly Loses Appeal in Defamation Suit

Court upholds decision that the paper's 2010 statement was made with actual malice

A Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals judge has denied the Milford-Miami Advertiser's request to appeal a 2012 ruling that charged the Gannett-owned suburban weekly with defamation and ordered the paper to pay the defamed plaintiff $100,000 in damages.

In an article published in the Advertiser on May 27, 2010 titled "Cop's suspension called best move for city," the paper implicated Miami Township police officer James Young, who years before had been mired in legal trouble for accusations of sexual assault that were eventually disproven, in its article discussing another sex scandal in the area.

According to court documents, in 1997, Young was initially fired from his job after a woman named Marcie Phillips accused Young of forcing her to perform oral sex on him while Young was on duty. An internal investigation revealed that the two had actually been engaged in a relationship prior and that Young had spent time at Phillips' house while on duty. The allegations, however, were entangled in questions about Phillips' character and concern that she could have been lying about the rape because the relationship between the two had recently ended on rocky terms.

When DNA testing on semen found on a rug in the woman's home proved that the DNA didn't match Young's, he was exonerated and reinstated to his position

The Advertiser article explained that Young had been terminated for sexual harassment, immoral behavior, gross misconduct and neglect in the line of duty and also stated that "Young had sex with a woman while on the job," which formed the basis for Young's defamation suit.

The 2010 article dealt with similar accusations lodged against Milford Police Officer Russell Kenney, who pleaded guilty to charges that he'd been having sex with Milford Mayor Amy Brewer while he was on duty on multiple occasions.

Kenney was suspended from his position for 15 days, but was later reinstated even though Milford's police chief planned to recommend his termination to avoid having to use an arbitrator to dissect the case.

Although the article is attributed to writer Kellie Giest, the lawsuit revealed that the paper's editor at the time, Theresa Herron, inserted the section of the article that went to trial. According to court documents, Herron added the paragraphs about Young to Giest's story because she felt the article needed more context about why the city wanted to avoid arbitration.

According to court documents from the suit Young filed against the Gannett Satellite Information Network, Gannett responded the to initial complaint by acknowledging that the statement was a defamation of character, but that the statement was made without actual malice on the part of Herron. There is a high legal threshold for plaintiffs to establish a defamation claim, which require the plaintiff to prove several elements beyond a reasonable doubt; for public officials, the threshold is even higher because they most prove that the offender acted with actual malice — in this case, knowing the claim about Young was false and printing it anyway — to win a lawsuit.

In its appeal, Gannett argued that Young, as a police officer, did not meet the threshold of a public official required to successfully establish a defamation claim and that Herron's inclusions were based on rational interpretations of documents on the case — even though Young denied having sex with plaintiff Marcie Phillips, he admitted the two had kissed and the arbitrator's report documented one instance in which Young was at Phillips' house while on duty.

In the court's opinion denying Gannett's appeal, Judge John Rogers writes that Herron admitted she had read the arbitrator's report from Young's case, which provided no evidence that Young and Phillips ever actually had sex at all.

"There was sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that Herron was well aware that the statement she added to the article was probably false," it reads. "Herron was also reckless in failing to conduct any investigation beyond the records of the original case. She did not seek out Young for comment, nor did she talk to anyone involved in his case."

by German Lopez 11.12.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Education, Police at 08:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
jeffrey blackwell

Morning News and Stuff

Police investigate cruiser crash, council holds last finance meeting, achievement gap widens

The Cincinnati police officer who struck a pedestrian with his cruiser on Saturday was apparently driving 50 mph in a 25 mph zone, which violates the Cincinnati Police Department's guidelines that limit officers from driving more than 20 mph above the posted limit. Officer Orlando Smith was responding to a call to help an officer when he struck Natalie Cole of Dayton, Ky. She remains in critical condition at University Hospital Medical Center following the incident. CPD is conducting an investigation that is expected to be completed within two weeks. But Smith's cruiser camera mysteriously failed to record for three minutes as the events unfolded; the latest recording available prior to the incident shows Smith leaving a grocery store parking lot with his lights and sirens on, as required by department policy when responding to help an officer. Witnesses told WCPO that Smith was actually driving in excess of 60 mph without his siren on and the victim flung 40 feet after she was struck. Smith is on paid administrative leave as the investigation finishes, which is routine police procedure.

