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by Peter Moskos

December 31, 2008

Baltimore To End Year With Fewest Murders In Two Decades

Justin Fenton writes in the Sun.

This is great news. But one thing is very curious:
The city's Western District, for example, where nearly 90 people were killed in 1992, recorded 23 homicides in 2008. It has not recorded fewer than 32 homicides in a year since at least 1970.

But the Western District is also emblematic of the past year's uneven results: While it recorded the largest drop in homicides of any district, shootings rose and robberies increased by 37 percent.
That just don't make sense. I can't figure it out. I hope it doesn't end up like in The Wire, with all the bodies found in vacants.

But in the meantime, kudos to the BPD.

December 22, 2008

The Best Christmas Present Ever

Cop in the Hood, naturally. (Did you expect me to say anything different?)

I'll be on vacation for two weeks. There may be post or two... but don't hold your breath.

More in 2009...

Till then, stay safe.

December 19, 2008

That Christmas Spirit

I'm not one to give dumb crime fighting tips, but keep this in mind: even criminals need to buy presents.

The week before Christmas is always a busy time for police, with extra muggings and robberies.

December 18, 2008

Getting away with murder

A jury in Brooklyn on Wednesday night acquitted one of three men charged in the fatal shooting of Police Officer Russel Timoshenko of murder charges.

December 17, 2008

Work Dreams (II)

I went through my field notes. My first dream in which I was in uniform happened about four months into the police academy. But it wasn't a bad dream.

But then about a year after that, after about 10 months on the streets of the Eastern, I wrote this:
Had another bad cop dream. Somebody told me that this guy was wanted. I thought he was the [***] guy that Balto County is looking for. But this guy was a real junkie, oozing pus, guaranteed HIV +. This time I asked a guy to hand over the drugs he had and he placed vials into my hand. Except the vials had little needles on them, and one of them managed to somehow slide itself right through my skin, like a little finger piercing. I just knew I got AIDS from it.

I was a little a bit of a mess in my dream. In the dream, the guy didn’t mean anything bad. I thought it was strange that the needle could have ended up like that. I was riding with [***] and was on the top of the cop car banging on the car how I didn’t want to get AIDS.

This goes along with a dream a few nights ago about shooting someone. Don’t remember too much about that, other than it was justified. I shot the guy 5 times.
Top o' the morning to you, too! Try waking up to that and then look forward to going to work.

Work dreams

One thing I hated about being a cop was having work dreams. I mean, I still have them. Don't we all? But now my dreams are occasionally about being late for class, or unable to get my things together and leave home (the latter happens quite often in real life as well). Whatever, dude. So I'm late. Teaching dreams aren't the end of world.

But when I worked in the Eastern District, I had dreams about the Eastern District. And the Eastern District isn't good. It's one thing to work there and spend most of your waking hours in the Eastern (and a few asleep ones, too). But when I left the Eastern, I wanted to leave work. And for work and the Eastern to enter my dreams, my free time, that's just not right.

This came to mind because last night I was talking to two John Jay College student, one a ranking police officer and the other an immigrant cab driver (I love John Jay College). The guy who drives the cab wants to be a New York police officer (and I think would make a very good one). He said he was thinking of getting a job as a correctional officer (jail guard at Rikers) until the NYPD starts hiring again. I advised against it.

Being a C.O. is not just a tough job but also a bad job. To spend most of your waking hours in jail? I don't care if you get paid for it. You're in jail. And then there are the dreams....

Out of the blue I asked the police officer what kind of work dreams he had. He didn't even hesitate: dreams of being in fights and not being able to defend himself and needing to defend himself and having his gun not work. That didn't surprise me. I actually don't remember the details of my cop dreams. But they were something like that. They weren't friendly. Correctional-officer dreams must be terrible.

The student who drives taxis, not surprisingly, says he dreams of being in a car accident. He rents his cab each shift. And if he's in a accident that is his fault, he's got to pay for the repairs.

Work dreams. Hmmmm.... It's a good reason to be a teacher. Worst comes to worst, you're just naked in front of your class.

December 16, 2008

Here's to Officer Walter Fahey

The Boston Globe had a nice tribute to Boston Police Officer Walter Fahey, who died in October.

[Update: I just received a very gracious email from Walter Fahey's son. He mentions this piece in particular as capturing the spirit of his father. As my father wrote before he recently passed away: We shall never see their likes again.]

Guns and violence

I'm too swamped with final papers right now to give this the justice it deserves (But I will give this link to other posts on gun control). I'm sure some of you might have some thoughts on this email I just received. Please comment and discuss.
I live in VT which has very liberal (ha ha) gun laws. I'm not a gun owner and as a good liberal growing up in Brookline Mass, I was of course pro gun control. Now I have sort of come to the conclusion that the NRA argument, "Guns don't kill people...", is to some extent correct.

