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by Peter Moskos

July 31, 2008

U.S. News: Moskos says Regulate Drugs

Don't forget to buy the current issue of U.S. News & World Report to see my piece in print.

Officer assaults bicyclist (3): stupidy breaks out in groups

Leave it to Bike Snob NYC to give a beyond-the-obvious take on the take-down. Here is an edited version:

By this point most people have seen the footage of critical mass cyclist Christopher Long getting tackled by NYPD officer Patrick Pogan. This is a classic example of the eternal conflict between the younger, more progressive generation and the older, more conservative one—except of course that the rider was 29 and the officer was 22.
...
Similarly, the standard of what constitutes heroic behavior is also lower in 2008. The bike-tackler, Patrick Pogan, is a third-generation police officer. I wanted to know more about the Pogan family, so I strapped on my “investigative journalist” helmet and Googled vigorously for almost two full minutes. I finally uncovered this New York Times article from 1991.... I will go ahead and assume that the Pogan mentioned herein is the bike-tackler’s father:
So it would seem that tackling someone riding his bike is in 2008 what rescuing someone from a wrecked subway train with the jaws of life was in 1991, because Pogan Sr. not only stands by his son (as you’d expect him to) but is also proud of him for what he did:

"He's my son. I'm proud of him. He's third-generation that's been serving the city," said Pogan Sr., who was at home in Massapequa Park, LI, today and said he had not seen the video. "These people are taking over the streets and impeding the flow of traffic. Then you gotta do what you gotta do," said Pogan, 51.
...
Yet try as I might, it’s hard for me to feel outrage.... One of the most important truths I’ve learned is that where there are crowds there is stupidity. When large numbers of people get together, stupid things happen, and you’re almost always better off simply getting as far away from the crowd as possible.
...
One of the things that make cycling so great is that it enables you to avoid crowds and pointless delays. Few things are more satisfying than effortlessly weaving your way through a traffic jam. So while I’ll begrudge nobody his or her Critical Mass, personally I don’t understand the appeal of forming a crowd and creating a pointless delay. And it is a delay, whether you’re in a car or on a bike.

I once accidentally got caught in a Critical Mass ride while out riding. I felt like a dolphin ensnared in a tuna net. One second I was sailing along, and the next I was trapped among a bunch of people with rickety bikes rolling on wobbly, rusty brown steel rims on the verge of collapse. It was like watching a Beatles “Yellow Submarine”-esque cartoon LSD sequence where all the bicycles were rolling on pretzels.
...
People do need to see other people out there on bikes. They need to become accustomed to them so they learn to respect them, and they need to see how practical and effective they can be so they consider riding them themselves. Many cyclists illustrate this day after day.... Effectively, you’re a Critical Mass of one. Meanwhile, a mob of people on crappy bikes blocking traffic one day a month isn’t a “mass” at all. At best it's a party. At worst it’s effectively just one big stupid person.

Stupidity breaks out in groups, and when people gather expect stupid things to happen. You may or may not encounter a stupid person or stupid thing individually as you go about your day, but you’ll definitely encounter one in a crowd, and Christopher Long encountered one in the form of Patrick Pogan. On the other hand, intelligence travels alone, but it travels swiftly, and consequently it's not only more effective, but it also generates much better word-of-mouth.

War On Drugs: 2. Dogs: 0

This is crazy. I hate the war on drugs.

Here's part of the story in the Washington Post.
A police SWAT team raided the home of the mayor in the Prince George's County town of Berwyn Heights on Tuesday, shooting and killing his two dogs, after he brought in a 32-pound package of marijuana that had been delivered to his doorstep, police said.

Mayor Cheye Calvo was not arrested in the raid, which was carried out about 7 p.m. by the Sheriff's Office SWAT team and county police narcotics officers. Prince George's police spokesman Henry Tippett said yesterday that all the residents of the house -- Calvo, his wife and his mother-in-law -- are "persons of interest" in the case.

The package was addressed to Calvo's wife, Trinity Tomsic, said law enforcement officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is ongoing.

Just because this guy is mayor, does not mean he is not a drug dealer. Maybe he is. Maybe not. Maybe his wife is. Maybe not. I don't know.

I don't care!

Here is what bothers me (and this doesn't even include 2 shot dogs):

Fed Ex gets a package filled with marijuana. Dog sniffs it. Police notified. I got no problem there.

But then the police take over and deliver the drugs to the door?! And then they wait to bust down the door? Why didn't they just take the drugs? Oh, because they wanted an arrest. But they didn't make an arrest! Why didn't they just ring the doorbell? Because thanks to prohibition and the war on drugs, police are allowed to bust down the door of your home.

I just doesn't make sense. The police delivered the drugs!!!

Maybe we should all send drugs to our enemies.

Kudos to the local police for pointing out: "Berwyn Heights Police Chief Patrick Murphy said county police and the Sheriff's Office had not notified his department of the raid. He said town police could have conducted the search without a SWAT team."

The whole story can be read here. It's worth it.

p.s. I do like the quote: "We're not in the habit of going to homes and shooting peoples' dogs.... If we were, there would be a lot more dead dogs around the county."

July 30, 2008

So wrong?

There's another video of excessive NYPD use of force.

This has nothing to do about bicyclists. But it is the NYPD. And brutality. And it probably won't turn out well for the officer.

At least neither of the cases directly involve race. The bike case was white on white. This is black on black (and yes, there would be a different reaction from the press and public if a white officer had been beating the black guy).

The academy does not teach the baton to be used as a compliance tool like this. That's how they're going to get the officer. In cases like this, I was taught to mace the guy, but never did (and is mace really better than hitting him?). It's another point in favor of my lost cause: the straight baton. You can use it for leverage to force an arm.

So here, even though I think the cop did the wrong thing, I can't help but stick up for him a little bit. Not in beating the guy. But you try and force a man's hands behind his back. It's not as easy as you think it is! Why doesn't he just do what the officers say?

The right thing to do is wait for backup. Two officers may not be able to get the arms behind the back. But four officers can!

Assuming there was a good reason to arrest this guy (and naturally I do... but that the cop in me. I wasn't there. And the Post raises the question), well, you gotta put your hands behind your back. You're under arrest. You don't have a choice.

And you know what really doesn't help matters? The girl in background yelling and egging everybody on. As an officer trying to control a situation, the last thing you want is to worry about is that the woman yelling "fight" is going to join the fray. It makes want to end things faster.

July 29, 2008

Officer assaults bicyclist (2): Let Them Ride

Ray Kelley, the commissioner, just came on the radio and said he "couldn't fathom" why the officer, Pogan, did that.

That means the officer is officially being fed to the dogs... hung out to dry... you might even say thrown under a bus.

And since the officer is still on probation... well, it's time to dust off the resume.

You can read the lying officer's report at the smoking gun.

And my previous post here.

One comment asked a good question: what should police do?

Three simple words: Let them ride!

As much as it pains a few particular people in the NYPD, you can't control hundreds of people on bikes. Especially if they're willing to get arrested. Police have to work with Critical Mass, just like police do in many other cities. Provide an escort. Join the fun.

That means that once a month, yes, bikes go unrestricted through the streets. Yes, it might slow cars down. But so do double parkers and the 4th of July Parade.

Ed Norris the man?

I tried to take the high road. I did!

But my friend just sent me this and I can't resist. Thanks, buddy!

Here's what my friend wrote:
Not that you needed me to but I took it upon myself to defend you by sending Ed a nasty gram.

Ed,

I listened to the show today and was very disappointed. You spent 3 breaks with Mike Wingler, an old washed up alcoholic who can barely put a sentence together. You listen to his lies and BS and treat him like a hero? WTF!!! Moskos comes on and you treat him like a piece of shit. I graduated the academy with Moskos and worked with him in the Eastern District. When working in the Eastern you don’t have to be on the streets for more than a day to realize what’s going on. He was a very good cop for the time he served. I worked in the Department from 1999 until 2003 and for those 4 years I never received any sense of direction much less a “strategy” from the brass. My job was to drive a beat up patrol car, chase 911 calls, clear corners, and take home an insulting salary. The streets were the same on my last day as they were on my first as they still are today. So if you want to pat yourself on the back for a job well done, go ahead. Good job Ed!!! Perhaps you should stop being so bull headed, take a step back, listen to criticism, and learn from it. If you would have done this earlier in life maybe you would still be a cop and not a DJ.

