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by Peter Moskos

February 28, 2011

The Art of Report Writing

Cops hate paperwork. Hell, everybody hates paperwork. But policing has more of it on a day-to-day basis than most occupations. And there's an art to writing a good police report. I like to think my writing skills made me a better police officer. And it's why as a professor I stress the importance of writing style and basic grammar.

Most police reports are basically form letters and require little or no thought or creativity: "At such and such day and time I responded to so and so location and was met by the suspect, later identified as whomever. Further investigation revealed blah-de-blah. Suspected taken into custody without incident and transported to CBIF."

But life without personality is no fun. Take this DOA (who wasn't, technically, dead on arrival. But it's a pretty standard report for such an incident. Terse, to the point, and as short as possible while included all (and only) necessary details (I've changed names and the address):
On 19 APR 01 at 0705 hrs responded to 1581 E Lafayette for an overdose. Upon arrival Mr Jackson was being carried to an ambo, medic 10, in full cardiac arrest. Mr Jackson was brought to Hopkins and treated by Dr. Arjun Chanmugam before being pronounced dead at 0737 hrs.

Mr Jackson given medication at 1845hrs on 18 APR 01 by Ms. Ethel White.

Mr Jackson was last seen in good health by Mr Henry David at 0200 hrs. At 0700 hrs Mr David saw Mr Jackson with "his eyes rolled up" and called for a paramedic. Mr Jackson was asleep in upstairs middle bedroom. No paraphernalia was seen.

Mr Jackson on the following medication: Roxicodone, Prednisone, and Valtrax.

Hearn at M.E. notified and accepted body for autopsy. Patton #6481 at homicide notified.
That's that. RIP, Mr. Jackson. Why did I notify homicide? He probably wasn't murdered, but you never know; that's not my call to make.

But what strikes me is my completely superfluous inclusion of the quote, "his eyes rolled up." It adds nothing but is a great reason to call for an ambulance! I tried to include a good quote whenever I could--especially if the quote included naughty words, which were otherwise taboo. If "fuck you Mike bitch" was going to be keyed in a car, you could be sure it would be transcribed verbatim in my report.

When I wrote of a man throttling a woman on the ground, later I referred to this, “vehement emotional display.” In return I received this joking note: “Officer Moskos, Please stop using big words in your reports. I have a hard time understanding all of them. Thanks, OIC Woollen.” But the report was accepted.

Once I chased a suspect from an alley. He was easy to catch because his pants fell down as he was trying to get away. I described him as fleeing "in a rather ungraceful manner." It wasn't relevant, but why not? Why pass up a chance to make my sergeant roll his eyes or let some ASA in the bowels of CBIF smile for a moment. You gotta have fun.

But, more seriously, a well-written report can be and often is the difference between a case being dropped and the successive conviction of a dangerous criminal. If you don't write it down, it's like it didn't happen. And there's always room for a good writer's eye. My favorite quote served such a purpose: "Squeaky beat me with a two by four, and then they came at me like locusts and beat me down."

"They came at me like locusts and beat me down"?

Such Biblically-inspired language deserves to be inscribed. And since it added flavor to an otherwise dry description of a old man getting beat down, it helped in conviction. I was trying to paint a story and help convict the guilty--all the while sticking to the objective tone police reports require.

Other times the night was slow and I was simply bored.

Once, on foot, I ran across a guy with a needle sticking out of his arm. He was homeless and bloody. He needed help, but none I could give him. Still, I had a job to do. I put on my latex gloves and slowly arrested him. Yuck. He was riding high. (Luckily CBIF took him.) Later I wrote in my Statement of Probable Cause:
After getting a delicious hot cup of coffee, I ... could not help but notice a man, later identified as Mr. Guizotti, with a needle in his arm. Mr. Guizotti stated that he was a heroin addict and that the substance he injected himself with was, "good shit."
All this comes to mind because Ellen Collett, who reviews police reports for the L.A.P.D., writes this fine piece in the Utne Reader, "The Art of the Police Report." If you're more into writing, I recommend reading the original version that appeared in The Writer's Chronicle (but if words like "subtextual" and "syntactically" scare you, stick with the first link):
Monday through Friday, I’m enthralled by a man I’ve never met. His name is Martinez and he’s a cop with the Los Angeles Police Department.
...
Crime reports are written in neutral diction, and in the dispassionate uni-voice that’s testament to the academy’s ability to standardize writing. They feel generated rather than authored, the work of a single law enforcement consciousness rather than a specific human being.

So how can I identify Martinez from a single sentence? Why do his reports make me feel pity, terror, or despair? Make me want to put a bullet in someone’s brain—preferably a wife beater’s or a pedophile’s, but occasionally my own? How does he use words on paper to hammer at my heart? Like all great cops, Sergeant Martinez is a sneaky fucker. He’s also a master of inflection and narrative voice.
...
That poster-child for cop writing, Ernest Hemingway, once observed, “Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.” A good incident report also gives us the necessary shape of the thing, but spares us the cluttering details.
...
Choose strong verbs. Beware of modifiers. Shun figurative language. Be leery of parentheticals. Avoid abstractions. Eliminate superfluous ornamentation. Omit needless words. Be concrete. Show what happened; don’t explain what it means.
There was a sign in the police academy: "We're not just report takers. We're the police." There is more to writing a good report than just getting down the facts. For most incidents, the responding officer is the investigation. Nobody will even be as close to some form of objective truth. Yes, reports need to maintain a objective tone. But if there's a guilty SOB, it's got to be clear in the written report. You only have one chance. The report is true, but certain facts may be selectively left out if these details distract from some greater truth. For instance, in a case of child abuse where the was food in the kitchen, you probably wouldn't mention that in the report (other times, less nobly, facts may be left out simply to avoid more paperwork).

Collett's advice is good for writers and good for police officers. And all police officers, like it or not, are writers of stories: "Like Martinez, a good story always has an agenda. Like Martinez, a good story is a sneaky fucker."

DEA Runs Out of Money

Don't I wish! Actually, the DEA is just out of money to help localities clean up meth labs after they're raided.

Cleaning up a meth lab costs $2,500. Last year the DEA allocated just $10 million to the cause. Obama's new budget cuts this funding. I guess when you're as lean and trim as the DEA with their annual budget of $2,602,000,000 (enough to clean more than one-million meth labs), there really is no other choice.

