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by Peter Moskos

June 30, 2015

"Stay Out of Downtown For Now"

Remember when Batts and the mayor said nobody ever told the cops to "stand down" during the riots? Well people who were there know they were lying.

Well here is at least one order telling officer not to engage.

summertime reading / to explain legal issues / haikus for police

Cops are famous for having short attention spans. Who wants to read a whole book? Or article? Or legal bulletin? And since twitter is perhaps the worst place in the world to give legal lessons or any nuance, I thought I'd give it a try. Given the limitations of 140 characters, naturally I used haikus:
don't be so certain
if you say “I know my rights!”
you probably don't

must “articulate”
“reasonable suspicion”
for a “stop” or “frisk”

it’s more than a “hunch”
“reasonable suspicion”
from Terry, says Court

but “more than a hunch”
and “less than probable cause”
is still kind of vague

In Terry, Court said
“frisk” for “officer safety”
“patdown” “outer clothes”

In Terry, Court said
“frisk” for “officer safety”
patdown “outer clothes”

4th amendment says
police need “probable cause”
to “search” or arrest

hands in pants’ pockets
can be an illegal “search”
too common and wrong

unless police have
“probable cause” for bad stuff
based on “plain feel”

see hear smell or touch
if cops are legally there
It is all fair game

the legal standard
“beyond a reasonable doubt”
only applies in court

minor B.S. can
give police “probable cause”
smart cops will use it

with arrest comes search
called incident to arrest
oh, the game is rigged

you hope for the best
if you search and find nothing
let the person go

contraband is felt
“plain feel” gives “probable cause”
in a legal “frisk”

running *is* legal
(illinois versus wardlow)
but you can be “stopped”

warrant exceptions
despite the 4th amendment
are easy to find

“inventory” car
“search incident to arrest”
“within lunging reach”

“consent” is OK
happens much more than you’d think
courts kind’a hate it

even when legal
a “stop” isn’t an “arrest”
so it can’t take long

“Miranda” kicks in
only when questioned / can’t leave
not part of arrest

despite their urging
don’t tell cops about your crime
they will lock you up

but telling the truth
can bring about leniency
from cops used to lies

am I being “detained”?
won’t make friends... but fair to ask
if no, walk away

legally what counts
is the “totality of
the circumstances”

when cops use language
that doesn’t come naturally
They’re quoting the Court:

apparent” / “furtive gestures”
(whatever that means)

leaves fall in autumn
police work goes on and on
until the pension...

What if the messenger actually is a bit to blame?

The BBC has a story about Michael Wood and his reporting of police wrong doing.

I still don't doubt the truth of what he says he say and participated in. That's important. As to his character or motives, nobody outside of policing really gives a damn what they are or if Wood was a good police officer or not.

Wood makes some very good points. Points that need to be made. So good on him for making them! These are all from his twitter feed:
Guess what will happen if police act super courteous while being filmed? Would get boring huh? Kill em w/ kindness, duh.
Of importance is that, because of the culture, nearly any BPD officer could have been involved in Freddie Gray, that's the shock they have.
PC Batts has been feeding you BS from day one, research what he says. Is it true? Does he carry out?
7pm-3am shifts with 9am court, destroy your sanity, your family, your life.
[It's wrong to place] people in a situation where they can choose either a 6 month guilty plea or face 20+years in prison.
These things need to be heard more. And right now people are listening to Wood.

But people are most interested in the bad and illegal things Wood saw and did.

It's one thing, as a young cop, to go along with the flow or not report on bad behavior. I'm not saying it's good. But it's understandable. It's one thing to decide six years after your last arrest that something needs to be said. That's even understandable.

But at some point you can't just admit that bad things you did and hold your head high. Wood says this in the BBC story:
I was a shift commander [VCID, I would guess, known as "Impact" in my days] and I told the shift that when you go out there doing car stops: "I don't want to see you stopping an old lady - this is Baltimore! You stop 16-24 year old black males." Why? Because 16-24 black males are the ones who commit all the crime.
Seriously? What the fuck?!

You're not some great whistleblower if you blow the whistle against yourself. That's called confessing to your crimes. Look, I'm glad Wood if has matured and no longer says racist or anti-semetic comments. But as Chris Rock once said, you don't get credit for shit you're supposed to do!

To be clear, I don't mean this as a personal attack on Wood. If Wood is using himself as Exhibit A for a messed-up system, more power to him. There is a problem not just with individual people but with a system that allows a supervisor to issue such racist illegal commands. There's a problem with a system that allows people to get through the academy no matter what they do. There's a problem in a system that thinks their way is the only way. But when you want to change and improve that system, attack the system. Attack those who do wrong. But you shouldn't besmirch others by thinking your own malfeasance is typical.

My shift supervisors never told us to stop black men. I was never encouraged to conduct an illegal search. I didn't conduct illegal searches. Though like Wood, I saw many cops' hands unconstitutionally empty pockets. Also like Wood, I wrote about this (in Cop in the Hood) and mentioned it whenever I could. ("But do they call me Pierre the Great Whistleblower? Non.")

Now I and those in my squad were not angels. But I never heard of a cop taking a dump in a home. Nor did I witness cops slapping anybody. I didn't see a handcuffed man get beat by police (I did see that happen once in CBIF, but that's another story). There is a pretty hard and fast rule that once the cuffs are on, the fight is over. That said, if you are going to criminally assault a prisoner, you would certainly want to assault somebody else's prisoner!)

So what's different about Wood? Best I can tell:
1) Wood was a cop longer than I was;
2) Wood was in a specialized drug squad that did more bad stuff;
3) Wood actually did more bad stuff. And like attracts like.
Kind of related, and this is one of the few good things I've heard Batts has done as chief, but the worst offenders were demoted from specialized units. Rumor has it that complaints against police dropped 40 percent. Of course what happened to these obnoxious cops? Most were just sent back to patrol to be bitter and pissed off at even less criminal citizens.

My sergeant (who never went to college) could articulate the legal distinctions between a stop and an arrest, between a frisk and search, and between reasonable suspicion and probable cause. Why can't others? Also, he never took a day of medical.

Homicides down in Baltimore (but still up)

You know how all them criminal justice "experts" say it's inevitable that homicides go up in the summer? Well for at least the second year in a row, homicides in Baltimore are down, June compared to May.

After the riot, homicides more than doubled.

Pre-April 27, 2015: 0.58 homicides a day.

April 28 - May 31, 2015: 1.44 homicides a day.

June 1 - 29, 2015: 1.0 homicide a day.

Before the riots, homicides were up in Baltimore about 30 percent compared to 2014.

Post-riot, Balto homicides are up about 75 percent compared to the same time last year. Shootings even more so.

42 people were killed this year in May, but no, "regression to the mean" is not inevitable when it comes to people killing each other. Not included a body or two dropped tonight, the good news, I suppose, is we're down to just 1 murder each and every day.

Of the 144 people killed so far this year in Baltimore: 131 are male, 127 are black, 122 were shot. 104 victims, 72 percent of the total, win the trifecta by being all three.

Legal Robbery

Meanwhile, civil forfeiture continues. You know, where government agents just come and take your money. Why? Because they can.