My Take on Commissionar Ed Norris

Why beat around the bush? Here's what I think about Ed Norris as commissioner.

Like I already wrote: I think he was a good commissioner. Not as good a commissioner as he thinks he is, but then who is? I think he was better than the guy that came before and the guy that after him.

When Norris came in, the goal was to reduce homicides to 175. Ultimately he failed. Then he quit. Then he got convicted.

Norris likes saying how he led the nation in crime decline every year. Errr, kind of, sort of, but, no. Not really. But it says so in Wikipeadia! Yeah, right next to "citation needed." First of all, there's no official stat on crime decline, so it depends how you measure it. Let's take murder. I like murder because it's fun and easy (to count, that is).

Year --- Baltimore Murders
2000 --- 262
2001 --- 259
2002 --- 253

Norris took over in March, 2000. That was the first year in a decade that Baltimore murders dropped below 300. It was a big deal. I even got a medal (we all did). Norris deserves credit. He did things that should have been done a lot early: put cops where the crime is, clear up cold-cases, talk about crime prevention, help get cops a raise, and try and get guns off the streets. He had the right ideas. He still does.

Since 2002, after Norris, murders are back up. In 2007 there were 282 murders. Like I said, Norris was doing something right. I'd guess he prevented about 30 murders a year as commissioner. That's more than I prevented last year.

But a big decline? Well, not really. The murder rate (that's murders per 100,000 population--don't forget, Baltimore was losing population this whole time) didn't go down at all between 2000 and 2002! And when Norris couldn't get the murder rate down any more, he quit. Well, there's a longer story, perhaps for another time.

Biggest decline in the nation? No way. Let's take New York City as just one example.

Year --- NYC Murders
2000 --- 667
2001 --- 649
2002 --- 587

New York's murder rate dropped more than 10% when Baltimore, under Norris, was stagnating. And this is after murders in New York had already gone down by two-thirds (the so called "low-hanging fruit").

The problem wasn't Norris's vision. And by and large the rank-and-file, myself included, supported him. His problem was implementing his policies.

Ultimately my job was judged by arrest number and not crime prevented. I would have loved to have been brought into the district-level problem-solving meeting and asked how I thought we could do a better job? I have ideas. But that's not how it works. In police departments, ideas come only from the top.

I'm telling you, his "plan," despite what he wants to believe, didn't change my day-to-day patrol job one bit. Is that his fault? Yes and no. I don't blame him personally. But as the man in charge, well, it is his problem.

The weak link is middle management--the 4 layers in the chain-of-command between the commissioner and the patrol officer. Middle management believes, in this case for very good reason, that they'll outlast this outsider boss. Just kiss ass, say yes, play nice, stay out of trouble, and hope for promotion. Meanwhile cops like me, at the bottom, go about and do their job same as it ever was.

I wanted to write my book on the great crime drop in Baltimore. Too bad it didn't happen.

Who do I think I am?

When I'm criticized for my book (usually it's me that is criticized and not my book), I hear the same two things again and again: 1) who does this college boy think he is? and 2) what gives you the right to be an "expert" since you were only a cop for 20 months?

First of all, going to college is a good thing. And if you want to be professor, it's kind of required.

And I don't call myself an expert. Being a cop doesn't make you an "expert" on policing any more than being a criminal makes you an expert on crime.

Sometimes other people do call me an expert. Usually media types (and who am I to argue?). But here's the thing, being an expert isn't about having done something all your life or even being able to do something well. That makes you a professional, or a master. An expert is someone who can both understand and explain something. That's what makes you an expert.

And I have this question for high-ranking police officers who think a lowly patrol officer has no idea what's going on. You, sir, in headquarters, what makes you think you're an expert about my job here and now?

When's the last time you patrolled 8 hours? When's the last time you walked the beat at 3am? How do you have any idea what is really going on with police and crime in my post? Who, sir, do you think you are?

That reflects a problem with police departments everywhere (Baltimore under Norris included). Higher ranking officers lose touch with the streets. This isn't personal. It's organizational. If you're trying to reduce crime in my post, why not talk to the patrol officer. Nobody ever does.

I do know a lot about policing. And if you're good at asking questions, you can learn from those who know more than you (that's called research). Would I have known more after 20 years on the force, of course! If you've read my book, I'll take the criticism. I just don't often hear criticism from those who have read my book.

If you've worked the streets 20 or more years and resent me for writing a book about my brief tenure, I got this to say: write your own damn book!

Please.

Really. I'd love to read it.

Shovel of Wisdom Winner!

So I was the Ed Norris Show. It was brutal. Brutal and dirty because they only attacked me after I was off the air. I got thick skin; I just wish I could have defended myself. He was too polite to me on the air and too harsh afterwards.

I think the problem is that 1) I don't think he ever read my book (despite what he said), and 2) he had read that damn City Paper article that is filled with errors and misrepresents my views of Ed Norris. The article quotes me as saying: "Under Norris... there was the idea that we could just arrest our way out of the problem.... It was all about stats and not about actual strategy." That's not, as you might imagine, my complete views on the job performance of Ed Norris as Baltimore police commissioner.

I think he was a good commissioner. Not as good a commissioner as he thinks he was. But I think he was a lot better than what came before and after him.

Anyway, he read the City Paper's quote and took it personally. I could see he was getting snippy with me, but I wouldn't bite because I got nothing against the man (well, actually I do, but that has more to do with his departure and felony conviction than his tenure as commish).

I do know you can't arrest your way out of the drug problem. And I do believe there's a problem in any plan working its way down from the top of the police organization to the bottom (where I was). Like the childhood game of operator, no matter what he said, by the time it filtered down through the ranks, it came down to "make arrests and keep them off our back."

I did like that my sergeant's wife called in to defend me. But they ignored her and kept going back to the City Paper.

Anyway, it's still good to be on his show. Even bad publicity is good publicity.

Fewer homeless nationwide

This is encouraging news reported in New York Times:
The number of chronically homeless people living in the nation’s streets and shelters has dropped by about 30 percent — to 123,833 from 175,914 — between 2005 and 2007.
[...]
The officials attribute much of the decline to the “housing first” strategy that has been promoted by the Bush administration and Congress and increasingly adopted across the country.

In that approach, local officials place chronically homeless people into permanent shelter — apartments, halfway houses or rooms — and then focus on treating addiction and mental and health problems.
[...]
Until cities and states began adopting the program, many of those people seemed to shuttle endlessly between shelters, hospitals and the street.

Homeless shouldn't be a police problem. But as always, the buck stops with police. And if nobody does deal with homeless, then it becomes a police problem.

One of the silver lining's of the Eastern District was there wasn't much a visible homeless population. I guess that's the advantage to a neighborhood with so many vacant buildings. A few of the vacants were squatted quite nicely. More commonly, squatting would eventually result in a drug-related fire.

Officer assaults bicyclist

Luckily somebody was filming. Uh, officers, you should always police like people are filming. Especially when you know they are.

As a former cop and current bicyclist, I don't get is why the NYPD is so hellbent against Critical Mass. Other cities manage just fine. Police escort. A little traffic disruption. A lot of bicyclists have a good time. Nobody gets hurt. Nothing so wrong in that.



Here's the article in the New York Times.

As a police officer, I'm willing to cut police a lot of slack for aggressive behavior in aggressive or chaotic situations. I'm also willing to cut police officers a fair amount of slack for honest mistakes. I also don't think a few seconds of video clip taken out of context should ruin an officer's career.

But the context here is clear. The officer, Pogan, is guilty of unprovoked aggravated assault. And as a New York City taxpayer, I don't want to pay for lawsuits from bad policing. I don't like it one bit.

July 27, 2008

Club 101: Baltimore Club Music Appreciation

Since they say that writing about music is like dancing about architecture, I've got some audio tracks so you can hear the Baltimore Club sound and the work of K-Swift, who died a few days ago.


First and foremost, Baltimore Club Music is a beat.