February 27, 2011

Mother of shot suspect: Cops "did their job right"

Now that's something you don't hear every day!

Guess the speaker...

Here's the quote. Who said it?
Will America be led by a president elected by a majority of the American people? Or will we be intimidated and blackmailed into following the path dictated by a disruptive radical and militant minority?
...
In my view, this Fall, any candidate in any party who voices radical sentiment or who courts or enjoys the support of radical elements ought to be voted out of office by the American people. It’s just too dangerous.

February 26, 2011

The Rumbler

I reserve the right to change my mind, but I think this is a good idea.

I generally hate loud sounds, especially high-pitched loud beeps that seem to be more and more common. I don't know, maybe I'm just a bit autistic, but whatever. I've thrown eggs at honking cars. Hell, I'm proud of that: They were honking at the sanitation workers picking up trash, for crying out loud! And I tried talking to the honkers first. They told me to get stuffed. F*ck 'em. And then there was that time I slashed the tires of a car whose car alarm kept me and my neighbors up, literally, for hours.

(Did I just admit that? It was years ago. Just two tires... and I first called the police a few times, who did nothing. And I did, after releasing my anger on the right front and rear tires, leave a note making very clear that this was most definitelynot some "random" act of vandalism.)

This new siren is half the perceived volume (10 dB less) of a standard siren. That's great if you happen to be pedestrian or bike. It's low frequency, which is great if you happen to be in a car. If this means less high-pitched siren use, I'm all for it. If it's just another sound to add to an already too loud city, I'm against it.

And who knows... maybe people will actually get out the way of emergency vehicles. That would be a change.

But just for fun, I wish officers would have to put a quarter in a machine on the dash to activate "The Rumbler."

Invest in Police

RAND has a study showing that in tough economic times, it still makes sense to spend money on police: "Returns on investments in police personnel are likely to be substantial."

South Philly

I had a good time in Philadelphia. It struck me a bit like a big version Baltimore. And I like Baltimore. And I like big. So there you have it.

Hungry and roaming the Old City, not wanted to eat lunch in some Frat Bar that smelled like last night's beer, I remembered I have a friend from Philly. So I texted him: "In Philly. Where to eat lunch?" In seconds he replied, "Pats Steak, 9th and Wharton." So off we went.

I got nothing against cheesesteak, but as your city's signature food, it ain't all that. Nor does it compare to a Baltimore crabcake, a Chicago Hot Dog, or even a good New York slice of pizza (which is actually not that easy to find). Still, Pat's was just what the doctor ordered (if your doctor is drunk). The service was efficient. The cheesesteak was good. And I loved the hot peppers for the taking!

It also reminded me that in Baltimore I would sometime ordered a "chicken cheesesteak no cheese." It's just a chicken sandwich. But it always amused me to order a "cheesesteak" that contained neither.

Across the street was a competing store. I liked the presence of a police memorial.

And a memorial to police officer Daniel Faulkner, who was assassinated by Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Less to my liking is anti-immigrant sentiment reflected in a "plaque to a patriot" telling customers to speak English.

Now, at my computer, I see that this has been in the news a bit. Gino said: "If you don't speak English, how can you read the sign? If you do speak English, how is the sign offensive?" I'd bet money that Gino's great-grand parents didn't speak English when they came from Italy. And they faced discrimination. And now Gino is returning the favor. Anyway, luckily we weren't hungry so I didn't have to decide whether I wanted to give my money to Gino, who loves to wrap himself in the flag. Of course, the other way to stay warm on 9th street is make barrel fires.

You can't quite see the flames, or the smoke it caused at the start of the burn. This was strange... not because you don't much see barrel fires these days, but mostly because it actually wasn't cold. Anyway...

Back to speaking English... In all my travels I've seen seen a sign requesting me to order in the native tongue. If I could, I would. But I can't. And I'm in your country so thank you for treating me kindly while I fumble along in the language I do speak. Of course it's not their fault I don't speak their language. And yet they've still all been pretty nice to me.

Nativism does not equal patriotism. And this was near the menu selling "Freedom Fries."

Hey, it's 2011. Can't we all now admit that renaming french fries--a truly bizarre fit of anti-French hysteria in 2003--was perhaps the stupidest idea to ever come out of right-wing America?

First, let's leave aside the fact fries aren't particular french to begin with (unlike, say, the "National" Cherry Blossoms, which actually did come from Japan).

Second, let's also leave aside that fact that we owe a deep debt to France for our very independence (and also the Statue of Liberty). Just like they owe us for WWII--we've always had each others' backs.

What does perhaps matter is that when it came to the War in Iraq and the non-existent weapons of mass destruction, you know what? The French were right. We were wrong. We shouldn't have invaded Iraq!

Freedom fries... that kind of jingoist ignorant nonsense, "patriotism lite," resulted in a rush to a war that killed thousands of American soldiers. Wrap yourself in that.

More to our liking was the store that had 20 signs in all different languages welcoming customers. Even dirty Greeks like me.

Leaving politics aside, all this makes for a great neighborhood and a wonderful afternoon in South Philly.

They call the market a "curb market," which is just the kind of market I love. Everything is out on the sidewalk. You can walk down the street and see everything. Why don't we have more of them? It's a nice mix of stores: old-school Italian, new-school Italian, Mexican immigrant, some yuppie cafes, some hipster record stores, and around the corner tasty Vietnamese places lurk enticingly.

I like signs like this:
And a local man's hustle:

Back at beautiful 30th Street Station, I took me ages to figure out what this sign meant: "Amtrak Celebrates Black History Month in the North -- Waiting Room Located Behind Stairway 7."

Huh? Why not celebrate in the South? And I just know Amtrak is not celebrating Black History Month with a segregated waiting room behind track 7.

Anyway, after much thought and consternation, my wife told me it meant the "North Waiting Room." So I went there. There was no celebration.

Punctuation, people. It matters!

February 24, 2011

Philadelphia

I'm off to Philadelphia for a conference. Just for the record I got nothing against the city. But one of my students just cracked me up by saying, "Philadelphia? What a dump. Imagine if New York and D.C. had a baby. ...And beat it."

Ouch.

Union Teachers Teach Better?