One telling statistic I heard (probably wrong but it was on CSPAN) from an author who wrote a book about airline security after 9/11 was that in the first three months in 1973 after the FAA mandated full passenger screening there were 5,000 guns confiscated. Since I had never heard of gunfights on commercial airliners it made me curious about whether how we Americans, have changed. Also in Israel where lots of people carry guns, assault rifles at that (the Mumbai terrorists would have been dead in about 15 minutes if they had tried what they did in Israel), and yet they seem, other than the ongoing conflict, to have relatively low rates of gun violence?

US anti-kidnap expert kidnapped

So says the BBC.

Bicyclist-Assaulting Officer Indicted

I'm quick to give police the benefit of the doubt. I rarely feel good when an officer gets criminally charged. But an unprovoked assault on someone that could have been me? F**k 'im.

I've written about this incident before.

The big offense, interestingly, isn't for assaulting the guy. Early reports are that he's just going to get a misdemeanor bang on that. Officer Pogan is going to get fired for creative writing in the felonious degree.

According to the New York Times:
Officer Pogan arrested Mr. Long and charged him with attempted assault, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. In his police report, Officer Pogan wrote that Mr. Long was obstructing vehicular traffic as he rode southbound on Seventh Avenue. After instructing Mr. Long to stop, Officer Pogan wrote, Mr. Long rammed him with his bicycle, causing the officer to fall to the ground and receive cuts on his forearms. Mr. Long then resisted arrest, Officer Pogan wrote.

Who would have ever thought that there might be somebody with a camera? It's not like it was Times Square.... Oh, wait.

December 12, 2008

Crack House

I first published this a year ago when nobody read my blog. It's worth a rehash.

#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.

"Our Drug Policy is a Success"

American has too many people behind bars, horrible levels of violence, foreign policy undermined by the War on Drugs, busts down the doors of citizens, makes poor people pee in cups to get a job, and--now this is important--the highest rate of illegal drug use in the world. Can John Walters really even write "our drug policy is a success" with a straight face? "One of Washington's best kept secrets" indeed. Keep on keeping on. Walters has a piece in the Wall Street Journal.

Much more convincing is Ethan Nadelmann's counterpoint. Here's to the end of prohibition!

Some Gave All

I recently received Some Gave All: A History of Baltimore Police Officers Killed in the Line of Duty, 1808-2007 by Steve Olsen and Robert Brown.

It's a very nice work of history and a wonderful homage to those who died serving Baltimore City. While details on recent police deaths tend to be relatively well known, even I leaned some things about the circumstances about the death of my friend, Crystal Sheffield, to whom my book is dedicated.

Some Gave All really shines in the history, going way back in the 19th Century. Most of these names have been forgotten. This book gives all these men (and one woman) who gave their lives the respect they deserve.

There's also an interesting story out of this. I recently received an email from the author, Sgt. Olsen, about a manuscript he found:
In the same vein as your work, I have an original manuscript from 1974 by an officer who did exactly the same as you. His work, however, was suppressed by the Command at the time and it wasn't discovered until 2008. (We found it in a retired Major's locker.) It was called "The Socialization of the Urban Police Officer." It's a pretty neat read.

We found what appeared to be the only copy sealed in an envelope. In 1975 the notes written on the outside of the envelope it said "Review and Hold" and initialed by someone that's illegible. 10 years later, the note said, "Someday, somebody should read this." So, what do police do? We ripped it open and read it!
Turns out I've already read it. It's by a guy name Mike O'Neil. It was his Masters Thesis at Brown. Later he got his PhD at Northwestern and who do you think signed off on his dissertation? None other than my father!

Before I finished my dissertation in 2004, Mike got in touch with Howard Becker, because of their common interests in jazz music. Professor Becker told Mike about our parallel stories and Mike got in touch with me. Mike was nice enough to send me a copy. He's no longer involved in the police world or academia, and doing just fine.

In 2004 Mike wrote me this:
Cherry Hill was close to the worst when I was there. Only redeeming feature, the city refused to license a bar in the area. That helped. Pomerlou was chief. Think the pay was about $8,000. Perhaps $5 for court (I don’t remember). The old cops back then also said the job wasn’t as good as the “good old days.” I suspect that that is a universal.
More recently Mike corrected the record:
By the way, it was never "suppressed" by the command. I doubt they ever knew about it. I shared it, as I recall, with two civilian police academy instructors and the judge in the Southern district. None officially.
I recall this advice [about drugs] from my Sgt in Cherry Hill: "We don't have the time to get involved with that shit. If you see something, go to a pay phone and drop a dime and call the Narcotics Unit; let them deal with it."
So it seems that at least in some ways, times certainly have changed.

More people behind bars

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports:

* At year end 2007, federal and state prisons and local jails held just under 2.3 million inmates (2,293,157). The number of inmates incarcerated in prison or jail increased by 1.5% during the year.
* About 1 in 198 U.S. residents was imprisoned with a sentence of more than 1 year in a federal or state prison.
* Overall, more than 7.3 million people were under correctional supervision, 1 in every 31 adults.

