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by Peter Moskos

March 31, 2009

Everybody's doing it

So it looks like Ashley Biden, Joe's daughter, has been filmed snorting coke. So what? Our last three presidents snorted coke! It's a pretty impressive membership list: Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton [correction: Er, maybe not. See comments below]. Didn't seem to ruin their lives.

March 30, 2009

Memories

This is a story from way back when. I've never found a way to work it into anything I've written, but it's too good to go to waste:
Two cuffed men were seated on the curb on Bradford St. in front of their Lexus. We were all waiting for a wagon. I was helping guard them for the primary officer. They had broken out the car windows of one of their baby’s mothers. Another woman was pleading their case, “But you don’t know what she did to him!” She was correct. We did not know. Nor did we care.

As we waited, one of the prisoners said hello to a friend walking by and the two started talked casually. When the conversation was over and after good-byes were said, the primary officer asked the prisoner quite sincerely, “Let me ask you something. You’re sitting there in cuffs and you’re talking to that guy like nothing’s up? I don’t get it.” The prisoner responded, “That’s because we’re being arrest for nothing. So nothing’s up."

Shot in Drug Raid

Copp was unarmed when a deputy shot him in the chest at his off-campus apartment more than two weeks ago. West Michigan Enforcement Team officers entered the residence on a search warrant.

Copp’s attorney has said “a few tablespoonfuls” of marijuana were found in the apartment. Police have not released any details on what was found in the residence.
The story by Megan Schmidt in the Holland Sentinel.

Broken Windows, Subways, and Crime

The danger in New York City of subway cuts and transit fare hikes looms. Keeping the transit system in decent shape affects more than your commute to work. It’s a public safety issue. The proposed MTA “doomsday” service cuts puts the past 15 years of public-safety gains in jeopardy.

Many factors contributing to New York City’s crime drop, but a huge part was better policing and a focus on minor and not-so-minor quality-of-life issues, the so called Broken Windows. New York City’s great crime drop was both unpredicted and unprecedented, and it started on the subways. Broken Windows, as formulated by James Q Wilson and George Kelling, says that an unfixed broken window, figuratively speaking, is a sign that nobody cares. This leads to increased disorder, fear, and crime.

It’s easy to forget how bad things were in the early 1990s. The city was still seen as out of control and, as the New York Times wrote, fear was constant: “Crime, the fear of it as much as the fact, adds overtones of a New Beirut” in a city “bristling with beggars and sad schizophrenics tuned in to inner voices.” In 1990 2,245 were killed. Then crime started going down. It went down fastest in the subway.

Then transit Police Chief William Bratton focused on the Broken Windows of the subway: turnstile jumping, aggressive begging, and homeless people—many with stunning hygiene needs—using the subway as a free 24-hour shelter. In 1991, crime dropped three times as fast underground as above. By 1994, the subways were safer. Much safer. Felonies had dropped by one-third in three years. Successes in the subway told the city’s tax-payers that they could beat the criminals The great crime drop had swung into gear. A tipping point had been reached.

Over the past 25 years, many of the city’s broken windows have been fixed. As an improved transit system—started with investment and the virtual elimination of graffiti in the 1980s—lead the way. While academics continue to debate the causal link between disorder and crime, a Broken Windows’s approach resulted in a massively safer New York City and the simply concept that policing and quality-of-life issues matter.

Since then, tourist spending in New York City has doubled to $29 billion per year. Compared to that, the $1.2 billion needed to close the MTA’s budget gap is a drop in the bucket. Just a few muggings and “random” crimes shown on YouTube will cost the city and state far more than what the MTA needs to keep moving forward.

Dirtier stations, less maintenance, fewer station attendants, longer waits, and aggressive teenagers tell the public that nobody is in control. With increased fear, fewer people will use the streets and subways, giving criminals a greater opportunity to act. Fear and crime thrive in systems of disorder and decline. With crime and fear, suddenly a vicious cycle is born. That’s why the proposed cuts to MTA service are so dire.

It is not inevitable that tough economic times bring more crime. Murders in New York were up last year to 523 from 496 in 2007. This is worrisome, but not so much because the numbers are bad. They’re not. But in tough times, it is particularly important to prevent a slide back to New York City’s bloody past. Crime could go down even further. Canada has a few more murders than New York City but with four times the population. With continued good policing and public funding, we could move in that direction.

Or we could slip back. It is possible, with bad public planning and the self-fulfilling idea that crime and violence will increase. MTA service cuts affect more than service. The doomsday cuts can lead to a real doomsday with thousands of New Yorkers again being killed each year. In her classic book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs wrote, “We must understand that the public peace—the sidewalk and street peace—of cities is not kept primarily by the police, necessary though they are. It is kept primarily by an intricate, almost unconscious, network of voluntary controls and standards among the people themselves.” Service cuts equal more disorder, fear, and crime.

In tough economic times, the subway is the last service that should be cut, not the first. There’s no reason we can’t slide to New York’s dark ages. But it doesn’t have to be this way, but if we lose the subways, the city will follow. Subway cuts are the first step to breaking our city’s windows, the same windows that have so painstakingly been fixed over the past twenty years. And that will be the most costly mistake of all.

Hellhole

Is solitary confinement torture? I think so. The New Yorker has a story by Atul Gawande.

