Martin Kaste

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.

In addition to criminal justice reporting, 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.

Minneapolis voters will decide this November whether to end their city's police department, replacing it with a new "Department of Public Safety."

The city council last week signed off on language for a ballot question to change the city charter to create a new agency.

A couple of summers ago in Poulsbo, Wash., in a crowded park before a fireworks show, a man named Stonechild Chiefstick was bothering people, according to police. They got complaints about him seeming intoxicated and "doing crazy stuff."

At first, the cops just talked to him about it. But when they got a report that he'd threatened someone with a screwdriver, they went to arrest him. The encounter ended with police shooting and killing him.

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To talk about what this verdict might mean for law enforcement going forward, we are joined by NPR's Martin Kaste, who has been talking with his sources in police forces around the country.

Hi, Martin.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

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This year's tax season comes with an extra source of stress: Will you find out that scammers claimed government money in your name?

Unemployment benefits fraud was rampant in 2020 as the government rushed to send out COVID-19 relief. The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General has estimated the amount of benefits stolen was at least $63 billion, based on earlier patterns of unemployment fraud. But a lot of the fraud is coming to light only now, during tax time.

The year of the pandemic was also the year of the gun. Shootings took off in almost every city, large and small. New York saw shootings double, and nationally, non-suicide gun deaths jumped about 25%, according to the independent Gun Violence Archive.

Law enforcement agencies around the country are dealing with the fallout of off-duty officers who took part in the Jan. 6 pro-Trump rally that turned into a violent siege of the U.S. Capitol.

So far, more than 30 off-duty officers have been placed at the rally. In some cities, that fact has shaken confidence in the police.

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In the aftermath of Wednesday's siege of the U.S. Capitol, attention is turning to the nation's police: How many sympathized with what happened?

The acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, Michael Sherwin, says "hundreds" of people may ultimately face charges related to the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, which interrupted a session of Congress and left five people dead.

Sherwin spoke with NPR's Martin Kaste in an exclusive interview Saturday evening about the multiagency investigation, the challenges officials face and what they'll be looking for.

Several state capitols saw pro-Trump protests today, too, though none of them were nearly as violent as the mob at the U.S. Capitol.

Some legislatures closed public access to their capitols as a precaution. That was the case in Georgia, when armed protesters gathered outside the capitol there. Georgia's secretary of state was pressured by President Trump to overturn presidential election results.

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"No-knock" search warrants, which allow police to force their way into a home with the element of surprise, have attracted criticism since the height of the "war on drugs" in the 1980s and 90s. But it wasn't until this year that the death of Breonna Taylor galvanized that criticism into a national movement to ban the raids.

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Nov. 3 promises to be an Election Day unlike any other, and public safety entities say they're preparing for tensions and the possibility of violence.

Poll workers are usually the first line of defense in case of disputes between voters, though they may be backed up by private security guards. Some local election authorities say they'll be adding guards, and Washington state's King County says it will post guards to ballot drop boxes that in other years have been unattended.

Secret Service agents generally don't talk publicly about their work, for obvious reasons. But privately, they've been grumbling.

"I think there is a lot of frustration," says J.J. Hensley, a novelist who used to work for the Secret Service. He's still in touch with colleagues, and says it's been a tough campaign season for them.

"Agents are already worrying about guns and knives and bombs," Hensley says. "Now they have to worry about COVID-19."

As U.S. law enforcement departments are accused of racist policing, one of the most common responses by the people in charge has been to have officers take "implicit bias" training.

The training usually consists of a seminar in the psychological theory that unconscious stereotypes can lead people to make dangerous snap judgments. For instance, unconscious associations of African Americans with crime might make cops quicker to see them as suspects.

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Washington state acknowledged this week that it has lost hundreds of millions of dollars to a sophisticated unemployment fraud ring. Most of the money had come from the federal government in the form of pandemic aid.

It does not appear to have been a case of hacking, or a data breach. Rather, scammers used names and Social Security numbers they already had, possibly from earlier data breaches, to pose as out-of-work Washingtonians, security experts said.

In many cases — likely most cases — the real Washingtonians had not actually lost their jobs.

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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio today announced police will no longer require people to wear masks in public, unless the absence of a mask presents a "serious danger."

One of the few silver linings to this pandemic is that in most places, there's been less crime.

"Calls for service are certainly down," says Sgt. Adam Plantinga of the San Francisco Police Department. "No open bars means there's fewer late-night brawls, and people are home more, so burglars are having a tougher time of it."

Police departments across the country are facing a new reality in the era of coronavirus. As familiar categories of crime fade, officers are being asked to handle unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable new assignments.

COVID-19, like every epidemic before it, is testing the limits of medical privacy rights. And right now it's first responders — police and paramedics — who say they have a right to know who has the virus.

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