Adam Gelb Of the Pew Center said "this report is yet another reminder to states of the size of the prison problem. Especially in tough economic times, they have to ask whether spending nearly $50 billion a year to keep one in 100 adults behind bars is giving us our money's worth in terms of public safety."

December 11, 2008

Rioting eases in Greece

It seems, as expected, that things are calming down in Athens.

Apparently, nobody has been killed in the rioting. Apparently, the bullet that killed the kid was indeed a ricochet (that's why US city cops are not allowed to fired "warning shots").

[Dec 12: today the Kathimerini reports the opposite conclusion:
Meanwhile the results of forensic tests indicate that the bullet that killed 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos, and sparked this week’s rioting, appears to have entered the youth’s body directly. This casts doubt on claims by the 37-year-old policeman charged with the boy’s murder that the bullet had been fired as a warning and ricocheted.

According to sources, the results of a ballistics test revealed an as yet unidentified substance on the bullet, as well as marks, but experts ruled out the possibility of the bullet having hit a metal or concrete surface before striking the youth, fueling speculation that the marks on the bullet had been caused by contact with the victim’s bone.

Here are some of the better You Tube clips I've found. I automatically discounted any video set with a background of death-metal music. Come on, manges, you're not helping your cause. I'm only willing to sacrifice so much for my cause (but bad music takes out probably 80% of the videos posted).

Some tourists report here:

And this is a news broadcast with some context.

[December 13: In response to Nick's comment that the media has such a pro-police bias, I'd like to provide a caption to the picture to the right. Luckily, according to the Kathimerini (and to think, I was duped by their biased and horribly pro-police propaganda simply because they publish in English), the police officer in the picture was not seriously injured.

But perhaps the caption could be:

While wrapped in the enveloping warmth provided by unarmed freedom-loving youths and pondering the ever-present Greek quandary of freedom of death, a Greek police officer dances a celebratory Kalamatiano in an attempt to shake off the fascist symbol of his uniform and with it, the last vestiges of the Yoke of Ottoman Oppression.

Ζητώ η Ελλάδα, baby.]

Sympathy for the Devil

A reader turned me on to this article about life in the LA Hood: "Sympathy for the Devil: Crime Stats Say L.A.'s Streets Are Safer Than Ever, So Why Are Gang Hoods Still So Bloody?"

It's by Sam Slovick in the LA Weekly. It's long. I'll confess, I haven't read it all (sheee-it, man... I got things I got to be doing). But if you've got an hour on your hands, check it out.


Rachel DiCarlo Currie writes a very nice review of Cop in the Hood in The American.
The most encouraging aspect of this book is its portrait of the police officers themselves. Moskos holds his former colleagues in the highest esteem, and he takes offense at claims that urban cops are crooked and racist. There will always be bad apples, but the officers he met were honorable, if a bit hard around the edges. (“We’re not social workers with guns,” one cop joked.) Ultimately, readers of Cop in the Hood are left with a renewed appreciation for the men in blue.

Publishing qualitative criminal justice

[Fair warning: Intended for stuffy academics. If you think you won't be interested, you're probably right.]

I received the latest issue of Journal of Criminal Justice Education yesterday. I have to confess, I’m not certain why I get this journal. I don’t remember ever subscribing to it. Of the journals I get, it’s the one I generally find least interesting. Take for instance: "Why we Need Certification Standards in Criminal Justice Education and what the Impacts will be: a Response to the Concerns of JDs." Yawn. Maybe it comes with membership in some professional criminal justice organization I belong to.

But the latest issue is great. I mean don’t mean CSI excitement here. But most of this is good stuff:

"Lombroso's Legacy: The Miseducation of Criminologists" argues that because of the evil history of genetic-based criminology, we’re missing out on important developments now. Given the poor track record of genetically-based social science, I’m not so convinced that we should be quick to discard the legacy of Hitler and assume that this time, we’ve got it right. I don’t know. Perhaps. They didn’t teach me this stuff (and that’s the point of the article).

"Reviewers' Views on Reviewing: An Examination of the Peer Review Process in Criminal Justice." Worth reading if you’re trying to get articles published.

"The Great Books in Criminal Justice: As Ranked by Elite Members of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences."
No, my book isn’t there. But it’s good to see what some consider to be our canon. If you're a student in the field, you should know these books. And if you're a student in the field, there's a good chance you'll never all these books in one list, conveniently broken down by field.

"The Quantitative/Qualitative Divide Revisited: A Study of Published Research, Doctoral Program Curricula, and Journal Editor Perceptions." This was the best article and that one that made me open the journal in the first place. As a qualitative researcher, I’ve very concerned with this divide. Can you get published if your work does not include statistical regressions? There is good news and bad news. The bad news is that leading journals publish even fewer qualitative articles than I thought. The quantitative/qualitative ratio is roughly 90%/10%. That's not good.

