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by Peter Moskos

June 30, 2008

You can't make this stuff up!

Missouri Town Finds Drug Agent Is Really an Impostor

"Engaging as Well as Persuasive"

So says Diane Scharper in the Baltimore Sun about my book, Cop in the Hood. Here's the whole review:
In his classic book, On Writing Well, William Zinsser claimed that people and places were the twin pillars on which all good nonfiction is built. These three books - all with a local connection - prove that point. Their subjects qualify them as textbooks. Yet they are written so engagingly that any one of them could be beach reading. The secret lies in the authors' attention to detail, story line, character and setting.

Cop in the Hood By Peter Moskos

When former President Richard Nixon declared war on drugs, he outlawed barbiturates, amphetamines and LSD. He also perhaps inadvertently set the stage for today's system of jailing drug offenders, costing $22,000 per prisoner per year - a total of $8 billion annually - while propelling robbery and murder statistics to record heights. After nearly 40 years, it's time to admit that this costly war has failed, says Peter Moskos in his Baltimore-based book, Cop in the Hood.

An assistant professor of law, police science and criminal justice administration at the City University of New York, Moskos came to Baltimore while a Harvard University graduate student to gather "valid data on job-related police behavior." It took him three years to turn that data into a Ph.D. dissertation and another three years to write this account.

A Chicago native, Moskos knew Baltimore primarily from the films of John Waters and Barry Levinson, whose depictions of the city differ significantly from the conditions Moskos found. Moskos was both dismayed and fascinated by Baltimore's Eastern District, which he calls "one of the worst ghettos in America" in terms of "violence, drugs, abandonment, and despair," much of it caused by drugs.

Chronicling his six months training in the police academy and the 14 months he patrolled Baltimore's east side, Moskos blends academic writing with techniques of creative nonfiction. Moskos packs his account with anecdotes, details, dialogue and off-the-cuff observations about everything from the Baltimore dialect to ghetto slang to the recipe for crack.

Ultimately, his story is engaging as well as persuasive. As Moskos aptly puts it, "If [after all these years] the war on drugs were winnable, it would already be won."

June 29, 2008

Does cheap gasoline cause crime?

I wish gas were taxed more. Much more. Luckily, I'm not running for political office. I saw this figure in an article in today's New York Times. The point of the article is that gas in the U.S. is still pretty cheap compared to most countries. But when I look at the figure, I see what I think is an inverse correlation between the price of gas and crime. Leaving aside middle-eastern countries that produce oil, countries with cheap gas have higher crime rates and countries with expensive gas have less crime. I haven't actually looked at the crime rates for these countries (and if somebody has the time and desire, please do and let me know), because I don't think this correlation has any real meaning. But it's interesting.

While I'm pretty sure that higher gas taxes won't cut the homicide rate, there does seem to be a pretty strong correlation between expensive gas and safe streets. I'm writing this from Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Gas here tops the chart at $10 a gallon. Yet the economy seems to be doing just fine and too many people still drive to work in SUVs.

What does the government do with all this tax money? Along with more police and safe streets, there's also health care, job security, paid vacations, public transportation, bike paths, and a secure system of dikes and levies that actually keeps the country from being flooded. Not bad for a few bucks a gallon.

"Couldn't put it down"

I don't know who this guy is, but I like him because he likes my book. A lot. Certainly more than he likes O'Malley.

June 28, 2008

Officer Pete says (rule 1):

Always keep your hands where I can see them.

[All the rules of "Officer Pete says" can be seen here. Got any to add? Please do so in a comment!]

June 25, 2008

Officer Pete says (rule 2):

Please sit still when I ask you to.

NIJ Taser Report

The National Institute of Justice has released a report on Tasers. Basically, they say they're safe, but with some important qualifications. I think those qualifications need more emphasis than the report gives them.

June 23, 2008

Ivy-League cops

I had a piece in the Princeton Alumni Weekly about my experiences as a police officer. Turns out I’m not the only Ivy-League cop out there. Here’s an excerpt from an email I received from a North Carolina police officer.

I thought I would take a bunch of crap for being an Ivy League guy - I try to keep it quiet as much as I can—but people eventually find out, and when they do, their first question is "why the hell are you here?" They assume since I could take my degree and go somewhere and make 6 figures, that must be what I would want to do. They are usually impressed that I would give up what their view of what a Princeton grad's life should be and be a cop the same as them. As you wrote, I try to work hard and go home safely to my wife and daughter every day, and it has definitely given me a real appreciation for what I have in life. I do hope to move up in the department, maybe even be chief one day, but for now I enjoy being a patrol officer. For me, it's so much better than sitting behind a desk or being in meetings or on conference calls.

