law enforcement

Police departments across the nation now use Yik Yak, a social media app, to monitor crime reports. 

Campus police departments in South Dakota and Wisconsin started using Yik Yak, which functions as an anonymous, GPS-based message board, to monitor criminal activity on campus and aid in criminal investigations. Under the application’s privacy policy, information is disclosed to law enforcement officials when necessary to prevent or respond to illegal activity.

According to UT police spokeswoman Cindy Posey, UTPD is not currently monitoring Yik Yak activity on and around campus.

“It’s a possibility, but I can’t say for sure that we’ll do it,” Posey said.

Posey said she was informed of other campuses’ use of Yik Yak at a social media conference in January.

“I thought it was very interesting that they were doing it, and I got on it and looked at it and checked it out,” Posey said. “I can see where it could be useful for law enforcement.”

Biology senior Makenzie Harris said she thinks UTPD might benefit from monitoring UT’s Yik Yak feed, but she hasn’t seen any posts involving
illegal activity.

“From what I’ve seen, Yik Yak is more about jokes than drug exchanges,” Harris said. “But if most of the investigations lead to a dead end … I don’t see the point in obsessing over an iPhone app that just seems to provide entertainment for procrastinating and bored college students.”

Posey said the department does monitor other social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, for potentially useful information. The department has public profiles on both sites.

“We keep an eye on everything, just looking for anything that might rise to the level of concern … just like any other police department would,” Posey said.

Alex Patlan, communication sciences and disorders senior, said he thinks it is intrusive for police to monitor student social media activity, even when posts are public.

“Plenty of people use social media as an outlet, and I am all for [being cautious about] what you put on the Internet, but I know I don’t intend for law enforcement to read up on my profiles,” Patlan said.

This April 29, 2014 file photo shows a Supreme Court visitor using his cellphone to take a photo of the court in Washington. A unanimous Supreme Court says police may not generally search the cellphones of people they arrest without first getting search warrants. The justices say cellphones are powerful devices unlike anything else police may find on someone they arrest. (AP Photo, File)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Twenty years ago, this case would have read like a science fiction novel: a society equipped with minicomputers at our fingertips versus a law enforcement capable of criminal tracking via GPS satellite, each with the ability to instantly access a myriad of important documents through data-relaying clouds. Yet these were the very issues with which the Supreme Court wrestled while deciding Riley v. California, the very first computer-search case in SCOTUS history. While scope of this protection remains somewhat vague, the decision highlights a modernized court, better equipped to take a stance in a new and digitized era.

On Wednesday, the justices voted unanimously to protect the future of privacy in the technological sector, even when criminal procedure may be hindered in the process. The Court’s decision proscribes a unique blend of First and Fourth Amendment protections, and will likely set the tone for individual privacy in the digital age. Riley — while only providing a vague outline of protections — certainly seems to be a step in the right direction. To get a better understanding of the case, I sat down with constitutional law professor Alan Sager, who offered an inside look at the expected ramifications of this landmark decision.

A significant Fourth Amendment victory, the protection of cell phone data acknowledges the inherent difference of the device from, say, simple components of a glove box. “The term ‘cell phone’ is itself misleading shorthand; many of these devices are in fact minicomputers that also have the ability to be used as a telephone,” says Chief Justice John Roberts, “[They are so pervasive to daily life]... that a proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they are an important feature of human anatomy.” The categorical protection of cell phone data signals a sharp turn from past precedent, which enabled officers to seize and preserve all evidence within reach. Citing precedent from Chimel v. California, U.S. v. Robinson and Arizona v. Gant, the court last week ruled that under the Fourth Amendment “reasonableness” test, immediate access to such a personal and revealing database is ultimately unconstitutional.

And many Americans are inclined to agree. “It comes down to a balance test… privacy for the people versus dangers posed to law enforcement officers,” says Sager, who also served as a former Supreme Court Judicial Fellow (1974-1977). “You need to look at immediate danger of the object — a cell phone, for instance, would be here distinguished from one which could ultimately be used as a weapon — versus potential threat, such as contacting others or sending warnings to friends that may hinder [effectiveness] of the law enforcement.”

