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'A pretty tough time to be in law enforcement'
Officers who agree change is needed struggle to do their jobs, feeling pressure from the left and right


WASHINGTON (AP) — As calls for police reform swell across America, officers say they feel caught in the middle: vilified by the left as violent racists, fatally ambushed by extremists on the right seeking to sow discord and scapegoated by lawmakers who share responsibility for the state of the criminal justice system.

The Associated Press spoke with more than two dozen officers around the country, black, white, Hispanic and Asian, who are frustrated by the pressure they say is on them to solve the much larger problem of racism and bias in the United States. They are struggling to do their jobs, even if most agree change is needed following the death of George Floyd, who was black, at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis.

Most of the officers spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation or firing.

"You know, being a black man, being a police officer and which I'm proud of being, both very proud — I understand where the community's coming from," said Jeff Maddrey, an NYPD chief in Brooklyn and one of many officers who took a knee as a show of respect for protesters.

All of officers interviewed agreed that they'd lost some kind of trust in their communities. For some, the moment is causing a personal reckoning with past arrests. Others distinguish between the Floyd case and their own work, highlighting lives saved and personal moments when they cried alongside crime victims.

"I have never seen overtly racist actions by my brothers or sisters in my department," wrote white Covington, Kentucky, police specialist Doug Ullrich in an op-ed. "In fact, I believe that my department is on the leading edge of 'doing it right.' "

Of course, hardly all police support change. Some are incensed — deriding colleagues as traitors for taking a knee or calling out sick to protest the arrests of some police for their actions amid the protests.

For Dean Esserman, senior counselor of the National Police Foundation and past police chief of Providence, Rhode Island, and New Haven and Stamford in Connecticut, the result so far has been for communities and police to pull away from one another. That will mean fewer personal connections — and more problems, he said.

"Many police leaders who are saying 'don't call us' when there are emergencies miss the point," he said. "I delivered nine babies in my career, and I never shot anybody. The community isn't part of the job. It IS the job."

It's not the first time that police officers have found themselves caught in the middle. The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement earlier this decade spawned a "blue lives matter" campaign and the belief among many Americans that cops were being unfairly stigmatized over the actions of a few or split-second decisions during tense situations.

But now, Americans are largely united behind the idea that change is necessary: 29% think the criminal justice system needs "a complete overhaul" and 40% say it needs "major changes." Just 5% believe no changes are needed, according to a new poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The long, often dark history of American policing has meant minority communities are treated one way, and white ones another. Floyd's killing cracked open the pain anew, but minorities have long begged for officers to stop seeing them as criminals and to do their jobs with equity.

While many activists acknowledge that the problems they're fighting go beyond police departments, they say that doesn't mean individual officers aren't guilty.

"People who try to sell you 'police reform' are trying to sell you the idea that you can *train* the anti-Black racism out of an institution built upon and upheld by anti-Black racism," activist Adam Smith tweeted.

A culture that allows racism to fester in law enforcement hasn't yet changed because that would take deep structural shifts, new blood and a lot of time, said Sandra Susan Smith, a criminal justice professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

"It's not just about the institutional mandate to control and confine, it's also about the views individual officers bring to neighborhoods," she said.

The difference now is top police officials nationwide are increasingly supporting reform. Patrick Yeos, president of the national Fraternal Order of Police, said change must come from the top down—and lawmakers must play their role.

"These issues are not created by officers," he said.

Police don't always have the autonomy their elected leaders claim they do. When NYPD officers were stopping hundreds of thousands of mostly black and Hispanic men a year, top brass said officers were exercising their judgment - and the stops were necessary. But officers testified at a federal trial over the stop-and-frisk tactic that they felt pressured by superiors to show they were cracking down. And those stops rarely resulted in arrest.

Cerelyn Davis, police chief in Durham, North Carolina, and president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, said that reform is possible but that there must national accountability standards, and teeth behind them.

"They talk about one bad apple," she said. "In this field we can't afford to have one bad apple. One bad apple can have grave consequences."

As the debate has played out, the tensions have led to violence. Officers are accused of harming protesters. And they're getting hurt and killed, too.

