Citizens Police Academy: Crime Scene Investigations (CSI)

Even deep in the heart of Texas

Even deep in the heart of Texas …

During the course of two sessions the Hatboro and Horsham Citizens Police Academy covered Crime Scene Investigations (CSI).  Although I was unable to attend the first session, where Horsham detectives presented the framework of CSI work, do to more pressing matters.  As a result, those observations come to you through the eyes of a fellow classmate, Emily Ann.

The first CSI class was led by two of Horsham’s finest, Detectives David L. Bussenger and Robert J. Waltz.  The second CSI session came two weeks later, led by Montgomery County Detective Richard J. Nilsen, Jr. of the Forensic Services Unit in the Office of the District Attorney for Montgomery County, PA.

In the following description, only the names have been changed to protect the innocent …

Crime scene investigations are geared towards determining Who committed a crime by answering the questions

  • What took place?
  • When did it occur?
  • Where?
  • How?
  • Why?

The purpose of CSI is to determine what happened and who is responsible.  The ultimate goal is a proper “Guilty” verdict and punishment as set forth by the Court.

The investigative process begins with the initial police contact.

The first responding officers at any potential crime scene are responsible for rendering first aid and to summon an ambulance, if necessary.  They must also note what they see, hear, and smell … Time of day, weather conditions, people and vehicles at the scene and that might leave before investigators arrive.

Responding officers must also protect the crime scene from unnecessary traffic, disturbance, or contamination.  Responders will listen for what might be said by people on the scene and must separate any witnesses isolated from one another.  Witnesses are separated to prevent any comparison of their version of events and – if involved – to ensure they do not rehearse their stories.  All observations are then passed on to the assigned investigators.

Crime-Scene-Investigation-CareersThe investigators will call upon additional specialists as needed.  They include photographers, sketch artists, evidence recorders who maintain the “chain of custody” for all physical evidence, and experts from more specific fields of study … anthropologists, blood pattern analysts, and the medical examiner in cases of death.

Physical evidence is the bread and butter of law enforcement investigative work.  The chain of custody for that physical evidence is crucial to successful prosecutions.  Proper chain of custody allows for the identification and description of all aspects of the physical evidence months or years after its collection.  The chain of custody must be protected from any contamination and preventable degradation of biological samples.  For that reason, the chain of custody must be able to prove that all evidence was properly preserved and kept properly secured from tampering until presented in Court during the criminal trial.

Predictable physical changes in evidence, such as degrading tissue and blood samples cannot be entirely prevented.   The potential for an investigator to cause changes in evidence through improper technique must be anticipated and prevented.  Evidence recorders must be able to address anticipated changes in physical evidence (e.g. normal degeneration of blood and tissue samples) from the time the evidence is collected until it is presented in Court.

What-You-Should-Really-Know-about-Crime-Scene-InvestigationOnce investigators begin processing the immense amount of data from a crime scene, it’s important that they NEVER overlook the obvious.  After all evidence has been collected, photographed and sketched, and all witnesses have been interviewed, investigators will compare their initial findings to ensure all observations and individual perspectives are included.

Other considerations during an investigation:

  • Physical evidence does not lie.  Let it tell you what happened.
  • A hypothesis developed from the evidence and interviews is an important step.  But an investigator can never be afraid to change the theory especially if the physical evidence indicates a change is appropriate.

My friend, Emily Ann, described for me the highlight of that first CSI night … the crime scene adaptation presented by Detectives Bussenger and Waltz.  Emily Ann described a burglary crime scene laid out for the CPA participants with an array of physical evidence, challenging questions put to the participants, and the interesting way the detectives explained how they process such a crime scene.

Emily Ann found it interesting and quite instructive to see a crime scene laid out as an investigator might find it; and learning how they would go about weaving a theory from the physical evidence documented.

This was the angle that Detective Nilsen was really able to hammer home during his presentation on the second night of CSI.  He was able to provide both context and bit of visual discomfort as he provided very real and very graphic crime scene photos.  (All photos were carefully taken and framed so as to not reveal any details on the specific case or any information about the victims who were portrayed.)

But first Detective Nilsen had to blow away all my preconceived notions of detective work as I have gleaned from years and years of watching CSI: Miami/Las Vegas/NYC, eight different versions of Law & Order, and a healthy dose of Criminal Minds!  Apparently, most everything I have come to believe in watching detective TV is a farce, perpetrated by television’s need to fit a weeks or months-long story into 44 minutes (sans commercials).

KIRSTEN VANGSNESS

Penelope Garcia, Master Cyber-Detective Criminal Minds

There is no Garcia pounding furiously on a computer keyboard and able to provide everything from hat size and favorite color to the specific location and contents of last meal eaten for every crime victim, perpetrator, and key witness privy to the macabre details of any violent crime. There is no magical finger-printing system that churns through potential print matches as a detective watches, then spits out the matching perp in the time it takes to fix your mocha latte.  There is no crime lab that would let a regular detective jump right in, complete with a blue Tyvek hazmat suit to twiddle around with the DNA sequencing systems and scanning electro-microscopes (unless properly certified).

