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Entries in Safety (21)

Monday
Oct082012

Newark Airport TSA Get Low Marks on Internal Report

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(NEWARK, N.J.) -- If you've ever showed up at an airport security checkpoint with more than the allowed amount of liquid -- three ounces in any one container -- still in your carry on bag or make-up case, you're not alone.

And if you've managed to get through that checkpoint without having those liquids confiscated, you're not the exception.

An internal Transportation Security Administration report accessed by New Jersey's Star-Ledger newspaper found that at Newark Liberty International airport, agents take appropriate action on prohibited items in only a quarter of all cases.

And it's worse news when it comes to pat-downs: The report found agents properly executing standard pat-downs of passengers only 16.7 percent of the time. When it came to informing passengers of their right to opt out of a full-body scan in favor of a pat-down, the agents did not inform passengers even once.

The newspaper said the report was dated June 8 and was titled PACE Airport Evaluation. It was compiled by "an undercover team of Transportation Security Administration employees from other airports who were asked to observe screeners at work at Newark Liberty."

PACE is an acronym for Presence, Advisements, Communication and Execution. Observers who participate are TSA agents from other airports.

But it's not all bad news for EWR's TSA agents. The agents were observed removing prohibited items during physical searches and exhibiting good listening skills 100 percent of the time.

The TSA did not immediately respond to an ABC News request for comment.

The report comes to light on the heels of an ABC News investigation on TSA theft. ABC News reported in September that a convicted TSA security officer says he was part of a "culture" of indifference that allowed corrupt employees to prey on passengers' luggage and personal belongings with impunity, thanks to lax oversight and tip-offs from TSA colleagues.

"It was very commonplace, very," said Pythias Brown, a former TSA officer at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey who admits he stole more than $800,000 worth of items from luggage and security checkpoints over a four-year period.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Oct052012

American Airlines Grounds 757s for Second Time

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Two days after American Airlines said it had inspected and discovered what caused rows of seats on three different passenger jets to become loose in flight and returned those planes to service, the troubled carrier is taking planes out of service for repairs once more.

American Airlines will make repairs to 48 757s at their next stops, the airline said in a written statement.

"American has instructed mechanics to pay particular attention to the seat lock plunger mechanism that secures the seat to the aircraft floor," American Airlines spokeswoman Andrea Huguely said in the statement. "Mechanics have begun taking steps necessary to ensure that no seat can become dislodged from its track. The work is expected to be completed after the 48 affected aircraft land at their next destination."

"Some select flights may be delayed or canceled in order to complete this work," the statement added. "We expect this work will be completed by Saturday, Oct 6. We apologize to our customers for any inconvenience this may cause with their travel plans. The safety of our customers and people as well as the reliability of our fleet, is always of utmost priority to American."

The decision to perform the maintenance was a voluntary decision by the airline. The Federal Aviation Administration endorsed the move and says its investigation is ongoing.

"The FAA is aware of American's decision to conduct further inspections on certain Boeing 757s and concurs with this step," the FAA's statement said. "Our safety investigation continues and we'll take additional action as appropriate."

It's been a difficult few weeks for the bankrupt carrier, whose parent company filed for bankruptcy protection last year.

[See a timeline of American Airline's troubles]

Almost 50 of American Airlines' fleet of Boeing 757s -- nearly half the fleet -- were taken out of service earlier this week after three incidents of seats becoming loose in flight.

In one case, passengers flipped on to their backs.

The airline said Tuesday the seats' saddle clamps were improperly installed on the planes where the seat rows disengaged. Many of those planes were put back in service.

The first reported instance of seats becoming loose took place on Sept. 29 when seats came unbolted on flight 685 from Boston to Miami. The flight was diverted and made an emergency landing at JFK.

A second incident took place on Monday. Flight 443 from JFK to Miami was returned to JFK without incident when the seats were discovered, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.

Then on Tuesday, it was reported that a Sept. 26 American Airlines flight from Vail, Colo., to Dallas had a similar seat issues.