City Council's Budget and Finance Committee will hold its final scheduled meeting today, less than three weeks before the new mayor and council are sworn in on Dec. 1. The committee's agenda is fairly packed after council canceled so many meetings throughout September and October for election season, but most of the items are uncontroversial incentive packages that aim to bring jobs and develop more housing opportunities in the city.

The achievement gap between white and black students in Ohio grew in the past two years, according to the results from a series of tests known as "the Nation's Report Card" from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Chad Aldis, the vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy at the Fordham Institute, told StateImpact Ohio the results are disappointing because the achievement gap between black and white students in Ohio was already way too big and above the national average in math and English, the two categories in which the gap widened. Overall, Ohio's students ranked slightly above the national average in all areas but showed no significant improvement since 2011. Aldis says Ohio's adoption of Common Core standards, a set of stricter expectations for students embraced by 45 states, should help challenge students and lead to improvement.

Here is an interactive map of marijuana seizures in Ohio this year, which were down from a record high in 2010. Some experts say marijuana and other drugs should be legalized following the failure of the decades-long war on drugs to seriously curtail supply and demand, as CityBeat covered in further detail here.

Mayor-elect John Cranley on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. will answer questions from readers and the editorial board at The Cincinnati Enquirer.

The two chairmen of the Hamilton County Democratic Party and Republican Party will on Nov. 21 switch roles and argue the other side's position on alleged voter fraud as part of the "Beyond Civility" debate series. The initiative seeks to bring public officials together in a less partisan environment.

The Cincinnati area's most prominent white-collar crime case will start hearings in December after a jury is picked by the end of the month in the trial of Matt Daniels, the former Kenwood Towne Place developer who's accused of various charges of fraud. Daniels' attorney talked to the Business Courier here.

Ohio homeschoolers can now join public schools' sports teams.

President Barack Obama will stop in Ohio on Thursday to discuss U.S. manufacturing.

Boy choirs are having a more difficult time filling roles as boys hit puberty earlier.

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by German Lopez 10.27.2013
Posted In: News, Privacy, Police at 01:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Panel Recommends Limiting Facial Recognition Access

New program requires better oversight and clear protocols, say criminal justice officials

A panel of nine criminal justice officials on Friday recommended limiting access to Ohio’s facial recognition program and establishing protocols that would seek to make the program less prone to abuse.

The panel’s recommendations follow a nearly two-month review of current procedures and public criticisms over the programs secrecy and alleged lack of oversight.

The panel broadly looked at the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway (OHLEG), a state database of criminal justice histories and records, but largely focused on the controversial facial recognition program, which was live for more than two months and 2,677 searches before Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine formally announced its existence in August. The program allows police officers and civilian employees to use a photo to search databases for names and contact information; previously, law enforcement officials needed a name or address to search such databases.

The panel recommends limiting access of the facial recognition program to law enforcement, meaning police departments, sheriffs offices, state highway patrol, county prosecuting attorneys and other local, state or federal bodies that enforce criminal laws or have employees who have the legal authority to carry out an arrest. Anyone else who wants to tap into the system would need to do so with written permission from the superintendent of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI).

For those who would retain access, the panel says written policies and protocols should be developed and implemented. The recommendations extend from written rules for out-of-state officials to a training program that better establishes clear penalties for misuse and guidelines for reporting and prosecuting infractions.