Great … Now I have another 6 hours a week I’ll have to find something productive to do …

Detective Nilsen’s presentation highlighted how such crime scene evidence as blood spatters, ballistics dynamics, corpse conditions (lividity, stage of mortiswound dynamics, etc.), transference of materials from perpetrator to victim, etc. all come together to prove the detective’s favorite adage …

Dead men DO tell tales!

Modern day detective's best friend

Modern day detective’s best friend

My personal “wow moment” was watching the animation generated by a piece of equipment called a Scan Station, a surveying type tool that provides a 360°, computer-generated survey of any potential crime scene.  The equipment is so sophisticated that once scanned a detective can visualize a crime scene from any angle (above, below, any side), even from “outside” the scene, as was proven when the class visualized a particular crime scene from outside then “flew” in through a window to view the interior of a virtual crime scene depiction.

Detective Nilsen, a former Lower Merion officer and Widener Law School graduate, also provided an in-depth look at fingerprint analysis and AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System), the dynamics of projectiles (bullets), DNA and blood collection, and a case study in the arrest and conviction of Charles “Acme John” Eichinger, one of his first cases as a MontCo detective.

The most important thing I learned from these two nights of CSI …

Crime is definitely not a good long-term job choice!

Citizens Police Academy: Use of Force and Active Shooter

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CPAs are popular all over the U.S.

The most anticipated session of the Hatboro and Horsham Citizens Police Academy occurred two weeks ago with the presentation of Use of Force as it applies to the difficult duties of criminal arrests and preserving public safety.  In the wake of recent controversies over the use of deadly force by police officers, I anticipated an extremely interesting presentation and lively discussion.

The Use of Force presentation was provided by Officer Mike Peters, a veteran of the Horsham Police Department since 1988.

The presentation began with the definition of Use of Force, which was mind-opening from the perspective that there is no single definition of Use of Force that’s generally accepted by police or other experts in the field of law enforcement.  For the purposes of our seminar the standard cited by the International Association of Chiefs of Police was used.

The amount of effort required by police to compel compliance by an unwilling suspect.

From there the discussion moved to several key United States Supreme Court (USSC) cases, specifically Tennessee v. Garner and Graham v. Connor. 

Tennessee v. Garner involved a fatal police shooting of an unarmed burglary suspect who was attempting to flee from arrest.  A federal Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s ruling against the shooting victim’s father in a $2 million lawsuit, citing the shooting as an excessive and unreasonable means of effecting Garner’s arrest.

Graham v. Connor involved the forcible arrest of a man exhibiting erratic behavior, including an apparent shoplifting, while in the throes of a diabetic attack.  Although officers had restrained Graham forcibly, he had been released as soon the true basis of the incident and Graham’s behavior were determined.  However, Graham still took police to task for the use of excessive force.

Both cases led the USSC to begin to identify those circumstances where force can be used appropriately.  As in Tennessee v. Garner, the Court has stated rather clearly that deadly force should only be used on a fleeing felon who poses a significant threat of harm to others.  In Graham v. Connor the USSC ruled that use of force should be applied under the “reasonableness standard” of the Fourth Amendment.

Next Officer Peters launched into a discussion of Pennsylvania’s legal standard for use of force as cited in Title 18 (Crime and Offenses), Chapter 5, § 508.  The Code sets forth the following (not all-inclusive):

  • Law enforcement need not retreat from efforts to effect an arrest because of resistance or violence.
  • Officers are justified in using such force as they believe necessary to make an arrest; to defend themselves; or to protect the public in the course of their duties.
  • Deadly force is authorized only when the officer believes such force is necessary to prevent serious injury or death to themselves or others.
  • Officers are authorized to use force, including deadly force, to prevent the escape of any prisoner from a correctional facility.

The process by which the officer’s belief that force is necessary is articulated in the Use of Force Report. These are used widely throughout the country to document an officer’s perspective in a use-of-force incident.

Use of Force Reports will include the following (not all-inclusive):

  • Background information, including number of officers and subjects involved, witnesses and specifics of the location (layout, tightness of quarters, maneuverability, obstacles, etc.)
  • Approach or why contact was initiated; reasonable suspicion, probable cause, warrants, disturbance call, etc.
  • Tactical considerations: approach, distance, positioning, tactics
  • Early warning signs or pre-attack posture of the subject (if applicable)
  • Conditions of the subject: mental, emotional, drugs/alcohol, crisis, control, etc.
  • Weapons: on the scene, available to officer and to subject
  • Special considerations: perception of threat; officer’s knowledge of the subject; officer injury, conditioning, exhaustion

Evaluation of use-of-force incidents will include all evidence and the perceptions of the officer(s) involved as expressed in interview and on the Use of Force report.  In addition, such evaluation will look at physical comparisons between the subject and officer (size, weight, gender, skill level of subject); specifics and limitations in the physical location, the subject’s perspective if available, steps of escalation and de-escalation, etc.

Obvious principles in the use of force normally apply during an arrest for known or suspected criminal conduct, which can occur under circumstances of reasonable suspicion; probable cause; or known wants and warrants.  Arrest can only be achieved when the subject/suspect is under control.

