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The Beginning of PreCrime?

What is Predictive Policing?

Predictive policing is an attempt to make police more proactive. Often, police react to crime by responding to 911 calls or arresting people who they see break the law. However, new technology allows police to prevent crime before it starts. Large amounts of data about past crimes are fed into computer programs that determine where and when (and sometimes with whom) the risk of crime increases.

Since TIME magazine called predictive policing one of the “50 Best Inventions of 2011,” more towns and cities are embracing this new technology.

Geographical Predictions

Predictive policing based on mapping has been very successful in combatting crimes like auto theft that occur frequently (and so create a lot of data) and follow certain patterns. Officers generally receive a map each day with highlighted areas to patrol when they are not responding to calls. In some places, patrolling the high-risk mapped areas is not mandatory. However, it is encouraged by departments because it gives officers more information.  PreCrime

Many U.S. cities contract with PredPol, a private company that takes crime data and uses a patented process to make predictions. In Santa Cruz, California, the police use the tool to map potential gang violence, batteries, aggravated assaults, drug crimes, and bike thefts. In Los Angeles, the police chose specific areas to experiment with Pred Pol and waited for the results to come in. In the Foothill area, the experiment was successful and property crimes fell by 12%. Now, the LAPD has adopted it in 14 out of 21 of its divisions. It is estimated that the prevention provided by this technology could save citizens $9 million dollars a year.  One critique is that the system does not work as well with crimes that don’t “have enough data points” or that involve “crimes of passion.” For these reasons, homicides are more difficult to predict on a map.

Individualized Predictions

Recent advances in predictive policing mean that it is also being used to target violent crime. Since violent crime typically involves individuals instead of property, it is no surprise that police departments are now tracking specific people as part of their “prediction” strategy. These predictions are often based in theories about criminal psychology. For example, the Chicago Police have developed a list of 400 people most likely, at the given time, to commit a violent crime. To do so, they use social media data, crime information, suspicious person reports, and 911-calls. However, this so-called “heat list” has led to criticisms by civil liberties groups like the ACLU. The risk is that predictive policing increases police scrutiny on individuals regardless of whether or not they have committed a crime.

Other jurisdictions are also embracing a more individualized risk model. In Maryland, for example, social service workers are teaming up with statisticians to predict which families will be most likely to seriously harm their children. Meanwhile, in Kansas City, the authorities have identified almost 1,000 people belonging to criminal groups and are targeting them specifically with interventions intended to curb violent crime.

What are the Criticisms of Predictive Policing?

While map-based predictive policing is certainly effective at deterring some types of crime, civil liberties activists are concerned that it may target residents of certain neighborhoods unfairly. If utilized in the wrong way, this type of policing may create a vicious cycle.

For example, racial profiling or increased patrolling of certain neighborhoods may lead to black or Hispanic individuals’ arrest for drug crimes at a higher rate than their white counterparts (who commit a similar number of those crimes). Data from these arrests may create a false impression that there is more of a “drug problem” in predominantly black or Hispanic neighborhoods, leading to increased patrols, more scrutiny, and more arrests. A similar problem may involve patrolling in “rich” versus “poor” neighborhoods.

Targeting individuals may be even more problematic. It sets up a new and invasive type of surveillance, not over neighborhoods in general, but over people in particular. Now, license plates are scanned, devices can track mobile phone signals, and surveillance cameras and tablets with facial-recognition technology are now available to police. This makes a very detailed level of tracking attainable, and moves us closer to a “Minority Report” world.

What is the Future of Predictive Policing?

Predictive policing holds great promise as a deterrent to certain types of crime. However, the use of predictive policing must continue to be scrutinized carefully so that it does not interfere with important civil rights. Many cities are now experimenting with this technology, so society will eventually know its effects, good and bad.

Utah Judge Was Wrong To Order Gay Couple to Surrender Foster Child

Judge Scott Johansen ordered a lesbian couple to give up the one year old child living in foster care in their home. Beckie Peirce and her wife, April Hoagland, were caring for the child while the state terminated the biological mother’s parental rights. Peirce and Hoagland were married last October and were licensed as foster parents earlier this year. Judge Johansen claims he has research to back up that children do better in heterosexual homes. A copy of the order currently isn’t available, but a court spokeswoman confirmed its contents.