The good news is that most editors claim to be open to qualitative works but simply don’t receive enough of them. The article also has what seems to be excellent advice on what you, as a qualitative writer, can do to increase the chances of acceptance in a leading journal. Simple things I didn’t know (basically, among other things, use the format standard for quantitative pieces).

This article by Kevin Buckler is rare for an academic writing. Along with being a nice blend of well presented quantitative and qualitative data, it’s informative, convincing, well written, and actually enjoyable to read. If you are a qualitative academic trying to get published in criminal justice journals, it is, as they like to say, a “must read.”

December 10, 2008

Foot Patrol

Whenever people say there aren't enough officers for foot patrol, I say, "hogwash" (or something with similar meaning). We used to have foot patrol. And we didn't have more police. It's a question of priorities, not resources. Here's a interesting diagram from 1911.

I don't know if this was the theory, the practice, or a proposal. And perhaps standing in the middle of the intersection isn't the best strategy. But it's still very interesting to see. (Plus those old hand-drawn diagrams have style!)

Basically foot patrol was replaced with making officers available to answer 911 calls. Too bad former is much better than the latter.

Can you order pizza?

Maybe you don't stay up at night thinking about cell phones in prison. And maybe you shouldn't. But think about it for a moment... we can't keep cell phones out of the hands of prisoners. Somehow I think that's significant.

The story by Dan Kane in the News & Observer.

December 8, 2008

Less overtime = More murder?

Messing with police overtime is like messing with a dog's food. You better makes sure it doesn't come back to bite you. "It's like our heroin," one cop says in Cop in the Hood, "it's just something we need."

The root of the problem is that half the department is assigned to patrol, chasing radio calls. So when it comes to officers that have the freedom to do police free from 911 calls for service--and we all know that 911 is a Joke--cutting overtime can have a huge impact on the kinds of policing that can actually prevent crime.

Justin Fenton writes the story in the Sun:

Killings rose as police cut OT
Despite official denials, union chief sees effect on city safety

Baltimore's deadliest month of 2008 coincided with substantial reductions to the Police Department's overtime budget - cuts that the police union president says are interfering with investigations and diminishing neighborhood patrols.

Prompted by a directive from Mayor Sheila Dixon to cut more than $21 million this year amid the worsening economy, the department spent $800,000 less for overtime in November than in the same month the previous year, according to former homicide Detective Robert F. Cherry, who was elected union president this fall.

The month saw 31 homicides, the worst November in nine years. The trend has continued, with six killings in the first six days of this month.

"Detectives are being told, you can't finish working a case, you have to go home. We can't put foot men in a certain area, it will cost overtime. And district commanders are being beaten down if they spend over," Cherry said. "You're lying to the public if you say we're attacking all forms of crime, and you're lying if you say the budget cuts have no effect."

More on the Greek riots

The BBC has a good story about the Greek culture of "No."

And also goes into something I should have explained, namely why November 17 is a day of protest and why students are key: :
On 17 November 1973, tanks of the then six-year-old [American supported] military dictatorship burst through the iron railings to suppress a student uprising against the colonels.

The exact casualty figure is still unknown to this day but it is believed that around 40 people were killed. The sacrifice of the polytechnic was so significant that the post-junta architects of Greece's new constitution drafted the right of asylum, which bans the authorities from entering the grounds of schools and universities.

That is why places of learning are the springboards for the current wave of violence and it also explains why many of the riots are in university towns.

Students and pupils have effectively been given carte blanche to carry on protesting, because their professors have declared a three-day strike.

Greece also has long history of students going on strike. As an American professor, I find that very amusing. Also, it is illegal to have a private college or university in Greece. The state has a legal monopoly on post high-school education. That's a shame. It's why a lot of Greeks travel abroad to get a better education.

Expect things to calm down by Thursday when the professors' three-day strike ends.

Worse than the average Greek riot

Greek police shot and killed a 15-year-old boy in Athens Saturday night after a confrontation between police and a group of people.

There have been some pretty big riots ever since. Here's the latest from English-language version or Kathimerini. And the New York Times has a story and slide show.

The fact that there were copycat riots in other cities means this clearly strikes a nerve.

These are probably worse than your average Greek riot, most likely the worst since Greece's return to democracy in 1973. But... and here the rub... there is such a thing as an "average" Greek riot.

Every year, on November 17, there are riots in Athens. As the BBC puts it: "Each year, on that date, tens of thousands of trade unionists, left-wingers and ordinary people march from the Polytechnic to the heavily fortified US embassy. Invariably the demonstration disintegrates into a ritual battle between riot police and anarchists."

I lived in Athens for a while back in the early 1990s. I speak enough Greek just to get into conversations whereby I can't understand a thing ("It's all Chinese to me," say the Greeks).