An often overlooked aspect of any use of force incident is the suspect/subject’s frame-of-mind and willingness to obey lawful commands.  Often this decision is clouded by alcohol, drug use, mental instability, or their mindset towards authority.

Use of force must cease once control has been effected.  An officer’s responsibility is to determine how much force is necessary to overcome resistance.  Part of that decision-making process are situational components, such as number of responding officers, physical characteristics of the subject (size, gender, conditioning, etc.), and the choice of options available to the officer(s).  These options, known as the Use of Force Continuum, are in ascending order of intensity:

  • simple dialogue
  • escort techniques
  • pain compliance (very difficult to use on actively resisting individuals)
  • mechanical control (e.g. painful manipulation of the arms)
  • chemical sprays (hard to control, harmful to all in close quarters)
  • impact weapons (e.g. batons)
  • firearms

image004The goal of any confrontation is to exert control.  An officer must have the mindset that he must win such confrontations 100% of the time (self-preservation), while considering the likelihood of establishing control vs. the potential damage to the subject.  Finally, the use of force frequently escalates and de-escalates several times in the course of one confrontation.

At this point, I have to be honest in my disappointment at the way the use of force presentation was structured.  This was the one presentation to which I was most looking forward; and I was disappointed for several reasons.  My primary disappointment was in the lost opportunity to have a frank, open, and honest discussion among a somewhat diverse audience that appeared extremely interested in the topic, particularly given recent controversies over police confrontations in places like Ferguson, MO and New York City.

My opinion, which I expressed to one of our instructors, was that too much information was crammed into this session, in part due to the inclusion of a presentation on active shooters which followed.  My suggestion was that Use of Force should be the lone topic for the evening with a suitable portion of the session dedicated to open discussion.  I believe this would serve as an opportunity for the instructors to provide their own most personal viewpoints and to instill a level of confidence in the public to whom these sessions are intended to reach.

To underscore this, I spoke to one of my fellow CPA attendees, a Liberian immigrant, who I discovered has been driving to Horsham from Northeast Philadelphia (roughly a 60-90 minute round trip) simply for the opportunity to learn and understand more about the role of law enforcement and the community-cop relationship.

Lawrence related his biggest question concerned why the community-cop relationship was so contentious.  (Living in Philadelphia certainly would provide a greater opportunity to witness such contention, in my opinion.) 

Lawrence framed the issue from his perspective in one way that confirmed some of my own opinions about the community-cop relationship and race.  He described his general experience with the police by stating that his limited interactions were much more contentious when a black cop was involved.  I took that to mean that for him it is more an issue of authority than race.

And that’s one crucial element of the community-cop relationship that might have benefitted from an open and honest classroom discussion on Use of Force.

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Active Shooter

The second half of the session was a presentation by the seminar’s work horse, SGT Pete Van Dolsen, Hatboro PD, that addressed Active Shooter situations, such as those at Columbine HS in Colorado (1999) and Virginia Tech University (2007).

Several crucial factors set active shooter situations apart from other criminal shootings:

  • The events are often well-planned by the perpetrators.
  • The shooters are very mission-oriented and as a result appear to remain very calm among the chaos they create.
  • The perpetrators often have trouble coping; are anti-social; and view themselves the victim of some wrong-doing

Prior to the calamity at Columbine, the police strategy in active shooter incidents was to surround, organize, then overwhelm the shooter(s).  Unfortunately the carnage at Columbine and the realization that in such incidents a death can occur every 8 seconds, changed that approach to one of immediate entry, search, confront, and arrest/neutralize.  The examples cited, going all the way back to the University of Texas clock tower shootings in 1966, illustrate that the quicker law enforcement engages the shooter, the sooner the killing of innocents stops.

There is no more time to kill when you are trying to evade capture or the aggressive suppression by trained officers.  In most cases, the shooter ends up killing themselves or completing their plan through suicide-by-cop.  In any case, aggressive police intervention changes the dynamic dramatically.  The shooter becomes focused on the police intervention.

One startling fact offered was the frequency in which shootings at schools has escalated.  Between 1966-96 there were 15 reported school shootings.  In 2013-14 there 17!

After several workplace shootings, my employer began offering training in surviving potential active shooter situations.  The need for this training was underscored in 2013 with the mass shooting that occurred at the Washington Navy Yard.

Our training emphasizes the following actions to take in an active shooter situation:

  1. Flee the area if at all possible
  2. If unable to flee, shelter in place preferably in a room with a door that locks without a window.
  3. If sheltering in place, make certain to follow all law enforcement instructions regardless of your state-of-mind or your assumptions of the shooter’s status.  Responders may not be convinced that all shooters are in custody or neutralized.
  4. If cornered with no escape path, fight with whatever is available.

Police reactions will adhere to the following pattern:

  • Contact mode:  location of the shooter is known
    • Contain, control, communicate, gather resources
  • Search mode:  location of shooter unknown
  • Rescue mode:  subject neutralized or gone from immediate area

First responder priorities in an active shooter situation will be the protection of:

  1. Shooting victims
  2. Other citizens
  3. First responders themselves
  4. Shooters

And so ended a very long night of rather depressing subject matter.