The FAA said in a statement Tuesday it was looking into the first two incidents and that the airline's initial inspection of each aircraft had found other rows of seats that were not properly secured.

"Preliminary information indicates that both aircraft had recently undergone maintenance during which the seats had been removed and re-installed," according to the FAA.

The loose seats are just the latest in a series of troubles for American. The airline has suffered from heightened delays and cancellations in recent days.

"It's going to take American some time to rebuild trust in terms of the reliability of the schedule," Henry Harteveldt, airline and travel analyst at Atmosphere Research Group told ABC News.

AMR Corp., American Airlines' parent company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November 2011.

The FAA has stepped up scrutiny of American during its bankruptcy, as it has in the past for other carriers in similar situations.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Oct012012

Two Sets of American Airlines Seats Become Loose in Flight

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Another set of seats came loose on an American Airlines flight Monday, the second such incident in three days on one of the carrier's flights. There was a similar incident of seats becoming loose, resulting in an emergency landing, over the weekend.

The latest incident took place on flight 443 from New York's John F. Kennedy Airport to Miami. The plane returned to JFK without incident when the seats were discovered, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.

An airline spokesperson said the airline does not believe either incident is related to American's ongoing labor issues.

The earlier incident took place Saturday night when seats came unbolted on American Airlines Flight 685 from Boston to Miami. The flight was diverted and made an emergency landing at JFK.

The passengers in those seats were moved to other seats on the plane. No one was injured and the aircraft landed safely at JFK. The passengers were delayed three hours before being put on another flight to Miami.

As a result of the two incidents, the carrier has taken a total of eight aircraft out of service until they can be inspected.

The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement it is looking into both incidents and said both Boeing 757 jetliners have been taken out of service. The FAA said that the airline's initial inspection of each aircraft found other rows of seats that were not properly secured.

"Preliminary information indicates that both aircraft had recently undergone maintenance during which the seats had been removed and re-installed. Including these two airplanes, the airline has taken eight aircraft with similar seat assemblies out of service until they can be inspected," the FAA statement read.

The FAA has stepped up scrutiny of American during its bankruptcy, as it has in the past for other carriers in similar situations. AMR Corp., American Airlines' parent company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Nov. 29, 2011.

American Airlines spokeswoman Andrea Huguley said in a statement the airline is conducting an internal investigation and that there could possibly be an issue with a certain model of seats and how they fit into the tracking used to secure the seats.

"Out of an abundance of caution, American has decided to proactively reinspect eight 757s today that could possibly have this same issue. The seats were installed by American maintenance and contract maintenance. The issue does not seem to be tied to any one maintenance facility or one workgroup.

"This afternoon, the company flew engineers, tech crew chiefs, and inspectors from its Tulsa maintenance base to New York to evaluate the aircraft and determine the next course of action to correct the problem.

"We are in contact with the FAA. They are aware of our internal review."

This is the latest in a string of recent problems for American Airlines. Maintenance and employee issues have led to significant delays and cancellations in recent weeks.

ABC News reported last month that the airline was forced to delay nearly 40 percent of its flights, with most forced to be late or even cancelled by an "unprecedented and very significant" increase in maintenance issues. The airline blamed the pilots, who it claimed were calling out sick 20 percent more than normal.

"The recent disruptions are primarily due to the significant increase in maintenance write-ups by our pilots, many right at the time of departure," the airline said in a statement last month.

The pilots union said there is no sanctioned work action under way and disagreed with American's accounting of sick leave and crew cancellations.

A fight last month between two flight attendants over a cellphone forced a plane to turn back to the gate at JFK and delayed passengers four hours while the airline found a new crew.

The trouble at the airline has prompted at least one airline industry expert to advise passengers to book away from the airline for the time being.

