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by Peter Moskos

November 29, 2010

It doesn't matter how tight you tie them

I see pictures like this from the Daily News and I notice one thing: the shoes.

If you're hit by a car going too fast, the shoes will fly off your feet and be left basically where you are hit. Think of how much pressure you can apply and not get your shoes off your feet. It's impossible if you don't untie them, right? It freaks me out.

"The car was going really fast down 93rd St., much faster than normal." So what's the moral? Not don't jaywalk... don't friggin speed!

Smoking Ban Finally Kills One

From Chicago, the Sun-Timesreports on the death of a Bears fan:
A skilled climber who enjoyed scaling up the side of buildings and trees, he may have even hopped over a railing to enjoy a cigarette behind one of Soldier Field’s famous columns before he fell, friends said.

November 28, 2010

Willie Nelson likes smoking pot

But we all know that. He doesn't keep it secret and thinks it should be legal. But since it's not, he's been arrested for it. Again. Of course it's silly a supposedly free country wastes our money and law enforcement resources arresting senior-citizen for smoking a pretty harmless substance.

Of course it's probably not a big deal for him. For Willie, getting busted yet again is almost like another feather in his bandanna. It's more a shame when my students are arrested for such things. They can actually be hurt by a drug arrest. They don't have much money and go to public university. When I went to college at a very rich private university, I don't think anybody was ever been arrested for marijuana possession. (I'm just sayin'...).

But this arrest bothers me more than usual because Willie Nelson, a US citizen, was detained at a US Border Patrol checkpoint while traveling within the US. Willie Nelson never left the Land of the Free. He was simply minding his own business being driven down US Highway 10 when he was stopped by federal agents at a border checkpoint that isn't on the border. Seems they make a lot of low-level drug arrests here which probably brings in a little money to little Sierra Blanca and Hudspeth County, Texas.

US Border Patrol can and does stop people at "Interior Checkpoints" without cause. One needn't be an anti-government survivalist to be slightly bothered by this. The main purpose, supposedly, is to deter illegal immigration. OK. Fine. So why arrest a guy getting stoned in the back of his tour bus? [Update: I should amend that to say the main purpose originally was to deter illegal immigration. Drugs were never mentioned in the original Supreme Court decision. But see the first comment below for yet another example of how the war on drugs creeps into everything.]

Police get power because of fear of terrorism or immigration. But once you give police that power, they can and will (and arguably should) use it as a tool for all law enforcement. I've written about this problem before, albeit in the slightly different context of airport security. If Border Patrol can stop people on trains and roads within 100 miles of an international border to look for illegal immigrants, then they should do nothing but make sure you're not an illegal immigrant. Period.

In this case, the officer smelled weed when the door opened. This "plain smell" gives probable cause for further detention and search of a motor vehicle.

And let me just mention how nice it was of Willie to take one for the team. He said the six ounces of found marijuana was his. That's a lot of weed, even for Willie!

At fixed check points (but not roaming ones) Border Patrol got the authority to stop people at their discretion in US v. Martinez-Fuerte (1976) when the court said:
It is agreed that checkpoint stops are "seizures" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.... But it involves only a brief detention of travelers during which "[a]ll that is required of the vehicle's occupants is a response to a brief question or two and possibly the production of a document evidencing a right to be in the United States."
The decision was seven to two. The two dissenters, Brennan and Marshall, wrote:
There is no principle ... which permits constitutional limitations to be dispensed with merely because they cannot be conveniently satisfied. Dispensing with reasonable suspicion as a prerequisite to stopping and inspecting motorists because the inconvenience of such a requirement would make it impossible to identify a given car as a possible carrier of aliens is no more justifiable than dispensing with probable cause as prerequisite to the search of an individual because the inconvenience of such a requirement would make it impossible to identify a given person in a high-crime area as a possible carrier of concealed weapons.
The lonely dissenters also took objection to the majority's opinion that, "We further believe that it is constitutional to refer motorists selectively to the secondary inspection area ... even if it be assumed that such referrals are made largely on the basis of apparent Mexican ancestry, we perceive no constitutional violation." That's a bit scary.

Is such constitutional racial profiling still law of the land or has some more recent case overturned that?

Baltimore Officer Shot

A one-year veteran was seriously shot on N. Calvert Street early Sunday morning.

He's expected to survive. I hope he does.

From the Sun:
A man opened fire on him near the downtown nightlife hub, touching off a running gunbattle as tactical officers pursued the suspect up North Calvert Street.

The suspect fled on foot, then sped away in a silver-colored Toyota Camry before crashing into a light pole near Calvert and Franklin streets. Police apprehended him at Mercy Medical Center, where he was seeking treatment for several gunshot wounds.
...
Several tactical officers, who patrol the area on weekend evenings, shot at the gunman, firing at least 20 bullets on one city block, police said.
...
Court records show that Gross, who was identified as the suspect by law enforcement sources, had been convicted of three prior felonies. A police source said he was on parole for armed robbery at the time of the latest shooting.

