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Speier proposes redefining ‘armor piercing’ ammo

A Bay Area congresswoman has introduced a bill that would require the U.S. Attorney General to update – and tighten – the definition of “armor piercing” ammunition.

Rep. Jackie Speier said H.R. 1454, the Modernized Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act of 2015, is a much-needed update to the 1986 law that banned “cop-killer” bullets.

Jackie Speier“America’s men and women in law enforcement must be safer and have better technology than the criminals who want to kill them,” Speier, D-San Mateo, said in a news release. “It is unacceptable for them to be outgunned. The ATF has decided not to use its authority and take this common-sense step updating the Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act of 1986, so it’s up to Congress to act. My legislation will make sure our first responders are as well protected from ‘cop-killer’ ammunition as they were when the law was passed.”

The law that President Ronald Reagan signed in 1986 banned the civilian sale and transfer of armor-piercing ammunition, defined as bullets or bullet cores that can used in handguns which are made from one or a combination of tungsten alloys, steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium copper, or depleted uranium.

Since then, advances in bullet propellants, coatings, and materials have rendered the 1986 ban dangerously ineffective and outdated, Speier contends, and the market is now flooded with ammunition that can pierce body armor but skirts the 1986 ban.

green tipsThe Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) this year proposed new regulations to restrict sale of M855 “green tip” ammunition that’s commonly used in AR-15-type semi-automatic rifles – perhaps the most popular style of rifle in the United States. After fierce opposition from the gun industry and gun-rights advocates, the ATF this month withdrew its plan.

Now the battle has shifted to Congress, though Democrats know perfectly well that the Republican leadership will never give these bills so much as a glance.

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., last week introduced H.R. 1358, the “Armor Piercing Bullets Act,” to restrict sales of this ammunition, which he said can penetrate the soft body armor often worn by police.

“Armor piercing rounds like green tips should only be in the hands of military personnel or police officers, period. There is absolutely no compelling argument to be made for anyone else to have access to them,” Engel said. “But the out of touch gun industry lobby is fighting tooth and nail to keep cop-killing ammunition on the streets. We need to speak up on behalf of our police officers and say ‘stop the madness.’”

Speier’s bill would require the attorney general to modify the definition of armor-piercing ammunition to conform to the bullet’s performance, not just its content. It also would require the attorney general to establish testing criteria to assess a bullet’s lethality against the minimum standards of body armor worn by law enforcement personnel.

It’s potentially much farther-reaching than Engel’s bill. To understand why “armor piercing” is a hard definition to pin down, I recommend this VICE News article – it’s an opinion piece, but the analysis is interesting.

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Police-community relations hearing set for Tuesday

The state Senate and Assembly Public Safety Committees will hold a four-and-a-half-hour joint hearing Tuesday on police-community relations issues that have roiled California and the nation in recent months.

It’s been a hot topic since police shootings including those of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., last August and Tamir Rice in Cleveland last November, and the tremendous protests that followed in cities across the nation. Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco have grappled with tremendous street demonstrations in which most participants were peaceful while a few resorted to property damage and violence.

“Recent tragic events have led to an increased focus on law enforcement practices. The President has put together a task-force to tackle the issue of police practices across the nation, but I am interested in what we can do in California,” said Senate Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley. “I look forward to hearing about what data is being collected and how our data collection efforts can be improved. I additionally look forward to learning about innovative programs that have improved relations between the community and law enforcement.”

Hancock’s husband, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, has taken some heat from the community for his police department’s handling of protests late last year.

The hearing’s agenda includes segments on statewide and local law enforcement data collection; “promoting trust and confidence through data;” investigating and prosecuting officer-misconduct allegations; and building trust and confidence between police and the communities they serve. The witness list includes law enforcement officials, community leaders, educators and criminologists from around the state.

Bill Quirk“I believe that this hearing will give us an opportunity to ask hard questions, gain new perspective, and guide us in proposing effective solutions to rebuilding trust,” said Assembly Public Safety Committee Chairman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward.

The hearing starts at 9:30 a.m. in Room 4203 of the State Capitol; it’s expected to be broadcast live on the California Channel and audio of the proceedings will be streamed on the State Senate’s website.

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AG Eric Holder in Oakland, SF on Thursday

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will be in Oakland and San Francisco on Thursday to wrap up his national “Building Community Trust” tour seeking stronger bonds between law enforcement and the people they’re supposed to protect and serve.

Eric HolderHolder – in his final days in his job, as his nominated successor, federal prosecutor Loretta Lynch, awaits Senate confirmation – will take part in a roundtable discussion with Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Rep. Barbara Lee, and other selected officials and community members at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in Oakland’s federal building on Clay Street.

