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by Peter Moskos

May 31, 2008

Officer Pete says (rule 13):

Don’t be surprised when we arrest someone, there really isn’t much else we can do.

Drug Massacre Leaves a Mexican Town Terrorized

As reported by James McKinley Jr. in the New York Times:

On the night of May 17, dozens of men with assault rifles rolled into town in several trucks and shot up the place [Villa Ahumada]. They killed the police chief, two officers and three civilians. Then they carried off about 10 people, witnesses said. Only one has been found, dead and wrapped in a carpet in Ciudad Juárez.

The entire municipal police force quit after the attack, and officials fled the town for several days, leaving so hastily that they did not release the petty criminals held in the town lockup. The state and federal governments sent in 300 troops and 16 state police officers, restoring an uneasy semblance of order. But townspeople remain terrified.

May 29, 2008

Officer Pete says (rule 14):

It doesn’t matter if you’re right. Nobody will believe you if you’re in jail.

Cop in the Hood for sale (again)!

Amazon finally has Cop in the Hood looking good and back for sale.

Go buy your copy today. Less than $20 is always a bargain. Amazon lists June 17th as the date of publication. But the book will be coming off the presses next week and Amazon gets their copies very quickly. I would guess they'll be shipping the first week of June.

Take your $1.4 billion and stuff it!

That's what Mexico may tell the U.S. So reports Laurence Iliff in the Dallas Morning News. Good for them.

Here's the backstory: The U.S. offers money to other countries so they can join our glorious war on drugs. To get the money--and here's the catch--other countries had to pass a formal (now less formal) "certification" process where we tell them if they're doing enough to fight the war on drugs, if their judicial system is good, and if their human rights record passes our test. We obviously can judge these things, you know, because our record in the war on drugs has been nothing but success after success in what is now a drug-free America!

Mexico considered certification a violation of its sovereignty. "Why don't we tell the Americans to use those [funds] for their own interdiction forces or interception forces ... and stop the flow of weapons," [Mexican assistant attorney general for international affairs] Santiago Vasconcelos said in a radio interview. "Rather than giving them to Mexico, they can be used by the Americans to reinforce their Customs service, their Border Patrol, and stop the arms trafficking to our country."
Oh, snap!

I'm always amazed how arrogant the war on drugs makes us. Mexican police are getting killed in battle right and left, but we'll tell them if they're doing enough to fight drugs. Can you imagine our reaction if, after September 11, 2001, other countries offered us big bucks but only if we could certify to their standards that we were really serious about fighting terrorists?

What if Mexico offered us billions of pesos to protect New Orleans from hurricane damage, but only if we let their army corp of engineers certify the quality of our levies? (I mention this example because time and time again, Mexico proves very able at hurricane disaster relief. Kudos to them.)

Can you imagine how insulted we would be if Cuba offered us billions of dollars, but only if we, say, ended the practice of electing judges, abolished the death penalty, found a way to cut our prison population by 80%, and agreed to end our Cuban embargo?

As soon as New Orleans was destroyed by hurricane Katrina, Cuba offered us 1,500 doctors and 26 tones of medicine and aid. No strings attached (except political embarrassment)! We turned them down. Seems we were already doing a heck of a job. About 2,000 people died (we don’t even know for sure) and we couldn't get clean water in for days.

Anyway, I hope Mexico does tell the U.S. to stuff it. Often these countries know the war on the drugs is stupid and hurts them, but $1.4 billion sure is tough to turn down. That’s a lot of change to fill a lot of pockets. If we bribe enough people, they'll poison their fields or arm militias or whatever else we tell them to do. I've been to both Mexico and Egypt, and let me tell you, they sure have nice police cars… thanks to our money. Too bad none of this money is going to the Baltimore P.D.

May 28, 2008

Don't eat the paint

Why is there so much violence in Baltimore? Maybe it's the lead. Or you could say, "It's the lead, stupid!" There's a lot of lead paint in Baltimore, especially in poor neighborhoods.

Greg Toppo reports in USA Today.

In the academy, a friend and I used to joke that one of our dim classmates had licked the windowsill one too many times. Maybe he had.

The Beautiful Struggle

Two nights ago I read Ta-Nehisi Coates The Beautiful Struggle: A father, two sons, and an unlikely road to manhood (Spiegel and Grau). It's about a man, a black man, growing up in Baltimore. Despite the horribly sappy title, it's neither horrible nor sappy. In fact, it's quite good and is written with a very strong 1st-person voice.

If you think "The Wire" is hard to understand at times, you'll have to read parts of Coates's book very slowly. He uses Baltimore slang like it's straight from Noah Webster's mouth. But the style of speech adds a lot to the book. And overall it's a good quick read.

I'm not a huge fan of memoirs because they often lack a point. So I tried to figure out a point to this book. It seems to me that the main problem that leads to so much bad in places like West Baltimore begins with young kids getting jumped by other kids while walking to and from school.

This made me think of Geoffrey Canada's Fist Stick Knife Gun. I read Canada's book over 10 years ago and don't remember it that well. But I think he talks about and identifies the same problem.

At first, these aren't fights, or muggings, or even beefs. They're just kids banking other kids because they can. It's about dominance, power, respect, and just for the hell of it because it's fun.

I'm sure this in oversimplifying things somewhat. But maybe not. You get jumped. You start hanging around others for protection. Things escalate.

So my question is this: In neighborhoods like East and West Baltimore, how can we stop little gangs of little (and not so little) kids from jumping and terrorizing other little kids?

