Category Archives: Blog

Death Penalty Foes Split Over Taking Issue to Supreme Court NY Times 11-3-15


WASHINGTON — In the long legal struggle against the death penalty, the future has in some ways never looked brighter.

In a passionate dissent in June, Justice Stephen G. Breyer invited a major challenge to the constitutionality of capital punishment. This fall, Justice Antonin Scalia all but predicted that the court’s more liberal justices would strike down the death penalty.

But lawyers and activists opposed to the death penalty, acutely conscious of what is at stake, are bitterly divided about how to proceed. Some say it is imperative to bring a major case to the court as soon as practicable. Others worry that haste may result in a losing decision that could entrench capital punishment for years.

Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke to attendees of the politics & eggs breakfast at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH on Wednesday.First Draft: Death Penalty Could Provide Debate Fodder for Hillary Clinton and Bernie SandersOCT. 30, 2015
Senator Bernie Sanders at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., on Wednesday.First Draft: On Senate Floor, Bernie Sanders Calls for Ending the Death PenaltyOCT. 29, 2015
Several states appear to be reluctant to use midazolam, a short-acting sedative, despite the Supreme Court allowing its use.Delays as Death-Penalty States Scramble for Execution DrugsOCT. 8, 2015
“If you don’t go now, there’s a real possibility you have blood on your hands,” said Robert J. Smith, a fellow at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute of Harvard Law School. His scholarship was cited in Justice Breyer’s dissent from a decision upholding the use of an execution drug that three death row inmates argued risked causing excruciating pain.

A dissent by Justice Stephen G. Breyer in June was seen as inviting a death penalty challenge. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times
But others are wary. “There are reasons to be cautious about pushing the court to a decision too early,” said Jordan M. Steiker, a law professor at the University of Texas.

The divide is partly generational. Many veteran litigators have suffered stinging setbacks in the Supreme Court, and they favor an incremental strategy. They would continue to chip away at the death penalty in the courts, seek state-by-state abolition and try to move public opinion.

Some younger lawyers and activists urge a bolder course: to ask the Supreme Court to end capital punishment nationwide right away.

Though Justice Breyer’s dissent was joined only by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the more aggressive advocates are confident they can persuade five justices to do away with a punishment explicitly contemplated in the Fifth and 14th Amendments, which call for grand juries in federal cases involving “a capital or other infamous crime” and say that no person may be deprived “of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.” That means picking up the votes of not only the rest of the court’s liberal wing — Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — but also, crucially, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

Evan J. Mandery, the author of “A Wild Justice,” a history of the last major challenges to the death penalty in the 1970s, said there were good arguments on both sides of whether to mount such an effort.

“It’s a very complicated gamble,” he said. “The fear is that if you push and you lose, you could end up worse off.”

All concerned agree that much has changed since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, four years after it had effectively struck it down. Last year, only seven states carried out executions. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have abolished the death penalty entirely, seven of them in the last decade.

Governors and courts have imposed moratoriums in others, and the number of death sentences and executions continues to drop. The Supreme Court itself has barred the execution of juvenile offenders, people with intellectual disabilities and those convicted of crimes against individuals other than murder in the last decade.

The more cautious, step-by-step approach would ask the court to further narrow the availability of the death penalty by, for instance, forbidding the execution of mentally ill people and of accomplices who did not kill anyone. The more assertive one would introduce a broad case aimed at the death penalty itself.

Both sides look to history for instruction, but they draw different lessons.

Justice Breyer has told friends that his dissent was partly inspired by a similar one a half-century before. The earlier dissent, by Justice Arthur J. Goldberg, helped create the modern movement for the abolition of the death penalty and led to a four-year moratorium on executions.

The 1963 dissent, in Rudolph v. Alabama, was drafted by a law clerk, Alan M. Dershowitz, who would go on to become a law professor at Harvard and a prominent litigator. A young Stephen G. Breyer began his own clerkship with Justice Goldberg the year after.

Collecting data on national and international practice, Justice Goldberg’s dissent urged the court to hear a case on whether the death penalty for rape violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

“The goal was to ask litigators to start raising challenges to the death penalty,” Professor Dershowitz said. “It was an invitation to litigation. It was not a common tactic back then, and we were much criticized for it.”

