About . . . . . . Classes . . . . . . Books . . . . . . Vita . . . . . . . Links. . . . . . Blog

by Peter Moskos

April 30, 2010

Enlightening and Authoritative

It's not too late to read my book. Don't take my word for it. Take Sean O'Donnell's of the Baltimore Republican Examiner:
For anyone interested is what being a police officer in Baltimore City is really like, Peter Moskos' in-depth, academic, and realist account in Cop in the Hood is a must-read.... Whether one agrees or not with Moskos' opinion on drug legalization, one will most certainly enjoy this enlightening and authoritative work on policing a rough area of Baltimore City.

Deaths in Mexico Drug War Pass 22,000

Not the government wants you to know.
Immediately after Calderon came to office in late 2006, he deployed up to 50,000 troops in a frontal battle with narcotics cartels, a move that drew widespread praise for its courage. More than three years later, the pace of killings is soaring and public security worries are beginning to affect the tourism industry, which employs nearly one out of eight Mexicans.

Calderon has earned high praise in Washington.
Read the whole article by Tim Johnson.

Ending the drug war in Mexico is one way to curtail illegal immigration in the U.S. I'm just sayin'.

Ex-police officer Pogan convicted

This is the guy who pushed over the bicyclist in Times Square. Pogan was convicted of filing false statements (saying that he was assaulted by the victim). Pogan was also convicted of a misdemeanor for attesting to the complaint's truthfulness.

Patrick Pogan, who was only on the job for 11 days, was acquitted on assault charges. Judging from the video, he looked guilty to me. But police should be given benefits of doubt on use of force. And I wasn't in the court room or on the jury. So I'll pipe down on the assault charge. The important thing is that Pogan was convicted and won't be getting his job back. Good riddance to him. The NYPD can do better.

April 29, 2010

Immigrants make up four-fifths of those arrested!

This just in.

Only one-fifth of those arrested are natives of the United States. Four-fifth are foreign-born immigrants. According to the New York Times:
Emigration has thrown upon our shores many vicious characters, and a still larger number of needy and ignorant persons, who, under the influence of over ten thousand [drug dealers] become recruits to the army of law-breakers.become recruits to the army of law-breakers.
The vast majority of immigrants are charged with and guilty of drug crimes. So says New York City's quarterly police report.

From 1859.

By 1875, immigrants were 68 percent of those arrested. (Of course by then many of the "native-born" Americans were children of immigrants.)

Seventy-one percent of the immigrants arrested (and 41 percent of the total) were Irish. Germans--at 15 percent of immigrants and 8 percent of the total--were a distant second. African-Americans? 1.5 percent.

source: New York Times. November 19, 1859. “The Metropolitan Police: Quarterly Report of Superintendent Pillsbury.” pg. 1. And August 6, 1875. “Three Months’ Police Work: Quarterly Report of the Commissioners.” p. 10. "Drug dealers" replaced "grog-shops." And the "drug crime" was the use of "spirituous liquors," responsible for 84 percent of arrests, according to the 1859 report.]

Shhhhhhhhh.... (II)

I thought I'd just let all you anti-American city-living immigrant-loving pro-crime socialist fascists communists know what Real Americans are thinking.

This is an email being forwarded around conservative circles. (For some reason I can't figure out, and you can't see it here, conservative-leaning email tends to use a VERY large font and is often in color, is this case blue.)
Dear President Obama:

I'm planning to move my family and extended family into Mexico for my health, and I would like to ask you to assist me.

We're planning to simply walk across the border from the U.S. Into Mexico, and we'll need your help to make a few arrangements.

We plan to skip all the legal stuff like visas, passports, immigration quotas and laws.

I'm sure they handle those things the same way you do here. So, would you mind telling your buddy, President Calderon, that I'm on my way over?

Please let him know that I will be expecting the following:

1. Free medical care for my entire family.

2. English-speaking government bureaucrats for all services I might need, whether I use them or not.

3. Please print all Mexican government forms in English.

4. I want my grandkids to be taught Spanish by English-speaking (bi-lingual) teachers.

5. Tell their schools they need to include classes on American culture and history.

6. I want my grandkids to see the American flag on one of the flag poles at their school.

7. Please plan to feed my grandkids at school for both breakfast and lunch.

8. I will need a local Mexican driver's license so I can get easy access to government services.

9. I do plan to get a car and drive in Mexico, but, I don't plan to purchase car insurance, and I probably won't make any special effort to learn local traffic laws.

