Americans love their science fiction but may not be ready to bring it home just yet. A new study suggests that a majority of Americans worry that the technological advances they see coming down the pike in the next 50 years could result in “a change for the worse.”
According to Pew Research Center poll released Thursday, about two-thirds of respondents expressed concerns over the possibility of parents being able to intentionally alter the DNA of their unborn children (66 percent), robots taking over the role of primary caregiver for seniors and invalids (65 percent), and personal and commercial drones flying through much of US airspace (63 percent).
Just over half of respondents reported that the widespread adoption of implants or devices embedded in clothing that constantly feed information to the wearer could have negative consequences.
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But it's not that Americans are ready shun technology entirely in favor of a Luddite lifestyle.
In fact, 59 percent of respondents expressed optimism that scientific and technological advances could improve their way of life overall, and only 11 percent of respondents said they are not looking forward to owning futuristic inventions. The majority of Americans appear to be eagerly awaiting the advent of flying cars and bikes, a vehicle for time travel, and futuristic health care that could extend human longevity and wipe out disease.
Eight out of 10 Americans expect that doctors will be able grow custom organs in laboratories for transplant patients.
We are still a long way from real-life versions of "Star Trek" teleporters – though 3 out of 5 respondents said that they expect such a capability to materialize in the next 50 years – and we still haven’t figured out what to do with the three seashells in "Demolition Man." But a whole slew of technologies first envisioned by fiction writers have already become realities.
Sci-fi writer William Gibson’s “cyberspace,” a term he first used in a 1982 short story, has become a major part of our everyday lives. Flip phones modeled after those used by Captain Kirk in the original "Star Trek" were all the rage in the early 2000s.
To engineers, inventors, and software developers, science fiction is the stuff of inspiration for the future.
However, science fiction also holds many cautionary tales for ways in which technology can get out of control.
Much of zombie-lore revolves around the idea of intentional modification of DNA could result in the production of monsters. The 1997 film "Gattaca" portrayed a grim future where too much understanding of genetics leads to discrimination of people seen as defective.
In Dean Koontz’s 1973 sci-fi novel "Demon Seed," which was adapted into a 1977 movie, a woman becomes imprisoned in her home by an artificially intelligent computer that taps into computerized controls that have been installed around the house for convenience.
While true artificial intelligence has so far proved elusive, more smart appliances that connect to the Internet are being integrated into the home. Think Nest’s smart thermostats and fire extinguishers and Samsung’s Internet refrigerator.
So far, at least, smart appliances, like smartphones, have been well received. However, as technology strays from hardware into the biological realm such as brain implants designed to improve memory and meat that is grown in a lab, far fewer Americans are willing to become early adopters, Pew found.
Despite the high-speed trajectory of technological innovation, Americans do see some limits to future capabilities. For instance, only 19 percent of Americans envision humans gaining any control over the weather and only one-third see colonization of other planets as a real possibility in the next 50 years.
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Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has vowed to take on the National Rifle Association with moms, police officers, and mayors at his side.
A longtime proponent of gun control, Mr. Bloomberg announced Wednesday that he will donate $50 million to Everytown for Gun Safety, a newly formed advocacy organization that aims to build grass roots support on gun violence prevention, including universal backgrounds checks, gun trafficking, and responsible gun ownership.
“This is the beginning of a major new campaign to reduce the gun violence that plagues communities across the country,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “There is no question that more needs to be done to tackle this deadly problem.”
Bloomberg’s group will focus on strengthening requirements for background checks prior to purchasing a weapon. Currently, mandatory background checks for gun sales do not apply to gun shows or estate sales.
In 2013, Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York authored a bill that would make background checks universally mandatory, but failed to garner sufficient support for the bill to progress through Congress.
But while the federal government has stalled, at least 16 states have strengthened requirements for background checks prior to gun sales, Bloomberg told Savannah Guthrie of the "Today" show Wednesday morning.
He hopes that his group will be able to tap into the localized pockets of advocacy and weave them together in a broader message.
“You’ve got to work at it piece by piece,” Bloomberg told The New York Times in an interview published Tuesday. “One mom and another mom. You’ve got to wear them down until they finally say, ‘Enough.’ ”
Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety aims to be an umbrella organization for two existing smaller organizations: Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which Bloomberg founded along with then-Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (D), and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, founded by stay-at-home mom Shannon Watts.
