News Roundup

Catharine Arrowood, the president of the North Carolina Bar Association, recently wrote this piece about court funding in North Carolina. It’s received considerable attention. The thrust of the argument is this: “[W]hile our population has been increasing by double digits and the technology and tools available to better serve a large and widespread population have been improving, we cut spending on our courts from 3% of our state budget to 2.2%. No wonder too many of our court personnel work extra jobs to make ends meet. No wonder we have been unable to implement a statewide electronic filing and case management system. No wonder we have insufficient money to conduct jury trials and pay court reporters.” The article indicates that the General Assembly may address the funding problem, but contends that structural reforms should also be considered, including moving to a regional, rather than county-based, system. It’s worth a read.

FBI director on race and policing. James Comey spoke at Georgetown University last week. The New York Times has video of the speech here together with a written summary. The topic was the relationship between police and minority communities. Comey addressed some of the factors that may lead officers of all races to react differently to minority citizens and suspects than to whites, and some of the historical reasons for minority communities’ mistrust of law enforcement. This is a big and complicated issue, and to my mind, it is nice to see someone with a big pulpit taking it on in a way that is candid, thoughtful, and focused on positive steps that can be taken on both sides.

Students work to improve police-citizen interactions. Speaking of positive steps, NPR just ran this story about students in Akron, Ohio, who have prepared “glossy, two-sided card[s] giving [young people] suggestions for dealing with police.” The idea is to prevent routine interactions from escalating to tragedy. The cards include suggestions like “[a]nswer all questions pertaining to your identity,” and “[d]o not ‘bad mouth’ or walk away from [police].” But they also recommend documenting and reporting officer misconduct and provide information about how to do so. A sample card is here. I’m interested in reactions to the content of the cards and in thoughts about whether communities in North Carolina could benefit from something similar.

Minority Report? Not exactly. Remember Minority Report, the science fiction thriller in which Tom Cruise’s character worked for the Department of PreCrime? Well, Forbes reports here that many major cities are now using PredPol, a “predictive policing software program that shovels historical crime data through a proprietary algorithm and spits out the . . . spots most likely to see crime” over the next few hours. The article characterizes the technology as “sexy but not quite proven,” noting that some departments have seen impressive results but that the sample size is still small. Unlike the Department of PreCrime, the software doesn’t identify individual suspects, and of course, no one can be arrested based on a prediction that he or she will commit a crime in the future.

A couple of quick tidbits. Two additional items caught my eye this week. One was this article about a Florida arrestee, charged with a bevy of drug and other offenses, who “listed his occupation on an arrest report as ‘drug dealer’.” I suppose it’s good to take pride in one’s work. Then I stumbled on this Slate article about how the South Carolina prison system responds to inmates’ use of Facebook – including indirect use by having a friend or family member update one’s status. The report asserts that “[o]ne inmate received a sentence of 37 years in isolation for repeated Facebook usage.” I don’t know the details so I’m not rushing to judgment. But there’s considerable research showing that long-term solitary confinement can have traumatic impacts, so if true, that sounds like a shockingly disproportionate response to a relatively minor disciplinary problem.

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