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by Peter Moskos

October 4, 2014

"Those drug-dealing kids need to get off my lawn!"

So many controversial police incidents, where police are accused of being prejudiced or racist -- and here I'm thinking of the grandfather "kidnapping" his black granddaughter in the previous post, or police shooting the guy in Walmart, or the black guy in Minneapolis being hassled while waiting for his daughter, or just "swatting" in general. These incidents often happen because citizens are stupid or racist or prejudiced. And then the call police. And then the police officers get put in this horrible situation where they have to investigate the sometimes irrational suspicions of an idiot citizen. Usually it's not a matter of life or death. But there are lot of calls for youths selling drugs when they're just loitering. There are a lot of calls for an armed person, when the person is not armed.

I don't know how to avoid these problems, but they are related to the whole problem of the 911 system and reactive policing in general. Police can and do make mistakes, but based on police officer training and experience, police are much better judges of crime and danger than the average schmuck with a cell phone. And yet the information from the average schmuck with a cell phone -- then filtered through an underpaid 911 operator and then passed on to an under-appreciated police dispatcher -- is how most police-public interactions start. For the average citizen, it's too easy, too anonymous, and too without consequence to dial 911. One would think there has to be a better way. Any ideas?

8 comments:

David Woycechowsky said...

I once called the police on a person for drug dealing. It happened to be a person of color. The police set up an appointment with me. Two of them came to my aprtment and sat with me and my wife in my apartment talking about our situation. The drug dealer lived in our building. We had given our notice and found a new apartment, but 60 day notice to vacate was the norm in Toronto and we had about 30 days to go. Things had gotten quite bad and the drugdealer was threatening us and his customers had started coming to our door. Anyway, after talking with us for about 15 minutes they said that they could not promise us any relief, but they would try. About 10 hours later they let us know that they arrested the man and that they would probably have him in custody until a few days before our lease ended. Some new drugdealers moved in about a week before our lease ended, but we were moved out by then.

I don't know if there is any answer lurking in this story, but it is the closest experience I have.

David Woycechowsky said...

ps: I was glad for the gun control in Canada when this went down. Last winter in Baltimore I wandered into the wrong neighborhood on a Sunday morning walk. I didn't think I was going to get out alive there for a couple minutes.

PCM said...

I'm just guessing now, but I suspect you casually walked a few blocks east from Charles St or Fallsway. Welcome to the Eastern District!

David Woycechowsky said...

IIRC I was at St. Paul and 20th when I realized that a loose net was closing around me. I don't think I was further east than that. I got out by walking briskly north and by 24th no one was following me anymore.

PCM said...

That's a block from the eastern. But I would walk on Charles St (one block west). The ghetto pinches Charles St right there, at North Ave.

St. Paul is generally fine... but it's very close to whole lot of trouble.

David Woycechowsky said...

I tried to get to St. Charles, on 21st or 22d, I think, as I was "fleeing," but that was not happening so I had to turn tail and briskly walk up St. Paul. Anyway, I just go down to go to the Ottobar and that seems safe enough.

PCM said...

Yeah, that's the thing: there's lots of good stuff right there on Charles Street! Bar, movie theater, and who knows what else. I'm still upset I've never met John Waters. He's there one night a week, he so he used to claim.

Noumenon said...

All I can say is when the cops were called for me supposedly babynapping my nephew, I just let them take his picture and went on my way. If people just weren't so antagonistic the false alarms would resolve without incident.