February 8, 2012
By G.W. Schulz
When several armed robberies occurred recently in Lancaster, Calif., police had little of use on the two suspects. Then, a reliable image of one suspect turned up from a surveillance camera.
In years past, that still might not have been enough for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to close the case.
But with the help of new facial recognition software, investigators plugged the image into a database of booking photos and quickly came up with a possible match. That led to a pair of arrests on Jan. 27.
Facial recognition technology is growing rapidly, both in the consumer world and among police, but privacy advocates are troubled by the potential for intrusion and misuse.
Police in Tampa, Fla., created an uproar several years ago when they installed facial recognition devices in an entertainment district, hoping to identify wanted criminals. The system eventually was unplugged, because it didn’t catch any perpetrators. A similar effort at the 2001 Super Bowl also netted few results.
Things have changed since then. Agencies like the cutting-edge Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in Florida are using millions of jail mug shots to double-check identities if they believe someone is lying about who they are. Deputies can simply snap a photo of the person and begin a search using their in-car laptop.
That’s how the agency unmasked one man with an active warrant. In another 2009 incident, the North Miami Police Department asked Pinellas County deputies for help tracking down a bank robbery suspect, and they did so with a surveillance video image that led to an arrest.
“All of this was accomplished by lunch time,” the sheriff’s office boasted then in a press release. Pinellas County also became the first in the nation that year to include the use of driver’s license photos in its searching capabilities, rather than just individuals who have been arrested.
In the meantime, outcry over the technology is heating up. The Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington last week called for a moratorium on the use of facial recognition in consumer products. Namely, they’ve targeted a Facebook feature that enables users to tag the photos of friends using special software.
February 6, 2012
A leak at a Southern California nuclear facility that regularly provides power to roughly 1.4 million households has caused the plant to shut down a reactor.
Despite officials insisting that everything will be perfectly alright at the San Onofre nuclear site, this is not the first time as of late that power plants have raised serious questions about their safety in America.
A reactor at the San Onofre nuclear power station was halted Tuesday afternoon after personnel at the plant identified a leak in a steam generator tube. Gil Alexander, a spokesman for Southern California Edison, explains to Reuters that the reactor will remain offline for at least a couple of days.
“We don’t expect any impact on our customers tomorrow,” Alexander adds, yet notes that the reactor in question usually churns out around 1,100 megawatts of electricity to one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the country.
The shutdown is forcing officials to halt operations in Unit 3 of the plant. Unit 2 of the station was already offline at the time of the incident, of which officials say was the result of routine maintenance and upgrades.
Speaking of the alleged minuteness of the leak, Alexander tells the Los Angeles Times that “it wouldn’t even qualify as the least severe” infraction under guidelines set up by the United States’ Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Regardless, the plant, located south of San Clemente, California, reported the incident to them anyway.
As it would be, the regulations in place for American facilities are actually more lax than one would expect.
“While the NRC and the nuclear industry have been reassuring Americans that there is nothing to worry about – that we can do a better job dealing with a nuclear disaster like the one that just happened in Japan – it turns out that privately NRC senior analysts are not so sure,” Edwin Lyman, a Union of Concerned Scientists nuclear expert, explained to Reuters last year. Even after the nuclear disaster at Japan’s Fukushima plant in early 2011 raised questions internationally over safety regulations, the United States has done little to improve conditions since.
The reason, some say, is that the regulations in place don’t call for them. In a report conducted by the Associated Press last year, it was revealed that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has repeatedly weakened safety requirements for facilities, regularly allowing antiquated plants to continue operating by making it easier to pass tests in lieu of actually upgrading the facility. The AP found that of the 104 nuclear plants operating in America last year, 66 of them had been re-licensed for an additional 20 years of service. The vast majority of plants in the US, however, are already older than a quarter of a century.
San Onofre, located around 70 miles south of Los Angeles, is one of those.
“I think we need nuclear power, but we can’t compromise on safety. I think the vulnerability is on these older plants,” engineer Richard T. Lahey Jr., formerly with General Electric Co, told the AP last year. Although one-fifth of the nation’s power comes from nuclear plants — and much of Southern California relies on the San Onofre, loosened regulations are repeatedly putting much of America and the world at risk.