The dissent spurred the creation of capital litigation projects at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Justice Breyer’s dissent was far more elaborate. It was 46 pages long, included charts and maps, and set out in detail the argument that the death penalty violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments.

Professor Dershowitz said he was delighted that another former clerk of Justice Goldberg’s was carrying on his old boss’s project.

“The goal in both cases is to encourage the court to play a more active role and to encourage litigants,” he said.

But opinions vary about the correct reading of the aftermath of the Goldberg dissent. Some veteran opponents of the death penalty noted that it took nine years of methodical litigation after the 1963 dissent before the Supreme Court effectively struck down the death penalty in 1972 in Furman v. Georgia. Even then, they said, the effort in the end yielded only a relatively brief moratorium.

Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which has long played a central role in the fight against the death penalty, chose her words carefully in response to questions about her group’s current strategy.

Many tough on crime conservative politicians seem to be agreeing now that our mass incarceration has gone to extremes. They call for reform…
Meredith 7 hours ago
Every article on this should cite that the EU nations have abolished the death penalty. The US can’t pretend the Equal Protection Clause…
don shipp 7 hours ago
The Eighth Amendment forbids “cruel and unusual punishments” Is it unusual? Yes! The number executed compared to the number sentenced is…
“There is something undoubtedly powerful in having a Supreme Court justice lay out the brief for the unconstitutionality of the death penalty and to issue the challenge,” she said. But it is Justice Kennedy and not Justice Breyer, she said, whose vote will be crucial.

Litigators who work in cases in states committed to the death penalty said they were not counting on a general reprieve from the Supreme Court.

“The Breyer dissent was a dissent that two justices signed,” said David R. Dow, a law professor at the University of Houston and the founder of the Texas Innocence Network.

“I don’t get too excited about two justices,” he added. “The Breyer dissent means so little in terms of the imminent demise of the death penalty that I wouldn’t spend any time on it.”

On the other side of the debate is the Eighth Amendment Project, a new group seeking prompt action.

“We certainly have a feeling we’re getting close,” said Henderson Hill, the group’s executive director. “We’re getting warm.”

He said he understood why some were skeptical. “Lawyers are by their nature cautious,” he said. “When you’ve been part of the killing fields of Texas, you have to concentrate on your clients and you don’t have the luxury of thinking, ‘What if?’ ”

Mr. Hill said one case from Texas might serve as the right vehicle to mount a broad challenge. It concerns Julius Murphy, who was convicted of robbing and killing a stranded motorist. Among his lawyers is Neal K. Katyal, a prominent Supreme Court litigator and a former law clerk to Justice Breyer.

“After Justice Breyer’s dissenting opinion,” Mr. Katyal said, “the time to test his views in the crucible of argument before the full court has come.”

In a brief to Texas’ highest court for criminal matters, Mr. Katyal’s law firm devoted a substantial passage to a direct attack on the death penalty, echoing Justice Breyer’s dissent. Should the Texas court rule against Mr. Murphy, an appeal to the Supreme Court seems inevitable.

In the meantime, the Eighth Amendment Project is hard at work identifying other cases that could serve as vehicles to end the death penalty, ideally ones involving impulsive crimes, intellectual disability and claims of innocence. Among the cases it hopes to avoid are ones arising from killings of police officers, murders for hire and torture. Whatever the eventual case, the group wants to have dozens of friend-of-the-court briefs ready for filing.

Professor Dershowitz said a vigorous litigation strategy was the right approach.

“Justice Breyer would not have written this dissent if he did not think this was a good time to bring cases to the attention of the court,” he said. “Now it’s up to litigants to figure out the right case.”

Social Security’s Retirement Age Should Not Be Increased (Again)

In the midst of the seemingly endless series of campaign launches by candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, most media coverage has focused on the horse-race narrative, or on the effect of fundraising on politics, or on other matters that appeal to political junkies. It is sometimes all too easy to forget that there are actual policy issues facing the country.

And there are plenty of important issues that beg for our attention, from climate change to income inequality to racial justice. Some issues, however, are actually not at all important. Unfortunately, even though Social Security is truly a non-problem, some politicians think that it is a sign of seriousness to claim that our retirement system must be fixed. At least one of the Republican hopefuls is advocating a change to Social Security that would do serious harm to Americans young and old.