10. In case one of the Mexican police officers does not get the memo from their president to leave me alone, please be sure that every patrol car has at least one English-speaking officer.

11. I plan to fly the U.S. Flag from my house top, put U S. Flag decals on my car, and have a gigantic celebration on July 4th. I do not want any complaints or negative comments from the locals.

12. I would also like to have a nice job without paying any taxes, or have any labor or tax laws enforced on any business I may start.

13. Please have the president tell all the Mexican people to be extremely nice and never say critical things about me or my family, or about the strain we might place on their economy.

14. I want to receive free food stamps.

15. Naturally, I'll expect free rent subsidies.

16. I'll need Income tax credits so although I don't pay Mexican Taxes, I'll receive money from the government.

17. Please arrange it so that the Mexican Gov't pays $4,500 to help me buy a new car.

18. Oh yes, I almost forgot, please enroll me free into the Mexican Social Security program so that I'll get a monthly income in retirement.

I know this is an easy request because you already do all these things for all his people who walk over to the U.S. From Mexico. I am sure that President Calderon won't mind returning the favor if you ask him nicely.

Thank you so much for your kind help. You're the man!!!
Of course half that stuff isn't true. But I in no way will defend Mexico's treatment of immigrants. It's shameful (just ask a Central American making the way through Mexico) and hypocritical (for a country that advocates for their emigrants in the U.S.).

But we Americans hold ourselves to a higher standard. Right?

April 28, 2010

Shhhhhhhhh....

After yet another of my facebook friends posted this, I thought I'd just let all you Real Americans know what we anti-American city-living immigrant-loving pro-crime socialist fascists communists are up to. (But please don't tell The Party that I'm the one that let the cat out of the bag or else Obama's minions will send me to one of those "health care" re-education camps.)

Tim Wise's "Imagine if the Tea Party Was Black."
Imagine that some of these protesters--the black protesters--spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict in the event that laws they didn’t like were enforced by the government? Would these protester — these black protesters with guns — be seen as brave defenders of the Second Amendment, or would they be viewed by most whites as a danger to the republic?
...
Would the protesters be seen as merely patriotic Americans voicing their opinions, or as an angry, potentially violent, and even insurrectionary mob?
...
And this, my friends, is what white privilege is all about. The ability to threaten others, to engage in violent and incendiary rhetoric without consequence, to be viewed as patriotic and normal no matter what you do, and never to be feared and despised as people of color would be, if they tried to get away with half the shit we do, on a daily basis.
Wise's piece reminds me of a funny old Boondocks comic from years ago when Huey learns that black people aren't excluding by the 2nd Amendment. (What a shame the later TV show wasn't so brilliant--and Huey was voiced by and sounded like a girl.)

[The teacher in me cannot help but ask: shouldn't it be "Imagine if the Tea Party *WERE* black"? Hmmm, maybe Wise, like me, must have gone to one of them public "schools." I was never too good with the conditional case either. I guess it's hard to teach grammar when you spend all that time indoctrinating kids with multiculturalism, Ebonics, gay sex, and new math. And speaking of Ebonics, among conservatives it's long been a symbol of everything screwed up about liberal ideas. But of course--like most conservative hysteria--that idea is a lie. No school district ever actually proposed to teach Ebonics. The idea by the Oakland school board was to get more state funding to teach English. By labeling Ebonics as a foreign language, the schools could get funding designated for foreign languages... and then going to other school districts with larger Spanish-speaking populations. That was the gambit. It wasn't such a bad idea.]

Drug Crackdowns Increase Killings

And Mexico is no exception.

Arizona Immigration (III)

"If immigrants suddenly disappeared and the country became immigrant-free (and illegal-immigrant free), crime rates would likely increase." From "How Immigration Crackdowns Backfire" by Steve Chapman in Reason.com"
That's not to say Arizonans don't have a right to be upset when Mexicans trespass across private land on a regular basis. But you could solve that problem by making it easier for them to immigrate legally.

It's also worth remembering that this used to be a rare phenomenon. What made it common was not a new avalanche of people coming to the United States without permission. It was a federal offensive to intercept them in major border cities where they used to arrive.

