U.S. and Mexico to set up joint team to fight drug cartels

FILE PHOTO: An agent of the office of the Attorney General of Mexico carries a package of seized marijuana at the site of a passageway Mexican authorities on Thursday attributed to the cartel of fugitive kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman in Tijuana, October 24, 2015. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes/File Photo

By Karen Pierog

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Mexico will set up a joint team in Chicago targeting Mexican drug cartels and their leaders and finances, to try to stem a flow of drugs that has led to a spike in U.S. overdose deaths, officials said on Wednesday.

DEA Chief of Operations Anthony Williams said at a joint news conference with Mexican government officials in Chicago that targeting cartel finances was key because “the sole purpose of these entities is one thing and one thing only – money.”

Mexico remains the principal highway for cocaine to the United States and has become the top source of heroin, which is fueling a surge in opioid addiction in the United States. It is also a major supplier of methamphetamines.

“It’s not just a Chicago problem, it’s a national problem. Actually, it’s an international problem,” Brian McKnight, special agent in charge of the DEA’s Chicago Field Division, said at the news conference.

Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a left-leaning nationalist, has vowed to shake up Mexico’s war on drug cartels after he takes power in December. He wants to rewrite the rules, aides have said, suggesting negotiated peace and amnesties rather than a hardline strategy that critics say has only perpetuated violence.

However, a change of direction without the United States could increase friction between the neighbors, who have been often at loggerheads since Donald Trump became U.S. president.

Trump has irked Mexico with demands that it pay for a border wall and his comments that it does nothing to slow illegal immigration. He has also pushed to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to favor the United States.

But despite difference with the Trump administration on migration and trade issues, officials and security experts in the United States have applauded long-running bilateral efforts to crack down on drug gangs.

For the past 12 years, Mexico has fought the violent cartels by deploying thousands of police, soldiers, and intelligence officers.

(Reporting by Karen Pierog, Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Additional reporting by Dave Graham in Mexico City, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Passengers recount escape from burning Mexican plane

Firefighters douse a fire as smoke billows above the site where an Aeromexico-operated Embraer passenger jet crashed in Mexico's northern state of Durango, July 31, 2018, in this picture obtained from social media. Proteccion Civil Durango/via REUTERS

By Julia Love and Daina Beth Solomon

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Shortly after boarding her flight in the northern Mexican state of Durango afternoon on Tuesday afternoon, Ashley Garcia had a premonition that something was wrong.

The 17-year-old high school student from Northlake, a suburb of Chicago, was one of 65 U.S. citizens among the 103 passengers and crew aboard the Aeromexico passenger jet that crashed near the runway shortly after take-off.

Settling into her seat, Garcia saw a storm was gathering fast in the distance, and by the time the aircraft began preparing for takeoff it was battered by strong winds, hail and rain. Garcia captured the scene through her window with her cellphone.

“I had a gut feeling: just record it, just record it,” said Garcia. “I was like, there’s no way we are taking off, it’s too risky.”

The flight crashed moments after taking off, skidding to a halt in scrubland near the runway, a wing in flames. Passengers described how they followed escape procedures, enabling everyone to evacuate without any fatalities.

“We had been told so many times what to do,” Garcia said of the safety protocol passengers around the world are taught every time they board a plane. “No one ever thinks it’s going to happen until it happens to them. We were there for each other… That’s how we were able to get off safely.”

Investigators found the Embraer passenger jet’s recorders on Wednesday and have still to determine the cause of the crash. Aeromexico said 64 people have been released from hospitals. Two people, including the pilot, were more seriously injured.

Garcia was returning to the United States with three cousins after a two-week trip to visit relatives, traveling from Durango to Mexico City to catch a connecting flight to Chicago.

Liliana Gallarzo, Garcia’s cousin, thought the bumpy take-off was turbulence until the aircraft began skidding and panic set in.

“We were screaming,” said Gallarzo, a 19-year-old college student from Chicago. “Everyone was trying to get away from the plane, trying to get out.”

They smelled the smoke right away. But the cousins were seated in the middle of the cabin, and passengers were exiting from the front and rear doors, as the emergency exits in the middle of the plane were unused due to the fire near the wing, Garcia said.

Filing behind fellow travelers, they made their way toward the rear as the aircraft filled with smoke. Garcia grabbed her phone but left her luggage behind, losing her glasses in the shuffle.

