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Previously, we began looking at the topic of facial recognition technology and its increasing use in law enforcement. As we noted, the technology is used here in Florida. As the Georgetown report we mentioned last time makes clear, there are concerns with the use of the technology. For one thing, police have easy access to photo databases and often aren’t monitored to ensure there is no abuse.

Here in Florida, police and FBI officers are not required to have reasonable suspicion to run a facial recognition search, and searches are not audited for potential abuse by law enforcement agents. From a defense perspective, this is concerning, and not only because of the potential inaccuracies of the technology. Law enforcement could potentially use the technology to track criminal suspects on questionable bases, such as race, religion or political affiliation. They could also use the technology for purely personal purposes, violating individuals’ privacy.

The Georgetown report makes a number of recommendations to address these concerns, including: limiting searches to police photographs unless a warrant is obtained; eliminating innocent people from searches; and explicitly prohibiting tracking individuals on questionable bases. The report also raised concerns about using facial recognition software in conjunction with live video, which would allow police to continuously surveil individuals in real time, changing what it means to be in a public place. This is already being done by some police departments.

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Previously, we began looking at the problem of increased opioid abuse across the country and here in Wisconsin. Along with the surge in prescription drug abuse, one of the positive developments has been that lawmakers have taken an approach to the problem which is not merely punitive, but aimed at addressing the addiction itself.

For instance, Rep. John Nygren of Marinette was successful in passing measures back in 2014 which address the problem with education, increased access to a drug which counteracts the effects of heroin overdose, immunity for those who report suspected heroin overdose or transport an overdose patient to the hospital, and allowing municipalities to hold prescription drug collection drives and require identification to obtain prescription narcotics.

Other creative solutions to the problem are coming from the federal government. One example is the Madison Police Department’s participation in a federal grant program which involves “smart policing” in dealing with drug users. Under the pilot program, known as the Madison Addiction Recovery Initiative, nonviolent drug offenders are given the option to receive treatment instead of going through the criminal process.

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Previously, we commented on the importance of criminal defendants working with an experienced attorney to carefully scrutinize the actions of law enforcement officers and agents to protect their constitutional rights and to build a strong criminal defense case. The way in which law enforcement carries out its duties can and does come into play in criminal defense work, and criminal defendants deserve to know how to take advantage of the protections built into the process.

One of the tactics commonly used in law enforcement is sting operations, which come in different forms, including setting up fake businesses to catch criminals in the act. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has, in the past, heavily used this strategy in the form of undercover storefront operations. As a recent article noted, though, the use of fake storefront operations in law enforcement has been, and continues to be, problematic.

The ATF inspector general noted in a lengthy report issued earlier this month that undercover storefront operations has major avoidable problems. These have included changing the setup of sting operations without permission from ATF headquarters, as happened with an operation here in Milwaukee in 2011. The report also noted violations of federal disability law in some cases, with storefronts targeting individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Now, the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating how the ATF might come into compliance with the law.

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Combating drug trafficking and related crimes is a high priority for law enforcement officials at both the state and the federal level, and government spends significant resources every year to target drug offenders. Law enforcement officials are particularly keen to target operations that serve as hubs in the drug market, such as the Milwaukee-based group known as “Bless Team”.

The group, according to law enforcement has been connected to 22 drug overdoses and is suspected of daily involvement in criminal activity in the city of Milwaukee. A number of members of the group, whose videos can be watched on YouTube, have already been convicted of drug-related crimes, and more cases are in the works. These cases are possible in large part because of focused efforts to target the group.

Wisconsin’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA), which consists of 12 area police agencies, has put a particular focus on fighting the Bless Team, using a variety of tools to halt their activity. These tools include surveillance of the mobile houses vehicles with tinted windows used by the group, as well as informants who can provide details about the group’s operations.

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