If it ain’t got this beat, it’s not club music (the droning note is a classic sample from Public Enemy No. 1). After the beat is there, it’s up to the DJ. And often the DJ plays dirty, with lyrics not fit for kids (though I've selected relatively clean samples here).

But here’s what made K-Swift so damn good, so much better than the others. K-Swift was great at what became known as mashing, taking, say a television theme song and putting it to a club beat.



That’s the theme from “I Married Joan” (not what most people think of when they think of Baltimore). I love that track. That’s K-Swift’s genius! A great beat, sample from left field, and always a sense of humor.

This party spirit goes back to early days of hip-hop. I don’t know about you, but I like throwing my hands in the air and waving them like I just don’t care. It’s certainly more fun than glowering and nodding your head to brutal lyrics about a life you don’t agree with.

K-Swift was great with the samples, they’re not all as silly as this, but I like her silly. A track called Pork Chops and Onion Gravy coins the term “Bougo,” that means bougie and ghetto at the same time. And the beat, that’s club music!



Here’s a little sample that starts with Southpark and goes into horns. There’s a lot of horn in Baltimore Club music. I like horns.



Put it all together and you get this. Here is one of her complete short radio mixes I loved so much. It's not top quality, recording-wise. But it gives you an idea of the driving beat and spirit that really did make K-Swift the Club Queen.

RIP K-Swift, the Club Queen

You should really play this sound clip while reading this post:


I'm very sad to read in the Sun about the death of my favorite Baltimore DJ, K-Swift. The poor girl was only 28 and died in a swimming pool accident. And when she started mixing a decade ago, she really was a girl in a man's world.

There are three stories in today's paper. One, Two, and Three. And here's an older story from Spin about K-Shift and the Baltimore Club scene.

For those who don't know, my music tastes are eclectic (but no heavy metal or guitar-driven rock, please) but various forms of club music have always been important to me.

I got into hip-hop in 1985, when my brother forced me learn the lyrics to Krush Groovin' (I still know them). Then in high school I got into house music from listening to Chicago's WBMX, WGCI, and the Hot Mix 5. From about 1987-1989, I was a DJ on Northwestern University's WNUR's Streetbeat. I went by the name of "Peter the Piper." Sounds kind of dorky now. But I swear it was kinda cool then.

On WNUR we played, as they say in the Blues Brothers, both kinds of music: rap and house. Our signal was limited. And though I would often boost the power illegally, our signal never went as far south as the Loop (but that didn't stop me from giving shout-outs to the White Castle at Stony Island and 79th).

This was the first and at the time only radio show in Chicago to play rap music on the air. Chicago was a house town. Even today, name a single Chicago rapper. It's not easy. [ed note: OK, I've been called out. Maybe it's not too hard. Kanye West and Common are two. Still, name a third rapper from Chicago, if you can. Then think of all the rappers you know from New York and L.A.]

At the time, we were trying to bridge the huge split between fans of rap and fans of house (can't we all just get along?).

I was finally kicked off when somebody caught on that I wasn't a Northwestern student.

Each night we had a midnight house mix. Here's a sample from what was probably my show! Alas, I have no tapes of my show. We played mixes from Lil' Angel on Wednesday night. I was usually on Wednesdays and Fridays, from 10 to 1AM (2 in the summer, sometimes all night, if the "freeform" host didn't show up and I was in the mood to keep spinning records).

Our biggest name, in hindsight, was Derrick Carter. Personally, I was partial to Lil' Angel (he was such a nice guy and a new father last time I saw him 28 years ago) and Georgie "Mixin'" Porgie (also cooler sounding then than now).

I fell out with hip-hop when Gangsta Rap took over. Chicago house stagnated for about a decade (hip-house, anyone?) until discovered and reborn in Europe. And in the dark years of college in New Jersey, I was very far from any good music scene. I moved to Amsterdam in 1994 and discovered the joy of the European rave scene. Techno, drum and bass, trance, gabber. I love them all!

So it meant a lot to me when I arrived in Baltimore in 1999 and discovered a whole new style of music to love: Baltimore Club. Music is important to cops. If you're in a car with somebody for 4 to 8 hours, what radio station you listen to becomes very important. Usually we rode alone. Radio choice was the main reason I liked riding alone.

Most officers listened the commercial country station. Not my favorite, but I can live with it. One officer liked jazz on public radio. We got along just fine. Another liked Rush Limbaugh. We also got along just fine (though I still think there’s something very wrong about policing the ghetto while listening to Limbaugh spout his conservative crap).

I liked to listen to NPR all night, and then Morning Edition until the short Q92 morning wake up mix came at something like 7:35. It was hard enough to find a cop interested in either station. To find someone who liked both was pretty much out of the question.

If you policed listening to 92-Q during the summer days, as I sometimes did (and I may have been the only white cop do do so), you had the privilege of being tuned to the same station as half the neighborhood, which was kind of cool as you drove around and heard the music fade in and out.

I think I became friends with one of my squadmates solely because of our mutual appreciation of dance music. If, in 2000, you saw two cops in a car in the Eastern going crazy to Kernkraft 400's Zombie Nation (now so mainstream it's played in ballparks), it was probably us.

So all this comes back to K-Swift. She was the best. I didn’t go to Club Choices (as a white cop, I was afraid to go in with a gun, and afraid to go in without one). But I listened to her during her all-too-brief radio mixes. I have 6 of her CDs. K-Swift Volume 5 is my favorite. Too bad there won't be any more.

I'm just sayin'...


Cocaine Sustains War Despite Rebel Losses in Colombia

...this is what drug prohibition does.

From the New York Times.

July 25, 2008

You will not do that shit on my porch!

I just chased two junkies off my stoop! This is, as they say, not that kind of neighborhood. Plus this block has something like four active and former cops living on it.

I'm sitting here writing about drug legalization in my basement office, and I hear two guys outside the window. One goes on my stoop. I go upstairs to investigate. I see the cap comes off a water bottle and I see a needle about to come out of a sleeve.

Mother fucker! The SOBs are about to shoot up! I haven't dealt with junkies at my door since I lived in Baltimore (when I stepped on a load of crap one of them left and somewhat routinely had to deal with junkies shooting up and drunks pissing in my alley).

I open the front door to get the element of surprise. I know the heavy screen door is locked and secure, but they don't know that.

"You will not do that shit on my porch!" They're kind of apologetic, but not really. They make some faggy comment, perhaps because I'm standing there in my underwear (hey, it's hot!).

Dumb ass New York native white guys, for what it's worth.

Gets the adrenaline flowing, that does. Something as simple as that.

__________________________________


This was "my" alley in Baltimore:
It was fun to write "violators will be arrested" when I actually had the power to carry through on that threat personally!

I wasn't the only person who lived there. But I was the only person that had to take a small alley off of an even smaller alley to enter his house. I lived on the second floor and my only entrance was off the rear porch... to an alley, that connected to another alley.

No, I couldn't subscribe to a newspaper or get mail service. Pizza delivery was out of the question.

But it was a nice apartment and rent was only $300/month. I also had the world's best landlady, Miss Mary. She lived downstairs (with the front door). I'd make her spankopita and she'd leave regular shipments of paximathia and koulourakia (delicious Greek cookies).

So I was battling the Drug Czar

Me and Lee Brown (former Houston mayor, New York Police Commissioner, and federal Drug Czar) mano-a-mano in a no-holds-barred cage match! (Also known as 700 words in U.S. News & World Report.)

I think I kick his ass. But then I would think that, wouldn't I? And it's not really a fair cage match. He is 70.
Drugs Are Too Dangerous Not to Regulate—We Should Legalize Them

The nation's drug problems should be controlled through regulation and taxation


Drugs are bad. So let's legalize them.

It's not as crazy as it sounds. Legalization does not mean giving up. It means regulation and control. By contrast, criminalization means prohibition. But we can't regulate what we prohibit, and drugs are too dangerous to remain unregulated.

Let's not debate which drugs are good and which are bad. While it's heartless to keep marijuana from terminally ill cancer patients, some drugs—crack, heroin, crystal meth—are undoubtedly bad. But prohibition is the issue, and, as with alcohol, it doesn't work. Between 1920 and 1933, we banned drinking. Despite, or more likely because of, the increased risk, drinking became cool. That's what happens when you delegate drug education to moralists. And crime increased, most notoriously with gangland killings. That's what happens when you delegate drug distribution to crooks. Prohibition of alcohol ended in failure, but for other drugs it continues.

