Martin Kaste

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy, as well as news from the Pacific Northwest.

In addition to general assignment reporting in the U.S., Kaste has contributed to NPR News coverage of major world events, including the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and the 2011 uprising in Libya.

Kaste has reported on the government's warrant-less wiretapping practices as well as the data-collection and analysis that go on behind the scenes in social media and other new media. His privacy reporting was cited in the U.S. Supreme Court's 2012 United States v. Jones ruling concerning GPS tracking.

Before moving to the West Coast, Kaste spent five years as NPR's reporter in South America. He covered the drug wars in Colombia, the financial meltdown in Argentina, the rise of Brazilian president Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, and the fall of Haiti's president Jean Bertrand Aristide. Throughout this assignment, Kaste covered the overthrow of five presidents in five years.

Prior to joining NPR in 2000, Kaste was a political reporter for Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul for seven years.

Kaste is a graduate of Carleton College, in Northfield, Minnesota.

You know what a pain it can be storing and organizing the millions of videos you've shot on your smartphone. Now imagine you're a police officer, and you wear a body camera every day.

Police cams have suddenly become a big business. In the months since Ferguson, share prices for the camera manufacturer Taser International have doubled. But in the long run, the real money is in selling police a way to store all that video.

License plate scanners have become a fact of life. They're attached to traffic lights, on police cars — even "repo" staff use them. All those devices have created a torrent of data, raising new concerns about how it's being stored and analyzed.

Bryce Newell's laptop is filled with the comings and goings of Seattle residents. The data comes from the city's license plate scanner, acquired from the police through public disclosure requests. He plugs in a license plate number, uncovering evidence of long-forgotten errands.

This week in Washington, thousands of sworn officers gathered for National Police Week, an annual commemoration of the lives of officers who've died on the job.

This year it was hard for participants to escape the shadow of the anti-police protests of the past nine months. One of the week's events, a memorial bicycle ride, even was rerouted away from Baltimore, to make sure the nearly 2,000 officers participating in the ride wouldn't become targets.

Law enforcement officers have come under pressure over the past few months to rethink how they use deadly force, as a result of the string of videos of shootings by police.

But recently, police have been talking about another video — one that shows an officer not shooting.

The surprise announcement of criminal charges in Baltimore Friday morning definitely got the attention of police officers. The decision has been welcomed by protesters, but it's causing dismay for law enforcement across the country.

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Bob Ball is a real estate investor in Portland, Ore., but that's just his day job. For the past 20 years, he has also been a volunteer cop.

"When I was new, it was the best time of my life. I got to go out there and wear a white hat and help people and make a difference in my community, one little piece at a time," Ball says. "That's a very, very fulfilling thing to do."

This is real police work. On one occasion, Ball had to pull his gun on a guy threatening a woman with a knife.

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When James Craig was a young man in the 1970s, he says law-abiding people wouldn't dream of carrying guns. But then he left town to pursue a career in policing. In the years he was gone, Michigan liberalized its gun laws, making it easier for people to get concealed-carry permits.

When he came back to become Detroit's police chief in 2013, he found a whole new reality.

"You would have thought, given the dynamic of people who carry weapons, that we were maybe in Texas," he says. "But in fact, we were in Detroit, Michigan!"

If you're murdered in America, there's a 1 in 3 chance that the police won't identify your killer.

To use the FBI's terminology, the national "clearance rate" for homicide today is 64.1 percent. Fifty years ago, it was more than 90 percent.

And that's worse than it sounds, because "clearance" doesn't equal conviction: It's just the term that police use to describe cases that end with an arrest, or in which a culprit is otherwise identified without the possibility of arrest — if the suspect has died, for example.

Violent crime in America has been falling for two decades. That's the good news. The bad news is, when crimes occur, they mostly go unpunished.

In fact, for most major crimes, police don't even make an arrest or identify a suspect. That's what police call "clearing" a crime; the "clearance rate" is the percentage of offenses cleared.

In 2013, the national clearance rate for homicide was 64 percent, and it's far lower for other violent offenses and property crimes.

On Valentine's Day weekend, Jonathan Hutson found himself exchanging tweets with somebody unpleasant: a Holocaust-denying anti-Semite, by the look of things.

Then Hutson looked up the person's earlier tweets. This guy was tweeting about shooting up a school. He said that he wanted to execute 30-plus grade-school kids."

So Hutson decided to draw the person out — "engage with him," as he puts it — to see if the threats were real.

Late last month, during a meeting of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, a shoving match broke out among members of the public — some of them off-duty police officers.

The cause of the tension was a proposal to create a new civilian oversight authority for the police. Advocates of police reform like civilian oversight, but police officers say the boards are often politicized and unfair to them.

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Wearable video cameras are fast becoming standard-issue gear for American police. The cameras promise a technological answer to complaints about racial bias and excessive force.

But in fact, the beneficial effects of body cameras are not well-established yet. And the police departments that rushed to buy them are now dealing with some unintended consequences.

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The federal government is throwing the book at one of the most vocal critics of the polygraph test.

Doug Williams, a man who makes his living teaching people how to beat the test, will go on trial in January on charges of witness tampering and mail fraud. But Williams' defenders say he's being punished by a government that has become overly dependent on polygraphs.

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Since the Ferguson, Mo., shooting, there have been renewed calls for police departments to hire more minority officers, but it turns out it's not that simple.

Police in the U.S. are more diverse than they were a generation ago. In the 1980s, 1 in 6 officers belonged to an ethnic or racial minority. Now it's about 1 in 4. The challenge these days is finding enough recruits to keep that trend going.

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Americans expect police to carry guns. In most places, it's just assumed that law enforcement is always armed. But not everywhere.

One of the last exceptions to the rule is the native communities of rural Alaska, such as Manokotak, a Yupik village of about 400 in southwest Alaska. Hunters and fishermen live there in modest houses huddled along a few roads.

In order to reach what Alaskans call "The Bush" — villages isolated across tundra — you'll need a bush pilot. That's where John Bouker comes in.

Most of Bouker's passengers are civilians he transports to and from Alaska's remote villages. He does his job with the nonchalance of a suburban dad in a minivan dropping his kids off at the mall.

On election night in a hotel ballroom in Anchorage, Alaska, Sen. Lisa Murkowski picked up a chair and waved it over her head.

"I am the chairmaaaaaaaaaaan!" she shouted.

Taser International is reporting a big jump in demand by police departments for "body cameras." The company, one of the biggest providers of body cams to police departments, says 2014 sales of its "Axon Body" model are up 300 percent over last year, and sales of its more expensive "Axon Flex" camera have doubled.

And what's interesting is that this spike started well before the August shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

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