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by Peter Moskos

June 5, 2015

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.)

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