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People Are Calling SWAT Teams to Tech Executives’ Homes

Westlake Legal Group 01swatting-facebookJumbo People Are Calling SWAT Teams to Tech Executives’ Homes Social Media police Nine-One-One (911) (Emergency Phone Number) Mosseri, Adam Hoaxes and Pranks Facebook Inc Cyberharassment Computers and the Internet

SAN FRANCISCO — Over the first week of November, the police in San Francisco and New York responded to a series of telephone calls claiming that hostages were being held in the homes of Adam Mosseri, a senior Facebook executive.

The calls appeared to be coming from inside the homes. Officers arrived in force and barricaded the streets outside. Twice. But after tense, hourslong standoffs, they realized the calls were hoaxes. There were no hostages, and no one in the homes had called the police.

Mr. Mosseri was one of a number of tech executives who have been targeted recently in so-called swatting incidents. Swatting is online lingo used to describe when people call the police with false reports of a violent crime of some sort inside a home, hoping to persuade them to send a well-armed SWAT team.

These incidents have become more common in communities rich with tech companies and their billionaire executives, like the Bay Area and Seattle, according to six police departments contacted by The New York Times.

Exact numbers are unclear, the police say, because there is no central repository of information for these sorts of attacks. But as online discourse has become more combative and more personal, some in the industry aren’t surprised that tech executives — the people who decide what is posted on and who is barred from social media — have become regular targets.

Swattings have spiked at Facebook in particular, according to local police departments and security officials at the company, which in recent years has cracked down on false accounts, threatening language and other types of content that violates its rules. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity surrounding the attacks.

Mr. Mosseri declined to comment, and a Facebook spokesman, Anthony Harrison, said in a statement that “because these things deal with security matters and our employees, we are unable to comment.”

“Like any other type of crime, when the cost is zero and the deterrent is very low, you’ve created a perfect opportunity for people to pour time and resources into that crime,” said Brian Krebs, a swatting victim who writes a widely read blog, Krebs on Security.

The attacks have been aided by forums that have sprung up both on the public internet and on the camouflaged sites of the so-called dark web. These forums name thousands of people, from high-ranking executives to their extended families, who could be targets, providing cellphone numbers, home addresses and other information. Some even discuss techniques that can be used — like cheap, online technology that can spoof a phone number and make the police believe a 911 call is coming from a target’s home.

In the eight months since one online forum was started, nearly 3,000 people have joined.

“Who should we do next?” read one message on the forum last month. The responses included gun emojis — the symbol, in swatting forums, for an attack in which the police were successfully called to the target’s home. Many of the responses were laced with profanity, as well as suggestions for ex-girlfriends who should be swatted.

One forum names at least two dozen Facebook employees as potential targets. They range from executives to product engineers. Some forum participants said that they had been barred from Facebook or Instagram, and that Facebook employees were fair game because they “think they are god.”

On another forum, new names of potential swatting victims are added daily. With each new entry, there is — at a minimum — a home address. Some entries contain more details, including the best time of day to catch the person at home or information about the children’s school.

“Lol, sick,” read many of the replies.

Swatting started in the combative world of online gaming. It was a way to terrorize someone more famous, get even with a rival or retaliate against someone with different political views.

Provoking a heavily armed police response presents obvious risks. Last year, a 26-year-old California man was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for calling in dozens of fake emergency calls, including one that led to the fatal police shooting of a Kansas resident, Andrew Finch.

Because few people carrying out swattings are ever caught, the police and tech companies can only guess at their motivations. They have seen, however, a correlation between removals of large numbers of accounts for threatening behavior or hate speech and what they believe to be retaliatory attacks against the executives responsible.

While more police departments are recognizing the threat, some have already found practical solutions. In Seattle, people who believe they are at risk of being swatted can include their information and that of their families on a police registry. When an emergency call about a potential threat comes in, the police check to make sure the home isn’t in the registry. If it is, they call the home first to see if they can reach someone inside, and check with neighbors to see if there are any corroborating reports of shots fired or other disturbances.

“The registry is a voluntary thing we created, and it is a small but effective step for people who know they are at risk of being targeted,” said Carmen Best, the police chief of Seattle. “Swatting is not a new thing. It’s been around for a long time, and it weaponizes our 911 system. It’s a lot more than a hoax or a prank.”

In addition to the registry, the Police Department has trained 911 operators to pick up cues to potential swatting in calls, Chief Best said. It has also begun educating officers on the importance of responding to questionable calls with a limited amount of force.

Seattle’s approach is unusual. None of the other police departments contacted by The Times had a similar registry, or had even heard of the idea, despite the recent swattings against tech executives in their jurisdictions.

Because swattings are largely organized online, the people behind them can live anywhere in the world. And despite numerous attempts to create federal legislation banning the practice, there is no specific statute that allows swatting to be investigated and prosecuted as a federal crime.

Facebook, Google and Twitter did not respond to requests for comment on measures they have taken to protect their employees from swatting. In recent months, all three companies have held discussions with employees who they believe are at risk.

They have asked those employees to take added precautions, such as not publicly giving their whereabouts or listing information about their family. The tech companies have also privately let the local police know when certain high-profile executives are at risk, according to police departments in the Silicon Valley area.

The home of Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, was permanently flagged as high risk, said one Facebook security expert, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the topic.

Facebook, Google and Twitter informally share information about potential swattings, giving warnings to one another if they spot a threat on their platforms, the expert said.

In an attack on another Facebook executive last year, police officers encircled the man’s home in Palo Alto, Calif., after being told that he was at risk of harming himself and his family. The incident was resolved without anyone getting hurt.

Facebook had flagged the executive as a likely target for swatting, and had taken precautions to protect him and his family. The police still sent a SWAT team.

“Anyone can be at risk of being swatted, but people who work in tech are at a particular risk,” Chief Best said. “We have to get a foothold on this, before more people get hurt.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

When the Tech Backlash Turns Dangerous: Fake Calls for a SWAT Team

Westlake Legal Group 01swatting-facebookJumbo When the Tech Backlash Turns Dangerous: Fake Calls for a SWAT Team Social Media police Mosseri, Adam Krebs on Security Hoaxes and Pranks Facebook Inc Cyberharassment Computers and the Internet

SAN FRANCISCO — Over the first week of November, the police in San Francisco and New York responded to a series of telephone calls claiming that hostages were being held in the homes of Adam Mosseri, a senior Facebook executive.

The calls appeared to be coming from inside the homes. Officers arrived in force and barricaded the streets outside. Twice. But after tense, hourslong standoffs, they realized the calls were hoaxes. There were no hostages, and no one in the homes had called the police.

Mr. Mosseri was one of a number of tech executives who have been targeted recently in so-called swatting incidents. Swatting is online lingo used to describe when people call the police with false reports of a violent crime of some sort inside a home, hoping to persuade them to send a well-armed SWAT team.

These incidents have become more common in communities rich with tech companies and their billionaire executives, like the Bay Area and Seattle, according to six police departments contacted by The New York Times.

Exact numbers are unclear, the police say, because there is no central repository of information for these sorts of attacks. But as online discourse has become more combative and more personal, some in the industry aren’t surprised that tech executives — the people who decide what is posted on and who is barred from social media — have become regular targets.

Swattings have spiked at Facebook in particular, according to local police departments and security officials at the company, which in recent years has cracked down on false accounts, threatening language and other types of content that violates its rules. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity surrounding the attacks.

Mr. Mosseri declined to comment, and a Facebook spokesman, Anthony Harrison, said in a statement that “because these things deal with security matters and our employees, we are unable to comment.”

“Like any other type of crime, when the cost is zero and the deterrent is very low, you’ve created a perfect opportunity for people to pour time and resources into that crime,” said Brian Krebs, a swatting victim who writes a widely read blog, Krebs on Security.

The attacks have been aided by forums that have sprung up both on the public internet and on the camouflaged sites of the so-called dark web. These forums name thousands of people, from high-ranking executives to their extended families, who could be targets, providing cellphone numbers, home addresses and other information. Some even discuss techniques that can be used — like cheap, online technology that can spoof a phone number and make the police believe a 911 call is coming from a target’s home.

In the eight months since one online forum was started, nearly 3,000 people have joined.

“Who should we do next?” read one message on the forum last month. The responses included gun emojis — the symbol, in swatting forums, for an attack in which the police were successfully called to the target’s home. Many of the responses were laced with profanity, as well as suggestions for ex-girlfriends who should be swatted.

One forum names at least two dozen Facebook employees as potential targets. They range from executives to product engineers. Some forum participants said that they had been barred from Facebook or Instagram, and that Facebook employees were fair game because they “think they are god.”

On another forum, new names of potential swatting victims are added daily. With each new entry, there is — at a minimum — a home address. Some entries contain more details, including the best time of day to catch the person at home or information about the children’s school.

“Lol, sick,” read many of the replies.

Swatting started in the combative world of online gaming. It was a way to terrorize someone more famous, get even with a rival or retaliate against someone with different political views.

Provoking a heavily armed police response presents obvious risks. Last year, a 26-year-old California man was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for calling in dozens of fake emergency calls, including one that led to the fatal police shooting of a Kansas resident, Andrew Finch.

Because few people carrying out swattings are ever caught, the police and tech companies can only guess at their motivations. They have seen, however, a correlation between removals of large numbers of accounts for threatening behavior or hate speech and what they believe to be retaliatory attacks against the executives responsible.

While more police departments are recognizing the threat, some have already found practical solutions. In Seattle, people who believe they are at risk of being swatted can include their information and that of their families on a police registry. When an emergency call about a potential threat comes in, the police check to make sure the home isn’t in the registry. If it is, they call the home first to see if they can reach someone inside, and check with neighbors to see if there are any corroborating reports of shots fired or other disturbances.

“The registry is a voluntary thing we created, and it is a small but effective step for people who know they are at risk of being targeted,” said Carmen Best, the police chief of Seattle. “Swatting is not a new thing. It’s been around for a long time, and it weaponizes our 911 system. It’s a lot more than a hoax or a prank.”

In addition to the registry, the Police Department has trained 911 operators to pick up cues to potential swatting in calls, Chief Best said. It has also begun educating officers on the importance of responding to questionable calls with a limited amount of force.

Seattle’s approach is unusual. None of the other police departments contacted by The Times had a similar registry, or had even heard of the idea, despite the recent swattings against tech executives in their jurisdictions.