"Closing the old entry points diverted them into places which didn't have many undocumented immigrants before," Princeton University sociologist Douglas Massey told me. Instead of sneaking into San Diego or El Paso, they are prone to entering somewhere else—often in the Arizona desert, where the chance of being caught is lower.

April 27, 2010

Immigrants in Arizona (II)

Nothing about this law is good. It is even worse that I first thought. When I wrote the previous post, I didn't realize that individual police officers are being required to enforce that law. That certainly makes no friends in police circles. It is stupid to limit police discretion.

Police are supposed to demand proof of legal residency from any person they lawfully contact and have "reasonable suspicion" that the person is an unlawful alien. Then it states that all illegal immigrants are criminals (being present makes them trespassers [see correction below]).

How is this different that Nazis criminalizing the Jews and them rounding them up for their crime of being present? If the best you can answer is, "well, we're not going to send Mexicans to the gas chambers," then you really need to raise your bar of morality.

How the hell can so-called anti-government conservatives and tea-party people (and John "I used to stand by my principles until I lost an election" McCain) support such a totalitarian big-government law? Oh, because they're not anti-government. They're just anti this government. The democratically elected government. I mean, if you're really just anti-government, there are libertarians out there you can rally around and vote for.

Warning to Republicans: if you haven't already, you're slipping off the deep end. On the plus side, if this is considered conservative, it makes liberals (or "libs" as you like to say) look good.

I don't think there's any chance this law will pass constitutional muster. But God save us if it does. And regardless, that test is years away. Reasonable suspicion? Oh, it's come such a long and scary way from Terry v. Ohio.

In 1968, Terry made frisking a person for weapons based on "reasonable suspicion" constitutional. This decision introduced the "reasonable suspicion" concept and said it is what is needed for a stop or frisk (the Fourth Amendment's "probable cause" is needed for a search or arrest). Terry was an eight-to-one decision.

Justice Douglas was the one. It is too bad that his dissent has become more and more prescient:
To give the police greater power than a magistrate is to take a long step down the totalitarian path. Perhaps such a step is desirable to cope with modern forms of lawlessness. But if it is taken, it should be the deliberate choice of the people through a constitutional amendment. Until the Fourth Amendment, which is closely allied with the Fifth, is rewritten, the person and the effects of the individual are beyond the reach of all government agencies until there are reasonable grounds to believe (probable cause) that a criminal venture has been launched or is about to be launched.

There have been powerful hydraulic pressures throughout our history that bear heavily on the Court to water down constitutional guarantees and give the police the upper hand. That hydraulic pressure has probably never been greater than it is today.

Yet if the individual is no longer to be sovereign, if the police can pick him up whenever they do not like the cut of his jib, if they can ‘seize’ and ‘search’ him in their discretion, we enter a new regime. The decision to enter it should be made only after a full debate by the people of this country.

[Linda Greenhouse has an excellent op-ed in today's New York Times.]

[I based my info on the New York Times, which was wrong: "An earlier version of this Op-Ed essay referred incorrectly to the provisions of the new Arizona immigration statute. The version of the bill signed by the governor no longer includes a section under which undocumented immigrants would be guilty of trespassing for being on Arizona soil."]

April 26, 2010

Good shooting

Officer with good aim, lucky to be alive.

Immigrants in Arizona

I try and face most issues objectively. But not this one. I am pro-immigrant. My mom is an immigrant (from Germany) and my father's parents were immigrants (Greeks from the Ottoman Empire on an Italian passport from what is now Albania).

New York was founded on illegal immigrants (hell, America was founded on illegal immigrants). Nativist bastards hated your immigrant ancestors, too. Especially if you are Irish. Don't forget that. And no, the immigrants of today are not so different from your parents, grandparents, or great grandparents. They were good people, most of them. And you turned out OK. And the difference between legal and illegal is just a matter of law. I'm for amnesty. Does that mean open borders? No. But we could be more open.

I do think native-born manual workers have a legitimate gripe. Nothing is clear cut. And I think there is a legitimate argument about immigrants in border states being a burden on local schools and hospitals. But no, I don't think we have an immigrant "problem." We need more immigration, not less.

If an immigrant, legal or illegal, commits a serious crime, I'm all for deportation. That's a luxury we have. But perhaps what bothers me most about anti-immigrant sentiment is the idea that immigrants are a crime threat. Immigrants commit less crime than native-born Americans. Many people don't know that. Some people are just so filled with racism and hate that they refuse to believe it. Shame on you.