Ms. Watts told The New York Times that Everytown will focus heavily on rallying women for their cause.
“Right now, women, when they go to the polls, they vote on abortion, they vote on jobs, they vote on health care,” she said. “We want one of those things to be gun violence prevention.”
Bloomberg and Watts are deliberate in choosing the phrase “gun violence prevention” rather than “gun control.”
“It isn’t gun control,” Bloomberg explained during his "Today" show appearance. “This is simply making sure that people that everybody agrees should not be allowed to buy a gun – criminals, minors, people with psychiatric problems – [and] make sure that they can’t buy guns.”
Everytown currently has 1.5 million members across the country and aims to enlist an additional 1 million supporters by the end of the year.
Bloomberg’s infusion of cash will be used to counter the multimillion-dollar lobbying efforts of the National Rifle Association, but he insists that it's not "a battle of dollars."
“This is a battle for the hearts and minds of Americans," he said on "Today."
Material from Reuters and the Associated Press was used in this report.
[Updated 4:30 p.m. ET] Kevin Edson of Boston, the man accused of a bomb hoax in Boston’s Copley Square, faced several charges in Boston Municipal Court Wednesday.
He has been sent to Bridgewater State Hospital for psychiatric evaluation, is being held on $100,000 bail, and is due back in court May 7.
The bomb hoax Tuesday played on Bostonians' already-frayed nerves, as the city marked the one-year anniversary of the April 15 attacks on the Boston Marathon.
Moreover, the 2013 attacks occurred on the same section of Boylston Street and involved two homemade pressure cooker bombs concealed in backpacks. Three people were killed and more than 260 injured during those explosions.
On Tuesday, a police officer encountered a man walking down the middle of Boylston Street with a backpack, barefoot and shrouded in a black veil in pouring rain, according to Boston Police Department spokeswoman Rachael McGuire.
When questioned about the contents of the backpack, the suspect informed the officer that it held a rice cooker before dropping the bag on the ground, Ms. McGuire said.
The police evacuated the area and issued a stay-in-place order for area residents and businesses. Meanwhile, a bomb squad detonated the backpack, which did not contain explosives, as well as an additional bag that had been found at the scene. The second backpack is believed to have been left by a member of the media covering the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and is not considered to have been part of the hoax.
Just hours before Edson’s behavior sparked concerns, high-profile officials including Vice President Joe Biden attended a somber memorial service and flag raising at the finish line.
Mr. Edson has been charged with threatening battery, possession of a hoax explosive device, threats to commit a crime, disturbing the peace, disturbing a public assembly, and disorderly conduct.
In a statement Wednesday, his family said, "Our family is so sorry and emotionally overwhelmed by the events at the finish line of the Boston Marathon yesterday. To have this happen on the one-year anniversary of such a horrific crime is unfathomable."
Edson's mother, Joie Edson, said that her son has battled bipolar disorder for many years and that his mental state had recently deteriorated.
News of the incident traveled rapidly throughout the city, as authorities shut down several area subway stations for several hours while assessing the situation. With little official information, many residents turned to Twitter for updates of the situation.
The BPD assured residents in a public safety alert via Twitter that the “the unattended bags at the Finish Line have been disrupted for precautionary reasons.”
Social media played a key role in the wake of the 2013 bombings. Immediately after the explosions, runners, spectators, and victims were able to connect with loved ones via Twitter and Facebook. Social networking sites also served as an incubator for rumors, including false accusations.
Several days later, when the bombing suspects led police on a high-speed chase to nearby Watertown that resulted in a firefight and a stay-in-place order for millions of residents, people again took to Twitter for updates about what was happening.
During the lockdown, police criticized Twitter users for broadcasting information heard over the police scanner that could theoretically compromise law enforcement’s management of the situation.
On Tuesday night, the Boston Police Department implored the news media, via Twitter, to refrain from prematurely releasing any raw footage of the incident.
“For officer safety – media outlets are discouraged from showing any live video of backpacks found near Finish Line,” read a tweet from the BPD Twitter account.
• Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
The US Navy underwater robot Bluefin-21 has returned to the depths of the Indian Ocean in search of missing Malaysian airliner MH370 after aborting its first scouting mission.