Because swattings are largely organized online, the people behind them can live anywhere in the world. And despite numerous attempts to create federal legislation banning the practice, there is no specific statute that allows swatting to be investigated and prosecuted as a federal crime.

Facebook, Google and Twitter did not respond to requests for comment on measures they have taken to protect their employees from swatting. In recent months, all three companies have held discussions with employees who they believe are at risk.

They have asked those employees to take added precautions, such as not publicly giving their whereabouts or listing information about their family. The tech companies have also privately let the local police know when certain high-profile executives are at risk, according to police departments in the Silicon Valley area.

The home of Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, was permanently flagged as high risk, said one Facebook security expert, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the topic.

Facebook, Google and Twitter informally share information about potential swattings, giving warnings to one another if they spot a threat on their platforms, the expert said.

In an attack on another Facebook executive last year, police officers encircled the man’s home in Palo Alto, Calif., after being told that he was at risk of harming himself and his family. The incident was resolved without anyone getting hurt.

Facebook had flagged the executive as a likely target for swatting, and had taken precautions to protect him and his family. The police still sent a SWAT team.

“Anyone can be at risk of being swatted, but people who work in tech are at a particular risk,” Chief Best said. “We have to get a foothold on this, before more people get hurt.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

The Secretive Company That Might End Privacy as We Know It

Until recently, Hoan Ton-That’s greatest hits included an obscure iPhone game and an app that let people put Donald Trump’s distinctive yellow hair on their own photos.

Then Mr. Ton-That — an Australian techie and onetime model — did something momentous: He invented a tool that could end your ability to walk down the street anonymously, and provided it to hundreds of law enforcement agencies, ranging from local cops in Florida to the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security.

His tiny company, Clearview AI, devised a groundbreaking facial recognition app. You take a picture of a person, upload it and get to see public photos of that person, along with links to where those photos appeared. The system — whose backbone is a database of more than three billion images that Clearview claims to have scraped from Facebook, YouTube, Venmo and millions of other websites — goes far beyond anything ever constructed by the United States government or Silicon Valley giants.

Federal and state law enforcement officers said that while they had only limited knowledge of how Clearview works and who is behind it, they had used its app to help solve shoplifting, identity theft, credit card fraud, murder and child sexual exploitation cases.

Until now, technology that readily identifies everyone based on his or her face has been taboo because of its radical erosion of privacy. Tech companies capable of releasing such a tool have refrained from doing so; in 2011, Google’s chairman at the time said it was the one technology the company had held back because it could be used “in a very bad way.” Some large cities, including San Francisco, have barred police from using facial recognition technology.

But without public scrutiny, more than 600 law enforcement agencies have started using Clearview in the past year, according to the company, which declined to provide a list. The computer code underlying its app, analyzed by The New York Times, includes programming language to pair it with augmented-reality glasses; users would potentially be able to identify every person they saw. The tool could identify activists at a protest or an attractive stranger on the subway, revealing not just their names but where they lived, what they did and whom they knew.

And it’s not just law enforcement: Clearview has also licensed the app to at least a handful of companies for security purposes.

“The weaponization possibilities of this are endless,” said Eric Goldman, co-director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University. “Imagine a rogue law enforcement officer who wants to stalk potential romantic partners, or a foreign government using this to dig up secrets about people to blackmail them or throw them in jail.”

Clearview has shrouded itself in secrecy, avoiding debate about its boundary-pushing technology. When I began looking into the company in November, its website was a bare page showing a nonexistent Manhattan address as its place of business. The company’s one employee listed on LinkedIn, a sales manager named “John Good,” turned out to be Mr. Ton-That, using a fake name. For a month, people affiliated with the company would not return my emails or phone calls.

While the company was dodging me, it was also monitoring me. At my request, a number of police officers had run my photo through the Clearview app. They soon received phone calls from company representatives asking if they were talking to the media — a sign that Clearview has the ability and, in this case, the appetite to monitor whom law enforcement is searching for.

Facial recognition technology has always been controversial. It makes people nervous about Big Brother. It has a tendency to deliver false matches for certain groups, like people of color. And some facial recognition products used by the police — including Clearview’s — haven’t been vetted by independent experts.

Clearview’s app carries extra risks because law enforcement agencies are uploading sensitive photos to the servers of a company whose ability to protect its data is untested.

The company eventually started answering my questions, saying that its earlier silence was typical of an early-stage start-up in stealth mode. Mr. Ton-That acknowledged designing a prototype for use with augmented-reality glasses but said the company had no plans to release it. And he said my photo had rung alarm bells because the app “flags possible anomalous search behavior” in order to prevent users from conducting what it deemed “inappropriate searches.”

In addition to Mr. Ton-That, Clearview was founded by Richard Schwartz — who was an aide to Rudolph W. Giuliani when he was mayor of New York — and backed financially by Peter Thiel, a venture capitalist behind Facebook and Palantir.

Another early investor is a small firm called Kirenaga Partners. Its founder, David Scalzo, dismissed concerns about Clearview making the internet searchable by face, saying it’s a valuable crime-solving tool.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that because information constantly increases, there’s never going to be privacy,” Mr. Scalzo said. “Laws have to determine what’s legal, but you can’t ban technology. Sure, that might lead to a dystopian future or something, but you can’t ban it.”

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_166989150_339af8f6-72dc-4344-8bea-138e3b8ba466-articleLarge The Secretive Company That Might End Privacy as We Know It Ton-That, Hoan Thiel, Peter A Social Media Schwartz, Richard Privacy police Identification Devices facial recognition software Clement, Paul D Clearview AI Artificial Intelligence

Hoan Ton-That, founder of Clearview AI, whose app matches faces to images it collects from across the internet.Credit…Amr Alfiky for The New York Times

Mr. Ton-That, 31, grew up a long way from Silicon Valley. In his native Australia, he was raised on tales of his royal ancestors in Vietnam. In 2007, he dropped out of college and moved to San Francisco. The iPhone had just arrived, and his goal was to get in early on what he expected would be a vibrant market for social media apps. But his early ventures never gained real traction.

In 2009, Mr. Ton-That created a site that let people share links to videos with all the contacts in their instant messengers. Mr. Ton-That shut it down after it was branded a “phishing scam.” In 2015, he spun up Trump Hair, which added Mr. Trump’s distinctive coif to people in a photo, and a photo-sharing program. Both fizzled.

Dispirited, Mr. Ton-That moved to New York in 2016. Tall and slender, with long black hair, he considered a modeling career, he said, but after one shoot he returned to trying to figure out the next big thing in tech. He started reading academic papers on artificial intelligence, image recognition and machine learning.

Mr. Schwartz and Mr. Ton-That met in 2016 at a book event at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. Mr. Schwartz, now 61, had amassed an impressive Rolodex working for Mr. Giuliani in the 1990s and serving as the editorial page editor of The New York Daily News in the early 2000s. The two soon decided to go into the facial recognition business together: Mr. Ton-That would build the app, and Mr. Schwartz would use his contacts to drum up commercial interest.

Police departments have had access to facial recognition tools for almost 20 years, but they have historically been limited to searching government-provided images, such as mug shots and driver’s license photos. In recent years, facial recognition algorithms have improved in accuracy, and companies like Amazon offer products that can create a facial recognition program for any database of images.

Mr. Ton-That wanted to go way beyond that. He began in 2016 by recruiting a couple of engineers. One helped design a program that can automatically collect images of people’s faces from across the internet, such as employment sites, news sites, educational sites, and social networks including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and even Venmo. Representatives of those companies said their policies prohibit such scraping, and Twitter said it explicitly banned use of its data for facial recognition.

Another engineer was hired to perfect a facial recognition algorithm that was derived from academic papers. The result: a system that uses what Mr. Ton-That described as a “state-of-the-art neural net” to convert all the images into mathematical formulas, or vectors, based on facial geometry — like how far apart a person’s eyes are. Clearview created a vast directory that clustered all the photos with similar vectors into “neighborhoods.” When a user uploads a photo of a face into Clearview’s system, it converts the face into a vector and then shows all the scraped photos stored in that vector’s neighborhood — along with the links to the sites from which those images came.

Mr. Schwartz paid for server costs and basic expenses, but the operation was bare bones; everyone worked from home. “I was living on credit card debt,” Mr. Ton-That said. “Plus, I was a Bitcoin believer, so I had some of those.”

Mr. Ton-That showing the results of a search for a photo of himself.Credit…Amr Alfiky for The New York Times

By the end of 2017, the company had a formidable facial recognition tool, which it called Smartcheckr. But Mr. Schwartz and Mr. Ton-That weren’t sure whom they were going to sell it to.

Maybe it could be used to vet babysitters or as an add-on feature for surveillance cameras. What about a tool for security guards in the lobbies of buildings or to help hotels greet guests by name? “We thought of every idea,” Mr. Ton-That said.

One of the odder pitches, in late 2017, was to Paul Nehlen — an anti-Semite and self-described “pro-white” Republican running for Congress in Wisconsin — to use “unconventional databases” for “extreme opposition research,” according to a document provided to Mr. Nehlen and later posted online. Mr. Ton-That said the company never actually offered such services.

The company soon changed its name to Clearview AI and began marketing to law enforcement. That was when the company got its first round of funding from outside investors: Mr. Thiel and Kirenaga Partners. Among other things, Mr. Thiel was famous for secretly financing Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit that bankrupted the popular website Gawker. Both Mr. Thiel and Mr. Ton-That had been the subject of negative articles by Gawker.

“In 2017, Peter gave a talented young founder $200,000, which two years later converted to equity in Clearview AI,” said Jeremiah Hall, Mr. Thiel’s spokesman. “That was Peter’s only contribution; he is not involved in the company.”

Even after a second funding round in 2019, Clearview remains tiny, having raised $7 million from investors, according to Pitchbook, a website that tracks investments in start-ups. The company declined to confirm the amount.

In February, the Indiana State Police started experimenting with Clearview. They solved a case within 20 minutes of using the app. Two men had gotten into a fight in a park, and it ended when one shot the other in the stomach. A bystander recorded the crime on a phone, so the police had a still of the gunman’s face to run through Clearview’s app.

They immediately got a match: The man appeared in a video that someone had posted on social media, and his name was included in a caption on the video. “He did not have a driver’s license and hadn’t been arrested as an adult, so he wasn’t in government databases,” said Chuck Cohen, an Indiana State Police captain at the time.