Perhaps this modern approach to law enforcement will mitigate abuse of police power, often used to bolster convictions or aid in localizing gang information. Petitioner David Riley was originally stopped for a traffic violation and subsequently arrested on weapons charges. While searching Riley’s car in August 2009, an officer seized his cell phone and began accessing information, eventually linking Riley to a street gang. Coupled with earlier gang-related violence in the area, this information was sufficient to convict Riley of a shooting which had occurred several weeks prior. The Supreme Court reversed the conviction, holding that cell phone seizures made without a warrant are illegal and therefore inadmissible evidence in court.

Ultimately, Sager agrees with the court’s unanimous opinion, adding that ruling otherwise likely would yield extreme “slippery-slope” abuses of aforementioned police power. “Where would the line be drawn, otherwise? Could police seize cell phones from pedestrians, walking on sidewalks? There’d simply be no good way to limit it.” As can be expected, opposition on this front has been voiced largely by law enforcement officials, claiming the ruling will make it harder to do their jobs. Officers say the Riley decision is yet another obstacle in a “losing battle,” as law enforcement departments struggle to match both the pace and innovation of technology often utilized in crime.

“It’s a balancing act”, Sager agrees, acknowledging the truths of each party. “It’s big-picture government versus the individual… This is an issue where you simply can’t draw typical ideological lines. It’s not conservative versus liberal; Democrats against the Republicans. It’s bigger, more convoluted than that. And I think that’s why the Court decided to weigh in in the first place.”

But what does this decision say about the future of technology privacy?

“I’d say the Court’s decision to hear the case, as well as the unanimous vote… really shows that they are aware of the amount of government snooping, or at least the potential for it,” speculates Sager. “It’s their way of making a statement: [the Court] recognizes modern evolution of privacy issues, and will continue to air on the right of privacy as best as they can.”

Though largely confined to Fourth Amendment protections and criminal procedure, it seems that Riley’s decision to stand for privacy at the cost of government agencies will be met by Americans with a sense of all-too-welcome relief. “It’s a small step,” Sager concedes, “but certainly one taken in the right direction.”

In an era of constant technological evolution and flux, we must constantly maintain an awareness of boundaries.

And when there is not a clear line to evaluate? Well then, perhaps, it is time we draw one for ourselves.

 

Deppisch is a government senior.

 

Austin Police Department Police Chief Art Acevedo called for a group of public transportation, law enforcement and criminal justice officials to discuss ways to reduce DWI incidents after a drunk driver killed a pedestrian in South Austin on Saturday, according to police. 

In a press conference Monday, Acevedo said the department has reported 22 fatal crashes this year, 12 of which involved alcohol or other drugs.

“As we continue to have more bars in our city, we continue to be the No. 1 drinking city in the state of Texas, despite the fact that we are not the largest city in the state of Texas,” Acevedo said. “I’m calling for the state, the county, the city and all of our partners in transportation and in criminal justice to come together and talk about how we can do better.”

Acevedo said the city needs to explore new and improved modes of transportation, including expanded bus routes, additional taxis and overnight parking.

Acevedo said he believes people who are arrested for DWI are often treated too leniently.

“If you look around Austin, Texas, and you see how many people are killing people drunk driving, they get probation and slaps on the wrist,” Acevedo said. “Enough is enough.”

Acevedo said he hopes to hold the summit during the first two weeks of May.

Lieutenant Gonzalo Gonzalez has been with UTPD for nearly 25 years.Despite retention of police officer rates has always been low, Gonzalez still plans on giving more time to the University for as long as he can.

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

When Lt. Gonzalo Gonzalez of UTPD was first employed by the University in 1981, he began as a dishwasher inside the Jester cafeteria. By the time he left the world of student dining, Gonzalez was a supervisor. His career as a police officer has played out in a similar manner. 

Gonzalez, who said his life-long interest in law enforcement began when he was four years old, is approaching his 25th year with UTPD. Gonzalez said he has personal and professional ties to the University and the campus community that have solidified his affinity for university policing. 

