Martin Kaste | KUER 90.1

Martin Kaste

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio today announced police will no longer require people to wear masks in public, unless the absence of a mask presents a "serious danger."

One of the few silver linings to this pandemic is that in most places, there's been less crime.

"Calls for service are certainly down," says Sgt. Adam Plantinga of the San Francisco Police Department. "No open bars means there's fewer late-night brawls, and people are home more, so burglars are having a tougher time of it."

Police departments across the country are facing a new reality in the era of coronavirus. As familiar categories of crime fade, officers are being asked to handle unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable new assignments.

Medical rationing is not something Americans are accustomed to, but COVID-19 may soon change that.

The specter of rationing is most imminent in New York City, where the virus is spreading rapidly and overwhelming hospitals with patients.

According to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state has 2,200 ventilators in its state stockpile. Current COVID-19 case projections suggest the state may not have enough of the machines, which help critically ill people breathe, as soon as next week.

Could it really be true that hospitalizations of patients with COVID-19-like symptoms actually dropped 20 percent last week in Washington, according to state numbers reported last night by the Seattle Times?

As COVID-19 spreads, public health officials are telling people to stay home if they feel sick. But in jails and prisons, that's not an option.

Robert Greifinger is a physician who spent 25 years working on health care issues inside the nation's prisons and jails, and he says the "social distancing" advice we're all hearing right now isn't so simple behind bars.

"There are crowding issues, ventilation issues, security issues where people have to be checked and monitored fairly frequently," Greifinger says. "So it's really hard to do."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The Trump administration has revived the debate over "end-to-end encryption" — systems so secure that the tech companies themselves aren't able to read the messages, even when police present them with a warrant.

"It is hard to overstate how perilous this is," U.S. Attorney General William Barr said in a speech last fall. "By enabling dangerous criminals to cloak their communications and activities behind an essentially impenetrable digital shield, the deployment of warrant-proof encryption is already imposing huge costs on society."

Cybercrime is booming, and victims are often at a loss about where to get help.

In theory, Americans should report the crimes to the FBI, via its Internet Crime Complaint Center. In practice, the feds get hundreds of thousands of complaints a year, and have to focus on the biggest cases.

But the other option, calling the police, can seem even less promising.

Over the last generation, gun rights have expanded in America, especially the right to carry firearms, both concealed and in the open. The big exception to this expanding gun culture has been New York City.

The secret to comedy, according to the old joke, is timing. The same is true of cybercrime.

Mark learned this the hard way in 2017. He runs a real estate company in Seattle and asked us not to include his last name because of the possible repercussions for his business.

"The idea that someone was effectively able to dupe you ... is embarrassing," he says. "We're still kind of scratching our head over how it happened."

Scammers are always looking for more effective words. Most Americans have learned to be on their guard, and they're likely to suspect an overly aggressive phishing phone call from a fake credit card customer service agent speaking accented English.

Gregg Bennett is an entrepreneur in Bellevue, Wash., and he knows a bit about tech. So when his smart phone started acting funny one day last April, he got a bad feeling.

"I was having trouble getting into my email account. And all of a sudden my phone went dead," he says. "I look at my phone and there's no signal. And I go, 'Oh no, something's happened here.'"

An annual survey that asks Americans about crimes they've experienced showed that the rate at which those surveyed said they had been raped or sexually assaulted nearly doubled from 2017 to 2018.

The 2018 National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), released Tuesday, is managed by the Bureau of Justice Statistics at the U.S. Justice Department, and asks people if they've been victims of crimes — even if they didn't report them to police.

Updated 9:30 a.m. ET

Law enforcement in Dallas on Monday shot and killed a masked gunman carrying a military-style rifle and 150 rounds of ammunition. Authorities later identified the man as 22-year-old Army veteran Brian Isaack Clyde of Fort Worth.

No one else was seriously hurt in the shootout, which took place outside the Earle Cabell Federal Building and Courthouse around 8:40 a.m. ET. However, some glass panes on the building were shattered.

The man who killed 12 people in a municipal building on Friday in Virginia Beach, Va., fired many rounds — "well into the double digits" — and when officers caught up with the suspect, it took a "long gun battle" to stop him, according to Police Chief James Cervera.

One reason may have been the suspect's gear.

Authorities recovered a .45-caliber handgun with multiple extended magazines that were emptied, Cervera said at a weekend news conference. "The suspect was reloading extended magazines in that handgun, firing at victims throughout the building and at our officers."

More guns are being stolen out of cars in America, particularly in states that have made it easier for people to carry firearms on the road.