Here's an excerpt from Coates's book:
...Painfully I’d come to know that face must be held against everything, that flagrant dishonor follows you, haunting every handshake with all your niggers, disputing every advance on a jenny. Shawn was, at first, true to his better nature, and backed down and held up open hands. But I’d come too far to be gracious. I stuck my finger in his grill—

That’s right. ’Cause you a bitch-ass nigger.

—and walked out.

Nowadays, I cut on the tube and see the dumbfounded looks, when over some minor violation of name and respect, a black boy is found leaking on the street. The anchors shake their heads. The activists give their stupid speeches, praising mythical days when all disputes were handled down at Ray’s Gym. Politicians step up to the mic, claim the young have gone mad, their brains infected, and turned superpredator. Fuck you all who’ve ever spoken foolishly, who’ve opened your mouths like we don’t know what this is. We have read the books you own, the scorecards you keep—done the math and emerged prophetic. We know how we will die—with cousins in double murder suicides, in wars that are mere theory to you, convalescing in hospitals, slowly choked out by angina and cholesterol. We are the walking lowest rung, and all the stands between us and beast, between us and the local zoo, is respect, the respect you take as natural as sugar and shit. We know what we are, that we walk like we are not long for this world, that this world has never longed for us.

No Parking = No Drugs?

In a comment, Timothy turned me on to an article by Liz Kay in the Sun, "No parking, Less Drugs." Leaving aside the grammatical question (it should be "fewer drugs," right?), what about the concept? They banned parking on part of the business strip of Pennsylvania Avenue to get rid of drug dealers. Apparently, it has gotten a little better. It's also hurt business.

[Sun photo by Andrew F. Chung]

My first thought is that it's a dumb idea. As Mr. Sussman, pawnshop owner and president of the Merchants' Association, is quoted as saying, "Sometimes there's a worry that you can cure the disease and kill the patient."

And I also don't like a vision that prefers empty streets to streets crowded with non-criminals. That's very anti Jane Jacobs.

That being said, there are many things in favor of this idea.

1) It is an idea. Maybe it'll work. Maybe not. But I'm all for trying it.

2) The problem of public drug markets is big. Desperate times often do require desperate actions.

3) Apparently the business owners support it. As long as the businesses support it, I will, too. In a business strip, the business owners should have a big say. Besides, probably the main people inconvenienced by this are the business owners themselves who park in front of their store and feed the meter all day. I wonder how many of these spaces were open to the public, anyway.

4) The greater impact seems to result from increased police presence rather than the removal of parking space.

Is it a long-term solution? Of course not. But I guess it's worth a try. There are lots of places you can deal drugs in Baltimore. It would be nice if Pennsylvania Avenue weren't one of them.

From the article:
Deidre Danois said she and a friend had to park across the street recently when they stopped on Pennsylvania Avenue to grab some breakfast.

"I bet you police don't go up to Roland Park and tell them they can't park on their street," Danois said as she shopped at Sweet Sixteen.

That's right, hon. Because they're not dealing drugs in front of stores in Roland Park. She reminds me of one time when I was in the 7-11 at 2300 Orleans St (which is actually the Southeast but we would go there because it was next to 24 post and hell, we didn't have a 7-11 in the Eastern). I liked this 7-11 because of Lorraine, one of the employees. Sometimes we would swap our respective soul foods. She'd bring me homemade collards and I'd give her just baked spanakopita. Lorraine quit when she won the lottery and got engaged to a nice Indian man. That's two separate events. I didn't want her to quit. But hell, could you blame her? Who works midnights in that 7-11 by choice?

Anyway, this 7-11 could get pretty wild. One night they were out of chili and cheese and posted a sign by the hot dogs saying so. There were a bunch of yo-boys acting up, ordered hot dogs, and hadn’t seen the sign. They were upset that they couldn’t top off their “dugs.” Between curses, one guy shouts, “I bet the white man’s 7-11 has chili!”

Sure thing, dog, and an open bar, too.

Much less scintillating that Whitey Bulger's right-hand man

So says Steven Levitt (of Freakonomics fame) about me and my book in his Freakonomics blog in the New York Times. And for that, I can only thank God. But I'm pleased that Levitt liked my book.

Much less scintillating than a book by Whitey Bulger's right-hand man? I should hope so. I was just a poor beat cop in Baltimore. I never killed anybody. But my book, Cop in the Hood, isn't just a memoir, it has a point: end the war on drugs!

My book also helps explain why so many poor black American men are in prison. And it's not the reason you think it is, because it has nothing to do with being poor, black, young, or male. It has everything to do with police wanting overtime pay.

I wish Levitt had liked my book a bit more, because I respect him deeply. Still, he read my book. He liked my book. And he's happy he read my book. And you will be, too.

Still more police killed in Mexico drug raid

Duncan Kennedy writes in the BBC:
Seven policemen have been killed and four injured in Mexico's latest incident of drug-related violence.

The officers were killed during a raid on a home in Culiacan, in north-west Mexico, police said.

Arriving at the house to search for weapons and drugs, police were fired upon and a grenade was thrown at them.

May 27, 2008

Officer Pete says (rule 15):

If you’re going to get arrested, try and wear warm clothes. It’s cold in jail. And no, you can’t bring your cigarettes.

May 26, 2008

More on the Mexican drug war

Despite obvious failure, the Mexican president has vowed to "stay the course" of drug prohibition. As if he were standing in front of a "Mission Accomplished" banner, President Calderón says the murder of Police Commissioner Millán, is a sign of government success against the drug cartel. He's full of shit.