“I met my wife here and my oldest daughter graduated here ... I have a great job and I work for a great place,” Gonzalez said. “Some people want to retire from their jobs as soon as they can, not me. Not me.”

Gonzalez began as a guard at UTPD while enrolled as a student and later dropped out to attend the UT System Police Academy. He later earned a degree in criminal justice from Texas State University in San Marcos. He said his sense of loyalty, which he acquired from his father — an educator who taught in the same school district for 30 years — has kept him in the department and helped him climb the department’s ladder. Gonzalez is on his 12th year teaching at the police academy and said it is one of the best parts of his job. 

“I started at the bottom, and I wanted to move up,” Gonzalez said. “I knew I wanted to make some changes, so I knew I needed to promote. God willing, I’ll promote again.”

Retention of police officers has long been an issue within the department. When asked why he has remained with the department for as long as he has, Gonzalez cited UTPD chief of police Robert Dahlstrom’s emphasis on service-oriented professionalism as a motivating force. 

“That’s what I like about our department — it’s very service-oriented. Chief Dahlstrom is the third chief I’ve worked for, and I’m fixing to go into a new one,” Gonzalez said. “Of all the chiefs we’ve had, Chief Dahlstrom is the guy who constantly reminds us of that. We’re here for the students, to be professional and make connections. I just like going that extra mile.”

Dahlstrom said Gonzalez’s loyalty and commitment to the University make him invaluable to the department and his experience is a “tremendous help” in assuring the success of young officers.

“[Lt. Gonzalez] is always in a good mood, always doing what he can to help others either on campus or in the department,” Dahlstrom said. “Police work is all about helping people, and Lt. Gonzalez is all about helping people from his family, to UTPD officers to the campus and beyond.”

As Gonzalez approaches retirement, his sense of commitment to the University has only intensified. Gonzalez said he would like to extend his time at the University as long as he can. 

“I can promote one more time, so I don’t plan on retiring in three years,” Gonzalez said. “I think I can give more [to the] University. If you figure ‘81 to now, I’m going on my 32nd year of employment with the University. My roots are set here.”

Late Wednesday afternoon, the University sent a campus-wide email alerting students they will see an increase in law enforcement for the next few days because of a bomb threat.

UT spokeswoman Cindy Posey said the bomb threat is non-specific and no campus building evacuations would be made immediately. She also said the threat was made anonymously and there is no information that indicates the threat is credible.

She could not say how the bomb threat was made or any other details of the investigation. Posey did say the UT Police Department is searching campus buildings right now, and if an evacuation is made, students will be alerted through the emergency text messaging system. Students can register to receive emergency text messages online at utexas.edu/emergency

“We’re asking the campus community to be very diligent and report any suspicious activity or objects to UTPD at 512-471-4771,” Posey said. 

Posey said UT’s police department will work with the FBI, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the Department of Public Safety and the Austin Police Department to investigate the bomb threat. 

Last fall, UT evacuated campus buildings on Sept. 14 because of a bomb threat. Campus leaders faced criticism for the delay in the evacuation. The caller of the Sept. 14 bomb threat said bombs would “blow up all over campus” around 10:05 a.m. UT sent out text messages and started evacuating buildings at 9:50 a.m.

In preparation for UTPD Chief of Police Robert Dahlstrom’s retirement in May, a committee in charge of overseeing the selection of UT’s next chief has narrowed their search to four final applicants. 

The committee, made up of numerous city, University and law enforcement officials, selected the finalists from a pool of 75 applicants. Each candidate is college-educated and has more than 20 years of experience in law enforcement, according to a UTPD press release. 

The finalists include Austin Police Department Assistant Chief of Police David Carter, Captain Melissa Zak of the Los Angeles Police Department, Miami University Chief of Police John McCandless and APD Assistant Chief of Police Raul Munguia. 

Carter has worked with APD for 29 years and has served as an assistant chief of police since 2007. Zak is a commanding officer with 21 years of experience who oversaw the Southwest region of Los Angeles. McCandless has 31 years of experience in law enforcement and has served as Miami University chief of police for nine years. Munguia has 26 years of experience and has served as an assistant chief of police for APD since 2010. 