Wall Street Journal travel editor Scott McCartney warned passengers, "My advice is, until things get straightened out with the operations, if you have a choice, you ought to book another airline. It's just not worth it."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Sep062012

NTSB Suggests Wingtip Cameras on Planes

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The National Transportation Safety Board is suggesting that large aircraft be equipped with external cameras to give pilots a better view of a plane's wingtips as they travel along the taxiway -- and possibly cut down on ground crashes.

On planes such as the Boeing 747 and the giant Airbus A380, the safety board said, pilots can't see the wingtips from the cockpit unless they open the side window and stick out their heads.

Kevin Hiatt, a former commercial pilot and the chief operating officer of the Flight Safety Foundation, agreed that cameras might be a help.

"Physically, visually, you can't see those wingtips," he said. "If they [pilots] get into a tight situation, they might be able to use that reference of that camera in the cockpit to take a look at the wingtip."

In May, the wingtip of a Boeing 747-400 cargo plane hit the tail of an American Eagle flight as it taxied at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. No injuries were reported and the collision remains under investigation.

Outside cameras are standard on the Airbus A380 and A340-600 but are optional on the A330 models and A340-500. The cameras, however, primarily help the pilots see landing gears, not look at the wingtips.

Boeing told ABC News Thursday that it also has one plane with external cameras -- the 777-300 -- but not for wingtips.

While the safety board can make recommendations, it is up to the Federal Aviation Administration to decide whether to move forward on recommendations and require new safety equipment.

The NTSB said that the camera systems should be placed on new airplanes as well as those currently being flown.

Hiatt said that a sensor, like those in some cars, might work better. The sensor would set off a noise, like a beep, when the wingtip got too close to something.

"It would yet be one more thing that might bark at us to say 'Hey, watch out,' but in this particular case versus hitting something, I wouldn't mind that," he said.

Pilots that ABC News spoke with Thursday, however, said they did not like the camera suggestion.

Although they did not want to be quoted, they raised concerns about unintended consequences and distraction in the cockpit. Their biggest worry was that pilots would be tempted to keep an eye on the camera view, rather than scanning the tarmac in front of them.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar202012

Worried About Bus Safety? Now There’s an App for That

Hemera/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Ever want to monitor the bus you’re riding in up-to-the-minute fashion? There’s a new app for that, and it allows you to check the safety record of a bus company before booking that summer trip.

The National Transportation Safety Board says discount bus lines are one of the fastest growing modes of transportation, but they are seven times more dangerous than the bus lines that run between traditional bus terminals.

In cities like Washington, D.C., dozens of people can be seen queuing up Friday after work in historic DuPont circle for a $25 trip to New York City, and there are popular discount bus companies operating between numerous other cities, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco or Miami and Orlando.

As the summer months approach and vacations are planned, these lines will undoubtedly get longer and although the app can't tell you where the longest line will be, it can tell you which of the bus companies is the safest.

The safety of these buses came into question last year when two were involved in crashes, one including a fatality.

Tuesday the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) unveiled its SaferBus application, which allows motor coach riders to check the safety record of a bus company before booking their ticket. You can even make a complaint about the bus you are riding, while you are riding it.

“This new app gives Americans the information they need to make smart safety decisions when they book their next bus trip,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement to ABC News.  “As college students, families and tour groups start thinking about spring and summer travel, we encourage everyone to use the SaferBus app to look before you book your next bus trip.”

With gas nearing $4 a gallon and expected to continue moving up into the summer travel season, buses are often used as a cheaper travel method.

“SaferBus is FMCSA’s first step at making our thorough safety data on commercial bus companies available through smartphone technology,” FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro said in a statement to ABC News. “By placing a bus company’s safety record in the palm of your hand, SaferBus encourages riders to think safety first, supports our agency’s commitment to make bus travel as safe as possible, and provides good bus companies a way to highlight their positive safety records.”

The free app, the FMCSA is touting as “first of its kind,” provides safety records for nearly 6,000 interstate commercial passenger carriers operating in the United States today.

This app comes after a report released last October by the NTSB highlighted key safety issues, including high accident rates.