Charles Clarke was questioned because the U.S. Airlines ticketing agent told police that his checked luggage had a strong odor of marijuana. When his money was confiscated, Clarke had no guns, drugs, or any contraband on him or in his luggage.

According to the affidavit, this is what gives probably cause to steal $11,000 from a citizen:
Travel on a recently purchased one-way ticket;
inability to provide documentation for source of currency;
strong oder of marijuana on checked luggage;
positive hit by drug dog.
Eleven law enforcement agencies want a cut of his money:
in Charles Clarke's case, agencies stand to receive payouts even though they had nothing to do with the seizure. "Law enforcement agencies are just scrambling to get a cut of the money and it has nothing to do with legitimate law enforcement incentives," said Clarke's attorney Darpana Sheth. "It's more about policing for profit." The small amounts that most agencies requested -- just a few hundred dollars -- represent what Sheth calls the "pettiness" of much of civil asset forfeiture. "It's really just the money, its not anything else that's driving the request," she said.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, passenger departures at CVG [the airport] have dropped by about 75 percent since 2005, from a high of roughly 11 million down to fewer than 3 million in 2013. Over the same time, the total amount of cash seized at the airport has increased more than sixteen-fold, from $147,000 to $3 million in 2012. So in stepping up their seizure efforts, authorities at the airport are squeezing more cash out of fewer passengers.
So Clarke has to hire a lawyer to prove the innocence of his money. The case is titled: "United States of America v. $11,000 in United States Currency and Charles L. Clarke, II." I doubt he's going to win.

June 26, 2015

Low Morale

The NY Post reports an NYPD study that says: "More than half of city cops have bad feelings about being a police officer because of their bosses." It goes on:
The findings also revealed 85 percent of cops feared being proactive on the street because they are wary of civilian complaints.

More than two-thirds say they have not taken lawful activity against criminals because they feared being sued.
Only 15 percent of cops thought they were trained well in crisis intervention and 18 percent in management.

The highest training rating was given to firearm training — and even that was at only 50 percent. Only a third of cops thought they were trained well in officer safety.

And training in both investigations and domestic violence was also rated badly, at a pitiful 26 percent.

June 25, 2015

I still like the baton

Maybe this is minor in the bigger picture of what people are saying about Michael Wood Jr, but I have to disagree with Wood's dislike of the baton. In a radio interview he said he didn't carry his because he couldn't imagine hitting somebody with it. In the Balko interview he says cops used them to dent doors.

I loved my baton. I still have it. Right by the front door, just in case. The straight baton I'm talking about, not the asp. Wood never had a straight baton (BPD phased them out in 2001). The straight baton can do so much more than the asp. It's defensive. You can wack a leg or arm. You can thrust forward and back. You can hold it in multiple positions (some more benign than others). You can twirl it. (One of my great regrets was trying and failing to master the espantoon.)

The old-fashioned baton gives you a certain gravitas when you walk the beat.

Unlike most cops I carried my stick with me to almost every call. I wanted to avoid being in a situation where I might be on the losing end of a fight and have to kill somebody. And partly because of my willingness to carry it (combined with the general view on the street that cops carried a baton only when they planed on using it) I never actually did have to strike anybody.

But I sure did use it to knock on doors. Did I dent any? I don't know. Not intentionally. But how else are you going to be heard knocking on a door? The door bell hasn't worked in decades. I learned pretty quickly that my knuckles aren't hard enough. There's loud stuff going on. And I don't want to waste everybody's time -- they did, after all, call 911 -- not knowing whether or not you heard me knock the first time. Also, I wanted to make damn sure you knew that police were at your door. When you're a cop you knock like a cop. You take a step to the side, rap a few knocks loud as hell (once), and say "PO-lice." Worked every time.

I wrote more in defense of the straight baton in 2011.

The Futility of the War on Drugs

Given the recent discussion started by Michael Wood, Jr. this last excerpt from Cop in the Hood couldn't come at a better time:
It may seem incongruous for police officers to see the futility of drug enforcement and simultaneously promote increased drug enforcement. But for many, the drug war is a moral issue and retreat would “send the wrong message”:

“It’s a crusade for me. My brother and a cousin died from heroin overdoses. I know that on some level it’s a choice they made. But there was also a dealer pushing it on them. I want to go out and get these drug dealers.”

Another officer was more explicit: “You’ve got to see it [drugs] as evil. What do you think? It’s good? When we’re out there, risking our lives, we’re on the side of good. Drugs are evil. It’s either that or seeing half the people in the Eastern [District] as being evil. I like to think that I’m helping good people fight evil. That’s what I’d like to think.”
The attitudes of police and criminal are largely controlled by a desire to protect their turf while avoiding unnecessary interactions. On each call for service, drug dealers generally do not wish to provoke the police and most police officers are not looking for adventure. At night, curfew violations can be enforced on minors. Open containers can be cited. People can be arrested for some minor charge. But arrests take officers off the street and leave the drug corner largely unpoliced while the prisoner is booked. Nothing police officers do will disrupt the drug trade longer than it takes drug dealers to walk around the block and recongregate. One officer expressed this dilemma well: “We can’t do anything. Drugs were here before I was born and they’re going to be here after I die. All they pay us to do is herd junkies.”

Things Police Do

Michael Wood Jr. has made some waves by tweeting about things he saw as a Baltimore cop.

[To get up to speed, single best thing to read now is the Balko interview.]

Honestly, I don't doubt what Wood says. I am curious if all the bad he saw came from his time in narcotics. And for better or for worse, he wasn't in narcotics long. I don't think he made an arrest since 2009. There has been lots of time to bring up these issues. Lots of time to go to IAD. In fact, he still could. But anyway...

I never worked a specialized unit. I didn't want to. I didn't like they way the worked. (I also wasn't there long enough anyway to get out of patrol.) I saw the drug squads tear up homes during raids. (I was sometimes the lone "uniform" out back.) It was immoral and ugly. Worst of all, it was legal.

End the drug war and 80 percent of police problems vanish.

But I'm curious, if Wood was a sergeant, did this stuff happen under his command? Because then it's also on him. But all in all, I have no reason not to take him at his word:
I will admit to some self interest in coming forward. I’d like to part of the solution. I woke up to this, and I think I can be a bridge. I speak the language cops speak. If there’s some task force or policing reform committee I can serve on, I’d love to do that.

Other than that, I think we just need more conversation.
Unlike Wood, I never had a "come to Jesus" moment working as a cop. The world -- and policing -- is filled with a lot of gray. I already knew the war on drugs was doomed. (What I learned as a cop on the front line was how that failure worked out on the front line.) I suppose I went in a bit more world weary and cynical than the average cop. I was older (29) than the average rookie. I lived in the city. I did not have a military us versus them attitude. I was college educated. Well traveled. I spent a lot of time with the police in Amsterdam (on and off from 1996 to 1999). So I had a certain perspective as to what I was seeing and doing on the job. I was not completely unfamiliar with the ghetto, black people, or urban life in general. I was not afraid.

I am afraid that lost in the sensationalism of a cop "telling all" will be the subtlety and nuance of what Wood is saying. It would be unfortunate were this just filed away as ammo in the "cops are bad" camp. I know -- as I presume Wood does -- too many cops who do care, do have empathy, and do work very hard to help people. I also know a lot of cops who maybe stopped caring, but still do a good job. And, sure I'm all for societal justice, but lofty ideals don't tell police what to do in neighborhoods with these kinds of problems!