James McKinley Jr. writes the story in the New York Times:
Top security officials who were once thought untouchable have been gunned down in Mexico City, four in the last month alone. Drug dealers killed another seven federal agents this year in retaliation for drug busts in border towns. Others have died in shootouts.
Drug traffickers have killed at least 170 local police officers. ... Some were believed to have been corrupt officers who had sold out to drug gangs and were killed by rival gangsters. ... Others were killed for doing their jobs.
All told, 4,125 people have been killed in drug violence since Mr. Calderón took office.
Several terrified local police chiefs have resigned, the most recent being Guillermo Prieto, the chief in Ciudad Juárez, who stepped down last week after his second in command was killed a few days earlier.

As quoted in the Times, President Calderón says, "The question is, should we persevere and go forward or simply hide in our offices and duck our heads. No way is the Mexican government going to back down in such a fight."

Really? Why does it never occur to stupid leaders of failed strategies that they're wrong? Is it pride? Hubris? How bad do things have to get before you try a new strategy? Apparently, much, much worse.

Read the whole article.

May 23, 2008

Officer Pete says (rule 17):

I know she says she loves you, but you have a job and a paycheck.

Is foot patrol right for you?

Foot patrol may not be right for everyone. How do you know if foot patrol is right for you and your neighborhood? Ask your mailman. If your mail is delivered in a cart pushed by a walking mailman or woman, police should be on foot. If your mail is delivered by truck, foot patrol may not be right for you.

Side effects of foot patrol include decreased fear, better quality of life, fewer broken windows, more fit police officers, greater interaction between police and neighborhood residents, and generally improved police/community relations.

May 22, 2008

Policing Green

Cops want more money. Citizens want more foot patrol.

We can have both. I call it “Policing Green.” Give cops the gas money for their shift if they agree to patrol without a car for that shift.

The environmental link is mostly just a clever title to sell the idea, but it really would be green and save gas. At its core, though, it’s about policing.

In an informal survey of my police officers students, every one of them would walk foot for their gas money. At least when it's not raining.

Police cars in the city probably go through about 6-8 gallons per shift. That’s $28-$32 right now. And even with giving this to police officers, departments would save money on cars upkeep in general. And as long as it’s the officers’ choice, everybody wins!

Rather than asking what foot patrol does to improve matters (I believe it does, but it's hard to prove), letting cops walk foot would shift the burden to asking what cars do to improve policing (and it's been proven cars don't improve patrol). Simply placing the burden on defending car patrol would be a huge and productive shift in police culture and patrol.

Even better, you would let patrol officers determine the best way to police without cars. From the top down, it would never work. From the ground up, this could be effective.

Here’s the system: at the start of the shift, officers either take the car keys or don’t. Anything else is up to them. They can grab their keys any time they want. But if they do, they don’t get the gas money for the day. They’re welcome to get a ride to their post. But they’re not allowed to team up with another officer in a car and split the gas money. That’s the only rule.

Brilliant or crazy?

Overdose deaths

In 2007, 235 Baltimore residents overdosed. The story in the Sun is here.

Interestingly (and surprisingly), 74 of those were from methadone. I don't quite understand the point of methadone. If it's addictive and you can die from it, why not just give junkies heroin?


Here's more evidence that Tasers are bad. Or at least overused. The story is in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

May 21, 2008

156 Die Drinking Tainted Liquor

You don’t see headlines like this much in America anymore. But we used to (google “Jake Leg” if you’re interested in a tragic little footnote in American history). Fewer people die when drugs are legal and regulated.

Prohibitionists in India wanted to protect poor people from themselves. So, in an entirely predictable bit of failed prohibitionist logic, they made liquor drunk by poor people illegal. The New York Times reports:
The hooch deaths, as they are called, are occurring a year after the government prohibited the sale of arrack, or country liquor, arguing that it was ruinous to the poor, but left other kinds of alcohol untouched. Since then, plastic sachets of illegal brew have turned up occasionally in Bangalore’s poorest neighborhoods.

It used to be like that here, from 1920 to 1933. Then we wised up. But not before a lot of people had died. Now we do it with other drugs. And a lot of people still die (33,541 American in 2005 alone). And then we have the gall to blame the poor and powerless for killing themselves rather than arrogant prohibitionists for passing bad laws that kill other people.

NYPD pay raise

It's still all too low, but finally, just a few years too late, starting NYPD officers are getting a raise from a criminally low $25,100 to the embarrassingly low salary of $35,881. The top base pay is $65,382.

The Daily News has this story.

Officer Pete says (rule 18):

Don’t believe he’s innocent just because you’re related.

Getting away with murder in B'more

The Baltimore City Paper tells the story. Well, one guy did get 5 years.

Here's their first story.

Here's the concept:

The Murder Ink column in the print edition of City Paper tracks homicides in Baltimore, giving details on each murder in the city. But what becomes of those homicide cases after we've reported the murder? Recently, we started looking at old cases to see whether those arrested for murders were ever convicted of the crimes they were accused of committing. For most murder cases, that information is not reported in the press. So, starting with this post, we'll follow up on old homicide cases, beginning with murders in 2006, to see what happened.

Meanwhile, in the NYPD

The brass is throwing the book at the officers involved in the Sean Bell shooting.

What's so unsatisfying about this, is that such discipline makes cops paranoid, and for good reason. What's the moral? For police, it's that if the department wants to get you (if Al Sharpton shouts loud enough), they will. Obviously the order had been given that heads must roll. But at the same time the anti-police public won't be satisfied. Anything less than jail, being fired, and perhaps a public flogging in considered a slap on the wrist.

