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"What's going on in Pittsburgh is a crisis in confidence," said Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess during acting Public Safety Director Stephen Bucar's confirmation hearing this week.

"I absolutely agree with you that there's a confidence problem in some parts of the city," responded Bucar. "In attending these police chief meetings, I can see some of the anger and frustration in some areas of the city."

Bucar acknowledged low morale at the police bureau, but he was quick to mention that the department is a “very professional organization.”

Bucar should be applauded for acknowledging the problem, but the mere fact that he brought it up points to the work needed to rectify the problem. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, when he was General Eisenhower was constantly concerned with troop morale. He once said, "The best morale exists when you never hear the word mentioned. When you hear a lot of talk about it, it's usually lousy."

What Eisenhower meant was you cannot just talk about improving morale you’ve got to do something about it.

Bucar went on to say, the department has a “small number of bad seeds” and they get all the publicity. “It taints and paints with a broad brush,” he said, adding that public perception of officers affects their work.

Although research on police morale has evolved significantly over the years, almost all of the early research in this field focused on operational stress that officers face. The source of low morale was based on the premise that law enforcement professionals are placed in continuously difficult situations and are required to deal with these situations in the course of their duties.

What has evolved recently is the theory of organizational stress. A study of more than 2,500 officers indicated that “the findings reveal the majority of the 10 greatest sources of anger and frustration among officers have a crucial common denominator, their administrators.”

Low morale, whether operation or organizational, has consequences. A morale problem can increase turnover, absenteeism and low productivity — all of which make neighborhoods more vulnerable. Low morale can also spur civil liability which depletes resources and drives up taxpayer costs. Finally, and most tragic, low morale drives up officer suicide.

Bucar says the way forward is to build leadership that instills respect in the rank and file, and hire a new chief who not only can inspire officers but successfully reach out to communities that have seen a deteriorating relationship with the department.

“It can’t be somebody who hasn’t earned that respect by being in law enforcement for a number of years,” he said. “I have to build that trust and I have to be confident that my police chief shares that interest in drilling down in those communities that don’t trust the police.”

(Image: Stephen A. Bucar, the city of Pittsburgh's new acting public safety director, at a news briefing with Mayor Bill Peduto. Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette)


Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at www.mattmangino.com and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino. His new book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010: The Crimes, Arrests, Trials, Appeals, Last Meals, Final Words and Executions of 46 Persons in the United States is now available from McFarland & Company publishers.

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Matt Mangino, who authors The Cautionary Instruction here each Friday, will be a guest at 10 tonight on Al Jazeera America talking about the death penalty in the United States and his new book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010: The Crimes, Arrests, Trials, Appeals, Last Meals, Final Words and Executions of 46 Persons in the United States, published by McFarland & Company.

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A Federal Judge struck down California's death penalty. US District Judge Cormac Carney found that lengthy delays in carrying out the death penalty amounted to a violation of the Eight Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Judge Carney wrote:

Inordinate and unpredictable delay has resulted in a death penalty system in which very few of the hundreds of individuals sentenced to death have been, or even will be, executed by the State. It has resulted in a system in which arbitrary factors, rather than legitimate ones like the nature of the crime or the date of the death sentence, determine whether an individual will actually be executed.

My book The Executioner's Toll, 2010, released in April made those very arguments:

Let's say that death penalty verdicts continue at 2010's pace of 112 per year for the next ten years. There would be approximately 4,500 men and women on death row. Let's say that all 32 states with the death penalty executed one offender a month for the next ten years; these occurrences are not completely realistic since only eight states have more than 120 offenders on death row. After ten years at that frantic, and frankly impossible, pace, there would be 4,300 executions, still leaving about 200 people on death row. Carrying out an execution today is as freakishly arbitrary as imposing the death penalty was in 1972. If you are one of 697 inmates on California’s death row, a state that has not carried out an execution in five years, and suddenly you are scheduled for execution — that is a lot like being struck by lightning.

The death penalty has been a permissible form of punishment for certain crimes in the United States throughout the nation's history, with the first recorded case occurring in 1608, according to Jurist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

The Supreme Court has held on numerous occasions that state proscription of the death penalty is not a violation of the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The court has also held, however, that the Eighth Amendment does impose limitations on when and how states may use the death penalty.

The most recent Gallup Poll on the death penalty has support at about 60 percent, down from a high in 1994 of 80 percent. That’s not to say that 60 percent is not a significant number or that 32 of 50 states with the death penalty is not a substantial majority. But, unequivocally the death penalty is trending downward.

(Image: The death chamber of the lethal injection facility at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, Calif., shown here in a 2010 file photo. Eric Risberg/Associated Press)


Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at www.mattmangino.com and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino. His new book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010: The Crimes, Arrests, Trials, Appeals, Last Meals, Final Words and Executions of 46 Persons in the United States is now available from McFarland & Company publishers.

