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by Peter Moskos

August 31, 2009

Alan F. Kiepper dies at 81

OK. I'll be honest. I had never heard of the guy either. But it turns out he might be responsible for America's great crime drop (not that he ever claimed such a feat). But he did hire Bill Bratton to run the New York Transit Police, and that was perhaps the start of it all.

“Effective management is doing small things well, and sometimes small things include picking up paper,” Mr. Kiepper told The New York Times in 1990. He had just picked up litter and a penny from a subway platform, drawing stares from straphangers. “The penny I’ll keep for good luck,” he said, “which anyone would need to run a system of this magnitude.”
Sounds like Broken Windows to me.

It seems like he took just as much pride as starting Poetry in Motion (something I, a subway rider, always appreciate):

Don't Tase Me, Sis

A nice article in Reason by Radley Balko. This one on police TV shows and use of force.
Of course, there isn't "always a good time to use a Taser," as the multitude of viral web videos depicting taserings of grandmothers, pregnant women, and children will attest. TLC's ad campaign is offensive, though merely the latest iteration of a genre of television that trivializes the state's use of force and makes a mockery of the criminal justice system.
Cop reality shows glamorize all the wrong aspects of police work. Their trailers depict lots of gun pointing, door-busting, perp-chasing, and handcuffing. Forget the baton-twirling Officer Friendly. To the extent that the shows aid in the recruiting of new police officers, they're almost certainly pulling people attracted to the wrong parts of the job.
Read the whole article here.

[thanks to Marc for the tip]

Portugal and Drug Decriminalization

The generally conservative and pro-legalization Economist reports:
The evidence from Portugal since 2001 is that decriminalisation of drug use and possession has benefits and no harmful side-effects.
IN 2001 newspapers around the world carried graphic reports of addicts injecting heroin in the grimy streets of a Lisbon slum. The place was dubbed Europe’s “most shameful neighbourhood” and its “worst drugs ghetto”. The Times helpfully managed to find a young British backpacker sprawled comatose on a corner. This lurid coverage was prompted by a government decision to decriminalise the personal use and possession of all drugs, including heroin and cocaine. The police were told not to arrest anyone found taking any kind of drug.
The share of heroin users who inject the drug has also fallen, from 45% before decriminalisation to 17% now, he says, because the new law has facilitated treatment and harm-reduction programmes. Drug addicts now account for only 20% of Portugal’s HIV cases, down from 56% before. “We no longer have to work under the paradox that exists in many countries of providing support and medical care to people the law considers criminals.”

“Proving a causal link between Portugal’s decriminalisation measures and any changes in drug-use patterns is virtually impossible in scientific terms,” concludes Mr Hughes. “But anyone looking at the statistics can see that drug consumption in 2001 was relatively low in European terms, and that it remains so. The apocalypse hasn’t happened.”
Read the whole article here.

Request for a Title for a Speech on The Wire

In November I'm speaking at a conference in Leeds, UK, on The Wire (the HBO TV show). I need a title for my presentation. I can't think of anything. Of course I have no idea what I'm going to say yet. But I still need a title.

Anybody out there have any good idea for a title? Maybe something clever? Maybe something taken from The Wire?

August 30, 2009

I Heart Crab

I love Maryland crabs. Even more than I love Maryland venison. And I do love eating the deer. But I think steamed blue crab may be the most delicious food in the world.

Last night my friend cooked a true Maryland-inspired crab feast for twenty people. She's gone down to Baltimore twice now for my sergeant's church crab feast. She ordered and paid for two bushels of #1 males (jimmies)...

...and then received #3 females.

The worst part is the fish guy she bought them from wasn't trying to rip her off. He was just ripped off himself. Such is life buying crabs here in New York City. People just don't know crabs. But then I think she paid only $80 a bushel, which is way too cheap for jimmies, right?

Steaming the crabs is always great fun (for us, not the crabs), as the crabs are feisty and one or two always gets loose.

At least most of the guests, not knowing backfin from lump, didn't know they were eating very small crabs. And despite their size, they did taste great.

Afterward, with Old Bay in the air and three of us sitting around a table drinking and picking, we probably ended up with less than 2 lbs of crab meat from a while damn bushel of crabs (many in this bushel were dead). Pretty pathetic. But crab meat is crab meat. So we had crab cakes tonight!

My wife went first. Fine by me! I had a beer. But then I came to face-to-face with this pan-fried hockey-puck shaped thing and my heart sank (though they tasted OK).

Is there something about New York that makes people want to mash delicious crabmeat into patties? Is there something in our water?

So I took the rest of the meat and let me tell you, I showed her. Round, as loosely packed as possible, and broiled.

The sad truth is they looked better than they tasted (I used too much egg). But not bad for a New York boy winging it with a point to prove.

We were both loosely following Ms. Amelia's crab cake recipe. Though next time I might try this recipe because I love Faidley's and I like the idea of little worcestershire sauce addition.

[And just for the purpose of science, we even made a crabcake from canned crab ("wild caught" from Vietnam). It tasted like crap and we didn't eat it.]

Speaking of food. If you see the movie "Julie and Julia" (decent, though very very chick-flick), it's all filmed in my Astoria neighborhood (which subbed for nearby Long Island City). I stopped by my corner fish store and congratulated them (not where the crabs were from, by the way) and K & T Butchers is only a few blocks away. Once I ran into Julie at a liquor store near her house. Alas, to my great dismay when I lived in Cambridge, I never did run into Julia Child (even though all my friends did).

August 28, 2009


Nothing new here. But it's good to have a refresher course every now and then. It's too easy for prisoners to be out of sight and out of mind.

(plus these are the neatest diagrams I've found in the subject)

Now it's 2,300,000 behind bars.

The increase is all since 1970 and the war on drugs.