The man was arrested and charged; Mr. Cohen said he probably wouldn’t have been identified without the ability to search social media for his face. The Indiana State Police became Clearview’s first paying customer, according to the company. (The police declined to comment beyond saying that they tested Clearview’s app.)

Clearview deployed current and former Republican officials to approach police forces, offering free trials and annual licenses for as little as $2,000. Mr. Schwartz tapped his political connections to help make government officials aware of the tool, according to Mr. Ton-That. (Mr. Schwartz declined to comment beyond saying that he’d had to “significantly scale back” his involvement with Clearview because of his wife’s health.)

The company’s main contact for customers was Jessica Medeiros Garrison, who managed Luther Strange’s Republican campaign for Alabama attorney general. Brandon Fricke, an N.F.L. agent engaged to the Fox Nation host Tomi Lahren, said in a financial disclosure report during a congressional campaign in California that he was a “growth consultant” for the company. (Clearview said that it was a brief, unpaid role, and that the company had enlisted Democrats to help market its product as well.)

The company’s most effective sales technique was offering 30-day free trials to officers, who then encouraged their acquisition departments to sign up and praised the tool to officers from other police departments at conferences and online, according to the company and documents provided by police departments in response to public-record requests. Mr. Ton-That finally had his viral hit.

In July, a detective in Clifton, N.J., urged his captain in an email to buy the software because it was “able to identify a suspect in a matter of seconds.” During the department’s free trial, Clearview had identified shoplifters, an Apple Store thief and a good Samaritan who had punched out a man threatening people with a knife.

Photos “could be covertly taken with telephoto lens and input into the software, without ‘burning’ the surveillance operation,” the detective wrote in the email, provided to The Times by two researchers, Beryl Lipton of MuckRock and Freddy Martinez of Open the Government. They discovered Clearview late last year while looking into how local police departments are using facial recognition.

According to a Clearview sales presentation reviewed by The Times, the app helped identify a range of individuals: a person who was accused of sexually abusing a child whose face appeared in the mirror of someone’s else gym photo; the person behind a string of mailbox thefts in Atlanta; a John Doe found dead on an Alabama sidewalk; and suspects in multiple identity-fraud cases at banks.

In Gainesville, Fla., Detective Sgt. Nick Ferrara heard about Clearview last summer when it advertised on CrimeDex, a list-serv for investigators who specialize in financial crimes. He said he had previously relied solely on a state-provided facial recognition tool, FACES, which draws from more than 30 million Florida mug shots and Department of Motor Vehicle photos.

Sergeant Ferrara found Clearview’s app superior, he said. Its nationwide database of images is much larger, and unlike FACES, Clearview’s algorithm doesn’t require photos of people looking straight at the camera.

“With Clearview, you can use photos that aren’t perfect,” Sergeant Ferrara said. “A person can be wearing a hat or glasses, or it can be a profile shot or partial view of their face.”

He uploaded his own photo to the system, and it brought up his Venmo page. He ran photos from old, dead-end cases and identified more than 30 suspects. In September, the Gainesville Police Department paid $10,000 for an annual Clearview license.

Federal law enforcement, including the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security, are trying it, as are Canadian law enforcement authorities, according to the company and government officials.

Despite its growing popularity, Clearview avoided public mention until the end of 2019, when Florida prosecutors charged a woman with grand theft after two grills and a vacuum were stolen from an Ace Hardware store in Clermont. She was identified when the police ran a still from a surveillance video through Clearview, which led them to her Facebook page. A tattoo visible in the surveillance video and Facebook photos confirmed her identity, according to an affidavit in the case.

Mr. Ton-That said the tool does not always work. Most of the photos in Clearview’s database are taken at eye level. Much of the material that the police upload is from surveillance cameras mounted on ceilings or high on walls.

“They put surveillance cameras too high,” Mr. Ton-That lamented. “The angle is wrong for good face recognition.”

Despite that, the company said, its tool finds matches up to 75 percent of the time. But it is unclear how often the tool delivers false matches, because it has not been tested by an independent party such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a federal agency that rates the performance of facial recognition algorithms.

“We have no data to suggest this tool is accurate,” said Clare Garvie, a researcher at Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy and Technology, who has studied the government’s use of facial recognition. “The larger the database, the larger the risk of misidentification because of the doppelgänger effect. They’re talking about a massive database of random people they’ve found on the internet.”

But current and former law enforcement officials say the app is effective. “For us, the testing was whether it worked or not,” said Mr. Cohen, the former Indiana State Police captain.

One reason that Clearview is catching on is that its service is unique. That’s because Facebook and other social media sites prohibit people from scraping users’ images — Clearview is violating the sites’ terms of service.

“A lot of people are doing it,” Mr. Ton-That shrugged. “Facebook knows.”

Jay Nancarrow, a Facebook spokesman, said the company was reviewing the situation with Clearview and “will take appropriate action if we find they are violating our rules.”

Mr. Thiel, the Clearview investor, sits on Facebook’s board. Mr. Nancarrow declined to comment on Mr. Thiel’s personal investments.

Some law enforcement officials said they didn’t realize the photos they uploaded were being sent to and stored on Clearview’s servers. Clearview tries to pre-empt concerns with an F.A.Q. document given to would-be clients that says its customer-support employees won’t look at the photos that the police upload.

Clearview also hired Paul D. Clement, a United States solicitor general under President George W. Bush, to assuage concerns about the app’s legality.

In an August memo that Clearview provided to potential customers, including the Atlanta Police Department and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in Florida, Mr. Clement said law enforcement agencies “do not violate the federal Constitution or relevant existing state biometric and privacy laws when using Clearview for its intended purpose.”

Mr. Clement, now a partner at Kirkland & Ellis, wrote that the authorities don’t have to tell defendants that they were identified via Clearview, as long as it isn’t the sole basis for getting a warrant to arrest them. Mr. Clement did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The memo appeared to be effective; the Atlanta police and Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office soon started using Clearview.

Because the police upload photos of people they’re trying to identify, Clearview possesses a growing database of individuals who have attracted attention from law enforcement. The company also has the ability to manipulate the results that the police see. After the company realized I was asking officers to run my photo through the app, my face was flagged by Clearview’s systems and for a while showed no matches. When asked about this, Mr. Ton-That laughed and called it a “software bug.”

“It’s creepy what they’re doing, but there will be many more of these companies. There is no monopoly on math,” said Al Gidari, a privacy professor at Stanford Law School. “Absent a very strong federal privacy law, we’re all screwed.”

Mr. Ton-That said his company used only publicly available images. If you change a privacy setting in Facebook so that search engines can’t link to your profile, your Facebook photos won’t be included in the database, he said.

But if your profile has already been scraped, it is too late. The company keeps all the images it has scraped even if they are later deleted or taken down, though Mr. Ton-That said the company was working on a tool that would let people request that images be removed if they had been taken down from the website of origin.

Woodrow Hartzog, a professor of law and computer science at Northeastern University in Boston, sees Clearview as the latest proof that facial recognition should be banned in the United States.

“We’ve relied on industry efforts to self-police and not embrace such a risky technology, but now those dams are breaking because there is so much money on the table,” Mr. Hartzog said. “I don’t see a future where we harness the benefits of face recognition technology without the crippling abuse of the surveillance that comes with it. The only way to stop it is to ban it.”

During a recent interview at Clearview’s offices in a WeWork location in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, Mr. Ton-That demonstrated the app on himself. He took a selfie and uploaded it. The app pulled up 23 photos of him. In one, he is shirtless and lighting a cigarette while covered in what looks like blood.

Mr. Ton-That then took my photo with the app. The “software bug” had been fixed, and now my photo returned numerous results, dating back a decade, including photos of myself that I had never seen before. When I used my hand to cover my nose and the bottom of my face, the app still returned seven correct matches for me.

Police officers and Clearview’s investors predict that its app will eventually be available to the public.

Mr. Ton-That said he was reluctant. “There’s always going to be a community of bad people who will misuse it,” he said.

Even if Clearview doesn’t make its app publicly available, a copycat company might, now that the taboo is broken. Searching someone by face could become as easy as Googling a name. Strangers would be able to listen in on sensitive conversations, take photos of the participants and know personal secrets. Someone walking down the street would be immediately identifiable — and his or her home address would be only a few clicks away. It would herald the end of public anonymity.

Asked about the implications of bringing such a power into the world, Mr. Ton-That seemed taken aback.

“I have to think about that,” he said. “Our belief is that this is the best use of the technology.”

Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, Gabriel J.X. Dance and Aaron Krolik contributed reporting. Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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Festus Akinbusoye: The scandal of rising assaults on police officers. And what must be done to help reduce them.

Festus Akinbusoye is Chairman of Milton Keynes Federation and was 2015 Parliamentary candidate for West Ham. He runs his own business.

A police officer is assaulted every two minutes in England and Wales. Figures for 2018/19 show 30,977 were reported, of which, more than 30 per cent resulted in an injury. This is a near 20 per cent increase on previous year, but a whopping 70 per cent increase since 2011.

Other measures indicate this is a gross underestimation of the reality – with officers calling for urgent assistance 82 times a day. Though the law was changed in 2018 increasing the maximum sentence for assaulting an emergency worker from six to twelve months, we must do more than this in protecting those who are there to protect us. Here is why.

Home Office figures published last year show that 9,427 officers joined one of the 43 Forces in England and Wales in 2018/19. Over the same period, 8,727 left the service. To put it more simply, 92 per cent of the new entrants are replacing those that are leaving. I am informed that two-year attrition rate of new recruits is approximately 40 per cent in some areas.

Admittedly, some of these officers are leaving after decades of gallant service, while a very small number leave simply because they do not meet the professional standards required for policing. However, and as I found out while on a twelve-hour night shift in Luton with two brilliant and dedicated officers a few weeks ago, I can say some are disillusioned by what the role has become, which is a far cry from catching criminals. But there’s more.

A few days before that night shift, two female police officers were assaulted in broad day light while members of the public watched, and others filmed the attack. The quick response of Bedfordshire police officers nearby helped to apprehend the attackers. If I were a potential recruit witnessing such a scene, and how seemingly defenceless these officers were, I might think twice about putting in an application.

