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by Peter Moskos

June 22, 2012

The Pearl of the Levant

Our home in Beirut (near the Greek Orthodox part of town, which my wife swears was just a coincidence).

If you look closely you can that our 4th floor landing was once a sniper's nest. The bullet pock marks on the wall are outgoing (incoming can be found if you lean over and look down). It's amazing (and sad) that there doesn't seem to be a single building that was around during the war (1975-1990) that wasn't the scene of a battle.

But why talk about war when we can talk about cheesy breakfast sandwiches across the street?

On Hamra Street, looking at the Starbucks. You forget just how many chain coffee shops there are until you see them all within three blocks.

The ever-romantic corniche.

And the fashionable (and up-scale mall-like boring) downtown.

With free concerts on five stages.

From our hike, between Jezzine and Barouk. In the mountains can be found the famous ceders of Lebanon, the oldest of which is about 3000 years old.

While I'm out...

Check out this lengthy piece (and well worth reading the whole thing) by David Simon about murders, stats, the BPD, the state's attorney's office, and the need for main-stream media. (And thanks to an anonymous comment for cluing me in.)
The Stat:

In 2011, the Baltimore Police Department charged 70 defendants with murder or manslaughter.
Yet in 2010, the department charged 130 defendants with such crimes.
What is happening?

Are Baltimore’s killers showing more cunning, are murders becoming harder to solve?  No indication of that from any quarter.  Did the homicide unit lose a ton of veteran talent?  Nope.  Not between 2010 and 2011 at any rate.  No, the dramatic collapse of the department’s investigative response to murder is the result of a quiet, backroom policy change that has created a bureaucratic disincentive to charge people in homicides.

Also, and unrelated, McCarthy in Chicago says police don't have to answer stupid 911 calls for service anymore. It might seem minor, but this could have a huge impact on policing (as Chapter Six of Cop in the Hood -- "911 is a Joke" -- describes in breath-taking page-turning detail). McCarthy is talking about "beat integrity" and says he's willing to face the political flack for fewer police responses. He also wants to give powers of where police go to police bosses (instead of giving all the power to the dispatcher). This is all good. (Maybe in Baltimore they'll actually bring a box back to put call in!) From the Sun-Times:
McCarthy replied that the change was already under way, with the goal of creating, what he called “beat integrity.” That means leaving police officers to patrol their assigned beats, instead of chasing their tails by running from one 911 call to another at the behest of dispatchers. ...
“Previously, the dispatcher would direct the resources, while the sergeants in the field would basically just be receiving them. [Now], sergeants in the field are in charge of dispatching resources if they don’t like the way [dispatch] is doing it. ...
[Dispatch] has also abandoned what McCarthy called the “clean screen concept” at the 911 center.
“They would dispatch a car from one end of the district to the other end of a district to simply get the job off the screen. That’s the clean screen concept,” he said.
“What we’re now doing is maintaining beat integrity. … If a job comes in in a neighboring beat and it’s not an emergency call for service, that job will actually get stacked until that beat is available to handle it. That’s what beat integrity is all about. Same officers in the same beat every single day. Those officers are not only accountable for what’s happening on the beat, they also know who the good kids are from the bad kids. They’re not stopping everybody. They’re stopping the right people because they know who they are.”
McCarthy said a more dramatic change is coming soon, when the Chicago Police Department determines “which jobs we’re not gonna respond to” anymore.
“That’s a call that I’m going to make — and there’s going to be some wrankling about that,” he said.
“We don’t need to respond to calls for service because, ‘My children are fighting over the remote control.’ We don’t need to respond to calls for service because, ‘My son won’t eat his dinner.’ Unfortunately, believe it or not, those are calls we actually respond to today.”
 And the political flack will come when one of the my children are fighting over the remote calls turns into a homicide. But you can't dedicate half the police department to every idiot who can pick up a phone.

June 11, 2012

Fourteen Evenings in Beirut

I'm off to Beirut to see the missus, who has been there for a month already. Yes, Beirut, the Pearl of the Levant, The Paris of the East, Chicago by the Sea. 

Except for rolling blackouts, a near civil-war next door (in the country that imposed peace in Lebanon, naturally), and some burning issues in the city of Tripoli in the north, I hear it's great this time of year. Wish me luck and an uneventful two weeks. We plan to do some hiking (seriously). Don't expect much here in the meantime.

I expect our average evening to unfold something like this:

I picked up this record from the $2 bin at a record store in Greenpoint the other night. Nothing has changed in Beirut since the 1960s, right?

Eliot, by Michael A. Wood Jr.

Need some good summer reading? Why not Eliot? It's fiction set very firmly in Baltimore's Eastern District. I know those streets well (even if the cameras are new to me). (and I love that he gives a shout out to Larry, the world's best dispatcher.)

I don't want to spoil anything, but I will say I enjoyed taking the turns around my old stomping grounds. And Michael swears there's no connection, but I could swear I went to the academy with the homicide detective. Here's the cover and you can read the back of the book:

You can get more info and buy a copy on Michael Wood's website. While you're there, if you're a cop, check out his promotion guide. I can't personally vouch for the promotion guide (I'm not up for Sergeant or Lieutenant) but I do have a copy and think it gives you the straight dope on what you need to know.

