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by Peter Moskos

June 30, 2015

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.


campbell said...

Wait, is this guy seriously claiming you can't pat a guy down and take his knife after a pursuit from a drug corner? The hell? And he had a decade on the job and supposedly laughed with his Lt. about cops not knowing the basics for an arrest?

I've felt from the get go that his schtick felt too much like he was trying to sell something, primarily himself. I've tried to be charitable but he's not doing much to dissuade me from that initial impression.

Peter Moskos said...

I feel I've bent over backwards to be charitable. And I will continue to do so. Even a flawed messenger might have a good message. But flawed legal understand? Come on, now. But I think it's the disability pension I find most disturbing. From an office job? 66 and 2/3rd for life? Tax free? For what, exactly?

campbell said...

He can't tell you, it's just too boring!

I want to think the intentions are good but he's not making it easy. Things like this from the Balko interview. "Bad police shootings are almost always the result of a cop being afraid. Look at Walter Scott, Michael Brown, the South Carolina state trooper shooting — those were all cops who were afraid, and fired their weapons out of fear."

Those are totally different, and I don't see how someone with a law enforcement background would honestly lump those three shootings together. His awakening about how real people actually live in the neighborhood he's policing after years on the job also strikes me as just too much of a fairy tale.

Dave- IL said...


You're right about the shootings being different. In the Scott shooting, I don't think the officer was afraid at all. He may have been annoyed that he had to run or grapple with Scott. But the fact that he settled into an isosceles stance (correct me if I am wrong on that) like he was at the range and shot the man 8 time in the back suggests an execution, not panic. That shooting was about dominance, not fear.

Adam said...

Re: Campbell's comment that Wood seems mostly interested in self-promotion and sounds like he's trying to "sell" something, it appears that's now literally true. On Wood's website (where you can make a donation to support his public speaking engagements) he writes that he'll finally provide the names of the cops he claims assaulted innocent people, but only in exchange for the chance to conduct a live 1-hour interview with the police commissioner. Really?? They ought to just serve him with a grand jury subpoena.

Peter Moskos said...

I think it's funny there a link to a tour of the streets. Because best I can tell, he didn't see much of them when he was on the job. Maybe it was as much more him as it was the reporter.