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Cohen Praises FBI Director’s Support for Requiring Reports on Police Shootings

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. 09; February 12, 2015:

Congressman introduced legislation in January that would accomplish goals set forth by FBI Director James Comey this morning

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) applauded FBI Director James Comey for stating in a speech this morning that it is “ridiculous that [he] can’t tell you how many people were shot by the police last week, last month, last year.” In the same speech, Director Comey suggested that police departments nationwide should be required to report shootings that involve police officers so that these numbers can be tracked. Congressman Cohen introduced his National Statistics on Deadly Force Transparency Act (H.R.306) last month to do just and more. His legislation would close a loophole in federal law that prevents adequate collection of comprehensive national data regarding justified and unjustified fatal interactions with police.

“FBI Director Comey is exactly right: it is ridiculous that we can’t tell the American people how many lives were ended by police officers this year, or any year,” said Congressman Cohen. “Before we can truly address the problem of excessive force used by law enforcement we have to understand the nature of the problem and that begins with accurate data. That is why I introduced the National Statistics on Deadly Force Act; so that our country can do a better job of honestly assessing racial disparities and other problems in our justice system and begin to fix them. It is a step in the right direction and a critical component of the healing process, I look forward to working with Director Comey to bring accountability and transparency to policing in America, and I commend him for addressing this issue.”

Without accurate and comprehensive data, racial disparities, abuses, and instances of excessive use of force are difficult to identify and unlikely to be fixed. The 1994 Crime Bill requires the Attorney General to collect statistics on the use of excessive force, but the law does not provide any enforcement mechanism nor does it adequately define what “excessive force” is. As a result, the federal government has been unable to gather data from many local police departments and there are no reliable statistics on how often law enforcement uses deadly force. Congressman Cohen’s legislation, which has 8 cosponsors, would incentivize states to require local law enforcement agencies to provide data to the Attorney General on:

  • The date of each instance when deadly force was used;
  • The identifying characteristics of the victim and officer involved, including the race, gender, ethnicity, religion and approximate age of the victim;
  • Any alleged criminal behavior by the victim;
  • An explanation, if any, by the relevant law enforcement agency of why deadly force was used;
  • A copy of any use of deadly force guidelines in effect at the time at the law enforcement agency;
  • The nature of the deadly force used, including whether it involved a firearm; and
  • A description of any non-lethal efforts that were taken before deadly force was used.

This data would be made publicly available, but would not disclose any personally identifying information. Congressman Cohen also plans to introduce legislation this year that would require incidents of deadly force used by police to be investigated and, if need be, prosecuted, by an independent actor. Currently, these cases are rarely prosecuted effectively due to an obvious conflict of interest between local police and the prosecuting District Attorney, who relies on a close working relationship with those same police officers to carry out other prosecutorial duties.

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Press Releases

Comptroller: Fmr. Wayne County Education Staff Responsible for $320K Shortage

Press release from the Office of the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury; July 29, 2014:

Four former employees of the Wayne County School Department are to blame for a $319,134.58 shortage in school accounts. The Comptroller’s Office, in conjunction with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Internal Revenue Service began investigating after comptroller auditors discovered discrepancies during their annual audit.

Investigators confirmed the former grants coordinator and three former bookkeepers received $183,474.25 in unauthorized payroll payments and classified them to teacher salary account codes. These payments were in addition to their budgeted salaries.

Investigators also uncovered personal purchases on the School Department’s Wal-Mart credit cards. These purchases included more than $77,176.69 in gift cards and related fees, as well as $58,483.64 in groceries and personal items. The credit cards were assigned to the former General Purpose School Fund bookkeeper.

The investigative report outlines several concerns with the school system’s money-handling practices. Managers should ensure that no employee has complete control over payroll duties, and managers should regularly review credit card purchases.

School leaders indicate they have implemented new checks and balances to prevent a recurrence.

“There is no place for fraud, waste and abuse of taxpayer money in government,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “While these findings are troubling, I am hopeful that changes are being made to correct the problems we’ve identified, and restore trust in the School Department.”

To view the investigation online, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/ia/.

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Press Releases

Criminals, Sex Offenders Could Be Banned from Working In College Dorms

Press Release from Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville; May 24, 2011:

(NASHVILLE, TN), May 24, 2011 — Legislation aiming to prevent criminals or sex offenders from serving in housing facilities in Tennessee’s colleges and Universities has been approved. The bill, sponsored by Senate Education Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), was passed as the General Assembly wrapped up its 2011 legislative session last week in Nashville.

Passage of the bill comes after a former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Resident Assistant was arrested on multiple felony charges connected to allegations that he burglarized dorm rooms and planted cameras, which residents later discovered and reported to campus police.

The accused Resident Assistant had a lengthy rap sheet and was already on probation after serving time in prison for charges like stalking, burglary, and arson. The University had not performed a background check, but has since changed their policy to include one.

The bill is named after one of the victims Kristen Azevedo, whose mother contacted Senator Gresham regarding legislation to address any future violations.

“These students were under very serious threat of harm,” said Senator Gresham. “This offender had an extensive and alarming history of crimes against women. Although I am pleased that the university system has developed a policy that includes background checks systematically, we need to put this in state law so years from now we do not become lax in ensuring student safety when it involves access to their rooms or apartments. I applaud Kristen and her family for coming forward to push for changes in our law to keep this kind of crime from occurring to any other students in the future.”

The bill requires all persons applying for employment in housing facilities at public colleges and universities to supply a fingerprint sample and submit to a background check by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). It requires the applicant to cover the cost of the background check and authorizes the TBI to send the results to the university. Also, the bill prohibits individuals on the state’s, or another state’s, sex offender registry from being employed in a position that would give them access to students’ rooms and apartments at public colleges and universities.

“I am very thankful for all the work done by Senator Gresham to pass this bill,” said Azevedo, who lives in Senator Gresham’s legislative district. “Hopefully, as a result it will never happen to anyone again.”