The report calls for improved monitoring of the system, which it states is “perhaps the most effective measure of whether the system is being properly implemented for its intended criminal justice purpose.” The oversight should include random audits of OHLEG, one person in charge of monitoring OHLEG’s use in each local agency and a model for ideal use, according to the report.

The panel says the attorney general should also establish a steering committee comprised of criminal justice officials, along with an advisory group. The committee would be in charge of OHLEG training, monitoring and policy review, among other oversight functions.

The panel also advises the attorney general’s office to launch an education campaign that tells the public of the potential benefits of OHLEG’s programs.

Separately, the Ohio Public Defender’s Office recommends allowing citizens to access their own criminal history records through a secure Internet portal with a social security number, similar to AnnualCreditReport.com.

The panel included former Ohio Supreme Court justices, judges and law enforcement officials, among other criminal justice leaders from around Ohio.

DeWine, a Republican, says the facial recognition program is a vital tool for law enforcement to more easily identify and catch potential criminals. But critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and Democratic attorney general candidate David Pepper, say the program was allowed to operate for far too long without public knowledge or proper checks in place.

When asked if DeWine will implement the recommendations, Lisa Hackley, spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, wrote in an email, “The Attorney General has committed to implementing the recommendations. Some are already in progress. Others, such as those requiring new computer programming, may take longer.”

The full report:

Updated at 10:04 p.m. with comment from the attorney generals office.

by German Lopez 10.18.2013
Posted In: News, Police, Abortion, The Banks at 09:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
county courthouse

Morning News and Stuff

Audit slams former sheriff, part of The Banks sold, local abortion clinic could close

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days are extended.

On Oct. 29, local residents will be able to give feedback to Cincinnati officials about the city budget — and also nab some free pizza. The open budgeting event is from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 29 at 1115 Bates Ave., Cincinnati.

An audit of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) found former Sheriff Simon Leis crippled technological developments, stacked leadership positions with political cronies and still kept his staff fiercely loyal during his 25 years in charge of HCSO. The Oct. 15 audit claims the agency was “largely frozen in time” and didn’t meet the most basic modern standards, including a failure to adopt computer spreadsheets and other modern technologies instead of keeping paper-based records that only one person can access at a time. The audit claims a few possible consequences for Hamilton County: outdated policing policies, exposure to possible litigation and an overworked, under-trained staff. To fix the mistakes, the audit recommends various investments and changes to policies that could prove costly to the county — perhaps too costly to a county government that has been forced to make budget cuts for the past six years. Read more about the audit here.

Developers sold the apartments and 96,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space in the first phase of The Banks for $79.5 million. In a memo, City Manager Milton Dohoney claimed the sale is a sign of the strong market that’s being built in Cincinnati. Dohoney noted that the sale will provide nearly $1.2 million for the city and county, which will likely go to other projects in The Banks, and allow Carter and The Dawson Company to repay the city and county’s nearly $4.7 million retail fit-up loan three years in advance. The sale should also increase the property’s assessed value, which Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes previously put at $52 million, or $27.5 million less than it actually sold for, and subsequently lead to higher property-based tax revenue, according to Dohoney.

The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) could force the Lebanon Road Surgery Center, a Cincinnati-area abortion clinic, to close after a health examiner upheld ODH’s decision to revoke the clinic’s license because it couldn’t establish a patient transfer agreement with a nearby hospital. Abortion rights advocates touted the closure as another example of how new regulations in the recently passed state budget will limit access to legal abortions across the state. But ODH handed down its original decision for the Cincinnati-area abortion clinic in November 2012, more than half a year before Gov. John Kasich in June signed the state budget and its anti-abortion restrictions into law. Meanwhile, Ohio Right to Life praised the state for closing down or threatening to close down five abortion clinics this year.

Reminder: Officials project the streetcar will have a much greater economic impact in downtown than Over-the-Rhine, despite what some detractors may claim.