Dahlstrom will end his seven-year stint as chief of police on a high note. In his time with UTPD, the department received accreditation with the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement in 2007 and the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement in 2008. Dahlstrom was voted police chief of the year by UT System directors in 2012 for exhibiting “leadership and quiet strength.” 

According to the press release, a series of two-hour public question-and-answer sessions with each finalist will be held throughout April. The candidates will take the public’s questions and discuss the future of UTPD. The sessions will be broadcast via a livestream provided by the University Office of the Associate Vice President for Campus Safety and Security

The first session will take place on April 5 at 1:30 p.m. The others are scheduled for April 9, 23 and 26.

Bill 9 Protest

A protester rallies against the approval of Senate Bill 9, a sanctuary cities legislation, on the front steps of the Texas Capital Wednesday. The bill, which passed after a 19-12 vote, cuts resources to local governments that prevent law enforcement to investigate immigration statuses.

Thirsty Thursday Investigates

Thirsty Thursday Investigates wrapped up the second part of its three-part series on underage drinking last week.

To recap, the first week introduced the repercussions for not following the laws and some key players: minors, alcohol vendors (i.e., a bar or store owner) and law enforcement. These aren’t all the players, but it’s a start as we analyze Texas’ treatment of what is a legalized drug.

Last week’s article touched on the political game of legislators and constituents over alcohol’s trade. In the future, we plan to continue this by looking at the role of Texas alcohol lobbyists.

Despite the wildly hyperbolic stereotype that all alcohol laws are contemporary versions of prohibitionist sentiments, the picture here is of a complex web of political power less related to any particular judgement.

Then there was Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s legislation opting for random blood alcohol content screenings at various streets and roads in Texas. Ideally, police would crunch the numbers and have a set plan of action to screen every third or fifth car. The counter argument, though, questions whether this violates civil liberties or tempts racial profiling from law enforcement.

In other words, it’s not about if people think beer is bad, but more about who has the political leverage.

Continuing into next week’s article, we’re going to actually see the repercussion and enforcement of these laws on bar owners and retailers by looking into how sting operations are conducted.

The Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission, like any agency, has its limitations, such as the number of field officers, and relies upon the support of business owners to comply with regulations. However, there are loopholes that minors exploit that would make the bar or store more liable than them if there was a sting, and brings into question the validity of a sting operation.

We’ll leave things at that until next week, but we’ll announce our next series shortly after we finish underage drinking, and please feel free to drop us a line at thirstyatx@gmail.com.

Austin Police Officers canvas the third floor of the University Teaching Center while searching for the suspected second gunman. The officers moved from floor to floor until the entire building had been designated clear of suspects.

Photo Credit: Michael Baldon | Daily Texan Staff

University Police released a report today assessing the public safety response to the Sept. 28 incident during which a mathematics sophomore armed with an AK-47 fired shots on 21st street before taking his own life.

The 18-page report notes a number of things that authorities did well that day, including the quick establishment of a unified command for the multi-agency response.

The report also makes recommendations, including the need to have a more streamlined communications system between the various law enforcement groups responding to the scene.

“If there is any one thing — and its true in any event like this — you can always improve on communication,” said UTPD chief Robert Dahlstrom to The Daily Texan. “If this happened today, I think we’d be better prepared.”

Some challenges that day included difficulty with the siren system, that not all law enforcement knew to switch to a certain radio channel, that UTPD dispatch could not monitor the channel and that the command post did not know if everyone had switched to the new channel.

The report does say that all confusion was fixed quickly.

Also, certain words held different meanings in different agencies. For example, the command post instructed a search team to "clear" the building. To some agency members, "clear" means to evacuate, while it was intended as a cue to search for people in the building.

The report praises the collaboration between the multiple law enforcement agencies and the training that helped prepare them.

At least once a year, UTPD officers participate in active shooter training with other first responders, said UTPD spokeswoman Rhonda Weldon.

Dahlstrom said prevention is an important element of such events, citing the Counseling and Mental Health Center as a critical on-campus resource.