A sheriff's deputy in California was killed and four others officers wounded by an Air Force sergeant with links to a far-right group, officials said. He was also charged with killing a federal security officer outside a courthouse. A 29-year-old police officer was shot in the head during a protest on the Las Vegas Strip and has been left paralyzed from the neck down.

Hundreds of officers have been injured in the protests in New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, some critically.

This, too, has happened before. In 2014, after the grand jury declined to bring charges against a cop in the death of Eric Garner, a man angry over the death shot two officers dead in their patrol car. Across the nation, others were targeted.

In New York, where an officer was charged with strangulation Thursday after an apparent chokehold — the same tactic used on Garner — Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said continued reforms are needed and he lauded the push for them.

But, he said: "It's also a moment in time where it's a pretty tough time to be in law enforcement."

Flushing out coronavirus: Wastewater testing could help predict surges

Jeremiah Birdsall lowered a rope with a container on the end into a manhole near the Elkhorn Wastewater Treatment Plant one morning last week and reeled in a batch of untreated wastewater.

As wastewater goes, it was relatively clear. Birdsall, an engineering technician with the City of Omaha, poured a portion into a bottle and handed it off to Shannon Bartelt-Hunt, professor and chair of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Bartelt-Hunt tucked the sample into a cooler with those she’d picked up earlier that morning in Grand Island and Lincoln and drove east to hand them off to a group of collaborators at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Bartelt-Hunt has been collecting weekly samples of wastewater in the three cities since early April. The researchers’ goal is to see whether they can develop a method to detect signs of the novel coronavirus in the wastewater and use that data to learn about and help track the virus, potentially giving public health officials a needed leg up on plotting and responding to its course.

“This might be able to help predict what’s coming and direct where to put testing centers or where to put (other) resources,” Bartelt-Hunt said.

Getting ahead of the virus has been complicated by its long incubation period, the time it takes sick people to get in and get tested, and even the limitations of the tests themselves.

The nasal swab test, which like the wastewater testing looks for the virus’s genetic material, can miss infections if it’s done too early or too late in the course of the illness. Some people with the virus never develop symptoms, and some with symptoms don’t get tested.

For those reasons, some researchers also are eyeing wastewater testing as a means of determining the virus’s true prevalence in communities.

Wastewater monitoring already is catching on in other countries and in parts of the United States. Researchers in the Netherlands, Australia and now the United States have demonstrated that testing can pick up on the virus about a week before the first clinical case. Yale University researchers, for instance, published a working paper last month indicating that they could detect changes in the community’s outbreak up to seven days before they showed up in COVID-19 nasal swab testing data.

The Water Research Foundation, an international group based in the United States, held an international summit on the topic in April and briefed congressional staffers in late May. The National Academies’ Water Science and Technology Board also hosted a panel discussion in late May on the potential value of coronavirus data from wastewater and what’s needed to build a useful surveillance network. A Massachusetts firm, Biobot Analytics, has begun working with communities to conduct testing.


Jeremiah Birdsall, a City of Omaha engineering technician, opens a manhole so a wastewater sample can be collected.

Monitoring wastewater, in fact, is not a new idea. Wastewater analysis long has been used to monitor for other diseases, such as polio, and some researchers have used it to estimate the prevalence of drugs of abuse, such as opioids, in communities.

Bartelt-Hunt previously has tested Nebraska waters — before and after treatment — for the presence of both therapeutic and illicit drugs. She’s currently trying to do the same kind of testing for methamphetamine with a researcher at the University of South Dakota.

Wastewater testing for the novel coronavirus got started after research earlier in the pandemic indicated that people shed particles of the virus in stool and other bodily fluids. Whether the particles contain live virus capable of infecting people, however, still isn’t clear.

Bartelt-Hunt said she began thinking about testing in Nebraska after seeing reports from the Netherlands and Australia in early March.

As an environmental engineer, however, her work is more focused on chemical contaminants in water than on biological ones. So she reached out to UNMC.

The researchers contacted Omaha, Lincoln and Grand Island officials in late March. Confirmed cases began to mount in the Grand Island area in early April. It soon became a hot spot.

Bartelt-Hunt said the researchers are trying several sampling strategies. In Lincoln, they’re sampling at the wastewater plant, catching wastewater coming in. In Omaha and Grand Island, they’re pulling samples at various points in the collection system, opening manholes to access pipes. They chose the Elkhorn location because it collects primarily from a residential area and doesn’t get much industrial flow.

