Tuesday, September 12, 2023

What is a War Crime?

War crimes are among the most egregious violations of international law, representing actions that shock the conscience of humanity. These acts are committed during armed conflicts, and they not only harm individuals directly involved but also undermine the principles of humanity and morality that are intended to govern warfare. Understanding what constitutes a war crime is crucial for maintaining order, justice, and accountability in times of armed conflict. This essay will explore the definition, types, and consequences of war crimes, shedding light on the gravity of these acts in the context of international law.

Definition of War Crimes

War crimes are violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) that occur during armed conflicts. IHL, often referred to as the laws of war or the laws of armed conflict, is a branch of international law that aims to protect individuals who are not or are no longer taking part in the hostilities and to restrict the means and methods of warfare. In essence, war crimes are acts that defy these established norms and principles. The definition of war crimes can vary slightly depending on the specific legal framework, but they generally encompass the following categories:

  1. Grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions: The four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977 are central instruments of IHL. These treaties outline the rights of wounded, sick, and shipwrecked soldiers, prisoners of war, and civilians in armed conflicts. Grave breaches of these conventions include acts like willful killing, torture, and inhuman treatment.

  2. Violations of customary international law: Customary international law consists of practices and rules that have evolved over time and are widely accepted as binding on all states, whether or not they are party to specific treaties. Customary international law prohibits actions such as targeting civilians or civilian objects intentionally or launching attacks that cause excessive harm to civilians and civilian property.

Types of War Crimes

War crimes can manifest in various forms, often reflecting the brutality and inhumanity of armed conflicts. Some common types of war crimes include:

  1. Violence Against Civilians: Deliberate attacks on civilians or civilian objects, including homes, schools, hospitals, and places of worship, are considered war crimes. These acts can result in death, injury, or displacement of innocent civilians.

  2. Use of Prohibited Weapons: Employing prohibited weapons, such as chemical or biological agents, landmines, or cluster munitions, can constitute war crimes due to their indiscriminate or excessively injurious nature.

  3. Torture and Inhuman Treatment: Torturing or subjecting individuals to inhuman or degrading treatment, whether they are combatants or civilians, is strictly prohibited under IHL.

  4. Attacks on Humanitarian Personnel and Facilities: Targeting humanitarian workers, medical personnel, or their facilities impedes the delivery of vital assistance and is considered a war crime.

  5. Forcible Transfer of Populations: Forcing civilians to leave their homes or communities, often as part of an ethnic cleansing campaign, is a war crime.

Consequences of War Crimes

The consequences of war crimes are profound and extend beyond individual suffering. Accountability for war crimes serves several important purposes:

  1. Justice and Reconciliation: Prosecuting those responsible for war crimes can contribute to justice and reconciliation in post-conflict societies. Holding perpetrators accountable helps victims and societies heal.

  2. Deterrence: The threat of prosecution can deter combatants from committing war crimes, potentially reducing their occurrence.

  3. Preservation of Humanitarian Norms: Enforcing the prohibition of war crimes helps maintain the integrity of IHL and reinforces the principles of humanity, distinction, proportionality, and necessity during armed conflicts.

  4. International Peace and Security: War crimes can exacerbate conflicts and undermine efforts to achieve peace and security. Addressing war crimes is thus essential for international stability.


War crimes are heinous acts that violate the fundamental principles of humanity and morality in the context of armed conflicts. Understanding what constitutes a war crime is vital for upholding international law, ensuring accountability, and working toward a more just and peaceful world. Efforts to prevent and address war crimes are central to the broader goal of minimizing human suffering during times of war and conflict, and they underscore the importance of the international community's commitment to justice and humanitarian values.

Thursday, September 07, 2023

FBI Denver Unveils 2023-24 Internet Challenge for Student Internet Safety

As a new school year commences, the FBI Denver Division is excited to announce the launch of the 2023-24 Internet Challenge, accessible at sos.fbi.gov.