“We don’t do prevention by ourselves, but there are other agencies here at UT that do,” Dahlstrom said.

The University faced another shooter situation in 1966, when a student fired shots from the top of the UT Tower, killing 16 people and injuring 32 before he was shot by law enforcement.

It was that incident that inspired the establishment of the UTPD, according to the report.

“When you have that major of an event with that major of a response we want to point out things we did well on, things we need to work on, and try and be better and do better for the next event,” Dahlstrom said. “I hope nothing like this ever happens here at UT again, but you train for this, and you do the best you can when it does happen.”

The state Senate Committee on Criminal Justice on Tuesday heard testimony from supporters and opponents of SB 354, a bill which would allow concealed handgun license holders to carry concealed handguns inside buildings of Texas public universities, including UT.

For an issue that has been passionately debated for years, the testimony on both sides was refreshingly respectful and nuanced. Supporters included lawmakers, veterans and students. They argued that the bill intends to give law-abiding citizens a reasonable means of defense against aggressors, that it aims to protect adults, faculty, staff and nontraditional students, as most CHL holders in Texas are more than 25 years old (although a pending lawsuit could lower the minimum age of CHL eligibility to 18) and that concealed handguns are already permitted on streets and sidewalks of public universities.

Witnesses on both sides shared stories about the impact of crime and guns on their lives, and the discussion was largely devoid of the degenerative topics that usually pop up in online comment sections and informal debates on the subject, such as pejorative questions about the sexuality and masculinity of male gun opponents and the intelligence of gun supporters.

Despite the thoughtful and compelling arguments in favor of the bill, we remain opposed to allowing concealed handguns in public university buildings because in matters of life and death, we listen to the experts.

University, state and national law enforcement leaders have vocally opposed allowing handguns in college classrooms. UTPD Chief Robert Dahlstrom told The Daily Texan in February, “I can say handguns would definitely complicate law enforcement on campus.” Similarly, on Wednesday, the Texan reported Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo stating “one of the concerns we have in law enforcement ... is distinguishing the friendly armed persons from unfriendly armed persons.”

Many supporters of the legislation argue campus shootings can be mitigated if armed students are able to use their weapons against aggressors before law enforcement arrive. While this may be effective in theory, the leaders of APD and UTPD, with their extensive education, experience and training in law enforcement, disagree with its application to reality.

It should also be noted that UT President William Powers Jr. and the UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, both of whom are entrusted with the safety and protection of thousands of students, oppose the legislation.

Powers, Cigarroa, Dahlstrom and Acevedo share the completely apolitical objective of keeping students safe, and their expertise should be heeded.

Aside from the expert-refuted claims that concealed handguns on campus would be an asset in a crisis, the other primary argument from Tuesday’s hearing is about personal protection. Several witnesses explained that they should be allowed to carry handguns into campus buildings because they need protection while walking home at night, entering poorly lit parking garages and when placed in other precarious situations.

We obviously recognize one’s right to personal protection and understand that simply “being safe” is sadly often insufficient to ensure a person’s well being. The problem with this argument when related to campus handguns is that it automatically equates protection with guns, as if the only way a person can defend him or herself is by carrying a firearm. Thousands regularly carry mace, tasers and other tools which can immobilize an attacker but do not carry the risk associated with firearms. Student protection does not need to mean student protection with guns.

Despite our opposition, we recognize the bill’s passage is virtually inevitable. The Senate bill is expected to be voted out of committee later this week, and the House is expected to approve its version of the bill soon.

When the bill becomes a law, we hope both sides of the debate are able to work together toward the common goal for which each side claims to have advocated all along: campus safety. Campus handgun supporters and opponents should direct their efforts and resources toward areas that will undeniably enhance campus security, such as greater support and funding for campus mental health services, law enforcement and programs such as SURE Walk, a student organization that provides walking escorts to students on campus at night.

Yesterday’s Senate hearing was thorough, civil and thought-provoking, and while we strongly oppose the predicted outcome of the legislation, we hope it causes all parties involved to refocus their efforts toward cultivating a safer campus.