I replied:
I got a lot of that "what the hell are you doing here?" too. But I had what was considered to be a good answer: "to write a book." Still I was very surprised by what I considered the lack of flack I got from fellow officers for being a Harvard grad student. I also wonder if I would have stayed a cop had I been in a better paying department and a more pleasant work area. Part of the job I loved. Dealing with the same shits on the same corner every day, however, grew tired very quickly.

I would take policing over a 9-5 desk job. But I'll take being a college professor over policing.

English Narco-Colonialism

There's an interesting short BBC interview about the history of the opium trade in India under British rule. News to me.

June 22, 2008

June 20, 2008

Details on the drug corner

My friend emailed me this:
I think we were able to pull that surveillance off not only because it was quiet from the rain but also because it was 1 month and 3 days after 9/11. We were rolling 3 - 4 deep and had every spare car on the road.

Drug corner in action

Here’s a nice action video of a drug corner shot by a police officer friend of mine back in October 2001.

Basically this corner is a three-man (or boy) shop. The guy in the green shirt is the money man and the biggest man of this not-so-impressive. The kid in the white t-shirt (let’s call him “Little Man”) is kind of a go-between man and utility boy. An apprentice. A thug in the making. By the way, I’m guessing he’s about 13. I’m also guessing that if you had to live in what probably passes as his “home,” you might be on the corner, too.

The third guy (white do-rag ) may be around the corner hitting people off or may be out and about, drumming up business. He's not around in the beginning and appears to not be in cuffs at the end.

The drug stash is in the rubble by the steps.

I describe an efficient drug shop in a lot more detail in my book, Cop in the Hood. Here, I'm not impressed. Things are sloppy. They’re all doing a little of everything. Too often the drugs and money are too often in the same hands. It takes way too long to complete the drug deal with white girl. And I think Mr. Green Shirt is drinking on the job. Plus they get arrested.

It is good police work. Usually patrol doesn’t have the time to this kind of surveillance. Maybe the rain kept the radio quiet.

3 min., 15 sec. No audio.

Here’s a timeline:
6:35:00 Kids standing in the rain.
6:35:18 White addict comes up. Just strolling through the hood in the rain, minding her own business. How did I know she’s addict? Sometimes being a cop is very easy.
6:35:45 Reach in stash.
6:36:47 Go around corner to hit off.
6:37:31 Reach in stash again, pass to young kid.
6:37:50 Positively skips with delight because he’s about to make four sales!
6:37:55 Cluster fuck of junkies on corner. Crowd control skills come into play.
6:38:12 What the hell is that guy carrying?
6:38:45 Junkies heading back after hit off.
6:39:30 Counting money.
6:41:45 Running away. Po-po must be near. (Is that a bottle or the stash in his hand? I think a bottle).
6:42:47 Back at stash. He thinks he's safe.
6:44:29 Two of the three in cuffs.
6:45:45 Police officer recovers stash.

If you have police video I can have, let me know. Especially if you’re police. I promise to keep you anonymous and edit out anything that needs to be edited out.

KGA Radio is on the Air

This video isn’t exactly action packed. In fact, nothing happens. Really. It’s just a one minute drive through the streets of East Baltimore. But that’s one minute more than you’ve probably seen. And notice the sleepy-voiced dispatcher over the police radio. If he didn’t sound sleepy, It would get your attention. He was skilled. The last thing you want as a cop is a dispatcher who can’t handle the pressure. When things are going crazy, you want confidence that the dispatcher at least has things under control. This guy was always on the ball. Plus I loved his smooth DJ voice.

A bad dispatcher is dangerous. And even if nobody gets hurt, a bad dispatcher just makes work unpleasant. Dispatching is not an easy skill. And they don’t get paid much. So quality is too often low. This dispatcher was the best. From police headquarters downtown, if need be he could direct you in or of Iron Alley. He knew the streets of East Baltimore. That's a safety thing. Too bad he didn’t work midnights.

June 18, 2008

Cop in the Hood back in stock

After a frustrating and inexplicable two-week delay, Cop in the Hood in finally back in stock at Amazon.com. It's about time. Do you have your copy yet? Let the book ordering begin...

State raids mayor's home

Is Baltimore's Mayor Sheila Dixon a crook? I guess we'll find out.

Please note that in this case, Officer Pete's Fourth Rule (below) does not apply.

Officer Pete says (rule 4):

If you don’t want the police in your house, don’t call the police. I don’t want to be in your house either.

June 17, 2008

Ron Smith Show Interview

You can listen to my appearance on WBAL's Ron Smith show.

Ron Smith show

Today. Tuesday. 5pm Eastern Time. Baltimore's WBAL, AM 1090. Listen live.

Legal drug shakedown

NPR has a good story about law enforcement agencies seizing drug assets. It can pay for itself.