Why We Must Fix Our Prisons

Senator Jim Webb wrote a piece for Parade Magazine:
With so many of our citizens in prison compared with the rest of the world, there are only two possibilities: Either we are home to the most evil people on earth or we are doing something different--and vastly counterproductive. Obviously, the answer is the latter.
...
Justice statistics also show that 47.5% of all the drug arrests in our country in 2007 were for marijuana offenses.... And although experts have found little statistical difference among racial groups regarding actual drug use, African-Americans--who make up about 12% of the total U.S. population--accounted for 37% of those arrested on drug charges, 59% of those convicted, and 74% of all drug offenders sentenced to prison.
Read the whole article here.

Judge Gray on Drugs

Steve Lopez of the LA Times write about fellow LEAP member, Judge Jim Gray:
All right, tell me this doesn't sound a little strange:

I'm sitting in Costa Mesa with a silver-haired gent who once ran for Congress as a Republican and used to lock up drug dealers as a federal prosecutor, a man who served as an Orange County judge for 25 years. And what are we talking about? He's begging me to tell you we need to legalize drugs in America.

"Please quote me," says Jim Gray, insisting the war on drugs is hopeless. "What we are doing has failed."
The whole story is here.

March 29, 2009

Bad Judge

I can't think of anything much more unconscionable than a selling a kid to jail for kickback money. Then multiply that times 2,000 and you've got Judges Mark Ciaverella and Michael Conahan.
Things were different in the Luzerne County juvenile courtroom, and everyone knew it. Proceedings on average took less than two minutes. Detention center workers were told in advance how many juveniles to expect at the end of each day — even before hearings to determine their innocence or guilt. Lawyers told families not to bother hiring them. They would not be allowed to speak anyway.
The NYT article has more details.

March 28, 2009

The Dumbest Criminal?

Is this man the dumbest criminal in Pennsylvania? There's so much competition. Here's the story in the BBC:
Retired police chief John Comparetto was attending the meeting of 300 officers when he was allegedly held up at gunpoint in the men's toilets.
...
He described the suspect as "probably the dumbest criminal in Pennsylvania".
The suspect said, "I'm smooth."

Rockefeller Drug Laws

It's official. I don't like them. See it says so right here:
Professor Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore police officer who teaches law enforcement classes at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the Rockefeller laws "don't make sense from a legal level or a moral level. They treat every problem as if prison was the answer."

"Nobody leaves prison better than they were when they went in," he said. "Those laws had no deterrent effect. Frankly, I'm amazed that it took so long to get rid of them."
Read the whole story by Richard Liebson and Rebecca Baker in the Lower Hudson Valley (that's suburban NYC)Journal News.

March 27, 2009

Police converge in Oakland for funeral

The Oakland Tribune reports on this as does the San Francisco Chronicle: "The funeral will be unprecedented in at least one other respect - all 815 members of the Oakland Police Department are being allowed to attend."

It is set for 11AM.

March 24, 2009

He was a monster

I spend a lot of time defending the media. That's an unpopular position among 90% of police officers. Well I'm not going to defend the S.F. Chronicle here. Just yesterday the paper decided they needed to report "both" sides of the cop killings in Oakland. In their story, to my great dismay, they did what what lazy or dumb journalists do too often: talk to the criminal's family to present "both" sides of the story.

Sometimes there aren't two sides with the truth lying somewhere in between. It's up to professional journalists to figure right from wrong. The original story by staff writers Demian Bulwa and Jaxon Van Derbeken reported:
"He's not a monster," said his sister, 24-year-old Enjoli Mixon, who said her 4-year-old daughter's bedroom in a small apartment on 74th Avenue was the scene of much of the bloodshed. It was there, police said, where Mixon fired through a closet wall at a team of SWAT officers, who then shot and killed him. "I don't want people to think he's a monster. He's just not. He's just not."

"We're crushed that this happened," added the gunman's grandmother, Mary Mixon. "Our hearts and prayers go out to the officers' families. ... This shouldn't have happened."
...
His family said that while he was behind bars, Mixon married his childhood girlfriend, Amara Langston, and worked briefly as a janitor in Hayward once he got out. He was most recently released from prison in November, his family said.

Then, about three weeks ago, Mixon skipped a home visit from his parole officer, his family said. Mixon's grandmother said he had gotten angry at his parole officer because the agent had missed earlier appointments.
...
Mary Mixon recalled that her grandson said at one point that he was even willing to go back to prison as a way to get a new parole officer. She said, she did not know where her grandson had been staying for the past few weeks.
...
Mixon was having a phone conversation with his uncle, Curtis Mixon, just before the first shooting. "He said, 'The police just pulled up behind me. Let's see what's going on. I'll hit you back.'"

Curtis Mixon said, "He never hit me back."

Wow. Poor guy finally getting his life together after some bad breaks. Then he just flips.

Of course that's not the case. It turns out he is a monster.

In the reporters' defense, they've redeemed themselves somewhat with some good follow up stories. Jaxon Van Derbeken notes that Lovelle Mixon had been linked by DNA to a rape earlier this year.
Mixon's DNA was on file because of his conviction in 2002 for assault with a deadly weapon in an attempted carjacking in San Francisco, for which he served six years in prison.
...
Oakland police had also considered Mixon a suspect in the December 2007 slaying of Ramon Stevens, 42, who was shot and killed on the street near the corner of 86th Avenue and International Boulevard. Mixon was detained on a parole violation in February 2008, but homicide investigators could not make a case.