The multinational team of searchers launched the autonomous underwater vehicle Monday, nearly a week after pings believed to be transmitted by the missing jet’s black boxes went silent. But the sub aborted that mission after reaching a patch of ocean that exceeded its maximum depth capacity.
“That part of the area was deeper than we thought it would be,” Navy spokesman Chris Johnson says. “We’re not entirely clear what we are going to run into, though we are fairly confident we are searching in an area now that is within the depth parameters.”
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The Bluefin-21, which is manufactured by Bluefin Robotics in Quincy, Mass., is capable of traveling up to 4,500 meters about 2.8 miles) below the ocean surface, Bluefin CEO David Kelly told the Monitor during an interview in late March.
That’s plenty deep for the majority of the Indian Ocean, which has an average depth of roughly 3,900 meters. However, portions of the search area known as the Zenith Plateau, which is about 1,000 miles northwest of Perth, Australia, reach nearly 5,000 meters deep.
When it comes to deepwater exploration, pressure is the limiting factor.
Mr. Kelly describes the pressure at 4,500 meters as “equivalent to a Cadillac Escalade balanced on your thumbnail.”
Oil-filled bladders protect the sub's internal communication system, data storage compartment, and surveillance technology from those pressures, but are not guaranteed to withstand additional force.
While the sub is capable of forming an image of what it “sees” by piecing together acoustic waves captured by sonar, it has to be about 50 meters above the seafloor to capture a reliable image, Bluefin's director of marine operations, Will O’Halloran, told the Monitor during a tour of Bluefin Robotics on March 28. To capture an optical image, it has to get even closer.
Although operators program search constraints for the sub, as an autonomous vehicle, it determines its own course, Mr. O’Halloran explained. In this case, operators aboard the Australian Royal Navy ship Ocean Shield preprogrammed a search area with the mission to “fly” 50 meters above the seafloor and obtain an image.
Because the Zenith Plateau is outside Australia’s economic zone, it has not been mapped extensively. It was not until the Bluefin-21 attempted to follow along the seafloor at the prescribed distance that the extent of the depths became clear. Rather than compromise the onboard equipment by exceeding the sub's maximum depth capacity, the vehicle aborted its mission and returned to the surface.
Authorities were already aware of the drone’s limitations but have not yet been able to obtain a vessel capable of searching deeper ocean.
“I would caution you against raising hopes that the deployment of the autonomous underwater vehicle will result in the detection of the aircraft wreckage. It may not,” search coordinator Angus Houston said at a news conference prior to the aborting of the first mission. “However, this is the best lead we have, and it must be pursued vigorously. Again, I emphasize that this will be a slow and painstaking process.”
It takes the Bluefin-21 an entire day to complete a single mission – two hours to reach the bottom, followed by 16 hours of searching and another two hours to return to the surface. If the sonar data reveal anything of interest, operators must initiate a second complete mission to obtain optical images. Authorities speculate that the search process could take another two months.
• Material from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.
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Last week’s fatal crash involving a bus full of California high school students wasn’t the first instance of a FedEx truck bursting into flames.
In Corte Madera, Calif., Friday – the day after the head-on crash along the I-5 interstate highway that killed 10 people – the driver of a smaller FedEx truck saw smoke coming out of the cargo area. By the time he had driven it to the back of a parking lot, the cargo area was ablaze.
Fire investigators suspect either an electrical malfunction or a chemical reaction caused the fire. The truck was carrying chemicals, although none of them appears to have leaked.
There have been other recent FedEx truck fires as well.
In mid-February, a FedEx truck making a pick up in Sweetwater, Texas, caught fire. Later that month, a FedEx tractor trailer caught fire and was totally destroyed along I-81 near Roanoke, Virginia. In March, a FedEx truck fire shut down a portion of I-80 near Park City, Utah.
It may just be coincidental, but witnesses say the large FedEx two-tractor trailer that barreled across a median and into the bus was emitting flames before the crash that killed five students and their three chaperones on the way to a college visit, plus the drivers of both vehicles.
Bonnie and Joe Duran were in their Nissan Altima in front of the bus when the truck came across the grassy median, side-swiping their car before hitting the bus.