Home Office from 2018/19 s indicate that 2,370 officers are on long term sick leave and a Freedom of Information request by Channel 4’s Dispatches found that 500,000 days of sick leave were taken by officers due to mental health related issues. A Cambridge University research study of 17,000 officers found that 43 per cent reported sensing heightened levels of threat to themselves because of their exposure to traumatic incidents, including personal assaults while on duty. One-third of those surveyed suffered from flashbacks, which could have an impact on performance or longevity in the job. The research did find that 34 per cent of police officers who were forced to retire on health grounds did so due to mental health issues.

Each officer that is off work due to physical or mental injury suffered by an assault on the job, is one less ‘bobby on the beat’ to help arrest the 200 per cent increase in county line drugs gangs.

As alluded to above, the law has already been strengthened by increasing the maximum sentence for anyone found guilty of attacking a police officer and other emergency service workers. However, it is not unusual for such perpetrators to walk away from court with a suspended sentence or a £80 fine for choking and attempting to gouge out the eye of an officer as was the case recently.

Day to day experience of our front-line officers indicate that many see it as part of the job to be assaulted, which contributes somewhat to the under-reporting of such incidents. It need not be so. I do not believe it good enough for anyone to go to work expecting to be kicked, spat at, stabbed or run over by a car. Nonetheless, our policemen and women go about their jobs daily, knowing the risks involved but hoping to win the day as law enforcement officers.

Sadly, this is not always the case, but it takes a toll eventually. Police and Crime Commissioners, working closely with Chief Constables play key roles in supporting officers through such difficult experiences and I am aware of one such force where this is happening. We need a standardised support protocol to be in place.

I very much welcome the government’s funding of tasers for officers which was recently announced. This provides a much safer tool for officers in maintaining law and order, compared to the use of a truncheon or other restraining techniques. The role-out of body worn cameras will be more effective if magistrates were required to view footage during prosecution of cases of assaults on a police officer.

Perhaps we need to move towards a mandatory minimum sentence to send a clearer message. Lastly, this tide cannot be stemmed by legislation alone. It is imperative that we begin a wider societal discussion about respect for the police and other emergency service workers as integral parts of maintaining the democracy and freedoms we all cherish.

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Neil Shastri-Hurst: My advice to the Prime Minister on defeating the knife crime epidemic

Dr Neil Shastri-Hurst is a former British Army Officer, doctor, lawyer, and a senior member of the Conservatives in the West Midlands

There is a knife crime epidemic in the United Kingdom. And whilst the headlines are often focused on such attacks in London, it is no less of an issue in many of our urban areas. This morning The Times reports that:

“The prime minister will take personal charge of a new cabinet committee to tackle surging levels of knife crime and violence, with a particular focus on “county lines” gangs that are abusing and exploiting children.”

I worked for several years at the frontline of trauma care, at a Major Trauma Centre in the West Midlands. Code Reds, the term used to alert the trauma team of an incoming patient with major haemorrhage, were and still are, sadly, increasingly common. Stabbings are a frequent cause.

There is nothing quite like the surge of adrenaline one encounters when the call comes in the early hours of the morning and the team rushes down to Emergency Department Resus. Nothing quite like working with an exceptional group of highly skilled professionals who, together, make an even more exceptional team. And nothing quite like the rush of endorphins one gets when a young gang member, stabbed in the heart, not only survives the insult but walks out of hospital a week later with a second chance at life. However, for every heroic tale, there are many others where the outcome was so much bleaker: families and communities shattered by needless and senseless actions.

In 2010/11, in England and Wales, there were five Police Force Areas with a knife crime rate of between 50 and 77 per 100,000 population, one Police Force Area with a rate of 77 to 118 per 100,000, and one (London) with a rate of 118 and 171 per 100,000.

In comparison, by 2018/19, twelve Police Forces had a knife crime rate of between 50 and 77 per 100,000 population, eight Police Force Areas a rate of 77  to 118 per 100,000, and two with a rate of 118 to 171 per 100,000.

And whilst, of course, victims of knife crime can befall anyone, we cannot ignore that this is primarily a “disease” of younger people.

Put simply knife crime represents one of the biggest public health issues facing our younger generation.

As with any “health intervention” there are three distinct phases:

  • Prevention;
  • Treatment; and
  • Recovery.

Tackling knife crime on our streets should be no different. As a Conservative Government, with a strong tradition on law and order, it is imperative that we grip this issue. With the uncertainty in Parliament behind us we can focus on the forthcoming Mayoral and Police and Crime Commissioner elections, to ensure that we have strong local Conservative representation to work with central Government and give this critical issue the attention it deserves.

So how do we develop that three-pronged approach?

We can deliver the first part, effective prevention by:

  • Making family units stronger so that they can provide a stable upbringing that young people need to avoid slipping into crime;
  • Ensuring we have more good schools in deprived areas so that young people have the education and opportunities to lead them away from a life in crime;
  • Providing mentorship and educational programmes for our school-aged children to deter them from gang culture. Expanding the liaison work our Police Forces do and increasing the role of NHS Violence Reduction Tsar, Dr Martin Griffiths, to help break the cycle of violence; and
  • Removing the unhealthy reliance on the welfare state and getting young people into work.

The second part, tougher enforcement and sentencing, can be achieved by:

  • Having a greater police presence on the streets; and
  • Making it clear that anyone convicted of carrying a knife should expect to receive a custodial sentence.

Thirdly, we can rehabilitate young offenders by:

  • Reforming our prisons and Young Offender Institutions so that they reduce re-offending by making governors accountable for re-offending rates;
  • Engaging with the voluntary and private sector to provide drugs and educational programmes to help young people make positive life choices; and
  • Supporting young offenders upon their release with mentoring and work programmes to help them get into employment and contribute to society.

Whilst, at first glance, this all appears pretty simple stuff, it can only work if we have the resources to fund it. With a Conservative majority Government we have the building blocks to do that. This could be a real legacy. The next step is to ensure we have the local representation to dovetail with central Government and deliver results at the coalface.

Over the years I have told a generation of parents their children won’t be returning home with them because of knife crime. Let’s not allow that to happen to another generation.

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Matthew Barber: Sticking to Peelite principles of policing

Matthew Barber is the Conservative candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner for the Thames Valley. He is currently the Deputy PCC for that area.

Neighbourhood policing is the bedrock of law enforcement in the UK. New and emerging threats such as terrorism and high-tech crime have created specialisms which are vital to protect the public in the modern world. Yet many of these new areas of policing attract funding and interest to the detriment of more traditional neighbourhood policing.

The public and media rightly demand higher visibility. The merits of local policing, embedded in the community, should not be underestimated. Even in the areas of counter-terrorism and serious organised crime it is often neighbourhood police officers and police community support officers (PCSOs) who gather the vital intelligence or who are the first on the scene of an incident.

It is notable that both central government and local forces consistently refer back to the nine principles of policing set out by Sir Robert Peel in 1829 when as Home Secretary he established the first modern police force in London. Policing by consent has been the key to preventing crime and disorder ever since and should be not less important nearly two hundred years later.

In study after study, locally and nationally, we constantly find that the public expect to not only see police officers, but that they feel safer when they do. We also know that policing can be much more effective when officers know their local communities. There is plenty of evidence to demonstrate the preventative nature of proactive policing. Stopping crime before it starts, rather than simply chasing after people once it does. As Peel said himself, a police force should be judged on the absence of crime and disorder, not on the activity of the police themselves.

Therefore, in the Thames Valley, neighbourhood policing has been ring-fenced. Each local area has a neighbourhood inspector with sergeants, constables, and PCSOs with exactly that remit of getting to know their communities, engaging with the public, and dealing with local problems.

In an ideal world, these neighbourhood teams would certainly be larger, but we do not live in an ideal world and this approach is in stark contrast to some forces that have effectively abandoned neighbourhood policing. Instead, officers are all tasked with dealing with response calls. This inevitably means less preventions and more reaction.

I must put on record once again my admiration for police officers with specialist skills. Their difficult and often dangerous jobs in the protection of vulnerable people, public order, specialist investigations, firearms, and counter-terrorism should never be underrated. I have previously praised them on these pages and will always continue to do so – but policing is not a competition, there is a need for both specialists and local neighbourhood officers.

The Government’s planned increase of 20,000 police officers has been mocked in some quarters given nearly a decade of tightened finances. Yet it is all too easy to forget the financial mess and the scale of the annual deficit that was inherited by David Cameron as Prime Minister. There was undoubtedly waste in policing and that can easily be seen from the massive savings that have been made away from the front line in forces across the country. The Conservatives have led the debate on increasing officer numbers – not the same argument as restoring funding to 2010 levels! As with so much in the public sector, the key is not how much of the public’s money is pumped into a service, but where that money goes, what the priorities are, and how that will benefit the public who are paying for it.

Because of the skills and expertise that they bring, many specialisms have been protected by police forces: in areas such as counter-terrorism we have seen significant increases in recent years. Now is the time to ensure the backbone of British policing is properly resourced. Local, uniformed officers have a huge value in our community.

I have seen some forces that even have specialist rural crime teams. The problems is that many officers will feel, “well that’s not my job”, “there’s a team to deal with that”. My view is that every community should expect the same treatment from the police, rural or urban, rich or poor. Good local policing comes when excellent dedicated officers know their community and know they have the backing of their force to deal with the problems they’re presented with. Police Constables have unique powers over the rest of us, and the difference in powers between the PC and the Chief Constable is a lot smaller than between them and the rest of the public. As a society we give them those powers because we trust them to exercise their duty proportionately and for the public good. We need to ensure that the next Government is one that trusts the police to act fairly and impartially.

Every time I go out on a shift in Thames Valley, I never cease to be impressed by the encyclopaedic knowledge that officers have of known offenders, hotspots for trouble, vulnerable individuals who may need help, and local people who know what is going on in their communities This is the stuff that really matters. Yes visible local policing reassures people. That is important. The really important thing however is that it works.

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“Get out of London.” Now watch Johnson and Cummings turn the world upside down. Or try to.

“You guys should get outside London and go to talk to people who are not rich Remainers’.” (Dominic Cummings, September 2019.)

– – –

Britain’s political and economic model from Margaret Thatcher through Tony Blair to David Cameron had roughly the following in common.

A dominant capital city, London, with its south-eastern hinterland.  A flourishing City of London.  An economy based on services rather than manufacturing.  A high level of immigration, at least recently, to service its needs – both internally and externally.  Pressure in this wider South East on schools, hospitals, roads, rail, cohesion, and especially the price of housing.