From Montclair SocioBlog.
Only 5 states do not have collective bargaining for educators and have deemed it illegal. Those states and their ranking on ACT/SAT scores are as follows:

* South Carolina – 50th
* North Carolina – 49th
* Georgia – 48th
* Texas – 47th
* Virginia – 44th

If you are wondering, Wisconsin, with its collective bargaining for teachers, is ranked 2nd in the country. Let’s keep it that way.
I haven't verified these stats. But I do want to point out that teachers unions are often accused of looking out for themselves before looking out for their students. Perhaps the same should be said of union busters.

Also, consider this--it's not so crazy--perhaps what's good for teachers is good for students.

It's the Inequality, Stupid

From Mother Jones. Worth a look. If you don't support "income redistribution," can we at least stop redistributing income from poor to rich?
A huge share of the nation's economic growth over the past 30 years has gone to the top one-hundredth of one percent, who now make an average of $27 million per household. The average income for the bottom 90 percent of us? $31,244.

The Choirboys

This may not be news to anybody who was old enough to read in 1975, but Joseph Wambaugh writes a good police story. I just finished reading The Choirboys, 38 years after it was written. It's about a bunch of police in Los Angeles: "They were just policemen. Rather ordinary young guys, I thought"

It the book "true"? I don't know. I imagine most of it is, at the very least, as they say, "Inspired by a true story." As they also say: "You can't make this sh*t up." It's also about a bygone era in policing, when cops drunk on duty, screwed any whore who came along, and earned their keep by staking out public bathrooms to bust "fags." While the book is certainly dated, a lot of it still rings true. Some things never change.

In the officers' stories and camaraderie, there's something very heartwarming about the fraternity: the sheer pointless of "torpedoing" another officer (the German officer, naturally), the bad sex jokes, the idiotic criminals. Somehow--despite the alcoholism, adultery, suicide, and generally self-destructive behavior--it kind of makes me miss the job.

WWJD? The death penalty and Jesus

Texas just executed its 466th murderer in the last three decades (not surprisingly, the guy being executed was black. Black murderers are much more likely to be executed than are white murderers.)

But I'm not here to defend murderers. I'm not even really even against the death penalty. (As long as we can be certain the person is guilty... which too often we're not certain of... which does make me kind of against the death penalty. Can't there be a legal standard even beyond "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt"? Like "caught-red-handed-we-know-he-did-it guilty"?)

But I want to mention two seemingly obvious facts:

1) Jesus Christ would not support the death penalty. I'm not religious, so you might ask why I bring this up. Because I think it's very strange that many people who claim to believe Jesus Christ was the Son of God also support the death penalty. Hey, support the death penalty for whatever reason you want. But please don't do it in Jesus's name. He was more of a forgiveness kind of guy: "Let he who is without sin..." and "Go, and sin no more." New Testament trumps Old! Isn't that the basis of Christianity?

2) The death penalty does not deter crime. The average murder rate of death penalty states is higher than in states without the death penalty. The murder rate in execution-central Texas is 5.4, also higher than the national average. Now maybe if Texas wasn't so execution happy, the murder rate would be even higher... but do you really believe that?

Now you may think it's right to kill killers for reasons that have nothing to do with God or crime. Maybe they simply deserve it as punishment. Frankly, personally, I don't give a damn if murderers live or die. But I would like to think that I and we are better than them. But please stop the nonsense that execution is somehow linked to crime prevention or is compatible with the teachings of Jesus.

Tow Me

So here's the longer story in the Sun.

What I don't get (there's a lot I don't get), is how could officers get a kick-back of $300 per car? The tow company would need to charge more than that. And the article says that approved towers are only charging $130-$140 dollars.

When I needed to tow a car, it was pretty simple. You tell dispatch you need a tow. A moment or two later KGA (dispatch) would tell you to wait for one of three(?) companies that towed from the Eastern. And then you waited. And waited. And eventually a nice older man would show up and tow the car. End of story.

Seventeen Baltimore Police Officers have been charged (just 5 live in Baltimore City). Eleven or 12 have hispanic names. Normally I wouldn't point out the ethnicity... except that the B.P.D. made a big recruiting effort in Puerto Rico a few years back. I'm not certain how many officers were hired. I assume most are good officers. I'm also assuming (but do not know for sure) that many if not most of these arrested officers were part of that recruiting push.

I mention all this because I've heard bad things about these officers since the day they were hired. But since I know none of them personally, I've been a bit dismissive of these complaints, considering them more likely to be rooted in anti-Puerto Rican attitudes than in any actually fact.

I might have been wrong.

If there's a moral in this (other than to trust what my friends tell me), perhaps it's this: do not hire too many officers at the same time. If you do, you will have to lower standards. If you lower standards, you will hire bad cops. It's not like this is the first time this has ever happened (Miami and New York City have had similar experiences). It's not unique to Baltimore. Or, for that matter, Puerto Rico. Though as US citizens go, the police in Puerto Rican do seem to have more than their fair share of problems.

February 23, 2011

Collective Bargaining 101

I know it's important, but I'm a bit clueless here. Can somebody explain to me just what collective bargaining means? Why is it important to unions? And what would happen if it were taken away?

600,000 (official) stops in NYC

Here's the story in the Times and in the Daily News.

The difficulty is that any benefits and harms of aggressive stop and frisks are not only found in aggregate numbers but also in the individual incidents. Some of these stops are good. Some aren't. So how do we tell the difference? How do we keep the good and get rid of the bad?

In theory, I'm not against police stopping people based on reasonable suspicion. What's the alternative? Waiting for someone to call 911?

In practice, I worry about young and inexperienced officers stopping people to meet quotas.

In theory, I think stop and frisks can play an essential role in crime prevention and getting guns off the streets.

In practice, I worry about the extension of the Terry Frisk to an exploratory search.

And in theory the police can defend the racial disparity of those being stopped...

But in practice the NYPD needs to do a better job doing so. There are legitimate, serious, and moral issues involved. Simply pointing to crime stats isn't enough.

On one hand, it might be hard to defend this tactic if crime goes up. On the other hand, it's worth contrasting the situation in New York with the situation in Seattle. We need better policing--not less policing.

The old gun-check ruse...

A "dozen or more" B.P.D. arrested?! Peter Hermann of the Sun reports:
a federal corruption probe that involves an improper relationship with a Baltimore towing company, sources said.
...
The officers were arrested today at the police academy after being called in under the guise that their firearms needed to be checked.
...
Multiple sources say the officers are mostly from the Northeast District and many of them are officers who were recruited years ago in a push to bring in Latino officers from Puerto Rico. That information could not immediately be confirmed.