It has little relationship to the crime rate. This is important. Because people generally don't have a problem with locking up criminals because there's more crime. We're just locking up more people. And the crime rate doesn't change because of it.

The incarceration rate is going still going up. Now it's above 750.

You can read the complete Justice Policy Institute report here. It's from 2000, but the later reports don't have the pretty diagrams. The latest report, Prisons in 2007, can be found here.

End of an Era: As of 2012, no more Crown Vics

In June, Ford Motor Co. invited the heads of some of the nation's largest police fleets to Dearborn to talk about the future of police cars.

For nearly two decades, that market has belonged to Ford's Crown Victoria -- a vehicle that departments from coast to coast have come to respect for its toughness and reliability. Now the Crown Vic is running out of road.

"They told us that 2011 would be the last year they build the Crown Vic,"
About 85 percent of the approximately 75,000 police cars sold in the United States each year are Crown Vics.
The story by Bryce Hoffman in the Detroit News

The Crown Vic has my car (it's also the NYC cab). There was still one or two Chevy Caprices rattling around, but they were in sad shape. Now you see a fair number of Chevy Impalas.

Back in Baltimore, I was warned that front-wheel drive isn't practical here because they're not as tough. And nothing in the world is driven more roughly than a non-take-home cop car.

As a cop, I was shocked by how horrible Crown Vics handle. Especially in the rain or snow, you really had to be really careful. Plus they're big, which makes them harder to get through tight spaces and alleys. In Amsterdam, the cops had souped-up Volkswagen Rabbits. Not very American, but man those things could fly.

August 27, 2009

Here's the to 4th Amendment

"One of the reasons we fought a bloody war against Britain was we didn't like these soldiers stopping people on the street willy-nilly....We went to armed revolution against the strongest nation in the world in order to have these protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. They're not technicalities. They're real.
Indeed, the ability to seize a person's private property is among the most awesome powers a government can wield. The authors of the Constitution cemented that notion in the Bill of Rights, decreeing in the Fourth Amendment that our right against unreasonable search and seizure "shall not be violated."

This afternoon, a joint legislative panel will convene at the Capitol to review a pair of reports that say some officers of the now-defunct Metro Gang Strike Force committed behavior that was "shocking" and listed a litany of abuses.
One issue legislators must wrestle with is fundamental: Was the gang task force a good idea badly executed by dishonest cops and supervisors who looked the other way, or was the whole concept — including the state's administrative forfeiture law — fatally flawed?
By the time lawmakers re-created the elite unit as the Metro Gang Strike Force in 2005, it had become largely self-funding, through seizures and forfeitures. The more money and property the cops from the unit's member agencies seized, the more fiscally sound the unit was.

Not only did it put the profit motive in police work, the cops came to look at seizures as the key to the unit's survival, the Luger report said.

It is definitely worth reading David Hanners' entire article in the Pioneer Press. It's a good piece of journalism

Fed-up business people respond to robbery spree

[He] was in the middle of a string of 17 robberies of city business in 22 days, police say.
[In 2005] Lomax was sentenced to 21 years in prison, but the conviction was overturned on appeal. When the case came back to court on June 22, Baltimore Circuit Judge John Addison Howard gave Lomax 15 years, suspending all but five. The judge made the sentence retroactive to 2005, and Lomax was set free.

Police say the latest crime spree began shortly thereafter
The story by Justin Fenton in the Baltimore Sun.

August 26, 2009

1,000 cameras 'solve one crime'

The BBC reports that one crime was solved for every 1,000 police cameras in London last year.

The internal police report found the million-plus cameras in London rarely help catch criminals.
David Davis MP, the former shadow home secretary, said: "It should provoke a long overdue rethink on where the crime prevention budget is being spent."

He added: "CCTV leads to massive expense and minimum effectiveness.

"It creates a huge intrusion on privacy, yet provides little or no improvement in security.
A spokesman for the Met said: "We estimate more than 70% of murder investigations have been solved with the help of CCTV retrievals and most serious crime investigations have a CCTV investigation strategy."
Read the story here.

Argentina Decriminalizes Marijuana

Out of the blue (at least to me), the BBC reports:
The supreme court in Argentina has ruled that it is unconstitutional to punish people for using marijuana for personal consumption.
The Argentine court ruled that: "Each adult is free to make lifestyle decisions without the intervention of the state."

Supreme Court President Ricardo Lorenzetti said private behaviour was legal, "as long as it doesn't constitute clear danger".

"The state cannot establish morality," he said.
It also marks a shift a dramatic regional shift to the decades-old US-backed policy of running repressive military-style wars on the drug trade, she adds.
Read the whole story here.

August 25, 2009

Stop the war on pot smokers

An op-ed by Tony Newman in the New York Daily News.
While New York has a reputation as a tolerant and open-minded city and New York State effectively decriminalized simple possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana more than 30 years ago, Gotham has made so many pot arrests that it now has the unfortunate distinction of being the marijuana arrest capital of the world.
Prior to 1997, the lowest-level marijuana arrests were 1% of all arrests in the city. Since 1997, marijuana arrests have averaged 10% of all arrests in the city.

If possession of marijuana is supposed to be decriminalized in New York, how does this happen? Often because, in the course of interacting with the police, individuals may be asked to empty their pockets, which results in the pot being "open to public view" - which is, technically, a crime.

New York City's marijuana arrests show stark racial disparities. In 2008, 87% of those charged with pot possession were black or Latino. These groups represent only about half of the city's population, and U.S. government surveys consistently find that young whites use marijuana at higher rates than blacks and Latinos. Yet blacks and Latinos are arrested for pot at much higher rates, in part because officers make stop-and-frisks disproportionately in black, Latino and low-income neighborhoods.
Read more.