Citizens Police Academy: District Courts

citizens-police-academy-wilmington-delawareSession 3 of the Hatboro and Horsham Citizens Police Academy (CPA) dealt with District Courts, the most local of courts in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania judicial system.  The seminar was provided District Justice Paul N. Leo, Magisterial District 38-1-14, located in Hatboro, Pa.

Justice Leo was a police officer in the Upper Moreland Police Department.  He has been elected to his third term (six years each) on the District Court.  In addition to giving his time to the Hatboro and Horsham CPA, he provides instruction at the Montgomery County Community College Municipal Police Academy.  In this capacity, the Honorable Justice teaches police cadets the basic and finer points of criminal law and the legal system.

Frankly, the law – like economic theory – tends to make my eyes water and ears bleed.

(For this reason, I take no responsibility for inaccurate legalese which may – or may not – be found in the following.)

Judge Leo was able to make the legal system – as seen through its basic, most local interaction with the average citizen – both interesting and relatable.

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Click here: Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System for an extremely informative, interactive presentation of the PUJS pyramid style organization.

  • Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System consists of:
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court – Highest State Court
      • Established in 1684 (Oldest appellate court in U.S.)
      • 7 justices request selected appeals from Superior and Commonwealth Courts
    • Superior Court and Commonwealth Courts
      • Superior Court (15 judges)
        • Final Arbiter in most legal matters, primarily criminal and most civil matters
      • Commonwealth Court (9 judges)
        • Established in 1968 and unique to Pennsylvania
        • Primary responsibility is with issues involving State and Local governments and regulatory agencies
      • Superior and Commonwealth Courts hear appeals from Court of Common Pleas
    • Court of Common Pleas (451 judges)
      • 60 Judicial Districts (67 counties in PA, 14 counties combined into 7 districts)
        • General trial courts for both criminal and civil cases
        • Appeals from District Court decisions
    • Minor Courts (526 judges)
      • 526 magisterial districts
        • includes 13 Allegheny County DJs serving Pittsburgh
      • 29 Philadelphia District Courts (27 General, 2 Traffic)
      • Civil trials
      • All minor criminal and some serious criminal trials
        • Decides which criminal cases refer to Court of Common Pleas
      • Preliminary hearings and arraignments
  • Montgomery County Courts consist of 30 District Courts
    • District Justice Paul N. Leo, Judicial District 38-1-14
Paul leo

District Magistrate Paul N. Leo (MD 38-1-14)

In District Court, Judge Leo is responsible for hearing criminal arraignments and deciding – on prima facie grounds – the likelihood that a crime has been committed and whether the alleged perpetrator should be held over for trial or if bail should be set (except for cases involving murder and voluntary manslaughter that automatically go before the Court of Common Pleas). He also decides which criminal cases are sufficiently serious for Court of Common Pleas.

In addition, Judge Leo hears all civil cases in disputed amounts up to $12,000., summary offenses and municipal ordinance violations.

In his presentation to the CPA, Judge Leo also touched on subjects such as:

  • The hierarchy of offenses in the criminal code that range from Summary and Misdemeanor (Classes 1-3) offenses through Felonies (Classes 1-3) and Super Felony charges for drug dealing and abuse of a child.
  • Workings of the bail bond system
  • Domestic abuse and implications of Protection from Abuse (PFA) orders
  • Role of the Prothonotary
  • Search warrants

One of the more interesting topics was a discussion of the “four corner” concept in the presentation of Probable Cause, which is normally the responsibility of an arresting police officer.  The concept requires that all facts and evidence substantiating an arrest and the alleged commission of a crime or violation must be contained within the four corners of any document submitted to The Court, particularly in criminal matters.

The concept places the onus for documenting any violation or crime on the arresting officer.  It requires a meticulous attention to detail and relies on the ability of the officer to properly articulate all important facts and supporting information without providing the Defense an easy out on technicality or substantive error.

As you can imagine, some of the stories related on this issue and others, gleaned from years of experience on the bench were enlightening, troubling, or downright funny.  The impression one gets is that a day on the bench cannot be confused with a day on the beach; but it does have its moments.

02The judge related several issues of frustration.  One was on the parade of repeat offenders or “frequent fliers” whose experience in the legal system rivals that of the judges themselves.  Too often repeat customers of The Court know all too well the gradual escalation of court action and sanctions; and they are able to “game the system” to maintain their freedom right up to the point where serious action and incarceration might occur.

The saddest problem involves the redundant appearance of domestic violence victims, who often refuse to testify against a significant other repeatedly over separate incidences of abuse.  It’s a long-standing and difficult problem with no easy or simple solution.  The worst part is that it can eventually become a matter of life or death.

Other subjects I found interesting:

  • Law degrees are not required to serve as judges in the lowest courts (Magisterial District) or in the highest court (Pennsylvania Supreme Court); but they are required to serve on the mid-level courts (Common Pleas, Commonwealth, and Superior)
  • Conviction rate for jury trials in Montgomery County is 87%.
  • Video arraignment systems now available at incarceration sites and to The Courts is saving much in the way of costs and in freeing police officers and sheriff’s staff for other duties due to the removal of transportation complications.

courtroom-gavelOverall, Judge Leo did an excellent job of explaining – in mostly laymen terms – the conduct, operation, and expectations a participant might have of an interaction with the Minor Courts of Pennsylvania.  It’s difficult to make discussions of law sound very interesting to the man on the street.  Judge Leo made it interesting and well worth the time spent listening.