An Ascendancy class of civil servants, lawyers, journalists, academics, and media workers doing well out of this system, whichever of the main parties governed.  Government focus on message and spin to feed the London-based newspapers and media.  A recent Ministerial and Whitehall preoccupation with Parliament, reflecting the unwillingness of voters to elect a government with a strong majority since 2005 – and the increasing rebelliousness of backbenchers.  A currency that some believe to have been overvalued (further reinforcing this system).

Outside this greater South East, a provincial Britain in relative or sometimes absolute recession.  A growing gulf between its view of this system’s success and London’s.  A sense that it has done less well out of the growth of the capital city, the universities, the media, services, the law – and infrastructure spending.  A less favourable view of immigration.  Less expensive housing but also lower wages.  Skills and employment gaps.

– – –

All this is about to change – at least, if a new post-Brexit Conservative Government based broadly on Thursday’s results, serving at least two terms and with Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings in place, has its way.

Perhaps wrongly, I read the briefing in much of Sunday’s papers about the new Government’s intentions as Classic Dom.  In the short to medium term, expect to see the following:

  • Less of a focus on Parliament and the media.  Johnson has a majority of the best part of a hundred.  He won the election despite, even arguably because of, intense media scrutiny, opposition and pressure.  I suspect that the Prime Minister won’t care much what Labour, which is likely to vanish into chaotic opposition for the best part of a year, or the Liberal Democrats, who have just lost their leader, do or say in the Commons, at least for the moment. Furthermore, Philip Hammond, Rory Stewart, David Gauke, Amber Rudd, Oliver Letwin, Dominic Grieve* and his most persistent critics are no longer there.  And Cummings won’t be remotely flustered by what’s said on a Today programme or a Newsnight or by an Andrew Neil that, in his view, only the Westminster Village bubble is bothered about.
  • A Government restructuring to concentrate on delivery.  Johnson and Cummings thus won’t worry too much if Ministers flounder in the Commons or TV studios – at least in the early part of this Parliament.  They will want delivery, delivery, delivery for the new blue seats in the Midlands and North.  That will mean tearing up the Government reshaping undertaken by Nick Timothy for Theresa May and starting all over again.  Briefing that Business and Trade will be amalgamated; that the Environment and Climate Change, a Johnson and Carrie Symonds preoccupation, will again have its own department, and that the Foreign Office will absorb much of DfId sounds about right.  A post-January post-Brexit reshuffle will reveal all.
  • Ministers appointed to govern rather than perform.  Monday’s reshuffle will see gaps filled at Culture – which will have an important role with regard to digital and the media – and Wales.  I expect the bigger January shuffle to see Cabinet Ministers appointed who Number Ten expects to work with outsiders to transform Whitehall.  There will be a big emphasis on NHS spending, police numbers, border control, northern infrastructure, skills and, maybe especially, Cummings’ spoor: the words “Invest in Science”.The sort of names to look out for include Matt Hancock, Rishi Sunak, Oliver Dowden, Robert Jenrick, Jesse Norman, maybe Chris Skidmore and the rehabilitated Michael Gove.
  • Expect the unexpected.  All those are men.  Johnson will want to appoint a lot of women – an intention made all the more intriguing by the fact that many of the Ministers currently being tipped for the sack are female.  The most senior women outside Cabinet itself are Esther McVey, Caroline Dinenage and Lucy Frazer, who could easily slot into one of the Law Officer posts.  But there is no way of knowing what Johnson, Cummings, Downing Street and the Whips will come up with. And other names in the mix include Victoria Atkins, Anne-Marie Trevelyan and a revitalised Penny Mordaunt.  Cummings’ instinct will be to bring in good outsiders as Ministers and promote quickly from the massive new intake of Tory MPs if necessary – over the head of convention and perhaps advice.

There are some oddities about bits of the briefing, or at least parts of what’s being written.  For example, if a new department for Borders and Security is to be set up, what becomes of the Home Office – which under the Theresa May/Timothy reforms became a department for security and borders?  Is it to be amalgamated once again with the Justice Department?  Might Johnson want to mull reviving an updated Lord Chancellor’s department?

And if the SNP is to campaign for a second independence referendum, with Northern Ireland undergoing huge post-Brexit change, wouldn’t it make sense to have a Secretary of State and department for the Union – perhaps headed by the ubiquitious Gove?  What becomed of the traditional power of the Treasury?

Finally, Johnson could do all the restructuring and appointing available to him with his near three-figure majority…and find that the economic and political model he inherited is too entrenched to be shifted.  Because the commanding heights of our culture have so big a stake in it that they won’t willingly let it go.  Buy your ringside seat now for the clash between the Ascendancy’s instincts and Cummings’ Nietzschean plans. With Johnson refereeing.

– – –

* Mr Grieve…we’ll see what he is right about.” (Cummings, August 2019.)

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He Was One of Mexico’s Deadliest Assassins. Then He Turned on His Cartel.

JOJUTLA, Mexico — The recruits filed into a clearing, where a group of trainers with the stern bearing of drill sergeants stood in a tight row, hiding something.

“How many of you have killed someone before?” one of the instructors asked. A few hands shot up.

The trainers separated, revealing a naked corpse face up in the grass. One thrust a machete into the nearest man’s hand.

“Dismember that body,” he ordered.

The recruit froze. The instructor waited, then walked up behind the terrified recruit and fired a bullet into his head, killing him. Next, he passed the blade to a lanky teenager while the others watched, dumbfounded.

The teenager didn’t hesitate. Offered the chance to prove that he could be an assassin — a sicario — he seized it, he said. A chance at money, power and what he craved most, respect. To be feared in a place where fear was currency.

“I wanted to be a psychopath, to kill without mercy and be the most feared sicario in the world,” he said, describing the scene.

Like the other recruits, he had been sent by a drug cartel known as Guerreros Unidos to a training camp in the mountains. He envisioned field exercises, morning runs, target practice. Now, standing over the body, he was just trying to suppress an urge to vomit.

He closed his eyes and struck blindly. To survive, he needed to stay the course. The training would do the rest, purging him of fear and empathy.

“They took away everything left in me that was human and made me a monster,” he said.

Within a few years, he became one of the deadliest assassins in the Mexican state of Morelos, an instrument of the cartels tearing the nation apart. By 2017, at only 22 years old, he had taken part in more than 100 murders, he said. The authorities have confirmed nearly two dozen of them in Morelos alone.

When the police caught him that year, he could have faced more than 200 years in prison. But instead of prosecuting him, the authorities saw an opportunity, a chance to pick apart the cartel from the inside. They made him the centerpiece of an off-the-books police operation that dismantled the cartel in southern Morelos, resulting in the arrest and conviction of dozens of its operatives.

For investigators, he was a gold mine, a complete reference book on the state’s murder industry. For the sicario, the government was a lifeline.

Of course, Mexico’s legal system wasn’t set up for this kind of arrangement.

The nation has only one official witness protection program, at the federal level, and few in law enforcement actually trust it. Leaks, corruption and incompetence have left it in shambles.

ImageWestlake Legal Group 15Sicario-07-articleLarge He Was One of Mexico’s Deadliest Assassins. Then He Turned on His Cartel. Police Brutality, Misconduct and Shootings police Mexico Guerreros Unidos (Gang) Drug Cartels

One of two men who was shot and killed in a Volkswagen taxi in Acapulco, where the sicario started his career as an assassin.Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

The police chief in Morelos at the time, Alberto Capella, wanted a witness protection program that worked, one he could use to smash organized crime in his state. So he simply created a clandestine one of his own — an improvised strategy that former justice officials describe as a legal stretch.

But if working around the edges of the law was the only way to tackle the scourge of organized crime, Mr. Capella figured, it seemed a small price to pay for justice.

“We had to try something,” said Mr. Capella, who had survived an all-out gun battle with assassins years earlier, hardening his resolve. “We couldn’t just sit there and do nothing.”

The sicario’s journey from hit man to state witness — drawn from public records, at least a dozen visits to the program and 17 months of interviews with him, his family, officials and other assassins — offers a rare glimpse into the world of Mexico’s ultraviolent killers and the lengths to which the authorities will go to stop them.

More killings take place in Mexico today than at any time in the last two decades, when the nation started collecting homicide statistics. Cartels fight one another for control of local drug sales and smuggling routes to the United States, while Mexico’s armed forces battle them all.

Westlake Legal Group 1214-for-webSICARIOmap-300 He Was One of Mexico’s Deadliest Assassins. Then He Turned on His Cartel. Police Brutality, Misconduct and Shootings police Mexico Guerreros Unidos (Gang) Drug Cartels

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The violence is the worst it has been since the American-backed drug war began 13 years ago, and assassins like the one Mr. Capella built his program around embody the crisis, responsible for a disproportionate share of murders nationwide.

Killings have become so common, so expected, that the country has grown increasingly numb to them. Each passing year brings record levels of violence — with more harrowing expressions of it — and the nation’s institutions are so ill-equipped to stem the tide that Mr. Capella felt he had little choice but to invent a workaround to the country’s broken rule of law.

The deal was simple: The sicario testified against his former comrades and bosses, detailing the inner workings of a notoriously ruthless cartel. In return, he could walk free, without facing any charges.

No paperwork. No signatures. No legislation authorizing a witness protection program in the state. Just a gentleman’s agreement, those involved called it.

“There was nothing to think about,” the sicario recalled. “I didn’t want to spend my whole life in prison.”

Through early 2019, the sicario proved so valuable that the police erected an even bigger wildcat program around him, recruiting more than a dozen cartel henchmen and housing them in a small, worn-down building attached to the local prison.

Together, their testimony led to 100 convictions and helped cut homicides, kidnappings and extortion in the state, at least for a time, officials said. Even as violence soared across Mexico, it was down in southern Morelos.

Countrywide, nearly 100 people were being killed every day, often in horrible ways that stretched the bounds of human imagination. Fewer than 5 percent of those cases were ever solved.

With such dismal conviction rates, Mr. Capella felt, Mexico was practically issuing licenses to kill. His program, explicitly authorized by law or not, was a chance to do what hundreds of other officers could only dream of: pinpoint and lock up the assassins driving the country’s homicide crisis.

The unchecked power of organized crime was on full display this October, when hundreds of gunmen for the Sinaloa Cartel laid siege to the city of Culiacán in broad daylight, forcing the government to surrender a notable cartel figure — the son of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the drug lord known as “El Chapo” — and set him loose, right back into the underworld.


