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by Peter Moskos

November 19, 2019

Academic Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!

Spread the word:

My department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the Department of Law, Police Science, and Criminal Justice Administration (LPS), has officially posted for three new full-time LPS positions. One of the lines is for a tenure-track assistant professor. Two of the lines are for full-time lecturer ( which is CCE, or the equivalent of tenure track).

Law and Police Science has not hired full-time faculty in many years, so to have three lines at once is very exciting and great news for the department. The job posting will remain open until the end of the year. The hiring will happen in the Spring, and the positions are to begin in the Fall of 2020.

To access them and apply in the CUNY System, go to: https://www.cuny.edu/employment/. Then click on "Search Job Postings," "Faculty," and look for ID# 21420 and 21421.

November 17, 2019

Violent, mentally ill, on the street: We need to do better than this

My op-ed in the Daily News:

Violent, mentally ill, on the street: We need to do better than this

Police officer Lesly Lafontant emerged form a coma yesterday after a bystander, Kwesi Ashun, somehow deemed it appropriate to beat Lafontant with a metal chair while Lafontant was trying to arrest Dewayne Hawkes, wanted on a warrant, after Hawkes had urinated on the floor on a nail salon.

Ashun was shot and killed by police. His death, not the beating a police officer, received the attention of a City councilwoman, who tweeted, ”My condolences to the victim and their family.” She wasn’t talking about the cop. Later, she talked of working “to bridge the divides.” As if when a man beats a cop nearly to death, the police are partly to blame.

Ashun had a record, including violent dealings with police. He was arrested for slashing a cop in 2004. Recently his family tried to get him help. “My brother was having a mental episode. He was very angry. He was spiraling [out of control]. They said he wasn’t a danger." Eleven days before the recent attack, a city Health Department “mobile crisis team” concluded Ashun wasn’t a threat to himself or others. His sister was told to call 911 but refused: “I wasn’t comfortable with dialing 911 on an ill black man. It was too dangerous. So I didn’t call."

The man who relieved himself in the salon, Dewayne Hawkes? Despite starting this mess, being wanted on a warrant, resisting arrest, and instigating a series of events that led to a cop in a coma and Ashun being killed, he was released on “supervised probation” without bail. What message does that give to police? Or to the people in the nail salon?

All serious mentally ill people need help; only a few are at risk of committing serious violence. The problem is New York City has hundreds of thousands of mentally ill and no way to treat them, particularly against their will. They bounce between hospitals, jails and homeless shelters. Some, like Ashun, end up dead. Others, like Randy Santos, will be in prison for the rest of their lives.

Santos had a long history of violence and strange behavior before being bailed out of Rikers by a bail-reform advocacy group; he now stands accused of having murdered four homeless people, a crime to which he has confessed. Santos’s mother tried to get her son help, but he chose to decline treatment. Perhaps that’s a choice that he shouldn’t have been allowed to make.

It’s actually not that hard to identify some of the people who need help. If your family tries to get you committed, perhaps you need be committed. Sure, we’d want an independent medical or psychiatric determination to make sure it’s not your family that is crazy, but it should be possible.

This part isn’t about bail reform; it’s not about police use of force; it’s not about affordable housing for the homeless. This is about people being hurt because families are unable to get help for their loved ones.

But there is a link to bail and criminal justice reform. And it’s not just a right-wing overreaction. Basically a few hundred people — a few hundred repeat offenders we can red-flag — are going to destroy the worthy gains of reform because we have no system to deal with them.

The plan to close Rikers Island calls for a 60% reduction from current low levels, and some of those 60% will be violent and mentally ill. They need help, and they’re not going to get it.

It behooves reformers and legislators to solve problems that are both inevitable and, if unaddressed, will doom reform efforts. The MTA is currently prohibited from banning repeat criminal offenders from the subway, even the few who push people onto subway tracks. New York judges are legally prohibited from considering a person’s “danger to the public” when setting bail. Public peace of mind requires it.

Current reform will further limit judges’ ability to hold people and, by design, restrict police officers’ authority to arrest. On Jan. 1, almost all misdemeanors and some felonies, including some robberies and burglaries, will become not-detainable offenses. Offenders are to be given an “appearance ticket” that requires pre-trial release.

We know that most of those are detained on low level crimes aren’t mentally ill or violent. But some of them are. If we won’t or can’t detain criminals and treat the violent mentally ill before they do harm, what is Plan B?

The severely mentally ill do not belong in jail. But they also don’t belong on the street. They need help for their sake and for ours.