The UNMC researchers, however, hadn’t worked with wastewater before. They test clinical samples, like those long nasal swabs. So they first had to make sure they had an accurate method of finding the virus’s genetic material in the samples. Different elements in the wastewater can interfere with the tests, for starters. And the virus is more diluted in wastewater than in samples taken from swabs.

“Imagine taking that nasal swab and throwing it in a pond,” said Michael Wiley, a research assistant professor in the UNMC College of Public Health’s environmental, agricultural and occupational health department.


UNL professor Shannon Bartelt-Hunt and Jeremiah Birdsall at the Elkhorn treatment plant. Bartelt-Hunt, chair of civil and environmental engineering at the university, said testing the untreated wastewater samples might “help predict what’s coming and direct where to put testing centers or where to put (other) resources.”

Indeed, identifying a reliable method of testing emerged as a top priority during the Water Research Foundation’s April summit, said CEO Peter Grevatt. The foundation has launched a project to not only find but share such a method. The foundation aims to complete the project by the end of summer.

Dr. Jana Broadhurst, director of the emerging pathogens laboratory at UNMC, has applied to participate in the project. The lab, which has experience in developing and validating COVID-19 tests, also is where the work on the Nebraska wastewater testing is being conducted.

Grevatt said the foundation also is working with a number of states that already are moving forward with wastewater testing. Utah, for instance, is sampling in a dozen communities across the state. Officials there identified an outbreak in one county a week before some 280 cases were identified in a meatpacking plant.

The Netherlands already is planning on sampling daily at every wastewater plant in the country starting Sept. 1, he said. Programs also are being launched in several other European nations.

“That’s part of the reason we’re excited about this work,” Grevatt said. “We think it can be very useful in supporting the information that public health decision-makers have from clinical testing.”

Once the Nebraska researchers finalize their testing method, they’ll go back and analyze the tests they’ve been collecting since April. Catherine Pratt, an instructor in the public health college, said the team is nearly ready to begin working through the backlog.

Bartelt-Hunt said the researchers already know the number of COVID-19 cases reported in the communities.

Jesse Bell, a professor in the UNMC environmental health department, has been mapping some of that data. One goal will be to see how the wastewater tests correlate with actual cases and determine whether wastewater testing does a good job of predicting illnesses.

Said Broadhurst, “It really highlights what a diverse team of scientists is coming together to operationalize the testing and validate the meaning of the results.”

Bell said the researchers also hope to use the data in other ways, such as figuring out what communities are being impacted, who’s being exposed to the virus, when it’s leaving a community and when it’s coming back.

While cases of COVID-19 are down in Nebraska, there still were an average of 133 new cases a day over the seven-day period that ended Thursday. That’s well above the threshold for which public health officials would consider the virus contained. And some health officials believe there will be a second wave in the fall.

“There’s a lot that still isn’t known about this disease,” Bell said. “Any data point we can add will be beneficial in the long run.”

Our best staff images from June 2020

Look back at our best staff photos from June 2020

Drinking at home doesn't make up for decline at bars, restaurants

During the coronavirus pandemic, people are drinking less. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

While the masses are buying more booze from grocers and liquor stores to drink at home, that hasn't been enough to fill the gaping hole created by declines in shipments to restaurants, bars and sporting venues that were closed to slow the virus. Global alcohol consumption isn't expected to return to pre-COVID-19 levels until 2024, and the U.S. recovery will take even longer, according to researcher IWSR.

This is especially troubling for brands in the U.S., where even before COVID-19 a growing number of Americans, led by 20-somethings, increasingly strove to be healthier. They aren't giving up all the indulgences of older generations, but many want to feel better about doing so. It's a dynamic that helped turn lower-calorie hard seltzers, like White Claw, into household names and made nonalcoholic beer much more than an option for recovering alcoholics.

Toss in the growth of legal cannabis, and traditional beer, wine and spirits in the U.S. had been left searching for ways to bounce back. Now add an ongoing pandemic that's already killed 100,000 Americans, and there's increased concern that even when the virus fades consumers will keep cutting back on booze.