One of Mexico’s most notorious drug cartels turned a city into a war zone for a day to rescue El Chapo’s son. Watch the “‘The Siege of Culiacán” to see how gunmen took on the army — and won.

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[SHOUTING] “On Thursday, October 17th, Mexican forces arrested the son of former drug lord, El Chapo.” “An image appeared online, the expressionless face or almost a slight smirk like, ‘Yeah, you want to take my picture? Sure. We’ll see how this ends.’” We suddenly just saw this eruption of forceful violence. It was an interesting prism through which to watch a conflict between cartel gunmen and armed forces. It wasn’t told through any one narrator. It was told through the eyes of a thousand people.” “Minute by minute, hour by hour, and a fuller story emerges.” [GUNSHOTS] “It is a story about how the Sinaloa cartel took on the Mexican government – and won.” [MUSIC PLAYING]


Soon after, a different cartel gunned down nine Mormon mothers and children, another haunting reminder of the toll taken on innocent civilians. In the aftermath, President Trump threatened to designate the cartels as terrorist groups.

Mr. Capella was well aware that his own solution to the cartels was dangerous, particularly because it relied on the unsavory prospect of setting a prolific killer free.

“It’s something few have dared to do,” the police chief acknowledged, “but it is worth the risk.”

But no one, least of all the sicario, expected how the arrangement would end.

Mr. Capella moved on to another job almost 1,000 miles away, and the program slowly collapsed. With no legal mandate or official support, it buckled this year under the change in political winds. Some of the witnesses left and returned to lives of crime. At least one was murdered.

The sicario stayed until the summer when, fearful the police were going to hand him over to his cartel enemies, he fled.

Gunmen were not far behind. His brother — who studiously avoided crime and had enlisted in Mexico’s armed forces — was killed days later. His parents found a note attached to the body: This is what happens to snitches, it warned.

“This is the way things work in Mexico,” the sicario, who asked that his name not be used for his family’s safety, said while on the run. “And I want the world to see it.”

The cartel bosses huddled in a small group, taunting him. Sure, he could rob, even fight, his fellow gangsters teased him. But he couldn’t kill, they said. He didn’t have the heart.

They snickered, pushing to see how far he would go. He knew it was a test.

He was 17 and working for Guerreros Unidos, a cartel that operated across several states and smuggled heroin to the United States. Right away, he distinguished himself as smart and naturally violent. A prospect in their world.

He snapped back. They didn’t know what he was capable of, he said. In truth, he didn’t either.

His fellow gangsters pointed down the street at two young men — a pair of unwitting targets. He took off toward them, wondering if his bosses were right, that he couldn’t take a life. Then, as if someone else was controlling his movements, he pulled a small knife from his pocket and, without any warning, slit the throat of the young man closest to him.

As the blood spewed, he recalled, he buried his fear, determined to prove he was merciless, the essence of a sicario.

“I blocked myself, my own emotions, and told myself it was someone else doing it,” he said.

He later discovered that the two men were innocent, part of a game his bosses were playing. They hadn’t expected him to actually kill anyone.

When word spread, and the glow of admiration came from friends and others, his guilt subsided. No one would question him again. He was on the path now, brutal and immutable, to becoming a professional killer.

“They liked this,” he recalled. “This opened up a career for me.”

In more than a dozen interviews, the sicario said his childhood was normal, even good. His parents were together. They taught him to care for others.

“I was taught values, principles,” he said.

Tall and slender, with a round face and hooded eyes, he moved with the economy of an athlete, which he was. He once hoped to play professional soccer, but he skipped school to hang out with a small gang, smoking pot and getting into fights. Eventually, he dropped out.

Some days, he followed his father to work, joining him on his rounds for the local water company. For a while, he thought about making a life of such work, however mundane and underpaid.

Then his father lost his job, plunging the family toward financial ruin. His mother began working from dusk until dawn for a few dollars a day. With growing resentment, he watched the humiliation and low pay of day labor, while local gangsters made big money, enjoying a respect that bordered on fear.

“That’s when I chose to live day by day,” he said. “I became a criminal.”

He worked his way up, from a small-time lookout for Guerreros Unidos to robbery and drug sales. The leaders noticed his ambition. After that first killing, the cartel leader offered him a slot in the sicario training camp.

It was 2012, and Mexico’s war on drugs was in its sixth year. Violence had reached record highs as the military took to the streets to combat organized crime and the cartels battled one another for supremacy.

Murder became a form of messaging, a spectacle of sadism — bodies hanging from bridges, chopped in pieces, deposited in public plazas, each grisly crime scene a warning, a way of saying the cartel’s violence knew no limits.

As the drug market churned, with new players rising and falling, training camps became academies for the industry’s enforcers. The sicario saw an opportunity.

For six months, he lived in austerity with dozens of other men in the mountains of southern Mexico, he said, through terror, starvation and cold. Everywhere the specter of death.

They hunted and killed rival cartel members, and were killed themselves, often by their own trainers who disposed of them for disobeying orders or showing hesitation, he said. Trainees who ran afoul of the instructors were strung up from trees and used for target practice, he recalled — a claim that experts on cartels found plausible.

Knowing he might die for failing to follow orders — whether killing a farmer, cutting up a body or torturing a friend — was all the incentive he needed to do the unthinkable. At least that’s how he justified it.

“They turned me into an animal,” he said.

But behind every decision, every inhuman act, was a truth he could not escape. He chose this life. It was what he wanted.

In a year, he had transformed into a skilled assassin — battle-tested and not yet 20 years old.

After the training camp, he was sent to Acapulco, he said, to fight other cartels for the lucrative drug market in tourist districts.

A year or so later, he returned, but to a very different Morelos. His old boss had been gunned down and his old cartel, Guerreros Unidos, was nearly vanquished there, swallowed up by its one-time allies, Los Rojos.

The sicario no longer had a champion, or any allegiance at all.

Some of his old comrades had switched sides, which happened in cartel warfare, the winners subsuming the losers.

The Rojos leader, Santiago Mazari Hernández, known on the street as El Carrete, sent an emissary to recruit the sicario. He wanted him to help set up drug operations across southern Morelos state. The past was the past, he said.

“It was join them or be killed,” the sicario recalled.

They began selling drugs in Jojutla, then spread to Tlaltizapan, Tlaquiltenango, Zacatepec, fighting off other groups in the small towns across southern Morelos.

As their business expanded, so did their influence, especially on local government. They had local officials everywhere on the payroll, the sicario said, to prevent surprises like arrests or seizures.

Expanding operations meant cleaning out the competition, not just other cartels, but also local criminals — thieves, rapists, small-time drug dealers and snitches. Anyone who drew police scrutiny.

Murder was rarely for sport, the sicario said. He studied his victims at length, investigating the complaints against them. Once confirmed, he warned them to stop, mostly to keep them from drawing too much attention from the authorities. If they didn’t, he planned the killings meticulously, carrying them out only with approval from above.

“For me to kill someone, I had to have permission,” he explained. “Why do I want to kill that person? Not because I just don’t like them. That’s not how it works.”

He followed a code, he said. He didn’t recruit children, and wouldn’t harm women or working people, if he could avoid it. But the workings of organized crime were rarely orderly. He did kill women and innocent civilians. For all the talk of honoring a code, it was often just that: talk. Business always came first.

The New York Times confirmed many of his homicides with the authorities and attempted to speak with the victims’ families in several cases. All refused. Having lost their daughters, sons and fathers to the cartel, they were fearful of reprisals.

Of all the people the sicario killed in his five-year run, only a few haunted him, he said. One in particular.

It was during a routine operation, he recalled, when his bosses sent him to eliminate a group of local kidnappers. After he arrived, he said, he found a college student with them. The sicario said he knew instantly the student was innocent: the look of terror on his face, his body language, even his clothes. They were all wrong.

Following protocol, the sicario tied everyone up and called his boss. He wanted to let the young man go. He was unaffiliated. There was no need to kill him. But the boss said no. Any witness was a liability.

As the boy begged for his life, the sicario said he looked away and told him he was sorry before slitting his throat.

“That student still haunts me,” he said, weeping. “I see his face, that kid begging me for his life. I will never forget his eyes. He was the only one who ever looked at me that way.”

Sometimes, in the dark, the sicario’s mother quietly knelt beside his bed, whispering over him as he slept. She knew he worked for the cartels, even if she didn’t know how exactly. Prayer was all she had left.

“Stop doing that,” he recalled telling her one night. “Your God can’t save me.”

By late 2016, he had grown numb to killing, hunting for targets with a mechanical indifference. Life mattered even less to him, his own included.

He received a promotion, which brought higher pay, more responsibilities and the envy of others. He still worked for El Carrete, who ran Los Rojos cartel, but he was consumed by paranoia, and for good reason.

The deeper he descended into the underworld, the more he understood the petty rivalries among the leadership. Their lives were steeped in mistrust. The work demanded it. Friends betrayed friends, right-hand men killed bosses.

He was told to kill members of his own team by leaders who worried they were growing too influential or undisciplined. He said he killed so many that he began to reconsider whom he hired.

“I almost never recruited within my friendship circles,” he said. “I would recruit whatever guy wanted easy money.”

But that left him vulnerable, unable to trust his team. It proved to be his undoing.

In May of 2017, the police took one of his partners into custody. To avoid prison, he promised them the sicario.

On May 15, the partner called the sicario. They had work to do, he said. It was bright outside, odd working hours for the men, but there was an emergency, his partner said.

They met up at a safe house and left together, heading toward their motorcycles parked down the street. The sicario heard the police before he saw them, the screech of tires, the revved engines. It was over in less than a minute.

He cursed himself on the way to the station. For years, he had survived on suspicion, yet somehow missed this easy setup. He wondered whether dumb luck alone had saved him all these years.

At the station in Jojutla, a small white building facing the district prison, police commanders confiscated his phone. It contained enough evidence to put him away for life.

While he sat handcuffed to a chair, the officers watched a snuff film of his work, which he had recorded on his phone. In it, one of the cartel’s lawyers, who had gone missing, sat in the shallow eddy of a river, bloody and terror-stricken, confessing a betrayal.

The police called his mother, who refused to believe them. Yes, she knew her son was a criminal, she recalled. But she refused to believe he was a killer — until an officer made her watch an interview in which her son confessed to his myriad homicides.

“We never taught him these things,” she said, sobbing. “He didn’t learn that malice from us. We gave him love and support.”