Law enforcement can't reduce supply or demand. As a Baltimore police officer, I arrested drug dealers. Others took their place. I locked them up, too. Thanks to the drug war, we imprison more people than any other country. And America still leads the world in illegal drug use. We can't arrest and jail our way to a drug-free America. People want to get high. We could lock up everybody and still have a drug problem. Prisons have drug problems.

Illegal production remains high. Since 1981, the price of cocaine has dropped nearly 80 percent. Despite the ongoing presence of U.S. and other troops, Afghanistan has been exporting record levels of opium, from which heroin is made. Poor farmers may not want to sell to criminals, but they need to feed their families, and there is no legal market for illegal drugs. Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, the FARC in Colombia, and drug gangs in Mexico all rely on drug prohibition. A legal drug trade would do more to undermine these terrorists than military action would. If we taxed drugs, profits would go to governments, which fight terrorists.

Illegal drug dealers sell to anyone. Legal ones are licensed and help keep drugs such as beer, cigarettes, and pharmaceuticals away from minors. Illegal dealers settle disputes with guns. Legal ones solve theirs in court. Illegal dealers fear police. Legal ones fear the IRS.

Less use. Regulation can reduce drug use. In two generations, we've halved the number of cigarette smokers not through prohibition but through education, regulated selling, and taxes. And we don't jail nicotine addicts. Drug addiction won't go away, but tax revenue can help pay for treatment.

The Netherlands provides a helpful example. Drug addiction there is considered a health problem. Dutch policy aims to save lives and reduce use. It succeeds: Three times as many heroin addicts overdose in Baltimore as in all of the Netherlands. Sixteen percent of Ameri-cans try cocaine in their lifetime. In the Netherlands, the figure is less than 2 percent. The Dutch have lower rates of addiction, overdose deaths, homicides, and incarceration. Clearly, they're doing something right. Why not learn from success? The Netherlands decriminalized marijuana in 1976. Any adult can walk into a legally licensed, heavily regulated "coffee shop" and buy or consume top-quality weed without fear of arrest. Under this system, people in the Netherlands are half as likely as Americans to have ever smoked marijuana.

It's unlikely that repealing federal drug laws would result in a massive increase in drug use. People take or don't take drugs for many reasons, but apparently legality isn't high on the list. In America, drug legalization could happen slowly and, unlike federal prohibition, not be forced on any state or city. City and state governments could decide policy based on their needs.

The war on drugs is not about saving lives or stopping crime. It's about yesteryear's ideologues and future profits from prison jobs, asset forfeiture, court overtime pay, and federal largess.

We have a choice: Legalize drugs, or embark on a second century of failed prohibition. Government regulation may not sound as sexy or as macho as a "war on drugs," but it works better.

The Eastern District and Iraq

During any given year, a 15- to 34-year-old man in the Eastern District has about the same chance of being killed as a U.S. soldier stationed in Iraq.

That's just wrong.

The Eastern stats are from page 203 of my book. The Iraq stats are taken from DonHodges.com.

I bring this up because of an interesting comment from a good reader of this blog. There are a lot of people out there who are willing to say, "fuck 'em. That's their problem."

As a police officer who's worked the Eastern, I kind of understand this. You try and help. You put your life on the line day in and day out. And nothing ever changes. Plus, for your efforts, you'll get called a racist.

Once I half-jokingly accused my partner of simply not liking black people, he responded passionately, “I got nothing against black people. I just don’t like these black people" (that's in chapter 3 of my book, by the way).

On the Leonard Lopate Show the other day, the host asked me, was it not true that most people I policed were "decent, hard working people." I could not take the easy (and politically correct) path and just say "yes."

Here's what I said:
"I don't want to be too insulting, but I do have a tough time, having policed the area, calling the people I dealt with decent people, by and large. We didn't get along well."

["But they saw you as the enemy almost immediately. Didn't they?"]

"Yeah, I mean, but I was. My job was to lock them up. If I were them, I wouldn't have liked me either." (listen to the whole interview here.)

I don't feel that most of the people I policed were decent people. Most people in the Eastern District may be decent, but as a police officer, you don't police most people. You police the problem-people.

But decent or not, we're all human beings. And this country is founded on the idea that we're endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. Life is one of the those rights.

Even though I'm not "at risk," I'll keep bringing up the issue of violence, black-on-black murder in particular. I think it's a moral issue. (I also think it's an economic issue, but that's another story.) I think it's wrong to ignore this level of poverty and violence, no matter whose fault it is (and personally, I do blame the victim a lot of the time). We can do better.

We're a rich country. Supposedly we're a caring country. And if you're the type of person to ask "what would Jesus do?" go ahead and ask. I don't know what He'd say, but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be "fuck 'em."

July 24, 2008

Baltiore homicide by the numbers

Back in January, the Baltimore City Paper published a good simple analysis of homicide numbers in 2007. I was just looking at it again. As we all know, violence is not equally spread out in society. It may not be politically correct to talk about race and violence, but homicide in America is disproportionately a problem of black-on-black young male gun violence concentrated in poor communities with public drug dealing. It's concentrated in places like the Eastern District. The question, of course, is what are we going to do about it?

There were 282 murder victims in Baltimore City.
261 (94%) were African-American (the city itself is 65% black).
258 (91%) were male.
233 (83%) were shot.
The youngest was 2.
The oldest was 82.
The Eastern District took the crown this year with 50 homicides.

Is Afghanistan a Narco-State?

Yes

How medical marijuana is transforming the pot industry

Last night I read a great article in the New Yorker about the new sort-of-legal-at-the-state-and-local-level but still very-federally-illegal California medicinal-marijuana industry.

I'm very curious to see how this system evolves and is regulated. It just might work. And it may be a good model for other states. At the very least, it's starting to make California dependent on the tax dollars it brings in.

Emily had come to Humboldt ten years ago as a young activist, working to save old-growth redwoods. She first encountered marijuana plants after she picked some edible mushrooms on a friend’s land, cooked them up in marijuana-laced butter, and ate a good meal with some wine.
[...]
Emily decided to stay in the mountains. She loved the odd mixture of people who lived in a place with no apparent cash economy.... Gazing at the setting sun, Emily said, “I think a lot of those people were drawn up here for intuitive reasons—soul reasons, or whatever.” The problem with growing pot back then, she said, was that it was illegal, and that changed you. “You had to carry a gun and be scared of people, and you lost track of the reason you came up here.”
[...]
There were fewer stories in the newspapers about people being bound and gagged by cash-hungry gangsters.

July 23, 2008

Congress Struggles To Come Up With Cool Name For Anti-Drug Initiative

I'm skeptical of any law with a personal name. Initiative with cool sounding names, especially if it's an acronym, are also trouble. For instance, ix-nay, I would say, to Initiative Hammer of Poseidon. Sure, Poseidon had a trident and Thor had the hammer, but it's worth a little mythological inaccuracy to get a name like IHOP. And never do I want to see Operation Slammer: Keep Our Supreme Homeland Beautiful an’ Great, our Swell Home, even if it does spell, Oskosh, B'Gosh.

It’s no crazier than the Patriot Act, I mean: Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001. Pah-leeze. And that one's real.

I knew our immigration efforts were taking a turn for the worse when the federal agency previously known as INS was suddenly called ICE. Oh yeah, baby. That's cool. Just picture those letters on the back on your jacket as you go for a cold one after a long day of busting down the front doors or hard working men and women, I mean illegal associates of gang members.

Dudes, if you weren’t getting laid before, it wasn’t because of your acronym. Maybe it was the funny little mustache and your tendency to call everybody ma’am a bit too often.

In the spirit of satire, Onion-span TV shows how this comes to be. From the inner workings of our government, 24 hours a day:

Incisive and intelligent account of police work “in the hood”

Here's an excellent review from Professor Arnold Ages published in the Jewish Post & Opinion.

This is what the industry calls “a sleeper book.” There is no doubt that it will soon be auctioned off as a film script.

Peter Moskos, a professor at the City University of New York, researched his Harvard Ph.D. dissertation in a most unusual way: He joined the Baltimore Police and after graduation from the Academy, was assigned to Baltimore’s toughest district, the Eastern.