Teach Grammar!

Stanley Fish gets to the issues on teaching the craft of writing in "What Should Colleges Teach?"

I was blessed to have good English teachers throughout my Evanston public-school education. I also had good and literate parents. Collectively, they somehow taught me skills I use pretty much every day: write, type, and edit (though I must have been sick on the day spelling was taught).

I think I'm pretty good at getting my ideas across in writing. I wouldn't say I like writing (does anybody?). It's work. But I think I'm pretty good at it.

So I never know what to do with students' basic bad writing. I'm not an English teacher. Yet I often feel like I'm playing one in my classroom. Doesn't anybody teach grammar and syntax? This does not seem to be an appropriate subject matter for my "Seminar in Police Problems." Yet teach basic grammar I must. Why do I ever have to remind college seniors--as I do every semester--that sentences need a subject, verb, object, and then a period. Why is subject/verb agreement so difficult? Why do my students, class after class, insist on capitalizing the words "police officer" and many other nouns (is there some Germanic underground I don't know about)?

To argue that grammar and basic writing (not thought-provoking composition) should be taught in elementary and high-school is besides the point. College is a great place for teaching. And what's more important than teaching how to write?

Read Stanley Fish's piece in the New York Times.

"People have got to get indignant"

[Detroit Police Chief] Evans reiterated his sense that people feel Detroit is supposed to have crime. He said he goes out two nights a week and works the streets, stopping motorists who rarely have driver's license, registration, insurance.

"What I say is: 'Do you drive north of 8 Mile like this?' And they say, 'Hell no! They'll lock you up.' Your conduct can be whatever you want it to be in the city of Detroit. It's a safe haven for BS. When people feel that way about minor things, that's the way they'll feel about bigger things."
Evans cites a consent decree that has governed Detroit for six years. The decree, designed to curtail police misconduct, has led to reluctance to arrest.
"Over 1,100 people being shot is getting kind of Third World to me."
Of course, comparing Detroit to the third world isn't really doing justice to the third world. Third-world cities tend to have far less violence.

The column by Rochelle Riley in the Detroit Free Press.

Bad News with Shake and Bake Meth

"New formula lets meth users make drug in soda bottles, avoid anti-drug laws."

The AP story by Justin Juozapavicius.

August 24, 2009

Sentence Length [or lies from the Heritage Foundation]

In a Heritage Foundation foundation report by Charles Stimson and Andrew Grossman, I learned a very surprising fact:
Convicted persons in the United States actually served less time in prison, on average, than the world average and the European average. Among the 35 countries surveyed on this question in 1998, the average time actually served in prison was 32.62 months. Europeans sentenced to prison served an average of 30.89 months. Those in the United States served an average of only 28 months.
From "Adult Time for Adult Crimes: Life Without Parole for Juvenile Killers and Violent Teens"

[Update/Correction: two hour later]

I'm generally no fan of the conservative Heritage Foundation. In fact, just between you and me, I generally hate them and everything they stand for. But I wasn't going to bring that up because I like to be tolerant and forgiving by nature. And if two of their researchers can write a good report, I'm more than happy to read it and learn.

And though it's rare to catch people in all-out balls-to-the-walls lies (though I've caught the DEA red handed on the issue of drug prices), there's nothing too rare about academic and moral dishonesty.

I decided to do a little fact checking, since, well, I didn't really believe that our prison sentences were shorter. Plus I don't trust the Heritage Foundation.

[The actual Heritage report, by the way, is about why we should keep sentencing juveniles to life without parole. It seems like a strange cause to fight for. What do they chant at rallies? But that's neither here nor there. I'm interested in the time people spend behind bars.]

First read the above quote from the Heritage Foundation and think about what it means.

Stimson and Grossman are not two fresh-faced grad students to be treated with kid gloves for bad statistical analysis. One is a "Senior Legal Fellow" and the other a "Senior Legal Policy Analyst." And besides, they're trying to influence policy and get more kids locked up forever.

Plus their report claims to be all about getting the "facts" right. And much of their report resonated with the cop in me. And 10 pages of endnotes certain gives them the ersatz veneer of rigorous academic analysis.

I copied the data (“Table 18.01: Average length of time actually served in prison”) to SPSS and crunched the numbers just like they did. Indeed, the average US sentence length is listed as 28 months and the mean length of time for the all countries listed is 32.62 months.

But anybody who does basic stats--and if you can copy the data from a table into a stats program, crunch the numbers, and publish them, you had better know basic statistics--should see two red flags. First is the two-decimal result. The original data is rounded to the nearest month. Using two-decimal places implies a statistical precision but in fact is statistical nonsense. Besides, who really cares about 1/100 of a month (just about 8 hours)?

The second red flag is the use of mean and not median for "average." The difference between the two matters. "Mean" is the average in the sense of adding up all the numbers and dividing by the total number of numbers. The "median" is the point at which half the numbers are above and half the numbers below. Both "mean" and "median" are averages, but "median" is generally better for analyses of numbers that have a set minimum (often zero) on one side but are open-ended on the other side (as in, they can go up to a gazillion!).

Take income. Median income is always lower than mean income because the millionaires (the outliers at the high end) push the mean average way up. If next year everybody in the U.S. made $1,000 less but Bill Gates, one person, made a trillion dollars more, the mean American income would go up by $2,000 per person! But the median income would go down $1,000, just like the average income.

So if Stimson and Grossman used median, the average would go from 33 to 26 months and the U.S. would go from below average to above average. So if they're using means, they're either statistically ignorant of trying to pull a fast one. But no matter, I’m not going to spend time writing all of this for a difference of seven months.

But wait... there's more.