In a very long radio interview Wood mentions something which deserves highlighting:
This job is largely impossible.

The expectation of the modern police officer is that they should be a medic. They need to be MapQuest. They need to be a jujitsu expert. They need to be a handgun superstar who can shoot somebody in the knee.... They need to be a psychiatrist. They need to understand mental illness. They need to be able drive effectively. They need to do all of this while making $45,000, having minimal training, and no education.
Wood makes the point that there's too much injustice in our society. He's right. And he's right that they're linked to race and class. He's right that the rules are different if you grow up in the ghetto. He's right that the war on drugs is a failure. And he's right that too many cops come from completely different backgrounds without any empathy or understanding of the area or the people in the area they police. He's right that what we're doing isn't working. He's right that police can do better.

Here's an interview of Wood by Radley Balko in the Washington Post:
What we’re doing to people to fight the drug war is insane. And the cops who do narcotics work — who really want to and enjoy the drug stuff — they’re just the worst. It’s completely dehumanizing. It strips you of your empathy.
I found his take on veterans as cops (he is one) interesting:
But when it comes to former military joining law enforcement, I’m in the camp that says they’re going to be better when it comes to shootings and using force. Bad police shootings are almost always the result of a cop being afraid.... The military strips you of fear. Here’s the thing: There’s nothing brave or heroic about shooting Tamir Rice the second you pull up to the scene. You know what is heroic? Approaching the young kid with the gun. Putting yourself at risk by waiting a few seconds to be sure that the kid really is a threat, that the gun is a real gun. The hero is the cop who hesitates to pull the trigger.

That’s where I think a military background can help. Very few of these bad shootings were by cops with a military background. There may have been a few, but I can’t think of one.
I've often said it would be nice if we could talk about some of the important issues before somebody dies. Maybe Wood is giving us that opportunity.

[Though he's wrong about the baton.]

Hey, it's just the jobs and potential freedom of six police officers.

Nobody seemed to believe Baltimore's FOP last week when Robert Cherry said:
"We have a state's attorney who used an opportunity of crisis to quell the riots."
“The unrest had nothing to do with my decision to charge,” says Mosby. “I just followed where the facts led.”
Score this one for the FOP. The Sun reports:
By charging six police officers in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray, State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby restored order to Baltimore "before the entire city became an armed camp or was burned to the ground," her office argues in a new court filing.
Thanks, Mosby. Glad you solved that riot problem. And so nice to see you in all the magazines. I don't think I need to point out how wrong of a justification that is to take into account while deciding whether or not to criminally charge people with crimes.

Customers line up for heroin in Chicago

So what do you want cops to do about this?

From the Chicago Sun-Times. The 3700 block of W. Grenshaw. 3711 W. Grenshaw, to be exact, according to my google streetview snooping skills. It's not even a horrible looking block, to be honest. I mean, it's not the best looking block. But there are a bunch of well-kept homes. It's a short walk to the L. Two of Chicago's largest parks are within walking distance. You can get a great building with a few units for under $120,000. But, of course, that's not the point. Because of course none of that matter with scenes like pictured above.

I'm certain the neighbors called police. So what should cops do? Short of legalize and regulate distribution, this is what I have never heard a good answer to.

Decriminalizing small-scale heroin possession isn't the answer. Because then police have no legal authority over everybody lined up to buy drugs. And police do need to "do something."

In this case, there was an investigation, the Feds were involved, a big raid, and dozens of people were arrested. That's all well and good. And it cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in law enforcement and court costs. It will cost millions of dollars in prison time.

And for what? So now somebody else is selling. At a different house. Now what? Wash, rinse, and repeat isn't good enough.

[Two miles from this house is this block]

June 24, 2015

On arresting drug offenders

From Cop in the Hood:
Because of these problems and the “victimless” nature of drug crimes, most drug arrests are at the initiative of police officers. On one occasion, while driving slowly through a busy drug market early one morning, I saw dozens of African American addicts milling about while a smaller group of young men and boys were waiting to sell. Another officer in our squad had just arrested a drug addict for loitering. I asked my partner, “What’s the point of arresting people for walking down the street?” He replied: “Because everybody walking down the street is a criminal. In Canton or Greektown [middle- class neighborhoods] people are actually going somewhere. How many people here aren’t dirty? [‘None.’] It’s drugs. . . . If all we can do is lock ’em up for loitering, so be it.”
I don't think that's the answer. But... I'm not certain what is the answer. Certainly junkies are a quality-of-life issue. The best we could do is regulate the drug trade. The worst we could do is decriminalize low-level drug offenses. The latter solves neither quality-of-life issues nor the violence around public drug dealing.

June 23, 2015

Police/Community relations in Baltimore

They weren't good then. They're not good now. From Cop in the Hood:
While the police see good communication between the public and the police as essential to fighting crime, relations are quite poor. This shouldn’t be surprising. Drug users are criminal. If they want to stay out of jail, they and those who care for them have every reason to be wary of police. One officer complained:

"Nobody here will talk to police. Half the public hates us. The other half is scared to talk to us. I would be, too. But we can’t do anything without the public. They know who’s dirty and who’s not. They know who’s shooting who. We don’t know. They live here. We just drive around in big billboards. How are we supposed to see anything? The public doesn’t understand that nothing will ever go to court if nobody talks. We can only do so much. As long as nobody ever sees anything, things aren’t going to change."
New or not, the impact of silence is hugely detrimental to police and prosecutors. Even without personal risks, there is little incentive to testify. Nobody gains through interaction with the criminal justice system. You don’t get paid for it; there is no guarantee that testimony will result in conviction and jail time; and after the second or third postponement, a sense of civic duty usually fades. The hassles of court--passing through metal detectors, wasted days, close contact with crowds of criminals--combined with practical matters such as work and childcare make it far easier, even smarter, to see nothing, hear nothing, and mind your own business.
That's the real wall of silence we need to break down. And I have no idea how to do it. Especially given the rules of the game, both judicial and criminal. Make no mistake about it: snitches do get stitches. Witnesses get killed. Not that often, mind you. But just enough to shut people up. (This also seems relevant if you've read Ghettoside, which I wrote about in a comment to this post.)

June 22, 2015

Baltmore's so-called gang problem

From Cop in the Hood:
In cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, gangs control the drug dealing. Because of that, some assume that drug violence is intrinsically linked to gangs. But East Coast cities have a different history. Large-scale gangs, such as the Bloods and Crips, are growing but still comparatively small. Gangs in Baltimore tend to be smaller and less organized, sometimes just a group sitting on a corner. Any group selling drugs can be called a gang, but the distinction between a gang and a group of friends is often based more on race, class, and police labeling than anything else. The disorganization of Baltimore’s crime networks may contribute to Baltimore’s violence. Conceivably, organized large gangs could reduce violence by deterring competition and would-be stickup kids.

