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by Peter Moskos

October 20, 2007

Lead free equals crime free?

There's a piece in the New York Times Sunday magazine with an interesting link between lead and crime. Jessica Wolpaw Reyes wrote a paper linking the crime drop in the 1990s to getting the lead out of gasoline in the 1970s.

This is hardly conclusive, but it is interesting. There's still a lot of lead in Baltimore, mostly in the form of peeling paint in old rowhomes. Could too many kids munching on windowsills be responsible for Baltimore's high crime rate? No doubt there's more to it than that, but it's still interesting.
New York Times Magazine
October 21, 2007
Idea Lab
Criminal Element

Has the Clean Air Act done more to fight crime than any other policy in American history? That is the claim of a new environmental theory of criminal behavior.
Drug Rehab Centers have also done a lot to help people who are struggling with addiction issues.
Reyes found that the rise and fall of lead-exposure rates seemed to match the arc of violent crime, but with a 20-year lag — just long enough for children exposed to the highest levels of lead in 1973 to reach their most violence-prone years in the early ’90s, when crime rates hit their peak.
You can read the whole NYT piece here.

October 9, 2007

Cop in the Hood! All new material!! Plagiarism Free!!!

Well the second claim is true even if the first claim is a bit of an exaggeration.

For anybody who has ever turned a PhD dissertation into a book (uh, if you're reading this, odds are you have), you may wonder, just how different was my book from my dissertation. Hopefully a lot, because dissertations almost always suck.

My adviser, Orlando Patterson, was pretty good about letting me write my dissertation with the final book in mind. For one thing, that means my dissertation didn't have any statistical regressions. That's rare in sociology these days, at least at Harvard. But it's still a dissertation. Nobody fails to get a PhD because of passive verbs, or advising that more research is needed, or for having an extra chapter that should probably be cut.

Before my book gets set in type by a man who knows the printing press (I like to imagine Princeton University Press does things the old-fashioned way), I wanted to make sure my book is plagiarism free. Academics stay up at night worrying about things like that. And I'm talking about the ones who don't plagiarize. Given constant reworking, and all the things I've read, and my cut-and-pastes from a file of excerpts from books I've read, well it's easy to see how something could slip through. Or how I could read an idea and then come up with it on my own four days later. My family is famous for that. Half the time my brother says anything half intelligent I protest than I told him that, six months earlier. The other half of the time he read it in the Economist. Sometimes both. He doesn't care. Blood runs thicker than plagiarism.

Professors have the great resource of [lest they benefit from my praise, the name has been redacted by a cease-and-desist order from this company. They say I violated the licensing agreement by submitting my book.]. It's a plagiarism detection system on which I check all my students' papers. I haven't taught a single semester without failing at least one student for plagiarism. Sad but true, but that's for another post.

I submitted my book to [the company that wishes to remain unmentioned, despite my praise], just as I submitted my dissertation 3 years ago, to make sure it comes back clean. It did. If you exclude quotations (and I think it can only exclude some of those, because most of my quotes are long and without quotation marks), 25% of my book matches my dissertation. I think if you removed all the juicy quotes, it would go down to 15-20%. In other words, 75-85% of my book is new material, not in my dissertation in any form.

I don't know what the significance of that is or if the percentage is high or low. But I think it's interesting to know, and undoubtedly a credit to my great editor, Tim Sullivan. It's certainly great for the readability of my book.

Baltimore crack house

#1) 1900 Block of E Eager. 1906 E Eager is the third house (with awning) from Mr. George's corner laundromat. Two short blocks North of Johns Hopkins Hospital, this corner (Wolfe and Eager) is one of the "hottest" (but hardly the only) drug corners in the neighborhood, heroin and crack are sold around the clock, rain or shine. Most of the customers are locals, but a conspicuous minority of whites drive in from the poor suburbs looking for the purer heroin found in the ghetto. This neighborhood, built around the turn of the century and featuring typical Baltimore rowhomes, formstone, and marble stoops, was all white until the 1950s, middle class until the 70s and 80s, now it is mostly vacant, all black, and very poor. Hopkins and city own most of the property. Hopkins has since torn down most of this area.

#2) The corner looks deserted. It is just 7 in the morning. But a few moments earlier, there were dozens of people roaming about. But a funny thing happens when you part a police car in the middle of the intersection, turn off the motor (otherwise the picture is blurry), and take a picture. People scatter. Note how everybody is walking away. I didn’t take in personally.

#3) Approaching the rear of 1906 E Eager from N Chapel St. I was looking for a location to observe drug sailes on the corner and out of one house in particular.