The kicker is this: police prefer to come in after the drugs have been sold because it's better for police to seize the money rather than the drugs. If police seize the drugs, the drugs are destroyed. If police seize the money from selling the drugs, they get to keep the money.

Talk about a dirty partnership. I thought robbing drug dealers was a crime.

The failure of Section 8 housing

Ta-Nehisi Coates has an interesting post about the Failure of Section 8 Housing. I wrote a comment as well.

[Here's a link to the Atlantic article that started this discussion.]

$20 for a cigarette

In England, the Daily Express reports that drug dealers are getting arrested on purpose so they can make more money by selling drugs in jail.

A few years ago they banned cigarettes and smoking in Rikers Island (NYC's jail). Now a single cigarette sells for about $20. For one tobacco cigarette. More often than not, these cigarettes come from correctional officers (i.e.: jail guards).

If we can't win the war on drugs in jail, where can we win it?

June 16, 2008

Officer Pete says (rule 5):

When I ask you where you live, give me a proper address with a street and a number. Don’t just say, "around the corner."

June 14, 2008

The path to drug regulation?

I had a thought about your book. This is not a criticism but something I was left wanting when I finished. Someone, somewhere, (and I nominate you) needs to articulate at length a pathway from the current environment towards what decriminalization/legalization would look like.

If there's one out there it's not widely known.

I think there's a lot more enthusiasm for legalization than there appears because there's no channel for it. A lot of people that are for it or at least equivocal would say "let's give Plan X a try". Its harder to bring people around to a conceptual, as you know from working the street.

I also believe (in my tiny little opinion) that the black community would get behind any reasonable pathway presented because they're paying an outsized price for the war on drugs.

One thing has occurred to me though: Any plan offered would have to consider the pushback from a multi-billion dollar tax free industry having it's existence threatened.

Sgt. [name and e-mail withheld upon request]
Thanks for the nomination. And that's a valid complaint about my book. To be honest, I have no idea.

I'm pretty pessimistic about the whole possibility of any real pullback in the war on drugs. But then I suppose "wets" thought that too, in 1925. Maybe it really does start with medicinal marijuana. Maybe more Americans need to visit Holland. Maybe it has to do with getting the medical industry behind regulation (because they could profit from treatment and would profit from selling legal drugs). Maybe it has to do with finding and outing a criminal element contributing to drug war politicians. Maybe it's LEAP.

But it's not just drug dealers who are against legalization. It's prison guards. It's police agencies. It's the makers of military equipment. It's the entire prison-industrial complex.

I'm open to ideas. Comment below.

Drug Raid Death Not Guilty

Same old same old: Cops bust down door. Drug dealer wakes up and thinks he's being attacked by criminals. Drug dealer shits his pants. Drug dealer fires off four rounds. Somebody innocent dies, this time a hard-working police officer.

A sergeant pointed out this story to me. He writes:

"Yea, it's Canada, but it's not too much a stretch to see this happening here. Bottom line: Everyone loses."

In the middle is the drug-dealing cop-killing malaka. (Photo by Dave Sidaway)

Back on the Ron Smith show

It looks like I'll be back on WBAL's Ron Smith Show Tuesday, June 17, 5pm. AM 1090 in Baltimore. If you're not in Balto, you can stream the show online.

Legal drugs kill more people than illegal drugs

Damien Cave writes a very interesting story in the New York Times.

In Florida, which is apparently the only state that keeps good track of these things, the rate of deaths caused by prescription drugs is three times the rate of deaths caused by all illicit drugs combined.

Out of 168,900 deaths statewide, legal opioids (such as Vicodin and OxyContin) caused 2,328 deaths. Drugs with benzodiazepine (such as Valium and Xanax), led to 743 deaths.

Cocaine killed 843, methamphetamine killed 25, and heroin was found in the bodies of 110 people who died. Marijuana and ecstasy, of course, killed nobody. That last figure shouldn’t surprise you. If it does, you’ve been bamboozled by lies and the lying prohibitionist liars who tell them.

Alcohol was judged to cause 466 deaths.

I’m not certain what this all means. I’ve been told by many of my students--particularly white students from the suburb--that the abuse of prescription drugs is a huge problem. But from both my personal and police experience, prescription drug abuse is all but foreign to me.

When my wife had emergency heart surgery in 2006, a doctor prescribed me Vicodin. Supposedly this was to treat the not-so-horrible pain I had in a hang-nail caused pinky infection. Really. But really he was just being kind, in a Californian kind of way. So I took a pill. With red wine. The wine part was definitely not recommended by the doctor. But it was on the advice of a friend of mine who does know something about the recreational misuse of prescription pain killers. It did nothing for me. A day or two later I took another pill. Or was it two? Then I gave up. It wasn’t for me. I really don’t understand how pain killers fall in the pleasurable category. But that’s just me.