2) Statistical outliers: Malcolm Gladwell didn’t invent them just to sell books. You generally shouldn’t include them in statistical analysis. The outliers here, in terms of sentence length, are Colombia, Qatar, Moldova, Latvia, and Suriname (with a mean of 90 months). Remove these four countries and the mean goes down to 23.5 months and the median to 19 months.

Now sometimes "outliers" aren't outliers but rather extreme case. If you're talking about average world prison sentence length, you shouldn't ignore America because there are more two million prisoners in America. But who cares if prisoners in Qatar serve 74 months? There are only 520 people in prison.

Anyway, the difference between 19 months versus 32.6 months matters, but it's still not what gets my goat.

Oh, I'm just getting started.

3) The table only includes 35 countries. Looking at each of these countries as equal for the purpose of statistical analysis is crazy. You've always got to apply qualitative common sense to quantitative analysis.

Surinam? 665 prisoners in the whole friggin country!

Montserrat? Montserr-who?! Where the hell is Montserrat!? What I'm trying to say is, who give a flying f*ck about Montserrat? What happens in Montserrat sure as hell must stay there because I didn't even remember that the capital of this Caribbean island was buried in 39 feet of volcanic mud in 1995 and abandoned. The total population of this non-nation is less than 5,000!

Give me a f*cking break. For statistical purposes, these countries doesn't exist. The US has two-point-three-friggin-million people behind bars! Equating Montserrat with the United States is bullsh*t... and the authors of this report should know this.

You ain't seen nothing yet!

4) “European average,” they say.

Now call me crazy, or chauvinistic, or “Old-Europe,” but when I say “Europe” in terms of criminal justice policy, I mean--and I think most people understand me to mean--the rich civilized part of Europe that's now part of the European Union. (By my calculations, Greece only joined Europe about 5 years ago.)

It’s not just geography. It’s culture. This report counts Moldova as European. Technically, yes, Moldova is part of Europe. But technically Israel is part of Asia. And Egypt and Morocco are part of Africa. But I don’t see too many Arabs in my neighborhood calling themselves African-American.

To say "European average" and give equal weight to (ie: not adjust for population) to Moldova and Germany is crazy. Oh, but wait, Germany and France aren’t even included in the data! How can you have a "European average" without Germany and France? No offense to Botswana and Mauritius (they're on the list), but it's not a world average if you don't have Russia, China, Indonesia, or India!

If you want to be honest, say 10 years ago Moldovan prisoners served more time than U.S. prisoners. But who gives a flying f*ck" about Moldova?! (Poor Moldova. I'm sure they're very nice. In fact, it says right in their tourism website that Moldova is, "rich in fertile soil and in hardworking and caring people.")

And no matter which countries I count as European, I can’t duplicate the report's average of "30.89" months. Seems to me the mean average for European countries included would actually be 34 months. But I’ll assume that was was just bad work rather than intentional dishonesty, since the correction would be in their favor.

So let's get back to the original question: do European prisoners serve more time than the U.S. average of 28 months? Here are some of the European countries listed:

Denmark: 3
Netherlands: 4
Iceland: 5
Ukraine: (yeah, what the hell, I’ll count the Ukraine as European): 5
Finland: 8
England and Wales: 14
Portugal: 26
Spain: 29

I'd bet good money that Germany and France (which aren't included in the data) fall somewhere between the Netherlands and England, with France being higher than Germany. That tends to be the way it is with those countries and criminal justice issues.

So why all this type over something as minor as sentence length? Because I don't like being played for a fool. Because I posted a lie thinking it was true. I posted it because the numbers really surprised me. I posted it because it went against what I believed.

I don’t like it when ideological groups spread lies. When people believe lies, and people tend to believe what they hear and read, the liars win. And liars, at least the ones that aren't pathological, tend to have an agenda.

Mind you, this is just the one paragraph I actually fact-checked. But coming from the intellectually empty and morally counterproductive Heritage Foundation, it shouldn't have come as any surprise.

Time Served

Perhaps nothing speaks better to our broken justice system than the fact that people--guilty and innocent alike--are held in jail for more than year before trial.

Lise Olsen reports
in the Houston Chronicle:
Though the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to a speedy trial, at least 500 county inmates [out of 11,500] have been locked up for more than a year as they wait to be judged.
Around 200 inmates, theoretically innocent until proven guilty, appear to already have served more than the minimum sentence for the crime they allegedly committed.
About a third of all county jail inmates face drug possession charges.
Many people who can't afford to post bail simply stay in jail, including some accused only of misdemeanors.
Jurors decided [Holmes] was guilty after reviewing statements from arresting officers who said they found the pipe in his hip pocket. He got the minimum sentence of six months.
Holmes, his lawyer Joseph Varela says, insisted on his right to trial — even though in the end, it meant Holmes served far more time than he would have otherwise. In fact, Holmes has racked up about 800 days in jail at a total cost to taxpayers of more than $32,000 related to his charge of possession of a lone crack pipe — a minimum of $40 a day not counting legal or court costs, transportation and other expenses.
For the life of me I can't figure out why somebody would not be released on their own recognizance after having served their maximum sentence.

Crime Prevention Tip

Never leave your bike unlocked. The latest in bike-theft prevention. From Chetumal, Mexico.

August 23, 2009

Build a better photo lineup

The traditional "6-pack" is flawed because people will pick the person most like the suspect. Showing pictures one-by-one is supposed to change there.

Here's an AP story by Jeff Carlton about the Dallas P.D.


I couldn't figure out this the whole let-the-terrorist-go thing the Brits did.

I think the New York Times may cut to the chase:
Colonel Qaddafi made his remarks as British and Scottish officials were doing their best to distance themselves from Mr. Megrahi’s release, which they insisted was decided without any pressure from London by Scotland’s justice secretary, and based solely on compassion for Mr. Megrahi’s terminal cancer, not Britain’s desire for multibillion-dollar Libyan oil contracts.
I see...