February 3, 2012
It has been proven to drastically decrease the chances of contracting HIV before one is even exposed to the virus: Truvada is considered a medical breakthrough by some, yet others fear the once-a-day prevention pill could spur a deadly AIDS epidemic.
The drug — a small, blue pill ingested orally — is currently awaiting FDA approval. Its manufacturer, Gilead, argues that Truvada would reduce the risk of risk of contracting HIV in as many as three-quarters of cases and has been proven so in tests already. AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein is weary of how people will use the pill, however, and warns, “I believe that this could be catastrophic in terms of HIV prevention.”
The argument against approving the pill, says Weinstein, is that it will encourage partners to engage in unprotected sex. While the pill is proven to work in many cases, it is not 100-percent guaranteed. The result, he says, could only make things worse for AIDS and HIV.
It’s a “fabulous drug – it’s one pill once a day, and it has a low side-effect burden,” says Weinstein. Unless the user is aware that the success rate of Truvada is limited and takes extra precautions such as traditional prophylactics though, that ignorance might trigger an AIDS epidemic that could destroy America.
When tested on gay men in four countries, the success rate for the drug was only around 44 percent. When tested by heterosexual couples in two African nations, Truvada proved to be 73 percent successful. Weinstein and other critics are concerned that unless users know the facts, they will learn to rely on the drug and only spread the virus.
“There’s a whole issue of people who aren’t educated on the biology of HIV, who will think that because they’d be taking the pill, they will not become infected,” Cynthia Davis of the College of Medicine and College of Science and Health at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles tells The Final Call.
“You will have groups of people who think, because they’re on this pill and it has this protective factor, that they don’t have to practice safer sex anymore … Because they’re on this medication, they’ll have this false sense of security,” Davis adds.
“Although some of the trial results have been very impressive, the protection with pre-exposure prophylaxis is unlikely to be 100 percent,” writes British medical journal The Lancet. “And making drugs available as prophylaxis could encourage high-risk sexual behavior among those who believe themselves to be protected.”
In America, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that men and women might abstain from using condoms if taking Truvada, based on “the false belief that they are protected” by the pill. Currently all medical options in dealing with HIV are available only after contracting the virus. Truvada, on the other hand, is administered as a precautionary measure — what physicians consider a “pre-exposure prophylaxis.” While test trials have shown substantial success in the effectiveness of Truvada, there is still plenty of room for the pill to go awry.
October 4th, 2011
By: Ethan A. Huff
Right now in New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver, Seattle, and a growing number of other cities, tens of thousands of protestors of all stripes and political persuasions are marching in protest of the corporate corruption that has infiltrated and taken control of the US government — and the mainstream media (MSM), of course, has been virtually absent in covering this massive and escalating demonstration against the current state of US politics.
The ongoing demonstrations, which are part of a new movement called Occupy Wall Street (OWS), have already resulted in numerous cases of violent police abuses, the shutting down of the Brooklyn Bridge, and even the voluntary arrival of members of the US armed forces who have reportedly come to help protest and protect protestors from attacks by local law enforcement.
Most Americans still have no idea that the protests, which officially began on September 17, 2011, are even taking place, though, because the MSM has been too busy focusing on the next presidential election cycle and other safe, pre-planned news segments. But the events are getting so large and disruptive that the media will be unable to ignore them for too much longer.
While not everybody involved in the OWS movement is necessarily fighting against totalitarian government and for true freedom and liberty — InfoWars explains that many protestors are actually demanding bigger government and higher taxes as a solution (http://www.infowars.com/occupy-wall…) — some of the protestors do appear to understand that big government is the problem, and not the answer.
But regardless of what the protestors believe as a whole, they still have every right to peacefully gather and protest without being abused by their own government. And unfortunately many protestors’ constitutional rights have been violated, as early reports and video clips that spread like wildfire on YouTube showed police pepper spraying protestors and aggressively arresting individuals for no apparent reason (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/blo…).