#4) Most vacants are boarded up to prevent junkies from entering, or filled with too much trash and damage to let one safely enter. The Rear entrance of 1906 E Eager is wide open. The first, time, on official police business, I went in alone. The second time, to take pictures, I brought along a partner, just to be safe.

#5) The rear room on the first floor is what used to be the kitchen. In the Northeast corner are old appliances, partially stripped and peeling lead paint, and remnants of alpine wallpaper.

#6) Another view of the alpine wallpaper

#7) Looking Southwest in the kitchen, a few more appliances.

#8) The Southeast corner of the kitchen. The iron stove top grates have long been sold for scrap. Almost all the metal has been.

#9) The front room is the living room. A TV and couch remain. Makes me think the home was occupied into the 1990s. The front door is on the right. It’s interesting to me that a big color TV, once somebody’s prized possession, is no longer worth anything.

#10) The front door is on the left. Vivid woodland wallpaper remains.

#11) Looking up the staircase between the rooms. One of the stairs is rotted through, but the rest are in pretty good shape. This is a typical staircase for a rowhome. It’s horrible for police. Often there’s no handrail, and you can easily be pushed down. At the top, suspects could be in either or both directions. They don’t teach you about this in the police academy.

#12) 2nd floor front room. Nice windows for surveillance of the dealers katty-corner across Wolfe St. Otherwise trash, some drug paraphernalia, a mattress against the wall, two pairs of shoes, and a nicely patterned linoleum floor remain.

#13) Looking East in the upstairs front room. A nice old heating grate, removed from the wall, hasn’t been taken to sell for scrap. A small water bottle (nicely labeled "water") is on the floor. This water would be mixed with heroin and heated with lighter in a metal bottle cap from a 40oz bottle of malt liquor. The mixture is then injected. The only thing is these pictures I manipulated is the water bottle. I turned it so I could photograph the word, “water.” I love how it’s neatly labeled.

#14) Rear room second floor. View looking rear from the stairs. Two layers of floor cover are visible, along with purple latex gloves, and a black tourniquet to make veins bulge for easier injection. An empty container of cornstarch is on the chair. Cornstarch can be put into empty crack vials and repackaged as “burn,” or fake drugs to sell for a quick buck, mostly to whites coming into the neighborhood. Some of these whites then call the police and tell us they were robbed (always of $10 or $20). They don’t get much sympathy. Locals would know not to buy from local junkies. But selling burn is not without risk as selling burn to the wrong person can get you beat up or killed.

#15) Looking towards the front in the rear room. Mirrors and black pride posters increase the positivity and create a much nicer overall environment. Tupac, Goodie Mob, and Q-Tip. An almost empty bottle of Pepto Bismal lies on the ground, showing that indigestion can strike anyone.

#16) A poster and broken clock on one wall is just of above the bottles of piss and cans of shit neatly kept in the corner (unfortunately my partner knocked over that board you see on the lower right corner, tipping everything over. It smelled really rank after that.)

#17) A 2000 Sears poster celebrating Black History claiming it's not just for February anymore: “Every family has a history. We celebrate yours every day, every year.”

#18) Bottles of piss sit in old malt liquor bottles. Next to it is a free parenting magazine and a toy box. My partner accidentally knocked the loose door on to the bottles of human waste. This spilled a lot of piss. We left the place worse than we found it. This wasn’t low-impact policing. Sorry.

#19) Another view of the main lounge and work area. Given the conditions, this is not where serious drug dealers do their work. This is a place for addicts to shoot up, relax, and scheme how to come up with their next $10 hit.

#20) A few chairs are set around a collection of empty crack vials. There are also more shoes. Why all the shoes?

#21) Looking closer, there are dozens of empty crack vials. Every color of the rainbow. The legal use for these vials in for perfumes and oils. The color of the cap on the vial often becomes a sort of brand name: red tops, blacks tops, or orange tops. Other good brand names: Uptown, Bodybag, Capone, and the more generic Ready Rock. Also on the floor are candles, cigarette butts, lighters (lots of them), tin foil, and bottle caps. Heroin and coke is an ever popular mix. John Belushi overdosed on it. Sugar, in the form of candy bars and tasty cakes can take some of the edge of the beginnings of heroin withdrawal.

Notice that the cup being used as an ashtray is standing and in use. The shoes are lined up. Paper is on the floor. In this disorder, there is order. But it’s almost inevitable that at some point in time they’ll burn the place down. And when that happens, you don’t want to be the neighbor next door.

These pictures were taken in early 2001.

