Law Enforcement Professionals Increase Use of Technology
Technological advances are improving law enforcement officers’ ability to combat crime. From robots and drones to biometrics, advances in technology are helping detectives and police officers apprehend, identify, and track criminals more accurately. Critics lament that these tools can be abused and increase police officers’ authority. Advocates of the technology argue that the technical tools are instrumental in solving and preventing crimes more thoroughly. Police officers and other law enforcement personnel increasingly rely on the following:
Remote-controlled robots equipped with cameras can be utilized to enter dangerous buildings and inaccessible areas for surveillance. These robots can detect bombs and provide real-time information regarding crimes in progress. Police can use the information to plan their responses and identify criminals without risk of injury or death.
Similar to robots, drones with cameras are increasingly utilized to monitor activity remotely. Police can send drones to areas where suspected crimes are occurring to watch for criminal activity. They can provide an aerial view to gain vital information on individuals conducting crimes and follow them to their hideouts without their knowledge. The crucial information can be gleaned from the safety of the police station where an appropriate plan and response can be created with minimal disruption to public safety.
Police have always relied on fingerprints taken from the scene of a crime in their investigations. However, the advances in biometrics now include retinal scans and DNA analysis to identify individuals more accurately. Due to technological advances, police officers can instantly identify criminals.
Data collection has become a great source for law enforcement as data is constantly generated from various sources. Data from video surveillance, cellular communications, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), and other sources is compiled and used to track crime and identify suspects. GPS data can be used to pinpoint locations of calls. DNA, fingerprints, retinal scans, and facial recognition technology are stored in databases utilized by law enforcement officers to identify suspects quickly so that they can be apprehended before further harm occurs.
Another great source of information is the scouring of social media sites for further information on an individual’s activity. Most individuals have a social media presence in which they voluntarily post information about their whereabouts, activities, photos, and videos that offer several clues to investigators.
License Plate Readers
Police cars are equipped with scanners that read license plates and tags. These scanners can alert officers of stolen vehicles and provide instant analysis on the vehicle and its owners.
Body Cameras and Accountability
Body cameras and cameras mounted to police vehicles increase police accountability. Video from these cameras can be used to monitor and safeguard police brutality. Due to the recording of police behavior, police officers can be held more accountable and build credibility in their communities.
The attorneys at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser have considerable experience defending local, county, and state law enforcement agencies. For an initial consultation on police officer-related matters, contact us online or call us at 484-318-7106. We represent clients throughout Chester County and Philadelphia, as well as in New Jersey from our office located in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
Changes to Standards for Investigations of Police in New Jersey
Due to recent investigations by news organizations into gaps in oversight of police use of force and conduct, new standards will be put in place to monitor police behavior. New Jersey’s attorney general announced that there will be a public database that will track police use of force rates, increase public access to videos of police encounters, and require prosecutors to provide evidence, including incriminating evidence surrounding the credibility of the cops involved, to the accused.
Portal Tracking Police Use of Force
According to the attorney general, the new initiatives will target six New Jersey police departments in a pilot program to report all police use of force incidents to an online portal. The attorney general’s goal is to increase accountability, public trust, and transparency of the police departments. Under this program, Bridgeton, Dover, Linden, Millville, Paterson, and South Brunswick police departments were selected based on the demographics that represented a cross-section of New Jersey’s various police departments, according to the attorney general.
Improve Training and Consider Licensing of Police Officers
The attorney general directed a Police Training Commission (PTC) to devise a proposal for whether the state should be licensing police officers. New Jersey is one of few states in the nation that does not require licensure of police, even though they are authorized to carry weapons and use deadly force. The attorney general also required the PTC to study and draft a proposal to improve police training and revisions to recruiting standards.
Standardize Prosecutor Practices
The attorney general also issued a directive to all county prosecutors to standardize practices on evidence gathering, as well as a policy guidance to provide impeachable evidence and inconsistent statements by witnesses to defendants that may be helpful to the defendant’s case, even if it may undermine a state’s witness credibility and exculpate the defendant.