When they reached the exit, there were no emergency slides, meaning they had to jump, Garcia said. A trampoline was there to cushion their fall, and fellow passengers helped them make the jump.

Once off the plane, Garcia coughed and vomited, choking for air. A flight attendant directed the cousins to get as far away as possible from the plane, which was soon engulfed by the fire, leaving only smoldering wreckage after firefighters extinguished the blaze. They walked through the rain, their clothes soaked.

After waiting for further direction, they headed closer to the runway, where firefighters, paramedics, and other emergency personnel sprang into action, checking passengers for injuries. Suffering from minor scratches and bruises, Garcia was taken to the hospital, where she underwent X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) before returning home that night.

She said the compassion shown to her by emergency personnel affirmed her desire to be a police officer. She has a flight home booked for Friday.

“I didn’t think I would be able to get back on a flight, but I have experienced the worst,” Garcia said. “So now, whatever happens, it’s meant to happen.”

(Reporting by Julia Love and Daina Beth Solomon; writing by Julia Love; editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Chicago suburb bans ‘assault weapons’ after Florida massacre

FILE PHOTO - AR-15 rifles are displayed for sale at the Guntoberfest gun show in Oaks, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

(Reuters) – An affluent Chicago suburb has banned the possession, sale and manufacture of “assault weapons” and “large-capacity magazines” in response to the massacre at a Florida high school and other recent mass shootings in the United States.

Residents of Democratic-leaning Deerfield, located about 25 miles north of Chicago, have until June 13 to remove any firearms and magazines that fall outside the new restrictions or face a fine of between $250 and $1,000 per day, according to the ordinance passed by the town board on Monday night.

The ban quickly drew a legal challenge from gun-rights group Guns Save Life, with support from the National Rifle Association, on grounds it violated Americans’ Constitutional rights to own firearms.

The Deerfield ordinance said the ban was a direct response to the Feb. 14 killing of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and the student-led campaign for tighter restrictions on guns inspired by the mass shooting.

“We hope that our local decision helps spur state and national leaders to take steps to make our communities safer,” Deerfield Mayor Harriet Rosenthal said in a statement.

The ban follows a similar 2013 measure enacted by the nearby suburb of Highland Park, located on Chicago’s North Shore, which withstood a challenge that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Opponents were quick to take issue with the ban.

“Every law-abiding villager of Deerfield has the right to protect themselves, their homes, and their loved ones with the firearm that best suits their needs,” Chris Cox, head of the NRA’s lobbying arm, said in a statement.

Opponents of the ban said they fear Deerfield will try to outlaw other firearms.

“First it’s going to be assault rifles. There will be new bans in the future. It’s just a matter of time,” Deerfield resident Larry Nordal told the Chicago Tribune. Nordal did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.

The ban defines assault weapons as a range of firearms such as semiautomatic rifles like the AR-15, a gun similar to the one used in the Florida massacre. High-capacity magazines are defined as those holding more than 10 rounds.

Deerfield High School senior Ariella Kharasch, who supported the legislation, wants more action on local and national levels.

“This is our generation’s fight. We’re going to keep fighting and this is part of it,” Kharasch told the Chicago Tribune. “Change happens gradually step by step.”

(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Leslie Adler)

Storm to clobber U.S. Midwest with snow, wind and frigid temps

A jogger runs through the rain past the reflecting pool at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, U.S., February 7, 2018.

By Brendan O’Brien

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) – A storm is expected to clobber Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee with heavy snow, gusty winds and freezing temperatures that will slow travel for millions of commuters on Thursday evening and Friday.

The storm system that stretches from western Montana across parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois and east into southern Michigan will drop as much 12 inches (30 cm) of snow and produce 35 miles per hour (56 kph) winds, the National Weather Service said in several advisories.

“Periods of snow will cause primarily travel difficulties. Be prepared for snow covered roads and limited visibilities,” the service said in an advisory for southern Wisconsin.

Wind chill temperatures were expected to drop below 0 Fahrenheit (-18 C) in many areas across the region on Thursday night and into Friday morning.

United Airlines said on Twitter the storm was expected to impact operations this week and that travel waivers were in effect for areas affected by the snow.

Winter weather across the United States over the last several days has killed several people in accidents in the Midwest since Monday, including six in Iowa, two in Missouri and one in Montana, local media in those states reported.

(Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Deadly winter storm delays travel in U.S. Midwest, Northeast

Weather conditions for winter storm 2-6-18 National Weather Service

(Reuters) – A winter storm will dump snow and freezing rain on the U.S. Midwest and the Northeast beginning on Tuesday after it caused several deaths as it snarled highways and spurred the cancellation of hundreds of flights at Chicago’s main airport.

The National Weather Service warned commuters in northern Texas, east through southern Illinois and Indiana, and New York and Massachusetts, to watch for icy road conditions, wind gusts and reduced visibility throughout the day and into Wednesday.

“The ice and snow will result in difficult travel conditions,” the NWS said in an advisory. “Motorists are strongly urged to slow down and allow plenty of time to reach their destinations.”

Winds of 40-miles an hour(65 kph) and as much as 4 inches (10 cm) of snow are expected across the affected regions, with parts of New York and Vermont getting as much as a foot of snow, the NWS said.

The storm was responsible for the death of six people on Monday in crashes throughout Iowa, the Des Moines Register reported.

Two people also died in southwest Missouri and more than 70 others were injured after icy roads caused a high number of crashes, the Springfield News-Leader reported.

At Chicago’s busy O’Hare International Airport, the storm caused the cancellation of more than 460 flights, according to the flight tracking website FlightAware.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Trump administration demands documents from ‘sanctuary cities’

People visit the Liberty State Island as Lower Manhattan is seen at the background in New York, U.S., August 17, 2017.

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s administration on Wednesday escalated its battle with so-called sanctuary cities that protect illegal immigrants from deportation, demanding documents on whether local law enforcement agencies are illegally withholding information from U.S. immigration authorities.

The Justice Department said it was seeking records from 23 jurisdictions — including America’s three largest cities, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, as well as three states, California, Illinois and Oregon — and will issue subpoenas if they do not comply fully and promptly.

The administration has accused sanctuary cities of violating a federal law that prohibits local governments from restricting information about the immigration status of people arrested from being shared with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

Many of the jurisdictions have said they already are in full compliance with the law. Some sued the administration after the Justice Department threatened to cut off millions of dollars in federal public safety grants. The cities have won in lower courts, but the legal fight is ongoing.

The Republican president’s fight with the Democratic-governed sanctuary cities, an issue that appeals to his hard-line conservative supporters, began just days after he took office last year when he signed an executive order saying he would block certain funding to municipalities that failed to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. The order has since been partially blocked by a federal court.

“Protecting criminal aliens from federal immigration authorities defies common sense and undermines the rule of law,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement.

Democratic mayors fired back, and some including New York Mayor Bill de Blasio decided to skip a previously planned meeting on Wednesday afternoon at the White House with Trump.

“The Trump Justice Department can try to intimidate us with legal threats, but we will never abandon our values as a welcoming city or the rights of Chicago residents,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. “The Trump administration’s actions undermine public safety by jeopardizing our philosophy of community policing, as they attempt to drive a wedge between immigrant communities and the police who serve them.”

IMMIGRATION CRACKDOWN

The issue is part of Trump’s broader immigration crackdown. As a candidate, he threatened to deport all roughly 11 million of them. As president, he has sought to step up arrests of illegal immigrants, rescinded protections for hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought into the country illegally as children and issued orders blocking entry of people from several Muslim-majority countries.

Other jurisdictions on the Justice Department’s list include: Denver; San Francisco; the Washington state county that includes Seattle; Louisville, Kentucky; California’s capital Sacramento; New York’s capital Albany, Mississippi’s capital Jackson; West Palm Beach, Florida; the county that includes Albuquerque, New Mexico; and others.

The Justice Department said certain sanctuary cities such as Philadelphia were not on its list due to pending litigation.

On Twitter on Wednesday, De Blasio objected to the Justice Department’s decision to, in his words, “renew their racist assault on our immigrant communities. It doesn’t make us safer and it violates America’s core values.”

“The White House has been very clear that we don’t support sanctuary cities,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said, adding that mayors cannot “pick and choose what laws they want to follow.”

The Justice Department last year threatened to withhold certain public safety grants to sanctuary cities if they failed to adequately share information with ICE, prompting legal battles in Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia.

