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by Peter Moskos

February 13, 2018

Baltimore police trial: guilty

Yesterday the verdict came out. I wrote this op-ed for the Washington Post:
This current scandal is more than a case of a few bad apples, though bad apples they were. These officers acted with impunity until the FBI caught wind of their actions through an unrelated criminal investigation in Pennsylvania. A specialized police unit cannot survive for years as a criminal enterprise without the implicit — or overt — acquiescence of higher-ups. Effective leadership could have prevented this. Bad leadership has consequences.
Corrupt units tend to be specialized and selective. Once murky rumors begin about a unit or officer, good cops stay away for fear of trouble. The corrupt and brutal cops work together, as I once heard, as if pulled together by some magnetic force. You don’t just randomly get assigned to a plainclothes “gun trace task force.” This unit segregation removes officers from the otherwise corrective influence of the honest rank and file. There is no formal colleague review in policing; perhaps there should be.

Honest cops — still the vast majority — avoid trouble, as any citizen should hope. The rank and file cannot be blamed for keeping their noses clean, especially when unresolved questions remain about the integrity of internal affairs and the prosecutor’s office. These officers in Baltimore were guilty, but the systemic problems represent a failure of leadership, the same leadership that absolved itself of responsibility by inviting the Justice Department to investigate after Freddie Gray’s death.
Until 2015, policing and Baltimore had been getting better. After an excess of zero-tolerance policing in the early 2000s, Baltimore saw a sustained decline in both murder and arrests. From 2004 to 2011, murders declined from 278 to 197 while arrests dropped from 42 percent. People even began to move back to the city. After six decades of decline, the population increased. These civic and public safety gains reversed in 2015. Last year 343 people were murdered in Baltimore City, and the population and tax base is falling once again.

This year the police scandal is yet another black eye for a bruised city. Mayor Catherine Pugh, in a statement she later walked back, said she was too busy to follow the trial. The acting and presumed next police commissioner, Darryl De Sousa, is well-respected but will have his hands full. Corrupt police officers deserve special blame for committing crimes while in the public’s trust. But for a wounded Baltimore to rise again, city leaders, both elected and appointed, must accept their responsibility and get things done.
Go on, click through for the whole article.

February 5, 2018

Qualily Policing #13: Baltimore, BWC, and more

The first Quality Policing Podcast of the new year is up. Peter and Nick begin in (where else?) Baltimore, discussing the trial of detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor, from the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force. The two are accused of a range of criminal activities, including robbing drug dealers, and carrying pellet guns as "drop guns," and using Donald Stepp of Double D bail bonds as a fence for stolen drugs. Also, if you must break into and steal from Kenny Bird Johnson's car, please do not be a "rat punk."

Also on tap is a discussion of the Electronic Frontier Foundation's new guide to the evils of body worn video, which Nick described with not a small amount of revulsion - listen to Nick's QPP Extra on Body Cameras and surveillance here.
This week a cop was shot in the face in Louisville (he will survive), and Peter and Nick discuss that, and the response to it, and Peter raised the story from San Francisco of cops getting run over by car thieves, and the officers not shooting at the moving car that ran over the cop and one of the suspects, not once but twice.

Finally, a story from Christmas-time, the continuation of the monumentally stupid practice of cops stopping people to hand out money donated by local businessmen. This started, we think, a few years ago (here's a USA Today story from 2015) but it's continuing now; here's a story from Ohio about cops stopping cars to hand out cash... And here's the story from Kansas City, KS Nick was discussing.

Handing out charity used to be function of police. While this is unprecedented in recent history, it is not without precedent. In New York City, for instance, under Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, police handed out "relief." Who better to give to the needy than the neighborhood officers who knew the needy (and "worthy") residents of their beat. Peter forget to mention that in the podcast, so thanks for reading.

January 23, 2018

Cops and Robbers in Baltimore

Justin Fenton of the Baltimore Sun has tweeted a crazy account of testimony in today's trial of corrupt Baltimore cops.
Crazy testimony in federal court just now by former Detective Maurice Ward, outlining illegal tactics used by Gun Trace Task Force Officers ...

They’d regularly drive fast at a larger group of people, slam brakes and pop their doors to see who ran, then detain and search them. They had no reason other than trying to provoke someone. 10-20 times on slow nights, as many as 50 times others, he said.

Ward said Sgt Jenkins profiled vehicles - “dope boy cars” such as Honda Accords, Acuras, Honda Odysseys - for car stops and would falsely claim he saw people not wearing seat belts or their windows were too darkly tinted.