Moskos did not hide the purpose of his enrollment and for a year and a half he joined fellow police officers pursuing the bad guys and in so doing learned important things about the criminal justice system.

His book, however, is not only a description of the daily activities of the men in blue but also a meditation of the Black underclass, the drug war and the ethics of his fellow officers. This reviewer has not read a more objective, incisive and intelligent account of police work.

There is criticism galore in his essay—of the irrelevance of the police training academy, of the targeting of poor Blacks and of the misguided drug policies of the American government.

With regard to those with whom he served, Moskos has high regard for their dedication and honesty and observes that few police officers would jeopardize their pension benefits by becoming “dirty,” the name for corrupt cops. He admits that there are some, but they are few in number.

While violence is endemic in the area where Moskos served, few police officers, he says are victimized by gun violence: Most fatalities among the police occur as a result of auto accidents. The author himself lost a colleague in that way.

One interesting element in this essay pivots on the arrest phenomenon. It is well known that police everywhere are expected to fill their arrest quotas. Baltimore is no different. But what is not known is that police officers receive overtime pay for court appearances and this can result in handsome monetary rewards.

Moskos’s graphic descriptions of the drug culture in Baltimore’s Eastern District are the most detailed and analytical to be found anywhere. The author offers a comprehensive look at the “stoops” abandoned buildings, lookouts and benches where drug transactions occur. He also zeroes in on the personnel involved in the drug trade and provides ample details about the police’s efforts to inhibit that “business.” One of the surprising revelations that emerge from his reportage is that, except for the major bosses, street level entrepreneurs make relatively little money.

Their clientele, the author notes, use a form of English language that is sui generis. “Bank” means to hit; “bounce” is to leave; “hoppers” are troublesome young people; “cousin” in a close friend; “fall out” is to faint; “zinc” is a sing. Mastering this linguistic tool is important for police officers because ignorance in this area can lead to misunderstandings when interrogating suspects. “Snitch” is another word popular in Baltimore’s Eastern District, and it is a despised term. In fact, the phrases “snitches get stitches,” more or less sums up the scorn in which such people are held.

What distinguishes Moskos’s book from similar ones is the author’s plea for greater flexibility in addressing the rampant drug crisis. He characterizes the current ideology as prohibition—much like that which paralyzed the United States in the 1920s. Ultimately prohibition failed and Moskos feels that there are lessons to be learned from the experience.

Citing the example of Holland, where addicts can the drugs they need, Moskos argues that de-criminalizing the illegal drug industry will no de-stabilize the American moral compass and that tax revenues from the legitimate purchase of hard drugs will fill the coffers of government.

The reason the author is so passionate about his advocacy is because he has seen close hand what the alternative is in the microcosm of Baltimore’s Eastern District, where pandemonium reigns for its majority of poor Black inhabitants.

A Street Corner Analysis of D.C. Crime

"The corner boys, as they are sometimes called, are part of what is perhaps the most visibly anonymous demographic in the country. Young and black, feared and marginalized, they are the ones most likely to be viewed as a suspect in a crime and most likely to become the faceless victim of one.

Nevertheless, if you want to know what's behind the rash of homicides in Trinidad -- 24 so far this year -- and to get a different take on how to stop the killings, these are guys to go to, on their turf and on their terms."

So what Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy did was get out of his car and talk to them. Kudos to you, Mr. Millow.

The whole column is here.

Tasers Tourture

I'm no big fan of Tasers. Here's the latest trouble with Tasers. From the Chicago Tribune.

WINNFIELD, LA. -- At 1:28 p.m. on Jan. 17, Baron "Scooter" Pikes was a healthy 21-year-old. By 2:07 p.m., he was dead.

What happened in the 39 minutes in between -- during which Pikes was handcuffed by police and shocked nine times with a Taser while reportedly pleading for mercy -- is spawning suspicions of a political cover-up in this lumber town infamous for backroom dealings.

Racial tensions also are mounting; Pikes was black and the officer involved is white.

No novelist could have invented Winnfield, the birthplace of two of Louisiana's most colorful and notorious governors -- Huey and Earl Long.

The police chief committed suicide three years ago after losing a close election marred by allegations of fraud and vote-buying. Just four months later, the district attorney killed himself after allegedly skimming $200,000 from his office budget and extorting payments from criminal defendants to make their cases go away.

The current police chief is a convicted drug offender pardoned by then-Gov. Edwin Edwards, who is in federal prison for corruption convictions.

All that history is wrapped up in the Pikes case because the officer in question, Scott Nugent, is the son of the former chief who killed himself and the protege of the current chief, who hired him.

Whoa, this is getting complicated!

Read the complete story here.

Life on the Streets?

There's an article in Baltimore's City Paper about my book. It's a bit harsh and kind of snarky (right down to the ? in the headline), but I've got thick skin. It's quite insightful when he's not slagging me off personally. And he did very well with the material from the phone interview (really).

He likes my book, so perhaps I shouldn't complain. It isn't in the nature of an alternative papers to write gushing reviews.

As an objective reader, which I'm not, I enjoyed it. As an author, I'm very happy for the publicity.

The review did leave me with three unanswered questions. I wrote the author. Maybe he'll get back to me.

1) Did he really think Cop in the Hood was just laying around in the "to publish" pile and then "dusted off" by Princeton University Press when they announced The Wire was coming to an end?

2) How come he and the fact checkers (who actually did call) from City Paper couldn't get my age right?

3) Why say it's been nine years since I've been a cop when it's been seven? The point would have been just as valid... but he would have had the privilege of actually being right. Nine years ago I wasn't even in Baltimore.

As they say in the The Wire, malaka.

Update:
To his credit, the reviewer did get back to me. He apologized for his bad math and write the following:
I didn't mean it to be snarky. I was reading it pretty closely. The Atlantic obviously liked it, as did others. From a Baltimore perspective, it's frustrating, because the need for a coherent strategy seems to be an essential point. The City Paper is local, and we have to address the issue for locals.

From a Baltimorean's perspective, the question from the gut is immediately: suddenly Baltimore is famous for its murder rate. In fact, that seems to be a primary artistic resource in this community. When a New Yorker comes down to write about Baltimore's crime scene -- and believe me, getting a New Yorker to come down to Baltimore for any other reason isn't easy -- the first thing people ask: Is that what brought you here? What does this actually tell us about our problems as a city now? Or is Baltimore officially a posterboy for a failed drug war?

Yes, the review was harsh personally, but you have to understand that what you wrote is pretty harsh indictment of our city. When the names aren't real (as you yourself explain), and the commissioner has done his time and bombards the airwaves with the same old spiels, it's easy for a Baltimorean who's following the police force today to wonder how much has changed since then. For us, that's the primary question, and that's obviously not the focus of Cop in the Hood. Or of The Wire, for that matter. But it certainly goes hand in hand with the Wire.

Maybe it doesn't help much, but I really learned a lot about the police force. I also admired your approach to the subject. And you never tried to glamorize anything. I was trying to tell what the book was... and what it wasn't. It was about police work. It was about the hood. As an academic book, it was clearly well received. But as a book about Baltimore -- and that's what Baltimoreans who pick it up a B &N are going to read it is -- it was also frustratingly out-of-date.


My reply:

Thanks for getting back to me. I appreciate it.

I plead guilty to trying not to gear the book exclusively to Baltimore. My editor's biggest concern (and mine, too) was "why will anybody outside of Baltimore care?" So while the book is about Baltimore, it's not really supposed to a book about Baltimore, if you catch my drift. So I think your criticism there is very justified. I try and use Baltimore as an archetype of these problems everywhere.

As to the book being set in the past, not much I can do about that. Believe it or not, it took 3 years to write after I got my PhD in 2004. Such is life. But do you really think it's out of date? Have Baltimore police and the drug trade changed much since then? My police friends all tell me it's the same as it's ever been.

July 22, 2008

The Leonard Lopate Show

I love doing radio interviews. I can wear shorts and be sweaty from biking to the studio. I can cough and drink water and pick my nose (I said I can, not that I did).

It's so much easier to relax when you're not wearing makeup, not worried about how you look, and have a cough button.