Prevent Bad Cops from Seeking New Jobs
The new standards require a police officer’s secret internal affairs files to be transferred to any new department that the officer applies to. Additionally, the policy discourages non-disclosure agreements to keep documents hidden. These initiatives are aimed to prevent cops with a record of disciplinary issues from job-hopping.
Release of Videos
The attorney general has also authorized the release of videos from police body cameras, dash cameras, surveillance videos, and smartphone videos when a citizen has been killed or seriously injured in response to public requests. These new initiatives will track use of force incidents in the state and prevent police officers from continuing to abuse their power.
For legal advice and representation on police and law enforcement agency claims, contact the civil rights defense attorneys at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser. For an initial consultation, contact us online or call us at 484-318-7106. Located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, we provide counsel to residents of Chester County and Philadelphia.
Camden Police Adopts New Use-Of-Force Policy
Recently, the Camden New Jersey Police department released a new revised use-of-force policy. The revised policy states that officers must avoid unnecessary use of force, minimize usage of force, and do everything possible to respect and preserve the sanctity of human life. This policy exceeds the threshold set by the Supreme Court’s standard that allows use of force that a reasonable officer would use when facing similar circumstances.
The Camden County Police Department (“CCPD”) articulated six core principles emphasizing the sanctity of human life:
Principle One. Officers may use force only to accomplish specific law enforcement objectives. The use of force is limited to a narrow list of situations.
Principle Two. Officers should de-escalate confrontations, minimize use of force, use reasonable force, as necessary and as a last resort.
Principle Three. Officers may only use proportionate amount of force suited for the particular circumstance.
Principle Four. Deadly force is only authorized as a last resort.
Principle Five. Officers must provide prompt medical aid and request medical assistance immediately.
Principle Six. Employees of CCPD have a duty to report and stop uses of force that violate the department’s policies and laws. Members may be disciplined for violations or failing to report a fellow officer’s violation.
Since 2015, Camden Police Chief Scott Thomson has directed the CCPD to adopt the use-of-force training and de-escalation tactics to prevent deadly encounters. De-escalation tactics require that officers slow things down first so that the encounter does not turn deadly. The policy directive recently codified the practices in place since 2015.
This policy directive emphasizes that even if the use-of-force fits one of the narrow list of situations where it may be sanctioned, it should still be a last resort. Chief Thomson compared the police officers’ oath to that of a doctor’s Hippocratic oath and reiterated the Police officer’s duty of “first, do no harm.” Both the New Jersey ACLU and the police union have applauded this new revised policy.
Attorneys at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser Represent Law Enforcement Agencies
The Governmental entity representation practice group of MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser has extensive experience in representing police and law enforcement in government liability and civil rights claims. We offer pre-litigation counseling, review of polices and practices, assessment of internal training and seminars to assist police departments and agencies in avoiding litigation. For a consultation with one of our seasoned attorneys, please contact our office at 484-318-7106 or submit an online inquiry. We provide legal services in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and Chester County.
Effectiveness of Police Body Cams
Police body cameras are popular with the public because they supposedly provide an account of what occurred in a disputed confrontation with the police. Advocates for their use argue that the cameras foster trust with the community the police officers serve. Body cameras provide a means by which one can independently verify what occurred. However, the utility of the cameras in reducing allegations of police misconduct is undetermined.
Departments Control the Cameras and Footage
Effectiveness of the police body cameras is dependent on the police department in which they are used. Critics of their use argue that since police officers have control over the cameras they are wearing, they determine when to turn “on” or “off” their cameras. Therefore, they may not always record their confrontations. Furthermore, they argue that police departments have control over the footage after it has been recorded. Consequently, the perception that police departments may be secretive or protecting their police officers can lead to distrust if administrators do not make transparency a priority.
Body Cameras Do Not Prevent Violent Altercations
Body cameras alone do not reduce incidents of violence and therefore some argue that they are not effective in protecting police officers or civilians from being injured in a heated situation. Rather, training and retraining officers on transactional model communication and active listening is a better approach. Research has found that proper training and experience in simulated settings hones police officers’ ability to react in tense situations to diffuse the tensions and not resort to violence.