In an era where students spend an increasing amount of time online, whether for educational purposes, social networking, or leisure, the need for comprehensive internet safety is more critical than ever. Rapid advancements in technology necessitate that educators, parents, adults, and children themselves equip themselves with the knowledge and tools to navigate the online world securely.

The FBI offers a free and engaging solution to this challenge through the Safe Online Surfing (SOS) program, designed to cater to third to eighth-grade students. This program incorporates age-specific materials and a series of grade-appropriate online games. It's an innovative approach to not only educate but also entertain children while instilling vital online lessons.

The SOS Internet Challenge is centered on teaching cyber safety, fostering responsible digital citizenship, and making learning enjoyable. The curriculum encompasses topics like cyberbullying, password security, malware awareness, responsible social media usage, and more. During the course, students accompany a robot avatar through six thematic areas, answering true/false, multiple-choice, and matching questions. Upon completing all levels, students can undertake a final exam to test their knowledge.

In the most recent program update, students benefit from a more contemporary and mobile-responsive gaming experience, better addressing and reflecting the latest online threats children might encounter. It's important to note that SOS activities and resources are accessible to all, including parents, after-school providers, and youth coaches, enabling them to contribute to children's online safety education.

The SOS Challenge is widely adopted by schools across the United States. During the 2022-23 school year, an impressive 19,735 schools participated, with over 1.6 million students nationwide successfully completing the program.

To partake in the testing and national competition, teachers can register eligible classes from public, private, or homeschool settings with a minimum of five students in the United States. An efficient online system empowers teachers to manage their classes, automatically grade exams, and provide test scores. Each month throughout the school year, classes with top exam scores nationwide will be awarded an FBI SOS certificate and recognized by local FBI personnel.

It's important to emphasize that teachers oversee their students' participation, and the FBI neither collects nor stores any student information. Furthermore, the SOS program's curriculum aligns with state and federal internet safety mandates, ensuring it meets educational standards.

This program is instrumental in helping children:

  • Understand the fundamentals of good online etiquette.
  • Navigate and effectively counteract cyberbullying.
  • Recognize the significance of strong passwords and double authentication.
  • Download apps and games safely on their mobile devices.
  • Exercise caution and discretion when accepting friend requests.
  • Comprehend the risks associated with plagiarism and privacy violations.
  • Learn to limit the personal information they share online.

For media inquiries or interview requests regarding the FBI's Safe Online Surfing Internet Challenge in Colorado or Wyoming, please reach out to FBIDN_PublicAffairs@fbi.gov.

Tuesday, September 05, 2023

Analysis of Mental Health Diversion Programs in Criminal Justice

Mental health diversion programs have emerged as a critical component of criminal justice reform efforts. These programs aim to address the intersection of mental illness and the criminal justice system, offering alternatives to traditional incarceration for individuals with mental health issues. By focusing on treatment and rehabilitation rather than punishment, these programs aim to improve outcomes for both individuals with mental health needs and the criminal justice system as a whole. Here, we delve into the significance and effectiveness of mental health diversion programs, highlighting four specific programs as examples.

Significance and Goals: Mental health diversion programs recognize that individuals with mental illnesses often end up in the criminal justice system due to factors beyond their control. Traditional incarceration can exacerbate their conditions, lead to a cycle of reoffending, and strain the resources of both the justice system and mental health services. Diversion programs seek to provide appropriate treatment, support, and supervision while addressing the root causes of criminal behavior.

Effectiveness and Outcomes: Research indicates that mental health diversion programs can have positive outcomes. They often lead to reduced recidivism rates, as individuals receive treatment that addresses the underlying causes of their criminal behavior. Moreover, these programs can alleviate the burden on jails and prisons, saving costs and resources while allowing law enforcement to focus on more serious crimes.

Four Specific Mental Health Diversion Programs:

  1. Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT): CIT programs train law enforcement officers to recognize and respond to individuals experiencing mental health crises. Officers learn de-escalation techniques and connect individuals to appropriate mental health services rather than arresting them. The Memphis Crisis Intervention Team model is a widely recognized example that has been adopted by numerous jurisdictions.