The New York Times reports:
If the charges, known as administrative charges, are upheld, the officers could face discipline ranging from loss of pay to retraining to firing. But the internal investigation has been suspended as federal prosecutors weigh civil rights charges in the case.

If you think 31 bullets was obsessive, go for that guy. Clearly, as I have said, mistakes were made. Do I think police were criminally guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. No. Do I think punishable things may have been done. Yes.

But to charge someone with "failing to thoroughly process the crime scene"? That's bullshit. Don't go after the guys who showed up after the bullets stopped flying. The idea of crime-scene integrity is a myth. You try and preserve a crime scene with multiple shooting victims. I have. It's not easy. The O.J. trial set the bar too high.

CSI it's not. Police and paramedics have jobs to do and lives to save. Do you order your commanding officer to stay out of the scene? People and cars and belonging are searched. Somebody steps on some blood or kicks a shell casing. I know I have. And you know what, it doesn't really matter. It's policing. Policing in the real world with real people. Get real.

Police Units

I gotta say, many of these don't really ring true to me. But some of them do. No matter, I still find them amusing. A friend sent them to me. It's out there on the web. If anybody knows the source (or can think of more), let me know.

Narcotics units:

Immediately grow facial hair, tell everybody you were ordered to.
Start watching every episode of Monster Garage.
Buy a biker wallet with a big chain. Get numerous tats.
Make every case involve overtime $$$.
Buy bunches of boats, RV's, and motorcycles with that overtime.
Learn to play golf drunk.

SWAT units:

Wear team T-shirts that are 2 sizes too small, Oakley sunglasses and boots everyday.
Try to fit the word "breach" in to every conversation.
Have a mirror handy to check hair, if you have hair.
Have 3 knives concealed about your person at any given time.
Never say hello to anyone who is not an operator, just practice your SWAT head nod, and flex your biceps at any opportunity.
Subscribe to Soldier of Fortune and Muscle and Fitness.
Learn to play golf wearing a gun.

Community Service units:

Hate SWAT.
Work to make everybody love you.
Paint your office in pastel colors.
Think Feng Shui.
Subscribe to Psychology Today.
Learn to play miniature golf.

School Resource Officers:

Starbucks before work, show up on campus at 0800 hrs.
Knows every coffee pot location on campus.
Sits behind his desk pretending to work, but really surfing the net.
Really hates kids but loves the hours.
Only talks to the cute teachers.
Only works at night when there is a football game.
Drives a golf cart all day on campus.

Traffic units:

Write tickets to EVERYBODY.
Spend every weekend cleaning your bike and polishing boots.
Annoy everyone on the radio calling out your T-stops.
Talk about nothing but how many tickets you wrote in one day.
Ride by a building with big windows to see your reflection.
Golf is lame, motor rodeos are cool.

Administrative Units:

Three-hour lunches everyday, tell everybody it's a "meeting".
Always carry a manila folder with you, so it looks like you are working, even if it is empty.
Upgrade department cell phone every month.
Tell everybody you have been published in a national law enforcement magazine.
Update your revenge list on a weekly basis.
Golf Rules! Play lots of golf, especially with the "higher ups."

Patrol Units:

Have nerves of steel.
In a terminal state of heartburn from department politics.
Inability to keep mouth shut.
Has defining tastes in alcohol.
Is respected by peers.
Beats the crap out of his caddy on any bogeyed shot.


Come in at 0800.
"Breakfast" from 0815 to 1030.
Work from 1030 to Noon.
Work out and Lunch to 1400.
1400-1700 Sit in CID and talk about how many girlfriends you have and how the wife doesn't know.
Plan your next RV, fishing, motorcycle trip.

Patrol Sergeant:

Remembers very well "how we used to do it."
Always willing to tell his officers the above.
Tries to fit the word "liability" in to every sentence.
Talks about "what he's hearing from upstairs."


Unable to grow facial hair.
Watches every episode of Cops.
Worships the ground the SWAT guys walk on.
Wears black leather gloves at all times.
Arrives for work three hours early.
Thinks the sergeant is thrilled to see him.
Won't drink on the golf course because it violates the open container ordinance.

May 20, 2008

4 Philadelphia Cops Fired for Beating

The ax has started to fall in response to the Philly police beatings. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that four officers have been fired, others have been demoted and/or disciplined.

Maybe this beating was an aberration, but given the mass involvement, it's hard to imagine that this wasn't part of the informal Philly police culture. Two of the officers were just months out of the police academy. That's not a good sign. Nor does it reflect well on their academy. I guess Philly is still hiring old-school police.

As I wrote before, there's no excuse for police acting like they did. They should be fired. And some criminally charged. And yet, part of the cop in me also can't help but feel sorry for the officers.

I wish the Philly brass had done more to confront and change a culture of police brutality before this happened, rather than ruin the lives of a half a dozen men simply because this time their bad deeds were caught on tape. Do you really think that Commissioner Ramsey was shocked, shocked!?

In 1958, Everett Hughes coined the concept of "reality shock." The bigger the gap between what you're supposed to do and what you have to do, the more likely you are to dismiss all of what you're supposed to do. Academy trainees are sequestered away for the realities of policing in an idealistic bubble of what some people think police should be. The goal of the police academy should be to minimize "reality shock" by closing the distance between police training and police reality.