While drug-dealing organizations exist, they tend to restrict themselves to wholesale operations without conspicuous gang names, clothes, or colors. In Baltimore, wholesalers--often SUV-driving Dominicans and Jamaicans with New York or Pennsylvania tags--will sell their product to various midlevel dealers once or twice a week. The midlevel dealers will re-up the corner dealers’ stash as needed. Street-level dealers in Baltimore control smaller areas, perhaps three or four corners in close proximity. As a uniformed patrol officer, my focus was exclusively on the low-level street dealer. Going up the drug ladder requires lengthy investigations, undercover police, snitches, and confidential informants. A patrol officer’s job is to answer 911 calls for service.
Has any of this changed?

June 21, 2015

Violence and the Drug Corner in Baltimore

Too many people are getting killed! From Cop in the Hood:
Still the risk of death is astoundingly high. For some of those “in the game,” the risk of death may be as high as 7 percent annually. Each year in Baltimore’s Eastern District approximately one in every 160 men aged fifteen to thirty- four is murdered. At this rate, more than 10 percent of men in Baltimore’s Eastern District are murdered before the age of thirty- five. As shocking as this is, the percentage would be drastically higher if it excluded those who aren’t “in the game” and at risk because of their association with the drug trade. Yet if everybody you know has been shot, killed, or locked up, perhaps such is life.
Linked to the recent increase in homicides:
Police don’t find many guns when frisking suspects. The threat of arrest may outweigh the risk of being robbed or attacked. For others, a reputation for violence may be enough of a deterrent. Yet there is no doubt that guns are accessible to many. After all, gunfire is a daily reality and pacifist corner drug dealers don’t last long.

June 20, 2015

Corruption in the Baltimore Police Department

When I hear people, Commissioner Batts including, talk about the horrible institutional problem of Baltimore police corruption, I know they have never spent any time working on the streets of Baltimore. Batts certainly hasn't. He's the chief. He's separated by five thick layers of chain of command from the rank-and-file. And he didn't work his way up through that chain of command.

Here's what I saw. If you have no first-hand experience, please don't try and convince me otherwise. It's the old line about "Who are you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes?"

This comes from Cop in the Hood:
Temptation is everywhere. Given the prevalence of drug dealing and the fact that drug dealers hold hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars in cash, police officers routinely face the opportunity for quick and illegal personal gain. Police could get away with stealing drugs or money, at least for a while. But robbed drug dealers can and will call Internal Affairs. And officers with criminal dealings will usually be ratted out by another criminal. Putting a dirty cop behind bars is as good a get-out-of-jail card as exists.

I policed what is arguably the worst shift in the worst district in Baltimore and saw no police corruption. I know there are corrupt police officers. After three years on the street, one Eastern District officer stopped a man who drove his motorized scooter through a red light. The man had $6,300 in his pocket. The officer counted the money and allegedly returned $4,900 of it. The man called police to report the missing money and the officer was arrested and indicted on felony theft charges. One year later, these charges were dropped on condition that the officer resign from the police department and agree not to work in law enforcement again. When a cop is dirty, there is inevitably a drugs connection. Over a few beers after work, the subject of the drug squad came up. An older cop warned me to “stay away from drugs [in your dealings as a cop]. They’ll just get you in trouble in the long run.”

Incidents do happen, but the police culture is not corrupt. Though overall police integrity is very high, some will never be convinced. But out of personal virtue, internal investigation stings, or monetary calculations, the majority— the vast majority—of police officers are clean. A greater problem is that high- arrest officers push the boundaries of consent searches and turn pockets inside- out. Illegal (and legal) searches are almost always motivated by a desire to find drugs. In the academy, an officer warned the class, “Corruption starts six months to a year after you’re out of the academy. When you’re on the streets and you start shaking down drug dealers because they’re worthless shits.” Similarly a sergeant explained:

You’ll get out there, thinking you can make a difference. Then you get frustrated: a dealer caught with less than twenty- five pieces will be considered personal use. . . . Or you go to court and they take his word over yours. You’re a cop and you’re saying you saw something! . . . After it happens to you, you don’t care. It’s your job to bring him there [to court]. What happens after that is their problem. You can’t take this job personal! Drugs were here before you were. And they’ll be here long after you’re gone. Don’t think you can change that. I don’t want you leaving here thinking everybody living in this neighborhood is bad, does drugs. Many [cops] start beating people, thinking they deserve it.

Police officers are often in a position to hold various amounts of drugs and money. Legally seized drugs and money are kept in one’s pockets (carefully separated from personal belongings) before being taken to the station house and submitted in the proper fashion. Officers have to be careful not to make honest mistakes. They could put something in the wrong pocket. Something could fall out of a pocket. The night gets busy and they might forget to submit. Before each shift, police officers search the squad car for anything left behind.

Many residents, after repeated calls to police about drug dealers, assume that officers are either incorrigibly corrupt or completely apathetic:

I understand what you [police] deal with. But you got to understand. People see police drive right by the dealers, don’t even get out of the car. Or they [police] got them [dealers] with their legs spread [being searched]. Who’s to say you ain’t taking a little something on the side? You can’t have drugs on this scale without somebody letting it happen.

Police discount such accusations:

People get bad ideas from the media or from criminals that we’re corrupt or brutal. But we’re not. Or they refuse to think that their son could be involved with drugs. They want the corner cleared, but if we pick up their son it must be the racist cops picking on him because he’s black. And with the amount of drugs you’ve got in this area, of course they aren’t going to like police because we’re trying to lock them up. Too many people here are pro-criminal.

Even financially, it pays to be straight. A New York City police officer explained:

My pension is worth between one and two million dollars. I’d have to be a fool to risk that for $100, even $1,000. I’ll tell you when I’ll be corrupt: the day I walk into a room piled with drugs, five million dollars in cash, and everybody dead. For five million, I’d do it. I’d leave the drugs and take the cash.

Some officers enter the police department corrupt. Others fall of their own free will. Still others may have an isolated instance of corruption in an otherwise honest career. But there is no natural force pulling officers from a free cup of coffee toward shaking down drug dealers. Police can omit superfluous facts from a police report without later perjuring themselves in court. Working unapproved security overtime does not lead to a life in the Mob. Officers can take a catnap at 4 am and never abuse medical leave. There is no slope. If anything, corruption is more like a Slip ’N Slide. You can usually keep your footing, but it’s the drugs that make everything so damn slippery.

"Police earn court overtime pay while residents get rap sheets. It’s a horrible equilibrium, and police are the fulcrum"

I hear a lot of people with very strong opinions try and tell me and others about a place they've never been and a job they've never worked. I wrote about police the drug corner, places like where Freddie Gray was arrested and died in police custody. The next few posts will be exerts from the chapter in Cop in the Hood called "The Corner: Life on the Streets." It starts with this quote from a Baltimore City police officer:
It’s a different culture. You know, what is normal for us--like going to work, getting married--they don’t understand that. Drugs are normal. Mommy did it. Daddy did it, not that he’s around. But if people want to take drugs, there’s nothing we can do. All we can do is lock them up. But even that is normal.
On "clearing the corner":
[It's] what separates those who have policed from those who haven’t. Some officers want to be feared; others, respected; still others, simply obeyed. An officer explained: “You don’t have to [hit anybody]. Show up to them. Tell them to leave the corner, and then take a walk. Come back, and if they’re still there, don’t ask questions, just call for additional units and a wagon. You can always lock them up for something. You just have to know your laws. There’s loitering, obstruction of a sidewalk, loitering in front of the liquor store, disruptive behavior.” Police assume that if the suspects are dirty, they will walk away rather than risk being stopped and frisked. You can always lock them up for something, but when a police officer pulls up on a known drug corner, legal options are limited.
If a shop is run efficiently, the boss, himself working for or with a midlevel dealer, should be able to sit and observe the operation. By not handling drugs or money, he faces little risk of arrest from uniformed patrol officers. The boss may be sitting on a stoop of a nearby vacant and boarded-up building posted with a “no loitering” sign. Because of the sign, he could be arrested for the very minor charge of loitering, the catch-all arrest charge. But how often can that be done? Repeated arrests for loitering, especially if no drugs are found, could easily result in a complaint about police racism and harassment to Internal Affairs.
Don't worry. It gets better.