You can listen to the interview here.

The Things They Carry


Sunday's New York Times had a nice little story by Niko Koppel about pictures and other mementos that police officer keep in their hats.

The hat-wearing regulation isn't as strictly enforced in Baltimore as it is in New York City. But I like wearing hats.

Young police officers officers will quickly hear that hats, especially when you're on foot, are a great place to keep things (like ticket books).

I tried that. It didn't work. I sweat too much. With any heat, anything in my hat--pictures, paperwork, ham sandwiches--they would all be soaked and nasty before my shift was done.

July 21, 2008

Shoot Don't Shoot

My former firearms instructor sent me this link.

It's a fun little game. Shoot the guys with the gun, not the guys with wallets and cell phones. You won't do it perfectly (and neither do cops).

You face around 100 people, my guess is half are black, half are white, half are armed, half are unarmed. All in all, it takes less than 5 minutes (including loading time).

When it's over it gives you a score and also the response time for armed and unarmed white and black men. Here's mine:
Game Over
Your Score: 660
Average reaction time:
Black Armed:621.32ms
Black Unarmed:728.96ms
White Armed:688.96ms
White Unarmed:655.96ms


I think my overall score is pretty good. But the racial difference in response time is interesting. Of course I don't think I'm more likely to shoot black men. Besides, like any good cop, I'm not looking at race. I'm looking at their hands.

But the numbers show that I'm quickest to respond to an armed black man and slowest to respond to an unarmed black man. Mind you the difference is only 7/100th of a second, but still....

This kind of racial bias in consistent with most academic research that finds differences in response time towards white and black armed and unarmed suspects.

Feel free to cut and paste your scores in a comment.

Here's the website of the researchers.

"Objective, incisive and intelligent "

Arnold Ages of the Jewish Post & Opinion calls Cop in the Hood:
[An] objective, incisive and intelligent account of police work. Moskos's graphic descriptions of the drug culture in Baltimore's Eastern District are the most detailed and analytical to be found anywhere. What distinguishes Moskos's book...is the author's plea for greater flexibility in addressing the rampant drug crisis.

I love the slogan for the Post & Opinion: "We were politically incorrect before there was PC."

"Refreshing"

This review of Cop in the Hood comes from Largehearted Boy. He keeps a music blog and is also reading and reviewing 52 books in 52 weeks:
With our images of policemen and their work too often coming from dramatic television these days, a book like Peter Moskos' Cop in the Hood is refreshing. A sociologist, Moskos spends a year in the Baltimore police department and shares his experiences from the police academy to the day he leaves the force to return to graduate school. What he shares is eye-opening. Police with the least experience patrol the most crime-ridden neighborhoods, the failure of the "war on crime" (and why it failed), the negative effects of modern policemen cruising by police car versus walking the beat.

Moskos keeps an open mind, and reports his experience without bias. He experiences not only adrenalin-surging action, but also the often mind-numbing drudgery and daunting bureaucracy of police work, and notices the effects of a career in law enforcement on his fellow cops.
Cop in the Hood not only puts into perspective the job of a 21st century police officer, but also examines the sociological effects of modern policing and its true effect on crime.

For one month, enter the coupon code "LHB001" at Atomic Books and receive 15% off this title.

My next book is the graphic novel A People's History Of American Empire by Howard Zinn, Paul Buhle, and Mike Konopacki.

Shameless Self-Promotion

Don't forget to buy my book!

OK, now that that's out of the way...

Tuesday from 12 to 12:40 (that's tomorrow), I'll be on the Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC.

And keep your eyes out for a piece I just wrote in support of drug legalization for my new favorite news magazine, U.S. News & World Report. I don't know yet when it will run, so best to just buy every issue from now on.

[update: it should run in the next issue, hitting newsstands next week]

July 20, 2008

Foot Patrol

Kind of like my idea, Policing Green. Officers turn to foot because of rising gas prices. Here's the story from the New York Times. Thanks to Charlene, a former student of mine, for sending me the article.

July 18, 2008

And she didn't even snitch!

The LAPD was interrogated a murder suspect. A detective told the suspect that a girl he knew had ratting him out. Said she had picked him up out of lineup and signed her name. They even showed him the lineup with her initials. But it was a trick. A ruse. She had nothing to do with it.

What happened next was no joke. The suspect made a call from a jail pay phone ordering her killed. She was.

His call is recorded on tape. But police didn't listen to the tape till after the murder.

The detective has been reassigned.

July 17, 2008

WNYC Radio Gig

I'll be on WNYC's Leonard Lopate Show this coming Tuesday, July 22, at 12 noon (Eastern Time). The show is rebroadcast at 3am the following morning. You can listen live through their website or stream through your iTunes (look under: radio, public, then WNYC AM or FM).

I hate to admit it, but Mr. Lopate is very often the first voice I hear after I wake up.

Officials Struggle With Rise in Knife Crimes Among Britain’s Youths

Knife crimes? If only we could be so lucky! The story is here.

For all the panic about rising knife violence in London, let's keep in mind that London has 7.3 million people and about 160 murders a year. That's fewer than New York City. Hell, it's even fewer than Baltimore (population: 650,000)! And it's not that London has a low crime rate. It just has less lethal violence.

London does have strong and effective gun control. Sure, you can kill somebody with a knife, but it's a lot messier.

Off-Duty Detective Who Shot a Gunman After Drinking Is Restored to Full Duty

I should hope so!

The right thing was done. In the end. Too bad it was even an issue to begin with. This cop did everything right. The important thing isn't if off-duty cops are drinking, it's if they do the right thing.

It's one thing if Mothers Against Drug Driving imposes it's Prohibitionist and puritanical views on our driving laws. But hands off the NYPD!

Snitchin'

The New York Times has an article about covering up a "Stop Snitchin'" mural.

The shame is that we need snitches... I mean witnesses... willing to testify. Too bad it's dangerous.

If we didn't use snitches so much in locking up drug criminals, I bet snitching wouldn't have such a bad name.

July 14, 2008

Wall Street Journal Book Review

The Wall Street Journal reviewed Cop in the Hood today. In the small world of books like this, that's big. And it's a good review! My only complaint is his assertion in the last paragraph that I lacked the impulse to run toward gunfire. I often did. My heart was big enough to be a good researcher and a good police officer.


A Close Look at Mean Streets
July 14, 2008; Page A15

Cop in the Hood
By Peter Moskos
(Princeton, 245 pages, $24.95)

Never Mind "The Wire."
Here is the real thing.


By DANIEL HORAN

High on the list of things that police officers loathe -- and the list is a long one -- is the sight of an egghead doctoral candidate approaching the precinct house in the hope of finding a research subject. Among cops it is generally assumed that, no matter how much time an academic researcher may spend on ride-alongs in the field, and no matter how well intentioned he may be, he will remain an outsider, studying a culture that is all but impenetrably foreign to him. Which makes Peter Moskos's "Cop in the Hood" all the more remarkable and all the more welcome.

Mr. Moskos is an assistant professor of law and political science at New York's John Jay College. In 1999, as a graduate student in sociology at Harvard, he was granted permission to join a police academy class in Baltimore for the purpose of studying police training. On his second day, though, he was pulled from the class and told that he could not continue. A shift in Baltimore's political winds had swept out the police commissioner who had approved the project, and the interim commissioner was unreceptive to the idea.

But Mr. Moskos was offered an interesting alternative: He could continue his research, he was told, if he completed the city's hiring process and became an actual police officer. He accepted the challenge, passing a battery of tests that included the first mile-and-a-half run of his life. In "Cop in the Hood" he acknowledges that having been on the payroll of the organization he was studying presented, in strict academic terms, a potential conflict of interest, but he writes that "a meager paycheck can go a long way to advance the noble pursuit of knowledge, especially since none of my grant applications had been accepted."

Mr. Moskos completed his training and was assigned to the midnight shift in Baltimore's Eastern District. He spent 14 months as a patrol officer before returning to Harvard, but in that short time he saw more mayhem than most police officers see in 14 years. The murder rate in Baltimore is six times that of New York City, and the Eastern District is the city's most violent.