"I just looked to the left, and there it was coming through right at me at an angle. I can tell I wasn't going to outrun him, so I just kind of turned to the right and he hit me," Bonnie Duran told a local TV affiliate. "It was in flames as it came through the median…. It wasn't like the whole thing was engulfed. It was coming up wrapping around him."
Although the investigation is just beginning, such a fire might suggest that the truck driver had been overcome by smoke or chemical fumes. There were no truck skid marks, apparently indicating that he had not applied the brakes. Details of the tractor-trailer’s cargo – whether or not it might have included chemicals or batteries, for example – have yet to be reported.
Federal investigators say they haven't found any physical evidence that the FedEx truck was on fire before the collision. National Transportation Safety Board member Mark Rosekind said Sunday that investigators are not ruling out a pre-impact fire, but they did not find any physical evidence at the crash scene.
The bus was gutted and the truck was a mangled mess, making it difficult for investigators to determine whether a fire started in the truck before impact. Mr. Rosekind said investigators planned to look at blood tests to determine whether the FedEx driver inhaled smoke before the collision, and whether he was impaired.
A blood test will also be conducted for the bus driver, who had only been driving a short time after relieving another driver during a stop in Sacramento. Rosekind said more than 145 feet of tire marks showed that the bus driver tried to brake and swerve to the right to avoid being hit.
Fire safety has been a longstanding concern of the NTSB.
After a 2005 bus fire killed 23 nursing home evacuees escaping Hurricane Rita in Texas, the agency called for safety standards that could make buses less vulnerable to fire, including improved protection of fuel tanks. More recently, the NTSB says buses must have sophisticated suppression systems to control fires, much as high-rise buildings have sprinkler systems.
As part of its investigation into Thursday's crash, the NTSB will also evaluate whether there should have been a barrier on the median to help prevent head-on collisions. Barriers are required when medians are less than 50 feet wide; this one was 60.
This report includes material from the Associated Press.
Transportation safety officials say it could be weeks before they know the cause of the collision between a FedEx tractor-trailer and a bus that took 10 lives, half of them Los Angeles-area high school students on their way to visit the college in northern California where they hoped to continue their education.
Even then, why the FedEx truck – which was hauling two heavy trailers – crossed a grassy median as it traveled south along I-5, slamming head-on into the bus and bursting into flames, may remain unclear.
"We don't know whether the FedEx driver had fallen asleep, whether he experienced a mechanical failure with his vehicle or whether there was a separate collision on the southbound side that caused him to lose control," said Lieutenant Scott Fredrick, lead investigator for the California Highway Patrol.
Witnesses report seeing the truck clip an automobile before careening across the median. One eye witness said the truck already was in flames before it smashed into the bus, which was headed north along California’s main north-south interstate highway midway between Sacramento and the Oregon border.
"It was in flames as it came through the median," Bonnie Duran told NBC News. "It was already in flames. It wasn’t coming from the front engine, it was more from behind the cab."
Both vehicles had devices that could shed light on the accident.
“There’s an electronic module on the bus that could tell us information about the speed, any hard braking that might have happened,” National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator Mark Rosekind told NBC. However, he added, any similar technology on the truck was most likely destroyed in the intense fire that raged through both vehicles.
"The big rig and the bus were both engulfed in flames,” said California Highway Patrol spokeswoman Tracy Hoover. “You are talking about two vehicles that are destroyed. There is hardly anything left of the truck.”
Those killed include the drivers of both vehicles and three high school chaperones, including a couple who had recently become engaged. The twin sister of one of the five students killed was riding on another bus headed toward Humboldt State University in redwood country on the northern California coast. More than 30 other passengers were injured, some of them seriously.
The trip from southern California was part of a program to help low-income and first-generation college hopefuls.
This week’s accident raises questions in two controversial areas:
Allowing double- and even triple-trailer tractors onto roads and highways. Such vehicles are harder to maneuver, especially in situations where stopping quickly can prevent deadly accidents.
And mandating the retrofitting of buses used by schools and tour operators with seat belts and other safety devices.
“While preventing accidents is always the goal, saving lives and reducing injuries in the event of an accident is also critical,” the NTSB states in its “most wanted” list for 2014. “Increasing the use of available occupant protection systems and improving crashworthiness to preserve survivable space can mean the difference between life and death.”
As the investigation continues, says the NTSB’s Mr. Rosekind, “The most important thing we can do is issue recommendations so that these kinds of accidents don't happen again.”