I've never felt Athens to be a dangerous place. So on November 17th one year, because it's the kind of thing I do, I went to the University to check things out. Now I tried not to open my mouth and out myself as an American (though it probably would have been fine if I had) and I went a little earlier than I thought things would get really hot. But still, in the early evening I walked past the police line into a pro-riot zone and strolled around balaclavad youths filling Molotov cocktails with fuel.

Dangerous? I don't know. There was also an old man, a kafetzis , strolling though the crowd with full tray of coffee, selling frappe to the rioters. Frappe , Greek iced coffee, to the rioters. And yes, people were coming up to him politely, paying for coffee, and then going back their business. What kind of riot has a coffee vendor?!

The only thing that comes close... and it really doesn't come close, was when I was at an Ice Cube concert and people were buying and drinking tea, with cup and saucer and coffee cookie and everything. That was in Amsterdam at the Paradiso.

To a certain extent, riots in Greece are ritualized. Injuries are kept to a minimum. And nobody gets killed. Maybe a bank gets burnt. A few cars. And a perhaps a small rocket-propelled grenade is launched at the American Embassy. Truman Statue tipping is always fair game. At some point, either to quell or to instigate, the MAT (that's Greek for S.W.A.T.) comes in and fires tear gas and stands behind plastic shields blocking missiles.

My point is simply that pictures of Greek riots are always worse than reality. If I may overgeneralize, Greeks are more full of passion than anger. I have no doubt there is real passion. There's a huge left-right divide in Greece. The civil war in Greece came after WWII. There was a right-wring military dictatorship 35 years ago. Even the language your write in and the color of your graffiti have political connotation.

Of course it's not November 17. So this riot wasn't on the agenda. And a kid did get shot and killed. The official police version seems to be it was a warning shot gone array. The cops were arrested, by the way.

Plus, there's also a lot of corruption in Greek police (especially in the night-life arena). And police brutality is probably more accepted there than it is in the U.S.

No doubt when you're dealing with anger, alcohol, Molotov cocktails, bottles, bricks, fires, police reaction, and less-lethal force, somebody could get seriously hurt. But usually nobody does.

My point is just that this isn't L.A. 1992. This isn't the suburbs of Paris 2005. Yes, the rocks and firebombs are real. But if that man is still walking the streets selling frappe, I wouldn't be too worried.

December 7, 2008


"Massachusetts Chief Charged Over Event Where Boy Killed Self With Uzi." The story by Michael Levenson from the Boston Globe. I kind of feel sorry for the Chief. It's interesting the father wasn't charged. Not that I think charging him would accomplish anything. It's just that I can't imagine the same courtesy going out to somebody from, shall we say, the "inner city."

December 5, 2008

Broken Windows in the Economist

I got issues with this piece from the normally stellar Economist. I just happened to have lunch yesterday with George Kelling. He has issues, too.

For one thing, Broken Windows is not Zero Tolerance.

From Vermont

I just received this interesting email from the po-po in Vermont (oh, I chuckle at my own wit... because somehow I imagine police in Vermont don't get called "po-po" much).

Love reading your web site. I like your perspectives on these issues you write about. I was just reading your articles on "Balancing Security and Liberty" and "Buckle-Up or the Lock-Up." After reading these two, you need to move to VT as you might like our supreme court. We, the police are losing a lot in terms of search and seizure.

A while ago we lost searching a vehicle without a warrant. Our supreme court said if we have established PC [probably cause] at the roadside, we can offer the operator a "consent search." If they decline, then we can seize the vehicle and get a warrant. The court at that time felt the vehicle can be easily seized and we take the time to get a warrant. We've gotten used to this one.

Most recently we lost or are losing search incident to arrest [that’s the right search somebody after you lock them up]. I and my colleges in VT feel they’re going to far. An officer arrested a suspect for DUI, searched his vehicle incident to arrest. Only the lung-able wingspan and under the operators seat. Under the seat the officer I believe found stolen property or may drugs. He was charged and convicted for it. The suspect appealed his case all the way to the high court. They ruled 3-2 in his favor that the search, under the VT constitution, was unreasonable.

The most recent was another search incident to arrest. The person was arrested on a warrant. He was handcuffed and searched. The police found a small bag or sack in his pocket that had drugs in it. He was charged and convicted. He appealed. The court, on a 3-2 decision ruled that we needed a warrant to get into the bag or sack. These two decision, in my opinion are extreme. We're way beyond a Terry Stop or a security type search. Even one of the descending justices said just on an officer safety issue, it is justified.

On this one, "Old-School Cops in a New-School World" my chief would agree with you here.

I've always liked Vermont. Too bad I don't ski. Good beer. Good weed, too, I hear (hey, seems like half the kitchen staff I worked with in Boston were hard-core stoners from Vermont).

I'm always torn on these issues of searches. Because as a former cop, I love tools for cops to find shit. But generally I support rules limited police searches. I don't think the government should have the right to be in everybody's business. That's not what the country was founded on.

It really does bother me that people are arrested and cars towed simply because police want to search somebody and their stuff. If you've got probably cause, that's one thing. But it you don't, an arrest shouldn't be the answer.