Last Sunday, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was asked about his proposal to increase the age for Social Security retirement benefit eligibility. Bush’s answer was revealing, in a way that bodes ill for his candidacy for president. In this column, I will first describe Bush’s blunder, and then I will discuss why it would in fact be a very bad idea to increase Social Security’s retirement age again. It is a bad idea both because it is unnecessary and because it would exacerbate the inequalities in society that have recently (and quite rightly) become a source of concern for enlightened policymakers.

If You Want to Show That You’re Serious, It’s a Good Idea to Know What You’re Talking About

On CBS’s “Face the Nation” this past weekend, the host Bob Schieffer asked Mr. Bush: “Let me ask you about Social Security. You recently said you favor raising the retirement age for Social Security. To what age?” Bush replied:

I think it needs to be phased in over an extended period of time. I have seen ideas that are 68, for example. So people that already have the supplemental retirement system, which is a contract, I don’t think we violate that. For people that are about ready to be beneficiaries of their supplemental retirement, I don’t think we change that. But we need to look over the horizon and begin to phase in over an extended period of time going from 65 to 68 or 70. And that by itself will help sustain the retirement system for anybody under the age of 40.

It is certainly true that one would need to make any changes in a retirement-related program on a phased-in basis. This, of course, means that anyone who thinks that it is possible to change Social Security in a way that harms Baby Boomers is simply dreaming. Even the youngest Boomers are over 50 years old now, and it would be profoundly unwise to try to change the rules of the game when it is too late for such people to adjust their savings in response to a serious cut to their expected benefits. In that sense, Bush’s cautious approach would be sensible – but only if it made sense to increase the retirement age at all. It doesn’t.

The truly odd aspect of Bush’s statement is that he wants to increase the retirement age “from 65” to some older age. The problem is that the retirement age has already been increased, and Bush is apparently ignorant of that fact. For anyone born in 1960 or later (the last five years of the Baby Boom and beyond), the retirement age will be 67. For the older Baby Boomers, born through 1954, the retirement age is already 66. For those born during the years in between, the retirement age gradually increases from 66 to 67, such that (for example) a person born in 1959 has a retirement age of 66 years and 10 months.

One might say that, oh well, Bush’s comment was not really such a blunder. After all, we are only talking about one or two years’ difference, so what is the big deal? The problem is that Bush is talking about possibly increasing the retirement age to “68 or 70,” which raises the question of whether – if he actually knew the current facts about the system that he wants to change – he would possibly only increase the retirement age by one additional year, or whether he is really talking about a three-to-five year increase from the current level, such that he might be describing a retirement age as high as 72.

This is not a “gotcha” moment. Herman Cain’s infamous comment about not knowing the name of “the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan” was truly absurd, but there was a core truth to his claim that knowing certain obscure details is not reasonably part of a president’s job. But this is not some obscure detail. Bush decided that – even before he officially announces his candidacy – he wants people to know that he has thought about the future of Social Security, and he thinks it would be a good idea if the retirement age were higher than 65, and maybe it should be 68 (or 70). Well, we are already two-thirds of the way there.

Moreover, what was supposed to make Bush stand out was that he is putatively “the smarter Bush brother,” the serious and well-informed guy whom we all should wish had been the one of the former president’s sons to run in 2000. Jeb Bush is thankfully not mimicking former Texas Governor Rick Perry’s nonsensical claims that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, in part because Bush is not supposed to be just another Republican candidate filling up space in the clown car. He is supposed to know what he is talking about. Moreover, Bush is the former governor of Florida, after all, so we might have expected him to know something about our key retirement program. Not knowing that we have already increased the Social Security retirement age, even while arguing that we should increase the Social Security retirement age, marks Bush as a non-serious candidate.

On the Merits, We Should Not Harm Younger People By Increasing the Retirement Age, Because Social Security Is Not Broken

Even if Jeb Bush’s reputation for being a serious candidate continues to take a beating, however, we should still ask whether there is a sound argument to increase the retirement age for Social Security. Although Bush lacks credibility as a messenger, after all, we owe it to ourselves to confront the substance of the policy proposal.