The victim's sister said a witness had told her Mixon was the killer, authorities said. But Assistant District Attorney Tom Rogers said Monday that the witness did not want to cooperate, and Mixon was freed in November.
...
In March 2002, Mixon and two other attackers tried to carjack a truck, fired a shot and pistol-whipped the driver on Mission Street near Sixth Street in San Francisco.
...
In a sentencing report, San Francisco probation officer Yvonne Williams wrote that Mixon's juvenile record was that of a "cold-hearted individual who does not have any regard for human life." She said state prison was the only way to "to rein in this man's proclivity for violence."
Demian Bulwa did a much better job following up with this story filled with interesting details about ghetto life:
"We've got to remove the word 'snitch' from our vocabulary," said the woman, who asked not to be identified because she fears retaliation.
...
The woman said she was hesitant at first to be seen in public telling officers what she knew.... Finally, the woman said, she found an opportunity to give her information to an officer she recognized.
...
She said she has been in trouble with the law in the past, but that on Saturday, "I wish I would have been a police officer."
...
Outside the apartment that SWAT officers stormed, a memorial for Mixon had flowers, candles and balloons. Notes read, "RIP Vell," " Money$" and "We gone miss u big cuzn." A plainclothes police officer went up to it at one point, stared at it for a second and then walked away, shaking his head.
...
Activists handed out flyers that invited people to a rally where they would "uphold the resistance" of "Brother Lovelle Mixon."

Many people rejected that sentiment, saying they were touched that officers had given their lives protecting others. They said they didn't understand why some were defending Mixon.

Police nailed a piece of plywood over the doorway of Mixon's sister's apartment early Monday morning, sealing it off. But curious neighbors pried it open and went inside to look around - infuriating Enjoli Mixon, who showed up later.

One neighbor, who admitted he yanked open the plywood and went inside, said he counted more than a dozen bullet holes in the walls inside the apartment. There was blood in every room, he said. The hallway outside was also scarred by apparent bullet ricochets.

Asked why he had gone into someone else's home, the man said, "I wanted to see if it was an overkill."

March 23, 2009

Smart Cop

I love smart cops. And I love cops than can write. After all, a lot of policing is about what you can articulate in writing. Here's an op-ed in the New York Daily News from NYPD Captain Brandon del Pozo. He's smarter than your average bear.
The bailout: What would cops and firefighters do to save the economy?

If companies like AIG could somehow be fixed by cops and firefighters, we'd be in much better shape. When terrorists attacked New York City on 9/11, cops and firefighters worked around the clock, in dangerous conditions, with no days off. Afterwards, many of them enlisted in the military and fought overseas to keep their nation secure. The need for self-sacrifice was obvious and they did not hesitate to do what was asked of them.
...
If a fire department accidentally set an occupied building on fire, you'd see its men and women working to put that fire out, ashamed and maybe working for free. The idea of demanding a huge bonus to correct their own mistake would seem vulgar to them.
...
Execs returning lavish pay they don't deserve is a good one, and we should take it as a first step toward getting their moral bearings back.

Read the whole piece here.

The Failure of Juvie Homes

The story in the LA Times:
Most children who enter group probation homes in Los Angeles County remain in lives of crime and drugs years later, according to a new Rand Corp. study.
...
The think tank's researchers began tracking nearly 450 youths who entered group homes in 1999 and 2000. The final survey, taken in 2007, located 395 of the original participants and found that 66% said they had done something illegal, other than using alcohol or drugs, in the previous year.

Thirty-seven percent reported being arrested within the previous year, and 25% had been in jail or prison every day for the previous 90 days. Female participants were less likely than male respondents to report recent criminal behavior.
...
"This was perhaps the most startling finding. Twelve of the 395 respondents were dead when we went looking for them, most of them due to gunshot wounds," Ramchand said.
...
Robert Taylor, who heads Los Angeles County's probation department, said in a statement to The Times: "We know that some group homes do not provide the kinds of services this population needs, and that is why there are fewer group homes today than there were when this population was in group homes 10 years ago."

Save our Prison? Shame!

"This is a major impact on a small community," said Paul Lashway, a Norwich resident and prison guard at Camp Pharsalia for the past 10 years. He is also a steward for the local corrections officers' union. "I thought we were trying to save jobs," he said. "Here, they're trying to take 'em."

Here's the story in the Washington Post.

I've said it before: prison guards don't get a say in sentencing reform. Prisons are needed to keep dangerous people away from non-criminals. That's it. Talking about prisons as any form of economic boost to the community is immoral.

The purpose of prisons is not to provide jobs. I don't want to pay poor white people to lock up poor black people. Prisons only make prisoners worse. There's got to be a better way.

Drug Cartel Violence Spills Into U.S. From Mexico

Surprised? You shouldn't be. It's just another sign of the failure of the drug war. What's our exit strategy?

Here's the story in the New York Times.

March 22, 2009

Gangsta Rap, Yo-Boys, and B-more.

So I'm trying to write and Schoolly-D's "A Gangster Story" comes on. I hear him say "B-more" and "yo-boy" and perk up.

I've always liked slang and wondered about the term "yo-boy" because it's so common in Baltimore's 'hood but I've never heard it outside of Baltimore (what's a "yo-boy?" You gotta read my book. You have, right? If not, here's a useful link to Amazon.com so you can buy Cop in the Hood). According to Schoolly, "yo-boy" was known to him in Philadelphia and used at least as far back as 1985. And yes, surprisingly(?) gangsta rap owes a bit of its existence to Charm City.

Get schooled by Schoolly:
I think it’s about time that we discuss, know what I’m saying, gangsta rap. The true story of gangsta rap, where it come from, actually. Settle down now. Roll up something. This is how it went, you know:

Back in 1985 I made this song called PSK, right? That’s a bad mother fucker, know what I’m saying. Am now, too. Shiit.