About 10 percent of my students have two American-born parents (I ask). I assume some if not many are illegal (I don't ask). I live in a city where 40 percent of people are foreign born. 40 percent! And that's not even counting their children. That's what makes New York great. That's why I live in Queens, which is majority immigrant.

Maybe I'm biased growing up in Chicago and now living in New York. And neighborhoods with immigrants (legal and illegal) can be a bit seedy and poor, but they're generally interesting, safe, and have great food.

Messed-up cities and states, usually without too many immigrants, tend to be the most anti-immigrant. But for messed-up areas (and yes Baltimore, I'm thinking of you) immigrants are the solution, not the problem. Part of the reason they're messed up is because there are no immigrants!

And living in New York, a pro-immigrant policy is a security issue. Crime gets solved and terrorism gets prevented because people talk to police (and rat out the criminals). If police enforce immigration laws, immigrants get pushed underground. Nobody snitches. Crime goes up. New York gets bombed.

I hate to say it, but I imagine your average Arizona cop loves this new law. If you're filled with hate for immigrants, it's a gift. But even if you've got nothing against illegals per se, it's a tool.

For now I'm happy to just say, "f*ck Arizona." If Arizona doesn't want illegal Mexicans? Let Arizona stagnate. I hope all the Mexicans there pack up and move to my neighborhood. But if the anti-immigrant spirit spreads, I'll get more passionate. Rounding up people for not having their papers in orders in most definitely not American.

April 17, 2010

Perlman Place Demolition

The Baltimore Sun has a video.

It's always a bit sad to see people cheer the destruction of a city block. Of course this block was already destroyed. Now it's just a matter of tearing down empty shells of brick. Everything of value has been stripped. Now it's just a place for trash, wild animals, and crime. As sad as it is, for residents and police, a vacant lot is much better than a vacant building.

One-block streets in the Eastern have always been a pain in the ass. It's like where the gangrene starts. Just mention these names to police and watch them wince. There was the 2300 block of Crystal Ave, Henneman Ave, N Register, the 2000 block of Ellsworth, the 2200 block of Prentiss Place. Some of these places aren't even named on Google Maps. Next time you're driving though Baltimore, just try and finding 1611 Hakesley Place. First you need to find Iron Alley.


View Larger Map
Oh, there it is. That's Iron Alley (RIP Vincent Adolfo). And it's the only way in or out of Hakesley Place. Just go up there and make a left. I dare you. God save the officer who calls a Signal 13 in the rear of 1600 Hakesley Place, odd side.

Looking at a better map, I can even see names I don't recognize. Maybe I'm getting old, but I guess they were already vacant when I was there. I don't remember ever getting a call for Terrell Place, Eareckson Place, or Lancing Ave.

And even though it wasn't a one-block street, I'll just throw in the 700 block of N. Port for good measure. What a pain that block was. East of N Rose things got better. But I didn't police east of Rose.

And the alley streets (at least that's what I called them) weren't much better. Here's the 900 Block of N Duncan on a beautiful Spring day:


View Larger Map
And that's the street. Then there's the alley (pan to the right). And best of all (God bless Baltimore) the alley off the alley. My front door used to be in an alley off an alley. I had a PO Box and no chance of newspaper delivery. Hell, the 2000 census never found me. And I wasn't exactly hiding.

When I rummaged around vacants in the Eastern or watched the sun rise and trains go by from the 1300 Block of N Dallas (my favorite spot at dawn), I couldn't help but think, "there used to be families here." If you squinted really hard you could even make out ghosts of normal family life in some of the ruins: leftover broken furniture, tacky wallpaper, and console TVs (funny how those became worthless). There was almost never anything left of value. Just rubble and trash.

Though if anybody could scavenge me a marble stoop and a Formstone plaque, I'd be much obliged (I'm not kidding about the Formstone plaque).

How Not to Pass a Sobriety Test

video

April 16, 2010

RIP Daryl Gates

[click here for recent posts]

The career of Gates should not be celebrated. My sincere condolences to his family and those who loved him. Seriously. But LA Police Chief Daryl Gates didn't like to give breaks to other people. So why should I give him one?

Gates is still popular among conservative law-and-order types. Drugs on a block? Send in an armored tank. Casual drug users? "Taken out and shot." Oh, he later said those words were just "calculated hyperbole." You know, to get attention. Well he got mine.