  2. Mental Health Courts: Mental health courts provide an alternative legal process for individuals with mental illnesses. Participants undergo treatment plans, counseling, and regular court appearances. Successful completion of the program can result in reduced charges or sentences. The Brooklyn Mental Health Court in New York City and the Miami-Dade Criminal Mental Health Project are notable examples.

  3. Pre-Booking Diversion Programs: These programs divert individuals with mental illnesses away from the criminal justice system before they are booked into jails. Law enforcement may connect them with crisis intervention specialists or transport them to mental health facilities for assessment and treatment. The Houston Police Department's Crisis Call Diversion Program is an illustration of this approach.

  4. Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT): AOT programs are court-ordered mandates for individuals with severe mental illnesses to comply with treatment plans as a condition of living in the community. These programs are designed to prevent relapses and hospitalizations and ensure ongoing care. New York's Kendra's Law is a well-known example of an AOT program.

Conclusion: Mental health diversion programs offer a promising avenue for transforming the criminal justice system's response to individuals with mental illnesses. By addressing the underlying causes of criminal behavior and offering treatment instead of punishment, these programs can contribute to more positive outcomes for both individuals and society. However, successful implementation requires collaboration between law enforcement, mental health services, and community organizations to ensure comprehensive and effective support.

Multi-Agency Investigation Continues in Search for Missing Sumter Mom and Son

BEAUFORT, SC—Law enforcement personnel from the Sumter Police Department, Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, State Law Enforcement Division (SLED), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are conducting various law enforcement activities throughout Beaufort County today in search of a missing Sumter woman and her young son.

Sophia Van Dam, 20, and her son Matteo, 2, went missing in June. Since then, law enforcement has pursued numerous investigative approaches to locate them. As part of the continued efforts, law enforcement members will be active in multiple locations throughout the day. Because this case remains an active investigation, no other details are being provided at this time.

Anyone with information about their disappearance is asked to contact Crime Stoppers anonymously by phone at 1-888-CRIME-SC, online at P3tips.com or by using the P3tips app for Apple or Android.

Tipsters may also submit online tips to SLED at tips@sled.sc.gov. Media Contacts:

Kevin Wheeler
Public Affairs Specialist
FBI Columbia Field Office
(803) 551-4200

Renée Wunderlich
Director of Public Information
(803) 260-3020

Tonyia McGirt
Public Information Officer
Sumter Police Department
(803) 436-2737

Major Angela Viens
Public Information Officer
Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office
(843) 683-5213

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Former Deputy Indicted for Threatening Arson and Violence Against Law Enforcement Officers and Courthouse

BOSTON – A former Middlesex County Sheriff’s deputy, Joshua P. Ford, 42, of Kingston, Mass., has been indicted on charges of interstate transmission of threatening communication, accused of plotting to burn down the Plymouth County Courthouse and inflict harm on law enforcement officers. The indictment was handed down by a federal grand jury in Boston and was announced by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts.

Ford, who served as a deputy with the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office from approximately 2009 to 2017, allegedly sent a series of threatening emails on March 13, 2023, to nearly 140 recipients, mainly comprised of Massachusetts law enforcement officers. Each email contained similar language, stating, "there is no more justice system anymore just WAR" and urging law enforcement officers to prepare for a confrontation. Ford's emails included a call for officers to equip themselves with firearms and armored vehicles, specifically naming Middlesex County sheriff’s officers and exhorting them to "suit up for a fight."

The crux of Ford's alleged plan was to burn down the Plymouth County Courthouse. His emails contained a link to an 11-minute video titled "War Has Been Declared F***’em All," which Ford had posted on YouTube and the British video hosting service BitChute. In the video, Ford, seen in a kitchen setting, directly addresses the camera, asserting that the justice system is corrupt. The video reportedly features Ford making a range of statements about police officers, correctional officers, court officers, a judge, a prosecutor, defense attorneys, and others.