You know, I mean, this reporter from
Spin Magazine, right? He was doing this article on these little young gangstas down in B-more, you know what I mean, called the yo-boys. So, you know, he drove down there for the weekend to do this little piece.

But all weekend long, and shit, right, they kept playing this song: “Boom Platt Boom Platt Boom Platt.” Right? Know what I’m saying? ... All weekend long. What the fuck was that song? They was like, what? That was my man, Schoolly D, up there in Phili, man, shit, nigger (you know how a nigger says, talking shit).

He goes back up to New York City and he’s doing this story. And he still can’t get this song out his head and shit. "Boom Platt Boom Platt."

So he starts thinking it, right, you know: Pistols, cheeba, cars, gold, bitches, fast money, the fast life. That was that that gangsta life and shit, man. Shit. Know what I'm saying? Ganstas, gangtsa music, rap. He put all that shit together and came up with the term “Gangsta Rap.”

So, you know what I mean, that was when we first heard gangsta rap from that song PSK I did in '85. And it's still alive today.
I've figured out that that Spin article is the 1986 piece by Barry Michael Cooper, "In Cold Blood: The Baltimore Teen Murders."

I hadn't heard of Mr. Cooper. I should have. He's still active and lives in Baltimore. Here's a interesting interview of Barry Michael Cooper where he explains, among other things, how "crack made hip-hop very corporate."

Anybody got a copy of that Spin article I can read?

Shoe-Leather Research

It's a lazy journalist and an incompetent academic who writes a story based on the anecdotes of cab drivers, bartenders, and shoe shiners. But...

I was getting my shoes shined Friday afternoon in Baltimore's Penn Station and the shoe shiner and I were chatting. He was a black man, a bit older than me. Baltimore born and bred. West Side.

Snowing in New York, I said. Crazy.

He has family upstate.

No, New York City.

Snowing in the city? Crazy. Upstate is one thing.

Pretty bleak upstate.

Too quiet there, he said. I'm a city man.

Me too.

He quoted something out of the Bible. Kind of lost me there.

I asked him if things were getting better or worse in Baltimore.

"You want what you want to hear or you want me to be honest?" He looked me in the eyes and said the truth: "It's the same as it ever was."

He mentioned that he had a few other stands in other locations, too. But it wasn't easy to expand his business.

"Why?" I asked, thinking of the poor economy.

"I can't find any workers."

"Really? But there's lots of guys standing on the corner." This was a leading question because I knew the answer.

"Yeah," he said, "But of them kids have any work ethic."

All he wanted was somebody willing to show up on time every day and work. And he couldn't find it.

I mentioned that you won't get rich shining shoes, but it's honest work. My grandfather shined shoes. His grandfather taught him the value of honest work. Honest work. "That it is," he said, "and it keeps the lights from flickering. Know what I mean? It pays the bills."

The Wire's Realism

One of the issues that came up in Baltimore at the conference I was at is the realism of The Wire.

I say The Wire is about 75% - 80% realistic. Not 100%. But 74% ain't bad. And being "real" three out of four times is still about three times more realistic than any other cop show ever made.

But I'm judging The Wire from the perspective of a Baltimore Police Officer. And a former officer at that. So I loved it. But is it real? Well, from a police perspective, mostly. But I always wondered if The Wire is realistic from the drug dealers' perspective? I don't know. I'm not a gangsta. And neither, for that matter, were any of the writers.

Sure the guys on the corner looked real to me. That's how they look from the window of a police car. But what about from dealers' perspective? What do they think of The Wire. Sudhir Venkatesh asked them.

He wrote about it for his blog. I didn't read it at the time because I didn't watch The Wire till it came out in DVD. I didn't want anything spoiled. Then I forgot about Venkatesh's blog.

I still haven't read all nine posts yet.

[spoiler alert, but not for Season Five of The Wire but instead for those who want to read Venkatesh's postings from the beginning.]

If you want to cut the chase, here's the last post:
The Thugs informed me that they were not interested in watching the last 2 episodes of season 5 of The Wire....

"We’ve seen this s–t already,” Shine told me. “This is fun if you work all day behind a desk, or you’re sitting in some suburb. But for us, it’s like watching somebody make a movie about you — someone who doesn’t really know all that much about your life.”
It reminds of how when I was a cop the joy was taken from two of my favorite TV shows: COPS and Jerry Springer. COPS became a superficial portray of police work, often done very poorly. The Jerry Springer set was actually a very realist. Those people acting stupid and fighting? Yep. That's what police deal with most of the time. Both shows reminded me too much of work.

The Wire: The Conference

Anybody want to hear people talk about The Wire? In Leeds. The UK. You know, where the Queen hangs out.

It's in November. I'll be there. 'Ello Leeds!

Here's the call for papers.

Back from Baltimore

I just got back from a conference (the Eastern Sociological Society) in Baltimore. It was well organized and all three sessions were quite interesting. I got to meet old friends and new. My two contributions were speaking on a panel about the Baltimore Ghetto and also having the privilege of being the discussant for a panel on "The Wire" featuring (among others) William J. Wilson and Sudhir Venkatesh.

After lunch at Faidley's I joined a tour of the "Real Baltimore" and it went through the Eastern (yes, it was a classic "slumming" tour). The Eastern looks the same as it always was... but emptier. That's strange, because it always looked pretty empty.