Then on Saturday, a group of US Army and Marine troops reportedly traveled to New York to help support the movement and offer protection for protestors against police abuse. One Army serviceman by the name of Ward Reilly posted a message on Facebook on his way to the protests saying, “I didn’t fight for Wall St. I fought for America. Now it’s Congress’ turn,” a sentiment apparently shared by the other servicemen veterans traveling to protest locations (http://antinewworldorderparty.wordp…).
April 20th, 2011
By: Jason Hughes
Last season, ‘Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution’ (Tue., 8PM ET on ABC) went to Huntington, W.V., one of America’s unhealthiest cities. This year, he was off to one of its largest. Once there, he met resistance at just about every corner.
The Los Angeles Unified School District — the second largest in the U.S., serving between 700,000 and 750,000 students — refused him access to their schools. None of the national fast food chains that got their start in L.A. were willing to work with him. He did get a smaller local chain to open their doors, but the owner was reluctant to make expensive changes.
In an attempt to shock them, he decided to turn his attention to the flavored milk available in the school. While the perception is that this is a healthier alternative, it actually contains as much sugar as soda. So he set up a dramatic demonstration.
He dumped a week’s worth of sugar onto and into a school bus. Unfortunately, only about 25 people showed up for the presentation, but a revolution can start with just a few.
“Yeah, I’m trying to make it dramatic because I want people to care, and at the moment it’s just us,” he said to the crowd. The lack of concern in the area was very disconcerting to him in this premiere episode, but he’s not done fighting for the kids and people of Los Angeles.
April 5th, 2011
The Los Angeles Times
By: Richard Verrier
British chef Jamie Oliver’s food revolution is giving LAUSD officials a case of indigestion.
The Los Angeles Unified School District has suspended all filming of reality TV shows in district schools after a standoff with the celebrity chef, who had been filming his ABC show “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” at West Adams Preparatory High School in South Los Angeles for the last two weeks.
This week the district denied Oliver’s license to film at another school, Manual Arts Senior High School, which, like West Adams, is operated by MLA Partners Schools, an organization that runs schools in South L.A. under a performance contract with LAUSD.
A person close to the production said that district Supt. Ramon Cortines would approve the permit for Oliver’s show only if he could guarantee that he knew everything about the production and that it would paint the district in a postive light.
A spokesman for FilmL.A. Inc, the nonprofit group that handles film permits for the LAUSD, said the district’s action was prompted not by any specific complaints regarding Oliver’s show but by a concern that such reality TV programs can be disruptive to students.
“Yesterday the district decided that having unscripted reality shoots while classes were still in session was probably not the best idea,” said FilmL.A. spokesman Todd Lindgren. “Reality programming is unpredictable, and the district decided that it was better to restrict that kind of programming.”
“If you look at the last series he [Oliver] did in Huntington, W.Va., it was full of conflict and drama, and we’re not interest in that,’’ LAUSD spokesman Robert Alaniz said.
He said district officials were concerned that Oliver’s show would not fairly reflect steps LAUSD has taken to improve its menus, such as banning junk food and sodas. “Our guidelines are certainly way above the USDA guidelines,” he said, adding the district remained opening to working with the chef.
Oliver, who has championed the cause of promoting healthier eating in schools in Britain and now America, recently moved to Los Angeles and is filming the second season of ABC’s “Food Revolution.” He has been trying for months to gain entry into the country’s second-largest school system, but he has received a cold reception from district officials.
Oliver was not available for comment. But a spokeswoman for the show said the production would continue outside the school, regardless of the in-school ban.
In a speech at the UCLA School of Public Health on Wednesday night, Oliver said he had been inspired by his experiences at West Adams Preparatory and shared his frustration with district officials.
“Yesterday my filming permit was terminated because I can’t promise that the LAUSD doesn’t look good,” he said. “They fail to see me as a positive, and they fail to see the TV as an incredible way to spread the word, to inspire people, to inform parents, to see other teachers doing pioneering things.’