Aside from the alleged research, there doesn’t appear to be a legal basis for Judge Johansen’s ruling. Utah doesn’t have a law prohibiting same-sex couples from adopting children. According to Hoagland, “the mother has asked us to adopt” the infant girl. Neither the Utah Division of Child Family Services nor the Guardian Ad Litem Office have advocated that the baby be removed from the couple’s care. No party, other than Judge Johansen, believes the adoption would be a bad idea.

Child’s Best Interest

In any child custody case, the deciding question should always be whether the decision is in the child’s best interests. The child’s welfare cannot be traded for the desires of the “adults.” The only evidence available is that Judge Johansen has research showing that children do better in heterosexual homes.

However, all factors must be considered to determine whether the custody decision is in the best interests of the child. Factors such as employment of each parent, the emotional, mental, physical, and educational needs of the child, level of responsibility each parent has, and the nature of the child’s Peirce and Hoaglandrelationship must all be considered. The sexual orientation of the parents, if it is a factor at all, should only play a small role. It certainty shouldn’t be the deciding factor, as is the case here.

Second, “better off” cannot be a legal standard. People come from different backgrounds, but nobody can say that one experience is better than another as long as basic emotional, mental, physical, and educational needs are met. Children grow up in households where the parents are of mixed race, different religions, different political ideologies, or different income levels. Children may have multiple siblings or be an only child. The point is, being different may be harder, but the law doesn’t remove custody simply because a child could be in a “better” environment.

Justice is Based on Judgment of the Individuals

Third, breaking up a family based solely on research is not acceptable. Social studies research deal with generalizations, but the law must judge people as individuals. A research showing that children with heterosexual couples are better off than children with gay couples cannot be the basis for a legal decision unless the research is applied to the specific case. Being gay cannot be a reason to exclude homosexuals from foster parenting and adoption if the judge cannot point to a problem with the specific gay couple’s parenting.

Indeed, social science research makes all kinds of conclusions that courts would be unwillingly to act on, even the conclusions favor certain results. For example, there’s a new study showing that children raised in religious households are more selfish and judgmental than children raised without religion. By Judge Johansen’s reasoning, we should remove children from Christian and Mormon households and give them to atheists because of this research. But we know that this wouldn’t be right. Religious parents must be judged as individuals and not based on a generalized (and flawed) study. Gay couples shouldn’t be treated any differently.

The limited information available doesn’t exclude Hoagland and Peirce as capable parents. They are already raising two children, ages 12 and 14, who are Peirce’s biological children. The infant has already spent three months with them, so there may be a small emotional bond already. The mother has allegedly given her blessing and Utah’s Child Services haven’t found evidence of abuse. The baby’s situation could be better, but Judge Johansen suggests that any heterosexual couple would be more qualified. If the heterosexual couple included the baby’s father or a blood relative, there may be an argument.

However, to suggest that a random heterosexual couple would be better parents than Hoagland and Peirce would be absurd. The two women are experienced parents who have met Utah’s criteria for foster parenting and are prepared to take on additional parental responsibilities.

California Legislature Finally Approves Assisted Suicide

California lawmakers recently approved a landmark bill, the “End of Life Options Act,” that would allow doctors to help terminally ill patients die with dignity. California joins Oregon, Washington, Vermont and Montana as the only states where physicians can prescribe life-ending medication. Many more states have considered legalization of other types of physician-assisted suicide, but none have successfully passed legislation on the issue.

The bill passed through the State Senate by a vote of 23 to 14 and was signed by Governor Jerry Brown earlier this month. The new law is similar to that of Oregon’s except for two notable changes. First, the law would expire after ten years and must be reapproved. Second, doctors must have private Assisted Suicideconsultations with patients to ensure that the choice to end their life was not coerced. The bill would allow patients to request a prescription to end their lives if they were mentally competent and if two doctors agree that they only had six months to live. Further, patients would have to ask for the drugs three times before receiving them. One request must be in writing and in front of two witnesses.

The safeguards in the bill will hopefully prevent others from taking advantage of those choosing this option. However, a patient suffering from a terminal illness may be more vulnerable than a healthy person. Some patient advocates are concerned that family members of a patient might pressure them to pick this option, either for financial gain or to stem future medical costs. To address this potential problem, coercing or tricking the patient to opt into physician-assisted suicide would become a felony under the bill.