Well, I never trusted them limeys, anyway. Long live the spirit of 1776! Viva La France!

Besides, it's not like we would ever make any dumb foreign policy decisions because of oil.

[dramatic pause]

I'm just happy I can call my fries french fries again. And maybe tomorrow I'll have a nice freedom breakfast, you know, that breakfast with bangers and those crappy cooked tomatoes. And I'll add a toasted buttered freedom muffin to soak up the egg yolk.

Meanwhile in unrelated news, a Kentucky prison burns. As does north suburban Athens.

August 22, 2009

Mexico Decriminalizes Drug Possession

The story in the New York Times.
The law sets out maximum “personal use” amounts for drugs, also including LSD and methamphetamine. People detained with those quantities will no longer face criminal prosecution; the law goes into effect on Friday.
Too bad this won't stop the narco violence.

So, honey, how was your day at the office?

Check out this video. New Mexico is crazy, man (and I say that only because my wife is from there, ese)!

August 21, 2009

NYC Event, Tuesday August 25.

I'm speaking at my very own neighborhood book store this coming Tuesday, August 25, at 6:30pm. The new paperback edition of my book will be available (I still haven't seen it).

Seaburn Books. 33-18 Broadway, Astoria, Queens, New York.

Hope to see you there (or anybody there, for that matter).

Blue-Light Cameras

I'm generally not a fan of flashing blue light police cameras. I think they're a waste of money.

So in the interest of fairness I should point out that one in Baltimore recently got a shooter convicted.

Peter Hermann reports.

Not surprisingly, the victim wouldn't cooperate.

In an unrelated case, Hermann talks about a brutal racist attack on a elderly black man. Things like that don't help Baltimore's image any more than shootings in the Inner Harbor.


The world of CIs is a dirty world indeed.

Crazy goings on in the St. Louis PD.

August 20, 2009

Health Care or Prisons

Nicholas Kristof sounds off about our absurd priorities that funds incarceration instead of school and health care.

Did you know a black boy born today has a one-in-three chance of serving time in prison? That's right, not arrested, but prison. It wasn't that way a generation ago. It's not crime. Crime hasn't gone up (it's gone down). It's the war on drugs.

If one-in-three-white men served prison time, the war on drugs would have ended yesterday.

Food (or drugs) for thought

John Tierney writes:
Treating hard-core heroin addicts with their drug of choice seems to work better than treating them with methadone, according to first rigorous test of the approach performed in North America. In the study, the addicts who went to a clinic to receive injections of a heroin compound were more likely to remain in treatment and to refrain from illicit activities than were the addicts who were given methodone. The results are being published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“Methodone works decently well,” Ben told me, “but a lot of addicts just don’t like it, so they don’t go in and get treatment. The advantage of prescription heroin is that they’ll go in because they want it. It attracts a whole group of people who wouldn’t get treatment at all, so the likelihood is there’s less street use and crime as a result.”
I'm not certain what I think about this. But I'm not fan of methadone. In fact, I've often said, "Why not just give them heroin?" It certainly would cut down on crime. I don't think legal heroin would increase use. But what about free heroin?

HUGE!!! DRUG BUST in chicagoooo..... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

The "most significant drug importation conspiracies ever charged in Chicago" says the US Attorney.
Federal authorities have disrupted a massive cocaine operation that was bringing 1,500 to 2,000 kilos of cocaine a month to Chicago from the most powerful drug traffickers in Mexico, in what law enforcement is calling the most significant drug conspiracy ever to be broken up in Chicago.

Thirty-six people in Chicago and Mexico were indicted.
Authorities, led by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, are seeking to seize $1.8 billion in cash.
The whole story by Natasha Korecki in the Chicago Sun Times.

And so what? This will result in: 1) More money spend on prison (and yes, I see how this is not a good example of my general position on immigrants), 2) more violence (and police death) in Mexico, and 3) somebody else bringing in the drugs to supply the heroin and cocaine needs of Chicago and the Midwest.

Notice how there isn't even talk about this 1) will make our streets safer, 2) lower drug use, or 3) increase the street prices for the drugs. The last point is downright bizarre, because no drug bust ever seems to increase price (except in the very shortest of terms). Even I can see how if you disrupt a major supplier, supply should go down, and prices up. But that never needs to be the case.

Immigrants and Violence

In my gut I know that immigrants make neighborhoods safer (at least in this country). I also happen to live in and love a county where 46% of everybody is born in another country. That figure always amazes me... and when you consider the kids of immigrant parents, well, there's just not too much else left.

I get kind of patriotic and sentimental when I think of immigrants and America. My mom is an immigrant as were my dad's parents. Immigrants, past and present, are what makes New York City great and what's made America great. Compared to other countries (the Netherlands included), this is something the US does right. Relatively open borders, a laissez-faire attitude toward immigrants after they're here, and a constitutional right to citizenship for anybody born here (a response to white racism after the Civil War) seem to work pretty damn well, Nativist protests notwithstanding.

The latest issue of Homicide Studies is dedicated to immigration and the evidence, at least judging from this abstract and this one, too, if pretty clear. Immigrants do indeed make neighborhoods safer.

So You're Going to be on TV?

Today was my third time on TV. I love radio interviews. TV? I'm still not comfortable with it. Radio is kind of like real life. TV is a bizarre and totally different creature.

In case you're going on TV, here are a few things I wish somebody had told me before my first time.

1) Make sure you're going to be introduced in the way you want to be introduced. If you have a bio online, make sure there's a concise correct version. Often they'll take your info straight from your website, if you have one. Make sure they say the name of your school. That's important to your school. Author of [your book] is also good. (But do not expect any notable increase in book sales no matter how much media attention you get.)

