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by Peter Moskos

February 13, 2008

I didn't say that!

I am misquoted in today's Baltimore Sun. This is the first time I've been quoted by a reporter and said, "no!" when reading my words. It particularly irks me to be misinterpreted in the Sun because police I know and like will read it and think I've sold out (I'm not quite sure to whom, I guess Hillary Clinton and the liberal media cop-hating cult or something like that).

I said:
"I think that cops are terrified of video cameras," said Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore police officer who is now a sociologist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. "I think the end result is cops will police a little more carefully."

I don't like this quote. I did say those words, but the way it reads is not at all what I meant. The quote makes it sound like I think that cops are terrified because they have so much to hide. That's not what I said or believe. I don't like the clever use of non-ellipses. What I said in the long discussion between those two sentences--what isn't in the article--makes my sentiments clear: Cops are terrified of video cameras because they don't want some out-of-context 2-minute clip on YouTube ruining an otherwise good career! And judging from this case, this fear seems to be justified. (For my longer and more nuanced argument, see my previous post)

In the long run, I think cops will benefit from more cameras. Not just because they may police better, but because more cameras will show entire situations and not just the part when cops get aggressive. It will show people acting like idiots and cops behaving professionally. Getting aggressive is sometimes an essential part of police job. You don't want police not acting because they're worried about how they will look on camera. Hesitation can get you killed.

Police officers have a career worth of history with the people, neighborhoods, and problems they police. All this matters and is part of good policing. A video clip can rarely show the whole story.

Good police need to do things that may not look good taken out of context and when judged by people who have nothing to do with the communities, cultures, and police involved.

I'm sure that there are 2-minute moments from my policing days that I wouldn't be proud of (and not just when I fell asleep), but that doesn't mean I have anything to hide. I don't want my brief police (or professorial) career judged by my worst moment. It's just not fair.

All the being said, I do believe that police should be accountable at some level to the public that supports them and pays their salary. I also believe that police shouldn't be, well, dicks (sorry, but I still can't think of a better word). If that comes from policing more carefully, then video cameras may play a positive role.

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