Ford allegedly singled out Middlesex Sheriff’s officers in the video, stating, "I’m f****** coming. I’m f****** coming, and hell’s f****** coming with me. I’m going to f****** get every last one of you mother*****s. I know where you work. And I am coming to get you." The video further revealed threats to "break the arms and legs of every court officer" and to "kill" court security officers stationed at the Plymouth County Courthouse. Ford urged fellow law enforcement officers to join him in a confrontation scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on March 14, 2023.

Local law enforcement intervened before the scheduled confrontation, arresting Ford on March 13, 2023, after the threatening emails were dispatched.

The charges against Ford each carry a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison, along with three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000. Sentencing decisions will be based on federal guidelines and statutes governing criminal cases.

Acting United States Attorney Joshua S. Levy and Jodi Cohen, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Division, jointly announced the indictment. The Kingston Police Department and the Marshfield Police Department played crucial roles in the investigation. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Beck of the National Security Unit.

It is important to note that the details outlined in the charging documents constitute allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Raising Awareness on National Fentanyl Prevention and Awareness Day

DEA's "One Pill Can Kill" Campaign: Focusing on Fentanyl Awareness and Prevention

In the ongoing battle against the opioid crisis, one synthetic opioid has emerged as a particularly lethal threat: fentanyl. With its potency far surpassing that of other opioids, fentanyl has become a major contributor to the alarming increase in opioid-related deaths. Recognizing the urgent need to address this issue, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) launched the "One Pill Can Kill" campaign. This campaign, which has gained significant traction, aims to raise awareness about the dangers of fentanyl and provide tools for prevention.

Understanding the Lethal Nature of Fentanyl

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid often illegally manufactured and trafficked, is responsible for countless overdose deaths across the country. Even a tiny amount of fentanyl can have a fatal impact. This extreme potency makes it a particularly dangerous addition to the opioid crisis, leading to what the DEA aptly terms the "one pill can kill" reality.

The Core Message of the Campaign

The "One Pill Can Kill" campaign is centered on the importance of awareness and education. It aims to reach a wide range of audiences, including individuals, families, healthcare professionals, and law enforcement agencies. The campaign delivers a clear and concise message: Even a single pill or dose of fentanyl can have deadly consequences. This straightforward slogan underscores the urgency of understanding the risks and taking proactive measures.

Campaign Activities and Initiatives

The DEA's campaign employs a variety of strategies to drive its message home:

  1. Educational Materials: The campaign provides accessible educational materials, factsheets, and resources that explain fentanyl's potency and risks.

  2. Social Media Engagement: Utilizing social media platforms, the DEA shares eye-catching graphics, videos, and testimonials to reach a broader audience.

  3. Community Outreach: Local events, workshops, and seminars are organized to engage communities in discussions about fentanyl's dangers.

  4. Partnerships: Collaborations with other organizations, medical professionals, schools, and community leaders ensure a comprehensive approach to awareness.

  5. First Responder Training: The campaign provides training to law enforcement officers and first responders on how to safely handle and respond to fentanyl-related incidents.

Taking Action: What You Can Do

The "One Pill Can Kill" campaign encourages individuals to:

  1. Educate Themselves: Learn about fentanyl's risks, including how it can be disguised in counterfeit prescription pills or mixed with other substances.

  2. Spread Awareness: Share campaign materials, graphics, and information on social media to reach a wider audience.

  3. Support Loved Ones: Engage in open conversations with family members and friends about the risks of fentanyl.

  4. Proper Medication Disposal: Safely dispose of unused medications to prevent their misuse.

  5. Seek Help: If struggling with opioid addiction, seek assistance from healthcare professionals and support networks.

Final Thoughts

The "One Pill Can Kill" campaign by the DEA serves as a crucial reminder of the deadly impact of fentanyl. By spreading awareness and fostering a better understanding of its dangers, we can collectively work towards preventing further loss of life. Through education, engagement, and community action, we have the power to combat the opioid crisis and save lives.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Safeguarding Art Treasures: The Role of Art Databases in Combatting Art Theft in Boston, Massachusetts

Boston, Massachusetts, a city renowned for its rich cultural heritage, has sadly not been immune to the world of art theft. Over the years, the city's esteemed art galleries, museums, and cultural institutions have fallen prey to audacious criminals, leading to the disappearance of priceless masterpieces. This article delves into the history of art theft in Boston, with a particular focus on the pivotal role that art databases play in efforts to combat this illicit activity.