The event isn’t open to the public.

“I am very glad the Attorney General accepted my invitation to come to Oakland and hear first-hand our community’s concerns and ideas to enact much needed change,” Lee, D-Oakland, said in a news release. “We must work together to take the long overdue action needed to build trust between the community and law enforcement and ensure justice for all. This dialogue is an important step in that effort.”

Holder on Thursday afternoon will meet with students and police officers and tour the Willie Mays Boys and Girls Club of San Francisco.

Holder in September announced a National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, a $4.75 million effort to combat distrust and hostility between law enforcement and the communities they serve – a reaction to the massive protests following the slaying of a young black man by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo.

This will be the final stop on his tour. Previous stops included Atlanta in November; Cleveland, Chicago and Memphis in December; and Philadelphia in January.

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Campos aims to curb police militarization, drones

Local police forces’ militarization would be curtailed on the ground and in the air, under bills introduced Monday by a South Bay lawmaker.

Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose, introduced a bill that would forbid local law enforcement agencies from buying surplus military equipment without public input and approval from their local elected governing body, like a city council or a county board of supervisors.

Nora Campos“My bill is intended to help California communities and local law enforcement find the balance that is right for them. We are not a military state and our neighborhood streets shouldn’t be turned into warzones,” Campos said in a news release.

“Excessively militarizing the police isn’t necessarily in the best interest of a community,” she continued. “It does nothing to improve community relations when routine police actions, including crowd control, center on heavy military weaponry. Obviously, there are situations that require a strong law enforcement response and I will always support efforts to keep our law enforcement officers safe.”

Campos introduced another bill Monday that would require warrants for human surveillance collected by airborne drones; destruction of drone-collected data within one year; and limits on sharing that data.

“We must ensure that information collected by drones is not used against law-abiding people, and that people’s civil rights remain intact,” Campos said. “This is a common sense bill that stands on our tradition of fair treatment and justice under the law.”

The bill provides exceptions. For example, law enforcement agencies wouldn’t have to get a warrant before using a drone in response to exigent circumstances, traffic accidents, fires, environmental disasters, and searching for illegal vegetation in wilderness areas.

Gov. Jerry Brown in September vetoed another bill on this subject, AB 1327 by Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, Campos noted, but “drones are here to stay and my bill will be a vehicle for finding the right balance. I look forward to working with all the interested parties.”

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SF Sheriff wants to sign inmates up for insurance

San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi wants authority to help county jail inmates submit applications for health insurance under the nation’s new law.

Mirkarimi proposes that San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors pass an ordinance to designate his department for such work. It would be one of the first county jail systems in the nation so designated.

The sheriff said many inmates have mental health problems, addictions and other chronic health problems, yet have neither health insurance nor money to pay for medical care after they’re released. Coverage provided under the state’s newly expanded Medi-Cal program for the poor, or bought with a subsidy through the Covered California insurance exchange, would aid these inmates’ re-entry into the community and “have the potential to positively affect public health and recidivism,” his news release said.

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Bill would ban sale of license-plate reader data

Those who collect data with automatic license-plate readers would be prohibited from selling or sharing it except among law enforcement agencies, under a bill introduced Friday by a Bay Area state Senator.

“Automatic license plate reader technology is a useful tool for law enforcement,” state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said in a news release. “But use of this technology must be balanced with personal privacy.”

Used mainly by law enforcement agencies, automatic license plate reader technology uses high-speed cameras – often mounted on police cars, but sometimes mounted at fixed points as well – along with software and criminal databases to rapidly check and track the license plates of millions of Californians. It’s also often used by private, non-law enforcement entities, such as parking and repossession companies.

But as use of this technology has increased, so has the concern of civil libertarians; current law doesn’t require LPR operators to keep the data private.

Under SB 893, data that’s less than five years old could be sold or provided only to law enforcement; data that’s more than five years old would be available to law enforcement only with a court order. Violators would be subject to civil lawsuits, with anyone affected by a privacy breach entitled to recover damages including costs and attorney’s fees.

license plate readersHill notes license-plate readers are an important law-enforcement tool: The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, in its first 30 days of using the technology, identified and located 495 stolen vehicles, five carjacked vehicles, and 19 other vehicles that were involved in felonies. These identifications led to 45 arrests, including some people suspected of bank robbery and home invasion.

“Law enforcement will still be able to continue to use LPR technology to catch criminals,” Hill said. “But Californians will have peace of mind that their personal information is safeguarded.”