But I'm thinking that since I was there (2001) the Eastern has probably lost about 1/4 to 1/3 of its population. [update: though one man was shot in the morning and another stabbed probably about 15 minutes after we rolled by the location.]

Baltimore overall is looking pretty good. It's a great place to visit... It's amazing how that whole new area between the harbor and Fells Point has just sprung up from nothing so quickly.

March 21, 2009

4 Police Officers Shot in Oakland

Here's the story.

Update (12:40am): Three of the officers have died, I just read.

"On Saturday, people lingered at the scene of the traffic-stop shooting. About 20 bystanders taunted the police."

Update (Monday 1pm): The fourth officer has been declared brain dead.

March 19, 2009

Beyond Hope?

Michael East is a veteran police officer in Saginaw, Michigan. He's also an excellent writer. He has a new book coming out. Beyond Hope?

Saginaw, not that you'd know, is a pretty messed up place of rusted industry and abandonment. It's lost about half its population. Even Habitat for Humanity is helping tear it down.

Mike's book is great. I read an early draft. But it won't be on sale for a few weeks.

This isn't even in the book. It's from an email from Mike. But it gives you a good feel:

Last Devil's Night, a few thousand volunteers roamed the city to help prevent Saginaw's residents from burning down these houses. We had numerous cops on overtime. My partner and I were assigned an East Side district and were told to check every abandoned house we could find and make sure the arsonists weren't setting them up to burn (wood piles, gasoline, etc). At one house we opened the door, saw most of the floor missing and said: "Fuck this, let's just do an outside perimeter check." We did and moved on.

Three days later some kids playing in the neighborhood went into the same house and found a woman who had been reported missing the week prior. She had walked inside, fell through the open floor, but her leg caught on a floor beam and it snapped her leg. She hung there, upside down, for God knows how long and died a slow death. She was inside, dead, the night we decided to skip that house. Creepy.

Good stuff.

A policeman's job is only easy in a police state

So says Ramon "Mike" Vargas (Charlton Heston) in Orson Well's 1958 "Touch of Evil" (thanks, Dave H.).

Two Peoria, Illinois, police officers were arrested in relation to a police stomping. Here's the story in the Peoria Journal Star.



I worry about publicizing such things because they make people think such behavior is normal for police. It's not. Such beat downs are not common. I didn't see them and it's not just because police weren't thumping people when I was around. And even if that were the case, great! Then all it takes it one decent cop to stop such things. And you know what, there are a lot of decent cops.

I just wish there more videos of cops doing good. Day-in-and-day-out, police put themselves at risk to keep the streets safe. Where are those videos? The problem is that when cops do everything right, the videos tends to be pretty boring.

In this video, I assume the cop wasn't moving his leg up and down because he had a twitch. It looks pretty bad. Do I have sympathy for the stomped guy? Not really. He's a drug-dealing, cop-running, and perhaps girlfriend-beating prick. But that still doesn't make it right to stomp the SOB. Besides, now he's going to win a lawsuit and get paid. Thanks a lot. Boy, you sure showed him.

I like to think that had that happened in front of me, I would have moved in to stop it. I'm pretty certain I would have. As soon as the stomping starts, you push the officer away and say, "What the fuck are you doing?!" End of story. But it's not.

Then when the video comes out I still get in trouble for not doing more. Even though comparatively I was the good guy.

Had I been there and seen everything, would I have turned in the cop? I doubt it. That same stomping cop may have saved the life of me or a friend some other time. That's what makes it so tricky. When you have a job where you need people to cover your back and save your life, you're going to cut them a lot of slack. How can you not? Hell, we all make mistakes.

Doing the right thing is never easy when you can't figure out what the right thing is. And even when you try to do the right thing you can get in trouble. So best not to see anything. Best to remain ignorant. It leads to what I call the Blue Wall of Ignorance. It's not the Blue Wall of Silence. That's overrated.

Let's say there was no video of this incident. Then nothing happens.

But the next time the officer who stomped the guy needs backup, maybe I'm a little slow to respond. I don't want to be around for whatever he does because I don't want to get in trouble for his actions. I don't want to get in trouble simply for being present. Best to get there after everything is done. But that attitude doesn't stop a beat down. Nor does it make anybody safer. Nobody wins.

Police that do bad things need to be socialized into good behavior by the vast majority of officers who do the right thing. But the system doesn't let it work that way. That's the real shame.

Police officer fired for neglect, cowardice after failing to shoot at gunman

Policing is one of the few jobs where "cowardice" can get you fired. Here's a fascinating story by Brendan McCarthy in the New Orleans Times-Picayune about a police officer fired for not shooting a gun man.
They see a man standing about 50 feet away in the street, pointing a gun. Pop, pop.
...
He chose to hold his fire and let the car crawl forward. His partner... would say later that she tried to step out, but that he ordered her back into the car. He said he thought they needed cover, that they hadn't had time to assess the situation.

Within seconds, the pops stopped. The gunman fled, with Neveaux in pursuit, his partner in the passenger seat.
...
According to the New Orleans Police Department, what Neveaux did was wrong. So wrong, in fact, that internal investigators cited him for cowardice and neglect of duty. High-ranking officials conferred and confirmed. After an administrative hearing, NOPD Superintendent Warren Riley fired Neveaux.
Neveaux's lawyer is Eric Hessler:
Nine years ago, Hessler faced a similar split-second dilemma and did what Neveaux didn't: He shot.

Hessler, then an NOPD officer, had come upon a shooting in progress.

