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by Peter Moskos

July 1, 2011

Collar for Dollars

My article is in the July issue of Reason is available online:
When I was a police officer in Baltimore, one sergeant would sometimes motivate his troops in the middle of a shift change by joyfully shouting, “All right, you maggots! Let’s lock people up! They don’t pay you to stand around. I want production! I want lockups!” He said this while standing in front of a small sign he most likely authored: “Unlike the citizens of the Eastern District, you are required to work for your government check.”

In the police world, there are good arrests and better arrests, but there is no such thing as a bad arrest. In recent years, measures of “productivity” have achieved an almost totemic significance. And because they are so easy to count, arrests have come to outweigh more important but harder-to-quantify variables such as crimes prevented, fights mitigated, or public fears assuaged.
The drug war, because it can’t be won, encourages outward signs of police effectiveness at the expense of good old-fashioned policing. Hard-working cops, especially those who ask for little more than a middle-class income in return for the dangerous work they do, turn to drug arrests to make ends meet. The Baltimore sergeant was right: Police officers do need to work for their government check. It’s a shame “collars for dollars” has become the easiest way to do it.
Read the rest here.

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