Jenkins also had a thing about men over age of 18 carrying a book bag - probably drugs, he guessed, so they would stop them, Ward said.

More outrageous testimony from Det Ward: they kept BB guns on hand in case they hit someone or got into a shootout and needed to plant it on someone.

When they stopped someone suspected of being in the drug game, Jenkins would ask, “If you could put your own crew together and rob the biggest drug dealer you know of, who would it be?” And then they’d go after the person they named, to rob them.

Prosecutors dumped out a giant black bag, like a hockey equipment bag, onto the floor that apparently belonged to Jenkins that had masks, black clothes, shoes, and tools such as a rope with a grappling hook.

One of the craziest stories involved a man who they stole $100,000 from. Ward says Jenkins listened to the man's jail calls after he was arrested, and heard him talking about the officers stealing money from him. /1

The man said he was going to hire a good lawyer and try to go after them. Jenkins learned that the man's wife was handling things for him on the outside, and he wanted to extract her so he'd have to hire a public defender and plead out, Ward said /2

So on one of the calls, Jenkins heard the man talking to another woman. Jenkins, Ward said, had an officer with good handwriting write up a note purporting to be from the other woman saying she was pregnant, and dropped it in the wife's front door /3

This is just the first of four officers who will testify during this trial, and he hasn’t even been cross-examined yet.
The story in the Sun.

This scandal is big. And it starts just as a new commissioner takes over the BPD. And that transition, from Davis to De Sousa, is just about the first good bit of policing news coming from Charm City in three years. Davis, you may remember, took over from Batts in 2015. Batts was the so called "progressive" who led the department into a riot and saw murder nearly double overnight in May, 2015. But rumor has it that Batts, to his credit, wouldn't go along with the futile (and failed) criminal prosecution of the six cops involved in the arrest and subsequent death in police custody of Freddie Gray. Davis, they say, got the job in part because he had so such qualms.

I don't know De Sousa, but I've only heard good things. At least now the possibility of change for the better.

I still can't get over the fact that the DOJ was investigating the Baltimore Police Department at the same time that all this was going on. What did they find? Poorly filled out "statements of probable cause," a few petty gray-area scandals from a decade ago, and, get this, black cops in Baltimore use the "n word." And yet they were totally clueless about all this happening under their nose. But we can't blame the investigators because, well, we don't know who they were since the report was anonymous and with the only the vaguest of "methods" section. But then the purpose of the DOJ report was not to find the truth, but rather show problem to legally trigger a consent decree.

Speaking of which... Keven Rector reports in the Sun:
The two highest-ranking Baltimore police officials in charge of instituting reforms, overhauling policies and ensuring compliance with the city’s consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice have both resigned following Mayor Catherine Pugh’s firing of Police Commissioner Kevin Davis last week.
Well, there you have it.

December 8, 2017

Dogs, Data, and Dastardly Deeds

Nick Selby and I talk about all this and more on our latest Quality Policing Podcast.

Here's the bad shooting we discuss.

It's not much in the news because there's no racial angle to it. The officer was criminally charged today. I would say this might be third worst shooting of all time (Walter Scott and Andrew Thomas come to mine. Jonathan Ayers, too.) Speaking of Walter Scott. Former Officer Slager, who shot Scott, was sentenced today to 20 years in prison.

November 29, 2017

RIP Sean Suiter

Detective Suiter's funeral was today.

I was fine. Until I clicked on this audio.

At least in New York City it's OK to cry in public.

An NYPD friend just told me they don't have do this in New York. It's a BPD thing. And I'm proud of it.

I don't know how the dispatcher manages to do this. It's not like she practices. It's all in the delivery. The slight annoyance as she can't raise an officer. The mundane tone because this happens every day. Going to the sequence number? That's a bit extreme. But why isn't 6443 answering the radio? Because, of course, 6443 is 10-7. Out of service. In this case, dead.

From this I learned that I was the 72nd officer hired after Sean Suiter, which means (since I was the last person hired in my class) Sean was in the class before me, 99-4. Our paths crossed many times, though I have no memory of him.

Here's what I wrote about this radio ritual in Cop in the Hood:
Twenty months in Baltimore wasn’t very long, but it was long enough to see five police officers killed in the line of duty. And there were other cops, friends of mine, who were hurt, shot, and lucky to live. A year after I quit the force, my friend and academy classmate became the first Baltimore policewoman killed in the line of duty, dying in a car crash on the way to back up another police officer.

