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by Peter Moskos

March 21, 2012

"There are police and there are police"

I received a very gracious and lengthy email from a very prominent professor (which in and of itself was thrilling). He read Cop in the Hood and wrote, in part:
There are police and there are police. They all look similar to the general public because they are all (most, at least) in similar uniforms, wear badges and carry firearms. But departments and even individual officers differ enormously. What is common practice in one police department may be unthinkable in another. I suppose it was natural for me to settle on the importance of this rather obvious point only after I moved into retirement as I had the opportunity to reflect on the thousands of officers I got to know individually over the years and the hundreds of agencies that I got to know in varying degrees both here in the U.S. and in other countries. Understandably, I found myself rebelling at some of your descriptions and analyses of policing in Baltimore and New York City because they were in such sharp contrast with what I've learned about policing elsewhere....

There in, it seems to me, is one of the major challenges for your generation. Why is it that we have such variations? Why are some departments so committed to prevention over apprehension or meaningless patrol? Why are some departments so committed to protecting the civil rights of everyone with whom they are in contact, and others so flagrant in their violation of them? Why are some individual police officers so thoughtless, and others so thoughtful? Why do some agencies handle protests in ways that protect the right of protesters, and others almost guaranteed to provoke conflict? I wish I had another fifty years in which to explore along these lines.
What do you think? Anyone have ideas? What are the answers? Bueller...?

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

No way! Stein wrote you!?

PCM said...

Yup. Jacob Stein from the American Federation of Music.

College Cop said...

The obvious answer to the question (of why police and departments are so widely different) is : 18000+ LE agencies, 880,000 (according to the Department of labor) completely individual Law Enforcement Officers, spread out among a country of almost a 3rd of a billion souls....

It's almost like asking why some people are liberals and some conservative. "Just Because" comes to mind lol.

PCM said...

I appreciate the reply, but then the better question to ask is why they're so similar.

But there are obvious great pressures to be similar: accreditation, culture, what works...

Anonymous said...

No, the obvious answer is that the good professor is comparing his memories of the past to the realities of the present. Every cop in America today came of age during the drug war. Every one is a willing soldier in a war fought for profit against unarmed civilians. Any cop worthy of our trust has long since been retired out, willing leaving the animals in charge of the zoo.

PCM said...

Yeah... that's gotta be it.


I take it you don't actually know any cops.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I guess that's gotta be it. Now maybe you could explain how those assault weapons managed to point themselves at my grandchildren.

PCM said...

Beats me.

But without knowing, I would assume they had probable cause supported by oath or affirmation that a crime had been committed at your location. Given the link between drugs and violence, police armed themselves with assault weapons. Upon gaining entry, officers found grandchildren at the location. None were physically harmed (though they were very scared).

But you probably know better than me.

David said...

"Given the link between drugs and violence"

...a link whose existence is almost entirely attributable to the policy environment (i.e. prohibition) rather than the actual pharmacology of the drugs themselves, since it is in the nature of markets that must operate outside of the law that they attract those with a talent for violence.

Anonymous's comment is too sweeping, but they have a point - we live in a world in which the judicial persecution of minority drug users (minority both in the sense of 'ethnic minority' and in the sense of 'drugs other than those used by the majority) is as great an injustice today as was, say, the judicial persecution of sexual minorities (eg homosexuals) a few decades ago, or runaway slaves a few generations ago. But it is in the nature of historical injustices that not everyone recognises them as unjust at the time.

Those cops who actually believe that the personal use of a mind-altering drug (other than alcohol, tobacco or caffeine) is sufficient justification for arresting and prosecuting someone are a large part of the problem.

College Cop said...

"Yeah, I guess that's gotta be it. Now maybe you could explain how those assault weapons managed to point themselves at my grandchildren."

Yea, because 880,000 people came to your house and pointed weapons at you.

This is an example of the kinds of prejudice Law Enforcement experiences. Hell, it's no different at all from the time a white man told me he didn't trust "my type" because some black man (who wasn't me) mugged him 25 years ago...

A Critic said...

"Any cop worthy of our trust has long since been retired out, willing leaving the animals in charge of the zoo. "

That isn't quite accurate. Most trust worthy cops quit long before retirement age.

I'm a law abiding citizen...and in my experience maybe 10 percent of cops at most are at all trust worthy. Maybe 3 percent are really great, competent, smart, honest, and have discretion and judgment.

The local police here no longer have any such cops to my knowledge. A couple of months ago the last four honest cops retired (early) on the same day to protest the direction (sci-fi dystopian police state future) the department is heading in. Now we have steroid and cocaine fueled jerks who don't have an inkling of the meaning of justice, law, rights, liberty, etc running things.