Mr. Moskos discovered that the police academy, with its emphasis on quasimilitary formalities and tedious routines, did little to prepare him for the reality of Baltimore's meanest streets. Like most rookie police officers, who tend to be law-abiding members of the middle class, he had had little exposure to life in what he unabashedly calls the "ghetto," where he was routinely called into people's homes "because the residents have, at some level, lost control."

He describes in unsparing detail the conditions he found to be all too common -- homes "without heat or electricity, rooms lacking furniture filled with filth and dirty clothes, roaches and mice running rampant, jars and buckets of urine stacked in corners, and multiple children sleeping on bare and dirty mattresses." Entering a "normal" home, one that was "well furnished and clean," he writes, was "so rare that it would be mentioned to fellow officers."

A lot of his time on patrol was spent "clearing the corners" of young drug dealers. The task was usually accomplished through a simple assertion of dominance, in which the cops stopped their car and stared the dealers down. The dealers who got the message and moved on were allowed to do so, while those who defiantly returned the stare were detained and often arrested for loitering. As Mr. Moskos discovered, much of police work simply involves the cops exerting their authority, either formally or informally, over those they believe to be lawbreakers. "Every drug call to which police respond," he writes, "indeed all police dealings with social or criminal misbehavior, will result in the suspect's arrest, departure, or deference."

In "Cop in the Hood," Mr. Moskos manages to capture a world that most people know only through the distorting prism of television and film, where police officers are usually portrayed as quixotically heroic or contemptibly corrupt. "Incidents [of corruption] do happen," Mr. Moskos says, "but the police culture is not corrupt."

For all the book's detail, Mr. Moskos reserves his most passionate writing for a call to abandon the war on drugs. He claims that the drug war -- with its violent turf battles and revolving-door cycles of arrest -- has caused more social devastation than drugs themselves. This is an opinion much in vogue today, one no doubt shared by most of Mr. Moskos's colleagues in academia but not by most police officers.

One must admire Mr. Moskos for his willingness to walk in a police officer's shoes for 20 months. But it is important to remember, while reading "Cop in the Hood," that though he wore the badge and carried the gun, in his heart he was still a researcher foremost, not a police officer. He lacked the attribute that marks out the genuine cop -- that rare and inexplicable impulse to run toward gunfire when other sane people are running away. It is an attribute that may be described and analyzed at Harvard, but it is not often found there.

_____________

Mr. Horan is a police officer in California.

Bad Person. Bad Judge.

Too many people refuse to believe that there are some truly bad people out there. Some people are just bad. Police know this. Judges don't.

Is it unfair to throw someone in prison for a long time for a technical violation of parole? Maybe. Maybe not. Depends on the person.

Just because you can't convict a person doesn't mean he's not guilty. That's when using probation and parole violations become so important.

There's an attempt in Baltimore to crack down on 960 of the most violent people in Baltimore. This is exactly the kind of plan that has worked with great success in other cities to dramatically reduce violence (google: "Boston Miracle). There's a story in today's Baltimore Sun about a bad man, Jerrod Rowlett.

On one hand (the wrong hand) you could see this man as a victim now being locked up for a crime he wasn't convicted of. On the other hand, the correct hand, this is a bad and violent man who can't be convicted because his victims are too terrified to testify about his violent and drug-dealing ways. It's bad that Rowlett shot anybody. But his last shooting is a preventable shame that should (but probably doesn't) rest on the conscience of Judge Stewart's.
Jerrod Rowlett... racked up a dozen criminal charges at a young age and earned such a street reputation that Bealefeld [the police commissioner] knows him by name.
...
Rowlett's first arrest came when he was 16 and accused of first-degree murder, but he was found not guilty. The next year he was convicted of carrying a handgun, but the five-year sentence was suspended. He was found guilty of assault in 2005 and got another five-year suspended sentence.

In April 2006 city police raided a drug corner and charged him with dealing heroin. He made bail, and the following January a witness said Rowlett shot another man
...
Rowlett pleaded guilty in both cases.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Lynn Stewart signed off on a plea deal that suspended the 15-year prison term, allowing him to walk away with only the time he had served while waiting for the deal, and five years' probation. This earned him a place on the state's year-old worst-offenders list.

The judge in Rowlett's case, who had agreed to the plea agreement, had stern words at his August hearing. "The court will work with you," Stewart told him. "But make no doubt about it, sir. If you violate the probation, you're going to be gone for a long time. Do you understand?"

Looking down, he mumbled "Yes."

In April, police arrested Rowlett again on a gun charge, and probation agents jumped at the chance to send him to prison. Prosecutors dropped the charges when the victim, a family member, recanted the story, but the probation agents still sought a violation.

Since Rowlett was in the target program, a state probation agent asked Stewart to imprison him anyway by issuing a "no bail" warrant, saying Rowlett failed to tell his agent about the arrest. Stewart declined to issue the warrant on May 7.

Twenty days later, Rowlett became a suspect in a midday shooting in Northeast Baltimore. He's now charged with attempted first-degree murder for the fourth time in his life, and he is off the streets - being held without bail until his trial.

May he stay off the streets. This is one guy I'm willing to pay for to keep locked up and far away from me.

Carmelo Anthony in the New York Times

I'm not a fan of basketball. But I am a little interested in Carmelo Anthony. The only reason I know him is that he (unwittingly) appeared in the Stop Fucking Snitching DVD that got him and the DVD a lot of press. Bad press for him. Any press was good for the home-produced DVD.

I felt sorry for the guy who was somehow blamed for the whole Stop Snitching philosophy simply for going back to his hometown of Baltimore and not freaking out when someone recorded him with a camcorder (he doesn't say much in the DVD other than a little against the last Olympic basketball coach).

Now he has an Olympic basketball diary in the New York Times. His writing ain't too deep. But still, he is in the Times. At least online.

July 12, 2008

Amsterdam Police Officer Killed


Police Officer Gabriƫlle Cevat was shot and killed on her way to work. Cevat saw a drunk driver, called the police station, and proceeded to stop the driver. She was wearing street clothes and displaying her police identification.

Her killer, a 49-year-old Aruban-born resident of Amsterdam with a criminal record, was arrested in the apartment of his ex-girlfriend, who wasn't home. Three teenagers who were home fled out a window of the apartment.

Cevat is just the 5th Amsterdam police officer to be killed since World War II.

New international drug use stats

For years everybody has been citing the same good but somewhat dated stats on comparative drug use in the U.S. and other countries (I know because I did so in my book).

Well, while I was busy visiting family and friends in Amsterdam last week, a new study was released (in conjunction with the World Health Organization) that updates drug use stats in 17 countries. At first glance, it seems that nothing big has changed in the past 7 years. Here's the main table.

Guess what? Good news for all the red, white, and blue flag wavers! U.S.A.! We're number 1! We're number 1! In illegal drug use.

No country comes close to use in cocaine use. And only one country comes close in marijuana: New Zealand. For some reason, that's not a surprise to me.

Why the War on Drug Fails

A friend and former student of mine, a police officer on Long Island, tells me:
"Right now heroin is cheaper then crack and cocaine. So it has become the drug of choice. From Jan 07 to Aug 07 there was 42 heroin overdose just in two precinct in Nassau county."

There are eight precincts in Nassau County and a total population of 1.3 million. Let's assume, because I don't know better, that the 2 precincts represent 1/4 of the population. That's an annual heroin overdose death rate of 22 per 100,000 people, about twice the national average.

If we really cared about saving lives, we could save these lives. But we clearly don't care because we persist in policies that cause deaths. If saving lives were our priority, we could follow the policies of countries with much lower overdose death rates.

First of all, education. We treat all illegal drugs as equally bad. Zero Tolerance. But all drugs aren't equally bad. Heroin is a horrible drug. Maybe the worst. Marijuana isn't really bad at all. Cocaine is somewhere in between. This is important. I would love to give teenagers weed if only they wouldn't try heroin. At least tell them the truth about weed so they'll believe it when you tell them to fear heroin.

Take the Netherlands. Yes, the Netherlands. The country that drug warriors love to laugh at and dismiss because they don't want to fight our war on drugs. In Amsterdam, you can walk into a tax-paying store and legally buy weed, hash, even magic mushrooms. The government gives out heroin to addicts (not most addicts, however). Prohibitionists say that "sends the wrong message."