"The pandemic is set to cause a deeper and more long-lasting after-effect to the global drinks industry than anything we've experienced before," said Mark Meek, Chief Executive Officer of IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, one of the leading authorities on the alcohol market. "In many ways, 2019 was perhaps the last 'normal' year for the drinks industry."

In the U.S., the craft brewing boom that lifted the beer industry for so many years has faded, leaving big brands like Bud Light and Corona chasing the White Claw phenomenon with their own offerings — just another reason the ready-to-drink category keeps growing. Meanwhile, nonalcoholic beer has continued to be a bright spot. It's still small at less than 2% of the U.S. beer market but is forecast to grow by a third this year, according to IWSR. Those gains would come as volume in the overall beer category is expected to fall 3.7%, a fifth straight annual drop.

A lot of the gains can be credited to breweries founded on making nonalcoholic options with more taste — many of the original NA beers struggled to replicate essential beer flavors like hops and maltiness.

"You can have the amazing taste experience of an IPA, but it just doesn't have the alcohol in it," Jonathan Bennett, executive vice president for merchandising and supply chain for Total Wine & More, said earlier this year. Given the slowdown, "anything growing in beer takes our interest."

For years, Total Wine, the biggest alcohol store chain in the U.S. with more than $3 billion in annual sales, saw customers gravitate toward healthier options with organic ingredients and fewer calories. Then 2019's hard seltzer craze opened up the masses to low-cal booze, and when they looked they found more options than ever, including brewers who had figured out how to maintain flavor sans alcohol. The retailer has doubled shelf space for NA brews this year and added more displays to promote the category.

"If this is going to be the end of alcohol, we're going to be great at it," Bennett said with a chuckle.

Athletic Brewing Co., which makes only NA beer, is seeing a boom in demand, with sales this year already surpassing all of 2019, according to CEO Bill Shufelt. And despite the pandemic, the company, based in Stratford, Connecticut, opened a brewery last month in California to help it expand to the West Coast and markets like Texas.

"It's an acceleration of a movement that was already in place" toward healthier lifestyles, Shufelt said. Sure, many Americans might have been drinking heavily early on during shelter-in-place orders, but "being hungover at home probably got old pretty fast."

Because a hangover is nearly impossible with nonalcoholic beer (any drink containing 0.5% alcohol by volume or less can be marketed as NA), the category also wants to become the choice of those who live so-called "active lifestyles," a subset of often wealthier Americans that marketers covet.

That demographic currently favors Michelob Ultra, which pioneered low-carb beer in 2002 at the height of the Atkins craze and when that diet fizzled, morphed to winning over sporty folks with ads featuring loads of biceps and medicine balls. For years, it's been one of the biggest hits at Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest brewer. But it's a light lager that at 4.2% ABV can still get you drunk.

At WellBeing Brewing, another NA beermaker, a golden wheat called Heavenly Body is pitched as "perfect" for after sports, even yoga. The company, based in Maryland Heights, Missouri, calls its Victory Wheat a "sports brew" made with electrolytes, an ingredient found in performance drinks like Gatorade. Athletic Brewing Co. features surfers on its website and a 70-calorie IPA (that's less than half a Bud) called Run Wild.

Jeff Stevens, founder of WellBeing, is a recovering alcoholic who quit drinking in 1992 at the age of 24. But he still worked for years in marketing beer and spirits brands. Bars often became his workplace, leaving him to drink a lot of NA beer of the day. Like so many paths to invention, his came from frustration.

"I was just out all the time, and there was never anything to drink," Stevens said. "None of the choices, even then, were good. And it was like: Why isn't anyone doing craft beer in this space?"

That ultimately led him to found WellBeing in 2016 with the goal of producing nonalcoholic beers that still have the robust flavors this generation of drinkers expects. Up to that point, the few NA beers available were usually made by boiling out the alcohol, but much of the taste also disappeared. WellBeing evaporates the alcohol in a vacuum, which lowers the boiling point and helps preserve flavors. Its Intentional IPA is described as delivering "bitter characteristics" with notes of pineapple and peach.