Curbside motorcoach operations are described as scheduled trips that begin or end at locations other than traditional bus terminals.

One key finding of the report showed from January 2005 to March 2011 the fatal accident rate for curbside carriers from was seven times that of conventional bus operations (about 1.4 fatal accidents per 100 vehicles). In addition, the report highlighted that FMCSA is overburdened having only about one inspector for every 1,000 motorcoaches.

“Business and safety practices within the growing curbside bus industry create challenges for enforcement authorities and consumers alike when it comes to separating the safe operators from the unsafe operators,” Hersman said during last year’s press conference.

The app is available for iPhone and iPad users and can be downloaded from the iTunes store or from FMCSA’s “Look Before You Book” webpage.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Mar162012

Girl, 3, Thrown from Carnival Ride at Houston Rodeo

KTRK(HOUSTON) -- Dramatic video of a 3-year-old girl being thrown from a Houston carnival ride has prompted rodeo officials to change the ride’s height restriction requirements. It may also lead to tougher regulation of traveling carnivals in Texas.

The child, whose name was not released, boarded the Techno Jump Ride with her 8-year-old brother at the RodeoHouston carnival around 2 p.m. Wednesday, according to local affiliate KTRK. RodeoHouston is a popular local attraction.

Witnesses told the station the mother decided to get off the ride before it started, leaving the girl and her brother, who both met the ride’s height and weight requirements, alone on the ride.

Video captured by a bystander and obtained by KTRK shows the girl starting to slip from her seat about 15 seconds into the ride.  As the ride circles around and picks up speed, the girl’s legs fly in the air before she is thrown six to eight feet to the platform below.

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Rodeo officials blamed the girl’s mother for allowing her children on the ride alone.  The ride operator, they said, was not at fault because the girl met the height requirement and looked old for her age. The ride had passed a safety inspection the day before, according to KTRK.

“This was a 3-year-old without an adult, and we said she came under the bar, she came under the lap restraint,” Leroy Shafer, the chief operating officer of RodeoHouston, told KTRK after seeing the video of the accident. “I don’t think it changes anything.”

The girl was taken to Texas Children’s Hospital and treated for a contusion on the side of her head and abrasions on her face, but a CAT scan and X-ray showed there were not more serious injuries, Shafer said on Wednesday.  She is expected to make a full recovery.

The Techno Jump requires that riders be 48 inches tall to ride alone, and at least 42 inches tall “if accompanied by a supervising companion.” Riders sit three-deep in gondolas that have separate lap belts for each rider and a restraining bar that comes down over all three riders.

After shutting down the ride for three hours after the accident, rodeo officials announced Wednesday night they would change the ride’s safety requirements.

“We’re now telling our ride operator, if it’s someone between 42 and 48 inches the other person has to be an adult,” Shafer said.

The accident has also attracted the attention of at least one Texas lawmaker, Rep. Garnett Coleman, who announced he is working on legislation to hold traveling carnivals to the same safety standards as permanent ones, KTRK reports.

“Clearly there needs to be more scrutiny on traveling amusement rides,” Coleman said in a statement. “This is a yearly story with this particular operator that someone is hurt or killed.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Dec022011

FAA Misses Another Pilot Fatigue Deadline

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Federal Aviation Administration has missed another deadline for implementing new rules aimed at protecting travelers from pilot fatigue, a decades-long and potentially deadly problem.

The proposed safety rules would significantly reduce work hours for pilots who make countless number of takeoffs and landings per day, often operating on little to no quality sleep.

An ABC News investigation earlier this year revealed pilots across the country struggling to even get "destructive sleep" in crew lounges and so-called "crash pads" before taking commercial aircrafts into the skies, sometimes with hundreds of passengers aboard. Current and former pilots described missing radio calls, entering incorrect readings in instruments and even falling asleep mid-flight. In the past 20 years, more than two dozen accidents and more than 250 fatalities have been linked to pilot fatigue, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The FAA was originally scheduled to decide on the new rules by Aug. 1 but that day came and went without new regulations. A new deadline was set on the government docket for Nov. 30, but the FAA failed to meet it as well.