There's a great Ali G Show episode that shows this. He spends a day at, of all places, the Philadelphia Police Academy. I show it in my classes because it illustrates some of the absurdity of police training. I also show it because it's funny. At one point Ali G gets reprimanded for swearing at a man with a [fake] gun. You know what, when lives are at stake, an officer really shouldn't be thinking about his mouth. There's nothing wrong with swearing at a man with a gun.

In the Netherlands, police training last two years. That's probably too long. But what I like about the Dutch system is that police officers spend those two years alternating between school and the street. They spend half the time in each, in three-month intervals. That way school relates to the street and on the street you can apply what you learn in school.

Officer Pete says (rule 19):

I don’t stop people because they’re black. Everyone I stop is black because there are no white people where I work.

May 15, 2008

Mexican police chiefs flee to U.S. for safety

Mexican police chiefs are getting killed right and left, thanks to the war on drugs. Brendan McKanna of the Dallas Morning News reports that other chiefs are quitting their posts and three police chiefs have applied for political asylum in the United States out of fear for their lives.

When they stand down, who's going to stand up?

Officer Pete says (rule 21):

If you want to kill somebody, go right up and shoot him in the head. Otherwise you never know where those bullets can go.

May 13, 2008

In the name of research

The man behind the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, Dr. Phillip Zimbardo, is examining how people view altruism and heroism. Help his research by completing an online questionnaire at http://www.socialpsychresearch.org.

There are six screens of questions (I hate when they don't tell you when it will end). It takes about 10 min. What do you get out of it? Well, nothing perhaps. But in the end I enjoyed thinking about the differences between heroism and altruism.

And I promise you won't get locked up.

Man bites dog?

One of the stranger headlines appears in today's Sun: City infant was not hit by bullet, police say.

Officer Pete says (rule 22):

Please don’t shoot your guns up in the air. It scares the neighbors.

May 12, 2008

Never lose sight...

I received this email today. It’s worth reading. I wish all police officers wrote so well. I wish all my students wrote so well. Too bad he's not my student.

Some small police department’s gain was surely Baltimore’s loss.

I recently finished the first chapter of your book, Cop in the Hood and found it to be completely on point with my experiences as a Baltimore City police officer. I ordered it online and cannot wait to read it cover to cover. I also read your work, “Two Shades of Blue." As for me, I am a white […] conservative male […] hired by the Baltimore City Police after graduating college with a Bachelor’s in criminal justice. As of 2007, I am enrolled in graduate school while working full-time in a small police department in Pennsylvania.
Baltimore City left an indelible mark on my personal and professional opinion of urban life and policing. I will treasure the time I worked in the city for I will never experience it again. You have put to paper what I have so inadequately attempted to express to people about life as a Baltimore City police officer and life in the “ghetto.” Unless experienced firsthand, no one can fathom what it is like to be an officer there.

Over the course of my time in the city, I was involved in over 550 drug arrests, mainly crack cocaine and heroin. […] I laugh sometimes when I contrast the massive amount of arrests I made in Baltimore […] with the incidents I deal with now. Working in a small area, I am perpetually bored with the “crime” (underage drinking, broken windows, and loud music) I encounter. […] Needless to say, I miss being “a real cop.”

Aside from being a fellow officer, there is a particular reason why you have my gained my respect. […] I have a great deal of respect for academia (I myself am working towards my Master’s), but after going through college and spending 4 years in Baltimore, I realize those professors, outside of their office, are limited in their knowledge of actual police work. I learned this as soon as I hit the streets. Among the topics I once was taught and naively believed to be true include community policing and the drug war. I believe, as so many others, community policing is ineffective and the drug war will never be won.

I have particular respect for you because you lived what you researched. You teach and write from experience. I believe if you are to teach on a subject, you must have real world experience and a good knowledge base. Obviously this is my opinion and I mean no disrespect to any colleagues of yours or to any other person in academia. But I believe this to be true, especially since so few venture into police work. Even though you were on the street a little over a year, one year spent in the city is a career anywhere else.

I appreciate the candor in your work and I look forward to reading more of your literature. Keep up the good work and please never lose sight of what those officers, and all police for that matter, do on a daily basis. Thank you for your time.

No, sir, thank you!

May 11, 2008

Community Policing query

Dear Prof. Moskos

First off, let me say that I enjoyed your book. As someone who has recently moved to Baltimore and now finds themselves living on the edge of the Eastern I found it a fascinating read. Your discussion of 911 helped to explain the very big difference in reaction between the community meetings.

Commanders (not a direct quote) "We won't know something is happening unless you call 911 and tell us. We can't do anything about it if you don't tell us."—911 operators "You've got transvestite hookers working in the park across the street? We can't do anything about it unless you call when one of them is getting into a car."

Even without my new context, "Cop in the Hood" would have been an interesting book. I appreciate how you are able to speak with two voices; both the police and the sociologist.

That out of the way, I have a question I would appreciate your opinion on: are citizen's patrols actually effective? I've made some minor forays into the literature and searched for opinions. Although community policing generally seems to have a positive effect in some studies, I can't find anything pointing to which aspect(s) is effective.

At a gut level I have a cynical reaction to the overall effect of having a random group of neighbors walking around the area in green vests and waving the occasional flashlight at a dark corner. Keep in mind that I live in Greenmount West straddling the border between the Eastern and Central, so we have to communicate with 2 separate districts. This seems to reduce the level of direct contact with anyone who we have direct contact with.

I'm very interested in your viewpoint...