November 24, 2010

Five NYPD Officers Cleared in Shootings of Bystanders

Ray Rivera in the Times:
Five New York City police officers who wounded two bystanders in a shootout with a suspect in Harlem in 2005 cannot be held negligent, the state’s highest court ruled on Tuesday, ending a five-year legal battle before it went to trial.

In a 4-to-3 decision, the State Court of Appeals found that the five officers were within department guidelines when they returned fire on a robbery suspect who had opened fire on several officers. The suspect was killed, but police bullets also struck a 78-year-old man and a 39-year-old woman who was playing with her 18-month-old daughter.
I'm not certain where I stand on the legal issues, but I do want to point out the vote was only 4 to 3. And I hate to think of a world where police are legally prohibited from shooting back!

November 12, 2010

Balto. City Police Reject Contract, 19 to 1

The story by Julie Scharper in the Sun. The contract would have reduced wages by 1.95 percent in exchange for five additional vacation days. The FOP president said, "It's not just a rejection of the city's best offer. It's a rejection of the mayor and her inability to respect what these men and women do for the city every day and every night."

Now if there's no new contract, the old one stays in effect, right? When I was there, the city dragged its heals for years on giving us a contract. Now it seems like the shoe is now on the other foot.

November 11, 2010

The high cost of crime

Here's a sad story about the costs--physically, psychologically, and financially--from one shot crime victim.

Veterans Day

Thank you, veterans. You all have chosen to do something I am not willing to do. That doesn't reflect well on me.

(Though I do wish we had fewer wars and fewer veterans.)

November 10, 2010

Kill them all and let God sort 'em out

I'm strangely un-passionate about the death penalty. I think it's wrong to kill. If I could wave a magic wand and do away with it, I would. And yet I don't really care when criminals are executed. I certainly don't shed a tear them.

Recent poll data show that 83% of Americans support the death penalty (other polls have shown this figure to be a bit lower, around 70%). But what I don't get is that 81% of these same Americans also believe that innocent people have been executed (and just 39% believe it acts as a deterrent). That means at least 44% of Americans believe we've killed innocent people and still support the death penalty. How can you support the death penalty if you think we've killed innocent people?

I wish there were, when giving the death penalty, a standard of judicial proof higher than "beyond a reasonable doubt." Something like "we know 100% damn well for certain without any doubt that the person is guilty." Then we could debate the death penalty. Then I might even support it. Until then, I think Justice Blackmun was right when he said, "I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death."

Just FYI, in Russia, the not quite comparable figure in support of the death penalty is 44%. Many people love to think the rest of the world, compared to America, is horribly barbaric and blood-thirsty. These same people usually don't have a passport.

Never Happened to Me

Carolee Bildsten, 56, of the 5300 block of David Court, allegedly assaulted the officer on Tuesday evening with what Gurnee Police Cmdr. Jay Patrick called “a rigid feminine pleasure device.”
So says the the Trib.

[Thanks to Hephestos, my Koumbaros.]

NYPD Holds Fire

The Wall Street Journal reports:
New York City police fired fewer bullets at suspects last year than any time since the department first began keeping in-depth shooting statistics 39 years ago
...
In 2008, the department was also involved in 105 shooting incidents, with the 125 officers firing a total of 364 bullets. No city police officer last year was shot by a suspect for the first time since the police department started keeping detailed shooting statistics in 1971
I was just talking about this in class last week.

In 1972, the NYPD was involved in 211 shootings. In 2006 (the last I have data for), the number was 31. That's a big drop. And it's been a pretty consistent drop with the notable exception of the late 1980s during the rise in crack. It's something the NYPD should get more credit for. And it's often overlooked when there is a high-profile controversial shooting.

To put these numbers in some (somewhat random) context, in 2006: 35,000 NYPD had killed 13. 2,100 Las Vegas PD had killed 12. 6,600 Philadelphia PD had killed 19.

In Baltimore, about 3,000 Baltimore City Police Officers shot 31 in 2007, 21 in 2006 and 11 in 2004.

Higher levels of violence in places like Baltimore explain some of this difference, but not all of it.

[Update: Here's Al Baker's take in the Times.]

NYPD Quotas (and Schoolcraft)

I would love it if we could distinguish between quotas and what happened to Adrian Schoolcraft. Just because the NYPD has (as Schoolcraft says) quotas (or at least something that line officers feel are quotas) does not grant legitimacy to Schoolcraft's media-hungry self-serving whining about how he was treated by the NYPD.