This report includes material from Reuters.
When Dropbox CEO Drew Houston announced on Wednesday that the company had appointed Condoleezza Rice, former US secretary of State, to its board of directors, he might have expected some skepticism.
Calling Dr. Rice “brilliant” and her career “illustrious,” Mr. Houston seemed to hedge against possible blowback in an online post in which he said that she was an ideal candidate to help shepherd an expansion of the cloud storage platform's “global footprint.” Rice is now a professor at Stanford, as well as a consultant to several tech firms.
But, on Friday, techies were not having it.
On a website set up soon afterward, called Drop Dropbox, critics alleged that Rice’s record of support for positions to which Silicon Valley is largely opposed suggests that Dropbox is not serious about its claim to resist online government surveillance.
Drop Dropbox faults a number of Rice’s past activities in the Bush administration, including her role in planning the Iraq war, her alleged support for the use of torture in interrogating Al Qaeda suspects, and government wiretapping without a warrant.
Rice’s appointment “invites serious concerns about Drew Houston and the senior leadership at Dropbox's commitment to freedom, openness, and ethics,” reads the website. “When a company quite literally has access to all of your data, ethics become more than a fun thought experiment."
It was not clear on Friday who was behind Drop Dropbox, since the site is hosted on a domain whose proxy is hidden, according to TechCrunch.
A link to Drop Dropbox, which encourages users to stop using the service, is the most-clicked-on posting on Hacker News, a news source popular with the technologically savvy, according to Wired. A separate website hosted at Causes.com includes a petition to boycott Dropbox and had amassed more than 6,000 signatures by Friday afternoon.
Support for a boycott was also trending on Twitter via the hashtag #DropDropbox.
Almost all the comments on the original posting about Rice’s appointment, among other announcements about new Dropbox features, were about Rice, with comments divided on whether she was an asset or liability to Dropbox.
How much the public relations flap could hurt Dropbox, a bona fide juggernaut of the cloud storage world, with more than 275 million users, is not yet clear.
The zeitgeist of Silicon Valley has lately been highly public opposition to online government surveillance, and technology companies have been at pains to reassure the public that their data will be secure with them. In March, Dropbox released a formal list of its principles on government data requests, including a promise to fight blanket government requests for its information and a commitment to publicizing the number of such requests it receives.
“Governments should never install backdoors into online services or compromise infrastructure to obtain user data,” reads one of the principles. “We’ll continue to work to protect our systems and to change laws to make it clear that this type of activity is illegal.”
Consumers have no shortage of options for where to put their data if one platform falls short on such pledges, including Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive. Those alternatives, among others, are listed on the website Drop Dropbox.
Last week, Mozilla bowed to pressure to boot its new chief executive, Brendan Eich, over his financial contributions to an anti-gay marriage ballot initiative in California in 2008.
Dropbox has not made a public statement on the calls to drop Rice.
Formalizing what had been broadly hinted for months, Republican Scott Brown has made it official that he is running for the US Senate, again – but not in Massachusetts.
Mr. Brown, the former Massachusetts senator, announced his campaign to represent New Hampshire in the US Senate at a hotel in Portsmouth Thursday night. While he tries to woo voters away from a Democratic incumbent whose support for the Affordable Care Act might have drained some of her support, he'll also have to convince Granite State residents that he is one of them, not an interloper crossing state lines.
Republican leaders had over the last year been encouraging Brown to challenge Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and help the GOP's bid to take the Senate. Senator Shaheen won her seat in 2008 against Republican incumbent John Sununu, making her the first Democrat to win a US Senate seat in the state since 1974.
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In comments likely to signal his campaign platform, Brown spent much of his speech lampooning Shaheen’s “yes” vote in 2010 on the Affordable Care Act, which polls have shown is unpopular with New Hampshire voters.
“She’s wrong on the issues affecting the people of New Hampshire,” said Brown, in his speech. “She placed a health-care bill on this state, and on our country, that people didn’t want.”
Riffing on New Hampshire’s “live free or die” motto, he also tweeted later that night: "Obamacare forces us to make a choice, live free or log on – and here in New Hampshire, we choose freedom.”
