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by Peter Moskos

August 10, 2016

Can't you take a joke?

One of the beliefs common to many conservative cops is that liberals can't take a joke. I don't think this is true (how many comedians are conservative?), but I hate when conservaes are right. From page 25 of the DOJ report:
Indeed, many BPD supervisors who were trained under the prior enforcement paradigm continue to encourage officers to prioritize short-term suppression, including aggressive use of stops, frisks, and misdemeanor arrests.
That's something a bit sad and desperate about this report's (and city leaders) constant attempt to blame today's problems on 16 years ago.

The report goes on:
A flyer celebrating loitering arrests was posted in several BPD districts. The flyer depicted three officers from one of BPD’s specialized units known as Violent Crime Impact Division, or VCID, leading a handcuffed man wearing a hoodie along a city sidewalk towards a police transport van, with the text “VCID: Striking fear into loiters [sic] City-wide.”

People, this is not a motivational poster. It is not celebrating loitering lock ups. It is... a joke. It is making fun of -- mocking even -- a specialized unit for making bullshit loitering locks up.

I find it funny. Do you have to be a cop to get it? I don't know. But couldn't they find anybody with a clue to read a draft and red-flag this? "It's obviously a joke," my liberal-with-a-sense-of-humor wife spells out for the humorously challenged, "because it's using the template of the fake corporate motivational poster." Get it?

But if the DOJ observes don't get this basic level of police culture (or humor), I question a lot of their observations. (I don't know how much you can learn in "dozens" of ride along in "all the districts." Because that means about 3 ride-alongs per district. Does it even equal one complete shift? I don't know.)

Chapter Three of Cop in the Hood does start with a "motivational" speech at roll call:
All right you maggots, let’s lock people up! They don’t pay you to stand around. I want production! I want lockups! Unlike the citizens of the Eastern District, you are required to work for your government check.
The sergeant even made a little sign out of the last sentence and put it up in our sector cubical. Personally, I thought it was funny. In the end, he was told to take it down. Seems like nobody can take a joke.

Update: Over on twitter, I was trying to explain to a Sun reporter who also didn't get the joke. David Simon, who speaks Police and Journalistic, stepped in to help translate:
The office poster we're talking about is actually a subtle and appropriate critique of bad policing.

Everything I know about cop humor says that poster is there as sarcasm, to which cops are entitled.

Poster not motivational, but a critique of weak arrests; station house humor to which cops are entitled.

Every profession uses humor to critique lesser standards, affirm for better.

Cop humor. And in the context of stationhouse ball-busting, rather funny. Not affirmation.

The snark about bad journalism that used to be on the walls of The Sun was affirmation for better.

One Xmas, Homicide unit pasted wings on morgue photos of dead gangsters & hung on tree.

For attorney: "Anyone can convict the guilty. For an innocent man, you need a great lawyer." Cynicism serving ethic.

Fuck that much self-righteousness. Every profession is entitled to its own interior wit. Especially the tough ones.

11 comments:

David Madden said...

I get it. The DOJ could have gotten it too, all they had to do was ask ANYONE wandering by in the district what the poster meant. The resulting answer could have provided the DOJ investigator with valuble intel. What is VCID? What do they do? Why do there seem to be so many overlapping specialized units?
This one poster could have provoked so many insights to the real problems in the BPD, alas it was just a wasted opportunity.

Peter Moskos said...

And couldn't they find anybody with a clue to read a draft and red-flag this?

"It's obviously a joke," as my liberal-with-a-sense-of-humor wife spells out for the humorously challenged, "because it's using the template of the fake corporate motivational poster." That's (part of) what makes it funny.

The DOJ should click through: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/demotivational-posters

As the cat hanging from the tree says, "hang in there!"

David Bratzer said...

CNN has mentioned the flier as part of it's article, Baltimore's DOJ report: The 6 most egregious examples.

LizardBreath said...

It's a joke about the fact that the police practice is to frighten people who aren't doing anything significantly wrong. If you're doing something you shouldn't be doing at all, joking about it doesn't make it less wrong.

Peter Moskos said...

Why is this do hard to get? The poster is making fun of the unit and people making loitering arrests. Baltimore police officers are not a monolithic block. If anything, this is a sign of protest from within the department.

Peter Moskos said...

Why is this do hard to get? The poster is making fun of the unit and people making loitering arrests. Baltimore police officers are not a monolithic block. If anything, this is a sign of protest from within the department.

Andy D said...

Two points I find relevant:
1. The DOJ, largely, knows NOTHING about actual police work. They are the go-to for reformers because they are FEDS and it is thought that since we can't have locals policing themselves the Feds must be better. however, few in the DOJ have much, if any, recent experience doing street-level police work, and most have zero experience actually handling calls for service. Even specialized DOJ units that actually go out and lock people up typically do it at the ass-end of 3 year long investigations. They have no clue about the fast-paced way that street-level investigations work.

2. A lot of "liberals" actually seem NOT to be able to take a joke. Even comedians anymore spend a lot of time defending their jokes against people who find them "offensive." Chris Rock said in 2014 that he stopped playing colleges because they are "too conservative" meaning not politically but rather that they can't take a joke: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/01/chris-rock-colleges-conservative_n_6250308.html

I think the DOJ people are writing this stuff to appease their political masters...who are appeasing a public that seriously doesn't get cop humor at all.

EA5 said...

As a civilian (I know, my opinions don't really matter here) I'll start by saying that this image didn't even crack the top 20 or 30 most disturbing things I read in the report.

That being said, its really not clear to me that its a joke just from looking at it. I'll take you at your word that its a subversive bit of humor taking aim at department policy, but when I saw it in the report, I wasn't sure how to interpret it. The idea that it earnestly supports the action displayed doesn't seem farfetched, especially when coupled with the evidence that officers and supervisors support the policy. Though how much support this policy actually has seems to be up for debate and I'm looking forward to reading the more specific criticisms of the report you've got in the pipeline.

But in general, I think a government office is no place for ambiguous humor. If a reasonable citizen could interpret a joke in a manner that harms the perception of the government agency, it probably shouldn't be made by employees in a public setting.

Peter Moskos said...

Point taken. But I still say A) It's not even slightly ambiguous to any cop and B) it wasn't a public setting.

EA5 said...

Yeah, the report just says "a flyer posted in several BPD districts." Not being familiar with the layout of the offices, where the posters were posted, or the likelihood of a citizen being in those areas, "public" was definitely a bit speculative.

Peter Moskos said...

I love humor, but, public vs. private matters. For instance, there should not be any sign in any transport wagon saying, "enjoy the ride, we sure well." That is a serious WTF? I don't care if some cops find it funny.