Moskos, author of “Cop in the Hood,” is a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

October 8, 2019

FOP Report: "Mismanagement of the BPD and its Impact on Public Safety"

I've read this so you don't have to. But you should. This is put out by Baltimore City FOP #3. So sure, take it with a grain of salt. But FOP #3 isn't like some other unions that tweet ill-advised statements that hurt the image of policing and their members. [cough NYPD's PBA SBA!]

In 2012 FOP #3 released "Blueprint for Improving Policing." It was far more right than wrong. It was ignored. Had it been followed, perhaps the 2015 riots wouldn't have happened. Then Baltimore would still be seeing declining crime and an influx of people.

In 2015 FOP #3 released an "After Action Review" of the riots that, again, was basically correct. As the Baltimore Sun put it: "If what the FOP reported is wrong, the Mayor and Commissioner need to prove it." Needless to say, they didn't. 

So in the context that this is not an ideological screeds but a union perspective put together by a consulting team (that's OK, even encouraged) consider some of the points in the FOP #3 report about the Mismanagement of the Baltimore City Police Department.

This is not a crime plan. (But it least it doesn't pretend to be.) The consent decree isn't a crime plan nor are reformers' proposals to reduce police violence crime plans. We need a crime plan. But this is about fixing the organization. The first step.

There is still a leadership problem: Officers fear proactive policing because of unjustified criminal prosecution by the state’s attorney. This isn't just "we don't want to be held accountable" griping. See, eg, this.

As to the consent decree, “police have not been informed or training in following the consent decree.” But the major issue right now is probably staffing, and that results in overtime which costs money and, when mandatory, low morale.

Hire people to fill vacancies instead of paying overtime. As to recruitment: train recruiters in how to recruit, conduct exit interviews, recognize exemplary employees, and pay past due recruitment bonus. Seems like common decency, much less common sense.

There is currently budgeted funding for 470 more police officer positions, plus 100 civilians. Standards should be hire. And pay and benefits at a level to attract good candidates.

There are currently only 634 officers assigned to patrol. That is just 70 officers for each of 9 districts! (And may include sergeants, light duty, medical, etc.) This is probably less than half of what it used to be. I read this and said, "can it be?" It can.

Back in 2001, just one district (of nine total)--my district, the Eastern District--had 265 total assigned sworn police officers. We had 130(!) working patrol officers for 3 shifts. And I’m just talking officers (not sgt's and LTs or light duty or medical). Violence went down.

Officer numbers are down because BPD has replaced only 80% of losses since 2001, for a decline of 850 police officers (to 2,480). This is 25%(!) reduction in numbers. And the trend has worsened since 2014.

And when numbers are down, you can't take officers from HQ or consent decree compliance or specialized units or the mayor's detail or the academy. So you pillage patrol, the so-called "backbone" of any police department. And that is what has happened. BPD needs a backbone.

October 4, 2019

Murder down for whites but not blacks

The 2018 murder rate is down from the previous two years, but higher than we’ve seen in 6 of the past 10 years. Last year's murder rate is the same as 2015. And 2009! And yet I keep hearing every year that violence is down. So what's this trend? And sort of related, why do some people insist on the “violence is down” message year after year, even when it's not true?

Yes, violence is lower than it was in 1991. Violence will hopefully always be lower than 1991. But that doesn’t mean violence is trending down year after year. If we keep starting the graph around 1991, violence will always look downward trending.

The murder rate in the US actually peaked in 1980 at 10.2 (per 100K). And then there was the lesser but better-known crack-trade-related murder peak of 1991 (9.8 per 100K). So we’re down from there, no doubt.

Violence plummeted in America between 1994 and 1999. It might be worth pointing out that is right after the Biden-supported and now maligned crime bill. I don’t actually think that’s why crime went down, but it does correlate. And it didn’t hurt. It might have helped.

Whatever the causes -- and I do think better policing (along with changes in drug dealing) was a huge part of the solution -- many lives were saved between 1994 and 1999. Of course, as always, there were racial disparities. Blacks benefited most from the decline in violence. From 1994 to 1999 the number of black murder victims dropped from about 12,000 to 7,000 per year! White murder victims declined, too (but less so, from 11,000 to 8,000). This brings us to 1999.

Since 1999, the murder rate for whites has dropped even more, another 20%. Great news! But not for blacks. In absolute numbers, more blacks were murdered in 2018 than in 17 of the past 20 years. That's not a good trend. For African Americans, murder has been up and down over the past 20 years. But the murder rate is no better in 2018 than it was in 1999.


What bother me is some of my friends who insist “violence is down” are well intentioned white people who live in safe neighborhoods, hashtag #BLM, and believe those who advocate less policing in other people’s neighborhoods. (Neighborhoods they won’t set foot in, mind you.)
Yes, violence is down compared to 1991. But is it a sustained "trend"? Not really. Not if you start the clock in 2000. And not for non-whites. Not for young black men in particular. So when people say violent crime is down, ask "For whom?"

