Extra Extra : May 2006

Tracking of excessive force inconsistent in Texas

Nancy Martinez and Sarah Viren of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reviewed a database from the state Attorney General of in-custody deaths and found a lack of records of excessive force complaints and inconsistencies in the records that did exist. "No reports are sent outside the department unless someone dies, no agency collects comparable data on excessive force complaints, and a statewide database of deaths that occurred in law enforcement custody contains data-entry glitches and missing information." In one of the in-custody deaths, the investigation found that city officials said the video of the in-custody death proved officers followed policy, but ... Read more ...

Motorcycle fatalities on rise; helmet laws repealed

Thomas Hargrove of Scripps Howard News Service studied records provided by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and found "deaths in U.S. motorcycle crashes have nearly doubled in a decade, mounting to 4,000 annually, as more states have repealed mandatory helmet safety laws." The analysis of 2004 federal accident data showed that "the per capita rate of motorcycle fatalities in 2004 was 41 percent greater in states that do not require helmets for adult motorcyclists." The story notes that motorcyclists have "formed powerful state and national lobbies, persuaded Congress to muzzle federal highway safety experts and convinced lawmakers ... Read more ...

Hundreds of Texas racehorses fatally injured

John Tedesco of the San Antonio Express-News examined the Texas Racing Commission's database of horse injuries, which never had been analyzed by outsiders, and found that "at the state's five licensed tracks, Marsh and other veterinarians with the Texas Racing Commission have euthanized or documented the deaths of 300 horses in the past five years, usually after the animals broke ankles, legs or even spinal cords during races." Although thousands of horses compete safely in Texas, the investigation reveals an ugly side to a industry struggling to fill empty seats.

Airport screeners' ID and uniforms go missing

Brian Collister, Stephen Kline and Mandi Johnston of WOAI-San Antonio analyzed records, obtained through FOIA, from the Transportation Security Administration and found that "more than 1,400 TSA employee ID badges and uniform items have been reported lost or stolen since 2003. " Noting that terrorists have used stolen badges and uniforms to pull off attacks overseas, the Department of Homeland Security issued several warnings to local, state and federal agencies to guard uniforms and badges in the past few years. But the investigation showed that the airport screeners, intended to keep you safe from terrorists, are actually making it easier ... Read more ...

School districts don't know who drives the buses

Karen Eschbacher of The (Quincy, Mass.) Patriot Ledger found that most school districts on the South Shore hire private contractors to provide bus service for students. "Several South Shore communities fail to run background checks on school bus drivers, and others can't even produce the names of people allowed behind the wheel." "While state laws are supposed to ensure bus drivers can be trusted around kids, the arrest this week of a convicted sex offender whose job was to drive special needs students has sparked concern among parents and raised questions about whether enough is being done to keep ... Read more ...

Income not checked for emergency food stamps

Kathleen Chapman of The Palm Beach Post investigated the emergency food-stamp program in Florida after Hurricane Wilma and found that nearly 700,000 Floridians, many of whom were not really too poor to buy food, got in line for the stamps. "Florida didn't require proof of income to get the payments, and the state hasn't completed any large-scale audits since the money went out." The investigation also found that applicants who did report too much income to qualify were turned away.

Sleepy truckers cause crashes, don't get ticketed

Nancy Amons of WSMV-Nashville analyzed truck accident reports statewide over the past five years and found that "64 crashes where a trucker who was listed as 'apparently asleep' injured or killed someone. In 70 percent of those cases, the trucker never got a ticket." Analysis of another database of Department of Safety inspection reports found that in three years, more than 1900 truck drivers were cited for driving over the allowable number of hours. A recent federal study found that when a trucker causes a crash, 13 percent of the time it is because he is fatigued.

Troops kept on duty while mentally unfit

Lisa Chedekel and Matthew Kauffman of The Hartford Courant used military investigative records to show that unsuitable practices handling troops mental health "have helped to fuel an increase in the suicide rate among troops serving in Iraq, which reached an all-time high in 2005 when 22 soldiers killed themselves — accounting for nearly one in five of all Army non-combat deaths." The investigation found that "at least 11 service members who committed suicide in Iraq in 2004 and 2005 were kept on duty despite exhibiting signs of significant psychological distress" and "the military is sending troops back into combat for second ... Read more ...

Prisoners paroled early despite lifetime sentences

Robert Patrick of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch used court records and Department of Corrections data to show that prisoners who were sentenced to prison terms of double their lifetimes or more have been quietly released after doing only a fraction of their time in Missouri and Illinois. "In all, at least 189 murderers and 40 people convicted of sexual assault, rape or sodomy in Missouri are among roughly 400 of the state's inmates originally sentenced to at least 25 years in prison and paroled in the past 10 years, according to the Department of Corrections." They are prisoners who ... Read more ...

High-interest payday loans increase in N.H.

Karen Spiller of The (Nashua, N.H.) Telegraph found that payday loans with high interest rates — as high as 500 percent or more — are increasing in New Hampshire, the only state in New England not to regulate them. "Last year alone, more than 100,000 payday loans were written in the state for an average loan of about $360, according to the New Hampshire Banking Department. " The number of loans rose 28 percent from 2004 to 2005, according to data The Telegraph requested from the state banking commissioner.