I answer:

Living between two police districts really does make things worse. And having to deal with a different set of officers on two different blocks is a pain. There is a natural tendency for police officers to push problems (such as prostitution) "away." I certainly pushed some people away from the Eastern and back into the Southeast. Counterproductive, when you consider I lived in the Southeast.

Community policing, by and large, doesn't exist and never has. It was supposed to mark a move away from reactive policing. But despite lip service to the contrary (I mean, nobody will ever come out against community policing), I don't think any police department has every implemented a real long-term community policing program. Quite simply, you can't have community policing if patrol officers are sitting in cars waiting for radio calls.

About citizen patrols… I don't know. My thought is that they can be effective (both directly and indirectly). It really is community policing. That's good, right? But for all the effort put in, the gain is probably very very small.

I'm a big fan of the Guardian Angels, for instance. But that's more from the perspective of being a young guy very happy to see them on the Chicago L than from any actually academic proof that they prevent crime. Buy my guess is that they do help prevent crime from a Broken Windows perspective. And even if the Guardian Angels (or other citizen groups) don't prevent crime, at least they made me feel safer. That's worth something.

District Commanders in Baltimore tended not to be the most enlightened bunch. (At least from my experience back in 2000. I'm sure they're all much better now.) Getting police to move away from rapid response and toward foot patrol in not in their genetic DNA. They're right that they won't know until you call 911. So the question they and you should be asking them is why don't they know and what can they do to know better.

And that 911 operator is an idiot. Just call for disorderly then, to get police to respond. But even better would be to talk to your post officer (on any of the three shifts, but the midnight is probably the best because we had more time) and talk to him or her about ways to solve the problem. As a police officer, I would much prefer to help a real person than just respond to another anonymous 911 call for prostitution. What the cops can do is arrest. And some arresting is probably part of the solution here. But probably just one piece of the solution.

Interestingly, there weren't many street-walking prostitutes in the Eastern when I was there. My guess is it was too dangerous for prostitutes and Johns alike.

Losing the drug war

You probably heard about the mass of San Diego State University students arrested for drug dealing. That college students take drugs shouldn't be a big surprise for anybody who went to college. College students drink, too. Nor, if it weren't for the guns involved, would I see it as a big problem.

The far more worrisome news comes from Mexico. On May 8, the acting chief of Mexico's police force was assassinated by drug gangs. That's huge. We don't have an equivalent of that position here. This is the chief of all police for all of Mexico.

On May 10, The number two policeman in Ciudad Jauarez was killed. The sixth senior policeman killed in Mexico this week.

The war on the drugs is not being won.

Killing police chiefs is not a sign of desperation and defeat. It's a high-stakes sign of domination and control. God bless any non-corrupt police officers in Mexico. Would I risk my life for paltry pay to fight the war on the drugs? No.

To me, 75 college students--idiot frat boys, mostly--getting arrested for drug dealing is funny.

Drug dealers defeating the police force of Mexico is not funny. It is entirely possible that drug cartels will take over the Mexican police and to some extent, the entire elected government.

Losing Mexico is a price way too high to pay for the privilege of continuing to fight the endless war on drugs. Especially when the solution--legal drug regulation and an end to drug prohibition--is so simple.

May 10, 2008

You can ask my man right here with the broken neck

911 is a joke. We should all know that by now. If patrol officers didn’t have to always be ready to answer the next bullshit call, they could do a lot more to prevent crime. I’ve written about this.

I’ve always argued that while rapid response doesn’t make sense for police, it does for ambos and fire trucks. David Kohn writes in the Baltimore Sun that there are problems with repeat 911 for ambulances as well. One person called for an ambo every third day:
Baltimore's busy public ambulance service went out on more than 150,000 calls last year, responding to everything from car accidents to heart attacks. About 2,000 of those calls were from the same 91 people.

"We want to get these people better healthcare so they don't call 911 so much," said Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, Baltimore's commissioner of health.
I’d like to give people better police service so they don’t call 911 so much.

One woman in my sector called police at least 600 times a year. She’d call a couple times a day starting around 5am when she got up to sweep the street. She called for drug dealing. She was right. There was drug dealing. It’s just too bad we couldn’t really do anything about it. Not with her calling 911 so much.

Officer Pete says (rule 23):

Always wear your seatbelt when you drive. It really does protect you.

May 9, 2008

Can you get away with murder?

Most of the time.

The City Paper is starting to look into homicides to see what actually happens in the Hall of Justice. Sometimes somebody gets put away. Most of the times, not.

I was turned onto this by the unfortunately fascinating Baltimore Crime Blog.

Save the date, Tuesday, May 13, 4:15pm

I'll be on WBAL's Ron Smith Show, Tuesday, May 13, at 4:15pm (EDT). You can listen to a live stream of the broadcast. I used to listen to WBAL a lot, because they used to broadcast the Orioles games. I particularly liked the local ads for crabcakes and the steamfitters and stevedores local. That's keeping it real.

That's where the money is

A 10AM robbery of an armored truck pulled up at Lexington Market is bold, to say the least. Here's the Sun's account. Makes me think of the line from the Godfather, at least as I remember it: "Forget the gun, grab the crabcake!"

May 8, 2008

Officer Pete says (rule 24):

Always have your driver’s license on you when you drive. If not, please obey all the traffic laws.

May 7, 2008

Is "Cop" a bad word?

I gave a talk on my book today at John Jay College. After the talk a man came up to me asking about my use of "cop." He said when he was a kid, it was considered a bad word. Police officer is the proper term.