The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office last night began threatening to arrest homeless people who refuse to leave the Hamilton County Courthouse and Justice Center and find another place to sleep, according to Josh Spring of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition. The sheriff’s office says the steps are necessary to put an end to public urination and defecation on county property, but homeless advocates say the county should focus on creating jobs and affordable housing to solve the root of the problem. CityBeat covered the issue in greater detail here.

Former Ohio House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson questioned her fellow Republicans’ legal threats against Gov. John Kasich’s plan to bypass the legislature and get the federally funded Medicaid expansion approved through the Controlling Board, a seven-member legislative panel. Davidson says Kasich is on “firm ground” legally because the state budget contained a provision that allows the state’s Medicaid director to expand the program. The Kasich administration on Oct. 11 announced its intention to call on the Controlling Board to take up the expansion, which will use federal Obamacare funds for two years to extend Medicaid eligibility to more low-income Ohioans. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would generate $1.8 billion for Ohio and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade.

Ohio Libertarians and Greens threatened to sue the state if the legislature passes a bill that would limit ballot access for minor political parties. The Ohio Senate already approved the legislation, and an Ohio House committee is expected to vote on it at a hearing on Oct. 29.

More charges have been filed against a local spine doctor accused of carrying out unnecessary surgeries in the Cincinnati area and Florence, Ky., and billing health care programs millions of dollars, according to court documents released Thursday.

A race car managed to swap fossil fuels for hydrogen power.

by German Lopez 10.17.2013
Posted In: News, Police, Commissioners at 08:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
simon leis

Audit Slams Former County Sheriff

Simon Leis’ reign kept sheriff’s office “largely frozen in time,” audit finds

A scathing audit of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) suggests former Sheriff Simon Leis crippled technological developments, stacked leadership positions with political cronies and still kept his staff fiercely loyal during his 25-year reign over the sheriff’s office.

According to the Oct. 15 audit, the result was an agency “largely frozen in time” that failed at adopting modern standards and practices for policing and corrections facilities.

As one example, the audit found the agency still uses what it colloquially calls “The Book,” a single, massive paper-based trove of financial data and other information, instead of modern technologies, such as computer spreadsheets. Not only did the agency insist on sticking to the old ways of keeping records, but one unit head reportedly told auditors that she simply does not trust computers.

The audit presents various consequences for Hamilton County: outdated policing policies, exposure to possible litigation and an overworked, under-trained staff.

“A mid-level supervisor indicated that in his twenty-plus year career, he has never had updated use of force training beyond the initial academy. This is inconsistent with the best practices and exposes the HCSO, the County, and officeholders to unnecessary legal liability,” the audit found.

Leis’ policies also had a negative effect on newcomers trying to build a career on the county force, according to the audit.

“The command staff was comprised exclusively of personal and political associates of the former sheriff, some with no true law enforcement experience except at that level,” the audit noted. “Almost no career employees were promoted above the rank of lieutenant, despite advanced training including degrees and other training (e.g. Southern Police Institute) directly related to their careers.”

One staff commander interviewed for the audit reportedly said the failure to identify, train and promote new leaders created “The Lost Generation” at HCSO.

One explanation for the dire circumstances, according to the audit, is that the agency completely lacked inspection and planning functions that would have examined policies and practices for certain standards and established plans to fix discovered errors.

Another possible cause: The audit found that five years of cuts created staffing gaps in several areas, particularly correctional facilities.

Still, the audit found the sheriff’s staff is so loyal that its members would quickly embrace and adapt to changes given through the chain of command. “This is a key advantage, and we have no doubt that both sworn and non-sworn HCSO members will readily and rapidly implement chosen reforms and changes,” the audit claimed.

The audit recommends various new investments and changes in standards for HSCO. It notes that some of the investments, such as a greater focus on modern technology, could help make the agency’s work more efficient and allow a reduction of non-sworn staff — and the costs associated with them — through attrition.