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As part of a flurry of last-minute activity, state lawmakers have sent Governor Tom Corbett a bill that would outlaw so-called "revenge porn" in Pennsylvania.

On revenge porn sites, users upload X-rated photos of ex-lovers. I’m going to refer to the victims as women — occasionally men are victimized — but the victims are predominately women. The X-rated material is posted without the woman's permission. A woman sends a personal, intimate photograph to her boyfriend and when the relationship ends; her image is all over the internet, often with a name, location and links to her social media accounts.

Basically, revenge porn works like this:

1. Person A and Person B get married, date or hook up. They exchange or make intimate photographs and/or videos.

2. Person A and Person B stop getting along, and Person A gets angry.

3. Person A disseminates Person B’s private photographs or videos without consent — either to humiliate person B, or for profit, or both.

State Senator Judy Schwank a Democrat from Berks County, proposed the Senate’s version of the bill, saying that when it becomes law upon receiving Governor Corbett’s signature as expected, "persons who publicly post sexual images of their partners in order to annoy them or harm them will commit a crime that will have significant consequences."

She's not kidding: Violations of Pennsylvania's revenge-porn law will carry up to two years in state prison — or five years if the victim is a minor, which means that teenagers will need to be real clear about this law when they go through the emotional turmoil of their first break-up — and, like many crimes, will also come with the potential for financial damages in civil court.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, laws have been enacted in 10 states including Arizona, Idaho, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. At least 27 other state legislatures are considering some measure to outlaw similar conduct. In New Jersey, legislation was passed in the wake of the tragic suicide of 18-year-old Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi who was videotaped without his consent during a sexual encounter with another male.

California was ahead of the curve, passing a law in the fall of 2013 to prohibit the distribution of "intimate" images taken "with the intent to cause serious emotional distress." But some argue the law — which protects any images that were taken with the subject's consent if the distributor of the image is also the photographer — doesn’t go far enough.

(Image: matto353/iStock)


Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at www.mattmangino.com and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino. His new book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010: The Crimes, Arrests, Trials, Appeals, Last Meals, Final Words and Executions of 46 Persons in the United States is now available from McFarland & Company publishers.

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Olympic star and double-amputee Oscar Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend in 2013. Pistorius is on trial in South Africa for her murder. He acknowledges that he shot Reeva Steenkamp when he mistook her for an intruder.

In May, Pistorius was ordered by a judge to undergo psychiatric tests at the request of the chief prosecutor, Gerrie Nel. The prosecutor said he had no option but to ask for it after an expert witness for the defense testified that Pistorius had an anxiety disorder since childhood that may have influenced his judgment when he fatally shot Steenkamp.

Under South African law Pistorius could be acquitted if it’s found that he was not criminally responsible for Steenkamp’s shooting because of a mental illness.

Under South African law a defendant may lack the capacity to knowingly commit a crime because of mental illness. This was previously referred to as an “insanity” defense — South African law now refers to it as pathological incapacity.

By law the defense of pathological incapacity provides:

“A person who commits an act or makes an omission which constitutes an offence and who at the time of such commission or omission suffers from a mental illness or mental defect which makes him or her incapable —

(a) of appreciating the wrongfulness of his or her act or omission; or
(b) of acting in accordance with an appreciation of the wrongfulness of his or her act or omission, shall not be criminally responsible for such act or omission.”

In the United States a majority of states, including Pennsylvania, apply the M’Naughten Rule when evaluating insanity.

Under the law, a person is legally insane only if, at the time of the act, he was laboring "under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing or, if the actor did know the quality of the act, that he did not know that what he was doing was wrong.''

The rule sets a very high standard. The insanity defense is sought in few cases and proving it is extremely rare.

"You can be severely mentally ill but not qualify as legally insane,'' said Thomas P. Rogers, a lawyer from eastern Pennsylvania.

The hurdle is such, said Rogers, that a defendant has to "believe he's shooting Martians, not his wife, because voices are telling him they're Martians, and that he's supposed to shoot them.''

After a month long break in the trial, a panel of mental health experts concluded that Pistorius was not suffering from a mental illness when he killed his girlfriend. The experts reported to the court that Pistorius was "capable of appreciating the wrongfulness of his act" when he killed Steenkamp.

(Image: Oscar Pistorius in court in Pretoria on Wednesday. Gianluigi Guercia via Associated Press)


Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at www.mattmangino.com and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino. His new book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010: The Crimes, Arrests, Trials, Appeals, Last Meals, Final Words and Executions of 46 Persons in the United States is now available from McFarland & Company publishers.

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