2) Make sure you have a contact name. And there's a good chance it won't be the person who contacted you. Make sure you have a photo ID. Once you get past the front desk (today this was at 30 Rock, which is kind of cool because there really are little tour groups being led around just like you see in... 30 Rock!), you enter the TV studios and it's never obvious where to go. You're likely to pass at least a few people walking around. But they'll all avoid eye contact because they don't want to get stuck helping you. It's nice to be able to actually ask for somebody by name.

3) While you don't want to be late, there's no advantage to being early. There's a "green room" to sit in while you wait. Bringing something to read is a good idea. In a big building you probably won't get phone reception or public wifi. Of course it's a good idea to watch the show if you never have before so you know what style of host it has. But don't worry if you don't know. For what it's worth, they haven't read your book, either.

Makeup takes about 5 minutes. And right before you go on you'll get mic'd and given an earbud, with batteries clipped on the back of your pants. The audio person will come over your earbud and do a quick sound check. If you need water, make sure you have it. Don't be afraid to demand water, even on set. If you start yelling for water, it will appear. Bright lights and nerves will cause dry mouth.

4) It's always best to see your interlocutor. But there's a good chance you'll be sitting at a table, staring at a not-in-use teleprompeter with an ear bud in your ear. You don't see the host.

Today they put me at the kids' table when the host was standing all but 10 feet away from me. I have no idea why. But it makes for worse TV. It's hard to have a "natural" conversation when you're on camera but only have the verbal cues of a phone conversation. And think about it, who wants to be filmed when they're on the phone?

5) You can't see the host... except there is a little monitor in view. You can look at the monitor... but don't. Because if you do look at the monitor, you look all shifty eyed on camera. And then people think you're a lying bastard.

But it's hard not to look at a monitor with your picture on it. And when I look at the monitor, all I can think of is how fat and squinty eyed I look. I mean, my eyes are kind of squinty. But I'm not *that* fat. So if you're not next to the person you're talking to, ask one of the tech guys (like the guy who mic'd you) to point out exactly where the camera is. (It's at the top of the teleprompter box.) Look at the camera, even if you can't see it. And don't be afraid to ask the same guy to turn off the monitor, if it's distracting. Ironically, on TV, the odds are slim that there will be anything on that screen you actually need to see.

6) Once your segment is on. Always assume you're on camera. Because you might be. In a big studio the "on" camera will have a lit-up red light. In a remote studio, you'll have no clue. I would say act natural... but when I act act naturally I roll my eyes, pick my nose, avoid eye contact, and get easily distracted. You can't do any of that on TV. Or pace. Or lie on a bed. The last time I did a studio radio interview I had paper towels stuffed in my wet jeans, homeless-guy style. But nobody could see that over WGN radio!

You don't have to be perfect. And it doesn't matter if you're nervous (you never look as nervous as you feel). My own thinking is not to obsess with being as "polished" as a professional newscaster. It's futile. They got that job because they're good at looking polished. You'll look like yourself when you're comfortable. So I think not caring too much is a better strategy than, say, trying not to blink too much. So what if my jacket is bunched a bit? (Though guys could remember the pro-tip of sitting on your coat tails).

So sit there and try to look, if not exactly natural, comfortable. Keep staring forward, even though there's nothing to stare at. And smile a little as you're introduced. It will make your image on screen look less like the mug shot of a serial killer.

7) Unlike longer radio interviews, you don't actually have a conversation on TV. It's a strange medium. Roger Ebert said, "When writing you should avoid cliché, but on television you should embrace it." Unfortunately, that's true. There are some exceptions, of course. But generally you'll be "on" for about 5 minutes and in that time you'll get one or two or at most three bursts of speech. That's it.

There's no point to those notes and things you were planning on saying. Make sure you've got something to say right off the bat. And while it would be ideal to answer the question asked, it's better to answer the one you wanted them to ask than get pulled to place you don't want to be. While their show isn't about you, your presentation is. If there's something you don't feel comfortable talking about: don't. You don't owe them anything. It's not like they're paying you.

But keep in mind that the show is generally on your side. The show wants you to do well. So be energetic without being hyper. You are there because you're supposed to be the expert. Be confident. You're there because you know more than your host. But don't talk down to the viewers. But in the end the show isn't about you; the show is about the show.

8) When you're done, you may get a handshake from somebody who will probably tell you that you did great, whether or not it's true. The mic person will un-mic you. And that's it. And don't let the door hit you on the way out. Nobody will see you out. Go back to the make-up room and grap a wetnap to wipe off your makeup. Take a snack from the Green Room, if there are any. Go to the bathroom.

9) And then as you leave you'll wonder how you did. Sure, you could have done better. But you did good enough. Hopefully somebody who watched you will call or text and say something nice. And then hopefully you can find whichever black car is supposed to take you home. And then, days or weeks later, don't be afraid to watch yourself. Learn from it. You may not want to. But remember, what you're watching has already happened. It's history. It is what it is. Learn from it. Of course you'll look fat. (TV really does add pounds. People who look skinny on TV look bulimic in real life... and probably are). Yes, your voice really does sound that funny (and probably always has).

In the end only two things matter: A) Did you manage to not look a fool? And B) did you get to say some of what you wanted to say? And hopefully you had some fun.

As silly as TV can be, you may never have another chance to say so little to so many.

[updated in 2015, based on a bit more experience]

August 18, 2009

Conversations with Carlos Watson

Stanford Franklin and I will be on MSNBC's Conversations with Carlos Watson tomorrow, Wednesday. We'll be talking about drug legalization and our op-ed. The show is from 11am-12 noon, Eastern Time. I think we'll be on from 11:15 to 11:45. Check us out!

The Failed Drug War: Overdose Deaths

Here's a good example:

The Netherlands has about 120 drug overdose deaths per year. This is a rate of 0.75 per 100,000.