A Historical Overview of Art Theft in Boston: 

Art theft is an issue that Boston has grappled with for decades. In the early 20th century, the city experienced a notorious art heist when two Vermeer paintings were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. Regarded as one of the largest art thefts in history, this audacious robbery involved thieves disguised as police officers who made off with invaluable artworks, including pieces by Rembrandt and Degas. Despite ongoing investigations, the stolen works, estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, remain missing.

Highlighted Cases of Art Theft: 

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft is just one of the many art heists that have plagued Boston. In 2010, a stolen painting by Winslow Homer was discovered in a subway station restroom, underscoring the surprising places where stolen art can end up and the lengths to which criminals will go to conceal their loot.

In 2017, a collection of rare maps and prints were pilfered from the Boston Public Library. This incident emphasized the vulnerability of even public institutions to art criminals who exploit weaknesses in security systems.

The Crucial Role of Art Databases:

Amid the challenges posed by art theft, art databases have emerged as invaluable tools in the fight against this illicit trade. These databases serve as centralized repositories of information about stolen art, enabling institutions, collectors, and law enforcement agencies to track and identify artworks that have been reported missing.

One such prominent database is the Art Loss Register, a comprehensive international database that plays a pivotal role in combating art theft. This database contains information about stolen art, enabling art dealers, auction houses, and law enforcement to verify the authenticity of artworks before transactions occur. By providing a platform for individuals and institutions to report stolen art, the Art Loss Register acts as a powerful deterrent to potential buyers of stolen goods.

In addition to the Art Loss Register, other databases like the National Stolen Art File (NSAF) maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and INTERPOL's Works of Art database facilitate international cooperation in recovering stolen art. These databases assist law enforcement agencies in identifying and recovering stolen art across borders, leading to the successful return of numerous stolen works.

The Impact on the Art World: 

The ramifications of art theft are extensive. Beyond the financial implications for collectors and institutions, the loss of cultural heritage is deeply felt. Stolen artwork is often withdrawn from public view, depriving communities of the opportunity to engage with and appreciate their artistic legacy.

While Boston continues to shine as a hub of artistic brilliance, its history of art theft serves as a poignant reminder of the ongoing challenges that threaten its cultural heritage. The rise of art databases, such as the Art Loss Register, the NSAF, and INTERPOL's Works of Art database, offers a glimmer of hope in the battle against art theft. These databases unite collectors, institutions, and law enforcement agencies in the common goal of preserving art treasures and ensuring they remain accessible for generations to come.

Wednesday, August 09, 2023

Former Erie County Deputy Sheriff Sentenced for Using Excessive Force

– Adam Bess, 35, was sentenced today to 12 months in prison by U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary after earlier pleading guilty to a felony for depriving an inmate at the Erie County Jail of her constitutional rights by using excessive force. Six months of this sentence will be served as home detention. Judge Zouhary also ordered Bess to pay a $100 special assessment and be placed on supervised release for one year upon release from imprisonment.

According to court documents, on November 1, 2021, Bess was working as a sergeant at the Erie County Jail. During the booking process of a new arrestee, Bess placed his hand around the inmate’s throat in anger in a “choke hold” and caused the inmate to have difficulty breathing. Bess’ actions were without justification and in violation of both the Erie County Sheriff’s Office use of force policy as well as federal law. After being released from jail, the inmate had visible bruising on her neck, immediately reported the matter to the command staff at Erie County Sheriff’s Office, and went to the hospital for evaluation of her injuries. The Erie County Sheriff’s Office promptly reported the matter to the FBI and placed Bess on administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation. Bess subsequently resigned.

As a result of Bess’ federal felony conviction, he can no longer work in law enforcement.

This case was investigated by the FBI Cleveland Division, Sandusky Resident Agency, and the Erie County Sheriff’s Office. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Michael Freeman and Tracey Tangeman.