I wonder what Daryl Gates's position was when a 16-year-old punk punched one of his police officers? Probably charge him as adult and throw away the key. If only that had happened to Gates when Gates was a young cop-punching punk we might have been saved his rule. But Gates did not live by the Golden Rule.

It's not like Gates was born on third and thought he triple. It's more like he got on first after being hit by a pitch. Then advancing to second on a passed ball and stole third. Then he thought he hit a triple.

Gates got a lot of breaks in life. After not being charged for assault after punching a cop (break #1), Gates got his life in order. Military veteran Gates gets hired as a cop because of an affirmative action program for veterans (break #2). Soon, because of some unknown connections (at least unknown to me), he becomes the driver for Chief Parker (break #3).

There's no merit exam to become the chief's driver. Gates must have had a good rabbi. The funny thing about commissioners' drivers is that they very often go on to become police commissioners. "Well," goes the joke I heard years ago from Bill Bratton, "Commissioners sure know how to pick the best drivers. That's why they always end up rising so quickly in the ranks!"

Based on Gates political connection (break #3), he becomes police chief (break #4). Now let's look at some of the lowlights of his 43-year police career, the last 14 of which he was in charge:

1) Gates pissed off just about everybody who wasn't white and conservative (which explains a good part of popularity among those who are).

2) Gates was a racist SOB. Exhibit A is his observation that black people's arteries don't open like "normal people." His apology, something about cardio-vascular disease, was even weirder. But there's more to his racism than just this one line.

3) Operation Hammer.

4) Gates set armored cars into troubled minority neighborhoods to "send a message." I'm not exactly certain what that message is.

5) Gates helped establish SWAT. The jury is still out on if this good or bad.

6) Gates helped establish D.A.R.E. The jury has settled this one. D.A.R.E. does not work. It actually increases drug use. Gates could not keep his own children drug free. Please don't trust him with yours.

7) He established C.R.A.S.H., the unit that gave Rampart a bad name and led to the worst police corruption/brutality/murder scandal in police history!

8) When the L.A. Riots broke out, Gates was nowhere to be found. I guess he had somewhere more important to be.

9) Many people (myself including) blame Gates for the LAPD's leaderless withdrawal from the initial trouble at Florence and Normandie. It was this withdrawal that almost killed Reginald Denny. It was this withdrawal that let much of the city go to hell.

Fifty-three people were killed and thousands injured. Hundred of millions of dollars in property destroyed. I think we've kind of forgotten just how big this was. The whole nation was on edge. This riots certainly had a big impact on me. On the day of the verdict I got out of the subway in Manhattan and saw a crowd of scared women running through the street holding their shoes in their hands. Somebody had gotten aggressive with a garbage can half a block away. I had thought we had left this this "burn down our city" thing back in the early 1970s. The LA Riots woke me up and were one of the reasons I became interested in police.

10) Gates gave police "professionalism" a bad name by somehow convincing many people that "professional" police need to be clean-cut white guys. And also effed up the entire LAPD. He left a city in ashes and a police force mired in corruption and brutality. It took him 14 years as chief to accomplish all this.

The riots also broke the tacit agreement Gates had with the public. "You give me free reign to do 'what needs to be done,'" Gates always kind of implied, "and I'll keep 'them' in line and you safe." But the L.A. riots ended any charade of effective leadership. The Christopher Commission was pretty damning.

Once things settled down, people wanted Gates out. It was only then that we learned he couldn't be fired. Such was the final ignominious legacy of the so-called "professional" movement in policing. The police had managed to completely separate themselves from the public and from politics. Hey, politics ain't perfect, but it's better than a Dictator Gates. And dig this irony: when the riots broke out, Gates was at a political fund raiser!

I'm not certain how the city finally got Gates to resign. I suppose they gave him a golden parachute or something (break #5). He never did apologize or accept any blame for his bad leadership. The closest he came was saying, "Clearly that night we should have gone down there and shot a few people.... In retrospect, that’s exactly what we should have done. We should have blown a few heads off."

L.A.'s mayor said Gates had, "brought Los Angeles to the brink of disaster just to satisfy his own ego." Gates later dismissed Rodney King as, "a no-good S.O.B. parolee who has never been able to find himself ever since."