Meanwhile the US, with all our money and prisons and police and people who wish to "send the right message" has this problem:
The mortality rates from unintentional drug overdose (not including alcohol) have risen steadily since the early 1970s, and over the past ten years they have reached historic highs. Rates are currently 4 to 5 times higher than the rates during the “black tar” heroin epidemic in the mid-1970s and more than twice what they were during the peak years of crack cocaine in the early 1990s. The rate shown for 2005 translates into 22,400 unintentional and intentional drug overdose deaths. To put this in context, just over 17,000 homicides occurred in 2005.
That's a rate just under 7 per 100,000. So if we adopted dutch policies toward drugs (the dutch rate wasn't always so low, by the way) and could get our rate down to that seen in the Netherlands, we could save close to 20,000 lives per year. But we choose not to.

Somehow, according to prohibitionists, saving lives sends the wrong message. "If drugs don't kill, how will people know they're bad?!" I've heard the argument many times. It's pretty dumb. First of all, if drug don't kill, they're not so bad. Second, since our drugs do kill, why do we still lead the world in drug abuse?

How do you save lives? Some of it is shockingly simple. For starters:

1) Give out Narcan.

2) Pass good Samaritan laws protecting those who call ambulances for people who overdose.

3) Treat drug abuse like a health problem.

August 17, 2009

Pot farm starts forest fire


Right-Wing Rage

In America, Crazy Is a Preexisting Condition

So the birthers, the anti-tax tea-partiers, the town hall hecklers -- these are "either" the genuine grass roots or evil conspirators staging scenes for YouTube? The quiver on the lips of the man pushing the wheelchair, the crazed risk of carrying a pistol around a president -- too heartfelt to be an act. The lockstep strangeness of the mad lies on the protesters' signs -- too uniform to be spontaneous. They are both. If you don't understand that any moment of genuine political change always produces both, you can't understand America, where the crazy tree blooms in every moment of liberal ascendancy, and where elites exploit the crazy for their own narrow interests.

In the early 1950s, Republicans referred to the presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman as "20 years of treason" and accused the men who led the fight against fascism of deliberately surrendering the free world to communism. Mainline Protestants published a new translation of the Bible in the 1950s that properly rendered the Greek as connoting a more ambiguous theological status for the Virgin Mary; right-wingers attributed that to, yes, the hand of Soviet agents. And Vice President Richard Nixon claimed that the new Republicans arriving in the White House "found in the files a blueprint for socializing America."
The instigation is always the familiar litany: expansion of the commonweal to empower new communities, accommodation to internationalism, the heightened influence of cosmopolitans and the persecution complex of conservatives who can't stand losing an argument. My personal favorite? The federal government expanded mental health services in the Kennedy era, and one bill provided for a new facility in Alaska. One of the most widely listened-to right-wing radio programs in the country, hosted by a former FBI agent, had millions of Americans believing it was being built to intern political dissidents, just like in the Soviet Union.
Read the rest of Rick Perlstein's article in the Washington Post.

August 16, 2009

Just Say Yes

The Washington Post has an op-ed written by me, Peter Moskos, and Stanford "Neill" Franklin.
It's Time to Legalize Drug

Drug manufacturing and distribution is too dangerous to remain in the hands of unregulated criminals. Drug distribution needs to be the combined responsibility of doctors, the government, and a legal and regulated free market. This simple step would quickly eliminate the greatest threat of violence: street-corner drug dealing.

We simply urge the federal government to retreat. Let cities and states (and, while we're at it, other countries) decide their own drug policies. Many would continue prohibition, but some would try something new. California and its medical marijuana dispensaries provide a good working example, warts and all, that legalized drug distribution does not cause the sky to fall.

August 14, 2009

Washington Post Op-Ed

Stanford “Neill” Franklin and I have an op-ed scheduled to run in Monday's Washington Post. Needless to say, details will follow.

Major Franklin was the commanding officer at the Baltimore police academy when I graduated in 2000. Who would have thought, nine years later, we'd be writing newspaper pieces together?

I don't think we ever even spoke to each other back then. But we ran into other at an SSPD conference in Maryland last year.

[update: probably pushed back till Tuesday]
[update: back running tomorrow, Monday. You drug warriors are going to love this one.]

Prison Labor

In Mexico, on the road between Merida and Campeche, you pass a large prison (filled with people from Mexico City, they say). Lining the highway are a dozen or so stores selling hammocks and other labor-intensive hand-crafted good. They're made by prisoners.

Why don't we have this?

Good Guys 4 -- Bad Guys 0

New York City store owner and would be robbery victim shoots all 4 bad guys, killing two.

The Daily News has the best coverage:
The furious employee who had been pistol-whipped ran out of the store and leaned over the mortally wounded Footmon, cursing at him, witnesses said.

The worker went back into the store and dragged Morgan's body onto the sidewalk, yelling at him and kicking him, witnesses said.

"He stood over the body cursing him and shaking him, even though he was dead," said Matthew Viane, 38, who lives in the neighborhood. "He was screaming at him and stomping him. "He [the employee] said, 'You were going to kill me? Now you're dead!'"

August 13, 2009

August 12, 2009

Shameless Self-Promotion

Still haven't bought my book? It ain't like my blog pays the rent. Actually my book doesn't either, but I still want it to sell.

The paperback edition of Cop in the Hood is out and in stock!

Better yet, ask your local bookstore (and have them stock it).

At only $11.43 (from Amazon.com), even the cheapest of bastards can afford to buy one without resorting to late-shift shenanigans.

If you're a professor, think of how much your students will like you for assigning such a cheap book. Plus, they will respect you for assigning something good to read. Indeed, according to the latest polls, 87% of college students (a stat I just made up) love Cop in the Hood.