Brown, who recently resigned from a Boston firm, was a relative unknown when he came from behind in a 2010 special election to win the seat long held by Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy. His upset victory, widely attributed to tea party support, turned on a critique of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
But Brown was booted from that seat in his quest for reelection in 2012, when voters in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3 to 1 sent Democrat Elizabeth Warren to Washington, after a bitter and expensive campaign season.
Last year Brown sold his Massachusetts home and moved full-time to his vacation home in coastal New Hampshire, a move that qualified him to run for US Senate in the state, more reddish in hue than is Massachusetts. New Hampshire Republicans have a slight edge over Democrats among registered voters – 30 percent to 29 percent in the 2012 campaign cycle – but undeclared voters, at 41 percent, represent the largest voting group in the state.
In New Hampshire, he has since jumped feet-first into local culture, appearing bare-chested on the front page of The New Hampshire Union Leader this winter as he gamely plunged into near-freezing water in Hampton Beach in a community event to benefit the Special Olympics. For the last few months, he had also been tantalizing the public with occasional suggestions that he might be prepping for a political career in the state.
Polls on Thursday showed that Brown’s courtship of New Hampshire might be effective, putting Shaheen ahead of Brown, but not by much, and certainly not by as much as a month ago, when Shaheen had a 13 percentage point lead in a prospective matchup with Brown. Television station WMUR’s poll Thursday found that Shaheen had a lead of 45 percent of voters over Brown’s 39 percent haul, with 14 percent of voters undecided and a margin of error of plus-or-minus 5 percentage points.
Still, Brown, who has in most of his recent speeches emphasized his family ties to the Granite State, where he was born, and his boyhood there, has also been at pains to convince the public that he’s a proper New Hampshire man, not an opportunist from Massachusetts.
Thursday night, former Boston Mayor Tom Menino (D) said on Boston's WCVB-TV that the word “carpetbagger" aptly described Brown, calling Brown “not a New Hampshire person” but a “Massachusetts person” and predicting that Shaheen will win come November. "Carpetbagging" has also come up in polls on the race, with likely voters choosing it as one of the words they associate with the candidate.
State Democrats have also indicated that Brown’s association with Massachusetts will be a linchpin to Shaheen’s campaign, seeking to cast Brown as a powerseeker who is dubiously loyal to New Hampshire and its voters’ interests but is using the state as a launchpad for his own ambitions, as well as those of the big business interests that support him.
On Thursday, former state Democratic Party chairwoman Kathy Sullivan told The Washington Post that Brown was “demonstrating more clearly than ever that he’s not running to serve New Hampshire. He’s running to advance his own interests and the Big Oil, Wall Street guys who pay for his campaigns," she said.
Brown must first get through a Republican primary in September before facing Shaheen, but he is projected to easily win it.
Thursday night, he batted back at Democrats’ efforts to peg him as a disingenuous interloper, tweeting: “Should I have the privilege of rep NH, I can promise you this. I will answer only to you, the people of NH.”
“I’m nobody’s yes man,” he said.
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Police in Albuquerque, N.M., have a serious pattern of using “unreasonable force” against civilians, especially against those who have mental illnesses, according to a blistering report from the US Justice Department that was released Thursday.
The release of the findings closes a 16-month federal investigation into allegations that officers in the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) are abusing their right to use force, often with fatal results for civilians. Over the past month, outrage over police tactics in the Southwestern city reached its highest-octane levels yet, after police were seen in March fatally shooting James Boyd, a homeless man with schizophrenia, in footage from an officer’s helmet camera.
The Justice Department (DOJ) report concluded that APD officers are overusing both lethal and nonlethal force against people who “pose a minimal threat” to the officers, as well as against people who are clearly mentally ill and unable to properly follow police orders.
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“Public trust has been broken in Albuquerque,” said Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant US attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, at a press conference Thursday to discuss the report.
The DOJ said that the conduct of the APD officers, not the suspects, is often responsible for escalating the situation to violence, and it said that the majority of the 20 fatal police shootings it reviewed between 2010 and 2013 were “unjustified.”
The DOJ also identified “systemic deficiencies” in the APD that have legitimized or condoned excessive use of force, including “poor accountability systems” and “inadequate training.” The APD, it noted, has also failed to create a “culture of community policing” and has a hostile, aggressive relationship with the city it polices.