The police began adding up what they knew, starting with several homicides that traced back to him. He faced 240 years in prison for those alone.

But the police chief, Mr. Capella, had grown weary of the state’s limited tools and ambitions. Sloppy forensics, corrupt officers and haphazard investigations left few cases solved.

He had previously been a police chief in Tijuana, where the local press nicknamed him Rambo in 2007 for fighting off dozens of cartel assassins in an all-out battle that riddled his home with bullets.

Now, as the commander in Morelos, he wanted results. As the sicario sat in a ripped vinyl chair in the precinct, one of Mr. Capella’s deputies explained the arrangement.

The sicario would testify against his former comrades, detailing the many murders they had committed. But instead of describing the sicario in court or in case files as one of the killers or main conspirators, the state authorities listed him as a witness — someone with no real involvement in the crime.

The sicario, then 22, agreed to live in a building next to the prison for his own protection and be shuttled to public hearings. The state authorities did not charge him with any of the killings, choosing to wait until he was done testifying. Then, they could decide how to prosecute him, if at all.

By law, cartel cases in Mexico are supposed to be handled at the federal level, by a division tasked with investigating organized crime. The group can use its plea bargain powers to persuade witnesses to come forward, though few do. It is widely distrusted.

At the state level, no such program exists, and officials have often found their own ways of chasing justice, sometimes by breaking the law entirely. Many have held suspects in detention for years before trial as a form of punishment, knowing they didn’t have the evidence for a conviction. Others have opted for a more brutal solution: the extrajudicial killing of suspected criminals.

Mr. Capella tried a very different approach — looking for convictions in court, and ginning up a new set of rules to secure them. Tired of Mexico’s feeble rule of law, Mr. Capella decided to create his own version of it.

His unorthodox methods and unapologetic manner have brought him controversy, and plenty of enemies. The current government of Morelos has accused him of misappropriating funds in a separate matter, which he strongly denies.

Some former justice officials in Mexico call his witness protection program a stretch, operating well outside of legal norms. Others say it is so unusual that they are not quite sure. Even state officials in Morelos who supported the program acknowledged that it operated in a legal gray area, though, like Mr. Capella, they called it legal, defensible — and highly effective.

“I’d rather make a big mistake than be guilty of inaction,” Mr. Capella said. “Mexico is tired of this institutional paralysis.”

For five years, the sicario lived as two different people: the son who dropped off groceries for his mother and had a baby of his own with his girlfriend; and the “monster,” as he called himself, who killed for a few hundred dollars a week.

After his arrest, the wall between them began to crack. He suffered what seemed like psychotic episodes, he said, sleepless nights of strange voices and shadows collapsing on him. He knew he deserved no pity, that he alone was to blame. He took some comfort in that.

“I was at the point of going crazy,” he said. “I would spend two or three days crying.”

Eventually, a pastor — an uneducated, reformed convict himself — came to see him. At first, the sicario worried the man was a spy sent by his enemies. Eventually, he began to speak to him and, before long, could hardly stop.

The pastor was caught off guard by the torrent of confessions as the sicario gave himself over to the Bible with a fervor he once held for violence, a conversion so common it is almost a cliché in the world of gangs and cartels.

“That other person is dead,” the sicario said as if, with repetition, it might become true.

He found new purpose in confinement, helping solve cold cases, testifying against cartel players and paving the way for some two dozen convictions. The police said they saw a real transformation in him, though they had their own reasons to believe it, too.

By October of 2018, the police had expanded the program to include a dozen cooperating witnesses. With no other place to put them, the authorities housed the young men right next door to the jail that held the cartel members they were testifying against. Every few weeks, the police ferried them to court to provide evidence in cases.

The witnesses slept on thin mattresses on the floor, ate at a cracked plastic table and sat in chairs shorn of their backs. Large blue tubs overflowed with water used for bathing and flushing.

There were small comforts — a television, a microwave and an electric keyboard on which the sicario taught himself to play the theme song to the movie “Titanic.” And every weekday, the makeshift wing of the prison turned into an evangelical revival.

A pastor strummed an old guitar and led them in hymns. When the singing stopped, they took turns confessing — the soulless acts of violence they had committed, their temptation to return, their gratitude for having been saved.

“Sixteen years ago, I was like you boys,” the pastor said, the guitar resting against his belly. “It’s a miracle I survived.” Several began to cry unprompted.

The sicario, whose crimes far exceeded those of the others, was the natural leader. He became a parental figure for the group, and enforced his will by wielding a large wooden stick.

Eventually, the young men earned the trust of their wardens, and were allowed an almost comic level of autonomy. By early 2019, they were running their own security, locking and unlocking the barred entry for visitors, monitoring comings and goings in the ward. A few even started their own business, washing the government cars in the lot.

The police knew the risks were big, as was the possibility of failure. But their confidence grew by the day. Mr. Capella, the police chief, boasted of the change the sicario’s testimony had made on the streets. One deputy said the sicario would walk free with a clean rap sheet.

“We have achieved what we set out to achieve,” Mr. Capella said.

The unwinding came sooner than expected. More than a year into the program, Mr. Capella got a new job as police chief in the state of Quintana Roo. Home to the neon hum of Cancún and boho-chic of Tulum, it was a much bigger post than Morelos.

With his departure, the witness protection program lost its steward. It was expensive, and off the books. No one wanted to oversee someone else’s pet project.

The young men continued to attend their court dates, the pastor kept turning up and the sicario’s girlfriend gave birth to their second child, a girl. But the energy of even a few months earlier began to vanish.

Nearly half of the witnesses were gone. Some had finished their court appearances and left of their own volition. Others had skipped out, content to risk the death sentence that awaited them on the street. Many had grown accustomed to the idea of an early death. To them, the program was a brief respite.

The sicario talked less about what came next. Before, he practically counted the days until his departure. Now he merely shrugged when asked.

In truth, he had grown used to the facility. He liked the respect from the guards, the prosecutors and his fellow witnesses. It was a sanctuary from the outside world, which frightened him. Not only did he worry about the cartel and a life on the run, but he also feared the temptation — that for all his talk of change, he would wind up right back where he started.

“I know that being released and forming part of society again is harder than being locked up in here,” he said after a prayer session. “The truth is, I’d rather be in here, in pain, for 10 years than out there on my own.”

By the summer of 2019, the program was in rank disrepair — dirty dishes piled up, water pooled on the floor, toilets were left uncleaned. The lights didn’t even function properly anymore.

“Everything is coming to an end,” he said one day. “Just take a look around you. The world is upside down.”

He was practically alone now. Only one other witness remained. His friends came by periodically, to smoke weed or listen to music in the dark. He used them to ferry messages to people on the outside, including drug dealers.

The police had all but abandoned the program. Most officials were happy to see it empty out, eager to be done with the burden.

In the void, the sicario returned to what he knew: selling drugs. While still inside, he recruited former witnesses who had left the program, forming a team of marijuana dealers from the same youth he had once vowed to rescue.

The pastor found out and pressed him to stop.

“I realized how many people I was dragging to their doom again,” the sicario said. “I led my friends toward the Bible, and now I’m making them sell drugs.”

His relapse seemed almost inevitable. How could the state expect to change someone so stripped of his humanity in just two years, with an unpaid, uneducated pastor as his only source of inspiration?

Perhaps it never intended to. The sicario had helped dismantle his former cartel, leaving it in shambles. He was no longer of much use to the police.

On the outside, his enemies would see him as weak, no longer under the protection of the police. He liked to claim that his reputation on the streets kept his family safe, but that wasn’t entirely true, either. Even the police knew as much. The sicario had softened since joining the program. He cared about his family, his children, the prospect of a new life. Hope was a liability in his old world.

One of the police officers had warned him about leaving.

“‘You won’t stand a chance out there,’” he recalled the officer saying. “‘You aren’t the same person anymore.’”

“He got it right,” the sicario said. “It’s true.”

On a sunny afternoon in August, the sicario fled. A tipster warned him that the police were planning to arrest him and bring charges. True or not, he didn’t take the chance.

He had been careless before, when he was caught the first time. But now, after all the people he had helped lock up, going to prison for real — with inmates, not cooperating witnesses — would mean certain death. He would be killed the moment he entered.

He slipped out of the facility and checked into a small roadside hotel. After nearly two years under police protection, he was on his own.

A few days later, on Aug. 5, a pair of gunmen posing as customers came to his parents’ taco stand and shot his brother four times. As the killers fled, they left a note: “Let’s see if you all learn this way.”

The brothers looked alike, so the gunmen may have thought they had killed the sicario. When he found out about the shooting, he wished they had.

His brother was innocent, the family insisted. He had never associated with organized crime, on the sicario’s orders. He finished high school, lived at home with his parents, had enlisted to join the Mexican armed forces and was scheduled to head out soon, his mother said.

The sicario knew he didn’t deserve freedom. “Justice for me,” he sometimes said, “would be death.” But his brother was different.

“They hit me where it hurt most,” the sicario said, crying, not long after the murder. “The thing I loved most in the world, they took from me.”

Still, he insisted that he would not seek revenge. Nothing would change because of it. His brother would still be dead. The killings would continue, even escalate, sucking in the rest of his family, in the kind of unending cycle Mexico itself is trapped in. Murder was inevitable, he said. His involvement didn’t have to be.

“This will never end, no matter what I do,” he said. “But I just won’t be a part of it anymore.”

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Jersey City Shooting Live Updates: 6 Killed, Including an Officer

Video

transcript

Shots Fired in Jersey City Standoff

A firefight between police officers and two suspected gunmen in a Jersey City, N.J., neighborhood broke out on Tuesday. At least six people were killed, including an officer, the suspects and three people in a store.

[gunshots] Mayor: We can confirm there’s multiple deceased inside the building and two officers were shot. One recently gave his life and was pronounced at the Jersey City Medical Center, and the second officer was shot in the shoulder and he should recover. And then two other officers are receiving medical treatment due to shrapnel.

Westlake Legal Group 10njshooting03-videoSixteenByNineJumbo1600 Jersey City Shooting Live Updates: 6 Killed, Including an Officer Police Brutality, Misconduct and Shootings police Jersey City (NJ)

A firefight between police officers and two suspected gunmen in a Jersey City, N.J., neighborhood broke out on Tuesday. At least six people were killed, including an officer, the suspects and three people in a store.CreditCredit…Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

Here’s what you need to know:

Six people, including one police officer, were killed in Jersey City, N.J., on Tuesday in a series of gunfights that brought destruction to a kosher market and made a residential area feel like a war zone.