June 19, 2015

Batts says he'd reform the police department if only it weren't for all those pesky police officers.

Batts doubles down against the rank and file.

I'm not quite certain whom Batts is trying to win over with his op-ed in the Sun. It seems like maybe he should have thought twice before pressing the send button.

The first half of Batts' article is spent recounting how bad the police department used to be, before Batts showed up to save the day:
The decade before I arrived saw more than 50 officers arrested, according to news reports. The public consciousness is filled with names like William King and Antonio Murray, who were sentenced to hundreds of years in federal prison for robbing drug suspects.... The cycle of scandal, corruption and malfeasance seemed to be continuing without abatement.
Now I was already gone a decade before he arrived. So maybe the department went to hell the second I left, but I doubt it. Now King and Murray were criminal cops caught up in the war on drugs. They were arrested (thanks to the Stop Snitching video) and convicted after taking the stand in their own defense.

The tow-truck scandal was less serious but more odd. It was like a throwback to low-level corruption from the 19 friggin' 60s. But since it involved more officers, it is worth looking at. This scandal was also very much linked to a 2006 effort to hired Spanish speakers officers: "Baltimore can also lure Puerto Rican applicants with higher pay: The department's starting salary is $37,000, compared with $25,000 for a starting job in a Puerto Rican police agency."

Well perhaps it would have been better to simply offer Spanish classes in Baltimore.

Because in 2008 it seemes like the whole damn Puerto Rican police department got busted. (And the Puerto Rico PD apparently still hasn't cleaned up their act.) So apparently some high-ranking genius went down to Puerto Rico and poached a dirty police department of some of its dirty police officers. But hey, you want US citizen Spanish speakers and only have $37 grand to pay? I got a deal for you! (To be clear, many but not all of the officers caught in that scandal were linked to that hire. Likewise, not all the officers hired were dirty.)

Anyway, Batts is right about this:
Many officers will be unhappy reading these words. Many want me to outright defend the department and say nothing is wrong with the way this organization engages in police work. For the overwhelming majority that is true. However, when people go on television wearing masks, allege themselves to be police officers and are cloaked in the shadows espousing their own indifference to violence as children are shot, I am troubled. This is not the Baltimore Police Department that I know.
One problem is that Batts has never known the Baltimore Police Department. Or Baltimore.

Then Batts takes on black officers:
I challenge the leadership of The Vanguard Justice Society, an African American advocacy group for police officers, to stand and project their voice in this African American city, where people who look like them feel treatment is unfair. Speak out against the beating of a resident at a bus stop or the selling of narcotics on the back porch of a police station. Where is the concern over scores of African Americans arrested and college scholarships lost? Don't allow yourself to be used as a tool of a bygone strategy from times long since past.
Did the police commissioner just call his black officers a bunch of Uncle Toms? Well, that's not going to go over well. Now the Vanguard Society has never been an advocate for business as usual in the policing world. In some ways black police organizations exist as opposition to the older, whiter, more conservative FOP/PBA world. And to the credit of the Vanguard Society, they've also called out Batts for his job poorly done.

Batts continues, taking credit where none is due:
I will not apologize for bringing professionalism and integrity to the forefront while eliminating greed, corruption and intolerance from the rank and file. Policing in any environment is difficult on a good day. That does not mean we have, or should ever have, a blank check to treat the public with callous disregard.

Continuing these reforms also means that organizations and individuals, who have profited, either materially or through position, will continue to fight against the reforms we are enacting. It means that people will throw mud, call into question my leadership, or lament days gone by. They will attack with innuendo, rumor and supposition. We will respond with fact, with evidence, with the things we have done.

Reform is not easy. It comes with a cost. It is a cost we should be willing to pay for the future of our city.
So what exactly are Batts' reform accomplishments? Because I honestly do not know. Or is his vague call for "reform" simply be a cover for incompetence, a riot, a demoralized police department, and a homicide rate that has more than doubled? Because I think it's the latter. So let me be the first to nominate Paddy Bauler for commissioner. He's the Chicago politician famous for one line: "This city ain't ready for reform!"

[Batts, known for his fuzzy math (though he may be basically right about the number of officers terminated), comes out with these stats:
We have seen the lowest police involved shootings since 2004, a 54 percent decrease in discourtesy complaints, a 45 percent decrease in excessive force complaints and lawsuits at the lowest levels in years.
If true, that's interested. Especially when combined with arrests being down 65 percent from their peak. It sure seems to go against the idea that the "uprising" was some inevitable rebellion against bad and over-aggressive policing.]

The math of American racism: blacks are outnumbered by racists

This is one of the few things that really stuck with me from my grad-school days. A simple mathematical analysis of racism in America. It was in a class with Professor Orlando Patterson.

I think of this math when people say we should be post-racial. Or say that we need to condemn anti-white racists as strongly as we do anti-black racists. To be clear, we should condemn all racism. But no, anti-white racism isn't the same problem as anti-black racism. It's not just about the hate. It's also about the demographics and the math and the very essence of what it means to be a minority.

Here's the math. There are roughly 320 million Americans. Of those, roughly 41.7 million are black. About 280 million Americans are not black.

Now ask yourself: what percent of Americans are racist? Of course it depends on how you define racism. But can we use 15 percent as a working figure? Maybe that's too high; maybe that's too low. I don't know. You can pick whatever percent you want. But let's do the math for 15 percent.

If 15 percent of all Americans are racists, that means about 6 million blacks who hate whites (or Asians, or whomever). Since there are 280 million Americans who are white or another non-black race, the odds that you, a non-black, would come across somebody who hates you because of your skin color are pretty slim. If you're not black, and you come across 100 Americans at random in a given week, maybe 2 of those 100 people will be blacks who hate you for the color of your skin. Also, and this matters, there are 46 of you for every one of them. So if there were some gigantic street brawl between all 6 million black racists and all 280 million targets of their racism, the racists would get crushed. When you are part of the majority, there is safety in numbers.

Now let's flip it around. If 15 percent of all Americans are racist, that means there are about 42 million anti-black racists walking around. There are more racist Americans than black Americans. Blacks are outnumbered by racists. Think about that. If you're black and come across 100 Americans at random in a given week, 13 of those 100 people will hate you for the color of your skin. When you are part of the minority, there is danger in the numbers.

Every time a black person leaves the house, there's one racist sonofabitch out there potentially waiting for him or her. If there was a big street brawl between racists and blacks, the racists would probably win. That's why we -- our society, any society -- need to be more concerned about minority rights. An attack on a minority group, any minority, is more dangerous because the group is a minority.

