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by Peter Moskos

November 10, 2008

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.

2 comments:

DJK said...

Kudos!

dave h. said...

"Let me first say that I think that the book should be made mandatory reading for every recruit in the Balto. City Police Academy."

Wow, that's great Peter. Col. Patton sounds like she was a good, forward-thinking law enforcement exec.. And I thoroughly agree with that point. If all goes well, I may be attending an academy in the next year, and I would love it if my fellow recruits and I were asked to participate in a critical thinking excersise like this. If not, you can be sure that I'll be discussing your work and the issues you raise w/ my colleagues.