Rest in Peace, NYPD Detective Brian Mulkeen

Brian Mulkeen was a Fordham grad and worked at Merrill Lynch till he quit his job and joined the NYPD. Apparently Mulkeen was killed by "friendly fire" while wrestling with an armed suspect.

There's a nice 1 minute video on twitter. I was mostly just sad and dry eyed till "Country Roads" kicked in. Because he's not just a cop; he's a person. RIP, Brian Mulkeen.

March 17, 2019

"Stop the car or I'll step in front of it"

This was not a good shooting. And cringe-worthy from an officer's perspective. From the suspect's perspective, well, he's dead.

I'm quoted in this article.

The background is the car popped up on a stolen car list (I think from an automated license plate reader). The officer is told to investigate. The car is in a parking lot. There is no car stop. There was no fleeing that preceded this.

The first problem is Officer Starks stops his car in front of the stolen car. That in itself isn't bad, if you don't care about your police car. But he does so in such a way that he has to get out of the police car in front of the suspect's car. You don't do that by choice.

The second problem is the officer doesn't wait for backup and the third problem is he exits the car with his gun drawn (or immediately does so after exiting the car). If you feel the need to approach the car with your gun drawn (which is fine but not required for a car that comes back stolen), shouldn't you also feel the need to wait for backup? Either there's a potential threat or there isn't. And if there isn't, he shouldn't have had his gun out. And if there is, he should have waited for backup.

There was no good reason to think the driver of the car, later identified as Bradley Blackshire, was armed. Though indeed he might have been. But he wasn't. (Though in an odd but irrelevant twist the passenger later tells cops on the scene that Blackshire "has a gun," even though he doesn't; no gun is found. Turns out she got of jail that day. She asks to get her jacket back, because, you know, it's cold. She's bizarrely calm and compliant after all this.)

But the fourth problem is the biggie. The driver, Blackshire, starts to slowly drive away after not getting out of the car, and the officer shoots and kills. When the car starts moving, Officer Starks is on the driver's side of the car. The car is brushing against him, but it is not going to hit him. There is no threat. Just a dude slowly driving away at gunpoint. Yes, the driver could have complied. Should have, even. But non-compliance is not the issue. Non-compliance is pretty common. More to this point, non-compliance is not a lethal threat. The officer shot four times and killed Blackshire over being in a car reported stolen (it's not clear it ever was) and "failure to obey a lawful order." That's unacceptable. Also likely a convictable criminal offense.

And then, to make matters worse -- who knows, perhaps Blackshire would still be alive if Starks had left well enough alone, but no -- Officer Starks chooses to nominate himself for a Darwin Award. He steps in front of a moving vehicle.

Sure, sometimes police officers end up in a chaotic situation where they find themselves in front of a moving vehicle. Shit does happen. But you don't choose to put yourself in front of a moving vehicle. Especially not if you just shot and incapacitated the driver.

As I say in the newspaper article: "It's just shocking to see. Not getting in front of a car is the rare case where general orders, common sense and officer safety coincide."

It looks like the driver does indeed hit the brakes when Starks steps in front of the car. But then, if I had to guess -- which I don't, but I will -- Blackshire can't keep his foot on the brake, perhaps because, you know, he's been shot and is dying. So the car, as cars do, idles forward. At this point Starks goes up on the hood of the car and fires another 11 rounds.

The car hits and stops against dumpster or something, and then there's the predictable period of curse-filled verbal commands being shouted at a dead or dying man. Blackshire seems to have enough life left in him to raise his hands, until he doesn't.

What makes this situation unusual is that the officer was actually in control of setting the stage for this interaction. Officer Starks chose how to approach, and he chose wrong. And then Officer Starks shot when there was no imminent threat, and then he placed himself in danger and shot again. There never even was a split-second decision that had to be made.

I'd bet this isn't the first time Officer Starks made unwise aggressive decisions in his career. And if I have to bet -- and I don't, but I will -- this time will be his last.

January 20, 2019

To call 911 or not to call 911?

May 17 of last year the NYPD issued an obscure order concerning "aided reports" -- that's when a cop responds to a 911 call for a sick person waiting for an ambulance (a "bus," as they say here) -- requiring the officer to enter the person's information into their phone. This looks all technical and boring.

When you put the "aided card" into the phone, it automatically goes and queries the warrant system. This means that if Uncle Pedro has a heart attack and he or you is wanted, cops will take you away (after medical treatment, but still). Thanks, technology! That'll teach you to call 911!