So even if you and your white friends aren't racist, that's nice. But it doesn't really matter. And it certainly doesn't mean that racism doesn't happen simply because you don't see it. It's like pointing out to police that a lot of people in their post aren't criminals. That's nice... but the good people are not the ones you need to focus on. It's the people out to cause harm that get your attention. And if there are more of them than there are you, then you've got a real problem.

In memory of those killed at the New Hope A.M.E. Church

A few times, if I was working late enough or some church started extra early enough, I would go to church to say hello. Personally I'm a non-believing Greek Orthodox. But there's something about a good black church that can't be matched. Some Sunday mornings I would just sit outside, just to provide a little security. (And also to enjoy the passing parade of hats.)

Sometimes I would go inside. I liked to remind myself that the people on the corner didn't represent everybody in the Eastern District. Going into church at 8AM I saw a different world, literally sharing the same block, than the one I had just policed for 8 hours. Inside, I was always immediately embraced (something I've never felt from my own church, to be honest) by the love and warmth of honest, love-filled, church-going Christians:
Went to church this morning [February 12, 2001] at Bond and Eager. They were very warm and welcoming and immediately formed a little prayer circle, about 8 or 9 people in all. A good black-preacher-man prayer, I’d have to say. Nice voice, especially for so early in the morning. Said a prayer for us getting up today, and also for all the police working all night. I felt very warm.... I was happy I didn’t get a call during the prayer, but I did get one right after that.
Never have I felt more welcome and love than I felt walking into a black church on duty, as a white cop in Baltimore. And after a long night working in the Eastern District, it was a nice feeling.

Checking now, I see the church at Bond and Eager is the New Cornerstone Baptist Church. I was probably also attracted to the fact that it may be the only entirely Formstone-sided church in the world.

June 12, 2015

Cops shoot and kill unarmed man

No real point here. Except it happens. And you won't hear this (except in Des Moines) because there's no racial element to the story. Does that make the shooting any better or worse? I don't think so.

Apparently there was a protest of one.

June 11, 2015

Race, drugs, arrests, and hospital admissions

I recently got some interesting data over the email transom.

Here's the thing: It's largely assumed that white and black illegal drug use is about the same. And that's based on legit sources. The kind of drug people take varies by race. For instance crack is still disproportionately black. Meth and LSD still mostly white. Generally.

But those who point to the racism of the drug war, myself included, start with the assumption that illegal drug use overall is not disproportionately black. Quick random links: 1, 2, 3, and 4. I did find one opposing view (but even that only questions a 20 percent difference).

Now the link between drugs and violence is disproportionately black thanks to the prohibition and the nature of illegal drug distribution. Public drug dealing equals violence. Buying from friends and family and coworkers? Much more copacetic.

Blacks are 32 percent of those arrested for drugs, which is roughly twice what would expect to find based on the number of blacks in America.

But the nature of drug dealing (and police presence and reaction to violence rates) does explain some of the disproportionate arrest and incarceration rate. You don't get arrested for drugs unless A) police find them. And that sometimes often relates to B) people complain about it. (Street corner drug dealing in particular.)

So explain this: Why are blacks roughly one-third of those admitted to the ED (formerly known as the ER) for illicit drugs? This is rate 2.5 times greater than one would expect, based on 13 percent of Americans being black.

click to embiggen.

Leaving out when race in unknown, 60 percent of PCP patients going in to the ED are black, 50 percent of cocaine admittances, 15 percent for heroin, 28 percent marijuana, 9 percent meth, and less 1 percent for GHB and LSD. All in all it's 33 percent. The ED admissions percentage, by race, is the exact same as the percentage of those arrested for drugs.

What gives? Perhaps the hospital data is bad. But I'm more likely to suspect that surveys on illegal drugs use are bad. Are blacks are 2.5 times more likely to buy bad drugs? Are blacks are 2.5 times more likely to go to the hospital if they have a bad trip? Maybe. I don't know.

I can't figure out how to reconcile these hospital admissions data with the long-established belief that illegal drug use rates are consistent across race. Any ideas?

[Update: A lot of people have good ideas. But I think it comes down to the fact that blacks are twice as likely (per capita) to go the ED (and there are a bunch of reasons for that). That could explain away 80% of the 2.5X disparity right there. The rest could be measurement error or anything. That's close enough for me. I consider that a good honest answer to a good honest question.]

Yeah, but they're foreigners!

What can we learn from them? I know. Nothing. Because this is America. Exceptionalism and all that. I'm not saying we could go to this model overnight, damnit! But we could still learn from it. We could learn a lot from other countries, if we got around to looking. If we start looking at police in other countries, next thing you know we'll have socialism and universal health care.

Man... that's a lot of disclaimers for a thought provoking piece in the Washington Post about Britain's police and their tendency to not shoot people.

Of course there are differences -- big differences, mostly with guns and gun laws -- between the US and UK. No need to point this out. I know. But it's not like England doesn't have guns. There are about 1.8 million legally owned guns in England and Wales.

The stats are amazing. In all of England and Wales, with 56 million people, only about 5 officers discharge their firearm in any given year. (Killing about 3 people per year. There are about 550 homicides over there in all. About 44 or so with guns.)

About 1 in 13 gun killings in the US are committed by law enforcement. That probably means something like 1 in 20 of all homicides (I have not done the math. But 5 percent is probably a good ballpark figure). That figure kind of shocks me. In England and UK, it's about 0.5 percent. (For what it's worth, police over there are still responsible for about 1 in 13 gun killings. It's just the numbers for both are a lot lower.)

June 10, 2015

"Daily Measurables"

My long-standing question related to Freddie Gray -- no doubt tops on everyone's list -- has always been, "Why the hell were officers doing much of anything at 8:45 on a Sunday morning?!" The Baltimore Sun reports:
About three weeks before Freddie Gray was chased ... the office of prosecutor Marilyn Mosby asked police to target the intersection with "enhanced" drug enforcement efforts.
"It must be understood that Mrs. Mosby was directing these officers to one of the highest crime intersections in Baltimore City and asking them to make arrests, conduct surveillance, and stop crime," the defense attorneys wrote. "Now, the State is apparently making the unimaginable argument that the police officers are not allowed to use handcuffs to protect their safety and prevent flight in an investigatory detention where the suspect fled in a high crime area and actually had a weapon on him."
[Western District commander Maj.] Robinson told [Lt.] Rice and the other officers to begin a "daily narcotics initiative" focused on North Avenue and Mount Street, according to the email, and said he would be collecting "daily measurables" from them on their progress.

"This is effective immediately," Robinson wrote, noting that the officers should use cameras, informants and other covert policing tactics to get the job done.
"They want increased productivity, whether it be car stops, field interviews, arrests — that's what they mean by measurables,"
Butler said that he has never seen such orders come from the state's attorney's office but that they come at the request of politicians and community leaders all the time.

"Once you're given an order, you have to carry it out. It's just that simple," he said.
Defense attorneys want Mosby removed from the case because of her involvement in the police initiative.

Problems are the reason for your job

But still, this is getting a little crazy.

Click to embiggen.