In the Chicago case, a federal judge issued a nationwide injunction barring the Justice Department from withholding this grant money on the grounds that its action was likely unconstitutional. This funding is typically used to help local police improve crime-fighting techniques, buy equipment and assist crime victims.

The Justice Department is appealing that ruling. It said that litigation has stalled the issuance of these grants for fiscal 2017, which ended Sept. 30.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Makini Brice; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. Upper Midwest factory sector grows fastest in three years

Steam is seen drifting from a factory over the Hoan Bridge in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in this February, 6, 2014 file photo.

(Reuters) – A gauge of factory activity in the U.S. Upper Midwest improved to the strongest level in over three years in December, led by much stronger readings on new orders and production, according a private survey released on Friday.

Marquette University and the Institute for Supply Management-Milwaukee said their seasonally adjusted index on manufacturing in the Milwaukee region rose to 65.57 this month from 59.62 in November.

The December figure was the highest since November 2014 when it was 68.9.

A reading above 50 indicates regional factory activity is expanding.

The upbeat snapshot of upper Midwest business activity coincided with a jump in a similar measure for the Chicago area.

On Thursday, MNI Indicators and ISM-Chicago said their jointly developed Chicago Purchase Management Index rose to 67.6 in December, the highest since March 2011.

The Marquette University and Milwaukee ISM survey’s component on new orders, a proxy on future activity, increased to 88.33 from 66.46 last month, while its production gauge improved to 72.65 from 57.94.

Not all the components improved in December. The survey’s employment index fell to 58.67 from 61.73, while its six-month outlook gauge slipped to 71.43 from 73.33.

(Reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Violent crime in U.S. rose in 2016 vs. 2015: Justice Department

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Violent crime rose 4.1 percent nationwide in 2016 compared to the 2015 estimates, the U.S. Justice Department said on Monday.

Violent crime, which the report defines as non-negligent killings, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, had steadily dropped since 2006, but had increased slightly in 2015, according to the annual report by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“The report … reaffirms that the worrying violent crime increase that began in 2015 after many years of decline was not an isolated incident,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

The report said an estimated 1.2 million violent crimes took place across the country in 2016, an increase of 4.1 percent over the 2015 estimate.

In cities with populations larger than 100,000, the violent crime rate in 2016 was up 3.4 percent compared to the estimate from 2015.

President Donald Trump, who took office in January, has said he would do more to fight criminal gangs and would send in federal help to stem violent crime in Chicago.

The Justice Department has reversed or distanced itself from many of the Obama administration’s policies, including consent decrees to reform police departments and limits on transferring certain types of military gear to local law enforcement agencies.

 

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Bill Trott)

 

Chicago sues Trump administration over sanctuary city plan

FILE PHOTO - Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel listens to remarks at a news conference in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. on December 7, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young/File Photo

By Julia Jacobs

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Chicago on Monday sued to prevent the Trump administration from enforcing new policies that would withhold money from so-called sanctuary cities that deny U.S. immigration officials access to local jails.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, said the federal policies force the nation’s third largest city to choose between its constitutional rights and funding for law enforcement.

“These new conditions also fly in the face of longstanding City policy that promotes cooperation between local law enforcement and immigrant communities,” the lawsuit said.

The policies also include a requirement that local law enforcement agencies give federal authorities 48 hours notice before releasing anyone wanted for immigration violations.

Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel said on Sunday that the city would sue, escalating a pushback against an immigration crackdown launched by Republican President Donald Trump’s administration.

“We are bringing this legal challenge because the rhetoric, the threats from this administration embodied in these new conditions imposed on unrelated public safety grants funds are breeding a culture and climate of fear,” Emanuel’s senior legal adviser, Corporation Counsel Ed Siskel, said on Monday.The conditions from the Justice Department apply to the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants, which provide money to hundreds of cities. Chicago is expected to receive $3.2 million this year for purchasing equipment.

Siskel said the city will follow the initial complaint with a motion for a preliminary injunction to halt the government’s imposition of the new conditions.

The city will request a decision from the judge before the Sept. 5 deadline to apply for the Byrne grant, Siskel said.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Monday that Chicago officials have shown an “open hostility” to enforcing laws designed to reduce crime and protect law enforcement.

He added that more Chicagoans were murdered last year than residents of Los Angeles and New York combined, and that Chicago needed to reverse a “culture of lawlessness.”