A couple of cops and students present discussed the issue. I don't consider "cop" a bad word. Maybe it is a generational thing. And also, as one cop said, "it's OK for cops to use the word."

On the street, if somebody addressed me in the second person as "cop," I wouldn't have taken kindly to it. Officer was my title and it is, to some extent, a title of respect. But if you say, "I called 911 earlier and this cop came and said...", that wouldn't bother me at all.

I think cop is perfectly OK as a descriptive and when used in the third-person. But no, you shouldn't address a cop as "cop."

Philadelphia PD shame

Philadelphia cops pulled three men out of a car and beat the crap out of them. For about 30 seconds. I find it inexcusable. I’m sure these guys who were beat are not good people. And no, I don’t know the whole story. But I can’t imagine any scenario where it’s these beatings are justified.

What were they thinking? They were pumped on adrenaline. There was a shooting. A cop had been killed two days earlier. They surely felt these guys “deserved” a thumping. But that doesn’t make it right. Just because you want to beat somebody--just because perhaps they even deserve a good beating--doesn't make you should. Some of these cops might have been very good police. And now their careers are over.

Even worse, the guys who were beat will get big bucks from the city, thanks to the stupid actions of a dozen cops.

Blog people...

If you have a link to my book on Amazon.com, take note:

Because of the coming re-release of my book, the amazon link has changed. The old link is dead.

The new link is: http://www.amazon.com/Cop-Hood-Policing-Baltimores-District/dp/0691140081/
But you should search for it yourself with whatever link/referral service you use.

Sorry for the trouble.

May 5, 2008

Praise for Cop in the Hood

Doug LeMaine, an obviously smart man with excellent taste in books, posted this on his website. I couldn't have said it better myself:
Last week I picked up a book called Cop in the Hood by a grad student turned cop (turned academic) named Peter Moskos. He’s a law professor now [I'm not a law professor. But a lot of people think I am because "law" is in my department's name.], but he spent a year policing East Baltimore during his PhD work and wrote a part sociological analysis, part police procedural about his experience.

If The Wire had a literary analog, this would be it, not only because it takes place in East Baltimore, but because it presents a morally complex view of the relationship between law enforcement and the citizenry with whom they interact (mostly poor people in desperate circumstances). It also adds academic underpinnings and a truly excellent set of footnotes that provide avenues to a variety of interesting sources, one of which led me to one of my all-time favorite New Yorker articles, a 1998 installment of the Cop Diary called “The Word on the Street” about the language of NYC cops. The author, the pseudonymous Marcus Laffey (actual name: Edward Conlon) recently wrote a memoir called Blue Blood, which is going on the list for sure.

I really appreciated his discussion of research methods because it puts in high relief some of the challenges that any researcher (e.g., one who is trying to understand how people use high-tech tools) interacts with their interview subjects. So much of it is very un-objective, and Moskos addresses his skeptics early on:
Some will criticize my unscientific methods. I have no real defense. Everything is true, but this book suffers from all the flaws inherent in ethnographic work … Being on the inside, I made little attempt to be objective. I did not pick, much less randomly pick, my research site or research subjects. I researched where I was assigned. To those I policed, I tried to be fair. But my empathy was to my fellow officers. Those nearest to me became my friends and research subjects. My theories emerged from experience, knowledge, and understanding. In academic jargon, my work could be called “front-and-backstage, multisited, participant-observation research using grounded theory rooted in symbolic interactionism from a dramaturgical perspective."
I have to add the next line: "But I can't even say it with a straight face. And if I wrote that way, very few would read it."

I am enjoying your book

This came to me today:
I came across your book at baltimorecrime.blogspot.com, so far I am 50 pages in to it and I have to say that you have an excellent way of speaking the truth. I am a Baltimore police officer [...] and I have a B.S. in Criminal Justice from [...] (I am debating whether or not to attend Grad School). Thus far, from both my personal experience and academic background everything that you have written seems to be spot on. As I get further into the book, I will keep you posted.

If you are planning on lecturing anywhere in the greater Baltimore-Philly-D.C. area please let me know, I would like to attend.
I'm sure at some point I'll be speaking in Baltimore. No plans yet, though. I'll keep you posted.

May 3, 2008

Interviewed in the Economist magazine

How nice to post something that will not mention... hmmm... shall we say, oh hell, let's not say anything at all.

There's a great short (16 minute) audio interview of me talking about crime and police and drug legalization.

I get a kick how the hook of the interview is the "liberal sociologist." By police standards, sure. But by liberal sociologist standards, I'm probably a fascist.

Officer Pete says (rule 26):

Just because you "got a job" doesn’t mean I won’t arrest you.

May 2, 2008

The Chronicle

Well, if any publicity is good publicity, I've sure been getting a lot of good publicity.

The latest is by Jennifer Howard at The Chronicle of Higher Education.

May 2, 2008
Princeton U. Press Recalls Typo-Filled Book and Says It Will Reprint

Princeton University Press has recalled all copies of one of its spring titles after discovering more than 90 spelling and grammar errors in the 245-page work. The book, Cop in the Hood: My Year Policing Baltimore’s Eastern District, by Peter Moskos, was published on Thursday in an initial press run of 4,000 copies.

In what appears to be a first, the press plans to reprint the book and have it back in stores later this month, after the errors have been corrected.
No one alleges any wrongdoing by Mr. Moskos, nor has the book’s factual substance been impugned. The errors came to light when the author’s friends and family members began sending him lists of the numerous spelling and grammatical mistakes they had noticed.