Although many local schools generate extra cash by leasing out their facilities for filming, some reality productions have irked school officials. Last year, officials at Hollenbeck Middle School complained about having to spend more than $100,000 to fix a substandard paint job left behind by the TV show “School Pride.”
October 7th, 2010
By: Anthony Gucciardi
The Los Angeles Unified School District is attempting to push mandatory fingerprinting on students. In order to receive their lunches, students will be required to submit to the compulsory biometric identification system put in place by the district. This comes only a few short months after it was revealed that a city in Mexico was being equipped with expensive biometric systems, such as iris scanners and thumb scanners. The program is currently in the test phase. Superintendent Ramon Cortines claims that it can create jobs, make schools safer, and help students who are struggling economically from feeling embarrassed when using their free lunch tickets.
Falsely making it an issue of equality
Instead of debating as to whether or not the mandatory fingerprinting is intrusive and Orwellian, the debate will be over whether or not mandatory fingerprinting will help establish equality in schools. Superintendent Ramon Cortines has already made the claim that fingerprinting the children will help less fortunate students. He claims that students who cannot afford lunch, and therefore have to use a special ticket, will no longer have to do so. This will apparently prevent them from feeling “embarrassed” when in line for their lunch.
The issue is not about equality. Installing mandatory biometric stations in schools serves only to prepare them for a lifetime of living on the control grid. To prepare young children for frequent unlawful searches and seizures will soften them up to these injustices in their adulthood. The only equality here is the assurance that all of the students will be equally violated of their rights.
Is it really about convenience?
Whenever expansive tracking systems are being put into place, it is always pushed under the guise of being extremely convenient. Cashless monetary transactions are pushed as convenient due to the absence of physical cash. The Mexican “safe” city would utilize iris scanners to record one’s assets, and immediately identify them through the scan. This holds true with fingerprinting students as well. Students will no longer have to bring cash to pay for their lunches, which apparently makes up for the severity of the issue according to some political frauds.
The truth of the matter is that “convenience” is becoming the death of privacy. Faster purchasing methods are always available to those willing to submit their personal information, and sometimes much more. This is not limited to purchases, however. In order to avoid submitting vital personal information, it is oftentimes necessary to go through tedious processes that are very time consuming. An example of this is when it was required to scan your thumb in order to receive a license in Texas. You could either scan your thumb, choose to not receive a license, or attempt to fight it in court.
Going beyond propaganda
In order to shatter the propaganda surrounding biometric profiling of United States citizens, it is important to bring the real issues to light. If citizens ignore the fingerprinting in Los Angeles schools, then it will soon be coming to their own neighborhood schools. It is certainly not an isolated issue. The chief business developer of Mexico’s “safe” city even admitted that in the future is filled with mandatory biometric scanning.
“In the future, whether it’s entering your home, opening your car, entering your workspace, getting a pharmacy prescription refilled, or having your medical records pulled up, everything will come off that unique key that is your iris,” he said during an interview.
The only way to stop the conditioning of children from spreading nationally, or even internationally, is to stop it in LA. It is important that parents and citizens worldwide take a stand against that blatant intrusion of privacy. Since when did you have to prove your innocence?
August 23, 2010
By: Christina Hoag
Next month’s opening of the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools will be auspicious for a reason other than its both storied and infamous history as the former Ambassador Hotel, where the Democratic presidential contender was assassinated in 1968.
With an eye-popping price tag of $578 million, it will mark the inauguration of the nation’s most expensive public school ever.
The K-12 complex to house 4,200 students has raised eyebrows across the country as the creme de la creme of “Taj Mahal” schools, $100 million-plus campuses boasting both architectural panache and deluxe amenities.
“There’s no more of the old, windowless cinderblock schools of the ’70s where kids felt, ‘Oh, back to jail,’” said Joe Agron, editor-in-chief of American School & University, a school construction journal. “Districts want a showpiece for the community, a really impressive environment for learning.”
Not everyone is similarly enthusiastic.