The man firing his weapon, 23-year-old Steven Hawkins, turned toward him and fired, Hessler said. Hessler reached for his service weapon and fired back, hitting Hawkins once and killing him.

After the smoke cleared, police learned Hawkins, a carjacking victim, had been shooting at his attackers in self-defense.
...
The NOPD stood by Hessler and deemed the shooting justifiable. A grand jury cleared him of criminal charges.

The family of the deceased man sued in civil court, and a judge ordered the city last year to pay $700,000 to the man's parents.
Damned if you, damned if you don't. What would have I done? I don't know. I wasn't there.

Chicago Cop Votes "No Confidence" In Superintendent

It's generally not good to bring a Police Chief from outside a department.

A former FBI agent? That's not really good enough to be in charge in New York or Chicago or L.A.

The story in the Tribune.

St. Louis Police Department no longer accepts lost items

Shame on the St. Louis Police Department! Of course people should be able to turn over lost items to the police. Maybe it's just a minor gambit to get more money. I'll cool with that. After all, it's not like there's no vacant space in St. Louis to hold things.

Here's the story by Heather Ratcliffe.

March 18, 2009

Unrelated

I don't know what made me think of this website just now. I first saw it years ago and it just crossed my mind for some reason. It has nothing to do with police or Baltimore.

This woman rode around the abandoned Chernobyl area with nothing but a motorcycle [Ed note: kind of sort of. See comments below], a camera, and a giger counter.

I guess it does sort of remind me a bit of parts of the Eastern.

Abandonment. People used to live here. The pictures are incredible and strangely moving.

Eastern District Craziness

I have no special insight into this. I really don't know what to make of it. My first thoughts are give the guy a break.
The deputy major of the Baltimore Police Department's Eastern District has been suspended pending an internal investigation into allegations that he failed to disclose a series of text messages he exchanged with a man sought on a domestic violence warrant, days before authorities say he killed his wife.

Here's the Sun's report.
And Peter Hermann's.

March 14, 2009

Pay (most) Cops More

Port Authority of New York and Jersey is not a bad place to work. They run all the airports and most of the bridges. I got to say, I'm a little jealous that if I were a Port Authority Police Officer, I would be making $86,467 in base pay. Still, I wouldn't switch back. Police officers do risk more than professors. Plus, they don't get summers off.

You can check out all the Port Authority salaries online (search under public safety). And overtime? How can you make over $120K in overtime!?

There are a lot of good police officers risking their lives and working hard for too little money in Baltimore and other poor cities around America. Baltimore City police start around $41,000. These officers need more money. Most police need to be paid more (sorry my Long Island brethren, I think you're paid just about right).

Police should be paid more than sanitation workers and firefighters. Unlike the latter two jobs, most big-city police departments are well below their budgeted staffing levels. That's why Baltimore had to go Puerto Rico looking for cops (they found some, too).

Suffolk County has a starting salary of about $60,000 and top salary after 5 years about $100,000. And that's not including overtime. Plus, compared to policing in a poor rough city, the job is safer (and let's be honest, easier--though there are some poor rough parts of Long Island).

The result? No shortage of qualified applicants. You have to pay something like $100 just to take the civil service exam. You and 29,000 others.

Is $100,000 too much for a police officer? I don't think so. And you might notice one thing about well-paying police departments like the Port Authority and Nassau and Suffolk Counties on Long Island. You rarely if ever hear about scandals coming of these police departments. If you pay men and women like professionals, they're more likely to act like professionals. That shouldn't be a surprise. At some level you get what you pay for.

NYC pays $35 million for police-related lawsuits

I've always wondered and never knew how much police-related lawsuits cost the city. Last year it was $35 million for settlements related to NYPD action. That up 40% over the previous year.

The headline in the Daily News calls the $35 million figure "staggering." It doesn't strike me as that high. $8 a resident or $1,000 per officer? I got $8.

I was actually kind of hoping the number would be much higher. Then I could use the figure to justify higher police pay as saving money if it could reduce lawsuits.

Besides, for all agencies the city paid out $568 million in settlements and judgments last year. Now that's too high.

March 9, 2009

Police History: Patrol

This great historical tidbit is from the Edinburgh Review of July 1852. The original article, in pdf form, is here. The whole journal can be found on google books.

I discovered this through Marjie Bloy's excellent website on English history. She has a lot on Sir Robert Peel and early police (that's how I found it).
During the night they never cease patrolling the whole time they are on duty, being forbidden even to sit down. The police district is mapped out into divisions, these into sub-divisions, these into sections and these into beats, all being numbered and the limits carefully defined. To every beat certain constables are specifically assigned, and they are provided with little maps called beat-cards. The business of the constable on duty is to walk around his beat in a fixed time according to an appointed route. As soon as he has gone over it, he immediately begins his rounds again, so that the patrolling sergeant knows at any moment where the constable ought to be found unless something unusual has occurred. In this way every street, road, lane, alley and court within the Metropolitan Police District is visited constantly day and night by some of the police. The beats vary considerably in size. In those parts of the town that are open and occupied by the wealthier classes, an occasional visit is sufficient but where the character and density of the population is different, the throng and pressure of the traffic greater and the streets intricately designed the frequency of visits is increased. Within a circle of six miles from the centre of Kensington the beats are usually covered in periods varying from seven to twenty-five minutes and there are points which are never free from inspection.