Body Cameras May Not Be Cost Effective
The biggest criticism for police body cameras is their cost. Cost of the camera is not limited to the camera itself, there are costs associated with storing the footage and maintenance of the cameras that can be prohibitive. Many large police departments need to allocate a substantial amount of their budget toward body cameras.
Civil Rights Defense Lawyers at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser Advise and Represent Law Enforcement Agencies
Civil rights defense attorneys at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser have successfully defended numerous police officers and law enforcement agencies throughout Pennsylvania from our office in West Chester, including those in the areas of Philadelphia and Chester County. To schedule a consultation or find out more, contact us online or call our office at 484-318-7106.
Should Your Workplace have a Marijuana Use Policy?
As states across the country take up the issue of legalizing medical and recreational marijuana, a gray area remains where state and federal laws overlap and seem to contradict each other. Many Pennsylvania employers are questioning how to navigate the unique human resources concerns when the state approves medical marijuana use, but the federal government bans it.
Recently, MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser partner, Matthew J. Connell, offered his insight into the conundrum many state employers currently face regarding medical marijuana. Speaking before the Berks County chapter of the Society of Human Resource Management, Connell acknowledged the gaps and discrepancies in current marijuana laws.
Calling cannabis law in Pennsylvania, “new and untested by the courts,” Connell feels employers are left to figure it out as they go. He believes creating and enforcing a solid marijuana policy is essential for employers to protect their interests and prevent costly, time-consuming legal claims.
The following are some of the key issues surrounding medical marijuana in the workplace:
Like race, religion, and sex, medical marijuana use is protected by workplace discrimination laws. Workers who disclose their use of cannabis for any of the 21 state-approved conditions cannot be adversely affected in terms of hiring, promotions, or termination. Where marijuana use was once grounds for termination, legal use for medical purposes is now protected under the law – provided it is not smoked.
While medical marijuana use is permitted under Pennsylvania law, there are obvious pressing safety concerns regarding impaired workers performing certain jobs. The part of the law addressing when employers can prohibit workers from doing more risky jobs like mining or working with high-voltage equipment is not clear enough to be easily enforced, leaving these guidelines open to employer interpretation.
Marijuana Testing Flaws
The law allows employers to prohibit workers with a blood content of more than 10 nanograms of active THC per milliliters of blood in serum from doing these high-risk jobs. This is a primary area of confusion in the law. Employers are not equipped to gauge what that amount is, let alone accurately test workers to make that determination. Testing is essentially useless because while THC can be detected in the blood, there is no way to determine if it is from legal or illegal use.
Beyond these key pressing issues, there is one larger overall problem with the nebulous cannabis law in Pennsylvania. What does it mean to be under the influence? Until THC testing is perfected, Attorney Connell recommends companies clarify and define observable, physical behaviors and incorporate that definition into their corporate policy. Workers who are obviously stumbling, slurring their speech, or behaving out of character may be under the influence and too impaired to do their job safely.
Attorneys at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser Help Pennsylvania Employers and Workers Understand Cannabis Law
Pennsylvania employment law attorneys at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser help human resources professionals consider every aspect of the law when creating their cannabis policy. To discuss your employment law matter with a skilled and knowledgeable attorney, call 484-318-7106 or complete an online inquiry today. Located in West Chester, we represent clients throughout Chester County and all of Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania’s Sovereign Immunity Act
The U.S. government inherited the doctrine of sovereign immunity from England where the king or sovereign was immune from liability. Under the sovereign immunity doctrine, the U.S. government and its employees are immune from suit by virtue of their status as a government entity. The policy behind this immunity is to allow legislators and other government entities to govern without interference from lawsuits.
Even though Federal and state governments may not be sued under this doctrine, there are some exceptions to the rule. Generally, if the government action involves some type of negligence, then the government immunity no longer applies, such as when a person slips and falls on the sidewalk maintained by the state where the dangerous condition of the sidewalk was known and the state did nothing to correct it. Another example would be when a state employee is involved in a motor vehicle accident while on duty. However, a plaintiff who wishes to pursue a negligence claim against the government has to provide strict notice and undergo other procedural hurdles.