Again, note that Bush sensibly talked about phasing in any retirement age increase over a number of years, so that we can “sustain the retirement system for anybody under the age of 40.” Bush appears to be referring to the idea that the Social Security system is “going broke,” so we need to figure out ways to make it more financially viable, so that the system will still be there when the Boomers’ children and grandchildren are ready to retire.

This is a laudable goal, and the good news is that we have already secured that goal for future generations. As I have explained many times (most recently in Verdictcolumn last summer), even the supposedly scary financial projections that Social Security’s critics use to scare people in fact point to a perfectly viable long-term system.

The worst that could happen, according to forecasts that change only mildly when they are updated every year, is that the system could require a one-time, permanent decrease in benefits in the range of 20-25 percent, starting about twenty years from now. During the next twenty years, Social Security’s benefits will rise in inflation-adjusted terms by roughly twenty percent, so that the most one can say is that future retirees might have to live on benefits that are equal to the benefits on which current retirees live.

If people such as Jeb Bush, who claim that Social Security is busting the federal budget, were right that benefits are already too generous, however, that would refute the idea that benefit cuts in the mid-2030s will be deeply painful. Besides, there would be many ways to make any such cuts either unnecessary or to phase them in, but only after it became certain that it really will be necessary to reduce benefits.

Again, there is no reason even to go down this road unless it becomes clear that the system will need to be adjusted. Yet the message from those who would “fix” Social Security is that, because the future might work out such that currently-young people will see reduced benefits, we must guarantee today that those currently-young people will see reduced benefits when they retire.

Social Security, Longevity, and Inequality

Moreover, of all the ways that we might want to change the Social Security system (should that ever become necessary), proposals like Bush’s are actually the worst possible way to do so. To increase the retirement age is to cut future retirees’ total lifetime benefits. As it stands, a person retiring with full benefits today at age 66 has about 18 or 19 years left to live. If that is still the case when currently-young people retire, increasing the retirement age to, say, 70 would reduce their lifetime benefits by more than twenty percent.

The story is even worse when we look at income inequality. The much-discussed increase in U.S. life expectancies has been notable in how it has been concentrated among society’s already better-off groups. Indeed, researchers at the Social Security Administration recently concluded that the life expectancy for people in the upper half of the income distribution is now five years higher than for those in the lower half. The life expectancy for those in the lower half has barely increased at all.

This means that, for those who are most in need of Social Security benefits to support them in retirement, the net decline in their lifetime benefits (benefits that are already lower than other people’s benefits, because benefits are tied to how much we earn while we are working) will be the greatest. After a lifetime of working, often in the most grinding and lowest-paying jobs in society, they will be forced to work still longer, and thus to receive less from Social Security. That is, in fact, the whole point of increasing the retirement age.

Moreover, it is not merely a matter of losing twenty percent of one’s lifetime retirement benefits. It is also a matter of losing benefits, and thus being forced to continue to work, during the healthiest remaining years in one’s life. Neither method of cutting benefits (directly reducing monthly payouts, or increasing the retirement age) are likely to be necessary, but in any case, we should not thoughtlessly take away the best years of people’s retirement.

For people like Jeb Bush, and frankly for people like me as well, who make our living doing something that is physically undemanding and intellectually fulfilling, talking about increasing the retirement age sounds like a painless plan. I cannot imagine wanting to retire at all, much less at age 67, or even age 70. But other people hold jobs that take a physical toll, and retirement for them is a blessing.

In fact, because of those physical demands, increasing the retirement age is unlikely to save as much money as politicians would like to think. In addition to its retirement program, the Social Security Administration also runs a disability insurance system. As it currently stands, a person who can continue to perform his job for the last few years before retirement can count on automatically qualifying for retirement benefits. Those who cannot last that long are forced to apply for disability benefits.

The problem is that disability benefits are not automatic, and the Social Security disability adjudication system is expensive to navigate. Increasing the retirement age would inevitably put more people into the disability system, increasing both the payouts to disabled near-retirees and the administrative costs of processing and policing those applications.