The FAA told ABC News that despite the missed deadline, it is "working aggressively" to implement the "most sweeping rule in aviation history to combat pilot fatigue." The administration did not say when the new rules might be implemented.

According to the proposed rules, there would be an increase in the rest period between shifts for pilots, which is currently eight hours, and a decrease in the maximum length of a pilot's workday. Pilots are currently allowed to be on duty for up to 16 hours.

One reason for the missed deadline, according to a government official, is that the White House Office of Management and Budget is still reviewing the economic viability and impact of the new rules and has asked the FAA to work on minimizing impact on the airlines. An official at the OMB said the office was working closely with the FAA on the rules and expected it to be finalized "very soon."

Following the missed August deadline, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D.-New York, sent a letter to the FAA in which he placed some of the blame on the airline industry.

"I know that there are efforts on the part of [the airline] industry to weaken these rules by stalling their implementation and undercutting their intent," Schumer wrote. "This is unacceptable."

A representative for Airlines for America, the major trade group for airlines formerly known as the Air Transport Association, told ABC News, "We believe the rules need to be changed and [we] continue to advocate for rules that are based on science and are proven to improve safety."

One vocal group pushing for the implementation of the new rules are the families of those who died when Continental's Colgan Flight 3407 crashed in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2009. The National Transportation Safety Board initially linked pilot fatigue to the crash. Later, internal Colgan emails reportedly raised questions about the pilot's training.

"For nearly three years now we have heard [Transportation] Secretary [Ray] LaHood and [FAA] Administrator [Randy] Babbitt say that this is the top priority," the families said in a joint statement. "All we can say is that our patience is wearing thin. The time for lip service is long past and now is the time to step up to the plate and deliver."

Scott Maurer, who lost his 31-year-old daughter Lorin in the crash, said the families won't stop pushing for the government to move ahead with the new rules.

"Every day that goes by where passengers in this country are allowed to board regional airlines where pilots may be lucky to get five or six hours of sleep the night prior is another disaster waiting to happen," he said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Nov232011

Passenger Stands On Seven Hour Flight

USAir[dot]com(PHILADELPHIA) -- Arthur Berkowitz was buckled into his aisle seat and ready for take-off on a flight from Anchorage to Philadelphia when a morbidly obese man boarded the airplane at the last minute and headed toward the vacant middle seat which separated Berkowitz and a young exchange student on the otherwise full flight.

"He was very apologetic," Berkowitz, 57, told ABC News. "When he boarded, he said: 'I'm your worst nightmare.'"

Those words turned out to be prophetic for Berkowitz, who said he was forced to stand for most of the seven hour flight, which he took on July 29.

"During takeoff and landing, I was wedged into my seat and unable to belt it," he said. "The man next to me was resting on top of the seat belt."

Other than takeoff and landing, he said he spent the seven hour flight standing in the aisle and galley area.

Berkowitz said he is speaking out about his ordeal now because he believes US Airways did not properly address his concerns.

"My issue first and foremost is that this was a safety issue," Berkowitz said. "The airlines and regulatory bodies need to have protocol when it comes to this."

He said he brought the problem of his large seatmate to the flight attendants' attention and asked if he could sit in one of their jump seats.

They apologized and said there was nothing they could do and that sitting in their seats was against FAA regulations.

"We have attempted to address this customer's service concerns, but offering increasing amounts of compensation based on a threat of a safety violation isn't really fair -- especially when the passenger himself said he didn't follow the crew members' instructions and fasten his seat belt," John McDonald, a US airways spokesperson, told ABC News.

"We realize it is inconvenient, but it is our obligation to be safe," McDonald said.

Berkowitz said he brought complaint to the attention of the Department of Transportation and the FAA.

"They've done next to nothing other than to acknowledge they received [my letters]," he said.