But, as Ali G would say, I digest. Regarding drug deaths in Florida, a few thoughts come to mind:

1) Why are we so worried about illegal drug abuse when a bigger problem is right in front of us? But also, why are so many people dying from regulated drugs? I’ve always argued that regulation prevents overdoses. Doesn’t it?

2) At least there’s almost no violence around the prescription drug trade. Overdoses aren’t good, but at least doctors and Valium addicts aren’t shooting each other. Drug abuse should be the concern of the individual, the family, and the health care system.

3) Through health issuance and prescription plans, employers and the government are subsidizing middle-class drug abuse. Tell Rush Limbaugh and your right-wing friends that, the next time they complain about their tax dollars supporting crack addicts.

[Though in the interest of fairness, tell your liberal friends the un-politically correct truth that a whole lot of crack is bought when the welfare (and social security and disability) checks come out every month.]

4) If you think race and class aren’t a key part of the war on drugs, ask yourself why we are so quick to demonize and lock up poor people and the same time we offer sympathy and treatment to people who have the money and connections to get addicted to prescription drugs?

[If more poor people had good relations with doctors and cheap prescription drug coverage, they’d probably be very happy to abuse legal drugs. Hell, if more poor people had good health care coverage, many wouldn’t need to abuse any drug at all.]

5) If prohibition and incarceration are the answers to our drug problem, why don’t we use the same approach to fight prescription drug abuse? Medical necessity? Next time you pop a Viagra, tell yourself it’s more medically necessary than an emancipated chemo patient smoking a joint. Isn’t Viagra the definition of a recreational drug?

Officer Pete says (rule 6):

Please tell me the whole story.

June 12, 2008

Officer Pete says (rule 7):

The more you tell me of the other person’s side of the story, the more I’ll believe your side of the story.

June 10, 2008

Officer Pete says (rule 8):

Don’t be surprised when I think you’re lying, most likely you are. If you must lie, at least make it convincing. If you’re not convincing, at least be entertaining. If you are neither entertaining or convincing or telling the truth, it is best to say nothing at all.

June 9, 2008

Medical Marijuana

Apparently, the "medicinal" marijuana thing in California is getting a little out of hand.

Jesse McKinley reports in the New York Times that large-scale commercial growers are hiding behind the state's legalization of medical marijuana in 1996.

I'm all for regulating drugs. I want localities to regulate or ban as they wish. Don't fret at a little blowback in California. Successful regulation is the answer.

June 8, 2008

In support of foot patrol

I received this email last week.
Finished the book a few weeks ago. I've got nine years on the job & it seems to track pretty well with my experience. Got some further thoughts (all good) but I'll save that for another time. My reason for this little message was a piece I came across in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about rookies being assigned to foot patrol.
Interesting personal aside. I started out with the Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority Police, where everybody walks a foot beat. There's no substitute for the type of demands it makes on a new officer, most all of which are ultimately good. You learn very quickly and very well how to talk to people. A year of high-density foot patrol is equivalent to 8 to 10 years of motorized patrol experience when it comes to interacting with the public. If you're paying attention & doing it right it definitely makes you a better officer.

Sgt. [name withheld on request]

2.3 million behind bars

America's incarceration population and rate continue to increase. At a cost of about $60 billion per year, we hold 2.3 million people behind bars. Details in the recently released Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletins Prison Inmates at Midyear 2007 and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2007.

ABC news reports:
The report provides a breakdown, noting "of the 2.3 million inmates in custody, 2.1 million were men and 208,300 were women. Black males represented the largest percentage (35.4 percent) of inmates held in custody, followed by white males (32.9 percent) and Hispanic males (17.9 percent)."

The United States leads the industrialized world in incarceration. In fact, the U.S. rate of incarceration (762 per 100,000) is five to eight times that of other highly developed countries, according to The Sentencing Project, a criminal justice think tank.

Officer Pete says (rule 9):

Don’t worry if you’re crazy or stupid, being crazy or stupid isn’t a crime.

June 6, 2008

June 4, 2008

Liberty City Police Face Allegations Of Incompetence, Brutality

I've visited Liberty City. And the problems are even worse than you think.
Since the surge in crime, which began on April 28 at midnight, more than 830,000 civilians have been murdered—nearly one-tenth of Liberty City's total population. In addition, 35,000 vehicles have been reported stolen, many of which were then driven illegally over sidewalks and pedestrian walkways before plunging into the nearby Humboldt River.

Officer Pete says (rule 11):

Even if you don’t mean it as an insult, please don’t call me "shorty," "brother," "boo," or "dog."

Wait till next week

My father recently passed away. He will be missed by many. He was a good man and a very good father.

After the funeral I have a previously scheduled (and unrelated) engagement. The next post will be around June 16. See you then.

Meanwhile "Officer Pete Says" is on autopilot and will continue to post every other day.