Pennsylvania’s Sovereign Immunity Act (Act) waives Pennsylvania’s sovereign immunity in certain limited cases. The Act provides a list of specific instances where the state has waived its immunity. Government entities risk exposure to lawsuits in the following instances.
- Automobile accidents. When an automobile accident involves a government employee’s fault while on duty, sovereign immunity no longer applies.
- Medical Malpractice. Negligent acts by public health care employees such as doctors, nurses and medical facilities of the state will trigger the exception to sovereign immunity.
- Toxoids and vaccines. Government entities may be liable for negligent administration of vaccines or manufacture of toxoids and vaccines.
- Care, custody or control of personal property or animal. If a person is injured because a government agency negligently cared for an animal or personal property in its’ custody, the injured party may pursue a lawsuit against that agency.
- Premises liability. If a person is injured due to a dangerous condition on government property, that person can pursue a claim against the government entity in control of that property.
- Dangerous conditions on roadways. State government is under a duty to maintain its roadways. If it is found that the state government agency knew of a dangerous condition on a roadway and did not take steps to repair it, it may be liable to the injured due to the condition of the roadway.
- Liquor liability. If a person is injured due to the intoxication of another, they may seek damages against the person or place that sold the liquor. This law can extend to the government when it involves the negligence of state liquor control board.
Recovery is Limited
Plaintiffs who have a claim against a government entity must provide notice to the agency within six months of the occurrence of the incident. Failure to send the appropriate notice with all the necessary information may result in dismissal of the lawsuit. Furthermore, recovery for damages is limited to $250,000 in favor of a Plaintiff and $1,000,000 total recovery is permitted.
Attorneys at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser have Successfully Defended Government Entities from Liability
Attorneys at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser have obtained numerous dismissals and defense verdicts on behalf of government agencies. Contact our office at 484-318-7106 or online to schedule a consultation. Located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, we represent clients throughout Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia and Chester County.
NYPD Demands That Google Stop Sharing Police Activity
NYPD has reignited the fight against Google and its practice of sharing police activity locations on its Waze app. The department’s stance is that the app prevents it from fulfilling its dual priorities to protect both the public and on-duty police officers. Google claims that users have a First Amendment right to share the locations of police activity.
In a recent letter to Google, the NYPD claims that the app is allowing its users to break the law by sharing information that works in contrast to the department’s public safety goals. The letter builds on the law enforcement community’s previously stated concerns over police safety.
Waze, a popular GPS navigation app for smart phones, includes a feature that allows users to notify others of the whereabouts of police. The intent, say law enforcement groups, is to warn people to avoid speed traps and sobriety checkpoints.
In addition to navigation assistance, the app uses colorful icons that appear on the on-screen map and allow users to notify other drivers in the area of accidents, traffic congestion, and roadside hazards, as well as traffic cameras, police speed traps and DWI checkpoints. Despite its harmless appearance, it is the app’s cartoonish policeman icon that worries law enforcement. The innocent look belies its dangerous potential. The police contend that individuals who share this information are breaking the law, as their actions are intended to impair the administration the law.
Safety Concern for Officers
While the policeman icon has the ability to distinguish the police activity location as “visible” or “hidden”, the comments section may give users more details about what type of police activity is involved. This information sharing gives users the ability to undermine public safety goals, but it also has the potential to put officers in real danger.
In December 2014, in the wake of the murders of two on-duty police officers, the National Sheriff’s Association began a campaign to keep information on police activity from being shared on the Waze app. While the Google-owned app played no role in the tragic deaths of these officers, police departments and law enforcement groups believe that the availability of information pertaining to locations of in-progress police activity puts officers at risk. If someone wanted to target a police officer, they say, this app provides critical information to assist with such a crime.
In addition to safety concerns for officers, the police groups also claim that the app’s police activity feature prevents them from keeping the public safe, as it allows for unsafe drivers to avoid being caught.