But the investments would involve a substantial policy shift for Hamilton County, which carried out major budget cuts in the past six years just to get to a point this year where large reductions or tax increases aren’t necessary to balance the annual budget.

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil promised the audit during his 2012 campaign. It was conducted by former American Civil Liberties Union attorney Scott Greenwood and former Cincinnati Police Chief Tom Streicher.

The HCSO audit:

by German Lopez 09.13.2013
Posted In: News, Police at 02:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
jeffrey blackwell

City Manager Selects New Police Chief

Twenty-six-year veteran of Columbus Division of Police to take over

City Manager Milton Dohoney announced on Sept. 13 that Jeffrey Blackwell, the current deputy chief of the Columbus Division of Police, is being appointed to Cincinnati’s top police job.

The appointment ends a months-long process as the city searched for a replacement for former Police Chief James Craig, who left in June to take the top police job in his hometown, Detroit.

Blackwell was picked over three other finalists: Paul Humphries, who’s been acting Cincinnati Police chief since Craig left; Michael Dvorak, deputy chief of the Mesa, Ariz., Police Department; and Jerry Speziale, deputy superintendent of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police.

In a statement, the city touted Blackwell’s accomplishments in Columbus: Blackwell is a 26-year veteran of the police force, he was commended for his outreach to young people, he helped reach out to significant immigrant populations such as Somalians and Latinos, he advanced the use of technology and he worked with the city and communities to reduce crime and costs.

“Jeff understands that we have to work with the various communities we serve to build a culture of understanding and respect. In particular, I have spoken to him about our need to work in partnership with other organizations to reach teen youth and young adults to move the needle on reducing crime in this community,” Dohoney said in a statement.

With the decision, Blackwell will be put in charge of implementing new policies and leading the Cincinnati Police Department.

The appointment was made without much public input, even though some City Council members previously called on Dohoney to open up the process. Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld on Sept. 9 sent a letter to the city manager asking him to hold town halls in which the public could ask questions and evaluate the police chief candidates.

The city manager is ultimately in charge of who gets appointed to the city’s top police job.

by German Lopez 09.05.2013
Posted In: News, Police at 03:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
milton dohoney

Four Finalists Remain for Cincinnati Police Chief

City manager will interview candidates in coming days

City officials are now considering four finalists for the Cincinnati Police Department’s top job, City Manager Milton Dohoney announced today.

The city has been looking for a replacement for former Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig, who left in June to take the top police job in his hometown, Detroit. Since then, Paul Humphries has been acting chief of the Cincinnati Police Department.

Humphries is among the four finalists being considered by the city manager. The others: Jeffrey Blackwell, deputy chief of the Columbus, Ohio, Police Department; Michael Dvorak, deputy chief of the Mesa, Ariz., Police Department; and Jerry Speziale, deputy superintendent of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police.

Whoever is picked will be charged with implementing new policies and leading the Cincinnati Police Department.

The four finalists were screened by a committee that looked at 28 total applicants. The committee was comprised of 11 members that included a former police chief, a former prosecuting attorney, Air Force veterans, business leaders and community members.

“I am appreciative to the Screening Committee for their time, dedication and the seriousness to which they approached the selection process in order to recommend this group of excellent candidates for our next Chief of Police,” Dohoney said in a statement.

The city manager will make the final decision of who to appoint as Cincinnatis next police chief. Dohoney could choose one of the four finalists or consider other applicants until the position is filled.

by German Lopez 09.05.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Police at 12:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

City to Crack Down on Cellphone Theft

Councilman Chris Seelbach introducing legislation Monday

In partnership with the Cincinnati Police Department, City Councilman Chris Seelbach on Thursday unveiled a legislative plan that would crack down on cellphone thefts by making it more difficult to sell stolen devices.

“We know that the cellphone is such an important part of everyone’s lives,” Seelbach says. “It’s how we connect to our loved ones, to our work environment. It’s how we capture moments that we want to remember. And so to have something like that stolen is definitely an offense that is personal.”

