About . . . . Classes . . . . Books . . . . Vita . . . . Blog. . . . Podcast

by Peter Moskos

October 24, 2015

Just another day in the Eastern...

Sometimes it's fun to re-read my old field notes. I should write a book or something. This is from Jan 24, 2001 (and better than my average day's notes):
[Officer A] and I are walking our 4 miles at 5am: “People say this is a good neighborhood with a few bad people. But it’s not. I’d say that 50% are bad, and most of the rest, another 30% don’t care… The reason things are so bad here is because nobody does anything. If they gave us some information, like stayed on the line and told the dispatcher that it’s that guy in the red jacket and the stash is in that box over there. Then we could do something. But they don’t care... so they get what they deserve.”

This occurred while I was complaining about [Officer B] locking people up for riding bikes (I had a nice night riding with [Officer B] tonight). And I mentioned, “and that’s why you shouldn’t lock somebody up for riding a bike. Because someone will say I or my nephew got locked up for nothing and they’d be right. Of course they’re not going to like the police.” [Officer A] said, “well, they were doing something.” “I know, it’s a legal lock up. But it’s not a moral one.”

[Officer B] says regarding lock ups, “the major wants stats, I’m going to give him stats… And I may want to transfer somewhere else someday.” I tell him where he’s going to transfer couldn’t care less if he’s got 40 arrests or 400. It’s still more than they’ve ever got. What they do care about is if he’s got an open IID number. And he’s more likely to get one every time he arrests somebody. [Officer B] also says, “The only reason you don’t like bike lock-ups is because you ride a bike.”

“Damn right that’s why I don’t lock people for riding a bike. But also because I don’t think riding a bike is a crime.” “But if they don’t have a light, and they don’t have ID….” “Yes, but you’re just locking them up for not having ID. You let them go if they do.” “That’s not true! I’ve written many citations.” “If you’ve written one citation, I’ll give you credit. If you’ve written many, good for you.”

After walking with [Officer A] I got a newspaper and then hung out at the laundromat at 1900 E Eager. At one point a white women, looked like a junkie with straggly hair and bad skin, comes in honestly upset and says, “I was just robbed.” I’m barely with her, even now, but I need to hear more.

“What happened?”

I was leaving the store (she points across street) and a guy grabbed me by the throat and took $13.

“Where did he go?”

That way (points East).

“Where exactly did this happen?” I think she’s telling me right on the corner, though later she says on the next block. Maybe that’s what she meant all along, but I doubt it.

“OK, what did he look like?” She gives a brief description of a black guy.

“Where do you live?” On Eastern Ave. (I hate when I hear that, living on Eastern myself.)

“What are you doing here?” Going to court. (It’s 7AM and court ain’t for another two hours--but that didn’t occur to me till later.) My thought was, no way in hell are you walking through this neighborhood to go to court.

“For what?” (I ask because I suspect it’s CDS)? I’m on probation.

“For what originally?” Something to do with her husband (doesn’t mesh because what does that have to do with probation?). I’m sure it’s bullshit (meaning made up, or, given her upset nature, drug deal gone bad).

I walk to a guy sitting on the stoop two doors down East on Eager. I ask him if he saw anything across the street. No nothing.

“This woman... this white woman says she was robbed over there [on the corner at the bar]. But you didn’t see nothing?” No.

“How long have you been sitting here?”

“Since we was talking and I left the laundromat (I didn’t remember this guy, but I guess he was in the laundromat), must have been a half hour.”

“All right. Thanks. I appreciate it.”

So I go back and tell the woman nothing happened on that corner. Then she says it happened up the street, on Ashland. That she got robbed, came down Wolfe, and someone told her a cop was in the laundromat. I start walking towards Ashland and cross the street and tell her to come with me. After crossing the street she says, “where are you going?”

“To where it happened. To see if anybody saw this.”

“Nobody was around,” she insists, “and he ran that way [points East].” So I ask her her name (thinking I need this info if I do have to write a report. Always good to have the vital stats). The only thing she’s got going in her favor is that she is a little distraught (probably because she don’t know where she’s going to get her next fix).