When anything occurs in the district worth communicating the intelligence is conveyed from one constable to another until it reaches the station house, thence, by an admirable arrangement of routes and messengers to the headquarters of the central office in Whitehall. Then it can be radiated along lines to each divisional station-house to every constable. This rapid transmission of intelligence is important as regards the detection of crime but especially as a means of preserving the city from riot. The effectiveness of this was proved with the disturbances of 1832 [the Reform Act riots]. In case of emergency the Commissioners could use this system to collect all 5,500 men in one place in two hours. There has therefore been no need to call upon troops. All crimes have been reduced but, because of this system, especially felonies, assaults and larcenies. Few people now dare carry weapons. Indeed many criminals have moved elsewhere for safety and easier work.

Taxing Drugs

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's announcement that the federal government will no longer raid medical-marijuana dispensaries was cheered by California dealers as well as state legislators who seek to legalize and tax sales of the drug.
...
Marijuana is [estimated as] a $14 billion crop in California. Taxing the drug $50 an ounce... would generate more than $1 billion annually for a cash-strapped state that closed a $42 billion budget deficit just last month.

Read Stu Woo and Justin Scheck's article in the Wall Street Journal.

March 8, 2009

Always a day away

When you work midnights, there's no tomorrow. While you're up, everything is "today." Then, when you head home, you know you've got to be at work again on the same day. Tonight. Today. There is no "tomorrow." It never comes.

It gets early late out there

To all the cops working the midnight shift, here's to the start of daylight saving's time! One shorter night at work and an extra hour before sunrise. Life just got a little better.

Baltimore NAACP Vice President Arrested, Not Charged

The Vice President of the NAACP is out there copping like a junkie? He's arrested and then not charged. I'm shocked. Shocked.

WJZ reports:
Police say Staten, who is an executive committee member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Maryland conference, was in the driver's seat of a car that had stopped near Pennsylvania Avenue and Dolphin Street, which police say is a well-known drug market.

Officers in an unmarked vehicle say a man walked away from a large crowd of people huddled on a street corner and climb into the passenger seat of a silver-colored vehicle.

They wrote in charging documents that they watched a back-seat passenger hand cash to a man standing outside his window in exchange for suspected drugs.

Officers approached the vehicle and found a folded-up dollar bill containing suspected heroin and two pills of suboxone, also known as buprenorphine, a medication used to treat heroin addiction, in the possession of the back-seat passenger, Kevin Logan, 44.

Police found Staten in possession of additional suboxone pills inside a case, and in the driver's side door. They also recovered a half-smoked marijuana cigarette.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi says a passenger told officers that Staten had brought him to the area to buy heroin.

Staten and Logan were taken to Central Booking, where Logan was charged with two counts of drug possession. Staten, of Pikesville, was released without charges.

The Ed Norris Bike Ride

The Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #3 is pleased to announce and support the 1st Annual "Ed Norris Bike Ride" Fundraiser to be held on Saturday, March 28th, that will support the newly established Baltimore Metropolitan FOP Police Widows and Children's Fund.
How can this be? I'm all for bike rides and raising money for good causes, but I don't get it. My buddy Ed Norris is a convicted felon. Police are forbidden to associate with felons.

Granted, in Baltimore it's hard to go out and not to associate with some felons. A nice guy who served me beer was a felon. Now I pretended I didn't know that, but I always assumed that if the powers that were came down and tole me I couldn't drink there, I would have found a new bar.

Anyway, if you're not a police officer, by all means ride and raise money. If you are a police officer or a representative of the FOP, can you explain to me why Ed Norris is an A-OK felon but other felons aren't?

I guess this is what's on my mind: if you don't have sympathy for police officers hanging out with family members who are felons, why do you think it's OK for you to choose to hang out with felon Ed Norris?

March 7, 2009

How to Stop the Drug Wars

Long before the Simpsons did it, my brother started quoting ideas from the Economist just to sound smart. I'll be damned if quoting from them doesn't make him sound smarter!

If you don't read the Economist, you should. It's not an economics journal. Just get over the name. It's a world newspaper. But a magazine. And British. Like Time and Newsweek. But for smart folk.

The Economist is generally a bit too economically conservative for my tastes, but that's OK. It's still good. The Economist is good news reporting. It's what educated people read. And its got great high-brow fluff sections! Plus a killer obit.

I mention this not because I have a stake, but because the Economist has a bunch of stories this week about the war on drugs. They're against it.

To be honest, I haven't actually read yet the articles yet. I just got the issue in the mail today and a helpful heads-up in a comment.

But without having read it, I can pretty much guarantee that it's informative, interesting, and, more often than not, right. That's because it's the Economist.

March 5, 2009

Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight!

Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weiss is in contempt of court for not releasing the names of officers who have a least five citizen complaints filed against them since 2000. The story in the Sun Times.

And 7 Chicago officer broke rules by letting a 14-year-old to get a radio and go on patrol with a two-year veteran. The story in the Tribune.

March 4, 2009

Now Hiring $14.99/hour

Be a prison guard at the Eden Detention Center in Texas and work for the private (publicly traded) for-profit Correction Corporation of America. Get paid $14.99/hour (about $30K/year). Must be willing to work all shifts. GED and valid driver's license required.

According to their website:
CCA houses approximately 75,000 offenders and detainees in more than 60 facilities, 44 of which are company-owned, with a total bed capacity of more than 80,000. CCA currently partners with all three federal corrections agencies (The Federal Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement), nearly half of all states and more than a dozen local municipalities.

$99,000

Texas spends almost $99,000 per year for each incarcerated juvenile.