The "Madison Method"

There might be some good lessons here.

Too often we only look for lessons when things go wrong. It's probably better to look for lessons when things go right. Here were tens of thousands of people protesting and counter-protesting... and it all happened without an arrest.

February 22, 2011

Police shooting deaths

This year, nationwide, 15 officers have been killed by gunfire (out of 30 total line-of-duty deaths). This puts us on pace to expect 105 officers to be shot and killed in 2011. Compare this with 59 firearms deaths in 2010, 47 in 2009, 40 in 2008, and 66 in 2007. Is this a trend? It's not clear. Maybe 2009 and 2008 were unusually low. Maybe, hopefully, the rest of 2011 will be much safer.

RIP Officer John Falcone

There's a wake for Poughkeepsie Officer John Falcone today. The 18-year-veteran was killed last Friday.
Lee Welch, 27, and his wife, Jessica Welch, 28, both of Catskill, have three children together and a history of domestic violence, Knapp said. They were in Poughkeepsie to exchange a vehicle when the shooting occurred.

Falcone was a block-and-a-half away from the scene of the shooting when a report came in at 1:07 p.m. Friday of shots fired on lower Main Street.

The husband shot his wife while she sat in their vehicle, possibly more than once. He was holding their 3-year-old child and waving a gun when Falcone came upon him on lower Main Street, near Railroad Avenue. Jessica Welch was taken to Vassar Brothers Medical Center, where she died.

Additional officers arrived and a struggle ensued, Welch fired his weapon twice, Falcone was shot once in the head and Welch shot himself. Welch was ordered multiple times to drop his weapon.

An officer who tackled the suspect, Thomas Matthews, suffered a dislocated shoulder. Everything happened in about five minutes, Knapp said.
...
Knapp said no officer discharged his weapon.

Seattle Police Union to Cops: Lay Low

Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat has a worrisome article in the paper:
"You are paid to use your discretion and there are many ways to do police work. Recent events should show us that many in the city really don't want aggressive officers who generate on-view incidents. They want officers who avoid controversy and simply respond when summoned by 911."
...
What the union head is suggesting here is that the scrutiny of police is so severe right now, and so lopsided, that cops should mostly just respond, not initiate.

"If there's borderline criminal or suspicious activity, I say let it go," O'Neill said when I asked him to elaborate. "Don't go out on a limb. It's not worth it."
...
Won't crime go up?

"That might be a consequence," O'Neill said. "But the leaders of this city need to decide how they want it around here."

Like I said: Uh-oh.
[thanks to Sgt T]

February 21, 2011

40 killed over weekend in Ciudad Jaurez

In response, lawmakers in Mexico have called for the banning of... a video game.

Meanwhile, the NRA kills a law aimed at limiting gun running to Mexico.

If the rising death toll was a sign in 2009 that drug gangs were weakening, what does the rising death toll say about how weak the drug gangs must be in 2011? 40 deaths in one weekend in one city?! Victory must be very very near.

For the victory party, I've already got my cervesa, my "misión cumplida" banner, and my Chapo Guzmán piñata all ready to go. You just bring the guacamole and tell me when to cue the mariachi band. Because man, we're going to have ourselves one craaazy fiesta loca!

Ay yi yi.

Non-violent drug offenders don't end up in prison...

...except when they do.
Patricia Marilyn Spottedcrow, who is serving 10 years in prison, has been taken away from her four young children and husband, and has ended her work in nursing homes because of $31 in marijuana sales. On Dec. 31, 2009, Spottedcrow and her mother, Delita Starr, 50, sold a "dime bag" of marijuana to a police informant at Starr's home.
...
[The now retired judge said:] "By not putting the grandmother in prison, she is able to help take care of the children."

February 19, 2011

The Racial Reality

Using the Baltimore Sun's fun interactive homicide chart, these are the sad and politically incorrect totals for 2010:

223 homicides: 202 black (91%), 13 white, 5 Hispanic, 1 Asian, 2 unknown(?).

Overall, the 2009 population of Baltimore is estimated to be 63% African American and 33% white. So roughly, the black homicide rate (50) is eight times the white homicide rate (6.2 -- which isn't that much higher than the national average of 5.4 per 100,000).

Is there a moral? I don't know, but certainly we can do better. It's also clear you can't talk about this homicide problem without talking about race, and people don't want to talk about race. Merely broaching the subject can get you labeled as racist. Who wants that? And hell, why should you care? It's just "them" killing each other, right? And maybe you, no matter your race, moved out of the city a long time ago precisely to get away from this problem. It's certainly an understandable reaction. But it's not part of the solution.

Unless we do something major in terms of changing our drug policy, investing in police, and yes, even spending money on job creation, the killings will continue. These are choices we make. And mostly we choose to do nothing. So the killings continue.

This isn't a local problem; it's a national disgrace.

Move cops to higher-crime districts

So say the Chicago ministers. Generally, such a move would a good idea. You certainly wouldn't want to move the cops to lower-crime district.

But if this happens, don't be surprised next year when more blacks are arrested and more tickets are given to blacks.

For what's it's worth, one Rev. Marshall Hatch of New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church seems to have a pretty understanding of police and politics:
On Friday, the ministers released an open letter to Daley and held a news conference outside his office at which they called on the lame-duck mayor to take advantage of the freedom his new status provides and deliver on a promise he made in 2003. They argued that Weis also has nothing to lose, since all four of the major mayoral candidates have vowed to dump him.

“The timing will never be as good as it is now. This is something they are in a position to do without having to worry about political backlash.”

Hatch added: “There’s a qualitative difference between beat officers in the community as a part of the fabric of a community and tactical, SWAT strategies that tend to have the adverse effects of criminalizing large parts of communities of high crime and high risk.”
Well said, preacher.

Now about the politics. The article in the Sun Times goes on to say:
Political pressure from aldermen who stand to lose police officers has kept the city from redrawing the boundaries of police beats or otherwise reallocating police resources since the late 1970s.

The Fraternal Order of Police has said it intends to strictly enforce a contract that, according to the union, could sharply limit Weis’ ability to reallocate officers from one police district to another.
...
Last month, mayoral front-runner Rahm Emanuel tried to halt any effort to shift police resources. Emanuel said he was determined to “find policies that unite” the city and argued that shifting officers from lower-crime districts in his North Side political base to higher-crime districts on the South Side and the West Side would only divide Chicago.
Riiiight....