Had Gates been a successful police leader, perhaps we could then debate the merits of his horrible public posture. No matter how good his get-tough hate-filled rhetoric makes some police feel, if you want the politically incorrect truth, here it is: Gates failed. He was a bad police chief.

His tough-talk tough-action approach didn't work. It didn't work in his personal life (two failed marriages and a son lost to drug abuse). It didn't work in the city of Los Angeles.

When Gates became chief in 1978, there were 678 murders in L.A. After 14 years at the helm, homicides increased 61 percent (1,092 murders in 1992. The population increased about 20% during this time).

Let me put it another way. Over the past 40 years the average number of murders per year without Gates in charge, 522. With Gates in charge? 876. Well done, Sir! Way to get tough on crime and criminals.

So Gates was a racist, hypocritical, egoistical, affirmative-action baby. Worse than that, he was ineffective. Daryl Gates is best remembered as a warning and not a role model. He didn't tell the truth other people were afraid to say. He misled the public, misled the police, and stoked hatred and racism.

Since Gates departure, homicides have gone down every year. In 2009 there were 315 murders.

"Just the facts, Sir. Date of birth and description of the looters?"

Daryl Gates dies

Forgive me if I don't send flowers to his funeral. What an SOB.

April 15, 2010

Dog bites car

A billion here and a billion there...

A study by Daryl Fischer shows that 94 percent of Arizona state inmates are repeat or violent offenders. That "or" is important. "The myth that we're filling our prisons with first-time drug offenders is not true." Well sort of. It is generally true (with some notable exceptions) that people don't do prison time for non-violent drug possession.

But this hardly supports a lock-em-up mentality, which seems to be the goal of the study: "The state is getting its money worth for every tax dollar it spends on the prison system." I find that hard to believe. About 2,000 Arizona men and women are in prison for first-time non-violent offenders. And only 52 percent of state inmates have been convicted of violent offenses. That's nothing to be proud of. Not when the state's correctional budget is one billion dollars.

Baltimore Police Department Suspends Comstat

Last week the BPD announced that they were suspending comstat. I'm not certain if that's cutting edge or retro.

Perhaps it's time to suspend compstat here in NYC. I don't think anybody wants a police department that doesn't hold commanders accountable and use the timely analysis of crime data, but (and this is putting it politely) perhaps there is room for improvement. Compstat has accomplished a lot of good. But times change. Perhaps it's time to think beyond a sh*t-rolls-downhill style of management.

Disband SWAT?

In this era of tight budgets, smaller cities and towns should consider disbanding the local SWAT team. They'll save money on training, equipment and overtime. They'll be returning to a less aggressive, less militaristic, more community-oriented method of policing. And though there always will be crime, it seems unlikely that should they do away with SWAT, towns like Eufaula will suddenly find themselves overwhelmed by school shootings, bank robberies and terrorist attacks.
Radley Balko writes in the Washington Times.

Chief Hylton... Where were you?

Prince George's County Police Department Chief Roberto L. Hylton has been very quick to express outrage at the beat down a few of his officers gave to a college student.

I'm just curious where chief Hylton was that night.

Did he have somewhere more important to be?

Really. Where was he if not out there with his officers? I don't know if he was out there on the front line. I hope he was. But I have a feeling he wasn't. Because if there was real leadership there that night, the beating probably never would have happened.

April 13, 2010

You get fired for lying

The beating looks bad (oh, hell, it is bad), but will be defending by some. Hell, it isn't easy being told to restore order in riot. But lying on your report? Now that gets you fired.

But regardless of the specifics, what are you supposed to do with thousands of stupid drunk stupid college students "celebrating" (AKA: good-spirited rioting).

This is just one reason why my father hated jocks and scholastic sports.

How come when society has a problem, somehow it's the cops who always end up taking the fall?

Talking Traffic

Streetsblog New York did an interview with me about police and traffic enforcement.

It's a good interview, even if "Talking Traffic with Peter Moskos" sounds like the world's worst Sunday morning AM radio show.

History Lesson

"Southern Succession and the Civil War were about slavery."

If your response is, "duh!" then just ignore this.

But if you believe otherwise, if you think hundreds of thousands of people were fighting and dying for the principle of preserving the union or abstract concepts of state's rights, if you think Robert Lee was an abolitionist, if you think the Civil War was more about economics than morality or race, if you think slavery was just a footnote to the Civil War (and that's what I was taught by one of my not-so-good history teachers in high-school), then read this excellent post from Ta-Nahisi Coates.