“Aren’t you going to look for the guy?”

“Well we can take a walk around.”

“Well can’t you call for a car or something?”

“Ma’am, it’s been at least ten minutes, it’s not like he’s going to be standing on the corner waiting for us.”

“It just happened!”

“I need to know your name.”

“I can’t believe this! I was robbed and you’re wasting my time.” (Just the opportunity I was waiting for, and excuse to leave.)

“Well I’m very sorry to waste your time.” I turn and walk away.

She starts screaming, “PIG! Bastard!” and a few other things I can’t remember well enough to quote. But she wasn’t happy. I go back in the laundromat (so that she leaves) and she walks away.

I leave the mat to make sure she’s still not still yelling or calling 911 to file a complaint. At this point I’m also thinking: do I have to arrest her to make sure that it doesn’t look bad on me?

If she’s making a big fuss I could lock her up for making a false statement (my own little favorite cause) but then I’d really have to defend my actions or more likely just for disorderly. But she’s gone.

There’s a little discussion on the corner given her yellings as to what happened.

“She says she was grabbed by the throat.”

“Ain’t nothin’ happen here.”

“Naw, she says from the store up the street.”

“That store ain’t open.” A little discussion about that store, who owns it, and they all agree it ain’t open, so she wasn’t leaving it. Then the guy who said “nothin’ happen here” (same guy from sitting on the stoop). Says, “but she came from up this way [points East up Eager].”

“Won’t be the first time that somebody said they were robbed when they weren’t. What we have here is a business deal gone bad. What’s she doing lying to me and expecting me to do?” Heads nod in agreement.

This is interesting for many reasons. Most cops’ first thought would be, “I don’t want to write.” That was my second thought. My first was this girl in lying (she was probably about 30. Looked older from the drugs). But you can’t just tell her to piss off because not writing an armed robbery (strong armed in this case) report is a serious offence. So now I’ve got to get enough info out of her to contradict herself or convince me that’s it’s bullshit but also so that if she complains you can defend yourself based on the facts.

Once I’m convinced it’s bullshit, then it’s simply how to get rid of her. In this case her telling me I was wasting her time was enough. If she hadn’t said that, I probably would have had to confront her (like I’ve seen [Ofc A] do) with just why I thought it was bullshit and I think you’re a lying sack of shit, get her to admit more of the truth--like she gave a guy money for drugs, and then so where does that leave us?

I was also happy because when I went back into the laundomat Mr. [G] says, just from the beginning of the conversation that he saw, “she wasn’t robbed.”

All in all though, this was a typical example of the most bullshitty type call (or on-view in this case) you could get. This one there was no doubt that she was either making it all up or at least leaving out important details.

Reminds me of [Officer A’s] story where a women says she was robbed of $20. Finally the guy says “yeah, but it was only $10!” And the woman says she wants her money or drugs, and he locks them both up. I have to ask him again about this story, mind you he’s told me three times, you’d think I knew it.

But with drugs being illegal, what should happen when someone takes somebody’s drug money? Is it a crime? Should it be?


john mosby said...

How many of these anecdotes could happen today?


Moskos said...

The bike lock-up thing was odd, even for the time. But I certainly don't think the other stories are dated. Still, it would be best left for an active Balto cop to answer.

Unknown said...

My father went to college in a small town in New Hampshire back in the late 1960's. He once told me a story about some genius who was selling weed and had a large quantity - in excess of a pound at least - stolen from his closet. He called the cops and pretty much told them straight-up that he was selling drugs and wanted the police to help him get them back. They had him make a statement admitting to being a dealer and took him downtown...

The bullshit police calls really do screw it up for legitimate victims of crime. In Denver I had a brand new backpack stolen once, followed the guy from a safe distance with a cell phone on the line with dispatch and the police did not show up at all. Another time I was walking to work at 6am, wearing a hoodie and somebody made a false report about the hoodie-bandit with my description so I was stopped and searched for about a half hour. I am a musician so the police have seen me perform and knew who I was. After a while they realized the report was either bullshit or I just wasn't the guy they were looking for. Not the end of the world but not at all what I needed that morning...