Fewer Cops in San Fran

The usual. State and federal tax cuts. Local budget cuts. Union workers get screwed. The full story is here.
Because of the city's ongoing budget woes, no police academy classes are scheduled for next year, which means that instead of the 1,861 sworn officers who were working for the department in July 2010, retirements and resignations will drop that number to 1,745 by June 2012
...
"I can't say that the crime rate will rise because we lose officers ... but all creative ideas will be on the table," [Interim Chief Jeff Godown] said.
...
The department could even be forced to eliminate its popular community policing foot beats and "put the officers back in cars to answer radio calls."
Well that's not very creative. Why is foot patrol (and mounted) always the first thing to go? Partly because most cops don't take foot patrol seriously. It's just "hug a thug." And horses are a bit for show (but what a show!).

Foot patrol officers can answer calls, too. And they should. I'd even be for mounted units on radio patrol. Why not? I thought we needed to be creative. Are two-person units on the table (does S.F. uses two-officers per car? I don't know)? Have one officer per car. If I policed solo in the Eastern District, you can do it, too. And if you need to cut units, why not less car patrol? That's always the last to go. I wonder why.

I think I know:

The public don't notice if you cut a few patrol cars. So it's a pretty useless threat to make. But if you threaten to sell the horses to the glue factory... then everybody is up in arms. So when times are tough, the P.D. can't say, "We're going to cut cars, response time will go up slightly. It won't affect crime." Instead, the police department threatens: "You're gonna cut police funding? Then you won't see officers walking the beat. Cut us more? We'll go back to reactive policing and nothing else. Still not enough? We close your police station." It actually is a real threat. But it's not real leadership.

Username and Password, please

I got this over the transom:

A police "accreditation manager" (whatever that means) is revising his "social networking policy" so that potential applicants, as part of their background investigation, must sign an affidavit listing any social networking sites (Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, LinkedIn) they belong to and give their passwords to these sites so the department can snoop.

Is this becoming standard? Do we approve? I'm pretty sure I don't approve.

February 17, 2011

Immigration and Big Brother Government

Maybe you want the government to crack down on immigrants. And maybe you don't like Big Government all messing in your personal business. Well you probably can't have it both ways.

Because in the name of cracking down on criminal immigrants, well, the Feds are getting a bit more involved in local law enforcement: "By September, they were weighing ways to penalize states or police departments that did not participate, like cutting off their access to all criminal fingerprint databases."

What the government does today to pressure states and cites and local police departments (and employers) in the name of immigration enforcement (or drugs, or terrorism), they'll do tomorrow for whatever they want. It always works that way.

Personally, I think this is oh-for-two: bad policy and a bad way to enforce it. But who ever listens to me?

February 16, 2011

Got Raw Milk? Get raided.

It's like a new drug!

"He wondered aloud why the state won’t let him pursue his preferred way of life."

That's an Amish guy s talking about his illegal product... raw milk.

When police, guns drawn, raid raw milk producers, it's enough to make me a Libertarian.

Here's the story by Jordan Heller.
Nolt’s resistance, which has been well-documented, has earned him a rather grand moniker: “the Rosa Parks of the farmers’ rights movement.”

Though shy about the comparison, Nolt doesn't disclaim the nickname. “What were we to do? Agree to their falsehood? Or just stand upon the truth? And we chose truth.”
There's video at the above link, too.

On the downside...

"Marijuana farming in Calif. forest harms animals, pollutes water." That's not good. Of course the problem, once again, is that it's illegal. We could make it legal.

Getting rid of police horses: bad

I'm not a horsey boy. I don't like horses. They scare me a bit. Plus, I've very allergic to horses and try and stay far away (though I do like biking by the horses on Central Park South on my to work).

Regardless of my dislike for horses, I think every big police department needs a few big four-legged creatures (elephants would be cool, too). Police horses do a lot of good, both in terms of very real crowd control:
The added visibility of the city’s mounted officers was helpful last May when two Times Square street vendors wanted to report smoke rising from a crude car bomb on 45th Street, which ultimately failed to explode. “They looked around,” he said, “and the first thing they saw of anyone in authority was two mounted police officers, who responded and cleared the area of bystanders before the bomb squad arrived.”
And also in terms of positive P.R.: "Nobody ever tried to pet my police car, but they line up to pet my horse." Neither is to be laughed at. Plus, there's a lot of history here, too.

But because of budget cuts, many departments are getting rid of their mounted units. It's a real shame. Especially when it's not about cost as much as it is about priorities:
“We had to balance it against being able to keep officers in the patrol cars, and making sure we had enough officers on hand to answer emergency calls,” said Assistant Chief Chief Bob Kanaski of San Diego.
I refuse to believe that one more patrol car outweighs the benefit of having one officer on horse. And hell, if need be, have officers on horses answer calls. You can always tie the horse to a lamppost. Why not? And think how cool it would be.

"...Cause that's where I'm from!"

Representing my home borough of Queens (even though I'm not from here and the line I'm quoting is actually talking about Brooklyn). Click through to read the text.

(by Dustin Glick) And I fully agree that "Beer + Kielbasa = Happy".

February 15, 2011

Another Drug Submarine Found

This time in Colombia. 100 feet long. Homemade. It could carry 8 tones of cocaine. Here's the story in the BBC. There's video of it, too. I want one.

Heroin overdoses soar in Boston

So says the Herald.
Heroin overdoses have killed five people in Boston so far this year, said Rita Nieves, Substance Abuse Services Bureau director at the Boston Public Health Commission. There were 21 local fatal heroin overdoses in all of 2010 and 16 in 2009, Nieves said.
By comparison, each month in the Netherlands there are fewer than 11 overdose deaths. And that's for all drugs (though I assume most are from heroin). The population of the Netherlands is 25 times Boston. You draw your own conclusion. Or maybe you just don't care when junkies OD, and you just consider it collateral damage.

DEA Does Good

I just wanted to write that headline... because I don't think I ever has.

But I'll some give credit where credit is due. From the New York Times.
A group of men agreed to assist the Taliban in a conspiracy to ship narcotics through West Africa to the United States and with the proceeds buy weapons for use against American forces in Afghanistan, federal prosecutors in Manhattan announced on Monday.