The DOJ recommended a long list of major reforms for the department, including investigating police shootings as crime scenes and overhauling police training to de-emphasize weapons use.
It did not, however, go so far as to order federal monitoring of the department, as had been expected, but said that federal agents would be meeting with local officials to determine what kind of monitoring would be required to make sure that reforms are carried out. Several cities’ police departments, including those in New Orleans and Los Angeles, have been subjected to federal monitoring.
Last week, in anticipation of the findings, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry requested immediate federal oversight of the police department, signaling a willingness to comply with such expected measures.
“Prior to the completion of the DOJ investigation and the publication of findings, I would like to immediately begin to the process of negotiating a cooperative agreement between the DOJ and the City of Albuquerque to implement a DOJ monitoring plan,” the mayor wrote at the time, in a letter addressed to the DOJ.
Mayor Berry, calling Mr. Boyd’s death a “game changer,” had also said that he was setting aside $1 million for compliance with the DOJ’s anticipated recommendations, and he announced support for some 60 departmental reforms, including mandating training for all officers on how to work with mentally ill civilians.
Though a police officer is entitled to use lethal force if the officer believes that his or her life is in serious danger, the number of shootings in Albuquerque – 23 civilians dead since 2010, most of them people with mental illnesses – had put a bright light on what can happen when an officer’s right to fire collides with a mentally ill person’s difficulties in understanding how to follow an officer’s directions.
It had also raised the question of whether APD officers were making all efforts to avoid using force and were abiding by the protocols outlined in their own guidelines for de-escalating and compassionately resolving confrontations with mentally ill suspects.
Last month, a standoff with police in the Sandia Mountains resulted in the shooting of Boyd – even though the situation appeared to have been diffused and Boyd seemed to be cooperating with officers. That month, violent protests over the death tore through Albuquerque’s downtown.
The DOJ investigation, begun in November 2012, did not review the Boyd shooting, but the case is the subject of a federal criminal investigation, DOJ officials say.
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A House committee voted Thursday to recommend that the full House of Representatives hold former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions about her role in the scrutiny of tea party groups applying for tax-exempt status.
“This is not an action I take lightly,” said Rep. Darrell Issa (R) of California, chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, at the start of Thursday’s hearing. However, “we need Ms. Lerner’s testimony to complete our oversight work to bring truth to the American people.”
The House will need to vote on the issue before Lerner can be officially held in contempt.
Lerner is under investigation by two House committees for allegedly stalling the tax-exempt application process for several conservative groups, including Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS. On Wednesday, the House Ways and Means Committee urged the Department of Justice to launch a criminal investigation into the controversy, the Monitor reported.
Last May, Lerner refused to answer questions in a House Oversight Committee hearing. House Republicans charged that she had waived her Fifth Amendment right when she offered a voluntary opening statement denying any wrong doing, at the start of the May hearing. She again refused to answer questions at hearings this March.
“We know from her attorney that she sat down for a lengthy no-strings-attached interview with Eric Holder’s Justice Department,” Representative Issa said. He questioned why she would be willing to speak with the Justice Department but not the elected representatives of the American people.
House Democrats see little room for interpretation of how the Fifth Amendment can be used.
“Ms. Lerner has invoked her constitutional right to remain silent under the Fifth Amendment and that’s it. The end,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D) said at the hearing. “I think this committee should change its focus to a more productive area instead of pursuing the destruction of one single woman clinging to her God-given constitutional rights.”
Several House Democrats have likened Thursday’s proceeding to McCarthy-era hearings conducted by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s, which accused American citizens of being Communist subversives.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D) of Maryland testified that although he, too, had hoped to hear Lerner’s testimony, he did not approve of the committee’s attempt to strip the Fifth Amendment rights of an American citizen.
“Today I do not direct my comments to my fellow committee members,” he said. “Instead, my statement is directed to the generations of Americans yet unborn who will read about his vote in their history books long after I am dead.”
House Republicans argued that Lerner’s selective use of the Fifth Amendment – first asserting “under-oath, wide-ranging claims of innocence,” according to Issa, then answering some questions but refusing others after pleading the Fifth – effectively waived that right.
Rep. John Duncan (R) of Tennessee stated that the Lerner’s questionable employment of the Fifth Amendment makes a mockery of the American justice system.
The Associated Press material was used in this report.