“This administration will not simply give away grant dollars to city governments that proudly violate the rule of law and protect criminal aliens at the expense of public safety,” Sessions said in a statement.

The lawsuit is the first to challenge the Justice Department over the Byrne program but is not the first legal attack on the administration’s sanctuary city policies.

Emanuel said on Sunday that the lawsuit would prevent the administration from setting a precedent that could be used to target other funding.

Sanctuary cities in general offer illegal immigrants safe harbor by declining to use municipal resources to enforce federal immigration laws. Dozens of local governments and cities, including New York and San Francisco, are part of the sanctuary movement. “Sanctuary city” is not an official designation.

The lawsuit came nearly two weeks after Sessions said the Justice Department would bar cities from the Byrne program unless they allowed immigration authorities unlimited access to local jails and give the 48 hours pre-release notice.

Chicago and its high murder rate have been frequently criticized by Trump, and cracking down on illegal immigration was a theme of his 2016 presidential campaign.

(Reporting by Mark Weinraub and Julia Jacobs; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

As shootings soar, Chicago police use technology to predict crime

A Chicago police officer attends a news conference announcing the department's plan to hire nearly 1,000 new police officers in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. on September 21, 2016.

By Timothy Mclaughlin

CHICAGO (Reuters) – In a control room at a police headquarters on Chicago’s South Side, officers scan digital maps on big screens to see where a computer algorithm predicts crime will happen next.

Thrust into a national debate over violent crime and the use of force by officers, police in the third-largest U.S. city are using technology to try to rein in a surging murder rate.

And while commanders recognize the new tools can only ever be part of the solution, the number of shootings in the 7th District from January through July fell 39 percent compared with the same period last year. The number of murders dropped by 33 percent to 34. Citywide, the number of murders is up 3 percent at 402.

Three other districts where the technology is fully operational have also seen between 15 percent and 29 percent fewer shootings, and 9 percent to 18 percent fewer homicides, according to the department’s data.

“The community is starting to see real change in regards to violence,” said Kenneth Johnson, the 7th District commander.

Cities like Philadelphia, San Francisco, Milwaukee, Denver, Tacoma, Washington, and Lincoln, Nebraska have tested the same or similar technologies.

The techniques being used in Chicago’s 7th District’s control room, one of six such centers opened since January as part of a roughly $6 million experiment, are aimed at complimenting traditional police work and are part of a broader effort to overhaul the force of some 12,500 officers.”We are not saying we can predict where the next shooting is going to occur,” said Jonathan Lewin, chief of the Chicago Police Department’s Bureau of Technical Services. “These are just tools. They are not going to replace (officers).”

The department’s efforts come after a Justice Department investigation published in January found officers engaged in racial discrimination and routinely violated residents’ civil rights.

That probe followed street protests triggered by the late 2015 release of a video showing a white police officer fatally shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald a year earlier.

Some critics of the department fear the technology could prove a distraction from confronting what they say are the underlying issues driving violence in the city of 2.7 million.

“Real answers are hard,” said Andrew Ferguson, a law professor at the University of the District of Columbia who has written a book on police technology. “They involve better education, better economic opportunity, dealing with poverty and mental illness.”

 

‘KILLING FIELDS’

Chicago’s recent rash of shootings – 101 people were shot over the Independence Day weekend alone – prompted President Donald Trump to bemoan the response of city leaders to the bloodshed, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to describe some of its areas as “killing fields.”

One of the technologies being used in the 7th District is HunchLab, a predictive policing program made by Philadelphia-based company Azavea. It combines crime data with factors including the location of local businesses, the weather and socioeconomic information to forecast where crime might occur. The results help officers decide how to deploy resources.

Another is the Strategic Subject’s List, a database of individuals likely to be involved in shootings that was developed by the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Police are tight-lipped about how it is compiled, saying only that the algorithm looks at eight factors including gang affiliation and prior drug arrests to assign people a number between 0 and 500. A higher number reflects higher risk.

They are also using the gunfire detection system made by ShotSpotter Inc which uses sensors to locate the source of gunshots. Police officials declined, however, to say how many such devices were installed in the 7th District.

“We can’t give away the kitchen sink and tell them all of our secrets,” district commander Johnson said.

 

(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin; Editing by Ben Klayman and Lisa Shumaker)