The charges stemmed from a sting operation run by the Drug Enforcement Administration, in which paid informants posed as representatives of the Taliban and discussed arrangements for the proposed drugs and weapons deals with the accused conspirators in meetings in West Africa and Eastern Europe.
...
“This alleged effort to arm and enrich the Taliban,” [US Attorney] Mr. Bharara said, “is the latest example of the dangers of an interconnected world in which terrorists and drug runners can link up across continents to harm Americans.”
I'm against people seeing weapons to kill US soldiers. There. How's that for a non-controversial statement?

Of course, and I guess it needs to be said once again: Drugs wouldn't be supporting terrorists if these drugs were legal and regulated and taxed. It really is that simple. We can support terrorists and have drug prohibition; or we could legalize and regulate the drug trade and not give support to terrorists. That's the choice we make. Personally, I'd pick the latter. Apparently, that makes me crazy.

February 14, 2011

No-knock raids

This isn't new news, but it's worth re-mentioning: No-knock raids are "a tactic that has grown in use from 2,000 to 3,000 raids a year in the mid-1980s, to 70,000 to 80,000 annually."

Maybe that doesn't bother you at all. But it should.

A no-knock raid is when police simply bust down your door at 5AM in sort of police version of "shock and awe."

A lot of "knock" raids are basically the same, but the "entry team" (which sounds almost as benign as some Walmart "greeting team") will shout "police, open the door!" as the battering ram goes into its backswing.

February 13, 2011

Leave no witnesses

Police in Arlington Heights say a 16-year-old boy arrested in January home burglary told them he poisoned the victims' three goldfish because he "didn't want to leave any witnesses."
Read the story here.

[thanks to Dave H.]

February 12, 2011

The Face of a Killer

[update: Hey, look at the picture below and then the picture of me to the right? Do you think we were separated at birth? Or maybe I just photo-shopped all the cops holding me out of the picture.]
Should I be bothered by the fact that I'm always somewhat relieved whenever I find out that some murderer, in this case "a troubled man with an arrest record and a reputation for a hair-trigger temper," just happens to be white?

Is this some weird vestige of liberal guilt? Or is this logical relief at knowing 1) what some would would say if he were black or Latino, 2) feeling obliged to argue against some irrelevant and racist theories on race, and 3) then somehow having my words twisted by idiots who would say I'm justifying the actions of murderer?

Here's the coverage in The Daily News.

One victim:
Another victim:

Photos With (Operation) Impact

Under "portfolio," check out NYPD Operation Impact (1 & 2), from former police officer and photographer Antonio Bolfo.

In an interview he says:
I really liked the story of Operation IMPACT in general: how new, inexperienced cops get sent to the most dangerous places, places where a cop really should know what he is doing.
. . .
I was very worried that people [in France, seeing my photography] would view the story as propaganda because of my background in law enforcement. But fortunately that was not the case. People showed a lot of empathy to the officers, which was quite surprising to me because I am used to people hating the police, since New York is a very anti-cop city. Operation IMPACT is not a political statement but a human story of individuals who choose to be police officers in a very dangerous place. And I am pleased that message came across.

The Haiti pics are pretty intense, too.

(Thanks to a former student of mine)

Be Thankful... and nice to strangers

All this revolution and celebration got me thinking...

One of the things I'm always surprised at when I travel, at least when I travel anywhere other than the US and Western Europe, is just how sweet and kind and generous the average person on the street is. I've seen it Egypt, in Syria, in Thailand, and in Mexico. In so many places in the world when people see a stranger--a stranger who probably has had a much easier life and yet, because of luck, also has much more money--and the poorer local person offers to help, or give away what they're selling away for free, or at the very least offers a smile and heartfelt welcome.

Honestly, one of the things that makes Cairo so tiring is that everybody won't stop welcoming you to Cairo. It's like this millennia-old metropolis has never seen a tourist! (The dirt and lack of sanitation are also problems.) But I'll never forget this old man in a ratty traffic-cop uniform who took me under his wing to make sure I could eat a falafel sandwich at the falafel sandwich place (just FYI, I can manage eating a falafel sandwich in any country pretty well on my own).

"You see," he told me with a big smile while demonstrating with his own sandwich (I'm just making up what he said because I have no idea what he was saying), "You take a pinch of salt and put it on your falafel, maybe a pepper or two, if you like it spicy, and then put it in your mouth... Atta boy! Now chew. And here, have a sip of water from this communal cup. Welcome in Cairo! Do you like Egypt? Where are you from?!"

Here you can read what my wife says about the goings on in Egypt. There's also a link to some pictures from our trip to Cairo, a very tiring city, pre-revolution, in 2007.

It came to mind today because I've spend weeks at a time in Mexico and Thailand without hearing anybody yell. Think about that. Tonight I went to Manhattan for dinner with friends and, as is all-too typical, saw the following:
One person on the subway say, "I told him, 'that's not a threat, that's a promise' because a threat is something you may not do! And I promise you, I'll take him out."

Another person walking down the street, talking in his hands-free phone saying with passion, "I'm just going to flatten him. Put him out!"

An argument between a young woman and a taxi driver that wouldn't take her. It culminated in her spitting on him and, as you can imagine, much more yelling after that (for what it's worth, I believe the cabbie wasn't willing to take her party to their location, which does, technically, puts her in the right--minus the expectorating).
We live in a rich country. A good country. We have basic freedom and democracy. Most of us do not want for life's necessities. So why are we so quick to take offense? So rash to assume that everybody is out to do us wrong? Why are we so angry?



And just because I stumbled across this picture from that trip, here's one of my favorite displays of statistics, this from a colonial-era Egyptian book. Look! Imports and exports are both booming... in 1924. It's such a beautiful chart!



And finally, check out this BBC graphic of Tahrir Square. Dude, it's just like Burning Man!

February 11, 2011

Police Officers and Free Speech

Deputy Probation Officer Joe Miller signed a letter in support of California's Proposition 19 (marijuana legalization). A disclaimer made it clear that he did not represent the viewpoint of the Mohave County Probation Department.

Officer Miller was fired. Maybe you think a police officer should never have an opinion on anything. I can understand saying a police officer should not advocate breaking the law. But that is something else. All people, police included, should be able to express their personal opinion about public referendums without fear of retribution.