I can vouch for Eliot: good crime fiction.

Next on my list is Cop Stories: The Few, The Proud, The Ugly by Dick Ellwood. Ellwood's career goes back to 1965, so I look forward to what is now a bit of history.

And previously I wrote about Badges, Bullets, & Bars by Danny Shanahan.

Who would have though so many books would come out the ranks of the BPD?

And let's not forget Michael East's Beyond Hope. East isn't a Baltimore Cop, but he did write a very good book.

June 10, 2012

Ben Franklin and the first police force

In his autobiography Benjamin Franklin wrote:
On the whole, I proposed as a more effectual watch, the hiring of proper men to serve constantly in the at business; and as a more equitable way of supporting the charge the levying a tax than should be proportion'd to the property.... It paved the way for the law obtained a few years after.
And he said so in 1732, ninety-seven years before Robert Peel gets credit for London's Bobbies. What ever happened to the Benny's (as I will dub Franklin's police)? How long did they last? What did they do?

June 8, 2012

Christopher Coke sentenced to 23 years

Remember Dudas (AKA Christopher Coke), the Jamaican drug lord? He was sentenced in Manhattan (though most of his criminal acts were in Jamaica). When he was holding out in Tivoli Gardens, I did not think this he would ever be sentenced, much less by a US court.

I wonder if life today is better or worse in Tivoli Gardens without Dudas. Seriously. Seems like an important question to ask.

Judge Rules Against NYPD in Brooklyn Bridge Arrests

From the Times:
A federal judge ruled Thursday that the police did not sufficiently warn Occupy Wall Street protesters against walking on the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge before arresting about 700 of them in October.
The ruling, by Judge Jed S. Rakoff of the Federal District Court in Manhattan, allows a class-action suit filed by protesters to proceed against police officers and other police officials involved in the arrests. But the ruling dismissed the mayor, the police commissioner and the City of New York as defendants in the suit, saying that there was insufficient evidence that those parties were responsible for any misconduct by the police.
This may be one of those cases were both sides are right: The police did warn; the protesters couldn't hear. The burden is (and should be) higher on the police.

Golden Schmucks, Violence, Immigrants, and Greece

And the report by Jerusalem Post reporter Gil Shefler, who got beat up by extremists on one end of the spectrum, but isn't sure which.

I'm amused that Gil asks the Greek Nazi party (Golden Dawn) how they differ at all from the German Nazi's of WWII. All the party member can come up with is: "The Nazi's didn't like Greece. We are nationalists who love Greece." That's the only difference?

It bothers me that this group is called, "extreme right" or, as the New York Times so inadequately put it, "Far Right." Well, yes, technically correct. But Golden Dawn is is actually a Nazi Party. Not like the Nazis, but actual Greek Nazis... with messed up swastika and all. 

And here's the Greek Nazi party leader -- an elected member of parliament -- throwing water at a person on a talk show and than slapping another woman. Class act. I hate Greek Nazis.

He is now wanted for arrest on assault charges.

When I lived in Greece, I was amused because the graffiti for "Golden Dawn" -- in Greek, by morphing an "η" into an "α" -- can very easily be changed into "Golden Eggs" (Χρυσή Αυγή becomes Χρυσή Αυγἀ). Good stuff.

June 5, 2012

"Peter Moskos doesn’t bullshit"

Check this out by Michael Corbin in Baltimore's City Paper: Better of Two Evils. Makes me sound like such a intellectual bad-ass. And potty mouth. Fuckin'-A!

Seriously though, it is very powerfully written. Makes me want to re-read my own books.

June 4, 2012

Summer Reading (1): My Father's Name

The end of the semester means I get caught up on some of my reading. I finished The Autobiography of Ben Frankin (good stuff) and David Foster Wallace's "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again." (The footnote on the necessity of formal wear would have been very useful to read before we crossed the Atlantic on the QM2 last September).

But more relevant to this blog, I read Lawrence P. Jackson's excellent My Father's Name: A Black Virginia Family after the Civil War. This is a historical ethnography about a man who decides to trace his family's Virginia roots back to ante-bellum days. Jackson tells us that blacks in America generally only have have their accounts recorded for posterity if they were very good, very bad (criminal records), or sold in slavery (and not always then). Jackson's family seems just about average for the time and place, which makes his ability to delve into the past and bring it to life all the more impressive.

It doesn't help that Jackson is a common name. It also doesn't help that Lawrence Jackson, an introverted academic, doesn't actually seem to be very good at talking to people. But Jackson is great in the library and the county records office. And he can write. Before you know it, you're tasting the red dust of unpaved roads and hoping the good guys win the war. My Father's Name is a bit detective novel, a bit Roots, a bit Fox Butterfield's All God's Children (but without the homicides), a bit Ta-Nehisi Coates (they're both self-reflective and perceptive men from Baltimore), and all with a pleasant meandering pace of Twain's Life on the Mississippi.

Jackson also writes with what I can only describe of a pleasant undercurrent of anger. This is not unjustified blind rage but rather controlled anger which is the inevitable result of unearthing the horrors of chattel slavery not in some abstract historical sense, but in the very real way of how it defined your kin and our country and continues to do so in the present day.