However, some reason that the app is actually a help, not a hindrance, to the department’s public safety goals. The argument there is that the app helps to maintain a police presence to deter crime. They believe that if people are made aware of law enforcement presence, they are less likely to attempt to flout the laws.
Still, law enforcement groups see the app as a work around that gives drivers reason to behave recklessly, putting the public in danger.
Attorneys at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser Advocate for Police Officers
Attorneys at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser successfully handle claims against police and law enforcement agencies. Contact us online or call our West Chester, Pennsylvania office at 484-318-7106. We represent clients in Philadelphia and Chester County.
New Judicial Rules Cast Increased Scrutiny on Judges
A June 2018 Report of the Federal Judiciary Workplace Conduct Working Group indicated a need for additional ethical guidance regarding harassment in the courtroom and the conduct of judges and staff members. Based on this report and the changes proposed, effective March 12, 2019, the Rules for Judicial-Conduct and Judicial Disability Proceedings were revised.
The revisions require judges to practice civility, patience, dignity, respectfulness, and courteousness when dealing with court personnel and staff. It further spells out that judges should not harass any court personnel, and/or retaliate against them.
Recently, there have been a series of cases involving poor judge behavior. A judge from Brevard County, Florida became so enraged with the public defender that he challenged him to a brawl that ensued in the hallway outside the courtroom. This was captured on video and posted on YouTube. Eighteen months later, the Florida Supreme Court removed him from the bench.
Several videos have surfaced on the internet in the recent years due to the prevalence of smart phones and social media. Our judicial system is under increased scrutiny from the perception that judges are behaving unfairly or being abusive. The revised Judicial Rules provide additional guidance to ensure that courtrooms remain places where justice is dispensed.
The job of judging is highly stressful. Judges are under increasing pressure to resolve their cases within a tight timeline. The nature of litigation is antagonistic, where each party utilizes aggressive legal tactics that require judges to be vigilant and referee acutely to ensure a fair proceeding. Judges in our society bear the responsibility of maintaining decorum in the courtroom. They share the greater burden of ensuring faith and credibility of our justice system, and sometimes need to go to extra lengths to remain fair and balanced.
Judges are required to know and keep up with complex legal theories and case law. The complexity of the legal field can be intellectually taxing. Judges must face high levels of stress and pressure, which can also lead to burn out. These new rules hope to provide further guidelines and code of conduct to help judges continue to maintain fairness and decorum in the courtroom.
Our attorneys at The MacMain Law Group LLC are experienced in representing judicial officers. Located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout Philadelphia and Chester County. To learn more about our services contact us online or call 484-318-7106 for an initial consultation.
Open Data Benefits Law Enforcement
Most of us are not statisticians. Yet we largely understand that findings based on data analysis can be as much a matter of opinion as a matter of fact. Data analysis is simply not the same as raw data. It involves selecting data sets, choosing methods to analyze the data, and interpreting results.
Law enforcement agencies gather a great deal of data regarding crimes. They regularly analyze that data looking for trends and developing ideas on better policing and public safety strategies, in order to reduce and prevent crime.
To date, most police agencies have typically only provided summaries of their findings to the community-at-large. Access to the underlying data the police use to develop surveillance and enforcement activities has not traditionally been made available to the public.
The question is, without specific knowledge and skills on how to analyze data, can a layperson understand a situation by looking at data in its raw form? As for data on crime, we are about to find out.
What is Open Data?
Open data is incident-specific information, based on individual incidents rather than aggregates or summaries, that is in a downloadable digital format made available at no cost online. It is machine readable, i.e. not an image or locked file. It is offered as non-proprietary and without restriction as to use. Open data allows anyone to access, download, and independently analyze data.
Before open data can be released the need to preserve privacy must be adequately addressed. Accordingly, release of open data must be done in a manner in which personally identifiable information is not disclosed and cannot be uncovered.
Another important consideration is the form of the data. It will be necessary for police agencies to present the data in relatable data fields so that the data can be easily understood.
Benefits of Access to Open Data
As concerns regarding police actions have mounted amid news of police-involved shootings and in-custody deaths, police agencies are seeking ways to build trust and better engage communities. The release of open data is an effort to do so through improved transparency and leveraging community insights.