US Airways, for their part, said they have discussed Berkowitz's complaints with the crew members who were on the flight.

Berkowitz, a frequent flyer, isn't satisfied.

"They say they want to give passengers comfort and convenience," he said. "Well, this is as inconvenient and uncomfortable as you can get."

Consumer advocate Christopher Elliott, who tried to help Berkowitz mediate his complaint, said travelers need to communicate, especially during the busy holiday travel season.

If the direct communication doesn't work, Elliott said passengers should talk to a flight attendant. Above that, they can appeal to the lead purser.

"The final level of appeal on the flight would be to talk to the pilot," Elliott said. "Pilots have the final say."

Beyond that, he recommends passengers immediately put their complaints in writing and submit them to the airline when they land.

"Airlines say they're giving us what we want -- low fares," Elliott said. "But we haven't also asked to be tortured. This is a form of torture."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Nov012011

It's Unanimous: Congress Passes Law to Protect Peace Corps Volunteers

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- After an ABC News report about the murder of a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa, Congress has passed a bill designed to protect whistleblowers and improve the treatment of victims of violence and sexual assault.

"We're so gratified, and actually amazed, that it's come to fruition, and that other volunteers will be able to hopefully serve safely," said Lois Puzey, mother of Peace Corps volunteer Kate Puzey, who was killed in 2009. "And if God forbid something happens, that they will have the support they need, which is what our family...did not get."

The House passed the Kate Puzey Volunteer Protection Act of 2011 by unanimous consent Tuesday evening, following unanimous passage by the Senate on Sept. 26. The bill now goes to President Obama to be signed into law.

The bill is named for 24-year-old Kate Puzey of Georgia, who was murdered in Benin in 2009 after telling superiors she believed a fellow Peace Corps employee was molesting female students. In an investigation that aired on 20/20, ABC News told the story of Kate's murder and examined what critics say has been a "blame-the-victim" culture within the Peace Corps when volunteers are assaulted or attempt to report problems.

Lois Puzey thanked ABC News' 20/20 for bringing attention to the case, and Sen. Johnny Isakson, R.-Georgia, for shepherding the bill through to passage. "Just having this bill passed, this law, is going to give us a lot of healing."

Sen. Isakson and Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, introduced the bill with a Capitol Hill press conference this summer. "The time has come to stand up and protect America's angels abroad," said Poe at the press conference. On the House floor Tuesday night, Rep. Poe said he hoped the bill would make volunteers feel safe "so that more and more go join the Peace Corps," and also credited ABC News with highlighting the issue of crime against Peace Corps volunteers.

"One reason it came to light was because of an ABC 20/20 special that was on January the 14th outlining the plight of individual Peace Corps volunteers and how they were treated," said Rep. Poe. "In some cases our volunteers were treated like the criminals and they weren't treated like victims.... And those days need to end." Sen. Isakson told ABC News Tuesday that he was "overjoyed" at the bill's passage, and grateful to all who worked on the legislation.

"Kate was a remarkable young woman who unselfishly went to Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer and was tragically murdered while helping others," said Sen. Isakson. "Kate's life will be memorialized by this new law to provide added protections, victims' rights and whistleblower status for Peace Corps volunteers. It is my sincere hope that this day might bring a small bit of comfort to the Puzey family."

The bill requires the Peace Corps to improve the training of volunteers to reduce sexual assault risk, would protect whistleblowers, and would require the Peace Corps to hire victims' advocates for each region the agency serves.

Kate Puzey was serving in a village in the West African nation of Benin in March 2009 when she began to suspect that a Peace Corps employee named Constant Bio, a citizen of Benin, was sexually harassing and sleeping with female students at the school where she taught. She sent an email to country headquarters reporting her suspicions and recommending he be fired.

"Please believe me, I'm not someone who likes to create problems, but this has been weighing heavily on me," reads the email she sent, obtained by ABC News.