Crystal Sheffield patrolled opposite me in the Western District. Occasionally I would switch my radio over to the Western District channel to see what she was up to. When she died, I returned to Baltimore, hitched a ride in a police car from the train station to the funeral, and stood in the cold rain at attention in my civilian clothes with my uniformed fellow officers. Police funerals are one of the few events that bring together law enforcement personnel. Funerals give meaning to that often clich├ęd concept of Blue Brotherhood. At an officer’s funeral, police-car lights flash as far as the eye can see. Thousands of police officers wearing white gloves and black bands on their badges stand at attention. Guns are fired in salute. Bagpipes are played. A flag is folded. The coffin is lowered into the ground.

At the end of a Baltimore police funeral, a dispatcher from headquarters calls for the fallen officer over all radio channels. The response, of course, is silence. After the third attempt the dispatcher states the officer is “10- 7.” Ten-seven is the rather unsentimental radio code for “out of service.” Ten-seven usually refers to a car, an officer handling a call, or an anonymous murder victim on the street. To hear your friend and colleague described as 10-7 is heartbreaking. In this way the few officers left working the streets know the burial is complete.

A few seconds later a routine drug call is dispatched or one bold officer reclaims the radio airwaves for some mundane police matter. A car stop. A warrant check. A request for a case number. The show goes on. Sometimes it just don’t make sense.
A few hours after today's funeral another Baltimore cop was shot. In the hand. Non fatal. But very possibly career ending. As I wipe the tears from my eyes, it doesn't make sense.

November 17, 2017

Baltimore Officers Cleared

The saga is finally nearly over for the officers involved in the 2015 arrest and deadly transport of Freddie Gray. Today Lt. Brian Rice, the highest ranking officer on scene was cleared of all administrative charges in relation to the case. Last week Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. was acquitted of all 21 administrative charges. Two other officer agreed to minor discipline to avoid an administrative hearing. Had these officers been convicted of any administrative charge, they could have been fired at the discretion of the police commissioner.

There is still one more administrative trial on the docket, for Sgt Alicia White. But with the two officers most culpable acquitted (the van driver and the highest ranking officer), Sgt White will almost assuredly be acquitted as well. This is finally the end. All officers had previous been acquitted of criminal charges (or the charges were dropped). The family of Freddie Gray received $6.8 million dollars from the city. But the city itself has yet to recover from the two-thirds increase in deadly violence crime that immediately followed the 2015 riots.

RIP Sean Suiter

Baltimore City Detective Sean Suiter was shot and killed two days ago while doing his job.

I didn't know Sean, but he also came up in 1999. He had 18 years on. Were I still a Baltimore Police Officer, that could be me. His killer has not been arrested.

After his shooting I glued online to KGA, Baltimore police radio dispatch. The sadness in the voices of the dispatchers and officers was palpable. But the show goes on. The calls kept coming. There is no time-out in policing. And the routine bullshit calls keep coming. Kids were fighting in the downtown Starbucks. A man named Precious Romeo wanted his a woman removed from his house (I'm not making that up). An officer in the Eastern was at the front door of a caller but his bodycam wouldn't activate. He was told to 10-18 (return to the district) to fill out related paperwork (thanks, federal consent decree). I wonder what the caller thought about that. And there were two other unrelated shooting victims within a few hours. One victim walked himself into Shock Trauma, adding to the chaotic scene there. There weren't enough crime labs available for all the crime scenes. Another man was shot in the Eastern District. The Central and Western Districts were all but shut down by police activity. Officers and dispatchers were snapping at other (which is rare).

After a few hours of crazy chaos, things returned to the usual choas. Detective Suiter would live another day, but we knew it was futile, with the gunshot wound to his brain.

Rest in peace, Detective Suiter. My heart goes to his wife, his five children, and all who loved him. Rest in peace.

October 26, 2017

Quality Policing Episode 6

A new episode of Quality Policing is out. Check it out. We talk about many things including the DC body cam study that seems to show body cams don't change anything. We beg to differ. Body cams just don't change what people think they do.

We don't, however, talk about the details of the dirty gun squad in the Baltimore Police Department. You can read about that in the Sun. The details are salacious.

Nor do we talk about the Feds busting a drug crew in East Baltimore. Arrested a dozen or so, including "Rat" and "Juicy" and recovered, get this hundreds of, er, grams of drugs.

The shop opened at 6:30AM and continued into the early evening. with about 10 drug transactions per hour. Let's say 100 transaction a day at $10 profit per. That's a good living. But divided by 13 plus people, it's not that much money. One of the dealers worked "at the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel downtown and sold drugs to hotel guests in addition to working with the East Baltimore gang." He remarked on a wiretap:
That it was "more stressful to have a job" than to "just be out here hustlin'."
Ain't that the truth.