Before the riots, there were 0.58 homicides per day in Charm City. Since April 27, there have been 1.44 homicides per day. That's an increase of 150 percent! (148%, to be precise) And the increase happened literally overnight. I don't think that has happened before. Anywhere. Ever.

Well, "it's a gang war," says the police commissioner. No, it's not. "There's enough narcotics on the streets of Baltimore to keep it intoxicated for a year," says the police commissioner. If only!

It's summer. Shootings always goes up in the summer. Well, that is true. But that's not the problem, either.

According to BPD data, in the 28 days from May 10 to June 6, there were 127 shootings and homicides in 2015. Last year same time? 50. Robberies of convenience stores and gas stations? Up from 5 to 21. (Robberies overall are up "only" 32 percent compared to last year (28 days) and 12 percent year to date. But I do wonder if street robberies, the largest category, are less likely to be reported to police as of late.)

Police matter. Leadership matter. And I don't see things getting better in the police department until we see better leadership.

June 9, 2015

"Kalief Browder, Held at Rikers Island for 3 Years Without Trial, Commits Suicide"

Meanwhile, with people too busy complaining about cops, I think we're missing the big picture. We really need to prioritize a bit here. In 2010 a 16-year-old boy was accused of stealing/robbing a backpack. He spent 3 years in a Rikers Island jail.

Three years.

He could have gotten out earlier, but he would have had to take a guilty plea. He said he didn't do it. Maybe he did. Maybe he didn't. (But given his unwillingness to take a plea, I'm partial to believing he was innocent. But it really doesn't matter.)

Kalief Browder wanted his day in court. If he were found guilty in trial, he would have faced up to 15 years. Instead, after three years in jail, his case was dismissed. Charges dropped. He was released. A metro card and home. The end.

A few days ago he killed himself.

Browder never recovered from his time in jail. Could you?

We only now about Kalief Browder because the New Yorker did a piece on him last year.

There are so many problems here, it might even make one defend flogging.

How do we allow this to happen in our nation?

I wrote a book about the horrors of jail and prison. (Did I mention Flogging is short, light, a great beach read, and the most enjoyable book you'll ever read about whipping people?!) The pointless of it all. The system of justice that does not work. It seems almost pointless to regurgitate them here. And yet this case combines so many bads it seems worth a few highlights.

Browder was sent to jail as a 16-year-old. Browder, as documented on video, was beaten up by guards and inmates. Because of these fights, Browder spent two of his three years in jail in solitary confinement. Browder would not cop a plea, so he stayed in jail.

His bail was $3,000. His family couldn't afford to pay. So he stayed in jail awaiting a trial that never came. In 2013, a judge offered to let him go if he:
plead guilty to two misdemeanors -- the equivalent of sixteen months in jail -- and go home now, on the time already served. “If you want that, I will do that today,” DiMango said. “I could sentence you today. . . . It’s up to you.”
Browder said he wanted to go to trial because he didn't do it. He faced up to 15 year if convicted at trial.

Then, on his 31st court date, three years after he was arrested, his case was dismissed. No trial. No conviction. Also no exoneration. It's like it never happened.

How can this great nation sent a kid to jail for three years without trial? This is third-world dictatorial bullshit.
One reason is budgetary. There are not nearly enough judges and court staff to handle the workload; in 2010, Browder’s case was one of five thousand six hundred and ninety-five felonies that the Bronx District Attorney’s office prosecuted. The problem is compounded by defense attorneys who drag out cases to improve their odds of winning, judges who permit endless adjournments, prosecutors who are perpetually unprepared. Although the Sixth Amendment guarantees “the right to a speedy and public trial,” in the Bronx the concept of speedy justice barely exists.
So one answer, a partial answer, is to throw money at the problem. That ain't gonna happen. Because that would require us to actually care. But with more judges and lawyers, the justice system might actually administer more justice. Or at least bad justice quicker. But who really cares about justice when it's other people, poor people, being fucked by the system? Browder is dead because the system -- our system -- fucked him. And it's not like the system forget about Browder. This isn't our system not working as intended. This is the system we have. The least we could is actually care.

June 7, 2015

"Cop of the Year"?

I was recently asked for comments about a "Cop of the Year." It doesn't matter which. I didn't know the cop, so I didn't say much. I have no clue what he did (or didn't) do. But I am suspicious of "cops of the year." Are my suspicions justified? I'll presume there are lots of nice "cops of the year" out there. Wonderful cops of the year. But I don't remember meeting one. Of course a good cop would be modest about such an award and wouldn't wear it on his sleeve.

So maybe I'm just barking up the wrong tree. But it sure does seem like a disproportionate number of arrested cops have been a "cop of the year" at some point. (Of course if I'm looking for something like this, and I am, then I'm susceptible to "confirmation bias.")

I do worry that the same factors that make a cop "cop of the year" -- aggression, a lot of arrests, a focus on results, seeing your job as a crusade against evil, seeing no gray in the world -- these are exactly the same factors that get you in trouble in the long run.

Quite simply, it's nearly impossible to consistently make 10 times as many arrests as other cops. Seems to me that being a "super cop" is more a red flag than a cause for celebration.

Also, I never wanted to work with an over-driven I'm-going-to-save-the-world let's-lock-up-all-the-bad-guys adrenaline-loving supermen. I mean, why is somebody getting into a signal-13s when you're off duty? And when that happens, why would that person end up on my post saying, "you never saw me." I never wanted to see him because trouble was always finding him. Maybe he was just a better cop than me. Either way, I stayed clear.

[I just googled the guy I'm thinking of, because I assumed he didn't retire as a cop. And he didn't. Though he does seem to have a better job. So for all I know he mellowed and learned and took a wise career move. Maybe. But to see him described in one article as a "by the book" cop? Ha.]

Anyway, this all came to mind because another "cop of the year" was just sentenced to 10 years for drug charges. So I googled "'Cop of the year' sentenced" and came up with a bunch pretty quickly. Coincidence? I don't know. But they were all described as having at one been recognized as a "cop of the year":
Philip LeRoy, Queens. Drugs. The most recent.

Noe Juarez in Houston. Cocaine trafficker for Los Zetas.

Drew Peterson, Illinois. Domestic murder.

Ron Coleman, Houston, Drugs.

Jonathan Bleiweiss, Florida. Forced sex with male illegal immigrants.

Jerome Finnigan of Illinois. Armed robbery (and racist bad taste).

David Britto, Boynton Beach, Florida. Drugs.

James Joseph Krey, Florida (again). Domestic-related.

Michael Grennier, South Plainfield, NJ. Child porn.

Michael Froggatt. Gold Coast, Australia. Drunk Driving.

Matthew Anselmo. Omaha Nebraska. Mail fraud & money-laundering.
Pace yourself, I say. You got years on the force to do good. And you don't want to get burnt out of banged by the department because you took the job too seriously.

Where and how you are raised? It matters.

When it comes to policing and crime, I'm quick to harp on individual agency and free will. It matters. People make bad and harmful choices. They choose to do so. And police can prevent some of the things that lead to bad choices. Some liberals forget that.