The dead included three people in the market as well as two suspected shooters, officials said. The slain police officer, Detective Joseph Seals, was a longtime veteran with the Jersey City Police Department, according to Chief Mike Kelly.

Officials believe the shooting began when the detective approached one of the gunmen at a nearby cemetery in connection with a homicide investigation and was shot dead, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

The gunmen then fled in a truck and eventually ended up at the kosher market, where they opened fire on police officers and civilians, officials said. For much of the next hour, residents nearby — and blocks away — could hear rapid bursts of gunfire echoing off the low buildings.

Investigators believe that the store was chosen randomly and that the incident was not a hate crime. There was “no indication of terrorism,” an official said at a news conference.

ImageWestlake Legal Group 10njshooting4-articleLarge Jersey City Shooting Live Updates: 6 Killed, Including an Officer Police Brutality, Misconduct and Shootings police Jersey City (NJ)

Police officers took cover from gunfire on Tuesday afternoon as they responded to reports of an active shooter in Jersey City, N.J.Credit…Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

Officials received calls about a shooting at the market around 12:30 p.m., according to Chief Kelly. At the same time, the police learned that Detective Seals had been shot at Bay View Cemetery, roughly a mile away.

Chief Kelly said the officers who responded at the kosher market were met with “high-powered rifle fire. The loud exchanges of gunfire rang out in the nearby area of Jersey City, which is across the Hudson River from Lower Manhattan.

Helicopters circled overhead as police officers swarmed the streets. They aimed handguns and long guns in every direction as they traveled down the street in formations, knocking on doors and ushering residents and business owners to safety.

Two officers, Ray Sanchez and Mariela Fernandez, were hit in the gun battle, one in the shoulder and the other in the body, Chief Kelly said. Both of them had been released from the hospital by Tuesday night.

Officers were also investigating a stolen U-Haul vehicle that they believed was connected to the shooters, Chief Kelly said. Bomb squads examined the vehicle.

The New York Times

The shootout and police siege plunged the Greenville neighborhood of gentrifying Jersey City — the second most-populous city in New Jersey, with a quarter of a million residents — into chaos, fear and confusion.

Chesky Deutsch, a Hasidic Jew and a community activist who spoke with a shooting victim by phone, said the man was in his 20s and suffered three gunshot wounds.

Mr. Deutsch said the victim did not have a clear memory of what had happened.

The victim lives in Brooklyn and had been shopping at the store when the gunfight broke out.

Next door to the supermarket is a small synagogue and yeshiva, Mr. Deutsch said, adding that up to 100 children, ranging in age from about seven to 12, had been trapped at the yeshiva.

Detective Joseph Seals

Detective Seals had been a police officer for 15 years, rising through the ranks in Jersey City’s busy South District, according to Chief Kelly.

His most recent assignment was to a citywide Cease Fire unit, which concentrates on reducing shootings and making gun arrests in Jersey City.

“He was our leading police officer in removing guns from the street,” Chief Kelly said. “Dozens of dozens of handguns he is responsible for removing from the street.”

Detective Seals was promoted in November 2017 and had been previously commended with his partner for saving a woman from a sexual assault on Christmas Eve in 2008.

The two officers climbed a fire escape and surprised the 23-year-old attacker, who was arrested and charged with criminal sexual contact and burglary.

The authorities believe Detective Seals was working to investigate a gun crime when he came across the shooters at the cemetery.

Chief Kelly said it was thought the detective “was killed while trying to interdict these bad guys.”

On Tuesday night, more than a dozen, somber police officers stood guard outside Jersey City Medical Center. At one point, three plainclothes officers hugged a woman who stood sobbing amid the glow of red and blue police lights.

At around 5 p.m., dozens of officers saluted outside the emergency room as a body covered in a white sheet was carried to a hearse and a small group of Hasidic Jews followed behind.

“There are days that require us to stop and think what it means to put on a uniform,” said Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey. “And God knows this is one of those days.”

He added that if it were not for the police who confronted the gunmen “we shudder to think how much worse it could have been.”

Residents who had been cleared from their homes and stores watched anxiously from behind a barricade as SWAT teams, bomb squads and heavily armed officers overtook their neighborhoods.

As they stood at street corners, waiting for word that it would be safe to return, they described a tense standoff punctuated with exchanges of gunfire that did not stop until just before 2 p.m.

“I heard this constant shooting, and it kept going on for about 15 minutes,” said Willy McDonald, 67.

By the time he came outside, there were cops everywhere. “There had to be at least 8 of them.”

“This is one of the biggest gunfights I’ve seen in a while,” Mr. McDonald said. “And I’ve been in Vietnam.”

One frustrated resident, Corey McCloed, 39, said it was like the city was under siege.

The center of the chaotic scene, the Jersey City Kosher Supermarket, caters to a small, but growing, number of about 100 Hasidic families who have moved to Jersey City in recent years from the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

The families, many of whom belong to the ultra-Orthodox Satmar sect, have created a budding community in the Greenville neighborhood, a residential area with dense blocks that include a Catholic school, a Pentecostal church and a Dominican restaurant.

The kosher market’s opening three years ago signaled that the community was putting down roots in what remains a largely African-American part of Jersey City.

Rabbi Moshe Schapiro, of the Chabad of Hoboken and Jersey City, said the store was “a grocery that is very popular with the local Jewish community” and had “a deli counter that has nice sandwiches.”

Sacred Heart School, a Catholic elementary school across the street from the scene of the shooting, was placed on lockdown during the attack, a spokeswoman said. The students there were not harmed.

Twelve public schools in the vicinity of the shooting were also shut down and on lockdown, according to the superintendent of Jersey City Public Schools, Frank Walker.

Schools in neighboring Bayonne, N.J., were ordered to shelter in place as a result of the police activity.

Corey Kilgannon, Kwame Opam, Sharon Otterman, Edgar Sandoval, Ed Shanahan, Ashley Southall and Tracey Tully contributed reporting. Susan Beachy contributed reporting.

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Greig Baker: In Canterbury, our Conservative candidate is already delivering on local issues

Greig Baker runs a political intelligence agency and lives in Canterbury

In 2003, I was sat in a local pub watching England play Australia in the Rugby World Cup Final. England had gone into the competition as hot favourites and duly ended up in the final, with lots of people expecting them to win easily. But in that pub, during the final stages of the match, everyone was on tenterhooks. Fans were watching through their fingers as it went right down to the wire, then at the very last moment, one last push set up a dream drop goal that sailed through the posts and delivered victory.

You know where this analogy is going. There might be a shortage of cauliflower ears on the campaign trail, but the general election in Canterbury – and beyond – reminds me a lot of that world cup final. The Conservatives went into these play-offs as hot favourites, and are still in contention in the final stages, but most people are watching through their fingers as the most important electoral contest in decades goes right down to the wire.

A long time ago, I worked as a pollster, and I really don’t think they’ve got things right this time – or if they have, it’ll be down to luck rather than judgement. On the doorstep here, things are close. Extraordinarily close.

I’d like to share three bits of news from the local patch that help explain why…

First, we are in contention in Canterbury because we’ve got a truly terrific candidate fighting a decent campaign. I know everyone says that, but Anna Firth really is the bee’s knees, and she’s got more done for local residents since being selected a couple of months ago than Rosie Duffield has achieved in a couple of years of being the somewhat vacant MP. I have never seen anyone work as hard or as effectively for local people as Anna does – she has already banded with Kent’s Police Commissioner to get more coppers in Whitstable, she has had the Rail Minister down to sort the trains, and she has even collared the PM (and anyone else who comes within arm’s reach) about getting a new hospital in Canterbury.

Which leads me onto the second point: the hospital. Our local area’s population literally doubles from 40,000 to 80,000 people during term time and, as a result, Kent & Canterbury hospital here needs a massive upgrade to continue to serve its function. We need a new A&E. We need maternity services. And we need a new building. Amazingly, working with local campaigners, Conservatives here (and in next door constituencies like Faversham – kudos to the excellent Helen Whately) have already got a plan worked up for that new hospital – and they’ve also convinced a local business to build our new NHS hospital for free!

Now you’d think everyone would be cock-a-hoop about that – and you would almost be right. In fact, the only person who seems to have a downer on the plan is Rosie Duffield. Our illustrious Labour MP has been taking potshots at the plans for a new hospital in Canterbury because she has an ideological aversion to a local business building it for free for us. In my view, that’s worth saying again: the Labour MP doesn’t want a new NHS hospital in her patch because a local business has offered to build it for free. Bonkers.

And worryingly, it’s that kind of ideological fervour that has kept the Labour Party here in the running. For example, I’ve been dumbfounded to notice more Labour signs going up outside big houses since the Chief Rabbi set out his concerns about the crisis of anti-Semitism in Corbyn’s Labour, when any half-decent ‘moderate’ Labour supporter would surely be sheepishly taking them down. And you really don’t want to see the stuff our local Momentum charmers come out with on social media…

The third thing to mention is that, partly as a cover for those more extreme Corbyn fans down here, the Labour candidate is going around telling anyone who will listen that there’s no chance of Corbyn winning. And that if he does, he won’t be around for that long. Or if he is, he won’t be as bad as normal people think. In short, she’s trying to get voters to ignore the simple truth that in Canterbury, just like everywhere else, a vote for Labour is a vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

Now, to say that a vote for Labour isn’t a vote for Corbyn requires a candidate to either be a bit slow on the uptake, not paying attention, or lying through their teeth – or perhaps all three. Either way, it needs to be called out so that the vast majority of normal people who shudder at the thought of Jeremy Corbyn in Number 10 know that they don’t have a free vote on Brexit (or anything else) in places like Canterbury. If you want to stop Corbyn, you’ve got to back Boris.

The last General Election would have had a different outcome if just 533 people across the whole country had voted Conservative rather than for another party. Here in Canterbury, we need to find 94 of those votes to regain the seat and stop the rot of this incompetent and intolerant Labour lot spreading through the rest of the South East. So if you’ve got a free half hour, contact me on Twitter and please come down to the beautiful Kent coast this Saturday to help us in the final weekend of campaigning.

I can promise you a fun day out, the chance to do something incredibly important, and with a bit of luck, we can finally kick Labour into touch. I’d love to see you here.

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