There might, or might not, come a time when the Social Security system needs some adjustments. If that time comes, the best approach would be to find additional revenue sources; but if that is not politically possible, reducing benefits to all retirees would be the best way to proceed. We have already increased the retirement age from 65 to 67, even if some politicians have not received that memo. Increasing it again would needlessly harm everyone, and it would most harm the people who deserve a dignified and restful retirement.

Neil H. BuchananNeil H. Buchanan, a Justia columnist, is an economist and legal scholar, a Professor of Law at The George Washington University, and a Senior Fellow at the Taxation Law and Policy Research Institute, Monash University (Melbourne, Australia). He blogs at, and he is the author of The Debt Ceiling Disasters: How the Republicans Created an Unnecessary Constitutional Crisis and How the Democrats Can Fight Back.

What Came Before Baltimore’s Riots – NY Times -The Opinion Pages | EDITORIAL

The riots that devastated urban America during the 1960s were often ignited by acts of police brutality that inflamed poor African-American communities where the police were seen not as protectors but as an occupying force. These same tensions resurfaced last year in the suburban St. Louis community of Ferguson, Mo., where riots broke out after a white police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, a black teenager. They have now erupted on a larger stage, in Baltimore, after the death of Freddie Gray, a young black man who suffered a catastrophic injury while in police custody.

President Obama has condemned as inexcusable the looting and arson that spread across the face of the city after of Mr. Gray’s funeral. But he also implied that the Baltimore Police Department had “to do some soul-searching.” Indeed it does: A well-documented history of extreme brutality and misconduct set the stage for just this kind of unrest.

Proof can be found in a meticulously reported investigation by The Baltimore Sun of lawsuits and settlements that had been generated by police-brutality claims. “Over the past four years,” the investigation noted, “more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations.” The victims included a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant woman who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson.

The report, published last fall, detailed what it called “a frightful human toll” inflicted by the police: broken bones, head trauma, organ failure, and even death, occurring during questionable arrests. It found that judges and prosecutors routinely dismissed charges against the victims and that city policies helped to hide the extent of the human damage. Settlements prohibited the victims from making public statements. The Sun estimated that the cash-strapped city had spent $5.7 million on settlements and $5.8 million on legal fees since January 2011.

Baltimore residents were familiar with these and other stories of police abuse when Mr. Gray’s case fell into the public spotlight earlier this month. The police chased and apprehended him on April 12, allegedly because he had “made eye contact” with a lieutenant and then ran away. Cellphone videos of his arrest showed him being dragged into a police van, appearing limp and screaming in pain. The police have acknowledged that they delayed in calling for medical help. When he arrived at the police station, medics rushed him to the hospital, where he slipped into a coma and died a week later.

His family has said that 80 percent of his spinal cord was severed and that his larynx had been crushed. This account is at odds with a police report claiming that “the defendant was arrested without force or incident.”

The Baltimore Police Department has a particularly egregious history and has entered into a voluntary reform agreement with the Justice Department. But there is no reason to believe that it is unique in terms of its toxic relations with the people it is meant to protect.

Indeed, over the last five years, the Justice Department has opened 21 investigations into local police departments around the country and is enforcing reform agreements with 15 departments, some investigated by previous administrations.

Mr. Obama was right on the mark when he observed on Tuesday that tensions with law enforcement had simmered in African-American communities for decades and now seemed to be bursting into view once a week.

“This has been a slow-rolling crisis,” he said. “This has been going on for a long time. This is not new, and we shouldn’t pretend that it’s new.”

He also said that addressing the problem would require not only new police tactics but new policies aimed at helping communities where jobs have disappeared, improving education and helping ex-offenders find jobs. The big mistake, he said, is that we tend to focus on these communities only when buildings are burning down.

Police Start to Reconsider Longstanding Rules on Using Force By MATT APUZZO-NY Times MAY 4, 2015

WASHINGTON — During a training course on defending against knife attacks, a young Salt Lake City police officer asked a question: “How close can somebody get to me before I’m justified in using deadly force?”

Dennis Tueller, the instructor in that class more than three decades ago, decided to find out. In the fall of 1982, he performed a rudimentary series of tests and concluded that an armed attacker who bolted toward an officer could clear 21 feet in the time it took most officers to draw, aim and fire their weapon.