One can only wonder... actually, no: one doesn't have to wonder at all. Nothing would would have happened to Officer Miller if he had signed a letter in support of less restrictive gun laws. Or even gay marriage, pro or con. But he thinks drugs laws should be (gasp) changed.

Whether or not you agree with Miller's (or my) position, stand up for workers' rights and free speech. Sign a petition in his support.

So what it is with drugs? Yes, drug use is a crime. But it's just a crime. There are lots of crimes. Why is law enforcement so obsessed with drugs? I didn't get it before I was a cop; I didn't get it when I was cop; and, Heavens to Betsy, I still don't get it!

The Happy Scene on Egyptian Steinway

Mubarak is out! Here's the happy scene on my local Arab drag: Steinway Street, in Astoria, Queens, New York.

Three of the five news vans:


A happy crowd (small, because I only got there at 4pm):


My friend, Ali El Sayed, making delicious food as always, equally happy:

(You can see the "1919 Trevor Ethnic map of New York City" I posted about earlier in the background.)

You gotta be kidding me

Dog-burning case will be tried again
Jurors deliberated for more than 20 hours over three days, but couldn't agree on a verdict. One juror wasn't convinced of the brothers' guilt in the attack, leading to a mistrial.

It was the longest animal-cruelty trial ever held in the city.
You tried, you didn't win. Guilty or not, it's time to move on. Like I've said before: this is not a good use of scarce prosecutorial or judicial resources.

Weed Menace Grows in New York City--NYPD Responds

Your Attention Please: Marijuana has now been found in all five boroughs. Luckily, in response to this plague, the NYPD has cracked down and arrested more people than ever for the crime of possessing marijuana. In 2010, 50,383 were arrested (86 percent of these are black or Latino). Noble drug warriors estimate that a continued focus on locking up low-level drug users will eradicate the evil weed by 2014. Currently, thanks to massive police presence, a entire 6-block area in East New York has been declared "marijuana free."

The number of marijuana arrests last year was greater than the number of marijuana arrests during entire 19-year period from 1978 to 1996.

Of course that makes sense, since marijuana didn't hit The Bronx until 1995. And the first "bud" wasn't confirmed on Staten Island until 2002.

But seriously, I know marijuana is illegal. And I know that some low-level drug offenders are more serious criminals. If you're arresting some violent drug dealer and all you can get him on is smoking a joint, fine. But most of these arrests are for nothing more than small-scale marijuana possession, a non-arrestable offense in New York State! Not only are many of these arrests wrong, they're expensive, counter-productive, and only happen because officers face crazy pressure to produce numbers for Compstat.

Meanwhile, back in NYPD recruiting, they're scratching their heads trying to figure out why it's so hard to find young New York-raised black and Latino men with a clean record. You reap what you sow.

February 10, 2011

Smoker-free worker

Ahhh, I hear the immortal if overused words of Martin Niemöller... then they started drug testing at work. But I did not complain, because I was not a drug user. Actually, just for the record, I've complained every time I've taken (and passed) a drug test.

Well it seems that now there are more places that are drug-testing for cigarettes. That's right. It's not that you can't smoke at work. It's that you can't work and be a smoker.

That ain't right. My work and my home life (even when I work from home) are separate. I don't want my boss telling me what I can and can't do when I'm not getting paid.

More worrisome is the precedent. This is exactly what people warned about when drug tests were first allowed, thanks to Ronald Reagan's getting tough on drugs. We're the only country that tests people for what they do outside of workplace.

First they test for illegal drugs. Then they test for legal drugs. If we don't draw the line, they'll test for fatty foods, kinky sex, and political conformity. It's not right.

People are up in arms with real and perceived government abuse of power. Where are the right-wing protesters when big corporations usurp the same power?

Guardian Angels foil 'L' Robbery in Chicago

Even since I felt safer after seeing them on the 'L' growing up in Chicago, I've always been pro-Guardian Angels. But they've never so popular among police, or at least police unions, who don't like to see other people keeping the city safe... and doing it for free. Their founder, Curtis Sliwa, certainly has some tales to tell, and sometimes those tales have been told a little tall. But interestingly, after all these years, I've never heard about a scandal among the rand-and-file Guardian Angels. That's impressive discipline.

Here's a story of Angels in action, from today's Sun-Times.

February 9, 2011

Police Bust Giraffe-Fighting Ring

Well, of course it's from The Onion.
Since the late 1980s, giraffes have become a status symbol in many American cities, but increasingly, the grazing land mammals are dropped off at shelters when they become too difficult to care for, usually because their owners live in ... homes without high vaulted ceilings.
...
"I always knew that Curtis had giraffes, because I'd see their heads popping up above the roof of his house," neighbor Ryan Erck said. "But I never knew he was breeding fighter giraffes."

February 8, 2011

I Miss Baltimore Crab Cakes

I was at a good fish store on 9th Avenue in Manhattan yesterday and bought a pound of good fresh Maryland crab meat (non-lump, $16). So for breakfast today I made crab cakes. They were good. Delicious. Fried in butter. But still not even close to as good as you can get at Faidley's or almost any other place in Baltimore. What is the secret?

I think it's time soon to head south and get my fix.

NYPD Flashback


From a larger series by Jen Carlson at the Gothamist.

Here's how it looks today:


Though I'm not certain if The Two-Five is still at the same location. Anybody know if they've moved? It would be a shame if they tore down those two solid old buildings.


[thanks to Alan I.]

February 7, 2011

"Name something that gets passed around..."

What first comes to mind?

This is worth 2 minutes of your life. Watch to the end; there are two punch lines.



(Thanks to Drug WarRant)

1919 Map of Ethnics and Other Seditious Activities in New York City

You know how "kids these days" think everything in the world is online and can be found with Google? Well, find this: John B. Trevor's 1919 Ethnic Map of New York City.

I've wanted this map ever since I saw a copy of it hanging on the wall of my Egyptian friend's restaurant. Today I borrowed it and spent a couple hundred bucks and a few hours to get it scanned.

Trevor, non-elected but politically powerful, was worried that immigrants (Jews in particular) were going to take over America. As a Nativist S.O.B., Trevor didn't generally trust people who weren't anglo-saxon, white, and Protestant.

Of course, to some extent, Trevor's worst fears have come true: compared to 1919 America, immigrants have taken over America (and, of course, vice versa)! Trevor was wrong because he thought such seditious people would surely take over through armed socialist revolution.