Americans are increasingly using cellphones for more than making calls. Applications now let people browse the Internet, social media and even bank accounts. But the diversity of uses has also linked cellphone theft to other crimes, such as identity theft.

Cellphone thefts made up 30 to 40 percent of robberies in major cities in 2011, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

The initiative will require the hundreds of dealers who currently buy cellphones second-hand to get licensed with the city and keep full records of the transaction, including a serial number of the device, a photocopy of the sellers ID and other contact information. Seelbach likened the requirements to existing regulations for pawn shops.

The hope is that cracking down on dealers will make stolen cellphones more difficult to sell and less lucrative to potential thieves.

Seelbach says the plan will come at no extra cost outside of the extra policing work. Acting Cincinnati Police Chief Paul Humphries says the police department prefers taking preventive measures that stop cellphone theft in the first place than spending costlier resources on investigating a robbery after it happens.

If the legislation is approved by City Council, police officers will first take steps to educate dealers about the new law. Shortly after, police will begin cracking down with fines.

Officials are also advising cellphone owners to take their own steps to avoid having devices stolen: Never leave a phone unattended, avoid using a cellphone in public when it’s unnecessary and put a password lock on the phone.

Similar laws already exist at the state level, but they’re currently not enforced, Seelbach says.

The plan will go through a City Council committee on Monday and, if approved there, a full session of City Council on Wednesday. Seelbach says he’s expecting unanimous support from fellow council members.

by German Lopez 08.26.2013
Posted In: News, Police, Privacy at 02:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
ohio statehouse

ACLU: Shut Down Facial Recognition Program

Tools allow police to link photos of suspects to driver’s licenses and mug shots

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio on Monday asked Attorney General Mike DeWine to shut down a facial recognition program used by law enforcement until state officials verify and develop safety protocols that protect Ohioans’ rights to privacy.

DeWine formally announced the program’s existence in a press conference Monday. It allows police officers and civilian employees to use a photo to search databases for names and contact information. Previously, law enforcement officials needed a name or address to search such databases.

The program has been live for more than two months and so far used for 2,677 searches. In that time span, the program was kept hidden from the public and hasn’t been checked by outside groups for proper safety protocols.

The attorney general’s office is just now putting together an independent panel of judges, public defenders, chiefs of police, sheriffs and other public safety officials to look at the program and gauge whether currently standing protections are adequate.

“The time for press conferences and advisory boards was months ago,” said Gary Daniels, associate director of ACLU of Ohio, in a statement. “This system needs to be shut down until there are meaningful, documented rules in place to keep this information secure, protect the privacy of innocent people and prevent government abuse of this new tool.”

Shortly after unveiling the program at a press conference, DeWine acknowledged it should have been revealed to the public earlier: “In hindsight, if I had to over again, we would have put out a release the day that it went up or before that.”

Still, DeWine defended the program’s ability to connect law enforcement with criminal suspects.

“Historically for, I don’t know, decades, law enforcement has had the ability to pull up the (Bureau of Motor Vehicles) information,” DeWine said, before noting that similar facial recognition programs have been adapted by federal officials and 28 other states.

DeWine also explained that he thinks the current protections for the program are good enough, but he said it’s prudent to have an independent group verify the standards.

Misusing the program qualifies as a fifth-degree felony, which carries a prison sentence of six months to one year.

David Pepper, who’s running for attorney general in 2014 against DeWine, criticized the current attorney general for how the program has been handled.

“It is highly irresponsible for the Attorney General of Ohio to launch something this expansive and this intrusive into the lives of law-abiding citizens without ensuring the proper protocols were already in place to protect our privacy,” Pepper said in a statement. “To have kept this a secret for this long only makes it worse.”

DeWine said the independent group will be given 60 days to come up with recommendations. His office intends to announce who will serve on the group in the next few days.