The next spring, Mr. Tueller published his findings in SWAT magazine and transformed police training in the United States. The “21-foot rule” became dogma. It has been taught in police academies around the country, accepted by courts and cited by officers to justify countless shootings, including recent high-profile episodes involving a homeless woodcarver in Seattle and a schizophrenic woman in San Francisco.

Now, amid the largest national debate over policing since the 1991 beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles, a small but vocal number of law enforcement officials are calling for a rethinking of the 21-foot rule and other axioms that have emphasized how to use force, not how to avoid it. Several big-city police departments are already re-examining when officers should chase people or draw their guns and when they should back away, wait or try to defuse the situation.

Continue reading the main story




Fatal Police Shootings: Accounts Since Ferguson 

A selection of police shootings that have been reported by news organizations since Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Mo., in August. 





“In a democratic society, people have a say in how they are policed, and people are saying that they are not satisfied with how things are going,” said Sean Whent, the police chief in Oakland, Calif. The city has a troubled history of police abuse and misconduct, but some policy changes and a new approach to training have led to sharp declines in the use of force, Chief Whent added.

Like the 21-foot rule, many current police practices were adopted when officers faced violent street gangs. Crime rates soared, as did the number of officers killed. Today, crime is at historic lows and most cities are safer than they have been in generations, for residents and officers alike. This should be a moment of high confidence in the police, said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a law enforcement policy group. Instead, he said, policing is in crisis.


“People aren’t buying our brand. If it was a product, we’d take it out of the marketplace and re-engineer it,” Mr. Wexler said. “We’ve lost the confidence of the American people.”

Mr. Wexler’s group will meet with hundreds of police leaders in Washington this week to call for a new era of training, one that replaces truisms such as the 21-foot rule with lessons on defusing tense situations and avoiding violent confrontations. While the Justice Department and chiefs of some major police departments are supportive, the effort has not been widely embraced, at least so far. Some police unions and others have expressed skepticism, saying officers are being unfairly criticized.

“All this chatter just increases the idea that these encounters are avoidable and law enforcement is at fault,” said Jeff Roorda of the St. Louis Police Officers’ Association, who said officers already thought about ways to avoid confrontations.

The typical police cadet receives about 58 hours of training on how to use a gun and another 49 hours on defensive tactics, according to a recent survey by Mr. Wexler’s group. By comparison, cadets spend just eight hours learning to calm situations before force is needed, a technique called de-escalation.

“Everything now is: You get there, you see a guy with a knife, you resolve it,” said Mr. Wexler, a former senior Boston police officer. In many situations, he said, officers who find themselves 21 feet from a suspect can simply take a step backward to buy themselves time and safety.

Mr. Tueller’s article never proposed a bright line between a shooting that was justified and one that was not. In a telephone interview, Mr. Tueller, 63, said he had simply wanted to warn officers that they might be in danger far sooner than they realized. Twenty-one feet as a justification for shooting, he said, just became a “sticky idea” in policing.

The Dallas police chief, David O. Brown, said at a policing conference in February: “Sometimes it seems like our young officers want to get into an athletic event with people they want to arrest. They have a ‘don’t retreat’ mentality. They feel like they’re warriors and they can’t back down when someone is running from them, no matter how minor the underlying crime is.”

Those remarks came just weeks before a police officer in North Charleston, S.C., was charged with murder for shooting an unarmed man in the back. The officer had stopped the man, Walter L. Scott, because of a broken brake light. When Mr. Scott ran, the officer gave chase, even though he had Mr. Scott’s driver’s license.

“In most cases, time is on our side,” Chief Whent, of Oakland, said in an interview. “We’re chasing someone whose name we know, and we know where they live.”

Oakland, a city that is still working to repair its troubled history of police bias and abuse, now prohibits officers from chasing suspects alone into yards or alleys if they might be armed. All officers, new and current, receive training that emphasizes smart decision-making. After averaging about eight police shootings annually for many years, the city had none last year and cut in half the number of times officers drew their guns, Chief Whent said.

Whether a shooting is justified often hinges on the fraction of a second before the officer fires. In Cleveland in November, officers thought that 12-year-old Tamir Rice was wielding a pistol, not realizing he was playing with a replica. In Ferguson, Mo., an officer said he killed Michael Brown, 18, last summer because Mr. Brown had lunged at him after a scuffle through the window of his cruiser. In Seattle, the officer who shot the woodcarver said that the man had refused to drop the knife and that he had struck a “very confrontational posture.”