Death With Dignity

Proponents of the bill argue that it is necessary to allow those in the final stages of terminal illness to pass peacefully. This bill allows individuals who are in agony from the final stages of a disease to die with some dignity. Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville) voted for the bill due to his own family’s struggle with illness. His father is a Vietnam veteran who is slowly dying from terminal bone cancer. Before her physician assisted death in Oregon, California brain cancer patient Brittany Maynard also lobbied for the bill. As she put it: “I refuse to subject myself and my family to purposeless, prolonged pain and suffering at the hands of an incurable disease.”

While economic incentives should not be the primary considerations in ending a life, the bill will provide some families an alternative to skyrocketing medical bills.  “As soon as this is introduced, it immediately becomes the cheapest and most expedient way to deal with complicated end-of-life situations,” said Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, director of the medical ethics program at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine. The expenses of keeping a relative alive through expensive treatments and hospitalizations dwarf the cost of the assisted suicide medication. However, as Dr. Kheriaty notes, the “underinsured and economically marginalized” did not necessarily back the bill. “Those people want access to better health care.”

For many years, the California Medical Association opposed physician assisted suicide, but has recently taken a neutral position. The American Medical Association, the California Catholic Conference, and the Disability Rights Center all opposed the bill. One group called A Hard Pill to Swallow warns that “legalizing suicide for the terminally ill and disabled, while offering anti-suicide resources for the rest of the population, teaches that the lives of the ill and disabled do not matter to our society.” Critics also say that some doctors will now be abandoning an important principle of medical ethics: “first do no harm.” What is needed, they say, is quality palliative care for all dying patients. Finally, in spite the checks and balances in place, they believe the bill may create conflict and unethical behavior within families— particularly where money is concerned.

The legislature and Governor Brown clearly had to wrestle with the moral implications of this bill. Governor Brown said: “in the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death.” I believe that signing the End of Life Option Act into law was the right decision. Allowing patients to end their lives gives them the dignity to die the way they choose, not in a weakened state of suffering. It gives them power in a time of their lives when they are otherwise feeling quite helpless. Having this option available is a big stride for individual rights. Terminally ill individuals should be allowed the right to consider the options this new law provides.

Repeat Head Injuries Create Legal Issues in Sports

Head Injuries and the NFL

During his NFL career from 1958-1972, Wayne Walker received over 20 concussions in 200 games, getting knocked out twice. On October 29, he announced that he suffers from Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative nerve disorder. While Parkinson’s is normally genetic, it can also be triggered by other factors. Walker said in the interview that once he completely lost consciousness but returned to the field in the same game.

In May 2015, Adrian Robinson, a former NFL player, committed suicide. It was confirmed after his death that he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), one of the more common diagnoses for football players. Some effects of CTE are commonly referred to as being “punch drunk.” There are many symptoms of CTE, which can include depression, memory loss, and aggression.   Head Injury

In addition to CTE, the risk for Parkinson’s, ALS, Alzheimer’s, and other neurological diseases is much higher for NFL players. The brains of many NFL players have been studied after death, and at least 70 have showed signs of disease. The Concussion Legacy Foundation at Boston University found evidence of CTE in 88 out of 92 NFL players studied so far. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that this March, Chris Borland retired from the San Francisco 49ers at age 24. He felt that as a professional linebacker, he could avoid the risk of repeat brain trauma and the progressive neurological diseases that often follow.

Head Injury Lawsuits

There are often limits to how liable others are for sports injuries. Athletes often “assume the risk” or consent to anything that happens while playing a rough-and-tumble sport. However, there may be legal recourse for equipment failures, play that violates the rules of the game, or, as in the case of the NFL, leagues that misinform players about the risks involved.

Earlier this year, a judge approved a settlement of at least $900 million dollars a suit filed by retired NFL players and their families. The lawsuit claimed that the NFL knew of the dangers of traumatic head injuries and did not disclose them to players. The proceeds of the suit will allow for players or their heirs to receive up to $5 million for a diagnosis of ALS, $4 million for diagnosis of CTE, and up to $3.5 million for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. However, the amount of money is currently being challenged as insufficient to cover all of the potential injuries caused by the game.

Riddell, a helmet manufacturer, has also been implicated in several lawsuits. Retired NFL players have attempted to sue the company, and the NFL declared that Riddell would no longer make their “official” helmet in 2013. Families of high school athletes in Colorado, California, and now New Jersey have also brought suit against Riddell for injuries on the field.