At some point, I plan to take the good Judge up on his open invitation to observe his court in action.

All courts, including local Magisterial District Courts, are open to the public.  Judge Leo’s court is located just south of “downtown” Hatboro, as part of the Victorian Village complex at 420 S. York Road.  The Judge recommends calling (215-957-5935) for The Court’s schedule before stopping in to observe the local court at work.

The Magisterial District Court for Horsham (38-1-22) is operated under District Justice Harry J. Nesbitt III, and is located at 903 Sheehy Drive, Suite A, Horsham, PA 19044 (215-675-2040).

Tom Wolf’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad month

wolf03z-601New Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf is off to a rip-roaring start! In just one month on he job he has …

  • Fired a well-respected Republican staffer appointed by Former Governor Tom Corbett to manage the Office of Open Records.
  • Advised that he will refuse to issue death penalty warrants until the State Legislature files an anticipated report on its use. Anticipation is the moratorium will morph into a full ban, displeasing law enforcement personnel who saw two State Troopers gunned down – one fatally – in a pre-meditated ambush last year.
  • Scrapped Healthy PA, scrapping negotiations with the Obama Administration to expand Medicaid coverage – in accordance with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – that sought more favorable terms for a State already paying the highest costs for any state for Medicaid coverage.  The Medicaid ACA expansion mandate will not be fully funded by the Federal Government in future years.
  • Reversed a policy allowing for the removal of natural gas assets lying beneath State Park lands.
  • Announced plans to tax natural gas extractions by an effective rate of 7.5% while doing away with the State’s Impact Fees that went to compensate local communities for wear and tear on local infrastructure.

As the chief executive of a cabinet-making company, Wolf would be expected to have the patience of a mayfly.  In a private, for-profit industry, who could blame a responsible manager?  Sloth makes for poor reaction times; and an overabundance of forbearance can render one an unimportant player in private industry where competition for resources is keen.

But what does one make of Mr. Wolf’s propensity for shooting from the hip, and over the heads of the very legislative bodies from which he will no doubt expect cooperation some day?  When will he realize he needs them to cash the checks his actions are writing?

It’s an interesting conundrum for the new Wolf on the block! But it only gets better – maybe scarier is the better word – if you’re a hard-working Pennsylvanian watching your disposable income shrink each and every year.

Rumor has it, Governor Wolf will propose an assortment of tax increases on top of those tax increases already announced on the natural gas industry.  Pennsylvanians could be looking at increases in the state income tax (currently 3.07%) and in the state’s 6% sales tax.

The tradeoff might be a reduction in Property Taxes, although certainly not a dollar-for-dollar offset of any potential increases in the income and sales taxes.  The result?  Higher taxes for working Pennsylvanians!

One winner, however, would be corporations, which might see the 9.9% corporate tax rate cut in half!  This move could be in response to the corporate raiding party Florida Governor Rick Scott led into Pennsylvania last week, as he smelled blood in Pennsylvania’s business tax pool.

States are always looking to purloin businesses from other states, especially where the business environment isn’t quite as favorable.  That’s a sad statement on views of the state from outside Pennsylvania, especially when the new Governor has made it quite clear that he intends to raise taxes, but will not consider needed public pension reform or the sale of Pennsylvania’s antiquated state store liquor distribution system.

carterAnd as if that’s not enough to curl your checking and savings account, consider this:  You are the reason Pennsylvania is not a better run, more self-sustaining, attractive place to live!

Why?

You have very low self-esteem!

Oh my God, I just realized … We may have elected the second coming of Jimmy “Malaise” Carter … former Governor of Georgia and perhaps the weakest President to serve the country since James Buchanan!

Sure, it’s bad enough that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker can be heard snorting a laugh at Governor Wolf’s self-esteem assessment at the National Governor’s Association (NGA) no less.  Baker undoubtedly made note to organize a job-raiding party into Pennsylvania as soon as he gets back to Boston!

Check out the video below and note Baker’s involuntary snort.  It’s always a bad sign when the new guy in the NGA has to declare “That wasn’t a laugh line.”

Uh oh ….

http://www.c-span.org/video/?c4528850/tom-wolf-2015-national-governors-association

Governor Jerry Brown Moonbeam-1

Governor Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown (CA)

If it wasn’t bad enough that our fledgling Governor made those remarks in front of a roomful of other Governors, he added this little tidbit:

If a space alien visited the United States and was given a list of the assets of each state, “that alien would look at the 50 sheets of paper and say, ‘Pennsylvania must be the dominant state. Obviously it’s the dominant state.’ “

Wonderful … Governor Malaise and Governor Moonbeam all rolled into one! Well, if I didn’t have low state-esteem before, I certainly have it now …

Police Academy 19

1626For 19 times the police departments of Horsham and Hatboro, Pennsylvania have presented a seminar-type forum know as the Citizens Police Academy.  Having heard several rave reviews of the program, its organization, and presentation, I decided to register and take a look at what our local law enforcement types do and how they do it.  There are local CPAs in surrounding communities as well, such as Abington, Cheltenham, as well as both regionally and nationally.