But earlier decisions can also be critical. In Cleveland, officers pulled their cars extremely close to Tamir, immediately increasing the possibility of a confrontation. In Ferguson, the officer, Darren Wilson, got out of his car after the tussle and pursued Mr. Brown alone. In Seattle, internal investigators chastised the officer, Ian Birk, for approaching the armed man and then using the 21-foot rule to justify shooting him.

“Officer Birk created the situation which he claims he had to use deadly force to get out of,” a police review board concluded. The officer resigned.

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York announced a new training program for the Police Department in December as the city faced waves of protests over the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died after a police chokehold. Seattle, which is under federal supervision after a Justice Department civil rights investigation, recently announced that its officers would also receive new training.

Mr. Tueller, the retired Salt Lake City instructor, said that he supported improving police training, but that officers were being unfairly blamed for the recent spate of fatal shootings. Most, if not all, would have been avoided if the suspects had obeyed orders, he said.

“We can’t get in people’s heads, and we can’t change behavior in many situations,” he said. “If they don’t comply, the officer has to have options. De-escalation is fine, to a point.”

Teaching officers to hesitate, Mr. Tueller said, could put them in danger.

That focus on officer safety has underpinned many of the United States’ police policies, but Mr. Wexler argues that it is a false choice. Officers in Britain, most of whom do not carry guns and typically face fewer suspects with firearms than some American police officers do, regularly confront suspects carrying knives, as do their counterparts here. British officers follow what is known as the National Decision Model, which emphasizes talking, patience and using no more force than necessary.

No police officer in England has died from a weapon attack during the past two years, according to the most recent published data, and none have been involved in fatal shootings during that period. (Officers with guns back up those who do not carry them.)

But Mr. Wexler acknowledged that changes in policing would be slow. “Not everybody’s going to accept it,” he said. “We’re asking them to rethink in a major way things they have done for 20 years.”

Identity Theft Poses Troubles for Children

YOUR MONEY-New York Times

Identity Theft Poses Extra Troubles for Children

The note that arrived in the mail, dated March 25 and addressed to my grade-school-age daughter, said what we had expected and feared: Like tens of millions of other Americans, including untold numbers of children, she may have fallen victim to thieves who gained access to Social Security numbers and other personal data from the health insurance giant Anthem.

In three single-spaced pages, it noted that anyone who had dealt with the company and many Blue Cross and Blue Shield insuranceplans over the last decade could be vulnerable. The letter pointed us to for more information, which it described as “our source of truth.”

Here’s what the note did not fully address, however: What are the odds that someone will steal a child’s identity? Why would a thief do that, and what exactly can parents do to keep it from happening?

I know better than to overreact to this sort of thing. Thieves have to get the data, choose to use it (instead of chickening out), pick yours to use in nefarious ways and then do so successfully before any damage to a child’s credit record can occur. Still, a 2011 joint industry-academic examination of 40,000 children caught up in a data breach found that someone else appeared to be using 10.2 percent of their Social Security numbers. Most of those instances happened before the breach in questio

So crime like this does happen, and here’s why: Children’s credit reportsare clean. That’s attractive to people who want to begin their financial lives anew for any number of reasons. Plus, minors don’t check their credit reports or review monthly bills the way grown-ups do, which means thieves may not get caught for years or even decades.

One way that people can protect themselves from many kinds of identity theft is to put a freeze on their credit reports with EquifaxExperian and TransUnion, the three agencies that make a lot of money tracking our financial histories and selling that information to companies we want to do business with.


A credit freeze is more stringent than the more popular fraud alerts that many consumers have used in the past. Putting your reports on ice means that any new creditor trying to open an account in your name won’t have access to your credit report unless you go into the system and thaw it. Without seeing your credit report, companies that you are not already patronizing generally won’t open a new account in your name, so the freeze usually has the effect of thwarting thieves.

The problem with the freeze, however, is that you need to have a credit report in the first place before you can put it in cold storage. Because most children don’t, it’s usually been nearly impossible to freeze a child’s credit file.