April 11, 2010

Useless Air Marshals?

If Tennessee Republican Congressman John Duncan is to be believed, we spend $860 million for the Air Marshal Service. They make an average of 4.2 arrests per year. Not per officer. But the entire agency. That works out to $200 million per arrest.

Now I'm the first to say let's not judge police by arrest stats. But...

I would like to see some evidence that the Air Marshals have prevented anything (except the occasional Qatar asshole with diplomatic immunity smoking in the bathroom.)

Also, if the average Air Marshal makes $100,000 a year in salary and benefits, and let's throw in $100 million a year for guns and paperclips, where does the other $459,000,000 go?

According the congressman, there have been more arrests of Air Marshals than arrests made by Air Marshals.

[Full disclosure: Soon after I quit the Baltimore Police Department and was writing my PhD dissertation, I looked into getting a part-job with the Air Marshals. What could be better for a graduate student than--after a careful visual inspection of the plane, the passengers, and any potential threats--being paid to sit around and do nothing? And my offer still stands. Even as a temp. For free! Just pay for my training and give me a free ticket whenever I fly. I'll keep people safe.

Alas, the Federal Air Marshal Service does not hire part time.]

Odd Are, It's Wrong

There’s a good article by Tom Siegfried in Science News about what's wrong with statistics.

Take the idea of statistical significance. Much of social science is based on the (very arbitrary) idea that for any given correlation, there should be a less than 5% chance of that result being due to random chance.

[And as any sociology grad student knows, if you run 20 random regressions, one will be found to be "significant" at the p < .05 level. This is why quantitative methods are no substitute for having a brain.]

More counter-intuitive is the idea that a 5% chance that findings are random is most definitely not the same as saying there's a 95% chance the result is accurate.

Take drug testing. You pay some private company too much money to test 400 people. 400 people go to some office and pee in a cup. 38 test positive. So what percent take drugs? You might guess that 38 positives mean 38 people (or 9.5%) take drugs. But you’d be very wrong. Oh, those stats... they are slippery!

The answer is we don't know. The results by themselves mean very little. We need more information. And there are two questions that might be asked here: 1) what is the level of drug use overall and 2) does a certain individual takes drugs. The former is a bit easier because you can adjust for errors. But when you're talking about a individual, there is very little room for error.

Let's say we knew the tests are 95% accurate (a big if). If there were 40 drug takers, the drug test would test accurately positive for 38 of these 40. So if we got 38 positives out of 400, could we say that the drug use overall is 40 out of 400 or 10%? No. That's not how it works in the real world.

Now let's say we know there are 20 drug users out of 400. Of course in the real world it's hard to imagine knowing this "prior probability" before you gave a drug test. And let's say we also knew that the test were 95% accurate. If we knew all this, then we could say that of the 20 who take drugs, 19 would test positive. And of the 380 who do not take drugs, another 19 would also test (falsely) positive.

So after the tests, the people making money looking at pee would report that based on their test (which they advertise is "95% accurate!"), 38 of 400 people tested positive for drugs. But we started this based on the assumption that there are only 20 drug users! Of these 38 "positive" results, only 50% are actually drug takes! Half. And that's a 50% error rate for a test that is "95% accurate"!

Look at it this way: if nobody among the 400 took drugs, 20 people (5%) would still test positive!

Want your money back?

Now if you just cared about the overall usage rates, you could make a simple little table that tells you, based on the accuracy of the tests and the total number of positive results, what percentage of the group actually takes drugs. (Though keep in mind that as long as the actually percentage of drug users is less than the “confidence” level of the test, in this case 95%, the number of "positives" will always be greater than the actual number of users.) Such data would be useful for researchers and major league baseball.

But the tests don't tell you which of those who test positive are actually guilty. This, as you can imagine, is a big problem. Consider the employee not hired or the paroled man sent back to the joint for pissing hot.

Of course you could improve the drug test or re-test those who test positive. But even with a retest at 95% accuracy, 1 in 400 would still falsely test positive twice. Sucks to be him.

Back in the real world, at least in our free country, we continually re-test those who test negative. But if "positives" are only 50% accurate, what’s the point?