This past Wednesday night was our first session.  And although the first session was by necessity a bit dry and full of background information and program objective, several interesting factoids were presented that would make the under-educated (police service-wise) go, “Hmmmm …”

If subsequent sessions appear to be nearly as interesting as I think they might, I intend to share some of my experiences and lessons-learned with you.  I will not promise to do so each week; but I will not let anything of value out.

By way of full disclosure I reveal the following.  I have several former and current officers in my family, including one who retired from a command position in a fairly large police department out west.  Currently, I have one extended family member serving as a patrol officer (last time I checked) in Wilmington, Delaware.

The objective of the Citizens Police Academy (CPA) are fairly obvious.

  • Improved community relations
  • Improved public safety
  • Crime prevention through the elimination of Opportunities to commit crime

PA-HorshamTwpPDOf course, the primary goal is an outreach to its citizens as a way of fostering familiarity with police roles and techniques, an understanding of what police can and cannot do, as well as a forum for citizens to learn how to prevent the most common criminal acts and how local police will react and handle those situations.  The underlying theme is to promote a tighter relationship between the community and the police, and to encourage greater participation by everyday citizens in community.

Personally, I find it to be an excellent way to show support for local law enforcement as well as taking an interest in the important role they play in making our community a safer, more attractive place to live.

My class has roughly 20-25 attendees on the first night, coming from both Horsham and Hatboro.  For those not familiar with the two communities, they are located very closely though they do not physically border each other.  The township of Upper Moreland separates the two by a thin piece of land, known by some as “the dog leg”.  However the two communities share a common school district, known appropriately enough as the Hatboro-Horsham School District.

I live in Horsham.  But in a strange quirk of U.S. Postal Service zip-coding, my residence holds a Hatboro zip code.  (Not sure how that fits the narrative here, but there ya go!)

You want to do what?!?   (generic CPA photo)

You want to do what?!?
(generic CPA photo)

Our first class was mostly a familiarization session, with some random facts and an opportunity to check out the routine equipment carried and used by today’s officers.  Most of this was interesting in a hands-on way, being able to feel the heft of the expandable baton or noticing that their sidearm ammunition used hollow-point bullets or imagining what it feels to have 50,000 volts of taser hitting your muscles from an effective range of 25 feet.

Does this come in pink? (generic CPA photo)

Does this come in pink?
(generic CPA photo)

Future classes will include patrol functions, a session on District Courts, use of force, crime scene and homicide investigations (CSI), the FBI, terrorism, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), K-9 programs, and drug awareness.

Some other random tidbits picked up in our first session:

  • Although Pennsylvania is an open carry” state, as soon as you enter a vehicle with your weapon, it is considered to be “concealed” for the purposes of requiring a Concealed Carry permit.
  • The average police shooting last 3-6 seconds from a distance of 3-6 meters where 3-6 rounds are fired.
  • Police officers “walk through” every school in the Hatboro-Horsham SD at least once a day.
  • Hatboro will be celebrating its 300th birthday in 2015!

More to follow …

PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane indicted on criminal charges!

Now admit it … How many of you were expecting an brutal excoriation of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder?  If you did, you obviously do not live in the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania!

If you did, you might have immediately associated the above title as one of the traits now commonly attributed the Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Kathleen Kane.

Kane won election to the post of AG quite handily in 2012, even receiving an in-person endorsement appearance by former President Bill Clinton. Heck, even I crossed party lines to vote for her, in my long-held belief that having an qualified opposition party member holding certain positions in government (e.g. AG, Comptroller) is not a bad way to keep an eye on the majority party hen house.

In this case, it was a monumental mistake in judgment on my part!

Kane has served only as an Assistant District Attorney in Lackawanna County.  That does not – in and of itself – preempt the possibility that she was qualified and could serve admirably.  But there other rumblings during the election about just how much litigation experience she had, which also by itself does not predict incompetence.

Regardless, the important thing now is that she has proven to be so far in over her head that even PA Democrats, including fellow Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, are looking in her direction with WTF? looks on their faces!

Almost immediately after taking office, Kane shut down a years-long PA AG investigation into political corruption in the Democrat bastion of Philadelphia.  The probe, using a turned informant, caught five local pols, including four State Representatives and a Traffic Court judge, taking cash payments or jewelry, on 400 hours of TAPE (!) for votes or contracts!

The problem?  Kane was in a feud with the investigation’s former prosecutor, Frank G. Fina, who, having identified a conflict-of-interest for Kane’s management of the case, had bundled up the evidence and forwarded it to federal prosecutors for their consideration.

Fina was already in Kane’s crosshairs for his connection the Jerry Sandusky (Penn State University football) pedophilia investigation, which Kane used as the pointy spear in her campaign for the state AG job.  She alleged politically-motivated foot-dragging by the State AG’s office at the direction of Governor Tom Corbett, who sat on the PSU Board of Governors. (Those allegations were independently disproved in a subsequent probe commissioned by AG Kane.)  When Kane took office she had her staff appropriate the hard drives and all files in Fina’s possession, then took the unprecedented steps of interfering in Fina’s professional interactions after he left and joined the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.