In the last few years, though, that’s been changing. According to Heather Morton, a program principal with the National Conference of State Legislatures, 19 states now require the credit agencies to help parents and guardians create a new credit report for a minor child for the express purpose of immediately freezing it. Those states are Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Last month, Representative Jim Langevin, Democrat of Rhode Island, introduced legislation that would force the credit bureaus to let all of us do this. Equifax claims that it already lets any parent set up a freeze for a child in the other 31 states. Experian and TransUnion do not, though TransUnion, on its website, has a form that parents can complete so the company can check to see if there are any existing credit files under a child’s Social Security number.

The bureaus aren’t big fans of freezes, because they’re an administrative annoyance and they throw a giant roadblock in their business of peddling our information. Equifax, on its website, introduces freezes as something a consumer does after being victimized, as if we’d all want to wait until the burglar has left the premises to hire a security guard. TransUnion deserves credit for at least mentioning that children may be able to get one. All of them, however, worry about creating vulnerabilities where there were none by creating a credit file that did not previously exist.

Still, if you try to set one up for your child, you’re in for a battle. The agencies want reams of information, including copies of your child’s birth certificate and Social Security number plus certain bills that prove where you live. Equifax and TransUnion ask you to put all of this private information in an envelope and drop it into a mailbox. Even worse, two Equifax customer service representatives I spoke to this week insisted that I should put “minor child” at the top of the address. It might as well say, “Steal this envelope!”

I’m doing it anyway (though without saying, “Steal Me”), if only to annoy the agencies that so clearly do not want me to do this.

Freezes won’t stop every kind of theft, alas. Thieves sometimes use children’s Social Security numbers and other data to file fake tax returns and get illegitimate refunds, gain access to health care and work legally even if they are not citizens. In each of those instances, there may never be a credit check that reveals the freeze.

So what are the ways to keep private data private that are within our control? Don’t carry around Social Security cards. Keep them under lock and key at home. Keep your child’s date of birth off social media. Talk to your offspring about where to click and not to click on websites and in incoming email. Question school officials and doctors who want children’s Social Security numbers for forms, as it may not truly be necessary.

Also, keep your voice down at the pharmacy and physician’s office.

Robert P. Chappell Jr., author of “Child Identity Theft: What Every Parent Needs To Know,” sometimes jots down names, insurance information and other bits and pieces as he listens in those places and then approaches people afterward to gently correct their data hygiene. So far, nobody has punched him in the nose. “Most of them are very nice and have no idea about the harm that can come from it,” said Mr. Chappell, who works in law enforcement by day. “Usually, I’m in civilian clothes.”

One problem with the various legislative efforts to fix the problem is that they won’t do much about the many situations where it’s the children’s own parents who commit the identity fraud. Mothers and fathers may do this out of desperation, having already wrecked their own credit or experienced some acute financial calamity. Foster children are frequent identity theft victims, too. Whatever the reason for the crime, these parents aren’t about to freeze their children’s files.

So what could stop them? One possibility exists only in theory, and it’s called the 17-10 registry. The idea here is that when children are born, their Social Security numbers automatically go into a “do not break the glass until two months before age 18” database. Parents could be prohibited from opting out of the database for their children, and credit reporting agencies (and employers and the Internal Revenue Service) would hopefully crosscheck it before letting anyone use any Social Security number. TransUnion is experimenting with its own database that families in Utah can put their children in.

My daughter seems unscathed so far, and we are signing up for the free monitoring service that Anthem is making available for two years. But Adam Levin, the founder or co-founder of two credit- and identity-related businesses and the author of a book scheduled for release in November called “Swiped: What Identity Thieves Do and How to Stop Them,” questioned why the free service ought to halt then, even if Anthem is paying for a longer period than other breached organizations have in the past.

“Social Security numbers are like money in the bank, and thieves don’t need to use them at any specific moment in history,” he said. “You’re going to have to look over your shoulder for the rest of your life.”

Then again, you’re probably already doing that. The companies we pay and the governmental agencies that keep track of us have proved with startling consistency that they are not up to the task of keeping our data safe. Then, they compound that by dragging their feet when tools emerge that allow us to flip a switch and try to contain the damage.

Until that changes, you’re more or less on your own. But you already knew that, right?