What does this mean for the world of science and statistics? "Any single scientific study alone is quite likely to be incorrect, thanks largely to the fact that the standard statistical system for drawing conclusions is, in essence, illogical." Put that in your quantitative pipe and smoke it.

April 7, 2010

Bring out your dead

An excellent essay by Chicago Police Officer Martin Preib in Chicago's Newcity.
The dead seek the lowest places in Chicago: We find them in basements, laundry rooms, on floors next to couches, sticking out of two parked cars or shrubs next to the sidewalk. It is more than gravity that pulls them down, for in every dead body there is something more willfully downward: the lowest possible place, the head sunken into the chest and turned toward the floor.
I have smelled the smell of death. It is bad. And there was one call I never had in my brief time on the streets: a really stinky dripping leaking ripe DOA. It's a call I'm happy to have missed.

The essay is from the just published The Wagon and Other Stories from the City by the University of Chicago Press. I'm happy to see more academic presses, U of C in particular, to be publishing more cop related books. I just ordered it from Amazon.

[Thanks to Mayor Irish Pirate for the link]

Give Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld some credit!

Baltimore homicides at 33-year low!

And Frederick Bealefeld deserves credit.

He's the best commish at least since I've known Baltimore (which goes back now about 11 years and six commissioners). And unlike certain past commissioners (yes, Eddie, I'm talking about you), Bealefeld isn't a felon.

[note: Convicted felon Ed Norris was a chicken-shit coward bastard to me on his radio show. I liked him then. I don't like him now.]

April 6, 2010

Arrests in the NYPD

I've always said the Blue Wall of Silence is vastly overrated (for reasons I'm not going to get into today).

Do cops get away with murder, literally or figuratively? The short answer is no. Unless, of course, one counts traffic violation and illegal parking as murder.

What I do find interesting is that the NYPD, as reported by Al Baker and Jo Craven McGinty in the Times, arrests an average of 119 officers a year. That's more than two a week. And about four times more than I would have guessed. Is that a lot or a little? I don't know. (But of course if the NYPD were arresting no officers... now that would be worrisome.)

To put this in some perspective (albeit in a way that doesn't really make sense) there is approximately one adult arrest for every 23 residents in New York City. In the NYPD the figure is one in 300. Anybody know the comparable stats for other cities?

April 3, 2010

The Talented Tenth

W.E.B. DuBois (pronounced doo-boyz, by the way, cause he wasn't French) wrote about "The Talented Tenth."

DuBois was, among other things, a great American, a suffragist, a sociologist, and a Harvard grad. Had his groundbreaking The Philadelphia Negro been written today, I can only wonder if it would have been called, DuBois in the Hood.

In contrast to the Talented Tenth, he wrote:
At the bottom, of course, quibbles the mole with his eyes in the earth. Aye! truly at the bottom, at the very bottom; at the bottom of knowledge, down in the very depth of knowledge there where the roots of justice strike into the lowest soil of Truth.
This came to mind after reading that 1 in 10 criminal youths in Illinois are held longer than their sentence because they have no place to go.
Notes in the records tell sad stories. "Youth has no family that will take him," reads the comment in the case of one downstate boy who was sent to prison for aggravated robbery and was still there two months beyond his scheduled release.

"Placement denied 5X w/relatives," reads the status report on another case.
...
"Aunt denied by parole. Uncle has refused. Working on other (extended) family," one document reads.

In another case, in which a 20-year-old was more than a year past his ARD, the comment reads: "Youth had approved parole site; mother had change of heart, site denied. Mother seeking other resources."
It's sad (though sometimes perfectly understandable) that nobody, not even parents, wants responsibility for some of these kids. I know that no person should be thrown away at such a young age. But I also have no illusions that all people, just because they're younger than eighteen, are angels that can be redeemed. I arrested of few pretty bad youngsters myself.

Sometimes they had no home to go to (in which case I did have some sympathy for the kid... I mean, given the choice between living in a f*cked up "home" like the ones I saw or slinging on the corner, I know what I would choose).

Certainly the problems in part--sometimes a small part and sometimes a large part--rest with the parents (or lack thereof). But placing blame isn't always enough. And some times the family was, if anything, too tough and strict--though who am I to cast doubt? If you raise three good kids and fourth is a f*ck-up... I don't know, maybe you've done a good job. What are the odds we expect in neighborhoods where most boys end up doing time?

DuBois had an answer: education. It's a good one. But in the shorter term, what is the answer?