Without knowing much at all about how police work in Vermont (I imagine it's a little more polite—on both sides—than we police in parts of Baltimore).

But I don't support search incident to arrest if it means people are arrested so that police can search them. Officer’s need to search for their safety; it’s just so much abused to find drugs. I simply don't know how you get police to follow the spirit of the law.

In New York State, by the way, any drugs found during a Terry Frisk cannot be charged against the person (though of course the drugs will be seized). I think that's a great rule. But of course my cop friends here in NYC tell me there are plenty or ways to get around that (like say you found them on the ground). Still, if police are willing to lie to prosecute, that's on them.

Here police stop and frisk for guns. That’s controversial, but legal and I suspect ultimately good. Stopping and frisking for drugs and both illegal and wrong.

I've never understood the logic of being able to search the whole car when you tow it (granted I did, too). I mean, if it's technically "for inventory," but we all know that's bullshit. Why can't a driver just say no, you don't have to inventory my contents, I trust you.

I guess it all just comes down to the fact that I'm both pro-police but also pro 4th Amendment and against the war on drugs. I think citizens give up too many rights because of the war on drugs. Too many police push our Constitution to the limit because they want to find drugs. Why are they so obsessed? If we're concerned about bombs, that’s one thing. Then find bombs but don't go for anything else. I say this in my "Balancing Security and Liberty" piece--by the way, of all my op-eds, that's my favorite.

November 30, 2008

Desk Duty

In the New York Times, Christine Hauser writes a very good article about "desk duty" in the NYPD.

"An officer... spent more than 18 months watching surveillance video while authorities investigated an accusation that he had struck a suspect. [He] was eventually cleared of the charge."

In Baltimore they call getting mired in the department discipline process "jackpotting" because it's seen as random and doesn't necessarily have any relation to actually doing anything wrong.

One of the biggest complaints and fears of police officers is seemingly arbitrary discipline and the amount of time it takes to clear innocent officers from bogus charges.

"A real treat"

The latest issue of Drug War Chronicle has an excellent review of Cop in the Hood.

"As revelatory as it is sometimes disturbing.... Engaging, even riveting"

November 17, 2008

St. Louis: Coulda Been a Contender

I'm back from St. Louis. Despite growing up in nearby Chicago, I had never been to St. Louis. In my mind, I was thinking the Baltimore of Midwest: Faded industrial glory, local pride, and the answer to one of my own favorite personal trivia questions: What city of a certain size (at least a couple hundred thousand? or perhaps with a major league sports team?)has lost the greatest percent of it's population?

The answer?

No, not Baltimore.

Not Detroit.

Not Newark.

St. Louise, M.O.

Yes, St. Louis. From 856,796 people in 1950 to 353,837 today. Almost 60% of the population left.

Why? Of course the usual economic and social reasons. But something had to be different about St. Louis to lose most of it's population.

We arrived by train from Chicago. I had St. Louis Union Station mapped out. Silly me thinking that trains actually arrived in the beautiful train station.

Instead Amtrak pulls up next to one of those Amtrak Shacks. Except it was dark and rainy and muddy when we arrived. Sigh.

A bad train station alone does not a deserted city make. The sad part is that St. Louis, which does have some very nice parts, coulda been a contender. The city doomed itself in the 1930s when they tore out the heart of the city. Part of this area would, in the 1960s, because the St. Louis Arch (or more ominously officially called the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial). The Arch, by the way, is beautiful.

I guess destroying your city in the 1930s was cutting edge urban renewal at the time. Most cities didn't tear themselves down till after WWII. In St. Louis, the old courthouse used to be in the center of the city. Now it's almost on the Eastern Edge surrounded by some ugly hotels and office buildings from the past few decades.

The old basilica used to be surrounded with glorious cast-iron buildings. Now it's surrounded by nothing. Why do they do that? What were they thinking? Why do they still do that?

Probably about a whole square mile is gone. And it's the part with history and character. Like Soho in New York. It's gone. All of it. Now there's the Arch area. OK. Fine (though there would be nothing wrong with an arch rising out of real neighborhood). And the rest? Now there's a freeway. And empty spaces. And lots of parking. Too much parking is always a bad sign.

From the arch you can see the huge space that used to be city.

There are just a few buildings in this area left. The buildings that are left look like this. Gorgeous.

What’s left is filled with a predictable blend of mediocre restaurants and sports bars in an attempt to bring nightlife back to the city.

St. Louis could have been the New Orleans of the North. But they torn down their French Quarter. Instead, well imagine New Orleans without the French Quarter. Or, for that matter, good food or music.

I didn't get a chance to see North St. Louis, where that half of the city that fled used to live. But in the brief time we had before our flight out, we were able to take the nice St. Louis Metro to Illinois and back. I wanted to see East St. Louis, even if a classic "slumming tour" just through the window of a light-rail train car.