There is a quota issue in the NYPD. High-ranking officers say there aren't quotas, just "productivity goals." Patrol officers say compstat creates stat pressure and they have quotas to meet. Regardless of the semantics, quota pressure makes officers write stupid tickets. And this is bad for policing and bad for New York City. For instance, a student just showed me a $50 ticket he got for... taking a nap on the subway. Technically it was for taking up two seats of a not crowded train at 10pm. That's not right. But the officer had to write tickets. And my student was a sitting (or sleeping) duck.

So can anybody tell me the legal difference between a quota and a productivity goal? The state law says,
quota shall mean a specific number of (A) tickets or summonses ... or (B) arrests or C) stops of individual suspected of criminal activity within a specified period of time.

But then the law goes on to say:
Nothing provided in this section shall prohibit an employer ... from taking ... job action against ... a police officer for failure to satisfactorily perform his job assignment of issuing tickets or summonses for traffic ... except that the employment productivity of such police officer shall not be measured by such officer's failure to satisfactorily comply with the requirement of any quota.
Huh? So you can judge an officers on how many tickets they write as long as you don't require them to write any? I don't get it. What's the law say?

November 9, 2010

November 8, 2010

Zimring on the NYPD crime drop

Frank Zimring has always been one of the better criminologists out there.

This nine minute video from the Vera Institute of Justice hows some of the reasons why.

DEA funds terrorism

Of course that's meant to be a sensational headline... but it's actually true.

And God only knows how the DEA would flip the tables if some anti-drug-war group was guilty of the same thing.

According to the Times:
[The DEA] sent David C. Headley, a small-time drug dealer and sometime informant, to work for them in Pakistan months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, despite a warning that he sympathized with radical Islamic groups, according to court records and interviews. Not long after Mr. Headley arrived there, he began training with terrorists, eventually playing a key role in the 2008 attacks that left 164 people dead in Mumbai.
Nice one.

Remember kids, drugs don't cause terrorism, the DEA does.

I wonder what the DEA's brain looks like funding terrorists?

November 7, 2010

It'll never work...

The suspect is an armed and crazy and racist murderer. He's killed before. He has multiple weapons. After a tip-off you get a warrant for his arrest. You know where he lives. A surveillance unit outside confirm his presence. Plan B is to send in the SWAT team and bust down the door in a carefully rehearsed show of surprise and overwhelming military-like force. You will fire potentially fire-causing flash grenades, shoot any dogs that approach, and keep your finger on the trigger in case the suspect wakes up in a (justifiably) paranoid haze and start shooting.

[But if officer safety were paramount...]

Try Plan A:
When [police] were satisfied they had enough evidence to make the arrest, they telephoned the man and asked him to step outside his [apartment].

The suspect did as he was told and did not offer resistance.
Crazy! It'll never work! But it did in Sweden.So why not try it? It'll work more often than not. If it doesn't work, you can always go to a barricade situation and/or Plan B. Sure you loose the element of surprise, but maybe the trade off is worth it. Wouldn't it be nice if Waco were best known for the Dr. Pepper Museum?

November 6, 2010

Mehserle sentenced to 2 years

Seems about right to me.

Not everyone agrees.

Mehserle is the BART cop who (apparently) accidentally shot Oscar Grant in the back and killed him. Mehserle has already served most of his time.

COPS & Opera

From my favorite comic strip, Stephan Patsis's Pearls before Swine:

November 5, 2010

Because it's a sin!

A SWAT team busted up a poker game of seniors. One cop and one gambler were shot.

This is not what SWAT teams are for. Actually, unfortunately, it is what SWAT teams are for. So let me rephrase: this is not what SWAT teams should be for.

The shot 72-year old reportedly said, “Why didn’t you tell me it was the cops?” According to WYFF (South Carolina), "After the exchange of gunfire, a standoff ensued that lasted about 20 minutes." The 12 people in the home were ticketed for unlawful betting and released.

Just think, if we legalize gambling... uh, it could lead to dancing? (That's the punchline to joke I can't remember--oh wait, here it is. See the last comment).

I didn't know...

"...marijuana use is associated with voluntary treatment admissions for addiction, fatal drugged driving accidents, mental illness and emergency room admissions.” So says Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske. Come to think of it, so is life.

There's more on Pete Guither's blog.

Regardless, thanks God we're still safe from this reefer madness.

I don't think marijuana makes you crazy. But I'm started to suspect that being elected to high office does.

If Obama is going to unpopular for being liberal... I just wish we actually were.

Exceptional Clearance

"The presumed slaughter of 20 tourists in Acapulco — apparently has been solved by thugs who captured the alleged killers, posted their confessions on the Internet, then murdered them and directed police to the crime scene." From the Houston Chronicle.