There are no reliable national numbers, but an NPR survey of a sampling of police departments reveals steady increases in reports of guns stolen from vehicles.

In Atlanta, the number rose to 1,021 in 2018 from 439 in 2009.

In St. Louis, it increased to 597 from 200 in the same period.

Tyson Timbs won his Supreme Court case in February, but he still doesn't have his Land Rover.

"I want my truck back. I've always wanted it back," says Timbs, whose Land Rover was seized by police in Indiana. They took it after he was arrested for selling a small amount of heroin to undercover cops. He served a period of house arrest and probation for the drug crime — punishments he accepted.

But Timbs never accepted that police were entitled to his $42,000 vehicle, which he'd bought with proceeds from an insurance settlement.

Investigations into the causes of the two Boeing 737 Max crashes, in Indonesia and Ethiopia, have focused on software — and the possibility that it was autonomously pointing the planes' noses downward, acting without the pilots' consent.

It's a nightmare scenario. It's also a reminder that software is everywhere, sometimes doing things we don't expect.

This sank in for a lot of people four years ago, during the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. It turned out that software inside the cars had been quietly running the engines in such a way as to cheat on emissions tests.

The Democratic-led House Thursday approved another piece of legislation to broaden federal gun-control legislation. The bill gives the FBI more time to do background checks on gun purchasers. It comes a day after the chamber passed a bill extending the checks to private firearms sales.

Both measures face long odds at becoming law.

The latest bill would extend the time sellers have to wait before completing a gun sale. Like Wednesday's measure, it passed largely along party lines — 228 to 198.

Last fall, voters in Washington state approved a package of firearms restrictions, generally called I-1639. It raises the minimum age for buying semi-automatic rifles, tightens background checks and makes it a crime to fail to store a gun safely, if the gun ends up in the wrong hands.

The restrictions have raised the ire of some county sheriffs.

Wolves are making a big comeback in Germany, which is making some Germans uneasy.

Farmers and hunters drove the species out of the country over 150 years ago, but conditions for wolves became more welcoming in 1990, after Germany's reunification extended European endangered species protections to the eastern part of the country.

America's Growing Cop Shortage

Dec 12, 2018

It's a fall Monday morning in New Haven, Conn., and Officer Christian Bruckhart has lost track of how many calls he has had. He thinks it has been six. Maybe seven.

A year ago, Facebook started using artificial intelligence to scan people's accounts for danger signs of imminent self-harm.

Facebook Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis is pleased with the results so far.

"In the very first month when we started it, we had about 100 imminent-response cases," which resulted in Facebook contacting local emergency responders to check on someone. But that rate quickly increased.

Experienced gun hobbyists recognized the sound right away.

"I knew for a fact it was a bump stock as soon as I heard the video," says Jeff LaCroix. He's a recreational shooter in Louisiana. He says the rapid, uneven sound of the gunfire at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas last Oct. 1 made it clear to him a bump stock was involved.

Berlin's Tempelhof Field used to be a massive airport. It's famous as the site of the Berlin airlift — the effort in 1948-49 to keep West Berlin fed and supplied during a Soviet blockade. But the airport closed in 2008.

Now, 10 years later, Tempelhof Field is a huge park, and a home for refugees.

Here are some scenes, and sounds, from a recent visit.

Three years after German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the country's borders to hundreds of thousands of migrants, the public mood toward those new arrivals has soured. In more conservative parts of the country, such as Bavaria, government officials are promising to be more "efficient" about processing migrants' asylum claims — and to deport those found not to qualify.

Unlike in the U.S., asylum claims in Germany are handled by state-level authorities — and when someone is ordered deported, enforcement usually falls to local police.

Police have always relied on data — whether push pins tracking crimes on a map, mug shot cards, or intelligence files on repeat offenders. The problem with all that information is that it has traditionally been slow and hard to use.

In the wake of the Parkland high school massacre, there's been renewed interest in "red flag" laws, which allow courts and police to temporarily remove guns from people perceived to pose a threat.

The new research offers insight into the laws' effect — and it may not be what you think.

"Although these laws tended to be enacted after mass shooting events, in practice, they tend to be enforced primarily for suicide prevention," says Aaron Kivisto, a clinical psychologist with the University of Indianapolis who studies gun violence prevention.

On a big-sky plateau on the eastern slope of the Cascades, a 10-acre parcel of land has been trashed by illicit pot farmers. Abandoned equipment rusts and jugs of chemicals molder.

Marijuana legalization wasn't supposed to look like this.

Five years into its experiment with legal, regulated cannabis, Washington state is finding that pot still attracts criminals.

Pages