East St. Louis, Illinois, is perhaps the single most f**ked up city in America (and there is tough competition). They lost their city hall in a lawsuit around 1990. That was their only asset. If you're interested or worried about this kind of thing, you should read Jonathan Kozol on East St. Louis.
Crossing the Mississippi River, you see the casino, the talisman of attempted economic revival:
Then you see how there's just no there, there.
The arch rising in the distance. Yeah, I know it’s not the most subtle use of juxtaposition.

Downtown East St. Louis.

New development.

What the morale? I don't know. Why do we let this happen? And if you think your city is in trouble... just remember, it could always be worse.

[December 10 addition: Just remembered that part of the reason we got on the light rail was to find a place to eat. The employee at the station told us authoritatively: "There are no restaurants in Illinois."]

Good Taser Use

I've said that Tasers are overused and too often lethal. But here is a perfect use--as an alternative to lethal force. Well done, BPD. The Baltimore Sun reports:
Baltimore police use Taser to subdue armed woman

November 17, 2008

Baltimore police used a Taser last night to disable a woman who was wielding a handgun in front of a house in the 200 block of W. Lorraine Ave. in the Remington community, said a Northern District shift commander. Sgt. Michael Hennlein said the woman, who is in her 20s, and a girlfriend were arguing in the house about 9:30 p.m. when the woman fired a shot that shattered a window but missed the other woman. Hennlein said several people in the house ran outdoors, followed by the armed woman. During the incident, someone called police to report a shooting. Hennlein said that when officers arrived, the woman was standing outside, bleeding from cuts caused by broken glass and threatening to shoot herself and others. After officers warned her to drop the gun and she failed to comply, one of the officers fired a Taser, striking the woman in the upper body with 50,000 volts, he said. The woman was taken by ambulance to a hospital for treatment of the lacerations and the effects of the Taser. He said charges were expected to be filed against the woman upon her release from the hospital and that no other injuries were reported.

November 13, 2008

Gone fishing...

In the morning I'm off to Chicago for a memorial for my father at Northwestern University. Then on Friday to St. Louis for the annual American Society of Criminology Conference (and dude, do they know how to party...) I'll be back next week...

November 11, 2008

Let junkies be junkies

Very interesting article by Vince Beiser of Miller-McCune about drug policy in Vancouver (thanks, Louise). It is also fair and balanced. From the article:
Canada’s third-largest city has embarked on a radical experiment: Over the last several years, it has overhauled its police and social services practices to re-frame drug use as primarily a public health issue, not a criminal one. In the process, it has become by far the continent’s most drug-tolerant city, launching an experiment dramatically at odds with the U.S. War on Drugs.
Vancouver has essentially become a gigantic field test, a 2 million-person laboratory for a set of tactics derived from a school of thought known as “harm reduction.” It’s based on a simple premise: No matter how many scare tactics are tried, laws passed or punishments imposed, people are going to get high. ...

Harm reduction is less about compassion than it is about enlightened self-interest. The idea is to give addicts clean needles and mouthpieces not to be nice but so they don’t get HIV or pneumonia from sharing equipment and then become a burden on the public health system. Give them a medically supervised place to shoot up so they don’t overdose and clog up emergency rooms, leaving their infected needles behind on the sidewalk.

Give them methadone — or even heroin — for free so they don’t break into cars and homes to get money for the next fix.
Though Vancouver is cutting the collateral damage caused by hard drugs, the city is making far less progress in reducing the number of users. Surveys report that drug use is higher in British Columbia than in the rest of Canada. A recent poll found that almost half of all Vancouverites consider drugs a major problem in their communities — a figure double that for residents of Canada’s biggest cities, Toronto and Montreal.

With serious drug users come rip-offs, break-ins and holdups for fix money. So it’s no surprise that Vancouver’s property crime and bank robbery rates are higher than most of Canada’s. The city also has more gun-related crimes per capita than any other in the nation, a fact at least one criminologist has linked to the number of substance abusers.

November 10, 2008

Cops and Nurses

I'm not the first to point out that cops and nurses have a lot in common. This is from a nurse/midwife:

I was reading your book today on the train and thinking about cops and nurses. I was a one-woman nurse academy for the last year and it's such a maddening process. I had to teach new nurses:

1) the rules of a system;

2) that nurses don't always follow the rules, they do it another way, but please know the rules; and finally—if the nurses can handle such cognitive dissonance and it doesn't utterly disillusion them:

3) that the system is misguided and broken, and the informal way nurses do it doesn't really benefit laboring women or respect birth either. And that just about everything in the labor room goes against evidence-based practice.

I feel some success when the new nurses start talking about home birth. It's the only sane response to learning about hospital birth at **** (or most NYC hospitals). But then after orientation the nurses have to go out and do the hospital job anyway, which means being asked to fit all patients into the same tight, wrong mold.