Say your Uncle Pedro has chest pains. Or is ODing. Should you call 911? Of course! Right? But what if you don't know if he's wanted? What if you don't know if you're wanted? Should you still call 911? You know cops might also respond because, well, why not? Maybe cops can do some good before the ambulance arrives. (Though generally, as a former cop, when it comes to medical care, are you serious?) Or keep the peace. But should you be debating all this before deciding to call 911? While you're discussing the pros and cons, Uncle Pedro just stopped breathing. 

The NYPD has spent time and dollars trying to build relations with all communities. We want people to call for help. The goal has always been to bring people into the system, not make them afraid of it. The Neighborhood Coordination Officer (NCO) philosophy is just the latest serious effort. All this will be for naught if people are afraid to call 911 or 311 even for non-police matters.

We don't need people thinking EMS are the bad guys. And we for sure don't need people fighting unarmed EMTs because they're worried that they the EMTs and paramedics are going to call the police and get them arrested. That's not good public policy.

Cops do not have discretion when somebody comes back wanted. A warrant is a warrant. And arguably for good reason. A judge hath spoken. But there are wanted people out there, and an entire undocumented population, for instance, whom we still want to call 911 when A) there's a fire, B) they witness a crime C) they victims of a crime, and D) when they need medical care. Needless to say, this is not an inclusive list.

Perhaps for minor violations, when you know the person’s name and addresses, just give the guy something like a "must appear notice," like the one he never got because it was mailed to his address from three years ago. Then bounce it to a detective for follow up. A surprisingly large percentage of people who have warrants simply do not know they are wanted. Give them 60 days or something. Why is the only part of the criminal justice system that moves quickly the one in which somebody wanted is taken in?

It's in everybody's best interests to have people turn themselves in at a more convenient time. This can be the difference between staying employed or being fired. Most warrants are not over urgent matters. And often staying employed can make all the difference in the world.

Could it become common in NYC hospitals (and not the hospitals serving rich white people) for police to run the names of visitors and patients while they are waiting around? For some, their injury or presence might constitute grounds for a probation or parole violation. This is exactly what Alice Goffman said was happening in Philadelphia. (It's not clear it actually was happening, but people thought it was, and that's bad enough.)

New York City has an estimated undocumented population (aka illegal immigrant) population of 560,000. Even in a sanctuary city, people -- more than half a million New Yorkers -- are afraid. Currently NYPD doesn't share this information with ICE. But that could change overnight. Recently I had an immigrant student whose boyfriend was hit by a car. He was hurt. The driver stopped, but the boyfriend didn't want to exchange information. A guy hit by a car through no fault of his own was afraid to get the driver's information or go to the hospital. This is not good.

What problem is this solution supposed to fix? "We want the cops to put an aided card into the phone on the scene and it to automatically query the warrant system." It is bad policy to routinely run warrant checks on people seeking medical care.

I know it's not in the public's interest to have wanted people running around. It's one thing for police to run somebody because they have suspicion. It's another to do so because they called for help. It's not in the public's interest to have people afraid to seek medical care or see EMTs and paramedics and the FDNY as part of law enforcement. Let's base a policy decision based on evidence rather than, "hey, cops now have smart phones linked to the warrant system!"

One interesting (at least to me) thing I learned in talking to somebody about this, cops in New York did not routinely run (check for warrants) every time they 250d (stopped) somebody. In Baltimore, we ran basically everybody we stopped. This is a big difference in police behavior, and I've never heard anybody discuss or even be aware of this. But even in Baltimore we didn't routinely run people on medical calls. In part we didn't want to know. Because if the person is wanted and going to the hospital, guess who gets to babysit the patient until they're released? Not a good use of patrol resources. And the next shift will really hate you, too.

Maybe we ran more people in Baltimore than they did in NYC because more people were wanted. But it probably had more to do with an unrelated technological issue. One radio channel in Baltimore covers one district (aka precinct) with 1 dispatcher for 15 (often fewer) patrol units. One radio channel in New York covers multiple precincts and has perhaps 10(?) times as many officers. It takes precious air time to run a 10-29 (Balto code for, check warrants). And air time in New York is more precious. Many stops, even car stops, weren't called in. That's not safe or good policy. Something as simple as how many units are on one radio channel, can change police culture more than any formal debate or informed policy. Maybe it shouldn't be that way.

And if it is good policy to check people in medical crisis for warrants, and I don't think it is, they hey, why not go all-out and front-end it to the 911 and 311 operators. Let them be part of the system, too. At least it would be honest. "Thank for calling 911. This call is being recorded and you are being checked for any felony warrants. Now, what is your emergency?"