And this is where it gets really juicy!

When pressed by critics and the media for an explanation for dropping what appeared to be a pretty solid chance for prosecutions, Kane first claimed the probe was racially targeted (All the subjects were black.); then she claimed other prosecutors had told her it was “unprosecutable” then she simply said that anyone who challenged her view was “sexist”, playing the “good old boys” network.

The only findings supporting the “unprosecutable” claim came from the federal prosecutors’ undefined decision not to accept the case as forwarded by Fina and another DA’s opinion that was based only on a summary prepared by Kane’s office!

The most egregious claim was the one on racism. Kane claiming that the lead prosecutor, an African-American, had advised that he was directed to target member of the city’s black caucus.  Claude Thomas, the investigator said no such thing was ever said; and the only “evidence” Kane would supply was a memo prepared by her staff AFTER she had made the claim.

At this point, Philly DA Williams, a fellow Democrat, came to the defense of his new employees, Fina and Thomas, who had come to work for him after Kane had let Fina go.

Williams challenged Kane’s claims on all counts.  So Kane threw the challenge back at Williams, daring him to take over the case and attempting prosecutions.  Williams promptly did, and so far has brought charges against two of the probe’s targets, with the Traffic Court judge accepting a plea deal for accepting a $2,000. Tiffany bracelet.

In another attempt to nail Frank Fina, Kane released a confidential grand jury memo on financial investigation into J. Whyatt Mondeshire, former head of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP.  Mondeshire was never charged or publicly acknowledged as a target of the grand jury; but that didn’t stop Kane (or her staff) from releasing the information to newspapers.  As a result, a grand jury, commissioned by former Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille, is looking into the matter and the potential for criminal charges.

Kane’s worrisome defense?  She was a stay-at-home mom at the time of the Mondeshire probe, so the curtain of confidentiality didn’t apply to her!  Yep, that’s a top-flight legal mind right there!

Of course, Kane – for all the legitimate questions and challenges thrown her way – continues to double-down on her defense of her head-scratching, almost unconscionable positions by attacking even more!  Her latest foible was to conduct a full review of the Corbett Administrations e-mail archives, after it was revealed that inappropriate and pornographic content was shared among some working in the AG office and in other segments of the State’s justice system.

Not necessarily a bad initiative to take, even if it ensnared a few Democrats along the way, such as tough law-and-order Supreme Court Justice, Seamus McCaffrey.  The only problem is that many viewed the effort as a thinly-veiled attempt to silence critics by threatening to reveal the details of their e-mail histories.

Yet Kane even managed to muff the punt once again, by claiming her review found instances of child pornography, which were quickly walked back by her own staff spokesperson almost as soon as Kane uttered the words.  Media reviews did in fact find memes and pictures of children, but they were clearly not pornographic in nature!

For a State, recently depicted as one of the most corrupt state governments in the U.S., yet which rarely considers the removal of officials from office under almost any circumstances, it is quite telling that the State Legislature is throwing around the “I word” …

And now today, the grand jury convened to review the actions of Kathleen Kane’s Attorney General’s office has returned an indictment for criminal charges of perjury and contempt of court.  The meteoric rise of the politically gifted is often only exceeded by the speed of their fall!

 

 

 

Water contaminants and NAS-JRB Willow Grove

nas-jrb-signWhen first I heard the Horsham Water and Sewer Authority (HWSA) was compelled to remove three water wells located near the NAS-JRB Willow Grove property due to the presence of Perfluorinated Compounds in tested ground water, I really wasn’t all that concerned.  My home doesn’t use well water – or so I thought; and since those affected wells were taken off-line, all would be “well”!

Well, I was half-right.

In July 2014 routine water sampling revealed the presence of Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) in HWSA groundwater wells located in close proximity to the mostly abandoned airbase. The HWSA made the proper decision to take two wells (26 & 40) off-line, effectively removing them from the water supply.  In addition, the U.S. Navy will continue to sample monitoring wells located on the NAS-JRB property and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has requested permission to test water from 200 private wells in Horsham.

Where I was wrong was my assumption that water from those wells affected by the presence of PFOS/PFOA would not have made it into my family’s drinking water.  My misapprehension was the result of a total ignorance of well water usage and how heavily Horsham relies on it to meet local needs.

I attribute said ignorance to my life as a “city boy” before moving to Horsham in the late ’90s.  What I knew about Philadelphia’s water supply was limited to its reliance on reservoirs located as far away as New York state and the intriguing notion of water releases from these NY reservoirs into the Delaware River that actually raise the river’s level as the swell of out-of-state water pushes down the river to huge intake valves located in the City.

Needless to say, that water is heavily treated and is reputed to be one of the best in quality nation-wide.

news148608122014110441Despite my rather sheltered perception of local water usage, I decided to attend the Navy’s Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) public information meeting, held at Horsham’s community center on October 7.  I learned a lot at this session, particularly how little I really knew about Horsham’s water supply.  My Big Aha! moment was the learning that all of Horsham’s water wells feed the entirety of the Township as opposed to my assumption that local wells feed only those users in that particular well’s immediate vicinity.