Bio's brother worked as a manager in the Peace Corps office and Puzey asked her role be kept secret. She was found with her throat slit shortly after Bio received word from Peace Corps officials that he would be dismissed from his contractor position.

The suspect has been in custody since the murder while authorities in Benin investigate. Bio asserted his innocence in a letter to a newspaper in Benin, claiming he was being framed by America. Benin authorities have said they do not yet have enough evidence to try Bio.

The Puzey family believes that the Peace Corps failed to protect Kate, and then kept them in the dark about what had happened.

"It hurts us very deeply," said Kate's father, Harry Puzey, in an interview for 20/20.

"We wouldn't be sitting here, I think, if they had been more transparent with us, more honest with us," added Lois Puzey.

Carrie Hessler-Radelet, the Peace Corps deputy director, refused to say whether the agency bore any responsibility for Kate Puzey's death, citing the ongoing criminal investigation in Benin. "I cannot say because the investigation is not complete," she told ABC News.

Critics of the Peace Corps say the agency has a culture that tries to downplay violent incidents overseas and make victims feel responsible for their own misfortunes. Women who were sexually assaulted while serving as Peace Corps volunteers told ABC News that the treatment they received after they were attacked was sometimes worse than the assaults themselves, and that the agency seemed ill-equipped to deal with victims.

Casey Frazee, who was assaulted while serving in South Africa, formed a group called First Response Action to pressure the Peace Corps into reforming its treatment of victims and updating its sexual assault prevention program.

Frazee hailed the Kate Puzey bill as a breakthrough, and noted that the Peace Corps had worked with First Response Action and members of Congress on reform. "First Response Action is thrilled to see legislation come to fruition that supports Peace Corps Volunteers who report or experience a crime, whether as a victim or a whistleblower," said Frazee. "We are thankful to Congressman Poe and Senator Isakson for working closely with us and Peace Corps to generate this legislation." Cosponsors of the bill include Sen. Barbara Boxer, (D-Calif.), and Reps. Howard Berman and Sam Farr, both California Democrats.

In a statement, Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams said the "safety and security of our volunteers is Peace Corps' top priority."

"The Peace Corps welcomes the work of Congress on this important issue," said Williams, "and looks forward to continuing our joint efforts to improve our response to sexual assault and other crimes."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Nov012011

Citing Budget Woes, N.C. Town's Police to Cut Back on 911 Responses

Thinkstock/Getty Images(SMITHFIELD, N.C.) -- The police department in Smithfield, N.C., has said it would no longer respond to all 911 calls and would stop pursuing some misdemeanor crimes if the town didn’t approve a measure to increase the department’s budget for gasoline, according to the Raleigh News & Observer.

Police Chief Michael Scott will ask the town council to allow him to reallocate some of his $30,000 office supply and equipment repair funds to compensate for the shortfall in the gas budget. Smithfield reportedly cut the fuel budget by 14 percent — or by about $10,000 — from the previous fiscal year, according to the paper. Without an increase, the department runs out of gas by February 2012.

Scott said the department already had to cut back on patrols — and has even halved the number of patrol cars on the roads at times.

The town recently experienced a series of crimes – an armed robbery of a convenience store, a theft of tires and rims from an auto shop — that Scott said could have been prevented by heavier patrolling.

He also said that the department had been fielding complaints about the lowered police presence, and that some callers had even asked if they should buy guns to protect themselves.

City council members reportedly asked Scott to study alternatives to his plan to shift funds from one part of the budget to another. The alternatives that the police chief plans to present Tuesday are unprecedented. According to the News & Observer, department officials said that detectives would be asked to investigate only felony crimes and would be forced to drop misdemeanor investigations for now.

The plan also means that 911 calls made from hotels and pay phones would be ignored when they were followed by hang-ups, “as a very high percentage of these calls are errors in dialing.” Police would also stop responding to burglar alarms, because of the high number of false alerts. Patrolling would also stop on the southern and western sections of town, according to the paper, because these are not areas of violent crime.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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