“New buildings are nice, but when they’re run by the same people who’ve given us a 50 percent dropout rate, they’re a big waste of taxpayer money,” said Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution who sits on the California Board of Education. “Parents aren’t fooled.”
At RFK, the features include fine art murals and a marble memorial depicting the complex’s namesake, a manicured public park, a state-of-the-art swimming pool and preservation of pieces of the original hotel.
Partly by circumstance and partly by design, the Los Angeles Unified School District has emerged as the mogul of Taj Mahals.
The RFK complex follows on the heels of two other LA schools among the nation’s costliest — the $377 million Edward R. Roybal Learning Center, which opened in 2008, and the $232 million Visual and Performing Arts High School that debuted in 2009.
The pricey schools have come during a sensitive period for the nation’s second-largest school system: Nearly 3,000 teachers have been laid off over the past two years, the academic year and programs have been slashed. The district also faces a $640 million shortfall and some schools persistently rank among the nation’s lowest performing.
Los Angeles is not alone, however, in building big. Some of the most expensive schools are found in low-performing districts — New York City has a $235 million campus; New Brunswick, N.J., opened a $185 million high school in January.
Nationwide, dozens of schools have surpassed $100 million with amenities including atriums, orchestra-pit auditoriums, food courts, even bamboo nooks. The extravagance has led some to wonder where the line should be drawn and whether more money should be spent on teachers.
“Architects and builders love this stuff, but there’s a little bit of a lack of discipline here,” said Mary Filardo, executive director of 21st Century School Fund in Washington, D.C., which promotes urban school construction.
Some experts say it’s not all flourish and that children learn better in more pleasant surroundings.
Many schools incorporate large windows to let in natural light and install energy-saving equipment, spending more upfront for reduced bills later. Cafeterias are getting fancier, seeking to retain students who venture off campus. Wireless Internet and other high-tech installations have become standard.
Some pricey projects have had political fallout.
After a firestorm over the $197.5 million Newton North High School in Massachusetts, Mayor David Cohen chose not to seek re-election and state Treasurer Timothy Cahill reined in school construction spending.
Now to get state funds for a new school, districts must choose among three designs costing $49 million to $64 million. “We had to bring some sense to this process,” Cahill said.
In Los Angeles, officials say the new schools were planned long before the economic pinch and are funded by $20 billion in voter-approved bonds that do not affect the educational budget.
Still, even LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines derided some of the extravagance, noting that donations should have been sought to fund the RFK project’s talking benches commemorating the site’s history.
Connie Rice, member of the district’s School Bond Oversight Committee, noted the megaschools are only three of 131 that the district is building to alleviate overcrowding. RFK “is an amazing facility,” she said. “Is it a lot of money? Yes. We didn’t like it, but they got it done.”
Construction costs at LA Unified are the second-highest in the nation — something the district blames on skyrocketing material and land prices, rigorous seismic codes and unionized labor.
James Sohn, the district’s chief facilities executive, said the megaschools were built when global raw material shortages caused costs to skyrocket to an average of $600 per square foot in 2006 and 2007 — triple the price from 2002. Costs have since eased to $350 per square foot.
On top of that, each project had its own cost drivers.
After buildings were demolished at the site of the 2,400-student Roybal school, contaminated soil, a methane gas field and an earthquake fault were discovered. A gas mitigation system cost $17 million.
Over 20 years, the project grew to encompass a dance studio with cushioned maple floors, a modern kitchen with a restaurant-quality pizza oven, a 10-acre park and teacher planning rooms between classrooms.
The 1,700-student arts school was designed as a landmark, with a stainless steel, postmodernistic tower encircled by a rollercoaster-like swirl, while the RFK site involved 15 years of litigation with historic preservationists and Donald Trump, who wanted to build the world’s tallest building there. The wrangling cost $9 million.
Methane mitigation cost $33 million and the district paid another $15 million preserving historic features, including a wall of the famed Cocoanut Grove nightclub and turning the Paul Williams-designed coffee shop into a faculty lounge.
