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Mississippi editorial roundup

October 11, 2017

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

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Oct. 4

The Neshoba Democrat on the need for prison reform:

Some criminals need to be in expensive prison cells forever, maybe like a few of the 23 who were locked up the other weekend in the massive crime sweep Philadelphia Police executed with the assistance of state, federal and other local authorities. But which ones?

First of all, the sweep is a very good start, and Police Chief Grant Myers deserves credit for his courage because putting 23 people in jail — even rightly accused — isn’t always popular, yet that level of enforcement has practically been demanded by west Philadelphia residents, especially, who’ve had enough of grandmothers being murdered in the street in broad daylight.

Philadelphia and Neshoba County have recently looked like a Little Chicago and most of it, if not all, revolves around drugs.

In Chicago, the politicians and police captains are paid off and that’s why crime thrives so on the South Side but is virtually non-existent up magnificent Michigan Avenue toward the quaint, friendly confines of Wrigley Field and its signature ivy.

There have been seasons here when we have wondered when things kind of got swept under the rug, so having an honest police chief and an honest mayor to back him up is an essential element of policing.

But there’s more to just locking people up and we want to reinforce the importance of our drug court and more recently the mental health court.

In 2007, the Texas Legislature projected they’d need 17,000 new prison beds over the next five years at a cost of $2 billion.

Conservatives like then-Gov. Rick Perry expanded the use of drug courts, community treatment and other alternatives.

A decade later, Texas has closed four prisons, saved more than $3 billion and is planning to close four more.

Other states have followed suit.

Take note, Jackson.

The drug courts are not mandatory and run on shoestring budgets. The mental health courts were created by the Legislature but unfunded, which is just plain dumb.

Neshoba County can lead on this issue and it would be a good way for our delegation to put forth some meaningful legislation that will not only improve the quality of life here but statewide.

Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the nation and in June enacted prison reform legislation that is expected to reduce the rate by 10 percent saving $250 million.

High recidivism rates (the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend) are tied mainly to offenders who leave prison with unresolved drug and mental-health issues and no job prospects.

So, while we applaud the police, let’s look to the reforms that will actually improve the quality of life, not just for our community, but the individual offenders.

Online: http://neshobademocrat.com/

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Oct. 8

The Clarion-Ledger on privatizing air traffic control:

The debate over privatizing the nation’s air traffic control authority has a long, bipartisan history full of strange political alliances.

Bill Clinton was the first president to get solidly behind a bill. He did so early in his first term, and it was short-lived after opponents quickly beat back the effort. George W. Bush also took up the mantle of air traffic control privatization, but any such effort died in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

One of the leading proponents today is James Burnley, a former secretary of transportation under Ronald Reagan who visited The Clarion-Ledger editorial board last month to discuss the issue. Burnley has been lobbying for a bill introduced by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pennsylvania. The bill, which uses Canada’s successful privatized system as a model, is a good one that we hope our congressmen will support.

President Donald Trump in June held a ceremony at the White House to push support for the bill. Burnley and fellow former Transportation Secretaries Elizabeth Dole and Mary Peters — both of whom served under W. Bush — joined current Secretary Elaine Chao to offer their support.

Every major airline has also endorsed the bill, though Delta only recently did so. It originally opposed privatization but changed its position this summer.

One would think that with such a diverse group of Republican and corporate support it would be impossible to find Democratic-leaning support for such an idea; however, that’s not the case. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union representing air traffic control workers, supports privatization in general and Shuster’s bill specifically.

Given the Republican majority in Congress, the bill championed by a committee chairman and the widespread support among corporate and labor entities, it stands to reason that the measure is a sure-thing. But history has taught us that nothing about this issue is a sure thing.

The margin for victory in the House is thin, and the Senate offers an even tougher challenge. The reason is that private jet owners and operators oppose the bill. This group includes companies that serve businesses with influential stakeholders who fear the change could cost them more, despite changes to the bill to ensure otherwise.

Privatizing air traffic control is not a sexy issue, nor is it a straightforward one. There are legitimate concerns to go along with the legitimate reasons for such a change. Here’s how it would work, in general terms.

Air traffic control would be overseen by a nonprofit corporation governed by a 13-member board, including a chief executive officer, two members appointed by the secretary of transportation, one for passenger airlines, one for cargo airlines, one for regional airlines, one for general-aviation, one for business jets, one for controllers, one for airports, one for commercial pilots and two at-large seats chosen by the rest of the board.

The funding structure would also change. Fuel taxes pay for the majority of air traffic control services under the current system. Airlines pass these taxes and fees along to their customers. Under the new system, general and business aviation will continue to pay the same taxes, while airlines will set fees for passengers to fund the system.

One of the main concerns over the system — a concern that kept Delta from supporting the Shuster bill for two years — is that the board would have no limitations on how it sets fees or how high it raises them. Burnley readily admits this is the case, but he also points out that setting passenger fees too high ultimately would hurt airlines because passengers would stop flying as often.

Rural lawmakers also worry that a nonprofit corporation controlled by airlines would pay most of its attention to larger markets at the expense of smaller, regional airports where the number of flights is limited.