“I was flabbergasted and embarrassed,” said Peter Dougherty, the press’s director. “This is a terribly embarrassing matter for Princeton University Press.”

He added, “We’re very proud of the book, which makes the embarrassment all the greater.”

He said that Mr. Moskos’s manuscript had been given to an inexperienced copy editor who failed to do the job properly. “We take a lot of pride in the quality of our copy editing,” he said, citing the publisher’s 103-year track record. “In this case, we messed up very, very badly.”

Asked how much the recall would cost, Mr. Dougherty replied, “a lot.”

The Great(,) Humiliation Column

I got a call from Laura Vozzella of the Baltimore Sun the other day.

I thought maybe she was a reviewer asking about a press release from Princeton Press telling reviewers to hold off until the new edition is out.

But I got worried when I started talking about the errors and heard the tapity-tap-type of note taking in the background.

It's certainly not like the Sun has been particularly good to me. Yes, they've published two op-eds of mine. But since then, I've been misquoted in the Sun. They hadn't (yet) mentioned my work or book. They generally don't call me about Baltimore police issues (they always call Eugene O'Donnell, one of my esteemed colleagues. Gene is a great guy, knowledgeable and smart, but he wasn't a Baltimore cop!). And yet for some reason, unlike every other cop I worked with, I don't hate the Sun.

Cops hate newspapers with even more venom than they hate Hillary Clinton. Reporters screw up crime stories. Or break scandals that shouldn't be. Or insist on getting "both" sides of the story when there is only one side.

Sometimes, the truth is exactly like the cops say. Say a thieving, violent, robbing, drug-dealing young thug goes on a rampage, pulls a gun on cops, and gets killed. Nothing is worse than quoting her mother insisting that her baby never did nothing wrong and was just killed by police in cold blood while coming back from volunteer work at the HIV orphanage. Readers are left to assume that the truth lies somewhere in between the two versions. That’s not right, fair, or true.

Probably half of all police stories show cops in a negative light. A reader may be left to assume that half of everything police do is bad. Of course this isn’t the case. But police need to understand that newspapers will never write column after column of “Another cop goes to work, does a damn good job, and comes home safely.”

No matter, I like newspapers. I like reporters. Maybe it's because there's a bit of journalism in my blood. I loved writing for and editing my high-school newspaper, the Evanstonian. And my uncle was a big-shot editor-in-chief for many fine papers.

So Ms. Vozzella is typing away and I'm telling her everything that's bad about my book. What can you do? All publicity is good publicity, they say... as long as they spell your name right. Well Laura not only spelled my name right, but she wrote a damn good column:

First, don't kill all the editors
by Laura Vozzell
May 2, 2008

First, Princeton University Press issued the book, Cop in the Hood: My Year Policing Baltimore's Eastern District. Then it issued the news release recalling the book.

"Turns out I wasn't a cop at all, and I made it all up," joked Peter Moskos, the author and an assistant professor of law and police science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Moskos really was a city officer from Dec. 6, 1999, to April 1, 2002, Baltimore police spokesman Sterling Clifford confirmed. (Clifford wasn't otherwise vouching for the book, which he hadn't read. "It's not like the CIA where even if you're gone, if you write something about it, they have to approve it," Clifford said. "We're stuck with what they write.")

The real reason the book has been pulled off shelves, according to Moskos and Princeton: more than 90 grammar and spelling mistakes. After the book was issued two weeks ago, Moskos' mother and friends spotted what copy editors at the esteemed publisher apparently overlooked.

"A lot of errors for a 200-page book," said Moskos, who quipped that he should not have gone with a "fly-by-night organization" like Princeton. "The director of the press called it 'unprecedented.'"

Said Princeton publicist Lisa Fortunato: "For us, this is very unusual."

Don't those Ivy League-types have Spellcheck?

"You know what? We asked the same question," Fortunato said. "I don't know the full story."

The book is expected to be back on shelves in four to five weeks. Not a huge delay, but one that's upsetting to Moskos, since he has already begun promoting the book.

"It's just frustrating because I was on the radio today, and you can't buy it this instant on Amazon," he said.

At least he has a sense of humor about some of the errors.

"Somewhere in the book, 'Baltimore' is spelled wrong," Moskos said. "Maybe I spelled it with a 'd' like it's said."

Ironically, there is an error in the column.

My date of hire was indeed Dec 6, 1999 (The day before the day that will live in infamy is how I remembered it--and since this date goes on a lot of police forms, I needed to remember it). But I entered the academy on Oct 29, 1999.

My end date, however, was neither April 1 nor 2002. I turned in my papers on April Fool's Day (seemed kind of funny to me at the time). But my last night in uniform was June 25. And (because of backed up sick/vacation/personal days) I got paid until early July, when my employment officially ended. And it was 2001.

So in my mind, I worked from Oct 1999 to June 2001. In the police department records, I should be listed as having worked from Dec 1999, to July 2001.

May 1, 2008

Officer Pete says (rule 27):

Don't take heroin, it’s an ugly drug.

Amazon Sales Rank

If Amazon isn't accepting orders for my book right now, how is my Amazon sales rank going up?

Reassign narcotics officers to patrol duty

"Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey has reassigned the 135-officer Narcotics Strike Force to more general crime-fighting duties." This from Andrew Maykuth and Barbara Boyer's article in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

I'm all for it.

The Commissioner called the department "overspecialized." Right on!

"It may be disappointing to you," he said. "A lot of people thought my crime plan was going to be something, but it's very fundamental: Back to basics, and more uniformed patrols." I like this guy.