Sohn said LA Unified has reached the end of its Taj Mahal building spree. “These are definitely the exceptions,” he said. “We don’t anticipate schools costing hundreds of millions of dollars in the future.”
July 20, 2010
By: David Gutierrez
New concern over lack of regulation in medical radiation has been spurred by a case in which more than 300 patients received excessive levels of radiation, but doctors only uncovered the problem when patients’ hair began to fall out.
The radiation errors occurred at three hospitals in Los Angeles and one in Alabama, during heart tests performed with a special form of computed tomography (CT) scan. Some patients received more than eight times the intended radiation dose.
Since the case became public, there has been a growing call for tighter regulation of diagnostic and therapeutic radiation techniques. The American Society for Radiation Oncology, the country’s foremost radiation oncology association, recently called for new safety measures, including a central database where technicians can report any errors in CT scanners or the linear accelerators that produce medical radiation. The New York Times has printed features documenting the severe health problems that can result from the improper use of medical radiation, especially in women and children.
This concern is made all the more urgent by the ever-growing popularity of diagnostic radiation. Largely because of a vast increase in the use CT scans and similar tests, the average U.S. resident’s lifetime radiation dose has increased to seven times above 1980 levels. Even if no errors occur in any of these tests, harm may still result simply from the overuse of inherently risky procedures.
Congress is investigating why oversight into medical radiation remains so weak in the United States. Many observers have attributed the problem to the lack of a clear regulatory framework, with the New York Times noting that laws and rules designed to protect patients from excessive radiation exposure are weak, unevenly applied, and inconsistent across states and institutions. For example, some states do not even require the reporting of radiation accidents involving medical scanning devices.
“There is a patchwork of licensure and registration across the country,” said David N. Fisher, managing director of the Medical Imaging and Technology Alliance, a manufacturers’ group, “and we believe in setting standards for physicians, physicists, technologists — all sorts of operators, the whole shooting match.”
Although the FDA technically has jurisdiction over all medical devices, it has rarely made use of its authority. Consumer groups have criticized the agency for failing to make manufacturers even perform safety tests before putting radiation scanners or other medical devices on the market.
Spurred in part by the recent scandal, however, the FDA is moving to impose some measure of federal regulation on the use of radioactive imaging machines.
“These types of imaging exams expose patients to ionizing radiation, a type of radiation that can increase a person’s lifetime cancer risk,” the FDA said in a press release. “Accidental exposure to very high amounts of radiation also can cause injuries, such as skin burns, hair loss and cataracts.”
The agency has introduced a three-pronged plan to regulate the use of three radiation scanning devices: CT scans, nuclear medicine studies and fluoroscopies. It is currently considering several options for ways to make devices safer, allow doctors and patients to make informed decisions about their use, and increase patient awareness about the devices’ risks.
The FDA’s effort has been well received by workers in the field.
“I think it is very timely in light of concerns about radiation exposure and the possibility of overexposure,” said James Thrall, chair of the American College of Radiology. “I think it will nudge the industry.”
The Medical Imaging and Technology Alliance has said it supports the FDA’s plan. It is asking the agency to impose mandatory accreditation for all facilities that carry out advanced imaging, and minimum standards for all health workers who use devices that deliver radiation.
July 12, 2010
By: Julie Watson
A tough-talking, muscular Los Angeles police sergeant steadily rattled off tips to a young Marine riding shotgun as they raced in a patrol car to a drug bust: Be aware of your surroundings. Watch people’s body language. Build rapport.
Marine Lt. Andrew Abbott, 23, took it all in as he peered out at the graffiti-covered buildings, knowing that the lessons he learned recently in one of the city’s toughest neighborhoods could help him soon in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
“People are the center of gravity and if you do everything you can to protect them, then they’ll protect you,” he said. “That’s something true here and pretty much everywhere.”
Abbott was among 70 Camp Pendleton Marines in a training exercise that aims to adapt the investigative techniques the LAPD has used for decades against violent street gangs to take on the Taliban more as a powerful drug-trafficking mob than an insurgency.