Another concern is that the U.S. airline industry is the largest in the world, which could make such a radical change too complicated to be successful. The Canadian airline industry, which began utilizing the privatized model CanadaNav in 1996, is the third-largest behind the U.S. and China; however, it is only a tenth the size of ours. Opponents say it is impossible to ensure such a model could scale as efficiently.

Burnley argues that scale is not the issue. Moving management of the existing American air traffic control system from a government-run entity to a nonprofit corporation will take time and require planning, but he says size isn’t the issue. What is the issue is the efficiency in which a private board can improve air traffic control technologies and systems versus the government.

While the U.S. airline industry is the largest in the world — more than seven times larger than Canada’s — it lags far behind the rest of the industrialized world in technology. Where Canada and European airlines utilize advance digital systems that can talk to one another and hand off flights, the U.S. system still uses printed paper strips to track planes across the country. For international flights, U.S. air traffic controllers have to pick up a telephone and call their counterparts in another country to hand off the plane as it moves from one country’s airspace to another.

The inefficiencies of such a system also require more physical airspace and time buffers to ensure the safety of planes in flight. With modernized systems, flight patterns are tighter, allowing airlines and private aviation companies to be more cost- and time-efficient.

Upgrading to these new systems has been a priority for the U.S. for decades, but government procurement is a slow process. However, a nonprofit corporation could move faster in procuring upgrades. Current efforts may have to pause until a full transfer between public to private governance was complete, but such a delay — if it was even required — would likely be nothing compared to the snail’s pace of advancement these upgrades have seen in the last decade.

The most important aspect of this is the safety of our aviation and airline industry. While air traffic control operations would move to a nonprofit corporation, the responsibility for rules and regulations would remain with the Federal Aviation Administration. That is a key aspect that cannot be overlooked, considering the U.S. system remains the safest in the world.

Shuster’s bill is not perfect. The compromise for the private aviation industry means passengers will shoulder slightly more of the burden than they probably should. Nevertheless, the idea behind it and the application of the change provided by the Shuster bill is good. We hope enough members of the House — including our four members from Mississippi — will support it.

Online: http://www.clarionledger.com/

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Oct. 10

The Commercial Dispatch on police body cameras:

It has been three years since the Columbus Police Department first began equipping its officers with body cameras. At the time, the cameras were widely praised as a tool that would hold both citizens and police officers accountable for their actions, removing much of the “he said, she said” nature of police/resident interactions.

In recent weeks, we have seen two examples of how the footage captured from those videos has been used to make the case for disciplinary action for two CPD officers. In September, footage from a late-August traffic stop showed an ugly, abusive encounter between CPD officer Keith Dowd and Joshua Hibbler, who was pulled over, but not cited, for speeding. Dowd’s abusive, potentially dangerous, conduct led to his resignation following public outcry after the body camera footage was released to the public. There is little doubt that without that footage, Dowd would likely have remained on the beat for the lack of conclusive evidence of his inappropriate conduct.

Later in September, body camera video showed CPD officer Toni Howard pointing a Taser at a Lowndes County Adult Detention Center inmate while he was being evaluated at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle. The inmate’s hands were cuffed behind his back and his feet were shackled. Howard’s action came after the inmate had harassed and verbally abused the officer. An edited version of that video has been released, but the city has yet to act on discipline for Howard.

Throughout the nation, body camera video has emerged to verify or dispute officer and citizen versions on encounters.

It is generally believed that the presence of those cameras is having an overall positive impact on police/citizen interactions.

The camera doesn’t lie, obviously.

But to assume that body camera footage tells the entire story of all confrontations can be faulty in some cases. That footage captures incidents from a narrow perspective — only where the camera is trained. In some cases, there may be factors not captured by the camera that tells the more complete story.

It is also worth noting that public perception of body camera footage is influenced by other non-related incidents.

In May 2016, University of Wyoming researchers released a study that illustrated this point.

Two studies were conducted with participants from across the United States watching, hearing and reading the transcript of an actual police shooting event. The data for Study 1 were collected prior to media coverage of a widely publicized police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. Results indicated that participants who could hear or see the event were significantly more likely to perceive the shooting was justified than they were when they read a transcript of the encounter. Shortly after the events in Ferguson, Missouri, the same study was replicated showing quite different results. Although dissatisfaction with the shooting was seen in all forms of presentation, video evidence produced the highest citizen perceptions of an unjustified shooting and audio evidence produced the least.

The effectiveness of any tool is influenced by how it is used.

Here, too, we have a local example to draw from. More than a year after the CPD began using body cameras, the officer-involved shooting death of Ricky Ball showed that a camera is only effective when used. Then-CPD officer Canyon Boykin failed to turn on his camera during an incident in which Boykin shot and killed Ball. Boykin awaits trial on a manslaughter charge.

While it is impossible to know what the body camera footage would have shown — either to support the manslaughter charge or refute it — there can be no doubt that that footage would have been of some use.

Since then, the city has stiffened its punishment for failure to employ body cameras.

Finally, there is the question of what video is released to the public. That varies across the country. What is true everywhere is that the police department is the gate-keeper for what video is released to the public.

It’s the “tree falling in a forest” effect.

Overall, we still believe that the use of body cameras promotes public safety, both for citizens and law enforcement alike.

But we also recognize that this still relatively new tool needs to be refined and improved.

Online: http://www.cdispatch.com/

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