Read More

If you don't read The Atlantic, you should. Not only can you act like you're smart, you might become smart. Or at least a lot smarter than you'll ever become reading the typical drivel in a cop magazine (yes, I know, "staying alert can save your life"--so remain in "Code Yellow" and read something worthwhile).

Here's a short piece on "truth" in politics. "The Truth Lies Here."

Academics should read this, about how most of medical science is... what's the word?... Wrong. (God save us if Dr. Ioannidis ever took on Sociology). (And extra credit because the story is good for the Greeks.)

And last but not least, read the latest about TSA and pat-downs in Jeffrey Goldberg's hilarious (and disconcerting) story about airline security.
I asked him if the new guidelines included a cavity search. "No way. You think Congress would allow that?"

I answered, "If you're a terrorist, you're going to hide your weapons in your anus or your vagina." He blushed when I said "vagina."

"Yes, but starting tomorrow, we're going to start searching your crotchal area" -- this is the word he used, "crotchal" -- and you're not going to like it."

"What am I not going to like?" I asked.

"We have to search up your thighs and between your legs until we meet resistance," he explained.

"Resistance?" I asked.

"Your testicles," he explained.

'That's funny," I said, "because 'The Resistance' is the actual name I've given to my testicles."
...
The agent snapped on his blue gloves, and patiently explained exactly where he was going to touch me. I felt like a sophomore at Oberlin.
...
He felt me up good, but not great. It was not in any way the best pat-down I've ever received.
The best pat-down my wife ever received was in the Vienna Airport. It was five years ago. We were newlyweds. The young woman feeling up my wife was young, stern, fit, and wore leather gloves. I got to watch. She was meticulous. And thorough. We both thought it was hot.

November 4, 2010

What do we do with all that weed?

Explain this to me:

In the past few weeks about 155 tons of marijuana has been stopped from coming in from Mexico. Numbers of that magnitude tend to numb. I have no idea what 155 tons means. So I did some figuring. 155 tons is about 1,500 big men (or 3,000 very petite women). It's about 1.3 times what the space shuttle weighs (at landing). It's a lot.

And, according to the magic elves at google, 155 tons is 4,960,000 ounces, or about an 1/8th of an ounce for every 6 adults in the USA.

Can't picture an eighth-of an ounce? According to some crack online research here and here, 1/8 oz. is roughly equal to the amount of tobacco in 4 cigarettes (or 3 cigarettes whole). 1/8 oz of marijuana is more than enough to get a few people nice and high.

Now keep in mind, 1) there's a lot weed grown right here in the ol' US of A, and 2) There's a lot of weed still coming in from Mexico.

So how much marijuana are we as a country smoking? The amount seems truly amazingly astronomical.

War on Drug Continues

It didn't surprise me that Prop 19 lost. I'm still amazed that it did so well and was taken so seriously. A lot of progress has been made over the past 10 years. I suppose only history will tell if we'll look back on this as the high point (there was really no pun intended when I first wrote that) or whether it's just a step down the path toward a better drug policy.

Meanwhile, another secret tunnel was found from Mexico. It included 25 tons of the maryjane. English Aljazeera reports. And that's on top of the 134 tons the other week.

I say this in my best whiny Mike Bloomberg voice: "People, it's the tunnels that make us less safe, not the drugs." I don't want people building tunnels under the border. But they will as long as we keep building walls on top of them and fighting "wars" against things and people from Mexico.

Here's a good story in the Christian Science Monitor on the tunnel and one on the Latin American leaders and the failure of Prop 19. Here's a good quote: "The two presidents who have come out strongly against legalization [in Mexico and Columbia] are presidents who have received a combined total of nearly $9 billion from the United States government."

November 3, 2010

Trick or Treat

Some very good Halloween pics from Baltimore by photojournalist Martha Cooper.


(Though it's titled "Halloween in da Hood" and from what I can tell -- occupied blocks and well maintained buildings -- she's in a pretty decent neighborhood.)

[thanks to A.H.]

November 2, 2010

Reality-Based Thinking

The key is to un-learn the academic habit of treating every proposition and argument offered as needing to be taken seriously and requiring a refutation, if false.

Note to self: Making sh*t up is a valuable research technique. Must use it more often.
So says Mark Kleiman.

[thanks to Jay]

I don't understand

“No one can get a straight answer on how many cops are patrolling the streets,” Vallone said.

In other cases, he added: “They just don’t want to provide the statistics. I don’t understand why, because when they do, it always shows the N.Y.P.D. is doing what they are supposed to do.”
Just FYI, I don't like Vallone. He's my councilman and I didn't vote for him. But he's got a good point.

The article by Ray Rivera and Al Baker in the Times is "Data Elusive on Low-Level Crime in New York City."

Convicted prisoners to get vote

In the UK. According to the BBC. Something about "human rights," sez the E.U. Bunch of socialists.