If you already bought the hardcover of Cop in the Hood, thanks! But you don't have the extra chapter on foot patrol. Still, even I, in good faith, can't tell you to buy my book twice. The American Interest article is a pretty good version of the new chapter.

A Kindle version is for sale, too.

And of course there's always free. Just go to your local library. That doesn't help me so much, but you can't beat free.

And you can always show your appreciation by posting positive reviews on Amazon. Those five-star reviews are always welcomed.

August 11, 2009

Really the last word on Gates. Really

In comments, Jack left a great link to this piece by Ruth Wisse, another Harvard professor. It is her "letter" to Skip Gates. Bold and very well written.
Dear Skip,

My first thought on hearing of your arrest was for your welfare, so I was relieved to learn that the case against you had been dropped and you were off to join your family on Martha's Vineyard.
It seems it wasn't the policeman doing the profiling, it was you. You played him for a racist cop and treated him disrespectfully.
Rather than taking offense at being racially profiled, weren't you instead insulted that someone as prominent as you was being subjected to a regular police routine? A Harvard professor and public figure—should you have to be treated like an ordinary citizen? But that's the greatness of this country: Enforcers of the law are expected to treat all alike, to protect the house of a black man no less carefully than that of white neighbors.
Since, inadvertently I assume, you have made the work of our police force more difficult than it already is, I wish that you would help set the record straight. You are the man to do it.
It's worth reading the whole piece in the Harvard Crimson.

August 9, 2009

Angels In Blue: The Virtues of Foot Patrol

An article of mine, "Angels in Blue: The Virtues of Foot Patrol," is being published in The American Interest magazine. They've given me permission to spread the article around. But you have to buy the magazine to read all the other articles (seems only fair).

The article is adopted from a new chapter in the paperback edition of my book, Cop in the Hood, which is due out later this month.

The pattern today is when police start driving, they never "walk foot" again. That represents a loss for community and police alike. Foot patrol officers knew their neighborhood because in a real sense they were part of it. Beat cops watched people grow up, get jobs, or get in trouble.
Beyond a few token patrols, police chiefs say foot patrol is impossible nowadays because there simply aren't enough officers to go around. But there aren't fewer police officers than there used to be; they're just assigned differently--riding in cars and chasing the radio. The reason police officers resists foot patrol is simple: They don't like it. In a car culture, cars are status. Walking is bottom-of-the-barrel duty, and tough work--when it rains you get wet.
Just as overtime pay drives discretionary arrests, extra pocket money would change the very culture of patrol. Officers need to
want to walk foot, and more money is a way to make them want it. Only with willing officers does foot patrol bring the best possible benefits.
Read the whole article here.

Amsterdam Party People (II)

This just in over the transom:
Went to Loveland Festival in Sloterpark yesterday and a great time was had by all except [name removed] who was found by security to have two pills [of ecstasy] on him. Without saying a word, the security guy brought him to cops who took him to the station. After 90 minutes of waiting (no cell phone use), a cop came over, talked to him, and said two pills with no record, you’re free to go. No record was made of the incident. That could have gone worse.

Back Home

I'm back from my whirlwind tour of southern Mexico. Yucatan, Chiapas, Campache, Tabasco, for two weeks, I ate and drank everything in sight with no ill effects.

Then on my first night in Baltimore I get sick. It put me off my game slightly today at the crab feast. But I still had a good time. Plus I won $50 in a raffle!

Thanks for all the good discussion while I've been gone. Mexico was great, but it's good to be home.

Unless, of course, you happen to call this prison in California your home. Bad riots there. I can't say I've ever experienced a prison race riot. But I can't imagine anything much worse.

August 2, 2009

Bob Herbert on Gates

Bob Herbert, a very good columnist has a powerful op-ed attacking the police sergeant and defending Gates' behavior. It is worth a read even if--especially if--you don't agree with it.

By saying that Herbert is a good columnist doesn't mean I agree with everything or even most of what he says. But whatever Herbert has to say, he says it well. I like reading him and thinking about his perspective.
The message that has gone out to the public is that powerful African-American leaders like Mr. Gates and President Obama will be very publicly slapped down for speaking up and speaking out about police misbehavior, and that the proper response if you think you are being unfairly targeted by the police because of your race is to chill.

I have nothing but contempt for that message.
Those who defend police behavior (as I often do) focus on the legality of specific situations. If the sergeant's report is correct as written, I have no doubt the arrest was legally correct.

Those who attack police behavior (as I sometimes do) see this one arrest as symbolic of a greater pattern of racist police behavior. An arrest can be legally correct but morally wrong.

Your opinion on the Gates' arrest probable depends on which perspective you like starting with. If you say, "What in the hell does slavery, Jim Crow laws, and a history of racism have to do with Gates' arrest?!", then you're on the side of Sergeant Crowley.

If you heard about this arrest and said, "Here we go again," then you agree with Gates.

Think of it this way: police are trained to think about "the totality" of the individual circumstance.

But society is more likely to judge collective circumstances in their totality.

Later in his column Herbert says, "While whites use illegal drugs at substantially higher percentages than blacks, black men are sent to prison on drug charges at 13 times the rate of white men."

One can look at all the individual cases of men in prison and say that each one is OK. But collectively, something is wrong.

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that all men in prison are guilty as charged. Is that enough? Is it enough to say there's no problem with the racial disparity in prison simply because all the black drug offenders behind bars are guilty? Or does it matter that blacks are 13 times more likely than whites to be in prison for the same crime?

Now personally I think it's a stretch to link, as Herbert does, Gates' arrest to institutional racism in the entire criminal justice system. But I do agree that something about our criminal justice system is racist (mostly the war on drugs) and that is terribly terribly wrong.