The Marines hope that learning to work like a cop on a beat will help them better track the Taliban, build relationships with Afghans leery of foreign troops and make them better teachers as they try to professionalize an Afghan police force beset by corruption.
The troops believe they can learn valuable lessons from the LAPD, which has made inroads into communities after highly publicized abuses, from the videotaped beating of Rodney King to corruption in an anti-gang unit.
“Their role is to win the hearts and minds of the community and that’s what they did,” said Marine Staff Sgt. Brendan Flynn, who also works as a Los Angeles police officer and will be deployed to help train Afghan police.
The weeklong exercise — unbeknownst to the public — involved Marines dressed in jeans and T-shirts observing drugs busts, witnessing prostitution arrests and even following a murder case. It was the largest group of Marines to embed with the city’s officers.
Abbott, of Long Island, N.Y., rode with Sgt. Arno Clair, a 16-year veteran with salt-and-pepper hair who swims up to a mile a day.
During their afternoon together, police handcuffed a bus driver — moments after he was caught by an undercover officer with $25,000 worth of crack cocaine outside an apartment complex in a south-central Los Angeles neighborhood long plagued by violent gangs.
The tattooed suspect wearing an earring and baggy shorts seemed a world away from the ragtag, Kalashnikov-toting Taliban fighters, just as the streets of south-central Los Angeles are from the dusty villages of mud-brick houses in Afghanistan.
But in many ways, police in Los Angeles’ crime-ridden neighborhoods use the same skills that Marines say could help them.
Marines are in charge of training Afghanistan’s army and police but often have no police experience themselves. Their success in building effective police forces is considered key to stabilizing the country and allowing foreign troops to withdraw.
Marines also are changing their approach, realizing that marching into towns to show force alienates communities. Instead, they are being taught to fan out with interpreters to strike up conversations with truck drivers, money exchangers, cell phone sellers and others.
The rapport building can net valuable information that could even alert troops about potential attacks.
Marines can gather intelligence by picking up the notebooks, receipts and other papers left behind in raids that could provide insight into the opium business the Taliban uses to buy their weapons, Afghan expert Gretchen Peters said.
She told Marines before the Los Angeles patrols that they should follow the lead of some Afghans who have gone from using the term “mujahadeen” or “holy warrior” to identify the Taliban to calling them gangsters.
That, she said, shows how fed up the villagers are with being extorted by them and calling them gangsters will win them over.
“Think of the Taliban as the Sopranos in turbans,” she said. “I think essentially they’re criminals.”
Peters, who has written extensively about the Taliban being a criminal network, has been talking to troops across the country before they deploy to Helmand Province, a top opium-producing region.
Afghanistan supplies 90 percent of the world’s opium, the main ingredient of heroin, and is also the leading global supplier of hashish. Last year, opium seizures soared 924 percent because of better cooperation between Afghan and international forces.
In the end, the police training mission is what will win the war, said Marine 2nd Lt. Jared Siebenaler, 24, of Hastings, Minn., who spent the past six months training police in Afghanistan. But he acknowledged their police mission faces enormous challenges.
Siebenaler said many recruits tested positive for drugs, arriving to work high on hashish if they came at all. Supervisors were believed to be skimming money off their officers’ measly salaries. One force had men from two tribes who could barely stand each other.
And then there’s the language barrier between Marines and the Afghan police.
But like most police work, getting past issues of trust and cultural difference begins with a brief encounter on a street.
As Clair and Abbott cruised past a row of dilapidated homes, the police sergeant told him to notice how a person’s walk and dress changes from street to street, and whether children are playing or hurrying by.
Crime here increases with summer’s heat, he said, encouraging Abbott to identify the violence-trigger in Afghanistan, such as at the end of the poppy harvest.
“What’s happenin,’ man?” Clair said, waving his hand out his window to a man who looked away in disgust.
“If they are on the fence about police and they say ‘hi’ back, then at least we’ve dealt with that issue, and if they don’t, then at least I know who I’m dealing with around here,” he told Abbott.
Abbott, following Clair’s example, waved to a woman in the street. She waved back.