But this isn't say that root causes don't matter. Of course they do. More than police. More, on a macro level, than free will or police. And sometimes conservatives forget this. From the Economist:
The great thing about America, Scott walker went on, was that it offered equality of opportunity, even if outcomes were up to individuals. America is one of the few countries left in the world where it doesn’t matter what class you are born into, he declared, and many in the audience, notably the older voters with snowy hair, clapped enthusiastically.
That's laughable. Prof Michael Jenkins states this well (in a column about Spike Lee's "Chi-Raq") (though I think his student body is very different from what you'll find in my classroom):
“I tell my students, ‘Think about the circumstances in which you were raised,’ ” says Michael Jenkins, a criminal justice professor at the University of Scranton. About the parents, teachers, schools and other organizations that get thanked in the graduation speeches, that were there to support you. Then “think about some of the poor decisions you made even with all those structural conditions in your favor.”

There are things “we celebrate as leading to success, but we fail to acknowledge that the lack of those things explains poor behaviors,” he says. There are places that suffer from lack of investment, unemployment and underemployment, under-education. We act as if everyone has “the same choices we have, then we take credit for our own decisions when they were also bounded, but bounded by more positive outlines.”
If conditions didn't matter, if you think your kids would turn out just as well growing up in the ghetto, then why don't you move to a "bad" neighborhood? Housing is cheap. But I don't blame you. There are good reasons you don't want to raise your kids in segregated poor violent neighborhoods. Such as:

A) The schools are bad.
B) The streets aren't safe.
C) There are no stores.
D) Your neighbors may be, if not criminals, inconsiderate of those who, say, have to get up in the morning and go to work.

So you're not moving to Camden (or wherever). For the kids, perhaps. So why wouldn't it affect those who actually do live there (usually because they just happened to be born there)? So shouldn't we all have a little more empathy for those who are forced to grow up without any of the advantages mainstream America can provide?

This doesn't mean you can't and shouldn't blame people for their actions. But after we do that, can't we also work to improve society and the world others are forced to live in?

"Broken Windows" fights crime, when used wisely

Clarence Page, as usual, provides a rational, reasonable, and correct analysis on the crime rise and Broken Windows.

Is there a new crime wave?

"Don't bet on it," say Frank Zimring in the NY Daily News. I could not have said it better myself:
At their current rate, killings in New York City would end 2015 as either the third or fourth lowest year in the city's modern history.

"Ferguson Effect"? Doesn't look like it.
To a student of crime data, this sounds much more like white noise than a blaring siren.
There are real increases in violence in Baltimore, Maryland in recent weeks and perhaps in St. Louis, but making that into a national crime wave deserves an Olympic medal for jumping to conclusions.

Why Mac Donald's fearful haste?
On the subject on Zimring, I always show this 9-minute Vera talk on why crime went down in the 1990s. It's the best 9 minutes you'll ever hear on the subject.

June 5, 2015

Baltimore police talk

If you want to hear some details about Baltimore police and policing during after the riots, listen to this 20 minute discussion with Sgt Robinson and Lt Butler on WBAL with C4.

Let's Rethink Patrol

Here's another piece of mine in CNN, also out today. I hope this gets a bit of attention because I was able to move past the headlines (thanks to my wonderful editor at CNN for her encouragement and mad editing skillz) to question the very concept police patrol. That's the type of moderately deep-thinking that is hard to get published in op-ed form.

But at this moment there might be a small window of opportunity to make substantive changes in policing. Why do have a system where, for instance, the first responder to a mentally ill person is a police officer? It doesn't make sense. Not for the cops. Not for the mentally ill. So why not rethink a reactive model of undervalued and understaffed police patrol. The status quo swallows up resources and -- by design -- limits the discretion and problem-solving ability of police officers.
Many people who call 911 do need help, but it's not help that a very young police officer barely out of high school -- armed and with the power of arrest -- can provide. These calls for service would often be better addressed by doctors, social workers, teachers and parents.

Over the past 40 years, with the advent of call-and-response policing, the mentality of policing changed. Consider the portrayal in the 1980s TV show "Hill Street Blues" (it's pop culture, but it contains truth): The first sergeant, played by Michael Conrad, finished roll call with the sage advice: "Let's be careful out there." After his death, the new sergeant was played by Robert Prosky. His motto? "Let's do it to them before they do it to us."

There are benefits to old-fashioned beat policing that we need to reclaim, but we can't as long as most police resources are controlled by civilian dispatchers, officers have too little discretion, and the war on drugs dominates urban policing by criminalizing too many people.

For a cop bouncing from call to call constantly dealing with criminals or people who have lost control of their lives, it's too easy to believe that nobody in the area is in control. From the window of a patrol car, every face on the corner starts looking the same. By walking on foot and engaging with the noncriminal public, police officers, especially those without any prior knowledge of the area they police, could begin to understand both how communities function and how they fail.
Read the rest here.

How about telling cops what they should do rather than what they shouldn't do?

Here's my piece in today's New York Times:
Critics of police -- and there have been a lot this past year -- are too focused on what we don’t want police to do: don’t make so many arrests; don’t stop, question and frisk innocent people; don’t harass people; don’t shoot so many people, and for God’s sake don’t do any of it in a racially biased way.

Those are worthy goals all, but none of this tells police what they *should* do. Some critics of police seem to forget that the job of police and crime prevention involves dealing with actual criminals.
It's a perfectly fine short piece. I do want to move the discussion away from what police shouldn't do to what police should do. But I find the whole New York Times "room for debate" concept a bit disingenuous. Because there's no debate. As a writer, I don't know who else is writing or what they are going to say. It really would be nice to respond to other points and flesh out the issues. Instead "room for debate" is a collection of 300-400 word op-eds. Perhaps that is what it should called: "Room for too-short opinion pieces from people willing to write for free just to get a Times byline." Doesn't really roll of the tongue, admittedly.

(On principle, in solidarity with free-lance writers everywhere, I try not to write for free, especially to for-profit businesses. Writing is work. And workers should be paid. A proper 800-1,000 word op-ed published in the print edition of the Times or the Washington Post or the Daily News or with CNN.com generally pays $200 - $300. A dollar figure that has actually decreased for some publication. Now the $300 I get from CNN is not a lot of money, mind you. But it really is the principle... and the money. And yet once again I wrote for the Times for free because it's the Times. So much for principles. Or money. But it is pretty easy for me to hammer out 300 words.)

Sometimes you just get wet

From Shorpy:

June 4, 2015

Policing Will Never Be The Same

This is huge: The NYPD has authorized, effective as of 0001 hrs, 4 June 2015, the use of -- are you seated? -- black OR BLUE ink for all department business.

Too much. Too soon.

It's gotta be DeBlasio's fault. For sure.

John Waters on the Riots

From the Daily Beast:
“I was around for the first Baltimore riots,” Waters says. “My first apartment in Baltimore was on 25th Street and Calvert, and there were tanks outside of my house. Everywhere was burning. Believe me, these riots were not as bad as those. But the riots in Baltimore this time were more widespread than what you saw on CNN, because if you watched CNN, you’d think it was that one big fire and Penn and North. The Penn-North neighborhood, I guarantee you, 80 percent of white people I know haven’t been there. I used to live [around] there. I used to live in an all-black neighborhood…The problem in Baltimore is that…there is also an equal number of poor white people. I really wish that they would team up. The poor people of Baltimore need to make it a class issue, not a race issue.”