Struggling NYPD mother caught in welfare bust

When I tell you that a New York City police officer was caught milking the welfare system, your first thought should be, “what’s a police officer doing on welfare?!” Good question, thanks for asking. The starting salary of the NYPD is $25,100 a year. Granted it goes up a lot after 6 months, but still. How can you live off this for 6 months when you’re not allowed to hold secondary jobs and can’t make overtime? I was making $28,400 when I was hired as a police officer… 8 years ago... in Baltimore. I could get by, but I had no family, no car payments, and $300/month rent.

You can’t live in New York City on that money. This headline was inevitable. Sad, too. How did it get this way? Well, a few years back, in contract negotiations, police got a well deserved raise. But it came at the expense of new recruits. Peter was robbed to pay Paul. At the time, I thought, “fine.” In a few months this absurd situation will be rectified and all New York City police will get the raise they deserve. Now it’s a few years later.

A recruit, perhaps a very good future police office, was caught for abusing the food stamp system. It wasn’t even aggressive abuse. It was passive abuse. Somehow I think that’s better. She didn’t lie to the system. She just “forgot” to mention to welfare people that she was now employed. Had she mentioned it, she would have lost $1,000. A thousand dollars that she used, I suppose, to feed her hungry kids. How many of you would have done differently?

Except for the welfare abuse part, she did all the right things. Working her up. Trying to get off welfare. Becoming a police officer after going through the cadet program. Now I suppose she’s unemployed and costing us more money.

New York will pay for this in the long run. Mark my words. You get what you pay for. We will have worse cops, dirtier cops, and bigger lawsuits to pay in coming years. Lawsuits that will probably overshadow any savings from paying police a low starting salary. If crime goes up, we’re all doomed as a city. But if we refuse to pay police officers a living wage, we get what we deserve.

Struggling NYPD mother caught in welfare bust
By Alison Gendar, Kerry Burke and Michael White
New York Daily News staff writers

Friday, September 21st 2007, 4:00 AM

A 25-year-old NYPD recruit was so strapped by her $25,100 Police Academy salary that she committed welfare fraud, authorities said.

Claribel Polanco, a mother of two who was collared yesterday at her Bronx home, was suspended from duty and most likely will be fired, police sources said.

"She's all the problems in a nutshell - a trifecta," one police source said. "The department pays dirt, so all they can hire are kids on welfare. ... So she committed a crime to get by. And now the department has a criminal on the books - and she's not even out of the Police Academy yet."

When asked about the charges, Polanco said only, "This is ridiculous. Why are they doing this?"

Polanco, of Morris Ave. in Morrisania, was an NYPD cadet - a program for students - and was attending college when she signed up for welfare, a police source said.

She had been receiving food stamps and Medicaid.

But she failed to notify the authorities when she was hired by the NYPD in January and continued to receive more than $1,000 in benefits illegally, court records show.

Polanco was arraigned in Bronx Criminal Court yesterday on felony grand larceny and welfare fraud as well as misdemeanor larceny and welfare fraud counts and was released without bail.

NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau investigators had prevented her from graduating with her academy class in June after catching wind of the alleged fraud, police sources said.

Police union officials declined to comment on the arrest.

Police officials have expressed concerns that dropout rates in the current class also have risen because of the low $25,100 starting salary.

October 5, 2007


Here's the text for the back of the book. It makes everything sound so exciting that even I want to re-read my book...

Cop in the Hood is an explosive insider’s story of what it is really like to be a police officer on the front lines of the war on drugs. Harvard-trained sociologist Peter Moskos became a cop in Baltimore’s roughest neighborhood—the Eastern District, also the location for the critically acclaimed HBO drama The Wire—where he experienced the real-life poverty and violent crime firsthand. He provides an unforgettable window into this world that outsiders never see—the thriving drug corners, the nerve-rattling patrols, and the heartbreaking failure of 911.

Moskos reveals the truth about the drug war and why it is engineered to fail—a truth he learned on the midnight shift in Baltimore. He describes police-academy graduates fully unprepared for the realities of the street. He tells of a criminal-justice system that incarcerates poor black men on a mass scale—a self-defeating system that measures success by arrest quotas and fosters a street code at odds with the rest of society—and argues for drug legalization as the only realistic way to end drug violence and let cops once again protect and serve. Moskos shows how officers in the ghetto are less concerned with those policed than with self-preservation and maximizing overtime pay—yet how any one of them would give their life for a fellow officer. Cop in the Hood ventures deep behind the Thin Blue Line to disclose the inner workings of law enforcement in America’s inner cities. Those who read it will never view the badge the same way.

Cover Design

This is the fun part of writing a book: having other people do work after you're done. This will be the cover. I like it.