Here's the message: in the Netherlands, drug usage rates and overdose rates are much lower than in the U.S. (and so is their incarceration rate, while we're at it).

Fewer people take drugs because they don't play the prohibitionist's drug game. Those that do take drugs don't die. The overdose rate in the Netherlands is 0.75 per 100,000.

Get this: in their entire country of over 16 million, there were 122 overdose deaths in a year. That's fewer than Baltimore City alone. Probably fewer than Nassau County, too.

We could save lives--tens of thousands of lives each year--if we really cared about saving lives. But we don't. We see overdoses as unfortunate. Hell, maybe not even that. Overdose deaths "send a good message," I've heard.

The war on drugs isn't about saving lives. It's about maintaining prohibition. Too bad prohibition kills.

July 11, 2008

Nevada ACLU opposes gun control

I've always said the ACLU and NRA should team up. They're both defending constitutional rights. They're just defending deferent rights.

I'm proud to have sworn to defend the Constitutions of of the United States. And I can say in good faith that I did a better job than the President. (I also swore to defend the Constitution of the State of Maryland, but I'd be damned if I could tell you anything it says.)

Whether it's gun control or abortion rights--and I'm for both--people have to understand that just because you like something doesn't make it a Constitutional Right. I like abortion rights, but I'll be damned if I can find it in the Constitution. I don't like guns, but the 2nd Amendment certainly protects something.

In theory, neither the Supreme Court nor the ACLU is political. Of course they both are, but that's another story. Still, I'm happy when either takes a position that supports what they stand for, and not what they want politically.

The next time the Supreme Court rules for or against a law you like, take a step back and think about their interpretation of the Constitution and not just whether you like the law.

So kudos to the Nevada ACLU for defending an individual's Constitutional right to bear arms. Just because I'm against it, doesn't mean it's not a right worth defending. That's the whole point about rights. If we don't believe in the Constitution, then it's just a piece of paper.

Here's the story on the Nevada ACLU and gun control.

Officer kills 5th criminal

I received an email with a link to this story. Supercop or super killer. You decide.

July 6, 2008

This is the U.S. on drugs

An op-ed from the L.A. Times by David W. Fleming and fellow LEAP member James P. Gray.

Only cops and crooks have benefited from $2.5 trillion spent fighting trafficking.

July 5, 2008

The United States' so-called war on drugs brings to mind the old saying that if you find yourself trapped in a deep hole, stop digging. Yet, last week, the Senate approved an aid package to combat drug trafficking in Mexico and Central America, with a record $400 million going to Mexico and $65 million to Central America.

The United States has been spending $69 billion a year worldwide for the last 40 years, for a total of $2.5 trillion, on drug prohibition -- with little to show for it. Is anyone actually benefiting from this war? Six groups come to mind.

The first group are the drug lords in nations such as Colombia, Afghanistan and Mexico, as well as those in the United States. They are making billions of dollars every year -- tax free.

The second group are the street gangs that infest many of our cities and neighborhoods, whose main source of income is the sale of illegal drugs.

Third are those people in government who are paid well to fight the first two groups. Their powers and bureaucratic fiefdoms grow larger with each tax dollar spent to fund this massive program that has been proved not to work.

Fourth are the politicians who get elected and reelected by talking tough -- not smart, just tough -- about drugs and crime. But the tougher we get in prosecuting nonviolent drug crimes, the softer we get in the prosecution of everything else because of the limited resources to fund the criminal justice system.

The fifth group are people who make money from increased crime. They include those who build prisons and those who staff them. The prison guards union is one of the strongest lobbying groups in California today, and its ranks continue to grow.

And last are the terrorist groups worldwide that are principally financed by the sale of illegal drugs.

Who are the losers in this war? Literally everyone else, especially our children.

Today, there are more drugs on our streets at cheaper prices than ever before. There are more than 1.2 million people behind bars in the U.S., and a large percentage of them for nonviolent drug usage. Under our failed drug policy, it is easier for young people to obtain illegal drugs than a six-pack of beer. Why? Because the sellers of illegal drugs don't ask kids for IDs. As soon as we outlaw a substance, we abandon our ability to regulate and control the marketing of that substance.

After we came to our senses and repealed alcohol prohibition, homicides dropped by 60% and continued to decline until World War II. Today's murder rates would likely again plummet if we ended drug prohibition.

So what is the answer? Start by removing criminal penalties for marijuana, just as we did for alcohol. If we were to do this, according to state budget figures, California alone would save more than $1 billion annually, which we now spend in a futile effort to eradicate marijuana use and to jail nonviolent users. Is it any wonder that marijuana has become the largest cash crop in California?

We could generate billions of dollars by taxing the stuff, just as we do with tobacco and alcohol.

We should also reclassify most Schedule I drugs (drugs that the federal government alleges have no medicinal value, including marijuana and heroin) as Schedule II drugs (which require a prescription), with the government regulating their production, overseeing their potency, controlling their distribution and allowing licensed professionals (physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, etc.) to prescribe them. This course of action would acknowledge that medical issues, such as drug addiction, are best left under the supervision of medical doctors instead of police officers.

The mission of the criminal justice system should always be to protect us from one another and not from ourselves. That means that drug users who drive a motor vehicle or commit other crimes while under the influence of these drugs would continue to be held criminally responsible for their actions, with strict penalties. But that said, the system should not be used to protect us from ourselves.

Ending drug prohibition, taxing and regulating drugs and spending tax dollars to treat addiction and dependency are the approaches that many of the world's industrialized countries are taking. Those approaches are ones that work.
_____________________________

David W. Fleming, a lawyer, is the chairman of the Los Angeles County Business Federation and immediate past chairman of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. James P. Gray is a judge of the Orange County Superior Court.

July 1, 2008

Gun Control

If you really hate guns and can't stand gun ownership (I hate guns but can understand gun ownership), then you should take some solace in the fact that guns are used in suicide more than homicide and accidents put together. About 55% of our 31,000 annual gun deaths are suicide.

2nd Amendment

I'm of two minds when it comes to gun control and the 2nd Amendment. I'm not a fan of guns. I would love to live in a society that heavily restricted gun ownership. But I don't.

Say what you want about the 2nd Amendment... and I've always said--just to be provocative to my liberal friends--that if you see the constitution as so broad that it gives women the right to have an abortion, then certainly you can see the 2nd Amendment broadly enough to give a man the right to bear arms. Now the Supreme Court has had their say.

On one hand, it is a huge decision overturning decades of local gun control laws.

On the other hand, gun control fans, it won't matter. Really. Giving law abiding people the right to have a gun in their home isn't so bad. I had a gun.

I'm no fan of the N.R.A., but they do make one good point: we already have laws making guns illegal. If we don't or can't enforce our existing gun laws, it makes no sense to pass more laws making guns more illegal. Must gun control simply prevented non-criminals from having a gun. The problem is criminals with guns. What do we do about them?

One thing I learned as a cop is that there are a lot of illegal guns out there. More than you can imagine. That's a big problem. Gun prohibition isn't a battle worth fighting. Best to save the political capital for something else.

Study finds long benefit in psychedelic mushrooms

Interesting story here.

Meanwhile, in Amsterdam the move to re-criminalize psychedelic mushrooms has been postponed another year. They're still sold legally in stores.

Some of my friends in Amsterdam (from where I write this) are E.R. nurses. They complain to me about the summer influx of drugged-out people to the hospitals. They're all tourists and mostly casualties of shrooms and spacecakes. They live. But they annoy the hell out of the nurses.

Health care in the Netherlands, by the way, is not free for tourists.

Man kills burglars

A man in Texas killed two men who had burglarized his neighbor's property. A grand jury decided not to indict the killer.

In general, I don't have much sympathy who criminals who get killed in the act of committing a serious crime. But this case pushes the limit because the guy wasn't protecting his life or his property, he called 911 and the dispatcher told him to say inside, and the criminals weren't any threat to him. Best I can tell, the man went out and shot two guys (illegal immigrants) because they had robbed his neighbors.

If a cop had done it, he or she would certainly be indicted. I don't think this killing was right. I think it's murder. And yet, I don't want anybody to be convicted for shooting burglars. I can't quite explain this contradiction in my beliefs.