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by Peter Moskos

December 16, 2012

David Durk thought I was crazy...

...at least at first.

David Durk died last month. And I didn't even know it. That really would have pissed him off.

(My excuse for missing the obits was that I was en-route to a conference in Chicago. Here's one. And another. And a third.)

Let me take you back a bit. In October, 2009, there was this strange voice mail on my school office phone. Some gruff guy with no phones manners said, quite awkwardly: "Call me I want to talk about your book!"

Hmmmm... No, thank you.

But I did save the message because it was so strange.

A month later a similar message comes over the phone. But now I'm sitting in front of my computer. He did actually spell his name, David Durk, D.U.R.K., so I punched it into google. The David Durk? I called him back the next day.

He proceeded to talk my ear off for a good 40 minutes. He hadn't read my book, but he had heard something I said that pissed him off, which seemingly wasn't very hard top do. He thought I was crazy because I said something like, "the culture of police today isn't corrupt." What can I say? I call 'em like I see 'em. I didn't know what else to tell him (nor did I ever get the change to say much). But I did offer to send David Durk a copy of Cop in the Hood. And I did. 

A short time passes and he call me again saying, "I just finished reading the last footnote! Great stuff." That blurb from him has been on the right column of this blog for a while now. I'm rather proud of it. We got along better after he read my book. I like to think he respected my integrity. Or maybe he just had a soft spot for a college-educated cop. I don't know if I got in more than 50 words, edge-wise. Evidently, I later learned, I was not the first to experience this Durkian balance of conversation.

But I considered it an honor to listen to David Durk ramble on. I mean, he's David Durk for Christ's sake and my time isn't that precious. But I never did invite him to speak to my classes or the school, which (before his health issues became more serious) he was keen to do. We never met. I didn't really want to. We talked a few more times on the phone. These conversations each lasted about an hour. But over the phone, when push came to shove, I could simply hang up.

What David Durk told me, again and again, was that the world was corrupt, policing was corrupt, and he was forced out to retire on an officer's pension rather than the lieutenant's pension he deserved. I couldn't argue with any of that, because he would never give me the chance.

By many accounts, David Durk was a difficult personality. He struck me as not at peace with himself or the world. Mind you, had he achieved some zen-like state of nirvana, he never would have accomplished what he did. I mean, David Durk -- along with Frank Serpico -- changed the friggin' culture of modern police! I can't think of any other two individual with so much positive impact on policing in the 20th century.

Perhaps the most importantly change is that today (going back at least twenty years) an honest person can become an honest cop and lead a crime-free work-life for 20 years. No "pad"; no stealing from places already burglarized; no shaking down drug dealers; no shooting criminals just to teach them a lesson (not that Durk was opposed to a robbery squad that did just that, just FYI). It's not that none of this ever happens, it's that there's no longer institutionalized criminal corruption in rank-and-file policing. We have Durk and Serpico to thank for that. 

But something odd happens when you quit policing. In the following hears you assume nothing has changed. I know policing changed a lot from 1990 to 2001. And I suspect it's changed as much if not more between 2001 and 2012. But not in my mind, which will forever be a bit stuck in a bit of a time-warp from 2001. 

David Durk lived his life thinking policing hadn't changed much over the years. This was unfortunate, for a man not known for his humility. Durk couldn't appreciate what he himself had done do make policing less corrupt. He told me things were just as corrupt in 2012 as they were in 1985, or even 1970. "But it ain't so, David," I would tell him, "It just isn't." For Durk, the world was never clean enough. The man tired me out. But I'm happy he found the time to do so.

Rest in peace.


EOJPG said...

That is funny. I was a big NPYD Blue fan back in the day and it premiered in 1993, I think - about 20 years ago or so. And while I suppose the writers would say its principals were honest cops, I thought the line they walked was questionable, at least some of the time - the back-and-forth with "the Rat Squad" (internal affairs), beatings during interrogations, etc. I guess what I am trying to say is, Maybe that show reflected the very end of an era? that is, when one still could not be an honest cop. Or would you - PM - say that the show reflects what it is like *still* to be an honest cop, including over the last 20 years or so?

PCM said...

I don't know. The problem is I wasn't a fan of NYPD Blue (or, more recently, the Shield). The Shield wasn't realistic enough.

I hear from old cops that Hill Street Blues was damn good and even realistic (even if the language was too clean). But that was a bit before my time (or, I should say, I was bit too young to appreciate serious shows. I was still into WKRP in Cincinnati).

I really need to watch a few episodes of Hill Street. If nothing else, it left cops with the phrase, "Be careful out there."
The Wire is all I can talk about, TV-wise.

But I do like the idea of a show reflecting the end of the era.

EOJPG said...

WKRP - your tastes were more sophisticaed than mine, I think. You're a bit older than me (half a decade or so, I think), so maybe the comparison is not justified, but I recall planting myself in front of Channel 9 (WGN) or Channel 32 (WFLD) prior to and after school - those were some great cartoons and great reruns of 70s (and 60s) sitcoms, but I simply don't recall WKRP resonating, or even making the rounds.

(Sorry, I realize this is a serious blog about policing and ethnography and criminology and sociology and urban morphology and other multisyllabic or polysyllabic words and phrases, but nostalgia for the Chicago of the 1980s is simply too powerful to repress.)

Here, perhaps, is a legitimate question touching on those big words: are there reasons to think respondents to surveys of police officers are any *less* honest (or less *valid,* with all the accompanying social science mumbo jumbo) than respondents of other surveys? The reason I ask is I was just trying to think about how one would determine whether policing has gotten more "honest" over time.

In any event, glad you're up and blogging again, and if nothing else, please do post on the Vanecko case - the nephew and grandson of titanic mayors brought up on a murder charge in the city that was never ready for democracy - who woulda thunk it, eh?


PCM said...

I wouldn't expect see any difference is response error for cops. And you always get a much better response rate from cops. But the best way I think is simply to ask cops. And businessmen. And drug dealers. (And of course what counts as honest has changed, too.) I love Mencken's line about cops being basically honest, at least within the bounds of reason.

I know almost nothing about the Vanecko train. News from Chicago doesn't travel, alas.

IrishPirate said...


you ignorant slut.

Here's some news from Chicago which will sadden you.


PCM said...

Even ignorant sluts can be a bit tenderhearted. That does sadden me! Who would have thought, 25 years ago, that Garry Meier and Jonathon Brandmeier would be on WGN and Uncle Milt wouldn't be! Clearly a sign that the apocalypse did in fact arrive.

At least I achieved my life-long dream of being on his show. Too bad I won't achieve my life-long dream of being on his show again.

IrishPirate said...

The true ignorant sluts are WGN management. I should find Dan Akroyd and have him taunt them.

Merry Holidays.

The Vanecko case is relatively easy to understand. Nephew of MareDaley hits much smaller man on Division Street. Man hits head on curb. Man dies later. Friends of Vanecko initally lie to detectives. Detectives figure out who Vanecko is related to. Case disappears until Sun Times starts major investigation.

Republican Judge, they do exist in Cook County, appoints Special Prosecutor. Special Prosecutor brings charges against Vanecko.

Our lovely States Attorney, Anita Alvarez, tries to find a necrophilia angle but can't. If you don't understand that sarcastic comment check this out.


Happy Biking!