So ever the self-professed patriot, Trevor made a map of ethnic New York City, listing radical social clubs and liberal newspapers, to aid the police and national guard in the suppression of the revolt that never came.

Viva La Revolution!


Upper Manhattan / Harlem:

Lower Manhattan / Lower East Side:

Locations of "Radical Meetings" and "Liberal Newspapers":



New here? Well, welcome! You're probably interested in history and urban life. If so, you'll love my book, Cop in the Hood (or maybe you just liked The Wire?).

Why not read the first chapter of Cop in the Hood. After that, you can shell out your hard-earned pennies -- but only 1,241 of them -- and buy it at Amazon.com. What a deal! Still need to be convinced? Read the reviews. Or just look at the rest of my blog. No shame in that. And it won't cost you a cent.

February 6, 2011

Seat belts

Wear them.

And some interesting stats from Maine:
Medicaid paid out, on average, $24,500 for crash victims who were wearing their seat belts at the time of the incident. . . . The Medicaid payout for unbelted victims, meanwhile, was nearly triple that figure, or roughly $74,000 per patient, Steele said.

In an earlier review of Medicaid patients at EMHS, 10 of the 11 patients whose bills were in excess of $100,000 were not buckled up at the time of the accident.

Animal cruelty and crocodile tears

Jean Marbella has a good column in the Sun regarding trial of two brothers accused of torching a pit bull in West Baltimore in 2009:
Somehow, I feel It's come to this: The rest of us turn our backs on these neighborhoods, and the blue-light camera is the only one still looking.
...
No similar urgency for justice swells up around most crimes in Baltimore, the largely anonymous shootings and other mayhem that afflict some neighborhoods on a near-daily basis. The reason, some will say, is because Phoenix was totally innocent and so often the human victims aren't.
I have no problem with innocent victims (people who don't know the criminal and weren't doing something criminal at the time) getting more sympathy than non-so-innocent victims. But I do find something slightly disturbing when people care more about animal suffering than human suffering. It's all just a bit too precious for me.

Of course there are animals being hurt in this world right now. (It reminds me of some friends in Bali last year telling me, "Of course we kill and eat dogs--but only the bad ones.") But to cry over animal suffering while ignoring human suffering? I don't get it. Only one-in-twenty felony prosecutions ends up in trial. I mean, of all the crimes in Baltimore, is this really a good use of limited resources? Right now this same courtroom would better be used to prosecute someone who has inflicted human cruelty.

February 4, 2011

LA Jury

My mom just got off of an L.A. jury. It happened to be the same courtroom as the OJ Simpson trial.

The accused was pulled over in South L.A. for a traffic violation and had an outstanding warrant (for what, naturally, she doesn't know). Search incident to arrest found cocaine.

Seems open and shut... but not for a city jury. The vote was nine-to-three guilty and a hung jury.

Three of the 12 simply wouldn't believe the police. My mom argued that (but didn't tell them her son was a police officer). One said the guy was being picked on because he had cornrows.

I told my mom about jury nullification. She didn't like the idea, even though she thinks that cocaine possession shouldn't be a crime.

Cops shoot bad guy--hostage safe

A bit sloppy, but the good guys won. You could also file this one under, "just another day at the office."

Bank Robber Takes Hostage, Slips and Falls on Ice, then Shot and Killed by Police: MyFoxDC.com

Rate My Professor

"[Moskos's] ego barely fits into the room."

"His book which he wrote is not great at all, pretty boring, although he thinks its the best. He also has that 'oh, look at me, I went to Harvard, I'm so great' attitude at times."

"Doesn't really seem to connect with his students. I also found his way of lecturing rather disjointed."

"For the graduate level, his teaching is Amateur. . . . Pointless."

"He's a liberal, its all the same poor me i;m blacka and under privlaged stuff."
Those are some of the comments you can read about me at rateyourprofessor.com.

Students sometimes get asked if I read ratemyprofessor. Of course I do. But not too much. Still, I check every year or two because I want to know what other people can read about me. And if all the rankings were negative, then I would worry.

I do think the school's student-written evaluations of teachers are valid and useful. Professors, myself included, can always improve listening to constructive criticism. And I take my teaching seriously; I enjoy teaching and I want to be good at it.

But it's silly to get obsessed over website rankings because I have all of 19 comments on that website (and not one says I'm hot). And I've taught over 800 students. As any social scientists knows, a 2-percent response rate is worthless. In many ways, it's worse than worthless because people will draw false conclusions. Put another way, in hundreds of hours of classroom instruction: is that all you got?

Honestly, I'd be worried if none of my students didn't hate me. As everybody knows, you can't please all the people all the time. I'm happy to please most of my students most of the time.

What if the tables were turned? Honestly, I really like my students. All of them. Well, almost. But in seven years of teaching, I can only think of three students I did not like (And interestingly, all three were graduate students. One was emotionally unstable. And another later put me down as a reference, which was odd).

Anybody have San Diego PD Connections?

I want to look at the impact of cell phones of crime prevention. I can't seem to make any progress getting such data from the NYPD. The San Diego paper has this story. Maybe I'd have better luck there. Besides San Diego has always been an interesting case vis-a-vis crime reduction because they mirrored the crime drop in New York in the 1990s but the police then all-but refused to take credit for it.

Anyway, before I start cold calling, I thought I'd ask to see if anybody has police connections in San Diego. If you do feel free to send me an email. Basically I'd want to look a bunch of 911 and 311 call data going back years, with a focus on "crime in progress." And calls from cell phones, if it's broken down that way.

Of course if any other city wants me to look at this for them, I'd be happy to.

(I ask not what I can do for the blogosphere, but what the this damn blog can do for me!).

February 3, 2011

"If police have to come and get you..."

"...they're bringing an ass-kicking with them." -- Chris Rock

Here's video of Houston police beating a 15-year-old burglar. He was convicted back in October. But the video of the arrest was just now released.

Did he "deserve it"? I'm not going to go there. But police should take note: seven officers no longer have jobs. And for what? To give some 15-year-old a lesson? It's not worth it.

Suspect's phone found charging at scene of burglary

Not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

[thanks to Alex]

February 2, 2011

"Whoa camel, whoa, when I say whoa..."

Attack Camels?! This is not a picture I ever expected to see:

Luckily, and unlike the tear gas, this tool of repression doesn't have "Made in U.S.A." stamped on it.

["I mean whoa!"]