Suddenly the presence of these Emerging/Unregulated Contaminants in any local well took on an entirely new meaning!

Allow me to share what I learned from an hour of asking questions; listening to explanations; and trying to digest the mind-numbing bureaucratic ecological science conscientiously provided by the good folks of the U.S. Navy BRAC office and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

  •  Until the discovery of PFOS/PFOA, Horsham Township through the Horsham Water and Sewer Authority (HWSA) drew all required water through a system of 15 strategically placed wells serving 103 miles of distribution piping to over 7000 customers (6500 residential).  These wells feed the entire system, not just those users located in close proximity to any single well (as I had thought).  Five elevated tanks provide pressure-leveling and emergency reserves (e.g. fire-fighting).
  • PFOS/PFOA are man-made salts used in a variety of consumer and industrial applications, such as in water-proofing clothing and fabric, non-stick cookware, food packaging and – most importantly to Horsham’s situation – in fire-fighting foam.  They are persistent in the environment, meaning they break down very slowly. PFOS/PFOA are considered “emerging contaminants” because methods of testing in groundwater were only recently developed and insufficient research exists on their long-term effects on organic systems.
    • Because of its widespread use and proclivity for bonding to proteins, PFOS/PFOA can be found in every person to some level.
    • Little is known about the long-term effects to low-level exposure in drinking water.  The EPA continues to study prevalence and toxicity to determine safe drinking water limits.
    • EPA developed and issued a Provisional Health Advisory Level (HAL) in order to minimize high-level exposures and to ensure detection where testing is required.  The HAL and new testing methods, instituted in 2013, discovered the contamination and triggered the removal of Horsham Wells 26 & 40 from the water-supply network.
  • epaThe source of the contamination appears to be the wide-spread use of PFOS in fire-retarding/fighting foam used to suppress flames from airplane crashes.  The foam was used world-wide to fight such fires.  Although actual plane crashes were rare at the NAS-JRB site, the foam was most liberally used in fire-fighting training exercises.  Three other wells near the base are also being monitored for producing contaminant levels below the HAL limits.
  • PFOS/PFOA are no longer legally produced in the U.S.  Some usage is still allowed in a few, limited, high-tech applications where no known alternatives are yet available.  Efforts are being made to eliminate their use completely by 2015.
  • Studies suggest PFOS/PFOA may cause elevated cholesterol levels and low infant birth weight.  Research showed that in large doses, they caused developmental, reproductive, and liver effects in animals.  Health effects of long-term and low-level exposure are not well-known.  Blood tests are available, but tend to be inconclusive and unable to predict individual health issues.
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Firefighting foam in use

Although stories such as these tend to raise a community’s anxiety level when we are constantly bombarded with news stories about everything that is bad for you, all available science and information concludes that Horsham’s drinking water is safe for consumption!

The U.S. Navy, always responsive to issues arising from the BRAC decision to close the base, continues to monitor wells near the airbase to determine the extent of any contamination and to further identify sources.  The Navy is also reimbursing Horsham for any purchases of replacement water supplies.  The HWSA is looking at options for permanent replacement of water capacity lost to the well shutdowns.

My takeaways from this session and from my own reactions to the information presented are these:

  • Horsham Township’s water is safe to drink!
  • The Township and the U.S. Navy (My employer in an entirely unrelated capacity.) continue to be extremely responsive and responsible when it comes to issues of concern with the airbase shutdown and redevelopment, particularly the presence of industrial contaminants resulting from airbase operations.
  • Although homeowners should take advantage of the free EPA well-testing offer, it’s probably wise to hire an independent test service for a second, most assuredly objective opinion.  Always best to double-check the checkers.
  • The worst case exposures to perflourinated compounds (PFC) were recorded in communities that lived downstream of plants that manufactured PFCs or used them to produce other products back in the day when waste products were routinely drained into natural water sources.

None of these attempts at cautious optimism for the quick action taken  change the fact that some were exposed to unhealthy chemicals due to a historical ignorance of industrial pollutants, their effects, and a casual disregard for the environment.  The fact that the pollutant was discovered offers little relief when research has yet to determine what what the long-term effects might be.

logo-2012My observations from the presentations given by the U.S. Navy’s BRAC office, as arranged through the Horsham Land Redevelopment Authority (HLRA), that I have attended are that all parties involved in the BRAC process – including the EPA – are fully engaged in the sensitive subject of industrial pollutants and their cleanup.  BRAC law requires that all pollutants be removed or sufficiently mitigated before the local authority is granted control of the NAS-JRB property.

The current issue is an example where testing was initiated once a reliable method had been developed, and protective measures taken as soon as the problem was discovered.  At a time when it is often difficult to put one’s trust in government institutions, this relationship at least appears to be working to protect both the people of Horsham and our future well-being as it relates to managing the old Navy base at Willow Grove.

Insofar as the airbase redevelopment is concerned, the discovery is hardly a surprise.  The potential for pollution from airbase firefighting operations was recognized early on in the BRAC-driven redevelopment process.  The possibility of other hazardous substances being found at some point in the future can not be entirely dismissed.