A number of police agencies are interested in offering open data to their communities. To that end, the U.S. Department of Justice houses the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office), which provides grants and other support to law enforcement agencies.
The office has been awarding grants to law enforcement agencies to hire community policing professionals and to develop and test innovative policing strategies. It is also providing training and technical assistance to community members and local government leaders.
Police Data Initiative
The COPS Office has established the Police Data Initiative to promote use of open data. The hope is that sharing open data will encourage joint problem solving and innovation in reducing and eliminating crime. The office hopes that sharing open data will promote enhanced understanding and accountability between communities and the law enforcement agencies that serve them.
To date, over 130 local law enforcement agencies have participated in the initiative and have either provided or will soon provide open data in support of the project.
The civil rights defense attorneys at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser serve as counsel to a number of law enforcement agencies and local governments. Our services include preparing internal policies, developing best practices, and providing training. We can be reached by calling 484-318-7106 or completing an online form. Our West Chester, Pennsylvania office serves Chester County and the Philadelphia metropolitan area.
Prison Changes Reduce Sickness
Exposure to hazardous drugs remains an occupational health risk for many prison employees. The number of suspected cases of prison staff exposure to toxic substances has risen dramatically, with 50 new cases reported in August 2018.
In response to the increasing number of prison employees alleging exposure to contraband drugs smuggled into prisons has resulted in illness, Pennsylvania correctional facilities have begun changing their inmate mail and visitation policies. Such prison changes appear to be reducing sickness in prison employees.
Exposure to Contraband Drugs
Prison employees can face exposure to contraband drugs which have been smuggled into prisons through the mail system. Deadly mixtures of heroin and fentanyl, synthetic marijuana (which goes by the street name K2), and the prescription opioid drug Suboxone pose significant health risks to prison employees.
Pages of letters or books can be soaked in these drugs to evade detection. Prison staff, including correctional officers, have sought medical treatment for exposure to these types of dangerous narcotics that have been smuggled into the prison.
Starting this past September, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections instituted several new policies to address potential exposure to deadly narcotics. Prison visiting rooms have been staffed with additional employees. A temporary ban on vending machines and photo booths in prison visiting rooms remains in effect, since both vending machines and photo booths have been linked to inmate drug smuggling.
The processing of inmate mail also has changed significantly. Prison employees now open any legal mail in the inmate’s presence and make a photocopy of the mail, which the inmate is allowed to keep. Some prisons additionally provide color copies of photographs.
All original mail is secured for 45 days before it is destroyed. Any non-legal mail received by a state prison is forwarded to a post office box in St. Petersburg, Florida where it is opened, scanned, and forwarded by email to the addressed prison.
Pennsylvania prisons also have banned the direct shipment of books to inmates, and temporarily suspended third-party book donations, to eliminate the potential for illegal drug smuggling. Prisoners will be able to purchase pre-paid books directly from the prison or use e-readers to access the contents of books or magazines.
Other prison changes that will support the state’s continued efforts to reduce prison employee sickness related to drug exposure include the installation of new body scanners, ion scanners, and drone detection equipment. Prison employee advocacy groups seek even more protections for prison staff, including increased use of temporary lockdown procedures to thoroughly check cells for contraband drugs.
The state’s changes to existing prison policies is estimated to cost over $9 million.
Since the policy changes, complaints of exposure to toxic substances by staff have declined. There also has been a decrease in the number of drug overdoses by prison inmates.
However, not everyone is happy with the changes. The American Civil Liberties Union is preparing a legal challenge to the new mail handling system, which it believes violates the civil rights of prisoners due to the potential for breach of lawyer-client confidentiality.
The experienced employment attorneys at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser proudly provide defense services to prisons and other correctional facilities. To schedule an appointment with one of our experienced employment lawyers today, call us at 484-318-7106 or contact us online. With offices conveniently located in West Chester, Pennsylvania we handle defense matters throughout Philadelphia and Chester County, Pennsylvania.