Major players have been eager to jump in. Brooklyn Brewery, one of craft beer's pioneers, in October debuted Special Effects, an NA option that touts "Do More of What You Love." Heineken brought its Heineken 0.0 to the U.S. last year. Molson Coors released nonalcoholic Coors Edge in the U.S. in November after a test in Canada. And late last year, Anheuser-Busch started rolling out Hoegaarden Soft Brew, which has 0.5% alcohol and flavors including rosé, after becoming a hit in Europe.

And it's not just beer. Spirits with little or no alcohol are gaining fans. Diageo, owner of Smirnoff and Guinness, recently snatched up London-based startup Seedlip, the world's first distilled nonalcohol drink brand, created in 2015. The brand has made its way across the globe, including to the U.S., and late last year began popping up on menus at high-end restaurants.

There's a push into NA wine, too, but the product has a long way to go, said Bennett, the Total Wine executive. That's why the retailer is working with wineries to develop an offering that "tastes like wine and not grape juice," he said. The wine industry could use the help, with volumes falling last year for the first time in a quarter century.

Of course, this nonalcohol movement isn't for everyone. There are still plenty of drinkers, and a lot of them are stressed-out millennial parents in their prime spending years. This population (roughly 24 to 39 years old) drank 29 alcoholic drinks a month last year, up from 24 in 2013, according to booze-producer Constellation Brands.

Count 30-year-old beer blogger Caitlin Johnson among the skeptics. "If I'm going to be spending my money and my calories, it would be nice to have something with a buzz," she said.

But a trip to Germany, Belgium and the Czech Republic last year opened her eyes when nearly every restaurant she visited in those iconic beer-making countries had a selection of NA brews.

"At first, I was totally against it," she said. "Now, I'm at the point where I would pick up a 6-pack to try."

"The pandemic is set to cause a deeper and more long-lasting after-effect to the global drinks industry than anything we've experienced before."

Mark Meek, chief executive officer of IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, one of the leading authority's on the alcohol market

Ernst pushes for coronavirus hazard pay for Guard troops

WASHINGTON — Iowa Army National Guard Sgt. James Dannelly has been helping with COVID-19 testing at different sites around the state for a month now.

More than 1,000 Iowa National Guard soldiers and airmen were initially brought on to help with the virus response, tackling missions that ranged from delivering personal protective equipment to helping track the spread of infection. More than 400 are still on the job.

They take all appropriate precautions but also know the risks of exposure to a potentially deadly disease — for themselves and their families. After all, medical personnel across the nation have become ill while combating the virus, Dannelly noted.

"It weighs on you," Dannelly said. "But part of putting on the uniform is understanding that you are willing to weigh the risks and benefits of what you are doing for the greater good."

In recognition of those risks, the Senate Armed Services Committee recently approved a provision that would grant at least $150 per month of hazard pay for military personnel who have been conducting coronavirus-related missions.

Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican, pushed to include the provision when the committee advanced the annual defense policy bill. That measure still must pass the full Senate and the House before becoming law.

Ernst said it doesn't matter whether those in uniform are working at testing sites or delivering supplies to hospitals and food banks — they are putting themselves out in the community where they could be exposed.

"When everybody else is self-isolating they're out there continuing to operate," Ernst said. "It's pretty reasonable. We want to reward those that are out there being exposed to the virus when everybody else has the opportunity to hunker down."

There are eight TestIowa sites currently staffed by Iowa National Guard soldiers and airmen, while 15 military trucks are ready to deliver protective equipment where needed.

The Nebraska National Guard, meanwhile, has 272 soldiers and airmen now on duty for virus response. A total of 644 have served to date.

Among their missions: providing mobile testing, distributing protective equipment and assisting food banks.

Ernst said they are putting not just their own health in danger but that of their families.

"They are exposing themselves to great risk just as they would in a combat zone," Ernst said.

Dannelly serves in the Iowa Guard but lives on the Nebraska side of the river, in the Omaha area. He had just arrived Thursday at the Council Bluffs testing site where personnel were helping handle the specimens collected from those tested and managing patient information.

Dannelly said he joined the Guard after years of active duty service. Part of what drew him to the Guard was its role in responding to humanitarian situations at home.

"I work here, I live here, so anything I can do to make this community better, it's benefiting me as well," he said.

joe.morton@owh.com, twitter.com/MortonOWH