I am about halfway through the book. It sounds like nurses have a similar response to cops. There is a lot of dehumanizing of patients, and gallows humor, and gory details over drinks. They get very good at writing reports (documenting in the chart) that fit a certain picture even if not really accurate.

To an extent, nurses have a sisterhood and look out for each other, but there is also quite a bit of undermining and backstabbing (women culture vs men?). And yet it is amazing how often the nurses can still be kind and creative and still see the screaming bleeding whining person in front of them as an individual human needing support.

Public Defenders in Revolt

"Public defenders’ offices in at least seven states are refusing to take on new cases or have sued to limit them, citing overwhelming workloads that they say undermine the constitutional right to counsel for the poor." Read the whole story here.

From the Brass

Colonel (Ret.) Margaret Patton is the highest ranking woman in the Baltimore City Police Department. Back in 2000, when I was a cop, she was in charge of the Northern District. I don’t think we ever met, but I knew her by reputation, and it was good.

A few months ago, when I was having an exchange with retired police who refused to read my book on principle (apparently, for some, ignorance is not a problem but a principle). Out of the blue, Colonel Patton wrote to tell me what she thought. Let me tell you, I may be a slouched-over academic now, but when I get a letter from a colonel, I sit up straight and at attention, ma'am!

But she put me at ease. She thought it was unfair for people--people she knew and respected--to criticize me for a book they wouldn’t read. She resolved to buy my book, read my book, and let me know what she thought. I already had respect for Colonel Patton as a police officer; I quickly gained respect for Maggie (as she insists I address her) as a person.

Months passed. I thought perhaps she hasn’t written because she had nothing nice to say. A few days ago I sent her a note asking if she had finished my book and again asking for her thoughts. Here is her reply (reprinted with permission):
Hi Peter,

Yes, I certainly did finish your book and enjoyed it very much. I would have sent my "critique" back to you but I thought you were only being nice. I always consider it a privilege to be asked to comment on someone's work. I pulled your book off my shelf and realized that I had even taken notes while reading it.

Let me first say that I think that the book should be made mandatory reading for every recruit in the Balto. City Police Academy. I would love to be in the classroom listening to the conversations and debates sparked by your experiences. I believe that this dialogue would help to lessen the feelings that nothing of substance is taught or learned while in the academy. The command staff would certainly learn much by reading
Cop In The Hood because command does forget a lot with each rank they achieve. Granted, they learn a lot with each experience of rank but much is forgotten.

You mentioned that stats should be maintained for recovered drugs and not just for drug-related arrests. I couldn't agree more and I'm sure that the Lab would have these stats but I have never seen them used for tactical purposes. It would give the city a better understanding of how prolific drugs are and it would help in providing necessary funding for treatment beds and enforcement.

On pages 108 and 109 you discussed the problem with the dispatch of calls for service including foot patrol and rapid response. You are just so on the mark with these observations.

I am so sorry that you didn't have the opportunity to work for Major Lewandowski. He was way beyond everyone in his thinking. He took the "good police" out of their cars and put the inexperienced and lazy ones in the cars. This, of course, was met with resistance because everyone wanted a car. He would sit by the computer and re-assign calls for service putting some on hold because of more serious calls waiting. You can just imagine how the dispatchers felt about this. He ran into much resistance because the system was not set up for this type of strategy. His dream was for officers to be provided with real time crime information at roll call - now it can be done. You two would have made a fantastic team!
If I had been your editor I would have liked to have seen you personalize your story more, maybe even bordering on an autobiography. ... BUT, your book as written, is perfect for the academy.

It would have been interesting to read about your parents and your upbringing. Why did you decide to become a sociologist and why did you decide to go to Harvard? Did your girlfriend think that she was getting involved with an academic and then you went off to become a police or did she think that she was getting involved with a police who then turned into an academic. How do your students react to you as a former police?

You are interesting because of the decisions you made and it would be interesting to see how you were influenced along the way to make these decisions (as a child, young adult, student, police trainee, police and now professor). The book could be titled
Professor Outside The Hood.
If the present police commissioner was smart, he would bring you down to run the police academy although I am sure it would be a step down for you. Your insight into the drug world and law enforcement is outstanding and I hope that this is not the last book you write.
Again, I enjoyed your book and I am so proud that you were a Baltimore Police Officer and a good one.

Personally, I would love to hear conversation and debate in the police academy on any subject. But, alas, that's not the role the academy plays.

When I was there, I offered to lecture to my class during any of the many downtime hours that filled those 6 months. I thought why not? So much time was spend doing nothing. And I've lectured on crime and deviance at Harvard. If nothing else it would relieve my boredom. But nobody took me up on the offer.

I could never figure out why so much time is spent "learning" how to write reports in a classroom when that kind of knowledge can be learned so quickly on the street.

I think 911 and the police car are the two biggest obstacle to real positive change in any police department. I was talking about foot patrol in my class last week and one of the N.Y. police officers said, "It will never happen!" And this the day after a black man was elected president of the United States.