Reentry

Reentry is the fancy word for getting out of jail or prison and back into the real world. It's a big problem.

Would you hire a felon?

Here's a good story in the Times.

I Want My McNuggets!

Or I'll call 911.

Strip Searches

No longer allowed in Nassau County, Long Island, NY.
Judge Leonard D. Wexler found that the Fourth Amendment prohibits jail officials from performing such searches on every person sent to the jail, particularly those arrested on a misdemeanor or minor charge like a traffic violation, and those who cannot be reasonably suspected of carrying a concealed weapon or drugs.
I still say they're OK for Baltimore City. The courts may disagree.

March 3, 2009

Drug Bust Oscars

Peter Hermann has a nice article giving Academy Awards for drug busts.
So, if we're handing out Academy Awards for cocaine seizures, Bealefeld's Oscar might read "Best director for a drug bust," while Clark's might read "Best supporting director for a drug bust."
...
It is a sad reminder that the drugs keep pouring in despite year after year of "record seizures." Wouldn't be nice to see Bealefeld standing in front of an empty pallet declaring victory in the drug war?

1 in 27

One in twenty-seven Maryland adults are current in the correction system. Twenty-seven percent of those are behind bars. This is, sad to say, about par for the national average.

In Maryland, it costs $86 per day to lock a person up.

Cameras and Crime

Here's an article in the New York Times about the (weak) link between security cameras and crime prevention.

March 2, 2009

Mexico and the "Failed State"

Spin this all want, drug warriors, it's not good. From Ciudad Juárez. The whole story in the New York Times is here.
It was drug traffickers who decided that Chief Roberto Orduña Cruz, a retired army major who had been on the job since May, should go. To make clear their insistence, they vowed to kill a police officer every 48 hours until he resigned.

They first killed Mr. Orduña’s deputy ... together with three of his men. Then another police officer and a prison guard turned up dead. As the body count grew, Mr. Orduña eventually did as the traffickers had demanded, resigning his post on Feb. 20 and fleeing the city.
...
“I’m not going to give in,” [the mayor] vowed in an interview, welcoming the arrival of soldiers so that the traffickers will feel the heat even more.
Mexico doesn't need more heat.

How many days left till we win the war on drugs?

March 1, 2009

Strip Searches in Central Booking

These stories happen every now and then. "Respectable" person gets arrested and is shocked (shocked!) that they're strip searched in jail.

Did you not know that people get strip searched after being arrested? Well they do. Now you know.

If the idea that other people get strip searched doesn't bother you today, right now, while you're reading this, please don't be all bothered should it happen to you when you're arrested.

But really, it's not an outrage. Not in Baltimore's Central Booking. It really is for everybody's safety. No, it's no fun to be stripped searched. But if you're arrested, do you really want to be jail with other people who haven't been strip searched? Trust me, you don't. You may not know this, but there are lots of bad criminals in jail.

SWAT team reform

The Sun talks about SWAT-like teams.

Reporting the Police and Naming Names

David Simon, of The Wire, Homicide, and The Corner fame, has written a very powerful article in the Washington Post.

The Baltimore Police stopped releasing the names of officers involved in police-involved shootings. Personally, I like reading the names in the paper to see if it's anybody I know. Sure I could call up a friend and find out. But usually I don't. Odd are I won't know the officer.

I also know that if I had been involved in a police-involved shooting, I wouldn't want my name released. I'd have plenty to worry about without my name in the papers. Reporters love presenting "both" sides of the story. But for most police-involved shootings, there is no "other" side. Often, as hard as it is for some to believe, the police are simply telling the truth.

I wouldn't want to read about the bastard's mother saying what an angel her son was, at least since the last time he got out of jail for shooting somebody. I wouldn't want to read about "witnesses" (who weren't there) say how that white officer shot him in the back for no reason at all. No, I shot him because the S.O.B. was trying to kill me.

Yet names should be released. If nothing else, this policy isn't fair to officers who names are released. It leads one to think they're guilty. The department is being sued by one of them.

But what it comes down to for me is that deep down I strongly believe in the press (mistakes and all). My uncle was a newspaper editor before I was a cop. Before I ever held a gun I was raising hell writing for the Evanstonian, my high-school newspaper. You might believe in the Second Amendment; I believe in the First.

Freedom of the Press is listed in the First Amendment for a reason. As a free country, we need a free press. In a free society, police should be held accountable to the public. What's the alternative?

Read Simon's piece. He's a good writer. It'll make you think. And that good.
In an American city, a police officer with the authority to take human life can now do so in the shadows, while his higher-ups can claim that this is necessary not to avoid public accountability, but to mitigate against a nonexistent wave of threats. And the last remaining daily newspaper in town no longer has the manpower, the expertise or the institutional memory to challenge any of it.
Part of the reason this country is in such a mess right now is because not enough people know what's going on. They don't read newspapers. They don't know the facts. They're ignorant.

Talk radio and the morning zoo is not a recipe for a well-reasoned worldview. Even the best TV news is horrible (except for the NewsHour). Between the right blaming "The Media" for almost everything (the answer to media bias is more media) and the economic realities killing the newspaper business, I worry. A less powerful press is not good for our country or our freedom.

Rockefeller Drug Laws Near End

With [David] Paterson in the governor’s mansion and Democrats in control of both houses of the State Legislature, an aggressive effort is under way to finally dismantle what remains of the stringent 1970s-era drug laws, which imposed stiff mandatory sentences as a way to combat the heroin epidemic then gripping New York City.
Here's the story in the Times.