Meanwhile in Baltimore, a supervisor in the Department of Transportation was charged by the Feds. Shoplifting turns violent. And the killing continues unabated, 23 people killed to date, this month alone.

All this, and you'd think some city leader would take blame for something. But no, it's never the fault of the leaders. Not as long they say they're for "reform." What are they reforming? Perhaps, in a city without accountability, they're part of the problem.

On the plus side, lead is down. Maybe homicides will drop similarly in the 2030s.

October 15, 2017

Cops in Conservative Cities Shoot & Kill More Often

Forbes came out with a list of the 10 most conservative and liberal cities in America.

Top ten conservative, in rank order:
Oklahoma City
Virginia beach
colorado springs
Arlington, TX
Top ten liberal, in rank order:
San Fran
I'm not going to argue with the rankings. I don't really care. But here's what I thought: I bet police shoot a lot more people in the conservative cities. Related to and perhaps correlated with the fact police shoot more people, per capita, in states that are more white.

How's this for a working hypothesis? Other things being constant (they rarely are), police shoot more people when nobody cares about police-involved shootings. And white people -- particularly conservative white people -- don't really care about police-involved shootings. Period. No matter the race of those shot. And when there's never any pushback or criticism of police, laws and training and culture do not change.

Based on Washington Post data from January 2014 through September 2016, the annual rate (per 100,000) of police-involved homicides in the top 10 conservatives cities (n = 82) is 0.61. The annual rate of police-involved homicide in the top 10 liberal cities (n=78) is 0.20.

Now New York City accounts for a lot of that, in terms of population. But even were one to remove NYC for simply being too big, the rate in the liberal cities is 0.39, or 64 percent of the conservative city average. Even without New York, cops in the most liberal cities are more than a third less likely to shoot and kill people. Are other factors involved? Sure. And they might be correlated to political ideology. Go figure them out, if you wish.

Also of note, and I'm just looking at 2016 murder numbers, the murder rate in the top ten liberal cities in 9.96, which isn't that much higher than the homicide rate of 8.01 in the top 10 conservative cities. If you take NYC out of the equation, the homicide rate for the other 9 liberal cities goes way up to 20. But if you consider that murder is higher in the top-10 liberal cities, the lower rate of police-involved homicides is all the more impressive.

I mean, think of it this way: community violence and police-involved violence are very related. A lot of the people police shoot are violent criminals with guns, some in the process of using them. The more violent criminals there are running around shooting people, the more people police will shoot. Always has been, always will.

That said....

There were 138 murders in DC last year and every year (for the past 2.75 years) police shoot and kill 4 people. In Tulsa and Oklahoma City (which combined have 1 million people) there were 142 murdered last year and police shoot and kill 10 people. That's a big difference. Police do shoot a lot more people out west. And it's not just in conservative cities. In fact, given the low levels of murder in Seattle and San Francisco, the high number of people killed by police stand out.

Anaheim had but 7 murders last year and police shot and killed 5 people since 2015. In Boston, Arlington and Detroit, police also shot and killed 5 people in the past 2.75 years, but there were 49, 21, and 303 murders, respectively, in these cities. Why? My guess: a combination of cops being better trained, less afraid, and less trigger happy in these cities combined with cops also being less proactive.

Here's the raw data I used. (Rate modifier is used in column G, (population/100,000)/2.75, because I'm using 2.75 years of police-involved homicide data.)

October 9, 2017

Quality Policing Podcast

Nick Selby and I have a new episode over at qualitypolicing.com. Among other things, we manage to have a rational debate about gun control. Imagine that.

It's Episode Five. (And yet somehow, from two people who claim to be good with numbers, we now have ten episodes.)

Two-year homicide increase in cities

Now that the UCR data for last year is out, here is the homicide rate increase in cities over 400,000 people. This is two year, 2014-2016.

Homicide is up in 40 of the 48 largest cities.

September 20, 2017

St. Louis and the acquital of Officer Stockley

So somehow perhaps I thought doing a podcast would be less time consuming or easier than writing a blog post? No. Hell, no. Do you know what editing entails? Even light audio editing? But it's different. Kind of fun. What the hell. I hope it's educational (and hopefully also entertaining).

Anyway, here's Nick Selby and I talking about the acquittal of Officer Stockley in St. Louis.

We now have six episodes up. (Even though with our odd counting system it only counts as three.) And Nick finally got a decent mic (not till be heard till the seventh episode).

The episode we're most proud of is our interview of former Decatur Police Officer Andrew Wittmer. He talks about his police-involved shooting and the post-incident PTSD.