What is the Best Way Forward for Football Players?

Now that society is becoming aware of the dangers of repetitive head injuries, many steps are being taken to make football safer. The NFL is taking action to try to reduce head injuries on the field, and has donated $30 million to the National Institute of Health (NIH) to study the effects of concussion. At all levels of the game, coaches and players are paying more attention to safety. Yet, as one NIH flyer states, “every year, between 1.6 million and 3.8 million sports-related concussions are estimated in the United States, particularly among young athletes.”

The NIH advises coaches, players, and their families that they should learn to recognize the signs of concussion: all concussions are serious, and most occur without loss of consciousness. Not all concussions are caused by blows to the head, but can also be caused by “a blow to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth.” If a player seems drowsy, slurs speech, has a headache, has memory problems, or has any other signs of concussion, they should be taken out of play and given medical attention. Importantly, they should also not be allowed to play again until a doctor says that they can.

Personal injury and product liability lawsuits will also continue to hold organizations, manufacturers, and even individual coaches accountable for failing to protect players in certain cases. If you or someone you know has suffered from football-related head injuries, you may wish to contact an attorney to see if you have any legal recourse.

How Banks Foreclose On a Home

The most common way for someone to buy a home is through a bank loan, also known as a mortgage. The bank fronts the homeowner money and they make monthly payments to the bank for between ten to forty years until the mortgage is paid off. Both the bank and the new homeowner expect everything to go smoothly from there, and it is great when that happens. Unfortunately, over ten to forty years things  change: the borrower may lose their job, encounter a financial crisis or countless other issues can arise.

When things go wrong, the bank forecloses on the home. This means the bank attempts to take the house back from the borrower through its rights in the contracts it entered into with the borrower. The typical mortgage contract is known as a Deed of Trust, which gives the bank the right to foreclose on the home. However, many people do not know how the foreclosure process works and both banks as well as  Foreclosurehomeowners make major mistakes in the foreclosure process, which can lead to major issues. This was seen recently when the mortgage crisis occurred, and property values plummeted, cities declared bankruptcy and crime spiked across the country.

How does foreclosure work? Each state has its own foreclosure laws. However, the foreclosure laws can be organized into two big picture foreclosure systems: (1) Judicial Foreclosure States and (2) Non-Judicial Foreclosure States. Judicial foreclosure states require that the party attempting to take the property obtains approval from a judge. A non-judicial foreclosure state does not require review or approval by a judge. As a result, non-judicial foreclosures have less oversight and are usually faster and less expensive for the foreclosing party. Not surprisingly, many of the states hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis, such as California, were non-judicial foreclosure states. Without judicial oversight, the foreclosure process is easier to abuse.

Regardless of whether a state is a judicial or non-judicial foreclosure state, a bank forecloses on a home by recording a Notice of Default. The Notice of Default alleges that the borrower has missed payments. Thereafter, if payment is not made, the Bank can sell the property at a Trustee’s Sale. Typically, a Trustee must wait between 30-90 days from the recording of a Notice of Default to schedule a Trustee’s Sale. A trustee’s sale or foreclosure sale is where the Bank sells the property at an auction, usually at a courthouse or city hall, to the highest bidder.

The Notice of Default is the triggering document and these documents were largely responsible for the mortgage crisis. When the housing bubble burst, banks recorded Notice of Defaults at a rapid pace. Many homeowners did not know their rights and abandoned their homes, which resulted in homes sitting vacant for years, also known as zombie foreclosures. Other banks simply recorded Notice of Defaults on the wrong property or listed the wrong amount owed. Due to these abuses, many states enacted what are known as Homeowner Bill of Rights, which are laws that require banks to contact borrowers before recording a Notice of Default to discuss loan modifications, repayment plans, and other options to avoid foreclosure.

In California, for example, banks must follow a detailed notice requirement prior to recording a Notice of Default. If the bank does not comply with the notice requirements, a homeowner facing foreclosure can file a lawsuit to obtain an injunction (a court order stopping foreclosure). Furthermore, if the courts grants an injunction, the homeowner can get attorney’s fees from the bank.

The foreclosure process is becoming a larger issue as regulatory laws become more complex, the housing market changes, and banks look for new ways to make a quick buck. If you receive a Notice of Default or Notice of Trustee’s Sale, you should immediately contact a real estate attorney to protect your rights as a homeowner.